Prayers of Our Forefathers

31 05 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichmanvisa

Meaningful Prayer is an exciting new series of short classes by Rabbi Hershel Reichman on the meaning and depth of the Shemoneh Esrai prayer. With extra focus on the simple translation of the words, as well as the intent one should have while praying, this course is sure to transform your tefila experience.

Prayer dates back to time immemorial. If we examine the lives of the avot, we find many instances where they davened to Hashem. Avraham beggedHashem to save Sedom, Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed for children, and Yaakov asked Hashem to return him to Eretz Yisrael safe and sound. Although the three prayers we know today were only formally instituted as a rabbinic commandment during the Second Temple era, the custom is ancient and stems from our forefathers.

When we wake up in the morning we should be overwhelmed by the amount of chesed Hashem put into our world. Weather, gravity, botany, and the human body are all wonders of His creation. It is fitting, therefore, that Avraham, the pillar of chesed, instituted Shachrit, the morning prayer.

Yitzchak represents the concept of kviut, unwavering commitment to Hashem. He is the pillar of avoda service. He instituted Mincha, the afternoon prayer, to teach us that although we may be harried and involved in our everyday affairs during the afternoon, we need to step back and focus on our Creator.

The prayer of Yaakov is in times of distress. He communed with Hashem on his perilous journey to Lavan and again when he was about to face Esav, who wanted to kill him. The darkness of night evokes feelings of fright. Yaakov, who instituted Maariv, the evening prayer, teaches us to turn to Hashem in our hour of need.
In a sense, Avraham and Yaakov represent two opposite extremes while Yitzchak is in the middle. Avraham teaches us to thank Hashem when life is full of bountiful goodness and chesed, Yaakov exhorts us to pray when we are drowning in pain and suffering, and Yitzchak tells us that no matter what the situation is, whether good or bad, we must always remain dedicated and loyal to Hashem.

How Do Single Jewish Women Stay Inspired?

30 05 2010

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

visaQuestion:I constantly hear women asking how to keep inspired on Shabbat and Yom Tov when they have to meet the physical demands of marriage and a young family. I know so many single women, myself included, who would love to be married. We have ample free time to learn and daven but Yiddishkeit is built around the family. It is heartbreaking to be alone at these times. Even if I do get invited out, it’s still not my own family no matter how nice the hosts are. I know we have to have bitachon and accept that this is what Hashem wants at this time. Can you offer any other words of inspiration or encouragement?

When someone complains about something you personally don’t have, it’s like a dagger in your heart. When a childless woman hears a mother griping about her baby, or when a man who is unemployed listens to people complaining about the crowding on commuter trains, or when someone who is breaking his head over gemara and is just not getting it, hears people discussing the cons of an exclusive yeshiva or kollel, it’s not easy.

However, the problem here is really kinah, emotional dishonesty. Nobody knows what their purpose is in life is and what the moment holds. Someone else’s tools will not get you closer to your mission in life. If you’re single and Divine Providence led you to live far away from your family, then accept this as Hashem’s will and use the opportunity to develop yourself inwardly. Attaining a higher level of bitachon may be your entire purpose of living. Of course you can counter that your situation is unsatisfactory. Your feelings are completely natural, but call it by its right name, which is kinah. Accept that life is a process and it takes a long time to get past this midda. In fact, many people never succeed.
How do you begin? The Ibn Ezra tells a parable about a country yokel who went to the big city one day and caught sight of the princess during a parade. Would the yokel ever consider the princess his bashert? Of course not, because she lives in an entirely different world than he does. The Ibn Ezra says each person is a complete universe unto himself. No one else’s world has anything to do with your world. Look at your own universe and see what it offers. Open your eyes to the courage, self sufficiency, and deveikut that you could potentially develop and realize that for the moment this indeed is where you should be going.

Helping Children Make The Right Choices

28 05 2010

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Helping Children Make The Right ChoicesIn this class we will explore how to teach children the power of free choice. Very young children from ages three to six don’t have real bechira chofshit. They are the prisoners of their upbringing, fears, instincts, and desire for love. Therefore, don’t expect too much from them. Give them opportunities to make good choices and when they do, be sure to tell them how wonderful they are. Sometimes you will have to point out that they made a bad choice. They need to be aware that their choices have consequences and that this is a power that only people have. You can illustrate by saying, “This flower will be red whether you water it or not, because flowers can’t make choices.” If your child is sophisticated enough, you can explain this concept with animals too, “This dog is barking because he is a dog. He can’t choose not to bark.”
Children from ages six to ten can comprehend much more. Show them their options. Make it clear to them that all of their good choices will bring positive results, and other choices will bring other consequences. So when Yanky makes a loud bracha with kavana, tell him, “What an incredible bracha. I bet all the malachim in heaven answered amen. That was a good choice.” You could tell Chani, “Remember yesterday, when you made a beautiful bracha on the lollipop? That was a good choice. Maybe think about doing it again now.”

