Monthly Archives: June 2006

Am I Less Deviant Now That I’m Older?

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending an amazing Shabbos with a very close friend of mine (and his brother) from my shanna bet year in Eretz Yisroel and college days. Shabbos afternoon my friend asked me a pretty simple question:
Am I less deviant (read punk, individualistic, free-thinking, non-iconoclast, etc) than I use to be? Good question. Although, I would have expected nothing less from him.

I have often wondered the same question myself. From the time I was in high school and became frum until now, how much have I changed? In terms of how I look, its a radical change. It’s rather easy to externally blend into a frum lifestyle. I pretty much look like most people on any given weekday or Shabbos. Years ago, I stopped trying to show my individuality by what I wore on the outside. If you met me, you’d think I’m a pretty normal guy. That’s because I am.His question did get me thinking, though. Have I changed or mellowed out over the years? Probably a bit of both. The conversation with my friend reminded me of two great quotes. Both of them are from an interview with Sonic Youth in SPIN magazine that I read back in September of 1992.

“If you’re not growing, then you’re not living.”
“At times, the most conservative people or ideas are really quite radical.”

We are defined by our thoughts, speech, and actions. I’m told that the Baal HaTanya wrote about this quite a lot. We should not be stagnate. Just as we are inclined to attach ourselves to Hashem through Mitzvah observance, our natural inclination is to grow. I believe the above quotes are a more modern day versions of this:
There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
Something as seemingly simple like grass has an urge to grow. Something so basic, knows that there is more to life if you reach upward.

I gave this entry a lot of thought over the past few days. I think that there us much more room for individuality when you set parameters for measurable behavior. If one “marches to their own beat” then you don’t have any way to judge just how different you are than anyone else.

As I was writing this, I thought about Parshas Korach. I must admit, I really wasn’t thinking, but remembering Rav Soloveitchik’s view of Korach, as found in REFLECTIONS OF THE RAV . The Rav states that “Korach was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism, which regards one’s personal feelings as primary in the religious experience. The value of the mitzvah is to be found not in its performance, but in its subjective impact upon the person.” This was how Korach thought. Rav Soloveitchik felt that “there are two levels in religious observance, the objective outer mitzvah and the subjective inner experience that accompanies it. Both the deed and the feeling constitute the total religious experience; the former without the latter is an incomplete act, an imperfect gesture. The objective act of performing the mitzvah is our starting point. The mitzvah does not depend on the emotion; rather, it induces the emotion. One’s religious inspiration and fervor are generated and guided by the mitzvah, not the reverse.”

A few months ago felt compelled to actually submit something to in reference to a list I had seen a while back. I received the following response to my submission:This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.
A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:
mailbox is full: retry timeout exceeded

Not good news for the Jews. I was pretty bummed. So I sent the email again. Same response.
In an attempt to answer the question that became the title of this posting, I submit the following:

My additions to “Top 10 ways you know you are a JEWISH HIPSTER”:
Your Itunes Library includes: Shlomo Carlebach, Shalsheles, Husker Du, C Lanzbom, Chaim Dovid, The Yitzhak Halevi Band, Rabbis Akiva Tatz and Moshe Weinberger, Bad Religion, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir
You turn “I Wanna Be Sedated” into a niggun
You quote the Kuzari and Kerouac in the same breath

You cancel your Rolling Stone subscription and start getting the JEWISH PRESS
Your cell phone ringer is a version of “Ki Va Moed” with killer electric guitar
On Sunday afternoons you Skateboard to Mincha, because the shul parking lot is good for shreddin’
Your wife’s mini-van’s radio is preset to both news-radio and the local alternative station
Your Shabbos Hat Box is covered with band stickers

When you hear the term “hardcore” you think of Black Flag and Novorodock
Your kids share your love of all things Piamenta

If you’re reading this (and you know who you are, because you went by a different name when you were younger) thanks. It was great seeing you again.

My Kids Rock!!

