Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Best Thing Since Sliced Challah

Every week, when I bake my challah, my kitchen transforms into a spa. Well, a messy spa, but it becomes a glorious, therapeutic, tranquil place of calmness, lightly sprinkled with flour. And, if you listen closely, you can even hear a soft melody emanating from somewhere. I´m still not sure where it comes from, but I know I can count on it every week. 
The odd thing is, there are no flutes or violins when I bake a chocolate cake or when I roast potatoes. Only when I bake challah. 
Why? What is it about those fragrant loaves that cause that transformation?
Baking challah for Shabbos is an entirely different experience than just baking bread or roasting chicken. It is more than just a culinary or gastronomical pleasure- it´s spiritual. Shabbos is the day that connects our bodies and souls; bonding our physical and spiritual selves. And when baking challah with an understanding of that, the entire process becomes elevated and holy.

But holiness and spiritual pleasures aren´t gratis; they require us to actively create them within the physical world. 
And that is what the message of challah on Shabbos is all about.

From each batch of dough that we make, the Torah directs us to remove a small piece to set aside for God, and it refers to that act as the mitzvah of challah.

Why is this necessary? Why can't I have my whole bread for myself? And why am I specifically offering up dough and not, say, chocolate? If I were God, I´d definitely prefer that you give me chocolate.

Contrary to common belief, the word challah does not actually mean bread. Nor does it mean dough.  The root of the word challah is Chol, which means ´ordinary´, or ´regular´.

When the original sin took place in the world, it caused a lot more damage to humanity than just initiating the concept of clothing. 
Oh, wait. Is wearing clothing a bad thing? After Adam and Chava sinned, they went from a state of nudity, to a state of modesty. Between you and me, I´m kinda happy about that, especially after having gone through multiple pregnancies and births...

But, the concept goes much deeper than that. 
The reason they were unclothed in the first place, was because they were living in such a refined state that they recognized each other as spiritual beings, without even taking notice of the physical. 
By Chava convincing Adam to eat from the forbidden tree, and by him listening, thereby going against the Divine will, they lowered the spiritual level in the world, bringing humans to become more involved with the external than with the internal.

So, suddenly, there they were- barefoot and naked, and felt an abrupt need to cover up their bodies.

Human being, though created last chronologically, is the epitome of creation. There is no creation in the universe with greater understanding, expression, or any type of potential than a human being.

A person can reasonably live on bread and water alone. Bread is the epitome, the choicest of nourishment. Therefore, when the choicest of creation sins, and wants to find a way to correct the sin, the two must connect in some way.

Contrary to all the beautiful, romantic paintings of the first man and woman, and all the story books from that time period where we´re shown a man and woman in need of a body sculpting class, with overgrown hair and long noses, wrapped up in leaves and delicately biting into an apple, the gemora explains that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, was actually not an apple, but a grain of wheat!

So the way to perfect the wrongdoing of the epitome of mankind is through the epitome of mankind´s sustenance. Through bread.

Making and baking the challah is a mitzvah specifically for women, since woman is the one who takes the blame for enticing her husband to taste from the tree (insert chauvinist jokes here), and therefore the correction of the wrong must come from her. By perfecting the fault, every week, woman is refining the world and bringing blessing and goodness into it through this mitzvah.

 The point of removing a piece of dough and separating it as something holy by using it as a sacrifice to God, is to teach us that everything in the physical world is created for our benefit and for our pleasure.

Not to take advantage of the beauty in life goes against the Torah philosophy. 
But, beauty for the sake of beauty, or pleasure for the sake of pleasure, does not have long lasting benefits. The enjoyment is fleeting. The only way to have true happiness through the physical is by turning it into something holy, something real. Taking something that´s Chol, ordinary, and making it great.

 Taking the most basic piece of physicality, bread, but using it to connect to God, is a metaphor for all the other areas in our lives where we can turn some of our habits into ones which can be more spiritually focused.

