So Another Child Will Learn Torah

From 1997-99, I was one of eighteen school principals who spent three weeks each summer upgrading our professional skills as the first cohort of Torah Umesorah’s Senior Leadership Program.

During the first year of the program, we had the great ze’chus of spending several hours with Reb Shlome Wolbe zt’l who graciously answered our chinuch questions on a wide range of topics.

At one of those sessions, (starting at 9:28 on this promotional video introducing Bright Beginnings Volume One), I asked Reb Wolbe zt’l what we should do if the educational instruction we received at Torah Umesorah indicates that we would improve the quality of the chinuch our students are receiving by modifying/upgrading the teaching methods at our Yeshivos.

“What’s with [following] the Mesorah (tradition) [of the way we were taught by our rebbeim]?” I asked.

He responded that, “Your Mesorah is to transmit our Mesorah to our children and you are all not only permitted, but obligated, to use every education tool at your disposal so that another child will learn Torah.”

With that backdrop, I am thrilled to present to our readers The Marc Schertz Memorial e-Book version of our Bright Beginnings Chumash Workbook Vol. 1 2nd Edition.

It is my humble prayer that this interactive, digital workbook will help countless Jewish children (and adults) learn Torah.

We hope it will help:

Many Jewish families who live overseas and find the shipping costs of our books to be prohibitive. In the three years since the print version of this workbook was released, we’ve received requests from Jewish Yeshivos/day schools and parents in Gibraltar, South Africa, Australia, China, and on and on. In most of those instances, the shipping costs far exceeded the price of the book itself! This e-Book version can be “delivered” effortlessly free of charge.

Children whose parents don’t have the Judaic background to do homework with them. One of the features of this e-Book is that it allows children to email their work to others to review.

Children whose parents are in the office or on the road during the time that they are working on their homework. Here too, parents can be more involved in the learning of their children each evening.

Kids whose attention spans run short when they are doing traditional “paperwork” but are able to concentrate for far longer periods of time when working with digital tools.

I am deeply grateful to my childhood friend and chavrusa (Judaic study partner) Heshie Schertz and his wife Bonnie for their ongoing support of the Bright Beginnings series since its inception, and to his mother Mrs. Gloria Schertz and her children for dedicating this digital edition of the Chumash Workbook in memory of my childhood friend Marc Schertz a’h who recently and tragically passed away at the age of 48.

This digital workbook was converted to the e-Book format by my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Mordechai Smolarcik, one of the most creative and talented educators I’ve ever met. Rabbi Smolarcik has received numerous awards/grants for his outstanding curricular efforts including the 2013 JEIC Innovator Grant for his Torah i-Textbook Project. I am deeply grateful to him for his assistance with our efforts.

The digital workbook is currently only available for use on an iPad. Our sources (read: Rabbi Smolarcik) inform us that Apple is working on an app that will eventually allow it to be used on an iPhone as well. Additionally, we are working to get it converted for use on other platforms as well and will use this email list to inform you of any new releases, print or digital. Please email or text 22828 and in the message line, type PROJECTYES (in caps) to sign up for our emails so you can have instant access to the information.

Visit to learn more about our popular chumash workbooks designed to give your children the Hebrew language skills to succeed in school.

“Teiku” – In Loving Memory of our Beloved Brothers Eyal, Gilad and Naftali HY”D

Several years ago, I was in a shiva home as Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler was sharing a profoundly beautiful Torah thought from his revered father-in-law Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l with the mourners.

Reb Moshe posed the following question: “Why is it that we make the bracha (blessing) of ‘Dayan HaEmes’ (Blessed is G-d Whose judgment is just) when we mourn the death of a loved one, which basically means that we accept the bitter judgment Hashem gave us? Aren’t we obligated to believe that everything Hashem does is for our ultimate good? If that is the case, why don’t we make the blessing of ‘Hatov V’hametiv’ (Blessed is G-d Who bestows good upon us)?

Reb Moshe gently explained that our chachamim (sages), in their wisdom, crafted the “Dayan HaEmes” blessing to inform the mourners that it is perfectly understandable and theologically appropriate for there to be a deep chasm between what they know intellectually to be our Torah’s perspective on tragedy and the raw pain they currently feel due to their searing loss.

My dear friends, I share this with you in the hope that Reb Moshe’s timeless words will help us come to grips with the unspeakable tragedy of the heinous murder of our beloved brothers Eyal, Gilad and Naftali Hashem Yikom Damam (May G-d Avenge Their Blood).

We know what we are supposed to think, we know that our Torah expects us to process tragedy through its lens and accept Hashem’s Din as just and ultimately for the good – but we also know the searing pain that our human, broken hearts are feeling now.

Reb Moshe informs us that this is OK, and is part and parcel of our spiritual experience in this world as we do our best to see and feel Hashem’s presence in a world where it is often hidden from us.

Four times in the past fifteen years, I had the impossible task of explaining the inexplicable to our talmidim (students) as we lost a beloved teacher to a horrible automobile accident and three parents in our school passed away after long illnesses over that period of time. Here are some of the messages shared with our students.

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark’s Essay in Mishpacha Magazine

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Note To Readers: We are b’h getting excellent feedback on the just-released Volume II of our skills-based Bright Beginnings Chumash workbook. With the new school year not that far off, kindly drop us an email at if you have any questions or if you would like to order it on behalf of your school for the new year. In order to better understand the educational philosophy that drove the creation of these workbooks, kindly click here for the Bright Beginnings home page. There you will find a 10-minute video, an 11-page sample of the original workbook, and links to articles extolling the value of skills-based learning.

More than a decade ago, I had my first conversation with Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, Dean of Beth Jacob Seminary of Montreal. I called him and Rebbitzen Gluestein to tell them how proud they ought to be of the exceptional talmidos their school “produced,” – several who were very involved parents in our Yeshiva during its formative years (one of whom is in need of a refuah sheleimah – please have Bracha Mindel Chana bas Nechama Zelda in your tefilos).

Reb Shneur penned a thoughtful essay, “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” in this past week’s edition of Mishpacha Magazine that is the subject of these lines. In it, he makes the case that parents ought to set “red lines” regarding the limits of their unconditional love.

Since that column ran, we received numerous emails and calls from parents and educators asking for our response to Rabbi Aisenstark’s essay and our position overall on OTD children living at home. I called Reb Shneur to discuss this as we painfully know from personal experience that very often published columns do not reflect the nuances of a given issue the way we intended them to. He asked that we post the clarification below regarding the background and parameters of his essay.


Dear Reb Yakov:

Thanks for calling to discuss my column and as always it was a pleasure discussing chinuch matters with you. Along the lines of our conversation, here is some background regarding why the column was written and what message is was intended to send and feel free to send it to your readers.

The article was written in response to several situations brought to my attention where parents were quite literally living in abusive circumstances when a rebellious child made life miserable for the rest of the family. The parents expressed their acceptance of these conditions because they were told to love their children unconditionally. I strongly feel that in situations like these, red lines need to set by parents so that their lives become manageable and their home can continue to function.

The crux of my article was not to discuss the matter of parents dealing with children who abandoned Yiddishkeit due to abuse/molestation, or those whose experience in our school system was painful due to learning disabilities or emotional challenges, because they cannot control their situation. Therefore they should be loved and supported unconditionally.

The article was also not addressing children who are slipping in their observance level or even not observant at all that are respectful of their family’s values and not undermining the authority of their parents. They, too, should be afforded every consideration to have them live at home in the embrace of their parents and siblings provided that they show some level of openness to religion (for example being open to discussing religion with a frum person of their choosing as a sign of respect for the family — as opposed to categorically refusing to engage in any talks of this nature.)

What I wanted to convey is that children who are spinning out of control and refuse any form of intervention must understand that there are gedorim, red flags and lines which cannot be crossed while still using the home as a base once they have gone off the derech. There is no unconditional love in these circumstances. When a child does not want any help from therapists, psychologists, social workers, family members, rabbonim, he/she cannot expect that his/her parents will love him as before. Such a child must know and feel that the door is always open as long as he/she opens a pesach shel machat. Even though he/she has lost unconditional love, love is still there for one who wants to try somewhat.

Thanks for reaching out to me for clarification and best wishes for hatzlacha in your avodas hakodesh


Shneur Aisenstark


Our position at Project YES on the matter of keeping OTD children (and adults) at home can pretty much be summarized by our 2007 Mishpacha Column Should We Keep Our OTD Child At Home? (full text below).

Having the greatest respect for Rabbi Aisenstark’s extraordinary accomplishments in chinuch over many decades, we feel compelled to share two points with our readers due to the importance of this matter:

1) Having dealt firsthand with similar situations for over sixteen years, it is our very strong recommendation to parents that their message to their OTD child and his/her siblings be one of unconditional love with no exceptions. Love does not mean acceptance. It means that the place our children hold in our hearts is not diminished regardless of how much they disappoint or even hurt us.

