Parshas Ki Teitzei- Maintain Your Advantage This Elul

This week’s parsha includes the commandment of זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way out of Mitzrayim. This mitzvah, which references the sin of Miriam when she spoke lashon hara about Moshe which resulted in her punishment of tzaras, is among the seven that we are obligated to remember every day. There are scores of lessons to be learned from this mitzvah as laid out by nearly all of the major meforshim. The Chofetz Chaim speaks about it at length in both the Sefer Chofetz Chaim and the Sefer Shmiras Halashon in addition to an entire sefer dedicated to it known as the Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam.

It’s difficult to choose which of the hundreds of ideas to focus on, but there is a nuance that the Chasam Sofer points out that is highly relevant to Elul. The Chasam Sofer references the gemara in Sotah (9b) which explains מִרְיָם הִמְתִּינָה לְמֹשֶׁה שָׁעָה אַחַת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחוֹתוֹ מֵרָחוֹק לְפִיכָךְ נִתְעַכְּבוּ לָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׁבְעָה יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם Miriam waited for Moshe one hour, as it says: And his sister stood from afar. Therefore the nation waited for her seven days in the desert, as it says: and the people did not travel until Miriam returned (from the quarantine that was imposed upon her as a result of the tzaras she suffered from in punishment for speaking about Moshe). This gemara teaches that Miriam was rewarded midda keneged midda for her chesed in waiting for Moshe when he was a baby.

The Chasam Sofer asks on this gemara. He explains that there are two ways in which we can look at what Miriam was doing when she was watching Moshe. The first way is to view her as if she was simply a sister watching her brother to see what happens to him in a dangerous situation. The second way is to understand that Miriam had prophecy and therefore knew that Moshe was destined to become the leader and redeemer of Klal Yisrael. As such, her intention in watching him was because she wanted to see if there was something she could do “to assist” Hashem’s chosen leader. This second possibility is clearly on a much higher level as it would have been carried out not simply because of the love of a sister for her brother but lekavod shamayim. The Chasam Sofer points out that we are commanded to give others the benefit of the doubt and, therefore, we would have to say that Miriam watched Moshe for the second, more holy reason. However, that is not the case. We see from the fact that Miriam was rewarded in this world, by having Klal Yisrael wait for her, that Hashem viewed her as waiting for Moshe on the lower, albeit still very lofty level, — as a sister might. Because if she was waiting for Moshe on the higher level, her reward would have been so much greater that it would have been reserved for the next world.

In addition to our obligation to judge favorably, the gemara in Shabbos (127b) tells us: הַדָּן חֲבֵירוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת — דָּנִין אוֹתוֹ לִזְכוּת Everyone who judges his friend favorably, he himself is judged favorably. That means that Hashem also judges favorably. So why was it that Miriam was not judged favorably? The Chasam Sofer answers his question as follows. Miriam made a presumption relating to how Moshe was acting vis-a-vis his wife, and she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt, she was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem. The converse of the gemara is true: anyone who does not judge his friend favorably, is not judged favorably by Hashem. The Chasam Sofer concludes: וזהוּ מוּסר למספּרי לה״ר This is the lesson to those who speak Lashon Hara.

All throughout Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, we are seeking rachamim from Hashem. We’re asking Him to give us the benefit of the doubt, even when He knows our exact intentions were sometimes less than stellar. And this is something that Hashem actually “wants” to do. However, if, during this same time period, we are not judging others favorably, we are forfeiting the right to ask Hashem to judge us favorably. There are halachos that determine when we must give someone the benefit of the doubt and when we do not need to. During these special days when we want Hashem to tip the scales toward our benefit even when we really don’t “deserve it”, we should be granting others the benefit of the doubt lefnim meshuras hadin.

The Takeaway:
Miriam was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Hashem judges us in the way that we judge others. When we are asking Hashem to overlook our flaws and see what’s good and focus on the potential within us, we must do the same for others or lose that opportunity ourselves.

This Week:
Assume good intentions on the part of those around you. When something occurs and you have the impetus to create a story about why someone did something, create a story that is positive and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Parshas Balak – Everyone Knows, Except Me

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר. And Balak ben Zippor saw.
The Midrash asks what was it that Balak saw? מַהוּ וַיַּרְא. רָאָה בַּפֻּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבֹא עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשׂוֹנְאָן הָיָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל שׂוֹנְאִים. שֶׁכֻּלָּם הָיוּ בָּאִין בְּמִלְחָמוֹת וּבְשִׁעְבּוּד שֶׁהֵן יְכוֹלִים לַעֲמֹד בָּהֶן. וְזֶה, כְּאָדָם שֶׁהוּא מוֹצִיא דָּבָר מִפִּיו לַעֲקֹר אֻמָּה שְׁלֵמָה. What Does it mean “he saw”? He saw the punishment that would come upon Israel in the future. And he hated them more than all other enemies. For they all would come with war and subjugation and they (Israel) were able to withstand them. And this one (Balak) was like a man that that which came from his mouth (his speech) could uproot an entire nation.

Balak saw that the power of the Bnei Yisrael was its speech. When all of the nations of the world, even those who seemed mightier, would attack, the Bnei Yisrael prevailed. But Balak knew that this was not due to military acumen or the strength of numbers. It was because of that which came out of their mouths — their Torah study and tefillos to Hashem — that they prevailed. That’s why the Midrash here highlights that Bilam was the perfect enemy for the Jewish people, because he could uproot nations with his speech.

Two pesukim later the Torah says וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן. And the Moabites said to the elders of Midian… The Midrash asks why were the Moabites going to the Midianites in regard to their desire to conquer Bnei Yisrael? מַה טִּיבָם שֶׁל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן כָּאן. שֶׁהָיוּ רוֹאִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל נוֹצְחִין שֶׁלֹּא כְּדֶרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ. אָמְרוּ, מַנְהִיג שֶׁלָּהֶם בְּמִדְיָן נִתְגַּדֵּל, נֵדַע מֵהֶן מַה מִּדָּתוֹ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, אֵין כֹּחוֹ אֶלָּא בְּפִיו. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם, אַף אָנוּ נָבֹא כְּנֶגְדָן בְּאָדָם שֶׁכֹּחוֹ בְּפִיו. What is the relevance of the ziknei Midian here? It is because they (the Moabites) saw that the Bnei Yisrael were conquering in an unusual way. They said (to themselves), their leader grew up in Midian, let’s find out from them what his defining character is. The elders of Midian told them: his singular strength is his mouth. They (the Moabites) said to them (the Midianites): We will also bring against them a man whose power is in his speech.

The nations of the world, their prophets, and their leaders all understood the true nature of the power of Bnei Yisrael– the power of speech. Unfortunately, in our history, we seem to have often forgotten that about ourselves. As we enter the Three Weeks and turn our focus to the sins of sinas chinam and lashon hora, we have to not only focus on the potentially devastating consequences of improper speech, but also on the positive power of our words. By realizing how precious speech is, and how pure speech brings purity to our learning and our tefillah, we will be ensuring the strength necessary to withstand golus and our enemies and achieve the final geulah.

THE TAKEAWAY: Both Balak and the Elders of Midian understood that the koach of Bnei Yisrael is in the mouth– torah learning and tefilah. We sometimes forget this, and we can get better at remembering by focusing not only on the potential damage that speech can cause but on the tremendous positive impact it can have.

THIS WEEK: Each day, review one of the statements highlighting the positive nature of pure speech found on the second page of this parsha sheet.

Yom Rishon/Sunday
There is an extremely awesome aspect of guarding one’s speech, and that is that he begins to repair Hashem’s mizbeach which was destroyed hundreds of years at the time of the churban which was brought about by baseless hatred and loshon hora.
-Chofetz Chaim, Kuntres Chovas HaShmirah.

Yom Sheini/Monday
Every word of a prayer or of any brocha, ascends to great heights carried by specially appointed angels. Each word has an effect on the upper roots of Creation. In this way, the person saying the prayer becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation, since he is able to build and influence many upper worlds. That is why the Sages refer to prayer as “devarim (things or words) that stand in the highest worlds” (Brachos 6b). In other words, the devarim themselves, the words of the prayer, stand at the highest point of the worlds. -Nefesh HaChaim

Yom Shlishi/Tuesday
According to Rabbeinu Yonah, if one guards his tongue and is careful about what he says, then his mouth is considered to be a holy vessel. Just like a holy vessel confers holiness upon whatever [non-holy] item is placed in it, so too all words that are issued from such a mouth are holy.
-Shem MiShmuel

Yom Revi’i/Wednesday
Although it is commendable to try to minimize your speech, if you see someone sad and distressed, it is a great mitzvah to raise his spirits by speaking with him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Yom Chamishi/Thursday
Since man was created as a physical being and not simply a pure, disembodied soul, his pure soul, by itself, is not his complete essence. Rather, the essence of man is his power of speech, which is expressed by the physical organ of the tongue. For man is composed of both physical and soul. Speech is unique to man, since no animal can speak. Speech is rooted in the soul (and yet is found in a physical organ) and therefore is the essence of man (since it combines the physical and the spiritual).
-Maharal, Nesivos Olam

Yom Shishi/ Friday
Midah keneged midah is a foundational principle in all things. Therefore, if one suppresses himself and keeps his mouth from speaking disparagingly against his fellow man and arousing strife against him, so too, above, the Prosecutor will not be able to open his mouth to speak accusingly against him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parshas Korach – Give it Up

וְאִם הוּא מַחֲזִיק בַּמַחְלֹקֶת עַל יְדֵי סִפּוּרוֹ עוֹבֵר עוֹד עַל לָאו דְּ”לֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח שֶׁהוּא אַזְהָרָה, שֶׁלֹּא לְהַחֲזִיק בְּמַחְלֹקֶת כ.
And if he gives strength to a dispute through his own speech, he has also transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”, this (commandment) is a warning to not strengthen a dispute. (Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chekek Alef, pesicha, Lav Yud Beis).

