Friday, July 21, 2017

On Discernment and Doormats – a summer dvar Torah for Parshas Matos-Masei

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Every year we’re in Toronto, and for years before we made aliyah, my mother hosts a shalosh seudos for the ladies of our shul.  For some reason, my mother’s shalosh seudos always manages to fall out on a different parsha, so I can’t repeat what I’ve said in previous years.

If you’re curious, here are some of these masterpieces from previous years…

    The point being - I had to start from scratch looking at this week’s combined parsha – Matos-Masei.

    There is a very shocking section near the beginning of this week’s parsha. It’s connected with what we read two weeks ago in parshas Balak. Back then, the people of Moav and Midian sent women in to seduce the men of Bnei Yisrael – not just physically, our commentators tell us, but spiritually, leading the Jewish men into worshiping idols.

    Now, it’s time for revenge. Interestingly, we’re told to take revenge only against Midian and not against Moav, even though they were both complicit. Why? Perhaps because Ruth – and hence King David – were destined to descend from Moav. This makes sense if you look at the crime as a spiritual one rather than just an episode of physical seduction, because our spiritual redemption is somehow eventually going to come from Moav. So that may be one reason we’re having compassion on Moav and not taking revenge.

    But as for Midian – it seems there is no such thing as compassion when it comes to them. Moshe tells us, in the name of Hashem, to wipe out every single man, woman, and child from the nation of Midian. Yikes. But Bnei Yisrael don’t do it. They can’t, with the memory of Amalek’s attack still so very fresh in their minds. After all, Amalek’s attack was so insidious that it must be remembered as long as there is a living Jewish person to tell the tale.

    Now, lots of people have attacked Bnei Yisrael throughout history

    Thursday, July 06, 2017

    Time for a Simcha! Short Happy Vort for a Balak Engagement

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    Our older daughter is engaged!!!  We are so utterly overjoyed.  If you are among the many, MANY people we care about who weren't able to make it to the vort tonight (given that it was held in Toronto with only 3 days' notice), I wanted to share this with you. 

    Know that we were thinking of you and are sharing our simcha in spirit if not in real live actual person.

    Speaking after the father of the chosson and one of his rebbes, I could have gone on and on and on all night – you know me – but I was told we only had 3 minutes to speak, so this was it.  Enjoy!

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    In this week’s parsha, Balak, an unusual thing happens. After Bilam tries to curse Am Yisrael, he comes up with another plan, to lead them into avoda zara through Midianite women. When this happens, Moshe Rabbeinu is not only silent, but he stands weeping. This is one of only few times in the Torah that Rashi says “nitalmu mimenu halacha,” the halacha was concealed from Moshe.

    There are five places in the Torah where this happens. For instance, when it comes to bnos Tzelofchad, the daughters of Tzelofchad, who asked about inheriting land in eretz Yisrael. Some say that was done as a punishment for Moshe, who had bragged about his ability to solve problems in halacha, so he was taken down a notch by Hashem, so to speak.

    However, many meforshim agree that the situation here in Balak doesn’t fit the pattern. One important reason is given in Midrash Tanchuma, shared by Rashi, which is that here, Moshe’s forgetting is a way of letting him gracefully step aside and allow Pinchas to take a leadership role.

    We already know how Moshe reacts – gracefully, and with humility. Moshe is what folks in Israel call

    Wednesday, June 21, 2017

    Am I back to blogging? Where have I been? What have I been up to? A short friendly post about nothing at all, really.

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    I’ve been posting more lately, here and at my other blogs.  But the short answer about whether I’m really back is… not officially.

    We’re standing right on the cusp of the 2-year anniversary of when I stopped blogging – July of 2015.  That’s when we flew to Canada and life kicked into high gear in so many ways.  (Or, as I usually put it, “all hell broke loose.”)

    Essentially, my ongoing attempts to work as a freelancer began taking off the minute we arrived in my mother’s basement in Toronto in July 2015, leading to a flurry of nonstop activity that was good because that, in turn, led to money, but was bad because it took time away from blogging, which I love.

    Oh, yeah, and my family.  I may be home a lot, but I’m not with my family as often as I’d like.

    And blogging has had to fall by the wayside.  As clearly it has.  I mean, the stats don’t lie.  Here are numbers for each year of each of my blogs:

    This blog, Adventures in MamaLand:

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    My aliyah blog, Adventures in AliyahLand:

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    My kosher food blog, Adventures in BreadLand:

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    And finally, my children’s writing blog, Write Kids’ Books:

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    So… this year looks like it’s better so far.  I mean, it’s already June and I’ve written 51 blog posts.  Compared to 2016, when I only wrote 39 altogether.

    Phew.  Frankly, it all sounds

    Wednesday, June 07, 2017

    Why I teach my kids about modesty (and maybe you should, too)

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    What are your standards of modesty when it comes to clothing? Do your kids know what these are?

    As a religious Jew, I dress in a certain way. To sum it up briefly: I wear long sleeves, long skirts, and I cover my hair. But don’t assume for a second that it’s been easy, or that it is easy for me on any given day.  It isn’t.

    And it hasn’t been easy sharing these ideas with my children – sons and daughters – along the way, either.

    The other day, though, a friend shared a post on Facebook by a parent who proudly wrote that she doesn't enforce any modesty standards in her kids. She wrote that "Modesty is too subjective and true modesty is about attitude and our heart."

