Saturday, December 30, 2006

Crusade for Jewish Music

Recently, Mishpacha's Family First magazine ran an opinion section on Jewish music-- "Where to draw the line." Frankly, I felt that there was no chiddush in the entire section. Well, as usual, I have something to say on the subject. Unfortunately, I won't have time to share it until I get past a few finals. Meanwhile, I'm opening the floor to your opinion.

Is Jewish music getting too modern for you? Do you think there's too much secular influence on our entertainment? How do you protect yourself and/or your children from these changes? Do changes in music trends concern you?

I also want to address the relatively new entry of Jewish music videos onto the scene.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gashmiyus Anticlimax

[fyi: Gashmiyus, pronounced gah-sh-mee-oos or -oot refers to materialism or anything pertaining to this world, as opposed to the spiritual or afterworld]

If we Americans weren't so stuck on using language from the alte haim, creating a cholent pot of European languages and Latin derivatives that no one understands anyway, then this time of year would be called the Consumerism Equinox, or whatever the appropriate astrological term is. 'Tis the season when the sun beams down strongest upon manufacturers and retailers alike, and opening hours are longer than ever before.

If you're going to get sucked in by the present climate, at least let it be a lesson. I had my own bout of materialism recently, but TG I snapped out of it and swear never to go back, be"H. That's a longer story. The moral is: materialism does not satisfy the soul.

Ever notice that when you want something very hard, it's usually not that hot once it's in your hand? This is what I'm calling the Gashmiyus Anticlimax. It is so blatant in our times, when there is an entire industry of advertising with the sole purpose of convincing you that you need something that you don't have, and you won't be happy without it. Of course, getting something won't help much because they're still trying to convince you that you want something else. And if you have a spiritual mindset, it feels even worse when you wake up with the object of your desires in your hand and realize that this is what you wasted all that energy on-- on wanting, on acquiring, on enjoying it.

You won't have to give anything up to satisfy your desire, it's not too expensive and not against halacha. WRONG! Every bit of material pleasure comes with a spiritual price tag. The good news is that every physical sacrifice gives your soul a boost. Keep this in mind the next time you're not feeling well.

Materialism and spirituality are diametrically opposed. They pull in opposite directions; it is impossible to pursue both simultaneously. This presents a challenge, since we posess spiritual souls and a Torah that tells us that's "where it's at," yet we are clearly living in physical bodies in a material world. We learn, therefore, that it is possible to elevate the physical and use it for spiritual purposes. However, a person's true desire can only lean towards one.

So, if I find myself drawn towards materialism, does that mean I can't genuinely want spirituality and my soul is doomed? Not at all, if we understand that our actions shape our feelings, and not the other way around. The first step is simply to be aware of your motivation. Any physical action can be rationalized with spiritual reasons, so you must force yourself to be honest about why you do things.

The pull towards everything worldly is not a personal defect; it is part of human nature and is designed to be fought. Don't let it get you down. Once you become aware of the reasoning behind your actions, take the metacognition one step further back and try to do the reasoning before you decide to do things. Let the Torah's way shape your decisions, instead of streching its parameters to accomodate materialistic choices.

You will be in control. It feels great.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Fourth Candle

Tonight I lit an extra candle on my menorah. Not sure how it happened; I suppose I probably took my "melting candle" (whose wax I used to stick the others in place) and just stuck it in at the end without thinking.

Anyhow, when I realized the error, I was told (happened to be on the phone with a member of my Rabbi's family at the time) to just put it out. So, still on the phone, I reached out and gave it a little pinch.

A moment later
I was saddened
by the realization
of how very easy it was
to snuff out
a Chanuka candle.

I couldn't just let it go like that. I kept coming back to it. So I did what any long-standing pyromaniac would: Removed the candle from the menora and lit it again. Fascinating, that flame, the fourth one that should never have been lit tonight. It came with me everywhere, and I couldn't keep my eyes off it. There was a DVD playing, but that became the background as my candle was infinitely more entertaining. It couldn't drown out my Chanukah.

It came with me into my room. As we rounded the corner, I turned off the light.
Because I felt like it, that's why.
And it was pitch dark, but for my candle. The fourth one that shouldn't have been.
It didn't light up the room, but it gave my hand a nice glow.
Brought back memories of last Chanukah, and the kumzitz by candlelight. In Eretz Yisrael.
A little dark won't stop my candle from shining.

