Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yitro – Fulfilling Our True Desire

A well-known yeshiva high school discovered one of their students might not be Jewish. The parents had raised the child as a Torah-observant Jew, but the lineage of the mother was in question. The yeshiva looked into the matter and confirmed that the mother’s mother was not legitimately Jewish. As such, their Torah-observant student was not Jewish either!

The rosh yeshiva called the 16-year-old young man into his office. After a few minutes, the rosh yeshiva said, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your whole life. You need to think long and hard about what I’m going to tell you. Ultimately, it will be your decision what to do. As shocking as it sounds, we have discovered, with certainty, that your mother…is not really Jewish. That means that you, also, are not Jewish! You can take off your yarmulke and tzitzis with a clear conscience. You don’t have to come to davening tonight or tomorrow. You certainly can’t put on tefillin in the morning. Although you were raised “Jewish,” you’re not. You can leave yeshiva, go to public school, buy a sandwich at McDonalds, and marry a non-Jewish girl.”

The rosh yeshiva continued: “Or, you can decide you want to be Jewish and go through a conversion process, which will be easier for you as you know many of the halachos. But you need to think about this. Let me know in a reasonable amount of time what you want to do.”

Imagine you were that young man; what would your decision be?

I experienced a similar story but in reverse, with a person who came to our yeshiva saying he was Jewish, but something seemed questionable. After investigating, we determined he was not Jewish. He was feeding off the kindness of others, with free lodging in the neighborhood and lots of invitations for meals. When I confronted him, he took off his yarmulke and threw it to the floor, then yanked off his tzitzis and slammed them on the table and stormed out of the building. He never came back.

This story is central to understanding the receiving of the Torah in this week’s parsha of Yisro. As the Jewish people stood at the base of Har Sinai, the Gemara Shabbos (88a) comments on the pasuk “….vayisyatzvu b’tachtis hahar,” the Jews stood underneath the mountain. Rav Dimi bar Chasa says Hashem literally placed the Jews under the mountain, picking up Har Sinai, holding it over their heads and saying they could accept the Torah and be His people, or refuse and have the mountain dropped on their heads.

All the commentators have a field day with this. The Bnei Yisrael had already expressed their acceptance of the Torah by saying “na’aseh v’nishmah (we will observe and we will listen).” Why this show of force? The question is compounded by the Chazal that says Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations before He offered it to the Jews. They all refused. The last nation Hashem approached was klal Yisrael, who accepted without question. Everyone had their chance. The Jewish nation said yes. So why hold the mountain over their head?

Rav Gedalia Schor gives a fundamental explanation based on the Maharal. The Maharal says it was to teach us a crucial lesson. We must accept the Torah because if not, the world will cease to exist! As Rashi in Parshas Bereishis says, the world stood in limbo until Har Sinai. If klal Yisrael would not accept the Torah, the world would implode. So, although you may choose to accept, you really don’t have a choice; acceptance is imperative.

When Hashem held the mountain over our heads, it seemed like force. In truth, it was a reality statement. The Jewish people wanted the Torah. How so? The Rambam explains that a person can be forced to do a mitzvah, yet it’s not considered coercion because deep down a Jew always wants to do the will of Hashem.

Although I know many people who made the choice to be Jewish, those who were born Jewish don’t have a choice. Sometimes we can think or feel that we are restricted and not free to do as we please. However, the lesson Hashem was teaching us by holding the mountain over our heads was that although you are forced, you are only being forced to do what you really want to do. How do we know? You said na’aseh v’nishma.

Let us wake up each day and be in touch with our true selves, dedicating ourselves to do the will of Hashem as we did at Har Sinai, with complete faith.


Featured Purim Guest – Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein – Author of Third Edition Of Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew (Mosaica Press) – A Mishteh

Each of the three meals that we eat on Shabbat (Tractate Shabbat 117b) is called a seudah. On Purim we also have a festive meal, but that meal is called a mishteh. What is the difference between the word seudah and the word mishteh if both mean “meal”? Moreover, there is a third word which also means “meal” — mesibah. In what way does the word mesibah differ from the other two words? In order to illustrate the differences between these three words and their connotations we will focus on the lexical roots of each word and draw from them deeper insights into their meanings.

