Thursday, January 28, 2010

Uncle Why Explains the Jews

Hi, boys and girls.

Uncle Why's video doesn't seem to be working this week so we are just going to have to blog it.
Well, boys and girls, it looks like so much has been happening in the past few weeks - Obama says that he was "overconfident" about imposing implementing a Mideast solution, the horrible earthquake in Haiti that has shaken all of us up, Massachusetts elects a Republican, Britain announces a terror alert and cancels all flights from Yemen, and the dybbuk is still not out! - I think that many of us find some of these things a bit hard to believe.

And that brings me to Uncle Why's Jews word for this week:

EMUNAH אמונה

Now, this is not an easy word to explain, boys and girls, especially since there is so little of it here in the Blogosphere. The more I look, the more I see blogs by people telling us how much EMUNAH they don't have. But we will do our best.

Now, some of us think that EMUNAH is a religious Zionist women's organization who's "mission is to help alleviate the burdens of Israel’s social problems". And as long as you give them money, you are a very good Jew.

This is at best EMUNAH peshuta, boys and girls.

No. EMUNAH is really believing that HKBH runs the whole world, and, if we are good Jews, He gives us money. And lots of other stuff. Just like it says in Parshat Bechukosai.

Now this may sound rather simple, boys and girls, and lots of folks will be plenty sure that they have as much EMUNAH as they need but it might just be that they are fooling themselves.

Let me illustrate it with a true story. One day, boys and girls, Uncle Why was waiting in a front room to meet a distinguished person. There were other people also waiting to see this person, and this included a young couple who outwardly did not display any signs of religious observance. Since we were all waiting, we started to chat. In the course of the conversation, the female of the species commented:

אתה חושב שאנחנו לא מאמינים. אנחנו כן מאמינים כמוך. (You think we are not believers. We are believers just like you!)

Uncle Why explained to her as follows:

From our perspective, EMUNAH is not some general concept that starts and stops with believing that some kind of Supreme Being exists. We have a charter to our belief system with a detailed list of provisions (13 of them!). We do not merely believe that G-d exists, but also that He created everything that exists, He enables all things that occur, He communicates to us through prophecy, He authored the Torah and gave it to us, the Torah is immutable (that will be next week's Jews word,
boys and girls), He knows what we do and think, and He will reward us for following His rules and and punish us for breaking them.

(And I left some out.)

So there is a bit of fine print in our belief system. Now you may believe, BUT, if you don't believe in everything on this list, with all the bells and whistles, then you really cannot say that you are a believer "just like me".

So here is where things get so confusing, boys and girls. Lots of Jewish people actually pick and choose which parts of the list to believe and which to not. And we have a new concept:

Selective EMUNAH!

Uncle Why wrote about it in his book, boys and girls (pages 203-204). Here is what I wrote:

I have already written in the Introduction to this book why secular Jews are non-observant. To be observant, one must believe in at least these articles of the 13 principles of faith:

1. There is a G-d (who created us and everything that we can perceive)

2. G-d gave us rules (his Torah)

3. G-d is aware of everything that we do (and say and think) – in short, he knows whether or not we follow the rules

4. G-d will reward us for compliance and punish us for transgression of the aforementioned rules.

I wrote that some secular Jews simply don’t believe in G-d. They never get to first base. Why don’t they believe in G-d? They will say that it is because they don’t see Him. Of course, we will say something else. We will say that it is because they don’t look for Him.

And why don’t they look for Him?

It is because this group is very intelligent. And they know that if they look for him they may actually find Him. And if they find Him, they will not be able to intellectually reject principles 2, 3, and 4. And they will have to follow rules that they are not prepared to follow.If they find G-d, G-d will control their lives. They don’t want any G-d controlling their lives so they must make sure that there isn’t One.

This group is easy to comprehend. The other secular Jews are a bit more puzzling. They claim to believe in G-d yet still reject principle 2. And if not number 2, then numbers 3 or 4. How they manage to do this is beyond me. They must be even smarter than the first group. But it shows me one thing – that even if one believes in G-d, he can still find some pretext to avoid subjecting himself to following rules that he is not prepared to follow.

