Hishtadlus and Parshas HaMon

We are taught that although Hashem runs the world we have to do our Hishtadlus (our own efforts). What that is in any situation differs for each person and is dependent on a person’s bitachon (trust) and his or her personality type. It’s hard to get the hishtadlus factor exactly right, no too much and not too little. The key for us believing Jews is to remember that even after our hishtadlus, everything is in Hashem’s hands. This is something we have to continually work on to internalize.

The halachic works suggest that we read Parshas HaMon everyday to internalize this message. (Tur 1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:5; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9). The Mishna Berurah says “And the parsha of the Manna is such that he will believe that all his livelihood comes through special Divine direction (hashgacha pratis)”.

From my observations, most people are lucky to get through all the davening, let alone recite extras, like Parshas HaMon. However, it just so happens that Rebbe Mendel of Riminov said that saying Parshas HaMon on Tuesday of Parshas B’Shalach is a Segulah for Parnossa. And guest what – this Tuesday is that Tuesday.

Here’s a link to the Art Scroll Interlinear translation of Parshas HaMon.

The Dyslexia of Teshuvah

How could men as great as the tribes of Israel have committed the crime of selling a brother into slavery?
Why was it Yehudah who took the lead in saving Binyomin?
Why does Yehudah begin his soliloquy with the word “bi= please”; instead of the standard word for please “na“?

Yehudah walked up to Yoseph and said בי אדני“Please, your highness, (alternatively; it is within me, my Master) please let me say something to you personally…”

— Bereishis 44:18

“Send the boy with me” said Yehudah to his father Yisrael …”I will be responsible for him myself.  You can demand him from my hand. If I do not bring him back and have him stand here in your presence I will have sinned to you for all time.”

— Bereishis 43:8,9

I will have sinned against you for all time: For the world to come.  [from Bereishis Rabbah 91:10, in other words Yehudah staked his share in the world to come on Binyamin’s safe return to Yaakov]

— Rashi ibid

When the Most High allocated nations their birthright and split up the sons of man, He set up the borders of nations to correspond to Israel’s descendants.

— Devarim 32:8

Yehudah said to his brothers “what gain is there in killing our brother [Yoseph] … let’s sell him to the Arabs … “

— Bereishis 37:26,27

 If one person kidnaps and sells another and [the victim] is seen in his hand then [the kidnapper] shall be put to death

— Shemos 21:16

… Rabi Yochanan said in the name of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai: Dovid was not the kind of man to do such an act [the sin with Bas-Sheva] nor was Israel the kind of nation to do such an act that act [the sin of the golden calf] … Why, then, did they commit these acts? [G-d predestined it so] in order to teach us that if an individual sinned [and hesitates about the possibility and efficacy of repentance] he could be referred to the individual [Dovid], and if a community commits a sin they should be told: Go to the community [the generation of the Exodus] … This accords with the following saying of Rabi Shmuel bar Nachmani, who said in the name of Rabi Yonoson: What is the meaning of the verse “So said Dovid the son of Yishai, and so said  the man raised on high”? [It means this:] “So said Dovid the son of Yishai, the man who elevated the yoke of repentance.”

— Avodah Zarah 4B-5A

“Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says HaShem of the legions. But you say: “How can we return?!”

— Malachi 3:7

Parashas Vayigash begins with Yehudah’s soliloquy in his dramatic and historic encounter with Yoseph. The encounter was dramatic because Yehudah was “all-in”; he was risking everything; both his freedom during the balance of his temporal life as well as his eternity. It was historic because, as it culminated in Yoseph’s revelation to, and rapprochement with, the rest of his brothers, it meant that the rip in the fabric of Bnei Yisrael-the children of Israel; had been repaired and made whole again.

The cosmic significance of the shivtei Kah-the branches/ tribes of G-d; cannot be overestimated. As we see clearly from the passuk that states that all of humanity’s borders and birthrights were merely intended to correspond to Israel’s descendants,  the shivtei Kah were kivyachol-so to speak; G-d’s objective in Creation. So while human nature is to forget the unpleasant details in “alls-well-that-ends-well” narratives, it is still extremely troubling to consider that the first chapter of this story began with what was apparently a heinous crime; a sin that is covered by the commandment of “Thou shall not steal” in the Decalogue and that is a capital offense. How could the shivtei Kah the — founders of our holy nation — still be venerated as holy, exalted souls after committing such a cardinal sin?

Rav Leibeleh Eiger approaches this nettlesome question using the precedent set by the Gemara-Talmud; in Masechaes Avodah Zarah.  At times when we see the righteous acting sinfully — completely out of character, we understand that the point of their behavior was not the kilkul-spiritual ruination; of the sin but the tikun-metaphysical repair; brought about by their teshuvah-repentance; for that sin. The powerful teshuvah that these spiritual giants accomplished serve as templates — how-to guides — and provide inspiration for latter-day sinners who would love nothing more than to do teshuvah themselves but find the task too complex, daunting or discouraging.

Rav Leibeleh asserts that Yehudah is the father of sinning for the sake of instructing others on the fine points of teshuvah. Yehudah took a leading role in the sale of Yoseph into slavery i.e. the sin; so that he, among all of the brothers, would be the one to blaze the trail for the teshuvah / tikun for that odious crime as well. The entire point of the episode was to open a new avenue for teshuvah and a closer reading of his astonishing encounter with Yoseph yields a valuable lesson in the dynamics of teshuvah.

After approaching Yoseph for their historic encounter the very first words that Yehudah uttered were בי אדניbi adoni. Translated in a hyper-literal way these words mean “it is within me my Master.” The roshei teivos-first letters of the words; in this phrase are beis and aleph; an inverted sequence of the first two letters of the aleph-beis-alphabet and therein lies an allusion to the teshuvah dynamic.

Read more The Dyslexia of Teshuvah

Can a BT Earn the Right to Coast?


I’m frum for about 16 years and I have a close friend who’s been frum for about the same amount of time. We’re both married with families. My friend worked very hard on his Yiddishkeit for many years, but in the last 2 years he has noticeably declined in devotion to his learning and his seriousness about davening. I asked him about it and he told me that after all the years of applying pressure on himself to advance further he decided that he had made enough progress and he thinks Hashem will be happy with him because of the struggles he’s endured to become frum and raise a frum family.

Is it possible that his assessment is not so crazy and he’s earned his right to coast?

If he’s making a mistake how can inspire him to return to the path he was formerly on? The for-the-kids argument didn’t work because he argued that they’ll do fine because his wife does a great job with them.


From the Comments

This post could have been written by me as well.

