Archive for July 2015

Mortgaging the future-cat’s in the cradle

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Chaim Morgenstern, Yossi Bilius and Dr. Abba Goldman

Every so often, something about popular culture hits you like a brick wall. Much about Western society has its seductive pitfalls and some of its craving can contrast Torah’s morality and values. However, life is never clear cut and at times one learns a thing or two, a valuable lesson from the unexpected.  When I was a teenager I heard the lyrics of a song, the words were so profound that it had made an impact on my life to this very day. Although, Rock ‘n roll is, for the most part, all about pursuing love that you can’t have which can frustrate and depress you to no end. This song by Harry Chapin titled “Cat’s in the Cradle” is very different from the usual generic cesspool.



My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way,
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay,
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you’re coming home dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day,
He said thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw, I said not today
I got a lot to do, he said that’s OK
And he, he walked away, but his smile never did, and said
I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him


Life is busy and in order to survive one has to spend much time and sometimes overtime to make the buck to support the family. Hey! Money doesn’t grow on trees you know! It seems like the father doesn’t spend time with his son. The first part of the song is expressing those sentiments.

Interestingly,  there is a strong question to be asked on one of the most famous statements in the Torah of “Honor you father and your mother for you will have a long life” (Shemot. 20:12)

One should be aware, there are only two commandments in the Torah that a reward is attached to it. Honor your father and your mother is one of them. The other is Sheluach haken, where there is a commandment in sending away the mother bird before taking her young (Devarim 22:6) Both rewards are long life.


On a side note I heard a reason why this is such an important commandment that the Torah equites it to Honoring parents and is rewarded long life.  When the mother bird is sent off and comes back she flies all around to find her children. She goes to G-d and complains. “Where are my children?’ G-d becomes upset. Then, G-d remembers from this mother bird & asks “Where are my children?” This big mitzvah reminds G-d that His children are still in the diaspora and should bring us back home, to the nest, the Beit Hamikdash,

The sages ask a profound question through a story. Once a father asked his son to perform the commandment of Sheluach haken. The boy climbed the tree to shoo away the mother bird to then grab the young hens where he slipped and fell tragically to his death. The Sages asked where the long life is. As a matter of fact he performed two of the commandments for long life and was taken from this world rather suddenly!!

In this week’s parsha there is a familiar scene, one where human weakness is glaring and through this negativity, one can learn a valuable lesson where one can literately take home.

And they said, “We will build sheep pens for our livestock here and cities for our children.” (32:16)

The Jewish people reached the plains of Moav, ready for an invasion of Canaan. The Promised Land was to be fought for. G-d had sworn to our forefathers that it be given as an inheritance.  But the tribes of Gad and Reuven, rich in livestock, preferred the lush pasturelands of the Trans-Jordan to shares in Eretz Yisrael proper. They asked Moshe for permission to take their share in the Trans-Jordan.


Moshe berated them for letting the others fight to conquer Canaan while they settled down in their ranches. Furthermore, their reluctance to cross would have a demoralizing effect on the others.

“This is what we want to do,” they said to Moshe. “We want to build sheep pens for our livestock here and towns for our children. Then we will go quickly at the head of the army and fight until the land is conquered and apportioned. Only then will we return to our homes.”

“All right,” said Moshe (32:24), “build towns for your children and pens for your sheep. And make sure you keep your word.”

Notice that Moshe reversed the order of their priorities. They wanted to “build sheep pens for our livestock here and towns for our children.” First let us take care of the livestock. Let us make sure we have pens in which to keep them so they don’t wander off into the hills and get lost or stolen.

Cows and sheep are valuable assets, and we have to take good care of them. Then they spoke about building “towns for our children.” Then we will provide our children with a place to live while we are at war.

Oh no, Moshe replied. You have it backwards. First of all, “build towns for your children.” Make sure you have attended to the needs of your children. Afterwards, you can also build “pens for your sheep.” First you take care of your children, and then you worry about your cattle.

When we look at this incident, we say to ourselves, “How foolish can people be? How warped can their values be? How can anyone put the welfare of his cattle before the welfare of his children?”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, something bizarre that happened thousands of years ago. It is an everyday phenomenon. People become focused on their livelihood, on developing a business, on advancing professionally, on building a practice, and their kids get lost in the shuffle. They don’t realize that they are making the exact same mistake as the tribes of Gad and Reuven. But it is true. It happens all too often.

Rashi writes (32:24) that the tribes of Gad and Reuven did not return home to the Trans-Jordan until after the seven years of conquest and the seven years of apportionment. They remained in Eretz Yisrael for a full fourteen years. Those little children they left behind — let’s assume they were 3 or 4 years old — how old were they when their fathers returned home? Teenagers! Practically adults! The Midrash tells us that their fathers were shocked to find that their sons had long hair, that they were indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.

This is what happens when parents give priority to their wealth over their children.

The Ktav Sofer raises a question with the latter part of Moshe’s words. After helping the tribes of Gad and Reuven get their priorities straight, he told them, “Make sure you keep your word.” Why was this necessary?

The answer, says the Ktav Sofer, is that Moshe knew with whom he was dealing. People who could even think of protecting their money before they protect their children cannot be trusted. They are so intent on their wealth that they can do anything. Therefore, Moshe had to exhort them to keep their word.

The quest for wealth can become more obsessive than any other quest. All too often, the children are the price of the wealth.


In parshat Vayera we learn that G-d wanted to share a secret with someone very dear to Him and that person was Avraham. The secret was what He intended to do to the people of Sedom and Amorah, which was to annihilate them. The Sages explain why Avraham was so dear to G-d; it was because “he (Avraham) will command his children”. In other words what the Sages were implying was that Avraham will raise his children properly and pass down the concept of G-d which his offsprings dutifully complied.

Interestingly, the world was a world of Idol worshipers. Avraham stood out from the crowd and was known as “Lone Ranger”. He became the ambassador to G-d and professed the monotheism concept. It was strange to say the least in the eyes of the public. This action was unprecedented at that time. Avraham pushed the concept. He had chutzpah!! Secondly, let’s not forget his famous trademark kindness. His door to his tent was open on all four sides for passerby’s to enter. Avraham sets the rules on the concept of kindness.  And yet, he is cherished by G-d, not for those standout achievements but, for his ability to transmit his legacy to his children. That overrode everything else?! That struck a sensitive cord in G-d that He proclaimed that Avraham is His love?

