Sunday, June 30, 2013

Join Denise Stern @ The Aish women's re-connection mission Save the date!! Jan. 29-Feb 4 2014 - All of it Dedicated in Shoshie's name as Denise will have a few opportunities to share her insights.

Many more details and itinerary will be forthcoming. Please be in touch with Denise if you are interested. Below is a letter written Mrs. Dina Coopersmith, the Missions' Director. Denise went on this kind of mission this past year and came back totally and amazingly inspired

Dear Ladies,
Last year, we had the privilege to inaugurate the most amazing inspiring women's learning mission in Eretz Yisrael, for women who are connected to Aish or Eyaht either directly or indirectly.

We called it the Aish women's Inspiration re-connection mission and it inspired and connected 17 special women who came from outside of Israel along with 15-20 women who live in Eretz Yisrael We spent a night at a 5-star-spa-hotel in the dead sea, spent Shabbat in Yerushalayim and had classes at the Aish World Center with world-renowned speakers, Rabbis and Rebbetzins. It was an incredible rejuvenation of body and spirit and gave women the strength to go back home to a life of physical and spiritual giving, replenished and inspired.

This year, the mission will be dedicated to the memory of Shoshie Stern, a"h, the 12-year old daughter of last year's participant Denise Stern, and she will share with us her insights, thoughts and feelings following this difficult experience in her life.

The theme of the mission is simply "Connection"- starting with Hashem, continuing with ourselves, and others- our families, spouses, children and friends. The itinerary and flyer will be available soon. There are good flight deals available in Jan. and Feb. if you reserve now. All the best, Dini
New Time: 1:30 p.m. - Save The Date: July 14th, 2013
Rabbi Mike Stern to Speak at the Philadelphia Kollel

Topic: " Finding Light Amidst Darkness" - Lessons from the Life and Passing of Shoshie Stern, A"H.

Shoshana Stern, A'H, daughter of Rabbi Mike & Denise Stern, was tragically taken from us in April 2013 at the tender age of 12. The Sterns, have inspired many hundreds of Jews over the past 20 years through their work with Aish Philadelphia, the Milwaukee Kollel and the Levis JCC in Boca Raton. The Sterns now have created Rabbi Without Walls to reach out to unaffiliated Jews in South FL.

Throughout the entire Shiva, Shaloshim and up until today it has become apparent that "Shoshie's Life" was one of great spiritual accomplishment. Rabbi Mike will inspire and uplift us as he shares the lessons learned from Shoshie and how these insights give us a deeper understanding of the 9 days and Tisha b'Av . For more info see
Today is my father's Yahrzeit! Here's an amazing story that will make you smile and cry. It illustrates who my father was and where you can that Shoshie came from!

This is an amazing story that happened on this day 15 years ago. It starts with sharing with you an incident that happened in our family starting 30 years ago. We had a housekeeper, her name was Viola. She resembled all the classic stereo-types of an African America. She was uneducated, illiterate but in-arguably helped to make me who I am.

One day in the mid 80's - my father who had been having difficulty in business went to Viola to relive her of her duties. He couldn't afford to pay her any more. This was so difficult to do. She was part of our family for many years. She even slept over much of the time even-though she had her own family. So my father said to Viola " I'm sorry that I have to tell you that we can't afford to pay you any more and we have to let you go". Viola stood there the most puzzled look on her face. "Mr Stern you think I come here for the money? You think this is "my job and that's why I come?"- You don't have to pay me for me to come in!
"I'm family" - I appreciate that you give me money but that is not why I come? Wow! Viola came in cleaned the whole house without getting paid week after week.

Flash forward 20 years. One day Viola who was getting very old at this point approached my father and said "Mr Stern, I can't get up and down the stairs any more, my eye sight is going, I just don't have the energy any more, you just have to find yourself another girl. She was actually stepping aside, - She couldn't do it properly so she just said that if she can't do it properly then she isn't going to take the money. My father looked at her incredulously, remembering what had happened 20 years ago as if it was yesterday. "You think we have you here because we need the house cleaned well? That we have you here because we look at you as a house keeper? "You are family" - you aren't going anywhere. We are going to hire another lady to clean the house and you will manage her". "You are no longer the person who cleans, you are the person who manages our house - the house manager - Please make sure that the other girl cleans the house well-you know how we like it.

Growing up - we didn't see color. We didn't see differences in how big your house was, how wealthy, what you father didn't for a living, what country club the family belonged to, how educated you were or not, where you went to scho0l, what car you drive, etc etc

During the Shiva the following people came - the person who....
1) Cleans our pool
2) The UPS guy
3) The exterminator
4) The one who fixes the A.C
5) The check out lady at the Kosher supermarket

Shoshie was friends with you no matter:
How observant, where you lived, how pretty, how popular, where you went to school, camp etc etc

Don't get caught at the jug rather look inside. The jug is the external appearance, being attracted and going for that makes us feel illusionary good about ourselves. Look beyond the jug - the external to the real inside- the beauty in each other.

May we all see people for who they truly are and not something about them that makes us feel good about ourselves - Look people for who they are-see their virtues

May we all improve in this area and be an aliyah to my father's Soul.

Dad you made me who I am. When people say nice things about me, i always think you should have meant my father , then you would have understood what nice, loving, kind and generous is
May this also be an aliyah to shoshie's Neshama who followed in the family's footsteps

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Instruments of Fear - Invasion of the "Thought-Snatchers"

Pardon me if it's a bit rambling. These thoughts contain for me many seminal ideas that have been in formation the last 5 years. They may not be %100 clear here and a work in progress, nevertheless they contain an important part of the tapestry of how we work altogether. Understanding the world of our thoughts is not straight-forward Torah topic yet it is the underpinning of growing in the right direction and serving God. With that I give you more of an impressionist painting.

Thought comes along from the source of all formless energy that animates the entire world at every moment. Thought is like all other matter that is made up of molecules in different combinations of protons, neutrons and electrons etc. Thought, like all other physical and spiritual matter is made up and originates from the same infinite formless energy (from the infinite one).

Although, the infinite, formless energy starts out all the same as it originates all from "one" source, nevertheless, once it travels a path that traverses from the infinite to our world, the one we live in it will appear to all of us differently. In general, different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, densities etc but also we each will see the same thing like a chair but we will all experience the same chair differently.

Formless energy also appears to us as thought. In general it is our consciousness that picks up this "thought" and gives us an experience of life. This is where uniformity ends.

It is through our own unique level of consciousness at any given time (very high to very low), that brings to life our own unique voices inside of us. Depending upon our own level of consciousness at any given time, everything within the spiritual and physical realm will appear slightly different to us, we will all experience the same thing differently. Our thoughts about the same thing will be different.

Our world and how we experience it creates a screen of duplicity, differentiation and multiplicity that we cannot see behind. In reality all the formless energy is one and comes from "the one"
As I mentioned before in an older post, 5 people walk into 1 movie. How movies do they see? Five! Are we doomed? no.

Our 2 main voices in Judaism are called the Yetzer Hara and the Yetzer Tov. The good and the bad inclination. The good inclination wants everything that God wants for you and deep down you want for yourself. The source of the good you truly deep down want is from your soul. The soul is a portion/part/spark of Godliness inside of you. All it wants and what you truly want is: goodness, love, perfection, oneness, truth, justice, righteousness, peace, greatness, harmony etc. This was the main voice we heard inside before the sin of Adam and Eve. All this voice wants to do is to listen to God and be like God. Your soul, although is your original identity before you came to earth, it is nevertheless, only 1 of your identities.