For the past two years, after 15 years of observance, I feel less connected with my daily practices than before and have been frankly-coasting. Not with belief and not with ahavas Yisrael or most day-to-day observance, G-d forbid, but with the entire lifestyle. I don’t feel compelled to learn or to run to shul 3 times a day anymore. I feel I have bought into a bill of goods that really no longer moves me spiritually as it once did nor do I find it particually appealing. And the Rabbinic answer always seems to be more more and even more perfunctory observance. This absolutely manifests itself with Sleichot in my opinion (which I find detrimental to my attempt to do t’shuva) and the inability of leadership to address people like me on an intellectually honest level. And I find most of the outreach programs intellectually dishonest.

I can trace this to the general complacency in shul as a whole (so its not just me); my observation that Judaism is being measured by hat size not by spirit size; the pull away from the middle that every single American Jewish community is experiencing; and last but not least, the inability to come to grips with the financial strain tuition and kehilla have placed on me. Frankly, I am a little sorry I went down this road – not that I would turn back – but I got much more than I bargained for when I had no kids.

I am not an indulgent person, I just wanted Shabbat and shul in my life many years ago and to level the playing field for my children to marry Jews. I seem to have gotten a lot more baggage than that.


Dealing With Children and Non-Observant Parents

A home hitting post and extensive comments from 2007 – Good prep for Thanksgiving.

Here are some highlights from the comment thread:

– Almost every BT has to resolve conflicts with their parents, it is a normal process.

– Obviously every parent and every situation is different, but it does need to be pointed out.

– There is an emotional factor of rejection that the parent often feels when the BT chooses a (radically) different lifestyle.

– There is also an implicit (and sometimes explicit) statement that what I’m doing is right and what you’re doing is wrong.

– One general approach is to be as accommodating and accepting as possible and over the long term expose the relatives to the depth and beauty of Torah.

– Another approach is to encourage mitzvos observance (positive and negative) whenever possible in a reasonable manner.

– We generally should set the rules in on our own houses, but we should consider which rules to set and how to gently enforce them.

– When our children are negatively effected by non-Torah behaviors we have to weigh that factor in heavily.

– We need to internalize the truth that our non observant relatives are good people and impart that understanding to our children. Non-observance is generally due to a lack of knowledge in our generation.

– BT conflicts with parents can be shalom bayis issues and a Rav should be consulted.

By “Nancy”

I have been lurking around on beyond bt for a little while, and am amazed by the amount of information and support that is provided. I am having an issue right now, and would like some advice from someone who has been doing this longer than I.

My parents and sister came to visit us from out of town. Right now, my father, mother, sister and young children are sitting around the dining room table enjoying dinner. (it is the 17th of tammuz) I am sitting on the couch, starving and trying to find some meaning. This situation just feels so wrong. I cannot explain why. I am not angry at my family for eating, growing up I did not know this fast day even existed, why would I expect them to fast?

I feel angry trying to explain to my 5 year old why mommy and daddy are not eating and everyone else is. It is easy to tell him he is a child, so he can eat… It was even easy to explain that when mommy was really sick on other fast days, I ate. But how can I explain why 3 healthy adults are sitting around enjoying their dinner? Why will my kids chose to fast when they are old enough, when they see that people they love and respect do not? Should I have forbidden people to eat in my house? Am I freaking out over nothing? Any advice would be appreciated.

Pesach Advice From Experienced Jewish Homemakers.

Rivka Slatin has a nice site called Jewish-Life-Organized.com, which lots of tips and techniques to organize the Jewish home. She was kind enough to let us post anything from her site that would be useful for the Beyond BT community.

Pesach advice as told to me by experienced Jewish homemakers.
Pesach advice collected. Being the researcher that I am, I am constantly interviewing homemakers who are very experienced, running a home for over 30 years. Here is some pesach advice that I want to share with you. See what can work for you in your own home.

My own Pesach Tip!!!-I don’t make a cent off of this recommendation. There is a product that removes the cold hard grease from any surface. I just cleaned my refrigerator and the gunk underneath is with a few sprays! It is really really important that you get this product if you want to clean easily. The only downside is that it is not a natural product so you’ll want to wear gloves and not inhale. I think it is from Israel. This company also makes the Magic Sponge and the two products when used together are pretty powerful degreasers.

* I think about Pesach all year round. Otherwise it becomes impossible. No food is allowed upstairs or downstairs EVER! If chametz is all over the house, pesach becomes much harder.

* After Purim I start cleaning the dining room. Empty out the buffet, wash everything. I put a sign on it and only return things that are clean.

* I work my way up the cabinets in the kitchen, consolidating everything on the top shelves. That way, by the time my grandkids can help me bring stuff upstairs, I have empty space for Pesach dishes. My bottom cabinets end up Pesachdik.

* My kitchen is Pesachdik 2 Shabbosim before Pesach. I use a bunson burner if I want to cook anything with Chametz.

* If you want to Spring clean, fine. We all do. But have it done before Purim. Or wait until Pesach is over.

* I kasher my silver and use it all year-round.

* I save my cabinet liners year to year, cut them to size, and write on the back which shelf it corresponds to.

* I don’t bake after Purim and I start minimizing the chametz in my pantry. The chametz mamash goes in a box in the hallway. I keep cans in my pantry and just tape it up over Pesach.

* I pull one all-nighter and by the morning of bedikas chametz my house is completely ready for Pesach.

* There are 4 weeks between Purim and Pesach, I spend the 1st week on bedrooms, (after which no one brings food upstairs), the 2nd week on the downstairs, and the 3rd week for the kitchen. Having defined goals keeps me focused.

* I spend one whole day planning my Pesach meals. I choose foods that I know will serve many people. I tear apart my recipes and make sure EVERYTHING is on the list. It takes a whole day. After that, I spend one whole day going shopping.

* I have two freezers. During the year, I keep one chametz free.


* It’s all about attitude! I feel that my home is a miniature Bais Hamikdash and I am like the Kohen Gadol. I keep this in mind all year long but when it comes to Pesach, the feeling is even stronger. For me, cleaning for Pesach is a spiritual cleansing.

* I start around Chanukah time…no food is allowed anywhere besides kitchen and dining room.

* I work in 20 minute intervals, one task per day. So if I have the time, I just pull out a drawer and clean it.

* I don’t clean one room at a time. That’s too hard. I break it down into tiny tasks to complete daily.

* After Purim I start on the kitchen. I clean out my pantry, take out real chametz and put it in boxes. I leave the boxes in the corner of my dining room. It never goes back in the closet. Slowly I work on the kitchen, one shelf and one cabinet at a time. Once a cabinet is done, I am very careful about putting my dishes back in there. Before I put the dishes away, I make sure they aren’t put on a chametz counter.

