Archive for the ‘Machshuvah’ Category

First Middle and Last Perspective – The Encompassing Theme

Posted by Yosef Tropper
June 7, 2009 - ט"ז סיון ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series Living Purim Every Day

ותען אסתר ותאמר שאלתי ובקשתי (אסתר ה:ז).

“Esther responded saying, ‘please grant me my request and my plea!’” (Esther 5:7).

Most Significant

This verse is in one way the most significant one in the entire Megillah! How so? There are one hundred and sixty-seven verses contained throughout the entire ten chapters of this scroll. The middle verse is thus the eighty-forth one (with eighty-three before and after it). This is our verse. I would like to illustrate how the middle verse captures the essence of the entire Sefer and what that means for us based on our present study.

What’s Going On Here?

There is a fascinating thesis that states, if one wishes to understand the theme of a Torah portion, he must study the first, middle and last verse of that section. For example to understand Parshas Bereishis, one can study the first, middle and last verse. This will encapsulate the basic idea found in the entire portion.

Proof and Explanation

This idea is hinted and elucidated quite clearly by at least two Chazal.

First, Rashi in Shabbos (55a) states that the reason that Hashem’s signet ring says “Emes” is because the word Emes is all encompassing. It is comprised of the letters Alef, Mem and Tuf. These are the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet (אמת). This is based on the verse in Isaiah (44:5) that states, “Ani Reishon VaAni Acharon U’Mibaladoy Ain Elokim, I am first and last, there is no other God besides me”. (Rashi is basing his comments on: Shir HaShirim Rabbah (1:46) and Shemos Rabbah (4:3).) Hence, we see that there is an idea of an essence being seen from the beginning, middle and end. See also Shabbos (30b).

Secondly, the Gemara in Sotah (14a) states: Rav Simlai says that the Torah begins with Chessed, kindness, as it states, “Hashem provided Adam and his wife with clothing”, and it ends with kindness, as it says, “Hashem buried Moshe”.  The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayeira 4) adds to this: “The Torah begins with kindness in that Hashem adorned Chava in honor of her marriage to Adam. It ends with kindness by Hashem burying Moshe. Its middle expresses kindness as it states that Hashem visited Avraham when he was recuperating from his circumcision and insisted that he not stand up for Him”.


What emerges is clear proof that examining the beginning, middle and end of a Torah idea reveals the entire Torah theme encompassed. In the case of the entire Torah, one learns that Hashem desires for us to take the lesson of proper love and care for others. By extension, it appears that this technique can be applied to every individual Parsha and Sefer in Tanach as well.

One More Proof

Additionally, the Gemara Kiddushin (30a) tells us what the middle word of the Torah is. It is “Gachone, stomach” in Vayikrah (11:42). Why is this important for us to know? This thesis may just be the reason that Chazal found this fact important to identify. In fact, that is how the Vilna Goan explains the Gemara. He states that the middle word is the most important to know for upon it revolves the theme of the entire Torah, which proceeds and follows it. (The full development of this is beyond the scope of this essay. See the words of my dear Rebbe, Reb Aharon Feldman shlit”a, for extrapolation upon it, in “The Juggler and The King”.)

Example (You can skip to the next subtitle if you want to get back to Esther already!)

Here is a brief example of how this approach work. We will analyze one Parsha in the Torah, Parshas Va’ara.

The first verse states:

וידבר אלקים אל משה ויאמר אליו אני ה’ (ו:ב)

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘I am God’.”

The middle verse (61 of 120) states:

ויעשו כן החרטמים בלטיהם ויעלו את הצפרדעים על ארץ מצרים (ח:ג)

“The magicians copied the plague and they too brought frogs upon the land”.

The last verse states:

ויחזק לב פרעה ולא שלח את בני ישראל כאשר דבר ה’ ביד משה (ט:לה)

“Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he refused to release the Jews, as Hashem had foretold to Moshe”.

Briefly, the theme of the Parsha is the underpinnings which began the redemption. These three verses show that the redemption had not yet set in and that Pharaoh had not thus far accepted Hashem’s sovereignty! It wasn’t until the completion of the Ten Plagues that Pharaoh and his people were brought to their knees in subservience and awe of Hashem. The first and last verse both express this idea most clearly, it is the recurring theme of the Parsha. Hashem was displaying His Kingship and Egypt was not responding as of yet. The middle verse states that the magicians still believed that they were capable of emulating Moshe’s God-sent miracles. This is the summary of Va’ara, and is eloquently and briefly stated between all three verses, spanning the three areas of the Parsha. One question remains, why does it discuss the frogs specifically?

The frogs of Perek Shira sing the song of, “Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuso, Give praise to Hashem’s Honorable Kingdom”. The significance of this verse is that this amphibian constantly sings to Hashem. The Midrash states that when Dovid completed Sefer Tehillim, he asked Hashem if any creature sings more praises than himself. Hashem responded by sending a frog to his feet!

“Baruch Shem” is explained by the Nefesh HaChaim to express the ruler-ship of Hashem upon the earth specifically. The bottom-line theme is that although the Makos were beginning to make their impact of showing the world that Hashem dominates, as the frog declares, this message was not yet complete. This is clearly expressed by the middle verse. Egypt refused to take the lesson of Hashem’s frogs. In the next Parsha, there would finally be a change of heart and a powerful recognition. In Beshalach, the redemption would take place with great honor and an awe inspiring demonstration.

Back On Track

Having established this idea, let us now turn to our dear Megillah. The theme of the Megillah is clear. Although it may appear that there are natural events and order to the world, we must sensitize ourselves to see past them. As faithful Jews, we look to see the great Hand of Hashem guiding and propelling all of the world events. He cares for us and constantly steers our ship to safety and victory. How do we get Him to do this? The answer is well known and clear: By turning to Him and begging Him for help. When we acknowledge Him as our King, He is proud to smile in return. This is the key to our success in this world.

The first verse of the Megillah describes the grand kingdom of Achashveyrosh. It sets the backdrop for the entire climax of adversary against the Jewish nation. There was a haughty and powerful king and he used his power to concede to decimate the Jews. The last verse spells out the entire resolution. Hashem raised the Jews to a high and untouchable status. Mordechai was a powerful governmental official, who worked to insure Jewish diplomatic security. Most importantly, the nation was at peace with each other and true closeness and love between themselves and Hashem was achieved. What does the middle verse exemplify?

The Moment of Truth

The middle verse is the hint as to how we got from the crisis to the solution! “Esther cried with supplication and pleas!” This hints to her true cries and the collective tears of the entire nation, who at that time turned sincerely to Hashem with all of their hearts. The nation committed themselves to repent and mend their ways. This is the entire lesson of the Megillah, to turn to Hashem and put our trust in Him!  The middle verse is the crux of the entire Sefer. When we daven to and connect to Hashem, He hears us and takes care of His precious children.

Number of Verses

Indeed the one word Simman, hint, found at the end of the Megillah to remember how many verses are contained is the word: Penuel (פנואל). This word has the numeric value of 167, the exact number of verses. Reb Dovid Feinstein states that every one of these words stated in the mesorah at the end of a Torah portion, is not just a random word. Each word ties directly into the Torah ideas expressed within that work. What does this word show?

