Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

The Kabbalah of Revitalization

I see it these days in people’s eyes. I see it in their mannerisms and behavior. I see it in their gait.

What I am referring to is subtle changes in people now that Covid’s Omicron is abating.

Over the past couple of years society has been through such radical changes. It seems that our basic living was altered. Instead of getting up and dressed and commuting to work, many remained in their pajamas and worked from home. No longer were children’s smiling faces seen running through the school hallways. Instead, children wore masks over their noses and mouths, in effect obfuscating any facial emotion. Even tears rolled down masks instead of cheeks. Sports stadiums had these stupid cardboard cutouts of people sitting in the stands in lieu of real people. Did they sell two-dimensional hot dogs and beer?
To add to the pain there was often confusing and illogical government overreach. For example, they closed clothing shops and malls and allowed grocery/food stores to remain open. This made complete sense on some level. However, this led to stores like Target being allowed to sell clothing because they also sold food. So frustrating to watch clothing stores shuttered because of the pandemic, which allowed Target to make millions. There is also this great divide over vaccines and further greater divides over vaccine mandates. The pandemic has become so political, literally pitching citizens against their fellow citizens. As I am a libertarian, I struggle with someone trying to convince another that their view is the only position that should be followed.
I do not remember a time when things got so bleak. Smiles were a rarity and laughter was even harder to come by. The human kingdom was by and large depressed.

However, in my capacity as a Rabbi, I am starting to witness small but positive changes. I see more and more people beginning to join our daily and Shabbat services. I am a witness that at a recent Shiva house, people were mingling without the deer in headlights look. I see restaurants as well as the roads showing healthy signs of life. And yes, Target thankfully has healthy competition once again.
I am optimistic that while there may be some sliding back, we are for the most part coming out of our reverie and beginning to live again.
This reminds me of when a relative of mine was stricken with anorexia nervosa. The lights in her eyes simply went out. After a prolonged battle and with some serious nutrition, the lights turned on again. I am seeing the same with Covid nervosa.

The Kabbalah teaches that in every challenge there is a lesson to be learned. The question is, what can we learn from our Covid experiences? What changes can we implement in our lives for the better? I have come up with three fundamentals that I am sure you will agree are major. There are many more lessons to be learned from this sordid experience. I would appreciate all and any feedback.

If you are anything like me, you have previously complained about the daily grind. I am talking pre-Covid. You kvetched, groaned and moaned about how hard or monotonous or petty life has become. You were praying for something to change. Guess what? Life changed all right, and not for the better. What we would only do to go back to our “old” life where we thought life was hard, monotonous and petty. Who knew that hard was not hard and that pettiness is beautiful?
The lesson is clear. Appreciate what you have and live in the moment. Someone sent me a clip of a contestant who was on America’s Got Talent by the stage name of Nightbirde. This 30-year-old woman, Jane Kristen Marczewski, was dying of cancer, and yet she still came on the stage to compete. She recently passed away. She said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. She said, “Don’t wait for life to be not hard to be happy.”     

While Covid should have brought out the best in us, for many, it had the reverse effect. It is not okay to despise someone because they think differently than you. In Judaism we have a teaching that if one wishes to be honored and respected, then one needs to honor and respect. I have a very definite set of views and opinions, but this does not mean I cannot hear the other side. It is high time for everyone to reconcile our differences. We can agree to disagree, as long as we do not become disagreeable.

Let me share with you a personal life altering example.
I was appalled that so many statues and monuments were being taken down all over the country. I asked myself, is there anything to gain by removing history? Just because you remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, it does not mean it never happened. I was on my high horse until someone asked me whether a statue of Hitler should be allowed to stand in the center of Berlin, as after all, this terrible monster did actually exist, did he not? It was then that I realized that my high horse is really just a Shetland pony, and that I have not mastered as much as I thought I did.

We do not live in a vacuum. Many of our personal decisions do not affect just us but rather they can affect many. When I think of the origins of Covid, I get cold shivers. The city of Wuhan, China, is pretty much as far as you can get. Wuhan is 7,477 miles from New York. The furthest distance to anywhere is just about 500 miles further. Yet, Wuhan’s actions were felt in the inner sanctum of my house, literally.
We need to realize that our speech and actions have incredible ramifications. We may be the owners of our own house, but this does not give us any ownership over the sandbox in the community playground. We need to think before we talk or act. Important to point out that while Wuhan’s actions (or non-actions) affected us negatively, there is so much we can do that is positive that can go just as viral.

