Thursday, May 11, 2017

Second Chance

Just when you might have thought we were done with Jewish holidays for a while, Pesach Sheini, or the Second Passover, comes along.   Before your blood pressure goes through the roof and you have heart palpitations with the thought of cleaning your kitchen thoroughly for a couple of days followed by a marathon Seder lasting into the early dawn hours, please take a deep breath. This is a largely symbolic day that we actually celebrated this week.  Historically, in ancient times of the Temple in Jerusalem, anyone who would be unable to participate in the Passover offering due to either being a great distance away or in a state of ritual impurity was able to have a makeup date one month later. Hence the holiday, Pesach Sheini.
Yet, before we dismiss this day as a relic of the past which has no practical relevance, it may be worth it to internalize the greater message of this day.  It seems to be a minor Jewish holiday with a major universal message. Many times we do not experience success in our initial attempts toward important endeavors. It is frustrating to invest time, energy and financial resources into something we hold dear, only to see it fail. It does not just fail the first time; in many instances, there are multiple failures. With each subsequent failure, we get more discouraged and lose hope of ever succeeding. Yet, we can never give up. There is always another day that brings new opportunities and plateaus that one can conquer.
If you were not successful the first time, please remember the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini.  Some of the greatest accomplishments or achievements the world has ever seen were not successful the first time around. Even the first set of tablets that Moses received at Sinai were smashed almost immediately. So, if you are lying on the mat feeling down after another setback, just dust yourself off and try again.
Happy Pesach Sheini.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Moving Forward

In the aftermath of a divisive and brutal election season, everyone and their cousin is offering a post mortem as to why election turned out this way. I am not here to offer my political analysis as to why the election had this outcome. I will leave that to the political pundits that are located across the country from newsrooms to the banter at daily minyan. There is a certain element that I would like to address that has many of us left with scar tissue from the 2016 election. Over the course of the long and heated campaign there were many relationships that took a hit due to the passionate exchanges of views. From spouses, siblings, coworkers and even fellow congregants at shul, there were many instances of tempers flaring and displaying outright disdain for someone else’s views.  I have heard of some people that are dreading or even avoiding the upcoming Thanksgiving dinners with family members that voted for the “wrong person”. So how do we pick up the pieces now that the election is finally behind us ? ( I thought I was nauseous when I was driving and heard on the radio something about the 2018 mid term elections)

There is this phrase that we find many times in the Torah including the weekly  portions that we read at this time of year. After various significant and compelling events that are recorded in the Torah, prior to moving on to a new  subject, we are taught, “It was after these things”. This is teaching is an important lesson about how to move on from important event that are good or otherwise. It is important to catch our breath and reflect on how could move on more stable footing with one another. It is important to remember that we have far more in common with our friends and family than the political disagreements that divide us. Yet, frequently we emphasize and highlight the differences between us. It is still possible for someone to be a kind, intelligent and good hearted  individual despite having voted for the the candidate that you didn’t favor. So let us take a step back and view how integral our relationships with our families and friends are and not allow this election to hijack it. Moreover, I would add, that for the people that are celebrating and feeling jubilant, there still will be daily stresses and challenges in our lives. The notion that a new occupant to the oval office will solve all of our struggles in life is somewhat wishful thinking. On the other hand for those folks that are despondent and full of despair, please remember that the United States and its Constitution have been around for a while and tested many times and it still is a strong and proud republic. So to all those that were thinking of sitting shiva, please keep in mind,the sky is not falling.
So the next time we break bread or raise a glass with someone that we have disagreed during this election season, let us take a deep breath and enjoy each other's company. Life is just too important to choose otherwise.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is Winning All the Time a Great Thing ?

“Winning isn't everything. It’s the only thing.” So declared  Vince Lombardi, the
legendary coach of the Green Bay  Packers. That attitude has been adopted as sacred gospel by our society. At the conclusion of the most recent Super Bowl, Cam Newton the quarterback that led his team to great heights only to succumb in America’s favorite game, really was taken to task for not going all the way. This perspective manifests itself in many ways outside the football field. From the classroom to the playground, we have become all about winning. We are increasingly unforgiving about any setbacks and defeats. Indeed there is a major presidential candidate that has anchored his campaign on the notion of constant winning and that he can deliver uninterrupted winning.

Putting aside the reality for a moment that this is even remotely possible, I would even further ask, Is winning all the time even desirable ? Is there something to learn from losing occasionally ? Are there any teachable moments that can emerge from a defeat ? All these questions appear to be  unheard of in the alternate reality of presidential politics and beyond, but these are questions that beg to be asked.

In fact, Jewish tradition enlightens us about the virtue in failure. No less an authority than King Solomon wrote that the righteous fall down seven times before rising up. Some have suggested that doesn't mean that the righteous rise despite falling 7 times, rather, it's the righteous that rise precisely because they stumbled on multiple occasions. That is not to suggest that a person should not aspire to win and be successful but when there is a stumbling block, it can be utilized as an opportunity to learn from for the future.