* Cleaning the oven takes one whole day. So does the fridge and the stove! If you think a task takes 2 hours, give it 4! You can’t do it all in a day.

* I try to have everything Pesachdik 4 days before. We will have our kitchen Pesachdik before Shabbos HaGadol this year. That means our Shabbos food will be Pesachdik. We will eat in the dining room on plastic. After shabbos, the tablecloth is literally thrown out the door. The Dining room is my last room to turn over.

* Making Pesach is a Family project. It is not only the mother’s job. I divide up chores according to what each person does best. Kids are responsible for doing their own rooms. Make it fun!

* Around Purim time, I make lists of everything that needs to done in each room. I clean one room each Sunday.

* My home is usually changed over Sunday night. Shabbos we eat in the kitchen. Motzai Shabbos I do the oven, stove, and sink. Sunday, I reline the pantry, put chametz downstairs and put out the Pesach food. Sunday night the Pesach dishes are brought upstairs. This is the one night a year that we go out to dinner.

* I reserve one day for cooking fleshigs and one for cooking milchigs. My kids do the baking.

* I spend Erev Yom Tov preparing the Seder plate.

* My shopping is done 2-3 weeks before pesach. I store the Pesach food in my second fridge. For someone without one, leave the food in boxes and buy the perishables later. I buy kosher for pesach brands all year round. I always ask myself-DO I REALLY NEED THIS, IT’S ONLY 8 DAYS!!!!!!??!!!!!!!!!

* I keep an active Pesach folder all year round with recipes, inventories, & lists.

Originally Posted June 2007

Keys to BT Success from a Shabbos in Monsey

I had the pleasure of spending some time this Shabbos with two Beyond BT contributors. Rabbi Label Lam was my host and he davens on Shabbos morning at a Shtiebel where he and Yaakov Astor alternate giving the weekly Shabbos drasha. Yaakov’s drasha this week included recounting some fascinating Torah lessons he taught on his recent trip as a tour guide through Poland.

The area of Monsey that they live in observes a high level of halachic stringency, which can presents challenges for a BT. Yet, both Yaakov and Rabbi Lam have thrived there. I think there are three factors which contribute to their success.

The first factor is that they have accepted the norms of the community. It’s easy to find fault in any community, and our ego makes it easy to fall into that trap. However, publicly following the norms shows respect for the residents, which makes a lot of sense if you want to live and grow there. Most communities allow for some room for deviations from the norm in the privacy of your home.

The second is that they connect with their neighbors. Connecting to others is a major determinant of happiness and success. The demographics in Monsey have become increasingly Chassidish due to a large migration of Yeshivish families to Lakewood. Although neither Yaakov nor Rabbi Lam are Chassidish, they do connect with the commonalities they have with their neighbors. They pray together in the same Shuls, they learn Torah, and they are focused on connecting to Hashem. These are major commonalities and a strong basis for friendship and connection.

Thirdly, they are continually growing in Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chassadim. This is perhaps the most important factor. In my many years as an observer of BTs, continued growth in these three area is the number one determinant for success – by far.

These keys to BT Success are in fact universal and are highly recommended, wherever you may reside.

What I Would Tell Every New BT

1. Listen to the wise advice of Pirkei Avos. Make yourself a rabbi and acquire yourself a friend. It’s essential to have a reachable rabbi who has a good brain, a good heart, a sense of humor and lots of practical good sense. It’s also important to have an understanding and patient friend whom you can cry on, vent on and kvetch on.

2. Don’t be like the guy who’s always changing the hands on his wristwatch whenever he spots a different time on someone else’s. Maybe, just maybe, the other guy is wrong! And that’s even if the other guy is an FFB going back to the Vilna Gaon. That’s why you need the reachable rabbi and the patient friend mentioned in #1.

3. Having too much money will never be a problem again.

4. Having too much leisure time will also never be a problem again.

5. Angels are perfect. Human beings, even if they wear black hats or sheitels, are not.

6. It is the most wonderful experience in the world to be a grandparent to frum from birth grandchildren. Unfortunately, you first have to pass through a stage known as Being a Parent. Being a parent to frum children is a three-way race to see what you lose first: all your sanity, all your money, or all your hair.

7. Parts of New York are their own planet.

8. Do one tremendous awesome Yom Kippur to atone for all of those sins in your previous non-frum existence. From then on, take it one year at a time.

9. Learn to read Hebrew. You don’t need to actually speak it, unless you’re planning on moving to Israel. You do, however, need to learn frummisher sprach (all of those Yiddish-Yinglish-whatever slangy expressions which are sprinkled through FFB speech). “Our b’chor won Chosson Bereishis on Simchas Torah at his Yeshiva Gedola by pledging to learn two thousand blatt.” “Bli ayin harah, my machatenesta is in remission from yenem’s machalah.” “The rav’s aynekel’s bris was on Shabbos Chol Hamoed, so they invited the entire kehillah to a fleishige seudah in the shul sukkah.” English, of course, right? But would anyone not part of our culture understand what you were trying to say?

10. Reach out beyond your reachable rabbi and your patient friend to a support group, like the people right here at Beyond BT dot com.

11. Distinguish between those family members who are supportive and those who are toxic. Spend quality time with those who are supportive and caring. Send Rosh Hashanah cards once a year to those who are not.

12. Gehinnom was created on Erev Shabbos. That’s why Fridays are frantic and stress-filled no matter whether sunset is four-thirty or eight-thirty.

13. Bosses are generally more willing to let you leave early on Friday if you work late on Thursday. The problem is, that’s also when you have to shop and cook for Shabbos. So say goodbye to any chance of getting to sleep at a decent hour Thursday nights.

14. If you have two cents the kids’ yeshivos will take it. See Number Three above.

15. Find a spouse who’s in it for the long haul.

16. Pray to G-d a lot.

I’m sure my fellow BT’s out there will have their own tips, strategies and survival secrets to pass along to new BT’s (hopefully without scaring them off). Originally Posted on Jan 19, 2010.

Advancing Achdus Through Easier Fasting Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Away (From it All) … With Murder!

Mishpatim 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

If he (the killer) did not hunt and trap to murder, but Elokim brought about involuntary-manslaughter through him, then I will lay down a space where the killer can flee.

-Shemos 21:13

[HaShem said to Kayin] “You are more cursed than the ground … When you cultivate the soil it will no longer yield its strength to you. You will be restless and isolated in the world.” 

