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Reflect on ‘miracles of the bad’ during the 3 Weeks

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
With regard to the three-week mourning period we’re now observing, I’m struggling a bit to find a way to make this meaningful in my life. How does one gain inspiration by mourning for Temples that were destroyed thousands of years ago?

Marla K.

Dear Marla,
This three-week period is known as “bein ha’metzarim” or “between the borders” (Lamentations 1:3). It marks the remembrance of 10 calamities which befell the Jewish people, five on the day of the 17th of Tamuz, which was the fast day this past Sunday, and five more on the Ninth of Av, which will be the second fast day ending this period, on Sunday, July 21 (beginning on the Saturday night of the 20th).
The first five, at the beginning of the period, were like warning shots — breaking of the tablets, laying siege to the city walls, cessation of the offerings, the burning of a Torah scroll. These were all things that could have been stopped or rectified. The five of Tisha B’Av, however, were calamities of finality — a decree that the generation of the desert would all die there, the final destruction of both Temples, etc.
In my opinion, one of the most important points to focus upon during this time is an idea that permeates the writings of our sages and is a foundational understanding of our diaspora history, all beginning with the above calamities.
Tisha B’Av is, despite its sadness, a “holiday.” It is referred to by Jeremiah as a “moed,” which is Hebrew for holiday: “…it is called upon me as a moed, to break my youth” (Lamentations 1:15). This seems to be as antithetical to a holiday as can be.
Moed literally means a “meeting place”; a holiday is a time that we are elevated to “meet with God” in our higher state. That is why our holidays, beginning with Pesach, are based upon miracles. The Hebrew for miracle is nes, which literally means “elevation.” A miracle elevates us to a place where we can connect to God, hence a miracle brings us to a moed. We are able, through the miracle, nes, to view things and connect at an elevated level.
On Tisha B’Av there were, in fact, miracles performed, as well. At the time of the destruction of the First Temple, the Babylonians found the cherubim on the ark embracing each other and paraded them through the streets to shame the Jews. In their holiest place, they feature a male and female in loving embrace.
Truth be told, that embrace was the greatest joy of the Jewish people, as the cherubim represented the embrace of God and Israel. There was a standing miracle that the degree of their embrace was a barometer of the relations of God and Israel. Although there were no moving parts, they would swivel in or out depending on the Jews’ piety. The fact that they were embracing at the time of turning our back to God and our destruction was a miracle within a miracle. It was to expose our nakedness.
This is a new type of miracle, a “miracle for the bad” (see Rit’va to Talmud Yoma 54b). A similar miracle occurred at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple when Titus pierced the curtain before the Holy of Holies and it gushed blood, allowing him to think he had “killed God.” Another “miracle for the bad” that revealed the extent that the Jews had severed the connection between the upper and lower worlds, the very connection that canopy represented.
Miracles for the good — splitting the sea, etc. — obviously catapult us to higher levels of connection. Bad things that befall us, like hatred, exiles, destructions and massacres, don’t seem to bring us to higher places. But when we view the miraculous perspective of these occurrences, to the extent they are completely inexplicable in any human terms, shows us that we are connected to something higher and can potentially elevate us through that realization.
The level of fixation on the Jewish people throughout our exile, up until the complete fixation of the world upon Israel today, makes no sense. The entire world has nothing to worry about besides a piece of land around the size of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and two-thirds the population of New York City. Article 7 of the United Nations “Human Rights” Commission mandates this committee to hold a discussion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict at every meeting.
Beginning with the destruction of the Temples, we have witnessed and suffered pogroms, inquisitions, blood libels, a Wansee Conference and finally the unspeakable Holocaust…not ending there, but suicide bombings, BDS, condemnation after condemnation from the U.N. when other nations are murdering hundreds of thousands like Syria today…it doesn’t matter, it all about the Jews. It may be a “miracle for the bad,” but a miracle it is.
My late mentor once pointed out that the sum total of all the reasons and rationales for anti-Semitism provided by sociologists, historians and scholars will possibly account for 5 percent of what has actually transpired. What about the other 95 percent? A miracle. Albeit a “miracle for the bad,” but a miracle just the same.
We don’t have the space to discuss the nature or the “why” of these miracles. For now, let it suffice to say that it would be far worse for God to have forgotten about us, to have simply given up on us and no longer care, than to be involved with us…even in a way which seems as bad as can be. A child would rather have his parent angry at him than not care about him at all.
Let us remember that the destruction was in the month of Av, which means “father,” because — when we witness this inexplicable behavior toward us — it reminds us that this all happened, and is happening, precisely because we have a Father.
Let us focus on this during this time and, perhaps, the lessons we will learn will bring an end to the need to teach us anymore.

