Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Would You Do If You Found $98,000 ?

Are you ever in a situation where you know what the right thing is but it is difficult to actually make that decision? Do you feel that sometimes you may compromise your values because that moment caught you off guard? If you answered yes, Mazel Tov, you are a human being that has challenges that you have to work out.

Every once in a while, we hear a story that we can only marvel that someone had the courage, strength, and character to do the “right thing” when it is so tempting to do otherwise and yet chose wisely. I am thinking of the recent story with a young rabbi in New Haven, Connecticut.

Rabbi Noach Muroff had been searching the online classified listings for a desk for his office, finally finding one that met his needs several days before Rosh Hashana.  Folding down the rear seats in his minivan, he went to pick up the desk, which he purchased from its original owner for $150.

“It fit perfectly into my van but when we got home, it was about a quarter of an inch too big to fit into my office,” Rabbi Muroff said.  “It was crazy that it didn't fit by such a small amount.  We tried taking the hinges off the door, but it didn’t work.”

Instead, he unscrewed the top of the desk, and after doing so, noticed a white plastic shopping bag wedged in behind one of the desk’s side filing cabinets.
“We took out the bag and we could see that there was money inside,” said Rabbi Muroff.

In fact, the bag was stuffed with neatly bundled stacks of one hundred dollar bills.
“We brought it to the table and counted it out and there was $98,000,” said Rabbi Muroff.  “It was me, my wife and a friend who was here and we looked at it each other and said, ‘this can’t be real.  This only happens in the movies.’

There was never a question about what to do with the money.
“My wife and I both knew immediately that we would return it,” explained R’ Muroff.  “When I was picking up the desk, the lady, who wasn't Jewish, told me that she had bought the desk at Staples and put it together herself.  We knew the money was hers and she was speechless when we called her to tell her we had found it.”
According to Rabbi Muroff, the original owner of the desk, a middle aged woman identified only as Patty, knew that she had hidden her nest egg in the desk but was unable to locate it when it fell behind the filing cabinet.  Assuming the money had to be somewhere else in her house, the woman sold the desk, never once suspecting that it still contained her life’s savings.

“If we hadn’t had to take the desk apart we never would have found it,” observed Rabbi Muroff.

Rabbi Muroff, returned to the woman’s house the next day with his wife and four small children.

“We took the kids along because we thought it was a good opportunity to teach them about being honest,” said Rabbi Muroff.

In a world which we continue to shocked by senseless acts of violence and cruelty, it is refreshing to see someone not only perform a great mitzvah of returning a lost object but also inspiring others to be honest and ethical.

I hope and pray that more can follow the path of this righteous man.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reacting to False Perceptions

Have you ever been confronted with a perception of a situation that is off the mark or even completely false? I find this to be very upsetting and frustrating. For example, whenI see news report of soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces portrayed in various propaganda outlets in a negative light, it is very upsetting.
The question though is, do we just dismiss this perception as foolish and basically do nothing or do we have to be proactive in combating these false perceptions ?


I think we see a fascinating lesson from this weeks parsha regarding this. The Torah emphasizes in the first verse of the parsha not once but twice that Isaac was the son of Abraham. Rashi explains the necessity for this. It so happens to be that for many decades that Abraham and Sarah were married and they were unable to have kids. Once Sarah was kidnapped by a tribal king named Avimelech and spent the night in his palace. Avimelech was afflicted with an illness and decided to release Sarah. Shortly after, Sarah was starting to show signs of pregnancy. All the tabloids and late night TV shows started whispering rather loudly that Avimelech had fathered the child that Sarah was carrying. G-d made this special miracle that their son Isaac looked identical to Abraham.
I have often wondered, why did God go to such great lengths to prove the tabloids wrong? Who cares what was being written in the gossip columns or in the monologue of the late night TV shows? Why respond to such pathetic allegations?
I think we learn from here a very important thing about how to deal with a false perception. We must be proactive in combating these perceptions before they take a life of their own. We must articulate why they are false and then make the case for what is the correct version of the events. As King Solomon wrote we must find grace in the eyes of God and Man. Of course, Man cannot be compared to God. Yet, there is a mandate for us to demonstrate that all of our actions are ethical in the eyes of Man and if there is a false perception – we must take the pains of correcting this.
If God felt this was important with the allegation about the identity of Isaac’s father – what can we say?
Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Losing with Dignity

There is no question about it. We all want to win and win big. It’s a great feeling coming out on top after a hard fought competition. The reality in life is that losing is inevitable. No baseball team ever went 162-0 in a season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are unique in the world of sports precisely because they were the only team even to go unbeaten in one season in the NFL.

