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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Do you Hyde at home?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 6
Of our patriarch Jacob’s four wives, all had children except for his dearest wife, Rachel. 
One day, in a moment of intense frustration, she vents to her husband, ‘Give me children, for if I not, I am like dead!’
Jacob gets angry at Rachel and blurts out, ‘Do you think I’m G-d, that I am the one who has withheld the fruit of the womb from you?’

Concerning inconclusive partial oaths, Abaye deems them to be binding while Rava deems them non-binding.
The Gemara asks: Was this matter not already debated by the Mishnaic Sages?  For we learned: The essence of a gett is ‘Behold, you are permitted to any man.’  Rabbi Yehuda maintains that it must further state, ‘And this gett shall be a document of separation, a document of release, and a document of leaving.’  Thus, the Gemara suggests that Abaye would accord with the Rabbinic (first) opinion that the implied partial declaration suffices, whereas Rava would accord with Rabbi Yehuda who maintains that an inconclusive declaration is not binding! 
Rava answers: I could even agree with the Rabbis, for the reason why in the case of the gett, they did not require a conclusive declaration, is that a person would never be divorcing his friend’s wife!  (i.e. the bill of divorce must be referring conclusively to his wife, because he could not be divorcing anyone else).

The Torah calls Jacob ‘wholehearted.’  He was pure, he was the ‘choicest of the forefathers,’ he was a refined individual.  No doubt, when he spoke to people, when he dealt with them, they were moved by his piety, his gentleness, his wholesomeness.  He was, the Torah tells us, a soft-spoken, thoughtful, G-d fearing individual, whose father recognized his ‘voice.’

And then suddenly his wife gets him ticked off and he responds in a fit of rage.  What happened to the gentle Jacob that we all knew?  Where is his patience?  Where is his forbearance?  The Torah is teaching a very important lesson: sometimes we are harshest upon those closest to us. 

Rava teaches, ‘a person would never divorce his friend’s wife.’  In other words, you need to ask yourself: Would the language and tone that I’m using with my spouse and children be acceptable outside my home?  Would I talk like that to a friend?  Or a stranger? If the answer is no, then you need to work on how you are speaking to your loved ones.  You wouldn’t divorce – use harsh language – with your friend’s spouse, why would you treat your own spouse any worse?

Sadly, many people are like Jekyll and Hyde.  They are the nicest people to everyone outside the home – from community members to strangers in need – but they are curt with their own family members, hardly even giving them the time of day, let alone showing them the love they need and deserve.

Remember, charity begins at home.  Never take your loved ones for granted.  Any time you raise your voice in the house, ask yourself if that is how you would speak to your neighbour, colleague, or a stranger.  Your spouse and children, at the very least, deserve the manner in which you deal with strangers!  Nay, your loved ones should be seeing the most beautiful side of you!

Don’t take the ones you love for granted.  Appreciate them, cherish them and show them the best you, the gentle, kind, patient soul that nobody else gets to see, in the rough and tough world out there.  You know how much your loved ones mean to you.  May you merit that they too appreciate at every moment, how much they mean to you as you treat them with the ultimate kindness and respect!  

Who should you follow on Twitter?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 5
For millennia, human beings have sought the fountain of youth.  As science and technology progress, we have not yet discovered the fountain, but we have found many ways to enhance our beauty.  From creams to botox to cosmetic surgery, it is becoming harder and harder to discern a person’s true age.  My mother-in-law insists, however, that while you may not be able to tell someone’s age by the wrinkles on their face, if you want to know how old they are, there is still one trick: look at their hands.

Mishnah: One who says to his friend, ‘I am vowed from you,’ or ‘I am separated from you,’ or ‘I am distanced from you;’ ‘which I eat from you,’ or ‘which I taste of yours,’ is forbidden by the terms of his vow.
Shmuel taught: In all of these cases, the swearer is only forbidden if he combines two of the above-stated clauses, e.g. he says, ‘I am vowed from you in that which I eat from you.’
The Gemara explains: Shmuel is of the opinion that hands that do not demonstrate are not hands.  (Hands or handles here refer to partial oaths.  Shmuel is teaching that if a partial oath is inconclusive, it is not binding).

One’s actual hands say a lot about a person – from their age to their profession to whether they’ve put on tefillin that day!  But on a deeper level, hands of course allude to our faculty of action.  When we recite the confession on Yom Kippur we beat our heart with our hands, as if to say, ‘these hands acted inappropriately, as they were led astray by the desires of the heart.’

There have always been deiah zogers ­– opinionated people, particularly among our nation.  The advent of the internet age, however, has taken the phenomenon to previously undreamed-of heights.  Now every man and his dog has an opinion, whether on blogs or twitter or article comments.  The marketplace of ideas has truly exploded.

But how do you know whose opinions are valuable?  How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?  The emes (truth) from the fluff?  The answer has always remained the same: hands that do not demonstrate are not hands, i.e. actions speak louder than words.

Anyone can express an opinion.  True leaders are people of action.  There are a lot of good ideas out there; the way to tell if it’s a great idea is if the opinion-maker can become an opinion-macher, a doer.  When they can follow through and demonstrate proven results, then you know that their ideas are worth listening to.  It costs nothing to formulate an opinion; it costs blood, sweat and tears to act upon it and become a true leader.

Leadership requires action.  It requires mobilization.  Everyone has an idea, an opinion, but the leaders are the ones who transform their ideas into reality.  May you merit becoming a true leader, by demonstrating hands that have accomplished amazing things! 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Can't be bothered to go to shul today?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 4
Do you love Judaism?  I love Judaism.  I love Shabbos.  I love going to shul and seeing friends I haven’t seen all week.  I love the joy of the davening.  I love coming home and blessing my kids, singing Shalom Aleichem, spending time together over a delicious meal.  I love the energy of each different festival – packing and delivering mishloach manot, doing the Pesach seder, building a sukkah – it’s all so exciting.

But then you wake up one Shabbos morning.  And you just can’t be bothered.  Do you really have to go to shul this morning?  Sit through a couple of hours of it?  Maybe you’ll just stay home and read a book?  But even that seems like a drag.  I mean, how long can you read for already?  There’s still another ten hours of Shabbos to go. . .

The Torah declares, “When a man shall clearly utter a nazirite vow to abstain for G-d. . .”
It was taught in a Beraisa: The Torah connects vows and nazirism.   Just like concerning vows, one is liable for desecration or delay, similarly regarding nazirism, one is liable for desecration or delay. 
The Gemara asks: How is it possible to delay an oath of nazirism?  Once one declares, ‘I vow to be a nazir,’ he is a nazir!  If he should then eat grapes, he would be liable!
Rav Acha bar Yaakov answers: One example would be if he made the oath of nazirism in a cemetery

Why would a person take an oath of spirituality in a cemetery?  A cemetery is a place of lifelessness.   Sometimes you feel spiritually alive.  Other times you feel spiritually distant.  The goal is to grasp onto those moments of spiritual inspiration and carry them through the tough times.  And when you do feel spiritually low, you need to work to overcome those feelings of hopelessness and the temptation to embrace the lifelessness.

That’s why sometimes you feel like jumping out of bed to go to shul.  Other times you really couldn’t be bothered.  It’s those times – when you’re in the spiritual cemetery – when you need to redouble your efforts to drawn down the Divine flow of energy into your life.

The Kabbalists call these states of mind: mochin d’katnus (psyches of weakness) versus mochin d’gadlus (psyches of power).  Neither of these states lasts very long, unless you cultivate them.  That means holding onto the feeling of closeness or the feeling of despair, and maintaining it for a longer period than the original moment. 

