Thursday, July 3, 2014

PARENTING: Time to say goodbye

אמרו עליו על ריב"ז שלא הקדימו אדם שלום מעולם ואפילו נכרי בשוק

It was said of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai that no one ever preceded him in a greeting, even a stranger in the marketplace.
It is common sense and derekh eretz (politeness) that people would greet each other when they meet, after being away from one another, or when they depart from each other. That is what we do with our coworkers and friendsת even though we see them everyday.

When we leave home we should always say goodbye to the other members of our family, including very young children. This is beyond a matter of basic respect. For infants and little kids, knowing that mom and dad are home, unless they said "goodbye", builds trust and reinforce their self esteem. Mom and dad are here unless they let me know that they are leaving. No fear of abandonment.

In the case of older children, if we don't let them know when we are leaving the house, they might be finding themselves talking to a person that was there, but who has just disappeared. Moreover, if we behave in this way, our children will learn to follow. Perhaps then when our children get independent and drive, they would think that they can just leave without giving notice, especially when they are at the age where they don't need to ask permission to go to certain places. We must teach them that they need to let us know they are leaving the house and when are they coming back. All this will happen if they learn to say "goodbye".

Similarly, when we come home to our family, we should let our loved ones know that we are back. And It goes both ways. Those who are at home should acknowledge the presence of the person who just arrived saying: "Hi! Hello! How are you? or How was your day!" This is especially important when parents arrive. Jewish children are commanded to respect their parents. They should stop their activities and come and greet the parent that just arrived. When the kids are young, each parent models this behavior when the other parent arrives. Mom or dad should say: "Everybody come here! Look who has just arrived! Let's all give dad (or mom) a big hug!!"

In our modern society, where children are connected basically to electronic devices, these gestures of love and respect are more important than eve.
Regaining awareness of what it means to be a family might begin by knowing and showing that it matters a lot if you are home or if you are absent.  Don't abstain from saying "Have a great day! I love you! I missed you!". 

We should learn from Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai to be always the first to greet others.  Showing those we love that their presence does make a difference.

By Rabbanit Coty Bitton

לע"נ אייל יפרח, נפתלי פרנקל וגיל-עד שאער הי"ד

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SEPHARDIC RABBIS: Rabbi Menashe Setton (ca. 1810-1876)

Rabbi Menashe Setton ( סתהון , also Sittehon or Sutton)  was born in Aram Soba (Aleppo) Syria.  He was a great Tora scholar, well versed in secular knowledge like astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and engineering. Although he was an ordained rabbi,  Rabbi Setton supported himself through business initiatives.  Following the tradition of Sephardic rabbis he was also an expert in Hebrew grammar (diqduq). 

Rabbi Setton's most famous book is "kenesiya leshem shamayim", a "gathering for the sake of heaven".  In this short book rabbi Setton argues fiercely against a prevalent superstitious ceremony called "Endulzado" (Spanish for "sweetening").

In the beginning of his book Rabbi Setton describes this practice: Whenever there was a sick member of the family, a women about to give birth, or someone whose loved ones were dying, etc.  they would empty a house, remove all type of Tora books and Mezuzot and display in the floor all kinds of baked sweets, candies, honey, etc. The patient and the expert exorcist would stay and sleep for three consecutive nights in that house. All this time, it was forbidden for the patient to pronounce any word of Tora or Tefila. The exorcist, usually a female, would summon "demons" (shedim) to visit the house. The demons would come into the house freely, because the house was empty of anything "holy" which would drive them away. Once the exorcist felt that the demos were inside the house, she would offer the demons those sweets to appease them and ask them to cure the patient or release the patient from their curse. 

Rabbi Setton first explains that this is a flagrant act of idol-worshiping, known in Hebrew as 'aboda zara, the most serious offense in the entire Tora.  He also explained that these people learned this ceremony from the books of the ancient "sabians", an ancient pagan sect who worshiped angels and demons. 

After describing this practice, rabbi Setton referred to the silence of the rabbis of the city. He said that the reason the rabbis did not denounce this practice was probably because they were not aware of what was going on behind those closed doors. Many of them thought that perhaps, people were just praying in an intense way, etc.  Once the rabbis became aware of what was going on in those houses, ALL the rabbis "gathered together for the sake of heaven" (from here the name of the book) to ban and eradicated this pagan practice.

Rabbi Sutton was widely supported in his efforts by numerous other rabbis from his city (thirty six rabbis from Aleppo signed their approval of his book) as well as from rabbinic leaders in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed, from both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities.

Rabbi Menashe Setton died in Alexandria, Egypt in 1876

To download this enlightening book KENESIYA LESHEM SHAMAYIM click here

לע"נ אייל יפרח, נפתלי פרנקל וגיל-עד שאער הי"ד

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

TEHILIM # 3, Our prayer in times of darkness

In this Psalm David haMelekh prays to God to save him from the hand of his enemies.