The other voice became your other identity. It is the "I" - the "I" when we say "I" am looking for my true self. The true self is the soul. The "I" has it's own persona -with it's own feelings, desires, and inclinations. Although deep down this identity also wants to be great, it's natural way of operating (and therefore called evil -which really means here the opposite of good not evil per se) is that, it wants to do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants until it is trained in the right way. In Torah vernacular, this voice and inclination is called the body as in the classic Jewish terminology the body-soul struggle. Although just like the physical body in general that is lazy and undisciplined, and doesn't feel like doing what it has to do to work out, eat right and be in great shape - underneath it all, the body truly loves and wants to be in great shape, so too -our 2nd voice-the "evil" inclination wants to be great. It just doesn't want to put the work in ..... at first. Everyone can relate to that if you haven't worked out in along time, it takes a good 3 months before your body says let's go to the gym. Until that it is a day to day battle.

The "I" wants greatness but it doesn't feel like doing it. it naturally wants to do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants until it is trained. And even when it is trained, it is often temporary. This voice is into comfort, escape, a lack of responsibility, accountability and in general exists inside of us as a force that feels like the path of least resistance.

As God sends us (a soul in the heavens) down to earth (no, no say it ain't so) to correct our character deficiencies and thereby create ourselves through our own good choices, earn our own true greatness (become the true millionaire) and receive the true pleasure that we were created for. Our specific character deficiencies are animated and given voice in this "I" persona -the evil inclination and what we call the body in the body soul struggle.

Although we might not be aware all of the time, character defaults like: selfishness, greediness, self centeredness, jealousy, lust (desire) and the pursuit of honor (looking for approval, recognition, affirmation, validation) speak to us all the time.
We might have these inside of us because God wants us to become more giving, loving, more trust in him etc. These character deficiencies are given voice inside of us and many times we don't know. They will skew our thoughts.

It's all very tricky. Each of these negative character traits don't just demand what it wants in straight terms. it will give us a rationalization of why a particular desire is the "right, good" thing"
Remember this "I" also wants to be great but it doesn't want to do the work. It wants the easy way, the lazy way, the drive for comfort and the path of least resistance. It says let's you and I let me appear great. The ability to rationalize is the greatest tool that it has. The smarter and more intellectual you are-watch out. You might be being duped. This misleading voice is expressed to us as thought.

How about our intuition that will necessarily tell us if we are on the right track? Not necessarily. Thought as experienced through our physical senses are "feelings". Thought and feelings are the same thing. One is experienced in the mind and the other within our senses. We could easily feel strongly about something and it could be coming form the evil inclination.

Character deficiencies are "thought snatchers" - when our consciousness is low, it amplifies, voice to are negative character traits and our thoughts appear one way and when our consciousnesses is higher is gives stronger voice to our "good" inclination.

What do we do about this?

Monday, June 24, 2013

More about Fear -Part 2

What is it about fear that skews your thoughts? It's about not having things the way you want them to be. It's about things being different than the script that you would have written. It's not having what you want, when you want it and how you want it. Fear of loosing what you have and how things are for you - fear of not getting back what you lost - fears that breed despair, discontent, desperation.....

It's a lack of real and true trust in Hashem. Things are at this moment what they should be. Nothing more, nothing less. If things were meant to be different at this moment they would be.
You have what you need-right now! - You have security of a loving father in heaven who at every moment is embracing you - giving you exactly what you need. If things change, he is never not in charge. He knows exactly what is going on and why! You are never alone - and never alone with you stuff, challenges and difficulties. If things change for you - no fear - Hashem is here
Our vulnerability is in direct correlation to how much trust in God is real to us.

Yes wee are put in this world to make something of ourselves. We are directed in the Torah to earn our existence, earn our reward -take responsibility for our lives. Self creation - turn ourselves into God like human beings which requires constant effort, motivation, striving, discipline etc- So much goes into being good, doing good - living a life of meaning. And this is the best case scenario. Less than this so many of us are caught striving for the trappings of what the world tells us is success, happiness and pleasure. - So many things are inescapable such as status, recognition, and the pedestal that our job, synagogue, volunteer position etc puts us on.

In any event,it's all hard when only the effort is in our hands and the results are not. No matter how much we try, scheme, plan, set goals, work, - in the end of the day -it's not in our hands. How is my life supposed to be all about me, my hard work, my effort- my responsibility to make something of myself yet it's only the effort that is mine - whether it happens -is not up to me.

And I have to happy no matter what the outcome is.

Fear of not becoming - fear of not being who I should be - fear of not what I think others thing I should be- fear of not producing, contributing, - The more it's all up to me, the more that God is not in the picture- the less trust I have for God - The more vulnerable I am, the more vulnerable .... underneath it all the more fear I really have..... why ..... insecurity -

I'm not just okay no matter what the situation is - I should be
Being not fearful depends upon me trusting every moment that Hashem knows what he is doing - I have nothing to lose - everything is the way it should be at this moment -nothing more and nothing less.

I am not in charge - Someone else is -
If he wants me to seen as unsuccessful -so be it it is his will - I'm not unsuccessful -I tried my best- "OH I am seen as unsuccessful" - take it up with my boss.

Some Rabbi somewhere in the Talmud came upon a man who was ugly and he made such a comment. The man replied in a sense I wish I could take it personally - but my maker made me this way.

When you trust in God - you don't have insecurities- you don"t have fear - it's all good
Fear and Other Skeletons - Skew Your Thoughts

Let's finally get to the point! Fear
The most colossal sin in the history of the Jewish people was the sin of the spies. Although it might have seemed innocent at the time, the Jewish people after escaping Egypt, receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai and on the cusp of entering the land of Israel to fulfill their mission and destiny, requests from Moshe that they should send cadre of people to spy out the land of Israel. Did they really need to check it out? Hashem promised them the land! Would Hashem have promised the land and not give them the where with all to know how to accomplish settling the land? What do you really need the spies for?

What ensued was the greatest self sabotage in history. The "spies" came back from their mission, relayed a scary and negative report about the land and the Jewish people became scared out of their minds. They cried all night about having to enter the land. What did Hashem say? What every good parent says! " OH you are crying for nothing.. I'll give you something to cry about. Not only were the Jewish people; not going to enter the land of Israel at that time, sentenced to 40 years of wandering in the desert, immediate death to those spies that came back with a negative report but that very night of crying became a night of crying for all of Jewish history. We call it tish b av- the 9th day of the Jewish month of AV. Many calamities have occurred on the 9th of av throughout Jewish history including the destruction of the both of the Jewish temples. The very last destruction of the 2nd temple; drive God's presence away from the Jewish people, exiled us out of the land and is still the cause of this 2,000 year old exile. What exactly was the sin of the spies? The Talmud teaches us it was Loshon hara (derogatory/damaging speech about the land of Israel, that caused a lack of Jewish unity -that caused all the destruction our history. Everything I have just said is straight -forward Jewish history.

It happened to be that the spies that were chosen were amongst the greatest men of the Jewish people and the heads of the tribes. How could the "greatest" of our generation cause what would be the greatest sin of all time? How is it possible?
The question is what happened? What was the underlying issue that laid inside of them that caused them to err? Weren't they there in Egypt? didn't Hashem do wonders and plagues for them? How about the water that quenched their thirst from Miriam's well? didn't they drink that water? Weren't they fed Mann in the desert? Weren't they there when Hashem spoke to the entire nation at Mount Sinai? etc etc. Could the clarity of God be more clear? Could they even entertain a doubt as to Hashem fulfills what he promises? How could they not be %100 sure no matter what they saw when they explored and spied out the land that Hashem would be able to do anything to fulfill his promise? It certainly is enough to scratch your head how it is all possible? What was sit about them that impaired their ability to think clearly? Skew reality and truth? This is the question that I have been writing about the last 5 posts.

One answer is in the holy writings of the Zohar. It says that because the spies were the greatest of the generation and they were the leaders of their tribes.... they potentially had the most to lose. There is life before entering the land of Israel and there is going to be an entirely different life in the land of Israel. For one thing, there were so many Mitzvots that only once they entered the land would the Jewish people be obligated to them. Whatever life had been for them in the desert would not be their life in Israel. Having known that - the underlying question is- would they still have their prestigious positions? Would they be as important within the new scheme of the Jewish people? Would they lose everything they had worked for ?

