Monday, December 2, 2013

Matisyahu - Refuge

This is from Matis' debut album from way back. I had this on the other night and it just spoke to me, as it's coming from a very real, very deep place in a young journey along a path of chassidut and even some bittul. When I go back to the older albums, it reminds me that that guy still exists somewhere in there. I know he's on a quest - we all are - and we can all relate to the fact that sometimes that quest meanders. Hearing his old music somehow infuses me with hope that he can make it back alright.



Ani auni vevyone. Hashem yashav li. Ezrati, umafalti, atau.

My word is like a hammer like a shattering rock,
crack through your heart and take the evil apart

From the end of the earth unto you I call, time and again I fall, back to you I crawl
You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy
Enemy, enemy lines I find I let myself get tied up too many times
You can't have my heart I'm taking back what's mine
I know it lie just smoke in your eye and you saved my soul from the other side

When faint grows my heart to a rock that too hard for me to climb alone lead me
For you have been a refuge

With you I smash a troop and with my G-d I leap over a wall
May the king answer you on the day that you call
Stand tall, battle yawl, the clouds crawl low, all stalled,
heavens lay draped over New York like a prayer shawl,
the holy one enthroned upon the praises of Israel

Pathways of my heart clogged like a traffic jam
From the start, I want to take the blockage apart

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Random Wonderings...

A few questions that have been wandering around in my brain over the past few days:

1) Do swimmers sweat?

2) Beginning this year, we will no longer begin saying v'Tein Tal u'Matar on the 4th of December or the day after depending on leap years or Shabbatot; from now on it will either be on the 5th (or 6th) of December here in Chutz la'Aretz. This effectively renders many siddurim obsolete - how will the various publishing houses deal with that?

3) Are the people who are resurrected during techiyat ha'meitim considered ta'amei meit?

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm a fan of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

I want to be very clear about that before anything else, because what I have to say is critical (in the vein of v'Ani hakatan) of some of his more recent published material in the form of his weekly Covenant and Conversation pieces, which I believe are tonally and ultimately philosophically beyond the scope of traditional commentary on parshiot hashavua.

Some of Rabbi Sacks' essays have portrayed personalities in the Torah in an interesting light; sometimes this is based on an accepted commentary, albeit taken to a further level than that commentator intended, while in other instances Rabbi Sacks' ideas seem to be the product of his own reasoning, without any source material to back himself up.

This is troubling, because we cannot rely on our own understanding when we deal with the Torah, and this goes doubly for dealing with any biblical personality. I once heard a story involving Nechama Leibowitz: while discussing some texts in the Torah, a student offered a novel interpretation, which Nechama summarily dismissed. The student defended herself, upset that the teacher could just cast aside her idea.

"Aren't there seventy faces to the Torah?" the young student asked.

"Yes" replied Nechama, "but yours is the seventy-first."

With that in mind, we must remember to tread carefully when using the Torah to buttress our arguments. When we find ourselves maneuvering texts in order to serve our purposes that should serve as an indication that we should step back and be careful.

I would respond to the most recent essay, as I feel it's the most egregious example thus far, but my good friend Reb Ally has already done the hard work.

Again, I'm a fan of Rabbi Sacks, which is why this is so worrisome for me, and why I feel it's important enough to say something here about it...




Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unique, Not Special

A post over at Pop Chassid (a great blog if you haven't seen it) a short while ago got me thinking. Author Elad Nehorai was commenting about our generation's inability to really accomplish anything, how we're very proficient at complaining about how things should be, but not as successful in affecting change in our world. Overall, his post has many good points, and it's worthwhile to read it and consider some of them. However, there is one part of the post that I take issue with that I want to address, because I think it is intrinsically associated with the overall point of the blog post.

About midway through his essay, Elad references a blog post from another site that went viral some time ago; in it, author Tim Urban takes an incisive look at our generation (i.e. those born between the Seventies and the mid-Nineties) and attempts to parse out why we have so much baggage, why there seems to be so much overall dissatisfaction especially here in the United States, when paradoxically we're living in an age of convenience and freedom experienced by no other era in the history of mankind. Ultimately he attributes this malaise to the misbegotten notion that nearly every single child of this generation has been taught: namely, that we are all special. Urban spends a considerable amount of print (?) demonstrating how this focus on special-ness has fostered a sense of complacency and unrealistic expectations, a sense of entitlement that is wholly unfounded and leaves our youth unprepared for the real world.

Again, there is a lot of merit to that post, but my friend Elad takes umbrage with Urban's insistence that we are not all special, barring some sort of objective demonstration of that fact. Elad writes that "[d]espite what a dumb viral article said, we are special, and we can contribute something no one else can contribute."

The problem here is that by the time each respective blogger gets to his bottom line, so to speak, they are echoing each others' sentiments: both agree that the essential issue is the fact that hard work, serious effort, and consistency are key elements for one's achieving actualization, and that our generation is not readily inclined toward that expenditure. The only bone of contention here is a question of wording, what boils down to a matter of operational definitions. Elad's post insists that we are essentially special but we must bring that potential into reality; Urban posits that short of any tangible, quantifiable result that indicates that special-ness exists, we have no right brandishing the word special willy-nilly.

I agree with the essence of both blog posts. What I believe needs to be dealt with is this word special, and that it should be eliminated from the lexicon in this discussion. To me, special has a connotation of "better than"; when used as an adjective it speaks to those qualities that perhaps demonstrate superiority over others. Special is a word that should be reserved for special instances, as in when something merits the distinction that that specific word affords its bearer. Someone who is special deserves special treatment, can expect preferential advantages as a reward for their qualities and accomplishments.

 To say that everyone is special is inherently fallacious and not only robs the word special of its meaning but does a great disservice to everyone by placing the onus on them. After all, if everyone is special, then I too must be special. And if I turn out not to be special then what does that say about my value, my self worth? This obsession with special-ness undermines all the other important values that previous generations held, and I fear it is crippling our generation. Of course we'd rather complain about things than actually do anything about it, because nothing is ever big enough of an undertaking to tickle our fancy - we're waiting for the big, heroic events that reinforce our inflated self importance and fan the flames of our egocentricity.