Avraham was a “hands on” dad. He was close to his children. He went out of his way to communicate to his children; he was there for his kids.


When the Torah states honor your parents for you will have a long life, long life means your life will be extended through your children. They will follow your philosophy; they will pass down your legacy. They will cherish what was important to you.

However, there has to be an investment into the children and that is to spend time with them!!  Why would this work? Although there is no guarantee, however, one has to play the percentages. Since children’s intellects are not fully developed, they function mostly from their emotions rather than from logic. The result is that they learn and absorb more from what they see than from what they hear. Therefore, showing one’s children how to properly do things in person has a greater impact and influence than telling them so. This is what they take with them into adulthood. The fond memories of the parents physically there. Now let’s take this a step further.

There is a strong connection between keeping the Jewish faith and bonding with parents. Our Torah is passed down by tradition which we call the chain. The home is where this platform occurs. So it’s imperative; it’s Jewish survival to have a good parents- child relationship.

Interesting to note, as parents we are seduced by “making money” and we use it as an excuse to avoid our precious children. Our children, though, have a seductive outlet as well.  With the creation of media and these days’ social media there is a stronger connection outside the home then inside the home. One now can have their primary social outlet outside the family framework. That is dangerous.

Personally, when I was growing up the media had a tremendous impact on all of us. I can just imagine what the pressure the average teenager goes through today.  Our dinner table was disrupted daily by the giant television which was present. That contraption alienated my parents and I. What saved the relationship was Shabbat where we were forced to sit and talk to each other without any electronic gadgets and business dealing on the phone.

So besides being a slave to the business one now has an added servitude, they’re a slave to the media.

We have to savor the moment with our children. They grow up fast and before one knows it they’re out of the house.

Speaking about the media and popular culture the last two stanza of the song is something that is etched in my psyche forever and has helped me deal with my family with the utmost sensitivity.


Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man, I just had to say
Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I’m feeling like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See ya later, can I have them, please

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said I’d love to dad, if I could find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you’re coming home son, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