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Perfection not required to make a difference

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When you strive to make a difference, you don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes just doing anything is a step in the right direction.
The responsible actions to take are those that will help others when they are in need. When we don’t act when others need help, we close our eyes to the world. We must not say that someone else will do what is needed; we must do our part to make the world a better place.

Text of the week

Hillel was accustomed to say, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” —Pirkei Avot 1:14

  • Why does Hillel focus first on taking care of yourself? Why is that the responsible thing to do? What happens if you do not take care of yourself?
  • Hillel goes the next step and wonders what kind of a person we are if we care only about ourselves. What kind of person cares only for themselves?
  • The last phrase of this mishnah tells us to act now and not wait. Why is that important?

Value of the week: Responsibility (Achrayut)

Being responsible means that others can depend on you. It means you are willing to be accountable for what you do or not do: You accept credit when you do things right and you accept corrections when things go wrong.
When you take responsibility, other can count on you. Making excuses is not something a responsible person does. You want to be trustworthy.

Things to do

  • When someone asks you to do something, do it to the best of your ability.
  • Focus on your own part, not someone else’s.
  • Are you willing to accept credit or correction when you do something?
  • Admit mistakes without making excuses.
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The Fourth of July is always memorable

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

What did you do to celebrate our country’s 242nd birthday yesterday? I went to hear a patriotic concert by Dallas Winds, wearing my Fourth of July T-shirt.
My daughter bought it for me when she made her first visit to Dallas with her first child. I rented a crib for that baby — not even near a year old then — who will turn 29 this coming November. We found it in Olla Podrida. Who else remembers that wonderful, multilevel shopping experience that repurposed an old airplane hangar? But it was those multilevels that ultimately killed it — no way to make the place handicapped-accessible.
So, I’ve worn that shirt every Fourth of July for 28 years and still counting. After all: How much wear does a shirt get if you put it on only once annually? Of course, it’s more than a bit faded from its original fire-engine red, but the great little “portraits” of everything patriotic are still clearly visible. I had a red, white and blue handbag that wore out much faster.
For me, the best memories of the Fourth of July always involve fireworks. I love them. A most unusual Fourth came when I was living in the Chicago area; the weather turned so cold that year on that day, we actually had to wear winter coats to go outside and watch them. (I decided then that it was no longer necessary to put away “seasonal” clothes.) Here in Dallas, Fred and I tried everything firework-ey over our 34 years together: We went to Fair Park — to Rangers games — to occupy chaises in friends’ excellently located driveways with our bodies stretched out and our heads lifted upward. But the best was always watching Shakespeare in the Park with fireworks lighting up in sky in the background. Now, I’m content to stay indoors, listening to the noise and seeing the flashes outside my front windows, courtesy of the kids whose parents still allow them to set off things that are at least potentially dangerous. When there were cats in our house, they always chose to hide under a bed after the first bang. (Truth told: Sometimes I feel like doing the same.)
But my most memorable Fourth was when I was still at home with my parents, still young enough to want to go places with them on holidays like this one. That year we went to a big park and sat in the bleachers for a fantastic aerial show, which was followed by an even more fantastic show of “ground works,” something I’d never even heard of before and have never seen since. Can you imagine a huge American flag spread out in front of you, just lighting up before your eyes? Does anyone do that any longer? Or are those displays so much more dangerous than the dangerous-enough “normal” fireworks that an end has been put to them? Whatever: That was one fabulous, truly unforgettable Fourth, for the flag lasted much longer than any of those ephemeral things that fly and die so quickly over our heads.
All patriotic holidays seem to have dimmed in recent years. I remember public flag-raisings that attracted crowds on Flag Day. I remember Armistice Day marking the end of World War I every year until the ’60s, when it became Veterans Day, recalling all wars. I remember when Memorial Day was Decoration Day, when people took flowers to cemeteries for the graves of their fallen war heroes.
I’m grateful that our Jewish War Veterans posts now put flags on the graves of our departed vets, but not many people remember to wear poppies any more — one of our dying legacies from that first World War. We may never fully recover from what Vietnam and the wars that followed did to our country’s vision of those who fought and died in them, but I hope we will forever honor our national birthday, and that there will always be celebratory flowers, flags and fireworks.