-Bereishis 4:11.12

Kayin responded “Is my sin then too great to forgive?”

 -Ibid 4:13

 Kayin left HaShems presence. He dwelled in the land of Nod (isolation) to the east of Eden.

-Ibid 4:116

We live in an era in which our lives are kinetic and restless.  In every phase of life and during all of our waking hours, we are always on the go. Yet few people really seem to mind. The pan-societal consensus seems to be that whenever a person is on the move, that he is doing so for his own good.

Some people transfer to new universities or yeshivas in middle of their education. Others relocate to advance their careers.  Even the increasingly rare “company man” who stays with one firm throughout his entire career will make frequent business junkets.  The travel industry does not refer to the area between first-class and coach as business-class for nothing.

Most ubiquitous of all is traveling for pleasure. Stay-cations are indicative of a general economic downturn or of one’s own lack of financial success.  The old saying goes that “if you’ve got money … you can travel” and most people who have money — do.  The rule of thumb for achieving greater social status through travel is that the further-flung the destination, the better the vacation.

People advance all kinds of rationalizations to validate their wanderlust.  “Travel is broadening” they will say or they might claim “a change of scenery will do me a world of good.”  Still others associate their homes and offices with stress and tension and, impatient for the afterlife, their vacations as the precursors of the ultimate reward in the world-to-come; “I’ve worked really hard and I deserve some R&R.” Some will even couch their constant flitting about in religious terms.  משנה מקום משנה מזל – “a change of location will result in a change of fortune.” (cp Rosh HaShanah 16B and Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbos 6:9).

But some latter-day nomads dispense with the rationalizations altogether.  They travel lishmah, so to speak. They may not be able to articulate it as eloquently, but they are in general agreement with Robert Louis Stevenson who said “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Perhaps it is modern man’s relentless movement that robs him of the luxury of pausing to ponder; why this is so?  Why is the great affair to move? What is the real subconscious compulsion, the psycho-spiritual dynamic at work, which induces us to travel for travel’s sake?

Rav Tzadok-the Kohen of Lublin provides an eye-opening and astonishing answer to these questions:

Like Kayin, we are wanderers because we are murderers.  This is not to say that we are guilty of the most flagrant and literal forms of homicide.  Stabbing, strangling, shooting or poisoning the victim is not required.  Our prophets and sages taught that there are other sins that, while not causing the permanent irreversible termination of life, are still iterations of murder.

We’re all familiar with the Chazal that equates inflicting public humiliation to the point of blanching, with murder. (Bava Metzia 58B) Chazal coined a term “the three forked tongue” to describe sins of lashon hara–gossipy speech, because these sins kill three people; the speaker, the listener and the subject of the conversation.  (Arachin 15B) The prophet Yeshaya condemned another form of non-homicidal murder when he thundered “You that inflame yourselves among the Terebinth trees, under every leafy tree; that slay the children in the riverbeds, under the clefts of the rocks!” (Yeshaya 57:3 see Niddah 13A)

While those who transgress sins that do not rise to the legal and halachic definition of homicide are not sentenced to utterly abandon their homes and exile themselves to a refuge city or to the camp of the Levi’im they become unsettled, itinerant wanderers all the same.  The Lubliner Kohen goes on to say that, the good news is, when we do begin to lay down roots in a particular place and achieve some tranquility and stability we can rest assured that we have been metaken-ameliorated these homicide-like offenses.

There’s even an intermediate condition during which, while we may be more or less fixed and established in a particular location, we are not really happy about it.  The normal state of affairs is that of חן מקום על יושביו-“every place is charming to its own populace.” (Sotah 47A) If, on the other hand, we do not find anything attractive or satisfying about our homes, neighborhoods, towns or workplaces this is symptomatic of having repaired and been forgiven for the deed that was in some way equivalent to murder but that the antisocial thoughts that motivated us to act as we did, still require tikun-repair and teshuvah-atonement.  While our feet may not be itchy enough to take the first step in a journey of 1000 miles, our minds and spirits remain agitated, distracted and 1,000 miles away.

In his classic work of Hashkafah, Michtav M’Eliyahu (Strive for Truth), Rabbi Eliyahu Lazer Dessler, z”l, views the entire contemporary human condition through the prism of the Lubliner Kohens teaching.  Writing presciently in the mid twentieth century he points out that never before has mankind been so murderous and, not coincidentally, so nomadic and adrift.

Weapons of mass destruction can lay waste to entire cities in a matter of moments.  Gossip is no longer something whispered in dark corners but a multibillion dollar publishing industry.  Slander, inaccuracies and half truths coupled with a breakdown in civil discourse had transformed character-assassination by means of public humiliation into an international sport.  Unparalleled pornography, lasciviousness and loose morals had disseminated the form of murder that the Prophet Yeshaya decried to previously stern and puritanical corners of the earth.

Concurrently, advances in aviation and other technologies made modern man substantially more mobile than his ancestors.  From one end of the earth to the other, millions of people traverse unprecedented distances at previously unimaginable speeds.  And while these travelers may dream that all this running about is advantageous to them or that they’re doing so for pleasure and entertainment (entertainment being synonymous with a deep-seated disquiet, distraction and scattering of the soul-pizur hanefesh) they are, in fact, just living through the curse of Kayin, humanities first murderer. Despite all of the giant leaps forward in technology man has never felt so rootless, anxious and insecure.

Imagine how much sharper Rav Dessler’s critique of modern man and how vindicated his linkage of high-speed, easily accessible travel with WMDs, the venality and universality of gossip and humiliation would be, were he writing today.

Virtue is always its own reward. So we already had ample incentives to avoid doing the many sins that our tradition teaches are equivalent to murder.  But if we needed an ulterior motive the Lubliner Kohen, has provided us with one.  As the Torah is eternal HaShem “lays down a space where the killer can flee” and be free of the curse of Kayin in every generation.  Refraining from lashon hara, publicly humiliating others, withholding wages et al seem a small price to pay to achieve a sense of a rootedness, connectedness and tranquility via entry to the sanctuary surrounded by invisible walls of Torah and teshuvah — the space that HaShem has laid down.

~adapted from Tzidkas HaTzadik 82

and Michtav M’Eliyahu IV:Kavanas haMitzvos; Page 171 

Spiritual Black Ice

I don my trusty backpack for my early morning walk to the supermarket, stocking up for Shabbos cooking and tonight’s dinner before the sun even rises. This is how I start my day, while my husband is davening in morning minyan, while my teenage children catch the last moments of slumber. The calendar says that it is winter, but we’ve hardly had any snow except for that weird storm in October no one expected. Still, it is bitter cold this morning, and I walk slowly, navigating the icy, slippery sidewalks of Highland Park, NJ.