 When we recite the bracha and remove the piece of challah, we experience a special moment of connection with God, and it´s at that moment that many women choose to pray to Him. But really, the entire process of challah baking is one in which we can be praying to God for the well-being of our families. I´m going to share with you the concentration I have and the things I pray for while pouring each ingredient into the bowl.

There are seven basic ingredients in challah. We´ll discuss the significance of that soon. Below is a very basic outline of my tefillos, purposely leaving it open and broad to allow anyone reading this to interpret them and integrate them in their own personal way.

Flour. Flour needs to be sifted since it may contain insect eggs or wood. We do that to keep the good and sift out the bad.

I ask God to please keep all the goodness in my life, and sift out the bad. Any negative influences- both internal and external, any toxic people or situations should be removed from my life so that I can fully experience the goodness.

Salt. This is something extra that we add to food in order to enhance the flavor. It´s not a necessity, but a luxury. Also, salt needs to be balanced out perfectly, within proper boundaries.

I ask God to please provide me with not only necessities in my life, but luxuries, too. Small things, details, that can add extra special flavor to my life.

I also pray that everything I do should have the proper balance. Like with chessed, and other mitzvos, I should have the clarity to be able to do them with proper boundaries; on God´s terms, and not on my own.

Eggs. These are what hold the dough together. They stabilize a dough. Or a cake. Eggs are also very versatile. You can cook or bake them in so many different and creative ways. They´re flexible and adjust easily.

I ask God to please bless me with stability, creativity and flexibility in my life.

Yeast. This is what causes the dough to elevate, and to expand.

I ask God to elevate my soul, and to allow me to make mature decisions. I also ask for expanded consciousness, to be able to focus on the big picture in life, and to save me from falling into retracted consciousness, closed-mindedness, which leads to negativity and depression.

Oil. When pouring into any other liquid, it always rises to the top. It separates and goes up. It never mixes with other liquids.

I ask God that I should be successful in everything I do, and rise to the top. That I shouldn´t settle for mediocrity. I ask Him to give me the motivation and inspiration to be all that I can be. And, that I should keep challenging myself in healthy ways to step out of my comfort zone in order to get the most pleasure out of life by reaching those highest possible heights.

I also ask that I should have the confidence to stand up for my beliefs, to live with my convictions, without falling down into societal pressure. 

Sugar. This is an ingredient that is there for one purpose only: To sweeten our food. To make it tempting and cause us to desire it.

I ask God to make my life a sweet one, and to always give me reason to desire it and live it. And, that I should have the emotional health to recognize its sweetness and be grateful for it.

I also pray that I should have the confidence and self esteem needed to always recognize the sweetness in other people and be able to judge them favorably and love them unconditionally.

Water. Water is what turns the lump of ingredients into a dough.

I ask God to always give me the strength to take all the little ¨lumps¨ in my life and to turn them into something substantial.

To allow me to take all the unwanted or painful circumstances in my life and to teach me how to make them positive. To improve that which I cannot remove.

Each ingredient must be measured proportionately to each other, or else the product won´t have a successful result. This is also the balance in life; whether in working on self awareness, personal growth, working on a marriage, raising children...We need to have an even balance of every aspect of ourselves or of the person in it. 
We must evenly weigh the physical state, emotional state, intellectual state, spiritual state, financial state, situational state, and mental capacity. Seven different aspects of a person, understanding how much salt they need, how much sugar, when they can be an egg, when they need to sift their flour...etc...

The seven aspects defining a human being are not the only time we see the number seven here.

The challah that we bake is generally to be eaten on Shabbos. It´s very significant and relevant that Shabbos is the seventh day of the week, because according to kabbala the number seven represents physical completion, symbolized by the completion of the physical world on the seventh day. There are many customs that we carry out on Shabbos connected to the number seven. I thought of these one day while trying to figure out what the word ´cholent´ means.

I know. Don´t even ask.