Fear - Fear of change - fear of loss - fear of less status - a lot of fear. Fear causes a person to look at things differently and can even skew what would seem like obvious reality and truth.

One doesn't necessarily know what is influencing the way they think about things even the greatest of the generation.

Got to go-time to put the kids to sleep

There are more factors that skew our thinking to be continued.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Skeletons in our Subconscious -Why Can't trust our thoughts - Part 4

The "sin" of Adam and Eve changed mankind. Before the sin, mankind's natural inclination was to choose truth. The light of truth was so clear, so obvious -there wasn't anything else so compelling to choose but truth. Falsehood was in effect a non-entity. Choices were able to be seen in an objective light not personal. But everything changed for Adam, Eve and all of mankind after their sin of eating from the forbidden tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The Sforno (A famous Torah commentator) describes what changed for mankind and their ability to choose as a result from eating from the tree - a change that would for now on, would intrinsically seem like more of mankind's "natural" inclination.

The Sforno says that from now on "our hearts" would be attracted to things that are sweet and pleasurable despite the fact that they might be not good or damaging in some for us. " - Particularly in the case of things that promise immediate gratification. Where as before we would naturally be able to see the longer range consequences of our immediate choices and as a result that would give us the ability to gauge whether or not our immediate choices are actually good for us. Now, something calls us for immediate gratification and beckons us to choose it despite if it's really in our best interest. It's convincing and screams to us impetuosity and compulsion.

Now, in addition to the existing inclination that was easily able to choose truth, good, right, correct, mankind would have a competing, additional inner voice, one that had lain weak and even dormant until now. This additional inclination
would become more attractive, attention grabbing and without any 2nd thought or deeper reflection, would appear at first glance to make more sense. This new additional inclination would make truth; harder to focus on, seem hidden and makes it harder to choose.

This new competing inclination (force) inside ones self and that makes objective truth harder to find, I'd like to call "one's desire"
(appetites, passions of the body) - a force with it's own truth, albeit false, an unquenchable thirst, a life unto itself, one that necessitates being fed. This inclination and immediate desires continues to grow in magnitude according to ones own self importance, ego and self preoccupation. It promises it's own sense of self fulfillment, completeness and wholeness. But unfortunately the result of choosing in this manner will always only net the a counterfeit and illusion of what it is that you seek.
This force maintains an attraction, drive, motivation and connection only to the external;, superficial, material and physical, leaving you wanting for the real thing.

We now have two competing forces inside, two identities, two voices, vying for attention, each one promising greatness. Both sides saying that they only want what is right and good but one voice is connected o impersonal, objective truth and the other voice albeit argues for the right motive but in truth it's choices for the sake of one's own self serving, immediate personal desires and passions.

More pernicious is that these voices are mixed up inside and it becomes very hard to sort out which voice is saying what at any given time. Each side wants to validate its own existence, presents a lens of self fulfillment, promises greatness and seeks to complete ones self

The greatest influence of how this new voice addresses itself to you -with it's false arguments and warped way of seeing things are your challenging character traits. In Ethics of our fathers it says that "jealousy, lust (desire and honor) remove a perosn from this world. (truth and reality) . What does it mean? To the extent that a person would have challenges in these character development areas would be the extent that objective truth could become obscured. The result would/could be "thoughts" that skew your own lens of how you view things, the situation, your wife, children etc.

In short (because I have to go now) - is that as a result of Adam and Eve's sin, an additional inclination (voice) became dominant inside of us, one that now obscures objective truth and reality and colors our lens of how we think, view and see things.

This last part is just the beginning of finally getting to the topic I started out 4 posts ago which why we can't necessarily trust our thoughts all the time. And lastly in short, short is that the voice inside often takes more into consideration from what is going on internally with ones self than objective truth and reality which we have difficulty seeing.

Be well

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why We Can't Trust our Thoughts-Part 3

So as a Soul in the heavens Hashem tells you that you have an assignment on earth, that it is all for your growth and good and that there is more unlimited eternal pleasure in store for you as a result of your choices that coincide with your true self. One huge caveat. God can't give you the accomplishment and therefore the reward, you have to be the master of your choices and the master of your good. It's like the difference between inheriting a million dollars and earning a million dollars. If they both lose the money only one of them has turned themselves into a millionaire and can make it back. It's who he has become intrinsically.

To earn "life, pleasure and reward" through your choices one is placed in a world of maximum challenge whereby your choices become truly meaningful. It's no big deal working hard when your boss is looking over you, it's no big deal when you were little doing what your parents wanted you to do when they were looking right at you or even working out and eating well when supervised by a personal trainer. How do you do when you think no-one is watching? In the private confines of your life when no-one can see you, notice, no approval, recognition, -no currency that will move you ahead- what do you do then? That is what it is when Hashem places us in this world and seemingly hides. Choose right because it is right. The benefit of light can be maximized in a place of darkness not out in the sunlight.

Hashem approaches you and describes the "role" that you will play on earth. It is just like a role in a play in the theater. It's not you. Your true identity is that of a Soul. But once we are jettisoned through the vestibule that connects the world of souls to this world and we land into a completely new world we forget where we came from. Entirely. It's like the movie the men in black where they wave this instrument that makes you forget everything you just saw. You also forget all of your past lives too.

So Hashem tells you before you go down; where you will be born, who your parents are, grandparents, siblings, extended family, where you will lives, your personality, talents, abilities, inclinations, the century in which you will live, etc. More than that, Hashem describes all the things that he is necessarily going to make happen in your life, (unless you really choose off course- and you can) who you will marry, your children, profession, who you will meet, know, be friends with etc, more than that the situations and predicaments you find yourself in and more than that are the challenges you will face. As you ask for more info on the latter and Hashem describes the challenges and their difficulties, some of them unimaginable, - you say "really"? I am going down for that? Hashem tells you even more. Thing after thing will happen with no stop. You say "I must be a bad boy". Hashem says let me explain.

First of all not only are you a good boy but I love you so much and only want the best for you. For your own sake I want you conquer these challenges through your own efforts, your choices -of course I will be there but not enough so that you won;t think that you are doing it. If you notice enough you will experience it that I will be right there, you'll intuitively know it, and I will help you but it will truly be your accomplishment. You ask "Hashem why so hard, so much, so constant"?

Hashem explains "you are almost a Tzadik in my book" - you have been down on earth many times perfecting your soul and earning eternity through your choices. You are so special. There are a few areas in which you are lacking perfection. The more specific unique challenges I throw at you it will be like I am doing surgery for you and challenging those exact areas you need to grow in. If I didn't care so much, If I didn't love your so much, if you hadn't accomplished so much in your past lives, if I didn't think you can do it and rise to the occasion - I just wouldn't bother. If I gave you a life without challenges, frustrations, disappointments, hardship, hard work etc - you might and more likely choose a life of leisure, comfort, luxury, - develop habits of laziness,complacency, self centeredness, selfishness, etc -of course you can still choose those things. The bottom line is what you do with the cards you are dealt with and choose to live a life of truth, meaning, wisdom, goodness, love - choose to be a giver and refine your character to be as holy and godly as possible.Despite anything I throw in your way in fact make it despite anything I throw in your way. be an example and teach for others and I will take great notice of it.

You want more of an explanation in detail. Hashem then shows you in great depth and detail how all your circumstances that you will find yourself in, all the divine providence of situations that will occur in your life- from the nicest and most beautiful to the most ugly, frightful and distressing, Hashem will show you how it all exactly, specifically is designed to help you accomplish what you uniquely are here to accomplish. Nothing more, nothing less.
Hashem only gives you what is best for you, exactly want you need for our own sake. In the end Hashem gives you a choice, this is what I want to do for you - what do you say? You have a choice not to go down to earth, you have a choice not to go along with it - but.... you know Hashem loves and you know that all he does is for your best - not from a stand point of faith-you're a soul now-you know.

