Friday, December 20, 2013

Paroah: Pro choice Activist.

We live in a crazy world, with up-side-down priorities and almost non-existent values. Not that you need proof of the chaos in the world, but by glancing at the Sports and Entertainment news over the past few years, we have seen:

Golf Superstar ... black guy.
Basketball champion... Chinese man.
#1 rapper... white dude.
A bit topsy-turvy, ya think?
 Oh, and then there's the twerking. And the twerker.
  
But our messed up galaxy isn't such a novelty. The fact that it was messed up 3,300 years ago is what's shocking. 
Peaking into the corruption of that period can help us understand its source and solution.
If you pay close attention to the psukim, and if you're not yet immune to strange events, you'll appreciate an interesting discussion between Paraoh and the midwives.
Within those verses, there are a few points which perplexed my brain while reading them.

1. Instead of Paraoh commanding his army to go out and kill all newborn baby boys, as would be the normal course of action, he arises all by his royal self, and approaches Yocheved and Miriam (the midwives) to have them commit to his inhumane demands.

2. Paraoh wastes all his bad breath by teaching unique indications to the midwives, explaining in detail how to differentiate between the boys and the girls. Rashi spells out for us what those signs were: If the baby's head is facing downward, it's a boy, and face up means a girl.
Now, wouldn't anyone with an IQ of 70 be deemed capable of distinguishing between the genders, without helpful tips from His Royal Highness?

3. Yocheved and Miriam's response is a bit weird. They claimed that the situation is out of their control, since the Jewish women are birthing alone, without their assistance. By the time they arrive on the scene, the babies are out.  
What kind of reply is that? You don't have to deliver him. As soon as the baby is out, if it's a boy, kill the kid.

4. Throughout the whole dialog, the main character is sometimes called Paraoh, and sometimes melech Mitzraim, the king of Egypt. Is that something significant, or at some point they just forgot his name?

 The Torah refers to the king as melech Mitzraim in the beginning of the story since he was trying to act in the manner of a king. He had to be fair and just and honest. If he indicated that a new law in progress was going to be cruel or unfair, he worried that the people would revolt. So, approaching the midwives personally as opposed to delegating the job to the army, was his attempt at portraying some semblance of law. 

He was covering up his evil scheme in a mantel of justice: 
"There are too many people in Egypt. We can't feed so many mouths. We don't have enough mummy garb to go around." 
He would never explicitly command killing them once they're already born, so he suggested, for demographic purposes, to murder them before they're actually born. 

In more contemporary words, he isn't killing any baby boys; he's commanding forced abortions! He them taught them the head signals (faced up or down) so that before the baby's officially born, if they see it's a boy, they kill him.

Paraoh was the first Pro Choice activist.
Roe vs. Wade vs. Paraoh.

At this point,  the midwives start referring to him as Paraoh. With this one simple word, an entire conversation took place, indirectly:
"You think you'll fool us? You're no melech Mitzraim. You're Paraoh the murderer. The rasha. Killing the kid before he's born is no different than killing him after. Today you're slaying them in utero.... but tomorrow you'll be slaughtering them alive." 

Which is exactly what happened.

By the way, there was no one more appropriate to give Paraoh that mussar shmooze than Yocheved. She was indicating that she, herself is the proof that a child pre-birth is the same human being as the child after birth. 
 When the Jews exiled down to Egypt, they were counted as shivim nafesh, 70 people. In reality, there were only 69 people traveling to Egypt. What did they do, round it out to the nearest whole number? 
No. Yocheved wasn't born yet, but she was on the way. She was still in the womb, but nonetheless, was counted as a complete human being. 

Ever notice how all the people who are pro abortion have already been born? 
Just sayin'.

Paraoh was using a well known strategy to cover up his crime, pretending he was in the right. This game is a tactic many of use to convince ourselves or others that we're doing the right thing when likely, we're not.

RATIONALIZATION.

What is rationalization?

Rationalization means inventing a good reason/excuse for something, instead of admitting the true reason.
Rationalization is so common, that if we were to stop doing it, the silence would be a foreign language. 
We rationalize to others, giving excuses or logical explanations as to why we did or didn't do something, but a lot of rationalizing goes on internally- within ourselves, often without even realizing we're doing it.

Why do we do this?

It's a defense mechanism.

Having difficulty admitting a fault or a wrongdoing, we try to cover it up. A logical sounding reason allows us to hide from the truth without looking or feeling guilty.
Picture for a second, a typical market place with merchants trying to sell their goods. There's one man, in a little booth, selling excuses. "Ladies and gentlemen, excuses for sale! Buy them before they're used. Hot for now, cold for later. Excuses for sale!!"
One of his neighboring merchants turns to him and says, curiously, that he's been watching him sell excuses for 20 years already, but yet he still has no money. 
He wanted to know what he's doing wrong.
"That's the way it is with excuses", the merchant said. "Even if people buy them, they never make you rich".

It has been said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.  
When I'm  successful, I take all the credit for it. I own it. But when I fail, I look around for someone or something to blame it on; a traumatic upbringing, bad luck, and unhappy marriage, bad teachers in kindergarten, friends, chavrusas, therapists...- anyone but me.

What's so bad about making excuses?