In fact, there was an very interesting article called,  10 reasons Why C students are more successful after graduation, which among other things says that they understand that failure is a beautiful teacher. One of the ideas mentioned in the article, is that they are not perfectionists. This is why so many successful entrepreneurs struggled in school. Learning to handle failure in (hopefully) small doses equips people for bigger challenges.
Michael Jordan arguably the greatest basketball player of all time put it best when he said,”I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

It’s time to stop fantasizing about marrying the perfect person, having the perfect life and dare I say it, electing the perfect president. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and attaching ourselves to the notion of constantly winning is not only totally inconsistent with reality, it deprives us of the opportunity to grow from our failures.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Case to Mourn

So, it’s that time of year again. Tisha B’av. This is the national day of mourning for the Jewish people. We commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash/Jewish Temple that was destroyed not once but twice over the course of history. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. In observance of this we engage in intense mourning for about 24 hours once a year. Not only do we abstain from eating, drinking, showering etc. – we sit on the floor and wail from the Book of Lamentations.
The question I would ask is, how can we mourn for something that is gone if we never personally experienced it to begin with? The Temple seems so distant in the past and we don’t even know who the Babylonians are at this point. How does one find meaning in this day? Are we just going through the motions with our practices of mourning?
It occurred to me that we are not only sad about the absence of a building in Jerusalem that no longer exists. No matter how devastating it is that we no longer have our central house of worship that just reflects the state that we find ourselves in. That is the state of Hester Panim/ G-d’s Concealed Face. The basic understanding of this idea is that although God is very much present in our lives, “His Face” remains concealed. That translates into a perceived lack of justice in the world. That is why we struggle with so much pain, suffering and tragedy. If only we were able to experience the Godly radiance in our lives, we would see so much more blessing and have much more clarity. Alas, His Face is concealed. The devastating consequences cannot be overstated. From terrorism that is growing to tyranny that is flourishing, we suffer every day and many times during the day from being in this state of Hester Panim.
Our holidays are not just events of commemoration, but rather occasions to reflect, relive and amplify the root cause of the day.
As we sit on the floor on Tisha B’av and hear the solemn Book of Lamentations being read, let us remember that beyond mourning our shattered past, we also mourn for our current state of affairs. I think about the isolation of the one and only Jewish state and how that state is the only country in the world that faces calls for its destruction. I think about how “Zion” has become a dirty word in most world capitals and citadels of culture in the world. I think about the only country in the world that does not have a right to name its own capital.  I think about all the people who have perished in terror attacks that have been unleashed by the forces that champion hate. I think about all the people suffering from terminal illnesses. I think about many young widows and orphans that struggle to make it through the day. I think about all the people that are undergoing financial distress and struggle to pay their monthly rent and put some groceries in their cupboard. I think about all the heroic parents who despite their best intentions and rock solid values have their children grow up and reject the values that were most dear to them. I think about all this and understand that the root cause of all these most unfortunate and tragic circumstances is that we live in an era of Hester Panim. I hope and pray that we will one day break out of this unfortunate state. I hope and pray that we hear that sound of the shofar that will usher in an era of not only world peace and goodness but most importantly an era in which God’s Face is not concealed but where we feel His warmth and love. Until then I will get on the floor and mourn and perhaps even shed a tear about the state of Hester Panim that seems to be intensifying at the moment.

I hope you have a meaningful Tisha B’av.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Case Study in Perspectives and Priorities

I dedicate this post on my blog to my uncle, Chaim Perl of blessed memory, who suddenly passed away on Leil Shabbos, August 15, 2014.

Ready or not, Elul is here. Elul is the time to finally stop kicking the can down the road. This past year on Rosh Hashanah, many of us were inspired to engage in self-improvement in one way or another. For some of us it was in the area of our relationship with G-d; this would be the year that our engagement with prayer and Torah study would significantly improve. For others, it was the focus on improving relationships. The myriad of relationships we have in life are often complex and troubled.  It takes a significant investment of commitment, time and energy to ensure that the relationships we have with our spouse, parents, and children are healthy and meaningful.

Despite all the good intentions we may have had at the onset of the year, we find ourselves bogged down with daily routines.  Life is busy and we get distracted easily.  Often times the distractions need to be dealt with immediately.  Keeping our priorities straight and not lose perspective is challenging.  We get confronted with situations that can be so stressful that it knocks us off our mark and we forget about our priorities and the perspectives that we had on Rosh Hashanah.

I am writing this shortly after leaving the shiva that observed the passing of a man I thought I knew. This man was my uncle who suddenly passed away and left behind his grieving wife and six children. His children spoke with pain in their voices but with a deep sense of pride about the man that was their dad. As I left the shiva home I reflected about my uncles rock solid priorities and perspectives.

He had many priorities, but he always put his family first. At 5:30 am, he went to pick up my elderly grandfather to drive him to synagogue so he could attend a pre dawn Talmud class. Afterwards, he drove to attend the Talmud study program that he participated in. Despite the many hours he spent in business, he was always there to go over homework with his kids every evening. In an age where there is not nearly enough times that children hear and feel they were loved, there was no doubt that his family felt the intense love. His wife reflected that in 30 years of marriage, he was home for every Shabbos with the exception of four.

