Archive | October, 2018

With G-d as my witness, I shall not want

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

If a man achieves a great feat in a forest and no one is there to witness it, does the success resonate less within the man? Does it feel less significant?
It’s a difficult question, I admit.
As for myself, I can’t shake this feeling inside of me that a great act both deserves and requires a great witnessing to match; and that the witnessing itself impresses significance upon a deed (a retelling of one’s personal unwitnessed events to interested parties often serves as something of a surrogate witnessing). After all, we humans are selective viewers, restricting our purview to those things we deem worthy of our time and interest, and keeping our watchful eyes on the goings-on of only people we care about most. The gift of one’s attention says, “What’s going on here matters.” It proclaims, “These actions, these lives no less, are significant and meaningful!”
As the character of the wife in “Shall We Dance” answers to the question of why she wants to be married:
“We need a witness to our lives. There are eight billion people on the planet…I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything — the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things…all of it, all the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”
In an article in Psychology Today (Aug. 22, 2016), Dr. William S. Breitbart writes extensively and eloquently of this collective need to be witnessed:
“What is clear is that we human beings need to have our lives witnessed, Viktor Frankl wrote ‘the only thing worse than suffering is suffering that goes unwitnessed.’ (Frankl – The Doctor and the Soul, 1955/1986). This need for our lives to be witnessed, I believe, is related to the concept of ‘significance.’ The question of significance is an essential one. ‘Did it matter that I lived?’ ‘Did I leave some mark in this world?’ ‘Did I have some impact on this world or on someone?’ Was there a ‘sign’ that I was here. The idea of having a life witnessed relates to the question of whether someone else in this world noticed me, and ultimately judged the value of my life. It is as if one was a playwright and had a play that only you performed, but was never viewed by an audience, or reviewed by a theater critic. Were you a playwright? Was the play a work of art? A work of great significance?”
Witnessing has an additional function, as within it lies the power to lift up the moments in our lives to transcendent heights. If unobserved accomplishments last but singular moments in time and live on in but the select hearts and minds of the protagonists themselves, witnessed occasions take on a lifeforce of their own, inviting others to both partake in the moments of our lives as well as to share their memories of the event with others not present. A witnessed event may be recorded in a book or passed down as family or national narrative. And the life of that witnessed event can long survive the life of the character of whom the story is told. As such, witnesses allow us to transcend the limited confines of both self and time. It allows for the building of legacy.
But there are significant drawbacks to our need to be witnessed, great dangers awaiting our demand for external validation and significance. It’s true that we tend to act better in the company of others than we do in the privacy of our own homes, but it’s easy to fall in to the trap of worrying more about “looking good” than actually working on “being good.”
And with eyes focused outward comes both unhealthy societal pressures that must be met if we are to remain in good standing with our neighbors and peers, as well as a steady inculcation of foreign value systems that work to slowly but steadily replace our Jewish values for central primacy in our lives.
What’s more, there is scant room for the development of the prized trait of humility when “likes” on social media don’t generate themselves — we need to be “out there” for the public to see if we are to earn their approval and esteem.
And after all is said and done, we still find ourselves questioning if we are truly loved and valued by the people around us. It’s a no-win affair.
Breitbart suggests a different, rather confounding solution to the witnessing dilemma at the tail end of his article. He concludes that we, ourselves, serve as our own life’s witnesses:
“We are never completely alone. Our observing ‘self’ or ego is our constant companion; that constant voice, commentator, judge, critic, witness to our lives. In living a truly authentic life, the only judge or critic who really matters is us, our observing self. So as you live, you are creating your legacy through witnessing and striving towards a life of significance.”
While Breitbart’s solution circumvents the many issues detailed above that emerge from the need of external validation, his suggestion seems more word play than anything else. For, in as much as I am more or less aware of the details of my life, I cannot also bear witness to my life. A witness stands ipso facto removed from the person being witnessed, and any significance that a witness brings to the table derives from the very fact that he is separate. It’s hard, then, to believe that many, if any, will find comfort in a life “self-witnessed.”
And what of the transcendence of external witnessing? What of the comfort that comes with the knowledge that one’s life, one’s legacy, will endure beyond the grave, in the memories and in the impact made upon those still living? In Breitbart’s vision one must be satisfied that “The legacy you live does not require remembering after death; it is a legacy lived unto death.” I, for one, find no solace in such a forecast.
There are other issues, as well. While external validation often comes with unhealthy societal pressures, it also comes with healthy pressures that push us forward. Caring friends and family tell it like it is, pointing out areas in one’s life that require attention and improvement. Their cajoling is generally aimed at moving us out of our comfort zone (the thing we despise the most), something “self-witnessing” is less likely to generate on its own.
And none of this touches upon the problem that is the natural conclusion that Breitbart reaches, that in “self-witnessing” we become “the only judge or critic who really matters.” That’s a biased judge indeed, one more likely to accept excuses and let things slide than to convict and chastise. Can we really, then, rely upon ourselves alone to know if we are acting appropriately and living lives of real significance?
There is a third option, though, one that sidesteps the pitfalls of both external witnesses and Breitbart’s “self-witnessing”: G-d is our life’s witness. G-d carefully watches all we do, both because we are the apple of His eye (“So said the L-rd, ‘My firstborn son is Israel. [Shemot 22:4]’”), and because our lives matter so that the Almighty himself to cares to watch.
The benefits of G-d serving as our witness are multifold. For starters, He’s always witnessing, and the entirety of our lives is uplifted and transcended in His witnessing (as opposed to human witnessing, which only covers the public portion of our lives).
With G-d as our witness, we are propelled to evolve into our best selves – to become more and more G-dlike. Such witnessing generates a healthy external pressure without any of the damaging and often misguided social pressures that come with human witnessing.
There is no concern of foreign value systems creeping into our lives with G-d as our witness. To the contrary, we are infused with the will to keep our Witness’ values in the face of competing value systems. As King David proclaims, “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings, and I will not be ashamed” (Tehillim 119:46). And with our steadfast commitment to living a life in consonance with G-d’s will, we can feel confident in the knowledge that we are living big, significant lives and bound tightly in the favor of the only One whose opinion really matters.
Equally as important, with our need for witnessing fulfilled in full by G-d, we come to grasp that we need not the approval or recognition of flesh and blood, and with this final, vital shard of wisdom the gates of humility open up to us in all their glory. Our compulsion for self-promotion and exhibitionism slowly give way to the subtle pleasures of humble living, and the excitement once felt whilst basking in the limelight moves aside for the hallowed feelings which arise when we let the other lights around us shine a little brighter. It is fair to say that with G-d as my witness I shall not want for anything more.

