Sunday, October 16, 2011

Take a Step Back

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself so caught up in my own perspective that I just need someone to come along and look me in the eye and tell me, “Snap out of it!” Well, enter the chag of Sukkot. Sukkot is all about taking a step back and looking at things from a new perspective.

Come on, leave your comfort zone, and step out to look at life from a new angle. It might not be comfortable, and there might be mosquitos or bees or rain or wind. But let’s get some new perspective on life. Why? Because the result is happiness, as Sukkot is called “zman simchateinu,” the time of our happiness.

Which is why one might find it ironic that during this time of happiness, Sukkot, we read what seems to be the most depressing sefer in all of Torah: Kohelet. But the message of Kohelet is the same message of Sukkot: Take a step back, get some perspective, and figure out what is really important in life. Life that is “tachat hashemesh,” that is under the sun, part of the physical world, is only about the moment. Things in the physical world come and go. Sure, pyshical pleasures, such as a nice delicious meal is good at the time, but life moves on. It is only “tachat hashamayim” under the shamayim, where there is Yirat Shamayim, where there is purpose that lasts forever. Of course you should enjoy the physical world right now, but realize that like the sun which rises and sets, it comes and goes. Focus on the things that last forever.

Another thing that Sukkot makes me think about is what I wrote here about trusting in Hashem and not in physical buildings. There was one day during the Chag when the wind was so strong and our Sukkah started swaying and I was afraid it would fall down, but it didn’t. It was not only because the Sukkah itself was strong, but because Hashem was protecting us.

When we step out of our comfort zone, it is not always so pleasant. We might discover things we don’t want to know, like that maybe we are wrong. Maybe we have been looking at things the wrong way. Maybe we are not who we think we are, maybe we need to change. But once we see things with new eyes, we have the ability to go forward and not just stay stuck where we are. We can take charge of our life and shift our priorities. Realize what is truly important and what is not quite as important.

Happiness is about changing perspective and looking at things differently. It is not always easy, and in fact, mostly it is not easy, and we have to work to get there.

May we all use this Chag HaSukkot, Zman Simchateinu, to discover a new perspective on our lives, one that will give us clarity, and give us the vision that we need to move forward in the right direction. May we take this chance to re-evaluate our priorities in life. And may this newfound perspective lead us to true happiness.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Finding a Relatable Mashal for Rosh Hashana

When I was trying to think of what to write about for this post about Rosh Hashana, I figured I would start by looking at what I wrote on this blog last year (see here), so I could be sure not to repeat myself. That gave me a good laugh, because I saw that I wrote, “I always start by looking at the past year. Where was I last Rosh Hashana?” And, here I am again, looking back at last year. I do this because I try to think about how it was I got from there to here. Did I get here because I was passive and let myself sail down the river wherever life takes me, or did I row upstream and try hard to get here? It’s a little bit of both. Last year I wrote about how I look at the past and look at the future, and how I try to balance between feeling guilt and regret, and feeling hopeful and inspired.

This year, my thoughts are in a completely different place. Mostly I am in a very different place than I was last year- my life has changed so much in the past year, in very good ways. All the changes I talked about and hoped for at the beginning of the summer managed to work themselves out. Things in my life are busier now, which ironically has meant I have had less to write about. Somehow when things were slower and life was more boring I had so much to write about.

One thought I had about Rosh Hashana, is that in listening/reading to shiurim and other thoughts related to Rosh Hashana, I found all the parables being used to be completely un-relatable. Most of them are about Kings ruling a Kingdom and judgment. Sure, I understand what that means in theory, but it doesn’t relate practically to my life. Same thing with scales- I understand what a scale is, but the only kind of scale I use in my life is the one I hop on to see how much I weigh- not one of those scales in the classic Elul picture which looks more like a seesaw. Now, a seesaw I could relate to. But what about a King? How can I make the theme of Rosh Hashana, which is the idea of “Hashem Melech,” that Hashem is King and rules over my life, something that I understand not only in theory, but practically?

Since I have been in the working world, the thing that pops most into my mind is a CEO of a company or a President of a company. They have many employees and the job of every employee is to work for the CEO. At the end of the day, even if he or she is not your boss directly, he or she is your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, and the bottom line is that you report to them. I’d like to share one of my experiences with you.

In one place that I worked, we had evaluations. This is a great Mashal for Rosh Hashana. It was not with the CEO, it was with your supervisor, but the CEO reviewed all of the forms. I was given a piece of paper with a bunch of different categories and I had to rate myself on a scale of 1 to 5 on how well I thought I was doing in each area. Then I had a meeting with my boss, who went over each of the criteria and gave me a rating in each area. I was quite nervous for that meeting! I mean, what if my supervisor was about to tell me that I was doing an awful job? Taking criticism is not easy.

