Pilates: Central Role in Cardiac Rehabilitation

Pilates and heart
The distinguishing characteristic of the Pilates system of exercise is its requirement of steady and controlled breathing. This is an integral part of the Joseph Pilates concept of "contrology" - the science and art of coordinated body-mind-spirit development through natural movements. Inasmuch, Pilates moderates the strain, jerkiness an anaerobic extremes that are frequently associated with such western forms of strength-oriented exercise as sprinting, weightlifting and plyometrics while incorporating the calm, control and concentration that characterize the eastern approach to exercise, as seen in such forms as Yoga and Tai Chi. The result is the best of both worlds:  Strength development and coordination enhanced with power and grace.

The benefits of Pilates are enormous in recovering from atrial fibrillation. Experimenting on myself with careful monitoring, I compared the result of an intensive 30-minute Pilates routine that included 26 exercises to a resistance routine that included 4 circuits of deadlifts, goblet squats, renegade pushups and weighted lunges whereas each exercise was performed at weights that enabled me to do ten reps in order to avoid straining my heart and pushing myself into anaerobic mode. In addition to the superior overall post-workout feeling of the Pilates routine, the results – which repeated themselves several times, were dramatic as we see in the following table:

Parameter

Pilates

Resistance Routine

Total Time[1]

30 minutes

30 minutes

Kcal burned

158

256

HR (heart-rate) Average

98 (65% of Max)

123 (82% of Max)

HR (heart-rate) Max

134 (90% of Max)

162 (108% of Max)

In/Out zone[2] (minutes)

28 / 2

5 / 25

The above table clearly shows how the Pilates routine was so much gentler to my body, yet without sacrificing training effectiveness. After the Pilates routine, my core felt stronger and my posture dramatically improved. In addition, I felt more invigorated than after the resistance routine. With Pilates, there's virtually no chance of over-training, which is my dangerous athletic evil inclination and that of many peak-performance-seeking athletes. Consequently, as I have proven to myself, I would surely incorporate Pilates as the prime and preferred form of exercise in any cardiac rehabilitation program.

Even if your heart is 100% healthy, do yourself a favor and enroll in a Pilates course. It will do wonders for your posture and your core strength, and it's gentle on the body. You won't burn as many calories as you do in high-intensity training, but your injury level will drop to zilch. My blessings for your good health and a continued wonderful Succoth!

Footnotes:

[1] Includes warmup and cooldown for resistance routine; warmup and cooldown were an intrinsic part of Pilates routine

[2] The InZone = my target zone of 55-80% HR Max, OutZone = >80% HR Max (HR Max = 220-Age, in my case=150 bpm)


Stop the Feuding!

Buffalo Feud
Once again, Bibi and Gantz refuse to speak to one another, and the Israeli Government continues to be in dysfunctional disarray, with no end in sight to the political deadlock.

If the Baal Shem Tov osb"m were with us, he'd get them to speak to each other. He worked so hard for Jewish unity, so that every Jew should love every other Jew. What's more, with Simchat Torah coming up, when we all rejoice in our spiritual heritage that we all have a part of, it's easy to create unity, especially when we dance together. 

Lack of Jewish unity is dangerous, to say the least. It breaks my heart when people fail to get along with one another.

The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a told me the following beautiful story, passed down from father to son from his great great grandfather Rebbe Meir'l of Promiszlan; Keep it in mind before allowing yourself the "luxury" of feuding with a fellow Jew:

Rebbe Meir'l of Promiszlan and Rebbe Yitzchok of Strettin were engaged in a long, drawn-out feud. Knowing that dissension serves no purpose, Rebbe Meir'l approached Rebbe Yitzchok and attempted to make peace. The latter only turned his face to the wall. "Please, Strettinner Rebbe, allow me to tell you a tale," said Rebbe Meir'l, and told him the following story:

During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, a Marrano* suspected of secretly being Jewish became deathly ill. The Inquisitors called the local priest, and told him to go see if the dying man would make last confession, proving that he's a Catholic, or else otherwise be burned at the stake as a Jew. The Priest and the Henchman entered the sick man's room, and the sick man turned his face to the wall, refusing to reject his true faith in Hashem during his last minutes on earth.

The Inquisitors said, "Ahah, he's a secret Jew!" The priest said no, he's embarrassed to confess in front of others. Everyone must leave the room!

Only the dying man and the Priest remained in the room. The priest, a Marranno himself, whispered in the man's ear, "You can say Shma Yisrael now, and express your belief in Hashem before you die. You no longer need to turn your back on me, because we both serve the same G-d." With his dying breath, the Marrano utterred, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one!"

"So you see, Strettinner Rebbe," said Rebbe Meir'l, "You no longer have to turn your back on me, because we serve the same G-d!" The feud ended on the spot.