Either of the feelings is possible to maintain and cultivate.  You could choose to wallow in your despair and sorrow and become depressed and hopeless.  Or you could grab onto that feeling of closeness and spiritual inspiration and use it to carry you through the challenging moments in life.  

There is a Chasidic aphorism that says that there is something that is not a mitzvah, but is greater than any mitzvah.  And there is something that is not a sin, but is worse than any sin.  What are they?  Joy and sadness.  When you cultivate the feeling of joy within, you will become a source of Divine power and energy.  When you wallow in sadness and despair, you open the door to the evil inclination.

Your connection to the Divine flow of energy is like an AC (alternating current).  Sometimes you feel like you’re on, sometimes you feel like you’re off.  May you merit holding onto those moments of closeness and utilizing them to carry you through the spiritually dark times!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Timeshare for sale

Daf Yomi Nedarim 3
We’ve all been there.  You’re wandering innocently through Scottsdale or Honolulu and someone comes over to you offering you a free hotel stay or a fully-loaded Amex gift card.  The catch?  You just need to spend three hours taking a ‘tour.’  Three hours, of course, is never really three hours – it ends up turning into a whole-day affair.

So you’ve taken the tour and they sit you down and tell you, ‘Today’s the day!’  You can’t think about it, sleep on it; no, ‘Today’s the day!’  Not tomorrow.  Not next week. ‘Today’s the day!’  They know of course that once you leave their sales office, you’re not thinking about it again.  The sale is never made the next day.  This is their only shot.

The Torah declares in Parshas Nasso, “When a man shall clearly utter a nazirite vow to abstain for G-d. . .”

It was taught in a Beraisa: The Torah connects vows and nazirism.   Just like concerning vows, one is liable for desecration or delay, similarly regarding nazirism, one is liable for desecration or delay. 
The Gemara asks: How is it possible to delay an oath of nazirism?  Once one declares, ‘I vow to be a nazir,’ he is a nazir!  If he should then eat grapes, he would be liable!
Rava answers: One example would be if he said, ‘I shall not depart this world without becoming a nazir!’  From that moment, he immediately becomes a nazir, for we say: perhaps he may die today. 

Many people tell themselves that one day they will become more committed to their Judaism.  I might not be prepared to be a ‘nazir’ today, but ‘I shall not depart this world without becoming a nazir!’  While most people don’t have nazirite aspirations, they do aspire to become better Jews.  One day.  Someday.  Before I leave this world.  Just not yet.

Our Sages teach in Ethics of the Fathers, “Do not say: when I have time, I shall learn Torah.  For maybe you will never have the time.”  If you plan to improve upon your dedication to Judaism, ‘Today’s the day!’  You never know what tomorrow will bring.  There will always be reasons to put it off.  If you truly value what Judaism has to offer, don’t put it off to tomorrow.

As they say, tomorrow never comes.  They also say, there’s no time like the present.  Do you know what that really means?  The present doesn’t really exist in time.  It’s an infinitely miniscule period of time that’s disappeared before you could even measure it.  That means that every moment you put off your intention to commit, you’ve lost the present.  And every missed present is a missed opportunity.  

Today’s the day!  You know you want to become closer to the Divine.  May you never lose another moment waiting for the right day to arrive!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mindless or Meaningful Minhag?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 2
Everyone knows the urban legend of the woman who would always cut her chicken in half before cooking one half and then the other.  Upon being asked her rationale, she explains that it’s their family custom, and that’s what her mother would do.  They go to the mother who likewise explains that her mother cooked the chicken that way.  Finally they ask the great-grandma about this strange ritual and she laughs and says that back in the day, her pot could only hold half a chicken. 

Mishnah: All nicknames for vows are just like vows.  [And partial vows are like vows].   If one says to his friend, ‘I vow abstinence from your property,’ he is forbidden to derive benefit from him.  If one said, ‘konam, konach, or konas,’ it is a nickname for the word ‘korban,’ meaning sacrifice.

The Gemara asks: Why does the Mishnah open with nicknames followed by partial vows, but then proceed to explain the law of partial vows first?
The Gemara answers: The Mishnah always explains the topic it most recently mentioned, unless there are multiple laws, in which case, it follows the original order.
Tosfos explains: When dealing with multiple laws, we are worried that he will err.  Therefore we explain that which is written at the head

Many people mindlessly perform rituals without a clue why they are doing what they are doing.  But without any reason, it becomes a meaningless act.  Rather, we need to explain what is written on our heads – what we are doing in the name of religion. 

Throughout our history, we have many Sages that have gone to great lengths to explain reasons for the mitzvos we are commanded to perform.  For example, the Sefer Hachinuch goes through each mitzvah in the Torah outlining the meaning.  Certainly, many mitzvos fall into the category of chukim, for which there is no human rationale.  But with regards to most mitzvos, we can discern some kind of rationale for their performance.

If that is true of mitzvos, then how much more so of customs and rituals.  Everything you do must have a reason.  Granted, a law in the Torah may be beyond human comprehension, but a man-made ritual must have a source and rationale!  For the reasons behind customs there are many holy books such as Sefer Taamei Haminhagim.  If you can’t find your minhag (custom) in such works, and you don’t have a reason for doing what you do, chances are it’s probably not a very sound minhag.

We pride ourselves on how meaningful Judaism is.  If you’re doing something and you don’t know the reason, go and find out!  Ask your rabbi, look it up in a sefer (holy book)!  But don’t go through life just doing things that may be as meaningless as a small pot that contains room for just half a chicken.  May you merit a life full of meaning and purpose!  

Do you want be the next Israeli ambassador to Canada?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 112
Israel has been fighting to defend its international legitimacy since its inception.  A number of years ago, however, the focus of Israel advocacy switched from playing defense against the onslaught of anti-Semitic accusations to highlighting all the wonderful achievements of the State of Israel.   Israel is a beautiful tourist destination, the state provides equal rights for all, it is a leader in science, technology and medicine, and boasts a number of the world’s top universities and hospitals.

Rabbi Chanina would repair the roads in the Land of Israel.  He loved the country and did not want people to speak ill of its roads.   When Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi were teaching and it became too hot, they would pick up and leave the sunny area and move to the shade.   And when it got cold, they would leave the shady area and sit in the sun, so that no student would ever complain about dwelling in the Land of Israel.

There’s hardly a Jew today who does not appreciate the great blessing of Jewish sovereignty in Israel.  Even those in the non-Zionist religious camp understand that the magnitude of Torah learning today is unparalleled throughout most of the history of our people.  And that may be counted as one of the major successes of the State of Israel.

But as Rabbi Chanina makes clear, it’s not enough to just support the yeshivas in Israel.  Without the physical infrastructure – roads, airports, parks – Israel wouldn’t operate as efficiently as it does.  Israel is a modern miracle, spiritually and physically, and we must be prepared to support and highlight all of its achievements.  That means donating to JNF and UJA, and investing in Israel Bonds!

What’s more, it’s clear that Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi were similarly concerned that people speak and feel positively about Israel.  The country has some pretty warm weather and at times it can get chilly as well, but they worked hard to ensure the students would go home with a good report.  It’s not hard to view even the most beautiful land in an unkind light – that was the sin of the spies.  Our job is to present Israel in the very best light possible.

The Talmud enjoins us to be part of Israel’s marketing team.  Wherever you are, you should be an advocate for the Jewish state, singing its praises in every facet of its existence, from the spiritual to the physical to the material to the cultural.  May you become an unofficial ambassador for the holiest land in the world!  

