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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Stay out of your kid's marriage

Daf Yomi Kesubos 57

Before Samson and Delilah, there was Samson and the woman from Timnah.  We don’t know much about her other than the fact that she too gave Samson a hard time until he finally gave in and shared his secret with her.  Only this time it wasn’t about his strength, it was about a riddle he concocted at his wedding feast.
‘Out of the eater came something to eat and out of the bold came something sweet.  Whoever shall decipher this riddle, I shall give him thirty garments,’ declared Samson, ‘but if you do not, you shall give me thirty garments!’

They racked their brains for the solution, but alas, to no avail.  They cornered Samson’s wife and demanded she discover the answer.  She duly went to her husband and begged him to reveal the solution.
‘Why would I tell you?  I didn’t even tell my parents!’ he says to her.  Eventually he tells her, but she nonetheless ends up running off to her father’s house.  And dad in turn gives her in marriage to another man.

The Mishnah states: We give twelve months to a maiden from when the husband asks for her hand in marriage to prepare herself for the wedding.
It was taught in a Beraisa: A minor, either she or her father, is able to delay the wedding.

Rabbi Zaira asks: It makes sense that she should be able to delay.   But her father?  If she is okay with proceeding, what difference does it make what her father says?
The Gemara answers:  Since he may reason to himself that now she has no idea what marriage is about.  Tomorrow she may defy her husband and leave and come back home and become my problem.

Rabbanit Batya eloquently points out that the story of Samson and the woman from Timnah is the Prophet’s warning against parental involvement in a marriage.  When you get married, it doesn’t matter how close you are with your parents, you need to know that your spouse comes first and that you never involve parents in conflicts between you and your spouse. 

Why would Samson tell his wife that he could not reveal the solution to the riddle to her since he had not revealed it to his parents?  Why would she run off to her father’s house after her fight with her husband?  Not only do newlyweds need to know not to involve their parents in their marital issues, parents also need to know not to get involved! 

When your child comes to you with a marital matter, send them back to their spouse to discuss.  And if that doesn’t work, tell them to seek therapy, but no matter what, the parent should not be a part of that.   Most of the time, please G-d, the couple will kiss and make up, but does the child then convey that part to their parent?  Or are they left with the ill-feeling aftertaste in their mouth concerning their child-in-law? 

This father in the Gemara is concerned that his daughter has no idea about marriage.  But honestly, how many people have a clue what marriage is about before their wedding day?  All the preparation in the world cannot ready you for the demands of a life lived for the other person.   Sadly, many come into marriage like this immature minor girl, thinking that marriage is about themselves and what they can get out of it.  And so when they realize the demands of marriage, they give up and come running home to daddy and mommy.  But of course, that’s not the solution.

Marriage means committing yourself completely to your spouse, without any third wheels, particularly parents.  May you merit growing in loving union with your spouse and never needing to seek counsel from anyone outside the marriage, especially your parents!    And as a parent, may you merit the fortitude to turn your child away when they come to you seeking advice about their marital issues, knowing that the solution lies with them and their spouse, not you.  

Monday, 30 March 2015

Your presence is more important than all other presents

Daf Yomi Kesubos 56

An awed hush descended on the shivah house.   Rav Moshe Feinstein had just entered.  The other visitors shuffled to the right and to the left to make a path for the venerable sage.  They cleared a space next to the mourners and he sat down.  All eyes were focused on the rabbi waiting to hear what he would say, how he would explain the shocking death of an innocent child.   After fifteen minutes of absolute silence, Rav Moshe got up and left.  The second he departed, the parents began weeping bitterly.
‘What is it?’ inquired a concerned friend.
‘That was the most meaningful and touching visit all week,’ the mother replied.

The Mishnah states: Even though they said that a maiden collects two hundred, and a widow, one hundred, if a groom wanted to add even one hundred times that amount, he may add.   If she were widowed or divorced, whether from the betrothal point or complete marriage, she still collects the entire amount.   Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: From marriage, she collects everything, but from betrothal, the maiden collects two hundred and the widow, one hundred, because he only wrote in this grand amount in order to bring her into total marriage.

It was stated: Rav and Rabbi Nathan differed.  One maintained that the Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria and one maintained that the Halacha does not accord with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria.
The Gemara notes: Let us conclude that Rabbi Nathan is the one who declared that the Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, for we have learned that Rabbi Nathan posits that we follow assumed intent.   Rashi explains: When someone does not give clear instructions, the court makes an assessment and decides what a reasonable person would have intended. 

The Gemara asks: Does Rav not agree that we follow assumed intent?! 
The Gemara concludes: Rather, they both agree that we follow assumed intent. The one who posits the Halacha (follows Rabbi Elazar) is understood.  The one who posits the Halacha does not accord with him, the first opinion in the Mishnah is also a matter of assumed intent, since he writes the exorbitant amount in order to engender feelings of closeness, and indeed he drew her near to him (as a result of his generous gesture).

In this case, they did not even complete the marriage!  How could the Gemara suggest that the feelings of closeness were engendered between the couple?  And yet they were.  Once the groom was prepared to write the clause into the ketubah, he demonstrated that he cared.  Even if later, nothing actually happened to complete the marriage.

Sometimes you don’t need to actually do anything to help someone through a crisis.  They just need to know that you are there.  When you show up to the hospital to visit a patient, you have achieved a world of good, even before you open your mouth.  You have taken time from your busy day to be there for them and that rejuvenates their spirit.

When you go to pay a shivah visit, the Halacha is that one should not say a word until the mourner begins to speak.  If the mourner just wants to sit there in silence, then you should just sit with them in silence.  After sitting there not saying anything for ten minutes, you might start thinking to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’  You are there to simply be with the mourner during their time of sorrow.  Nothing more.   Sometimes they might feel the need to speak, sometimes they are being comforted simply by your presence.   You comfort them by taking their cue.

It’s not always about what tangible gifts you offer others.  The most wonderful presents are nowhere near as important as your simple presence.  Pick up the phone to someone going through a crisis even when you have no idea what to say.  The Almighty will guide you.  And even if nothing is said, they will know you care.  May you merit being there for people and being a source of comfort for others through their vicissitudes of life!  

Is your spouse a reasonable person?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 55
Malcolm was fuming.  It was already 7pm and Jenny promised she’d be home from work by 6.  He had an important community meeting to get to that she knew he couldn’t be late for.  He had tried calling her a million times, but her cell phone was off.  He couldn’t believe she had let him down like this.  Where was she?

Jenny finally came through the front door and Malcolm was ready to blow.
The Mishnah states: Even though they said that a maiden collects two hundred, and a widow, one hundred, if a groom wanted to add even one hundred times that amount, he may add.   If she were widowed or divorced, whether from the betrothal point or complete marriage, she still collects the entire amount.   Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: From marriage, she collects everything, but from betrothal, the maiden collects two hundred and the widow, one hundred, because he only wrote in this grand amount in order to bring her into total marriage.

The Gemara notes: Let us conclude that Rabbi Nathan is the one who declared that the Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, for we have learned that Rabbi Nathan posits that we follow assumed intent.   Rashi explains: When someone does not give clear instructions, the court makes an assessment and decides what a reasonable person would have intended. 

