A Gitte Kvittele, my friends

Today is the day that missives are sent forth from the Heavenly Courts.  Rosh Hashana, judging was done up there in the realms beyond our physical limitations.  We had ten days to protest against any punishments and to beg for leniency.  And then the judgment got sealed on Yom Kippur.  However, the paperwork was being done up until today, giving us time to try to still appeal any negativity and press for more lines of positive outcome for the coming year.  Now, my friends, the paperwork is done and the final decisions are handed out to the angels who will be the messengers to make the rewards and consequences happen over this coming year.  Jewish tradition calls on us to wish each other a “gitte Kvittel” — to get a notification of a good year having been sent our way.  We also have a custom to eat kreplach — kinda like wontons — pastry filled with meat — to signify our hope that our package from Heaven for the year will have the “meat” the good, nourishing treats within it.

So, my blog reader friends, may we merit a Gitte Kvittel — a wonderful package for this year and beyond.

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Nothing More Foolish Than Unwillingness to Put Up With Important Tomfoolery

Even for the Narishkeit[1] You Need Patience

 During a seminar I attended, we were asked to do visualizations to switch our outlook on any one person in our life.  I chose to work on my relationship with my mother, a former school principal made of the sterner stuff.  On the directive of “go”, I was to visualize her in another way, see another side of her.  The only thing that kept floating about my brain was a vision of my mother in a gracefully-full dress racing around a small bungalow and giggling as we played a game of “Spot You”.  Most people play hide-and-go-seek, but that can be quite a stationary activity for those in hiding.  My parents devised a new version of this game.  There was a small bungalow on our property and the “it” person had to race around that bungalow trying to “spot” one of the other players who were also scooting around it.  Basically, the game consisted of running around a bungalow; but the fun in it was that my parents were running around with us, too.

In one of my favorite childhood photos, I have a picture of my father perched on my bike, his knees out at awkward angles, his black hat perched squarely on his head.  My father is not the type of person who is all about fun and sports, so it made my eyes pop when he climbed onto the bike and showed me how he rides a bike.  Mighty fine, I thought.    Even better was the fact that he was spending time with me teaching me how to ride it.  The bike became a whole lot more enjoyable to me because of the time my father accorded it and me.

Chol Hamoed, Intermediary holiday days, my parents loaded food, children, blankets and more into our van and off to see the world we went.  Just like Matza was anticipated for Pesach, so, too, were the outings.  D.C., NiagraFalls, amusement parks, West Point, the UN.  We were introduced to a whole slew of tourist spots on the Eastern seaboard, but had a blast while doing it.

My parents explained their choice to spend fun times with us by telling us, “We learned from the Newhouses[2], that even for Narishkeit you need patience.”  They made sure we knew they were doing all these fun things just for us, because they had been taught by master educators Rabbi and Rebbetzin Newhouse that children need adults to be interested in the things which interest them.  And that you have to make time and patience for those childish things in order to be an effective parent.

I discussed in a previous post the fact that Koheles begins with telling us how futile this world is, expressing the word Hevel [nonsense] seven times.  The commentators explain the significance of those seven listings of narishkeit.  One view is that each stage in life comes with its own charms and interests which quickly wane as the person ages.  For example, at five years of age, the child loves the sandbox.  At thirty, not so much anymore.  Yet, for a child to be healthy, you must let the child progress from stage to stage.  You cannot deny the child the validity of the Hevel, of the stage of interest, that is age-appropriate.   In fact, the Talmud brings examples of this – it tells us there was no formal schooling on Shabbat so that fathers could play “horsey” with their kids, riding them on their backs.  And that one Talmud sage bought his son pottery to be able to shatter for amusement.

