Friday, May 31, 2013

Dear Friends

I will be Gd willing writing more soon enough. It's just been very busy. For those who don't know, Denise is having surgery next Friday, arthroscopic, a tear in her upper lip of her hip joint.
We tried physical therapy first but it just won't do.

We are all doing "normal". It's very hard, a lot of up and downs.
So hard to imagine that she just isn't away for a couple of weeks. The realization that she isn't makes a very down period and then we think she is temporarily away again. Oy! All the learning and growth in Mitzvot as well as the cards, meals and feedback from my writings has been very gratifying. It definitely has helped to pull us through. Thank you for you love and friendship.

Thank you to all of our families, first my loving brother, then my loving sister and now my in-laws for visiting us and helping us through this time.

There will be this Sunday on, written by the co-editor of, Rabbi Sharaga Simmons, a long time personal friend. It is one of two articles that will appear on the website about Shoshie and our family.

Aside, if you have heard of Mishpacha Magazine, there is an excellent article written by Dr Norman Goldwasser of Miami about Shoshie. He and his wife were Shoshie's other family in South Florida. She spent an enormous amount of time there, her last Shabbos and her last day was with them.
Thank you so much for your kindness and your personal helpfulness in our lives

Good Shabbos

Monday, May 27, 2013

Can a person control their thoughts? (one last thought)

I forgot to say what I think is our main ability not to be swept away in our thoughts. - Once a person can be more of an observer that they are in deed the thinker, the one who is actually being the receptacle for thought and starts to see that they are the arbiter of what comes to be as "your own" - "personal thoughts" (contaminated a lower version of what we referred to as original thought) ..We can create a small, albeit very small space to notice a thought and turn our attention to another direction - other thoughts will come. If you become stuck and other thoughts don't immediately come? Don't worry they will. Wait it out a bit - the reservoir where thought comes from is nver dry, they will always come,
Can a person control their thoughts?

It seems to me in response to what I wrote yesterday, that it appeared to a few that I am of the opinion that "one can control their thoughts" ....... I personally don't think so.

Where do our thoughts come from? Where are they manufactured? If the original source of our thoughts came from us then I might think that we have the ability to dictate the quality of our thoughts. However, the infinite energy that fuses the world of the formless (Hashem - the endless one, the spiritual world) to this world as we know it (the world of form-physicality-the material world) is thought - - - as it appears to us in our head. Thought is the manifestation of electrons, protons, neurons that come into this world from the world of the formless appearing to us "in the world of the form". 

Thought is where our life all begins.

We are able to have an experience of life via this formless energy that appears in the physical realm as thought through the gift of consciousness.In other words, it is the gift of consciousness allows us to experience life all together through the medium of thought.

So the origination of thought thought really come from up high
and it starts out as "impersonal - original thought" before it comes contaminated through our our own particular prism. Each of us, very different, unique individuals, with different personalities, inclinations, drives and experiences will all experience the same formless energy that starts out as original and impersonal thought once it is picked up by our consciousness as personal thought, each in our own distinct and different way.

Wow.... that would mean that each of us can see and experience  the exact same thing and yet experience it totally differently from the next person. There was once this book in France whereby 5 people experienced the same intense event and the entire book was a narrative of 5 individual stories-versions of what happened according to each of the five people. Didn't they all see the same thing? Well.... yes ..... and no in a way.

Of course this is quite frustrating if this is true, because one would like to think that they see something exactly as it happened, the  truth and reality. So many arguments, conflict and fights occur because 2 people experience the exact same event but in completely two different ways. Each one sure that the others emotional biases have completely skewed their vision. Each one is sure that they have seen it exactly as it happened.

I was certain that when both of my boys were much younger, fighting - who hit who, did what to who etc that when I got both versions of their stories and differed so much, I was certain that one of them was lying. Now I see it a little differently ---not so fast. 

By the way it happens to be that it is for this reason that we have a Mitzvah to judge favorably because, off hand we have to think to ourselves that maybe there is a peice of information to this puzzle that I am not seeing... meaning I am limited as to what only comes to my mind.  

An important question is how can we determine the truth and reality of our thoughts? I mean what in the world can we rely on besides our own mind telling us what we are seeing? Another question is "What would the factors inside of ourselves that influence the way we things that might differ to reality and truth"?
These are not for now.

But I do want to say that notwithstanding the approaches to those questions above, the discussion of free will generally center and focus in the world of action; the distinction between the voices of your soul (your higher aspiration self) and what is referred to as the "body" -(your lower aspiration self) which one do I listen to and choose at any given moment. It appears to me that free will begins as to how to understand the thought that appears in my head. What to make of it? To act or not to act upon it? How truthful is it? should I slow down the impulse of directly acting to the intensity of the thought? Free will of thought goes before free will of action.

I don't feel that we can control which thought to have on the onset but I do believe that we have the ability not to fuel a thought. We have the ability to allow the thought to pass by and relate to it as one relates to the background noise of the weather channel when cooking in the kitchen. Even if that thought appears emotionally charged, juicy, it demands attention, it demands you must act upon it now.

In the end of the day, we are not one and the same as our thoughts, but we are the thinker. Knowing that in it of itself lessens the feeling of compulsion of a thought. Having this realization helps us to become less of a victim of our thoughts. Knowing that we have more of an ability to observe our thoughts helps to lessen the grip of our thoughts.

I have more to say but I got to go ...... again..... to car pool....


P.S Thank you to all who have read my posts and thank you to everyone who was able to come to last night's presentation at BRS for Shoshie's Shaloshim. Also to those who wanted to be there but couldn't. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Waking up to a horrific state of mind - What to do with Thoughts?

Did you hear what happened to Shoshie Stern? I woke up to this horrific reality. What? are you sure? She is never coming home? She is not just away for Shabbos? Something tells me that a horrible accident happened and Shoshie was in it, hurt, very badly. How badly? I don't know.... but it's bad. This is how I woke up this morning. I am sure it's not helpful to be surrounded by Shoshie's shrines of pictures in her vibrancy, infancy, innocence, beauty, - her loving and joyous, infectious smile. Someone said "hey you got 5 other kids"....... I want this one to! %17 of my being isn't here. I am not totally here. I don't how you should act around me, speak to me, look at me ........ I realize that Shoshie was a horrible, just horrible news story for you.... yes it has effected you.... I know .... you haven't slept the same since... I know.... but thank God you have your normal life with your normal responsibilities, routines .... There is a normative seam of life to move back into, join along and move at a steady pace. Did you hear? a family has lost their daughter, 12 1/2 years old, an integral part of the family, someone very present in their lives - How do you move on so well where everywhere you look you see Shoshie. She is in the kitchen preparing lunch, she is walking out of her room with some cockamamie thing in her hair that seems to work for her but would not for anyone else. There she is perfecting her new found cooking talents of baking Pesach delicacies, (parve I might add) and making Chinese noodles. There she is, she just came back on her long board, hair streaked, great Shabbos at the Goldwassers .... just going out for a little while...... she didn't come home! How is your morning?

Catching my mind at what it does best. Taking an introspective read of my inner world and finding that my mind's attention is dwelling in the past at what has happened; dwelling in the future that she is not going to be here. It's like your state of mind/thoughts being represented as white water rapids that has whisked you far down the river, before you even knew it and you didn't even know it until ..... you wake up to that reality. Your consciousness, your "I" , your "free will" , your essence - wakes up! ...... to yourself. Your ability to be aware of yourself and where you are at are two different matters, things, entities. The same as the statement " I've got to find myself" the same as "I am looking/searching for myself".

So I am awake to myself and see that I am downstream, still in the whirlwind of white waters, moving fast....I don't find my surroundings recognizable, not sure where you exactly where I am and not even sure how to navigate from here. I am lost, very lost. How do i stop this train? How do I find my way home again? Do I necessarily have to be a victim of my state of mind/thoughts?

Just realizing that I am not one and the same with my state of mind/thoughts is simply an amazing realization in it of itself. I have a separate identity. Although my thoughts appear to be one and the same as me, mostly all the time - because Gd willing I am operating in the moment - but I see now, so often it might be a moment, but it is a moment in time that is in my head... the moment transports me to something that has to happen right around the corner, something that "I need to do" , "some where I have got to be" -with urgency, impetuosity - I am at one with that thought..... in the moment and things just happen, not necessarily all the right results I would have wanted after the fact. Sometimes being real with a thought in the moment transports me to something that has happened in the past and boy is it comfortable to dwell there. Yes I have what to focus my attention to .... did you hear .... Shoshie's gone from this world? But for others one has an entire roller deck to search for something in their past, some slight they felt, some insult, some injustice - they pry on your insecurity, your lack of wholeness and causes your state of mind to give you a picture of someone, something that is the cause of your pain. A snap of the fingers and just like that the white water rapids that represent your state of mind has usurped you, victimized you, taken you, owns you and you find yourself way down to stream, - uneasy, queasy, difficult feelings and you always have someone to blame.

