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Clarification to "Boroughs Sotloff Initiative" Email

Friday, September 12, 2014 - 12:43 am
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Dear Friends,

This past Friday, I sent out a community email announcing the Boroughs Sotloff Initiative calling on all local Jews (whose health allows) to fast this Yom Kippur  in tribute to Steve Sotloff's courage and heroism. As always, I welcome your thoughts and appreciate your feedback.


After receiving numerous responses, I'd like to clarify several points. In current times of widespread confusion and moral relativism, it is sometimes necessary to state the obvious:


1. My intention was not to skim over or minimize the horrific murder and tragic loss of James Foley. Dismayed and outraged by the atrocity, I mourn his death as do all our fellow Americans and, in fact, all human beings of moral conscience. However, Steve Sotloff's personal story that came to light only after his death captured my imagination. Not only because he was a fellow Jew with a profound connection to Eretz Yisrael, or that he was a grandchild of Holocaust surivors, but because he managed to observe Jewish traditions in the very unthinkably worst of conditions, amidst the most brutal and egregious of villains the world has seen since the Holocaust, at great personal risk.


2. The Hebrew date this past Friday, the day I had read the news report and sent you the email, was the tenth of Elul, exactly one month before Yom Kippur. Our Sages taught that we begin to review the laws of a holy day in preparation thirty days in advance. After it has become known worldwide that Steve Sotloff fasted and prayed toward Jerusalem on Yom Kippur in ISIS captivity eleven months ago, it seems obvious that we all ought to be inspired to prepare for Yom Kippur in a more meaningful and committed way than ever before.


3. The fact that I made no mention of the Islamic identity or jihadi agenda of his barbaric murderers and captors was not intentional. Please do not construe it as failing to identify the enemy, or downplaying the real and present threat of global and local jihad, growing Islamic fanaticism, and the West's self-destructive pacifism, or worse, its tacit complicity. The fact I chose to highlight was Steve's courage and moral conviction, not the enemy's bloodthirsty brutality, or its deranged and immoral ideology. In fact, it was a rather unimportant detail. The real story was the eternal triumph of the Jewish neshama.


It is in fact crucial to understand that ISIS (or what ever it is they call themselves), Al Kaieda, Hamas, their Qatari supporters, Al-Shabab, the Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, so-called "moderate" groups like Fatah or "Palestinian Authority," and all others of their ilk, including the Shiite Iranians and so-called Hizbollah, are all manifestations of the same underlying prolem. In past blog posts, I have referred to it as Genocidal Islamo-Fascism. This problem is compounded many times over by the deafening silence of Muslim leaders and laymen worldwide and hence, the irrelevance of the self-professed moderates, the shocking distortions of the complicit world media, the EU and UN's antisemitic obsession, our own government's apparent indifference, or "lack of strategy," if you will.


In a broader sense, our own nation's befuddled political correctness is symptomatic of a much greater problem, namely, the lack of moral clarity. True and uncompromising moral clarity can only be based on belief in a Supreme Being, G-d Almighty, Who imparted the Seven Noahide Laws as a universal code of morality for all mankind. As a light unto the nations, it is we, the Jewish People, who are entrusted with the mission of bringing this message to the world and teaching the Noahide Laws to our fellow humans of all creeds, races, and ethnicities.


But again, all this was not the focal point of the email. Rather, it was about the indomitable bond between a Jew and his Creator.


Please join us in our initiative this Yom Kippur.


Best wishes,

Rabbi Green

Boroughs Sotloff Initiative

Friday, September 12, 2014 - 12:41 am
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Out of the grim savagery of another brutal execution by ISIS, comes a most inspiring tale. As has been widely reported, Steve Sotloff observed some Jewish traditions and rituals during his time of captivity, even while hiding the fact that he was Jewish.

When everyone was praying to Mecca he turned inconspicuously to face Jerusalem and recite the Shema. Steve even managed to fast last Yom Kippur by feigning illness! As noted in the very popular London Daily Mail headline “Heroic Steven Sotloff feigned illness so he could still fast for Yom Kippur." Talk about a Kiddush Hashem – what a sanctification of G-d's name!

If Daniel Pearl reminded us, by the heroic way he died ("'My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish,'") of the unbreakable bond between the Jewish Neshama (soul) and Hashem (G-d), then Steve Sotloff taught us how to LIVE like a Jew, under any circumstance!

How courageous and how inspiring your observances are, Steve, to me and my children. How free and liberated you were, Steve, even while you lived your last year of life in chains. How perverted and pathetically shackled are your evil captors, even while brandishing those potent weapons.

To my fellow community members; together let us proclaim the “Boroughs Sotloff Initiative”, where EVERY Jew in area, whose health allows, fasts this Yom Kippur. Fasting on Yom Kippur is about being a little elevated from the mundane for one day, allowing us to fully focus on our relationship with G-d.

Our dear brother Steven, may G-d avenge your blood. From our part, we will never forget you. This Yom Kippur, as we work on our relationship with G-d, as we resolve to be better people, it is you who will serve as our guiding light!

May we quickly merit a world of redemption and Moshiach, when we will be reunited with Daniel and Steve, and we will then finally merit the better world they both so aspired to.

Planet of the Apps

Monday, May 27, 2013 - 6:47 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is an "app?"

And while we're at it, what's the deal with Americans' insatiable app-etitie for apps?

In recent years, I have observed this phenomenon with growing app-rehension. App-arently, app appeal is app-roaching record levels, but it app-ears that the app-ex is still nowhere in sight. App-roximately seventy million Americans use so-called smart phone apps, and that number is growing daily. Younger people are more app-savvy than adults, who are considerably less appt to app, but that is changing. Even older folks who were once largely app-athetic to technology are beginning to app-reciate the joys of apps. The generation gapp is narrowing.
apps3.jpg
What's all this app-craze about anyway? Have we all become app-ahaulics?

Now that we're all walking around with fancy little $600 mobile devices, are we better off? Are we happier, or just app-ier?

It's app-solutely app-alling, if you ask me.

Just take a look at the app store. Apps galore. There are recreation apps, weather apps, productivity apps, even religion apps. You could straighten your tefillin with a handy tefillin app, or pray with an interactive prayerbook app. (Conversely, I suppose one could opt to app-andon one's religion with an app-ostasy app.)

Apps have even replaced relationships! You could have a dialogue with an intuitive app that reads your mind and talks back to you. The happy app cheers you up with a joke or compliment, and will commiserate with you when you're down. Dis-app-ointed your spouse? No worries. You could app-ologize with an app-ology app.

Trying to track your teenager's movement? No problem! Get a mobile monitoring app. Who needs honest communication, trust and responsibility? That's old hat. Get the app and you're all set.

How often have you mentioned a random topic in a group of company and someone had to app-noxiously inform you, "There's an app for that!"?

Indeed, you could practically live your entire life with apps. You could work remotely with an occupational app. Make house app-raisals, set up app-ointments, app-ly for a loan, read about the App-ollo, App-ache or App-alachian. With a shopping app, you could shop for app-arel, app-etizers or app-liances. Like Phantom of the Appra? With a bit of appracadappra, it's at your fingertips! You could read it with an ebook app, listen to it with a music app, or view it with a movie app.

There's an app for everything. An app for app-etite loss or app-dominal pain, an app for moustache trimming, mountain climbing, rocket building, or bird watching. There's even an app for sleep app-nea.(Problem is, you'll waste so much time on your iPhone that you'll be sleep-deprived anyway.)

App-endicular to all of this is the toll that app-mania is taking on our impressionable youth. First it was the raps. Now it's the apps.

App-art from the sheer waste of time spent by youngsters on apps, excessive app use does not seem to be improving their app-titude for achievement in school.

It seems that every time I app-rehend one of my app-happy students yapping about apps, I later app-rise the parent and discover that the child's fixation on apps meets with parental app-roval. Is this app-ropriate?

Our kids are being taught to rely on electronic app-aratuses to help them think. My daughter spends much of time in her advanced math course punching numbers into a fancy hundred-dollar calculator. Her classmates are now doing assignments with their iPhones, thanks to a new scientific calculator app. Is it AP class or APP class?

Speaking of school, kids never worry about being app-sent any more, because they can remotely access all class materials or assignments with a nifty homework app. It's app-normal!

I don't mean to be app-ocalyptic or anything, but what is this world coming to? Have we become so dependent on smartphone apps that without them, our society would coll-appse?

I had occasion to ride the commuter rail recently. Every single passenger on the train was enrappt in their smart phones. It was app-surd. They were too app-sorbed in their apps to notice their fellow, completely app-livious to their surroundings. No good mornings, no eye contact. It was a stifling app-mosphere.

What is app-ening to our world? Has it become "Planet of the Apps?" Has our society sunken to the app-ysmal depths of app-dependency?