Enter the teens who invaded my life and came to live with me.  In order to house, clothe and feed them, I had to juggle a couple of jobs.  Life was hectic…and tiring.  Came a holiday and all I wanted to do was to stay home and catch my breath.  Then I remembered that I had been taught you must have patience for the Narishkeit.  Off to Boston, the JerseyShore, to amusement parks and touristy spots I went.  When you are the adult pretending to be interested in the childish or adolescent past-times, it takes a lot of self-control and patience.  You have to find a way to enjoy it, though your sense of what is enjoyable is way past that stage.  You have to find the wherewithal to be there with children at their present stage, enthused as they are about experiencing their lives.

Who knows, perhaps many folks in my life are polite enough not to tell me still to this day that they must tap into their own reservoir of patience skills to put up with my NarishkeitThere is nothing more foolish than being too proper for another person’s foolishness.  So, now, when I’m around a child, I realize I have to be “there” at their Narishkeit level for them.  That might mean hearing jokes that make me gag and make them giggle.   Deep breathe, meditate, visualize my mom in her full-skirted dress pounding the pavement around a small bungalow, and I can do the same – I can give a child a sense of being there with them exactly at their age and stage.


[1] Yiddish for foolishness

[2] The founder of Bais Yaakov elementary school and camp in New York.

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The Love of Succos

There are four expressions of love.  You say, through speech, how much you adore the person.  That is Pesach for us — Peh the mouth speaks, the essence of the night is talking and G-d talking to us through His miracles.  The next level is kissing which is symbolized by Matan Torah – Peh el Peh, mouth-to-mouth we got to experience.  Then comes Yomim Norai’m, the high Holy-days.  That is gaze, glancing — when a mere look is enough to convey the sentiments.  And the highest level of love is the hug.

Let’s talk about hugs.  They are unconditional as you don’t see the face of the person you are hugging.  You just bury yourself in the experience of accepting them and having them envelop you.  It is a safe feeling.  It is an act of reeling the other into the embrace.

A hug, at minimum, needs one arm bent to bring the person close.  A succah, to be Kosher must have a minimum of 2 walls and a Tefach.  If you drew it, it might possibly remind you of a hug.

Consider yourself hugged by G-d this Sukkot, my friends.

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Parshas Kee Saytzay — No Dissing a Dead Body

This week’s Torah portion includes the instructions that we are to bury the dead body of the capital punishment prisoner.  Rashi explains why we are so careful in burying a person, even the person who gets the death penalty because “Adam Asoy Bidmus D’Yokano” Rashi 21:23 “for man is fashioned in G-d’s image.”

Every person was created “Btzelem Elokim” – “In the Image of Hashem.”  This “image of Hashem” aspect is the gift of free choice that Hashem gives us.  Hashem does not preprogram us, but allows us to choose our own destiny.  We, little created beings though we are, still have the choice to do what we want to with our lives.  The inherent value to a person is his/her ability to make choices (and by his/her choices, change the course of the world!)  Even the drunk, wallowing in his own dirt in a ditch, was not preprogrammed like a robot.  He had choice, which is considered to mirror G-d’s Image of free choice.

Never blame anyone else for your actions.  You and you alone have choice in your life.  Choose well, as it is a G-dlike attribute to be able to choose.

And…if a murderer gets respect, don’t you think then respect should be universal?  Think well of this lesson the next time you slight someone with an insult.  Remember, if the lowly drunk is exalted enough as to deserve respect, how much more so must we respect our acquaintances or our neighbors, who definitely have a large dose of Tzelem Elokim.  I personally think that the only person who can possibly disrespect others is someone whose own vision of him/herself is clouded, only someone who is unsure he/she can rise to great heights.  Because once you acknowledge your ability to be great, you realize others’ abilities to be great, too.  Mechilta Mishpatim claims the worst of thieves is the one who steals another man’s confidence.  Such a thief has taken away a person’s chance at greatness by making him feel he is too insignificant to rise and shine.

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Elul – a time for repentance

We’ve begun the month of Elul this past week.  Elul is the last month before judgment.  Next month comes Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when each member of mankind is judged for past year’s actions and decrees are written for the upcoming new year.  Elul is the acronym for “Anee L’dodee V’dodee Lee” [“I am for my Beloved’s and my Beloved is for me”].  Elul is a time of closer connection w/ G-d.

