Thursday, February 26, 2015

Broken And Whole At The Same Time

In this weeks parsha, Titzaveh, Hashem tells Moshe "And you shall command the children of Israel, and they should take to you pure olive oil, crushed for illumination, to kindle (literally: to lift up) the lamp, regularly."

To get the purest olive oil, the olive was crushed in a mortar and the first drop expressed was used for producing the oil. Only the oil extracted in this way could be used to light the menorah. The remainder of the olive was ground to extract more oil but this oil was not for the menorah.

What can we learn from this?

The kindling of the menorah symbolized lighting up the souls of the Jewish people. For this only the purest olive oil extracted through crushing may be used.

The purest comes out through being crushed. It is the crushed that ignite Jewish souls.

We all are "crushed," tested with suffering in one form or another. What we do with it is our choice. You can choose to "grind", to wallow in self pity or you can use your "crushing" experience to lift up those around you.

Choosing to use your experience for the positive will not only uplift those around you but it will give meaning and purpose to your situation.

Before, I was talented. I could teach, lecture, sing, dance, play guitar and I was strong and handy. Within two years I watched that all slip away. Now I'm left with my heart, my brain and my smile. Being crushed has brought stronger connections, new abilities, higher purpose and deeper meaning. Before I used my talents to make people happy and to educate them. Now I get to do that and much more.

With this attitude I have gained an added extra. I feel happy and fulfilled and the people around me seem happy and uplifted.
Yet, It is time for the crushing to end and enjoying  the light to begin.

This is dedicated to Devorah Shochet. The two of us were diagnosed with ALS a day apart, and if there is anyone who understands what I go through, it's her. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

At The Core, We Are One

In this weeks parsha, Teruma, we read how Hashem commands the Jewish people, to build the Mishkan.

While most of the vessels in the Mishkan were constructed from a combination of materials, two, the Menorah and the Kaporess were made from solid gold. Welding was forbidden, they were only to be hammered from solid chunks of gold.

What significance do these two hold? Why did they have to be made of one solid piece?

The Kaporess covered the Aron, the ark. It was a rectangular plate that had two cherubim protruding from the top, one had the face of a girl, the other a boy. It symbolized the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. It is one solid piece because though at times our relationship seems rocky, we are in essence one and therefore symbolized by one solid piece.

The Menorah symbolized the relationship of the Jewish people to one another. The Menorah had seven branches, this suggests that we have differences. Again, it was from one solid piece, because at the core we are one. This core is the Neshama, the soul, which is truly a part of Hashem. The more we are in tune with our Neshama, the more love you feel towards other Jewish people, because he and you share a single essential core. Loving him is loving yourself.

Both were made of pure gold to show how important these ideas are, to accomplish our mission, to change the world into a Mishkan, a place where Hashem´s presence can dwell openly.

First, being one with Hashem, we can accomplish extraordinary things, we "can" change the world.

Second, each of us has a unique mission, however we are all in this together. Being there for each other is necessary to accomplish our common goal. Loving each other is the catalist for change.

Friday, February 13, 2015

First Love Your Fellow Then Love Hashem

This weeks parsha, Mishpatim, follows, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the greatest revelation ever (yet).

Mishpatim starts with a number of basic, mundane laws concerning our daily interactions with people.

One would think that after so great a spiritual high we would be discussing loftier pursuits, prayer, meditation, love and fear of Hashem, not base tort laws concerning others.

This teaches us that to Hashem it is more important that we get along then be spiritual. First love your fellow, then connect to Hashem.

This is hinted in this weeks extra Torah reading, Shkalim. Every Jewish male was required to give a silver half shekel coin which went for the communal offerings.

Why a half shekel?

The Maggid of Mezrich explains that each of us are like a half. We become whole through our connecting with other half shekels, other Jewish people.

More than Hashem wants us to connect with him, He wants us to love each other.

Dedicated to all the wonderful Shluchos, loving sisters, gathered at the Shluchos Convention in New York. Especially to my wife, Dina Hurwitz, my other half shekel, who has been a rock throughout my difficult battle with ALS.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Marriage Tips for Men Part II: How to Listen

Click image to enlarge
Printable Color Infographic PDF by Adai Ad 
One of the biggest complaints women have to their husbands is "He doesn't listen". 

The problem is that men have no idea what women mean when they say that.

The first thing you need to know is that women have a natural need to be understood. When they feel understood they feel loved. They will even tell their best friend "I really feel like he understands me". Translation: "I feel loved".

This is difficult for men to understand because men don't have a natural need to be understood. Becoming a good listener takes a lot of patience and effort and the reward is tremendous.