I won’t address the issue of how a defeat or setback can be transformed into a learning opportunity. That will be the subject of a future post on this blog. I want to focus on how we can learn how to accept defeat with grace. This is definitely not an easy thing, but it’s one of those things that separate the men from the boys.

There is a fascinating story in the Talmud that reflects this idea. Prior to the destruction of the Beis Hamkidash (Temple) in Jerusalem, the Romans imposed a siege around the Holy City. The leading rabbi of that generation, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was smuggled out in a coffin after faking his death to the other side of the city walls. Over the objection of a local Jewish militia he wanted to negotiate with the Romans. He met the Roman general and addressed him with great respect. The general was very impressed with the rabbi and asked him what I can do for you!

Let’s stop for a moment there. If you had the opportunity to speak to the military leader of the invading army and he is willing to grant your request, I think it is a no brainer – call off the siege and spare the Holy City and all of its residents of the coming onslaught. Yet, that is not what the rabbi asked for. He asked for three modest requests including that the rabbinic court in Yavneh called the Sanhedrin be spared from the attack. A short time later the Romans invaded Jerusalem destroyed the Temple, killed many of its citizens and exiled the others.

Did Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai miss a golden opportunity? Why didn't he just ask for Jerusalem to be spared? Why not capitalize on the moment?

We learn a powerful lesson from here. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was teaching us how to lose with dignity. He knew that the Romans had decided that they were going into destroy Jerusalem. He figured he should salvage whatever he could. He asked for the Sanhedrin in Yavneh to be spared. In retrospect, this turned out to be a brilliant move. The fact that the Sanhedrin survived guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people through Jewish Education.

One of the best parts of watching a football game is watching the losing coach congratulate the winning coach with a handshake or hug after the game.
It is not fun to lose, but losing with dignity and grace can be more meaningful than  a win.

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are you willing to settle for the status quo ?

We are faced with challenges of all kind throughout our lives. Sometimes we are faced with personal challenges that can cause us to do much reflecting and soul searching. Yet there are times that as a nation we must pause and reflect if the direction we are going in is viable or do the challenges that surround us threaten that.
I am not referring to the U.S Government shutdown that due to the intransigence of various elected officials left much of the federal government closed for nearly two weeks. That is probably worth exploring a different time. I would entitle that post – Are The Founding Fathers Rolling in their Graves?

I am referring to the much debated survey of American Jews that was released by the Pew Institute.
The proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all.

Other notable findings were :
Overall, the intermarriage rate is at 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent.

* Overall, 22 percent of U.S. Jews describe themselves as having no religion, and the survey finds they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish. Broken down by age, 32 percent of Jews born after 1980 — the so-called millennial generation — identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19 percent of baby boomers and just 7 percent of Jews born before 1927.
* Emotional attachment to Israel has held steady over the last decade, with 69 percent of respondents saying they feel attached or very attached to Israel. Forty-three percent of respondents said they had been to Israel.
* Far more respondents said having a good sense of humor was essential to their Jewish identity than observing Jewish law — 42 percent compared to 19 percent.
* Approximately one-quarter of Jews said religion is very important in their lives, compared to 56 percent among Americans generally.
* Less than one-third of American Jews say they belong to a synagogue. Twenty-three percent of U.S. Jews say they attend synagogue at least once or twice a month, compared with 62 percent of U.S. Christians.
So my question is do we just accept this or can we actually do something about this? I am firmly believe this is the test of our generation. Those of us that are fortunate to appreciate the richness and beauty of Judaism should think long and hard about how we can make a positive difference in the lives of Jews who have not experienced the beauty of our heritage.
It all can begin with the action of an individual. If you have the opportunity to invite someone for a Shabbos meal – seize the moment. You never know how the dormant spark of another Jewish soul can be ignited when it is exposed to the beauty of a Shabbos table.
I think about this even more as we learn about Avraham in the weekly portion. If there was a Pew survey in his lifetime on this issue, it would have been even more depressing. After all there were less G-d fearing people in his generation than ours. Yet, he refused to surrender to the status quo and declared – I will make a meaningful difference in the world today  by reaching out to my fellow man and touching them with kindness and G-d’s values.
We have a choice to make. We can either just ignore the reality of our generation or we can declare ourselves to be aligned with Avraham and his legacy. In the battle between assimilation of U.S. Jewry and the will of the descendants of Avraham --- I am putting my money on the latter.

Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reflections on a Tragedy

This past Yom Kippur our community was afflicted with a horrible tragedy. During Kol Nidre services, I was giving my sermon to our Sephardic Minyan. (A couple of years ago we started a this service for all Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent and their service is steeped in their rich Sephardic Heritage). Someone had come into the minyan and informed us that there had been a major accident on San Jose Blvd and that one of our congregants en route to services at the Sephardic Minyan had been fatally struck. We learned that Esther Ohayon a beloved member of our community was killed in this horrific tragedy and her daughter Orly was taken to the hospital and was in critical condition.
Our Yom Kippur quickly turned into a day in intense grief. We still continued with services until the end of Yom Kippur but we were in this dark cloud that seemed to be suffocating.
How it is that such sweet, loving and righteous people could have that inflicted upon them on the way to synagogue? Weren’t they on their way to offer prayers to G-d and connect with Him on the holiest day of the year?  

It is not inappropriate to question G-d and ask questions of this nature. Indeed, we learn about Gideon in the Book of Judges, who questioned G-d after all the suffering that the Jews of his generation had to endure at the hands of the Midianites. He said “Where are all your wonders and miracles that accompanied the Jews when they left Egypt?
I do not pretend to know the answer to the age old question of how good people can suffer and evil people can prosper.  I do know what the Torah teaches us on this difficult issue. It is written in the end Deuteronomy that from the time the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from our homeland, G-d has concealed His face from us. This is referred in Hebrew as Hester Panim. The state of Hester Panim allows a world in which acts of terrorism, natural disasters and devastating tragedies to occur without understanding the reason for all of this. This state of concealment causes us to be confused and despondent when confronted with events of this nature.  Had the presence of G-d been less concealed, we would not be struggling to understand His will.
However, we continue to pray for this era of Hester Panim  to be over and done with. Indeed, that is a central theme of the High Holiday liturgy. We plead with G-d for Him to come closer to us and be less concealed.
Life is full of joyous and sad moments. In a moment like this we have to reflect on how fragile life is and how we must take advantage of each and every day. We have to be cognizant of all the blessings that we do have in life. Let us show appreciation to those closest to us. We should not take anything for granted including our families. It is important to tell your spouse “I Love You “or hug your child. If there is an opportunity to help someone in need, it is important to take advantage of those opportunities and not put them off.
I would also like to point out about how much goodness and kindness this tragedy has generated. People all over the world have come together for prayer and tzedaka in a very meaningful way. There was a prayer session at the Kotel in Jerusalem attended by dozens of Orly’s friends in Israel. Individuals from all over the world have contributed funds for the benefit of Orly. Locally, there has been an outpouring of generosity from all synagogues and agencies in our Jewish Community. My phone did not stop ringing for days with people offering how they can be of some help. It is nothing short of inspiring.
I think it is a very fitting tribute to Esther. She attended Chabad and Etz Chaim and taught at the pre school of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. She was a person that transcended the differences we sometimes have and connected in a very meaningful way with all Jews regardless of their denomination or observance. Even in her death she continues to unite the Jewish people in a way that is meaningful and inspiring.

May her memory always be a blessing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is there Another Way of Looking At This ?

The following story is fiction and being used to demonstrate a point.

Sarah is a woman who prides herself on being conscious about nutrition and exercise. She goes to great lengths to provide her family with meals and snacks that are nutritious and tasty. One can find lots of fresh vegetables at her dinner table. In fact, there is a fresh salad that is the first thing the family enjoys at the start of every dinner. That is followed by a serving of lean protein such as grilled chicken along with a starch that is whole grain and roasted veggies. The beverage department consists of juice and water. Soda is a four letter word in this home and not to be found even in its diet form. There is an allowance made once a week at this table and that is dessert, of course. Sarah serves some pie and ice cream in moderation every Wednesday evening. She and her family savor these delectable delights and are the highlight of their week. 

