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Monday, 31 August 2015

What can I get for my donation?

Daf Yomi Nazir 9

A friend of mine went off to revive an inner-city synagogue.  The shul had been around for over a century but had been in decline for many decades, since the Jewish community had long since moved to the suburbs.  But the area had become gentrified and he was willing to give it a shot.  It was going to take a lot of pounding the pavement, both for warm bodies and sorely-needed funds.

Approaching one potential donor, my friend told him about the project to revitalize the shul and how he needed money for programs. 
The man of means listened and then said to him, ‘Look, I’ll tell you what, I’d like to donate towards the refurbishment of the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark).’ 

My poor friend didn’t know how to respond.  The Ark was fine; it didn’t need refurbishing.  He needed cold hard cash to run programs and bring people into the shul!

The Mincha offering in the Holy Temple consisted of an issaron measure of fine wheat-flour combined with oil and frankincense.
One who declares, ‘I hereby vow to bring a Mincha from barley,’ he must nonetheless bring it from wheat. ‘From regular flour,’ he must bring it from fine flour. ‘Without oil and frankincense,’ he must bring it with oil and frankincense.  ‘Half an issaron measure,’ he must bring a whole issaron.  ‘An issaron and a half,’ he must bring two.
Rabbi Shimon exempts him from the offering, since he did not make his donation the same way other donors do.

You can imagine the Sages and Rabbi Shimon sitting with this potential donor.  They’ve asked him to donate a Mincha to the Holy Temple.  He says, ‘I’ll do it, but here are my conditions.’  Rabbi Shimon walks out.  The other Rabbis accept the pledge but then charge him for a regular Mincha, no strings attached. 

Both responses are the same: if you want to give, just ‘make your donation the same way other donors do.’  Don’t start telling us how you would like to give or what you would like to give.  We have told you what the Temple needs – can you help us or can’t you help us?  If you’re offering barley but we need wheat, what good is your donation?

Some people are willing to give.  But they want to do it on their terms.  The donation comes with clauses and conditions.  And at the end of the day, the poor fundraiser walks away shaking their head, wondering whether the donation is even worth accepting!

If you donate on your terms, you’re not really donating to the cause; you’re donating to your cause.  The right way to contribute is to find out what the recipient requires and then do your best to fill the need.  If you’re donating according to your desires, all you are doing is making yourself feel good, not the charity.  In other words, you are donating to yourself, not to anyone else!

Donations must be offered wholeheartedly.  That means discovering what the recipient needs and working to fill that need.  May you merit giving abundantly with no expectation of any incentive in return!  

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Death of a nazir

Daf Yomi Nazir 8

Our forefather, Avraham, had done everything to devote his life to G-d.  Surely, the Almighty was ready to reward him abundantly for his efforts.  Indeed, he and Sarah had finally been blessed with a child in their very old age.  But just when he thought he was ready to sit back and enjoy G-d’s bounty, G-d calls upon him to sacrifice his child, Yitzchak.  Can you imagine the devastation he must have felt?  Everything he did for G-d, only to be slapped in the face with this?!

If a person declared, ‘I undertake to be a nazir as the number of the days of the sun,’ he has taken upon himself to be a nazir for 365 terms of thirty days, i.e. a total of thirty years. 
Rabbi Yehuda says:  Such a story once took place.  And when the fellow completed his term, he died.

Can you imagine this poor nazir?  He dedicates thirty years of his life to G-d and then he dies!  What kind of Divine justice is that?   Obviously, he passed on to the World of Truth and was able to understand G-d’s ways, but anyone who knew him would have totally lost their faith at that point.  They were all holding their invitations to the big party he was holding for the grand finale of his nazirism and he keels over and dies!

In Avraham’s case, of course, we know that the story has a revealed, happy ending.   But often in life, you don’t see the happy ending.  You do everything for G-d and he throws you a curve-ball.  You think that you should be on easy street by now, but life doesn’t seem to be getting simpler.  You’ve done everything right, but life continues to send its challenges.

Hang in there!  Keep your faith in the One above!  Sometimes, just like with Avraham, Hashem is sending you one final test before showering His bounty upon you!   Life is full of challenges, but don’t give up!  Don’t despair! 

The Almighty knows exactly what He is doing; everything He does is good.  Sometimes we see it immediately.  Sometimes we see it eventually.  And sometimes we don’t see it for generations.  But ultimately we will see that everything He did was for the good.  May you maintain your faith in the Almighty whatever challenges He sends your way!  

Unlock your unlimited potential

Daf Yomi Nazir 7

A fellow meets G-d and asks him, “G-d, how long is a thousand years in your eyes?”
“A thousand years,” says G-d, “is but a second.”
“And how much is a million dollars?” inquires the man.
“A million dollars,” says G-d, “is but a penny.”
“Then would you lend me a million dollars?” asks the man eagerly.
“Sure,” replies G-d, “just wait a second. . .”

If a person declared, “I undertake to be a nazir all the days of my life,” or “I am hereby an eternal nazir,” he is considered an eternal nazir.”
If he said, “I undertake to be a nazir for a hundred years,” or “I undertake to be a nazir for a thousand years,” he is not considered an eternal nazir, but eternally a nazir.
Rashi explains: An eternal nazir may cut his hair every thirty days.  But one who declared to undertake to be a nazir for even a thousand years has not made an eternal undertaking and may therefore never cut his hair; rather he has undertaken one long limited-term nazirite sentence.

Why wouldn’t you be considered an eternal nazir if you undertook the oath of nazirism for a thousand years?  Nobody lives that long!

While a thousand years sounds like forever, it’s not.  It’s a limited term.  You have inside of yourself a neshomo, a soul.  Your neshomo is a part of the Almighty.  The power of your neshomo is unlimited.  Once you start putting limits like a hundred years or a thousand years on your potential, you are denying your G-dliness.  As a child of the Almighty, you have infinite power!

Too many people go through life with small dreams, with small plans.  Small dreams lead to small achievements.  Small plans lead to small accomplishments.

It’s time to tap into your true potential.  You were placed on this earth to achieve incredible things.   Stop thinking in mediocre terms, start thinking in unlimited power terms!  When you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I could never achieve greatness,’ you’re not just limiting yourself; you’re limiting G-d!

If you were a normal human being, you’d be right – a thousand years’ worth of accomplishment would be amazing.  But you’re not; you are a Divine ambassador.  May you merit believing in and unlocking your potential and proceeding to fulfil your unlimited mission on earth!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Leftover Cholent Diet

Daf Yomi Nazir 6

How much of a cholent person are you?  Some people can eat cholent all week.  When we were in yeshiva, there was a cholent truck that would come by on Thursday evenings.   The bochurim (yeshiva boys) devoured the contents of the truck as their souls yearned for the start of the holy day.  When I worked for an insurance firm in Brooklyn, Friday lunch was on the house – cholent, kugel and Diet Coke!  But the greatest cholent-eater I ever met was a lovely old lady called Maria who used to babysit our Joey.  Monday morning she would show up for work and clean the house.  At the end of the day, she would leave with her little package of our leftover Shabbos cholent – she just loved the stuff! 

Concerning the nazir, the Torah declares, “All the days of his nazirite oath, no blade may pass over his head, until the completion of the days that he swore nazirism to G-d, he shall be holy, growing wild the hair of his head.”

