Rebbetzin’s Perspective: What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana?

28 09 2011

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question: 

What are some ways I can motivate my husband to think about Elul and Rosh Hashana without sounding like an annoying seminary girl? I’m not worried about his learning because he has a learning seder (session) every day, but whenever I bring up the idea of change or growth he gets annoyed.

 

Answer:

Some men like hashkafa, but most don’t. No man likes to feel as if his wife is the provider and he is the receiver. Be patient. As men mature, they want to know more about how to put it all together. Hashkafa sefarim were really written by and for men and many of them will eventually study them. When they do, it will probably be with a lot more depth and perception, and a higher level of integration than women, because men are much more grounded in Torah learning. By the time he’s thirty eight, he’ll probably be motivating you, instead of the other way around. This is usually how it goes in most marriages.

However, let’s say he’s already forty five and you’re still trying to get him to work on his inner life. Begin by asking some questions such as, “It’s Elul and I don’t feel anything much different than I did in Av. Did they ever say anything about this in yeshiva? Is there anything I could learn that can give me insight?” Make him your teacher. Don’t correct him even if he gets it wrong, just listen. Since his skills are better, in the end his grasp will be much more profound.

It could also be that he’s just not the hashkafa type. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a yearning for spirituality. It’s just that he doesn’t have the ability to listen to the language. His means of communication may be dikduk halacha (care in Jewish law). His ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) may be expressed through tzedaka, charity. His yirat Hashem (fear of Hashem) may be actualized by the level of kashrut he maintains. Let his deeds show you where he truly is and don’t try to gauge his spiritual standing by how much he’s learning.

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Rejuvenating Our Bond

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Rejuvevating Our Bond The first Rosh Hashana at the beginning of creation was different than all future Rosh Hashanas. The presence of Hashem descended upon Adam without any effort. It wasn’t a matter of avoda, working to achieve an awareness of Him. Rather it was a complete itaruta dl’eleh, an arousal from above.

In the Rosh Hashana davening we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon, a remembrance of the first day.” In order to reveal Hashem’s kingship upon us we must remember the brit. The brit is the immutable bond between Hashem and the Jewish people that can never be obliterated. This requires effort, an itaruta dl’tata, an awakening from below. This awakening is accomplished through the shofar. The shofar is an aspect of the highest teshuva. It is like a cry, a yearning from the depths of the heart, something very profound and powerful and impossible to contain in words.

The sages divided the service of Rosh Hashana into three parts: Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. These are not three independent aspects but one unit with interdependent parts. Why does the memory of the brit depend on the shofar? Rosh Hashana is the beginning. On that day Adam was created and he accepted malchut Hashem (kingship). When we say, “Zikaron l’yom rishon” we connect once again to the memory of the beginning of the revelation of Hashem. The Rambam says the avoda of teshuva is shofar. It signals to us, “Uru yesheinim mishnaschem! Awaken from your sleep, you slumberers!” The brit, the covenant between Hashem and knesset Yisrael is hovering above us waiting to be rejuvenated once again.

The Zohar teaches that there are two levels of repentance, a lower teshuva and a higher teshuva. The lower teshuva is meant to return the soul to its state of purity before sin. The higher teshuva leads the soul back to the level of d’veikut, attachment to Hashem that it had before it became connected to the body. Shofar is an aspect of this highest teshuva. It is the return of the soul to the root of its existence. It could be that the Baal Hatanya uses the term teshuva ilohe to mean a higher level of teshuva where the person is so deeply affected by his distance from Hashem that it touches the deepest point of his heart and he is overcome by uncontrolled weeping and brokenness.

