Friday, April 30, 2010

Shabbos-A Time To Look Back

Shabbos is a time to come closer to Hashem. Shabbos and teshuva have the same root-lashuv-to return. On Shabbos, we can take different steps to come back, to return to Hashem.

You can use the time you have to think about how your week went. Go through each day of the week. Sunday. Did I accomplish? Monday. did I interact with my friends? my family? my coworkers? my neighbors? my teachers? my students? my parents? my grandparents? Could I use improvement in any area?

Shabbos is a long day. You have a whole afternoon ahead of you. You can read, rest, get together with friends and you can also use some of the time to "get together" with your Creator. Get to know Him better. How? By thinking about how you can come closer to Him and thinking about how you can improve. You have time to review your week...and really think about what you can do to make the coming week a better one.

Go on a walk. Spend some time alone. Spend some time thinking about what you want to do to make the week ahead of you a good one. How you will fill each day with things that will make you feel accomplished when you look back next Shabbos at the week that past.

Think about the good things that happened this week. Did you hear any news that made you feel like you wanted to jump for joy with happiness? Did you get to say, "Mazel tov" for something this week? Thank Hashem for that! Did you go to school/work and get home safely each day? Remember Who it is that made sure that you reached your destination each time you went somewhere. Spend some time thanking Hashem for the good things you have in your life-your family, your friends, your health, two eyes that can see, two ears that can hear, a nose that can smell, a mouth and a tongue that can eat all the delicious foods...there is SO MUCH to be thankful for!

So this Shabbos, take some time to think about the past week and think about how you will make this coming week a good one!

Enjoy your Shabbos and make it special!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Do Good People Die Young? Part 2

This is the question that was asked: Stories like those you write of your brother do the opposite of inspiring me. they frustrate me to no end. its the very picture of tzaddik v'ra lo. there are times i read stories like these and i feel almost sure that being too good,too holy is a sure way to shorten your life. you read the obituaries in the papers and they are full of young righteous people. your brother did everything right. i'm sure he earned arichut yamim, so why didn't he get too see 16? i don't find any peace in hearing its hashem's will. that kind of answer reminds me of when i was a kid and my mother would tell me "because i said so, thats why" . its a throw away answer and leaves me no wiser than before i asked. if a boy like this didn't have the zechutim to save him, if the couple in dubai didn't have the zechutim to save them, if talia applebaum didn't have the zechuyot to save her, what hope is there for us regular folks? why should God grant me life and not them? I'm sorry if this rubs salt on a wound but i need to know.

To read the beginning of this topic, click here.

At the Shabbos table this week, we discussed this question. We know people young because they are tzadikim from a posuk in last week’s parsha. In 10:3 it says “bikrovay akadesh”. Hashem says He will make Himself Holy through those who are close to Him. When Hashem judges even the greatest tzadik with exact judgment, it is a lesson about His Perfection. Only G-d is perfection. Even these great men have flaws, since they are human. So much more so the wicked!

Rashi explains that when Hashem said “venikdash bichvodi”, “I will be made Holy through my honor”, it can mean “venikdash bemichubodai”, “I will be made Holy through those who honor Me”. Moshe told Aharon that he thought the one through which Hashem would make Himself Holy was either Moshe or Aharon. Now Moshe saw that Nadav and Avihu were greater than Moshe and Aharon, because Hashem chose them to make Himself Holy. We understand that to mean that Moshe and Aharon were HOPING to be worthy of increasing Hashem’s glory. They were eager to be “punished” so they could be medium for Hashem’s kavod. They were Michubodai – ones who glorified Hashem. That was their only ambition in life. (Remember Rabbi Akiva saying his whole life he was waiting for the chance to give up his life for Hashem.) Hashem chooses people like that to increase the world’s knowledge of His transcendence. Hashem usually does not use people who are not eager for such a big part of kavod Hashem, who love their nefesh more than they love Hashem. So, it is not only fair, it makes perfect sense. The tzadik who dies young to strengthen awareness of Hashem considers himself fortunate – he considers it tzadik vetov lo! He considers it a zechus to be elevated as a sacrifice for Hashem’s honor. We regular folk can almost consider ourselves “safe” from the “danger” of Hashem choosing us for such a mission. We don’t want it, understand it, or appreciate it. And Hashem only reveals His holiness through those who live to honor Him.

This relates to the arichas yomim question. The Rambam (Teshuva 9) explains there is no way Hashem can give reward for Mitzvos in this imperfect world. All the Torah’s positive effects for doing good in this world for doing Mitzvos are not reward. They are the means to do even more good, so you can earn even more true reward in the next world.