I suggest that the word Penuel means, “turn to Hashem”. This is the beautiful goal and lesson of the entire holy scroll. No further explanation is necessary!

May we all merit to tap into this powerful tool, and see how Hashem truly listens to us when we turn to Him. May we achieve true happiness through our faithfulness to Him every day.

Hashkafah, Living Purim Every Day, Machshuvah ,

Letting Hashem In – Parshas Nasso 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
June 4, 2009 - י"ג סיון ה' תשס"ט
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ואם לא נטמאה האשה וטהרה היא ונקתה ונזרעה זרע (ה:כח).

“If she (the suspected Sotah, adulterous woman) was innocent then she will be exonerated and will be blessed with children” (5:28).


The Sotah goes through a fascinating investigative process. She drinks the bitter water. If she is guilty, then she becomes bloated and her body explodes in full view of all the people assembled. If she is innocent, she will live and is given a blessing for the rest of her life that she will be fruitful and produce strong and healthy children.

At first glance, both these two options seem hard to understand. They appear quite extreme. If she is guilty, why does the Torah dictate that she should perish so dramatically, could she not just die silently, why all of the fanfare and embarrassment? On the other hand, if she did not have relations with the man, why is she given such a great reward? Did we forget that she still went into seclusion with a man whom her husband warned her not to interact with, she is not that innocent? So why does the Torah give her such a great blessing?

The simple explanation is well known and after presenting it I would like to offer a deeper insight. The purpose of the Sotah’s dramatic death is so that people will see what happened to her and take a lesson to steer away from perversion. In fact, the Torah’s idea is that one who sees it will be inspired to accept Nazirus upon himself to help train himself to stay away from the distractions of the world! On the other hand, if she is innocent, her husband may be reluctant to take her back, thus, just as for the sake of peace Hashem allowed His name to be erased, so too Hashem offers the couple a great blessing as encouragement to bring them back to a peaceful union.

I believe it is deeper than this. Chazal (BM”R 9:12) say that adultery is one of the worst sins, as it shows a complete rebellion against the spouse and against Hashem’s boundaries. Therefore, if she is guilty, she (and the man involved who will die the same way as well) has made a statement that she does not want Hashem to be part of her live. There is no room in her heart for the Word of Hashem. But Hashem wants to enter our hearts and permeate our existence. So when His Holy Name is drunk by her a conflict arises. The holiness wants to expand and give to her, but her body is not interested. Perhaps this figurative spiritual friction is manifest by her physical explosion! She bursts because there is no way for Hashem to remain part of her!

The “innocent woman” on the other hand, true that she certainly is no righteous woman, as shown by her seclusion with a prohibited man, but at least she stopped herself! This is a message to Hashem that she is at least trying to improve! Thus, for her when the water enters her body, there is room to expand and the Word of Hashem brings the greatest blessings! Accordingly, she gets a great reward!

This is the way that Hashem set up the world, He wants to give and provide for us. He knocks on our doors and hearts desiring to give us only good. Our job is to open up and let Him in! Chazal in Berachos (42a and Rashi there) state, “immediately when you bring Talmidey Chachomim into your home, you will have many blessings!”

The water given to the Sotah was taken from the Kiyor, Lever, in the Beis HaMikdash. This device was made from the mirrors which the women donated. Moshe was reluctant to accept it until Hashem commanded him to. Those mirrors were used by the women in Egypt to adorn themselves to catch their husband’s attention so that they would build their families. This great Mitzvah that they performed is the beautiful act of building the Jewish home for Hashem. Their actions done L’shem Shemayim, for the sake of Heaven, were the strength and encouragement to keep the Nation alive! In the merit of the faithfulness of the women we were redeemed from Egypt!

The Sotah drinks from the Kiyor waters to point to the exact explanation as to what was expected of her. If Hashem was divorced from her heart, and she did not follow in her great grandmother’s footstep, then she will explode. If she wants to connect with Hashem and is beginning to put in effort to act like those great women, then she is blessed! The water manifests how she answered the question of “do you want Hashem part of your life or not?” We too must ask ourselves this question. When one recognizes that true service of Hashem brings genuine happiness and blessing, then he will open up and let Hashem in!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Parshas Nasso

The Shidduch Crisis: Part 3 – Bridging The Gender Gap

Posted by Yosef Tropper
June 1, 2009 - י' סיון ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Shidduchim and Marriage

In the last article, I developed the theme of working together. We saw how the most effective way to achieve harmony and fulfillment in marriage is to undertake the vital task of caring for and striving to understand the other. In this final continuation, I wish to illustrate a point that is important to be aware of when working towards mutual respect and cooperation. It is the idea of the natural differences between men and women.

Perhaps a significant factor that makes harmony so difficult is the gender difference. It already puts the couple at a disadvantage before they even try to communicate. Indeed, men and women are diametrically different. When one recognizes these differences and appreciates their spouse’s needs, this will allow them to work together most smoothly. We are a team and wish to help out our teammate so that we can perform best together. This is done by acknowledging that we are different, and have different strengths to offer. Many people erroneously think that their personal feelings, opinions and preferences are the only possibilities for a healthy person to have. This thinking causes them to nullify any other person’s opinions. “If I wouldn’t be hurt, embarrassed or upset in that situation, then you have no right to be either!” However, the art of productive interaction with others is to strive to respect, validate and be sensitive to other perspectives outside of our own. A man and woman see the world differently; a sensitive spouse will learn to acknowledge and work with this reality.

My point here is to stress that once this is acknowledged, we will be more sensitive and aware of how these potentially anger-triggering differences play a vital role in our relationships.

In the New York Times bestseller “You Just Don’t Understand”, Deborah Tannen illustrates common things that trigger misunderstandings as one spouse was ambiguous in their communication and the other misread the cue. For example:

  • When she asks “what would you like?”, this is not necessarily a request for information, as a man tends to sees it, rather, it can be an opening for a discussion.
  • To Josh, “checking with his wife” means asking her permission, which to him implies that he isn’t independent, and it is thus childlike. To her, it shows respect and that their lives are interrelated. Both must know this, communicate their feelings and recognize the other’s needs.
  • Her questioning him for details can be seen by him as a challenge, requiring a counter. She sees it as a request for understanding (information) with girl-style polite engaging. If both people strive to comprehend each other, these issues can be discussed, and then fixed or avoided altogether.

