|Middle East Links
|Tuesday, October 11, 2016 / 9 Tishrei 5777
|Our Skin Problem
By: Michael Winner
Rav Shimshon Pincus asks a very famous question. If it’s true that a person is recreated during the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, why is it, immediately after Yom Kippur, we’re stuck doing the same sins, having the same lack of concentration during davening and brachos, etc, etc… as if nothing ever happened?
He begins his answer by quoting the Rambam (Hilchos Shogagim) who writes that if a person does not believe that Yom Kippur cleanses him, then Yom Kippur will not work. However, somebody who believes that Yom Kippur DOES clean his soul from sin, then Yom Kippur does work.
This issue is compared to a person who goes to a doctor with marks and scabs on his skin. The doctor informs him that he is suffering from an internal infection and the marks and scabs are simply the symptoms. The doctor then gives him medication to clear the infection and puts him on a special diet to continue to keep the infection away. After a week or so, the man returns complaining, “Why should I keep up with this hard diet? Look! My skin is still the same! Your medicine didn’t work!”
The doctor replies, “You’re wrong. Your infection is completely clear. Your skin WILL clear up, but it takes a little more time, that’s all. If you give up on your diet, the infection will come back, and not only will your skin not recover, but neither will your body”.
This answers the question.
When we leave Yom Kippur, we need to know that our soul has been cleaned! True, we still have certain sins we still feel a connection to, we still have concentration problems in our davening and brachos… but those are only the lingering effects of the sin, they are not the sin itself! If we continue with our “diet”, if we continue living, for at least throughout Sukkos and to the next month, as if it were still the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we will start to see improvement even in those areas.
The important part is to KNOW, the Yom Kippur does atone for a person. Hashem DOES make us anew and creates us with a clean soul. It’s up to us to know that and to do our best to continue to keep it as clean as we can.
Have a wonderful and meaningful Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Shmimi Atzeres!
|Friday, October 07, 2016 / 5 Tishrei 5777
By: Michael Winner
I hope everybody had a good Rosh HaShanah.
My oldest daughter joined me for the first time for the davening in the morning. I was pretty impressed, considering that wake-up was 4:30am, followed by a 30 minute walk to the special minyan I daven with on Rosh HaShanah, followed by a 40 minute walk, uphill, in the 90 degree heat, after nearly seven hours of davening.
She’s a tough little chick.
And best of all, she agreed that the davening was much better there than at the shul I usually go to throughout the year.
It’s good to have a child who can appreciate that.
“And Moshe called Yehoshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, ‘Strengthen yourself and be powerful’” (Devarim 31:7)
Rav Meir Simcha HaCohen wrote that that this pasuk is to teach us that any leader needs to be powerful. On one hand, it’s important for a leader to be humble. After all, even a Jewish king must be humble. And he must certainly be careful never to become arrogant. However, as a leader, he must also be careful not to be trampled upon. When a person is in a place of authority, he must find a balance of being humble, but also by making sure his authority is accepted.
Once, a certain baker owed twenty napoleons to a woman for flour he had bought from her. The baker was a tough person, and even the local beis din (Jewish court) was unable to get him to pay. Upon hearing this, Rav Shmuel Salanter, rav of Yerushaliyim asked him, “Why don’t you pay her the thirty napoleons that you owe her?”
“I only owe twenty!” shouted the baker.
Now that he got the confession he wanted, Rav Salanter said, “I am only giving you until tomorrow at this time to bring the money”. Needless to say, the baker did not show up the next day. So, Rav Salanter sent him the following message: “You should know that I never start something without finishing it. If you don’t bring the money right away, I will immediately send out a message to publicly announce that all of your merchandise is forbidden, and it is forbidden to include you in all religious matters”.
As soon as the baker heard this, he immediately appeared with the money in hand.
