Parshat Re'eh

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman z"l. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.

By Samantha Hulkower
Taken from The Oddesy Online
This week's Torah portion sets lofty goals for klal Yisrael. The first passuk begins, "See (Re'eh) I present before you today a blessing and a curse." (Devarim 11:26). There is language throughout the parsha encouraging people to follow the mitzvot G-d lays out, in order to live a good and blessed life.
In addition to all of this, we find a mitzvah to be happy! It says, "...and you will be happy before Hashem your G-d in all your actions (12:18)." As if to help with this commandment, a few paragraphs later we are given permission to eat meat "to your heart's content", which brings a smile to the face of many people. Based on this week's Torah portion, it doesn't seem like much of a challenge to live a Torah lifestyle - being happy and eating steak will equal being blessed. Sounds great, right?

Of course, there is more to the 613 mitzvot than just these. There are rules to be honest in business (even when it can cost you money), not to bear a grudge (even though that guy was such a jerk!), to give part of your salary to the needy (even though if you didn't you could afford that vacation to Iceland), and to observe the rules of kashrut (so long lobster rolls). At the end of the day - we don't have to follow the mitzvot at all. The parsha says that we are given a choice as to how we want to live our lives. It might seem like an obvious choice when presented as 'blessing vs curse', but life isn't so black and white. These are the less glamorous mitzvot, the harder ones to keep, the ones that are just less fun and actually provide more of a challenge than simply refraining from eating blood or getting married and having kids (a few more of the more pleasant mitzvot).

When framed as 'having limited food choices vs being able to eat anywhere' or 'behaving in a refined and dignified way [tzniut] vs making people laugh and attracting an audience by telling crude (but funny) jokes and gossip', the choice becomes a little harder. Who doesn't want to be like everyone else - being able to eat with all your coworkers or dress in this season's fashions? When we pull our heads out of the Torah and are immersed in the often drudgery of everyday life, it is easy to forget that living according to Torah is the right way for Jews to live, and is in fact comes with a guarantee for blessing. Even the secular nineteenth century Jewish writer, known by his pen name of Ahad Ha'am (One Nation) famously said, "More than Jews keep Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews."

The Torah acknowledges that sometimes it can feel too difficult to keep all the mitzvot, and that is natural. As we've mentioned before, Sefer Devarim is all about reviewing the commandments given by G-d to the Jewish people over the previous 40 years. Here we see a clear reminder that following this guide to life comes with a warranty for a life that is everything we could want and more. The key is to see that even when things seem cloudy or too much to handle, we have the owner's manual to life, along with all the directions for how to choose for a blessed life. Even when we slip and do the wrong thing, the Torah makes it clear that we still get credit for the right things, and at the end of the day (and hopefully at the beginning of the year at Rosh Hashanah) we've had the clarity to see and choose blessings over curses.

So the next time you are in a bad mood and want to pout, it could be worth it to force yourself to be happy - you never know if that mitzvah will put you over the edge for a blessed life!

Shalom Bayit - When Do We get Married?

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

by Shoshana Rosa
Taken from How to Love Yourself Unconditionally
Why do we get married? Is it for love? Security? Because society has conditioned us to take this next logical step? Before we answer, however, we need to ask, "Why are there so many divorces?" Well, aside from the obvious, that divorce is no longer a taboo, that in fact, it has become an accepted norm, marriage just isn't placed on the same pedestal it used to be. You could add that divorce is over fifty percent because people marry for selfish motives: s/he's cute, s/he's rich, s/he comes with prestige. Yet as soon as the guy gains weight or the girl loses her fortune, one or both find themselves asking for a get (Hebrew for divorce) and filing for divorce. Marrying with skin deep benefits in mind is last week's news, though. People have been looking for marriage partners with one to all of the above for centuries. As Jane Austen put it, oh so sarcastically, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." No, self absorbed motives are not the key issue either. What makes marriages crumble after two or three years of bliss is that they have become, like most things in the 21st century, disposable. Today, people just aren't willing to labor over making a marriage work.
How do we combat the frame of thinking that marriage is disposable? How do we start seeing it as the sacred bond that it is, "It is not good for Man to be alone. I'll make him a helpmate, opposite him" (Genesis 2:18)? When will we realize that if, G-d forbid, two people toss their marriage over their shoulders like a used tissue, it should be viewed as a tragedy? Perhaps marriage can only become sacred, and the task of raising our children sacrosanct, as soon as we see them as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. 
However, we can only really do that by getting to know and love ourselves first. 
Why is the above so essential? Since low self esteem is the disease that most people suffer from nowadays, a poor self image is usually behind the none-too-bright decisions that are made in some homes. This is because parents with a hole in their hearts are on the prowl for someone who will make them feel good. Unfortunately, this translates into very one sided relationships where the victimized party ends up using his or her spouse and kids as a means to an end. What makes matters worse is that if the good feeling disappears, many of these parents with low self esteem decide to look elsewhere for their fix, essentially causing further damage in an already ruptured home. 