Last part for now (maybe until later- yes another car pool)

We are still working towards explaining what is it about us and our own contributions to our thoughts that makes reality appear a certain way for us? What inside of of us influences the way we see things - next part

In the mean time-know that so many of our thoughts -even sometimes when they appear so true, so intuitive, so clear are for us to reject (this also is a choice whereby we earn and build ourselves)

Good Shabbos

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why we can't trust our thoughts - Part 2 - This post takes a circuitous route starting with the journey of the soul

Again, what is it about us that impacts our thoughts that allow us to only see our slice of reality? There is a parable about 5 people who are blind and each of them are holding onto 5 different parts of the elephant. While none of them know and experience that it is in its totality an elephant, each one is able to grasp an aspect of the elephant and each part of the elephant gives them an authentic, true experience of that slice of reality. Each one can swear according to what they know and the can be right according to their own experience but there is so much more for each of them to grasp and experience than meets the eye. What influences our slice?

I feel as though we are nothing more than a free will entity, a consciousness - part an parcel of our Neshama (soul) and we were in the heavens existing in the fullness of the radiance of above. All of a sudden the Almighty calls us to action. "Mr Soul # 178, 456,345 we have an assignment for you down on earth. You are like "are you kidding me, I don't have time for that". "I've got this great opportunity to study your truth with this very special soul who used to teach thousands of people, then I'm meeting with all the grandparents I have had through the ages" , I'm taking a stroll with 3 of the most special grand-children that I have had".... I could go on and on! "I can't possibly go". "I don't want to". "I love my life here, I can't wait to spend my days here-they are all full of illumination, love, beauty -everything that I had always longed for in my heart and soul on earth exist in spades here without any obstacles, blocks, interference- I love it here, please don;t make me go!

Hashem then says to us " as special as you know it is here, as much as you love it, there is so much more to experience here that you aren't getting to", "I want more for you, for your sake, not mine". I do see here how much you love your time, your days , you just can't wait every day to experience all you do.... but there is more for you. You can only enjoy the light and radiance according to how much you know me. What is available for you up here is limited to how you refined your taste buds for righteousness, truth and goodness, how much you refined your character traits to be "pardon the self aggrandizement" G-d like - how compassionate, merciful and loving you are, your amount of truly kind acts for people, self sacrificing when you wanted to do something else with your time, money and energy for yourself but you held yourself back and did for others, how much you developed strength - self control; delayed gratification, the ability to transcend normal self centeredness, your refinement of how you channeled yourself away from jealousy, lust (desire) and the search for honor and last but most important, the constant preoccupation of studying my wisdom that gave you the secrets and keys of how to accomplish everything I said above. In short, a person is in total control of how they experience their life up here, it is what you made of yourself down below. According to how you made your life spiritual within and through a physical world frame, and your spiritual attainments are exactly who you make yourself into and carry that with you into the world of souls-life beyond this life. Having said that " I know you can accomplish more, I want more for you, underneath it all you really want more for yourself, you were created for more - you are going!

You are like "okay what can I really say back to God"? Like what do I really know? Like ... he's God... (you still don't want to go -it's certainly not real to you everything that God said- you don;t really know because you haven't experienced what he is talking about. So you're like "tell me again why i have to go"? Hashem says "in short- all this pleasure that you experience here is dependent upon the spiritual muscles you grow down below" - Look I don't want to fool you -there is a price tag to everything you experience on earth - but it's all for your good-to refine yourself, build yourself, create yourself -spiritual greatness. You say to Hashem "please level with me" - it's so amazing up here I really "forgot" what it is was like to acquire this spirituality. Hashem replies look " It's not easy, it won't always be pretty, it's a life totally up and down, painful a lot, things hardly ever turn out the way you would like them to, disappointments, frustrations, pain, - everything worthwhile takes energy, discipline, planing, goal-setting, perseverance, -it's all one big struggle but - it is I am telling you a %100 all worth it-every second. You can't have an ounce of pleasure up here- this amazing life you experience moment to moment without the spiritual accomplishments below. By definition it is a life of seeing through the illusion -choosing reality amidst the falsehood, the good amidst the evil, the eternal versus the expedient, choosing to love others versus oneself. A moment of struggle will net an eternal reward of pleasure.

How will I know that this is all true what you are saying God? When I send you down below your heart and soul will always be driven and know that you were created for the ultimate pleasure - Your soul will pine for love, perfection, goodness, peace, harmony, oneness, Unity, beauty, truth and - and you will if you are honest will see that the physical world of earth will not be able to give that satisfaction to you. No matter how many parties, how many girls, no matter how much wealth, nothing in the physical earth will truly satisfy you. No matter what the world offers you you will be left wanting. That unquenchable thirst will be a thirst of wanting to know me, love me, be with me, - you can only touch it on earth but as sure as you are now herein heaven and I am speaking with you-know that you always want to be with me. Remember that I am telling you all of your worldly challenges will net result in you higher and higher pleasures with me up here.

To be continued - No-one is home except for Denise - (not even the 4 and 7 year olds who slept out for shabbos and tonight) -Time for us to spend time together. To be continued tomorrow Gd willing

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why we can't trust our thoughts

I just want to qualify this by saying that I realize writing about the nature of thoughts and how they do or don't describe reality and truth is not everyone's cup of tea. So it's okay - just skip it. I'm more likely to write about different topics. However....

There was a book in France in the 60's that depicted - in short - it started off with one scene, fairly intense, a bit complicated and completely full of drama witnessed by 5 different people. The rest of the book was a description of how each of the 5 witnesses experienced the very same event, in a totally different way. One scene- one event- 5 versions. If each of them told you how they saw it, you would say did we see the same thing? How can this be? 1 truth and 5 different versions or is it 5 truths? How do we know that what we are seeing is truth, is reality?

When my boys, born 13 months a part, were young, they would fight a lot of time. When they both came to me, they each had a different story of what had transpired. In my mind I'm thinking "well he either hit him first or not" - "one of them must be lying"!
I used to get angry thinking that one of them seemed to me was necessarily lying. I don't any more. I see it as both of them had a different version of what happened through their eyes, their perception, their lens.

From here we can see that it might be challenging to completely rely and trust all the time on our own perceptions that they do indeed reflect truth and reality. For this reason Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya says in Ethics of our Fathers "Make for yourself a Rabbi, acquire yourself a friend and judge to the side of merit". This is not only because others know different things than you and their knowledge can complimentary to what you don't know but people think and experience the world differently. Interesting to note that Rabbi Yehoshua is exhorting us and giving us direction as if we would have a tendency not to seek a Rabbi or a friend to flesh things, bounce things off of and get a different perspective. I can see this particularly in situations where you feel that absolutely sure and resolute. Why in the world would want or need a Rabbi or a friend. Note-it doesn't "when in doubt -you are not sure, go speak it out with a Rabbi or a friend". I am certainly not saying there is not a place or a way to be sure of yourself, trust yourself and rely on yourself. It seems to me that the Torah is challenging you to consider that a lot more often than you think, it is very important to have others in your life and get their perspective. We don't think the same, our thoughts vary no matter of we are both sitting there and seeing the same thing at the same time.

If so, what influences our thoughts that they should come to be our thoughts? What is it about ourselves that influences how we see things?

All though it appears that our thoughts are driven a %100 from external events (something that is going on outside of ourselves) they don't. And we have reason to believe that they do. It definitely appears that when my wife or husband speaks to me in that tone, I get upset and angry. It definitely appears that when my kids just won't get into bed, I get upset and angry and it definitely appears that when people are parking on my lawn, the dog topples over our garbage cans looking for food, my judgmental boss who is looking over my should waiting to catch a mistake that I necessarily get upset and angry. Oh it does appear that this is true but it's really not. There are times in each of these cases where I an certain that you and I didn't get upset and angry. Sometimes it bothers me when I saying words of Torah over at our Shabbos table and my family is talking and not paying attention and ......sometimes not. Okay for all of these I might be more likely to get upset and angry but in truth not necessarily. Why would that be unless there are other factors at play aside from the external event that shapes my thoughts. And what if I could understand that a little better so i might know really what is bothering me the external event or something inside of me. I will say it appears it's the spouse, the kid, the neighbor, boss etc but just as likely if not more it's me.

