Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

Can we really change the past?

This is the final countdown to the High Holidays where we attempt to elicit a good year filled with health, happiness, success, and serenity from the heavenly powers. During these 10 awesome days beginning with Rosh Hashana and culminating with Yom Kippur, we attempt to reconcile our past year’s failings and inadequacies, promising to be more even-tempered and compassionate and patient with others. We also take a quick pick at our spiritual shortcomings.

The elephant in the room that no one asks is the following: While we can attempt to reconcile the past all we want, we can never erase what we have done in the past. At this moment in time, scientists have not been able to crack the code which allows us to turn back time and repair the damage we have caused ourselves, our loved ones, and others. In fact, the past is very much a part of who we are. Ask any therapist and they will tell you that we are all a product of our upbringings. Luminaries such as Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein and Jean Piaget all staked their careers on one’s childhood traumas. So, while we are able to tell ourselves that the past is in the past, is it really in the past or is it embedded deep in our psyche and a part of our very current DNA?

Judaism’s answer is so powerful that it is life altering.

In short, no one wants or expects you to change your past. Aside from being impossible as we just mentioned, it is also a disservice to mankind to alter what happened.

While it is obvious that we need to regret and take ownership of all our misdeeds and make amends if needed, this is elementary. What we really need to do is to learn from our mistakes and failures.

While success breeds success and momentum, it is nowhere near as powerful as the lessons gleaned from failure. You see, a mistake can be so powerful that it can create a dramatic shift in our behavior. It allows us to say to ourselves, “I cannot believe that I did this,” or “I never would have believed that I could have sunk so low. I need a reality check as I do not want to be this type of person.”

I read recently that when the stock market tumbles, the analysts do not call it a catastrophe as I do. Rather, they call it a correction. What an interesting choice of words. What is a correction? If you look at Webster’s, one of the definitions is improvement. How about that? Sure, a down market can be viewed as something terrible, but it also can be viewed as a chance to make some money. The same is true with a mistake. It can be seen as a horrific lapse of judgment, and it may be so. Or it can be viewed as a chance for improvement.

The Kabbalah explains it this way. When someone wishes to jump into the air, they bend their knees and crouch lower than their regular height and then they jump high. The descent is solely for the sake of the ascent. I usually think of an Olympic diver whose diving board bends down low which then propels them much higher. A mistake, if handled correctly, can be treated the same way, namely, a descent for the sake of an ascent. No one consciously makes a mistake. If they did so, it would not be called a mistake but rather premeditated.

Bottom line, once the mistake happens, we can respond in one of a few ways.

1.     Berate yourself and beat yourself up. I believe that this accomplishes nothing other than low self-esteem, which we all know is super toxic to oneself.       

2.     Laugh it off and move on without the slightest care. This is arrogance and is also super toxic to others. Arrogance leads to so many more problems.

3.     The last response is one that is healthy for all. This would be the path of introspection. A person should ask themselves how this happened and more importantly, how they can ensure that this does not happen again. Of course, apologies should be offered. This mindful approach has no downside as self-awareness is the best path to enlightenment and improvement.

There is a fascinating Talmud that discusses when a person processes their misdeeds and regrets them. Even ones committed on purpose with malice will not only be forgiven but will also be converted into merits. While it seems that conversion to merits is a bit too far, it makes perfect sense. If the misdeed ultimately leads the person to positive change, then the transgression was actually a catalyst for change. So, while we do rue the actual negative act, we eventually come to applaud the transformation that it brought about.   

Coming full circle…. Don’t forget the past and try to bury it as it should not be buried. Rather, learn from the past and be a better person because of it. Celebrate the past and make changes because of it and not despite it.

Remember to err is human. To completely screw up takes a politician.

How to Avoid Burnout

We all go through it. It is called by different names by different cultures and nations. Some call it a midlife crisis while I call it burnout. Besides, I know so many who are afflicted way before midlife and quite a few who are afflicted much later on in life. I call it burnout because that is exactly what it feels like. Burnout. A complete depletion of brain and emotional powers to the point of exhaustion. Not unlike a candle that has run out of wax and has no light to offer even to itself.

It is a terrible feeling and extremely intense to be in the middle of burnout. There are, however, thankfully, some tricks of the trade to deal with it, preferably before the onset of a burnout. These words of wisdom can help during the burnout period as well.

The following are some of the proven ways to prevent burnout or to ameliorate the length and severity if already afflicted.

Instead of one’s every single thought being lodged (read stuck) in one’s brain creating overload in the cerebrum of the central nervous system, one should continuously do a brain dump by purging the thoughts onto paper.
Writing down one’s thoughts is a power move as it gives one a chance to process these thoughts on paper where one can read and reread without having to worry as to what will be forgotten or not. It also allows for negativity to be placed on a piece of paper which is external to our brains and bodies. Keeping this stuff inside can be quite unhealthy, while getting it out is so cathartic and will actually make you feel better.
Another beauty of journaling is that you can track how far you have come. You will be able to see certain resolutions you have processed and are now at peace with. You can inspire yourself by seeing how far you have come.

There is something very special about music as it can be so uplifting and inspiring. I once read that a solo dance party is the best way to shake off the doldrums. Put in some airpods, turn on a lively happy song and pop up the volume and let yourself go. The serotonin will begin flowing and the negativity will start dissipating.
There are different types, styles and genres of music because we are different. Pick music that will float your boat. I do think that we all can agree that funeral music is probably not the best choice if an uplift is desired though.

Sometimes you just gotta go when you gotta go. This can be for a weekend or a week. This can be planned or done spontaneously when the need arises. The bottom line is that we all need some time off. It is inhumane to be on continuously without pause. I once saw a meme where someone wrote that they cannot think about retiring, and that they will have to work until lunchtime on the day of their funeral. It is so important to change the environment every so often.
To use the argument that you do not have the time is foolish. Make the time. If you feel that you cannot leave your job as you are so crucial to the project at hand, I am going to be blunt. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is expendable, including you. You are not the only talent or thinker out there. Your work will do fine without you even if you never return. Think of it this way, your work will be better served if you take a break and come back refreshed.

Once you come back from some R & R, be careful not to fall into the same trap of overworking yourself. Be mindful and take breaks. Go outside. Sit on the grass with your shoes off and close your eyes for a few minutes. So many of the Fortune 500 companies have created a break room where there are mini pods for someone to take a power nap. I personally like to walk around my office building a few times enjoying the fresh air.

It is so important to do things that you enjoy doing, whether it be going out to eat, the waterfront, a concert or just chill with friends. You must live a life worth living. Just to wake up, go to work, eat dinner, and then go to sleep only to do the same thing the next morning is not a good life. We must intersperse our days, weeks and months with family visits, wine tasting and a Cuban cigar. All these are examples that I can think of. Enjoyment can come in many forms.

The adage a friend in need is a friend indeed comes to mind. Life is not meant to be a solo trip. There are all types of vocations that help us get through life. We have gardeners, dentists, attorneys, doctors, and street sweepers. Simply put, we cannot do everything by ourselves. So why should we go through life without it being enriched by someone whose company you enjoy and lean on at the same time. Just talking it out helps purge the toxicity. Even if the friend just sits and listens to you and vice versa and speaks minimally. It is so vastly important. I cannot underscore the power of this medicine called a friend.

Looking at life through the Facebook page of someone you know is nothing short of toxic. It is simply a fabricated story of existence and is the furthest thing from reality. I firmly believe that the creation of the personal handheld computer called a cell phone with all its glorious capabilities is the ruination of society, as it is simply too much information with most of it not vetted or even needed. The bottom line is that screen time of all kinds needs to be minimized as there is nothing real about it. To call it virtual reality is absurd. More like virtual dishonesty.
In addition, much of the news is either divisive, offensive or too troubling to read or watch. It always amazes me that good news travels at the speed of molasses while bad news travels at the speed of light.

