Haftorah – Second Week of Three Weeks

[This week, after the Torah reading, we read again rebuke from Yirmeeyahoo (Jeremiah, Chapter 2 verses 4-28]

Verse 5:“So says G-d, what did your fathers find in Me fault that they distanced themselves from Me and went after nothingness and became futile themselves”  Verse 6:  “And they did not say, ‘where is G-d who brought us out of the land of Egypt, who led us in the desert…”verse 7: “and I brought you to this fertile land to eat its fruits and goodness and you came and you contaminated My land…

We should ask ourselves the same thing.  Many of us came out of the hells of the Holocaust, many of us came running from the pogroms of Ukraine, our ancestors came penniless and beaten down and arrived at a place of refuge and became wealthy — -and, Chevrah, what do we do with that wealth and freedom to worship>  Do we serve G-d with those gifts He gave us?  Our nation was given a leeway time here in America, freedom of religion, golden opportunities – what do we have to show for it?  Assimilation?  Twisted lives based on wrong ideals?

The next few verses lambasts the leaders – they didn’t question as to where G-d was, even “those who grasped the Torah did not know Me”.  At all times, as a leader, as a Torah observant Jew, we always have to give ourselves wake up calls – “where is G-d in the equation”.  We can hoodwink ourselves into thinking we are “frum” observant, but we might end up doing it by rote, or to impress the neighborhood, but we must always ask ourselves, “am I doing it for G-d.”

G-d now compares us to other nations – saying, hey, did you see another nation give up their nuttiness for another nuttiness – their idol for another idol.  Will Americans ever give up baseball for cricket?  No –and those are the stupidities that we are loyal to.  How could the Jews exchange G-d for the idols of the other nations.  Where is their “national pride”?

Verse 13:  “Two evil acts My nation did:  they left Me, left the source of living waters, to dig wells that were broken that could not even hold water.”

Think of all the Yeshiva boys who left Yeshiva to become the Socialists in Russia.  Trotsky.  Lenin.  They left the walls of Yeshiva, left Shabbos and Halacha behind.  First sin.  They then set up a system of government that was insane.  Second sin.  We get punished for leaving G-d.  We also get punished for trying out lifestyles that are incompatible with humanity and incapable of bringing human happiness.

Verse 19:  “Your evil will rebuke you, your backsliding will reprove you, and you will know and see that it is bad and bitter your leaving G-d…”

I, unfortunately, get to see this often.  The evil acts we do come back to bite us, to haunt us, and then some folks get it, sometimes too late.  I’ve had kids who hit the streets and then come to me with their STDS.  They get it.  Sin brings it own hells.

G-d continues bemoaning how lost we Jews became:  that He had broken our bondage chains and we said we would not sin and then we (verse 20) “recline like a harlot”  A harlot goes from guy to guy – the Jews go from craze to craze.  Each generation we have our scares, and we say, we’ll be good.  Danger passes, we relapse.  And never the same way.  In one generation, we leave G-d for communism, in another for Hollywood, in yet another generation we chase after Buddhism, Taoism or other New-Age nuttiness.  Like a harlot jumping from guy’s bed to guy’s bud, we wander from ism to ism.

G-d then says, “I planted a noble stock” that gave up wild oats.  We are worse off cuz G-d gave  us optimum conditions to flourish, and yet, spitefully, we didn’t.

Then G-d begs, that we spare ourselves from having to go barefoot, from having to die of thirst, but, the Jews respond, (verse 25) “I love the strangers and after them I’ll go.”  The world shakes, punishment can happen, but we like the strange lifestyles we’ve adopted.  We have no intentions of giving up our fetishes or skewed morality we’ve gotten used to.

And, therefore, concludes this week’s Haftorah, therefore, comes the punishment.  Chevra, the Jews have only themselves to blame for their own misfortunes.  G-d warns us.  We can avert any pain by returning to G-d.  It’s as simple as that – but as complicated as our base desires.