Some people don;t have the luxury of introspection to wake up and discover that their "free will-I -ness" can recognize this bad state of mind for what it truly is. Did I wake up this morning and decide that I was going to be morose? that I would wallow in my loss? cry a bucket of tears? no! it just happened. No-one decides initially decides as to what the screen will be as it shows up in minds eye. Most of the time our "I-ness", consciousness,awareness, free will isn't so extent, standing, engaged to realize that in truth there is a gate that this poor state of mind has to pass though before it gets very comfortable dwelling inside of you and makes itself at home. Most of the time this is where your negative, bad, ill-feeling state of mind ends up -dwelling inside of you, down the fast-moving white water until .... you wake up and realize ... I didn't even make a morning order of coffee and bad state of mind. Mr. bad state of mind; where did you come from? how did you get here, who let you in? and just how long do yo think you are entitled to dwell here? I mean really you are a most unwanted guest. I will take a quick scan if there is some useful information that you have for me to live joyously and securely and I will just let you go out the door on the other side of my head. Or I might just let you dwell a little bit, the tears are sometimes cathartic, the tears are sometime very appropriate and meaningful sometimes, for a certain length of time. But you want to stay and ruin my day? stay and have me be incapacitated? paralyzed? I don't think so can go now.

Just realizing that you are down the stream and you realize that you have the ability to wake up to your thoughts/state of mind can be the beginning of snapping you out of the far flung place you are on the river and bring you back to the relaxed lazy water of being present in your life. Someone wise once said to be you are either in your mind or your life. How did we get so far afield so quickly? how did we lose our way? The answer is simple, our I-ness, free-will awareness isn't so developed as it could be, it's stature and strength isn't as it should be, it gets usurped rather easily (normal) , it becomes a victim to a bad state of mind. We don't even realize. However not only can we wake up to ourselves and find out where we have been taken but we can develop ourselves to the point that we are the ones who unwittingly gave life to the thoughts, and we opened up the guard house and gave life to the intruder that is wreaking havoc in your own mind. You didn't author the thoughts or bad state of mind but we are the publishers and the marketing distributors. We, allow ourselves to grab a hold of these negative thoughts, we allow them to carry us down the fast-paced white water. We don't have to allow that to happen all the time.

One can grow the stature and strength of I-ness to the point that you can see that bad state of mind as something separate than yourself and while maybe it has taken up residency inside your head, but you were/have been the publisher and distributor of you will - one has to just have the humility to laugh whole-heartedly simply because that is just the way we work. (Another time I would to discuss that in many ways we are the actual co-creators of these thoughts).

One has to know that if your thoughts/state of mind appear really bad to you and you are feeling bad and yo do wake up to your own state of being - have full confidence, that these thoughts are going to pass. Just like they came...... they are going to go (as long as you decide not to hold on tight to them) indulge yourself a little, okay maybe a lot but know that is what you are doing and they can't dwell all day. You have things to do and people to see. The nature of thoughts (if you don't grab too tight) come and go all day. It's mostly the bad ones that seem quite compelling that we allow ourselves to choose to open the door for them. But the bad ones if we train ourselves can eventually some times appear like the weather channel, as a show that is running in the back-ground but not something you are emotionally involved with.

This is all important for a number of reasons but one of them is our capacity for spiritual growth and the lack there of. We are too often distracted by the thoughts in our mind; worries, stress, anxieties, challenges and problems. We are carrying around a lot of luggage leaving no room for ourselves the passenger. Our ability to tap into our endless and infinite wisdom is to step outside of our busy mind and dwell in our own presence. It is there we will meet our true selves, where our deepest understanding and insight lies. Our mind is good for intellectual capacity to figure things out, analyze, compare, contrast, organize etc -too often it is usurped by our insecurities, deeply felt emotions and a subconscious that allows our negative character traits to influence the picture of truth in our minds......Our true wisdom dwells beyond the intellect into the very essence of who we are....... a soul with a touch of the creator inside of us.

If you find yourself down the river, just know that we have the capacity for finding our way back home again and that we will feel complete and whole as soon as you allow yourself.


Friday, May 24, 2013

A Riddle
2 People have a million dollars, but only one of them is a millionaire?

Shoshie's last Parsha of her life was "Kedoshim" (Holy)

The Torah portion starts out "You shall be holy because I am Holy"
Emulating God is what our life is all about. The Vilna Gaon teaches us that the purpose of our lives is to refine our character traits.

In truth, we are souls ( a soul is a breath of God inside us that is an exact replica of God's essence) which unto itself has a mandate of transforming the it's own (the soul)deepest yearnings and inspirations (to be like God - refine our character traits; loving, mercy, compassionate, good, giving etc) into a form of actualization. Something that through our choices (in this world -every day life) of identifying and choosing with our souls to give, to love, we create an intrinsic identity that we call character. Our life is about self creation. Jewish spirituality and the point of life is not just to experience the transcendental; to experience the sun..... it is to become, make part of our intrinsic identity the beauty of the sun. We become the sun. It is not enough to be inspired and year for love, our mandate is to become love. How do we do that? Only through a concrete loving action. As our entire Torah is embodied on the precept of "Love your neighbor as yourself" - Become a lover, become a giver, become good.....this is what I refer to as building "soul muscles" - It is not enough that you were bequeathed a holy, pure soul. Oh wow you've got a holy soul what.. in a way... it is just like inheriting a million dollars.....same thing-in some way big deal.

In fact i have a riddle. 2 people have a million dollars in their pocket but only one of them is a millionaire. What is the answer to this riddle? it will tell us so much about life. One of then inherited a million dollars, and the others one earned a million dollars. If they both lost a million dollars who would be able to make it back? Only the person who earned the million dollars. He is intrinsically a millionaire whether he has the money in his pocket or not. He has developed himself, his character into someone who has the sticktutiveness, discipline and perseverance to do what it takes to make a million dollars. On the other hand the one who inherited a million dollars, the money was entirely external to who he is. He has a million dollars in his pocket but its incidental to who he is-intrinsically.

Only through the world of action (The Mitzvot) do we have the ability to transform ourselves intrinsically into people of great substance - again, it's not about experiencing love, it's becoming a lover through loving actions, it's not enough to just do loving actions, your goal is to experience love in the deepest level of actualizing your true intrinsic nature until you embody love in all you do and who you are. (even when not involved in a loving action) In this way, if you were able to follow many convoluted thoughts; Jewish spirituality, Mitzvot and personal development and growth are all really the same thing.

How to choose with the dictates,inspirations and yearnings of your soul is a whole topic unto itself that I would like to write about, as well as the overwhelmingly difficult price tag one has to face and pay to be able to choose with their soul.
I'll tease this idea and then finish with a thought about Holiness -the ultimate fulfillment of "being like God" .

What is the opposite of pain? ................Did you intuitively and naturally say "pleasure"? It is most people's gut reaction unless you thought about it before and came to a different conclusion.
The opposite of pain is ........... what? tell me!

How to refine ourselves through our actions in this world, where the world has an amazing strength to enwrap it's tentacles around us an engulf us into an entirely physical realm. After all we have constant legitimate physical needs that cause us to seek and pay for: shelter, food, physical intimacy, clothing, etc - constant -who has time left over?

Here's a thought about Holiness -remember be holy just as I am holy. Just like God is omnipotent and separate from the world, is nevertheless not divorced from it at any moment or in any thing, and he is to found through and through every molecule of this world - - - so too it is our task to emulate Hashem in the same fashion. To be a holy nation but not to divorce ourselves in the world. Rather we must exert ourselves in all areas of life but caution; we must be able not to be pulled in and dragged in by the world's physicality, materialism and false notions of never having enough. How can we attain that level when we have lusts, desires etc? How is possible to engage in physical pleasures and yet have a certain separateness from them? (you use them for spiritual goals as opposed to they use you, and usurp what you are living for in this world? (Y. Nachshoni)

It is for this reason the Torah adds "for I am Hashem your God am holy" - Hashem will help us! We must engage in life to the extent we can -this is our mandate (it is another religion that venerates no physical relations for it's paradigm of holiness-thank god that is not our religion) - it's another religion that says a holy person doesn't drink, the highest calling is to be on a mountain in the Himalayas, a monastery or a convent .

As mentioned before, it is only through being part of this world, in the world of action that we can accomplish our purpose in life. But don't be too over confident - we live in a physical world -it looks all real to us, we have legitimate needs and like all things-it becomes an end unto itself.

As the Torah says "don't look at the jug rather what is in it" - we all get stuck at that jug. Always seeing the external dimension, the material side, the physicality ( the million dollars in the pocket as said before -the one who inherited it) - Go beyond the jug and see the truth and reality that we all strive to see.

Good Shabbos

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More from the Visit with the Holy Rabbi

Another warning -again this is not a "from my Kishkas" posting but other things that were discussed with the Rabbi in his office.
Without a background and a strong interest the following could be quite difficult to follow.

(After the Sefer (book) went flying off the shelf) -So portion that the ribbon pointed us to was talking about a girl 12 - 12 1/2 making a vow, promise or a swear. What might that be? ( The following isn't necessarily in order)

One caveat- we are taught in Judaism that someone's name is their essence. We are also taught that parents get a little prophesy when they name their kids of their kids names should be.

The first thing that he noted (and wrote down) when we started to discuss Shoshie was the commandment of "honoring your mother and father" - that he asked us more about and was noted as a major important thing.

