We ran and laughed like soft mad children, drunk with the feelings, from that place in the mind, that place where you feel again the safe cotton willowy breaths of infancy. We ran the twenty-ish feet off the pier in to the silk-soft water, under that cool jeweled moon of last June. Words have not yet been created that can contain and carry the currency of communication that experiences can and often do.
They like to call ‘em “kids at risk,” teenagers with the wild-child gene. I call them mis… well, not even MISunderstood, that would be more like James Dean, but just totally NOT understood. I understand them though. Feed them what they need and they’ll drink it like a drug.
We sat then on the edge of the dock with our feet, and the bottom part of our jeans, in the water, and we spoke of life and Torah.
There is always, in the stories of life, the current and the undercurrent. The Torah is full of stories, but it’s so not about the stories. The rabbis have spent the last many centuries seeking out the undercurrent of those stories. Imagine standing outside on the street. You hear the muffled sounds of the pumping music, and you see the flashing lights through the window. Well, that’s because you’re outside the party- that’s the story. You open the door, step inside, and close the door behind you. Now you’re in the party. That’s the undercurrent.
This Shabbos, we will read the story of Yaakov running. He takes refuge from his own brother, Esav, who has “kill brother Yaakov” on his bucket list, for about twenty years at the house of his uncle, Lavan. One day, Yaakov has a vision of sorts, and a message of spirituality comes to him that says, “Look what Lavan has done to you. You’re looking at all your growing herd of sheep (wealth in those days). I am the G-d of Bethel, where you made me a covenant and built for me a monument of your promise.” Yaakov collects his family and makes tracks in the dead of the night. He can’t wait until morning. He’s gotta go now.
That’s the story. Here’s the undercurrent. What’s special about Bethel? Why was this moment of clarity for Yaakov evocative for him of Bethel?
In Bethel, Yaakov slept the night without even a pillow. He used a stone. That’s because he had just been mugged by Elifaz, Esav’s son. Elifaz was meant to kill him by instruction of his father, but he didn’t quite want to do that so he took all of his possessions instead.
There, penniless, Yaakov had a vision of… well… a stairway to heaven, i.e., the how, the pathway- not a ramp but a ladder or stairway of sorts- where it’s a step by step process to get to ‘heaven,’ i.e., to spirituality. And on that stairway to heaven, he saw ‘angels,’ i.e., ways of connectivity to Hashem, ascending- that would get him there- and descending, bringing that spirituality back to earth. He, Yaakov, then began his life’s purpose, with that understanding, of becoming the father of the Jewish people. (We are called the “sons of Yisrael/Israel,” which is another name for Yaakov, not the sons of Avraham/Abraham or Moshe/Moses or King David or anyone else.)
It is written, “It’s easier for a man who has nothing (materialistically) to be idealistic.” Yaakov had nothing then. But things changed. Now he began to see his wealth growing. He heard Hashem calling out to him in a dream- a vision, an understanding of sorts- and He said, “I am THAT G-d, the G-d of Bethel,” i.e., remember when you had nothing and had a vision of spirituality? That stairway? Look what Lavan has done to you: changed your thinking, your prioritization. Poison. Every second you stay longer now, it’s another drop of poison in your soul.
Shortly after his departure, Yaakov knows he’s approaching his brother Esav. He doesn’t run. He prepares himself. How does he prepare? There’s a short story of what he does practically, some defense measures. But then it says that that night, before he would confront Esav, he went to the “other side of the river”, the dark side, and he “wrestles” with the “angel” of Esav all night until he proves to be unbeatable by it.
There is a famous commentary of the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) that tells us that there was no physical wrestle and there was no physical angel. Yaakov was wrestling in his own head with the MESSAGE, the value, the poison of the values of Esav- the same poison he was currently running away from. We know this from the dialogue between them the next day. Well again, not the dialogue per se, but what Chazal, our Sages, tell us was the undercurrent of that dialogue. Esav said- after the initial standard “hey, how are you?”- “I have a lot,” connoting that “I can use more.” Then Yaakov responds, “I have everything.” Clearly, no human being has ever had ‘everything.’ You would have to own the planet and the universe to literally have everything, but the connotation is, “I don’t want or need anything more than what I presently have, not even a little.”
