Friday, December 30, 2011

Parsha Vayigash

As the exciting story of Yosef in Mitzraim continues to unfold, we're brought to a very emotional scene. Yaakov comes down to visit Yosef after not seeing his precious son for 22 years. The background music begins to play softly, building up to a dramatic climax, where father and son walk toward each other, hearts pounding with excitement. Suddenly, the possuk tells us something, which gives us brand new insight to the meaning of the script. It says, VAYEIRAH EILAV... HE APPEARED BEFORE HIM. Whoa!  He blows us away with his wording. Yosef wasn't going to see his father, but to be seen by him. Although Yosef was aching to reunite with his loving father, he was able to put his powerful emotions on hold, in order to be able to do this mitzvah of giving pleasure to his father, without ulterior motives. This is the concept of L'sheim shamayim, acting in the name of G-d, in its truest form.

Doing things L'sheim shamayim, for the sake of G-d, is a consistent theme throughout the life of Yosef.
After he met his brothers, he instructed everyone in Egypt to pack up and move to different cities. Simple as that. Imagine if President Obama got up and announced that on January 14, 2012, everyone in LA will have to switch places with all the people in NY. How many of us will actually listen?
And Yosef wasn't finished with his strange new laws. Not yet. Not until each member of the male gender received a bris milah. Forget it Mr. Obama- don't even go there.
But you know what? Everyone went along with this. Without a hafgana, no protest, no demonstration, no orange ribbons or bracelets... they got up and obeyed his commands.

So... what was his trick? Why did everyone listen to him?

Because they all knew, without a doubt, that everything he was doing was l'sheim shamayim. Because it always was. It was clear to everyone that nothing he did was for his own benefit or need.

When we do things l'sheim shamayim, and with sincerity, people realize the holiness and G-dliness in what we're doing. They sense the altruism of our actions. When we behave without selfishness, and without the need for self gratification, there's a certain siyata dishmaya we receive which makes people admire and respect us for what we've done, and hopefully, a desire to follow our lead. That's why doing things for the right reasons is a guarantee for lifetime success.

I live in a community that is not yet fully in touch with its Jewish identity. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable, and even out of place, by often looking and behaving differently than many of my neighbors and associates, since G-d's Torah commands me to do so. Incredibly, though, after attending meetings or parties in non kosher homes and being consistent with the laws of kashrut, and being consistent with not dancing at mixed weddings, and being consistent by being different on many different levels, in various occasions, many people have  expressed admiration and respect at my family's sincerity and strict, uncompromisable adherence to what we believe is correct. Actions that are done l'sheim shomayim, for the sake of heaven, can only be viewed positively, and will hopefully make a proper kiddush Hashem.

Wherever Yosef went people commented KI HASHEM IMO...HASHEM IS WITH HIM. It became a pattern, and everyone realized. Why was Hashem always with him? Because he was with Hashem. He was always focused on doing what He, with a capital H wanted. He didn't go out to see Yaakov for his own best interest, he withheld his own emotions in order to fill his whole being with what Hashem wanted.

It's not the actions that count as much as the motivation behind them.
If someone has an orchestra and plays at weddings and other affairs for parnassah, livelihood, he can have two different motivations, followed by two different results. Either he can get up and go to his next wedding to play music, since this is his job, or he can attend the next wedding with the intentions of being mikayem the mitzvah of being misameach chosson v'kallah, bringing joy to a bride and groom. The job is the same. The hours are the same. The paycheck is the same. But- the motivation is different, and therefore, the reward is different, and, most importantly, the person becomes different.

We should all be able to do the right things for the right reasons.

"To be G-d's servant, you have to be your own master".

Friday, December 23, 2011

Parshas Mikeitz

A few years ago, when the Intifada was raging and there was fear and trepidation in the air, an old man in his 80's remarked to me "Nu, I'm waiting for some Divine Intervention".  Helloooo, this IS Divine intervention. You gotta be blind not to see it. You think everything going on is happening all on its own? Yes, it's true that if there is a G-d, then all of this suffering doesn't make too much sense. But if there wasn't a G-d, then nothing would make any sense.
During the Golf war in '91, after endless miracles revealed to the masses, reporters questioned a woman who was openly saved from her building's explosion, "So, what's your response to all these incredible miracles?" "Miracles?" She answered, "these aren't miracles. These kind of things always happen in Eretz Yisroel!"

 We can choose to see, or we can choose to be blind.

opens up the parsha, telling us about Yosef's release from prison.
Why does the possuk have to mention the exact number of years? As long as we know that Yosef was livin it up, partying all night with the Butler and the Baker, (and the Candlestick maker?) that's what counts. Important facts, like his one- on- one with Sar Hamashkim, and how many shots got him under the table. What do we care how long he was locked up for?
Many people think Yosef was freed from jail because he was the 'man of Paroah's dreams'. Actually, thats not entirely true. As a matter of fact, his interpreting the dreams for the king had NOTHING to do with the timing of his release. This is a false conception.
Way back in the beginning, Hashem made a cheshbon (accounting), and decided that he was supposed to be in prison for a certain amount of years. But, running the world the way He chooses to, G-d needed to use a realistic 'reason' to unlock the doors, which is why He caused Yosef to make a good impression on the Sar Hamashkim, who thereby relayed Yosef's talents to Paroah, who thus hired him to interpret for him, rippling all the way to his release.

