#BlogElul Day 29: Return

There are two tendencies: one to run away and not look back;
and one to want to look back, turn around, and return.

The American World is currently in that first tendency. I think it has been in that has been its MO since the first colonizations, Jamestown, then Plymouth Rock; and certainly since 1776. It results in a tremendous degree of accomplishment and advancement. This unprecedented degree of liberty has been very good for the Jews in many respects.

Yet it has almost killed the second tendency. The desire to return, to revert to a connection that is not related to profit and fourth-quarter growth. Notice how we and our employers all freak out about taking a few days off work in the fall.

Technology is defined in halacha by an entity called a “Kli”, sometimes translated as “vessel”, like a cup or bowl, but which also includes any finished man-made object; a ball, a shirt, a pen etc.

A “Kli” is “mekabeil Tumah”, it has the potential to become impure. It’s important to note that it isn’t impure. It just has the capacity to become impure.

Most of this means nothing nowadays. We don’t live with those concerns in the absence of a Temple.

The part that’s important for us is that the definition of impure is that it distances us from a full Relationship. That’s what man-made objects do, in all their sophistication and convenience.

On Shabbos, and on Yom-Tov, we can use these things, but only in ways that do not turn us into creators, which has the potential to make us forget our Creator.

So for a couple of days, on Rosh Hashana, we can return to only some of that tendency-two.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו לאלתר לחיים טובים ולשלום


#BlogElul Day 28: Give

U’Teshuva U’Tefilla U’Tzedaka Maavirin Es Ro’a Hagezeira.

And returning and prayer and Charity remove the Evil Decree.

How does Tzedaka do that?

Tzedaka is the expression of the idea that our task in life is to be Other-directed.

That’s what bugs me about a number of speakers, including some frum ones, who make Judaism sound like one mega-exercise in self-improvement, making yourself better, giving yourself more reward etc. It’s just Randian Rational Self-Interest applied to the spirit.

Now of course, there is no question that learning Torah and performing Mitzvos does improve a person. But the focus should be on helping outward.

This of course has always been part of the original intent; as God didn’t do anything truly for Himself, as He is Perfect by defintion. Even when the Navi says that He created it, formed it, and made it for His Honor, it’s all about the creating and giving to others.

#BlogElul Day 27: Bless

The Talmud (Berachos 7a) teaches that the human beings may bless even Hashem:

Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, a Cohen Gadol, relates how “one time [on Yom Kippur] while offering incense in the Holy of Holies, I saw God, wearing His Crown, the Lord of Hosts, sitting on a high and exalted throne. He told me, ‘Yshmael my son, bless Me.’ I said, ‘May it be Your will from before You that Your mercy overcome strict justice and may You act mercifully with Your children. Behave with Your children with the trait of kindness and go with them beyond the line (letter) of the law. He nodded His head in agreement [as if to answer amen to Rabbi Yishmael’s blessing, Rashi]”.

Our Sages derived from this story that even the blessing of a simpleton should not be insignificant in our eyes. The Torah offers examples of how blessings from holy people are certainly (more) impactful. But a blessing from anyone is meaningful.

And the best blessing one can receive is to be patient and loving towards one’s children.



Google “Avraham Fried Tanya” to hear a very “hartzig” musical composition of this citation, composed by Yossi Green and sung by Avraham Fried.

(Translation of the Gemara taken from http://ohr.edu/1584)

#BlogElul Day 26: Create

Being referred to as an image of God carries certain expectations.

God has done so many things. How am I to decide how I should be His* image?

Before any advanced theories emerge, the one obvious meaning makes itself known. It’s Genesis Chapter One for God’s sake. God is the Creator.

So if at the end of the chapter it says He then makes human beings in His image, then the only thing it can mean at that point is “as creator”.

Well, that’s just great. How am I supposed to do that?!

The piece that is beyond us is the first of forty. That’s why in Halachic language, the full spectrum of human creative capacity is called “Forty minus One”. But the next thirty-nine steps are creative.

Each step takes something pre-existing and turns it into something else, something with a more advanced function.

I think a certain religion took this beautiful concept and took it in a very weird sci-fi direction. The base idea is wonderful.

As animals, living organisms, we are made to survive, replicate, and thrive.

The God’s Image part that is added to the matrix demands that we also create.

Writing is creating.

Taking something from your domain and giving it to the community is creating.

Making food, clothing and shelter is creating.