ג כָּל אוֹתָן הַדְּבָרִים אֱמֶת הָיוּ, וְיִהְיוּ, וּבִזְמָן שֶׁאָנוּ עוֹשִׂין כָּל מִצְווֹת הַתּוֹרָה, יַגִּיעוּ אֵלֵינוּ טוֹבוֹת הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה כֻּלָּן; וּבִזְמָן שֶׁאָנוּ עוֹבְרִין עֲלֵיהֶן, תִּקְרָא אוֹתָנוּ הָרָעוֹת הַכְּתוּבוֹת. וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן אֵין אוֹתָן הַטּוֹבוֹת, הֶן סוֹף מַתַּן שְׂכָרָן שֶׁלַּמִּצְווֹת; וְלֹא אוֹתָן הָרָעוֹת, הֶן סוֹף הַנְּקָמָה שֶׁנּוֹקְמִין מֵעוֹבֵר עַל כָּל הַמִּצְווֹת. אֵלָא כָּךְ הוּא הֶסֵּעַ הַדְּבָרִים.

ד הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא נָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרָה זוֹ, עֵץ חַיִּים, וְכָל הָעוֹשֶׂה כָּל הַכָּתוּב בָּהּ, וְיוֹדְעוֹ דֵּעָה גְּמוּרָה נְכוֹנָה--זוֹכֶה בָּהּ לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא; וּלְפִי גֹּדֶל מַעֲשָׂיו וְגֹדֶל חָכְמָתוֹ, הוּא זוֹכֶה. וְהִבְטִיחָנוּ בַּתּוֹרָה שְׁאִם נַעֲשֶׂה אוֹתָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוֹבַת נֶפֶשׁ, וְנֶהְגֶּה בְּחָכְמָתָהּ תָּמִיד--שֶׁיָּסִיר מִמֶּנּוּ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הַמּוֹנְעִים אוֹתָנוּ מִלַּעֲשׂוֹתָהּ, כְּגוֹן חֹלִי וּמִלְחָמָה וְרָעָב וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן. וְיַשְׁפִּיעַ לָנוּ כָּל הַטּוֹבוֹת הַמְּחַזְּקִים אֶת יָדֵינוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, כְּגוֹן שֹׂבַע וְשָׁלוֹם וּרְבוֹת כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב--כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא נַעְסֹק כָּל יָמֵינוּ בִּדְבָרִים שֶׁהַגּוּף צָרִיךְ לָהֶן, אֵלָא נֵשֵׁב פְּנוּיִים לִלְמֹד בְּחָכְמָה, וְלַעֲשׂוֹת הַמִּצְוָה, כְּדֵי שֶׁנִּזְכֶּה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר בַּתּוֹרָה אַחַר שֶׁהִבְטִיחַ בְּטוֹבוֹת הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, "וּצְדָקָה, תִּהְיֶה-לָּנוּ . . ." (דברים ו,כה).

ה וְכֵן הוֹדִיעָנוּ בַּתּוֹרָה שְׁאִם נַעֲזֹב הַתּוֹרָה מִדַּעְתֵּנוּ וְנַעְסֹק בְּהַבְלֵי הַזְּמָן, כְּעִנְיַן שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט" (דברים לב,טו)--שֶׁדַּיָּן הָאֱמֶת יָסִיר מִן הָעוֹזְבִים כָּל טוֹבוֹת הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, שְׁהֶן חִזְּקוּ יְדֵיהֶם לִבְעֹט, וּמֵבִיא עֲלֵיהֶן כָּל הָרָעוֹת הַמּוֹנְעִים אוֹתָן מִלִּקְנוֹת הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, כְּדֵי שֶׁיֹּאבְדוּ בְּרִשְׁעָם. הוּא שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה, "וְעָבַדְתָּ אֶת-אֹיְבֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁלְּחֶנּוּ ה' בָּךְ" (דברים כח,מח), "תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָבַדְתָּ אֶת-ה'" (דברים כח,מז).

ו נִמְצָא פֵּרוּשׁ כָּל אוֹתָן הַבְּרָכוֹת וְהַקְּלָלוֹת, עַל דֶּרֶךְ זוֹ: כְּלוֹמַר אִם עֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת ה' בְּשִׂמְחָה, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם דַּרְכּוֹ--מַשְׁפִּיעַ לָכֶם הַבְּרָכוֹת הָאֵלּוּ וּמַרְחִיק הַקְּלָלוֹת, עַד שֶׁתִּהְיוּ פְּנוּיִים לְהִתְחַכַּם בַּתּוֹרָה וְלַעְסֹק בָּהּ, כְּדֵי שֶׁתִּזְכּוּ לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וְיִיטַב לָךְ לָעוֹלָם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ טוֹב וְתַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים לָעוֹלָם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ אָרוּךְ. וְנִמְצֵאתֶם זוֹכִין לִשְׁנֵי הָעוֹלָמוֹת, לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַמְּבִיאִין לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא: שְׁאִם לֹא יִקְנֶה הֵנָּה חָכְמָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים--אֵין לוֹ בַּמֶּה יִזְכֶּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "כִּי אֵין מַעֲשֶׂה וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן, וְדַעַת וְחָכְמָה, בִּשְׁאוֹל . . ." (קוהלת ט,י).