Not by coincidence, the Hebrew word mikreh, which means coincidence, can be scrambled a bit to read rak meHashem, only from G-d. 
In addition, when Yosef's talents as interpreter were becoming apparent, it was a great opportunity for him to toot his own horn. But instead we find him saying something quite impressive. He says HALOH L'ELOKIM PISRONIM,SAPRU NA LI... DON'T INTERPRETATIONS BELONG TO HASHEM? PLEASE TELL THEM TO ME. Even though he's giving brilliant answers to the sar hamashkim, he takes no credit for the siaata dishmaya that helped him answer correctly. Yosef had such obvious belief and trust in G-d, that there was no doubt in his mind that every single occurance in life is being directed and controlled by the One Above. This bitachon gave him enough self confidence that he had no need to rub in ego.
A friend of mine was in a car accident a few years ago. It was totally not her fault. She had the right of way, but the other guy just came out of nowhere. He smashed into her before she even noticed he was there. She only had minor damage B"H, but as she sat there in absolute shock and fear, she was able to collect herself and be calmed by acknowledging a vital point: There was no way she had any control over what just happened. It was so obvious that this had happened because Hashem decided it should. And in addition to climbing to a new level in her bitachon (trust in Gd), she was also very comforted by those encouraging thoughts.

We can choose to see, or we can choose to be blind.

In Judaism, it's of utmost importance to have a positive self image and a healthy self esteem.  When one has a low level of self esteem, it can interfere with many significant aspects of his life. It can impede his career, or create difficulties in achieving ones goal. It may cause someone to marry someone beneath their standards. It can gravely affect the way one is mechanech their children. And, it gets in the way of the person's own, personal avodas Hashem (service of G-d).
Yosef and his brothers were living in Mitzraim. Thanx to Yosef's high position in the palace, they had a lot of good coming to them. But... all good things come to an end. Eventually, the shvatim (tribes) all passed away. Interestingly, it seems to be that the Jews still continued to have many of the privileges they had had while the brothers were still alive, so from where did they get that protectzia?

Their self esteem was implanted by Yosef. He instilled in them a certain confidence, which was a source of awe for the Mitzriyim (Egyptians) with their more limited self esteem. This helped them successfully get whatever they needed.

There was a study done on muggers. When a mugger chooses a victim, he follows him. If the victim seems nervous and unsure, (keeps looking back, or checks his pockets...) thats when the mugger will attack. But if he walks with confidence, he gives off an impression that there's nothing to hide, thereby causing the attacker to lose interest.
Practicing this activity can be very beneficial in many areas in life. Even if you really are guilty of something, try walking and behaving with confidence, and the chances of you being blamed are slim. How do you think I made it through high school?

Achieving a proper level of emunah and bitachon is closely related to our level of self esteem. The way a person boosts their self respect and confidence, is with emunah and bitachon. If someone's trust in Hashem drops, their self esteem is the first thing to go. Why? Because he'll no longer feel the tzelem Elokim (image of G-d) inside, and the protection of G-d. He loses it.

Look for a second at the Hebrew word DAAGA, which means WORRY. The  letters which spell that word are dalet, aleph, gimel, hay. These would be the first 5 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, except for one thing. The letter bais is missing. But it's for a good reason. Bais stands for bitachon. When there's a daaga,a worry, bitachon is missing.
When we realize that Hashem is running the world, and constantly involved with every aspect of our lives, it creates in us a confidence that's solid and firm. Nothing and no one can break through it.
Isn't this the best Life Insurance policy to sign up for?
And as a side point, its Chanuka this week. How on earth did the tiny little Jew team win over the victorious Greek nation? Think confidence. Think bitachon.
Leave all your worries to G-d. He's up all night anyway.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Parshas Vayeshev