The more you make your child aware that they have the choice to be good, the more empowered they’ll feel and the less resentful they’ll be towards you. Show your child that bad choices have consequences and that they have the power to fight against the consequences by making good choices and avoiding bad decisions. There’s a huge difference, even for an adult, between being pressured or forced to make a good choice, and making the choice yourself of your own volition. At this age it is not a good idea to make your child your buddy, but you can solicit his opinion on small matters. Asking your ten year old, “What do you think I should do?” makes him realize that there are choices and consequences and that you are making the effort to choose the best option.

Teach children negotiation skills. Perfect negotiation is when both parties end up feeling that they got more or less what they wanted. These techniques are crucial for maintaining shalom in life. It comes with wanting the other person to be happy while at the same time seeing that there are choices. Many times even with negotiation there is a winner and a loser. In such a situation you can say, “This time we’ll do it this way, and next time we’ll do it that way.” If the child persists and says, “No I want it this way now,” you should ask him why, and try to work out a compromise.

Tell children that they can choose how they want things to be. Tell them stories to drive this point home. For example, “Estie was really looking forward to the family picnic. Every day she would pack some more things into the hamper to take along. Finally when the great day arrived, it rained. What are her choices now?” Draw scenarios. “Estie can say, ‘Hashem didn’t think it was a picnic day today. Maybe it can be a dollhouse, cutout, or painting day.’ Or Estie can mope around the house and complain, ‘I don’t want to do anything. I just want a picnic.’ Which choice will make her happier?”

Teach your children to color in the outlines of life. Talk with them about the child who is willing to make choices and the child who chooses to ignore that other possibilities exist. Tell them that Hashem expects maximum hishtadlut, effort, from us, but the end results are always in His hands. If things don’t turn out the way we want them, we should think of other options. This can be life transforming and will serve them well in the future.

Parshat Beha’alotcha Classes

27 05 2010

Check out all of the parsha classes available on this week’s parsha at!

Parshat Beha’alotcha: Yitro’s Visit by Mrs. Chana Prero

Mrs. Prero analyzes the conversation between Yitro and Moshe when Moshe urges Yitro to join the Jewish Nation on their journey to the Promised Land.

Parshat Beha’alotcha: Triumphant Travels by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Mrs. Smiles focuses on the description of how the Jewish people camped in the desert, and on the topic of the ‘chatzotzrot’, the trumpets.

Parshat Beha’alotcha: Aharon’s Unique Mission by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Rabbi Reichman discusses Aharon and Hashem’s interchange, in this week’s Parsha, regarding his service in the Mishkan, based on the Shem Mishmuel’s understanding of the essence of a Kohen’s role among the Jewish People.

Helping Children Relate To Torah Leaders

26 05 2010

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Hellervisa
In later childhood and adolescence, you can teach emunat chachamim through reading about tzaddikim. Buy them tzaddikim biographies. These books are vivid and so full of mussar and hashkafa that the child will automatically grasp what a tzaddik is without having to hear you preach about it. They will want to be like the tzaddik and admire people like him. If your child’s reading level is not that high, get him simplified but detailed tzaddikim stories. At this age stay away from the magical tzaddikim tales. Tell your child stories that relate to the character of the tzaddik such as his hasmadah and tziddkut. Emunat chachamim doesn’t necessarily mean that every bracha or piece of advice will necessarily be on target. This is because ultimately Hashem rules the world. However it does say, “Tzaddik gozer v’Hakodosh Baruch Hu mekayem”-A tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills. This means that the tzaddik’s decree may be a reason for something that had no reason to happen, happening. For example, if someone didn’t necessarily deserve a refuah, but it wasn’t time for him to die, he just needed the suffering and is therefore afflicted with terrible pain. It could be that the spiritual level, the person will attain by believing in the power of a tzaddik’s bracha, will take him beyond the need for suffering, and he will miraculously recover. Anything is possible. However don’t let your children think that a tzaddik’s bracha is a guarantee. This will erode their emunat chachachim. At this age, if you’ve done a proper job of educating them to respect Torah leaders when they were younger, it will stick with them now. I’ve seen teenagers make life decisions based on the advice of tzaddikim and talmidei chachamim. If you have a history of having failed with emunat chachamim in your child’s younger years, it’s almost impossible to fix in the teenage years. However if you attempt to expose them to real tzaddikm now, they may develop it on their own. Help them gain an honest appreciation for tzaddim and chachamim. This means that you will need to demystify them to some degree. Explain to them that a gadol with daat Torah is someone who knows the Torah which is Hashem’s will and wisdom and is attuned to how things should be. At this age, your children are more likely to hear scandals. This requires an enormous amount of sensitivity. True scandals that don’t affect them personally should be explained. Open their hearts by telling them that there are people who have tremendous potential but fail to live up to it. The Korach story is very useful. Tell them that the Rabbi may have been a charismatic talmid chacham but he was blinded by desire and a lack of bitachon. You can say that he knew the truth but his yetzer hara overpowered him. Your goal is to evoke a very delicate combination of repulsion for the act and compassion for the person so that he does not globalize this Rabbi’s failures to all Rabbanim. If the child himself was affected by the Rabbi, then it is much more complex. You need to victimize the Rabbi to some extent so that the child does not blame himself. Bring examples from history of many great people who failed because they were trapped by their emotions. Introduce your child to the idea of communal consciousness. Make your child understand the motivation for keeping scandals under wraps but don’t justify the evil act. A person who loves Jews will try to cover up their mistakes because they do not want them to be degraded especially in front of non-Jews.

