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Friday, June 05, 2009


I have always said that when learning Gemara, it is worthwhile to look up the sources and learn the entire amud.

President Obama quoted the Talmud (Gittin 59b) as saying “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace”. The statement is based on the words of King Solomon (Proverbs 3:17): “And all of it’s way’s are peace”. (Of course, the president could have just quoted Proverbs, but he preferred to quote the Oral law which is considered uniquely Jewish).

The Gemara in question actually quotes this verse in the process of explaining why we don’t give Kohanim the second Aliya.

I once approached Rabbi Nota Greenblatt Shlita with an interesting discrepancy:

We know that if a Yisroel got the Kohein Aliyah there would be no need to call a Cohen for the second Aliya.

Yet, if the first Aliya was given to a Kohein it is forbidden to give the second Aliyah to a different Kohein because People might think that the first Kohein was no good. I found this puzzling because the halacha is that even if the first Kohein WAS no good we wouldn’t have called up a second one. The only problem is that people will THINK that you called the second Kohein because there was a problem with the first.

Rabbi Greenblatt explained that whether a person has really been degraded is not the issue. The issue is that they feel degraded.

We find two important examples of this in Parshas Nasso: The Nesi’im thought that they would outdo everyone by contributing last, but when they missed their chance to contribute they were criticized for their laziness. The innocent passerby had nothing to do with the guilt of the Adulterous woman, but he is told to be become a Nazir all the same. We don’t care what was meant; we deal with what happened.

My mother used to always make us watch Mr. Safrin stuff his mouth with a napkin. Sometimes he just couldn’t stop talking and there were things can just couldn’t be said. “Whether you mean to hurt him or not”, Mr Safrin taught us, “He will cry”.

We spend hours trying to justify our remarks, actions and comments, but it Doesn’t Matter. Even if I am indisputably in the right and the other is being totally unreasonable, the facts remain the same: Somebody is hurt because of something that I said.

The Talmud tells the story of Reb Rechumi who would study all year and come home only on Erev Yom Kippur. One Year, Reb Ruchumi was too engrossed in learning and neglected to come home. Reb Rechumi’s wife, who waiting for him, finally broke down in disappointment and shed a tear. At that moment the roof which Reb Rechumi was sitting on collapsed and he fell to his death.  (Kesuvos 62b).

Of course Mrs. Rechumi had no desire to see her husband die and it obviously didn’t make things easier for her. Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Re Rechumi’s death was inevitable: Mrs’ Rechumi’s tear was a ball of fire, a live grenade, and a loaded weapon created by the deep pain of a holy woman. The Tear had a power and a life of it’s own. The Tear, not the logic or the circumstance, was what killed Reb Rechumi.

The whole of the Torah is for the sake of promoting peace. Whether we are calling people up for Aliyos, Donating money to the Beis Hamikdosh, Observing a Sotah, Talking to ourst friends or engrossed in Torah study, we need to take responsibility, regardless of intent, for the tears we provoke.

(I can’t help but point out that if President Obama had chosen to go over the entire amud he could have brought an excellent example from the Egyptian irrigation systems and etiquette described in the Mishna… and there is is a great Steipler that he could have thrown in for emphasis… not to mention the Reb Chaim in Stencil. Oh well.)


Posted on 06/05 at 06:22 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Defining Moment

In 1920 (or thereabouts) a car made its way down Rechov Yaffo. It was not the first car to arrive in Jerusalem or even the first car to drive down Rechov Yaffo, but it was unusual. All of the students, teachers and staff poured out of the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva to have a look at this great new invention. When they returned to their studies, they were impressed (and maybe a little ashamed) to find that the only one who had remained in Yeshiva and not allowed the passing car to interrupt his studies was a young boy named Shlomo Zalman Orbach.

Reb Shlomo Zalman went on to become one of the leading Torah authorities of his generation, but he did not remain in the Bais Medrash. As he grew older he spent many hours looking at elevators, cars and other modern machinery. He researched and wrote groundbreaking books on electricity, medicine and mechanics. Somebody asked the Rav: “What could you possibly have gained by learning for those ten minutes instead of stepping outside with all of your teachers and friends?”

“Those ten minutes didn’t make me more knowledgeable than my friends”, Reb Shlomo Zalman acknowledged, “and learning about cars is certainly not a waste of time. What I gained in those moments was my bond with the Torah. In those ten minutes of learning I developed an intimate relationship with the Torah that lasted me for a lifetime. I knew what I desired and I knew where I belonged. Nothing can tear me from my Torah.”

We all need moments that define us.

Posted on 05/26 at 06:18 AM • Permalink
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

By Invitation Only

Living a Torah life in a spiritual wasteland is like making a Minyan on an Airplane.

Davening in shul can be inspiring for participants and spectators; Davening on a plane is often inspiring to neither.

Reb Yosi Ben Kisma held that Torah should not be brought to places where it is not wanted. When Rav Chanina Ben Tradyon insisted on teaching Torah amidst Roman persecution, Rav Yosi criticized him. “You will burn”, he said, “and so will the Sefer Torah you are holding”. The Sefer Torah did end up burning with Rabi Chanina but Rebi Chanina’s neshama and the letters of the Sefer Torah separated and flew to heaven unscathed.

Where Reb Chanina, Rabi Akiva and others felt that the presence of Torah among Jews was non-negotiable and worth any sacrifice, Reb Yosi could not condone bringing Torah to a place where it would be unwanted disgraced.

Rabi Chanina said that Torah must be studied wherever there are two Jews and that that alone would bring the Shechina; Reb Yosi said that Torah should be studied only in a pre-existing Makom Torah.

Reb Yosi ben Kisma said: “Even if you give me all of the money in the world, I will only live in a Makom Torah”. Reb Yosi was not againt money and he was not motivated by comfort and self-preservation. Reb Yosi wanted what was best for the Torah, he did not want to see it scorned or burned.

While we are not in a position to choose between Reb Chanina or Reb Yosi, it is important for us to understand Reb Yosi’s directive to live in a Mokom Torah in the context of his disagreement with Rabi Chanina. Reb Yosi’s concern was not for the Jew living outside a Makom Torah - His concern was for the Torah itself. A makom torah is defined as a place where the Torah will find respect and honor. When we bring Torah to a new circumstance or venue, we need to be sure that we are bringing glory to the Torah and not, G-d forbid, creating opportunities for disdain and degradation.

About Thirty years ago my father walked each day from his home in a non-religious neighborhood in Jerusalem to his Yeshiva in a religious one. A non-religious neighbor finally called him on it: “Rabbi”, he said, “You are going the wrong way! Why do you live among the uneducated and study with the educated; come and study with us!”

