Dear dear friends,
Thank you for your kind wishes and emails and most of all your tefillos expressing concern for my husband. Baruch Hashem, he is home and will soon be back to his usual schedule.
I have nothing but thanks to Hashem, for giving humans the capacity to actually develop the kind of technology that makes it possible for the heart to receive "messages" from a device that is about the size of an American quarter that "tells" it to beat at a regular pace.
The staff at Shaarei Tzedek were outstandingly human. gracious and skilled.
Thank you all again for your concern and caring.
Still another shocking incident of Jew hatred took place today. Are you still shocked?
I don’t know the Chabad rabbi who was stabbed in Boston, but I do know that the only reason that he was attacked is that he is visibly Jewish.
We are not the only minority to have to cope with that status. It’s normal for people to be wary of strangers, to dehumanize them and relegate them to a place called Less. It’s also normal to want to get out of that place and to claw your way up to the top. This combination of conflicting will can easily be toxic. This is a reality that has touched the lives of both Jews and Blacks.
The BLM movement is dealing with a problem that is nonetheless very different than anti- Semitism. People treat Blacks as perennial strangers in a society that others engineered, strangers who have been exploited and who have been robbed of the natural connection to their roots leaving them with no place either in their original society or in the one that they have helped build. The resulting feelings have led to what you see today wherever you look. The way out isn’t hard to see either. When you look at President Obama, you see a winner. He succeeded in using what the society has to offer (which is a great deal in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country) and making it to the top. This meant learning the culture, getting a real education, and developing an ethos that echoes the voice of America, a place in which for him (and for so many) being Black or White is not the ultimate statement of Self. In this sense, he is far more of a WASP than I am.
This method doesn’t work for Jews.
We too are perennial strangers. The vast majority of Jews can’t trace their family’s presence in America earlier than to the 1850s, way after the first slave ship entered American waters. We played by the rules, learned the language, culture, loved the ethos and gave voice to the American dream via our disproportionate pence in the media, films, and literature. We are hated.
We are hated for our successes and despised for our winning the game. We are perceived as separate, “other” and clannish while the same time being “pushy” in integrating to the society in which we live. The perpetrator of today’s stabbing no doubt hated the rabbi (who he probably didn’t know) for the confused reasoning that inevitably accompanies anti-Semitism.
Is there a way out?
I think I have one, if you can excuse the arrogance that saying these words reflect.
The Torah is the basic system from which every society that has chosen to make moral living their ethos. Wherever Jews have lived, the assumption that human life is precious, property belongs to its owner, a family means a mother and father who are loyal to each other and have children who know who their parents are, society with courts that are there to mete out justice to the best of their ability, that recognize that G-d is the acknowledged source of all reality; He may not be cursed. They know that animals experience pain and may not be randomly tortured for no reason, and most significantly, there is awareness of accounting for who you are at the end of the day.
Something tragic happened in America.
Anti-Semitism is a symptom of not only hating Jews, but rejecting all of the above.
The only answer is to build wherever you see destruction. To respond with morality wherever you see moral chaos. To remember that you once stood before Hashem on Mount Sinai, and your light will go on shing regardless of all of the overt and covert efforts to put it out.
On a personal note, my dear friends; My husband, Dovid ben Sarah is having a pacemaker put in on Tuesday. Please, please daven for him
And for all of us
In Miami and Meron
In Paris and in Gaza
You are there
If you know it or if you don’t
With the part of you
That stood at Mount Sinai
And still wants to be
I just heard this fascinating podcast, and it's really worth a listen.
Rabbi Hanoch Teller needs no introduction. I'm sure you can only gain from his informative and educational talks.
The school year is ending, and the last few weeks are Baruch Hashem very hectic. I find myself looking at the girls in Bnos Avigail and giving myself permission to see their genuine inner beauty. During the school year, they are in process. They are continually “becoming”, and it’s only at the end of the year that I see them as they are - almost finished products. Choosing how to see them is an art that you learn.
Noticing this got me thinking back to the story of the spies which was the Parshah several weeks ago. The basic rule concerning the punishments that the Torah metes out is that there are ways to reverse choices that you made. It gives you a way to have a new beginning, and to dealwith reality. When you build a wall that keeps your recognition of Hashem’s presence out, you will find that you can’t see through the wall. The worst punishment meted out to the generation of the desert is the punishment that was the result of sending spies to help them see if they could enter the land, and ultimately it was their negativity that doomed them.