But Elad does have a point. We do need to instill in our children a healthy sense of value; they need to see that they're capable of making a siginificant contribution to our world.

A better word for what Elad is speaking of? I would propose "unique" which has the connotation of individuality without the elevated status that "special" holds for the bearer. Each person's uniqueness captures the essence of what makes us valuable and powerful, as Elad puts it, because it acknowledges the value of individuality, the distinct element that every person can contribute to the world by exercising free will - without the expectation that we must outperform or somehow elevate ourselves over others to be recognized as worthy.

When we are cognizant of our ability while being aware of our limitations, we can ignore the unreasonable expectations that society bombards us with and we internalize - and get to work. By understanding that special status is something that is earned, we can rightfully attribute worth and value to true accomplishments, "big" or "small".

Katonti...

...קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים, וּמִכָּל-הָאֱמֶת, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ, אֶת-עַבְדֶּךָ:

Adapted from Ein AYaH:

The Talmud (Shabbat 32a) counsels the following attitude towards miracles: 
"One should never put himself in a dangerous situation and say, 'A miracle will save me.' Perhaps the miracle will not come. And even if a miracle occurs, one's merits are reduced."  
The Sages learned that one should not rely on miracles from Jacob. When Jacob returned home after twenty years in Laban's house, he greatly feared meeting his brother Esau. He prayed to God, "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faith that You have shown me" (Gen. 32:11). The Sages explained Jacob's prayer in this way: "I am unworthy due to all the kindness and faith that You have shown me." Your miracles and intervention have detracted from my merits. 
We need to examine this concept. What is so wrong with relying on miracles? Does it not show greater faith? And why should miracles come at the expense of one's spiritual accomplishments? 
The Function of SkepticismSkepticism is a natural, healthy trait. Miracles can have a positive moral influence, but they also have a downside. Reliance on miracles can lead to a weakened or even warped sense of reality. 
At certain times in history, God disrupted natural law in order to increase faith and knowledge. However, this intervention in nature was always limited as much as possible, in order that we should not belittle the importance of personal effort and initiative. This is where skepticism fulfills its purpose. Our natural inclination to doubt the occurrence of miracles helps offset these negative side effects, keeping us within the framework of the naturally-ordered world, which is the greatest good that God continually bestows to us. It is preferable that we do not rely on divine intervention, but rather say, 'Perhaps a miracle will not occur.' 
Miracles and NatureUltimately, both miracles and natural events are the work of God. So how do they differ? A miracle occurs when we are unable to succeed through our own efforts. By its very nature, a miracle indicates humanity's limitations, even helplessness. When miracles occur, we are passive, on the receiving end. 
Natural events are also the work of God, but they are achieved through our skill, initiative, and effort. When we are active, we spiritually advance ourselves by virtue of our actions. Our zechuyot (merits) are the result of the positive, ethical deeds that we have performed. We should strive for an active life of giving, not a passive one of receiving. Such an engaged, enterprising life better fulfills God's will — the attainment of the highest level of perfection for His creations. 
Jacob 'used up' merits when he required God's intervention to protect him from Laban and Esau. He admitted to God, "I am unworthy due to all the kindness and faith that You have shown me." But Jacob later regained spiritual greatness through his active struggle against the mysterious angel. "For you have struggled with angels and men, and have overcome them" (Gen. 32:29).

 And here's a rather nice song from Yonatan Razel, inspired by these verses; as you can see, he's taken some liberties with the wording, but it works overall...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Suggestions?

If anyone has any idea why the Daf HaYomi schedule is now learning Yoma and skipping Rosh HaShana until several months down the line, I'd be much obliged. I assume most folks out there are more or less accustomed to the Vilna Shas' ordering of the tractates which places Rosh HaShana as following Shekalim and preceding Yoma (often printed in the same volume as Yoma lang with Succah); that is why it was puzzling when I noticed that not only does "the Daf's" schedule place it elsewhere, but that both Artscroll and the new Koren Steinsaltz gemarot print them in the same sequence.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fable of the Goat


 From a collection of S. Y. Agnon's short stories and essays, this one just grabbed me. There's a part toward the end that just hit me in the gut; there was an involuntary sucking in of air when I read it...
The tale is told of an old man who groaned from his heart. The doctors were sent for, and they advised him to drink goat's milk. He went out and bought a she-goat and brought her into his home. Not many days passed before the goat disappeared. They went out to search for her but did not find her. She was not in the yard and not in the garden, not on the roof of the house of study and not by the spring, not in the hills and not in the fields. She tarried several days and then returned by herself; and when she returned, her udder was full of a great deal of milk, the taste of which was as the taste of Eden. 
Not just once, but many times she disappeared from the house. They would go out in search of her and would not find her until she returned by herself with her udder full of milk that was sweeter than honey and whose taste was the taste of Eden. 
One time the old man said to his son, "My son, I desire to know where she goes and whence she brings this milk which is sweet to my palate and a balm to all my bones." His son said to him, "Father, I have a plan."He said to him, "What is it?" The son got up and brought a length of cord. He tied it to the goat's tail.His father said to him, "What are you doing, my son?" He said to him, "I am tying a cord to the goat's tail, so that when I feel a pull on it, I will know that she has decided to leave, and I can catch the end of the cord and follow her on her way." The old man nodded his head and said to him, "My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will rejoice." 
The youth tied the cord to the goat's tail and minded it carefully. When the goat set off, he held the cord in his hand and did not let it slacken until the goat was well on her way and he was following her. He was dragged along behind her until he came to a cave. The goat went into the cave, and the youth followed her, holding the cord. They walked thus for an hour or two, and maybe even a day or two. The goat wagged her tail and bleated, and the cave came to an end. 
When they emerged from the cave, the youth saw lofty mountains, and hills full of the choicest fruit, and a fountain of living waters that flowed down from the mountains; and the wind wafted all manner of perfumes. The goat climbed up a tree by clutching at the ribbed leaves. Carob fruits full of honey dropped from the tree, and she ate of the carobs and drank of the garden's fountain.The youth stood and called to the wayfarers: "I adjure you, good people, tell me where I am, and what is the name of this place?" They answered him, "You are in the Land of Israel, and you are close by Safed." 
The youth lifted up his eyes to the heavens and said, "Blessed by the Omnipresent, blessed be He who has brought me to the Land of Israel." He kissed the soil and sat down under the tree. He said, "Until the day breathe and the shadows flee away, I shall sit on the hill under this tree. Then I shall go home and bring my father and mother to the Land of Israel." 
As he was sitting and feasting his eyes on the holiness of the Land of Israel, he heard a voice proclaiming: "Come, let us go out to greet the Sabbath Queen." And he saw men like angels, wrapped in white shawls, with boughs of myrtle in their hands, and all the houses were lit with a great many candles. He perceived that the eve of Sabbath would arrive with the darkening, and that he would not be able to return. 
He uprooted a reed and dipped it in gallnuts, from which the ink for the writing of the Torah scrolls is made. He took a piece of paper and wrote a letter to his father: "From the ends of the earth, I lift up my voice in song to tell you that I have come in peace to the Land of Israel. Here I sit, close by Safed, the holy city, and I imbibe its sanctity. Do not inquire how I arrived here but hold on to this cord which is tied to the goat's tail and follow the footsteps of the goat; then your journey will be secure, and you will enter the Land of Israel." 
The youth rolled up the note and placed it in the goat's ear. He said to himself: When she arrives at Father's house, Father will pat her on the head, and she will flick her ears. The note will fall out, Father will pick it up and read what is written on it. Then he will take up the cord and follow the goat to the Land of Israel. 
The goat returned to the old man, but she did not flick her ears, and the note did not fall. When the old man saw that the goat had returned without his son, he clapped his hands to his head and began to cry and weep and wail, "My son, my son, where are you? My son, would that I might die in your stead, my son, my son!" So he went, weeping and mourning over his son, for he said, "An evil beast has devoured him, my son is assuredly rent in pieces!" 
And whenever he saw the goat, he would say, "I will go down to my grave in mourning for my son." The old man's mind would not be at peace until he sent for the butcher to slaughter the goat. The butcher came and slaughtered the goat. 
As they were skinning her, the note fell out of her ear. 
The old man picked up the note and said, "My son's handwriting!" When he had read all that his son had written, he clapped his hands to his head and cried, "Vay! Vay! Woe to the man who robs himself of his own good fortune, and woe to the man who requites good with evil!" 
He mourned over the goat many days and refused to be comforted, saying, "Woe to me, for I could have gone up to the Land of Israel in one bound, and now I must suffer out my days in this exile!" 
Since that time the mouth of the cave has been hidden from the eye,and there is no longer a short way. And that youth, if he has not died, shall bear fruit in his old age, full of sap and richness, calm and peaceful in the Land of the Living.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Update!

I HAVE gotten a haircut since then...
I haven't forgotten about this blog!

I'm still here, thank God - just super crazy busy at the moment. With school coming to an end in a few short months, and my internship taking up a lot of time (plus some other endeavors that I'm exploring at the moment), it's getting harder to devote a significant amount of time to this place. I don't want this just to be a repository for interesting links and videos; the main purpose of this is to spread some light, and part of that - hopefully - is the original material that goes up here.

So please, just bear with me while I sort out my schedule...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Adam rotzeh kav shelo..."

The following is a short piece from Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman, of Ahavas Israel in Passaic, NJ. The piece also appeared in the Succos edition of Mishpacha Magazine, and I found it very moving. I think what resonated so deeply was the effort and the pleasure the people involved took in putting something meaningful together, something that we don't very often have these days with the ubiquity of "convenient" methods to perform mitzvot.

We have the pleasure of being in the Holy Land for the chag, and due to our arrival shortly before the beginning of the chag, I had to rely on someone else to purchase my dalid minim (Four Species). The fact that I wasn't personally involved in the process of buying and setting it up rubbed me the wrong way, in terms of quality as well; I simply wasn't happy with the way my lulav was prepared. But I think that it stems more from the fact that I had virtually no part in it more than anything else...

A Succah Grows in Brooklyn


It was 1971 the young man was looking forward to Succos. Although he lived in Brooklyn and attended yeshiva, nevertheless his family was not unique in not having a Succah of their own.


Although nowadays one walks the streets of Borough Park and Flatbush and there is hardly a house without a Succah, in the early 1970s there were many Frum Jews who did not ‘yet’ have their own Succah. Many people made due with the Shul’s Succah or shared with a neighbor and did not have their own private Succah. The young man and his family were one of those families.


Our friend was disappointed that his family had no Succah to call their own and he asked his parents if this year they could have their own Succah. After discussing the matter and looking into various options, his parents told him that they could not afford a Succah this year; maybe next year, but not this year.


Yom Kippur had passed and so had the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Succos. Sunday night would be Succos and once again the family would eat a quick meal in the Shul Succah and come home to go to sleep. His parents could feel his disappointment however; financially they were strapped and could not afford a Succah. As he sat at home silently eating his Melave Malka with less than 24 hours before Yom Tov he was sad.


When his parents excitedly called before he headed off to sleep that Motzei Shabbos, he was not sure if he was already dreaming. “We are at friends and they just told us that they have the frame of their old Succah in their garage. They are away for Yom Tov and they said you could have it.”


 The young man could hardly sleep that night.


Immediately after Shacharis he jumped in his parent’s 63 Oldsmobile Cutlass and headed to his parent’s friend’s garage to retrieve ‘two by fours’ in various lengths.


When he came home he realized that all he had was ‘at best’ the potential for a wall-less frame of a Succah and there was less than 10 hours to go to Yom Tov.


However, the dream was too wonderful to give up on so he took his two ‘left-hands’ and began to clumsily bang a nail here and cut a piece of wood there as he Davened to Hashem for his Succah.


 At about 11 in the morning as the young man was ‘hocking away’ his Israeli neighbor Yossi who was ‘not-yet-frum’ (he is actually very frum now and is a Rebbe living in Israel after learning in Kollel for many years) walked by and said, “What are you doing?” “I am building a Succah”, our friend replied. Yossi quickly ran to his home and returned in a flash with a proper hammer and a working saw and announced, “At the rate you are going, you will finish by Pesach. Move over and let me give you a hand.”


 For the first time in the history of East 82 Street in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the sounds of Succah building was heard in the air.


Lenny Waldman a ‘never-to-be-frum-Jew’ walked by and said, “What you guys doing?” Once again our friend said, “We are building a Succah.” Lenny looked at them and asked, “What is going to be the roof for your little Succah?”


Our friend realized that in his rush to build the Succah he had forgotten about the most important part, “The Schach!”


 The young man looked at Lenny and said, “I don’t know, however, we will think of something. We need something which grows which won’t wither during the eight day holiday.”


 Lenny, who was a quiet man, said nothing but disappeared into his house.  A few moments later he re-appeared complete with ladder and a large pair of electric shears and methodically he began to cut large swathes from the huge evergreen tree which grew in his front yard. “I always wondered why I let it grow so large”, Lenny said aloud as he continued to ‘buzz’ the tree.


Henry Gordon who lived with his 92 year old mother and drove a cab in the city was parking his cab as he heard Lenny cutting his large evergreen tree. “Lenny, what you doing?” he inquired. Lenny said, “The young guy next door is building a Succah and I am helping him out with the covering.”


 “Well, the frame looks okay, however, what are they using for walls?” Mr. Gordon asked. “Beats me” said Lenny; “Ask the kid.”


Henry came over and inquired, “What about the walls? Where are they?” Our friend simply answered, “I don’t know; however, I guess I’ll grab some old sheets and tack them to the frame.” Henry looked at ‘Yossi the Israeli builder’; he glanced at ‘Lenny the tree-trimmer’ and said “I have an idea, I’ll be back soon.”


Ten minutes later he reappeared pushing a wheel-barrel full of doors. “When I drive around the city, anytime I see an old door, I stop the cab and throw it in the trunk. I don’t know why, however, I have been doing it for years. Let me ‘donate’ them as walls for your Succah”.


 Slowly Yossi, Henry and our friend began to attach the door to the frame and as the sun began its westward descent, the Succah looked more like a reality than a dream.


Murray Cohen who would always refer to himself as a ‘non-practicing Kohen’ was the last neighbor to meander across the street. “Hey, what you all doing?” he asked as he answered his own question by saying, “Looks like you are building a Succah. Wow, I have never seen one of those around Canarsie.”


He looked at the mishmash of doors turned into walls; of evergreen branches becoming Schach and of Yossi the secular Israel becoming a Succah builder.


“You know what, wait one minute I have something for you.” Murray ran across the street to his house and returned with a large sheet of green felt. “You know I fix pool tables for a living and when they redo the old tables they give me the old green felt. I have no use for it however; it seems that if we staple the felt to the doors it will give the Succah a real homey feeling.” Soon Murray was stapling felt across the doors to create green walls as Lenny was putting the finishing touches on the evergreen Schach and as Yossi the builder hammered in the final nail.


It was 6 P.M. candle lighting was just minutes away; our friend looked at Lenny, Yossi, Henry and Murray and then set his eyes on his Succah as he realized that sometimes dreams do come true.


That night as our friend entered his Succah and was about to make Kiddush there was a knock on the Succah door. In walked Lenny who said, “Hey looks pretty cozy in here.” Soon Henry appeared explaining that he was simply admiring his handiwork, followed by Yossi and Murray who both said, “Let’s see how this Succah actually ‘works’.”


 As our friend recited Kiddush he felt no need to ‘invite’ the Ushpizin. As he glanced at his Succah and saw the proud faces of Yossi, Lenny, Murray and Henry he had no doubt that all of the Ushpizin were already proudly standing right next to him in his ‘dream’ Succah.


Many years have passed since the Succos of 1971. Our friend now has a large and roomy Succah connected to his kitchen with panels coordinated by number and layers of ‘Glatt-kosher’ Schach.


His Succah is full of family and friends and has florescent light fixtures as opposed to the one hanging incandescent bulb of his Succah of 1971.


However, every year as I recite Kiddush in my Succah surrounded by family and friends I still pine for my Succah of 1971 which although was ad-hoc and small and flimsy was no doubt the most beautiful and precious Succah I was ever privileged to enter.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


The piece below was a focal point of a group therapy session that I co-ran; my senior colleague provided the handout, and after reading it I realized that it is so appropriate for this time of the year for those of us who feel like we just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over...

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson
I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
V
I walk down another street.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Breaking through

אין כח לקלוט את ההמון הרב של הצבעים הרבים אשר לשמש הגדולה הזאת המאירה לעולמים כולם, שמש התשובה

Someone who is unprepared to do teshuvah may be compared to a person who cannot see the light of the sun because he is wearing impenetrable lenses.
Alternatively, such a person may be compared to a shoot buried beneath the soil. While the rest of the world basks in the warmth and light of the sun, this shoot cries out "There is no sun. My entire life is enveloped in dirt!" 
But this bitter perception is wrong. 
Teshuvah is always present; however, a person must go forth to receive it. When a person does make the decision to change, he can receive the ever-present sunlight of teshuvah. - Rav Moshe Weinberger, Song of Teshuvah
This particular excerpt from Orot HaTeshuvah and the accompanying commentary by Rav Weinberger really hit home. More so than other years, I feel less "ready" for the upcoming Days of Awe. I know why, and I know what I have to do, but sometimes the lethargy and inertia is stifling, to the point of having this eerie sensation of being buried by my own issues. This can lead to despair, but knowing that I can bask in the warmth of the sun's glow if I just give even the tiniest push makes all the difference...

Begging for Change


Somehow, he has this knack for showing up exactly at supper time - no matter when we actually sit down to eat. As has become our weekly ritual on Monday nights, the pounding on the door starts as the kids are finally settling down and eating their food. I'm vaguely aware of my eyes rolling as I stand up and head downstairs to open the door for this fellow who has become a fixture in our community, making the rounds every week with a new story that conveys his terrible financial situation. He starts talking even before the door is fully open to reveal his diminutive stature, his broken English barely audible or intelligible as he waves the latest letter of approbation in my face.

His pitch barely registers; two weeks ago it was paying for his son's bar-mitzvah - a few weeks prior to that it was his lack of air conditioning in the insufferable heat. His overall problems stem from the prostate cancer and their treatment, but I never really scrutinize the countless hamlatzot. My policy is that if the fellow is asking for help, I'll try to help him. But even that has limits.

This weekly visit didn't always happen. Originally we would see him every few months - gradually it became every few weeks, until he started coming every week, without fail, on Monday night. Initially we would give him from our ma'aser account, writing out modest checks each time, but as his visits became more frequent we became more uncertain whether we could continue giving him from our ma'aser, certainly not the same amount consistently each time. And so we began giving him out of pocket - not a set amount per se, but rather what we had to give. This didn't sit well with him as our contributions dried up to a trickle. Still, we try not to give less than five dollars at a shot.

This last time, as I hand him a ten, he shakes his head and waves it off. Can't I give him more? Maybe fifty dollars? I apologize and tell him that  this is what we are able to give at this time. He presses me for more. Maybe if he comes back later? Maybe I can write him a check? I'm torn. I want to help him, I can see his pain, but I explain to him that we want to be able to help him each time he comes but that means for us in our situation that we can only give so much at a time...

He's upset, and he makes sure that I know it. Internally I take a breath and count to to ten; I knwo I shouldn't lose my patience. I apologize again but I maintain my position. I offer him a drink but he's not interested. He gives a frustrated grunt and stalks off with my ten dollar bill in his balled up fist. I close the door behind him, feeling dissonant. On the one hand I feel more justified in this, but maybe I'm wrong...?

Later, I'm grocery shopping and he shows up in the store, looking for food from the take out. He asks for the manager who has just disappeared into the back, but it seems as if he's a regular visitor there, because the lady manning the counter recognizes him and tells him that the manager is "gone for the day" (?). I pretend at first as if I don't realize what's happening but as I finish my shopping I see him just skulking around the counter, waiting to see if the manager is going to reappear. He looks hungry. It must take a lot of energy to go around all day, and maybe I'm feeling guilty about our earlier encounter so I buy him some supper.

Later still, I'm at the last mincha of the day; I get there early, hoping to use the time to catch up on the daf. Guess who's making the rounds in shul? Nobody pays him any mind as he walks up and down the aisles waving his laminated approbation in every face. There's a bearded fellow in the back who flips him a quarter, and by virtue of his being the only interaction so far, the collector vents his anger, frustration, and probably embarrassment on the guy. "You are the only one in this whole shul who gave me anything today!" he explodes, unable to control himself any longer. He waves at the whole shul in a sweeping arc, a gesture that is as much as an indictment as it is a complaint. The bearded one, however, won't hear of it: "Listen friend," he says loud enough for me to hear him from several tables away, "what do you expect? You come here every week. You hand around here all day, and you want every single person to give you fifty dollars. It's not going to happen! And another thing: you're not the only one who needs! I need too!" This conversation continued until the Rabbi walked in and we began mincha, but I couldn't concentrate.

Why did I have these three run-ins with this guy today?

What is HaShem trying to tell me?

The whole week and throughout Shabbos I couldn't get it out of my mind, and then it was time for selichos late motzei Shabbos. And then I saw these words:

...כדלים וכרשים דפקנו דלתיך

How many times are we inhabiting this fellow's role regarding our relationship with God? How often do we come back asking for more, asking Him to give and give again? And we're lucky; we are dealing with the Infinitely Patient One, Who will continue doling out blessings and health even when we're malingering, even when we really don't deserve it. So not only do we have to emulate that benevolence, we also have to understand that it's not all about taking; we have to give, and part of that means taking on the cause of those who don't have to give...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Words cannot suffice

There is no barrier when it comes to the language of joy.

Have a "conversation" with any small child who speaks a different language and you will know this.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Welcoming the Angels

Shabbos My Bride 
By Rabbi Yaacov Haber 
The Slonimer Rebbe, of blessed memory, asked: On Friday night when we sit down to our Shabbos meal the first thing we do is welcome the Angels into our home. 'Shalom Aleichem! Malachei HaShareis.' G-d sends the holiest guests to our home when we make Shabbos. 'Borchuni LeShalom!' We ask these holy Angels of peace to bless us and our homes with peace. What can be greater than to imagine that we actually have G-d's angels joining us at our Shabbos table? 
But then, after a few short moments we say, 'Tzeischem L'Shalom!' Farewell holy Angels - it is almost as if the Angels had just arrived and we are already asking them to leave! Why don't we beg them to stay? 
(Indeed there is an opinion that for this reason we don't say Tzeischem L'Shalom. See Sefer Tosfos Shabbos 262 - of course we should stick with the common custom of saying the entire Shalom Aleichem.) 
Sabbath Queen by Abigail Sarah Bagraim
The Slonimer Rebbe answered: Think about a bride and a groom that are wishing farewell to their guests after a beautiful, meaningful and festive wedding. They feel so privileged that their guests honored them and blessed them. But the time has come for their honored guests to go home; the bride and groom wish to spend time together all alone. 
We feel so privileged that the Angels have honored us at our Shabbos meal. We welcome them, we honor them, and we seek their blessing. But then we must say to them 'Holy Angels! We appreciate so much that you came to our homes, we cherish your presence and we treasure your blessings -come again; but please forgive us if we ask you to leave - right now we want to be alone with G-d.' 
Shabbos is so many things: a day of rest, a day of faith, a family day, and a day of celebrating the fact that G-d created the world. Of course it is all true. Yet Shabbos is so much more; it is a day that we can be alone with G-d, or in Kabbalistic language, Yichud Elyon. 
I have often wondered why we begin the Shabbos with “Lechu Neraneno L'Hashem …” “Come! - let us sing to G-d … let us greet Him with thanks”. Of course it makes sense to greet the Shabbos, after all we are reciting the Kabbalas Shabbos, and we are welcoming the Shabbos. But why are we greeting “Him” with thanksgiving? Is G-d here more today that He was yesterday? 
The answer is that of course G-d is with us and present all the time, but on Shabbos we can actually enjoy and experience the presence of His Shechina. We can experience a new level of light, of holiness, of spirituality and of peace. As Shabbos comes in we offer a special welcome to G-d in our lives. 
What preparations must we make to merit the presence of Hashem in our lives?The Ari taught that whenever we reach deep into ourselves to find and express praise for G-d Hashem responds by resting His Shechina upon us. That is why we praise Hashem in pesukei d'zimra before we pray to him in the morning, why we say Ashrei before we pray to Him in the afternoon and why we extol His greatness as we begin the Shemonah Esrei. This is why we begin the Shabbos by “greeting Him with thanksgiving.” 
In the Ten Commandments G-d asked us to keep Shabbos. Life is busy, the world is complicated - there is so much to do. G-d said: Let’s have a time that we spend together. Let us maintain our relationship of gratitude and love, just with Him. Good Shabbos! 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013



This song has been on constant replay lately. Something resonates deeeeply within...

Noah Lubin's albums are on sale; you can buy them on Amazon as well as iTunes...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Adon HaSelichot



Elul is upon us, and my beloved sephardi brethren are already preparing for the Days of Awe while the rest of us roll over in bed.

Kol hakavod to them...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Irena Sendler - A Holocaust Saviour


Guest Post:

Israel's Remembrance Authority was established along with the Yad VaShem World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration in 1953. The two bodies work side by side to ensure a proper memorial for the victims of the Holocaust. 
As part of that mission a program of honoring the Chasidey Umos Haolam -- the Righteous Among the Nations -- was launched. As Yad VaShem and the Remembrance Authority struggled with the scope of their mandate they examined the impact of the total abandonment and betrayal of Europe’s Jews by the gentile world. At the same time these institutions instigated programs that would honor the individuals who put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to rescue Jews. 
To date Yad Vashem has honored over 20,000 Righteous Gentiles. One of these women was Irena Sendler, a simple Polish social worker who saved over 3000 Jews -- in the words of the Jewish sages, 3000 individual worlds. Yet following the 1965 ceremony at which she was honored Sendler's story was almost relegated to the ash heap of history. It was only in 1999, when by chance, a group of non-Jewish Kansas schoolgirls began to research the events, that the story was given the publicity that it deserved. The girls' school research developed into a world-renowned historical project that today includes a book, a website and a staged performance.  
Irena Sendler was living in Warsaw in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland. She was one of the first members of the Zagota -- an underground group which specialized in assisting Jews. Throughout the first two years of the war Sendler and her Zagota comrades forged documents and found hiding places for over 500 Jews who were fleeing the Nazis. 
In 1941 Sendler secured false documents which identified her as a nurse. She was then able to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to bring in food and medicines. Once she saw the situation in the ghetto for herself Sendler realized that the Nazis intended to murder the entire ghetto population. She felt that the best chance to save lives lay in removing children from the ghetto so she instigated a system of picking up orphans from the street and spiriting them out of the ghetto. She sedated many of the children and hid them under her tram seat or found workmen who would carry the unconscious children out in toolboxes and bags. Some children were even placed under garbage or barking dogs and smuggled out in these carts while others were led through the sewer system below the city to freedom. 
Sendler also began to approach families in the ghetto. She begged the parents to allow her to take their children out of the ghetto. This was traumatic for the parents, who had to decide where their children's best chance of survival lay. It was also traumatic for Sendler herself who described the scenes 50 years later.  "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler remembered as she described the heartwrenching scenes that she endured, day after day, as she took the children away from their families. "Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn't give me the child. Their first question was, 'What guarantee is there that the child will live?' I said, 'None. I don't even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today." 
As perilous as smuggling the children out of the ghetto was, the second part of the rescue operation was just as difficult.  Zagota members had to forge documents for the children and find hiding places for them. Many children were placed in convents or orphanages while others hid with supportive Polish families. Sendler recorded the names of all of the children on tissue paper which she placed in glass jars and buried in her neighbor's garden. She wanted to see the children reunited with their families after the war or, if that proved to be impossible, with their Jewish community. 
In October 1943 Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the Pawiak  prison where she was tortured. Sendler withstood the torture and refused to reveal the names of her Zagota comrades or the childrens' hiding places. Zagota members secured her release by bribing a guard and Sendler lived out the rest of the war in hiding.
I always appreciate learning stories like this, of non Jews who swam against very strong currents to extend a hand of compassion towards our brethren during the inferno. One of my personal heroes has been Raoul Wallenberg, for quite some time.

I had only been peripherally aware of Ms Sender, coming into contact with her through my readings on the Warsaw Ghetto and the efforts of other individuals like Dr Janus Korczak Hyd.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

"A day that is entirely Shabbos..."

Tikkun Olam challah cover by Sharon Coleman





















Kuntress Kedushat Shabbos: Reb Tzadok HaKohen on man's role in Tikkun Olam, here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Baruch Dayan HaEmes

I just found out that Rabbi Dr J Immanuel Schochet passed away this past Shabbos.

Rabbi Schochet was a scholar, a prolific writer, and above all a major chossid who devoted much of his energy - physical and creative - to disseminating the message of the Ba'al Shem Tov through the paradigm of ChaBaD chassidus. Aside from penning several expository works on fundamental concepts of kabbalah and chassidus, Rabbi Dr Schochet also organized many efforts to counter missionary forces intent on proselytizing Jews.



Yehei zichro baruch...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nosson Zand - Believers

I just found this tonight. I've always been a fan of Nosson's, and while this isn't the sound I'm used to coming from him, I dig it.

The Matisyahu feature is a blast from the past - I really miss the beard and peyos (and the yarmulke...). Which makes me wonder: why was Nosson sitting on this for so long?



Love the imagery: the lamplighters stuff at the end, the foam cup thing is pretty cool too...

Change we can believe in

Yeah, I know...Darwin is totally taboo.

I get it.

But this street art is awesome.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Internalizing Shabbos

Calligraphy by Michel D'anastasio
“You can keep every Shabbos to the letter of the law, but unless Shabbos reaches the deepest and highest place in your heart, you haven’t kept Shabbos.” - Rebbe Shlomo


Monday, July 15, 2013

Rebuilding today

"Every generation in which the Temple has not been rebuilt is like the generation in which it was destroyed." - Jerusalem Talmud (יומא פ׳ א,הל׳ א)

What a powerful message that should ring in our ears like the terrible indictment that it is. We're still here. All the things that got us here so long ago are still around now - worse, it seems.

The baseless hatred, the divisiveness, the inability to empathize with the other...

In these past nine days I have tried very hard not to read what is going on in our global Jewih community. Even the period of time when people used to be more sensitive to the elements that are holding us back in this exile seems to have lost its import.

This blog is not about spreading negativity; it is this author's hope that we achieve quite the opposite on a constant basis, and now is no different. In these waning moments before the Ninth of Av commences yet again as a day of fasting and mourning, I beg all of us - big and small, in positions of great and minor influence - to help increase the light.

If you want to fight for a cause or combat a social ill in our community - fine. Please! We need it more than anything! But do it in a way that seeks to enhance the positive aspects, not simply expose the wrongs. More importantly, let's all resolve to work on ourselves and strengthen our more personal relationships with others as well as with ourselves...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Recognizing the stakes

The events surrounding outgoing UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shlita and the American Agudah just before Shabbos last week had me quite distressed. On the one hand, the Agudah's response seemed overly reactionary (and verbose), especially in light of our fast approach to the 9th of Av and all the discord that is associated with this especially sad time of the year. On the other hand, after reading Rabbi Sacks' pamphlet, I can't say I particularly blame the Agudah's indignation in response to his using the Siyum HaShas as an example of the burgeoning 'extreme' on the right of an increasingly insular society.

(I'm still not quite convinced that that was indeed the point Rabbi Sacks was trying to make; for starters, the Siyum was anything but monolithic - while under the auspices of the Agudah, the Siyum that I attended had more than a fair share of all types of Jews from all walks of life, many of whom do not subscribe to the Agudist party line, to say the least. Rav Hershel Schachter shlita - who is decidedly not an "Agudist" - was seated in a very nice place on the dais; moreover, a very warm and welcoming forum was provided for the former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, shlita. To present it as an example of anything other than a swell in limmud haTorah is inaccurate.

I think the quote as read was an unfortunately [and uncharacteristic] awkward expression meant to illustrate the growth in numbers of people looking to connect to Torah vis-a-vis those who are growing away from it.

Perhaps a better illustration of the 'massing of extremes' would be the 'other' mega-event that took place a few months prior to the Siyum at neighboring Citi Field, but I digress...)

Still, this is not a new position for Rabbi Sacks. A cursory review of his works - both literary and his efforts as Chief Rabbi - will attest to this principle that he has advocated for years: engaging the world, opening up the universal beauty and wisdom that is Judaism to the other nations of the world, and seeking to elevate us all by celebrating what we have in common rather than focusing on what sets us apart.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does (perhaps ironically in light of the previous statement) highlight a significant difference between different groups of Torah true Jews concerning where our emphases should be.

This is not a novel idea, either. Some might say that this was the Judaism that Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch OBM championed, and they might be correct; there is no question that Rav Hirsch's Torah Im Derech Eretz is an attempt at synthesis that worked rather well for German Jewry (But the question remains whether this is an ideal - ab initio - or a response to the needs of the time in the face of existential danger to an entire community.).

Others might try to point to Rav Soloveitchik OBM as another paragon of this type of Judaism - Rabbi Sacks certainly characterizes him as such - but I would humbly disagree on that point as well. True, the Rav lived in the world, embraced it - not only the knowledge, but the culture - but he never seemed to lose perspective as to which was ikkar and which was taful. He earned a doctorate in Berlin, but he never left Volozhin. According to the Rav, there can be no true synthesis between the two worlds; thesis and antithesis must exist independently in order to maintain vitality. A blending would sufficiently weaken both worlds - a tragic occurrence for both.*

Regardless, Rabbi Sack is not suggesting anything radical or innovative. It is one legitimate approach to our mission on this world, an attempt to sanctify and glorify the name of God. But it is one approach among many, including that of the Agudah and others, all of which are valid to a degree, with certain qualifiers.

And both of the two approaches being presented in this false dichotomy are fraught with realistic dangers and concerns.

When Rav Kook spoke at the inauguration of Hebrew University in 1925**, he touched upon this very theme. His speech begins by quoting from Isaiah:
"Lift up your eyes and look about; they have all gathered and come to you. Your sons shall be brought from afar, your daughters like babes on shoulders. As you behold, you will glow. Your heart will fear and rejoice - for the wealth of the sea shall pass on to you; the riches of the nations shall come to you." (60:4-5)
After explaining how the first verse is being borne out with the nascent developments of the Holy Land, Rav Kook turns to the second verse:

But why "fear"? Why did the prophet preface the phrase "your heart will rejoice" with the notion of fear? When, however, we look back in retrospect at past generations, and at the spiritual and intellectual movements that have influenced us, we readily understand that the notion of fear, in conjunction with rejoicing, is appropriate. 
Two tendencies characterize Jewish spirituality. One tendency is internal and sacred; it serves to deepen the spirit and to strengthen the light of Torah within. Such has been the purpose of all Torah institutions from earliest times, especially the fortresses of Israel's soul - the yeshivot. This includes all the yeshivot that ever existed, presently exist, and will exist in order to glorify Torah in its fullest sense.This spiritual tendency is fully confident and assured... 
The second tendency characterizing Jewish spirituality served not only to deepen the sacredness of Torah within, but also as a means for the propagation and absorption of ideas. It served to propagate Jewish ideas and values from the private domain of Judaism into the public arena of the universe at large...It also served to absorb the general knowledge derived by the collective effort of all of humanity, by adapting the good and useful aspects of general knowledge to our storehouse of a purified way of living.
Citing this second ideal as the hopeful prospect of what the Hebrew University can accomplish, Rav Kook then continues with an exhortation:

