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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Can I call you Daniel?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 85

Just like the night is darkest before the dawn, our Sages tell us that in the era before the coming of Moshiach, chutzpah will abound.  We live in an age when nobody has any respect anymore.  Many children call their parents by their first names; many students call their teachers by their first names.   The younger generation lacks respect for their elders – instead of seeking their wisdom, they think they know better than the old fogies.

There was once a fellow who declared, ‘I leave everything to Toviah’ and died. Toviah came along.
Rabbi Yochanan announced, ‘Behold, Toviah has come.’
If the dying man said ‘Toviah,’ but Rabbi Toviah came, it’s not the same.  He declared Toviah should inherit, not Rabbi Toviah.  But if he would normally arrogantly refer to the rabbi by his first name, he was probably just being arrogant and meant Rabbi Toviah.

Unfortunately, our generation’s problem of disrespect has reached so deep that our authority figures often even encourage people to be disrespectful.   It’s the teachers themselves that are telling their students to call them by their first names.  It’s the parents themselves that are telling their children to call them by their first names.  And despite the arrogance, as the Talmud calls it, we live in an age where many rabbis are asking people to call them by their first names.

Would you walk into the Prime Minister’s office and say, ‘Hi Stephen’?  Would you address a judge in court by her first name?  Of course not.  We still have some shred of respect left.  When rabbis, teachers or parents offer their first names to be used, their motivation is utterly misguided.  In their minds, they want to remove barriers and forge a closer relationship with those in their care. 

But they’ve forgotten what they represent.  When you show respect for your teacher, you are showing respect for the institution of education.  That’s what teachers embody.  When you show respect for your rabbi, you are showing respect for the Torah.  And when you show respect for parents, you are showing respect for G-d – they are His partners in giving you life.

It’s time we started teaching our kids to respect.  When you show the right respect, you appreciate your values and the importance of where you’ve come from.  May you merit showing, earning and receiving respect and may Moshiach come despite our good manners! 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

May G-d grant you Facetime!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 84

My friend, Josh, has incredible fear of Heaven.  Fear of Heaven is meant to be a positive experience whereby one lives a life infused with Divine energy.  Sinning stops the flow of energy and that’s why we are fearful – who would want to be cut off from their energy source?

But Josh thinks that fear of Heaven means that G-d is out to get him.  Every time he fails to do a mitzvah properly, he begins to imagine his life caving in on him as G-d’s wrath is poured out upon him.  Instead of living a joyful life, he has twisted his religion to become a source of constant stress and worry. 

But maybe he’s right, after all.  Doesn’t the Torah say that G-d will reward us when we do mitzvos and punish us when we sin? 

The Mishnah states: One who dies leaving a widow, a creditor and child-heirs, and a deposit or loan in the hands of others, Rabbi Tarfon says: The money should be given to the weakest party (i.e. the widow or creditor).  Rabbi Akiva says: We may not show mercy in judgment!  Rather, the money must be given to the heirs. 

When a mortal court shows mercy in a civil case, favouring the weaker party, they in effect become Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.  As much as the judge’s heart may be bleeding for this poor widow, he has no right to take money away from the heirs, money that rightfully belongs to them.

While that’s true for a mortal court, the good news is that the Heavenly court may indeed show mercy in judgment.  Why?  Because G-d has more than enough to go around.  He has an unlimited supply of abundant prosperity, health and success for all His children.  When He gives of His bounty to one child, He has not depleted His supply; He still has loads more to give His other children!

If G-d were to employ His attribute of justice in our lives, most of us would not fare very well.  Instead, He takes His attribute of mercy and allows it to trump the attribute of justice and be gracious towards us.  There’s no need to live in constant fear of G-d’s wrath – if He indeed treated us exactly as we deserved, we’d all be in trouble.  He doesn’t; He treats us all with abundant lovingkindness.  That doesn’t mean we should take advantage of His graciousness and act disdainfully towards Heaven; rather, it means you can count on G-d to show you mercy and compassion for your mistakes in life.

In the priestly blessing, we ask G-d to shine His face towards us and be gracious to us, to turn His face to us and grant us peace.  To use a current expression, we’re asking G-d for Facetime.  And as our Father in Heaven, He will give you as much Facetime as you are prepared to give Him.  May you merit shining your face towards G-d and granting Him abundant Facetime, so that he too may be gracious and merciful to you and grant you abundant Facetime!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Your kids yearn for your protest

Daf Yomi Kesubos 83

Moshe and Tiffany came to see me about their son, Frank.  An honours student in high school, he just found his first girlfriend.  Problem was, she wasn’t Jewish.  Tiffany and Moshe weren’t happy, but their friends were telling them to calm down – after all, Frank’s only sixteen, it’s not like he’s getting married to her.  Should they be concerned?

A Beraisa states: One who declares to his friend, ‘I have no claim or other matter upon this field and I have no business with it and my hand is removed from it,’ he has not said anything that would relinquish his rights.

They asked a question: What if the friend made an act of acquisition following the declaration?
Rav Yosef taught: He acquires the claim and matter (i.e. nothing).
Rav Nachman taught: He acquires the land itself.
Said Abaye: Presumably, Rav Yosef is right in the case where the original owner protested (when his friend started to assume ownership on account of their exchange).  But if he stood there and said nothing for a couple of days, then the friend does indeed acquire the land itself.

When he hears people say that dating non-Jews is no big deal, it’s not intermarriage, Rabbi David Orlafsky famously declares, ‘Dating leads to marriage.  I have yet to meet someone who got married without dating first!’  Sure, Tiffany and Moshe could reason that a sixteen year old high school date is harmless, but if they fail to protest now, they are sending a tacit message of approval.  Or at the very least, they are demonstrating that they’re not so bothered.

Once you let a couple of days go by, or a couple of years, without protesting, it’s too late.  Now’s the time to object to this violation of your family’s values.  The second you invite your kid’s non-Jewish girlfriend or boyfriend to stay for dinner, just to be nice, it’s game over.  You’ve demonstrated that you can live with their choices.

If you only knew how much your kids respect and value your opinion, you’d pull no punches.  They might appear to respond with chutzpah, but deep down, they appreciate and crave your guidance.  In fact, the first time your kid brings home a non-Jewish partner, they’re looking to see your reaction, almost hoping you’ll be their voice of conscience so that they don’t have to make the tough decision on their own.  If instead, you decide to ignore the problem and hope it’ll go away, not only have you let yourself and your own parents down, you’ve let your child down as well.

Don’t wait to protest.  Your child is looking to you for help, from career guidance to their decisions whether to take up smoking and drinking to dating choices.  May you merit the Divine inspiration to guide your children to make the right decisions and the strength to stand up and protest when they take the wrong paths in life!  

Do you have a prenup?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 82

Before I marry any couple, I always make sure they sign the halachic prenup.  Should the relationship end in divorce, G-d forbid, this important document ensures there will be no issues with delivery of the gett.  I walk the couple through the issue, they sign, and then I instruct them to put it away never to be seen again.  After all, we hope and pray that this marriage will be forever!

The Mishnah states: A man may not say to his wife, ‘Behold, your ketubah entitlement is sitting on the table.’  Rather, all of his assets are held in lien for her ketubah. 
A Beraisa similarly teaches: Originally, when the ketubah payment of two hundred zuz for a first-time marriage and one hundred for a widow was enacted, the men were becoming old bachelors (the women would contend that there was no guarantee the money would be there upon dissolution of the marriage, since it could be tied up in property). 