The first thing the Rabbi showed us when examining and analyzing Shoshie's Hebrew name was the Hebrew words for "women" and "honey (sweet)" - I didn't grasp fully how we saw this (I have to follow back up with him) but these two words began our journey.

The next thing the Rabbi did was look at the first letters of both of Shoshie's Hebrew names Shoshana Rachel (shin/sin, a reish) and the Denise's name which is Golda Baila he took the numerical value of both the gimmel (3) and the Beis (2) and came up with a hey. (which equals 5) . Putting that all together the sin,reish and hey spells - Sarah- the wife of Abraham and the one who was famous for "making the souls" of women. Introducing, teaching and showing them how to have a relationship with God. (interesting to note is that Denise and I have been involved in Jewish educational outreach all of our lives together)

Next, the Rabbi took the last letters of Shoshie's Hebrew names they being the "hey" in Shoshana and the "lamed" in Rachel. He took the last letters of both of Denise's names (an alef and an alef) and combined both of them (equals 2 which is a letter Veis)
Spelling that all out is a; hey, lamed, and veis = Halave - It means "The Heart" - There is so much that I could read into this, comment on etc but those who understand how i have been described "a heart on 2 legs" and my wife and what we do - let's just say "Halave-The Heart" is interesting; especially also since that goes with Sara making souls.

A few more tidbits
Shoshana, Shoshie's name means "Rose" in Hebrew. A perfect Rose has 13 petals -Shoshie was in her 13th year of life. She was born the 12th of Kislev - She was 12 years old. She was born in December the 12th month on the solar calender.

The letters that make up the word Cheshvan, the month that Denise and I got married can be found in her name. We actually got married on Rachel emainu's yahrzeit - Shoshie has Rachel in her name. Rachel who was married to Yaakov our forefather is known for being the person who continuously cries for the Jewish people to come back to Hashem, merit to bring Moshiach, to come back to land of Eretz Yisroel and complete redemption and freedom for all of humanity with no more sickness, evil, poverty etc. until resurrection of the dead when the souls of everyone we have lost in our families will be together again in enlightened bodies forever.

How will people be revived for this? How do revive someone who becomes faint in this world? Smelling salt - why? Because the most sensitive sense we have is that of smell. When describing the "pleasure' of the Almighty when we brought sacrifices to Hashem in the temple, it says "it is a pleasing aroma". When we have lost the additional soul that we had gained on the onset of Shabbos, at the end of Shabbos, during the Havdalah ceremony (when we demarcate the transition from the Holy shabbos to the mundane week) we use spices to revive us from having lost our extra special 2nd soul that we had throughout the Shabbos.
Shoshana which means "Rose" a flower that is know for it's fragrance. It is the "Rose's job to bring fragrance to the world, a fragrance that is pleasing to Hashem. What is that in this world? All of the good deeds we do and all the things that we have been writing about Shoshie; living with and sharing that joy of life and living, accepting, appreciating and loving all people, making others feel comfortable, creating peace with and amongst friends and yes things like I wrote before; honoring us, eating Kosher, keeping Shabbos, not speaking Loshon hara. Hashem is happy with that fragrance in a world of the smell of garbage on a hot humid day in Manhattan, on a long weekend where they were supposed to pick up the garbage on a Monday and it's the 4th of July. (I lived in Manhattan for 7 years, but only 1 tree on my block) Maybe Shoshie's promise has to do with magnifying a great fragrance on this earth and maybe that was her mission. (Maybe !)

Shoshie was twelve years old..... the 12 tribes ...... unity...... shoshie's shaloshim fell out on Shavuos, the time where there was unprecedented unity of the Jewish people - Oh and she died during the period of the Omer (a time of mourning when we can;t shave, listen to music, get married) when 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba died because as the Gemara says that they didn't show the proper amount of respect for each other that they could have. Her passing and all of the praise of how she treated others is a direct contradistinction of what had happened with Rabbi Akiba's students as if she passed away at that time to show us how we have to treat each other and a tikun for the Omer period.

Before the Torah was given it was said that the fore-fathers and mothers kept the Torah. What that exactly means escapes me but what I do know is that Avraham did something that spiritually mimicked Tefillin - after the Torah was given we were now privy as to what tefillin looks like, how it is made etc. The Jewish people were in a sort of training for receiving the actual Mitzvot on Mount Sinai. Shoshie too for the most part lived her life before her bas Mitzvah training for the time period that she would be bas Mitzva and obligated in the Mitzvot. Denise and I feel that this points us to our new reality that before Shoshie passed, our Judaism was real ..... very real..... but to an extent - now after her petira, our new realizations of reality, a more than a peek behind the mundane curtain of life but our eyes are opened very wide, this has all left us very awake, very. It's all real now, too real-life is for keeps, the Torah is true and everything we ever thought about God and his Torah is more real and true for us.

Last thing
Shoshie does have some grieving in the world of souls (gan eden) where she is at. Although she helped to create an explosion of increased Torah and Mitzvot all over the world, she can't actually "do" a Mitzva or learn Torah herself in this world any more. Her only ascension in the next world comes from when we do a Mitzva for her, or in memory of her. We can give Tzeduckah in her name and she gets the credit for the Mitzva of Tzeduckah. (How cool is that) I daven with Kavanah because I was inspired to do so (because of her) after her passing, it is as if she is doing it. We can continue to water the garden with our Mitzvot, Torah and kind deeds to magnify the fragrance of our Rose. May the result of our actions and speech result in the most pleasing aroma to Hashem, may we still continue to be inspired by Shoshie and her memory, may we accomplish much in our moments, hours and days so it can be said that just as Shoshie lived 10 good years in each and every year she lived and accomplished a life time of work of a perosn who lived out their 120 years, so to you made it all count.

Shabbat Shalom
Just the Facts - quick addendum

I do want to mention the following:
Shoshie feared and loved us -she was an expert in honoring her parents. She loved "Shabbos" - her favorite part of Judaism. She only eat Kosher food, was relatively excellent at not speaking Loshon Hara and was Shomer Negia (didn't touch men aside from her family). Her character traits of; being full of joy, sharing that joy with others, making others feel accepted, included and respected, making peace between and amongst friends, and bringing is great nachas, helpful at home- oy I got to go - but she was definitely living a holy life in her time on earth. Baruch Hashem -she will always be a tremendous source of nachas to us. We love her and miss her.
"Just the Facts Ma' am" - Dragnet (Crime Drama series in the 60's)

I am not going to share any of our thoughts as to what to make of the following information nor what the Holy Rabbi we spoke to thought. I will just share the information as I see it right now. If you have other questions, angles, thoughts please share them with me (
I will start with the broadest context so have patience. I apologize in advance if you find the following post on the tedious side and not nearly as interested when I express my kishkas but they are my thoughts to share just the same and the building blocks to my deeper thoughts and ideas. As you start to read if you feel nonplussed just pick it up tommorow. Thanks Mike

Shoshie's petira occurs in the book of Yayikra (Levitiscus). (The 3rd Book of the 5 Books of Moses -Our Bible) This book comes after the book of Bereshis (The 1st of the 5 Books of Moses) which is about the lives of our fore-fathers and mothers and their greatness as individuals. This book teaches us about their characteristics for us to emulate and philosophical outlooks to embody. Next comes Sefer Shemos which is about a group of individuals and their families (the 12 tribes - the children of Yaakov and their children) and their blossoming into what we call today the Jewish people. Our nation was born out of Egypt and our shared experience (of servitude, slavery and bitter oppression) prepared as "one people" to leave Egypt (Passover) and receive God's instructions on Mount Sinai (Shavuot) to receive God's instructions. It is in this book, that we are chosen for a mandate to be: "A holy nation", "a light to all nations" and Hashem's special children. Our undisputed tradition for over 3,000 years was that our entire nation of 6 million; men, women and children all stood at Mount Sinai and personally experienced God's presence, collectively together, in their bodies for the first two of the 10 commandments. It is very hard to make up a claim that 6 million all experienced the same event at the same time, someone is going to say that it didn't happen and have a competing story. For over 3,000 years there was no dispute, disagreement or versions as to what happened at Mount Sinai not even to Christians or Muslims. It is in this book that we are introduced to Hashem's special dwelling place on earth that would serve as miniature replica for the Jewish people to serve and experience God's presence on earth as the commandment says “Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them”– this is the Mishkan. (also called the tabernacle and later named the Temple) ... a continuation of the experience at Har Sinai. The rest of Shemos deals with the items that we will serve God in the Mishkan the details of how they are made, where they go and our leaders who serve there. Finally, the book of Vayikra is all about how we are to serve God, how we enable ourselves to receive God's divine presence in our lives, how we as individuals and as a nation can lead hallowed lives (kodesh-Holy) and how we are supposed to utilize the focal, rally place point of Mishkan (portable tabernacle) to accomplish this. All in all, in short, this book is really where we begin to take over the reigns in taking responsibility for the holy mission that we have been entrusted. It is no accident that Shoshie passed away while the Jewish nation was holding in the book of Vayikra.