The next thing to understand is that, being natural listeners, women get extremely frustrated when you don't listen. That makes for an unhappy wife, you don't want to go there.

The reward for becoming a good listener is a happy wife, a deep, close and meaningful relationship.  She will become your strongest advocate and stay by your side thick and thin.

Listening is understanding her from her perspective. To do this, first you need to shut down your way of thinking and experience her feelings from her perspective. This way you really get to know her, not your understanding of her, but her understanding of her.

Listening is more than hearing words.  Women say a lot without talking. They use facial expressions, body language, clothing and self care to express themselves and expect you to notice.

Women are detail oriented. They especially notice things that are wrong or out of place. For example, she could be all made up and dressed to the nines. You see an amazing, flawless sight. All she sees is a small pimple that appeared on her chin.

Men see the big picture but miss the details.

Listening requires noticing details and putting the clues together to form a conclusion. At minimum you should notice that something is wrong or that something is different. Then you will be able to ask "What is wrong?" or "What is different?" If not you are "clueless", don't be clueless.

Here are some tips for good listening.

1) Set times for listening.

Make it a habit that the first five minutes when you come home is for listening. Ask your wife how her day was. Imagine how good she will feel, knowing that she is first on your mind when you come home.

A good time for listening is after the children are asleep but if she is too tired at that time, do it earlier. It is okay for the kids to see you together talking, it will be a valuable lesson and will give them a sense of stability.

The main thing is that you set times that work for the two of you, and that you keep them. Your wife will look forward to being with you at that time.

"I don't have the time" and "I'm to busy" are not acceptable excuses, make the time.

2) All she wants is for you to listen and understand, that's it. Refrain from sharing your suggestions, opinions or advice, they are not relevant to her feelings. Just listen and understand.

3) Women change every day, so every day there is more to tell. There are also deeper parts of herself to share.

What you heard yesterday is not enough today. There are new facets discovered today that need to be shared. There are also new things going on in her life.

4) When you are listening look at her. Notice her expressions and body language. Every so often, give her a subtle hint to let her know that you understand. It could be a nod or a soft sound. This will let her know that you are paying attention. If you don't, she will assume you didn't understand and repeat herself. She will get aggravated and complain that "he doesn't listen".

5) You are not required to be listening all the time but rather when you are supposed to be listening do it correctly.

Be focused and pay attention. Remove distractions, put away you cell phone and teach the children not to disturb you at this time. Let her feel like you are totally there for her, let her feel like you are interested in knowing her.

It is my hope that you put these tips to the test, and that that this contributes to your wife's happiness. Her happiness will surely contribute to your happiness. Happy wife happy life.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Doing And Listening

In preparation for the giving of the Ten Commandments, Hashem says to the Jewish people: "And now, if you will truly listen to My voice, and you will keep My covenant, then you will be a treasure to Me..."

The giving of the Ten Commandments, is considered the marriage between Hashem and the Jewish people. What can we learn from here about our relationship with Hashem? How could this help our personal relationship?

The passuk (verse) stresses two parts of a relationship, listening, "if you will truly listen" and doing, "and you will keep My covenant".

In response to our acceptance of the Torah, we said "naaseh vinishma" "we will do and we will listen". Again you have doing and listening.

Our relationship with Hashem manifests itself in two ways. First there is "doing", which means doing mitzvas and acting in accordance with His laws. Then there is "listening", hearing Hashem's voice, He is sharing part of His essence with us.

The first commandment starts with the word "Anochi" "I Am". Anochi is an acronym, Ana Nafshi Ksavis Yehavis. I have written My essence and given it (to you). Hashem wants us to know Him and so He embedded His essence in the Torah.

Sometimes we get so caught in the doing part, we lose all joy and meaning in what we are doing. It becomes a souless action. Hashem wants more. He wants us to know Him, to know what His purpose in creating the world is. He wants more than just actions, He wants depth too.

Chabad chassidic teachings helps you develop this area of our relationship with Hashem.

These two elements are necessary in our personal relationship as well. First there has to be the doing part, without which a couple simply can't function. However, the listening part is vital to develop a strong, deep and meaningful relationship. Without listening, the relationship will eventually begin to feel hollow, which is followed by hurt and anger.

Many husbands work hard providing for their family, yet they get the feeling that their wives seem unhappy. Listening could very well be the issue. Learning how to listen will make your relationship more meaningful and her smile will return.
With Hashem's help, "Marriage Tips for Men Part II: How to Listen", will be posted this coming week.

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated to my Mother-in-law, Sheina and her new husband Michoel Gutman. May you share many happy and healthy years together.