From the expression “until the completion of the days,” I would assume the minimum number of days is two.  Therefore the verse states, “he shall be holy growing his hair.”  Hair doesn’t grow significantly less than thirty days, according to Rabbi Yoshia. 
Rebbe avers that this derivation is unnecessary.  The verse states, “until the completion of the days.”  What are such days that require completion?  Thirty.
Rashi explains: A lunar month contains 29 ½ days, thus often requiring completion to reach thirty.

The Gemara asks: How about Shabbos?
Rashi explains: An oath of nazirism with no mention of term should perhaps be a week, since there are six days and along comes Shabbos and fills it.
Tosfos clarifies: Shabbos fills up the week.

Shabbos doesn’t just complete the week; Shabbos fills up the week.  Every day of the week is infused by Shabbos.  Our Sages tell us that the first three days of the week are infused with the energy of the previous Shabbos – that’s why you can make Havdala all the way up until Tuesday!  From Wednesday on, we are in prep mode for the upcoming Shabbos – that’s why the Song of the Day in the daily Shacharis prayer for Wednesday concludes with a couple of verses from Kabbalat Shabbat!

Each weekday should revolve around Shabbos.   The great Shamai would eat Shabbos food every day of the week.  That doesn’t mean he was eating cholent leftovers all week!  On Sunday he would go to the market and choose a piece of gefitle fish for the upcoming Shabbos.  On Monday, he would head out again, often finding a nicer piece of fish; he would then designate that new piece for Shabbos.  And so Monday evening, he ate the fish he had purchased the previous day, now no longer needing to hang onto it (good thing too, without refrigeration, who knows how it would have tasted six days later?!).  On Tuesday, he would head out and find an even nicer shtikel (piece) and Monday’s Shabbos fish would now become Tuesday’s dinner.  And so on and so forth, every day, he would be eating Shabbos food!

Of course, it doesn’t just go for fish.  When your week revolves around Shabbos, everything becomes energized by the spirituality of the holy day.  That’s why in fact every day in the Song of the Day, we say, “Today is the first day of Shabbos; Today is the second day of Shabbos.”   When every day of the week is infused by Shabbos, you are living an eternal Heavenly existence.

But you can only live a Shabbos existence throughout the week if your actual Shabbos is awesome and worth longing for.  How does your Shabbos look?  Stress-free?  Quality family time?  Quality Torah and tefillah (prayer) time?  Good food and relaxation?

I’m not sure about the theory that you don’t put on weight on Shabbos – they say that all the excess food is consumed by your neshomo yesaira, the additional Shabbos soul.  But I do know that when you watch what you eat all week and then relax your diet one day a week, that works.  I feel bad for people who don’t have Shabbos – when do they get to break their diets?  When they do, they’ll often binge and end up dropping out of their diet regimes.  When you know that you have a mitzvah to eat one day a week, suddenly your whole week is a positive experience, knowing that Shabbos is right around the corner!

Infuse your week with Shabbos!  When your week revolves around Shabbos, suddenly everything is uplifted.  May you merit a Shabbos-filled week and living an eternally Heavenly existence!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Burdensome or Awesome?

Daf Yomi Nazir 5

Our patriarch, Yaakov, was known as “a simple man, who dwelled in tents.”  His brother, Esav, was the tough one, the strong one, the wild one.  He was the weak one, the puny one, the meek one.   So much so that he was chased out of town for fear of being murdered by his brother.

He arrives in Haran and meets the shepherds at the well. 
‘What are you all waiting for?’ he asks.
‘We need all the shepherds here so that we can roll the stone off the top of the well to water our flocks,’ they reply.
‘Oh,’ he says, with a shrug of the shoulders.  Just then, Rivka shows up and Yaakov is overcome with an outpouring of love.  He is so smitten, that with superhuman strength, the weakling Yaakov singlehandedly lifts the stone off the well and waters Rivka’s sheep!

Where is it written that a lifelong nazir may trim his hair?
Rebbe taught: Avshalom was a lifelong nazir, as it says, “And it was at the end of forty years, Avshalom said to the king: Let me go and pay my vow that I made in Hebron.”  And he would cut his hair every twelve months, as it says, “And it was at the end of days to days that he would cut, for it was heavy upon him.”
The Gemara asks: But didn’t Rebbe teach that ‘days’ means no less than two?  How does he infer a year from the verse?
The Gemara answers: He derives it from the word ‘heavy’.  In two days, the hair does not grow heavy. 

The truth is, even when you don’t take a haircut all year, the hair does not grow heavy.  In certain world cultures, one never cuts one hair, for an entire lifetime!   If you look at the verse, it doesn’t say that Avshalom’s hair grew heavy; it says “it was heavy upon him.”  That means that he felt weighed down by his nazirism.  He felt burdened by the mitzvah.

He didn’t need to feel burdened.  It didn’t need to be “heavy upon him.”  He could have looked into the mirror each morning and said, “What an awesome, rocker hair-do!  Hey you good-looking guy, aren’t you excited to do this mitzvah!”   But instead he chose to feel burdened and see the mitzvah as a hassle.

Everything you do in life, you get to choose how to experience it.  From mitzvos to relationships, you have the power to make the load light or heavy.  Will it be joyful or burdensome?  When you choose joy, nothing is a burden.  Just like Yaakov, who was so in love that he was able to lift a boulder, when you choose to approach a task in life with positive energy, nothing can stop you! 

When you daven, is it a drag that you have to push your way through?  Or do you say, ‘Wow, here’s my opportunity to have a conversation with the King of Kings!’?
When you put on tefillin, do you think, ‘Here we go again’?  Or do you say, ‘Wow, this is Heavenly!’?

In your relationships, do you think, ‘Oh no, my spouse’s birthday is coming up.  I guess I’d better buy them something’?  Or do you say, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to surprise them!  I’ve been waiting all year!’?
When you take your kids to the park, do you say, ‘I guess that’s what dads do’?  Or do you say, ‘I’m so lucky to have beautiful kids that I can play ball with!’

Everything in life can be either burdensome or awesome.  It’s your choice whether to put the awe or the burden in front of that some-thing.  May you merit choosing to make every aspect of your life awesome! 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What is the meaning of L'Chaim?

Daf Yomi Nazir 4

After a year of being pent up in his claustrophobic ark whilst the Great Flood raged, Noach finally lands.  He bursts open the door, runs out, and takes a huge gasp of fresh air.  He is so glad to be free to get on with his life.  What is his first worldly pursuit?  He plants a vineyard.

And then he gets drunk.  Blind drunk.  So drunk that he doesn’t even realize when his son, Cham, performs a lewd act on him.   When Noach finally awakens from his drunken stupor, he realizes what has happened, curses Cham, and effectively provides a vital lesson for humankind for all eternity.

Mishnah: If one declared, ‘I am hereby a nazir from grape-seeds or grape-skins or haircutting or from contamination,’ he is a complete nazir, and all the details of nazirism apply to him.
Gemara: Our Mishnah does not accord with Rabbi Shimon, for we have learned, ‘Rabbi Shimon says he is not liable for nazirism until he vows abstinence from all elements.  But the Rabbis say even if he only vowed nazirism from one of them, he is a complete nazir.

What is the reason of the Rabbis?  The verse states, “He shall abstain from wine and aged wine,” demonstrating that even such an abstention would incur nazirism.
And Rabbi Shimon too, how would he deal with the verse?  He needs it to prohibit mitzvah wine like regular wine.  What is mitzvah wine?  Kiddush and Havdalah.
But does the Torah obligate us to drink wine?
Tosfos explains: The obligation to make Kiddush over wine is rabbinic. 