Shoshie's passing particularly occurred during a double Parsha Torah portion) of Acharay Mos -Kidoshim. Literally it means "after the death" - "Holy" (in the plural) . Literally the only Parsha with the name of "death" in it is "Acharay Mos". Who died? Aharon's sons. What does it say right after that? "in their coming close to God, they died". (of course a lot of explanation needed) However, they did that when they were alive in this world. Maybe there is another world where that can happen. It says that this world that we live in could be considered a night between two days. Which is the real world? Maybe this has something to do with a vow,a promise, a swear that a 12- 12 1/2 year old girl made (see yesterdays post about the book flying off the shelf). Only maybe- this is very speculative. Her passing away Parsha was also Kedoshim. It starts out as the following " Speak to the congregation of the children of Israel and say unto them " Be Holy, for I am Holy, I am Hashem your God". (The next pasuk/line sets us the major foundation of how to do this, it says "fear your mother and father and keep my Sabbaths, I am Hashem your God). The cornerstones of learning obedience, self control, self discipline of how to do what you truly, truly want and live up to your moral and ethical calling.

Rabbi Shamshon Rafael Hirsch in his commentary on Parshas Kedoshim teaches us that all the preceding Torah portions in the book of Vaykira are leading us up to the mandate of "be holy". He says that the word of God (as represented by the luchos -the 10 commandments in the Holy of Holies within the Mishkan ) are represented in the physical world by the instruments in the Mishkan and the service of God by the offerings. (Parshas Vayikra, Tzav). This is designed to bring God's presence down. But as the original Pasuk says "build me a sanctuary so I can dwell in them, how do we become a holy vessel to receive the divine presence inside of us?. The immediate 3 Parshas before Kedoshim ( Shoshie's last) are Metzora-Tazria, Shemini, and Acharay Mos. What I see in those Parshas are the foundational ingredients (a holy diet) that need to be instilled and nurtured within are the concepts of; what comes out of our mouths, what comes into our ears, what we put into our mouths, and what psychical intimacy do we have with who, when and under what conditions. It happens to be that since the Jewish people have such a favorable attitude towards enjoying the psychical realm, it is no coincidence that the most Jewish laws in our law book have to do with eating and sexual intimacy. The negative commandments of Loshon Hara, Kashrut and Arroyos (illicit sexual relations) are the building blocks of holiness and must be in place as we take the commandments seriously to refine our character- the goal of which is to be like God.

I am sorry if you found this dry- they are the thoughts I have had that I wanted to share and the prerequisite before we get to deeper stuff.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do books just fly off their shelves? - Apparently yes!

Denise and I met with a very holy man yesterday who .... let's just say "knows things". We were looking of course for more insight as to understanding Shoshie's passing.

We have already looked at: the Torah portion upon which she passed (Acharay Mos and Kedoshim), the time period on the Jewish calendar (the mourning period of counting the Omer), the date that her Shaloshim landed (Shavuos)- there is a lot to say of what we studied and found which I will share later. But more pressing is to share our experience yesterday with someone who helps to put a composite picture together based upon a lot of information. Things such as: gematria, letter combinations that make up words in Shoshie's name, first and last letters of her name and what they spell out, where Shoshie was born, what was going on in our lives at that time, what Denise and I are committed to, what we do with our lives, what age and what was happening with Shoshie at the time of her petira, what was her fulfillment of honoring thy mother and father, what does her name mean, where does it appear in Tanach what is going on there, when was she born, when did she die, what has transpired as a result of her passing etc etc - Each thing tells a story in it of itself and how they might all fit together is a slow work in progress which may never be completed to satisfaction.

I will say this - Denise and I know it's all for the good and that Hashem is only good. Everything that appears bad is driving the world towards the ultimate good. Shoshie's mission in this world was a holy mission meant to wake us all up and inspire forward to helping create the ultimate redemption. And despite the utter devastation we feel, the undeniable void that can't be filled by anyone or anything, we feel close to Shoshie than ever, love her more than ever and are inspired to do her work in this world-as she did. And we will do Mitzvot for her and she will continue to inspire us and we will continue to help her grow even in shamayim. We love Hashem and Hashem loves us. Hashem loves Shoshie and Shoshie loves Hashem. In the end it's all good.

Ok -15 minutes until car pool. Let's get back to the book and hopefully tomorrow we'll start unfolding our thoughts as to what has occurred to us. So we sit down with this Rabbi yesterday and he starts doing an intake as to the questions I mentioned above.
We are surrounded by many big book shelf's and all the books are neatly tucked in them ..... so it all appeared. All of a sudden a book came flying off the shelf and landed right by the Rabbi's chair. The book didn't just take a lazy saunter off the shelf and just fall right in front of the book shelf..... it flew off the shelf as if someone has hit it hard with a backhand falling at least 5 feet from the shelf. There was no wind, nothing else in the room just me, Denise and the Rabbi. It had a book mark in it. Mind you the shelf was 10-12' feet high not even eye level. It came flying.
We were spooked! The Rabbi didn't address it right away- my eyes were riveted like let's take a look at it. We continued the intake and let the sudden drama subside.

The ribbon book mark opened up to an essay on Parshas Mattos - Sefer Bamidbar (not exactly now but will be coming up). What was it dealing with? A 12 year old girl - How Old was Shoshie? a 12 year old girl. Specifically it is dealing with a 12 year old girl that has a special status ( A Naara) -someone who is between 12 and 12 1/2 years of age. Shoshie was within that time frame too. There are only 2 places in the entire Chumash dealing with special status of a Naara here and 1 other place. Here it is the 1st thing mentioned in the Parsha - it is prominent - the other place and specially what it is talking about has no relationship with Shoshie.
Notwithstanding what that means it was amazing to us to see the book fly off the shelf, and open up to the special status of a girl between the ages of 12 and 12 1/2 while we were there to discuss and talk about Shoshie. We spent 2 1/2 hours with this Rabbi. Our best friend that got us in said she hasn't known anyone else who spent that much time with him. He sensed our situation is more than just Shoshie, he had heard about (a little) about what great things have happened in her memory since her passing and we just. What is it specially talking about over there? A girl making a vow, a promise or a swear. Did Shoshie make one? We think so ........ before she came down to earth ...... a mission..... Okay sorry GTG- car pool

See you tomorrow

Monday, May 20, 2013

When Love is all there is -Part 3

Infatuation or illusory love is something about "you" that makes "me" feel good about myself. It's your beauty, your profession, your life-style, it's how you are recognized, it's your clothing, it's your power-connections, it's your wealth, your looks, you are well-liked and lastly - your love. All of these intoxicate me. These external things fill me up and gives me an illusory feeling of stability, security, - even wholeness, could even be a feeling of complete. "Love" dependent upon something external- about you, something that I need from you isn't love ... it's neediness .... it's the proper definition of infatuation. It's really all about me and not about you. When that thing I was depending upon is taken away I feel a hole. My own hole that I desperately seeking to fill.

True life is not something outside of ourselves that we need to seek to obtain, acquire and get. True life is already inside of ourselves-already there-waiting to be uncovered and discovered. Love is a natural part of our soul's hard-drive, we just need to learn to get ourselves out of the way. We do have a natural moment to moment, justifiable preoccupation of self. I am looking to grow in my life and to be better and greater. I self import myself -I want to feel self important- Like I am someone. Dependent upon externalities are not real and fleeting. The pathway to love is that of Hashem's -making room for others. Others to exist completely in a space without them having to do anything or anything that I have to do to or for them. Once I can lower the volume on the voice inside that is perpetuating the questions of "what do "I" need , what do "I" want - I can exist is presence with another.

Okay let's just get to it already. My Rosh HaYeshiva learned that the Rambam's definition of love is "the pleasure one receives when identifying virtue in another and identifying that that person is one and the same with their virtues. You see them as their virtues. It's learning how to see the good in others and training yourself to them in their goodness (and not the natural tendency of negative criticalness which of course is less about them than yourself).

Denise and I were in Jerusalem when we decided to get married. Getting married there requires a lot of papers from a lot of offices. One day we had 3 appointments back to back to back and the paper from one office was required for the next. If you miss the first appointment you can forget about the rest of the day. I was waiting for Denise at the first appointment ... and ...... waiting ... and waiting. Half hour passed, 45 minutes passed. What did I do? Well when you are in Yeshiva you feel the social pressure of the place. I took out a piece of paper and starting writing down all of Denise's virtues. (This we call the Love game"- identifying the virtues of another and identifying that they are one and the same as their virtues) As she swept in, "Oh I am sorry, you must not want to marry me" etc . I looked up- i was virtue 44 at the time -all I as focused on was her virtues who she really was not on the fact that our day was blown.

This is what I said earlier on what we do naturally with our kids and we have to learn how to do this (unconditional love) with our spouses and the people in our lives. Constrict yourself, see the other person, have a good eye, see their virtues, and see them as their virtues. We do this with our kids and why we never divorce them no matter how bad they are. We never exchange them for the kids down the block no matter how cute they are nor how bad your kids are.

Take a piece of paper and write down the top 10 virtues of each of your family embers, then do it for your folks if they are still here, your boss, etc. While you are on the way home tonight in your car-mentally go over the list or create the list.

Oy -I am very late for minyan and got to go- I had more to say but I realize that I am rambling under the pressure of I should be gone already.