And so they instituted that the money be left in a designated place in her father’s home.  But, at the first sign of conflict, he would say to her, ‘Go take your ketubah money and get out of here!’  They then instituted that the money be left in a designated place in their own home.  Rich women would use the money to fashion bowls of silver and gold; poor women would fashion urinals.  And still, at the first sign of conflict, he would say to her, ‘Take your ketubah and get out of here!’  Until Shimon ben Shetach came along and instituted that a man shall write for his wife, ‘All my assets are held in lien for her ketubah.’

The purpose of the ketubah money is so that it shouldn’t be easy for a husband to divorce his wife.  For most people, it’s no simple matter to suddenly come up with a hundred thousand dollars, and so he’ll think twice before calling it quits.   But if the money is already set aside in the safe to access whenever needed, it doesn’t really serve as a deterrent, because in the husband’s mind, it’s already a sunk cost.  And so eventually Shimon ben Shetach instituted that no money may be set aside, rather all the assets are responsible for the payment.

Before his institution, why would they fashion gold bowls and urinals using their ketubah monies?  They were sending a subtle message to their husbands: the poor women were saying, ‘If this marriage is about some transaction between us and you’ve already decided how much I’m worth to you, this urinal here is what I think of our marriage.’  Similarly, the rich women were symbolically telling their new husbands, ‘You think I need your money?  That’s not why I got married.  Life was great in my wealthy parents’ home.’  The message both were conveying to their husbands was that marriage is about the coming together of two halves of a soul.  If it’s going to be about what’s mine and what’s yours, I’m not interested.

Sadly, we live in a world today where financial prenups are the norm. 
‘What, you’re not writing a prenup?’
‘Why would I?  I intend to stay married to this person forever!’
‘Seriously?  I can’t believe you’d be so naïve!’

Is that what our society has come to?  We get married with no intention or hope that it will be forever.  And so we write prenups.  We keep separate bank accounts.  We save our own money and keep it in our own little safes just in case things go south. 

It’s time to become one with your spouse.  Marriage is not a business deal.  Marriage is about forever.  Unless you can have that trust in your spouse, why bother?  If you’re coming into it with a backup plan, that’s really sad.  Take that leap of faith and give it your all!  If you want your spouse to give you their ultimate trust, you must be prepared to throw yourself headfirst into the relationship, no strings or backup plans attached!

Rabbanit Batya tells the story of the fellow who confided in his wife that he was dealing with some major legal issues at work.  Next thing he knows, she’s found herself a lawyer to find out how she can protect herself from going down financially with him!  Talk about a lack of trust!

Marriage is forever.  Trust in your spouse and take that leap of faith into the relationship.  May you merit sharing everything with your spouse from finances to the deepest recesses of your mind, heart and soul!  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Careful what you wish for

Daf Yomi Kesubos 81

Many years ago, a friend of mine was engaged to a young lady who was very pretty, but not the nicest person.  Just before the marriage, she decided to break it off.  He was devastated.  He wanted nothing in the world other than to be married to her but she wasn’t interested anymore.  He prayed and prayed to G-d that He would change her mind.  But to no avail.

A couple of years later, he met a lovely young lady and they got married.  Today, thank G-d, they have an incredible marriage with six beautiful children.  Meanwhile, I recently heard about his first fiancée.  She’s been married and divorced three times and has never quite gotten her life together.

Concerning the Sotah, the Torah declares, “If a man's wife goes astray, and acts unfaithfully against him, he shall bring his wife to the priest, and the priest shall have in his hand the water of bitterness.”
We learned in a Mishnah:  If the husband died before she had a chance to drink the bitter water, Beis Shamai says, ‘they receive their ketubah entitlement and do not drink.’  Beis Hillel says, ‘either they drink or they do not take the ketubah entitlement.’

The Sotah waters are only administered when a husband warns his wife not to seclude herself with another man and she disobeys his plea.  Imagine the stroke of luck this woman feels she’s just experienced.  Clearly their marriage was on the rocks and she’s gone looking elsewhere.   But then she gets caught and she’s praying and praying for a way out.  Lo and behold, before she’s had a chance to drink the bitter waters, her husband dies.  Her first reaction is a feeling of relief.  But then she’s overcome by guilt. 
‘Do you think I killed him?’ she says to herself.

The good news is that while you might be able to pray for someone else’s good fortune, your prayers can’t really bring misfortune upon them if there is no Heavenly decree to that effect. But when it comes to your own situation, you certainly need to be careful what you pray for.

Sometimes you pray for something and G-d answers your prayers.  Other times you pray and G-d appears unresponsive.  So you pray harder; still no response.  You then go into overdrive praying for something that the Almighty knows is a bad idea.  Our Sages tell us something funny: if you pray hard enough for something, sometimes G-d will say, ‘Fine, if you insist.  I’ll grant you your prayer and let you learn the hard way why this is a bad idea.’

We only see things in life through our mortal eyes in the here and now.  G-d sees all possible outcomes and the big picture.  Sure, He wants you to pray for your needs and wants.  But if you don’t get what you’re asking for, don’t stop believing in Him.  He doesn’t want you to get hurt.  He knows what’s best for you.   Sometimes you just have to accept His decision even if you don’t understand.  When you start arguing with Him and thinking you know what’s best, He might just allow you to learn from your own mistakes.  Don’t go there!  Instead, allow Him to decide who you marry and who you don’t; who you work for and who you don’t; which house you live in and which you don’t.

Be careful what you pray for.  Trust in the Almighty to do what’s best.  May you merit unwavering faith in Heaven when He answers your prayers and even when He appears unresponsive!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Spiritual Cost-Benefit Analysis

Daf Yomi Kesubos 80

Rachel was stressed out just at the thought of calling Mindy.   She always made a point of touching base with her whenever she was in LA.  After all, they’d grown up together, and as kids they were best friends.  But now she felt emotionally drained every time they met.  Much as she loved LA, she dreaded seeing her old friend.  And the truth is, when Mindy was in New York, she never made an effort to call.  ‘Maybe it’s time to call it a day on this relationship,’ she pondered.

There was once a woman who inherited four hundred zuz in Jose Bay.  En route to collecting her four hundred, her husband spent six hundred zuz.  On the way home, he needed one more zuz and he took it from the inheritance money.  He subsequently appeared before Rabbi Ami seeking compensation for his expenditure.  He ruled, “What you spent, you spent; and what you ate, you ate.”

In this story, it was nice of the husband to go off travelling to get his wife her inheritance, but he spent more in the process than he actually gained!  What’s the point of that?  Clearly not much of a businessman, he failed to perform a cost-benefit analysis prior to setting out on his journey!

Every night before going to sleep, one should make a cheshbon hanefesh, which literally means ‘accounting of the soul,’ but roughly translates to a personal cost-benefit analysis.   ‘What spiritual investments did I make today?  Were they worth the effort I put in?’  You’re meant to subject yourself to this self-analysis each day.  And then during the month of Elul, as you approach the New Year, you should perform the analysis for your accomplishments over the course of the past year.  If you’re investing more in terms of time and effort than you’re getting out of it, you’re doing something wrong.

How does this cost-benefit analysis work?  Let’s say you feel like patting yourself on the back because you attended a shiur (class) that day.  Well, out of the hour-long class, how much were you paying attention?  Could you have accomplished more if you’d learned with a chavrusa (study partner) instead?  Or do you find yourself chatting about naarishkeit (nonsense) half the time when you’re meant to be learning with your chavrusa?  

You went to shul to daven.  Did you spend the time productively or were you hanging out with the guys talking through davening?  If you didn’t bother davening properly in shul, could you have been more effective at home?   Could you be more effective at a different minyan?  Sure, you get Heavenly marks simply for showing up, but if you can’t prove to yourself that the time was well spent, you’re not achieving your full potential in life. 

The same is true of relationships.  Sure you have to be nice to everyone.  But if you feel that every time you talk to some person in your life you feel drained and stressed, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.  You can’t allow others to take away your joy, just because they have so much negative energy.  In life, you get to choose who you’d like to surround yourself with – you want to pick people with positive energy who are going to bring joy into your life. 

Or maybe you’re pushing your kid in a certain educational direction that you think is a good idea, but they’re overwhelmed and almost drowning.  You have to ask yourself whether you are truly helping them.  Whether all the stress you’re causing them will truly pay off or whether they should consider an alternative path of action.

You wouldn’t keep investing time and effort in a business venture that’s not working.  Cost-benefit analyses must be performed in every aspect of your life.  May you merit maximizing your growth by constantly assessing everything you do and investing in the things that will bring the most positive energy into your life!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Compartmentalized Judaism

Daf Yomi Kesubos 79

When I was in my first year of college, I would be at university during the day and I would attend yeshiva and have a chavrusa (Torah study partner) in the evenings.    It was weird: at one point I felt like I had two separate lives.  During the day, I was a college guy, socializing, hanging out.  And at night, I was a yeshiva bochur, learning Torah, keeping company with my chaverim in the yeshiva.  

At the end of the year, I decided to go to Israel and do another year in yeshiva full-time.  When I returned, I continued my university.  But this time was very different.  I shifted my timetable so that now I was in yeshiva during the day and took college classes at night.  Gone were my days of hanging out at university – I would simply go in, take my courses and leave.

The Mishnah states: If a woman brought personal property into the marriage, Rabbi Shimon distinguishes between different types of property:  Property that the husband is aware of, she may not sell; and if she sold or gifted it, the transaction is null and void.  Property that the husband is unaware of, she should not sell; but if she did sell or gift it, the transaction is effective.

The Beraisa states: One who wishes to conceal her assets from her husband, what should she do?  Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘She should write a technicolour (passim) contract to someone else.’  But the Sages say, ‘If the recipient would want, he could laugh off her eventual claim.’
Rashi explains:  A technicolour contract is one in which the giver asks the recipient to accept their assets as a gift, in order to avoid them passing to her husband upon marriage.  But the giver has no intention of the recipient keeping the assets.  The recipient, however, might laugh off her claim (when she eventually requests their return) and hold on to the assets forever.

A technicolour contract, or a contract of many colours (passim), masquerades as something it is not.  Officially, the property is being transferred to a third party, but it’s a sham transaction that the woman never truly intends to effect.  As the Sages say, it’s laughable and not to be taken seriously. 

Why is it called a contract of many colours?  Because this individual is presenting herself as one identity to one person (her husband) and as another identity to someone else.  It’s a contract of many colours or many identities because she presents different faces depending upon who she’s dealing with.  In the end, the Sages laugh her off and tell her that her ruse won’t work. 

Many people compartmentalize their life and wear different faces and identities depending on where they are and who they are dealing with.  They’ll act pious in the synagogue and community, but then throw off the yarmulke and become ruthless in the workplace.  They’ll keep the most scrupulously kosher homes but then join their colleagues for a treif business lunch.

Who are you?  Are you the same person in shul as you are at home as you are at work?  Or do you have a face of many colours?  Do you compartmentalize your life into different contracts or are you the same person, no matter what or who is watching?  Don’t be laughable in the eyes of Heaven!  Be true to yourself and true to those around you by maintaining your face of righteousness and piety wherever you go!

When my friend, Rabbi Jonathan Gross of Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore is asked, ‘Where are you a rabbi?’ he responds, ‘Wherever I go!’  May you merit being a sincere and transparent Yid wherever you go!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Bury the hatchet forever

Daf Yomi Kesubos 78

Maggie and Freddie’s marriage was spiralling out of control.  They were always bickering at one another and the tension was high.
“Freddie is always bringing up our old fights,” said Maggie, “It seems as though every time we have an argument, it’s building on our last fight.  Suddenly, he bombards me with every disagreement we ever had.”

A woman who inherited property prior to becoming betrothed, Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel both agree that she may sell or gift the property and the transaction is effective.  If she inherited the property after betrothal, Beis Shamai says she may sell, but Beis Hillel says she should not sell.  Nevertheless, both agree that if she did sell or gift the property, the transaction is effective.

Rabbi Yehuda taught: The Sages contended before Rabban Gamliel, “Once he has acquired his wife, does he not acquire her possessions?”  He responded, “We are already embarrassed about the new (property).  Do you additionally wish to impose the old upon us?”
Rashi explains: Why did the Sages see fit to rule that if she sold or gifted property she inherited after marriage, her husband has the right to annul the transaction and repossess the property?

At the beginning of the Shema prayers we recite before retiring to bed at night, we chant a prayer where we forgive all who may have wronged us that day.  That way, you can go to bed without holding a grudge against anyone.  It is especially important to pay particular attention to your relationship with your spouse.   Many spouses make a point of never going to bed upset at one another – this prayer guarantees that! 

Having utterly forgiven your spouse for everything on a daily basis means it’s impossible to ever bring up past arguments.  They’re completely gone.  Your spouse might have said or done things in the past that upset you.  But if you forgave them – which you should daily – you must never ever bring it up again.   As the Sages tell Rabban Gamliel, the new issues are embarrassing enough as it is, without having to re-impose the old issues!  You should be embarrassed to bring up old issues – it reflects poorly on you, it means you never really forgave your spouse and they can’t really trust you to put things in the past behind you.

Don’t bring up old issues.  Forgive your spouse daily and bury the matter never to be heard of again.  May you merit a beautiful relationship filled with love and caring and forgiveness!

Monday, 20 April 2015

How to enter Heaven alive

Daf Yomi Kesubos 77

In one of the most unforgettable moments in the Bible, the prophet Elijah cheats death as he is whisked off to Heaven in a chariot of fire.  Looking on incredulously, his disciple Elisha yearns for such an end and vows to emulate his teacher’s righteous ways.

What does going to Heaven alive mean?  Was Elijah the only one in our history to have entered Heaven alive?

