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About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Loving Justice

The next of the 48 ways is loving justice. This means that I try and do the right thing and stay away from anything that is crooked or deceitful. Even if people wouldn't necessarily catch a person on it, they don't want to be part of it at all!

There are times in a person's life that we may be searching for loopholes. Even if the loophole is permissible according to the letter of the law, is it something that I should partake in even if the likelihood of any repercussions for that action is negligible.

That is what this character trait teaches us. In that situation, a person should navigate a straight and honest path whereby there is no one that can have anything bad to say about them. This is not an easy thing because there are probably many people that do not care about and will rely on the particular loophole.

Loving justice allows one the ability to judge someone favorably as well. If someone is involved in a court case, for instance, and their name has been splashed all over the news, it is very hard to look at that person objectively. Justice is something that we look at as something positive.

Unfortunately no one wants to have to go through a trial and all the trouble that it entails. At the same time, justice is required to keep the world in check and let it function.

We should pray that G-d gives the wisdom to his judges that they are able to judge with fairness and righteousness.

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Loving Rebuke

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is loving rebuke.Why would someone want to get rebuked, and then actually like it? This will depend on where the rebuke is coming from.

If indeed the person giving rebuke is telling his friend what he is doing wrong because he actually cares for his well being, then the friend will be ever so grateful for the kindness the other one is doing for him. The reason is because his friend is trying to help him change and become a better person.

The problem is that sometimes our ego's get in the way and even if someone is trying to help us, we will be reluctant to accept the help and want to work things out on our own. Not only that, but we may possibly resent the other person for "meddling" into my business. If it is done right, though, this person may indeed be saving the friend's life.

There is a famous story with the Chofetz Chaim that illustrates this point. There was someone in the yeshiva in Radin who smoked on shabbos. Word got back to the Chofetz Chaim and he called to speak to the boy.

The boy came in and the Chofetz Chaim looked at him, grabbed his hand very tightly, began crying and said the word "Shabbos" That was it. From that day on, that boy never smoked again on Shabbos and continued to be a religious Jew the rest of his life.

Rebuke like that which comes straight from the heart will have its affect. Only a mentor who knows his student well must be able to give rebuke in a way that the student can handle it and grow from it. Today, we don't know how to give rebuke and a person has to be very careful if he does give it.

The most important thing to know if one give's another rebuke is to do it out of love and general caring. If it is done that way, then it has a chance of being accepted and acted upon.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Loving Righteousness

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is loving righteousness. This means understanding our obligations and fulfilling them. The question really is how do we look at obligations, are they good for us or not?

Obligations are not easy because they require hard work. At the same time, they give a person structure and gives a person a sense of importance and pride. They can help us in our everyday life and show us the importance of giving to others and helping them.

Sometimes things that we are obligated to do aren't fun. Who likes to clean their room or take out the garbage anyway. Each one of can pitch in and help which then things get done and make the home function in a more orderly fashion.

Wouldn't it be fun just to do what we want and not worry about what I have to do. If I do it because of my own free will then I will enjoy what I do much better. The answer is that even if I have to do things because I am obligated teaches us a fundamental lesson.

Just because I have to do something I don't enjoy builds character, isn't that what we are told! Yes and no. In reality, doing something I don't like or rubs me the wrong way helps me overcome it and give to someone else. This builds a relationship between people and helps us go beyond our normal comfort zone.

At the same time, I may come to resent it but really I should look at it as a time to grow and do things I don't necessarily like to do. Don't resent it, thrive in the situation and overcome your desire to do what you want.  This will help a person's soul tremendously and help us reach our true potential!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Parshas Emor: Spiritually Being Cut off in this world

"For any soul who will not be afflicted on this very day will be cut off from its people" (Vayikra 23:29) Unfortunately we see many times that people who transgress the Torah and are obligated to be spiritually cut off (Kares) and have their lives shortened, live long prosperous lives. How can we reconcile this possible contradiction?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlita brings in his commentary on Chumah (Ta'am V'Da'as) that Kares is not necessarily describing physical body and death but rather spiritually and being cut off from the source (G-d himself). In reality, they desecrate all aspects of the Torah and live their lives without any  spiritual connection whatsoever.

In reality, they are really considered dead (spiritually dead), that is even if they are alive in this world. There are so many people today that don't have any connection to Judaism or their spiritual heritage. Not only that, they send their children to secular schools and intermarry at an alarming rate.

The only way to cure this ailment is through learning Torah and keeping mitzvos. Without that, it is like the soul is starving and decaying.

There was a story a number of years ago of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail.  The prisoner saw one of his jailers that day and asked him, "It says in your Torah that on the festival of Passover, you are not allowed to eat unleavened bread (chametz) and here you are eating a sandwich. How do you explain that?

The jailer said, "Those are antiquated laws, for things that happened thousands of years ago. That doesn't apply today. We are the new Israel! We don't need those old laws!"

The Palestinian terrorist understood that it will be only a matter of time before Israel hands over the land to the Arabs. He understood that this person has no connection to his heritage or to his history. A person who has no connection to that, will eventually give that up.

This is a lesson for us to know that one of the worst things that can happen to us is to lose that connection to the source of all life and to the One that sustains us. Losing that connection and going in the ways of the non-Jews and the secular world is akin to cutting yourself off spiritually!

May we merit to keep the fire of Torah burning and get tremendous enjoyment of the mitzvos that we do.

Good Shabbos

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Loving G-d, Loving Mankind

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is loving G-d and loving mankind. Loving G-d is not the easiest thing to do since we know He runs the world and is in control, there are many times that we don't understand His ways. We are obligated here to love Him because it would seem that anything else is insignificant.

If we look at our lives and see the good things that we have, shouldn't we be thankful to Him for everything He has given us? No matter what life throws our way, life could be even worse, couldn't it? Is the cup half full or empty?

We says this every day in the Shema that we have to love G-d. He has done so many things for the Jewish people throughout history which continues until this day. Probably the most important reason we should love Him is because He has given us life. I guess if we don't have life we are dead, and that probably isn't good so at the very least we should be grateful for that.

Performing mitzvos because we love G-d enhances our observance and helps us to reach high spiritual levels. It is only because I give of myself and try to emulate G-d's ways that allows me to do this.

The next part after loving G-d is love humanity. This comes after loving G-d since loving G-d is essential for our existence and observing mitzvos, loving humanity is just as crucial. Loving people that you like is easy but what about people that we don't like or annoy us?

This is more difficult but the idea is that the more people we love and want to give to and help make us better people. This helps us to go beyond our comfort zone so-to-speak and go beyond ourselves. By giving to others, we look at their virtues which makes us appreciate them even more.