Someone actually asked me the following question: "Why does Yosef make the same mistake every year. He tattles on his brothers and then they end up selling him. Doesn't he learn his lesson?"
 So what exactly was it that he told his father? Three things:
1-He caught them eating from an animal without previously slaughtering it.
2- They were behaving immorally with women.
3- He heard Leah's sons calling the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, 'servants'.
Now, have in mind that the accused offenders were talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars). They were people who listened to the word of G-d. So something seems wrong with this picture. The truth is, there are some pieces missing from the story.
The shvatim (tribes) had in their possession a special book on kabbalah which was handed down from Adam Harishon. This book is called SEFER HAYETZIRA. Through various kabbalistic methods brought down in this book, they were able to create beings that appeared to be real, but were mere, human-made copies. Cloning, perhaps. Two of the activities they've done were, creating an animal, which they were able to eat from alive, since it wasn't authentic but man made. And, they had built a woman, which is the woman Yosef had seen them with. But she, too, was a fake. Bring it on, Mr. Potter!
(As a side point, this is the sefer (book) that was used in Prague to create the famous Golem.)
Well, the young sons of Bilhah and Zilpah saw some action over on the side where Leah's older sons had been huddling, and curiosity overcame them. So they went to assess the situation. As soon as the delinquents approached however,  the older brothers shut them out, calling them 'servants', indicating that they were too young to be involved with learning kabbalah. They were not on the same spiritual level as the older shvatim, or even as Madonna, and therefore, studying the depths of kabbalah was beyond them. 
So the problem was that Yosef was so quick to do his self appointed job as Family Mashgiach, that although his intentions were righteous, he tattled on his brothers before looking at the whole picture. He should've looked deeper at the situation before jumping to conclusions.
Then, what else did Yosef do incorrectly? He knew his brothers hated him. It was no secret. And yet, he wasn't fazed. He thought it would pass. Therefore, notwithstanding their animosity toward him, he went and told them his second dream, once again threatening them with his power over them. That was very inappropriate. Not to mention that he felt the need to repeat it yet a third time.
Obviously, this was coming from a place of naivete, and his problem was that he was completely unaware of what the long term effects of his actions will be.
HE WAS ONLY LOOKING AT THE SMALL PICTURE. The here and now. He failed to realize the long term consequences. He carried the attitude "If they feel threatened by me, it's their problem", when in reality, he was guilty of causing their jealousy and hatred.
There's a reason the Torah refers to Yosef as a  naar, a young boy. In other words, IMMATURE. A mature person looks ahead. He takes the whole picture into consideration. He tries to understand what the consequences of his actions will be. 
One who makes an impulsive decision without taking into account the results of his choice, allows us to believe he's acted immaturely.
When I was 17 years old, I decided to take Drivers Ed. I thought that a crash course in driving wouldnt be a great idea so I opted for the regular lessons. There are a few things I'll never forget about my driving teacher. The most important of all, is that he was a diabetic. Which is why it confused me to see him constantly eating Entenmans sugar coated dognuts with sweet coffee. Then of course, a pack of Marlboro light to help with digestion. So when I asked him why he's not being more careful about his health, his response shocked me, but left  a lasting impression. "I can't think about the future- it won't let me enjoy the present".  He died soon after.

Focusing on the HERE AND NOW can end up with a problematic THERE AND THEN. A mature person takes in the whole picture, and tries to understand what the consequences of his choices will be.
SHLOMO HAMELECH writes in mishlei, LECH EL NEMALA, ATZEL...,GO TO THE ANT, YOU  LAZY GUY.  What could we possibly learn from an ant?  What does he do that's so worthy of comparison? The ant is mature. Every season, he works long and hard gathering and setting aside enough food for the following season.  He looks ahead. And that's maturity. (Most of his merchandise is collected from your counter top, by the way.)
So, when you have an unbeatable urge to yell at someone, even if the person deserves it,  it may feel like a big relief in short term... but focusing on the long term, it destroys the relationship.

"There are two types of people: Those who stop to think; and those who stop thinking."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Parshas Vayishlach