2) The story related of the rebbi who asked Reb Chaim Kanievsky about Yosef and his brothers in the context of this discussion conveys a dangerous message that today’s kids are disrespectful, and implies that this is the primary cause for kids abandoning Yiddishkeit when there are many diverse factors for this phenomenon (click here On The Derech for more on this.)
The reason that we do not pasken (determine) halacha (Jewish law) from aggadah (stories related in gemara) is because by their very nature, anecdotes are subject to wide interpretations.
And if in fact the implication of that story is correct, how does one explain the staggeringly high OTD rate on the Lower East Side a few generations ago or earlier during the times of the haskala (enlightenment)?
Most troubling is that some parents may derive a mistaken message from this anecdote, namely that little reflection and/or improvement in their parenting and quality of their home life is required because the blame is squarely placed on the shoulders of “today’s (disrespectful) kids.

We are deeply grateful to Rabbi Aisenstark for graciously opening this discussion, and we feel that this pilpul chaverim (discussions among friends) will help us all realize our deepest wishes that we have endless nachas from our children and grandchildren.


Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child at Home?

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have 6 children ranging in age from a married daughter of 22 to a son of 8 years old. Things are well with us, b’h, regarding shalom bayis, parnasa and other areas of our lives.

We are writing to you regarding our 17-year-old son, who is a (very) at-risk teenager. We have been supporting him with testing, tutors, etc. throughout his school years, but nothing seemed to have worked. He’s been in several schools since 9th grade, dropped out and is currently working full time. We have an excellent relationship with him; he is respectful and does not violate Shabbos/kashrus in front of our family members. But he is, at this point in his life, completely non-observant.

Our dilemma is with regard to his 4 siblings still in our home. We are terribly worried that they will pick up his habits and lifestyle. We have so many questions:

1) Should we ask him to leave our home, as many of our friends tell us to do? (We don’t think that is a good idea)

2) How can we allow him to remain in our home and turn his back on all we hold dear?

3) What do we tell our other children? They all know what is really going on to some degree, depending on their age.

We are so torn over this decision. Adding to the confusion is all the diverse and conflicting advice we are being given by people. We are hearing, “be firm, be flexible, give him an ultimatum, always keep the lines of communication open;” on and on.

We would be most grateful for your advice. Thank you very much.

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The first thing that struck me about your letter was where you wrote about your confusion over getting conflicting advice from many different people, as it is something that I hear from so many parents are who are in your excruciating situation. I hope that this column will help you sort things out and not add to the swirl of information.

Before I get into the details, I’d like to inform you that from reading your letter I have a strong hunch that you are doing exactly what you ought to be doing. Why do I say that? Because you write that you have an excellent relationship with your son. Trust me, if your relationship survived his rocky school experience and crisis of faith, you should be giving guidance to parents yourselves.

While there is little I can do to completely allay your fears about your other children picking up your son’s rebellious behaviors, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years of dealing with at-risk kids and their families, I have found it extremely rare that a child went off-the-derech because he/she followed a sibling who strayed from Yiddishkeit. I think that what often skews the data and leads people to believe that off-the-derech is ‘contagious’ are situations where there are significant flaws in the family dynamics that are left unaddressed and uncorrected despite the fact that a child exhibited rebellious signs.

Now for some answers to your questions:

1) I am usually reluctant to give advice to people I do not know, but there does not seem to be any reason for you to even consider asking him to leave your home. I would respond differently if you had mentioned that he was self-destructing (substance abuse, for example), if he was undermining your authority or the quality of life at home, or if you felt that there was a clear and present danger of another child going off the derech. But none of these seem to apply, so I don’t think sending him away is even a subject for discussion in your situation.

For parents who have one or more of those three conditions present regarding a rebellious child, I usually recommend that they first go for counseling to try and improve things, and to gain a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. Then, armed with that information, visit their Rav to present their request for guidance regarding sending a child away from home. I do not think parents should make that dinei nefashos (life-or-death matter) decision without both of those components – medical and rabbinic advice.

(Recommended Reading: Jumpstarting Your Child’s Life, Letter From Your Teenage Child, Teeage Sturm Und Drang, Whatever” — Parenting Your Teenager On The Derech )

2) Please review my Mishpacha column, “Leaving The Door Open” for profound guidance that I received from one of our leading gedolim, who told a father in your situation to inform his child that he ought not feel disenfranchised from Hashem’s Torah and its eternal lessons just because he does not fully understand it all at the young age of seventeen – for growing close to Hashem and comprehending His Torah is a lifelong mission. You, as parents, can be most helpful in reframing your son’s ‘no’ to a ‘not yet.’

3) What should you tell your children? I have a simple answer for you. Tell your children that you love them all unconditionally; always and forever. And that means giving each of them what they need when they need it. Period. Exclamation point.

Explain to them that at this juncture in his life, your 17-year-old needs understanding and acceptance above all, and as difficult as this is, you are committed to provide this to him. This is the most honest and beautiful thing that you can tell them – that they would get the same measure of unconditional love, time, and acceptance from you if they had a crisis of any sort in their lives. Tell them that they, too, should love their brother unconditionally and not withdraw their emotional support for him due to his eroding faith in Hashem.

I cannot predict the future, but I can assure you that the best chance you have that your son will find his way back to Hashem is to follow the darchei noam approach I suggested. The bedrock of your unconditional love will hopefully provide the platform upon which your son can gently and slowly build upon – and return to Torah and mitzvos.

I usually do not mix my parsha and parenting columns, but I will make this exception and inform you of a profound dvar Torah that my dear friend Reb Pinchas Gershon (P.G.) Waxman of Lakewood recently shared with me.

The Gemorah (Shabbos 89b) relates that when the Jews will stray from the path of Torah and mitzvos, Hashem will inform our Avos (patriarchs) that their children have sinned. Avraham and Yaakov Avinu will respond that they ought to be punished for their misdeeds. Yitzchok, on the other hand, will implore the Ribbono Shel Olam “Are they (Klal Yisrael) only my children? Are they not Your children as well?” The Gemarah notes that Yitzchok will continue to plead until Hashem spares Klal Yisroel from destruction.

This is quite difficult to understand. Why was Yitzchok Avinu the only one of the Avos who was able to defend the Jews at that time? This is all the more puzzling as Yitzchak was noted for his attribute of gevurah (firmness), so he should have been the last one of the Avos to successfully defend his children.

One possible explanation is that of all the Avos, Yitzchok was in a unique position to advocate for the Jews since he kept his son Esav in his house despite Esav’s numerous sins. He sent his beloved son Yaakov away when Esav wanted to kill him (not Esav), and furthermore, when Esav’s wives worshiped idols and Yitzchok was becoming blind from the smoke of their incense; he still did not ask Esav to leave home.

Therefore, Yitzchok was able to plead to Hashem: “I kept and loved my child Esav despite his significant flaws; You too, should [keep and] forgive Your children.”

I do not profess to understand Hashem’s workings, but perhaps when the Jewish people are one day in need of forgiveness, the 2 of you and all others who unconditionally love and believe in their at-risk sons and daughters will become Klal Yisroel’s Reb Levi Yitzchok Bardichiver and advocate for all of Hashem’s children.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

(Reb Pinchas Gershon later found a similar thought in the writings of the Chassidic rebbi, Reb Meir of Primishlan. For further discussion of this matter, see Rashi Yirmiyahu 31,15; Ein Yaakov, Panim Meirim Yayeitzei, Emes L’Yaakov Toldos 27,40)

Do You Have An Adult OTD Son/Daughter, Spouse/Ex, or Sibling?

For over a decade, our staff members at Project YES have been counseling the immediate family members of teenagers and/or adults who are no longer observant (commonly referred to as OTD “Off the Derech” [Derech is the Hebrew word for path]).

In nearly all instances, we very strongly advise parents and siblings to maintain close relationships with their OTD family member and we have found that to be the best course of action on many levels. (See our December 2007 Essay in Mishpacha Magazine Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child At Home? for more on this.)

Of all the challenges to the family unit that are generated when an adult member goes OTD, perhaps the most stressful and potentially damaging scenario is when a father or mother of children who are school-age or younger becomes non-observant. If it takes the wisdom of King Solomon to resolve custody and visitation issues of children whose parents are on the same page religiously, just imagine how complex the situation becomes when the two parents have very differing views.

Over the past few weeks, Project YES has been exploring the possibility of conducting invitation-only meetings/workshops with family members faced with situations similar to those described above. We reached out to both frum and OTD parents who are engaged in these types of custody battles, a family court judge and two attorneys and feel that real progress can be made moving forward if all parties remain flexible and keep the children’s needs in mind above all else.

If you are interested in attending a meeting/workshop of this nature and live in the metro New York area, kindly drop us an email at Someone from our office will get back to you and all correspondence will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We hope this initiative will help more children and adults lead happy and productive lives. Please pass this on to anyone who might benefit from this.

Yakov Horowitz
Director, Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES

P.S. For more background………………..

In February 2009 we posted the article Shlomo Hamelech For A Day asking our readers for their thoughts on the matter of custody when one spouse is no longer observant. If we needed proof that this was an important issue that needed to be addressed, we got it very quickly from the 12,000+ views that piece generated and the 131 comments posted by our readers.

Comment #25 on the thread was written by “Tortured Dad” – the non-observant father who originally contacted me. Read his post and many of the others to better understand the complexity of this matter.

In response, I posted Comment #30 on the thread “Introducing You to Tortured Dad” and #77 & #79 on “Arranged Marriages.” Noted therapist Dr. Benzion Twerski wrote a number of posts that are worthy of review (#71, 80, 86, 105 & 114.)