The only way to improve a situation, or to have any growth at all, is to recognize that I, by myself, am responsible for my situation.
If someone has a temporal problem and is prone to coming late, he can have all the excuses in the world, and people might actually buy them, but they'll never 'make him rich'. He'll never own up, so he will be stunted from improvement and growth.

If we keep blaming others, even if it's legitimate we will never find a solution, and we will forever remain on that level, with that same boring, old weakness.

Even if people excuse us with our rationalizations and we end up fooling them, getting off "free", we can never really get off free. Because our conscience will constantly scold us and make us miserable, since we  know it's all just a cover.
We can run but we can't hide.... from ourselves. Face it, admit it, and improve it.

Rationalize?  
Rational Lies

Have a beautiful shabbos,
Yaffa









Friday, December 13, 2013

Outside Influence: Friend or Enemy?

Every friday night, after infusing the home with light and sanctifying the mundane, we rise in testimony to God's omnipotence and kingship, with a glass of wine. 
And then, in many Jewish homes around the world, parents give a blessing to their children. 
The blessing for the girls is, that they grow up to follow in the spiritual footsteps are our matriarchs, Sara, Rivka, Leah, and Rachel. 
The boys are blessed with this famous brachaYisimcha Elokim k´Ephraim uch´Menashe...God should sanction you to be like Ephraim and Menashe...  
Wait. Menashe? Ephraim? What's wrong with a blessing to be like Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, or any of the other shvatim, whom we just learned so much about? I don´t even know Ephraim and Menashe. What's so extraordinary about them?

You know what would be nice?
To have the ability to raise our children in exactly the way we want them to be raised. Whatever they know would be just what we taught them, in the way that we taught it to them. That which we want to protect them from, they would never find out about.
Clearly, reality forces us out of our fantasy. We live life surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes and colors. We are exposed to more philosophies than we can integrate, and we are encircled by an array of theories and behaviors. Some appealing, some not.

No matter how hard we try to shelter ourselves and our kids from the foreign cultures around us, we can't fully escape it. We need to recognize it, accept it, and embrace it.

Menashe and Ephraim, as opposed to their grandparents, became who they were by growing up in Egypt, the home of immodesty, promiscuity, and everything spiritually ugly. 
And yet, they were able to reach a level of spiritual completion adequate enough to be the goal of our aspirations. 
How did they accomplish that?

Living within a foreign culture actually served as their friend, and not their enemy. They learned to distinguish between good and bad, and to differentiate between right and wrong. 
They mastered the skill of elevating the positive while rejecting evil. 
This is an art. 
In order to achieve this, we must be able to make a distinction between good and bad. It is critical that the line be crystal clear. It's not necessary to shelter ourselves completely; we do not need to live in caves, afraid to look out at the world. That creates weakness and inability to deal with differences. 
Standing up and facing reality while removing ourselves from its negativities, shows strength,  maturity, and stability.

But, the balance here is pretty tight. How do I know if I´m accepting too much of the influence of my environment? How can I integrate my surroundings in a spiritually healthy way?
 
Preceding the reform movement, Moses Mendelssohn, a Jewish, German philosopher, took the Torah, and translated it into German. The Rabbis at the time completely rejected it and put him in cherem, excommunication.  
Years later, in the US, some people at Artscroll took the Torah and translated it into English. This time it was accepted and applauded.
What caused the difference in reaction? 
Is Rabbi Zlotowitz better looking than Mendelssohn? Wealthier? Smarter?
That´s not it.
The difference, was their motivation.

Mendelssohn's intentions were to make the German speaking Jew more German. 
Artscroll wanted to make the English speaking Jew more Jewish. 

The proof of the motives are in the results. Following the German translation was the start of the downfall of Judaism; the Reform movement.
Following the English translation was the start of the uprising of Baalei Tshuva all across the world.

The difference is apparent beyond doubt. Because, as long as we use foreign culture as a way to enhance our Judaism, we're able to grow from it. When priorities shift and the culture becomes the focus, that's where the problem begins.

Hashem should bless us all to be like Ephraim and Menashe. 
To embrace the world we live in, instead of fighting it. 
To elevate the good and reject the bad. 
And, while living our lives surrounded by outside influence, to be able to keep and follow the Torah as our numero uno priority, always.

My environment might decide who I am, but *I* decide who I´ll become.
Have a beautiful shabbos, 
Yaffa

Friday, November 29, 2013

Greek Olympics

The disease of Chanuka is Competition. I´m only good if I´m better than you.
 

The Greeks were the founders of the Olympics. Their philosophy was that a person is only worth something in comparison to someone else. Life is all about competing and winning.
 

Looking the best, acting the best, being the fastest, the smartest, the prettiest. That´s all that matters.
 

The Parsha tells us that Yosef had chen, charm. He had a unique form of beauty and attraction that stood out. Yosef was also the only person that the Torah has ever referred to as a tzaddik. This is because he lived alone in Egypt, with no one to compare himself to. He was just, well, Yosef.
 

Humankind often projects women with flawless skin, big eyes, full lips, small nose, pure white teeth, smooth and shiny hair, curvy body, wearing size 0 designer clothes, and they portray them as being happy because of those qualities and possessions.
They portray men as tall, with smooth skin, six packs, perfectly square jaws, with any woman at their disposal, quite literally at their disposal, stepping into their luxury car of choice,  and they define that that is what makes a man happy.
 