In the powerful book “Boys and Girls Learn Differently”, Michael Gurian brings out the undeniable physical differences between genders that invariably affect their respective emotional and psychological temperaments. His findings are obviously not the concrete, only possibility for every person, as we are all different and operate differently. However, these were the results of careful scientific study and at least deserve some thought, as they represent many deep-rooted diverse strengths and tendencies. Here is a partial list of these differences:

  • There are many brain differences between the genders. The male brain stem is at rest and is thus quicker to respond physically. The amygdale is larger in males thus making them more aggressive. Males comprise over 90% of all cases of hyperactivity.
  • The arcuate fasciculus develops earlier in females, thus, they speak in sentences earlier. The female brain is more developed in the broca area which is responsible for speech development. The cerebellum provides smoothness, balance and speech and is more developed in females. The frontal lobe effects emotions and communication skills; the female’s is more developed. Werencke’s area links language and thought. This area is highly active in females. 99% of females have comprehensible speech and vocabulary by age three. This is only achieved by males at age four and a half.
  • The cerebral cortex provides higher intellectual functions and memory. The male’s is thicker on the right, thus he is right-brained dominant. The female’s is thicker on the left. The left hemisphere affects language, writing, consciousness, self-image, denial and listening. The female is superior here. The right hemisphere helps tone of voice, music, spatial discernment and visual memory. Males use this more. Female use both sides more than males use both.
  • The cerebrum allows one to multitask; the female’s is always active! Female toddlers can multitask more freely than male toddlers.
  • The corpus callosum connects both sides of the brain. The female’s has a better connection between both sides. This may give them greater focus on practical application.
  • The hypothalamus of the male brain is denser and constant, it produces lust and anger. Pituitary glands are larger in males thus increasing their fight-or-flight instinct!
  • Regarding the occipital lobe, females see better in lower light, males in higher (melatonin in females cause them to have greater sensitivity to brightness).
  • The parietal lobe perceives bodily sensations, pressure, pain and temperature. The female’s is larger, thus, they experience greater sensations. The male’s is smaller, thus, they often excel at ignoring pain.
  • The thalamus regulates one’s emotional life and physical safety and monitors what is happening outside of the body. Females process faster here.
  • Males develop testosterone which causes action and can escalate to aggression. Females develop estrogen which breeds hormonal changes and the desire for feelings and bonding.
  • Males are more easily angered; females are more easily saddened.
  • Males are often more restless as a fetus, whereas females are less active.
  • Male are generally larger than females.
  • Males have less serotonin (which is a relaxing agent).
  • Male toddlers prefer mechanical or structural toys; females prefer soft and cuddly toys.
  • Males look at objects for a shorter time but are more vigorous, whereas females gaze longer but are less active.
  • Males gaze at their mother for half as long as females do.
  • Females at one week can distinguish a baby’s cry from background noise, whereas males do not respond yet. Females at four months can distinguish people’s faces on photos, whereas for males it takes longer to achieve this.
  • Females prefer sweets more than males do.
  • Males have better narrow and depth perception. Females have better peripheral (side-line) vision.
  • Males have a 25% higher mortality rate at infancy than females. This is being studied further.
  • Males in kindergarten focus on individual games. Females focus on group activities. Males ignore newcomers until they prove their worth and value. Females welcome them warmly! Males prefer games that require bodily contact and competition. Girls prefer taking turns and indirect competition.
  • Males prefer stories of excitement and action while ignoring victims. Females prefer stories of human dynamics and feelings.
  • A male toddler’s good-bye to his mom takes around 30 seconds. A female’s takes 90 seconds!
  • Males express emotions through actions. Females express feelings through words!
  • Males in grade one through third are more able to separate emotion from reason that their female counterparts.
  • Males are 50% more likely to be held back in eighth grade than females are.
  • Males in High School focus much on personal career choice. Females focus more on personal relationships.
  • 69% of H.S. males offered “fighting” as the best solution to an argument. The majority of females opted for “walking away” or “talking about it”.

All of this illustrates quite vividly the great gender difference that a couple much deal with. We believe that Hashem gave us all different strengths to offer and a happy couple will learn to appreciate the other’s strong points and thereby build a beautiful partnership together. (For further reading I suggest two books that offer relevant information regarding these facts: “Reviving Ophelia” and “Raising Cain”.)

This is not meant to scare anyone! My point is to stress:

  • The first key to a successful marriage is to acknowledge that men and women are in fact very different!
  • The second task is to learn how to communicate with and how to understand and respect the opposite gender! The most important trait needed for this is patience and sensitivity!

I hope that through the last two articles I have illustrated the importance of striving to work together and understand the other person. Through this, we can accomplish beautiful and fulfilling achievements.

One most useful suggestion for how to navigate through all of these potentially dangerous pitfalls and miscommunications is to find someone wise with experience and much sensitivity. When something is unclear to us or we need help, we can then talk to them and seek to improve our marriage. Anyone can succeed, it is in your hands!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah , ,

Say Cheese! Shavuos 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
May 25, 2009 - ג' סיון ה' תשס"ט
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From where does the custom emerge for us to eat dairy products on Shavuos? In general, the entire Yom Tov seems preoccupied with food! “Everyone agrees that on Shavuos one needs to have physical enjoyment as well” (Pesachim 68b). The Karbon, sacrifice, of the Shney HaLechem, two breads, was brought as well, another hint to edibles. The Yom Tov is called “Chag HaKatzir”, the holiday of the harvest (of the grain in the field). It is most surprising that a Yom Tov celebrating our holy and spiritual Torah should have such a physical stress?! Shouldn’t we rather fast the entire day and separate from earthly drives? What does this all mean?

A fundamental and inspiring lesson lies behind all this! Chazal (Eruvin 54a) tell us that “this temporal world is like a wedding, one must grab and eat while the food is available”. The simple meaning of this dictum is that one must accomplish as much Torah and Mitzvos as he can while he is alive. There is another depth here as well. Why is this world like a wedding? Imagine that one attends the most exquisite and fancy Jewish wedding ever held. The hall and its ambience are breathtaking, the food is unbelievable, the fifty-piece band is heavenly and the guests are most distinguished! Interestingly, there is one short phrase that determines whether this event has any worth or not. The Groom must say the marriage pronouncement of “Harey Att Mikudeshes Li…, You are sanctified to me (as my wife)…” That is the most important element, worth more than any of the fanfare present. With it, we have experienced a breathtaking wedding. Without it, the entire event would be almost worthless! So too, this world is a beautiful party filled with all kinds of exciting delicacies, foods, music and enjoyment. Our job is to be “Mikadesh it”, to dedicate ourselves to sanctify and elevate it, by using it for the service of Hashem. We do not shun the world. We strive to use it as a conduit to thank Hashem. Hence, just as “you are holy to me” makes the wedding, so too, when we bring Hashem into the picture by elevating the mundane, we make the world!

When one partakes of a delicious meal, his body feels it very strongly and his emotions are stirred. He can take this elevation and use it to thank Hashem ever so passionately. Whereas, without this physical stimulation, he never would have risen to these grateful feelings. Thank You Hashem for giving me such delicious food and for creating such a graceful world. Thank You Hashem for my beautiful spouse and family and for all of the good which You bestow upon me to enjoy and savor. I recognize what You do for me and I wish to serve you better now! The world is a wedding and we are the Groom who sanctifies her!

With every one of the ten commandments that Hashem uttered, the world filled with a varied fragrant scent (Shabbos 88b). Why was this necessary? I suggest that this was precisely to show the significance of physical sensations and their importance to Torah observance. Hashem does not want us to negate our bodies and their feelings. He wanted to keep our nerve endings stimulated in order to show us that a Torah Jew knows how to use this world to draw inspiration and closeness to Him through his pleasurable experiences.