A Beraisa taught: If one let blood and immediately engaged in marital relations, he will have feeble children.   If they both let blood and engaged, they will have children with ‘raasan’ disease. 
Rav Papa explains: This only happens if they did not taste anything in between, but if they tasted something in between, there’s no cause for concern.
What are the symptoms of raasan?  One’s eyes tear, his nose runs, he emits saliva from his mouth, and flies swarm around him. Rabbi Yochanan declared, ‘Beware of the flies around those afflicted with raasan!’  Rabbi Zaira would avoid sitting in the same environs as people with raasan.  Rabbi Elazar would not enter a tent of people sick with raasan.  Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would not eat eggs that came from a neighbourhood where raasan was present.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would keep company with people afflicted with raasan and engage in Torah study.  Quoting the verse in Proverbs that describes the Torah as “a beloved deer that charms,” he would say that if Torah charms those who learn, certainly it must protect them! 
When he died, they told the angel of death, ‘Go and fulfill his wishes.’ The angel went and appeared to him. 
He said, ‘Show me my place in Heaven.’
‘Okay,’ replied the angel.
‘Give me your knife,’ said Rabbi Yehoshua, ‘lest you scare me on the way.’  He gave it to him.  When they arrived, the angel lifted the rabbi up to see his place.  But he jumped up and over to the other side.

He went and found Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who was sitting on thirteen golden chairs.
He asked him, ‘Are you the son of Levi?’
‘Yes,’ he replied.
‘Did the rainbow appear during your lifetime?’ asked Rabbi Shimon.
‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Yehoshua.
‘If so,’ responded Rabbi Shimon, ‘you are not the son of Levi.’
The truth is, no rainbow appeared during his lifetime, but he did not want to take the credit. 

Just like the prophet Elijah, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi had the incredible merit of entering Heaven alive.  Here, the Talmud grants us special insight into who he was and why he was granted such an opportunity.   While all his colleagues shunned those afflicted with the raasan disease, he reached out to the poor souls who were afflicted through no fault of their own.

But let’s take a step back and begin with the cause of the affliction.  In ancient times, it was popular to let blood from time to time.   Thank G-d, we have come a long way: nowadays we appreciate the value of blood, which the Torah calls ‘life’ itself; and the only time we voluntarily release blood is in order to share it with another human being, in order to grant them life.

When a person engages in bloodletting – fulfilling their bodily desires – and then immediately jumps to marital relations, the Beraisa warns us that it is dangerous.   Intimate relations may be the holiest act or the coarsest behaviour.  If all that is on your mind is the desire of the flesh – from bloodletting to relations – that will have negative consequences.   

Nonetheless, Rav Papa informs us that doing a mitzvah as simple as eating in between will resolve the matter.  Why?  Eating connects the physical world with the spiritual.  When you eat, the food is transformed into energy that enables you to serve Heaven.  You have thus elevated the food from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.  And so at that moment, you’ve managed to switch gears from fulfilling the desires of the flesh to living a G-dly existence, and your marital relations will be energized from a pure source.

And yet some people will engage in relations purely serving their physical desires.  Such a union, says the Beraisa, may be disastrous for their children, to the extent that most of the rabbis would stay far away from such people for fear of their negative energy rubbing off.  Not Rabbi Yehoshua.  He insisted on reaching out to them, assured that the Torah would protect him. 

As a result of his outreach, he was granted the opportunity to enter Heaven alive.  What does that mean?  Just like Rav Papa’s example of the mitzvah of eating, your purpose in this world is to fuse the physical with the spiritual.  Some people will get caught in the net of physicality and spend a lifetime in pursuit of the desires of the flesh.   Others will shun the physical world and create a sanctuary, a sacred space, to devote themselves to Torah and avoid the world around them.  The ultimate Jew goes out into the world, draws down spirituality into the mundane and elevates the physical. 

That was Rabbi Yehoshua.  He was not afraid to go out and meet his brothers and sisters who were far removed from spirituality.  Because for him there were no barriers between the physical and spiritual realms.  That’s the meaning of entering Heaven in a body.  When you’ve elevated your body to such an extent that you’ve fused the physical and spiritual worlds, your entire being can enter Heaven.  Just like Elijah, who dedicated his life to going out into the world and attempting to win back the hearts and minds of his wayward brethren, Rabbi Yehoshua was not afraid to face the real world and infuse it with spirituality.

But then he gets to Heaven and who does he meet?  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the rabbi who spent thirteen years secluded in a cave learning Torah.  Because as far as Rabbi Shimon understood, you can’t be a perfect tzadik – righteous person – if you’re allowing yourself to be out there in the world.  ‘There’s no way you could have acted like that and avoided the appearance of the rainbow,’ was what he was effectively telling him.  And while one can afford to be confrontational in the ivory tower (we know that Rabbi Shimon and his son had to spend an additional year in the cave because they couldn’t relate to regular people), outreach rabbis sometimes just need to smile and avoid unnecessary conflict.  And so Rabbi Yehoshua nods his head to the rainbow question without debating the matter.

You too can enter Heaven in a body.  It’s about fusing the physical with the spiritual.  It’s about engaging with our brothers and sisters who weren’t fortunate to have been born into spirituality, through no fault of their own.  When you maintain your spirituality in a mundane, physical world, you imbue your physical body with spirituality, the ultimate being the total spirituality of the physical body.  We will all experience that eventually, with the resurrection of the dead.  But in the meantime, only very few select individuals get there.

G-d placed you into this world to impact the world.  But at the same time, you must never forget that you are a child of the Almighty, you are a spiritual being.  May you merit fusing the physical with the spiritual and entering Heaven in a chariot of fire!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Can you truly love an adopted child?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 76

In order to avoid transgressing biblically-prohibited relationships, the Rabbis expanded the laws of yichud – secluding oneself with an unrelated man or woman.  Generally, it is forbidden to be alone with someone who is not your parent, spouse or child.  Likewise, hugging and kissing are prohibited.  But what about adopted children?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked the question and ruled that being alone with, and hugging and kissing an adopted child is permissible.  Explained Rav Moshe: When a child is adopted at a young age, one develops a true parent-child relationship and the assumption is that a parent would never act inappropriately with their child.  Just like a biological parent is permitted to be alone with their child, so too may an adopted parent be alone with their child (as long as the parents of the child are married).

But how does a parent-child relationship develop between two unrelated individuals?

If a needle was found in an animal’s stomach and it was visible from only one side, it is kosher; but from both sides, it is treif.  If blood was found on the needle, it is clear that it was wounded prior to slaughter; but if there was no blood found, it clearly happened after slaughter.  If a scab formed over the wound, it clearly happened three days prior to the slaughter; if there is no scab, it is incumbent upon the one who is trying to exact the money from the other to prove when it happened.

The Gemara asks: If the butcher (i.e. the buyer) hadnot yet paid the money, the original owner would have to provide proof in order to get his owed money from the butcher.  But why is that so?  The doubt only arose once in the hands of the butcher (who cut open the animal)?
The Gemara answers: The butcher here has indeed already paid the money.
The Gemara ask: Why is that so clear-cut?
The Gemara answers: Generally speaking, as long as one has not yet given the money, the person will not grant the animal (chayusa).

Giving the money results in getting the chayusaChayusa means animal, but it comes from the word for life.  If you want to get the chayusa – the life and energy – you need to give the money, you need to be prepared to make the investment. 

Many people wonder why they’re not excited and passionate about their Judaism.  It’s because they have not invested the time, money and effort.  You want chayusa ­– life and energy – in your Judaism?  You need to invest time and effort into it.  You want to be excited about learning Torah?  It doesn’t come naturally.  It takes an investment of time and effort into figuring it all out.  You want to enjoy davening?  It takes an investment of time and effort into understanding what you’re saying and staying focused on your relationship with Heaven.

