Friday, April 17, 2015

Frum warning signs


I suppose this is the kosher equivalent of warning labels printed on cigarette boxes. In front of the broccoli for sale in one of the local kosher grocery stores was a warning sign. Essentially, it said that the Vaad found that this year's broccoli crop is so infested that it is virtually impossible to rid the vegetable of all bugs. Therefore, it advised any customer considering the purchase to consult with a rabbinic authority first.

Interesting that they didn't go so far as prohibiting the sale but insisted on a "buyer beware" sign. Perhaps they figure some will cook the boccoli just for flavor in one of those bags that advertise they block bugs.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Modeling behavior for a child

I saw this posted on a number of streams. I get it that it's a nice idea to make people - even random strangers - feel good by saying something nice to them. However,  that should not be  false flattery. The man who gives the compliment refers to the hat as ugly to the boy. That makes it clear that he doesn't really consider it awesome. He could have come up with another compliment that wouldn't be a blatant lie, perhaps complimenting the man on his bag or his tie. 

As it is, the example set for the boy is that you can make friends and influence people by lying about the most obvious thing rather than looking for something you can truthfully point to as positive. 

It's actually a very bad example to set for a child that lying is the way to achieve one's goals, for the end justifies the means. There's a famous Talmudic  (Yevamos 63a) account of a clever child who figured out that by switching around what his father, Rav,  asked for, his mother actually made what he requested by trying to do the opposite. When he revealed this strategy to his father,  Rav ordered him to cease and desist.  "Do not do this," he said, "so you will not learn to lie." Not willing to compromise on the truth -- even for the sake enhanced harmony-- was a powerful lesson for a child. And that child grew up to be Rav Chisda.

Now to connect the point of the previous two paragraphs: let's look at what Aharon HaKohen was famous for. Chazal say that all the Jews mourned him -- even more than Moshe -- because he was an ohev shalom verodef shalom [a lover and pursuer and peace]. He excelled at reconciling people who had a falling out. How would he do it? He'd go over to each person and tell him/her that the other wanted to make up. But, here's the big difference between a great man and the one shown in the cartoon, he wasn't lying. He had the ability to recognize the part of the person that really did want to make up. That's what he brought out in people. And that's how he proved so successful in bringing about peace. 

PS A few weeks after I first posted this, I read R' Dr. Abraham Twersky's book, Life's Too Short! St Martin's Press, 1995). On p. 158, he addresses this exact point of building self-esteem without resorting to lies, particularly in a relationship with a child.  He recounts his thoughtful response to his 7-year-old grandson's violin playing:
Although the melody was grossly off tune, I was about to say, "That was beautiful. I'm really proud of you. I caught myself, because it was not beautiful, and to say so would have been a lie. Instead I said, "I know that tune. Let's have a concert. You play and I'll sing it." We did so, and that child beamed with pride. I had acknowledged his playing  a melody that I could recognize, and I had not lied to him.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Good will and good works on Purim

pic from http://old.chabadinfo.com/?url=article_en&id=32785
Long before the idea of government welfare programs, taking care of the poor was firmly entrenched in Jewish communities.  Giving money and food to those who could not afford the basic necessities, particularly around the holidays, is a standard practice that is rooted all the way back in the Biblical injunction for tithes. C
ontinuing that tradition today, many local Tomchei Shabbos programs, funded and staffed by area volunteers,  deliver food packages to needy families every week.

When the holiday of Purim was added by Mordechai and Esther, the mitzvos [obligations] of the day were set to include recounting the story of the Book of Esther by hearing the Megillah (both at night and during the day), sending mishloach manos  to friends, having a celebratory meal, and the mitzvah ofmatanos l'evyonim, that is gifts to the poor. 

It is not only unseemly to indulge in making merry while the poor go hungry, it is absolutely contrary to the halacha [Jewish law].  The minimum prescribed by the halacha is to give one mishloach manos and two matanos l'evyonim, which indicates a direction for priorities. If people are compelled to curtail their holiday spending due to their own budget constraints can minimize their own feasting and give the minimal mishloach manos but should not hold back from giving to the poor.   

Ideally, money is to be distributed on the day of Purim itself.  In Jerusalem, where Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, rather than the 14th, on the day of Shushan Purim, the holiday can fall out on the Sabbath.  (Because of how the calendar is set, the 14th of Adar never falls out on the Sabbath.)  In that case, the matanos l'evyonim  are distributed a day early rather than late. 

If you are unsure of where to give, area synagogues and schools often set up collections.  A number of charities, like Yad Eliezer (which has an excellent rating from Charity Navigator) accept online credit card donations and can guarantee distribution on Purim.