The Angels in Heaven wanted the Torah, but Moshe fought for us to get it. Moshe said that only physical can properly keep the Torah. We have the opportunity to elevate our physicality. humans

It is well understood now why the Tashbaitz states that we learn many laws regarding a wedding specifically from Matan Torah. Indeed this was the wedding between Hashem and us in a very deep way!

Shavuos is the Holiday that Hashem states that He wishes for us to eat and enjoy pleasures for ourselves. This is to teach us that the entire foundation of our service of Hashem does not focus on self-denial or torture. Rather, it revolves around taking enjoyments and using them to grow closer to Hashem. To grow in our gratitude and appreciate of what He has given to us.

Milk represents a mother’s care for her baby. It is the most nourishing and delicious substance that a mother can offer her child. It is a vehicle of love and closeness from which a mother and child form a close bond. We are enjoined to partake in milk products as a reminder that Shavuos is a time to feel Hashem’s love for us. It is a time to partake of earth’s delights and to thereby elevate and be Mikadesh, sanctify, them by letting them bring out our warm appreciation and feelings towards Hashem.

The lesson is vital and relevant. Our bodies have feelings and through them we can draw close to Hashem. It is specifically for this Holiday that we find food stressed repeatedly. For it is in this Shavuos celebration of our accepting the Torah that we acknowledge the importance of our bodies. May we be inspired this Shavuos as we take in all of the enjoyment that Hashem brings us. May we recognize how much He cares for us. The dairy products hint to the ultimate nourishment and care that one has for their children. We are Hashem’s people and we will smile when we say “cheese” at our fantastic wedding with Hashem!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Shavuos , , , ,

Derech HaLimud – The Way to Learn and Analyze

Posted by Yosef Tropper
May 24, 2009 - ב' סיון ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Living Purim Every Day

 …ויאמר לאסתר המלכה מי הוא זה ואי זה הוא אשר מלאו לבו לעשות כן. (אסתר ז,ה)

“Achashveyrosh asked Esther, who is the villain who desires to destroy you and what is his motivation?” (Esther 7,5).

How To Learn

The Megillah is the Sefer that shows how the Jews reconnected to Hashem. Their hearts were so full of love and gratitude from witnessing their miraculous salvation that they were brought to reaccept the Torah willingly, once and for all! It comes as no surprise then that the Megillah contains the formula for how to succeed in learning. When Achashveyrosh wanted to figure out who had plotted to destroy the Jews, he asked Esther two questions. Tell me the facts, what was the plot, who was involved? Next, he questioned, why did he want to do this?

What then Why

This one Passuk, states the Gra (Pshat, see also Sod), contains the secret to how to properly investigate any issue. First ask: what and then ask: why! It sounds quite simple, but many people try to skip steps and in the end wind up confused. This is especially true in learning Torah.

We first seek to make the Gemara into a simple and complete algebraic formula. We define and isolate specific words as: question, answer, proof and rebuttal, etc. The Gemara says this fact and the Mishna states an opposing view, etc. We build the framework and separate the stages. Next, we work to fill in the details of each previously not known or understood variable. Why is this a valid question; why does the Gemara think this is the way to read it, etc.? We bring the Gemara to life in a systematic and thorough way. This is the way to achieve understanding and success.

Talmudic Proofs

The Gemara Berachos (63b, see Rashi as well) states that in learning one should: “first gather information, and after that, grind it and question it”. (See also Berachos (18a) and Kiddushin (30a), and Rashi in both places.)

Additionally, the Gemara (Berachos 64) asks, who is to be appointed as the Jewish leader? One who is a “Sinai”, a scholar who specializes in knowing all Torah sources and information, or an “Okair Harim”, one who is an expert in sharp and critical analysis? The Gemara concludes that the one with the knowledge is more qualified. We see the importance of first establishing the facts. Once we have established the hard facts, we are then able to build from there to delve deeper and further to grasp where the great Rishonim and Achronim were coming from. We will see how they read and developed the Gemara’s structure and conclusions.

Taanis (7b) states if one sees a student who is not succeeding in his Torah studies, attribute this to the fact that he does not know the basic principles contained in the Mishna. Rashi explains that he cannot go on to achieve deeper understanding that emerges from the Gemara’s debates, because of his deficiency in the basics. The Gemara concludes that indeed Reish Lakish only rose to greatness on account that he would review the Mishnayos facts forty times before attending Rebbe Yochanon’s lecture on extrapolation. Also, Rav Addah Bar Ahava would review his Mishniyos twenty-four times before attending shiur from his Rebbe, Rava.

Achashveyrosh’s Lesson

This was the exact way that the Achashveyrosh questioned Esther. First, he asked for the raw facts, what was the plot and who was involved? Only after that did he ask to understand the motivations and reason behind it. The Megillah shares this verse with us because we can learn a great lesson from his analytical approach.  

 The Best Derech

When dictating the proper Derech HaLimud, Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l stated that when one learns, he must first “define what and then understand why“. I have been trained in this by my dear Rebbe, ybl”c, Rav Asher Zelig Rubenstein shlit”a as well. We must first strive to understand what the words are stating and then we move on to understand them. He frequently quotes Reb Nachum Parchovitz zt”l of Mir, regarding how to understand a Rashi. We first read what he is saying and then we strive to understand the logic behind it.

 Iyun and B’kiyus

The Gra in Mishley (6:8) gives a most relevant explanation of the maxim of Chazal (Avos 3:17), “If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour”. The simple understanding is that Hashem only provides us with food when we learn His Torah and serve Him properly, and we also can’t learn properly without food and health. The Gra adds a beautiful depth and life to these words. There are two elements to learning Torah. They are acquiring factual knowledge and delving into the facts to plumb their depths, achieving deeper and more enlightened understanding. He states that both are vital and one cannot succeed in Torah without them. The word “Torah” in the Mishna can be seen to refer to the first aspect of gathering all the facts of the entire Torah. The word “Kemach, flour”, refers to ground and well pounded grain, this represents the elucidation and delving into the depths of Torah, by rigorous effort. The Mishna is thus stating that, “if there is no flour…”, meaning, if one does not grind and contemplate his Torah facts, then “…he has no Torah”, the large facts are not very useful as they are not being understood by deep cross-examination. Also, “if there is no Torah…”, meaning, if one does not possess a large mental library of Torah facts and information, then “…there is no flour”,  he is not able to grind, for he lacks the raw ingredients necessary. His depth is well intended, but his machine is lacking grinding material! Beautiful words!

The Focus

What is left to be understood from all of this is the proper perspective of raw knowledge versus grinding. One simple question must be asked on the Gra’s interpretation. Why is the importance of grinding stressed first before broad knowledge (”If there is no flour”, i.e. grounding and analyzing Torah)? Is not the first and most vital task the acquirement of information (”If there is no Torah”, i.e. facts)? The answer puts everything in perspective. Certainly, one must have knowledge of as many branches and facts of Torah as possible, this will give him what to chew and develop upon. However, the development and deepening of understanding and connecting to the Logic of Hashem is the primary goal. Our job is to be a Lamdan (animated scholar), not a bland encyclopedia! It’s just that the only way this is carried out is by strict adherence to the text and gaining clarity in the facts first.