---

Will someone please tell Bibi and Gantz that we all serve the same G-d? Blessings for a lovely Shabbat, Hoshanna Raba and Simchat Torah, LB

 *Marranos - the Spanish Jews who posed as Catholics on the outside, and secretly continued to practice their Judaism behind closed doors


Willow in the Wind

Bugg Willow
Above image: willow tree by the Bugg River in central Ukraine

Here's a Chassidic story for your Succoth table all about personal courage and humility, which teaches us never to sell anyone short...

The marauding Cossacks were on a rampage. The pogroms of 1768 decimated Ukrainian Jewry. Some cities lost half their Jewish population; otheres, like Uman, were totally wiped out.

If you're traveling north from Breslev to Berditchev, you'll hit the Kalinovka crossroads. Take a left there and travel westward for another ten kilometers and you'll hit the town of Yanov. This is the shtetyl where my father's family comes from.

Many Jewish folk tales stem from the shtetlach, the Jewish hamlets of Eastern Europe. Some are true, some are exaggerated and some are the figments of imaginative minds, but all have a deep Torah-and-folk flavor and they usually carry poignant messages. I want to share one such tale that stems from Yanov, which you can share with your family and friends at your Succoth table. Let me tell you about "Kalman Katzav", Kalman the butcher from Yanov.

Most of the boys in Yanov went to cheder – Torah-oriented elementary school - until their Bar Mitzva. Then, they'd either apprentice themselves to a tradesman, go into commerce or get some other type of job. Within a year after their Bar Mitzva, most of them would be married as well. The lucky blessed with sharp minds and wealthy parents would go to study in the yeshivas of Poland, Hungary and Lithuania. Yet, the Ukrainian Jews were known for their simplicity and righteousness. No wonder that the origins of so many tsaddikim, like the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and Rebbe Nachman of Breslev are in the Ukraine.

Kalman Katzav became an orphan at a young age. He didn't have the luxury of finishing seven grades of cheder before his Bar Mitzva. After the second grade, he had to go to work. Apprenticed to a butcher, Kalman had to lift chunks of beef carcasses that were bigger than he was. While his body developed into a massive mound of muscle with forearms that looked like sledgehammers, his mind wasn't so fortunate. He knew the aleph-bet, but could barely read anything other than the simplest of words. Yet, he knew his prayers and a few passages of Psalms by heart, and said both daily and with dedication.

Kalman's social skills were further hampered by his speech – he stuttered. He was also deaf in one ear. Mischievous muddy-nosed urchins would often jeer him. They weren't afraid of Kalman's fist of retribution, because he wouldn't lift a finger against any of Hashem's creatures, much less a Jewish lad, no matter how insolent. Thoughtless adults would also vent their frustrations by taking advantage of Kalman, making fun of him too. Kalman never answered nor protested; he'd only smile, sharpen his knife and go back to the piece of meat that was on his butcher block. After Kalman died, one of the tsaddikim said that Kalman's butcher block was the next holiest thing to the altar in the Holy Temple, for the simple butcher always undercharged people to make sure that he wouldn't have a single copper kopeck (penny) that didn't belong to him. As it was, he barely eked out a living.

On late afternoon, a balagoola, a wagon master, came riding into town whipping his two horses and pushing them as fast as he could. Not even stopping on Yanov's main cobblestone street, he yelled, "The Cossacks are coming, the Cossacks are coming!" The town went into a frenzy. Some hid in cellars and some fled to the nearby woods. Kalman was so engrossed in his work that he didn't even here what was going on.

The Cossacks entered town on horseback, their sabers waving in the air and thirsting for Jewish blood. Everything on the main street was shuttered and bolted except for Kalman's butcher shop. Kalman looked up from his butcher block and he saw some menacing Cossacks in the doorway. "Jhid," they sneered in Russian, "the day of your funeral has arrived."

Kalman didn't answer. He grabbed a meat cleaver in his right hand and a bone-splitting ax in his left. Eight Cossacks stormed the shop – no more could fit inside. Kalman subdued six of them before the seventh managed to stab him in the belly. Kalman pulled the saber out of his gut and killed the Cossack with it. Another bunch of Cossacks stormed the butcher shop, trampling the corpses of their comrades. Kalman was losing both his blood and his strength. After he sent ten of the Jew-haters into the special purgatory that's reserved for them, he breathed his last breath and died a heroic martyr's death.

With ten dead and another six badly wounded, the Cossacks licked their wounds, gathered their casualties and left town. For the time being, the Jewish population of Yanov was spared. No one ever again made fun of Kalman Katzav, the holy martyr.

Lucky that the keyboard on my laptop can withstand a few tears, because I can't keep a dry eye when I tell the end of the story.