My father was struck by his words and asked his Rosh Yeshiva if he should leave Yeshiva to study with his neighbors. Better yet, perhaps he should return to his hometown and teach Torah there?

Rav Sheinberg’s answer was clear: Leave Yeshiva to teach - but only if you are wanted. (A short time later he was offered a position which he immedately accepted).

Should a person leave his comfort zone to bring Torah where it is not wanted? Reb Yosi seems to say no. Should a person make a minyan on an airplane when it will draw ridicule? Again, maybe not. In both cases the Torah (or the practice of it) is being introduced to a less than optimal location with less than desirable results. Even if the long-term benefits are great, the short term disgrace may never be justified. This is the lesson of Reb Yosi.

In Lakewood, the entire community surrounds the Yeshiva. Schedules are set up around the Yeshiva timetable and opportunities to learn are countless. Lakewood wants Torah and is the Makom Torah Reb Yosi insisted upon.

In Australia, boys returning from overseas Yeshivas is asked to address a crowd of over one hundred men to share what he has learned. Melbourne wants Torah and is likewise Makom Torah.

All across the fruited plain individuals study Torah Lishma late at night and early every morning. They leave work early to daven Mincha and they often form the elite nucleus that keeps Torah organizations alive.

It seems to me that even Reb Yosi ben Kisma would agree that any community that wants Torah- regardless of size - is a Mokom Torah.

Do the people around you want Torah? Are you in a Makom Torah?

(Sources: Avos 3:2, 6:9, Avoda Zarah 18a, Lev Avos)

This article is third in a trilogy on Makom Torah. The First and Second can be found here and here.


Posted on 05/13 at 06:34 PM • Permalink
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Monday, May 04, 2009


Makom Torah is a state of the mind, not a city on the map.

The Mishna in Avos tells a story that should, on it’s surface, trouble any out-of-towner:

“Said Rabbi Yossei the son of Kisma: Once, I was traveling and I encountered a man. He greeted me and I returned his greetings. Said he to me: “Rabbi, where are you from?” Said I to him: “From a great city of sages and scholars, am I.” Said he to me: “Rabbi, would you like to dwell with us in our place? I will give you a million dinars of gold, precious stones and pearls.” Said I to him: “If you were to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a place of Torah. Indeed, so is written in the book of psalms by David the king of Israel: `I prefer the Torah of Your mouth over thousands in gold and silver’ (Psalms 118:72).

The same story is told of Elijah the Prophet in the Tanna D’vei Eliyahu.

Abravanel explains that Rav Yosi ben Kisma’s road was the pathway of life. The Man who tried to change him was not a person but a culture, an establishment and a set of arbitrary rules. Rav Yosi told the man to let him Be: “I will remain rooted forever”, he said “in a Place of Torah”.

I’m too young to really know much about The Man , but Rav Yosi ben Kisma was not. The Man offered Rav Yosi the gold and silver of the world but Rav Yosi stood up to him, “Keep your trinkets”, he said, “I’ve got the Torah and it is my strength and guide!”

We are all guaranteed to meet Reb Yosi ben Kisma’s Man at some point in life. The Man will try to entice us and we must reject him. We need to keep our Roots in Torah. Rav Yosi Ben Kisma, Eliyahu Hanavi and all of our great leaders met The Man and rejected him out of hand.

Even Torah Jews living in Torah cities need to deal with the Man. All Jews need to examine their decisions (even religious ones) and determine whether they are rooted in a Place of Torah or in the society around them.

Here is one unpopular, but very true, example of the Man getting his way:

According to Halacha a married woman should cover her hair, preferably with a hat or scarf. As a ‘second-best’ option she may add a ‘fall’ with false hair coming out of her hat. If a woman is uncomfortable with either of the above she may dispense with the hat altogether and use only a wig. (Igros Moshe EH 2:12)

A look at societal norms in many large (non-Chasidic) communities reveals a trend that directly counters this Halachic hierarchy: Religious women wear hats, really religious ones wear hats with falls, and really, really, ultra-super-religious women would not think of wearing anything other than a sheitel.

Without belittling our in-town cousins, it is instructive to observe that these large-town attitudes are primarily rooted in Social realities and not in Halacha.
Rav Aharon Shechter, Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin once asked me if I felt like I was up to the challenges of out-of-town living. I told him that as a point of fact, I found in-town living to be the greater challenge, and the one that I might not be able to handle.

I explained that I need the latitude to base my actions on halacha and not be restricted by the pressure of societal norms. Personally, I prefer not to deal with the challenges of arbitrary rules that are dictated by the frum community but have no basis in halacha.

Rav Aharon asked for a f’rinstance and I gave him my Hat-Fall-Sheitel illustration. He wouldn’t agree or disagree, but he did recommend that I stay in Norfolk.

So, if you are out of town, take advantage of your location. Base you decisions on what the Torah says without worrying about how they act in the big city. And if you do live in the big city, consider this: Are your actions really rooted in a Place of Torah (Like Reb Yosi ben Kisma) or are they based on the societal, economic, and political standards of the people around you?

Note: This is the second installment in a trilogy on Makom Torah. The first essay can be found here.


Posted on 05/04 at 03:56 AM • Permalink
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Monday, April 27, 2009

What Makes a Makom Torah?

Azaleas are in bloom this week.

Native Norfolkians claim that our city is uniquely suited for Azaleas. I haven’t found any scientific confirmation, but it has something to do with the cold winds from the north converging with the warmer southern wind off the bay. About fifty years ago Fred Heutte put some money together to plant the 250,000 strong Azalea Gardens which spawned the Azalea Celebration and the annual Azalea Festival
in honor of NATO.

While there are arguments as to the exact secret of azalean fertility in Norfolk, everyone agrees that it is no fluke. Whether it is the wind, the soils or the magnetic aura, there must be some explanation for our two weeks of annual Azalean bliss.

The same applies in all areas of agriculture: If trees flourish particularly well in one region, we can safely assume that there is something conducive about that region’s soil, atmosphere and sunlight. The best farmer in the world will not be able to plant if the environment is not suited to her needs.

The same applies to Torah. Pirkei Avos often mentions the idea of a Makom Torah – a place of Torah. What does this mean? The Mishna sometimes references an “Ir Gedola” - a big city and the Talmud explains, “What is a big city? One in which there are ten people who devote their days to the study of Torah”. A Makom Torah may include Ir Gedola qualifications, but I believe that a Makom TOrah in the true sense is so much more.

When we see Torah flourishing in Bnei Brak or in Yerushayim or in Lakewood or Brooklyn, we can assume (just as we do in gardening) that there is something special about that area, that neighborhood and that city. It was that “something special” that allowed those cities to become the Torah cities that they are. It may be in the water it may be in the air, it may in the people. It doesn’t matter. The point is that in order to succeed, a city needs to have a very specific quality - it must be a “Makom Torah” a place that is conducive to growth in Torah. Throughout history there have been hundreds of Mekomos Hatorah: places where Torah is able to flourish. Lublin, Vilna, Cracow and Warsaw are all examples of places that were right for Torah growth. Before that Nahardaah and Pumbedisah in Iraq and Alexandria in Egypt were flourishing Torah communities.  All of these locations had “good soil”. Other communities throughout history did not meet with the same success. They did not have the special quality of a Makom Torah.

Camden, Maine and Lakewood, NJ might have the same “Makom Torah” rating. We do not know because no one (to my knowledge) has ever tried to build Torah in Camden, Maine.

Throughout the world there exist untapped Mekomos Hatorah. Like fertile land that has never been planted, these places are perfect settings for Torah growth. Men like Reb Aharon Kotler and the Ponevizher Rav used their superior dowsing capabilities to expertly identify Lakewood and Bnei Brak as fertile land. They invested their lives and their strength into farming these cities and watched them bloom into beautiful orchards.

A place that is full of Torah does not become a Makom Torah; being a Makom Torah is a prerequisite for growth in Torah.

I heard this idea from Reb Mordechai Berkowitz at my goodbye party when I left Lakewood. He was quoting his grandfather, one of leading Roshei Yeshiva in America, Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky in an attempt to explain why I was leaving New Jersey for Virginia.

Several years later, Reb Shmuel came to Norfolk. We gave him a tour of the area showing him the Shul, Torah Day School, the Yeshiva, the Kollel, and the mikva. That night I was honored to join Reb Shmuel and the Gibbers for an intimate dinner where Reb Shmuel told us about his own experiences living ‘out of town’ in Toronto, LA, and Philadelphia. I asked him if it was true that the Makom Torah moniker refers to a propitious place for Torah growth rather than too an area wigh a highly frumly population one. He said, “yes, I have said that” and asked me where I had heard it.

I took a deep breath and followed up with an extremely loaded question: “Is Norfolk, VA a Makom Torah?” Reb Shmuel thought for a few moments before opining: “Judging from the growth of the community and the shul and the kollel and the day school and the Yeshiva, I would say that Norfolk definitely does fall into the category of a makom Torah. None of these organizations could have flourished otherwise”. I quoted the words of Reb Yosi Ben Kisma that a person should be willing to forgo all the money in the world to live in a makom Torah. “Would Norfolk work for Reb Yosi ben Kisma?” Reb Shmuel said yes.

In the Aish Kodesh journal Reb Shmuel writes that upon visiting Norfolk with its’ enthusiastic student body and devoted baalei Baatim, “I was certain that Norfolk will become a Makom Torah”.

Many communities have tried to build Torah but were unsuccessful (Reb Shmuel hinted to one or two). Only some cities have the special nature and the special charm of a Makom Torah, a place where Torah can grow.

The Torah compares a Tzadik to a tree. In the Shir Shel Yom for Shabbos we talk about a Tzadik sprouting like a palm tree and growing like a Cedar in Lebanon. Those that are planted in the house of Hashem will blossom in the courtyards of Hashem. Rabbi Nosson Scherman (in his poular Siddur) quotes the Radak who explains that the quality of a tree is only half the formula for success; for maximum benefit a tree must be planted in luxurious soil.

In life we often find ourselves wondering how we will overcome troubles and tests that scare us. If we plant ourselves and are firmly rooted in a Makom Torah and as a Makom Torah, we have a promise that we will succeed. “We will continue to be fruitful in our old age, vigorous and fresh we will be. To prove once again that Hashem is just. He is our G-d and he will never let us down”.


Posted on 04/27 at 03:41 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Neighborhood Watch

Nitai Ha’arbeli, the Tanna, lived in the rural town of Arbeil where the ruins of his Shul can still be seen. He did not want to be around people. He said ‘stay far from a bad neighbor’, and he did.

Nitai Ha’arbeli led his generation together with Reb Yehoshua ben Perachia. They agreed in concept and disagreed in approach. Reb Yehoshua said: Make yourself a teacher and acquire a friend. Nitai Ha’arbeili said: Stay away from bad people and don’t associate with evil. Reb Yehoshua said: Judge everyone favorably; Nitai Ha’arbeili said: Evil people will eventually be punished.

Who were the evil people that Nitai Ha’arbeli sought to avoid? A peek into Avos D’rebi Nosson gives us an insight into Nitai Ha’arbeili’s inspiration. He tells the story of a man who found Tzaraas (leprousy) on the walls of his home. The metzora gets his wall knocked down, presumably because he has sinned. The neighbor who shares a wall loses his wall as well - because he has a neighbor who has sinned.

Nitai Ha’arbeili understood that to live next to a metzorah is to share his guilt.

What kind of people become ‘Metzoras’?

Their were ten possible causes, but the top three are Lashon Hora (Evil Speech), Haughtiness, and Stinginess. Basically, Nitai Ha’arbeili moved to get away from bigmouths, show-offs and cheapskates.

Last week, I brought my daughter to a doctor in Frumville. There was a Mezuza on the door, a Shas in the waiting room, A Tefila on the wall and a nurse who could not stop saying Baruch Hashem. At the pharmacy, we found the Pesach Guide attached to the counter. It felt like a game of Mitzvah Monopoly.

I was jealous for a few minutes, perhaps rightfully so, but I stopped myself from jumping to confusions. Was my judgement based on the Mishna in Avos or on my my own comfort level?

Life at 613 Torah Avenue is very cool and very nice, but (possibly) not an end in itself. When Nitai Ha’arbeili told us to have good neighbors, he wasn’t talking about living on the street with the biggest Lag B’omer bonfire or on the route of The Man with the Truck. Nitai Ha’arbeili was telling us to find neighbors who are loving, humble, and generous. That is what the Metzorah did when he made contact with the Cohein and that is what both Nitai Ha’arbeili and Reb Yehoshua ben Prachia agreed was the key to our survival.

One more thought: Maybe the problem isn’t the people, but the walls. The Talmud tells us that when the Metzora demolished the wall separating him from his neighbor he would find an ancient treasure.

If the walls between us crumbled, what would we find?