Rewind: Jenny was stuck on the freeway on her way home from work.  There was a massive ten-car pileup that had slowed traffic down to a halt.  Meanwhile, she’d had a busy day and her cell phone had died.  She knew how important it was for her to get home but there was just no way she was getting anywhere anytime soon.  

Malcolm should have realized that if she hadn’t called, something must have happened.  Not to be home on time was out of character for Jenny.  She was generally a reasonable person and so he should have given her the benefit of the doubt, and worried about her welfare, instead of thinking only about his own needs.

Too often, we are quick to pass judgement on people from our spouses to our neighbours, from our relatives to our colleagues and friends.  People who we know are reasonable, we assume that they are acting out of line.  But why would we assume ill intent?  That makes no sense – we know them to be otherwise reasonable!  So when your spouse says or does something that you feel is unreasonable, stop for a moment before getting upset and remind yourself that s/he is generally a reasonable person – that’s why you married them – so something else must be at play here! 

Or maybe it’s a colleague who has your nose out of joint.  If you know them to be otherwise reasonable, then be a little more sympathetic before you jump to bite back at them.  Maybe they are dealing with a medical issue in the family, maybe they’re under severe financial stress, maybe their child is misbehaving at school.  Granted, some people are regularly unreasonable – for those people, you just need to learn how to bite your lip and not take their problems personally.  But for people who are otherwise reasonable and acting unreasonably, certainly don’t take it personally – try to find out why they’re acting out of character; maybe you can help them or just be a shoulder for them to lean on.

If someone in your life is acting strangely, don’t assume the worst in them.  You know that they are generally reasonable people and so assume reasonable intent!  May you merit the strength of character to always judge people favourably, especially those close to you who might just be having a bad day, week, or year!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Avoiding first-degree sin

Daf Yomi Kesubos 54

Sadie calls Jill: What are you doing tomorrow morning?
Jill: Not much.  Why?
Sadie: I have some epic goss to share about the Goldbergs.  Let’s do coffee.
Jill: Sounds awesome!  Starbucks, 10am?
Sadie: See you there!

The Mishnah states: One of the court-imposed stipulations of the ketubah is ‘You shall dwell in my house and be sustained from my possessions all the days of the duration of your widowhood in my house.’

Rabbi Nachman quoted Shmuel: If they proposed a shidduch to the widow and she was interested in the proposal, she is no longer entitled to sustenance from the estate by the heirs.   Rashi explains that once she is ready to date other men, she is no longer in the category of “the duration of widowhood.”

Rabbi Hisda taught: Likewise, if she had an illicit relationship, she no longer entitled to sustenance.  Rabbi Joseph taught: If she began to put on makeup and braid her hair, she is no longer entitled to sustenance.
The Gemara notes: The one who says ‘she had an illicit relationship’ agrees that ‘makeup and braiding’ would exclude her from further sustenance.  But the one who says ‘makeup and braiding’ holds the view that an illicit relationship would not end her entitlement to sustenance.  What is the reason?  Her yetzer (evil inclination) made her do it.

Sometimes people sin ‘in the heat of the moment.’  Certainly, in terms of the act itself, her illicit behaviour was far worse than merely applying makeup!  But putting on makeup and going out to meet people takes time and effort.  In contrast, her illicit behaviour was not premeditated; she was simply overcome by desire and that’s why she is not held to task to the same extent of the law.

Planned sin is always worse than sin in the heat of the moment.   Sometimes you’re chatting with your friend and a piece of lashon hara (gossip) slips out.  It’s not okay, but things happen.  But when you decide to schedule a lashon hara session, like Jill and Sadie who made the Starbucks appointment, that’s inexcusable!  That is planned sin. 

Occasionally, you might order a soy latte at a coffee shop without checking the hechsher (kosher symbol) on the soymilk.  That’s sin in the heat of the moment – you needed a coffee, now!  But when you decide to make a reservation at a vegan restaurant that doesn’t have a hechsher, it’s a totally different ballgame.  That’s premeditated, first degree.  You planned to act illegitimately – thought and effort went into your behaviour – which is unacceptable.

That’s not to say, G-d forbid, that ‘the devil made me do it’ is a valid excuse.  On the contrary, knowing that your yetzer could make you sin at any moment should place you on guard and extra vigilant to protect yourself against such an attack.  Back in the day, if you wanted to sin with illicit images, you had to go out to the store and buy an indecent magazine.  That was first-degree, premeditated sin.  Nowadays, illicit images are as close as the wrong click of your mouse.   At any moment, the yetzer could overcome you and cause you to sin.  Knowing how easily that might happen means that you must go to great lengths to ensure your soul’s safety and security.  One helpful method is offered by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, who teaches that whenever one experiences the urge to sin, one should recite the verse, “The eternal fire shall burn upon the altar, it shall not be extinguished.”  This verse reminds us that our bodies and souls are altars to serve the Almighty.  When we sin, we extinguish the eternal flame inside of us. 

You deserve to be connected constantly to Heaven!  Sinning severs your relationship with the Divine flow of energy.  Premeditated sin is never excusable, but even sinning in the heat of the moment is avoidable if you take the right measures.  May you merit being eternally connected to Heaven and cleaving to your spiritual source, never falling to the illicit desires of this world!   

Friday, 27 March 2015

Hope in your grandchildren!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 53

The year was 1951.  Two young men in sandals and shorts wandered into the Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel, seeking to learn Torah.  The rabbis didn’t know what to say – the chasm between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis was so great that they were utterly confused by the request.  They went to ask the grand rabbi, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, what to do.

The Chazon Ish said, ‘Let me tell you a story.  In late nineteenth Eastern Europe, the winds of change were blowing.  Children from the most devout families were forsaking Jewish observance and joining new movements from Bolshevism to Anarchism to Reform Judaism to Secular Zionism.   Many young secular Zionists were leaving their families and Yiddishkeit behind and travelling off to Palestine to become pioneers and work the land.   Their parents would cry and pray but it seemed their prayers went unanswered.

Their prayers did not go unanswered.  G-d took their tears and bottled them up, waiting for the storm to pass.   He then opened the bottles and sprinkled the tears upon the children of these pioneers.  When they felt that spiritual awakening, they decided to knock on the door of the yeshiva and return to the service of the Almighty.  Go and teach them Torah – their grandparents are smiling down from above, shepping nachas.’ 

Rabbi Papa was involved with marrying off his son into the family of Aba of Sura.  Off he went to write the ketubah.  Judah bar Meraimar heard about it, and so he left his house and went to accompany him.  When they arrived at Aba’s door, Judah was about to take leave.
Rabbi Papa said, ‘Please come in with me,’ but he noticed that he wasn’t comfortable entering.
He then asked him, ‘What’s bothering you?  Are you concerned about the incident where Shmuel said to Rabbi Judah: Sharp one, do not be present when an inheritance is transferred away from its rightful owner – even from a bad child to a good child, for one never knows what children will come from him.’

We must never despair of anyone – even if they never come around, who knows what will become of their offspring?  The clearest example in the Bible is that of King Hezekiah.  His father, Ahaz was a wicked king.  Many of the kings before him similarly turned the people astray.  But along came Hezekiah and restored the piety of the Jewish people.  No doubt, the prayers and tears of David and Solomon rained down upon him as he changed the direction of the kingdom. 

You might be tempted to be dismissive of people who have left the holy path of their parents.  But you never know how their children will turn out.  If you make them feel unwelcome and unloved, you’re decreasing the likelihood of their kids ever embracing our heritage.  When you show them warmth and let them know that there’s always a place for them in our shuls and schools, you never know what incredible consequences you might be engendering.

Or maybe it’s your own children who are not following in your footsteps of tradition.  Don’t despair!  Keep on loving them unconditionally.  You never know what will happen with their children – your grandchildren.  My friend, Reb Avi Bitterman, grew up traditional, but not religious.  His mother had come from an observant, Moroccan family.  One day, his grandmother was sitting and bemoaning the fact that only one of her thirteen children had remained religious.  Fourteen years old at the time, Avi gave his grandma a hug and said, “Savta, don’t worry, one day I’ll become religious.”   He didn’t know what he was saying at the time, but those words stuck with him.  Today, Avi Bitterman is a devout Jew.

We all strive to stay on track with our Judaism, but some of us veer off more than others.  Never despair of them!  Even if they don’t make it back on track, you never know what will happen with their children.  May you merit embracing all Jews, no matter where they are at in their level of commitment and observance and may we merit living to see their children thrive in their spiritually!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Tikun Olam means pulling out dandelions

Daf Yomi Kesubos 52

Tikun Olam – Fixing the World – has become a bit of a buzz word over the last few years.  Nowadays it is synonymous with activism from human rights issues to the environment and a host of other social movements.    Generally, those carrying the contemporary banner of modern-day ‘tikun olam-ism’ are idealists – they believe in evolutionary world progress and that diplomacy can resolve all the world’s problems.  Instead of confronting and attacking our enemies, if we would simply sit down at the table and talk – one human being to another – the world would be a much better place.

Is that the meaning of tikun olam?

The Mishnah states: If one’s wife was taken captive, he is obligated to redeem her.

The Rabbis taught: If she were taken captive and they were demanding a ransom up to ten times the going rate, the first time he must redeem her.  If it happens again, if he wants to pay the ransom he may do so; if he does not he need not.  Chief Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘We should never pay more than the going rate for a ransom, due to tikun olam.’
Rashi explains: So that the kidnappers will not get into the habit of raising the price.

Sometimes tikun olam means saying no.   If we were to give these terrorists whatever they were asking, that would encourage them to kidnap another innocent.   When the world appeased Hitler in 1938, after his incursion into Czechoslovakia that was not tikun olam.  Tikun olam at that point called for unleashing the world’s military might onto Germany.   Had that happened, Jewish history would have unfolded very differently.   Likewise today, there are regimes and individuals who are set on destroying Israel, from Iran to Hamas and Hizbollah.  All the diplomacy in the world will not change their minds.

And in our own spirituality and that of our children, we must never forget that sometimes tikun olam – repairing our broken selves – means saying no.  You wouldn’t give your child a knife to play with if they asked for one!  Likewise, don’t be afraid to set limits on who they are hanging out with, who they date, and when they go out.  You needn’t feel bad when you make a rule that says ‘no going out on a Friday night’ – you’re not being mean to them; you are helping them, repairing them. 

Tikun olam means repairing the world.   Dandelions may appear beautiful, but they're weeds in disguise.  Just like repairing a beautiful garden requires pulling out the dandelion weeds, often tikun olam necessitates holding back and not giving in to the other person’s improper demands.   May you merit the strength to say no and to make this world a better, more repaired, place! 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Are you a prisoner of society?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 51

When Gilad Shalit was taken captive by Hamas, as well as two soldiers who were subsequently murdered by Hizbollah – Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – every shul began reciting a prayer for captured soldiers.  Once we were already saying it, most shuls elected to include the State of Israel’s other unaccounted for MIAs – Guy Hever, Ron Arad, Zachary Baumol, Yekutiel Katz and Zvi Feldman. 

Thank G-d, Gilad Shalit was eventually brought home safe and sound.  But then the debates began around the world: do we continue to recite the prayer for the remaining MIAs?  While most had long since despaired of their return, their parents still yearn for them and some have dedicated their lives to finding answers as to their children’s whereabouts.  At Beth Israel, we decided to continue saying the prayer.

About a year later, an incredible miracle took place in Cleveland, Ohio.  A couple of young ladies who had been held captive for over a decade in a personal home managed to escape after a neighbour heard their cries for help.  At that point I realized that if people could be held captive in a major city in America for years, it is not a far stretch to believe that these MIAs are still alive somewhere in the Middle East and I committed myself to reciting the prayer with extra kavanah (focus) each week.

But the question on everyone’s lips when the Cleveland girls were found was: Why did they appear to submit to the will of their captors?  Why couldn’t they find an opportunity to leave sooner?

The Mishnah states: Even if a man did not explicitly write in the ketubah, ‘If you shall be captured, I shall redeem you and bring you back to be my wife,’ he is nonetheless obligated to do so, for that is a stipulation prescribed by the Beth Din (court).

The father of Shmuel taught: A Jewish woman who was violated is forbidden to her husband, for we are concerned lest she was initially coerced but eventually consented.  Rava disagreed and taught: Any woman who was initially coerced but eventually consented, remains permitted to her husband.

Rabbi Judah taught, ‘Women who were kidnapped remain permitted to their husbands.’
The Rabbis questioned Rabbi Judah, ‘But what if they were offering their captors bread?’ i.e. they seemed to be acting willingly?
‘They do so out of fear,’ he responded.
‘But what if they prepare their weapons for them?’
‘They do so out of fear,’ he replied once again, ‘but certainly, if they were freed and they remained of their own accord, they would become forbidden to their husbands.’

The young ladies who were imprisoned in the house in Cleveland became typical abuse victims.  Their submission and cooperation did not indicate their agreement or willingness to remain in captivity.  Rather, they had sadly become so used to life in captivity that it was the new normal for them.  They were not acting of their own volition, they were acting, as Rabbi Judah explains, out of a fear that had completely enveloped them until they couldn’t imagine any other life.

How many of us live in constant fear of expressing our spiritual selves?  The Haggadah enjoins us that ‘In each generation, one must see himself as if he personally left in Egypt.’  Egypt comes from the root word meitzar, meaning ‘constraint.’  We are often captive to the constraints of the society around us and so we have become accustomed to living in fear of what people will think or say if we express our Judaism openly.

What will my colleagues think if I bring a kosher lunch to work?  What will my neighbours say if I put up a sukkah?  What will my friends think if I decide to stop answering my phone on Shabbat?  If you’re experiencing any such feelings, you’ve become a captive of your environment.  You are living a life of fear, which has become your new normal. 

It’s time to leave Egypt!  It’s time to break free from your self-imposed constraints!  It’s time to stop living in fear!  May you merit escaping the shackles of your environment and liberating yourself from the constraints of this world! 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ten percent of your everything!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 50

My good friend, Don Ghermezian, is a huge baal-tzedakah (philanthropist).  But he doesn’t just write the cheque and end of story.  No, he takes an active interest in the people and institutions he supports.  One day, we were sitting around the table dealing with a crisis in the community.  I felt bad, knowing that Don has a huge corporation to take care of and more pressing matters to deal with, and so I told him not to worry and that we could handle the issue.