I am sorry, but this app-robrious app-omination has got to stop. In this widespread appsense of common sense, someone has to un-app-ologetically and un-app-ashedly speak up for what's right.

I'm not necessarily app-osed to all apps, but quite frankly, I am skeptical as to whether there is true value in this modern-day phenomenon. I guess you can call me an app-nostic.

Perh-apps we ought to scrap the apps and focus on the here and now. Let's free ourselves from app-ressive app app-session. The key to happiness is not appiness!

Let's start living in the real world, not the virtual one. Learn to avoid the trap of the app. Instead of relying on a GPS app, why not use a mapp? Need to change a hubcapp? Use your thinking capp. Want to get fit? Go run a lapp and eat a healthy wrapp. Tired? Take a napp. Just do it, but do it without the app!

I'll be the first to app-laud your effort.

Personally, the only apps I buy are app-les and app-ricot jam, and frankly, I'd like to keep it that way. (Oops, I should've been more specific: I meant the old-fashioned edible apples that grow on trees).

My kids claim I'm behind the times, but I'm just waiting for the next technology to come along that will render apps app-solete.

So, in conclusion, don't get zapped by the app. Rather, tap into your own inner apps, the Torah and its mitzvos. Learn how to muster the powerful spiritual tools G-d gave you and apply them to every aspect of your daily life. They are state of the art. Best cuting-edge technology that never gets outdated, obsolete or phased out. (In other words, they won't go the way of the Treo, flip phone or fax machine, like your latest iPhone and its apps ultimately will, condemned to fade away behind the cobwebs of posterity). Your soul's hardware comes with a longer-than-lifetime factory warrantee from the Designer and CEO Himself. Guaranteed to withstand all trials and tribulations, to be used in any application, in the harshest or most adverse of conditions. Indeed, the soul is eternal, and so is a mitzvah.

That's why the Bible is so compelling. Real people using their spiritual tools to their fullest G-d-given potential. And that's what the Messianic Era is all about.

That's why everything really exists, for us to reveal G-dliness inherent in everything, thereby creating a dwelling place for the Creator in His world. And that's truly the only reason mobile phone apps exist. So if you gotta use 'em, use them for the true purpose of their existence. Utilize them for studying and teaching Torah, for doing mitzvot, for reaching out to your fellow human being with deeds of goodness and kindness.

Who knows? Maybe the app designers will catch on and create a "Moshiach App," letting everyone know the happy news at the very moment Moshiach arrives. Now that's what I call a useful app!

More on Mobile Phone Mania... the "iPhone"

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 5:14 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

As a postscript to my previous post, here's something else to ponder:

Ever wonder about the semantic appeal of the name for one of America's most popular mobile devices, the so-called "iPhone?" You gotta admit that it was a clever idea. Not to mention its forerunner, the "iMac," and later the "iPod," or its newer cousins, the "iPad" and "iTouch," or "i-Whatever."

 

The brilliance of this name is obvious. This phone is about me first.  I am free to express myself or experience the world of electronic communication and media the way I want to. This device is working for me, not against me. It's all about me.

 

(Some originally thought that the "i" stood for "internet ready," but the originally offline "iPod" precluded that theory. Some say it stands for "intelligent," "individual," "inspiring" or "informational," but I say that they are missing the point. English is distinctive in that it is one of the only languages in which the first person singular subject pronoun is a single capital letter, "I." Any handwriting analyst will tell you that. That's why the letter "I" is so meaningful to people, perhaps the singlemost important letter in the alphabet.)

 

It's ironic, though, that the "I" of written iPhone, has been demoted to lowercase status, while the p of Phone is capitalized.

 

What can that teach us?

 

Well, for one, the very notion of an "iPhone," that I and my phone are one inseparable unit, is inherently un-Jewish. Judaism teaches us that I am my neshama, the soul. My body is only a temporary vessel, a rather crude concoction of flesh, blood and bones. The corporeal  body is not me, but merely my neshama's vehicle during her relatively brief sojurn in this earthly realm. If the real I cannot be defined by my bodily shell, it certainly can't be identified by a relatively worthless piece of metal, plastic, glass and silicon, that my body happens to use to communicate electronically with others.


Let's not confuse the means with the ends. If you make the Phone something capital and primary, your true I becomes diminished.

 

When "I" and my "phone" have fused into one, when I identify myself by the type of phone I use, I am no longer a capital I. Instead, I have allowed my G-dly self to become trivialized and sullied by the subjective mire of the earthly human experience. I am no longer in touch with my higher self and true greatness, but with smallness and pettiness, a diminutive i, a shadow of what I once was as a child and what I can choose to be right now if I will only allow my human body to reflect its true exclusive role as vehicle to my soul. My body exists to express G-dliness, to help the neshama attain her Divine mission.In doing so, the body achieves union with the Divine, something that will only be empirically experienced in the Era of Moshiach.

 

Following this logic, my mobile apparatus also exists solely to help me fulfill my G-d-given mission, as do my clothes, my home, and every other implement in my life. It is here to help me heal a fractured world, tikun olam, to communicate a kind word, a Torah thought, a chassidic story. It's here to help me teach a fellow human being how to observe the Seven Noahide Laws, or to help a fellow Jew keep kosher, say Shema, learn about Moshiach. It's here so I can utilize my time wisely, so that during my Friday rush hour commute I may call my Mom and wish her a Good Shabbos, or reach out to my sister in Hong Kong and convey warm wishes, so that I may call a friend who has been ill and wish him well and inquire into his needs and how I may be of help.

 

It is not about me. It's about doing what G-d wants. And consequently, I attain true capital siginificance, independent and irrespective of the phone I may or may not use. And the phone remains precisely that, a simple tool, and not a status symbol, catchphrase, diversion or addiction.


No, the smart phone doesn't make me smart, nor does the iPhone make me a better me. If I am truly ready to be me and be smart, I will separate the I from the phone. Diminish, detach or discard the phone and return to I.

 

Happy unplugging. Shabbat Shalom

Do our smart phones make us smarter?

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 2:29 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Does my smart phone make me smarter?
Does my internet connectivity truly make me more connected?
Am I a better "I" because of my iPhone?
Bottom line: does my fancy phone make me a more genuine person, or more phony?
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I marvel at how many mediums of communication now lie at my fingertips.

For example, if I choose to, I can call my sister in Hong Kong, some eight thousand miles away, with the press of a single button on my mobile device. In fact, I can choose to call her cell phone, her landline or her VOIP line. In fact, I could even skype or video conference her.

By why bother doing any of the above? That would require wating and talking (two rather onerous activities). I could save time and energy by simply sending her a SMS text message. Alternatively, I could text her for free via Blackberry messaging, instant messaging, or with another internet application. Or, I could opt to facebook her, tweet her, or even send her an old fashioned email? (Remember those?)

Wow! That's over ten ways I could quite easily reach out to my sister accross the world, and in some cases, get a nearly instant response, provided that I attempt communication at an appropriate time of day -- after all, she is twelve time zones away from me, even thought the mobile device makes it sound like she's around the corner.

But you know the strangest thing? All these mediums of communication haven't made me a better communicator. At times, I still feel as though I have a hard time communicating with my own sister.

Do we get along better because of the new and improved modern methods of communication? Not necessarily.

The same thing with "smartness" and smart phones. Are we becomer a smarter nation because of our increased reliance on so-called smart phones? Are the some 50+ percent of Americans who reportedly use smart phones more intelligent than their dumb-phone or no-phone peers?

I read recently that nationwide SAT scores (if that is an indcator for anything) have been decreasing in recent years. Literacy rates have been falling as well. Are we Americans smarter in the present era of widespread smart phone use?

I suspect that smart phone use has no bearing on human intelligence, and perhaps, quite contrarily, it can have a deleterious effect, like excessive TV viewing or gaming. Perhaps, the more intelligent one truly is, the less reliant on (or addicted to?) mobile devices and social media he will be.

Speaking of social media, the few times over the past number of years that I ventured onto Facebook, I was apalled by the sheer stupidity and trivial shallowness of many of my "Facebook Friends." Doesn't anyone have anything better to do with their time than air their every mindless whim, every inconsequential, frivolous, or silly thought or experience of their day? Moreover, doesn't anyone have anything more important to do than idly read the drivel that others shamelessly post and share with others?

Our Sages taught in Avot 3:13: "A fence around wisdom is silence." Modern devices might make it easier to talk but might in fact be removing a fence that is intended to preserve our wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, all these new-and-improved methods of self expression are jeapordizing our innermost selves, our inner wisdom that is safeguarded when we speak less, not more.

