Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chanukah Music Videos 5774 - Including NEW MACCABEATS!

Here we are, another year, more music videos!

Check out the past few years' selections at these posts: 5773/2012 and 5772/2011.

New videos will be added to the bottom of the post as I find them. Submit videos for posting in the comments section!

Let's start off with The Maccabeats and "Burn," based on a song by Ellie Goulding.




Of course, this year Thanksgiving coincides with Chanukah, so there are going to be a ton of Thanksgivukkah videos, such as this video by the Buba Myses, a parody of "Scream and Shout," by will.i.am and Britney Spears.




"Oils" by Big Teeth Productions. A parody of Royals by Lorde.

This song features a female vocalist, but none of the women appearing in the video (or men) seem to be actually singing.




"Thanksgivukkah Pie" by Benjy Lovitt - a parody of "American Pie" and "The Saga Begins"




The BBoys are back again, with "8 Nights" a rap parody of "Tom Ford" by Jay-Z




Mr. Palindrome presents: "I Want A Hippopotamus For Hanukkah"




A new Israeli A Capella group, Kipa Leiv L'Chanukah - Nes Gadol Haya Po.



Six13 returns with "The Thanksgivukkah Anthem." What's with the reference to Roman Cavalry?




A newcomer, Kopshtick presents "Chanuka Rock!"

 


The Houston Rockets attempt to sing "I had a little Dreidel" for the second time (here's the first)

 


Edon singing an original song called "8 Days."




Shir Soul is back with a parody of One Republic's "Counting Stars" called "Timeless as the Stars."

I may be biased because I like the original as well - but this is my vote for best Chanukah song this year - sorry Maccabeats!

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Maccabeats Video! D'ror Yikra - Cups.

Finally, a new Maccabeats video featuring the Shabbos song D'ror Yikra to the tune from "Cups."

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happiness Is An Avodah

I heard this idea presented in shul tonight.

We all want to be happy. Most people strive to achieve happiness, but stumble and struggle, and are even discouraged that they may ever be truly happy.

Image Source: http://www.deliveringhappiness.com/12-things-happy-people-do-differently/
Often enough, however, we tend to think that the source of our happiness comes from some external source. If only we had X, Y, or Z - then we'd really be happy. But, because we don't have those things right now, we aren't happy, and we believe that we can't be happy without them.

Rav Yaakov Weinberg Z'tl said that this is a harmful train of thought. By declaring that you can't be happy because you don't currently have X, Y, or Z - you are deciding for yourself not to be happy. Happiness shouldn't be dependent on something external to us. Rather, it is self-generated from within our own minds and souls.

Rav Weinberg elaborated on this theme, saying that this is one of the reasons why Sukkos, known as Zman Simchaseinu - the Time of our Happiness - follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a rather somber and serious period of time. First, we recognize HaShem is our King, and then we plead for our lives from the Ultimate Judge - which doesn't leave a lot of room to focus on happiness.

However this process of going through the Yomim Nora'im is meant to help us recognize a thought pattern that we should ingrain into our daily lives. What brings us true happiness should be the realization that HaShem is indeed, our King, and we are His servants. By doing His requested acts of service, namely the Mitzvos, we will be productive and rewarded, and our internal happiness will stem from our spiritual connection and relationship with HaShem.