What is the root of the word seudah? The truth is that the word seudah never appears in the Bible, but Radak in Sefer HaShorashim explains the etymology of seudah by noting that the Rabbis modified the Biblical word saad to become seudah. What does saad mean? The word saad means “support” or “sustenance”, both in a rhetorical way (proof that supports an argument) and in a physical way (food that sustains a person’s body). In a handful of places the Bible uses the verb saad in conjunction with bread (see Psalms 104:15, Judges 19:5, and Genesis 18:5). The name Saadia, most famously borne by Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon (882-942), means “support (from) G-d”. Thus, the word seudah refers to the benefits of a festive feast for sustaining one’s physical body.

The word mishteh or derivatives thereof appear close to fifty times in the entire Bible. Its root is the verb shoteh, “drink”. The type of meal, or party, denoted by the word mishteh, focuses on drinking. In differentiating between the words seudah and mishteh, Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin (1823-1900) writes that while they both refer to festive meals, the former focusing on eating and the latter focusing on drinking. Thus, seudah is generally associated with bread — the focus of the Shabbat meal — because one eats bread (which fills one’s stomach and physically supports him). On the other hand, the word mishteh denotes a meal whose focus is on wine — like the festive Purim meal which commemorates/mimics the banquets of wine in the Book of Esther — because one drinks wine. (See, however, Rashi to Song of Songs 1:2, to Ecclesiastes 2:3, and to Esther 5:4, who writes that the defining element of an enjoyable, joyous meal (seudah) is the wine.)

The word mesibah arguably appears once in the Bible (see Rashbam to Song of Songs 1:12). Rashi (to Amos 2:8) writes that the word mesibah refers to the fact that the participants in the meal would customarily recline (a practice known as haseibah). Case in point: At the Passover Seder we customarily ask four questions about why “this” night is different from all other nights. The last of those questions asks why “all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining (mesubin), but tonight we eat only while reclining”. Thus, the root of the word mesibah is related to the Hebrew word for reclining, and refers to the type of meal where people would sit slouched about, as opposed to sitting erect. It has since been borrowed to refer in general to any type of “party”.

One contemporary linguist argues that the word mesibah is related to the word sovev/sevivah (“around”), and refers to the fact that everyone “gathers around” for a party. However, this claim remains unsubstantiated.

In short, seudah, mishteh, and mesibah are all words for “meal”, but are not quite synonymous. Seudah focuses on the bread eaten at the meal, while mishteh refers to a meal which focuses on drinking wine. The word mesibah focuses neither on the food nor the drink, but on the posture of the participants, because mesibah refers to a meal or party in which the party-goers are seated in couches or lazy-chairs, allowing them to lounge about.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchiv (1740-1810) in Kedushat Levi (Parshat Vayera) writes that the word mishteh denotes a “happy meal”. Based on that he explains that the party to which Esther invited Haman and Achashverosh is called a mishteh in the Bible because that party brought happiness to the Jews. Through that party Esther persuaded Achashverosh to execute Haman and rescind the horrible decree looming over the Jews. The resulting victory for the Jewish People brought happiness for generations to come and is celebrated yearly on Purim.

Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein is a prolific author and the Founding Editor of the Veromemanu Foundation which is a think-tank for scholars delving into the intricacies of the Hebrew Language.

Aleeza Ben Shalom – Dating And Texting

Dear Marriage Minded Mentor,

I’ve gone out with a woman several times and it seems we are both interested. We are dating long distance and my emotional connection seems to come and go. In person I’m connected, but when we’re apart I don’t feel the bond. One thing that especially frustrates me when we’re apart is that she texts all the time and I feel obligated to respond. I see texting more as a useful tool to set up dates and maybe say hi here and there. She uses text as a form of conversation. I would much prefer to have a meaningful conversation over the phone, even if I have to wait until that evening. So I guess my question is, to text or not to text?


