Sunday, December 27, 2015

How Do We Strengthen our Emunah in the Hope of Fruitfulness?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Shemot
Why I Insist on Being Called Chana Bracha
It has been more than 20 years since I added my second name בְּרָכָה/Bracha, which means blessing. Most people call me my full name now, but that’s only because I won’t let them get away with anything less. I don’t want to let go of this blessing. This week’s parasha is called שְׁמוֹת/Shemot – Names. Our name is the vessel that holds the essence of our soul. It determines our destiny. When Hashem wanted to bless Avraham and Sarah with children, He changed their name. He added the Hebrew letter ה/heh to both of their names. Therefore, after suffering from secondary infertility for more than ten years, I went to Dayan Fisher z”l, known for his wisdom regarding names, to ask him advice about adding a name that would change my mazal (destiny) to have children. I was not surprised when the Rabbi told me to add a name with the letter ה/heh. The letter ה/heh is a female letter. This letter distinguishes the Hebrew word for woman אִשָׁה/isha, from אִישׁ/ish – man. According to Kabbalah, the letter ה/heh has the power of birth… (Kli Yakar, Bereishit 17:15).

Adding the name בְּרָכָה/Bracha to my name truly brought me countless blessings. I indeed gave birth to another child, to a seminary for women and to the books that I continue to write. “If a couple lived outside Israel for a certain amount of years and then came to Israel, they give them ten years from when they came to the land, perhaps in the zechut (merit) of the Land they would conceive” (Ramban, Bereishit 16:3). After our oldest son was born in 1982, we lived for six years in Israel before having to leave for the US, where we lived from 1988-1992. Four years after returning to the Land, we had our youngest son in 1996. Together the years we lived in Israel before the birth of our second son was exactly ten years. Parashat Shemot is the parasha of fertility. It relates how the Jewish women in Egypt gave birth to six babies at one time (Rashi, Shemot 1:7). I never thought about it until now, but it is not by chance that this is the parasha during which we conceived our second son; and this year marks the 20-year anniversary of that miraculous conception. Therefore, I thought to share an excerpt from the diary that I kept during the time I underwent fertility treatments. One of my alumna students just had a baby at the age of 51 or 52, and another is pregnant at the age of 56! I hope that my words will inspire more women to never to give up having children.

Fertility Treatments Highlights the Divine Miracle of a Baby  
Yom Shishi, the 20th of Tevet, Friday, Jan 12 1996
I haven’t had the momentum to write for a while and I am afraid that so many feelings and observations have meanwhile gotten lost. Yesterday, I went back to the fertility clinic for the fertilization. In the bed next to me, lay a woman who was also going through treatment- for the second time.The first time around none of her four ovum were fertilized. What a disappointment. This reinforced my understanding of G-d’s miraculous intervention in my case. You might think that our ability to interact with the creation process through the IVF procedure would diminish the Divine miracle of creation. Now that we have so much power and ability to interfere with the natural reproductive system, it might seem as if we have emerged to the level of divinity. On the contrary, our progress in fertility procedures heightens our awareness of the Divine blessings necessary to procure a child. In spite of the advanced technology, no expert can define the reason why only sometimes an embryo is produced, only some embryos become implanted, only some of them grow, while others are expelled. Through the fertility process, we closely follow each of the stages in producing a child, thereby heightening our awareness of the Divine blessing necessary for success. What usually takes place ‘naturally’ concealed within the womb is now brought out into our consciousness. It is the lack of awareness of what it takes to produce a healthy baby, which makes us much more prone to take the miraculous process for granted. Through our interaction with nature, the complex miracle of creating an infant becomes clear, making us tremble in hope and pray for the success of each stage. I prayed all Wednesday and was unable to concentrate on preparing classes. I understood that nothing is to be taken for granted. When I was told that the first step of fertilization had succeeded I was overjoyed.

Walking the Tightrope between No Expectations and Hope
My husband hadn’t even called to hear the news. It seems that men are just less emotionally involved in the whole thing. I guess it is natural, since it does not take place in their body. Therefore, they are more detached. While waiting on line for treatment in the fertility clinic, there was a lively discussion among the patients. One middle-aged woman who had been through six cycles of IVF without conceiving said that she had adapted the attitude of indifference, in order to avoid later disappointment. The man sitting across from her half asked half interjected, “But don’t you have to have a positive attitude in order to be successful?” I was thinking to myself about the fine line between expecting the worst, yet hoping for the best. It is almost impossible to expect the worst while hoping for the best. While you think positive baby thoughts, envisioning hugging the little cuddly one, you cannot simultaneously imagine the bursts of blood darkening your sweet dreams.

The Sprout of Motherly Hope
All those years when my light of hope was overshadowed by acceptance, acceptance that I might never again conceive, there was no sparkle in my prayers. When people told me how G-d performs miracles I could only shake my head dejectedly and say, “I know, I know, but you need a zechut, you need to be on a high level to deserve G-d’s miracles.” I was at peace with myself; I did not expect any change to my routine. I enjoyed my independence and strove to gain satisfaction in other areas than childbearing. I did not have to be disappointed but I was unable to accept my situation while at the same time praying from the depth of my heart. Now the situation has turned. I can no longer be indifferent like the woman in the waiting room. I have changed with the sprout of hope. It is the way of a mother to be permeated with hope. My prayer has received a new dimension.