That’s how adoptive parents become just like biological parents: the more you invest in something or someone, the more you become one with them.  Adoptive parents, who invest time, money, and effort into their children, develop a natural relationship with them.  The same is true of the marital relationship, which is not biological: the more you invest in your spouse – emotionally, psychologically, financially, the more the relationship develops and becomes naturalized.

You want life, passion, energy?  You need to invest.  Whether it’s your familial relationships or your relationship with your Father in Heaven, the more time, money and effort you invest into the relationship, the greater the jubilation and oneness you will feel.  May you merit developing tight bonds and incredible passion throughout your physical and spiritual life!  

Trophy spouse

Daf Yomi Kesubos 75

Sam and Caitlyn had been married for years but they were living separate lives.  He would go golfing with his buddies every Sunday; she’d be out with the kids.  They took separate vacations and even kept separate bank accounts.  Some days, Caitlyn wondered why she was still with Sam.
‘At least I’m married,’ she would tell herself, ‘that’s got to be worth something in the game of life.’
From Sam’s perspective, he loved walking arm-in-arm with Caitlyn into his office parties and when entertaining clients.   Being married was great!  He couldn’t imagine where he’d be without her by his side. 

Raish Lakish taught: A woman would always rather be married than single.
Abaye taught: A woman whose husband is as short as an ant will place her seat amongst the aristocratic women.
Rav Papa taught: A woman whose husband’s job is to comb wool will call out to him at the gate of the house and sit with him.
Rav Ashi taught: A woman whose husband is of poor lineage will not even demand lentils for her pot.

It was taught in a Beraisa: All these women end up straying from their husbands and pinning it on them.

Many married people believe that they are doing their spouses a favour simply by being married to them.  It’s status to be married.   Even if you’re ugly (or as short as an ant), even if you don’t have a decent job (you comb wool), even if you’ve got a bad reputation, why should your spouse complain?  They should be happy that they’re not alone!

The Gemara concludes that if that’s your attitude to marriage, you’d better watch out.  If you’re not there for your spouse emotionally, they’ll wander off and find someone else to fulfill their needs.  Being married isn’t about being roommates and wearing a trophy on your arm, marriage is about making your spouse feel like the most important person in the world.  

They shouldn’t need to sit around with the aristocrats to feel special, they shouldn’t need to roll out the red carpet and make a scene as you walk through the gate, they shouldn’t need to get stressed out over making your dinner exactly the way you like it (lentils and all).

First and foremost, marriage is about being there for your spouse emotionally and psychologically.  Unless you’re constantly striving to make your spouse feel special, you’re not doing marriage.  You’re simply married, past tense.  Doing marriage means constantly thinking about what you can do next to make your spouse ever happier.

Sometime in the past, you were married.  Now, it’s time to do marriage.  May your spouse merit a spouse who is utterly dedicated to making them feel like the most important person in the universe!  

Spiritual Healing

Daf Yomi Kesubos 74

A colleague of mine recently embarked on a new idea to get to know his congregants a little better.  He calls it the ‘spiritual checkup.’  Just like you go to see your doctor for an annual physical checkup, he encourages his congregants to meet with the rabbi once a year for a spiritual checkup.  That gives him the opportunity to touch base, particularly with those he only sees a couple of times a year at High Holy days and simchas.  Oftentimes, the rabbi might not even hear when a congregant is unwell or has a family simcha or crisis – this way, he gets updated on what’s going on in his congregants’ lives; he’s able to share their joy and advise them in their time of need.

The Mishnah states: If a man betrothed a woman on condition that she has no pre-existing vows of abstinence and then discovered that she did have vows upon her, the marriage is void.  Similarly, if they were betrothed on condition that she had no physical blemishes and he then discovered her blemishes, the marriage is void.

The Rabbis taught: If she went to a sage who released her from her vows, they remain married.   But if she went to a doctor who healed her, the marriage is still void.  What is the difference between a sage and a doctor?  The sage has the power to uproot the vow from its inception; the doctor can only cure the malady going forward.

Rashi explains: When a sage annuls a vow, he seeks an opening for the abstainer to express remorse at having uttered the vow, thereby uprooting it from the beginning.  Thus, there was no vow present at the time of marriage.  A doctor, however, can only cure a malady going forward, which means that at the time of betrothal, the groom was deceived.  

When you sin, you blemish your soul.  Just like a physical wound, a spiritual blemish is painful and dangerous, and you’re going to want to cure it as quickly as possible.  The way to cure a spiritual wound is through teshuvah – repentance.  When you sincerely regret your misdeed, confess your iniquity to G-d, and promise never to do it again, you cure the blemish on your soul.  In Judaism, you can generally achieve that healing on your own; but if you feel you need assistance, you can always ask a chacham (sage or rabbi) for advice on achieving spiritual healing.

Here’s the incredible power of spiritual versus physical healing.  When you go to see a doctor, all they can do is cure your malady going forward.  Actually, they might not even be able to remove all evidence of the original wound – an operation might result in a lifelong scab, and medication might result in side-effects.  In contrast, when you achieve spiritual healing, you can completely uproot the problem from its origins, such that it’s as if it never happened!  What’s more, the Talmud tells us, an incredibly potent teshuvah has the power to transform the sins into merits!  Not only do your spiritual blemishes heal, they become jewellery for your soul! 

The power of teshuvah is unparalleled. In Judaism, when you turn over a new leaf, you completely eradicate the previously leaf that may have been a little rotten.  Sometimes you can do this by yourself; other times you might need to seek spiritual advice.   Just like you wouldn’t hesitate to ask a doctor about your physical ailments, don’t be shy to discuss your spiritual ailments with your rabbi.  May you merit transforming all your spiritual blemishes into jewels adorning your soul!  

Not who I thought I married

Daf Yomi Kesubos 73

Eli was distraught.  He’d been married for just three months and wasn’t sure if he wanted out.
“Rabbi, she’s not the girl I thought I married,” he said to me, “When I was researching the shidduch, everyone said she was the kindest soul.  And in the beginning, it’s true, she was really nice.  But now I’m seeing this whole other side of her.  Sometimes it feels like I’m married to two different women.  One day, she’ll be so sweet, but the next day, I’ve no idea who she is!”  

The Mishnah states: One who betroths a woman on condition that she has no previously-declared vows of abstinence upon her and they later found out that she did have vows she had made, the marriage is null and void.  If he married her without conditions, but then discovered she had vows, he may divorce her without paying the kesubah entitlement.

It was stated: If he betrothed her on condition but married her without conditions, Rav says she would require a gett, and Shmuel says she does not require a gett (i.e. the marriage is null and void).
Rabbah taught: They are debating a case where there was an error made with one woman who is like two women. 
(Rashi explains: He betrothed her with conditions then divorced her and went back and married her without conditions.  Since there are two marriages, it is like two women.)

We all go through cycles.  Physical, biological cycles.  Emotional cycles.  Spiritual cycles.  Don’t expect that your spouse will always be the incredibly sweet, pleasant, calm person you dated.   Being married means being with the entire person, through the tranquil times and the fiery times.  Sometimes, it might feel like you’re married to two different people, but remember, you’ve been blessed with finding a partner who is multi-dimensional, not the same boring person day-in day-out.