All this is discussed in the Ramban at the end of last week's Parsha (Shmos, Bo 13:16).

And so, boys and girls, we learn a new meaning to EMUNAH SHLEIMAH - COMPLETE faith. No, it doesn't mean having complete faith in the particular things that you happen to believe in. It means to have faith in the complete list of Jewish beliefs, whether they make you feel good or not.

And, now it's time... answer one of your Jews questions. This one comes from Moshe who is the only one who ever wrote me a letter in Hebrew.

--Hi, Moshe!--

Moshe writes:

L'Chvod Uncle Why,

מחד, הספר טוען בצדק רב, כי החרדים אינם אלא יורשים וממשיכים טבעיים וזהים ליהודי הדורות כולם, והמחדשים הם אחרים. מאידך, אין נכון להוציא יהודים מאמינים אחרים מן הכלל. כל יהודי ירא שמיים ממשיך לאותה המסורת מסיני. שמירת שבת בפרט ושמירת תורה ומצוות בכלל, הן הם סימני היהודי הנצחי.

On the one hand, the book claims, with much justification, that the chareidim are merely the heirs and natural successors and emulators of the Jews of past generations and the "reformers" are "others". However, it is not proper to exclude other believing Jews from the mainstream. Every G-dfearing Jew continues this tradition from Sinai. Shabbos observance in particular and observing Torah and mitzvos in general, these are the signs of the Eternal Jew.

(In total, Moshe wrote a whole lot more than this.)

Well, Moshe, you seem to have missed the main thrust of the book that was arrived at in Chapter 9. And that is that every Jew who meets the description that you described after the word "However" is a chareidi. There is no such thing as a "chareidi" and "other Jews who are believers". There are not two distinct entities. It doesn't matter what kind of kippa one wears or what they call themselves, the Eternal Jew that you describe is a chareidi. One who keeps Shabbos and Torah and mitzvos and is a true believer is a chareidi. (Moshe's mindset is stuck on the conventional Quaker Oats/Fagin - QOF - chareidi that I discuss and dismiss in Chapter 3).

But, Moshe, there is an amazing phenomenon that even many Orthodox Jews who observe Shabbos and keep Torah and mitzvos have not fully studied all of the principles of EMUNAH and may be missing some of the nuances that are part of the package but make a world of difference (the very fine print).

For example, many, many Orthodox Jews have trouble even with the very first Principle of Faith. Particularly the second part of Principle number 1. Principle 1 says that we believe that G-d created all that exists. But it says something else, as well.

It says that G-d "does all that is done".

This means that every activity that is perpetrated by man or beast is actually G-d's doing. We are only agents of G-d and we are fooled by our gift of free will to assume that we have done the deed ourselves. Thus people may think that if they are self-sufficient, it is their skills and their cunning that accounts for their affluence. They earned their wealth and it is theirs.

But Principle 1 tells us otherwise. It tells us that G-d orchestrated his skills and his cunning and the wealth that one has is his for the sole purpose of using it for other goals that G-d wants to accomplish through him.

But so many Orthodox Jews, even those who profess to have full EMUNAH, even those who write blogs with titles that profess ideas like truth and EMUNAH do not really believe this.

They believe in "Kochi V'otzem yadi".

One does not need the Rambam to compose the 13 articles of faith. Almost all of them are written directly in the Torah. The Rambam merely compiled and codified them.

The second part of Principle #1 is expressly written in the Torah in Devarim 4:35 and 4:39. And the explanation that I just gave is right there in Devarim 9:18.

And so, Moshe, anybody who believes completely in what the 13 principles mean is as much a "chareidi" as anybody else. But somebody, no matter how much he keeps Shabbos and how much he pays for his esrog, who doesn't believe completely in what it says in the 13 Principles, is a mechusar EMUNAH and, even though he is a believer, he is not a believer "just like us".

Well, that's it for this week, boys and girls.

Join us every so often when Uncle Why explains the Jews and just remember --- true believers are great Jews!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Golden Oldies from Parshat Beshalach

As any loyal reader can tell, I am having a very difficult time trying to find time for writing quality posts. I have even started a few posts but wasn't able to develop them before other issues supplanted them.

So---it's rerun time again.