Style secrets

Daf Yomi Kesubos 111
I’m often complimented by members of the community as being the ‘best-dressed rabbi in Edmonton,’ and I think, ‘Seriously?  Edmonton?  That’s it?’
The other week, Defense Minister Jason Kenney attended a gathering at the home of Joel and Tsipora Reboh and he acknowledged me as the ‘best-dressed rabbi in Canada,’ and I thought, ‘Now, we’re talking!’

Now, being the best-dressed rabbi is not the same as being a well-dressed individual.  There’s a fusion of spirituality and physicality that needs to take place to be the best-dressed rabbi.  I’ll give you a couple of examples.  Chasidim adorn their tallis with a silver chain-link, called an atarah.  I believe I have the first-ever denim-backed silver atarah.  Yes, it’s custom-made from an old pair of jeans.  There was some material left over and so I have a matching denim tallis bag.

Or, how about this one: Some congregants marvel at my vast array of pocket squares – I’ll let you in on the secret.  I was sick and tired of paying fifty bucks for a hanky.  It also gets a bit much when every other week we’re clearing out the kippah box – that’s right, you’re not doing us any favours when you dump a bag full of old tatty wedding and barmitzvah yarmulkes at the shul. . .

Anyway, I’ve figured out a solution that kills two birds with one stone.  Yarmulkes make awesome pocket squares – feel free to take as many as you like from our box!

Rav Chiya bar Yosef taught: The righteous are destined to be resurrected in their clothing.  We may derive this idea from wheat.  If wheat, which when planted, is a tiny naked seedling, but then blossoms adorned with beautiful clothing, then how much more so, the righteous who are buried in their clothing! 

You see, really it’s not about Edmonton or Canada or even the planet – my goal is to be the best dressed rabbi in the Afterlife!  I just hope that the retro look remains in style for all eternity; I couldn’t bear going back to the baggy look of the 80s and 90s for all time. . .

On a serious note, what does it mean that the righteous will be resurrected in their clothing?  There are two words for clothing in Hebrew – beged and levush.  The former has the three root letters beis-gimel-daled; the latter contains lamed-beis-shin.   When you read the Hebrew alphabet backwards (in what is known numerologically as a-t ba-sh), the word beged corresponds to the word sheker, meaning falsehood.  Why?  Clothes are false, merely a fa├žade to hide the true self.  You can change your external appearance and become anybody you want to pretend to be.

Levush, however, is a much more powerful concept.  Rabbi Reisman teaches that the three letters in levush span the Hebrew alphabet and represent spiritual clothing.  According to the Maharal, when the Gemara speaks of the righteous rising fully-clothed, it is referring to these spiritual garments.

The Kabbalists explain that the soul expresses itself through the three garments of thought, speech, and action.  The soul itself is absolutely pure; it is Divine.  But it is clothed in the three spiritual garments and your job is to refine those garments.  The more you refine your thought, speech and action, the more they become one with the soul, i.e. one with Heaven.  Righteous people have refined their garments to the extent that they will rise with them!

Every time you withhold your anger, you refine your garment of thought.  Every time you avoid gossiping, you refine your garment of speech.  Every time you give tzedakah, you refine your garment of action.  The more you refine, the greater the chance they will shine upon you in the Afterlife.

The vehicle to self-improvement and character refinement is the Torah.  May you merit the fortitude to work on refining your spiritual garments and rise up fully-clothed in the World to Come!

Why are you still in the Diaspora?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 110

We live in an incredible era.  After two thousand years of persecution and exile, we have Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.  Even our Talmudic Sages could only have dreamed of such a miracle!  It’s wonderful that we can visit Israel, but unless we are prepared to live there, what guarantee will we have of the safety and security of our people in the future? 

The Torah declares, “To give you the land of Canaan to be a G-d for you.”
The Rabbis taught: A person should always rather live in the Land of Israel than the Diaspora, for anyone who lives in Israel is considered to have a G-d.  And anyone who lives in the Diaspora, it is as if he worships idols.

Nevertheless, Rav Yehuda taught: Whoever makes Aliyah transgresses a commandment, as Jeremiah declared, “They shall be brought to Babylonia and remain there until the day I shall remember them, says Hashem.” Rav Yehuda felt that we should only return to Israel when Moshiach comes.  And so Rabbi Zaira, who desired to make Aliyah, was avoiding him. 

How then would Rabbi Zaira deal with said verse? He understood it to be referring to the vessels of service of the Holy Temple.
Rav Yehuda quoted Shmuel: Just like it is forbidden to leave Israel to live in Babylonia, it is likewise forbidden to leave Babylonia to live in any other country, since Babylonia is a place of Torah.

Most authorities today agree with Rabbi Zaira that we should make Aliyah even before the advent of Moshiach.   Only the ‘vessels of service’ should remain in Babylonia.  Who are the vessels of service?  Those who are in the Diaspora on a specific mission, acting as ambassadors for the State of Israel. 

You should be living in Israel.  But if your mission is to advocate for Israel, then your place is in the Diaspora.  If you are actively engaging politicians, Christians, school and university groups, newspaper letter-writing, you are a holy vessel and Israel needs your vital work to keep its international legitimacy intact.

But it’s not just the physical security of Israel that is at stake.  The Jewish people are tragically assimilating at an alarming rate.  If you’ve devoted your life to being a vessel of service to the spiritual salvation of our people, then that too is a valid reason to be in the Diaspora. 

What’s more, just like Shmuel teaches that one may not leave Babylonia, the Torah centre, for any other country, if you are in the Diaspora, you need to make sure you are in a place of Torah where your soul will be satiated.  The only exception again is if you are a vessel of service.  If you’ve dedicated your life to the spiritual sustenance of our brethren, then you are an ambassador for Torah.  That doesn’t only mean rabbis and shochets; it includes people who have devoted themselves to institution building – shuls and schools – in places where a Torah drought is present.

What are you doing towards making Israel your final destination?  Alternatively, what are you doing to be a vessel of service in the Diaspora?  May you merit serving and protecting our people physically and spiritually!  

Friday, 22 May 2015

Time to find a different religion?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 109

Much has been written of late about Social Orthodoxy, the adherence to traditional Judaism without really believing it.  Sadly, there are many observant Jews today who are simply going through the motions because that’s what they were brought up with and that’s what they’re comfortable with.  But their heart’s not really in it and much of Judaism seems strange and distant.

If a father pledged a dowry for his daughter and then defaulted between the betrothal and the completion of the wedding, she is stuck (in her situation of inertia) until her hair goes grey. 
Admon says: She can say to her groom, ‘If I had been the one to pledge the money, granted that I should be stuck here until I go grey.  But my father was the one who pledged, so why should I suffer?  Either enter me in or let me go!’

A healthy spirit needs passion.  To go through life in a state of inertia, when one is neither here nor there, is a waste of a life.  If you’re just going through the Orthodox motions but you have no passion, no spirit, no spirituality, no connection to Heaven, why bother?  Either you’re going to let G-d enter your life or let Him go!  You’re not doing him any favours practising a lifeless Judaism.  You’re simply holding him hostage in this meaningless on-paper-alone marriage. 

If traditional Judaism’s not doing it for you, then go and find the ideology and belief system that you can be passionate about!  Go and find some real meaning and purpose for your life!  You know that there must be an ultimate purpose to life, because if life has no meaning, why would you bother making any effort whatsoever?  Isn’t life way too tough to bear without a purpose?