The Chofetz Chaim, on this lav, references the gemara in Sanhedrin (110a). ויקם משה וילך אל דתן ואבירם אמר ר”ל מכאן שאין מחזיקין במחלוקת דאמר רב כל המחזיק במחלוקת עובר בלאו שנאמר ולא יהיה כקרח וכעדתו And Moshe got up and he went to Dasan and Aviram, Reish Lakish says from here (we learn) not to strengthen a dispute, as Rav says: anyone who strengthens a dispute has transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”. Rashi points out why it is that we learn this concept from the actions of Moshe: שמחל על כבודו והוא עצמו הלך לבטל מחלוקת (Moshe) was mochel on his honor, and he himself went out to nullify the dispute.

There is a fairly common misunderstanding that the prohibition of being mechazek a machlokes is limited to those outside the actual machlokes. In other words, it’s telling us not to get involved in other people’s disputes. Yes, this is certainly prohibited, but this issur is not limited to that. The gemara is telling us that even those involved in the machlokes itself, and even those who are absolutely correct should do what they can to dampen or uproot the machlokes. We learn this from the actions of
לרפואה שׁלמה חיה גיטל בת מלכה

Moshe who was on the side of Hashem, had been personally attacked, and was הֶחָשׁוּב שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל the most important person in klal yisrael. Nonetheless, he “got up and went” to Dasan and Aviram in order to do what he could to quell the dispute.

The Midrash says that because Moshe went to the tents of Dasan and Aviram, four tzadikim were saved from Gehenom– the three sons of Korach and On ben Peles. The Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon emphasizes the extent to which we need to go to seek peace. He explains the pusek in tehillim בַּקִּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ Seek peace and pursue it as: Seek peace among your friends, pursue it among your enemies; Seek peace in the place where you are, pursue it in other places; Seek peace with personal efforts, pursue peace with your financial resources; Seek peace when it concerns you, pursue peace even when it only involves others; and Seek peace today, pursue peace even for tomorrow (if your efforts at peacemaking don’t bear fruit today, try again tomorrow).

THE TAKEAWAY: We have an obligation to avoid machlokes and to actively and incessantly pursue peace. Moshe, the greatest prophet to ever live, was willing to forego his honor in order to attempt to make peace.

THIS WEEK: Start building or working on the muscle of giving in. Give up on something that you feel is due to you in order to avoid or deepen a conflict.
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Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parshas Behaloscha – Five Barriers, Three Breakthroughs

לזכות חיים יוא־ל בן ארי־ה משׁה הלוי

Our parsha contains the most well known incidence of lashon hara and tzaras– Miriam speaking about Moshe. Before any discussion of this incident can be undertaken, it is imperative to understand that Miriam was among the greatest prophets ever and that due to her lofty level, she was held to an extremely exacting standard. There is not a single meforesh that explains that Miriam ever intended harm to Moshe. In fact, most explain that Miriam’s intentions were constructive. Nonetheless, she was taken to task for not living up to her potential.

The Chofetz Chaim wrote five seforim addressing the halachos and hashkafos of lashon hara: Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek alef, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek beis, Chovos HaShmirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam. The Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam focuses to a large extent on the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. According to most opinions, we have a daily obligation to remember this by reading, out loud, the pasuk (found in most sedurim at the end of shacharis): זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out of Egypt. In the first perek of Zachor LeMiriam, the Chofetz Chaim provides five reasons why people don’t always see the full benefit of saying this pasuk:

1. People often don’t appreciate or understand that they suffer from the malady of lashon hora, and since they don’t realize this, they do not seek to be cured from it.
2. Even those who verbalize the zechirah of Miriam don’t think deeply about it and don’t try to understand the depth of bitterness that Miriam experienced after this incident.
3. People look at others who are scrupulous to say the pasuk daily and assume that it does not help since they still see them speaking lashon hora.
4. Many don’t understand that in order to remedy their improper speech, they need to take the steps to uncover the root causes of their own lashon hara (the Chofetz Chaim provides a list of these causes in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon: anger, cynicism, arrogance, futility, negativity, and rationalization).
5. People think that their lashon hora is so entrenched that they believe they will never be successful in removing their yetzer hara in this regard.

The Chofetz Chaim provides advice for how to get past these five barriers. His advice is well known to us: עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. Akivah ben Mehalelel said Gaze at three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. The Chofetz Chaim provides several insights into each of these three concepts. We will only focus on one insight for each of them.

Know from where you came. In addition to the insight with which most of us are familiar — that we come from a putrid drop, the Chofetz Chaim accentuates the positive. He explains that although man is physical–like all other creations– he has a soul that is divine–מִן הַשָׁמַיּם . We are lofty beings and when we remember that, we will be careful not to besmirch ourselves with lashon hara and not to disparage our fellow man, each of whom possesses a divine soul.

Know where you are going. The Chofetz Chaim points out that the language here is in the present tense. It’s not “know where you will end up”, it’s “know where you are going, right now”. Every day we are aging, moving closer to the day when we will leave this world and return to dust. If so, what possible arrogance (the primary root of lashon hara and all sins) can we have? Our physicality and physical possessions? These are amortizing, decreasing in value, every day.

Before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. There is no hiding or rationalization before Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of us will have to give an accounting for every word we have spoken, particularly for speech that is forbidden: lashon hara, rechilus, deceptive speech, harmful words, lies, false flattery, words that publicly embarrass others, and words that create or sustain machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim summarizes the mishna: when we focus on these three things, we will not be ensnared by the middah of gaivah- arrogance, שֶׁהִיא רֵשִׁית לְכָל חֵטְא which is the primary cause of all sin. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that man should also focus on the tremendous kindness that Hashem extends to him throughout his entire life and then he will be happy with his lot. When we are happy with what we have — with what we have been gifted– we will not be worried that others have more, and we won’t look to bring others down through negative speech.

THE TAKEAWAY: We are required to remember what Hashem did to Miriam for speaking improperly. People don’t always get the full benefit of this mitzva because: they don’t realize how deficient their own speech is, they say the words without getting a deeper understanding of them, they look at others who say the pasuk but still speak lashon hara, they don’t investigate the root causes of their improper speech, or they believe that their improper speech is so entrenched that they cannot repair it. By thinking about the purity of our souls and those of our fellow Jews, understanding that we have nothing to be arrogant about, and remembering that we will have to provide an accounting for every word we speak, we will arouse ourselves to fight the yetzer hara for improper speech.

THIS WEEK: The Chofetz Chaim points out that if we think about the three things discussed in the mishna above, we will distance ourselves from sin. But, he also says that each one on their own can divert us from sin. Read this short Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:1) daily this week and take a moment to think about which of these three things speak to you the most. Set a reminder/alarm for yourself to stop and think about this particular aspect at least once during your day.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Shmirah Ba’Shavuah – Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition

פרשת במדבר ושבועות
Parshas Bamidbar/Shavous Edition
לעילוי נשמת רבקה בת שמאי

Ideas and insights from the forthcoming sefer Shmirah Ba’Shavuah. To sponsor a weekly parsha sheet or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities for the sefer, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com
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הקדמה לספר במדבר
Introduction to Sefer Bamidbar
Everyone Counts

תובנה לפרשת במדבר
Insight to Parshas Bamidbar
Choosing Communities

תובנה לשבועות
Shavous Insight
Keneged Kulam

Sefer Bamidbar
Introduction- Everyone counts.

The gemara in Sotah (36b) refers to Sefer Bamidbar as חוֹמֶשׁ הַפְּקוּדִים the Book of Counting. This is how Chazal commonly refer to Sefer Bamidbar, and this is the reason why Sefer Bamidbar is called “Numbers” in english. While it is true that two major censuses of the Jewish people appear in Sefer Bamidbar, there are many more incidents in the Sefer that do not relate to the counting of the members of the Jewish nation. So, why the emphasis on counting? Why is פְּקוּדִים the underlying theme of the entire Sefer? Let’s explore.

We find within Sefer Bamidbar some of the Torah’s most prominent incidents of improper speech. We have Miriam’s improper speech about Moshe and her subsequent punishment with tzaras. We have the incident of the meraglim– the spies who spoke negatively about the land of Israel– resulting in the dying off of an entire generation before entering the land and planting the seeds of future golus from the land. We also have Korach’s attempts to rile up the Jewish people to overthrow Moshe’s leadership. These are in addition to several other speech related incidents including Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and, lehavdil, Bilaam’s attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael.

While each of these three major speech related incidents have individual aspects and lessons, they all share a common denominator: comparison. Let’s take a look at each of these incidents to see how they are each rooted in comparison.

Aaron and Miriam said: הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה הֲלֹ֖א גַּם־בָּ֣נוּ דִבֵּ֑ר Did Hashem only speak to Moshe?! He also speaks to us. Aaron and Miriam were discussing how Moshe had separated from his wife because he wanted to be in a state of purity when Hashem would speak to him. This –separating from their spouses– was something that Miriam and Aaron did not do. Aaron and Miriam were prophets as well and, in their minds, there could be no reason for Moshe to act differently than they did. Eventually, Hashem explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moshe is not like any other prophet– Hashem speaks to him without a moment’s notice and face to face. While we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet that ever lived, the lesson here isn’t about lauding Moshe, it is about teaching Miriam and Aaron that they should not compare themselves to him.