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Shoah museum near Chicago has myriad options

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

I have just returned from a two-day visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located – not, as you might expect, in the heart of Chicago, but in a northern suburb named Skokie. The chosen site speaks volumes about Holocaust history and the collective power of its Survivors.
After World War II’s opening of the infamous concentration and death camps and the liberation of those still alive there, many Survivors who made it to the United States somehow wound up in Skokie, which became a town whose population was about three-quarters Jewish. And among those Jews clustered some 7,000 Survivors, which is why in the late 1970s, a group of Neo-Nazis banded together and picked Skokie to make another stand against them.
But this time, there was no cowering, running or hiding. Many Survivors had not yet spoken about their horrific experiences at Nazi hands, but they decided to make their own stand, and were joined by thousands more, Jewish and not. On the day originally scheduled for a Nazi march, it was the citizens of Skokie who marched and had their own victory. The museum opened on that same location in 2009, and it is now the third-largest Holocaust museum in the world, behind only Yad Vashem and the U.S. national museum in Washington, D.C.
Notice its official name: Holocaust Museum and Education Center. As has our own Dallas facility, which went from being a Holocaust Museum to its current Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, and will soon become the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, the thrust of both institutions has changed with the passage of time. As there are fewer and fewer Survivors to give personal-experience testimony, emphasis has shifted toward future prevention of such past horrors, with outreach to students and their teachers of primary importance. As does our own center, the one in Skokie is grooming future “Upstanders” to take personal action against even the smallest violation of human rights.
I won’t try to detail for you the many and varied programs that go on under the roof on the massive Illinois structure, the many opportunities for personal involvement, and the many exhibits that fill its rooms and line its hallways. My favorite – if there can be such a thing in such a setting – is called “Stories of Survival: Object – Image – Memory.” Susan Abrams, the museum’s CEO, calls the collection “an exploration of the meaning behind the everyday things that become so much more.”
So, the viewer can see actual items that Survivors clung to during their ordeals and brought with them afterward: a doll’s dress – a coin – a few keys on a ring – a bracelet – a photograph. But what is most exceptional here is how these items, actually in cases, are further illustrated with wall-mounted photos that include comments by those who saved and still treasure them.
And these objects go far beyond what the visitor would initially expect to find in a Holocaust museum: not all are from Holocaust Survivors, but from Survivors of other genocides, including Cambodia, Sudan, Rawanda… The message is frighteningly clear: human suffering on a mass scale has continued on after “our” Holocaust; we must bring up new generations to stop them from happening in the future.
I shake the hand of Fritzie Fritzshall, once a teenage girl among several hundred older women, each of whom would give her a crumb or two of their daily bread ration in turn for her word: “I made a promise to those women in Auschwitz,” she says now, “that if I survived, I would tell the world my story.” And she has, in one of the biggest ways possible: she is currently president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
There are many great things there, more than I could fully experience in just two days. But now, I’m looking ahead to great things here, when our new Dallas museum opens on Sept. 17, 2019.

