Monday, March 31, 2008

Self Perception

Last night my husband and I went to a restaurant that we had not visited for months. The reason for the lapse had nothing to do with the cuisine; indeed, the said restaurant is our favourite fleischig restaurant in the area. When we walked in, the place was a zoo, which I attribute to our now being firmly in the "pre-Pesach" zone. From Purim on, restaurants in our area become packed as crazed families attack the chometz in their home (real and imagined) with vigour.

The place was packed, I was running a fever (since I started my new job in January, I have been succumbing to subsequent waves of whatever virus is floating around the office), and achy, and well, who would expect fabulous service under such circumstances? Certainly not me, having worked many a restaurant/coffee shop job in my "youth". That being said though, the meal was an utter failure: we waited over half an hour for takeout, and once we got home, the meal had been so poorly packaged that I had to spend 20 minutes mopping up the mess. The kicker? Once we sat down to eat, the meat was stringy and tasteless.

The upshot though is that I made a comment that my husband said I should share. So I will indulge him and do so. :-)

When our number was called, we moved up and tried to give our instructions to the cook, who custom cooks your meal for you. The cook was having none of it, and blatantly ignored my few attempts at saying "Excuse me" to get his attention. I mean, he was really quite rude. My husband began to get perturbed and, being Israeli and the restaurant being an Israeli joint, switched into full-fledged Israeli mode and started to argue with the cook. I told him that he did not have to argue (since I knew he was arguing for the sake of my honour as much as anything else); we just would not come back.

Later in the car, I commented to my husband that the sad part of the ordeal with the cook was that the cook is unaware of his own holiness; he is able to be rude to his fellow yid because he is unaware of his own spiritual potential and importance. If he was aware of his holiness, I said, he would treat other yiddin with more respect because he could extrapolate from that self-awareness and apply it to others. In other words, if he is holy, all yiddin are holy and consequently worthy of consideration and kindness.

At least, that is what I hope! In Brooklyn, we are so homogeneous, it is easy to lose sight of the worth of each person since our individuality tends to fade to the background. So I am ultimately glad that the incident last night occurred. Sure, now we will have to find a new fleischig restaurant to frequent. But that is a small price to pay in light of the reminder that one should always afford one's fellow yid the benefit of the doubt...and that extra bit of thoughtfulness.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


The bar mitzvah this past Shabbos was beautiful. Family and friends heard the bar mitzvah boy- a sweet, gentle soul- give a practically flawless reading of the parshah. More to the point, the speeches were truly heartfelt, and full of the right emphasis, i.e. on the obligations now facing the new man. And of course, it being a family who always do everything with a perfect blend of taste, style and modesty, the hall and seudah were extremely pleasant. I could not have been happier for them (I will even admit to having had an unexpected welling up of tears in happiness), and had the nicest time, B'H'.

A brief comment on Parshah Shemini, since I will probably move on to this week's parshah shortly: it mentions in Midrash that Hashem waited to have His fire (aish) descend and consume the korbanos that Moshe and Aaron offered in order to communicate that Hashem answers prayer because He chooses to as a result of the tzchus (merit) of the given perosn. In other words, Hashem is not automatically invoked by calling out to Him, as is the prevailing thought amongst the other nations.

To extrapolate, when we daven to Hashem, Hashem contemplates whether or not He should answer us, and whether the answer should be positive or negative. In the end, that is at the crux of what makes davening so important: by davening, we grow closer to Hashem, through calling out to Him constantly, we can better evoke His compassion. Regardless of whether or not the initial answer is positive or negative, all answers are ultimately positive because even negative answers work to keep us humble and to refine us. And, even when there is no answer, we can learn that we should attempt to get closer to Hashem in order to merit an answer in future.

By getting in the habit of davening, we remind Hashem of our existence as His children while simultaneously reminding us that He is our Father, to whom we need to turn for everything. So, B'H', we have such an avenue available to us. And, B'H', we had this past week's parshah to remind us of just that.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The 7 Noachide Laws

My husband commented recently that if a yid sins, chasve shalom, Hashem has mercy because we have 613 commandments to fulfill. No such luck for goyim, he pointed out.