Just as when a judge issues his verdict, the most important aspect was his deliberation and deep understanding of what is fair and just, so too, the Torah contemplation and understanding is the primary goal. However, this could not have been reached without the scrupulous listening to the exact words of the plaintiff, defendant and their respective witnesses, who brought the case to life. So too, in Torah, the details are of utmost significance. After that is heard, one can begin to plumb the depths, which is the true goal. This is why the importance of development is stressed first and over the actual fact-finding initiative. Only secondarily does the Mishna state that without general knowledge, one is unable to process and delve properly.

Great Story!

A man once came to the Chazon Ish and cried over his worry that his son would not study Iyun, in depth, and rather was studying diligently only B’kiyus, general and broad Torah facts. How will he ever become a Talmid Chacham?! The Chazon Ish assured him not to worry, “one can become a Gadol through B’kiyus as well!” His words proved true and his illustrious nephew, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a, raised to greatness. He specializes in all fields of Torah knowledge, while certainly maintaining a deep and sharp analytical understanding of Talmud and law. 

When we learn and wish to develop our minds, the Megillah tells us just how to do this every day. We first strive to establish the facts and then we develop them further.

Hashkafah, Living Purim Every Day, Machshuvah, Purim , , ,

To Live and Appreciate – Parshas Bamidbar 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
May 21, 2009 - כ"ח אייר ה' תשס"ט
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שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל… (א:ב).

“Count all of the Jews…” (1:2).

Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:11) tell us that there are ten times in Jewish history that the Jews were counted. The first was when Yaakov and his family went down to Egypt with seventy people. The last counting will take place at the time of Moshiach. The Ramban states that there was a specific purpose and reason for each census. One was for the appointment of a new leader and one followed a large calamity, etc. However, he asks, in this instance, he cannot understand for what purpose Hashem desired a counting?! I would like to share and develop his most enlightening answer with you.

At this point in Jewish history, the Jews were finally free from Egypt, they were given the Torah and were on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Everything was great! The reason that Hashem counted them now was precisely for the purpose of showing them and letting them know their own number. This would help them appreciate all of the great kindness and love which Hashem had bestowed upon them in building them up from a small group of seventy meager people to a grand established nation of six hundred thousand able-bodied men! He wanted them to be moved to recognize Him by contemplating their present large population, which Hashem had developed and built!

Indeed, this is a powerful lesson for life. When we take a step back and take in all of the good that Hashem has provided us with, we are left inspired and recharged!

Chazal tell us that the באר, wellspring, that supplied water in the desert, came in the merit of Miriam. Chazal also tell us that this spring traveled with them and created an intricate water system that delivered water to every single tent individually. In what merit did Miriam bring this life giving arrangement, and why did it come to every door, could they not have went to a central place to receive it? Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2) tell us that she earned this tool as a reward for leading the women in song at the time of the miracle of the splitting of the Yam Suf. She wanted to insure that every single person from Klal Yisrael expressed gratitude to Hashem. Thus, Hashem correspondingly granted her water that would allow every Jew to thank Hashem at all times once again!

The Woman of Valor is described as “her mouth opens with wisdom; the teachings of kindness are on her tongue” (Mishley 31:26). The Ralbag provides a beautiful insight in translating this verse. This special and spiritually sensitive woman builds her home on two foundations. Firstly, wisdom and secondly, kindness. Wisdom means the unrelenting dedication to following Hashem’s Torah. Kindness means that she teaches her children to see and recognize all of the kindness that Hashem bestows upon them. She lives her life to thank Hashem. Rav Shlomo Wolbe says that these precise ingredients insure a home’s success. When we create an atmosphere of the love of Torah and appreciation for all of Hashem’s gifts, we will have beauty and success in our home.

Indeed, this is the important lesson of why Hashem counted the Jews then. He set them up in a precise encampment arrangement and now He wanted them to recognize how much he did for them. Let us see all that Hashem does for us and let our hearts and mouths sing His praise!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Parshas Bamidbar , , ,

“Ka’asher Tzivah Hashem Es Moshe” – Crossing Your T’s and Dotting Your I’s

Posted by Yehuda Goldman
May 15, 2009 - כ"ב אייר ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 3 of 2 in the series Reaching Out

Sincerity is an important trait that bears a role in relationships as well as in one’s service of their Creator. Drawing a parallel from Parshas Tzav, we see a clear example of what it means to be sincere and do something in the right way crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s.

Thus far, much of what we have spoken about has revolved around the idea of sincerity. Today I’d like to develop this theme a bit more drawing a parallel from Parshas Tzav in Vayikra (Leviticus).

Parshas Tzav consists of ninety-six verses. The Hebrew letters which represent ninety-six are, interestingly enough, ‘Tzadi’ and ‘Vav’ spelling out the word and name of the Parsha, Tzav!

(Just to confuse you, classic texts show that Tzav actually contains ninety-seven verses. See the commentary Minchas Shai on verse 8:8 for further clarity.)

Tzav, I should mention, is translated as ‘command’. This essentially is what the Parsha is all about.

In the Parsha, the Torah – in great detail – outlines the instructions for Aaron and his sons – the Kohanim – regarding the sacrificial offerings in the Temple. The Sages (Sifra: Tractate Kiddushin 29a) note that we usually find that instructions bear the word ‘Amarta – say’ or ‘Da’ber – speak’. Here we find that the instructions are all preceded by the word ‘Tzav’. Here is where we begin.

‘Tzav‘ is a more emphatic and bolder term. It implies that the Kohanim were to be extra zealous in their performance of the service as well the requirement that it be taught to the future generations. R’ Shimon adds that this is especially true of the commands that involve monetary loss such as the ‘Olah’ offering we see in Rashi which was burned completely and was not consumed.

Skipping ahead to the end of the Parsha where it talks about the consecration of the Kohanim we notice something quite interesting. After each of the seven steps, we find the words “Kasher Tzivah Hashem Es Moshe – as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” Essentially the story line goes like this: Moshe completed the sacred task…. as Hashem had commanded Moshe. This appears not once, but seven times.

I’ll illustrate the question with a practical example. If your mother – or wife for that matter – asks you to do something(s) and you complete the tasks do you report back saying, “I did X like you said. I did Y like you said. I did Z like you said?” (I hope not.)

No. You let them know that the tasks were completed as they asked. So why do we find that the Torah went to great lengths to reiterate the words, “as Hashem had commanded Moshe” after each of the seven steps?

The answer is quite powerful and one I heard from a Rebbi of mine in Jerusalem.

When we are given a task be it mundane or holy, there are two ways to do it. We can ‘do it’ or we can choose to ‘do it‘. We can view it as an awesome opportunity or – G-d forbid – a meager chore. Our mindset is what is key and makes the difference.

Here in the Parsha, Moshe is given a slate of seemingly repetitive ‘tasks’ to complete. Yet, Moshe chose – and thereby teaches us an important lesson – to do it with passion and to the tee. As we would say, ‘crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. No cutting corners to get the job done. Doing it exactly as Hashem instructed and doing so because that’s your passion and heartfelt desire.