ה' מָה-רַבּוּ צָרָי  רַבִּים, קָמִים עָלָי.
David recognizes that "His enemies are many, too many" for him to handle.  His enemies are completely aware that they outnumber David and his army. 

And this is why they proclaim:

רַבִּים, אֹמְרִים לְנַפְשִׁי אֵין יְשׁוּעָתָה לּוֹ בֵאלֹ-הִים סֶלָה

"David's life, has no hope anymore."  The enemies believe that  "Now, not even God can save King David".

וְאַתָּה ה' מָגֵן בַּעֲדִי כְּבוֹדִי וּמֵרִים רֹאשִׁי

"But You HaShem, You are my shield". You protect me against my enemies even before I request Your protection. Some times, I'm not aware that is was You Who saved me. And while You protect my life, "You don't let my enemies to humiliate me". You spare my life while "You hold my head up".

 אֲנִי שָׁכַבְתִּי, וָאִישָׁנָה הֱקִיצוֹתִי כִּי ה' יִסְמְכֵנִי

Knowing that You are on my side, "I lay down in my bed and I'm able to sleep". Because I know that during the night You are awake,  watching over me. And "when I wake up" in the morning, I'm confident, knowing that "You will sustain me" during the day.

 לֹא-אִירָא מֵרִבְבוֹת עָם אֲשֶׁר סָבִיב, שָׁתוּ עָלָי

Knowing that You are on my side, "why should I be afraid of my enemies?" You are my shield, "why should I be afraid, even when millions of brutal enemies are surrounding me from every corner."

לה' הַיְשׁוּעָה

"The salvation", the decision of who will be victorious and who will be defeated in battle, "is YOURS". We have our army, our wonderful and courageous sons/soldiers who are ready to fight and if necessary, to sacrifice their lives to protect our people. But we know that at the end the "salvation" is Yours. You determine who is victorious and who is defeated.  

עַל-עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ סֶּלָה

Our enemies are many. Too many to handle by ourselves. They outnumber us greatly. Literally, 100 to 1. For them it is obvious that the end of Israel is inevitable. For them, it is not IF, but WHEN and HOW.  And even when they are busy fighting among themselves and killing each other, we are their biggest goal. The world, most of the world, is divided into two: those who are afraid of our enemies (because they don't know YOU) and will never act in our defense, and those who are not afraid of our enemies but concur with their ideas that we, Israel, don't deserve to live in peace.

You are our hope. Our only hope. HaShem, "bestow Your blessing" of victory and peace "upon YOUR people", upon YOUR children.

לע"נ אייל יפרח, נפתלי פרנקל וגיל-עד שאער הי"ד

Monday, June 30, 2014

Amida (Berakha 19) The blessing of Peace

ברכת הקב"ה היא שלום, שנאמר  ה'  יברך את עמו בשלום
The last berakha of the 'amida, sim shalom, is the blessing in which we ask HaShem for Shalom/peace.

"Grant us peace, goodness, and blessing,
life, grace, kindness and mercy,
for us and on all Israel Your people.
And bless us, our Father, all of us, as one,
with the light of Your Presence..."

Shalom is the highest aspiration of the Jewish people. We do not pray for world dominion or for the death of our enemies. Our ultimate dream is to live in peace with other nations and among ourselves. From the beginning of our history the Tora's  utmost promise is that, if we will keep HaShem's commandments we will be left alone by our enemies and live in our land, Israel, in peace and tranquility (Lev. 22:5).  In May 14th, 1948, when the modern State of Israel was established, David Ben Gurion read in the Declaration of Independence "WE EXTEND our hand of peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land." In our days, this Shalom/Peace is still an ideal (utopian?) aspiration.  As if "Peace" could not be considered as the "normal" situation of the Jews but a God given blessing. To certain extent, "Peace" is a miracle, for which we Jews still pray everyday, three times a day.

The text of this berakha is modeled after the most important blessing to be found in the Torah: birkat kohanim. Thus, in birkat Kohainim, we ask for God's blessing (יברכך), then for HaShem to  enlighten us with His Presence (יאר ה' פניו) and  we end by asking HaShem to grant us the blessing of peace (וישם לך שלום). In sim Shalom we first ask HaShem to bestow upon us all His blessings (peace, life, kindness, goodness, etc.), then we ask Him to bless us with the light of His presence (וברכנו אבינו...באור פניך) , and we end by requesting HaShem to bless us with strength and peace (עוז ושלום).

The Sephardic custom is to say the same text for this berakha in every 'amida, while the Ashkenazi custom is to say this berakha in its entirety only when Birkat Kohanim could be recited, namely, in Shaharit and Musaf. This is why the Ashkenazi custom is to replace sim shalom for shalom rab, a shorter version, for Minha and Arbit.