emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love Your Fellow as Yourself

In EmunahSpeak: In The Crosshairs we ran a little overtime so we’ll do a one eighty here and make it short and hopefully sweet with a lick and a shmeck on a topic that will IY”H be revisited.

So what does love your fellow as yourself mean anyway?

Interpretations abound, and all too many of us settle for a chesed oriented definition as opposed to a literal one in which our fellow’s needs dictate our love for him.  According to this view, the more he needs the more we love him.  A very high madreiga of chesed to be sure, but it has nothing to do with the mitzvah of love you fellow as yourself.

When we quoted The Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, in EmunahSpeak: Perhaps They’re Better Than You, we borrowed only what was needed for the topic at hand.  Now that we have flipped that page for a new one, we’ll borrow some more a little further along in the Rebbe’s talk.

The Rebbe z”l, said “that the mitzvah of love your fellow Jew applies (even) to a Jew across the world whom you have never seen.”  And he didn’t mean that we should feel obligated to send him a check if we should find out that he needed help because the Rebbe’s understanding of love your fellow as yourself wasn’t mortgaged to the touchy feely chesed interpretation that we spoke about above.

However much the Rebbe z”l, was wont to darshen in many other areas of Torah, vis á vis the mitzvah of love your fellow as yourself his approach was literally straight down Main Street.

“What kind of love,” He asked?  “Torah contains no idle words.  When it says ‘love your fellow as yourself,’ love means love.  Your fellow means not you, but him.  As yourself?  Just as much as you love yourself.”

We need neither the views of Rashi nor the rest of the meforshim to perform this mitzvah the way the Rebbe z”l, understood it.  Nor do we need the biggest head in the world.

We need the biggest heart.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In The Crosshairs

                                In the Belly of the Beast (part 2)


In EmunahSpeak: Perhaps They’re Better Than You, we raised some eyebrows by actually saying something positive about the Internet as we opened a window, ever so slightly, to a brave new world of kiruv that is being Internet driven.  We said there: As far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form.

And so it is.

In March 2010 (rabbi) Eric Yoffie who is President of the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism, r”l) addressed the URJ Executive Committee.  The relevant parts are as follows:

I am optimistic about the future of our Movement…and right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. Because the future does not lie with the chareidim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism. The future, I believe, lies with us. 

But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? 

We draw the boundaries of Reform so as to include rather than exclude, and we welcome gays, lesbians, the intermarried, non-Jewish spouses and all who bind their fate to that of the Jewish people.   
We see tikkun olam as an essential element of our Reform identity – in fact, as the jewel in the Reform crown.  (Note: What he means by Tikkun Olam is cleaning up trash in empty lots in Harlem and other such spiritual venues). 
When disaster struck in Haiti, Reform Jews provided relief at a level that no other movement could even dream of.
The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.

(rabbi) Yoffie’s pearls of Jewish brotherly love were posted on the URJ web site under the title of The Future of Reform Judaism, r”l.  If this would have been twenty years ago (rabbi) Yoffie’s remarks would have been published in the URJ magazine, and that would have been the end of it.

Way back when, from the mid seventies through most of the eighties, I made attempts to question/challenge the outrage de jour that Reform was attempting to sell as Judaism.  These forays into what amounted to doomed prospects for attempted dialogue were usually in response to something I heard on the news or an article I had seen in one of their publications in a doctor’s waiting room, and more often than not they took the form of letters to the editor.

All I received for my efforts was the silence of the dead.  The flow of information from the outside world was tightly controlled, and nothing even remotely critical of their movement was given a forum.

And that’s how it had always been.  Depending on the decade, Reform had its tentacles into a million plus Jews at any given time, and there was no way to get at them.  They had erected their version of the Berlin Wall, and it was no less effective.

And then the Internet came to town.

Reform’s once impregnable fortress morphed into a target on its back, as the URJ’s circle the wagons strategy gave way to the Net’s subversive egalitarian ethos.  Rather than do the expected, and simply reject my criticism of (rabbi) Yoffie’s less than prophetic mean spirited imaginative meanderings, the URJ chose to post it to its website where it was viewed by thousands of its members.

My comments, in and of themselves, were nothing special.  That they were posted on the URJ website, however, was historic.  Moreover, the live links to a number of Torah websites which I had embedded in my comments were left intact, thereby exposing their people to some of the best Torah content on the web.

After thirty-five years of shadow boxing with the kefira that masquerades as Reform I finally got to land a punch in an Open Letter to (rabbi) Eric Yoffie that was hosted on the URJ website:

I am absolutely astonished by your ((rabbi) Yoffie’s) assertion:  And right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. The future does not lie with the chareidim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism. The future, I believe, lies with us.

I do not like the pejorative term “fundamentalists” nor do I care much for the word chareidim. If you are referring to Torah observant Jewry, the relevant demographics would seem to demand that you back up your assertion with something in the way of facts.

Given a birth rate amongst Torah Jewry that is several times higher than what passes for a birth rate amongst the Reform (which is on the level of Spain), and a divorce rate that is a fraction of what is presently ravaging Reform, and almost universal full day Jewish education for at least nine years at the margins and thirteen plus at the core, and an aggressive, yet sensitive outreach that gathers momentum by the day, are we not tempted toward the opposite conclusion?

And what exactly are we to make of your admission in the President’s Report to the URJ Board of Trustees (June 2010)?  To whit:

We must begin the work of rebuilding our youth movement….We have seen the decline of our youth activities to dangerously low levels, and we are not now providing our kids with the staff and the resources that they desperately need. A related area of equal importance is the work initiated by the Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning to help our synagogues promote teen engagement following Bar and Bat Mitzvah. We know that if current trends continue, approximately 80% of the children who have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in our congregations will have no connection of any kind to their synagogue by the time they reach 12th grade. This is a disaster for our young people and for our congregations as well.

So if the Reform birth rate falls well below the point of sustainability not to mention the host of ravages that will take their toll on those who are born to the next generation, already diminished as it is, where then do you see the cause for optimism?

 Apparently from here:

The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.

I once again protest the slash and burn pejorative references that paint Torah Judaism with broad strokes of negative innuendo. It’s simply not becoming of someone of your stature. While your imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did you pull this rabbit?

Shakespeare’s perhaps?