The matter of Adults at Risk is one that has been on the radar of Project YES for many years now. The first of the 40+ essays we ran in Mishpacha Magazine The Chinuch Challenges of Our Generation alluded to it, and it was addressed in subsequent columns we published in Mishpacha and The Jewish Press over the past few years: Exit Interviews, All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go, Running Out Of Time (see the many links there). We also wrote Risk Factors for At-Risk Teens to inform parents of the leading risk factors for kids/adults abandoning religion from our vantage point.

We hope you find this content educational and helpful.

Safe Children, Safe Communities

Let’s not mince words.

The future of our charedi community is quite literally in existential danger as the tension in Beit Shemesh plays itself out in the international media.

On a purely pragmatic level, this disturbing publicity has already placed the charedi community in Eretz Yisroel at greater risk of losing its financial aid to Yeshivos and Kollelim at the very least. In all likelihood, there may be far greater ramifications, as this could generate a tsunami of support among secular (and many religious) Israelis for a complete separation of church and state, which has the potential to end state support for all non-public schools in Eretz Yisroel.

However, the far greater danger is that we will be losing our souls should we fail to condemn the horrific actions, however isolated, of people who dress like us threatening women and children with violence, taunting them, and calling them all sorts of horrible names. And we will justifiably lose the hearts, neshamos and even lives of our children and grandchildren if we, rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (merciful people), cannot muster the righteous indignation and join forces to protest the appalling actions of these so-called kanoim.

Our community is just now coming to grips with the painful reality that is child abuse, and the ravages it leaves in its wake. We must now realize that there is communal abuse as well, from which we all continue to suffer. And just like we have come to understand that prosecuting and convicting child molesters can prevent future abuse, so too, we must make sure that these kanoim who are rodfim in every way, be stopped in their tracks.

As Rabbi Aryeh Deri clearly stated in an interview earlier this week, the only solution to rid our community of the depraved kanoim who are wreaking havoc on our community is to demand that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Child safety has been our highest priority at Project Y.E.S. for the past few years, and we recently launched several initiatives designed to help keep each and every one of our children safe and secure[1]. With the chesed of Hashem, our efforts, and the efforts of the Los Angeles based Aleinu school program and others like it, are creating a paradigm shift in how parents deal with the issue of child safety[2]

However, this entire enterprise took an enormous step backwards over the past days and weeks as our children rightfully wonder if the adults around them can keep them safe.

There are four basic messages that children need to internalize in order for any abuse prevention program to be truly effective:
1. Your body belongs to you
2. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable
3. No secrets from parents
4. Good touching/bad touching
We have long maintained that corporal punishment by parents and/or educators dramatically decreases and often negates the critical messages of abuse prevention (see Spare the Potch, Protect the Child for more on this). Well, how much more destructive is it for our children in Beit Shemesh to see their peers and even the adults in their lives shrug their shoulders and allow this sort of deplorable behavior by a group of radical adults go on unabated? How about its effects on Jewish children worldwide who see reports of this through the 24/7 media coverage, or hear this discussed this in school among their friends?

My dear friends, it has come to this. We have two choices. We can continue to blame the secular media for its campaign against our charedi community or we can admit the painful truth – that we collectively have allowed ourselves to be abused for many years now by a small and violent group of uncontrolled kanoim.

For the sake of our children, we need to collectively do everything in our power – everything – to put an end to the abuse immediately.

[1] As part of our Karasick Child Safety Initiative, we released a 33-minute DVD of our parenting seminar “Speaking to Your Kids about Personal Safety” this past June and our child-friendly picture book, “Let’s Stay Safe!” – both designed to give parents a comfortable and modest way to discuss personal space and safety with their children.

[2] Click here for more safety resources: The Karasick Child Safety Initiative of Project YES – Links to Safety Resources for Parents. Contact Project YES at (845)352-7100 ext. 114 or at to arrange for a personal safety parenting seminar in your community, or to purchase bulk quantities of “Let’s Stay Safe!” for your school, shul, or organization.

Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety – mp3 and article

Here is the audio file of Rabbi Horowitz talk on “Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety” in Queens last night.

The practical tips are from the article below from Rabbi Horowitz’ website.

In the broadest sense, I think that the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from sexual abuse is the moment that they walk down from the chuppah and begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy (click here) and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything – ANYTHING – with their (click here) parents will, in all likelihood, inform their parents the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Let’s face it. Foolproof protection is impossible. You cannot follow your children wherever they go, nor should you raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they will meet. Moreover, as I noted last week, even though the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended and close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

Therefore, the most effective things that parents can do is to keep their children safe are to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

– Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say.

– Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.

– One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).

– Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy.

– “Your body belongs to you,” is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult.

– Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

Keep Our Children Safe

I am pleased to inform you of a Project YES, “Keep Our Children Safe” initiative designed to raise awareness among parents in our community about the importance of speaking to your children about safety and personal space—in order to protect them from child abuse and molestation.

The workshops will be practical in nature and will guide parents in how to have these discussions in a tzanuah manner that is congruent with our Torah values.

I will be conducting these workshops as a public service of Project YES and there will be no charge for attending. Here is a list of the venues:

Baltimore: Motzoei Shabbos, June 11th – 10:15 p.m.
Congregation Shaarei Zion
6602 Park Heights Ave.

Queens: Monday, June 13th – 8:30 p.m.
Congregation Ahavas Yisroel
147-02 73rd Ave, Kew Gardens Hills

Monsey: Tuesday evening, June 14th – 8:00 p.m.
Yeshiva Darchei Noam
259 Grandview Ave.

Brooklyn: Wednesday evening, June 15th – 9:15 p.m.(following Maariv,at 9:00 p.m.)
Young Israel of Midwood
1694 Ocean Avenue

On a personal note, I plead with each and every parent to educate yourselves regarding best practices of conveying these crucial messages to your children. You have no more sacred obligation to your children than to keep them safe from predators.

The danger is so great and the education is so simple.

L’maan Hashem, please take this matter seriously and take the steps necessary to give your children the very best chance at remaining safe and secure.

Worded differently, I ask you to be the ones to educate your children about their bodies and personal space—so that the predator is not the one to teach them these lessons.

R’ Yakov Horowitz – Director, Project YES

Mission Accomplished (although I am not wearing an air force jumpsuit)

Dear Beyond Teshuva Readers:

It has been far too long since I have posted on this website, but I do visit the site regularly and I am proud to have had a small part in facilitating the rich and meaningful discussions on Beyond Teshuva a number of years ago when Mark and David were launching the website

I am pleased to inform you that I recently a skills-based Chumash workbook that some readers may find helpful in terms of gaining a better understanding of lashon hakodesh (Hebrew).

Although it is designed for classroom use at the entry level of Chumash learning, many parents of Yeshiva Darchei Noam students — both “lifers” and ba’alei teshuva — have found it to be helpful to them in their own learning (we used a black and white version of this program for the past 13 years). In fact, if you have a look at this promo DVD here, you can listen to an FFB parent in our yeshiva discuss how it helped him.

For many years now, I have been writing columns on the importance of teaching these skills to children (click here “………. To review 3 essays I published in Mishpacha Magazine several years back), and our master first-grade rebbi Rabbi Yosef Rawicki and I created this program to provide a tool for children and their parents that is simple to use and attractive to the eye.

Kindly click here to review the post on my website, and here to download an 11-page sample, and on the link above to view the promo DVD that explains the philosophy and practical use of the workbook.

I hope that you find this to be helpful.

All the best

Yakov Horowitz
Monsey, NY

Teleconference: Thurs. Feb. 10th – Safe and Secure; Keeping Your Children Protected from Pedophiles

Join Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Avraham Mifsud for a 30 minute live telephone parenting conference call entitled:

Safe and Secure: Keeping Your Children Protected From Pedophiles

In this call, you will learn practical and age appropriate ways to teach your children about safety and personal space. Helping your children understand appropriate personal boundaries is one of the most effective tools you can give them to help ensure their safety. At the most recent Agudath Israel convention, the Novominsker Rebbe, שליט״א said that we have an obligation to make sure our children understand what are appropriate physical boundaries. Listen in to learn how to have these important discussions with your children.

When: Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Time: 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST

Conference line: (712) 432-1001

Access code: 482469604#

Time on the conference will be dedicated to YOUR questions! Email your questions for this topic to: by 6:00 p.m. Thursday, February 10th, 2011 or click here to post them online.

This call is sponsored by The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES and NASO: National Association for Support & Outreach.

To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.

Parenting and Drinking Responsibly

“It is an Aveira to Get Drunk on Purim,” was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a, who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with hundreds of participants worldwide last week during a Project Y.E.S. conference call, titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I had intended to keep the scope of the conference call limited to practical advice that my dear chaver Dr. Benzion Twerski and I would offer parents on setting appropriate limits on Purim activities and to teach their children how to resist negative peer pressure to engage in hard drinking. However, as soon as we announced the conference call, we were inundated with questions from many people who asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai. With that in mind, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a, who has served as our posek in Project Y.E.S. since its inception thirteen years ago, to take a few precious moments from his busy schedule and share his da’as Torah with our listeners.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah,” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking.

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that the words of our chazal condone the type of drunkenness which render a person incapable of performing the mitzvos of our Torah.

Reb Shmuel shlit’a is hardly a da’as yachid (a lone voice) in this matter. There is a kol korei issued by Agudas Yisroel and disseminated by my dear chaver Elly Kleinman signed by 26 leading gedolim, admorim, rabbonim and mechanchim that states in unequivocal terms that “chayav ainish…” only refers to wine and not whiskey. And it states that “free use of whiskey” is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da’as chachamim. Obviously, the term “free whisky” was used to denote hard drinking as opposed to a moderate amount of drinking. (A hard copy of the kol korei can be downloaded from my website Just click here.)

Responsible vs. Irresponsible Drinking

To be perfectly clear, the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a was discussing irresponsible drinking – and not the moderate drinking which allows a person to break free of his day-to-day inhibitions and arrive at the type of exalted “neshama yeseira” that allows him to connect to Hashem and all that is beautiful in Yiddishkeit with “soaring spirits” (pun intended).

My brother, Reb Yehudah shlit’a, who is the Mashgiach in Yeshiva South Shore, drinks along those lines on Purim. It would be fair to describe him as being above the legal drinking limit during the latter hours of the Purim Seudah. He would never think of driving home from the seudah on Purim, not should he, for it would be illegal, and he would be putting his life in sakana as well as the lives of others. So in technical terms or legally for driving purposes, he certainly could be classified as “drunk” during that time. But the words that would come to mind when observing him in that state would be, “Kedusha, elevated, hisorirus, simcha shel mitzvah, … perhaps even funny.” My brother sings “gramen,” gives brachos to all he speaks to, tells them how wonderful they are, talks about Mashiach and how he needs to do teshuvah. Honestly; I make sure my wife and I, and all our children and now our grandchildren go to him for a bracha when he is in this spiritual high. Far from being “drunk,” he has the “whiff” of intoxication that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to.

However, the flat-drunk state that some adults and bachurim are engaging in under the guise of Purim which is in a very different category. This is the type of hefkarus (frivolity) that does not lead to any of the attributes of one who is drinking with true Simchas Purim, and that is the aveira that Reb Shmuel s’hlita was discussing. And Reb Shmuel firmly added that “It is an aveirah to say it [hard drinking] is a mitzvah.”

Some point to people of generations past who engaged in serious drinking on Purim and use that to support their claim that getting drunk on Purim is “a mitzvah.” However, I propose that it is illogical to bring proof from anyone who allowed or condoned Purim drinking back then and apply it to today’s climate. That would be like saying that one need not wear a seat belt today because someone in the 1950’s (before it became the norm and the law) didn’t wear one.

Times have very much changed in the thirty-five years since I was a teenager. None of my friends drank aside from Purim – including those who were less than model students – and many didn’t even drink on Purim itself. None of us. Period. Pull up a chair at a Shalom Zachor or Vort nowadays and see if that is the case today.

I also invited Professor Lazer Rosman, who is one of the original members of Hatzoloh, served as an active volunteer for the past 40 years and is currently the senior coordinator of Boro Park Hatzolah to join our conference call as well so our listeners can hear firsthand of the devastation caused by out-of-control drinking. He spoke about the chilul Hashem, injuries, carnage, full-blown toxic shock comas and even deaths that he personally witnessed as a direct result of Purim (and Simchas Torah) drinking. With all that in mind, I maintain that the dynamics have changed dramatically and in light of the sakana hard drinking represents nowadays we must completely end its existence in our community.

I very strongly recommend that all parents with pre-teen and teenage children at home listen to this conference call to hear the da’as Torah of the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a and the wisdom and life lessons of Dr. Twerski and Professor Rosman. You can do so easily by visiting our website,, or by calling (712)432-1011 and entering access code: 455963558#. The content of that conference call is most certainly appropriate for children of any age and I suggest that you have your children listen along with you if possible.

Aside from the short-term danger, the brutal fact is that the vast majority of people in our community have their first exposure to drinking and smoking on Purim. Alcohol and tobacco are “Gateway Drugs,” meaning that nearly every single hard-core addict started with these substances. Worded differently, keeping your kids from early experimentation with alcohol and tobacco is by far the best way to keep them from becoming addicted later on in life. Just read these stunning statistics from the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse that I’ve been quoting in the dozens of columns I’ve written on drinking and smoking over the past 12 years:

• “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

• “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

The message is crystal clear – stop your kids from experimenting with smoking and drinking and they are almost certain to remain drug free all their lives.

In light of the danger of long-term addictions and their subsequent consequences, I honestly feel that any adult who encourages or even condones hard drinking on Purim bears some moral (and probably legal responsibility for short-term effects in many cases) responsibility for the ruined marriages and lives of those in his care who later become alcoholics and substance abusers.

One also must take in mind what message adult hard drinking gives to our children. Many things start out as neutral or commendable actions and then become distorted beyond recognition a generation or two later. So bear in mind, that your (what you may think is) “under-control” hard drinking might be giving free license to your children and grandchildren to get “toasted” on Purim in a manner that is far, far removed from yours, and certainly not what you had intended. And, sadly, you cannot “unring that bell,” once you decide it has gone too far.

Finally, please understand that kids really do “get it” regarding drinking and drunkenness – or almost any other topic – at a very young age. My jaw dropped some twenty years ago when a friend of mine casually asked our eldest son – then eight or nine years old – if his father gets drunk on Purim. (I had never really discussed this with him previously and his response was purely what he had picked up about this matter by osmosis.) My son responded, “No way. My father knows so many secrets about other people’s families [due to my work with teens-at-risk and shalom bayis] that he always keeps to himself. He would never get drunk because if he would, he might start telling people all those private things.”

© 2010, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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Darchei Noam’s Internet and Technology Initiative


Dear Readers:

About five years ago, I formulated an Internet policy for Yeshiva Darchei Noam where I serve as Dean. It was designed to be “real” — something that parents would be able to respect and adhere to, rather than one that would be so restrictive that it would be ignored.

Recently, our Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Bezalel Rudinsky, shlit”a and I decided to raise awareness among our school parents about the need to follow our technology policy and at the same time, add several components to it to reflect the evolving nature of technology.

It is always a risky proposition to publicly share information about events that are still a work in progress with the outcome yet unknown, but since Yeshivos/Bais Yaakovs and parents worldwide are grappling with these very same issues, I will be sharing the progress of our initiative in “real time” with the hope that our readers may find it helpful. So, here goes:

This past Tuesday, Rabbi Rudinsky and I conducted a special Asifa with the parents of Darchei Noam to discuss these matters with them. This is a link to my presentation in MP3 format: Rabbi Horowitz on the Dangers of Technology and the Internet mp3. Rabbi Rudinsky’s shlit”a address to the parents can be found here: (click on “This year’s new shiurim” and then click on “Special”).

I am gratified to report that we have had overwhelming support and positive energy from our parent body for our efforts, and many Darchei Noam parents have accepted my offer of assistance and reached out to me in the past 48 hours, asking me to help them in “selling” this to their children.

After speaking to a number of parents, I decided that I ought to take a more active role in explaining these takanos directly to my talmidim.

Below, please find the text of the letter that I sent to the parents in our yeshiva, which is pretty self-explanatory. I hope you find this unfolding saga to be of interest and perhaps helpful as well.

As always I look forward to your input, and if you can share stories of mosdos that have had success in dealing with these issues, please share them with us.

The meeting with my talmidim is taking place soon. Wish me luck!

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos,



Dear YDN Parents:

Rabbi Rudinsky and I would like to thank you for the overwhelming messages of support for our Internet Asifa that was held this past Tuesday night (You can listen to it here click on “This year’s new shiurim” and then “Special”).

I was pleased to see that throughout the day yesterday, many YDN parents took me up on my offer of assistance in “selling” our technology policy to your children. In fact, one YDN couple actually came to my home last night to discuss ironing out some glitches that arose when they discussed this matter with their son.

After processing all this feedback, and in order to partner with you and help frame your discussions with your children, I decided to write the following letter to our talmidim and invite the older ones to a special meeting, where I will discuss this with them directly – and address their questions. I think this will be an important component in the hatzlacha of our joint efforts to raise our children b’tahara.

Please print this letter and give to your son, and be prepared to discuss it with him. (Be sure to give it to him when things are relatively quiet so he can read, think, and respond.) As with all other parenting matters, listening is usually far more important than speaking. Always remember that an unasked question is inevitably an unanswered one.

Don’t get on the soapbox if the children express their disappointment or even displeasure with my words (or even with me personally). Remember that this is a very, very big deal for them – if they have gotten used to a level of technology use and we are now taking it away from them. Just discuss the issues they raise, softly remind them to speak with derech eretz, and encourage them to raise their concerns and/or questions with me tomorrow at the meeting. Also, please take advantage of my offer to have the kids call me directly in the days and weeks ahead should you hit a rough patch or even if they are listening to your directions but are deeply resentful.

Finally, there was a lively and productive Q&A session after the Asifa which, due to the late hour, many parents could not participate in. I would like to offer to have a follow-up meeting where I will take Q&A on this subject and discuss overall technology and pre-teen/teenage matters. Please drop me an email at if you would like me to arrange such a meeting in the next week or two – or if you would appreciate a YDN workshop with a technology expert, who can help you select and teach you how to install blocking software. (Here are two programs that come highly recommended – eblaster ( which records all activity on your house computers and cyberpatrol ( ).