Acting Upon Their Hope
This week’s parasha tells us about the Jewish midwives. Had they not been enveloped by hope, they would have been unable to withstand Pharaoh’s command to kill the male babes. They could have easily said, “Why bring more children into this horrible world?” This was the attitude of the men who divorced their wives. It took a Miriam to convince her father to remarry her mother, by saying, “You are worse than Pharaoh! Pharaoh decreed only against the males but you also decree against the females” (Rashi, Shemot 2:1). There is no cruelty worse than losing hope. The Eishet Chail (Woman of Valor) envisions an empty field and plants a vineyard (Mishlei 31:16). A midwife is called a wise woman for “who is wise? The one who sees that which is born” (Babylonian Talmud, Tamid 32a). In order to conceive we must believe. In order to be redeemed, we must anticipate redemption. Rambam says that whoever does not expect and await the coming of Mashiach denies the entire Torah (Hilchot Melachim 11:1). The Jewish women in Egypt had a vision. They were not afraid to bring children into the world. Because they acted upon their hope, they increased and multiplied very exceedingly. In the merit of the righteous women were our fathers delivered from Egypt (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 11b).

Taking the Risk of Hope
I believe that their greatest merit was their hope. This is reflected in the names of the midwives. Shifra – “She beautifies the babe.” (Rashi, Shemot 1:15). In a situation of despair, no one would care about beauty. Mere survival is all that counts. To beautify the babe is a luxury in the spirit of hope. Hope of better days in which beauty will no longer go unheeded. Likewise, the name Puah is closely linked with hope of redemption. Puah means speech, it is the nickname of Miriam who prophesied and said, “In the future my mother will give birth to the redeemer” (Rashi, ibid.).The women in Egypt went in the footsteps of their midwives. They used their copper mirrors to beautify themselves and flirt with their husbands. Each gazed at herself in her mirror together with her husband, saying endearingly to him, “See, I am handsomer than you!” Thus they awakened their husbands’ affection and subsequently became the mothers of many children. Even these, they did not hesitate to bring as a contribution towards the Tabernacle. Moshe was about to reject these mirrors that the women brought as a contribution towards the Tabernacle, since they were made to pander to their vanity. Yet, Hashem said to him, “Accept them; these are dearer to Me than all the other contributions, because through them the women reared those huge hosts in Egypt!” (Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei 9). These mirrors became uplifted and most holy. They were used to make the washbasin for sanctifying the hands of the Kohen before his holy service. It was through the hope of the Jewish midwives in Egypt that the nation of Israel was born. Besides giving physical birth to the next generation, , they became the spiritual midwives of Israel. How can I be indifferent with role models like this? I have to take the risk of hope. I am well aware of the risk of disappointment, which I have to dismiss.

The Power of Super-Conscious Mind
Even on the physiological level, positive thinking is recommended. “The brain rules the body in many subconscious ways, including its control of the body’s major hormones...” ( Nicholas Wade, Method & Madness; The Spin Doctors, The N.Y. Times Magazine Imagining nursing my own baby might influence my body to produce the hormones necessary to implant the embryo. I recently read a book called, The Power of the Unconscious Mind, by George Murphy. His basic message was that your thoughts create reality. If you strongly believe that something will happen, then it will. I, therefore, have no choice other than believing. Before I go to sleep at night, I imagine life within me growing. When praying to G-d I imagine the joy of mother­hood for which I long.

Sacrifice and Prayers for Renewed Motherhood
I let my face caress the smooth rocks of the Kotel (The Western Wall). “Dear G-d you are my father. I know you love me and want only what is best for me. I yearn to be like You, full of compassion for Your children. You are our father. Like You, I want to be a mother. I want to give and nurture to let live and grow, to teach and show.” We learn from Chana that in order for our prayers to be answered we need to make a promise (I Shemuel 1:11). “Dear G-d, I promise that everything in my life will yield to the need of this unborn babe. You know that this is not a minor sacrifice. I am willing to let go of my ambition for teaching and writing and becoming ‘someone important’ for the sake of performing my role as a mother.”

A Sign from G-d, to Stir Yearning into Prayer
Perhaps only years of childlessness could instill within me the importance of motherhood. As I stepped back, puffy eyed, to take leave of the Kotel, a pair of clear blue eyes met mine. They were the sweetest eyes of a baby intently looking at me. I returned his gaze and felt a surge of yearning. Yearning to hold my own sweet baby in my bosom, I closed my eyes as the tears streamed down. “Oh G-d, please answer my prayers. Please grant me fruits of the womb. I can no longer bear being a barren tree who yields no fruit, year after year after year. Until when? I only want to fulfill my purpose as a woman. If it is your will that I be blessed after having voiced my prayer, please G-d help me to pray in the right way.” As I slowly made my way away from the wall of tears, a feeling of serenity caressed and soothed my heart. How often do you see a baby this cute among the praying women at the Wall in the peak of winter? Is this not a sign from G-d, to help stir my yearning into prayer? Would He give me a sign to intensify my prayers for no reason? Of cause, there is always a reason for prayer whether it is fulfilled or not. Yet, I feel deep inside that G-d would not tease me like that, had I been a hopeless case. I believe that I will give birth anew when the time is right. May our continued hope sprout forth and may we all be blessed with everlasting fruitfulness!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Blessings of Rebuke

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayechi
Turning Discomfort into Blessing
The Patchwork of Life (student artwork)
A good friend once told me, “Chana Bracha, you are more direct than a New Yorker!” I guess she meant that I’m a no nonsense person who has no problem telling people a piece of my mind and heart even if it may not always be the most comfortable thing to share with them. Since childhood, I always wore my feelings on my sleeve, and could never ever say even a half lie to benefit myself. My clear blue eyes would always reveal the naked truth. If I were to blame, I never would seek cover. If others were the culprit, I told them to their face.