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Even a short life fulfills its purpose

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
My brother, sadly, recently lost his 7-year-old son, the victim of a rare disease he contracted this past year. Needless to say, my brother and sister-in-law are inconsolably beside themselves with grief. Can you offer any words of wisdom that can be said to them at a time like this?
Jonathan K.
Dear Jonathan,
I’m so sorry for the loss of your nephew, a loss to yourself as well. As you are well aware, our tongues become feeble and our minds become weak to find words that can console the hearts of the victims of such an overwhelming, devastating loss.
The best I can do is to share with you a story. While studying in Kollel in Israel, one of my colleagues, an immigrant from France who studied at the same Kollel, lost his 5-year-old daughter. She, unbeknownst to her parents, went out of the house and got herself locked into their car on a hot summer day. She was gone before they could find her. A group of us from the Kollel made the trek to the outlying area where they lived to pay a shiva call. We sat down before my friend and his wife, and an uncomfortable, long silence ensued. The heavy mood in the room was very intense; the profound sorrow palatable in the air, and nobody really knew what to say. What could one say?
I began to tell the story of Avraham ben Avraham, the renowned Ger Tzedek (righteous convert) of Vilna, converted by the revered Talmudic sage R’ Eliyahu of Vilna in the 1700s.
Avraham began as Count Valentine, a Polish nobleman from the powerful Potocki family of Lithuania. Valentine and an educated friend, Zoremba, heard of the brilliance of R’ Eliyahu, known as the Gaon (genius) of Vilna. They received entry to the Gaon, and posed numerous philosophical and mathematical questions to him. Upon leaving, they were impressed beyond words, exclaiming they learned more in that hour than all their years of university.
The two decided to change their identities, leaving Poland and entering a Yeshiva in France to study Judaism. After a couple of years of intense study, they reappeared before the Gaon, with beards and sidelocks, ready to convert to Judaism. The Gaon, recognizing their greatness and sincerity, agreed to convert them. Zoremba soon married and moved to Israel.
Potocki, now Avraham, successfully evaded his family’s intense search for him. He began to shuttle around Europe, utilizing his political prowess to bring much peace between Jewish communities and rabbis in Europe. He became engaged to the daughter of a prominent Jew, evoking the jealousy of a man who wanted her hand, who slandered him to the authorities, telling them who he really is.
Avraham, after giving the ring, was seized by Polish authorities from under the chuppah, and put into prison for an extended period of time. His family and the Roman Catholic Church tried, with no success, to have him renounce his Judaism. Finally, he was burned at the stake on the second day of Shavuos, amid his cry of Shema Yisrael…
That night, his widow and her father snuck into the Polish side of Vilna. They gathered Avraham’s ashes and buried them in the Jewish cemetery of Vilna. At the site of his grave, a fruit tree suddenly began to grow in the otherwise barren cemetery. The Gaon commented that this was a sign from Heaven that Avraham’s very short Jewish life was completely fulfilled; he had fulfilled his mission and his short life is bearing fruit.
We learn from this story that even a short life can be meaningful and fulfill the purpose for which that individual was sent to this world.
I told my friend that his young daughter, as well, obviously had fulfilled her purpose and mission with her short life, and will bear eternal fruit. His wife began to weep, and my friend loudly exclaimed, “You have comforted me, you have comforted me.”
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains a similar idea with regard to a miscarriage. At times there is a soul who, during its life in this world, nearly completed its purpose and it is nearly perfect and just needs to come back to this world for the shortest time to perfect itself, without the need to endure the trials and tribulations of this world. Even a short time in the mother’s womb was sufficient for that soul.
Rabbi Feinstein adds, however, that the final carriers of that baby or soul will be considered its spiritual parents, so, although they never got the opportunity to know that baby, in the next world they will be the parents of a perfect soul with all the joy that accompanies that.
The same would apply to your situation and your nephew. His short life fulfilled a purpose and he achieved his completion in this world, without the need to live out a full life. His life bore fruit, perhaps in ways we cannot fathom, and will be reunited with them in the next world with joy and nachas.
Perhaps you can share this thought with your brother and sister-in-law, and, like my friend, may it bring them some comfort as well.

