Tuesday, May 29, 2012


There are basically two types of Jews in the world – those that are observant and those that are not observant, yet.  All Jews are destined to serve Hashem since it says in the Torah that we are a "Nation of Priests" (Exodus 19:6).  With some it is at birth while others it happens later in life.  Since we are also creatures of habit, I thought I would address what that means to the two types of Jews.

Two new words to learn – machmir (stringent) and meikil (lenient).  Everything we do to serve Hashem should be as machmir as possible.  Why?  As with anything in life, we manage to do just enough to get by; or, we can be with an attitude that we want our efforts to be the very best, to excel.  Since we are on a system of measure-for-measure, we will be treated in return by Hashem as machmir or meikil as well.  When we pray, do repentance, give charity, study Torah, observe the mitzvot, keep the laws of kashrus and of purity, observe the Shabbos and holidays, we can be as successful as the effort we put into it.  As an example, when we go to prayer service do we get there on time, early or late?  Do we pray with kevana (another new word meaning passion, intensity and feeling) or is it lip service – just saying the words quickly to get out of there as fast as possible?  Do we feel the trepidation of standing in front of Hashem or is our mind on the groceries that we remembered to pick up on the way home?

What do I mean by having the right kevana in giving charity?  When someone comes to the door to collect do we run to the door with enthusiasm about helping others or is it with disdain?  Having the opportunity to help others and the convenience of it coming directly to our front door should be considered a pleasant opportunity not a burden.  Whatever our attitude, Hashem is noting measure-for-measure.  I've always lived by the adage "let gratitude be you attitude."  I don't know if I made that up or not but I like it and it serves me well.

There is a story about a shtetl (Yiddish for a little town) that only had 10 Jewish men living in it.  There was a small shul (Yiddish for school but used to mean the synagogue) that always had a minion, all ten men showed up every day for prayer.  Then an 11th Jewish man moved into the shtetl.  From that day on they had trouble getting a minion.  There were always two or three men who thought "I am not needed now that we have another to help with the minion."  Unfortunately, many are in the habit of thinking it will get done without me.  One should always consider in every situation that his or her help is needed.  With a minion, with giving charity, with helping the shul or the Jewish community with an abundance of tasks – they just don't happen by themselves.

Let's talk about the two types of Jews.  It is of extreme importance when one is becoming observant to learn correctly and get into the right habits immediately.  Having a very inspirational teacher who leads you in the right direction from the very beginning can make or break your experience.  This should be someone who knows what to teach you, when to teach you and to control the speed at which things happen.  If a person becomes observant at a very slow and comfortable pace, he or she will not really notice big changes in life and will experience great success.  This can be best done with an educated guide to take you every step of the way.  If the teacher shows you all kinds of shortcuts and tells you don't have to worry about ever doing this or that, the student will be handed bad habits immediately and not too rewarding an experience.  It is good to learn how to learn.  In other words, to know what are the best books to read and best references to use when a question arises and your teacher is not available.

The other group is the already observant individual who has either a machmir or a meikil approach to everything.  What I have observed over many years is that the machmir Jew is the machmir teacher.  Fortunately or unfortunately, it is very often the children who benefit or suffer.  Individuals who are always late to prayer service or habitual talkers during prayer service usually have children who follow in their footsteps.  The biggest problem is that bad habits are generally not even recognized as bad habits but are engrained in one's daily routine.  How many times that I have heard "my father did it that way" as if that gives us permission to act improperly.  So, not only do we have bad habits, we justify in our own minds why it is OK.

