Tons of Classes Available to Help You Prepare for Rosh Hashana

31 08 2010 has a large variety of classes on the month of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

Here is just a sampling of some of the classes available:

Harbingers of Blessing: A Practical Guide to the Simanim of Rosh Hashana

In this interactive Torah class (shiur) on the simanim of Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Shimon Isaacson discusses the concept of eating symbolic foods during the evening meal of Rosh Hashana.

Path to Teshuva

In this shiur (class) on Teshuva, Rabbi Hanoch Teller outlines the path to true repentance.  Peppered with inspirational, poignant, and humorous stories, the theme of Teshuva is masterfully illustrated with real life examples.

Elul: The Shofar’s Wake Up Call

In this Torah shiur (class) on the month of Elul, Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg connects the message of the blowing of the shofar, which is done every day of the month, to the essence of the month of Elul.

Rosh Hashana: Our Turn

In this shiur (Torah class) on Rosh Hashana, Mrs. Shira Smiles raises some questions and answers to remind us of the basic ideas of the holiday.

Parshat Ki Tavo

26 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Parshat Ki Tavo:  Parsha Journeys

Parshat Ki Tavo discusses the blessings that were given on Har Grizim and the curses that were given on Har Avel. While both mountains were situated near each other and enjoyed the exact same climatic conditions, Har Grizim was lush and verdant while Har Avel remained barren. Rav Hirsch explains that this is a timeless lesson in free will. Two people can be given identical capabilities, yet one will go in one direction while the other may go the opposite way. You can choose to be the mountain of blessing or the hill of curses. It’s all up to you.

The essence of life is choice.  As our choices diminish, our lives become less meaningful. Human nature is to avoid difficult decisions, but if we don’t proactively choose life we inevitably choose death.  The legendary Sara Schenirer would say, one should live a life of chayim sheb’chayim, every minute should be thought out, not lived perfunctorily. Choosing life means seriously considering how to raise our children, treat our spouse, and fill our days. What stands high on our priority list? Is it career advancement, shopping, fitting in, or tikkun hamiddot and spending more time with our family? A meaningful life is a collection of meaningful moments. People who don’t view life as a choice never change or grow.

In the tochacha the Torah states, “You will bear sons and daughters but they will not be yours, because they will go into captivity.” The Chazon Ish explains that this refers to our generation. Millions of our brethren who have grown up entirely ignorant of Judaism are the tinokot shenishbu referred to in the Torah. Why have we suffered these great losses? The parsha continues, “Tachat asher lo avadata et Hashem Elokecha b’simcha. Because you did not serve Hashem with joy.” If we fail to show our children that living a Torah lifestyle is a wondrous, delightful experience, we will lose them. Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein noted that even those who sacrificed their livelihood to keep Shabbat in early 20th century America, lost their children to assimilation because they would so frequently sigh, “Oy siz shver tzu zein a yid. It’s difficult to be a Jew.”  Each of us in our own way can reach out and bring our brethren closer to Torah.

We find many mitzvot in the Torah that command us to bring our “firsts” to Hashem. This includes the first of the shearing, dough, children, and animals. Why did Hashem ask for these “firsts” rather than the best?  We find the answer in Kohelet. “Tov achrit davor mereishito. A good end emanates from the beginning.” The “first” is the root and foundation of all that follows. Just as a hairline crack on a building’s foundation can endanger the entire structure, an imperfection in the root of holiness will manifest all that follows. That is why we immediately dedicate our first gleanings to Hashem.  Similarly, Elul and the High Holy Days are an opportune time to grab the moment and repent, because whatever we become on the first day of the year will very critically affect our entire year.

Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur For Children

22 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller


Creating Elul consciousness in the home really begins with our understanding of what Elul means. The Sefas Emes explains that there is a place within Hashem’s infinite reality where his love for us is so great that nothing can touch it. Similarly, there is a hidden spark of ahavat Hashem within each of us that can never be defiled. The theme of Elul is “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” Discovering that place of pure love, emunah, and yearning for deveikut within ourselves draws down Hashem’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For adults, Elul is a time to push aside all the trivialities of daily living and get in touch with our deep inner selves through teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.

A good way to explain Elul to young children is through a parable. One can tell what something really is by looking at the end product. Following all the directions exactly while baking a cake, will usually yield good tasting results. Similarly, who we were during the year shows up in Elul. Ask the children to pretend that a very important person is expected to visit. You bake a delicious cake but it comes out a real flop. It’s too late to go out and buy new ingredients.  Imagine if you could sprinkle a magic potion on the ruined cake and turn it back to its original raw ingredients. You could then bake the cake again and it would come out just perfect. That is the wonderful gift of teshuva. We can go back as if we hadn’t done the mistakes, change it, and make it better once again.  In Elul, Hashem gives us a whole month to think about our wrongdoings and correct it. If you hurt someone, you have to say I am sorry. Show them how to do this sincerely. If you took something without permission you have to return it.   Go through their things with them. Teach them too how to forgive.