ז וְאִם עֲזַבְתֶּם אֶת ה' וּשְׁגִיתֶם בְּמַאֲכָל וּמַשְׁקֶה וּזְנוּת וְדוֹמֶה לָהֶם--מֵבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם כָּל הַקְּלָלוֹת הָאֵלּוּ וּמֵסִיר כָּל הַבְּרָכוֹת, עַד שֶׁיִּכְלוּ יְמֵיכֶם בְּבֶהָלָה וּפַחַד, וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵב פָּנוּי וְלֹא גּוּף שָׁלֵם לַעֲשׂוֹת הַמִּצְווֹת, כְּדֵי שֶׁתֹּאבְדוּ מֵחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְנִמְצָא שֶׁאִבַּדְתֶּם שְׁנֵי עוֹלָמוֹת: שֶׁבִּזְמָן שֶׁאָדָם טָרוּד בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה בְּחֹלִי וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּרְעָבוֹן, אֵינוּ מִתְעַסֵּק לֹא בְּחָכְמָה וְלֹא בְּמִצְוָה שֶׁבָּהֶן זוֹכִין לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.

Whenever we fulfill the commandments of the Torah, we will receive all good earthly matters. Whenever we violate them, all the mentioned evils will happen to us. Nevertheless, the goodness is not all the reward for fulfilling commandments consists of, and the evils are not the entire punishment received by sinners.

This is how Hashem decides all matters: HKB”H, gave us this Torah, which is a support of life. Anybody who does what He wrote in it and knows everything in it is complete and correct will merit life in the World to Come. He will merit [a portion] according to the goodness of his actions and to the extent of his knowledge. The Torah assures us that if we fulfill the Torah with joy and pleasure and always act according to it, then illness, war, famine, etcetera, which could prevent us from doing so, will go away. Plenty, peace, richness, et cetera, which will aid us in fulfilling the Torah will come our way. This way, we will not have to occupy ourselves all day in [getting] bodily needs. We will be free to learn and gather knowledge and fulfill commandments to merit life in the World to Come. As the Torah says after it promises goodness in this world, "And it will be an opportunity for us, if we are careful to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us".

The Torah also tells us that if someone willingly neglects the Torah to chase valueless activities...the True Judge removes all the goodness of this world that they had but used to reject Hashem. He will bring on them all the evils that will prevent them from getting life in the World to Come, so they will be lost in their wickedness...

Hashem fulfills all the blessings and curses in this manner. If one serves God with joy and follows His ways, he will get that much blessing. Hashem will remove all the curses from him so he will be free to become knowledgeable in Torah and busy himself in it. This way, he will merit life in the World to Come. If one does not gain wisdom and if one has no meritorious deeds, then with what will one merit life in the World To Come?! ...

If one ignores God and offends through food, feasting, adultery, or similar activities, he will get all these curses and remove all the blessings. His days will end in panic and fear. He will not have the opportunities or perfect body to perform mitzvos, and he will not merit life in the World to Come. Then he will have missed two worlds. When someone is troubled in this world by illness, plague or hunger he does not busy himself with learning or mitzvos, which he could use to merit life in the World to Come.

We see now that arichas yomim is not a reward for serving Hashem. Hashem gives arichas yomim to people who use their days wisely, so they will have more days to use wisely! Occasionally a person can gain more by not living long. Sometimes, when a good person dies young, he or she can do more tikkunolam through dying than they could have done had they lived 120 years. Think about Rav Shimshon Pincus. When he was alive he was unknown. It is unlikely he would have had such enormous impact if he were still alive. A person whose purpose in life is to perfect the world looks forward to the opportunity to increase his kvod shomayim leverage exponentially. Hashem offers the opportunity to such a person.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pesach Sheini

Today is Pesach Sheini. What is so special about this day?

When Bnei Yisroel celebrated their first Pesach in the midbar, there were some people who were unable to partake in the korban pesach since they were tamei (they were impure because they were exposed to a dead body). They came to Moshe Rabbeinu and complained to him saying, “It’s not fair! Why should we lose out on this special mitzvah? We also want to be able to fulfill it!”

They didn’t say to themselves, “Yessss! We missed out on it and now we don’t have to do this mitzvah! We can get away with not doing it…” or anything of the sort. They were bothered and hurt by the fact that they were losing out on a chance to do a mitzvah. This mitzvah was so precious to them that they were upset that they didn’t get to do it! They took the time to bring this matter to Moshe's attention and beg for another chance!

