Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Circle, Point and Line Kiruv. Here’s a summary:

In the widely practiced circle Kiruv, the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
In the Chabad centered point Kiruv, the focus is performance of a single mitzvah.
In line Kiruv, the goal is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

Instead of looking at the ups and downs of each of these models, I’ve decided to focus on the benefits and necessity of Line Kiruv, to encourage people to start thinking about this mindset.

At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance. And if we’re missing the main message, we’re in no position to encourage or inspire others to take spiritual growth steps.

One of the main remorses BTs express is disappointment with the people in the community. When we don’t make it clear that we’re all works in progress, and we have a long road to grow, then BTs lose faith in the power of Torah when they see our glaring imperfections. If we can find the courage to admit we’re far from perfect, then the non-observant will try to accept us in the same way we should accept them, with imperfections and all.

I do believe that we all need to get involve in Kiruv, but not before we are on a growth path, which means consciously focusing on taking the next small steps in improving our Prayer, Torah Learning, Mitzvos Performance, Character Traits, and Acts of Kindness. Successful Kiruv begins with the Observant actively getting on the growth line.

Circle, Point and Line Kiruv

In September 2014, Mishpacha published an article called “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” which is summarized here.

In a recent response, four kiruv and Chabad professionals wrote articles stating that the reports of Kiruv’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Points made included:

-There is good growth in some measures of Kiruv.
-Measuring success just by the numbers is insufficient.
-The focus of Kiruv efforts is always changing and that’s to be expected.
-Kiruv has always been difficult.
-The success or failure of Kiruv is our collective responsibility.

For me the series of articles highlighted three models of Kiruv.

In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good. The goal of circle Kiruv is to move people from the outside, to the inside of the circle where the Mekarev is standing.

In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good. The goal of point Kiruv is to get the individual to do a single mitzvah, like the Chabad Mekarev does regularly.

In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good. The goal of line Kiruv is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem. In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

In the future we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each of these models of kiruv.

Jewish Education, Learning Torah and Connecting to Hashem

Mosaic Magazine has an article by two prominent Jewish sociologists, Jack Wertheimer and Steven M. Cohen, titled “The Pew Survey Reanalyzed: More Bad News, but a Glimmer of Hope.” (link). One of their conclusions is that the non-Orthodox movements are facing major challenges keeping their constituents involved and their descendants Jewish.

On of their recommendations is “to persuade more Jewish parents to enroll their children in strong programs of Jewish education—and to support what those programs are teaching.” I agree with their conclusion that more Jewish education will lead to more identification with the Jewish community and less intermarriage. However, their report highlights for me one of the major problems with the non-orthodox Jewish education that I received in my youth. And that is the lack of focus on connection to Hashem as the goal of Jewish Education.

When I became observant, Jewsish Education was replaced with Learning Torah. One of the the central axioms of Learning Torah is that Hashem transmitted the Torah to Moshe and the Jewish People through the prophetic process. This axiom puts Hashem front and center with respect to Learning Torah.

However, even with the G-d centered focus of Learning Torah, there is no guarantee the result will be a deeper connection to Hashem. In fact for many students and BTs who have not become high achievers in higher-level learning of Gemorah, learning Torah is more likely to invoke an eye-roll, rather than represent a tremendous opportunity to get closer to Hashem.

The path to a solution is not to rail against the system, but rather for each one of us to consciously refocus our goals when we learn, daven, or perform any mitzvah. Our front and center goal has to be to develop an awareness, a connection and a deep relationship with Hashem. The Pew Report is a lesson for the entire Jewish People, that we all, regardless of denomination, need to deepen our connection to Hashem. All the rest is commentary.

Shabbos Project Follow Up – Making Our Shabbos Transformative

Shabbos Project Follow Up
Prior to the Shabbos Project, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein spoke in Kew Garden Hills about the project. (link) He stressed that it was not primarily a kiruv project, but rather an opportunity to help non-observant Jews experience the transformative nature of Shabbos.

There is no doubt that Shabbos can be transformative, but when we look at those leaving Shabbos observance, or observing “half-Shabbos”, or lightly observing Shabbos, or at our own observance, it becomes clear that the degree of transformation is variable. This is my Shabbos Project takeaway, how can I make my Shabbos more transformative.

Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Dessler’s piece, “Shabbos and Olam Ha-Ba” in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Strive for Truth – Part Four) to help us understand the potential transformative nature of Shabbos.


Rest And Restlessness
Shabbos, the concept of rest, provides the goal of the physical universe — the world of restlessness. By “rest” we do not mean the dead state of inaction and laziness. This indeed is the antithesis of true being. We mean rest from the perpetual turmoil of material demands. This still center within the hurricane of life is the essence of the spirit. Here we make contact with God’s revealed presence in the world. This indeed is the goal and perfection of creation.

“As If All Your Work Were Done”
God completed all the work in six days, and we too are commanded, “You shall labor for six days and do all your work” (Shemot 20:9). The Rabbis ask, “Can one complete all one’s work in six days?” The answer is that, of course, on the material level one’s work is not done. But on the spiritual level, when Shabbos comes we should feel as if we have nothing more to do; worrying about one’s work is now out of the question.

This is a spiritual level which is not easy to attain. How can one help thinking about the multitude of things left unfinished which will have to be attended to in the coming week? But Shabbos represents the higher-level knowledge that God is in charge and that, in essence, there is nothing to worry about. One can be so immersed in the sanctity of Shabbos that one has no more room in one’s mind for that important business deal that was pending when Shabbos came in. All mundane matters shrink into insignificance compared to the tremendous holiness of Shabbos. They are, after all, only the means to an end, while Shabbos is the end itself — the spiritual goal of all creation.

Shabbos During The Week
The holiness of Shabbos must also infuse our weekday activities. One should not become so absorbed in earning a living that one loses sight of the purpose of all our striving — coming closer to God. The test is: do thoughts of our work invade our Shabbos, or dues the spirit of Shabbos permeate our week so that weekday thoughts are automatically excluded as soon as
Shabbos enters?

This is the meaning of “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” — “Remember the Sabbath day during the week and arrange your business activities in such a way that you will be able to take your mind off them on the Sabbath” (Sforno on Shemot 20:9).

Enjoying Shabbos
In view of all this, it may seem incongruous that the Rabbis require us to honor Shabbos not only with prayer, Torah and song, but also with good food, fine linen and bright lights — all definitely physical attractions. They learn this from the words of the prophet Yeshayahu (58:13): “You shall call Shabbos oneg (a pleasure), and give honor to God’s holy day.” ‘Pleasure’ here means physical pleasure, the Rabbis explain.

On the other hand, the Zohar (III, 94 b) teaches that oneg refers to the spiritual delight of being close to God.

There is no contradiction. Of course the essence of Shabbos is spiritual joy and serenity. But we are human beings, and it is human nature to express one’s joy with food and drink and fine clothes. By these means we reinforce in ourselves the honor due to the spirituality of Shabbos. The holiness of Shabbos is so great that it can absorb these physical pleasures, and others too, into the sphere of spirituality.

It is this transformation of bodily activities into the sphere of holiness which is the hallmark of Olam Ha-Ba.

The Blessing Of Shabbos
In Bereshit 2:3, we read that God blessed the Sabbath day. But blessing means expansion — unlimited expansion of opportunities for spiritual progress — and a day is a limited amount of time. How can a day be blessed?

Shabbos brings us a sense of closeness to God. It is above time. The more a person appreciates the essence of Shabbos, the closer he is to transcending the boundaries of the everyday. If he experiences real pleasure in the realm of the spirit, no limit can be set to this progression. The real blessing of Shabbos is the expansion of one’s consciousness from preoccupation with the trivialities of this world to immersion in the spiritual world. This is the “inheritance without bounds” which is promised to the one who takes pleasure in Shabbos. Here, too, we forge a link with Olam Ha-Ba.

Selling Yourself the Truth About Judaism

Have you ever had this conversation?

“Did you hear about Sam and Susan?”

“No.”

“They’re separating”.

“Really? How many kids?”

“I think three. And he’s far off the derech. Doesn’t believe in G-d,”

“So sad.”

And it’s not surprising. Sam was a BT and was told by many FFBs that:
– A Torah observant life is the definitive Jewish Experience
– The values and community of Observant Jews is superior to anything in the secular world
– Learning Torah is intellectually challenging and leads to meaning and truth

All the above are true, but many Observant Jews experience the following instead:
– They don’t keep working on their practice of mitzvos, so their Jewish experience degrades
– The financial pressures take their toll and they feel they are marginal members of the community
– Torah learning is difficult, and without significant time and effort, they don’t reap its rewards

In reality the Torah itself does not make “good life” promises, except for the Jews collectively. The individual promise that are made is that if you continually work on davening, developing your middos, learning Torah, and observing the mitzvos properly, you will develop a deepening relationship with Hashem.

