Holidays

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.


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


Cramming Syndrome

Cramming Syndrome 20.9.19
Karen and Richie were both physical education majors at the University of Maryland's College Park campus. Both were superb all-around athletes, each with a specialty: a remarkable gymnast, Karen was looking forward to a career as a fitness trainer and gymnastics coach while Richie aspired to be a top-level strength-and-conditioning expert and swimming coach. They had much in common and planned to get married after graduating. Meanwhile, you'd always find them together, whether in the same classes or mostly enjoying outdoor and athletic activities. They played tennis and golf together and on weekends they'd go on long bike rides along the old Potomac River towpath near Seneca, Maryland or drive down for sun & surf at Ocean City.

Just as Karen and Richie loved the same things, they hated the same things. Their pet hate was Organic Chemistry 202. This was a required course for phys-ed majors just as it was required for pre-med students. There was no way around it. Karen and Richie could easily breeze through most of their studies, but there was no way to breeze through Organic Chem – you had to sit yourself down at a desk and learn, then learn, then learn some more. Were it not for this nemesis, their university days would have been play-school paradise, but alas, there's always a bump in the road...

Having cut most of their classes, the happy-go-lucky boyfriend and girlfriend decided that the bald-headed nerd who taught Organic Chem couldn't teach them anything that wasn't in the textbook; all the formulas and types of compounds seemed clear, no different than what the instructor was writing on the blackboard, so why sit in class on a balmy Maryland springtime afternoon, when you could be sunbathing or water skiing on the Chesapeake Bay?

The clock never stopped ticking; minutes, hours, days and weeks transpired until the ax suddenly hovered above their necks – final exams. They had only three days to prepare for Judgment Day in Organic Chem. That's when the talk about cramming started...

Karen and Richie didn't really open a book until 48 hours before the final exam. A 452-page text book in Organic Chemistry is quite different from a 452-page novel. It's not something  a person can sail through. Sometime, one can struggle with a single solitary page for a week. So, how do you cram 452 pages of ions, anions, carbonates, oxides, alcohols, phenols and carbides in three days?

First, you pull all-nighters.

You would think that phys-ed majors and fitness freaks don't do things that are detrimental to their health. Not so, if they're hit with the cramming syndrome…

How does one go for two days without sleeping? Phys-ed majors or not, you destroy your body and your brain with over-the-counter No-Doze pills and drink Turkish coffee and RedBull as if they were water. In short, you become a zombie with big black circles under your eyes and heart palpitations at the ripe old age of 22.

After the exam, the campus couple crashed, and it took a good two weeks for them to recover from the trauma they brought upon their bodies. Is it worth it? OK, even if they did pass the test (barely), they didn't retain a single thing of what they crammed. Consequently, the cramming added nothing to their education or personal development, except for enabling them to get their degrees. And, that's the best-case scenario...

***

Don't think that the cramming syndrome is only characteristic of university students like Karen and Richie.  Many folks suffer from it too. All year long, they do what they like, forgetting that they too have a day of “final exams”, when the Heavenly Court examines a person's every deed, spoken word and thought for the entire year. This final exam is the annual judgment day, known as Rosh Hashana. This final exam is no joke – it's life and death, as we say in the Rosh Hashana liturgy, “Who by fire, who by flood, who by the sword, and who by a wild animal...”

How do we prepare for such a final exam? Who can possibly account for what they thought, said or did nine, six or even three months ago?

Fortunately, The Almighty gave us a week of "Selichot", when we ask forgiveness and move into repentance mode. Beginning this coming Saturday night, we simply admit to Hashem what we did wrong, ask His forgiveness and pray for His help in improving ourselves. Penitenec, or teshuva as we say in Hebrew, is the "spiritual shower" required to maintain one's spiritual hygiene, where people should assess themselves and rectify what needs correcting every single day.

Obviously, the best course of action is to devote an hour a day to personal prayer, when we examine everything we did in the last 24 hours and do our necessary teshuva. That way, there's no need for cramming the year's 365 days – which we can't possibly remember everything that requires correcting – into the few remaining days before Rosh Hashana. Yet, most people stall until the last week or the last three days. That's tough…

It's tough to cram in a week. Yet, our compassionate and merciful Father in Heaven knows that we're human, so He gives us a one-week cramming period every year before Rosh Hashana – it's called the Selichot Week. Let's get to work! Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat and a very happy New Year 5780, LB


Tips for a Safe and Healthy Fast Day

Bayit Shlishi 6.8.19

Above image - dreaming of the Holy Temple, which we all lament for on the fast day of Tisha B'Av

This year, Tisha B'Av - the day of the worst calamities that befell the Jewish people - falls on sundown, August 10, and continues until the stars appear on Sunday evening, August 11, 2019.

Since this is a fast day during the year's warmest weather, it's a challenge. A person could be especially susceptible to headaches, extreme weakness, dehydration and hypoglycemia, when blood-sugar levels fall dangerously low. With a few precautions and proper preparation for the fast, the dangers can be avoided and the fast can actually be safe and healthy.