Many times, burnout occurs because we are overextended and try to do too many things for too many people. We need to place healthy boundaries around ourselves to ensure that we are the captain of our own ship. For many, the present company included, this is not an easy thing to do. Therapists are taught as part of their training to perfect what is called compassion with borders. This is to ensure that a particular client or two does not burn them out.
I recall with vivid pain the following boundaryless episode that happened to me. I share this story simply to bring awareness that having no boundaries will end up causing pain. I was at Disney with the family and someone back home had a loss. They called me to assist them with the funeral. I told them that I was away, but they pleaded that they really needed me in their time of desperation. I proceeded to leave my family in Disney while I went to help this individual bury their loved one. My wife was furious and my kids were upset. I, on the other hand, did what I had thought I had to do.
Fast forward a few years. This individual has now moved out of state, and despite my attempts to keep in touch and continue a great relationship, he does not return my calls any longer and I have outlived my usefulness. This realization that he was done with me brought great distress. I mean, come on, after all I have done for him. I even left….. After all is said and done, if I can be honest, the real offending party was me and not him. Yes, he got his way on his terms, but who allowed this to happen? Me!
A huge lesson – hopefully learned.

The bottom line is that we must give ourselves the respect that we would surely give others. We need to learn to say no if something does not feel right. At the very least tell the person that you need to think about it. This will allow you to process the request to see if it actually crosses a boundary.

Not my bailiwick, but good nutrition and exercise is vital. A healthy body and a healthy mind work in tandem.

All the above advice is by no means comprehensive. Feel free to add something positive in your life that will make you feel alive.

Now go live.

Rosh Hashana Reflections

Before you turn around Rosh Hashanah will be upon us. Whether you feel it is early this year or late, it does not change the fact that we are getting real close to the big day.

I am sure you have noticed the stark differences between the Jewish New Year and the civil one. On New Year’s Eve (December 31) we gather together in an exuberant atmosphere and party hard, accompanied with blowers and streamers, champagne and cocktails and we celebrate in the streets. Contrast that with Rosh Hashanah eve; we get to bed as soon as we can because tomorrow is a very long day, and we need to hear a different type of horn, which has no definitive tune.

Furthermore, January 1 is a day to sober up from the previous night’s festivities. In the Jewish New Year however, instead of sobering up from last night’s nonparty, we sit somber in the sanctuary hopefully absorbing every word of the Rabbi’s sermon, and with any luck, enjoying the cantor’s heartfelt melodies.

It is true that in Judaism, like the rest of the world, we recognize we do need to celebrate the New Year. After all, we made it to yet another year. In Judaism, we add an additional component to the day, which understandably changes the narrative. To understand this better, we need to really appreciate the reason as to why Rosh Hashanah is even a Jewish holiday.

Our sages share that Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the anniversary of the creation of the world. In essence, we are commemorating the world’s birthday. However, the sages clarify that Rosh Hashanah was not the first day of creation, but rather the sixth. In other words the first day of creation happened six days before Rosh Hashanah on the calendar.

Why celebrate day 6 and not day 1? You see, on day 6 humankind was first introduced to the world. Day 1 through day 6, God created heaven and earth, light and darkness, seas and clouds, sun, moon and stars, fish and fowl, beasts, animals, reptiles and the West Nile mosquito. The last thing God created on Friday late afternoon was Adam & Eve.

The Rabbis explain that the reason we do not celebrate the 1st through 6th is because until then God was not acknowledged. Once a discerning human being was created, someone recognized God as its creator and therefore a day of distinction.

In other words, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of humankind. We are taught that Adam & Eve were created last to show the significance of the fact that a human being was brought into a ready-made world because humans need to have everything they need to accomplish their God-given mission immediately. We were brought into existence to make this world a better place.

If God made Adam & Eve first before everything else, they would have to hang around for six days in a desolate existence. There was no sun to soak in, and there was no beach to relax on. Can you imagine a world without Manischewitz wine? Adam & Eve would have to wait until everything was ready to go to start making a difference.

These powerful thoughts teach us that laziness is detrimental to our mission, and it conveys that the world was made for us to be productive. God is our boss and demands that we make a positive difference to the world every single day.

Since we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the day mankind was created because mankind was commanded to work with what you got, it follows that Rosh Hashanah is the actual birthday of mankind.

A birthday in Judaism is so important that it is not something that we take lightly. A birthday is the day God decided that the world needs you TODAY to come into this world and get to work. There is no redundancy in Judaism. No two people were created for the same reason. Each one of us has a unique mission to fulfill and today is the day.

As Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of mankind, we need to reflect on what good we need to accomplish in the coming year. Likewise, an individual’s birthday is spent the same way, pondering and ruminating. We do not want to blow this special day by getting drunk in the streets, rather we pray for guidance and clarity, peace of mind and serenity.

Allow me to be the first to wish you all a happy birthday. May we all fulfill our specific purpose and may it be with ease.

Worth praying for.

Please feel free to share.

Hakol B'Seder

The terms 'b'seder' or 'hakol b'seder' have absolutely nothing to do with the Passover Seder, because if it did it wouldn't make sense why it is such a common phrase. Yet, it is probably the most used mantra repeated by Israelis millions of times a day. What does it mean? 

The colloquial translation of b'seder is 'ok', and hakol b'seder is  'everything is ok'. 

The Israeli people live by this mantra,  despite living surrounded by people who would rather die than live side by side in peace. In spite of the homicide bombings, stabbings, car rammings and every other threat, the Israelis manage to give a thumbs up and say 'hakol b'seder' to literally anyone they meet and in any situation.

The reason this is on my mind is because the other day I was venting my spleen to someone over something that infuriated me. He looked at me and in his Israeli accent, he said "Rabbi, hakol b'seder." That was it. No other words of advice or comfort.  With that declaration, he shut down the conversation. 

Mind you, he was not trying to be rude. On the contrary,  he was trying to help me, give me perspective, put it behind me and move on. I looked at him and just nodded. It may not seem like a great story to share, but those two words 'hakol b'seder' spoke volumes and meant so much to me, and hopefully will to you as well. 

Too often we get stuck in a vortex that we cannot seem to get ourselves out of.  We live in the past - either in fear or misery, or we live in the future - with uncertainty and anxiety. This is not a good way to live. The best way to live your gift of life is in the present - and simply tell ourselves, hakol b'seder- all is ok. 

The key to this phrase is the word "is." If we live life with the assumption that all "will" be ok,  then this completely disses the present. The present is terrible,  but the future, now we are talking. If we are always looking to the future, then when will we live our present life?  Let's not even talk about all the "used to be ok" comments, as that is obviously a non starter.  "All is ok" is a declaration of optimism and positivity that all IS okay right now.

We need to take a page from the Israeli playbook. No matter what nonsense is going on in one's life. No matter how aggravating our day has been. No matter the long line at the airport or at Starbucks, we must stand strong and shake it off with these two beautiful words, hakol b'seder.  Leave the hand wringing for the serious stuff you will need to deal with and start living a meaningful and happy existence.

I think about the particular vent the other day that made him say those magical words to me, and I am now cognizant that whatever happened that got me so worked up was not really worth the emotional response I had. I allowed some idiot to take space in my brain, rent free. Completely does not make sense to me now.

Before you get worked up and shake a fist and say that this guy is crazy - as not everything is b'seder, there are things that are dire - you are correct. I would never be so insensitive as to say 'hakol b'seder' to someone who is ill or going through some serious challenge, because it is not b'seder. It is lo b'seder. 

I am simply referring to issues and situations built up in our minds to the point of craziness, when in reality it is not the biggest deal. 

B'seder. I am done.

High Holidays are around the corner... Can we Really Turn Over a New Leaf?

As incredible as it may be, we have less than five weeks to the Jewish New Year and only six weeks to

Yom Kippur, the awesome day of Atonement.

In other words, in five weeks Jews all over the world will find themselves sitting in a synagogue beseeching their creator to bestow a happy and healthy new year, and a mere week later we will back in the pews repenting our misdeeds and imploring God not to bear a grudge.

Here is the strange thing about Jews and the High Holidays. Every year we ask God to forgive our sins by itemizing them in detail, and every year we come back and itemize them again, and every year we feel extremely confident that God has surely forgiven us again. I don’t know about you, but if someone hurt me once and asked my forgiveness, I would hopefully be quick to forgive. If the same person hurt me again with the same shenanigans, I would be less inclined to forgive. If then he hurt me again for a third time it would be extremely difficult and foolhardy for me to let go and forgive. I am sure that this is true of all of us.