Recently, someone, let’s call her Minna, tried to give me some feedback about both positive and negative encounters that she experienced with me. I was very happy that Minna mustered up the courage to bring issues up that I know was not easy for her. Yet, in order for me to truly understand her point, I needed more details and examples. When I requested this, Minna was very vague and evasive. As much as I tried to understand what she was getting at, and as much as I truly desire to work on myself and grow, I was still left in the dark. While many people prefer to beat around the bush in order to avoid insulting anyone, my experience is that being direct often is most helpful in the long run. Actually, the most uncomfortable things in life can become the greatest blessing. This is perhaps why the Eishet Chail (Woman of Valor) is compared to pearls rather than to gold or silver. The pearl develops through a grain of sand in the oyster, which is actually an irritation to the oyster. Great achievements come about through irritations and it is our task in life to transform every irritation to a shiny pearl.

Can Anyone Give Rebuke Today?
I’ve often heard people say that today no one is on the level to give rebuke. We are not enough loving or caring, and perhaps today no one is on the level to receive rebuke, being interested enough in truly hearing and working on themselves? These sayings have their root in the following Talmudic teaching:

מסכת ערכין טז/ב אָמַר רַבִּי טָרְפוֹן, תָּמֵהַ אֲנִי [אִם] יֵשׁ בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה [מִי] שֶׁיָכוֹל לְהוֹכִיחַ אִם יֹאמַר [לוֹ] טוֹל קֵיסָם מִבֵּין שִׁינֶיךָ אוֹמְרִים לוֹ טוֹל קוֹרָה מִבֵּין עֵינֶיךָ אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר [בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה] (תמה אני אם יש בּדור הזה מי שמקבל תּוכחה אמר רבי עֲקִיבָא) תָּמֵה אֲנִי אִם יֵשׁ בַּדוֹר הַזֶּה מִי שֶׁיוֹדַע לְהוֹכִיחַ אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן [בֶּן נוּרִי] מֵעִיד אֲנִי עָלַי שָׁמַים וָאָרֶץ שֶׁהַרְבֶּה פְעָמִים לָקָה עֲקִיבָא בֶן יוֹסֵף עַל יְדֵי שֶׁהָיִיתִּי קוֹבֵל עָלָיו לִפְנֵי רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן שֶׁהוֹסִיף בִּי אַהֲבָה לְקַיֵים מַה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, (משלי ט) "אַל תּוֹכֵחַ לֵץ פֵּן יִשְׂנָאֶךָ:
Rabbi Tarfon said, “I wonder whether there is any one in this generation who accepts reproof, for if one says to him: Remove the toothpick from between your teeth, he would answer: Remove the beam from between your eyes!” Rabbi Akiva said, “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to reprove!” Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri said, “I call heaven and earth to witness for myself that Akiva was often punished through me because I used to complain against him before our Rabban Gamliel. All the more he showered love upon me, to verify the statement, ‘Reprove not a scorner, lest he hates you; reprove a wise man and he will love you’” (Mishlei 9:8); (Babylonian Talmud, Arichin 16b).

This Talmudic section comes to teach us how difficult it is to give and receive reproof. Nevertheless, Rabbi Akiva was able to receive rebuke, which only increased his love for the rebuke. Yet, there are people whom it is not worthwhile to rebuke, as it will only distance them more. Another Talmudic passage teaches that we must rebuke even a hundred times, this mitzvah pertains as well to a student towards his Rabbi:

מסכת בבא מציעא לא/א  אָמַר לֵיהּ הַהוּא מִדְּרַבָּנָן לְרָבָא, וְאֵימָא, (ויקרא יט) "הוֹכֵחַ" - חֲדָא זִימְנָא, "תּוֹכִיחַ" - תְּרֵי זִימְנֵי? אֲמַר לֵיהּ, "הוֹכֵחַ" - אֲפִלּוּ מֵאָה פְעָמִים מַשְׁמַע. "תּוֹכִיחַ" - אֵין לִי אֶלָּא הָרַב לַתַּלְמִיד, תַּלְמִיד לָרַב מִנַּיִן? תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר, "הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ" - מִכָּל מָקוֹם:
One of the Rabbis said to Rabba: “hocheach tochiach” (you shall surely rebuke) (Vayikra 19:17). Perhaps hocheach means once, tochiach twice? He replied, hocheach implies even a hundred times. As for tochiach: I know only that the Rabbi [must rebuke] the student: whence do we know that the student [must rebuke] his Rabbi? From the phrase. “hocheach tochiach,” implying under all circumstances (Babylonian Tamud, Baba Metzia 31a).

What does it mean to keep rebuking our fellow one hundred times? Do we really need to take this literally? It is possible to understand that this Talmudic passage teaches us that sometimes the person giving the rebuke is not worthy of saying what needs to be said, and at other times, the person who transgressed is not ready to hear what he is supposed to hear. It may be that only after one hundred times both prerequisites can be met: that a person can actually say what needs to be said to the person who really needs to hear it in a way that he can hear it (Rabbi Yosef Farhi, Life Coaching from the Parasha, Pearls of Torah Wisdom from Everyday Living).

Purify before Reprimanding
I once had a student who easily flew into a frenzy and felt that other students had wronged her. She often accused them while raising her voice. Needless to say, her words of reproof were never heeded. When she came to me for guidance of how to deal with her feeling of being mistreated, I told her that as long as she was so emotionally invested there was no point in trying to reprimand anyone, as it would only backfire on herself.

