Archive for July 2013

Long Live the King – What Rosh Hashanah is all About



The high holidays had a different meaning at different stages of my life.  As a child, the high holidays was fun and greatly anticipated, because many more children would come to shul since their parents felt it was an important time of year. The best way to explain it, for example, is to envision yourself in a crowded movie theater or packed stadium, watching a great film or an important ball game. The buzz of excitement was apparent. The best chazanim would come from Israel. As a young adult, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur began to differ a bit. On Rosh Hashanah, it was fun; we all had a chance to show off our dapper don new suits which we bought in honor of the holiday, from the fancy shmancy boutiques on Austin St in Forest hills. However, the anxiety of fasting on Yom Kippur was a bit more of a hardship. As we got older, we started to realize the seriousness of and the potential impact of Yom Kippur. There’s an elderly tall gentleman in the Sephardic shul in Forest Hills, Mr. Moradi, who would not speak and would cry throughout the entire Yom Kippur services; he got us all in a repentant mood. However, Rosh Hashanah, with the fancy suits and delicious special foods (dushperreh-mantu – meat dumplings) was more majestic and a special time.


          If one realizes, though, there is not one reference to slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah; there’s not one banging on the heart; no tears are shed. If there is no reference to forgiveness, then what’s Rosh Hashanah all about? What’s the purpose?

The answer lies in what we read every Sunday morning ME ZE MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the King who gets the honor – G-d. This is one of the themes of Rosh Hashanah. The King is enwrapped in royalty; He gets the kavod. We pronounce through the Rosh Hashanah prayers, MELECH – King – because Rosh Hashanah is designed to be royalty. However, if a king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones that raise the volume and strengthen his kingship. If that’s not accomplished, then the people are not needed. In essence, the people have the illustrious responsibility to honor G-d all year round and especially on Rosh Hashanah. Fine new clothes have to be worn; delicacies have to be eaten; one has to feel good about himself; one has to feel like royalty. But he has to have the intention that the clothing, the food, the feeling, is not for your KAVOD – honor – but for G-d’s. Everything is dedicated to G-d. The same concept applies for Shabbat, if one eats well on Shabbat. For the sake of Shabbat, he’ll have a bracha the up and coming week; if he buys food with the intention of it being for Shabbat, then there would be a bracha attached to it.


There is a true story which happened in Israel. It definitely has an Israeli flavor to it. One religious Jew wanted to sell his car to another religious Jew. “There’s one stipulation,” the seller demanded “it should not be driven on Shabbat.” “This car follows Shabbat laws and has never been driven on Shabbat.” The buyer was taken aback, “How can he say that to me? I’m an observant Jew 100%.” Regardless of the comments, he agreed, and the sale was completed. A number of years later, the buyer decides to sell this very car and found someone who is interested. However as he’s about to finish the transaction, he’s reminded of the first seller’s words, about not driving it on Shabbat. The new buyer had a ponytail and an earring. The seller said, “Oh I don’t know how to say this, but this car should not be driven on Shabbat. It’s an observant car and it never violated the holy Sabbath. You have to promise me you’ll never drive it on Shabbat.” After realizing the seller was not joking, the buyer had a puzzled look on his face and thought he was a little crazy. “Yea, yea, sure, sure, whatever you say, I won’t drive it on Shabbat.” So he’s driving the car and everything is fine. When Friday night arrives, the car doesn’t start. After an hour or so he gives up and decides to call a tow truck on Sunday. Sunday morning arrives and lo and behold, the car starts. He has it checked out by the mechanic every way, but nothing was found. The next Friday night however, the car doesn’t start again.


A few years have passed and the last seller of the car was stopped one day on the street by a Chassidic looking man. “Hey, you don’t recognize me, do you? I’m the guy with the pony tail who you sold the shomer Shabbat car to.” “This is a pleasant but drastic change; what happened?” said the seller. The buyer replied, “I said if you people are so careful about cars, about Shabbat, about G-d, it must be something to explore, and I did.

People designate special suits for Shabbat. They save items for KAVOD – G-d – because honoring G-d is the biggest attachment one can achieve. We say during the ten days of repentance which includes Rosh Hashanah, LE MA A NACH – for Your sake, for Your kavod. This is the biggest repentance one can make – honoring the King.

Parshat Eikev

First Portion
*COMMANDMENTS! COMMANDMENTS! COMMANDMENTS! We, the Jews, have plenty of those. In fact, it’s quite confusing to keep up with them, whether it be daily, weekly, and yearly. Which one is of more importance? Well, one of the lessons in this week’s Torah reading is that one should not stomp with his feet, or more accurately, heel – alike the ones in which he deems not so important. Because, the commentaries say, those which you think are not so important can very well be significantly crucial in your life. This will be apparently disclosed to us in the olam ha-emet – the world of truth – after 120 years. So a simple washing of the hands with a bracha can earn you a significant amount of brownie points. Another interpretation, if one handles with care the ones which are deemed “insignificant commandments”, then G-d will reward him the same as the difficult commandments.
* A very interesting observation has been brought up by a good friend, David Isaacoff, who quotes Rabbi Dovid Cohen on the topic of Aikev – heel. In terms of the generations, society, we are on the heel, the last stop, before the Mashiach arrives. It’s called Pirud at ikvessi hamashiach – which is intended to prevent the final Jewish souls from being born. This is the reason, in today’s times, there’s a tremendous difficulty to get married and for that matter, stay married. It’s astonishing that we have a large community of singles and a high rate of divorce.Second Portion
* We continue with a topic which we began at the end of the first portion. It says that after one eats and gets satisfied, he should bless G-d right away. Human nature is such that after being satisfied, he tends to feel more confident in himself; that it was his own expertise that led to his success without divine intervention. That’s what a good pastrami sandwich can do to a person. Man tends to rebel against G-d only when he is satisfied and prosperous. If we bless G-d soon after we eat, it would infiltrate the psyche and instill a sense of awareness of G-d’s significance. According to Jewish law, one is not allowed to eat before praying because of this reason. When a person is a little hungry, he is more humbled; this is the ideal frame of mind one should have when praying.Third Portion
* Moshe tells the Israelites, “Don’t think it’s because of your merit that you inherited the land, but rather the promise G-d made to your ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov. We learn from here the significance of our ancestors. When we pray, we can ask G-d to grant us our request through their merits. It’s a powerful tool to use in order to get our requests granted. One should think of the incidences in which our forefathers persevered, and with that find favor in the eyes of G-d and mention to Him proudly that these are my ancestors. It wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few of your recently deceased relatives who were righteous and what they have done. Using our ancestors is a powerful method of prayer.