Once, even in our community, somebody did something very publically going against the wishes of the rav of the city. That week, the rav got up in shul and just “gave it” to that unnamed person. He basically said, “You all know that when it comes to personal issues, you are free to go to your own rav… but when it comes to this city… I am the rav of the city, and I make its [halachic] policies”. In general, he stays out of things and remains silent, but even he must, now and then, rise up and defend his position with power. With a strong leader, a community is able to maintain its structure and integrity.
Have a great Shabbos and a meaningful
|Friday, September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul 5776
|Using Rosh Hashanah
By: Michael Winner
I definitely win the Worst Father Award.
When my soon-to-be six-year-old daughter lost her first tooth, her older sister told her to put it under her pillow, and the “Tooth Gamad” (literally: Tooth Dwarf) will give her a prize (note: this was not our idea). So, she put her tooth under her pillow, and her sister left her a prize. Same thing happened when her second tooth fell out. This past Shabbos, a third tooth fell out and she told my wife that she’s going to put it under her pillow for the Tooth Gamad. Of course, she doesn’t believe in the Tooth Gamad; however, she is not yet sure who the Tooth Gamad really is. So far her two guesses are either my wife or Eliyahu HaNavi.
My soon-to-be eight-year-old son lost his tooth a day later. He wanted to cash in from the Tooth Gamad, so he made it known that he’s going to put his tooth under his pillow. So, in the middle of the night, I took on the role of Tooth Gamad, and left him a raw potato.
Am I obnoxious or what?
He woke up, found it, and thought it was funny. Though he vowed to find the Tooth Gamad and throw it at him.
Okay, on to Torah!
You will have to excuse me this week, but this week’s dvar Torah will be quoted from Rav Shimshon Pincus. I simply can’t put it better:
“I was once asked to give a talk in Yerushaliyim on the subject of Elul and Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, and when I got there I saw notices bearing my name, announcing me as someone who is coming to speak words of reinforcement and awakening for the month of Elul. I proceeded to tell the audience that in my opinion, words of “reinforcement and awakening” are what ruin our Elul. How so?
“I told an allegory about a young man who suffered from a familiar problem: he couldn’t get himself out of bed in time in the morning. His parents’ pleading and cajoling was to no avail. Eventually this young man landed in the army, and already on the first day he was ordered to report for duty every morning at 5:30 a.m. Obviously one cannot refuse an order, and so it was over the course of three years: he showed up every day at 5:30 in the morning. But the day after he finished military service, he went back to waking at nine.
”This is not much of a surprise. His early rising during his army years was a matter of 'reinforcement and awakening.' He was 'reinforced' and he 'woke up.' But he didn’t do teshuva. He did not change anything within himself.
"Now reinforcement is a great thing, awakening is wonderful, but they have nothing to do with teshuva. Teshuva means to move from one’s place, to change one’s personality and very way of life. Because of the feelings of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur we sometimes forget to also do teshuva.
"On Rosh Hashanah we recite, ‘This day is the beginning of Your handiwork.' It can’t mean on this day Hashem created the physical world, because that was created several days before, not on Rosh Hashanah. Rather, on Rosh Hashanah, man was created. This indicates that the teshuva of Rosh Hashanah is not about physical deeds; rather, it is a change in one’s whole life program. It is about the re-creation of man. This is not a matter of rectifying wrongdoing; it is more fundamental than that.
"If we would ask a person what he aspires to achieve in his life, many times the answer will be that he seeks a good life – a life full of Judaism, satisfaction from the children, shalom bayis, etc.
"And how does a person merit receiving a good life like this, we ask?
"He answers that Hashem is holding this good life in His hands, ready to give it out. Whoever connects to Him through learning His holy Torah, focused davening, and mitzvos, will be granted this good life.
"Wrong. This is not a Jewish approach or a Jewish concept of life. A Jew’s concept of life is as follows: ‘As for me, closeness to G-d in my goodness’ (Tehillim 73: 28). A Jew gets up in the morning so he can be close to Hashem. Connection to Hashem is the goal itself, not the means to attain a good life. We merit a good life if that is Hashem’s will; obtaining it is not our objective.