Our Sages observed that man was created with two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, but just one mouth. Half of what one might be inclined to say should not be spoken. Morever, commented the Chofetz Chaim, two ears and one mouth instruct us that to effectively communicate with another, one ought to do double the amount of listening as one does talking. With all endless and idle chatter of social media, one might wonder if we are forgetting how to listen and empathize, how to ponder, meditate, or reflect. How could we? We are too busy "communicating," that is, broadcasting an endless stream of nonsensical tweets, posts, texts, emails, or comments. In a virtual world of pseudo communication, have we forgotten how to truly be present and sensitive to the needs and feelings of a peer or loved one?

My firends, tonight is Shabbat. Let's do something truly smart. Put away the phone and spend quality time with your spouse, your child, your friend. Be present. Learn how to listen more and talk less. Save the texts, emails and social media for the work week. Unplug and learn how to enjoy silent freedom from the inexorable cacaphony of mobile networks, internet or cable. Attend a Torah class, come to minyan, take a walk in the park. Read an inpiring Torah thought. Sing a chassidic melody.

Now that's smart!

Musings on this year's Boston Marathon

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 6:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

 

That's musings. Tragically, this year's Marathon was anything but amusing.

But to be quite honest, I have never found much amusement in watching marathons. It's not that I don't respect the athletes who train for and pull off the whopping twenty-six mile achievement. While I might admire their perseverence, I don't enjoy watching someone do something I'd personally have no interest in doing. To me, the thought of subjecting your body to the sheer exertion and wear and tear of a grueling 26-mile run seems rather pointless. No offense to my fellow New Englanders who enjoy participaing in or watching the marathon, but in my couch-potato mentality, to run such an unthinkable distance just in order to cross an irrelevant finish line is hardly a worthwhile pursuit -- meaningless, if not downright eccentric.

Consequently, I did not go to watch this year's Boston Marathon, even though I live on Route 135 not far from the starting line, and work a block away from Beacon St, the last stretch of the race, less than two miles away from the finish line.

However, I too was affected by the horrific bombings in our vicinity. Our school went into lockdown mode, and was on high security alert several days thereafter. (On Friday's city-wide lockdown four days later, our school was obviously closed.) Driving home from work on Tuesday afternoon, I discovered that virtually every single Boston radio station was discussing the tragedy. No one could believe that this atrocity, the likes of which might sound commonplace for warzones like Afghanistan or Iraq, could have happened right here in our city, at the finish line of our marathon. At that point, there were no suspects, so no one could  fathom the motive behind the bloody attack. Like everyone else, I was in a daze, struggling to comprehend what had occured.

I tuned into one station. The talkshow host posed a question to her listeners. "What do you think about what happend yesterday? What do you think about the race now?" she asked. "Has your opinion of the race changed after yesterday's tragedy?"

Only half listening, half distracted in my doleful reverie, I actually thought she was talking about the human race. Sadly I mused, "My opinion of the human race has taken a sharp turn for the worse."

Indeed, I thought, what kind of defective human being seeks to mass-murder and inflict such horrific suffering on innocent and defenseless civilians, including young children and their mothers? What does that say about our race, all of us Homo sapiens, if one of our own is capable of such unspeakable evil? A new low for our race, I muttered under my breath, sitting in Boston traffic spawned by street closures due to the 16-block crime scene.

After several listners called in and expressed their views, that (sic) "next year's race will be better than ever," "Bostonians are resillient," etc., I realized that "race" was referring to the marathon race, not the human one.

That realization did not stop me from wondering about the mindboggling potential for evil that exists in our human race. In fact, it seemed like an appropriate word association. In yesterday's race, I concluded, humanity is the big loser. We have all lost the (human) race. If a fellow human can perpetrate such evil, then we are all losers, since all of us belong to this loser race.

This dismal thought crippled my imagination the entire ride home. I simply could not think of any redeeming argument with which to vindicate our deplorable humankind, a race that produces Hitlers, jihadists, mass murderes, and Boston Marathon bombers. And why stop there? What about all the other millions of defective human beings, like pedaphiles, rapists, pathological criminals, and all the other garden-variety thugs who sully our planet?

(As I now reconsider these morbid thoughts nearly a week later, I recall the recent report of Friday's dramatic capture of the surviving suspect from inside a neighbor's backyard boat, lying in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the neck during the car chase, and was located by the neighbor because of the trail of blood. Red blood, just as red as mine or yours. What does that say about the redness of our blood, and the inexorable human penchant for mercilessly shedding the blood of others?)

Later that day, I sat down at the computer and instictively clicked on the news. Images and video footage of the horrific bombing scenes met my eye. Then I saw something that was unbelievable, so much so that I had to rewind and watch it again. Immediately after the explosion, people were rushing toward the explosion to help the victims. It was incredible to me that people would be running toward the site of one then two explosions, without any regard to their own safety. I continued to read various eyewitness accounts online that all described this very phenomenon.

Then I read the most extraordinary account of a woman who had just completed the marathon herself. As soon as she realized what was going on, she turned back toward the finish line and raced toward the bloody scene to help the victims. Having a medical background (I can't remember now whether she was a med-student or a young physician), her immediate instinct was to assist the wounded in any way she could. Fearing more attacks in the pandemonium that ensued, the police tried to prevent her from entering, but she was able to run around their blockade and reach the victims. The reporter later asked her: "How could you have the strength to run there? Hadn't you just run twenty-six miles?"

She responded: "Yes, I was exhausted. But as soon as I realized there were people in dire need, I sprinted. I simply didn't feel my throbbing legs. It wasn't about me."

I was dumbstruck. In today's post-9/11 world, when a bomb explodes, one's instict is to run and seek cover. To rush toward the site of multiple explosions, amidst fears of yet more undetonated bombs, seems counterintuitive and self-endangering. I was awed by the selfless sense of responsibility displayed by the hundreds of first responders.*

It was at that moment that I realized that this race indeed has winners.I'm not talking about Mr. Benti or Ms. Jeptoo, or all the other athletes who completed the Boston Marathon prior to the bombings. They won another type of race, one that is far less consequential to the future of our human race.

I am referring to these selfless indiviuals who put their lives on the line and rushed to the finish line-bomb scene from all directions to assist and to save. They are truly the winners of the race.

In fact, the very fact that such selfless courage exists and was proudly displayed last week in Boston means that we are all winners. Our race may produce losers capable of unimaginable evil, but it also produces true winners capable of inimaginable and unprecedented good.

But who will ultimately prevail? The losers or the winners? Will the losers make us all lose, or will the winners make us all win?

It is my steadfast belief that the power of good will win.

The Torah teaches that ultimately good always prevails over evil. That's why G-d said that He remembers the evil deeds of an evil-doer until the fourth generation, while the virtues of a good doer is remembered for two thousand generations! (Rashi on Exodus 34:7) Do the math. That means that the power of good is five-hundred times greater than the power of evil.

So the winners will win, and the losers will lose. That's just the way it goes in races. Let's cast our lot with the winners.

A selfless act, a kind word to a neighbor, assistance to a fellow human being in need, a mitzvah, a blessing with heartfelt sincerity, daily tzedakah, an unsolicited act of goodness and kindess. That's all it takes.

It'll get us to that long-awaited finish line, the times of Moshiach, when true peace, harmony and mutual respect will reign supreme. Bloodshed and violence will be but fleeting memories of the distant past, while jealosy and hatred will finally disappear behind the cobwebs of posterity.

In the ultimate victory of the human race, we will learn to love each other. False ideologies and artifical divisions between people will vanish, and we'll finally be able to appreciate the inherent G-dly unity of all peoples. Together we will make this world a home for G-d it was intended to be. Humankind's primary pursuit will be to know G-d according to the highest human potential (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings, chapter 12). "G-d will wipe away the tears from every eye" and heal our broken hearts.

May it be speedily in our days. Amen.


* This is underscored in this past Shabbat's Torah portion, Parshat Kedoshim. The Torah states: "Lo taamod al dam reyecha." Literally that means: "Don't stand over your fellow's blood," i.e. don't stand by inactively "when you see your fellow in life-threatening danger, and you are able to save him" (Rashi). The Rebbe asked: why does the Torah state this commandment in the negative, "Don't stand..."? Why not a positive commandment,"Save your fellow's life!", or something similar? Explained the Rebbe: the Biblical obligation to save one's fellow from danger is implicit and does not need to be stated. The Torah is replete with commandments to help your fellow man in distress, load his donkey, sustain him in his time of need, etc. Here the Torah is alluding to a situation in which one might indeed deem it necessary to "stand by" and refrain from saving one's fellow, for example, if there is possible danger to the rescuer. Should one expose himself to possible harm in attempt to rescue his fellow from certain harm? Here the Torah enjoins us: "Don't stand by when your fellow's life is at stake!" If you are indeed "able to save him," go do it, even if it entails personal risk. 