Fourth Portion 
* The Jews were instructed to create a temporary temple that is portable. Symbolically, that’s life; we’re here on a temporary basis.  In fact, that’s one of the lessons of Succot. We build our huts which lasts us for eight days. In some sense, that’s how we should feel about life, our property, and our physical body. We’re not here that long, therefore we should make the best of this existence.

Fifth Portion
* The basic components of believing in G-d is love and fear. Each one, love and fear, has different levels. One of the basic questions one can ask, how one can love or fear G-d? Well, this is discussed among the commentaries throughout the Torah.

Sixth Portion
* Vehaya im shamoah, “and it will come to pass” is the second paragraph of the Shema, the most famous of our prayers. It is connected to the first paragraph of Ve-ahavta because they both have the commandment of “reading it in the morning and night”. Unlike the first paragraph of Shema, ve-ahavta, though, specifies the duty to perform my commandments and teaches when the nation is righteous it will be rewarded with success and prosperity. When they sin, however, they must expect poverty and exile. Another connection between the two paragraphs is that it both talks about the acceptance of G-d’s sovereignty.

Seventh Portion
* The Parsha concludes with a warning to be careful to keep the commandments. It also repeats that the Israelites should expel all the nations from their midst. The current inhabitants will not make good neighbors.

The Power of Birkat Hamazon- Grace After Meal

One of the most famous and best-loved American authors, was one who has remained a national treasure and America’s most archetypal writer. He wrote two of the most important novels in American Literature; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s writings have reportedly inspired more commentary than those of any other American author, and have been translated into at least 72 languages. His name has remained known despite being dead for a century

Mark Twain replaced his earlier negative stereotype of the Jewish people with another, more positive one. In 1879, he wrote privately:
Sampson was a Jew – therefore not a fool. The Jews have the best average brain of any people in the world. The Jews are the only race who work wholly with their brains and never with their hands. There are no Jewish beggars, no Jewish tramps, no Jewish ditch diggers, hod-carriers, day laborers or followers of toilsome, mechanical trades. They are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Mark Twain

Food has magical powers! One would be surprised what a plate of spaghetti or a plate of Osh-palov can do. Food could change a person’s attitude 180 degrees from pussycat to tiger within minutes. My mother mentions that when my father z’l would come home from work a bit agitated, she would quickly feed him dinner, and then and only then engage in conversation. ‘That’s how you tame the lion”, she says. It just so happens, my father z’l would say ‘always eat something light before coming home to your wife for dinner; it can avoid many unpleasant confrontations.’

             Dr. Goldman, a psychologist at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, says when a person is hungry, the body experiences a chemical imbalance and presumably, can be categorized as an illness. It’s a miracle that within minutes of eating, a person regains physical strength as well as being able to feel good emotionally.
             In this week’s Parasha it says, ‘you shall eat and be satiated and then bless G-d’ (Devarim 8:10), and later on ‘Lest you eat and be full and become haughty and forget G-d’ (8:12:14). The Torah understands how man’s mind works, in that being full, man forgets his Creator Who gives food to everyone and makes all full. As man must plow, sow, reap, stack, thresh, winnow, clean, grind, sift, knead and bake until he finally has some bread to eat, there is reason to fear that he may begin to believe that whatever he has, comes about from his own efforts. In order to remove such thoughts from man’s mind, we are commanded to bless G-d after we eat. This is the primary reason of birkat hamazon (the blessing after the meal).
       Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch also explains the need for brachot (blessings) as a means to elevate man spiritually. After enjoying a meal, we have acquired renewed power and strength to understand matters, and we must recognize this power is a gift from G-d, and whatever power we have acquired, must be used to serve Him.
   The idea that we should recite this prayer comes from a verse in the Torah. “You should eat and be satisfied and bless G-d for the good land He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). The Sages comment that the literal meaning of this implies that we are commanded to bless G-d only if we have eaten enough to be “satisfied.” However, the Sages introduce the idea that we should say Grace after Meals even if we are not actually sated, as long as we have had a minimum amount of bread (an “olive-size,” regarded as one ounce).
This prayer has four paragraphs. The first, composed by Moshe, concerns the fact that G-d provides food for the whole world. The Jewish people wandering in the desert recited it after eating the mann which fell from heaven. The Israelites showed great appreciation reciting “Hazan”. G-d blessed them where there was no poor; everybody received food. There was no worry for Jews to scrounge around for nourishment.
After forty years they entered the Promised Land. Then Yehoshua wrote the second paragraph, which starts by thanking G-d for the sacred Land of Israel. This paragraph also thanks G-d for the Covenant of Circumcision, for the Exodus from Egypt, and for the Torah.
The third paragraph, composed by David and Shlomo, concerns the sacred city of Jerusalem. It also speaks of the Davidic line of kings and of the Temple. This paragraph ends with a plea to G-d to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem with the coming of the Messiah.
The final paragraph of Grace after Meals was composed by the Sages some 1,870 years ago. It is a general expression of gratitude to G-d: He is “the King who is good and who does good to all.”
In fact, this last paragraph was written after the terrible tragedy of the Jewish revolt which got crushed by the Romans in 135 CE. Huge numbers of Jews were massacred. The praise to G-d could be seen as gratitude that we survived to bring living Judaism to the next generation.