Tradition says that when one of the hidden tzaddikim eulogized Kalman, who was murdered in the days between Yom Kippur and Succoth, he said: "The Gemara in tractate Menachot tells us that Hashem performs all the mitzvoth. We also know that there is nothing of material content in the Upper Worlds. We must therefore ask, what is Hashem's lulav on Succoth? What are the four species that He takes in hand when the angels sing Hallel? The etrog (citron) is the holy neshama of the Baal Shem Tov; The lulav (palm fronds) is the holy neshama of Rebbe Itzikel Dorovitcher; the hadassim (myrtle) are the holy neshama of Rebbe Nachman of Horodenka; and the aravas (willows) are the holy martyred neshama of Kalman Katzav!"

In case anyone wants to know what Kalman Katzav's holy neshama (soul) is doing bound up with three of the greatest tzaddikim the world ever knew, it's the same as the four species. The etrog, lulav, and triple-leafed myrtle are very expensive. The willows cost virtually nothing and can often be found by a creek or river and gathered for free. Yet, without the willows, a thousand-dollar set of etrog, lulav and hadassim are worthless. Even though the aravas are inexpensive, they too must be strictly in adherence to Halachic requirements. The aravas represent the simple Jew; Kalman Katzav – with his impeccable character, his silent suffering of insults and his courage sanctification of Hashem's Name - made him the finest of the simple Jew. He therefore, according to Ukrainian Jewish folklore, was Hashem's choice for His own four species on Succoth.

Local tradition says that when you walk along the banks of the Bugg River in the Ukraine during Succoth, and you hear the autumn wind blowing through the willows, it sounds like someone is whispering, "Kalman, Kalman"… 

Blessings for a continued joyous Succoth holiday and a wonderful New Year!


Beware: The Expanding Succoth Waistline

Succoth 10.10.19
Holiday to Shabbat to holiday, with heavy meals and tons of snacking on the way. Don't forget that a minute on the lips is a year on the hips, if you're not careful. That's why this post is so vital before the upcoming week of Succoth:

This post, if you follow it, will aid your health and save you from needless holiday weight-gain.

Parenthetically, I don't believe in dieting of any kind - a person who learns how to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle doesn't need to diet...

Most diets are unhealthy fads that lead to short-term, unhealthy weight loss and long-term frustration, metabolic and/or nutritional imbalance, ailments of all kinds and weight gain. The extremes go from Paleo/Primal on one end that tells you to eat all the meat and fat you want but stay away from carbs, to total vegan on the other end that tells you that an egg, sardine or chicken breast will kill. Neither extreme approach is in accordance with Torah and the Rambam's timeless advice on nutrition. But, let's save that discussion for another time. Meanwhile, the best advice is what I call "Ivri", eating just the way our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did. That means eating foods as close to the way Hashem created them, with no interference from food manufacturers and genetic modifiers. With that said, let's talk about Succoth...

In Judaism, Succoth is the annual "joy harvest", where we gather happiness for an entire year. The problem is that with multiple daily festive meals, visiting friends and relatives in their Succas and partying all week long, most people gather pounds in addition to the joy. And, the excess weight eats away at the joy…

Today's "Strength and Serenity" advice might save you from adding two inches to your waistline this Succot. None of us want to go the route of gaining needless weight, so let's do a little holiday-eve preparation with this food for thought:

The perennial post-holiday problem of many Jewish people is the added calories, pounds, flab, and cholesterol of a week of eating and rejoicing in the Succah. As Brodyhealth.com is committed to the health of body, mind, and soul, we've composed a few guidelines to combat the expanding Succoth waistline.

Beware of empty calories: empty calories come from nutrient-scant foods, especially manufactured products, fast food and junk food. Stick to what I call nutrient-dense foods, where you get the most nutrients from each calorie consumed. Here, the winners are fresh vegetables, fresh foods and naturally dried (not roasted or salted) seeds and nuts. Nutrient-scant foods (cakes, pastries, sweets, soft drinks and liquor) are outright dangerous to the body.

Beware of the cakes: Many people want to make a blessing on the Succa every time they enter it. But, one really shouldn't make a blessing unless he eats something. For that reason, many folks eat cake ("mezonos", at a minimum amount of a little over and ounce) so they can say the "Leshev B'Succa" blessing, the blessing to sit in the Succa. If a person eats 2 ounces of cake 3 times a day, that adds another 840 calories to his daily intake. The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a says that one should make a "Leshev B'Succa" blessing only when eating a proper meal that includes washing your hands and breaking bread. So, don't eat cake for the purpose of making a blessing to sit in the Succa. If a person eats 3 average-sized portions of cake a day for the 9 (outside of Israel, 8 in Israel) days of the Succoth/Simchat Torah holiday, he'll gain more than two pounds. We suggest eating sliced fresh carrots or sliced green apples instead of the cake.