My kids always throw me for one loop after another.
Yestereday (Thursday, the 22nd), I got my 6 1/2 year old son some cereal for breakfast before I left for work. He likes his bowl of cereal, in the case Honey-Combs, without milk. Today I gave him his bowl and he made a bracha. Then, he said: Abba. Do you know why I made a bracha now, instead of after you went to work?
No, I replied.
Because I wanted you to answer Amen, he said.
I smiled, told him he made a great choice and that I was proud of him, and thought, “There must be something in the water.”

That night (last night) I had the following conversation with my soon (as she like to remind us) to be 4 year old daughter…
Daughter: Abba, Hashem make dis world, right?
Me: Yes, Hashem made everything.
Daughter: O.K. I undertand. But who makes Hashem?
Me: No one. Hashem was around before the world was created. Hashem was always here.
Daughter: So, hims here first. Hashem was first one in whole place?
Me: Yeah, you got it!
Daughter: If Hashem is first, then dat makes Hashem the winner. I gonna be on Hashem’s team. Hashem is the winner… I pick hims team.

“Must be something in the water…”

A Matter of Perspective

Menuchas HaNefesh, Yishuv HaDaas, Reframing… it really doesn’t matter what title we use… the bottom line is that at times we need to put thing into perspective.
I learned this lesson when I was in 6th grade. Not in school or on the playground, but from “Return of the Jedi”. Straight from George Lucas’ script…
“BEN: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

Later I learned that Rashi said it first in Parsha Shelach about the Meraglim viewing themselves as grasshoppers. Most recently on Father’s Day I forgot all that I learned from the above.

My wife planned the perfect father’s day for me. I got a photo cube to put on my desk at work (retro, but cool), a great breakfast, a trip with my family and brother (who was visiting us from NYC) to both a nature museum and a zoo, met up with some close friends who were in town, and then home for some pizza. I was aware the entire day that my family loves and appreciates me. I felt blessed that I didn’t work on Sundays. I was happy to be living somewhere with an excellent quality of life for myself and my family.
As we walked into our home, I noticed something that bothered me. I let it bother me too much, and my fantasitc day was totally wiped from my personal hard-drive. All the fun and good times were out the door.

How often do we get caught up on things that really don’t matter? I know for myself, even once, is one time too many. Someone doesn’t say hello to you in shul, you can’t find your car keys, a toy is left on the floor, the bakery sold the last chocolate cream pie, or you get a stain on your shirt while drinking something that’s not on your diet to begin with. Of couse, none of this is from personal experience. 🙂

I remember hearing in yeshiva, and then reading years later in the Rav Dessler biography about Rav Eliyahu Lopian. The story goes that he was once in Yerushayim waiting for a bus. As he sat with a sefer, he stopped learning for a second and looked up to see if the bus was coming. He told the bachur sitting with him that had he still been in Kelm, he would have gotten an hour long mussar shmooze. Why? Because looking to see if a bus is coming doesn’t make it come any faster! To get distracted from learning to look for a bus? What’s the point? You are in control of yourself, not in control of the bus.

Of course, I only remembered this story two days after Father’s Day. I was biking tonight, trying to clear my head and gather my thoughts. I was hoping, somehow, to gain a better perspective on things. Not the big things like family, work, tuition, summer camp, bills, shopping for Shabbos, or even what to wear tomorrow. I’m working on trying to gain a better perspective on the little things that shouldn’t bother me, but do. Zeh Lo Chashuv, right? What’s one thing that bothers you (that’s really not so important)?

I looked at my wife tonight, and thought, “Father’s Day, hah. What a joke. The real star is her. She puts up with me, deals with the kids, and navigates each of life’s ordeals with a calmness not seen by many.” I wish I could be more like her.

Our Sense of Taste

Parasha Beha’aloscha contains a passage about the mannah, or mun. I would like to share something I read from Rav Shimon Schwab’s writings.
Before Rav Schwab left Europe he went spent Shabbos with the Chofetz Chaim for Shabbos. Shabbos night a group of students came over to the home of the Chofetz Chaim and he said:
We know the mun had the ability to take on whatever taste we wanted it to. What happened when the person eating the mun didn’t think about what he wanted it to taste like?
The Chofetz Chaim answered his own question: Then it simply has no taste.

