Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Daily Korban

Last week I posted an article dealing with my initial difficulties in keeping kosher. The article was first published on, the website of Aish HaTorah, where I received several comments with positive feedback, which was immensely encouraging to me.

One Anonymous commentator wrote: “Thank G-d it is possible to enjoy the tastes of several non-kosher foods by using substitutes. […] We are blessed with so many delicious and healthy kosher foods, I never miss the non-kosher ones!” My first, spontaneous reaction was, “lucky you – I wish I could agree”, because to this day, thirty years after the events I described, I am still beset with cravings for certain off-limits items. Thanks to Hashem’s intervention I no longer give in to those cravings, but they are lurking about on the outskirts of the premises.

Yes, there are kosher substitutes for some treif things, and they are acceptable, but no, they do not measure up to the originals. Dear Anonymous, if you had ever tasted real crab, or certain other things I could mention if I wanted to, you would know the difference – but I am glad for your sake that you haven’t.

One particular hobby horse of mine is cheese. Why can’t I get good kosher cheese? No, I’m sorry, the cheese available to me on the American kosher market doesn’t satisfy me – it wouldn’t satisfy anybody who has once known better. Incidentally, this is one of the many, many perks for me of going to Eretz Yisrael – that I can actually get quality kosher cheese. I always stock up like mad, but how much cheese can one law-abiding citizen smuggle into the country? Not nearly enough. And even then, there still seems to be certain types of cheese that are simply not made “in kosher”.

You hear the rant? This mental savoring of gustatory memories? Isn’t it despicable? Pathetic? There are times when I worry, and wonder if this makes me a bad person, an inferior Jew who is somehow less than wholehearted in her mitzvah observance.

But my second reaction is “lucky me!”, because my persistent temptations mean that I am zoche to be mekayem, I have the merit to perpetuate the essence of, this dictum by Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah: “[…] a person should not say, ‘I loathe swine’s flesh’ […] But he should say, ‘I do desire; yet what can I do when my Father in Heaven has decreed upon me [against it]?’” (cited by Rashi, on Vayikra 20:26).

That’s me – I am that person!

Do I always have this noble awareness? No, I am sorry to say that there are moments when I pout and stamp my little foot. But then I try to shift my consciousness into a higher gear, and I say to myself, “Listen, you fool, here you have the supreme opportunity to take your appetite and give it up, according to the will of your Father in Heaven, for the purpose of holiness; you are in the position – the enviable position! – of being able to bring a sacrifice, a korban, of your desires”.

Furthermore, thanks to the kindness of Heaven, I am fortunate enough to live in a place, at a time in history, when eating may take place several times every day, so each day I am able to bring this sacrifice, just like, lehavdil, the daily korbanos were brought in the times of the Beis Hamikdash.

This personal sacrifice, based on individual perceptions, which is just as much about midos and character development as it is about adherence to law, is the kind of sacrifice which we are told that Hashem likes. So it would seem that I may possibly have an advantage over all you other kosher-keeping people who don’t even know what you are missing; or who don’t miss what you do know. Not to boast, of course!

Just as I am writing this, a funny and ironic thought occurs to me: as I have indicated previously, my husband makes his living as a mashgiach, a kashrus supervisor. Could it be that the Ultimate Supervisor, Who already sent angels to support me in this particular area, thought I needed a little extra supervising? Could it mean that He was thinking to Himself, “better safe than sorry, so let Us put somebody on her case 24/7, just to make sure”? The more I think about it, the more poignant the idea becomes. And if that is so – well, then here, ladies and gentlemen, comes the inescapable conclusion: My husband is my Angel.

But now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time for a little snack. I am just going into the kitchen to bring my daily korban.

Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Three Angels

In Parshas Vayera, in Sefer Bereishis, (Genesis 18), we learn of the three angels who come to visit Avrohom and Sarah. To all outward appearances, they are three men on a journey, and Avrohom receives them the way he would receive any mortal guests. Only later does he – and we – realize that the men are really messengers from G’d – they are angels.

One of the many things we can learn from this narrative is that sometimes, what may look like an ordinary human being is, in reality, an angel. To illustrate this with a personal example I shall take you back to a time - about three decades ago - when I had recently begun to keep kosher. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I had already been keeping Shabbos and many other mitzvos for many years, but to keep kosher was the biggest hurdle of all. 