It came with me to the freezer to get something to eat. Into the freezer it went.
Because I wanted to, that's why.
That's when we learned that a freezer is no match (pun unintended) for a Chanukah candle. Slowly the frost began to run, the ice began to melt, and my candle kept on burning.
That fourth candle that wasn't supposed to have been lit at all.

It came with me back to the table, too. Idly I dipped my finger into my water glass and let a drip down onto my candle. (Just because, ok?) The fourth one, the one that...yeah. The drip missed, ran down the candle's side. (don't you mess with my candle!) Another one missed again. (Yeah, just you try.) Again. And again. The fifth drop was right on target; it made a delightful crackling noise before vanishing into vapor.
Not cold, not dark, and not water can extinguish my Chanuka candle. As long as it has not been totally cut off from its sustaining oxygen, there is still hope for the lone flame, the fourth candle that shouldn't have been lit.
The seventh drop hit target.
The flame was gone.
This time I knew what to do right away.

We ran back to the chanukiya. The one with three candles. Holding my breath, I held the fourth candle close to the shamash. It crackled and sent up sparks; the water had really penetrated its tiny wick. All at once, the black, charred wick glowed orange. I knew then that as long as there was still a brightly burning source of light, my flame would never be lost.

With that, I concluded my sadistic experiments and watched my fourth candle, that shouldn't have been lit, burn brightly and undisturbed until it disappeared into a pool of molten wax.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm baaaaack!

Hello again to all my (ahem) loyal followers. I have decided to reopen this blog because I am feeling burnt out and need a good dose of Torah Thought.

I started reading Ohr Gedalyahu about Chanuka a couple of Shabboses ago. It looks really deep and meaningful; I intend to continue and will try iy"H to post some lessons from there when I get a moment.

Can't post without a Torah Thought, hey. For now, though, since it is late and I'm getting incoherent, let me get away with just linking you (all my anxious listeners) to a really great class by Rebbetzin Heller (a personal favorite) on The title is "Practical Ways of Changing Speech Patterns" and the streaming version is wonderfully free. Enjoy, learn, and grow!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Summer Vacation

I have decided that it is just too hard to maintain and moderate this site from camp. However, I am not going to abandon it altogether and I hope you don't either! Please check back in August; hopefully I will be back in action by then, with the addition of some new features.

In the meantime, remember that there is no such thing as a "vacation" from Torah and mitzvos. As we know, "Ein lecha ben chorin ella me she'osek beTorah -- The only free person is one who is immersed in Torah." Keep thinking, living, and breathing Torah and come back to share later!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Parshas Korach

Korach is a study of how envy can lead to major destruction. Envy is a result of a person's comparing himself to someone else. How can we avoid falling into this fatal trap? The key is to stay focused on your goal and realize what you are worth.

When a person is focused on the goal of bringing nachas to HaShem, he is happy when any person does mitzvos. Such a person will not only strive to be an exemplary eved HaShem, but will help others towards that goal regardless of where he is holding. When a person is motivated by his own desire for honor, then he wants to do it all himself.

This seems to be the main problem in Korach's dispute. While he claimed to want to serve HaShem on a higher level, in reality, says Rashi, he desired the honor of priesthood. Instead of feeling happy when his cousins performed the divine service, he was envious of their position.

We can view this world as a play in which every person has a specific role. In order for everything to work out, each person only needs to do their part. An actor being paid to play the part of a bum is not going to get a higher rating for acting like an executive - in fact, quite the opposite. He doesn't even mind having been given a lowly part because he realizes that this is not an insult to him; rather it is his mission. So too a Levi does not perform the service of a Cohen, and he is not "settling" by only fulfilling that which is set out for him to do. Play your part with pride and don't worry about the costumes other people wear. They are with you in the ultimate goal of serving the Almighty.

Based on Growth Through Torah (Pliskin) and The Shmuz (Shafier)

And now a little "Chassidishe vort," if you will:
We say in the Aleinu prayer, "Bashamayim mima'al, ve'al ha'aretz mitachas." You can view this as a reminder that in matters of spirituality (bashamayim) you should look towards those who are above you (mima'al) so that you can strive to emulate them, and in physical matters (al ha'aretz) you should always look at those who have less than you (mitachas) so that you will appreciate what you have and not be jealous.
As heard from Rabbi Y. Oelbaum