"To say it another way, the difference is like this: Who is a person living for? For himself, and the relationship with Hashem is only to solve problems and avert troubles? If so, Hashem views this person as taking more than he gives. Rather, the true Jewish concept of life is the inner will to live in closeness with Hashem”
And so says Rav Pincus.
May we merit to use the period of time from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to do true teshuva. To not just correct any misdeeds or character traits, but to actually bring Hashem more in our lives in an everyday manner.
Have a great Shabbos and a wonderful Rosh Hashanah.
|Friday, September 23, 2016 / 20 Elul 5776
By: Michael Winner
We’re finally going fully legal on all our income. Joy. (I now have to pay 15% of my income to U.S. Social Security, thankfully child credit helps a bit, and around 15% to the Israeli National Insurance, plus all fees that come with it.)
That being, I needed to find and hire a U.S. accountant and an Israeli accountant, and after speaking to many, I finally settled on two of them.
It’s interesting to see how both accountants work, which clearly reflects how each society views their governments. Every U.S. accountant I spoke with was very straight and not playing around with things. If it wasn’t 100% legal, it cannot be done. When I went to the office of the Israeli accountant, the first thing she said was, “Okay, let’s start off with how much you are REALLY making and work from there.” She then made up a plan, which I can’t go into detail. Technically, it’s legal. Why? Because the government cannot prove otherwise. She figured that it’s best to do that and report everything, so it’s officially legal, compared to simply not reporting everything to the government (which she considers a valid option, but prefers not to take). Basically, the Israeli mentality is, if the government cannot prove that I’m really lying, than it’s legal.
Before I get hit with emails about the halachic aspects of not telling the Israeli government my full income, that has been handled by halachic authorities hundreds of years ago. Basically, the halachic basis that a non-Torah observant government in Eretz Yisroel has a right to tax is not so certain, and many halachic authorities agree that one can HIDE his money, but cannot STEAL money from such a government. It's a whole big discussion for another time.
Basically, everybody follows this mentality here. When you set a price in a cab, you’re doing so off the books. In many places, when you pay for something big in cash, they give you a 9% discount, so you keep your half of the 17% tax and they keep their half. It’s just interesting to hear it from an accountant.
Okay, on to more important things.
“Cursed be the one who causes a blind person to stray along the way” (Dvarim 27:18).
Rashi explains that this is not only to be taken literally, but also teaches us the importance of not giving bad advice.
Once, after Rav Shach visited a certain family in Bnei Brak, he made his way slowly down the stairs of the building. As he was descending, a young man approached and asked the rav a question concerning advice he needed. Seeing that Rav Shach was having a difficult time descending the stairs given his age and health, the young man offered his arm for the rav to hold on to. However, Rav Shach refused to take it and explained, “You have come to ask my advice. If you assist me, I will become biased. I do not wish to be biased when giving advice.”
We see how careful, one must be in this area.
I know somebody here who pushes Americans to make Aliyah, no matter what! He tells them everything they want to hear and pulls on their emotional strings to get them to move. Unfortunately, the statistics of what happens with children who make Aliyah are not the best. In fact, most of his . . . victims . . . have moved to more American communities or back to America. His advice, which serves his own best interests, leads to long-term misery for many children of new immigrants. But, at least in this world, he doesn’t seem to care. So while he’s performing the "mitzvah" of encouraging Jews to move to Israel, he’s tripping on the sin of “causing a blind person to stray . . .”
Whenever we give advice, we need to take into account our personal biases. If we cannot give clean advice, we shouldn’t give any at all.
Have a great Shabbos!
P.S. Thank you Mr. G. Murray for the email. It didn’t have a return address, so I couldn’t reply.
|Friday, September 16, 2016 / 13 Elul 5776
|Shalom Bayis Candles
By: Michael Winner
Does anybody remember “The Blues Brothers”? Remember how at the end of the film they were surrounded by thousands of officers from every branch of federal, state, and local law enforcement (don’t forget the Illinois Nazi Party)? That’s what the street next to ours looked like this past Shabbos.
