Archive for October, 2014

Times of Israel Blog – Rachel Frankel – An Icon Was Born With Link

October 24, 2014

Offhand we can count numerous iconic figures that maintained world influence. In the presidential arena, this country was enamored with President Kennedy; in mathematics, Einstein captured the world’s imagination; in the arts, names like Rembrandt and Picasso come to mind and in the Jewish arena, legends such as the Rambam, Ramban, Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Chaim Soleveitchik stand out. All of these figures touched the world stage with their charisma, intelligence, creativity and self-expression.

To meet another iconic figure, one need only hear certain quotes,” G-d is not our servant,” Even if they don’t come home, we must be strong,” “We just want our boys home.” Of course these are the words of Rachel Frankel after the three boys were kidnapped. She had natural charisma, superior speaking abilities, creative expression and strength of character. Amazingly, she was able to say that even if the boys don’t come home we must be strong.

Considering her brilliance, I worried the press would only focus on Ms. Frankel and not the situation at hand. But Ms. Frankel took care of that as well.

She brought her plight to the most hallowed chamber; the United States Senate. After I saw Senator Cruz speak on the Senate Floor, I truly understood Ms. Frankel’s genius. Senator Cruz quoted her exact words, that “We just want our boy’s home.” Ms. Frankel gave a mantra and a mouthpiece to the free speaking world in how to frame the issue. She chose words of simplicity that could easily be quoted, words with a simple and powerful message. The other two quotes, articulating the necessity for strength if the boys don’t come home and that G-d’s not our servant defy human reach, contributing to her iconic status.

History only makes room for a few icons to set their imprint on the world at large, such as President’s, Prime Ministers, Great Intellects, Philosophers and Artists. However, there are people who reach iconic status born out of wanted or unwanted circumstances, in this case being the latter. The common man may have within him iconic abilities but we may never see them or need to see them in our lifetime. But such is not the case with Rachel Frankel. She rose to iconic status and will be part of a select few women in history that influenced the world. I am confident that Ms. Frankel will either be a future Prime Minister of Israel or a high ranking official.


Times of Israel Blog – Rest and Creation With Link

October 24, 2014

We encounter Noach in this week’s parsha who symbolizes an entity of rest (the root word being menucha) whose chief mission was to carry on the world in its already existing state. He is about bridging the gap of generations, not introducing chiddush. 

However, when analyzing the Book of Genesis, we must focus on creativity, for that is the backbone of perpetual existence. And therefore it’s important to take a look at last week’s parsha and see what’s the opposite of rest.

In last week’s parsha, the first two words of the Torah are “Breishis barah.” The first thing (Breishis) “is” creativity (brius). This idea comports with an awesome G-d that created something from nothing, Yesh Meayin (see Ramban at the beginning of Genesis).

Two chiddushim are then in order when discussing the blueprint that was used for this Yesh Meayin process, the Torah (Zohar Teruma 161b).

One can take the simple approach that this world is divided between the “learners” and the “workers” and stop there. After all this is how the Torah presents the dichotomy between Yissacher and Zevulen, as the verse says (Deuteronomy 33:18), “Rejoice, Zevulen, in your going forth, and, Yissacher, in your tents.” Yissacher is supported by Zevulen and Zevulen may happily go out to work.

Zevulen, besides having the workload is also required to be “Koveah itim LeTorah” (and who like Yissachar gets reward for Talmud Torah even as he’s working or performing anything mundane if the purpose of all of his activities are so that he can learn).

What about Yissacher though? What is expected of him? Is there a requirement within learning to achieve something greater than just full time study?

The following chiddush can be presented.

There’s a well-known Gemara (Shabbos 31a) that says, “When a person is led in for judgment [in the next world] the first two questions G-d asks are: “Nasasa v’Nasata b’Emunah“, “Kovata itim LeTorah.” ‘Did you transact your business honestly?”, “Did you fix times for the study of the Torah?”

The Gemara in Shabbos (that declares business dealings to be the first matter judged in heaven) seems to contradict another Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) that says, “The first thing a person is judged on is his Torah.”Tosefos in Sanhedrin (s.v. elah) asks this question to which he provides two answers.

I believe there’s a third answer to overcome the seeming contradiction between the two Gemara’s and it’s based on the terminology used in the Gemara Shabbos. The first question is “Nasasa v’Nasata b’Emunah” which is conventionally translated to mean – was your business done in good faith. However, it could also be translated to mean was your “give and take” done in earnest. In actuality then, the first question in Gemara Shabbos is referring to Torah and aimed at the talmid chacham to probe as to whether his shakla v’tarya was done in earnest. Therefore, indeed the Gemara in Sanhedrin is correct, that one is first judged on his Torah, and the Gemara in Shabbos gives the parameters of that judgment challenging the give and take of the talmid chacham.

A second chiddush can touch upon a second level, a higher one, that the talmid chacham must strive for to call the Torah his own.