A freilachen Purim!

Related posts:


 http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/03/purim-when-we-were-all-heroes.html

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Purim: when we were all heroes

One of the minor (he doesn't even get the extra mention in the song we sing afterwards)  characters in Megillas Esther is named Hatach. Who was he?  In Megillah 15a  Chazal  identify him as Daniel, the same one who has a whole book of TaNach named for him. The change in name is said to refer to his having been cut down [chatchuhu]from his greatness.


 The Meshech Chochma on Megillas Esther offers a novel reason for his loss in status. He says that his greatness among the Jews was due to his willingness to sacrifice  his life for a mitzvah. He incurred the penalty of being thrown into the lion's den for having prayed three times a day. He survived through a miracle.


At the time of the Purim story, all the Jews were involved in the 3 day fast Esther called for. At that time, they all devoted themselves to tearful prayer, the study of Torah, and a willingness to give up their lives for the sanctification of the Holy Name and religious observance. Consequently, they realized that all Jews have within themselves the power to lay down their lives. Daniel's feat of heroism appeared less impressive to them because he was no longer unique in that regard.

A freilachen Purim!


For more Purim posts, see 



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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Another New Year

You may still be hearing "Happy New Year" wishes, as it is still January. In two weeks, though, it really will be a new year for trees, on the 15th of Shvat.
This post was adapted from one written by Rabbi Chaim Brown 
Tu B'Shevat is the day designated as the New Year for the trees. The first part of the name is made up of two hebrew letters:  "tes", which has the value of 9, and "vav", which has the value of six, to designate the number 15 for the date of the holiday. The new year for the trees marks the cutoff point for the tithes of fruit; it is rather like a fiscal year, which is not necessarily synonymous with a calendar year.  One does not take the tithe from the actual tree, but from the fruits that grow on the tree. So why is Tu B'Shevat not called Rosh HaShana l'Peiors-- the new year for fruit -- not Rosh HaShana l'Ilanos, the new year for trees?
Anyone who has gone apple picking out on Long Island or in upstate NY in the early fall can remember the bright sun beating on the orchard and the sweet apple aroma. If you wander in the same orchards in the early spring months, you will likely still feel the winter frost blowing through the barren trees. Yet the farmer knows that it is during those crucial early months that   pollination of his crops must occur if the ripe apples of the fall are to blossom. The roots of the tree are neither attractive nor visible, but without them, the tree would not get the nutrients needed for the blossoms to grow and ripen to the magnificent red apples of the fall. 
  "Man is like the tree of the field" (Deutoronomy 20:19) . We tend to judge people's character by the superficial evidence that attracts us - their appearance, dress, smile, looks. We are looking at the apple tree in the fall, with the red shiny fruit grabbing all our attention. Yet, that fruit will not return next year or the year after unless the tree itself is healthy and well cared for. Rosh HaShana L'ilanos tells us that the fruit may catch our eye, but long lasting growth and fulfillment is in the quality of the tree itself. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

The king who didn't know Yosef

I meant to share this observation that I had after a recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum in which I had a tour guide. If you're familiar with that museum, you'll know that it has a very extensive collection of objects from Egypt. The guide showed a particular panel representing the king of Egypt who instituted what was considered a monothestic religion for the place: the worship of the sun. This was not so much about a religious awakening as a political power grab. In this setup (a bit like the Church of England) the monarch was the direct link to the deity. That increased the king's power. With the same goal in mind, the kings regularly destroyed all other temples and records connected with previous regimes and their religious orders.

It occurred to me that if that was the regular practice in Egypt, the king who enslaved the children of Israel really may not have known Yosef. It was a matter of political expediency as well as literal erasure, as the records assoicted with the previous king could well have been deleted.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Want your marriage to stick? Invest in it rather than in the wedding


This does not bode well for the typical Orthodox Jewish wedding. Though I don't have any real hard figures, generally Orthodox Jewish weddings entail parties of a couple of a hundred people and can easily top $35K for a modest affair and go far above $50K for a more "balabatish" one.  
Francis and Mialon surveyed more than 3,000 people — all of whom have been married just once — and found that across income levels the more you dish out on the Big Day, the shorter the marriage. Now, that’s a raw deal. 
  • Guys, investing between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring means you’re 1.3 times more likely to get divorced compared with the more frugal fellows who only allocate between $500 and $2,000.

  • For both sexes, spending more than $20,000 on the wedding ups the odds of divorce by 3.5 times compared with couples who keep it between $5,000 and $10,000.

  • For the best odds, though, keep the festivities to less than $1,000.

Related: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2009/05/you-dont-have-to-be-jewish-to-spend-lot.html