Luckily, overall, my meeting went very well. For most of the categories, my boss and I were on the same page in terms of how well we thought I was doing. Then there were the categories where my supervisor thought I rated myself too low, and that I was actually doing much better than that. I figured it was safe to stay on the modest side instead of saying, “I think I’m great at everything!” But then there were the few items on the list where I thought I was doing well and my supervisor gently informed me that in fact I needed to improve a little bit. That is never easy to hear, but I gulped, nodded, and accepted what was said, knowing it was right (in the case where I disagreed I did speak up to defend myself.)

The interesting thing about employee evaluations is that looking around at other employees there was one factor that stood out to me as to which employees were better at what they were doing, and that factor is: How dedicated, committed, and passionate are they about the mission of the company? Everyone has a different job to do, and those who are there just to do their job and don’t care about where the company is going as a whole aren’t as good at what they do as those who are mission driven.

The same is true for us on Rosh Hashana. The reason Rosh Hashana is so critical is because we take a chance to say: Who are we working for? What is the point of everything that we do? Sure, we can go about the motions of doing Mitzvot, but if we don’t have this sense of WHY we are doing what we are doing, then it is so easy to slack off. Rosh Hashana is our wake up call to remind us that our mission in this world is to serve G-d.

Wishing you all a meaningful Rosh Hashana, a Shana Tova, and a Ketiva V’Chatima Tova! May we all be written in the book of life, and may this year be one of health and happiness for all, one in which all of our prayers be answered for the good.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maccabeats Rosh Hashana video

The Maccabeats have released their newest video, with the theme of Rosh Hashana, "Book of Good Life." (Lyrics posted at the end)

Although I really enjoyed One Day (their first video, made before they became famous), and Candlelight (the video that made them famous), I was a little more critical of their Purim video (see my post here).

My thoughts on the Rosh Hashana video: It is awesome! Mostly, I agree with what Shades of Grey wrote in his post. My only critique of the video is that the tune is not so catchy. I had this problem with the Purim video as well- I would love to hear something we can sing along to. It was so easy over Chanukah to find myself going, "I flip my latkes in the air sometimes" whereas with Purim I would start going, "So raise your glass...- wait, what are the rest of the lyrics?" It just wasn't quite as easy to sing along with. It's quite possible that after I watch the Rosh Hashana video a few more times I will change my mind about this, so the jury is still out, but in any event the song choice not being amazing is my really my only critique.

That being said, there are so many things I like about the Rosh Hashana video:

1.The sound quality of the video was incredible and it was so pleasant and wonderful to listen to. The harmonies and arrangement is beautiful, as is the case with all of the Maccabeats' other songs.

2. The video itself was incredibly well done. The story line in the video about doing good things was inspirational and uplifting, while at the same time the bits and pieces of humor that were included put a smile on my face. It was fun to watch in addition to being fun to listen to. I liked the continuation of a food mishap- this time the honey dripping replacing the jelly falling from the donut in Candlelight. I also really liked the "every day" type of feel that this video has.

What I would personally love to see next from the Maccabeats is a video that does not revolve around a Holiday. The One Day video was wonderful and I feel like since Candlelight made them famous, the Maccabeats feel like they have to do videos about Jewish Holidays since then. No need to wait for Chanukah for the next video- I say break out of the box, and pick something besides Jewish Holidays, there is so much else out there.

To sum up: Well done, Maccabeats, excellent video. Looking forward to the next one.

What were your thoughts on the video? Like/dislike?

Lyrics (taken from their YouTube page):

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it's a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we're almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don't know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we're praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we're doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you're sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

This year will bring us happiness and peace
Sensitivity to others will increase
We'll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cuz Hopefully
We'll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we've got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we're choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we're doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun
Easier than regret, what's done is done
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Shana Tova to everyone


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: Remembering September 11, 2001

Ten years ago, today, on September 11, 2001 I was in high school, and when I heard someone mention the words “plane crash” early in the morning, I didn’t think twice about it. I mean, plane crashes do happen, it’s not so unusual. I assumed it was an accident. It wasn’t until just a little bit later that morning when the principal called us all into an assembly did I find out the news about the act of terror that occurred. Like everyone, I was shocked. How could this happen? America is a safe place, this is the type of thing that would happen in Israel, but things like that don’t happen here, I remember thinking. I had learned about Pearl Harbor, but attacks on the United States like that were things we learned about in history. How could planes fly into the World Trade Center? I saw the Twin Towers many times from a distance, and still picture them today.