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Thank heaven for the polio vaccine

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

The heat of the season has come upon us and threatens to continue. I passed a church recently that made the shortest, smartest statement possible about the whole business on its outdoor message board: “Hell Is Hotter!”
But this kind of weather always takes me back to the ’50s, the worst time ever for polio, which peaked in 1952 with some 20,000 U.S. cases of paralysis. I remember that year especially because it’s when the boy next door became one of them — three years too early for Dr. Jonas Salk’s breakthrough vaccine.
I also remember 1955 because that’s when my father did something quite unusual. Doctors everywhere were receiving the new vaccine and being encouraged to give children the shots as quickly as possible. Salk’s preparation had to be refrigerated, but even so, it had an expiration date. So my dad — a physician whose practice was adults, not children — took a bold step. His office was on the second floor of a corner building, over a pharmacy, and there was a newspaper kiosk at the corner.
As the vaccine’s expiration date approached, Dad took a folding chair and small table down to the corner and, receiving permission from the pharmacy and the news vendor, parked himself there and buttonholed all people walking by with small children in tow. If they said, when he asked, that their kids had not yet been vaccinated, he said “Now’s the time,” and proceeded to give Salk’s miracle away. The AMA was not amused, because there was supposed to be a charge levied for those shots. But my father made his case: Better that children be vaccinated for nothing than have the polio paralysis antidote lose its effectiveness while he waited inside for young patients who never came.
Of course, things became much easier in 1961, when Dr. Albert Sabin’s liquid vaccine — easily drinkable from a tiny paper cup — was available. But by that time, the worst was long over…at least for most. However, a recent Dallas Morning News article told the story of a longtime survivor who’s been, since age 6, confined to an “iron lung” — the metallic tube that 60-plus years ago did the breathing for victims with paralyzed chest muscles. And, for this man, still does. Nobody makes iron lungs anymore; his is at the potentially dangerous “held together with spit and baling wire” stage. But he is remarkable for his drive, stamina and achievement: He received all his schooling and continues now as a practicing attorney, with his body encased in the machine that still draws breath for him. He is not just one in a million; he is the only one.
So I recommend to you Philip Roth’s book Nemesis, which of course is polio. He fictionalized a young Jewish man from New York as the central character around whom polio rages — with the fear of the disease raging even more violently than the disease itself. And of course, those with the most fear, those who are most cautious and take the most precautions, can become — to their immense surprise — its victims. For me, a lover of everything Roth, this book is my favorite because it’s an affectingly true picture of that time.
The boy next door survived without the iron lung, never showing any of polio’s aftereffects. Not then. But when I see him now, he’s a man saddled with the characteristic limp that returns in old age to those who have had polio, years after they thought they were completely healed. Because of him and my father, I work hard on behalf of Rotary International’s efforts to wipe out polio across the globe. And we’ve gotten tantalizingly close but have been stymied by two small African countries where parents refuse immunizations. This has been enough to keep the disease alive and active.
Read the Roth book while it’s hot outside and give thanks that we here in the U.S. today are the luckier beneficiaries of Salk and Sabin.

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Decide to be a leader — and lead

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When it comes to making a difference in the world, many people wait to let others start the task. Especially when you are young, you wonder what you can do. There is so much that we can do, no matter what your age. But the first thing you must do is decide to act. Begin small and then gather others to help you. Together, we can do so much.
Text of the week
Hillel was accustomed to say, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” — Pirkei Avot 2:6
• What does it mean to be a leader? What does it mean to be a follower?
• Why does the world need leaders?
• Can you be a negative leader? What does that mean?
• This text is about stepping up and doing the right thing. Why is that hard to do?
• Name some leaders that you know or have read about. What are the qualities that make them good leaders?

Value of the week
Leadership (Hanhagah)
We have many leaders in our Jewish history; Moses and King David are very well-known. It is not always easy to be a leader, and sometimes we are thrust into the job as Moses was.
Moses took the job that God gave him and, even when it was challenging, he continued. Yet, even if we are not Moses, we can lead others to do the right thing. There is a wonderful story that we read during the High Holidays. It tells of Rabbi Zusya, who said, “When I die, God will not ask if I was Moses but will ask if I was the best Zusya I could be.” We are judged by our actions, especially when they are difficult to do.
Things to do
• Think of a project you would like to do. Find others to help you and be the leader of the group. Is it hard to be the leader in a group?
• One way to practice being a leader is to teach something to others. Talk about the difficulties in being a teacher.
• Can you be a leader with no followers? It is hard but important to stand up and do the right thing even if no one joins you. This may mean being nice to someone that has no friends.