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Doeg – Torah scholar that went rogue

There are times in life that I thank G-d again and again for having given me my holy father as a teacher and a guide.  One of his weekly cycles of teaching us was the Nach cycle — as a family we traversed the epochs of judges and kings and destruction.  We discussed human nature and human challenges.  And we got to know foibles and frailties…as well as giants of spirit.

Because some learned person who claims to stand for Daas Torah recently is making a huge misjudgment call and going out of his way to hound a suffering woman instead of helping her, I had occasion to revisit the Doeg lesson.

Doeg — he was head of the Sanhadrin, an accomplished Talmid Chacham, an adviser to the king.  He was creme de’ la creme of the learned men.  He was called Edomee for various reasons, but one of them, according to Rav Yitzchok is because he was so expert in Halacha that when others argued Halacha with him, their faces ended up reddened with shame for he was so superior in the nuances of Halacha.

Along came Dovid, a man who only wanted to cleave to Hashem.  The Yerushalim (Sanhedrin 10:2) explains that Dovid once was answering questions on Halacha – Doeg was there and became enraged, feeling HE should be the one answering and guiding.  Thereupon, he began to campaign against Dovid.

G-d says “G’vah Anayim Oo’rechav layvav ohsoh loh oo’chal”  When a person thinks he is the point person, the almighty arbiter alone, he is, so to speak, in the words of the Orchos Tzadikim, trying to play with G-d’s currency.  For only G-d is the Almighty Arbiter alone.  When a professed “daas” arbiter decides he and he alone can figure out who is right and wrong in a fight, he is mimicking Doeg.

I opened the Tehillim, where Dovid speaks of the evil of Doeg (Chap. 52).  Verse 3 — Dovid says, “Mah Tis’hallel B’ra’ah HaGibbor” Gibbor — Doeg was a Talmid Chacham, but he found Rah to be something to flaunt.  “Chesed Kel Kol Ha’Yom” G-d’s kindness is ever-present.  Doeg tried to cut out any supporters who might lend Dovid succor and help in his fleeing from Shaul.  Dovid says through this sentence, “don’t you realize G-d is a fount of Chesed and even if you manage to scare away or even kill some of the supporters helping me, I will still get help through G-d?!”

Black and white.  We’d love the world to be that way.  Where we know who is evil and who is good.  Where a person who is superior in Halacha knowledge is a good person.  But it isn’t always the case.  There are those, who like Doeg, learned a lot, know a lot, but are on the side of persecuting ehrliche victims.  May we never count ourselves among them.


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Call me Jew Any Day!

Why we are called Jew/Jude/Yehudim

 Yehudee is the word from which we get Jew (Yehudi – Jude, Jew is how it evolved).  Now we know the Jews are called Klal Yisroel, the nation of Israel or Shivtei Yisroel, the tribes of Israel.  Because in reality, we are children of twelve children of Yaakov, whose name had been changed to Yisroel.

The major question is why, then, is the most common way of the world referring to us that of us Jew, Yehudi.  That word is the name of only one tribe – Yehuda/Judah.  Why then are we all called for one tribe, when we are in reality from twelve different tribes?

Names are funny things.  They mean something.  And when you focus on what the name means you can sometimes remember the focus of your life.  So if each one of us is called Jew, Jude, Yehudi, we should focus on what that word means so we can know how to focus as a Jew.

How did Yehuda get his name?  Leah, his mother, had been married and felt anxious.  She felt that she might be rejected by Yaakov.  When she started having sons, each one was named because of that anxiousness.  For example, Shimon – Kee Shama – G-d heard me crying.  It was all about her situation.

Then she had Yehuda.  Up until now Leah was keeping track of how many children Yaakov was supposed to have (12) and how much “her share” of the children would be – that according to her interpretation of what the future should be, she thought she should have three of those twelve children.  A lot of times in life we have expectations, so when G-d gives us something, we think we “deserve” it, an attitude of ‘of course we got it’.  That was what it was like for Leah as she had her first few children.  Then she gave birth to a child she didn’t expect to give birth to – and she was overwhelmed.  She didn’t feel like it was her “right” to have this child, she felt that it was a random, extra gift from G-d.  So she said, “Hapa’am Odeh Es Hashem” This time I will acknowledge to G-d that He gave me a freebie.”  And that is how Yehuda got his name.  It was a realization from Leah that she didn’t deserve what G-d gives, that Hashem just gives.  And it was the first time in the history of the world that someone said such a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Hashem.

Modeh – acknowledging.  There are two aspects of why we are called Jew – one is the reason we just learned – that as Jews we have to acknowledge the good G-d does for us.  We can’t be ingrates.  That is why the first thing we say in the morning as a Jew is Modeh Ani (Grateful am I)– not Ani Modeh (I am Grateful).  The first focus has to be acknowledging that G-d gives us life anew every single day.  Then we can say Ani, I – I only have existence from G-d, so my ego, who I am, comes secondary to G-d.

What does that mean in our lives, to be focused that we are “Yehudim”?  It means we should be grateful people.  Rabbi Avigdor Miller said that we are idiots if we don’t focus on how much kindness and free gifts we are given.  For example, he said, if you are in a bad mood, you think you should go out and party, but you come back in a worse mood when the party is over.  He said, if you are in a bad mood, go to the hospital and see the folks on dialysis, whose kidneys are not working and who cannot go to the bathroom. He said, you will go home and be ecstatic every time you use the bathroom.

That is why we have Brachos, the blessings we make over food and pleasure, to remember to thank G-d.  It is a smart idea every day to jot down some of the gifts G-d gave us so we remember how lucky we are.  The Meilitzer Rebbetzin in Israel felt that she took things for granted so she started doing experiments.  She closed her eyes for two days to feel what life would be like if G-d didn’t bless her with good eyesight.  She now doesn’t take her eyesight for granted.  She did the same about her limbs by sitting in a wheelchair for a few days.  She now dances around her kitchen in thanks to G-d that her limbs work.  We just are silly because most times we don’t notice all these gifts because we think we “deserve” everything.  People who do a simple thing end up way happier folks- – just take a notebook and everyday find three new things to thank G-d for in your life.

The word Yehuda means acknowledgment.  So there are times it means acknowledgment in a way of thanks which is what we just learned.  But Yehuda, acknowledgment, also sometimes means acknowledgment of the truth of who we are and what we did – and that is another reason why we are called Yehudim because Yehuda/Judah taught us how to do this.

Yehuda messed up.  When we sin, when we wrong someone, most times we try to justify what we did or to cover up that we did wrong.  “Uh, uh, I didn’t say that or do that.”  Or “I only did that because….”  Or, “It’s not so bad what I do…”  Yehuda, when he was caught in a situation where he could have had any of those reactions, reacted differently.  He taught us what a prince should do – take responsibility for what he had done.  He stood up and said, “hey, I was wrong.”

So we are called Yehudim because we have to focus on doing the same, be able to do that – admit to what we are doing wrong, because only when we are honest about our issues are we able to grow past them.

Call me Jew any day.  It tells me to focus on acknowledging my shortcomings and thanking G-d for every gift.


you can read about the Meilitzer Rebbetzin’s experiment on http://www.breslev.co.il/default.aspx?language=english

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In a Pickle Because of a Pickle — Reflections on Teshuva on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz

For some children, it is the sweet allure of oozing sugar that will do them in, having them try anything for a bit of chocolate or candy.  For me, however, the pucker of vinegar and the crunch of pickle was all that and more.

One day, when I was merely six, life gave me a pickle opportunity.  We kids would run out of our homes right after breakfast and luxuriate in the great outdoors all morning long on Sundays, until the call for lunch herded us back inside.  Then, after lunch, it was back to explore and experience outdoors.  On that particular Sunday, right after breakfast, I recruited my younger siblings for a mission of mine.  I had heard the adults saying that another family living on our property would be away from home.