The value poison of the ways of Esav couldn’t touch him anymore. All that glitters was no longer gold to him and all he wanted to be able to buy back was that stairway to heaven. Only then, Chazal tell us, did Esav become powerless over him. Only then.
I was finished so I just stopped talking and we sat in silence, except for the wish-wash sound of our feet swinging back and forth in the water. We were in that place in the mind. The place where new pathways are laid. New pathways of thinking, of seeing yourself and the world and your life agenda. It’s mighty stuff, that.
He finished his beer. We had been sitting in silence for about five minutes then, and he asked, “How does that manifest, like in life, how does that concept manifest?”
I said, “In the smallest, smallest, of ways. Sometimes in big ways too, but usually… usually in how much time you have for a child, your own or someone else’s; in how motivated you’ll find yourself to sit down in the morning after praying for a few minutes to learn some Torah; in how, and where, you spend your money; in how you begin to feel about that little pipe you keep in your pocket; in what’s important to you in your own head… Get it?”
“Wow,” he said, and we turned to go.
I pulled him back down and said, “Listen, we don’t have saints, in the Torah I mean, it’s not a Torah concept this saints thing. The Torah was written for, and about, real people who had real emotions with real feelings, wants, desires, urges, just like you, just like me. I mean… okay, different than you and me maybe, but the same concept though. Yaakov, he wasn’t born the person he became. He became the person he became. What made them who they were, the greats in the Torah, were their reactions to themselves. There’s only three big poisons in life: lust, money and ego. They all, for sure, have their healthy place in the human experience, but like fire, they need to be contained, and not overfed. Well, if you want stories of PEOPLE, yeah people, who confronted those things, look to Yosef, Yaakov and Moshe.”
He gave me a hug, told me I was a rock star and that I should one day write a song and call it, “Stairway to Heaven.”
2 1/2 cups of oats, any type
2 1/2 cups of flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup oil
2/3 cup liquid (juice, soy milk or beer)
2/3 cup sesame seeds, ground nuts or coconut
Combine by hand. Shape into curved logs, about 3 inches by 1 inch; yields about 40. Or make bars; roll out dough to fill the cookie sheet. It may be a bit sticky; if so, sprinkle with flour or potato starch. Score into pieces while still raw with a pizza wheel or knife. Bake at 350F for thirty minutes. If you like them toasty, remove the well-done pieces from the edges and bake the rest for an extra few minutes. Delicious fresh or frozen.
Tova Younger moved to Israel with her family nearly ten years ago, where she became a writer. Her book, Hands-on How-to’s for the Home and Heart, is a collection of tips and techniques to enhance your life, spiritually and practically, and includes over 50 easy recipes! You can purchase it at jewish-e-books.com. For more information email email@example.com.
Start off by praying. At the end of every Shemoneh Esrei prayer (the silent prayer with 19 blessings that is the mainstay of each prayer service), we ask Hashem to guard our tongue from speaking evil. Pause a moment and be sure to focus when you say it. There is also a beautiful prayer composed by the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) which says it all. Keep in mind that regrettably, speaking lashon hora without doing properteshuva greatly weakens the power of our prayers.
Translation of the Chafetz Chaim’s prayer:
Master of the universe, may it be Your will, merciful and beneficent G-d, that you grant me the merit today, and everyday, to guard my mouth and tongue from loshon hora and rechilus (tale-bearing) and from accepting such talk as true. And that I be careful not to speak about an individual, how much more so about all of Israel or a part of the Jewish people, or all the more so to complain about an aspect of the way the Holy One, Blessed be He, runs the world. And may I be careful not to speak any words of falsehood, flattery, mockery, discord, anger, arrogance, hurtfulness, words that pale one’s face and any forbidden speech. And let me be worthy only to speak words that are necessary for my body or soul. And may all my deeds and words be for the sake of Heaven.
This week’s Torah portion begins with the words “vayeitzei Yaakov,” which means, “Jacob went out.” This is most appropriate because in this week’s parsha, Yaakov will get married- and how else can a person get married if they don’t go out?!
This calls for some jokes about dating and marriage…
Many people like to go out with people from other countries. For this purpose, there is a number that you can call that will give you ideas of people from around the world. Can you guess what this number is called?
THE INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE!
On that subject*…
What do you call somebody that marries a person from Czechoslovakia?
A CZECH MATE
What do you call a person from Iceland that marries a Cuban?
AN ICE CUBE
How many shidduchim (matches) does a person have to arrange to be considered ashadchan (matchmaker)?
*Disclaimer: no offense meant to people of any nationality or ethnicity.
We are happy to introduce a new series by Mrs. Tova Younger to be featured on the OorahSpirit, with tips on shmiras halashon, guarding your speech. The laws of permissible speech are numerous and complex and this series will not attempt to catalogue them. (For that, we recommend the works of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, better known as the Chafetz Chaim, conveniently translated to English and presented in bite-size pieces in the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s A Lesson A Day and A Daily Companion.) Rather, these tips are presented to give you ideas that will hopefully help you in mastering positive speech.
Everyone deals with challenges in their lives. Many are searching for a path to follow that will yield them rich spiritual improvement- with some improved materialistic standards as well! Fact is, we needn’t go to far-off places to seek a blessing from righteous individuals, living or not. Working on our speech patterns is one of the most powerful tools we have.
Consider these facts. We observe the laws of Shabbos but once a week , the laws of kosher foods a few times a day. Shmiras halashon, governing how we may speak, is applicable all day long. Thus, being careless about this mitzvah will cause us to accumulate many prosecuting angels. Happily, the opposite is true as well: being careful will bring us much reward as we come close to Hashem through proper observation of this precious mitzvah.
The good news is that today we are very fortunate, with so many books, articles, lectures and more, each providing us with the laws of proper speech in an easy-to-comprehend manner.
Yes, it’s all easy enough to study, but keeping the halachos, the laws, is another story. That is harder than ever. Most people today are in touch with many more people than was possible in years past. We read about people all over the globe, we travel, maintain long distance relationships, and have larger and extended families. We meet people in school, on vacation, at parties and at work. Although we can benefit from all these interactions and gain a lot with each relationship, there is always the danger lurking. An innocent speaker doesn’t realize that a seemingly innocuous remark is actually portraying the subject in a bad light. A truly fine comment is made, but the response is lashon hora (a prohibited category of speech). It seems impossible to converse and avoid it.
Don’t despair! The ideas that will be presented, ranging from improved mindset to practical avoidance, on how to conquer our yetzer hara, evil inclination, will enable you to emerge victorious in the fight against lashon hora.
Look out for the first tip of the series in the next issue of the Oorah Spirit!
Tova Younger moved to Eretz Yisrael with her family nearly ten years ago, where she became a writer. Her book, Hands-on How-to’s for the Home and Heart is a collection of tips and techniques to enhance your life, spiritually and practically, and includes over 50 easy recipes! You can purchase it at jewish-e-books.com. Hear tips on the Akeres Habayis Hotline – 212 444 1900 ~ option – 4 – 6. NEW! Practice your Ivrit, and enjoy tips! Call Kol Haloshon 1-718-906-6400 – ’1′ – ’5′ – ’5′ – ’23′ – For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
In Parshas Toldos, Esav (Esau) sells the rights of the firstborn to Yaakov (Jacob) for a bowl of lentils. (More on this here.) This gave rise to a tradition to serve lentil soup the Shabbos that this Torah portion is read. This recipe is one of the quickest to prepare and healthiest soups you can make.