We need to look at the good in others and focus on the positive. The problem is that we often focus on a person's faults which hinders any relationship. Isn't there enough negativity in the world as it is, why do I need to add to it?

When we look at other's virtues and good qualities it is easier to give and respect them. This in turn makes us feel good and boosts our self-esteem. When we appreciate even the small things that others do for us, it gives us great pride that we are part of this world and that we can make a difference.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Being Beloved

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is being beloved. This means that this person has perfected their character traits to the point where people would like to emulate them. They either love to help others, give of themselves and are selfless as well as being all-around good people.

The commentaries tell us that if a person looks for recognition and fame, it will not come to them but if someone is truly humble, they will get the recognition they deserve. The reason is simple. People like this strive to help others and don't expect anything in return. It is this presence that gets them recognized.

Another reason that people are beloved is because of how much they are willing to give to others. We say the Shema twice a day. In the first paragraph, we say "Ve'Ahavta es Hashem Elokecha..." "You should love the L-rd your G-d..." The root of the word to love is Ahav or it's Hav. The word Hav in Aramaic means to give.

If we want to love anyone, we must learn how to give of ourselves. This giving allows us to go beyond ourselves, so to speak and let others benefit through my actions. When I give, I give of myself. This is why parents love their children most of all.

We can give to others in many ways. We can visit people in a hospital or have guests at yourself for Shabbos or a holiday. When we do this with the right attitude, we inspire others and ourselves as well.

The Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just) tells us that G-d created the world to give to us, for us to benefit from it.  G-d is showing us how we must emulate Him and give to others which is a strong benefit for us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Conversion to Judaism Issues

Why is it that there are people interested in converting to Judaism but they don't end up finishing the process? Not only that, the ones who do start the conversion process, do not end up finishing the process!

There are many obstacles that converts to Judaism go through that sometimes they are not able to overcome. One of them is family issues. Many times family, who still may be of a different religion, may try and convince the potential convert to come back to their "old" religion and not to convert to Judaism. This puts a lot of pressure on the potential convert and sometimes family pressure can really be difficult.

Another potential problem is the issue with fitting into a community. The pressure of wanting to fit in and always being under the microscope by people in the community even after the conversion is finally over! This makes the potential convert feel self-conscious and always being looked at.

There are also issues in communities that the potential convert sees and wonders why they want to be part of the Jewish people in the first place. This is how religious Jews act? Why all the negativity from people? This can grind on people as well which can confuse and dissuade the potential convert to Judaism.

Another important issue that makes life difficult for the potential convert to Judaism is money. Moving into a religious Jewish community means that it will undoubtedly cost more money. Kosher food is more expensive, schooling  is expensive....This can put a tremendous strain on the family.

At the same time, to be an Orthodox Jewish convert, you have to live within walking distance of a synagogue and there must be a number of Orthodox synagogues and schools in the area, to be part of a thriving Jewish community.

These are but a few of the problems that a potential convert to Judaism may go through but if one wants to succeed, they must be vigilant and strong in their beliefs and actions to persevere the conversion process!

48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Claiming no Credit for One's Self

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is claiming no credit for one's self. This means that if I have intelligence, a good job.. I shouldn't think that everything was done through the work of my hands, that there is someone (or being) that is helping me along the way.

Unfortunately we live in the "me" generation and everything I do is based on the work of my hands. I even heard someone say that I have become who I am despite who my parents are. That almost sounds like that they pulled themselves out of their mother's womb alone. "Why should I give any credibility to my parents? I did everything myself!"

Can it really be that as a baby, they clothed themselves, fed themselves...worked to bring in money to the house? How arrogant can a person be to think such a thing? This is the generation that we live in.

On the other hand, if I have worked very hard, got good grades, went to a good college and then found a good job, why do I have to thank G-d for that? I worked hard for it and now I am seeing the work of my own hands.

If we look at the Shemoneh Esrei (silent meditation), the first paragraph after the first three, we pray for knowledge. The obvious question is if I don't pray for it, does that mean I will be a dummy?  We pray that G-d shine his goodness on us that He should give us knowledge, understanding...It is through G-d's will that we receive these things.

Yes, I have to put my best forward and work hard but at the end of the day, it is G-d that helps and makes it all happen. If I don't have that help, then all that effort doesn't really seem to matter and it won't help.

I have to learn to be humble and thankful for everything I have. Based on my own merits, I don't deserve it but G-d helps and continues to help us on a daily basis. We are allowed to be happy about our accomplishments but we have to remember that we are not allowed to step over people and think that we are so great.

In reality, as the Mishna in Pirke Avos tells us, if you have wisdom don't think you are so great because this is what you were created to do. You learned Torah, you have wisdom, it has changed your life and you think you have the right to be arrogant and think you are G-d's gift to the world? The Mishna tells us not to think that because that is what you were created to do in the first place!

No matter what success we may have, the Torah tells us that we shouldn't forget G-d in the process and think that we have done everything ourselves!
Monday, April 22, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Setting a limit to One's Words

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is setting a limit to one's words. This means that one should be careful with how one acts or speaks because if one does not make boundaries for themselves, then it is easy to make mistakes and sin. Just like in the laws of Shabbos, there are many decrees that the rabbis made so that we will not come to transgress a Torah prohibition.

Within the Torah, we see it many times that we distance ourselves from things so that we won't come to transgress. We are careful with how we speak and what we say so that it won't lead to lashon hara. We are careful what we look at so that it doesn't lead us to other transgressions.

We make a fence around the Torah to protect ourselves from potential spiritual dangers even if according to the letter of the law it would be permissible. This is because it is very easy for a person to fall even if they don't have attention. Therefore, if a person knows where their weaknesses lie, they should take special precautions in those areas.

The Yetzer Hara is very strong and compelling and does not let up for a minute. We have to be vigilant in our observance of Torah and mitzvos to guard ourselves against those things that are permissible which could lead us to other transgressions.

This doesn't mean we can't handle the pressure or the Torah way of life is too difficult, G-d forbid. It just tells us that society in general has tremendous temptations that we have to guard ourselves against.

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Being Content with One's Lot

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is being content with one's lot. This means that regardless of what may happen in our lives, our reaction will be controlled which will help deal with that particular situation. The reason is because if I possess this character trait, a person will realize that whatever they have or whatever comes their way will not affect them negatively.

This is easier said than done. When we see our neighbor's have nicer clothes, a fancier car, a higher position in their company...doesn't that make us want to scream out, "hey how come I don't have that or why am I not as successful as Mr. X?"

We all have to make the best effort we can whether we are trying to make a living, learning Torah or interacting with our kids. At the end of the day, though we are given what G-d deems best for us, be it our financial position or other things.

