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Sharing is Not Always Caring: Being Judicious With What We Share

on Thursday, May 21 2015. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

A number of years ago, shortly before I was scheduled to travel, I remembered that my passport had expired. When I called to make an appointment for an expedited renewal, the woman offered me a date that I quickly realized coincided with Shavuos.  I told the woman I couldn’t come then because it was a Jewish holiday.  She asked me to wait a and when she returned informed me that she checked with a “very Jewish” co-worker who said there is no Jewish holiday on that date and that neither she nor he have ever heard of Shavuos.

Of all of the Jewish holidays, Shavuos is probably the least well-known and definitely the least observed among the Jewish community. This is particularly sad in light of the theme of Shavuos, namely the camaraderie, kinship, and bond our people forged as we received the Torah that unites us together as one. Shavuos should be a time that we re-connect, re-bond, and remember the fraternal nature of being a Jew.

Rosh Hashana, Chanukah, and Pesach are very public holidays that are often noted even in the non-Jewish world.  Companies take out ads with holiday greetings to the Jewish community, television newscasts wish happy holidays to their Jewish viewers, and Presidents release holiday messages directed at the Jewish people.  Shavuos is an orphan holiday with our own people barely taking notice, let alone the world.  If only it weren’t such a well-kept secret and more widely celebrated and observed.

And yet, there is an aspect of the privacy and secrecy of Shavuos that is completely appropriate.  On Shavuos, we commemorate the experience of receiving the luchos, the tablets at Har Sinai, and with them the whole Torah.  However, the luchos that were to last, the ones that survived and endured, were not the original set that Hashem gave to Moshe publicly.  Rather, the luchos that remained intact and that protected our people at war were the ones that Hashem gave Moshe privately at a later time.

The Midrash tells us that this is not a coincidence but, in fact, is a reflection of a broader principle.  The Tanchuma teaches that because the first set of luchos were gifted at a very public ceremony with pomp and circumstance and the world watching, they were susceptible to ayin harah, the jealousy, envy, and ill wishes of others.  The second set, given privately in an understated, under-the-radar-manner, endured. They were protected from the negative aspirations of some who would be watching.

What is ayin harah and how does it work?  Shouldn’t what happens to us in life correlate with our personal merits and not to some extraneous force that comes from jealousy?

Ayin harah is not a kabbalistic, mystical, or irrational concept.  When we boast openly, carry on ostentatiously, brag showily, or even simply celebrate our success publicly, we invite others to look jealously upon us and to wonder why we deserve good fortune when they don’t have it.

The Maharal explains, that this curiosity, this wonder, and the question that others have when they observe our good fortune is a type of prayer, intended or unintended, that elicits God to wonder as well.  God hears the pain of the one who is lacking and has our good fortune cast in his or her face and He reacts by taking a closer look at whether or not in fact we deserve the blessing we are boasting in the first place.

Perhaps it is with the force of ayin harah in mind that the Gemara (Bava Metzia 42) observes: Amar Rebbe Yitzchak, ein ha’beracha metzuya elah b’davar ha’samuy min ha’ayin – Blessing is not found except in something that is hidden from the eye.

The force of ayin harah is stronger today than ever because we have more platforms to talk, show, and share than ever.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and to a certain extent even text messages and email are all designed to entice us to share pictures, spread information, and boast about things going on in our lives.

Let me be clear.  There is nothing wrong with sharing and connecting with family and friends using these mediums.  However, we must be extremely judicious and cautious with what and how we share publicly, and what remains protected by the veil of privacy.  Not every picture needs to be posted.  Not every stock market success needs to be flaunted.  Not every intimate experience needs to be shared, online or offline.

Ein ha’beracha metzuya b’davar ha’samuy min ha’ayin.  Showing off about a vacation we took, how smart or adorable our children or grandchildren are, which famous person we met, or what we just bought, invites others to place their jealous and prosecuting eyes upon us.  I am not calling for a blanket ban on sharing, but simply calling for us to struggle a little more with what, how, why and where we share.

How do you protect yourself from ayin harah?  You can’t tie a red string around your Facebook profile and even if you could, it wouldn’t help whatsoever.  Says Rav Dessler, the antidote to ayin harah is simple – be modest, humble, understated, low-key, inconspicuous, and unassuming.  Preserve your capacity for privacy. If something good happens to you, be happy and even be proud. Share it with trusted family members or friends, but keep it samuy min ha’ayin, under the radar, not posted, shared, linked, and texted everywhere and for all to see. Use social media to connect, never to self-promote.

Last year, CNN had an article about a Prep School headmaster whose contract wasn’t renewed. He had sued his former employer for age discrimination and won a settlement of $80,000. The agreement contained a standard confidentiality clause, prohibiting him or the school from talking about the case.

However, his daughter couldn’t resist bragging about the case on Facebook. “Mama and Papa won the case against Gulliver,” she wrote. “Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.” She had over 1,000 Facebook friends, many of whom were connected with Gulliver and so news of the post made its way back to the school’s lawyers. After they appealed the verdict, the Third District Court of Appeal tossed out the $80,000 settlement. Not keeping their beracha samuy min ha’ayin cost her family a lot of money.

As we celebrate Shavuos and commemorate the giving of the luchos, let’s remember that those that were accompanied by pomp and circumstance quickly came crashing to the ground, while the tablets that were given privately persevered and endured.






Turn Your Shabbos Table into an Informal Classroom

on Thursday, May 14 2015. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Each week I look forward to the coming Shabbos and the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful meal filled with my wife’s delicious delicacies and surrounded by my family and usually lots of guests. When else in this hectic world of obligations and distractions do we sit for hours on end completely disconnected from technology and entirely focused on the people with whom we are dining and conversing?

Hachnasas orchim, hosting guests, is a basic Jewish value and Torah imperative. Whether deepening the relationship with existing friends, making new friends or hosting those who need a place for a meal, offering hospitality is not only a chesed for others, but is enriching for ourselves and importantly for our children.

That said, too much of even a good thing often comes with a downside. When we host guests, from the way we arrange the seating to the topics of conversation at the table, we often make them our priority and unintentionally, neglect our children in the process, missing out on a crucial educational platform and opportunity.

Many people approach Shabbos as the time to let go, relax and shut down when in truth, in some ways it is the time we should be most on, energized and focused on our goals. I recently had a conversation with a childhood friend who currently lives in Los Angeles.   Impressed by the devotion and religious passion of his children, I asked him why he thought they were doing so well? His answer left a great impression upon me.

While most people come to the Shabbos meal utterly exhausted and somewhat dispirited, he makes sure to use his Shabbos table as the ultimate classroom for his children. He approaches each meal with a predetermined agenda including a compelling dvar Torah, a stimulating question, a relevant story that his children can relate to and the zemiros they will sing. He has a series of values, ideals and lessons that he desperately wants to impart to his children before they graduate his home and he feels strongly that there is no better place or time than the Shabbos table to communicate them.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story he heard from a cheder (kindergarden) teacher. One Friday, the class was hosting their weekly Shabbos party. The designated Shabbos Abba took his place at the head of the table and after pouring him his cup of grape juice, the teacher indicated that he should begin to recite Kiddush. The little boy took a deep breath, wiped his brow and declared, “Oy have I had a hard week” and only then made Kiddush. Clearly the child was emulating what he had become accustomed to see in his home.

Whether we recognize it or not, our Shabbos table is perhaps the most impactful classroom in our children’s lives and we are their most influential teachers. Will they come to their Shabbos table with a krechtz and a sigh or be energized and enthusiastic? The answer depends largely on what they see from us.

It is important to continue to host guests and practice hachnasas orchim. However, I submit to you that it is even more important to spend at least one meal each Shabbos alone with our children, prepared and equipped with a lesson plan for our informal classroom.



Start a Gratitude Journal Today

on Thursday, April 30 2015. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg


Years ago, someone gave me a Tony Robbins CD to listen to. I was excited to hear what one of the most inspirational people of modern times would have to say and how it could change my life for the better. He started his talk by saying that he has the secret to both happiness and success. If you follow his advice and begin each and every day of your life exactly as he prescribes, he can all but guarantee you will find yourself both happier, and achieving your goals and dreams.

I was very eager to hear what his secret is.

What Tony Robbins said is correct, but for me, and for you, and for Jewish 3-year-olds around the world, it was nothing new. The secret to happiness and to achieving success, he said, is to start every day of your life by expressing gratitude. As soon as you wake up, before doing anything else, say thank you. Be grateful and appreciative for being alive, having a roof over your head, having your health if you are lucky, your family, etc.

He continued that it isn’t enough to think appreciatively, but you need to start your day by verbalizing and actually saying thank you out loud. If you do, the rest of your day is guaranteed to be successful and happy.

What Tony Robbins is teaching in the 21st century, Judaism has taught since its inception thousands of years ago. From an early age, we teach our children to wake up saying Modeh ani lefanecha, I am grateful to you God for the fact that I woke up, that I am alive to see another day, for the wonderful blessings in my life and for my relationship with You. It has been inculcated within us from our youth that we don’t wake up feeling entitled, deserving and demanding. Rather, we wake up with a deep and profound sense of gratitude, appreciation and thanks.

In my experience, Tony Robbins is right. How we start our day has an incredible impact on how the rest of it will go. This coming week we will celebrate Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. Each day of the Omer is characterized by another kabbalistic attribute. Lag B’Omer is Hod sh’b’hod, the glory of glory, reflecting our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory. The Hebrew word hod can be understood as coming from the same word as hodu, or modeh, meaning thanks. Lag B’Omer is a day characterized as “thankfulness within thankfulness,” or a day to celebrate gratitude.