I always try to live by what I heard in the name of the Lubawitcher Rabbi z”l: Just as the doctor needs to prepare for giving an injection by insuring sterile needles and purifying the skin with alcohol, so must we purify ourselves before being ready to give rebuke.

We need to check into ourselves whether our motivation for giving our message to the other is from true love and care or from our yetzer hara (negative inclination). There is a ‘shadow pleasure’ in disparaging others in order to become elevated at their expense. If our intention is ungodly in this way, our words will never enter the heart of the person we rebuke. Before reproaching anyone, we need to purify ourselves from personal agendas. When we give rebuke from our pure heart of love, from the depth of good, it will surely enter the heart of the other, and bring about meaningful improvement. Still, there is no guarantee; every person retains his free will. No matter how strong we pull with cords of love in the right direction, our friend may always turn her back and run away. However, we have done our part and shown love. This elevates our soul and hers, and draws the Infinite Light upon all the community of Israel and the entire world (learned from Tzvi Freeman based on chapter 32 of Tanya).

Seven Practical Guides for Rebuking
Since it is so difficult to truly give reproach that will enter the heart of our friend, we need to take this mitzvah seriously and prepare for it properly. Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar writes these clear guidelines based on the on the teachings of the Chabad-Lubavitch rebbes for how to purify ourselves before rebuking anyone. These are seven questions to ask ourselves before approaching our friend:
  • Have I already tried to judge the person favorably? Could there perhaps be some circumstance I am unaware of?
  • Is my desire to rebuke coming from the right place? Is it only about fixing a problem, or do I have any personal agenda?
  • Am I saying these words simply to “to get my point across” and fill my need to protest, or might my words actually be effective?
  • Am I motivated to speak out of love and true concern? Will the other person look at it this way?
  • What words will have the greatest chance of achieving my aim? If I imagine myself in the other person’s situation. What words would speak to me? Often it isn’t sources or preaching that speak to a person, but rather the respectful manner that we explained our concern.
  • Am I the best person to bring up the issue, or is there someone else who could say the same thing and likely accomplish more?
  • Is now the time to rebuke, or is there another time and place where this has a better chance of working?
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach teaches that people are often aware when they do wrong, they just don’t have the strength not to do it. When you tell people they are doing wrong in a good way, it gives them strength not to do it again. The Mittler Rebbe says it suddenly becomes like two souls against one evil. If I’m too weak to overcome my evil, the minute someone tells me it is like two fires against one darkness. But it is hard to know how to tell people in a good way.

How is Ya’acov’s Harsh Words of Criticism Considered a Blessing?
On his deathbed, Ya’acov gathered his sons together one last time to impart in them his spiritual legacy and blessing. However, it seems as though Ya’acov’s final words to Reuven, Shimon and Levi were more like words of rebuke than of blessing. Thus the Torah attests that Ya’acov bequeathed to all of his sons his personal blessing (Rashi, Bereishit 49:28).

ספר בראשית פרק מט (כח) כָּל אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם:
“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is it that their father spoke unto them and blessed them; he blessed everyone according to his blessing (Bereishit 49:28).

How can Ya’acov’s harsh words of criticism be considered a blessing? Harav Uri Weissblum answers that we must redefine our understanding of a blessing. A doctor who diagnoses the sickness and clarifies its treatment is offering him a tremendous gift of blessing. Similarly, if our friend has a large vessel with a hole in the middle, giving him gifts to put in the container will only fall out will leave him with nothing. It would be a greater blessing to direct his attention to the hole so that he may mend it and retain his future acquirements. Therefore, the greatest blessings is to point out the characteristics, which needed improvement. Ya’acov thus blessed Reuven by describing his impetuosity, while he called Shimon and Levi’s anger and impulsiveness to their attention. This would allow them to “fix the holes,” become whole, and be ready for future blessings. Everybody has his own personal ‘holes’ which need fixing.

Rav Yisrael Salanter explains that every person has within himself one bad middah, which constitutes the root of his personal struggles. The yetzer hara attempts to disguise this trait in order to prevent its identification and cure. By calling their personal weak spots to their attention, Ya’acov was indeed giving his sons a tremendous blessing (Rabbi Ozer Alport, HaModia the Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry).

May we merit getting in touch with pure love of others through which we can help each other fix our ‘holes,’ become whole and ready for infinite blessings!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Do We Need Full-time Learning Yeshiva Boys?

Life-Lessons from Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayigash
Do all Jewish Bus Drivers belong in Yeshiva?
Torah learning has always been the most central part of an authentic Torah lifestyle. Without learning the wisdom of the Torah – the blueprint of creation – (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 1:1), it is impossible to know all the intricacies of how to keep the mitzvot. I thank G-d that in place of a T.V. our dining room is lined with Torah books and my husband spends a great part of his days learning Torah with various study partners. He is fortunate to live a lifestyle that seems to balance perfectly between Torah learning and working, so that we have what we need to live a simple life without going into debt. Our lives were not always like this. The outlook of the litvish yeshiva, that opened the Torah world for both of us, is that ideally every Jewish male should be learning Torah 24/7. All the men, young and old where encouraged to do so, and if they were unable they were considered second raters. Anyone who would work on a steady basis was looked down upon. I remember sitting in a Jerusalem bus, as a newly religious ba’alat teshuva, barely 20 years old, trying to figure out my own weltanschauung. I was sitting at the front row with a good view of the bus-driver. He was a middle-aged simple Jewish man. When I tried to visualize him full-time learning in yeshiva, it dawned on me that Hashem didn’t create him suitable for round-the-clock Torah learning. I had a clear revelation then that this bus-driver was not alone. He may even be part of the majority of Jewish men who just aren’t cut out to become Torah scholars. Since then I do not condone the social pressure put upon boys and young men in certain circles to learn Torah full time. On the other hand, I very much believe in the importance of intensive Torah learning for those who are suitable. The teachings of Rav Chaim Volozhin, from our very first yeshiva days, still reverberate in our lives. He taught that the reason Hashem created the world round is in order that at each hour there will always be someone learning Torah, keeping the world going. “The blessing we say [after reading from the Torah]: ‘[G-d] implanted eternal life within us,’ teaches us that the Torah is like a plant that produces fruit and thereby brings goodness to the world. When we uphold the holy Torah with all our might as is required, we will bring an abundance of holiness, blessing, and light to all the worlds” (Nefesh HaChaim 4:11).

