Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Miketz - The Search for Yosef and a Pile of Shoes

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Miketz - The Search for Yosef and a Pile of Shoes

The Midrash, picking up clues from the text, suggests that Yosef's brothers, arriving in Egypt, look for much more than just food. What were they looking for, and how hard were they looking?

Click here to navigate to the shiur on

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Restarting Ourselves on Chanukah

My computer wasn't working – at least not well. It started to freeze up, and was taking far too long to load even simple programs. When this happens, as it does every so often, there's a fix that usually solves the problem. I simply restart the computer, and often the problem goes away.

It seems so simple: restart. Somehow, the computer puts things back the way they should be, and things work again properly. If only life were so simple. After a fight with my son/wife/co-worker – wouldn't it be wonderful if we could simply turn things off, and restart – and have everything work the way it should?

This idea of renewal and restarting applies, not only in the world of computers, but in our daily lives as well. For a long period of time, I was on a diet called SugarBusters!. The essence of the diet is: no refined sugars or grains, no processed food, and no corn or potatoes. It's pretty all-encompassing. People, when they heard about the diet would ask me: "Are you going to eat that way for the rest of your life?" (The answer, as it turned out, is 'no.') I would tell them, "I have no idea if I'm going to eat this way for the rest of my life. But I know that I'm going to eat this way today."

Each and every day during Shacharit, we refer to God as המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית – "He who renews in His Goodness each and every day the act of Creation." Each day isn't a continuation from the last day. Rather, each day is a new day; a new creation, disconnected from yesterday.

We can find this idea in the halachot of Chanukah as well. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 675) writes that,
הדלקה עושה מצוה ולא הנחה...לפיכך, עששית שהייתה דולקת כל היום שהדליקה מערב שבת למצות חנוכה, למוצאי שבת מכבה ומדליקה לשם מצוה.
The lighting [of the Chanukah lights] established the mitzvah, and not the placing [of the lights]…for this reason, an ember that remained lit for the entire day [of Shabbat] that was lit on erev Shabbat for the mitzvah of Chanukah – after Shabbat one must extinguish [the light] and relight it for the purpose of the mitzvah.
At face value, if the purpose of the lighting of the Chanukah candles is פרסומי ניסא – spreading the miracle of Chanukah – then what difference does it make when I lit the candles? Why should it matter whether I lit the candles today, yesterday, or three days ago? Yet, the Mishnah Berurah explain that,

ואינו מועיל מה שהדליקה אתמול לשם מצוה דכל יומא ויומא מילתא באנפי נפשה היא
The lighting from yesterday for the sake of the mitzvah does not help [for today] – for each and every day stands alone.
While the light may be the same, we are still required to perform the act of lighting each and every day. My actions from yesterday do not suffice. I must restart, relight and rekindle in order to properly perform the mitzvah.

The same rule applies to the rest of our lives.

Some of the very best things we do are repetitive. Yet that very repetitiveness can lead to a sense of staleness and boredom. Even the lighting of the candles itself can become repetitive. We all know remember the excitement of the first night; the exuberance with which we sing Maoz Tzur. The second night is still pretty good. But by the fifth and sixth nights, even the lighting of the Chanukiah takes on a tone of drudgery.

That's precisely the point at which we need to "Restart." Reinvigorate, and relight ourselves with the passion of the light of Chanukah.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Cantors' Choice

In the course of some work that I do for Tzohar, I often have to research into the history of North American Jewish commuities. Thank God for Google. I don't think that this work would have been possible otherwise.
Recently, I came across the online digital archives of the Jewish Floridian newspaper whch covered the South Florida Jewish community. In addition to finding a nifty tidbit about my father, a"h (who grew up in Miami Beach), I came across the following ad. I think it speaks for itself. After all, who wouldn't want to drink the Cantors' choice of coffees? Times have truly changed.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Thank You to the Phillipines