And so if you conclude that there is a purpose in life, that the universe has meaning, that there is a Creator, then you have to conclude that the Creator revealed His purpose to humankind.  We believe that that revelation took place thirty three centuries ago at Mt. Sinai, and even earlier than that to Adam and Eve.

We have good reason to believe what we do, because our parents told them it’s true and their parents told them it’s true.  And amazingly, your parents told you exactly the same story!  Now, could it have been distorted somewhere along the line?  Possibly, but you’d have to prove that.  In the absence of proof that the message was misinterpreted, we assume we are doing what G-d revealed He wanted us to do.

If you’re waiting for absolute proof, you can keep waiting.  Maimonides says that if Aristotle had been at Mt. Sinai, he would have woken up the next morning and offered three hundred proofs that the revelation never occurred!  We live in a world of falsehood – if we would know the definitive truth, it would be game over because there’d be no free choice to make in favour of Torah-from-Sinai (TFS) Judaism.

So either you decide to accept, embrace and become passionate about TFS Judaism or go and find a better option, one that you can be passionate about.  Just don’t use your incomplete belief as an excuse for half-baked Judaism.  If this is your best option, then give it your very best shot!

I’m not suggesting that Judaism’s an all or nothing deal.   Nobody is perfect.  But if you believe that this is the best philosophy of life, then it makes sense to commit to a life of spiritual growth, one step at a time.  A lackadaisical approach to your Judaism just doesn’t make any sense. 

A life without meaning and passion is just not worth it.  Find the closest thing in this world you can to the truth and live it to the max!  May you take the time to grapple with TFS Judaism, discover that it is indeed the emes (truth), and embrace it with all your heart, mind and soul!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Does your vote count?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 108
Do you bother voting in elections?  Why do you vote?  You do realize, don’t you, that your vote is meaningless?  No major election has ever been won on a single vote and so you might as well stay home, because your vote doesn’t count!

When the treasurers in the Holy Temple would withdraw from the fund of accumulated half-shekels to purchase communal sacrifices, they would include donations that had been lost en route, they would include donations that were still en route, and they would include donations that were yet to be collected. 

Of course if everyone had the attitude that their vote is meaningless, nobody would vote and the democratic system would break down.  So your vote is relevant inasmuch as it is part of the whole.  And that’s the message of the half-shekel – on its own it’s meaningless, it’s not even a whole shekel.  But add it to everyone else’s and you can pay for the nation’s communal sacrifices for the entire year.

But the half-shekel contribution is even more impactful than your vote at the ballot box.  Even if, for whatever reason, your contribution did not make it to the Temple coffers, you are still counted!  That means all you need to do is do your part and you’re included!  All too often, people think, ‘My contribution is meaningless, I’m nobody special.’  But guess what, you count!

There’s no such thing as a meaningless role.  Bothered that you’ll never be the next Moses?  Guess what.  Moses could only become Moses because there were millions of Israelites to lead out of Israel.  Without every Israelite playing their part, Moses could not have fulfilled his destiny and become the person he did. 

Don’t ever minimize the role you play.  Hillel the Elder used to say, ‘When Hillel is here, everyone is here,’ because if everyone imagined their contribution to be worthless, nobody would make any effort.  You don’t have to worry whether your contribution will arrive and make a difference – it’s counted from the moment you make the effort.  And as Rabbi Tarfon teaches in Ethics of the Fathers, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work.  But you are not free to desist from it either!”

Whether you’re the person who greets people in shul on Shabbos or the volunteer who puts away the food after the Kiddush or shaleshudos (third Shabbos meal), your contribution makes the shul and community work like clockwork and ultimately successful.  There’s no contribution that’s not important!

Make the effort, do your part.  That’s the only way it will all come together.  May you merit to be counted among those who serve the Almighty and His people faithfully!  

Turn off the radio, please!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 107
The world recently lost a great leader.  Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein was the Rosh Yeshiva of Har Etzion in the Gush, near Jerusalem.  Let me share a powerful teaching I once heard in the name of Rav Lichtenstein. 

A Modern Orthodox colleague of mine lives in a community with two Jewish schools.  One is a pluralistic community school and the other is Charedi.  He asked Rav Lichtenstein which school he should send his kids to.  The rav replied: Send them to the Charedi school, because you can always imbue them with your family’s more progressive values at home.  It’s way harder the other way around – to teach them Torah-true values at home when they’re being immersed in liberal values at school.

Indeed, we are blessed to send our kids to the local Kollel school and very fortunate that our kids can receive a Torah-true education in our small Jewish community of Edmonton.   And so when our kid comes home from school and refuses to get into the car if the radio is blasting with pop music (or in my case, country. . .), we bite our lip and acquiesce to shut off the music.  After all, she’s probably right – the stuff that’s on the radio today is really not the most kosher of substances!  (And anyway, the Almighty’s probably paying me back for all the times as a teenager I refused to step foot into the family room when the TV was on!)

Rav Zevid taught: Concerning glazed earthenware vessels, white and black are permitted but green are forbidden.  And that is only true where there are no cracks in them, but if there are cracks in them, they too are forbidden. 
Rashi explains: The black and white coatings repel forbidden substances, such as chametz and non-kosher wine, whereas the green aluminium glaze absorbs.  Therefore the black and white may be kashered, but the green may not. 

The more mitzvos you do and the more Torah you learn, the more you become a vessel for G-dliness.  The greater the vessel you are, the more your life becomes one with the Divine.  His will becomes your will, your will becomes His.  Nothing can stand in your way as the Almighty will remove all impediments and grant you prosperity in every aspect of your life. 

But becoming a vessel for G-dliness means not only doing mitzvos but also ensuring you have a good coating of glaze to repel the foreign influences from the world around.  Inviting foreign culture into your heart and mind works against your goal of becoming a vessel for the Divine.  When your entire being is infused with Torah, you gain a real sense of moral clarity.  Issues where other people are faltering, for you are black and white.  There’s no indecision, you have the Torah to guide you.

But when there are cracks in the vessel and you allow yourself to absorb any and all foreign influences from the ‘vanity and nothingness’ the world around has to offer, you desensitize yourself from that moral clarity.  It becomes much harder to see things clearly.   Technically, there might not be anything halachically wrong with TV and radio, but they’re certainly not helpful in your Avodas Hashem (service of G-d). 

It’s not easy to be one with Hashem today.  We live in an era where foreign influences abound and they’re near impossible to escape.  May you merit the strength to repel what needs to be repelled and become a vessel for G-dliness in order to achieve moral clarity throughout your life!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Get rich quick

Daf Yomi Kesubos 106
Do you want to be rich?  There are all sorts of segulos (good luck charms) to achieve wealth.  You could be a sandak (bris baby-holder), you could overflow the washing cup for bread, you could buy Maftir Yonah (the call-up on Yom Kippur afternoon), you could put Havdalah wine in your pockets.  These tricks are all wonderful, but there’s one sure way of achieving G-d’s blessing in your storehouse that’s a greater guarantee than any segulah

What is it?  Concentrate on bentching (Grace after Meals).  Our Sages encourage us to focus on the meaning of the words – it’s filled with blessings of livelihood and sustenance.  If we would merely have the right kavanah (intent) during bentching, we would need no other segulah for material prosperity!

What would they do with the surplus donations in the Holy Temple?  They would purchase cheap produce and sell it for a profit and use the money to offer ‘dessert’ sacrifices on the Altar.
Rabbi Akiva demurs: We do not do business with Temple property nor with charity funds.
Why do we avoid profiting from Temple property?  Since there is no poverty in the place of wealth.  In other words, it appears skimpy and inappropriately frugal to be stretching the Temple dollars.