Last year at Parshat Beshalach I put out two juicy posts. The first was the fifth installment in my Shidduchim series entitled:

Shidduchim V: There Must Be 18 Ways to Find Your Beloved

Here I posted an anthology of 18 explanations to the famous Chazal that: וקשה לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף
That it is "as difficult to match couples as it was to split the Reed Sea."

I posted the anthology on iPaper and to date it has attracted 390 reads, the most of all the documents that I posted there.

The second one was the fanciful story of Perl the Peanut Woman and

The Miracle of the Mahn - Then and Now

but something tells me the story is not purely a work of fiction and neither is Perl the Peanut Woman.

Both of these are insightful and delightful reading.

If I don't get another chance to post... Good Shabbos!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Shabtai Zvi, Bar Kochva and the E(x)ternal Jewish Family

I don't need to be a world class pundit. There are many bloggers who do, but not I. I do not shy away from discussing any topic, but I do not need to discuss every topic. My mission is to present and/or clarify the Torah's perspective on relevant issues. I consider this my contribution to the blogosphere because, Heaven knows, it is sorely lacking. Hence, if I have something to contribute, I am happy to write about it. If I have nothing to contribute, there is no point (but I can always pledge...).

So you might say that I was a bit thrown when a reader suggested that I write about the EJF debacle. Like, do you mean to say that you haven't already read enough?

In any case, here is what the fellow wrote me (in dark red) followed by my reponse (in navy blue). First the entire message:

Rabbi Hirschman:

Perhaps something related to the tremendous chillul Hashem and systemic breakdown of ‘Daas Torah’ over the recent Tropper ‘affair’ would’ve been more appro? I don’t think folks on your side realize how much damage was (and still is being) caused and the ramifications of which will be felt for decades to come. It looks like a decision was made by everyone except for a few yechidim like Rav Shternbuch that “there’s nothing to see here, so just move along!”

And the response:

Perhaps something related to the tremendous chillul Hashem and systemic breakdown of ‘Daas Torah’ over the recent Tropper ‘affair’ would’ve been more appro?

What do you suppose I could possibly say that hasn't already been said by more outspoken people than I?

I don’t think folks on your side realize how much damage was (and still is being) caused and the ramnifications of which will be felt for decades to come.

What do you mean by "your side" (i.e., my side)? My side of what? - the ocean, or the One Above and Seven Below divide? (have you read my book?) Which side are you on?

It looks like a decision was made by everyone except for a few yechidim like Rav Shternbuch that “there’s nothing to see here, so just move along!”

What were the other options?

Though I may be coming across a bit cynical, let me explain something. The "chareidim" and the "gadolim" did not establish EJF. No panel of gadolim or Roshei Yeshiva secretly (or publicly) convened and said, "We need to do something to control geirus or fix intermarried families, let's find some devoted individual and we will appoint him as our emissary to be the geirus-monger for the chareidi world."

And they did not go ahead and find Tropper and recruit him for this noble task on their behalf as if they really needed or wanted an organization like EJF. Such a thing was never on the agenda of any Knessia Gedola or Agudah Convention. Tropper invented EJF all by himself on his own behalf and then he solicited support from some gadolim and Roshei Yeshiva - which, incredibly, he succeeded to obtain (כי צייד בפיו ).

In other words, the gadolim (those who were associated) did not create this monster, not directly nor indirectly. Nevertheless, they fell in with it after the fact and signed on to what turned out to be fraudulent. Some may have fallen for it out of naivete and they genuinely thought it was lishma, some because of monetary incentives as some critics allege, and some due to peermanship (i.e., if Rav Ploni who is very reputable supports it, then I should support it as well).

Note that Tropper never had unanimous support from the Chareidi "establishment". There were many that were suspicious from the start and never supported him.

All this is exactly what happened by Shabtai Zvi and when Rabbi Akiva supported Bar Kochva. It is a case of human failing.

Thus, from "our side" the debacle is that some gadolim and Roshei Yeshiva supported and endorsed an unworthy undertaking - which they did not establish. On an individual basis, they certainly need to answer for it, but as for the Klal, the only remedy is to say, "Sorry. I got suckered in. From here on I don't support it or endorse it..." and just move along.