Beware of the liquor: Many people make a "Lechayim" every time they visit the Succa of a friend and relative. In Israel, quite a few people that barely touch alcoholic beverages all year long keep them on hand to serve guests, and end up toasting glass-per-glass with the guest. A one-ounce shot of vodka or 86-proof Whiskey is 70 calories, while an ounce of a 72-proof liqueur such as Kahlua or Banana Liqueur is a hefty 117 calories. 3 "Lechayims" a day is enough to pick up another half pound during the week of the holiday. Adding that to the cakes (see above), you've already gained 2.5 pounds during Succoth. Putting the weight on is so much easier than taking it off.

Beware of sweet beverages: Succoth is a time when parents allow the Pepsi and the Coke to flow freely all week long. Now hear this - an 8-ounce glass of Coke Classic is a whopping 97 calories, just as caloric as the equivalent amount of beer or of a slice and a half of bread. A person that drinks 6 glasses of cola a day will gain almost a pound on Succoth, plus wreck his/her teeth and gall bladder in the process. We suggest that you reach for the mineral water, sparkling water, or herb tea instead, for they have zero caloric value.

Beware of snacks: People like to munch in the Succa. We all know that you can't eat one Frito or potato chip - therefore, those plastic bags empty fast. One ounce of fritos, potato chips, or our Bamba and Bisli add another 160 calories to your calorie-galore score. If a person drinks two glasses of cola and consumes two ounces of snack foods a day, he'll gain over a pound during Succoth. Again, fresh carrot and cucumber sticks are a virtually non-caloric and healthy replacement for the junky snack foods. And, if you want something sweet, try Madjool dates or dark chocolate that's 85% cocoa or more, but limit yourself to 2 dates or 2 chocolate squares a day.

So, with the cakes, the l'chayims, the cokes and the snacks alone - without the heavy meals that include kugel and fat meats, you've already gained close to 5 pounds. And, if you drink diet beverages and use artificial sweeteners, you might not gain the weight but you'll be likely to suffer from headaches and anxiety.

True, tradition is important; that is, as long as it doesn't ruin your health. At the Brody homestead, whole-grained rice, buckwheat groats and quinoa have replaced fried farfel and oil-dripping kugel. We don't fry, but broil and bake. We eat loads of veggies and fresh fruit, and drink local mineral water. Fish and lean poultry have replaced the lamb and veal, and we eat beef sparingly. Dessert is homemade applesauce, fresh cantaloupe cubes, a square of 85% (minimum) chocolate or an almond-stuffed fresh date. Our bread is home-baked and whole-grain, preferably spelt with minimal or no yeast. We want to control what enters our bodies; the manufacturers care about making money, not about our health. That's why we don't buy their products. Our bodies weren't designed to digest the myriad of chemical additives and preservatives that they force-feed us. By the way, we do male a l'chaim over a glass of a fine Land-of-Israel dry red wine, which is rich in rich in many antioxidants that contribute to cardiovascular health and other perks for the body, including fighting inflammation and blood clotting, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.

The Rambam gives an important reminder - don't eat until you're full. The stomach resembles a washing machine - if you overload it, it can't do the laundry. By the same token, an overloaded stomach can't digest, resulting in indigestion, another common Succoth ailment.

A great way to combat the the expanding Succoth waistline is to walk for an hour a day. Better yet, while you're walking, talk to Hashem in personal prayer. That way, your body gets its exercise and your soul gets its nourishment, that is none other than connecting with Hashem. What could be better? BrodyHealth.com wishes you a happy and healthy Succoth with no indigestion and no expanding waistline, amen. If you need further advice, feel free to contact us.


Ten Tips for an Easy Yom Kippur Fast

Easy Fast YK
Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean suffering. There’s quite a bit we can do to alleviate the bodily and mental stress that normally accompanies a fast. Today, the day before the fast, follow the following guidelines:
 
1. Cut down your caffeine intake to minimize headaches. That means stop drinking coffee, tea, and cola at least eight hours before the fast, and preferably twenty-four hours before the fast.
 
2. Avoid salty, spicey, and fried foods on the day before the fast.
 
3. Avoid white sugar, white flour, and white rice. Eat whole-grained foods such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread or challa.
 
4. Drink a lot of water all day long.
 
5. Eat a good breakfast that includes fruits, veggies, eggs or sardines, and whole grains.
 
6. The pre-Yom Kippur meal (se'uda mafseket) should include baked or broiled fish, a veggy salad, consomme, a small portion of chicken or turkey, and a side dish of complex carbohydrates such as kasha or quinoa. Substitute sweet deserts with watermelon or other water-retaining fresh fruit, and a cup of herb tea with a whole-grain cookie.
 