Many people are not able to achieve wealth because they just don’t have the mindset for it.  They’re constantly playing the nebbich card, asking for handouts and being overly frugal in every aspect of their lives.  They fail to realize that the Almighty has no shortage of bounty in his storehouse and if they would simply open their minds and hearts, the prophet says that G-d would grant them ‘limitless blessing until their lips are worn out saying: Too much already!’

First things first, if you desire material prosperity, you need to develop the right attitude.  There’s no place for poverty if you seek wealth.   You need to give to others with an open hand and the Almighty will give you with His open hand.   When you ask for G-d’s blessing, don’t ask him for a two dollar an hour raise, ask him for a promotion!  You don’t need segulos to achieve material prosperity – just ask your Father in Heaven to provide!

It’s no mitzvah to be ascetic and shun wealth.  The Almighty wants you to enjoy His bounty.  He wants you to ask for His bounty.  It’s your choice if you want to be stingy and skimpy – from G-d’s perspective, He has no shortage of blessing to bestow.  You simply need to open your mind and start thinking big so that He can pour out His Heavenly blessing upon you!

Stop thinking small.  Start inviting G-d’s favour into your life.  May you merit so much prosperity that you fulfill the words of the prophet and have to say: Too much already!  

Monday, 18 May 2015

What do you do?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 105
A New York lawyer once came to meet the the Brisker Rov, Rabbi Velvel Soloveichik. 
In the course of their conversation, Rabbi Soloveichik asked him, “What are you?”
The man replied, “I’m a New York City lawyer.” 
The discussion continued and a few minutes later, the rabbi inquired once again, “What are you?”
The man looked at the rabbi funny and replied, “Rebbe, I’m a criminal lawyer in Manhattan.”

“Let me tell you about the prophet Jonah,” said the Brisker Rov. “As his ship was about to capsize in the tumultuous storm, the sailors asked him, ‘What is your business?’  Jonah replied, ‘I am a Hebrew and I fear Hashem, the G-d of Heaven, who made the ocean and the dry land.’  Listen to the words of the prophet!  When they asked him what he did, he replied who he was: first and foremost, a Yid.  When I asked you what you are, you told me what you do!  You may work as a lawyer; that is true.  But what are you?  You are a Yid!”  (Rabbi Paysach Krohn in the name of Rav Frand)

The Torah declares, “You shall not take a bribe!”
The Rabbis taught: Not only may one not take a monetary bribe, but the fact that it does not state, ‘You shall not take money,’ means that one may not even take a bribe of ‘matters.’

What is the meaning of a bribe of ‘matters’?  It is like the story of Shmuel who was crossing a bridge.  A fellow came along and gave him a hand. 
Shmuel said to him, “What is your business?
The fellow replied, “I’m here for a court-case.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t serve as a judge for your case,” said Shmuel, “for I have become invalidated by your act of kindness towards me.”

A few months after Rav Frand told the story of the lawyer, he received a letter from a businessman in New York.  He wanted Rav Frand to know about the new paperweight he kept on his desk, upon which were inscribed the words, “I am a Hebrew.”
“Whenever I get so caught up in my business affairs that I feel they are taking over my life,” wrote the man, “I now look at my Jonah-inspired paperweight and remind myself who I really am.  Thank you, Rav Frand.”

How do you define yourself?  What question are you answering when people ask you ‘What is your business?’ Do you answer what your job is?  Or do you answer who you are?  Do you answer what you do for a living?  Or do you answer what you live for?

You are a Hebrew, a Yid, a holy Jew!  You have been placed on this earth to serve the Almighty and make this world a holy abode for Him.  Whatever your day-job is, it’s only a vehicle to put bread on the table and have the physical fuel to fulfill your spiritual mission! 

Who are you?  What is your business here in this world?  May you merit never getting so caught up in the daily grind that you forget your ultimate occupation – serving the Almighty and spiritually refining this world!  

Do we have the Right to Die?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 104
It’s okay to help someone kill themselves in this country.  Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Carter v. Canada, that physicians may assist in the suicide of “competent adults suffering intolerably” who have chosen to give up on life.  By contrast, Judaism believes in the sanctity of life – every moment in this world is a blessing, an opportunity to do more mitzvos and fulfill one’s Divine mission.  Suffering and physical pain are Heavenly tests that one should strive to endure while maintaining one’s faith in the One Above.

Nevertheless, there is one way that Judaism in fact allows us to hasten death, as the following story demonstrates.

The day that Rebbe died, the Rabbis had decreed a fast and were beseeching Heavenly mercy.   They declared, ‘Whosoever shall mention Rebbe’s passing, may he be pierced by the sword!’
Rebbe’s caregiver went up to the roof and announced, “The upper worlds are asking for Rebbe and the lower beings are asking for Rebbe.  May it be G-d’s will that the lower overpower the upper.”

But once she realized how frequently Rebbe was using the facilities, each time having to remove his tefillin and subsequently re-don them in such pain, she announced, “May it be G-d’s will that the upper overpower the lower.” 
The Rabbis, however, would not cease praying.  And so she grabbed a plate and hurled it from the roof to the ground.  Startled by the sound of the plate shattering, they suddenly stopped praying and Rebbe was able to die. 

Every moment in this world is precious and we generally pray for the complete recovery of an ill patient, both for their own sake and for their loved ones.  If, however, a patient is in great agony and there is no chance of recovery, we are not required to prolong their life using drugs and other measures.  Certainly, we are forbidden to actively remove any mechanical aids from the person, such as life support machines.  But we are not obligated to go out of our way to attach such aids, if the person is indeed suffering on their death bed.

What’s more, say our Sages, just like Rebbe’s caregiver, once we realize that there’s no hope of recovery and there’s no point praying for it, we should shift gears and beseech Heaven for an easy death.  Instead of praying they recover, we ask G-d that they die as painlessly as possible.

We don’t wish suffering upon anyone.  While prayers are permitted, physical murder is absolutely forbidden no matter how the patient feels.  May you merit only good health for you and your loved ones!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Honour thy stepmother

Daf Yomi Kesubos 103

You don’t really appreciate everything your parents did for you until you have kids of your own.  Remember the first time it dawned on you?  It’s the middle of the night and you’ve gotten up to change the baby’s diaper, your toddler wakes up wanting breakfast and next thing you know you’re cleaning up their mess all over the table and floor.  You reach for the phone and, feeling like you’re allowed just one phone call, you call your parents to thank them for everything they ever did for you! 

But then before you know it, a few years later, they’re teenagers and they’re able to think for themselves and talk back.  You’ve asked them to tidy their bedroom or do the dishes and it’s like pulling teeth.  And you think: Why don’t they appreciate everything I do for them?  Why won’t they pull their weight around the house?  I must say that Baruch Hashem we have wonderful children who are very appreciative and helpful, but certainly I hear this complaint from other people all the time.  Where’s the gratitude for everything you’ve done for them?

As Rebbe lay on his deathbed, he called for his children.  They came to see him and he said, ‘When I die, make sure to honour your mother.’
The Gemara asks: Isn’t that a biblical obligation? The Ten Commandments state, ‘Honour your father and your mother!’ 
The Gemara answers: She was actually their stepmother.
The Gemara asks: But honour of one’s stepmother is also a biblical obligation!  For it was taught: The verse states, ‘Kabed es avicha v’es imecha’ (Honour es your father and es your mother – es often means ‘with’).  Es (with) your father includes your stepmother; es (with) your mother includes your stepfather; the word ‘and’ comes to include your elder brother.
The Gemara concludes: The biblical obligation of honouring a step-parent only applies whilst one’s parent is alive, but not once they are deceased.  Rebbe was teaching his children that although one is no longer obligated to honour a step-parent after the parent’s death, it is still the proper thing to do.