Source: Kli Yakar


Posted on 04/21 at 06:20 PM • Permalink
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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sunshine and Our National Bar Mitzvah

Yesterday, my good friend and student Yaakov Wilson celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Yaakov is one of the most remarkable people I know and together we composed a timely Bar Mitzvah speech. I am posing it here - sans merci* - for your edification. (Please note that all references to solar events are based on halachic calculations. See the Chazon Ish OC 131:4 and other quality literature for full treatment of this issue.)

(Loud & Slow)

This is not just my Bar Mitzvah; it is the Bar Mitzvah of the Jewish people. On this date, about three thousand years ago Hashem looked at our forefathers in Egypt and decided that it was time for us to grow up. He taught us to come together as a nation and He gave us the responsibility of our first National Mitzvah – The Korban Pesach or the Paschal Lamb.

This month, the month of our redemption from Egypt is called Nissan. The name Nissan comes from the word Nitzan which means to sprout or to blossom. In this month the trees begin to blossom and we began to blossom and grow-up as a nation. Just as the Jewish people needed to mature as a nation, each and every young Jewish male at his Bar Mitzvah is expected to mature into a responsible adult. I hope that I can follow in the footsteps of my parents and teachers as I join this “grown-up” element of the Jewish People.

The word Nitzan can also refer to the Netz Hachama – the rising of the sun. The sun rose for the very first time on Wednesday, the fourth day of creation. This Wednesday we will be witnessing the sunrise just as it appeared on that very first Wednesday of creation. In the Jewish calendar this occurs only once every twenty-eight years. The last time that the vernal equinox occurred on a Wednesday was in 1981; the next occurrence will not take place until 2037, when I am thirty-one years old and hopefully married with children, a job and a really late bed time. On the morning of the Vernal equinox Jews around the world will make a special blessing, thanking Hashem for creating the sun. I have learned from my many devoted teachers that without the sun there would be no life on this planet: plants would not grow, animals would go hungry and the ecosystem would crash.

Just having my Bar Mitzvah on the eve of this once in twenty eight year occurrence would be special enough. But this year is even more special because this celebration of the rebirth of the sun takes place just as we begin to celebrate Pesach and the birth of the Jewish nation.

This convergence of the renewal of the sun’s creation (the vernal equinox) and the maturing of the Jewish people (Pesach) is particularly rare. It last occurred in 1925 and the time before that was way back in 1309 (in medieval times). We have over 500 years to wait until 2541 – the next time that a Wednesday Vernal Equinox occurs on the day before Pesach.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the creation of the sun, its reliability, regularity and consistency. We are taught that when the sun and moon were first created they were equal in size and importance. The moon complained: How can two kings rule at the same time. The sun listened to the moon’s complaint but did not say a word. Hashem rewarded the Sun for being satisfied with the job it had been given and made it superior to the moon. As we know the light of the moon is now nothing but a reflection of the sun.

I think that the secret to the sun’s success is his happiness with what he is. He was happy with his task and never stopped doing his duty (except for a few short hours in the days of Yehoshua).

The Jewish people need to learn from the sun. We need to fulfill our purpose on this earth with out feeling a need to look over at the next person to see what they are doing.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Hagadol, the big Shabbos. In Hebrew, the word Gadol means big, but it also refers to a boy who has reached the age of Bar mitzvah. On my personal Shabbos Hagadol I embark on my life as an adult and continue to do all that you have helped me begin. Like the sun, I hope that I can remain dedicated and focused as I fulfill my own specific role in this world.

Thank you, A good Shabbos and a Happy and Healthy Pesach.

(*Sans Merci - omitting the thank you’s)


Posted on 04/05 at 04:10 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Nights of our Lives

A Series of Thoughts on the Hagada

Note: The following is a somewhat involved and complicated thought process based on the Hagada and the mitzvah to remember our Exodus from Egypt. I hope that it serves as a springboard for thought and an opportunity to find new meaning in your Yom Tov.


• In the Hagada we praise Hashem because he kept his promise, he had the end perfectly worked out and He took us out of Mitzrayim at the perfect moment.

• If Hashem had waited even one more moment it would have been too late and we would have been impossible to rescue. Yet, we praise Him for waiting. Why couldn’t Hashem take us out earlier? We would never honor a lifeguard for waiting until the last possible moment before diving into the pool and saving a life!


• Earlier, Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria said:"I am like a seventy-year old man and I did not merit to convince my colleagues that there is a Mitzva to mention the Exodus from Egypt at night, until Ben Zoma explained it by quoting: “In order that you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life.” The Torah adds the world all to the phrase ‘the days of your life’ to teach us that the nights are meant as well . (The Sages explained that “the days of your life” means This World and the word “all “ includes the days of the coming of Moshiach)

• Although many argued, it seems that the Halacha is in accordance with Rabi Eliezer and Yetzias Mitarayim must be remembered both at night and during the day (Shaagas Aryeh). This poses a problem since we know that women are obligated in Mitzvos that are not time-bound and it would follow that women should recite Shema every evening (which they do not do).

• What are we remembering when we remember Mitzrayim? In Brachos, Rabi Akiva says that the Mitzva is only to remember the actual exodus, which happened during the day. Rabi Eliezer argues that we are remembering the frantic Egyptians of the night before our redemption. We remember How Pharaoh (in pajamas in the middle of the night) begged us to leave. (Since the miracle happened at midnight, Rebi Eliezer rules that we must finish the Matzah by midnight. R’ Akiva allows the Matzah to be eaten until morning)

• Rebi Eliezer is teaching that even though we were not totally free at midnight, our obligation is to remember that Hashem was with us IN Mitzrayim during the most confusing and difficult times.

• This is why Hashem waited until the last minute to take us out: We had a lot to learn through our suffering. We now know that as low as we go we can always get up again.

• Many people have a minhag to eat a hard boiled egg on Pesach, the Chasam Sofer explains that just as an egg gets harder the more it is boiled; we also become stronger and stronger by being in the worst kinds of situations.

• We can now answer our halachic question: Even if, according to Rabi Eliezer, we must remember Egypt during the day and at night – we can split the obligation into two separate mitzvos. During the day we remember the clear exodus; at night we remember the confusion in Mitzrayim. Rather than being one non-time-bound mitzvah, Zechiras Yetzias Mitzrayim is actually made up of two separate time-bound mitzvos: one during the day and one at night.


