Sunday, August 24, 2008

What Makes A Godol and Why We Are Being Lead Down The Wrong Path!

A reader's thoughts....

First in a three part series.

As a child growing up in a community out of town, we were always taught that the large yeshivas in New York and other places were where we should aspire to go. My first experience with the culture of New York was when I went to a camp with other children, many from New York, who instead of welcoming me into a group with a nice sholom aleichem where are you from as I had been brought up to do instead came with we don't know you just stay out of our way this summer.

Thank G-D I have been raised with enough self confidence to ignore that, and B"H they came around after a period of time and I enjoyed my summer but even after 30 years I do not value any one of them as a true friend. Lessons learned in youth stay forever.

I recently spent a Shabbos in Camp Morris and while davening in the shul and the beis midrash I did not receive one sholom aleichem. Believe me it was not because every bochor was learning, it was because they couldn't care about making a Jew feel welcome . It is not just a Chaim Berlin problem it is a problem in Lakewood and other places as well.

Why is that? Because the rabbinical giants of of yesteryear don't exist today . Read the stories of Rabbi Aryeh Levine, how every Jew was made to feel welcome, religious or not, in his home. How he took orphans in and fed them worried about a child in the street. Read the stories of Rabbi Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld who despite his advanced age went to the Diskin orphanage to visit the orphans before every yomtov, and when a new arrival came into his community he did not rest till suitable accommodations where found. Read the stories of Reb Moshe Feinstein taking the time to teach a child mishna at night, so that he could enter his school. (unfortunately the Tendler family is destroying that legacy with their very existence)

Read the stories about Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz who greeted everyone with a broad sholom aleichem, and cared for bochurim like they were his children, not a cash cow. Read the stories about the previous Lubavitcher rebbe who under threat of death under Communism made a pact with his chassidim to educate Jewish children under Communisim. Read the stories about the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l who worried about every single Jew around the world and created a baal teshuva movement that has saved countless of Jewish souls from assimilation. Read the life story of Mottel the shochet who stayed in Russia to help Jews, even when given and exit visa, only to come to America in his eighties and have his life story translated and stolen by Dovid Goldwasser and published by Artscroll (crooks, liars and thieves).

Today these so called rabbis are interested in themselves, not their students. Interested in their kovod and not humility, and they truly have destroyed a generation of boys and girls. (who among us who has a daughter coming home from seminary, believe we need to have a detox program for their own safety).

Now in today's age of children who instead of taking care of the parents,they are now sponging of their parents. With thanks to UOJ for a forum that is dedicated to helping turn back the clock to when Jews were G-D fearing Jews, and hardworking and frum meant just that, not food stamps - relief - unemployment and medicare.

Humbly - from someone involved in tzorchie tzibbur.

Lessons from the grave

Jonathan Rosenblum
Aug. 21, 2008

Never have the boundaries between the private and public been so blurred. Agonizing deaths from cancer used to occur off-stage. No longer.

In some cases, at least, that blurring of lines has been salutary. Three million viewers have watched Randy Pausch's appropriately named, The Last Lecture delivered to a packed auditorium at Carnegie-Mellon University, after the 47-year-old professor (and everyone in the audience) knew that he had only a few months to live. One watches transfixed by the knowledge that someone so alive, so exuberant will soon be dead. Not once in the nearly hour and a half lecture does he lapse, even momentarily, into anything resembling self-pity.

He convinces us that he would not trade his life, no matter how truncated, for any other. With the exception of playing in the NFL, he has realized every one of his childhood dreams - winning lots of stuffed animals in amusement parks, meeting Captain Kirk of Star Trek, being an Imagineer at Disney World. (After The Last Lecture became famous, he even got to scrimmage with the Pittsburgh Steelers.)

He will not live to see his greatest contribution to mankind - software programs that will allow millions to learn difficult material in such a fun manner that they will not even know they they are learning - in mass production. But he is cool with that: Like Moses, he offers, he can see the promised land, even if he will not enter it.

In the Jewish tradition, we wish ourselves and others "length of days and years." The former refers to the amount of living packed into each day. And by that standard, Randy Pausch lived a very long life.

Religious faith is one of the subjects that Pausch explicitly excluded from The Last Lecture. The only deathbed conversion to which he would admit was to Macintosh. Much of what he has to impart, of course, would make good sermon material. The biggest thrill of a popular 10-year course, in which student teams create virtual realities, was helping students experience the joy of making others happy. If he could give one piece of advice, it would be: "Tell the truth - at all times." His summary of his life lessons: If you do the right thing, good things have a way of happening (though not necessarily in the way you expect).

UNLIKE PAUSCH, Tony Snow Jr., US President George W. Bush's former press secretary, who passed away recently from colon cancer at 53, left no final speech. But he did address the "unique gift" of a life-threatening illness several times in his syndicated column - and from the point of view of a man of faith.

Winston Churchill once observed that there is nothing that quite sharpens one's perceptions so much as being shot at without effect. The heightened perception of a bullet whizzing past one's head is momentary; that of cancer, however, lasts at least five years until remission is assured. In the meantime, Snow wrote, "The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense."

He relished the clarity he had been granted, "the field of vision others don't have [about] the mystical power of love... the gravitational pull of faith... the power of hope and limits of fear, [and] a firm set of convictions about what really matters and what does not." He came to see the prospect of death as an opportunity to "fight for the things that give life its richness, meaning and joy."

As they confronted death, Pausch and Snow both felt a strong need to share some of the lessons they had gleaned from the process of dying. Pausch confided that the theme of his talk - "realizing your dreams" - was really an example of what he called "head fake" learning. His real subject: How to live your life. For his part, Snow rejoiced in the "street credibility" he had gained when it comes to counseling cancer patients. He wrote of his obligation to share the insights he had gained with others, "the most important of which is: There are things far worse than illness - for instance, soullessness."

While the approach of death might be expected to increase self-involvement, the lesson both men drew was the opposite. "Focus on others," said Pausch. "Life does not revolve around us. It envelopes us," wrote Snow. They were clear about the immense amount of good that lies within most people. Snow discovered in sickness how much "people want to do good for others; they just need excuses." And one of Pausch's cardinal rules was: "Wait long enough, and people will both surprise and impress you."

Both achieved much in the short span of years allotted to them, but in the end it was the relationships made that counted most - friends, mentors and, above all, family. Pausch concluded his lecture by revealing his second "head fake" - "This wasn't for you; it was for my kids" - as the names of his three children appeared on a blackened overhead screen.

"We count our hardships, but not our blessings, Snow wrote in one column. And chief among those was the love of his wife and children.

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Tony Snow's reflections on dying through William Kristol's eulogy in The New York Times. The Christian Snow had caused the Jewish Kristol to question his lifetime assumption that melancholy and existential angst are the hallmarks of intellectual depth. "Could it be that a stance of faith-based optimism is in fact superior to one of worldly pessimism or sophisticated fatalism?" Kristol wondered.

And I wondered, with sadness, whether Kristol had ever been exposed to the riches of his own tradition on the challenges faced by Randy Pausch and Tony Snow - what the rabbis called "accepting afflictions with love."

Has he read Making Sense of Suffering, a book version of classes given by Rabbi Yitzchak Kirzner, after he had "earned" the right to speak on the subject by being diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early 40s? Could he imagine a young woman who did not even know she was Jewish until her early 20s, but who as she lay dying, surrounded by her husband and young children, less than 20 years later, could say, "I really have to work on my fear of God because I'm so overwhelmed by His love?" Has he witnessed the quiet strength of someone stricken with the dread disease still struggling to make it to the early morning minyan on time, while hiding his plight from others?

A woman once told Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the founder of Aish Hatorah, about a new group for strengthening the family. One of their main ideas was a day every week, in which the family spent time together, cut off from external distractions like TV, cellphones and Internet. Another was regular periods of sexual abstinence between husbands and wives to keep the fires of passion stoked, while forcing the couple to relate on other levels as well. "Why couldn't Judaism have something like that?" she asked the dumbfounded rabbi.

We owe Randy Pausch and Tony Snow an immense debt of gratitude for their courage, eloquence and examples of how living well is the best preparation for death. The debt will be even greater if they spur Jews to examine their own tradition concerning death and dying.

Devorim: The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity!

By Rabbi Simon Jacobson

Devorim: The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity. Nine Days Minus One. A few days ago I bumped into an old friend whom I have not seen for 34 years. He was my high school classmate, and back then we were close friends.I could not control my tears – not over meeting my friend after all these years, but over the state he was in.

Unnaturally thin and jittery, (I shall call him) Michael was clearly a junkie. He had an awkward smile on his face and I saw that we would not be able to have an honest conversation.He was such a promising student. Bright and creative, shy and gentle, we always thought that Michael would do some great things with his life. Here he stood before me on a street corner nervously rolling a cigarette, shifting eyes, a mere skeleton and specter of the Michael I once knew and admired.To my question "Where do you live?" he sadly answered, "I don't have my own place, I move around. Housing in New York is expensive…" "Are you working, earning an income?" "Yes, I'm eking out a living here and there." I offered help, but knew that Michael would not follow up.I touched upon some of the deepest beliefs that we shared together, back when we ere teenagers in Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway. But Michael was detached. He spoke about the past as if it was not about him. He was far gone, in a different orbit. Had I tried to hug him he would have recoiled.

I will never forget the Shabbos walk we took together when Michael began sliding so many years ago. At the time he was trying to convince me to join him in, what he called an innocuous, game of gambling at cards. As we walked down Eastern Parkway he asked if I minded that he lit up a cigarette. Always the gentle soul, Michael was being sensitive to my sentiments about Shabbos. I chose not to answer, and Michael took that as an ok.As time passed I noticed the visible differences in Michael as he became consumed with the "weed" and his daily routines began to orbit around his next "hit." Conversations, usually so stimulating, began to dull. His usually clarity and sharp wit became an afterthought. He would spend hours in his basement apartment all alone. He was slipping and slipping fast, in a vicious ruinous cycle. It was the first time I was ever exposed to the utter wasting of a human being due to drug addiction.

Nothing else matters. You look forward to nothing as much as the drug and its effects. "It" becomes your nurturer, your best friend, the one you turn to in times of need, the final recourse when all else fails. Every minute of your waking hours – and even asleep – every decision, every move, is determined by the next "high."And then, perhaps worst of all, is the loneliness. A loneliness that I cannot begin to imagine – and one that demonstrates how utterly destructive this "lifestyle" can become – you are all alone with your obsession, with your compulsion, only you and your dark desire. And every time you succumb, the lonelier it gets. At some point the human psyche must snap into a submission to this "new reality" simply to be able to survive and not be overcome by sheer shame and desperation.Once caught in this mad whirlpool, there seemed no way out for Michael. And then we graduated, each of us going our own way.

Now, 32 years later, he is still controlled by the dark demon within. He lives in world of shadows, seemingly always on the run. Escaping what? Himself above all. Why they call it "substance abuse" seems odd; it's not abuse of the substance, but of yourself. What happened to this young man that I knew? And to so many others like him?-- As I am writing these words I realize that they may come across as judgmental or condescending. That is the farthest of my intentions. We all have our vices and ugly corners. We are taught that seeing a fault in another is like looking in a mirror: It is a reflection of our own shortcomings.

Michael for me is a mirror image of the dark obsessions that we all are capable of falling into. --What happened to Michael and what happens to each of us when another force takes control of our lives?Your inner dignity – what the Kabbalists call Malchus – is damaged.And that's why I chose to write about this subject today. We now stand in the Nine Days, the saddest period of the Jewish calendar, due to the destruction of the Holy Temple and other tragedies that took place during these days, culminating with Tisha B'Av (this Sunday) – the saddest day of all, when the Temple actually went up in flames.Annually this period is honored as a time of mourning and grief over our losses. Tisha b'Av is a 24-hour fast day (beginning at night), the lights are dimmed, we sit on low stools and recite lamentations.As continuously discussed in this column, we are not simply grieving over past events, but over all forms of destruction in our lives – every form of grief and loss evolves from the rupturing of the bond between spirit and matter that occurred when the Divine presence in the Temple no longer found a "home" in our material universe and was compelled to go into "hiding."Each of us has an indispensable soul within, which is the ultimate root of all confidence and sense of purpose.

Our convictions, hopes and greatest dreams flow form our inner "malchus' – a profound sense of dignity and majesty that stems from the Divine image in which we were all created. It is the feeling that "you matter" and you have the power to achieve anything you set your mind to.In contrast, what is the root of all destruction? The annihilation of malchus – when this dignity is violated.The Arizal explains why the Fifteenth of Av is the greatest of holidays ("there were no greater holidays for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur"), because its full moon follows and repairs the "destruction" of the "moon" (Malchus) on Tisha b'Av, when the Temple was destroyed. The greatness of the ascent is in direct proportion to the depths of the descent that precedes it.Looking now at my old friend Michael, meeting him during these Nine Days, I see with my own eyes how his malchus/dignity was destroyed. Destroyed on a conscious level. Once that part of you – your purest element, the one that feeds your sense of self-value – is compromised, it's just a matter of time that your life begins to spiral downward out of control, in one form or another.

For some it takes on the shape of raw dysfunctionality. Others are creative enough to find ways to remain functional ("functional addicts") to some extent, and learn how to "cover their tracks" as they maneuver their way day to day. Variations are as numerous as people themselves. Seeing someone use their creative juices – not to mention the energy, time and money wasted – for such machinations is, of course, one of the saddest things to observe. Often arrogance is one of the mechanisms used (usually unintentionally) to cover up low self-esteem (a weak sense of malchus).The question, however, begs: What could bring someone to compromise their own sense of self-worth? Who in their right mind would allow their inner dignity to be violated?

Human nature is such that we would anything to not allow ourselves to be humiliated, let alone to allow our entire dignity to be undermined.The answer is obvious from the question: At the outset no one ever damages their own malchus/dignity. Any such damage is always initiated by someone outside ourselves: A parent, an educator, an adult – anyone that we may have trusted can hurt us, especially in our most vulnerable and impressionable childhood years.Not along ago, I conversed with a psychologist who specializes in youth at risk, focusing primarily on kids in the religious Jewish community. I asked him for his experienced opinion on why some young adults break away from the lifestyle and traditions of their own families and communities. None of us are immune to temptations and challenges. In most cases people learn to cope with their vices – some carry them undercover, other carry on dual lives or worse – without a need to break away ostensibly from the larger community.

Why then do others make an actual public and pronounced break – they cease to be openly observant or some other manifest expression of changing their lifestyles? Are they simply more honest? Do they have greater temptations than the norm? Is it due to their upbringing? Is it genetic? Do they lack certain coping skills, and if so, why? Or is it perhaps the other way around: They are smarter and actually deny faith due to their philosophical skepticism? His answer startled me. "First I considered all the factors you mention – honesty, intelligence, family – but I came to realize that they cannot account for most cases and don't reflect any patterns that point to one cause or another.

There are children from excellent families as well as broken ones that remain within the community. The same is with both skeptics and conformists, and the other identifiable categories."People are natural social creatures. They gravitate to groups and communities, and in most instances loath total isolation. They crave peer approval. Even non-conformists (which is a minority in any group) need social interaction. Most people, even radical individualists, will usually maintain their social identity, identifying with the communities of their upbringing. In most cases, only a radical jolt to the psyche will cause someone to explicitly break away from their peer group.

"In my experience I am slowly coming to the conclusion that in many of these cases the radical jolt began with some form of sexual molestation, in which the child's inner dignity was violated.

When someone is hurt on that level it defiles the innermost, intimate dimensions of the psyche; it drives the child into silence (out of shame and fear he will not speak about the abuse with parents or teachers), a silence and loneliness that eats away, like a cancer, at the child's inner dignity."In many such instances a child has enough resilience to absorb the blow and come out intact. But in sustained abuse, or if it is a particularly sensitive child, or other unique factors, the violation – and the related shame, silence and loneliness – will jolt the child into another orbit, making him susceptible to further radical changes.

Then, when you add pot or other drugs into the equation – which a young adult may take recreationally; or due to escapism; to relieve the inner anxiety and shame; out of mediocrity and boredom and the search for a high – these drugs diminish natural inhibitions and thus can actually alter human personality, including the need to remain within ones family and community structure."So, combine all the above, coupled with hormones and other natural factors – the volatile combination, ignited by the jolting catalyst, can actually cause someone to make the radical jump and abandon their past."I know that this is a radical theory, which may be impossible to substantiate, due to the fact that most victims do not acknowledge or may bee unaware of the effects of their own experiences." "So, what do you suggest?" I asked the psychologist.

"Zero tolerance of any form of abuse in our schools, homes and camps. Absolute and unequivocal action must be taken to not allow any such behavior, and to immediately take action if any such report is made, and not push it under the rug due to 'inconvenience' and scandal."Whether you agree or disagree with this psychologist's ideas, it definitely provides food for thought.

Obviously, great care has to be taken not to stereotype anyone and try to over generalize and develop formulas without regarding the complexities of life. Not everything can and needs to be explained. Yet, due to the serious crisis – and so many beautiful souls adrift – we are behooved to look into these issues and see what preventive medicine can be employed in our homes and schools, and what interventions need to be immediately deployed once there is a violation.I know that this is a heavy – and terribly sad – topic.

But when else to speak about it then in the Nine Days…The lesson of these days teaches us the terrible consequences of malchus/dignity violated. But awareness of the problem is half its cure: It also instructs us how to repair the rupture: Just as dignity (malchus) on earth was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, we have the power of the full moon on the Fifteenth of Menachem Av to restore dignity, and with even greater intensity then the original.For the sake of our children and their future we need to address these issues head-on, and come up with both preemptive actions as well as appropriate methods to rebuild dignity once it was compromised. Parents and educators must know that we carry great responsibility and power – with life and death consequences – in cultivating and nurturing the dignity and souls of our children.

And this begins not when the child is twenty, ten, or even two years old. It begins at the moment of birth, and even at the moment of conception.We live in a profoundly insecure world; malchus/dignity is the most lacking dimension. Even if we may have plenty of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, love, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility and bonding (the first nine sefirot) – they are only nine, as in the Ninth of Av; without the tenth – and most important – dimension, we are missing the foundation of all life: inner security, self-worth and dignity that makes all the other nine worth their weight and imbues us with the confidence to use our nine faculties with conviction and sense of urgency and destiny.Now the challenge is:

How do I convey this to my friend Michael and to so many others? I am open to any ideas.