I intended the gathering to be for incoming 6th-8th graders, but incoming 5th graders may attend as well. Our graduating 8th graders are welcome as well. This is a “closed-door” session, so I respectfully ask you to drop the kids off and not enter the building. It will end promptly at 10:15 so you can plan the pick-up. (Or you can have the kids text you when we are … just kidding!)

I hope you find this to be helpful and, once again, feel free to contact me should you need “tech-support.”

Best and warmest regards



Dear YDN Talmidim:

The Internet and all of today’s technology is very, very exciting. It helps you be in touch with friends, allows you to play all sorts of interactive, fun games online, and lots of other things.

Your parents and I use the Internet – some more and some less – to help us in our work, pay our bills, to listen to shiurim and read divrei Torah, and in our personal lives. And as time moves forward, more and more things will be done over the Internet. We understand that you, your brothers and sisters, and all your friends will be using the Internet more and more as you get older.

But, along with all the good things the Internet has to offer, we are also very worried about the many ‘bad things’ the Internet presents. There are an awful lot of pictures and videos on the Internet that are not very tzniyus, and would never otherwise be brought into your homes. Also, the Internet is a dangerous place as well. Your parents carefully watch who comes into your house and who you are allowed to play with, and they would never let you go to someone’s home if they did not know them well. For example, imagine that your parents took you to the Palisades Mall tonight and told you that you could go home and play with anyone you see there. Wouldn’t you think that would be rather strange? Of course they would never let you do that. No parent would. But that’s what it is like when you go on the Internet. You could be talking and playing with very good people – or very bad ones.

So; some of your parents do not let you use the Internet at all, and some do let you use it – but with rules of which sites you can go to, and the emails you are sending and receiving, while watching you to see that you are listening to those rules, and seeing to it that you don’t accidently go to inappropriate sites. It is very important that they do that, because they love you and don’t want your neshama to be hurt by visiting bad sites and contacting dangerous people.

In Darchei Noam, we made rules for our talmidim whose parents let them use the Internet. They are all in our Handbook. 1) No computers with Internet in your rooms – only in family rooms. 2) Filters on house computers. 3) You can only use the Internet with a parent sitting next to you. I made these rules for your safety.

Until now, these Internet rules weren’t always followed – sort of like the rule we have in school to tuck in your shirt. You know you are supposed to do it, and when you see me you (sometimes) tuck it in. But most of the times, many of you simply do not.

But now we are changing that. Rabbi Rudinsky and I had a meeting with your parents this week and told them that this is going to be the most important rule in the school from now on. In fact, from now on, we will not let families who don’t keep these rules send their children to Darchei Noam.

We are also adding a few new parts to the school’s Internet rules – 1) No more private email addresses for kids – only family email addresses – so that you can still get emails, but with your parent’s supervision. You can tell whoever sends you email to put your name in the subject line, and then your brothers and sisters will not open it. But your parents can, to see that the people sending you emails are people they are comfortable with. 2) No YDN talmidim are allowed to have Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter accounts (or any others like it). 3) No YDN talmidim will have their own personal cell phones. Instead, should your parents wish to provide you with a cell phone when you leave your home, it will be a “family” cell phone – and will not have Internet connectivity or texting capacity. And, as in the past, no cell phones can be brought to school or any yeshiva function, like Bar Mitzvos or trips.

Why did we suddenly change things? Well; there are basically two reasons we decided to make sure the Internet rules are really, really followed:

1) The Internet keeps getting more and more powerful and is much stronger than it was when I wrote the rules five years ago. Think of it this way. When you rode a tricycle, your parents watched you to make sure you were safe. But when you rode a bicycle, they were much more nervous. They put on training wheels and didn’t take them off until you were really good at riding. And even when they took them off, they ran alongside you until they were sure you could ride without falling. Do you know why they were more worried about your riding a bicycle? Because it is so much bigger and more powerful than a tricycle. It can do more good things – take you farther and faster – but you can also get hurt much more if you fall. And much more protection is in place when you will drive a car one day. Well; the Internet got much stronger in the past few years and now that so many homes have wifi; video games like Wii, PSPs and devices like iPods can all be connected to the Internet. At your age, no matter how mature and trustworthy you are, you still need training wheels to ride this exciting and dangerous Internet – and you need a parent standing next to you to make sure you don’t fall and really hurt yourself. The time will come when you will be able to do this alone, but that is a long time off. For now, you need your parents to watch you.

2) Another reason Rabbi Rudinsky and I are going to watch carefully to see that these rules are kept, is because we keep seeing how badly the neshamos of kids get hurt when they fall off their bicycles (get hurt by the Internet when they use it without their parents watching them). Kids who do that, fall behind in school, don’t get into High Schools, and some even go off the derech. As you know, I care deeply about each and every one of you, and don’t want this to happen to any of my talmidim.

This is a very important topic and I would like to discuss it with you personally and give you the chance to ask me any questions you may have. So; tomorrow, Friday, I will be meeting with all incoming 6th, 7th, and 8th graders (those who just finished 5th, 6th, and 7th grades) YDN talmidim in Rabbi Rudinsky’s shul from 9:30 to 10:15 and I am asking your parents to carpool you there and back because I think it is so important that we discuss this personally. I will be serving doughnuts and milk to all of you, so don’t fill yourself too much at breakfast! (Incoming 5th graders may also come.)

Also; even after our meeting, if there are any questions you have about this policy, you can call me on my cell phone throughout the summer between 9-11 am Sunday through Friday. (You may feel free to call with or without your parents).

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Rabbi Horowitz

Reposted from Rabbi Horowitz’ site.

Please Consider a Donation to Yeshiva Darche Noam


11 Elul 5768

September 11, 2008

Dear Readers:

I respectfully ask you to kindly consider making a charitable contribution to Yeshiva Darchei Noam, a school that I founded 11 years ago and have served as Dean since, in order to help our devoted faculty members receive the outstanding portion of their summer payroll.

In the first 10½ years since Darchei Noam was founded, each and every one of our payrolls was disbursed on the first of every month. This summer, however, much to my dismay, we fell behind and were unable to meet our obligations for the first time in our history. The downturn in the economy deeply affected our tuition collections and negatively impacted our fundraising revenue – to the point where a few parents in our school who in previous years generously contributed to our scholarship fund were unable to pay the tuition of their children last year and requested scholarships themselves.

The late disbursement of payroll to our dedicated faculty members and office staff is causing terrible hardship to their families. I have been working feverishly all summer to get current with our commitments, and although I was able to make one of the payrolls, we are still intolerably behind in making the remainder of the payments.

We created a segregated account for those who may wish to contribute to this drive and it is being managed and overseen by two Darchei Noam parents; Gud Mayer Adler,, and David Koegel You can contribute online with our secure service, or make a check payable to Darchei Noam Payroll Drive and mail it to my attention at Yeshiva Darchei Noam, 257 Grandview Road, Suffern N.Y. 10901. (I will be glad to send a signed, complimentary copy of my parenting book to all donors who contribute $100 or more to this campaign.) 100% of the funds that you contribute will go directly to pay our rebbeim and teachers as these parents are volunteering their time and are underwriting any overhead costs.

Please feel free to email me at my personal address should you have any questions or if you would like to become a partner in the work of our Yeshiva.

The non-payment of our employees over the summer weeks is a source of great pain to me, and I will be exceedingly grateful for anything you can do to resolve this. May Hashem repay you for this chesed with hatzlacha in your endeavors and nachas from your children.


Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Dean, Yeshiva Darchei Noam

Answers About Questions – A Primer on Seeking Rabbinical Guidance

We’ve run this article by Rabbi Horowitz a few times previously, but we all know the importance of review, so it seemed like this might be a good time to run it again. Rabbi Horowitz strikes a nice balance between developing your own Torah wisdom and asking for advice.

Dear Readers:

As so many posts and comments on this site relate to the importance of finding a rebbi/rebbitzen/mentor who can offer direction (and one who understands Ba’al Teshuva issues), I would like to share with our readers an article that I wrote on this complex subject which was recently published in the Jewish Observer.

A few points, please:

1) The article was written for the general Torah Observant community, not particularly for Ba’alei Teshuvah.

2) I find that getting poor advice – or not having a clear understanding of the mechanics and hashkafa (Torah philosophy) of seeking such guidance – is often worse than getting no advice at all.

3) In the article, I did not touch upon the issue of halacha vs. chumrah (what is halachically mandated as opposed to what would be considered to be ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ as far as halacha is concerned). I think that this is an important issue that probably deserves an entire article. These distinctions are especially critical for ‘newer’ Ba’alei Teshuva who may not yet be attuned to the nuances between halacha and chumrah.
Read more Answers About Questions – A Primer on Seeking Rabbinical Guidance

All Alone … Again

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).”

The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we prepare to sit on the ground this coming Tisha B’Av and commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,939 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. It was only one year ago that our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets raining down on them for over a month. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran repeatedly calls for the eradication (G-d forbid) of Israel, and publicly states that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930’s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How do we, who live in comfort and security in America, prepare to commemorate Tisha B’Av properly? What are the messages we ought to internalize, and what actions should we be taking?

I guess I would divide the “take-aways” into two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect them.