 

Lesson from the Horsemeat Scandal

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 1:15 am
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.


But what's in your hamburger? Or should I say, "horse-burger?"


No, I'm not horsing around. Google "UK horsemeat scandal" for a plethora of recent news items.


Horsemeat has somehow entered the European food supply chain and has been fraudulently labeled as beef. From the British Isles to Poland, Spain to Scandinavia, Europe is reeling from shock and disgust over widespread equine consumption. Horsemeat has been found in a variety of food products, including lasagna and TV dinners. In fact, many products sold in supermarkets and restaurants throughout Europe claiming to be 100% cowmeat -- such as Angus hamburgers and meatballs -- were in fact entirely horse.


Where's the beef, you ask? That's a good question. No one's sure what happened to it, and how it got replaced with horsemeat. Interestingly, lots of pork was found illegally marked as beef too, but for some strange reason, no outcry was heard. Europeans must have a soft spot for swine. (Donkey meat has allegedly been found too, and the list may be growing.)


And now, the widening scandal is spreading to Asia and the Wild Middle East. Will it soon be "Giddeyup Morsi?" (I sure hope so.)


It's not just about mislabeling and deceiving consumers. It's also a public health concern. Apparently, a drug called phenylbutazone, also known as "bute," has been found in numerous horses slaughtered in the UK, and is thought to have entered to human food chain. Used as an anti-inflammatory painkiller for sporting horses, bute has been banned for animals intended for eventual human consumption, as it is may be harmful in large concentrations.


Do you think your meat is safer here in the US? I remember back in the seventies when a variety of non-bovine meat was allegedly found in "beef" dishes in fastfood chains across the US. Just last year, US consumers awoke to news reports of so-called "pink slime" in our food chain, labeled as "beef." Although pink slime, officially known as "lean finely textured beef," does come from cow, it does not necessarily come from muscle tissue, what one would normally call "meat," but from cartilage, connective tissue and sinew. Sounds kind of slimy to me.


As far as the current horsemeat scare is concerned, no horsey surprises have been found in the US food supply just yet, but that might just be because there are no horse abattoirs in the US. Americans aren't particularly fond of horses for eating, but just for riding, according to a recent "Gallop" poll (just kidding).


But all horse jokes aside, how can you be sure what you're eating, anyway? Can you trust the USDA (or what ever the British version is) to ensure that you're actually getting what you think you're buying? Well, some folks think that government quality control is infallible, but I say they're backing the wrong horse. And thanks to relying on Euro-govt "quality control," the wrong horse has ended up on their very own dinner plates.


Society has always told us not to put the proverbial cart before the horse. But for crying out loud, don't put the horse into your shopping cart.


I know for some, fast food and frozen dinners are an excuse to "eat like a horse." But for goodness steak, don't eat the horse!!


Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to beat a dead horse or anything. Nor am I anti-government. I certinaly appreciate the USDA's efforts to keep us safe, and far be it from me to look the gift horse in the mouth. But all I'm saying is, we cannot rely on government agencies alone to certify what we put into our bellies. Trusting government to keep us healthy might just be a modern Trojan Horse. And health isn't just bodily. There's spiritual health too. If you're Jewish, to ensure maximal spiritual and bodily health, there's only one way to go: kosher.


Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend about why to only buy strictly kosher meat. After explaining the criteria of kosher animals, the rules of shechita (ritual slaughter) and koshering process, and the spiritual benefit of keeping kosher, I also explained that kosher meat requires constant supervision of a mashgiach (a reliable, Torah-observant Jewish individual who serves as kosher supervisor) until it is packaged, sealed and labeled. We then discussed other foods like dairy and fish that require hashgacha t'midit, constant supervision, in order for the consumer to be ensured that they are indeed kosher.


My friend was sceptical. "What are the chances of pig or horse milk entering the human food supply?" he scoffed.


Quite frankly, after last week's news, nothing would surprise me.


From a kosher perspective, however, no one should be alarmed about the horsemeat scandal. You see, non-kosher beef is every bit as treif (unkosher) as horse, ham or donkey.


If you buy kosher, the hechsher (Rabbinic seal of approval) vouches for the authenticity and kashrut of the beef you're buying. And if you don't buy kosher, well, then you may just as well be eating horsemeat anyway, from a kosher perspective, at least. So quit beefing about it.


We have a giant supermarket here in Northborough that claims to sells kosher meat in its deli. The only problem is that there is no kosher butcher, and the kosher meat is removed from its original packaging, cut up and put on display. The supermarket's butcher does have seperate knives and cutting boards that he claims only to use for the kosher products. But alas, according to the strict laws of kashrut, due to its lack of hashgacha supervision, the so-called "kosher" deli meat is 100% NOT kosher.


I've discussed this with numerous local Jews. Many people have argued that while it may not be authentically kosher, it's (sic) "close enough for me."


Well, to this I say: "close" only counts in horseshoes.


Bottom line: if you really want to avoid horse for your main course, you just gotta just adhere to a higher source -- the Torah, perforce.


It's time to beef up our kosher observance, folks.


Ok, some of you might be thinking: "Hey come on, rabbi! Get off your high horse. You can buy kosher meat galore in Jewishly-saturated neighborhoods like Brookline or Newton, but we live out here in horse country. No kosher butcher here for of miles."


To you I say, whoa! Hold your horses. How do you know there's nothing kosher nearby? Have you checked in your local supermarkets? You may be pleasantly surprised. If they don't stock it, maybe if you apply pressure, they might agree to carry it. I have recently found kosher poultry and beef in the most unlikely of places, like Walmart, Trader Joes and Stop 'n Shop.


If there's a will, there's a way. Throughout our long history, Jews have managed to keep kosher in the most remote and exotic of locations, from the Wild West to the Far East, in the best of times and the worst of times. Certainly in twenty-first century suburban USA with an all-time high percentage of food items sold in average supermarkets being kosher, one can put forth the effort and manage to keep kosher.


No one ever said being Jewish is easy. So stop kvetching and experience the joys of kosher living!


It doesn't have to be "all or nothing." One can begin keeping kosher observances gradually, "yiddle by yiddle," as they say.


A Jewish family struggling to find their comfort level in Jewish observance once confided to their rabbi: "We keep a strictly kosher kitchen, but we sometimes eat out..."


Replied the rabbi: "Then you have kosher pots and a treife boich!" (an un-kosher belly).


When told the same comment by a congregant, Rabbi H. Fogelman of Worcester, MA, once responded : "Then I guess you're dishes will go to heaven."


Sigh. I guess you can lead a horse to the water...


But in all seriousness, Jewish observance doesn't have to be 100% or zero. It's not just "Yea or Neigh."


Take baby steps. Start by cutting out pork, seafood, and shall I say, horsemeat. Then begin to seperate between dairy and meat. Then eliminate treife chickens and beef altogether. In short time, you'll be champing at the bit to "go kosher" entirely.


Don't feel you're too set in your ways to make a change. In Judaism, it's never too late to change horses midstream.


Not surprisingly, in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, kosher meat sales are surging in the UK (according to an article I read today on Algemeiner.com). Here in the US, kosher consumption has been on the rise for years. According to a recent statistic I read, a whopping 85% percent of kosher consumers in the US aren't even Jewish! Everyone's catching on.


So whether you're pedestrian or quedestrian or equestrian, trot over to your local kosher food store and buy Kosher.


If you're a novice, gallop over to a reliable website to learn the rules of kosher, like this one.


Better yet, visit your local rabbi for kosher instruction. It's always better to hear it straight from the horse's -- I mean rabbi's -- mouth.


And while you're at it, why not prance over to shul and attend a crash course on the laws of kosher (but please don't crash on the way, specially if you're horseback).


As for me, I'll continue to whinny until I'm hoarse, "Keep Kosher!"



PS: all this horse talk reminds us to get ready for the two upcoming Jewish holidays: Purim and Passover. Purim -- Mordechai led on king's royal stallion. Passover -- don't forget the horseradish.

Extreme Makeover

Friday, July 8, 2011 - 7:10 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

 

Several months back, I blogged about some of the misleading terms used in our media to describe current events (click here or go to westbororabbi.blogspot.com, the posts from March entitled "War of Words.")

Here's another one: "extremism." In fact, this one is my pet peeve.

The media's use of this term bothers me. Not because it insults me personally, whom many might consider to be an extremist of sorts.

The reason it's incorrect is because it implies that the extremist's core beliefs are okay. His only vice is that he (or she -- sorry for the gender profiling) is extreme in his convictions. If he'd only become less zealous, a bit more mellow and moderate, he'd be a great guy. "Your views are fine," we are telling the jihadist. "Just don't take them to such extremes."