Even so, you are essentially correct in saying that the great majority of North America’s Jews will not, at this juncture, choose to identify with Torah observant Jewry. Your mistake is in believing that they will come to Reform. The truth is that the mass of unaffiliated Jews will remain such, r”l and that both they and their descendants will continue to assimilate themselves into oblivion.  Not only will the unaffiliated Jewish masses not reverse Reform’s negative growth rate, their very existence is a massive accusation against Reform and what it symbolizes in their eyes.   

How so?

That the unaffiliated masses don’t want any part of Torah Jewry is perfectly understandable, given its perceived restrictions and such.  So why not Reform with its do your own thing culture? In what possible way could it inhibit their lifestyle?

The unaffiliated masses will never come to Reform because they don’t look upon it as authentically Jewish.  Keep in mind that we are talking about Jews who, aside from maybe putting in a cameo appearance on the High Holidays, have nothing to do with Judaism (as in zilch, zero, nada) the rest of the year. And yet, their dismal Jewish performance notwithstanding, they look upon Torah Jewry as the exclusive bearers of Jewish tradition.

Many, if not most of these Jews would rather openly break every law in the Torah than change those laws to redefine their behavior as permissible.  It could be by taking the hit rather than changing the law, they are vicariously keeping the Torah in their minds, even if only subconsciously. The masses are weak in their ability to do the things that the Torah requires of them and to resist doing that which the Torah forbids. The irony, of course, is that their collective greatness is rooted in their refusal to reduce Judaism to the level of their weakness.

Your vision of the future is terminally circumscribed by the present because the majority of those that ARE choosing to live Jewish lives have, for a number of years now, opted for that halakhically-based, ritually-obsessed, fundamentalist, oldie but goody from the ghetto.
Once again, however, on one point, you are more or less correct.  You said:  But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? My answer is “yes.”

Reform IS a unique product that has a market niche, but the market isn’t what you think it is. While Reform’s program, as articulated by you, is at full tilt in the direction of what is au courant on the Liberal Left, the Jewish community is no longer the liberal monolith that it has been longer than any one of us has been alive. For reasons of which all of us are aware, North American Jewry is beginning to reassess its undying loyalty to a Liberalism that the Radical Left (pardon the redundancy) destroyed some  forty years ago. This means that the trend line of the great mass of unaffiliated Jews, the same Jews that you would like to bring out of the bullpen to save Reform from its self-inflicted demographic nightmare, is headed (ever sooo slowly) in the opposite direction from the “philosophy” upon which you have staked Reform’s future. In the short term the effects will not be discernable. But long term it’s not good news for Reform.

And while it’s true that those who wish their environmentalism, feminism, egalitarianism, and all the other constituent isms of the liberal pantheon to be sprinkled with the fairy dust of Reform will continue to answer “present” at the Reform roll call, those who are seeking serious spirituality as opposed to having their secular ideology validated, will look elsewhere.

Reform has entered its Glasnost era. Those who truly seek to experience Shabbos, the Yomim Tovim, and anything else that is part and parcel of the “traditional Judaism” that you have dangled in front of their eyes in your push toward pseudo-tradition will not be satisfied with half a loaf, and Reform by definition is philosophically incapable of delivering the other half. It’s the nature of genies that once they’re out of their bottles it’s quite impossible to stuff them back in again. Quantitatively the losses may ultimately turn out to be surprisingly small but qualitatively they will be your best people.

You think not?

The following links are to some of the most popular speakers in the English speaking Torah world today. They have had a tremendous impact on both religious and unaffiliated Jewry in North America, South Africa, Great Britain, and Israel.  And each one comes from either a Reform, Conservative or totally assimilated background. Torah Judaism is enriched by their teachings, as it is by the many others who have made the Long March from your movement and from the others. And there are hundreds if not thousands more, who by virtue of the Jewish genie that you have let loose from the bottle of Reform, who will one day come to join them as teachers of Klal Yisroel.


Keep in mind that every point being made here relates back to your contention that: The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.” 

The entire future of your movement stands or falls on that premise.

The links above are but a tease that serves as an intro to the most important thing affecting the future of Reform that you didn’t mention in your piece: the Internet.

Unlike in previous generations where Traditional Judaism was out of sight and out of mind to anyone not living in close proximity to one of several urban areas in the United States, today it’s big, bold, and in your cyberspace
face, right where the totality of your target audience hangs out.

The Torah’s Internet presence is absolutely overwhelming, and it is impossible for the mass of unaffiliated Jews not to trip over it in due time. I don’t know how many sites there are because there are new ones every week, and I simply can’t keep up, but we’re talking here in the triple digits and counting.

I took the trouble of going to every Reform website listed on the drop down menu located on the URJ website, and found nothing in the way of content. The only reform site that contains anything of interest to outsiders is the URJ/Reform blog, and even so it’s all chit chat. Some of it is fascinating to be sure, but it’s still just chit chat just the same.

Here are three links:

The first is Rabbi Zev Leff’s website. I chose this because he is an individual who is not connected to any organization, and all of the content on his site was produced by him alone. This one site probably has more content than URJ, all of its affiliated sites, and all of its member Temples combined.

Next is the Orthodox Union, and I chose it because it is the Orthodox organizational equivalent of the URJ.

And the third is Aish.com which is the web presence of Aish HaTorah, the famous kiruv yeshiva.

My purpose is not to have you sample the content but to do an INVENTORY of it, and you should make it thorough by clicking on all the various topical tabs etc.  As I have already stated, these sites barely scratch the surface but they should still give you enough information from which you can extrapolate as to how well mined is the road to Reform’s supposed glorious future.

If you do your due diligence in searching out Torah Judaism’s presence on the web you will no longer credibly be able to say: The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based….

And then there is the imagery/symbolism of Judaism.

Guess who owns it and guess what the impact of that ownership is and will continue to be on that mass of unaffiliated Jews that Reform pines for.  I know that the Wall and some other things are a sore point of contention for Reform, but for the purposes of this post I’m not interested in the politics of it all. I’m simply stating an incontrovertible fact as to where the public’s eye is drawn vis á vis the imagery and symbolism of Judaism.

The irony of it all is that Reform is stuck with the same imagery/symbolism. It’s in your temples and all over the website. And what other choice do you have anyway? If not a shofar, menorah, lulav etc., then what?  A recycling bag, a pushka that says Hati on it, and two guys holding hands?