We are friends with a couple who many say are special, but we say are crazy. Besides their own children, they are fostering two children who are . . . well, if I say “mentally challenged,” that would be nice (it’s a family custom, it seems, to take in these children; she also is trained in working with them). One of them is a seven-year-old severerly autistic and brain-damaged boy. Honestly, he’s a cute kid, but has no "seichel" whatsoever. This past Shabbos, the husband had to be out of town with this two oldest children, so she was left alone with her other children and these two foster children. One of her children went to their neighbor's, and despite the door being super heavy, this seven-year-old, who has incredible strength, opened it and flew out. She heard this happening and went to chase after him, but he quickly disappeared.
This was at 1 p.m. Shabbos day. People in the religious community started hearing of what happened a few hours later (she didn’t make it so public at first, since she thought she would easily find him). By the time it became public, the police became more and more heavily involved and practically everybody with a kippah on their head, from all streams, were combing the city. The rav came out and announced that even if you have to break Shabbos, you must in order to find the child. Hundreds of the religious community were out, along with a helicopter and drone (the kids loved those). Even the Border Police stationed outside of the city got involved. I got the idea of flagging down a few cabs from different companies so they could call other cabs so they should keep their eyes open. You should have seen the look on the drivers faces when I, dressed in my Shabbos clothes, was telling them to pull over. :)
In the end, 30 minutes before sunset, somebody from the community found him, half naked a kilometer-and-a-half away from his home. One of the officers kept saying to the mother, “You have an amazing community here. Amazing! They all came out, got organized, and helped out!” The police recognized that they didn’t have the manpower to do it themselves, and there was close work between us. My son, when we were looking together, received a few waves from officers passing by in their cars, and even several secular residents helped to get involved when they felt the "power" of the community at work.
If this happened to somebody secular, the police would have gotten involved, a few friends would have posted the photo on Facebook and help out with the search. But nothing would have occurred that matched this. Here, HUNDREDS of people were searching, and wives were bringing out bottles of water and snacks to help out. Most did not daven mincha at all or eat the third meal for Shabbos. In the end, it was a very big kiddush Hashem with a happy ending.
Except for one man. The head of the local Hatzolah. He was away that particular Shabbos and was VERY upset that they had to lose this child on that particular Shabbos when he was away. For him, it’s a dream come true to help organize and run such an operation and he missed out! :)
Every year, I usually receive a small dose of help from Above on something. Last year, I wasted it on correctly guessing how far along my wife was in labor when we arrived at the hospital. This year, thankfully, I received it when I was learning. So, this is an original dvar Torah. True or not? I have no idea. It sounds good and even if it’s not true, it’s not one of those “Oh! According to my calculations, there are really EIGHT AND A HALF gods!” so you won’t really be burning for reading it.
The Gemara (Shabbos 23b), asks, if one has enough money for only a candle for Chanukah or only a candle for Shabbos, what should he buy? It then answers a candle for Shabbos, because of Shalom Bayis (peace in the home). It then asks, if he had only for Kiddush or candles? Again, Shabbos candles, because of Shalom Bayis. Then, it continues and says that somebody who lights candles (Shabbos or Chanukah) regularly, will merit children who are Talmidei Chachamim (scholars).
I was confused by this, since many light candles regularly and do no merit children who are Talmidei Chachamim. So, I gave thought to it and have a small theory, which I would like to share.
We see that the Gemara clearly equates Shabbos candles to Shalom Bayis. There are many different reasons for it, the main one given is that there is light in the house on Shabbos, and confusion does not reign free. For whatever reason, when we say Shabbos candles, we are also saying Shalom Bayis.
PERHAPS, the Gemara is saying that somebody who regularly has Shalom Bayis, will merit Talmidei Chachamim. Of course, this is not the only ingredient and there are many different factors, but it is acknowledged that many times when children leave the religious world, there are issues at home (again, not all the time, and possibly not most; I don’t know, but Shalom Bayis does contribute to such things).