Concept of Jewish Calendar:  Ma’agal Hashana – the wheel of the year.  Based on past events, time has significance.  We don’t merely commemorate past events in Judaism (as does secular society in things like July Fourth).  Rather, Jews know that certain times have certain powers.  Elul in history was right after the Golden Calf incident and after Moshe had set things right by punishing the instigators.  When the Jews had messed up big time, Moshe broke the set of Luchos [tablets with Ten Commandments] to have the destruction be transferred from the people to an inanimate object.  G-d wanted to wipe out our entire nation and only leave Moshe alive.  Moshe begged Hashem to forgive the Jews.  Hashem agreed – and Moshe goes back up to Heavens for another forty days.  He leaves Rosh Chodesh Elul [first day of the month of Elul] and returns Yom Kippur.  So, in history, this time was a time of G-d giving us a second chance and forgiving us despite our horrible mistake.  Therefore, in every generation, this time of the year is a time to get a second chance from Hashem, to move past any mistakes we make.

If you get called into traffic court for speeding and you have a whole list of outstanding other parking tickets you didn’t yet pay, it would be smart to pay off all the tickets before standing in front of the judge.  It would give more of a chance for the judge to be lenient if you took care of everything else.  That is why we would be stupid not to use Elul to try to clear up our mistakes- -we know we have a judgment day in a month – before seeing the Judge and getting judged it is easier to take care of past mistakes.

Teshuva [repentance] –  how do you do it?  Teshuva means to return – return to the state of innocence your soul was in before you did the wrong deeds.  According to the Rambam there are four steps to the repentance process:  leave the sin, regret the sin, admit (must speak) the sin, and take upon yourself not to do it again.

For sins between man and man, there are additional steps – you must right the wrong (if you stole, you must give back money, etc) and you must ask the person for forgiveness.  G-d will not forgive, if the person you harmed does not forgive.

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Parshas Eikev — Haftorah from Yeshayahu — quick tidbits


 [some quick morsels from the weekly portion…]

 ‘And if you will “heel” keep the commandments’.  So begins the weekly Torah Portion this week.  Rashi explains that the word heel was placed into this sentence to tell us we must keep ALL the Mitzvos, even those which many might think are “unimportant” and those which others tend to trample upon with disdaining heels – even those we should be keeping.

Chapter 8:  Verse 3:  “Not on bread alone does man live…rather on the utterances from G-d’s mouth does man live.”  We need to remember this – science, medicine, food – none of that is what gives us the life force – it is G-d willing us to be alive which keeps our souls within our human bodies.  With the advance of modern science and medicine, folks often think they control their health and destiny.  Not so.  Souls come into this world and are taken from it by the word of G-d.

Moshe explains to the Jews at this point some of the miracles which had taken place in the desert.  Verse 4:  their clothing did not need laundering and grew with them during those years.  The Jews got so accustomed to their miraculous existence, they forgot it was a miracle.  Many times in our own lives, just because something happens again and again, we forget it is a miracle.  Sun comes up each day, that’s a miracle for you, but we are so used to it happening we forget how miraculous “mother nature” is.

The next thing we have in the Parsha is the mitzvah of Birchas Hamazon, grace after meals.  The verse says, “you shall eat, you shall be sated, and you shall bless Hashem…”  Grace after Meals is incumbent upon both men and women.

  HAFTORAH – Yeshayahu [Isaiah 49]

 49:14 – “And Zion said, G-d has abandoned me and my Lord has forgotten me.”

It’s been a long exile, hasn’t it?  There are moments of desperation, those dark days of the Inquisition, those horror years of the Holocaust, the unimaginable endless tragic history.  Did G-d forget us and give up on us?

49:15 – [G-d responds]”Does a woman forget her suckling, the son of her womb, even if such would forget but I won’t forget you.”16-“Behold on my palms I have engraved you, your walls are before Me always.”

