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When You Dip the Karpas, Think of AIPAC and What We Could Accomplish With Our Many Voices if We Had One Mission

on Wednesday, March 29 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Last March, I tore my Achilles tendon and needed surgery.  The tear, surgery, and rehab were uncomfortable, but having to miss the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington was painful.  I lay in bed on painkillers, security pass and credentials around my neck, watching the conference live on my laptop.  Not only did I miss the exhilarating two and a half days of the conference itself, but something felt missing from my entire year, though I couldn’t put my finger on it until this week when I once again was able to attend Policy Conference in person.

With its hundreds of breakout sessions, one can learn an incredible amount about a diverse range of topics.  But that is not why I go.  Sitting in the conference center and the Verizon arena with over 18,000 pro-Israel advocates is nothing short of a religious experience.  The diversity in that room crosses religion, ethnicity, race, political affiliation, Jewish denomination, age, and more.

And yet, this large group of people who agree on little and in many cases have little in common, choose to put all of their differences aside and focus exclusively on what they have in common, a love and devotion to the Jewish State of Israel.  I spend the conference swelling with Jewish pride and pride for what our people have accomplished in the short time we have returned to our homeland.  The conference each year features Israeli innovation and technology that are changing the world.  It highlights Israel’s leadership in humanitarian efforts around the world.  It celebrates Israel’s values that are so closely aligned with America’s, including democracy and human rights.

I measure the conference by how many “goose bump moments” occur.  Who could not be moved by Hatikvah being played by virtuoso Hagai Shaham on a repaired violin that the Nazis had forced Jews to play as they witnessed their fellow Jews march to their deaths in gas chambers. Who could not rise to their feet for the endless applause for UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as she pledged “The days of Israel-bashing are over,” adding, “We don’t have a greater friend than Israel.”

The theme for this year’s conference captured the secret to AIPAC’s effectiveness: “Many voices, one mission.”  The idea of “many voices” is nothing new, but having one mission, being singularly focused on one goal, is something we don’t see often and is what makes AIPAC both special and successful.  For two and a half days, nobody discusses what divides us, what makes us different, or what we can’t begin to understand about one another.  AIPAC has one goal, bi-partisan support for the US-Israel relationship and for Israel’s security and military advantage, and it will not be distracted, deterred, or sidetracked from it.  By focusing exclusively on one goal and creating a culture and atmosphere that won’t tolerate anyone hijacking the agenda or changing the conversation, over 18,000 very different people can feel united not only for the two and a half days, but throughout the year.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we follow this model in other areas.  What if the whole Orthodox community found its common ground and we dedicated ourselves towards seeing it through, despite our differences.  Imagine what could be possible if the many denominations within Judaism worked together on matters that we all agree on, without allowing our differences to deter us. Think what we could achieve.

Soon, we will all sit down at our sedarim and dip the karpas in salt water, an odd opening to a night of freedom.  In his commentary on the Rambam, Rabbeinu Manoach suggests that the word karpas is closely related to pasim, the coat of many colors given to Yosef by his father Yaakov.  When the enmity between Yosef and his brothers grew and they sold him into slavery, the dipped his coat in animal’s blood and presented it their father as if Yosef had been killed.

Yosef’s brothers didn’t just hate him. “V’lo yachlu dabro l’shalom,” they couldn’t even speak to him.  R’ Avraham Ibn Ezra explains, “afilu l’shalom.” It isn’t just that they couldn’t talk about the issues they disagreed about. It isn’t that they didn’t want to be close, loving brothers. And it’s not that they couldn’t debate respectfully. “Afilu l’shalom” — The issue with Yosef and his brothers was they couldn’t even give each other a Shalom Aleichem. The hatred and intolerance had grown so deep that they couldn’t stand to even extend greetings to one another or to be in a room together.  This expression describes a disgraceful and shameful state of affairs. They couldn’t even say “good morning,” “how are you,” or “good Shabbos” to one another, let alone attend a conference and work for a common cause together.

Rav Yehonasan Eibschitz in his Tiferes Yonasan has an additional insight on the verse in question. Translated literally, “lo yachlu dabro l’shalom” means “they could not speak to him to peace.” What could that mean? Rav Eibshitz suggests that when we disagree with people, we withdraw from them and stop speaking to them. We see them as “the other,” different from us and apart from us. As our communication breaks down, the dividers rise and grow stronger and stronger.