The meraglim made two significant comparison-related mistakes. Chazal tell us that the meraglim compared Eretz Yisrael to all other ordinary lands, failing to see its uniqueness as the land chosen by Hasem and that which had been promised to Bnei Yisrael. The meraglim also compared Bnei Yisrael to the inhabitants of the land, even presuming how they appeared — like grasshoppers– in comparison to those inhabitants.

Finally, Korach compared himself and his family to Moshe and his family, complaining that everyone was equal. כָל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה The entire congregation is holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you raise yourself above the rest of Hashem’s assembly?
When we start comparing ourselves to others, two things happen: We don’t value our own uniqueness and we bring others down so that we feel better about ourselves.

Let’s turn back to our question: why is the entire sefer called Sefer Pekudim, even though only a small portion of it relates to the censuses? Perhaps we can find an answer in the challenges presented by these three speech related episodes.

The Ramban provides us a great deal of insight into exactly what pakad, the root of the word pekudim, means. ענין פקידה זכרון והשגחה על דבר The essence of pekida is remembrance and personal divine attention to the matter. כלשון וה’ פקד את שרה, for example Hashem paked es Sarah, Hashem remembered and turned His attention to Sarah.

The Ramban further points out that in the census that is taken in the beginning of the Sefer, the individuals were counted תולדותם למשפחותם לבית אבותם as members of a generation, a family, and their father’s family. HaRav Gedalia Schorr understands the Ramban as telling us that every single individual that was brought before Moshe and Aharon has a special life mission, a tafkid (also from the root of pakad) in relation to his role in the Jewish Nation, a tafkid within his family, and a tafkid within his tribe. No part of the nation would be whole without each individual.

The Ramban goes on to highlight three more important aspects of pekida. מרוב חבתם מונה אותם כל שעה ועוד כי הבא לפני אב הנביאים ואחיו קדוש ה’ והוא נודע אליהם בשמו יהיה לו בדבר הזה זכות וחיים כי בא בסוד העם ובכתב בני ישראל וזכות הרבים במספרם וכן לכולם זכות במספר שימנו לפני משה ואהרן כי ישימו עליהם עינם לטובה יבקשו עליהם רחמים ה’ אלהי אבותיכם

1. Due to His abundant love (for the Bnei Yisrael) He counts them from time to time.

2. Furthermore, when (each person) would come before the father of all prophets (Moshe) and his brother (Aaron), the one who is holy to Hashem, and he knew them by name, there will be a merit and life, because he has come in the council of the people and onto the list of the Bnei Yisrael, and he receives a part in the merit of the community by being included in their numbers.

3. Similarly, each of the people receive a special merit through being counted individually by Moshe and Aaron, for they will set their eyes upon them for good and ask for mercy for them from the G-d of their fathers.

Let’s recap this deeper understanding of pakad so that we can understand, for ourselves, how we should look at each person in Klal Yisrael.
1. Pakad has an aspect of love, Hashem counts us, individually because He loves and treasures us;
2. Pakad includes an aspect of calling to mind merits, like Hashem did for Sarah, and a level of individual divine providence;
3. Pakad includes an understanding that every single individual is unique and plays an irreplaceable, G-d given role within his generation, his family and his ancestry;
4. Pakad has a nature of joining each individual to the community and thereby providing them with the merit of the community and the community with their respective merits; and
5. Pakad includes an aspect of understanding the importance of each individual, by name, and asking Hashem to have rachamim on them.

In sum, when we are involved in pekudim we show interest and value for each individual, we understand that we need them and that they play a unique role, we appreciate them, we get to know them thereby draw divine remembrance, hashgacha and mercy.

The essence of individuality and the important and unique role that each person plays in Hashem’s world is the direct opposite of comparison. Comparison is rooted in finding negative differences while pakad is rooted in finding and appreciating unique positive differences. When we shift from comparison to pekida, we would never think to degrade others with our speech. Instead, just as Moshe and Aaron saw the beauty of each individual and asked Hashem to have mercy on them, we will do the same. Imagine flipping potentially damaging speech to speech that praises others and asks Hashem to shower rachamim upon them.

The Midrash relates an additional fascinating aspect about pakad וכשבאו משה ואהרן אצל זקני ישראל ועשו האותות לעיניהם, הלכו אצל סרח בת אשר. אמרו לה, בא אדם אחד אצלנו ועשה אותות לעינינו כך וכך, אמרה להם, אין באותות האלו ממש. אמרו לה, והרי אמר פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם. אמרה להם, הוא האיש העתיד לגאול את ישראל ממצרים, שכן שמעתי מאבא פ”ה ופ”ה פקוד יפקוד, מיד האמינו העם באלהיהם ובשלוחו. When Moshe and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed the signs before their eyes, they (the elders) went to Serach bas Asher (who was the oldest living member of Bnei Yisrael) and they said to her: A certain man has come and performed signs in our sight, like this and this (explaining the signs). She said to them: There is nothing of true essence in signs. They said to her: He said “Pakod yiphkod Elokim eschem- G-d will surely visit you”. She said to them: This is the man who will bring Israel out of Egypt, for this is what I heard from my father “peh u’peh, Pakod Pakadeti” (this was the siman of a true redeemer that had been transmitted from Avraham to Yitzchak to Yaakov to the Shvatim, and from Asher to Serach). Immediately the people believed in G-d and His messenger (Moshe)…

This Midrash shows that geulah is somehow rooted in pakad. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that Loshon Hara is the primary aveira that has prolonged our current golus. Perhaps we can say that the way out of golus is by focusing on pakad, appreciating and loving every Jew, getting to know them, davening for them and growing alongside them. When we do so, we will stop making comparisons, stop speaking loshon hara ,and merit geulah, it should be speedily and in our days.

Parshas Bamidbar

Choosing Communities
מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת יַֽחֲנ֑וּ עַ֛ל יֶ֥רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן תֵּימָֽנָה
The families of the sons of Kehas shall camp to the south.

Rashi comments: וסמוכין להם דגל ראובן החונים תימנה, אוי לרשע ואוי לשכנו לכך לקו מהם דתן ואבירם ומאתים וחמשים איש עם קרח ועדתו, שנמשכו עמהם במחלוקתם Near them was the division of Reuven, who camped to the south. Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor! This explains why Daasan, Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men were struck with Korach and his congregation, because (since they were neighbors) they were drawn into their machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us אָסוּר לָדוּר בִּשְׁכוּנַת בַּעֲלֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן לֵישֵׁב עִמָּהֶם וְלִשְׁמֹעַ דִּבְרֵיהֶם It is forbidden to live in a neighborhood of consistent speakers of loshon hara, and all the more so to sit with them and listen to their words. In a hagaah on this halacha, the Chofetz Chaim says: ומזה נוכל ללמד, דכל שכן שיש לזהר מאד, שלא לקבע לו מקום בבית הכנסת ובבית המדרש אצל בעלי הלשון
And from here we can learn, all the more so, that one must be extremely careful not to establish for himself a physical place within a Beis HaKeneses or Beis Hamidrash near baalei loshon Hara. The Chofetz Chaim elaborates upon the insidious nature of sitting among these types of sinners in a shul or where one learns. Not only does one place himself at jeopardy of listening to, approving of, believing, and participating in loshon hara, but he also will: miss responding Amen and Yehei shemei rabbah in davening, lose out on a great deal of learning, and even the learning that he does accomplish will be fragmented.

Many meforshim ask why this Rashi, explaining the danger of associating with sinners, is brought here in regard to the physical location of the family of Kehas. The Sifsei Chachamim explains: מקשים העולם ל”ל לרש”י לכל פי’ זה כאן ויש לומר דק”ל למה לא כתיב משפחת בני הקהתי כמו דכתיב בתר הכי למשפחת הקהתי. ולעיל נמי כתיב אלה הם משפחות הקהתי, ומפרש וסמוכים להם דגל ראובן וכו’ שחטאו והחטיאו את הרבים ואינן ראויים לכתוב השם בשמם דהיינו ה”א בראש התיבה והיו”ד בסוף התיבה: Everyone asks the question: Why does Rashi bring this explanation here? It can be said that he is answering this question: Why did the Torah not write (in this verse) “the families of the children of הקהתי (the Kehosites)” as it writes in the next verse — “of the families of the Kehosites,” and above (two verses earlier) — “these are the families of the Kehosites”? (Rashi is answering this question: If previously and subsequently we used the word הקהתי, why only in this verse does the Torah use the words בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת the sons of Kehas). This was because (the verse is teaching:) “Near them was the banner of Reuven…” They (Korach and his followers who were from Kehas) sinned and they caused others (their neighbors) to sin. Therefore, it was improper to write the Name (of Hashem) — with the (letter) hei at the beginning and the (letter) yud at the end together with their name. (The letters yud and hei comprise one of Hashem’s names, therefore הקהתי is a combination of Hashem’s name with Kehas’ name).

This Sifsei Chachamim is enlightening. Someone who lives alongside sinners, and particularly baalei machlokes does not merit to have Hashem’s name attached to them. The gemara in Arakhin (15b) says something similar regarding those who speak loshon hara. המספר לשון הרע אמר הקב”ה אין אני והוא יכולין לדור בעולם One who speaks loshon Hara, Hashem says: He and I cannot exist in the same world.