He responded with an incredible vort (idea): ‘My father,’ he tells me, ‘always taught me that it’s not enough to just give ten percent of your money to tzedakah.   That’s easy.   Your obligation is to give ten percent of your everything!  That includes ten percent of your time, ten percent of your headspace, and ten percent of what you worry about and lose sleep over at night.   Yes, I have business affairs to take care of, but they can wait.  At the moment, I’m engaged in dealing with my charitable hours.’

When Jacob awakens from his moving dream about the angels ascending and descending the ladder, he declares, “Everything You shall give to me, a tenth, I shall tenth to You.”

Rabbi Ila taught: In Usha, they enacted that one should not spend more than one fifth of one’s earnings on charitable giving.
It was similarly taught in a Beraisa: One should not spend more than one fifth on charitable giving, lest one become dependent on others for charity.
Rabbi Nachman, and some say, Rabbi Aha bar Jacob taught: The source of this law is the abovementioned verse, where Jacob mentions a tenth twice, which adds up to one fifth.

Most people struggle with allocating their requisite ten percent to tzedakah, let alone twenty percent!  And so, the first important lesson here is a reminder to be vigilant in calculating our charitable dollars.  That ten percent is not your money – it is money that the Almighty has entrusted with you to administer to the needy.  If you don’t spend it as G-d intended, it is not yours to keep – He’ll find other ways to take it from you, like extra auto repairs and the like, G-d forbid.  That tenth is sacred; don’t ever think you’re doing G-d a favour by using it as He instructed.

Some people, however, have the heart and the wherewithal to give more.  If you can give twenty percent to charity, you are deemed by the Torah to be a generous person.  And that is certainly something we should strive for.  If your current financial situation doesn’t seem to have room for you to give twenty percent, then don’t be shy to ask G-d to increase you.  If He has put a twenty percent clause in the Talmud, then you deserve to be able to reach that limit!

But why shouldn’t you give more than twenty percent?  There are poor people living in the streets, standing on the corner begging, what could be wrong with giving a little more?  The answer is you’re not G-d.  If G-d wanted to make these poor people rich, He could do so in a split second.  For whatever reason, He has decided not to.  When you start giving a significant amount of your money to charity (beyond the permissible twenty percent), you start thinking that you have the ability to solve the world’s problems and fix the mistakes that G-d made.

G-d knows exactly what He is doing in the world.  He allows us to partner with Him in the sustenance of His children.  That’s an incredible chessed (kindness) on His part – that we should have the ability to feel like we are contributing to His design and plan.  But once we start thinking that we can ‘play G-d,’ He says, ‘Enough!  You’ve forgotten where your money came from.  And you’ve forgotten that the same way I provided you with good fortune, I can change their fortune for the better at any moment!’ 

In other words, the twenty percent limit is a reminder to us of where our wealth and prosperity came from.  The thought should humble us and instill within us a deep gratitude to the Almighty and a realization that only He provides and sustains His creatures.  And that if we stay in His favour, He will continue to bless us.  If we get haughty with our increased wealth, He could remove it from us in an instant.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways you could assist the poor.  There are no limits on the amount of time you could devote to helping others.  Go and volunteer at a soup kitchen!   Make your Shabbos table the destination of choice for those less fortunate!  Volunteer your time for communal organizations!  Pick up the phone and use your connections to raise money for the needy!   Remember the sage advice of Eskander Ghermezian: you are obligated in not just ten percent of your money, but ten percent of your everything!  That means you can go as high as dedicating even twenty percent of your time and headspace! 

Never think that you can singlehandedly change the world.  We are but pawns in the hands of the Almighty to perform His bidding.  If He has allowed you to partner with Him that is the ultimate blessing which you must be constantly thankful for.  May you merit partnering with G-d at the twenty percent level in terms of money, time and devotion; and having abundance and prosperity in every aspect of your life, from your finances to your health to your nachas from children and grandchildren!

Monday, 23 March 2015

You don't work for your boss

Daf Yomi Kesubos 49

I’ve known Ivan for many years.  He had his bar-mitzvah at the shul and I’ve watched him grow up and go through university and land his first job.  Last year, he came in to see me.  Ivan wanted to quit his job.
“Rabbi,” he said to me, “it’s just such a drag to get out of bed each morning and pull myself to work.”
“Why?” I asked him.
“My boss tortures me.  He’s always making snide remarks trying to put me down, while working me long hours with a nonstop gruelling workload.  I’ve had enough, I can’t take it anymore.”
“Ivan,” I replied, “you don’t work for your boss.  You work for G-d.  He is your provider. Mark my word, if you pass this test, He will provide for you in a whole different way.”
Ivan heeded my advice and stayed the course.  A couple of months later, HR called him in.  They’d seen his performance results and were offering him a major promotion in a different department.  Ivan now has greater seniority than his former supervisor! 

King David declares in Psalms, “G-d gives an animal its bread; and to the children of the raven who call.”
When delinquent fathers would appear before Rabbi Hisda, he would say to them: Turn over a mortar in public and let the father stand on top and announce, ‘Even a raven wants to provide for its children and this man does not want to provide for his children.’

The Gemara asks: But the verse in Psalms implies that G-d provides, not the raven’s parents!
The Gemara answers: No problem.  The verse refers to white ravens; the announcement refers to black ravens.  Rashi explains that when ravens are young, they are white and so their parents do not recognize them and therefore deny them sustenance (thus, they must be sustained by G-d).  When they get older, they become black and the parents love them once again.

Why do we chastise this delinquent father with the raven analogy?  King David makes it clear that ravens also fail, at least initially, to provide for their young!  Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the analogy of an animal that never fails to provide for their offspring? 

The message we are conveying to this man is that G-d is the ultimate provider.  Just like when a raven does not recognize its offspring, G-d provides for them, the Almighty will provide for these human children, no matter what.  This lazy good-for-nothing father does not have the power to provide or withhold sustenance from his family.  That is in the Almighty’s hands.  All he may choose to be is a partner with G-d.  If he decides to pull his socks up and go out to work, he will be Heaven’s vehicle for sustenance.  If not, He will forego the merit of partnering with the Almighty.

And that must be our attitude to sustenance generally.  King David further declares, “Do not place your trust in princes, in people who can provide no salvation,” and the prophet Jeremiah declares, “Blessed is the man who trusts in G-d, G-d shall be his confidence.”  Your boss doesn’t have the power to provide or withhold your sustenance; that’s in G-d’s hands alone.  S/he is merely a vehicle.  If G-d wants you to make more, you will make more and you will be promoted way beyond your supervisor, who falsely thinks they are your provider, and you are at their mercy and every whim. 

When people ask you who you work for, tell them you work for G-d.  He alone is your provider.  When you take those earnings and provide for your family, for the needy, and for your synagogue and community, you become a partner with G-d.  He doesn’t need you to provide – if you choose to evade your obligations, He will still provide.  Rather, He offers you the opportunity to be His partner in the provision of sustenance.  Will you take Him up on His incredible offer?

The Almighty is the true provider.  We are but vehicles to partner with Him as He sustains His creatures.  May you merit always recognizing where your bread is buttered and giving constant thanks to Hashem who never forsakes His children! 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Are you a comic book Jew?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 48

Are comic books healthy reading for kids?  While parents and teachers have traditionally treated the genre with disdain, experts today have suggested that we are being too harsh on comics.   While creative, imaginary skill-building may be limited when reading comics, vocabulary and fine arts aptitudes are indeed furthered.   