The weatherman warns of black ice, the hidden danger of a pavement that looks dry and safe, but it is really an ice skating rink in disguise. My morning walk is not enjoyable, nor at any pace one could consider it exercise. Having endured two serious sprained ankles and four different foot surgeries in my adult life, I am not eager to take an ill-fated step on black ice and find myself looking up at the sky. I find myself planting each step with care, never looking up from the ground, and for the entire walk, I keep thinking about black ice.

Black ice. Danger that looks harmless. Danger that can catch you by surprise in a moment’s notice, rendering you injured, or at least embarrassed, before you even have a chance to intelligently respond. Black ice, an oxymoron of sorts, as ice is supposed to be clear, crystal, colorless, yet this is not. Black ice, a winter nemesis.

Black ice. My teenage daughter who is learning how to drive is ready to take on the highways, the famous New Jersey mergers, even, be still my heart, drive one of my other children some place they need to go. She’s a good driver. It looks safe. Black ice. Be careful.

Black ice. My other teenage daughter wants to take the bus to Brooklyn to shop. She’s old enough, she says, to travel with her teenage friends into the city, to enjoy shopping with Mommy’s credit card, and without Mommy. It’s time, she says. It would be soooo much fun. She can handle it. But can I? Black ice. Who will be on that bus, in the city, how can I trust?

Black ice. My husband of eighteen years and I are two very busy professionals, and working day and night to care for children and household. We joke that we’ve probably been on five dates in the past five or even ten years. It’s not something we do, and as the children get old enough that we can see their imminent departure from the house, I can’t help but worry. Our marriage is solid, committed; we are kind to one another, always on one another’s team. We need to find our way back to each other again, to set aside the responsibilities that overwhelm us, and to reconnect. Black ice. I don’t want to be one of those women who marries off the last child, looks at her beloved husband, and doesn’t know him anymore.

Black ice. Two close relatives have entered cancer treatment in the last two months. You wouldn’t know it from looking at them. They visit the outpatient clinic every day for their daily radiation treatments. The doctors tell them their prognosis is good for a complete refuah. The radiation should do its job to shrink the tumors, and B’ezras Hashem, they will grow older with no return of the cancer. Except for the daily outing to the cancer treatment center, one wouldn’t even know that inside of their body, a battle rages on. It all looks so normal. Two old people still enjoying their life, and looking forward to the next simcha. Black ice. When will they fall? When will Hashem decide to take them, to allow the tumors to take control, to end a life still very much being lived?

Black ice. The secular family now consists of several secular teenagers. When we get together – infrequently, but it does happen – my teenage daughter is intrigued by the conversations she has with her secular cousins who have boyfriends, and a social life nothing like she’s ever experienced. How harmless are these conversations, as infrequent as they are?

Black ice. It looks like nothing, until in just a few seconds, you find yourself on your toucas, wondering what happened.

Azriela Jaffe is the author of 26 published books including, “What do you mean, you can’t eat in my home?” and “After the Diet, Delicious Kosher Recipes with less Fat, Calories and Carbs”, both of which are available directly from her at azjaffe@gmail.com. She is also a holocaust memoir writer, privately commissioned by families who wish to write up the life story of the survivor matriarch or patriarch of their family. Visit www.azrielajaffe.com for more information about her work, and visit www.chatzos.com for more information about the worldwide movement she founded to bring more kavod into erev Shabbos.

Originally published Jan 17, 2012

Making Time To Do What we Really Need To Do

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

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

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

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

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

Accepting Who You Are

By Elisheva Rabinowitz

Eight years ago, *Sara, a 30 year old woman, became a Baal Teshuvah (BT). She came into my office because she was still struggling with issues of feeling “less than” her neighbors. Her neighbor, Rivki, always looked put-together, with the latest shaitel and clothes from NY. Even though she had 12 children, her house was spotless, and her neat and clean children were (seemed) always well-behaved. Sara pined to look, act and be like Rivki. She asked, “How can she do always be put together, but at my house there are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink and everything doesn’t look “perfect”.

Sara is not alone in her struggles to fit in and be accepted by her peers. Many BTs desire to “fit-in” and be liked by others which can make the transition from a secular Jew to a BT a challenging one. How can Sara fit in, or does she need to? How can Sara learn to accept herself? How can Sara learn that it’s not emotionally healthy to compare herself to Rivki or anyone else? These questions are important to address, and as a licensed counselor, I try to help my clients find a place for themselves in the Frum world, and more importantly, a loving place within themselves.

The reason that it is important to learn ways to accept yourself is because HaShem wants you to focus on YOUR ROLE in Olam Hazeh (this world). When you focus on your role and yourself, then you will free yourself up to be closer to HaShem, have more time to fulfill your role and improve the rest of your life; instead of chasing the “Life would be easier if I was a FFB”; “If I could only be put together like____”; or “If we only knew all the mitzvot of shabbos automatically then life would be easier”.

I would like to make some simple suggestions on how to address this issue of accepting who you are (though you may need to address this issue on a deeper level):

1.Understanding Your Strengths-Who are you?
I want my clients to focus on and understand their strengths, so I ask them, “What makes you unique and special?”
If you are having some difficulty thinking of what makes you-you then here’s some suggestions
(Please use this list as a starting place, but not as a limitation):
Gentle,Prepared,Loving,Imaginative,Alert,A good listener

If the list above does not help you think of your positive attributes, then you might want to ask yourself, “If a friend was describing me, she would say I am _________.”

After you have thought of 3-5 words that describe you, then I encourage you to repeat those words to yourself to reinforce your strengths and talents. Sometimes people tell me that they feel “stupid” saying, “I am a _____ (positive attribute) person” because they don’t see the benefit of the activity. One client asked, “How will saying these statements make me feel better?”. The bottom line is that you need to believe in your inner worth; therefore, when you tell yourself positive messages you boost yourself self-esteem. Also, it is important to always remember you are Tzelem Elokim, made in G-d’s image, He loves you and you have many fine qualities. This exercise is meant to develop your awareness of your strengths, not to cause haughtiness. Your goal is to strengthen your image of yourself, but you should be cautious not to inflate or deflate your positive qualities.