I remember a decade back, shortly after September 11th, 2001, I was driving in my car listening to a radio talk show host bemoan the "religious extremism" of the Taliban. "As a matter of fact," he ranted, "they are so extreme, so barbaric... why, they even wear beards!" I listened thoughtfully while stroking my unkempt beard -- no, make that: my extremely unkempt beard.

My initial thought was to call the station and complain, but never got around to doing so. Instead, I devoted my Shabbat sermon to it. I explained to my congregants:

Extremism is not bad if you are being extreme about something good. Example: someone who is extemely charitable, excessively peace-loving, exceedingly modest, intensely studious, extraordinarily selfless, ultra kind, giving, humane, just, etc. Even if you're extreme about something that others might consider archaic, aberrant, or defiant of social norms, such as sporting an untrimmed beard, so long as your eccentricity causes no harm to yourself or to others, surely everyone should concede that such hairy "extremism" (if one could rightly call it that) is rather benign. To the smooth-faced moderates who deride bearded males as extremists, I say: "Live and let live."

However, if one is extreme about something bad, i.e. he believes in an extremely evil ideology, is extremely violent, extremely deceptive, extremely malicious, etc... then THAT is bad.

What's bad about this individual is not that he's extreme. It's that he's BAD. What makes him worse than a moderately bad person is that he is EXTREMELY bad.

So when our media refers to a jihadist as a "religious extremist," they are doing humanity a huge disservice.

Their description of the "extremist" masks the real underlying problem. The jihadist's problem is that his views are violent, malevolent and vindictive. By censuring "extremism," we are not confronting the real enemy, but instead are getting sidetracked by focusing on something irrelevant. In fact, we are emboldening him by acknowledging his right to his noxious ideology but merely pleading with him not to be so devout. This only reiterates his opinion of us, that we (i.e. the Western world) are spineless enemies of faith.

Instead of protesting his extremeness, we ought to refer to him by what he is: an Islamofascist hatemonger. Or, if he actualized his ambition and committed an act of terrorism, then he is an Islamofascist genocidal murderer.

He is not merely an "extremist." He is an enemy of G-d, an enemy of mankind.

To describe Ahmadinejad as an extremist is obscuring the facts. Fact: his main vice is that he is blood thirsty and an outspoken proponent of genocide. Why does it matter that he is extremely blood thirsty? And what if he were only moderately blood thirsty? Would we then sigh a breath of relief? Is mild genocide then okay?

So let's be honest and address the real issues. If someone believes that it's okay to murder a non-believer, his vice is not extremism. His problem is his abhorrent beliefs. If his religion sanctions murder, then he has a perverse religion. Calling him an extremist vindicates his blood thirsty religion. Instead, his only shortcoming has now been reduced to a mere lack of moderation.

Furthermore, the media often calls "settlers" like the Fogels' (may G-d avenge their blood) "religious fundamentalists" or "extremists" as well. Why not? The settlers have beards too.

So thanks to our wonderfully unbiased media, we now have moral equivalence between peace-loving Jews who are "extreme" in their views by insisting on their right to live anywhere in the world, including Samaria, and their blood-thirsty Arab counterparts who feel that Samaria ought to be Judenrein, whose stated objective is ethnic cleansing of the entire Levant, and who celebrate the most incomprehensibly brutal form of infanticide, all out of their extremely Islamofascist convictions.

Indeed, the media has created a moral equivalence between all settler Jews (99.9% of whom do not advocate violence or murder of any kind, and would love nothing more than to live in peace with their Arab neighbors) with jihadists (99.9% of whom advocate mass murder of Jews and ethnic cleansing).

In fact, all ultra-Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Protestants, or any other extremely devout individual of another faith or creed, are now lumped together in the same boat as radical Islamists and Jihadists. (ultra = extreme). And since many people might consider me ultra-orthodox thanks to my ultra-non-conformist beard (in addition to the fact that I am extremely opinionated), I guess that makes me a fundamentalist extremist who is capable of hijacking a plane. Thank you media for another job well done at skewing everyone's perspective and corrupting our minds.

As you can see, I'm getting extremely irate. I think I'd better call it a day.

Have an extremely good night! :-)


PS Maimonides does write that extremism in any form, even in the benign sense of being extremely and excessively generous, extremely miserly, etc., are both incorrect, and that one ought to "take the middle path" and do everything in moderation. While this is an objective truth that everyone ought to strive toward, it has no bearing on what I wrote above. Even if someone is extremely serious or extremely light headed, both attributes negated by Maimonides as "extreme," he still is not an evil or dangerous villain. No one is his right mind would equate an extremely self-effacing but harmless hermit with an extremely blood thirsty Jihadist.

 

Return to 67 Borders!

Friday, May 27, 2011 - 7:47 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Dear Friends,

In light of recent statements by President Obama, I feel it's necessary to veer from this blog's usual apolitical stance and share my thoughts on the matter:

Personally, I am in complete agreement with the president's audacious remark. I too earnestly believe that Israel needs to return to her pre-67 borders.

In fact, therein lies the solution to all of Israel's problems, and, in fact, all the world's problems. Return to the pre-67 borders will unquestionably bring peace to the Middle East and to the entire world. It will effectively end the plights of all displaced exiles and refugees, thereby alleviating their suffering, compensating them for their millenia of yearning and eons of wandering. Indeed, it will right all historical wrongs and establish a new world order.

That's right, my friends. All this can be accomplished, if only Israel is willing to return to her pre-67 borders.

Yes, Israel needs to return to the borders of before 67 CE, the year Vespasian embarked on his military campaign to conquer and lay waste to the land of Israel and ultimately destroyed the Holy Temple (in 68 CE).

What were the pre-67 CE borders, you ask?

Well, for one, these borders contained areas most vital to Israel's security and defense (e.g. Golan, Gaza, West and East Banks, part of the Sinai, etc.). Moreover, they contained the heartland of Biblical Israel, including Judea, Samaria, and even Transjordania.

In 67 CE, there was no "Palestine," but only Israel, land of the Jews. No "Aelia Capitolina." No "East" and "West," but only one united Jerusalem.

But that's not the main point.

The greatest thing about year 67 CE and prior is the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

What we need is a return to pre-67. We need to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And we need to do it right away!

The Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem will surely establish peace on earth and usher in the Messianic Era. It will end all violence, terror and injustice. "They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the land shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters covers the sea bed." (Isaiah 25:9)

Obama was right! (Sort of. He was just 1900 years off. At least he had the last two digits right)

The expression "Israel needs to return to her... borders" is great too. It recalls the poignant words of Jeremiah (31:14) "A voice is heard upon high, bitter sobs...(Matriarch) Rachel cries for her children, she will not be comforted… (Says G-d) "Withhold your voice from crying and your eyes from tearing, for there is a reward for your actions… and your children will return to their border."

Fellow Israelites! Listen to our president. He is telling us to "return to our border" as prophesied in Jeremiah. It's high time to return to our roots. Let's bring Moshiach and "return to our border" once and for all!

Actually, the more I think about it, the 67 CE borders are not enough. What we really need is a return to the 67 BCE borders, back to the time that there was true Jewish sovereignty and independence from foreign domination, shortly before Pompeii invaded Jerusalem (during the civil war of the two Hasmonean brothers, Aritobulus and Hyrcanus, thereby commencing a long and painful period of Roman occupation). Now that would truly be something. Imagine an Israel free of foreign interference or prejudice. No UN bias, boycotts, or unfair pressure from US presidents. No foreign power telling Israel how or how not to protect her citizens.

Upon further reflection, I must now conclude that the pre-67 BCE borders are not enough either. What we really need is a return to the pre-567 BCE borders, before the ten northern tribes of Israel were exiled (in circa 556 BCE). Now here's a pre-'67 borders that would really solve our problems. Not only would it restore the territorial integrity of Israel, it would finally achieve true unity to the People of Israel by bringing back all lost and straggling Jews from all over the globe. The long-awaited ingathering of the exiles!

In fact, I must finally admit that I am not in agreement with Obama after all. What we need most of all right now is not a "return" to anything. We need to move forward, not backward.

The borders and conditions of 67 CE, 67 BCE, or even 567 BCE, etc., are not enough. No sir!

The Third Temple with be infinitely greater than its two predecessors, and the Third Commonwealth of the Messianic Era will be vastly and incomparably superior to anything we've ever seen in history. So no, we should not be returning or turning back the pages of history. Instead, it's time to move forward and achieve our destiny.

For then, and only then, mankind will achieve its destiny as well. All of humanity will turn to G-d together as one. No longer will there be war or intolerance, hatred or competition, disease or poverty. The occupation of the entire world will be to know G-d to the fullest of human potential.

Unlike some other deviant belief systems, the true coming of Moshiach doesn't involve any foreboding Armageddons, warlike Mahdis, or worlds coming to their end on Saturday at 4pm. Nor does it necessitate any cataclysmic tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes or nuclear fallout. Moshiach's coming is something that everyone can look forward to.