Society is extremely successful in being able to brainwash people into believing they should look a certain way, act a certain way, or be a certain someone, when in reality every single one of us is different. People are born to be different; no two of us are the same. We have different mindsets, different personalities, different emotional makeups, different intellectual capacities, different needs, different desires, different backgrounds, different strengths and weaknesses, different opinions, and different experiences. Even identical twins are different from one another.
There´s only one way in which we´re all the same: We´re all flawed human beings. We have defects and flaws that were given to us to improve and perfect, in order to help us each fulfill our own individual missions in life.

Society likes to categorize people with the intention of causing us to believe that we have fewer rights to be happy because we do not fit into the idealistic lifestyle. This is the reason that so many men and women hide away from society, and grow up thinking that there´s something wrong with them. This is also why a disproportionate amount of men and women carry the number of their local plastic surgeons in their back pockets.
Comparing ourselves to others is a sure way to knock our self esteems down to the ground, trample on them, and hose them down the drain.
 

There will always be those who are ´better´than us, and those who are ´worse´than us. Denying this, and trying to live the life of the subject of our envy, will cause us to start wishing we were different people, causing thoughts of worthlessness and hopelessness.
 

Here´s the main problem I see evolving from this. By trying to parallel or match another person, I still come up short of being them, but at the same time I´m coming up short of being ME. 
I´m not living their life, and I´m not living my life. So, am I even living? 

Breathing doesn´t mean I´m living. It means I´m alive.

There´s an entire world of difference between being alive, and actually living.
 

Weighing ourselves against another, takes us nowhere, wastes a lot of time and energy, and puts us in an emotionally and psychologically awful place. As Albert Einstein so wisely quoted, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
 

Contrary to  Greek ideology, Judaism teaches that the result of something is not what´s important, but rather the effort and motivation put into the act.  Pirkei avos explains: ¨L´fum tzaara agra¨ The harder the effort, the greater the reward.
A parent  who´s interested in teaching their child to be confident and healthy, will never tell them ¨I´m proud of you because you´re the best in your class¨, but rather, they´ll tell them ¨I´m proud of you because you really tried your best¨.
 

We all have intrinsic value as individuals. We´re not only good just in comparison to others.
The proof of this is another lesson from our sages: ¨Lo Alecha Hamelacha Ligmor¨, It´s not up to you to finish the task. What is up to me is to start it, and to give it my absolute best.
 

The Miracle of Chanuka is not just that we were a tiny army who won over a much more powerful one. It was an internal war that we won. It was a battle of  confidence and assurance. The Greeks tried to remove everything we stood for; everything that made us unique:
 

Shabbos, kashrus, bris milah, limud Torah, and rosh Chodesh.
 

These are five Mitzvos that are absolutely unique to the Jewish people. To replace these spiritual activities, they tried enticing us with their external enterprises fueled by competition and vanity.  But we didn´t fall for it! We stood up to fight! We fought against a life of externality! We fought against a life of competition! We fought against a life of emptiness!
 

And we won.
 

So when we celebrate Chanuka, we´re embracing our uniqueness. We´re recognizing our individuality and accepting the essence of who we are.
 

It´s no coincidence that the main character of the parsha this week is Yosef, who had reached spiritual perfection, being the solitary person to earn the title tzaddik. He achieved that by having no one to compare himself to, and therefore being able to use his own potential by being true to himself.
 

Chanuka means that the only person I need to be better than, is the person I was yesterday.

Have a beautiful shabbos, a happy Chanuka, and a chodesh tov!


Yaffa

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Fourteen Year Engagement

Yaakov waited seven years to marry Rachel. And then another seven years. That's fourteen years. 
How much research did he need to do already?
And then,  Rashi goes and says that all those fourteen years were like ¨yamim achadim¨, just a few days.
One second. If you were waiting desperately to marry the love of your life, marking off each day in your custom made seven year calendar with a glow-in-the-dark marker so you can count them while lying sleeplessly in bed at night, would it really feel like "just a few days"? Maybe just a few centuries?
 How could it be possible 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 of the verse, which is the part that's appropriate for our discussion, it translates, ¨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!?¨
Technically, 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 always perfect, spotless, OCD neighbor comes over and sees I have Mount Everest growing out of my fleishig sink? And when she sees yesterday´s peanut butter sandwich face down on the floor...under her shoe? And suddenly, the stench of a soiled diaper wafting through the air nearly knocks her down onto the pile of laundry still waiting to be folded... How would this make me 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 speaks about the unhappiness of a person who doesn´t enjoy the process leading to his goal. 
He´s right.
A few years ago, I decided to pursue my long awaited dream of playing the piano. So, while very busy with my family, home, work, and countless other projects, I added piano lessons to my agenda. My only available time slot to practice, tho, was at 2 am, 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 didn´t wanna practice. I despised it. 
So....I quit.
In order to reach a goal, a process 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.
I have learned an important lesson in life:
If you focus on the effort, you will hardly notice the pleasure, but if you focus on the pleasure you will hardly notice the effort.
Yaakov could've dreaded those years. He could've been miserable. He could´ve been a total downer, causing his misery to influence anyone in his vicinity. But, he did not care for the impending consequences he knew would follow, so he decided to channel his concentration. He was so full of 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".
Have a beautiful shabbos,
Yaffa

Friday, November 1, 2013

It´s All Smoke n Mirrors

I´m not into horror films, and I´m too squeamish to talk about this in depth, so I´ll write it real fast and then move on to the fun stuff.
 