The Beis Halevi zt”l has an important insight on the verse in Genesis (2:2), “Vayechal Elohim bayom hashvi’i melachto asher asah vayishbot bayom hashvi’i mikol-melachto asher asah. “And on the seventh day, G-d completed the work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done.” He notes that the verse says G-d completed creation on the” seventh” (not sixth) day implying that something was created on the seventh day as well. So he brings the Medrash quoted by Rashi on this verse, “What was the world still lacking? Rest. With the coming of Shabbos came (rest), and thus the work was completed and finished.”

The Beis Halevi explains that for the first six days G-d was performing melacha, meaning He was creating something out of nothing. However on Shabbos, a passive entity of rest came into being, a phenomenon that carried the world from that time into the future. Therefore, according to the Beis Halevi, the term melacha means something new, a chiddush, something that was never there before.

Now, we need only go to a Mishna in Pirkei Avot to understand what is demanded from a talmid chacham and every Jew of Israel when it comes to their learning.

The Mishna in Avot (2:2), (matching the citation in Genesis (2:2)) says “Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi would say… Kol Torah shein imo melacha sofo betalah…”All Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and to cause sin.”

Based on the Beis Halevimelacha means something anew, a chiddush. Therefore, Rabban Gamliel is simply saying whoever’s Torah doesn’t have melacha “chiddush” within it will be sofo betalah, cease and further cause sin, for it may be said that this means one is not engaged enough in the Torah to avoid sin. Amazingly, Torah without chiddush won’t survive (see Kinyan HachagHamodia Periodical, October 8, 2014 Page 15, Interview with Rav Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir who explained that his grandfather, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt”l, would distribute money to anyone who proffered genuine chiddushim).

My father noted another chiddush, that the Mishna can be saying, “All Torah that has no melacha; namely, that has not been worked through, will in the end not last,” as one must work at the Torah and reach its innermost meaning.

Though Noach was a figure of passivity who bridged the gap of continued existence between generations, he did not highlight creativity that remains the theme of Genesis.

Creativity is the staple of the Creator and a path we should follow. Everyone has their own share in the Torah, a unique gift given to us as we are “individuals” that comprise a nation.

Link to Five Towns Far Rockaway News – Served as Editor-in-Chief. Article on Page 3

October 7, 2014

Links to Articles Published in the Five Towns Jewish Times

October 7, 2014

Published Op-Ed Article in the Jewish Press With Link

October 7, 2014

Fear and Beauty

The conflict between fear and beauty is an underpinning of our faith.

The question is: Is fear greater than beauty or vice versa, or are they equal? Furthermore, what happens when the worlds of fear and beauty collide?

The Vilna Gaon has an astonishing chiddush relating to ShlomoHaMelech’s words that we recite every Friday night in Eishet Chayil:sheker hachen vehaevl hayofi esha yirat hashem he tethallel – charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

The Vilna Gaon says when cloaked with fear it’s the “beauty” that should be emphasized. I believe the Vilna Gaon is touching on the split that exists in the universe.

Basically, there’s the spiritual realm, where fear is a fit, and the physical world, where beauty stands out.

According to the Vilna Gaon they are two opposites of the same coin. Beauty alone has no purpose. Fear alone is substantial, but without fusing it with beauty, the fear doesn’t reach its highest potential.

In a physical world, beauty has a central place and must be acknowledged. Man can partake of this beautiful world and make himself feel beautiful in whatever way that manifests itself, and if one does that in conjunction with being fearful of God, the beauty is praiseworthy.

It may be argued that Shlomo HaMelech is not expressing the thought elucidated by the Vilna Gaon, for Shlomo himself downplays beauty based on his conclusion to Ecclesiastes (12:13): “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Shlomo HaMelech, who lived a life of splendor and abundance, split beauty and fear into two separate components rather than fuse them together with the singular intent of de-emphasizing beauty. (And since Ecclesiastes was likely his last book written, it can be said that it was his final word on the matter.)

A third scenario is when fear and beauty collide in real time. This is found in the famous Mishnah of Pirkei Avot (3:9) where we read, “Rabbi Yaakov said: One who is walking along the road and is studying [Torah], and then interrupts his studies and says, ‘How beautiful is this tree. How beautiful is this plowed field,’ the Scripture considers it as if he bears the guilt for his own soul.”

Why such a harsh punishment?

Based on the aforementioned thoughts, it may be argued that neither according to the Vilna Gaon, who believes beauty and fear can co-exist harmoniously, nor according to the second interpretation of Shlomo HaMelech’s words, that fear supersedes beauty, can there be any allowance for an act of fear (studying Torah) to be contemporaneously disrupted by an utterance of beauty (“How beautiful is this tree”).

Though fear and beauty can complement or supplant each other, fear cannot be simultaneously interrupted by beauty. (On a side note, it may be argued that another explanation of the harsh punishment for interrupting Torah learning to praise a tree is that it was a tree, after all, that was used by the Malach HaMavet to halt Dovid HaMelech’s learning, which caused his death.)