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Kaddish need not be said for dead of Hamas

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m sure you read about the controversy in England recently, when a group of Jews got together to recite the Kaddish for the 61 people killed in Gaza by the IDF during its “March of Return” protests, despite the fact that 50 of them are known to be Hamas operatives. The response of the “reciters” of the Kaddish was that, although they might belong to Hamas, they’re still human beings and their deaths are still a tragedy and deserve a Kaddish recited for them, and if it were Israelis who were slain then they would have said Kaddish for them as well. Personally, I’m torn because I agree that any loss of human life is a tragedy, but the Kaddish part somehow doesn’t sound right to me but I’m not sure why. Any thoughts?
Alex K.

Dear Alex,
First, we need to understand why Kaddish is recited by mourners. If you look carefully, you will see that not a word about mourning is mentioned in the Kaddish. Furthermore, Kaddish is the most commonly recited prayer throughout the traditional prayer service, being said by the leader or chazan between and at the end of every section of the service — with no connection whatsoever to mourning.
The answer is, Kaddish per se has nothing to do with mourning. It’s just that certain Kaddishes that need to be recited during the prayer service are given to mourners to have “first dibs,” or the first right of recital. But if the Kaddish is not about mourning, why give it to the mourners?
The essence of the life of a Jew is to perform a “Kiddush Hashem,” to live a life of the sanctification of God’s Name. According to the Torah, every act a Jew performs in his or her life should be one that effects a Kiddush Hashem. This is implicit in the verse, “God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your God” (Leviticus 19:1-3).
This concept is repeated numerous times throughout the Torah, as it is the foundation of the life of both the individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. It means to live every moment as a Jew and, at times — at the ultimate moment of truth — the willingness to even give up one’s own life for Kiddush Hashem, as countless scores of Jews have done throughout the ages.
With that background (which we have only slightly just touched upon; volumes could be written to expound upon it), whenever a Jewish life is lost, his or her loss creates a vacuum in the sum total of Kiddush Hashem being effected in the world. That person’s family are the ones first charged with the obligation to do something beyond what they have done thus far in their lives to create more of a Kiddush Hashem, to make up a little of the loss of the honor to the Name of God which is now missing.
Any Torah they study or mitzvos they, or others outside the family, perform in the memory of the deceased helps make up for the lost Kiddush Hashem and, thereby, brings benefit and joy to the soul of the deceased.
One of the most direct ways to do so is to recite the Kaddish. The word “Kaddish” comes from the same word “Kiddush” in Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. The entire Kaddish prayer is based on the beginning which proclaims, “Yisgadal veyiskadash Sh’me Rabboh,” “May Your Great Name be glorified and elevated.” The entire Kaddish is an act of Kiddush Hashem. We give the mourners certain Kaddishes to recite in order to enable them to create a tremendous Kiddush Hashem to fill the vacuum of Kiddush Hashem caused by the loss of their family member. That brings tremendous nachas to the soul of the deceased, that they, through those left behind, continue to generate a Kiddush Hashem in God’s world. Kaddish is a response to the mitzvah of kedoshim tihiyu, be a holy nation.
Of course God and the Jews are sad about any human being who is killed. But once we understand the meaning of Kaddish, it goes without saying that it is inappropriate to recite Kaddish over the loss of Hamas operatives. Kaddish is not a response to the loss of “life,” rather to the void in the world in the arena of Kiddush Hashem, something which is as far as could be from a Hamas operative.
Allow me to add a strong personal feeling as a postscript, which will undoubtedly not win me any popularity contests, but needs to be said:
Those British Jews responded to their critics that if it were Jews who were killed, they would have said Kaddish for them as well. And I ask, did those same Jews publicly recite Kaddish when terrorists murdered the Fogel family in the West Bank? Or when the four rabbis were murdered in cold blood during a morning service in Har Nof wearing their tallises and tefillin? Or when numerous terrorist attacks took the lives of dozens or hundreds of Jews?
Have they assembled to recite Kaddish over the deaths of a half-million Syrians killed by the war in that country? When villages in Africa were burned to the ground, killing all their residents by the Boko Haram?
I think we all know the answer to these questions. It’s not the death of Gazans they care about, but that Israelis killed them. They would not have recited Kaddish if Israelis would have been killed because, and I hate to say it, I think that would have made them feel good, as deep down these are self-hating Jews who can’t bear the fact that the Jews are actually showing strength and defending themselves against terrorism.
Over the generations, some of the most virulent anti-Semites were self-hating Jews. They are infiltrating our campuses and institutions and turning public opinion against their own people. It’s not for Gazans they are reciting Kaddish, but for their own Judaism. This may be difficult to hear, but I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.