Shoshie- Baruch Hashem didn't have to create the virtue list - she naturally saw others as people see their children. her lack of self importance, neediness, and preoccupation of self allowed her to leave space for others. She was able to see them as to who they were. She allowed people to feel good about themselves and she gave them pleasure by seeing and enjoying their goodness. This is the secret of Shoshie's belovedness.give others pleasure, how to do this? Give people affirmation, validation, appreciation and respect for by seeing them as to who they truly are.

Let's all keep Shoshieing

When Love is all there is -Part 2

Mr. Schwartz is an extremely successful businessman, has all the money in the world yet unfortunately he and his wife can't have children. They are happy people but they deeply feel that something is missing -they are missing out. He remembers that he has a distant relative in Yerushalayim, Mr. Goldberg who is a poor as a church mouse. He and his wife have been blessed with knein a hara 14 children but unfortunately they have no means of support. Their kids have literally nothing in their lives. In short, Mr. Schwartz travels to Yerushalayim to visit his distant relatives the Goldberg's and is planning on offering them 10 million dollars for one of their children. It's a perfect deal. The Schwartz's will get a child of their own and the Goldberg's will have enough money to support their family and give all the rest whatever they need. What do you think happens?

All the money in the world isn't worth 1 child. But wait Mr. Goldberg, you and your wife can completely change the way you live for the rest of your lives? There is no amount of money worth your child. Love-That's what I'm talking about! We have no idea how much love we do have inside - we often have absolutely no idea as how to access it. We walk around occupied with ourselves - justifiably so. It's just weird though to have such unrealized capacity. It's like you gave a beggar pushing a bubby cart 1 million dollars in a box along with newspapers. He accepts your gift but only sees the newspapers and puts the box on the bottom of his bubby cart. He has a million dollars but he doesn't know it. He shleeps it around with him wherever he goes. In a sense often we are poor shleppers in our ability to love in a relative sense. Would you physically fight for your child? of course! Step in front of a bullet? of course! run a marathon to save their live? of course! There is almost nothing we wouldn't do for one of our children.

Where does this capacity come from? And what is Love?
Our sages teach us that the Almighty is infinite and perfect in every way. He/she has no needs in anyway. In truth there is nothing that we can do for God. He doesn't need us to make him the worlds most read author, he certainly doesn't need us to fix his world for him. A perfect love is when you don't need something from the other. God created us out of this pure love. But if God is one how do we exist? The Kabbalah teaches us an analogy. It's like God constricted himself and allowed "other" to exist. He/she made himself small or smaller to allow other (us) in it's imperfect state to not only exist but to nurture and nourish life. Absolutely altruistic, our life is a gift an opportunity to receive the gifts of God and create something beautiful for ourselves and others but there is nothing we can do to change the love of God for us. (The only possible thing is that our ugly actions can obfuscate that love where we only see ourselves. God and us (a preoccupation of self) can't stand in the same meta-physical space. It's either he or I not both.

This love is all natural with our kids. We have less sense of ourselves and our own needs for our children but of course we see our children as extensions of ourselves. We are really "one" with our children. Their highs are our highs and their lows are our lows. The Gemara teaches us about this love. It's like cutting a piece of bread with a knife with your right hand and you accidentally slip and create a small little wound in your left hand. Your left hand doesn't swipe the knife away and take revenge by cutting the right hand! It's all one! The children are like ourselves -unconditional love. We don't see a scenario ever of a Mr. Schwartz who gather his children around the dining room table and says the following " Kids, I love you and I really have loved you but..... we have been kind of growing a part.... and look I met these Goldberg kids and they are really cute and nice, they don't give me as much trouble, we don;t have as much as common as we used to .... so I'm sorry to say this but I'd like to split up and I'm going to love with the Goldberg kids....
It's amazing how we can readily do this with our wives (who we chose) versus our kids who we would never do this (are accidents of birth) How ironic is this?

Reb Noach Weinberg taught us that the purpose of this unconditional love for our kids and our ability to see past ourselves is to have a living an example in our lives (our love for our kids) that we can learn from and to extend those lessons and apply them to our spouses. From our spouses to all others. The primary dictate of the Torah as Hillel said "that which is hateful to your brother don't do -the rest of the Torah is commentary" - Love your neighbor as yourself. All of Torah can be learned from here.

Shoshie exhibited this grace to all others naturally. What was it that she was unconsciously doing and what is it that we can consciously do? How do we realize our great potential for unconditional love and change our lives and the world? We are created with this capacity-why be a little like the beggar schlepper with a million dollars on the bottom of the bubby basket?

The truth is I have to get Devori out the door, wake Moshe, get Shaya up to do his homework that we didn't do last night and hope that Ellie doesn't wake up yet. Later today, bli neder I will share a proactive, simple, and relevant way to increase love at every step of the way.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Last thing! from Mike & Denise ( this is a more cleaned up version)
We are passing through the threshold of Shaloshim with the Holiday of Shavuos. As expected, our last few weeks have been the scariest roller coaster ride imaginable. We have had some decent moments but many, many days where we just can't believe what has happened and what is going on. It's not really possible to process such a thing. Don't things happen to others.... in the movies, maybe to someone in Nebraska but around the corner? Isn't this just a big fat joke? a dream? I know we buried her but isn't she coming home from Miami soon? How do you live without one of your kids? I mean really! I think we really have emunah- but the role that we have to play in the succeeding acts of life seem at this moment unbearable. My brother passed away when I was 21. There was life before Gary, there was a new life after Gary. Here too life before Shoshie and ..... we have no idea what our lives will be like after Shoshie. It is just not imaginable now. A few good things! There has been a lot of peace in the home. The kids are doing - well I am not really sure but as well as can be expected. It is a unfolding sugia moment to moment. Denise is unbelievable. The first moments today after the Siyum - where Shaloshim and the restrictions of mourning have ended - we get in the car and it would have been reasonable to expect someone to say "crank up the radio"- ( We weren't listening to music from the start of Sefira until potentially today in the car- a full 49 days) - No -one said turn the radio up. Denise got out Seforim and we learned the Mitzvots for the Siyum at BRS 2nd day of Shavuos. I am and was so proud of Denise. There we were learning Torah - uplifted by the Siyum today at the Miami Yeshiva and just took that energy forward. And I don't want to forget to say how proud I am of Moshe who spoke today at the Yeshiva about being there as a people for one another and fighting for each other. And of course Devori is always amazing and Yossi made a siyum. Baruch Hashem - the family has bli ayin hara stepped up and I am proud of them.

Although there is an untouchable void inside our kishkas- a devastation that is still so raw and not healed in any way (when you see me please don't ask me how I am - I am liable to say a nasty remark back) , Denise and I have been uplifted, blown away and in some way comforted by all the learning, the Mitzvot, the meals etc etc - also the fact that you've read my stuff, made comments on the Shoshie face-book page. You have made us feel that we matter, we count, -you have tried and succeeded to take away just an itsy bitsy measure of pain- and that is really saying a lot. We have at times been so energized by the measurable spiritual growth that has transpired in the last few weeks. I mean is anyone really seeing all of the great things that have happened and are happening? I have thought what if our daughter died and all of this didn't happen as a result of her passing? She didn't die in vain! This is all leading us all somewhere better. Let's be better because of this tragedy, let's light up our families, each other and the world! Let's grow up and love! May all of your kindness, care, concern and love that you have all shown for us be a receptacle for you and your families to receive Gods divine blessing of Shalom Bayis, Nachas from your children, good health and Parnassa. May we all together -ish echad-lav echad are merit to usher in Moshiach, may we know no more tzar ever. and may Hashem manifest his majesty and glory over all of humanity for us to recognize "Hashem is one and his name is One"

Chag Samaach
When Love is all there is! - Lessons gleaned from Shoshie's last conversation in life - Part 1

What will life be life when love is all there is? It will be somewhat like Shoshie's life.

I trekked to Boca Raton Synagogue for the 2nd day of Shavuos to celebrate a Siyum on all of the written Torah (and Mitzvot) in celebration of Shoshie's Shaloshim. The synagogue has maybe 600-700 families. This was a Chag with many families hosting family members from out of town. At least a thousand people and then some. As I finished my 25 minute walk (i went a little bit the long way to avoid the intersection where Shoshie was .....), sweating profusely, who is the very 1st person I gaze upon? None other than the person who had the last actual conversation with Shoshie ( I had found out just the other day about this very last visit). This girl is so very beautiful and Shoshie and she had a beautiful relationship together. She and I talked for a good 20 minutes. I am so grateful to have spoken to her. I found out a few things I didn't know and the meeting inspired me to write about today's topic which in time I will get to later in this post.

