Friday, February 24, 2012

SHABBAT: At-risk youth and Shabbat dinner

"A core predictor of which families produce children who grow up to be described as "mentchen" (=decent and good) children is the amount and quality of time spent by parents with their children.

In a fascinating series of studies that have recently received media attention, researchers have found a direct correlation between the number of times a week parents eat dinner with their children and the risk of abusing drugs. Families that eat dinner together once a week have children with lower risk for drug-abuse than those that never do.

With each increasing night that parents and children eat together, drug abuse risk decreases to the point that there is virtually no risk for drug abuse in families in which parents and children dinner together every night.

The importance of eating dinner together is not the 'eating' or dinner; it's the uninterrupted, focused interaction that seems to bear such valuable fruit" 
(From the book 'Balanced Parenting' by R. and D. Pelcovitz).
Shabbat dinner--among other things--creates a sense of belonging and responsibility: a young adult who spends quality time with his family feels strongly part of the family and will think twice before doing a wrong thing. Because he realizes that whatever negative action he might do, it will bear unwanted consequences for all his beloved ones. On the contrary, when the bond between the young man or woman with her family is weak, when the parents are there just to criticize, warn and punish and there are no bond-building experiences, the young adult will think more about pleasing his friends than about respecting or not damaging his family. 
Shabbat dinner is a heaven-given gift to Am Israel, which not only enriches our souls but also strengthens our family.

Shabbat Shalom!  

Candle lighting in NYC: 5:22
Shabbat ends in NYC: 6:31


Thursday, February 23, 2012

The month of Adar and tax collection (half a sheqel)

In the time of the Bet haMiqdash, the Temple of Jerusalem, daily communal sacrifices (qorbanot) were offered on behalf of all the Jewish people.  This national representation was not just theoretical or depending only in the right intention of those in charge of performing the sacrifices, i.e., the Kohanim. It was also conveyed in a very practical way: Every year in the month of Adar a special tax was collected: machatzit hasheqel or "half a sheqel".  The half sheqel was a flat tax, same amount for poor and rich.  And since everyone gave the same amount, the collection of the sheqalim (plural of sheqel) also served as a annual demographic cense. The money collected in this communal fund was used to purchase the animals for the qorbanot, and in this way every one had a equal share in the offering of the sacrifices. The daily communal sacrifices and the sacrifices of the different musafim(Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, holidays) were purchased from the money of the sheqalim. The half sheqel was collected during the month of Adar, because the Temple's fiscal year started in the following month: Nissan. 
The money collected from the sheqalim was also used for the maintenance and the general expenses of the Temple. But not for its construction. As we will read in this week's perasha Teruma the funds for building the Mishkan (the Sanctuary in the desert) and later on, to build the bet haMiqdash was giving as voluntary donations.  In other words, the communal finances depended on a system of donations combined with a fixed flat tax (a sort of a membership fee) that was collected on the month of Adar. 
To remember the collection of the sheqalim 1. We read perashat sheqalim one Shabbat before rosh chodesh Adar (that was last Shabbat, February 18th) and 2. We give a fixed a flat donation, only as a symbolic act, to remind us of the machatzit hashequel

the Half Shekel coin

This is an image of the half sheqel coin from the time of the Second Temple (approximately, year 50-60 of the common era)
On the left side one can read in ancient Hebrew fonts: sheqel Israel.
On the right side Yerushalaim haqedosha ( Jerusalem, the Holy)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Yehuda Bibas (1776-1852) and the independence of Israel

Previously we explained (see here) that Rabbi Yehuda Bibas served as the chief rabbi of the island of Corfu (today's Greece) from the year 1831 to 1850. The influence of rabbi Bibas, however, was not restricted just to his own communjty. During those years he traveled to numerous Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa with a clear message: We, Jews, must come back to Zion.

But why now

Rabbi Bibas saw a rare window of opportunity for the Jewish people in the fact that many countries in those days revolted against the ruling empires and achieved their independence. Living in Corfu, gave him the privileged perspective of being a direct witness of the Greek revolution against the Ottoman Empire between 1821 and 1832, and the ensuing Greek victory which lead to their independence.  Israel, called Palestine in those days, was also under the ruling of the Ottoman Empire. Rabbi Bibas estimated that the Jews were capable then to obtain their own independence, since the Ottoman Empire was weaker and in a process an inevitable decline. According to rabbi Yehuda Bibas:"The jews must conquer militarily the land of Israel from the Turks in the same way the Greeks conquered their own land from the Turks." 
As we explained last week, Rabbi Bibas argued that the concept of teshuba needed to be understood then also as a call for returning to Israel. If you analyze carefully the book of Debarim Chapter 30:1-11 you will find that teshuba, mentioned there eight times, appears as the idea of national reconciliation with HaShem. Same as exile in the previous persahiot was the outcome of national abandonment of HaShem, coming back to Israel is seen as the peak of reconciliation between Am Israel and our God. 

Rabbi Bibas had practical plans and ideas to inspire the Jews to come to Zion. His plan, which we will explain in more detail B'H next week, might be summarized with one single word: "education".
(to be continued...)

WATCH: Shema Israel  Understanding the wisdom of Judaism's most important prayer. 
From by Charlie Harary

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 13 principles of Jewish faith: # 6: the Prophets of Israel (2 of 3)

Last week we explained what were the three prerequisites for a person to be a candidate for prophecy (see here). Besides being a God fearing Jew, the prophet had to adjust his mind to God's reality, leaving aside his worldly reality. Being "behaviorally" wealthy, for example, meant that a person had to reach a level of complete lack of interest for material possessions. Obviously, a mind that expects to absorb God's words could not be distracted with material pursuits.

Paraphrasing rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes: The prophets were prayerful men. It was the habit of this spiritual communication with God, and constant meditation upon His words and ways, combined with right conduct, that qualified the inspired men and women of the Bible to receive Divine inspiration or Divine messages. Just as physical and mental exercise result in greater physical and mental development, and consequently greater physical and mental possibilities, so spiritual exercises result in greater spiritual development, and consequently greater spiritual possibilities.
According to our tradition there were schools for the training of prophets, like the one established by Shemuel the prophet. The students were called bene hanebi-im.  In that school they would train to attain behavioral wealth, strength and wisdom and, according to some ge-onim, they will also train themselves in the meditation techniques which would mentally prepare them  to cope with the overwhelming experience of getting a vision coming directly from haShem.

(If the reader is interested in the fascinating subject of prophecy, I would recommend Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, z'l, marvelous books. Among them: "Innerspace" ) 

If a person attained such a perfection of character, he will be considered a Prophet, but not necessarily receive prophecy.  From this point of view prophecy could be compared with getting a phone call from God. Having attained perfection of character is like having a cell phone on. It enables you to be a potential receiver of God's phone call. But still, God might or might not call you. That is God's prerogative.   

 Read "Surplus Jews" an excellent article from Jerusalem Post, by Daniel Gordis.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

RELIGIOUS INTEGRITY: Representing and misrepresenting God

The Tora is very strict about our obligation to say the truth and our duty to keep away from falsehood.  Speaking the truth and acting with truthfulness is seen in Judaism as one of the highest religious imperatives. So much so that our Rabbis asserted that upon our arrival to the World to Come (=the afterlife) we are faced with three questions, aimed to asses the spiritual level we have achieved in our worldly existence. The very first question we are asked by the heavenly court is about our financial behavior.  nasata venatata bemuna? "Did you handle your money matters with integrity?" Clearly, the way we act in our businesses and material dealings is seen by our Tora as the most accurate indicator of our religious level. 
Our rabbis explain that the seal of HaShem Almighty is "EMET" (=The Truth). The seal of a King, similar to today's signature, was the visual mark or the logo that identified the King. When people saw the seal in a letter, they knew that letter was coming from the King. Similarly, in this world the presence of haShem our God is represented by The Truth.  In a sense, every time we act with truthfulness we turn into representatives of HaShem Almighty. By performing an act of integrity (and the higher the losses we are willing to take by upholding the truth, the greater the merit!) we become "HaShem's seal".  Our actions will inspire people who see what we do to say: "This is coming from HaShem" (or, from His Tora).
On the contrary, if we lie, fabricate stories or act deceitfully, we move further away from Him. When a Jew (and especially, an observant Jew) acts deceitfully He is "misrepresenting" HaShem. He desecrate His name, as if he would have 'sold' God's reputationfor money...  

Good news for those who know Hebrew. You can find now yalqut yosef, the book of Halakha of rabbi Obadia Yosef,  online and free.  Click here.


בהנ"ו ערב פורים ה'תשע"א
Erev Purim 5771

Dear member of the Community,

I hope this letter finds you excitedly anticipating the wonderful holiday of Purim. Rejoicing the miracle of Purim is certainly a most enjoyable time for our community. It is a time for families to get together to celebrate Hashem’s delivering us from the danger of Haman’s decree to the safety of Mordechai and Esther’s rule.

Regrettably, the Orthodox community often experiences misfortune as a result of an accident related to excessive drinking. All doctors agree that  disproportionate drinking and the subsequent drunken state that ensues pose very serious health risks for the inebriated as well as those around them.

While Purim  Simchah is not only appropriate, but in fact mandated, the kind of reckless drinking that takes place in many circles is extremely hazardous, not in the spirit of Yahaduth, and, according to most halachic opinions, against halachah. 

The later Poskim were in the position to weigh all the earlier opinions, and we are to follow their Psak, which is essentially in the Shulchan Aruch.

The Bet Yosef quotes Orchot Chaim: “The mitzvah to drink on Purim does not mean to get drunk, because being drunk is a total Issur, and there is no Averah greater than this!”

Hagaon Harav Shmuel Kamentzky made the bold statement that “Getting drunk on Purim is an Averah, not a Mitzvah.”

The Ramah says in regard to the Mitzvah to drink on Purim, that one need not get drunk, but to drink just a bit more than one usually does, and take a nap.

The Mishnah Berurah (695) says “This is the proper thing to do.”

Getting drunk is improper. That is the halachah. 

In today’s climate, where youngsters have increased access to all types of excesses, having too many drinks on Purim can lead to future problems. Many teens who have fallen away from a stable life situation point to a drink at a “Kiddush Club”, a drink on Purim, or a smoke at a  Purim party as the starting point for their addiction. Unfortunately,  children attending Purim celebrations at many public places have reported that these events encourage youngsters to drink irresponsibly and to participate in other excessive behaviors such as drugs or cigarette smoking.

I am therefore asking our entire community to join together and carefully monitor the consumption of alcohol over Purim. It is important as well to know where and with whom our  children will be throughout the holiday. Please  let’s  talk  to our children about the dangers of drinking, and the need to insist on a designated driver if others around them are drinking.

This way, we can ensure that we all experience a truly joyous and safe Purim only filled with Orah, Simchah, Sasson, V’ykar.


Rabbi Avraham Nissanian
Congregation Shaare Tova
Eshel Avraham Organization