On Shabbos, before even making kiddush, after inviting God and the angels to come sit with us, we start off the Shabbos meal with the song of Eishes Chayil. This beautiful poem about the value and valor of a Jewish woman was written by Shlomo Hamelech, whose name means Shalem= completion. He wrote it for his mother, whose name was Bat-sheva= the daughter of seven. And the poem itself is written in order of the Hebrew alphabet, using every single letter, making the poem all-encompassing, covering every aspect of life, showing the completion of the potential of the woman.

Let´s continue with some of the mitzvos of Shabbos and their gematrias , and we will use gematria ketana, which is when we add up the sum to get to its final, single numerical value.

נר= 50+ 200=250=7 

יין= 10+10+50=70=7




The mitzvos of Shabbos- candles, wine, challah, fish, and meat, all equal the number seven.

I noticed that there are also seven main ingredients in cholent! (which by the way, actually comes from the word ´nonchalant´. I told you not to ask.)

Onion, potato, beans, barley, meat, water and salt. 

Anything else you add in is extra, according to your taste. 

This, of course, brings us back to the seven ingredients in challah and the reason we eat it on Shabbos. 

Shabbos is the holiest day of the week. So, it seems strange that for a day so spiritual and sanctified, we put so much emphasis on the physical. 

For example, the very first thing we do is drink a cup of wine. Wine is as physical a thing that exists! The gemora warns us to stay away from wine because it leads to sin! But yet, we start off the holiest day of the week with it?

And then we have the food. THE FOOD! We cook the most luxurious, tantalizing dishes, spending more money and time on them than on any weekday, then serve it in ginormous quantities, in a minimum of three courses.

And then...there's the clothing. And shoes. And shabbos wigs. Expensive and gorgeous, impeccable and immaculate. 

Then of course, we take a leisurely Shabbos nap...or two...which of course makes sense, since the gematria of ענג is we naturally need that extra nap...´cuz מנוחה equals it takes two naps to reach seven :)

So, isn't it contradictory to spend the most spiritual day of the week so completely absorbed in materialism?

No. Because there is no contradiction between the physical and spiritual. They go hand in hand. Our job is to take the physical, elevate it with a spiritual action, and then enjoy every piece of it. 

And that's why, even though we start off Shabbos with a cup of wine, first we make kiddush on it. We are mekadesh it. We make it holy. 

And that´s exactly what we´re doing by the mitzva of Hafrashas Challah.

May we indeed be worthy of refining the world through our mitzvah of challah. We, the women, are the ones who knead this mundane, physical dough, but while doing so we elevate it, thereby combining the physical and spiritual worlds.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Support The Troops!

Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments are in the Parshah of Ki Teitzei. Choosing an idea to write about this week was as difficult as shopping in Marshalls; nice things all over the place, you don´t know where to look first, and you have to sort through everything to find what speaks to you at that moment. 

Some of the mitzvos this week include the laws of the beautiful captive, laws governing the purity of the military camp, the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave, and other laws and discussions about fighting in war.
 With laws as interesting as how to respond to the wayward and rebellious son, burial and dignity of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home, the judicial procedures and penalties for adultery, for the rape or seduction of an unmarried girl, and for a husband who falsely accuses his wife of infidelity...and a whole lot more, why have I chosen to focus on war? 

 Not because it´s the hot topic in the world now. This war has no connection to Iraq or Syria, to the U.S., or to Israel. It has nothing to do with Obama or to the ISIS.

The war I speak of  is one that´s more personal than the ones we read about in the media. It´s a war in which each one of us are the soldiers. Or if we´re lucky, even the Generals. 

This battle is called LIFE.

In this world, we are in an ongoing war: our spiritual selves battle our animal selves, our mind fights mindless emotionality, and higher, broader vision constantly battles limited vision.
Each time we come to a crossroads where we have to choose a direction; to go right or to go left, we experience an inner conflict. 

Whatever decision we make will result in some sort of sacrifice, so naturally we choose the easier one.

Easy and Hard
This set of antonyms, along with its partner- Good and Bad are very often misunderstood and subsequently the cause of confusion and frustration.

We often connect and confuse the two ideas by thinking that easy equals good and hard equals bad
The most practical example disproving this misconception would be: chocolate cake vs. exercise. The cake is easy...way too easy...but it´s bad for you. Exercise is hard...oh, so hard...but it´s good for you. 
So, easy doesn´t mean good, and hard doesn´t mean bad. Sometimes the more difficult the decision is to make, the more beneficial it will be for us.
We are put to this test, not just daily, but multiple times per day. In our physical lives, and in our spiritual lives. I constantly find myself at a crossroads trying to be victorious over my conflict of wills.  

My will vs God´s will. 
Easy vs hard. 
Intellectual vs emotional.
And sometimes, the battle is even more intense, when we make a choice, but the decision made presents a whole new set of choices, bringing us into the overwhelming maze of question marks. 

Like, choosing to admire instead of ridicule, or to praise instead of slander, to be independent instead of to conform.  

But... the war isn´t over yet. One must choose to admire, but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, to lead but not manipulate.
Life is an ongoing war. And, like in any war, the winner is the one who stoops in order to conquer.

Have a great Shabbos! 


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Neighborhood Watch

Double Standards. That's what the problem is.


I'm in a big rush so I can't give anyone a ride.... but she's so self centered and that's why she's not offering to take me home.

I forgot to invite her to my simcha- I'm only human... but what a chutzpah that someone should forget to invite ME...

I can forget to throw my socks into the hamper- sometimes I'm just  soooo tired... but him? How dare he!

If any of these examples, or similar ones, just made your brain go 'oops', I think you'd better keep reading.


The Parsha this week, Shoftim, speaks about setting up judges and police to ensure some safety in da hood. Safety is a mitzvah. Seat belts, car seats, property and personal protection... it's all written in the Big Book. 
But we're gonna talk about a different type of safety in a different kind of neighborhood. 

The neighborhood I speak of is a small one, consisting of just one individual. Me. Well, that's who's in mine. You- are in yours. The point of us setting up judges and police people (gotta be politically correct) for ourselves is to apply constant supervision over all of our actions and motivation.


It is so so easy to find fault in others:

They're spoiling their kids- they really need some chinuch classes.

Why doesn't she go on a diet- doesn't she have a mirror at home?

He's so intense. Why can't he be more


You get the point.


We can blame others and we can judge others without the slightest bit of effort. But this can easily lead to arrogance and stagnation. We need to turn the microscope around and face it inward. Let's be a little self absorbed for once.  Yes, we do have the obligation to make sure others are growing in the right direction... but not before we check our own compasses.


Ever been on a plane? Notice how the flight attendants make a whole performance about flight safety? When they act out the scene about what to do when there's a loss of cabin pressure, they tell you very clearly to first make sure your oxygen mask is secured and then reach over to help someone else.

Yeah, we like helping others improve. Something about that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Especially when we can be so focused on their issues and just put ours on ignore.


"Make for yourself judges and police", as it is written in the parsha, is our own personal obligation to keep taking notes, asking for directions, and reviewing our own behaviors in order to continue improving.


Before we make judgments about other people, we need to make sure to judge ourselves first. And then, fix whatever needs fixing.


 Next time a child says to you, "When I get bigger, I wanna be a cop" tell him what a great idea that is.  


Have a great shabbos!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not A Vampire´s Favorite Parsha

If you often find yourself craving a slurpee or frapp made from unmodified beast blood, I´d suggest developing a taste for mocha or strawberry instead. Because, this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, includes a prohibition against eating the blood of any animal.  Along with this prohibition, the verse states: “You shall not eat it, in order that it be well with you and your children after you, when you do what is right in the eyes of God”

A close examination of the verse reveals an apparent contradiction: The commandment requires us NOT to do something – namely, to refrain from eating blood. Yet, the reward of a good life for oneself and one’s children is predicated on DOING what is right in the eyes of God, even though there is no actual deed associated with fulfilling this mitzvah.