There's a well known Carelbach song from a possuk in this weeks Torah reading: VAYIVASER YAAKOV LIVADO, VAYIAVEK ISH IMO...
 Eisav's malach (angel) suddenly appears and attacks Yaakov. How did Yaakov allow himself to be caught in such a vulnerable position? Didn't he know that he can't be alone at night when He Who Must Not Be Named is in power?!?
What was little, innocent Yaakov doing all by himself on the other side of the river?
The possuk tells us that he went back for the pachim k'tanim, the little vessels that he accidentally left behind.
Ummmm... he risked getting beaten to a pulp to retrieve his worthless, little bottles? He was willing to give up his life, for the 5 cent refund?!
And also, what was the real meaning of the fight between them?
By the commandment of lo sachmod, do not covet, the IBN EZRA addresses a valid point.
Hey, I'm human. If I see something I like, I want it.
 Now, I'm not promoting Kleptomania.  We have no right to rob someone of what they have, but I definitely will desire one of my own.  It's an instinctive feeling that apparently can't be controled. So how can we have an issur of lo sachmod (do not covet) commanded to human beings?
Let's use our imagination for a moment. We'll travel back to a time and place much different than the days we know.  In the times of old, the people were split into two categories. The Aristocrats- the high and mighty snobs, who would rather die than give eye contact or say a word to the second category, who were the Peasants. They were farmers- low-lives who toiled and labored all day.
They also had kings. Today, when we hear "king", we think of the one on a deck of cards, or on a chess board. We can't understand the full importance and might of a king, since that concept is nonexistent in our lives. But, if the Aristocrats were snotty and high, imagine who the king was.
Ok. Now, what do you think would happen if Yentel the shadchan called up Old McDonald, the farmer, and proposed a prospective marriage partner to him-- the daughter of  King John Paul the 82nd? 
The princess?!?!? No way! It wouldn't even cross his mind to marry the princess. He doesnt even desire to marry the princess. He knows that it's completely out of his range. It's a world beyond him. When something is out of your league, you don't even desire it because you know that it's impossible.
A person who has proper hashkafa, and understands that the world runs on hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence), knows that EVERYTHING he's got was given to him for a reason. And anything else, is just beyond his range, and he doesnt need it, nor want it.
I never buy clothing that are "one size fits all". Aside from the fact that "one size fits all" is always one size too small on me, I like to buy clothing that fit me perfectly. Even if I find the most beautiful outfit, if the fit is wrong, it looks awful.
Everything we have- our families, looks, personality, brains, money, jobs, whatever it may be, Hashem custom made each package for each individual person. All of our life circumstances were made just to our size. A perfect fit. To think that I'd be better off with more or less of anything, would be buying "one size fits all", and ruining the perfect look.
A few years ago, I surprised two of my students who were hard workers, and deserved a vacation. I bought them tickets to two vastly different, but equally exciting places in the world. Chana was going to Florida, and Rivka was going to Alaska. I told them each to pack what they needed for their trips, and I'll meet them outside the dorm. I waited... and waited... and waited... no one emerged. Who wouldnt take me up on such an offer? Going inside to see what was causing the delay, I couldn't believe what I saw. Chana went to spy on Rivka to see what she put into her suitcase. A scarf!? Boots?!? I don't have those!, and she quickly ran to throw hers in. Well, Rivka, then noticed Chana's swimsuit and sunscreen, and immediately went and added hers into her suitcase. This went on and on, until believe it or not, Chana was ready for her vacation in Florida with her earmuffs and hot cocoa, while Rivka was off to Alaska with her  flip flops and iced tea. Well, Chana turned into a pancake, and Rivka became an igloo. And they lived happily ever after.
(This is a fictitious story, but hey, you get the point).
If I don't like what's in my suitcase, I'VE GOT A PROBLEM WITH THE PACKER! The bottom line in the middah of kinah, jealousy, is that I BELIEVE I SHOULD HAVE THAT, which, in essence means I DON'T THINK G-D KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING. Ouch. The underlying cause of jealousy, therefore, would be a LACK OF BITACHON.
One who is satisfied with each aspect of his life, he's happy with the suitcase that was packed for him, he appreciates clothing that fit him properly, he's sameach b'chelko, happy with his lot, this is a person who achieved a proper level of bitachon (trust in G-d). And, this someone wouldn't even DESIRE what the next one has, since he knows it's completely out of his league.  
Yaakov had so much appreciation for every aspect of his life. Each and every article he possessed was a special gift from G-d. Yes, even those pachim k'tanim. They were so valuable to him, that he risked his very life to protect them.
The midrash teaches that Eisav stole the begadim chamudim, precious clothing of Adam Harishon from Nimrod. A person only steals when he feels he's lacking something. 
The fight that took place between Yaakov and the angel of Eisav, wasnt just a  physical boxing match. There'd be no point; no one was watching. It was a deeper,  spiritual, philosophical war. Eisav, who felt incomplete, who always desired more, who needed to fill his void through thievery was trying to beat the sameach b'chelko out of Yaakov.
And Eisav was too chicken to do it himself. He came to create a Peace Process by going to meet Yaakov, and he inappropriately brought along 400 people to this long awaited family reunion... And even with that whole army, with more weapons than any dentist, he knew he could NEVER win a man who's sameach b'chelko. So, he sent his angel, who's name not coincidentally happens to be S-imael, which means to blind. Metaphorically, he was trying to blind Yaakov from seeing and appreciating all the good that he has.
Well, needless to say, Yaakov was victorious (yeah!) and immediately after, his name was changed to YISROEL. Hence, YISROEL BETACH B'HASHEM. He sure proved it.
 Peace Processes never seem to work out.
Let's take out just 60 seconds each day to find and appreciate one little thing in our lives and say out loud "Thank you Hashem for_________", and maybe we'll all live up to yisroel betach b'Hashem, and we'll never be able to suffer the agony of defeat.
"We don't know what we have until we lose it, but we also don't know what we're missing until it arrives".

Friday, December 2, 2011

Parshas Vayeitzei

Yaakov waited seven years to marry Rachel. And then another seven years. That's fourteen years. He must've been doing real thorough research. RASHI says that all those years were like YAMIM ACHADIM, A FEW DAYS.
Think for a second. If you were waiting desperately to marry someone, marking off each day on the calendar with a glow-in-the-dark marker so you can see it while lying in bed, too, and you had a custom calendar made just for you because you had to wait seven years since he was still in college and he changed his major each semester (but he kept the same bride).... would it really feel like "just a few days"? Maybe just a few centuries? How could it possibly be that all those years felt to Yaakov like YAMIM ACHADIM?
There were two different parts of the process:
1. Seven years of waiting.
2. Seven years of working.
The waiting part, no doubt was extremely difficult. The working part was practically effortless since the payment was so well worth it.
If you have the means to give someone $10 million, then $1 million seems like nothing.
To Yaakov, Rachel was worth so much that he'd do anything to get her.
In Eishes Chayil, Shlomo Hamelech describes the virtuous woman. One aspect of her idealism is stated in the fourth possuk: DARSHA TZEMER UFISHTIM, VATAAS B'CHEIFETZ KAPEHA. Focusing on the second half, which is the part that's appropriate for our discussion, it says SHE WORKS WILLINGLY WITH HER HANDS.
As long as her work gets done, who really cares whether it's done willingly or not?
Didn't your mother ever tell you "Do it with a smile, or don't do it at all!" ?
Truthfully speaking, she does have an option. She can do her work unwillingly. Most of us get through the day, doing mundane tasks without much enthusiasm. But, we do what's required in fear of the consequence of NOT doing it.
What happens if my perfect, spotless, OCD neighbor comes over and sees I have Mount Everest growing out of my fleishig sink? And don't worry, Matzada's in the milchig one. And her left high healed shoe is standing in solitude at the door because it got stuck on the leftovers of my daughter's PB & J sandwich from..... yesterday. How would I feel (theoretically, of course)? Embarrassed.
And if an employee has a certain quota to fill by 5:00, regardless of his rapport with his boss, and whether or not he likes his work, if he wants to keep his job (and consequentially, his wife) he better finish that pile.
So, most of the time, we tend to our demanding, mundane activities without much desire or enthusiasm, in order to avoid facing the consequences of NOT doing them.
The GRA (VILLNA GAON), speaks about the unhappiness of a person who doesnt enjoy the process leading to his goal.
A few years ago, I decided to pursue my long awaited dream of playing the piano. So, while very busy with my family, home, and work, I added piano lessons to my agenda. The only time during the day I had available to practice, was at 2 in the morning, after a long, hard day. I dreaded those practices. Sometimes I would even clean the fridge rather than practice. It was such torture. I just wanted to be Beethoven already. I dreamed of my long, silky fingers flying effortlessly along the majors and minors, producing gorgeous, melodious compositions. But.... I didnt wanna practice. I despised it. So....I quit.
In order to reach a destined goal, a process of some sort is required. If it's done with enthusiasm and enjoyment, life is more enjoyable for the player, as well as for all the other participants that surround him. IF YOU FOCUS ON THE EFFORT, YOU'LL HARDLY NOTICE THE PLEASURE, BUT IF YOU FOCUS ON THE PLEASURE, YOU'LL HARDLY NOTICE THE EFFORT.
Yaakov could've dreaded those years, during which he would've been miserable, causing his misery to influence anyone in his vicinity. But he knew that the consequences would be terrible. He had so much enthusiasm and enjoyment during the 'waiting process' that the years literally felt like very few.
Enjoying the process leading to the goal is an important part of fully achieving that goal.
"The highest reward for toil is not what you get for it, but what you become from it".