As a loving spouse, you need to learn to ride the wave and recognize when your spouse needs you the most.  Don’t fight back.  Don’t disappear when they need you more than ever.  Particularly when they’re going through their emotional highs and lows, you need to be there.  It’s the Almighty teaching you patience; teaching you tranquility; teaching you how to maintain your own balance and equilibrium, in the face of stress and adversity. 

You got married to serve this other person; in their entirety, through every facet of who they are.  We all have highs and lows; a loving spouse is always there.  May you merit growing with your spouse and always being there for them, especially when it seems like they are a completely different person to the one you thought you married!  

Choosing the right pallbearers

Daf Yomi Kesubos 72

“Nobody cares about me!” complained Rachel, “I’ve been ill and haven’t been to shul for weeks now, and you’re the only person to call me, Rabbi.  Why does nobody ever come and visit me?  Why does nobody offer to help me?”

I thought back to a conversation I had with Rachel a number of years ago.  We needed volunteers to help out with our Chanukah carnival and so I gave her a call.
“I don’t volunteer anymore,” she replied.
“Why not?” I asked, quite surprised at her firm response.
“Well, many years ago, I once helped out with a community project and I didn’t get so much as a thank you from anybody for all my hard work.”

The Mishnah states: One who takes an oath prohibiting his wife from going to a shivah house or a wedding, must divorce her and pay out her kesubah entitlement, since he is keeping her locked up in the house.
The Gemara asks: It makes sense that we are concerned for her being locked up regarding her inability to attend weddings, but what’s the problem with prohibiting her from attending shivah houses?
The Beraisa taught: Tomorrow she will die, and nobody will eulogize or bury her.
Similarly a Beraisa taught: Rabbi Meir would explain the verse in Ecclesiastes, “It is better to go to a shivah house than to a wedding, in that it is the end of every person, and the living will take it to heart.”   What will the living take to heart?  Matters of death.  When you eulogize others, others will eulogize you.  When you bury others, others will bury you.  When you weep for others, others will weep for you.  When you escort others to the grave, others will escort you.  When you bear the pall of others, others will bear your pall. 

It’s almost a cliché, but the way you treat others, you can expect to be treated yourself.  If you want others to call and visit when you take ill, make sure you are visiting the sick today, while you are healthy.  You want others to pay you a shivah visit when you lose a loved one?  Make sure you’re going to their shivah houses.

I knew this fellow who became ill and anytime people would ask him how he was doing, you could expect a ten minute response detailing every ailment in his body.  Nobody really wanted to hear all the minute details, but they listened.  Not only did they listen, but he was never short of visitors and people bringing him food and taking him to the doctor.  Why?  Because when he was well, he was always there for others.  He was an incredible community volunteer.   He was always trying to help people personally.  He might have been a little socially awkward, but everyone knew that his heart was in the right place.  So when his time of need came, everyone rushed to be there for him.

While you certainly should be helping others because it’s the right thing to do, remember that what goes around comes around.  One day, when you may need the assistance, they will be there for you.  May you merit being that person that everyone can always count on, personally and communally!  

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Embracing your in-laws

Daf Yomi Kesubos 71

Fraidy never had a wonderful relationship with her mother growing up.  She always looked longingly at the bond her friends had with their mothers but no matter how hard she tried, it seemed that her mother didn’t get her.  Mom wasn’t a bad person; Fraidy just felt that they had very different ways of looking at the world.

Fraidy met Yitz in her early twenties and they were married shortly thereafter.   She loved everything about Yitz – his sense of humour, his strength of character, his lovely demeanor.  But one thing started annoying her some time shortly after the wedding – from time to time, he would make snide remarks about her parents.

The truth is, he was really only echoing what he was hearing from her.  But in her mind, it was okay for her to put her parents down, but it was unacceptable for him to talk the way he did about her parents.   Eventually, she realized that she would have to change the way she talked about them and hopefully her husband would follow suit. 

The prophet Hosea declares, “It shall be on that day, says Hashem, you shall call Me: my husband (ish); and you will no longer call Me: my master (baal).”
Rabbi Yochanan taught: Israel will become like a bride in her in-laws’ home and no longer like a bride in her parents’ home.

There are two words for husband in Hebrew: baal and ish.  The former connotes ownership, while the latter connotes partnership.  When you get married, there’s a sense of winning a prize – you got the girl, you got the guy.  You own something that nobody else can have!  But true love moves must transition from that feeling of acquisition to a feeling of intense partnership of ish and isha

What’s one of the major impediments to creating that deep bond?  Rabbi Yochanan explains that the innate problem of marriage is that the two of you come from different backgrounds, different homes.  The wedding day is over, and suddenly, not only do you have a new spouse, but you have to deal with a whole new family, as well!  Many people are resistant to this transformation and say, ‘well, I married him, I didn’t marry his family.’

But Judaism does not accept that response.  Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) obligates a person to respect one’s in-laws.  Respect for in-laws is a much more difficult mitzvah than respect for parents – it’s not natural.  You need to work on yourself to make it happen.  And sometimes you need to tune out when your spouse is talking negatively about their parents.  It’s really not okay for them to talk negatively, but it’s certainly much worse if you weigh in.

Naturally, you’re going to be resistant to embracing your spouse’s quirky family.  It’s not what you’re used to.  But working your hardest to become part of the family and treating them as your own flesh and blood goes a very long way to becoming one with your spouse. 

Call your mother-in-law regularly.  Send her flowers for Shabbos.  Ask your father-in-law about the family customs and rituals.  Be the one who organizes their surprise wedding anniversary.  No matter how your spouse feels about their parents, they will unconsciously begin to admire and love you more intensely than ever!

Marriage is about the coming together not just of two individuals.  It is the coming together of two lives.  Those lives include different experiences, backgrounds and families.  May you merit embracing your spouse’s parents and siblings, becoming a regular, equal member of the family, and ultimately joining in true oneness with your spouse!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Martyrdom of fools

Daf Yomi Kesubos 70

Today's Life Yomi is dedicated in memory of Jonah Milner, Yona ben Shmuel z"l, in honour of the first yortzeit, by his granddaughter Sarah LaFreniere. 

Larry is fifty years old.  He still lives at home with his parents.  Actually, he hasn’t always lived with them.  For a time, he had his own apartment, took care of himself and rarely even called his parents.

 But Larry has a gambling problem.   Time and again, he has lost everything, getting deeper and deeper into debt and ultimately declaring bankruptcy.  Unable to cover his basic costs, ten years ago, he moved back in with his parents.   Initially, he was still working, but after a while, he got laid off and never got around to looking for a new job.  He just couldn’t be bothered.  After all, why should he?  He has a roof over his head; he gets three meals a day.  He has cable TV and internet.  What more could he ask for?  Meanwhile, Larry’s parents Jim and Maryanne are in their late seventies and still going to work every day to ensure they have enough money to take care of themselves and Larry. 

Maryanne’s sister, Jill comes round from time to time.
“Why don’t you kick him out already?” Jill asks her sister, wondering why Larry does nothing all day.
“I would never do that, he’s my son!”

If a fellow was thrown into a pit and shouted, ‘Whoever hears my voice, please write a gett for my wife!’ they should indeed write it and deliver it. 
Rashi explains: Even though the fellow did not explicitly instruct the scribe, it is nonetheless valid.