    (The page it was posted on has two owners; I'm going to assume it's the mother, Jessica Martin-Weber, who's writing. Apologies if I’m wrong!)

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    I agree with Jessica Martin-Weber’s second claim in part – yes, attitude and intention are important! - but not necessarily with the first.

    Where does the idea that modesty is "subjective" come from? Well, as she claims, "The definition of modest dress has and will continue to change through history and across cultures." True enough. But our children don't come from a range of historical time periods, or a range of cultures.

    My children live in the here and now, and I believe teaching them standards of modesty is an important part of teaching them about THEMSELVES: not a range of cultures, but their own culture.

    First of all, kids have to be aware of what modesty isn't. It's not about shame. It's not about hiding your body because there's something wrong with it, or with bodies in general.

    We absolutely have to start from a perspective of positivity and even wonder. Bodies are beautiful because Hashem made them. Every day, we say a bracha over and over praising Hashem for the amazing way our bodies are put together.

    That’s where you have to start from. And then you build.

    We also have to start with the idea that both girls and boys

    Friday, June 02, 2017

    Clues to the Infinite: A dvar Torah for the 3rd Yahrzeit of my brother Eli

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    It has been three years.  What is there left to speak about for the yahrzeit of a person like my brother Eli?

    There is the fact that almost all of us know somebody with a mental illness; that Judaism has always urged compassion, understanding, inclusion, and humane treatment. This is a topic which is most vital to talk about - but I've spoken about all of this before.

    And then - there is the idea of turning to something my brother loved. So that we may find common ground not only with one another as fellow-travellers, but with him as well, though he is no longer here, and was a pretty strange character even when he was.

    There was nothing my brother loved more than math. I love math, too, but not in the same way. If math is a language - which, of course, it is - then he was a native speaker, while I am very much an outsider who enjoys the music of it tripping off the tongue.

    There are so many ways that math intersects with Judaism that actually the topic seems almost purpose-built for a dvar Torah or shiur of some sort – and, in fact, lots of people have written very eloquently about the topic over the years. We are not the first to notice that, in general, many Jews love math kind of the same way my brother loved math. As a subject to belabour over not because we have to, but because we can.

    In all our lives, whether we love it or not, math intersects with Judaism at least once a year. When? (not rhetorical q)

    At the Pesach seder, we come to an interesting bit in the middle where we stop and “do math.” Ten makkos? Not quite. How about fifty? (Rabbi Yosi ha Glili) How about two hundred? (Rabbi Eliezer) How about two hundred and fifty? (Rabbi Akiva)

    Why do we sit and obsess over these numbers?

    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    What do we tell our kids about Chabad and “Yechi”?

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    If I start by saying I really like Chabad, and adore the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, well... maybe you already know where I'm headed.

    Naomi Rivka has been asking lately what I think about Chabad.  She asks, in part, because she already knows how I feel.  She already knows I’m bothered, though to her, it’s mostly about “liking” and “not liking.”  I wish things were that simple.

    Our little neighbourhood in Israel has a significant Chabad presence, and Chabad conducts fairly significant outreach within the community.  Which sounds nice until you realize that this is a religious neighbourhood, closed on Shabbos, where some huge percentage of people are shomer mitzvos.  Sure, it’s mostly religious Zionist, and there are a range of observances, for sure, but we’re pretty much all religious here in some way or another.

    So at that point, this isn’t outreach but inreach.  Convincing people who are religious to be… what?

    A lot of Chabad’s efforts here are focused on kids, including a big Aseres Hadibros gathering today for Shavuos.  The events are usually well organized and include prizes and popsicles, so they get a lot of kids.  And they almost always say “yechi”. 

    “Yechi” refers to the verse:  “Yechi adoneinu, moreinu v’rabeinu, melech hamoshiach, le’olam va’ed.”  It means “Long live our master, our teacher, our rabbi, king messiah, forever.”

    The phrase “adoneinu, moreinu, rabeinu” – “Admor,” for short – has long been used by chassidic groups to describe their leader.  This part isn’t controversial.

    But the part about “long live” definitely is, considering that the person in question died in 1994.  Oh, and denied that he was moshiach.

    Chabad chassidim, sometimes known as Lubavitchers, started singing this passuk a couple of years before the Rebbe died. 

    He had already had a stroke, and so there is disagreement – from what I can tell and heard from Chabadniks at the time, based on his gestures – as to whether or not he wanted them to sing it, essentially crowning him as moshiach.  He couldn’t speak between the stroke and his death.  It does seem like he was gesturing yes with greater and greater positivity.  But I’m not a neurologist, and don’t know how much understanding he still had by that point.

    After he died, Chabad was split.  For some, the messianic hopes were dashed; others hauled out proofs that moshiach can still be a person risen from the dead.  Many in the mainstream Jewish community were appalled because this view seemed shockingly close to Christianity.

    Actually, that’s not just my opinion, but also that of Rav Aaron Soloveichik, who told The Forward in 1994 that “"there is no possibility whatsoever" that Menachem Mendel Schneerson would emerge from the dead to be the Messiah. In his words:

    "That could be possible in the Christian faith, but not Judaism."

    (source – including a letter from Rav Soloveichik confirming that the quote is accurate)

    His suggestion,