Rosh Hashana is about accepting Hashem’s kingship. Explain to your children how Hashem , our loving king, comes down to us once a year and how we great him with joy and awe. Children also need to understand that there is accountability. Although, most know about the three books that are opened on Rosh Hashana, tell them how every person writes their own story through their speech, actions, and thoughts.

Very young children should not be taken to shul because if they are forced to sit quietly for long periods of time they may come to despise going to shul. Letting them run wild in shul is anti-chinuch.  If feasible, take them for shofar blowing and some of the serious parts of the davening such as U’nesane Tokef to increase their yirat shamayim.

During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, encourage children to do more mitzvot. Give them extra coins to give to tzedakah and have them recite short chapters in tehilim.

Introducing the highlights of the Yomim Noraim to older children from the age of ten to early adolescence can be a bit more complex.  Take time to speak with them during Elul. Ask them what they would desire more, a fancy camera or to be married to someone they respect. They will probably answer the latter. Explain to them that the pleasure we derive from people stems from seeing their ruchniyut. This is something of the yearning we have for closeness to Hashem. Get them to identify all the gifts and talents Hashem has given them.  Tell them that Hashem gives us these things out of chesed and that he expects us to use it well. Let them see your Elul, how you are trying harder and working on yourself. Explain to them that Elul is the time to redefine ourselves, a period of great chesed, where we can once again resolve to make things work. Tell them stories of people who completely changed themselves. Ask them for mechila and encourage them when they express any signs of regret for past misdeeds. The real message of Elul should come through clearly-make your own transformational moments or ask Hashem to send them to you, decide what you want to be, and be it.

Rosh Hashana is a time when we renew our relationship with Hashem by recognizing Hashem’s malchut. This should awaken a certain desire to do and be more. Children can get very distracted by the externals of the day such as new clothing and the simanim. Stories are a good medium to explain “ol malchut shamayim.”  Tell your kids to aim for absolute acceptance of Hashem’s kingship. They should understand that our only desire is to do Hashem’s will. In a sense we are telling Him, “Wherever you take me, this is where I want to go.”

Older teens don’t like being told what to do. Share some inspiring ideas or stories you have read. The more indirectly you talk, the more directly they’ll hear it. The only condition though is, you have to “walk your talk”. Ask yourself honestly if you are at the level you want your children to be.Think ahead and plan things out carefully. Ask Hashem to give you the right words, clarity of mind, siyata deshmaya, and credibility, to guide your children on the true and straight path.

Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

17 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Elul: Five Steps To Greatness

What is the definition of greatness? What do we hope to achieve in Elul? When I posed this question to one of my children, she answered, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov”-And for me closeness to Hashem is good. A great person is one who can reach a level of kirvat Hashem.  Rav Pincus in Nefesh Chaya, lists five steps to greatness. This is based on a statement of Chazal which describes the service of the angels. These five attributes are listed as follows:

1)       They appear as a lightning bolt
2)      Where they go has no end
3)      They go forward and backward
4)      They do Hashem’s will like a storm
5)      They bow in front of Hashem’s throne
These five elements give us direction on how to reach our goal of coming closer to Hashem.

Human nature tends to make us aspire to reach tremendous heights in avodat Hashem, while we simultaneously tell ourselves ‘we’ll never get there’. Saying, “Why should I bother trying,” is a mistake. Rav Pincus notes that even if we never reach the highest point, if we touch a lightning bolt, a flash of it, we are still considered successful. Rav Dessler teaches us that ambition and believing in oneself is crucial. If a person wants to reach a certain level in avodat Hashem, he must have a feeling of bitachon. He may not be successful one hundred percent but if he continues forward and accomplishes one aspect of his goal then to a certain degree he’s been successful. In Kol Dodi, Rav Schwadron explains how people take on different kabalot in Elul and then fall back to routine. A person may think it was all for nothing but that is wrong. Every good deed makes an impression. Touching greatness propels a person forward.

Sometimes we won’t do something because it seems petty, and we think, “Why should I involve myself in something so minuscule?” This is wrong. There is nothing too small for Hashem who feeds the tiniest insects and directs every detailed aspect of our lives. Minor acts such as a smile, a compliment, or a cheery good morning can make the greatest difference. These small things have no end. Additionally, every mitzvah whether significant or minor has tremendous importance. It’s all part of one integrated system. In Alei Shor, Rav Wolbe notes that doing any mitzvah properly can draw the Shechina down.