Here, dear friends, there is room for fear. From earliest times, we have experienced the transfer of the most sublime and holy concepts from the Jewish domain to the general arena. An example of propagation was the translation of the Torah into Greek...There were also instances of absorption. Various cultural influences, such as Greek culture and other foreign cultures that Jews confronted throughout their history penetrated into our inner being... 
We gained in some areas and lost in others in our confrontation with foreign cultures. This much is clear: Regarding those circles that welcomed absorption and propagation joyously, with unmitigated optimism and with no trepidation, very few of their descendants remain with us today...[T]he vast majority of them have assimilated among the nations; they found themselves caught up in the waves of the "wealth of the sea"... 
Only from those who resided securely in our innermost fortresses, in the tents of Torah, enmeshed in the sanctity of the law, did emerge the truly creative Jews...Among these were many who propagated and absorbed. They exported and imported ideas and values on the spiritual highway that mediates between Israel and the nations. Their attitude, however, toward this undertaking was never one of rejoicing only. Fear accompanied their joy as they confronted the vision of the "wealth of the sea" belonging to the "richest of the nations."
Rabbi Sacks' vision is an inspiring, hopeful one, but it needs to be approached with the appropriate wariness and a firm commitment to Torah. While I don't doubt that Rabbi Sacks meets that criteria, we have to take painstaking steps to ensure that when we engage the world around us, it is indeed a confrontation - it may be civil, but we should never let our guard down.

v'Ani haKatan - I have so much more to say, as I try to figure this out myself.  As I said earlier, there are many approaches, and all have their drawbacks; I certainly don't subscribe to the idea that we should circle the wagons. I don't want to focus on negativity here, but there's a lot of room for improvement for all of us. That should be something to consider during these times...

* See Rakefett-Rothkoff, The Rav vol 2. pages 229-31
** All quotations are courtesy of Leiman, S.Z. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook: Invocation at the Inauguration of the Hebrew University TRADITION 29:1 (1994); retrieved from here

Friday, July 5, 2013

Shabbos meditations...

By Rebbetzin Denah Weinberg, from Aish.com:
Look around. The world is a dark place. People are wandering, roaming the world, searching for meaning. They are trying out this philosophy, that religion. People are groping. Where are the answers? Where is the light?
Light was created on the first day, and the Torah says, "It was good."
It is a woman's mitzvah to light the Shabbat candles. It is a woman's privilege to bring "good" into the world through light. How can those two little flickering candles on my table, light up the big, dark world?
The Shabbat candles usher in the holy day of Shabbat. Thus those little candle lights direct us to a much greater light, the light of Shabbat.
SHABBAT IS A BIG, BIG LIGHT
The light at the end of the tunnel is bright -- it breaks the darkness. Shabbat also breaks the darkness. It is not just a day when we stop working. Shabbat is the Day of the Candles, the Day of Light, the day when we clearly see our purpose in this world. Shabbat is the day on which we see we have a soul.
The soul itself is called a candle -- the candle of God. It is the light of the world. It infuses spirituality into the body and into all materialism. Without this spirituality, the world would be in a state of darkness. It is the soul that connects human beings to God. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the week. Without Shabbat, the world is a body without a soul. When women light candles, we welcome that extra light into the world.
Do you know that Shabbat also gives us an extra soul? During the rest of the week, one soul is powerful enough to receive the available holiness. But we need two souls to handle all the extra holiness that enters the world on Shabbat.
It is all too easy to ignore the extra soul and the extra spirituality that is available every Shabbat, and to spend the day just eating and sleeping. We need to ask ourselves, Is this the most efficient use of an extra soul?
I once heard it said that it's much easier to overcome internal conflicts on Shabbat than all week, because during the week the odds are one against one -- one body versus one soul. But on Shabbat, it is two against one -- two souls versus one body. On Shabbat we have a real chance to be more in control.
LIGHT UP THE SOUL
Candles are lit at romantic dinners, aren't they? What makes a dimly lit room romantic? It's the candles -- they draw people together on a soul level. It goes beyond eating a meal together -- that's mundane, that's physical. Rather, its about two humans connecting on a deep, spiritual level. That's exciting. That's romantic! The candles do it.
This, too, is Shabbat. The candles draw us to each other, and they draw us to God. Our soul is drawn to Him and vice versa. Shabbat is a love song. It is romance. It is a date between God and us. (Remember, on Shabbat, don't concentrate on your food -- concentrate on your date!)
We women are the ones who ignite this romance with God. This is what Shabbat candle lighting is all about.
So let's give our mitzvah some thought and put it into its proper spiritual dimension. Do you feel the light on Shabbat? Do you feel your soul light up?
Our tradition gives us guidelines to experience the spiritual dimension of candle lighting. Buy beautiful candlesticks; make sure they and the tray they rest on are polished to emphasize the importance of this mitzvah. Lighting with olive oil is highly regarded because of the intense light it produces. Be dressed in beautiful clothes at candle lighting time and, of course, be on time (18 minutes before sunset on Friday afternoon). Prepare, think, and be focused on this great experience.
SOUL CONNECTION
Our tradition also tells us something remarkable. To help her children fulfill their potential, a woman should feel tremendous happiness when lighting her Shabbat candles. What won't parents do to have good children? They pay high tuition for the best schools; give them extracurricular activities, hobbies, and vacations to stimulate their minds and strengthen their bodies; feed them good, healthy meals; and buy them fine clothes. Yet Jewish sources tell us that one of the most important things we can do for our children is to be careful and happy when lighting Shabbat candles. This is our investment for meriting good, wise, and spiritually fulfilled Jewish children.
Shabbat candles also create peace in the home. How? People enjoy the Shabbat food more with the added light. And there is something deeper. Candles connect people on a spiritual level. Souls don't fight. Bodies fight. Candlelight evokes a soul connection between people, which creates real peace in the home.
Shabbat reminds us that there was a creation and a Creator. Just as Shabbat comes after six days of work, our ultimate connection to God comes in the World to Come -- after years and years of work! This is clarity. This brings sanity.
Human beings ask, What are we living for? The light of Shabbat answers, For an eternity of light, warmth, and closeness to our loving God.
Shabbat is the goal of the week, not merely a rest stop to prepare for the coming week. In truth, we work all week long for this day of pleasure. There is even a tradition to count the days in anticipation of Shabbat. "We're getting there... We're almost there... We're here!" It's like a bride counting the days to her wedding -- not because the wedding will mark the end of her preparations, but because it is the goal.
Shabbat is our goal, our destination. On Shabbat, all difficulties of the previous week change into a new reality. On Shabbat, all pain changes into beautiful, new challenges.
May we light the candles joyfully, carefully, and happily until the world is lit completely with the lights of Shabbat.