By now, we've all read about the terrible typhoon that devastated the Phillipines killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands. You've probably also heard about the delegation from Israel that joined a good number of other countries that have sent aid - either in supplies or in personnell, to help the devastated victims of the storm. And, like you, reading about the great work Israelis are doing in the Phillipines gives me a sense of pride. People need help, and we sent our best to help them. That's what we do. But thinking about it for a while, there's an additional aspect of Israel's work in the Phillipines. Here in Israel, many of the people who care for the elderly in Israel are from the Phillipines. It's so common, in fact, that the term for "Home Healthcare Worker" is "Phillipini", as in, "I need to find a philipini for my mother who broke her hip." It's not just that people from the Phillipines need the income and are willing to travel far from their homes to earn a living. That is, of course, true. But, from what I've seen from afar, the Phillipinos who do this kind of work are really good at it. They have the perfect temperment to help elderly people with their basic needs with patience and dignity. So, as I watch the pictures of the IDF doctors and nurses giving medical care to Phillipino children in need, it's not just an act of Chessed. It's a way, ever so subtly, of saying "Thank you." By taking care of their children, we thank the Philipino people for their devoted care of our parents and grandparents.
עולם חסד יבנה.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeshev - The Avot, Keeping the Torah and the Land of Israel + Bonus Old JN Parshah piece too!

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayeshev - The Avot, Keeping the Torah and the Land of Israel

A minor detail in the story of Yehudah and Tamar leads us to the question of whether the Avot kept the entire Torah, the famous position of Ramban, and then the larger argument over whether Jews fundamentally were intended to keep the Torah outside of the Land of Israel. After all, according to Ramban, Yaakov Avinu didn't think so.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

JN Bonus!
Here's an old piece that I wrote on Vayeshev for the Detroit Jewish News in 5765:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Detroit Jewish News

The Detroit Jewish News just released an online digital archive, containing every article of every page of the publication. I, of course, searched for myself. It's a terrific walk down memory lane. Sometimes, I can't really believe I wrote what I did. I'm proud I wrote it, but somewhat surprised at myself. (And, looking back, good for the JN for publishing it.) Take, for example, this Torah piece.

That prompted an outraged reader to write this letter:

Which, in turn, prompted this vigorous defense by YIOP member Steve Katz. Way to go Steve!

Ah, the memories...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: When To Say No to Tzedakah

Gil Student shared a video produced by Hamodia, chronicling the sad, lamentable overwhelming poverty rampant in the Chareidi world. While the video didn't really ask people to give money, it's safe to assume that this is implied. Yet, I humbly suggest that while simple rachmanut (compassion) demands that we give to the food and social service organizations giving vital services to these families, this video, if anything, must strengthen our resolve not to give money to chareidi yeshivot and educational institutions that are promoting (and forcing) this lifestyle of poverty upon yet another generation of youth. The only way that these institutions will change, is if they realize that the money just isn't there to keep going. I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to do the following: When you open the door or recieve the envelope, and the meshulach asks you for a donations for a yeshiva, educational institution, or kollel, ask a few simple questions:
Does your yeshiva teach basic subjects (in Israel it's called limudei libbah), critical to the childrens' ability to gain employment later on? If it's a yeshiva gedolah, ask whether the yeshiva itself has a job training program for young men leaving the system, and, most importantly, what percentage of young men who leave their yeshiva find gainful employment outside of the chinuch system? Does the culture of your yeshiva promote work and gainful employment, or does it teach the young men that those who leave the yeshiva and kollel are sellouts, second-class citizens who simply couldn't make it.
If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory: they don't teach even the most basic skills, and make no effort to encourage education and employment, then don't give them any money. At all.
Because, contrary to the sob story they're selling you, by giving them more money you are actually an accomplice to the future suffering of the children being raised in a system that will trap them in poverty, with no real way out.
I want to be clear: I'm not against kollel. I learned in kollel. But I am against a kollel system that completely rejects any other type of secular learning and training. Let the guys go to kollel. But then encourage them both during and after the kollel years to study and get real degrees so that they can then enter the workforce and earn a decent living.
This sad saga has so many tragic victims. First and foremost, of course, is that of the children and families suffering. But even more frustrating is that this catastrophe is entirely unnecessary. Chareidim aren't going away. Their numbers continue to grow, and the chareidim are projected to grow to more than half of the Israeli population by 2050. Yet, as a whole, the chareidi leadership's refusal to encourage higher education and gainful employment has damned an entire generation - literally hundreds of thousands - to abject poverty. And, at least for now, the jobs are there. Information technology jobs exist, and chareidim would get them, because they many have a wonderful work ethic (see the number of hours they learn in kollel), and are often willing to work for less than their non-chareidi counterparts. But they don't have the basic skills and education to get those jobs that would enable them to buy their children the vegetables and braces they so badly need.
The second, less-considered tragedy of this saga takes place not in Israel, but in America. American chareidim, by and large, have represented a significant portion of olim. Yet, if I were chareidi living in the States I'd watch that video and say, "I'm never moving there." And, if I were a parent with children learning in Kollel in Israel, I'd make sure that once those two or three years ended, my children came back to Brooklyn, or Detroit or whereever. Just not Israel.
After all, who wants their grandchildren to be the face of the next Hamodia video?
Children suffer. Families suffer. The State of Israel suffers, because its economy is dragged down by a sector mired in poverty. The Jewish people suffer, as American chareidim refuse to consider moving to a country where their children will be condemned to abject poverty.
This is kavod hatorah? Sorry, I just don't see it.
So when the meshulach comes, if his institution refuses to teach that work is not a "four letter word", put your money where your mouth is: Just say no.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Audio Shiur - Parshat Vayishlach - Meek, Weak Jews