As you know, the result was a disaster. The awesome beauty, fruitfulness and hidden “something” that made the land one in which people of enormous stature just seemed to demand a “yes”, could be interpreted in very opposite ways. One way would be to step back, and say, “This is what Hashem had promised us all along. From the first time He spoke to Avraham to when we left Egypt the constant refrain was “I will give you the Land’. It was our greatest joy and hope.
Possibility two is “This isn’t going to happen. No way. No how”.
Did you ever feel like you are facing choice one and choice two? On one hand you know that Hashem is in control, and that He made commitments to us as a people. On the other hand, when you are nervously eating popcorn and watching (for instance) the election results, is it really all that easy to surrender your desire to be in the cockpit? To make the decisions and to feel the drama of being part of the ongoing play? The first step may be looking at the situation in all of its awfulness, at other people with all of their flaws, and the next step can be getting into your Me (or Us) against the Bad Guys.
The road that leads to bitachon isn’t easy. The word halachah, as you know, means the path to walk. The laws against speaking lashon hara are specific, numerous and strict. The way they function is to make you aware of the fact that you are constantly making choices. When you choose to speak negatively about other people (R. Nachman would add speaking lashon hara about the world itself sweeps you into the vortex of negativity (often disguised as sophistication) that makes it impossible for you to see good.
I had a marvelous Shabbos that brought home this truism. I was visiting with my son in Raananah (no, he doesn’t live near the newly elected prime minister who also calls Raananah his home). Two synagogues there decided to unite. One is a synagogue in a neighborhood that was started about 40 years ago. The members are no longer young, and the large building is no longer full. The other congregation is one in which lots of young families who moved to Raananah relatively recently needed more space than their tiny rented premises provided. I was there for their first joint Shabbos in the big shul. It was such a positive experience. It was full not only of people, but of life. The newcomers were anxious to show real respect to those who had dedicated so much of who they are to the shul, and the older members welcomed the energy and full seats in the large room. There was a giant kiddush at the end, with singing, dancing and most of all closeness and inclusion.
I have often heard of synagogues that split, and seeing the opposite made me aware of how much positivity, and its “offspring,”, optimism changes everything. The cause of this kind of positivity isn’t naïveté. It is seeing Hashem’s Hand when He makes you change course, and looking for His light in everyone else’s’ heart.
You can smell the cheese and tomato sauce as far as your booth. You have a window view and even so, you feel like you are in the kitchen. The waiter brings the first course (along with the diet cola that is an atonement for present and future sins).
The conversation flows, and before you know it, it’s time for the second course, the chef’s specialty. Each forkful is a piece of art, to be savored before you move on. All too soon you are contemplating desert. At this point the real question is are you
too full to enjoy it. As you contemplate the solution to this difficult problem you wake up.
It was just a dream.
In your haze state of consciousness, it still feels real. Even so, there is one thing that is crystal clear. Eating dinner isn’t at all the same as dreaming about eating dinner.
When you sleep, your mind is no longer blocked by its unceasing activity. Your soul has risen to share its past day with its Creator. Dreams sometimes invade and conquer your mind. They take you a bit beyond where you are right now.
They can give you a window into your inner world (oy vay), they can take you back to what you have experienced. As Ramchal tells you (Derech Hashem), they can at times provide you with a window to what is happening Above, or (often times) into fantasy
and nonsense. When you have a dream, there is one critical question to ask yourself. “What can I learn from this dream? Why did Hashem open the window? If you can’t find an answer to the question, don’t necessarily share it. It’s yours, and its message belongs to you. Seek out a positive interpretation, because the message it provides can take you either way. The one thing that all of these variations have in common, is that they aren’t part of your present reality.
A dream is not a place that you want to live; at most it’s a place to visit.
Real life can be stressful. There’s nothing perfect about this world, nor is there meant to be objective and enduring perfection here. In your stay on the planet, you are like an artist facing an easel and looking at your paints. You are not like an artist who can step back and see the finished piece of art. Imperfection touches everything-your body, your emotional life (friendships, marriage, your relationship with yourself), intellectual pursuit (only if its real) thrives on imperfection - the as yet unsolved puzzle, whether it is a difficult torah concept, or a deep philosophical issue such as suffering, or trying to unlock nature's secrets and finding out that she holds on to them tenaciously. Unlike physical and emotional imperfection, intellectual challenge can take you to places of breathtaking beauty, but only on one condition.
You have to be humble enough to say (to yourself or to others) that there is still more to learn. Spiritual imperfection is the stuff that guilt and self-hatred can be made of, or, alternatively growth, aspiration and tshuvah.
People deal with life’s stresses in all sorts of ways. Do you know someone who is addicted to opioids, drinking-maybe not? Do you know someone with eating issues and/or media addicting? Maybe yes. Maybe it’s the person you see when you look in the mirror.
What all of these solutions to the problem of stress have in common is that they suggest that on some level you prefer the perfection of dreams to the imperfection of reality.
My dear friend, Sarah Berkovitz shared an insight she had about The first dream recorded in the Torah.
It was Yaakov’s dream. He was literally escaping from an unbearable reality. His brother Eisov was plotting to murder him, and he had no choice but to leave everything familiar (imagine leaving the inspiration of being with Yitzchak and Rivka on a daily basis) and on the way to his uncle Lavan’s home (a nightmare in itself), he had a dream. He saw the spiritual forces of Eretz Yisrael ascending, and the angels of the world outside the spiritual hothouse of Eretz Yisrael coming down.
The dream has many interpretations given by Chazal, but regardless of which one you look at, they have one thing in common.
The angels walked step by step.
The bottom of the ladder is here,
in the world of imperfection.
The top is in the (as yet) invisible world
of unity and perfection.
The only way you can get up the ladder
is by taking one step at a time.
The way down can be painful.
The angels of challenge, despair,
Exile descends with awesome consistency.
And all of the familiar stresses and challenges.
You can meet them one at a time
There is a guidebook with instructions
that takes you to the top of the ladder
They move you to the perfect place of unity
They are part of this world’s reality
Assur mans forbidden,
but it also means tied down.
Whatever the Torah deems as assur
is the source of imperfection,
and its purpose
is for you to look it in the eye,
and say NO.
There are things that are muttar, which means permitted
It also means untied, free
For you to use as your springboard to eternity.
Enjoy your life here in Imperfection Land
When Moshiach comes, we will say;
A song of ascents
When Hashem takes Tzion out of captivity, we were like people
In a dream.
Let our captivity, Hashem
Be like dried out streams in the Negev
Those who plant with tears
Please see the attached flyer announcing the AHAVAS YISRAEL RESPONSE - our response to the Meron tragedy.
The AHAVAS YISRAEL RESPONSE is a 45 day initiative to activate your community and communities around the world to start and join Ahavas Yisrael discussion groups for women. Each week, a pre-prepared lesson will be emailed to group leaders to read with their group. It will include an Ahavas Yisrael topic, a relevant story, a few discussion questions and a bite-sized "stretch of the week" in Ahavas Yisrael.
Women are encouraged to host groups on Shabbos, but any day of the week can work. You can even start a group via zoom!
This initiative is associated with the original Ahavas Yisrael Project, founded by Rebetzin Tziporah Harris in 2008.
Ladies, we need you to answer the call! Forty five (מ"ה) kedoshim were taken from this world on Lag Baomer. We have to respond! WHAT can we do? What can YOU do?
Start a group. Join a group. It's that simple! Sign up, invite your friends and neighbors and receive weekly emails to be read aloud in your group. Then, experience firsthand the power of connecting and growing with a chaburah!
Join by Thursday, May 20th ( 9th of Sivan) so you can be connected with all the other groups during this 45 day initiative.
One group member said the following, after just 2 lessons:
"At the beginning, when one of my neighbors launched the idea of starting a group in our neighborhood, I was skeptical. I didn't think change could really happen within a group and especially, with such a diverse group of women. But I still signed up, as I wanted a shiur or something... to fill my Shabbos afternoons.
From week one, I saw the power of a chaburah, of group work and the effect of small things that can change your whole mindset. Because your focus is on the practical task all week, your mindset is different and positive, and you start to change and improve in Ahavas Yisrael.
I truly recommend this project as an opportunity for growth in a practical and exciting way! It goes without saying how much I gain from meeting women I wouldn't have met before and I enjoy connecting with them in a more meaningful way." - a Ramat Beit Shemesh Resident
(See the attached short video from Rebetzin Heller-Gottlieb about this initiative.)
Our goal is to have Ahavas Yisrael groups on every street, in every neighborhood! Please forward this message to neighbors, friends, family.. every woman you know! :) Sharing this message is just one more effort you can make towards increasing Ahavas Yisrael!
This initiative is dedicated: לעילוי נשמת קדושי מירון ז"ל; לרפואת יוסף עזריאל בן חיה מיכל; לרפואת אלעזר בן ראומה
(You can host a group in your home in the merit of someone that you know that needs a yeshuah!)
If you can't host a group in your own home, then please encourage one of your neighbors to host. And share, share, share this message with other women!
Tizku l'Mitzvos! And in the merit of our efforts, may we all merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!
With love ,
THE AHAVAS YISRAEL RESPONSE
*LETTER WRITTEN BY THE SAVARANER REBBE, RAV YITZCHAK MEIR HAGAR SHLITA In the aftermath of the Tragedy in Meron, Lag B’Omer 5781 (2021)
It’s human to cry and sob when you hear of what happened to all of us, here in EY.
Please wake up! Let each person leave his evil path.
Perhaps if we do tshuvah, Hashem will relent and move beyond His wrath, and we will not perish.
Dread and terror replaced the joy and celebration, leaving us with remorse and fear. How can you look past what has happened? Hashem has made each of our hearts tremble when you think about the overwhelming horror. Hashem turned the holy celebration of the great lofty tannah, Rashbi, into the valley of death flowing with rivers of blood.
Unless you are cruel, and have no heart, you have a real obligation to think deeply, and really contemplate, why our lives have been forced to change, and why the entire country has been stricken. Rashbi’s merit is great enough to save everyone from severe decrees. What we see is that the severity of the decree was greater even than anything that his great merit could have averted. Hashem chose to turn around our simchah to tears, dancing to mourning, joy to heartbreak and fear.
The reason that the plague that had stricken Rabi Akiva’s students who were held accountable for not having treated each other with sufficient respect stopped on Lag B’Omer is because they changed. The envy and hatred stopped, as explained in the sefer Yismach Yisrael.
But now they are back.
The victims of the tragedy are not the guilty parties. They no doubt are with Rashbi. You have to be honest. Their deaths were not caused by stone throwing, or iron. It wasn’t caused by bombs or accidents. It happened by people stepping on each other and crushing each other. It is a reflection of what happens on a daily basis- people eat each other alive. Each person thinks about what he needs, what will benefit him. He is willing to cause untold pain and aggravation to his neighbor in order to gain some advantage (sometimes a really petty one). He is only aware of his own feelings, and blocks out what his choices do to others. Apologizing is seen as weakness, and forgoing an advantage is seen as a flaw.
We are experts in making excuses. He knows all of the “reasons why” it is “assur” to give in. After all, right is right, and wrong is wrong, and he is right. In fact, he will even think that he is walking the extra mile to be decent. If someone has the nerve to correct him, he is ready to get back at him, and his anger is only a step away from murder- more actual murders would take place if we didn’t have a basic fear of being apprehended and having to pay the price. You may think that I am exaggerating. We should all be ashamed of the sad reality, which is that I am not.
Rabi Shimon’s merit could have protected us, but when we create a society in which people push each other down and crush them, even this merit is not enough.
If someone has a path in Yiddishkeit that is different than yours, you may have come to a point where you even think that it is a mitzvah to hassle him day in and day out.
You may think that I am using this kind of language to justify my opposition or to ‘get back’ at this one or that one. This is not at all true. My only hope is that if even one person in the entire world does tshuvah, and begins to respect his neighbor, and endear him by looking at him more positively, and improve his ways, that is enough to change the fate of the entire world.
May it be Hashem’s will that His mercy, which is the source of all mercy, be awakened, and that all severe decrees upon us, and upon all of Israel be changed. May Hashem send comfort to His people, and to the families who have had their lives broken by the tragedy and loss that they have experienced.
May Hashem comfort Tzion by ending the galus in our days, amen.
I am speaking with great and deep sorrow, the way I would if I were a bereaved father, with a broken heart and spirit,
Yitzchak Meir, ben Yisachar Dov of Savaran.
