Archive for April, 2011
In today’s day and age it seems like people use a screen to not simply get their work done. Rather, we use smartphones or computer monitors to “zone out” or “chill.” Doing so is certainly important—but it should be done in moderation. Unfortunately, we all know people who are consumed with updating their Facebook status or playing Angry Birds to the extent that they don’t learn or consume their time with all the wonderful things that life offers us. Indeed, if one took a moment to contemplate the greater things in life, a person may realize that from the advanced technological world in which we live in, we can further see the wondrousness of Hashem.
Recently, the media (see here) has been up in arms about the fact that Apple and Google are intensifying privacy concerns by tracking where and when people use their mobile phones. However, while this concern is real and genuine (and I encourage everyone to at least follow this easy step to secure their information on their iPhone) we need to heed the words of Dr. Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, who helped pioneer research in this field. Pentland hit the nail on the head when he noted that, “people can get this god’s-eye view of human behavior.”
Here is the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory admitting that this allows us to appreciate an insight into Hashem’s view of human behavior. As a child we are all told that Hashem is watching over us at all times and knows our very movements, thoughts, and actions (also see my earlier blog post on this topic Google and God). In contemporary times, I believe that Hashem is using technology to show us his greatness. For instance, through the invention of the telephone we witnessed that it is possible for one to talk to another person across continents; and from the smartphone we now see that it’s possible to know the thoughts, health and location of millions of individuals.
And so, we must realize that if companies are accessing this information, the Almighty sure can!!
Our task is to use this technologically advanced world that we live in as an impetus not for spiritual decline—but growth.
The next time we are yapping on our smartphone and are about to speak about or watch something unbecoming for a Jew, we should remember that it’s not just Fortune 500 companies who will forever have this information on us—but the ultimate Creator as well!
For more on this topic, I encourage all to listen to Rav Mordechai Willig’s shuir titled, Privacy and Shared Information: The Torah Perspective.
Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a tall man who brightens any room with his Torah depth and stature. He is viewed as a someone who has achieved wondrous feats! From surviving the Holocaust and continuing on the Rabbinic dynasty that he hails from, to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel and now Tel Aviv—he remains a legendary figure to all of Jewry. On the complete opposite spectrum stands the legendary Lakers Center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor, Jr., he had a prolific college and NBA career becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. In 1971 Lew Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To the naked eye it would seem that the only thing he shares in common with Rabbi Lau is that they are both luminous figures.
And yet, these two men—one a Jew and another a Muslim—are eagerly looking forward to meeting one another this July in Israel!
The former NBA star is making a film about none other than World War II, and will honor the final wish of his father. You see, Ferdinand L. Alcindor Sr., had one dying wish. He requested that his son visit Israel and meet the little boy that he personally rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent Rabbi. This Rabbi is none other than Rabbi Lau!
Indeed, Rabbi Lau, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem remarked that, “the fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting. I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”
Rabbi Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”
As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and followed the Lakers, I never thought I’d see these two figures mentioned in the same sentence—let alone meeting in The Holy Land! However, after reading about what Mr. Abdul-Jabbar intends to do with his film and his visit, I look forward to seeing these two legends of their respective fields work towards educating the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.
For the full story see here.
UPDATED: Kareem Responds to my blog post on ESPN.com! http://j.mp/ljvaTr
Throughout the world, young and old alike enjoy the festive bonfires of Lag B’Omer and the delicious cheesecake of Shavuot. That said, we need to perform the act of Sefiras HaOmer, counting the Omer (all the way from the holiday of Passover to Shavuot), to reach these dates. And yet, understanding the mechanics and spiritual significance of this 49 day period is an ominous task.
Enter the new iPhone App called Sefiros!