We can never resolve conflict, find common ground, or maintain a relationship despite our differences, if we can’t even have conversation between us. Had Yosef and his brothers been talking, he might have communicated how he felt isolated and alone, and they might have explained how his tattle-telling and the favoritism their father displayed toward him were very painful to them. However, “lo yachlu dabro l’shalom.” They weren’t talking at all, so they couldn’t use speech to achieve peace, or even just civility, between them.

We begin our seder, our night of freedom and liberation from bondage, by remembering what started it all, how we found ourselves in Egypt to begin with and the source of our slavery and suffering.  Sinas chinam, baseless hatred, intolerance, and animosity landed us in Egypt and, if we don’t want to find ourselves metaphorically back there again, we best learn the lesson of the dipping of the karpas and kesones pasim.

To be clear, there are important things we disagree about and there are times, places, and platforms to explore those differences and debate them.  However, if we spew venom and rhetoric at one another, look to find fault, pursue our agenda in a militant fashion without respect for other views, if we try to marginalize those we don’t like or agree with, we can never come together on the things we do have in common.  AIPAC proves that when we want to, we can maintain our many voices, but still pursue one mission, but everything begins with being able to communicate b’shalom, peacefully and civilly.

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If it Takes You More Than a Day to Clean for Pesach, You are Doing Spring Cleaning, Not Pesach Preparations

on Thursday, March 23 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for purim pesach cinderella

Now that Purim is behind us, the countdown to Pesach has officially begun, complete with its angst, anxiety, stress, and exhaustion. Sadly, many people associate Pesach with backbreaking work, exorbitant expenses, endless preparation, and bread deprivation. It is not unusual to hear moans, groans, and krechts coming from both men and women when mentioning the upcoming holiday. Many describe themselves as rolling into Pesach ‘like a shmatta,’ unable to enjoy the festive atmosphere, meaningful Sedarim, or even quality time with friends and family.  The consequences of this attitude, don’t just impact us, they negatively influence our children and those around us.

The Haggadah quotes the rasha, the wicked son who challenges – what is all of this work to you?   Why does he specifically choose the seder as the time to question and challenge?  The seder is filled with good wine, good food and good conversation.  Wouldn’t it make more sense for the rasha to issue his challenge on Yom Kippur, when we are fasting and abstaining from pleasure?  In his new Hagaddah, Rav Avraham Elimelech Biderman answers (thank you R’ Naftali Lavenda for pointing it out to me) that the work the turned off child is referring to, is not the seder, it is all of the preparation and lead up to Pesach.  After hearing his parents complain about the cleaning and hard work, after being yelled at neurotically not to bring chametz anywhere in the house, after overhearing the moaning about the cost of making Pesach, he comes to the table and challenges, why would I want all of this avodah, this work that YOU do and don’t stop complaining about?

This is not the way the Torah or our Rabbis intended it. I believe that the bulk of the stress, aches, and pains that result from Pesach preparation is self-induced and utterly unnecessary. True, there is a high cost of matzah, wine, and Kosher-for-Pesach groceries that cannot be avoided and are challenging particularly during these difficult economic times. However, the overly labor-intensive house preparations and extensive,arguably overly complicated menus and recipes can all be avoided.

For some reason, Pesach has gotten away from us with the purely voluntary now becoming mandated standards and what should be the primary goals becoming almost entirely neglected and dismissed. Undoubtedly, halacha demands that we seek and destroy all chametz in our possession. Definitions of “chametz,” “seek,” and “in our possession” are all very clear and require a preparation of a home that should take only a few hours total. Areas and places where chametz is never brought don’t need to be cleaned or checked (Shulchan Aruch o.c. 433:3). Appliances that will not be accessed or used need not be cleaned or checked; they simply need to be put away and sealed. Any food that is not categorized as edible (a dog would not eat it) is not considered chametz (Shulchan Aruch 442:2). There is no need to check for crumbs that are less than a k’zias if they are dirty or soiled and wouldn’t be edible by a human (Mishna Berura 442:33).

Practically speaking, any cabinet, closet or room that will not be entered on Pesach, can simply be closed with a piece of tape across the door and any chametz contents in it sold. Any kitchen cabinet, drawer, or cupboard that will not be used on Pesach need not be cleaned at all; it just needs to be taped shut. Any appliance, food processor, sandwich maker, mixer, bread machine, etc. that will not be used, need not be cleaned whatsoever. They just need to be put away for Pesach in a sealed space.