Our Honored guest Eliyahu Hanavi

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Berel Wein, Tzvi Patinski, Yossi Bilius and Dr. Abba Goldman
Imagine being served bagels and lox for breakfast, every morning, for the last 3000 years. That is the custom menu for a brit milah (circumcision) and what Eliyahu Hanavi has been subjected to as he predictably appears as the honored guest, with the front row seat. Every nuance of the ceremony automatically is recognized by him; any cookie or bagel tasted by him can easily be linked to the caterer. He’s an expert on all aspects of the brit milah ceremony. Though, he would probably welcome something a little different after all these years.   Eliyahu was a prophet and a wonder-worker in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Achav (9th century BC).  We know that at every Brit (Circumcision) there is an area set aside as the “Chair of Eliyahu” right where the actual circumcision takes place. Eliyahu is, as it were, the distinguished guest who appears at every Brit Milah.
Why is Eliyahu at every brit?  Why is Eliyahu Ha’navi such a central figure at a brit milah? After all, this is a mitzvah associated with Avraham Avinu, as demonstrated by the blessing we recite–“To bring [the child] into the brit /covenant of Avraham Avinu”!
Furthermore, better late than never, we open the door for Eliyahu towards the end of the Pesach seder and pour an extra cup of wine dedicating it to him. Is there a common bond between the Pesach seder invite and Eliyahu attending every brit?
   This week’s parsha begins as a continuation of the incident at the end of last week’s. We read how Pinchas was enraged with the actions of Zimri ben Salul, who challenged Moshe’s authority by taking a non-Jewish woman into the tent, in front of the entire nation to have an illicit relationship. Pinchas was so furious with the audacity of Zimri that after receiving permission from Moshe, he entered the tent and speared the two sinners to death. His brazen act of zealousness was praised by G-d and he was rewarded greatly.
 The courageous act that Pinchas performed was one of zealotry. It’s defending G-d’s honor!! It’s an act of tremendous love towards G-d par excellence. Is he a role model for others to follow? Are we to learn how to be a zealot from his actions? Is there a course, perhaps a home study edition on how to be a zealot?
  Apparently, it seems like the Talmud and Jewish traditions are of the opinion that only Pinchas’s act of zealotry is to be admired. All other acts of unilateral zealotry in Jewish society in later generations are to be shunned. The prophet Eliyahu, who in Jewish tradition is identified somehow with Pinchas, is chastised by Heaven to moderate his zealotry and despair regarding the acknowledged evils of Jewish behavior in his time.
 Our history seems to support this view. Shimon and Levy, number three and four from the twelve tribes, though heroes to their brothers, were reprimanded by their father Yaakov for wiping out the city of Shechem for allowing the rape of their sister Dina. It seems from the last will and testaments of Yaakov, which was disclosed in parshat V`yechi, that it’s not quite a popular idea to be a zealot.
 According to Jewish tradition Pinchas was, in fact, Eliyahu Hanavi. Eliyahu Hanavi is one of the most fascinating people in Tanach and Rabbinic literature. Ironically, he appears in our Rabbinic literature as an old cute grandfather type, who is a beloved guest at our every holiday and life cycle event. We even sing a song about him after Havdalah (end of Shabbat).
However, this is far removed from the persona of Eliyahu in much of Tanach. We find a very interesting comment from our Sages pertaining to the famous showdown with Eliyahu and king Achav and Queen Izevel’s false prophets at Mount Carmel [Melachim I Chapter 18]. Eliyahu challenged the false prophets of Baal to bring down a fire from Heaven to accept their offerings. They were unable to do this. However, Eliyahu succeeded in bringing down a fire from Heaven to accept his own offering. All the people fell on their faces, prostrated themselves, and declared “Hashem, He is G-d.” This is the famous proclamation that reverberates throughout our synagogues at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
This story is told in the Haftorah of Parshas Ki Tisa. The Haftorah ends with those words: “Hashem hu haElokim.” However, that is not how the story ends in Tanach. The narration in the book of Melachim continues “Eliyahu said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Let none of them escape!’ So they seized them. Eliyahu took them down to the Kishon Brook and slaughtered them there.” [Melachim 1 18:40] The wicked Queen Izevel heard what Eliyahu did to her prophets and sent a message pledging to do the exact same thing to him that he did to the prophets of Baal. Eliyahu is forced to flee to the desert where he sees a vision of G-d on Har Horeb (Har Sinai). In a series of questions, G-d first asks Eliyahu what he is doing there.
 Eliyahu indicts the Israelites for their wicked deeds. He gets down on his own people!! The honor of G-d overrides the compassion of the Jewish people. Was he right?  G-d then proceeds to show him a vision of Wind, Thunder, and Fire in which G-d is in none of these, followed by a soft still voice in which HE appears. As the Malbim explains, G-d is trying to communicate to Eliyahu through this vision that the proper approach of a prophet towards his people should not be one of harsh rebuke and stinging indictment but rather to pull them with cords of love and soft words.
 G-d’s persuasion, however, is gone unnoticed. Eliyahu is a zealot and will not change this about himself. The honor of G d has been defiled!!
  Eliyahu seems to hardly be the cute old smiley little grandfather that he is depicted in rabbinic literature. Based on this portrayal, it’s doubtful that we would want to invite him to our Brit Milah or Seder.
  G-d’s question to Eliyahu implied some measure of criticism. G-d chastised Eliyahu for not talking properly about His people. “Do not say about My People ‘they have not kept Your Covenant!’ Do not talk that way about Jews! You should have said, “They are Your children, descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.”
 There was never a more ‘for the sake of Heaven’ zealot in the history of the world than Eliyahu the prophet. He is the paragon of the proper form of zealotry. G-d rewarded him for it. But even that zealot was less than perfect because at the same time that he defended the Honor of G-d, he was too harsh in his attitude toward the Jewish people. The Jews had to be admonished, true, but he was just a little too strong. He should not have said “They have forsaken Your Covenant (Brit).”
We are told that Eliyahu the prophet attends every circumcision (Bris) of Jewish babies. Part of the ritual is to reserve a chair for Eliyahu. The reason why he must attend every Brit is a decree from G-d. Eliyahu must attend every Bris in order to recognize that he was wrong. The nation of Yisrael does keep the Covenant (Brit)!
 This is the difficulty of being a zealot. Balancing Kavod Shamayim-love and honor of G-d with love of one’s fellow Jewish brothers can be challenging to say the least. We have experienced how individuals for the love of G-d believe they have a license to trample other Jews. This is a common stumbling block of being a zealot. One tends to overlook that perhaps, their actions are not so pure and possibly motivated by self-interest.
  Interestingly, Eliyahu is mentioned in Tanach one more time. Eliyahu makes one last crucial appearance in Tanach in the last chapter of the Prophets.
 “Behold I will send for you Eliyahu the prophet before comes the Day of the Lord, the Great and Awesome Day. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of the sons to the fathers lest I come and destroy the land totally”. What this statement seems to imply is the answer to our introductory questions.
Let’s explain: Concerning the Cup of Eliyahu that we pour on the Seder night, it has a strong basis because the reason for preparing the Chair of Eliyahu at the time of the Milah and giving Eliyahu the nickname the Malach HaBrit-angel of the covenant is because… the mouth who indicted Israel stating that they forsook the Brit is the very mouth who will give testimony in support of Israel and become their defense attorney when he sees that they are keeping the Brit.
 A famous Midrash which states that since Eliyahu was the prosecutor against the Children of Israel accusing them of forsaking the Brit, his Tikkun for all eternity is that he will attend every Brit Milah and be able to testify forever that in fact the Jewish people have not forsaken the Brit. He will testify that through all generations even in times of great persecution and personal sacrifice, the Jews have kept the Brit.

Based on this, we have reason to establish the custom of Israel on the night of Pesach to prepare a cup of wine and a place at the table where we fulfill the Pesach [for Eliyahu]. Because one of the laws [of the Karban Pesach] is that an uncircumcised male cannot eat it. And on the first night that they fulfilled this mitzvah of eating the Pesach sacrifice, they first needed to fulfill the mitzvah of Brit Milah as it says in Yechezkel (16: 6) and I saw them steeped in blood [and I said, through your blood shall you live, through your blood shall you live]. Our rabbis teach us [that this double reference to blood] refers to the blood of the Milah and the Pesach. [The first two mitzvot the Children of Israel fulfilled prior to the Exodus from Egypt.]

We see here the clear connection between the Chair of Eliyahu and the Cup of Eliyahu since the mitzvah of Milah and the mitzvah of Pesach are interconnected. A male cannot perform a Karban Pesach unless he has a Brit Milah.
This beautiful idea can answer our seemingly contradictory portraits of Eliyahu. Eliyahu was and always will be a zealot for G-d. However, once he comes to every Brit Milah and every Pesach Seder for all generations his attitude towards the Jewish people will change. Not because he has changed but because the the reality of the situation, has changed. Once he sees that we never forsook the twin covenants of Milah and Pesach, he will become our greatest advocate. There is no doubt that the blessing of Eliyahu will come to every Jewish house to see that they have fulfilled both the Pesach and Milah. This will go up to heaven as a positive testimony to hasten the final redemption speedily in our days.

Zealotry is such a dangerous trait that even the noble Pinchas-Eliyahu can overdo it, by uttering just a single word that is too strong. This demonstrates how delicate and careful one must be when wielding the sword of zealotry.

Good cop – bad cop

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Pinchus Winston, Yossi Bilius

Raising children is a handful. For the most part, it’s all too common, that each parent commits himself to play a different role in order to raise them in the best way possible. What tends to happen, naturally, one parent is strict and the other is lenient. It’s the old “good cop – bad cop” routine. My childhood friend’s mother would always frighten the boys by saying “I’m going to tell Abba”.  Their father was a hot tempered hard working man. The negotiation blackmail tactic always worked; the boys were scared. Between my parents, though, my mother was the strict one. Those who know my wife and me can take an educated guess on who wears the badge in the family. Interestingly, it’s a concept that is applied to many aspects of life and is the lifeblood of our relationship with G-d. We pray accordingly; we eat accordingly; we live accordingly to this concept. Ironically, many of us don’t even know it.