This App is based on the bestselling book Sefiros, from the acclaimed author and community leader Rabbi Yaacov Haber. As an aside, I was privileged to briefly meet Rabbi Haber in person at last year’s Kishor Social Media Conference where we both lectured. From his remarks it was clear to all, that he is both a revered scholar—as well as someone who is keenly aware of and in use of the technological tools that we are afforded in 2011. Hence, it is only fitting that he created an App that does more than simply helps one count the Omer. In fact, Sefiros seems to continue where the book left of in that it provides daily Kabbalistic insights as well as alerts that allow the user to discover and implement the unique spirituality found in each day of the Omer!
I’ve tested this App the past couple of days and found that from design to content the Sefiros App really shines!
Unfortunately, there are some Apps out there in which the user experience is outright sloppy. I’m pleased to report that the Sefiros App is beautifully designed and is easy to use. Plus, it features a useful reminder to count the Omer complete with the text of the proper blessing. It even automatically adjusts to your timezone and location. This function is useful for anyone who may find themselves traveling on business or the like but still doesn’t want to get confused with what day of the Omer to count. What’s more, in line with today’s web 2.0 world that we live in, the App will allow one to share on Facebook and Twitter!
Best of all, the Grow version of this App, allows one to truly actualize this special time period. One can set various alerts that will remind a person to perform or be conscious of actions with G-d, their spouse or even to work on a character trait. In so doing, despite the busy world that we live in, one can have an App to help them not only with their physical health (such as LoseIt) but with their spiritual wellbeing as well!
If you are looking for some meaning after Passover or simply want to finally understand the Omer, I recommend you download the Sefiros App.
The Midrash (Mechilta, Beshalach 4) relates that the sea did not simply split in one place for the Jewish people as they exited Egypt. Rather, there were twelve tunnels and each shevet, tribe, went through their own tunnel. This is perplexing given that the Torah tells us that the Jews left Egypt as one nation. In fact, we are praised for arriving at Mount Sinai as a unified nation! The answer that has always settled best with me is that each tribe entered and left Egypt as both individuals with their own personalities and yet unified brothers as well. In contemporary times, our nation at large struggles to find our Jewish identity. Indeed, aside for who is a Kohen or who is a Levi, a large portion of Jews do not know their individual tribal identity. And so, when we call out to Hashem and pray we daven in the Nusach we have received, and hope that this is sufficient.
Today, Erev Yom Tov, I went to the Western Wall and witnessed that now thousands of years later, while we look, dress, and pray differently, we can come together in unison through our prayer and thanks to Hashem. This point really struck a cord with me not when I saw the throngs of different yarmulkes, hats, or shtremels. Rather, it was when I went to grab a Siddur and saw all of the various prayer books laying there unified in one cause: waiting to be used by Ashkenazim, Chassidim, Sephardim, who will read the holy words and communicate their love, awe, and thanks for allowing us to be FREE!
The word technology is not often found in the same sentence as Meah Shearim. In fact, this famous Jerusalem neighborhood and its environs, are commonly painted as abhoring anything to do with computer systems, the internet, or any other vestige of technology that you or I may take as a given! That said, I recently needed a place to daven Mincha and chanced upon the legendary Zichron Yehudah Shtiebel. This Shtiebel is located in a neighborhood that was originally referred to as Meah Shearim HaChadash, but is commonly known today as Beis Yisrael. For more on this area and its expansion I encourage you to read this post by Varda Littman here.
In any event, I noticed that there was not the usual chaos that one typically experiences at a Shtiebel. I didn’t need to scurry from room to room trying to ascertain when the next Mincha was going to begin. Instead, this Shtiebel had unique technology in place that allowed for an automated system that would simply announce the beginning of a Minyan, followed by the room number. However, in this case, it wasn’t a room number. Rather, it was one of the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet! As you can see from the picture to your right, the Hebrew Alphabet letters were lit up in bright neon colors and allowed for a calming presence to be felt throughout the building.
It was then that I realized that this use of technology is in line with how this neighborhood views technology. Simply put: if it helps one get closer to Hashem, I’ll use it! If not, keep it far…far away!
