Category Archives: Archives 5763

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Elul 5763 – Going to Sem and the Matzav

Lichvod Rabbi Orlofsky,

I am trying to convince my friend who is 12th grade to spend next year in Israel in seminary. I wanted to know if you could give me some tips on what to tell her. her parents are concerned about the security situation and the financial concern.

Thanks, Name withheld

**

Dear Friend,

Since this is, after all, JEMSEM, I don’t need to remind my readers about the advantages of a year of study in a seminary in Israel. However, we don’t all have the eloquence to express our thoughts to others who haven’t shared our experience. So here are as few “talking points” when discussing seminary in Israel.

Some people suggest that a year of seminary is unnecessary. After all, I already had twelve years of yeshiva education. That’s true, but you also had twelve years of secular education. Nonetheless, you want to go to university, because you know that the education you receive through high school is insufficient to allow you to be successful in life.

If you need four years of post high school study to complete your secular education, then don’t you need at least one year of full time Jewish studies to complete your Jewish education? (I have also found this argument effective when discussing shana bet as well).

In the US, a person can almost always receive a year of college credit when attending seminary. One doesn’t even need to suggest that they are “wasting valuable time” by studying in Israel. Depending on the university you’re attending, the year in Israel can even work out to be a less expensive way of acquiring college credits. Obviously, if you live in Canada, Europe or are attending a university that doesn’t accept credits, this answer won’t work. Instead, as I mentioned previously, stress what a person stands to gain in their own life.

When I was on my way to Eretz Yisroel to learn in yeshiva back in the 1970’s, it wasn’t widely accepted to study in Israel after high school. People were encouraged to go straight to college. I remember speaking to a classmate of mine about going to Eretz Yisroel. He said he couldn’t because “he was in a rush”. What was the rush, I wondered.

“I have to hurry up and get my B.A.” he said.

“Why? What happens then?”

“Then I get my M.A.”

“And then?”

“And then I get a job and make a lot of money and buy a house and a boat and a condo and get married and have a few kids.”

“And then,” I pressed.

“Then I become a pillar of my community and get honored at dinners.”

“And then?”

“And then I get old.”

“And then?”

“And then I die.”

It’s a great plan, I observed, covers just about everything. But how different would it be if you took off a year to learn in Israel? So you would graduate a year later? And you’d make your fortune a year later. Get married a year later and who knows, maybe die a year later? (I have since taken to guaranteeing this. I figure, what are they going to do, sue me if I’m wrong? How can they prove it?)

But if learning in Israel is such a good, worthwhile thing, then it will change the way the rest of your life runs. It will add deeper meaning and substance to your work, your marriage, your family your community. It is an investment for a more meaningful life.

Some people say I can study in America. The fact is however that the seminaries in Israel have a unique pool of resources to draw upon. The staff in Israeli seminaries often consist of some of the biggest names in the Jewish world. Additionally there is the idea that chazal teach us: “Ain Torah kiToras Eretz Yisroel”. The learning here is on a different level.

There is also the effect of a year living in Israel. Sunday is a regular day in the whole country, a siren goes off at lichtbenching, menorahs shine from all the windows on Chanukah, the makalot in even secular neighborhoods paper over their chometz aisles on Pesach. The list goes on and on. You also get to spend Shabbos with families who have made real sacrifices to make Eretz Yisroel their home. That is something inspiring in and of itself. Spending one year living in Eretz Yisroel gives us a love for the land that you can’t get on a ten day stay in the Sheraton.

The security situation is always a concern. Boruch Hashem, all the seminaries I am familiar with take the situation very seriously. Certain areas are considered out of bounds at all times and other areas at times of danger. I would feel safer sending a girl to a seminary in Eretz Yisroel then to Columbia University in Spanish Harlem. Yet many girls don’t think twice about going there.

These are a few points to consider. For the sake of this young lady, I hope you are successful. I know for myself, that anything good I have become in my life or anything good that I have accomplished, can be traced to the inspiration I received from my first year learning in Eretz Yisroel.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

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Av 5763 – Getting Out of A Spiritual Rut

1 Menachem Av, 5763

Lichvod Rabbi Orlofsky,

I am new to this website so I don’t know who this is going to – but I am really inspired by the site – so I decided to ask you a question that has been on my mind for a while.

Lately, I’ve been so caught up in work that I find I have no time to daven. But it’s not just that, because even when I do find time to daven, like on Shabbos morning, I sort get busy with other things and never end up davening. Sometimes (and I feel really guilty about it) I don’t even want to daven. I know I should daven and that I really owe it to Hashem for all the wonderful things he does for me, but somehow I can’t get out of this rut. What bothers me even more is that I used to daven all the time and many times with a lot of kavana and appreciation for it. So now when I seem to be in this endless cycle of no prayer it’s disheartening. I was wondering if you could give me some advice to help me stay focused and want to daven again.