That’s the truth about Judaism and if we can slowly cast aside our occupation with the latest distractions, and focus on bread and butter observance, we can all get a large piece of the unlimited spiritual pie.

The 60 Second Guide to Succos

Three Principles of Judaism
Judaism believes in the importance of both action and belief. The Jewish principles of belief can be divided into three categories 1) G-d is the source and ultimate authority over all existence, 2) G-d revealed his plan for the perfection of the world through the prophetic experience, 3) G-d exercises providence over the world in response to man’s actions to assist in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection.

Jewish Holidays and The Three Principles
Every Jewish holiday has a spiritual energy which man can access in pursuit of self perfection. Three of the primary Jewish holidays help us strengthen our understanding and connection to the three principles of Jewish belief. Pesach is focused on G-d’s existence, Shavuos is focused on G-d’s revelation and Succos is focused on G-d’s providence.

Succos and G-d’s Providence
Succos is a reminder that G-d provided and continues to provide a special level of providence over the Jewish people. This special providence guarantees the physical survival of the Jewish people throughout history and provides a special continuing spiritual connection between G-d and every Jew. This special providence was originally provided by the special clouds that surrounded the Jews when they left Egypt. This providence is renewed every Succos when we live in the Sukkah and when we hold and wave the four species of the lulav, esrog, willows and mytle branches.

Happiness and Pleasure
Succos is a time of special happiness. Pleasure is the experiencing of unity and completion, while happiness is the active pursuit of that completion. We experience unity in the physical realm in a musical piece, work of art or the beauty of nature, in the emotional realm when two hearts beat as one, in the intellectual world through the understanding and reconciliation of ideas and concepts, and in the spiritual world through the experience of the unity of the body and soul.

The Happiness of Succos
On Succos the end of the harvest season provides physical happiness, the connection to others through the many meals and collective prayer services promotes emotional happiness, while the spiritual cleansing of Yom Kippur and the sense of G-d’s presence in the Sukkah creates a spiritual happiness.

May we all merit to use the tools G-d provided us to achieve the highest levels of understanding and happiness.

The 60 Second Guide to Yom Kippur

While Rosh Hashanah is focused on G-d’s existence, authority and supervision of the world, Yom Kippur is focused on our role in G-d’s plan for the perfection of humanity.

We’re created half-spiritual and half-physical with a strong ego, so we’re conflicted between doing what is good (spiritual) and what feels (physical) or looks good (ego).

Judaism does not deny us physical or accomplishment pleasures, rather we’re instructed to make these pleasures secondary to a focus on becoming giving, emotionally mature, G-d aware individuals.

However, because the ego and body drives are so strong, we make mistakes and instead of driving towards the long-lasting perfection of our spirit, we pursue short-lasting and often self-destructive physical and ego satisfaction pleasures.

G-d expects that we’ll make mistakes and He gives us the means to self-correct and erase the negative effects of our mistakes on the day of Yom Kippur. In fact Yom Kippur is considered a joyful day and we eat a festive meal before the day begins and one after the fast ends.

To assist us in our self-correction, G-d instructs us to refrain from physical pleasures like eating, bathing and intimate relations and we focus on the greatness of G-d and put our egos on the shelf for a day.

Eliminating our physical and self-centered pleasures gives us the opportunity to introspect, admit and express regret over our limiting self-destructive actions and negative character traits. When accompanied by sincere intent to improve, G-d assists in removing the effects of our mistakes and allocates the resources we need to become the better people we want to be.

May we be successful in using this awesome day to set ourselves on the path of actualizing the greatness each of us possesses.

The 60 Second Guide to Rosh Hashanah

The foundation of Judaism is that all existence is dependent on G-d who created, supervises and influences both the spiritual and physical realms of the universe.

In addition G-d created man who was given the tools and instructions to perfect and unify the physical world and connect it back to its G-dly source.

Every year, on the anniversary of the creation of man, G-d evaluates our progress in our mission both individually and collectively and judges what resources and events are necessary to help bring the world closer to its perfection.

Although the judgment is partially based on our past year’s performance, a major determinant is our commitment for the upcoming year.

To what degree are we committed to helping others and increasing our spiritual capabilities and to what degree will we succumb to the always present pull of ego-centricity and self-centered materialism.

The Shofar which was present at the giving of the Torah and will be sounded when we have succeeded in our mission, gives tribute today to the King of Kings. The observance of the mitzvah of Shofar testifies that we are still committed to G-d’s plan and enables the spiritual judicial system to dismiss our mistakes for mitigating circumstances.