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Children learn respect from parents’ example

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Of all the values we would want our children to demonstrate, “respect” tops the list for almost all of us.
There are many ways to use the word respect or honor. The Hebrew word Kavod comes from the Hebrew word meaning “heavy” which gives us an important message that respect is a pretty heavy responsibility.
Respect (Kavod) begins with each person. If we feel proud of ourselves, what we achieve and how we behave, it is self-respect. Imagine what a wonderful place the world would be if we all showed respect to one another.
The rabbis taught that every person should have two pockets. In one pocket, put a piece of paper that says, “I am but dust and ashes.” In the other pocket, the paper should say, “For my sake alone was the world created.”
When we feel too proud, we remind ourselves that we are but dust, and when we are feeling low, we remind ourselves that G-d created the world for us. When we recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of every human being, when we honor and respect the uniqueness of each person, then we will work with G-d on Tikkun Olam — to repair the world.
Here is a short version of an important story about respect and how we teach our children by our example – “The Wooden Bowl”:
This is the story of a grandfather, a father and a son. Grandfather was a wonderful man with a successful business, but when he got old, he gave it all to his son. In time, the old man came to live with his son and his family.
Slowly, grandfather needed more help even with eating. When he ate, food fell on the table and grandfather had trouble with the fork and bowl. One day the bowl slipped, fell and broke on the floor.
The father was angry and from that time, he made the grandfather eat from a wooden bowl. One night, the father heard a strange scratching sound. He looked and found his son carving a block of wood. The father asked what he was doing. The son said, “I am carving a wooden bowl for when you get old.”
How do we teach our children about kavod?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Challah Bake helps raise dough for cancer fight

Challah Bake helps raise dough for cancer fight

Posted on 15 October 2018 by admin

Photos: Courtesy Marcy Rhoads
Hundreds of men and women of all ages participated in the 2017 Great Pink Challah Bake, and registration is open at bit.ly/2IHdSLK for the 2018 edition on Oct. 24, part of the The International Shabbos Project. The event will also provide information and BRCA gene testing.

By Deb Silverthorn

The Great Pink Challah Bake has all the right ingredients to create an evening of memory, health education and deliciousness for Shabbos tables throughout the community. The doors will open at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, in Zale Auditorium at the Aaron Family JCC for a night of flour, fun, friends and family.
“We’re all so busy, and on Shabbos, we change from humans ‘doing’ to humans ‘being,’ disconnecting from everything but those around us,” said Marcy Rhoads, chair of the event. “We energize and let go. At the Pink Challah Bake, we’ll get into the mood, into the spirit and prepare something holy, delicious and filled with love to nourish our families and their souls.”
The Challah Bake is part of The Shabbos Project, which takes place Oct. 26 and 27.
“The Shabbos Project, which began in 2013 in South Africa as a global, grassroots movement that brings Jews from across the world together to celebrate and keep one complete Shabbat, brings together neighbors, families and strangers – who become strangers no longer,” Rhoads said. “The Challah Bake is a kick-off to something so very special.”
The evening, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is co-sponsored by Sharsheret, a national nonprofit supporting young Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer, and Myriad, a leader in genetic testing, molecular diagnostics and companion diagnostics. Myriad will offer educational resources and BRCA screening before the baking begins at 7 p.m.
Partners for the event are congregations Ohev Shalom, Ohr HaTorah and Shaare Tefilla, Jewish Family Services, Levine Academy, Nafshi Wellness and the Sephardic Torah Center of Dallas.
As part of this year’s Shabbos Project, community members may help determine personal benefits from genetic testing by taking Myriad’s Hereditary Cancer Quiz at hereditarycancerquiz.com before the Challah Bake.
In less than a minute, the questionnaire recommends or not, moving forward. Dallas-based obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Alejandro Singer will be conducting preview screenings at the event, and for those for whom recommendation is made, on-site 28-gene Myriad myRisk Hereditary Cancer test will be performed.
For those meeting medical society guidelines, most insurance companies cover genetic testing at 100 percent. Once testing is completed, participants will be notified with an opt-out if payment is denied meaning no unexpected costs.
As Ashkenazi Jews register in a higher risk category, they should be aware of family history. BRCA screenings and annual mammograms for women with a family history of breast cancer – and with the consultation of personal doctors — for women 35 and older are encouraged, Myriad literature states. Those interested in testing should bring their medical insurance information.
“Knowledge is power, and we hope through events such as these we can provide knowledge, testing and answers. For many, and for men it’s just as important as women, this testing is life-saving,” Myriad spokesman Ron Rogers said. “We recommend everyone speak to their physicians, that physicians bring the conversation and questions to their patients, and that family history be a conversation. The power of genetics and testing can make all the difference.”
The Challah Bake will open with a video message by Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, and a montage about the history of the Shabbos Project and Challah Bake.
Participating groups of friends and family are encouraged to RSVP together, and each table will have enough ingredients for each person to make their own challah dough. Rebbetzin Ruckie Sionit, of the Sephardic Torah Center will direct how to make the challah and explain the significance of making challah together and the power that it generates as Jewish women.
“I’m honored to participate in this inspiring evening, as making challah is a special mitzvah given to women and has been passed down over the generations, through the upheavals and migrations of Jews throughout the world,” Sionit said. “Separating challah while we are preparing it enforces our faith in the Almighty, ultimately opening the gates of blessings into our homes.”
While waiting for the challah to rise, Nikki Friedman, co-director of the Nafshi Wellness organization that integrates Jewish and holistic principles to enhance emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual wellness, will speak about the power of positivity and self-care. Also, Beth Broodo, Jewish Family Service program director and clinician for breast cancer support services, will share her personal experience and information about JFS’ related services.
Once the challah has risen, bakers will braid the dough, sing songs and dance in the spirit of Shabbos – the challahs to be taken home to bake.
“On a Kabalistic level, Shabbos is a time and space that was created by G-d for us,” Broodo said. “Lighting the candles, families enjoying challah and celebrating Shabbos together can move mountains spiritually.”
Online registration is available at bit.ly/2IHdSLK. Tickets are $5, and all supplies are included. For more information, or to register to participate in a Shabbos Project, visit dallasshabbatproject.com