Name & Seminary withheld

*****

Dear Name Withheld,

Welcome to JEMSEM! Questions like yours end up being sent to me since they aren’t questions with halachic implications that need to be answered by someone who really knows what he’s talking about.

Besides, I can relate to your question on a personal level. In my own life, I get into ruts (the last one started in 1974) and I find myself not doing things that I think are important. Even more, I find I don’t even do things I REALLY want to do, things I enjoy doing.

This is a perfectly normal situation. All of us go through times in our lives when we are excited and enthusiastic. Then the excitement begins to wane and we are left without that fire that we had at the beginning. So what do we do in such a situation?

If you have ever been hiking and you lose your footing, you might suddenly find yourself sliding down the side of the mountain. Now some people in that situation will just lie there limply and think to themselves “I’m sliding down the side of the mountain! I’m going to have to climb all the way back up!” And sure enough when they hit bottom, that’s exactly what they do – they have to climb all the way back up to get back to where they were.

There are however, people who stick out there feet and grab with their hands to slow down and stop they’re descent. They won’t fall so far, and it will be easier for them to regain the levels they lost.

This phenomenon affects us in all areas of life. Some people instead of washing the few dishes they use each day and wiping off the counter and maybe even sweeping the floor, they wait until entropy has completely reduced their kitchen to a state of total chaos. Then they get depressed at the size of the job and lose hope of ever restoring order. I know a guy who keeps putting off washing his tztzis until he decides he might as well just put it into shammes
and buy new ones.

This rule also applies to interpersonal relationships. I know many people who forgot to pay a shiva call and planned to call the person and apologize. But as the days became weeks became months, it became too hard for them to face the person. So instead they just avoided the person for years! There are marriages that end in divorce for no better reason than lack of maintenance.

You have to focus on one idea – you ENJOY davening. It is a positive force in your life. Forget that you have to, or that you’re being an ingrate. It is a positive and enjoyable experience, something that you want to do.

The problem is, where do you start? Like many people (girls in particular) you are all or nothing. Instead of davening meaningfully for five or six minutes you tell yourself I need twenty minutes or half an hour. So, instead you do nothing.

I don’t know about you, but personally I like to sit down and eat like a mentch. But if I can’t, I grab something to eat. Because otherwise I will pass out. Davening is the same thing – grab a nosh if you haven’t got time for a real seuda. Sometimes I email people who have written me just to let them know I haven’t forgotten them, I just haven’t had time to write back yet.

That’s my advice. Break out of the rut with a five minute a day regimen of shema and shemona esrei. No it’s not ideal, but it’s a lot better than nothing!

And no guilt. Just say, “Hi Hashem, sorry I’ve been so busy that I got into a rut. I just wanted to take a few minutes to say Hi, and when I get out of this we are going to have a real deep conversation like we used to.”

Good Luck.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

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Tammuz 5763 – Forgiveness and Accountability

1 Tammuz, 5763

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

I am an adult woman, born of two Jewish parents. Parental neglect, abuse and abandonment comprised my childhood, adolescence and young womanhood. A small portion of the parental choices included adultery, divorce, remarriages, and failure to provide a safe home for a minor child. Accordingly, there were no teachings about G-d, and no practice of Judaism in the home as a family. The opposite took place.

I was recently advised by a friend (Jewish by birth, but new to Judaism) that I should not “blame” my parents for their actions, and forgive them for their “mistakes,” since they “didn’t know any better.” She advised that this is the “Jewish way,” but it does not sound Jewish in concept to me.

I do not believe all deeds are forgivable, nor should they be. I did not think wholesale forgiveness for all deeds, or placing this responsibility on the victim, was in accordance with Jewish beliefs.

I have been rediscovering my Judaism through Orthodox resources. It is my understanding that Judaism places the utmost significance on personal accountability for our deeds, words and actions, and the enormous impact they have on other people.

The “mistakes” my parents made were serious adult choices that had a profoundly detrimental effect on my life, including my connection and positive association to Judaism, and my understanding thereof. I do not feel (as advised) that it’s “healthier,” or my duty as a Jew, to forgive all and absolve any accountability. (Blame is simply another word for being held accountable for our deeds and actions.)