Happiness is part of our Avodah of HaShem. It takes hard work, like any Avodah, but we will be better off because of it.

~~~

While thinking about this idea, my mind started making other connections and expansions on the concept.

I know I myself have often focused on external things that I believed, once I attained them, would bring me happiness, but in reality, happiness needs to be self-generated. Whatever stage we are in life - single, dating, engaged, married, parents, grandparents - there is always bound to be something not quite perfect, something lacking in what we expected to have at this stage.

The most stereotypical example is someone engaged and soon-to-be married.

He or she often believes that as soon as they leave the chuppah for the yichud room, everything will be glorious, full of rainbows and sunshine. The truth of the matter is, marriage isn't a happily ever after - it's really hard and requires a lot of work. It can, and will be difficult at times - and couples will struggle with one issue or another.

Nevertheless, everyone still has some positive thing(s) in their life that they have been given as blessings from HaShem. Recognizing them, expressing gratitude for them, and enjoying them - will produce happiness.

If I recall correctly, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz wrote in one of his books (I think The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life) that happiness is never an end goal, a destination to be reached or a stage to achieve, rather it is the journey in life itself.

So no matter what troubles are thrown at you in this often crazy world we live in, there is still something we can all recognize and latch onto that will help us create that self-generated state of happiness.

Of all the things I've learned while married, I must say that this is one of the most important: having Simchas HaChaim. Without it, life can get quite dreary and dreadful.

So let us all strive to elevate our minds, bodies and souls with the simcha of the forthcoming chag of Sukkos, and by internalizing Rav Weinberg's ideas, let us choose to be happy, and hopefully we can carry that simcha with us throughout the rest of the year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Teshuva: Make One Small Change

I heard this idea presented tonight before Ma'ariv.

The speaker (one of the members of the local kollel) mentioned that his brother-in-law had an idea for a business. Since everyone knows that the air of Israel makes a person wise (Bava Basra 158B), he wanted to sell bottles of Israeli air to tourists. Whenever they needed a burst of smartness, such as the night before a test, they'd open the bottle and breathe in the inspirational air.

Of course, this wouldn't really work as a practical financial venture, but it does work with regard to doing teshuva.

The Ba'alei Mussar write that an effective way to do teshuva is to make one small, consistent change to one's life. The speaker quoted his rebbe in Israel as commenting that the best time to take this small change upon oneself is to do it during Ne'ilah, when you really feel the power and awe of HaShem's kingship and the overall spiritual rush of the conclusion of Yom Kippur. By doing this, you are effectively capturing that moment of spiritual elevation and inspiration in your own small bottle.

Every time you perform this small change - every day - it's as though you will be sampling some of the power you captured from that moment of acceptance during Ne'ilah. Each day, you will, to a small degree, re-experience that feeling of spiritual fortitude and inspiration. By doing this small thing every day, you create a link that strings together all the days of the coming year that leads back to that awe-inspiring moment of Ne'ilah.

And that is how you can create an effective change that will have a lasting impact - from this Ne'ilah to the next.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rosh Hashana 5774 / 2014 Music Video Round Up

With Rosh Hashana a few days away, it's time for the annual Rosh Hashana music video round up!

Here's Six13 with their Rosh Hashana Jam.



Aish.com is back with another hip-hop dance-filled video, based off of Daft Punk, called "Get Clarity."


Is that Edon?












Shlomo Katz has a preview song called "Vayeda Kol Paul" from his upcoming album, to be released in October.

"Forgive Me," a humorous video by Jewish Comedian Yisrael Campbell.




My question is: Where are the Maccabeats? It seems like there are fewer videos this year... perhaps the Jewish music parody craze the Maccabeats began with "Candlelight" has come and gone?









Monday, August 19, 2013

The Yetzer Hara Wants You To Succeed!

I heard a fascinating idea tonight, presented in the name of Rabbi Berkowitz (I think from Ner Yisrael).

Why is it that we spend so much time during the month of Elul and in shul during Rosh Hashana focusing on the concept of HaShem being The King?

Part of this is because we tend to give some degree of authority to the Yetzer Hara in tempting us to do things that are against the will of HaShem. We recognize his power, and by doing so, we negate our own full personal acceptance of HaShem's Kingship.

What we don't realize is that the Yetzer Hara, being an agent of HaShem, truly wants us to succeed in serving HaShem - and not listening to wayward persuasions.

Any time we are presented with situation that challenges us, we often hear two distinct voices in our heads. For example, a man has decided to wake up early to go to shul and learn before minyan starts. When his alarm goes off, one voice encourages him to jump up and successfully carry out his plan, thus increasing his time for Torah study. However, another voice (the Yetzer Hara) says that he should hit the snooze button, especially since if he sleeps a bit more, he'll be more rested and can even have more concentration when he davens.

The challenge here is to overcome the seemingly beneficial advice the Yetzer Hara is giving us - and that's his true goal.

Just as a coach for a particular sport will challenge his players to overcome new difficulties and reach new heights in performance at every practice, so too the Yetzer Hara sets new and ever more difficult challenges before us as we grow.

On a surface level, the coach may look like he's just making life miserable for his players, but in reality we can understand that he is encouraging them to surpass the hurdles he has created, and by doing so, they will become better athletes.

So too with the Yetzer Hara. By confronting us, ESPECIALLY in our areas of weakness where we need the most reinforcement, the Yetzer Hara is doing his job to get us to recognize where we need improvement and to surmount the difficulties we encounter.

By focusing on this idea, we can put the Yetzer Hara in his place and no longer have our misplaced belief in him detract from our faith in HaShem's Kingship. Then we will truly be able to crown HaShem as our King without any reservations and with a fully heart.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Requirements For Marriage: Simchas HaChaim

I've been musing about the nature of marriage and what it takes to be successful in this often-stressful, yet rewarding endeavor. We're told from the time we are children that marriage will lead to the fabled "happily ever after" among other fantastical things, but I don't think enough people out there paint a realistic picture of how difficult and challenging spending your life with someone of the opposite gender can be.

To that end, I want to discuss the attitudinal notion of Simchas HaChaim and what it can and should contribute to one's life, both singe and married.

Somewhat loosely translated, Simchas HaChaim means the "Happiness of Life," though I would modify that to "the happiness inherent in life itself."

On a philosophical level, I would explain it as something akin to Joie de Vivre. It's a perspective on life wherein a person finds joy in anything and everything, in simply living, and in the simple as well as the more grandiose things in life.

Marriage, and life as a whole, can be very difficult at times. There is conflict, misunderstanding, unclear communication, mistakes, offenses committed, along with frustration and the occasional feelings of anger.

And despite all this, there is always something to be happy about. Whether it's because the weather is pleasant outside, you've got a roof over your head and a comfortable bed to sleep in, there's plenty of food on your table and in your fridge, you can't figure out what outfit to wear from your collection of clothing, or you physically feel good without illness or aches and pains.

I think that Simchas HaChaim means to be able to find these sources of brightness that lift you up and bring some cheer to your mind and soul.

Therefore, even if you've just had a big argument with your spouse, something you were looking forward to didn't pan out, or life took an unexpected and disappointing downturn (sudden or otherwise) - you might be rattled, but on the whole you can overcome the present difficulty by putting it into its compartment in your mind, and continue living.

Sure, everyone gets overwhelmed at times, especially when so many things have gone "wrong" and we feel trapped or stuck with nowhere and no one to turn to. We all have those moments where things kind of break down and we're at our lowest emotionally and psychologically. However, I tend to think that in most normal lives this occurs only on the rare occasion and not with any regularity. If someone feels like this the majority of the time, then I would hope and pray that he/she gets the professional help he/she needs.

Being able to handle the ups and downs of life, being able to find something to smile about despite everything else, is one of the main keys to being successful both in life, and in marriage. Without this, a person can become disheartened and begin to doubt him/herself, marriage, and life itself. That's when you need your spouse to help lift you up and out of the darkness. The ability to do that has a lot to do with the dynamics of communication - which is another important key to success in marriage, but that's a topic for its own post.

I very strongly urge all the readers to explore your own sense of Simchas HaChaim, to understand how your individual emotional and mental attitudes and states of being function, and to find that inner sense of happiness with life.

Happiness is not a goal, but rather the enjoyment of the ride that life presents us, wherever we may go.


Cultivating a sense of how we can recognize and summon that sense of internally motivated happiness is extremely important, and will provide a wellspring of inner strength to endure and grow from the often bumpy road of life.

May we all achieve an understanding of our personal Simchas HaChaim, and may that lead us all to happy lives and happy marriages.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Remembering Irena Sendler

In the sixth entry of his series explaining selected Kinot, Rabbi Moshe Taragin elaborates on the massacres that occurred in the spring of 1096 as depicted in Kinah #25 "Mi Yiten Roshi." He delves a bit into the historical background of those unfortunate mass murders, pointing out that there were gentiles sympathetic to Jews, who remained defiant against the brainwashed, philistine masses thirsty for blood. They did their best to resist decrees to hand over Jews and saved as many as they could, given the circumstances.

In a world where everything can appear calm, though seething hatred against Jews still exists in overt and clandestine ways, it is good to remind ourselves that the entire world isn't always out to get us. Even when popular opinion swings against the Jewish People, there are those righteous among the gentiles who will step forward and take our side, regardless of the risk to their own lives.

Irena Sendler was one such person.
Irena Sendler, circa 1944. From The Lowell Milken Center.
As a nurse and social working living in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland, she endeavored to save as many Jewish lives as she could, utilizing her job and aiding the Polish Underground movement. At first, she and her assistants falsified over 3,000 documents to help Jewish families escape.

Later, she joined  ┼╗egota, the underground Polish Council to Aid Jews, the only organization of its kind in any occupied European country, where she continued her work, specializing in smuggling children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and became the head of the Zegota's children's division.

Sendler utilized her position in the Social Welfare Department to devise a stratagem to smuggle young boys and girls to freedom. Under the guise of performing inspections intended to prevent the spread of typhus, she and her co-workers hid children in ambulances and even parcel packages to sneak the children past Nazi inspection. Having succeeded, the were transferred to a number of orphanages, and the lists of their names kept hidden with the intent of reuniting the children with their parents after the war.

In 1943, Irena was found out, imprisoned, beaten, and sentenced to death by the Nazis. She was able to bribe her German captors en route to her execution, and survived the remainder of the war in hiding. Following the end of the war, she and her colleagues passed their lists of Jewish children to a colleague in the hopes of reuniting them with their parents. Alas, few of the 2,500 children saved were able to be returned to their families, most of whom perished during the war.

Irena's story was largely forgotten under the regime that controlled Poland following the war. Yad Vashem finally recognized her in 1965, and more recently, her story has been publicized by the Life in a Jar project.

While we are in the midst of contemplating the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, we can find some encouragement in the fact that there are those among the nations of the world who have supported us, and will continue to support us, as we make the final push for the ultimate redemption.





Friday, June 28, 2013

Pinchas Was The Grandson Of Yisro?


This parsha-related dilemma has been bothering me for years. Rashi, citing Sotah 43A, writes in one of his first comments on last week's parsha that Pinchas was a grandson of Putiel, otherwise known as Yisro, the kohen Midian and father-in-law of Moshe Rabbeinu.

The Tribes scorned him: "Have you seen this one, whose mother's father [Jethro] fattened calves for idolatry!

As someone who is a stickler for stuff like continuity (lehavdil: woe be unto those who retcon older, established comics/books/movies/whatever for newer material), I have tried to figure out how this works out timeline-wise with Pinchas' age and yetzias Mitzraim.

We know that Pinchas wasn't annointed as a kohen like his father, uncles, and grandfather, because he was an already living grandson of Aharon, as we see in Shemos 6:25, which first introduces Pinchas and his lineage while Bnei Yisrael are still in Mitzraim:

25
 And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites according to their families.

I'm pretty sure the switcharoo which exchanged the first born sons (who were meant to be the kohanim) with Aharon's family occurred shortly after the Chet Ha'Egel. This incident with Bilam and Balak took place much further along, right before Bnei Yisrael were to enter Eretz Canaan.

So that rules out the possibility that Elazar married one of Yisro's daughters who he might have brought with him (along with Tzipora, Gershom and Eliezer) when he arrives at Bnei Yisrael's camp in the Sinai Desert. There is also no textual evidence of him bringing any other family with him.