Hashem told Moshe about Pesach Sheini-which gives any person who was unable to bring the korban at it’s proper time (through no fault of their own-not because they were lazy) a second chance. And it wasn't just for that year, it wasn't just a one-time thing. This was a message and a mitzvah for every generation. From now on, every year, on the 14th of Nissan, we celebrate Pesach Sheini.

The first thing to think about is, are we so excited and do we love mitzvos so much that when we don’t get to do it, we feel like we lost out on the opportunity of a lifetime and wish we can make up for it? Do we realize how precious each and every mitzvah truly is? We can take this message from the Jews in the midbar who begged for another chance to do the mitzvah they lost out on.

And the second thing to learn is that Hashem gives every person a second chance. It is never too late to change. If there is something you wanted to work on, something you want to stop doing or something you wanted to start doing, now's the time to take the message and make that change. You can always come closer to Hashem, even if you feel you are so far away from Him.

So take the message, make the change and...enjoy the matzah!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Do Good People Die Young? Part 1

Someone asked the following question: Stories like those you write of your brother do the opposite of inspiring me. they frustrate me to no end. its the very picture of tzaddik v'ra lo. there are times i read stories like these and i feel almost sure that being too good,too holy is a sure way to shorten your life. you read the obituaries in the papers and they are full of young righteous people. your brother did everything right. i'm sure he earned arichut yamim, so why didn't he get too see 16? i don't find any peace in hearing its hashem's will. that kind of answer reminds me of when i was a kid and my mother would tell me "because i said so, thats why" . its a throw away answer and leaves me no wiser than before i asked. if a boy like this didn't have the zechutim to save him, if the couple in dubai didn't have the zechutim to save them, if talia applebaum didn't have the zechuyot to save her, what hope is there for us regular folks? why should God grant me life and not them? I'm sorry if this rubs salt on a wound but i need to know.

I thought it would be important for me to ask this question to someone a little bit more knowledgeable than myself, even though I do have what to say to answer this question from my own perspective. The following is what R' Dovid Levine wrote to me but I just want to explain something before posting his answer.

It is difficult to answer this question without knowing the background of the person asking it. There is know way to know what her circumstances are, the level she is on right now and where she is holding hashkafically. Even so, I will post the answer that is somewhat universal and everyone can relate to. (I would recommend reading it a second time because I think there is a lot to gain from rereading all of it.)

Having said all that, here is the first part, a more general answer that he gave me.

I am hesitant answering such questions in writing. You don’t know who the person is, what their background is, their degree of religious practice and knowledge, what pain they are feeling, what their sensitive spots are, in what terms to couch the answer...And much more. Still, you probably must answer since it was asked.

The underlying assumption of this question is that G-d and I are equals, on the same page, able to “understand each other”. Just as I assume I can understand another person, I can understand G-d. If I find fault in my friends actions and choices, I lay the blame at his or her feet. I don’t infer that my reasoning is faulty. This is less than gracious when it comes to my friend (I never have a hard time justifying my own choices, so why don’t I assume my friend has valid reason for his or her decisions?). It is invalid about G-d. My G-d created heaven and earth, and all that is in it. I was not there when He formed earth, and I could never measure the heavens. I don’t know how He made the enormous subterranean force that grinds tectonic plates into one another, raising mountains. I don’t know how those plates float on the liquid core. I don’t know how He made the lava boiling up from under the plates enable life to exist by creating a balance of oxygen and carbon in the atmosphere. And I don’t know why He brings earthquakes that cause massive destruction.

I don’t know how He gathered the seas, or how He keeps them from overflowing the land. I don’t know how He powers tidal flow that is essential for life. I don’t know how He made ice the only substance that expands when it freezes, protecting water-bound life in the winter. And I don’t know why He make tidal waves that sweep away masses of life and beauty.

I don’t know how He makes the sun rises and sets every day. I don’t know how He changes the seasons, and how He gets the animals and plants to match the rhythm of seasonal pattern. I don’t know how He makes the wind blow or the rain fall. And I don’t know why He makes droughts or monsoons or hurricanes or tornadoes that wreck people’s lives.

I have never been to the depths of the sea or even visited all the continents. I didn’t know when I would be born and I don’t know how long I will live.

I couldn’t rotate the earth, much less spin the solar system around the sun, and certainly not swirl this Milky Way galaxy with its hundred-billion stars. (A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is...32 YEARS! To count the stars in our galaxy would take over 3000 years – almost since Matan Torah. And that is just one out of over 200 billion galaxies!) And I can’t coordinate the events of someone’s life.

I don’t know how my heart or liver or kidney work. I can’t scratch the surface of the complexity of DNA. And I don’t know why these systems stop functioning or cause suffering through cancer and break down.

I can’t hunt for a lion or supply food for the birds or cause deer to give birth. I don’t know why some birds sing beautifully and some birds have stunning plumage. I don’t understand why some animals care for their young and some young fend for themselves. I couldn’t decide which animals should eat their offspring, and which animals should feed on their parent’s bodies.

I didn’t make the horse fast or the snail slow. I didn’t make the tiger brave and the sloth timid. I couldn’t make a bird that flies or a fish that swims.

My G-d is greater and wiser than my understanding or yours. If you understand why your G-d decides something and how He carries it out, he is not my G-d. A G-d who always needs to act according to my understanding is not much of a G-d.

This is G-d’s answer to Iyov’s question (which is in essence your question), all the way at the end of the sefer in chapters 38-40.

I don’t accept what G-d does in blind faith. It makes perfect sense to me that a G-d is beyond my grasp, that I should not be able to explain what He does. I don’t believe that is what He wants me to do with my life – spend it pondering the imponderables.

I do know this: G-d has no pleasure from the life or death of the righteous or wicked. If He needs my service, He is not G-d. He gives me life for me, not for him. I don’t know why or how, but since He is infinite and unchanging, it must be for me. I might try to apply some superficial understanding to make going on easier for me to accept, but I must never confuse those flavorings for real reasons or causes. Still, I know it is not for Him, so it must be for my benefit.

My brother was a good boy and he also died at 16. I might try to make it more palatable by saying he was a good person so G-d took him away in place of many others. Maybe yes, maybe no. But I can’t expect to understand why he dies any more than I understand why or how I am alive! I know it was not for G-d’s benefit, so it must have been for us. Good people die and bad people die. And they all die for a good reason – for them to reach their goals and for us to reach our goals. This does not mean I am happy or joyous when they die because I know it is good. That would be cruel and insensitive. It is good because it fulfills G-d’s will, which is finally for the benefit of creation and me. It still hurts. And that too is for the benefit of the purpose of the world. I need to use that pain as well to be successful in my mission. Part of that mission is to increase my knowledge of G-d’s control, unity, and greatness.

Some young people die. Most of us live much longer. Everyone is so confused and tortured by the short life of the few, but no one is too concerned or wonders too much about the long life of the many. I want to know why someone did not wake up on the 5475th day of his life, but they took 5474 mornings until then for granted. Both are for the same purpose – to know G-d.

You can be good and live long or short, you can be bad and live long or short. I don’t do good because I want to have zechusim to bribe G-d into giving me lots of goodies, whatever I think those goodies might be. I am good because that it the best thing to be. Good happens to good people – that does not mean they have lives of fun and candy. It means they have all the tools to do what they want most – to fulfill their mission in life. Sometimes it is through having a short life. Sometimes it is through living until an old age. Wicked people also get the tools to do what they want – to destroy themselves and others. And they lose the tools to do what they need to do, which is to do good. The Rambam explains all this in the ninth chapter of Hilchos Teshuva.

Our problems begin when we lose site of G-d’s greatness and our deficiency. We want to sit G-d on a couch and psychoanalyze Him and diagnose Him with some human frailty. And them we get angry with Him for acting so badly! G-d is too big for any couch. And he has no needs at all, ever, in any way. Finished. So why do these things happen? For us. For us to accept His judgment and serve Him with. For us to grow with. For us to use for good. That is what Nochum Ish Gamzu meant when he said “Gam zu letovah” – this too is for good – for the perfect good of creation – to know and serve our Great, Mighty, and Awesome G-d.

Read part two by clicking over here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Before It's Too Late...

This week is Parshas Acharei-Mos Kedoshim. I’ve heard that we can take a very powerful lesson from the name of these two parshios. Acharei Mos, after someone dies, Kedoshim-do we realize how holy and special they were.

This message speaks to me personally. My brother Shalom a”h was niftar in the summer and the following year was my younger brother’s bar mitzvah. His bar mitzvah parshah came out to be…Acharei Mos-Kedoshim. Those two parshios together. Nothing is coincidence. It didn’t just “happen to be” that his bar mitzvah parshah came out this way. And this year, again, when we come to this week’s parshah, we are reminded to take the message.

After Shalom a”h was niftar, we heard so many amazing stories of things he had done that nobody was aware of. Boys in his class and kids from camp mailed letters to our family, each one wrote how Shalom had an impact, how he did something special for them, how he went out of his way to help them. There are so many things he did in private, quietly, doing things to help without letting anybody else know about it. This is what Acharei Mos-Kedoshim comes to tell us. We hear so many things people did-after they already passed away. But we can take the message...

Don’t wait …

Until it’s too late…

To appreciate…

Your friends…

Your family…

Your neighbors…

Your coworkers…

Your teachers…

Your students…

Your parents…

Your siblings…

Is it that important that you have to fight about that? Argue? Get upset at each other? Why don’t you notice the good things, the positive qualities about that person? Take the time to compliment, let them know how much they mean to you!

THIS is the lesson that we can take from the parshah. Appreciate people while they are still alive. Tell them how much they mean to you. Try not to be petty. Try to notice the little things that people do and tell them thank you. Remember that the time that YOU have in this world is limited and use the time to the fullest.