If honouring parents were obvious, the Torah wouldn’t have to tell you to do it.  At the very least, it wouldn’t need to be one of the Ten Commandments!  Clearly it’s not so obvious.  Why not?  Because, as anyone with teenagers will tell you, the give-and-take relationship is not a two-way street.  It’s one thing that you can’t expect your toddler to fold the laundry, but why can’t your teenager mow the lawn?!  After all you’ve done for them!  Answer is: You chose to have them.  Once you made the decision to bring them into the world, of course you need to take care of them – feeding them, clothing them, cleaning up after them.  Why should they owe you anything?!

And that’s why the Torah must state, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ because it’s not obvious.  Even though your parents chose this duty, nonetheless Heaven demands you honour them for everything they’ve done and give back whenever you can.  With that understanding, it’s no longer as difficult to wrap one’s head around the obligation to honour one’s step-parent.  It might not be natural; you might think ‘I don’t owe them anything.’  But it doesn’t matter.  You honour them because the Torah says so, whether you understand why or not.

So if it’s not obvious, why indeed does the Torah require you to honour your parents?  The Sefer Hachinuch explains that in addition to the gratitude you should have for everything they’ve done for you, the greatest thanks is for the mere fact that they brought you into this world. 
Why? What is special about this world?

When Rebbe took ill, Rabbi Chiya entered his room and found him crying. 
He said to him, “Rebbe, why are you crying?  Have we not learned that death whilst laughing is a good sign but death whilst crying is a bad sign?”
Rebbe replied, “I am crying for Torah and mitzvos, which one can only perform in this world.”

Your parents gave you an unbelievable opportunity – to elevate your soul through the performance of mitzvos in this world.  No matter how bad a parent you might think you have, no matter how difficult your childhood may have been, you must be eternally grateful to your parents, simply for bringing you into this world and literally giving you the opportunity of a lifetime!

Honouring your parents is an easy mitzvah for some but much more challenging for others.  If it’s one of the harder mitzvos for you, remember: that might just be the reason you came down into this world – to elevate that particular part of your soul.  May you merit honouring your parents and step-parents during their lifetimes and even after their passing, not because it makes sense, but because the Almighty says that it’s the right thing to do!  

Friday, 15 May 2015

Can you solve the global warming crisis?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 102

Recently I met the man who lives in the box.  It’s very sad.  We have a sandbox on our shul property used to store the ice-melt for the parking lot in the winter.   But it’s quite deep and it’s never quite full of sand and so homeless people have been known to take shelter in the box.

I had heard about them but never actually met them until the other week when I went to the shul late at night to get something from my office and I saw some people gathered by the shed.  I pulled my car over to ask them what they were doing on our property.  Lo and behold, it was a couple of teens on bikes giving sandwiches to this poor fellow.

If there was someone choking another person in the marketplace over a debt he owed, and his friend came over and said, ‘Leave him alone, I’ll pay the money,’ he is exempt from payment, because he did not originally lend the money with the guarantor.

Very often we see people ‘choking in the marketplace.’  They’re debt-ridden or undergoing family conflicts and issues and we choose not to get involved.  We don’t want to take sides, we don’t want to appear nosey, we’re afraid of mixing into other people’s business.

Instead, we figure we’ll try to solve the problems far away from us.  Maybe I can send money to Africa to feed starving people there on the other side of the world?  Maybe I can take a stand on the ozone layer and global warming if the problems on earth are too difficult for me to deal with! 

Meanwhile your neighbour is crying out to you for help.  It might be a man in a box who lives nearby.  It might be the teenage son of a single mom who needs life counseling and a father-figure in his life.  It might be a couple that are having marital issues that nobody else wants to get involved with, for fear of taking sides and mixing in where they haven’t been asked.

Stop worrying about how you’re going to look.  Just save the person from choking and the Talmud says you will be exempt.  You’re not anyone’s personal guarantor, but you can lend a hand and help them start breathing again.

We certainly need to worry about the kids in Africa and the ozone layer.  But first and foremost, you need to worry about the problems close to home.  The Almighty has put these issues in front of your face so that you can help resolve them.  May you always remember that charity begins at home and that you are best equipped to deal with the problems in your closest vicinity!  

Divorce Quick and Easy

Daf Yomi Kesubos 101

Comedian Mendy Pellin has a take on the children’s song “Clean up.”  He says that in LA, where he lives, the celebrities all sing, ‘Prenup, prenup, everybody, everywhere. . .”   We generally think of prenups as evil, selfish documents, but believe it or not, Judaism has had a kind of prenup for thousands of years.  The Rabbis were concerned that people would divorce on a whim and so they regulated the amount one must pay upon divorce in the ketubah document. 

One who marries a woman with a daughter from a previous marriage and she stipulates that he support the step-daughter for five years is obligated to continue to support her for that period, even if they get divorced.  The clever ones would write in the stipulation, ‘I will only continue to support your daughter on the condition that you stay with me.’

The purpose of the ketubah is to dis-incentivize divorce.  The ketubah makes it expensive for the husband to divorce his wife.  Similarly, in this case, the extra clause dis-incentivizes the woman to file for divorce.  As long as they are together, her daughter is being supported.  Should they separate, the sustenance would cease.

Sadly, nowadays divorce is way too easy.  A generation and more ago, married couples would figure it out.  They would take the time and effort to work on their marriage.  Today, if you’ve had enough of the other person, dealing with it means walking out.  After all, life today is all about infinite choices, why should your choice of spouse be any different?

It’s time to stand up to this immature societal trend.  The Almighty handpicked your spouse for you and it was, our Sages tell us, as miraculous as the splitting of the Red Sea!  Indeed, the Talmud teaches that the Holy Altar cries when a couple gets divorced. 

That doesn’t mean that divorce is never a good thing.  Sometimes it’s the best option.  But most of the time, the Almighty wants you to work on yourself and become a better spouse and you will see that your spouse will respond in kind.

Marriage, like anything worthwhile in this world, takes work.  May you merit a marriage that lasts a lifetime with your basherte that the Almighty handpicked for you!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Does life taste like vinegar?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 100
When Freddie first came to this country from the Ukraine, he opened a little clothing store.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t make ends meet and he closed up shop within the year.  He was devastated and was almost ready to go back home to the Ukraine, when someone suggested he invest in foreign exchange.  It was a strange suggestion, given the number of businesses already in the saturated foreign exchange market.  But he was willing to give it one last shot and lo and behold, his investment took off.  He continued to invest and expand his business – today he is an extremely successful pillar of the community.  And he is forever grateful to the One Above - had his lacklustre clothing business not failed, he would never have considered going into the foreign exchange industry!

Rav Kahana was holding on to some schnapps belonging to Rav Mesharshiya bar Chilkai the orphan.  He delayed selling it until the festival time. 
He said, ‘Even though it has gone a little sour, we’ll get good money for it.’
Rashi explains: There are so many people at festival time who want to buy schnapps and so even the poor quality product sells for a good price. 

Sometimes in life, things seem sour and hopeless.  But all you need to do is hang on a little longer and life will turn festive.  Just when you think it’s all over, the Almighty can turn your life around for the better.