Below is a link to a representative image to which you have nothing to answer. The crowd is mostly made up of Sephardim and they are singing Ani Ma’amin at the Kosel as it was sung in Auschwitz.

Let’s be honest now.

To whom do you think that uncommitted mass of unaffiliated Jews is going to emotionally respond? To those Jews who are singing the Ani Ma’amin or to the ones who ripped it out of the siddur?

The name of your original article is The Future of Reform Judaism, but the entire premise upon which you stake this future has a hole in it and it's taking water.  It would have been more accurate had it been entitled The Death Knell of Reform Judaism.

So much for (rabbi) Yoffie’s take on Reform’s future and my comments thereto.  This was not an isolated incident. It’s illustrative of an ongoing process made possible by the Internet which won’t end until this stain on the integrity of Klal Yisroel implodes, speedily in our days.

It is very important to understand that at the time, (rabbi) Eric Yoffie was president of a movement (URJ) that claims one and a half million members.  In addition, well over a thousand of those members click onto the URJ website every day, and it is to be presumed that these are the people with the most active interest in the doings of the URJ.

And yet….

Although thousands of (Reform) Jews read both (rabbi) Yoffie’s predictions as to their glorious future and the systematic shredding of those fantasies, only one person bestirred himself to come to their President’s defense, and even he didn't answer the bell for Round Two after his comments were rebutted.  These Jews may be ignorant of most things Jewish, but they are still capable of recognizing the truth when they hear it, and by their deaf and dumb reaction they made it quite clear that they weren't hearing it from (rabbi) Yoffie.

What can be said about a movement that allows its leader to be trashed on its own website with nary a response?

That it’s laser locked in the crosshairs, Boruch Hashem, with the door locked behind it and the clock ticking.

They know it's over.  They're just keeping up appearances.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Perhaps They’re Better Than You

In the Belly of the Beast

 “And then came Amalek…

Our Sages tell us that Amalek is the paragon of evil.  While there has been no shortage of evil (as directed toward Klal Yisroel) these past few millennium, forensic evidence that ties any of it to Amalek doesn’t come easy.  Aside from a couple of guest appearances in the guise of Agag and Haman, Amalek seems to be the where’s Waldo of Tanach.

Generically, however, Amalek is unfortunately alive and well, r”l.

In the same way that Islam has been the means by which all of the middos inherent in the Torah’s description of a pere adom has been channeled into peoples from non-Arab stock such as the Iranians and the Pakistanis, the wickedness and kefira of Amalek has been morphed into various religions and political philosophies over the centuries up until our own day.  A plethora of movements and ideologies were let loose by the French Revolution, and Amalek’s fingerprints are all over them.

And then came the Internet.

In much the same way, as Rashi tells us, that the Ribbono Shel Olam incited the Dog (Amalek) to “bite” Yisroel in the midbar in response to its asking: Is Hashem in our midst or not?...the Ribbono Shel Olam has incited a digital Dog against our generation, a generation that doesn’t even know enough to ask whether Hashem is in our midst or not.  It’s the last generation before Moshiach and, as Chazal tell us, it’s a generation that, not coincidently, has the face of a dog.

What horror can we recount that hasn’t already been recited ad nauseum, to the point that a certain numbness has taken the place of what was once our collective innocence?  Breaches have replaced barriers, and we have long since run out of fingers to stick in the dike that used to separate us from that sea of iniquity that is the rest of the world.

In a previous time, a time conceptually removed from the present as far as night is from day, the brush strokes that delineated the exterior of a Torah Jew’s life were more often than not a reflection of an emunah peshuta that percolated within.  In the generation with the face of a dog, those externalities all too often mask an inner weakness born of hashkafas more representative of the street than of the yeshivas.  

“Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he killed among you all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d.”  
Do we not see this process repeating itself in front of our eyes? The Internet is spiritually killing among us all the weaklings at our rear as it culls the hashkafically faint and exhausted from the ranks of the Klal, and in this sense at least, the havoc it is wreaking more closely tracks the paradigm of Amalek than even the evil of atheistic Communism.

Spiritual killing fields notwithstanding, the Internet also has a flip side.

“There is a desolate land which is thus far underdeveloped spiritually.  There are Jews there who don’t even know that they lack anything.  You had the unearned privilege to be brought up with Torah and Mitzvos.  ‘How lucky we are, how good is our lot.’

“Be there a day, a week, a month, a year, ten years.  You won’t have nice clothes or a comfortable home.  The Jews in the place where you are going manage without them.  Why should you be better?

“Perhaps they’re better than you.”

So spoke the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, to his Chasidim as he exhorted them to get out of their comfort zone and seek out lost Jews, wherever they may be found.  The words perhaps they’re better than you caught my attention, and I believe that they hold the key to understanding the Internet’s impact on the totality of Jewish life.

Ironically, in contradistinction to Amalek, the Internet functions in much the same way as the Parah Adumah, l’havdil.  In addition to rendering impure those who by any yardstick were previously fine upright Torah Jews, it has the power to purify those who have spent their whole life wallowing in the filth of the goyishe velt.

The high profile warnings that have been voiced from one end of Torah Jewry to the other as to the well documented toxicity of the Internet has obfuscated the fact that the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to kiruv rechokim.  As far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form.  A Jew living in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains fifty miles from the closest human being has access, by means of the Internet, to more shiurim than a Jew living in Lakewood or Monsey without an Internet connection.

In the same way that some Torah Jews who would never even think of paying a visit to Times Square or Greenwich Village seek out the forbidden by way of the Internet in the privacy of their home or office, assimilated Jews who would never be caught in public at a Gateway seminar or a Renaissance Weekend will, out of curiosity, click around the Torah sites on the Internet from the privacy of their home or office because they don’t feel threatened there.

We are, at present, at the very beginning of a kiruv revolution that will bring into the ranks of Torah Jewry previously unimaginable numbers of Jews who are immune to the predations of the Internet because they have been inoculated for the future by virtue of their past.  Their numbers will far exceed the losses suffered at the dark end of the Internet.  As the weak ones are tragically removed at one end they will be replaced by the strong on the other end.

And while the Internet's Klal Yisroel body count should eat you up inside, the sunny side of the Internet equation is also very much your business.  It’s not something to be contemplated with studied indifference.  After all, who’s to say whose blood is redder?

Perhaps they’re better than you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


As per Webster:

n: a very large ocean fish used for food that has the upper jaw prolonged into a long swordlike beak.”