I am honored that The Jerusalem Life magazine decided to feature me for this month’s, Who’s Who: Personalties Around Jerusalem column. This periodical is enjoyed by thousands in Jerusalem and its surrounding cities, and always seems to contain practical articles relating to educating ones children within the framework of Israeli society, insights into family development, and much more. Hence, when a number of months ago, Mrs. C.B. Gavant, a writer for The Jerusalem Life, contacted me hoping that I would agree to be interviewed for the Who’s Who: Personalties Around Jerusalem column, I decided to comply with her request. In so doing, I granted her access into my daily life as well as a bit of the back story into how we settled in Eretz Yisrael!
Now months removed from the interview, I remain truly humbled with how the final piece came out. Likewise, I thank all of you who already read the article and called or emailed saying how much you enjoyed the piece.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t reiterate what I was quoted as saying, namely that, “I wouldn’t be here if not for her [my wife].” And so, although the title of the piece referenced me as a “rising star,” I want to express my thanks once again to Hashem as well as the true star in my life: my wife! After all, it is she who allows and enables me the unique opportunity to wear the various hats mentioned in the article.
Click here to read the article at a larger size/resolution.
The American Civil War (1861–1865) began on April 12, 1861. Hence, Pesach 2011 comes within the secular calendar month in which, 150 years ago, this country began “a great civil war.” Moreover, that war’s causes and results fit with the holiday’s themes—the end of slavery and, as President Abraham Lincoln put it in his great Gettysburg Address, the creation of “a new birth of freedom.” Speaking of Lincoln, I’m pleased to have in my possession a rare book published in 1909 titled, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews. In this work one can read of the great affinity and dare I say respect that President Lincoln displayed towards our people. This was in stark contrast however to the way in which General Ulysses S. Grant acted towards Jews.
In fact, Grant issued Order No. 11 on December 17, 1862 that expelled ALL Jews from those portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi where his forces had taken the field (see here for more on this). This edict was never followed because Lincoln had General Henry Halleck write to General Grant and tell him that, “as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deems it necessary to revoke it.” Who knows…perhaps it was Lincoln’s respect for the Jewish people that allowed his side of the battle to ultimately be victorious…only Hashem knows for certain!
Interestingly, it is documented that there were Jews who fought on both the Confederate and Union side. That said, thanks to the recent Mifgashim email that I received I learned that:
Bertram W. Korn recounts in his 1961 book “American Jewry and the
Civil War” the story of two Jews, one northerner and one southerner,
who encounter each other on Pesach.
“One day during a Passover, Union soldier Myer Levy of Philadelphia
was walking through a captured Virginia town, when he saw a boy
sitting on the steps of his house and eating matzah. When Levy asked
for some, the boy leaped up and ran into the house shouting, ‘Mother,
there’s a damn-Yankee Jew outside!’ The boy’s mother came out and
invited Levy to return that evening for a Passover meal.”
What I enjoyed most from Korn’s citation was reading that this Jewish mother was showing her impressionable son that at the Seder we are not simply performing lip service! Rather, we don’t let politics get in the way of our brethren. After all we recite in the Ha Lachma Anya section:
This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread,
which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in want, share the hope of Passover.
As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere.
May we merit to see the days in which there is no longer a divide amongst our people and come to serve Hashem in Jerusalem as a unified nation!
Happy Passover and let Freedom ring at your Seder!
p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy this article: http://www.jewishchronicle.org/article.php?article_id=12729
picture courtesy of: http://www.jewishdayton.org/display_image.aspx?id=323316
As a child I did not know about the special blessing for a blossoming tree. Our Sages relate that it should ideally be recited strictly in the Jewish month of Nissan.[i] And so, I’d like to present a brief overview on this special blessing so that many Jews around the world can recite this unique blessing.