If we look at what we have and think of the positive things that go with that, then jealousy is something that doesn't even enter our vocabulary. G-d has given us the potential to deal with whatever we need to go through and we have to look at it as this is the best for me.

What is the point of getting upset or ranting or raving about what I don't have or how difficult life is? This will not help me, just the opposite, it will confuse me, irritate me and depress me. Appreciating what one has without looking at what they don't have gives a person a proper perspective of what they have.

We have goals, desires and aspirations to reach the highest levels in the physical and spiritual realms. Even if we don't reach them, we should still strive to maximize our potential. G-d knows what he is doing running the world and giving each person, family what He knows that they need even if we think we need more.

When we look at what others have (and maybe lack) compared to ourselves, we realize that we are happy with the trials and tribulations that G-d has given us and helped us to raise ourselves higher in spirituality.

It is hard, though not to look at what others have and not be jealous. The goal is to realize G-d gives us what we need and to internalize that message.
Saturday, April 20, 2013

The 48 ways to acquire Torah Knowing your place

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is knowing your place. This means that a person has know who he is in realistic terms and how they fit into the greater scheme of things. Knowing who you are has to be honest, not thinking that you are better than you are or on a higher level than you really are.

One of the most important thing a person can do is look in the mirror at least once a day and think about what they did, what they thought about...This leads a person to really know who they are, not just others building them to be something that they are not.

When it comes to scholarship, a person also has to know when to pass something on to someone else if they cannot answer. This means rather say I don't know and pass it on than think that you know more than you do. This is not an easy thing to do especially when a person's ego gets involved. 

This is why it is so important to have a rebbe, mentor so a person knows who to go to when they don't know what to do. This is vital in a person's development in anything that they do. They need to know that they are not alone, but there are others that can help you.

Each person has their own talents and personality and are given a specific purpose in this world that only they can do. Others can help along the way but the reality is that others can't fulfill your purpose in this world, but can help guide and help you when you are troubled.

This character trait shows that we can go to others when we are stuck. That is the ultimate in humility where one realizes how far they can go and what their limitations are.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Parshas Acharei-Mos/Kedoshim: Don't Overindulge

The Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim explains to us what it means to be holy. He tells us that while the Torah permits many things, these same things if they are overdone, is forbidden. This means while it is permissible to drink or eat, it is forbidden to be a drunk or a glutton. We can sanctify these things by making blessings over them and using them for our purpose.

We don't look at the world as everything being forbidden and terrible and that we have to separate ourselves from it. Just the opposite! The Torah tells us that not only are we part of this world, but we have to live in it and sanctify it. We have the holidays, Shabbos, fast get us in the proper mood but the Jewish people are here to show the world how to properly use this world!

Being an aesthetic is certainly not a Jewish concept. The idea, as the Ramchal tells us in Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just) of a person rolling around the snow in the freezing cold with very little clothing on does not make one righteous. That is not a way to work on our relationship with G-d.

Mankind is created from "this" world and has a soul that G-d breathed into us. That spiritual soul through the practice of the mitzvos allows us to sanctify the body and soul, making them a complete unit in their service to G-d.

This is not so easy since the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) wants us to go after our more base desires and stay away from the spiritual. There is a constant fight between the good and evil inclination but the only way we can beat the Yetzer Hara is through mitzah observance.

We have our good days and bad days in this epic battle as we show the world what the power of Torah is. We are allowed to use the world for our benefit but we are not allowed to abuse that which is permissible. An extreme in anything is not good, even if the thing itself is permissible.

The Torah must be kept under all circumstances and we must be vigilant in our meticulous mitzvah observance. At the same time, we must be part of this world and help ourselves become the great people that we can.

The 48 Ways of Acquiring Torah: Accepting Suffering

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is accepting suffering. We don't understand why people suffer and how these things work but one thing is clear: whatever trial and tribulation a person has, is something to grow and learn from. The purpose of of these trials and tribulations is to help us strive and be better people.

Although we pray every day that we are not interested in trials and tribulations but this is how we grow. Don't we pray better and act better when our backs are against the wall and it looks like there is nowhere else to turn. Why don't we pray that way when all is going well?

Sometimes we forget about the goodness that we have and we are lulled into sleep most of the year. Why take things for granted? Shouldn't we be thankful for everything we have because in reality, if G-d doesn't want us to have it, we won't. Life hangs in the balance and things could change overnight in so many different ways.

The important lesson we learn from this is that even if we do suffer and have difficulties, nonetheless, I still have to serve G-d and keep the Torah and its mitzvos to the best of our ability. No one said this was going to be easy. Whoever said life was easy?

Even if we do suffer and have difficulties, we still have to look at what he have and the goodness that we truly have. If we are healthy and our families are healthy, aren't we the richest people in the world? After all, we are not in a hospital for anything, and we are able to eat, exercise...the little things that keep up going.

The problem is what happens when I receive some sort of difficulty or suffering? Am I ready to curse G-d straight away for what has happened or am I going to strengthen my mitzvah observance and work harder on my commitment to G-d? Sometimes we need to be pushed along to realize this and then we wake up and reach higher levels of spiritual development.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Faith in the Rabbis

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is faith in the rabbis. The rabbis of every generation are the ones who teach and  pass on this precious Torah, our priceless heritage. They spend their days learning, teaching and inspiring others.

These are the people that we go to for advice and how to maximize our potential. Just like their are specialists in the world of medicine, so too there are specialists in the world of Torah. These Torah specialists are the rabbis who deal with everyday issues of the purpose of life and live the reality of the teachings that they are teaching.

The rabbis seem to have a six sense on so many different issues because they have spent a lifetime of working on their spiritual selves. Torah knowledge makes someone wise through learning but the effect it has on a person is unimaginable.

How do we know, that they are the real deal? Just like anything else, if you need an expert on a certain thing, you would do your utmost to find that person that has the proper credentials. If it was a medical issue, then you would do your utmost to find the best qualified doctor to help you.

Spiritual health is no different. If one needs advice, they should go to the best person qualified. A person can only choose a rabbi to learn from if he is like an angel in your eyes. They have to live by the highest standards and be able to live what they preach.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Conversion to Judaism if the Wife and Kids Don't Want to

Converting to Judaism is about submitting one's self to G-d's will. That means a person has to be dedicated and willing to do whatever the Torah tells us. This means we have to keep mitzvos even when it is difficult, even if we face financial pressure or people make fun us.

In short, it is an all or nothing proposition. That being said, how can one possibly keep the mitzvos if their spouse will not? Not only will it severely hurt the marriage but it will be difficult in educating the children as well. Both spouses must be on the same page for this to work. If one spouse is not willing to go through the conversion, then the other spouse has one of two choices: either stay a Noahide or divorce.