The question, then, is whether the reward in this case is granted for doing the right thing, or for not doing the wrong thing, and how the two are related.

There is a statement in the Talmud (Kiddushin, 39B), which says that when someone refrains from doing the wrong thing, his spiritual reward is on par with having actually performed a positive commandment.
When someone holds back from delivering a really exciting piece of gossip, her reward for not speaking is equal to her reward for actually doing a positive mitzvah.

If only some aspects of physical reward worked the same way as spiritual reward. Imagine if, by refraining from eating a custard doughnut I´d actually burn as many calories as if I had a full work out! I do try my best, though. I may order two slices of pizza and a whole serving of cajun fries...but I get it with a Diet Coke, so it sorta cancels out, right?

So, Rashi takes this concept a step further: If the Torah rewards a person for not doing something most people find repulsive in the first place, such as eating blood, we can imagine how much more merit a person would receive when overcoming a temptation that is powerful and readily available.
Of course, each individual is unique. One person’s challenge is another person’s child’s play. As such, the reward we receive is measured according to our own personal struggle. This is the meaning of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos,  “According to the effort, so is the reward.” 

The determining factor is not just actions, but also the sacrifice and struggle involved in doing the right thing or refraining from acting improperly.
As a side note, this is also why it´s unfair to place judgement on or to examine and determine the actions of others. It may seem obvious or easy to us, but it might be a very difficult challenge for them. And the opposite is true, as well. Something difficult for us may be a breeze for someone else.

So, not doing something, is equal to doing something.

We spend much of our lives focusing on doing things. What am I doing today? What am I doing this summer? What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with my talents?
These are all super- powerful questions that must be addressed in order to accomplish our tasks in life. 

But, there´s another equally significant side to this that many of us don´t recognize.

What am I not doing today? What have I not done this summer? What am I not doing with my life? What am I not doing with my talents?
Super- powerful questions. With super- powerful answers.

In order to accomplish our goals, and in order to reach our full potential in life, we need to turn our focus from what I´m doing, to include what I´m not doing. How many opportunities are passing me by? How many people am I not helping? How many of my gifts am I not using? How many lives have I not changed? By recognizing what I´m not doing, I´ll be able to do a whole lot more.
Oh, and I totally recommend mocha, anyway.

Have a great Shabbos!


Friday, August 8, 2014

A Grave Mitzva

Have you seen the movie The Ten Commandments? 
If you liked the movie, you would love the book. To read the original and authentic version, open up the chumash to the sedra this week, Véschanan. All ten are fascinating, interesting, and beneficial to all of us, but we're gonna focus on just one of them now: Honor thy father and mother.  

Did you know that kibud av vaem is the only commandment that is required of us to fulfill after death too? No, this isn´t a horror film; the dead person remains in the grave at all times. What I mean is that even after a parent dies they must still be treated with and spoken about with the same respect as if they were alive. 

Who do we know that was famous for his kibud av vaem

The first person is Esav
Then, there's also the famous story in the gemorah of Dama Ben Nesina. 
What do these two people have in common besides possessing strange names? 
They both were not Jewish. 

Interestingly, the only people mentioned in the Torah for their outstanding behavior towards their parents are non-Jews. How could it be that the one commandment which we are obligated to follow during life as well as after death is not even being fulfilled properly by Jews- only by the other nations?

So there's a machlokes- argument in the gemorah about the complications of the mitzva of kidud horim. Rav Yochanan said 'lucky is the person who's an orphan'. This statement was alluding to the fact that the mitzva of kibud av vaem is the most difficult mitzva in the Torah.
There's another gemorah that says that fulfilling this mitzva properly is so hard, that it's better not to have been born at all. 