It makes Sarah feel better that the family takes a walk after dinner to burn of some of those calories. The family begrudgingly follows Sarah on her 20 minute walk after the Wednesday evening dinner.

On a particular Wednesday, just as Sarah was serving hot chocolate cake with some rich ice cream on the side, there was a knock at the door. The Mother in Law had arrived just to say hello. When she saw Sarah serving the dessert to her family, she began lecturing her on the importance of good nutrition and to keep sweets away from her family.

Now, let's pause and reflect for a moment. The truth of the matter is that technically the critic is correct. The dessert that was being served had no nutritional value and full of empty calories. Yet, when you take the entire situation into account it is clear that the dessert is a small component of the overall menu and lifestyle choice of Sarah and her family. When assesing a situation and making a judgment, we must see the forest and not just one tree and then come to a conclusion.

I have this thought as we study the mitzva of Bikkurim in this weeks parsha. The Torah teaches us the mitzva for the farmer to bring up the first of his harvest as an expression of gratitude to God. The Torah states, "You shall rejoice in all that is good". Was everything in their life good? Didn’t they have their fair share stress and challenges like bills to pay? 

We are being taught an important lesson. We must look at the big picture and realize despite the challenges and setbacks they we are confronted with -- It is all good. The question is not on what the reality on the ground is but rather what is our reaction to it.

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In G-d We Trust ?

There was once a rabbi that was talking between mincha and maariv about the importance of prayer and how that enables one to have a relationship with G-d. One of his congregants responded "enough about G-d -- let's start services".

That is not my favorite joke, but it highlights a sobering thought.

As we find ourselves in month of Elul, it is important to reassess our most important priorities. I think something that has got to be on this list is our relationship with G-d. In this case, I am also (although not exclusively) referring to the people that live committed lives as Orthodox Jews. We are so focused on keeping the the mitzvos (which is a wonderful thing), but do we think about who authored these laws and why we are engaged in them ?
We have to take a step back and realize how we got to this point. The Creator of the world created Man in order to have a relationship with Him and that we can be recipients of His kindness. The vehicle we have in our lives to have that connection is the Torah and Mitzvos (good deeds). Yet, sometime we are not focused on the ultimate goal which is obviously having a meaningful relationship with our Creator.

We are reminded of this every day during Elul at the conclusion of services. It is customary to recite Chapter 27 of Psalms. King David writes in this chapter " I have one request and that is what I truly desire: That I should dwell in house of G-d all the days of my life and see His pleasantness". 

The question that I have -- is that even on our radar screen? How prominent in our daily thoughts is this concept? When you consider doing a mitzva, is the G-d factor part of the equation? 

On occasion it is important to remind ourselves of the most important things in life. I think having this discussion is one of those topics.

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How Can I Find The Love ?

There are many relationships that can come to mind when we think of it being rooted in a foundation of love. There are two people that have strong feelings for each other and will express those feelings in a natural unconditional manner. This can be for a married couple or parent/child relationship. Sometimes this expression of love seems to be going in a one way direction. The parent that wakes up at 3 am feeds her infant is expressing her unconditional love toward her infant, despite being awakened at this hour.

There is another relationship that exists that is rooted in pure unconditional love. Arguably, his love is more intense or powerful than any other that exists. That is the relationship between God and Man. From the time of Adam, God has been there for us enabling us to succeed in his great, green earth. We are told in the Torah You are Children to Lord your God. He has been there for us allowing us to get on our two feet and helping us get up when we have our nasty falls.

However, like all relationships this one is imperfect. There are times when it gets quite rocky. We grow apart and become distant from one another. We may not feel the love from God and lose our enthusiasm to connect with Him with Torah, prayer and practicing kindness to others.

There is a time when reconciliation is appropriate and no better time to embark on this path than the month of Elul that we find ourselves in. The word Elul in Hebrew is the acronym for “I am for beloved and My beloved is for Me". God is telling us that while we may have drifted apart over the course of the year --- there is no better time to straighten things out. This is obviously easier said than done. This takes time and effort but as with anything meaningful, it is very rewarding and brings inner peace and contentment. This requires us to acknowledge that we have been the recipients of love and figure out how we can demonstrate our love and commitment. For some of us that may be studying Torah, for others that may mean having a few meaningful minutes engaged in prayer. Hopefully, this can get the relationship back on track before Rosh Hashanah which is rapidly approaching us.
 It all starts by asking ourselves -- How Can I Find The Love ?