After years of dating and still not finding the one, I remember picking up the phone and asking my mother for a compliment. There was a moment of pensive silence before she answered, "You don't know your own worth." "To try being committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality" John Bradshaw, Healing the shame that Binds You. That reality is that G-d doesn't make garbage. When G-d put us here, it was with a unique purpose. And it is only when we recognize our inherent self worth that we will be able to give to our spouses and kids on an authentic level. This is the message my mother tried to convey over the phone to me.
By the way, living authentically also raises the chances of one's children living authentic lives as well. After all, “The job of parents is to model. Modeling includes how to be a man or woman; how to relate intimately to another person; how to acknowledge and express emotions; how to fight fairly; how to have physical, emotional and intellectual boundaries; how to communicate; how to cope and survive life’s unending problems; how to be self-disciplined; and how to love oneself and another. Shame-based parents cannot do any of these. They simply don’t know how” John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You. The road starts with you. 
Two weeks ago, I found myself enmeshed in a conversation with two mothers who were swapping stories about the challenges of child rearing. The conversation was pretty dramatic; they were discussing how difficult yet paramount it was not to hit one's child. I was speechless. I thought these women were the cream of righteous society, continually trying to grow in faith as well as benevolence within their individual communities. I was witnessing a strong dose of personal honesty and was blown away. At some point, one of them turned to me and jabbed her finger in my face, "I want to give you a blessing," she said. I folded my hands and waited for, "May you get married in the right time, to the right person," and blah blah blah. Instead, she said, "May you never be faced with such a challenge as wanting to raise a hand against your own child." Her friend nodded. "And do you know when you start working on being a good mother?" she continued, "Now, the process starts right now." Get busy living (and loving). 

Parshat Eikev

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama. 

By Samantha Hulkower

Doubt: it's an uncomfortable feeling, which can manifest itself in a number of ways. For example, many of us have felt that moment of dread, where you ask yourself, "Did I turn off the stove/iron/lock the door/etc." It could also show up after you find the clarity to quit a job, take a new one, finally lose the 20 lbs., or to propose to your girlfriend, or dump your boyfriend. In one moment you feel so sure of yourself, and in the next, you are doubting yourself and wondering if it's really a good idea. Even in situations that we are fairly certain, we still doubt ourselves. Doubt isn't a new phenomena, invented in order to sell anti-anxiety pills and apps that let you check if you closed the garage door. It's been around since the beginning, or at least the beginning of the Jewish people. Taking a look at Sefer Devarim, it appears it exists to remove doubt reassure the Jewish people that the right thing to do is to follow Torah.

Much of this week's Torah portion, Eikev, is spent reassuring the Jews that if they follow the mitzvot, they will have a great life. Moshe goes out of his way to highlight a few transgressions in particular to refrain from - worshiping false gods or money; attributing one's success to themselves and not G-d, the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe also reminds the people that even though for forty years their clothes and shoes didn't wear out and they always had food and water, the Jews still freaked out every now and then and doubted G-d. Much detail goes into everything good that will happen when the mitzvot are followed, especially in the Land of Israel. There is also a reminder of what can happen when the Jews forget (such as when they freaked out Moshe was late and built the Golden Calf). 