2. Be Patient and Loving with Yourself
Sometimes BTs (generally speaking) can be so busy and focused on everyone else that they forget that HaShem loves them. For example, I’ve heard people make the following statements:

1. *Avi learns ___ blatt of Gemara a day and I only learned____;
2. I can’t juggle 3 carpools, but Sara has 5 carpools; or
3. I don’t know how to “speak the lingo”

These types of statements may make you feel “less than”, embarrassed, or angry, but you have many successes, and you continue to learn more things. BTs need to be reminded that He sees how much they’ve changed and how many steps they’ve taken to grow closer to Him. He loves them and He wants them to love themselves. I want to clarify that the above statements don’t mean that they are finished growing and learning, but BTs need to focus on their true abilities, strengths and their path of Teshuvah.

Recently, I made a recommendation to my client-be patient and loving with yourself and focus on your accomplishments. Certainly, my statement is easier said then done, but each step we take toward this goal the more emotionally healthier we become. A Frum from birth woman recently told me, “I don’t know if I grew up in the secular world, I would decide to become frum-it seems so hard”. She could not understand how someone could decide to change so many aspects of his/her life.

If you stop and think about it, you have made so many changes, such as where you eat, how you eat, how you spend your time, how you carry on a conversation… and that’s just the beginning. Therefore, I recommend you making a list of all the things you have changed-improvements you’ve made in your life (even if it was 10 years ago). Then, “pat yourself on the back” for each step you have taken and the many more steps that you will take. It may feel strange to “pat yourself on the back”, but through recognition that we are trying to integrate into a life that FFB have been familiar with all their lives can be challenging and a test. Therefore, take a moment and review all the steps you’ve taken, thank HaShem for lifting you up and carrying you toward Him.

On a daily basis, BTs need to navigate a sea of issues that can be challenging and impair their sense of well-being. Below is a short list of items that you may have experienced and some reactions (in parenthesis) I’ve heard about :
1. Dating (You met him when and now you’re getting married. Don’t you think you should date for a couple of years to make sure “He’s Mr. Right”.)
2.Shalom bayis (I thought 2 people get married and hope not to get divorced);
3. Having children (What is a pidyon haben?; Do you plan on having more kids?);
4. Pesach cleaning (What is that? How long does that take?);
5. Tisha B’Av (When is that? What is that? “Oh, it’s in the summer when we were on vacation, so we never paid attention to that day”);
6. Make Bar/Bas Mitzvahs (How will we explain to our families the difference between Frum Bas Mitzvah and what I had);
7. Kosher (What do you mean you can’t eat my cooking anymore); and
8. Sending our children off for Seminary or Bais Medrash (Your family asks, “Your sending your kids where and they are going to do what?” and then they add, “Don’t plan on staying there.”).
Therefore, a BT will be more able to address challenges more easily with a positive and strong sense of him or herself.

As Sara focused on what made her special and all of her accomplishments, she was able to focus less on everyone else’s perfect home (which in reality is only in fairy tale books). She learned to think positive about herself and others, and see HaShem’s loving kindness in her daily life. We have no guarantees in life, so live life to the fullest today!
*Name and information changed for privacy

For some BTs, these issues may be easy to handle, but other issues may be more challenging, such as how to handle family issues that arise or pressures of being a BT women or how to resolve issues from “my past”. If speaking to someone who is sensitive to the needs of the BT would be helpful, please feel free to contact me, Elisheva Rabinowitz at 410-736-8118.

Elisheva Rabinowitz received her MA in Clinical Psychology, and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). In her private practice, she works with adults and children who experienced traumatic events in their life, such as a death of a parent or abuse. In addition, she is sensitive to the needs of the Baalei Teshuvah. She has spoken for Chana, Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women, on the topic of domestic violence. Also, she has spoken for N’Shei Agudath about wellness and stress and anger. Currently, she in the owner of “BalancedBodies4Women” and specializes in: Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (abuse, stress and anger management, grief and loss issues), stress and anger issues and eating issues, such as emotional overeating. She is a member of Nefesh: The International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals and American Counseling Association (ACA). She counsels clients pro bono for The Shofar Coalition.

In addition, Elisheva Rabinowitz holds several wellness certifications, such as Personal Trainer and Group Exercise (such as Pilates and Yoga). She helps her clients obtain a healthy and fit body, prevent serious illness, reduce stress levels, and increase their energy. In addition, she helps them overcome roadblocks and become accountable for their actions, making wellness part of their lifestyle, not just for a week, a month, or a year, but for a lifetime.

Elisheva Rabinowitz can be reached at 410-736-8118 or balancedbodies4women@verizon.net or www.balancedbodies4women.com

7 Rules Of Mindful Eating

Copyright: HealthyJewishCooking.Com
By Chaya Rivka Zwolinski

Choose, Sit, Commit, Acknowledge, Pace, Chew, Complete

A Taste of Authentic Jewish Eating: Eating mindfully doesn’t just involve your brain-based intellect. It involves your heart-based intellect, both of which, in different ways, correspond to the soul. In the Jewish tradition, mindful eating means making informed choices not only about what you eat, but also about the way in which you eat–the very act of eating. The mechanics of eating as well as your intention and motivation are important. The choices themselves are based on the Jewish spiritual teachings and not on the “moral code ala mode”.

The *Torah offers teachings on food and diet from the basic: G-d made every tree that is….good for food, grow out of the soil. (Breishis-Genesis: 2:9); to the detailed: …they are repulsive: the eagle, the whilte-tailed eagle, and the bearded vulture… (Vayikra-Leviticus 11:13); to the intriguing, such as the “food of seige”: Now you, take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel and prepare them as food for yourself (Yechezkel-Ezekiel 4:0); and more.

During the time of the previous twoTemples in Jerusalem, an integral part of the order of service involved the roasting of meat and the ingesting of meat by the Kohanim (priests). Eating was a holy act and is, if done right, still a holy act.

But teachings about food and eating didn’t end with ancient times. Less than 900 years ago, the universally recognized Jewish doctor and scholar, Rambam (Maimonides), wrote that most illnesses are caused by improper eating. He offered detailed advice about diet and lifestyle** that is enjoying a great revival today. Rambam’s advice includes prescriptions such as eating until you are only 3/4 full, eating whole-grain bread (and avoiding cakes, noodles and other flour products), not drinking water while eating, not eating aged salted meats and cheeses, not over-eating sweet things (even fruit).

Because the way in which a person eats is so central to Judaism that it defines who is Jewish and who is not, food and the act of eating were naturally important to the Chassidic mystics who sought to re-imbue the world with holiness by means of passionate Jewish spirituality. One example is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who said that improper eating causes spiritual problems, what we could call “blockages of the soul”. He said it is important to strive to eat without any physical desire whatsoever. Of course this is a pretty high level of spirituality–eating purely for the sake of the soul and the life-giving nutrients in the food. However, it is something we can strive for at our own individual level.