“Educate the Youth According to His Own Way…”
Chanukah shares the same Hebrew root as the word “education” – חִינוּךְ/chinuch, because it is the holiday of education. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, teaches us a very important principle in education:
ספר משלי פרק כב (ו) חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה:
“Educate the youth according to his own way, then also when he grows old, he will not depart from it” (Mishlei 22:6).

Rather than giving in to social pressure of what society expects from our children, it is the parental wisdom to tune into the potential of each of their children, and encourage them on the path suitable for their personalities and talents.

I have often seen boys suffer and going “off the derech” – (Torah path), because they were pushed into a path to become a talmid chacham (Torah scholar), whereas they may have been much more fulfilled becoming an electrician and a carpenter, learning Torah on the side. On the other hand, there are children who exhibit a predisposition for deep Torah learning at a young age. Their path of becoming fulltime yeshiva students are no less essential than becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Before the ‘enlightenment’ period, Torah scholars were looked upon with the utmost reverence. Each Jewish community would have their handpicked respected Torah students who they supported, just as today western society supports university professors spending hours doing all kinds of research that doesn’t always has a direct benefit for society. Today, many people do not have a proper understanding of the importance of Torah study. They may feel resentment towards the yeshiva students who don’t make a living or join the Israeli army. Their claim may apply to those who are just placed in the yeshiva because of social pressure without truly learning. However, there are numerous teachings about the indispensable contribution of the yeshiva students who throw themselves wholehearted into the depth of the Talmudic sea. “Rabbi Elazar said, in the name of Rabbi Chaninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it says, ‘and all your children shall be taught about Hashem, and great shall be the peace of your children’” (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 122b). Having a son who is learning Torah full time is a special merit. Since the Torah is the blueprint and origin of this world, continued involvement in Torah is necessary to keep the world going. Therefore, the primary source of life, light, and existence of all the worlds is the involvement of the Jewish people in Torah study (Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, Nefesh HaChaim 4:11).

Essential for Jewish Survival in Exile
Ya’acov Avinu, who himself had been a fulltime yeshiva student for 14 years (Rashi, Bereishit 28:9), understood the importance of fulltime Torah learning. Therefore, he sent his son, Yehuda ahead of himself to establish a Yeshiva before the rest of the family would go down to Egyptian exile.
ספר בראשית פרק מו (כח) וְאֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו אֶל יוֹסֵף לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו גּשְׁנָה וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה גּשֶׁן:
“He sent Yehuda before him to Yosef to teach before him in Goshen…” (Bereishit 46:28).

Rashi explains that Ya’acov sent Yehuda to establish for him a house of study (yeshiva) from which Torah teaching would go forth. Note that the word הוֹרֹת/horot – “teach” is missing a letter vav, thus, it has the exact same letters as תּוֹרָה/Torah (Siftei Chachamim). The high regard that Ya’acov had for the establishment of the Yeshiva is alluded to in the word לְפָנָיו/lefanav – before him, which is repeated twice. Ya’acov placed Torah learning before himself, as he understood that the yeshiva is vital for Jewish survival especially in exile. Therefore, he ensured to create an establishment that would facilitate all the tribes’ involvement in perpetual Torah learning.

Gathering Grain versus Learning Torah
Whereas Jewish survival in exile depends on the strength of the Torah learning, and there is no lack of gentiles to become lawyers and doctors, in the land of Israel it is not ideal for every Jew to be a fulltime yeshiva student, leaving the Arabs to fulfill the roles of doctors, lawyers, police, builders, farmers etc. “Our Rabbis taught: ‘You shall gather your grain’ (Devarim 11:14). What do we learn from these words? Since it says, ‘This Torah book shall not depart out of your mouth’ (Yehoshua 1:8), I might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore, it says, ‘you shall gather your grain,’ which implies that you are to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation. This is the view of Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says: ‘Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others...’” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 35b). According to Rabbi Yishmael, the mitzvah to gather your grain applied only in the Land of Israel, as working the land of Eretz Yisrael is included in the mitzvah of settling the land. Boaz who was the greatest Torah scholar of his time, the head judge of the Rabbinical court, would winnow his barley the entire night without concern that this may be bitul Torah (wasting time from learning Torah) (Ruth 3:2). Just as we cannot say, “I won’t lay tefillin because of the mitzvah to learn Torah,” we cannot neglect the mitzvah to settle the land of Israel, engaging in any of the crafts needed to establish the land. Therefore, whoever helps develop the Israeli economy is participating in the mitzvah of settling the land. For the Land of Israel is the Holy Land, meaning, even its physical manifestation is holy. However, when we are dispersed among the nations of the world then, “The more the land was settled, the more did their understanding deteriorate,” this Rabbi Yishmael will agree with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Chatam Sofer, Chidushim for Mesechet Sukah 36). I thank Hashem for the privilege that our little family living in the Land of Israel are engaged in both gathering our grain and learning our holy Torah. Whereas, it is suitable for some Jews to study Torah fulltime and just work a little on the side, others are meant to mainly work while setting aside times for Torah learning. In between is a spectrum of various combinations of Torah learning and earning a livelihood. May we all find our perfect balance of Torah learning and worldly occupation while respecting those whose path may differ from ours!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Do We Need to Make our Dreams Come True?