Adopt a family, community or school who have been hard-hit by last year’s rocket attacks or is still suffering from the effects of the disengagement. Two years ago, Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim. Many schools and shuls in North America have conducted similar programs. The need is great and the time for action is now.

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. At least on the surface, this does not seem to be very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the haftorah of Tisha B’Av, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.


Note to readers:

These questions are a compilation of some of the many that I have been asked over the years by children who have lost parents and/or the surviving parent/stepparent of the children. Please pass this along to anyone on your email list that may find this to be helpful. May the dissemination of this column be a zechus for my father’s neshama, Reb Shlome ben Reb Yakov Moshe HaLevi Horowitz, whose yahrtzeit is today, Rosh Chodesh Iyar.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

How do I properly observe a yahrtzeit? What does the word yahrtzeit mean anyway? Are there special things to say or do? Is it OK to be sad or moody on this day or should I just “deal with it” as some people seem to be telling me? How should I respond when the adults in my shul greet me on the day of the yahrtzeit? I keep hearing the words “The neshama should have an aliya” from adults. What does it mean, and what should I do when people tell that to me? How can I get my friends to understand how difficult this day is for me, and how should I respond when they inadvertently make inconsiderate comments to me on this painful day?

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The term “Yahrtzeit” is a Yiddish term that is literally translated as “A year’s time.” (‘Yahr’ means year, and tzeit is time). The term represents the anniversary of someone’s death and is commemorated by the children, siblings, spouse and sometimes parents of the deceased. The date of the Yahrzeit is calculated according to the Hebrew calendar.

The most common practices observed on a Yahrzeit are reciting kaddish, lighting a special memorial candle that burns for 24 hours on the evening before the Yahrtzeit, learning Mishnayos, and visiting the graves of the deceased.

Jewish tradition and hashkafa (philosophy) teach us that humans are a unique hybrid of a physical body and a spiritual neshamah (soul). When death occurs, one’s neshama takes leave of its body and ascends to the Heavens. At that time, he or she is judged for his/her actions and accomplishments spanning his/her lifetime. From that time onward, that neshama cannot improve its standing in the Heavenly realm. However, according to our Chazal (sages), the neshama receives a ‘review’ of its original judgment on its yahrtzeit – with the opportunity to elevate its status in Gan Eden. How could things change after one passes on, you may think? Because in reality, the books are rarely ever ‘closed’ on one’s life since the neshama almost invariably left a legacy during the time it spent in this world. Therefore, the secondary mitzvos they helped generate with their actions on this world still accrue after their death to bring merit to their neshama. For example, if someone donated siddurim (prayer books) to a shul during their lifetime, they get a mitzvah each time someone uses that siddur. The same concept would apply to one who helps start a shul, Jewish day school, or other chesed organization.

This concept most certainly applies to one who had children who lead meaningful lives – since they can bring merit to the neshama of the deceased for many years to come. This is where you come in. For children are the quintessential extensions of one’s years on this world. Therefore, many of the yartzeit practices revolve around children generating mitzvos that accrue to the merit of their departed parent. We learn mishnayos or other limudim in memory of the departed neshama. (Here’s an idea: For many years, I would dedicate an ‘extra-hours’ block of time all year long to learn a particular gemorah with the goal of completing it and making a siyum on my father’s yahrtzeit.) We say kaddish, which gets people to praise Hashem upon their response to our words. We take food and drink to shul so that people will make blessings on the refreshments that were brought.

With all this in mind, the phrase that you hear many people greet you with on the day of the yahrtzeit, “The neshama should have an aliya,” may be more meaningful to you. What they are telling you, especially those who knew your parent well, is that they, too, (obviously in a lesser sense than you) feel the loss of your parent and miss him or her. They are also expressing their sincere wish and hope that your departed parent will become elevated (aliya means ‘to go up’, as in getting an aliya in shul or when we say that one ‘made aliya’ when they move to Eretz Yisroel) in Gan Eden on this day. It is an expression of affection for your parent and for you, and a proper response would be to nod and say “thank you.” Perhaps if you are up to it, consider expressing to them that you really appreciate their well wishes.

I think that it is perfectly ok to feel sad, moody, confused – or anything else – on the day of your parent’s yahrtzeit. Just like people celebrate victories and successes in different ways, so, too, do people mourn losses in diverse manners. The yahrtzeit day is a very difficult one, especially for those of us who lost parents at a young age. It is made more complicated by the fact that it is a ‘normal’ day for everyone around us. Our friends at school – and later in life at work – do not understand that this day jars all sorts of unpleasant memories for us and it often feels like a scab was torn off a wound that had partially healed. So, I would suggest to you that if you just feel like you need some space to sort things out in your mind on the yahrtzeit day, it may be a good idea to take part of the day off and do just that. Try not to be critical of people who say silly or inconsiderate things to you. Many of them feel rather awkward, as they don’t really know what to say to you. Therefore, they may blurt things out that wind up doing the opposite of what they had intended.

I would love to tell you that the yahrtzeit day gets easier with the passage of time, but at least in my case, and those of my close friends who lost parents at a young age, it really doesn’t. I am writing these lines on the forty-fourth Yahrtzeit of my father, who passed away before my fourth birthday. And while the passage of time is a great healer for the ‘other’ days of the year, I have found that in many ways the actual yahrtzeit day gets harder as time goes on. Every year, on the evening of my father’s yahrtzeit, I tell my wife that I feel emotionally bruised and battered – like a truck ran over me, chas v’shalom.

One thing that I always tell teens and young adults who have lost parents is to reach out for help if you feel yourself bogged down by emotional overload. I would suggest that you please read my “Letter to Girls Who Lost a Parent” (click here) for more on the issue of reaching out for help and for some referrals. How bad does it have to be for you to reach out for help? I would say that you should certainly go for help if you feel that the trauma of your parent’s death is impeding your progress in school or in life. But I would recommend that you consider going for grief counseling, contacting Chai Lifeline (, 212-465-1300), a Rabbi/Rebbitzen in your community, or simply a grown adult who lost a parent at a young age to help you better cope. Mental health professionals have made such progress in the past few decades in understanding the grieving process and in helping family members sort out their emotions. Not taking advantage of this knowledge that is readily available is almost like getting a root canal without Novocain or like a nearsighted person not using eyeglasses.

In the broadest sense, the best thing that you can do to honor the memory of your parent on the day of his/her yahrtzeit – and throughout the year – is to live a meaningful life. Having experienced wrenching pain at a young age equips you better than most others to be extraordinarily sensitive to others. You have sadly learned the value of time, the gift of life, and the opportunity that each day presents.

I give you my heartfelt bracha that you use these life-lessons to live a life of Torah and chesed, a life where you give and rarely take, a life where you heal and rarely hurt, a life where you leave the world a better place as a result of your words and deeds.

Living this type of life will bring eternal merit and kavod to your parent – and eventually to your own children.

Please forward this important post to teens/children/even adults who lost parents.

Making Room at Our Pesach Tables

(Note: This letter was posted yesterday as a comment on my Open Letter to Girls Who Lost a Parent, a column that I wrote several months ago for Links magazine. Disclaimers: My father passed away before my fourth birthday. I am a regular contributor to Links magazine and greatly admire the efforts of Mrs. Kohn to help orphaned girls.)

R’ Horowitz:

During this joyous time of the year, I appeal to all of Klal Yisroel to please look around and try to be in tune to the needs – and the pain of – the orphans and widows in our communities.

Although this doesn’t apply directly to Pesach, I’d like to bring it up as an example. A widow called me shortly after Sukkos of last year deeply pained. Her 6-year-old son had insisted on going to the men’s side during hakafos as he didn’t want to remain in the women’s section and be ‘different’ than his friends. Hesitantly, his mother sent him down and watched from the balcony to see what would happen. What she saw broke her heart. Her son, shy by nature, stood at the outside of the circle trying to break in. He nearly got trampled, so he backed off and watched close-by. Hundreds of men, his uncles included, passed him by, some nodding their heads in his direction. Nobody thought to stretch out their hands, invite him to join the circle, or perhaps even put him on their shoulders.

Sure, we can be dan l’kaf z’chus (judge favorably) but for the purpose of kabbala al ha’osid (future improvement), can we open our eyes, try to find children who may need a boost and give it to them. A smile costs nothing but gives so much. So does a pat on the back. An outstretched arm. A two-minute conversation.

R’ Horowitz, I hope you don’t mind, but there’s one more story I’ve got to add.

A married man recently told me that when he was orphaned as a young teen (at age 14). He tried to put on a ‘macho man’ demeanor but of course, he was deeply pained. He was a bright boy, a strong learner and very popular. At age 16, he went to learn in an ‘out-of-town’ yeshiva and had a terrific z’man. When he came home for Pesach, he tried to share with his mother all about how wonderfully his learning had been. All of it fell flat. His mother didn’t get the lingo and was busy with the cooking. He told me that at that moment he felt like committing suicide. He said he felt like the entire good feeling of the z’man had been destroyed in his mind, as he had nobody with whom to share his success.

I beg all of you: Please look around and try to be in tune to the needs of others – especially the orphans and children who are living in single-parent households. We can never bring back their parent but we could offer them some time and some love.