Those who remember 9/11, remember exactly where they were. I always like to ask others: “Where were you when it happened? How did you find out?” Everyone has a story, and it was a moment that changed every person in a different way. The place where you were when you heard the news was the place you were when your world changed.

I remember that I couldn’t believe that something so horrible had happened. I remember being scared and no longer feeling safe. Classmates of mine who had parents who worked in the World Trade Center or nearby or even in the city were crying and terrified. In the days after 9/11 I heard countless stories of how many of those fathers were late to work because they went to Selichot, and were saved.

I remember what the world was like in the days and weeks following 9/11, the sense of unity and community. There were American flags everywhere, on people’s cars, on their homes, in store windows. People were friendlier to each other, we felt closer somehow to those around us, especially strangers. There was this sense of, we are all going through the same thing, we are all here together, and we all experienced this.

I remember how many pointed out the proximity of the event to Elul and Rosh Hashanah, where we say “Who will die and who will live? Who by fire and who by water?” Many of the ways mentioned in that prayer were ways in which people died on 9/11.

There are so many, many messages to take out of 9/11. Some focus on the amazing acts of heroism, the people who died to save others, who risked their lives to save others, those who were strong and brave despite the extreme tragedy.

One of the messages that I took from 9/11 was the same message that I relearned a few weeks ago. When Hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, it reminded me of one thing: Who is really in control of the world: Hashem. The Shabbos right before the storm I had heard a nice idea from the Rabbi at shul. He said that the upcoming storm should remind us that it’s not walls, bricks, wood, or stones that protect us; it’s Hashem. I hadn’t thought about that. When thinking about the storm my main thought had been “Oh, it’s OK, I will be safe in my house.” I realized this meant I was putting my faith in my house, which certainly has no power of its own to save me. If my house succeeds to protect me, which Baruch Hashem, it did, then it is only because Hashem gave it that power.

The message that I took out of Hurricane Irene is: Wake up! Look who is really in charge! Sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to see Hashem’s involvement in the world and be aware of His Presence every second of every day. When it’s raining, we think our umbrellas are what keep us dry, or our raincoats. We think that building shelter us and that electricity comes from wires. We rely on the fact that when we turn on a light switch, the light bulb will light up, and when we plug something in to an outlet, it will turn on or the battery will begin charging. We have to remember that Hashem is in charge of the world. Hashem keeps us safe, and we have to put our trust in Hashem.

That is the same message that I took out of 9/11. Like Hurricane Irene, 9/11 was a wake-up call. The Twin Towers were massive buildings, they seemed so permanent, and when you looked at them it looked like nothing could destroy them. September 11 was a terrifying day and made me think about life and death, and that you don’t know when you’re going to die. We can think about hurricanes and about terrorism and be afraid. Or we can accept the fact that there is so much out of our control and we must do whatever is in our ability to do, but the rest is up to Hashem, and He is running the show.

Today I remember those who died on September 11, 2001, and all of those who were affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United 93. I remember those who risked their lives, the firefighters, the police officers, the rescue workers, the family members, the relatives, the friends, the heroes, and all of those whose lives will never be the same. I remember the world before 9/11 and the world after 9/11. I remember that this tragedy is a wake-up call and pray that we all use the tenth anniversary of this horrific event to take to heart the messages that we each need to hear.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Connect or Disconnect?

I have seen the video below posted in a number of places, and although I have a lot to say on the video, I would like to use the video as a stepping stone to discuss the topic of technology in general- phones, emails, Facebook, all that stuff. But first the video:

There were aspects of the video that I liked, and aspects that I disliked. To start with the things that I liked, I will start off by saying that it was very well done video and I was very impressed with it. Clearly the point of the video is to bring attention that we are too attached to our phones and our email, and we have to put those away, we have to disconnect, and connect with people in real life who we are ignoring. This is a really important message, and we’ve all been on the receiving end of people who are clearly distracted when they are talking to us. There are certainly times when we want to shout, “Stop texting and pay attention to me for one second!” Someone I know was recently telling me how she was so excited to spend the day with her husband and she was making a rule that he couldn’t look at his phone. Sometimes we have to put it away.
That being said, there were two points that I would like to take issue with. The second one is more of a curious question than an issue, but in any event, the first point is: Phones, texting, email, all of those are ways in which we connect to people. Part of the way the world is today includes the fact that a lot of contact that we have with people is through technology and not in person, and that is not a bad thing. Connecting to people in real life is not inherently better than connecting to people through technology. If a close friend of mine lives in Israel, for example, being able to video chat with her, and keep in touch through Facebook, is not any less valid of a means to connect with her then my connecting with the friend who I see once a week.