Why did the rabbis obligate us to drink wine three times a week?  Because “wine gladdens the heart of humankind.” Wine is the most pleasurable drink.  But worldly pleasures can go either way.  Either we elevate them to the realm of positivity and spirituality or they bring us down to the proverbial grave.   

In some cultures, wine is taboo.  Sadly, prohibition often leads to over-consumption, as indulgent individuals can’t help themselves and then don’t know when to stop.  In Judaism, wine is sanctified.  Realizing the immense power of wine, our Sages obligated us to consume wine, removing the mysteriousness of the drink.   While alcoholism is not entirely absent from the Jewish community, its incidence is far lower than in any other culture.

The world was given to us to sanctify and utilize in the service of Heaven.  There are very few things that are absolutely forbidden.  Our Sages tell us that every forbidden pleasure has a corresponding permissible pleasure.  The key is to enjoy the world responsibly and to treat worldly pleasures with Heavenly sanctity.

For example, physical intimacy, just like wine, could go either way.   Heathen culture has dragged physical intimacy into the lowest of the lowest depths.  In Judaism, marital intimacy is akin to standing before G-d in prayer.  When you engage with your spouse with the purest of thoughts and intent, it’s like you are reciting the Shemone Esreh

It all comes down to your attitude towards the world.  Are the pleasures of the world here to serve you or are they given to you to employ in your service of Heaven?  Will you denigrate them or will you sanctify them, bringing yourself and them to the fullest potential?

When we say l’chaim, we are saying ‘May this alcohol be employed for life purposes!’  Your mission on earth is to sanctify as much as possible during your short sojourn here.   May you merit leaving this world many times more spiritual than when you entered, while enjoying responsibly all along the way!  

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Good hair day to you

Nazir 3

I had just arrived in Edmonton and was about to announce the new adult education program, when a lady called me with some advice.
“Don’t do a parsha shiur,” she said, “all the rabbis always do parsha.  We know the parsha already.  Teach us something new and different, would you, please?”

Mishnah: An allusion to the nazirite vow is like the nazirite vow itself.  For example, if one says, ‘I commit to turning it over (curling),’ he is a nazir.
The Gemara asks: How do you know that turning it over refers to hair? 
The Gemara answers: For the maidservant of Rebbe scolded a certain fellow, saying, ‘How long will you continue turning over (curling) your hair?’
The Gemara asks: Why don’t we say the vow-taker was referring to Torah study, as the verse in Proverbs declares, “Turn it over and it shall elevate you”?
Shmuel answers: We must be dealing with a situation where he was hanging onto his hair when he made the statement.

King Shlomo writes in Proverbs, “Turn it over and it shall elevate you.”  Ben Bag Bag echoes this sentiment in Pirkei Avos, declaring, “Turn it over and turn it over for all is in it.”  The meaning, explain our Sages, is that the Torah’s wisdom is limitless and every time you learn and relearn a piece of Torah, you gain new wisdom and inspiration.

What’s more, it’s not a just a deeper understanding.   Shlomo Hamelech teaches that your soul will be elevated.  The more you dwell on a verse or a concept in Torah, the greater heights your soul will soar to.   All too often, we ‘daven’ through our learning, in an effort to cover as much ground as possible.  But that’s not the way Torah-study works – Torah is more about quality, less about quantity.  It’s about going over and over the Wisdom of G-d until you become one with it.

In fact, the Kabbalists explain that there is no greater way to connect with the Almighty than Torah study.  How so?  Let’s compare human wisdom with Divine wisdom.  I have a brain, I have thoughts, I have my thought process.  But they’re all separate entities.  In contrast, if G-d is an utter unity, then G-d’s wisdom equals G-d Himself.  And so, when you learn Torah, you are taking G-d’s wisdom, i.e. G-d, and placing Him inside your mind.  There is no greater way to become one with the Divine.  That’s what Shlomo Hamelech means when he says that the more you “turn it over,” the more you shall be elevated.

How many times have you actually read the parsha?  Figure most people only live to eighty or ninety on a good innings.  That means you’ve read it at most eighty or ninety times.  Do you realize that in times of yore it was par for the course to review every Torah teaching one hundred times?  That’s even before you’ve started with the myriad commentaries!  There’s no end to the amount of novel wisdom that one can glean just from the weekly parsha, let alone our vast library of Torah literature.  Even those who spend a lifetime totally immersed in Torah study barely scratch the surface.

Turn it over and it shall elevate you.  Keep curling and curling that Torah.  The more you learn, the more you will realize how deep and vast the Torah truly is.  May your soul soar to ever greater heights as you dig deeper and deeper into the wellsprings of Divine wisdom!

Monday, 24 August 2015

The world is a mirror

Nazir 2

The Baal Shem Tov taught that one should look at the world as a mirror.  If you see positivity, that’s wonderful.  If you see negativity, you must look inside yourself, and figure out the meaning of the ‘reflection.’ 

The Besht himself once saw someone desecrating Shabbos, but much as he racked his brain, he could not think of a time he had ever broken Shabbos.  Why was he seeing this spectacle?  Finally it occurred to him.  The Talmud says that the honour of a Torah scholar is like the honour of Shabbos.  Some time earlier he had witnessed a Torah scholar being ridiculed and he had stood there silent.  Since he had not defended the honour of the Torah, for his lofty spiritual level, it was as if he had personally broken Shabbos.  That was the mirror message he was receiving from Heaven.

The Gemara asks: Let us see.  Why does Tractate Nazir appear in the Mishnah’s Order of Nashim (Women)?
The Gemara answers: The teaching order is based upon the verse order, as the Torah declares, “It shall come to pass if she does not find favour in his eyes, for he has discovered a matter of lewd activity, he shall write her a bill of divorce.”  The meaning is: what caused her sin?  Wine.  The Talmud is thus teaching the following: Whoever sees an unkempt sotah (suspected adulteress) should take the nazirite vow to abstain from wine.

Why should you become a nazir just because you happened to pass by an immoral person?   The answer, explains the Besht, is that if the Almighty has allowed your life to cross paths with them, He is sending you a sign to improve your personal ways.  It is abundantly kind of Him to send you the sign by way of another individual – sometimes He sends us wake-up calls to repentance in our own lives – this time, however, He has shown you something external to stimulate your spiritual improvement.

Many people are quick to look around and criticize others for what they perceive as faults.  But the message of the Talmud is that when you see improper behaviour, G-d is sending you a message.  What they are doing is between them and G-d – it’s none of your business, it’s not your issue to deal with.  But if you have witnessed it, it means you need to introspect and mend your ways.

It’s time to stop criticizing others.  It’s time you put your blinders on and stopped looking over your neighbour’s fence.  It’s not worth it!  If you take the Besht’s teaching to heart and undertake an introspection every time you notice bad in others, you’ll see that before long, you will be finding the good in everybody!  You will look at others and justify their actions, judging them with the same positive light you treat yourself!

In fact, next time you see someone in distress, like the sotah in our Gemara, you won’t stop and stare.  You’ll ask them how you can help.  You’ll reach out and offer them a hand to get their life back on track, instead of judging them. 

Stop judging, start helping!  May you view everyone with favour and may the Almighty in turn always view you with favour!  

Sunday, 23 August 2015

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Daf Yomi Nedarim 91

Yehuda was crestfallen.  His two older sons had suffered premature deaths and he was not ready to give his youngest son in levirate marriage to Tamar.  But Tamar’s biological clock was ticking and she was not prepared to wait any longer.  Disguising herself as a harlot, she waited by the crossroads and seduced Yehuda.   Three months later, she was discovered pregnant.  After Yehuda admitted his guilt, the Torah tells us that they ‘knew’ one another no more.