That got me thinking about an unpopular topic, namely goyishe morality. Specifically, I started contemplating the way that goyim are judged, namely the 7 Noachide laws:
  1. Do not murder
  2. Do not steal
  3. Do not worship false gods
  4. Do not engage in sexual immorality
  5. Do not eat the limb of a live animal
  6. Do not curse G-d
  7. Erect courts and effect justice
The principle is simple: follow the above 7 dictates, and be deemed worthy of Olam Habah. Not bad, you say. And yet, a brief look around will evidence wanton sexual immorality, plenty of stealing in all its forms, curses galore, etc.

The question remains though: are most goyim engaged in deviations from the Noachide laws? Tolerance for such deviation has become more accepted in the past few decades in the Western world. But is this tolerance the true picture of goyim? Since non-Jews have historically followed these laws, is the basis for their cultures not rooted in them?

I am in the minority here in Brooklyn; I do not adhere to the popular view that there is no point in acknowledging goyim because they are unworthy of our consideration. Since Hashem created a world in which goyim exist, I believe He has a purpose for goyim just as He has a purpose for Klal Yisroel. In other words, let's not fall into the snare of an elitist mindset whereby all goyim are bad and low-level human beings. There is good and bad everywhere, and in all of us. The question is, which drive do we allow to prevail?

As yiddin, certainly we are meant to set an example, or rather be "a light unto the nations". Should such a people openly espouse vitriol about the rest of the world's inhabitants? I have met many, many goyim who are good, honest, kind people- people who intuitively follow the 7 laws. Last week on the metro (on Taanit Esther, to be exact), I saw a bunch of strangers leap immediately into action when a man fell down and began to convulse. The entire car was poised to help in any way that was necessary. Are these the goyim that my neighbours in Brooklyn openly condemn?

When I lived in the South, there was one family whose teenage daughters spent each Sunday afternoon handing out business cards on the street. The neighbourhood in which they performed this distribution was one notorious for its bars and club life. There they stood in the sweltering sun for hours, giving the cards to anyone who would take them. What did the business cards advertise? The 7 Noachide laws. On these cards were written the laws, and a brief explanation of their purpose. In other words, these girls devoted their time educating goyim of their spiritual duties in an effort to help them transform.

That is what a yid should be and how a yid should act, in my opinion. We should be concerned not only with yiddin, although obviously that should always be our top and most pressing priority. Yet this priority does not negate our responsibility to the other nations and inhabitants of this planet.

It is after all Hashem's world. And if our actions as yiddin determine the state of the world, then we also determine what happens to goyim. Why not then step up and help the goyim improve spiritually? It will only make the world a better place and help us emulate the very compassion that Hashem shows to none other than Klal Yisroel.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Purim/Parshah Tzav

Alright, so I spoke too soon. The rest of my Purim was very hectic and included a few disappointments. But hey, I can also say that I had a really nice conversation with a woman Friday morning, someone who I had spent a good deal of time chatting with at the wedding I attended this week. And I got to see my friends briefly as I dropped off shalach manot, some of whom I had not seen for a few months. The day was not a total wash.

I was thinking aloud during melave malkah, and ended up with a divar Torah. How about that? When I read parshah Tzav, I initially wondered what the purpose of reiterating (again) the inauguration service of the Kohanim could be. Then I saw in the chumash notes that this parshah was specifically for the Kohanim, to explain to them the service. So I said, if that was true, then the purpose of Tzav is to simultaneously show to Klal Yisroel (since we all hear the parshah) that the Kohanim are distinct, but for a non-elitist reason. Since they function as the conduit through which we gain teshuvah, while they are distinct they are also accessible to us; as the parshah highlights with its detailed description of the numerous korbanos offered daily during the 7 day inaugural period, the Kohanim offer korbanos to atone for any wrongdoings prior to the inauguration, as well as to offer thanksgiving. Thus, like us, they must offer korbanos to atone just as, when the Beit HaMigdash is standing, Klal Yisroel can offer korbanos. One should therefore not feel that the Kohen is above us. Rather the Kohen is here to serve us, to be the one who performs the services that help us gain forgiveness from Hashem, and experience His love for us.