Permit me to give you a scenario that actually happened. Someone asked me for a loan of money to be paid back within a few months. Sure enough, they reneged on their promise, and they defaulted. A couple of years later, this person approached me for another loan. I reminded them that the first loan was never repaid. They argued that it was a particularly rough situation, and they assured me that this would not reoccur. I “lent” them money again but this time I simply viewed it as a gift, as this is in tune with my philosophy that you can only get hurt if you have expectations. Sure enough my non expectation proved to be the right approach. Do you honestly think that I would be open to this person approaching me for another loan? If they had the audacity to approach me for a third time, I would simply tell them to go abuse someone else for a change. So, why do we think that we can abuse God year after year after year after year? The same infraction followed by the same repentance followed by the same infraction all over again. It makes us look like insincere pathological liars and cheats.

One of the responses offered is such a great lesson and should, in my opinion, be taught to children in schools globally.

God did not create us as angels who spend the day singing His praise and sipping lattes with an extended pinky finger while reclining on a balcony overlooking the heavenly island of Capri. Rather, he created mortal human beings with desires, needs, wants, and wishes. He created us with real life problems such as uninvolved parents, bad influences, and painful addictions. We have been planted into a world where there are so many varying confusing opinions as to what is right and what is not, what is morally acceptable and what is abhorrently unacceptable. It is all so confusing and leaves one exhausted. And while it is true that we are endowed with intellect and do have the power to reason and make good choices, we were also programmed on some level to make terrible choices as well. To add to this mess, we innately have conflicting emotions and traits to deal with. For example, while we want to be selfless, we also need to be selfish. It is our job to be able to rise above the noise and nonsense and discern what is the most honorable and noble path to take. He left discernment to us. Go figure!

Let’s face it. Every single human who has ever walked this earth has been by definition imperfect. Every single one of us has erred in some way, and most likely in many ways. Our greatest leaders have been proven to be fallible. Even Moses was fallible. We were created imperfect and we will live in an imperfect state as long as we draw breath. We will make multiple mistakes on any given day, week, month, or year.

However, none of the above makes us bad. In fact, quite the opposite. The fact that we have so many challenges and we still for the most part try and do the right thing makes us beautiful and good. There are very few of us who are actually bad and rotten to the core. Most of us try to get things right and attempt to do the right thing but are not always successful. There can be a myriad of reasons as to why we failed at doing the right thing. Sometimes the failure can be due to ignorance and/or willful blindness and perhaps laziness or even maybe due to lack of willpower. Any reason you share will most likely underscore the fact that it was most definitely not because you were a bad person, but rather a flawed one.

It is hard to forgive evil, wicked, malevolent, rotten, malicious, and spiteful people. Unless someone is evil, they would never advocate that the Nazis should be forgiven. No way. Hitler and the Nazis are unforgivable and so is Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The leaders of the Mongol Empire were evil and so were the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition. I would hope that God would not entertain forgiving them ever no matter how many Yom Kippurs come and go.

However, non-evil but flawed people like you and me are a completely different story. If we cannot get a break from the all-powerful, just, and omnipotent one, then we are all doomed to suffer in eternal purgatory because of our human failings. He did not create us as angels and therefore He has no expectations of us to be angelic. Our job is to be human with all its frailties and shortcomings.

It is for this reason we are able to approach God each year with remorse, regret, and a resolve to do better. We are telling God that we are human and fallible, and we need you to let it go and not build up resentment against us.

In conclusion, the Hebrew word for repentance is Teshuva. The word Teshuva when translated literally does not mean repentance but rather return. Now, Webster defines “repent” as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life,” “to feel regret or contrition,” or “to change one’s mind.” Think about it this way. Essentially repentance means to “turn,” while Teshuvah means to “return.” The lesson is crucial. To repent means that in the past I consciously decided to be one kind of person, and now, because I regret it, I want to become a new kind of person going forward. Return on the other hand means I’m returning to who I always was. I was never bad, just flawed. I was never rotten, just ignorant. I never meant to be selfish, I was just caught up in the moment.

We are not turning a new leaf. We are returning to our true selves filled with goodness and infinite potential to do great things.

The dynamics of emotional pain

In my previous thoughts I posited the negative consequences of prolonged emotional pain inhabiting one’s body as being completely unhealthy and toxic to one's very physical existence. I would like to follow through with some additional thoughts to elucidate the dynamics that are at play within every human psyche.

While emotional pain has its purpose and place, long suffering emotional pain does not. If allowed to linger, the pain will get stronger and stronger, and eventually will overcome the body, its host. Not unlike a parasite that attacks the body left unchecked, it will overtake the body and possibly cause its demise.

Just like an infection needs to be treated with antibiotics, emotional pain needs to be treated as well with a strong course of action.

One of the first steps of dealing with emotional pain that has overstayed its welcome is by possessing the following awareness. Once the dust has settled and the crisis is no longer in your face, then you must understand that the emotional pain you are experiencing is not your identity, core, nor essence, and most likely it is not coming from a good place. In general, most emotional pain, even deep disturbances, are to be viewed as articles of clothing, not unlike gloves that can be donned or taken off at will. (In my experience, there are some crises that have no end date. Losing a child is one example and this whole discussion does not apply).

Don't get me wrong, pain can be an effective survival tool, but it is most definitely not your being and essence as will be discussed.

After you understand this crucial point with regards to the source of your pain and your awareness has firmly crystallized, you now need to stand up to this retrograde guest that will not leave your body and demand that it evacuate your consciousness immediately as it is no longer welcome, and there is simply no more tolerance for squatting inside of you anymore. This type of emotional scourge needs to be dismissed and sent packing. It has outlived its usefulness. Basically, you need to shut it down.

To be able to do this, you also must recognize that your essence and core are supremely stronger than this parasitic pain. Elongated pain, which is artificially fabricated by one's mind, is nowhere near as powerful as a human being who possesses a myriad of intellectual and emotional faculties. Pain does not stand a chance.

The dynamics look something like this. The mind does not like change, and once it gets hooked on a thought or an emotion, especially one that helped it get through a tough loss, breakup, disappointment, or other form of disturbance, the mind unfortunately remains latched on and does not want to let go. The mind coldly rationalizes that it is foolhardy to let go of something that has been so helpful to it. Why should it let go of this bit of comfort as well? This is why many people hold on to past grief (some grief is not let go-able), as these dark grieving thoughts were comforting at some point, and to lose this comfort as well as the other loss is too much to bear. So many of us ironically find misery to be our go to place, our happy place, and this is because it is the place the mind knows and feels comfortable with.

However, as we articulated, holding on to emotional pain longer than necessary is deleterious to one's health. It is not only not good for the mind and body, but also not good for your deepest being either. One's soul/life energy does not want to live in negativity for long periods of time as it is stifling and retards the purpose of its very existence of living. Look at it this way, brooding, negativity, despondency, depression, and ominous feelings are the antithesis to a soul. A soul is a bright energy that needs to be productive and creative, and negativity strips it of its potency. A soul thrives on happiness, elation, and movement while sadness sucks these qualities right out from within the soul.

So, while it is hard for the mind to let go of its comforting negative thoughts and feelings, you as the host must put an end to them and send a strongly worded cease and desist memo primarily to the mind to stop its illicit love affair with pessimism, gloom, negativity and cynicism.

Now, pain most definitely has its purpose. Think of physical pain as a teaching moment. You don't have to tell a child a second time not to touch a hot pot that just came off of the range. Once they experience pain by touching the pot, they know with certainty that the same mistake will yield the same results which will be painful. Likewise, if your fiancé is causing you immense pain, then, like a hot pot, you need to proceed with caution lest you get burned, and no one wants to get scalded.

Important note: Feelings of discomfort such as nausea after drinking cacao will alert you that maybe the next time you should decline that third cup. However, discomfort is never to be confused with pain, as discomfort is designed to make you change your current situation. Pain on the other hand can be debilitating while discomfort makes you aware that something is not right.

