Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Choosing To Be Grateful

After experiencing heart palpitations, Irving checks himself in for treatment at a prestigious, state-of-the-art hospital. A few days later, he arranges to be transferred to a dingy little hospital a few blocks away. His friend comes to visit him and asks why he decided to downgrade.
“Did you think that the doctors in the other hospital weren’t competent?”
“The doctors,” Irving replied, “were absolute geniuses, about the doctors I can’t complain!”
“Maybe it was the nurses. You didn’t like their bedside manner?”
“The nurses,” Irving responded, “they were angels in human form! Florence Nightingale’s every one of them! About the nurses, I can’t complain!”
“So I guess it was the food? The food wasn’t good?”
“The food, it was mannah from heaven, absolutely delicious. About the food, I can’t complain!”
“Then Irving, why on earth did you move from there to here?!”
“Because here I can complain!”
As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be worth a bit of reflection if we have on more than occasion become negative, and if we perhaps can improve our feelings of gratitude. This is easier said than done. There are so many challenges, difficulties, and sometimes pain in our lives. How do we summon the strength to be grateful and positive considering all the mishugas that we sometimes have to deal with?
It’s important to realize that having the right frame of mind in terms of gratitude is a matter of choice. Two people can have an identical experience. One of them will provide feedback about how wonderful the experience was and how grateful he is for the opportunity to take part in it. However, the other individual will be so negative about the experience and won’t stop complaining about it. This Thanksgiving, let us be more cognizant of the blessings bestowed on us by G-d, our family, and our community and let us make the conscious choice to be more grateful as we travel through the journey of life.

Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Strengthening Your Marriage

This week’s Parsha gives us a front-row seat to an institution that is extraordinarily complex. It can range anywhere from incredibly joyous to unpleasant and painful. I am referring, of course, to the institution of marriage. It can be said that as a society, this institution is increasingly beleaguered. With divorce rates rising and hovering at around 50% in America, the failure rates of marriage within our Jewish Community on the national level continue to climb. Almost as disturbing are couples that, although married, merely coexist with one another. Many times, the necessary foundational blocks that are necessary for a couple to have a successful and thriving marriage are absent. The couple may continue to go through the various phases of life, merely sharing a home but not much else. As we reflect on this ever-important issue and as we read about the matrimony of our ancestors in this week’s Parsha, I will take the liberty sharing some timeless wisdom from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin on this topic. 

1. Keep your mind on your primary goal, which is to have a happy marriage. Say and do what will enable you and your spouse to have a happy marriage. Avoid the opposite. Everything else is commentary.
2. Keep asking yourselves, “What can we do to have a happy, loving atmosphere in our home?”
3. Focus on giving rather than taking. Say and do as many things as possible to meet your spouse’s needs.
4. Keep doing and saying things that will give your spouse a sense of importance.
5. Frequently ask yourself, “What positive things can I say and do to put my (husband or wife) in a positive emotional state?”
6. Before speaking, clarify the outcome you want. The meaning of your communication is the response you actually get. If the first thing you say is not achieving your goal, change your approach. Remember that mutual respect and happiness is your real goal.
7. Show appreciation and gratitude in as many ways as possible. Say something appreciative a few times a day
8. Be a good listener. Understand your spouse from his or her point of view.
9. Be considerate of the feelings and needs of your spouse. Think of ways that you have lacked consideration and be resolved to increase your level of consideration.
10. Instead of blaming and complaining, think of positive ways to motivate your spouse. If your first strategies aren’t effective, think of creative ways.
11. Give up unrealistic expectations. Don’t expect your spouse to be perfect and don’t make comparisons.
12. Don’t cause pain with words. If your spouse speaks to you in ways that cause you pain, choose outcome wording, “Let’s speak to each other in ways that are mutually respectful.”
13. Be willing to compromise. Be willing to do something you would rather not do in return for similar behavior from your spouse.
14. Write a list of ways that you have benefited from being married to your spouse. Keep adding to the list and reread it frequently.
15. Write a list of your spouse’s positive patterns and qualities. Keep adding to the list and read it frequently.
16. Keep thinking about what you can do to bring out the best qualities of your spouse. Reinforce those qualities with words and actions.
17. Focus on finding solutions to any problems that arise. Be solution-oriented. Don’t just blame and complain. Don’t focus on who is more wrong. For a happy marriage, work together to find mutually acceptable solutions.
18. Remember your finest moments. What did you say and do when you felt best about each other? Increase them.
19. Look for positive activities you can do together.
20. Live in the present. What went wrong in the past is the past. You create the present and future with your thoughts, words, and actions right now. Choose them wisely.

Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

An Individual's Response to Rocket Fire

The past few days have been trying times for millions of people living in Southern and Central Israel. The barrage of rockets that have been unleashed from the terror infrastructure in Gaza has caused many anxious residents to scurry for the nearest shelter. It would be unthinkable to think of any sovereign nation that would have to tolerate such an attack in its civilian population. It would be a near certainty for the country to go to war with the mission of destroying the enemy, and there would be international understanding if not outright support. Yet, this is Israel, which is facing the attacks, and besides a couple of notable exceptions, there has been a lot of indifference and even outright condemnation towards Israel from other countries. Consider the reaction of Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, who had this response to the Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip that killed a top Islamic Jihad commander. It released a statement blaming Israel for the ensuing escalation in violence. And this is coming from a country that has a peace treaty with Israel! It’s rather easy to get demoralized when thinking about the constant threats that Israel faces from multiple different borders and not to mention the existential threat that it faces from bad actors in the region. In light of the situation, it’s vital that one does not feel helpless but rather practically think of something to do. I want to suggest a couple of things:

Prayer. It’s important not to become desensitized and believe that this situation has been going on for a long time, and the status quo will be here indefinitely. Our Rabbis have taught that in times of need, we should pour hearts out to our Father in Heaven and ask for heavenly protection for our brothers and sisters in harm’s way. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, visited the residents of Southern Israel and said the following. “We’ve merited to live in the land about which the Torah testifies: ‘The land which the eyes of Hashem your G-d are on it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.’ The eyes of G-d are on it, and we see and hear sounds of explosions slightly south and east from here. They’re firing at us without regard to men, women, and children, but they’re firing at those protected by the Iron Dome of the Creator of the Word.” Let us spend a few moments during our prayer to focus on those in harm’s way as the power of prayer is compelling and significant.

2 Advocacy. The majority of the rockets did not cause injury or harm despite the barrage of nearly 400 rockets being fired in a couple of days. A good part of the reason for that is the Iron Dome that is deployed throughout Israel. The Iron Dome is an air defense system used by Israel to intercept and destroy short-range rockets, artillery shells and mortars fired from distances of up to 45 miles. Each Iron Dome battery costs about $100 million; Israel currently has nine batteries. And each Iron Dome Tamir missile that Israel fires — and usually two are sent up to intercept each descending rocket — costs at least $50,000. The United States has provided financial assistance to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of the Iron Dome. This did not happen in a vacuum. This was the result of an ongoing advocacy effort by individuals and organizations that communicated the importance of Israel’s security to members of Congress. The leading organization involved in this effort is AIPAC. It’s important for us to recognize this and join their efforts so we can do our part in ensuring peace and security in the Jewish State. 

Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Has the promise panned out?

This week we are reintroduced to arguably the most important person in the History of the Jewish People, and that is Abraham. We learn about this individual who left his hometown and comfortable surroundings at the age of 75 to an unknown land. When he arrives in the rocky and barren land of Canaan, he experiences a closeness to G-d as he had never felt. It was an incredible manifestation of G-d’s presence, which was unparalleled to any other location on earth.
G-d than communicated to Abraham that his descendants will inherit this auspicious land. That is the beginning of our people’s story in which G-d declared that the descendants of Abraham would be the chosen people. He also promised Israel would be their homeland in which its people can connect to G-d and his Torah in a spiritually conducive environment. Abraham and his wife Sarah, are interred in the Machpelah Cave in Hebron, and Jews continue to travel there to seek that closeness to G-d.