The second paragraph of the three paragraph 'Shema' that is said every day is also written here. By now you can probably guess the theme of the paragraph, even if you've never read it: essentially to remember and do the mitzvot every day (going so far as to tell the Jews to put them 'between your eyes' and 'on the doorposts of your home'. Those are some well-placed reminders!

So what is it - do G-d and Moshe not think the Jewish people can remember a few rules? The fact is, when it comes to doing something correct, but perhaps less fun that what everyone else is doing, it can be all-too-easy to convince yourself that the fun-but-not-kosher activity is really ok to do. Of course, it is only okay if you doubt the validity of the Torah, or the repercussions of what will happen if you decide to do your own thing. So, G-d makes sure to reiterate these things many times. It's not that the people are stupid, but it is part of human nature to second guess yourself. This doesn't make people bad or weak, just human. It might be natural to doubt, but it's just as natural to overcome these doubts and remember what is right.

Is Kiruv Out of Style?

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

Elisheva Maline
Image result for esther jungreis
   Esther Jungreis Z"L founder of Hineni 
While my friends' parents reminisced about Woodstock, my mother told me about how the 1960's led to the Kiruv Movement (drawing fellow Jews back to their spiritual roots) in America. Esther Jungreis, one of the movement's major advocates, opened a program called Hineni (Here I Am) as well as starting a globe-trot that would last decades. She was also given a half hour slot where she told over the weekly portion once a week on television. She sang the praises of Judaism and exhorted her fellow brothers and sisters to come back home. Where did her life long passion come from? After experiencing Bergen Belsen, Rebetzin Jungreis was "determined to devote her life to combating the spiritual holocaust that was occurring in the United States." Other Jewish pioneers, like Rav Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish Hatorah (fire for Torah) and Rabbi Dovid Refson (the founder of Neve college, a school for women to learn about Judaism) were also among the special few who opened up centers of learning which, today, are dotted all over the world.  

One of the more popularized mitzvot in the Torah (probably due to its relevance and the warm, fuzzy feeling it imparts) is the mitzvah of returning a lost object. "You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying and ignore them. [Rather], return them to your brother. And if your brother is not close to you (geographically), or you don't know him, bring it into your house and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out. Then, you shall return it to him" (Deuteronomy 22:1-2). The Or Hachaim Hakadosh, a commentator on the Pentateuch, gives these verses an allegoric spin. He calls the lost objects people who have assimilated, people who are, essentially, lost among the nations. This holy Moroccan Rav then begs the tzadikim (holy ones) of every generation to gather these lost souls, whose hearts are far away from knowledge of the Creator, and teach them Torah, "Bring them into your homes i.e. centers of learning." 

"And if your brother is not close to you," is a reference to galut (exile), "it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out." When will G-d, the owner, seek us out? During the age of the redemption, may it be soon. 

So, what can we do to speed up the process? After all, these are somewhat difficult times (feel free to fill in the blank with your own host of issues). The foremost question on many Jewish leaders' minds is, "In an age like this, how can we bring people close to G-d? It's hard to reach out to today's population. Religious, not religious, people's hearts are barely alive. How do we resuscitate?" The Or Hachaim suggests striking up a conversation, starting a learning session and connecting

While kiruv comes in all shapes and sizes, one does not have to found a yeshiva in order to be a participant. Just one small act of determination, or the stubbornness (coupled with a good attitude) to not take no for an answer, can have major impact on someone's life. My grandfather was one such success story. Until the age of fifteen, my zeidie's connection to Judaism was basically zilch. He knew what Shabbos candles were and his family ate matza on Pesach but, aside from the bare minimum, he really didn't know much. One Shabbos afternoon, in the late 1930's, he went to go see the flickers (old fashioned lingo for movies) when a strange boy grabbed him by the arm. "Come with me," the boy urged. My grandfather recognized his assailant as one of the local boys from his neighborhood. Since they weren't friends, my grandfather wasn't interested. He pulled away, "No, I've got plans already." However, this religious fellow wouldn't give up, "The guys and I are going to a kumzitz (a gathering where people sing spiritually moving songs), and we really want you to come." After a little cajoling, my grandfather caved and accompanied his neighbor out of the theater. The songs and feeling of achdut (unity) that he witnessed at the kumzitz inspired my grandfather to join Yeshivat Chaim Berlin in East New York. 