In short, our pain receptors help us get through life by alerting us that this or that situation can be painful and/or destructive. So, it is insanity to allow runaway pain to destroy our existence with vengeance and vitriol instead of its original purpose of protection.

I can tell you that by showing some backbone to the elongated emotional pain by telling it to get lost is what is sorely needed. The reason as to why this is so effective is because you are the host and the master of your destiny, and you are the producer and director of your body’s energy. You and only you have the choice to allow someone to share, use or even abuse you and your body. Now, just as you would hit, scratch, kick, yell, and punch at a stranger abusing you, the same treatment should be afforded to the fabricated and artificial emotional pain. Yell and shout at it to leave you alone as you are no longer interested in pursuing this abusive relationship.

End it once and for all. The ball is in your court.

A Painful Epiphany

The other day I was a complete captive, as there was an accident ahead of me, and 7,000 vehicles behind me. I had nowhere to go. So, what does one do when one is a captive of the road? To me, there are only three real options aside from brooding. One is to listen to music; two is to call someone; or three, to process thoughts. While brooding is also a part of processing thoughts, I don't really think that it accomplishes anything other than to continue the cycle of more brooding. Bottom line, I chose to give some time to something that has been on my mind as of late, the concept known as pain. The following paragraphs are the outcome of my epiphany on the road.

To be sure there are various types of pain, and in the hopes of clarity, I hope to elucidate some of the types of pain and agony that exist. There are obviously many nuances, and the fact that I have not brought them up is by no means any indicator that it is somehow unimportant.

There is not one person alive who has not experienced physical pain. From teething as an infant to growing pains as a child (growing pains was not something I had to deal with), sports injuries, broken bones, simple headaches, migraine headaches, period cramps, oral cavities, back twinges and in my specific case, blasted kidney stones. We all have physical pain at one point in our lives and we seek help from our parents to professionals to mitigate the pain. A little Tylenol for minor aches and pains, antibiotics for infections, nitrous oxide for root canal, etc. Once we mitigate the pain, we are ready to move on with our lives. The last thing we should do is simply live with pain. If a simple fix and/or a good night’s sleep does not make things right, we try the next step and go see a specialist.

There is another type of physical pain that does not get fixed that easily, chronic pain requires greater involvement and may necessitate an incredibly difficult journey, which can include multiple interventions. If someone needs to replace a knee due to chronic pain as an example, they need to have surgery and replace a part of the knee in order to be able to be pain free. While the rehabilitation involved is quite difficult, it beats living with chronic pain. Unfortunately, there does exist chronic pain that even surgery cannot nix. We then need to resort to strong meds. Unpleasant to say the least.

Another type of pain that is not necessarily physical is emotional pain. This pain is very real and does hurt quite a bit. Losing a loved one is very painful emotionally. It can be crippling and overwhelming. I always respond when someone shares that they are heartbroken after a loss; that pain is commensurate with love. The more you love and are connected with this person, the more the loss will be felt. Emotional pain can be due to a variety of reasons other than loss and for the most part are all real and factual. No one should dismiss someone else’s pain as being unsupportable or remark about the individual in pain that they are being melodramatic. Emotional pain is pure, raw and unadulterated anguish.
For the most part, I find that the closer we are to the person causing anguish the more pain results. A spouse can really ruin one’s emotional life as opposed to simply being annoyed at a contractor for not showing up. Let’s not even talk about one’s child and the resulting pain.
Emotional pain is a process that we have to go through until we are able to exit the rollercoaster ride after all the ups and downs are complete. The good news is that life experience is the best teacher, and a difficult event can drastically alter us for the better (or unfortunately, for the worst). I have found that some of my greatest challenges were teaching moments and I am able to help others who have had similar experiences to mine.  

Allowing emotional pain to linger day in and day out is not good. Lingering unresolved emotional pain is akin to allowing an oral cavity to continue wreaking havoc without attending to it. We all know, and if you don’t I will tell you from firsthand experience, that not addressing a small cavity ultimately can lead to requiring a root canal with a dentist (in my case I have dubbed him the Butcher of Babylon). Not pretty. Likewise, you know what happens if you do not set a broken bone properly? Lots more pain.
I heard an analogy recently that resonated with me. A vacuum cleaner is a remarkable invention and the way it sucks up dirt is brilliant. You just roll the head of the vacuum on the ground and all the shmutz disappears. That is until the bag is full and can no longer absorb a speck more of dirt. Once that happens the entire machine stops operating until the bag is emptied. Likewise, if we do not take care of our emotional pain, we will reach a point where we will be filled to the brim with toxicity and we will not be able to be a functioning human being.

Therefore, if one’s emotional pain at what transpired eons ago is still palpable, active and painful, then it needs to be addressed before it is crippling. This is especially true when the person or thing that caused you hurt is no longer in your life.

There is obviously the route of therapy. Everyone needs and deserves to have someone in their lives to talk to when the need arises to discuss familial hurt, pain, vulnerabilities and any and all issues that arise that need to be dealt with. There is nothing shameful in having someone who is trained to listen and to nudge you in the direction that you need to be nudged. The Mishna, a book that was written 2,500 years ago, discusses the obligation for everyone to find a mentor to discuss issues pertaining to one’s life.

One must also address oneself with resolve with the following few comments:

“I am not going to allow this emotional trauma that happened to me to control me. Instead, I am going to be in control of it. I am the host, and this debilitating thought is simply a guest and not a permanent resident. I now choose to be rid of this parasitical guest that seeks to overwhelm me. No longer will I allow this to continuously fester. Pain, you are no longer welcome in my life. I am the master of my own destiny, and I have now decided that you are done. I will not allow this fabricated pain (as the issue causing pain is no longer a part of your life and has not been for a while) distract me from my greater mission of being a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted person who wishes to live to the fullest. Goodbye pain and good riddance.” 

The above-based approach is based on a Kabbalistic approach by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the famed book called Tanya.

The Power of Now

I was just recommended a book to read penned by Eckhard Tolle titled The Power of Now. It is a book on mindfulness. The overwhelming message essentially is that we should focus on the present moment and not constantly ruminate on the past or fret over our future. He opines that the present is the only thing that really matters, as it is the only important slice of time that we have at this moment. While I have not finished the book, the first 70 pages totally resonate with me. The book though is not to be read detached lying on the sofa. Rather, it is a book that needs to be studied and not simply read.

After thinking about it, I realized that Tolle’s teachings on The Power of Now are not something I have never heard before. In fact, I have seen it before a number of times in the ancient writings of the Mishnah and Talmud penned over two millennia ago.

The quote “If Not Now When” is attributed to the great Rabbi Hillel, who was the Chief Justice of the Jewish Supreme Court. Rabbi Hillel is responsible for much of the application of Jewish Law practiced today. He taught us where to place the Mezuzah, how to light the Chanukah candles and he instituted the Matzah sandwich we eat on Passover.

Most people understand the aphorism “If not now” originated by Rabbi Hillel to mean one should not procrastinate. Do not push off doing what needs to be done until another time, but rather do it now! There is no time like the present as they say. Rabbi Hillel was no slouch and was an accomplished human being. Clearly, he was a man of alacrity and got things done.

I believe that Rabbi Hillel is also alluding to the above Power of Now message as well. Simply put, his quip “If not now”, also means if one cannot live in this specific moment, then when will they live? You see, living in the past is not really living as that time has passed and living in the future is not living, as that time has not yet arrived. So, if not NOW, then when?

The Talmud, which follows the Mishnah, is much less cryptic, as no interpretation is necessary. The Talmud asks the following rhetorical question. Why worry?  The Talmud explains why it is rhetorical with this statement: “What is past is past and is present is only present in the time it takes to blink an eye, and the future is unknown.” 

I now have to ask myself the following fundamental question. As a student of Judaism, why did I not internalize the Talmud and Mishnah’s lesson of the Power of Now and waited until I read a non-Jewish book on enlightenment? The lesson to me is all about the timing of readiness. Simply put, I saw the words in the Mishnah and Talmud but I was not emotionally ready or open to apply them to me on a practical level. I simply viewed these beautiful words of wisdom as cliché. The timing of Tolle’s book was impeccable, and I took to the book as a moth to a flame. It was only then that I realized that I have indeed seen this somewhere before.

It is so clear to me that Judaism has already processed and clarified all of life’s issues both positive and negative. The Jewish teachings are so rich and so dense, filled with meaning, purpose and answers. However, we not only have to know where to look, we also have to be ready to internalize the message.

The bottom line is that Power of Now is an extremely important teaching and its benefits are numerous. Here are my top four:

1. It allows one to really live in the present and not base one’s life on something that either happened in the past or base it on something that may or may not happen in the future.

2. Furthermore, even if something did happen in the past, I am not the same person as I was in the past, and therefore did it really happen to my current me?

3. Living in the present will not allow the mind to pester your brain and overwhelm it with intrusive thoughts. You simply will not have the bandwidth to deal with all the mental idiosyncrasies that the mind throws your way. This is not to mean that we should not look back and learn from our mistakes. We need to respect the past but not be hampered by it.

4. Living in the now allows you to appreciate things that we sometimes overlook. A simple budding flower can be overlooked because our mind is flooded with other nonsensical stuff, things that we can do nothing about. 

Go take on the day.

Israel is not an apartheid state: An analysis of my recent visit

I just came back from a whirlwind tour of Israel. I walked more in one day through the ancient and new streets of Jerusalem than I walk an entire week on Long Island. I must tell you, despite what the media and the State Department tell you, I felt extremely safe in Jerusalem. I had no concerns about walking through the Arab markets at any time of the day. The Arab shopkeepers were extremely friendly, as I was to them. I walked through the Jaffa Gate, Dung Gate, Zion Gate, Lions Gate and came close to the dreaded Damascus Gate, which the State Department disallows US tourists to pass through. The first hour my head was on a swivel. However, after detoxing from agendas, I was relaxed and even listened to a pre-recorded lecture as I walked. (Sounds boring, I know).

While you have the agenda driven by pot stirrer alarmists like Tlaib and Omar, there is not a scintilla of truth to their accusations that Israel is an Apartheid State. Both aforementioned hatemongers and their posse spend their respective miserable lives by destroying others. They are not builders, repairers, bridge builders or anything similar. They live, breathe and most importantly get their money and power by pitting humanity against humanity. Arafat was the same way and so are so many of the dictators throughout the ages.   
While it is true that there are real problems in Jenin and other hornet’s nests, and we must not discount these atrocities perpetrated on innocent civilian families comprised of men, women and children, these problems are not everywhere in Israel, every day. The following must be said. The slaying of innocents are heinous, cruel and savage acts committed by terrorists deprived of any moral consciousness. Please do not confuse these savages with freedom fighters or warriors. Anyone who can kill a mother and her children is deranged. Add to the fact that they then celebrate the killings makes them despicable monsters. Add to the fact that they are then given money as a reward for their heinous murder makes them less honorable than any of God’s parasites on earth. These people are barbarians, the sons of barbarians. There is nothing, I repeat nothing redeeming about them.
Let’s get back to the subject at hand. What I noticed over the few days was something I already knew and witnessed all the other times I was there. However, this time I was mindful to record these images in my mind for the purpose of sharing with the reader.
The hotel I stayed at in Jerusalem was a melting pot of all races, religions, colors and creeds. At one point, midweek, there were most definitely more non-Jews than Jews. There was no hierarchy felt and no discord between the guests themselves or the staff. I found myself sitting and celebrating life with two Rastafarians who came to Israel to teach English to elementary school children.
The staff, who were a mixture of Jews and Arabs, were professional and worked well together. The manager of the hotel was an Israeli Arab and those Jews under his supervision were not bothered by it at all.
Apartheid they claim, I say nonsense.
There were about 120 people at the Dead Sea on the day I went. I actually proceeded to do a non-scientific count. Of the approximate 120 people that were there, 16 of them were Jewish. The other 19 were European Christians (I asked) and the rest, which was the bulk, were Muslim families coming to enjoy the hot days of summer at a resort. There was no tension. There were no separate locker rooms for the different faiths. There were two locker rooms, male and female. As I walked down to the sea (a 10 minute walk), I was greeted with a smile and warmth. I just did not see the hatred in either direction. The Arab man that served me a cold drink offered to help me open my bottle when he saw me struggling.  
Apartheid, they claim. I say nonsense.
As I mentioned, I walked all across the city mainly in my quest to find the best shawarma Jerusalem has to offer. I walked behind Charedi kids, Muslim families, and Israeli teens. I witnessed two men sharing a moment over a cup of coffee. One clearly a Jew and the other clearly a Muslim. You can tell by their dress. These two were probably neighbors deciding to get together for a neighborly chat over a caffe hafuch (latte).
One end of the popular street called Ben Yehuda there is a piano. I saw two Muslim kids play the keys together while two Israeli kids were singing. The song was Back to Black. It was a very moving experience, and I learned a new song.
All the aforementioned Muslim families have the right to vote, work, study, protest, argue, represent in the Knesset and pay taxes.
Are there racists on both sides? Undoubtedly yes. This however, does not make the COUNTRY of Israel an Apartheid State.
Apartheid they claim. I say nonsense.            
Therefore, next time you hear this dribble, ask yourself what CNN, Tlaib, NY Times, fill in the blank, have to gain by sharing this untruth. Also, ask yourself the following. 
Are there problems? Yes. Can it be better? Yes.
Does the United States have problems? Is the US an Apartheid State?

The Four Types of Clergy

Continuing the theme of the four sons that we just read during the Passover Seder, I wish to focus on four other types of people. In the previous article, we elaborated on the four sons (children) who grow into four kinds of parents. This article we will focus on the four types of clergy that we are blessed with.

As a Rabbi, I interact with many different clergy members across the board. Some of these clergy are classmates while others are peers, but I meet most clergy because of common interests and issues that affect our community and by extension the country. It occurred to me during one sleepless night that there are indeed four types of rabbis that jive well with the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah. I will attempt to illustrate them as I see them. Obviously, these thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt.

Please do not start judging your Rabbi over this. We are judged enough without an insider stirring the pot.
Let's begin.

The wise member of clergy would be personified as the quintessential scholar who has labored over the big and small books and equally knows how and when to apply these teachings. The wise one needs to be well rounded in Jewish law, medical ethics, philosophy, ideology and psychology, as clergy are called upon for advice, guidance and counsel for a myriad of different reasons. The wise one knows when he is able to help, and more importantly, knows when to back off. These are people's lives and the wise one understands that there are some things that are above his pay grade. The Mishna declares that a wise person understands the ramifications of his actions and will therefore be very sensitive to what he says and does. The wise one understands that eight out of ten times he does not have to offer his sage advice, as more often than not the constituents are looking for a shoulder to lean on as opposed to a long-winded lecture.

I have a really hard time using the colloquial word wicked. What percentage of Homo sapiens are wicked? There are of course very bad people who live amongst us. However, I think words like wicked and evil are overused. I believe that all of us have warped views of right and wrong in some aspect or another, but that does not make one wicked. Misguided? Yes. Naive? Yes, but not wicked.
Therefore, the unsavory rabbi would be the kind who gets into the rabbinate for all the wrong reasons. If the primary drive to become a member of the clergy is to toot their own horn, and be the center of attention, then this person should have probably gone into politics rather than be a clergy. To satisfy one's ego is antithetical to the rabbinate. If this rabbinical fellow chooses this vocation as it is appealing to be the boss man in charge of others, or if this person is attracted to power where his word bears weight and trumps others, then truth be told, a rabbi is the worst career choice.
A true leader needs humility 99% of the time. One of the main qualities a member of the clergy must possess is to be a humble listener, which is diametrically opposed to someone who likes to hear themselves speak. Trust me, a stuttering rabbi with a lisp with a humble disposition is far superior to
someone who is oratorically brilliant yet arrogant and holds the belief that they are God's gift to humanity.

The sages teach us that Moses had a cleft lip, and yet he was chosen by God to be His representative to Pharaoh. It was Moses with his speech impediment who was handpicked to be the teacher of the Torah. Would it have been better if God had chosen a man blessed with the eloquence of speech, gift of the gab who can weave the Divine message into poetry? The answer is a resounding no. The Torah attests that Moses was the most humble man on earth (until I came along). God was not interested in sending a slick salesman who could sell snow to an Eskimo in the winter. God wanted someone sincere, loyal, humble and ready to do His bidding. A glib tongue is not to be lauded. A pure tongue is. Parenthetically, being humble should not be confused with having no backbone or opinion. Moses, the humblest of men, stood up nose to nose to Pharaoh when needed, and argued, negotiated and cajoled God on behalf of his charge, the Jewish people.

I have met many simple son type Rabbis in my day. In fact, much of who I am falls into this category. I studied diligently in rabbinical school. I can spot the difference between a kosher egg versus a non- kosher one. In my prime, I could rattle off so much Jewish knowledge from memory, that I even impressed myself. Boy was I wrong.
In my 30 plus years, not one person has asked me to clarify the kosher egg identification process. Not once have I been asked to teach a class on how to kosher a cow's udder so that it can be eaten as meat. I have lived in the same community for 29 years and I have never shared the seven reasons as to why we rinse our poultry and beef before salting it. Of course, when it comes to the Ketubah (religious marriage contract) and unfortunately the Get (if divorce) I do get to prove that I know my stuff.
However, in rabbinical school I was not taught anything about W2s, I9s, payroll taxes, parsonage, non-compete clauses, human resources, binding arbitration, air conditioning handlers and dampers, QuickBooks, Excel, mass texting, sump pumps, ozonate in the Mikvah, roof nails vs penny nails,
computer networks, how to remove a weathered Mezuzah from a wall or how much PSI a commercial fire suppression system needs to have.
Basically, I was really naive going into this field. I was such a simpleton that I didn't even know that I did not know. I thought a spreadsheet goes on a bed and updating my windows was done by calling a representative from Anderson. When I was told I did not have enough ram on my computer, I was angry with the local kosher butcher.
You get the drift.

In many respects, I have nothing in common with this son. When I needed to learn the function of an aquastat and why it is needed in a Mikvah ritual bath, I asked. Likewise, I now understand why scuppers are required on a flat roof. I researched the best wax to use for VCT tiles. Inquiring minds need to know.
I have a personal goal that I try to keep daily. I try to learn something new each and every day and I acknowledge it to myself when I do learn something new. I really want to know the right questions to ask, and I am pondering most of my day and night (hence the insomnia).
Where I do resonate with the fourth son, however, and have much in common with this boychik, is when it comes to fundraising. Every Chabad rabbi wears two hats. Aside from being the rabbi of the institution, we also carry the badge (albatross) of honor of directorship. This involves fundraising, developing new initiatives (also involves fundraising), marketing the new and existing programs (yep), and making sure all employees and vendors are paid. (Correct again).
I do not know how to ask. I am not a natural born fundraiser. I wish I was, but I am not. I am told that I am too much of an empath and do not like being a nudge. I love my fellow brothers and sisters too much and err on the side of caution. Truth be told, I am somewhat too cerebral about this. We are
taught that "doing the ask" for a worthy cause is just as much a mitzvah as giving charity itself. The philosophy is that by asking for a donation, I am opening a heavenly door and allowing the potential donor to connect a very deep part of their soul with the portal that was just opened.
It takes incredible monies for The Chai Center to meet its obligations, like any business. However, I feel strongly that to compare The Chai Center to a business is foolhardy and incorrect. While the rewards are great and satisfying, the risks are of divine proportions. No normal savvy business person would choose to run a Chai Center type of enterprise because it is a good business decision.

In conclusion, you can help The Chai Center accomplish its magic without me asking by going to or contact me at [email protected] to discuss further. If you prefer, I can contact you and attempt to ask without stammering over my words as I develop

Please feel free to share (especially the last paragraph).

Passover Miracles: Do Miracles Happen Today?

We are rapidly closing in on the Jewish holiday of Passover in which we commemorate the miraculous exodus of the Jewish people from slavery and bondage from ancient Egypt.
Passover is the holiday that we celebrate not just one, but many miracles performed by God for the benefit of the Jewish people.

Aside from the 10 plagues where each one was multi-faceted miracles as explained in the Haggadah, there was the ultimate miraculous phenomenon of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. This wonder accomplished two opposite things at the exact same time with the very same water. While the Jewish people were being rescued from the waters and certain death, the Egyptians were drowning in the turbulent waters.

Of course, once they left Egypt, the Jewish people found themselves in an uninhabited desert with no food or water to be had. They had to rely on many wonders and miracles. There was the daily manna that fell from the sky in the form of little seeds and the well of water that always seemed to be present no matter where they travelled around the desert.

While in the desert for 40 years, they were protected from natural enemies, including your typical desert predators such as snakes, scorpions, heat stroke, and sandstorms. In fact, the Torah makes a point of sharing one time in the four years of sojourning that a snake attacked them. The Torah clarifies that this was indeed a rare event and was a punishment for having a bad attitude. The other 1,459 days they were protected. This was a miracle. 

Therefore, the obvious question that comes to mind is, do miracles happen today. The Jewish belief is that not only that they do happen, they occur more often than you think. In fact, most people are completely oblivious that even if they do witness a miraculous phenomenon, they simply cannot process it and therefore dismiss it as non-consequential. You see, sometimes we see something with our own eyes that is inexplicable but we either are so clouded by cynicism or believe that there must be a natural explanation for what transpired, so we end up pooh-poohing an actual bona fide manipulation of nature (a miracle) as nothing special. Nothing to see here folks.

The truth is, according to Judaism, everyday simple acts of nature are in fact miraculous. Just because they happen every day, we are content to call it nature/natural, and if it only happens occasionally, we then call it a rare natural event. If it never happened before, we call it an inexplicable freak of nature. Judaism explains that everyday occurrences such as the sun rising is also miraculous. The fact that the sun rises in the east is an added miracle. Additionally, the fact that there is enough of an atmosphere to sustain this planet as opposed to other planets is supernatural.

Every morning there is a ritual in which we recite a formal blessing thanking God for giving us life for yet another day. This is because waking up is a miracle. We also thank God for our sight, hearing and gait. Nothing is to be dismissed as normal and everything needs to be viewed as something special. 

Take for example the following story, which is in fact a miracle like the Passover story that happened in my lifetime.

This happened in 1967 during the Six Day War.
According to all the military analysts, Israel was going to lose the war and lose badly. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) consisted of 275,000 troops, compared to the 456,000 soldiers of the combined Iraqi, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian armies. The United Arab forces had way more military equipment at their disposal. The Arab forces had more than double the number of tanks, and close to four times the amount of combat aircraft. The Israeli civilians and military were filled with dread, shock, and fright for the upcoming battle.
So pessimistic was the outlook that the nation’s national parks were marked to become gravesites for the many who would perish during course of the war.
However, despite all the predictions, by the time the war ended, the territory under Israeli control had tripled in size. Jews returned to sites where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years, sites from which waves of terror were launched against them for so many years. One of the craziest stories happened on the sixth and final day of the war, where not unlike the Greeks in the Chanukah story, the 75,000 strong Syrian army simply fled from the mountains of the Golan Heights leaving their weaponry behind. The strategic Golan upon which the Syrians used to murder Israelis was now in the hands of the Israeli army.

The miracles experienced in Israel during the Gulf War are too numerous to mention. The television was filled with images of people buried in rubble yet walking away without a scratch. In all, 39 scud missiles fell – many in heavily populated areas – causing only two deaths. Can you imagine 39 missiles and only two deaths? Altogether over ten tons of explosives fell on Israel; 15,000 properties were damaged which included 10,992 apartments, 235 houses and 3773 other buildings.
In all, 13 people died. Two directly from a missile and 11 indirectly from heart attacks or misuse of a gasmask. Scuds landed between two buildings but did not explode. The list goes on and on.
A true miracle. 

I believe that conception is a miracle, and that birth is just as miraculous. The fact that there are close to 7.5 billion people born does not in any way detract from the miracle of conception, gestation, and birth.
Take the following amazing example that has me convinced that conception is nothing short of a wonder.
A body’s potential hydrogen (pH) level directly impacts your overall health and even a woman’s fertility. The pH scale ranges from zero (highly acidic) to 14 (very basic). Human life requires a tightly controlled pH level in the serum of about 7.4. A pH of seven is considered neutral. An imbalanced pH level in the cervix or vagina can damage sperm enough to prevent it from fertilizing an egg. The most ideal vaginal pH level for a woman who wants to get pregnant is between 3.8 and 4.5, outside the days she is ovulating. During ovulating, surges in hormones are meant to maintain a pH level optimal to increase the chance that sperm reaches the egg. In fact, when the pH level is between seven and 12, sperm can survive as long as 48 hours within the female reproductive system. Amazing, no?

Lastly, I am the first to state that The Chai Center, the organization that I founded, is a miracle. I continue to see miracles and have had many angelic encounters with beautiful people who share the vision.

Please contact me if you wish to continue to talk at [email protected].

Please feel free to share.

Thou Shalt Not Panic

I was listening to the radio while driving the other day and while I normally feel ill and depleted after receiving multiple doses of bad news, this time thankfully was different.

The news anchor was discussing a new medical report that had to do with children taking medication for fever. The report stated that there is no need to give a child fever-reducing medication unless the fever spikes higher than 100.4 on the thermometer. The report indicated that most parents panic when their child's temperature reaches over 99 degrees and begin dispensing fever-reducing medication. 

I thought to myself what a metaphor for life. How many of us fret and wring our hands in misery because of one obstacle or another, which was either not such an issue to begin with, or turned out to be much less of a problem than initially thought. In fact, sometimes bad news could actually be a blessing in disguise. At the outset things look bad indeed, but then you realize, usually by hindsight, that this bit of aggravation was the best thing to happen to you.


I find it fascinating that the medical report specifically focused on parents panicking when their child/ren have fever. I have always maintained that there is another type of fever that our children get, which I have coined “emotional fever.” 


Too often when we hear of a child acting out, whether it is in school or at home, we are quick to squash their behavior with a reprimand or a punishment. This is all well and good with a wholesome child, but how about an unhappy child who is going through something. The approach that we take must be the same as with a physically sick person. Just as we should not panic at a low-grade temperature, we should not be alarmed at a low-grade emotional fever.

Our children, just like you and me, have better days and some not so better days. They are little humans and if one’s child refuses to do homework occasionally, I believe that instead of throwing a tantrum filled with threats and other negative consequences, we need to calm down and not try to fix with bitter pills. What I suggest instead is to let it go without much of a fuss and see what tomorrow night brings. If this behavior continues, then we need to seek remedies.

Please keep in mind if the acting out continues, one needs to remember that more than likely we do not have a lazy child, but instead, an unhappy one. A lazy one has to be admonished and made to do chores or complete the homework task assigned. In contrast, an unhappy child needs love and not reprimanding. They need a therapy session and not a lecture. Parents and teachers need to ascertain what is really going on. Does this child have a high emotional fever or is it low grade? This is why parents, teachers, doctors and principals need to form a seamless bond to really understand this developing human organism that we are in charge of.


Your child comes home with a report card with four A’s, three B’s, and two C’s. A critical parent will praise the A and B, but will also latch on to the C, and perhaps tell the child that less TV or Xbox is in their future as this is the reason for the poor grade. Sound familiar?  A savvier parent would tell the child in a positive voice, “I am so proud of this report card. You tried so hard. Don’t worry about social studies as we will get you some help.” See the difference. There is no need for a parent to run to CVS to purchase over the counter focus medication, as there are much better ways to deal with this without panicking and making the whole house miserable.


Let’s face it. When you visit your favorite urologist, do you ask him/her for their grades or do you submit to their findings and get out of there as soon as you can. You never ask about their high school report card and you probably go because you heard that they are good at what they do. Who really cares that your 9-year-old got a C in social studies?



We are too quick to take on the role of fixer, repairer and corrector. Just like in the report, we need not immediately panic as freaking out is in itself unhealthy. Rather, we need to put our emotions on pause and think it through, and then panic if truly warranted. 


There were times I did not heed my own advice and had to eat crow. One such time I overreacted and years later my child (yes, and my wife too) brought it up, and I apologized to this child for my exaggerated response. This was stuck in my child’s craw because I made a premature determination based on emotional impulse.


Judaism teaches us that as a general rule the mind must prevail over emotions at all times. Homo sapiens stand, walk and sit with their heads above their hearts and not the other way around. There are times when the head needs a rest and the emotions take over such as when we are lying down, whether by ourselves to sleep, or with our spouse. Either way, emotions rule and thinking takes a back step. Maybe this is why I suffer with insomnia as I refuse to lose control of headspace, which causes sleep to become elusive.


There are a couple of other times when the brain needs to take a back seat to the emotions, but they are very few and far between and are usually in dire circumstances. We will discuss it at another time.


My email has not changed. [email protected].


Please feel free to share.   

The Transition from Baby to Adult

One of my daughters recently gave birth and blessed my wife and I with a grandson. This morning as I was cradling him, I was thinking to myself that this little bubbeleh sleeping in my arms is so pure, cute and innocent. He was sleeping, breathing deeply, seemingly not conscious of his surroundings.

As I was holding him and reflecting on the miracle of life, I thought to myself that since every baby is born cute, pure and innocent (some more cute than others), what is the core ingredient that brings about a change that turns a human from innocent to being jaded, from genuine to insincere? The questions are endless. Why are some adults mean while some are gentle? Why are some people givers while others are takers? Some are righteous while others are evil, etc.

The obvious answer is that life’s experiences change us. My continued nagging thoughts asked me to clarify what that means. Which life experiences have the most effect on us? I have come up with a list of experiences that I hope the reader finds interesting. Each of the following influences do impact us and little by little we metamorphosize into who we are now. 

Ask any mental health professional and they will tell you that every human is a product of their upbringing. I remember when our first child was conceived, I was guided that even in utero, we need to be mindful and sensitive to the words we speak and the tone we use. Even more so once a baby is born.
Jewish parenting looks at each infant and sees that child as created B’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. Therefore, we need to carefully respect the sensitivities of our children. We need to bring them up with Godly morals and values that they will hopefully continue when they grow up. Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to child rearing as great honest to God, salt of the earth, best-intentioned parents, may end up with a dishonest child, pathological liar or worse. Of course, we as parents need to do our very best to give them a head start in the right direction, but once they fly the coop, we can only advise them and love them.

Many argue that the more educated the better, as education, especially in the higher schools of learning, helps breed refinement. I would disagree with this strongly, and I bring proof from the infamous Wannsee Conference which took place on January 20, 1942. The Wannsee Conference was a high-level meeting of German officials to discuss and implement the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (mass murder).
Ten of the fifteen participants had been to university. Eight of them had even been awarded doctorates! Can you imagine it took eight PhD’s less than two hours to reach the conclusion of how to dispose of the Jews. There were various proposals given as to the best solution (the term extermination was never uttered out loud during the conference). These bright minds ultimately decided on gas vans as the best way, which was then “upgraded” to gas showers.
I have always maintained that the study of parallelograms does not make one a better person, and the pursuit of “Physics for Poets,” a course taught at Stanford University, is a waste of time, as is Princeton University’s, “The Invisible Renaissance: Science, Art, and Magic in Early Modern Europe.” What I would like to see are courses entitled something like Philanthropy 101, How to be a Consummate Volunteer, Pursuing Civility 302, Love Thy Neighbor – Community Activism, etc.
As a Rabbi, I can honestly share that the Torah and rabbinic sources greatly stress being a mensch first. I think of Maimonides' laws of charity, where he lists how to give charity and in what order. Maimonides concludes that even better than a handout is a job where the person can maintain their dignity. More than half of the 10 Commandments place emphasis on being a moral and just person. So, I guess it depends on the quality and the value of the education received.

This is probably the most impactful cause of change in a human being’s thinking. It used to be the books that we read, but books are considered old media when compared to social media. Let’s face it. It is not so easy to publish a book (I should know). Aside from it taking many months from writing a book to it being published and on the shelves, your “words” are as good as your agent’s connections. To stand on a soapbox and be recognized as an influencer on Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter is much easier, quicker and has the potential of gathering an audience in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.
Now many of these powerful influencers with thousands of followers are benign as they focus on important but benign topics such as bird watching and butterfly catching and which pearl millet grain is best for cattle feed. However, there are very malignant social media stars out there who are dangerous people who are hell bent on the destruction of our Souls. Followers of these types of influencers are cult-like in that they repeat what they hear from their Instagram guru and wreak havoc on society. Yes, I would say that social media is very close to the top 10 of “purity destroyers.”

The same principle would apply to one’s social construct. The people who one socializes with on a regular basis are extremely influential on one’s behavior. This influence can cut both ways positively or negatively. This is what the Mishna means when it writes, “Be careful of who your neighbor is.” Your neighbor can be taken literally, as well as your classmates, general neighborhood and even the local school district’s board.
You know all it takes is one bad teacher or professor to change a person from innocent to jaded. This is especially so because teachers are authority figures, and their opinions, as good or as warped as they may be, are taken very seriously.

I do not know the answer as to how to preserve one’s naiveté, other than one should spend more time reading luminaries such as Maimonides and less time on Reddit and other social media venues.

Feel free to share.

The Holocaust Syllabus: A better definition

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the six million Jews who were victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.

This got me to ponder the DEEP conflict I have about teaching Holocaust education the way they do in the schools. I am obviously a strong proponent of educating the tragic WWII history and exposing the cruelty of the Nazis and their cohorts as well as the sickening apathy of the world. And yes, the fact that millions of civilians were killed, particularly the six million Jews who died, 1.5 million of whom were innocent children, needs to be taught. My conflict is rather more of a practical one, which is why I worry about our Jewish youth.
When these kids are schooled about the Holocaust, which is retaught in Hebrew school, they learn that there was a mass murderer who managed to galvanize thousands upon thousands of people to hunt down Jews and others and kill them in the most innovative and cruel ways possible. Have you ever thought to yourself that it is no wonder we are losing our youth’s interest in Judaism. If our Judaism is relegated to the Holocaust, then why would a kid want to be associated with death, destruction, martyrdom and victimhood?
On the other hand, the Holocaust did tragically happen and therefore must be taught. We cannot be naïve about these things. We need to be aware and fully cognizant that “Never Again” is more than just a slogan. It is a vow to never allow ourselves to be marginalized by any government or group of people.
So, what to do about these conflicting thoughts? I agree that it is unacceptable not to teach about the Holocaust. I believe that we are neglecting to teach a large part of the Holocaust history. Believe me, if we teach our Jewish youth the rest of the story, we will be able to recapture their young spirit.

What is the solution to this conundrum?

We cannot ignore the fact that the Holocaust is indeed central to Jewish education, Jewish history and Jewish discussion. It should be, especially when there are those who seek to heap indignity upon the memory of the six million by trying to deny what happened and erase the lessons that must be learned from that very dark stain on human history. However, while this horror did happen to our people, we must teach more than just the bloody slaughter.

We need to take the following next logical step when we teach about the Holocaust. We must not stop short of the real lesson.
It is not the horrors, the torture, the sadism, the suffering and the genocide of the Holocaust that defines who we are. We do not share those stories to make the point that we are the world’s victims. On the contrary! All the stories are intended to reinforce the fact that we are victors. The real thrust of the stories is not that we suffered, but that we survived; not that we died, but that we are alive!
Hitler was a failure. Nazism failed. If you wish to learn about the Third Reich, there is much written in Wikipedia or on Google. However, if one wishes to meet a Jewish family who survived the Holocaust, all you have to do is knock on the door of a home that houses a Jewish family, and you will be nearly guaranteed that they will have a story of survival for you. Hitler wanted the Jews to be remembered solely in a museum and not as an actual people. Turns out that he and his ilk ended up in museums instead.    
This, to me, is the message of the Holocaust.
I believe that the best way of honoring the memory of the six million is by keeping alive the ideals and values that they lived for. What a tragedy it would be if we were simply reduced to being known as victims of society.

Yes, the memories are sacred. It is what we do with those memories, however, that needs to be more clearly understood.  A philosopher once famously said that Judaism has 613 commandments… “The 614th commandment,” he said, “is to deny Hitler any posthumous victories.” Reducing Jewish identity to victimhood would be such a victory – and we must not allow that to happen!

We are the architects, builders and educators of human civilization. This country was based on Judeo values. We are the teachers, and we are the inspiration for our founding fathers. No victims here!
This is in line with the philosophy that victimhood has never been, and is not now, the foundation of anyone’s identity.
Whatever our individual circumstances in life may be, let us not see our struggles and challenges as obstacles to our achieving a true sense of happiness and fulfillment in life. On the contrary, let us see them as opportunities to propel us to newer and greater heights in all aspects.

Please feel free to share.

Interesting thoughts on Kosher

My wife and I recently came back from a mini-vacation, well deserved I might add. While it was just a few days, it was refreshing and rejuvenating. I highly recommend it. While I went there for some R & R, I ended up learning much from this small coastal town.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the broad Chassidic movement once declared, “Whatever you encounter should be viewed as a lesson for you to better live your life.” So true! Each day was indeed an encounter with a life lesson.

The place we visited was not only chosen for its beauty, but also for the fact that there are kosher establishments for us to enjoy. When a “kosher Jew” goes on vacation to a place where there is no food, you end up overdosing on tuna fish and crackers. This place had kosher galore and we enjoyed an array of different foods, and none contained tuna.

As we were walking down the street, we noticed a restaurant sign that served falafel, shawarma, and hummus. There was a huge Star of David on the sign as well. Even though we had just eaten, we stopped at the open menu to peruse what other delicacies they served, and lo and behold on the second page, we noticed that they served shrimp. We started to walk away as this was obviously not a kosher establishment. The owner came running and in perfect Hebrew asked if he "can help.” I responded, “No thanks, zeh lo kosher – not kosher.”  He retorted back in Hebrew, “Hey, I run a very clean place.” I wondered to myself if this guy really thinks that the definition of kosher means clean. I have no idea, but it makes a great discussion as to what kosher is and is not.

The rules of kosher are many and they are primarily taken straight from the Torah. Here are a few highlights. Fish must have both fins and scales to be considered kosher and animals must have both split hooves and chew their cud and also be ritually slaughtered to ensure a quick end. Any fish or animals that do not have both of these signs, then are not only not kosher, we are also not allowed to drink its milk or consume its eggs either. Birds have no sign but are delineated in the Torah by name. We must also soak and salt our beef and poultry to remove the blood. Another biggie, we are not allowed to mix meat with milk under any circumstances. All vegetables are kosher but the leafy ones need to be thoroughly checked for infestation. There is so much more but we are short on time and space.

While it would be nice if every kosher and non-kosher establishment had a grade A on the placard in the window, having a B grade does not make it treif (non-kosher). Kosher does not mean clean, rather it means proper or fitting. This is why you hear the term kosher being used in non-food context. As an example, the term “this is not right” can be substituted with “this isn’t kosher.” Therefore, to equate kosher with being clean is wrong and is missing the point.
What is fascinating is that the Torah gives no reason as to why some animals are kosher while some are not. Likewise, there is no explanation offered as to why kosher beef and kosher cheese are fine when separate but not together. Cleanliness we can grasp with our limited intellect. However, kosher is beyond our finite understanding. We Jews follow it anyway, happily and with pride even though we do not understand the reason. Our philosophy is that God is a general and human beings are His foot soldiers, and a private in the army does not question the general’s orders. If one is a believer in a God, then if He says do not eat it, then who am I to question!
I am reminded of a sentence attributed to the famed ancient philosopher Socrates, “To know, is to know that you know nothing."

Please feel free to share.

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.