THE TAKEAWAY: Simply being in close proximity to those who habitually sin has a negative impact on us. It is forbidden to live in a community of baalei loshon hara and it is forbidden to remain in a group that is speaking loshon hara. Hashem distances himself from those who choose to speak improperly or associate with those who do.

THIS WEEK: Think about the communities in which you live. Baruch Hashem, we do not usually find entire communities comprised of baalei loshon hara. But we also need to think about the sub-communities in which we live and work. Sometimes those are actual communities and sometimes they are virtual. Ask yourself: are the people that I choose to spend time with generally careful about their conversations? If not, are these the type of people that I can have an influence upon for the good? If so, determine how you can begin influencing them and ask for Rabbinical guidance on how to do so. If not, determine how you can reduce the time spent with that community and/or gracefully remove yourself from it.

Shavuos Thought
Keneged Kulam

We are all familiar with the mishnah in Peah: אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶן בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם, וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים, וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ, וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם These are the things that a man eats from their fruits in this world and the principal remains for him in the next world: Honoring parents, performing acts of chesed, making peace between two people, and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.

The Yerushalmi (Peah 5a) elucidates the mishnah by adding: וּכְנֶגְדָּן אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים שֶׁהֵן נִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַייֶמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְאֵילּוּ הֵן עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה וְגִילּוּי עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. וְלָשׁוֹן הָרַע כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּן. In regard to four things is someone punished in this world while the principle of the punishment remains in the next world, and these are them: idol worship, illicit relations, and murder, and loshon hara is equivalent to them all.

There is a clear contrary parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara. One brings life, bounty and reward while the other causes destruction, scarcity and punishment. Since Talmud Torah is dependent on speech, loshon hara has a particularly damaging effect on it.

The Vilna Gaon in the Iggeres HaGra says: שכל מצותיו ותורותיו של אדם אינו מספיק למה שמוציא מפיו All of the mitzvos and Torah of a person are not equal to that which comes out of his mouth. This teaches that if someone is constantly speaking loshon hara, he is defiling his mouth and his deeds to the extent that they no longer bear fruits. This is particularly the case when it comes to loshon hara and Talmud Torah. The Gra in Shenos Eliyahu comments on the above Yerushalmi that there is a direct correlation between the four mitzvos mentioned in the mishnah and the four aveiros mentioned in the gemara. This correlation is set in the order of the listings of the respective mitzvos and aveiros, and that brings a parallel between Talmud Torah and loshon hara.

The Chofetz Chaim elaborates on this in the Shaar HaZechirah of his sefer Shmiras Haloshon: עַתָּה נְבָאֵר אֶת עֹצֶם הַזְּכוּת, לְמִי שֶׁשּׁוֹמֵר אֶת פִּיו וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִלְּדַבֵּר דִּבּוּרִים אֲסוּרִים. תְּחִלַּת כָּל הַמַּעֲלוֹת, הוּא מְתַקֵן וּמְקַדֵּשׁ עַל יְדֵי זֶה אֶת כְּלִי הָאֻמָּנוּת הַמְיֻחָד לָאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, שֶׁהוּא הַדִּבּוּר, וְכָל הַדִּבּוּרִים שֶׁיְּדַבֵּר אַחַר כָּךְ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבַתְּפִלָּה, יַעֲלֶה לִמְקוֹר שָׁרְשׁוֹ לְמַעְלָה. Now, we shall explain the greatness of the merit of one who guards his mouth and his tongue from speaking forbidden things. First, he amends and sanctifies through this the unique “tool” of a Jew, which is speech. And all of the words that he speaks after that, in Torah and in tefilla ascend to the source of its root on high.

The Chofetz Chaim continues to explain that the the level of kedusha of our Torah learning is dependent on two things:
1. לְפִי הַהֲכָנָה שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא, אִם הֵכִין אֶת עַצְמוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא בְּכָל כֹּחוֹתָיו לְקַיֵּם כְּפִי הַתּוֹרָה בְּכָל חֲלָקָיו וּפְרָטָיו שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לָזֶה. In accordance with the preparation that he exerts at this time– (meaning to determine) whether at that moment he exerts his full effort to fulfill the Torah in all of its details.
2. לְפִי כְּלֵי הָאֻמָּנוּת שֶׁעָשָׂה בָּהֶם הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֵם כְּלֵי הַדִּבּוּר, שֶׁאִם הֵם יָפִים וּמְהֻדָּרִים, שֶׁמִּשְׁתַּמְשִׁים בָּהֶם תָּמִיד לְטוֹב, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נִתְחַזֵּק כֹּחַ קְדֻשָּׁתָם In accordance with the tool that he uses for Torah, and that is the vessel of speech– whether it is beautiful and extraordinary, that he always uses it for the good, because through that he strengthens the kedusha…

If someone has the first element, but not the second, his learning will be diminished or dissolved. The Chofetz Chaim says:
אִם פּוֹגֵם וּמְטַמֵּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶת כֹּחַ הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁלּוֹ, עַל יְדֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וּרְכִילוּת וְלֵיצָנוּת וְשֶׁקֶר וְכַדּוֹמֶה וְלֹא יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְדַבֵּר בְּפִיו דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה וּתְפִלָּה, אֵיזֶה כֹּחַ יֵשׁ בָּהֶן לְהַמְשִׁיךְ עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְהַתְּפִלָּה הַהִיא קְדֻשָּׁה עֶלְיוֹנָה, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁכְּלֵי הַמִּבְטָא שֶׁלּוֹ הֵם פְּגוּמִים וּטְמֵאִים בְּעַצְמָם מִכְּבָר If he, G-d forbid, makes his speech spoiled and impure through loshon hara, rechilus, levity, falsity, and similar things, and he does not do teshuva, and then speaks with his mouth words of Torah and prayer, what power will they have to draw sanctity to them after his “tools of speech” have been rendered defective and unclean?!

On Shavous, we all turn our thoughts to how we can increase our Torah learning, over Yom Tov and throughout the year. At the same time, let’s avail ourselves of the tool that will play a role in adding kedusha and siyata dishmaya to our learning. Think about how you can incorporate the learning of the halachos of shmiras haloshon into your daily schedule. May all of our learning emanate from pure tools of speech and rise to the highest of heights and may we be zocheh to eat from their fruits in this world and enjoy their full rewards in the next world. Good Yom Tov.

Parshas Behar – Choose the Best

לעילוי נשמת מנחם בן משה הלוי

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם Do not oppress your fellow Jew, and fear your G-d because I am Hashem, your G-d. Rashi explains: כָּאן הִזְהִיר עַל אוֹנָאַת דְּבָרִים Here is a warning against onaas devarim. While there is, Baruch Hashem, a great emphasis on being careful not to speak Lashon Hora, there is, it seems, less of a broad emphasis on being careful about not speaking onaas devarim– words that oppress.

The mishna in Baba Metzia (58b) says: כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים לא יאמר לו בכמה חפץ זה והוא אינו רוצה ליקח אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך Just as their is onaah (oppression) in buying and selling, there is onaah through words (for example) You should not ask someone how much something costs if you have no intention of buying it, if someone has done teshuva, do not remind him of his previous wrongful deeds, if someone is a son of converts, do not say to him, remember what your ancestors did. Onaas devarim is quite expansive and the gemara here provides several other examples ranging from the way we speak to those who have suffered a loss to how we address those seeking to purchase a certain item. The gemara points out that onaas devarim is even more severe than onaas mamon (onaah caused through commerce), in three ways:

1. The pasuk that prohibits onaas devarim concludes with the extra caution to fear G-d;
2. Onaas devarim affects one’s body while onaas mamon affects one’s money;
3. You can make restitution for onaas mamon, but you cannot make restitution for onaas devarim

Additionally, the gemara in Baba Metzia (59a) says: אמר רב חסדא כל השערים ננעלים חוץ משערי אונאה Rav Chisda said that all of the gates (of heaven) are closed except for the gate of onaah. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is so that those who are oppressed by words will have a means of being repaired. This gemara also explains that oppressing someone with words is one of the three sins that go up directly to Hashem.

The midrash Vayikra Rabbah on the pesukim of onaah brings this story: אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל לְטָבִי עַבְדֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ טָבָא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן, אָמַר לֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַהוּ דֵּין דְּכַד אֲנָא אָמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ טָבָא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן, וְכַד אֲנָא אֲמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מִינָּהּ טָבְתָּא וּמִינָהּ בִּישְׁתָּא, כַּד הֲוָה טַב לֵית טָבָה מִנֵּיהּ, וְכַד

בִּישׁ לֵית בִּישׁ מִנֵּיהּ. רַבִּי עָשָׂה סְעוּדָה לְתַלְמִידָיו, הֵבִיא לִפְנֵיהֶם לְשׁוֹנוֹת רַכִּים וּלְשׁוֹנוֹת קָשִׁים, הִתְחִילוּ
בּוֹרְרִין בָּרַכִּים וּמַנִּיחִין הַקָּשִׁים, אָמַר לָהֶם דְּעוּ מָה אַתֶּם עוֹשִׂין כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאַתֶּם בּוֹרְרִין אֶת הָרַכִּין וּמַנִּיחִין אֶת הַקָּשִׁים כָּךְ יִהְיֶה לְשׁוֹנְכֶם רַךְ אֵלּוּ לָאֵלּוּ Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said to Tavi his servant: go buy for me the best food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: go buy for me the worst food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: What’s this? When I say to you “the best food”, you buy me a tongue, and when I say to you “the worst food”, you buy me tongue. He said to him, this is the best and this is the worst. When it is good, there is nothing better than it, and when it is bad, there is nothing worse than it. Rabi made a meal for his students, and brought before them soft tongues and hard tongues. They immediately chose the soft tongues and left the tough tongues alone. He said to them, Understand what you are doing. Just as you are choosing the soft [tongues] and leaving aside the tough ones, so shall your own tongues be with one another. Our “tongues” have a dual potential, they can be the best things or the worst things. Choose to be the best.