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Unsung heroes take spotlight at DJCF meeting

Posted on 11 October 2018 by admin

By Amy Sorter

They are the backbone of nonprofit organizations throughout the Dallas area; they are, in fact, one of the reasons why many of those organizations operate efficiently. Each day, these employees’ behind-the-scenes skills, passion and dedication quietly benefit both the agencies for whom they work, as well as members of the community. Yet, because they are largely out of sight, they might not be recognized, thanked, complimented or honored.
To the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation (DJCF), these folks are “unsung heroes.” On Monday, Oct. 29, at its annual meeting, the DJCF will bring 13 of these nonprofit employees out of the shadows and honor them through the first Unsung Heroes Awards presentation.
The DJCF’s mission is to support the community by developing and maintaining resources from donors and community members. Through fund and individual directives, the DJCF distributes those resources to education, human services, arts and faith-based organizations of all sizes throughout Dallas. As such, acknowledging staff members working with nonprofit agencies was a natural fit. The awards were open to agencies with employed staff, and response to the inaugural program was overwhelmingly positive.
“For the nonprofits out there, we know there is someone in the background, who gets things done, but who never gets noticed,” said Mona Allen, the DJCF’s director of philanthropic advancement. “We wanted to acknowledge those unsung heroes, and felt it would be a great way to recognize a driving force in these organizations.”
Those “driving forces” work for large and small organizations, which run the gamut from synagogues, to educational institutions, to community agencies. The nominees’ duties also vary – they are maintenance and front-office workers, as well as leaders, educators and administrators. The one thing members of this group have in common are the accolades coming from those who nominated them. Words such as “tireless,” “dedicated,” “enthusiastic” and “compassionate” consistently pop up in the nominees’ descriptions.
The honorees will receive a special surprise at the event. Furthermore, the award will help bring these organizations into the open, and demonstrate how their actions and activities benefit not only the Jewish community of Dallas, but the Dallas metro, as a whole.
Presenting the unsung heroes to the community at the DJCF’s annual meeting made sense, Allen noted. The event’s goal is to demonstrate the good taking place throughout Dallas, and to provide a source of inspiration to attendees. The 2018 annual meeting will focus on presenting the Sylvan T. Baer Foundation’s 2018 grants, and will also officially launch DJCF’s scholarship opportunities for Jewish and non-Jewish college and university students during the 2019-2020 school year. Finally, DJCF new officers and board members will be installed during the event.
Allen explained that, at one time, the annual meetings were similar to regular meetings. The organization’s leadership would meet behind closed doors to install a new board and discuss further business. But somewhere along the way, the DJFC believed that opening board meetings to the public would “show constituencies and the rest of the community who we are and what we are doing,” Allen said. This thinking has resulted in an annual meeting that has become an important event, complete with socializing, lavish deserts and compelling and moving presentations.
The DJCF opened its annual meeting to the public in 2016 to a handful of attendees. In 2017, more than 200 attended. “These meetings are geared to become a source of inspiration for our community,” Allen said. “We try to do what we can to make you feel good about living in Dallas, and living in the Jewish community.”
This is where the Unsung Heroes program provides a good fit for the event. As these employees are honored for their dedication, loyalty and effort, “it provides recognition and a spotlight on the organizations they work for,” Allen said. “It also sends a powerful message to the community, about the good these agencies do.”
The Dallas Jewish Community Foundation’s annual meeting, which is sponsored by the Texas Jewish Post, will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 29, at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, 7900 Northaven Road in Dallas. The event, which will include pareve desserts catered by Taste of the World caterers, is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by logging on to www.djcf.org or calling 214-615-9351.