Put your palm up now.  You see it clearly, don’t you.  That is how close G-d sees us at all times.  He hasn’t forgotten us, not for one moment.

And because G-d hasn’t forgotten us, He will eventually hasten our redemption, cutting short the pain facing us from every angle.

The next few verses have multiple meanings.  I am going to follow the path of describing the verse 17 “those who ruin you and those who destroy you, from you they emerge”  as a comment that our worst enemies are from within our own nation, at times.  The twisted souls who want to entice others into their vile sins.  Those who are bitter and become anti-religious, like that dude in California who wanted to ban circumcision.  We sometimes produce some bad apples.  In our generation, we mass produce them.  We have thousands of kids heading out to meaningless existences.  Parents weep, schools are shamed, our community devastated and you wonder where will it all end.

Yet, with all that, the next verses describe how even these wicked ones could make it back in the final count.  Verse 20:  “It will be said in your ears, the lost children [will say] it is too narrow this place, move toward me and I’ll dwell.”  Those kids we thought we lost to the street, those we thought we lost to twisted cultures and isms, those who had the most fight in them, they, too, will come streaming back, saying, “hey, make space for me at your Shabbos table, make place for me in your synagogues, let me back in.”

So cry for the Geulah, my friends, pray for that day when G-d reverts things back to ideal and brings home our lost children.  Let the small Mitzvos, the ones that oft get trampled on by the masses who don’t value it, be dear to us.  And let those Ekev, trampled upon Mitzvot, pave the road to return our children to the “Ikvos” the footsteps of their illustrious ancestors.

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You shall not add and you shall not subtract…

In this week’s Torah portion we have the prohibitions of:  [verse 3]  “Lo to’seefoo…ve’lo tee’gra’oo…”  you may not add to Torah, nor may you detract from Torah.  You cannot add Halacha nor say a Halacha is no longer part of the Torah.

First of all, that, my friends, tells you how anyone lifting Torah from us and then mucking around with it by adding or taking away commandments are 100% wrong…by the very Torah they are trying to claim as their own.

But, you might question…I understand why we can’t take away commandment G-d gave us…but why can’t we try to outdo ourselves and add to the commandments.

The Maggid of Dubno explains why not.  He tells the story of  a poor person who went to his next- door-rich-neighbor and borrowed a Kiddush cup.  The rich man gave it to him and after Shabbos the poor man returned the Kiddush cup along with a smaller silver cup.  Asked the rich man, “What’s with the smaller cup?”  Said the poor man, “the Kiddush cup had a baby over Shabbos – this is the baby.”  The rich man wasn’t going to argue the point and kept the small cup.  The next Shabbos the poor man borrowed the rich man’s silver candle holders.  After Shabbos, the rich man waited to see what would be returned…but nothing was returned.  Sunday came and went and nothing.  Monday, the rich man went to the poor man to ask for his silver back.  Said the poor man, “Sorry, it was sad, but your candlesticks died.”  “Died!” screamed the rich man, “they aren’t alive- – they can’t die.”  The poor man looked at him sadly and said, “If silver cups can have babies, then silver candle holders can die.”  Said the Dubno Maggid, ‘when you begin to add to the Torah, you eventually think you can detract from it.’

But it is also more serious than that – the minute you begin tinkering, either through adding or taking away Halacha, what you really are saying is that you think you know better than G-d.  Therefore, no one is allowed to add to or take away any Halacha.  Only G-d knows the precise measurement of what we are bound to do or what we are forbidden to do.

In fact, that is the original sin, my learned friends.  G-d said to Adam, you may not eat from that one tree.  And Adam said, “I will be able to serve G-d better with an evil inclination…and, therefore, in order to serve G-d better, I will eat from the tree.”  He was expected to serve G-d the way G-d wanted to be served…NOT the way he reasoned would be the “greater” service.

Our Torah is perfect.  No one has the right to tinker with it.  The moment they do, is the moment they impugn G-d’s greatness.  Only He knows what we should be allowed or forbidden to do.


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