How could Tamar commit this immoral act?  Our Sages explain that prior to the giving of the Torah, the levirate marriage could be performed by any next-of-kin, not necessarily the brother.  And so, Yehuda was eligible to perform the levirate marriage upon the death of his sons.  But if that’s the case, why did Yehuda desist from his relationship with Tamar upon her revelation?

A licentious fellow once visited a certain lady.  But just then her husband returned home and so the visitor hid in the curtains.  There was some salad on the counter that a snake had been nibbling at.  Just as the husband was about to pinch a little before dinner, the hidden man shouted, “Don’t eat it.  It may contain venom!”

Rava ruled that the married couple could remain together, for if indeed an illicit act had taken place, the hidden man would have been pleased to see the husband eat the salad and die, as Ezekiel declares, “For they acted promiscuously with bloodied hands.”
The Gemara exclaims: This ruling is obvious!
The Gemara answers: I might have thought that they did in fact sin.  Why then would he have spared his life?  So that they could maintain their illicit relationship, for “Sweet are forbidden waters and pleasant is the bread of secrecy.”

Yehuda could have remained with Tamar.  But every time he would be intimate with her, he would be hit with pangs of guilt for his original misbehaviour.  Forbidden waters may be sweet, but living with your ‘bread of secrecy’ afterwards can be a killer.

Life is full of moral challenges.  We are here in this world to choose good over bad, life over death.  But we are endowed with the complete and utter ability to make that choice freely.   Nobody is perfect and we all knowingly make the wrong choices at least some of the time. 

But next time you’re faced with a decision and you feel yourself teetering towards the bad choice, ask yourself, ‘How will I feel tomorrow?  Can I live with the morning-after guilt?  Is this fleeting pleasure really worth the emotional pain I am going to experience when I regret what I have done?’

Forbidden waters may be sweet but they leave a bitter aftertaste.  And that aftertaste never really dissipates.   Some things in life you just can’t take back.  And if you would just project yourself to a different you – the you that will exist tomorrow – you will find a person that wonders what got over you to act that way.

You know it’s not worth it.  One moment of temporary pleasure can have eternal consequences that are just not worth it.  May you merit having the strength to always resist and overcome the urge to taste the sweet waters!

G-d's got your back

Daf Yomi Nedarim 90

Achitophel was a trusted confidant of King David.  Until one day, he decided to jump ship and join Prince Avshalom’s rebellion.  He immediately became the chief advisor to the prince and marched with him into the capital, Jerusalem.  Upon their arrival, they were greeted with open arms by Chushai, a leader of the city, who told them that the time was indeed ripe to overthrow the king.

Sitting down in the war-room, Achitophel meticulously explained the plan of attack upon David’s army, which appeared to be foolproof.  Unbeknownst to the invaders, however, Chushai, quickly sent word to David’s generals to move the king out of harm’s way.  When the time came for the attack, Achitophel couldn’t fathom how the king had eluded capture and concluded that the Divine favour was clearly on David’s side.  Realizing he had picked the wrong team, he went home and hanged himself.

Mishnah: If a wife announced, “I vow to abstain from deriving any benefit from my father or your father if I act according to your bidding,” her husband may revoke the vow, even though it has not yet been activated.
Gemara: A husband may annul his wife’s vow even without its activation, as the Scriptures declare, “He annuls the plots of the wicked.”

The Malbim points to the story of Achitophel and explains that G-d thwarts the plots of the wicked, without the righteous ever finding out!  David was told to start travelling and so when the planned attack came, he wasn’t even there.  That’s how the Almighty deals with the plots of the wicked – he simply removes the righteous out of harm’s way, such that they never even realize that they were in harm’s way to begin with!

How many times a day do you thank G-d for promoting goodness and blessing in your life?  Anyone who opens their eyes to the Almighty’s providential watch cannot deny that they are being guided by Heaven.  But here’s the amazing message from the Tanach: many times a day, G-d sends protective blessing into your life, even without your knowledge!

That colleague who’s jealous of you – she never had the opportunity to say the bad things she wanted to say to the boss about you.  That neighbour who can’t stand your beautiful lawn and wanted to take his dog for a visit couldn’t get the animal to move.  Your anti-Semitic competitor has just filed for bankruptcy before he had the chance to file that false report about you to the city authorities.

For all the revealed blessings you have in your life, there is a myriad hidden blessing that is happening day-in day-out.  Your Father in Heaven is keeping a watchful Eye over you and thwarting the plots of the wicked without your even being aware that you have enemies who are out to get you!  Every minute, we must thank Him for the miracles we see and at the same time, for those miracles we never even get the chance to see!

The Almighty is guiding you through life, removing the obstacles in your path to righteousness. May you forever walk in His light, may you reach out and take Him by the hand and He will see to it that no dark forces ever obstruct your mission!  

Friday, 21 August 2015

What's your unique derech?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 89

The Orthodox Jewish community is often accused of being homogeneously black-and-white by non-Orthodox Jews.   But ask any single who has tried online dating about their different experiences on the various Jewish dating sites.  If you go to JDate, they’ll tell you, you can choose between Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform.  On Frumster, which is for Orthodox Jews, there are so many different ways you can describe yourself: Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chasidish, Litvish, Carlebach, Chabad, Breslov, Chabakuk, the list goes on and on.

A fellow once made a vow of abstention from all humankind if he would get married without having first learned Torah.  But he got caught up in his business affairs and did not find the opportunity to learn.  He wasn’t getting any younger, and so Rav Acha the son of Rav Huna came along and tricked him into getting married.  He then dirtied his clothes, so that he would require a dry-cleaning service.  Of course, the problem was he had sworn off benefiting from anyone and so Rav Acha took him off to Rav Chisda to have the ridiculous vow annulled.

Why would this fellow have vowed not to get married until he had learned Torah?  Because sometimes we get the impression from certain circles that you’re not a good Jew unless you’ve committed to learning for years and years before and after marriage.

Of course that’s not the case.  While it’s true that we must all be devoted to Torah study day and night, we don’t all need to be full-time Torah scholars.  Rav Acha realized that this individual’s talents lay in business pursuits and so he found a way to trick him out of the vow and help him get on with his life.

Pirkei Avos teaches that the world is built on three pillars – Torah, prayer and good deeds.  We are all obligated in all three areas.  But each of us may be stronger in one or two of the pillars.  Some are Torah-scholars, others are strong daveners, and others are very generous with their time and money.  Don’t be fooled into thinking – like this young man was – that there’s only one way to serve G-d.  Orthodox Judaism is the most diverse religious program that exists!

You need to find your derech (best approach) to serve Heaven.  You were placed upon this earth because you have a special mission to fulfil that only you can fulfil.  If the way to get there is Torah, then go for it – full-speed ahead!  If it is prayer or good deeds, then likewise, give it your very best shot!  The Almighty gave us a Torah that is choc-a-bloc full of positive mitzvos to choose from to excel in.   It goes without saying that the Torah’s prohibitions are non-negotiable; but regarding the positive commandments, you are free to choose where to place your efforts!

