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.

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...