When Essav died, he was beheaded. As if with a mind of its own, his head rolled all the way to Mearat Hamachpeila and was buried among the graves of our holy forefathers and mothers, but his body was laid to rest outside the cave.
 

But...why? Why did he have to be split in two, and why was his head a VIP but his body wasn´t?
 

Ok, you can open your eyes now.
 

Essav was a man who knew how to trap, says the possuk. And Yitzchok loved him because he trapped him with his mouth.
They say that the road to a man´s heart is through his stomach. But did Yitzchok really favor Essav, a disheveled hunter (who fed him good food), over Yaakov, who was a renowned scholar and respectable citizen?
 

Rashi says, To trap: To trick his father. Essav would consistently asked him halchik questions which he did not heed or abide by, just to give him the impression that he was careful in his performance of mitzvos.
He trapped him with his mouth, is not referring to the food he gave him. He trapped him and tricked him with his words.
 

If you read through the parsha, (Toldos) you´ll notice that he Torah spends quite a lot of time focusing on the faults of Essav.
 

Personally, I like to ignore negative behavior and not celebrate it. Negative attention is destructive and addictive. So why are we studying his flaws and deficiencies?
 

For the last 2,000 years we find ourselves living under the dominance of Essav´s descendent, Edom. The more we understand Essav´s modus operandi and value system, the better equipped we will be in recognizing his deceptive tactics in order to defend and distance ourselves from such behaviors.
 

Let´s peak into the psyche of Essav for a moment. Essav had spent his entire life tricking his father and the world that he was a holy roller. Rather than beautifying himself he was devoted to decorating the mirror and manipulating public opinion. Living in proximity to Essav we would have a hard time finding the fault line of his tragic flaw. Ultimately, though we can all observe the utter hollowness of his character. As devoted as he was to his father, supposedly, it was more about his own selfish agenda than anyone could presume. His entire campaign produced a world of sizzle but delivers a paucity of steak.
 

Essav gave his father what he liked to eat and also told him what he wanted to hear. These are powerful tools for winning friends and influencing spouses and children. However, the cautionary note is that if these approaches are not used to build bridges of trust, furthering relationships, but to mask malevolence, then it cannot qualify as communication but rather a campaign of manipulation.
A few decades ago there was a story that transpired in Penn University, that, when I read about it, made a lasting impression on me.
 

There was a professor of ethics who had just completed his class on moral behavior. It was an amazing presentation about the dangers of influence vs. dignity and strength, and all of his students left the class feeling inspired and impressed. Just a few days later, a student found him in a private bar deeply involved in everything he had just declared as evil and dangerous in his lecture. Of course word spread around the university, and with shock and dismay, they challenged him in front of class the next day.
He responded in a nonchalant fashion, ¨What do you want from me? How is the value of my lecture diminished by my behavior? If I were a math professor, would that mean I have to be a triangle?¨
 

Essav was ¨Echad bapeh, echad balev¨, What came out of his mouth and what was in his heart were two completely different things.
 

Ultimately, Essav fell prey to the politics of perception, believing that symbolism substitutes for substance, and public relations portrays reality. Blaming Yaakov for his own failure in the end, rather than owning up and taking responsibility for his own poor choices, betrays the depth of his self-deception, and magnifies that much more his own tragic flaw.
 

So, this is why he was buried in the manner that he was. His head and body were not in synch. He was two different people. His head knew right from wrong. His mouth inspired and impressed the world around him. But his body behaved like a completely different person.

¨Be true to yourself. If you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out¨


Have a beautiful shabbos,
Yaffa

Friday, October 18, 2013

Life´s A Game Of Memory

Recently, I was shopping in a department store in New york. In the 'beauty section', someone who probably 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 Chummus) 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 being´s face. If he had only passed nine, according to chaza"l, he would've come up short in his personal balance.
 
 Doesnt that seem a little harsh? And even unfair?
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, cool. 
So how do I begin playing this game of Memory? How can I find my heavenly match?
 
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 has to 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 individual´s unique talents, personality, emotional make-up, 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 many other elements.
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 years ago I bought a bottle of shampoo. It didn't take long to realize that the bottle was not waterproof. Every time it got wet the red and blue ink on the bottle melted down the sides and into my fingernails. After a few uses, I was no longer able to read the company of the shampoo, or the directions on it. I just kept hoping I was using it right. 
Now, why would someone make a bottle of shampoo in a container that's allergic to water?
That container should've been used for cookies. Not for shampoo.
 
There is a significant something that each person was created for. The way to success is by using the tools that we have; not by trying to use the tools that we want, but were not given.
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 gifted are neutral, and therefore they can be geared toward the positive or the negative. Disagreeable ones can be replaced by desireable ones, and unrecognized traits of quality 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 us. We have to create it for ourselves. I create mine, and you create yours.  
 
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. She told Chummus that chocolate is for eating, and not for wearing.
 