The problem comes in, which the video clearly indicates, when technology becomes more important than the person we are actually with at the time. What we need to be teaching people is not that they should shut off their phones and stop checking their email, we need to teach people WHEN it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate. What we need to be teaching people is that when they are with someone in person, that person is the most important. They should not answer phone calls or texts while they are eating lunch with someone, while they are meeting with someone in person. It’s not about picking a random hour of the day to turn off your phone. Let’s say during that hour you have some time alone. Well then texting and emailing would actually allow you to connect to others. I think the video was trying to say this, but what came across to me was that phones, blackberries, email, etc. are an evil addiction that we must limit as much as possible. Instead of saying that it is evil, we should be saying when it is appropriate and when it is not. This brings me to my next point.

The second issue that I have, or really a question, is: Why is this issue so important for a Jewish organization to be talking about? Shouldn’t we be focused on things like Torah, Mitzvot, Halacha, and that sort of thing? I mean, is this about the whole “half Shabbos” phenomenon of teens texting on Shabbos? Because then we should be focusing on the importance of Shabbos, not blaming technology. It seems like a lot went into the creation of the video, and I am curious as to why so much time and effort was made by a Jewish organization to create a video about something that is not really a Jewish issue. That puzzled me.

Additionally, on an only slightly related note, it bothers me when people, particularly Rabbis, tell people that Facebook is evil and that it is wrong to join it. I understand when Rabbis warn people about the internet. Though I believe the internet has a lot of good, I understand that there is a lot of bad stuff out there. Facebook, however, is different. Inevitably they cite the fact that some girl met some guy on Facebook and Facebook caused them to have a relationship that they shouldn’t be having. I don’t understand how one person meets another person through Facebook. The main purpose of Facebook is to keep in touch with the people who you know. I am a very big fan of Facebook for that very reason- it is a really great tool for maintaining relationships- keeping in touch is hard. That being said, it is ONLY good when used appropriately. When a girl tells me that some random guy friended her on Facebook (oh, and let me guess, he sent her a message saying she looked familiar or something like that) and she doesn’t know him, but she accepted because, you know, why not? Well, then I say that she is just being stupid. People need to be taught to use Facebook appropriately, and to be very careful about what information they share and who they share it with. More importantly it needs to be clear that a person should not allow anyone who they do not know or are even not sure if they know, to view their profile. Additionally, even people who you don’t know well, it is OK not to allow those people access to view your profile as well.

I am not sure why time and energy was spent on this video, but once it was spent, I would have liked to see a message about when to connect and when to disconnect, not only “disconnect and enjoy,” as quite often one can and should connect and enjoy. What are your thoughts? Feel free to disagree, I’d love to hear other opinions on this!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What are you waiting for?

Recently, I bought a blender. Perhaps it seems like a simple, boring task to you, but it wasn’t for me. Maybe when I tell you why, you’ll find it depressing, but I don’t care; I find it empowering. It goes like this: We each have our own list of things. The things we are waiting to get married to do, or the things we are doing that we’re waiting to get married to stop doing. Things that don’t by definition go along with getting married. For example, some wait to rent/buy their own apartment/house until marriage. “I’m not going to move out of my parents’ house yet, I’ll wait until I get married to do that,” some say. For others the list includes buying nice furniture instead of something temporary or nice artwork for their walls and just leaving them blank. After all, they reason, what use is there to decorating when you’re hoping to get married and move out soon? This realization that there were things I was waiting to get married to do, that I don’t have to wait for marriage to do, hit me after I wrote the short poem below, several months ago:

"There is no one out there for me," I tell myself.
Not because it is true, but because I need to believe it.
No more sitting around waiting for that guy to show up
Time to stop waiting and start living,
Living my life as the best me that I can be,
Instead of constantly making sure I am ready,
Ready for someone else to enter into my life,
And suddenly be the most important person in it.
All this waiting, all this trying to be ready,
Is preventing myself from the one thing,
That is true preparation,
Living my life and doing the things I do,
Fulfilling the purpose I was meant for.
But if I don't make room for him to come in
Then perhaps when he shows up
I'll have to stop everything and create space
Rework my life to make room for him to fit in it,
And I want the space to be all ready for him.
It’s time to stop leaving a big empty hole in my life,
Waiting for someone to fill that empty, deep, hole.
My life should be full right now, even without him
And his life should be full without me
And when we meet we will weave our two separate full lives together
Uniting two complete pieces, merging into one
Instead of taking two half lives and only together making a whole.
"There is no one out there for me," I tell myself.
Not because it is true, but because I need to believe it.
I need to believe it to move on.