Traditional Judaism offers an incredible menu of options to serve G-d.  Don’t let anyone push you into their box or derech.  May you merit discovering your unique mission and fulfil your destiny here on earth!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Seeing the forest for the trees

Daf Yomi Nedarim 88

It was forty degrees in the hot Israeli summer.  We had just made the trek from the yeshiva in our small town out to the highway to find a ride to hitch to Jerusalem. 
My buddy, Ariel, suddenly pipes up, “Isn’t this great?  If you had a ton of money, do you guys think you’d take the bus?  Me, I would always continue to take this hike looking for a tremp (hitch), no matter how much money I had!”
Moshe shook his head, “Nah, if I were rich, I’d definitely take the bus.” 
They looked at me, “How about you?”
It was boiling hot, my feet were aching and nobody was stopping for us. I had to be honest. 
“The bus, seriously?  If I were rich, I’d buy a car!”

Concerning one who killed his friend inadvertently and must escape to the Cities of Refuge, the Torah states, “And he who goes with his fellow into the forest.”
Rabbi Yehuda taught: Anyone who has the ability to enter a forest would be covered by the law, including a blind man since he too could enter a forest.  Nevertheless, the Torah continues, “without seeing, he cast a stone,” which comes to exclude the blind man who could not have seen what he did.

We’re all familiar with the adage, ‘not seeing the forest for the trees.’   When it comes to the proverbial forest, many people walk into the forest blinded by the trees.  All we see around us is tree after tree after tree and we are blind to the fact that all these trees actually add up to something greater, called a forest.

The trees represent our narrow vision.  When my friend, Moshe, decided that if he had money, he would definitely take the bus, all he saw was trees.  Life presented him with a transport problem and he longed to have just a little more gelt to be able to take the bus.  His greatest dream was simply to have enough money for his bus-fare.

But, of course, his dreams were too small.  All he could imagine in life was a better tree, a bigger tree – if he could just get past this tree he was stuck on, he thought, he could have a leafier, bigger tree to climb.  Had he only been able to rise above the tree, thought, he’d have discovered that the tree was just a small element of the grand forest that he could start dreaming of conquering.

Often in life, we get bogged down by our day-to-day trees that blind us to the grand forest.  You’re just trying to make ends meet, to be there for your friends and family, to make it through to tomorrow, to next week, next month, next year.   We struggle to keep our heads above water.  ‘If I make it through this year, I’ll be doing well!’ you tell yourself.

Friends, it’s time to rise above the everyday trees.  What does your forest look like?  What is your grand vision for life?    Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?  In ten years’ time?  In twenty years?   You need to start taking a bird’s-eye view of life and asking yourself how your life looks as a whole forest!

Stop being blinded by the trees.  Dream big.  Start thinking in terms of the forest of your life.  May you merit living in an incredibly vast and beautiful forest!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Do you belong to a vampire shul?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 87

Congregation Bnei Shimshon in Springfield was known as a vampire shul.  What’s a vampire shul?  It’s a shul that sucks the blood out of its rabbis, leaving them lifeless.  Bnei Shimshon would change their rabbis every four or five years, always bemoaning their lack of luck in getting a good rabbi.  Sadly, they had many good rabbis, most of whom were so burned out by the end of their stint at the shul that they would leave the rabbinate and find something else to do with their lives.

Concerning the obligation to rend one’s garments upon the passing of a loved one, it is written in the Book of Shmuel, “Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him. And they wailed, and wept, and fasted for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of G-d, and for the house of Israel.”
Rashi explains: From here we learn that one must make a separate rend for each person who dies.
It was taught: If they told him his father died and he tore but they then found out it was actually his son, he has none the less fulfilled his obligation and need not make an additional rend.

King Saul despised the young David.  He spent the final years of his life in hot pursuit of the man who would become his successor.  He felt so threatened that he would stop at nothing to destroy David.  And yet David never ceased in his reverence and respect for the King of Israel, to the extent that following the king’s death, he rent his garment in mourning!  Indeed, from this story, our Sages learn that all Jews must rend their garments with the passing of a leader of Israel.

Sometimes we have spiritual leaders that we have issues with.  But that does not give anyone the right to disrespect.   Shuls that change their rabbis like their socks must look deep inside and ask themselves what the real issue is.  No matter how Saul treated David, he never wavered in his reverence for the leader of Israel.  Even if you think your rabbi is wanting, that does not give you a pass to treat them with disrespect or disdain.

We are heirs to ‘rabbinic’ Judaism.  We believe that the rabbis are our spiritual guides, our keepers of the mesorah, the Oral tradition.  Having a rabbi in your life is integral to traditional Judaism.  If you don’t like the rabbi of your shul, find another shul.  If you can’t find a shul with a rabbi you like, you really need to ask yourself whether the rabbi is the problem, or if you are the problem.   David had a spiritual leader who made his life miserable and ultimately desired to murder him and yet he still maintained his respect.

When you do everything to support the rabbi and rebbetzin of your shul, you will find your shul will truly blossom.  The rabbi and rebbetzin are the key to a shul’s success.  Shuls that supports their rabbinic leaders – whose boards and members are there for the rabbi and rebbetzin, helping them to succeed –  are the shuls that are most successful.  Shuls that change their rabbis every few years and do what they can to control and undermine their rabbis sit there scratching their heads, wondering why they are wallowing in mediocrity with a declining, unhappy membership.

A successful rabbi makes a successful shul.  The shul you call home is a reflection of your personal spiritual success.  If you desire spiritual prosperity, respect your rabbi and rebbetzin and give them the support and tools they need to make your shul great.  May you merit an awesome congregation, and rabbinic leadership that continues to elevate the shul to greater and greater heights!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Power of the Supermom

Daf Yomi Nedarim 86

The tensions were high at Abraham’s house.  His older son Ishmael was bullying little Isaac and leading him astray in life.   Sarah had had enough, and demanded that her husband evict her maidservant, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael.   Abraham turned his eyes Heavenward and beseeched the Almighty to guide him.
“All that Sarah says to you, heed her voice, for in Isaac your seed shall be called,” was the Word from Above.

Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua taught: If a woman declares, ‘May my hands be consecrated to their Maker,’ the husband should revoke the vow.
The Gemara asks: Why would the vow take effect?  Her hands are already consecrated to her husband!
The Gemara answers: We’re dealing with a case where she said that her hands should be consecrated upon her divorce.
The Gemara ask: But now she is not divorced!  Why should her statement today be effective for the future?
Rav Shisha the son of Rav Idi suggests: It is like one who says to his friend, ‘This field that I have pledged to you for ten years, may it be consecrated when I redeem it.’
Rav Ashi objects: How can you compare the two? The field has a limit (ten years).  Does the woman have a limit?
The Ran explains: Maybe she will never get divorced and so her stipulation is meaningless.

All Jewish people are limitless.  We have a G-dly soul inside of us that elevates us beyond the realm of this physical world.   But Jewish women come from an extremely high source.  That is the meaning of ‘does the woman have a limit?’  Jewish women have unbounded potential – they are truly spiritually limitless.

What did we do to merit redemption from Egypt?  One Midrash states that we maintained our Jewish identity – our unique attire, language and names.  A different Midrash avers that were redeemed ‘in the merit of the righteous women.’   There’s no contradiction here.  The two reasons are absolutely congruent.  Who was responsible for sustaining Jewish identity?  The Jewish mothers, of course.

The righteous women of our nation have always sustained us throughout our history.   From the women who refused to allow their husbands to take part in the sin of the Golden Calf to those who stood in the way of the rebellion of Korach, the women are the spiritual backbone of our people.  They are the guides for their husbands and children.  Show me a committed Jewish family and I’ll show you a dedicated Jewish mother who refuses to let her family slack off in their commitment to our faith and heritage.

