#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.


#BlogElul Day 19: Judge

I think people should be more curious about the plethora of plain-speaking judge programs in the marketplace.

The People’s Court: Wapner, Koch, the other one…
Judge Joe Brown
Judge Judy

Perhaps there is a certain degree of wish-fulfillment on the part of the American public. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being a plaintiff or defendant in any court proceeding knows a little bit of what sort of Hell the Judicial branch feels like, in all its necessity. We want to feel that the basic concept of a judge just plainly ruling in favor of the good guy and yelling at the creepy bad guy still exists.

We all have that judge gene within us, and we use it, or wish we could use it, all the time.

There’s way too much “Judge not…” going on. That’s the brain’s version of the lungs’ “Don’t breathe”.

So judge, with caveats:

  • “Suspend Judgment until you get more facts.” (Avos 2:4)
  • “Judge slowly” (Avos 1:1)
  • “When uncertain, judge favorably.” (Avos 1:6)
  • “Unless it’s relevant to others, keep your judgments to yourself.” (All of the Laws of Loshon Hara)

But judge.
And this time of year, judge yourself too.

#BlogElul Day 18: Ask

ה וְכֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, וְכָל-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה, טֶרֶם יִצְמָח: כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר ה אֱ-לֹהִים, עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וְאָדָם אַיִן, לַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה.

5 No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to work the ground;

The Gemara explains that the work that man was expected to do was ask for rain.

All he would be expected to do is ask.

Asking is working. If more is still required, then that’s more work. But asking is working.

Ask any fundraiser.
Ask any professional salaried grant-writer.

Asking is working.

#BlogElul Day 17: Awaken

I have heard modern-day baalei mussar, people with piety constantly on their minds, say that one of the great evils of modern technology is the Snooze button.

If you have to get up, then get up! Don’t delay it by nine minutes.

And if you can get up in nine minutes without any worrisome negative consequences awaiting you at home or work or school, then set your alarm for nine minutes later!

Awakening is like what I said about Change a couple of days ago: It’s bad. We want to live, but if we can do so by being at rest, we’ll opt for that. It’s only when we see that continued sleep will jeopardize our lives that we wake up. So all we need to do to help us wake up is to develop an awareness that we have to get up, or else!


Lifehack: Schedule things that matter a lot to other people for early in the day.

#BlogElul Day 16: Pray

I think most frum Jews feel uncomfortable with the word pray. If you hear a frum Jew saying, “I am going to pray”, he’s being facetious, as if he said he had to put on his phylacteries (That’s tefillin.)

Daven, a Yiddish word with unknown origins, is the go-to verb for that.

Perhaps that’s because pray means asking for things, strictly speaking. (“Pray tell…”) And our davening has so much more than that. Asking for stuff is but a fraction of what we do. That’s why of all the 30 prompts, I find this one the hardest to write about, even though I do it so frequently.

I have heard it said in the name of Rav Mordechai Gifter ZT”L that the most important word in any bracha or tefilla is the word “Ata”, “you”. As in “Baruch Ata…”

What’s so impressive about that word?

Well, in many languages, the answer is clear. When addressing someone of higher stature, the custom in most languages is to evade the regular 2nd person conjugation.

In French, “tu” is modified to the plural “vous”.

In German, “du” becomes the formal “sie”.

In Polish, one refers to the person in the third person. “Would sir like a cup of tea?”

There are even examples in Tanach of people speaking to the king in the third person.

Yet here is our King, the King of Kings, and we just say, “atah”, plain ol’ “you”.

Even the English style of making it “You” with a capital “Y”, or “He” with a capital “H” likely comes from the King James Bible, and is not in the spirit of the Hebrew.

Just “you”, the way one would talk to a close friend, with whom one is on excellent terms.

Now pray.

#BlogElul Day 15: Change

Change is bad.

We all know that.

I think that all living beings have an instinctive feeling that they are alive because of whatever their current pattern is. And if someone were to change that pattern, there would be no guarantees. So change is dangerous in a way that maintaining the status quo is not dangerous.

Ergo, real change will only happen if a being becomes convinced that the status quo is actually, literally, and perceivably dangerous.

So that’s what we all have to do. Be honest, and informed, about the things in our lives that will cause harm.


#BlogElul Day 14: Learn

I recently found out why the human brain has all those wrinkles. I always just assumed that was what brains look like.

Then I was shown a rat brain. And other animal brains. They were completely smooth.

So why the wrinkles? Because there are extra ridges needed, extra space basically, to fit all the learning on there. That skull is pretty tough, and it doesn’t expand well Leader-style. So the way all the stuff fits on the brain is by having it expand without growing outward by adding extra area within the same sphere. There’s room in there for more. Fill-er up. Learn. God will make more space to fit it in there.

#BlogElul Day 13: Remember

Someone in shul once told me he knew a manager of some famous musicians, who had released some popular albums, and then went on tour on a regular basis.

Someone asked this manager if the musicians were also busy composing new songs. He replied, “Oh I hope not.”

At first, I didn’t understand the answer. Why wouldn’t he want this popular money-making band to write more material?

He explained, “People come to the concerts to hear the songs they already know, often by heart.”

They don’t care to hear new content. Their hearts fill with love and emotion when they recall those songs that they’ve heard so many times before. They go to those concerts to have those memories reinforced, live, by the people responsible for creating those memories in the first place.

(It doesn’t necessarily always work this way with intellectual content. But it happens more often than you’d think. I sometimes worry when I am about to repeat a parable or a piece of a Dvar Torah I have said before to the same group of people, even if it was 10 years earlier. But then when I start to say it, I don’t see the rolled eyes I feared. Among those who remember, I see nods and smiles.)

We want to replay, relive, remember, positive experiences, even those we only experienced vicariously by having had it told to us!

I think this is why carving is such an important act in Jewish History. It wasn’t enough to have a Torah on parchment. Words had to carved into stone. Not just the “Ten Commandments”, but also the entire Torah on stones to be placed at the entrance to the Holy Land. Why is carving better? Because when you use ink on paper, even with a bold pen or marker, the act of removing or erasing is basically the same.

But when you carve a letter into stone, every time you engrave, chisel, carve, it gets deeper in, and more permanent.

That’s what remembering is.