You can make this Shabbos special by remaining focused on what really lasts. Try to make this shabbos meaningful and peaceful!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Do I Know?

I wanted to respond to a comment on this post. I asked my husband's rebbe, R' Dovid Levine, how to answer this question because I see that many girls have asked the same question on this blog.

Here's the question:

*shnooky* said...
thanks, great idea. but how does a person know which aspects of their lives to let go for now and not fight against? personally i find tht one of the yetzer hara's ways of making me lazy is to say "dont bother, your not there yet- eventually youll get there". on the other hand its true that we cant be perfect. how can i tell if its something really "beyond my grasp" or if that feeling is just the yetzer hara's illusion he mekes me stall with?? thx

The truth is we DON’T know! We do our best to make intelligent decisions. We begin by figuring out what is important in life. We should create goals. Then, we aim that our actions should be in consonance with our goal. We evaluate and reevaluate. We rethink our goal once in a while, and we analyze our decisions regularly, preferably daily. Keeping a journal can be helpful. And we do our best. If we do that, we will be doing many more good and far less wrong than if we just plunged ahead blindly. The Mesilas Yesharim refers to this as the middah of Zehirus. It is the first trait – chapters 2-4.

Do we know we have the right goals? Do we know if we performed them in the best way possible? No. But if we do our best, HKB”H will nudge us in the right direction. Habo le’taher me’sayin osoh. Moshe told Hashem he could not put the Mishkan together himself. Hashem to him to do his best and Hashem will do the rest. Do your best, the rest is up to Him.

Some other basic guidelines: Be normal. Stay healthy in body and mind. Have a Rebbe. Have a good friend whom you allow to point out where you might be biased or you might be going wrong. Do your best. Don’t be to worried if you are performing flawlessly, just try to do well. Focus chiefly on active rather than passive goals (increasing Mitzvos rather than just avoiding wrongdoing). Ask for siyata dishmaya throughout the day. And be happy!

After all that, Rabbi Pohirille used to tell me:

וַאֲנַחְנוּ לֹא נֵדַע, מַה נַּעֲבֹד אֶת יְהוָה, עַד בֹּאֵנוּ, שָׁמָּה.

(Shemos 10:26) We won’t know exactly how we were to serve Hashem until we get upstairs. And that itself is part of the service of Hashem. If we knew exactly what to do, it would be so much easier. We need extra love and dedication to keep at a job even when you don’t know if you are reaching the goal. And don’t forget: We don’t run the world; we don’t even control if we will reach higher madregos. Our success in ruchniyos is also up to Hashem. If we do our best, He will direct us to our goals. When we come upstairs, we will find that even when we thought we did our best but we were not successful, Hashem knew what we needed to do and directed us in the right direction.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Counting Sefira

Sefira is the time between Pesach and Shavuos-the time we count up towards kaballas haTorah. What is the reason that we count this way? The Jews are a nation who always work upwards. Ma'alin Bakodesh v'Einam moridim-we go up in kedusha and don't go down. (It's the same way on Chanukah, we light the menorah going upwards. One candle on the first day, two on the second and so on.) When a person is excited for something, for example, for a birthday or a big trip, they make a countdown.

I remember making a countdown for my wedding and giving it to my chosson-each day, he'd pull of the page 25...24...23...22...21...20...The reason why we were counting
down is because these twenty-something days (from when I made the countdown) were standing between us and the wedding. Each time a page was pulled off, it was an excitement! There is less time standing between us and the big day!

However, when it comes to the day we will accept the Torah, the days between Pesach and Shavuos are not just days we want to pass by as quickly as possible. Each day is supposed to be a day of accomplishment. Each day is precious and meant to be used to it's fullest.

I will explain this with a
mashal from R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l. Imagine someone were to tell you that in one month, he was going to give you 3 million dollars. Three million dollars! Imagine that!! The 30 days you have to wait to get the money are now standing between you and your 3 million. They are holding you back from becoming a millionaire. So you want each day to pass as quickly as possible! However, if he were to tell you that each day he would give you 100,000 and by the end of the month, you would have received 3 million dollars, then each day is precious! Each day you are gaining the money that will help you become a millionaire! Now, you view each day as important in helping you achieve your goal.

It is the same thing with Sefira. We are counting towards Matan Torah-towards the day we are going to get the greatest treasure in the world! Each day, we are getting more than a million dollars in spirituality. We are getting treasures and treasures of diamonds! This is why we count up-today is day 1, 2, 3, 4...and so forth.
We are counting because we are so excited to get to this day-the day of Matan Torah! But it's not like we are waiting for the time from now until then to pass, we are using the days we have until then to reach greater heights in our avodas Hashem, by working on ourselves and becoming closer to Him to prepare for the big day!