On Yom Kippur:
 
7. The more you immerse yourself in prayer, the less you'll think about food.
 
8. Rest between prayers. Don’t run around outside, especially in the hot sun. Save your voice for prayers. Idle talking will make you thirstier, and will detract from the holiness of the day.
 
After the fast:
 
9. Drink two glasses of water, and then eat solids gradually, so as not to shock the digestive system. Begin with fruit, like plums or grapes. The worst thing people do is to consume pastries and soft drinks, or “lekach un bronfan” (cake and liquor) right after the fast (these are unhealthy anytime, all the more so right after the fast when they give your body a shock of glucose).
 
10. Forty-five minutes to an hour afterwards, one can eat a balanced meal with protein, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables. After eating, relax for an hour with your favorite book (preferably Gemara of the laws of Succoth from Shulchan Oruch) and your favorite beverage, then begin constructing your Succa.
 
Attention diabetics, heart patients, folks with high blood pressure, and people whose health depends on regular medication - you must be especially careful to ask your doctor if you are capable of fasting, and then consult with your local rabbi, giving him the doctor's exact opinion. For many such people, it is a mitzva not to fast on Yom Kippur.
The Israel Cancer Association recommends that cancer patients not fast without approval from their physicians. Fasting could cause considerable discomfort in cancer patients, who need a lot of liquids to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy. Again, first consult the doctor and then the rabbi. Give the rabbi all the details that you received from the doctor.
Don't let children (boys under the age of 12 or girls under the age of 11) be overzealous. Make sure they eat on time.

With G-d's blessing and the above guidelines, you'll have an easy fast. May all of us be signed and sealed in the Book of Long and Happy Lives for the best year ever, amen!


Real Smugglers, Fake Funeral: A Chassidic Tale for Yom Kippur

Fake Funeral
Chassidic stories are known to be healthy for the soul. Let me share one with you that I heard from the Melitzer Rebbe of Ashdod, may Hashem bless him:

Back in 18th Century Eastern Europe, smuggling was a popular but very risky way for a Jew to make a living. The Jews were only allowed to live in a certain area known as the "Pale of Settlement", were not allowed to own land and were limited to certain trades. The fact that the Czar levied tremendous taxes on liquor and tobacco made the smuggling business from Poland to Russia all the more lucrative. Yet, woe to the person who got caught, for the Russian customs police who manned the international border with Poland were more than motivated to get their burly hands on violators, especially when the outlaw was a Jew...

Nachumk'e sat down at his old wooden table in his dilapidated cabin in the Polish shtetyl (village) of Kratzenshtok, not far from the Russian border. His brother-in-law, who lived on the Russian side, told him that he could triple his money by selling Polish shnops (booze) to the Russians. The only tiny "technical detail" was how to get it across the border. Nachumk'e thought of his four daughters, the oldest of whom was rapidly reaching marital age. "Where do I get the money to marry off one, much less four?", thought Nachumk'e, on the verge of despair.

Suddenly, a light bulb flashed in his head. What a great idea...

Nachumk'e summoned his trusted best friend Berch'e and told him the idea. Berch'e was enthused beyond words, for he too was suffering from major income problems with no relief in sight. They bought the cheapest coffin they could find, a plain pine box, and filled it to the brim with with bottles of the best Polish whiskey, which would bring a handsome sum on the Russian side of the border. And, to muffle the sound of the battles rattling, they packed as much choice Polish tobacco as they could. The coffin, once its contents were sold to the ready and waiting black marketeers on the Russian side, would bring a handsome sum.

Nachumk'e and Berch'e hired "extras" to serve as mourners and pallbearers. Although these extras didn't know exactly what their employers were doing, they didn't care. For an easy day's work, a few hours of crossing the border and coming home, they were paid three times more than what they normally made by chopping wood and carrying pales of water from the river to the village.

The "procession" arrived at the Russian border. A burly customs police sergeant, a Russian with knee-high spit-shined boots and a handlebar mustache, approached the Jews. "Open the coffin," he barked. Nachumk'e gulped but bounced back quickly and said, "Sir, every nation honors its dead. Shall we violate the dignity of the deceased by disturbing its rest and opening the coffin?" The Russian waved the procession through.

On the Russian side, the smugglers breathed a deep sigh of relief. Yet, with the joy of the stack of rubles that was soon in their hands, they forgot all about the moment of peril, when they could feel their pulse in their throats.

After the first taste of smuggling success, Nachumk'e and Berch'e started performing weekly funerals. But, the more that they and the Russian border guards grew accustomed to one another, the less cautious the Jewish smugglers became.