Before the fast:

  1. Beginning with Friday morning, 36 hours before the fast, try drinking a glass of water every hour.
  2. On Thursday night and Friday, eat salty foods (this is no mistake!) such as pickles, olives and goat cheese. These are all the foods that people with edema avoid, for they help retain fluid and therefore prevent dehydration. To avoid thirst, stop eating these foods on the day that the fast begins, namely all day Shabbat (Saturday).
  3. Avoid sugary and starchy foods this Shabbat, for they have a high glycemic index (GI) and therefore cause a deeper GI Levelsplunge in blood sugar levels shortly after eating (see adjacent graphic).
  4. Eat plenty of good quality protein - eggs, fish and high quality pasture-fed (organic, if available) beef and poultry - protein is satiating and will provide slow-release energy during the fast, since they are complex food stuffs that require longer time to digest.
  5. Stay away from coffee and caffeine for 24 hours before the beginning of the fast. Drink herb tea instead.
  6. My favorite rule of thumb is to focus on eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible, not only making the coming fast easier and healthier but promoting better blood sugar balance and better digestion, both of which lead to better weight control. 

After the fast:

Be careful, for after the fast, your blood sugar levels are at their lowest. The worst thing you can do (a cardinal nutrition sin that many congregations commit) is to dive into the coke, fruit juices and pastries the moment the fast is over. This drives blood sugar through the roof and creates a shock to the body; this could actually trigger diabetes, Heaven forbid. What's more, drastic rises and falls in blood sugar cause headaches, nausea and fatigue. In order to avoid this, takes the following precautions:

  1. Break your fast with a glass of ice-water and high-fiber foods such as celery sticks or whole grain/bran crackers.
  2. Add to the above a portion of protein, such as cottage cheese or goat cheese, which will also slow the rise of your blood sugar level.
  3. Avoid all sugary substances, soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and pastries - these are downright dangerous at the end of a fast.
  4. Drink at least 2 glasses of water an hour for the first 4 hours after the fast. This will replenish the body's fluids and slow the increase of blood sugar levels.
  5. Don't eat a heavier meal until at least an hour after breaking your fast in the above manner; preferably, do some light exercise (like a 30-minute walk) before having a heavier meal.

Feel free to pass the above advice along to friends and family. Even better, send them this link so that they can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We have no doubt that the above tips will not only make your fast more bearable, but safe and healthy as well! Every blessing, and may we soon see our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedy and in our day, amen!


Goat Milk vs. Cow Milk

Goat Milk 7.6
Shavuot is the holiday where we have a tradition of serving dairy products. With many people, that's problematic because of lactose intolerance, which leads to indigestion, bloating, flatulence and irregularity. Ironically, despite the hype, cow milk actually bleeds the body of calcium and can lead to osteoporosis.  What's more, many suffer from milk allergies; a glass of milk is liable to make them break out in acne.

So what do you do, especially of Shavuot? Substitute the "moo" - cow milk, for "maa'aah", goat milk. Even if cow milk doesn't cause you problems, goat milk is umpteen times healthier. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Goat milk is more digestible - the protein in goat milk forms a softer curd than cow milk – and this also decreases the irritation that one might otherwise experience with cow milk.
  2. Goat milk is great for heart health - it contributes to the healthy type of cholesterol - HDL - without upping the bad type of cholesterol, the LDL. What's more, it's a fantastic source of magnesium.
  3. Goat milk combats inflammation - in Israel, we use goat milk to combat mouth sores. Since goat milk is less acidic than cow milk, people with ulcers can also drink it.
  4. As opposed to cow milk, the calcium in goat milk adds to bone strength and reduces the chances of osteoporosis.
  5. Goat milk is a better metabolic agent than cow milk - it boosts the metabolic utilization of minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. It also has A2 beta-casein, which is far healthier than A1 beta-casein that cow milk contains.
  6. Goat milk works well for lactose-intolerant people who can't drink cow milk.
  7. Goat milk more closely resembles human milk and is therefore healthier for babies and toddlers than cow milk and is the next best thing to mother's milk.

The only disadvantage I can think of when it comes to goat's milk is the high price. But, when considering its health advantages and great taste, it's worth it!

By the way, people think that the "Land of milk and honey" (Exodus 13:5) - none other than our holy Land of Israel - refers to cow milk and bee honey. Wrong! The Gemara in tractate Ketubot 111b says the words 'flowing with milk and honey' refer to milk that flows from goats’ (udders) and honey that flows from trees, particularly dates.

With the above in mind, we recommend the "maa'aah" (neigh) of the goat over the "moo" of the cow. Try it, and may you have the best Shavuot ever. Yours with blessings, LB


Fruit of the Soul

With Hashem's loving grace, our emuna broadcasts are back. We hope to record weekly, G-d willing. Meanwhile, today's lesson prepares us for Shavuot, this coming Saturday night and Sunday in Israel, and Monday as well outside of Israel.

In today's lesson, we talk about the four types of fruit mentioned in the Talmud - fruit of the field, fruit of the womb, fruit of one's labors and fruit of the soul. What is fruit of the soul, and what's its connection to the Shavuoth holiday? Here's your answer and we hope you enjoy it:

Fruit of the Soul from lazerbrody on Vimeo.