2 cups brown lentils or 1 cup pink lentils
1 cup shredded zucchini
6-8 cups of water
Optional: 1/2 cup shredded sweet potato
Optional if using brown lentils: 1 cup tomato sauce and vegetables, such as onions, peppers, or eggplant
Pink lentils require about 45 minutes cooking time; brown lentils about 90 minutes. And a surprise awaits you when preparing this soup the first time: it will turn a lovely shade of green! It’s a thick soup and delectable with cheese (if not serving as part of meat meal.)
Tova Younger moved to Israel with her family nearly ten years ago, where she became a writer. Her book, Hands-on How-to’s for the Home and Heart is a collection of Tips and Techniques to enhance your life, spiritually and practically, and includes over 50 easy recipes! You can purchase it at jewish-e-books.com. For more information email email@example.com
TheZone lost a beloved member with the passing of Willy- Moshe, as he liked to be called- about a month ago. This video is a touching memorial to a special person and his meaningful final request. Add your remembrances to the comments below.
Josh recently lost his job in the economic downturn. He had no idea where he would get the money to pay his mortgage and bills. As his meager savings were quickly being depleted, he prayed with all his heart that he would get a job. He finally found what seemed to be the perfect job and, after applying, was granted an interview. As the day of the interview grew closer, Josh prayed very hard that he would get this job. At the interview, Josh’s potential employers seemed very impressed with his credentials. It looked as though his prayers would be answered.
Two days later, an email arrived from the company and Josh opened it with excitement. It read, “Although we were very impressed with you, someone else was more impressive. Sorry, your services are not needed at this time. Thank you for thinking of us.” Josh could not help but wonder, “Was there a point in all my prayers?”
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Toldos, the Torah recounts how Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca) prayed for a child after being married for twenty years without children. There is an oft-cited quote of our Sages that says that G-d desires the prayers of the righteous and that is why He made Yitzchak and Rivka wait so long to have children. What does this mean? Does G-d really want people to suffer just so that they will pray to Him? Why does He need their prayers?
We all know that Hashem is just and kind. Very, very kind. Everything He does is calculated down to the finest detail. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve and no less. If so, how can you hope to accomplish anything with prayer? Do you think you will change G-d’s mind, as if He will get so fed up with your persistent nagging that He will finally give in?
Many people think of prayer as a vending machine: you put in a few requests at the top and whatever you asked for comes out at the bottom. And just as with a vending machine, where if you put in a dollar and no soda comes out, you conclude that the machine is broken and move on to the next one, so too with prayer. If you pray enough times with no result, you conclude that prayer doesn’t work.
The Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart, a classic work on personal growth by Rabbeinu Bachya) has a completely different approach to prayer, as explained by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt’l, in his preface to his commentary on the Siddur (prayerbook), called Praise, My Soul. His general principle is that prayer is a means to self-betterment. Our prayers are structured in such a way as to increase our recognition of Hashem’s greatness and make us aware of how insignificant and powerless we are compared to Him. We come before Hashem and say, “I know You are the only One with the ability to give me this and therefore I am turning to You.” Through constant prayer, we achieve a greater level of reliance on Hashem and build a better relationship with Him.
Says Rabbi Eliyohu Lopian, zt’l (1872-1970), this is the key to understanding how prayer is effective. We become better people through our prayers, as we explained, and therefore are deserving of more good. We are not convincing G-d to change His mind; rather, we are changing ourselves, thereby deserving to have our prayers granted.
And that is why G-d desires the prayers of the righteous. By withholding something from them, He is giving them the opportunity to elevate themselves and become better people through their prayers. It is truly for their benefit.
So Josh should not be left feeling that his prayers were pointless, because the purpose of prayer is not to “get stuff.” It is to make ourselves into better people with a deeper, stronger connection to Hashem. Rather than feeling let down, Josh can be grateful for the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Hashem.
May we all merit achieving a close relationship with Hashem.
To a novice, the notion of baking challah seems very daunting. But there’s nothing like warm, homemade challah to start your Shabbos, and it turns out that once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that hard after all. Tova Younger offers this simple recipe for a dough which she says takes only 15 minutes to prepare.
5 lb (2 1/2 kilo or 18 cups) flour (bread/hi gluten flour or whole wheat, either way it comes out great!)
2 Tbsp. active dry yeast (no need to proof)
5 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sugar, or 2 Tbsp. sugar and 1/3 cup honey
1 cup oil
6 cups warm water (tip: combine 5 cups of room temperature water with 1 cup of boiling water)
Use a large bowl and work at a table rather than at a counter; it’s a more comfortable height. Combine all dry ingredients. Stir for half a minute and add liquids. Mix with a strong, large spoon until it’s too difficult; finish kneading by hand. Do not squeeze dough as it will ruin the texture. Just keep punching and turning it over. If you are a beginner, be patient and persevere. After a few times, you won’t believe how quick and simple it is!
If the dough is very sticky, add a bit of flour. If that doesn’t help, add a bit of oil. Too much flour will make it heavy. Too dry? Add a bit of water at a time, or again, some oil. Once it becomes a dough with a nice feel and appearance, you are finished!
Cover the dough by inserting the entire bowl into a fresh garbage bag. Let rise for about an hour, until double in bulk. You may let it rise for a longer period of time, but not too much as it will develop a yeasty taste.
Now you’re ready to do hafrashas challah, the special mitzvah, commandment, of separating a piece of dough. In the times of the Temple, this piece was given to a kohen, a member of the priestly family, to enjoy. Today, we burn this piece instead. While standing and with your right hand, pinch off a small piece of the dough without detaching it. Ashkenazim recite the blessing “lihafrish challah (min ha-eesah)” and Sephardim recite the blessing “lihafrish challah terumah.” Separate the piece of dough you are holding in your right hand; some people say “harei zu challah.” Wrap the piece well and burn completely (you can do this in the oven, but not while other bread is baking.)
Like all of Jewish law, there are many more details than this and you should be in touch with a qualified Orthodox rabbi with any questions. You can read more about this mitzvahhere orhere.
Punch down the risen dough and divide into four equal parts. Each part can make either two medium-sized challos or 12-16 small rolls. Braid (more on this shortly) and brush with one egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon of water. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.
When the braiding is almost completed, preheat the oven to 325F. Wait five minutes, turn off the oven; let challos rise in the hot oven and they will be ready to bake in about ten minutes. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes; rolls need only 30 minutes. (Baking time will vary according to your oven so watch carefully the first few times.) If you will be transferring challah hot, use a pillowcase instead of a plastic bag.
Back to braiding:
You can make a standard braid with three strands, but you’ll get a more impressive creation with six strands. Here’s one way of making a six-rope braid:
Connect six ropes of dough at one end. Grasp the two rightmost ropes, one in each hand. Swing both hands toward the left, dropping the rope in your right hand to the middle of the four ropes on the table. Your left hand continues holding its rope. With the now-empty right hand, pick up the leftmost rope. Swing both hands back toward the right, dropping the rope in your left hand to the middle of the four ropes on the table. Your right hand continues holding its rope. With your left hand, pick up the rightmost rope, swing back toward the left. Continue swinging and dropping back and forth. Pinch the ropes together at the end when done, tuck under a bit if desired. This is easier than it sounds and comes out beautiful.
If that was way too complicated for you, try this easy four-strand method: With four ropes of dough connected at the top, take one of the rightmost rope and go over and under and over the other three. Repeat with the next rope, which is now the outer one on the right side. Continue in this fashion until the entire challah is braided.
For pretty rolls, you can simply make a rope and knot it. If you bring the bottom end up through the little hold formed by the knot, it looks even nicer.
These challos can be frozen and pulled out later and warmed up for a fresh-out-of-the-oven taste.