The Chassam Sofer, Rav Moshe Sofer says that the miraculous manna that fell from Heaven began to descend on Lag B’Omer. On the first day, the manna was undoubtedly greeted with great enthusiasm and appreciation, but as time went on and there was an increasing expectation the heavenly bread would descend, it became much easier to take it for granted and to forget to be appreciative for it at all. Therefore Lag B’Omer is a time that we identify and say thank you for all of the blessings that regularly descend into our lives, but unfortunately, like the manna, that we take for granted.

It is so easy to fall into a sense of entitlement and to forget to be grateful. Why should I thank my children’s teachers? They’re just doing their job. Why should I be so appreciative to the waiter, or the custodian, or the stewardess? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do? When was the last time we said thank you to whomever cleans our dirty laundry? Do we express gratitude regularly to our spouse who shops, cooks dinner, or who worked all day to pay for dinner, or in some cases did both? Are we appreciative of the small things like finding a parking spot, recovering from a cold, having a beautiful day, or tasting the sweetness of an apple?

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California is pioneer in research on gratitude.  In one study he and his colleagues divided participants into three groups, each of which made weekly entries in a journal. The first group identified and wrote five things they were grateful for.  The second group made a daily list of five irritations and a third control group listed five events that had affected them in some way.  The study concluded that those who kept a daily gratitude list  felt better about their lives overall, were more optimistic and reported fewer health problems or doctor visits than the other participants.

There are numerous apps for keeping a gratitude journal that will remind you to spend time identifying things for which to be grateful.   We may be almost 33 days into the omer, but it is not too late to make it day #1 of keeping a gratitude journal.

As we celebrate Lag B’Omer, let’s not just say modeh ani in the morning and then quickly transition to feelings of entitlement. Let’s remember to say thank you to the people who do extraordinary things in our lives. But even more importantly, let’s especially express gratitude to the people who do the ordinary things that make our lives so filled with blessing.



The Strength to Survive

on Wednesday, April 15 2015. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

A man once approached the Klausenberger Rebbe, R’ Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam zt’l and asked him the following question: “Tell me, how is it that so many of the survivors found the courage and the strength not only to survive but to rebuild, to start families, to remain positive and to have faith in society and humanity?” The Rebbe was the correct person to ask, for he had lost his wife and eleven children in the gas chambers and went on to rebuild a chassidic dynasty of thousands.

The Rebbe answered with two words: b’damayich chayi. The young man was startled, but thought he understood. These two words that come from the prophet Yechezkel mean “in your blood, live.” The full verse, which is recited at every bris of a Jewish baby boy, is an allusion to the time in Egypt just prior to the Exodus when Israel was commanded to circumcise its males and to bring the Pesach offering. In the merit of these two commandments, both involving blood, the nation would earn redemption and eternal life as God’s chosen people. “B’damayich Chayi. Through your blood of these commandments, live.”

So the young man commented out loud, thinking he understood that the Rebbe was hinting to the ability to move on after the mesiras nefesh, the incredible sacrifice and efforts they made. Literally they had bled, they had lost their flesh and blood, and that mesiras nefesh earned them the ability to go on.

But the Rebbe corrected the young man. That is not at all what he had meant when he said b’damayich chayi. The secret, the formula to the courage of the survivors, came from someone else, said the Rebbe.

In this week’s parsha, Shemini, we read of the tragic, seemingly premature death of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu. Moshe, feeling the profound pain of his brother, tried to comfort: “vayomer Moshe el Aharon hu asher dibeir Hashem leimor bikrovei ekadeish v’al p’nei chol ha’am ekaveid, this is what God meant when He said, with those closest to Me will I be sanctified.” Rashi comments that Moshe was telling Aharon, I knew that this Mishkan was going to be sanctified by those closest to Hashem and I thought it would be me or you. Now I see that they, your sons are greater than both of us.”

Moshe tries to give some meaning, some context. He attempts to provide an answer or explanation to this profound tragedy and loss.

And what was Aharon’s response? The pasuk concludes, “Va’yidom Aharon, and Aharon was silent.” Moshe’s words were met with silence—complete, utter, and total silence.

We don’t know the source or root of the silence. Perhaps, Aharon was so devastated he had nothing to say. Perhaps, he had such deep faith that he felt no need for answers. We don’t know.

But, said the Klausenberger Rebbe, we do know that Aharon’s silence allowed him to continue to function, to be positive and to do good. He turned to the man and said you asked how we rebuilt our lives – it is simple. B’damayich chayi, with damayich, with the va’yidom of Aharon, with silence we continued to have a life. There are no answers or solutions to devastation and unthinkable tragedy, but the silence allows us to be positive, to be upbeat, to have faith in the world and to go on. For some of us it is a silence of submission. For others a silence of doubt. And for yet others a silence of protest.

Elie Wiesel was once asked, “Is there a tradition of silence in Judaism?” “Yes,” he answered. ”But we don’t talk about it.”

When we recall the horrors of the Holocaust, when we face tragedies in the world today, let us find strength in the beautiful words of the Klausenberger Rebbe, b’damayich chayi, let us find life, and let us find the courage to move forward, with silence.