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayishlach - Meek, Weak Jews

Rashi famously notes that Yaakov prepared to deal with Eisav in three ways: by sending gifts, by preparing for war, and by praying to God. Yet, while we see the gifts and prayer, where's the preparation for war? This glaring omission tells us a great deal about how commentaries viewed the notion of Jews fighting in a war, and just how differently we think today.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeitzei - Rachel and Leah

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayeitzei - Rachel and Leah

The text describing Rachel, Leah and their marriages to Yaakov raises more question than answers. The Midrash, with its classic version of the story, addresses some of the problems. But not all of them. 

Click here to navigate to the shiur on

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Support Yehuda Glick - Especially This Week

Glick on his Hunger Strike
Many of you may not have heard of Yehuda Glick. I certainly hadn't before I came Israel. Before I moved here, I hadn't heard of him. Yet, he's a leading figure in the fight for the rights of religious Jews to visit and pray on the Temple Mount, and serves as the Executive Director of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.
In recent years, the issue of the rights of Jews to visit and pray on the Temple Mount has been gaining serious traction. Mekor Rishon, the leading Religious Zionist newspaper, dedicates an entire page of its main section to issues related to the Temple Mount, and increasing numbers of Jews, mostly religious, but some not, question why Har Habayit remains perhaps the only place in Israel where a Jew is not free to pray to God. It's a really good question.
Personally, I've never myself visited the Temple Mount. In another post, I'll dissect the issue more thorougly. Suffice to say that while many are against visiting the Temple Mount for halachic and hashkafic reasons, there are clearly opinions which permit it (and if it's permitted, then not visiting Har Habayit is troubling). Yet, even if I myself have refrained from visiting Har Habayit, that in no way diminishes my respect and support for Glick's right to do so.

If you follow Glick's Facebook feed (which I recommend following), you learn quickly that he's not a violent fellow. He believes passionately in the importance of visiting Har Habayit and of having a Jewish presence on Har Habayit, but he's careful not to violate police laws or ordinances while doing so.
Recently, the police decided to arbitrarily ban him from visiting the Temple Mount, labeling him as a security threat. The police made the decision without any due process, or, for that matter, without any formal hearing or judicial process. They get to decide, without any legal backing, who can and cannot visit the Temple Mount. Aside from the absurb religious discrimination, this represents an abuse of police power that cannot be overlooked.
When he exhausted the resources and friends who spoke out on his behalf, Glick felt compelled to protest this situation with a hunger strike, which, as of today, enters its fifth day.
This week we meet Har Habayit for the second time (the first being Akeidat Yitzchak), when Yaakov Avinu dreams his fateful dream and declares, אכן, יש אלוקים במקום הזה ואנוכי לא ידעתי - "behold, there is Godliness on this place, and I didn't know."
Now we know. Whether we visit it or not personally, Har Habayit, and not the Kotel, is the holiest site in Judaism, and we must demand our rights not only to visit the Temple Mount, but to pray there as well.
Spread this message. If you're a shul rabbi or educator, speak about this issue. Contact officials in Israel (and your local Israeli consulate in the Diaspora) and ask why Rav Glick is denied his basic civil (and for that matter, human) rights. Spread the word, so that hopefully soon Rav Glick will once again be allowed to visit Har Habayit, and will therefore do something each of us has already done each day for the past five days: Eat breakfast.