Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Purim Poem 5770

Our theme this year is the four mitzvos of Purim. Cheap, easy, and still so classy …

Here's the poem to go with it:

ארבע מצוות פורים
All beginning with a מ
Every year since time long past
Yidden fulfilled them

משתה – a סעודה
With food and lots to drink
עד דלא ידע -
Until a man can’t think

מתנות לאביונים
Our gifts unto the poor
As much as we give to them
Hashem will give us more

Bring משלוח מנות
Two foods to a good friend
A chance to give to those who gave
Best wishes to all to send

And finally the מגילה
The story that tells the why
Hashem will never let us down
The salvation’s always nigh

Each מצוה is represented
In our package to you
One and all, big and small
Though they be just a few

Money, (chocolate) money
To כל הפושט יד
If we give with a whole heart
There’ll be no more façade

A Hamantash – המן‘s hat
In spite of his decree
Here we stand – sending gifts
To each other happily

And for those too young to drink
Grape juice instead of wine
Have a cup, have some more
After all, it’s פורים time!

As for the מגילה
I’ll give you just one guess
This poem that you’re reading
Is of substantial length

Now you’re holding in your hand
סימנים of מצוות four
May we be זוכה in this year
To fulfill many more

Friday, February 19, 2010

Atzei Shitim

One of my favorite parts of seminary in E"Y was the history that surrounded every step.

Here in America, if you go on a trip, while you do see the wonders of creation, you don't get a mitzvah for every step you take. You don't think that this is your land, your past, and your future. In Israel, you do.

I remember when we went down south to the Negev on one of our last tiyulim (trips). As we were going through the desert, we saw these stubby little trees. (I took a picture, but I can't find it now.) Our tour guide told us they were Atzei Shitim, the trees from which the Mishkan was built (hence the connection to this week's parsha :P).

The question is, though, how did those trees get to the middle of the midbar? Deserts don't usually have trees - cacti, yes; trees, not so much. She answered that Yaakov Avinu saw that in the future we would need wood to build the mishkan, so he planted them there.

The fact that they were still there when I was on that tiyul, that we could still see pieces of the past alive today made my Israeli experience, every tiyul, a wonder. Just seeing the past so alive helped my Emuna so much because it was so clear that the Torah was real. It's real, and it's staring you right in the face. There is no way to deny it.

[Just a funny point from this same tiyul: You know how in upstate New York there are signs for deer crossings? Well, in the negev, there are similar signs for camel crossings. I thought it was hilarious. ]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Resisting Change

I recently changed the background on a communal blog, and the outcry against it was almost vitriolic. But I began to wonder - why don't they like the new background? Is it because they really don't like it, or just because they don't like change?

Change is something that happens whether we like it or not. It happens in all parts of society - fashion, technology, education etc. But when change comes, are we supposed to embrace it or guard ourselves against it? Is change good or bad in itself, or is it something that we have to determine, for each individual change, whether we want to incorporate that change or not?

Changes in fashion, for example, can either be more tznius or less. But every season, every time I look at a piece of clothing, I have to decide whether or not I think it's tznius. I personally don't think that the bell sleeve look is so tznius. But that's my opinion. I know others differ. This is a change that I personally decided to resist. Others chose differently.

Changes in technology are also a great example. There was a public outcry from the gedolim against the Internet. But all those who are reading this clearly decided to utilize this change. The Internet itself is nothing but a gate. It can lead to good or evil. You can use it to read divrei torah, or look at pritzus. Every so often I ask myself whether I should give it up, but every time the answer is that at this point, I can't live without it (scarily enough). On the other hand, I have not chosen to embrace television. I do not own a tv, nor do I want to own one. I have made a decision not to allow myself to embrace this change.

I know I'm kind of rambling, but I'm exploring this question in my thoughts as I type. I think that I think that change is something that has to be evaluated in itself. There is no blanket rule to allow or disallow change. Without change, society would be nowhere. But we are a people that traces our heritage back to 3,000 years ago. We are Am K'shei Oref - a people with a strong neckbone - who are meant to resist change.

On the other hand, if we don't allow for change, we would be nowhere. I don't remember which Rav it was, but one of the Rabbonim in Yerushalayim of old (the Old Yishuv, I think) decided that the chareidi community should start to speak Ivrit even though it was prompted by the Zionists. He realized that the chareidim would lose more children to the Zionist culture if they didn't speak the language. He decided to accept change for the betterment of klal yisroel.