I then saw that the Bach (Orach Chaim 263:1) asks on this Gemara: it seems that from this Gemara, that lighting candles is not obligatory and the reward is children who are Talmidei Chachamim. However, we see further on, that it is really an obligation to light. So, if it’s an obligation, why did this Gemara word the promise in such a way as if it were not obligatory? He answers that if a person lit Shabbos candles, he did his (or really her) obligation. But, if they do it in a proper, “mehudar” (extra careful) way, they will earn this promise.
As a side note, my Rosh Kollel asked when I showed him this, “What does it mean ‘mehudar’ when lighting Shabbos candles? Okay, using olive oil instead of wax candles, perhaps, but what else is there to be ‘mehudar’ about? " This question only adds fuel to my theory, that perhaps we not talking about only lighting candles.
So, let’s rephrase what the Bach was saying with my idea: If a person does the mitzvah of Shalom Bayis (by lighting the candles), he did his (or really her) obligation. But, if they do it (Shalom Bayis) in a proper “mehudar” way, they will earn this promise.
It’s hard work to have Shalom Bayis, but to do it in a mehudar way? That takes even more work, effort, and teamwork; but perhaps, when the children see and feel the atmosphere of love and respect between their parents, they will be empowered in their Torah observance.
Just an idea.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
|Friday, September 09, 2016 / 6 Elul 5776
|The Crown of Torah
By: Michael Winner
I hope everybody enjoyed their summer.
We survived, thanks to alcohol.
We enjoyed the pool, the beach, Zichron Yaakov (great outdoor tank museum there), Yerushaliyim (attended the bris of friends who just had their first child after 19 years), drinking alcohol, watching the kids fights, etc.
Actually, without any friends around, the children spent a lot more time together, and it was interesting how all of them interacted with each other. Sometimes this one would play with that one, and that one with this one, and this one with that one. Just watching our 10-year-old daughter interact with her 4-year-old brother was interesting to see.
However, I learned a very important lesson in marriage. If you want to have a healthy marriage, have lots of children. During vacation, when they are home and bored, you will both have no desire other than to escape and spend some quiet time by yourselves.
Okay, on to Torah!
“You shall surely place over yourself a king” (Devarim 17:15).
The Rambam writes (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1) that the Jewish people were granted three crowns: the Crown of Torah, the Crown of Priesthood, and the Crown of Kingship. The Rambam writes, “And if you will say that the other crowns are greater than that of Torah, behold it is written, ‘Through me (the Torah) do kings rule’ (Mishlei 8:15). From here we learn that the crown of Torah is greater than either of the others.”
Rav Shach notes that only regarding an actual monarch, does the Rambam write “Great honor must be conferred upon him, and trepidation and fear with respect to him must be instilled in the hearts of all the people” (Hilchos Melachim 2:1). Rav Shach continues and asks, "If the crown of Torah is greater than that of monarchy, why is there no similar requirement towards scholars?"
He answered his question by stating that a Torah scholar has inherent honor, as it is written, “The wise shall inherit honor” (Mishlei 3:35).
After seeing this piece, I thought about the elections of the Pope in 2005. The Catholic Church needed a new Pope, so they had some internal elections, and voila, new Pope.
Of course in Israel, official rabbis are also elected to certain positions, but those are government positions. The official Chief Rabbi of Israel might hold that position, might be a big talmud chacham, but will not be recognized as one of the leaders of the Jewish people. There are certain exceptions of course, notably, Rav Ovadia Yosef.
However, those recognized as leaders of the Jewish people were not anointed nor elected. They were recognized by those above them and those below them as spiritual giants. They didn’t run for the position and tended to shy from such a position, yet the honor was heaped upon them.
When a person is genuine, the nation "senses" it, and is drawn to such a person. There is no need for fancy titles or even to be well-known. A true Torah Scholar is recognized for his Torah and needs nothing else.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, August 12, 2016 / 8 Av 5776
|What We Have Done and What We Could Have Done
By: Michael Winner
Last Shabbos was . . . full of excitement amongst the children, as alliances were made and alliances were broken.