We see it in this week’s parsha.
 The kings of Moab and Midian, enemies for many generations, united for the purpose of a common attack upon the children of Israel. Balak, the newly elected king of Moab, had been put in charge of the plans.  Balak came to the conclusion “all the Israelites’ success could only be attributed to some form of magic”. He believed that the only way to destroy the victorious Jews was to outdo them in magic by a spell stronger than theirs.
Balak, therefore, sent messengers to Bilaam, the greatest magician of those days, asking him to come to Moab to curse the people of Israel.
  As the parsha progresses, we see that Bilaam was unsuccessful in cursing the Jewish people. But, as a last ditch effort, he told Balak, “Balak, I have a plan for you. The G-d of the Jews cannot tolerate promiscuity. I recommend that you hire the daughters of Midyan to seduce the Jewish men. They would then be in violation of the will of their G-d, which will cause Him to become angry against them.” In this plan, he was indeed successful and there was a plague in which thousands of people died. This was his parting shot against the Jewish people.
We know one of the Jewish character  traits that G-d holds in high esteem is modesty. Why would the Jewish men actually take the bait and get seduced by the non-Jewish women? After all this was a superior generation. So it seems odd that Bilaam would pursue that route knowing that his chances are slim. Perhaps he knew something that we don’t know.
Bilaam’ pursuit of this idea was even more strange since we learned that he was impressed with the modesty and morality of the Jewish people. He uttered the words “How goodly are your tents O’ Jacob; your dwelling places O’ Israel.” Our Sages say he was impressed with the privacy that each tent provided their neighbors – no door was open opposite the entrance of the neighboring tent.
 Given that, what gave Bilaam the impression that the daughters of Midyan would have success in their immoral attempts to seduce the men of Israel?
The Sifrei Kabbalah cites Sanhedrin 105b, which asks why Bilaam, this high priced sorcerer, was unable to curse Klal Yisrael. The Gemara explains that Bilaam’s power in “knowing the Mind of the High One” was that he could sense the fleeting moment in each day that G-d became angry. The Sages say there is a brief “regah” [instant] in every day when the Almighty becomes angry at the Jewish people. Bilaam knew how to pinpoint that moment. But G-d granted them special protection by not allowing Himself to become angry during the entire period when Bilaam was hired to curse them. About this the prophet teaches: “My nation, recall pleases what was the plan of Balak – King of Moav and what Bilaam – son of Beor responded to him. From Shitim until Gilgal, in order to know the righteousness of G-d.” [Micha 6:5]. The Talmud teaches, “What was the righteousness of G-d (referred to by the prophet)? G-d told the Jews: ‘You should know this entire period in which Bilaam tried to curse you; I changed My Behavior which I have practiced from the 6 Days of Creation and I never became angry during this time frame. Had I become angry during the period like I normally do (albeit for an instant) there would not have remained a single Jew left!'”
  However, the fact that G-d did not get angry triggered Bilaam to devise a brilliant plan. The way the world operates is that too much love is not a good thing either. Unbridled love, un-channeled love, unchecked love can lead to disastrous results. It can lead to promiscuity. It can lead to love relationships between two people that are not appropriate. Therefore, this tremendous emanation of this spirit of Love can be perverted. What is the antidote? The antidote is that “G-d becomes angry every single day” (Kel Zoem b’chol yom). This anger serves as a counter balance to the feelings of uninhibited and unchecked love. This Divine injection of momentary anger is what keeps the world in equilibrium. That is why there can be the proper love and the channeled love, and the love to the right people.
When Bilaam saw that his curses were not getting through and he realized that G-d was not getting angry, he said “Aha! When there is no counterbalance to the love, the situation is ripe for promiscuity.” Based on that he understood that the time was ripe for this very private, very modest Klal Yisrael to be seduced and corrupted by the daughters of Midyan.
 When the Torah in Achrei Mot describes the prohibited relationship between sister and brother, it uses a very peculiar language: “Chessed Hu”. Is it not strange that an illicit relationship should be called “Chessed” (which normally means ‘kindness’)? The answer is that when there is an illicit love in inappropriate places, the love has gone wild. It is Chessed – kindness, love; but it can exceed appropriate boundaries and be forbidden.
This is why Bilaam was confident that he would be able to entrap Klal Yisrael.
This Kaballistic idea has an application to us as well. Love must be checked and balanced. We need to maintain the “right hand which draws near and the left hand which pushes away.” We need to employ this principle with our children. We love our children immensely. We want to shower them with love and give them as much as we can and treat them as well as we can. But again, if that “Ahava” [love] is unchecked without a counter-balance of appropriate discipline and appropriate putting them in their place when the situation demands, it can be as destructive as the lack of ‘Ahava’.
Thus, Kabbalah speaks of two primary lights: Chesed and Gevurah, whose natures are complete opposites. Chesed (Kindness, love) usually translates into mercy, is compared to water which flows without boundary, though it is considered to be quiet and peaceful. Gevurah (Strength) usually results in strict judgment, on the other hand, is compared to fire and the source of tzimtzum, the constriction of G-d’s light, like the glass that contains and gives shape to water.  Tifferet brings a wonderful balance based upon the two of them called Chesed shel Emet, “Truthful Chesed.” It is the best of both worlds, because as we have seen, both Chesed and Gevurah in extreme measure are destructive. Too much Chesed can deny the recipient a sense of self and independence, and too much Gevurah can deny a person the assistance he needs. Too much “right hand” means the child will never learn discipline; too much “left hand” will mean the child will never learn love.
 Throughout the year as well as daily, Chesed and Gevurah manipulate the time and it’s our duty, to the best of our ability, to take advantage of the moment. For example, the time for chessed is from chatzot – midnight till midday and the time for Gevurah is midday to midnight. For this reason we say slichot-forgiveness for our sins (prayers said before the high holy days) between midnight and the morning hour where G-d bestows his mercy in the world. We have to take advantage of the mercy moments!! This would be the best option for forgiveness. We now see how Chessed and Gevurah influence our lives on a daily bases.
  There are a few observations about Chessed and Gevurah that should be noted:
On the topic of counting, we have a tradition; interestingly enough, that blessing only comes to things that are not counted (Bava Metzia 42a). In fact, sometimes counting results in just the opposite-in curse-which is why, in Parashas Ki Tisa, the Jewish people were not counted directly but through their contributions of a half-shekel-silver coin.
This is not something to be taken lightly, and it is why people in the know, when trying to ascertain if 10 people are available for a minyan, do not directly count people, but the shirts they are wearing, or by assigning one word of a 10-word verse to each person. When all the words are used up, 10 people have been counted.
But, why should counting make a difference to one’s level of blessing? The Zohar explains this as well:
The Upper Blessing comes from the side of Chesed, and all measuring and counting is from the side of Gevurah, which is a matter of measurement and limits … (Ibid.)
 Thus, to count something is to apply Gevurah to it. It is to define the thing and to limit it, and to yank it from the world of Chesed and blessing to the side of Gevurah and constriction, the domain of the Sitra Achra. For, the Sitra Achra, the source of the yetzer hara and evil in the world, can only exist in a reality where G-d’s light is constricted, which happens when something is counted.
 Another interesting observation that one may not have been aware of is the ketoret, a prayer we recite three times a day describing the incense that was burned in the Temple.
 The Arizal says that when one recites the Ketoret with accuracy it inspires teshuvah-repentance and is a source for parnassa and refuah shelema.
Since Gevurot by their very nature are considered “difficult” and “hard,” terms associated with the Divine judgment they invoke (judgment is considered to be the opposite of kindness), therefore they are also represented by hard substances. When a hard substance is ground into a fine powder, as in the case with the ingredients of the Ketoret, it is also called a “weakening” or “sweetening” of the Gevurot.
The finely ground Ketoret mixture represents the sweetening of the Gevurot, and therefore a more favorable judgment. This is why, according to Kabbalah, the Incense mixture is returned to the grinding bowl once again Erev Yom Kippur to be ground down even more finely which is why Yom Kippur is considered to be such a special time of Divine mercy.
We see the concept of Chessed and Gevurah is applied to much in our daily lives. As we learned there has to be a happy balance (tifferet). Too much Chessed or too much Gevurah can be disastrous. For this reason, when both parents are strict or both parents are lenient that makes the recipe for a disaster. Although both parents have to be on the same page, same philosophy, however, the style is recommended to be different.  Who wares the badge in your family?