Whether it’s your material lot or matters of health or your children, keep the faith in the One Above!  Life is about challenges and tests, but when you maintain your faith, the sourness will turn to festivity in no time at all.  Just like a seed must rot in the earth before it can bloom into a beautiful tree, sometimes you need to go through the storm of life before you can appreciate the sun.

Life can often be sour.  But don’t give up.  Very soon you will see that it was all worth it, when you get paid a fortune in return for maintaining your faith.  May you merit the festive season to bloom like you never dreamed of!  

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Stay focused on the mission

Daf Yomi Kesubos 99

Naaman, the great Aramean general, was stricken with leprosy.  At the urging of his wife, he goes off to see the prophet, Elisha, who cures him of his malady, having him dip seven times in the Jordan River.   He is supremely grateful to Elisha and wants to shower him with gifts of gold and silver, but the prophet will have nothing of it, noting that healing comes from G-d alone.  With that, Naaman departs.

Watching the miracle and pursuant conversation unfold, Elisha’s attendant, Gehazi, is astounded that his teacher has refused anything in return for his assistance.  Running after Naaman, he proceeds to proffer that he has been sent on a mission by his teacher, Elisha, to collect money and clothing for some poor yeshiva bochurim.  Naaman gives generously and Gehazi returns home and deposits the goods in his own tent.  Upon encountering Elisha, however, the prophet knows what Gehazi has done and curses him and his progeny with the leprosy that was removed from Naaman.

Mishnah:  If a widow sold property belonging to the children that was worth 101 zuz for 100, the sale is invalid.   If court judges incorrectly appraised such property by decreasing the value more than one sixth or increasing more than a sixth, the sale is invalid.
They asked: Who is a messenger like?  Is he like a widow, such that any error in price invalidates the sale?  Or is he like the judges, such that within one sixth of the correct value, the sale remains valid?
Rava quoted Rav Nachman: A messenger is like a judge.  Just like judges do not act for their own personal benefit, so too does a messenger not act for his own benefit. 

You are in this world on a Divine mission.  The Almighty sent you down here to make this world a better place.  The more you contribute during your short lifetime on earth, the more you have accomplished your mission.

Our Sages tell us that a judge who judges properly becomes a partner in creation.   G-d created a world requiring human intervention to perfect it.  Our job in the world is to teach and maintain a moral code that ultimately draws down G-dliness into the world.  When justice is carried out properly, the creation of the world is enhanced.

But it’s not only judges who have the ability to become partners in creation.  Anyone who fulfils their Divine mission becomes like a judge.  The less you act for your own benefit, instead acting for the Divine mission, the more you become a partner with the Almighty in the perfection of the world.  He purposefully created an imperfect world so that you, His child, could take over the business, so to speak.

Don’t be a Gehazi and let your own will get in the way of the mission.  You have been chosen from amongst billions of souls to come down into this world and perfect it.  May you merit staying focused on your mission and exceeding your Messenger’s expectations!  

Monday, 11 May 2015

Gambling on Life

Daf Yomi Kesubos 98

The poor Chasid had come to the Apter Rebbe for a blessing.
“Rebbe, a year ago, I was a rich man.  My daughter got engaged and I offered a dowry of one thousand rubles.  But then my business went under and I’m afraid the shidduch will go off.  All I have left to my name is one ruble.”
“My son,” said the Rebbe, “take that ruble and head off home.  The first business deal that comes your way, invest in it.”  The Chasid dutifully listened to his Rebbe and on the way home stopped at an inn.  There were some irreligious Jews sitting around gambling and drinking, when one of them suddenly turns to him.
“Hey, frummie, how would you like to buy my share in the World to Come?”
“Certainly!” cried the Chasid, “but all I have is one ruble.”
“Sure, hand it over,” says the gambler, laughing to his friends that he’s just scored some free money for selling hot air. 

Just then, his wife walks in and hears what’s happened.
“I’m not prepared to live with a man who has no share in the World to Come,” she screams, “you’d better buy it back.”  Sheepishly, the man pulls out the ruble and offers it to the Chasid.
“Sorry,” says the Chasid, “a deal’s a deal.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” says the gambler, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you ten rubles.”
“Nope,” replies the Chasid.  The gambler starts raising his offer to twenty rubles, fifty, one hundred!
“I’ll tell you what,” says the Chasid, “you can have your share in the World to Come for one thousand rubles.”
“You’ve got to be out of your mind!” shouts the gambler.
“A grand or no deal,” comes the response and realizing he has no choice, he borrows money from his friends and pays the exorbitant sum.

At that point, the Chasid turns his eyes Heavenward and utters words of praise to the Almighty.  He tells the men about his Rebbe’s blessing and the gambler decides to visit the Rebbe and confront him for ripping him off a thousand rubles.
Arriving in Apt, the Rebbe smiles and says, “There was nothing untoward in this transaction.  When my Chasid first purchased your share in the World to Come, it was not even worth a ruble.  By the time you had begun to appreciate what you’d given up and were willing to pay any price to get it back, you then upped its value to way more than a thousand rubles!  Go in peace, my son, and may the Almighty shine His countenance upon you.”

Mishnah: If a widow whose ketubah contained a two hundred zuz entitlement sold property worth one hundred for two hundred or she sold property worth two hundred for one hundred, she has received her entire ketubah entitlement.
Gemara: What’s the difference between the case of her selling two hundred’s worth for a hundred, whereby we effectively say to her, ‘your loss,’ and the case of her selling one hundred’s worth for two hundred?  Let her similarly say, ‘I made the profit and I’m entitled to a further hundred from the estate!’  Rav Nachman answers quoting Rabbah bar Avuha: Here Rebbe is teaching that everything belongs to the owner of the money.
Rashi explains: If you send a messenger to the grocery store and he finds the product cheaper, he doesn’t get to keep the change!

While the simple meaning of the Gemara is that the heirs to the estate are the owners of the money and so any profit accrues to them, on an allegorical level, the Talmud reminds us that ‘everything belongs the Owner of the money.’  There’s only one true Owner of our wealth – the Holy One, blessed be He. 

When you say to yourself, ‘I made the profit,’ the Talmud declares ‘everything belongs to the Owner of the money.’  The L-rd giveth, the L-rd taketh away.  You must be ever grateful to the Almighty for all the bounty He has bestowed upon you.  Your job is to create a vessel for G-d’s blessing, but ultimately only He is the true Provider.  When you remember where your bread is buttered, the stress is suddenly lifted – it’s all in the Almighty’s hands; and whatever happens, you know He has a plan.

Our Father in Heaven cares for you.  Just like a parent wants to give the world to their children, He wants to shower you with His bounty.  May you never forget the true Provider and may He forever grant you nachas, health, and abundant prosperity in this world and the Next!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Heal your world

Daf Yomi Kesubos 97

The great Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk would say, “When I was young, I thought that I could change the world.  As I grew up, I decided that I would be satisfied if I could at least change my country.  As I got a little older, I thought it would be nice if I could at least change my city.  But now I have matured and I understand that indeed I would be fortunate if I could only change myself.”

Rav Yosef taught: If a widow needed money for sustenance and sold her late husband’s property with a guarantee just in case any prior creditor should come and claim the property, the guarantee is the responsibility of the children, who are heirs to the estate. 
What if the widow herself attempted to claim the sold property in an effort to acquire further sustenance, which is an obligation of her deceased husband?  Do we say that since the children are guarantors, she has the ability to seize the property or could they say to her, ‘It’s true that you did not accept responsibility for the world upon yourself (i.e. she is not the guarantor for anyone else’s claim, the children are), but did you not at least accept responsibility for your own soul (i.e. if you sold it with a guarantee, shouldn’t you yourself honour that guarantee)?’