Gut voch!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Purim is such an intense day; you go from the physical exertion of Taanis Esther (I tend to get a little headache and get really sleepy around 2-3 PM) to the joy of the megillah reading in the evening, and the seudah and shalach manos the following morning.

This evening I dipped into a shul where I know one family in particular, and shared a megillah with their daughter. The daughter, who is a full-fledged teenager, was disappointed at first that only two girls were dressed up. Then, B'H', another family walked in and they were every last one of them decked out. And the Rebbetzin is very sweet. She was concerned that there was an empty when there were people standing, and she tried diligently to fill the seat. The reading was very clear, and made the mitzvah a pleasure to perform (I spend most years desperately craning my head towards the mechitzah, trying to catch every word and praying vehemently that I do not have to stay for the next reading because I miss a word here or there). So, my Purim has been an absolute pleasure so far. Well, despite the hour I just spent once I came home cleaning the apartment for Shabbos!

Just one note. While I was listening to the megillah this evening, it occurred to me that if you stop and think about the story of Purim, it really is incredible. I mean, every part of the story evidences Yaad Hashem. With that realization in mind, I found my sense of joy was heightened, as it very well should be. When you recognize a miracle, it makes you that much more grateful to Hashem, and you feel joy more easily. More to the point, it makes you want to share the joy.

Which is what Purim is all about. A freiliche Purim, everyone!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Russell Crowe and Shalom Bayis

Last night my husband and I saw a "little train that could" film directed by Ron Howard called "Cinderella Man". The film was well done, albeit only relatively tznius, not to mention stereotypically negative in its portrayal of "half-Jewish" (i.e. not) Max Baer, who is the boxer against which our hero Jimmy Braddock (read nice Irish Catholic) must prevail. On solely those terms, I would definitely not recommend the movie to my frummie frumstein friends.

However, the film did a good job of portraying Jimmy's devotion to his wife and family; they are the force that drives him during his boxing career, with each purse meaning the children can eat their fill that evening. And, even rarer, we see that Jimmy's wife supports him in his endeavours despite her understandable fears that her husband could end up permanently damaged or worse.

Watching the movie, I was touched by the realistic portrayal of a devoted husband and wife. How refreshing to find, despite the film's other ideological shortcomings, a cinematic portrayal of a traditional family, where the man is the provider and his wife a homemaker and no excuses are made. In fact, what I liked best about the movie was the fact that the love that they had for each other was based on mutual respect, pride, and support. Here were two people who came together and became a true team, time and again putting the other person first, and never losing sight of the good qualities in the other. Now that is a Torahdikk perspective of love and marriage! And why can we not see that more often in films, versus scene after scene of men and women demeaning themselves and each other in a host of ways?

So the film in its own way ended up being a triumph of some fundamental Torah values. On our very first date, I told my husband that being "in love" is very nice and good, but not a replacement for "real" love, which develops over time and is based on respect and kindness. Despite having been undeniably smitten when we married, I still hold by that statement. That is what I enjoyed about this movie and what it reminded me.

Often we get caught up in a routine, and while taharat hamispacha certainly helps, couples can get into a rut where they lose sight of how they feel about their spouse. A sense of duty comes to inform everything, actions are done out of rote, and while duty and routine can prove satisfying to a degree, in the end resentment can build. We can lose sights of ourselves, our needs, and our spouses in the process.

I therefore propose a suggestion and challenge to myself and all of you readers out there. Let's try our best to focus for a few moments a day on who our spouses are and their positive traits. Let's remind ourselves why they are worthy of our respect and devotion. In doing so, we can help bolster Shalom Bayis. And, as we all well know, while Shalom Bayis requires a concerted, continuous effort on the part of both spouses, when we perpetuate Shalom Bayis, Hashem smiles upon us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reformed Shul-Goer

I used to go to shul every Shabbos before our infamous car accident a little over a year ago. Rain or shine, snow or hurricane, I managed to make my way to shul, even when I lived more than 3 miles away. And I arrived on time, as befitting a yekki. Yet, since the accident, I have fallen into attending only when required: for chagim, for special shabbosim, for simchas. While I certainly had a medical excuse up until a couple of months ago, that no longer is the case. I began wondering this week when I began having to contemplate making it to shul this Shabbos for maftir- what happened? What precipitated this complete about face?

So I thought about it. That first Shabbos after I was released from hospital, it took me more than almost 20 minutes to inch my way down the stairs and half way down the block to the block's shtiebl in order to hear my husband bench gommel. I was in agony, and found even sitting to be torture, so about an hour into davening I took a second chair and put my feet up. But I stayed all the way through davening. Chassidishe-style.

After that Shabbos, I knew I had to stay at home on Shabbos in order to recuperate. The first few months I basically was on bed-rest, and had to daven in bed. Going to shul was consequently not in the plan. I did go to shul in the summer on two occasions when my energy level was slightly improved. But overall my energy level was such that I just could not get moving on time, and I do not enjoy going to shul in the middle of davening. While I know others find any time in shul productive, I personally figure either I will daven with the minyan or I will daven at home; I loathe going to shul and spending the whole time "catching up".

However, having never stayed home from shul previously, I will admit to being surprised that I came to relish that time after my husband went to shul and before I started davening. That time became the best 20 minutes of my week as I got dressed to stand before The King, after lingering for a few moments over the remnants of my pre-davening cup of coffee. And those minutes became the straw that changed my attitude.

The shul that we attended prior to the accident is about 10 blocks away, a most doable walk. Yet between the fact that shacharis there starts at 8:30 and our injuries (my husband had endured a fractured ankle that still bother him occasionally), we have basically ceased going there for now There the Rav gives an original drasha each week, the bathroom has soap, the place is so quiet that you could hear a pin drop, and the people smile and wish you a Good Shabbos. Contrast that to the scene at the shul on the corner, which features a the lack of soap in the washroom, a group of female co-congregants who, when I attempt to wish them a warm Good Shabbos return my greeting with a blank if not downright mean stare, and a reputation for talking during davening. Needless to say, I rush to walk to shul at the corner with my husband.

B'H', my energy level is increasing, and I look forward to returning to shul on a regular basis. Hopefully at our pre-accident minyan. Until then, I will continue with my current pattern. Because, as a woman, I can daven at home on Shabbos. And, if davening at home means I have more ahavas yisroel because I do not have to deal with a minyan that is not my cup of tea so much the better.

More than anything though, I am grateful for the accident, since it afforded me, for the first time in my life, a genuine appreciation for Shabbos Menucha. Even when that menucha is afforded in a few quiet sips of coffee.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Seminary Tragedy

This Shabbos at the lunch table, my husband borrowed from the Rav's drasha that morning to hammer home the terrifying message of this week's tragedy in Yerushalayim: the bochurim were in Beit Midresh when they were killed by the gunman. Where was the protection via Torah learning that has been the impenetrable magen for yiddin for millennia? If there is a crack in that magen, what does that mean for the rest of us? The Rav suggested that we examine our deeds and look at ways to improve ourselves, such as sponsoring poor families in Eretz Yisrael, devoting more time to learning, paying attention during davening, etc. All valuable points to remember.

The horrifying image that became etched in mind while my husband was speaking was of those bochurim slumping over their gemaras in the Beit Midresh. The image stayed with me throughout the rest of the afternoon, and reminded me that we are all interconnected and responsible for each other. While we all recognise that interconnection, sometimes we lose sight of it, and this week's events certainly returned focus to the fact that what I do impacts my brother/sister elsewhere. That the event occurred for Parsha Shekalim is particularly difficult to grasp. The week when all of Shemot culminates in the erection of the Mishkan, when the conduit for our experiencing Hashem in this world was consecrated and introduced into our daily lives- the timing highlights the disparity between our kedushah at that historic moment to now, when such killings could occur where they did.

When I considered this week's parshah, it struck me that sometimes the barrier to our changing our behaviour is the fact that we feel the given task is insurmountable. We consequently rationalise our current behaviour and figure that we are doing pretty fine, thank you very much, and leave things at that. In light of that sentiment, I want to share one idea that came to me as a result of Parsha Pekudei.

We read that it took Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet of all time, the tzaddik of his generation, a full 7 days to inaugurate the Mishkan. Every day, for 7 days, he repeated the inauguration, and brought a bit more of kedushah down to this world. Finally, at the end of the 7 day period, the Mishkan was suitably holy that it was deemed ready by Hashem for the shechina to rest upon it. What was the lesson that I took from this pasuk? That even for Moshe Rabbeinu, a man of unparalleled kedushah, it took 7 full days of intense effort to render the Mishkan suitable for Hashem's presence. The process of acquiring sufficient kedushah took time and did not happen overnight, so to speak.

For the rest of us then, who are not on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu or any other tzaddik, but are rather just trying to live our lives as Hashem wants in order to make the world a better place, we should find encouragement in this description. If it took Moshe Rabbeinu 7 days to transfer the required kedushah bit by bit to the Mishkan, then it will similarly take us all bit by bit time to improve in our service of Hashem and self-improvement.

We should therefore not get discouraged by where we are today, and can feel confident that if we only start the process, we can eventually improve ourselves by some future tomorrow. Perhaps if we all put more effort into that process, we can smooth out that kink in our magen that was evidenced this week, and maybe even achieve in elevating the world to the degree that Hashem will deem us worthy to render the shechina evident to us all once again.

It should be immediately so. And to the families of those who lost their sons this week, Hashem should bless them with not knowing any future pain.

Gut voch.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's About Time

One thing about me: I love simchas. Wedding, bar mitzvahs, brit, baby naming- I will be there with bells on. My favorite though is without a doubt weddings. Such a miracle, each wedding. And a total affirmation that Hashem plans everything from even before we are born. What could be more beautiful than that?

Last year, while in aveilus, I unfortunately could not attend simchas. And, living in Brooklyn, there were several I had to decline attending. For one very close friend, I made an exception and attended her son's wedding as the unofficial "photographer". It was very difficult. On the one hand I wanted desperately to be joyous with her, and on the other hand, I was prohibited from doing so. Instead, I had to spend the affair avoiding listening to music, eating separately ( which made me feel like I had a big sign over my head declaring my then-status), and basically just trying to concentrate unemotionally on garnering some key photographs. I will admit to breaking down finally and sobbing when the dancing began in full force. My husband was wonderful. Suffice it to say, I do not suggest the experience to anyone.

B'H', this month we have 3 simchas to attend, two chatunahs and one bar mitzvah. Very exciting. I have already planned what I am going to wear (I am a yekki). But more than anything, I am looking forward to performing the mitzvah that last year I was prohibited from fulfilling: gladdening the kallah (and chattan, but more so the kallah for me. I will leave the chattan duties to my husband!). And to being reminded of all the wonderful lessons that chatunahs teach us: that marriage is our duty and our privilege, renders us complete and increases our kedushah, and demonstrates that we owe everything in our lives to Hashem. To name but a few.

I am sure I will have many more posts on the topic of various simchas. For now, I am just thrilled at the good fortune of my loved ones, and look forward to both revelling in their joy and fulfilling any mitzvahs I am now free to perform.

So, as they say, we should only know simchas! And with that, what else is there really to say?

New List

For those of you who have not yet noticed (and hey, why should you?), I have added a new "Davening List" section. While the default is for people who require mischa berachs, chasve shalom, please feel free to post requests with names for those who require davening for whatever reason (i.e. children, parnassa, shidduchim, Shalom Bayis, and so forth).

And with the mercy of our Creator, all of our prayers should be answered immediately.