In fact, after the Redemption, there will no longer be any need for borders. "The Land of Israel is destined to spread over the entire world, and Jerusalem is destined to spread throughout all the Land of Israel." (Yalkut Shimoni)

Forget about 67 borders, or even defensible borders. We need an Israel with no borders.

Don't mean to border on sounding utopian or out of touch with reality. Quite the contrary. Realistically speaking, it seems painfully self-evident that the only better and safer option to Israel's current post-'67 borders is expanded borders. And the best and safest option is the Messianic description of no borders at all. A borderless Israel!

(Parenthetically, if you honestly believe that Israel sharing a border with a hostile, so-called "Palestinian" State is a solution, even a temporary one, then you are the borderline delusional. Maybe within the borders of your quixotic dreamworld, but not in the real world. In either case, this short-sighted viewpoint articulated by our president is alas more unrealistically utopian and dream-like than anything Isaiah, Jeremiah or the Yalkut Shimoni ever conceived of.)

If you truly wish to solve the Mideast crisis, and thereby solve all mankind's crises, personal, communal and global, for once and for all, let's discuss the only truly viable and lasting solution, the true and complete Geulah (Redemption).

So it's not about returning to borders, but about advancing and expanding our horizons to usher in a new era of Redemption.

So let's rephrase the president's ill-advised statement:

"Israel needs to advance to her destiny that will infinitely expand her borders and shine her light to the whole world."

Yoav's Prayer

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 5:55 pm
Posted by Mrs. Dvora Green

By Shuli Kleinman

First responders who rushed into the blood-drenched bedroom of 11-year-old Yoav Fogel last Friday night were confronted with a sight that nearly stopped them in their tracks.

A colorful little wooden plaque hung above the slain young boy's bed, proclaiming his love for his people and a prayer for peace between all. The prayer above Yoav's bed, written originally in Hebrew, reads as follows (in English):

May it be Your will, L-rd G-d and G-d of our forefathers,
That I love every one of Israel as myself, and that I graciously perform the positive commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself. And may it also be Your will, Lord G-d and G-d of my forefathers, that you cause the hearts of my friends and neighbors to love me fervently, and that I be accepted and desirable to everyone, and that I be loving and pleasant, and that I be gracious and merciful in the eyes of all who see me.

As water reflects face to face, so the heart of man to man.and all for the sake of Heaven, to do Your will, Amen

Along with his 4-year-old brother Elad and his new little baby sister, 3-month-old Hadas, Yoav and both of his parents were stabbed to death by terrorists who murdered them as they slept. The funeral was Zion Adar Sheini 5771

The Fogel family relocated to Itamar after having lived in Gush Katif and being forced to leave in 2005.

Zion Adar Aleph Mubarak Left Egypt and unrest began. Unrest spreads through the Middle East. Japan - Earthquake and Tsunami –and now nuclear explosions and radiation ready to boil over.

As we approach Purim and Pesach, the darkness of the background of world events looms. “The way to dispel darkness is by shining light”. Please email ahavasyisrael613@gmail.com for a copy of Yoav’s prayer above and read it each day.

As a merit for Yoav and his family, let’s take on a stretch to make his prayer come true. From now until Pesach, let’s read the prayer. And since we know other Jews are reading it to, when we are upset with others, let’s focus especially on remembering to answer their prayers:

“And may it also be Your will, Lord G-d and G-d of my forefathers, that you cause the hearts of my friends and neighbors to love me fervently, and that I be accepted and desirable to everyone “
Let us cause OUR hearts to see our friends and neighbors with fervent love, that we accept and desire everyone, and that we be gracious and merciful to all we see.

Even if we are able to do it for only 30 seconds a day – it would be HUGE.

This letter was written by Shuli Kleiman, in loving memory of the Fogel Family.

 

Reflections on a Decade of Zeroes

Friday, December 31, 2010 - 11:04 am
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Wow! We made it to the end of another year. 2010 will soon be history, and we shall embark on a new decade.

I recall eleven years ago as we entered year 2000. I remember thinking to myself, what shall we call the new decade? The "Zeroes?" After all these years, the glorious Seventies, Eighties and Nineties... Is that all we amount to now? Zero?

That year, New Year's Eve was Friday night and New Year's Day was Shabbat morning, just like this year. Everyone thought the world would come to an end at midnight of Y2K because of some sort of alleged computer glitch, and there was widespread feeling of discontent. Everything is returning to zero. Zilch! 

Living in S Diego at the time, Dvora and I advertised a big Friday Night service and dinner. "End off the millennium in the right place," our flyer declared. "Don't worry about Y2K... it's Shabbat today!" Needless to say, we had a tough time competing with the nightclubs, in spite of Y2K apprehension.

The next morning in synagogue, our congregants seemed relieved that society didn’t shut down. At the kiddush, we discussed the above question, how shall we refer to the current decade? The Zeroes?

I explained that this is a powerful lesson in the purpose and nature of our existence. G-d created the world from absolute nothingness. In fact, ever since the moment of Creation, G-d has been continually recreating our universe from absolute nothingness, and is doing so each and every moment (more accurately, every infinitesimally small unit of time). If He’d stop, even momentarily, we’d revert to what we originally were, absolute nothingness. As such, explains Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya, existence is not our natural state, but is rather artificial. Instead, the natural state of the universe is utter and complete nothingness. In other words, the whole world as we know it is really, in essence, one big Zero.

The only way a zero becomes meaningful is if there is a one in front of it. The oneness of “Hashem Echad” – “G-d is One.”

So that’s the meditation that pulled me through the Zeroes.

The most unsettling date that defined our national mindset in the Zeroes was the horrific tragedies of September 11th, ’01. It ended our sense of national complacency and invincibility. The towering World Trade Center, once a formidable symbol of our invincible economy, was reduced to Ground Zero.

It was during this decade that brutal dictators were toppled and others rose to take their place. And here we are at the close of the decade, when our enemies brazenly threaten nuclear attack on Israel, vying once more to destroy our nation and its six million inhabitants, may Hashem bless and guard them. And the whole world sits by quietly.

I remember thinking during the turbulent times of September ‘01, “Don’t despair. We may have been reduced to zero, but G-d is One. We will survive.”

Indeed, the world is zero. The “zero”ness (is that a word? Hey, I think I may have something in common with President Bush) of our world is meaningless if it places itself before the One, as in 01. But if we put G-d’s existence first, if we make the pursuit of revealing G-dliness the paramount purpose of our existence,  then we become meaningful, as in the number 10 (remember the Ten Commandments?)

To be more precise, the world is zero, but we are not. “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth!” cried King Solomon the Wise. Chassidut teaches that we are one because we proclaim the Oneness of G-d “on earth.” In a deeper sense, we are one when we are united. When we are not united, G-d forbid, we are zero.

Our enemies will not succeed in their evil designs, because G-d is One. And we are one.

Anyway, enough talk about zeroes. Let’s move on.

It’s the Teens now.

That sounds like a pretty formidable challenge. Everyone knows that raising teens is no small feat.

So will it be the Terrible Teens or the Terrific Teens? That is up to us.

Meanwhile, as the new secular year enters, the first numbers we encounter are 1/1/11. The lesson: let’s keep focused on those Ones. Enough with the zero’s already.

So I’ll see you in Shul tomorrow morning, 1/1/11, and together as one we’ll recite “G-d is One!”

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Green

More Food for Thought from Grandma Toby a"h

Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 9:29 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

In a previous blog, I mentioned the biggest delight for my Grandma growing up in Russia. It was a little slice of an orange her Dad would bring home on extremely rare occasions.

The other day, I related this memory to my kids. “Yuck!” commented my five year old.
 
My eight year old daughter (with a notorious sweet tooth) had this to say: “Well, if it was only once a year, couldn’t he have at least brought home a clementine instead?”
 
That was it, I thought to myself. I’m going to teach my kids that even in today’s modern age of designer junk food, they could still enjoy the simple fruit my Grandma enjoyed when she was their age ninety years ago! So I went out to the supermarket and bought the most delicious-looking navel oranges (sorry Mom, they weren’t organic).
So we started snacking on oranges.
 
Now, the kids started calling them “Grandma Toby treats.” When ever anyone is hungry for an orange, they ask for a “Grandma Toby treat.” (Everyone, that is, except my five year old. He still calls it “Yuck!”)
 
*          *          *
 
On a serious note, I would like to mention one of my Grandma’s oft-repeated sayings.
 
It was quote from the Prophet Isaiah. She’d say it every so often, when ever she complained that we weren’t calling or visiting enough.
 
“Bonim romamti v’gidalti, v’haym poshu bee.”
 