I wish everyone a meaningful and uplifting Elul.

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Are We Just Going Through The Motions ?

Unfortunately, we have to observe another Tisha B'av this year. This day is our National Day of Mourning because of several catastrophic events that occurred on this day. The most depressing event that occurred on this day was the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago. Not only was the central location of Jewish worship destroyed after 420 years of being the spiritual oasis of the nation, but the surviving Jews were banished into exile, while Jerusalem lay in ruins.

The Rabbis declared that day always to be marked with intense mourning. One should refrain from eating, drinking, bathing among other things as well. People come to synagogue and sit on the floor as the Book of Lamentations is chanted in a somber tune.

My question is are we actually feeling the pain and mourning? Does it really bother us that the central location of Jewish worship has disappeared and been replaced with another house of worship by another faith ? 

I ask this especially in light of the root cause of the destruction of the Temple. It was not because people were not observing Shabbos or eating non-Kosher. It was because there was internal division among Jews. It was because mistrust and animosity replaced peace and harmony. It was because we were not sensitive enough to our brothers and sisters. Finally, G-d said if the people have so much friction with themselves, I am withdrawing My Presence. Shortly after, the Romans arrived and destroyed Jerusalem one block at a time until the most sacred area in Judaism was engulfed in flames.

So as we sit on the floor this year and bemoan the fact that there is no Temple in Jerusalem, let us contemplate the state of Jewry today both in here in the diaspora and in the Land of Israel. Let us ask ourselves if we have learned our lesson from the catastrophic events of two thousand years ago ? Why can't we show some mutual respect toward each one another even of the other person is less or more observantWhy does insisting that ones position is the correct one many times end up castigating another individual or an entire segment of Klal Yisrael ? How painful is it to hear that a Jewish soldier walks through a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem and is attacked because others don't agree with his opinion !

Let us look inward this Tisha B'av  and ask ourselves --Are we going to do anything to improve unity among Klal Yisrael? Or are we just going through the motions?

Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Virtue of Failure

Have you ever failed at something that left you feeling really deflated? Have you had your share of setbacks and disappointments? If you have, then you are like everyone in life. There is no one since the beginning of time until the very moment that you are reading this blog that has not failed at something. The question is, how do we react to our failures? Do we wallow in self-pity and despair? Have we fallen down that it is it too hard to get up? Or is it possible to somehow transform a failure into a positive experience?

I think there is a great lesson in this weeks parsha that speaks to this idea. The Torah articulates the 42 stops the Jewish people made along the way from Egypt into the Land of Israel over the course of their 40 year journey. Why was it necessary for the Torah to repeat all the times they stopped at a 7-11 along the way? Rashi explains this with a parable. There once was a king who had a very ill son. They traveled to a faraway land to seek the assistance of a well-known physician. They finally reached their destination and with G-D's help -- the child was cured from this deadly disease. On the way home, the king pointed out to his son all the difficulties that took place along the route to the destination. 

Rashi applies this lesson to the parsha. Now that we had reached the final destination -- the border of the Holy Land, G-d was pointing out all of our failures as well. This is where we had the Golden calf, the story of the Spies, Korach etc.

We were being reminded of our failures because it is precisely because of our failures that we were able to become successful. The people transformed the setbacks and disappointments into learning experiences for the future.

There was once a basketball player who said this about his career. "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."

This player is Michael Jordan -- the greatest player of all time.

Enough Said.

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is Tolerance a Jewish Value ?

After 40 years of leading his flock through the challenges of the desert terrain, Moshe was finally coming to terms with the fact that by Divine decree he would not enter the Land of Israel. Moshe was the ultimate selfless leader and pleaded with G-d to appoint a worthy successor. In this week’s parsha, we learn about the fascinating dialogue that takes place between Moshe and G-d about the necessary qualifications for this demanding position. Can you imagine trying to put together a job description to replace Moshe? What unique qualities did Moshe request that his successor possess? Was it being an outstanding scholar? A sharp judge?  Someone that would pray for 6 hours a day?