It seems that the fourth blessing, which is a Rabbinical enactment, is out of sequence with the first three.

 The first 3 brachot glorify Jewish history periods- receiving of the Mann, going into the Promised Land, and the building of the Temple. However the fourth, even though we see G-d’s miracle, is stemmed from a very dark period of time.  The Roman Emperor ordered after defeating the Jews that the bodies killed at Bettar, the last stronghold, may not be buried. In fact, it wasn’t until a new Emperor assumed command fourteen years later, that they were allowed to bury their dead.
 Yes, we thank G-d for the miracles that he performed. The bodies after many years did not decay. HOWEVER, COULD’T THE SAGES FIND A HAPPIER INCIDENT THAN THIS ONE!!!
One of the secrets of Birkat Hamazone is the realization of the wonderment that Mark Twain wrote about the Jewish people.
There is a guarantee which can be derived from the Grace after Meal which gives the Jews the ability to always look forward to tomorrow.

Besides our forefathers and the immediate generations that followed, there is a generalization that can be applied. Whether it be Matetyahu and the Maccabees, Samson or Bar Kochba, the prototype classic hero, which we are accustomed to imagine, never come out to fruition. The hero’s either succumbed to their weaknesses or their children destroyed their legacy.
Only through Hollywood does this fantasy play out.
Ever wonder why, the highest Hollywood  grossing box-office film series, the spaghetti western, starring Clint Eastwood, the hero, who kills out all of the most sinister evil bad guys, is never given a name.  Its either Blondie (the character has blonde hair) or “who are you”. Hollywood want us to fill in the blanks. Because they know we would like to put our name there.
The fantasy hero.
In the early part of the twentieth century, when going to the theater to see a silent film was a curious new fad, a Rabbi was asked what he thought of his experimental journey to the theater. He said it’s a lot like life. When the theater gets darker, the curtain comes up and the film starts and when the film ends the lights go back on. Life is the same; when life gets dark and depressing than one begins to fantasize. When the imagination ends, though, the lights go back on and man has a grip on life and reality again.
It seemed like the Jews had a savior; Bar Kochva. To be more accurate, his name was Shimon (or Simon) bar Kosiba.
What we do know about him is that he was a person of tremendous physical strength. He was able to uproot a tree while riding a horse. He was able to hold back a Roman catapult. His feats of personal valor were legendary, which all attributed to the superhuman aura about him.
The Talmud says that anyone who wanted to join his army had to be willing to cut off their little finger. However, the rabbis objected to such an act of self-mutilation, and therefore he resorted to the test of “simply” uprooting trees. In the writings of Dio Cassius it says that he had an army of 200,000, each soldier  was strong enough to uproot a tree. By any measure, it was a large and fearsome Jewish army.
Bar Kochva was a very charismatic, intelligent person, as well as a religiously observant and pious Jew. He had great and sincere faith. This, in combination with his charismatic personality produced a natural leader that captured the heart and soul of the Jewish people.
He said that the only way that the Jews would get anything from the Romans would be to take it by force. He, therefore, organized this very large army and began the rebellion against Rome, which lasted almost six years. During four of those years there was an independent Jewish state.
Bar Kochba followed the same strategy that the Jews had followed in the first rebellion against Rome. He first re-conquered the Galilee to cut the Romans off from the sea. Then he surrounded Jerusalem and forced them out.
He had active support from most of the rabbis – in contradiction to the first two revolts against Rome. In those instances the rabbis were at best neutral. In this war, Akiva ben Joseph, the most influential rabbi lent his name to the cause.
It was Rabi (Rabbi) Akiva who ascribed to Shimon bar Kochba the famous messianic verse: “A star will shoot forth from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). That is how he got the name “Kochba,” which means “star.” In essence, Rabi Akiva crowned him the Messiah. Rabi Akiva was so widely respected among the people that if he saw in Shimon messianic qualities then the people immediately elevated him to the level of the Messiah. This helps us understand very well why the Christians would take no part in the war; it would have made one messiah too many.
Shimon bar Kochba’s reputation became so great that, according to the records of the times, many non-Jews came to fight in his army. They saw it as a real chance to bring down the Roman Empire. Many people were not very happy with the Romans and their ways.
All told, Bar Kochba eventually mustered an army of almost 350,000. In the ancient world that was an enormous army, greater in number than the entire Roman army.
The Romans were so hard pressed that Hadrian brought his best general and all of his troops from England, Gaul, Germany and all of the provinces scattered throughout the Roman world. The reason was simple: Rome felt itself threatened as no other time. It was total war.
Many details of the war are unclear to us. We know that at one point Bar Kochba took back Jerusalem and proclaimed that he was going to rebuild the Temple, which was one of the steps the Messiah was supposed to do according to prophecy and tradition. However, due to Roman pressure and internal dissention he apparently never got to actually rebuilding it. By the third year of his reign there were already signs of disenchantment.
I. A “Star” Fades and Burns Out
After a string of almost unbroken successes for four to five years he now began to suffer reverses. As the pressure of Rome bore down upon him he began to worry about betrayal and was on the lookout for spies. However, he looked in the wrong places. He felt that the rabbis had turned against him.
This happened while he commanded a very large force at the city Beitar, which was the key to Jerusalem. Today there are a number of archaeological sites that could be Beitar, which was the location of the last great battle of this war, but the exact site is not known conclusively.
In either event, the Jews were so well-fortified and supplied they could have held out at Beitar indefinitely. Had they done so, the Romans, who were constantly harassed by guerilla warfare and marauding Jewish soldiers, would have retreated.
 However, the pre-request of being the Mashiach as Bar Kochva proclaimed was that you cannot believe you’re the Mashiach. The minute one believes he’s the one, the honeymoon is over. Like many leaders and heros, power has the ability to corrupt and seduce the most pious.
 Everything started to fall apart.  Beitar was betrayed. Its secret fortifications and entrances were revealed to the Romans by insiders – but not the rabbis, as Bar Kochba feared. Yet, in a fit of almost insane paranoia Bar Kochba accused the great sage, Rabi Elazar, of being the spy and executed him. He then lost the support of the rabbis completely. It eroded all chance of reconciliation. Then they began calling him, “Bar Koziba,” meaning the son of a lie; a false messiah. Their hopes were dashed.
Beitar fell to the Romans on Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, in 135 CE, adding it to the calamitous national tragedies of the Jewish people. Bar Kochba was eventually killed in battle. According to Dio Cassius and Jewish sources, at least a half a million Jews were killed. It was a tremendous blood bath…..And they didn’t allow us to bury our dead.
The whole world thought the Jews were finished. No civilization has ever resurfaced after a devastating and decisive destruction. At best the nations of the world thought the Jews will emerge similarly like the Gypsies, in a small insignificant non-important amount. They will be thieves and the low-lives of the world; they will always be strutting from one caravan to another.
The fourth Bracha of Bircat Hamazone comes to show us if we follow the Torah we have the blessing of, not just survival, but even more so, emerging, in a short time to the top of the world again. This has occurred in our history countless times. The fourth blessing of “G-d is good and does good” is the reason why G-d didn’t allow the Jewish bodies to rot. Furthermore, 14 years later, a leader emerged from the same monsters that destroyed us, who had sympathy and allowed the burial of our brothers. Isn’t that strange!! In hindsight we have prospered and the Romans are gone. History repeats itself, in a short period after the Holocaust we have overcome and flourished!!
Through the darkest times, the greatest let downs, we’re still standing!!!
That is one of the important, powerful, and meaningful lessons of the Birkat Hamazon.
helping constructing the article-Rabbis Berril Wein, Baruch Dopelt, Issac Oilbaum,  Dr Robert Goldman