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Self-control is a difficult trait to achieve

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Part 1 of a two-part series on self-control. Part 2 will run July 12.
I think we can all relate to the challenge of overcoming the lure of instant gratification. Whether it’s the magnetic pull of the glazed doughnut to the dieter, the couch to the procrastinator or the vice to the seduced, exercising self-control is one of the greatest — if not the greatest — challenges of life. And generally, we stink at it.
The findings coming out of the new and burgeoning field of behavioral economics help to explain this troublesome human paradigm. Humans, they argue, have present-biased preferences that make self-control difficult. Shahram Heshmat (Behavioral Economics of Self-Control Failure in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015) explains the concept as follows:
“… behavioral economics shows that individuals discount (devalue) too strongly future rewards and overemphasize near-term pleasures. When we can hold all alternatives at a distance, our evaluations of them remain true to their values in our lives. But our subjective evaluation of a reward (our appetite for it) grows when we are closer to the reward than when we are far away, and unless we somehow commit ourselves to our previous preferences, we succumb.
“This inconsistency rests on an illusion that we all experience every day. For example, imagine you set your alarm clock at midnight to wake up at 6 a.m. the next morning. But when the alarm goes off, the choice that you made last night now seems absurd. The warmth and comfort of the bed makes you change your mind. What was chosen the night before is now rejected.”
In other words, when faced with the potential felicity of immediate gratification, our usually trusty decision-making skills and rational thinking go out the window. And in just a matter of seconds, we transition from rational actors to irrational actors. It’s no wonder humans struggle so mightily with the forces of procrastination, overeating and addiction.
To address this problem, researchers in the social sciences suggest meeting the allure of instant gratification with another immediate pleasure or pain that encourages self-control. My father, an avid student of behavioral economics, established a rule for himself prohibiting listening to his beloved podcasts except at the gym, while working out. Suddenly, relaxing on the couch didn’t look as appealing.
Behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards detailed a pain-centric approach called Anti-Charity, in which you strengthen your resolutions and quiet the voices of mutiny in your head with a commitment to give a certain amount of money to a charity you abhor every time you break with your commitment. Will I smoke that cigarette if it costs me a $5 donation to the Ku Klux Klan? I didn’t think so. As crazy as it sounds, the immediate, painful realization that smoking one cigarette means supporting a horrible institution with a minimal donation resonates more in the mind than the long-term consideration that smoking will eventually kill you.
Speaking from personal experience, I can testify to the power of the Anti-Charity strategy. Although, it should be noted that because of the halachic issues involved in potentially donating to a damaging and sinful organization (like the KKK), my commitment involved the second-best thing – a donation to a particularly disdainful political figure (the donation itself not a sin, but it felt pretty bad nonetheless).
The religious life introduces loads of new arenas requiring self-control. what we eat, how we work, when we work, how we speak, what we look at, how we judge, how we react, what we wear and on and on and on. I was curious, in light of the findings that demonstrate humanity’s trouble with properly evaluating near-term pleasures, what the Torah’s advice for overcoming temptation might be and if it addresses the central issues described by behavioral economics.
What I found in my investigation was initially disappointing, yet ultimately spiritually edifying and everyday pragmatic. Make sure to look out for my next article, in the July 12 issue of the TJP, in which I will reveal my findings.