I met my soulmate at the well

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Berel Wein, Yossi Biliu
It’s strange how we see the “well” in the background of many of the momentous story lines in the Torah. However, in this week’s parsha it takes center stage, a starring role as one of the main topics of the sedr’a.

 Many of our leaders expressed their appreciation of G-D’s kindness through songs. We have the song of the sea, when Moshe broke out in song after being redeemed from Egypt while his sister Miriam led the singing for the women. Then there was the Prophetess Devorah and King David who were exemplary in their ability to raise their voices with praises to the one above.

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chukat, provides an example of an entirely different kind of a voice: not the voice of one person, but the voice of an entire group, indeed of an entire nation. It is the Song of the Well, of the Be’er.

It seems like the song is a ceremonial correlation of all of the mentions of the be’er in the Torah. One may wonder the mystique of “the well” and why it is cited in certain situation throughout the Torah.

The most frequent association of the “well” is it being in the background of finding a mate. Whether it was Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, looking for a wife for Yitzchak, Yaakov meeting Rachel, or Moshe finding Tziporah, all revolved around the shadow of the be’er. Perhaps that was the hot spot, the social gathering where one looks for his other half. The Grossingers of yesteryear (how many remember or would like to forget that meeting place). Perhaps humans haven’t changed much through time. It seems all mothers worry and rebuke their children saying “you’re getting old, all your friends are married, time to go to the well. Get a bucket and pretend you’re there for the water.”

There are many questions to be asked on many of the incidences. Let’s explore one seemingly strange story line when Yaakov meets Rachel, his future wife.  Upon Yaakov’s arrival in Paddan Aram [Bereshis 29: 1-11], the Torah relates the incident of when Yaakov gave water to the sheep from the well. A large boulder sat atop a certain well from which all the flocks were given to drink. The rock could not be moved until all the shepherds gathered to collectively remove it from the well and then collectively replace it. When Yaakov arrived, the rock was still covering the well, so he removed it himself. Rashi notes that Yaakov removed the rock as easily as one would remove a cork from a bottle; it was that easy.

When we learned this story in grade school, we all pictured a dramatic scene of a macho, muscle-bound Yaakov demonstrating awesome power and impressing Rachel with his good looks and great strength. Then we imagined a scene right out of a Hollywood script: Rachel falls madly in love with Yaakov, they get married and live happily ever after.

However, that picture of events is far from accurate. Does it not seem strange that all these shepherds, who were going through this routine, day after day, year after year, did not have the strength to remove the rock but Yaakov- the Yeshiva student from the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever, who had (according to the Medrash) spent the last 14 years learning day and night, did have the strength? Yaakov, in fact, probably looked more like the stereotypical pale, emaciated Yeshiva weakling than like a Hollywood he-man. How was it that he could move the rock and all the rugged shepherds could not?

It is interesting to note that the Torah lavishes a great deal of space and detail to this incident at the well while the Torah tells us nothing about the fourteen years of Yaakov’s life that passed between his leaving home and arriving at the house of Lavan.

Many men have tried to lift the stone that hides these sweet waters, but only Yaakov Avinu succeeded in revealing its undiscovered depths. Similarly, Moshe, our leader, who took us out of Egypt, was the hero of the day winning the hand in marriage of one of the damsels in distress, Tziporah. He too was involved with the “well”, however in his case, the nasty shepherds would always harass the water drawers.

The Be’er is a source of blessing, an ever flowing spring of G-d’s beneficent bounty. This Be’er followed Bnai Yisrael as they escaped from Egypt, and continues traveling with them in the desert.

