Thursday, December 30, 2010

The inconveniet truth

Today is the 23rd day of Tebet, 5771

The rabbis explained that we come closer to God to the extent that we are willing to sacrifice, for the sake of the truth, material benefits for ourselves. The ultimate test of our appreciation for the truth is not philosophy, but our willingness to lose in business or in any other personal area, for the sake of the truth.

This is what the Torah intends when says: vehalaktha bidrakhav "And you shall conduct yourself -in your daily life- in His paths". (Debarim 28, 9).

Think of of a person, who is considered knowledgeable in Real Estate, and he is asked by a friend or family member, to give his advice about buying certain property that just came to the market. This person, instead of telling truthfully that it is a good deal, lies saying that he is not sure about it, or that something might be wrong with that property, because he is interested in acquiring that property for himself. The same applies for example in the area of Shidukhim -dating- . If someone asks your opinion about certain girl -which you consider her to be a very
good person- but you don't give a good reference about her, because you're interested in her for yourself. These are all examples of harmful lies.

In all these cases, when a person is asked to give an opinion, and he tells the truth, despite having a conflict of interest, and he sacrifices his own benefit for the sake of the truth, this person is behaving with real yrat shamayim, fear and respect of God, and is "conducting himself through the paths of God".

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Welcoming Shabbat

22nd of Tebet, 5771

  • Every day, my father in law, who lives in Ashdod, Israel, would go to the market and come home with some delicious fruit or treat--declaring that he bought it in honor of Shabbat.
  • This is the attitude with which we are supposed to welcome the Shabbat queen.Preparing ourselves to welcome Shabbat, every day of the week!

  • Shabbat is not simply the seventh day of creation, Shabbat is the purpose of Creation. It is not the end of the week, it is the goal of the week. As such, our preparations for it start way before it begins. Every single member of the family should personally help in some way prepare for Shabbat, from the father to the young children.

  • Before Shabbat arrives one should be bathed and dressed in special clothing, even if one is at home with no guests. The house should be cleaned, as if very important guests were coming. The food should be ready, the table set with Shabbat finery. All items forbidden on Shabbat--known as Muktzeh-- should be put away. It is important to check the pockets of the clothes you will use (especially coats!) to make sure there is no money, cell phones, I-Pods or other Muktzeh in it.

Maimonides on extremes

Today is the 22nd day of Tebet, 5771

Maimonides (Rambam) writes in Hilkhot De'ot Ch. 1, that we all have different personalities and tendencies.

To illustrate, Maimonides brings a few examples of extreme character traits:

There are people who are constantly angry, they would explode for any small thing. From the other side, there are individuals who are so cold and indifferent, that nothing moves them to anger. There are people who are so greedy, nothing is ever enough for them. Others, are materially conformist with very few desires in their heart. There is a very proud man and one who is extremely humble.

These behaviors, explains Maimonides, are some times a product of our genetic build-up and sometimes they are acquired seeing our friends, family members, etc. . With time they become an integral part of our personalities.

Maimonides asserts that in this area, the good path is the middle path. The path which is equidistant from both extremes.

Anger, should be reserved for very special circumstances and only when by showing anger we will help to avoid something bad from happening again. Greed, should be balanced: desire all what you need, not all what you want. Don't be stingy, neither ostentatious.

"This is the path of the wise man. Every man whose character is balanced and moderated, is considered a wise man (chakham)"

As a good doctor, Maimonides does not end just by telling us what is right and what is wrong. He will also teach us, next week, how to get to (and stay in) the middle path.


Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 11th Berakha: Inspire our leaders.

Last week I explained that the blessing (teka bsehofar gadol ) "Make sound the Shofar... that will announce our redemption...and bring us back to Israel" initiates a series of six blessings by which we express our requests as a nation. In a good sense, one can see in the sequence of these six blessings the ideal order of the steps of our redemption (geula) toward our 'national normalization', which for us means: The people of Israel, in the land of Israel, following the Tora of Israel.

In this blessing 'Bring back our leaders' (hashiba shofetenu) we ask God to help us finding the right political leaders (shofetim/yo'atsim) like those we had in the past (Moshe, David, etc.) . Leaders who should lead us to a very specific goal: to proclaim You as our King, (umlokh alenu mehera ata..). In other words, unlike 'common' political leaders who might seek their own private political agendas, the mission of a true Jewish leaders is to inspire his people to consider HaShem Almighty the real and only Leader, following His commandments, as the subjects obey the King's edicts.

Without the right leaders, this blessing seems to imply, it will be very difficult to find the way of our national normalization. The wrong leaders will bring upon the people just 'sorrow and pain' (yagon vahanacha).

With the help of our right leaders, we will become a Kingdom of "kindness, compassion justice and righteousness". Because as we say at the end of this blessing, our God is a King who is not infatuated with power, rather, He loves justice and righteousness.

Click here for the first 10 berakhot of the Amida:

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Monday, December 27, 2010

Senile parents, a case study from the Talmud

Today is the 20th day of Tebet, 5771

The rabbis of the Talmud addressed the question of honoring one's parents when they are senile or mentally disabled.

They examine a case of a famous rabbi, Rab Asi, who lived with his elderly senile mother. He took very good care of her and did whatever he could to please her, honor her and not to contradict her. The Talmud illustrates his mother's erratic behavior: and Rab Asi's reaction: one day she asked him for jewelry and he brought her some. Another day she ask him to look for a husband for her. Trying to appease her, he told her, he will look for one... The situation got to a point where her requests were increasingly eccentric and her behavior turn more violent. Rab Asithen decided to leave her.

The Rabbis first explained that Rab Asi did not abandon her but left her with a kind person whom he hired to take care of his mother.

The rabbis explain that Rab Asi believed that otherwise, in those circumstances, he will be forced to disrespect his mother and perhaps be coerced to physically restrain her.

They also explained that, for some reason, Rab Asi's mother's behavior would turn more aggressive in his presence but with somebody else she will be calmer.

Based on this precedents the rabbis conclude that in certain circumstances the son or daughter might leave his elder parents under the care of another individual.

Obviously, each case is completely different from the other and must be addressed specifically. I strongly advice that in no circumstances children will make this kind of decisions based just on intuition. Rather, they should consult with a social worker and with a Rabbi to determine what is the best thing one can do for his or her parents.

Mr. Jack Ezrahian sent me this beautiful video clip in Farsi.

For those who do not understand Farsi: The father asks a few times: 'what is that?' The son answers "Gonjeshk" a bird. After a few times repeating the same question, the son gets very angry at the father and yells at him "I told you, it is just a bird, nothing else!"
The father goes and comes back with his diary and asks his son to read one of the pages in a loud voice. The son reads: "My son is almost 3 years old and we went to the park. My son asked me 21 times 'what is that?' And I answered him each time "Gonjeshk" with patience. And each time he asked the question again,I hugged him and answered him back, because I love my son so much".

The end does not require translation...

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024