Category Archives: Thoughts

Give it a Try!

Some Thoughts on my Siyum on Taanis

There are countless stories in Masechta Taanis of how there when was no rain or some other calamity, the people went to the Tzaddik and while many times, the tefillos of the Tzaddik brought Rachamei Shamayim, other times it did not.   We also learned about the Zchus of the small actions of different people that merited the yeshua to come about.

The Masechta ends off with a seemingly random and cryptic  Chazal that when Moshiach comes everyone will be in a circle, with Hashem in the center and everyone will be  looking at their fingers

What is the connection to the rest of Taanis?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos 19 pg 88) explains that everyone will look at their fingerprint and see how far they have come in Avodas Hashem and although each one is different from the other, they will all be together in a circle at peace.

The Arizal (Pri Tzaddik Korach)  explains in a deeper way that there is a deep difference between a circle and a line. A circle is a natural order where everything is equal there is no end and no beginning.  whereas a line can go in different directions, we can veer left or right or up or down. 

Before the Chet Etz HaDaas the world was in a bechina of a circle, then it went into a bechina of a line, where there are different levels,  when Moshiach comes it will all be a circle again.

 Sometimes, we feel we like one approach to Torah life over another, this is natural in Galus, this is like the line. Reb Akiva Eiger, in Toras Emes (Intro) tells us that when the tzaddikim are in that circle it will be apparent that it is not one person over the other, but it is all one circle. All of the Shivim Panim come together, it is like the mesh that makes up the core of the circle, that is where Hashem is sitting.

Rav Yonason Eybschitz (Yearos Devash 4;7) asks why are we davka in a circle and not in a square? He explains the difference between a circle and a square, is that on a square you can have tzaddikim who are closer to the center and those who are further from the center. In a circle we are equidistant. 

I believe this is the message that Chazal is telling us, we are human, we go through the circle of life, things can be tough at times, but we try to increase our Avodas Hashem, sometimes we don’t see our actions having an effect, sometimes we think that which we do, does not have an effect. Chazal is telling us that it all has an effect, and L’asid we will feel that effect when we are in the circle of tzaddikim, realizing that it does not make  a difference what one knows over the other, it is about that each person individually tried. For when we try, we are moving the lines to create a mesh within the circle. 

Unity in Diversity

This Dvar Torah was written in memory of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal HY’D.
 May their neshamas have an eternal Aliya.

One of the basic tenets of Western civilization is the idea that we should all strive to live with the ideal of “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation.” I would like to explore this ideal from a Torah perspective.

The Parsha starts with Hashem instructing Moshe to take a census of Bnei Yisrael. So on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Moshe and the Nesi’im of each Shevet counted every male over the age of 20 according to their shevet. After the census was taken, Hashem further instructed Moshe regarding the formation of the encampment of the Jews around the Ohel Moed. The twelve Shevatim were divided into groups of three on each side of the Ohel Moed. Each Shevet encamped by their respective flag.

This census was not a new concept as this already happened in Sefer Shemos. In our parsha, the Shevatim are counted in the same order except that Gad is counted before Reuven and Shimon. It seems that the reason for this change in order it meant to be an introduction to Hashem’s instructions to Moshe regarding Klal Yisrael’s encampment formation and their flags and they are therefore counted in Parshas Bamidbar in the order of their encampment.

It seems a little odd that this formation of the encampments only happened after the second counting of Klal Yisrael and a full year after we left Egypt. Why were we not set up in proper formations as soon as we left Mitzrayim together with everything else that happened at that time?

Harav Yaacov Kamenetzky Zt’l explains that in order for us to glean an understanding of the order of events, we first must fully understand what is it that we are talking about. What was the idea behind the formations and flags of the Shevatim?

Merriam Webster defines a flag as “a usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol [as of a nation), as a signaling device, or as a decoration.” The flag is a symbol of independence and uniqueness. The symbols and colors on a flag represent the unique qualities of its bearer. Each of the flags of the Shevatim had it unique colors corresponding to the stones of the Choshen as well as its unique symbol, for example, Yehuda had an illustration of a lion on his flag; Reuven had an illustration of a person, Ephraim had an illustration of an ox. These colors and symbols of the flag signified the unique direction and way that they led their lives.

In general, it seems that this behavior would tend to cause a people to become more distanced and divided from each other. However, each one of the Shevatim brought forward his unique strength to bring about k’vod Shamayim. This is similar to the ear which has a different function than the eye, there is no friction between them as they are both doing their unique jobs. Likewise, with the Shevatim each Shevet was doing their unique job, with a focus on the center point — the Mishkan, there is no reason at all to have friction.

The seforim explain that each of the Shevatim had their unique way of serving Hashem and even if it appeared they were doing the same thing at times, their intent was different. We find that the Midrash relates that there were 12 paths for each of the Shevatim going through the Yam Suf. Similarly, there were 12 different korbanos form each Shevet, each one had a different approach towards Torah and to remember yetis Mitzrayim.

This idea also has implications in regard to Halacha. The Magen Avraham (OC 68) quotes from the Ari z’l that one should not change his nusach of Tefila as there are 12 gateways in shamayim corresponding with the 12 Shevatim, and each shevet has their unique Nusach and approach to Avodas Hashem.

The building of the Mishkan created this central point which allowed us all to become diverse and use our unique strengths in the best way possible. Before the Mishkan was built there was no central nerve center which we were all focused on, therefore we had to put aside our uniquenesses and come together as one nation and one flag. The moment the Mishkan was built we were able to divide up our talents and focus on our strengths.

I would like to build on this Yesod a little based on the thought of Rav Kook Zt’l (Orot Pages 45-46, 70-72.) Many times people talk about Achdus and exclaim that we all have to be doing the same thing and if we are not like each other, then we are not together. This is incorrect. We can each have our unique views, but as long as we are all focused, not on the other, but on our spiritual nerve center, the Mishkan, which is the “heart” of Klal Yisrael, we will still have Achdus. The moment we lose focus on what we are doing and we focus only on what the others are doing, we lose the Achdus and become a melting pot.

It is not about a mere tolerance for how others are acting or practicing their Judaism, it is about a deeper understanding of how things are meant to be working.

There is a time to be unique, K’Ish Echad, but at the same time you need to be part of the tzibbur, B’Lev Echad.

We should strive to see our unique strengths and focus them to glorify the Torah each in our own way and merit the ultimate bracha of Hashra’as HaShechina!

A Wild Flower in Israel

Pesach is fading away pretty quickly.

Before we take leave of this miraculous holiday, I feel the need to share that I cannot help but be inspired and moved by the amount of pure kindness, friendship and love by people all over. I have seen this filtering out from a nucleus of family, community, towards a national and global scale. People are sharing food, shopping carts, money, talents and whatever they can imagine with their families, communities and even total strangers. It is moving that when a crisis hits we can all come together. Next time, let’s not wait for the crisis to hit.

I think I am going to try to think over this last part of the Chag how we can take this forward. How can we retain this attitude in a post corona world.

I’d love to hear your ideas.

Chag Sameach,

Shui

Thank You For Your Courage

Flipping through a publication recently, I noticed an interesting pattern. There were quite a few letters to the editor, many of them with strong takeaways. However, the majority were signed anonymously. This bothered me, as it felt like the anonymity of the authors took away the entire message. If you cannot sign your name to something, how can you expect others to listen? 

Thinking about this over the past few days, I have come to realize that we live in an age of anonymity. We have become protective of ourselves and our families to such an extent, that we are afraid to be associated with our very own actions. We, therefore, have an abundance of anonymity in our midst, ranging from letters to the editor to mega donations. Many Instagram, Twitter, and other social media users hide behind a name, not their own. It seems to have become an incurable plague. 

Why Do We Act Anonymously & What Does This Have To Do With Your Courage?

Anonymity helps to protect from stigma or other self-doubts that one has, and it is also used to do things selflessly. However, it is used too much; in fact, it appears to have become a selfish act. Why does our generation feel like we cannot show who we really are? It is as if there is the external person and the internal person, and they calibrate via the anonymous factor. 

Much has been written on the cowardice hiding behind anonymity, and how it rears its ugly head all over the internet. I would like to focus on the lack of self courage hiding behind anonymity. 

People write books, articles, letters and tweets anonymously, for many reasons, the crux of which is to protect themselves or their careers from any collateral damage. What they do not realize is that ideas, when communicated anonymously, lose their force in the battle of ideas. Pseudonyms normalize the idea that people should be frightened to express unpopular views. Consequently, they indirectly serve to delegitimize the views being expressed.

Courage = 100% Accountability

A mentor taught me that when one acts with courage and knows their view is correct, it no longer makes any difference what others think. If I can express my opinion without hiding behind a mask, I am thereby empowered to follow through on my expression and not let the detractors get me down. As a caveat, courage is the ability to take 100% ownership of your actions, which includes the courage to admit when it’s a mistake.

“ The courageous can be anonymous, like fallen heroes with stars on a wall, but the anonymous are not necessarily courageous.”

Danny Pharr

Imagine everyone being true to who they are. When people express their views courageously, conversations take place, policies change, the world becomes a better place. When we hide behind a pseudonym we are enabling a status-quo that people should be afraid to express their opinion, however unpopular it may seem. As a result, it causes the opinion expressed to be rendered completely illegitimate. 

I look forward to recognizing my peers through their courageously expressed views and seeing the conversations that take place as a result of this courage. 

Are you ready?

Thank you for your courage!

Shui Haber

An Ode to The Future

At times the future seems bleak, we feel like we are alone on a path.

The road ahead is unknown and seems forbidding. There is a mountain peak ahead which we must climb.

Yet, the flower still blossoms anew.

The Fisherman’s Grave

It was at my grandfather’s funeral that I first noticed the unique gravestone.

My grandfather was a world traveller in his days at the Merchant Marines. He had many stories of coming into contact with Kamikaze suicide pilots and transporting Nazi prisoners of war. He also was active in the transportation of thousands of Jews from the ravages of Europe to the shores of Israel. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Buffalo with his wife and stayed there to raise his family.

My Grandfather

He had many ups and downs during his lifetime, but through it all he remained a simple and committed Jew. He was proud, yet unassuming. He lived a simple life. He died a simple Jew. Through his simpleness, he raised children and grandchildren who became leaders in their communities and are spreading his message of simplicity.

When I first saw that gravestone, I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of it. The average gravestone is a single stone monument with a short inscription about the deceased. This was different. It had the stone, but it also had a small fisherman’s chair with a large fishing rod hanging over with a plastic fish on the string. The description on the gravestone depicted a gentle and friendly man who loved going to the sea to fish.

I felt comfort in the fact that my grandfather would have company with this simple fisherman.

Recently, however, it struck me that this is not the correct simplicity we should aspire to be in the company of. It is possible that this deceased man was a truly righteous individual, however the legacy he left behind is merely that he loved to fish.

The legacy of my grandfather was that he was a Jew who craved simplicity. He was a Jew first and he was unpretentious to his core. He has a simple gravestone. But his legacy continues to be written.