It took a certain event in my life to create this wake up moment, and while it wasn’t a positive event that did it, I needed the wake up call because I hadn’t even realized that I was waiting around. It was completely subconscious, until it dawned on me that like most singles, I too have a list of the things we are not doing because we are waiting to get married to do them. “I’ll do that when I get married,” we say.

Well, it’s time to move on with my life. When I say move on, I don’t mean give up. I don’t mean taking the opposite approach and saying “Well, I’m never getting married, so I might as well do all those things I was waiting to do.” That would be depressing. What I mean is not living life around the possibility of getting married. Why wait for something that I have no idea when it will happen? I don’t know when I am going to get married and here is an idea: It doesn’t matter when. Hashem has it all planned out and I have to stop putting my life on hold.

So, I bought a blender. I always figured a nice blender was one of those things you get at your wedding shower, or as a wedding gift. Why bother investing in one now? Then I realized: Why wait to get married to buy a blender if I really want one? But yet, buying a blender seemed to symbolize giving up hope, as though I was saying, “OK, I’m probably never going to get married, so I might as well buy a blender.” So, I put it off. But now, I am done waiting. And if the right guy shows up tomorrow, well, I’ll figure it out. Telling myself that, “there is no one out there for me” might sound depressing, but pretending that it’s true changes how I live my life. Waiting to find the right guy is hard enough, no need to make it harder by making yourself wait for other things as well. Do what you need to do to be happy with your life.


Friday, July 29, 2011

QPT: Parshat Masei

Quick Parsha Thought: Parshat Masei

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a some of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

I like this parsha for a very ironic reason: I used to really dislike it. I was bothered because I never understood why the Torah, which values every single letter and even every dot as being important, spent so much space listing all the places B'nei Yisrael traveled in the dessert. At least if it had to list all the places, it might as well write it as a list instead of so many Psukim that start off with "ViYisu" and then "Vayachanu." Why does it list everything? When I first heard the answer that I liked, which was a very long time ago, this became one of the parshas that I liked the most. The answer, of course, is that life is a journey, and every single step along the way is important. Often we are so focused on getting to the end goal, that we don't realize that the process of getting there is equally as important as the end goal.

This week I was struck by the Mashal that Rashi quotes from Rabbi Tanchuma, comparing the list of locations that Hashem lists in the Torah, to a King with an ill son. The King travels very far with the son to heal him, and the son is healed. On their way back home, the King points out the son each of the places they stopped on their way and the terrible situation they were each one of them. This confused me. I had never thought of this parsha as a list of "Remember how bad it was when we were stopped over there," but rather a positive list with the positive aspects of each location fondly being recalled. After I thought about this more, I realized that it is the same thing. Our journeys in life are not easy, they are full of stops and bumps in the road. The obstacles we face may be tough, but in the end, the lessons we learn from them are what make us stronger.

Yes, right over there is where I fell and hurt my foot! And I stumbled and hurt myself in that spot, right there! But I picked myself up. I learned lessons that I would not have learned if I had not fallen. And the Torah lists these places at the end of the journey, once they are about to reach the destination, because most lessons are only learned in retrospect. At the time of the obstacle, things are awful! Things are challenging and terrible, and even painful. But then you look back and say, "Yes, that was bad, but I'm glad I went through it. I wouldn't have wished that upon myself, but now that it is over, I am glad the experience taught me so much."

May we all take this chance to look back at the past and see the important lessons we learned along the path that got us to where we are today in life, and may we appreciate the road and path we are on right now, and value the process itself, the journey, and not just the goal we are striving toward.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I thought I was being nice
Letting it go
Letting it pass
Not saying anything
Not nagging you about a detail
Putting my annoyance aside
It's no big deal.

This is for your benefit
So I don't hurt you
So I don't offend you
Avoiding confrontation
Forgiving just this once
and just this once
and just this once

But now I see
that I was actually being mean
Holding it in
Letting things build up
One small thing at a time
Bit by bit
Finding quiet, subtle ways to get back
Letting it eat at me
Letting it drive me crazy
Until one day

I explode
It all comes out of me
All those small things
are now one big deal
Just this once
Just this once
Is not just once
Not anymore
Now it's thousands of times.