Sarah R. Kohn
Editor, Links Magazine

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

It is a time-honored tradition to begin our Pesach Seder by inviting guests to join us at our tables. Much ink has been spilled and many beautiful Torah thoughts offered to explain why we express this invitation when we are already assembled at our Seder table as opposed to, say, in shul, where we would actually be inviting guests to come home with us.

I would like to suggest that we mention this open invitation to needy people in the very first words of our Pesach Seder to support the notion that this nedivus halev (generosity of spirit) is really the essence and the core message of the Pesach Yom Tov. Sure, there are many mitzvos associated with Pesach. But our ‘take-away’ from the reliving of our exodus from Egypt is to reach out to those less fortunate among us. Freedom has its responsibilities – along with the comfort and security that comes along with being a free people. (Please review this dvar Torah for an insight into the Torah’s admonition to us to treat converts kindly.)

Especially during the Yom Tov season, there are so many opportunities to display this generosity of spirit all around us. All you need to do is to open your hearts and minds to ‘walk a mile’ in the shoes of others for whom Yom Tov brings heartache along with the simchas ha’chag.

Just think for a moment of what it is like to be a single adult sitting at a Seder table listening to his/her nephews and nieces singing the mah nishtana and reciting their Torah thoughts. Please don’t ask them why they are ‘picky’ or offer unsolicited advice. Just provide your friendship and support. Perhaps consider suggesting a shidduch for him/her or hosting a Yom Tov meal for singles in your community where young men and women can meet and perhaps find their life-partner.

– Just think for a moment of what it is like for the children of your spiritual, amazing ba’alei teshuva friends who, like Ruth, gave up the comfort of their families to embrace an Orthodox lifestyle, watch their classmates play with their cousins in shul on Yom Tov. Perhaps consider inviting a ba’al teshuva family over for Yom Tov meal or two and provide friendship and a sense of belonging to them – and their children.
– Just think for a moment of what it is like to be an ‘at-risk teen’ returning to his/her home for Yom Tov. He/she may look brave and his/her counterculture trappings may strike you as an ‘in-your-face’ repudiation of our communities value system. Trust me, please, when I tell you that they are just nice kids trying to sort things out for themselves and deal with their challenges. A ‘cute’ barb from you may be the final straw that informs them that they are unwelcome in our community, while a kind word may be letting them know that they are valued – and wanted. Don’t ask the kids “Which yeshiva they attend?” (They may have just been expelled from school or in a work setting). Just ask them a more generic “How are things going”, or ‘What are you doing’. Take a genuine interest, please. If they say they are going to college, ask them what courses they are taking, etc. And please try using these words when you see a rebellious-looking kid in the back of shul that hasn’t come in a while, “It is so nice to see you.” Or “It’s such a pleasure to have you in shul.” And please make sure that your tone is warm and accepting.
– Just think for a moment of what it is like to be the parent of such a child in our close-knit, ‘fishbowl’ communities. Imagine how difficult it is for the father of an at-risk kid to do the right thing and walk with his child to shul – perhaps even coming much later than usual to tefilah in order to wait for his son to wake up. My home phone rings off the hook in these days before Yom Tov as parents of at-risk kids call for advice on how to navigate the minefield of raw human emotions when their children come home for chagim. Please, please be good friends and good community members.
– Just think for a moment of what it is like not to be able to afford nice Chol Hamoed trips for your children. Perhaps consider going to the home of your child’s rebbi or morah who dedicated their lives to chinuch in the next few days. Write them a personal card thanking them for all they do for your children, and if you can afford it, give them a substantial financial gift and tell them to treat their children to a special chol hamoed trip that they otherwise would be unable to afford.

It is this type of generosity of spirit that will bring the long-awaited redemption and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash where we will once again partake in the bringing of the Pesach offerings.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Ba’alei Teshuva Parents – FFB Kids (Part II)

Last week (click here), we left off discussing the distinctions between a mitzvah, minhag, chumrah, and something that is none of those three categories, but rather a cultural practice.

We gave some examples:

* Putting on tefilin every day is a daily mitzvah (a mandated commandment) incumbent upon all Jewish males above the age of thirteen.
* Wearing long(er) peyos is a minhag (custom).
* Not using an eiruv that has been approved by the vast majority of your city’s rabbonim is a chumrah (stringency) that many accept upon themselves.
* Wearing a black fedora is a cultural practice prevalent in some communities.

It is of utmost importance that you fully understand the difference between these categories of Jewish practice – in your personal life and especially as you guide your children. It may be helpful to think of these categories as spiritual “needs and wants.” Mitzvos are mandatory practices. Chumros need not be observed, especially when one is first beginning Torah observance.

If any of you needed convincing that the lines between mitzvah, minhag, and chumrah often get blurred, kindly read the first post to the previous column (click here), where a reader took me to task for misrepresenting a mitzvah as a chumrah. (As with so many other issues, these are not “ba’al teshuva issues,” these are issues we all face – that are compounded by the fact that many ba’alei teshuva find them all the more challenging.)

As we noted last week, the complexity of these issues only underscores the need to find and maintain contact with a Rov who understands you well and can guide your family with wisdom. (Click here for an article about seeking rabbinic advice.)

Maintain Ties With Your Family

I think it is very important for the stability of your family life and your level of personal menuchas hanefesh (tranquility) to maintain ties with your non-observant parents and in-laws. I am well aware that there are those who advise ba’alei teshuvah parents to sever their ties with non-observant family members for fear of confusing your children with the non-observance of extended family members. However, I think that this thinking is fundamentally flawed in theory and practice.

In theory, what kind of message does it send when you walk away from your parents and siblings once you begin Torah observance? Shouldn’t the Torah teach you an enhanced level of respect for your family members?

In practice, as it relates to your children, I think that severing relationships with your family robs your children unnecessarily of the unconditional love that grandparents have to offer. It will be difficult enough for them to watch their FFB-family friends celebrate their simchos with large extended family members. Why compound the pain by having them feel that they are rootless?

I would like to mention a final point on this subject – one that may not be evident at first glance. When you exhibit tolerance for family members, you are making a profound statement – that family bonds run deep and they override any differences that you may have with each other. Over the years, this unspoken lesson will serve your children well and enhance the respect that they will have for you. For you never know how things will turn out with your children. What if one of them decides to take a different path in life than the one you charted for him or her? If you send clear and consistent messages over the years that ‘family matters,’ that child will, in all likelihood, remain close to your family members. However, if you decided that spiritual matters are grounds for severing ties with parents and siblings, how do you know that this logic will not be used against you in a different context one or two decades down the road?

To be sure, there are many challenges that you will face regarding kashrus (kosher food requirements), tzniyus (modesty), and other matters. But they are very manageable provided that an atmosphere of mutual respect is created and nurtured. Over the years, I have attended hundreds of lifecycle events of ba’alei teshuvah where their non-observant family members were active and respected participants.

Find a Community and Schools for Your Children that are Tolerant and Understanding

It is of utmost importance that you find a community that will accept you with welcoming arms. That means one where you will not cringe with what-will-the-neighbors-think when your non-observant brother comes to visit. If you do feel that way in your community, you may not be in the right one.

As far as selecting schools is concerned, there too, see to it that the school’s educational philosophy is in general sync with yours. Often, I get calls from parents who are put off by certain policies (dress codes, media exposure regulations, etc) that their children’s schools maintain or the culture of the institution (What will the rebbi say about Thanksgiving, and does it match what you feel regarding that subject). And equally often, these guidelines were in place when the parents enrolled their children in the first place. One cannot blame a school for enforcing their stated policies.

Generally speaking, I think that ba’alei teshuvah parents should not enroll their children in Yiddish-teaching yeshivos. I am aware of the cultural reasons that people are inclined to do so, but in the case of ba’a’lei teshuvah, I think that this is simply bad practice – unless you are fluent in Yiddish yourself. It will be difficult enough to do Judaic studies homework with your children as they grow older without compounding matters by adding language barriers that will virtually guarantee that you will not understand what your child is learning, let alone be in a position to help him or her.

To sum up, when raising your FFB children, as with all other areas of life, follow the timeless advice of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and stay on ‘the golden path’ of moderation.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Ba’alei Teshuva Parents – FFB Kids (Part I)

The following post is from Rabbi Horowitz’s Chicago Community Kollel Interactive Parenting Column. Rabbi Horowitz recently updated his website, which contains a wealth of material on parenting and other issues facing us.

Rabbi Horowitz,

What is your advice for ba’alei teshuva who are raising frum-from-birth children in terms of making sure that the children are well integrated, healthy and normal frum Jews? As ba’alei teshuva sometimes it is easy to be very strict because of insecurities from our own upbringing and lack of family minhagim. If you can give a few pointers that will obviously need to be explored with our own rabbeim to tailor make it to our own families, it would be helpful.

Thank you!

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Your excellent question practically answers itself, and leads me to believe that you already have a deep understanding of the opportunities – and challenges – that you face in raising your FFB children. You hit the nail on the head when you noted that you wanted to raise “well integrated, healthy and normal frum Jews.” For that balance is exactly what you ought to be striving to achieve.

