Feb 06 2015

Connect with a Teacher

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When Yisro comes to meet Moshe and the Jewish Nation, he finds that Moshe is taking questions all day. Moshe explains that everyone who has a question about G-d’s Laws is coming to him for the answer, and everyone with a disagreement is coming to him to know who is right.

Yisro says to him that the burden is obviously too great for one person. Rather, he suggests that Moshe select judges for the nation, “judges of thousands, judges of hundreds, judges of fifties, and judges of tens” [Ex. 18:21].

Even in the desert, it wasn’t enough for there to just be Moshe, teaching the people. It had to be possible for every person to make a connection with a teacher, who could show him right from wrong. If the question was too great for the “judge of tens,” he could turn to the “judge of fifties” for the answer.

Both Moshe and Yisro were motivated by the good of the people, rather than their leader. The entire model was (and remains) one of service to the community. As Yisro said, the judges had to be upstanding, G-d-fearing individuals, people of truth who were not anxious for personal gain. Over the long term, he knew this would be even more beneficial than rare contact with Moshe himself.

The Talmud frequently points out that not everything we learn is black and white, something that one can find in a book or by listening to a lecture. The opportunity to develop a personal connection with the teacher means the opportunity to learn from simply being in their presence, and seeing how they address everyday situations. It is important to connect with a teacher and guide, a link back through Jewish history, to truly understand the majesty of our birthright.

Jan 30 2015

Everyday Miracles

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everydaymiracles2This week, we read about the formation of the Jewish people. They are taken out of Egypt to form a new nation, and the first thing the Jewish people see is an open miracle: the opening of the Sea to let them cross.

Shortly after letting the Israelites go, Pharoah regretted his decision, and he and his army came chasing after them. The newly-freed Jewish people naturally feared for their lives, and, downtrodden after centuries of slavery, began to lose hope.

The Medrash says that the waters did not separate until Nachshon ben Aminadav entered up to his neck. The message was clear: although one should never rely on miracles, sometimes it’s going to take a miracle to get through. And miracles will happen.

When you think about it, all of Jewish history is a miracle. When a nation is exiled and dispersed, it fades away. When it is oppressed and hated, it is more rapidly abandoned. Its members simply dissolve into the surrounding culture. Yet the Torah tells us that despite all of these empirical truths, the Jewish people will be dispersed, will remain few in number, will find themselves hated and pursued in host countries — yet they will survive, and the message of the Torah will spread to the world.

And miracles happen.

Jan 23 2015

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz zt”l

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Rav Dovid Winiarz zt"l

Rav Dovid Winiarz zt”l

At the beginning of this week’s reading, Pharoah flatly rejects the idea that all the Jews should be allowed to leave Egypt to worship G-d. He was willing to consider allowing a subset to leave for a time, but not the entire nation. Yet that is precisely what Moshe demanded, and at the end, of course, that is what happened. Moshe was unwilling to leave anyone behind.

This week, the world of Kiruv, Jewish outreach, lost a true hero. On the way to the conference of the Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals, the car in which Rav Dovid Winiarz zt”l was travelling slid on a patch of black ice, and he died in the accident.

Reb Dovid was a person who believed in the ideal of leaving no one behind, and who lived for that ideal.

He used social media as his vehicle of choice, even adopting the moniker “the Facebuker Rebbe” for his activities. And like any Rebbe, he was there for any Jew with words of advice and inspiration.

He epitomized what outreach is really all about: Ahavas Chinam, love for every person regardless of circumstances. Helping a Jewish person discover the majesty of our Jewish heritage isn’t about saving souls; it’s another aspect of the concern for others we are supposed to demonstrate in all circumstances. Dovid was concerned for others, in every way.

You saw it in the way he did business. He was an agent for Fidelity Payment Services, a popular provider of merchant transaction processing. You saw exactly the same caring person helping his clients as you did in his outreach. The CEO of Fidelity, Benyamin Weiser, mentioned to me that R’ Dovid had a uniquely soft approach in both sales and service, which he attributed to his outreach work, but I feel was simply the essence of who Dovid Winiarz was.

Someone wrote on Facebook that he wanted to hear from R’ Dovid’s close friends about doing something in his memory. I sent that person a note, telling him that he’s going to receive a lot of messages (as I’m sure he did) because everyone felt he was R’ Dovid’s close friend. His enthusiasm was infectious, he was always trying to get more people involved in spreading Judaism, and simply helping others in whatever situation. In just days, hundreds of people have joined the tribute page set up on Facebook in his memory, with countless stories of what he personally did to help so many. One person commented that everyone knew R’ Dovid was a Tzaddik, a truly righteous person. What was hidden about his holiness is that no one knew the superhuman amount that he did for so many people.

As I wrote earlier this week, if we are to learn from R’ Dovid, it would have to be first and foremost his attribute of Ahavas Chinam, free and boundless love for others, that we emulate. Spreading knowledge of our great legacy should be merely one facet of that desire to help.

Rav Dovid Winiarz is survived by his wife and ten children; a fund has been established to help the family.

Jan 09 2015

Criticism Welcome!

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CaptureThere is a world of difference between lashon hora, evil gossip, and constructive criticism. First and foremost, criticism can help us to improve.

In this week’s reading, Moshe is warned that he spoke badly of Israel — he said that they will not believe him, and this is why G-d makes his hand turn white with Tza’aras, the affliction that came for speaking lashon hora. The Torah also teaches us how important it is not to embarrass another person, comparing a comment that drains the blood from a person’s face to homicide. Yet the Torah is also filled with instances in which G-d and Moshe rebuke the Jewish Nation.

We are turning to you this week with an open invitation for criticism.

As you have almost certainly heard, we are in the process of laying out a series of improvements to our website and entire Internet presence, ones which we hope will dramatically increase our reach and our ability to touch Jewish lives. We want to know what you think is missing.

As Rabbi Dixler put it, instead of “what’s new at Torah.org,” let’s talk about what’s old!

We will be the first to say that our website is outdated. The menus are clumsy and confusing, and don’t necessarily steer you to the content you will most enjoy. There are no social media connections to make it easier to share our content. We could, of course, offer a wider variety of content, and RSS feeds to permit you to subscribe via the web to writers or topics.

This will help inform our transition, and help others to appreciate its importance. If I try to explain to a supporter that our website is outdated, that’s one thing. But if you, the reader, say “I can barely find your excellent content because your menus are so clumsy,” then you’ve both endorsed the importance of what we offer, and explained how and why we need to improve.

So please, have at it! We don’t promise to publish every comment, but we will certainly read them.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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