In fact, comic books have become increasingly popular amongst many adults, particularly in the ivory tower.  Academics often feel that it is beneath their intelligence to while away their time with TV and movies, and yet they are often mentally exhausted from reading scholarly journals all day.  And so they view comic books as an acceptable alternative form of entertainment. 

Concerning the obligation of a husband to his wife, the Torah declares, “If he takes himself another wife, her flesh, her clothing, and her intimacy rights, shall he not diminish.”

Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob says: The juxtaposition of the words “flesh” and “clothing” teaches that one must provide clothing appropriate to her flesh, meaning that one should not give children’s clothing to an older wife, nor senior ladies’ clothing to a young wife.

It is unbecoming of an older person to dress like a teenager.  Likewise, if teens wore old people’s clothing, they would be dismissed as nerdy and slouchy.  Everyone knows that just like there are different modes of dress for different occasions, there are different ways one dresses at different ages and stages of one’s life.  The only exception, of course, is that both teenage girls and old ladies dye their hair blue (mind you, nobody in between).

Sadly, while everyone understands that you need to dress age-appropriately, many people are happy practising their Judaism in a way that is not age-appropriate.  Instead of having their Judaism mature with them, when it comes to their relationship with G-d they are stuck in the body of a bar- or bat-mitzvah boy or girl.  While they should be able to brag about how many masechtos (tractates) of Talmud they’ve learned, they’re excited if they can read a Rashi or learn a mishnah in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers).  Tragically, most Jews can’t even do that much and so they feel they’re way ahead of the pack!

Comic books may be okay for kids, they might even be okay for adults who have spent the entire day reading academic journals, but if your entire adult reading list consists of Marvel and DC, it’s time to grow up.  Likewise, in terms of your Jewish education, if you haven’t progressed beyond the level of a bar-mitzvah kid, it’s embarrassing.  Young people should look, dress, and sound like young people.  Adults should look, dress, and sound like adults.

A friend of mine, Reb Avi Bitterman, recently had a miracle occur in his lifelong commitment to learning.  A number of years ago, as his kids were entering school, he thought, ‘I should probably be doing some more serious learning myself.’  And so Avi began attending a daily Daf Yomi shiur.  The first day he attended, they were in the middle of tractate Baba Kama.  Now, most people would convince themselves that it makes good sense to wait until they complete the tractate and then pick it up with the new tractate.  Not Avi.  He decided that if he was going to do it, there was no better day to start than that very day on page twenty three.  

Next year, Avi's son becomes bar-mitzvah.  Now a Daf Yomi addict, Avi was curious to know which page coincided with the bar-mitzvah date.  Could you believe his surprise and shock when he looked it up, only to find that the schedule for that day said Baba Kama, page twenty three?!?  On exactly the day of his son’s bar-mitzvah, he will additionally be celebrating his completion of the Talmud!

Imagine, on the day when most fathers would turn to their kid and say, ‘Son, I remember when I did my haftara at my bar-mitzvah.  That was quite the achievement.  Never done one since.’  Instead, my buddy, Avi, will turn to his kid and say, ‘Son, your haftara was awesome, but this is just the beginning.  In honour of your bar-mitzvah, I’ve just finished Shas (the Talmud).  May you merit being able to tell your son the same thing at his bar-mitzvah!’

Don’t be a comic book Jew.  It’s time to get out of your teenage clothing.  You never stopped challenging yourself to grow in your career and other ambitions in life.  What happened to your spiritual growth?  May you merit dressing in the spiritual clothing of your age and being able to demonstrate to your children how to continue their spiritual growth way beyond their teens!

How much would you pay to ransom me?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 47

One of the many hats I wear is that of Assistant Chief Examiner for Religious Education in the Caribbean.  The role evolved from a friendship that a Caribbean pastor and I developed over many years, which had started when he found me online and began to ask me questions about Judaism for their curriculum.   Eventually, they decided that it made more sense to have a rabbi on staff to oversee the Judaism elective and he asked me to come on board.

My flight was all booked to Trinidad and I was making preparations to go when I happened to mention the trip to my close friend and colleague, Rabbi Jon Gross.
“How did they find you?” he asked me.
“On the internet,” I replied.
“Are you kidding me?” Rabbi Gross responded, “I’m guessing you’ve also sent money to your “relatives” in Nigeria when they’ve contacted you!  How do you know who they are?  Maybe it’s some massive scam and as soon as you get off the plane, they’ll abduct you and ransom you for an exorbitant sum of money?  You’re a rabbi – they know you have a community with millions of dollars of assets to pay to redeem you!”

The Mishnah states: If a daughter had property that she inherited from her mother’s family, her father may not partake of the produce of her field during her lifetime.  If she got married, the husband has greater rights in that he may partake of the produce of her field.

The Rabbis taught: A father may not partake of the produce during his daughter’s lifetime.  Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Judah says a father may partake of the produce during his daughter’s lifetime.
What is the basis of their debate?  The first opinion takes the view that it makes sense that the Rabbis would have instituted that the husband should partake of the fruits.  Otherwise, if she were taken captive, he might hesitate paying the ransom (reasoning that she has her own personal assets). 
But concerning the father, how could you even suggest that he might hesitate to pay the ransom?  No matter what, he would redeem her!   

Every day, three times a day, we recite the prayer, “Blessed are you, Hashem, Who redeems Israel.”  No matter what issues you are dealing with in your life, your Father in Heaven will redeem you.  A father will always redeem his daughter.  Certainly, our Father will always redeem His daughter of Zion, the Jewish people.

Perhaps you are feeling financially underwater.  Maintain your faith in the Almighty.  He redeems.  Maybe you’re dealing with relationship issues.  Keep believing in the One Above.  He redeems.  Or maybe you’ve been handed a medical report that appears dire.  Trust in G-d.  He redeems. 

There is no problem too great, no ransom too expensive.  The Almighty can and will redeem you from all your troubles.  But you must maintain your faith in Him and turn to Him with the expectation of a child to a parent.  How could our Father not redeem His daughter?  It’s not a matter of what you owe Him or how much is in your personal account; He’s your Father and will redeem you, no matter what!

Above all, of course, we pray for the ultimate redemption, when G-d will bring us back to the Holy Land and rebuild the Temple, which will redeem us from all our personal issues in one fell swoop.  We trust and know that this will happen very soon – would a father leave his daughter in captivity? 

Trust in the Almighty.  He will redeem you from all your problems.  May you merit the faith to always turn to Him as a child turns to their parent knowing that He will be there for you and will never forsake you!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Are you a lobotomized Jew?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 46

The prophet Isaiah was born into the royal family.  First cousin to King Uzziah, he turned his back on the pomp and grandeur of nobility and railed against the excesses of the middle and upper classes.   Material prosperity had brought in its wake spiritual decline, and Isaiah was determined to show the nation her true religious colours.  It wasn’t that people were no longer observant.  They still kept mitzvos, but they were doing them by rote, just going through the motions. 

The Book of Isaiah famously opens, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? says G-d; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.  Bring no more vain offerings; it is incense of abomination to Me; new moon and sabbath, the holding of convocations, I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed seasons My soul hates; they are a burden to Me; I am weary to bear them.”

The Torah declares, “When a man shall utter a vow of persons unto G-d, your valuation shall be for the male from twenty to sixty years old, fifty shekels of silver.”

The Beraisa states: One who says, ‘I hereby pledge half my valuation,’ he gives half his valuation.  Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Judah says: He is hit and pays the full valuation.
The Gemara asks: Why do we hit him?
Rabbi Papa explains: He is hit with a bill for the full amount of valuation.  What is the reason?   The Rabbis instituted a decree in the case of one who pledges ‘half his valuation’ on account of the case of one who pledges ‘the valuation of his half.’  Pledging the valuation of half of him would include limbs that his soul depends on.

If you pledge half of you, that would include half a brain, half a heart, and so on.  You can’t survive with half a heart.  Making such a pledge deems you responsible for the full amount.  Pledging half of you makes no sense.  It’s all or nothing.

Sadly, many people adopt the ‘half of me’ attitude in life.  They don’t give G-d their all.  They don’t give work their all.  They don’t give their family their all.  They think that investing half a heart is good enough.  But you can’t survive with half a heart.  Half a heart equals dead.

When your kids see that you are only giving half a heart to your Judaism, they recognize you’re not really invested.  When you embrace your Judaism ‘wholeheartedly’ they see that it is meaningful and worth investing their own hearts and minds into.   And that was the malaise of the day during Isaiah’s time: his imagery of G-d being weary of the people’s sacrifices was designed to mirror their own service of Him.  If they were bored and disinterested, how did they think G-d felt?

It’s time to give it your all!  Give your whole heart to G-d!  Give your whole mind to G-d!  Jump up ecstatically to perform a mitzvah!  You have the power to decide whether your Judaism is going to be half-baked and dead, or completely alive and exciting!  Merely going through the motions is as boring to G-d as it is to you and ultimately to your kids who are watching you.  Don’t just be Jew-ish, like kind of into it, but not really.  Be utterly consumed by your Yiddishkeit! 

Half a heart is a dead heart.  Half a brain is, at best, a lobotomy.  May you merit giving your everything to G-d, to your family, and to your community, so that you are serving with passion, enthusiasm and unwavering joy!  

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Don't let your past hinder your future!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 45

Jephthah was a leader of Israel who lived during the time of the Judges.  But he wasn’t always a leader.  He was born out of wedlock and was always the black sheep of the family.   The other children picked on him and taunted him about his humble beginnings.  Eventually they completely drove him away from the family and off he went to another city to re-establish himself. 

One day, when the Children of Israel could no longer bear the Canaanite oppression, the Elders arrived in Jephthah’s town and asked him to be leader of the people.
‘I am despised; I was driven away.  Why would you choose me as your leader?’ asked Jephthah.

We learned in a Mishnah: If a king or high priest sinned prior to their appointment to office and were subsequently appointed, Rabbi Shimon says, ‘If they were aware of their mistake prior to their appointment, they are culpable.  But if they only became aware of it following their appointment, they are completely exonerated.’

Some people hold themselves back from becoming appointed to the Almighty’s service because they believe they are tainted by their past.  ‘How could I teach Torah?  How could I serve an institution?  I didn’t grow up in a spiritual environment.  I partied too much in my youth.’

But listen to what Rabbi Shimon says: Chances are, you only became aware of your mistakes later.  You don’t need to be ashamed of your past at all!  The Almighty has now blessed you with a spiritually-infused future and the past is but a blip of history.  You are completely exonerated.  The slate has been wiped utterly clean! 

Or maybe you’re like Jephthah: Your earlier distance from G-d and Israel was no fault of your own.  It was others who kept you from reaching your full potential because they were jealous.   Don’t let them drag you down for life!  Don’t allow their taunts to keep you from fulfilling your incredible potential!  Rabbi Shimon says: Put the past behind you.  Don’t get bogged down by whatever turns your life took until now.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

You have been appointed to serve the Almighty.  He has chosen you for greatness.  He has liberated you from your past.  May you merit to accept His mission and accomplish great things with your life!  

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Does your Grandma know how to do the Wave?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 44

Joseph is in Egypt, having been sold into slavery by his brothers.  His family is far, far away, and nobody would ever know or care how he leads his life as an Egyptian slave.  His master Potiphar’s wife keeps coming on to him and he is finally ready to succumb to temptation when he suddenly pictures a vision of his father’s face.  He says to himself, ‘Personally I would have no qualms going ahead with this act of infidelity, but how could I do it to my father?’

Sheila taught in a Beraisa:  If witnesses testified about a married maiden that she was unfaithful during the betrothal period while she was still living in her parents’ home, she is executed at the entrance of her parents’ home, as if to say, ‘See the offspring you have raised.’

Everything we do in life, for better or for worse, reflects on our forebears. Your parents raised you with certain values and acting inappropriately is not only shameful to you, but embarrassing to them as well.  Even if you weren’t fortunate to have a wholesome upbringing, you have grandparents and great-grandparents who are rooting for you in the World of Truth, for fear that they themselves may be shamed by your actions. 

When temptation knocks, it’s often hard to resist.  You think, ‘Nobody really cares if I sin.’  When that happens, do what Joseph did.  Picture your parents.  Picture your grandparents.  And ask yourself, ‘Am I making them proud or am I dishonouring them?’  It may not matter much to you, but in Heaven, fingers are being pointed at them, saying ‘See the offspring you have raised.’

And on the flipside, know that your forebears are working hard for you to become the best you can be.  In the World of Truth, they can see your full potential.  They’re sitting in the bleachers, as passionate as parents at a little league game, cheering you on and betting you’ll win the game!  When it seems you can’t get through it alone, look up into those bleachers at all your fans screaming your name and draw strength from everyone who is believing in you!  It may be your parents you see, it may be your grandparents.  If that doesn’t do it for you, know that you are a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and they are rooting for you! 

You’re never alone in life.  You have a whole team of fans and cheerleaders behind you that goes back dozens of generations.  When life’s got you down, may you draw strength from your fans who are smiling down from the Heavenly bleachers, knowing that you are going to have an awesome life and accomplish great things!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Do you deserve G-d's blessing?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 43

The famine is raging in the Land of Canaan.  Jacob sends ten sons down to Egypt seeking sustenance.  They appear before the viceroy, who unbeknownst to them is their brother Joseph, and are accused of espionage.  They turn to one another and conclude that the Almighty is punishing them for selling their brother into slavery.

Finally, Joseph reveals his true identity to them.  At that point, they fear the worst.  Not only are they strangers in the land, but their future is in the hands of the very individual they persecuted.
“And now, do not be afraid,” Joseph says to them, “you did not send me here, for it was G-d. . . He sent me before you to provide sustenance.”

Concerning the Hebrew servant who has concluded his six years of service whom it is time to emancipate, the Torah declares, “And it shall be, if he says to you, 'I will not go out from you;’ because he loves you and your house, because it is good for him with you.”

The Gemara taught: According to the view that one may say to his servant, ‘Work for me, but I shan’t sustain you,’ that is only with regards to a Canaanite servant, for the verse does not employ the words ‘with you.’  But, the Hebrew servant, concerning whom it is written ‘with you,’ one may not deny sustenance. And how much more so, for one’s own daughter! 

Sometimes you feel like you’re not going to make it.  The bills are piling up and there are still mouths to feed.  But your Father in Heaven will never forsake you!  It may appear that He is not present, but He is merely paving the way to provide you with abundant sustenance and prosperity! 