My biggest suggestion for both the observant and the newly observant is to know the proper sources for answers if a Rabbi or teacher is not available and to use them frequently.  There are two main sources, the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah, which are used extensively for answers.  The Mishnah Berurah, written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838 – 1933), who was known popularly as The Chofetz Chaim, is perhaps the best and complete compendium of laws and explanations on just about every subject a Jew needs.  Although there are many Rabbis over the millennia that we study their commentary, there are certain Rabbis that are considered to best authorities on Jewish law, Halacha.  A Posek (plural – Poskim) is the term in Jewish law for "decider" – a legal scholar who decides the Halakha in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive or in those situations where no halachic precedent exists.  In the observant or Haredi world, each community will regard one of its poskim as its Posek HaDor ("Posek of the present Generation").  For the Lithuanian-style Haredi world it is probably Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Shlita.  For the Sephardi Jews it is probably Rav Ovadia Yosef, Shlita.  The Chofetz Chaim, the Chazon Ish and Moshe Feinstein are three that have been published extensively and can be relied on for halachic guidance.  The names that I am using have all been within the past century, giving a more modern interpretation.  After all there are many questions that come up regarding, as an example, electricity and electrical appliances on Shabbos.

When I was living in the states, my Rav was Simcha Bunim Cohen, Shlita.  This Rabbi, who was a student of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, and is the grandson of Rav Avigdor Miller, zt"l, is a Posek of our generation.  He has written or has been involved in the authoring of about 12 books to date.  Since a half a dozen of his books are on Shabbos alone, Rav Cohen is considered one of the world's experts on the halachot of Shabbos.  About 15 years ago, I had a Shabbos question for the Rav.  I posed it to him and he answered "Let me look it up and I'll get back to you."  What, the world expert has to look it up?  I learned that day the difference between opinion and scholarship.  Rav Cohen would never give me an incorrect answer.  Unless he was absolutely positive, without any question, he would look it up and get back to me.  When I got the answer I was confident in its total accuracy.  Sometimes he would look it up in one of his own books, but he never relied on his memory when it came to the importance of giving guidance to a fellow Jew.  That is what I mean by machmir since I myself do the same thing.  I try to look things up even if I am sure of the answer.  I consider my present Rav in Israel a genius.  His memory of halachic answers is very impressive.  Yet, when I ask him a question he goes directly to the source, not to tell me the answer, but to show me where it is and how it is worded.  Talk about confidence in getting answers.

I tell you all this to impress upon you the importance of good habits.  If you are starting out, get into the proper way of doing things.  It is just as easy to do everything correctly as doing things incorrectly.  If you have been observant all your life, review on a regular basis your halachic accuracy – you may find much improvement can be done and at no extra cost.  You owe it to yourself and your family.  The Jew who serves Hashem in a meikil way may not even know that he is losing out on his efforts or that he is giving bad advice to others.  As mentioned many times we are here to perfect ourselves and to setup as wonderful an eternity for us and our loved ones as possible.  When Hashem assigns us to our place in the World to Come, that we will live forever and ever, we should all strive to be in the machmir section and not the meikil section.  The assignments are handed out measure-for-measure according to our efforts and habits we display in this world.  Make the best of it – we only get one shot. 


  1. I'd like to ask the ladies to stop kissing one another when they come inside the sanctuary. Yesterday we had an amazing young rabbi visiting. One women walked in late and came and sat up front next to me. The women she sat in front of was obviously happy to see her. She stood up - as the rabbi was just beginning his drush- and threw her arms around the woman and kissed and greeted the woman from behind. It was very rude and awkward as they spoke and interrupted this rabbi. Please keep your kissing and shmoozing outside the sanctuary and let your kisses inside the sanctuary be your words of praise for Hashem.

    1. I fully agree. We actually are not even supposed to show affection to children. Why? We are there to serve Hashem and not as a social gathering.

  2. This a really damn true philosophy for me too! I owe it to myself and my family. Actually all of us want to live a fresh and clean life after all. Now, for your help I think this Jewish video goo.gl/BQH4G will really make you feel grateful!

    1. Thank you, thank you and thank you. What a beautiful response. I encourage everyone to look at the video goo.gl/BQH4G -- it is excellent. I had plans of talking about the 100 blessings a day that every Jew should say -- one of many topics planned. This will push it up on my list.