Privacy Between Friends

In any Jewish community there are individuals who are blessed with great mazal and make a lot of money.
 For the most part, we Jews look after our fellow Jews. The rich look after the poor. In many communities there is even a system of distribution and it’s done discreetly.
  Once an individual needed $5000. He asked the Rabbi if he can help him obtain the loan. Understandably, he asked the rabbi not to disclose his name.
 The Rabbi came to a wealthy man, presented his case and asked the wealthy man if he could possibly help out this struggling Jew.
 The wealthy man said, “I will give you $3000, however, in order for me to give the money, Rabbi, you have to disclose his name”.
 “I’m sorry sir but that is confidential” replied the Rabbi. “Then I cannot give you the money” the wealthy man said. The Rabbi got up to leave. As the Rabbi was exiting, the rich man said once more, “Rabbi I’ll give you the whole $5000, but you have to disclose the name. The Rabbi again refused and again turned to leave. “I’ll give you more than he asked for, I’ll give you $10,000!! just tell me this poor man’s identity”.
The Rabbi unequivocally said “I’m sorry, I simply cannot and will not disclose his name”.
 “Wait Rabbi”, the wealthy man called to the Rabbi as he had already crossed the threshold on the way out. “I have to discuss another important and highly sensitive matter with you, and I’m only sharing this with you because it seems like you can keep a secret”. The Rabbi took off his coat and sat down once again. “Rabbi”, the wealthy man said, ” I’m on the verge of bankruptcy and I need you to raise money for me as well”, and with that he broke down crying.
One cannot, under any circumstances violate what someone tells you in confidence. This is an invasion of privacy.
Story told over by Rabbi Baruch Dopelt