Anyone who doesn’t know that swordfish is the password is too frum to be reading this, G-d bless each and every one.

“The avodah of bitochon is to train oneself to rely only on Hashem. 

Not Hashem plus your accountant or your expertise.  Hashem knows if you have bitochon in Him or if you are relying on the doctor also or your own hishtadlus.  Hishtadlus doesn’t make you a partner with Hashem.  Think of it as the password to the game of life.  It's the equivalent of saying "swordfish" to gain admittance.  Once you have given the password Hashem takes care of 100% of the problem, not the 95% you supposedly left over for Him after you did your 5%.  That Hashem’s 100% might work out to be zilch, zero, and nada of what we have set our minds on in any given situation is of no consequence because bitochon is not results oriented and therefore makes no promises.  It defines how we think not what we get.”

And so it is.  The sum total of what we do in this world in inyonei gashmiyous, understood properly, amounts to no more than swordfish.  This is how the Chovos Halavovos learns in the Sha’ar HaBitochon.  R. Yisroel Elya Weintraub z”l, validated that understanding in a conversation with one of my sons in which he stated that the definition of bitochon means to RELY on Hashem.

It wasn’t until last night that the full import of what I had written blindsided me shortly after I posted my last piece.  It was an epiphany (Yiddish, for a game changing revelation) of sorts. 

I finally realized that swordfish is no less applicable to the realm of creative endeavor than it is to the mundane give and take of our daily existence.  And NO, I’m not talking about recognizing the Yad Hashem in creative inspiration as opposed to falling into the trap of kochi v’otzem yadi.  I learned that lesson the hard way about eight years ago when I finished what was to be my last screenplay.

Anyone who has ever been on a roll, be it in business, writing, Tosfos or in anything else where everything was going great with no speed bumps in sight knows the feeling.  I was so hot at the time; I thought that I could write anything.  And I even made the mistake of saying as much by uttering the five words that terminated my career as a screenwriter, if one can call making no money a career: “Hey, I can write anything.”  That’s all it took.

Baruch Dayan HaEmes.

My head shut down immediately as if on cue, and soon thereafter Hashem allowed me to trace my inspirational famine back to those five fateful words, but to no avail.  I did the best, most sincere teshuva I had ever done in my life, but I wasn’t about to be let off with a slap on the wrist.  Not only could I no longer write anything, but seven years later I had yet to write even a little something. 

No, it’s not about seeing through the mirage of kochi v’otzem yadi.  That would have been enough, given where I was holding way back when I thought that I was a writer, but after last night generalities no longer suffice.  We’re talking pratim here, and it’s Torah hashkafa that’s in the details, not the devil.

There is no muse, no inner voice, no well spring of creativity from which writers, composers, artists, and the like draw their inspiration.  And you can throw in doctors and such for good measure.  Every word, note, brush stroke, and diagnosis is spoon fed to those so endowed by Hashem. 

Query:  Endowed by Hashem to do what exactly?  If every jot and tittle is by way of Hashem then what separates the creative personality from the unwashed masses?

In much the same way that a given radio frequency can pull in a broadcast set to that frequency, creative people have been hard wired from the get go of their existence to process the creative flashes that Hashem is sending them.  It’s not that a writer has been given the ability to write.  He has rather been blessed with the genius to take Divine dictation because it’s all from Hashem, typos included.

There is nothing for us to do other then to say swordfish by taking pen in hand, powering up the computer, or anything else that will meet the threshold of proper hishtadlus. Hashem does the rest, which as we have said, is in actuality everything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It All Began…

The majority of those who are part and parcel of today’s kiruv movement are not old enough to be cognizant of the fact that it wasn’t all that long ago that the phrase kiruv movement was unknown in any language.

On one of his tapes, Rav Miller z”l, speaks about a certain very fine Yid living in Boro Park who sports a dignified long beard with big bushy payos, all decked out in the gang colors of the yeshiva world: black and white.  He comes from a long line of tzadikim, including his parents who were kedoshim killed by the Nazis during the war.

Or so he thinks.

Rav Miller z”l, tells us that he knows the truth about this man’s parents.  They were Communists, and had there been no war it would have been impossible for this Yid to have come out of such a house.   In pre-war Europe there was a greater likelihood of a non-religious Jew, be he a Communist, Bundest or assimilationist of any stripe, traveling thousands of miles to the United States (for those few who could still drey an immigration certificate) and marrying an Italian girl from the East Bronx than there was for that person to become a baal teshuva.

And that’s despite the Chofetz Chaim’s cry in the last years of his life that kiruv should be the call of the hour.

It wasn’t much better here in those days either, but at least it wasn’t impossible.

Whereas in Eretz Yisroel, where the explosion in kiruv can be directly traced to the emotional tsunami that crested in the wake of 1967 war, kiruv in the United States began to take root two decades earlier, and it did not have its genesis in any particular event.  It percolated to the surface of Jewish life here from different wellsprings to be sure but with the exception of Chabad, which was first out of the gate, and which continues to commit its entire movement to the battle for lost Jewish souls, most of what would define American kiruv both in the States and in Eretz Yisroel in the late sixties, seventies and beyond to the present flows back to one person.

Aish HaTorah with its multitude of branches and initiatives that subsequently devolved from it, such as Project Inspire, in addition to its awesome Web presence as manifested by Aish.com, Kiruv.com, SimpleToRemember.com, ClassicSinai.com et al. was conceived and nurtured by Rabbi Noach Weinberg z”l.  And before founding Aish HaTorah, Reb Noach was one of the founders, along with Mendel Weinbach and Nota Schiller, of Yeshiva Shema Yisroel whose name was subsequently changed to Ohr Somayach.  Mendel Weinbach, the Dean of Ohr Somayach considers himself to be a talmid of Reb Noach in inyonai kiruv.  Together, Aish HaTorah and Ohr Somayach remain the dominent force amongst the main stream baal teshuva yeshivas.  There is no question that Noach Weinberg was one of the most influential figures in kiruv in the English speaking world. 

But he wasn’t alone. 

He also had a brother named (Shmuel) Yaakov Weinberg z"l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of  Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore, succeeding  his father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Ruderman z”l.  In addition to his position as rabbinical advisor to AJOP (The Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals/Programs) from its inception until his death, he founded the Maor Institute to train his talmidim for effective outreach. 