How weird is that? Nowhere else do we see the Torah speaking this way!
Is it also better to be born without an arm so we don't have to wear tefillin? Or without knees so we don't have to cover them? 
Why is this commandment so especially hard for Jews to keep, but non-Jews can excel at it? 
 Let's hear the Maharal's perspective on it.

We were brought into this world by our parents. Without them, we wouldn't be. I know its hard to picture the world without us, but it would go on even with that loss. We owe our parents everything, just for bringing us here.

One of the most fundamental aspects of Judaism is the knowledge that we are presently living in a temporary world, walking through it in order to get to the real world.
But, there's only one person that will be responsible for my entrance into the next world. Not Dad. Not Mom. Not God. Only me.

Our non-Jewish neighbors and fellow world inhabitants are born to eat pepperoni pizza and Big Macs. They live for material pleasures and gastronomical pleasure and sensual pleasure and fashion pleasures.They are created, and then brought into the world. This is the place they live for. Therefore, it's logical for them to be overflowing with gratitude to their parents for bringing them into the world of their dreams.
There is no other way they could've gotten here to be able to experience their wordly pleasures.

The Jews, however, were brought into this world, where we spend all our waking hours living for the next world. 
Don't get me wrong- I have an unbreakable bond with my pizza. Don't even try getting between us. But even while eating pizza, or sushi, or shwarma...or, while vacationing in Puerto Rico or Cancun....or while driving my BMW or wearing my beautiful ring of diamonds, I'm supposed to be focusing on and striving toward my eternal life in the real world. 
That. Is. Hard. 
So, since we're just paying rent here and not buying a permanent home, maybe we're not naturally that full of gratitude to our parents, because we're not really that thrilled to be here at all.
Our parents have nothing to do with our entrance to the next world. Only we do. And that's the world we're living for. So, perhaps we have a more difficult time respecting them and honoring them than the others have.

But, since we could never get to our eternal home without first passing through here, it´s imperative to recognize everything our parents did for us and continue to do for us- from giving us life, to the constant physical and emotional support they supply us with, the list will have no beginning and no end. Therefore, the respect that we should have for them is equally limitless- and that's why the mitzva extends into the grave.

Children are a great comfort in your old age - and they help you reach it faster, too" :)

Have a great shabbos!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Am I A Murderer?

One of the themes in the parsha this week (Maasei) is the Cities of Refuge, the arai miklat. These are special cities where entry is allowed only by someone who's guilty of accidental murder. The reason these cities were founded was not only to escape the perhaps revengeful hand of the victim's pained family, but also because people who belong there are generally good, straight individuals who committed these unforgivable crimes completely by mistake, and were so torn and broken about it that they just didn't know what to do with themselves or where to go.

The  Chidushei HaRim explains that when someone in klal yisrael hurts someone, even unintentionally, he naturally feels full of pain and guilt. In fact, he'll be so broken that he'll feel as if he has no place in the world for him to go. That's why Hashem is offering him this City Of Refuge- a safe cove for him to hide in until the passing of the Kohen Gadol which served as the dismissal bell.

I have a friend who, a couple of years ago, at the age of 28 had 6 kids under the age of 10. May she live and be well. One day, her husband went into the hospital for a very minor, uncomplicated sinus procedure, where he was in the hands of a skilled doctor. During the surgery, though, the doctor accidentally touched a wrong nerve which caused bleeding in his eye. While trying to fix that, he shifted the bleeding and caused his patient a serious brain hemorrhage. He remained in the hospital, completely relying on life support, in a vegetative state, for the last few months of his life.
The point of bringing you this tragic story was not just to be a carrier of bad news. No way. It's because the doctor, a fine, honest, caring Jew, was so beside himself with pain and guilt that he just didn't, and still doesn't know where to put himself. He wants to run. He wants to hide. He wants to cry. He wants to repent. When I was reading the parsha this week, I understood a little better how important it is to have these cities of refuge for people who are guilty- but purely by accident.