Sometimes you think, ‘Well that might be so if I deserved G-d’s blessing, but after all I’ve done contrary to His will, why should He bless me?’  That’s exactly what Joseph’s brothers were thinking.  They believed that G-d runs the world.  And so they figured that, having sold their own flesh and blood into slavery, they had lost their merit and were no longer entitled to the Almighty’s blessing.

But not only does G-d not hold grudges, He knows exactly how to transform your mistakes in life for the better!  As Joseph tells them, ultimately he was sent to Egypt in order to sustain the family.  In other words, while they made a terrible mistake in life, G-d used that very mistake to channel His blessing to them!

We have a dual relationship with the Almighty.  We are His servants and we are His children.  But either way, He has a duty to provide for us.  He is with you, even if the relationship is one of Master-servant; and, as the Gemara points out, how much more so, if the relationship is one of Father-child!  On Rosh Hashanah, following the shofar blasts, we proclaim, “If we are like children, have mercy upon us as a Father has mercy upon His children.  And if we are like servants, our eyes turn to You, until You are gracious to us!”

G-d wants to provide abundant blessing and prosperity for you.  Sometimes it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when you feel that your woes are self-inflicted.  But the Almighty loves His children greater than the love of any mortal parent to their child.  And He has incredible blessing that He is just about to shower upon you.  May you merit maintaining your faith in Him so that you may unlock the door to His storehouse of blessing at the exact moment when you need it the most!  

Monday, 16 March 2015

Want to acquire knowledge? Teach!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 42

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Chuck Feinstein in memory of his uncle, Alan Haisser, Laban ben Dov Beryl z”l.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the great Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, spent twelve years living in a cave with his son, Elazar.  At the time, the Romans had prohibited all Torah study, at penalty of death, and so they took shelter in the cave to study in peace, burying themselves up to their necks in the sand to avoid the need to launder clothing and eating from a carob bush. 

When they finally emerged from the cave, the first person they encountered was a farmer.  Rabbi Elazar turned to his father and exclaimed, ‘How could this man toil in the earth and forsake Torah study?’  Immediately, the field ignited and a Heavenly voice proclaimed, ‘Return to your cave, you are not ready to live in My world!’

Following a twelve-month transition period, Rabbis Shimon and Elazar emerged once more from the cave.  This time, they saw a man hurrying along the road with two bundles of myrtle branches. 
‘What are these for?’ they asked.
‘Why, to infuse my house with beautiful fragrances for Shabbos,’ the man replied.
‘But why two bundles?’ they continued.
‘One in honour of the Torah’s dictum to Remember the Sabbath and one in honour of Keep the Sabbath.’
Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, ‘How precious are the Jewish people!  Despite their persecutions at the hands of the wicked Romans, they have maintained their faith and love for Hashem and His mitzvos!’

The Mishnah states: If a maiden was seduced, the payments for her humiliation, tarnished reputation, and the Torah-mandated fine, go to her father.  Rabbi Shimon says: If they did not manage to collect prior to the death of the father, they belong to the maiden herself.

The Gemara asks: If these first compensation payments have the status of real money (as opposed to the fine), the father should bequeath them to his sons.  Why do they accrue to her?  They belong to her brothers!
Rava answers: This matter was perplexing to Rabbah and Rabbi Joseph for twenty two years, and it was not resolved until Rabbi Joseph took over the leadership of the academy and resolved it, as follows:

The Torah declares, “The man who slept with her shall give the father of the maiden fifty silver coins.”  The father is not granted the Torah’s acquisition until the point of giving. 

While the literal meaning of the Gemara is that the Torah does not grant ownership of the money to the father until it has physically been given to him, there is a deeper message here: You don’t acquire the Torah until you have given it over to others.  The mitzvah of Torah study is, “You shall teach them to your children.”  Obviously if you haven’t learned Torah yourself, it’s impossible to teach it and so within this verse is an implicit commandment to learn Torah.  But the ultimate is to teach the Torah to others.  And of course, we’re all familiar with the Talmudic explanation: ‘your children’ means your students, not necessarily your biological children.

Living in a cave and learning Torah is wonderful, but if you emerge and fail in your ability to impart that Torah to others, what is the point of all those years of study?  You might as well stay in the cave.  Only once you are able to relate to others and understand that the Almighty placed us into this physical, mundane world for a reason, does your Torah become potent.  

Rabbi Hanina would say, ‘Much have I learned from my teachers, and from my colleagues even more than my teachers, but from my students, most of all!’  When you teach you are forced to grasp the meaning of the Torah so clearly that it becomes solidified in your mind completely.   Explaining a concept to others, especially a multitude of others, requires knowing the material incredibly well.   Thus, one only truly acquires the Torah at the point of giving it over.

Torah is not in Heaven.  We were placed on this earth to learn Torah and to convey the Torah’s teachings to those around us.  There are always people who know less than you do with whom you can share the Torah’s wisdom.  How about you start by sharing today’s Life Yomi with someone?!  May you merit acquiring the Torah by giving it over to many, many of your spiritual children!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Protecting G-d's Reputation

Daf Yomi Kesubos 41

What’s the best way to sell clothing?  Everyone in the industry knows that your best PR people are celebrities.  You get a movie-star to wear a dress or a suit on the red carpet and suddenly everyone wants to have that dress. 

Who is the best person to wear your fashion line?  Top actors and actresses?  Platinum-selling musicians?  No.  The most powerful fashion-leader on the planet is Princess Kate.  Ordinary people know that your average pop culture celebrity dresses in a certain way that is unbecoming and inappropriate for respectable, decent human beings.  As a princess, however, Kate always makes sure to wear the finest clothing, in the most dignified, honourable way possible. 

The Mishnah states: One who says, ‘I seduced Bob’s daughter,’ is liable to pay for embarrassment and tainting due to his own admission.  However, he does not pay the fine.
The Gemara notes: Our Mishnah does not accord with the following view.
The Beraisa states: Rabbi Shimon ben Judah taught in the name of Rabbi Shimon: He is not even liable to pay for embarrassment and tainting due to his own admission, since he is not believed to taint the reputation of another man’s daughter.

Rabbi Papa asked Abaye, ‘What if she is okay with it?’
He replied, ‘Maybe her father isn’t okay with it.’
‘But what if her father is okay with it?’
‘Maybe there are other family members who aren’t okay with it.’
‘But what if the family is okay with it?’
The Gemara concludes: ‘It is impossible that there is no one even overseas who doesn’t care.’

There are four basic necessities in life: food, clothing, shelter, and love.  When a person feels that nobody loves them or cares about them, they are prone to turning to the worst behaviours imaginable.  Why bother living up to certain standards when nobody loves you?  Why should you bother about your reputation when nobody cares?

I have spoken to mental-health patients in hospital who were in the depths of despair.  At the bottom of their issues was often a feeling that nobody loved them in this world.  And so what difference did their choices in life make? 

Listen to the words of the Talmud: It’s impossible that nobody at all cares!  You know who cares about you even if you feel that everyone else has forsaken you?  Your Father in Heaven.   He cares.  He loves you deeply.  You are His prince or princess.  And He values your actions and reputation. 

All too often we turn to inappropriate behaviour, language or mode of dress because we don’t think much of ourselves.   We’ve all seen people who look, act, or talk ‘trashy.’  That’s because they’ve degenerated to a level in life where they feel nobody cares about them and they’ll take whatever love and attention they can grab onto.