Let me illustrate -Ellie my 4 year old woke up early,came into the kitchen and saw a box of glazed donuts just sitting there out in the open. Ellie immediately was glued to staring at the box and became very determined to make her breakfast glazed donuts -many. Ali versus Frazier ensued. "I want the donuts" - "Ellie you can't have the donuts for breakfast, maybe later" - "I want the donuts noooooowwww" - Okay back and forth neither party giving in. All I could think about was how irresponsible the teenager in my home was who left it out on the counter. How could they? I mean it is simple math right? the eyes see the heart soon as it was in her sight what else would any normal 4 year old do? demand the donuts. To me that added up to blaming my teenager for the knock-down -drag out fight that took up 25 exhausting, debilitating minutes. All I could think about was how I was going to give it to my teenager- it was their fault this happened right? And I did find out who left it there and I did give them a peice of my mind and yes Ellie got to eat the donuts for breakfast.

The next morning, I am in the kitchen having coffee (we use a French press by the way -why anyone would make coffee a different way is beyond me) I see Ellie coming towards the kitchen. I am traumatized from the morning before, i quickly scan around the room and lo and behold- there are those freak- in donuts right there again. my blood boils - I get angry from 0-10 all the way to a 10. I am going to throttle that teenager who didn't move the donuts like I asked them -Whoa - a heavy duty thought attack occurs all at once in the few moments as Ellie is sauntering down the hallway. I go from thought to thought as to how my teenagers don't listen to me, they don't respect me, what the heck are they learning in that school anyway, it's so expensive they don't even teach basic good character traits of being sensitive, thoughtful and responsible. Just a few moments-bad place. Ellie is coming closer and closer to the kitchen, I am just not going to be able to lunge at the donuts and destroy them , hide them ---- I am in big trouble. She whisks past me, says Boker tov, and ..... oh no she is turning towards the donuts... here it comes..... sees the box of donuts, walks right past and fills up a washing cup to wash her hand and ask for breakfast. My head just drops, swivels around my head....I think to myself... she saw the donuts, she definitely did .... then why... . why..... why.... didn't she have a whole tantrum like yesterday?

It's not the donuts stupid! (talking to myself) It's not the fault and blame of the teenager stupid! The one you yelled at yesterday and just had a whole thought attack about these past few minutes. I am not saying that it absolutely doesn't matter whether or not you leave the donuts out or not, I would say the likelihood is the 1st scenario but not necessarily. There is more than meets the eye. So for ourselves although it appears that the outside external event is the cause of how I feel I have got to understand more about my thoughts as to not whether I can implicitly trust them, I can't but how to begin to decipher the code to better understand the accuracy of my thoughts. After all life is not about seeing what you want to see but seeing what there is to see.

Fairly soon I will tr to follow this up with some thoughts as to what influences on our thoughts as to how we experience our thoughts as well some thoughts as to how and when we can better trust our thoughts than other times.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Living with Clarity
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

The death of 12-year-old Shoshie Stern reveals her parents’ spiritual greatness.

On April 14, 2013, Rabbi Mike & Denise Stern suffered the shocking death of their precious 12-year-old daughter Shoshie. In the days following, various stories emerged of the Sterns’ ethical-spiritual greatness.
Right after hearing the horrific news, while on the way to identify the body, Denise received a phone call from a woman she’d never met. Denise blurted out “Shoshie’s dead!” and hung up. Then – in the midst of her emotional panic – Denise had the presence of mind and the sensitivity to call this woman back, apologize for her abruptness, check to see if she was alright and help calm her down.
During the shiva, an eyewitness to the fatal accident wanted to speak with the Sterns. But this woman was traumatized from the experience, and petrified that she would say the wrong thing or break down sobbing in front of them. When she entered the house, Rabbi Stern immediately sensed her trepidation, and told her that her tears were a source of comfort to them, and that she should allow herself to express her feelings so that she, too, can heal. After she left the room, Mike turned to Denise and said, "We need to be there for her – she’s going to need our help.”
Dr. Norman Goldwasser, who personally witnessed this, says: "Imagine the level of other-centeredness, of caring for another's well-being, especially at a time of such extreme personal distress."
One more story: A few days after Shoshie’s death, a man in Boca Raton was in the waiting room of a doctor's office. Two people were speaking – having clearly met for the first time – and one was inviting the other for Shabbos. The onlooker reports:
“I later discovered, to my horror that this smiling couple, so eager to help another Jew, were going through a tragedy that was still fresh, still raw. Yet they were going through it in a manner that showed their total and utter faith in God. Never in a million years could I ever have guessed that these two people, who would be completely justified to think of no one but themselves right now, were caring for the needs of another soul.”
The details of Shoshie Stern’s incredible love for others, and the legacy she leaves us, is described in part one of this interview, posted last week.
The following is based on recent Skype conversations between Israel and Florida.
Aish: Since Shoshie’s death, you’ve been speaking about “the other side of the curtain.” What does this mean?
Mike: Once in a while life sends us a precious moment where the curtain gets peeled back and we are able to see reality unmasked. It’s a clarity that shows us a far bigger picture, where we somehow touch the magnitude of meaning that is pregnant in every moment. Since Shoshie's death, I feel lifted into a different dimension. The moments seem to linger beyond time, in slow motion. Colors appear more vivid, even the food tastes better. My kids' laughter is more enlivening, my wife is more gorgeous, my friends and family are more endearing.