That’s why the Torah went out of its’ way to repeat the phrase seven times. To emphasize the importance and drive this lesson home. Moshe did so, but ‘“Kasher Tzivah Hashem Es Moshe – as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” He didn’t just do it, he did it!

This is the lesson for everyday life we can take out of Parshas Tzav and integrate it into our trait of sincerity thereby enhancing it, and taking it one step higher adding a bit of passion and feeling to our tasks at hand.

I’ll close with a short story to illustrate the point. It’s about a friend of mine ‘Chaim Mendel’ who recently passed away. May this Torah thought be a source of merit for his Neshama.

My friend, Chaim Mendel, was particularly of Mitzvos such as Tefillin, Tzitzis and Yarmulka. For example, when he needed a pair of Tzitzis he wouldn’t purchase it ready-made from the store. He purchased the strings and garment separately and had someone make it for him. It was so precious to him that he wanted to make sure it was done just right.

Just as he made sure his motorcycles were in top form (it was a big hobby of his), when it came to his performance of Mitzvos he made sure that they were perfect too. He crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s. He viewed Mitzvos not as ‘tasks’ but more importantly as sacred opportunities.

That is the lesson we must integrate and internalize. Yes, ‘Tzav’ is a command that connotes emphasis. However, it’s one that is extremely important and has a framework titled, “Kasher Tzivah Hashem Es Moshe – as Hashem had commanded Moshe.”

Throughout the Torah we find mention of the 613 Mitzvos. Yet, we must bear in mind that it’s imperative that we not only fulfill the Mitzvos, but do them with passion and do them with pride. This is crucial for leading a successful life. Strive for perfection, strive for truth and be sincere. We never face challenges but small obstacles. We aren’t given tasks but opportunities.

So next time when an ‘opportunity’ comes your way, before you do it – remember the lesson learned from Parshas Tzav and as the famous corporate slogan goes ‘just do it’ – but do it right!

Next week: Thanksgiving: A Torah Perspective

Hashkafah, Machshuvah

We Cannot Beat Them By Joining Them

Posted by Yosef Tropper
May 12, 2009 - י"ט אייר ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Living Purim Every Day

 איש יהודי היה בשושן הבירה ושמו מרדכי בן יאיר בן שמעי בן קיש איש ימיני (אסתר ב:ה)

“…Mordechai was a descendant of… Benjamin” (Esther 2:5)

Why Is This Important?

Of what significance is it to know from where Mordechai came? Additionally, we know that Binyamin, the son of Yaakov our forefather, had ten children. The Targum and Chazal go out of their way to trace Mordechai back to Belah the son of Binyamin. What are they trying to teach us with this seemingly irrelevant information?


G-d Bless America!

There is a fundamental lesson to be accrued here, which has been painfully ignored too many times throughout our Nation’s history. When we try to join the secular culture, we cannot succeed. It is only when we commit ourselves to follow Hashem and his Torah properly that we will see success and prosperity. This must be qualified. Certainly, we are known to be the most upstanding citizens in the countries which we have found ourselves in. Indeed, our Rabbis even teach us to pray for the welfare of the government and that their rules are binding upon us as well. Reb Moshe Feinstein is famous for his unanimously accepted comments upon the topic. America is the most generous country that we have ever found ourselves in and we acknowledge and appreciate this. We do our best to support its cause. However, this does not mean that we should assimilate and throw off our Jewish identity. This will never help us. We support and respect our host nation, while at the same time we stay strong to our religious convictions and eternal mission. We are the Nation who are Hashem’s people and we are to be the light upon the nations. This dictates that we study the Torah and live by its beauty and truth. People dealing with us should be impressed and inspired by our integrity and impeccable character traits. We must always remember who we are!


Downward Spiral

Throughout history, when the Jews began to assimilate, Hashem sent the gentiles to remind them that they are different. In Egypt, the Jews had hoped to join the Egyptian culture and so “Hashem turned their hearts to hate His nation” (Tehillim 105:25). We had to be reminded that we were separate. In Spain in 1492, after not heeding to our leader’s guidance to separate from secularism, we were expelled  by the government. This does not exonerate the host nation for their sins and cruelty against us. They certainly acted immorally and will be punished for their evils against humanity. However, we must take the lesson that Hashem wishes to teach us. Again this was repeated in Germany as well. The Jews were assimilating and throwing off their Jewish responsibilities. Hashem allowed Hitler to remind us who we were. Even those whom after many generations of successful intermarriage and separation from their heritage, were put back in their place. Hitler reminded them that they still had Jewish blood, as they were confined to the death camps despite their high German political standings. We must know who we are.


The Party

We discussed earlier (in the series) the fact that the Jews were decreed imminent death for attending the party of Achashveyrosh. The commentators ask that this only took place in Shushan, the capital, and should not affect the entire rest of the Jewish world? We explained that in truth the sin was much deeper. This indulgence represented the idea that the Jews all wished to be like the Goyim. Whereas, in practice only a minority were in actual attendance, the rest all wished they could be there. This national failing prompted Hashem’s effort to wake the nation to repent from their incorrect perspective and attitude. Joining the secular culture is not the way. Only observance of Hashem’s Torah and Mitzvos breeds admiration and safety.


A Special Nation

The Jews heeded to the warning, repented and were miraculously saved! The climax of the miracle of Purim was so inspirational that Jewish pride and patriotism soared. Chazal tell us that the fear and awe of the gentiles was upon the Jews to the point that no converts were accepted to join any longer in fear that their unification with us was not prompted by sincere altruistic motives, but rather was for prestige and honor. The only other time this happened was in the prestigious time of King Solomon.


He Loves YOU!

The entire theme of Purim is the recognition of the great privilege of being a Jew. Hashem cares for us individually and watches over us, His Chosen Nation, with individual providence and care. One of the strongest feelings that a Chosson and Kallah experience is the immense pleasure of knowing that someone cares and is thinking about them. Indeed, it is a beautiful and invigorating feeling of specialness. The lesson of Purim is that Hashem cares for every one of us. We must take time to think about, recognize and savor this beautiful and inspirational thought. He loves and cares for you! He wants to help you and He wants to give you the best pleasures available to mankind! When we truly grasp this, our lives will be imbued with excitement and focus. We will follow Hashem with love and sincere appreciation. This was the clarity that the Jews achieved in the time of Mordechai that allowed them to separate themselves from the secular goals and to return to their own rich heritage.


The Name Belah

Chazal (Sotah 36b) tell us that Biyamin called his ten children by names that connoted his love and concern for his dear brother Yosef. Yosef had been sold by the other brothers and was assumed to have been assimilated into the gentile world. Belah was the name that represented this concern. “Shnivlah bein HaUmos, he (Yosef) was absorbed into the secular culture”. A name represents the bearer’s essence and trait.  Hence, the name Belah represents the protest that us children of Yaakov must not get pulled into the secular society. We must remain steadfast in our Torah observance. It is thus most appropriate and relevant that Mordechai HaTzaddik emanated from this great person. Who more than Mordechai stood up to remind and inspire his brothers to maintain their spiritual ideals and not fall prey to the secular influence. Indeed, he was following in his illustrious grandfather’s footsteps.