Rage, anger,
frustration, annoyance
pour out of me
burst out of me
crawl out of me
Accusing you
Critisizing you
Scolding you
Demanding you change
Announcing your guilt

While you stare at me confused
Wondering what you did wrong
Where all this came from
You had no idea
What's going on
What is she talking about
Because I didn't tell you
Because I was trying to be nice
Because it wasn't a big deal
It really wasn't

Next time I will tell you
Though you'll look at me crazy
and tell me not to make a big deal
and insist it's just something small
Why do I need to nag you
I will say something
I will confront you
I will admit, "That bothers me."
To truly be nice
and save you from an explosion
that you don't deserve.


Friday, July 22, 2011

QPT: Parshat Matot

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Matot

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

Sometimes just ONE word changes how you read a story. So I was reading the parsha and get up to the part where the Shvatim of Reuven and Gad approach Moshe and ask, "Hi, so if it's OK with you, can we just stay here instead of crossing over to the other side of the Jordan river?" At this point in my head I was thinking, "No! Why would you want to not go into Eretz Yisrael? Hashem told you the land is holy, and you are so close. Don't you want Kedusha? You haven't even seen Israel yet. How do you know this land is better for your cattle?" That would have been my first response. I was also thinking about how, given last week's parsha, this request must have been so painful for Moshe. He wanted so badly to go into Eretz Yisrael, and here Reuven and Gad are saying, "Yeah, we can go in, and you can't, but we don't want to. Can we just stay here?" Anyone besides the great Moshe Rabeinu might have said, "Hello? You are so lucky to be able to go into Israel. Why are you giving that up? How can you even ask me that you don't want to live in Eretz Yisrael proper?"

But Moshe's reply begins with just one word that gets to the core of the issue. And that word is אחיכם (or האחיכם to be more precise). Moshe responds: Let's put everything aside for a minute. Forget me and my personal situation of not being able to go into Eretz Yisrael. Forget about the fact that Eretz Yisrael is kadosh. Let's focus on your brothers. What about the rest of B'nei Yisrael? They need your help to fight and conquer Eretz Yisrael. You can't just leave them like this. Plus if you don't go to war with them they are going to get really discouraged and it is going to be another Miraglim situation all over again. I've already been there and done that with the whole "Well, we don't know if we like Eretz Yisrael" stuff which then sends everyone into a panic. Not happening again.

So they agree to go to war with the rest of B'nei Yisrael, but they still don't fully get it and mention their animals, before their children, as a reason to settle on the other side of the Jordan. And what is really shocking, is that Moshe agrees. I mean, there are so many times in Judaism where someone says, "Hey, can I do this?" and the answer is "No." For some reason, Reuven and Gad are granted their request, with Moshe adding that their receiving that land is conditional on their going to war, and also with Moshe adding some of Menasheh to go with them. What a lesson to be learned from this parsha. What is the priority? Consider your brothers, your nation. Think about others first.

Have a good Shabbos!


Friday, July 15, 2011

QPT: Parshat Pinchas

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Pinchas

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

From my little experience in the working world, it seems that there are two ways that people react to being let go or fired. The first is an approach of indignation. Understandably so, they are upset and angry about being kicked out against their will, and this emotion is so strong that they refuse to train the next person who needs the information they have. "Why should I help the company?" is their attitude. They do their best to make their departure difficult for those who still have their jobs. In extreme cases they will even try to purposefully hide useful information that only they have, that the company needs. Their fury motivates them to do their best to try to ensure that the company regrets letting them go or firing them as much as possible.

Others take a different approach. No one is happy to lose their job, but some value their job and the work that they do more than their own pride. This is always inspiring to see. Despite their personal hurt at rejection, they do their best to make sure that the important work that they do will go on after them. They are happy to train the next person who will take over their responsibilities and they make sure that things will continue to run smoothly after they leave. It's not all about them, it's about a job that needs to get done, even if they are not the one to do it.

Having seen these two approaches, the section of the parsha that jumped out at me (despite the fact that there is *so* much going on in this parsha, with Pinchas, B'not Tzlafchad, the Karban Tamid etc.) was the scene where Hashem tells Moshe to go up on the mountain to see Eretz Yisrael and prepare to die. Given the great level of Moseh Rabeinu, it is no surprise to see that Moshe of course falls into the second category. Moshe's reaction is immediately to ask Hashem to pick someone else to lead the Jewish people after him. Of course Moshe wanted to go into Eretz Yisrael so badly, and it must have been very difficult for him, but he put that aside and wanted to make sure that the Jewish people had a leader, no matter what.