This gets me every time. It’s one of my favorite d’vrei Torah. If I don’t think about my Avodas Hashem, then it has no taste. If I don’t appreciate the people my family, it’s like they don’t exist. How often does my learning or mitzvah performance seem like tasteless mon?

I struggle to approach each day as a new one.I never want to be too comfortable with my Yiddishkeit.

Torah Judaism require that we think about what we do. We owe it to our creator.
My tefillah is that I hope I keep on tasting.

"No One Cares About Orange Juice"

to quote my wife. She finally read my previous entry (Lakewood vs. New Square). She’s right, I guess. We’ve been married for over nine years and I actually have a list (not for the blogsphere) of almost all the times that I should have listened to her, because she’s usually right.

She told me that ranting really isn’t something fitting for me to do. So here’s a revised copy of my previous blog:

“…and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” (Shemos/Exodus 19:2) Rashi says quite clearly that B’nai Yisroel were like one person with one heart. It was, in fact, the only time we all agreed on anything. This is what I usually think about on Shavuos.

We quickly forget that prior to reaching Har Sinai, we crossed the Yam Suf. Each shevet had their own route. Each shevet actually had their own nusach (so I’ve been told). We all are different. We dress differently, we have different minhagim, send our kids to different schools, and we have different outlooks. Yet, for the Kavod Hashem, to accept the Torah, we were one.

Lakewood Vs. New Square

“…and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” (Shemos/Exodus 19:2) Rashi says quite clearly that B’nai Yisroel were like one person with one heart. It was, in fact, the only time we all agreed on anything. This is what I usually think about on Shavuos.

On the second day of Shavuos this year, as I was reading a copy of the Yated Ne’Eman I laughed out loud. Then I shed a tear.

The fine print of this ad for Lakewood Farms Orange Juice reads:
Don’t be fooled with new designed easy pour containers that contain only 59oz. and cost as 64oz. [Yes, this is what was printed] At Lakewood Farms, we never cheat. Our Orange juice still contains 64oz., freshly squeezed from fine Florida Oranges. A wise consumer chooses carefully.

Wow!! Lakewood has finally attacked New Square. And what great timing. As yidden across the world celebrate Shavuos, as we receive the Torah as one people, as we put aside our differences and concentrate on how Hashem’s Torah unites us all…the war for the who’s orange juice is more heimish breaks loose. Now I did see the repacked “easy pour” New Square. I even bought it for Pesach, along with my Tropicana. I actually commented to my wife about how it might be deceiving to consumers when they finally figure out they’re only getting 59 ounces of juice. But I chose to buy it. I knew what I was paying for. And the truth is, I hope, that most people know what they’re paying for. It’s their money and their choice.

You never see an ad for Coke stating that you shouldn’t buy any cola that comes in a blue can, do you? You never see Artscroll ads stating that they use special thinner paper so that their 2 inch thick sefer really contains more pages than a regular 2 inch thick sefer, do you?

I find it sad when Derech Eretz and Mentschlekeit go out the window for quick $2.99. I ask myself, “How can I raise my children to be B’nai Torah when Lakewood Farms has to slam New Square?” This ad on page 48 of the Yated is only a small example of the bigger picture. I’m surely not the first to mention it, but Lakewood…Litvish. New Square…Chassidish.

It’s not just that one derech is right, it’s that the other derech is totally wrong. That’s the real problem.

We quickly forget that prior to reaching Har Sinai, we crossed the Yam Suf. Each shevet had their own route. Each shevet actually had their own nuach (so I’ve been told). We all are different. We dress differently, we have different minhagim, send our kids to different schools, and we have different outlooks. Yet, for the Kavod Hashem, to accept the Torah, we were one. Why couldn’t I have read about Achdus on Shavuos after a night of learning, instead of about orange juice?

PS: My thanks to Yitzy and Rana Wechsler for letting me read their copy of the Yated. For the record, my family is a Tropicana family. I don’t have anything against Heimeshe brands, but I’d rather show Tropicana that having hashgacha matters to me, as a consumer.