When Aharon and his sons were annointed kohanim, by extension, future as-of-yet-unborn descendents would also become kohanim. Bummer for Pinchas who was already alive and thus missed out.

However, thanks to his heroic act of spearing Zimri and Cozbi, HaShem grants him the bris shalom, as well as kehunah.

Yisro, when we meet him in the Torah, lives in Midian, where Moshe marries Yisro's daughter, Tzipora, when he ends up spending time there after fleeing Mitzraim.

There is another possibility as to when and where this marriage took place - in Egypt itself.

Per Sanhendrin 106 A, Yisro, Iyov, and Bilam were advisers to Pharaoh at the time he was trying to figure out what to do about the "Jewish problem." Bilam said to throw the baby boys into the Nile, Iyov said nothing, and Yisro ran away.

Hence, it stands to reason that Yisro left some family behind in Egypt - though I have no idea who else besides this daughter that Elazar marries would have remained after he fled from Pharaoh - perhaps his original wife...?

Thus, it would seem that the most logical thing is that Elazar married a daughter of Yisro from his that time spent time in Egypt as one of Pharaoh's advisors.

This would make Elazar's wife a bit older than him. I'm not going to go into age differences here, but we know of several famous Tanach couples where the woman was much older than the man... like Moshe's own parents.

Incidentally, it's neat that both Moshe and his father-in-law fled from Pharaoh's wrath and ended up in Midian.

In conclusion, I think Elazar married a daughter of Yisro who was born in Egypt and left behind after her father fled Egypt.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Tips To Prepare For Tisha B'Av

I heard these ideas from Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich:


Rabbi Yaakov Emden (I think that's who he quoted) wrote about the idea of why this particular galus that we are currently enduring has lasted for so long - nearly 2000 years. While many have attributed this to our people continually being mired in the sins that caused the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash - namely Sinas Chinam, lack of proper respect, failing to say the brachos before we learn Torah - Rabbi Emden said that there is a different reason why we have caused the exile to endure for such a lengthy period of time.

We don't mourn properly for that which we have lost.

To a degree, this seems to be understandable, since none of us ever experienced the Beis Hamikdash when it existed, and therefore it is hard for us to find personal meaning in connecting to the mourning practices that we observe during the 3 Weeks and on Tisha B'Av itself.

Rabbi Freundlich offered two ideas that could be very helpful in making these forthcoming 3 weeks productive in preparing for Tisha B'av - if the Moshiach should not arrive before then (which I hope he does).

1) Often, most people don't open the Kinnos until the night of Tisha B'Av and thus have very little familiarity with it - on top of the fact that we all get exhausted several hours into the morning reading of Kinnos. Rabbi Freundlich suggested that everyone take 5 minutes a day during these 3 weeks to read a Kinnah, understanding the English available to us - and thus utilize these tools that our sages have given us over the centuries to connect to a proper sense of mourning and understanding of our loss.

2) Quite a few of our 19 brachos in Shemonah Esrei discuss our yearning for Hashem's salvation, the ultimate redemption, the arrival of the Moshiach, and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. It would behoove all of us to take a closer look at these brachos and give them a greater focused attention as we say them and think about their meaning.

In particular, he suggested the sentence from Es Tzemach Dovid - "Ki lishu'ashcha kivinu kol hayom" - "For Your salvation we hope all the day." Meditate on what it means to really desire HaShem's yeshua, and how we can actively hope and pray for the final redemption.

I think both of these ideas are very helpful in transforming these 3 weeks from a time of complaining for lack of shaving and music, to a time period of meaningful reflection wherein we properly utilize the time Chazal has emphasized is a time frame to focus on mourning what we have lost - and what we hope to have - G-d willing soon and in our lifetime - once again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shalsheles & The Maccabeats - Lemaan Achai - Brand New Song!

Shalsheles was one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Jewish music groups/artists when I was in high school. The Maccabeats are one of my current favorite Jewish music groups. Now, they've come together to perform a song together!

The song IS A Capella, so for anyone who listens to vocal only music during the 3 weeks, enjoy!




Monday, April 15, 2013

What Would Rabbi Akiva Do? Reflections On Yom Ha'Atzma'ut 5773

Chag Sameach everyone!

Image courtesy of myjewishlearning.com
After reading the brilliant piece from Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff from this year's Yom Ha'atzma'ut to Go from YUTorah.org that discusses the Rav's hashkafic evolution into a Religious Zionist, and listening to a shiur given during shul that had nothing to do with Yom Ha'atzma'ut, but rather the restrictions of Sefirah due to the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students, I have been inspired to write.

I grew up largely ignorant of Yom Ha'atzma'ut, especially regarding any religious significance the day may or may not have. After my experiences in Israel, and then at Yeshiva University, I came to have a growing appreciation for the 5th of Iyar as not merely a political commemoration, akin to the 4th of July here in America, but as a day with valid religious meaning.

My current shul does not recognize Yom Ha'atma'ut at all. Yom Ha'atzma'ut was celebrated there many decades ago under a different congregational rabbi, who happened to have received semicha from YU's rabbinical school, RIETS and was a very ardent Zionist. Hence, my new found connection to the holiday feels a bit stifled without the proud and public religious atmosphere that I experienced in Israel and at YU.

While the current rabbi was speaking about the restrictions during Sefiriah, emphasizing the tragic deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students he specifically mentioned the prohibition of listening to live music, as well as recorded music - and even (per his opinion) A Capella as well. I began to recall the YU chagiga and the afternoon concert that is held every year on this day - and my mind ruminated on the idea of "What would Rabbi Akiva do?"

It is an interesting question that had not occurred to me before, but I think that it bears some significance regarding how we can, or should approach the celebration of Yom Ha'atzma'ut as a joyous religious holiday, even in the midst of mourning customs of Sefirah.

Rabbi Akiva was an optimist and a fervent lover of the Land of Israel.

We know he was very involved in the Bar Kochba revolt, initially believing in the messianic fervor that gripped many, giving hope to the possibility of a final redemption and the rebuilding of the land and the Beis Hamikdash. Some even suggest that the deaths of his students were not due to a plague per se, but because they were actively involved in the rebellion as soldiers serving under Bar Kochba and hence his defeat lead to many deaths, including theirs.

We also know the fairly famous story from Makkot 24b wherein Rabbi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, and Rabbi Yehoshua near Mount Scopus and saw the devastation of Har Habayit, followed by a fox running out from the former location of the Kodesh Kodashim

While his colleagues cried at the latter sight, Rabbi Akiva laughed. They only saw the destruction and were overwhelmed with sadness. Rabbi Akiva saw the fulfillment of a prophecy regarding the plowing over of Har Habayit, which gave him hope that yet more prophecy would be fulfilled, namely, the rebuilding and repopulation of Yerushalayim.

If Rabbi Akiva, who could look at such ruin, and see amid the ashes a glimmer of the promised future yet to come, then if he were alive today and saw the founding of the modern State of Israel, and what it has achieved in its mere 65 years of existence, he would not only smile and laugh, but I imagine sing and dance as well.

In spite of the State of Israel's imperfections - and they do exist - so much good, so much Torah learned, so much mitzvah observance and so many people reaffirming their Jewish identities the world over has happened because we now have our homeland in Jewish hands once again.

While it is absolutely worthwhile to learn the lessons from the tragedy of Rabbi Akiva's students, it is also absolutely worthwhile to step back and celebrate the lessons we have learned - and continue to learn - from having the State of Israel in our lives.

May Rabbi Akiva's words of comfort become true soon, and we will have the full realization of the rebuilding of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Exodus: Darkness And Death - The Final Chapter

After 3 years of writing and re-writing, my re-telling of the 10 Plagues is complete! I hope you enjoy the story and share it with friends and family this Pesach.

Please read parts one, two, and three before this final chapter.

Lunar eclipses were a celebrated thing in Egypt. It meant that the sun god Ra was prevailing in its ongoing struggle with the lesser deity of the moon. Solar eclipses, on the other hand, were considered a bad omen. They demonstrated that Ra had weakened and almost succumbed to the assaults of his enemy. The former indicated good fortune for the empire, the latter was a harbinger of evil things in the world. While an exact system of calculating the occurrences of these cosmological phenomena had yet to be perfected, the royal astronomers, the most elite scholars in their field, knew that Ra only lost on an infrequent basis.

Thus, the unexpected appearance of a solar eclipse at this particular point in time, so soon after another that happened a few years beforehand, was a terrifying thing to behold. Even more so, given the fact that the eclipse did not clear up within a few minutes as eclipses had always done in the past.

At midday, the time period normally associated with the hottest, most scorching temperatures of the spring season, the sun started to grow dim. A wave of cool air blew throughout Egypt, and the collective shiver of the populace was palpable around the entire empire. Confused at the unexpected drop in temperature, everyone ran outdoors to discover the source of the disturbance. To their shock, what normally would have been a bright noontime, with the sun hovering at its apex, was a quickly becoming more akin to dusk when the sun set at the end of each day. The sun wasn’t descending to its usual resting place, but it was very visibly losing strength at an alarmingly rapid rate.

Soon the sun had vanished from the sky, and the stars became visible as though it were the middle of the night. Though the unforeseen astronomic occurrence was bewildering, the shock began to wear off, and the people figured the sun would shine again in a short while.

Then the stars began to die.

One by one, the bright specks glittering throughout the night-like sky flickered and vanished. The people gasped with every luminary that winked out of existence. It seemed as though a cloud of black miasma was swallowing the heavens. Lastly, the moon itself wavered and was consumed by the spreading darkness.

Panic quickly set in, and the people stumbled over one another in their haste to return to their homes to fetch any candles or torches they had available. Of course, the upper class were least affected by this turn of events, since their wealth allowed them to purchase large amounts of high quality sources of artificial light. Pharaoh Ramses II quickly stepped in, decreeing an official government imposed rationing of candles. The Royal stock of candles was distributed among the poorer Egyptians, and large amounts were confiscated from aristocratic families and reallocated to needier residents of the empire.

Of course, as the unnatural blackout continued, candle supplies dwindled and began to run out. As the week went on, all the remaining artificial light dried up like ephemeral puddles of water following a transient desert rain storm. The Egyptian people began to descend into the pit of despair. Without any means of identifying one another or their very surroundings, paranoia quickly set in. Men and women across the empire locked themselves in their homes, afraid of who – or what – might trespass their private dwellings under cover of the inky darkness. 

Increasingly, an attitude of self-preservation infected their minds. Trust broke down entirely, and soon everyone retreated to whatever personal quarters they had, avoiding all possible contact with any other human being. How could you believe that the disembodied voice in the room down the hall was really your father, wife, or child? Perhaps there were murderers, vandals, and criminals sulking about seeking mischief, or maybe the Hebrew leader Moses had summoned some other monstrosity to kill Egyptians when no one could come to their defense?

Eventually, the nightmares generated by the waking minds of the Egyptian people were so terrifying that they could not think of even lifting a finger, lest whatever was out there detected the motion and attacked. Breathing became difficult, and the people literally froze in place, wherever they were, unable to move whatsoever.

Just when things seemed to be at their worst, the sounds of doors opening and rapid footsteps echoed throughout houses everywhere. Many elderly Egyptians suffered heart attacks from fright and died standing or sitting wherever they had hidden. The younger, heartier members of the populace were treated to spectral visitors, noises and voices that flitted about their homes, opening drawers and cabinets. Out of the gloom questions were asked regarding their gold and silver, where it was stored, how it could be accessed, and what it was worth. The interlopers remained but a few minutes, then vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared.

Thankfully, the soul-consuming shadows began to recede. Perhaps Ra had finally reasserted his light-giving powers? Regardless of the reason, the Egyptians breathed a sigh of relief as their sight and movement were slowly restored. Surprisingly, beyond the disturbing visitations, no actual harm befell the survivors during their days spent as statues. When full mobility returned, concerned homeowners ran to their safes and jewelry boxes to check on their valuables. To their amazement, nothing had been taken; everything was in exactly the same place as they had left it.

However, the Egyptian people’s patience with Ramses and his administration’s negotiations with Moses was wearing thin. Having endured nine supernatural, punishing wonders thus far, they had no desire to suffer through another. The Pharaoh’s public statements began to transform from convincing arguments that drew on national pride in the face of adversity to mindless assertions of dominance based on principle alone. The people were not willing to face further bodily harm and possible death because of Ramses “The Great’s” ballooning ego.  Sentiments of forming a popular uprising against the government began to percolate throughout Egypt.