Here's what I learned from the meeting
1. Shoshie was in a usual joyous mood and wasn't carrying around a heavy feeling at all by a rumor she heard about herself

2.Shoshie was according to her (with no prompting in any way) was working on herself to become a better person. She was working on her modesty ( for clarity she always dressed according to Halachic requirements but norms here in Boca differ than that of Milwaukee where lived last) I was always chirping about it. I am blown away by this statement of her friend as she described that Shoshie had recently become a little more modest than she. Shoshie was so natural at being Shoshie - for her to reflect and introspect and be mindful of how modest she is dressing brings jubilation to me and to anyone serious about growth in ruchnius (spirituality) . Shoshie never verbalized it - she never even told me that she heard me and working on it (although Devori had told me). One of the two witnesses to the accident had reflected upon seeing Shoshie cross the road on her rib-stick for the last time " what a beautiful "frum girl" - one of grace, dignity and beauty. - a girl that was recognizable that she belonged to our community. Quietly addressing herself with no need for approval - striving to do more, be more - I am so proud of her-I didn't know

3.This young women I spoke to said that Shoshie was working on herself to be nicer, more often. Really? She was so nice to start with. I guess she is pointing us to that we should never be satisfied with our spiritual growth, don't tell people what you are going to do-just do it, trying to grow doesn't to be something you grunt, get busy busy in your mind and bear down but a simple ease of mindfulness and a reflection from time to time (not every time) of how you are doing. Shoshie wanted to "be nicer" - what spurred her on? what inspired her? what incident or piece of Torah left her saying to herself " I've got to do better"? Whatever it is Shoshie continues for me to be my teacher and I will have to take heed of the lessons I see. Boy do I miss her-terribly. She is the 1st thing I thing about in the morning, the last thing at nigh and in the back drop of every moment in between like the constant background noise of the fan in your lap top . She is teaching me how to have a relationship with God - a constant pre-occupation, never leaving these thoughts for a moment.

4. This young women goes to a different school than Shoshie. One that is different than Shoshie's school. This school possibly is more focused and concerned on being integrated in the modern world a healthy balance between the demands of a life according to Jewish law and being part of the world. The administration at Shoshie's school would definitely say the same thing but perhaps go about it a little differently. Suffice it to say that there is a reason why there are 2 different schools. The norms of both are different. The girls look a little different, are being taught a little different, the parents of each school are not sending their child to the other school because they don't see their value system fully and equally represented in both schools.

It would be understandable that a girl from either school could look down on the girls from the other school just from the mere fact of insecurity. If I am not certain of who I am, what I believe, where I am going, I am subconsciously threatened by what you do, how you speak, what you wear etc. At 12 years and 4 months it would not be a stretch to say that it's possibly a very insecure time in the life of a teenage girl who is just coming of age in her thoughts about her life and self. A tendency could be to tear others down to participate in the illusion of building yourself up. Only a secure person can fully enjoy another person who goes to a different school, appears different and possibly is speaking a different language that reflects a slightly different emphasis in priorities, values, etc ( and maybe that is not real but often an illusory projection that keeps others who are different than you at bay because my insecurity detects a threat to my own lack of clarity) Okay now for the point.

Shoshie's friend told me that when she visited her and was the only girl in the room from Bais Yakov- you couldn't tell one iota. She fit in beautifully. No judgement, no criticism, evaluative statements- no distance. This is as much a tale about the other girls in the room from Hillel. After all Shoshie didn't go to their school, was an outsider and wasn't friends with them (on a constant day to day basis) . "How goodly are your tents" -when they are full of peace. Shoshie didn't just exist on the edge in the group, she didn't just not talk up and engage as to fit in- fit in so there are no ruffled feathers..... Shoshie became part of the glue of the group -equally treating "all" the girls with acceptance, respect and love - helping everyone of this great group to see the beauty of each other. Does this beautiful Hillel -Bais Yakov union have what to teach us?

What nachas to have a daughter who naturally saw others for who they were and not what school they went to, who was secure with who she was as to not knock the other person down nor drop her own identity for the identity of the group to gain favor and acceptance. Shoshie didn't need their favor, acceptance and love - she enjoyed it. Didn't demand it but loved it. I am so proud of her. Okay got to go daven- thank you all for being there, listening etc. I am human i appreciate being heard. I will im'y post Part 2 and the main thoughts about love in my next post either later today or tomorrow. Lots of love to you all -Mike

Monday, May 13, 2013

Heartfelt Thoughts

So many of you have said, expressed and written “there are no words” that is a way of saying that there exists in front of us a situation that is not possible with human words to describe – the endless void and vacuum that we all feel, that we all share

When a tragedy like this – so out of the norm, one that leaves all of us so vulnerable –shaken to the core, It could have been anyone of us” – “Oh Gosh” – How frightful, how devastating, how horrible, • One of us has been taken……………at 12 years and 4 months!

Someone who had displayed the most Ziskeit qualities in her life time, someone who had just started to blossom-everywhere –like Cherry Blossoms in D.C, Someone who elicited from others – goodness, enjoyment, fun, brightness, smiles

It was one of us- and speaking on behalf of all of us-we have felt like you felt that it was one of you

We are all so closely connected now – our tears have met and have created a stream that weaves itself in and around our community –binding us

Your hugs, your kisses, your visits, your well wishes, your flowers, your Challahs, your meals, your play dates, your paintings, cards, - salad dressing and herring

I could go on and one – how each and every one of us has done what was in your hearts and has comforted us immensely

We needed it – we thank you from the bottom of our hearts

I am so proud of you – I am so of us – I am so proud to be part of this community who showed incredible achdus without worry, thought to – The Sterns are not in my shul

We are in love with you, we are smitten with how holy are synagogues are and we are head over heels for Rabbis Rabovsky, Goldberg and Gibber

Intuitively we understand that it is achdus that holds all the cards to our current and future well-being

It is the demonstration of achdus within the Jewish people that will bring the blessings and salvation's that will allow to do our job in this world

To be Hashem’s chariot to sanctify his name in this world- so that humanity will rise up and know that Hashem is one and his name is One

And at that time the clarity and knowledge of God will be so great that sickness, illness, darkness, poverty, wars, and evil will melt away

We are here the 1st day of Shavuos –a time of unprecedented unity- as we encamped across the mountain –one heart, one mind, and one soul

It is then- only then – that absolute unity in Klal Yisroel that we were Zocheh to receive God’s holy instructions to be his messengers on earth.

What more noble thing can we do that to embody his message and carry it with us wherever we go, whatever we do – to become the people that God entrusted

To spread God’s light

Achdus.!!!!!!!!!!!! Achdus !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Achdus !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s not stop now! Let’s not wait for another tragedy to absolutely let the artificial barriers our

Which synagogue we go to, who is our Rabbi, what our clothing looks like, whether you are a learner, various levels of snius, kashrut, that artificially separate us in our minds

I am oriented towards these people, this shul etc- but those people are not in my purview, they are not my business

And I am just talking about the shomer shabbos observant people in our shuls

Our minds gives us thoughts of separateness, just like when so many of us see black people, people of seemingly lower class, subconsciously

We are propping ourselves up, holding ourselves to be of a certain ilk, status, -self importance, - we don’t even realize that we do this

Don’t look at the jug – look what is in it – look past the external- see the pnimius

B tzelem elokim- we are all of God’s children – we all live in the same world – God is all of our fathers…..

Just like parents get the greatest nachas when their children love each other and chas v shalom the opposite when your children fight you can’t take it

Is God any different – we are his children – we must love each other

love your neighbor as yourself – the rest is commentary- meaning you do the rest with love your neighbor as the foundation stone

It has got to all come from love

With that in mind

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What was bothering Shoshie? On her last day of Earth!

I can't remember a time -not one when Shoshie ever came to me with a problem, very few times did I ever hear her discussing anything that was bothering her with Denise. If something was bothering her which was a rare, rare occurrence, she had Devori and a few close friends to discuss with. If something did bother her she obviously talked about it and moved on. Never ever did I have to say to Shoshie "cheer up", "look at the bright side", "things will look different tomorrow" -never. She never down.
We lived with Shoshie - no moping, no complaining about people or girls, no drama - (maybe 1 night in all of years - just one) - Shoshie was low -low maintenance, very inner directed and was exactly like everyone is saying - she had a true joy of living, loved life and kept moving in that direction moment to moment. So rare for her to have a concern, be bothered by something ..... enough to even talk about it on her last day on earth.

I will qualify what I am about to say - I am totally not interested in who said what to whom. Of course it has absolutely nothing to do with Shoshie's passing -not one iota. It is something so common like drinking water and breathing air. It is something that most people are not mindful even if they had learned about the subject. It is something that is so normal - God runs every detail of this world-every- just being in the right place and the right time for this particular thing to happen is the work of the master artist whose is painting an evolving and unfolding tapestry. To us it looks like an up-close impressionist painting-dots we can't out what it is -blobs and blobs of paint that seem to have no relationship with one another - let alone will form together to make a picture. One day Moshiach will lead us to a place where we can see that canvas. Whoah ! breathtaking _ we will not believe with our own eyes and understanding just how these seemingly ridiculous occurrences, errant deaths, illnesses - all of our setbacks, set in motion deeper understanding, character building, drive and motivation - these became the seeds of pure chesed, the seeds of salvation, the seeds of utter pure goodness -they were sown through our trials, tribulations and over-whelming challenges. May Hashem bless us all with allowing us to see the painting in full bloom and make us forget our suffering as if it never happened - and that it will all have been a dream as we stand in the real life of reality and true -one of pure love.