Having been in that family’s home a few times, I knew that within the recesses of their fridge sat a potbellied, huge jar of super-duper dill pickles.  Why risk punishment alone, when I had some younger siblings to share the blame?  So, within moments, I had myself and my younger siblings standing in someone else’s kitchen, shamelessly sharing pickles (one for me, one for you…).

When not the slightest gherkin remained, I placed the jar back into the fridge.  That is when it hit me, we’d done wrong and would be in deep-vinegar trouble soon as my mom heard of this escapade.  My next move was to call for an “everyone go hide” approach.  I knew my siblings, though; knew their patience level.  There was no way some of them would hide more than two minutes, so I convinced them we all should hide in different locations.  Off they ran, excited about this concept of hiding from my parents.  Off I slunk, to find the most hidingest of the hiding places.

Yes, my siblings tumbled out of their hiding places mighty quickly.  By lunchtime they were all accounted for, but not me.  Which is why, over French toast lunch, my siblings ratted me out, telling of the pickles theft and of the fact that I’d hidden too.  First my family searched.  Then the police were called in.

The hours crept by, but stubborn mule that I was, I stayed put.  I had found a dark, deep closet in a closed-off bungalow and curled up there, completely unnoticeable.  Search parties trooped through (I heard them), opened the door (briefly) and no one saw one skinny, minny me, all curled up in the back.  The police went around with loudspeakers, and I heard them calling me by name “come out, its okay, come out.”  But I wasn’t sure it would be okay so I stayed curled up.

At one point, as I was told the story many years later, my father turned to my mother and said, “I’m searching one more time every closet and closed-off bungalow.”  He did just that, and this time, when they pulled open the door of the closet in which I hid, my father looked a bit closer than the previous searchers and found his darling (skunky) daughter, curled like a little snake.

“Didn’t you hear us?” I was asked.  I lied, “No, I was sleeping,” I claimed.  The sun was casting late afternoon shadows at this point, and to deflect any dreaded showdown, I quickly started crying, “I’m so hungry.”

My father carried me to the house, where he fed me cold French toast.  I remember it.  Remember that I did get punished, but that it was far better to be home on my father’s lap, eating French toast and being punished, then being scared and in exile curled in a dusty closet.

I’ll be sitting here on Shiva Assur B’Tammuz, a fast day for our nation, remembering that lesson.  It would do us all well to confront our wrongs, to crawl out from the emotional spaces where we hide afraid to face our sins, so that we can once again be cradled in our Father’s embrace.  Yes, we messed up.  But coming forward with confession brings us back into normal living, safe and secure.


To read more about today’s events in history and its significance, read here:


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This World = Camera Obscura. Next World, Right Side Up.

When inside it is inky dark and outside there is bright light, and if there happens to be a small chink in the obscuring darkness through which some light can enter, well then life gets a bit interesting. The image of what is outside will filter into the room, but in an inverted fashion. Up will be down and down will be up. You will see a tree on your wall, but an upside down one. That is the facts of what is often known as the Camera Obscura.

A brilliant artist using this method Abelardo Morell [1] uses this technique to blend upside-down outdoor panoramic scenes on right-side-up indoor ones for images that are both haunting and mystifying as you try to tease apart what belongs where. He also rights the images, as do our modern day camera, to give you right-side panoramas in some of his photos.

In the Talmud (Bava Basra) there is the story of Rabbi Yehoshua’s son who had what we might call a near-death experience. He was sick, his soul left his body, and then he was revived. Upon his revival, his father wanted to know what he saw during his out-of-body experience. And the patient said, “Olam Hafuch Ra’eesee – an upside down world I saw.” ‘Those who sit at the dais here in this world are relegated to back seats there. Those who are downtrodden here are placed up front there. Up is down and down is up.’ To which Rabbi Yehushua responded, ‘you saw with clarity, ‘tis true.’