What is so special about the well? What can we learn from the story line of Yaakov and Rachel at the well?

Perhaps the answer lies where the water lies, underneath the ground in the Be’er. The subject matter, which is the water in this case, is not seen; it is concealed. One only sees the shell of the well.


This theme of concealment is found in the very name of the heroine of Purim. “Esther” derives from the root word “hester” which in Hebrew means “hidden.” In the Torah (Dt. 31:18), G-d says to Israel: “I will surely hide (hastir astir) My face from you.” The sages see this Hebrew phrase as a subtle suggestion of the hiddenness of G-d during the time of Esther.

Take Esther herself. No one except Mordecai knows who she really is. Even King Achashveros is kept in the dark. “Ein Esther magedet moledetah” says the Megillah in 2:20. “Esther did not reveal her origins.” This is the theme of the day: nothing is revealed.

Note also the lineage of the protagonists of the Purim story. It is the lineage of hiddenness. Mordechai and Esther are descendants of Rachel Imenu. Rachel, the mother of Yosef and the wife of Yaakov, the muscle bound yeshiva boy, is the very essence of hiddenness and concealment. When her sister Leah is substituted for her in marriage to Yaakov, why does Rachel not cry out and protest that an injustice is being done? Because to do so would have humiliated her sister. Rachel knows how to conceal things, including her bitter disappointment.

The well conceals the very essence of life. This is the Torah’s message! A bracha’s inception is best through concealment and modesty. No one has to know! No one sees the water. This is what the Torah is trying to convey through the be’er. The most important aspect of life is conceived in the bedroom in the dark, under the covers, between husband and wife.

Interestingly Yaakov and for that matter Moshe overcame symbolically, the rock and the nasty shepherds. The stone sits perched atop the well, the many sins which keep us entrenched in this long and bitter exile.  The key to understanding this whole chapter is a stanza which we recite in the Prayer for Rain (recited on Shemini Atzeret). The poet there uses the language “He concentrated his heart and then rolled off the stone” (yichad lev, vaYagel Even). In other words, Yaakov did not use his biceps or his upper body strength to move the boulder. Yaakov used concentration of the heart. All that he learned from his parents, the Yeshiva, the good values, gave him the strength to move away the negativity and draw the sweet concealed waters that are needed to live life the way G-d intended us to live.

In the song the individual voice is concealed is drowned out by the chorus of many. For discretion is vital. If one wants to seek the water of life-mayim chaim, which includes finding a mate, having children etc., it should be performed quietly. Every action one does should be conducted without the fanfare. Be’ezrat Hashem may we all draw the sweet waters from the well of life.



Spring up, O well – sing to it –
The well which the chieftains dug,
Which the nobles of the people started
With the scepter, and with their own staffs.
And from the wilderness to Mattanah,
and from Mattanah to Nahaliel,
and from Nahaliel to Bamoth… (Numbers 21:16-19)

Money makes the world go round

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Akiva Grunblatt Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivat Chaffetz Chaim,  Yissachar frand
There is an age-old question that has been haunting us Jews forever: Why do tzadikim have to go through hardship in this world? Why doesn’t G-d give a ‘special tzadikim credit card’ to spend on things such as yeshiva tuition, preparing for Shabbat, etc.? The financial pressures are tremendous. Many can’t meet these expectations, often saying, “Always live within your income, even if you have to borrow money to do so”. Perhaps for this reason, people turn for help. It’s interesting how many people become observant due to challenges that they’ve experienced in life. Why is it human nature to turn to G-d when going through troublesome times? We rarely see a “rags to riches” guy turn to G-d. The story always mimics the following pattern: A boy from a poor family starts a business or gets an education, working hard to climb the ladder of success. There never seems to be a religion attached to the story. He’s not learning Gemara as he climbing up the ladder of success. Furthermore the “success story individual”, for the most part, flirts with the notion of rebelling against G-d, arrogantly claiming that religion is a nice concept but very remote to his high end lifestyle. “I’ll contact a Rabbi for the bar mitzvah of my children; but the buck stops there!”

It is known that high-end lottery winners often ruin their lives as a result of amassing a large amount of money in such a short period of time. On a similar note, our Sages say that there is a pattern in our scriptures as to how some Jews and non-Jews handle success. G-d gave abundance of wealth to Avraham, who personifies the rags to riches story. In turn, Moshe and Chizkiyahu approached life with modesty and appreciation. However, they were a part of the precious few. For the most part, man doesn’t handle wealth very well. Examples are given of famous Gentiles like Nimrod, and Pharaohs who have taken the gift and, seemingly shoved it in G-d’s face.

Money makes the world go round…..

In this week’s parsha we read about a Korach, a unique Jewish individual from a prominent family who was considered the richest man of his generation. He was accumulated a lot of wealth from the booty left on the shores of the sea after the waters went back from the miracle of splitting the sea. At times, money leads to power. However, Korach was frustrated that he wasn’t able to achieve that status even with all his accumulated wealth. His wealth brought him arrogance, where he thought he deserved the world and a backbone to complain and rebel.
Wealth is seductive and tends to bring out the conceit in human nature. The Chovot Halevavot, in The Gate of Humility, one of the major works in the literary Jewish world, tells us that wealth is a greater test than poverty.

Our Sages comment on the verse “And behold, a ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached the Heavens” [Bereshis 28:12] referring to the famous dream our forefather Yaakov had. It was a significant prophetic message to Yaakov’s descendants. In the dream, there were angels going up the ladder and there were angels going down the ladder. G-d showed Yaakov two individuals: Korach (who was swallowed up by the ground) and Moshe (who ascended up to the Heaven).

… go round

Why are Korach and Moshe hinted to by the ladder? There is a very interesting Ba’al HaTurim (commentary on the Torah) referring to that famous verse. The Ba’al HaTurim says that the numerical [“Gematria”] value of the word ladder (samech-vov-lamed-mem) [60+6+30+40=136] is equal to the numerical value of the word money (mem-mem-vov-nun) [40+40+6+50=136], and it is also equal to the numerical value of the word poverty (ayin-vov-nun-yud) [70+6+50+10=136].