As we pray every week in the Techina of Motzai Shabbat, may Hashem help us merit true emunat chachamim so that our children will grow to emulate the living examples of our great Torah leaders.

Class Spotlight: Honorable Mentchen – Character Pitfalls #2

24 05 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller


This new course introduces a series of mini-workshops on the vital topic of personal character and the implementation of moral sensitivity into our daily lives. Featuring Rabbi Hanoch Teller at his best, these short 20 minute lectures are sure to add an inspirational lift to your day!

Too often, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to change others, when in reality we can change only ourselves. The Mishna in Avot says, “Who is mighty? One conquers his evil inclination.” Western society considers one who prevails over others to be mighty, but our Rabbis emphasize that it is really one who prevails over himself.

The more conscious we are of our weaknesses, the more we can try to curb them before they damage ourselves and others. If we refuse to acknowledge our character failings, we will inevitably rationalize our flaws, and try to demonize and find fault with others. Just as our sages instituted numerous rabbinic prohibitions or fences so that we would not come to transgress Torah law, we must erect fences around our evil character traits to prevent us from stumbling. Rav Yisrael Salanter once said that a person is like a bird. He can fly ever so high but if his wings stop flapping, he will inevitably fall down. Working on our middot is a constant battle and we must be watchful at all times.

The first step to improvement is to admit our wrongs. Instead of correcting their mistakes, people have a tendency to persist in their errors. To quote Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, “One who makes a mistake and doesn’t correct it is making a second mistake.” Many times, parents will err with their children and place unrealistic demands on them. They may even see their child suffering and still continue on their ill chosen path.

Time is life and one can literally commit slow suicide by killing time. It is important to have proper priorities and to preoccupy ourselves with doing good for others instead of thinking only of ourselves. We should ask ourselves, “Are we giving our children a feeling of being loved and appreciated?”

Our tombstones will never be inscribed with the epithets, “She had the shiniest floors or he drove the fanciest car.” Instead, people will remember you as, “The good neighbor or the loving mother.” Small acts of kindness, thoughtful deeds, and giving of oneself without thought of remuneration, will remain with us for eternity. The famous coach, Vincent Bardey, was wont to say, “Being the winner is not the main thing, it’s the only thing.” Similarly, Rabbi Shimon Finkelman points out, “Being good is not the main thing, it’s the only thing.”

Parshat Shavuot

17 05 2010

Based on a Short Vort by Mrs. Shira Smiles


The only festival that has a Torah mandated period of preparation is Shavuot. Blowing the shofar in Elul is a rabbinic obligation, and cleaning for Pesach has no set time. However, the 49 day sefira count and the shloshet yemei hagbalah (the three day preparation) always precede the yom tov of Shavuot. Why does Shavuot need such intense preparation?

According to Chassidic teaching, Shavuot is a day of judgment akin to Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana we are judged for what will happen to us physically, while on Shavuot our spiritual potentials decided. All of our spiritual moments, feelings of inspiration, and our level of kavana in prayer, Torah study, and mitzvot during the coming year are determined on this day. We know that the real, internal aspect of life is our soul. We need to make sure that we are worthy to attain these eternal spiritual levels. Therefore, the Torah demands major preparation before Shavuot so we will be ready to be judged favorably on this holy day.

May we merit that Hashem give us a year where we can feel connected during the spiritual moments in our life. May we be zoche during this sefira period to take the key component of self, our soul, and develop it to its fullest, so that we can then be inscribed in the sefer hachaim-the true spiritual life.