If you are a regular reader of these lines, you may know where my suggestions will start – with you and your spouse. One of my mantras is that most of the issues that we face when raising our children are reflections of our own struggles. I maintain that in order to raise “well integrated, healthy and normal frum Jewish children,” you need to start with “well integrated, healthy and normal frum Jewish adult parents.” That means that you adhere to the timeless advice of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and remain on the ‘golden path’ of moderation. After all, if you don’t want your children to be raised in a “very strict [environment] because of [their parents’] insecurities,” the best way to achieve that goal is not to be “very strict [in your personal lives] due to your own insecurities.”

Here are some practical tips:

Grow Slowly

Many meforshim (commentaries) suggest that the dream of our patriarch Yaakov (see Bereshis 28:12) where he envisioned angels climbing up and down a ladder is a profound analogy to our spiritual pursuits. The Torah describes how the legs of the ladder were placed on the ground while its top reached the very heavens. I think that the correlation is an insightful one for everyone – but is all the more relevant for ba’alei teshuvah. We ought to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground – all the while reaching for profound spiritual heights.

I would like to suggest that the reason that the image of a ladder was used in the dream (as opposed to, say, a road leading to heaven) is that you simply cannot run up a ladder.

So, too, spiritual growth needs to be a sustained and steady process (Click here for a dvar Torah on this subject). Which leads me to …

Find a Rav Who Truly Understands Ba’alei Teshuvah Issues

Not all rabbanim have a deep understanding of the complex mix of halachic and social issues where ba’alei teshuva need individualized direction. Finding a Rav who understands them – and you – will provide your family with an invaluable resource. Similarly, it may be helpful for you to find a ba’al teshuvah couple ten years or so older than you who can mentor you as your family passes mileposts and lifecycle events, such as enrolling children in school, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, high school placements, shidduchim, etc.

Be Yourself

I strongly encourage you to read and re-read a terrific article by my dear chaver Rabbi Bentzion Kokis s’hlita (Click here). Rabbi Kokis is an outstanding talmid chacham and his advice is equally outstanding. If I may sum up his thoughts, it is to refrain from jettisoning your personality, hobbies, interests, education, career – and sense of humor – as you embrace Torah and mitzvos.

Ba’alei teshuva may be concerned that they are poor role models for their children since they are observing their less-than-perfect Torah and mitzvah observance. I think not. You are setting a wonderful example for your children by seeking to grow spiritually throughout your lives. (Click here for a stunning Torah thought by Rabbi Shimon Schwab on this subject.)

Distinguish Between Mitzvah, Minhag, Chumrah, and Culture

In your question, you noted that, “sometimes it is easy to be very strict because of insecurities from our own upbringing and lack of family minhagim.”

Well, in order to gain a better understanding of when to be firm and when to be flexible, you must distinguish between a mitzvah, minhag, chumrah, and something that is none of the three categories, but is rather a cultural practice.

  • Putting on tefilin every day is a daily mitzvah (a mandated commandment) incumbent upon all Jewish males above the age of thirteen.
  • Refraining from dipping matzoh in liquids on Pesach (commonly referred to as “gebrokts”) is a minhag (a custom – one only observed in some communities).
  • Not using an eiruv that has been approved by the vast majority of your city’s rabbonim is a chumrah (stringency) that many accept upon themselves.
  • Wearing a black fedora is a cultural practice prevalent in some communities.

It is of utmost importance that you fully understand the difference between these categories of Jewish practice – in your personal life and as you guide your children.

More on this – and other practical tips – next week.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Two notes to readers:

1) I strongly recommend the BEYOND BT website for ba’alei teshuva men and women. I serve as one of the rabbinic advisors of the website, and it has provided advice, camaraderie, and spiritual guidance for ba’alei teshuva around the world over the past twelve months.

2) In 2001, I wrote an article in The Jewish Observer on the subject of “Lifecycle Support for Ba’alei Teshuva Families” (Click here for link).

3) I also posted an article “Of Eagles and Turkey” on the Beyond BT website one year ago Click here for link) on the important subject of conformity to communal pressure.

I hope that you find these helpful.


Do You Exist? – Please Take the Time to Vote on Election Day

“If we don’t vote, we don’t exist.” Those words, spoken with passion and conviction by my dear chaver Rabbi Yechiel Kalish, stopped me in my tracks during an enjoyable dinner that we were sharing recently.

Rabbi Kalish ought to know. He serves as Coordinator for Agudath Israel of America’s Commission on Government Affairs and as their Midwest Director. He is charming, engaging, and extraordinarily knowledgeable in the ‘ways and means’ of how government operates.

Rabbi Kalish and many other dedicated officers in Jewish communal organizations represent you in governmental matters that are important to your life. Securing financial support for mosdos Hatorah. Getting government grants for chesed organizations. Lowering your taxes. Protecting your rights in the workplace. Equally important are the initiatives that the leadership of Agudath Israel and other Jewish organizations are working tirelessly to actualize. School vouchers. Tax credits for yeshiva tuition payments. Financial aid for parents of learning disabled or handicapped children.
Read more Do You Exist? – Please Take the Time to Vote on Election Day

“Please Take a Child to Shul” this Simchas Torah

This week’s dvar Torah is dedicated to the heroic single mothers and fathers who are rising above their challenges and doing their very best to raise their children under trying circumstances.

Countless times in the past ten years since Project Y.E.S. was founded, I have been approached by single parents, usually mothers, asking me to assist them in finding a caring, responsible adult to take their child, usually their son(s), to shul on Shabbos and/or Yom Tov.

Talk about, “Water, water everywhere, but nothing to drink.” Lost in the anonymity of big-city life, many of the children of our single-parent neighbors and friends are struggling with this dilemma. So, as we approach the child-centered holiday of Simchas Torah, please, please, look around your neighborhood and community and see if you can help see to it that ALL our children experience true simchas Yom Tov in the welcoming embrace of our communities.

Over the next weeks and months, Project Y.E.S. will be launching a “Take a Child to Shul” campaign. We will be publishing posters for dissemination in shuls and taking out ads in newspapers with the “Take a Child to Shul” theme.

I would greatly appreciate your assistance with this project. If you would like to lend a hand with the dissemination of the posters, if you can donate your creative talent to create appropriate, sensitively-worded ads and posters for this project, or if you have any ideas to help reach our noble goal of seeing to it every single Jewish child can attend Shabbos and Yom Tov davening with dignity, please email me at .

In the zechus of helping Hashem’s children, may He give us the bracha of endless nachas from our own children and grandchildren.

Best wishes for a Gutten Yom Tov.

Yakov Horowitz
A Torah Thought for Teens – Simchas Torah/Parshas V’Zos HaBracha

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz


The reading of V’zos Habracha on Simchas Torah marks the completion of the one-year cycle of the weekly Torah parshiyos (portions). We mark this event with great fanfare and celebration each year as we dance with the Torah, complete the parsha of V’zos Habracha, and immediately begin reading from the opening words of the Torah in Sefer Bereshis. This demonstrates that a Jew never ‘finishes’ learning the Torah. Rather, we mark the completion of another lap in our never-ending cyclical journey to the mastery of the Torah’s eternal lessons.

One of the questions that come to mind is why we celebrate Simchas Torah at end of Succos, when a more logical time would seem to be during the Yom Tov of Shavuos. After all, wouldn’t the appropriate time to celebrate with the Torah be at the time when the Jews actually received it at Mount Sinai in the month of Sivan? Why wait four months to celebrate?

A Parable
Rabbi Yakov Kranz, better known as the Dubno Magid, once offered an interesting mashul (parable) to explain the reason for the delay in celebrating our acceptance of the Torah. (A Magid was one who traveled from town to town delivering stirring lectures. These talks usually included quite a few parables, which were used to illustrate a point or simply to generate interest.)

He related the story of a king who sheltered his only daughter during her formative years in order to protect her from danger. When it came time for her to find a life-partner, however, most people knew precious little about her personality, character and talents –due to the fact that she was so secluded from public view. In fact, several potential suitors were unnerved by the conditions of her upbringing and did not ask for her hand in marriage. One bright and gifted young man, however was undaunted by this factor. He approached the king and asked to marry his daughter – without ever laying eyes on her. He informed the king that he wished to become part of the royal family and would be proud to marry his daughter. The king recognized the sterling qualities in the suitor and after his daughter met with and was eager to marry this young man, the king readily gave his blessing to the match. They were soon thereafter married in the palace of the king.

A Wonderful Surprise
During the first few months of marriage, the groom became more and more impressed with the qualities and talents of his wife that he was unaware of at the time of their marriage. It seemed to him that each day he would discover a new facet of her life that he was not privy to before.

He was so pleased with his evolving discovery of the incredibly talented woman that he had the fortune to marry, that he decided to do something unusual. He re-invited all of his wedding guests back to the palace for a second celebration. In his invitation, he noted that during the wedding, he was celebrating marrying his wife and having the privilege of becoming a son-in-law of the king. Now he will be celebrating his good fortune to have married such an outstanding woman.

So too, explains the Dubno Magid in the instance of the Jews and the Torah. We accepted the Torah sight unseen – when we said “na’aseh v’nishmah.” During Shavuos we celebrated becoming Hashem’s Chosen People. We then spent several months in the desert developing an appreciation for the beauty of the Torah and the wisdom of its eternal lessons. Having done so, we reconvene and offer a second celebration – Simchas Torah – once we realize what a precious gift we were given.

Best wishes for a Gutten Yom Tov.