Lag B'Omer and two sets of 12 for R' Shimon bar Yochai

This Sunday is Lag B'Omer the day on which we commemorate the yartzeit of R' Shimon Bar Yochai. He was among the most brilliant students of R' Akiva who had to go into hiding when the Romans in power called for his death after hearing of his criticism of the government. 

Let's review some of R' Akiva's story as recounted in Nedarim 50:

When he was just Akiva, his wife directed him to study Torah. He left for a yeshiva and studied for twelve years under Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. At the completion of the twelve years, he was coming home when he heard from behind his house that one wicked person was saying to his wife, "Your father behaved well toward you. He was right to disinherit you. Your husband is unsuitable and has has left you in  virtual widowhood all these years."  Her response was, "If he'd  listen to me, he would reamain another twelve years." Rabbi Akiva heard and resolved to act according to his wife's wishes. Witho…

Outside of the box chesed

Last night I went to the Young Israel of Woodmere to hear Rabbi Paysach Krohn speak on the topic , “Extend Your Hand and Touch a Heart: Communal Unity” to commemorate the fifth yahrtzeit of Rebekah Anne Frucht, Refaella chana Rivka bas Moshe Nissan (you can read about her here). To help make the point actionable, " A Kindness A Day" journals were distributed. They include the the name to have in mind for iluy neshama and the site

I'm writing this not just to spread the word and recount a tiny bit of what Rabbi Krohn said but to also add a new insight about how to think about chesed's application to everyday choices. Something that struck me in particular on exiting the shul was how ironic it is that people coming to such a lecture park in parts of the parking lot that are designated not for parking and in doing so make it that much more difficult for those who have parked in the legal spots to exit without coming in danger of hitting their cars. …

Outside the camp

This week's parsha is a double one, Tazria-Metzora. As the second name suggests, it deals with the rules of identification and treatment of a case of tzaraas. The person who is afflicted has to call in the priest to make the determination of whether or not it is tzaraas. If it is the person who has it has to leave the camp for a prescribed time during which he must warn people to keep away. The only person who must come to him is the priest who will determine when he is free of the affliction and can return to the community.

This made me think of the parallel but different case of a person who must leave the main community and whose sentence for exile is also determined by a priest in a different manner. One who unintentionally kills must flee to a city of refuge where he is joined by his family and even his rebbe for the duration of his stay. How long he must stay depends on the longevity of the High Priest. For that reason, the High Priest's mothers would visit those cities …

True leaders and demagogues

When I saw the title of this piece, If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists? I instantly thought of Moshe Rabbeinu, the paradigmatic leader of a people who was the humblest of men. The Torah also provides contrasts to him. We have the demagogue figure in Korach, whose attempted coup was self-serving rather than a true struggle for fairness. Another foil for Moshe is the greatest prophet ever for the world-at-large, namely Bilam, whose attributes include not humility but an egotistical desire for honor and riches.

The “romance of leadership” hypothesis suggests that we generally have a biased tendency to understand social events in terms of leadership and people tend to romanticize the figure of the leader.
My own research shows that our psychological states can also bias our perceptions of charismatic leaders. High levels of anxiety make us hungry for charisma. As a result, crises increase not only the search for charismatic leaders, but also …

Questions and Actions: Why we make this night different from all other nights

Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?
Who told you that?

That's an old joke that reflects our emphasis on asking questions, something that is fundamental to Torah study and to the transmission of the mesorah that we enact every Pesach.

The seder centers around the number four and the famous four questions. But four is the minimum, and further questions are encouraged by deliberately doing things that strike people as being out of the normal routine.

So here's a question: why go through all the question when we already know the answers?  We can simply tell the story, with all the drama built into the story of rags to rich of avdus to cheirus or of benighted ovdey avoda zara to enlightened people who witness Divine revelations in the geula.

Why the questions? I'm so glad you asked.

In the book  Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade Robert Cialdini  (p. 254) defend the underlying idea "Let me ask you a question for your information&qu…

Before there were clickbait articles

I  usually resist clickbait, but I did fall for this on One Thing Happy People Do Every Day (It Takes Less Than 1 Minute)  because I wanted to ascertain if it would relay the conventional wisdom of smiling to feel happier. It did. The only other thing it added was a suggestion for what it badly names going first. That makes it sound like cutting in line, but the writer really means is approaching the other person first, saying "hello," and the like.

 Clearly, Chris Heivly here considers this a huge chidush. But that's because he likely was never exposed to Pirkei Avos. Those 6 chapters of Mishna that we read in the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos contain a great deal of wisdom that applies to social and business interactions. Among them are two that cover his advice. One is the advice of Rabbi Masya ben Charash (4:20) " Be the first to greet every individual." And in the first chapter (15) the last part of Shammai three-part exhortation is: הוי מקביל את כל …

Pesach desserts

One other thing about the store-bought cakes: nearly all of them have a potato starch base. Consequently, take the blessing of shehakol rather than the mezonos that we usually say on cakes based on flour. For that reason, many shuls skip their usual kiddushes because they have no mezonos to set out.  However, if you do not have the custom of avoiding gebrokts, that is a mixture of matzah and water, you can make your own mezonos cakes based on cake meal, which is finely ground matzah meal. The first two recipes are based on that. The second two are gluten-free. 
Passover apple cake 1 c. sugar
1 c. cake meal
1/2 c.oil
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 tbsp. lemon juice
4 egg whites, beaten to stiff, glossy peaks
5 lg. apples, sliced
1/3 to 1/2 c. chopped nuts
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 8 inch square pan. Combine first 5 ingredients, stir until well blended. Fold in beaten egg whites; gently, but thoroughly. Pour 1/2 of batter into greased baking pan. Arrange s…