Although the reality seems harsh, it would be extremely difficult for it to work out if both spouses are going in opposite directions. At the same time, if the kids did not want to convert but the spouses did, then that would raise some issues but it would not invalidate the conversion.

There would have to be some guidelines laid out for the kids to live in the house but the parents could convert if their kids decide not to. It just makes the dynamics in the house much more difficult.

48 Ways to Acquire Torah - A Good Heart

The next of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is a good heart. The Rambam tells us that to develop one's good character one  needs to have a good heart which includes all good character traits.  A good heart includes doing things that have purpose. The reason is that the individual will think of what he is doing, what its purpose is and how it will affect others.

Another thing included in this is that a person has a tremendous amount of patience and he distances himself from anger. Certainly not an easy feat to accomplish but with that type of mentality, they will inevitably help others and give of themselves without getting anything in return.

Their positive outlook on life is also something that others see and will want to emulate. People like this smile a lot, always willing to give a helping hand and not complaining and see the goodness that we all have. Haven't we come in contact with enough people who only see the glass half full?

This positiveness is healthy for the body as well and helps motivate people to accomplish goals. Even if they fall short, they continue to be positive and dedicate themselves even more for their own success. They often look out for others before themselves and are selfless.

A good heart turns people into leaders of their communities because they are always doing for others, always trying to help out any given situation. They live life to the fullest and appreciate what they have. After all, living in a chaotic world can certainly make one depressed. The question is how we look at these events and how they help build us to reach the true potential that we can.
Monday, April 15, 2013

The State of Israel: How do I look at it?

As Israel Independence Day approaches, what is the Torah approach to the state of Israel? There is no question, that the fact the state of Israel exists is nothing short of miraculous. At the same time, are we looking at a state of Jews or a Jewish state?

There is no question when one reads the Bible from cover to cover that Israel is the center focus of the Jewish people. Even after the Temple is destroyed and the people are exiled, the holiness of Jerusalem still remains. Not only that, in the post holocaust era, Israel is the strongest Torah learning center that exists in the world.

Even with that said, the state of Israel was founded as a place for the Jewish people to live like other nations of the world. The English have their country (England), the Portuguese have their country (Portugal), the Italians have their country (Italy)... Theodore Hertzel's idea was to get out of Europe and   away from all the pogroms so the Jews could live in their own state freely.

To him, he wanted to the Jewish state to be in Israel but he would have settled for Uganda or Argentina as well. He also was not interested in perpetuating European Jewry and their "antiquated" and "obsolete" laws; he wanted to make a secular Jewish state that had nothing to do with the Jewish religion.

Many look at the Jewish state as the beginning of the redemption and the coming of the Messiah and they believe that we should help and build up the state as much as possible. Others believe the we should not do that and wait for the Messiah to come to do all that.

One thing to keep in mind is that the goal of Torah is to change us and make us better people. We should live in communities and places that help us do that. Spiritually speaking, there is no greater place in the world than Israel. At the same time, we want to live like Jews, like the Torah wants us to and perpetuate its values.

if it would have been left to Hertzel and his people, Judaism would never have survived. Not only that, but the state had the ability to save Jews during the holocaust and they were not interested in bringing these "antiquated" Jews with their old customs and old world outlook.

That is why there is friction in Israel today between the Ultra-Orthodox and the secular Jews. The Ultra-Orthodox want to keep the Torah and pass it down and live their lives in the way G-d wants them to the best of their ability. The secular do not want others to tell them how to live...and want to live their lives "freely". With two opposite sides of the spectrum, we understand why there could be so much friction.

This is a way to possibly to look at the two sides of the state of Israel and how they are represented.

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Distance yourself from Anger

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is to distance yourself from anger. Anger is something that can destroy a person as the Talmud tells us that even if the fires of hell were below him when he was angry, it wouldn't phase him. This is incredible, that anger can take a person to such a level.

Anger has the ability to consume a person to the extent that if he was wise, he would lose his wisdom. Why is this so? The reason is because anger weakens a person. We use up so much energy on what someone did to us, or said to us that we don't concentrate on what is really important.

This in fact leads us to not think clearly and basically lose ourselves in the process. If we do that, then slowly we continue in an unhealthy cycle which will weaken us physically and mentally. Even though we understand the negative effect anger has on us, it still consumes us!

The goal, like the other character traits of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is to be able to overcome this situation when it occurs. That means if we are placed in a certain situation which makes us angry, we have to be able to diffuse the situation without losing control. This is easier said than done, but that is what has to happen.

A first step in controlling anger is to realize how counterproductive it is. One should remember when a situation occurs, we should tell ourselves, why embarrass yourself and get angry, it won't help! Even if we fail at something or this situation doesn't go the way we planned, learn to appreciate what you do have and not focus on the negative and get aggravated by it.

If we focus on the negative and the bad, it can depress us and leave us badly defeated and frustrated. Even if we get knocked down, we have to brush ourselves off, continue on our path and try harder the next time!

48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Minimize Intimacy

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is minimize intimacy. This is one of the most powerful drives a person has. If it is used properly, then one can sanctify his life tremendously. If not, then we give in to our base instincts that does not separate us from the animals.

There is an allusion that I have to act on this urge when I have it. The fallacy is that the more you give into it, the more you will be satisfied. In reality, the problem is that the more you feed it the more it wants. Even if one is married, if you act on that urge so much, the relationship is then only based on physicality which makes it base and self-centered.

The purpose of intimacy is to draw the couple together and give completeness to each other. Husband and wife work hard throughout their lives developing their relationship and keeping their bond strong.
It also binds husband and wife together since we focus on giving to the other person.

That is the greatest chesed one can do, is to give to another person unconditionally. In the context of marriage, we learn to give and develop that bond. This is why the Torah forbids intimacy not in the context of marriage. The reason is that it is the culmination of that bond, not just an act to get pleasure.

Marriage gives us the opportunity to form a complete unit. It is connecting two souls to form into one. The relationship becomes the focus of your life. It is something that we need to work on and continue to work on. It is like a plant, if you don't water it, it will die. Intimacy is a precious gift if it used and harnessed properly.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

48 Ways to Acquire Torah - Minimizing laughter

The next of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is minimizing laughter. Although laughter is not blacklisted it should be used in small and careful measures. It is brought down that the great Amora Rabbba would say a joke before beginning his class. Even though one should minimize laughter, it can be used practically and effectively to make a point.

The problem is that laughter here can lead to all kings of disastrous things and we certainly can get burned by it. Everyone likes a good joke but sometimes we don't know when to stop and we can end up hurting someone.