• Why Does Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria say “I’m, like, Seventy years old”? The Gemara in Brachos teaches us that Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria was only eighteen years old when he was appointed as Nasi – leader – of the Jewish people. Because of his youthful appearance, his wife was afraid that people wouldn’t respect him.  A miracle happened and his beard turned white and he looked like a seventy year old man. (THE MEKUBALIM WRITE that Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria had the Soul of Shmuel HaNaviwho lived for fifty-two years. Rabi Elazar Ben Azaria hinted to this when he compared himself to a seventy year old.  His own eighteen years plus the fifty-two years that his Neshama was in Shmuel HaNavi ‘s body comes to a total of seventy years.)

• Perhaps we can add another reason: In Masechtas Makos, Rabi Elazar ben Azarya says that ideally capital punishment should not take place more often than once in seventy years. Perhaps Reb Elazar ben Azaria was commenting on the amount of death and killing that he had seen in his lifetime.

• During the daytime everything is clear; at night things are unclear and confusing. In a person’s lifetime there are ‘days’ and ‘nights’.

• Remembering our redemption from Egypt at night is allegorical to celebrating in tough times. G-d has always been with us and we must always remember that. When the going gets tough; the tough get going. At the same time we need to remember Hashem when things are perfect. We need to remember how Hashem helped us reach that day when we walked as free men toward Eretz Yisroel.

Posted on 04/02 at 03:29 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Double Dip

My parents named their eleventh child Yosef. He’s a good looking, charming and well-liked young man. At this point, my father spends more time with him than with the rest of his sons. We call him the ‘Ben Zikunim’, the son of our parents’ old age.

Despite emerging and recurrent patterns, the Jewish people seem to have learned their lesson about sibling rivalry. My parents never had to worry about us selling Yossi or throwing him into a pit. We’ve never had the urge. We adore Yosef and we are all very proud to be his siblings. Times are different, people are different, and Yossi hasn’t had any disturbing dreams or tried to take over (yet).

There is an old tradition amongst the Chasidim of Bobov, Shinove, and others to enact a yearly Yosef Shpiel. Despite opposition, the show continues to this day. Even if you do not know Yiddish, it is worth taking the time to check out this performance at because it gives us an adult perspective on the story. The brothers were not a group of kids arguing in a sandbox, they were a group of holy, mature, men engaged in painful philosophical decision-making. The brothers were wrong – they admitted it themselves - but they were in no way childish or lacking intelligence in their actions.

Our descent to Egypt began when the brothers plotted to rid themselves of Yosef and dipped his coat into blood. We stayed in Egypt for 210 years, eventually becoming slaves and suffering greatly. The story of Yosef and his brothers plays a central role in the story of our slavery and redemption.

The Torah records that when Yosef was finally reunited with his brothers he gave each of them a suit. He singled out his brother Binyamin by giving him five suits. The Talmud wonders how Yosef could put Binyamin into the same favored position that caused him such trouble. Rabbi Binyamin Bar Yefes explains that the single suit received by each of the brothers was actually equal in value to the total value of Binyamin’s five suits. Binyamin received a different gift, but not a better one. Yosef alluded with his gift to Mordechai, a grandson of Binyamin, who would wear five royal robes as he walked through Shushan as second in command to King Achashveirosh. (Megila 16b, Maharsha)

Mordechai suffered as a result of his extra suits. Some of Mordechai’s colleagues in the Sanhedrin felt that he was too involved in royal affairs and could not remain the holy scholar and leader that he had been in the past. Other members of Sanhedrin continued to support Mordechai. Assuming that the latter were correct, it would seem that Mordechai did himself a disservice by leaving the palace wearing all five suits. He may not have had a choice, but by showing all of his glory at once he gave the wrong message to those around him.

Yosef taught Binyamin a similar lesson: If you have something special – don’t wear it on your sleeve. Don’t wear a suit of many colors. Don’t try to intimidate people by showing all of your merits at once. By exhibiting each of his traits on a ‘need to know’ basis, Binyamin would be able to accomplish far more for the Jewish people. The humility of Shaul of the tribe of Binyamin helped him become the first king of Israel; Ester, his grand-daughter, saved the Jewish people because she refused to disclose her royal lineage.

Our descent to Egypt began when the brothers dipped Yosef’s coat into blood. We left Egypt only after dipping our hyssop brushes into the blood of the Paschal lamb (and painting the doorposts).

Two immersions in blood: One got us into Egypt; the other got us out. The Jews came to Egypt as a result of the Sale of Yosef and they couldn’t leave until it was addressed.

On the night of the Seder we dip twice. We dip our Karpas into salt water to remember the bitterness caused by the Ksones PASim that was dipped in blood. We take the edge off of our bitterness by dipping Maror into Charoses and recalling the immersion that took place just before we were freed.

Double-dip at the Seder and make a difference.

We need to remember the story of Yosef and remove jealousy from our lives.


Posted on 03/29 at 11:52 PM • Permalink
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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Tear of a Peer

Rabbi Shalom Shwadron used to tell the story about a group of children who were playing at a certain family’s home. One of the children suddenly incurred a serious accident, and had to be taken to hospital. The hostess had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the child’s mother, and decided to do it gradually. When the child’s mother came to the house, the hostess told her that one of the children had an accident. “That’s nothing,” she said, “children are always having accidents!” The hostess then said that it was a serious accident, and the child had to be taken to hospital. “Nu,” the mother replied, “we must have faith in G-d. He will help the child.” “But”, the hostess finally said, “it was your Yossele!” And the mother fainted.

As much as we can and should appreciate those who work for peace and an end to dissension in the Jewish community, it may some times be the case that their aloof attitude implies that the issue at hand doesn’t really affect them—it isn’t really THEIR issue, it isn’t really their Yossele! Link

We are supposed to feel the pain of others. And we do. But is seems to me that there are times when we should rise above that pain and look at the problem from the perspective of an outsider. If we make the problem our own, we will only raise the level of hysteria; if we divorce ourselves from the problem, we can help with our thoughtfulness and perspective.

I once told my rebbe that I was going through a mid-life crisis. It was the most difficult period of my life and I was very distressed.  “Sender”, he chuckled, “I think it’s adolescence”. I needed someone to laugh at me then, and he did.

Can an intimate conversation take place in a crowded room on YouTube? I’m not sure.

This week my brother sent me a meeting of two aging giants in our generation. Rav Ovadia Yosef was suffering from back pain and could not learn properly. He was crying and he was distressed. He had thousands of people to cry for him, to daven for him, perhaps even to commiserate with him. That wasn’t enough. He needed someone to point a finger at him and say “Don’t Cry!” He needed someone to laugh and say that everything would be OK, that he was getting too upset. There is a time to cry for a friend in pain, but sometimes we need to laugh at them.