Women, do you realize what incredible, unlimited spiritual power you hold?  Do you understand that you alone hold the keys to your family’s spiritual success?  That you hold sway over your husband, children, and grandchildren?  That you are their connection to a spiritual source that is way beyond anything they could reach on their own?

Men, do you realize who wears the “spiritual pants” in the home?!  Do you heed your wife/mother’s voice as the Almighty bade Abraham to do?  Do you understand that their connection to the Source of Life way surpasses anything you could reach on your own?  If you truly desire to fulfil your spiritual destiny and that of your children for all generations, then ‘anything Sarah says, heed her voice!’

Women have no spiritual limit.  Our women have kept our nation intact, spiritually and physically, for thousands of years.  May you merit tapping into the unlimited power of the woman!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Why must good-will have a price?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 85

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa was once standing outside his shul waiting for a minyan.   A fellow was rushing along and he asked him whether he’d like to join them for services. 
‘I’m sorry, I can’t.  I’m in a hurry,’ said the man.
‘Where are you in such a hurry to get to?’ asked the rabbi.
‘I’m running after my parnassah (livelihood)’ replied the man.
‘I see you’re running,’ said Reb Simcha Bunim, ‘but how do you know you’re running after your parnassah?  Maybe you’re running away from your parnassah!’

One who stole his friend’s non-tithed produce and ate it must make full restitution, according to Rebbe.  Rabbi Yossi bar Rabbi Yehuda says that he need only pay the value of the tithed produce (i.e. approximately eighty percent of the total original cost).
The Ran explains: The thief may deduct the value of the potential tithes, since the owner would have had to give it away to the priest and the poor anyway; and so it does not belong to him.
The Gemara asks: Is the basis of their debate not the following?  Rebbe would seem to maintain that the intangible pleasure has monetary value, whereas Rabbi Yossi bar Rabbi Yehuda seems to opine that the intangible pleasure has no monetary value. 
The Ran explains: Even though the owner does not keep the tithes, he still gets to choose which priest he would like to give the tithes to, creating an intangible benefit.  Can you put a price on that?

When accountants assess the value of a business, there is a line item called ‘good-will.’  It is the intangible amount that the business is worth, which none the less retains a monetary value.  It may be an intangible benefit, but business is business and everything has dollar cost.

In the twenty-first century, we are assigning monetary values to more and more of our intangibles in life.  If it doesn’t have a monetary value, we ask ourselves whether it’s worth pursuing.   Our lives today are driven by the bottom line – how much is it worth financially to me?  If there’s a dollar cost that I can ascribe to this benefit, then it’s worth running after.  If not, move on.

But there’s so much more to life than a number.  Money is merely a vehicle to what’s really important in life.  If you’re spending your entire life running after your livelihood, how do you know you’re actually running after life?  Maybe you’re running away from your true purpose!

What do you live for?  Why are you here on earth?  What is the purpose of the money you work hard to earn?   Mastercard’s slogan used to be, “There are some things in life money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”  What are those things in your life that money can’t buy?  What are the intangibles that you can’t put a price on?

You can’t put a price on family time.  Every moment you spend with your loved ones is priceless.  You can’t put a price on G-d time.  Every moment you spend learning Torah, doing mitzvos and in prayer-communion with the Almighty is absolutely priceless.

Money is there simply to serve the important things in life.  If everything in life has a monetary value, you’ve lost your direction and connection to a higher purpose.  May you earn the right amount to minimize the time spent on running and maximize the time spent on living!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Treating your family like creatures

Daf Yomi Nedarim 84

A colleague told me about a funeral he did for a man who was incredibly beloved in the community.  He was always there to help anyone in need.  You could call this fellow any time of day or night and he was always available.   You should have heard the amazing stories they told at the funeral.  Here was a man that people considered almost an angel, such was his self-sacrifice for others.

But as each ensuing eulogizer arose to tell of the deceased’s selfless life, my friend watched as the family sat in the front row stone-faced.  You see, while he was unbelievably beneficent to everyone else, he hardly had any time left in his life for his poor wife and children.

Mishnah: If a woman declared, ‘I vow to abstain from all human beings,’ her husband cannot revoke the vow and she may take of the leket, shikcha and peah (the farmer’s tithes for the poor).
Gemara: The fact that the husband cannot revoke the vow demonstrates that she may continue to receive sustenance from him.   The implication is that he is not included in her stipulation ‘all human beings.’
Rava asked Rav Nachman: Is the husband then not a human being?

Some people are the epitome of charm and friendliness with everyone they meet, from their colleagues to their neighbours to strangers.  They have all the time in the world for them.  But then they get home and give their loved ones short-shrift.

Listen to the wise words of Rava: Is your husband then not a human being?  Is your wife not a human being?  Are your children not human beings?  Are your parents and siblings not human beings?  You have so much time and respect for everyone else who are mere human beings, but those close to you get the short end of the stick?!  Are they not human enough for you?

Actually, the word employed by the Mishnah to describe every other human being is briyos – creatures.  In Ethics of the Fathers, Hillel teaches that Aaron the High Priest loved briyos and brought them close to the Torah.  Our Sages explain that he loved human beings for the mere fact that they were creatures/creations of the Almighty.  They may have had no other redeeming quality other than being the handiwork of Heaven.  That was sufficient reason for Aaron to love them.  And when you love a stranger that should likewise be your motivation.

But your loved ones, of course, are not strangers.  They’re more than mere briyos.  Why do you sometimes find it hard to avoid stressing out at them?  You would never react that way to a stranger.   And yet your spouse and children, whom you are meant to love more than anyone else in the world, you seem to lose your patience with!  Why is that? 

The answer is that your connection, your bond, to them runs much deeper than the briyos connection.  You have a soul-connection with them.  A cohen may not attend a funeral, other than that of his seven closest relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, spouse.   Your bond with these seven is beyond the physical.  It is a deeply spiritual connection.  That’s why an inexplicable tension exists between you and them that is utterly different to your relationship with anyone else in the world. 

But the deeper, more spiritual the bond, the more that is at stake.  And that’s why the challenge of maintaining and growing those relationships are so fraught with tension.  They are extremely powerful Heavenly relationships.  You have a soul-bond with them.  They are not just briyos.  You must work especially hard and devotedly to achieve your destiny on earth with them the same way your spiritual destinies are intertwined.

Your loved ones are not human.  They are so much more than that to you.  May you merit fusing Heaven and earth so that you reveal the deep spiritual bonds that exist between you and your top seven!  

Funerals are better than weddings

Daf Yomi Nedarim 83

Shaindy was elated.  Her fifth child had just gotten engaged to a lovely young man.  But then she started to feel bad.  How could she tell her best friend, Rina?  Rina’s kids were all in their twenties and none of them were married.  How would she feel?  Sure she would wish her mazaltov, but it must be so painful for her.  It might even affect their friendship.

Filled with trepidation, she called her up to share the news. 
“MAZALTOV, SHEINDY!” she exclaimed, “I am so, so happy; you have made my day!  When’s the wedding?  I’m booking my ticket right now!  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.   You know how much I love you and your children!”

King Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting, for that is the end of all men, and the living should take that to heart.”
Rabbi Meir taught: What is the meaning of “and the living should take it to heart?”  If you eulogize others, others will eulogize you; if you mourn for others, others will mourn for you; if you bury others, others will bury you.