I only share this as one of the most teaching points for our time and each and everyone of us. Everyone was innocent as can be. In this matter everyone almost all the time is as innocent as can be. May we only focus on the issue and ourselves and our relationship with God through it. Where are you truly with it? where are you holding in it? It's about you! Okay ....
Somehow Shoshie knew and found out that there was rumor about her that she was fat. This upset her enough to talk about it on her last day as a problem. Shoshie who rarely, rarely had a concern on her mind, had Loshon Hara on her mind. The less details that are said the better because the point is Loshon Hara and possibly Richilus.

I personally am not holding by the details. I don't want or need to know that would throw me in an illusory direction. And in all honesty they are not important- again it had nothing to do with the outcome- we all make each other feel bad with our words all the time. The point is that because of the circumstances, the fact that Shoshie's petira has opened our hearts, mind and soul just a little bit more- what are the things we can rally around to sanctify her life and memory, sanctify our lives, and impact the entire world around us.? How can we make the greatest difference in our own lives and the lives of all those we know? What does King David say are the keys to the person who "desires life and who loves the days of seeing good" - (happiness) How can we keep this unprecedented achdus going that we have established her in our community? And how can we best use the tools we got to "Keep Shoshie-ing" - be a source of vitality, joy and "life" to others, look out for the next person -"give up your seat" - let go for a moment - your needs, let the other person get it, have it, enjoy it - make peace between all people-go out of your way for the unpopular, the less attractive, the less personality- so what-make them feel included, affirmed, validated, respected, that they count and see the good in them- see them for who they truly are not your limited version of how you think they ought to be at any given moment. - see their greatness not their deficiencies. "Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"

Achdus (Unity, brotherhood, friendship) is where "it" is at. Complete identification with one another - I am he, she is me-we come from the same infinite-formless power that we call God - We ultimately all share the same soul- we are confused the mask of color, status, religion, size - let alone hat, kippah, suit. Really! Really! Can we please allow the superficiality of appearances to be just a stupid thought in your head that you just open the door, that you don't grab a hold of and allow it to exit the back door. Keep in the front and center of your mind, heart, and soul -our common humanity, our common pain, hurt, challenge- don't we know how hard and difficult life is - for so many of us, so much of the time- if the elephant isn't on your foot now it could be the next moment - we have experienced the ultimate -no one knows from moment to moment what will happen and it could be you -chas v shalom

A member of our family Yael Lyons shared with me a story of someone who had embarrassed someone else just before they died. Their last interaction was one of embarrassment! Who knows the last time we see one another. We should ever, ever live with regret, guilt etc- chas v shalom. Get the interaction right the first time, know what your goal is, what is important to me- remind yourself how you have to view this person. I mean Shoshie always stood up for the teacher in school who was the most different, odd, peculiar, who didn't share the same back-ground, history of a people.

What are we going to do? What am I suggesting?
I suggest we start with our words. It also happens to be that taking responsibility of our words is an outreach project that I have been on and off working on for the past 6 years, it happens to be that one of the major prohibitions of how we speak "Rechilus" is a Mitzvah in the very same Parsha that was the last Parsha of Shoshie's life on earth -Parsha Kedoshim.

I hope I made my point as to what I think is the most important focused way to move forward, pick up the shattered pieces of our lives, promote friendship, harmony, love and unity - something that increases our tolerance, affirmation and respect for one another. More peace in our homes, between siblings, spouses, in-laws, at our schools amongst the girls and boys, our work-places, organizations and communities. Our Words Matter- let's use them to build the world not destroy the world.

May the small increase in our ability to be more conscious about the words we say, lead to more positive words that brings the light of redemption to our door. May we receive the blessings intended for us in our life time.

I pray to Hashem with all my heart and soul that these words only be taken in the right context, in the way for which I mean them to raise awareness of the Mitzvah not to speak Loshon hara and the importance that i feel in it's bringing us what we all need and want. If I offended anyone or came on too strong, created more difficulty, Gd forbid -not my intention-just someone who is facing an auspicious day on the American calendar with my beloved and cherished wife sleeping.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Staying Behind the Curtain! - "And Loving It" (Maxwell Smart) -Thursday May May 9th

  • "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem" - This could be the most important piece of Torah there is to understand and integrate what this means. The aspect that I mentioned in last post of now having "a moment to moment heightened awareness of life and a realization of each moments becoming an opportunity to reflect greatness is such a fear of Hashem. Life is unfolding in a slower way - The difference between your raft being swept away in a white water torrent of fast-swishing water and before you know it you are some place down stream (how did I get over here ..... only to be overtaken by another torrent taking you some place else) and learning that you can guide your raft a little more slowly down the stream, see the beauty on the river banks, smile at your children, say I love you to your wife as you gently find a lane outside of the current.

    The word fear in Hebrew is related to another word in Hebrew "to see". When one sees - what really is - seeing becomes seeing. Seeing things as they truly are not as a prism from within the prison of your mind that filters everything through your own insecurities, vulnerabilities, poor character traits, lower than desired inclinations, proclivities, tendencies and habits. You see we are more often stuck in our minds - not in life. More often occupied with the chatter in our heads, clamoring for your attention, begging for you to solve all of your problems resulting from this low consciousness that is a parasite invading your well-being. So often we are primarily drawn, stuck to see ourselves through this prism of low: esteem, self worth and value.

    Certainly what doesn't help are our outer eyes that are searching for remedy and relief and see a world around them championing everything that you see yourself as not having. Our perceptions are usurped by believing what others say and portray and of course look at ourselves as absent in those areas. Talk about the big lie! Our outer eyes see beauty, perfection, sexiness, success, recognition, approval, validation, affirmation and wealth that we don't have and form an inner sense of comparison that bribes us, prejudices our perceptions and directs us towards inventing a new you -flipping ourselves inside out -creating an outer persona that accomplishes all that you are not and unfortunately one that takes you further and further away from yourself. One day you will wake up and find yourself way down-stream in a raft that the white-waters wished you away to a destination you never intended to go.

    Unfortunately, we often don't see things as they are but what are low consciousness filled with our insecurities wishes us to see. The Torah teaches us that we don't see reality so easy as it exhorts us to study the most simple concepts on a day to day basis like " Who is the wise one, the rich one, the strong one and the most honored one"? Well if we go as to how society implores us to live and what is venerated we would answer these questions as: the one who is extremely intelligent who has amassed a lot of worldly knowledge and has great analytical skills, the one who has physically perfected their bodies (you can come to Boca to see this), the wealthy and famous. )I mean don't we know more about Lindsay Lohan than our cousins? Yeah we all know the right answers that the Torah gives us - The one who is wise is the one who learns from literally everyone, the one who is strong is the one who masters their self control in steering away from their negative and less desirable inclinations (like critically judging everyone and everything unfavorably) , the one who is wealthy is the one who is satisfied with and enjoys what they have and the honored one is the one who honors others. Life appears one way but in reality first glances aren't true - as it says in another teaching "don't look at the jug, look at what is in it" - it's teaching us that life presents itself as the jug, we have to learn to look beyond it.

    Getting Out of the Trap!
    You are not necessarily your thoughts - not necessarily your racing and busy mind. So often your thoughts are like "people's magazine" being delivered to your door step and seems at that moment the only available reading material. Beginning to realize that the content of your thoughts might be skewing the truth of what you are seeing. You are pure consciousness, awareness and free will all rolled as one that is your inner identity way beyond and deeper than your thoughts. At times it doesn't appear that way as we embody our thoughts like gloves on our hands in the Wisconsin winter. (personal experience)- Gee just where do all of these thoughts particularly the ones that skew reality and accentuate my insecurities come from anyway? (another time for this question)- Jut knowing that we are not our thoughts could be the most important realization and skill that one could develop. Opening the door on one side of the house, letting Mr. thought in and all of his hooligans and running quickly to open the door on the other side of the house and letting these rushing, running, urgent, impetuous, thoughts out the other door. I am master of myself and if I can recognize an unhealthy path of thoughts I can pull myself back ever so slightly so as not to find myself all the way down stream in an unproductive, unhealthy place. If I am so drawn.

    A lower level of fear of God - is seeing God's world accurately, not necessarily relating to him in any way but seeing things are they are not what we wish them to be. One of the deepest lessons we can learn about life and manifestation of a low level of fear of God is coming to terms with the true nature of consequences. One readily learns it experimentally in the physical realm - eat too many jelly beans -you get a big stomach ache. Don't exercise, eat what and when you want- get fat-don't pay attention in school, go out week nights and don't study -bad grades. On a deeper level the true quality of greatness, meaning and purpose that we year for and acquire in our lives will be totally dependent upon understanding life accurately and seeing exactly what we need to do , say and live in order to acquire what we truly want for ourselves.