 Laughter also can be looked as a sign of maturity because it demonstrates a sense of proportion about what is truly important.  We have to be able to look at things in context and not to get overly emotional about our day-to-day concerns. Laughing can lighten a situation and give us a different perspective on things.
 Laughter also helps to release tension and gets rid of gloom, aggravation and depression. Today we are beset by so many things like the economy, war...that the stress has affected people negatively so laughter fills a void and helps relieves the tension.
On the other hand, laughter is dangerous and destructive. A person has to learn to laugh with people and not at them. If we laugh at someone or ridicule them, we hurt and embarrass them. Don't laugh at another person's worries. They may not see things your way or in the same perspective.
There are also types of laughter like cynicism, sarcasm or a nervous laugh which doesn't make others feel good either. We live in a world of cynics and making others the butt of our jokes. This is problematic because we desensitize ourselves to things that are important and this causes us not to take things seriously.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Parshas Thazria - Metzorah

"The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh: If hair in the affliction has changed to white, and the affliction's appearance is deeper than the skin of the flesh - it is a tzaraas affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated"

Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Raavad of the Eidah HaChareidis Beis Din, in his sefer Ta'am V'Da'as brings down in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter that what is the connection from Parshas Shemini that deals with animals that one is not allowed to eat and Parshas Thazria that discusses the laws of tzaraas?

A person is careful in the foods that they eat to make sure that they have the highest kosher certification but they are not careful how they speak. The connection between the two parshas is to teach us that if one is careful and does not eat those animals that the Torah forbids and contaminates our souls, still a person has to be very careful what comes out of our mouths as well.

The reason for this is because that which comes out of our mouths can contaminate as well since the sin of Lashon Hara causes tzaraas and blemishes on a person. There are three classes of people that speak Lashon Harah. 1) Se'eis which a person speaks against someone else to make themselves look better by putting someone down. 2) Sapachas - the nature of these people is not to speak Lashon Hara but they hang out with scoffers and mockers of Torah and they are not able to stand up to them and they end up acting like them. 3) Baheres - every secret is known and clear to him and his hand and mouth are in everything, which makes them very dangerous.

Here we see, Rav Sternbuch tells us that there is great merit for someone who is able to close their mouths and not speak Lashon Hara. If we see the punishment for Lashon Hara is tzaraas and people will stay away from him because of these blemishes, all the more so the merit the receive if they are quiet and are careful with what they say.

We live in a world without limitations of how people don't care what they say or how they say it. Great is the person and the merit they receive for learning when to keep their mouth shut!

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Minimizing pleasure

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is minimizing pleasure. What is wrong with getting pleasure in this world, isn't that why G-d created it, so we could enjoy it? Even though we have a special soul that G-d has given us, we are still given a earthly body with which to house it, to keep it grounded so-to-speak in this world.

The Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:2) where the Torah tells us to be holy comments that there are plenty of things that we are allowed to enjoy in this world, eating, drinking...but one must be careful not to overindulge and do things that are forbidden like becoming a glutton or a drunk, for instance.

Therefore, although we are allowed to enjoy the benefits we must be careful and use the things that we have in a permitted way. This means to use this world for the good that G-d has given it to us but not to abuse it.

This goes against the Christian idea that everything in the world is bad and certain pleasures forbidden. Judaism holds just the opposite, enjoy this world but know how to benefit from it properly!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can I Convert and Homeschool?

A very common question that comes up when going through an Orthodox conversion is can I still homeschool my child? While many today homeschool, most beis din's will not look to favorably upon this for various reasons. The first reason is that a person converting to Orthodox Judaism needs to integrate into the community as best as possible. Integrating means that the children attend the local Orthodox school or schools in the city in which they live.

This cannot be over emphasized. It is going to be hard enough to fit into the community and this will certainly make one stick out! Another reason that homeschooling is really not an option is because you need someone to be able to teach the child the basics of Judaism and what things mean and why we do them. A parent most likely (unless they themselves are Torah scholars) will not be able to do this. Even to hire Torah scholars to learn with the child is not such a great option because of the integration issue we mentioned previously.

The argument could be made though that there are issues with the schools (whatever they may be) that would prevent a parent from sending their child to that particular school. The only reason that homeschooling may be appropriate is if there is no other place to send them, in that case, the beis din won't convert you anyway until you get to a stronger community.

No school is perfect and there may be a number of issues that we in the Orthodox community have to work on specifically in the realm of education, nonetheless, this is the system that we have and we must make the most of it.

As a convert to Orthodox Judaism and learning about Judaism yourselves, you must make the effort and get the children into a school, run by Orthodox Jews that perpetuate Orthodox Jewish values. If someone is on the outside looking in, keeping the children in a situation where they won't thrive is a mistake.

The 48 ways to Acquire Torah: Minimizing Speech

The next of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is to minimize speech. The Mishna does not say do not speak, it says to minimize speech. This means that when we speak, make it meaningful. Don't waste your time on things that don't matter or speak derogatory things about others especially when we are learning.

We have seen previously in Pirke Avos that if one is walking on the way learning and stops learning  and says what a nice tree or nice furrow (or something else he says wasting time from learning) it is as if he is obligated with death. (Pirke Avos Chapter 3 Mishna 7). According to some commentaries this means even if he praises G-d's creation, it is as if he has forfeited his life.

We could look at this and say this is different because it shows the importance of Torah learning and wasting time while learning. We could also see this as a general idea of not speaking when I don't need to all the more so when I am learning Torah!

The Chofetz Chaim wrote a book called Shemiras HaLashon, guarding our speech. He didn't say it is forbidden to speak, but how we are allowed to speak. The Torah praises action more than speech, as we say, talk is cheap, let's see some action!

Another message from this character trait is that there is nothing better than being quiet. Better not to answer when something is said if you will not be able to control what you have to say. Even if you do have to say something, the idea is to minimize it as much as possible.

The reason is that the more one speaks, the more careful one must be since there are so many halachos about proper speech, one may make a mistake and say something they are not allowed to say. The problem is that the media promulgates the idea of saying whatever you want, when you want...Here the message is very different.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do we justice standing up for the siren in Israel for Yom Ha'Shoah

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is commemorated remembering the 6 million that died with a moment of silence. Once that siren goes off, everything stops. People in cars get out and stand up, people stop what they are doing for these two minutes to remember the 6 million. Is this a Jewish custom?

The answer is no. Silent prayer and worship, including moments of silence practiced during other group activities have been practiced by Quakers for more than 300 years. In the Colonial period Pennsylvania Quakers and Lenape Native Americans worshiped silently together on several occasions.

Moments of silence have often been observed prior to football games with reasons for silences range from national and international tragedies, to the death of people connected to the sport or specific clubs. As we can see, not a very Jewish custom to say the least.