Why should going to a house of mourning cause reciprocity more than attending a house of feasting?  If going to a funeral will cause others to attend your funeral, going to a simcha should similarly cause others to attend your simcha!  And truly, it does; when you go to your friend’s wedding, you can expect that they’ll come to your wedding!

As we know, attending to burial needs is called chesed shel emes – kindness of truth.  Why?  Because there’s no expectation of anything in return.  They’re gone from this world; they can’t repay the favour.   But Rabbi Meir teaches that when you bury others, you will be paid back – you in turn will be buried upon your death! 

What he means is that of course you are always recompensed for your actions, but that’s not why you should be generous to others.  If your motivation in serving others is to get them to serve you back, you’re only serving yourself.  Burial is the only service that, no matter how many times you provide the service for others, they can only provide you with the service on one single occasion.  You only die once.

When it comes to weddings, you might ask yourself, ‘I went to three of my sister’s children’s weddings, how many of my children’s simchas has she attended?’  But when you have a keep-score attitude, you’re only serving yourself.   You’re not going to their weddings for them; you’re going so that they will come to your simchas!  But with funerals, no matter how many deceased you attend to, you will only ever be repaid once. 

In other words, burial and mourning provide an example of how to serve others in simcha.  If you truly wish to serve them, as opposed to serving yourself, you won’t keep score.  You will be there for them without any expectation in return.  You will revel in their simcha, because they are experiencing a simcha, not because you like the food or the music.  You are there purely for them.  It doesn’t matter how many of your simchas they have attended.  You are there because you love them unconditionally.

You were placed on this earth to serve others.  Find the right people in your life to love and then serve them without any expectations.  May you merit unconditional relationships, surrounded by people who truly love you!

G-d is colour-blind

Daf Yomi Nedarim 82

‘Rabbi, you need to talk to our son,’ said Sandy and Frank, ‘he refuses to date Jewish girls.’
I met with Stevie to ask him what was going on.
‘I dated Jewish girls, Rabbi,’ said Stevie, ‘they’re all the same.  I’m not interested.’
‘Really?’ I responded, ‘How many Jewish girls did you date already?’
‘Two,’ he replied, ‘but same story, different face.  I’m done with Jewish girls.’

Rava asked Rav Nachman: Is a vow of abstention from marital relations made by the wife considered self-affliction or a relationship concern?
He replied: We learned about this in a Mishnah: If a woman declares, ‘I desire no further relationships with Jewish men,’ her husband may annul the vow with regards to himself and continue to live with her and she remains forbidden to all other men, should they get divorced.

What’s happened here in the Gemara?  This husband and wife have had some conflict in their marriage and instead of just blaming him, she goes and blames all Jewish men!   Why would she swear off all Jewish men because her husband is being difficult?

Unfortunately, that’s what many people do.  They have a bad experience with one type of person and they paint every other individual with similar characteristics with that same brush!  Maybe it’s the young man who won’t date another Jewish girl because of one or two dates that went sour.  Or maybe it’s the foreign worker you hired who doesn’t show up for work on time and so you decide that all people of that ethnicity are lazy.

It’s time to start judging individual people on their own merits and not brush-stroking people who look the same or belong to the same group as all the same and all guilty of whatever issues you’ve experienced with the one person you dealt with that didn’t work out.  If only we were as quick to judge groups of people favourably when we had a positive experience with an individual.  Instead, many of us will look at that person as the exception!

G-d is colour-blind.  G-d judges each individual person on their own merits without ascribing group qualities or attributes to them.  If you desire to be G-dly, stop brush-stroking.  If you haven’t had luck with the Jewish boys you’ve dated so far, it just means you haven’t met your bashert, not that they’re all bad.  Keep looking, the right one’s out there! 

And certainly that’s the case when it comes to different peoples.  Just because you didn’t like the way the person next to you smelled on the subway yesterday, it doesn’t mean all her co-nationalists smell like that!  Just because your colleague from some strange part of the world is a little difficult to deal with, doesn’t make all people from that country difficult. 

Judge every individual on their merits.  The Almighty doesn’t separate people according to colour, creed or gender.  May you merit giving every individual in your life a chance, no matter where they come from or what colour their skin is!  

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Do you find Torah burdensome?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 81

Micah had an idol.  This idol was very special to him, as it had been procured from his mother’s life-savings.  He set up a temple for the idol in his home and opened his doors to anyone who would pass by and desired to worship.  One day, a charming young Levite chanced across his threshold.  Micah knew that he was the one. 
‘You were chosen by Heaven to serve,’ said Micah, ‘I would like you to stay with me and I will provide your needs while you act as priest unto mine idol.’  The young man readily agreed.

How did Micah know that this lad was the one?  Our Sages explain that he was in fact the grandson of Moshe Rabbeinu.  As Heaven would have it, Moshe was denied his two dying wishes – to enter the Holy Land and that his sons fill his shoes and lead the people after his passing.  Clearly, we see that they were not worthy.  Why not?  Wouldn’t you think that the greatest teacher and prophet of Israel would raise children who would shine bright as the firmament?

Why don’t we find Torah scholars begetting children who are Torah scholars?
Ravina taught: Since they do not bless the Torah first.
Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: What is the meaning of verse in Jeremiah foretelling the destruction of the Holy Temple, “Who is the wise man who should understand this?”
The Almighty Himself explains the verse, “And G-d said for they have forsaken my Torah,” meaning that the Temple was destroyed because they did not bless the Torah first.

Why do rabbis’ kids not follow their fathers’ footsteps?  Because they are born with a spiritual silver spoon in their mouths.  The meaning of ‘not blessing the Torah first’ is that they lack the appreciation of the incredible blessing they have been born into.  Sometimes, when you’re raised in a Torah environment, you fail to understand the gift you’ve been given.  Not blessing the Torah means failing to thank G-d for your lucky genes.  And so when it comes to Torah study, these rabbis’ kids make a half-baked attempt at learning. 

The same thing occurred before the destruction of the Holy Temple.  As a people, we failed to appreciate the incredible gift we possessed.  We had a Temple, but how many people took it seriously?  How many people bothered going to Jerusalem three times a year for the pilgrimage festivals?  Why should I go when I can daven just fine at my local shul?  Our ancestors failed to appreciate all those mitzvos in the Torah that may only be performed in the Temple, such as sacrifice, libation, and the lighting of the Menorah.  ‘They didn’t bless the Torah’ means they didn’t appreciate the incredible gift they were given.

And of course you don’t need to be a rabbi’s kid to fall into this trap of lack of appreciation.  Many young people today are straying from the holy ways of their parents, because they don’t bless the Torah.  They fail to recognize the incredible gift they’ve been given by being born to dedicated Jewish parents.  If you don’t appreciate what you have and bless the Almighty for that gift, you will easily go astray. 

If you think of Torah as a burden or you are nonchalant about your Jewish heritage, why would you want to stick around doing it?  It's a magnificent gift that precious few are worthy of receiving.  You were chosen, you should be eternally grateful and never take it for granted!  And that's the message you need to impart to your children too!

It’s time to make sure your kids not only appreciate the awesome gift they’ve been given, but bless G-d for granting them that gift.  That shouldn’t take place once a year at the Seder or worse yet, once a lifetime at their bar or bat-mitzvah; it’s an appreciation that must be instilled daily.  May you merit children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are committed to Torah, because they’ve never ceased blessing the Almighty for their marvellous spiritual fortune!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Why is Israel turning away African migrants?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 80

Some years ago, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett joined forces to create The Giving Pledge.  The goal was to have billionaires pledge to give away half of their fortunes to charity.  They could do so either during or after their lifetimes.  Thank G-d, the project has been a major success, raising $125b to date.