The prophet echoed G-d’s complaint about His People. “Children I have raised and exalted, yet they have rebelled against Me.”
We always read that verse in the Haftorah of Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbos preceding Tisha b’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple (and look forward to its rebuilding with the coming of Moshiach).
 
My Grandma’s quote implied a bit of a departure from the literal meaning. “Poshu” (rebelled) in Mishnaic Hebrew can also mean “neglected.”
 
So basically, Grandma was complaining that her kids were neglecting her.
 
How ironic that my Grandma would cite that verse. In recent years, as Grandma aged, her children were so responsible in caring for her. Especially her son, my uncle Randy, who cared for her with love and devotion until her final hours, and even after her passing.
But come to think of it, she never said it with bitterness. Maybe she meant it in jest. Maybe it was just a nudge to get us to visit more often. Or maybe she really felt neglected. Who knows?
 
Anyway, what I found cool in all of this is the fact that she chose a verse from TaNaCh to express her dissatisfaction.
 
She probably learned to do that from her father. It’s a typical scholarly thing to do in the Yeshiva world, i.e. to quote an appropriate verse or word from Scriptures to express a sentiment or to relate to a situation, especially when there’s a non-literal twist to it.
 
Sometimes she was a bit over the top. Like the time she insisted that “Pierre” comes from the Hebrew word of “L’hit-paer,” or that “cholent” is from “Chalons,” France (hey, maybe she was right about that one).
 
Reflecting about it years later, it seemed pretty cool to me that my Grandma had such a good knowledge of Hebrew and TaNaCh.
And that’s one thing sorely lacking today – Jewish literacy.
 
OK, enough blogging. Time for some Torah study (and an orange).

My Grandma, the Singer

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 - 5:42 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green

Some more melodious memories about my Grandma, Chaya Toiba bas Reuven haLevi, a”h (peace be upon her)

Speaking of unique versions of songs I heard from my Grandma, I’d like to share one more.

Grandma loved to sing me her repertoire of Yiddish lullabies. “Rozhinkes mit mandlen” (“Raisins and Almonds”) was one of her favorites. It symbolically refers to the study of Torah as “the best merchandise” one can possibly obtain in one’s life. Indeed, Grandma, would tell me, Torah study is the most precious commodity, even more than raisins and almonds. Presumably, that was a delicious and exquisite delicacy in those times. (How ironic that for today’s kids, raisins and almonds are just considered “yucky health food” ;-) But in my Grandma’s times, it was really the greatest thing there was. No, in fact, there was one thing even better.

Grandma told me that in her early childhood in Russia, the absolutely greatest and most coveted treat was a simple piece of orange! Her papa (Zaida Marcus) would bring home an orange on extremely rare occasions, maybe even less than once a year. The slices would be carefully rationed out, piece by piece, to household members and guests. Grandma said she considered herself lucky to get one single slice! (Funny, my kids won’t even touch an orange unless it’s seedless. Go figure)

But then Grandma would conclude that Torah study is even better than that!

I recall the part of the song she emphasized the most was “Vos vet zain zain baruf?”

The song was telling of a little white goat behind the little boy’s crib, that would some day go out to make a living. “Un vos vet zain zain baruf?” “What will be its calling?”

Grandma would always pause at “baruf” – calling – and explain to me what a life’s calling is, and that the most important calling of all is to study Torah.

Anyway, that was just parenthetical.

The song I’d really like to mention is her version of “Oifen Pripechuk.”

The song goes like this:

 

Oyfn pripetshik brent a fayerl, un in shtub iz heys.
Un der rebe lernt kleyne kinderlekh dem alef-beyz. 

Refrain:

Zet zhe, kinderlekh, gedenkt zhe, tayere, vos ir lernt do,
Zogt zhe nokh a mol un takke nokh a mol: Komets-alef: o!

 

Lernt, kinder, mit groys kheyshek, azoy zog ikh aykh on,
Ver s’vet gekher fun aykh kenen ivre, er bakumt a fon.  (Refrain)

Hert zhe kinder, az ir vet elter vern, vet ir aleyn farshteyn,
Vifl in di oysyes lign trern, vifil geveyn.  (Refrain)

Az ir vet, kinder, dem goles shlepn, oysgemutshet zayn,
Zolt ir fun di oysyes koyekh shepn, kukt in zey arayn!  (Refrain)

Here is an English translation:

On the hearth a little fire is burning, and it is warm inside,
And the rebbe is teaching the little children, the Aleph Beis. 

Refrain:

Listen, children, remember dear ones, what you learned here;
repeat it again and again, “Kometz Aleph ‘oh’”

Study, children, with great desire, that is what I tell you;
The one who'll know Hebrew first will get a banner (for a prize). (Refrain)

Listen, children, when you get older, you will understand on your own

how in these letters lie so many tears, so much weeping. (Refrain)

When you grow weary, children, and burdened with exile,
you should draw strength from these very letters, so look into them! (Refrain)

 

Grandma loved to sing that song.

I could never understand the final line of stanza three.

Why are there “so many tears” and “so much weeping” lying in these letters? Whose tears are they, anyway? And why so much sadness? I just couldn’t relate.

In recent years, I even felt somewhat compelled to change the words to “viff’l simcha” and “viff’l frayd” (much joy, much laughter), instead of “tears and weeping.”

Something about this always bothered me. And it never made sense to me, that is, until recently, in the few days after my Grandma’s passing as I began to reflect on her life.

But first, I’d like to point out that my Grandma sang this line a bit differently than the commonly sung way. Here’s her version:

“Viff’l treren in di oisyes liggun, viffil gevain”

It doesn’t really make a difference or change the meaning, but it’s subtly different. Instead of “…how in these letters lie tears,” Grandma sang it: “…how many tears in these letters lie.” (emphasis on last word)

The first time I sang this lullaby to my own daughter a number of years ago, my wife pointed it out to me. She commented that the line ends with “treren” (tears) drawn out, as that is where the emphasis should be placed, in contrast to the way my Grandma sang it, in which “treren is sung more quickly and the word “liggen” (are lying) is drawn out.

Since that time, I researched all the variations of this song, but have never found anyone who sang this song Grandma’s way.

Time is short, so I’ll try to finish this thought later.

My Grandma, the Yonah (part II)

Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 11:16 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green
In continuation from my previous blog:
 
But you know, it couldn’t have been easy growing up as the only daughter of a fugitive Rabbi on the run from war-torn Communist Russia, or as an immigrant daughter of the first Orthodox Rabbi of Los Angeles, or as a housewife in the Valley of the forties and fifties trying to raise her kids Jewish, losing her house to misfortune, and especially losing her husband and two young grandchildren so tragically.

No, my Grandma did not have an easy life.

Many of you may know the most tragic part of my Grandma’s childhood, the loss of her birth parents due to a murderous pogrom targeting Jews at which she, my Grandma at age three, was present; her blind Grandmother’s inability to take care of her, and her ultimate adoption by the Marcus family, and subsequent flight from the Soviet Union.

My friends, my Grandma’s tragic story is not new or unique to the Jewish people. We have been singled out for slaughter and persecution for millennia.

Just one year ago, a young colleague of mine, Rabbi Gavriel Noach and his wife Rebbetzin Rivky Holtzberg, were cruelly murdered by Muslim terrorists, along with four of their helpless guests. Why? Simply because they were Jews who publicly celebrated their Jewishness.

But the miracle, perhaps the only consolation, is that their two year old, Moishele, survived the destruction. She was miraculously and heroically saved by his nanny, Sandra.

Moishele has become somewhat of a cause celebre in Israel today. The whole country is watching him grow up in the home of his loving grandparents, Rivkie’s mom and dad.. He just celebrated his third birthday. Every media outlet in Israel covered the event, which was attended by thousands of wellwishers.

What is so captivating to the Israeli public about little Moishele?
It is because he is an אוד מוצל מאש, a firebrand plucked from the fire, the young survivor who survived the slaughter and will live to continue his parents’ legacy.

My friends, Grandma Toby is a Moishele, but ninety years later.
 
After having recently celebrated her ninety-third birthday, we now mourn her passing. But at the same time, we celebrate her life, her accomplishments, the lessons she has taught us, all that she accomplished in the ninety years since the time she survived the pogrom at the age of three.

And just like Moishele had his nanny to save him and his grandparents to raise him as their own, so too our Taibeleh had the Marcuses, who lovingly cared for her and raised her as their own. And I’d also like to gratefully acknowledge the loving care and devotion with which her loving son, my dear uncle Randy (Reuven Halevi), took care of her for the last number of years, during the difficult period in which she needed to be cared for, just like she did when she was three.

* * *
 
My grandma’s name is Chaya Toiba. Toiba means a “dove,” “Yonah” in Hebrew.