The Chassidim in general were very aware that every act that a person does here on earth has ramifications in the heavenly realms and that eating was one of the more potent of these acts. Chassidim teach that everytime a proper blessing is said on food, the food is ingested and the energy created by the food is used by the person for a holy purpose, the holy spiritual sparks embedded in the food are freed from their earthly prison and are able to reunite with their holy source. Chassidim would watch their Rebbe’s every actions, including and even especially his “mundane” ones like eating, and try to emulate him in the particulars.

There are so many Jewish teachings about eating that I’m not mentioning–an encylopedia’s worth.

The Seven Rules Of Mindful Eating (The Jewish Way)


Choose foods that are good for you. Avoid unhealthy and/or extreme isms that are not rooted in our original spiritual and moral codes such as veganism (not to mention epicurianism and gourmandism). (I’ll discuss vegetarianism in a later post). Make the choice to eat foods that will, first and foremost, nourish the soul and body . Note: It is far better to under-eat relatively unhealthy foods than overeat even nutritionally-dense foods.


Sit down. Don’t eat while standing or walking. Judaism teaches that a person should be concerned with personal dignity. Not to the point of arrogance, but there should be an awareness that a human being’s essence is something that must be reflected on the outside of a person as well as the inside. Eat at a table. I’ve just about broken the habit of eating at my desk (except in emergencies). A cup of tea, okay. But no food. The reason is, aside from the sheer disgustingness-factor, if you eat while doing something else such as working, you eat mindlessly. You’ll tend to overeat and underchew.


Put enough food on your plate to satisfy your hunger without overloading or underloading your plate. Whatever’s there is going to be your portion. Seconds and thirds leads to mindless eating and overeating. Train your eyes to correctly gauge your hunger.


Say a ***blessing over your food or drink. Acknowledge the source of the food and drink you are about to ingest. Jewish or not, thank G-d for creating the food that you are about to it and that He created to sustain you. The Hebrew word for bless is baruch. The word BaRuch is related to the word for well/source, BeR. A blessing acknowledges that the Creator is the source of everything, including the apple pie on your plate. Don’t forget to thank Mom for that apple pie, too.


You should eat at a medium-slow pace, putting your fork down into between bites. Aside from the obvious aesthetic drawbacks to using your fork like a backhoe, when you shovel food into your mouth, you tend to bow your head towards your food. Do you worship food? Is food your god? Do you submit to food–does it rule you?


Ideally, chew each mouthful of food at the very least, 18 times. If you have a digestive disorder such as IBS, Crohns, Celiac Sprue, or other inability to fully utilize the nutrients in food, then chew each mouthful at least 36 times. Digestion begins in the mouth. Your teeth bite and grind the food breaking it down into smaller particles and the enzymes in saliva activate the digestion process. If you don’t chew, your stomach acids will have to work a lot harder to break down the food and will most likely no succeed. Breathe in between bites. Don’t talk while eating (R.Yosef Caro, Shulchan Aruch).

On a deeper level, proper speech affects/is related to digestion. If you speak ill of others, scream at them, verbally hurt or insult them, use obscenities, or otherwise engage in improper speech, you have used your mouth, tongue and throat, improperly. These organs should be used for making blessings and eating, saying words of kindness and encouragement, and prayer. If we use these organs for negative purposes during speech this will reflect in how we use them or how our body activates them, during eating and digesting. Often people with digestive problems can find relief by becoming more aware and making corrections in their speech.

Those with who are underweight and/or have eating disorders also need to chew and breathe properly, but depending on their individual situation, they might be encouraged to not chew much beyond the minimum amount of times at first, as they will become fuller, faster, and may stop eating too soon.


In order to complete the process of eating we need to stop and acknowledge G-d, the source of our food, once more. We all know that we are technically full about twenty minutes, give or take, before our brains get the fullness message. But honestly, how many of us act on this information with any regularity? It’s difficult. Eating is one of life’s pleasures. But Judaism takes so seriously the proscription against overeating that even during Shabbos and Yamim Tovim (Holy Days/holidays) overindulging is contraindicated.

Judaism offers fascinating and important recommendations and laws about how much food one should consume at a setting and in what amount of time the food should be consumed, which I hope to write about another time. In order to complete the physio-spiritual cycle that is a meal, one must thank G-d with specific blessings depending on what one ate.

Interestingly enough, though eating only when truly hungry is the rule, there are times where Jewish law says one must eat even when not hungry. This includes the third Shabbos meal and the Afikomen (“Dessert” Matzoh) during the Pesach (Passover) Seder. But even at these times, we are forewarned not to overeat earlier so there will still be some room left!

*Torah here refers to the Hebrew Bible, however Torah also refers to the greater body of traditional Jewish practical and mystical wisdom including the written Hebrew Bible, the oral teachings (the Talmud), the Shulchan Oruch (the Code of Law), the body of work known as the Kabbalah, and numerous other writings and commentaries of the sages throughout our history.

**Rambam’s seminal work is called Mishnah Torah, and he writes concisely but profoundly about health, diet and exercise in the section called Hilchos Deos (an apt translation would be Laws of Personal Growth).

*** Blessings on Food and Drink Links: Step by Step, Advanced, and Detailed

Chaya Rivka Zwolinski, has written for PsychCentral.com, Breslov.org, Ami magazine, and numerous online and print publications. She’s ghostwritten or edited numerous books, is the co-author of the patient-rights best seller, Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better and Move On, and is currently co-writing a book on Jewish spiritual approach to recovering from addiction.

Getting Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off the Deep End – Part 1

This classic BT guide was written by Friedman the Tutor and was originally targeted at BTs learning in Yeshiva’s but the advice is appropriate for any BT, so we’ll be excerpting it from time to time here.

Go Slow
If you take on too much, too quickly, you can cause an inner backlash. You could wake up one day sick of Torah, sick of yourself, or just physically sick. Or all three.

Find a Mentor
One human connection is worth more than ten perfect institutions. Torah is inherited through personal relationships more than class curriculum. You’ll need your yeshiva classes to provide a balanced range of information, but the melody behind all those details comes through human bonding. Look for a teacher who has what you want, or whose teaching is inspiring or, in an intuitive sense, familiar. If you find more than one person, use them all, but find at least one mentor. Then be brave and ask for times to talk and invitations for Shabbos.