The Rebbe Maharash retold a parable from the Baal Shem Tov about a king who sent his son away to a faraway land to learn the ways of the world. After many years the prince returned to his father’s kingdom, bereft of everything he had and clad in tattered clothing. When he arrived, the people did not recognize him. They taunted him and beat him until he reached the palace courtyard and a cry of pain escaped from deep inside of him. The king recognized his son’s voice and ran out to embrace him. Similarly, Hashem decreed that the soul should descend into the world, to attain its reward. Lost in the maelstrom of physicality it moves far away and forgets that it was once connected to Hashem. The voice of the shofar, the cry from the depths of the heart, contains all the regrets and past mistakes of the soul. It expresses the profound pain of the Jewish people and how we have distanced ourselves and yearn to return. The call of the shofar, awakens Hashem’s love for us and we too are aroused to come back once again to His warm embrace.





Shabbat Shuva: Hashem’s Ways Are Straight #4

27 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur  byMrs. Shira Smiles  

Shabbat Shuva: Hashem's Ways Are Straight #4 The haftorah of Shabbat Shuva depicts the era of the redemption as a time of tremendous closeness and connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. The Navi tells us, “Those who return will sit in Hashem‘s shadow.” The Radak explains that the Jews will return to the land of Israel where Hashem’s presence rests. Just as bread now nourishes a person physically, when Mashiach comes mitzvot will be a basic aspect of our spiritual existence. Wheat, which is sown annually, signifies Elul. It’s a time to replant and reinvest in our relationship with Hashem. But when Mashiach comes, there will be a flourishing bond like the grapevine, which blossoms from year to year.

The haftorah compares Hashem to a tree whose head is bent down to its roots. Hashem who is up in the heavens descends to be with us. If we listen, we will eat of the fruit of the land; if we rebel we will eat the fruit of the sword. It will be according to our deeds. Sometimes we don’t see the results of our actions right away but they eventually catch up with us. The basic foundation of hashgacha pratit (Divine providence)is recognizing that everything we do is important and we are accountable for everything. The Mishna in Avot tells us “Da ma l’maala mimcha.” The Nefesh Hachayim explains, know that what comes from above, mimcha, is a result of your actions.

The prophet Hoshea tells us, “The ways of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk along these ways and the sinners will stumble.” Hashem’s ways are correct. He knows what is in each person’s heart. If we have a problem understanding His ways, it is due to our limitations. The judgment of Hashem is measured out exactly. Yosef was meant to experience the torment of slavery, but he didn’t deserve to suffer too much along the way. Therefore Hashem made the Arab dealers carry sweet smelling spices in the wagon that carried him down to Egypt. Sometimes Hashem will punish a righteous person because he wants to give him reward in the next world. If we can understand that the trials Hashem gives us is for our benefit, then all suffering falls away. Our challenge is to find Hashem in every difficult situation.

Shabbat Shuva is a time of judgment. When Hashem‘s conduct is so exact, we should repent.

Teshuva is embracing the essence of being a servant of Hashem. It is understanding what is important in life and pursuing it. The shleimut (perfection)in a mitzva depends on the intention behind it. The same action can be a sin or a mitzva. These weeks are an opportune time to work on fulfilling Torah and mitzvot with thought and feeling.

All that we encounter in this world is a message for us to learn from. Whatever we read, see, hear, or experience is Hashem’s way of teaching us something. Sinners choose to focus on the negativity in this world. They are unable to face the reality of the truth. Hashem doesn’t put a stumbling block in front of us. Our negative choices create it. The tzaddik and rasha both have the same opportunities and abilities. What makes one person grow while another falls? Our choices. Rav Dessler writes that there is no standing still in Judaism, a person is either going up or down. A beinoni is one who is undecided. Sometimes he’ll take the route of growth and sometimes the route of sin. But there’s no such thing as being complacent. Hashem gives us so many opportunities in life. The question is how we will respond. We must focus on the vision of who we can be and what we can build. And we must always keep in mind, “Yesharim darkei Hashem. The ways of Hashem are straight.”

This Rosh Hashana let us pray for si’yata d’shmaya to make Hashem a part of who and what we are and may we merit to be inscribed for a shana tavoh u’metukah, a sweet new year.