A fair question would be, has that promise panned out, and in what way? I recall the beginning of the History of Jews by Paul Johnson, who writes the following:

Hebron has great and venerable beauty. It provides peace and stillness often to be found in ancient sanctuaries. But its stones are mute witnesses to constant strife and four millennia of religious and political disputes. It has been in turn a Hebrew shrine, a synagogue, a Byzantine basilica, a mosque, a crusader church, and then a mosque again. Herod the Great enclosed it with a majestic wall, which still stands, soaring nearly 40 feet high, composed of massive hewn stones, some of them 23 feet long. Saladin adorned the shrine with a pulpit. Hebron reflects the long, tragic history of the Jews and their unrivaled capacity to survive their misfortunes. David was anointed king there. When Jerusalem fell, the Jews were expelled and it was settled by Edom. It was conquered by Greece, then by Rome, converted, plundered by the Zealots, burned by the Romans, occupied in turn by Arabs, Franks and Mamluks. From 1266 the Jews were forbidden to enter the Cave to pray. They were permitted only to ascend seven steps by the side of the eastern wall. On the fourth step they inserted their petitions to God in a hole bored 6 feet 6 inches through the stone. Even so, the petitioners were in danger. In 1518 there was a fearful Ottoman massacre of the Hebron Jews. But a community of pious scholars was re-established. It maintained a tenuous existence, composed, at various times, of orthodox Talmudists, of students of the mystic kabbalah, and even of Jewish ascetics, who flogged themselves cruelly until their blood spattered the hallowed stones. Jews were there to welcome, in turn, the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, in the 1660s, the first modern Christian pilgrims in the eighteenth century, secular Jewish settlers a hundred years later, and the British conquerors in 1918. The Jewish community, never very numerous, was ferociously attacked by the Arabs in 1929. They attacked it again in 1936 and virtually wiped it out. When Israeli soldiers entered Hebron during the Six Day War in 1967, for a generation not one Jew had lived there. But a modest settlement was re-established in 1970. Despite much fear and uncertainty, it has flourished. So when the historian visits Hebron today, he asks himself: where are all those peoples which once held the place? Where are the Canaanites? Where are the Edomites? Where are the ancient Hellenes and the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Mamluks and the Ottomans? They have vanished into time, irrevocably. But the Jews are still in Hebron.

Four thousand years later, G-d’s promise to Abraham is still being realized. Let us never lose sight of this gift to us.

Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

First Things First

As time has progressed and the years go by, it seems we are getting busier than ever and being faced with more choices all the time. For example, the average home in the United States has a television that receives 189 channels. That seems to be a quite high number and a radical departure from the 3 or 4 channels available on the dial on their TV not too long ago. I see this in the produce section of the grocery store as well, where there are not just tomatoes, but multiple different kids that include; beefsteak, cherry, grape, vine-ripened tomatoes, roma, ugly ripe, and the list goes on and on.

I think about this as we have emerged from the High Holiday season and the Jewish New Year, and we have once again reflected on how we can engage in self-improvement. Yet, as we resume our daily routine and activities, we are once again facing the same long list of things to do, and our noble aspirations for the New Year have once again been relegated to the back burner.

There is a powerful insight from this week’s portion about the importance of setting priorities or “First Things First,” as Stephen Covey calls it. In the aftermath of the devastating flood that literally destroyed the civilization of the world, there is a veiled rebuke of Noah. The Torah refers to him as a “Man of the Earth who planted a vineyard.” This is a departure from his earlier claim to fame as a “Righteous Man”. Now he was just a man of the earth since he was planting a vineyard for the ultimate purpose of having wine to drink. Many have questioned this unusually harsh perspective on Noah. After all, this was a man who was holed up for a year on the ark with all sorts of animals, and he comes out of the ark and finds a destroyed world. Who can begrudge or criticize the man for wanting a nice glass of wine?