Don’t Abandon Your Old Identity

Don’t get so excited over your new script that you destroy all your old props and scenery. Don’t suddenly give away your old books or throw out your favorite music. (Please use earphones if you live with others.) Keep contact with your old friends. Continue to use your own name. Don’t hurry to declare that you are too religious now for your library, your family, your profession, your artistic life, or your old hobbies. Such radical changes will only become appropriate for you to consider several years down the line. Racing into those decisions now won’t help you purify your soul more quickly. Instead, such changes could unravel you by removing all your familiar coordinates. Amputating your past undermines your creativity and authenticity. It could leave you spiritually limp instead of spiritually more vigorous. It’s great that you want to explore who you might become, but don’t do it by losing touch with who you are.

The entire guide is available here.

Should We Give Up the Dog or the Apartment?

By Ellen

Peleg and I have a dilemma, and we’re asking the Beyond BT community for their input.

Last September I was approaching my car after work, and I noticed a dog romping around, unattached (to a leash) and without a collar and name tag. An old childhood fantasy suddenly reared its head, and I found myself wishing there was no owner and I could take it home. My mother, a Holocaust survivor who had hidden in an oven deep into a wall, had miraculously been spared by a Nazi’s search dog’s search into the oven, and like the dogs in Egypt who remained silent as the Children of Israel escaped, this dog, too, emerged from the oven without so much as a “yip”.

Nevertheless, she remained frightened of dogs all her life and we remained dog-less. The woman whom the dog trotted over to begged me to take the dog home to “foster” since she already owned 2 dogs and she worried that this homeless creature would end up in a “kill pound”. She promised she’d try to find it a permanent home. So I ambivalently accepted the leash, doggie toy, and food she gave me, and I took it home.

Surprisingly, not only was my husband accepting of its temporary presence, he grew so attached to her that we ended up adopting her. Our frum landlord said nothing since there was nothing in the lease saying we couldn’t have pets, but it became clear that not only did they disapprove of the dog, most of our frum neighbors in our Brooklyn neighborhood were at worst scared to death, and at best, somewhat askance at their new neighbor, named Twinkie (Yiddish name Twinkel). The kids were intrigued with her, and some even ventured to pet her. We checked out in our sefer regarding hilchos Shabbos (Shmiras Shabbos by Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth) that dogs could be walked even outside an eruv on Shabbos (without the name tag), although cleaning up after her is a problem because we’d have to carry the bag (and its contents). To resolve this issue, my husband goes out after Shabbos and cleans it up.

Now the dilemma: yesterday the landlord came to renew the lease that was up, and was willing to keep the current rent in place, BUT, we have to get rid of the dog, no ifs, ands, or buts. The reason given was her barking whenever anyone enters our two-family house (we’re on the first floor and the landlord is on the second). When I called today to ask if we found a way to get her to stop barking (dog obedience school or something) (he’d never heard of such a concept) he said he’d speak to his brother-in-law (co-owner of the house) and get back to me. Later I ran into the owners’ mother-in-law, who actually lives in the house (the landlords do not), and I proposed the same to her. She hemmed and hawed, kept blaming the dog-ban on complaining neighbors, and then finally blurted out that she was embarrassed to have a dog in the house, that everyone that comes to the house (and gets barked at from behind closed doors) says to her: “You have a dog in the house? Why do you let them?” She continued with FFB finality: “WE (as in REAL frum Jews) don’t have such things, dogs, cats…” When I told her in Europe many Jews owned dogs and cats, she shrugged. I, of course, felt relegated 30 years backwards to BTland, too “prost” to be considered part of the mainstream (B”H my kids are married, otherwise they could never get a shidduch).

So what’s the word out there? Am I halachically out of line? Minhagly out of line? Do we get rid of Twinkie and stay in the apartment? Or do we keep her and take ourselves “chutz la’machaneh” (which translates to an apartment building where pets are allowed, in a reasonably frum neighborhood) but we’ll have to pack all over again and leave some friends behind (which translates to a few blocks away)? Am I now a goy?

Please help. We have to have an answer in a week and a half!

How Do We Handle This?

In the past, we’ve had some discussions here about former-BT bloggers and we’ve often discussed how to deal with “skeptics”. Now, the issue has taken an unexpected turn, we are being addressed by a stand-alone-blog, Unmasking Beyond Teshuva, aimed directly at us.

We have considered writing a polite email to the bloggers. Or maybe we should just ignore it?

What are your thoughts on how to best handle this?

Doing the Right Thing in a Tough Situation

Rabbi Lazer Brody originally posted this good advice here:

Josh from New England sent me the following question via my dear friend A Simple Jew:

I wanted to get your 2 cents on something. It’s my rabbi and my trouble seeing him as “my rabbi”. I am used to warm and caring rabbis, however he is what my wife refers to as “gruff”. His wife, on the other hand, is one of the sweetest rebbetzins you would ever meet.

The rabbi is constantly frazzled and short with me. Often he walks right by me without saying hello. He never engages me in conversation when I come over to wish him a “Good Shabbos”. He is easy to lose his temper, barks out commands to his kids, and often partakes of an inordinate amount of alcohol – and not just at times when it is customary to do so. This last observation has also been made by a number of people at my shul.

If I boil down what I am saying, he is not my ideal for a rabbi and barely meets my qualifications for a decent person. Have any advice for me? Finding another shul is obviously your first answer. However, my kids have lots of friends at this shul and also adore the rebbetzin. What should I do? I would have to move to another town since this is the only shul in walking distance if this is your advice to me.

Regards, Josh

Dear Josh,

First off, I want to warn you about gossip and slander. Even if the facts are true, you and other community members shouldn’t be talking about the rabbi unless you are bona-fide representatives of the community doing so to consider extending his contract or not. In your words, This last observation has also been made by a number of people at my shul – don’t fall into the Yetzer’s gossip trap.

If what you say is true, both anger and alcohol are clear signs of dark-side influence. Such a person cannot be a healthy spiritual guide, for if he is disconnected from holiness, how can he connect you to holiness?

I don’t suggest that you uproot your family because of this guy. Find yourself a rav and spiritual guide outside the community, and pray within the community. With email and cheap long-distance dialing, it’s no problem talking to any rav you like anywhere. Make no expectations from the local rabbi and you won’t be disappointed. Also, be careful not to join on a bandwagon against him. Hashem will take care of this His own way. Blessings and Happy Chanuka, LB

Work Situations – A Colleague’s Son’s Bar Mitzvah

A colleague’s son is having a Bar Mitzvah in a non-Orthodox setting. The son went to Hebrew school, and the father has shown some interest in Yiddishkeit. You’re invited and can’t make it to the party, but would like to purchase a gift. Do you give:

1) A non-religious gift

2) A religious article such as a pushka or a menora

3) An english sefer on a Torah topic

If you opt for choice 3), what sefer would you give.