Now, there's a catch here. Yes, the cities of refuge are a wonderful thing for people. But, it only helps if a person really feels remorse and pain. It only benefits a person who is so shattered by what he did that he feels there is no place in the world for him to go.  Someone who's not touched or moved too deeply by his mistake will not find consolation or benefit in any way from going there.
Why not?
Because when you harm someone in any way, and you deeply regret it, this can be something very positive and beneficial. It can motivate you to improve. It can encourage you to be more careful next time. Even when we do things by accident, there's a high chance that if we would have been just that much more careful, it wouldn't have happened. So if the guilty feeling brings one to be more attentive or less negligent in the future, there will definitely be a positive outcome from their mistake. And that's what the arei miklat are for. To help deal with the guilty party's emotions and help him become a person who's more conscious and careful.

Thank God most of us aren't actually killing anybody, but we still manage to hurt people in many other ways. We don't have a City Of Refuge for that, nor do we need one. But let's at least try to feel guilty when we do, and try to turn those feelings into greater consciousness and alertness.

Someone once went to the Steipler Gaon and asked him for a bracha that he should be found innocent in court for a  violation of a traffic law. Instead of giving him a blessing, the Steipler admonished him, saying "If you violated a traffic law, you're endangering the lives of other people. Therefore, you are deserving  of the greatest punishment."
We hurt people with words and with actions. Ironically, we also hurt people with a lack of words and a lack of action.
This weeks parsha teaches us AWARENESS. To recognize when  we have caused someone pain and to feel so bad about that mistake, that we will not repeat it again in the future.

Have a great shabbos!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones

Generally, I refrain from perpetuating stereotypes. But this one I have actual proof of: Women like to talk. We bounce ideas off each other about everything from dinner ideas to fashion tips to career moves. We talk about politics and share philosophies, we vent, advise, and criticize. 
But we never speak loshon horah, of course.
In fact, out of the ten levels of speech gifted to the world, the female section grabbed nine, leaving only one for males to use. 

Women also speak more quickly than men do, devote more brainpower to chit-chat, and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices.
Basically, women were created with an eight-lane superhighway for processing and expressing emotion, while men have just a small country road. With cool tractors.

This is why I wasn't surprised to find that while the parsha discusses the concept of nedarim, making and breaking promises, it references women more than men. 
Of course men have also been noted to speak without thinking, but womens' tongues are usually looser.

Parshas Matos speaks about words. About making promises. And about the consequences of breaking them.

Let's talk about words for a minute.

The main thing that differentiates a human being from an animal is the power of speech. While most animals can communicate as a survival mechanism, no one other than mankind can creatively communicate or express a philosophical query. 
Speech is also what connects the spiritual world with the physical. 
And, speech transforms abstract thoughts into reality.

Speech is holy. It is the tool of creation. Through speech we can build individuals- with praise and encouragement. By making others feel important, we instill in them confidence and dignity, making them feel that their existence is necessary and their presence is significant.

But, the greater the potential for construction, the greater its power for destruction. 
Speech can also be very unholy. It can be used to destroy. By making someone feel worthless, we can wipe out their self esteem and shatter their dignity. 

Gossip, rumors, accusations being spread without being confirmed can tear apart relationships, families, reputations, and even entire communities.

We all love the invention of the internet and the creation of social media. There are many pros to living in our era; an era in which it is of more significance to have a million twitter followers than a million dollars. So much chessed has been achieved through it- thousands of people across the globe praying for someone in need of prayer, collecting tzeddaka for those in need, organizing food, events, activities to benefit others. Many friendships have developed, support groups created, so much Torah shared, and just so many positive, life altering connections have been made. 

But with everything good, there is an equal potential for bad.
How can we blindly believe one sided, bias articles that circulate social media? People are constantly spreading stories that catch their attention without realizing that the internet, and especially social media sites, are the number one platform for exposing whatever personal agenda the author may have. Because the writer knows that if it's something sensational or something that pulls at the heartstrings, the public will eat it up. And we will always have people who believe the underdog, even when the underdog is the one in the wrong.