What is interesting is the language that Moshe uses when he asks Hashem to pick another leader. He says: יפקד ה' אלוקי הרוחות לכל בשר איש על העדה (Bamidbar 27: 16). When I read this posuk I thought this was unusual language and wondered why Moshe addressed Hashem using this particular name here. Well Rashi clears that up with a fascinating insight as to what Moshe was looking for in a future leader of the Jewish People. By using the term "אלוקי הרוחות לכל בשר ," Moshe was referring to the fact that Hashem understands every person and knows that each individual person is unique with their own personality. There are a lot of interesting characters in the Jewish people. Moshe was asking Hashem for someone with the quality of being able to deal with all different types of people.

This really struck me because I see this today so much as a necessary quality of our leaders today. There are so many types of people, so many different interests and each person has different priorities, and a leader must be able to get along with each person.

Have a good Shabbos!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beautiful Song

Some songs have a great tune. I may not like the singer's voice or the words, but the tune is nice. Other songs have great words, but a terrible tune. And there are some singers who could be singing a song with terrible words and a terrible tune and still come out sounding amazing.

The song below is a song that has all three factors: Great words, a beautiful tune, and the kid who sings it has an incredible voice. It's one of those songs I could listen to over and over.

The words are from a Tefillah that is said when putting on a Tallis (since I obviously do not wear a Tallis, I had to look up the source of the words, so correct me if I am wrong.) I do not know the origin of the song, who originally composed the tune, so if anyone knows, please let me know.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Do you ever think about your purpose in life? Well, I think about it all the time. I can’t help it, I just do. Wondering what I’m supposed to do. When I was a kid I just kind of figured I’d grow up to be awesome and extraordinary and I would do something so amazing that I would be famous and the entire world would know who I am, and I’d be one of those people you learn about in school. I knew I was awesome, and even though no one else knew that, one day the world would figure it out. I was a hopeful idealistic kid, and still am that way mostly. But then one day I realized: I am not extraordinary. I am just ordinary.

I knew that would happen one day, I always used to hear about how you grow up and you’re your idealism. You forget about all the dreams you had when you were a kid and settle for being boring. But I thought that doesn’t happen until your thirties or forties when you find yourself stuck sitting at a desk job all day and you have a midlife crisis. But in any event, I realized that I am plain old ordinary. Maybe that is an excuse I tell myself, a way out of having to put in all the effort and all the hard work that it takes to be great, but the truth is that even if I have the potential to be extraordinary, I am not there yet. I always dreamed of changing the world, and I will probably always hold on to that dream, but it seems far off in the distance, and so untouchable. How will I ever get there?

Some days I feel lost, like I am never going to find my direction and unique path in life. The way for me to make my small, tiny mark on the world. Not because there is no one to point me in the right direction, but because it seems each path has a big huge sign in front of it that stares me in the eyes which says, “Nope, not this one. Try again.” No way seems to be the right way for me. Where do I go? Where do I fit in in this big world? I hope that when I die G-d doesn’t look at my life and point into the moment in time when He created me and say, “Well, that was pointless. You missed what you were supposed to do.”

Sometimes I look at myself and all I see are my faults, my weaknesses, the areas where I am lacking, or where others are so much better than I am. The areas that I wish I excelled in, but let's face it: I don't. What in the world can I do that no one else in the entire world can do? I lose sight of who I am. It reminds me about a lecture that I listened to by a woman who was homeless for about a year, and she started off the lecture by saying “I am a journalist.” She explained how when she was homeless she just became this homeless person and lost that part of her identity. She was always the same person, but how she thought of herself was different. Maybe I’m ordinary, but somewhere buried deep inside I can be extraordinary. Yes, I have weaknesses, but I have strengths, too.

People always ask these questions like "what is your goal in life" or "what is your purpose" or "what do you hope to accomplish," but those questions seem to imply that there is just one goal or purpose, and you just have to get there. That's how I always thought it was. I just needed to find the place I wanted to get to, and then get there. As though there is this one spot that you need to get to, and then you're done. I once listened to a great shiur by Charlie Harary (related to Purim) where he says that each day of your life is part of that purpose. It’s not this one big thing that you get to one day. Every single day is a little tiny piece of it. Every day is important.

Most people are ordinary. For most of us, our purpose is not something big like curing a disease, ending slavery, creating a new invention, or being the first one on the moon. But there are people who have a huge influence on their own small world- on their community, on their family, on their friends, and to those people, they are extraordinary. And that is what I strive to be. G-d gave us life to be extraordinary in our own small way, even if the entire world doesn’t recognize our accomplishments. Extraordinary means finding meaning in every single day, and every single moment. It means that what I accomplished today, however small, is important.