So what would be a better way to remember the 6 million? Many rabbinical authorities hold that the day for that would be the day that we remember all national tragedies, the 9th of Av (T'sha B'Av). Even if that is the case, what should we do during those two minutes that the sirens are going off?

One way would be to say Tehillim (Psalms) or to learn some Torah thought. If we just stand there...we don't really do anything for the 6 million. By saying Psalms or learning in their merit, we help their souls and help ourselves to commemorate their memory properly.

There is a time and place to remember them, and it should be done in a more Jewish way!

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Minimizing Sleep

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is minimizing sleep. The purpose of sleep is to allow our bodies to function and re-energize.  A person needs a certain amount of sleep to be able to function properly. Obviously, the less sleep that one gets, the less they are able to function to their optimal level.
On the other hand, if we sleep too much one may love it so much that you end up sleeping your life away. The best way to maximize the recuperative powers of sleep is to take a nap, which will allow you to regain momentum
 A person knows how much sleep that one needs. If we don't know, then one way to do it is to decrease the amount we sleep by 10 minutes for a week, to a week and a half and then another 10 minutes until one sees how much sleep you really need to function properly.
According to the Rambam, we need 8 hrs of sleep, that is the maximum but one can actually train one's self to sleep less. The less sleep will allow to learn more and maximize the time that we are awake!
Keep in mind, though that the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination) works very hard to make sure that it won't happen.The Yetzer Harah will help you to get less sleep but it will cause you to have more worries about other things, The first thing that will happen will be for one to fall asleep! One has to have a clear head when doing this because if you can function on less sleep, then the more tired one is, you are more likely to fall asleep!
We not only have to see how much sleep we need to function but we need to be in a good state of mind to be able to function as well!


Avoid the "Zombie Life"
The struggle against drowsiness and fatigue is the struggle for meaning. We use just a fraction of our potential. You can go through an entire lifetime and at the same time be unconscious to much of the world around you. Don't walk, talk, or eat like a semi-conscious person. Pay attention to what you're doing at all times.
Watch out for zombieism. Don't walk around with "nothing" going though your head. Sometimes you are waiting in line at the supermarket and your head is completely dead, without a thought in your mind. Shake your head to stay awake. Pump yourself: What am I doing? Where am I going? And why am I going there?
In Judaism, our basic drive is to gain clarity. "Wake up" to the purpose of your life. Let go of illusions about fame, romance, etc. Don't get the shock of a cold bath when you graduate college and find out that not everyone automatically becomes a stock-optioned executive.
You want greatness. You want to be good. You want to help humanity. What are you going to do about it? Tackle the big issues and get real answers. Ask yourself: "What am I living for, and what do I want to do with the rest of my life?"
Don't just think about tomorrow or next year, but do a long-range forecast: What do I want inscribed on my tombstone? Will it say that I graduated college, made a million dollars, and owned a large house? Or will it say that I helped and cared for humanity?
Figure out the pleasure of being alive. If your ideals are high and far-reaching, you're not going to want to sleep away your life. You don't want to quit this game of living. You want to be great. Recognize that. Sure, living is a struggle. But boy, is it exciting!
You Can Change
We all have moments of awareness, an immediate recognition of "a-haaaaa." You hear something that makes sense. You have a first crack of light – an insight, a truth, a moment of recognition that life can be beautiful. This is the pleasure of learning wisdom. The light bulb goes on, and as far as that idea is concerned, you've been asleep until now. It's an exhilarating sensation of waking up.
Yet we can have such moments of clarity... and then fall asleep again. You may finish reading this and say, "Yes, that's a good point. I should think this through and make a plan. After all, greater awareness in life is something I'm interested in."
These thoughts are flittering through your mind. But as soon as you close the book, it's back to sleep. Is that right?
When you have an insight, capture it. Like the time you were driving a car and felt drowsy. You fell asleep for a moment and veered off the road. You caught yourself and for that moment you were wide awake. You remember that adrenalin shock. You are not going to let it happen again.
When you gain a moment of clarity, immediately make a decision. Decide that you can change, that things can be different.
The Jewish term for spiritual awakening is "teshuva," which means to return, to straighten out. Look at the damage your mistakes have caused, and consider how you've lost out as a result.
No matter how old you are, you can change. You can find truth and act on it.
Recognize that waking up is your battle. Now go out there and win.
Why is "Waking Up" a Way to Wisdom?
  • The struggle of life is the struggle to be awake.
  • Decide that life is good. Otherwise you'll go to sleep.
  • Get the maximum out of your body. But don't torture it either!
  • Don't miss out on life's opportunities and pleasures by oversleeping.
  • When we're excited about a project, our creative juices and mental faculties are in full gear.
  • Watch out for "zombie-ism." Don't walk around devoid of thoughts in your head.
  • Too much sleep dulls the mind.
  • Tiredness is a habit. Break it.
  • Unless we take practical steps to stay awake, sleep is going to overcome us.
  • Whenever you learn something new, wake up to the recognition that you were partially asleep before.
  • If you learn how to live with joy, sleep vanishes.
  • In the "final sleep
Monday, April 8, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Knowledge of Scripture and Mishna

The next of the 48 ways to Acquire Torah is the knowledge of Scripture and Mishna. The commentaries tell us that one should be an expert in Scripture and Mishna since they are the foundations of Torah. The Mishna is what the foundation of the Talmud is which makes up what we learn and why we do the fundamental things in Judaism.

The Jewish people have survived this long exile because they have have kept to the laws of the Torah and have learned it. Unfortunately, we have seen the other side which is lack of knowledge of the Torah. This has resulted in assimilation and intermarriage.

The more the Jews know about their heritage, the more they are likely to perpetuate their priceless heritage to future generations. If we don't, then that lack of knowledge leads us to assimilation and intermarriage.

There is an example of this a number of a years ago an Arab terrorist was in jail and he saw his Jewish jailer eating pita during Passover. The arab terrorist said to the jailer, "Doesn't it say in your Torah, that you are not allowed to eat any leavened product during the holiday of Passover." The jailer responded, "that was thousands of years ago, it doesn't apply today, we today living in the land of Israel are the new Jewish people. We don't have to keep those old laws."

The arab terrorist replied that a people that has no connection to its history, will eventually relinquish the land that they hold right now. This gave him more of an impetus to keep up the intifada since eventually the Israeli's will give up the land because they don't have such a connection to it.

As we continue to count Sefira and make our way towards Shavuos, we shouldn't forget the importance of learning Torah but we should live it as well!

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah - Deliberation

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is deliberation. This means that when one is asked a question, one should think deeply about it and analyze it from all directions so one doesn't answer too quickly and give an answer that is not correct. Not only that, if one does not learn with consternation and  deepness to try and understand the subject at hand, one will not have full clarity in what they are learning.