Shoshie's death has catapulted me out of my head and into life. The imperative to achieve my potential is stronger than ever. If I was driven by the desire to be good and have meaning in my life, it is more now. I have more passion, more gratitude for my gifts, and an overwhelming feeling that life is special. God really has my attention now.
AMike Stern: the "Rabbi Without Walls"ish: And yet we still live in a mundane world. How do you relate to that?
Mike: Mundane things are more of a drag. I have little patience for the news or non-nonsensical bantering. What are we here for – to do errands? Sure, I have to take care of shopping, shlepping, cooking, bills, car pool. But is this my higher purpose in life, why the Almighty (so to speak) bothered to create me?
Aish: So how do you attain this clarity about life’s priorities?
Mike: My teacher, Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l, taught that the most important question we can ask ourselves is: "What am I living for?" The first thousand times I heard this, I didn't have a clue how to answer. At Aish HaTorah, we did an exercise to attain that clarity: "What would you like written in your obituary?” Mortality – and the knowledge that after death we will spend eternity with whatever we've created – is the ultimate attention-getter.
The Talmud says: “Do teshuva (spiritual correction) the day before you die, because you never know when that will be. Do any of us know when our second on Earth will be? If we lived with a constant awareness that this moment could be our last, would we be a little kinder? A bit more sensitive? More forgiving? The loss of Shoshie is an important opportunity to ask ourselves the right questions.
Aish: How has Shoshie's death impacted things in your home?
Mike: I love basketball but I simply don't have time to sit there and watch a game. I would much rather invest in my family and others. I am looking at my wife and kids with far more clarity of their greatness. Our family was always very close, but there is more peace in our home than ever before. We seem to be more forgiving of each others idiosyncrasies and faults. I can never look at my wife and kids in the same way as before. I more easily see their greatness and am not as bothered by the things I might have been critical about before. Shoshie's death has opened my heart, mind and soul. Things are more connected, more vivid and alive.
Aish: You lost a brother many years ago. How did this affect you and your family?
Mike: Unfortunately, my brother Gary passed away when I was 21. I saw and learned a lot from that time. There was life before Gary, and there was a new life after Gary. So I am able to help my children engage in appropriate mourning – to grieve freely, but not to the extent of destabilizing.
Yet for us today, we had life before Shoshie but have no idea what life will be like after Shoshie. One part of me still believes that Shoshie will come walking through the door. How does one possibly get used to the idea that there will never again be a care-free moment when everything will feel complete. Just the opposite – there will be an overwhelming void that something is missing, messed up, out of place.
My mother told us that the day will come when our load will be a bit lighter. Hearing it from her means everything in the world. But it is just not imaginable now.
Aish: Three years ago, your young son had a near-drowning experience, found at the bottom of a pool.
Mike: That happened within 24 hours of our moving to Boca Raton. It was touch-and-go whether he would survive. That experience shifted and moved us. We were shaken hard. I see now that the Almighty was training us, giving us a certain head start with what was to come with Shoshie.
Aish: You constantly speak of God’s tremendous love for us. How does Shoshie’s death redefine your understanding of God's love?
Mike: Denise and I know that God is only good and it's all for the good. Before this happened, we had full clarity that He is the infinite, pure perfection Who runs every detail of this world. Everything that appears “bad” is really driving things toward the ultimate good. We love the Almighty and He loves us. I don't believe anything could change that. In fact I love God more now because I am more aware of the reality of His constant presence.
Aish: How do you deal with the “Why?”
Mike: Shoshie had a mission to complete on Earth, and she completed it in 12 years. Her mission was to set an example of rising above pettiness to touch every human being with genuine love. Shoshie’s mission was to wake us up and inspire us forward. So despite the utter devastation, I feel closer to Shoshie now more than ever. I am totally committed to carrying her legacy forward.
If I was striving to improve the world, I am more determined now than ever to show that life is meaningful and that we must be completely dedicated to doing the right thing. In whatever time I've got left in this world, with God's help, I will fight, scratch and claw every ounce of my being to make the biggest difference. It's the best thing I can do for my precious Shoshie.
Aish: You've alluded to an ongoing relationship with Shoshie. How does that work now that she's gone?
Mike: Just because Shoshie is not here does not lessen my love. It only intensifies it. She is entirely spiritual now. My heart and soul is connected to hers without the limitations of the physical and material. So too, Shoshie can now feel God's total love for her without boundary, without limit. What a realization.
Aish: You have said that Shoshie is getting you closer to God. How so?
Mike: It starts with the idea that the relationship of parents and children is the paradigm, the microcosm of our own relationship with God. My unceasing love for Shoshie, the constant ache of missing her – this teaches me about God's total imminence in our lives, His constant love for us. How proud I am to have a daughter who is teaching me so much about life.
Every second is an opportunity to feel God's gifts. The fact that we breathe, the heart pumps, we digest food, we can see, hear, touch, smell, balance, learn, have cognition – all that is possible only though the will of God on a moment-to-moment basis. There is never a split-second where God takes the foot off the pedal. God is all that exists. There is not a millionth of an inch that God doesn't both fill and encompass. How anything else has life and existence is an eternal mystery that Jewish mysticism describes as God’s total unity.
AAccompanying Shoshie to her final resting placeish: Maintaining this level of belief is a monumental challenge. How do you grapple with it?
Mike: We can’t always understand why God does what He does. Shoshie’s death was the perfect storm, the work of a Master Artist whose painting is an evolving and unfolding tapestry. But we are so limited by time and space that up-close it looks to us like an impressionist painting – dots and blobs of paint that seem to have no relationship with one another, let alone forming a picture.
One day we will merit to see that breathtaking canvas. We will forget our suffering as if it was a dream. We will understand how all these errant deaths, illness, darkness, poverty, wars and setbacks became the seeds to set into motion a deeper understanding, motivating us to build a better world.
Aish: You’ve devoted your adult life to sharing this ethical-spiritual message with others. What is your goal, your vision moving forward?
Mike: We are picking up the shattered pieces of our lives, and committing ourselves more than ever to promoting respect, peace and unity. We need more of this in our homes - between siblings, spouses, in-laws. We need more of this in our schools, our workplace and communities.

I am working to launch a new initiative called "One Heart" which addresses these three things by providing practical tools, talks and workshops on how we look at, think about and relate to one another. I am also working on a program called "Green Speech," which teaches us how to take ethical responsibility for how we speak to one another. Our thoughts and words matter and we must use them to build our world, not destroy it. Shoshie engendered so much unity in her life, so I think it's a good direction to go. We have also set up a foundation in Shoshie's memory to "keep Shoshie-ing ( and accomplish these same goals.
Aish: It is reported that your wife – after learning that Shoshie’s death was not caused by driver negligence – beseeched the police officer to tell the young man driving the car, "We are people of faith. Please don't let this ruin your life."
Mike: I previously did not know how holy Denise is. We really have no idea who we’re married to until something happens to shake the foundations. In a way, everyone exists below the radar, lying in wait to reveal their greatness. Even in marriage so much of life is routine: shopping, cooking, homework. Day-to-day, what can you really see?
TDenise and Shoshie a"hhis situation squeezed Denise and out came pure holiness. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. She is operating with infinite wisdom, from a place that is beyond her conscious mind, a pure expression of Godliness.
At the hospital Denise wanted to see Shoshie's body. The rabbi understandably discouraged Denise, but she insisted. So that's what we did. Then the next evening, Denise insisted on being at the funeral home while they were performing the tahara (ritual cleansing) on Shoshie’s body. After they were done, she went and personally participated with the other women in performing the tahara. This is unprecedented; no parent does such a thing. But Denise was totally in touch with her maternal needs and the grieving process. She needed to do it in her own way.
At the funeral the next day Denise got down on her hands and knees and buried Shoshie with her bare hands. She said: “I’ve tucked in my daughter thousands of times. This is the last thing I can do for Shoshie and I want it to be perfect.” Can you imagine a more pure expression of love?
Sometimes we fail to recognize true holiness and greatness because it's so naturally integrated into someone’s personality. Denise has no ego in the way – no need for self-importance, approval, validation, affirmation, recognition. I am filled with awe at this woman who was right under my nose. Between Denise and Shoshie, I had two great teachers in my midst and I didn't even know it.
Aish: It’s now six weeks later. At the risk of an insensitive question, how are you doing?
Mike: Denise and I are in sheer horror, total agony. Everyone deals with their grief and pain in their own way. Denise has looked at Shoshie's pictures, videos, scrapbooks and has visited the cemetery many times. I have not – it's all too painful and I can sense it will be unproductive. We invested our kishkas in building up Shoshie to fly – only to have her taken away from us. And yet would I have rather had Shoshie for 12 years, than not at all? Absolutely no question whatsoever, we are eternally grateful for the time we had.

This is all leading us all somewhere better. The seeds of redemption are sown through our overwhelming challenges. I would never have asked for this challenge, but I know in the end it's all good.

To make a donation in Shoshie's memory, or to buy "Be Positive and Keep" bracelets to help support the work of the Shoshie Stern Memorial Foundation, go to

Or write to:
Shoshie Stern Foundation
7328 San Sebastian Dr
Boca Raton, Fl 33433

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lessons on Love - Love of God - Through Shoshie's Death

Oy! Shoshie.... where are you? I say this when alone - many times. Hoping that this is all a dream. She is the 1st thing I think about when I open my eyes and the last think before going to bed. Her presence filled our home and all of our lives. There is an nondescript closeness that weaves its way through our family. It's certainly not a smothering love ..... if you know Denise and I we give a lot of room to our children bordering sometimes on ignoring them.....but if you do know us - everything is all the real as it can be. Our transparency that exudes complete and utter genuineness of course has its downside too - the children can emotionally pick up our frustrations and disappointments but real love, real care, concern that flows like an unbridled white water river in Colorado.....the kids feel that too.