In fact Moshe did not mention any of these but a quality that is crucial in any leadership position, let alone the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish people. As Rashi points out, Moshe addressed G-d as the G-d of all spirits. Essentially what we he was telling G-d was that since there is so much diversity among people, they need a leader that can understand everyone where they are. (This was without him ever participating at a congregational meeting!) Please appoint a leader that can have tolerance towards each and every individual. To be sure, having tolerance doesn't mean agreeing with someone that has a differing view from you. In certain circumstances it is necessary to condemn various actions or behaviors. Rather it means that it is not necessary for you to shout down everybody that you disagree with.

In our own Jewish world when there is so much mistrust among different streams of our people -- I think this message is more timeless than ever. I may not agree with you but I love you as a fellow Jew because we ultimately we have a shared destine as one nation going all the way back to Mt Sinai.

Tolerance and Patience are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of strength and greatness. This is a core Jewish value. This is what Moshe prayed for in a successor. 

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

This is my hero. Who is Your Hero ?

We live in a word where we are told if someone can throw a ball a certain way or if they look a certain way, they are heroes and should be emulated. I think it is important to distinguish between being talented/good looking and being a hero. Not everyone that was born with G-d given talent should be called a hero simply because of their achievements.

My hero is not someone who has a flashy title. He did not make a lot of money in his lifetime. He was not the guy who threw a buzzer beater from the three point line to win the NBA Championship. He is not the hockey player from Brantford, Ontario who began ice skating at the age of two and went on to be known in the world of hockey as The Great One. (Although, I have to admit that I think Wayne Gretzky is pretty cool.)

 My hero is not the guy who wins the hot dog eating contest on Coney Island in Brooklyn every year and still weighs about 130 pounds. 

So who you may ask is my hero?

My hero was a man who believed that when Rabbi Akiva said “Love Your Friend as yourself is a Great Rule in the Torah ", and is not just empty rhetoric.

My hero was a great Torah scholar who loved all Jews unconditionally regardless of their affiliation or observance.

My hero was a man who refused to be dragged into the infighting of various camp within Judaism. On Rosh Hashanah we would pray in different shuls to show that he above the barriers that we sometime place among ourselves.

My hero was a man who accompanied his wife to the doctor because she was not well. When inquired by the doctor as to the reason their visit, He replied Our Leg is not feeling well.

My hero was a man who at a young age who made a vow always to judge people favorably and did so in the most trying circumstance for the rest of his life.

My hero was a man who greatly empathized with the pain of others. Upon hearing of the tragic news of a soldier from the IDF who had passed away, he would rush to the family and comfort the bereaved.

My hero was a man who always worked hard on restoring harmony between couples that were living in turmoil.

My hero was a man who transcended the pettiness we find in society and refused to believe that he can't be a force of good  that could change the world for the better.

My hero was a man who was so humble that he refused to have any eulogies at his funeral or words of praise on his monument.

My hero was a man who always visited Jewish prisoners during the British mandate and gave them encouragement hope and inspiration. He did this after no rabbi was willing to give up his Shabbos rest to go every single Shabbos and Jewish Holiday to say the prayers and read Torah to them. He would then walk tens of miles around Jerusalem bringing personal regard to their families who were concerned about their welfare.

My hero was a man who at his funeral had tens of thousands of people coming to pay their final respects and included the president, prime minister and cabinet ministers of Israel along with distinguished Chassidic rabbis and venerable deans of the leading yeshivas. They stood next to many officers of the Israel Defense Forces and former underground fighters who acknowledged him as their rabbi.

My hero is the man Menachem Begin described this way: This man appears and you watch his actions carefully and you are enchanted. You listen to his words and they touch your heart. You look at his eyes and they are clear and pure. You say in your heart: This man is a tzaddik (righteous).

My hero is Rabbi Aryeh Levin who passed away in 1968. He lived in a small apartment in Jerusalem. He wrote no essays. He gave no sermons or addresses before an audience of thousands. He never spoke at mass gatherings or let his voice travel on the airwaves of the radio or television. Yet his influence spread far and wide with people coming to seek warmth and encouragement.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin was an outstanding individual because always sought to bring out the best in people.

He is my hero. Who is your hero ?

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy Father's Day !

I think I will take a pass on the sensitive and controversial issues and write about Father's  Day. Then again being a father and at excelling at it is anything but easy. It is one of those jobs in life where us fathers receive no formal training but are expected to do well at it. As in the case of a driver that goes behind the wheel of an automobile without any training can endanger the welfare of others, the same applies to the fine art of being a dad. An irresponsible father can endanger the well-being of his child both physically and emotionally. Granted, I think the vast majority of dads are well meaning but sometimes still come up short in the area of fatherhood.