A ladder can be used as a parable for money. Just as a ladder can be used to climb to great heights or descend to the depths, so is the case with money. A person can be blessed with money, do the right things with money, and go up the ladder. On the other hand, money corrupts. Money can be a terribly destructive force.

……world go round

There is no coincidence of the timing of Yaacov’s dream. Soon after he met his father in law, the wicket Lavan, who had a plan. By having Yaakov work for fourteen years for his wives, and by subsequently promising him wealth and continually changing his compensation, Lavan hoped his ultra-orthodox son-in-law would trade the soul for the silver spoon. That his mind would become so preoccupied with making a living that he’d forget his desire for the spiritual, his taste for the refined having been congested and clogged by the crude trappings of material success.

The Aramaean tried to destroy my desire. The word avi – my father – can also mean ‘my desire.’ The Lavan’s of the world are always there to seduce us with their promises of wealth, fame, and happiness. “All it takes is hard work,” they say. And maybe they really will make us rich – but at what price?

Many people have the custom, on Motzaei Shabbat [Saturday night], to sing a beautiful Pizmon [poem] which begins with the words “HaMavdil bein Kodesh L’chol, chatoteinu Hu yimchol” — He who distinguishes between that which is holy and that which is not holy, He will forgive our sins. These are beautiful words. Interestingly, the words can be quite appalling. The poem says that we sin because we do not appreciate the difference between that which is Sacred and that which is mundane. We spend our time and efforts on foolishness. We do not know what is Kodesh and what is Chol. We ask G-d, Who has the ability to distinguish between Kodesh and Chol, to please forgive our sins.
(The Lubliner Rav, Rav Meir Shapiro, once said about American Jews that they know how to make Kiddush, but they don’t know how to make Havdalah. In other words, they put the wrong emphasis on things. That which is holy, they treat lightly, and that which is really unessential, they make holy. They do not know how to differentiate.)

………..Money Money Money Money
What is the next line of the Pizmon? “zareinu v’chaspeinu yarbeh k’chol,” which means: “May our children and our money increase like the sand.” This, in and of itself — the lumping of children and money in the same breath — would be difficult to comprehend. But, moreover, we just finished saying that we are inadequate for not being able to distinguish between Holy and mundane, and now we go ahead and make the same mistake all over again — equating that which is Holy (children) with that which is mundane (money)!

In the beginning of laws of Chanukah [3:1], The Ramba”m says, “In the time of the Second Temple, the Greek Government made decrees against Israel and tried to abolish their religion. They did not permit them to learn Torah or perform the mitzvos, and they sent forth their hands against their property and their daughters.”

Let us consider this list: They nullified our religion, they did not let us learn, they did not permit us do mitzvot, they took away our daughters, and they took away… our money. Money may be important, but should it be listed in the same breath with the others? Should the Ramba”m be equating taking our money with taking our daughters (and not only that, but the Ramba”m mentions money first!)?
How are we to understand this statement of the Ramba”m?

Rabbi Yissachar Frand quotas Rav Shimon Schwab who offers a beautiful insight, both in the Ramba”m and in the Pizmon. Rav Schwab says that what the Ramba”m means by saying the Greeks took away our money and our daughters, is that the Greeks knew how to destroy us. If we are to succeed with our children and with our religion, we need money. In order to have Yeshivot, shuls, a community, one needs money. Money is a wonderful thing. Let’s not kid ourselves. We can do tremendous things with money. We cannot exist without money.

But money corrupts, sometimes… most of the time. However, money, in and of itself, can be the greatest tool that there is. Our Sages say that when G-d showed Moshe our leader, who guided us out of Egypt, a Half-Shekel coin, He showed Moshe a ‘coin of fire.’ The reason is because that is what money is. Money can be terribly destructive, like a fire. But where would we be without fire? No heat, no light, nothing.

Money is the same way. If one handles it right, it can save him. If one handles it wrong, it can destroy him.

This, the Ramba”m says, is what the Greeks understood. When they wanted to take out the foundations of the Jewish people, they sent forth their hands against their money and their daughters. Take away their money. Don’t let them have Yeshivas, don’t let them have Torah educators. That is how the Jewish People will be destroyed. The Ramba”m has his priorities very straight. The Greeks knew how to wage a war.

Rav Schwab says that this too, is what we say on Motzaei Shabbot: If we want to be successful with our children, then we also need ‘our money (to) increase like sand.’

Imagine! Money like sand, unlimited funds! Consider what that would mean. We could pay educators, instead of their current low rate salary, more sponsors for “Cup of Coffee weekly periodicals — one-half, one-third, or one-quarter of what the lawyers and the doctors are earning – an amount that they truly deserve.

Imagine if we could pay our teachers top dollar. What would the face of Torah education in America look like if we had unlimited resources and could pay top dollar? What would be if we could drop the class ratio from one teacher per 25 kids, to one teacher per 15 kids?

What about the children that need extra help? For those children, we could even have one teacher for every two children. It wouldn’t matter if that would require an extra salary! We could do amazing things. The Jewish People would be a different Jewish People if our children and our money were ‘increased like the sand.’

That is the prayer. We know what is holy and sacred and we know what is mundane and profane… and we know what money can do. We can do the right things with money. We can change the Jewish People with money. We pray that we have ‘children and money like sand’ to accomplish wonderful things for the Jewish people.

However lets not forget the pitfalls of money and how the Sages equate it to quicksand. If one has a hundred he wants two hundred. Lets not forget what our wise Sages said about it being the bigger test between rich and poor. For this reason the tzadikim go through hardship because there would be much less of them if they had the excess money.G-d is doing them a favor!!

Rav Yehuda Hanasi, who was the aurther of the prestigious Mishna, who also happened to be one of the riches man of his generation, always gave wealthy Jews the utmost respect. He said if one is wealthy and he still follows the Torah to the letter of the law, therefore not succumbing to temptation and arrogance then I tip my hat to them. They have passed a tremendous test and will have a special place in the heavens.