May we all increase our spiritual commitments and thereby merit to be inscribed and sealed for a good year the Rosh Hashanah.

MP3s: Shabbos Project 2014; Securing a Favorable Judgement; Arba Minim; Malchius; Inspiration

Rabbi Welcher on Grabbing the Inspiration can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Welcher on Malchius And The Tefilos Of Rosh_Hoshana can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa on the Shabbos Project at YIKGH on Sept 28th can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Moshe Schwerd on “Securing a Favorable Judgment with a Checkered Past” can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Yair Sandler on Purchasing the Arba Minim – mp3 here.

The Homework for Rosh Hoshanah

It’s no coincidence that Rosh Hoshanah and the school year start at the same time. Both have the excitement of starting something new. The excitement of a clean slate. The excitement of potential. However, there is one scenario we want to avoid.

“Did everybody do the homework?”

“What homework? Today’s the first day!”

“The summer homework.”

“We had summer homework? I didn’t know that.”

“Everybody knows about the summer homework.”

“Mine must of went into the Spam folder.”

“I’m sorry. The homework was for your benefit. Everybody knew about it. You’ll have to try to compensate.”

The Avodah of Rosh Hoshanah is davening. According to many, the Shofar itself is a form of Tefillah, which is why we blow it during Mussaf. But most of us reading this know Judaism’s little secret – “Davening with kavanna is difficult”. That’s why we need to do our summer homework. And it’s not too late.

That’s why I tell my kids that they should work on saying the first Brocha of Shomoneh Esrai with kavanna during Elul. That’s the summer homework. There’s no excuses. We know it’s Elul. We know that Rosh Hoshanah has lots of davening. If we don’t prepare a little bit, we can’t blame the Spam folder.

If we do our homework for Rosh Hoshanah, we may only get a B-, but at least we can show the Master Teacher that we’re making a sincere effort.

Jewish Spiritual Exceptionalism

When it comes to social media, they say that Facebook is for the people you used to know, Linked In is for the people you currently know, and Twitter is for the people you want to know. Facebook has served the “used to know” function for me and I have reconnected to many whom I grew up with in my old neighborhood.

One of the people I’ve reconnected with. and shared a number of restaurant meals. is a close friend from elementary school. He’s an extremely intelligent, well read, AP History teacher. He describes his political leanings as Scandinavian Socialist, which he says would classify him as a left-wing loony in this country. In any case, when we get together we discuss all the hot topics and I find our meetings enjoyable, informative, and challenging.

At a recent dinner we were discussing, American Exceptionalism, the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Wikipedia has a good write up on American Exceptionalism which you might want to skim. My friend said that he has no problem with American Exceptionalism in theory, but that the role is often misused for unfair political or economic gain.

The conversation turned to Judaism and our “chosen” status. He asked why couldn’t Judaism just be one of many possible spiritual paths. I told him that Judaism has no problem recognizing the validity of other spiritual paths. However, we believe that with the Torah G-d granted the Jews a spiritual exceptionalism, with the giving of the Torah, and when we live up to our spiritual mission as described in the Torah, we will be recognized as a nation of spiritual leaders. I defined spirituality as developing a connection and awareness to G-d, the creator and master of the universe.

In addition to the Torah sources, I told him I believed in Jewish Spiritual Exceptionalism because I have met a number of Torah Observant people who are highly developed spiritually. I also pointed out that it’s logical that Judaism’s focus on G-d, through the learning of Torah and observance of Mitzvos in every sphere of life, would lead to the development of spiritually exceptional people.

The non-observant people I have communicated with online and off believe in a spiritual dimension. In fact, my friend above lamented the fact that he had not developed his spiritual side. Our Torah observance provides us with the potential to be spiritually execeptional as individuals and as a nation. We ally need to collectively and continually work on improving our connection to G-d through the improvement of our learning of Torah and observance of mitzvos.

At its root, Torah observance is not about happiness, it’s not about intellectualism, it’s not about a connected community, it’s not about a healthy lifestyle. Fundamentally, Torah observance is the means by which we create our connection to G-d and fulfill our spiritually exceptional role. Perhaps this is what we need to embrace and share with others.