One day, a high ranking customs officer from St. Petersburg decided to visit several border stations on the Polish border. He ascended the lookout tower and observed from above all the happenings below. Just then, Nachumk'e and company arrived at the border with a casket and their usual entourage. Just as the sergeant was about to wave them through, the officer descended like an eagle on the funeral entourage. "Open the casket," he barked, "this very second."

Nachumk'e, a little too over-confidant by this time, protested, "Sir, what about the dignity of the dead?"

The Russian drew his saber from its sheath and growled, "Jew, unless you wish to join the ranks of the deceased, open the coffin right now!"

Opening the coffin, Berch'e sobbed deep heart-rending sobs. Nachumk'e wailed. The other Jews joined in the crying...

The bottles of golden Polish whiskey glittered in the sunlight. Packets and packets of tobacco released their pungent scent.

The Russian officer, from his perch in the lookout tower, had never seen such a casual funeral in his life. No one was crying and a few were even smiling. That's what made them so suspicious. The officer said to Nachumk'e and Berch'e, "Aha, now you are crying. You will continue to do so in a Siberian prison. Idiots, if you would have cried a few minutes ago, then you could have been laughing now. But now, it's too late!

* * *

The above parable is a well-known Chassidic-Yiddish folk tale that we tell before Yom Kippur. During the year, people suffer all types of pain and tribulations. But if they would have cried on Yom Kippur, sincerely asking the Almighty for to forgive them for all their misdeeds, then they'd be laughing now. The Gemara teaches that there are no tribulations without prior transgressions, but teshuva (penitence) atones for transgressions and therefore wards off suffering.

Have an easy fast and a most meaningful Yom Kippur! G-d willing, we'll be back right after Yom Kippur. Every blessing for the best year of your life, LB


Rosh Hashanah and Political Correctness

Zachariah's Tomb
Flattery in Judaism doesn't mean that you tell your wife that she's gorgeous when she really is rather plain looking. Flattery in Judaism means telling a wicked person what a nice guy he is. In that vein, flattery is a serious lie. The Gemara in tractate Sota therefore says that flatterers are one of the four groups that cannot receive the Divine Presence. In contemporary jargon, the term for such flattery is "political correctness." Insofar as political correctness fits the Halachic definition of flattery, we can conclude that the politically correct are shunned from the Divine Presence. That means that they forfeit inestimable spiritual abundance and blessings as well as round-the-clock Divine protection.

The above statement sounds stiff, doesn't it? Let's see an example of the devastation that political correctness causes us (For the whole story, see Kings II 12:17-18; Chronicles II 24:15-22; Gittin 57b):

Zachariah the Prophet lived during the time of the First Temple around 9th Century BCE. King Joash reigned in Judea at the time. King Joash, who was raised by his uncle, Zachariah's father the righteous High Priest Jehoyada, at first ruled in accordance with Torah – in truth, justice and in emuna. But, when Jehoyada died at the ripe old age of 130, Joash came under the influence of self-seeking nobles, idolatrous priests and false prophets who encouraged the king to cast aside the ways of Torah for luxury and licentiousness.

Seeing the terrible pit of immorality and idolatry that Joash had fallen into, Hashem sent Jehoyada's son the holy prophet Zachariah to chastise him and influence him to mend his ways. In the Holy Temple, Zachariah admonished both the populace and the ruling mafia for their evil ways and heinous breach of Hashem's Torah. This was in complete contrast to the false prophets who controlled public opinion at the time (much like today's media), telling the populace that everything was fine. It wasn't, as the destruction of the Holy Temple proved several years later.

At any rate, Zechariah's message didn't get many "likes" in the King's Palace, among the bureaucracy or among the general populace. At the nod of King Joash, Zechariah's first cousin who owed his life to Zechariah's father, Zechariah was stoned to death in the premises of the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur that turned out on a Shabbat that year! This was the most despicable deed imaginable, performed on the holiest imaginable day in the holiest imaginable place on earth.

When the Babylonian (ancient Iraq) Army seized Jerusalem and captured the Temple Mount, General Nebuzadran entered the inner chamber of the Holy Temple where the altar is and found the blood of Zachariah boiling on the floor. He asked the priests what that blood was and they told him that it was the remnant of the previous day's sacrifices. He didn't believe them, so he slaughtered a goat to see if the two types of blood were comparable. They were not. Nebuzadran then threatened the priests that he'd rake their flesh if they didn't tell him the truth…

The priests answered, "What can we tell you, sir! There was a prophet among us who rebuked us about matters pertaining to Heavenly service. We ganged up against him and killed him. Alas, for years now his blood has not come to rest."

The General said, "I shall be the one to appease his blood." Nebuzadran then butchered all the members of the Great Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) and the Lesser Sanhedrin, but Zechariah's blood still boiled. He then slaughtered thousands of young priests and young people from priestly families. The blood still boiled. The blood flowed from the Temple Mount down the Kidron Valley like a river. Nebuzadran then spoke to Zachariah's blood and said, "Zachariah, Zachariah! I have destroyed the best of them. Do you want me to kill them all?" The blood immediately came to rest.

When Nebuzadran saw this awesome miracle, he said to himself, "If they, who only killed a single person, were punished in such a way, what will become of me?"

On the spot he fled, giving up his entire lofty station in life and all his property, and became a righteous convert.

***

Don't think that the above episode was a lone one. When King Zedekiah and his false prophets turned to an alliance with Egypt in order to defeat the Babylonians, Jeremiah warned that instead, they should turn to Hashem. He warned that the Temple would be imminently destroyed if the people and the government continue in their evil ways. Politically, this wasn't at all popular. Jeremiah was beaten and thrown into a dungeon (see Jeremiah, ch. 37-38). He paid the price of his political incorrectness, but King Zedekiah and the populace paid a bigger price: Zedekiah's eyes were gouged out (ibid., 52) and the Holy Temple was completely destroyed.

***

Let's do some soul-searching this Rosh Hashanah: has anything changed? Are we any different than Zachariah's generation? Are we too afraid to speak up for truth and justice? Does anyone dare today to be politically incorrect and blow the whistle on public-sanctioned exhibitions of things that the Torah calls abominations? Does anyone dare lift a voice against politically-powerful people who are proven serial child molesters? Does anyone protest the unethical business practices that go on in the workplace?

Iran, Hezbolla and Hamas don't scare me in the least. The lie of political correctness should terrify all of us, for its outcome has been devastating throughout our history. As a New Year's resolution for 5780, we should commit to seek the truth, heed our true spiritual leaders and come back to Hashem. I pray that Hashem will always give us the boldness to buck social convention and immorality and the courage to cling to the truth of His Torah, no matter what the odds or how politically incorrect it may be. My heartfelt blessings for a signature in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, 5780, amen!


Beware of Judgment Traps

Judgment Trap
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (see Likutei Moharan I:113) that before an accused person is finally sentenced in the Heavenly Court, the judges ask that person if he/she agrees to the verdict.

Who would be so daft to agree to a guilty verdict against themselves? You're right - no one. Ah, but here's the trick: If the Heavenly Court would ask us about ourselves, surely we'd have a whole string of "justified" reasons and excuses to get ourselves off the hot-seat. But, the Heavenly Court is crafty; we are asked to judge another person. Our judgment of a fellow human is in effect our judgment against ourselves, what's known as "the judgment trap". Chapter 12 of the Book of Samuel II shows us a prime example:

Nathan the Prophet asked King David for his opinion in judging a difficult matter: "There were two men,” said Nathan, “one rich and one poor. The rich man had very thousands of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing but one small ewe which he cared for in his own house alongside his children. The ewe ate from his bread, drank from his cup, and slept in his midst, just like a daughter.”

Nathan continued. “Then a guest came to the rich man. The wealthy host was too stingy to slaughter any of his own sheep to serve to the guest, and instead took the poor man’s ewe and prepared it for the guest.”

King David was outraged by the haughtiness and hardheartedness of the rich man, and declared, “As G‑d lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay fourfold for the ewe, since he did this and had no pity!”

By issuing a verdict in the case set before him, David had unwittingly set the rules for his own prosecution and conviction!

Nathan the Prophet cried out, “You are the man! David recognized the scope of his sin, admitted his guilt and repented for his actions. Afterwards, Nathan the Prophet conveyed G‑d’s message that He had accepted David's atonement.

We have to be extremely careful to avoid falling into "judgment traps" such as the one described in the above example. Before we voice an opinion, we should stop and think that we may be sentencing ourselves for a very similar misdeed. In order to avoid inadvertently sentencing ourselves with stiff verdicts, we should be lenient and understanding with others.

These last days before Rosh Hashanna are notorious for being weeks of "judgment traps". The best policy is to speak minimally now, limiting our speech to prayer, Torah learning, and nurturing healthy family relations. Limit speech to the barest necessity for whatever business, trade, or profession that we need to make a living. When we do speak, we should exercise extreme caution to avoid judging others. If we do judge others, we should go out of our way to give them the benefit of the doubt, be lenient, tolerant, and understanding. This is especially critical in our judgments of our spouses, children, and parents.

Nobody escapes judgment traps, so don't fall into them in the first place. Hopefully, having become aware of judgment traps, we won't sign harsh verdicts against ourselves or against our fellow human never ever again. May G-d bless all of us for an inscription in the Book of a long and healthy Life for a wonderfful New Year 5780, amen.