I believe rightful healing, progress, spiritual well-being and the reality of accountability we must all take unto ourselves, is compromised by placing the burden of ‘no-fault’ forgiveness upon the victim. Unfortunately we live in a ‘no-fault’ society where blame and accountability are bad words, and victims are deemed wrong or ‘unhealthy’ for voicing them.

Is this ‘no-fault’ concept really in accordance with Jewish precepts? What about the specific steps we must take in Judaism to even be considered for forgiveness for our iniquity, transgressions, and sins between ‘man and man.’

If an adult individual has profoundly harmed another human being, especially in the dynamic of a parent/child relationship, is it the victim’s responsibility to exonerate?

This is not my understanding of clearly delineated Jewish ethics, precepts and principles. Please help clarify this from a frum perspective.

Thank you for your wonderful advice and the service you provide to the community.

Name & Seminary withheld.

*****

Dear Name Withheld,

Your letter was extremely painful for me to read. It is difficult to respond to, because as Judaism teaches, you can’t understand someone until you have been in their place. Boruch Hashem I have never had to suffer as you did, and so it is impossible to understand where you have been. Nonetheless, we Rabbi’s can’t get off the hook that easily, and so as much as my limited knowledge and ability allows, I will try to give you some clarity.

First of all, you are right, Judaism does teach the concept of personal responsibility. We must bear responsibility for our actions. Confessing our sins and having to say “Hail Mary” doesn’t cut it in Jewish thought.

Neither can fault be assigned to the victim. That, to a large extent is the theme of the Book of Job. Sometimes the victim is just that – a victim. We Jews have been victims of the world’s oppressions for years.

The point your friend is trying to make is the following. There is a dichotomy that exists. On the one hand, when something bad happens we are required to examine our deeds and ask why. At the same time when suffering happens to someone else it is forbidden to tell them to examine their deeds.

The message is poignant – I need to examine my life, not yours. There is a sad reality, namely that the world is filled with people who make bad decisions. I agree with you that to call them mistakes is disingenuous. They are bad things and they have the ability to devastate people and destroy their lives, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Those people will have to make their peace with G-d and if not, G-d has enough ways to settle the account. The question is, do I gain from demanding that judgment from them. There are three powerful books by David Pelzer wherein he describes the most horrific child abuse that I have ever heard of. Beatings, stabbings, starvation, freezing, burning, gassing were all part of his childhood. Yet as he describes it, he felt he needed to make his peace with his mother in his own heart for himself, not for her. He knew that if he didn’t rise above it, then he was like her. He wanted to free himself from her and be normal

When we carry anger and recrimination in our heart, though deserved, it takes up space that could be filled with love. If so, then we lose, not them.

The most frustrating part when someone hurts us is that they refuse to take responsibility for it. But that doesn’t mean my peace of mind has to be dependant on them. I can achieve a spiritual and mental equilibrium without them. They will be the ones who will suffer, not me.

Do you have a right to be angry? Yes. Should you exercise that right? You can, but at a cost to yourself. Do they deserve to haunt your life and affect your marriage and your relationship with your children? Are they worth that?

Having said that, there is a higher level, one that we should aspire to. When the ger tzeddek of Vilna was being taken out to be burnt at the stake, the executioner laughed at him. “I suppose I’m burning you in this world, but you’ll burn me in the next world”.

The ger tzeddek looked at him and said, “When I was growing up as the child of a nobleman, I didn’t have any other children of my rank to play with, so I played with the peasant children. One time they broke my toys and I ran to my father demanding that he put them to death. My father looked at me and said, ‘At the age of 21 you will come into your own rights. If you then want to put them to death, you may.’ Do you think that when I became an adult, I seriously considered killing those children for breaking my toys?”

He looked at the executioner and said, “What are you burning? My body? This isn’t me. You can’t touch me. The real me will go to the world of truth. And once there, do you really think I will be troubled by such petty feelings as anger, jealousy or a desire for revenge?”

When people do things to us, we understand that they ultimately can’t hurt us. We are neshamas, greater than these Earthly things. Will they be called to account for what they did? Of course. But we will move beyond these experiences and often they can help us to become the people we are meant to be.

If a person is dangerous, or we are afraid they will do to others what they did to us, as in the case of a child molester, then we must work to protect other innocent victims. But if what they did they did only to us, then we don’t need vengeance. That we leave to G-d.

One more difficult concept: After all is said and done, we recognize that we owe a debt to our parents, even the worst parents, for giving us life. It may be too painful to see past the pain they have inflicted, but if we go on to live a meaningful life, then ultimately we must realize that whatever we accomplish is because we are alive.