Many times a person may think when they are asked a question, they are obligated to give an answer straightaway to show how much we know and understand about the world. This just shows our hubris to think we may know more than we actually do.

Here the Mishna tells us to wait, think about it and then answer. That shows our patience and our ability to reason and give a thought out researched answer. This does not make the person weak because he doesn't answer right away, it shows that they want to have a complete answer that is properly investigated.
Saturday, April 6, 2013

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Learning from your Students

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is through learning from your students. The Gemara tells us that we learn the most from our students since they are ones that will challenge us the most by what we teach them. The reason is because when a teacher gives a class, the purpose is to make sure the students understand what is being taught. The teacher will learn as well from the questions his students ask and will make him sharper and more prepared.

Another reason that the questions the students ask increases the knowledge of the teacher is because the questions can lead to other things that flush out the material at hand. This leads to an extrapolation which can shed light to other subjects as well.

This idea is not limited to just learning Torah but to any other subject as well. If the student asks good questions, it will make the teacher work harder and more will be learned. Students need to grasp the material but it is through their questions and insights on the material that helps it be better understood.

The 48 Ways of Acquiring Torah - Dikduk Chaverim - Closeness of Friends

The next of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is closeness of friends. This means that a person who has close friends, they can help him in his ability to acquire Torah. They help him understand the text better through the way they make inferences and the knowledge that they have.

Another possible explanation is that through the camaraderie of friends, they will help one understand what their rebbe is teaching. This means, after the rav gives the class, they discuss the intricacies of the class and break it down to make sure they understand every aspect.

This does not mean that one cannot understand the class by himself but as explained previously, since one has their own biases of how they look at things, it is better to learn with a chevrusah (study partner) to bounce ideas off so what they learn will be crystal clear.

Rabbenu Yonah tells us that from the the Mishna in Chapter 2 Mishnah 12 that one of the best things to have for character development is to have a good friend since one can get good advice and direction from them.  Usually, good friends will not lead one astray and the benefits from one are limitless.
Thursday, April 4, 2013

Parshas Shemini: How to understand the deaths of Nadav and Avihu

"And a fire went out from Hashem and devoured them and they died before G-d" (Vayikra 10:2) There are many reasons given as to why Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon's sons died: 1) they gave a halachic decision without asking permission from Moshe Rabbenu; 2) or that they drank wine when they did the sacrificial service; 3) they did not marry and did not fulfill the commandment of being fruitful and multiplying; 4) they said when are these two old people (Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon) going to die and you an me will sustain and lead the generation. Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky z"l in Emes L'Yaakov asks why the rabbis give so many potential reasons that these great people died and why was it not enough to give the reason the Torah gives that "they brought up a strange fire that they were not commanded to do?"

If we are talking about such great people, how could they have answered a question before asking Moshe himself? Rav Kamenetzky tells us there must be some level of hubris here, that caused this. Also, the fact that they drank some wine before doing the priestly service was not yet forbidden and not only that it was a day of great joy since it was the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan and they made a festive meal and had a little bit of wine but did not get drunk. It could be though that even on such a great day, they should have been more careful when doing the priestly service and should not have drank any wine. This caused a little bit of hubris and showed that they did not have proper fear of G-d at that point.

Even with the other reasons that are given, there could be answers to why they did what they did. Rav Kamentzky tells us that for every person there is a central point that attaches itself to him and that point is the one that is inclusive of all the others. We also find that many times the rabbis mention the many sins of a person and place it under one main category or umbrella which is representative of all the others.

Each person will have to make an accounting of their actions after they die and will have to explain their actions before G-d. At the end of the day, though G-d may place these things as a failure of ..... which is the main reason that caused his downfall in other areas as well.

The 48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Studying under Torah Scholars

Next on the list of the 48 ways to acquire Torah is learning from Torah scholars. One of the most important aspects of being a rabbi is not just passing the requisite exams to become a rabbi but having a mentor, a rav that one has learned from. Learning from a great rabbinic scholar is not something that may take a few days, is something that one accumulates over time.

This is why learning from a Torah scholar is even greater than learning itself because here you are understanding how to put the knowledge that one has acquired into practice. This is why it is so important to learn from someone that not only has the knowledge but the practical experience as well.

This also helps us understand how we look at our rabbinic authorities today. We have to evaluate the scope of what the Torah scholar has learned but who that person learned under is of crucial importance. The person one learns from must be exemplary in his scope of Torah knowledge but also must be impeccable with character development.

Torah is meant to change a person. A person does not just acquire great amounts of knowledge without it changing the person. If a person learns lots of Torah but it does not affect his character development, then the Torah one learns is nothing more than mental gymnastics.

As the Talmud tells us, one must look at his Rabbi as no less than an angel. If a person cannot or there is flawed character within that person, then don't learn Torah from them. They are perpetuating a great tradition, passed down generation to generation and if there are noticeable flaws, then one must be very careful!!

Learning from a Torah scholar makes a person complete because they are able to use what they learned under proper guidance to make that person complete. As the Mishna in Pirke Avos tells us, "Acquire for yourself a Rabbi." According to one opinion, this means that even if it costs you money, you should have a rabbi as a mentor to guide you to give you the best chance to reach your true potential!
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Laws of Mourning Between Passover and Shavuos and the Death of the Students of Rabbi Akiva

     There is an obligation to start counting the Omer from the second night of Passover until the holiday of Shavuos. During this time, there are customs of mourning due to the fact that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died. We don't have marriages, get haircuts or listen to music.

One question that we may ask is why did these students die? If they were great rabbinical scholars in their own right, shouldn't they have realized that something seriously was amiss when more than 700 people died a day until they stopped dying on Lag B'Omer?

The Talmud  (Yevamos 62b) tells us that the reason they died was because they didn't show proper respect one to the other. If these were truly rabbinic scholars, how could it be that it didn't dawn on them to show proper respect for their fellow colleagues?

This can be understood in the context of a Yeshiva. In a Yeshiva, men learn with a chevrusah (study partner) trying to understand the text that they are learning. The reason one learns with a study partner is that even if one is very smart, he has his biases of how he looks at situations. Therefore, it is good to learn with someone else to bounce off ideas to see if they are getting to the truth of what they are learning.

As one is learning though, they have to remember that if they think their chevrusah is wrong in his understanding of the topic at hand, why is that? Do they think that only their opinion is right and therefore they will tear apart the other's opinion just to show that they are right or are they interested in debating the issue to get to the crux of the argument and understand the intricacies of the complexity of the text?

If the idea is to make yourself look better at the expense of the other regardless if the person may be right or not, is wrong. Then the idea is to make yourself look better at the expense of your learning partner and what you are doing is just mental gymnastics. 