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Spiritual redemption can help reverse your addictions

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

The Talmudic story of Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordaya seems to materialize itself in most Yom Kippur sermons. And for good reason. This is a story whose message is as inspirational as it is timely – that no one is too far removed for teshuvahh (repentance).
And yet, the story ends suddenly, with the protagonist’s early death — a death that arrives amid a downpouring of remorseful and broken-hearted tears. And it is this part of the story that is so rarely expounded upon or explained (after all, better to focus on the happy stuff). And that is a shame, for in the proper interpretation of the story’s cryptic conclusion lies arguably the greatest lesson on teshuvahh of them all.
“It was said of Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordaya that he did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her. Once, he heard that there was a certain prostitute in one of the towns by the sea who accepted a purse of coins for her hire. He took a purse of coins and crossed seven rivers for her sake. As he was with her, she blew forth breath and said: ‘As this blown breath will not return to its place, so will Eleazar ben Dordaya never be received in repentance.’ … Said he: The matter then depends upon me alone! He placed his head between his knees, he wept aloud until his soul departed. Then a bat-kol [a prophetic voice] was heard proclaiming: ‘Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordaya is destined for the life of the world to come!’ … Rebbe [on hearing of it] wept and said: One may acquire eternal life after many years, another in one hour! Rebbe also said: Not only are penitents accepted, they are even called ‘Rabbi’! (Talmud Avoda Zara 17a)”
Teshuvah is supposed to lead to a fresh start, to another crack at the good life. Not so for Rabbi Eleazar. And according to Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Greater Washington, the reason for Rabbi Eleazar’s death is as clear and obvious as it is tragic.
For Rabbi Eleazar, life was about one thing and one thing only, maximizing sensual pleasure. And, as evidenced from the story above, he chased after this objective with all of his heart, all of his soul and all of his resources.
But when Rabbi Eleazar recognized that this final sinful escapade had led him down a spiritual path of no return, that he had hit his rock bottom, he knew that he needed to make amends for the life he had lived and right away. His waterfall of prolonged tears made clear that his regret was of a sincere and authentic nature and that his teshuvah would be accepted.
Nevertheless, his teshuvah also, inevitably, put an abrupt end to his life’s great pursuit, his essential joy and his reason for getting up in the morning. His teshuvah became his dead end instead of his fresh start. And utter despair and malignant hopelessness set in and finished the job. For without hope death is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise, as certain as gravity’s pull.
Had Rabbi Eleazar developed a prior sensitivity to the spiritual pleasures of this world, had he come to know that there were other things besides carnal pleasure that could touch his senses and enliven his heart, he might have filled the void left by the loss of his life’s immoral pursuit with an equally potent spiritual calling. Alas, such was not the case with Rabbi Eleazar, and in his death we are made conscious of the somber consequences of an unresolved teshuvah.
Had Rabbi Eleazar lived today he would have been called an “addict” (the Talmud calls him “avik bah tuva” — “greatly attached” to immorality) and hopefully found his way into a 12-Step program in the mold of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s indeed encouraging that the 12-step model seems to have picked up on the fateful lesson of the Talmud’s tale, introducing the addict to the dynamic force that is spirituality and G-d consciousness (six of the 12 Steps involve a higher power), to feed the hunger pangs long quieted by vice.
A September 2005 article in Business Report (“Rabbi claims to have cracked the addiction code”) featuring Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a world-renowned addiction specialist, effectively describes the successful 12-Step phenomena and its core tenet of spirituality.
“Whether the person is a specialist or a hobo (or both), if they have an addiction problem, the underlying symptoms are the same: hungry ghosts demanding to be fed. All addicts describe the gaping, empty hole inside; they feel something is missing in their lives and they try to fill it with substances or relationships or careers, ever seeking the secret to happiness that will change their haunted lives.
“I too searched far and wide for the cure to addiction, but my medical and psychiatric background did not lead me to the cure because the source of addiction does not lie here.
“After half a century in psychiatric practice, I know without a doubt that the source of addiction is spiritual deficiency. Irrespective of whether we are religious or atheist, all human beings are spiritual by nature and spirituality is the cornerstone of our recovery.”
Spirituality, he said, is the secret substance that feeds our hungry ghosts, that fills the gaping hole. “Spirituality comes to all of us when we finally face ourselves, are honest with ourselves and learn to respect and care for ourselves and others. Without it we die.”
Such is the cycle of not only addiction, but of man’s continued reliance upon sin. When spiritually deficient, we seek to feed our disquieted inner void with counterfeit goodies, only to find that these goodies are more impediment than resolution, more disease than salve. And so, in sheer desperation, we begin the long and difficult trek up the sacred mountain, uncovering our long dormant spiritual sides and feeding our “hungry ghosts” the only genuinely nutritious food that will sustain it – soul food.
We can all learn much from Rabbi Eleazar ben Dordaya’s death as well as from the life-saving formula of the 12 Steps. For a teshuvah process to be successful in the long run, it’s just as much about stopping the bad as it is about replacing it with the good.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Rosh Chodesh: That other regular holiday