Every individual has a particular purpose in this world. We can each accomplish that special something that no one else can. 
But, we can only work towards it by understanding who we are and not by trying to be someone we're not.
 
¨Be yourself. Everyone else is taken¨
 
Have a beautiful shabbos,
 Yaffa

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Danger Of a Birthday Gift

So, Avraham wins the war (between the four kings and five kings) and as a due and just reward, he's offered to take whatever he desires from the booty. Surprisingly, Avraham turns everything down. I cannot believe I´m actually related to him. Who turns down free stuff?
 

He said ¨Im michut v´ad seroch naal¨, not even a string or a shoelace.
 

I don´t understand. These gifts technically belong to him. He could take and use anything he wants. And yet, he declined. If the Torah had not documented the explicit details of his bris milah, I would have serious doubts about his Jewishness right now...
 

What´s even more peculiar, is that there's a very wise man who believes Avraham´s actions are an ideal to strive towards. Actually, he´s the wisest man that ever lived. Shlomo Hamelech tells us in his classic sefer, mishlei:
¨Sonei Matanos Yichyeh¨, he who hates gifts, shall live. 
 

Digest.

What?!?! No more Chanukah presents? No more birthday gifts? (Don't show this to grandma!)

What does all this mean? What's the connection between receiving gifts, and living?
There must be a difference between what we know as being alive and living.

Avraham has a few nicknames. Avraham Avinu, Ish  Hachessed, and Avraham Haivri.
 

The first two are clear. But what does Ivri mean?
 

Rashi helps us with that. ¨Shehu meever echad, v´kol haolam kulo meever hasheni¨, he stands on one side, and the whole world stands on the other.
 

No, he was not in New Zealand while the rest of mankind was in Alaska.
 

He was independent.
 

Are you Independent? Am I independent? 
What does independence even mean? Does it mean living in America? Staying out late without a curfew? Dying your hair purple?
If you consider yourself independent, you're entitled to understand the true meaning of INDEPENDENCE.


There are two types of independence.
#1- Physical Independence. Ex: A slave, or a prisoner who is freed.
#2- Independence of mind. Ex: The freedom to think.

The Gemorah in Brachos describes a conversation between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. In this discussion, we're admitting that our main desire is to serve Hashem and do His will, but there are two obstacles which interfere and block us from doing Ratzon Hashem:

EXTERNAL INFLUENCES- The influence that seeps in from the other nations, due to our close living quarters and sharing boundaries with them.
INTERNAL INFLUENCES- The monster  inside of us. For those of us who are on first name basis with him, he's the Yetzer Horah. Our passions, desires...


Who was Avraham? He, alone, after contemplating, rationalizing and analyzing, resolved the ultimate: He discovered God. He founded Monotheism. He revolutionized the world.
 He threw away his emotions, his philosophies, his dreams, to fulfill the desire of God. And all this, by going completely against the rest of the world. Defying all his neighbors, all his friends, all his teachers... for what? To pursue the truth. He was able to stand up with confidence to make, what he believed, were the right choices.

True Independence means The ability to do the right thing. No matter what.

Defying your family, community, or friends by "doing my own thing" is, ironically, contrary to what we believe it to be.
 

A teenager seeking independence who rebels by pursuing dangerous activities, by getting hooked on norcotics, body piercings, tattoos, or by any other attempt at being ´different´, is, in essence, completely dependent on his desires, on his drugs, or on the need for others´approval and acceptance. These pursuits are based on precisely the two obstacles preventing true independence, and therefore causing true dependence:  Internal desires, and external pressures.

Doing my own thing and doing the right thing, are actually two very different statements.

Avraham displayed a life of independence. He succeeded in conquering both obstacles:

EXTERNAL- He searched for the truth, analyzed it, and had the courage to say NO. Amidst tremendous opposing forces, he established Monotheism.
INTERNAL- The extent of his love for his son Yitzchok is unfathomable. And yet, he freed himself from his emotions and brought him to the Akaida.
Avraham reached the highest possible level of spiritual independence.

Shlomo Hamelech is teaching us that, INDEPENDENCE IS LIFE!  
Life is, The power of doing what you want to do.

Ok. You can stop scrolling down now, you've reached the part that interests you.

When given a gift, the receiver becomes enslaved to the giver. Henceforward, he is obligated to him. He owes him. And therefore, he loses his independence.
 

To be alive, is to be independent.
 

Had Avraham accepted the gifts, even though he was deservant of them, he would have lost his independence. By becoming obligated to them, he may have to repay the favor to them eventually. That pay-back might cause him to have to go against his ideals or lower his standards in some way. Avraham Haivri just couldnt do that. It's not worth it. He wants to live.

The Gemorah in Sota writes that the reason we were given the two mitzvos of tefillin and tzitzis, is because of the words Avraham used: michut- a string, (tzitzis) and seroch naal- a shoelace, (tefillin).
Because Avraham is fighting for independence, Hashem gave us the power to be independent.

How do tzitzis and tefillin assist in our quest for independence?
 

I'm sure you've all been in the airport and seen a Jewish man swaying in talis and tefillin, causing not such silent whispering by every Asian and Hispanic traveler. 
I'm sure you've all passed a basketball court and seen Yeshiva bachurim dribbling away with tzitzis  flappin in the breeze.
 

