Thursday, May 22, 2014

PIRQE ABOT: Sodom vs. Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

The Mishna describes  four patterns of generosity / selfishness.

When somebody says:
1.What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine. Nonsense.
2.What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine. Evil.
3.What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours. Kindness.
4.What is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine.... some say, that was the trait (=the sin) of Sodom".

According to the Mishna, the ideal attitude in Judaism is to give with kindness, to share with others what God gave us. And all this, without expecting automatic reciprocity ("What is mine is yours and, what is yours is still yours"). This is the epitome of Jewish morality.

Now, what is so wrong about "What is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine". For many, "leave ME alone and I leave YOU alone" is the best possible scenario for living in society! Moreover, why the Mishna compares this seemingly perfect behavior with Sodom, the city of evil?

First, we need to remember that Sodom was a very rich area. No one was allowed into their city (into their "club") unless he was rich, like Lot. To prevent others from sharing in their wealth, the Sodomites legislated laws against helping the needy. Strangers and poor people were not welcomed, on the contrary, they were brutally abused. 

As it is typically the case in any corrupt society, to justify their selfish laws the Sodomites developed a suitable "philosophy"(which I cannot resist to comparing with the Nietzschean notion that helping the poor and the sick delays the evolution of the Ubermensch).  The people of Sodom reasoned: Why should we share what the gods had given us with the needy? That would be a sin! If the gods would have wanted this poor man to have food, they, the gods, would have given him food! Giving food to the poor will be definitely a sin: going against the will of the gods.  This cynical philosophy, which characterized Sodom, precipitated its destruction.

In Judaism, "Mine is yours, and yours is still yours" is the practical application of "You shall love your fellowman, as you love yourself"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rabbi Hayim Habib (1882-1945)

Rabbi Hayim Habib was born in the city of Salonica (aka Saloniki, or Thessaloniki), Greece, in 1882. His father was a Dayan (Rabbinical judge), rabbi Refael Habib.  The Salonican Jewish community was one of the most prolific Sephardic communities in the world. In 1900 there were approximately 80,000 Jews in Salonica, out of a total population of 173,000 souls. The Jews could be found in every profession: merchants,  lawyers, physicians, teachers, etc. The Jewish stevedores of Salonica were famous. On Shabbats the town and the port was closed since the Jews did not work. There were 49 Synagogues in Salonica and a 500-year-old Sephardic cemetery with half-million graves. 

Rabbi Hayim Habib studied in the Talmud Tora (elementary and High School) under rabbi Moshe Ottolenghi (1840-1901) and later in the rabbinical School of Salonica, "Bet Yosef" where he was granted his rabbinical ordination.  He also studied accounting and European languages. 

When he was in his early 40's Rabbi Habib was offered to serve as the chief rabbi of Salonica.  He was so humble that at the beginning he refused to take the position, but upon the insistence of the Rabbis, he accepted the difficult job.   The duties of rabbi Habib were many. Besides being responsible of the kashrut of the city and overseeing all the technical issues of Jewish family Law, Bet Din, etc. he was also in charge of overseeing education . He supervised the rabbinical school, the appointment of hazanim, mohalim and rabbanim for all the Synagogues of the city. 

He was also involved in the schools, assisting the teachers, examining the students and making improvements in the school curriculum, which included also the study of modern Hebrew.  Rabbi Habib and all Salonica Jews, were very involved in the Zionist movement. 
Rabbi Habib was very loved by its community and many considered him a saint (איש קדוש) because he was always helping those in need. The poor, the sick, the elder, they all could count with the unconditional support of rabbi Habib. 

During the early 1900' many Salonica Jews left Greece and emigrated to the US , France and Israel. Still, the pre-World War II Jewish population of Salonica counted 56,000 souls. 

In 1941 the Nazis יש"ו came to Salonica.  They destroyed the Synagogues, the Jewish schools, the libraries, and desecrated the Jewish cemetery.   98 percent of Salonica's Jews, 54,000 Sephardic Jews, were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, or died during the long, exhausting Death March from January to May 1945.  Among them Rabbi Hayim Habib, his wife and his two daughters הי"ד.

Rabbi Habib had also another daughter and a son who emigrated to Israel before the Nazis came into the city. The descendants of rabbi Habib live today in Tel Aviv.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SHALOM BAYIT: Complain more. Criticize less.

Conflicts and disagreement are inevitable in any healthy long term relationship. Marriage is no exception. Each of us has his or her own personality, character and point of view. Each one of us was raised and educated by different parents. And on top of all that, one of us is male and the other female, which as the Tora hints, were created "opposite" (kenegdo) to each other.

The key for achieving domestic harmony in this area consists in regaining control at how we argue. Are we disagreeing in a way that tensions would probably escalate, or in a way that words would eventually lead to a conflict-resolution?

To succeed, we must become aware of the difference between complaint and criticism.  While complaint is natural and sometimes necessary, criticism is always destructive.
1. Complaint is about specific issues, criticism is an attack on your spouse.  When you complain, you express your frustration with an unsolved problem or uncomfortable situation. When you criticize, you aim, intentionally or unintentionally, at hurting your spouse's feelings.

COMPLAINT: We don't go out as much as I 'd like to, we need to go out more often....
CRITICISM: You are so insensitive, all you want is to go out with your friends...

COMPLAINT: "I have a problem with you not calling when you're going to be late. I get worried. "
CRITICISM: "Why don't you call when you're going to be late? You just don't care about the rest of us."

2. When I complain I talk mainly about my feelings. When I criticize, is always about your flaws.
COMPLAINT: "It upsets me when I see the dirty dishes in the kitchen"  
CRITICISM: You left dirty dishes all over the kitchen again....

3. The ideal complaint should have 3 components.
1. A description of my feelings. 2. A description of the actions or things that upsets me. 3. A suggestion of what to do, say, or change.
COMPLAINT: (1) It upsets me when (2) I see your clothing out of their place (3) let me show you how to hang those pants. CRITICISM: You are just incapable of keeping your bedroom clean, are you? I hate to see the type of lazy person you have become.

Unlike complaints, criticism will trigger a defense or a counterattack from your spouse. Which will probably lead to more ad hominem verbal conflicts, quarrels, etc.   It is a loss / loss situation for both, and when pervasive, a self destructive cycle for your marriage.

Identify when you practice criticism, and if you cannot avoid it, turn criticism into complaints. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

TEHILIM: Psalm 1. True happiness and strong trees

In this Psalm David haMelekh explains that for a Jew the pursue of happiness begins by avoiding the company of bad or shallow people. Why? Because consciously or not bad people will impact us negatively and will drive us away from the path to happiness.  
For a Jew, true happiness consists in following the ways of HaShem our God, by studying and following His Tora. 

The third verse of this Psalm says that the man who follows the path of HaShem... 

"...will be like a tree planted on streams of water, bearing fruits each season, its leaves will never wither, and he will prosper in all he will do"

David haMelekh compares a happy man with a tree. Why? First, because both grow. There is probably no bigger frustration than realizing our own stagnation. If we see that we are in the same spot year after year, we will become depress. Happiness is the effect of realizing that we have grown. When we study Tora, King David says, we are constantly growing. Emotionally, intellectually and in perfecting our character. The ideal tree is "planted" on watered ground. This is a strong tree, which will withstand to destructive winds. Water is constantly feeding its roots and stimulating its development. The ideal Jew constantly absorbs the waters of Tora, allowing the words of HaShem to nurture his soul and strengthen his principles.   

This tree will bring forth its fruits. "Fruits" are the biggest reward for a man's life of virtue. The fruits are man's children, those who will continue the path of HaShem.  As oppose to the feelings of stagnation and unproductiveness of those who live idle lives, when a man bears fruits, he sees that his path will continue, even after he is gone.  

Unlike fruits which are beneficial to the tree itself and its continuity,  leaves produce a shadow that can be enjoyed by others. Man's happiness consists not just in assuring the perpetuity of his actions, beliefs and principles but also by becoming kind and productive to others.  Like a tree that freely offers its shadow to everyone that needs it, a good man practices charity and offers helps to those in need.  

For David HaMelekh, a happy man is the one who nurtures from Tora, develops strong principles, sees his children following the right path and is generous with those who seek his help, "He will prosper in everything he does".