Rav Sheinberg was moved to tears by Rav Ovadia’s cries, you can see that later in the conversation, but he didn’t cry for Rav Ovadia – He laughed.

Reb Yochanan would help many great people in their illnesss, but he could not help himself. He needed Reb Chanina to lift him up (Brachos 5b). May all of our leaders merit long and healthy lives.


Posted on 03/23 at 08:15 PM • Permalink
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Friday, March 20, 2009

The Turtledove Has Arrived!

“The blossoms have appeared in the land; the time of singing has arrived and the call of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:12)

The TurtleDove (Streptopelia turtur) gets her name from her distinctive, purring, gentle and evocative TurTur sound as she brings in the summer months. It is a farewell to winter and a wake up call to new and better times to come.

These sounds are heard throughout the land, but they are directed at us. Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem – this month is for you – G-d says, because it is our chance for renewal. As we welcome Parshas Hachodesh, we witness the rebirth of the moon and experience the refreshing vistas of springtime. We relate to this reality by preparing for Pesach, the Seder, and the anniversary of the day that we were taken by Hashem to be his nation (R S.R. Hirsch, The Jewish Year).

The word Seder does not appear anywhere in the Torah, yet it is an integral part of our preparedness for Pesach. Everything needs to be done exactly right. The universal Seder for the Seder is the well-known “Kadesh Urchatz”, etc. which is chanted at the beginning of the Seder and as it unfolds (Yesod Veshoresh Haavodah). The order dates back at least to the times of Rashi and probably earlier. There is also a very ancient custom to have the children recite two or three lines in Yiddish or more recently English, which summarize the essence of that particular “siman” or step, basically paraphrasing the words of the Shulchan Aruch. For example before kadesh the child will say “Kadesh, the father comes home from shul, puts on his kittel and makes kiddush very quickly so that the small children will not fall asleep”.

One of the early Chasidishe rebbes, “The Shpoyler Zaide” (of Dancing Bear fame) once sat down at his Seder and invited his youngest child to recite the Simanim. The youth said. “Kadesh – the father comes home from shul puts on his kittel and makes kiddush”. He stopped. The Zaide asked, “is that it!?” “yes”, the boy replied “that’s all my teacher taught me”. Early the next morning the Zaide approached the teacher in shul: “is it true that you taught the children an abridged version of the text”?! The teacher explained that since the children were young it he felt was enough just to teach them the bare bones of things. The rebbe scolded the teacher: “don’t you realize that everything in the Seder has special significance? Kiddush isn’t just a blessing on wine, it means holiness and sanctification. The father we refer to is Hashem. On the first night of Pesach Hashem comes home from shul with us (so to speak). He is hoping to purify and redeem us as He did thousands of years ago on this day. It is in this hope we ask that the father (Hashem) “put on his kittel” and make kiddush (i.e. make us holy) very quickly. The reason for the rush is because us Jews are like little kids with a very short attention span. For hundreds of years Jews have been begging Hashem. Make Kiddush quickly before your little children fall asleep. Never leave those words out again!”

Logically we should first wash our hands and then become holy. However, on Pesach (in Egypt and today) we are like Hashem’s small children. We really can’t be expected to wash our hands on our own and we need a little help from Hashem. Before we can begin to purify ourselves we need Hashem to make us ‘Kadosh’ - holy. This exactly what happened in Egypt, We never would have “woken up” by ourselves. Hashem needed to wake us up, and only then were we ready to do our share and purify ourselves.

At the end of the Torah we compare Hashem to an eagle that awakens his young by hovering above them. The Vilna Gaon explains the eagle flies higher than all other birds and carries her young on her back to protect them from any harm. In order to travel safely the birds need to be awake and holding on tight. In the same way, Hashem wakes us up, but it is our responsibility to stay awake and hold on tight.

It is Nissan. Spring is here. The time of singing has arrived and the turtledove is calling.

Wake Up!

Posted on 03/20 at 03:43 AM • Permalink
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing the People

Moshe was receiving the Torah on Har Sinai. Suddenly, Hashem told Moshe, “You need to leave now. Your Jewish people have taken a turn have made themselves a Golden Calf. They are dancing around it and worshipping it, saying ‘this is your god who took you out of Egypt.” Moshe could not receive the Torah.

Hashem continued with some advice, “These people are stubborn. Let me destroy the Jewish people. Keep the Luchos and start a new nation. I will make you great.”

Moshe had a choice: He could forsake the Jewish people and take the Luchos or he could stay with the Jewish people and, necessarily, break the Luchos.

The logical course of action was to forget about the Jewish people. The Jewish people had been complaining since Moshe first lobbied Paroh to let them go. The Jewish people deserved to be destroyed.

Faced with his decision, Moshe chose the Jews. He descended Har Sinai to join them and he shattered the luchos before their eyes. Over time, he helped them change their ways and finally grow to the point where they were ready to truly accept the second Luchos.

Moshe could have chosen the easy and logical way. He could have kept the Luchos and built a nation with his own family. Instead, he risked everything and stuck with the Jewish people.

What was Moshe thinking when he voluntarily left G-d’s presence and descended the Mountain? What motivated Moshe?

If we could ask Moshe this question, we would expect the answer to be profound: ‘My heart is with my people’, ‘I couldn’t see things any other way’, ‘I was blinded by my love’, ‘they needed me, how could I forsake them’.

According to the Gemara, Moshe Rabeinu’s thoughts were quite different:
Moshe’s first motivation was logical. Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov devoted their lives to G-d. G-d promised each of them that He would care for their children. If those promises were not a strong enough to keep a nation alive – there was no way that Moshe be able to successfully build a nation. 

Moshe’s second motivation was shame: “How will it look? People will say that I abandoned the nation I was leading to start a nation of my own”

It is difficult to believe that Moshe Rabeinu made such a selfless decision based on such selfish motives. Didn’t Bnei Yirsroel themselves factor in? Weren’t they part of the equation?

Perhaps we can find the answer by fast-forwarding two thousand years in Jewish history. Yeshayahu the prophet was a contemporary of Chizkiyahu the king. It was unclear who should pay a visit to whom, so they never met. One visiting the other would undermine his position as a leader of the nation. When Chizkiyahu became deathly ill, Yeshayahu understood that Hashem was giving him an opportunity to visit Chizkiyahu without making a political statement.

Yeshayahu entered the Palace and promptly told Chizkiyahu that he was going to die. Chizkiyahu was able to have children but didn’t. Since He was otherwise very righteous, he should have known better and was being punished with death. Chizkiyahu explained that he had a good reason for not having children: he knew that his children would be evil. They would do terrible things in their lives. How could Hasem want him to have children?

Yirmiyahu corrected Chizkiyahu: “that is none of you business. You should not be worried about Hashem’s plans”.

Chizkiyahu accepted the Mussar and married Yeshayahu’s daughter. They gave birth to two children. Both of the sons were evil. Ravshaka died as a child and Menashe became king and ushered the Jewish people into a period of idolatry. At the end of his life he did repent and his son Yoshiyahu was a righteous king.

Yeshayahu’s lesson to King Chizkiyahu was that the Jewish people cannot be judged on a moment to moment basis. As a navi, Yeshayahu’s job was to worry about Jewish existence. Yeshaya knew that ultimately The Jews would survive and that the family of Dovid Hamelech would lead them. The destiny of the Jewish people cannot be abandoned and cut short because of the wickedness of one person or one generation.

Moshe Rabeinu realized that it was not important to judge the Jewish people who stood at the bottom of the mountain. He needed to think about the descendents of their forefathers. They had strong roots and they would grow into a strong nation. At the moment it might be logical to abandon them, salvage the Luchos and start his own nation, but as a leader he knew that their past and their future were too powerful to be abandoned based on a momentary lapse.

Moshe did more than just ‘stick with his people’, he recognized them for who they were and acknowledged that no momentary situation could justify abandoning them forever.

Hashem offered Moshe the logical choice, but Moshe read between the lines. He recognized our past and helped us realize our future.

Posted on 03/13 at 05:27 AM • Permalink
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Best Supporting Actor

The Mishkan was the dwelling place for G-d in this world. If G-d could have a house here on earth the Mishkan is what it would look like. The Torah goes to great lengths to describe to the Jewish people exactly how the Mishkan should be built and how it should look. This is a sort of Jewish Feng Shui: It is a lesson in how to make G-d belong in our homes and in our lives. If we can understand the architecture of the Mishkan we can understand something about how G-d relates to this world and to us.

The supporting beams of the Mishkan were a series of very large pillars, called Krashim. The Torah describes the placement of the Krashim in the very human terms of “Isha El Achosa” like sisters standing beside on another.

In the words of the Baal Shem Tov: The world is a Mishkan and we are it’s Krashim. Just as the tapestries of the Mishkan were dependent on the Krashim to form an actual structure, G-d leaves it to us to make the world into a viable and G-dly space. Just as the Krashim gave shape to the Mishkan, we are enjoined to give shape to this world and turn it into a holy structure – a place where G-d can dwell.

Often, great people are also great nonconformists. They have courage and can beat to their own drums; they will become truly great if they refuse to forget their roles as supporting actors.

We are here in this world as ambassadors of G-d. We should represent G-d in everything that we do and to everyone that we meet. We can make this world more G-dly with every nice word that we say and with every moment that we keep our mouths shut. If we can do this then we are truly Krashim. We can be pillars of the world; we can hold the whole world in our hands (and that sure beats a funny looking statue).

Based on Degel Machane Efraim. Thanks to Mr. H. Broncher of Har Nof for introducing me to this vort and to the Degel on Parshas Terumah 5759.

Posted on 02/24 at 05:08 AM • Permalink
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

On Heathens (and stories)

All of the waters in the entire world split. A few years later there was a tremendous earthquake accompanied by thunder and lightening and a prolonged blast. Scared that this was the beginning of a large scale Tsunami, All of the leaders and kings ran to their local “prophet” Bilaam. At the meeting Paroh and the other kings expressed concern that there would be another Flood. Yisro was also at the meeting because he was the priest of Midyan. Bilaam just laughed at them and explained that the commotion was because Hashem was giving the Torah to the Jewish people. The kings said “OK, that’s all it is” and went home. Only Yisro took a moment to consider that maybe if Hashem and the Torah could make the entire world shake, he should take it seriously. Like the boy who put on his sock, Yisro said to himself: “I think there’s something in it”.

Yisro arrived at the Machane Yisroel with Moshe’s wife and sons, Gershom and Eliezer reuniting the family in the wilderness. Interestingly, the Jews were then gathered at Har HaElokim - exactly the same spot where Hashem appeared to Moshe in the Burning Bush.

Initially, Yisro was barred entry into the camps. He shot arrows into the camp with messages. The first one said: “I am Your Father-in-law Yisro, I have come to you’, the second ‘…and your wife’, and the third ‘…and her two children are with her”.

Moshe decided to come out personally and greet Yisro. Of course, when Moshe went out to greet him, he was joined by Aharon and Nadav and Avihu and all of the Jewish people.  Moshe kissed and greeted his FIL and invited him into his tent where he told him the stories of the past few months in order to inspire him and bring him closer to Hashem. The Torah describes Yisro’s reaction with the word ‘Vayichad’, which means both happy and pained.

Yisro was so impressed and astounded that he became Jewish. Keep in mind that up until now Yisro had been a priest of many different idolatrous cults and had not been very nice to Moshe. Yisro insisted that Moshe’s first born son would be a pagan priest and did not even let him get a Bris! We learn from Yisro that a person must always be prepared to reevaluate and realize that they may have made a mistake. From Moshe we see that when someone seeks the truth we must give them royal respect, regardless of whether they threw you into a dungeon without food for ten years. (If they did something worse – see your Local Orthodox Rabbi).

Yisro noticed that the only Shofet/authority/advisor for the entire Jewish nation is Moshe himself. Concerned, Yisro forecasted ‘Navol Tivol’ - you will surely wilt.  Yisro suggested that lower judges be appointed to take care of smaller matters, and Moshe would attend to larger issues. Moshe accepted his advice after speaking with Hashem, and changed the face of Jewish leadership forever.

Yesterday, I explained a little too much to the man sitting next to me in Shul. He finally turned to me (with a smile) and said: “Rabbi! I may be a heathen, but I know the stories”.

He’s right. I don’t know very much about Heathen’s but I know that Moshe (at one point) had one for a Father-in-law. He stood to the side while his daughter’s husband started a religion and changed the world, but he finally came closer to Monotheism and G-d because he heard stories. When he came to join Moshe, they didn’t discuss philosophy and theology. They told stories.

Rav Nachman Breslover was a holy, if controversial, rebbe in the eighteenth century. For years, he tried to penetrate the souls of his Chassidim but without sufficient success. Finally he told his followers that he had a change of heart and realized that his old teachings were no enough. “And now”, he said, “I will begin to tell stories”.