So I will offer some thoughts on what it takes to be a great dad. 

1) What's important to you is important to me. We have dreams and expectations that we want our children to fulfill as in "my son the doctor". I am not suggesting that we lower our expectations of excellence that we want our kids to reach, but rather to realize that the development of  a child/teen takes years to materialize  and we must demonstrate to them that we empathize with their challenges and struggles.  I remember reading a story about one of the greatest dads of the twentieth century -- Rav Moshe Feinstien of blessed memory. He is known as one of the greatest halachic authorities of that century, but less known is his excellence in fatherhood. His son Reuven (now Rav Reuven and a great man in his own right) would relate that they would have a daily Torah study session while they were vacationing in the Catskill Mountains. (That brings up another important topic -- vacation. That is for a future post on this blog.) There wasn't much for the kids to do back then (that was in the pre historic times before all the mobile devices that had games were invented.) Once a day, a farmer would drive his truck into town to pick up some supplies. The back of the truck was cushioned with hay, and the children would climb in for their daily ride. Many times as they were studying Torah, the truck was about to leave for the daily ride. Rav Moshe who arguably cared more about Torah study than anyone of his generation (he was at least in the top five of this exclusive category!) would stop and tell his son that they could continue later but for now he should make sure that he didn't miss the truck ride.

2) Unconditional Love. Your child should always know that no matter what their grades are or how clean their room is -- their dad will always love them unconditionally. We should not think that is a given that kids know that we love them but rather our words and our actions should reflect that. The child should know and feel that his or her dad will always love and care for them in all circumstances. This can even be demonstrated with small gestures. R' Reuven Feinstien remembers waking up in the frigid winters in New York and he would walk over to the radiator and take the warm socks that his father Rav Moshe had left them as he was leaving the house in the morning. Many fathers don't have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with their kids. The time that is spent should be quality time with the child feeling the unconditional love of his/her father.

3) Push him away with your left hand and bring him close with you right hand. I am referring to the golden rule of discipline that is found in the Talmud. Of course, it is necessary to discipline a child/teen. However, the big picture should always be part of this equation. A father sometimes has to discipline or redirect the child's behavior or attitude, but should always make sure that it is done in a way that encourages good behavior and ultimately as part of an overall dynamic of a loving and healthy environment. I once heard from a great educator, that one should have a ratio of 4:1 positive feedback to negative feedback from their parent.

4) Listen to your wife. That may be the most important advice of all ! Having a child grow up in a healthy and loving home where his/her parents listen and respect each other is arguably the best thing parents can provide their kids.

So to all you dad's out there as you stand by the grill or the pool this Father's Day, please remember the wonderful gift of fatherhood G-d has bestowed upon us and most importantly --- hug your child !

Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Is There Any Hope For Jewish Unity ?

I really wanted to post something that is light and that you can enjoy while sipping your favorite latte. I was thinking of sharing some thoughts on how to perfect the art of making sushi rolls. Or perhaps to voice the thoughts of a frustrated baseball fan who has seen the umpires blow so many calls this season and not having the mentschlichkeit to consider that they were wrong. I think they would be wise to look at the NFL which does allow the rulings on the field to be challenged. However important (or not) these issues are, I feel there is something far more pressing to commentt on.

I was reading about a story that took place in Germany last month. First, I thought that it just can't be true and that I had misread the article. I had to read it again. 

A meeting of the elected leadership of the conflict- ridden Berlin Jewish community –Germany’s largest with 10,500 members – spilled over into physical attacks on Thursday due to disputes over the 2013 budget.

The session turned “brutal,” said one observer at the community’s representative meeting to The Jerusalem Post.

The daily Berlin Der Tagesspiegel 
 reported on Friday that “some members were choked” when community members, including supporters of the head of the community, attacked opposition members during a break in the meeting.

Criminal complaints were filed and the police appeared at the representative meeting.

 So he we are in 2013 and there is a fight that breaks out among Jews in Berlin, and the German police are called in to make peace! Can things get any crazier? The truth of the matter is that I am in no position to comment on the specifics about the situation and pass judgment as to who bears responsibility for that specific incident.