I was constantly beset by temptations and cravings for certain dishes that were no longer on the permissible menu, and finally I thought I would do what it says somewhere in the Talmud about a person who is possessed with the urge to sin. If he is unable to contain himself, let him put on dark clothes, go to another city where he will not be recognized, sin, and be done with it. I know that this is very far from what the Rabbis recommend, or even sanction, but if need be, the Evil Inclination will even pervert the meaning of the Gemorah in his campaign to ensnare us. I kept thinking, “just once, just one last time - to kiss it goodbye”.

So I went, not to another city, but to a big, anonymous supermarket in another neighborhood, in pursuit of the forbidden fruit. As I approached the counter where the desired item was sold, I suddenly caught sight of two Jewish women of my acquaintance, who were standing right in front of that counter. They were deeply engrossed in conversation and effectively blocking my path; I was well known in the Jewish community of my home town, and I was certainly not going to let anyone know about my embarrassing culinary proclivities! 

I decided to bide my time. I wandered off and bought some vegetables and then tried again, but the ladies had not moved from their spot. I made another round. Still there! This kept on for quite a while, until, at long last, the coast was clear; I could make my purchase and retire home to my guilty pleasures.

Nevertheless, there was one more article of food I was hankering after like mad, and the next day I decided to get that too out of my system with one final indulgence. But this time I was determined to be smarter, so I went to a suburb, to a supermarket where I never normally shopped, in the certainty that there I would encounter no familiar faces. So, as I am sitting there on the bus, bound for my unlawful goal, and basically minding my own business, a woman suddenly plonks herself down on the seat next to mine. “Hello!" she says, "how are you?” 

What do you know – it is the mother of one of my bas mitzvah students! We talk, and when I get off the bus she does too, and I suddenly realize that she actually lives in this suburb. Great! As “luck” would have it, she is also bound for the food market. Super! She seems glad of the company, but I, of course, am less excited. We walk along the aisles, filling our baskets with various – kosher – products, and the woman doesn’t budge from my side! Finally we pass, together, through the cash register, and only outside on the sidewalk does she leave me alone. She says goodbye and walks off, and I return into the store, buy what I came for, head back home and have my illicit little party. 

And then it hits me!!!

Now, if I had lived in Biblical times, I might have described these events a little differently, maybe something like this: 

“And it happened in those days that I walked upon the path of iniquity. But behold – two angels of the Lord appeared before me. And lo! the angels spake unto me and they said ‘Get thee hence, be gone from this abomination, and run not after the lust of thy heart!’ But alas, I heeded them not, and I sinned. And on the second day I followed my evil desires anew. And behold – the Lord sent an angel to walk with me and lo! the angel spake unto me and it said ‘Woe is thee, that thou runnest after the lust of thine eyes! Walk with me on the path of righteousness.’ But alas and alack, I hardened my heart and I heeded it not, and verily I sinned.”

Yes, that is how I might have described it, because in those days people – even sinners – were more finely attuned to Divine messages, and when it pleased G’d to send them an angel or two, they sat up and took notice. 

I cannot even describe how devastated I was when I realized the full implications of what had happened. These three women had come in my way for a purpose; they had been messengers from G'd. The women were clearly angels that He had sent me in order to prevent me from transgressing, and their very presence “spoke” quite eloquently to me. Hashem had made every effort to keep me on the right path, but I had not been receptive, I had not listened to the message. The worst thing was not that I had eaten forbidden foods – bad enough as that was – but that I had turned a deaf ear to G’d and “hardened my heart”. That was what crushed me. (Need I say that I never ate treif again?)

Thus it seems that we can all be angels, at times through an act, a word, or even just a smile that is bestowed when one is needed. Sometimes, though, as in the case of my three "angels", all it takes is to be in the right place at the right time. If we can remain conscious of this it is one of the things that can make our lives very meaningful - to know that even when we are committing no heroic acts we may still, at any moment, be the emissaries of G'd, carrying within us the message that can change another person's life for the better - for good!

Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Out There

In a certain romantic movie which was made about twenty-five years ago, there is a brief scene that made a deep impression on me when I saw it then, and which resonates with me to this day. A woman, who has just received news that her best friend has once again had a disappointment in the love department and is facing a break-up, turns to her new-found love, the man she has just moved in with, and says to him, with a shudder and a note of imploring urgency in her voice, “Please tell me I never have to be out there again!” He holds her tight and assures her tenderly, “You never have to be out there again!”