My family owns one of the original collections of Rav Nachman’s stories. It reads like a fairy tale in Yiddish with princesses, spells, magic carpats, giants, treasure and far away castles. The stories contain no religious content at all, yet when the first Gerrer Rebbe came across this book he remained engrossed in its stories for one and a half hours. When he finally lifted his head, he told his shocked followers (who were waiting for him to perform a bris), I just reviewd the first section of the Kabbalistic work Eitz Chaim.

We are taught that observing a sage is greater than learning from one and that Torah in action is greater than Torah in print.

Stories are precious, and they have the ability to change a life. To quote the singular Ashleigh Brilliant: “Strange as it may seem, my life is based on a true story”.


Posted on 02/08 at 07:58 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

I Am Not a Tree

The 15th of Shvat is a very important day for every member of the vegetable kingdom. On or around this day most plants, especially those in Israel, approach their final stages of development. This day is the cut-off point for last year’s fruit and the genesis of this year’s fruit. On this day one generation of apples and oranges is on the verge of extinction while the new generation begins to take root. This could be a very meaningful day, if I was a tree.

Us people have our own New Years. New Year can be a day of judgment, a day of resolutions or a cutoff date for tax credits. We are all in the habit of marking our calendars and the day with slight departures from our daily routine. New Years are important days. They are our new beginnings and our new ends. Our lives revolve around these dates.  But when it comes to the New Year for trees, why do we care? Why do we get so excited and sing songs and munch on dried carobs? What’s the big deal?

And yet we’ve been doing this for a while. The Moroccan scholar Rabbi Yissachar Shussan records the custom of eating fruits in his work “Tikkun Yissachar” printed in 1564. And dating back to long before that, the Talmud (RH 2a) records that the deadline for many of the tithes has always been the 15th of Shvat. As a nation we have been marking this day for millennia. The only question is why.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps the very irrelevance of this day is the reason for its significance. We need to realize that while our year may begin on Rosh Hashana and end right before next Rosh Hashana, there are other years too. Ecology has its own year, and its own cycle. There is an entire saga developing every year right in our own backyards. Teachers start their year in September and groundhogs begin theirs in February. Some people plan around the Superbowl and others around Oscars. In the Parks and Forestry Department, they commence on Labor Day. Everyone’s got their own world, their own year, and their own cycle. And it’s got nothing to do with ours. On Tu B’shvat we take a moment to realize that while we aren’t very involved in the life cycle of a tree, the tree is. We don’t have to celebrate extravagantly, but we must remind ourselves that everything has its own beginning, its own climax and its own final destination. These dates and occasions may not affect us directly, but they affect others. They affect the way other people relate to us and they should affect the way we relate to other people.

Occasionally, unforeseen circumstances get in our way and stop us, or at least detain us, from accomplishing our goals.  We have all experienced this frustration many times, but we still become upset and annoyed. We blame the weather, “Mother Nature”, our spouse, children, IT guy and just about anyone who had a connection to the delay. This is not to say that it wasn’t their fault. Chances are that it was!  But we need to remember that each of them has his/her own “world” going. We each have our own jobs, friends, experiences, and deadlines.  Everybody has their plans and their feelings.  How many of us have timed our drive to work and then gotten stuck in traffic? How about that snowstorm we had a couple years ago?  It happens. It’s not tragic; it’s just my “world” merging with another. All of our worlds coexist with the worlds of everyone we know. The worlds of our family and friends, the highway department, the weather, the boss and the trees all affect us in a big way.

Tu B’shvat is the time to stop, think, remember that while G-d allows us to run our lives, it is only to an extent. He wants us to know very clearly that we do not live in a vacuum.

On Tu B’shvat we celebrate a world that we seldom think about but is happening around us every day.

N.B This article was originally written for the Norfolk Area Community Kollel in 2002. A few years later I touched it up and submitted it as essay to Norfolk State University. It was such a hit that the professor called me and accused me of plagiarizing. For interested parties, the NSU version can be found in the extended text. Please do not Plagiarize.)

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The Lifecycle of a Student

In the past I often scoffed, mocked and otherwise misunderstood devotees of the structured school year. These people, though normal in every other way, seemed overly obsessed with events and red-letter days that have little or no consequence to the world at large. In the lives of these people, September 1st, Orientation, “Back to School night”, and graduation seem to be the beginning and the end of any social, personal or medical decision they might be called upon to make.

In recent years, I have experienced a very rude awakening, or perhaps an enlightenment of sorts. Recently, I embarked on a career as a Middle school teacher, and this semester I returned to school for the first time in several years. Suddenly, it seems that I too spend every waking hour attempting to balance my life with that of the school year. August 24th and September 1st are big days. The first day back, PTA and the months of summer are suddenly significant and very meaningful. New milestones have become the sources of excitement and trepidation that shape my hours and days. My life has begun to revolve around points in time that I have, in the past, ignored and scoffed at.

As I sit immersed in my newly acquired, time-centered obsessions, I am beginning to realize that perhaps my blindness was more than just the symptoms of non-involvement in the traditional school year. Perhaps my issue is symptomatic of a more serious condition, an apathy that seems to affect the vast majority of mankind.

Everyone knows that the year begins on January 1st and ends on the next January 1st. What we often fail to realize is that there are other years too: Teachers and students start their year in September and groundhogs begin theirs in February. Some families plan around the Superbowl and others around the next episode of a favorite reality show. In the Parks and Forestry Department, Labor Day is the big day. Everyone around us has their own world, their own year, and their own unique cycle. And more often than not, it has absolutely nothing to do with ours. Even the first day of fall might be a good time to take a moment and realize that although we aren’t very involved in the life cycle of a tree - the tree is. Ecology has its own year, and its own cycle; an entire saga develops every year in our own backyards. While there may be no need to celebrate all of these milestones extravagantly or to keep them at the forefront of our minds, we would do well to remind ourselves that everything and everyone has important and diverse beginnings, peaks and goals. While many dates and occasions may not affect us directly, they do affect others. They affect the way other people relate to us and they should affect the way we relate to other people.

The lesson I have learnt through the changes of the past few years is a message of understanding and sympathy. In the future I will endeavor to spice my conversations and relationships with an added measure of understanding. A deadline, while meaningless to me, may be eating at the health and well being of my friend. The happiest moment of my child’s life could just pass me by if I do not take the time to identify my daughter’s worries, goals, and dreams. I will no longer scoff at the time-affected thoughts of others, and I can only hope that they will not scoff at mine.

Posted on 02/05 at 04:08 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at