Life-Lessons from Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Miketz
You are What You Desire
Dream Diaries decorated by our students
I have always been a dreamer, believing that even the impossible is possible if we desire it enough. “Each Jewish person can reach the very highest level, as Rambam teaches “Everyone can be worthy of becoming a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu” (Hilchot Teshuva 2:5). Even if an iron wall separates between Israel and our Father in Heaven – we can break through it! רצון/Ratzon – desire is one of the highest powers of the soul stemming from our Keter – crown. Without desire, nothing would ever be achieved. Through the “school of hard knocks,” we can bounce back even higher as long as we keep believing in our dreams. I’m saddened when I experience people resigning and giving up on life. They give up in their own ability to achieve their goals. They give up on even having goals, since they do not believe they can achieve them. People are divorced right and left, because they give up on working on their relationships. Without even trying, or at least not trying hard enough due to their lack of desire, they resign themselves to accept that it is impossible to reach a mutual understanding even with people who love them very much. I believe it is underlying fears that make people give up and run away from the desires of their soul. They are afraid of failure. The more effort we put into achieving our goals, the more we risk getting hurt when things don’t always work out our way. We need to learn to be willing to take risks in life. “No pain no gain.” Even if we desire something very much like getting married, having a child or making Aliyah to Israel and in the end, it didn’t work out, G-d forbid, that doesn’t mean that our desires, prayers and effort failed to bear fruit. None of our yearning for these lofty goals is ever lost. Our yearning for holy achievements and pursuing our desires is an accomplishment in itself. It has eternal value and may even cosmically help others to achieve the goals that we desired so much.

Becoming Partners with Hashem in Fulfilling Our Dreams
Yosef was a master dreamer (Bereishit 37:19). He had a vision, desiring to make a difference to the world. He wanted this very strongly, thought about it very much and even dreamed about it. His brothers hated him because they understood that he wasn’t just telling them his dreams. The dreams reflected his strong desire, which they interpreted to indicate that he wanted to rule over them. While a slave in Egypt, Yosef never gave up on his dreams. It is hard to understand how Yosef could allow all those years to pass – knowing full well the torture it must be causing his father – yet never bothered to send him a message? Ramban answers that Yosef knew that his dreams were prophetic and therefore, he knew they must be fulfilled. The first dream has all his brothers bowing to him, without Ya’acov. This is why Yosef insisted that Binyamin come back with his brothers. Until his first dream had been fully realized, he could not reveal himself – for doing so would bring Ya’acov as well, and that was already encroaching on the territory of his second dream (Ramban, Bereishit 42:9). We learn from Yosef to be partners with Hashem in fulfilling our dreams, even if it takes great efforts and risks. Since the destruction of our Temple, prophecy has been lost to us (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 12). Nevertheless, we still get glimpses of prophetic insight, especially through our dreams, as it states, “In a dream, in a vision of the night… [G-d] opens the ears of man” (Iyov 33:15).

Dreaming of Your Deepest Desires
I know a woman whose daughter soon after her marriage cut off all ties with her family. I can hardly imagine something more painful than not being able to talk with your own daughter and her children. This woman suffered so much, having never met her own grandchildren even though they didn’t live far from her. She cried and cried and couldn’t stop thinking about her grandchildren and her daughter. She couldn’t understand how her beloved daughter had changed so radically and turned against her, when her mother only wanted the very best for her. She was hurt and upset over her daughter’s behavior, but even though the years passed, she never gave up on reconnecting with her. One night she had a dream. In her dream, she experienced that her husband had somehow managed to bring her daughter and her family to spend a Shabbat with them. She finally could hug her dear daughter again. As she hugged her, she felt her daughter’s hard façade melt away, and she got in touch with her vulnerability. Great feelings of compassion and love for her daughter welled up in her as she kept hugging her daughter. Then she woke up as the sun was rising.

Self-fulfillment is Bringing Your Dreams to Fruition
“Rabbi Yochanan said, three kinds of dreams are fulfilled, an early morning dream, a dream which his friend dreamed about him, and a dream which is interpreted within the dream… Shemuel son of Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by the thoughts of his heart, as it says, ‘As for you, Oh King, your thoughts came into your mind upon your bed’ (Daniel 2:29),” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 55b). This woman dreamer, being a learned rebbetzin realized that her dream had great significance since two of these conditions applied to her dream: It was an early morning dream, and it was a dream in which she dreamed about her friend – i.e. her beloved daughter. She then shared her dream with her husband, making sure that he would interpret it to be fulfilled as “Rabbi Chisda said, a dream, which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Further on, Rabbi Eleazar asks, “From where do we know that all dreams follow their interpretations?” It states (Bereishit 41:13), “It came to pass, as he interpreted for us, so it was” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 55b). Yet, the rebbetzin understood that telling over her dream to her husband was not enough to ensure its fulfillment. She learned this from Yosef who went to great length to ensure that his dreams would be fulfilled by making his brothers bring their little brother, Binyamin to him (Bereishit 42:20), so that his dream about the eleven sheaves bowing down to him could be fulfilled. Therefore, the dreaming rebbetzin asked her husband to contact their son-in-law, their daughter’s husband and invite them for Shabbat. The husband was a bit reluctant as it was hard to believe that their daughter and her family would finally spend a Shabbat with them, after so many years of separation. Nevertheless, he followed his wife’s fervent request and sent a friendly email to his son-in-law, inviting them to come. It took many days before he received an answer. Days, hours and minutes that the rebbetzin prayed, cried and prayed. Then finally, they received their answer. Their children and grandchildren were coming for Shabbat!!!!! They couldn’t believe it, dancing together in the dining room. We too, can learn from this story and from Yosef to take an active role in fulfilling our dreams and actualizing our goals.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Does the Torah have Clear Parameters for Relationships?