There was also Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, who built Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, into what was at one time the largest baal teshuva yeshiva in the United States.  His talmidim have spread across the length and breadth of the USA, Canada and Eretz Yisroel where they have opened their own institutions in addition to staffing existing yeshivas and kiruv organizations. 

And there is NCSY which, over the course of several decades, Rabbi Pinchus Stolper built into the premiere Orthodox organization working on the front lines with Jewish public school teens and day school teens, many of which don’t go on to yeshiva high school.  Since its inception in the early 1950s, NCSY, under Rabbi Stolper’s guidance has sent thousands of high school grads to learn in Eretz Yisroel and also on pilot trips.  Many thousands more have been saved for Yiddishkeit.

Rabbis Noach Weinberg z”l, Shlomo Freifeld z”l, Pinchus Stolper, Yaakov Weinberg z”l, and many others who went on to make significant contributions in the realm of Jewish outreach were all talmidim of Rav Yitzchak Hutner z”l, as was Rabbi Nota Schiller before moving on to Ner Yisroel.

Even Reb Shlomo Carlbach z"l, who eschewed the yeshiva and organizational based kiruv model in favor of musical outreach, received his semicha from Rav Hutner.

The overwhelming number of the major players who created the American kiruv movement were talmidim of either Yeshiva Rabbeinu ChaimBerlin or Yeshiva Ner Yisroel, who were either directly influenced by Rav Hutner z”l, or indirectly through his talmidim.

As was said above, most of what would define American kiruv both in the States and in Eretz Yisroel in the late sixties, seventies and beyond to the present flows back to one person.

But it’s not Rav Hutner. 

It flows through him, however, because his positive attitude to kiruv, an attitude which was unique amongst all of the contemporary Roshei Yeshiva, was not wrought in a vacuum.  Rav Hutner’s outlook vis á vis non-religious Jewry evolved during his years as a bochur in Hevron, at the same time he developed his attachment to the writings of the Marahral M’Prague and to the sifrei Kaballah. 

And it came to him by way of the same mentor.

The Chofetz Chaim’s plea for a kiruv initiative may have gone unanswered in the ideological wasteland that was pre-war Europe, but it didn’t go lost altogether.  Someone was listening, and that someone breathed it into Rav Hutner’s soul.  Rav Hutner in turn raised two generations of talmidim who propelled the Chofetz Chaim’s clarion call four decades forward into the 1970s where they answered it by raising the banner of revolution in the name of kiruv.

But it all began with Rav Kook z”l and will only end with the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Stick

Most of us are familiar with the moshal that compares the way we react to the events in our lives, be they big or small, to a dog barking at a stick being wielded against it.

A dog is not blessed with a wide angle view of life, so it goes after the stick because it is incapable of seeing past it in terms of a cause and effect cheshbon.  We are, Boruch Hashem, cut from different cloth in that we clearly apprehend that everything in this world comes from Hashem.

So why is it that we are constantly angry at the stick?

Unlike the dog, we never see Anyone holding it.  If we did, we would no doubt do a lot better than a dog in zeroing in on the cause of our discomfort.  The “sticks” in our lives are physically detached from the One that wields them, and as a consequence thereof, we all too often fail to fill in the spiritual blanks in our field of visual understanding.  And so we lash out at the stick, be it a spouse, a neighbor, a flat tire, a boss or a migraine, missing the essential point of the encounter in the process.

And as Rav Brevda tells us, we also make the mistake of thinking that this is a world of smooth sailing and menucha, so when we hit a speed bump, the proper Torah hashkafa relevant to the situation at hand may well find itself on the endangered species list leaving all eyes locked on the “stick” bereft of the means of dancing around it.

But there is yet another reason.

The bomb craters of life notwithstanding, most of our “stick” encounters come in small doses, and Rabbi Lazer Brody tells us that we terminally fail to see the brocha inherent in these tiny tribulations, which he says are worth their weight in gold.

Where we see a stick we should be seeing a life preserver.

Instead of being upset at the petty irritations that have come our way we should be makker tov to Hashem for sending them.  Tosfos in Nedarim lists the four greatest requests that we should be asking Hashem, and one of them is that we shouldn’t be blind.

So what do you think about when your ophthalmologist tells you that you need stronger glasses?  The inconvenience of the visit and how much it cost you to park the car or that you can see, and when that prescription is filled you will see even better?

You sprained your ankle, and it’s in a cast?  A real bummer, isn’t it?  Are you fixated on your sprained ankle to the exclusion of being makker tov to Hashem for the fact that you don’t have diabetes and have not lost any toes on that foot?

It is an emotional imperative that we see Hashem in the “stick” of the tiny tribulations that invariably get to know us on a first name basis.  As Rabbi Brody relates, these tiny tribulations can run interference for us only if we accept them with a smile and emunah, and if we do so we are spared tribulations that are 5,000 times worse.

Truth be told, the moshal of the dog barking at the stick is somewhat anemic because a dog, for its part, is not endowed with the ability to connect the dots.

What exactly is our excuse?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Samayach B'Chelko

It’s one who is satisfied with his lot, is it not?

But Chazal teach us that if a person has one hundred he wants two hundred. And in another place they tell us that a person doesn’t leave this world with half his desires fulfilled.

So who then is really samayach b’chelko?

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg z”l, explains that when Pirkei Avos asks, Who is Rich, it is a major mistake to translate it as one who is satisfied with his lot, because he says that one who is satisfied with his lot is dead.

Who is Rich more correctly refers to someone who takes pleasure and joy in his life.  He would like a little bit more to be sure, but he’s not suffering without it.  He is samayach b’chelko because he is joyous over his lot in life, though not necessarily satisfied with it.  His focus is qualitative, not quantitative for his thoughts are permeated with what he’s blessed with as opposed to the raw calculation of what he’s got, which might lead one to pine for what he’s missing.

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg z”l, asks:  So how does one achieve the character trait of joyousness anyway?

We create it.

And with this we part company with the nations of the world, who look to outside stimuli to forge their happiness, because joyousness is not something external to ourselves.  It’s not to be found hither and yon in what comes to us from the outside world. It is rather in how we deal internally with life’s externalities that will define the parameters of our joyousness.

Rabbi Weinberg is telling us here that the essential ingredient of our happiness is not what happens to us but rather what happens within us.