When it came time to select a shul to daven in, he had one criteria -- he must have room for all of his sons to sit next to him. In an age where many  people select the shul based upon the best kiddush club or who they can socialize with, this is all the more unusual.

Even when it came to legitimate grievances that many people have within the Orthodox Jewish community, he maintained the proper perspective.
The issue of rising tuition cost for yeshiva day schools has frustrated many and caused much anger in our communities. My uncle simply told me that the fact that he pays tuition for six children in the yeshiva day school system is the best investment. He and his wife were investing in the long term spiritual growth of their kids.

Rest in peace, dear uncle. Your days in this world were few and finite. Your days in the  world of truth , undoubtedly, will be eternal and infinite.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day !!!

Happy Mother’s Day !

I dedicate this blog post to my mother for all of her unconditional love that she provided for our family.

One of the most important day for florists and chocolate makers  is this Sunday which is of course is Mother’s Day. Originally when Anne Jarvis started the campaign for mother’s day to be an official holiday, it was met with resistance and did not come with any commercial association. Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Jarvis’s zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world.
However, as with many worthy endeavors this met some firm resistance. In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller scorned the resolution as "absolutely absurd”.  He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."
This didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.
The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day—newspapers told stories of hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.
Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”
That being said, it is important to have a day that recognizes the true heroes on this planet. I am referring to all the moms out there. They invest sleepless nights for the betterment of their kids. They provide physical and emotional care that each child can thrive in their environment.
There are so many things in life that may seem obvious but are left unsaid. We are so busy that many times it is the most basic things like hugging our kids or saying” I Love you “ that  fall through the cracks. For those of us that are fortunate to have our mom around, let us take advantage of this day and not lose the opportunity to thank our moms for everything they have done for us.

I have included a video for you to watch this week. Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Are the Winter Olympics Sexist ?

I remember the thrill I had the first time I watched the Winter Olympics. The 1988 games were held in Calgary and as a young proud Canadian I was so excited that the coveted games were in Canada. There was the “Battle of the Brian’s” in the men’s figure skating. Brian Orser was representing Canada and he was going up against his main rival, Brian Boitano from the U.S.A. I remember feeling disappointed when Boitano outskated Orser for the gold medal.

In 1994, the anticipation leading up to the women’s figure skating was unmatched in terms of drama and suspense. Nancy Kerrigan was physically attacked by accomplices of her teammate Tonya Harding.  Kerrigan recovered and went on to win the silver medal and become a national hero.

I look forward to the games every four years. Or should I?

I have noticed over the years there is a growing difference in terms of the intensity of competition between men and women’s events, governed by the International Olympic Committee at the Olympics. Consider the following:

·         In biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting. The women compete in a 7.5K sprint, a 10K individual pursuit, a 15K individual race, a 12.5K mass start and a 4x6K relay. The men's distances for the same races are 10K, 12.5K, 20K, 15K and 4x7.5K.

·         Cross-country has a similar story, where the men's races are anywhere from 50% to 100% longer than the women's. The longest women's race is 30 KM. The men go 50 KM.

·          In long-track speed skating, the men's longest race is 10,000 meters. The women's is 5,000 meters. In short track, the men skate a 5,000-meter relay; the women go 3,000 meters.

·               The first Olympic women's ski-jumping competition, was scheduled this week for the first time ever, at the Winter Games on a normal hill whereas the men have three competitions—normal hill, large hill and a team event.

The International Olympic committee responded to The Wall Street Journal’s request for an explanation about the differences between the men and women at the games.
Sandrine Tonge, a spokesman for the IOC, wrote: “The Olympic Sports program is established with the active contribution of the international federations and contains similarities and distinctions between the two genders. In cross country and biathlon for example, there are similarities in sprints while traditionally, the long distances are shorter for women.”

(This is only partly true. The women’s sprint Tuesday was 1.3 kilometers compared with the 1.8 kilometer men’s track, a nearly 40% difference.)

What is going on here? In the enlightened world of 2014, why are there are such gaps in the standards of the competition ? Is the IOC suggesting that men are in superior physical shape and can handle more intense competition? Or is there an unspoken understanding that there are physical differences between men and women with no gender being superior and that would result in different expectations standards for the respective sports?

I am asking this question because it seems to me that Orthodox Judaism is increasingly being accused of being sexist and gender bias towards women. This has come under the microscope lately with two Jewish schools allowing women to wear tefilin. We are being told that there should be no differences in terms of mitzvah obligations for men and women. To suggest otherwise and say that there are differences between the genders for tallis, tefilin, and minyan is being interpreted by some that women do not count as being important.

That is quite unfortunate because Orthodox Judaism does not just respect women. We revere women. We also recognize that not only do men and women have physical differences but they have spiritual differences and that while no gender is superior; there are different spiritual needs that are nourished by different mitzvos for the different genders.

Is it possible to view this sensitive and delicate issue this way or not?

In any case, I am still looking forward to the Winter Games, especially Team Canada sweeping the gold in both men's and women's hockey.

Please share your thoughts.