Pursuit of honor

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Chaim Shmuelevitz z’l,  Yissachar frand, Dr. Abba Goldman

Our sages teach us, there are certain character flaws which one possesses that are so destructive, so devastating, ‘it could take you out of this world’. In other words, one can be thrown off course and lose any line of reasoning, any happiness, and any satisfaction, because of this deficiency.

 As one is well aware of, the Sages are very careful, perhaps that’s an understatement, of usage of words. We have to think many times over why they employed, so brilliantly, a word or a phrase when a statement was made.
The Sages use the word ‘RODEF KAVOD’- pursuit of honor; RODEF implies a very harsh and intense connotation. The reason why the use of RODEF is associated with KAVOD is once a person is enticed, naturally, even the biggest tzaddik, the most intellectual, can pursue it with a vigor. At times, the drive for honor, will reach a level to such an extent that he will be looked at in the eyes of others, with his arrogant statements, as a buffoon.  Though, at times, with the power of persuasion his blinded pursuit of honor can be dangerous.
 Perhaps, now we might be able to explain the difficulties of Parshas Sh’lach as to how to understand the sin of the Spies. One must bear in mind that the individuals about whom we are speaking were righteous people. Answering the question of what happened to them? Why did they come back with such a negative report? We know from Sages that it was not just a “negative” report. It was a report that bordered on heresy. The Rabbis interpret the statement “ki chazak hu mimenu” [“they are stronger than us”] to have the nuance that “they are stronger than Him”. They doubted the ability of the Almighty to successfully take them into Eretz Yisrael. After all they witnessed, this statement certainly borders on heresy if not being heresy itself!
What happened to the Spies? The Zohar addresses this problem and states that the motivating factor that led the Spies to this debacle was a matter of ‘Kavod’ [honor seeking]. At this point in time, these people all occupied positions of prominence in the Wilderness. They were afraid that when the Jewish people came into the Land of Israel, there would be a new administration, a new world order, and as a result, they would lose their positions of prominence.
 They lost their objectivity. They had their own agenda. Their agenda was to NOT go into Eretz Yisrael and not to lose the prestige and importance that they had maintained in the society of the Wilderness. This agenda warped and perverted their whole view of Eretz Yisrael and of the Almighty’s ability, to the extent that they said things that bordered on heresy itself.

Another prime example of seeking honor is the wicked Haman who presumably had everything and yet felt he had nothing. Here is a man who was second in command to the king of the most powerful nation in the world and worshiped by all subjects of the vast super power – Persian Empire; however, he was not satisfied with everything because one Jew, Mordechai, would not bow down to him. How could it be that Haman even noticed the lack of this minuscule amount of honor amidst the overwhelming flood of glory that was his? Perhaps, if not for the dangerous predicament our ancestors were in, the way he conducted himself through his obsession would have been observed as quite humorous.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l explains that one is never able to achieve satisfaction through honor. As much honor as you will receive, you will find yet more that you must have, and so your craving will never be satisfied. It’s like a cat chasing after his own tail.
 A great insight by Dr. Abba Goldman who says” the pursuit of honor develops because of one’s insecurities. Therefore, he compensates by enforcing his authority upon others, not believing that he will receive honor naturally”.
Mordechai saw right through Haman and Haman knew it. Haman realized Mordechai didn’t think much of him and it bothered him to no end.
Our sages write, “Those who chase honor, honor will run away from them”. Rabbi Akiva Tatz teaches us an important lesson in human insights. He says, “As man gets older, his desire for physical pleasures for women decreases. However, as compensation, there is an increased desire for honor”.
Everyone, in the general public, thinks they are humble and this article cannot be talking about them. It perfectly describes their wives, husbands, friends, teachers, Rabbis.  Perhaps, they’re correct in their assessment. However, there are many interesting methods and perhaps, here is an interesting one to determine if one’s drive toward ego is such. Mind you, there has to be some degree of honor that a person needs, however, one has to gauge that he should not exceed the required amount. So what is the Litmus test?
 Please listen to this interesting observation. Falling asleep, at times, can be difficult. There are those who the minute they place their head on the pillow – they’re sleeping. Others, though who are not so fortunate, start to unwind, at times, forty minutes later? During that waiting grace, many have developed methods of how to fall asleep. One very popular method is to envision pleasant thoughts or being in a nice relaxing environment.
For instance, I envision lying on a hammock by a pond, between mountains where there is a waterfall in the background. That usually does the trick. Another nice thought, is sitting on the bridge, on the USS Star ship Enterprise cruising at warp speed. The galaxy never looked nicer.
However, one can sound the alarm of “honor” when this soothing thought, more or less, is his lullaby. The scenario, often repeated, is being at the podium, giving an exhilarating speech in front of a banquet  of well-wishers who are applauding your every breath. Then you break out into a song that brings the crowd to a standing ovation. Everyone is impressed.
 We all, in our adolescent, have acted out in our room, in front of the mirror, pretending  taking the last shot at the buzzer at the basketball game or hitting the game, winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series. However, if these dreams of glory linger into our adult life it can lead to negative results and disappointments.
Dr Goldman says: “G-d gave each one of us special powers. Yes, it’s okay sometimes to dream; in fact it’s healthy. However, one cannot take it to the level of RODEF. G-d wants us to be ourselves. He wants us to be the best version of ourselves and that means being modest in our actions. An example given of one with a good voice is asked to pray as a chazzan. He should not think that he is deserving of great honor because he can sing so beautifully. The ability to sing is a gift from G-d and that is true of all the human abilities that a person may possess. We are charged to use the gifts G-d gives us appropriately in His service. By acting with too much pride one is insulting his very essence.
 It’s funny; RODEF is a human trait that can be used in an extreme way.  The commandment in the passuk [verse] to pursue justice is stated in Devarim Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof. (Literally, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”) Also, we find a parallel usage: “Seek out peace, and pursue it.” (Bakesh shalom, v’radfehu.) [Tehillim 34:15]. One can use this powerful energy, for justice and peace, in a positive direction.
  One has to know the dangers of the unconscious pursuit of honor. The spies fell prey to it, Haman ruined his life and the life of others for that desire, and it’s frightening, because to some degree we are all prone to get tested by it at some time.