It’s all about whom and what we are, and we write our own ticket.  And if we write it in indelible ink, then our sense of joy will be such that even when we suffer pain in any of its manifestations, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc., we will not lose sight of the essential goodness of our lives.

One who is samayach b’chelko may well be dissatisfied with the pain in his life, but he doesn’t allow that pain to take over and become the center of his life.  The pain can be pain, but it doesn’t take way from the joyousness inherent in a life in which everyday blessings are counted like pearls. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Me?

When was the last time you asked Hashem this question when things were going well for you?  Better yet, when was the first time?

But when our expectations take a left at the fork of Life’s road rather then the anticipated right, Why Me is the de rigueur kasha on what we perceive to be somewhat of an unjust breakdown in the order of things.

Virtually all of us suffer to one degree or another from Life Expectation Syndrome, which can be loosely defined as, something that usually happens is expected to continue happening with no questions asked.  

The fact is that most babies are born without incident so we expect no less.  For every car stuck on the Long Island Expressway with a flat or worse hundreds of cars are passing by unscathed (ever so slowly) toward their destinations.  And so on for every facet of our lives including ruchniyas.

And so we consider it quite natural to seek a normative existence, and in doing so we bottom out on a humongous speed bump called reality because in Hashem’s world, which just happens to be the only game in town, nothing that takes place should be considered as normal.

Rav Dessler tells us in Michtav Me-Eliyahu that the difference between nes and teva is the frequency of occurrence.  The caterpillar that morphs itself into a butterfly is nothing less than Techias Ha Meisim, and yet, our collective jaw doesn’t drop upon beholding this phenomenon because due to its predictability and frequency we consider it to be a phenomenon of Nature.

But Rav Dessler’s differentiation between nes and teva was only meant as a labeling mechanism for these two phenomena, for in reality the two are actually one because everything is a miracle.

You woke up today?  Is this not a miracle of miracles?  You were for all practical purposes dead because a person can’t live without a neshama and you didn’t get yours back until you woke up.

So did you say why me?

And even the Modeh Ani that you did say, when you said the words, were you makker tov to Hashem for yet another opportunity to make something of yourself or were you too preoccupied with yawning?

Life Expectation Syndrome has no application in a world where everything is a miracle because miracles follow no order of things within the realm of our understanding.  That they seem to is only to cover up the fact that they are, in fact, miracles.

If we truly understood that everything that happens to us is a nes, and I mean everything,  then our entire worldview would flip one hundred and eighty degrees, and we would be amazed when things went well, and not the other way round.  It may be one thing to expect to ride a Life merry-go-round that has been in motion forever, but it’s something else altogether to expect a nes to be done for one’s self as if it were an entitlement.  

And if we’re not so brazen as to take nissim for granted as we presently do Nature, then when things occasionally go south in our lives we won’t say why me because having no expectations, we will have no kashes.

And having no expectations, there can be only one response when one of life’s miracles puts a smile on our face:

Why me?

Living With Hashem

In EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour  we said that Rav Wolbe states in his sefer, Ali Shur, that emunah is a reality, not a concept.  It is the purpose of creation and the foundation of existence.  It’s our life preserver to which we cling with a vice like grip. 

And it’s also as close as we’ll ever get to Jewish body armor because a life with Emunah is a life that is not affected by death, by difficulty or by challenge.  There is always the knowledge that it’s with Hashem, and therefore it can’t be that bad.

In fact, Emunah is actually a way of thinking.  As Rav Wolbe also teaches us in Ali Shur, a person who looks at the world with the mindset of Emunah looks for the Hashgacha Pratis in everything.  He sees Hashem in “Nature” and in every historical event.

And as Rabbi Moshe Hauer puts it, if Emunah is the way we see the world in the tog taiglach of our every day existence then it will be there for us when we really need it, and the proposition that we are all going to need it sooner than soon was, after all, the premise of EmunahSpeak: The Call of the Hour.

Rabbi Hauer also tells us as per Rav Kook that the perspective of Emunah is the opposite of blind faith.  It’s a perspective of being able to see things with a perfect clarity because Emunah is not an intellectual conclusion.  It’s not even a regesh.  There is a live connection (Neshama) inside each of us that is part of Hashem that Hashem blew into us.  And that piece that is in us knows that there is Hashem out there.  It feels it and it knows it viscerally.  Navuah (Navi) means to be able to see Hashem, and Emunah is a piece of navuah.

It comes out that a ba’al Emunah is a person that knows with a certainty that Hashem is here, which culminates in a palpable feeling of living with Hashem.  Given Emunah’s spiritual essence,  he eschews the use of physical eyes and material yardsticks because a person can’t achieve Emunah in this world if he is holding up Hashem to material tests, nor should we measure our success in life by our physical experiences which tend to collide with Emunah.

Emunah also brings us to an understanding that this is not a happenstance world in which things occur solely by chance in an unending procession of “accidents.”

Appearances aside, we are not stuck in situations, we are placed in them. We are where we need to be.  The question asked by the ba’al Emunah is not, why this is happening to me, but rather what should I do now that it is.

The tachliss of this world as seen through eyes of Emunah is to turn fate into destiny.

Rabbi Hauer adds that when you walk around looking for Hashem, Hashem meets your gaze.  By seeking Hashem, and only Hashem, you are acknowledging Ein Od Milvado, that there is nothing other than Hashem.  And those who believe Ein Od Milvado in their bones will be provided protection when, in difficult times, they say Ein Od Milvado to maintain presence of mind.

Such are the rewards of those who walk this earth with the palpable feeling of living with Hashem.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kol Isha

In "We’re Out of Stock" we ventured a few thoughts as to what may be driving at least part of the Shidduchim “crisis.”  Right or wrong, the focus of that piece was on a tevadik explanation of how we got to where we are, which for all too many girls is nebach nowhere r”l.  But tevadik explanations, as insightful as they may be on occasion, can not be expected to caress the bottom line of a problem that is solely a function of nissim without a shmeck of teva in sight.

It’s no less a nes for a top Brisker bochur, whose father happens to have more money than Bill Gates, to marry a Bais Yaakov princess charming than for a thirty-five year old dirt poor adopted girl in a wheel chair from twice divorced parents to marry a thirty-six year old Talmud Chochim who amazingly seemed to appear out of nowhere.  It’s all one and the same. 

Nissim only come in one size.  They're not easier nor are they harder.  They just are.

So how exactly does one caress the bottom line of a nes anyway? 