My wife and I were discussing what in the world are we going to do over the next three weeks, with no school, no camp, and no car (only 10,000 shekels (minimum) to rent a mini-van for two weeks!).
My wife decided that we’re going to start a boot camp, and keep them moving throughout the day. Wake up is early, starting with physical training, davening, breakfast, etc. If you don’t eat during the 20 minutes, you lose out, son! I came up with the idea of buying the traditional “black hats” that drill sergeants use and marching the kids in formation up and down the street chanting:
Me: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear!
Them: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear!
Me: Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Them: Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Me: Sound Off!
Them: One Two!
The really annoying part about this? My wife and I have had this in our heads the whole week.
Now, it’s my gift to you. :)
Before we begin, since I’m not sure what in the world my life is going to bring over the next three weeks, Frumg.org might or might not be on vacation.
“Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us in Horeb (Mt. Sinai), saying, ‘You have had much dwelling by this mountain . . .’” (Devarim 1:6)
Rashi comments, “There is much eminence for you, and reward for your having dwelt at this mountain. You made the Mishkan, the Menorah, and the other holy vessels; you received the Torah; you appointed the Sanhedrin . . . .”
Several years ago, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Asher Rubenstein, spoke Erev Tisha B’Av. He noted that Tisha B’Av is the end of the “yeshivish” year, since the standard calendar for yeshivos and kollelim begins on the first day of Elul (in three weeks) and ends on Tisha B’Av. Like all end-of-years, it’s good that a person should look back and see his accomplishments.
In this week’s parsha, he said, we see a hint of this. While we were at Mt. Sinai, we received the Torah and built the Mishkan. We focused on the positives. So too, on the day before Tisha B’Av, we should look back at our accomplishments and take some pride on what we have accomplished. It’s important to do so, having this positive mentality will help push us for the upcoming year of learning.
However, Tisha B’Av comes. And on Tisha B’Av, we realize everything we didn’t accomplish that we could have.
Let us clarify that for a moment.
Let’s take people who lived a mere 100 years ago and bring them into this world. Can you imagine their shock? Cars, trucks, planes, internet, cellphones, etc., they would have no concept of how our world works. Rav Shimshon Pincus says that the opposite is true spiritually speaking. Today’s Jew is a much more different Jew than a Jew from 100 years ago. And we’re not talking religious vs. non-religious. We’re talking religious vs. religious. It’s a concept that we can barely fathom. Can you imagine a Jew from two-thousand years ago? Can you fathom what a Jew was when the Beis HaMikdash was standing? When there were korbonos? When there was a Kohen Gadol? No, you can’t, because we have no real connection to it any more. However, we do know that the Torah, and obligations that it has, is the exact same Torah and obligations that we have today.
Tisha B’Av is a time that we cry for what we are missing. Not only are the Jewish people still in exile, but so is Hashem, so to speak. When He is in exile, we are missing a major component in our lives. Our potential drops further and further as each passing generation goes by.
However, we don’t give up, because that is not a Torah concept. We continue to push ourselves, and daven that Hashem should help us and return even a small portion of that potential to us. But we cannot just daven for it, we must ACTUALIZE it. We must push ourselves 100 percent, so Hashem will add on another 10 percent.
We are told that “Moshiach is born on Tisha B’Av.” What does that mean? It means our personal “Moshiach” is born when we cry over Tisha B’Av and ask Hashem to bring Himself and us out of exile together, and to restore our spiritual potentials. Through acknowledging and crying over the fact that we are missing so much, spiritually, and promising to do our part, our “Moshiach” is being born.
And when the entire nation does this . . . Moshiach himself is being born for the community.
This Shabbos, we should look back over the year, and take some pride over what we have accomplished. Yet, after Shabbos, when Tisha B’Av begins, we should acknowledge the fact that we could have and need to push harder. We realize that we are missing so much, spiritually-speaking, than the previous generations, and that our only desire is to return to such a level. When this concept becomes a reality to us, Moshiach will arrive.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Tisha B’Av.