A person living in a dark room with very little light coming in will think all of the world is upside down. That person, on emerging from the dark room, will be flabbergasted to find the actual objects that cast the image are stationed right-side-up on the outside. We, living here in Olam Hazeh, in the temporal world, are sitting in a dark world, where spirituality comes sneaking in through chinks in the physicality. Therefore, all we see is inverted panoramas (unless we have outfitted ourselves with special lenses to right-side-up the images). In the next world, where all is light and spirituality, that is where the right-side up actuality is found. That is why in this world we often value aggrandizing pontificators and shun the plain G-d fearing simpleton. Upside down views we have, until we will be surprised to find out that in realms of light, those who we shun here might be the kings there. After all, isn’t that the story of King David, the upright man, not valued in his generation, but beloved by G-d?

[1] see the upside down one at


To read another explanation of the upside world, read Rabbi Ciner here:


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Pinchas — Warrior for Peace

When folks among us do wrong, there has to be a reaction.  G-d has two aspects that run our world, an aspect of Din-judgement and an aspect of Rachamin-mercy.  Evil acts bring a force of harsh judgment into the world.  It is programmed that way, a law of spiritual physics.  Evil needs judgment; but there are two ways this harsh judgment can be meted out.  One of us folks can stand up for right and morality and thereby stop the evil.  Or, G-d forbid, if no one stands up against evil, G-d allows destruction to come to the world eventually.

This week’s Parsha starts with G-d telling Moshe “Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohain, turned my anger away from the Jews” by fighting My fight and therefore, he merits for himself and his descendants to be Kohanim.

Woa – weird.  Isn’t he a descendant of Aharon?  Why then wasn’t he a Kohain already?  Next question – aren’t the Kohanim the ones who bless us with peace, why should such a combatant, warrior who killed the evildoers, be inducted into the corps of peace harbingers?

There are physical genetics and there are spiritual ones, too.  The hard work you do on your spiritual self will make your children’s souls more spiritual, too.  In fact, we are told that if we find a Jew who is without a sense of shame, who is not compassionate and who is not a kind person we can question his lineage as to whether he is really a Jew because those are spiritually our genetic makeup due to Avraham’s hard work.  So when Aharon got picked by G-d to be a Kohain, any descendants born thereafter were born with the Priestly genetic makeup (which at this point in time has been proven by science that they share a gene).  However, any of his grandchildren born before that would not have that genetic makeup and would not be a Kohain.  Pinchas was in that category making him a non-Kohain.  Yet, now through his own spiritual actions he merited to be a Kohain.

Peace is a sense of harmonious alignment of mankind to G-d’s purpose – that is what brings peace to us and to the world.  So while Pinchas acted with what seemed to be blood-thirsty vengeance, it was out of love for the Jewish people, compassion to spare the entire nation from suffering for the sins of few, and righting injustice so that there would be peace in the nation – and that is why he was “knighted” by G-d to be a Kohain.

May our generation merit to have warriors for morality and justice so that peace can come to our suffering, pained masses.



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Tolerating Others Just Like We Tolerate Ourselves

“Wow, she is so absent-minded,” I say into the headset to my sister-in-law as I head to my kitchen sink.  “To think that I called her to tell her the news and an hour later she calls me to tell me the news, and I say, ‘uh, right, you know because I called you about it’.”

My sister-in-law chuckles with me as we both puzzle about our relative’s absent-minded nature.  I mean how could she, only an hour later, call me with the news I called her about, I muse as I place my now-full crystal water pitcher on the stove and turn the knob.  Ooops, I filled the water pitcher not the kettle.  Ha, aren’t I funny.  Hah, so I’m absent-minded, too.

Many is the time we note the flaws and idiosyncrasies of others.  The rest of the time we gloss over, excuse and rationalize our own.

Loving your friend like you love yourself means to tolerate other folks’ mishigasen as well as you tolerate your own.  It means embracing them with all their flaws, just as you accept yourself.  It means glossing over their mistakes and embracing their triumphs.

Rabbi Manis Friedman writes in Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore that the difference between Noach’s sons are that one saw his father in a disgraceful state and saw something to laugh at and mock.  The other two saw their father and said, “here is something that needs to be covered.”  For don’t we do that for ourselves all too often, cover our inadequacies.  Let’s do that for our fellow, too.

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