Taking something that was a primate, and making it more Godly and creative, is creating.

Making yourself in God’s Image is creating.

Doing Teshuva and starting all over is creating.

#BlogElul Day 25: Intend

The value of intention in Halacha is complex. Sometimes, halacha says that intent to perform a mitzvah is part of the essence of the Mitzvah itself. No intention=Meaningless act. Do it over, with a bracha, and intention.

Sometimes, having the intent is an addition praise-worthy component. If you had some good. If you didn’t, don’t worry about it; it’s all good and better luck next time.

Intention is better than no intention. One maamar Chazal (rabbinic expression) has it that if one intended to perform a mitzvah but was impeded by forces truly outside of his control, it counts as an actual deed.

Based on that teaching, the late Chassidic Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizensk advised people to intend to perform the Mitzvah of sacrificing one’s life for God. The fact that the scenario does not present itself is neither here nor there. Because your intent mattered.

At first, this might sound like some silly loophole-shtick. But the way the brainwaves move matter. Constant flexing of one’s Intention muscles enhances mental strength.

#BlogElul Day 24: Hope

For years, when I heard the name “Shprintza”, I thought, “Ech, typical, Yiddish-sounding Fiddler-on-the-Roof nonsensical name.”

Then one day I decided to see if it had any meaning. It turns out that it was the jargonization of the Spanish name “Esperanza”, which means Hope. That sounds rather pretty.

I would imagine that nowadays, any Israeli named for an ancestress named Shprintza would be named Tikva, one of the Hebrew words for Hope.

The Jewish Nation as a community has hope, and a happy ending promised to us. Each individual Jew is not given that hope.

That is why great people (Rav Yisrael Salanter among others) have advised that in order to do our part in securing a good destiny, individuals should bind ourselves to the community.

#BlogElul Day 23: Begin

I have begun many times.

Many notebooks that look so shiny and white in the store are bought, then a few pages into it I lose the oomph.

Beginning is such a great feeling.

I just wish they made notebooks with only eight pages.

This pattern of mine used to upset me. But then I thought that God does this every morning.

A very hopeful line, from Eicha of all places:
(Chapter 3)

כג חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ.

23 They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.

#BlogElul Day 22: End

A Land which The eyes of Hashem your God always [oversee], from the beginning of the year to year’s end.

Always includes “from start to finish”. There is no part of always that doesn’t subsume from beginning to end.

Divine Favor is always there, but all the more so at the beginning (Tishrei) and the end. (Elul)

From last year’s post, worth repeating:

There is something special, defining, about how something ENDS.
According to Daniel Kahneman’s research, which appears in his amazing recommendation-worthy book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, it is not the totality of an experience that is maintained in one’s real memory; it is rather an experience’s most intense moment and its conclusion that define how the memory will be formed.

We often focus on making things go well. That’s good. We should also focus, within that attempt, to make something END well in particular. This includes every day, which is why the pre-sleep hour should be planned well. Not having one’s smart phone for the last hour of one’s waking hours would be a great start. Of course, there’s Shema and the entire service of Krias Shema al haMita which works. Etc. You get the point.

This is also true of the end of any event:

* The end of Shacharis
* The end of dinner
* The end of a school day
* The end of a vacation
* The end of Shabbos

#BlogElul Day 21: Love

Love – Ahavah: A working definition.

Where n= a person, idea, or thing.

Love – Ahavah, A working definition: To appreciate the value of n so much that you derive enjoyment and pleasure by just thinking of n, or being in physical proximity to n.

Better yet:
Love – Ahavah, A working definition: To appreciate the value of n so much that you derive enjoyment and pleasure by giving any and every part of yourself to n.

#BlogElul Day 20: Fulfill

I am an adult. I was not deprived as a child in any sense of the word. I have experienced all the privilege that one could hope for. The male kind, the white kind, the Ashkenazi kind, you name it. My parents did not have all of that, and they worked hard and suffered plenty to get me my “privilege”.

Yet, would I have become a better person had they withheld all their blessings from me?
I don’t think so.
One never knows;
but I don’t think so.

I see way too many parents whose default setting in answering their children’s requests is “No.”

Danger is danger. And ruining one’s appetite is ruining one’s appetite. But parents should want to fulfill their children’s wishes, not only do “what is good for them.”

And if a parent has to say no, it should be painful for the parent, not a moment of self-righteous indignation.