Please feel free to share. 

Two Conflicting Emotions at the Same Time

We know the following empirically; there are times when we have intense happy and positive emotions, and there are times when we feel incredibly sad. King Solomon says it best in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 4, where he states, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Of course, there are times we cry and many times we laugh. The question is, can they happen together?
The answer is of course, it ensues all the time.

Most of us have experienced two conflicting emotions at the same moment. A couple of examples would be dropping off your child at college. On the one hand you will miss them terribly, but on the other hand, you are so happy for them and so proud of them. Another example would be marrying off a child. It is a special moment when you walk your child down the aisle. You are elated that your child has met his/her soulmate, and at the very same time you are nervous that all should be well, and that your child’s life should be happy and rich. 

There are also times when one can be angry and proud at the same time. The principal calls you in and tells you that your child was being bullied, and that he finally had had enough, and he took matters into his own hands. You are angry at the school and at your child for not dealing with this properly. On the other hand, you are proud of your kid for standing up for himself.

This past weekend, I experienced something that was new for me. I had two incredibly intense emotions which were completely antithetical. I experienced very intense sadness and at the very same time, there was this elation and joy that enveloped me. As a person whose emotions are usually very compartmentalized, I was keenly aware of this conflict raging inside of me. It was unusual to say the least, and I have been regurgitating it over and over.

This past weekend I had a great time attending, rejoicing and dancing at a celebration in Nassau County. I saw many of my nieces and nephews that I have not seen in a while due to the fact that they live in other states or countries. We laughed, hugged and embraced each other. It was so great to see everyone.
The celebration was the wedding of my late sister’s husband, a widower who married a widow who also experienced recent premature loss.
On the one hand, it was extremely painful for me that my baby sister who died just over a year ago is really gone, and her husband needed to move on with his life. On the other hand, I completely support his decision to remarry post haste as soon as the year was over, as my sister passed suddenly, leaving two young kids at home with only their father. These pure children deserve a mother to nurture them.
So, for every tear of sadness that sprung from my eyes, I felt an equal tear of happiness as well. This was a tremendous celebration. Two good people who lost their spouses found each other, and their respective kids have a home where both a mother and a father reside. I believe that my sister can now breathe a spiritual sigh of relief that her household has stabilized.

This got me thinking. Have I ever experienced such a dialectic before? I soon realized that I have also lived through the second part of King Solomon’s thoughts in verse 4 which I mentioned at the beginning. Solomon concludes the verse with these powerful words, “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” 
A couple of years ago, three weeks before my daughter’s wedding my father passed away. I was out of town and I remember having to run back for the funeral. At the time, I was less focused on the passing and more concerned as to how this would affect the wedding. Once I realized that the show must go on regardless of circumstance (unless the wedding conflicts with Shiva), I could then get back to my task at hand to bury my father, and prepare for the auspicious day.
Three weeks later I did experience the double whammy. Whilst standing under the wedding canopy, I reflected that while my father is attending this celebration in spirit, he missed being here physically by just a few weeks. Like the wedding I recently attended, my daughter’s wedding had both tears of joy and tears of sadness.

I think these dual emotions are what sets apart, among other things, a human being from all of the other life on earth. We are able to process this paradox and dialectic, whereas no other creation can. Perhaps, this is what is meant when it is written that man is created in God’s image. Emotions can be felt by all animals whether pets or wildlife. To have these emotions arise and technically conflict at the very same moment is unique to us.

In many ways I have been enriched by my experiences, pain aside.

Please feel free to share.

A Concise Guide to Anorexia

Over the course of my tenure as a pulpit Rabbi, I have learned a little about many things. Truth be told however, I have only scratched the surface and I still have much to learn. The following thoughts I experienced firsthand when a relative of mine became unwell with Anorexia Nervosa.

One thing that fascinated, intrigued and captivated me was the dreadful and horrific disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. I just could not wrap my head around it. As a foodie, I can grasp in concept Bulimia Nervosa, which is overeating way more than an average person on a consistent basis, and then resorting to inappropriate behavior to prevent weight gain. But I simply cannot understand how a person restricts themselves to extremely minimal intake of nutrition and hydration, day after day after day. I know that I would/could last a day at most severely restricting and exercising to boot.
I have put together some thoughts that I have learned from others that are educational, because when it comes to this disorder, ignorance is extremely dangerous.
I ask that if you know of a family who is struggling with AN, please send them these Cliff Notes. Who knows, it may save lives.

Anorexia is an eating disorder propelled by a severe and intense fear of gaining weight. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with AN usually severely restrict the amount of food they eat. It is vitally important to point out that AN isn't only about consumption of food, rather, it is also an extremely unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. Let’s be clear, AN is a biological concern as well as a psychological one.
Furthermore, AN has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. A recent statistic I read states the mortality rate associated with AN is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15–24 years-old.
And no, medications do not help. Medications are given to help treat depression and anxiety. Essentially, the only treatment is to refeed and restore the patient back to health, while simultaneously treating the underlying mental problems. What AN can do to the body if left untreated are too many to list, but the main issue is that it affects the heart, inner organs, and brain, all due to being malnourished because of minimal intake.

A. This is something that a person cannot fight on their own. The power that AN has over the individual is incredible. AN can gain full control of the mind, and lead it down a path of self-destruction. Parents and caregivers need to act as soon as possible. The faster the refeeding starts, the quicker the recovery. The parents or caregiver cannot do this alone either. The patient needs a doctor who completely understands AN, as your typical pediatrician or family type doctor has very little knowledge on the matter and therefore a misdiagnosis is very common. There are doctors who specialize in adolescents, and they are usually very in tune.
The patient must have a therapist, psychiatrist and a nutritionist, and all three need to be in contact with one another. Some patients may need a higher level of care called IOP or Intensive Outpatient Program. Others may need to be admitted to a residential facility. Sadly, it is very common that many AN patients require hospitalization to stabilize the heart and blood pressure. Sometimes a nasogastric (NG) tube, which is a thin, soft tube that goes in through the nose, down the throat, and into the stomach, needs to be inserted for the patient to receive nutrition and stay alive.

B. It must be made clear that the parents are not to blame. The exact root and cause of the disorder is different for every person. It is complex as biological, genetic and environmental factors can influence the development of anorexia and associated symptoms. If anything, studies have shown that a trauma such as bullying and abuse opens the portal to allow AN to enter and control this beaten person. It has also shown that many patients who are athletes with a focus on the body resort to restricting food and a great proportion of AN patients face tremendous intense academic pressure.

C. Watch out for the early signs. There are a number of red flags.
Wearing huge oversized and baggy clothing to hide what they think is a hideous body can be a sign. I know someone who wore a thick sweatshirt and pants in blistering 90-degree weather. Ironically, the person was a size small but wore an XL.
An abrupt change to veganism or vegetarianism is another red flag.
Eating very healthy. An example would be cutting out all fats and carbs. This means no more mayonnaise, butter or oil, and no more starchy vegetables. This part of the journey is called orthorexia, which can very likely lead to Anorexia if not curbed. We need to be very in tune as AN is a hard one to catch early on.
Excessive exercising to the point of exhaustion every day and sometimes multiple times in one day.
When they no longer allow pictures to be taken because they despise their body so badly. The person feels, not only will the photo look horrible, they are not even worthy to have their picture taken. Self-loathing is a large part of this disorder.

A. The first thing you have to say to yourself as a caregiver is that you will stand up to this disorder. It seeks to control your loved one’s heart, brain and body and you have to be ready to fight back. Remember, you are not fighting your child, you are at war with AN. There must be much love and attention given. However, there is no giving in when it comes to eating. There is no negotiating. All life stops until you eat. This approach is based on the Maudsley method or Family Based Training (FBT). It is evidence-based to be extremely effective. While it takes more stamina than simply dropping off the patient at a treatment facility, it is well worth it in the end.
The reason why there are so many relapses for AN patients is because when the patient comes home from being in a treatment center or hospital for the past four months, the parent or caregiver has absolutely no clue what to do. Parents don’t know how to handle objections to food. FBT teaches strength and principles, and it gives over the power to the caregiver who is and will be the main healer.

B. There is no such thing as junk food. All food is food. There are no junk food aisles in the grocery store and there is no such thing as a junk closet. Rephrase it to what the item is or simply state I will be in aisle eight. The term junk fits right into their disordered thinking that this food (like most food) is very bad and is junk. Make sure the home has no light mayonnaise or calorie light ketchup or maple syrup. Those days are over. Only full fat milk, whole fat yogurts and bread and butter. As an aside to ponder, baked potato chips have way more junk in them than typical chips.

C.  Never ever talk about weight or body types. Don’t compliment a picture of a model and do not berate the way you look either. Remove all full-size mirrors and put them in storage. Do not bring home magazines that extol the virtue of the perfect body. Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a perfect body, and it is strictly a construct. God made us in all different shapes and sizes, and idolizing one particular type is foolish. Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? So many of the billboards that feature the perfect body have actually been photoshopped, which is sick and deranged. You need to block to the best of your ability pro-anorexia websites that are despicable and should be illegal. 

D.  There is to be no dieting or talk of dieting as this can push the recovering individual down a black hole. I have heard that the single best thing a family can do is to eat pound for pound with the patient. It is true you may not like or need to eat as much as the patient, however, you must realize that this is the medicine for him/her. You proudly show that you are not afraid of eating ice cream or a second helping of noodle pudding or Lo Mein.

A. There is only one cure. Only one! The AN patient must eat. The only way to beat this disorder that is in control of your loved one’s mind and heart which is literally starving the person to death, is to have the person eat, and eat often. The patient needs to eat three meals a day and three snacks a day. Once the brain and heart start receiving nutrition thus begins the will to fight back. It will not happen right away, but if you stick to your guns, it will make all the difference.

B. The body has to be not only weight restored; the weight has to be higher than before the disorder grabbed hold. We need to remember that the BMI chart that dictates where our ideal weight should be has hurt more people than we can fathom. It sets a ridiculous bar of low weight expectations. No wonder so many of our teens resort to withholding food. There are so many body types that BMI chart does not take into account, such as bone structure and thickness.

C. I will tell you that the hardest thing for parents to witness is their child getting a little overweight. They ask why so much food? Why does he/she need to weigh more than he/she did before the disorder began? The patient needs to get to a certain magic number, and for each person it is different. This magic number will beat AN when it is down. It is proven time and time again that these extra pounds allow the glimmer in the eyes to return, and the focus begins to come back, and eventually you are rewarded with a smile. Do not fight the weight gain. Embrace it and realize that not only is this the best medicine, it is the only medicine.

It is alarming and astounding how so much disinformation is out there. This disorder needs intervention post haste. The lack of knowledge out there coupled with the fact that even most doctors have no clue how to diagnose or treat AN, precious time is lost. Time that we don’t have. Remember, the faster the treatment, the less of a war it is going to be.
This article is only an introduction to this dastardly disorder. While there are a great many books on the subject, there is a dearth of facilities that know what they are really doing. One should not go to a place that treats all and every mental illness, as they have limited knowledge. Go to the best of the best to seek counsel and guidance and treatment.
While this primer is missing the meat and potatoes, it is designed to be a cheat sheet to get the conversation going which will hopefully lead to swift action.

Godspeed. Praying for you.  

Leadership - What Makes a Great Leader

Have you ever thought to yourself what makes a great leader or what makes a mediocre one? More specifically, what is the main essential quality that is the makeup of a great leader?

Moses goes down in our long, convoluted and difficult history as the greatest leader ever. In addition to being the head of the nation, he was also a prophet, scholar, brother, father and husband. However, the main thing he is known for is his leadership. Moses lived 3,300 years ago, and yet, not a day goes by without his name mentioned in awe by millions of people. Have you ever wondered why Moses was chosen to be the leader of the Jewish nation?

What made him the quintessential leader who is larger than life? What did God see in Moses to say, “Aha, you are my go-to guy to lead this band of brothers out of Egypt.”

The Torah/Bible does not specifically state why Moses was the chosen one. There is however, some incredible insight to be gained from the verse prior to his first encounter with God at the burning bush.
Right before Moses was chosen to be a messenger of God to redeem the Hebrews from bitter slavery, the Torah recounts that he was a shepherd who was leading his sheep in the deserts of Chorev, and he came upon the burning bush that was miraculously not being consumed by the fire.
Every Hebrew school kid knows the famous story that we were taught as youngsters, that one small sheep wandered from the pack, and while Moses was attempting to catch it and bring it back, he perchance came upon the bush. The source of this story is found in an ancient book called Midrash Shmos Rabbah.
The Midrash shares in detail the following scenario.
Moses ran after the wandering sheep. The sheep eventually reached water and began to drink. When Moses found the sheep he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You are so exhausted!” He then put the lamb on his shoulders and carried him back. The Holy One said, “Since you tend the sheep of human beings with such overwhelming love - by your life, I swear you shall be the shepherd of My sheep, Israel.”

On an elementary level, we see that Moses cares tenderly for those animals under his care. Most of us care tenderly for our pets. I would venture to say that if you left your puppy with me (not that you should), I would make sure that it eats, drinks, gets walked and is safe and if God forbid, it runs out the door, I would run and chase it down and bring it back home. Wouldn’t you? This was Moses’ vocation, pasturing sheep. What is so great about what he did that caused God to choose him as His personal proxy and future leader?

I believe that the answer to this enigma is in the actual words of Moses. Once Moses caught up with the sheep at the water, he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty.” That, my friends, is leadership. Your typical shepherd would grab the sheep with a frustrated grunt and bring it back to the herd without giving it another thought. A cruel person would berate the sheep or worse. However, what Moses said and did is a valuable teaching moment. Moses not only ran after the little sheep to bring it back, he also tried to understand why this sheep would run away from the rest of the herd in the first place. Sheep are sociable. They will usually stay together in a group while grazing. It is banding together in large groups which protects sheep from predators which will go after the outliers in the flock. So, Moses asked, what prompted this behavior? He quickly understood that this was not simply a renegade sheep (a black sheep of the herd) but rather a thirsty one. It was not a rebel; it was just trying to survive as it was clearly dehydrated.

Anyone in a position of power, whether a parent, boss, teacher, principal, manager or supervisor, should learn from this lesson.

The lesson is obvious. Your child was always happy with a great disposition, easy to please and positive. Then all of a sudden, or even over a short period, this child refuses to go to school, and/or his mannerisms have changed, or his behavior changed, his dress changed, etc. We need to ask why. What about friends? Is he usually the gregarious type? Put your thinking cap on. Be a Moses and don’t simply yell at him at the top of your lungs, “WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU LATELY?” Rather, ask yourself the question. What is the reason that my little sheepish child has gone rogue? Why has his behavior gone from good to bad and then from bad to worse?
Your child is not a rebel. Your child is fighting for survival. Just like the sheep, is there a reason for this dramatic change of behavior where he leaves his norm and does something out of character? Instead of yelling at him, simply sit down and ask him gently. Try to probe him to see what is hurting him emotionally. Don’t yell – ask. Be gentle. Be a Moses and put him on your shoulders figuratively speaking. Support him. Love him. Listen to him. Ask him if he wishes to speak privately to a professional. Moses crystalizes for us that even when an animal leaves his regular self (the herd), and has gone wandering alone down a path, he must be thirsty for something and emotionally exhausted. How much more so a human being?

This lesson is not only for leaders, per se. This is also helpful for couples. When one of the spouses has shrunken into themselves and is acting strange, we need to ask why. The easiest thing is to roll your eyes and say, “Ugh, he is in one of his moods.” This may be true. This truism does not answer the question why is he so melancholy? He was doing so well last month, what happened?
The bottom line is Moses was chosen as a leader because he had empathy. He did not act on emotion but rather put thought into things that matter. He understood that true rebels, renegades and bad people are extremely rare. He wants us to dig deeper to get to the source of the problem, and not simply address the symptom. 
And on and on.

Please feel slightly obligated to share.

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