Themes of Rosh Hashana

26 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Michael Taubes

Themes of Rosh Hashana #1 The Gemara writes that the books of life and death are open before Hashem on Rosh Hashana. There’s a certain tension in the air in keeping with the awesomeness of the day. Hallel is omitted, and the prayers are unusually lengthy. Nonetheless, there’s an obligation to rejoice on Rosh Hashana. Although it is the yom hadin (day of judgment) it is also called Yom Teruah (day of the shofar blast). Rav Soloveitchick explains that teruah can be translated to mean friendship from the root word reut. Rosh Hashana is the day when we rekindle our loving relationship with Hashem.

In Shemone Esrei of Rosh Hashana, we say, “U’vchen ten pachdecha. Let your fear rest upon your creations.” This seems puzzling. Fear doesn’t engender positive sentiments. Rav Soloveitchik clarifies that fear of Hashem is healthy. But there’s another kind of fear. When Rosh Hashana comes we begin to introspect, thinking perhaps we were living life with the wrong assumption and we ask Hashem to reveal to us the truth. If we would stop and ask ourselves before anything we do, “What would Hashem think of this?” we would act differently. U’vchen ten pachdecha is the recognition that all the things we’ve done are recorded and we must account for them.

There is a custom to say chapter 24 in Tehilim at the end of Maariv on Rosh Hashana. The psalm speaks about the kingship of Hashem. Rav Soloveitchik says there are two ways a person can recognize Hashem. It can happen by force, through tragedy. But it can also come through joy or intellectual understanding. Sometimes the gate to let Hashem in moves involuntarily, and other times it happens because the gates themselves have opened to let Him in. This is the challenge of Rosh Hashana. People think they can’t change, but it isn’t true. It’s a matter of making the effort. Our eye must be turned towards the future, towards perfecting ourselves and becoming better Jews.

We say in L’dovid Hashem, “Achat sha’alti…shivti b’veit Hashem. I have one request… to sit in the house of Hashem.” King David asks Hashem to dwell in His house, But then he says, “U’levaker b’heichalo. Let me visit His palace.” If he is asking to dwell permanently with Hashem, why does he then ask to visit? King David desired both. He wanted to always be with Hashem, but with the excitement and freshness of a visitor.

May we merit this Rosh Hashana to renew our connection with our Creator with anticipation and joy.





Elul-Month of Relationships

18 09 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Elul-Month of Relationships The Sefat Emet teaches that the essence of the month of Elul is understanding the interplay of the word ‘lo‘ as expressed in the verse in Tehillim, “Hu asanu v’lo anachnu. He created us and we are His.” ‘Lo‘ can be translated interchangeably as ‘to Him’ or ‘we are nothing.’ We have the ability to attach ourselves to Hashem to the extent that we nullify ourselves. This is encoded within the word Elul – spelled lamed, aleph, lamed, vav.

What does nullifying oneself mean? Rav Tatz explains that our inner struggles are linked to the root challenge first faced by Adam. Adam reasoned that if he would sin he would bring himself and the world down from its pure state into a world of physicality. If he could then stand firm against temptation, he would achieve much more than by resisting sin on an elevated level. However, he was mistaken. Where there is an illusion of independence, where there’s a wrong choice that contradicts the Divine Will, there is a death. We all face this challenge. Being told what to do is a negation of self. Adam wanted to use his entire being to serve Hashem. But he failed to realize that the greatest assertion of free will is giving in to a Higher Will. Elul is a time to introspect and ask ourselves, how many times did our will and Hashem’s Will clash? How many times did we insist on our own will? It’s a time to work on nullifying the ‘I’ and committing our will to Hashem.

There’s also the second aspect of ‘lo.’ We belong to Hashem. The Netivot Shalom writes about the pasuk, “Nachpesa diracheinu, Let us search our ways.” We must not only think about our sins but also about our mitzvot. What is our mindset when we do mitzvot and learn Torah? Are we just going through the motions and missing the essence? When we say a bracha or daven, do we visualize that we are talking to the Masterof the world? Elul is a preparatory time to analyze our relationship with Hashem. We must open our eyes to find Him.

There’s no aspect of life devoid of Hashem. Whether it’s physical or spiritual needs, we must turn to Him for help. When we do this, even for minor things, He becomes more involved in our lives. The Chazon Ish told a student that the main thing to ingrain in a child’s mind is emuna and hashgacha pratit, recognizing that Hashem is intimately involved in every aspect of our life. This is how we develop an emotional bond with Him. The mindset of a Jew has to be, “V’ani kirvat Elokim li tov. For me closeness to Hashem is good.”

If we spend Elul focusing on making Hashem’s Will our own and on developing a relationship with Him, we can then stand before him on Rosh Hashana and crown Him king.





Teaching Your Children Sensitivity

9 09 2011

Rebbetzin’s Perspective: Class #4

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

Rebbetzin's Perspective

Question:

My seven year old daughter thinks that she can insult and call people names without a care. She also acts rude to our guests.  I have explained numerous times that it isn’t nice but she doesn’t listen.

 

 

Answer:

The wisdom of seven years hasn’t taught your daughter the art of sensitivity. She probably doesn’t understand how people feel when she calls them names or treats them unkindly.  She can connect to herself, but not to others. Try to find several good children’s books in which the theme is getting beneath another person’s skin. It could be in the genre of “The Ugly Duckling,” where the one who was despised and in pain ultimately turns into the swan. Get her to identify with the hero and feels his pain. Then ask her, “If you would have been there with all the others, would you have made fun of the duckling? Had you been one of the kids in the class with Rabbi Akiva, learning aleph beit, would you have laughed at him?” 

 

Try to find as many opportunities as you can to tell her these stories, either at bedtime or on Shabbat. Fictional tales are good because it creates enough emotional distance so that she won’t be defensive.  It could take at least a month or so to open her heart a little. When you see visible signs that she’s starting to understand, you can talk to her more, not about mistreating guests, but how to make them feel good. Invite someone she likes and have her serve. Then move the conversation on to how one should treat a visitor.  Ask her, “Do you want our guests to feel bad? Of course not, even if you don’t like them, you’ll try your best to make them feel comfortable.” 

 

As time progresses, make her aware that nobody enjoys being called names.  It hurts people’s feelings. Teach her the right way to express herself. Encourage her to use positive, heartening words. With time and practice she’s bound to improve.





Rebbetzin’s Perspective I Class #2

3 07 2011

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

Rebbetzin Perspective

Question:

How do I balance listening to lashon hora with developing a deep and meaningful relationship with my teenage daughter?  Are there different rules when dealing with teenagers who need to be able to talk freely in order to understand themselves and their circle of friends?  

 

Answer:

 

If you care about someone, you want to give them what’s best for them. If you had a brilliant child who wanted to become a doctor, you’d do whatever you could to get him through medical school. If you had a special needs child who required extra intervention, you’d surmount all obstacles to help him progress. Your daughter desperately needs to learn how to differentiate between actual lashon hara and  lashon hara l’toelet, and how to developing a positive eye. As her mother, you are responsible to guide her.

 

Some people have the illusion that if they confide in their spouse they are drawing closer. In fact they are doing quite the opposite, notes the Chofetz Chaim, because their relationship is based on the common desire to tear people down. If you don’t set your daughter straight now and she continues analyzing and discussing people endlessly, the day may come when you’ll be the bull’s eye. She’ll be talking about you in a way she’s been talking with you all along about others.

 

The first step would be to gently get her to focus on what is unique, special, and precious, in every person. The next step would be to steer her to look for constructive solutions to her social problems. The final stage would be to have her come to these conclusions on her own. This will change your relationship with her in a very pivotal way. It will now be based on the common goal of finding resolutions and developing positivity rather than constantly putting others down.