Teaching an Older BT New Davening Tricks

It’s amazing what we remember from our youth. I went to Hebrew School at the Clearview Jewish Center in Whitestone, NY, which was recently sold to a Montessori School, with some rights retained to a small chapel. I still remember my second grade class close to 50 years ago. We were learning how to read the Shemoneh Esrai and we had progress charts on the wall, based on the speed and accuracy of our reading. I still remember Shelley L. and how fast she read, and how fast she got through the Shomoneh Esrai. I should have emulated Shelley.

Although I went to Junior Congregation, I never was the Chazzan. After my Bar Mitzvah, I followed the path of many Conservative Jews of the time and placed my siddur, tallis and tefillin secure and safe in my closet, as I would not be needing them any time soon. When I did return to Torah and mitzvos, it was through Rabbis in Queens and Long Island, so I never spent time away at Yeshiva, and missed any opportunities to acquire public davening skills.

Fast forward to this year and I still had never davened from the Amud. In fact the first time I ever davened from the Amud was in the cemetery parking lot after my father’s levaya in April of this year. The first few weeks were rough as there is a big difference between davening privately and davening publicly.

Over the past four months, many people have commented on how much I’ve improved and I hope to improve even more. When I feel I’m in a supportive environment among friends, I do pretty well because I feel at license to daven, rather than read. In other places, where I feel a read-as-fast-as-possible pressure, I’ll fumfer over a word or two or three or four.

There are many growth opportunities in this world. Some of them require us to put ourselves out there and maybe face a little embarrassment. But if your willing to learn you can acquire new skills, and you’ll probably find that the effort was worth it.

Leveraging the Spiritual Drip Method

In a recent shiur, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim discussed how continued spiritual growth is the purpose of a Jew’s life. (You can listen or download the shiur here.) Rabbi Grunblatt brought down the story about Rabbi Akiva, the water and the stone. Here is the relevant passage from the Avot D’Rebbi Natan, 6:

What were R. Akiva’s beginnings? It is said, up to the age of forty, he had not studied a thing. One time, while standing by the mouth of a well in Lydda, he inquired, “Who hollowed out this stone?” and was told, “It was water falling upon it constantly, day after day.” They said, “Akiva, haven’t you read that ‘water wears away stone’ (Job 14:19)?” At that, R. Akiva asked himself all the more so, “Is my mind harder than this stone?” He immediately returned to study Torah, and he and his son sat with a children’s teacher…. The teacher wrote down alef and bet for him… he went on learning until he had learned all five Books of Moses.

Rabbi Grunblatt pointed out that if you saw one drop of water fall on a stone, you would certainly think it had no effect. It is only after many, many years of dropping does the water have an effect. So to with spiritual growth, our connection to Hashem through our learning Torah and performance of mitzvos occurs drop by drop over many years.

I want to bring out a related lesson from this story. If the water came out in more volume, or with more force, then it would have a much greater effect on the stone. So to, if we learn more or do our mitzvos with more intensity, they will have a greater effect in creating the connection between us and Hashem.

One practical application of this is Berachos. Through our three daily Shomoneh Esrais and other Berachos, we are told (Mishna Brurah 46:14) to make 100 Berachos a day.

Recognizing Hashem 100 times a day in Berachos is like 100 drops of water. However, if we say the Berachos with more attention, intention and mindfulness, they will have a much stronger effect on our spiritual connection. Since we are saying them anyway, it seems like a no-brainer to try and increase their intended effect.

Start small. Pick one or two Berachos where you can make the time to think about Hashem and the contents of the Beracha. Do it for one day. And then the next. One day at a time. Increase the spiritual drip. You won’t be sorry.

Tisha B’Av, the Holocaust and The Power of Speech

In our Shul, we try to include some programming on the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av. This year in addition to the CCHF videos, we had a survivor tell his story, and we showed a number of videos about the Holocaust. Although the turnout for the CCHF videos and the survivor’s story were very good, the Holocaust videos did not draw big audiences. I think the low video turnout is because many people, who’s parents were not survivors, want to move past the Holocaust and it’s extremely painful images.

I think there are two important messages of the Holocaust. The first one is from the Haggadah:

“And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.”

We need to remember this and realize that until the coming of Moshiach, we always have to be pray and do our hishtadlus to try to mitigate the effects of those who wish to do us harm.

The second message gives us insight on why it makes sense to remember the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av itself. Rabbi Noson Weisz points out that

“God never retaliates hastily against public sins committed by the Jewish people. Before He initiates concrete corrective measures He sends us messages of ‘tochacha.’ The destruction only arrives if we fail to react to the words of ‘tochacha’ and make no move to institute changes in our lives to mend the spiritual flaws that caused us to sin.

Sin alone never brings on destruction. God is just; it is He who made us mortal and fallible and gave us free will. If He were to destroy us for the sins we commit, the destruction could be laid at His own doorstep.”

In the days of the Moshe through the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdashes, the tochacha was through prophecy, and much of the Tisha B’Av liturgy is focused on our shunning their words. In our post prophecy the tochacha comes through harmful events, like the Holocaust, making the exact improvements needed difficult to discern, but the often quote Talmud in Yoma (9b) gives us some general direction: “Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred of one Jew for another.”.

This year the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundations videos, titled the “Last Tisha B’Av”, focused on working on the sin of Loshon Hara. In his “practical steps” presentation, Charlie Harary pointed out that this is only the third time in 16+ years that this was the topic, although most of us would have initially thought otherwise.

As part of his presentation, Charlie informed us of a new internet project called PowerOfSpeech.org. It gives us social media tools to help us work on our speech collectively.

Please take a look at Power of Speech, so we can make some personal efforts towards making this the Last Tisha B’Av.

Advancing Achdus Through Easier Fasting Advice

With good reason, many Jews throughout the world have been focused on Achdus. However, Achdus is easy to give lip service to, but harder to put into actual practice. Rabbi Meyer Schiller gave a great shiur a few years back providing a framework and a deeper understanding of Achdus. You can download Rabbi Schiller’s shiur by right clicking with your mouse on this link and choosing save as to download it to your computer. If you want to stream the file to your computer, just click on this link.

We can achieve Achdus at a practical personal level, by working on deepening our connections to fellow Jews. Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller gives some simple advice on this topic that resonates with me. She relates that whenever we are talking to somebody, two thoughts should go through our minds: “What can I learn from this person?” and “What can I give to this person?”.

In regards to giving, there are many ways to fulfill this mitzvah. It can be a listening ear, an encouraging word, or a piece of appropriate advice.

The power of giving good advice hit me yesterday as I was reading an emailed article entitled, “Tips for an Easy Fast”, by Ira Milner, R.D. a registered dietician. Some googling revealed that Mr. Milner wrote an article entitled “Helpful Tips to Insure an Easier Fast” in Jthe ewish Action Reader, Vol. 1. Noble Book Press Corp (New York, 1996). pp.142-5. That article was summarized and posted on the Internet in recent years, so 18 years after the easier fasting advice was originally given, people are still benefiting from it.

Thank you Mr. Milner. For those who have not seen it, here is a recap of the article “Helpful Tips to Insure an Easier Fast” by Ira Milner, R.D.

1) The first source of your discomfort is the body’s need for water. Water is involved in practically every bodily function, and if you provide the body with enough fluids, it will help you function as a whole. So, the day before the fast, remember to drink, drink and DRINK. (When you go from room to room, carry a tall glass of water as a reminder.) Your regular daily intake is supposed to be six to eight 8 oz glasses. The day before a fast, that should be upped to eight to ten glasses. (Do the math: That means one glass every hour between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm.) Warning: Although you may think cola, coffee and tea also supply water, the diuretic properties of caffeine make those beverages inadvisable. Remember also that most fruit are more than 80% water, and vegetables are from 70-95% water.

2) Decrease protein. Protein attracts water, and too much of it can leach water from body tissues. In extreme cases, dehydration could result from consuming too much protein because the extra protein pulls out water that is later needed to remove the waste products from the body.

3) Increase Starch and Fiber. Simple carbohydrates (chocolate bars and candies) are sugars. Complex carbohydrates (whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, potatoes and legumes) are starch and dietary fibers. Although during digestion both break down into glucose, complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, and help ease the pangs of a fact. (Think of what the marathon runners eat the night before their run.)

4) Decrease salt, spices and fried foods. What happens in your body when you eat them? Your blood level of sodium rises. This stimulates the brain’s thirst receptor, which triggers the thirst sensation. In addition, since water is required to remove salt from the body, it further increases the body’s need for water.

5) Avoid caffeine. If you regularly drink more than two to three cups of coffee per day, taper off several days before. Although technically caffeine is not addictive, the body becomes accustomed to its stimulant effect, and suddenly abstaining from it will inevitably produce the ‘withdrawal headache’.

6) Two other ways to minimize water loss the day before a fast: Don’t exert yourself too much and stay out of the sun.