We are familiar that the isur of Lashon Hora is not limited to the spoken word. It also includes facial expressions, winking, frowning, etc. The Sefer Yere’im similarly extends onaas devarim to facial expressions. The Alter of Slabodka was known to say that a person’s face is a reshus harabbim, an area open to the public. If someone walks around with a sullen face, he can be considered a mazik, a damager, because he oppresses others and causes them
to be sad. On the other hand, if someone follows the advice of Pirkei Avos and greets everyone with a kind face, both he and they will be happier and he will avoid any potential damage to them. Choose to be the best. Greet everyone with a kind countenance.

THE TAKEAWAY: Onaas Devarim– speaking words that oppress others, even when they might not be Lashon Hora or Rechilus, is an aveira that is more severe than onaas mamon, oppressing someone in the course of commerce. Our speech has the greatest potential, for both the bad and the good and we need to choose the good. The Sefer Yereim extends onaas devarim to facial expressions.

THIS WEEK: Even when you aren’t feeling one hundred percent, do your best to greet others with a smile and a cheerful countenance. This doesn’t mean that you cannot unburden yourself to others in halachically permissible ways. It means that when you are not discussing the things that have gotten you down, there’s no reason to cause others pain or discontent. Choose to be the best, one smile at a time.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parshas Metzora – Fly Little Birdie

Shmira BaShuvua – Shmiras HaLashon Lessons from the Weekly Parsha

Someone who spoke lashon hara and was afflicted with tzaras was exiled from the three camps of the Bnei Yisrael. Once the metzora’s skin appears to have healed, a kohein would come to investigate. If he determined that the skin had indeed healed, the kohein would command the metzora to prepare a very unique korban וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵז:–Then the kohen shall command that the one who wishes to be purified take two live clean birds, a cedar twig, a strip of crimson, and hyssop. Many meforshim discuss each of the individual elements of this korban, but we will focus on the two birds.

Rashi on this pusek references the gemara in Arachin (16b) אמר רבי יהודה בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה יביא {ויקרא י״ד:ד׳ } שתי ציפרים לטהרתו אמר הקב”ה הוא עושה מעשה פטיט לפיכך אמרה תורה יביא קרבן פטיט -Rabbi Yehuda ben Levi says: What is different about a metzora that the Torah tell us that two birds are needed for his purification? Hakodesh Baruch Hu says: he performed an action of chattering, therefore the Torah tells him to bring a chattering korban (birds). This gemara seems to provide an explanation in line with the explanation of the other elements of the korban (according to Rashi) with each item being included for a symbolic reason–either to emphasize the sin of haughtiness or to teach the lesson of humility. But there’s another curious thing about the bird offering, the Torah tells us: וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְשָׁחַ֖ט אֶת־הַצִּפּ֣וֹר הָאֶחָ֑ת -And the kohen commands that one of the birds be slaughtered… וְשִׁלַּ֛ח אֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֥ר הַֽחַיָּ֖ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה… -and they send away the live bird on to the land. One of the birds was slaughtered and the other had to be left alive and set free.

HaRav Shlomo Ganzfried, the mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, in his Sefer Apiryon explains why one bird is slaughtered and the other is set free. There are two sides to speech. There is the type of speech that damages, destroys, brings impurity, blocks our tefillah and Torah learning, and literally kills. Then there is the type of speech that is literally life altering and life giving: words of torah and tefillah, the kind word to someone who is struggling, the ways we honor our parents, teachers and fellow Jews with speech. HaRav Ganzfried is teaching us an important lesson: the solution to avoiding lashon hara is not to stop talking, it’s to learn how to use your speech in the proper way. Hashem gave us the power of speech to connect to him and our fellow man and to literally build worlds. He doesn’t want us to leave that most precious tool in the garage, he wants us to use it and use it properly.

On the occasion of the shloshim of the Chofetz Chaim someone close to the family wrote a eulogy using the pseudonym Machar HaLevi. The Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aryeh Leib haKohen vouched for its veracity and included it in his biography of his father, Sefer Toldos Chofetz Chaim. Machar HaLevi says that when he was in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin, he used to ask himself what it was about the Chofetz Chaim that made him so choshuv. After all, his son-in-law, Rav Hirsh, seemed to be a greater tzadik than the Chofetz Chaim (if you could imagine). Indeed, Rav Hirsh was considered to be even more strict with his speech than the Chofetz Chaim, he barely spoke at all while the Chofetz Chaim spoke very often. Machar HaLevi explains that he only later realized why the Chofetz Chaim was much greater– kosher speech without a tinge of sin is more difficult and more valuable than remaining silent at all times. He adds that mute-like behavior isolates one from those around him and makes the person depressed. It is also considered a form of miserliness because it withholds so much good from others.

Speech, he continued, is a gift that Hashem gave us to distinguish us from the animals, and a person is not permitted to make himself like an animal or to spurn a gift from Hashem. Proper speech, of course, has its place in torah and tefillah but also in mundane things like business and learning new, proper ideas. The goal is to guard your tongue when speaking and not to refrain from speaking completely.

THE TAKEAWAY: There are two types of speech, the forbidden type of speech that destroys and the type of speech that builds relationships with Hashem, our fellow Jews, and the world around us. Simply refraining from talking at all times is not a solution to the challenges we may be facing in our shmiras halashon.

THIS WEEK: Focus on “lashon tov”, greet others with a kind word, provide verbal chizuk to someone who is struggling, use your speech to honor others, and before you speak think about how your speech can have an impact for good, or chas veshalom, the opposite.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Shmira Bashavua – Shmiras HaLashon in the Weekly Parsha

I am excited to share with the Beyond BT community the first fruits of a sefer that I have been working on for several years– Shmira Bashavua. Shmira Bashavua is a parsha sefer which gleans Shmiras HaLashon related halacha and hashkafa from each parsha and provides practical tools for taking each idea into the week.

I strongly believe that Shmira Bashavua has the potential to be a Shabbos table staple and play a part in creating stronger Shmiras HaLashon within our families and communities.

The first volume of Shmira Bashavua (Sefer Vayikra) is scheduled to be published and in stores in advance of Parshas Vayikra.

You can download the Introduction to the Sefer, the Introduction to Sefer Vayikra and 5 or 6 selections from Parshas Vayikra.
https://beyondbt.com/docs/ShmiraBashuvaVayikraSample.pdf

I am currently looking for sponsors for the sefer. This is an opportunity to play an important role in spreading awareness and learning of Shmiras HaLashon. Here is the link to the form which contains details about these dedication opportunities.
https://forms.gle/FcYJVdP2tQdVsyon7
I look forward to your feedback and I deeply appreciate your support.

David

Keep the Change

As the Neilah service on Yom Kippur reaches its crescendo, the congregation cries out in unison: “Hashem Hu HaElokim” (Hashem is G-d) seven times. We can probably still hear this cry echoing in our minds. At that precious moment, we have reached the peak of the spiritual heights we have been climbing since the beginning of Elul.

“Hashem Hu HaElokim” finds its source in the tanakh, Melachim I 18:39. At that point in history, it had already been three long years since Eliyahu had imposed a drought in order to: 1. prove to King Achav that Hashem grants great power to his Prophets; and 2. inspire the Jewish Nation to teshuvah. King Achav and Ovadiah HaNavi then separate in order to search for fertile land. While traveling, Ovadiah “happens upon” Eliyahu HaNavi who convinces Ovadiah to arrange for a meeting between Eliyahu and King Achav. At this meeting, Eliyahu proposes a contest between himself and the 450 prophets of Ba’al to be held on Mt. Carmel. A “Battle of the Prophets”, if you will. King Achav accepts the challenge and sends for the prophets of Ba’al.

After the nation congregates on Mt. Carmel, Eliyahu reproves them, asking “How long will you stand on both sides of the threshold? If Hashem is G-d, follow Him! And if Ba’al is god, follow him.” The People could not answer. Sometimes the truth hits that hard.

Eliyahu then set down the contest rules: Both he and the prophets of Ba’al would be given a bull to sacrifice. Each was to slaughter the bull, cut it into pieces and place them on top of firewood on their respective altar. But they were not to kindle the firewood! The prophets of Ba’al were to call upon their god to send down fire, and Eliyahu was to call upon Hashem to send down fire. The One who would send down fire would be recognized as the true G-d, and the other as a falsehood. Both the People and the prophets of Ba’al agreed to this trial.

Eliyahu encouraged the prophets of Ba’al to go first and they took one of the bulls, slaughtered it and prepared it for sacrifice on their altar. They then called upon Ba’al all morning, hopping and dancing and cutting themselves till they bled, as was their manner of worship. But there was neither a sound nor any other response from heaven! As time went on, Eliyahu began mocking the priests of Ba’al, saying “Call louder, maybe your god is with his advisors, or maybe he is at war with an enemy; maybe he is asleep”. (Rashi states that Eliyahu even said “maybe your god is relieving himself”.) The prophets of Ba’al increased their efforts and continued to call upon Ba’al until the time of Minchah. Still, not a murmur, not a sound, not a sign from the heavens.

Then Eliyahu HaNavi cried out to the People, “Come near to me,” and they came near. He took twelve stones and he made a trench around the altar. He put the wood in place and cut the bull into pieces and placed them on the altar. Eliyahu commanded the People “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time.” Then he said “Do it a third time.” Eliyahu himself then filled the trench surrounding the altar with water as well.

Eliyahu drew close to the altar and prayed, “O L-rd, G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael, make it known today that You are the G-d of Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your command. Answer my prayer, O L-rd, answer my prayer that this People may know that You, O L-rd, are G-d and that just as You allowed them to slip backwards from You – if they repent, You will also bring them closer to You.” At that moment, the fire of Hashem fell from Heaven and consumed the offering, and the wood, and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that Eliyahu had poured in the trench. Amazing!! The people had no means of response other than to spontaneously proclaim “Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!” There was no question. Afterwards, Eliyahu had all of the prophets of Ba’al killed.

When word got back to Queen Izabel, the wife of King Achav and a fervent idol worshipper herself, she sent a message to Eliyahu HaNavi: “At this Time tomorrow, I will make your soul like their souls.” In other words, just as you killed the prophets of Ba’al, I will kill you. Queen Izabel was incensed, she was roused to the level of cold blooded murder. Why then did she say “At this time tomorrow”? Why not now? Does the schoolyard bully say “You’re in trouble now, meet me at the flagpole next month”? Why did Izabel, in all of her red-blooded passion, in the throes of vengeance, say “I’ll get you tomorrow”. The simple answer is that all of the People had witnessed the miraculous workings of Hashem and Eliyahu earlier that day. Queen Izabel would be unable to muster even a single mercenary at the highest of prices, to carry out her murderous intent. But tomorrow, ah tomorrow, after going back to their workaday lives, they’ll all begin to forget already. Then, Queen Izabel will be able to find men to oppose Eliyahu.

Unbelievable? Not really. In the inimitable words of Nasan HaNavi to David HaMelekh, “You are that Man”. You and me both. We walk out of Yom Kippur motivated, with resolve, “I’m going to change.” “I’m going to be better.” “I’m going to be great.” “I’m going to be a Tzadik!” “This is gonna be the year I turn it all around.” “Hashem Hu HaElokim” resounds through the canyons of our minds. But the next day, the very next day, when we return to our everyday lives, we begin forgetting. When we go back to our jobs, to the traffic, to the lack of sleep, to the financial worries and day-to-day troubles. Our resolve weakens, we are already on our way back to where we were.

How do we avoid falling into this repetitive cycle? Sure, we’ve changed but how do we keep the change. The torah in Parshas Va’eira says “And G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” The Talmud Yerushalmi in tractate Rosh Hashana infers from this pasuk that while still in Egypt, G-d commanded Moshe to inform the Jewish people of the Mitzvah of Freeing Slaves. When the pasuk tells us that Moshe and Aharon were to command the Children of Israel, it means that they would be delivering a command for the future: when they live in the land of Israel, and they have Jewish slaves, they should send them out to freedom after 6 years.

Why did Hashem deem this to be an appropriate time to tell the bnei yisrael about ‘shiluach avadim’- freeing slaves when they wouldn’t even be in a position to fulfill the commandment for more than fifty years. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, answers that, in actuality, there was no more appropriate time to tell them about ‘shiluach avadim’ than that very moment. When they are slaves, they know the burden of servitude; they know what its like to have a master. Presumably, it’s not an easy thing to send away a slave. After one has had an unpaid worker who has toiled exclusively for him for six years, it is not easy to let him go. If G-d would have given Bnei Yisrael this mitzvah later on, when the Jewish people already had their own slaves, they would have heard it in an entirely different way. Now is the time to tell them about sending away poor slaves. Now it will make an impression. Now it will be meaningful.

Rav Shmulevitz points out that a person needs to hear something at the precise time when he will be most receptive to it. One has to “seize that moment” of opportunity before it eviscerates.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin praises Palti Ben Layish as exceeding even Yosef HaTzaddik in Yosef’s ability to stave off the advances of Potiphar’s wife. What did Palti ben Layish do to deserve such praise? The Talmud relates that Shaul HaMelekh had a daughter who was married to David, but Shaul argued, erroneously, that based on a technicality she was not married to David and, legally, had no husband. Shaul took this daughter and gave her as a wife to Palti ben Layish.

Palti ben Layish was faced with a dilemma of epic proportions: He could not refuse the King; he had to take his daughter as a wife. Yet, he knew very well that this was a married woman. There he was in the bedroom, on his wedding night, with a married woman. What did he do in order to ensure that he would succeed in withstanding temptation? He took a sword and stuck it in the ground and said “Anyone who ‘occupies himself with this matter’ will be stabbed by this sword.” The Gemara goes on to say that because of this tremendous act, Palti Ben Layish merited the assistance of Heaven and was able to live with the King’s daughter for many years and never so much as touch her.

What was so incredible about the act of sticking the sword into the ground? Why did he merit this unbelievable “siyata d’ishmaya”. The answer is that on that first night, Palti ben Layish clearly knew what was right and what was wrong. On that first night, he had his priorities straight. On that first night, it was crystal clear. He knew that she was a married woman and that it was forbidden to touch her. But, he also knew himself and he knew the human condition. He knew that when “Izabel’s tomorrow” came and as the days and the months and the years passed, his feelings would dissipate, his clarity would become murky. He would come up with an excuse, he would become weak, and he would rationalize. Therefore, he said to himself, “I need a reminder; I have to seize this moment of absolute clarity and take a concrete step that will remind me of the time when I knew what is right and wrong in this situation.” There are moments when one does not rationalize, when one can clearly see the truth. Those are the moments to seize as our permanent reminders.

This, says the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, is something that we all can and must do. There are many occasions when we will be put into situations where in the beginning we will know what’s right and what’s wrong. We know “Hashem, Hu HaElokim”. We know we can be better. We know we can change. We know we can be great. But, later on, there will be reasons– financial reasons, professional reasons, practical reasons and a whole library of rationalizations. How will we know what is right and what is wrong? We have to seize the moment. We have to stick that sword in the ground and say to ourselves “I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’m not going to let that change and become unclear!”

That is the lesson of Palti ben Layish. We have to grab the opportunity so that when the time comes, when we have temptations and questions, we will always be able to look back and say “We knew it was right then — and we know it is right now!”

Succos comes quickly on the heels of Yom Kippur. Hashem himself provides us with a reminder. Look around you, Hashem Hu HaElokim! For those of us who have not already “Seized the Moment”, it is beginning to wane. “Izabel’s tomorrow” is creeping in. Pretty soon we’ll all be back at work. It is time to plant our swords. Peg an area of growth to some part of the day that will serve as a reminder. I won’t eat dinner before I learn one page of mussar. I won’t go to bed before I say one kapitel tehillim for sick people. I won’t eat lunch before I call my parents. I won’t take off my tefillin before I learn one mishnah. Plant your sword today so that tomorrow you will still remember, with perfect clarity “Hashem Hu Ha Elokim.”

Originally Published 10/10/2008

Minhag BT

A BT goes to his Rabbi and says “Rabbi, I’m a Baal Teshuvah and since my father wasn’t religious, I don’t have any minhagim.” The Rabbi, with a hint of a grin, slowly shakes his head from side to side and says “That’s not true.” The BT doesn’t understand. The Rabbi continues: “Your father didn’t stand for Kiddush, right?” “And your father didn’t wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed, right?” OK, bad joke but a good introduction to the subject of Baalei Teshuvah and minhagim.

It seems that there are at least three prominent opinions on the minhagim of baalei teshuvah:

1. The pick and choose opinion which basically says that a BT does not need to follow any particular set of minhagim. He or she can choose which minhagim are meaningful to him. This opinion is most likely partially based on the fact that (in America, at least) there is no one single prominent minhag. Of course, if someone is living in a particular community within which the entire community practices one particular set of minhagim, such as in a chasidishe community or a strong German kehillah he or she would most likely be encouraged to accept such minhagim upon himself;

2. The BT should accept upon himself the minhagim of his or her Rav. This has clear practical advantages such as observing the practice of those minhagim and inquiring about the way such minhagim are conducted. It may also help speed integration; and

3. The BT should research the minhagim of his father’s ancestors based upon either actual knowledge from family members or research into the prevalent minhagim in the geographic locale from where his father came. This has the advantage of connecting to one’s past in a manner that is often of great importance to particular BTs.

Two personal notes regarding my own minhagim. I used to stand for Kiddush on Friday night. I’m not quite sure why but it’s most likely because that is the most prominent minhag I had seen. While learning shulchan aruch and its supercommentaries, it appeared to me that it seemed most proper to stand for “vayechulu…” since this paragraph is considered testimony which is given while standing (even those who state that it is not necessary to stand advise a small seated rise for the first four words) and most proper to sit for the actual Kiddush (either because that more practically attaches the Kiddush to the meal or because it more formally establishes a group and provides those listening with more kavanah). I asked my Rav whether I should continue making Kiddush as I had in the past or whether I should employ the seemingly more “preferable” method. My Rav inquired with others and advised me that, since my usual method was not based upon any family or community minhag, I should stand for vayechulu and sit for the remainder of Kiddush. So, that’s what we do.

The second personal note regards a minhag I had read about where immediately after making havdalah, the family gives tzedakah so as to start the new week with a mitzvah. I thought that this was a beautiful, meaningful minhag and so decided, bli neder, to do it in our home. Now, when we set up for havdalah, we place a tzedakah box on the table. Immediately after havdalah, we pass around coins to the family and any guests so that we can all start the week with a mitzvah.

I’d be interested in hearing how others have approached/been advised to approach the issue of minhagim.

Originally Posted 11/28/2007

Bittersweet – Rosh Chodesh Av

Rosh Chodesh Av is amongst the strangest of days.

As we’re aware, Rosh Chodesh Av marks the commencement of the nine day mourning period culminating in the most tragic and mournful day of the year, Tisha B’Av. As the gemorah states “MiShenichnas Av MeMa’atin B’Simcha” when the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy. Yet, it is still Rosh Chodesh, a joyful day, a semi-holiday. Quite the discordant mix.

On Rosh Chodesh Av, the melody of Hallel is tinged by the portending sobriety of Kinos and Eichah. Leining and mussaf which speak of the korbanos offered on Rosh Chodesh in the Beis Hamikdash remind us of the fact that we were deprived of the ability to bring such korbanos when the Beis HaMikdash was torn from our lives and hearts.

One of the causes for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was sinas chinam (baseless hatred). The Netziv explains that the sinas chinam that caused the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was not exactly what we commonly think it was. The Netziv points out that the sinas chinam that caused the destruction included hatred between Jews with different hashkafas or a different psak in halachah. If someone would see another frum jew serving Hashem in a way that was different from his own, he would judge and vilify that person. The Netziv grieves over the fact that this type of sinas chinam existed in his time as well. Is our time any better? Are we getting closer to ahavas chinam (groundless love, the cure for sinas chinam) or further?

Rosh Chodesh Av is also the yahrtzeit of Aharon HaKohen, the ultimate lover and pursuer of Peace. Perhaps the fact that Aharon’s yahrtzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh Av serves as a reminder to us to make peace with our fellow jews, even when they are very different from ourselves. In doing so, may we be zocheh to see the tinge of sadness of this Rosh Chodesh removed and the fulfillment of King David’s statement “You turned my mourning into dancing, you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

This post originally appeared on July 26th, 2006.

Catching Bagels

It’s probably happened to most of us. You’re out somewhere, it could be at work, a museum, a park or anywhere else, and someone walks over and throws you a bagel. If you’re lucky it isn’t frozen. Well, I’m not really talking about that kind of a bagel. “Being Bageled” is a phrase that, while not coined by him, is becoming popularized by Rabbi Mordechai Becher. It’s basically when a person who is not visually identifiable as being Jewish (at least in their own eyes) says something to you so that you know that they too are Jewish.

Example: I was sitting at a real estate closing when the buyer walked in with 4-5 additional family members. The buyer’s attorney turned to me and whispered “Oy, they brought the gantza mishpachah!”

Rabbi Becher tells a hilarious Bagel story. He was traveling in Budapest when a couple of tourists approached him and asked how to find a certain marketplace. Rabbi Becher pointed the way and one of the tourists said “Thanks a lot. You know what, we’ve been wandering around for a while, we wouldn’t want to be wandering around for forty years like last time!”

Why do people bagel? Is it because they are looking for commonality? Friendship? Something else? How do you respond to a bagel? A shmear and some lox? A discussion of where the person is from? Something else? Rabbi Becher says that being bageled is siyata deshmaya (divine providence) but how we react to the bagel is part of our “free will” and can often be quite critical. Anybody out there have a good bagel story or some good insights on the bagel phenomenon?

Originally Post May 15th 2008

The Making of a Passover Seder

Chapter 1 The Great Pesach Divide

I don’t think there are many days in the year that can cause greater strife in BT-Familial relations than Pesach. I think the reason for that is twofold. First, Pesach is a holiday that involves a high level of kashrus scrutiny. Second, many non-religious people take Pesach seriously on their level and a BT’s unwillingness to eat in their home often comes across as offensive.

Growing up, one seder was always held at my Aunt’s house, approximately 45 minutes away by car. Although my Aunt and Uncle weren’t religious, they were fairly traditional and they took Pesach seriously. My Aunt is one mean cook and my Uncle (he should rest in peace) always prepared the entire seder, complete with written explanations for each participant to read at the appointed time and his strawng awshkenawzi pronawnciation. He also freshly grated horseradish that could clear a stuffed nose from across the room. Other than my eternal fear of botching the four questions, I actually looked forward to those Seders every year. I was one of the few youngsters who stayed with the older men to complete the hagadah long after the others had retired to watch a post-meal hockey game. The seder at my Aunt’s was also pretty much the only time of the year that my extended family would get together.

So, it was with great trepidation that I approached my parents when I was approximately 16 and told them that I was no longer willing to ride in the car on Passover. At the time, I thought I might have more easily launched the first missle of WW III but, though my Aunt was not pleased, my parents handled it as well as could be expected and my Aunt, I think, eventually forgave me.

Chapter 2 A Teenager’s Seder
To my parents’ credit, they decided that if I wasn’t willing to go to my Aunt’s, they would stay home as well. That meant that I would have to prepare the Seder. Every year I would meticulously prepare my father’s hagadah with notations, explanations and parts so that he could “lead” the Seder. My father a’h, mother, brothers and any guests bravely persevered as we completed the entire hagaddah both nights for years. Knowing that this experience would not be the most pleasant one for the others, I did everything I could to try to make the seder relevant to them. I would spice it with history, family remembrances, riddles, jokes, etc. (One year we went through an entire scientific analysis of the process of leavening, another year I contacted the seder participants and asked them to submit advance questions about pesach the answers to which I researched and presented at the seder)

Chapter 3 The Seder in My Own Home
Though I am only in my mid-30s, I have been preparing a seder for the past 20 years. I think that my early seder experiences have helped fashion the seder I presently run. I am blessed with my own children now and I try to prepare a seder that is fun, interesting and relevant to them and any guests. Our seder is becoming well known for our children’s Ten Plagues skit (especially the famous water into blood scene, a must see), mixed minhagim (I have incorporated many of my Father In Law’s sephardi minhagim), interesting niggunim (kadesh, urchatz… to the tune of the Egyptian National Anthem) and the signed, notarized statement I procured from my wife and mother-in-law promising that they will not stay up all night the day before Pesach. I still think the time my father-in-law, already in his 70s, stood on his chair like a little boy to recite the Four Questions so he could get a chocolate covered marshmallow was the best.

Though my decision to break from my extended family’s passover seder was a difficult one that had relationship reprecussions, it forced me to develop a deeper understanding of the Hagadah and to (I hope) prepare a seder that is interesting and meaningful to its participants.

First posted on April 10, 2006

A Succos Reawakening

A few years ago, on Chol HaMoed Succos, our family headed to New Jersey for a few days of outdoor fun. It’s the time of year when our family spends the most extended time together. One of the expected highlights was a ferry ride between Delaware and New Jersey where we hoped to spot dolphins and whales sporting in the water. Unfortunately, on the morning of the ferry ride, we got a late start and the ferry left without us. We missed the boat! The following year, our family excitedly set out for our annual Chol HaMoed Trip.

On this trip we headed, once again, for New Jersey making our first stop at Allaire State Park, a restoration type village twenty minutes from Lakewood. At the Park, we rode an old time railroad and the children placed coins on the tracks and marveled at how the locomotive flattened them and smoothed them out. Afterwards, we walked through the village watching a blacksmith perform his trade, 1800s style. Next, we rented old-time fishing poles: a reed of bamboo, a piece of string, a cork, and frozen hot dogs for bait! We fished in the village pond and it seemed like the entire village was cheering us on when we snagged quite a large tenacious fish, along with two other smaller fish. Finally, we hiked along the Manasquan water table surrounded by streams, creeks, a small waterfall, lush greenery and, to the delight of the children, lots of mud. That night, upon returning to Lakewood, we had a barbeque in the Succah complete with S’mores.

The next morning, we were off vegetable picking. We visited a farm where you can pick just about any vegetable you could imagine. Potatoes, string beans, sweet potatoes, peppers (even hot ones which left the kids red in the face, teary-eyed and screaming for a drink!). There were black-eyed peas, eggplants, cucumbers, onions, you name it. We picked zucchini nearly the length of my arm and about as wide as my thigh! We ate corn, sugar sweet, straight out of the husk, no cooking or butter needed, thank you. On the way back, we stopped at the Manasquan Reservoir where we took in a gorgeous sunset and the children romped in a park complete with a zip-line. The evening was topped off with pizza and ice cream in the Succah.

The next morning, back on the road again. This time to the Shenedoah River where we rented row boats and attempted to fish with a broken rod and reel and uncooperative worms. The setting was bucolic; shimmering water, bright sun, a light breeze and ducks diving for their lunch as we floated along.

After this whirlwind, incredible three days, I asked my four year old daughter which part of Chol HaMoed she liked the best. She looked up at me through her wispy bangs, widened her big blue eyes and said, in her sing-song voice: ‘The Lulav’. Whoa! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I almost missed the boat again! I almost got so caught up in the Chol, that I forgot the Moed. I picked up my daughter, swung her around, gave her a big hug and a kiss, and secretly thanked her for her unintended lesson.

The next morning, Hoshana Rabbah, I took advantage of my last chance of thr year to bentsch lulav. I made the brocha with extra focus and kavanah and with sincere thanks to Hashem, and my daughter, that I didn’t lose the lulav for the trees.