Rather, this makes me extremely sad. There is so much division and mistrust among different groups of Klal Yisrael today, it is quite disheartening. Many times this stems from insisting that one particular derech is morally superior to a different derech. The devastating consequences cannot be overemphasized when you have of Jews that view another group of Jews with suspicion or even hostility.

 These thoughts weigh on me as I read the this weeks parsha. We learn about the story of Korach who was a cousin of Moshe and waged a bitter rebellion against him. He demanded that he receive more recognition and respect. He was so charismatic that he was able to attract quite a following to join him in his ill-advised struggle. Ultimately, like so many other cases of infighting the consequences for Korach  and his followers were catastrophic.

I once heard a powerful story form one of my rabbis in Israel. He was once in the Boston airport waiting to board a flight and he met a gentleman from Israel who was clearly not observant. They started having a very friendly conversation in Hebrew and exchanged some traveling tips. After about 15 minutes, the rabbi said to his new friend “Do you realize that had we met in Israel we probably would have not even acknowledged each other? After all, if our appearances and set of values are so different, we would of not even paid attention to each other. Why is it that we can get along much better in Boston than Jerusalem? His new friend nodded in agreement. The wise rabbi responded, that in Jerusalem we tend to emphasize the differences we have with one another whereas in Boston we tend to emphasize the things that we have in common. In Jerusalem, they were clearly different – the rabbi with a black hat and the Israeli tourist with a t shirt and shorts. In Boston, they are clearly similar – they both speak Hebrew.

I think that is something we really have to contemplate. Despite the many differences we may have with our Jewish brothers and sisters, we must focus on things that unite us rather than divide us. We have a common bond all the way back from Mt. Sinai in which we collectively accepted God's mission here on earth. It goes against the most basic Torah values to erect artificial barriers that separate us. In fact, Rashi points out that immediately prior to receiving the Torah, the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai we were unified like one person with one heart.

We must look back in the rear view mirror of history and realize that we been the strongest when we stood together and the weakest when we stand apart. Or, as I once it heard on a lighter note --- We are One nation, under God, indivisible, with kugel and chicken soup for all.

 Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Have We Learned Our Lesson ?

 First of all I would like to thank everyone for providing feedback on my new blog. The goal of this space is not to sermonize but rather to share ideas that are screaming in my head as I am waiting in line at the bank or jogging down Scott Mill Road. I very much would appreciate you sharing your thoughts as well.

So - we all have had the opportunity to have our  fair share of failures and setbacks. I think as individuals we can all relate to that. Have you ever felt like this ? The question is how do we learn from these experiences and transform yesterday's failures into tomorrow successes.


This thought occurs to me every time I read through this weeks parsha. There we were as a people going back  3,324 years ago on the cusp of entering the Land of Israel and entering into a new phase of nation building in peace and security. We were so deliciously close to completing the journey and having our first falafel as Jews in Israel. Then disaster struck after the spies that were sent by Moshe into Israel on a fact finding mission returned and did not focus on the positive qualities of the land but rather on the negative ones. Then the people went into hysteria and  refused to enter the land and even had the chutzpah to want to return to Egypt. The rest is history.

So here we are in 2013 and my question is: Have we learned our lesson from the spies who had an opportunity to enter the Holy Land and chose to speak ill of it ? How do we view the Land of Israel ? Is it just an anecdotal part of our lives or more prominent ? Does it bother you when people from other nationalities claim that the Jewish people have no connection to Temple Mount ? 

I am not advocating that everyone make aliya.  I am just questioning do we have a desire to have an emotional connection with the Land of Israel ?  For thousand of years, Jews have prayed and cried for the  opportunity to return to Zion and Jerusalem. Our generation is blessed that for about $1500 you can travel there in less than a day. We are blessed that we are able to visit the Kosel (Western Wall) whenever we want and pour our hearts out to our Father in Heaven in that sacred area . At this time the land of Israel currently has more Torah being studied and more minyanim being held than in the past 2 thousand years. Not to mention, all the amazing advances in medicine, science and hi tech emerging from this land. 

It is also important to remember there are many people in the world that are actively working on destroying the Jewish population from the Land of Israel.  3,324 years after the fiasco of the spies we are once again given the opportunity to embrace the Land of Israel. So my question to you dear friends is ---Have we learned our lesson?

Please share your thoughts.



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