Thank you for writing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

V'Chol Maasecha BaSefer Nichtavim: Big Brother is Watching...What I Eat

Most of us Jews are aware of the fact that the High Holy-Days - Rosh HaShannah to Yom Kippur and on to Hoshanna Rabba - are designated for doing teshuva. Even non-observant Jews like Sandy Koufax knew that (kinda, sorta).

The more reverent among us know that there are other periods within the year that have special siginficance for teshuva. These would be the three weeks of mourning when we grieve the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and Sefiras HaOmer when we mourn the tragic deaths of the 24,000 students of Rabi Akiva. We associate these calamities to our shortcomings in interpersonal relationships, bein adam l'chaveiro - lashon hara, sinas chinam, zilzul chaveirim and chachamim - and resolve to work on them.

But for chareidim who actually live up to the title, and most notably the Chassidim, we are aware of another period. This is the period between the 10th of Teves and the beginning of Adar that we call the period of Shovavim - שובבים. This is now!

Shovavim stands for the six Torah portions that we are about to read:

שמות - וארא - בא - בשלח - יתרו - משפטים >> שובבי"ם

And it is based on the well known pasuk (Yirmiyahu 3:22): 
שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים אֶרְפָּה מְשׁוּבֹתֵיכֶם
Return (repent) you rebellious sons (shovavim), so that I may be healed from your repentance...

Shovavim is for a more personal level of Teshuva. It is more for rectifying the bein adam l'makom or, even more so, for bein adam l'atzmo, rectifying the damage that one has done to himself through his misdeeds.

In today's day and age, doing sins is easier than ever due to our affluence and advanced technology. Nevertheless, doing teshuva is also easier than ever due to our affluence and advanced technology.

How so?

Because today's technology helps us comprehend in physical terms that which 150 years ago was metaphysical and could only be envisaged and relegated to faith:

Big Daddy (HKBH) is Watching Us!

Of course, we have no clue as to what really goes on Upstairs (unless we see those clips about seances and clinical death) but Ravi Akiba clues us in that when the pasuk tells us:

את ה' אלוקיך תירא - the superfluous word, את , is telling us: את לרבות אחיך הגדול

Watch out for Big Brother!

We can guess what Big Daddy can do by knowing what Big Brother can do! And Big Brother can do a lot!

(Actually it is לרבות תלמידי חכמים and I am mixing 2 distinct chazals, but humor me on this one).

Now, if I tell you that Big Brother knows everything about us, the response may be: So, what else is new? or Where have I been?

Privacy issues have been in the headlines for decades. Even before today's high-tech era, there were issues of wire-tapping and disclosure of financial records. Of course, over the past few decades, things have mushroomed as we deal with digital recording, surveillance cameras (which seem to be cropping up in the most intimate of places), computer spyware that tracks your every keystroke, sophisticated satellite images (Google Earth), and we see tabloid reports of microscopic computer chips that can be embedded in everything a person touches, and then into the persons themselves.

Big Brother can know more about us than we can!

And all this should give us an idea of what goes on in the ethereal world! The world of which we are told (2000 years ago in Pirkei Avot 2:1): V'chol maasecha basefer nichtavim. And it should be enough to send us to the Kosel for 40 consecutive days of fasting and prayer - under the watchful eye of the Aish HaTorah 24-Hour webcam and untold other security appparatus!

Now, I am quite aware of all of this. And, like most of us, I have come to terms with it and have learned to conveniently "forget" the fact that Big Brother (Y"Sh) - and Big Daddy (B"H) - is watching every twitch. Yet, something happened this week as the period of Shovavim is ushered in that told me that there is no place to run.

It has reached the makolet!

Over the past 12+ years that we have lived in our little corner of Har Nof, we were blessed to be located in a spot with three makolets (small groceries) within comfortable walking distance. Of course, the one directly across the street is the most convenient - as well as the most overpriced - and so, it became the only one of the three in which I went so far as to maintain a charge account.

For the past 12 years the charge account was opened and handled exactly the way it was for the 12 years that preceeded it and the 12 years before that and before that and before that all the way back to the sugya of chenvani al pinkaso. I present a post-dated check and the grocer (Nissim) writes the amount onto a personalized index card. Every time we purchase, the items are totalled and the total amount is written into the next line in the card. When the money runs out, we present a new check. When the card runs out, the balance is transferred to a brand new card and the old one is destroyed. Thus, in due time, there is no trace of my previous card or of my previous money. Nobody knows what we bought or what we spent (nor which kid actually signed for and if he/she was really from my family or not) and nobody particularly cared. We have fulfilled mitzvas biur!

What a tradition!

Well, about a month and a half ago tragedy struck! After 25 years, Nissim (who has been 28 years old all this time) lost his lease (it was written on the back of an index card). The property was turned over to another experienced makoletan who until now ran a different makolet down the hill. It seems that he lost his lease as well since his rent was hiked and the only entity willing to pay the price is a bank. Now, it may be nice to finally have a bank in Har Nof, but it would have been much more practical ten years ago when there was some money in the neghborhood.

In any case, we were out of a makolet for six weeks while they renovated the facility and manged to find twice as much space in the same area (only in Israel...). I didn't have any charge accounts in the other 2 makolets and there was no point in opening one up for the 2 to 3 weeks that became six and I was at a total loss. How would I feed my family?

Presently, somebody saved my skin by explaining to me that there is such a thing as paper notes called bills and little metal disks that are called coins and that these items together are called cash and these makolets are very kind and they will allow me to by the basic necessities for these bits of cash and I didn't need post dated checks or palstic cards or anything!

What a country!

Finally, after six weeks of purgatory, the new makolet (now called "Supermarket") opend up across the street. I ran to make an accout and yearned to be from the assara rishonim.

I was number 11 (right before the Stillermans).

I approached with my checkbook ready to see my family name written onto a glossy white index card when I was jolted by a thunderbolt.

"We don't use index cards."


"Just swipe your credit card for the amount of credit you want and we put your name in the computer as customer number 11. Now whenever you buy, just tell us '11' and the computer will register the purchase."

Okay. Let's try it. I'll buy some bread and milk and a few other items.

Sure enough, I bought the bread and milk and other items and the new grocer (Avi) scanned it in. I tell him the magic number: "11". He pokes a few boxes on his touchscreen and - voila - out from the register rolls a tape of laser paper that tells me, and him, and anybody who is interested exactly what was bought, who bought it (Hirshman, customer #11), and when it was bought - date, hours, minutes and seconds!

And all this information is in my hand...and it is in his computer system. And as long as it is not deleted from his computer system, anybody who is interested (no pushing, please) can find out exactly what the Hirshman family has been eating, how much of it we ate, when we ate it, and how much it cost!

V'chol maasecha basefer nichtavim!

I think it would do my blood pressure wonders to take a pleasant stroll to one of those old fashioned not-as-close makolets.

And pay cash!

Expanding my Horizons (and Paying my Bills)

As book sales are tapering down, expenses mount and exchange rates sink, I need to find more creative ways of selling my advice to anybody who is willing to pay for it.

To that end, over the past few years I have been undergoing intensive training to provide counseling and coaching services to those in need and I am now ready to go "prime time". About a year ago, I earned a diploma in Professional Counseling from Refuah Institute in Jerusalem under Professor Joshua Ritchie, MD and I am fully certified for Marriage Guidance at Y.N.R (Yiutz Nissuin Rabbani - Rabbinical Marriage Counseling) Institute in Jerusalem as well as by the Misrad HaChinuch.

My main area of focus is in the realm of Marriage and Shalom Bayis (couples counseling) and my method is to apply the principles of One Above and Seven Below to real life issues. I touched upon the issues of man/woman relationships from the 1a7b perspective in my book on pages 161-168 (available as part of this post) and Shalom Bayis on pages 246-248 (available HERE).

For all those who live in the Jerusalem area and wish to benefit from my services,  you may call me at: 03-7219475 Ext. 274. You can also email me at: (note that email may compromise identity). If you have Skype, you can also Skype me at: yiutz.1a7b and leave a message.

 You need not leave your real name or any personal details besides how and when to contact you.

Hatzlacha Rabba to all.