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
We have had so many holidays, but now we take a break. Do you know that there are only six holidays mentioned in the Torah? If you can’t name them all, email me for the answer at lseymour@jccdallas.org.
We do have two regularly occurring holidays – Shabbat, of course and Rosh Chodesh, next celebrated Oct. 9-10.
Rosh Chodesh is the celebration of the new month, and it happens 12 times a year, except during a leap year, when we have two Adars. The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar. The moon tells us the beginning and ending of each month, but the calendar must be adjusted so that the holidays always fall in their proper season, based on the sun.
This is why every year either the holidays are early or late — but no one says that the holidays are right on time. (Do you ever wonder why?) This year is a leap year, so next year at this time, we will be saying that the holidays are late,
In ancient times, people did not work on Rosh Chodesh, however, recently it has become a holiday for women. There is a midrash about when Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people were nervous and they demanded that Aaron build a golden calf. The women did not contribute their jewelry to build the idol. As a reward, G-d granted the women the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, so that like the moon, women would be rejuvenated each month.
Young children do not yet grasp the concept of time such as a week or a month or a year. For our families, Rosh Chodesh is a wonderful time to experience the cyclical nature of Jewish life. There are so many things to do for families of all ages:
1. Observe the moon. It is a great before-bedtime together time. Keep a journal – pictures or words.
2. Find a “Rosh Chodesh Spot.” Take a picture each month in the spot and watch the changes of the place and the people over the year.
3. Read books about the moon, listen to moon music, draw pictures. Bring in the month through the arts.
4. Say this simple blessing, which is a small part from the Kiddush Levanah, the Sanctification of the Moon, while looking at the moon: Baruch Atah Adonai, M’chadaysh Chodasheem: Thank you G-d for renewing the months.
5. Make sure you have a Jewish calendar so that you can know the names of the months, the date of Rosh Chodesh each month and the holidays that fall during the month.
6. Learn this song:
Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon
Up above the world so high
Like a crescent in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon.
Enjoy the new month of Cheshvan. And, relax as there are no holidays (except for Shabbat) in the month.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center

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Pure joy comes when you give from the heart

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

The theme of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, the eight-day festival we just concluded, is “simcha,” happiness and joy. To be sure, there is an experience of joy within every Jewish holiday. The difference, however, is that other emotions are usually mixed into the picture, such as the recent days of awe and the sense of freedom provoked during Passover, whereas Sukkot is permeated with pure joy. In our prayers, we refer to it as “the time of our rejoicing.”
Every culture has its own way of celebrating. In some settings, the inner mood of happiness is softer, more contained, even rehearsed. Other times, the expression of joy is set free, more spontaneous and explosive. During Sukkot, and specifically the dancing of Simchat Torah, our celebration with the Torah spills into the streets in front of synagogues as we pull down buckets of blessings and carry the images and memories into the year.
There is an aphorism about the effect of happiness — “simcha breaks through barriers.” The surface interpretation of this phrase is that when this uplifting feeling flows through you, it helps overcome personal inhibitions or perceived limitations. A person who feels genuinely happy can slip off the chains of logic and act in a way that defies the normal mode.
It also removes external obstacles, even heavenly decrees. Commenting on the verse “the Lord is your shadow” (Psalm 121:5), the Baal Shem Tov interprets the word “shadow” (usually taken to mean protection) to indicate that just as a person’s shadow corresponds to his movements, so too G-d relates to us according to our behavior and our attitudes.
Simply put, there is an ongoing relationship whereby our actions (or emotions) cause a mirroring effect above. When a person is happy down here, it creates a corresponding joy within the heavens. And just like the internal experience transcends the usual limitation/restrictions, so too above, at the time of happiness, all barriers and restrictions/limits are nullified/removed.
On a deeper psychological level, “simcha breaking barriers” means that most barriers we perceive are often illusions. And through feeling happiness, the illusion that these barriers exist falls away.
The boundless quality of joy does not stem from any reasoning, but rather a deeper force inside us, an unexpected fortune or sense of gratitude beyond what the heart can contain.
Any fulfilment based on condition or reason — success, accomplishment or desire — is limited. But when based on commitment, motivation about doing what’s right, connecting to above, mitzvah — then it taps into unlimited energy, which in turn affects that which rises above limitations, which is true joy.
Genuine joy stems from commitment, the motivation to move beyond one’s comfort and connect to a higher purpose.
In the Jewish cycle, the themes behind the full month of holidays are not incidental; they are specifically the commitment we established on Rosh Hashanah, reaching to the source of all life, then the introspection and cleansing on Yom Kippur, that allows for the true experience and expression of happiness that plays out during Sukkot.
As it applies to the rest of the year, happiness must penetrate into the three spiritual pathways — “Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness.” And here too, we must seek to break limits.
When it comes to balancing the obligation to give — the desire to make a difference in somebody else’s life — and the counter voice inside calling to look after oneself, a common approach is “first take care of yourself, then you’ll be in a better position to give to others.” A similar view sparks the overused counsel of “you can’t really love others if you don’t first love yourself.”
The problem with the above mentality is that while you’re striving to make progress in the first stage, the second stage usually suffers — once you start focusing on improving or loving yourself, there is no end to the “self’s” demands. It often results in a bourgeois outlook, a measured giving aimed at feeling good. But true wisdom and spiritual growth comes only through sacrifice.
On the other hand, it is difficult to give happily when you are busy, feeling weak or overwhelmed.
One approach to resolving this tension begins with changing our perception of the conflict and division between these two. The key comes through internalizing how, through connecting with someone else, a person refines himself in a way that could never be achieved while alone and focused inward.
In other words, helping another is an essential part of fixing oneself and should never be completely pushed aside or delayed. It’s only a question of how many calculations are made. Indeed, the Hebrew word for tzedakah shares a root with (tzedek) “just” — a moral requirement, not simply an altruistically inspired act.
More practically, when a person designates a fixed time in the schedule for giving to others, knowing that during this part of the day they must go against the grain and give more, this sacrifice of personal advancement for the sake of uplifting another in turn benefits the giver immeasurably. This sacrifice also includes “spiritual tzedakah” — being charitable with one’s time, breaking away from one’s busy schedule to be with, teach, share wisdom or advise another.
The fifth Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty, known as “the Tzemach Tzedek,” once guaranteed that the merit of giving tzedakah will lift the person to the extent that the mind and the heart are, in the process, refined thousandfold. The result is that a project or business deal, for example, which would have taken the person 1,000 hours to complete, due to challenges, hindrances or insight, will end up being accomplished in only an hour because the internal faculties of the person, and the outside world, have been enhanced.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.

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Garments of years past bring back memories

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

January will mark 35 years that I have lived in my three-bedroom Dallas condo. My husband and I made a major downsizing move then, when the last child went to college. But that involved big things, mainly furniture that we’d no longer need, which was easy. Now, I’m about the business of going through smaller things – the collections of years, stashed in drawers or closets and never touched. This is much harder.
There was a ritual for middle-class Jewish brides in the time (1955) and place (Pittsburgh) of my marriage – and other females of my age cohort say this was true in many other Jewish enclaves: Mother took daughter shopping for her “trousseau” – a French word meaning “to bundle,” which is what brides-to-be did on that outing.
Every city of any size had a street filled with Jewish merchants who dealt in bedding, table coverings and lingerie, and mother helped daughter choose her sheets, blankets, towels, tablecloths, lingerie and nightwear. Some girls had looked ahead and already stocked their “hope chests” with some things they’d sewed or crocheted or needle-pointed themselves. But there was still a bundle of stuff left for that premarital shopping spree.
I recalled mine clearly very recently, as I went through a large drawer in a bedroom chest, finding slips, nightgowns and peignoirs (if you don’t know that word, please look it up), unworn and untouched for several decades.
What startled me most, after first finding this trove of forgotten treasures, was their pristine condition. Yes, all had been worn and washed and worn again, a long, long time ago. But all of them could pass for new. And the reason, I think, is that they are all made of nylon – a kind of nylon I haven’t seen in ages. I would call it the fabric equivalent of iron.
As I gathered up many, many slips in many colors (how many girls or women wear slips today? How many even know what a slip is?) and nightgowns in bridal white with matching peignoirs, I couldn’t get over how beautiful they still are. I called a much younger cousin who I know has never worn a slip in her life and told her about my discovery. She said a vintage clothing place would salivate over everything. But I just bundled (“trousseau-ed,” perhaps?) the stuff up for the Goodwill. I hesitated for only a moment, thinking I might keep one slip with beautiful lace flowers enhancing the nylon, but quickly added it to the pile. The memory, without the item, will be enough.
All of which has me thinking about another “iron” garment – a white sweater that had belonged to my mother, who passed away in 1984 and which she had worn for years before that. I’ve had it ever since: a simple knit cardigan, soft and light. I can’t be sure of the fabric because the content label is long gone, but I would guess it’s acrylic, or Orlon, but most likely with some of that nylon mixed in – because I’ve been wearing and washing and wearing it again all these 35 years, the same as the number of years I’ve been in this condo.
And the sweater lives on and will continue to do so, because it’s my favorite: feather-weight but warm, it stays on the front seat of my car throughout the hot-weather season, to go with me into all those buildings where air conditioning keeps the atmosphere too cold for outdoor summer clothing. As our weather has finally been showing signs of fall, I’ll be giving it a last washing for this year, then fold it and stow it on a shelf, where it will be ready for action in 2019.
(A final note: Some brides of my era have saved their wedding gowns. I gave mine to a community theater for its costume collection. As far as I know, it’s still going strong – another iron garment of a bygone time.)
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net

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