Nevertheless, at some point in recent Jewish history, Pesach preparation was substituted with spring-cleaning. If one is moving a refrigerator, oven, or any other heavy appliance, he is spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach. If one is climbing on a ladder to clean a ceiling fan, taking a toothpick to a toaster or food processor, scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, emptying and wiping all dressers, closets, linen pantries, crawl spaces, or shaking out books that haven’t been opened in years, she is spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach.

Halacha demands that we go room to room confirming there is no chametz that is larger than 30 grams and edible. That can realistically be accomplished in a few hours at most in almost all of our homes. If you are spending days, weeks, or over a month cleaning, if you are worn down, exhausted and your back aches, blame your proclivity for spring cleaning, don’t dare blame God or His wonderful holiday of Pesach.

Make no mistake, this substitution of spring-cleaning instead of Pesach preparation comes at a great cost and it will likely hurt our community’s attitude towards Pesach in the future. Rather than enter Pesach excited, enthusiastic, and energized to spend time with family and share divrei Torah at our Sedarim, we are increasingly becoming resentful and negative about being observant and burdened by Pesach. Rather than happy people eating bitter herbs to celebrate freedom, we are becoming bitter people exchanging our freedom for unnecessary burdens in anticipation of Pesach.

Pesach, more than any other holiday or time of year, is designed to communicate our values, priorities and lifestyles to the next generation. Pesach, and the days leading up to it, should leave our children with sights, smells, flavors, traditions, and experiences they will draw from and seek to emulate in their own homes for the rest of their lives. It should provide memories and recollections that will inspire and charge the next generation in their Judaism and commitment to the beauty of a Torah lifestyle.

Bedikas chametz, complete with its hide-and-seek nature, should be fun, exciting, and adventurous. Instead, for many it has become a chore that we unburden ourselves from as quickly as possible. Burning chametz, rolling matzah balls by hand, chopping charoses, grinding marror, setting the regal seder table, reenacting the Pesach story at our seders, welcoming visiting family, are among the activities that can be carried out with joy, enthusiasm, nostalgia, and meaning.

Depleting ourselves of energy and joy by engaging in spring cleaning rather than Pesach preparation is not only depriving us of the simcha, joy, we are capable of feeling, but it is indelibly impressing on our children negative memories and associations that will likely haunt them and shape their own attitude toward Pesach preparation and observance.

By exerting all of our energy into that which is unnecessary, we have little left to do the things that make Pesach preparation fun and create the memories that our children and grandchildren will draw from throughout their lives. Today, you can buy bedikas chametz kits complete with numbered pieces of bread, packaged finely chopped charoses and even a jar of kosher for Pesach salt water.

With all respect to the companies that have commercialized those mitzvos, I implore you, don’t cave. I vividly remember how we prepared and hid the bread for bedikas chametz and that is how I taught my children to do it. I can easily picture my siblings and me competing over who got to chop the charoses and how my mother and grandmother lovingly added all the ingredients in their special recipe and it is that experience we try to create for our children today. Is adding salt to water so laborious that we can’t put in even that effort to prepare for our seder table?

As we enter the final countdown to Pesach this year, I beg you to ask yourself the question – which sounds will ring in your children’s ears in the future when they think back to Pesach in their home? Will it be moans, groans, bitterness and complaints or will they remember the joyous sounds of an energized family eagerly preparing for a meaningful Yom Tov?

The Shulchan Aruch (529:2) tells us, “Chayav adom liheyos sameach v’tov leiv b’moed. A person is obligated to be joyous and happy on the holiday.” The Mishna Berura is quick to add that being happy on the holiday is a Biblical mandate and applies equally to men and women.

Let’s not allow spring cleaning or unnecessary stringencies to get in the way of fulfilling our duty to God, our children and ourselves of being happy, joyous, energetic, and enthusiastic.

Over the next few weeks as we prepare for Pesach, let’s remember what is essential and what is unnecessary, what is an obligation and what isn’t even a mitzvah and most importantly, what will make our children love Pesach and what will cause them to resent it.

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The Gift of Failure

on Friday, March 17 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for michael jordan quote

Michael Jordan, a man associated with success in his field as much as anyone alive, famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.” The six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, and certified athletic legend… attributes all his success to his failures.

Did you ever wonder what happened to the broken luchos?  Were they kept? Were they thrown out?  Where are the broken tablets today?