Friday, November 25, 2011

Uh Oh. Am I a Hypocrite?

Is the desire to be a doctor sufficient qualification to prescribe medication? How 'bout to perform surgery?
Is the desire to be an NFL champion good enough  to challenge top quarterback Joe Montana to a game?
In most areas in life, a desire is necessary to achieve the goal- but it serves no purpose on its own.
There is one area, though, where a simple desire is all you need. A sincere one, no doubt, but just a desire. A will.
Everybody knows that Esav's strongest point (besides his arrow) was his kibud av, honoring his father. When chaza"l choose to describe the essence of the commandment of honoring ones parents, they adopt Esav's performance as the epitome of observance of this mitzvah. They teach us that the honor Esav showed his parents was so superior, that in its merit alone he nearly superceded Yaakov.
If this is the case, I have a question. How could it be that Esav remained so bad? Doesn't a person better themselves through the performance of mitzvos? Why is this specific mitzvah so commonly found among people who otherwise place so little value in the Torah?
Obviously, for all the greatness of Esav's service to his parents, it was flawed. Although he displayed great respect toward them , this was not motivated by an inner source of holiness, but rather from personal selfish concerns. Some commentaries explain that his motivation was that he will receive the same honor from his own children. Others claim that he just wanted to impress his father. Whatever the case, he was obviously an incredible actor. He pulled off something no one in Hollywood would've been able to do.
Only when ones actions emanate from  a Divinely inspired source does this action have a spiritual influence on the rest of ones behavior.
Esav honored his parents for the wrong reasons and therefore remained the wicked person that he was.
Sometimes we see frum people doing things, saying things, or wearing things that seem to contradict their title as 'frum'. Some people like to call that hypocritical. I don't think that's necessarily accurate. It just might be that they simply never used their opportunities to internalize that which they grew up doing. Keeping shabbos, kosher, dressing and behaving modestly, are things that were taken for granted. They do it because it was taught to them in the cradle and they brought it up with them all the way to the chupah and beyond. Were their actions ever thought into? Were they ever analyzed? Possibly not.
So many of us do our mitzvos simply because we would never dream of not doing those things. But they're empty and meaningless. Therefore, they don't make us into better people and they don't lead us to holiness.
On the other hand,  a guy I know well was chozer b'teshuva (became Torah observant) about 6 years ago. He's an awesome guy. Recently he was complaining to me that he feels like a hypocrite. Everyone thinks the world and all the planets of him- but he knows he's not as good as they think he is. He has weaknesses and does aveiros that nobody knows about... and he feels he's making people think he's somebody that he's not.
You think he's alone out there?? He sure aint alone out there, but he sure is part of a minority who's bothered by it!
Lemme tell you what I told him. He is NOT a hypocrite. He just has a dream and a reality that are not yet synchronized. He has a goal, a desire to be a certain person in a certain place, and he's trying hard, but he's just not there yet. And his imperfections are deceiving him and scaring him.
Sometimes that can be debilitating.
The Rabenu Yonah quotes and interprets a possuk in mishlei: Ish l'fi m'halilu, A person is.....NOT what he eats...but WHAT HE PRAISES.
According to what or who he praises is how we can see what his innermost feelings are. If he praises talmidei chachamim- even if he himself isn't one yet, then that's what he's all about. We can assume he'll get there one day.
The opposite is true, too. A person who praises something or someone negative, that allows us a peak at his innermost feelings, too.
So... although we will never visit a doctor who is one just by desire to be one, we definitely can become someone we want to be spiritually simply by having a desire to be there.
So... whether you're a BT (Baal T'shuva) or an FFB (Frum From Birth)... there's one thing we all hafta be. An FFC: Frum From Choice.
"To be or want to be... that is the question"  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Parshas Chaye Sara