Knowing that they are loved is the greatest we have given to our kids and it's not by being on top of them. Its a collection of moments when our persona is tossed aside, the costume, the expectation of our identities when we go out in the world - they feel us. This love is not syrupy, it has given them a sense of self, confidence, secure of love - of course a lot of independence (have you met our kids?).....certain of our love. Sometimes its weird that they don't need reassurance - for instance Devori my daughter who just had her 15th b-day, She was away at school all day yesterday in NMB, stayed out in Miami with friends, didn't see her- was very busy yesterday...didn't text her until 9:00 p.m.- No drama, no after-thought- it was a "I love so much" and the response was "you too". At home we are celebrating her birthday tonight (Bli ayin hara for all of this). There is an amazing balance between being thoroughly involved in every aspect of their lives and yet at the same time having them to feel that we are not involved in any aspect of their the same time! And this is where we get to God.

The Shema! No matter what almost every Jew knows the 1st line of the Shema. Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad - hear of Israel , the Lord is our God, the Lord is one! When we say that Hashem is one, it is not a math issue, We aren't talking about "one" versus two or many- It's not that we are here on earth and he is there in the heavens as a oneness whose power controls all!
Oneness means -that this is all there is. "All" -Hashem should be called "allness". "One" means that he/she is all that exists- that is "reality" that has permanence. How anything else has life and existence is an eternal mystery. But there is not a million of an inch that God not only doesn't fill - but is it in it of itself. The Kabbalah describes this as Gods total imminence. But somehow at the same time we are not God!

Although, Judaism describes God as infinite, and there is no way to divide the oneness, there is no way for the existence of any other creature besides God, Judaism teaches us, despite that, not to think or consider that everyone and everything in existence is God him/her self. God's creations are considered .... well.... God's creations including us. Although its true that God fills everyone and everything at every second -we are not God. But its a cloud is true that we exist within God (think of a circle, name it God, make it "all" and draw all of creation including ourselves in that circle) -every second, every day of our lives. Just like a cartoon character has a thought that is represented as a cloud hovering above so too all of creation including ourselves is like a thought in God's mind. As long as the thought exists we exist. The fact that we breath a breath, the heart pumps, we digest food, we are able to go to the bathroom, we can see, hear, touch, smell, we eat, balance, have cognition, learn, thoughts themselves, appreciate -everything that is possible only though the will of God on a moment to moment basis, his thought, his sustenance- There is not a moment of our experience in life where God takes the foot off the pedal.... it is this recognition, realization, and reality that every moment of experience itself, the good and the bad is all a moment to moment gift.

The greatest potential for feeling happiness, fulfilled, secure, whole, well being and most important of all ......loved.... all comes from the ability to wake up to this reality we just described and feel gratitude. Every second is an opportunity to feel God's gifts- just sitting down right now, feeling the weight of your tuchus on the comfortable seat, breath slowly in and out, relax for a moment .... its fantastic being present for that.... we are not in the long lines of the DMB waiting to renew our drivers license.
The opposite is also true just as gratitude is the gateway for everything good in life so too entitlement contains every poison.

Yet, although God is really only imminent, within every molecule that exists at every moment, somehow he is also transcendent. How anyone or anything exists besides God is an eternal mystery. The Kabbalah describes it as if God withdrew himself from the center- constricted himself if you will (what does this mean i don't really know) but what remained were these vessels (us). God's light at the same time peered completely through the vessel (Gods imminence) and yet hovered completely around it (God's transcendence) Gods light was completely part and seemingly not part of the vessel at the same time.

For something "other" to exist - you have to withdraw a space inside yourself where the "other' can not only exist but grow on its own accord not feeling inhibited, self conscious, not feeling someone is looking over their shoulder, not feeling afraid to make a mistake but yet the existence of the "other' must feel a presence, a love, a deep care and concern every second - Parenting love .... (spouse love too) is like Hashem's love - totally transcendent - even aloof.... even concealed .... behind the scenes yet your love is there every second not a moment withdrawn. Having them feel the balance of imminence and transcendent is the trick of all tricks and the magic or all magic.

Just because Shoshie is not here does not lessen my love. It only intensifies it. She is entirely spiritual now. My heart and soul is ever connected to hers without the limitations of her physical and material being and its needs. I now understand though why it's so painful and she is the 1st thing I think about in the morning and the last at night. Why I can't or don't want to look at her scrap books, see the you tube videos of her and her friends, nor go the cemetery - it's too painful. My focus on being transcendent in demonstrating love to Shoshie is gone. No more veil .. no more leaving her space to grow, for independence, no more behind the scenes for me - now I only feel my imminence to her. Close love that only wants to love, cherish, support, nurture every fiber of her being in this world..... alas I can't - very painful. I can however take this Shoshie preoccupation and do Mitzvot for her... learn Torah for her.... and in that way we can be together forever... loving her even more deeply than before

She has, this realization has taught me about God and his love for us. Not a second goes by where not only is God sustaining us, nurturing us as I described above, not only is every moment a gift to us and all of the life that is in it......but every second just like I feel with Shoshie... God wants to be as close to us as possible, he is rooting for us, cheering for us, wants our pleasure, true pleasure, every lasting, wants us to grow, develop, mature, he wants greatness for us but also with us

Don't make the mistake that just because God is totally transcendent and is oft hidden in this word doesn't mean that he isn't totally %100 imminent. And just like we have been involved in this balance with Shoshie so too with us.

God too doesn't have to be transcendent with Shoshie any more just imminent. Shoshie can now feel Gods total love for her without aloofness, without space, without boundary, without anything in between. what a realization.

Our constant, Un-forsaken love for Shoshie, the constant ache of missing her, - the every second preoccupation of Shoshie- teaches me about God's total imminence in our lives, his constant love every second.

Our parenting experience with Shoshie - the balance of being transcendent for the sake of her growth and independence teaches me about God's transcendence with us.

God's seemingly hiddeness and aloofness is his true love without it we couldn't grow to be who he wants us to be.

Gratitude is the key that unlocks the blocks of not feeling God's love. Appreciate and accept the gifts- feel the love - love God back become a vessel for his presence.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Learning from Shoshie -by Rabbi Shraga Simmons: An Interview with Rabbi Mike Stern as he reflects on the tragic death of his 12-year-old daughter. Please see

For the past 20 years, Rabbi Mike Stern has inspired thousands of people with his great love of humanity and his great love of Judaism. Whether in rabbinical posts at Aish Philadelphia, the Milwaukee Kollel, and now as the “Rabbi Without Walls” in Boca Raton, Florida, Rabbi Stern encourages people to think differently about life, strive for greatness, and find their place in the Jewish community.

On April 14, 2013, Mike and his wife Denise suffered an unspeakable tragedy – the sudden death of their precious 12-year-old daughter Shoshie in a car accident. An account of the Stern’s spiritual greatness in the wake of this tragedy appears in part two of this interview, to be posted next week.

Twenty-plus years ago in yeshiva, I had the privilege of forging a lifelong friendship with Mike. The following is based on our recent Skype conversations between Israel and Florida. Shoshie was taken from you in an instant, hit by a car while crossing the road on her skateboard. How would you describe the past month for you and your family?

Mike Stern: It is not possible in human words to describe the endless void and vacuum that we feel. These weeks have been the scariest roller coaster ride imaginable. We are shaken to the core.

The only way to process an event like this is to understand that God is shaking us to get our attention. Shoshie was incredibly precious, and this is a wake-up call for all of us to appreciate the preciousness of life.

Aish: Tell me about Shoshie. What was the essence of her life?

Mike: In a world where people tend to criticize and put down others in order to boost themselves, Shoshie naturally and unwittingly saw the treasures hidden in each person. She made everyone around her feel good, and helped others to see the beauty in one another. She was not someone who faded into the background and shied away from life. On the contrary she had a tremendous presence and was very competitive. But it was all with a grace and charm that encouraged others to flourish, too.

This is especially remarkable considering that age 12 is an insecure time for a girl grappling with “who I am, what I believe, where I am going.” At that age there’s a tendency to feel threatened and look down on those who don't match your background or style of dress. Yet Shoshie always stood up for those who are different, who don't easily fit in. No judgment, no criticism, no distance. What nachas to have a daughter who treated everyone with equal acceptance, respect and love.