Invasion and the benefits of Privacy

Article found on the internet


So then…I answer the phone and a voice says, “Do you have a trampoline in your backyard?”
Actually, I do. But now that someone’s asking, I’m suddenly, inexplicably nervous about admitting it. “Who is this?” I ask. “This is Jean at Harry’s office. You asked us to re-quote your car and home insurance.” “Oh, right, right.” I recall now that I asked our insurance broker to check for lower premiums. “It’s still out to bid,” she says. “But one of the insurance companies asked me if that’s a trampoline in your backyard.” “Um, why are they asking?” I ask suspiciously. “Some insurance companies charge higher premiums for that – and some won’t even write policies for homes with trampolines because they’re so dangerous,” she explains. Suddenly I feel guilty that I’ve allowed my kids to gleefully jump, flip, roll, and twirl on that trampoline for years. It has a huge netting enclosure so I think it’s pretty safe – and so far, no injuries. Plus they’ve enjoyed lots of bouncing, laughing, exercise-filled fun in the great outdoors, so that assuages my guilt a bit. But the mildly accusatory tone of the question makes me uneasy about admitting it, especially now that I’ve learned it may affect my premiums. I ask a bit defensively, “Why do they suspect I have a trampoline anyway?” She says, “Oh, they Google-mapped your house. On the computer, they looked at an aerial view of your backyard, front yard, the house, driveway, everything.” “What? Are you kidding me? They’re looking at aerial photos of my home? That’s an invasion of privacy!” I object. “Oh, all the insurance companies do that now. Aerial photos make it easy for them to spot any trouble before they write policies. They typically do a drive-by in person too, but the aerial photos save a lot of time to eliminate bad prospects right away.” I’m outraged! This is sounding very Big Brother-y to me. Now I have to worry about what we happen to be doing outside when the satellite cameras pass overhead? What’s next? Will the insurance companies ask me: Hey, are those your kids playing with matches on the front steps? Fire Insurance: denied. Are you chasing a bee swarm with a blowtorch? Insurance denied. Is that you relaxing by the pool? Insurance denied. Are those beer bottles strewn around your backyard while you and your friends try to build a tree house in a palm tree? Insurance denied. Why is there a motorcycle in the pool? Insurance denied. I’m not saying these things happened – but if they did happen, that’s MY business! I’m just totally freaked out by the idea that someone can be sitting miles away in a little office watching what’s going on in my backyard on their computer screen. And how can they not be super judgy? Are they sitting there saying things like: Is that your third glass of wine? That honeysuckle bush needs watering. And what if they perfect thermal imaging so insurance companies can see what we’re doing INSIDE the house? Is that you sneaking Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at midnight when we specifically heard on our listening device that you swore to your family there was no ice cream left? Insurance denied. “So,” Jean says, bringing me back to the present. “DO you have a trampoline?” “That’s what they think, huh?” I hedge. “Yeah, they said they saw a big dark circle on the aerial photo of the backyard, so they figured it was a trampoline,” she says. “Maybe it’s a moon crater.” “Huh?” she says. “Or like a really big black round blanket I’m knitting for an orphanage.” “Yeah, OK, it’s a trampoline, so what. And yes, I will get rid of the trampoline. If that will make them happy! It won’t make my kids happy, I’ll tell you that. And I’m totally blaming it on the insurance company!” So I break the news to the kids, but they’re not too upset since they’ve had several good years on the trampoline and have started to outgrow it anyway. I then explain to them in elaborate detail how insurance companies can basically see anything that’s happening in our yard and driveway and possibly home – and that they will report back to me any suspicious behavior perpetrated by my children. They don’t believe me. Rubes. Meanwhile I consider thwarting the thermal imaging sensors by wearing a tinfoil suit whenever I dip into my secret stash of Ben & Jerry’s.
When a parent passes away, there is a tremendous pressure on the siblings as they try to make the necessary burial arrangements. There are many details and it’s difficult to focus on simple tasks.  There is emotional confusion as the heart does not except or comprehend  the tragic occurrence that just transpired. It’s not for naught that the Jewish Law is such that one is exempt from prayer until the deceased is buried. It’s impossible to concentrate. One seems to be living in a cloud.
 I had the entire Shabbat to think of what to say at the funeral which would be held right after Shabbat. Then plan was that afterward the family would all travel to Israel for the burial. I remember that, as I was in a helpless and confused state, the only quality I can think of in my father was that he always knocked on my door to my room and waited for me to say come in. He respected my privacy and I always appreciated that. Although many said I spoke well, I was surprised that I chose to speak about privacy.
 For many years I always wondered to why that particular attribute of my father stood out in such a situation?  After all, I had tremendous respect for him and he had so many qualities that stood out. In fact, it was my parents’ Shabbat table that has enhanced my love for life. Why the respect for my privacy was what I thought about at that moment?
Dr. Robert Goldman, Psychologist of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, suggests that there is a broader concept that’s actually in the forefront, that being Tzniut-modesty. “The concept of modest doesn’t exist at a infant or toddler stage” he says. Rather, only later does a child begin to understand that showing modesty and privacy is an essential part in his/her development of personal dignity. There are those who embarrass their children in public. This is a major violation. Children are people too and need to strengthen their personal dignity at a young age.
  There was a grade school Rebbi who would always knock on the classroom door before entering. Once, his students asked him “why do you knock before entering?” Many teachers make it their business to barge in and surprise the students, catching them in an uncompromising act. The Rebbi believed that it’s important to develop trust and that’s how, by the way, one develops a sense of self value.
We read in this week’s haftora ..VEH HATZNAI LECHET-walk humbly with your G-d. This walk should be in private, meaning, one develops a relationship with G-d privately. This is the reason why we read the first part of the AMIDA, a very important prayer, quietly . It’s the main form of developing a relationship with G-d. Sometimes, one can display his love for G-d in public. But, for the most part, man needs the intimate relationship with his Creator.
  Astonishingly, we recite in our prayers MAH TOVU OHALECHA YAACOV MISHKANOTECHA YISRAEL. Does anybody know who uttered the phrase?  It’s found in this week’s parsha. The wicked Bilam, out of all people, an evil  man who reached the ultimate lowest level man can reach,  uttered this very high praise when he saw the Israelite camp from above on the mountain. Thinking to himself, he was impressed that all the entrances  of their tents were systematically pitched in the opposite direction of their neighbor’s entrances so that privacy can be preserved. Even though Bilam’s words of praise were forced out of his mouth by G-d, as he intended to curse the Jews, nevertheless, this impressive praise of modesty is a staple of our character. Modesty is a vehicle in which we can ride to the Gates of Heaven.
One of the more important lessons of “MAH TOVU OHALECHA YAAKOV ”  can be applied to the privacy of a married couple. It’s inevitable that couples will fight, however, for the most part, they will also usually make up. However, when the in-laws, neighbors or friends barge in unannounced during one of those heated moments, they can fan the fire and cause irreparable damage.
   Jewish law has great respect for privacy. If you want to build a home overlooking another home, you cannot do it in such a way that you would be able to see into your neighbor’s courtyard from your window. It would be an invasion of privacy. Gossiping about others or making judgments about their behavior is also prohibited because it means you are looking into an aspect of their existence that is not open to your scrutiny. It’s private, between them and G-d, and if you judge them, you’re trespassing.
  Ever wonder why we received the Torah in the desert. The desert is a secluded place, it’s nice and private. G-d bonded with us there by giving us the Torah and we accepted it. Similar to a couple who gets married; the bride accepts the ketubah. The Jews needed some “chill time” alone with G-d. The honeymoon lasted 40 years. A couple needs their chill time, their intimacy, their privacy. We learn an important lesson from our accepting of the Torah. It’s vital for the couple to have their time alone in order for the marriage to sustain itself.
 When a parent passes away, there is a sense of abandonment; “they left too soon” is the consensus of many children, even though they lived to a ripe old age. Many feel that the value of life is diminished by their passing. These are the people who instilled within us a sense of worth. A parents’ job is to teach children the lessons of life. However, now that these teachers of humanity, of Torah values, have abruptly left us, our personal dignity, at least momentarily, is diminished as well. Therefore, on a subconscious level, one can feel a loss of this personal dignity, self worth and self value.
 We stayed at my parent house that Shabbat before the funeral and before traveling to Israel for the burial.  We actually slept in my old room. I couldn’t help imagining hearing the knock on the door of my room and envisioning my father anticipating to come in.  He built in me human dignity by preserving my privacy. The words from the heart, from the subconscious, came out at the eulogy that I gave as a result.