The tefillin will "be seen by the nations and fear you". The wearing of tefillin portrays independence against the external influences.
 

The tzitzis are to remind us "not to pursue the desires of our hearts...".  The wearing of tzitzis portrays independence against the internal influences.
 

Being Jewish means being independent.
Being independent means being alive.
 

"You need to stand for something, or you'll fall for everything".
 

Have a beautiful shabbos!
Yaffa
 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Spiritual Egotism

PSA:
Based on my facebook newsfeed and Pinterest page over the past few days, it seems there may be a shortage of food coloring in the stores next week. Rainbow cakes, cookies, challah, and salads have taken over the internet and shabbos tables for parshas Noach.

I apologize to the people in my home for my lack of creativity and cuteness, but I am not making anything rainbow or animal related this week, as I´m still traumatized from the 20 meals I hadda cook on sukkos. Oh, wait. Tomorrow´s cholent has been sponsored by a cow. Does that count?

Noach and Avraham were both the spiritual leaders of their generations. They each had a similar value system and an identical goal in life.
Yet,while Avraham was a magnet of goodness and positivity, Noach was alienating. 
I have always found that some leaders are able to transmit their knowledge and ideas to a welcoming audience, and are able to connect well with the public, while some are not. At all. 
When a person decides to be a leader, he would likely understand that the world is larger than himself. Knowing who you are and where you wanna go is a great awareness to have if  you want to reach your goal. But for a leader, an influential director, that´s not enough. It´s about guiding THE PEOPLE toward that awareness, and helping THEM get to where they want to be.

Avraham and Noach had different definitions of being a leader.

Noach is called by the medrash, ¨tzaddik beparva¨, a tzaddik in a coat.

Say, Noach was teaching a room full of people, when the temperature suddenly dropped. Everyone was freezing. Someone runs up to him and hands him $100 for a coat so that he can teach comfortably. Noach marches off to buy the coat and resumes.
Everyone else is also cold? Nu, life is hard.
Fast forward 10 generations to Avraham. He´s teaching a room full of people, when suddenly the temperature dropped. Everyone was freezing. Someone runs up to him and hands him $100 for a coat so that he can teach more comfortably. Avraham marches off...and comes back with matches and firewood to warm up the room for everyone.

This is precisely the difference between them.

Noach spent 120 years building the ark. 120 years! Do you know how many people he has met during those years? How come he was not able to be a positive influence on even ONE of them? Why has he not been able to teach his ideology and beliefs to even one member of his society?
While Avraham brought countless people with him on his spiritual journey through life, Noach sorely lacked that ability and failed to bring even one.

Spiritual Egotism. When you only care about YOUR spirituality, but no one else´s.
Noach was a good man. He was moral. He was ethical. He was hardworking. But he had no interest in his neighbor´s well being.

The preeminent factor in having any sort of influence on anyone, in being able to help anyone, or in being a good teacher, leader, or friend, is to actually care about them. To really care.
The world is so much bigger than ourselves, and we all have the power to influence the people in it in some way.
All we have to do is care about them. That´s all.

Have a beautiful shabbos, full of rainbows and glitter and unicorns.



Friday, August 23, 2013

Thanx for Stating the Obvious

Aaaaaaand, WE´RE BACK!
Thank you for all your concern, encouragement, pressure and threats...and a big apology to each of you individually, for not having been at your shabbos tables over the summer...

No excuse is good enough, so I won´t even go there.
Please accept my apology, and I hope to be worthy of winning my readers back.


Every year Parshas Ki Savo falls out right before Rosh Hashana. Could there be a connection between the two?

The parsha this week teaches us about the mitzva of Bikurim- taking the first fruit of the harvest as an offering to Hashem.

 The medrash  connects the ´taking the first of the fruit´ to the beginning of all time- the creation of the world.  It writes that the world was created in the merit of the mitzva of bikurim.
Wait. Say what? What does that even mean? The whole entire world, full of people and trees and stars and ice cream and shoes... all in the merit of balancing a basket of fruit on top of your head while playing a trumpet?!

There has got to be a significant part of the mitzva that we are not aware of.

There's another medrash tanchuma that says that Moshe saw through ruach haKodesh that the Bais Hamikdash, holy temple will be destroyed in the future and that the first fruits will terminate. So in order to preserve this mitzva in whatever way possible, he arose and instituted prayer 3 times a day.
This is fascinating. There were many things that were involved in the temple service that he could've been afraid of losing and needed prayer to replace them with. But, clearly there was something special in the mitzvah of Bikurim which Moshe felt a need to safeguard and institute something to connect us to God in the same way Bikurim does.

The Shem M'Shmuel quotes a Zohar based on our medrash above: Only because of Divine kindness do they merit all this and dwell in the land. God brought them into the land and gave them all these great things, and they give the fruits of the bikurim to the Kohanim because they represent the kindness of Hashem.

Ok, now in English.
The function of this commandment is to create awareness and affirmation that our existence within the land of Israel has nothing to do with the merit of the land itself, but only because God has given it to us as an act of kindness. We received it in the grace of God.
This is akin to the purpose of the creation of the world. The very first words in the Torah are "B'raishis Barah Elokim..." B'Raishis- because of the first, Barah Elokim... For the merit of the first fruits of Bikurim, Hashem created the world.