But why stop at fifty percent?  Does anyone really need five hundred million dollars?  There are billions of people in the world living on less than a dollar a day.  Imagine if these billionaires would pledge to give away 90% or 99% of their wealth!  On that score, does any of us need our tens of thousands of dollars?  What right do we have to take vacations and buy nice cars when there are people in the world living at subsistence levels?

Concerning a spring of water belonging to the residents of a town: if it’s a question of providing life (drinking water) for you or for non-residents, your life comes first.   Life for your cattle or their cattle?  Your cattle comes first.  Water for your laundry or their laundry?  Your laundry comes first.  Water for your laundry or their life?  Their life comes first.  Rabbi Yossi says your laundry takes precedence.
The Ran explains: According to Rabbi Yossi, failure to launder causes distress and is therefore a necessity of life (not a luxury).

Judaism doesn’t ask anyone to give away all their money to those less fortunate.  Nor does it insist that we should all share everything equally in some socialist utopian manner.   As Rabbi Yossi avers, it’s nice to give away your drinking water, but if that means you won’t have water to do your laundry, you’re not obligated to do so.

The Almighty has given different resources to different people in life.  If you were born into a country with abundant resources, you don’t need to feel guilty that half the world’s population would love to immigrate to your country, if only given the chance.  G-d grants different lots to different people.  In our Gemara, one particular town had access to a natural spring that others didn’t.  Rabbi Yossi teaches that they shouldn’t feel bad about doing their laundry with the water when there are others who don’t even have decent drinking water.  That’s in the Almighty’s hands.

But it does stop and make you think.  Even according to Rabbi Yossi, the key determinant here is the difference between necessities and luxuries.  If doing your laundry was a luxury, he would agree that you should provide the other people with the drinking water first.  In other words, after your basic needs are fulfilled, you certainly must strive to help others achieve their basic needs.

For some of us that means putting a cap on the amount of time we invest in chasing the dollar just in order to buy another car, go on another vacation.  Of course, if your goal is to have more to give away to charity, then by all means work as hard as you can!  But if your goal is just to have more money for luxuries, you need to ask yourself whether that time and effort couldn’t be better spent on more charitable endeavours. 

As you go through life, you should be able to work less and contribute more.  More money.  More time.  More of yourself.  If you are working just as hard today as you were thirty years ago, you must ask yourself, ‘Am I working to pay for necessities or for luxuries?’  And if the answer is the latter, could you be directing your time and money to more Heavenly pursuits?

Your necessities come before your obligations to anyone else.  If the Almighty blessed you with prosperity, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Beyond that, however, you must strive to ensure that everyone’s necessities are seen to.  May you merit more than enough to fulfill your needs and wants and the needs of those around you!

Is your spouse holding you back from your spiritual growth?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 79

Sammy had been following Life Yomi for over a year and he was finally ready to take the plunge and start the big one – Daf Yomi.  There was a shiur (class) that met each morning just around the corner and he was really excited to become their newest member.  From there, he could catch the bus straight to work.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Malka was not happy, to put it mildly.  Sammy used to come home immediately following shacharis and help her get the kids ready for school.   The first day she handled it all on her own, the second day was okay too, but by day three, she had had enough.  What gave him the right to go all frum at her expense?  Who was the one sacrificing for the daily Daf?  Monsieur was sitting around with his Gemara, while she slaved away at home!

Mishnah: These are the vows that a husband may annul – words that involve self-affliction.
The Gemara asks: Can he only annul vows of self-affliction and not those that do not involve self-affliction?  But we learned from the verse, “between husband and wife” that he may annul any vows between him and her! 
They answer: He can indeed annul both kinds of vow.  However, vows of self-affliction he annuls permanently; whereas other vows, as long as they are married the annulment is in force, but should they get divorced, her vow is reactivated.

Regarding the laws of vow-annulment between husband and wife, the Torah’s message is that you must both be on the same page.   You can’t go making vows of abstinence if they will end up unreasonably impacting your spouse.  Any new religious assumption must be cleared with your other half first.  That’s why the Gemara explains that should they get divorced, at that point, the vows are reactivated.  Until such time, they must be a joint decision.

Certainly, Halacha (law) is Halacha.  But when it comes to taking extra stringencies upon yourself, you and your spouse must be in agreement.  Daf Yomi is admirable, not obligatory.  You want to start learning the Daf?  Great, go ahead!  Learn it during your regular TV or relaxation time, not when your spouse needs you to help get the kids ready for school.

When we first came to Edmonton, chalav yisrael (supervised kosher milk) was not readily available.  We would ship it in every few months and freeze it.  Baruch Hashem, this community has come a long way since.  Nowadays, you can buy milk, cheese, and yoghurt in not one, but two of the regular supermarkets, such has the demand for chalav yisrael grown!  But back in the day, when it wasn’t easy to keep, a young lady in our shul wanted to adopt the stringency.  I explained to her that unless her husband was on the same page, it was a terrible idea.  Just think of all the shalom bayis (domestic peace) issues that could arise anytime they might run out of milk, or should the months-old milk go sour!  You can’t go taking on ‘religious vows’ in marriage unless you are both in agreement.

Becoming more dedicated to the Divine mission is wonderful.  But you must always make sure that your teammate is on the same page.  May you and your spouse forever grow together in your Avodas Hashem (service of Heaven)! 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Passive aggresssion

Daf Yomi Nedarim 78

My mother is a wonderful high school English teacher.  One of the joys of teaching is parent-teacher night.  On one such occasion, as my mother was meeting with a middle-aged lady, she knocked over her handbag and the TV remote fell out.
“That’s a good way never to lose it!” exclaimed Mom.  “Do you always keep your remote close?”
“Actually, my husband refused to come to meet the teachers this evening,” she replied, “and this was the cruellest way I could think of to punish him.”

Rabbi Chanina taught: One who is silent in an effort to cause pain may effect annulment anytime up to ten days.
The Ran explains: The wife made a vow and the husband did not respond.  His intention was to cause her distress by appearing to confirm her vow by his silence, when he really intends to annul the vow after a period of time.

The worst move you can make in a relationship is to be silence.  Passive aggression is worse than vocal aggression, because you do not even allow the other person to express themselves and vent their rage.   Often, that’s all they need from you, an attentive ear, an audience.  If you give them the silent treatment, you’re demonstrating that you’ve taken their issues personally and you’ve become affected by their mood. 

Sometimes, if you think you’re going to lose your cool, it’s certainly better to be quiet.  But once you have regained your composure, it is most unhealthy to be silent in the face of another person who is upset.  If you desire a relationship with them, you should aim to calm them down by talking to them softly and lowering the decibel level.

And on the flipside side of the coin, you might be dealing with someone who is continually acting passively aggressive – a colleague, a spouse, a child, or a friend.  They pretend they don’t hear or see you, or they outright ignore you, acting as if you are not there.  Or they might appear to listen but procrastinate and fail to act upon your requests, just to spite.

Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to fall into their trap by getting angrier at them.  Confront them gently, acknowledging your recognition of their distress.  They might not admit it and you might have to back down.  But once they know you have recognized that they are upset, it will go a long way to putting the relationship back on track. 

It is of the utmost importance in any relationship that both of you know how the other person feels. Conflict in any relationship is inevitable – passive aggression is worse than active aggression, because the relationship is no longer open and honest.   May you merit relationships that are open, honest, dependable, and strong!