Around the Shabbat Table- Parshat Ki Tavo

        By Rabbi Gedalia Fogel 


Hi! This is Rebbe speaking:


   Back to school? Now you’ll surely be able to answer all the questions. You’re already in the thinking mode!

   This week’s parsha, Parshat Ki Tavo, speaks about one who will own a field in the land of Israel. When his fruit will be ripe, he will bring some of his fruit to the Kohen (priest) in the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) to give thanks to Hashem for providing him with such delicious produce.

We must thank Hashem for all that he does for us. We say blessings before we eat, so that we can properly show gratitude to Hashem for giving us sustenance. We pray each day and thank Hashem for all he has done and continues to do.

   We learn from here that we must show Hakorat Hatov, gratitude, to one that does us a favor. We see examples where one even thanks inanimate objects.

Moshe Rabbeinu was careful to thank the water for saving his life. When Moshe Rabbeinu was a baby, his mother put him in a basket in the river since Pharaoh commanded that all Jewish baby boys be killed. Moshe Rabbeinu had Hakorat Hatov to the water for this and did not hit the water when performing the first three Makot, plagues, on the Egyptians. He had his brother Aharon perform them, since it warranted hitting the water.

   Reb Moshe Feinstein was known to thank everyone that did even the slightest favor for him. Even when he was the passenger in a car, he made sure to lean over and call out to the man at the toll booth to thank him for his service.

   Reb Eliyahu Lopian was meticulous in this virtue. He stated that one must have Hakorat Hatov and thank someone even if you paid for their service. Such as: a grocer, bus driver, shoemaker etc. Even if you paid him money you must make sure to thank him properly.

   Reb Eliyahu Lopian was seen cleaning the bench in his Yeshiva. Many disciples ran over and offered to clean it for him. “No thank you. I want to clean this bench myself, since I owe the bench Hakorat Hatov. Each morning this bench helps me fold my Talit. It makes sure that my Talit does not drag on the floor while I am folding it.”

Two nations, Amon and Moav, are not allowed to convert to Judaism. Avraham Avinu saved the life of their grandfather, Lot and they did not show Hakorat Hatov. When the Jews were traveling through the desert on their way to Israel, Amon and Moav did not allow them to pass through their land. They should have given the Jews bread and water but instead they came out to fight against them. One that does not have the midah of Hakorat Hatov cannot be part of the Jewish nation.

Sometimes we don’t notice the good that we have until we are missing it. When one breaks his leg, it is only then that he realizes the greatness of being able to walk each day with ease.

Reb Avigdor Miller waited under water for an extra few seconds so that he can be grateful for every breath. We take these things for granted.

Miss Braun, a 6th grade teacher came in one day. “Girls today we will begin a special contest. I will hand out notebooks to each girl and I want you to write at least one thing each day that you are thankful for.”

Sara immediately started jotting down a list of four things that she was thankful for. Linda on the other hand was stumped. “What are you writing? I can’t think of a thing.” “There’s tons! I am thankful for having great friends. I am thankful for being able to see. I am thankful for walking and of course for the best teacher, Miss Braun. I could go on and on, but I’ll save some for other days.”

Now even Linda got the hang of it. The girls jotted down a few examples every day for months and slowly filled up their notebooks. The girls were surprised that up on till then they had not realized how much they had to appreciate.

At the end of the school year each girl had a treasured book, filled with Hakorat Hatov.


In the middle of 7th grade Linda came down with a dreadful disease that left her hospitalized. All those that came to visit her were surprised with her upbeat attitude. “I’ll let you in on a secret. Last year Miss Braun taught us to have Hakorat Hatov. She requested that we write down things that we are thankful for. Each morning, here in the hospital, I read through my notebook and see how many things I still have to be grateful for. It gives me strength and a good mind-set to conquer the day.”

Thank G-d, Linda overcame her illness and is married with a family today. She makes sure to cherish this notebook and is certain to publicize what she calls a miracle. “This is what kept me going!”

What have we learned today?


What is Hakorat Hatov?

A Jew must always be thankful to Hashem. He must be sure to thank anyone that does an act of kindness even if he paid him for his service.