There is a compelling lesson in priorities learned from this episode. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with Noah having some wine to drink after an extraordinarily stressful year. The mistake he made was in setting his priorities. This was the immediate aftermath of the flood which destroyed the world because of Man’s follies. As he emerged from the ark and began to live again, there surely were more severe and critical undertakings that Noah could have started that would improve society as a whole. The notion of him hitting the reset button by planting a vineyard to make some wine from was a missed opportunity in setting appropriate priorities. Let’s hope that we can be mindful of this story as we are faced with endless choices, and we are challenged to set our priorities as well.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Understanding the Process

It seems that a broad consensus of people agree that Monday is their least favorite day of the week. Who can blame them? After a weekend of leisure, one must return to the workplace on Monday and another week of blah. For students, it’s their first day back at school after a weekend of fun and who can blame them for feeling less than enthusiastic for a return to the classroom. Some have said that was the genius of the NFL to come up with Monday Night Football to take away some of the early week despondency. It turns out that the feeling of getting the blues on Monday may have Biblical roots. In this week’s parsha of Bereishis, we learn about the creation of the world. On every day of creation, after G-d saw what had been created, He declared, “Ki Tov/it was good.” This declaration of “Ki Tov” was announced on every single day of creation except one. Can you guess which day had the glaring omission of G-d’s declaration that it was good? If you guessed Monday, then you are correct. The second day of the week may be associated with getting the blues for all time, for it lacked G-d’d declaration that all was good. On a more serious note, Rashi comments that the declaration of Ki Tov was omitted on Monday simply because the creation of the water was incomplete in terms of its assigned location. That aspect was completed on Tuesday, and indeed, G-d made the declaration of Ki Tov twice on Tuesday.

It seems that there is a larger message is about understanding the importance of the process. This is especially important in our generation when we are becoming accustomed to instant results and satisfaction all the time. It was just a few decades ago that the microwave oven was invented, and now it occupies space in practically every kitchen in America because we need things cooked in no time. The opposite of that is the crockpot, which is a slow cooker. Some dishes need to undergo a process of a slow cooker in order to achieve perfection. If you put these dishes in a microwave, the results would be disastrous. The same applies to anything meaningful in life, from spiritual growth to child-rearing. While we may desire instant results, we must understand there is a process to succeed. In fact, G-d reminded us of this on the first Monday in the history of the world by telling us that sometimes we must wait until Tuesday to hear Ki Tov.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Shabbos Shuva

The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is famous for being referred to as Shabbos Shuva. The primary reason for this name is that the Haftorah that is read begins with this word, Shuvah. The truth of the matter is, not only is the word Shuva the root of the famous word or idea Teshuva, it is a fundamental idea in Judaism. The meaning of Shuva is return. The puzzling thing about understanding Shuvah or returning, is where exactly are we returning to? Did we get lost from any particular place that we need to return to? As far as I can tell, if I am not lost, there is no need to return anywhere.

The idea of Shuva touches on a much deeper concept regarding body and soul. Throughout our lives, our bodies and souls are in conflict with one another. The body just craves earthly pleasures since it is just a product from the earth. However, the soul craves spiritual desires since it is a product of the heavens where Almighty G-d resides. The more the body is taken care of and nurtured, and the soul is neglected, the soul will feel empty and shallow. If this goes on for a while, a person may live with many external riches but feel an internal emptiness precisely because his soul has been neglected. Can anyone say mid-life crisis? This is where Shuvah comes in. It’s a message to tell your soul to return to its calling of connecting to the service of G-d. The soul ultimately wants to connect, but it’s the distractions of the materialistic world that get in the way. Shuvah says don’t pay attention to all the distractions. Just let your soul connect to its original mission. It would be a great message all year round but especially poignant a few days before Yom Kippur.

Choosing To Be Grateful

After experiencing heart palpitations, Irving checks himself in for treatment at a prestigious, state-of-the-art hospital. A few days later,...