Indeed, Jewish law states that any man or woman[ii] who sees fruit trees that are in the beginning stages of blooming, recites the following blessing:
Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Shelo Chisar B’Olamo Klum U’Vara Vo Beriyos Tovos V’Ilanos Tovos[iii] Lehanos Bahem Bnei Adam.
Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, Master of the Universe, who ensured that nothing is lacking in His world and Created in it good creations and good trees in order to pleasure mankind with them.
Ideally, this blessing should be said on two or more trees. That said, if one lives in a city or is not able to go to an orchard or a field, a person may still recite this blessing on one tree. Some people have the custom after reciting the blessing to recite Tehillim and other texts praising Hashem for the trees. Others try to say this blessing with a group. It follows that others even have the custom to give Tzedakah prior to this blessing.[iv]
Once one has said this blessing—that’s it—you are done for the year! Additionally, our Sages are of the opinion that the preferred time to recite this blessing is during the daytime.[v]
What’s more, the special blessing on seeing a blossoming tree should not be recited on Shabbos, as our Sages were worried that it may lead one to touch the tree and/or pluck a branch. However, if Shabbos happens to be the final opportunity to recite the blessing, many Rabbis are of the opinion that one may nevertheless recite the blessing.[vi]
Please note, the blessing on seeing a blossoming tree is only recited on a) fruit tree, and b) only when the bud/flower can be seen in the early stages of blooming, and c) not on a tree where strictly leaves are seen and d) not on a tree where the fruit has already completely developed.[vii]
From a mystical perspective, one should realize that by reciting this blessing, a person is able to achieve a tikkun, a spiritual rectification, for the souls that are hovering between Heaven and Earth. Indeed, there may in fact be reincarnated souls that are stuck in the bark of tree! Hence, when saying this blessing one should have in mind that Hashem evoke mercy upon hovering souls, and by extension allow them to fully blossom by returning to Heaven.[viii]
The pictures in this post are of the sign that both my wife and I used this year to recite this blessing on: Rosh Chodesh Nissan 2011. I’m pleased that my son will learn of this blessing at his school. In fact, they are going on a field trip to recite this blessing for the blossoming tree!
If you’d like to make this special blessing a family affair, there is even a great kids book available called: Growing with the Tree.
All things considered, if you have not said this special blessing for a blossoming tree yet, I encourage you to try and do so sooner rather than later.
This year, was a leap year and we find ourselves well into the blooming season of the trees! Take your family out and say thanks to Hashem in this most unique fashion!
[i] See Shulchan Aruch 226:1 and Mishna Berura S”K 1. See also Aishel Avraham Butshatsh who is of the opinion that only in the month of Nissan may the blessing be recited with the complete recital of Hashem’s name. However, the prevalent custom is to recite the blessing, as long as the tree is still in the blooming stage—even if this is past Nissan. See Chayei Adam Klal 63:2 and Aruch HaShulchan 226:1 who discuss scenarios in which one finds themselves in a climate where the blooming season is not in Nissan (i.e. Australia or South Africa).
[ii] See Shu”t Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 1:118 and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:25 for the reason as to why this blessing isn’t considered a Mitzvah She’Hazman Grama, as it is seemingly a time-bound Mitzvah.
[iii] See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 60:1 who mentions that the word should be “Tovim.”
[iv] See Kaf HaChaim 226:7 and 8. See also Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:16.
[v] Mishnah Berura 226:3. See also Shu”t Har Tzvi ibid and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:20:6.
[vi] See Kaf HaChaim 226:4, Shu”t B’Tzel HaChachma 6:37, Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso 26:72 and Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 1:2.
[vii] Mishna Berurah 226:2 and 4.
[viii] See Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:191 and Kaf HaChaim 226:8. Also see Kaf HaChaim 226:4 who relates that the reason this blessing should not be recited on Shabbos, is because one cannot perform, “Borer.” After all, by reciting this blessing one would be separating the sparks of holiness in the form of the Souls that are stuck within the trees.