This world is a journey of ups and downs. The forward and backward movements of the angels parallel our own ascending and descending. Rav Nissel writes that Hashem created man in order to give him pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is a relationship with Hashem which is formed through prayer. Troubles are a catalyst for a person to daven and  awaken to the fact that we are dependent on Hashem. If a person is in a constant state of communing with Hashem when things are going well, he will not need any suffering to remind him. This is the secret of the shofar. “Tekiah”-the straight blasts are when things are going well. “Shevarim”-the broken blasts signify the setbacks in life. “Ashrei ha’am yodeiah teruah Hashem b’eor panecha yaleichun”-The breakages in life are a means for us to walk on the path of Hashem.

We must emulate the angels and do Hashem’s will with fiery zeal. Being sensitive to detail, davening to Hashem with intent, and performing the mitzvoth with enthusiasm, inspires passion. Rav Frand notes that children shouldn’t experience mitzvoth as a burden but as an enjoyable aspect of life. Our avodah in Elul is to work on our mitzvoth, not only on our aveiroth. We can never say we’ve reached it. Even if one thinks one has arrived, we need to bow down and realize there is still a long way to go.

This Elul let us work towards greatness by knowing what are ambitions are, being careful with the small details in life, understanding that life’s ups and downs are a catalyst for growth and prayer, and that we’re just on a point of departure in our journey towards Hashem.

Elul: The Shofar’s Wake Up Call

12 08 2010

In this Torah shiur (class) on the month of Elul, Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg connects the message of the blowing of the shofar, which is done every day of the month, to the essence of the month of Elul.  This Torah class is available online in streaming video and for download in mp3 and ipod video formats.

Advice for Parents Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

10 08 2010

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



My sons, aged 10 and 7, are very different in temperament and personality. They often get on each other’s nerves  and can be pretty awful to each other. This is especially an issue because they walk to school together, etc. Should I try to keep them separate, to avoid conflict, or should I insist that they continue to spend time together, and resign myself to refereeing their arguments until they mature?

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Answer:

Obviously you can’t totally separate your sons because they are by Hashem’s hashgacha brothers. However you don’t have to discourage them from having outside friendships. You can schedule play dates with their friends and take each of them to different homes to spend time. This could mean a lot of chauffeuring about for you but it will earn you some peace of mind. In any event what you have to do is set down bottom rules of behavior that you will enforce. This includes no hitting, name calling, and taking or breaking things that belong to the other. The result of this may not be that they will become great pals but at least it will lead them to behave more civilly to each other. In the beginning, you will probably have to do a lot of policing, lecturing and punishing until they understand that your rules are non negotiable. Things will get better, but until they do, it’s worth putting your effort into educating your children that getting along is a must not only in school with friends but even more so at home with siblings.

Chofetz Chaim -Laws of Proper Speech- Avak Lashon Hara

6 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsburg


Avak lashon hara is not actual lashon hara but involves anything that is associated with lashon hara and that can lead to it. While lashon hara is a Torah prohibition, avak lashon hara is a Rabbinic prohibition. The first category of avak lashon hara would be insinuating something negative.  “Who would’ve thought Shimon would turn out the way he did,” or “I don’t want to speak any lashon hara about Reuven,” are examples of avak lashon hara where nothing negative is actually said but there is a veiled hint.

The second category of avak lashon hara is praising someone excessively in public. The Gemara writes, “Al yisaper shivcho shel chavero…”- A person should not praise his friend for he will end up discussing his faults as well.  This does not mean that one should refrain from praise completely as we see many instances in Chazal where people were praised. Rather according to Rashi this means that one should not praise excessively and according to the Rambam it means that one should not praise a person in front of his enemies. This includes praising someone in public as there is bound to be someone who will say something negative. The one exception is a great tzaddik who may be praised publicly as even if something evil is mentioned, everyone will dismiss it as false.

In light of this halacha, how do we understand the custom of excessively praising a chassan and a kallah or a bar mitzvah in public? Normally, at a simcha, people expect the chassan and kallah to be praised. Therefore there is no concern that people will get excited about excessive praise or that it will lead to negative comments. Similarly, the Maharsha notes that one is allowed to praise ones Rebbe because every student knows to praise his Rebbe so it will not lead to jealousy or lashon hara.

May we merit to purify and elevate our speech and may this helps us attain spiritual perfection for the coming year.