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Balak was wrong: Changing places doesn’t change luck

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, includes one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and it reminds me of the beginning of The Princess Bride. You know, the part where Peter Falk visits his sick grandson, Fred Savage:
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles….
Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.
Well, the story of Balaam in Parashat Balak has fighting, bribery, treachery, curses, an angel with a sword, a seer who cannot see, blessings for the Israelites, and a talking donkey. You’d have to wait for Shrek to get a talking donkey. I love this story.
There is a particularly puzzling section of the portion, the one in which Balak hires Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Balaam warns Balak that he is only able to say that which God commands him, but Balak wants Balaam to try cursing the Jewish people anyway. When Balaam blesses the people instead of cursing them, Balak rebukes Balaam and says (Numbers 23:13), “Come with me to another place from which you can see them — you will see only a portion of them; you will not see all of them — and damn them for me from there.”
They move to another location, but Balaam blesses the Jewish people again, and again Balak rebukes him and says (Numbers 23:27), “Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps God will deem it right that you damn them for me there.”
They move to a third location, but Balaam blesses them a third time (Numbers 24:5): “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” He blesses them with a blessing that we use to this day every morning, not that Balak appreciated it at all. “‘I called you,” Balak said to Balaam, “to damn my enemies, and instead you have blessed them these three times. Back with you at once to your own place” (Numbers 24:10).
Place (makom in Hebrew) is important. Balak clearly believes that to change one’s place will change the outcome. In actual fact, there is a very old Jewish saying: meshane makom, meshane mazal, which means one who changes their place, changes their luck. The saying is based on a discussion in Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Daf 16b, in which they discuss four ways to change one’s fate. The discussion concludes: “And some say: a change of place.” That is, there are four agreed ways to change one’s fate, but some also claim that changing one’s place is a fifth way to change one’s fate. Thus the saying, meshane makom, meshane mazal.
Yet despite changing places twice, Balaam blesses the Jewish people all three times. Why doesn’t a change of place change the outcome, as Balak expects? One of the ways I reconcile this contradiction is to understand that God is merciful and forgiving, but not capricious.
It is not the literal and physical change of place that prompts God’s forgiveness, changing our fates. That would be capricious. Rather, God wants us to change the mental and spiritual places we find ourselves in, to prompt His forgiveness.
Sometimes, changing our physical location also changes our mental outlook leading to a change in our luck. But changing places without changing attitudes will never change our luck, contrary to everything that Balak would like to have believed.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim, Plano’s Reform congregation.

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We are obligated to make a difference, to fix the world

Posted on 20 June 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Each summer at Aaron Family JCC camps, we focus on different ways to make the world a better place. This summer, I will share different texts, values and give things to do for you.
Tikkun olam (fixing the world) is Judaism’s way of making a difference in the world. Jews are required to perform mitzvot. These are not good deeds, but commandments. This means that making the world a better place is not voluntary, but we are obligated to work to make a difference. Every time we do something to help another person, we feel good, so there is a double benefit. However, we must never forget the obligation or think someone else will do it. We need to care for the world and for all that is in our world.
Text of the week
Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God. —Pirke Avot 3:18
• In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read that we have been created “in the image of God.” In Hebrew, the term is tzelem Elohim. Rabbi Akiva believed this was the most important phrase in the Torah. Why do you think he felt that way?
• How does being in God’s image tell you to treat other people?
• How does the way we treat others help us with tikkun olam?
Value of the week:
Compassion— Rachamim
Caring and compassion are important as we go out into the world to change it for the better. The Hebrew word rachamim means truly caring about others. The word is also translated as mercy. Rachamim comes from within; it is a sign of love, respect and concern. We must care about others but also care about ourselves. To really change the world we must care about those we don’t know. The Torah says: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20-21).
Things to do
• Treat others and yourself with care.
• Let people know that they are important by looking at them and listening closely.
• Be careful with everything you touch.

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The Top 5 ingredients of a meaningful life