In fact, up until recently, August 6th marks the 30th day since his passing, my zeidie never stopped learning. Almost an entire century later, this young neighbor's efforts are still bearing fruit. My grandfather has a huge, and growing, family of children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren with a deep connection to their Judaism and Torah. How's that for a butterfly effect?

Tisha B'Av

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

By Jackie Ross

Sunset of July 31 marks the start of Tisha B'Av - the Ninth of Av. It is a day observed like Yom Kippur - no eating, drinking, bathing or putting on lotions, relations between a husband and  wife, or wearing leather. The one difference is that it is not observed like Shabbat where we can't do work - so we can drive and use electricity. Also, we act like those who are sitting shiva, in mourning: we don't sit on regular chairs (at least until mid-day the next day), we try not to use luxuries (many people have the custom to not use a pillow while sleeping). This is all to remind us we are in mourning for the Beit Hamikdash and the lack of G-d's clear presence in this world.

Taken from Tisha Be'Av
We've already discussed the dark period in Jewish history that occurs this time of year. From the Three Weeks to the Nine Days, the summer is a time of sad memories for the Jewish people. You don't need to look much further than today's headlines to see this is a time of national danger. Some point to the sin of the Golden Calf, which occurred on the ninth, as the first instance of national tragedies that coincide with this time. Also while wandering in the desert the Jews had another painful incident - this is the day when the spies returned from their survey of Eretz Yisrael and reported back that the land was full of monsters and impossible to conquer, which was incredibly painful for the Jews who had been taken out of slavery in Egypt to hear. As with other dates on the Jewish calendar, the ninth of Av isn't an anniversary of bad things that happened on this date, but a period of time where bad things are more likely to occur. 

Using the term 'bad things' is putting it lightly. On this date the First and Second Temples were destroyed, the year after the Jewish uprising against the Romans, known as Bar Kochba's Rebellion, was put down by the Romans. All on the same date, the Roman ruler Turnus Rufus raised not only the Second Temple, but the entire area, which had been built into a beautiful plaza by Herod the Great. All that remains of the Second Temple today is the Western Wall, known as the Kotel, where Jews have flocked for two thousand years.

Many expulsions of Jews from Western Europe occurred on this day - first from England in 1290 C.E., then France in 1309, and most famously from Spain in 1492. World War I began on this day, which of course lead to World War II. In more recent history, the disengagement of Jews from their homes in Gush Katif (Gaza) was scheduled to happen on this day in 2005, but when someone pointed out to the Prime Minister, it was changed to the 10th of Av. 

What is this day all about? Why do such horrible things happen year after year? There are many answers to this question, but here is one to consider: these events only occur when there is no Beit Hamikdash, no Temple, standing. Without G-d's presence in the world through the Temple things don't make sense. Horrible things happen and people are horrible to each other. This isn't the way life is supposed to be. We always say something to the extent of, "Hopefully Moshiach will come this year before the 9th, so we won't have to fast," but that is not the right way of looking at it. We should be asking ourselves why, thousands of years later, we are still fasting. Our Sages say that every generation that lives without a Beit Hamikdash, it is as if they were as guilty as those who were in the generation when it was destroyed. These are harsh words, but they tell us that we are responsible. It's not that one person individually can make or break the whole thing, but collectively we are responsible. Every year that passes we should be asking ourselves what can we do to make the world a better place, more conducive to having the Beit Hamikdash return. Things like not gossiping, not hating your fellow Jew for no reason, not bearing a grudge, honoring your parents. These are the things that are keeping the Beit Hamikdash from being rebuilt. 

May we learn to beat the destructive habits that cause us to continue living in exile - both from the Temple and from each other, so that next year Tisha B'Av may finally be a holiday.

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh