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The Laws of the Three Weeks #1

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 19, 2013

The Talmud (Bava Basra) relates that after the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash (Temple) there were many people who stopped eating meat and drinking wine altogether. Rabbi Yehoshua asked them why they have such a practice and they explained that since the sacrifices are no longer, how can they eat meat? And since the wine libations have stopped, how can they drink wine?

Rabbi Yehoshua then asked them why they eat bread since the meal offerings have stopped, or why they eat fruit since the first fruit ceremony is no longer. The people agreed with each one his claims saying that they would find something else to eat. Finally, Rabbi Yehoshua suggested that they stop drinking water because of the yearly water libation ceremony that took place in the Bais HaMikdash. At that point, the people realized their approach was not going to work.

Rabbi Yehoshua then shared with them a more balanced approach. On the one hand, he said, we must mourn the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. On the other hand, we cannot institute decrees that cannot be kept. Therefore, he suggested, we will have some limited and doable laws of mourning throughout the entire year. There are three weeks  a year when we spend more time and effort in to mourning the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and Yerushalayim. Why those dates specifically and what we are expected to do over those days will be discussed over the next few weeks.

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Help Comes From God

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 18, 2013

An abridged version of a sermon I once gave on the topic of suffering, printed in last week’s Baltimore Jewish Times:

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Eizer/ K’negdo: A Healthy Relationship

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 17, 2013

Parshas Chukas

Jerry was at a marriage seminar, and the leader of the seminar, a lady, was asking everybody how long they were married for. When it was Jerry’s turn Jerry said that he was married for almost 50 years. “Wow” the leader gushed “that’s amazing, perhaps you can take a few minutes to share some insights with everybody, how you stayed married to the same woman for so long.”

“Well,” Jerry said after thinking for a few moments, “I try to treat her nice, buy her presents, take her on trips…………. and best of all, for our 25th anniversary I took her to the Bahamas.”

“Well that’s really beautiful, and a true inspiration for all of us” the lady said “maybe you can tell us what you are going to do for your 50th anniversary” she said with a smile

“Well” Jerry said “I’m thinking of going back to the Bahamas to pick her up.”

We are celebrating today the aufruf and the upcoming marriage of David Hausse who will be marrying Etti Chayun. So before I continue I’d like to wish a very big Mazel tov on behalf of the entire congregation to Charles and Lynn Hausse, and to the entire Hausse family, to Moti and Eileen Chayun and the entire Chayun family, and to the proud grandfather, Marvin Keyser, and the entire Keyser and Shwartzman family. Mazel Tov!

David, I am sure over the next few days you will be bombarded by people giving you marriage advice. And it’s a funny thing – When you got your driver’s license, I can’t imagine that too many people cared to share with you driving tips. And the same is true for when you went to college – I can’t imagine you had people telling you the best way to study or to take notes. But when it comes to marriage everyone is lining up to tell you their advice on how to live a happy life together. And the obvious reason is because it’s not so easy. The statistics of failed marriages are much higher than car accidents or college dropouts. And so today I’d like to join the crowd and share with you a model; an understanding of marriage that I believe to be a rather healthy one. It does not involve leaving your wife in the Bahamas for twenty-five years.

To better appreciate this model, I think it’s important to first analyze two models which are unhealthy. Two models which cause quite a lot of stress and unhappiness in marriage. The first model is inspired by Bill Withers. It’s called the “Lean on me” model. It’s probably the one we are most familiar with, thanks to popular culture. You find this model expressed in song lyrics like, “I need you” or “Without you I’m incomplete.” It’s the idea that two people cannot function and cannot make it through life’s challenges on their own. It’s the classic love story of two people who on their own have flaws but together they compliment and compensate for one another.

It’s a nice idea, and on some level, we as Jews believe that through marriage one can find completion, but it’s also a dangerous idea. That is because when two people become so intertwined with one another, their concept of self and their self-regard becomes totally dependent on their significant other.

A classic manifestation of this is a spouse coming home to find his/her spouse in a lousy mood. In a matter of minutes, the “lean on me” spouse is also in a bad mood. And before you know it, they’re both grumpy and miserable. Or perhaps a more severe example, just as common, if a spouse in a “lean on me” relationship insults or offends the other spouse. Oh boy is that going to hurt! And that’s because each spouse’s self-worth is totally dependent on the other. If my boss insults me I could manage. But if my spouse insults me, and I rely on them for my self-esteem, I’ve just been deflated. That’s the “lean on me model”.

There’s another model that stands at the opposite side of the spectrum and that is when two spouses are totally indifferent. Basically, a husband and wife are room-mates. They live next to each other, they may share children, and their lives intersect from time to time but there is no deep emotional connection. This often happens as couples get older or worse, when a spouse who leaned on the other got tired of getting burned in the process and so the spouses each pull back until they live in their own parallel worlds. It goes without saying that being in an indifferent relationship is painful and certainly not the ideal.

So now we’re ready to appreciate the third model, one that is inspired by Jewish sources and customs. How does the Torah describe the idea of marriage? What is Judaism’s understanding of the relationship between a husband and wife?

The place to begin is obviously in the book of Bereishis where we read about G-d creating Eve. We find G-d commenting about Adam, “Lo tov heyos ha’Adam levado, It’s not good that man is all alone, E’eseh lo eizer k’negdo, I will make him an eizer, which means a help, someone to lean on, k’negdo, which means opposite him. Eizer k’negdo, a helper/ opposite him.”

Our Sages observe and ask the obvious question – these two terms are by definition contradictory. A helper is one we lean upon and someone who is opposite us means that we cannot lean on them, they stand away from us. Which one is it?

And I believe that the answer is both. The Torah, when it introduces to us the concept of union between two spouses is teaching us that we must live somewhere between these two poles. That our spouses are on the one hand people we lean upon – the idea that we are one. And at the same time, our spouses stand apart from us – we each have our own identity. Eizer and k’negdo are both true – the challenge of marriage is striking the right balance. Marriage is a balancing act between being so incredibly intimately connected and at the same time maintaining some personal space; recognizing that we are different and apart.

This idea of balancing ‘me’ and ‘we’ is also expressed in the mitzvot that relate to marriage. One of the most recent ancient cities in Israel to be excavated is right near a city called Modiin Ilit. In the excavations the archeologist found a Synagogue in the center of the town, they found numerous homes, and they also found a mikvah – a ritual bath. And that’s because no city was ever inhabited with Jews unless they first built a ritual bath. In the Mishna, our Sages teach us that building a mikvah takes precedence to building a synagogue. We are even allowed to sell a sefer Torah to receive funds from which to build a mikvah. Why? Why is a mikvah and family purity such a big deal?

I believe it’s because a mikvah and family purity represent this exact idea; the Jewish model of marriage, which is that a couple is together and yet they are apart. They have an existence as a unit and an existence that is totally independent of one another.

Let’s try to understand this on practical terms. I’ll share with you an example of one of the million areas in marriage where friction is found. Let’s take a fictitious couple, Matt and Samantha. Matt’s not so good at complimenting. Samantha buys a new outfit, no response from Matt. Samantha cooks a delicious meal and again no response from Matt. Understandably, it bothers Samantha. So what should she do?

Well, if Samantha is in a ‘lean on me’ relationship then she’ll be a mess. Her self-worth is totally dependent on her spouse who is not giving her the compliments that she so badly needs.

If Samantha’s in an indifferent relationship then she shrugs her shoulders and says, “Who cares? I’m sure someone else out there likes what I do” and she moves on. Obviously, this is also not a very healthy response.

But if Samantha is in an “eizer k’negdo relationship” then you know what she does, she asks herself, what vulnerabilities and fears do I possess that my husband’s resistance to compliment me is so difficult for me? What does this say about me and in which areas should I now work on to move beyond that?

Yes, there’s a time and place to work on what’s going wrong between a husband and wife but in a healthy relationship, each spouse should also be asking themselves what is it about this difficult situation that’s evoking from me such intense resistance and deep emotions?

So David, this is my advice to you. It goes without saying that your job as a husband is to be there for your wife monetarily, physically, and emotionally through all of life’s challenges. Judging by the happy glow on your face, I am sure you’ll do a wonderful job being there for her. But just as importantly, don’t lose yourself entirely. Marriage is the greatest opportunity for growth, for becoming a better and more developed individual. And here’s the most important part – the stronger you are, the firmer you stand on your own two feet, the better spouse you’ll be able to be. It’s a lot of work but the payoff is immeasurable.

A couple of months ago at the Oscars, Ben Affleck, in his acceptance speech said about his marriage, “It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”

Not too long afterwards, social media outlets everywhere had people voting whether or not Ben slept on the couch that night. But you know what, and you won’t hear me endorse a Hollywood star’s philosophies all that often, but he was right. Marriage is a process, it’s not a destination. But through that hard work, it’s an opportunity for the greatest development possible. If each spouse uses moments of conflict to make themselves better people by becoming more aware of their weaknesses and ultimately changing themselves, you will live a very, very happy and full life together.

And so I conclude with the blessing that you will be hearing at your wedding in just a short while, Sameiach t’samach rei’im ahuvim, may you, the beloved companions David and Etti, rejoice with the joy and fulfillment of true and healthy companionship. May you each grow through your marriage and learn about yourselves and develop yourselves. In the process may your marriage be one of intense happiness and overflowing joy.

Good Shabbos and Mazel Tov!

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Shmiras HaLashon #38

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 17, 2013

It is very difficult to generalize the following rules because the application is so nuanced. However, in a very general sense, there is an obligation to share any information that can objectively destroy a relationship. For example, in a marriage prospect, to share the fact that one party has a severe psychological condition should be done. Information that is subjective; questions like is the person intelligent, etc. may be shared if asked but should not be volunteered. Information that is purely a matter of preference, such as what type of music does the individual like, can be shared if asked but one can just as easily side-step such questions without any guilty conscience since that type of information is not essential to the well-being of the relationship.

Again, every case is unique. It is therefore preferable to ask someone who knows these laws before sharing such information. The good people at the Chafeitz Chaim Heritage Foundation have a hotline where people are ready to answer questions about shmiras halashon, 718-951-3696. That’s a pretty amazing service to provide!

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Shmiras HaLashon #37

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 16, 2013

Before sharing information for a constructive purpose, there are a number of considerations that should be kept in mind.

  • The information must be 100% true. Included in being accurate is not exaggerating.
  • One must have the right intent when sharing this information, namely, to save someone from a potentially harmful situation. This is often very difficult to achieve, especially if the one sharing the information was at one point affected negatively by the subject. For example, Bob swindled thousands of dollars from Harry. Harry is later asked by Sally if it’s a good idea to get into a business deal with Bob. Now although it is constructive to share information about Bob to ensure that Sally doesn’t get ripped off, it would be quite challenging for Harry to share the information with the purest of intents. The Chafeitz Chaim suggests one of two things in such a scenario. 1) Harry should remove the ill will from his heart even if he knows he has not totally gotten over it. At least while he shares the information with Sally he should be focusing on the fact that he is doing so for the right reasons. 2) A much simpler approach – if possible is for Harry to direct Sally to someone else who knows the truth about Bob. This way Harry will not have to say anything at all.
  • One must say as little as possible to ensure the appropriate outcome. Going back to our example above, if Harry could have Sally stay away from Bob just by saying, “Trust me, it’s not a good idea to get in a business partnership with Bob.” then he must do so. Every extra unnecessary word is a violation of the prohibition of lashon hara.
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Shmiras HaLashon #36

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 14, 2013

(Much of the following laws will be review.)

Before asking someone for information about a prospective relationship/ partnership, it is imperative that you state clearly why you are asking this question. This is because intent is a key factor in defining lashon hara. Although the one asking the questions may not be violating the prohibition because there is a constructive purpose, the one listening who is unaware of the fact, will violate prohibition by sharing the information. In addition, by asking for the information and causing him/her to share it one will be causing someone else to sin, which in it of itself, is a prohibition. Therefore, one must begin any such discussion with the words, “I would like to know this information because I/ someone I know is considering getting involved in a relationship with this individual.”

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Shmiras HaLashon #35

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 13, 2013

The last section of the book that we are studying deals with sharing negative information that pertains to potential marriage prospects. The same would often, but not always, apply to potential business partnerships.

After studying the laws of lashon hara one could be led to believe that it would best to not say anything when the truth is negative. However, the Chafeitz Chaim points out, sometimes it would be absolutely wrong to not share negative information. There is a prohibition to not stand idly by when someone’s blood is being spilled. Included in this prohibition is allowing a terrible scenario to unfold without intervening. In all potential relationships and specifically in dealing with intimate relationships sharing negative information about a prospective partner can figuratively and even literally save someone’s life. And not sharing that information is considered as if one is standing idly by as their blood is spilled.

The laws of this next section navigate between speaking lashon hara on the one hand and not standing idly by as someone’s blood is spilled.

* We will be beginning a new topic of law in the near future. If anyone has suggestions of something they would like to know more about, please let me know and I will try to accommodate to the best of my ability.

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Shmiras HaLashon #34

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 6, 2013

Sometimes stating information that is known to the listener is considered a form of lashon hara. For example, If I know that you had a feud years ago with a certain individual and I were to remind you of the feud, awakening a little bit of that old resentment, I would have violated the prohibition of being a gossiper. This is because any statement that causes ill will between two people is considered lashon hara.

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Shmiras HaLashon #33

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 5, 2013

The Chafeitz Chaim discusses a sticky situation. Steven tells you something disparaging about Bob. The next day, you are approached by Bob who tells you that he knows that yesterday Steven was speaking to you about him. Bob demands to know what Steven said; did he say good things or bad things?

This poses a serious challenge. If you say the truth you have violated lashon hara – you are sharing negative information about Steven. If you say “I can’t say” you are still indicating that Steven said something negative about Bob. So what can you do? Obviously if you can change the subject or say something that would not indicate what that Steven did actually speak negatively that would be ideal. But in a case where that is not practical, what can you do?

The Talmud teaches us a fascinating idea and that is the lying for the sake of peace is permitted. (We learn this from G-d Himself who does so in a conversation with Avraham.) Therefore, in responding to Bob one can lie to avoid the ill will between Bob and Steven that telling the truth would have caused.

(Food for thought: The MaHaRaL explains that the reason lying is allowed for the sake of peace is because hatred is by definition false (the Hebrew term sinat chinam = free hate, meaning it is not based on anything, it is false). Peace on the other hand is inherently true. The MaHaRaL suggests that we do not look at the words themselves but rather their effect and therefore, while in our vernacular we call it lying for the sake of peace, in the eyes of our sages, causing hatred is actually lying while creating peace is establishing truth.)

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Shmiras HaLashon #32

By: Rabbi Motzen | June 3, 2013

Although I mentioned earlier that negative information is allowed to be shared for a constructive purpose, the Chafeitz Chaim lists a number of conditions that one must meet before doing so. In this instance he is specifically referring to a scenario where one knows someone is doing something wrong and wishes to stop the person by informing someone who can influence the guilty party.

  1. One must know the information is 100% true. (This can be done by witnessing the incident or by verifying that it happened from credible sources. However, in that case one must inform the listener that it is second hand information.)
  2. One must be certain that their interpretation of the incident is accurate.
  3. If someone is doing something wrong, that person must first be approached personally.
  4. No exaggerations.
  5. The intent must be to help the victim.
  6. If the lashon hara can be avoided and still accomplish the same goal then one must avoid speaking lashon hara.
  7. If one know that the loss that the guilty party will incur is greater than Jewish law allows for then one must not share the information.
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