Thursday, July 25, 2013


How did our parents discipline us? Or rather, how did we view ‘being punished’ in those days? (I don’t think we had the terms discipline or parental psychology catch phrases like syndromes, disorders, etc. etc.).

When we were children, life was never fair. We subjectively ruled out any just actions towards us; we were very quick to compare our situation to our siblings (who were receiving better treatment) and found any punishment or ‘consequence’ too harsh, unwilling to introspect and analyze our actions.

Then we became parents.

We realized immediately that when dealing with our children ‘fair’ could never enter into the equation. Each child is a world. Yes, we put them together in a house or even a room, but each one is wired differently, how can we lump them together and treat them the same way?

We as parents realize the naiveté of children and their simplistic expectation of the answers for why they did not get their way. Our children, however, are incapable of comprehending all the complexity which goes in (and should go in) to any disciplinary action we take. Sometimes we want to teach our children a lesson; other times we want them to overcome the obstacle to reach higher self-actualization. Sometimes we share with our child the benefits of this challenge, other times we keep it to ourselves in hope that they will arrive at the revelation on their own.

The only time I gained some insight as to the parenting philosophy of my mother was after thirty years passed and I was in the parental driver’s seat, navigating a course for my five children.

One day I called my mom and simply said, thank you.

It was that perspective which afforded me the insight about my youth, it gave me the ability to look back and share a moment of gratitude with my mom who gave me the latitude to figure it out on my own.

Why am I waxing philosophical about parenting and discipline?

ה וְיָדַעְתָּ, עִם-לְבָבֶךָ: כִּי, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ, ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְיַסְּרֶךָּ. 5 And you shall consider in your heart, that, as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Moshe, at the end of 40 years, after the trials and travails, turns to this new generation and says, “You have always been God’s children. Recognize the merits of that status and shoulder the responsibility of it. When it looks like an unfair burden, consider, how would you discipline your child?”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bouncing Back: A lesson from Moshe on How to React to Calamity (And an announcement on my new position)

Bouncing Back

Chazal orchestrated the calendar so that Parshat Devarim always comes out before Tisha Bav. They did this in order to prepare us mentally for the devastation of the churban we will encounter by reminding us that much of the calamity we bring on ourselves, “בעונותינו הרבים—due to our great number of sins”. In a verse filled with pathos we read of how Moshe, their great defender before God, breaks down and expresses his inability to go on alone. איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם ומשאכם וריבכם. In that bleakest spirit and upon reciting the Haftara of Jeremiah, we prepare ourselves to mourn our own demise.

Chazal orchestrated the calendar so that parshat Vaetchanan always comes out after Tisha Bav. They did this in order to teach us how Moshe and the children of Israel reacted to adversity and even calamity with perseverance. Yes, there will be a reckoning for our sins, and yes even exile, but parshat Vaetchanan presents the antidote: “And now Israel, שמע, listen and comply with the mitzvot, the regulations of Jewish life that Moshe has taught you and will continue to teach. Listen to them in order that you shall live, return and inherit the land God has promised you”.

Three vital parshiot appear in the parsha: the first is the mitzvah/promise of teshuva, ושבת עד ה' אלוקיך, and you will repent and return to God… The second is the Ten Commandments and the third Shma. They represent a formula for living in a post churban world. Tragedy has struck? Recognize that you are still part of the covenant, find your way back, adhere to the foundational elements of God’s relationship with His nation, do so and you will not be lost forever.
Jews throughout history have been forced to reckon with adversity, react to calamity. While some nations may become dejected, withdrawn from society and ultimately submerge, Jews has always found a way to bounce back. Persecuted? Yes. Wandering for thousands of years? Yes. But always coming back, always realizing that we can rebuild our emotional lives, religious personalities and even our lost beloved country.

Parshat Vaetchanan comforts us and charges us to bounce back and return to ourselves, our Torah, our nation and our Promised Land.

My New Position

For over 700 years the city of Krakow was a thriving social and religious center for Jews. The towering personalities of Rav Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, Rav Yoel Sirkes, and most of all Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema) reflected the centrality of Torah the city represented for generations. It was a beacon of the Polish Jewish world.

Then came the Nazis.