Meaningful Prayer- Asking For Mercy

3 08 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman


The core section of Shemoneh Esrei is the blessings of bakasha – asking for mercy. This comes after we have already established through the first three blessings of praise, that Hashem has the power and will to help us in any way He sees fit. The Rambam writes that the thirteen requests for individual and communal support are archetypes for all personal requests that a person may have. Many of these requests are spelled out specifically. The thirteenth blessing of Shema Koleinu is a catch-all blessing where we can ask Hashem to listen to all of our prayers.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that we can see the greatness of Hashem in the inclusiveness of Shemoneh Esrei. Whatever minute trivial request a person may have, he is able to include it within the Shemoneh Esrei and Hashem will listen to him. Hashem, the Master of the universe, the King of kings, is ready and willing to help us with anything that ails us. Our Sages gave us the basic format of thirteen platforms of bakashot, but they left it open for us request anything.  We should approach prayer with the notion that any request is legitimate. There is no limit to what we can ask Hashem to do for us, whether tiny or gargantuan, whether to heal your little pinkie or to bring the Messiah. The only address is our Master and King, our loving Father, Hashem.

Rebbetzin Heller is Helping Parents in Teaching Children To Be Givers

2 08 2010

Based on a shiur (Torah class) by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller


By nature, children do not enjoy giving. Babies know nothing about giving and everything about taking.  This is because very young children only hear their animal souls. You, as the parent must awaken within them another more elevated voice.

We live in a materialistic society where giving is undervalued. What counts is physical reality. In the material sense, the more you give the less you have while in the spiritual sense, the more you give, the more you are. Therefore, the first step in educating your child to give is to question your own attitude towards giving. Do a bit of introspection. How do you feel when someone asks you for a favor? What is your immediate reaction when someone asks you for a significant loan? If your attitude about giving is negative, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s normal not to want to give because we live in a very materialistic society. However, be aware that the language of the soul is giving; and the language of the body is taking.

By allowing yourself to be a taker, you commit yourself to your body. The body is journeying towards death which is why it yearns for repose. It’s root is death. Conversely, the soul is eternal and desires to give and to do for others. If you have your own inner crisis about giving, you will need to resolve it first before attempting to resolve your children’s’ crisis.

Ask yourself initially, “How can I come to enjoy giving?” There are various ways to reach this level. First, learn to identify with the recipient. Use imagery to cross a bridge that may be hard to cross otherwise. Suppose someone asks you for money to help pay for therapy. Picture someone who isn’t coping with life and imagine what will happen if you pay for therapy. Picture the person back on his feet, getting married, starting a family, and holding down a steady job. The more you see yourself in the recipient’s shoes, the more you awaken empathy within yourself for others, the more you’ll love giving.

Secondly, learn how to give with perfection. There’s a huge difference between making a complicated cake for a bar mitzva and handing over a box of store bought cookies. The cake signifies hours of effort and perfection and you can identify your higher soul in the gift.

A child’s desire to take and not give is much stronger than an adult’s. With very young children don’t expect much. They aren’t mentally developed enough to understand spiritual pleasure. Therefore, laying down the law is the way to go. You have to say, “We share here. Look at the clock. You get five minutes and he gets five minutes.”

Starting at about the age of five, it is possible to build empathetic understanding. This can be accomplished through storytelling. Have the hero stem from a different culture or use animal characters. This helps take pressure off the child. Your goal in storytelling is to have the child empathize with a hero who gives something to someone in need after which they both end up feeling good. You can use this basic storyline in endless variations for young children. The hero can either give honor, clothing, help with homework or assistance with understanding a new language. It is essential that the hero be a winner and not a loser, otherwise the child will not connect with the story. Your aim should be to teach them the joy of giving.

Give your child a sum of money and teach him about maaser. Initially, he won’t want to give the money to tzedaka.  Although he didn’t work  for it and does not as yet have a clear picture of what money can buy, he will still be loathe to give anything of his away. Try to open his heart by saving some of the Vaad Harabbanim booklets and reading him the stories.  Tell him how he can make a difference by donating his money. Once he’s experienced the pleasure of giving, you can move up a notch. Take your child to Geulah or the Kotel where collectors are wont to be found. Give him money to drop into a beggar’s cup. Then say, “Look what a mitzva you’ve done, now this woman can go home and buy a cake for Shabbat.”

Once you’ve passed these steps, you can then introduce the concept of giving as a part of the child’s personal life. A good place to begin is at home.  Tell your child, “The baby was so happy when you brought her a cookie,” instead of, “You were so good, you brought the baby a cookie.” This creates empathy.