So what is your meal before a fast? Chicken soup, roast beef, and a tall glass of cola? That’s a no-no-no. Here’s a suggestion:
Whole grain challah
Plain pasta
Baked potato
Steamed vegetables or tossed salad
Fresh fruit
Lots of plain water

Wishing an easy & meaningful fast. May all our prayers be answered.

Renewing the Four Dimensions of Appreciating Torah

The four reasons people are attracted to Torah Observant Judaism mirror the four dimensions of the human experience:

Physical – the lifestyle is enjoyable
Emotional – the relationships are meaningful
Mental – learning Torah is deep and challenging
Spiritual – connecting to G-d is sublime

Unfortunately for many BTs, after the initial attraction the following occurs:

Physical – it’s expensive to support this lifestyle
Emotional – it’s difficult to find a really good group of friends
Mental – learning is hard and our world of distraction makes it harder
Spiritual – mitzvos and prayer becomes rote, so the G-d connection is weak

These problems are real, and unfortunately they drive many people to the negative, critical and cynical groups within Torah Judaism.

So here are four ways to start renewing your appreciation for Torah

Physical – focus on the pleasures of Shabbos with its meals, sleep and other great pleasures
Emotional – share some of your joys or tribulations face to face with a fellow Jew
Mental – spend a few minutes this week working on a difficult piece of Torah
Spiritual – say one “asher kidshanu” beracha slowly with concentration

Let’s face it, appreciating Torah takes work and it’s a lot easier to stay distracted and involved in negativity. However, if you put in the effort in renewing the four dimensions, the rewards are tremendous.

The Way of G-d – A Quick Overview

A few weeks ago, I posted 12 Fundamental Spiritual Beliefs based on Rabbi Chaim Moshe Luzzato’s Derech Hashem. The context was, if I only had a few minutes and wanted to give an overview, what would I teach from Derech Hashem.
I’ve refined them and created a graphic to help install these fundamental ideas into our long term memory.

WayOfGdOverview

The Way of G-d has four sections
1. Fundamentals of Creation
2. Divine Province
3. The Soul and Prophecy
4. Serving G-d

1. Fundamentals of Creation
Goodness – Hashem created the world to bestow goodness on man, who is composed of a physical body and spiritual soul.
Means – The greatest goodness is coming close to Hashem with our spiritually strengthening free will choices to do mitzvos and avoiding sins.
Environment – Although spiritual influences and forces direct what occurs in the physical realm, man’s free will choices influence the spiritual realm.

2. Divine Province
Purpose – Hashem created and oversees all things for the ultimate purpose of man, and humanity as a whole, to come closer to Him.
Challenges – All the qualities in this world, such as wealth, poverty, gratifications and sufferings,… serve as a challenge for man in pursuit of the goal of attaining closeness to Hashem.
Jews – At this point of history, the goal of fulfilling humanity’s ultimate purpose is dependent on the mitzvos and the aveiros of the Jewish People.

3. The Soul and Prophecy
Levels of the Soul – Man’s physical body is connected to the spiritual world through five levels of soul, the Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah and Yechidah.
Spiritual Perceptions – In addition to his senses, man can receive information about the world through his soul(s) and the processes of dreams, divine inspiration and prophecy.
Prophecy – Many prophets received prophecy in a dream-state, but Moshe’s clear waking-state prophecy was of an entirely different nature, and through it, the Torah was transmitted from Hashem to Moshe.

4. Serving G-d
Mitzvos – Man serves G-d and achieves his purpose in the world through the performance of mitzvos and the study of Torah.
Torah Study – Torah study plays a very large role in bringing man to perfection and the highest positive spiritual influences in the world come about through its study.
Emotion, Thought, Speech & Action – Emotion based mitzvos include love and fear of Hashem, while thought, speech and action mitzvos are classified as continuous (e.g. Belief in Hashem), daily (e.g. Shema), periodic (e.g. Shabbos) and circumstantial (e.g. Mezuzah).

12 Fundamental Spiritual Rules

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato felt that it was very important that a Jew should have an understanding of the fundamental spiritual rules under which the world operates so he wrote the sefer, Derech Hashem. I wanted to share a few of the spiritual rules and hopefully people will be motivated to learn either English version of the sefer.

Derech Hashem is divided into four sections:
1. Fundamentals of Creation
2. Divine Province
3. The Soul and Prophecy
4. Serving G-d

Here are some of the fundamental spiritual rules from each section:

Fundamentals of Creation
– Hashem created the world to bestow goodness on man, who is composed of a physical body and non-physical soul.
– The ultimate goodness is coming closer to Hashem by doing mitzvos that strengthen our spiritual side and avoiding sin which distance us.
– The influences, forces and melachim of the spiritual realm direct what occurs in the physical realm, but man’s free will choices effect the spiritual realm.