What are some examples that we can thank Hashem for?

We can say thanks to Hashem throughout the day even when we are not praying. We can thank Hashem for giving us good friends. We must be grateful for our functional limbs, our feet that walk, our hands that move and write. We can thank Hashem that we can speak and hear and for the brain that allows us to think. We should be thankful for our wonderful parents who provide us with what we need.

Boys and girls, who can come up with a notebook-full of Hakorat Hatov? Try it. I’m sure you’ll fill it up in no time.


I’d like to take this opportunity to show my Hakorat Hatov to Rabbi Matmon for allowing me to share some thoughts and ideas with all my fantastic readers. I would also like to show gratitude to all my readers who have sent in words of encouragement and suggestions. I am looking forward to hearing more comments and suggestions.

Some Insights into the Mezuzah


 In this week’s Parsha, G-d commanded that the Israelites inscribe the Torah on twelve gigantic stones.  Some say it was written in seventy languages; some say only the commandments were written. What’s the purpose of this commandment which was placed in Gilgal, at the entrance to Eretz Yisrael?

One answer is the stones signified that one was about to enter the land of Torah. Just as a Jewish home is distinguished by the mezuzah at the doorpost; so a huge monument at the border of Eretz Yisrael reminds the traveler that the purpose living there is to keep the Torah.

We have 613 commandments in the Torah, do’s and don’ts. There are only two mitzvot where one gets severely punished if one does not do a “do it”….and that is brit milah and korban Pesach (sacrifice). Seemingly, these two commandments are very important and it’s the first two commandments we had. The brit – Avraham was commanded to do on himself and his children. The korban Pesach was mitzvah number two. G-d said whoever did not perform circumcision cannot participate in the korban Pesach. Therefore, that night, many Jews, who were lax in this area, circumcised themselves. Then they were instructed to put the blood of the brit milah and korban Pesach on the doorpost which protected them from death of the first born. G-d skipped over the doorposts with the blood.

G-d said, because you did these two mitzvot you will be redeemed.

The RAMBAM writes, by walking in and out of our houses we kiss the mezuzah to remind us of the fundamental principles of our religion. We are reminded of going out of Egypt. The brit mila is also a declaration acknowledging G-d and the korban Pesach – a declaration to do the commandments. These declarations which consists of the Shema and VEHAYA IM SHAMOAH is found in the parchment in the Mezuzah.

The Different Aspects of Desire


After I spoke at an event, I was approached by someone who asked me how he can take away the hurt that was inflicted by a young lady friend of his. After revealing some of the things the young lady did, I said “Well, she’s not a friend anymore.” In actuality, after hearing the story, I don’t think she should have ever been his friend. He tells me he doesn’t know why he desired her so much. That reminded me of what Rabbi Isaak Olbaum said a number of weeks ago on the subject of desire.            He said the Torah is very selective in how it uses the various versions of the word “desire.” For example, when a soldier goes to war and sees a beautiful captive enemy “and he desires her”. The word the Torah uses is VE CHASHAKTA BA and he desires her, and you want to take her for a wife. Later after the soldier returns from the emotional state of war to a more familiar and calmer environment, the scripture continues. “And after you took her for a wife and then you don’t desire her…”. Here the Torah uses another word for desire, CHAFAXTA. What’s the difference? CHASHAKTA means desire without logic. There is no real reason why he desires her other than a certain illogical attraction. CHAFAXTA on the other hand is wanting it because…… There is a logical reason for the “desire.” Here, he is making a rational decision.

We find something similar when the Torah tells us of Shechem who raped Yaakov’s daughter, Dina. CHASHAKTA NAFSHO BE BIETCHEM – his soul desired your daughter. Then the scripture writes that he desired her because she was Yaacov’s daughter. Here it uses the word CHAFAXTA. At first, Shechem desired her just for attraction purposes. Apparently the Torah describes this attraction as “an attraction with no legs to stand on.” Meaning, it’s not going to last. However, after finding out who she is, Shechem desired her; he had a reason for his desire. She was Yaakov’s daughter.

There are many occasions in which people are attracted to people; however this attraction has no legs to stand on. At the end, many of us get hurt; sometimes really hurt. Emotions are hard to overcome. If one has a measly fighting chance, it would be trying to use “logic” and to ask themselves “why am I attracted to this person?” Is it CHASHAKTA or CHAFAXTA? However, it’s not always so simple, even when one knows this person is not right for them, they may still have a strong, emotional, illogical desire. It’s scary to admit; it’s scary to think that desire is uncontrollable. We have to make it our business to fight it with logic.

We Hope to Have Some Good Company on Our Side on Judgment Day


If someone wants to do something very wicked, but for some turn of events, it never came into fruition, will he get punished for the thought? In this week’s Parsha, we recall Lavan, the father in law of our fore-father Yaakov. We all heard some nasty stories about in-laws; however, Lavan is by far the front runner of the biggest nightmare an in-law can possibly be.

The pasuk recants how Lavan tried to kill Yaakov and his family. Rashi, the mainstream commentary on the Torah, oddly seems to write although the plan didn’t materialize, however it’s as if he did do it; that he actually caused harm. The thought translates to action. But wait! Contrary to popular teachings, haven’t we learned because of the mercy of G-d, that good thoughts equal to brownie points even though it doesn’t work out at the end. Consequently, if someone has the intention of sinning and last minute he misses his train and is unable to go through with it, the bad thought doesn’t count. So why is Lavan endeited for a crime that never happened?