Life Lessons from Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayeshev 
Does Moral Relativism in Relationship Coincide with the Torah?
Lately, I have been very involved in dealing with relationships between siblings. This parallels the Torah portions that we have been reading in Bereishit – the first book of the Torah. We learn about the relationships of Ya’acov and Esav, Rachel and Leah and Yosef and his brothers because the foundation of the Torah is built upon rectified relationship between sisters and brothers.

In my spiritual healing work I recently asked advice from a chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Dr. of Psychology and a mentor of numerous women. I asked her how to help bring about a loving reconciliation between two very close sisters who had a falling out. One of them wanted to work on the problems but the other reserved her right to withhold expressing what was bothering her in the relationship. She also didn’t want to hear what bothered her sister. I was very surprised when I received the following response: “There is no objective right and wrong in relationships. Everyone has a right to choose the kind of relationship that makes him comfortable. The sister is therefore entitled to decline having a deep conversation to air out the conflict. A true relationship can only be based on the elements of relationship that both partners agree on.” Now I’m questioning whether this psychology of relationship applies to the Torah law and ethics. According to this view of moral relativism, why should it bother anyone if two homosexuals both agree to their relationship? This view of moral relativism stems from the Western outlook based on Greek philosophy that logic and science override morality.

It is not by chance that we read about the problems between Yosef and his brothers around Chanukah time, when we clarify the difference between the Greek and the Torah outlook, which pertains no less to relationship. The ancient origins of moral relativism that has become so prominent in the twentieth century derives from the classical Greek world. Both the historian Herodotus and the sophist Protagoras appeared to endorse relativism. The view that moral truth or justification is relative to a culture or society continued through most of the history of Western philosophy ( If we don’t believe in the Torah of the Almighty G-d, moral relativism makes perfect sense. Why should one person’s belief and morals override another’s? However, being a Torah-true Jew includes believing in the ultimate values of the Torah, which have clear parameters for relationships between siblings, children and parents as well as husband and wife. The absurdity of the Dr.’s view on relationship is evident, if for example, we apply it to a marriage in which the husband wants physical intimacy, but the wife wants just to talk. Should the husband be happy with what they both agree on which is to have an intellectual and emotional relationship but not a physical relationship, because that is not what they both want? We all know that a marriage without physical intimacy is not called a marriage in the Torah, so are there no parameters for rectified relationship between siblings? Perhaps the story of Yosef and his brothers can give us some clues.

The Brothers did not Hide their Negative Feelings in their Heart
The underlying issues behind all problems in the world are based on sibling relationships. The Arabs’ hatred and continuous murder stems from Yishmael’s jealousy of Avraham selecting Yitzchak to become his spiritual heir which includes the Divine promise of eternal inheritance of the Land of Israel (See Rashi, Bereishit 21:10). The Zohar teaches that the cause of antisemitism in the entire world is Esav’s deep-seated jealousy and pain over the way his brother Ya’acov’s took the birthright (Zohar, Parashat Mishpatim 111a). In this week’s parasha we learn how the Egyptian exile was elicited by the brothers’ jealousy of Yosef.
ספר בראשית פרק לז (ד) וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו כִּי אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל אֶחָיו וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יָכְלוּ דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם:
“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him” (Bereishit 37:4).

The underlying cause of most hatred is jealousy. The brothers hatred Yosef because their father loved him more than all the other brothers (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Bereishit 37:11).
Although it is wrong to feel hatred and jealousy, at least the brothers didn’t try to hide their feelings, and pretend that they had no negative feelings towards him.
רש”י על בראשית פרק לז פסוק ד ולא יכלו דברו לשלום – מתוך גנותם למדנו שבחם שלא דברו אחת בפה ואחת בלב:
“From what is stated to their discredit, we may infer something to their credit. They did not speak one thing in their mouth having another thing quite different in their heart” (Rashi).
“They had a good character trait that they expressed the feelings in their heart and did not flatter. Thus, King Solomon writes, ‘A man that flatters his fellow, spreads a net for his feet’ (Mishley 29:5)…” (Rabbeinu Bachaya). This teaches us a primary Torah principle in relationship, especially when it comes to sibling relationship. If we feel negatively towards another, it is preferable to express the negativity rather than pretending that everything is fine, while feeling otherwise in our heart. In fact, we learn from another Torah verse that this is not only preferable; it is actually a Torah requirement:
ספר ויקרא פרק יט (יז) לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your neighbor and not suffer sin on his account” (Vayikra 19:17).

From this, we learn that even if we are not comfortable expressing what bothers us in a relationship, as Jews we may not keep negative feelings towards other Jews in our heart. Rather, we have a mitzvah to express them privately and lovingly and even more so to our own sibling.