For this particular nes, the nes that will morph the angst laden tears of the Bnos Yisroel, both individually and collectively, into a baby’s tear trickling ever so slowly half way down his cheek, in juxtaposition to the smile induced by his mother’s soft kiss, we should be davening, and that’s pretty much all we should be doing.  After all, if it's all about nissim then it’s all about davening.  How else should one throw the Divine Presence into gear?

But isn’t everything a function of nissim?  As we said in EmunahSpeak: So Who are You Relying on…, doing one’s hishtadlus amounts to nothing more than answering “present” at Life’s roll call because Hashem does 100% of everything, not the 97% you didn’t do.

If everything is nissim, then what’s so special about the nissim inherent in the shidduchim process, and why is davening the only ticket to a destination, one stop past the shidduchim “crisis?”

The everyday nissim that Hashem causes to be subsumed into Nature are overwhelmingly not a contradiction to Teva, and that’s exactly the reason so few of us can see the Yad Hashem in the natural order of things.  At the other extreme are the Imahos who were more than barren.  They were actually born without reproductive organs.  The nissim that were done on their behalf didn’t go lost in Nature; they went into Nature’s face instead.  But no less miraculous was the means by which their nissim were put into play.  Hashem wanted to hear their davening.  And to that end He put the existence of Klal Yisroel on hold until such time as their davening broke Divine glass.

And it’s no different by shidduchim, or rather by the nes of shidduchim, because Hashem wants to hear the davening of those in this generation who are seeking a shidduch no less than He wanted the davening of the Imahos.  And like the Imahos, those who are davening for a shidduch are in essence davening for the ultimate fruits of that shidduch, the only substantive difference being the time frame, with davening for a shidduch commencing a little further upstream in the process. 

So it comes out that today’s Bnos Yisroel are standing in the shoes of the Imahos; they are also davening for children and they are not being answered.  But the problem, as such, is that while they may be standing in the shoes of the Imahos, vis á vis their respective madreigas it will take the davening of our entire generation (men included) to hit the high note of the Tefilla of the Imahos.

Not only does it qualitatively make sense that it would take all of us to replicate in some fashion the effect that their davening had in Shomayim, but it happens to be quantitatively seicheldik also.

After all, the Imahos were actually their entire generation, each one in her own Dor.

We asked above: “If everything is nissim, then what’s so special about the nissim inherent in the shidduchim process?”

According to Rashi, even though all of Creation was set in place before Man was created, it was as if had been flash frozen.  Nothing happened until Adam davened for rain, and when he did his tefillos threw the whole Teva into motion.

Man  preceded the Teva as we know it; a Teva that is a study in divinely inspired animation. Therefore, a shidduch whose bottom line goal is to replicate the creation of Man is somewhat unique in its relation to nissim because it is part and parcel of a world that was nissim and only nissim without any Tevadik distractions.

Monday, October 3, 2011


As the saying goes, or rather used to go, there’s nothing certain in this world except death and taxes.

And just because some of us have managed to somewhat dance around the latter there shouldn’t be any illusions as regards the former.  Be it in a hundred and twenty or next week, it’s going to be, period, so what better time to reflect upon this most uncomfortable of life’s imponderables than between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

While we all know the Chazal that says that the walls of a person’s house will testify for/against an individual after his temporary visa is revoked in this world, maybe we think we’ll get some rebuttal time so it doesn’t shake us up the way it should.  And what about the fact that every minute of one’s life is recorded and that you will have to suffer through the unedited replay of your entire existence here?  Even a low life can take solace in the fact that his suffering will be tempered as all of his simchas and other “good” moments of his life paraded in front of him.

So as we approach the day when the stenciled judgment we received on Rosh HaShana will be carved in stone, what exactly will put the fear of G-d in us?  What will give us pause to consider the consequences of our future actions if we are fortunate enough to have a future when the curtain comes down on this year’s Din at the close of Yom Kippur?

It’s well known that sometimes less is actually more, and we see this clearly in many forms of communication.

Have you ever noticed that in order to get someone’s attention, sometimes it is more effective to lower your voice rather than to raise it?  And even in cases where you already have someone’s attention, a stronger point can often be made by suddenly dropping your voice a few decibels.

And what’s true for sound based communication is no less true for the visual arts. 

Every photographer and filmmaker works in color today, and yet when a certain point has to made, or a unique attribute of a product needs to be emphasized, or a special mood needs to be created, it’s plain old black and white that’s called upon to highlight the desired effect in juxtaposition to a color saturated world.

And along the same lines, the old wisdom that a picture is worth a thousand words has held up nicely in a motion addicted world, with a photo being a classic example of less actually being more, and herein lies something that can go a long way in putting our ultimate imponderable in its proper perspective.

None of us needs to hear a recital of the names of those who were taken from us this summer under the strangest of circumstances without the slightest warning because their names are already seared in our collective memory.  Throw into this tragic mix all of the fatal automobile crashes, strokes, heart attacks, and other sundry fatalities and we have evidence aplenty that no man knows his time.

Fuhgeddabout the talking walls and the one hundred and twenty year long unedited video of your life.  Your whole life will be reduced to one split second, the split second just before you check out of this world.

The last move you ever make will be frozen forever in a Heavenly snapshot.  And as was said above, no man knows his time, which effectively means that whatever you’re doing now may be the last thing you’ll ever do.

You’ll only get one picture, and for any given word of loshon hora, or for any nasty word to your spouse, or for any lack of tznius etc. the last sound you hear could be CLICK.


Monday, September 26, 2011

All That’s Left is the Emes

Abraham Lincoln said that you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  His aphorism lets us know that while the emes can be successfully suppressed and subverted beyond recognition, it can’t be entirely eradicated.

This observation has stood the test of time for over one hundred and fifty years, despite the Left’s best efforts to prove it wrong, because it speaks to that spark of emes that is embedded in every human being, and as such it is very much connected to Rosh HaShana.

A person can spend his entire existence in a society like the old Soviet Union, in which emes and sheker have been inverted.  In such a place every word in the media, everything taught in the schools, every pronouncement of the government, and every societal value are all sheker.  And yet, if a shtick emes, in whatever form, creeps in from the outside world, be it even once in a lifetime, it will more likely than not be recognized for what it is.

Such is the power of emes. 