During the time of the
bais hamikdosh, when korbanos were brought, there was a difference between the korbanos brought on Pesach and Shavuos. On Pesach, the Korban Omer was brought. It was made out of barley which is food for animals. The korban brought on Shavuos, the Korban Shtei Halechem was made of wheat, which is food that is normally eaten by human beings. This comes to show us that the time between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of tremendous growth and change. It is a time that we elevate ourselves from the level of animals to the level of human beings-people! Because without the Torah, we are like animals who have desires and wants and act upon them. But once we were given the Torah, we learned that all our actions can be elevated to a higher level and then we are like people!

Sefira is a special time to work on your
middos. It is a time to perfect ourselves and work on improving the way we relate to one another. There are so many areas in which we can improve. Show Hashem that you are preparing yourself to accept the greatest gift ever-the Torah!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Question: But I Want to Enjoy and Have Fun...!!

(This question was sent to me via email but I think you can all gain from the answer so I am posting it here with permission from the girl who asked it.)

We're in this world to grow and accomplish so that our souls can reach an elevated level in the World to Come. Right? So where does all the physical stuff fit in? Though I'd love to be, I'm definitely not on the level where I can eat just to make a bracha and all that jazz, so what do I do? What right do i have to read a book just for fun, etc.? Then there's also the issue where moshiach can either come any day or anyone could die any day. Once you're dead or moshiach's here, you can't grow anymore, and i don't want to be at my current level when either of those events take place. The problem is that no matter how much I want to grow and live each day like my last, it's really hard. Basically, I'd love to always be growing and doing holy things, but I reallyreallyreally want to read books for fun and just chill and enjoy myself, and I don't want to get up to Olam HaBa and feel stupid for wasting my time down here. How can I reconcile these desires?

Answer: Your question is amazing - it really shows that you are thinking deeply into things and don't just sail through life and go with the flow! I think it is so important for you to be an individual and spend some time trying to figure out where you want to go with your life and what you want to do!! That is so special of you!!

To answer the first part of your question, you have to remember that Hashem created you as a human being, not as a malach - you are not expected, at this point in your life - to be on the level of the gedolim or great people you may have read or heard stories about.

I will mention an amazing thing I learned in seminary taken from the Michtav M'Eiliyahu by R' Eliyahu Dessler . We can take the mashal of the yetzer hara and compare it to when someone goes to fight a war. When a warrior is going out to battle, he has to know who he is fighting. He knows which territory is already conquered, which areas are beyond him and what he is fighting right now. A person who wants to fight the yetzer hara also has to know that - there are certain things that are already conquered territory, (I'm so past that!) certain things that are beyond him (maybe one day I'll get there) and certain things that he is fighting/struggling with (now this is a challenge for me!).

To illustrate this idea, our teacher had us divide a paper into three parts from top to bottom. The middle of the page was our struggle right now, the bottom was things we are not dealing with at all because it was considered "conquered territory" and the top were things that were just "beyond us" which were too high a level for us to be struggling with right now. She then proceeded to read a list of different areas in avodas hashem and every girl wrote that down somewhere on their paper - in their personal category - whichever one it belonged to in their own life. I'll give you some examples: (I'm writing some of these from memory of her list, others I'm making up just for you to get the picture.)

  • Say a bracha before each food that you eat

  • Daven with nussach ari (special kavanos with each word)

  • Daven shacharis every day

  • Daven mincha every day

  • Have kavanah on the simple meaning of each word

  • Cover your elbows and knees whenever you go outside

  • Eat food just so you can fulfill your 100 brachos for the day

  • Watch TV on Shabbos

  • Not watch movies

  • Speak without curse words

  • Say a bracha acharonah after every food you eat

  • Say "hello" and greet people with a pleasant face

  • Say "thank you" to Hashem every time you hear about a simcha

  • Not eat chometz all pesach long

  • Speak pleasantly to every person you meet

  • Only listen to Jewish music

  • Never speak Lashon Hara

  • Have an hour-a-day that is Lashon Hara Free

I think you get the picture - there are certain things that you are not even struggling with, other things that are beyond you and other things that are hard for you right now. When you keep in mind that there are some things that are just beyond you right now, you will realize that it's okay not to live in a world where you "eat just so you can make a bracha" because you are not holding there right now! Instead, focus on the things that you are struggling with-the things that a normal teenager finds hard to do. You can always keep in mind that those high madreigos are in the "beyond you" right now but maybe, one day, in the far off future, you will get there. But there's no use in fighting a battle that is not in your realm.

In general, a person should always keep in mind that there are certain goals or ideas that are the "ideal" and the right way to do it-which you hope to get to one day. For now, try to work on the things that are in your "territory."

It is important to keep in mind that there are so many levels in each area of yiddishkeit. So when you see that something is "beyond you" you should look up to it and respect it and think that this is something great and special and not to make fun of it in any way. Think to yourself that right now I am not there yet but one day, maybe, in the distant future, I will do it. And if it's something you can never imagine ever doing (like, for example, wearing a shpitzel when you get married - something the very chassidish people do), at least look up to them and say, "wow! they are so special for doing such and such thing."