But you are a prince!  You are a princess!  Just like Princess Kate who is admired by all for the way she carries herself, knowing full well that the reputation of the royal family is at stake, you too must know that you are loved and cherished by your Father, the King of Kings.  Even when you think nobody else in your life cares, know that as a child of the Almighty, you have a reputation to protect!

That must express itself in how you dress, how you speak, how you act.  You represent your Father, the King, and you must always make Him proud!  He cares about your reputation, because your reputation reflects upon His reputation, as your Father!

You are a child of the Almighty, the King of Kings.  Dress like a princess!  Act like a prince!  Talk like a princess!  May you merit maintaining the finest, untarnished reputation for yourself and for your Father in Heaven!

Happiness is getting people to agree with you

Daf Yomi Kesubos 40
Rabbi Meir Shapiro is the person most responsible for revolutionizing Torah study in modern history.  Due to his Daf Yomi concept, tens of thousands of individuals learn a page of Talmud every day.  Prior to his idea, scholars would spend a week or more on a single page; and laypeople would attend a class in Ein Yaakov, which is a compendium of stories from the Talmud.  Rabbi Shapiro obviously felt that we were selling ourselves short with this model, and that even the simplest of Jews could handle the rigors of the full Talmud.  And so today, no matter one’s ability or background, one can attend a Daf Yomi class and grapple with the debates of the Gemara in all its glory.

But Rabbi Shapiro was very clever.  He didn’t get up and criticize the previous approach to learning and suggest a new method.  Instead, he made the following suggestion: Wouldn’t it be great if a Jew from Minsk could meet a Jew from New York and be on the same page of the Gemara and thus able to engage in a Talmudic conversation?  That was a fabulous idea with which no one could argue.  And so, slowly but surely, Daf Yomi took off around the world, revolutionizing the way we learn Torah!  

The Mishnah states: Regarding an orphan who was betrothed and divorced, Rabbi Elazar teaches: One who violates her is liable to pay the fine, but one who seduces her is exempt.

Rabbah bar bar Chanah quoted Rabbi Yochanan: Rabbi Elazar stated this law according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, his teacher, who said, ‘A maiden who was betrothed and divorced, and subsequently violated or seduced, is entitled to receive the fine and she keeps it herself (as opposed to it being given to her father).
How do we know that Rabbi Elazar agrees with Rabbi Akiva?  From that which our Mishnah states regarding an orphan – Rabbi Elazar teaches that the violator is liable and the seducer exempt – is it not obvious that one who seduces an orphan is exempt?  She has no father to receive the fine, and she herself is not entitled since she acted willingly!
Rather, Rabbi Elazar is teaching us that a maiden who was betrothed and divorced has the same status as an orphan.  Just like an orphan is independent and personally receives the fine, similarly a maiden who was betrothed and divorced becomes independent of her father and personally receives the fine.

Rabbi Zaira quoted Rabbah bar Sheila who quoted Rabbi Hamnuna the Elder, quoting Rabbi Ada bar Ahavah in the name of Rav: The Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar.
Rav then declared about Rabbi Elazar: He is the happiest sage! 

What made Rabbi Elazar the happiest sage?  He managed to sway people to his opinion without anyone realizing that he was offering a conflicting view!  What’s more, he successfully corrected his own teacher, Rabbi Akiva, without sounding disrespectful in the slightest!   How did he do it?  He offered a ruling that seemed completely independent of the previous discussion, but implicitly commented on the prior teaching.

Rabbi Akiva ruled regarding a divorced maiden that she personally keeps her fine.  Rabbi Elazar essentially comes to argue and point out that his teacher’s ruling is true only in the case of violation, but not in the case of seduction.  Instead of arguing with Rabbi Akiva, he presents the different case of the orphan-girl, which implicitly demonstrates what the ruling should have been regarding the divorced maiden.  And so without being disrespectful, he corrected his teacher and the Halacha accords with him!  That’s why he deserves the title ‘happiest sage!’

The most effective way to sway people to your way of thinking is not head-to-head conflict.  When you argue with their position, they become defensive and begin to attack yours.  You want people to think like you?  Approach it from a completely different angle and demonstrate the logic of your view.  That was Rabbi Elazar’s approach to differing with Rabbi Akiva – how blessed and happy was he!  

And that was Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s approach when he revolutionized Torah learning.  Instead of criticizing the contemporary worldview, he offered a completely novel way to think about Torah – as a means of communication between Jews around the world.  And before we knew it, his revolutionary idea had taken root and he became personally responsible for tens of thousands of daily Torah study hours; hours that most people otherwise probably would not have spent engaged in Torah study whatsoever! 

If you want to convince people of your opinion, don’t argue with them.  Find a different way of looking at things.  Once you have the boxing gloves on, nobody’s listening.  May you merit demonstrating to others new perspectives on life, and just like Rabbi Shapiro, bringing people closer to our Father in Heaven without them even realizing it!  

Friday, 13 March 2015

Are you mature about death?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 39

 In his younger years, Rabbi Avigdor Miller tried to attend as many community simchas as he could.  As he got older, however, he began to decline the invitations.

‘I’m studying for a faher (exam),’ he would say.

‘But what faher could you possibly be taking at your age?’ they would ask him.

‘In the not-too-distant future,’ Rabbi Miller would respond, ‘I will be called back to my Creator and stand before a panel of angels in Heaven.  They will want to determine where to send me in the Next World.  Your place in Heaven is determined by how much Torah you learned during your lifetime.  I am now intensely reviewing for my ultimate faher!’

If a man violated a young girl and she subsequently died prior to the court’s judgment against him, what is the law?

Mar bar Rav Ashi asked the question as follows: Does death cause maturity or does death not cause maturity?

Rashi explains: If a young girl matures into adulthood prior to the trial, her father would no longer be entitled to the fine, as she would keep it herself.  Do we say that likewise if she died, it is as if she matured and left her father’s domain (and therefore her children receive the compensation)?

For some people, like Rabbi Miller, death causes maturity.  Realizing that his time left on earth was limited, he set his mind to making sure that his spiritual house was in order.  Ethics of the Fathers enjoins us, “This world is like a hallway.  Prepare yourself in the hallway in order to enter the palace.”   Seeing the palace up ahead should remind a person to ready oneself for the final banquet!

Sadly, for most people, death does not cause maturity.  On the contrary, most take the attitude of ‘eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.’   They have ‘bucket lists’ full of naarishkeit (foolishness) including all the exotic destinations they need to travel to, all the pastimes they need to try, the golf scores they need to achieve and so on.  That’s an immature attitude to death.

Indeed, many people do experience spiritual awakenings when they are faced with the death of a loved one.  They realize that life is short and that we must be here for a higher purpose.  Many a mourner has had their Judaism reignited while saying kaddish and attending daily minyan.  They are the mature few.  Tragically, however, most people just want to get the shivah over and done with, and get on with their lives.  ‘Can’t we just celebrate their life and avoid talking about death?’ we hear all too often.

It’s time to be mature about death.  It’s time to realize that our time on earth is short; but long enough to adequately prepare yourself for the final banquet.   May you merit partaking of the great Heavenly feast because you dealt with death in a mature manner, and never sought to avoid the big questions in life!