Mordachai HaTzaddik

Indeed, Yosef received the title “HaTzaddik” specifically for his efforts to remain pure and unaffected by the gentile way of life. Mordechai too received the same title for his strength of character in this domain as well!  


With this, we now have an appreciation of the importance of working and growing in our self-development. We know how much Hashem cares for us and this inspires us to be the best Torah followers that we can be, every day!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Purim , , ,

The Shidduch Crisis: Part 2 – Building The Best Match

Posted by Yosef Tropper
May 10, 2009 - י"ז אייר ה' תשס"ט
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This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Shidduchim and Marriage

Imagine if the Torah commanded you to spend the next consecutive year straight shaking a Lulav and Esrog, the four species, for the majority of the day throughout your waking hours! This would be a very tiring task!

There are different types of Mitzvos. Some apply constantly, like love and fear of God, some daily, like wearing Tefillin or davening, and some come periodically, like eating Matzah on Pesach or redeeming a first born son when applicable (see Derech Hashem IV:1:2). But there are none that just start one day of your adult life and then last for one year straight…… well… except one!

If you are reading this paper, then you probably know that I am discussing the topic of marriage and that is precisely where this unique Mitzvah is found. It is called “Shana Reishonah, the first year of marriage”! There is a Biblical commandment for a man to spend a year getting to know his wife and learning how to make her happy! The couple develop a deep and loving friendship and bond. Imagine having to shake a Lulav and Esrog for one year straight! Let us try to understand this unique phenomena. But first…

I would like to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to read my first article on Dating Sensitivity. Just the sheer number of readers brought me much joy to see how many people so passionately desire to improve the dating situation. Your feedback to me expressed this even more powerfully.

I never intended to write a second article, but because of all of the emails, questions and comments I received revolving around my first paper, I felt that this second part could prove to be beneficial. A third article (Bridging The Gender Gap), which compliments this one is in preparation and we will see where that leads!

The majority of the feedback was positive and many people made me aware of other factors and perspectives. I thus would like to bring up one more theme and incorporate answers to some of the questions you all raised. To answer individual questions such as “how should I date” and “what should I do look for” is too detailed of a task. Instead, I wish to offer one clear point that I believe cuts to the heart of the issue and can help immeasurably in many aspects of dating and marriage when properly applied.

My theme is quite simple, but I wish to illustrate it well for those who want to understand and apply it. My thesis is as follows. The most important key to marriage is the mutual dedication to work together to grow and succeed. Everything else is just details! Part of working together entails understanding the other person and respecting their feelings. It means realizing that our outlooks, opinions and modes of operation differ from one another. We then strive to find the right balance in how to effectively make decisions together. I believe that this effort begins during dating and develops continually throughout married life. Working together with shared respect and understanding is the key to true happiness and achievement. Having an advisor who is wise, experienced and sensitive to others will help us to achieve this ever important task upon which our entire happiness depends.

Shaya Ostrov CSW, dedicates much time to this idea in his book “The Inner Circle – Seven Gates to Marriage”. His second and third principle for successful dating are:

  • Affirmation- giving over the message to the other that I am ready to seriously explore the possibility of a relationship with you; I take your life seriously and would like to get to know you properly.
  • Inner History- one should not judge the other’s actions at first glance. Rather one should seek to understand the other’s noble motives, by asking, listening and learning to trust.

Dr. John Gottman is a renowned expert on marital success. His hands-on experience in the field has proved him to be able, within five minutes of watching a couple’s interaction, to predict with 91% accuracy whether a couple will succeed together. He watches for certain traits that exhibit success and four negative behaviors that connote dysfunction and deep-rooted problems (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stone-walling). His greatness though is not to predict failure, but rather to show which traits need to be developed in order to have a happy marriage. His books and workshops offer advice on how to do just this.

He states a profound idea which I feel is worthy of contemplation. He says that he could divide the entire process of dating and marriage into three stages and express what the one key element is that determines success at each time.

  1. Dating: While dating a strong factor that will determine whether the two people will subsequently marry is the good time that they share together. How they enjoy each other’s company and long to be together.
  2. Early Years: During the early years of marriage, a strong factor for their success is how well they resolve disagreements stemming from their diverse outlooks and approaches. This is called conflict-resolution. This is the most dangerous time. Many will either give up or not seek guidance on how to do this. However, the successful couples will put in all their effort to learn to appreciate the other’s strengths and thereby maximize their  decision making ability. This will develop them into a loving and strong couple.
  3. Later Years: During the older years of marriage, the factor for success is how they enjoy sharing good times together. It is no longer a conflict related issue. They have gotten through the rocky conflict stage and have made most of life’s big decisions already. The factor which now determines their happiness is ironically the exact same one that brought them together in the first place! Will they suffer from “empty nest syndrome” (the condition where after their children have all grown up and moved out, they have nothing left in common and find that they do not care for each other) or will they enjoy spending quality time together.

These are the three stages. Where there is room to argue or redefine certain points found here, I wish to focus on the truth and relevance of what he is stating. I believe that what emerges from his assessment is that there are two major points to be considered when choosing a life-partner.

  1. The first is to ask yourself: can this person be my best friend? Can we laugh and have a good time together?
  2. The second and more important question is to determine: do I trust that we can work together through the disagreements and trials of marriage? Can we jointly navigate life and all of its challenges? The majority of marriage is about making decisions and working out a proper course together. This is the most important consideration.

I believe that people dating should be made more acutely aware of both these factors. Unfortunately, we have all seen couples who got so caught up in their intellectual connection through life goals, that they failed to see how their personalities were incompatible for having “fun” together. Their marriage was a master business deal, lacking in comradeship! We have also seen, even more tragically and all too common, couples that have gotten so enamored and blinded by the fun time that they were having together, that they never took the time to think about whether things would still be so “fun” if they did not see eye to eye and had to work out life decisions together! They never properly examined whether they indeed shared common goals, values and mutual respect and the desire and willingness to work together. This is terribly sad, as mutual respect and the dedication to work together are the foundation for succeed in the future.

Consider another point that John Gottman brings up in his bestselling “Seven Principals For Making Marriage Work”. He stresses the importance of “letting your partner influence you”. Simple advice, but his research shows that many people don’t understand the magnitude of this mutual respect indicator. So much so that he states that of the many who did not practice this, he found that 81% had a failed marriage.

He also stresses a key factor in marital success which I found quite fascinating. He saw that people who get along productively were all experts in sending repair attempts! This means that sometimes two people disagree, that is normal and expected. Two intelligent people can have two varied opinions. The problem is when the disagreement escalates into an argument and the argument into a fight and the fight into a bitter shouting contest. This sad scenario is the result of people getting carried away. In each person’s heart they have no desire to fight or suffer this sadness. However, because of the typical dynamics of high-tension conversations, one shout is returned with a louder one and viciousness and resentment are unleashed. How is this solved? By having a reality-check. A repair attempt is where one spouse catches the spiral that has just begun and does an act or gesture to remind themselves (and their spouse) that there is love and respect here and that s/he is attempting to calm the raging argument. This could done be cracking a joke so they both laugh together, giving a smile or a kiss, something that brings both to pause and rethink what they are doing. It breaks the tension and prevents a fight from becoming a destructive forest fire. “Please, honey, let us work this out as two mature adults.” Repair attempts and how they save marriages once again prove the vitality of establishing mutual respect and the desire to work with one another.