May Hashem grant you peace of mind and may you know only happiness for the rest of your life.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

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Sivan 5763 – How A BT Or Anyone Can Keep The Devotion

1 Sivan 5763

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

There is a joke I’m sure you’ve heard: How can you tell when a BT (Ba’al Teshuvah) has become just plain frum? When they start talking in shul.

I was having a discussion with a close friend of mine, an FFB (Frum From Birth), about my becoming BT and so on. She was telling how much she loved to read novels and such, to which I replied that I used to too, but becoming frum made me lose interest in them. She said that she enjoyed them because they provided an escape, and that I didn’t need them anymore because frumkeit had become the escapism, but that one day, I too would fall back on them, or TV, and the like, because I would lose the extreme interest and “hype” about yiddishkeit.

My question is, in short, how does a BT keep the passion going for yiddishkeit before they become like my FFB friend who requires escapes because frumkeit just doesn’t do it for her anymore? Chas vesholoym all FFB’s are like this, but you did say in one of your columns that FFB’s don’t listen to BT’s because, “If frum people see other people being frum (FFB’s I mean. They’ve come to accept BT’s do it but they’re not like us) and enjoying it.”

How does a BT maintain this spark?

Thank you very much,

Ora Birenbaum,

*****************************

Dear Ora,

First of all, that is by no means the best BT joke.

How many BT’s does it take to change a light bulb? You mean it’s mutar?
How can you tell when you’re on a date with a BT? He drives with the door open in case it’s yichud.
How many Chanukah candles do we light tonight? Last night we lit four.
How can you tell the BT in the dairy aisle? He’s the one looking for the Glatt Kosher cheese.

And so it goes. There is as a rule all BT jokes have in common – BT’s are intense. Someone I know once referred to someone as an FBT. Now I know that a BT is a Baal Tshuva and an FFB is a frum from birth and an MO is a Modern Orthodox, “But what,” I asked, “is an FBT?” He replied, “a flaming Baal Tshuva”.

Many FFB’s feel threatened by BT’s, even those of the non-flaming persuasion. There is no question that is because those who are sitting comfortably in a general religious malaise have to be challenged by someone who is so sincere, feels so deeply and sacrificed so much to achieve what an FFB was born with and might not enjoy the experience to the same extent. A beautiful description of this can be found in the introduction of a book about hospitality called “Aishel.”

Your friend sounds like she is not getting from her religious observance the same level of excitement you are. I once heard someone make reference to their relationship with Hashem and another FFB rolled his eyes and said, “What are you, a BT?” The only comfort many FFB’s get is by telling themselves that with time the BT’s will become like them soon enough. They’re just excited because it’s new.

The truth, however, is that a BT’s enthusiasm is based on something much deeper. An FFB was born frum. There wasn’t any agonizing process of trying to decide whether or not this is who they want to be. They didn’t have a former life to turn their backs on. They may have come up with philosophical questions when they were young, but they were probably either given simplistic answers or discouraged from further questioning. The BT however, arrived at their decision as an adult. They asked adult questions and received adult answers. Rabbi Yonosan Rosenbloom, who is one of the major Orthodox spokesmen today and an unabashed BT, explains that many of the writers and speakers who have a major impact on the FFB community are BT’s for exactly this reason – they have approached the subject as adults.

Having said that, there is, as you observe, always the danger that the fire will die down, scrupulousness will ease, and you will become like everyone else. What can be done?

The most important thing that can help is your chevra. Always stay with people who are growth-oriented. Yes, we even have some of those in the FFB community. I am not suggesting that you pigeon hole yourself in a BT community; I believe in mainstreaming. But there are shuls where there is no talking, where davening is taken seriously, where only children (and not all of them even) leave for the Rabbi’s derasha. There is no kiddush club during the haftara. This is no easy task. You will have quite a search for such a community, but it is well worth it.

Reflect at least once a day (perhaps during “hashiveynu avinu lisorasecha” in shemonah esreh) what your life would have ended up like if you hadn’t become frum. The world out there is a world of shadows and illusions. It’s hard to keep your hold on reality. So once a day at least, follow down the road more traveled (with apologies to Robert Frost).

Make a cheshbon HaNefesh. Set specific growth goals and monitor them. Get a Rav who appreciates who you are and will help you keep the fire alive. Avoid cynics!

Finally, remember that ultimately, it will be the people on fire, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, who will save klal yisroel and bring the geula, which is getting close enough these days that we can almost taste it.

As we used to say in my old NCSY days – “KEEP THE FLAME ALIVE!”

Sincerely,
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

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Iyar 5763 – WHY Is It Wrong To Watch TV??

1 Iyar 5763

WHY is it Wrong to Watch TV??