In just a few words, an entire world of despair has been encapsulated and made vivid. “Out there” is a very scary place to be; I know – I have been there. Not only is it a lonely location, it is a place of shattered dreams and crushing disappointments where the heart suffers daily exhaustion; an emotional emergency room where hope is, if not dead, at least in a coma.

When I got married I finally understood what Biblical Naomi meant when she said to her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpa, “May you find menucha – rest – each in her husband’s house”. I used to think that it was a bit lame. Surely you don’t dream of marriage so you should be able to finally relax and have a good rest? I didn’t want rest – I wanted romance and excitement!

But I believe Naomi is talking about menuchas hanefesh – not the physical peace and quiet that may first come to mind, but tranquility, ease of spirit, emotional security; the complete freedom from the anxieties of “does he REALLY like me?” – in fact, the absolute opposite of “out there”. It is the menucha of never again having to wonder if he is going to call.

Not that husbands always call, mind you; my own frequently goes Missing In Action. Without a cell phone, he is conveniently incommunicado – conveniently for him, that is. But the basic peace of mind is there, something that is very important for a woman if she is going to be able to be her best.

One of the books sitting in our bathroom right now is “What Women Want Men to Know” by “human relations expert” Barbara de Angelis, Ph.D. She outlines Three Basic Truths about women, and in doing so ends up with something so close to what the Torah and the Chaza”l are saying, that I just know she is on to something.

Her Three Basic Truths about women are: we put love first; we are creators; we have a sacred relationship to time.

Therefore – no, we are not obsessive or controlling when it comes to the human relationships (romantic or otherwise) in our lives – we are just expressing our inner truth that love, in all its forms, is one of the primary concerns of our existence; and we will go to any lengths necessary to safeguard that love.

As creators of life, we create and improve wherever we go; our creativity knows no bounds and expresses itself in a myriad ways, from childbirth to selecting the right shade of lipstick, to “improving” our husbands. We are not saying that he – or the current lipstick – is bad; we are just constantly busy building an even better world.

One of the reasons put forth why a woman is generally exempt from most of the time-bound mitzvos, is that, by dint of her innate biological rhythm, she is already aware of Divine time and requires no further reminder. She carries the moed, the designated season, within her, and her awareness of time makes her different from a man in that she counts every minute, every day, every year that passes, and invests it with a deep meaning.

I have to say that I am quite impressed that Dr. de Angelis - who describes herself as a "liberal thinker" - allows herself to subscribe to a world view in which a woman’s psychological makeup is seen to be informed by her biological nature – this is in such stark contrast to the politically correct tenets of our times. (She even goes so far as to draw an analogy between a woman's style of communication - round and round in a spiral-like digression on her topic - and the rounded, spiral-like shape of her womb; while a man's communication style is more - how shall I put it? - to the point.) The Chaza”l, our Sages, have always made the point that the external mirrors the internal; that the physiological is a representation of the spiritual, but this is not something one expects to hear “out there”, among the sociologists and psychologists – be they Jewish or Gentile.

Dr. de Angelis also points out that a woman has a “secret” – or at least often unacknowledged and unrecognized – need to feel safe; only when she is emotionally safe, does she become free to express herself fully, and let go of certain destructive behaviors.

This is something I noticed in my own life many years ago, long before I was validated by Dr. de Angelis. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to become critical and – dare I say it? – to nag. However, interestingly enough, self-analysis finally revealed to me that this unbecoming trait really only comes to the surface when I am nervous – when I feel emotionally unsafe. It is the need for answers and reassurance that makes me run after you and nag; it is the fear of avoidance and indifference, and the fear of the unknown, that make my inner critic rear its head. And this applies not only to the marital relationship. In earlier years, my children also sometimes suffered from this tendency of mine, and I have realized that it holds true in the parental relationship as well – as a single mother I felt extremely unsafe a lot of the time. The image that comes to my mind is the furiously pecking chicken – but a chicken only pecks when she is under duress.

Menucha in the tent!
(Image from
This is why there is a great brocho in Naomi’s wish for menucha – the condition that will keep a woman protected from the emotional anxiety of “out there”, and thus able to fulfill her true potential. May we all find menucha in our marriages - and in our tents.

Shalom Uv’racha!