~~~

 “Hello Egyptian Empire, and welcome to Plague Watch 2448!” Tut-hak-bur announced.

“That’s right, Tut,” his co-anchor, Qeela replied. “We’re counting down the minutes until the supposed tenth and final plague that Moses, the Hebrew slaves’ self-appointed leader, has proclaimed will befall Egypt.”

“Deeeeeeeath of the first boooooorn,” Tut-hak-bur waggled his fingers, his voice warbling in a mocking, spooky tone.

Qeela smacked him on the shoulder, “Cut that out,” she whispered tersely.

Rubbing his arm, Tut-hak-bur’s face was a mask of offense. “That hurt, you know.”

“Eet ees eemposseeble!” An off-screen male voice declared.

Qeela arranged her cue cards and refocused on the camera. “We sit here with the esteemed, world-renowned expert and professor of comparative beliefs and religious science, not to mention chief science advisor to Pharaoh Ramses II, Dr. Muthra Banjiz.  The camera’s view shifted to the right, where a special desk had been added for the live news segment.

A short statured man with a dour face that was partially obscured by a large, thick monocle, sat ramrod straight at his desk. He seemed to stare off into space at some point above and behind the camera, giving him a haughty air of authority and aloofness.

“Eet ees scienteefeecally eemposseeble for thee entire first born population to die out in a seengle moment. All thee other so-called “plagues” this charlatan Moses has preedeected have perfectly seemple scienteefeec explanations,” he pronounced in his high-pitched, carefully articulated, academic drone.  

Dr. Banjiz reached down and lifted a papyrus chart attached to a flat piece of wood and propped it up on the desktop next to him. He pulled a pointer from his breast pocket and gestured at the upper left corner of the diagram.