Why did Noah send a dove to find out if the world had survived the devastating flood?

Our sages tell us that the dove is the symbol of the Jewish people. The dove is one of the only species in the animal kingdom that stays loyal to its mate for its entire life.

So too, the Jews have stayed loyal to G-d since our humble beginnings, over 3800 years ago.

Noah sent the dove because he was symbolically showing that the world could never recover from the devastation of the flood until the Yonah found peace, a peaceful resting place to call its own.

The Yonah is the Jewish people. The Land of Israel is the spiritual baramoter of the cosmos. The world will not and cannot be at peace until Israel is at peace, until a Jewish child can walk freely and safely in our Promised Land.

Until that time, the world will be in chaos, beset by a deluge of hate and violence.

When the Yonah finds peace, the whole world will be at peace.

But sadly, at first, the dove did not find peace. Instead, she returned with an olive branch snatched in her mouth.

Most people erroneously believe that the olive branch is a symbol of peace. However, in Jewish tradition, it is just the opposite. The olive is the most bitter fruit. The only way to make use of it (short of pickling it) is by crushing it to get oil.

Said the Yonah to Noach (and by the way, my grandma has one great grandson named Yonah and one named Noach ;-)

No, the world is not ready for peace. Instead, my lot will be that of a wanderer, bitter and crushed in the long exile. I will not find solace, not even a resting place for my weary feet.

This is the story of the Jew in exile.

But the bright part of the story is, ironically, in that same olive branch.

Yes, we experienced the bitterness of exile, the crushing horrors of the Holocaust, pogroms, terrorist attacks, Inquisition, etc. etc.

But what happens as a result of all this crushing? What do you have? Pure olive oil that can be kindled to make a beautiful light, to illuminate the darkness of the world around us. This represents the sacrifice made by Jews throughout the ages to persevere, and even to flourish, even in the face of the greatest persecution and darkness.

Yes, it is the wandering Yonah, the dove who tasted the crushing bitterness of exile, who ultimately survives, flourishes, and ushers in the coming of our long awaited Moshiach.

My Grandma is the Toiba, the dove, the ultimate survivor.

Ninety years later. The White Russians are gone. The Soviet communists who tried to destroy Judaism, are no more, but rather a relic of the past.

But our Yonah has flown for ninety years, weathered the turmoil and storm of life, raised her Jewish kinderlach, produced three generations, has propelled Judaism into the 21st Century.

And now, the Yonah has flown away to her eternal home to be with her parents, Sarah and Reuven Levita, may Hashem avenge their blood, and with her beloved foster parents, Zaida Binyomin and Bubbe Ettel Marcus, and most of all, to be with Hashem.

Yes, our dove, our Taibeleh has finally found peace.

But the world still has not.

This will be accomplished by us, each of us in his or her own way, increasing in acts of goodness and kindness, Torah and Mitzvos, to bear aloft the banner of our people Israel (that was for you, Grandma) with pride and conviction. It’s time to throw the foolish Marku out of the marketplace once and for all, and rise above all our hindrances that are holding us back from doing Mitzvot and letting our true Jewish pride shine forth. And most of all, to get ready to greet Moshiach,

It’s time to find peace in our daily lives by increasing in Torat Shalom and Torat Emmet, “…and all its ways are peace.” Study Chassidic philosophy, the inner wisdom of the Torah, that makes peace between spirituality and physicality, between Heaven and Earth, between the storm struggles of our daily life with the inner light of our soul, which is a veritable part of G-d from above...
It’s time to bring Moshiach NOW.

More to follow...

In honor of my Grandma, Toby Green, 1916-2009

Friday, December 4, 2009 - 1:08 pm
Posted by Rabbi Michoel Green
I have shared my thoughts at many shivas, but this is the first one for me that is so close to home and so dear to my heart.
 
Especially for me personally, as I have regrettably not seen my Grandma for a number of years. My memories of her are of the vibrant & energetic grandma playing tennis with Grandpa Mo in the park, or of her as a feisty seventy-five-year-old going to work as a public school teacher, or of her leading the seder and telling us how bad of a man the evil Pharaoh was.
 
But I also have other memories of Grandma that I doubt many others have had.
 
I feel that I have always had a special relationship with my Grandma Toby, ע"ה.
You see, I am named after her father Rabbi Binyomin Mendel Marcus, which Grandma reminded me of almost every time she said my name. I am also the first rabbi in the family afterhim.
 
In my early days at Yeshiva, most of my family members could sadly not relate to my Yeshiva experience or what I was learning. In fact, some of my family members were even a little adverse to the idea.
 
But not Grandma.
 
I vividly remember spending Shabbos with my Grandma after I had begun attending Yeshiva. She asked me what I was studying. “Talmud,” I replied, not thinking that my seventy-year old grandma would even have a clue what that was.
 
“Oh, you’re learning Gemara?” she asked. “Which tractate?” She proceeded to review a difficult passage of Talmud, from the tractate “Bava Metzia,” word for word, by heart.
I was floored.
 
Of course, Grandma had studied Talmud with her father.
 
But it was not till years later that I discovered that her father, Zaida Marcus, had actually been raised as a Chabad Chassid in the Kherson region of the Ukraine.
 
This made a lot of sense to me, since in those days, most Orthodox Jews sadly did not think it was important for girls to study the deep wisdom of Jewish thought entombed in the Talmud. It was only Chassidim who believed girls should study just like boys, and that women should be learned just like men..
 
It was this Torah study from her youth that my grandma kept with her throughout her entire life.
 
I would like to share with you one other memory.
 
My grandma used to sing me Yiddish and Hebrew songs. “Hashomer Shabbat” was her favorite. But one time she taught me a melody with Ukranian words:
 
Ech di duren marku. Tshto ti yedish no yarmarku. Nye kuplayish, nye pradayish, tolko rubish s’varku.
 
Rough translation:
 
“You foolish Mark. Why do you come to the marketplace? You do not buy. You do not sell. All you do is cause trouble.”
 
Explanation:
 
Life is a yerid, a marketplace. The merchandise we need to obtain is Torah and Mitzvot. We have a relatively short time to be here at the fare, and we need to maximize our time here to accomplish what we need to accomplish. The foolish Mark is the evil inclination which besets each individual from the day he’s born to the day he dies. In the song we tell the foolish Mark: “Stop bothering me. You are here to neither buy nor sell. So get lost and let me serve Hashem without your interference.”
 
(By the way, nothing wrong with the name “Mark.” In Ukraine, that was a common name among Ukrainian peasants, kind of like “John Doe” for Americans.)
 
At the time, I did not understand the significance of this song, or even give it much thought.
 
Some time later, in my Yeshiva, I learned of an almost identical song, but with a Hebrew introduction I did not hear from my Grandma. It goes: “Tzama l’cha nafshi, kama l’cha bsori…” “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You, in a parched and arid land. So my soul envisionsYou in the Holy Temple, to gaze at Your might and glory.” Then it is followed bythe Ukrainan words I learned from my Grandma.
 
However, this was no ordinary Chassidic melody. It was taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to his Chassidim at some point in the fifties, as the Chassidim in America at the time did not know it. The Rebbe was from the Nikolaiev region in Ukraine. The local Chassidim were known for their musical talent, and their unique Chassidic melodies. On a Simchat Torah night, the Rebbe taught the song to his crowd of followers, explained the deep significance of it, and translated the Ukrainian part. Ever since then, it has become a trademark melody sung by Chabad Chassidim at Chassidic gatherings all over the world. (You can hear it by clicking here)
 
How amazing it was to me that the Chabad Chassidim in Crown Heights did not know the melody, but my Grandma knew it, and knew what it meant too.
 
Obviously, it was because Zaida Marcus, who had had a Chabad upbringing in southern Ukraine (not far from Nikolaiev, where the Rebbe was born), learned this melody in his childhood and passed it on to my Grandma. Thanks to him, she possessed a vast knowledge relating to everything Jewish. But even greater than her knowledge was her passionate sense of identity and Jewish pride.
 
Every letter, every card she ever wrote me, always ended off, “May you merit to carry the banner of our people Israel.”
 
Indeed, Grandma didn’t just carry the banner. She lived it, and breathed it, in every waking moment. I can’t remember ever visiting her and not hearing her say (or observing) how much she loved the land of Israel, the Jewish people, the Torah, Shabbos, the Hebrew Language, etc.
 
And she passed this on to her kids, my aunts, uncle,and my mom. And that’s how I got it. And that’s why I am who I am today. And that’s why my kids, nieces, nephews and cousins, Grandma’s great-grandchildren, are growing up the way they are, all twenty (soon to be twenty-two) of them, בלע"ה, as proud Jews, proudly “carrying the banner” of our people and our Torah.
 
More thoughts about my Grandma to follow...
 

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