The world was created and all of mankind was made by the chessed of God alone.  The Ramban informs us that the intention of all the mitzvos is to believe in God and concede that He created us.

Now, I know you´re all thinking I should get with the program and stop stating the obvious. Not recognizing God as our Creator is so 6,000 years ago. We all believe in God. We all know He created the world and everything in it. So why am I boring you with ideas you already know?

Actually, I have the same question about our obligation to say the Shema three times a day. Isn´t once a day sufficient? How often do I need to proclaim the Oneness of God? Am I an idiot that I forget after once a day?
No, this has nothing to do with my IQ. It´s about the challenge of being able to know something in our heads without necessarily feeling it in our hearts.

¨V´yaddata hayom¨, know it today... But that´s not all. ¨V´hashaivosa el levavecha¨, and bring it into your heart.
Knowing something intellectually, is easy. But bringing it into your heart is a whole nother thing. The power of repetition is what helps us feel God, and not just know Him.

One of the biggest illusions in life is kochi v√≥tzem yadi, my accomplishments are because of my own power.  
Of course we wouldn´t be successful or responsible without own effort, skills and talents. But without God´s constant involvement and Will, none of it would happen. He´s involved in every aspect of our lives.

When we enter our fields and notice all the new fruits that had ripened, we can think "Look at my wonderful produce. Look what an agricultural genius I am..."  
Instead, we need to look around at the field and notice the incredible generosity of Hashem, the kindness He bestowed upon me by allowing me to have these fruits in my land, and therefore I´ll consecrate them for Him. 

It's all because of Him. 

This act of Bikurim is an identification of the whole purpose of the world. To recognize and understand, and to act upon that understanding that the world, and everything we have in life, is but a gift from God.

So what´s the connection between our fruits, and Rosh Hashana? Is it the apple? 
It´s more than the apple. It´s the core. [insert snort] 

The pinnacle of Rosh Hashana is Malchuyos- the declaration of the solitary kingship of God.

 "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li"... I am to my Beloved and My Beloved is to me. This is a relationship of love between us and God. An expression of how much He gives us. The mitzvah of Bikurim allows us to reflect upon the boundless chessed we receive constantly- day in and day out, from God, Himself.

Next time I notice something good in my life, I´m gonna stop for a moment and appreciate Who gave it to me. Maybe I'll even take out a siddur and say a few words to Him- hence the institution of prayer. 
And, when we pour our hearts out this Rosh Hashana, try this attitude:  
Don't tell Hashem how big your problems are... tell your problems how big Hashem is. 

 Have a great shabbos!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sinning...For The Sake Of Heaven?

Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once said about zealousness: Both a housewife and a cat want to destroy mice. The sole difference lies in their attitudes. The housewife really wants to be rid of them. The cat, however, wants the mice to be there to attack them.
  
Pinchas acted zealously in this week's Torah portion to stop a public display of immorality.
 
When Pinchas killed Zimri and Kosbi, a tremendous controversy erupted among the people as to whether his actions were correct or murderous. This week's parsha begins with G-d "testifying" to the correctness of what Pinchas did. 
First, because of what Pinchas did, he stemmed the plague that had broken out and was killing multitudes.  Second, the Torah repeatedly identifies Pinchas as the grandson of Aharon HaKohen.
 
 From Law and Order and NYPD, to CSI and NCIS, the people of our generation can indefinitely figure out a way to commit murder without getting caught. The story of Pinchas’ crime would have made a great episode. He could’ve gotten away with it. But he didn’t. He openly confessed. Why did he do it? And why did he admit it?
 
The motives of the zealot who takes unilateral action are extremely important, for his very qualifications as a zealot hinge upon the question of what, exactly, prompted him to do what he did. Is he truly motivated to "still G-d's wrath", or has he found a holy outlet for his individual aggression? Is his act truly an act of peace, driven by the desire to reconcile an errant people with their G-d, or is it an act of violence, made kosher by the assumption of the label "zealot"?
 
And this leads us to the concept of Aveira Lishma. A sin in the name of heaven. 
 
This concept is more than just doing an immoral act with proper motive. It's not just about breaking the speed limit to rush someone to the emergency room. It's a whole lot more.
 
Technically, one should be repulsed by  loshon harah. But suddenly there’s a scandal involving their neighbor, or even their Rav, and the loshon harah starts pouring out. “It’s l’shem shamayim!” No it’s not. That’s not kanaut, zealousness. That’s their bad middos waiting for an opportunity to come out. 
 
Another example of mistaken Aveira Lishma; Cheating the government. “I’m allowed to. I learn in Kollel! It’s L’shem shamayim!”
 No it’s not. Speaking against certain schools, institution, rabbanim….Getting involved in community politics, creating machlokes
We think it’s an Aveira lishma. Most of the time it’s not. It’s about my ego.
 
There is a mishne in Pirkei Avos “ Hevei Boreach min haAveira” One must run away from a sin.  
The only word that comes to mind here is  Duh!  I was expecting something a little more profound from the mishne. 
 
Actually, it IS profound. 
 