This can also help answer your question about moshiach. I once heard that when moshiach will come, there will still be struggles in every persons avodas Hashem. It's not like we are going to stay where we are when moshiach comes. The difference is, the struggles will then be between good, better and best as opposed to between good and bad because we will have a special clarity to know what is good and what is bad. You don't have to worry about what level you are on now and if you will be happy with that when moshiach comes because worrying will only prevent you from making any positive changes, it is a tactic of the yetzer hara - that you spend so much time thinking and worrying about it that you are too distracted to actually think of moving forward!! Instead, try to spend your time focusing on how you could change in a normal and healthy way - but remember that you are not a malach and Hashem doesn't expect you to be one!!

It's okay, and even normal for you to need some "chilling time"-time when you can relax, spend time with friends, read books, listen to music and you know what? Spending time with friends gives you many opportunities to do mitzvos too! There are loads of mitzvos bein adam l'chaveiro that you can do - complimenting friends, being careful with how you speak...And also, having a good time and taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is also part of the mitzvah of v'nishmartem me'od l'nafshoseychem-watching over your body. Hashem gave you one body and you have to make sure you take good care of it!! We are not expected to spend every hour of the day immersed in holy seforim and learning until the wee hours of the night!! It is also important, in order for you to stay sane and healthy, to relax sometimes, read, chill, go out with friends and do all those things that you enjoy!!

I hope this answers your questions. You are such a special girl to be thinking this way!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pesach - Afterthoughts

I know it's a little late but I just wanted to share two really nice thoughts on Pesach and the haggadah from R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l. I wanted to post them a while ago but it's been really busy and I finally got a chance to sit down and type them up. I figured, better late than never, right?!

* * *

Pesach is the time of the birth of Klal Yisroel. Just like when a baby is born, all the nurses and doctors are running around, making sure everything is fine and there is no dirt around - all the tools are sterile and clean, when Pesach comes and we are about to be born anew, we must make sure there is no dirt, no yetzer hara around. And so we run around cleaning our houses and making sure there is not a speck of dirt to be found. We clean our houses thoroughly. When cleaning, we are getting rid of the yetzer hara inside of us. That is why it is so important not to even have one bit of chometz in the house and the punishment is so severe. A newborn baby who is treated with anything less than perfectly clean utensils can catch an infection chas v'shalom. Everything has to be sterile because the baby's immune system is not built up yet.

Since we are building ourselves into a person (and Klal Yisroel into a nation), we must start from scratch - from the beginning. And we must make sure there is no dirt, only purity and cleanliness.

During the seder, we go through many different steps to build ourselves as a person. That is Pesach, the time when we are born.

Then comes Shavuos-the bar mitzvah when we accept the mitzvos upon ourselves. But in order to receive the Torah, we have to prepare ourselves for it. That's what sefira is about. It's a time to prepare ourselves for kaballas haTorah. Each day, we can climb a rung in the spiritual ladder so when Shavuos comes, we are ready to accept the Torah.

* * *

Another interesting thing I read in R' Shimshon Pincus's hagaddah was on the paragraph of "Amar Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, harei ani k'ven shiv'im shana" Rabbi Elazar the son of Azaria said, I am like someone who is seventy years old. Why was he like a seventy year old man? Because he was really eighteen years old but overnight Hashem made him grow a white beard so he should look like an older man and then people will accept what he would say.
Hashem made him grow a white beard. What's the difference between a black beard and a white beard, or the colors black and white?

The color black is a mixture of all the other colors. When a little child takes his crayons and colors a whole bunch of colors on a paper, it ends up one dark color - black. When a person is young, he has a black beard which signifies the reasons why he may do something spiritual. For example, a young man decides he wants to learn Torah. So why is he learning? He has a lot of different reasons. Maybe he wants to become a rosh yeshiva. Maybe he wants a good shidduch. Maybe he wants kavod, so people will look at him and say, "Wow! Did you see what a masmid he is?" and then he'll feel good inside. Maybe he wants to impress his childrens' future mechutanim and then his children will get good shidduchim.

The color white, on the other hand, is the purest color. It represents old age because at that point, a person doesn't have all these "other reasons" for doing mitzvos and spiritually uplifting acts. The old man knows he has no chance of becoming a rosh yeshiva anymore. Kavod?! Everybody knows who he really is! His children are already married so he has no one to impress. So why is he learning? Because Hashem said it's a mitzvah to learn His holy Torah!! This man doesn't have any outside factors influencing his decision of why he wants to do the mitzvos. He is nearing the end of his life and so his actions are pure and white - which is symbolized by the white beard.

I thought this was such a cool thing - it's so amazing that you can learn human nature from the haggadah!!

Anyone else have any interesting thoughts on Pesach or divrei torah they remember that they want to share?