Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Different Peace

A Different Peace
Tammuz 2, 5772 · June 22, 2012
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

True peace is not a forced truce, not a homogenization of differences, not a common ground that abandons our home territories.

True peace is the oneness that sprouts from diversity, from a panorama of colors, strokes and textures. From the harmony of many instruments each playing a unique part, not one overlapping the other’s kingdom by even the breadth of a hair. There, in the most delightful beauty of this world, there shines G‑d’s most profound oneness.

Those who attempt to blur those borders, they are unwittingly destroying the world. Beginning with the crucial border between man and woman—for this is the beginning of all diversity, the sharpest focus of G‑d’s oneness, shining intensely upon His precious world.

—Likkutei Sichot, volume 18, Korach 3

Bruce Springsteen – Streets Of Philadelphia

I was bruised and battered and I couldnt tell
What I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window I didn’t know
My own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me
On the streets of philadelphia
I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of philadelphia

Aint no angel gonna greet me
Its just you and I my friend
My clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip the skin

The night has fallen, Im lyinawake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of philadelphia

[ Lyrics from LyricsFreak]

Rebbetzin Kanyevsky

The 2 Times Rebbetzin Kanyevsky Really Lost Her Cool

In 99.9% of the stories that appear in the newly-released comprehensive Artscroll biography about Rebbetzin Kanyevsky, what’s most striking is how the Rebbetzin is able to give and give and give under extremely trying circumstances without ever losing her cool. Here’s a few examples:

-After a neighbor named Rachel Nadel who was a mother of many children passed away, for years Rebbetzin Kanyevsky would prepare the Nadel children’s lunches every morning for school, cook for the family, attend the Nadel girls’ parent-teacher conferences, and even sometimes clean their apartment. And over the years, the Rebbetzin happily cared for quite a few other children as well who were orphaned or whose mothers were sick (in fact, she actually adopted 2 such children and raised them as her own in addition to her own 8 children.) And she did all this with a feeling of joy over the mitzvah she was doing, and without ever losing her cool.

-For many years, the Kanyevskies were one of the last families managing in the famously brutal and humid Bnei Brak heat without an air conditioner. Why? Because Rebbetzin Kanyevsky didn’t want people who visited her to feel pressure to purchase an air conditioner, because “Even the Kanyevskies have one.” Rebbetzin Kanyevsky finally bought an air conditioner when someone told her that her personal assistant was suffering from the heat in the Kanyevsky kitchen. But for herself, she would have happily continued sweating and suffering. The same was true regarding purchasing an oven. For decades, Rebbetzin Kanyevsky would bring her unbaked challahs to a local bakery in order to bake them there, lest another woman would feel pressure to buy an oven.

-For decades, the Rebbetzin would receive many visits over the course of the week from mentally ill women. Often these women were disruptive and disrespectful and smelled badly, but the Rebbetzin cared for them and encouraged them and listened attentively to their paranoid ramblings and even kissed and hugged them. And she always insisted on making time for them and treating them with respect. Even when one of these women said that what she most desired in the world was to marry Rabbi Kanyevsky, Rebbetzin Kanyevsky accepted this with understanding and did not lose her cool…

But in a way, I think that out of all the amazing stories in this book, the ones that gave me the clearest sense of the Rebbetzin’s greatness are the stories of the two times when Rebbetzin Kanyevsky DID lose her cool….

And here they are…This is an excerpt from Rebbetzin Kanvesky: A Legendary Mother to All.

The Rebbetzin became really upset twice.

The first incident occurred one morning…when “Binah” a girl with a conspicuous stuttering problem was speaking to the Rebbetzin. Another girl- a visiting relative- was imitating Binah in the presence of the Rebbetzin and right in front of Binah herself. The Rebbetzin became very agitated and motioned to the relative to stop right away. When she continued imitating the girl, the Rebbetzin cried out, “Stop embarrassing her!”

She hugged Binah and brought her into her bedroom, where she spent a long time talking with her. Weeping, the Rebbetzin said, “It must be so hard to deal with people making fun of you when you stutter. I’m so sorry that you were embarrassed in my home!” She then contacted various doctors to find out who would be qualified to help Binah correct her speech impediment.

There was another occasion on which the Rebbetzin really lost her composure. One summer morning, a group of secular Israeli girls came to daven at the sunrise minyan in the Lederman Shul and to speak with the Rebbetzin after davening. One of the girls was dressed in a completely immodest fashion and was walking the Rebbetzin home after davening.

A yeshiva student from one of the nearby yeshivos noticed the girl’s inappropriate attire and began screaming at the girl and insulting her. “Shame on you! Go back to Tel Aviv where you belong! How dare you come to Bnei Brak dressed like this?” he heckled.

The startled Rebbetzin shouted back at the boy. “Who asked you to open your mouth? Have you no shame that you are embarrassing somebody in public and insulting someone…is that how you rebuke someone?”

“I will tell you something that I never told any of the many, many people who have frequented my home: you are the only person not welcome to come and visit. If you do come to my house I will tell you what I have never told anyone before—that you must leave my house!”

Meanwhile the Rebbetzin hugged and comforted the secular girl.

The Rebbetzin was so distraught by what happened that she…began crying hysterically to her husband. “Is it possible that I did a sin which caused this overzealous yeshiva student to act this way in front of me?” she sobbed.

After spending nearly 5 minutes weeping in front of R. Chaim, the Rebbetzin sat down on her bed and took anti-anxiety medication to calm down. For the rest of the day she remained upset that someone who came to her for chizuk had been so insulted.


G-d Said, “Be Happy”

Interview with Avi Wolf

The most popular post in 2011 on the Torahmusings blog was an essay by Avi Woolf entitled Does Modern Orthodoxy Not Believe in Fun?

Following that article, I interviewed Avi and asked him the following questions.

– How do you reconcile movie watching with the inherent halachic
issues that arise with watching content that has sex, violence, nivul
peh, etc. Do you think think there is no halachic prohibition
– Do you feel that there are any shows that should not be watched?
– How would you feel about taking first year yeshiva students to go
and watch “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit
Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” as an excursion?
– Do you believe that contemporary Judaism is too prudish, when it
comes to matters of sexuality? What would you propose differently? As
a serious suggestion, do you think we should be going down the route
of poskim giving heterim for masturbation for sexually frustrated
single men, allowing single woman to go to mikvah?

Below is his response:

How do you reconcile movie watching with the inherent halachic issues that arise with watching content that has sex, violence, nivul peh, etc. Do you think think there is no halachic prohibition

I believe that here you fall into the common trap of many religious thinkers and members of the yeshiva world, in that you view everything through the lens of the formal law codices and authorized texts and attribute no value or authority to the world outside your window. Ergo, the issue of TV (or any issue) rises and falls, in your view, on the question of whether or not I can muster halachic and textual arguments and defeat nay-sayers.

My attitude is entirely different. I take it as a given that many activities of Jews fall outside the strictly sanctioned matters discussed by major poskim. Some of them are neutral, some problematic and some might be outright assur. There is a difference between the real observance and transgression as evidenced by communities and ideal level of observance as evidenced in the often utopian and detached law codices. I happen to agree with Dr. Benny Brown, for instance, that strict adherence to the Chofetz Chaim’s loshon Hara psika would make most normal discourse almost impossible. This is to say nothing of how “loshon hara” can thus be warped into the equivalent of the mafia code of silence.

I believe that the “Ideal” and the “real” need to negotiate, and know when to enforce and when to give way, not try to enforce utopia down normal people’s throats. Hearing swear words, seeing violence or sexual images to varying degrees is part of this negotiation. A sense of proportion, often entirely lacking in theoretical halachic discussion, is also key seeing some skin is not the same thing as watching an X-rated movie, and hearing some swear-words does not mean the hearer is going to suddenly have the mouth of a sailor. We need to trust those who receive values that they know how negotiate these things.

“Do you feel that there are any shows that should not be watched?”

 Everyone has their red lines, and I trust that people who are sufficiently infused with Jewish values can establish appropriate boundaries. I myself have certain boundaries I will not cross, while others have theirs. It is an individual (or familial) call.

How would you feel about taking first year yeshiva students to go and watch “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” as an excursion?”

Why should I consider this a problem?

Granted, I’d prefer if they have better taste in movies, but I don’t think it’s a disaster.

“Do you believe that contemporary Judaism is too prudish, when it comes to matters of sexuality?

Absolutely, and to our collective detriment.

“What would you propose differently? As a serious suggestion, do you think we should be going down the route of poskim giving heterim for masturbation for sexually frustrated single men, allowing single woman to go to mikvah?”

I don’t think blanket heterim are necessary nor even a “global policy”. What is needed is a toning down of anti-sexual rhetoric. When students are taught about sex, they should be taught a lot more about teshuva and how what they are feeling is perfectly normal. Furthermore, they should not be given the idea that having sex (or maturbating) immediately puts them outside the pale or means they are a bad person (as opposed to wrong behavior). I don’t want to hear any more stories about people who go have sex and then chuck Torah and Mitzvot altogether because some overzealous teacher told them it’s the worst thing in the world.

The point, then, is to have a less perfectionist, 100% or nothing attitude towards sinners, sexual sinners included. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but the only real alternative is the hafrada insanity, where the ideal prevent sexual sins at all costs attitude prevails.

Chag Sameach,