*Note: THIS IS A FREE TRANSLATION (meaning changed in regard to language to some degree).
“When I was in prison, the officers and the guard would routinely goad me and try to humiliate me by asking me, ‘Did I think I would ever come home, here [in Israel]; would I ever be with my wife Esther,'” Pollard said. “And I always answered them the same way: I would ask them, ‘Do you believe in G-d?’ and most of them would say yes. And then I would ask, ‘Do you believe that G-d can perform miracles?’ and they would say, ‘Sure, of course.’ Well, here we are.”
These words were spoken by Jonathan Pollard.
They weren’t just words spoken in gratitude to Hashem for bringing him home to Eretz Yisrael. These words were spoken when he donated a Sefer torah to the kever of Yosef HaTzadik. There in Shchem, he closed a circle. Like Yosef, his story of heroism in prison will always inspire us, and his faith will always be one of the greatest gifts anyone can give to Am Yisrael.
In this week’s parshah the laws of lashon hara are narrated. Intuitively most people don’t see lashon hara as all that severe. Most of the time the victim doesn’t even find out what has been said about him. Since the halachah defines lashon hara as being true information that is either negative or harmful, many people will assume that as long as what they say is true, there is nothing wrong in saying it. In fact repressing negative feelings or information is often perceived as repression rather than of piety.
The truth is far more complex. Having a cynical, bitter view of life is not rare according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2018:
o Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 48,000 people.
o Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
o There were more than two and a half times as many suicides (48,344) in the United States as there were homicides (18,830). The rate of suicide in the United States is growing. It has increased 35% since 1999.
The way you see life is influenced by many factors. Arguably the most influential factor is your self-talk. If you see your life as worthless, if you see rejection as inevitable, if you feel that your achievements have no meaning, it is hard to maintain a positive attitude towards life. A great deal of self-talk is determined by the social environment you live in. If you hear denigration of others, you have every reason to anticipate rejection. If you hear that the world is meaningless, that people are uncaring, that there are never pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, you have every reason to anticipate living a life that just doesn’t get better.
Lashon hara is a killer.
The Talmud tells you that it kills three people; the speaker, the listener, and the victim. Of the three, the one who is scarred most severely is often the listener. The victim often never even finds out what was said behind his back. The speaker knows that what he says is touched by his own agenda. The listener thinks that what he heard is the way “it” is. Unlike physical harm, which is confined to the area that is attacked, lashon hara can move from one end of the world to the other, especially via today’s media.
The opposite takes place when you hear words that tell you that every moment of life is real, full of purpose, and that connection to Hashem can happen to you or to anyone else moment by moment. If you hear stories of heroism, you learn that social acceptance, success, or rejection isn’t the only way that the value of your life is determined. You learn that no matter where you are, with whom you find yourself, whether or not you have talents that are known and expressed and appreciated, you can still reach out to the place where hope, aspiration, and heroism live.
Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Ester, have done us all a great service by being who they are.
If for whatever reason, you have self-talk that colors the world black, envision the way their faces looked at Kever Yosef, and choose a new color.
Shechem is a place where many tragedies have occurred. In fact, when Avraham entered the Land, he built an alter there because he could foresee the future events that would take place there. He saw Yosef’s brothers selling him to itinerant merchants, Dina his daughter being abducted, and the division of the Jewish kingdom into two segments (interestingly and tragically, when entering the mishkan you would enter through the east. North and south (which is the way the kingdom was divided) the south being loyal to Shlomo’s son Rechavam, and the North rebelling under the leadership of Yeravam ben Nevat, parallel right and left in the mishkan. Yes, the first division of Israel took place by the right and the left separating leading to irreparable tragedy. When you look at today’s Israel, heading to a possible 5th election, the bitterness and divisiveness between the right and left seem to be a replay of our early history.). You would think that Shechem was a place to be avoided. The Sfas Emmes points out an entirely different perspective that you can choose. The word Shchem is an acronym for “Shaim Kavod Malchuso” which means that this is the place of Hashem’s kingdom. This tells you that here, in the place of tragedy is where you choose to let Hashem rule. Or not.
Jonathan Pollard chose to bring hope into darkness. Let his word touch your heart and change your self-talk
All the best,
Rebbitzen Tziporah Heller