Monday, February 26, 2007

Drinking on Purim; Happiness not Holelus

Purim is in the air, and most people are excited.

What a beautiful Yomtov. Reading the Megillah, gifts to the poor, food packages to neighbors, friends & relatives, and eating a festive meal. Children (and some adults) dressing up, music, noise, etc. Who doesn’t look forward to Purim?

I would like to address one aspect of Purim, which in my opinion is shifting considerably from the original intent of Chazal.

And that is drinking.

The Gemorah says that one should drink on Purim. Many interpret this to mean that one should get drunk, while many disagree. The Rema writes that one should merely drink more than he is usually accustomed to and then go to sleep. The Mishnah Brurah remarks on this, that this is the proper custom.

For whatever the reason, many people follow the opinions that one should get completely intoxicated, which of course is completely acceptable.

However, it appears that we are losing sight of the original intent of this Halacha. The Halacha was instituted so that people could experience pure and unadulterated joy over the miracles of Hashem, without feeling any of the usual constraints due to one’s inhibitions and embarrassment. When a person is drunk he tends to shed his natural shyness and can express his love for Hashem and happiness for his deeds, without looking over his shoulder.

Drunkenness that leads to rowdy and inappropriate behavior is totally beyond what Chazal intended.

Unfortunately, it is not so uncommon to see or hear of drunken people losing control over their actions. Such behavior is simply wrong, and if a person feels that getting drunk will lead him to commit acts that he will regret, or say things that he shouldn’t, then he should not be getting drunk in the first place.

This problem is especially prevalent amongst our youth who occasionally use Purim as an excuse to let loose and do whatever their hearts desire. Parents should exercise their authority in ensuring, to the best of their ability, that their children do not get carried away. All too often the actions of one drunken teenager shame the entire family.

Our focus on Purim should be on expressing happiness and gratitude to Hashem. This was Chazal’s intention, and it behooves us to endeavor to follow it.

May we all merit a happy and spiritually-uplifting Purim.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rabbi Blumenkrantz; a Tragic Loss

Independent Frum Thinker mourns the tragic and unexpected loss of Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz z”l, who passed away this past Thursday night.

R’ Blumenkrantz z”l was both an accomplished and acclaimed Torah scholar, and righteous and pious man.

He was one of a unique few of Torah-true individuals who utilized their vast knowledge of Halacha to delve into the intricacies of the modern world, with the goal of helping others navigate their way through it.

To those who didn’t know him personally, he was best known for his annual pre-Pesach guide to medicines, bathroom accessories, and kitchen supplies. Due to his efforts thousands of Jews were able to avoid transgressing the prohibition of owning Chametz on Pesach, and in many cases succeeded in saving Jews from the even more severe sin of eating Chametz.

Interspersed throughout his book were pertinent Halachos on a vast array of subjects, from Kosher shavers to Kosher Sheitels.

He was truly an extraordinary person, and almost the entire Frum world was affected by him whether directly or indirectly.

The void that he leaves behind will be difficult to fill.

We mourn his loss, and extend our sincere condolences to his family.

Yehei Zichro Baruch.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The School Dilemma

It’s that time of year again.

The girl and her parents wait anxiously for that letter. Will she be accepted to the school of their choice or not? Will she be able to attend the school that her friends are going to and/or that is more suitable for her, or will she have to settle for something less? In some communities after everyone receives their letter, there are girls left over with no school to attend to at all. The girl and her parents are acutely aware of this awful possibility and nervously hope and pray that she was accepted to the school that she applied for.

The principal sits and pores over hundreds of applications. There are so many more of them than available slots. How can she choose one wonderful girl over the other, one beautiful family over the other?

Each party is agonizing over their respective dilemma.

Finally the time has come. The principal drops the envelopes into the mailbox with a heavy heart, knowing full well that many excellent girls will soon be receiving that dreaded letter. It was a decision made with compassion, but also with practicality. The school simply can not accommodate all of its applicants.

The girl and her parents sit in silence after reading the letter informing them that their daughter was not accepted and must seek a different school for next year. Upset, disappointed, and confused, are only some of the emotions being felt in that home. How can she face her friends who were accepted to that school? Will she have a school to attend to at all next year? Where should they turn? What should they do?

These are true-life descriptions, and anyone who has gone through them can empathize and understand.

A proposal is being floated that every community should arrange for a computerized system, in which each applicant can list the schools of their choice in their order of preference. After all applications are submitted, the computer then automatically generates which applicant should go where.

In my opinion this proposal is not in the best interests of the schools nor their students.

Every school has its unique and distinctive flavor. One may have a more Chassidish touch, while another a more Litvish one. One may be Yeshivish while another Modern Orthodox. One may be simpler while another more affluent. The beauty of our community is in its choices. Every family can find a school appropriate for them and their Hashkafos.

Removing the freedom of choice from the schools will allow for short-term satisfaction, but in the long run will alter the distinctive character of every school. Each school will lose its unique identity, in turn hurting the very students and their parents who fostered this system unto the schools.