Posted on 20 June 2018 by admin

“Top 5 Lists” of virtually anything you can think of have become prevalent in American culture. We see more enticing headlines than we can digest, requiring us to become better at sifting through online clutter, discerning the informative and meaningful content from clickbait and trending material posing as educated opinions.
Whatever the subject, there’s never a true “Top 5” or “Best Of” list; there are usually overhyped items, and key components are left out of the discussion. Nevertheless, while we research or reflect, the mental exercise of evaluating and ranking can itself help us to clarify overlooked features or call attention to priorities.
Blending personal experience with Jewish sources, here’s my list of Top 5 ingredients for a meaningful and productive life .
Your attitude: There’s no such thing as an easy life without challenges; an easy life teaches nothing. It’s just a question of when you will face adversity, and how much. Evaluating where you stand, there’s always a mixed bag to sort through — beautiful blessings to acknowledge along with areas of ongoing struggle, sore memories with cherished moments, personal victories alongside regretful defeats.
Your approach can paint the mental picture of your life. There’s the importance of perspective, for example, when looking back, wherein possessing “good memory” becomes not so much the amount of information recalled as how you mentally manage thoughts — forgetting the bad while remembering the good.
A good attitude can flip a memory from painful to positive, change a challenge into a pleasure, redirect an adversary to become an aide. Or if something remains painful, a positive outlook can make it much less potent, more bearable.
Emphasizing the limits of control over circumstances, and the unique role of our character, the Talmud boldly declares: “Everything rests in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven.” Looking to the future with strong faith (emunah) and trust (bitachon) is the most vital ingredient for success and happiness. As the Yiddish aphorism goes: “Think good and (consequently) it will be good.”
Your spouse: Finding a soulmate is one of the most awe-inspiring supernatural events smuggled within nature. There’s an extra dose of divine intervention in bringing two people together, the process of finding and maintaining a partner in life. This intense interfusion is said to be as “difficult as splitting the Red Sea.”
(In classical Jewish literature, this term is employed whenever two opposites are joined by a force that’s higher than both, as well as increased significance or attention given to an event.)
On one hand, two parts of the same heavenly soul-root reunite in the physical realm. Yet such a sacred union — a meeting of souls, minds, heart and bodies — is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts, “a couple.” And so is the powerful effect on the world, especially when spouses align their values, goals and focus, which results in “an everlasting edifice.”
Mystically, male without female and female without male, lack the completion of God’s name. But when two souls join in the right context, the half images of divinity, contained within each person, also unite. The passion that pulls husband and wife to each other has multiple layers, the most profound being a yearning to create new life and to recreate the full name of God among them.
The bond established through marriage, a love that continues to develop and deepen over time, knows no limits. Having a difficult partner versus a gem of a spouse can make all the difference in accomplishing your potential.
Health: The body takes the soul to places it could never visit alone, allowing it to accomplish a unique mission on earth. The relationship between body and soul can be likened to a horse and its rider. Ask a wild horse to let you ride it, it will buck. It wants to do its own thing. To ride it without worry, there is an option to “break” the horse in order to ensure cooperation. But in the end, there can be no true harmony.
There is another option — to build rapport so that the horse becomes an extension of the rider and those feet willingly travel anywhere the rider wishes.
You have one body. Treat it well. “A small hole in the body is a giant hole in the soul.” We need to be strong and energized in order to carry out the reason for which we were created and to add light to the lives of others around. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have the fuel to uplift your environment and endure a rich but rigorous life journey.
Children: They are your most tangible legacy and gift to the universe. There is a saying: “True Jewish wealth is not material — neither houses nor cars, but rather children who walk in the upright path, absorbing the wisdom in Torah and doing good deeds.” The goal is not simply to raise polite, well-mannered children who go to prestigious universities and proceed to have productive careers, yet make little impact on their community.
Treasure every moment with these precious souls you were entrusted with, those you brought into this world, to nurture and teach them well.
Finances: Financial stress can affect all the above areas. In the very first words of the verses with which the Kohanim bless the nation, the most famous and all-inclusive blessing around, the commentaries explain that the first phrase, “May God bless you,” imparts monetary prosperity. One reason is that physical well-being and financial stability is the platform for a person to grow spiritually and give in the fullest measure, without being weighed down or distracted.
Honorable mention
Guidance and friendship: “Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Appoint for yourself a Rabbi (Rav), acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person favorably.”
As we become older and more accomplished, we may mistakenly think we are experienced enough in most areas of life that we don’t need advice. The main reason behind this instruction is not so much that we lack the discernment to make our own decisions — whether with marital issues, parenting, business ethics or other moral dilemmas — as much as we may be too close to the situation to see clearly. “Love conceals all blemishes” (Proverbs 10:12) and the greatest love is self-love.
Therefore, “appoint yourself a teacher” — even if you have not yet found the best fit. This person will not only ensure we continue to progress and learn, but protect from the trappings of self-reliance.
“Acquire for yourself a friend” carries a slightly different flavor. Unlike a mentor, a friend is not simply appointed whether or not the person is an ideal fit. With a friendship, details matter. There must be mutual appreciation and trust. A true friend is someone with whom one can act freely, offering a level of comfort and safety to share flaws without any worry of being judged.
In the end, both relationships save us from unnecessary mistakes, hold us accountable and encourage us to grow. We should always be aware and appreciate that wise mentor and good friend upon whom we can rely.

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