Divine Province
– Hashem created and oversees all things for the ultimate purpose of individual man, and humanity as a whole, to coming closer to Him.
– All the qualities in this world, such as wealth and poverty, gratifications and sufferings,… serve as a challenge for man in pursuit of this goal of attaining closeness to Hashem.
– At this point of history, the goal of fulfilling humanities ultimate purpose is dependent on the mitzvos and aveiros of the Jewish People.

The Soul and Prophecy
– Man’s physical body is connected to the spiritual world through five levels of soul.
– In addition to his senses, man can receive information about the world through his souls and the processes of dreams, divine inspiration and prophecy.
– Many prophets received information about the world through dream-state prophecy, Moshe’s prophecy was of an entirely different nature, and through his clear waking-state prophecy, the Torah was transmitted to him from Hashem.

Serving G-d
– Man serves G-d and achieves his purpose in the world through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos.
– Torah study plays a very large role in bringing man to perfection and the highest positive spiritual influences in the world come about through this study.
– Other areas of serving G-d are the emotionally centered mitzvos such as love and fear of Hashem and the thought, speech and action mitzvos which are classified as continuous (e.g. Belief in Hashem), daily (e.g. Saying Shema), periodic (e.g. Shabbos) and circumstantial (e.g. Mezuzah).

The Power of Great Torah Teaching in Great Neck

When my wife and were becoming observant, more that 25 years ago, we lived in Manhasset Hills on the North Shore of Long Island. However much of our initial Torah growth occurred in Great Neck under the tutelage of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner and Rebbetzin Abby Lerner of the Young Israel of Great Neck. I would drive about 10 minutes every morning to attend Rabbi Lerner’s weekday 6:00 AM Gemora shiur, followed by Shacharis. It was too far to walk, so on Shabbos I davened in a minyan in the basement of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Searingtown.

I still remember to this day Rabbi Lerner’s amazing ability to teach a Tosfos in a way that a beginner like myself at the time, could understand. In addition to his teaching and Rabbinic responsibility at the YIGN, Rabbi Lerner has been running Project Identity since 1981, which provides beginners classes in Torah, Reading Hebrew and Prayer. Our initial connection to Rabbi Lerner was through Project Identity.

I saw Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lerner at the Chupah of a Manahasset Hills friend’s daughter this past Sunday. We do run in to each other on occasion, but we spent some extra time talking, and he updated me on the amazing growth of YIGN and some of the amazing Baalei Teshuva that have joined the Shul. Many are extremely successful professionals who have directed their talents and passions to Torah and Communal Service.

One of the most amazing thing about Rabbi Lerner and Project Identity, is there is no active Kiruv, just the teaching of Torah and the sharing of our wonderful heritage with Jews who have not had that opportunity. Of course many people, like my wife and myself, become more observant and are helped in that journey, but the connection is established through the teaching and learning of Torah.

With the “search for truth” kiruv of the 60s, 70s. 80s, and the more self-centered “happiness kiruv” of the 90s, 00s. 10s waning, perhaps it’s time to focus on the pure unadulterated teaching of Torah. The one small wrinkle is that Rabbi Lerner’s love, and passion and skill at teaching Torah, are is difficult to match. It would be useful for the community to model the teaching skills of our great communal Rabbis so we can try to teach it to others.

The One Minute Guide to Shavuos

The foundation of Judaism is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual. G-d created both a physical and spiritual world. The centerpiece of creation is man who is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. Our collective purpose is to transform the world into a unified G-d connected spiritual world.

To accomplish this spiritual transformation G-d transmitted the necessary knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah. The Torah informs us how to turn physical acts into G-d connected spiritual acts. Every positive act we perform can be G-d connected, but the ones with the greatest connection power are the mitzvos G-d explicitly specified in the Torah.

The holiday of Shavuos is the day that G-d spiritually transmitted the Torah. The entire Jewish nation experienced this transmission and Moses experienced it to a much greater degree. The day is filled with a spiritual energy through which we can deepen our commitment to connect to G-d through the learning of Torah.

On Shavuos and other Jewish Holidays (Passover, Succos), there is a mitzvah to enhance the joy of the holiday with one special meal at night and one special meal during the day. In doing so we transform the physical act of eating into a spiritual G-d connected activity.

Chag Someach!