SARA LIVED 100 AND 20 AND 7 YEARS. What is this, a high school term paper that needs 800 words so we're spreading them out as much as we can? No, actually, this is a quote from the Torah, and there are no mistakes or shortcuts in there. RASHI says the numbers were written out individually for a reason. When Sara was 100, she was likened to a 20 year old in aveiros, since a 20 year old has only just begun to be punishable b'yidai shomayim. When she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in beauty. No acne, no wrinkles, no badly applied make-up. And then RASHI adds: KULAN SHAVIN L'TOVA, THEY ARE ALL EQUAL TO GOOD.
Once, Rabbi Akiva was giving a drasha to his students, when he noticed they started dozing off...zzzzzzzz, so he wanted to wake them up somehow. So some ppl think that's what tuna cans were created for... but Rabbi Akiva had a different method- a more gentle approach to arouse his students. He decided to share a midrash with them.
Beraishis Rabba. What did Esther Hamalka see when she ruled over 127 nations? She saw herself as the daughter of Sara Imainu, that since Sara lived 127 years, she, Esther, was zocheh to rule over 127 nations.
Ok so on a scale of 1-10, which wake-up method is more effective, throwing tuna cans, or teaching this midrash? Why on earth did Rabbi Akiva feel that this midrash would revive his sleeping beauties?
The holy Chasam Sofer explains that yes, Esther was zocheh to rule the 127 nations in the zchus of the tzadekes, Sara, who lived a life of holiness for 127 years. But, the first few years of Sara's existence, she didnt serve Hashem properly, because she didnt have enough daas to know how to. She was too young. So, what zchus does Esther have to earn the benefit of the years that Sara wasn't doing proper avodas Hashem?
In the hesped after Sara's death, Avraham recited the meaningful poem of eishes chayil , indicating that she had been a complete and virtuous woman. One of the pssukim in the poem, states: VATAKAM BEOD LAILA VATITAIN TEREF L'BAISA VICHOK L'NAAROSEHA, AND SHE AWOKE WHILE IT WAS STILL NIGHT, AND SHE GAVE OUT FOOD TO HER HOUSEHOLD AND TO HER MAIDS.                   
A few years ago I had to call a certain woman to discuss something with her. Now, this organized, efficient, determined lady emerges from her slumber at 4 in the AM every single day. Even my alarm clock can't get up at that insane hour. So, there I was, proud to have gotten up at 8:00 to dial her number. Her "hello" was the most energetic one Ive ever heard, which made it rather uncomfortable for me when, in attempt to sound just as cheerful, an awful, off tune croak emerged from somewhere deep inside of me, exposing my darkest secret of having been in bed till 30 seconds before that. Well, we arranged for a meeting which was task # 8 for her that day, and I called it for 11, to make sure I had enough time to get dressed and get my house ready. Obviously that didnt leave me adequate time to eat anything, so I quickly ended our meeting at 12 pm, so that I can eat my breakfast, and so that she can go home and eat her supper before it got cold.
Why would someone choose to lose their precious sleep?
Do you know anyone who shows up at work every morning extra early and stays a few hours overtime afterward... without a gun to their head? I know someone who does. Why would someone choose to overwork?
Because these people are determined to accomplish something. Whether it's a clean home with happy children and an organized routine, or someone wants extra benefits or pay, these people understand that if you GIVE overtime, you GET overtime.
When one has a specific goal to reach, or a certain task to accomplish, the only way to attain it is by exerting themselves a bit, and putting in that extra effort. We all want to do mitzvos as often as possible, but how many of them pass us by, sticking out their tongues and waving ... mitzvos dont always come knocking at the door, but when they do, many times we're plugged in to our iPods and dont hear them knocking. Opportunities don't usually hang around waiting for us to catch them. Somehow, we seem to notice them more upon leaving, than coming.
But this only happens when being PASSIVE. Judaism is about being ACTIVE. Yeah, it's nice to get through the day just doing what we're supposed to do, without any extras, but then the results of our accomplishments will be standard, without the extras, too.
Sara got up extra early every morning, without being told to. Noone held an arrow to her head. She was active. She was searching for opportunities to take better care of her family and guests. She wanted extra time to work on her avodas Hashem. If you put in overtime, you get paid overtime.
All her years of rising before dawn, of being awake when it was time to sleep, accumulated to equal those few years when she was too young to be a proper ovedes Hashem. So on her paycheck, she had a complete 127 years of holiness. She had been considered awake when she was really sleeping. And that's why RASHI ends off with the words THEY WERE ALL EQUAL TO GOOD. She worked overtime, and got her just reward.
Do we now understand why Rabbi Akiva used that midrash to awaken his class? It was a delicate form of rebuking them. "Sara was awake when she should have been sleeping, and you guys are sleeping when you should be awake!"
Being PASSIVE allows for precious, personal opportunities to be lost forever and ever. It's a life of working and receiving undertime. Being ACTIVE allows for incredible accomplishment and a life of working and receiving overtime.
Ok, the Dvar Torah's over now, you can wake up.