Their destruction of Polish Jewry was almost absolute. Ninety percent of the three million Jews were murdered, while the remaining few had almost entirely submerged into anonymity and assimilation over the past eighty years.

Almost. Over the past decade the Jewish communities in Poland have awakened. Jews have come knocking on the doors of the synagogues, schools and Jewish community centers searching for identity, thirsting for Jewish knowledge. Whether they found out they were Jewish just a few days earlier or they knew all along and covered it up, today a rebirth of the Polish Jewish community is taking place.

The Chief Rabbi of Poland, R. Michael Schudrich, has been indefatigably leading this revival for the past twenty years and has hired rabbis in cities throughout the country to join him in being part of this miraculous recovery. In September I will be going to Krakow to serve the developing Jewish community using my experience and knowledge as a rabbi.

In the heart of Jewish Krakow stands the Jewish Community Center. In the last five years under the tireless leadership of Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, Judaism has come alive. Hundreds and hundreds of members participate in all things Jewish with fun and flare. I look forward to working with Jonathan in continuing the process of Jewish resurgence and regenerating Krakow Jewish life. I will be spending several weeks a month living in Krakow; teaching and building the community and attending to the needs of Jews throughout the city.

I would like to thank Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum and the Amiel institute for making this shidduch and for guiding hundreds of Israeli rabbis to serve Jewish communities throughout the world.

With God’s help I will partake in an age old Jewish experience—bouncing back from adversity and forging ahead in reawakening Jewish identity, reconnecting to roots, to Torah and to the Jewish people.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ninth of Av--The Beginning...of Darkness

The Beginning…of Darkness

דאר"י אלמלא הייתי באותו הדור לא קבעתיו אלא בעשירי מפני שרובו של היכל בו נשרף ורבנן ס"ל אתחלתא דפרענותא עדיפא-בבלי תענית כט

"Rav Yochanan said had I been there at the time I would have established the fast on the tenth of Av because most the of Temple burned on that day. The Rabbis believed that the beginning of the calamity is harsher".

Rav Yochanan’s perspective is clear; commemorate the 10th day when the bulk of the destruction took place. What of the Rabbanan? What is it about the beginning of the terror that establishes the ninth of Av as the national day of mourning?

אתחלתא (nascent) usually has a positive connotation. Beginning, budding, promising…Much has been said with regard to the burgeoning of redemption, but today we must consider the inverse.
אתחלתא דפורענותא frightens us for two psychological reasons:

1. The constant refrain of the Jewish masses during the first Temple, especially after Assyria failed to conquer Jerusalem in 701 is היכל ה' היכל ה' היכל ה' המה—“It is the Temple of God, Temple of God, Temple of God” (how can anyone penetrate its holy shell?). When Nevuchadnetzer laid Jerusalem in siege the Israelites said, “it can never happen”. When Nevuchadnetzer broke through the outer walls the Israelites said “it can never happen”. Then, when the walls of the Bet Hamikdash were torn apart and the Babylonians entered the holy of holies…their world shattered. That shattering of a dreamlike state, of constant protection despite sin, of being forced to deal with a new harsh and ugly reality—that is churban, destruction.

2. When we speak of אתחלתא דגאולה we acknowledge that we are still far from an ideal state, but at the same time we see a spark, we see potential! Sitting in exile for two thousand years we were unable to entertain the idea of ‘geula’ simply because the notion of Jews returning en masse and setting up their own state in Palestine was inconceivable. After 1948, we saw the potential—אתחלתא דגאולה!

The exact opposite experience engulfed our ancestors on the first and second Tisha Bav. At the initial stage of attack, when the building was not in flames, the priests hadn’t been killed and the feeling of utter destruction was not yet a reality, they still felt the uneasiness of potential end. That was frightening. They began to picture in their minds what Jerusalem might be like in flames. That is terror.

Every year hence when we are forced to commemorate Tisha Bav, we acknowledge that sickening unease of the potential for total destruction.
Today, especially in our current heyday of אתחלתא דגאולה which should be a harbinger of the greatest potential turned into fulfillment, today we reckon with the inverse potential—----אתחלתא דפורענותאtoday we must consider the precariousness of our condition, a nation working towards גאולה but still having the potential of חורבן.