Why does this fellow not scream for help for someone to come and save him?  Instead, he’s so used to doing everything for everyone else that all he can think about it is, ‘How will this impact my poor wife?  Let me make sure she gets the gett so that she is not an agunah (chained wife)!’  It’s called martyrdom of fools.  He believes that he’s helping her.  But he’s not really helping her: the best way to help his wife would be to figure out how to get out of the pit and return to her!

And that’s what Maryanne is doing.  She feels bad for Larry and could never kick him out of the house.  So instead she goes to work each day and effectively supports his habit.  That’s not doing him any favours; it’s martyrdom of fools.  If she would force him to leave and get his life back on track, she would be helping him much more effectively than giving him dinner each night.  Her martyrdom is hurting herself and her son!

You were placed on this earth to help others.  But just make sure that you are indeed helping them and not simply providing a crutch for them to avoid helping themselves.  If you are suffering while others are living it up at your expense, you’re not doing them or yourself any favours.

It might be a child that you are giving money to way beyond the parental duty years.  It might be a friend who is dragging you down with their negative energy while you think you are helping them.  It might be an employee that is not pulling their weight: by constantly picking up the pieces and covering for their negligence, it might not be helping anyone.

Don’t be a martyr of folly.  Sometimes the best assistance you can give someone is to cut them loose and watch with consternation as they figure it out.  May you merit climbing out of the pit and watching others climb out of theirs!

Standing on the brink of Heaven

Daf Yomi Kesubos 69

Moshe grew up in a traditional, Israeli family.  After the army, like many Israelis, he hopped on a plane and set off to see the world.  Sadly, whatever Jewish observance that had not dissipated while he was in the army quickly vanished during his travels.  As things turned out, however, he ended up meeting a nice Canadian Jewish girl, got married and settled down in this country. 

One day, he received the sad news that his father had passed on.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t get to Israel in time for the funeral and so ended up sitting shivah at home in Canada.  During shivah, Moshe became a whole new person.  Shivah gave him a weeklong period of introspection; and, contemplating the temporary nature of life on this earth spurred him on to recommit to keeping Shabbos and maintaining a kosher home. 

Rabbi Abahu taught: How do we know that a mourner reclines at the head of the table?  For Job declares, “I shall choose their way and I shall sit at the head and dwell as a king of troops as mourners comfort.”
Mar Zutra taught: We derive it from Amos, where the verse declares, “Excessive mourning approaches,” which, reconfiguring the letters, may be understood as ‘the bitter and detached mourner becomes a prince for the exalted ones.’

The mourner sits at the head because at that moment they are at the most intense moment of spirituality.  Mourning the loss of a loved one is like holding their hand as they cross over from this world into the next.  At that brink, one experiences the most powerful challenge.   How do I continue alone without my dear one?  Where do I go from here?

And that’s why we see vastly different reactions to the death of a loved one.  Some people undergo a metamorphosis and conclude that life is incredibly short and temporary.   At that intense moment, they decide to redouble their efforts to connect to Heaven through the vehicle of Torah and mitzvos.  Some will struggle with their faith on the brink.  Others will attempt to simply avoid facing up to the struggle and skip shivah, because the challenge is too intense for them to face.

Nevertheless, every mourner, whatever their response to their loss, sits at the head.  We hold them in the utmost esteem as they stand at that intense spiritual point, so close to Heaven.  We don’t judge, we simply sit in reverence and awe and try to share in their loss by providing consolation and simply being there during their time of need.

We don’t hope for tragedy in our lives.  We hope that our lives will be as pain-free as possible.  But loss and tragedy are a part of life.  When loss strikes, you are the closest you can be on this earth to Heaven.  Your purpose in life is to take those moments and grow your soul, mightier and stronger.  It’s never easy, but that’s your mission on earth – to maintain your faith and become closer to the Divine.

Life is very short.  Every moment is precious.  May you merit a life dedicated to Heaven and see G-d through days of sunshine and darkness.  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Regarding religion, should you fake it till you make it?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 68

In the early years of the Hasidic movement, there was a good deal of opposition from certain circles that felt that Hasidism was being too innovative in its approach to Judaism.   They adopted all manner of stringency in mitzvos, along with extended prayer sessions; and so, among other things, they were accused of feigning piety. 
‘Look at these Hasidim,’ the Misnagdim (opponents) would say, ‘even the most unlettered, simplest of them davens for hours on end.  Who do they think they are?’

The Rabbis taught: One who pretends to be blind or that his stomach is bloated or his leg shrivelled will not leave this world until he is afflicted with that malady.  One who takes charity without needing it will not leave this world until he indeed needs it.

Rabbi Dovber, the Maggid of Mezritch, was the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.   Exclaimed the Maggid, ‘Even if the accusations of the Misnagdim are true about many of my Hasidim, I am not concerned.  For if the Gemara declares that one will not die without experiencing a negative practice that he has faked, then how much more so will a person not leave this world without experiencing a positive practice that he has pretended to aspire to!  They might not yet be as pious as they demonstrate, but I know that one day during their lifetimes, they will indeed be the Hasidim they yearn to be!’

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that one’s actions influence one’s values.   You might not believe in keeping Shabbos, but the more you do it, the more you will value it.  You might not believe in putting on tefillin, but if you start donning them each day, you will begin to appreciate the mitzvah. 

Many people mistakenly believe that the feeling must come first, before they can observe the mitzvos.  That’s not Judaism’s approach.  The Talmud declares, ‘A person should always perform a mitzvah for the wrong reasons, because out of the wrong reasons will eventually come the right reasons.’   Stop putting off getting more committed to Torah and mitzvos because of your doubts.  Everybody has doubts.  Doing mitzvos will go a long way to resolving those concerns.

It’s not about faking it till you make it.  It’s about believing deep down that it’s worth a serious shot.  And by doing, you will train your value system to follow suit until it becomes a natural, comfortable part of who you are.  May you merit training yourself to appreciate our incredible heritage of Judaism!  

G-d always butters your bread

Daf Yomi Kesubos 67                                                            

I recently served as the rabbi-in-residence at Pesach in Valencia.   One of the dish-washers at the hotel was asking me some very intelligent questions about Judaism and I sensed that there was more to his story.  It turned out that he had been a national sales executive with a major electronics firm until the company was forced to downsize and laid off ten thousand people. 
“You’re really amazing to have the strength of mind and character to be prepared to wash dishes.  Many others would have been completely devastated at losing such a prestigious position, and unwilling to take on such a menial task,” I said to him.
“Trust me,” he replied, “I was depressed for months.  I’m only just now starting to get my life back on track.”

Concerning the mitzvah of tzedakah, the Torah declares, “Open up your hand and provide for him enough charity to make up that which is deficient to him.”
The Rabbis taught: “That which is deficient to him” means even a horse to ride upon or a servant to run errands for him (if the pauper was previously accustomed to such luxuries).  They say about Hillel the Elder that he once provided for a poor person from a noble family a horse to ride upon and a servant to run errands.  On one occasion, he could not locate a servant, so Hillel himself ran three miles for the pauper.