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,

I am a senior at Bais Yaakov High School and have listened to one of R’ Orlofsky’s lectures and enjoyed it and liked what was said. Now I have a question that has always bothered me. I’ve been told over and over again how watching television is detrimental to one’s spiritual level. Personally, though, I don’t feel any affects from viewing the “microwave” (as it is being referred to in school). I try not to watch that much besides the news despite this feeling. I know what you are probably thinking: I really don’t have a strong desire to grow if this is truly how I feel. But I do want to grow and in order to do so I need to have a clear answer as to what is the underlying problem of television.

Thank You.

Name withheld upon request

***********************

Dear Friend,

Let me begin by saying that I am a confessed TV addict. I grew up with a TV and to this day I find the effect on me hypnotic. As soon as I arrived home, I would flip on the TV regardless of what was on. The proof is that I can still recite entire sections of dialogue from “Gilligan’s Island”.

The easy thing to do at this point would be to quote many people smarter and holier and more knowledgeable than myself who say it is assur to watch TV. But that is not your question. You want insight into the why. So from personal experience let me share with you why people shouldn’t watch TV.

1. Content

When the shows on television were “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best” content was still an issue. Television has tremendous power to influence people with a message, sometimes good and sometimes bad. For example, when Fonzy, the near supernatural character on “Happy Days” applied for a library card, local libraries reported being flooded with requests for library cards. After all, who wouldn’t like to be like the Fonz? But of course, Fonzie was essentially a high school dropout involved in various illegal activities. Do we want him as a role model?

The message in the 1950’s and 60’s however was be an American. TV dripped Americana. Some of those values, like citizenship, were good. Some, like having boyfriends and girlfriends, going to dances, etc. were not. But the values came across and were incorporated nonetheless. Note the terrible problem mechanchim had at that time to get boys to grow payos! Crew cuts were in.

Today however, it’s not even a question. One would be hard pressed to find a sitcom that doesn’t have sex as part of the plot. Some more graphic, some less, but certainly prevalent. Network television has already relaxed the rules related to nudity and obscene language. Things will only get worse from here.

You say that you only watch the news, but what passes for news is somewhat questionable. I was in the US this past November and one of the major stories involved the fashion show that was going to be presented by Victoria Secrets lingerie. I had to turn off the radio; what it was like on television, I don’t even want to imagine.

Other stories that I wouldn’t want to read in a newspaper, never mind on television involves people like Monica Lewinsky, John Wayne Bobbitt, Donna Rice, Mrs. Guilliani, and unfortunately too many more that come to mind. Should we be seeing these things? Do we really think it doesn’t affect us?

The average Bais Yaakov High School today has many students wrestling with values that they have incorporated from television shows and characters. These attitudes carry over into our marriages, as many people want “TV marriages”. They want to fall in love, be entertained, and have everyone looking good. When their reality doesn’t meet their expectations, they feel unhappy, unfulfilled; many even consider looking outside of marriage for what they think reality should be.

2. Images

Hashem blessed us with the ability to shut our eyes. We can’t close our ears – we need to listen. We can’t close our noses – we need to smell. But we can, and must, shut our eyes. An image, once seen, is forever engraved on our brain. We can never remove it. How many murders do you think we should see? I don’t mean hear about; that’s bad enough. I mean actually witness with our own eyes. I was once driving through Long Beach and saw some police cars. Out of curiosity I looked; and I will never forget the grisly sight of a dead human body. It haunts me to this day. Images appear quickly; often before we have a chance to turn away. Why play mind games with ourselves?

3. Addictive

This I know personally; TV is addictive. In almost every home with a TV, people sit and stare at the tube for hours. The average child spends more time watching TV than they do in school. Now you may feel that you are not addicted. In that case it should be a cinch for you to stop!

4. Escapism

Torah is based on facing the reality of life. Television, even the news, is based on escapism. People tell me that they aren’t really escaping, they are just relaxing. But I have seen time and time again that people don’t do what they are supposed to because the TV is on. “Just a second,” they say and continue watching, oblivious to the things and people around them.

Having made the above points, there is another point that is more esoteric. A home without a TV is a different home. Without all the other points, the fact is that when people choose to have a TV in their home, they are making a statement about themselves as people and the type of home they want.

I once spoke to a frum young lady who told me that she was about to get married and she told her chasan that she didn’t want a TV in the house. Instead she was going to get a VCR and a monitor and when they wanted to, they would rent videos. I told her I would rather she went to a movie theatre to watch movies and keep her home as a makom kodesh. Not in my house.

I hope some of these ideas will be meaningful to you and perhaps help you to make a positive decision in your life.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky