Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

Last month, the World Health Organization published a report noting that the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.

I cannot speak for the world, but I think that many of us have noticed an uptick in hopelessness and frustration. Problems that might have been solvable three years ago, have exasperated beyond repair. Issues below the surface have now bubbled up, and feelings of despair govern so many interactions.

Anecdotally, I hear these comments often:

”...Rabbi, don't waste your time speaking to them, it's a lost cause.”

“Give up on that idea, it's a lost cause.”

“I'm done with this job. There's no ways that this will work... it's a lost cause...”

“That marriage”, “that kid”, “this idea”, “that job”... All lost causes.

There are countless blogs, books and videos dedicated to explaining the futility of investing time in these lost causes. Perhaps, sometimes, that advice is correct. But this week I was asked a different question, from a father of a former student, asking from a place of deep pain: “Rabbi, We have an old tradition of a prayer for lost objects, but is there a Tefillah for lost causes?”

The answer, I believe, is unequivocally, yes. Indeed, it seems that the Tefillah for lost causes and lost objects is the same: אלקא דמאיר ענני – (Elo-ha D'Meir Anneni). More than any other day, the time to daven for these lost causes, is this Motzei Shabbos, which is Pesach Sheni.

In order to understand this, a little history is in order.

In the late 19th century, as Jews began to make our steady return to Eretz Yisrael, we experienced an explosion of cross-pollination of minhagim. Ashkenazim met Sephardim, who met Chassdim who met Teimanim, and responsa from those years contain some colorful analysis of these customs.

One such example is found in the Sdei Chemed of Rabbi Yechezkiya Chaim Chizkiya Medini (ח”א אסיפת דינים מערכת ארץ-ישראל דף ד ע”א).

The Sdei Chemed writes of a Sephardic custom – a new Yom Tov of sorts – that was being celebrated in Teveria. The Yom Tov in question was Pesach Sheni. Of course, Pesach Sheni is not new, indeed, its observance dates back to the second year after Yetzias Mitzraim.

But the novelty of this new celebration was that it was held annually at the grave of the great Tanna Rabbi Meir, and was referred to as the “Hillula of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes”.

Truthfully, we have no source anywhere that explicitly tells us that Rabbi Meir's Yahrzeit is on Pesach Sheni, raising questions as to the origin of this custom. The Sdei Chemed relates that some suggested that celebrating Rabbi Meir on this date developed as more Jews began making their way to Meiron for Lag Ba'Omer. Others noted that the Yeshiva next to Rabbi Meir's Kever was founded on Pesach Sheni, and thus this date took on a new identity.

Regardless of the origin, the connection between Rabbi Meir and Pesach Sheni is more than mere happenstance.

The Talmud relates a fundamental argument about the nature of lost causes:

בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בִּזְמַן שֶׁאַתֶּם נוֹהֲגִים מִנְהַג בָּנִים אַתֶּם קְרוּיִם בָּנִים אֵין אַתֶּם נוֹהֲגִים מִנְהַג בָּנִים אֵין אַתֶּם קְרוּיִם בָּנִים דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי יְהוּדָה. רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר בֵּין כָּךְ וּבֵין כָּךְ אַתֶּם קְרוּיִם בָּנִים

“You are the sons to the Lord your God,” indicates that when you act like sons and cleave to the Holy One, Blessed be He, you are called sons, but when you do not act like sons you are not called sons. This is the statement of Rabbi Yehuda. And Rabbi Meir says: Either way you are still called sons...

Rabbi Meir is one who believes that no sin, no failure, no catastrophe could remove our status as “Children of Hashem.”

For Rabbi Meir, there is no such thing as lost causes, and there is no such thing as lost objects.

Connecting to Rabbi Meir's perspective means understanding that from Hashem's vantage point, everything is always still there. It is only to us that something appears lost. For Rabbi Meir, loss and failure are illusions borne out of distance from Hashem, and in acknowledging our own limitations, we might allow ourselves just enough space to see the world from Hashem's perspective.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains this idea with a beautiful metaphor: When we want to see something in the distance, we squint our eyes in order to focus better. Effectively, we are shutting out the images from our immediate surroundings so that we are able to see further.

But sometimes the thing we are looking for is far beyond our vision. In such a case, we close our eyes entirely. In doing so, we shut out our own perspective, and allow Hashem to do the seeing.

For this reason the Tefillah is not אלקא דרבי מאיר ענני – God of Rabbi Meir, Answer me! Rather, we daven אלקא דמאיר ענני – God who illuminates, Answer me!

This great vision of Rabbi Meir, however, is rooted on the day that he is celebrated: Pesach Sheni – the day of second chances.

The Torah tells us that on the occasion of the first Pesach in the Midbar, a small group of Jews came to Moshe and complained that due to their impurity, they had not been able to bring the Korban Pesach. Their cry, “Why should we be left out?”, is answered by Hashem in the most remarkable way: Nothing is lost, you get another chance.

R' Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin explains:

כי יש תקוה לכל נפש מישראל אפילו לטמא ושהיה בדרך רחוקה במזיד שהתרחק עצמו מלגשת אל הקודש ואפ”ה עושה פס”ש For there is hope for each and every Jew, even one who is impure. Even one who had intentionally distanced himself from Kedusha. Even so, he is invited to Pesach Sheni.

This Motzei Shabbos is Pesach Sheni; the Yom Tov of Rabbi Meir, the birthday of second chances. Hashem should help us to close our eyes and see the world through His. Hashem who illuminates, please answer us.

It's a painful thing for me to admit, but over the past few years, I have developed mixed emotions regarding Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

Of course, I am profusely grateful to the Ribono Shel Olam for granting our generation the miracle that is the State of Israel. I have no confusion regarding His Hand guiding us out from Hell of the Death Camps and into our own homeland. My feelings towards Hashem are crystal clear – כי גבר עלינו חסדו – His kindness is overwhelming.

The source of my emotional turmoil is about myself, my family and my community. Every year on Yom Ha'atzmaut, I watch the celebrations in Israel; I see the joy on their faces. I can't help compare it to the strained and farcical performances that we attempt, and I find myself questioning once again: What on earth are we doing in Boca?

Naturally, I have explanations. Some good ones, I think. Truthfully, I don't think that Hashem is upset with me, or even disappointed that I am living here. I think we're all doing some pretty good things. There are plenty of Halachik justifications for being here now.

But in every one of the these explanations there is a little guilt in knowing that perhaps it doesn't quite have to be this way. Perhaps there are good things to do in Eretz Yisrael too? Perhaps we don't have to live only on the side lines of Jewish history?

We tell ourselves that we don't know if we will be able to make it work in Israel. It's not a secret that Aliyah is not exactly a walk in the park. Even for those who have financial means and children at an age that their education will not be disrupted, there are countless unforeseen challenges. Chazal (ברכות ה' ע”א) have already warned us about this: The Land of Israel נקנית ביסורין – it's acquired through challenges.

But then again, there are challenges everywhere, Florida included. We are not so foolish to imagine that any one place can guarantee a life absent of hardship. It's simply not true.

The more I have thought about it, and spoken to friends, family and colleagues, the greatest challenge of Eretz Yisrael lies in the uncertainty.

To summarize countless conversations: Maybe my Aliyah will succeed, maybe it will fail. If it succeeds, we will merit to live at the forefront of Jewish history, and witness destiny unfolding before our eyes. But if it fails, there's a very real risk of ruining our own lives and the lives of our families.

Let's not pretend that there are no horror stories of children of Olim that have abandoned Torah and mitzvos, and wholeheartedly resent their parents for bringing them to Israel. This is real.

For families of modest means, with children in school and doubt about the prospects of their success in Israel, staying in Chutz La'Aretz is the far smarter option. For most of us, it's a decision made with honest and intelligent analysis. It's a choice driven by the head, but tragically, not the heart.

As our hearts burn with Ahavas Eretz Yisrael, this head-decision is a painful and shameful one, one we wish was not so. The truth is, of course, that the accuracy of this decision is likely only correct in the immediate-short term.

Right now in the US we have a modicum of short term control of our future, and the futures of our children. From the top, we have strong communities, governmental representation, and wide networks of leadership. On a smaller and more granular level, we can point to the success and growth of schools, shuls, mikvaos, yeshivos, camps and kosher sushi. With enough resources we can ensure that Jewish live in Florida is good. We hope and pray that it is so good that our kids would not want to consider abandoning Yiddishkeit for something else. This doesn't always work out, as we all know, but historically, the odds have been in our favor.

But even if we could guarantee that our children and their children would live wonderful, passionate, learned lives steeped in Torah and mitzvos here in Florida, how far is the reach of our certainty? Will our children be able to pass on our Yiddishkeit to their children in a world that is changing so rapidly?

The US Jewish Community is facing unprecedented and tragic assimilation, intermarriage, and a ceaseless upending of moral paradigms. College campuses across this country are breeding grounds for anti-semitism and atheism, all in the name of western morality. Is there anyone that holds the keys to ensuring the continued success of US Jewish communities? Has anyone devised the cultural life-raft to carry our grandchildren over the waves of societal pressure that are constantly pressuring us to become a little less “Jew-y”.

I do not think I am mistaken in saying that in long term, the future of our nation is in Eretz Yisrael. The problem is that we simply have no idea what the time lines are for American Jews.

This year, 10000 Ukrainian Jews have already made Aliyah. Some estimate that up to ten times that amount might still be arriving. The vast majority of these new Olim did not plan on making Aliyah this year. They fled war torn Ukraine to the only place that could offer them safety. For these Jews, the variables in the calculus of if and when to move to Israel changed over night.

This is not Ukraine and our concerns here are not nearly as dire right now. There is still a wealth of growth, vibrancy, and Avodas Hashem to achieve in this Goldena Medina. But all of this means that we are living in a unique and almost unprecedented window of clarity. Our future is in Israel. Our present is in the US. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to navigate this journey on our own terms.

We might well be the first generation in the history of our nation to be able to plan for the sunsetting of our presence on foreign soil with dignity. With careful consideration, as individuals and communities, we may be able to proudly close the book on Galus America.

At the end of every Seuda we ask Hashem:

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁבּוֹר עֻלֵּנוּ מֵעַל צַּוָּארֵנוּ, וְהוּא יוֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ May the All-merciful break the yoke from off our neck, and lead us upright to our land.

The Sfas Emes explains: The word קוֹמְמִיוּת – “Uprightness” literally means double-story. That is to say, we are asking Hashem for a fullness of external and physical success, as well internal fortitude and spiritual depth.

I dare say, but the tefillos of thousands of our ancestors might finally have been answered for our community in this generation. More than anyone that came before us, we have the possibility of walking upright to our land. We have the chance to run towards Eretz Yisrael, without running away from hatred and war.

All that is left is for us to do it.

This Yom Ha'atzmaut I'm grateful to Hashem for giving us this opportunity. More than anything else, I am asking Him for the wisdom and clarity to come home with our heads held high.

I have a theory: It is far easier to count Sefiras HaOmer with a Bracha, than to continue counting without.

I have not done extensive research on the question. But anecdotally, I have met very few Jews (if any) who are as diligent in counting after missing a day as they were beforehand.

To understand this phenomenon, we should begin with some Halachik clarity.

We are obligated to count forty-nine days, and seven weeks, from the second night of Pesach until Shavuos. There is a well known debate whether this obligation to count is one large mitzvah, or 49 separate mitzvos. The vast majority of opinions hold that there are 49 separate obligations. However, in deference to the opinion of the Behag, the Shulchan Aruch rules that if one forgot to count a day of Sefira, one should continue to count without a bracha. (Since we do not make brachos in cases of doubt.)

Practically speaking, The Shulchan Aruch rules that we should still count Sefiras HaOmer everyday, even after skipping a day. Even after skipping forty eight days. We should still count – just without a Bracha. The Mishna Berura adds that in such a situation, we should make sure to hear the bracha from someone else.

But that is not what happens in our lives and communities. It is far more difficult – emotionally – to count sefira without a bracha than with a bracha! As far as the Shulchan Aruch is concerned, it's obvious that we should keep counting. But no one does, because our Yetzer Hara, apparently demands absolute success, or insists on failure.

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A few weeks ago at BRS West, we hosted a wonderful Shabbos Dinner with a number of families from NCSY / JSU. It was a beautiful evening of learning, growing and connecting. Teens from our community were excited to share their Shabbos experience with teens who don't often have such opportunities. These Shabbos meals are not new to NCSY / JSU. While Aliza and I worked for NCSY, we enjoyed making those connections on a weekly basis.

Unique to this Shabbos, however, was the chance for parents in our shul to sit around a Shabbos table with parents from a vastly different background. It started a little awkward – as expected – but Jews have more in common than what divides us, and soon conversations were flowing.

Before benching and dessert, we opened the floor to our guests for a Q&A; addressing anything on their minds about Torah and Yiddiskheit. It was a robust and honest conversation.

In the course of the following hour, we discussed everything from observance to anti-semitism, the eternity of our people, our mission in history, our relationship with Hashem, and the nature of reward and punishment.

Of course, none of these could be fully covered during a single Friday night schmooze and we all concluded that there needed to be a round two sometime soon.

Just as we were wrapping up, one of the fathers raised his hand “Rabbi, I understand what you're saying about our mission and purpose. But I still cannot accept that God, who you say loves us, and cares about us, could allow centuries of pain, persecution and suffering for His people. Without understanding this, how can I commit to a deeper relationship with Him?”

I took a deep breath. “It's profound question, an old question. One that I cannot answer any better than Moshe Rabbeinu could. There is so much we don't know; that we'll never know.”

He looked vindicated. I continued:

“None of us will never be able to explain Hashem to you, or even ourselves. There are questions that are beyond us. What bothers me more is not the questions that we cannot answer, but the ones that we can, and still don't.”

He was curious. So we each got some chocolate pudding, and sat down to discuss. Pesach was on everyones mind, so that's where we began...

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This week, our world will be shrinking.

This is not a deep or philosophical statement. It has nothing to do with current events or geopolitics. It's all about Pesach, and where we are not allowed to be.

In a very real way, spaces and places in our homes that are usually fair game will soon become out of bounds. The living room used to be a fun place to munch on a chewy bar but not any more! Invisible boundaries will quickly materialize; that which was normal yesterday, will become strictly off-limits.

Our kids do not enjoy this process. “Don't touch that! No food in that room! Pasta gets eaten outside!”

Most upsetting for our children is the steadily depleting supply of snacks – which will not be replenished until after Pesach. Last year, two days before pesach, one of my children opened the pantry to find nothing of interest, other than raisins (Gasp!). It was a tough day in the Blumenthal home.

Aside from the first-world-problems that our children are subjected to, we, as their parents, will be having a challenging week as well.

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On Sunday I came home to find Aliza sitting on the couch feeding our baby. She was crying. Concerned, I asked what was wrong? What happened? She told me that a teen had fallen to his death at an amusement park in Orlando. It's a picture that's difficult to unsee.

Undoubtably, the horror of this tragedy strikes close to our hearts, and the sadness and shock made its way into our home.

On Monday, I walked into class and found my students embroiled in a heated debate about whether it was appropriate to slap another person in public for insulting ones spouse. Some of my students were raising their voices. Tensions were high, and apparently, the anger on display at the Oscars made its way into our classroom.

Last week, watching the levaya of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and hearing some of the hespedim filled me with sadness and tenderness, grief and gratitude. I hope that I have shared some of those feelings with my family, community, friends and students.

It's not a secret: Emotions are contagious. An event that happens to another person in another place that we don't even know can trigger a powerful wave of feelings, that, in turn can affect the people around us. But there is a peculiarity to these effects, because the strength of our emotional response is sometimes bizarrely disproportionate.

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At the 13th Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi in NY, Rav Chaim Kanievsky זצוק״ל was live streamed from his tiny apartment in Bnei Brak. After making the Siyum, they asked Rav Chaim to give a Bracha to all those who had finished Shas. He responded, with his signature smile to those who finished Shas: “You should merit to know Shas.”

We all know that qualitatively, there's a big difference between finishing and knowing. Of those that finish Shas, there are few who know it, and none that know it like Rav Chaim knew it.

In a those few short words, Rav Chaim exposed the shame of most learners of the Daf Yomi. We simply don't know it. And he gave us all a bracha to remedy that fact.

Of course, the same is true of any intellectual endeavor. Merely completing a study of the material does not automatically convey knowledge. Once we have finished it, we need to constantly review and relearn it until we assimilate the material into our minds. And even once we have mastered a particular text or curriculum, we are charged with the constant battle against forgetting.

For this reason, Talmud Torah is a lifelong pursuit. We are constantly staving off the forgetfulness that threatens to wipe away our efforts. If we take the obligation of knowing Torah seriously, it necessitates a certain anxiety for which a diligent commitment to Torah is the antidote. Although, antidote is probably the wrong word. The anxiety never really goes away, some of us simply get better at remembering. Others tragically settle, exchanging nervousness for sadness. We adjust our expectations so that we don't really expect that we'll ever achieve “knowing”.

I seems then, that a life of Talmud Torah is a life of managing the anxiety of future failure, and/or the depression of never achieving success. True Simcha in Torah and Mitzvos is thus, by definition, quite rare, and reserved for the privileged few who are capable of superhuman efforts. This, in itself, is devastatingly disheartening.

But it doesn't need to be this way.

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A few weeks ago, as I walked into shiur, my talmidim were already embroiled in a halachic debate. The question: Should you make a bracha before eating non-kosher food?

Before they asked for my thoughts, they told me the parameters of the question: Firstly, this is not a life-and-death situation. You know that this not kosher, and you also know that eating non-kosher food is prohibited. You are not starving and there are other food options available. You simply want to eat the non-kosher item.

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Megillah

  • All Jews over the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah are obligated in hearing the Megillah. Children should be encouraged to attend Megillah for as long as they can without disturbing.
  • The night Megillah reading should begin after dark. This year in Boca Raton, after 8:05PM.
  • The day Megillah should be read after sunrise. This year in Boca Raton, after 7:28AM. One should not delay the mitzvah of Megillah, but in extenuating circumstances, the Megillah can be read at any point throughout the day. The latest time to conclude the Megillah is sunset: 7:30PM.

Mishloach Manos

  • The purpose of Mishloach Manos is to increase friendship amongst Klal Yisrael (Manos HaLevi, Ester 9:20), and to ensure that every Jew has food for Seudat Purim (Terumas HaDeshen 111). Both men and women are obligated in Mishloach Manos.
  • The obligation is fulfilled by giving two foods to one person on Purim day. (Shulchan Aruch OC 695:4)
    • The items should be fully prepared foods that are usually eaten at a Seuda. (Meat, chicken, fish, bread, kugel, wine etc...)
    • These foods may have the same bracha, so long as they are two distinct portions.
  • In addition to the obligation of Mishloach Manos, many have the custom of giving gift/goodie bags to friends and neighbors. These do not have to be “ready for Seuda items.”
  • One fulfills the obligation of Mishloach Manos by contributing to the Shul's Mishloach Manos drive.

Matanos L'Evyonim

  • Both men and women are obligated to give Matanos L'evyonim. The purpose of Matanos L'Evyonim is to ensure that no Jew feels left out from the Simcha of Purim. It is better to upgrade our gifts to poor than to upgrade the Seuda or Mishloach Manos. (Rambam Hilchos Purim 2:17)
  • The obligation is fulfilled by giving a minimum of a “perutah” (approximately $1.25) to at least two poor people on Purim day.
  • One fulfills the obligation of Matanos L'Evyonim by contributing to the Shul's Matanos L'Evyonim. This money will be distributed on Purim day.
  • You can give ahead of Purim by visiting brsonline.org/mle

Zecher L'Machatzis HaShekel

  • In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, one was obligated in paying dues to the Beis HaMikdash. In the absence of this mitzvah, we give a sum of money to commemorate this mitzvah (Rama 694:1).
  • Some have the minhag to give it before Mincha of Ta'anis Ester, while some have the minhag to give it after Mincha but before reading of the Megillah.
  • Ashkenazic minhag is to give three coins which are half the value of the common coin in that time and place. In America, the minhag is to give three half dollars.
  • Sephardic minhag is to give an amount worth 7.5-10 grams of pure silver (Kaf HaChaim 694:20). At todays price, approximately $8.25.

Mishteh

  • During the Seudah, one should have intent that one is eating the meal in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Seudas Purim.
  • The meal should be eaten with friends and family during Purim day.
  • The meal should ideally consist of meat and wine (Rambam Megillah 2:15). The seudah can, however, be fulfilled by eating other foods.

Ad D’lo Yada

  • It is important to prioritize the mitzvos of proper Chinuch, Derech Eretz and looking after our health and wellbeing over the obligation of getting drunk on Purim. This can be fulfilled by drinking slightly more than one is used to.
  • In general, there are many mitzvos that we can choose to be strict about. If one is looking for chumros, drinking on Purim should not be the first place to start.

Avelim

  • During the year of mourning for a parent, one is obligated in Mishloach Manos and Matanos L'Evyonim as usual. However, Mishloach Manos should not be given to the mourner.
  • Mourners may accept Mishloach Manos that are given to them. (Best practice is to address Mishloach Manos to the family, rather than an individual.)
  • Mourners are likewise obligated in the mitzvah of Seuda, taking care that it not be excessive in size or attendance.

”...From Refidim to Shushan, and from Shushan to France, and from France to Spain, and from Spain to Ukraine... The length of our 'Parshas Zachor' is too terrifying to hear.”B'Ikvos HaYirah pg.34

These frighteningly relevant words were not written this week. They were said over 100 years ago in Berlin by Rabbi Avraham Elya Kaplan, the brilliant talmid of Teshe and Slabodka. At the age of thirty, he was was appointed to Rosh Yeshiva of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, a position that he held until his tragic passing just four years later.

I am now older than Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan was when he left this world, and this year is the first time that I have witnessed an inkling of the war-torn world that defined his life in the early 20th century.

It seems so distant to us now, but for most of Jewish history, we didn't need an annual Torah reading to remind us about Amalek. The scars on our skin and the pain in our hearts were sufficient reminders that there was real evil in the world.

But our generation has been fortunate. We are living in a period historians have called “the long peace”; almost eighty years since world powers met in direct combat. Perhaps that peace is now over, though we daven that it not be.

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