“Heere wee have thee eeneeshul alleged plague, thee purported “blood” that contaminated thee Nile Reever,” he indicated a long squiggle that shifted from blue to red as it progressed. “What actually occurred was a natural happening, which has taken place many, many times, as reecorded in scienteefic heestoree,” he jutted his chin outward in contempt.

“And what would be that explanation, doctor?”

Dr. Banjiz turned his nose upward and adjusted his monocle. “Eet ees extremely  compleecated and far beyond the understanding of thee average viewer, but I will say een summation that eet has to do weeth the lifecycle of thee noble barking weasel!” He pointed at a caricature of a small brown rodent standing next to the pictured blood.

Tut-hak-bur and Qeela exchanged confused glances.

“At any rate, based on my scienteefeec background and eenormous level of eentelleegence, I am one hundred percent certain that no such ‘final’ plague will befall thee Egyptian populace. Eet defies the very essence of science as we know eet.”

Somewhat unconvinced, Qeela smiled at the camera, “And there you have it folks, straight from the expert!”

Tut-hak-bur coughed into a fist nervously then turned to his co-anchor. “Well, Qeela, we’re now in the final moments before the stroke of midnight…” He fell quiet. “By the way,” he said, his tone perking up, “did I mention I’ve been thinking about converting to the Hebrew faith?”

Qeela eyes widened and her jaw dropped, “What are you talking about, Tut?”

“Well,” Tut-hak-bur twiddled his fingers. “I heard rumors that there was going to be a group consisting of a mixed multitude of Egyptians from various castes planning on joining up with the Hebrews when they make their supposed big ‘exodus.’ It kind of sounds like fun, if you ask me.”

“That ees the seelee-est theeng I have ever heard!” Dr. Banjiz quipped from off camera.

“What are you afraid of, Tut, are you a first born or something?” Qeela asked.

“Well,” Tut-hak-bur began, then paused to take a sip of coffee from his mug. An abrupt “urk” sound emanated from his mouth and the mug dropped from his grasp and shattered on the news desk.

“Tut! I just got this back from the washing lady!” Qeela exclaimed in disgust, dabbing at her wardrobe with a tissue. 

Tut-hak-bur began coughing violently and fell off his chair onto the floor where he writhed spasmodically while grabbing at his throat. Qeela signaled the station manager who ran out onto the set to see if Tut-hak-bur was alright. After a moment, he had the fallen anchor sitting up and helped Tut-hak-bur back to his place at the desk.

“S-sorry!” He choked. “Went down the wrong pipe.”
~~~

Numa woke up startled, and reached over to feel the empty side of the bed next to her. Riqtun, her husband, wasn’t there. She sighed and shook her head scornfully. He was probably in the kitchen eating a midnight snack, just like the doctor told him not to. After his most recent health report, Numa repeatedly begged her husband to cut out the late-night treats.  Even if he didn’t care about his expanding girth, he should at least show some concern for her sake so that he wouldn’t have a heart attack and leave her a widow.

Determined to nip this bad habit in the bud, Numa got out of bed and wrapped a robe around her shoulders, tying the fabric belt in a bow. She removed the small lantern from the alcove outside their bedroom and crept down the hallway toward the kitchen. She hoped she’d catch him in the act and get a chance to rub his nose in it a bit.

As she approached the doorway, she caught a glimpse of the wide-opened pantry and a devious smile formed on her lips. Numa waited for a moment to compose the wording of her reprimand and stepped into the kitchen. Her eyes darted back and forth for evidence of her husband’s proscribed snack. Several half-eaten pieces of bread, along with some dried meat strips and a half-full mug of date beer sat on the table. Curiously, Riqtun was nowhere to be found.

“Riq?” She asked, straining to hear any sounds that might indicate his presence. “Riq, are you in here? Were you disobeying the doctor’s orders again?” Numa’s voice echoed in the darkness. As she peered around the room, she felt something compel her to lower her gaze to the floor. At the edge of the unoccupied chair, she noticed a bare foot that led to a leg concealed behind the rest of the chair and the table.

“Riq!?” She cried out, dropping the lantern onto the table and rushing over to her husband’s prone form. 
“Riq, Riq! Are you okay?! What happened!?” His eyes were open, but vacantly stared upward. 

She patted him on the right cheek and was horrified to discover how cold and clammy his skin felt. Numa jabbed her index and middle finger under his jaw, but felt no pulse nor did she detect his chest rising or falling.

Gripped by a mixture of dread and a mounting sense of grief, Numa stood up, grabbed the lantern and ran outside. She raced to her older brother’s home two houses over to get help.

As soon as she opened the door, Numa felt as though she had stepped in a mad house. Her sister-in-law Taki was bawling uncontrollably, while their younger daughter Reja sat on the floor, cradling the unmoving form of her older brother. Numa’s brother Proq was collapsed across a couch, limbs splayed out in odd directions.

Numa spun on her heel and raced back out into the street, sprinting the other way down the block and turned the corner to reach her eldest son’s home. As she approached, she noticed a single, sputtering lantern hanging by the doorway, its oil running low. She hurriedly ducked inside and forced herself to confront the scene that she knew, deep down, awaited her.

In the bedroom, her daughter-in-law Bimat kneeled at the edge of the bed, arms spread across her husband’s unmoving torso. Stricken with anguish, Numa knelt next to Bimat and placed her shaking arm on the younger woman’s shoulder. They cried together for a few moments before their sobs gave way to muffled sniffles as each covered her own mouth with a hand in an attempt to stifle the tears. A mournful silence enveloped them both.

Then Numa heard it: The wailing. She left her daughter-in-law and ventured outside, where she discovered that cries are coming from every house on the block and even those beyond her sight. A cold wind cut through her night robe and a piece of papyrus slapped against her calf. She bent over to pick it up. It was a gossip newspaper, with hieroglyphs depicting rumors that Moses claimed his Hebrew deity was going to wipe out the first-born Egyptian population at the stroke of midnight.

Numa crumpled the papyrus in her hand, releasing it to the grip of the biting breeze. She stared up at the cloudless sky, a full moon shining like a ghostly demon, and her own weeping joined the chorus of moans, cries, and screams filling the nighttime air.

~~~

Suddenly, both anchors held their hands to their earpieces.

Tut-hak-bur cleared his throat, “It seems we have a breaking story at the Royal Palace where Pharaoh Ramses the Great will address the Empire.”

“Our roving reporter, Geg-kon-fil, is on the scene ready to fill us in on all the details. Fil, are you there?”

“Indeed I am, Tut and Qeela, and I have to say, the Pharaoh doesn’t look like he’s feeling too well.” The camera shifted to show a podium affixed with the royal emblem on the front.

Ramses, dressed in crocodile skin pajamas, looked frantic. Sweat glistened on his forehead and his breathing was visibly erratic. After a moment’s hesitation, he wiped the perspiration with the back of his hand and stared straight into the cameras.

“Moses, you win.”

“What did he say? Did he just say what I think he said?!” Qeela asked, shocked. Tut-hak-bur shushed her.

Pharaoh took another labored breath. “Do you hear me, Moses? You win. Your G-d has defeated me.” He again dabbed at his face, this time with a kerchief provided by an attendant.

“Take your people. All of them,” he spoke haltingly. “Just go,” he waved his hand weakly in a dismissive gesture. Ramses swallowed hard and scanned the gathered reporters and their crew.

