Sunday, April 13, 2014

Twenty-nine years a slave

 It's been a while since I've posted anything original, personal, or meaningful to the blog. A number of (good) things have made my life incredibly busy and so I find myself in front of the computer at increasingly sparser intervals.

Also, a number of (not so good) things going on in the world around me have been happening, and to blog would probably equate to blogging about said events. God knows that there is enough commentary out there without me adding to the mix; there's the additional factor that the particular issues at hand are so emotionally laden that they evoke surprising (read: saddening) responses from the most surprising places. While that's not a reason to avoid discussing an issue per se (which often takes us in interesting directions during therapy and makes me "unpopular" with my clients), in this instance it boils down to a matter of toelet, and I just don't see any in addressing an issue without providing/suggesting a solution.

So I've gone through somewhat of a writer's block, but really it's a resistance to forcing myself to write something. With Pesach approaching however, it's all the moreso important to say a few words in preparation.

One of my favorite lines in any song comes from Bob Marley, of course:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind.

Initially that lyric was my banner of rebellion; later it became a guiding point as I attempted to reintegrate. Still now it's a rubric for my decisions even as I willingly submit to others' in the face of my own inexperience and ignorance.

And yet, when this time of year comes along - our zman cheiruteinu - I find myself doing more of a spiritual accounting than even during the Days of Awe. After all, this time of year is what Rav Kook calls aviv ha'olam, symbolizing rebirth - and as can be expected I find myself wanting.

I am still a slave.

Still a slave to subjective notions of what is right and wrong.

Still a slave to my own animal soul, my urges and impulses.

Still a slave to others' perception of me (an irony that has not been lost upon me).

Still a slave to that smallness of the mind that is so startling clear when I judge others for doing the same.

Still a slave to all the distractions jockeying for position when I can't even focus on my priorities.

Still a slave to seeng the world through an egocentric prism, to the effect that even when I'm helping others, I'm gauging how it makes me feel.

The sefarim hakedoshim describe the Exodus as this singular, sudden event in which God brought us out of bondage without us necessarily doing the necessary actions to merit the redemption. In other words, the velvet rope was lifted an we were ushered through as quickly as possible. We tap back into that every year at this time. Even if we "don't" deserve it, each of us has the opportunity to break the shackles of our own personal shibud.

So in this time of our freedom, I say another prayer that can hopefully gather up all the orphaned prayers that I've let drift over the past few months. I ask the Holy One to help me out of my own personal slavery, to finally be free; to help all of us get beyond the slave mentality that makes us keep our heads cast down , our backs bent, and out of breath.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watch The Walls Melt Down

The new single from Matisyahu's forthcoming album Akeda, available for pre-order (I'm such a sucker...).

Love the chorus, not so hot on the verse; the lyrics are okay. I still hear some of that original seeker that I first encountered a long time ago at Chelsea Piers...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kaalover Rebbe on Purim

Kalever Rebbe

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), known as the Kotzker Rebbe, was one of the great and influential Chassidic masters of the 18th century. As a child he was asked, “Where is God?” Young Menachem Mendel replied, “God is everywhere!” In his later years he was asked by his Chassidm the same question but gave a very different answer. “Where is God, you ask, wherever you let Him in.” 

What accounts for the divergent responses? A child sees everything with a fresh sense of wonder and marvel. Innocent and unburdened by the weight of life‘s challenges, he possesses of a clarity of vision that beholds the Divine underpinning of every aspect of human experience. As we age and encounter difficulty and disappointment, there are two responses we can offer to understanding why things don’t develop as smoothly as we would like. Often, the immediate response is to increasingly deny God’s involvement in affairs of this world, attributing our troubles to random happenstance. Alternatively, we can assimilate the eternal lessons of our holy Torah which teaches that all of the circumstances in our lives are orchestrated by Hashem for our ultimate good, even if we can’t recognize it in the moment. Our mandate is to remain loyal to Hashem’s Torah, His instructions for life, confident that its path will lead to salvation and fulfillment. 

The story of Purim highlights the truth and veracity of this second approach. Initially, the Jews of ancient Persia blamed righteous Mordechai for the terrible decrees of destruction that befell them. After all, it was his stubborn resistance to bow before the evil Haman that imperiled their very existence. They saw simple cause and effect in the way things developed. 

Mordechai, however, a man steeped in the knowledge of Torah and committed to its steadfast observance, understood that when a decree of national magnitude was leveled against the Jewish people, it was a clear sign from Above that the entire nation was being called to Teshuva, repentance, and that the only way they could be saved was by strengthening their dedication to Torah observance. 

Viewed in its totality, the Purim narrative now takes on much deeper meaning than a random series of events. The twists and turns and surprising resolution become a clear sign of the hidden hand of God guiding events every step of the way, all of which was intended to awaken the Jews to this very reality. 

Consider, Mordechai sent Esther to beseech King Achashveirosh, literally a suicide mission since visiting the King uninvited was sure grounds for the death penalty. Nevertheless, Esther demonstrated her determination to sacrifice for Hashem, His Torah and His people, casting concerns for her own welfare aside. Even so, when Achashveirosh spared her, she acted in a manner that would confound the Jewish people’s hope by inviting their arch enemy, Haman, to a special party with the King. This spurred the Jewish people to greater levels of repentance as they realized their last and only hope was deliverance from Hashem. 
Finally, even as Mordechai was rewarded by Achashveirosh for having saved his life in an earlier incident, the people’s sense of despair intensified as they realized the King was no longer indebted to Mordchai and Haman would now be free to do with them as he pleased. 

In the end, the trajectory of history was reversed in an instant. Haman was hung on the very tree he had designed to kill Mordechai. Against all odds, the Jewish people prevailed against their enemies and Mordechai was appointed to the position of Prime Minister of Persia, second only to King Acashveirush. 

The Jews then realized, much with the childlike clarity of the young Kotzker, that God is indeed everywhere. And they re-accepted the Torah in their days with a complete and unconditional love that surpassed that of their ancestors who had originally received the Torah at Sinai. For while the Sinai experience was accompanied by open revelation of God’s presence, the Purim story taught us that Hashem is here even when we can’t see Him. And when we live in accordance with His will as manifest in our precious Torah, we will merit discerning His outstretched hand in all of our affairs. 

So, let Hashem into your lives and see His presence throughout the world. 

I convey to you my sincerest wishes of abundant blessing, joy and spiritual fulfillment for you and your families on this Purim festival and always. 

Special Thanks to: Rabbi Avraham Shalom Farber and Yehudah Leib Meth, for the Translation


“Purim Tish” Sunday @ 9:00pm 
“Shushan Purim Tish” Monday @ 6:30pm 
At Congregation Kaalov – 188 Hewes St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dixie Yid: Living Outside the Box - Blessings and Challenges

A great post by brother Dix over at his blog. I haven't posted in a while, and I'd really like to comment on the post as a whole, but my time is very limited right now. I hope to get back at the very least to the theme that Dixie is talking about...

Dixie Yid: Living Outside the Box - Blessings and Challenges: My oldest daughter goes to a local Bais Yaakov style high school. One night recently she asked me, "Are we modern orthodox or ultra-o...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gad Elbaz - Miracles feat. Ari Lesser and Naftali Kalfa

HT to my father-in-law, who showed this to me literally two minutes ago. It's fresh (uploaded onto YouTube earlier today) and timely, so enjoy!

Friday, February 14, 2014


From YU's 5771 Shavuot-to-go, an essay addressing the circumstances surrounding the breaking of the Luchot

And in a similar vein, I'm reposting a piece I wrote back then as well: