Thinking Torah | RSS Feed http://thinkingtorah.com Torah for everyday life Tue, 31 Mar 2015 09:04:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 You Are NOT Charlie http://thinkingtorah.com/you-are-not-charlie/ http://thinkingtorah.com/you-are-not-charlie/#comments Sun, 11 Jan 2015 19:25:44 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1790 It didn’t take long for the wannabes to claim the mantle of daring journalism. It seems it took only a few hours until the saying Je Suis Charlie showed up on Twitter and tee shirts. I understand why the media outlets are so upset by the attack on Charlie Hebdo. They view the attack as […]

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It didn’t take long for the wannabes to claim the mantle of daring journalism. It seems it took only a few hours until the saying Je Suis Charlie showed up on Twitter and tee shirts.

I understand why the media outlets are so upset by the attack on Charlie Hebdo. They view the attack as being against all journalists.

Therefore, they will wring their hands about this terrorist attack much more than they do when Jews in Israel are murdered.

All I can say is: “Baloney!”

You are NOT Charlie.

What have you done to champion free speech against those who would vilify you? And maybe kill you?

Not so many weeks ago there was a movement on the UC Berkeley campus to block Bill Maher from speaking. What was his crime? He’d dared to be critical of Islam.

Whose side did you take in that issue?

Free Speech? Depends Where

Let’s continue to look at US college campuses.

Does your local college have a “speech code” or a designated “free speech” area on campus?

What have you done to fight this blatant violation of the the First Amendment?

Some college students have been harassed or worse because they tried to distribute literature outside of the “free speech” area on their campus.

In one very poignant case, a student was stopped from distributing the US Constitution. On Constitution Day!

Stolen Valor

There’s a concept that’s gotten a bit of publicity recently known as “stolen valor.”

Stolen valor is when a person who has not served in the US Armed Forces tries to be honored as a service member by wearing, for example, an Army uniform.

Many people appreciate the service performed by those men and women who volunteer to serve in the military. They will treat them with respect and deference when they see them. Some businesses offer soldiers wearing their uniforms discounts.

You will now find some low-lifes who try to take advantage of this and wear a military uniform that they have not earned the right to wear.

Stolen valor.

Je suis Charlie

I say, if you haven’t been on the front lines of the fight for freedom of the press, then you haven’t earned the right to proclaim “Je suis Charlie.”

Rather, find a tag line you can rightfully claim. It seems there are plenty of other aspects of Western culture that infuriate the Muslim terrorists around the world.

For myself, here’s what I claim:

Je suis Americain. I am an American.

Je suis Israelien. I am an Israeli.

Je suis Juif. I am a Jew.

 
Picture Credit: From the Charlie Hebdo website CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
 

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Butler and Baker http://thinkingtorah.com/butler-and-baker/ http://thinkingtorah.com/butler-and-baker/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:00:20 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1778 Vayeishev 5775 This week’s parasha ends with Yosef in prison. He’s been a model prisoner and has been put in charge of all the other prisoners. Then Paro gets angry with his chief butler and chief baker and throws them into the same prison with Yosef. One night the butler and baker have dreams that […]

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Vayeishev 5775

This week’s parasha ends with Yosef in prison.

He’s been a model prisoner and has been put in charge of all the other prisoners.

Then Paro gets angry with his chief butler and chief baker and throws them into the same prison with Yosef.

One night the butler and baker have dreams that leave them troubled.

Yosef interprets the dreams and his interpretation comes to pass a few days later.

Why Different Interpretations?

That’s the basic story.

One thing that bothers a lot of people is why did Yosef interpret one dream in a positive way and the other in a negative way.

One the surface the dreams seem very similar.

Why not give them both a positive spin?

The Text

Here’s the relevant text of each dream. I’m using the translation from The Rashi Chumash.

Chief Butler

Bereshit 40
9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, saying to him: In my dream, behold, a grapevine before me.

10 And on the grapevine, three shoots, which seemed to bud. And its blossom sprouted; and its cluster brought forth grapes.

11 And Pharaoh’s goblet was in my hand. And I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s goblet; and I placed the goblet on Pharaoh’s hand.

Chief Baker

Bereshit 40
16 And the chief baker saw that he had interpreted well, and he said to Joseph: I, too, in my dream; and, behold, three wicker baskets on my head.

17 And in the top basket, of all the food of Pharaoh, the work of a baker. And the birds ate them from the basket on my head.

The Butler’s Good Interpretation

The butler’s dream opens with a grapevine. A grapevine by itself is neutral.

With Noach he planted grapevines and then became drunk with disastrous results.

On the other hand, in Tehillim 104:15 wine is praised because it “gladdens man’s heart.”

In verse 10, as the butler watches, the grapevine begins to fulfill its potential as it bring forth shoots, blossoms, and finally grapes.

Then in verse 11 the butler is active. He takes, he squeezes, he places the goblet in Paro’s hand. The butler is clearly fulfilling his role in the royal palace.

In fact, he’s perhaps even going beyond his normal role. I assume that normally he only served the wine. In his dream he is also depicted as one who actively makes the wine.

My key take away here is that the butler is active and fulfilling his potential.

The Baker’s Bad Interpretation

However, the baker is not at all active in his dream.

In his dream he sees himself with wicker baskets on his head.

A wicker basket is not very elegant. I would assume that Paro would not have his food brought to his table in a mere wicker basket.

The basket is filled with Paro’s food. That’s a good sign. But, it’s only called “the work of a baker.” It’s not identified as the work of the chief baker.

Finally, the food is destroyed by birds. Even if it wasn’t destroyed, could it be brought to Paro after birds had pecked at it?

Also, the fact that birds ate the food indicate that the birds were not afraid of the chief baker. In general, birds will not come close to a living person.

Unlike the butler, the chief baker is not active and he is not fulfilling his normal role. In fact, by seeing himself as carrying bread on his head, he’s not acting like a baker at all.

As you can see at Shuk Machne Yehuda, it’s not the bakers who are carrying bread and other baked goods to the stalls for sale. All of the carrying is done by ordinary delivery boys.

Conclusion

There was good reason for Yosef to see a bright future for the chief butler because he was active in his dream doing his normal work.

However, the chief baker already appeared to be so lifeless that even the birds were not afraid of him.

 

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Rachel and Leah http://thinkingtorah.com/rachel-and-leah/ http://thinkingtorah.com/rachel-and-leah/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:55:13 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1628 Vayeitze 5775 It’s easy to detect the competition between Rachel and Leah for Yaakov’s affections in Parashat Vayeitze. Though Yaakov married both sisters, it’s clear that Rachel was his favorite. Look at Bereshit 29 (Artscroll translation): After giving birth to four sons, Leah stopped having children. Dudaim In Bereshit 30:14-15 the Torah records the incident […]

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Vayeitze 5775

It’s easy to detect the competition between Rachel and Leah for Yaakov’s affections in Parashat Vayeitze.

Though Yaakov married both sisters, it’s clear that Rachel was his favorite.

Look at Bereshit 29 (Artscroll translation):

30 He consorted also with Rachel and loved Rachel even more than Leah; and he worked for him yet another seven years.
31 Hashem saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb; but Rachel remained barren.

After giving birth to four sons, Leah stopped having children.

Dudaim

In Bereshit 30:14-15 the Torah records the incident of Reuvain (Leah’s oldest son) finding the dudaim. Rachel asks for some. Leah gives them to her in trade for the opportunity to sleep with Yaakov that night.

Leah is rewarded:

Bereshit 30:17 God hearkened [Hebrew: shin mem ayin] to Leah; and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.

Finally, Rachel has a son:

Bereshit 30:22 God remembered [Hebrew: zayin kaf reish] Rachel; God hearkened [Hebrew: shin mem ayin] to her and He opened her womb.

Notice that Rachel requires both God’s remembering and hearkening.

Even though Leah had come to a point in her life where she was no longer bearing children, she only required God’s hearkening before she had another child.

No doubt, both women were praying to God to have children.

But, Rachel had been pushed so far to the side that before her prayer could be answered she needed God to first “remember” her.

Rosh Hashanah Musaf

In our musaf tefillot on Rosh HaShanah we mention three major themes: God’s kingship, His remembering, and the sound of the shofar.

Here are the verses from the Torah that we say during musaf about God’s remembering:

Bereshit 8:1 God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the animals that were with him in the ark
 
Shemot 2:24 God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
 
Vayikra 26:42 I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember, and I will remember the Land.

Of course, God does not forget and later suddenly recall something.

The idea of remembering is as if God brings that person to the front of His mind.

All of the verses from the Rosh HaShanah musaf deal with a situation where a group has been exiled. That is, they are taken away from what is natural and put in a difficult situation. Then, God remembers them and they are redeemed.

So too with Rachel. She had been “exiled” when God closed her womb, because the natural status of a young woman is to be able to bear children.

When it is time for her to finally have children, God remembers her and hears her prays and opens her womb.

By way of contrast, Leah was never “exiled” so God did not have to first remember her.

Picture credit: Jacob greets Rachel
 

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IDF and Religion http://thinkingtorah.com/idf-and-religion/ http://thinkingtorah.com/idf-and-religion/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:57:34 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1618 The modern State of Israel continues to struggle with its identity. Is this a Jewish State or a state where some Jews happen to live? I’ve seen two manifestations of this problem already this week. Yesterday it was the Jewish State bill. One argument about that bill is whether to emphasize the Jewish nature of […]

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The modern State of Israel continues to struggle with its identity.

Is this a Jewish State or a state where some Jews happen to live?

I’ve seen two manifestations of this problem already this week.

Yesterday it was the Jewish State bill. One argument about that bill is whether to emphasize the Jewish nature of Israel or its democratic nature. (As an aside, I’m almost 100% certain that most Israelis have no clue what democracy means.)

Now there are reports in Arutz 7 that some Kenesset members are upset that soldiers in the IDF are “too” religious.

In an open discussion held by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee for Personnel in the IDF on Monday [November 24], the Knesset looked into the phenomenon that saw numerous IDF units visiting the Kotel (Western Wall) and other Jewish sites during the operation [Operation Protective Edge]. The Knesset session was surprisingly framed as a talk about “religious radicalization.”

I’ve been under the impression that all new recruits to the IDF hold ceremonies at the Kotel. And all of them are given a Tanach.

That’s already pretty radical.

One of the topics to be raised in the discussion was the message sent by Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter to his troops at the start of the operation, in which he wrote the brigade was going out against “the terrorist Gazan enemy that curses, reviles and insults the G-d of the campaigns of Israel.”

The invocation of G-d made a stir in the media, and led Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) to criticize Winter, noting not all IDF soldiers are religious, or even Jewish.

I’ll point out to the Defense Minister that even though not all soldiers are religious, and not all of them are Jewish, our enemies in Gaza wanted them all dead, along with all the rest of the Jewish people.

Any soldier who felt left out by Col. Winter’s message should go find another country to live in.

In addition, Minister Ya’alon and the Kenesset should spend their time rethinking the idea of warning our enemies where the next attack is coming. That “humanitarian” tactic killed more IDF soldiers than any trips to the Kotel.

Picture credit:
Flickr – IDF Online

 

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Jewish Meditation Course http://thinkingtorah.com/jewish-meditation-course/ http://thinkingtorah.com/jewish-meditation-course/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:29:15 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1546 It was the Shabbat after Rosh HaShana. I was at shul for mincha. And because it was a bright, sunny day most of the lower windows in the shul were open. It was time to take out the Sefer Torah. I stood and moved towards the ark. As I did I heard an odd noise […]

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It was the Shabbat after Rosh HaShana. I was at shul for mincha. And because it was a bright, sunny day most of the lower windows in the shul were open.

It was time to take out the Sefer Torah. I stood and moved towards the ark.

As I did I heard an odd noise over my left shoulder.

I looked around and didn’t see anything.

I turned back toward the ark and heard the sound again.

Again I turned to my left and this time I spotted the source of the noise.

A small sparrow-like bird was sitting on a narrow ledge inside the shul looking out of one of the closed upper windows.

Only one inch below the bird was an open window. But the bird insisted in trying to fly straight ahead.

The bird flapped its wings to fly away, but only succeeded in hitting its beak against the closed window.

The Sefer Torah was brought out of the ark and carried to the bimah.

I continued to watch the bird in its futile attempts to fly through the closed window.

I wanted to help. I knew I could help. But, I also knew that my help would not be accepted.

I wanted to tell the bird, “All you need to do is drop down three inches and then you can fly through the open window.”

After a few minutes the bird tired of trying to fly through the closed window.

The bird bravely flew to the chandelier over the bimah, landed for two seconds and then launched itself toward the window on the far side of the ark.

This window was completely closed.

By now the sound of the bird and its flying was attracting more attention.

A teenager spotted the bird and went to open the closed window. The bird immediately flew away to the other end of the shul.

About ten windows on the west side of the shul were open. I was rooting for the bird to spot one of them.

The bird landed on the shelf next to the last window on the west side of the shul. The … only … closed … window on that side.

What’s the Point?

Why am I telling you this story?

As I watched the bird, I started thinking how we can often be just like that bird.

The bird felt trapped. However, it wasn’t trapped at all.

There were easy solutions to the bird’s problem. The bird just couldn’t see past it’s current condition and the futile “solutions” it was trying.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in the past. A problem that seemed overwhelming was cut down to size by a person who was able to guide you toward a new approach.

One problem many of us feel is that life is moving too fast.

We can use a guide to help us find a good path to self-awareness and fulfillment.

Jewish Meditation

My friend and neighbor, Shalom Tzvi Shore, has created a Jewish meditation course, online, which he is offering for free to readers of Thinking Torah.

Although meditation has strong historical roots in Judaism (which his course touches upon), there is a need for greater awareness and practical application of meditation for today.

On one hand, there is the perception that Buddhists are the sole proprietors of meditation. And on the other hand, today’s fast-paced life makes it harder than ever to develop the self-awareness and emotional connection to Jewish practice, both essential parts of living life as a holistic Jew.

Shalom Tzvi calls his meditations “Hishtalmoot” meditations, from the Hebrew word implying perfection in process. He explains that the goal of these meditations is to help you accept yourself as you are in the present moment, and simultaneously inspire you to grow into a more refined human being.

Course Topics

The course covers the following topics, and includes the corresponding guided meditations:

  1. What is meditation | How to deeply relax in 3.5 minutes
  2. What makes meditation Jewish | Feeling the Creator’s love
  3. Perspective is everything | Your favorite place
  4. Time and space | Western Wall Meditation
  5. Identity and values | Out-of-body experiences
  6. Love, sex and opposites | Your ideal spouse
  7. The power of choice | (not so) Great expectations
  8. They’re all in your head | Your inner child
  9. The source of all your problems | Gestalt explorations
  10. Secret BONUS recording

Back to the Bird

As I left shul at the end of mincha, I didn’t see the bird.

I noticed that someone had opened the last window on the west side.

The bird had found a solution to its problem.

What about you?

Jewish meditation may not solve all of your problems. But, why not give it a try?

To access the free Jewish Meditation Course, click on the blue button. Once you enter your name and email address you will get instructions and guided meditations delivered to your inbox once a week.

Free Jewish Meditation Course

I’ve done it. I suggest you do it too.

Here’s the link again for Shalom Tzvi’s Jewish Meditation Course.
 

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The Power of Habit – Is This the Key to Teshuva? http://thinkingtorah.com/the-power-of-habit/ http://thinkingtorah.com/the-power-of-habit/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 17:37:18 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1537 When I first heard the idea my reaction was very negative. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings. We think about what we are doing. We weigh the options and then we act. However, a Duke University researcher claims that more than 40% of the things you and me do each day are […]

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When I first heard the idea my reaction was very negative.

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings.

We think about what we are doing.

We weigh the options and then we act.

However, a Duke University researcher claims that more than 40% of the things you and me do each day are not rational decisions.

We are acting based on the habits we’ve formed since childhood.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we can change those habits.

I’ve been reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s been a real eye-opener.

Update

I just found a short video from the author of The Power of Habit explaining how he used the methods he describes in the book to lose 12 pounds. You can watch it at the bottom of this post.

Update

It’s always satisfying to hear feedback from my posts here on Thinking Torah.
 

Here’s the pat on the back I got from author Charles Duhigg:

Charles Duhigg says thank you

The Habit Loop

Fortunately, on one level, it’s not hard to change a habit.

All we have to understand is what Duhigg calls the habit loop.

The habit loop is the sequence of
cue -> routine -> reward
that we’ve formed because we’ve repeated the pattern often enough.

A great example is tying your shoes.

As a kid it was a major challenge to learn how to correctly tie your shoes. (Yes, I mean before velcro “laces” happened to kids shoes.)

Now you can do it without a second thought. Even without velcro.

That’s a useful habit.

Of course, not all habits are useful. How about the habit of eating a bag of cookies when you feel upset?

Your boss yells at you (your cue). You’re upset and grab a bag of chocolate chip cookies (your routine). During and after eating you feel better (your reward).

When we’re faced with our cue, we do the routine that gives us our reward.

The reward can be as simple as the satisfaction of knowing your shoes will stay tied. Or it can be the feeling of consolation that comes from eating a bag of cookies.

Craving

There’s another aspect of the habit loop.

It takes more than the
cue -> routine -> reward
to create a habit.

What’s also needed is a craving. It’s when you and I crave the reward that we will form a permanent habit.

If you feel unloved after your boss yells at you and eating the cookies seems to fill that lack, then you can develop a habit of eating cookies at such times.

This can also explain why some people develop a habit of exercising regularly.

Many people start an exercise routine but don’t keep up with it.

Researchers in New Mexico discovered that those who started to crave the reward that came with exercise were more likely to continue the routine.

The craving can take various forms such as “I feel good after I exercise.”

“I feel a sense of accomplishment after exercise.”

“My clothes fit better now that I’m exercising.”

All that matters is that the craving is something
important to you.

The Golden Rule

The next key to understanding habits is to understand the Golden Rule …

We all have habits that we want to change.

I’m sure when you look at your life (just like when I look at mine), you’re not happy with everything about yourself.

How often have you thought, “Why did I do that again?”

This is especially the case when I fall back into a habit that I thought I’d conquered.

It turns out, we can’t wipe out our old habits.

They are always lurking beneath the surface.

Remember, our habits are based on the habit loop:
cue -> routine -> reward.

Researchers have found that the best way to change a habit is to substitute a new routine for the old routine.

Before I wrote about this habit loop:
Your boss yells at you (your cue). You’re upset and grab a bag of chocolate chip cookies (your routine). During and after the eating you feel better (your reward).

Often the cue is beyond your control. Your boss will yell at you at times.

Also, the reward you want may not be unreasonable. It’s OK to want to feel better.

But maybe you realize that eating a bag of chocolate chip cookies is not the best way to get your reward.

What you can do is find a new routine that can be a substitute for eating. Perhaps after your boss yells you can watch funny cat videos for 15 minutes.

Or go for a walk around the block.

In many ways it doesn’t matter what you substitute.

The substitute routine needs to be one that can give you a similar reward you got from the old routine.

So what’s the Golden Rule of Habit Change?

It turns out, you have to believe you can change.

You will only change if you think it’s possible.

Fortunately, all of the evidence is that change is possible. Alcoholics stop drinking. Smokers stop smoking. People stop biting their nails.

This isn’t a claim that change is always easy.

It can be very hard.

But, hard is not the same as impossible.

Teshuva

In the title of this article I raised the question: Is this the key to teshuva?

We all know that a critical aspect of teshuva is resolving to not repeat the sin.

We all know how hard that is.

It could be that many of the sins we commit each year are the result of habits.

I think the understanding of habits learned from The Power of Habit can give us all a powerful tool to examine our lives and change for the better.

The book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Buy it and read it. Study it. You’ll thank me for it.

Here’s the short video from the author, Charles Duhigg:

Your Turn

Your purchase of The Power of Habit

from Amazon using this link provides financial support to Thinking Torah.

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Jewish Meditation at the Kotel http://thinkingtorah.com/jewish-meditation-at-the-kotel/ http://thinkingtorah.com/jewish-meditation-at-the-kotel/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 09:05:32 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1378 “I couldn’t move”, “It was like magic” and “you must do it”, were some the responses of the ten randomly selected strangers who participated in a guided meditation intended to connect them more deeply to the Western Wall. In a seven minute video detailing the process, we can see French, Italian, American and Israeli visitors […]

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“I couldn’t move”, “It was like magic” and “you must do it”, were some the responses of the ten randomly selected strangers who participated in a guided meditation intended to connect them more deeply to the Western Wall. In a seven minute video detailing the process, we can see French, Italian, American and Israeli visitors to the Western Wall sitting in a chair at the back of the Western Wall’s plaza and instructed to visualize themselves relaxing and going back in time to when the Temple was built.

Connecting to the Kotel

“We wanted to show people how simple it is to meditate, and how powerful that experience can be,” explains Shalom Shore, who facilitated the meditation. “We designed the video in a way that a viewer anywhere in the world could have the same powerful experience of connecting deeply to the Western Wall as the film’s participants had.”

The short film features the entire guided meditation, interwoven with shots of the participants meditating and scenes from the western wall. In the video, the participants are asked to imagine themselves traveling back in time to when the Jewish temple was standing, and visualize the experience as if they were actually there. This proved to be a particularly powerful dimension of the meditation, as several participants referred to it specifically, indicating that it was their favorite part of the experience.

 

 

Why at the Kotel?

Jewish tradition considers the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem to be the holiest spot in the world, the place with the most potential for spiritual connection with God. Two temples were built on the site for a total of 830 years, culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. Ever since, for close to 2,000 years, the western supporting wall has been a site for Jews to pray for the rebuilding of the temple and to connect to God. As one participant in the meditation, an Italian catholic, described it: “This wall connects you to the story of your ancestors. This is the best way to touch the creator.”

How They Did It

To create the film, Shore and two associates, Jacob Ross and Chaya Pittleman approached random strangers at the western wall and offered them to participate in a “unique experience to connect them to the western wall.” Many people refused, but a few were open minded enough to agree to participate and benefited from a very positive experience.

Shore, an ordained rabbi and practitioner of Jewish meditation who runs workshops and counseling sessions incorporating meditation as a means for personal growth and increased self-awareness, hopes the film will help publicize and encourage other people to take up meditation. “I have found meditation to be a life-changing transformational tool, especially for people living a modern, hectic lifestyle.”

Referring to the meditation portrayed in the film as “Street Meditation”, Shore hopes to show just how easy it is to relax, and how pleasurable it is to do so. He also wishes to remind everyone not to operate heavy machinery while watching the video.

About Shalom Shore

Shalom Shore is a creative writer, marketer and growth consultant. A consultant for several startups and organizations, he also runs workshops and lectures on online marketing, social media strategy, and personal growth. Shalom enjoys creative writing, and has written multiple humor articles and scripts for films and plays. An ordained Rabbi, Shalom also writes and counsels others about personal growth and personal actualization. He currently lives in Jerusalem with his family.

You can contact Shalom at his website: http://www.shalomshore.com/about–contact.html

One More Note

The above article was received as a press release from Shalom Shore. I edited the article slightly.

I’ve know Shalom for several years now as a friend and neighbor. I can vouch for him as an all around nice guy. :-)

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Leadership in the Wilderness – Book Review http://thinkingtorah.com/leadership-in-the-wilderness-book-review/ http://thinkingtorah.com/leadership-in-the-wilderness-book-review/#comments Sun, 01 Jun 2014 08:34:57 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1374 For several months now I’ve been reading Leadership in the Wilderness by Dr. Erica Brown. During that whole time I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not to write a review. I decided some time ago to only write reviews of books that I recommend you buy and read. That’s […]

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For several months now I’ve been reading Leadership in the Wilderness by Dr. Erica Brown.

During that whole time I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not to write a review.

I decided some time ago to only write reviews of books that I recommend you buy and read.

That’s been my trouble with this book. There are aspects of it that I can definitely recommend. But, there’s another side of it that I’m not enjoying at all.

Leadership

There’s no doubt in my mind that the right leader at the right time can inspire his followers and cause them to excel.

The opposite is also true. A weak leader can cause an otherwise strong group of people to perform significantly below their abilities.

Almost every group needs a leader. This is true of small groups and becomes even more necessary for large groups.

Being a leader of a nation is not an easy task.

Dr. Brown explores the leadership tests that Moshe Rabbeinu faced in the wilderness.

It seems that they never ended. From the moment he first spoke to the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt until the end of Sefer Bamidbar there is one crisis after another.

Erica Brown seeks to peek beneath the surface of the Biblical narrative and understand Moshe as a person.

With every crisis Dr. Brown tries to answer some fundamental questions:

  • Why did Moshe act in a particular way?
  • Was his reaction appropriate?
  • What can we learn about leadership from this event?

These are important questions. I believe that Dr. Brown’s approach can teach every reader important principles of leadership.

Approaching the Torah Text

I do have some issues with Dr. Brown’s use of the Torah text and her commentary on it.

In her book I’ve found several instances where her commentary grates on me.

Let me share just one with you, some of her commentary on the story of the meraglim – the spies.

We read in Bamidbar Chapter 13:

1. And God spoke to Moshe saying,
2. Send for yourself men and they should spy out the land of Canaan that I am giving to the children of Israel …

Thirty eight years later, toward the end of his life, Moshe recounts this incident to the people who will be entering the Land:

Devarim Chapter 1
22 And all of you gathered to me and you said, “Let us send men before us and they will spy out the land for us …”

The problem between these two passages is clear. Did Moshe send the spies because God commanded it or because the people demanded it?

Dr. Brown takes this approach (page 118):

Where Moses had clearly assigned twelve chieftains to go up to the land and bring back word, in Deuteronomy, Moses contended [emphasis added] that it was the people who wanted their leaders to reconnoiter the land and prepare the Israelites mentally for what was ahead. …

Virtually all of history has its accompanying revision, and this passage is no exception.

Rabbi Dessler

Personally, I prefer the approach suggested by Rabbi Dessler. You can find it in Hebrew in Michtav MiEliyahu (Vol 1, page 189) or in Strive for Truth (Vol 2, page 267-8):

This is clear from the fact that Mosheh Rabbenu asked Hashem whether or not spies should be sent into Canaan before the invasion and received the answer: “Send for yourself: it must be your decision.” The true position was withheld from him because it was necessary for Israel to be given a test.

According to R. Dessler the passages in Bamidbar and Devarim contain different details about the event. We need both passages to get the full picture.

Here’s what happened:

  1. First the people asked for spies to be sent (Devarim 1).
  2. Then Moshe asked God what to do (not explicitly recorded in the text).
  3. Finally, God told Moshe to do what he thought was best (Bamidbar 13). That’s why the passage begins with “God spoke to Moshe.”

Limits of Interpretation

On the other hand, Dr. Brown seems to be saying that Moshe lied to the people in Devarim and God let the lie stand and be included in the Torah!

Now, let’s be clear. I have no problem with someone suggesting a new interpretation of the Torah.

We see it all the time. Rashbam disagrees with Rashi. Ramban at times argues strongly against Rashi and Ibn Ezra.

I am, however, bothered by an interpretation that seems to me to raise a new difficulty in the text.

Readership

I think Leadership in the Wilderness is appropriate for those who are interested in the challenges and pitfalls of leadership.

Also, readers who appreciate Dr. Brown’s approach to understanding the Torah will enjoy this book.

Even those readers, like myself, who disagree with her Torah commentary, can still find value in her book.

What’s Missing

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. A book like this must have an index!

At the very least there should be an index of Torah and talmudic sources that are quoted.

My Verdict

I’ve told people before that between one third and one half of the Jewish books that are sent to me for review should never have been published.

Though I disagree with much of Dr. Brown’s Torah commentary, I think her insights into leadership are very worthwhile.

Leadership in the Wilderness. Published by Maggid Books. 241 pages.

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Leadership in the Wilderness by the publisher.

Your purchase of

Leadership in the Wilderness
from Amazon using this link provides financial support to Thinking Torah.

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Hacked http://thinkingtorah.com/hacked/ http://thinkingtorah.com/hacked/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 20:43:26 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1353 Introduction As I announced on Facebook, Thinking Torah was hacked about ten days ago. I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few words about the whole event and my thoughts about the experience. What Happened I don’t intend this post to be a complete history of the event. I’ll only include the details […]

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Introduction

As I announced on Facebook, Thinking Torah was hacked about ten days ago.

I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few words about the whole event and my thoughts about the experience.

What Happened

I don’t intend this post to be a complete history of the event. I’ll only include the details that I think may be of interest to Thinking Torah reader.

There were times when I was completely befuddled about what was going on. I can now look back and understand all of the events.

Besides Thinking Torah I own about a dozen other websites. All of them were developed in an attempt to make money.

As often happens with business ventures, not all of them are successful. That is certainly true about some of these websites.

Those that were not so successful I was not paying close attention to.

One website used a theme called Optimize Press version 1.5. Some hacker discovered a flaw in this theme that allowed them inject malicious code into several files used to run the website.

You can read more about the form of this hack on Sucuri.net.

Once the hack injected the malicious code onto the first website it was then able to spread the attack to all of my other websites that were on the same hosting account.

I use a program called Word Fence on all of my websites. Word Fence periodically scans a website to detect problems on the website.

As necessary Word Fence sends me an email to let me know what problems it has detected. The problems range from notices about parts of the website that should be updated to potential attacks against the site.

One Tuesday morning my email box was filled with messages from Word Fence. The messages were all nearly identical. They told me that files on my websites had been changed.

It took about ten days to figure out what was going on.

During this time, all of my websites seemed to be working properly.

Then I heard about a friend who was experiencing problems with one of her websites not displaying properly.

Rick Anderson from BYOB Website discovered that her website had been hacked. I had the interesting experience of watching a live webinar as Rick Anderson went through all the steps need to restore her website.

It became clear to me that my websites were suffering from the same hack.

Recovery

The way to restore a website from this hack was fairly straight forward.

The first step was to backup all of the information about posts, pictures, and comments on the website.

Then all of the Word Press related files were deleted.

Then a new, clean copy of Word Press was reinstalled on the website. After that all of the posts, pictures, and comments were fed back into the website.

As part of this process, I decided to completely delete three websites. It was time to admit that these websites were not profitable and likely would not be in the future.

Thinking Torah

I needed to go through the same process of backing up, deleting, and restoring with Thinking Torah.

However, the restoring process was not so simple.

On Thinking Torah I’ve been using a theme called Weaver. I liked Weaver a lot. It gave me the ability to control almost every aspect of how the website appeared to the public.

The company who developed Weaver have “updated” the theme and it’s now called Weaver II. I’ve been aware of Weaver II for some time, but wasn’t so happy with it.

I’ve been thinking for some time that I should switch Thinking Torah to a different theme. I wanted to take some time to experiment with various design elements, work out how I wanted the blog to look, and then make the switch at a convenient time.

None of that happened. I had to delete the copy of Weaver that was used on Thinking Torah. I couldn’t keep it since it was possible that the hacker had injected their code into it.

However, I didn’t have access to a new, clean copy of Weaver that I could install on the website.

I don’t like Weaver II so much. Also, I could not find a way to import the settings from Weaver into Weaver II. That meant it would take a lot of work to move the blog to Weaver II.

I decided to move Thinking Torah onto the Thesis theme. This is a theme that I use for many of my other websites, so it was pretty easy to set it up for Thinking Torah.

Lessons for the Future

An experience like this is a chance to learn lots of new things.

Here are some of my lessons.

I’ve decided to simply aspects of my internet business. Like I said, I decided to abandon some websites completely.

With other webites I’ve simplified their structure so they will be easier to maintain in the future.

I also know that when Word Fence tells me certain files have been changed to take that message much more seriously than I did this time.

Also, I’ve learned about another security tool that makes it even harder for bad guys to hack me. The tool is called Bullet Proof Security. If you have a website, check out this free tool.

[Update: It was pointed out in the comments that it sounds like I’m suggesting Bullet Proof Security as a replacement for Word Fence. No. In fact, they work perfectly together and do different things to protect your website. I’m using them both.]

Why?

I’ve told my story to several people this week.

The most frequent question I get is, “Why would someone hack a website?”

Here are the four reasons I’m aware of:

1. Some people do it for fun or just to prove that they can do it.

2. Some people do it because they want to damage the website. That doesn’t seem to be the reason for this hack.

3. Some people do it because they are trying to access members personal date. Think Target.

4. Some people do it because they want to harness the website to send spam email messages.

There’s nothing I saw that suggests this hacker was interested in destroying my websites. I also don’t think I was specifically targeted.

Midda K’neged Midda

We know from our tradition that one of God’s principles for running and judging the world is midda k’neged midda. Essentially, as you have treated others so will you be treated.

Of course, I have no way of knowing who was behind this hack.

All I do know is that this experience caused me hours of wasted time as well as much confusion, anxiety, and heartache.

I am confident that whoever did this will experience all of these things in their life, too.

Just One More Thing

I’ve been trying to make sure that everything is working on this blog now. If you find anything that’s broken please leave a comment!

Photo Credit: Flickr – altemark

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Why Is Chanukah 8 Days? http://thinkingtorah.com/chanukah-8-days/ http://thinkingtorah.com/chanukah-8-days/#comments Thu, 28 Nov 2013 11:05:40 +0000 http://thinkingtorah.com/?p=1306 Chanukah 5774 Why Is Chanukah 8 Days? One of the interesting aspects of living in Jerusalem are the constant encounters with Jewish history. For example, one of the Light Rail stops is Shimon HaTzadik, named after one of the High Priests. When the train pulls into that station I often have two thoughts. My first […]

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Chanukah 5774

Why Is Chanukah 8 Days?

One of the interesting aspects of living in Jerusalem are the constant encounters with Jewish history.

For example, one of the Light Rail stops is Shimon HaTzadik, named after one of the High Priests.

When the train pulls into that station I often have two thoughts.

My first thought is usually a piece of personal mussar: he became known as HaTzadik. Will I obtain such a level?

My second thought, especially this time of year, is very different. Here’s a man who is mentioned in the Mishna and the Gemara. He was an important figure in Jewish life. He never celebrated Chanukah, because he lived before those events.

Chanukah History

The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) explains part of the historical background to Chanukah. Here’s the Soncino translation of that passage:

What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against them and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.

1 or 7 or 8?

Why is Chanukah celebrated for eight days?

This is one of the famous questions about the holiday. Many different answers are given.

The question is based on the idea that the flask of oil would have burned for one day. That is “natural.” Therefore, the “miracle” is the fact that the oil lasted for seven additional days. Based on this analysis, Chanukah should only be seven days long.

The Pri Chadash explains that the we also celebrate the military victory by the Hasmonean’s. If we only celebrated the victory, then Chanukah would be one day. If we only celebrated the miracle of the oil, then Chanukah would be seven days long.

We celebrate both and therefore Chanukah is eight days.

Why Insist on Pure?

Why was it important for the Hasmonean’s to use undefiled oil for lighting the menorah?

There is a principle of “tuma hutra betzibbur” (impure objects are permitted for communal purposes). If only defiled oil was available, then the Hasmoneans could have used that oil.

In other words, there was no need for God to perform a miracle and have the flask of pure oil last for eight days.

Here is the answer given by Rabbi David Brofsky in his book Hilkhot Mo’adim:

To answer this question, R. Michael Rosensweig notes that the Gemara discusses various levels of observance of the mitzva of candle lighting. Unlike other mitzvot, in which higher levels are not expected of everyone, it appears from the Gemara that the optimal level of observance of candle lighting, “mehadrin min hamehadrin,” is expected from everyone; indeed, the universally accepted practice is to adhere to that standard.
R. Rosensweig explains that Antiochus did not wish to annihilate the Jewish people … he wished to reduce their halakhic observance and spiritual expression to a private matter, performed in a “bediavad” manner. The Hasmonean revolt rejected this attempt to institutionalize “spiritual mediocrity.” …
While the miracle of the flask of oil may, indeed, have been superfluous, relying on leniencies would have undermined the entire message of the revolt. For the same reason, the observance of Hanukka is unique in its focus upon “hiddur … Thus, R. Rosensweig suggests, the fundamental reason for the revolt, and more importantly, the Jewish people’s response to the miraculous events, were worthy of a permanent celebration.

I hope this brief excerpt from Hilkhot Mo’adim helps make your Chanukah celebration a little bit brighter.

 Hilkhot Mo'adim

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Hilkhot Mo’adim – Understanding the Laws of the Festivals by the publisher, Maggid Books.

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Photo of the Menorah in Harbin Museum

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