I would like to suggest a more practical solution.

All school principals of every community should form a committee to deal specifically with this issue. Before any one school sends out its letters, all the representatives should meet to figure out how every single applicant to every single school will have a place. If any one principal feels a specific girl made a wrong choice by applying to her school, some other more suitable school would have to accept her. Each school would be helping the other, while every girl would have a school to attend. Only then will all schools simultaneously send out their letters.

Granted, there will be some girls and parents who will feel that the decision was erroneous and their daughter should have been accepted to the original school that she applied for, but to make everyone happy is simply impossible. At least now every girl will be guaranteed a place, and it will be as close as possible to her individual needs.

From my understanding, such a system is more or less in place in Monsey, NY, and it’s high time that some other communities implement such a system or some other workable one.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Tzedakah Priorities

Frum Jews live their lives according to the guidelines and parameters of Halacha. In almost every area of life we strive to do what is Halachikly preferable, and if necessary will approach a Rav for guidance.

However, the laws of Tzedaka seem all but forgotten, and seemingly there exists little motivation to do what is Halachikly correct.

I am not referring to the giving of Tzedakah. Fortunately, people are constantly giving and donating money and objects, often above and beyond their means.

What I am referring to are the Tzedakah priorities as defined by Halacha.

One who studies the relevant material realizes that there are very clear-cut guidelines on whom and what takes precedence.

Family comes first. If there are family members who are in need of financial help, they take precedence over all other causes.

Supporting Torah scholars is second. Obviously, if one has a relative who is a budding or accomplished Torah scholar and is in need of financial help, he would take precedence over all other Torah scholars as he encompasses both of the two highest priorities.

Although the list of Tzedakah priorities continues, I would only like to focus on these, as they relate to the subject of my previous post. (For further information, one can study the Halachos in Shulchan Aruch with its commentaries, or read Rabbi Feuer’s wonderful English Sefer on Tzedakah.)

Nowadays, we are bombarded with letters and brochures, much of which are cleverly written to play on the recipients’ emotions and arouse their sympathy for the cause. We are also bombarded with glitzy & ostentatious Chinese auction brochures designed to appeal to our base materialistic instincts.

Without delving into the methods being used to raise funds, we should always keep in mind the priorities as defined by Halacha.

Sending a check to that poor cousin is more important than supporting the family with the heart-wrenching story. Sending a check to your local Kollel, or better yet directly to the Kollel members themselves, is more important than buying that ticket for the luxury cruise in the Chinese auction. There may be less fanfare surrounding Tzedakohs that focus on supporting Torah scholars, but after all it is the number two priority.

I am not, Chas V’Shalom, questioning the validity of any other Tzedakos in any way. Unfortunately, there are many needs in our community and each has its merit and importance. I am just attempting to raise awareness to the fact that there are unambiguous Halachos determining Tzedakah priorities, just like there are Halachos in other areas of our lives.

Personally, I feel there is enough, or at least close to enough, money in the community to adequately support all its basic needs. But we should not allow for glitzy ads to replace the Halachik sense of proportion.

Let giving Tzedakah enjoy the same status as other Mitzvos, where we seek to perform them in the ideal way.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Appreciating Rabbeim

Rabbeim are overworked, underpaid, and most of all underappreciated.

So much time and effort goes into teaching our children. There is time spent preparing, time spent in class, & time spent with children and parents after school.

Being a Rebbe is not just a nine to three job; it most often takes over his day, his week, and sometimes even his life.

Do we have anything more precious then our children? Our children encompass our future, our past, and our present. We all love our children and would do anything for them, and we are entrusting these precious souls to Rabbeim in schools.

These Rabbeim often spend as much time with our children as we do ourselves. They strive to impart knowledge, love of Hashem and His Torah, joy in being a Yid, and proper values of Derech Eretz and Middos.

Much ado is made of the occasional Rebbe who has no exuberance left in him, not to mention the absolutely small minority who actually take advantage of our children for actions left better unmentioned. However, very little ado is made of the majority of Rabbeim who are working so hard and faithfully to inculcate in our children everything that we hold so precious.

Due to the dynamics of our community and its financial situation, tuition usually does not allow for us to pay our Rabbeim the salaries they so truly deserve. Just to put things in perspective, what is more important to us in the long run, our children’s Chinuch or treating their occasional ear infection? Yet we would pay a doctor one hundred dollars an hour or more, while the average Rebbe receives approximately twenty five dollars an hour for his holy work. Please keep in mind that Rabbeim are not working with one “patient” at a time, rather usually with twenty five and without their parents there to help out.

The possible solutions to the unfortunate fact that our devoted Rabbeim are underpaid are complex and difficult to implement. However, we can definitely make them feel more appreciated; a phone call on Friday wishing a good Shabbos, sending in a thank-you note to school or to their homes, or whatever else allows us to express our gratitude & appreciation.

Let us all take a moment to think about this and realize that these Rabbeim deserve a lot more credit than they are receiving. And let us all do our parts in making them feel as respected and appreciated as they really should be.