Aish: How has this tragedy changed your perception of Shoshie?

Shoshi Stern, obm

Mike: If you had asked me a few months ago, "Is Shoshie a kind, loving, peace-maker who is full of life,” I would have said matter-of-factly, “Sure.” Now after the fact, the entire picture adds up to: “Wow! This is a truly incredible person.” Never once did I have to say to Shoshie: "Cheer up… look at the bright side… things will be better tomorrow." She was very low maintenance, very inner-directed – no moping, no complaining, no drama. She was always in the moment – fun, joyful and radiant. That was her normal way of living and we took it for granted. Maybe I didn’t notice it so much because she did it all in such a modest way that appeared natural. Oy, what a missed opportunity to really appreciate who she was in her lifetime.

Aish: Tell me one of the things that makes you most proud of Shoshie.

Mike: Shoshie was a beautiful girl, full of grace, dignity and beauty. Not in the sense of alluring or the latest style – just the pure Shoshie, dressing appropriately, in a dignified fashion, without the layers, without the costumes that we sometimes put on to elicit a response from others. Shoshie was a pure expression of the right balance between beauty and modesty – "attractive" but not "attracting." And she was constantly working on herself to do even better.

Aish: At the funeral, you spoke of how Shoshie “got it.” Explain what you mean.

Mike: One way that Shoshie “got it” was that she didn't need anyone’s approval, affirmation or validation. She had an inner self-confidence, expressing herself without worrying how others would react. She was secure with who she was without having to compromise her own identity by seeking attention. Her life was very inner-directed, from a place that wasn't contaminated from feelings of self-doubt or "neediness."

Shoshie had genuine self-esteem, because it was attained by inner validation, based on her character and choices. When life is all over – whether at age 120 or 12 – that’s all we take with us. In this sense, Shoshie achieved an extremely high level.

Aish: You often quote the Talmudic statement: "Don't look at the jug, rather what it contains." What exactly is that message?

The Stern Family 2013: Mike & Denise in the center, Shoshie on the right

This teaches us to look past the external – to see the Divine soul in everyone. There is a tendency to get stuck on the jug, the outer veneer of what appears as reality. Because we each occupy a different physical space, we perceive others as distinct. We become confused by the mask of color, status, religion. The material world becomes an end unto itself and we lose sight of the inner dimension of who we truly are and the real purpose of our lives.

In looking at others, Shoshie was able to leave her insecurities aside and go beyond the jug, to see others for who they really are. On some deep level, she sensed that we are all interconnected, coming from the same infinite Divine source.

Aish: You have said in retrospect that it appears Shoshie spent her final weeks tying up loose ends.

Mike: Whether it was a phone call, a visit, or a gift, Shoshi's soul seemed to know it was closing up business on Earth. She started developing many photos of family and friends that had laid dormant in her cell phone. She made a collage of pictures a few months in advance of her sister’s June birthday – and even gave it to her far ahead of time. Also Shoshie begged us to take family pictures for the first time in many years. It was hard to get all eight Sterns together at once, to stand still and not make silly faces, but Shoshie succeeded in getting us to do it – just days before her death. And just hours before her death, she sent her best friend a text message: "Just remember that I will always love you, and that I will watch over you." So yes, it appears as though she had some subconscious sense.

Aish: Shoshie’s death seemed to unite the Jewish community in an extraordinary way.

Large crowd at the funeral

This all came in the weeks leading up to Shavuot, a time of unprecedented unity when the Jewish people encamped at Mount Sinai with one heart, one mind, one soul. There were over 1,000 people at Shoshie’s funeral, standing room only, representing every stream of Jewish life – Federation, JCC, and rabbis of all denominations. It was an unprecedented event in the Boca Jewish community, let alone the echo around the world.

It showed me in the deepest sense how special it is to be part of the Jewish people, and how we shine when put to the test. We are all part of the same bodily unit – when our toe is stubbed and it hurts, the ripple effect makes us feel it elsewhere. After Shoshie’s death we experienced first-hand how thousands and thousands of people shared in our trauma and pain. We now feel so closely connected – our tears have met and created a stream that binds us together.

Aish: What mitzvah would you say that Shoshie excelled in the most?

Mike: The Torah commands us to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Talmud calls this “The great principle of Torah… the rest is commentary.” This means that God wants the foundation of everything we do in life to be with genuine caring, love and unity. I’m talking about a complete identification with one another – I am he, she is me.

Shoshie loved everyone and accepted everyone. The UPS guy came to shiva, as well as the garbage man, the exterminator, the air conditioner repairman – all to tell us how Shoshie and the family had made them feel important and special. A non-Jewish neighbor down the block, who had bought Passover chocolates from Shoshie, later told us that they became friends and how Shoshie would periodically come by to check and see how this woman was doing. That maturity is far beyond a typical sixth-grader.

Aish: How would you describe Shoshie spiritually?

Best friends: Shoshi (R) and her sister Devori

Mike: I think that “caring for others” is a reflection of God, part of the overarching mitzvah to “walk in God’s ways.” The greatest nachas for a parent is when your children are kind to each other. Shoshie and her sister Devori were best friends. And the opposite – when your children fight you can’t stand it. We are all God’s children, and we all live in the same world. The outpouring of unity, the lifting out of ourselves, the tapping into greater meaning – it all exemplifies what Shoshie stood for. True unity is not defined as “everyone doing the same thing and thinking the same.” True unity is that we are all held together by the broadest goal possible, doing the will of God, and moving toward the same ultimate goal. In her death, Shoshie is giving us a glimpse of what is truly possible.

Aish: What is the best way for us to honor Shoshie’s memory?

Mike: I think we all need to ask ourselves: How can we sanctify our lives, and make the greatest impact on the world around us? How can we keep this unprecedented unity going that we have established in our community? How can we best use the tools to keep “Shoshie-ing" – to look out for the next person. To make peace between people. To notice the greatness of others and relish in their uniqueness. To go out of our way for the unpopular and make everyone feel included, affirmed, validated, respected. To see people for who they truly are – not our limited version of how we think they ought to be. Any step we can take in this area is a fitting tribute to her memory.

God expects a lot of us. Now that she’s gone we need to share the love that Shoshie had for others. Rabbi Paysach Krohn spoke in Boca Raton of how to cope with this tragedy, and suggested that in Shoshie’s merit we say brachos (blessings) out loud. This publicly proclaims God’s Name, and gives other people a chance to respond, “Amen,” which increases unity. Shoshie is the inspiration for this, and we that we can help to elevate her holy soul.

For me personally, I have undertaken to say the bentching (Grace After Meals) more slowly, to increase my feelings of gratitude for all of God’s goodness.

Aish: What is the best way that people have comforted you during this time?

Mike: I appreciate people relieving us of some mundanities, offering to do errands. The best is just to stop by with food, sharing a wonderful story about Shoshie for two minutes, and not demanding anything of us emotionally. Don't plop yourself down on the couch and expect our attention. We have kids here with homework and bedtime.

I think the biggest comfort is the enormous amount of Torah study and acts of kindness being performed as an elevation for Shoshie’s soul. We are devastated by this loss. But the fact that people are showing this love gives us the fuel to get us up in the morning, brush our teeth, take another step forward, and go on with the day.

Aish: What is Shoshie teaching you right now?

Mike: I miss her terribly. She is the first thing I thing about in the morning, the last thing at night, and in the backdrop of every moment in between. Shoshie is teaching me that my relationship with God needs to be constantly in the forefront of my mind. It's so easy to forget what’s truly important in life, and to slip back into the mundane. I'm striving to live with mindfulness – mindful of God, mindful of my loved ones around me, and mindful of the Jewish people. To the extent I do that makes me mindful of Shoshie, too.

Next week: part two of this interview.

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