Is Emotional Distance a Torah Prohibition?
Ohr Hachayim goes even further to define the kind of “hatred in the heart” that the Torah prohibits. It is not limited to complete hatred desiring that evil befall another Jew. Even feeling a slight distance in our heart is included in the prohibition לֹא תִשְׂנָא/lo tisna, which he explains refers to emotional distance rather than hatred. The Torah wisely juxtaposes this prohibition with the word אָחִיךָ –“your brother,” to teach us that the measure of שִׂנְאָה/sinah that the Torah prohibits includes even a slight emotional distance that only a sibling would sense. Perhaps the Torah recognizes that no matter how much we work on ourselves, if we do not air out our negative feelings it will cause us to lose the level of love and relationship that is proper between siblings (Ohr HaChayim, Vayikra 19:17).

“You Shall Surely Rebuke”
According to Jewish law, “Anyone who feels שִׂנְאָה/sinah in his heart for another Jew is transgressing the negative commandment, ‘You shall not hate (or distance yourself from) your brother in your heart.’ If a person feels wronged, he is not permitted to remain silent. Rather it is a mitzvah to discuss his feelings, asking, ‘Why did you do such and such,’ as the continuation of our Torah verse states, ‘…you shall surely rebuke your neighbor and not suffer sin on his account’” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:13). Bringing up the issues, asking our friend why she acted a certain way is bound to clear out any negative feelings. As the Torah teaches and my life experience confirms, when discussing negative feelings one of two things is likely to happen: A. The misunderstanding is cleared up and you realize that the negative feelings don't have any basis. B. The person apologizes and agrees to work on the issues that bother you. This removes your negative feelings (Ohr HaChayim, Vayikra 19:17). In the conflict between Yosef and his brothers, it is not clear who is right and who is wrong. Both sides were righteous individuals. Both sides had rationales for their actions. Yet, had they had a deep discussion between them in a respectful and loving way “airing out” their respective views and feelings, perhaps their conflict would not have lead Yosef to bring their evil report to their father” (Bereishit 37:2), and his brothers to throw him into the pit (Bereishit 37:24).

Fear of Facing their Lower Selves
The brothers’ jealousy over their father’s love for Yosef is not an easy matter to air out. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski explains that we often have base feelings that stem from the shadow sides of our personalities. The brothers sensed that they were jealous of Yosef but they could not just come out and say, “We hate Yosef because our father likes him better.” When people are afraid to face their own shadow-side, they rationalize their behavior and try to elevate their base emotions. Therefore, the brothers concluded, “it does not bother me that Ya’acov loves Yosef more than ME, what bothers me is that ‘Ya’acov loves Yosef more than ALL HIS BROTHERS (מִכָּל אֶחָיו/m’kol Echav).’” Yosef’s brothers were not willing to admit to themselves that they were motivated by petty jealousy but rather saw themselves as people of high character who were defending the rights of their downtrodden brothers. Therefore, they failed to understand that it was not Yosef’s fault that his father loved him more. The irony is that the same brothers, who felt that Yosef was worthy of their hatred because he caused the other brothers to be looked down upon by Ya’acov, looked down upon their other brothers the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (Rav Frand, Parshas Vayeishev Yaakov Loved Yosef More Than All His Brothers). Who knows if the Mashiach would have already been here had the brothers been willing to go deep down into their own psyche to face their shadow-selves and realize from where their negative feelings towards Yosef derived? Perhaps some family therapy would have helped facilitate this process?

Never Give Up on Your Brother
In spite of the negative feelings of his brothers, Yosef never gave up on returning the brotherly loving relationship that the Torah expects from siblings. Although he was well aware that his brothers hated him, Yosef nevertheless agreed to search for them in Shechem all alone (Rashi, Bereishit 37:13). Even as he got lost and had a great excuse to return back to the safety of his father’s home, he never gave up on finding his brothers – he never gave up on regaining a relationship with them of mutual peace, love and brotherhood. This is what he told the man that he met on the way after having gotten lost, “It is my brothers that I seek...”
ספר בראשית פרק לז (טז) וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ:,

Perhaps we can learn from the emphasis on the word “brothers” in the beginning of the verse that Yosef was asking and praying for his true loving brothers. His intense desire to rectify his relationship with his brothers and return the deepest emotional loving closeness of brotherhood, eventually bore fruit when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt. “He kissed all his brothers, and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk with him” (Bereishit 45:15). Finally, Yosef achieved his longed for loving reconciliation with his brothers. Ohr HaChaim explains that it was only when the brothers saw that Yosef wept over his separation from them that they recognized his good midah (character) of a loyal brother. Then they were finally able to speak with him again. Yosef’s yearning for absolving all hatred and jealousy reverberated as well for his future descendants as it states,
ספר ישעיה פרק יא (יג) וְסָרָה קִנְאַת אֶפְרַיִם וְצֹרְרֵי יְהוּדָה יִכָּרֵתוּ אֶפְרַיִם לֹא יְקַנֵּא אֶת יְהוּדָה וִיהוּדָה לֹא יָצֹר אֶת אֶפְרָיִם:
“Then Ephraim’s jealousy shall cease and Yehuda’s harassment shall end. Ephraim shall not be jealous of Yehuda and Yehuda shall not harass Ephraim” (Yesha’yahu 11:13).

Yosef’s deep desire for a loving reconciliation with his brothers had repercussions for the future and it is available for us to tap into whenever we go through difficulties with our siblings. May we always seek our brothers and sisters in the very deepest way and never give up on them!