There was once a pauper who came to see Rava.
He asked him, “What are you accustomed to eating?”
“Fattened chicken and aged wine,” he replied.
“Aren’t you concerned for the burden on the community of having to provide you that much?” inquired the sage.
“Am I eating your food?” cried the pauper, “I’m eating the Almighty’s food!  The Psalmist declares, ‘The eyes of all gaze to You and You give them their food in His time.’ It does not state ‘in their time,’ but ‘in His time,’ which teaches that the Almighty gives each individual his livelihood according to His time.”

As they were talking, Rava’s sister, who he had not seen for thirteen years, suddenly showed up, bringing with her a fattened chicken and aged wine.
 “Look what just happened!” exclaimed Rava, “I was reproached for interrogating you.  Arise and eat!”

Listen to the incredible unwavering faith of this individual.  In ancient times, it was a mark of extraordinary wealth to be able to dine on meat and wine daily.  And unfortunately, this poor soul lost it all, to become a common beggar.   In the face of such a torrential loss, most people would go into depression and completely forsake any devotion to Heaven.  How could a benevolent G-d, Who is in control, do such a thing?  And yet, this righteous individual continued to believe that G-d is the sole provider and that he was not subject to the whims of mortal man.  He knew that it wasn’t the people who would grant his needs; they were just G-d’s messengers.

Maintaining a strong, deep relationship with the Almighty is important at all times.  But it is absolutely vital to maintain that relationship when times are tough.  Don’t go forsaking Heaven and becoming depressed when life’s got you down.  That’s precisely when you need to reach deep into the wellspring of your faith and let G-d carry you through the storm.

G-d always provides.  Sometimes it’s more evident than other times in life.  But as long as you remember ‘where your bread is buttered’ you will continue to live a spiritual existence.  May you merit the Almighty’s eternal revealed blessing and being one with Him even through your darkest hour.  

Monday, 13 April 2015

How to win the race of life

Daf Yomi Kesubos 66

Our shul is over a hundred years old but daily minyan is still a struggle.  I’ve tried every trick in the book to make it happen, but it still seems to be an uphill battle.  Texting generally seems to work but people will often only see my SMS hours later.
“Rabbi, did you get the minyan?” they’ll ask.
And my standard answer is, “We ALWAYS get it . . . eventually!”

Abe recently retired and so I thought he might be amenable to coming to minyan more regularly.
“Abe, how about you start coming every morning?” I asked him.
“Oh, Rabbi,” he replied, “Why don’t you ask other people?  I already come twice a week.  I’m doing much better than most of the congregation!”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was once leaving Jerusalem on a donkey, followed by his students.  He noticed a young maiden who was sifting barley from the local Arabs’ animals’ manure.  
As soon as she saw him, she covered her hair, rose before him and said, “Rebbe, provide for me!”
“Whose daughter are you?” he responded.
“My father was Nakdimon ben Gurion,” was her reply.
Surprised, he asked her, “What happened to your father’s wealth?”
“Tis not for naught that they recite the following in Jerusalem,” said the maiden, “The salt of money is kindness.”  (Rashi explains: If you want to maintain your wealth, you must be charitable.)

The Gemara asks:  But was Nakdimon ben Gurion not charitable?  Indeed it was taught in a Beraisa: They said about Nakdimon ben Gurion that when he left home for the study hall, they would roll out the red carpet.  And poor people would follow him and then they were able to roll it up and gather it for themselves!
The Gemara answers: He did it for his own honour. Or perhaps he did not give as much as he could have, as they say, ‘According to the strength of the camel is the load.’

Many people’s first question when asked for tzedakah contributions is: What are other people giving?   And they are proud if they are able to match other top givers.  Nakdimon ben Gurion not only matched other top givers, but he was always on the top of the synagogue capital campaign list.  But that wasn’t good enough – true, he was the top giver, but even those magnificent contributions were just a drop in the bucket for him.   And when he gave, he always had the honour of the top spot, without ever feeling the pinch of giving till it hurts.

What do they mean when they say, ‘According to the strength of the camel is the load’?  Nakdimon compared himself to other givers.  He took pride in the fact that he was the biggest contributor.  But he had much more and so he should have given much more.  In life, there is only one person in your race: You.  Once you start comparing yourself to others, you’ve gone to run a different race than G-d intended you to run.   One hundred dollars that your neighbour gives to the campaign may be a more generous contribution than your ten thousand dollars.  It all depends how much it hurts and how much you had to struggle with your inclination to open your wallet.

And the same is true of all mitzvos.   Never compare yourself to anyone else.  It doesn’t matter how often they’re attending the daily minyan; they’re not running your race.  It doesn’t matter how many Shabbos guests they’re inviting; they’re not running your race.

The great Chasidic master, Reb Zushe of Anipolye, famously related: After 120, when I reach the Heavenly court, they won’t ask me ‘Why weren’t you as great as Avraham Avinu? Why weren’t you as great as Moshe Rabbeinu?’  No, they will ask me, ‘Were you as great as Zushe had the potential to be?’

Your neighbour’s level of religious commitment doesn’t make any difference to your service of Heaven.  There is only one person running your race: You.   And only you know if you’re running your best race.  May you merit never looking over your shoulder at anyone else, and running your best race through life!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Does your wife expect you to be a mind-reader?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 65

Dave and Barbara were having marriage problems.
“He never gets things right,” said Barbara.
“Seriously?” responded Dave, “Everything you ask me to do, I do, don’t I?”
“That’s true,” replied Barbara, “but why must I tell you what to do?  Why can’t you just do it without me asking?”
“See, Rabbi!” Dave said as he turned to me, “she expects me to read her mind!  She wants me to be psychic or something.  Isn’t that crazy?”

One cup of wine is proper for a woman.  Two is dishonourable.  Three cups cause her to explicitly ask for her husband’s intimacy.   Four cause her to ask a fool in the street without thinking.  Rava clarifies: That is only when her husband is absent; but when her husband is present, there is no concern.

A husband must be so in tune with his wife’s needs and wants that she doesn’t need to tell him.   Under ordinary circumstances, he should serve her without her asking or saying anything.  The fact that she asks him to satisfy her because she’s had too much to drink is worse than dishonourable.   His lack of sensitivity and awareness have pushed her to turn to foreign stimulants so that she can get what she wants and needs from her husband.  And certainly, if he’s still not listening, they run the risk of her looking outside the marriage.  Nevertheless, the Talmud notes that only if he is absent will she look elsewhere, but if he is present, even if he is not as aware as he should be, she will not wander. 

Women don’t need to be told to be in tune with their husband’s needs and wants – their natural intuition and nurturing nature cause them to be constantly aware.  But for men, this trait doesn’t come naturally, so much so that men wonder why their wives expect them to know.  Your job as a husband is train yourself to be in tune with your wife’s needs and wants.  It’s not easy, it’s not natural for males, but it’s key to a successful marriage.  The way to get there is to constantly keep your wife at the forefront of your mind.   Every other thought you should be asking yourself, ‘What could I do now to make my wife happy?’

One way to tune in to your wife’s needs and wants is simply to stay in touch throughout the day.  You might go through a day hardly thinking about your spouse.  How about you touch base every time you conclude an event or appointment in your schedule?   That’s a great start to making her feel that she is your number one priority, the number one thought on your mind!

As a husband or a wife, you must be so dedicated and bound to your spouse that you can fulfill their every need and want even without their asking.  May you merit devoting your life to your spouse, becoming one with him or her and making them the happiest person on earth!