When Moshe descends to find the people passionately and enthusiastically worshiping the Eigel, he instinctively and intuitively throws down the luchos and smashes them into pieces.  Note that Hashem didn’t instruct Moshe to break the luchos, he did it on his own.  These luchos were no small matter; they were the handiwork of the Almighty.  They were a miraculous expression of divine intervention; for example, the letters samech and mem had insides that supernaturally remained suspended in air.

God fashioned these tablets and Moshe—in one motion, in a fit of rage—destroys them.  I can only imagine the millisecond of silence when Moshe realizes exactly what he has done and is waiting to see how God will react.  However, we have a tradition that Hashem tells Moshe yasher ko’ach she’shibarta.  Indeed, this is the origin of the expression “yasher ko’ach.”  God gives his consent.  But what happens next?  Did he get a broom and sweep them up?  Does he step over the shattered pieces to descend further to rebuke the people?  The Torah never tells us what happened to the luchos but the Gemara does.

The Gemara in Berachos and Bava Basra says “luchos v’shivrei luchos munachin ba’aron,”  in fact, the broken, shattered pieces were gathered, collected, and carefully placed in the aron to sit right next to the whole, complete, second set of tablets.
Why were the broken tablets kept?  Why not discard them?  After all, they serve no purpose and have been replaced by new ones?  The real estate of the ark is precious, why take up room with this seemingly superfluous item?

In 1962, four nervous young musicians played their first record audition for the executives of the Decca Recording company. The executives were not impressed. While turning down this group of musicians, one executive said, “We don’t like their sound. Groups with guitars are on the way out.” That group was called The Beatles.  In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry fired a singer after one performance. He told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” He didn’t go back to driving a truck; instead, Elvis Presley went on to become the most popular singer in America.

What is the message of the chet ha’eigel?  Why does it play such a prominent role for us in the Torah and even in ritual life?  Why is this the passage we read on fast days?  The Gemara in Avodah Zarah tells us explicitly that the story occurred and is studied to teach of the possibility and power of teshuva.  While we mostly focus and concentrate on how and why they could have worshiped an eigel, I think instead it is worth examining how the Jews recovered from such a massive, collective failure.  The lesson of the eigel is not that they made a mistake, that they failed.  The lesson is seen through their will, determination and resolve to pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and to succeed.

Indeed, Shelomo Hamelech tells us in Mishlei that sheva yipol tzadik v’kam, seven times a tzadik falls and gets up.  The commentaries explain that the tzadik analyzes and studies his failures and failings and when he gets up he emerges a tzadik by correcting his mistakes.  The essence of the tzaddik’s rising again is directly by way of his seven falls, whereas a rasha just falls deeper and deeper.

Luchos v’shivrei luchos munachim ba’aron.  The broken pieces are saved to remind us that our failures and mistakes are not to be discarded, eliminated, and forgotten from our memories.  We can only succeed when we remember the broken experiences and use the lessons learned as springboards to success.

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2,000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He responded, “I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.” Our failures, our broken luchos, are steps to a process of success.

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner wrote a beautiful letter to a student who was very discouraged:

A failing many of us suffer from is that when we consider the aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of their attainments, while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their Creator in full-blown form.  Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, z.t.l., considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer hara (evil inclination)? There are many such examples, to which a discerning individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule.  The English expression, ‘Lose a battle and win a war’ applies. Certainly you have stumbled, and will stumble and in many battles you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with the laurels of victory upon your head. Lose battles but win wars.

Our challenge in life is not to be perfect. That is unattainable and, according to Shlomo Hamelech, it is in some way undesirable, for one cannot become a tzadik without falling.  The challenge is to carry both sets of luchos with us, to take pride in our successes and seek to repeat them and to recall and learn from our failures and be determined to transcend them.

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My Emails Were Hacked, I Can’t Believe These Got Out…

on Thursday, March 9 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Image result for russian hackers

Recently, Russian hackers broke into my email and have threatened to share these particularly sensitive emails unless I meet their demands.  I refuse to be blackmailed and so to take away their leverage, I am preempting them and sharing the emails with you myself with some information redacted.  I am obviously very embarrassed and regret that I used my own personal server instead of the Shul’s more secure one.

_____________________________________________________________________

From: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
To: ——- imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
Date: January 2, 2017
Subject:  Need your help

Dear ————,

First of all, great job with your recent video – really entertaining.