Some people think they can change the world.  But they fail to realize that sometimes it’s not the world that’s broke, it’s they themselves.  If they would start by working on themselves, the world around them would become much more livable.  Others shy away from any responsibility to repair the world, but they too must understand that at the very least, they must take responsibility for repairing their own souls.   And that begins with reassessing one’s perspective on the ‘problems’ one encounters in the world around them.

Some of things the Almighty puts in your life are there for you to become stronger.  They are there to provide you with a framework with which to work on your own character traits.  It might be about learning patience.  Or goodwill.  Or kindness.  They seem like problems outside of yourself, but if you would only look within, you would discover why the Almighty placed this or that issue in your life.

Maybe you have difficult children.  Or a stubborn spouse set in their ways.  And you think, ‘If only I could change them, life would be rosier.’  Perhaps the Almighty wants you to repair your own character and has thrown you this challenge as an opportunity to introspect and work on developing your character traits.  Start working on your trait of patience.  Start working on your trait of kindness and you will find that the ‘problem’ is not as big as it once was. 

Maybe it’s a lazy employee you’re dealing with.  And all you ever do is get upset and angry with them. Perhaps the Almighty has sent you this person to develop your skills in working with people.  Perhaps He wants you to work on anger management.  Perhaps He wants to make you a better manager and He’s telling you that it is time to rethink your employee motivation strategy, so that they feel empowered and enthusiastic about coming to work each day.

Maybe you’re fed up with a dysfunctional communal organization – your shul or your kids’ school.  It’s easy to place the blame on others and walk away.  Perhaps the Almighty has given you an opportunity to step up to the leadership plate and become a community visionary.

It’s true that the world needs fixing.  But none of us are perfect as individuals.  Sometimes the Almighty hands us an imperfect world in order to spur us on to self-improvement.  May you merit a life dedicated to developing your character and repairing your own little world – with time, you will find that the big world will begin to fall into place!

Friday, 8 May 2015

In Service to the Torah

Daf Yomi Kesubos 96
Tony Robbins is the world’s most famous motivational speaker.  He holds seminars that are twelve-hour nonstop words of encouragement and motivation, culminating in a walk over hot coals!  A friend of mine tells me about his experience at a Tony Robbins seminar.  He was impressed by the number of volunteers.  Chatting with some of them, he realized that they were so enamoured by Tony and wanted so much to learn from him that they were willing to do anything to serve and be in his inner circle.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught: All duties that a servant performs for his master, a disciple should perform for his teacher, except for untying his shoes.
Rabbi Chiya bar Aba quoted Rabbi Yochanan: If a teacher prevents his disciple from serving him, it is akin to withholding kindness from him.
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says: Indeed he is removing the awe of Heaven from him.  

The more one serves another person, the greater the bond that develops.  When you serve your spouse, you develop a stronger attachment to them.   When you serve your community, you become an integral part of the community.  When you serve your children – even non-biological children – you grow indescribably attached to them.

And so it is with our Torah teachers, our link to Sinai.  The more dedicated your service, the greater your connection to our chain of tradition.  The more you do for your teacher, the more you become part of their inner circle and gain from their direct wisdom. 

It’s not a matter of the Rabbis lording it over their students – Rabbi Yochanan makes it very clear that they should not prevent their disciples’ service.  It’s about the disciples investing in their spirituality and learning to infuse even the most mundane, menial tasks with sanctity.  To deny them that opportunity is to deny them the ability to learn awe and reverence of Heaven, says Rav Nachman.  If you don’t know how to revere the conveyors of G-d’s message, how will you ever learn how to revere G-d?

Ultimately, of course, that’s why the Almighty gave us so many mitzvos – each mitzvah is an opportunity to serve Him and deepen our relationship and emotional attachment to Him.  Mitzvos are not a burden; they’re an opportunity that Heaven has bestowed upon us, a gift from Above!

Service of Torah scholars is your ticket into the inner sanctum.  And learning from them directly ensures that you will become an unbreakable link in the chain of tradition.  May you merit becoming a servant of the Divine!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Arguing round and round in circles

Daf Yomi Kesubos 95

We’re all familiar with the classic scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye listens to two disputants and says to each of them, ‘You’re right.’
A third fellow then asks, ‘How could they both be right?’ and Tevye responds, ‘You’re right too!’

If a man was married to two women and sold his field, and the first wife wrote to the purchaser, ‘I have no claim or issue with you.’ Upon the husband’s death, the second wife may seize the field from the purchaser and then the first wife may seize it from the second.  But then the purchaser could seize it back from the first wife and they would go around in circles indefinitely, until they are ready to compromise. 

In a situation of conflict, you might feel that you’re 100% right.  But chances are so does the other person.  If indeed you are both right somehow, it’s not going to solve anything by going on and on trying to convince the other person that you are right.  The Mishnah here cites an example of a situation where halachically they are all in fact right.  But what’s the point of dwelling on how right they are, they’re never going to get anywhere!

When you are faced with conflict, you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s more important: that they know I’m right or that we achieve some sort of resolution?’  At that point you realize that the only way to move forward is compromise.  Compromise means that nobody completely gets their way.  Instead, the dispute is resolved.

Maybe it’s your spouse.  Maybe it’s your children.  Maybe it’s a parent.  Or a neighbour or colleague.  You can try to convince them of how right you are till the cows come home, but you’re not really going to accomplish anything.  If you truly want the relationship to blossom and succeed, you have to learn to compromise.

Now that doesn’t mean you’re allowing the other person to walk all over you.  Compromise doesn’t mean that the other person always gets their way.  It means that you find a way to find common ground and meet in the middle.  Ultimately, it comes down to asking yourself whether you want to succeed in the argument or succeed in the relationship. 

Just think about the relationship as a whole and you will be able to get over proving you’re right all the time.  Relationships take compromise.  May you merit always being the first to come up with a compromise position that will bring about resolution to every conflict!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Could you do a better job running the shul?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 94

We have some amazing volunteers in our shul, thank G-d.  They work tirelessly to make our place the premier shul in the country with all the finest programs.  But you can rest assured that no matter how hard they’ve worked, someone will arrive at the event and find something to criticize.

Recently, we staged Purim in the Land of Oz.  Our volunteers were hammering and painting and decorating for weeks leading up to the event.  Just prior to the event, that someone walks in and decides that the window on a wood house vaguely resembles a cross and that the sleep-deprived volunteers should remove it immediately. 

They’re really nice and accommodating and so they did.

Rav Huna taught: If two brothers or two partners had a civil court-case with a disputant and only one of them went to court with the opposing party, the other partner cannot (ask for a retrial and) say to him, ‘You did not represent my voice. . . had I been there, I would have made a better case!’

If you want an opinion, you have to show up.  You can’t expect to arrive later and tell everyone what they did wrong.  If you think you could do it better, step up to the plate and lend a hand!  It’s very easy to criticize; it’s much more difficult to put in the time and effort to make a difference.

For some strange reason, the poor shul president always has to put up with abuse from congregants who don’t like this or don’t like that and would do it better if they had the chance.  You do!  There’s no shortage of spots on most shul boards and committees.  Every organization is aching for volunteers.  It’s time to stop criticizing and start doing!  The volunteers are no more members than you – why are you giving them a hard time?  If you think you could do a better job, then do so!

It’s time to stop criticizing.  It’s time to step up and do something about it.  May you merit being the volunteer giver and let all the criticism wash away like water off a duck’s back knowing that you are serving the Almighty and His children!