I am probably never going to be famous, and that is quite alright with me. I think that’s a dream I’m ready to give up. But I am never going to give up on my dream of being extraordinary.


Friday, July 8, 2011

QPT: Parshat Balak

Quick Parsha Thoughts: Parshat Balak

No matter how many times you read something, each time you see it in a different light. I find that every time I read the parsha something different jumps out at me. Here are a couple of my observations from reading the parsha this week:

• I always thought that at the beginning of the story, Bilaam always seems like a good guy- he says that he can only do what Hashem wanted him to do, and Chazal have to tell us not to be fooled by that. This time when I read the story it seemed more like he was saying to Balak’s messengers, “I’m sorry, guys, I can only do what G-d tells me to do. But I really WANT to curse them! So not fair.” He tells Balak’s messengers the second time that even if they gave him gold and silver he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even if he wanted to, but he does want to, and he seems frustrated by the fact that he can’t.

• What really fascinated me was the scene where the donkey asks Bilaam why he hit him three times. Now, what I would expect Bilaam to say (aside from, “What?? You can talk?”) is, “Well, you didn’t move, and I wanted you to move so I hit you.” But that is not what he says at all. Bilaam says, “Because you mocked me! If I had a sword I would kill you.” Why was Bilaam really mad? I always thought he was mad that the donkey wasn’t listening to him and wasn’t responding to him. Clearly that was part of it, but, as Rashi explains, Bilaam was embarrassed because Balak’s messengers were there watching him, and he felt they were laughing at him because he was being recruited to curse an entire nation, but he couldn’t even get his own donkey to move. We are so concerned about what other people think of us, I never realized that Bilaam was motivated by what other people thought of him, as opposed to being annoyed that the donkey wasn't listening to him. Interesting.

• Also thought it was interesting how many times B’nei Yisrael are referred to as “Yaakov.” For those who know any tune to the song “Al Tirah Avdi Yaakov” (I personally recommend D’veykus’s version of it), a lot of the words from that song are found in this week’s parsha. Why are B’nei Yisrael referred to as Yaakov so many times? Anyone know?

• Lastly, for some reason I always thought the line “Ma Tovu” appeared much earlier in all of the things that Bilaam says. Not sure why that was.

Have a good shabbos!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Judge me
Put me in a box
And don’t let me out of it
Stifled, stuck, unable to break free
If I say something or do something
That does not fit your perception of me
I am met with questions
Why are you doing that
Why are you saying that
Why are you wearing that
That is not how you have behaved in the past
Wow, so frum, so shtark today
Wow, what happened to you,
I thought you were more frum than that.
That is so not you
Do you know me better than I know myself?
Don’t you know that each day
Is a chance for me to be someone new?
I don’t have to be who I was yesterday
Don’t act so surprised that I don’t fit that box
Today is a new chance to act differently than I have in the past
Perhaps in the past I resisted temptation
And today I have given in
I no longer fit the box you have placed me in
Perhaps I usually give in to sin
But today I break free and hold strong
I no longer fit the box you have placed me in
You think you know me
So anything that does not fit that perception
Shocks you
Perhaps you should keep that thought to yourself
Instead of telling me to go back to that box where I belong
I don’t belong in a box.


Monday, July 4, 2011


As I was enjoying myself, relaxing, watching the colorful fourth of July fireworks, my mind started to drift. I was thinking about how interesting it is that as long as one of our five senses is being entertained, the other sense can put up with a little bit of annoyance. Fireworks are so loud and they were really hurting my ears, yet I had a good time because I was so focused on the beautiful shiny colors. Then I started thinking, we can learn something from everything in the world. What could I learn from fireworks? What lesson could they teach me?

The first thing that came to mind was how fireworks contrast to stars. A firework is one big exciting flash of light, while stars are less flashy and don’t make you go “wow!” quite as much, but yet, fireworks last for just a few seconds, and then they are gone, while stars shine every single night. Sometimes we think serving G-d is all about this one big, crazy, super, duper, awesome moment that we throw all of our energy into, but life is about shining every single night, just a little. It’s not about the one time unusual acts that we do, but about the day in and the day out.

I was sharing this idea with someone in my family who added this nice thought: Fireworks are awesome and really capture your attention, but even after 20 minutes, it starts to get boring. It’s true- I started to glance down at my watch and was ready for it to be over already. We want life to be full of these exciting moments, inspiring moments, all the time, but the truth is that even excitement gets dull. Inspiration fades, we get used to things quickly- no matter how big, bright, shiny, and loud they are. The key is to see the same old things in our lives as new every day.