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.