Listen, I need your help with something.  Recently, there have been rumblings in the community that I am going to the right and dragging the Shul with me.  I could really use your help in correcting that impression.  What do you think about creating a controversy in which you make me look really progressive and modern.  You would attack me for something outrageous and call on the community to fire me for not being frum enough.  The people will rally around me and drop this distraction about going to the right.  It could really work.

I have attached our adult education brochure so you can see if there is anything in there you can work with. Nobody else will be believable for cursing me out and calling me names.  I am really counting on you, please don’t let me down.

In great friendship,

Efrem

__________________________________________________________________________________

From: ——-   imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
To: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
Date: January 3, 2017
Subject:  re: Need your help
Reb Efrem,

So great hear from you.  How is the family?  When can we play machana’im again, there is no way you win next time.

I look at brochure and not much to work with.  The only thing I think of is to attack you for this speaker Matthew Kelly.  I look into him and clearly there is nothing wrong but since he is Catholic, I might be able to get away with claiming he is a missionary and attacking you for bringing him in.  It is a stretch but just might work.  What you says?

By the way, did you hear, I recently gave out my 1 billionth CD.  People say can’t be because there aren’t that many Jews in the world, but they are just evil jealous criminals who don’t know what they talking about.

Send my regards to Pheeeeelip, and let me know what you think.

Your buddy,

——

_______________________________________________________________________________

From: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
To: ———  imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
Date: January 4, 2017
Subject:  re: re: Need your help

R’ ——,

Regards from Rabbi Dweck from London, he says he misses hearing from you.

I am not sure the Kelly plan can work.  Anyone who does basic research will see he is a motivational speaker and that there is nothing wrong in hosting him, but if we have no choice, I say let’s go for it.  For it to work, I need you to really go for it.  Call me a wicked clown, worse than Korach and as many outrageous things as you can.  You know, the usual.

Thanks again,

 

Efrem

___________________________________________________________________________-

From: ———-  imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
To: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
Date: January 6, 2017
Subject:  re: re: re: Need your he

Reb Efrem,

Sorry took me so long to get back to you, I ran out of sweaters and needed to shop for more.

I gave lecture about you, let me know what you think –

www.youtube.com/———-

Also, please send me your wife email address so I can instruct some followers to drive her crazy, then your community will really feel bad for you.

Kol tuv,

 

——-

_____________________________________________________________________________

From: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
To: ———-  imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
Date: January 7, 2017
Subject:  re: re: re: re: Need your help

R’ ——-,

The video is a good start but I know you have more in you.  How about say anyone who would bring an idol worshipper like Matthew Kelly should be executed if there were a Sanhedrin.  They should be thrown to the garbage, not today but yesterday.

I know it sounds extreme, but if anyone can pull it off its you and I really need you.

By the way, I never asked you, are you related to my neighbors Isaac and Veronica?

Toda rabbah,
Efrem

_________________________________________________________________________________

From: ——-  imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
To: R’ Efrem Goldberg baldisbeautiful@cutebeard.com
Date: January 8, 2017
Subject:  re: re: re: re: re: Need your help

 

No, unfortunately, no relation, but they great people.

How is this video, I gave it all I got, it should do the trick –

www.youtube.com/————

 

B’yedidut,

 

——

 

P.S. Did I ever tell you that your beard is really cute and I love the way you carry gemara under your arm?

________________________________________________________________________

From: R’ Efrem Goldberg reg@brsonline.org
To: ——— imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
Date: January 9, 2017
Subject:  re: re: re: re: re: re: Need your help

 

R’ ———,

You won’t believe it, it’s working.  It was brilliant to have the whole controversy be from outsiders and not our members at all.  Our whole BRS community has been reaching out telling me how bad they feel for us and how much they support us.  That talk about being on the right is over. They are even insisting on another mini- sabbatical right away and are sending my family to a hotel for Pesach to “recover” from what you “did” to me.  Can you believe it?  Thank you so much for confirming just how great and special our BRS community is.

What can I possibly do to adequately thank you?  What is your favorite flavor of chummus, I am going to hook you up.

With great appreciation, your criminal, clown friend

 

Efrem

____________________________________________________________________________

On a serious note, Yocheved and I are deeply appreciative to the community for always coming together with love, support and a commitment to respect, dignity and derech eretz.

A Freilichen Purim,

 

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

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