pirkei avot 3:12 - Be Validating

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline


Rabbi Yishmael said, “Be yielding to a leader, easygoing with the black-haired (young and inexperienced) and receive every person in with joy.

Rabbenu Yona explains Rabbi Yishmael's mishna: if you desire to yield you must first learn to recognize your betters. Army rank, older family members, IQ, EQ and all the rest aside, what markers display someone's superiority? 


Rabbi Yitzchak Issac, one of the Chasidic (Hasidic) masters from 19th century Europe, answers this question with a quote from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "The wise man's eyes are in his head..." (2:14) i.e. one who is wise focuses entirely on his Divine mission. Thus, by keeping himself on the straight and narrow, he creates a lifelong revelation of G-d. This is also how he manages to serve the ultimate Superior, the Master upstairs, well. That is the kind of person we follow around and from whom we seek out advice. He knows how to serve G-d and if he's willing, he'll show us.

Here's a little something to get us started. One of G-d's defining characteristics is kindness. How do we show kindness to others? Rabbi Yishmael just threw out a couple of suggestions. Be kind to the younger people i.e. the black haired and inexperienced. Greet every person you meet with joy. The Rambam adds that this mishnah is a mitzvah (commandment) which does not differentiate between color, creed and religion. Not only that but our sages made sure to emphasize that we are not living in a dog-eat-dog world. Don't use your height or weight to intimidate. And if anyone finds it difficult to treat fellow human beings with respect, they might do well to recall that G-d metes out justice measure for measure: the respect we give each other will mirror G-d's treatment of us.

My grandfather was an empathetic man of the world. He always used humor and a cheerful countenance to make everyone around him happy. I am certain that this was due to his making G-d's will his highest authority. When my Zeidie greeted people with joy, they reciprocated. Even the men mugging him in the street couldn't help but show appreciation for his attitude. 

Family lore has it that my Zeidie was once heading home when he was surrounded by three large men. The first guy folded his arms and said, “Hey Rabbi, give us all your money.” My grandfather nodded a couple of times, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you some money.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out three dollars, “One for you and one for you…” As he put his wallet away the muggers protested saying that they’d seen more money. “Yes, it’s true, I have more money,” my grandfather replied, “But that’s my car fare. You don’t want me to be stranded, do you?” and he looked each one in the eye. No, they shook their heads, they didn’t. As they walked away, one of them looked over his shoulder and remarked, “Hey Rabbi, You got off easy.” 

One brisk, Autumn morning in Brooklyn my grandfather "got off easy" but perhaps there was more to the story than dumb luck. Zeidie was accosted, but rather than respond with fight or flight he appealed to their sense of humanity; they left him alone. You could say that that was “greeting every person with joy.” 


Rabbi Yishmael is offering us inner tranquility on a white platter. Part of greeting every human being with joy is about noticing each one's inherent worth, reminding him that he is worthy.  How does submitting to G-d's authority connect to the attainment of peace and harmony, though? Simple: in order to receive every person with joy we need to learn how to validate everyone in terms of who they are and where they're coming from. Who wouldn't want to be around a person like that? (***Exceptions do apply. Sometimes it's better to avoid wicked people rather than cause needless friction. Ask your local orthodox Rabbi/ mentor).

Parshat Shavua: Va'Etchanan

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

By Shayna Hulkower

As we explained last week, the book of Devarim is kind of a chazarah, a review, of things that happened to the Jews and some of the laws Moshe had previously taught them in the desert. Something that is striking in this week's Torah portion, Ve'Etchanan, is the repetition of the Ten Commandments. It is unlikely the Jews forgot them, considering they were given at Matan Torah at Har Sinai. If we read closer we can see this is no mere repetition - the Ten Commandments are actually slightly different than the first time they were given over. While there are many to chose from, let us explore three. 
Shamor vs Zachor. In the first iteration of the Commandments G-d tells the Jewish people to zachor - remember - Shabbat. This time He uses Shamor, to guard. Here Our Sages learn that there are two aspects to keeping Shabbat - remembering it and safeguarding it. Safeguarding can be interpreted to mean abstaining from forbidden activities, such as driving or cooking, while remembering can mean having in mind all day that it is different from the other six days of the week and acting accordingly, which can be as simple as wishing someone on the street a Shabbat Shalom. 

Honoring your parents. The commandment to honor one's parents is identical, safe for two extra words that are added in this weeks' set: Honor your father and mother... so that your days will be lengthened and so it will be good for you [טוב לך] on the land....(5:16). The first iteration tells us that if we honor our parents our days will be lengthened, but this time it tells us that our days will be lengthened and it will be good for us. The term 'It was a long day' doesn't necessarily have a good connotation, but here we can see long days can mean good days. Days where we are able to accomplish a lot and feel good about ourselves. For many people, dealing with family can be difficult, after all we get the family we are given, not the one some people would necessarily choose. However, if we work on ourselves, practice patience, seeing things from the other's point of view, accept sometimes that we can be wrong (all aspects of honoring your parents), then we can grow and become better people, which is a big part of why we are on this planet. In this way we can lengthen our days in a good way. The growing we undertake may not be easy (hence the long aspect), but once we are able to work at honoring our parents, not only can we feel good about ourselves for doing the right thing, but likely this will lead to an improved relationship with them, which of course will also be good.