We read in the most important prayer in our three daily services, the Amida, “The G-d of Avraham, G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Yaakov.” It’s in their merit that will help us, G-d willing, in putting us in the book of life. However, it’s not just their merit that will get us in. Perhaps, it’s the character traits that we inherited from them. We are from the genealogy of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and a lot of their fine characters in which put them over the top is passed down through the generations to us. So presumably, the bad thoughts which some of us have will not amount to anything because our forefathers would never do those things. A mitzvah which we intended to do but didn’t happen, we will get credit for because its safely assumed that our ancestors would have done it, so therefore, our character will, most likely, perform the good deed; its ingrained in us. Lavan had some cruel blood in him; so its assumed he would sin. In his situation, a bad thought will go against him.

I remember, many years ago when I was in the jewelry business, a business that relies heavily on trust, someone called asking for an expensive stone. We never did business with him before, so I was a bit hesitant. My father z’l said to give it to him. I said to my father “Pop, don’t you want to do a credit check first?” He said to me, “I don’t need to do a credit check, I know his father; he was an honest good man.” He said, “If you want to know a person, you look at his family roots.” Our family roots goes through some fine characters leading to the nucleus, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. This is the reason G-d gives us, the Jews, the benefit of the doubt.

When we pray, we have to emphasize the greatness of our Jewish people, the greatness of our ancestors. We should reiterate in our prayers that we will live up to the standards of our forefathers because we have it in us; it’s in our genes. G-d should give us the benefit of the doubt even more than He usually does and we hope to get written in the book of life. Our nation has to live up to a different standard, a standard of excellence.

Tishrei- The New Year

By Rabbi Gedalia Fogel


Hi! This is Rebbe speaking:


Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot!! What a busy time of year and it’s exciting too. There’s so much happening around us.


The new year begins with the month of Tishrei. The first day of the new year is called Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana, Hashem judges all the Jews.


On Rosh Hashana we blow the shofar (horn of a ram) and we pray that we have a good year. We are very close to Hashem on this holy day. We refer to Hashem as our father. Just like you ask your father for what you need, so too you can ask Hashem for all your requests. And just like your father knows what’s best for you, so too Hashem knows what is best.


A prince decided to leave the palace and explore the outside world. He came to his father, the king and told him of his plans. The king pleaded with his son to stay, but the prince had his mind set. Before he departed the king gave his son the key to the entrance of the palace and said, “Whenever you feel like returning use this key to reenter the palace. I will be waiting for you.”


The prince went on his way. It took him time to get used to life outside of the royal palace. Things were very different than he was used to. But slowly, with time, the prince blended into the outside world. Many years passed and the prince vaguely remembered his royal upbringing. One night he had a dream that he was back in the palace spending time with his beloved father, the king. He awoke with a strong yearning to return home.


The prince immediately set out. When he arrived at the palace he took out the key that his father had given him upon his departure. He inserted it into the lock but the key would not turn. He tried numerous times but the key had become very rusty over the past few years. The prince burst into tears. His tears fell on the key and washed away the rust. The prince was finally able to enter the palace and reunite with his father whom he missed and loved so much.


All year we may stray from our Father in heaven, but Rosh Hashana we are awakened and we yearn to be reunited with our Father, the king. All our keys have become rusty. But the key of repentance is cleansed with our heartfelt prayers. Our Father, our king, Hashem, is waiting for us to return.


The days between Rosh Hashana, the first day of Tishrei and Yom Kippur, the tenth day of Tishrei, are called “Aseret Yimei Teshuva” – “Ten Days of Repentance”. These days are designated for repentance and it is easier to do Teshuva at this time.


We spend the day of Yom Kippur fasting and praying. This is a form of “Yirah” – fear. However, on Succot we are told to be “B’Simcha” to be happy and rejoice. It’s a mitzvah to be joyous on Succot. There are two ways to serve Hashem – through fear and through happiness. Both are important and there has to be a mixture of both, to fully do Hashem’s will. Everyone knows that we should love Hashem, but in order to do his will we must also be fearful of Him.


On succot we take 4 things, the Etrog, the Lulav, Aravot, and Hadassim and we put them all together. Look at these objects and you will see that the shape of each is similar to that of one’s body. The Etrog looks like the heart, the Lulav is compared to the spine; the Aravot are the lips and the Hadassim are the eyes. When we make a Beracha and shake them it cleanses them all.


Why do we shake the Lulav all six ways – up, down, right, left, front and back? We are chasing away the Yetzer Hara, the bad inclination. We want him to stay far away.


On Simchat Torah, the last day of Succot, we dance and sing with the Torah and our flags. We have completed the whole Torah throughout the year and the first Shabbat after, we begin again with Parshat Bereishit.


What have we learned today?

What are two forms of Avodat Hashem – serving Hashem?


One must serve Hashem and do his will with both, Yirah – fear and Simcha – happiness. When we do a Mitzvah we should do it B’Simcha so that the Mitzvah will be complete. Build your Sukkah with joy, purchase a beautiful Etrog with happiness and these Mitzvot will be worth their fullest. If you help your mother clear off the table but you keep saying “Why do I have to do it? I wish I could go out to play” you lose part of the mitzvah. Do it with a smile!


What are important Mitzvot for us young boys and girls can do during these special holidays?


On Rosh Hashana we go to Shul (synagogue) to hear the Shofar. We must make sure to be extra quiet and not disturb. On Yom Kippur we must be on our best behavior. Our parents are fasting and they need us to help out and allow them to pray. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the Yom Tov of Succot. We can help with the building of the Sukkah or help to decorate and beautify the Sukkah. We can offer to help with the cooking or to take care and entertain the younger siblings. On Succot we shake the Lulav and Etrog each day.


Throughout these days, we collect and fill our “bags” with blessings that we use throughout the year.


May we all have a year of Simcha and good health.