Parshas Vayera

Recently, I was shopping in a department store in New york. In the 'beauty section' someone who likely doesn't consider herself much of a teacher, taught me a very important lesson. A big, broad African American woman (whose name, mind you, was Shwarma) was looking at the perfumes and body lotions, when her 8 year old son (whose name was probably Aish-tanor) yelled excitedly, "hey, mom! look, they got chocolate scented body lotion and perfume- why don't you get 'em chocolate smelling stuff?" To which she wisely responded, "sonny, I like to eat chocolate, I don't like to wear chocolate".
Avraham Avinu experienced and overcame ten difficult tests in his lifetime. This is in addition to all the regular, daily hardships that all human beings face. If he had only passed nine, according to chaza"l, he would've come up short in his personal balance.
Ok, let's try to understand all of this.
At the time of the tenth nisayon, personal test, he was 137 years old, (ad meah v'esrim). What had he accomplished so far in his lifetime?
He founded Monotheism, he created a religion, he fought off the whole world- and won, he was mekarev everyone who passed his way, he revolutionized the world... just to name a few. How many of us successfully finish even one of these projects? How many of us even start?? And yet, if he had stopped at the age of 137 and not passed his last test he would not have fulfilled his mission in this world!!
By the akeida, the tenth test, an angel called out from heaven "Avraham Avraham".
The Yalkut Shimoni explains what the repetition of the name is for. He says that there are two Avraham's. Avraham l'eila and Avraham l'sata. A heavenly Avraham and an earthly Avraham.
Finally, at the age of 137, the angel was informing him that the earthly Avraham matched the heavenly Avraham, and that he has fulfilled his mission in life.
When a child is born, he's created with two images. An earthly image, the person we see and know, and a heavenly image-  the person we can become. Our goal in life is to get these two images to meet and match.
OK, got it. Now where and how do I begin?
There's a famous chaza"l: Kol Hamekayem nefesh achas b'Yisrael, k'eelu kiyam olam malei, whoever saves or stabilizes one soul in Yisrael, it's like he has saved the whole world.
What is this, a 'yo mama' joke? Yo mama's so big that if you save her it's like saving the whole world??
There hasta be a deeper meaning to this, other than it just being poetic and emotional.
Each person is his own 'olam', his own inner world.  This world refers to each individuals unique talents, personality, and spiritual inclinations.  It's a complex universe in there. It's sensitive, fragile, vulnerable and powerful. It's made up of emotional, physiological, physical, psychological, and other such elements all ending in 'al'.
These qualities are inborn and natural.
I once heard Rabbi Leib Keleman explain the two types of personality traits each person owns:
A- Moral / Immoral traits.
B- Amoral traits.
The 'A' category are things in our character that are changeable. For example: A person can increase their potential for altruism, kindness, patience...and a person can uproot traits like selfishness, cruelty, anger...
The 'B' category are things that are immutable. For example: Artistic or mathematical inclinations. They cannot change. Although we can recognize and channel whatever artistic potential that is within us, we cannot become something or someone that we're not.
A few months ago I bought a bottle of shampoo, here in Mexico. It didn't take too long to realize that the bottle was not waterproof. Every time it gets wet all the red and blue ink goes running down the sides and into the users fingernails. I can no longer read the company of the shampoo, or the directions. I hope I'm using it right. Now why would someone make a bottle of shampoo in a container that's allergic to water?? (Maybe because a waterpfroof bottle of shampoo isn't necessary in a country where majority of the population doesn't have running water.)
That container should've been used for cookies. Not for shampoo.
There is a significant something that each person was created for, and the way to success is to use the tools that we have, and not try to be someone else by using tools that we don't have.
Trying to be someone or something we're not, instead of focusing on our own qualities is the greatest recipe for failure. 
All the traits we were given can be geared toward the good, or the bad. Bad ones can be replaced by good ones, and immutable ones can be directed and developed.
Example 'A': Selfishness can be turned to altruism. Anger, to patience, and cruelty to kindness.
Example 'B': A person has a tendency to bloodshed... he can either become a murderer... or a doctor. Or a shochet. Or a mohel.
A person born with hyperactivity.... can either be very destructive, or he can be a highly productive individual. 
A person's traits and how he utilizes them constitute his "world", and bears witness in the next world as to how he realized his potential and individual talent.
This is man's obligation... and according the Mesilas Yesharim, his mission in life.
This is the only way for his two images to become one.
Now we might understand why the famous song-- I mean mishne -- says: Kol Yisrael yaish lahem chelek... L'olam habah... everyone in Yisrael has a portion TOWARD the world to come...
Should'nt it say "in" the world to come? (B'olam habah?)
No. Because although we each have a portion, it's not a preexisting place sitting and waiting for you. You have to create it for yourself  depending how you live in this world. We gain Olam Habah by working towards it. By recognizing our own inner world and working until our two worlds meet.
That's what happened with Avraham Avinu. Yes, he accomplished a whole lot in his life. But sometimes, we not only have to focus on what we've done... but also on what we haven't done. Cuz maybe there are some more of our talents that need to be utilized. 
So Shwarma was right. (Remember her?) She told Aish- tanor that chocolate is for eating and not for wearing.
We each have a special purpose in this world. We can each accomplish something that no one else can do. We are obligated to work toward it by understanding who we are and not by trying to be someone we're not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Hashem commands Avram to get up and go. Avram didn't know how, when , why, where, for what...but he went. So possuk dalet says VAYELECH AVRAM...VEYELECH EETO LOT...AVRAM WENT... AND LOT WENT WITH HIM... then, right in the next possuk, we have VAYIKACH AVRAM ES SARAI ISHTO...AVRAM TOOK SARAI HIS WIFE. 
I once heard a question on this from Rabbi Zev Leff, which I'll reiterate.
Avram went. We got that. Why is he suddenly leaving again in the next possuk? Ok, so maybe he forgot something that he went back for. Maybe he left something on the stove. Maybe he forgot his passport. Ok, these things happen.  But, the possuk seems to indicate that he left... HIS WIFE?!? And you think you're spaced out? What exactly happened here? Why did he have to go back for his wife?
VAYIKACH, which means and he took, doesn't necessarily mean that he took them physically. Of course, when he left the first time Sarai was with him. RASHI teaches us that the word VAYIKACH means kachnu b'dvarimthey were taken with words. Along the way, Avram found it necessary to give his wife a little pep talk. They were embarking upon a new path. They were about to begin a new life, full of adjustments, full of difficulties, a lifestyle completely different than what they had been accustomed to. And Sarai, like every human being, needed a bit of encouragement.
A businessman was running toward the subway station. At the entrance to the station, he paused to put a few coins into the cup of a man selling pencils, and then ran onto the train. Thinking again, he jumped back off, went to the beggar, and took some pencils from his cup. Apologizing, he explained that he was in a hurry and forgot to pick up his pencils, and he hoped he wasn't upset with him. "After all", he said, "You're a businessman just like myself. You have merchandise to sell and its fairly priced." Then he caught the next train.
At a social function a few months later, a neatly dressed salesman stepped up to the businessman and introduced himself: "You probably dont remember me and I dont even know your name, but I will never forget you. You are the man who gave me my self respect back. I was a "beggar" selling pencils until you came along and told me I was a businessman."
The gift of speech is something holy. Words can build people up to their ultimate height, or they can crumble them down to pieces. Words are so easily accessible. We all have them. We all use them. But there's one action that we need to practice in order for our words to be positive and constructive, instead of negative and destructive. Get ready- its not easy. There is a dimension to the human being which exists in each one of us, although rusty in many... and that is the concept of THINKING. A famous man once said that "people will go to any amount of effort to avoid the labor of thinking." If that's so, we wont be doing that much building either. With carefully, thought out words, we can easily encourage and convince people to make the right choices and to feel good about themselves. When we "think out loud" and our brain isn't connected to our mouths, we can be manipulating, hurtful, and bring out the worst in people.
Everyone, male or female, child or adult, teacher or student, principal or janitor, rabbi or businessman, parent or sibling...every single person needs a little boost. Everyone needs to be built up. Sarai was in a position where she needed pleasant words of encouragement and Avram recognized that and supplied her with the fuel she needed to go on. He took her with words - with constructive words of comfort and encouragement, he was able to instill in her the confidence she needed for this tremendous change.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Parshas Noach