    I actually have to go so I will just finish up quickly. Shoshie's death has catapulted Denise and I into a realm of seeing - real seeing. A tragic event like this brings home the idea of true consequences like nothing else could or can. The preciousness of each moment of life has become apparent - life is now out of the quickly rushing stream taking us no-where. Life is a moment to moment unfolding opportunity to create meaning and purpose in this world. We are out of our heads and into life. Being real with how our present actions of today will create a big, giant tapestry of what future picture of what our lives added up to will be shown to us at the end of our lives and beyond in the next world is the epitome of seeing consequences - And it is that wisdom (the one who sees how his actions will be born out in the future) which creates moment to moment alertness in one's life. Life is slowing down, we are not our thoughts, we are focused on the ball and want to create the biggest difference we can with our lives (elui nishmat shoshana rachel ben harav elimelech)

    One can't help to be swept away by a stream- just know the dynamic and you will eventually in a graceful way steer yourself out of it. Don't believe everything you see at first glance, check it out- you don't like it? open the door- if it was really compelling come back later when you feel better and examine the distressing and alarming content. Let's talk more another time - time to go to Bais Yakov carpool and later this morning there will be an assembly announcing a program that will be named in Shoshies honor -love Mike

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What is on the Other Side of the Curtain?

"It's better to go to a house of mourning than to a Simcha" (Koheles 7:2). Yeah really! - How could anyone let alone King Solomon say that? That's crazy -so it appears! But not so fast.

What are we here for? To do errands? Errand after errand after errand! What a treadmill! It almost seems that there is never enough time to catch up and take care of things that you are justifiably responsible for. I mean we got to take care of our shopping, shlepping, cooking, laundry, our jobs, something broke, take care of our bills, car pools - gosh this is ridiculous. I have such little time to take care of so much -mundane living at it's best and its all legitimate. Wow! Is this why I am here on this earth? Is this why the Almighty took the time to create me? But in truth, these things do have to get done-we need to eat, wear clean clothes and raise our families. But what a conundrum.

Every once so often a person gets a glimpse behind the curtain. Maybe it's an important exam, it's a special anniversary date with your spouse, you child does something you consider special and grab some nachas, a white water rafting trip with your buddies, even a piece of great music, you received a great gift of jewelry.... - you are lifted into a different dimension. The moments seem to be longer and linger on, you are more alert, you get a warm washed over feeling of appreciation and gratitude for what you gifts you have received and you are feeling life is special.

Then there is a whole new level of this heightened living - they found G-d forbid a spot on your liver, your kid has been coughing for 2 month and they don't know why, your mother G-d forbid is in the ICU unit, you spouse is terrorizing you, abusing you, you are going to undergo surgery, you get divorced and your ex is acrimonious, your kids don't seem to be following in your path etc. Now Hashem has your attention. Life now seems all the more precious. Everything is a bit more pregnant with meaning and you have less patience for reading Oprah, listening to Kesha, less endless non-nonsensical bantering with your friends, you cut out the usual 20 minutes spent going through today's mail examining all of the neat shopping offers and possibilities - mundane things become a bit more of a drag and actually get in the way as you have your concerns on your mind.

But I as a Rabbi found for me an even more new heightened level of living when comforting a bereaved family on their loss in the family and the entire process of helping to bring them through; grieving, burial, shiva and beyond. Particularly at the grave-site-life doesn't get more real than that. I talk about that our Torah when talking about the deaths of both Abraham and Sarah it says that they both came with their days. This is an unusual statement, what does it mean of course they came with their days, what else do you come with other than your days. The Torah teaches us that they made each day count-each day they were self aware, they seized opportunities of growth, they were actively building their character, focused on their spiritual lives, spoke to G-d constantly not just in formal prayer, they beseeched him and asked him for all good things, gave Tzedukah, did acts of kindness, self reflected on what they needed to work on themselves, recognized their faults, wrong doings, forgave themselves, others and asked god for forgiveness, they played, l;laughed, cried, and walked in rain, enjoyed the sunrise and sunsets, - all in all -they lived each day. It's not how many days you live, it's how many days have lived through you. Have you created yourself as what started out as a lump piece of pottery clay into a magnificent sculpture? We all in the business of self creation turning ourselves into a happy, balanced, good, loving person who is not insecure or arrogant in anyway allowing them to enjoy life, enjoy others- be a servant to all those whom cross paths and that the Almighty has nachas in. Realizing the preciousness of our moments and what we can accomplish in them gives us a great opportunity to make difference to ourselves, others and the world around us. And that is called "living" - anything short of that is meandering down the river, throwing a stick in the water and hoping that a fish will happen upon it and you will get to eat. At the end of our lives, we''ll be kicking ourselves from not utilizing the opportunities for greatness. When the curtain is open and Hashem shakes you to get your attention, realize that Hashem is giving you a gift-an opportunity to realize the preciousness of life and what life is all about.

Then I see that there is even a whole new level of heightened living that has resulted from the loss of my precious Shoshie. The curtain has been peeled back and has stayed that way. "How could anyone even have an errand list"? "What stupidity is on the T.V, newspapers, magazines etc? What the heck are people spending their time talking about? Who cares what color? Life is not back to normal. The new normal is every second seems to be in slow motion. We are totally awake! You have our attention now! What are we doing with our lives? drop the pettiness! There is more peace in our home than ever before (bli ayin hara). We seem to be more forgiving of each others idiosyncrasies, faults and stupidity. We seem to be more helpful to each other. This heightened awareness seems to work both ways. Not just the fear of making your moments counts that could paralyze you but a deeper realization of the moments. Rabbi Noach Orlowek, one of my Rabbi's said that "wisdom isn't knowing what is important and not important. it's knowing what is important and what is more important" that's how I feel.

I can never look at my wife and kids in the same way as before. It's not that I can't-it's I don't. I more easily see their true greatness and not as bothered with the things that I was critical about. You know, if you asked me a few weeks ago "was Shoshie kind, loving , a peace -maker, a good eye, simchat Hachaim (full of life, bring joy to others -I would have said a meek -yes of course she is all of those things. Now after the fact, her whole character, the entire picture of who she is, adds up to a glow. Wow! what an unbelievable person she really was, true greatness yet I didn't really see it as much as it was in her lifetime. Although, she always listened to us, always helped us etc, that was just normal living for her and that is how we saw it. Oy what a missed opportunity to really see who she was in her lifetime. Don;t we owe that to our spouse and kids?

I hear from the CEO of Aish haTorah international, he told me that Reb Noach (Rabbi Noach Weinberg ztl our Rosh HaYeshiva) was quoted as saying that when his father passed away he thought to himself -only a mourner can say Kaddish in the proper way. You see Kaddish is entirely a praise of Hashem and not about the deceased! Only one who has lost a precious soul to them as finds themselves on the other side of the curtain can truly see and truly hear, truly experience, truly give and love. No-one is more awake and alert than a person on the other side. It's a gift that Shoshie left us and one that I want to share.

Despite the loss of Shoshie - Colors appear to me more beautiful, my kids laughs more funny, my wife is gorgeous, my friend and family more endearing to me. These are the take-away lessons that Shoshie is teaching us. If I was romantic in my view of life I am more romantic now-If i was living to change the world I am more motivated than ever now -if i was driven by the desire to be good and have meaning in my life- It's more now.

I can't even look at any one of you without feeling total love and acceptance for you. Neither can Denise for that matter. We have narrowed down as to what projects and focuses we want to launch and concentrate on under the umbrella of the Shoshie Stern memorial foundation. We are meeting with our web-designer later and sooner than later, these ideas will be on our revamped website.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, your concern, care and love for us- your cards, letters, visits, -your donations, May it please G-d that your efforts in helping to life the yokes upon our necks be a source of merit for you and your families, may you integrate and experience the thoughts and ideas that you have found valuable in writing without any difficulty, Tzar and challenges in any way. May Hashem grant you the ability to be present in your lives with all of your loved ones.


I see that I didn't follow though on a point. We break a glass at our chasunas (weddings) to remind us of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (temple) and the resulting of Gods more obvious and direct presence in our lives. Even at the time of our personal greatest joy...... at our own child's wedding, we are reminded that our joy is incomplete. We cannot have complete personal joy when other yidden are suffering, when we have exiled Hashem to the sidelines, when there is so much suffering, sickness and pain in the world. Even at a wedding, don;t loose sight of the fact that this world is broken, imperfect, painful - that is the circumstances we find ourselves in - don't completely indulge for a second in yourself and ignore others pain. Our Neshamos know what life was created for, what it years for, what it ought to be -that never ending thirst for a perfect world will never cease because we are supposed to use it to be driven to do something. Since the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash -life has never been the same for the Jews, Jewish people and for humanity. Reminders are everywhere of that destruction and that our joy is incomplete.
The psalm we say before we bench, the unfinished wall in our new homes, the glass under the chuppah, the prayers in our Shemoneh Esrie, -ashes on our heads when we get married, Tikun Chatzot (midnight prayers said lamenting the destruction, the 9 days, tish bav) - Over 2,000 years ago -we the Jewish people experienced the feeling that life will never be the same. Denise and I are just catching up to that reality. It was always like this. The sickness, the pain of people, the absence of God present in our lives - even when you are in your little comfort cocoon, peoples lives are irreparably compromised, damaged etc . We were comforted by you as may Gd comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim - who are those mourners? The select few who realize that this world the way it is is not it. They see beyond their personal lives and see others, see that Hashem is saddened about this world -he awaits us to stand up and spread his majesty, kingship, his name and glory over humanity. Hear o Israel, Hashem is God, Hashem is one. Life was never normal - we just caught up to that fact. Let's rally together to bring Hashem into all our of lives