Then Pharaoh’s eyes rolled upward, flashing their whiteness, and he collapsed. The camera view became shaky as people rushed in toward the fallen monarch

“It appears that Pharoah has fainted!” Geg-kol-fil shouted above the clamor, as guards ushered in medical team led by the royal physician. “The palace media supervisor is ordering all cameras and microphones to be shut off, I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep-” the reporter’s voice gave way to static and the footage went dark.

Back in the studio, Tut-hak-bur and Qeela seemed at a loss for words. The director waved at them from behind the camera and cleared his throat noisily. Both of them looked up and regained their focus.

“We’ll keep you updated on the Pharaoh’s condition,” Qeela began.

“Along with the unfolding events surrounding the Hebrews’ impending departure,” Tut-hak-bur interjected.

“…As soon as we receive more information,” Qeela concluded.

Silence filled the studio, and no one seemed to know what to do next.

“Well… goodnight,” Tut-hak-bur forced his brightest smile. Qeela somberly nodded.

The broadcast faded to black.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pesach 5773 Music Videos!

Pesach is quickly approaching, and the newest batch of music (and other) videos are being posted every day.

Aish.com has an incredibly well done modern newscast version of the 10 plagues and the exodus, a follow-up to their similarly very impressive Google Exodus from 2 years ago.

 


The Maccabeats are  with their first-ever Pesach video, based on Les Miserables (inspired by Shalom Sesame?). A definite musical departure from their past videos, but the cinematography and performance is excellent.




Six13 released a new Pesach parody medley, as a follow up to last year's hit video, this one's titled "Pesach Shop.




The sequel to last year's "Stuff People Say On Pesach" is titled "Stuff People Say At The Seder."



Here's an interesting, and different video, "An Israeli soldier's song to the world on Passover."




Livingwithjudaism has a song based on "Wicked" titled "A Wicked Passover Video." (features a female vocalist).

Beth Tfiloh Day School offers some cute, but wise advice, "Don't Sit on the Afikomen"




Imma Cast presents "Will You Let Us Go."

Sunday, March 3, 2013

This Week In Weather: Locusts!

I can only imagine that this could be actually happening in Egypt as we speak - a real-world manifestation of the incident found in my the third part of my story "Exodus: A Pesach Story," titled "Ice, Fire, and Bugs O' Plenty."


It turns out that the Giza region of Egypt (where all the Pyramids are located) is currently undergoing a locust swarm consisting of some 30 million of the insects. Check out the video above!

Not a current picture, but still neat. Image Source.
How's that for a modern reminder of the upcoming Pesach holiday?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Current Trends Predicted In The Gemara?

After reading numerous stories of rabbinical figures, judges, or otherwise people known as community leaders failing to be truthful, judge truthfully, or deliberately concealing the truth, such as this recent post by Rabbi Maryles on Emes Ve-Emunah, I was shocked to learn several sections of Gemara in today's Daf Yomi (Shabbos 139) that seem to talk about the results of these actions we Jews have brought upon ourselves. The translation has been modified slightly per that found in the Koren Talmud Bavli.

It was taught. R. Jose b. Elisha said: If you see a generation overwhelmed by many troubles, go forth and examine the judges of Israel, for all retribution that comes to the world comes only on account of the Judges of Israel, as it is said, "Please hear this, heads of the house of Jacob, and officers of the house of Israel, that abhor justice, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money; yet will they lean upon the Lord, etc."

Shortly after that, the Gemara continues:

And the Holy One, blessed be He, will not cause His Divine presence to rest upon Israel until the wicked judges and officers cease out of Israel, for it is said, "And I will turn My hand upon you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and will take away all your tin. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning, etc."

Lastly, interspersed with Rabbi Steinzaltz' commentary (p.319) in bold italics.

R. Melai said in the name of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon: What is meant by the verse, "The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the rod of the rulers?"  'The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked' refers to the judges who become a staff for their attendants;  

The attendants abuse people, and the judges provide the attendants with legal backing and moral support.

'the rod of the rulers' refers to the Torah scholars in the families of the judges. 

These Torah scholars assist their relatives, the judges, conceal their faults.

Mar Zutra said: This refers to the scholars who teach the laws of the public to ignorant judges.

They teach ignorant judges just enough Torah and modes of conduct to prevent the people from realizing how ignorant they are, enabling them to maintain their positions.

I think these sections speak all too clearly about the frightening, increasingly prevalent problem of individuals and groups who are meant to be, or insist they are, halachic authorities and then abuse the power they have gathered or proclaimed upon themselves. 

We have many troubles, one of the most significant is child abuse, which seems to be quite a plague in communities where this sort of irresponsible judgments and abuse of communal power take place on a regular basis.

We have seen judge's attendants - the so-called askanim of gedolim cause inordinate amounts of trouble for people such as Rabbi Natan Slifkin, Lipa Schmeltzer, and others undeservedly, creating a huge public ruckus that helps no one in the end.

And we wonder why the Beis Hamikdash hasn't been rebuilt - the Gemara plainly says that HaShem won't rest His divine presence on us until these wicked judges and officers cease to exist among us.

I wonder if the thousands of others out there learning Daf Yomi took a moment to consider these passages with any serious thought and self introspection?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Smuggling Seed To Sow A Terrorist Future

After Shabbos was over, I turned my phone on and checked up on the news in the world. I came across this article on CNN.com called "Sperm smuggling alleged at terror prison." As soon as I began reading it, I was horrified, dismayed, and angry.

Wives of convicted (and often self-confessed and proud) Palestinian terrorists serving life or near-life sentences have arranged their incarcerated husbands' sperm to be smuggled out of the prison so that they can conceive children. They are denied conjugal visits, whereas Israeli prisoners are allowed such visits from their wives - though the only specific Israeli prisoner referenced was the assassin of Yitzchak Rabin.

It isn't fair, they say, to be denied the right to be with their husbands, who can then sire more children, all to prevent rumors being spread that they are unfaithful to their jailed husbands, or that their husbands may leave them for still-fertile women if their jail sentences last beyond the women's menopause.

I think the whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

Why, you ask? Because who are these children going to become, and how will they be brought up?

"You're father is a brave soldier, fighting for our freedom, he heroically murdered dozens of Jewish men, women, and children who all stole our homeland from us."

"You're going to grow up just like him!"

"Isn't it not fair that your dear father is still stuck in prison for doing the great thing that he did for us? We should be celebrating with him right now, not mourning is absence!"

This is what will happen to these poor, innocent children. They'll be raised and indoctrinated with hate, fear and prejudice. They'll be encouraged to take more life in murderous plots, just like their fathers did. The very same women who in all likelihood supported, encouraged, and cheered on the fathers who are sitting in jail will be the same women, along with other relatives, who will raise these children to hate Israel, despise Jews, and desire to kill and murder more people, in revenge for their fathers' mistreatment or just because it's the right thing to do.

I don't believe for a second that this is not the unspoken ulterior motive. If these women were already successful in helping groom their husbands to become terrorists, I have no doubt they will attempt to do so, using their husbands' absence as a motivational factor.

True, I wonder about why someone such as Yitzchak Rabin's assassin was allowed conjugal visits - shouldn't all murderers be deprived in this fashion as part of the punishment they are receiving in jail?

Part of me says yes, they should. Someone who takes another's life without just cause should lose privileges, just as they stole everything from the person(s) they killed.

However, the one difference I can see between the two criminals is that Rabin's assassin was a one-time wack job. He didn't grow up in a culture that celebrated and taught murder of other people as a cherished life value. He wasn't indoctrinated from preschool with lies and propaganda, all with the intention of turning him into a celebrated killer and martyr.

In all likelihood, as someone who became convinced of his crazy plan, he never confided in his wife or any relatives or associates. He deserves to be punished, rightly so, but his wife, innocent of all wrongdoing should not. She suffers enough for the crime that was thrust upon her and shattered her life in a most unexpected, and unwelcome fashion.

The women who are pleading their case about being denied conjugal visits with their terrorist husbands in jail were in all likelihood, part and parcel of the lifestyle that led their husbands to shed Jewish blood. They knew what their husbands intended to do, probably knew it was possible they'd be killed in the bombings they planned, or shot by the IDF defending innocent civilians, or caught and tried for their disgusting crimes. They don't feel an ounce of remorse for the lives lost by their husbands' actions, and I bet they'd encourage their husbands to do it again, given the chance to take more innocent Jewish lives. They educate their children to call their fathers a hero for what they did, to grow up to be just like them and do such courageous things like they did.

And that's why they don't deserve to have conjugal visits, or to bring more children into this world with their convicted terrorist husbands. They too, deserve to be punished, in their own way, for encouraging and supporting acts of terror and murder, for they are accomplices to the murders their husbands committed. There may not be enough evidence to convict these wives in a court of law, but I think this denial of access to their husbands' semen and thus more children from them, is a just enough punishment. Their continued loyalty and devotion to men who willingly and happily spilled innocent blood of men, women, and children who had done no wrong, is a testament to their guilt and reason enough to be denied conjugal visits.

I sincerely hope that these alleged claims are false, and that the Israeli courts do not give in to their ridiculous demands.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It Seems Men And Women Can't Really Be Just Friends After All

Last January, I wrote about a video that was making the rounds on Youtube that consisted of a somewhat unscientific series of interviews that indicated opposite-gender relationships aren't as platonic as most people (especially women) would think.

Now, Scientific American has written an article describing an actual study conducted that heavily indicates that men and women have very different perspectives on how these relationships function, including whether opportunities for romance exist, and if there is some level of physical attraction or not.

In short, men statistically look for the possibility of furthering the relationship romantically, tend to be far more physically attracted to their female friends, and also make the often unsupported assumption that the attraction is mutual. Women are far better at maintaining the viewpoint of keeping things strictly friendly as well as being able to be close friends with someone they are admittedly not attracted to.

She's just laughing, but what is HE thinking about? And where is he looking, mmm?
Image source: http://www.sodahead.com/fun/can-guys-and-gals-ever-be-just-friends/question-2833827/
From my personal experience, as I mentioned in my earlier post - this seems to be very representative of what went on in my own head when I was single and had female friends during high school and even during my time at YU. Aside from the base-level physical attraction that was more likely than not always there, getting to know a girl - both in dating and in these friendships - often creates an even greater level of attraction that transcends the baser physical element. Thus, the closer I became in the friendship, the more attracted I was, and the physical attraction also was magnified.

I think this is simply how guys, on the majority (since there are always exceptions) seem to function.

I'm not here to preach about the evils of being friends with someone of the opposite gender, since I myself greatly benefited from such friendships at times in my life when I needed the advice, support, or encouragement that I felt only a female friend could provide (and none of those things have to do with anything physical whatsoever). I was always one who felt, and probably was, more mature than the majority of my male peers, and I tended to mentally and emotionally connect more to either adults or the girls my age who were probably farther along in their brain development than the guys.

At any rate, I do think this study should give some food for thought for those who are fairly haphazard with their opposite gender friendships. Certainly girls should be aware of the potential issue of their guy friend feeling attracted, and if the feeling isn't mutual, to not give any indication otherwise. Guys should also be more mindful not to have an agenda with such friendships, nor believe that any feelings of attraction are automatically shared by both parties.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Craigslist Shabbat Dinner Invite = Soulmate Dinner Date?

I'm a bit flabbergasted that 7 single Jewish guys even thought of doing this, but I have to say it's a brilliant idea and one that, with tweaking, could be a fun, new way for singles to meet people.


Basically, the 7 guys posted on Craigslist that they want to put together a Friday night meal for 14, and invited any interested single women to contact that for the opportunity to be one of their guests. Surprisingly, they got a TON of responses, and were able to successfully confirm a select 7 eligible women will join them for dinner this Friday night.

While one of the men in the story, using the alias David Ben-Gurion, stated that they aren't necessarily looking at this dinner event "as a means to get married." But, he later goes on to mention that there will be future such Friday night Shabbat dinners for the women who replied to their ad but were not selected, then remarks, "Though if all goes as planned, it may only be six of us next time." Seems like marriage is definitely on their minds, even if not completely in an overt fashion.

Using such an approach to meet women is very interesting - and would take some serious intestinal fortitude on the part of the guys and girls involved. This is a far step beyond even the annual YU Connect singles Shabbatonim or other such meet and greet events. 

Would any of the single female readers out there be interested in such a unique invitation - assuming everything checked out once communication between the parties began and the gentlemen in question are indeed gentlemen without any cause for concern for the women's safety? 

Maybe this sort of thing should be looked into as a potential YU/Stern related dating event?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Judging Yourself While Dating

Looking Within
This post was born from some ruminations in my head about people going out with others who veer away from their personal standard of "normal," and how to come to terms with such differences/conflicts/complications.

Case in point - you've always been an omnivore, enjoying both meat and dairy (as well as vegetables) as part of your diet for 20-something years, and suddenly you find yourself on a date, or perhaps in an even a more serious relationship, with an individual who will not, per his/her beliefs, or cannot, per his/her biological constitution, eat the same foods you've always enjoyed at mealtime. Whether he/she does not eat meat at all, red meat, dairy or some other comestible you've come to define as a staple of your regular diet, you are now presented with a conflict of interests.

Does this person mean enough to me, given the rest of his/her personality, middos, dreams, desires, needs, etc, that I can handle this deviation from my norm?

Perhaps you've been one of the fortunate individuals who has always known what it means to have a loving home with two married parents, and the biological parents of this person sitting across the table from you haven't lived in the same home since your date was 5, or fought like cats and dogs until their bitter divorce a few years ago. This clearly has had some impact on your date, molded the way he/she has grown and developed, shaped his/her perspectives in ways you probably can't begin to comprehend.

Does this worry you, frighten you? Do you think about those statistics you read about regarding children from divorced parents being more likely to become divorced themselves?

These are simply two examples, among countless others, which can create mind-twisting dilemmas for daters.

The key to navigating these "deviations" from the norm - or rather, your norm - is to stop and turn inward. Your date's norm is clearly different from your own, and by the standard with which you were raised and have experienced life, they may be lacking or even seemingly "problematic" in some form, based on your own experience.

But that's not the way to determine if he/she can be a worthwhile spouse.

The key is to remain objective about your date, and his/her differences - assuming he/she is otherwise healthy, not plagued by harmful emotional imbalance or utterly unrealistic expectations that border on impossible and perhaps dangerous fantasy - and to judge yourself, not your date.

Hopefully, your date will be forthcoming, given the appropriate timing and length of the courtship, with all the ins and outs about him/her, including things that may not be viewed in such a positive light. Real marriage consideration requires knowing the whole picture, warts and all, and determining if YOU can live with this other reality as part of your own.

It is not for us to judge someone who comes from a broken home, automatically labeling him/her as damaged goods. They are what they are, and that is factual. Hopefully, he/she has learned to be resilient and grown from potentially negative experiences, rather than allow them to remain as destructive or caustic influences in his/her life - regardless if the issue or persons involved have become entirely resolved. One can live with a disruptive parental figure by placing the appropriate boundaries and developing healthy emotional reactions that maintain one's own sense of well-being, notwithstanding the parent's anger or personal imbalance. Such a person can also learn from positive parenting role models, and through self-introspection, develop a form of beneficial parenting that he/she would like to embody for his/her own future children, distinct from what was seen during his/her childhood and being actively cognizant not to fall to the trap of the modes of parenting he/she experienced.

What one needs to do as a dater is to look within. Given the reality of the person sitting across from me, can I acknowledge, accept, adapt and live with the challenges, difficulties, and "abnormalities" that are being presented to me, and will be a part of my future life should I choose to marry this person?

The decision regarding "can I handle this?" should not negatively impact on your view of your date. No one is perfect, and we are mandated to judge everyone favorably.

If you end up deciding your date is not appropriate for you, based on your self introspection, your choice shouldn't hinder your ability to suggest this person to others you may know - and allow them to evaluate the potential of their match with your former date without preconceived negative impressions that you may want to pass along.

Judging yourself, rather than your date is not an easy thing to do. But it's essential to figuring out the marriage potential of the relationship. You can't expect a person to change or willingly alter their habits and attitudes to match your own to prevent conflict. Take into consideration who they are and what they're about, and see how well it fits you and your ability to act in consonance with another person as a life partner.

Part 2 coming soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why Did Aharon, Not Moshe, Turn The Staff Into A Serpent?


In this week's Parsha, Aharon, not Moshe performs the first 3 of the 10 plagues, Blood, Frogs, and Lice.

Rashi explains that the reason for this is because Moshe owes a debt of gratitude to the Nile River (which would turn to blood and from where the frogs would appear) which sheltered his floating cradle as a baby, and to the sands of Egypt for concealing the body of the Egyptian he had killed before he ran away to Midian to escape the wrath of Pharaoh.

However, there is another miracle performed before these 3 that Aharon, not Moshe, also performs: turning his staff into a tanin (serpent, snake, some say a kind of fish) in front of Pharaoh.

Why didn't Moshe perform this miracle? He had already done it once by the episode of the burning bush, so its performance does not seem to have any sort of association with disrespect like the first 3 plagues.

The only idea that came to me was that when Moshe turned his staff into a nachash (snake), "Moses fled from before it," (Shemos 4:3). Perhaps HaShem took this into account and thus had Aharon perform the miracle this time.

The Kli Yakar is the only perush I have been able to find that comments on this particular notion. He first clarifies that the tanin is a larger, more dangerous version of a nachash. He then goes on to explain via a series of symbolic literary comparisons from various psukim in Tanach of Pharaoh and Egypt to different animals and the tanin being more powerful and able to subdue both Pharaoh and Egypt. Moshe had demonstrated already that he was a person of character who could "take on" Pharaoh, but Aharon had not as of yet. Therefore, Aharon, who was working with Moshe (and was about to perform the first 3 plagues) had to also have a display of might that showed he was also able to stand up to Pharaoh.

While I understand the Kli Yakar's explanation, I wonder if there is anyone else out there who may have a more pshat-based interpretation. If you've heard or seen anything, please post in the comments.

Have a great Shabbos!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Marry Jewish: Our Future Is In Your Hands.

Today I read an op-ed piece on The Jewish Daily Forward by Jane Eisner titled "For 2013, A Marriage Agenda," thanks to a link on Hirhurim's news postings.

Eisner's piece is thoughtful, and thought provoking, especially for those of us who know, are friends with, or perhaps related to Jews who are not particularly observant and are rather free-spirited when it comes to who they date and who they would consider marrying.

As I mentioned at the end of my post The Shanda of "Chrismukkah," I believe that intermarriage is perhaps the worst thing an individual Jew can do nowadays, because he or she is actively choosing to betray his or her own people, friends, family, and parents.

Eisner cites the statistics of later marriage period, and thus fewer marriages and fewer births, which combine with a 1/3 to 1/2 of those unions being intermarriage, are set to decimate (and are decimating) the non-Orthodox Jewish population.

While some people in various circles of our Torah Observant populace might turn their nose up and announce that our less observant brethren are getting just what they deserve - and as soon as they're all gone the "frum" people will be the only ones left to define and embody Judaism - I say we have to stop this madness before so many unique, precious people are lost to the sands of time.

One particular paragraph in Eisner's piece struck me:

But this acceptance — some call it assimilation — comes at a price we are not willing to acknowledge, which I believe endangers the future of egalitarian, progressive American Judaism. And we don’t know what to do. Parents do not want to alienate their children with what may seem like outdated prejudices, while religious authorities, such as they are, are reluctant to judge for fear of rejection. We hope that those coming into our community will compensate for all who leave, but they won’t. We pour money into free 10-day trips to Israel with the not-so-hidden agenda of promoting inmarriage, and they do a little. But such “success” comes at a huge monetary cost, with the added risk of tying Jewishness only to Israel — hardly a winning argument in today’s political environment.

Without expressly admitting it, I think this indicates who the primary people at fault are: the parents.

For years, in personal communication with people in my hometown community and elsewhere, I've been decrying how much the parents have negated their responsibility for instilling a firm sense of Jewish identity in their children. This happens in Orthodox homes as well, Modern and not - and is the reason I strongly encourage high school graduates to find the program in Israel that best suits him or her so that they can forge their own Jewish identity of their choosing - one that will be strong enough to combat the pressures of college, wherever they attend, and guide them in a path of recognition and service of G-d that includes marrying a Jewish spouse.

Parents who still have young children need to open their eyes and realize what impact, or lack thereof, they are having on their kids with regard to establishing and creating their own Jewish identity. Children may not want to be exactly like their parents, hashkafically or otherwise, and that needs to be acceptable, rather than a source of discord that pushes their offspring further away and into such a lack of Jewish observance that they intermarry.

Parents who themselves have been fortunate enough to marry a Jewish spouse need to realize that what made them choose to do so will probably have little to no influence on their children. They don't have the grandparents or parents who were immigrants and instilled the basic need of marrying someone Jewish, regardless of how many mitzvos they did or didn't keep. The more these parents keep their heads in the sand, the more they will come to regret a future heartbreak when their son or daughter brings a non-Jew home to meet the parents and their dreams of Jewish grandchildren go up in flames. Even if a daughter ends up marrying a gentile, that does not create an environment which will be conducive to the growth of a hardy Jewish identity, and those grandchildren, though halachically Jewish, will be that much more likely to care very little about having a Jewish husband or wife - and could view their mother as hypocritical for suggesting otherwise.

For the youth, young adults, and adults out there - we need to educate them. Books like Why Marry Jewish? by Rabbi Doron Kornbluth (who I heard speak when this book was released) explain the need to marry-in without beating people over the head with Jewish guilt or more extreme-minded perspectives that can and do turn people off.

Every Jew out there has a spark within, some call it the Pintele Yid, which can and should be engaged. There is bound to be some topic about Judaism that interests the guy or girl you know that can capture their thoughts and imagination. Even if they don't become complete ba'alei teshuva, as wonderful as that would be, averting the disaster of intermarriage is something that needs to be addressed by every single one of us.

Keep our future Jewish. Date Jewish. Marry Jewish. Raise your children to be proud of their Jewish identity. Make it the bedrock of who they are so that they will always choose to build the rest of their lives by that path.

Let's not forsake any more unfortunate souls... we've lost too many already.