When we read an online article slamming another individual, we need to do our own objective research before believing it. 
Do we realize that loshon horah is far worse a crime than what many of these culprits are being blamed for? We need to take extreme caution before spreading these vicious rumors. 

There's another thing Ive noticed about our era that can have the ability to be absolutely constructive, but instead, is often absolutely destructive.

The benefit to chatting with people on social media, or through text, over chatting with them in person, is the extra moment we have to filter what we say. We have the ability to proofread what we want to say before clicking 'send'. 
So, why don't we? Why are we sometimes nasty instead? People tend to be even nastier online than they would be in real life, since they're hiding behind a screen.
It should be the opposite. You have a hard time complimenting someone to their face? Try it through text. This is what technology was created for; to help us grow. To become better versions of ourselves.

There's an old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
This expression is incorrect. 
I wudda written, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will send me to therapy for the rest of my life."

One second. How'd we get into all that? We just got blown away on a huge tangent. I must be a woman.

Let's get back to promises.
The possuk tells us, Lo yachel devaro, which rashi explains to mean- if you don't keep your word, you become profane. By not keeping your word, you are taking something that's holy out of its holiness.
The opposite is true, too. By keeping your word, you become holy.
Sticking to your words, following through with your promises, are what consecrates you, or defiles you.

People who keep their word are reliable, respectable, and trustworthy. They are people of integrity. It means that they value themselves as well as others, creating a healthy level of self worth. Keeping your word means being true to yourself. 

If you have a problem keeping your word, or if you are unable to use the power of speech positively, when there is so much good that can come from it, you might want to explore why.

And now, story time.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man. One day, while sitting in his study arranging his accounts, his young son came up to him, asking him for money to buy a candy.
He handed him a gold coin.
The boy goes out and returns, happily licking his treat. When his father asked for the change, he replied that he didn't get any.

The man went down to the grocery to inquire about it.
The store owner said he did not receive a gold coin from the boy; it was copper one, and as an argument ensued, they each maintained their positions.

Seeing as they were unable to reach an agreement, they took their case to beis din, who ruled that the proprietor has to swear that he did not receive a gold coin from the boy.

The plaintiff objected, stating that he doesn't want him swearing falsely and requested that they dismiss the case.
Case dismissed.
But then....the people started talking. Very soon the story was buzzing all over the city, and no one wanted to have anything to do with a lying crook.
So, they boycotted his store, he was scorned in shul, his kids were bullied in school, and his wife was pointed at and whispered about at the store.

Penniless, and with no dignity left, he packed up his family and sadly said good bye to the place he had lived in since birth, to the only place his family knew as home, in hopes of starting all over in a new environment.

A few months pass. The wealthy man received a heavy envelope in the mail. Opening it, he came face to face with a gold coin and a letter.
In it was an apology from an unknown man, admitting to stealing a gold coin from him a few months back, and is now repaying that debt.

He explained that he had been in a grave financial predicament and as he walked passed his home one day, he noticed the man's son playing with a gold coin. He rationalized that if this homeowner is so wealthy that his son can sit and play with a gold coin, he surely won't miss it for a few months, and he exchanged his copper coin for the gold one.

Realizing what had happened, it was apparent that the grocer was innocent, and had been telling the truth all along.
But...too little, too late.

So, who's to blame for the dreadful turn of events in the grocer's life?
Whose fault was it that his reputation was destroyed, that he lost his job his home, and his dignity?

Was it the fault of the rich man?
The grocer?
The boy?
The thief?

None of the above.
The blame goes to the people who spoke the loshon hora. It goes to those who gossiped and spread rumors about something they knew nothing about.

Please, my dear friends, let's be careful. Social media has the potential to be responsible for some amazing accomplishments.
But it also has the power to destroy people in ways we cannot even imagine.
And when that happens, there's no one to blame but we, the people.

Have a beautiful shabbos!