One can “successfully” run from the emes most of the year but not the whole year, because when the month of Elul comes a knocking at his door, a rational individual understands intuitively that he can no longer hide.  After all, with the Sifrei Chaim and Sifrei Mahves opened to his page, where exactly would he seek shelter?

Shiras Devorah, after reprising the death of the Canaanite general, Sisera, by the hand of Yael, then shifts to the image of Sisera’s mother waiting for Sisera to return home from the battle.  In the course of her vigil she gives out one hundred cries, and Tosfos in Mesechta Rosh Hashana quotes the Chazal that says that we blow one hundred kolos (sounds) with the shofar on Rosh HaShana for those one hundred cries:

Through the window she gazed; Sisera’s mother peered through the window.  “Why is his chariot delayed in coming?  Why are the hoofbeats of his carriages so late?” The wisest of her ladies answer her, and she, too, offers herself responses.  “Are they not finding [and] dividing the loot?  A comely [captive], two comely [captives], for every man; booty of colored garments for Sisera, booty of colored embroidery, colored, doubly embroidered garments for the necks of the looters.” 

These possukim reveal to us that Sisera’s mother is worried about her son’s fate, but that her friends and she herself make up excuses to explain away the delay of Sisera’s return.

Finally the truth sinks in that Sisera is not coming home.

Rabbi Shalom Rosner tells us that Rosh HaShana is about when all of the rationales in our life fall away and the emes hits us in the face.  We start out with all kinds of excuses:  I can’t do this or that, I’m too busy, this is not who I really am, this is not my derech etc.  We can pretty much fool ourselves most of the time, but not all of the time.  Especially not this time of the year.

We’re all looking out the “window” to a wishful thinking world of our own creation until, poof, we finally see ourselves, and at that point all our excuses dissipate like the morning mist and all that’s left is the emes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It’s Okay with Me

There are any number of ways to explain Bitochon, but at its core it simply means that Hashem has a Master Plan, and that every facet of that Master Plan is subjectively good, as applied to you and every other you walking the Earth at any given time.

Objectively, however, as seen in the here and now of where one’s two feet are currently planted, it may be a different story, at least for Litvaks.

Whereas the Baal Shem Tov and those that follow in his derech in our time (i.e. the Lubavitcher Rebbe, z”l, the Biala Rebbe et al.) hold that our bitochon, as viewed in real time, should be that everything will turn out for the best (vet zein gut), the Chazon Ish, z”l on the other hand,  doesn’t promise us a rose garden.  In his view, which has become mainstream hashkafa in the Litvishe yeshivas, we should certainly have bitochon that the situation at hand could turn our way (ken zein gut) but we shouldn’t be focused on a fairytale ending.

We recognize that things that we perceive of as bad happen sometimes, and in extreme circumstances (such as terminal illnesses and the like) they happen more often than not.  Stage four cancer patients on respirators who are severely jaundiced because their kidneys are shutting down are not expected to check themselves out of the hospital to attend a chasana fifteen hundred miles away.  The only checking out for them is to the next world because the truth is that they die close to one hundred per cent of the time.

The problem is that while most of us understand, as an intellectual proposition, that Hashem has a Master Plan and that everything that transpires in this world is subsumed within it, the route this understanding takes from the brain to the kishkes follows the proverbial slow boat to China.

When we inevitability hit one of life’s more serious speed bumps, the amelioration of which cannot be expected to be found within Teva, we dutifully remember that Hashem has a Master Plan and that sometimes our tefillahs are answered with a resounding NO, and, Boruch Hashem, we accept it.  And in cases of death, we say Boruch Dayan HaEmes with kavanah, acknowledging that Hashem wasn’t away for the weekend.  He was on the job, and that nothing that happened passed undetected under His radar.  We grin (maybe) and bear it to be sure, but we are often at a loss as to how to emotionally relate and dialogue with it at street level.

For this we need Rabbi Mordechai Schwab, z”l.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates that he visited Rabbi Schwab when he was very ill.  He could no longer put on tefillin nor could he even daven.  Rabbi Schwab could see from Paysach Krohn’s face that he was empathizing with his inability to do the basic avodas Hashem that we all take for granted.

So he set him straight.

“If Hashem wanted me to put on tefillin now then He would provide me with the ability to do so.  And if he wished to hear my tefillahs he would endow me with that capability also.” And then Rabbi Schwab gave over something that represents the paradigm of how we should speak to our issurim.  He said, “The way we have to look at life is that whatever happens to us say to Hashem:

‘If that’s what you want, Hashem, it’s okay with me.’”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tefillah Chronicles

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

Three steps back, a perfunctory nod to the left followed by one to the right, a few mumbled words facing forward and you’re but two words away from shlepping through yet one more Shemoneh Esrei.  Those two words are V’eemru ahmain, and at this point Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l suggests that one reflect on the kind of Amidah he just davened.


Most of us, nebach, were mentally past the last two words before we even uttered the first two.  So now with but two words to go to the finish line we’re supposed to slam on the brakes to bring the express to a halt and reflect, as if we were philosophers, on the davening we just blew through at warp speed.

What’s so important about these two words anyway?

If people actually understood that they were addressing melachim (one good and one bad), and asking them to say AMEN to the nineteen pit stops that served as way stations during their five minute trek across the expanse of their spaced out universe, they might be too ashamed to finish the Shemoneh Esrei.

More specifically, we are asking the melachim to sign off on our ruminations over the stock market in Boreich Aleinu, our reflections on the Yankees in Shema Koleinu, the deal that slipped through our fingers in Re’ay, and the deal we hope to make today in Modim, to name but a few of our imaginative wanderings.

Okay, so most of us are somewhere else when we’re davening Shemoneh Esrei, and we’re not that picky about it either.  Apparently, anyplace will do, the only criteria being that we wind up “there” as opposed to “here.”

The irony, of course, is that those who are focused on their davening are also someplace else.  Proper d’veikus and kavanah means going to another planet.  Those who do it right aren’t here during that time either.

It’s quite unbelievable when you think about it.  We call it Tefillah B’Tzibur but everyone’s “there” in one form or the other, except for the two malachim.  They’re here, and they are waiting for those last two words.  The good news, however, is that they aren’t all that makpid.

If your mind took you to a place where you talked to Hashem, they will answer your Amen with one of their own.  But if you drifted off to a place (or rather places) where the whole world talked to you, fugetaboutit.

You’ll get another chance to change addresses at Mincha.