The Gr”a explains that it’s not teaching us to run away from regular sin. But even an Aveira Lishma should be done reluctantly, and only as a last resort. Like Queen Esther marrying Achashverosh. Like Yael killing the mighty king Sisra.
 
So how do I know if my zealousness is really for the sake of heaven? I must ask myself: “Does Hashem want me to be doing this?” Is He ok with me burning down a sheitel store because I feel sheitels aren’t tzanua? 
 
That’s what the Possuk says about Pinchas, G-d said “ Pinchas was zealous out of concern for MY honor”.  It wasn’t for his ego.
 
Just like the scenario with the housewife vs. the cat in getting rid of the mouse, the same applies to protests against misdeeds. One must sincerely not want the misdeeds. One should not just use the misdeed as an opportunity to engage in protesting.
 
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." 
That's only if we fail to analyze those intentions.
 
Have a great Shabbos!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Holy Cow!

Have you ever herd of the Red Cow?

In this week's parsha we learn of the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah [RedHeifer]. Rashi says that this mitzvah is known as the quintessential "chok". A “chok” is a mitzvah in which we don’t understand the reason.

As I write this, I wonder about the connection between the Red Heifer and the bulls who star in bullfights. The way the Matadors provoke the bulls to fight is by waving a red cloth at them, which is so terribly irritating to them that they get riled up and charge at the fighter. Something about their red ancestor? Perhaps not having been chosen as the unique red one? Its highly probable that there’s no connection at all.

Mooovin along, the mitzvah of Parah Adumah is, in fact, a tremendous paradox. The Parah Adumah was used to be me'taher people who were Tameh Meis. To purify those that have become impure through contact with a corpse. People who have the impurity of Tameh Meis have no way of achieving purity other than by means of the Parah Adumah. Yet, on the other hand, any person who had anything to do with the preparing or the carrying or the sprinkling of the Parah Adumah became ritually impure, himself. 

The paradox of the Parah Adumah, thus, is that it makes those who are impure, pure and those who are pure, impure.

Our Rabbis tell us that the verse in Koheles [7:23] "All this I tried to understand with my wisdom; I said I will figure it out, but it is still distant from me" refers to Shlomo stating that he understood the entire Torah, except for the chapter of Parah Adumah which remained elusive --despite all his inquiry.

The Medrash further states that G-d told Moshe, "To you I will explain the paradox of Parah Adumah, but to every other human being I will always hide its mystery." However the Medrash does say that in the Messianic Era, G-d will finally explain to us the mystery of Parah Adumah.

 G-d made a deliberate and conscious effort to keep the mystery of Parah Adumah hidden from us. Shlomo, with his unparalleled wisdom, should have been able to understand Parah Adumah. But G-d said, "I've got to keep this a secret. There is a reason. I will tell it to Klal Yisroel in the distant future. But for now, no one can understand Parah Adumah."

Why? Does G-d want to prove that He is smarter than us? Is this a game where G-d dangles something in front of us, teasing us with our inability to figure it out? 

Is G-d being a Matador and waving the Red Cow in front of us to provoke us?  

 The reason G-d hid the understanding of Parah Adumah from us, is to teach us a vital lesson. There are things in life that are just inexplicable. We must learn the lesson that things will happen in life that we will never be able to understand. We will come across things that will be terrible paradoxes, things that have apparently no rhyme and no reason.

What is this area of paradox that parallels Parah Adumah
It is the area of Tzadik v'ra lo and Rasha v'Tov lo.

 It’s the famous troublesome question of the ages:  
Why do bad things happen to good people, and vise versa?

The same way Parah Adumah is a paradox that makes absolutely no sense, there exists a paradox in life that we meet time and time and time again.

Logic would dictate just the reverse: A person is righteous, he is a noble Jew and unfortunately he suffers. Another person is wicked, he does everything that is forbidden and he is wealthy and prospers and has honor. Does this even make sense?!

G-d makes no errors. He runs the world with a plan. This is not illogical, it’s a paradox!

For some reason, that is the way that G-d made His world. We will have to deal with that issue and problem. 
So, G-d educated us in paradoxes. That education is the Parah Adumah.

This is a tremendous education. Today, we think of Parah Adumah as an obscure mitzvah. We learn about it in the Chumash. We don't really know what it is talking about.
But during the time of the Temple, the laws of Parah Adumah were extremely relevant. Invariably, one came into contact with dead people; one went to funerals; one became tameh. Then what? One could not eat Kodshim Kalim; one could not eat Ma'aser; one could not go to certain places in Jerusalem until one became Tahor.

So, Parah Adumah was certainly something that happened many times a year and was often a daily occurrence. Every single time, a Jew would be faced with the same paradox. He walks in tameh and walks out tahor while the Kohen would walk in tahor and walk out tameh. It does not seem to make sense, but at least the Jew would be exposed to and get accustomed to a paradox.

The Jew would learn that there are some things in this world that don't seem to make sense. That is why G-d hid the reason for Parah Adumah from us and it is also why in he future He will explain Parah Adumah to us.

 In the future we WILL understand all the paradoxes of life. The one about the Red Cow, and also the udder ones. 

But right now, G-d purposely keeps them a secret, in order to understand that we just CAN’T understand because we’re not supposed to understand it. 
That in itself supplies tremendous satisfaction and consolation.

 Have a great shabbos!