The Possuk tells us that Noach was a good man. Oh, um, in his generation, that is. What kind of compliment is that? Its like telling someone how young and beautiful they look... compared to my grandmother! This is a back handed compliment. What does the possuk mean by expressing that Noach was a tzadik, but only when compared to the men of his generation? If he had lived in Avraham's time- what would he have been considered?

So Rashi gives two contradictory views. There are those that view Noach favorably, and claim that in a more righteous generation, he'd have been more righteous. Others feel that since his generation was so corrupt, and were occupied excessively with adultery and thievery, and he was a straight man,  comparatively, he was head and shoulders above them. But had he lived with people that were holy and straight, he'd have been considered worthless.

I think I understand the problem. I live in Mexico City, in a mostly secular community. There are only a handful of observant Jews in my neighborhood.  Being the 'Rebetzin' here, I often attend various events and affairs. While very elegant and beautifully prepared, these parties are not quite what Im accustomed to. For example, the smoke filled room, the immodest dress, the mingling of genders, and a racket of contemporary rock music screaming into the room throughout the evening. I usually don't stay long. Although I want to be there to support the host, I dream of  returning to my secure little home- where its only ME and MY people and MY things. My own makom kodesh. Where I listen to MY music and eat MY food and wear MY clothes.
And at this point, the self righteouness kicks in. 
Look at ME, and look at THEM. Theyre partying and smoking and sniffing, listening to  percussion based Latin rap, while I'm baking challah and listening to Yeshiva Boys Choir. (or sometimes even a shiur!!)   WOW!! LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM AND ME!
That's the problem. When we compare ourselves to people of a lower spiritual stature, of course we're better!  We follow the Torah and thats the ultimate. I should be comparing myself to my friends in Eretz Yisrael! And my friends in New York! And anywhere where there's a thriving Jewish community, and then ask myself "AM I A TZADDIK COMPARED TO THEM TOO?" Possibly not. I have to look at myself relative to who I am, where I come from, and who I can be. Average isn't good enough. I can be much better. And I can be a positive influence on everyone around me.
Noach worked for 120 years building his boat. Get that- 120 years! And no one- not one person- was brought under his positive influence. Its no coincidence that the name Noach means comfortable. He was just plain comfortable with life. He was content with his spiritual level. He was satisfied with himself. He was feeling self righteous. And THAT was the problem.