This piece originally appeared in Horizons magazine.
Originally posted October 23, 2006.

Prolonging Your Tan

Rabbi Label Lam often explains that when someone comes back from vacationing in a warm climate, everyone knows that they have been away because they can see their tan. Rabbi Lam continues that when you come back from Eretz Yisrael you have the “inner tan”. When I was a kid, my mother used to have this cream called “After Tan” that you would “apply liberally after showering” to prolong your tan for weeks after your vacation memories had faded.

Having recently returned from Eretz Yisrael, I’ve been contemplating how to prolong my “inner tan”. In EY, I was on a high. Waking up for shachris on three hours of sleep was not that difficult. Running to the kosel to daven a midnight maariv in the rain, a privilege. Now, back home, exhausted, pushing myself to the 9 o’clock shacharis on purim morning was not easy. What happened? And how did it happen so fast?

In actuality, this is not something limited to a trip to Eretz Yisrael, it is something that, IMO, happens to every growth oriented person and perhaps more particularly to BTs. After the initial excitement of an event or an inspiration, people tend to slink back to their previous “less inspired” self. What serves as the “After Tan” for the inner tan?
Read more Prolonging Your Tan

Making Time To Do What we Really Need To Do

Time is a critical factor in the lives of observant and growth oriented Jews. Can’t talk, I’m late for Shul. 5 minutes to candlelighting! Last time for shema is 8:43. Gotta find time to learn. Sometimes, I feel like I’m constantly on the go. The fact that we generally have more responsibilities and time constraints than others makes time management that much more important.

Over the past few years, Mark and I have been employing a simple time management and time focusing technique that, quite simply, helps you get a hold of time and use it more efficiently. It is called The Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian and is derived from the fact that the inventor of the method, Francesco Cerillo, used a traditional kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato as the timekeeper for his technique.

The great thing about the technique is that it is simple to effectuate and does not require any fancy tools or manuals. In fact, all you really need is a Pomodoro or some other accurate timer that counts down.

Mark and I have benefited so much from the technique that we chose to share it through a free video on Brevedy. Take just 2.5 minutes out of your busy schedule to watch the video and see how a tomato can change your life. Just imagine working more efficiently so that you have more time to learn, spend with family or friends or recharge your batteries.

Check out the video and let us know what you think.

Memorial Day – Hakaros HaTov

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is the day that we mourn those soldiers who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms offered by this great land.

Although we are still in Golus, it’s incumbent upon us to appreciate all of the good bestowed upon us by our country and to honor the memories of those brave men and women who fought and died to protect our freedom.

So today, be you democrat or republican, conservative or liberal or anywhere in between, take a moment to offer your thanks to the over 1,000,000 soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for your freedom.

First published May 29, 2006.

All Dressed Up…

Years back, as I was beginning to become more observant, I had the opportunity to learn for a few months at a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I was fortunate to have found a chavrusah who was a great guy and at a similar stage in life; becoming more observant, thirsting for growth while struggling to maintain balance. We would learn Hilchos Brochos together, play soccer and trade our inchoate philosophical insights late into the night.

We both returned home to the States shortly before Succos that year. Not long after, he called to ask me to join him for the last days of yom tov at a family friend in Monsey. I gladly agreed.

As newly minted Baalei Teshuvah, we were quite concerned that our lulavim be well protected during the long bus ride from Port Authority in Manhattan to Monsey. We gingerly wrapped our respective lulavim in a manner that we hoped would provide proper cushioning. We cringed at each jostling of the crowd and we silently prayed that our carefully selected specimen would not be damaged or, worse, rendered unusable. Upon reaching Monsey, we carefully disembarked with our precious cargo and when we finally reached our host’s home we were both proud and relieved that we had protected our lulavim throughout the journey.
Read more All Dressed Up…

Nothing Missing in His World

Once, on a short chol hamoed day, my wife and I took our kids to a botanical garden not far from the house. We simply walked through the gardens taking in the fresh air and enjoying the diversity of the various blooming trees. On the way home, we appropriately stopped by a fruit tree in the neighborhood to make Birkas HaIlan, the Blessing over trees.

The blessing over trees is mentioned in the Talmud (Brachos 43b) and can be found in most siddurim in the section of brochos listed after Birkas HaMazon (Grace after Meals). It is a blessing that is made only once a year and the optimum time to make the blessing is in the month of Nisan. The blessing is only made on fruit bearing trees and can only be made after the tree has begun to blossom, preferably before the fruit has begun to grow. The Blessing loosely translates as: Blessed are You, Hashem, Our G-d, King of the world, for nothing is lacking in His world, and in it He created good creatures and good trees, in order for mankind to take pleasure in them.

There are three things that have always struck me as interesting about this blessing. First, why, of all blessings, does this one state that “nothing is lacking in His World”? Second, why does the blessing on trees mention “good creatures”? Third, what does making good trees and creatures have to do with “mankind taking pleasure in them”?

I have heard it explained that the reason that it is preferable to say the blessing after the tree has begun blossoming but before the fruit has begun to grow is that we are thanking G-d for the beauty of the blossoms. G-d could have easily created a fruit tree that is ugly and simply squeezes out fruit. But G-d wanted the world to be beautiful for us “to take pleasure in”. So, we thank Him for providing us these beautiful often aromatic, flowers. That is why the blessing says “nothing is lacking in His world” and that is why the blessing says that these things were created for mankind to take pleasure in.

The Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim, Chief Rabbi of Baghdad in the mid to late 19th Century and renowned Sephardic Halachic decisor) explains why the blessing for trees includes the statement that Hashem created “good creatures”. The Ben Ish Chai explains that just as dry, withered and seemingly lifeless trees burst forth with beautiful flowers and bountiful fruit, so too can we as individuals shake off our spiritual slumbers and stagnating depressions to a blossoming, reinvigorating renaissance.

First Published 4/23/2006

Beyond Teshuva Unmasked – A Look Behind the Scenes

Purim is the holiday where G-d parts the curtains and gives us a glance at what goes on behind the scenes. In that spirit, we here at Beyond Teshuva would like to give you a glance at what goes on behind the scenes adminstering the blog. In doing so, we have reproduced a sample of private emails sent to the administrators as well as conversations between the administrators so that all of you can get a snapshot of what has to happen before you see the fruits of our collective efforts here on the blog.

Sometimes it appears to readers of the blog that we don’t give any hard and fast answers. Below I have excerpted an email conversation that exhibits Mark’s ability to cut through the morass of nonspecific advice and give a straightforward, direct answer. The results are life changing.

Dear BeyondBT:

I love your site, it has been so helpful to so many in so many ways. I’m hoping you can help me with my specific problem. I didn’t want to put it on the blog because it is a little personal. Here goes: My 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis has aprox 50,000 miles on her. I recently installed a rebuilt alternator that I boosted to 100 amps instead of the normal 65-70-amp type. How can I make sure that it’s working properly?

Buddy, Topeka Kansas

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Buddy,

This is a question we get all of the time. Basically, if the battery in your car is in good condition, the best way to test your altenator is to perform a cold start of your engine. Keep your eye on the voltage across the battery terminals to verify that it registers somewhere between 13.5 to 14.5 volts. If not, double check that the alternator belt is in good condition and properly tensioned then perform the cold start test again.

Mark

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Dear Mark,

Thank you for you speedy response. Worked like a charm. You the man.

Buddy

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Buddy,

Rock on.

Mark

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Almost brings tears to your eyes, no?

When people see the blog, they see it as a finished product. They are often not aware of the deep thought and wrenching decisions that go into the determination of what to post and when to post it. Take a look at this email exchange between Mark and me which illustrates exactly what I mean.

David,

I’ve got nothing in the submission bank to post today. Your thoughts?

P.S. What are you having for lunch?

Mark

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Mark,

I was thinking of chinese.

David

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David,

I thought you said you were trying to watch your weight.

Mark

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Mark,

I am. I might just get some chicken and vegetables, steamed with brown rice and sauce on the side.

David

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David,

You call that chinese food?

Mark

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Mark,

You’re right. Maybe I’ll just get some sushi.

David

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David,

Do you mean sushi or sashimi?

Mark

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Mark,

Dunno. It’s all the same to me.

David

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David,

Ok. Now that that’s resolved. What are we going to do about the post?

Mark

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Mark,

Look, I gotta get back to work. Maybe just throw something together about a BT who can’t eat in his parents house or somethin’.

David

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Not as easy as it looks, huh?

Finally, administering this blog often requires us to discern the nuances and differences contained in the written language. (And I’m not just talking about having a thesaurus handy for Rabbi Dovid Schwartz’ posts). In order to do so, one must have a handle on where the writer is coming from, where they are going and what is important to him/her. I have excerpted a correspondence between prominent blogger and commenter Steve Brizel and Mark and me.

David,

IMO, as a BT, a former YU and NCSY guy, a FYUANCSYABT, if you will, when RYBS addressed the issue of FW vs PD he, IMHO, IIRC, quoted RAIK based on the RASHBA, the RITVA and another acronym that escapes me now LOL. Anyway, when GL posted regarding TFS and EP, I was taken aback. Do you think I should IM him or JFAI?

SB

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Steve,

Huh?

David

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Mark,

Where did you find this David Linn guy? He barely speaks english!!

SB

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Steve,

Its not like this is a paid position or something so you take who you can get. What can I tell ya?

Mark

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And these are just a few examples!

So, dear readers, before you criticize the blog please take into account the time, effort exerted and the acumen applied to get you the finished product.

Happy Purim to all.

Originally posted – March, 2006