John Gottman states in “The Marriage Clinic” that his goal is to find empirically based answers to fix a marriage, and not just utilize unproven therapeutic techniques. Considering that marital issues are the largest problem which people seek counseling for, this is a relevant objective. As stated, research has proven that working on mutual respect and understanding are the keys to happy marriages.

John Gottman also records in “What Predicts Divorce?” the responses and feelings of upset spouses. Unhappy women often complain that their husbands are too withdrawn, and not willing to connect with her. Unhappy men often complain that their wives are too conflict-engaging. She is thereby tripping off his ego with her lack of respect. I believe that these responses can be well understood by considering the different emotional needs that a man and women possess. She strives for a deep and vibrant relationship, she wants to be adored and appreciated; he strives for authority and honor, he wants to feel like “he’s the man”. He is withdrawn because he doesn’t understand how to talk to her and offer reassurance. She seems engaging because she doesn’t know how to respect his space. He is acting with her as he wants for himself, but she is a woman and has different needs. She is making the same mistake. If each would learn to understand and respect the other, they would be able to work out their upset feelings.

What emerges clearly is the powerful idea that a strong and content marriage takes effort and patience. When both sides passionately pursue the shared objective to respect and understand the other, then they will be able to live the magic of marriage together. This is the general food for thought which I offer you. The rest of dating and marriage are all details that revolve around this goal.

We can now understand why the Torah strives for us to experience a peaceful and powerful beginning to our marriage. The Torah says that we should love and understand our spouse. Chazal (Yevamos 63a) tell us to respect one’s wife more than one respects himself! This starts from the moment that one gets married and really even before that!

The theory of weight homeostasis dictates that although the body’s weight fluctuates, it hovers at a basic set weight, unless a strong diet and exercise alters it. So too marriages are set and fluctuate back to a certain level. Where that “comfort level” lies is determined by the couple. This is the importance of “Shana Reishonah”, to begin marriage properly and to get off to a solid and positive start!

One may say that it is too late as they are already married for years and regret missing out on Shanah Reishonah. A great Torah marriage therapist responds that if one feels that they did not have a productive and proper first year, there is a solution, start it now for the next year, and see where it takes you! In fact, it comes as no surprise that the Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatan (285) states that the Biblical obligation to make happy one’s wife is not limited to the first year alone, but is applies always, throughout married life!

When we become sensitive to other’s needs, and dedicate ourselves to the task of loving and respecting our spouse, of being their best friend, the gates of Heaven open up and pour upon us only blessings and happiness. This is true bliss in this world. Mutual love and understanding. A beautiful ideal which we all seek to achieve!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah , , ,

Education and Communication: Understanding the Human Psychology – Parshas Emor 5769

Posted by Yehuda Goldman
May 8, 2009 - ט"ו אייר ה' תשס"ט
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    “Hashem said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a (dead) person among his people.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1) 

Communication is an extremely important tool in life. In fact, it’s part and parcel of just about everything we do. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah teaches us an important lesson in effective communication in the context of educating children. It clearly emphasizes the importance of understanding the human psyche as it can make or break the efforts of leaders, parents, mentors and teachers in imparting invaluable lessons of life. It can effect the way we communicate with those around us as well.

 In the verse above, there exists an apparent redundancy. Moshe was instructed twice to speak to the Kohanim (high priests). Shouldn’t one time suffice?

Many commentaries provide enlightening reasons. I’d like to draw your attention to the explanation of Rashi. Rashi writes that the double expression was to caution the adults not to cause the children to become contaminated. Hence, the redundancy was meant to include those who were otherwise not included in this prohibition.

R’ Moshe Feinstein Ob”m provides us with deeper insight with the following example.  When a parent educates their child they cannot merely inform them of the obligation. They need to provide them with the reason behind the teaching as well. Were they not to do so, the child would focus on the hardship and fall into despair, not giving themselves a chance of succeeding. After all, the odds seemed too great.

When a student is not only taught the subject matter, but is instilled with the passion and is apprised of the significance, semblance and relevance, it not only enters their mind but remains etched deep within their soul.

Thus, when it comes to teaching Torah and the Mitzvos, it must be more then – G-d forbid – a transfer of code. It’s the transmission of our heritage, tradition and lifestyle. Taught in such a fashion, the child will not view it as a burden but as a sacred task.

Based upon this fascinating explanation, we have our answer. The Torah was teaching us that when it comes to education there are two aspects, the actual teaching, as well as the reasons behind it.

R’ Moshe Shternbuch provides an alternative explanation albeit on a similar vein. In his famous work, Ta’am V’daas (Taste and Know), he writes that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson how we are to educate our children as well as those around us.

Leaders, Parents and Teachers must address their charges in a fashion that is suited to their needs. Every student has a unique personality, level of intelligence as well as mindset. It’s important that they are taught in a similar and consistent manner that will work.

By doing so, not only will the lesson be heard and understood, but it will be cherished and internalized forever. Some students are visual learners while others are drawn to the text itself. Some students may be faster than others. Nevertheless, by realizing that the key to successful education lies not only in the actual lesson but in the manner in which it’s given, we will be assured that we reach our students and see them integrate the teachings into their lives. It’s crucial that we seek to understand the importance of the human psychology if we want to teach in an effective, efficient and exemplary manner.

Such thoughts are more than modern day words of ingenuity, and can be clearly seen from King Solomon’s writings in Mishlei (Proverbs 22:6) where it states, “Educate a child according to his way. For when he gets older he will not turn from it.”

In conclusion, the lesson of Parshas Emor is that education is more than just a transfer of information alone. It’s about the transmission of the heritage, tradition and reasons behind our precious history and religion. The Torah is not – G-d forbid – a mere subject that is taught, but more importantly a way of life that has been passed on from generation to generation since our acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We can also glean valuable insight as how to effectively communicate with those around us. There is a concept in the world of psychology – no pun intended – as how to ’speed read’ people. Meaning to say, once you know what a person is like and how they ‘tick’, you have a much better idea as how to communicate with them. For example, if a person is quiet, you’ll need to speak to them softly.

It’s all about developing personalized methods of education and communication to suit the needs of our children, family and students.

(Yes, we did just integrate Torah and modern psychology but if you read my bio you’ll understand.)

There is much we can learn and integrate into our lives be it in the way we communicate with others, as well as how we educate our children and pupils.

By understanding the needs of our children and students, we will create effective methods of ensuring that we continue our path toward the rebuilding of the Holy Temple adding links to our nation’s chain, one child and one lesson at a time.

Have a Good Shabbos. After all, it’s in the mind….

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Parshas Emor