We too, with the guidance of our chachamim, have to decide what changes must be made, and which must be guarded against.

Happy choosing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Parshas Yisro III

"Remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy."

The Chofetz Chaim writes that Shabbos is a sign for the Jewish people. When a store has a sign out front, you know it's in business. When we have Shabbos, we are 'in business.' Faithful observance of Shabbos is part of what makes our people eternal, as the following true story submitted by Evi Reznck, Atlanta, GA, illustrates:

Back in the mid nineties a Jewish advertising executive in New York came up with an idea. What if the New York Times - considered the world's most prestigious newspaper - listed the weekly Shabbat candle lighting time each week. Sure someone would have to pay for the space. But imagine the Jewish awareness and pride that might result from such a prominent mention of the Jewish Shabbat each week.

He got in touch with a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost almost two thousand dollars a week. But he did it. And for the next five years, each Friday, Jews around the world would see: 'Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is ___'. Eventually the philanthropist had to cut back on a number of his projects. And in June 1999, the little Shabbat notice and stopped appearing in the Friday Times. From that week on it never appeared again.

Except once.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages.

One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000.

And then they had a third front page projecting future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba. As well as a discussion as to whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times.

The production manager of the New York Times - an Irish Catholic - was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. "We don't know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.

This non-Jewish production manager sensed a profound truth.

Thus is the power of Jewish ritual.

Thus is the eternity of our people.

from Rabbi Baruch Lederman's ShulWeek

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parshas Yisro II

Rashi writes (18:1) that upon hearing of the splitting of the Red Sea and the battle against Amalek, Yisro came to join Moshe and the Jewish people in the wilderness. Why did he wait to hear about the war with Amalek instead of coming immediately after the miracles at the Red Sea, and why did a war impress him more than all of the miracles at the Red Sea? (Yirah V'Daas)

The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva explains that when Yisro heard about the splitting of the Red Sea, he was certainly moved. However, he believed that there was no need to do anything about it, as he assumed that he would retain his spark of inspiration. Regarding the war against Amalek, the Torah records (17:11) that whenever Moshe raised his hands the Jewish army prevailed, and when he lowered them, Amalek became stronger. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashana (3:8) questions how Moshe's hands could magically fight the war, and it explains that whenever they were raised up, the Jews looked at them and focused their thoughts toward the Heavens, which enabled them to win, but when he lowered his hands, they forgot about Hashem and fell militarily. Yisro was shocked to hear that in a battle which took place all on one day, it was possible for the people to be inspired through Moshe's raised hands, yet a short while later when he lowered them their inspiration was gone and they lost everything. This recognition taught Yisro that it wasn't sufficient that he felt uplifted by the miracles of the Red Sea, as it wouldn't stay with him unless he did something concrete to make it permanent, which he did by joining the Jews and converting.

Taken from Parsha Potpourri

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Parshas Yisro – a little late

ויקרא אליו ד' מן ההר לאמר כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל (19:3)

Sarah Schenirer immortalized our verse in coining the name "Bais Yaakov" for schools for girls. In referring to the men, the Torah uses the phrase the "sons" of Israel. Why when discussing the women does it use the phrase the "house" of Yaakov when "daughters" would seem to be the appropriate parallel?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains that when a person becomes ill, there are hypothetically two ways for a doctor to treat him. The standard procedure is to prescribe medication, although another theoretical option would be to design a room in which the air is saturated with the appropriate antibiotic. The first option has the drawbacks that it only helps one patient and requires active administration, whereas the latter could benefit many people without any effort on their parts.

Similarly, in fighting the universal illness known as the yetzer hara (evil inclination), men follow the prescription of the Gemora (Kiddushin 30b) to repel it through Torah study. Although the latter option isn't currently feasible for medical purposes, Jewish women nevertheless use it to ward off spiritual illness. As the backbones of the family, they imbue the entire home with an atmosphere of holiness and spirituality. This automatically benefits not only themselves, but also their husbands, children, and all who are fortunate to enter their homes.

This is alluded to in a well-known verse (Mishlei 1:8) שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטש תורת אמך – Listen my son to the rebuke of your father, and don't forsake the teachings of your mother. Shlomo HaMelech found it necessary to instruct a person to listen to the lessons of his father, while a mother's wisdom permeates the very air of her house and is absorbed without any effort. It is to teach and emphasize this idea that the Torah refers to the women not as the daughters of Yaakov but as the house of Yaakov.

taken from Parsha Potpourri (as usual)

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