Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wedding Dresses and Wedding Cake

Wedding dresses and wedding cakes are just the beginning...And although the wedding photographer captures it all, real life starts the day after. How to make the rest of your married life a success? Sign up for The Art of Marriage to find out!

In the meantime, here's something to whet your appetite for the feast that's to come.

The Three Pillars of Marriage, Rabbi Manis Friedman

For more inspirational Jewish video, check out:!

What is Marriage

For the 25 million of you each month who are wondering, "What is marriage?"  Or, "Maybe it's time for a little marriage therapy / couples counseling," we have the answers!

Join us this spring...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Today in Toulouse

March 19, 2012 – Jonathan Sandler, a teacher, two of his children, Aryeh age 6 and Gavriel age 3 and Miriam Monsonego age 8 are shot dead in an attack at Toulouse’s Ozar HaTorah school.

March 6, 2008, Jerusalem, eight boys are killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Merkaz HaRav Yeshivah.
April 11, 1956, Kfar Chabad, Israel - five youngsters and their teacher are murdered by terrorists.

Shock, pain, and grief overwhelm us.  How can we respond to such tragic and heinous loss of life?  Is there any response?
In 1956, Kfar Chabad grappled with just these questions.  The answer of their Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was clear: “Don’t abandon your post.  In the spot where this tragedy occurred, the quality of Divine Mercy will be revealed.”

During the week of ‘shiva’ for the slain youngsters, the Rebbe called for a public fast day in all Chabad schools throughout the land of Israel, and sent the following words of encouragement to the residents of Kfar Chabad:

“It is my fervent hope that, with the help of G-d, Who guards with a watchful eye and supervises with individual providence, that you will overcome all obstacles, strengthen yourselves in your individual and communal building efforts, and expand all the institutions both in quantity and quality. From a position of tranquility of mind and heart and joy and gladness of heart, the study of Torah—the living word of G-d which is our protection—and the observance of mitzvot will be strengthened and exalted. Kfar Chabad should become the wellspring from which streams of chassidut and the teachings of our holy Rebbes flow outward, bringing all our Jewish brothers and sisters close to their Father in Heaven, with kindness and mercy. Through this [you shall] bring the ultimate redemption through our righteous Mashiach very soon.  
I am participating with you in your prayer and fasting, and I trust in G-d that, very soon, I will participate in your true and complete joy, physical and spiritual joy.”
(Igrot Kodesh, volume 13, introduction)

Pharaoh, Antiochus, the Crusaders, Chmielnicki, the Nazis, terrorists.    As a nation, we've outlived all our oppressors.  "Not by military force, nor by physical power, by My Spirit," says the L-rd of Hosts" (Zecharaiah 4:6).  Our weapons are positive ones, active ones: building, conducting ourselves with love for our fellow, fulfilling another mitvah with devotion.

Our hearts cry in pain with the families of those who were killed. From Kfar Chabad we remember Nissim Essiss, Moshe Peretz, Shlomo Mizrachi, Albert Edri, Amos Ozen  and their  teacher, Simcha Zilberstrom.  From Merkaz Harav we remember Neria Cohen, Segev Pniel Avihail, Avraham David Moses, Yehonatan Yitzchak Eldar, Roi Roth, Yochai Lipshitz, Yonadav Chaim Hirschfeld, and Doron Mahareta. 
To the Sandler and Monsonego families, we send our heartfelt prayers that the Omnipresent should comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Please pray for Aharon ben Leah, a 15 year old who was injured in today’s attack.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

For Man is a Tree of the Field

Punxatawney Phil's prediction of six more weeks of winter notwithstanding, tomorrow, the Jewish calendar marks the first harbinger of spring in the Land of Israel.

The 15th of Shevat is the "New Year of the Trees," when the majority of the Mediterranean winter rains have passed, and sap begins to stir and flow through the fruit trees of Israel.  The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 14b) explains: "If one picked fruit from a citron tree after the sun went down, he may not separate tithes from one batch for the other; the former is an 'old crop,' the latter is a 'new crop.'"

The 15th of Shevat is celebrated by eating fruits of various types, especially the species associated with the Land of Israel: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. The Kabbalists of Safed, in the 1500s, crafted a “seder” for the 15th of Shevat, modeled after the Passover Seder. One drinks four cups of wine moving from white to red, and eats grains, and fruits from four categories: those with a hard shell, stone-fruit, fruits that are edible inside and out, and fruits that are enjoyed for their scent. The idea of the seder is to absorb the Torah way of relating to the world and its physical pleasures: neither excessive indulgence nor asceticism, but the pleasure of connecting with the G-dly sparks within all physicality.

This understanding of the deep connection between spirituality and pleasure is hinted to in the placement of the 15th of Shevat – between the holiday of Chanukah, celebrated with olive oil, and the holiday of Purim, celebrated with wine. Oil and the light it fuels symbolize the ethereal spiritual realm, while wine captures that of physical enjoyment. Between them is the bridge – the 15th of Shevat.

For more about the month of Shevat, click here.
To learn about the kabbalah of the 15th of Shevat click here.
Insights into lessons we can learn from the seven species of the Land of Israel.
Here’s an abridged form of the “seder,” – for the full ceremony, click here.  
The 15th of Shevat is also a day to pray for a beautiful etrog for the Sukkot holiday. 
This tasty recipe uses some of the seven species.
Lastly, "Seven Foods for Seven Habits," how the seven foods with which Israel is blessed can provide lessons in Divine service and self-growth.

For more inspirational Jewish video, check out:!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Friday, December 16, 2011

I and Thou

My son’s oral history project took him to a local landmark; a druggist turned ice-cream parlor, to interview the current owner. Along with the marble counter and barstools stood a wooden turn-of-the-(last)-century phone booth. Teens had been in the past week and puzzled over this oddity: why would anyone close themselves in a little room to make a phone call?

Even before technology changed our definition of personal, a dramatic shift in mores had begun. Women stopped wearing gloves; post-JFK, men no longer donned hats; soon, more than just arms were bared. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” said prevailing wisdom. It was just a matter of time before TV replaced the psychiatrist’s couch, as people shared the deeply personal with millions of viewers.

Judaism has always had a different ethos. Many of the peak moments of our heroes’ lives occurred away from the public eye, between man and G-d: Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah; Jacob wrestling with the angel; Moses on Mount Sinai; Aaron in the Holy of Holies. No klieg lights, no press or paparazzi, just “I and Thou.”
The same is true of the Jewish marriage. It’s not shame that keeps us quiet on matters of the bedroom, but the understanding that holiness and blessing dwell most harmoniously where there is privacy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hands-On, Back-to-the-Earth, Grow-Your-Own!

In the past three years, sales of home-canning supplies have risen 35%; sales of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving have doubled over the past year. Bee-keeping, cheese-making, and backyard chicken coops are gaining in popularity. What’s behind all this hands-on, back-to-the-earth, grow-your-own? The latest homesteading efforts go far beyond making your own bread or putting up home-made soup instead of canned. While some might chalk it up to the weak economy, I suspect it goes deeper than that, to the very core of what it means to be a human being.

Chassidic teachings peek behind the mechanics of the digestive system to lay bare what’s really at the root of eating. We’re all familiar with the food chain, whereby entities at each level gain nourishment from the elements below; grass absorbs minerals from the earth, cows eat grass; people consume the cow and its milk. This food chain has its spiritual counterpart, too.
Traditional Jewish thought sees all of creation as inhabiting a particular kingdom: mineral, vegetative, or animal; above animal, hovers man. Trapped within each creation at every level are sparks of G-dliness waiting to be elevated back to their source. By preparing our food according to kosher laws, reciting a blessing to receive G-d’s permission to eat, and consuming our food in a mindful manner, we elevate all of these sparks.

Thus, eating kosher powerfully captures our mission on Earth, and G-d’s purpose in Creation: to transform the physical into the spiritual. Whatever we ingest literally becomes part of us, our flesh, our blood, our synapses and nerves. Eating kosher is a supreme service to G-d. So this urge to sink our hands into food preparation at its most elemental levels? Perhaps its a sign of our deepest need, to connect with the G-dly concealed within nature.
“The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kosher Eating

When I tweeted about the discovery of pork-flavored foie gras, a follower expressed disapproval: “Why would you want to make kosher pork-flavored anything?!”
The porky flavor of the Spanish goose-liver was confirmed by a number of European (non-Jewish) chefs. But…why try it?
“In the future a person will have to give a reckoning for everything he saw and did not eat” (Jerusalem Talmud, Kidushin 2:4).

Does this mean the Torah sanctions gluttony? Far from it! Food is our initial contact with desire and its uses and abuses. Many of us struggle with eating disorders, from bulimia and anorexia to overeating and junk-food addiction. And unlike other addictions, one can’t just go cold turkey on food. The struggle for “KOSHER” eating is always there.

The forbidden is perennially tempting – as King Solomon writes in Proverbs 9:17, “Stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasurable” – and perhaps for that reason, every non-kosher food has a kosher taste-equivalent. Judaism is about sanctification of our physical desires, not denial of them. There’s nothing wrong with the flavor of pork, bacon, or shellfish, so long as we enjoy it in a permitted way.

G-d could easily have created a world where our nourishment came solely through handfuls of vitamins; instead He presented us with a vast array of colors, textures and flavors. Taking control of our lives and our eating, making every bite an opportunity for sanctity, is deeply satisfying.
So… why try kosher pork-flavored foie gras? Why not?!

Friday, November 25, 2011

This Shabbat, the 29th of Cheshvan, is the third yahrtzeit of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg.  Also murdered in this heinous terrorist attack were guests staying at the Holtzberg’s Chabad House. 
I found these videos and articles about the Holtzbergs moving.  Their example in love for their fellow Jews and  for G-d is very inspiring, and illuminates just how much we lost with their deaths.
May we very soon arrive at the day when G-d will wipe away our tears, with the revelation of the era of eternal peace and brotherhood.  Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“Do not underestimate the blessing given by a simple person.” Talmud, Megilah 15a

Many years ago, noted author and lecturer Rabbi Nissan Mangel told this story to a group of students:
A childless couple approached their rebbe, hoping for a blessing for a child. To their bitter disappointment, the rebbe told them that their childlessness was a result of a heavenly decree which he was powerless to counteract. Hearing of this, friends of the broken-hearted couple sprang into action. Gathering in secret, the couple’s friends recited the entire book of Psalms and fasted. Within the year, the couple was blessed with a child.

Amongst Rabbi Mangel’s students was a group of women whose friend had been married many years but remained childless. They asked, “Can we do this, too?” Rabbi Mangel didn’t see why not, but suggested that they replace fasting with giving charity above and beyond their normal means. Within the year, their friend, too, was blessed with a child.

One of the women in the group shared their success story with me; I immediately called a third friend. We both knew a number of couples who were facing infertility or secondary infertility. We agreed to follow this model of Psalms recitation and giving charity, settling on Lag b’Omer for our efforts, a day traditionally associated with blessings for children.

We gathered together around the table and divided the Book of Psalms between us. After reciting the Psalms we read aloud the names of the couples — about ten or twelve. Then each of us gave charity to a single worthy cause, in an amount that was a bit challenging. Within the year, every couple except for one had a child.

While none of us at that table were kabbalists or great scholars, there’s a reason our efforts worked. Looking at others with a “good eye,” showing ahavat Yisrael, and sincere prayer, changes lives.