Marital Tune-up and Preparing for Rosh Hashana

Marriage Mechanic 23.9.19
Nothing is more frustrating for a couple than not getting along, especially when the husband and wife can’t pinpoint any particular problem. They love each, are more than compatible, yet constant bickering blemishes their marital bliss. They simply seem to be arguing all the time as if some inexplicable atmosphere of tension hovered in their home.

On a spiritual plane, such an inexplicable atmosphere of tension is the result of the couple's uncorrected past sins, which enable stern judgments from Above to linger over their household and disrupt the peace in their home.

It’s ridiculous to let marital peace elude you. The little bickering – unchecked – can escalate, Heaven forbid. A little fine-tuning, especially before Rosh Hashana, will help us nip it in the bud.

Here's how:

Every day we are judged in the Heavenly courts on all of our thoughts, words and deeds.

Every day, each of us is judged about every aspect of our lives. When a person is found guilty of a transgression, he or she is dealt with accordingly. They'll invariably incur some sort of suffering designed as a wake-up call to initiate self-assessment and teshuva for the sin they committed.

Once the judgment has been decided, some form of creation – whether mineral, plant, animal, or human – acts as an emissary to deliver the assigned affliction.

As a result of these judgments from Above, many families find that their home lives are full of strife, arguments, disputes and aggravation. In homes like these, the husband or wife wonders: "I only said one word! How did it blow up into a full-scale fight?" The reason that small issues blow up into such huge arguments is because the Heavenly court has sent a number of judgments down on to their home, causing even mundane matters to become a source of friction and suffering. Once again, that’s the “inexplicable atmosphere of tension.”

As long as they have spiritual “dirty laundry”, in other words, misdeeds that they haven’t atoned for, the husband and wife will have a difficult time in getting along because The Divine Presence is lacking in their home. Until they manage to mitigate the harsh judgments that have been leveled against them, nothing will bring The Divine Presence back. So really, no marital consulting will be effective if the husband and wife don’t repent and thereby erase their outstanding spiritual debits.

Either a couple lives in harmony and the Divine Presence dwells within their home, or they live with the fire of constant strife. There is no third option. A married couple can’t act like two strangers in a Cold War under the same roof with no need for the Divine Presence to be in their home as long as they are acting civilly towards each other. A married couple is a union of two opposites – both spiritually and physically. Without the Hashem’s presence in their home, they can’t even stand to be in each other’s company!

Our sages list a number of transgressions which result in the Divine Presence leaving a person’s home. I prepared this list as an aid for preparing for Rosh Hashana, thus enabling us to identify our shortcomings, get rid of them, and fine-tune our marriage accordingly by bringing the Divine Presence back into our home. They include the following:

  1. Immodesty. For Hashem to allow His Divine Presence to dwell in a couple's home, the man and wife must be modest and holy. The Torah says (Deuteronomy 23:15), “So that He should not see anything unseemly among you and would turn away from you.” If a woman wants the Divine Presence to dwell in her home, she must dress modestly, even in the privacy of her home. Hashem observes the laws of His holy Torah; consequently, He turns away from immodesty.
  2. Flattery. This doesn’t refer to giving a compliment, but it means telling evil that it’s good.
  3. Dishonesty. The Divine Presence can dwell only in a place of truth.
  4. Slander and Gossip. Hashem despises wanton speech, for our powers of speech were meant for holy purposes such as prayer.
  5. Malicious Jest. Hashem loves every human and is sorely grieved in an atmosphere of people making fun of others.
  6. Sadness. The Divine Presence departs from a place where there is no joy.
  7. Anger. Anger is the main reason that Divine Presence departs from a person's home. Marital peace requires an anger-free home.
  8. Dissatisfaction. Whatever their circumstances, a couple should always make every effort to be happy with their lot in life. The Torah warns (Deuteronomy 28:47), that calamity results "Because you did not serve the L-rd, your G-d, with happiness and with gladness of heart."
  9. Whining and Complaining. The single biggest thing guaranteed to bring down a harsh judgment on a person is whining and complaining, for they indicate that a person doesn't appreciate all the many blessings that the Almighty has given him/her.

Teshuva – penitence - not only mitigates harsh judgments, but it enables a person to connect with G-d. Once connected with Hashem, one’s life becomes much smoother. Without teshuva, life becomes a thorny path of endless tribulations. Without Divine assistance, even the smallest undertakings are difficult and unsuccessful. Such a life is full of bitterness and suffering.

People receive tribulations to encourage them to atone for their transgressions. When people scrutinize their own deeds and atone for them, the Almighty has no need to send them any additional suffering. As such, nothing can fine-tune a marriage like a bit of daily teshuva.

Blessings for a wonderful New Year 5780, LB