Along the same lines, someone once revealed a fascinating insight to me. One would think that one’s pull to the negative side of beauty – that is, beauty for its own sake – would begin with the physical instruments of the body, namely the eyes. As we know, the eyes covet and the body trails.

Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t present it like this. In Shema it says (Numbers 15:39), “Do not stray after your hearts and after your eyes that you may fulfill all of my commandments.” The Torah first recommends not to go after the heart and only then the eyes. Logically, it can be argued the verse should have said not to follow the eyes and then followed up with the heart; after all, it’s the eyes that cause the action.

But something comes before the eyes to determine one’s behavior, and that’s the heart. There is a control mechanism that precedes the superficial action of mere looking. Indeed, while lust is caused by the eyes, the heart has the first say in how to proceed.

Fear and beauty are two realms that split this world. Rosh Hashanah is a combination of both these ideals – a time of splendor through Malchut but also a time of judgment. Fusing the two together is our spiritual challenge.

Published Article in the Jewish Link Of Bergen County With Link

October 7, 2014

“Place” of Change

Gandhi, the founder of civil disobedience who ultimately led approximately 300 million Indians to freedom in 1947, famously said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Hundreds of books are dedicated to the idea of change and there are just as many written about the difficulty in achieving it.

Two giants, one in the scientific and one in the rabbinic arena, touch on this issue. In a more passive type of change, Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In such a scenario one need only refrain from unwanted behavior to effectuate change. Some desire, however, to add new changes to their repertoire (this time of the year some people believe that merely adding on to things you already do well is more likely to succeed than taking on totally new behaviors, i.e., if you already greet your co-worker, next time ask them how they are doing).

Depending on whether you want to take a more passive or aggressive approach, the Rambam (Hilchot Deot 1:7) gives the roadmap on how to bring lasting change. After discussing certain Deot he asks how one can instill them as permanent. He answers that one should repeat the same action or behavior continually until it becomes easy to perform. The key to the Rambam is repetition, the only remedy to reach a place of easy action.

The fundamental question, though, is, why should we change? As someone once said, look for the reason and you will know why. Based on passages from the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud, a phrase has emerged–“Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal”–“Change your place and you’ll change your luck.” Besides Makom meaning place, it is also one of God’s names. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 68:5) explains, “He is the place of the world, and the world is not His place. God is not found in any particular location, rather, God is immanent in all places.”

We can therefore suggest a new interpretation of the expression: If you change your actions towards Makom, a God that is above time and place and found everywhere, it reasons that your fortune will change as well.

This can explain another Mishna (Avot 3:10) where the word Makom is used. “Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say: “One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to God.”

Therefore, it may be suggested that it is specifically the God who is Makom that lives above time and place and exists everywhere that takes pleasure in the case where a man has changed his actions towards his fellow man to the extent that he is viewed well by everyone. This means the person is more on the level of acquiring a good name where it’s said in another Mishna (Avot 4:17), “Rabbi Shimon says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah and the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship (civil rule)…and the crown of a good name rises above them all.”

There’s another reason to change and it’s based on two related ideas. Firstly, the idea that God, Torah and Israel are one is brought down in the name of the Zohar (see Rabbi Luzzatto’s commentary to the Idra Rabba). Secondly, there is another idea of the Zohar (Zohar Chadash, Song of Songs 91b), that says each person in Bnei Yisrael has a letter of the Torah that his neshama is connected to and the roshei tevot of the Hebrew spelling of the word Israel (there are 600,000 letters in the Torah) a number that corresponds to the number of souls in Israel. This being the case, when an individual person makes a change in his “letter” this impacts the other letters and God Himself who is wrapped up within the Torah. That’s what the Gemara (Eruvin 13b) means when it states, “These and these are the words of the living God.” Everyone has his own letter, and each speaks the truth through his own experience. In essence there’s a symphony taking place and this is why the Torah, as mentioned in last week’s parsha, is called “Shira.” Every change, thought, and nuance that man assumes is transforming an organic Torah that is evolving based on human experience.

I believe there is no greater example of change than making a shidduch. One can make claim that at creation Adam didn’t have to really run after Chava for she was created out of him. After the sin the world has become more categorized by the verse, “For man is born to toil” (Job 5:7).

However, there is no greater chance to change yourself than by going through the dating process.

Thousands of interactions between “letters of the Torah” are going on week to week. People are learning how they don’t want to be–following the Einstein model–while some are impressed by what they see and choose to adopt new behaviors. No matter how it turns out, people are changing and so are their “letters in the Torah.” No one says it doesn’t involve heartache, but in being a part of this phenomenon, one is showing God that he wants to change by learning from others which in turn will allow God, Makom, to initiate change in return.

A few months ago I went out with a very nice girl. She told me my name isn’t Steven anymore but Shlomo Yosef (my Hebrew name). It took me a little time to process, but I appreciated the thought, after all one’s essence is tied to his Hebrew name. Not long after it ended, I was inspired to write an article about Shlomo HaMelech. Whether I was consciously or subconsciously affected, something inside of me was touched and it manifested itself in an article about my namesake.