For our last example we'll end with one of the most striking of the changes. The last five commandments have a ו/and attached to the לא/don't of each sentence where there wasn't before.While the first five commandments have to do with each person's relationship with G-d, the last five are interpersonal: don't kill, don't steal, don't covet, etc. One idea is that this 'and' connects all the commandments to show they are equally important. While some might argue that killing is a bigger deal than stealing, at the end of the day, all of them erode the fabric of the social contract we all live under, and create havoc in society. Additionally, by trying to say one is more important or worse than another, it implicitly makes one of them less unacceptable than the others. The 'and' is to clearly state they are all unacceptable, so don't even think about it.

Shayna Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blogs Curls of Wisdom,  Shomer Tel Aviv on all things kosher in Tel Aviv, and on Twitter @shaynahulkower.

SHWEKEY | We Are A Miracle


After nearly two years of filming and production in studios in Hollywood and New York, with an investment of resources never before seen in Jewish music, Yaakov Shwekey presents a new music video for the title track from his most recent album "We Are A Miracle", produced by Mendy Pellin.
Lyrics:
A nation in the desert
We started out as slaves
Made it to the motherland,
and then came the Crusades
It’s been so many years
crying so many tears
Don’t you know,
don’t you really know?
We are pushed to the ground
Through our faith we are found
Standing strong
The Spanish inquisition
wanted us to bow…
But our backs aint gonna bend
Never then, and never now
It’s been so many years
crying so many tears
Don’t you know,
don’t you really know?
We are pushed to the ground
Through our faith we are found
Standing strong

Chorus:
We are a miracle
We are a miracle
We were chosen with love
And embraced from above
We are a miracle

Extermination was the plan
When the devil was a man
But the few who carried on
Live for millions who are gone
It’s been so many years
crying so many tears
Don’t you know,
don’t you really know?
Generations have passed
Only we’re here to last…
Standing strong

Chorus:
We are a miracle
We are a miracle
We were chosen with love
And embraced from above
We are a miracle

Bridge:
Every day we fight a battle
On the news we are the stars
As history repeats itself
And makes us who we are
Hate is all around us
But we’ll be here to sing this song…

Chorus:
We are a miracle
We are a miracle
We were chosen with love
And embraced from above
We are a miracle

We are a miracle
We are a miracle
Through it all, we remain…
Who can explain?
We are a miracle…
explain?
We are a miracle…

Tu B'Av: The Only Dating Advice You'll Ever Need

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Isaac. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

By: Samantha Hulkower

A week after the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B'Av, we come to Tu B'Av - the 15th of the month of Av. Many Jewish holidays fall on the 15th of the month - Sukkot, Pesach, Purim (in Jerusalem). Tu B'Av has been labeled by many as 'The Jewish Valentine's Day' - but it's placement on the calendar tells us there is much more to the day than we might initially think.

The Talmud brings down that on Tu B'Av single ladies used to dress in white and go out to fields to groove out under the full moon. Single guys looking to get hitched would come down and watch them, and by the end of the night everyone had found their soul-mate. This sounds like the plot of a romantic comedy staring Kate Hudson and Ryan Gosling, not an actual chapter in Jewish history. There are two key ideas that we can learn from this holiday that help us understand its significance in Judaism, as well as insights to help us date more effectively.

The first insight comes from the fact that the women would swap dresses with each other before they started dancing. Aside from being a fun opportunity to temporarily expand your wardrobe on the cheap, it also prevented their potential suitors from knowing each woman's socio-economic status. If a woman is wearing her friend's frock, then a person can't make those assumptions about her. All he can do is try to get to know her as a person, for more than what is on the surface. 

This can be hard for us to connect to - in a world where there is such an emphasis on outward appearances, Tu B'Av is telling us that what counts the most in a potential spouse is what's on the inside. Once you are able to ascertain what's on the inside, taking the plunge into marriage is the next logical step. These days most people date for a while; on average people are marrying much older than they did even 20 years ago. We're really just wasting our own time - if we're able to see who the other person really is (and like it), then why wait?

The second insight comes from a statement in the Mishneh, which says the two happiest days for the Jewish People are Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur. Another head-scratching statement. Yom Kippur, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, is one of the heaviest days of the year. We spend 25 hrs fasting and praying to G-d to forgive our transgressions and allow us another year on this planet. By the end of the day you're exhausted, but personally, I find Yom Kippur to be exhilarating. Like going for a run, during it I'm glad that I'm out there doing the right thing for my personal well-being, but I'm also kind of a mess flailing all over the place and can't wait for it to be over. When I have truly pushed myself, at the end I feel great and am so glad that I put in the effort. The feeling I get after Yom Kippur is better than any runner's high - clean, confidant and ready to take on the next year. While the insight above has to do with finding clarity in who you want to marry, this has to do with finding clarity within yourself: who you are, what are your values and motivators in life, how you let yourself down, and how you psych yourself up. Self-knowledge is very powerful, and very necessary for finding your partner in life. This is why so many people unfortunately have such a hard time finding the right one - you can't know what you want if you don't first truly know who you are. 

As we can see now, Tu B'Av is a yearly reminder of what we need to do in order to find our partner in life: know ourselves and look deeply at the people we are dating. Once we're able to accomplish these things, the result is happier than any Hollywood ending. 

Yashar LaChayal

Birthright Israel - Taglit

The majesty of the Western Wall