The purpose of the Torah is to make you a better person and learn to the best of your ability of what the texts tell us and how it impacts our lives. If we don't take the lessons the Torah teaches us to heart, then we are just learning another discipline that has no connection to our lives. 

This is what the students of Rabbi Akiva lacked. Although they were great rabbinical students, they seemed to have forgotten the basic idea of having proper respect for the people around them. They didn't understand that the most important thing was getting to the truth regardless if your idea was right or wrong.

It is a tremendous knock at one's ego to hear that their opinion is flawed for this or that reason. The truly great person as long as they are learning for the sake of analyzing the truth will admit they have made a mistake and take the other opinion and move forward. The problem is that we don't like to admit we have made a mistake but that is how we learn and expand our knowledge!

48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Simcha

How do we define what Simcha (Happiness) is according to the Torah. According to some commentaries, we look at happiness in the essence of our enjoyment when we learn Torah and keep mitzvos. From this we can learn a number of things.

The first thing we can take out is that if we don't learn Torah and keep mitzvos with great joy and excitement, then we won't be able to keep the Torah the way we need to. The reason is that if we look at Torah and mitzvah observance as a burden and as being too difficult, then why would we keep it and how would we pass it down to the next generation?

Happiness elevates a person to reach tremendously high spiritual levels. So much so, that G-d's presence does not dwell on someone that is sad. We see from this that keeping's one's focus and serve G-d out of love and enjoyment help a person in their mitzvah observance.

When we say the Shema every day, in the first paragraph we say "V'Ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha..." "You should love the L-rd your G-d..." The root of the word to love is either Ahav to love or the letters Heh and Beis to make the word Hav, which means to give. If you want to have this close relationship with G-d and His Torah, you must give of yourself to do it.

The more effort that one exerts in his understanding the vastness of the Torah, the more sweet the Torah is. The idea, as difficult as it may be will be to keep our focus on what we need to do vis-a-vis our relationship with G-d regardless of the difficult situations we may find ourselves in.

Happiness in general is something worthwhile to acquire. The reason is that if we look at everything as being bad, difficult with a poor disposition to the world, then it can be a very depressing place to live. Do we look at the cup as half full or empty? Shouldn't we be thankful for everything we have regardless  of everything else going on around us?

There is a story about the students of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah of Vilna) who had very difficult lives and suffered from extreme poverty. The Gaon would send his students to visit sick people in the hospital before Shabbos. After these visits, his students came into Shabbos totally transformed. The reason was simple: they saw people who had pains and all kinds of ailments but they themselves were healthy!

By looking at the world with different eyes, we can see the good that we have instead of complaining and worrying about what I don't have and the difficulties that we may go through. There is so much to be thankful for. Let us live every day and focus on the positive things that we have!
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

48 Ways to Acquire Torah

As we count the days of Sefira as we approach the holiday of Shavuos, the Mishnah in Pirke Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) Chapter 6 Mishna 5 tells us "Torah is greater than the Priesthood and from Kingship since Kingship is acquired with 30 attributes, the Priesthood is acquired with 24 attributes and the Torah is acquired with 48 ways."

Since we count 49 days until Shavuos and there are 48 ways to acquire the Torah, there is a custom to study one each day and try and think about it a little bit to see what we can learn from it and how to integrate it into our lives.

Today's character trait is humility. How does one approach the character trait of humility? How do we know what true humility is?\

According to some commentaries, humility means that I should not think that I am greater than I am. This means that I have to know who I am (honestly) and even if I know a lot of Torah, I am not allowed to think that I am so great because of what I know since this is what I was commanded to do in the first place!

True humility means that a person regardless of their knowledge or status in society, should be humble and thank G-d for all that he has been given. On the other hand, a person should not think that their actions don't matter and they are so lowly that they are like a small piece of insignificant piece of cosmic dust either!

We have to know who we are (the good and the bad that is inside of us) but realize the bigger picture as well.  We have to realize that there are people that are smarter than us, more successful than us but we have to strive and be the best that we can be.

Humility is to realize my place in this world and realize that I will not know or understand everything. I have to know my place in this world!

I had the merit to take my rebbe, HaRav Ha'Gaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch, the Raavad (Head of the Beis Din) of the Eidah Ha'Chareidis) once a week for 5 years to the beis din. Once as we were en route, I had asked him a question and after asking the question, the Rav told me that he had difficulties on both sides of the question, wasn't sure and for himself was stringent in a certain situation.

I asked him the question again and again, received the same answer. This time, though he told me better to say "I don't know" to an question rather than give an answer that wasn't true. As I pestered him about this question a few minutes later, he told me to say in his name that "Moshe Sternbuch said that 'I don't know'"

This to me was a tremendous lesson. As great as a person is, no matter what they know or how much they know, there are still things we don't know and we have to be big enough to admit that rather than give an answer that may not be truthful.

This is true humility.

Sefiras Ha'Omer, what does it mean?

Even though there may be the simple explanation of why we do a particular mitzvah, nonetheless there are many hidden explanations as well. For examples, the mitzvah of blowing the shofar, the Rambam writes in the Laws of Teshuvah Chapter 3 Halacha 4) that even though the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is really a Divine decree written in the Torah, there is a hint as to why we do it. The reason is because we are sleeping most of the year in our performance of mitzvos and the shofar helps wake us up to get back to our true selves. There are other mitzvos as well like eating matzah on Passover or sitting in a sukkah on Sukkos that the reasons that we do these mitzvos  are pretty clear. What about Sefiras Ha'omer? The reason why we count days, weeks seems to be extremely hidden  and unclear why we do it.

The Torah tells us to count 7 weeks and each week we count seven days..but why? When we count the days, are they good days or bad days? There are a lot of things we could do in a day and what we can fill it with so why count the seven weeks with seven days seven times?

The Sefer Ha'Chinuch in Mitzvah 306 tells us: "The foundation of the mitzvah is that the essence of the Jewish people is to keep the Torah and because of the Torah the heavens and earth were created as well as the Jewish people. The reason that the Jewish people were redeemed and came out of Egypt was to accept the Torah on Mount Sinai and keep the mitzvos that G-d gave us.

We are then commanded to count from the day after the first day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuos (the day of the giving of the Torah).The reason that we count up until the day of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people is to show out happiness that G-d freed us and took us out of Egypt. 

We therefore count each day, then the week and the day until you reach "That Day!", the day that G-d gave us the Torah and the ability to keep His mitzvos! Each day is significant because it relates to the past (all the miracles that happened in Egypt and our leaving Egypt) to our status as a nation that saw G-d face to face at Mount Sinai to be His people to perpetuate His message for the world, ie the Torah!

May we use each day productively!