Generation teXt

Aleeza Responds

Dear Generation teXt,

Texting can both help and hinder your connection. Because you are dating long distance, you can use texting to bridge the gap between visits. However, if you haven’t yet developed a really solid connection, texting can interfere with the normal development of your relationship.

But what I hear you asking is, “If we want to connect, why can’t we just wait until we can speak rather than texting all day?” Great question, and I applaud you for making the effort to make a real connection rather than substitute a quick, “how r u” text. Both phone conversations and text messages will keep you in touch while you are physically apart. But some people don’t just enjoy constant contact, they need it. Our society has bred us to be dependent on instant replies.

Did you know that 30-40% of daters use a mobile device to schedule a date? And more and more people prefer texting to talking. Why? Texting is often a safe and non-threatening form of communication. The question is, are you sharing a real connection, something which brings two people together, or is texting creating unemotional connections? For many, texting has become a habitual and compulsive means of communication – and therefore often leaves us less connected than we think. In addition, I imagine you are probably spending more time thinking about your obligation to respond than daydreaming about her. It would be better for both of you if you were the other way around. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Let’s for a moment assume we agree that fewer texts and more personal attention is more beneficial for your potential relationship. How are you going to communicate your need for less texting and more real time, without offending your date? Communication is key. You aren’t saying, “I want to text less.” You are saying, “I am enjoying getting to know you. I want to give our relationship a good opportunity for growth. Would you mind if we developed our relationship over the phone and in person and hold off on texting?”

This message clearly shows your interest. In addition, you’ve articulated what does work for you. This may not be an easy conversation for you to have (and it definitely isn’t one you can send in a text message!). Speaking over the phone, or even better, in person, about technology and etiquette will tell you if you and your potential partner are on the same page. If you two can’t agree about texting while dating, I wonder what else you may not agree on.

Jewish wisdom teaches us that with the effort comes the reward. Make the effort to first figure out your own boundaries and comfort levels in regard to texting. Next, speak with your date about their preferences. See where your preferences and values align and differ. Then, set a standard for your relationship. Your investment in setting healthy boundaries now will set the tone and pace of the relationship. Empowering yourself to know and do what you’re comfortable with will benefit you. Whether in this relationship or another, you’ll be one step closer to chuppah.

May the right person blossom into a beautiful relationship and may you feel connected always and in all ways.

Originally Published on Aish.com

Moshe Stempel – Purim – True Simcha

Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Pachad Yitzchak by R’ Yitzchak Hutner.

In his sefer Aznayim LaTorah, R’ Yerucham quotes the words of the Alter of Kelm to every new talmid in his yeshivah. Whenever the Alter would admit a new talmid into the yeshivah, he would make the following disclaimer: “There is no guarantee that you will merit entrance into the World to Come by coming to this yeshivah. However, I can guarantee that you will never experience pleasure in This World after you leave this yeshivah.”

Through these words, the Alter of Kelm intimated that a Ben Torah is unable to indulge in his physical desires with complete enthusiasm. Instead, his conscience will always remind him that he shouldn’t be using his time like that. Therefore, any physical excitement that he will experience will not really appeal to him. Rather, only simchah of a spiritual nature will truly provide him with pleasure.

Our Baalei Mussar emphasize that fulfilling our physical desires merely whets our appetites for more physical pleasures. A person can never be satisfied with material wealth. All the Hollywood stars can attest to the idea that wealth and power often lead to divorce, involvement in drugs, and even suicide. It can’t be overemphasized that the simchah of Purim should never take the form of a secular celebration.

In sefer Bereishis (Genesis) we read that Yaakov Avinu switched his hands when he blessed Yosef’s sons Ephraim and Menashe. The Pachad Yitzchak explains that this unusual behavior was very symbolic in nature. When the Angel of Esau dislocated Yaakov’s right thigh, Yaakov demonstrated that his lower section was vulnerable to attack. This vulnerability was bound to be passed on to Ephraim. Being that Ephraim was the forebear of Yehoshua who would battle Amalek, Yaakov wanted to fortify him by placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head.

When we dance on Purim, we demonstrate that even our legs are elevated to G-d’s service. Like Yehoshua, we completely vanquish the Amalek that resides in our hearts.