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I Am Lonely: Mental Health and Covid

Rereading the opening of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s The Lonely Man of Faith is haunting. There we read:

The nature of the dilemma can be stated in a three-word sentence. I am lonely. Let me emphasize, however, that by stating “I am lonely” I do not intend to convey to you the impression that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many. I meet people, talk, preach, argue, reason; I am surrounded by comrades and acquaintances. And yet, companionship and friendship do not alleviate the passional experience of loneliness which trails me constantly. I am lonely because at times I feel rejected and thrust away by everybody, not excluding my most intimate friends, and the words of the Psalmist, “My father and my mother have forsaken me,” ring quite often in my ears like the plaintive cooing of the turtledove. It is a strange, alas, absurd experience engendering sharp, enervating pain as well as a stimulating, cathartic feeling. I despair because I am lonely and, hence, feel frustrated.

The Lonely Man of Faith

In the rest of his book the Rav goes on to explore the problem of sustaining faith in a predominately secular world. The Rav interprets this disparity as a purposeful paradox essential to human nature. We are perennially torn between powerful secular concerns and the need, no less real, for spiritual fulfillment. True faith, therefore, is not easy, nor was it ever meant to be. All the philosophy not withstanding, his opening words seem prescient to our current experiences.

What does it mean today to say, “I am lonely”? His writing, ” It takes on new meaning in the context of the mental health crises that have come to the surface during Covid 19. We need to mediate on those three words.

According to an New York Times article a few years ago it appears that loneliness is more deadly that smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  We are living during a pandemic of loneliness. It is worth reading that article. While the Rav might have been thinking about philosophy, we need to deal with stark reality that we are lonely and it is hurting us. What can we do?

I was thinking about this this week when reading Vayishlach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions. Yaakov was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Yaakov’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Yaakov.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Israel, for you have striven with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

Genesis 32: 24-30

There is much for us to learn in this story. For one, we have to see the experience of being alone and loneliness are real. This story shows that this experience which could easily be dismissed as a psychological state of being is not only real, but that it can easily manifest in physical damage. Only when we realize the gravity of the state of feeling alone can we wrestle with that fact. And finally, for now, even if we prevail in this struggle it does not mean that we are done being alone. There is a problem in our society and there is no quick fix. We all just need to continue to wrestle with it.

Tent of Understanding and Patience

How do we respond to existential crisis? I would assume that no two people would respond exactly the same way to the same situation. And I would also assume that the same person would respond differently to different crises.

I was thinking about this question when reading the start of Vayera, this week’s Torah portion. Avraham and Sarah were promised a great nation, and there she finds herself old, menopausal, and childless. We see God looking after Avraham in his tent. Avraham sees three strangers traveling in the desert. He runs to invite them in and host them. Avraham and Sarah meet their needs and go way beyond that. I can only imagine the anguish of Sarah’s life. She thought her life was about having and caring for a child and now she is schvitching getting food ready for these strangers. As it turns out, these travelers were actually angels sent to bring messages. One of these messages is that Sarah was going to have a child. Her response is to laugh. There we read:

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

Genesis 18:12

She laughs because it seems absurd that she should be able to have a child. The humor of the situation reveals her patience in light of God’s tardiness in delivering on God’s promise.

It is fascinating to compare Sarah’s response to Lot’s daughters behavior at the end of the Torah portion. Like Sarah they are faced with what they perceive as existential crisis. Their town had been destroyed, mother turned to a pillar of salt, and they find shelter in a cave. There we read:

Lot went up from Zoar and settled in the hill country with his two daughters, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar; and he and his two daughters lived in a cave. And the older one said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to consort with us in the way of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father.” That night they made their father drink wine, and the older one went in and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. The next day the older one said to the younger, “See, I lay with Father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go and lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father.” That night also they made their father drink wine, and the younger one went and lay with him; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child by their father.

Genesis 19:18-36

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman wrote, “We are prone to blame decision makers for good decisions that worked out badly and to give them too little credit for successful moves that appear obvious only after the fact.” Lot’s daughters do something horrible, but from their perspective you could appreciate their motivations. They assume that the entire world has been destroyed and they want to save it. How should we judge them for their actions?

Even if I am understanding of their perception, I would say it was horrible. Not only because it was unethical and gross, but because their stance toward time. It seems that no time passes and they are working on a solution to the problem of populating the world. While their issues and Sarah’s are similar, their perception of time is very different. Sarah is patient and Lot’s daughters are impatient and impetuous. It is particularly fascinating to visualize the juxtaposition between Sarah’s tent and Lot’s Daughter cave. How to we react to crises? Do we run to caves or take our time in tents? Do we jump to the wrong conclusion or do we wait too long?

Arabian Desert Tent Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” How do we get out of the case and position ourselves in tents of understanding?

The First Luftmensch

Some times I get lost in thought. On more then one occasion I have been called a luftmensch. I realize that at times I come off as aloof. A luftmensch is an impractical contemplative person. This is an airy appellation taken from Yiddish which breaks down into “luft” (a Germanic root meaning “air” that is in the the name of Germany’s airlines and also related to the English words “loft” and “lofty”) plus mentsh, meaning “human being.”

Ferienstart in Hessen: Lufthansa empfiehlt rechtzeitige Anreise zum  Flughafen - Lufthansa Group

I was thinking of this when reading Bereishit, this week’s Torah portion. The Torah is short on words. Amidst a whole list of “begot”ings and ages one line stands out. There we read, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.” ( Genesis 5:24) Enoch walked with God with his head in the clouds. Many interpret his being “no more” that he left the world as Elijah without dying. Never having lived on the ground there is no attributed years of his life.

This reminds me of a nugget of wisdom that my friend Jay Frankel shared. He said, ” As employers, we are always worried about our employees who might quit and leave. We should be more worried about the ones who quit and stay.” While the luftmensch might lead a life blissfully untethered by our quotidian existence, they also have resigned themselves to have no impact on the world.

In many ways Enoch is the foil for Yaakov. He starts out as a luftmensch, sitting in his tent as his brother is out in the field ( Genesis 25:27). But later we see him evolve. Most poignantly we see him have a dream of angels ascending and descending. There we read, “He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its head reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” ( Genesis 28:12) One way to read this is that this ladder is Yaakov himself. His “head” was still in the sky, but now his feet were firmly rooted in the ground.

In many ways the project of humanity is to live with the tension of our being animals and being divine. We need to always be reaching for the heavens AND be deeply rooted in this world. We cannot resign ourselves to either or. Me must be both. To be a mensch is to strive to live up to our full potential.

Glimpsing the House of Tomorrow

From the start of Elul through Shemini Atzeret, we recite Psalm 27. There we read, “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent God’s Temple” ( Psalm 27:4). On a simple level, when meditating on this we are beseeching God to allow us to return and stay in the Temple. Do any of us pretend to understand what it was like to be in the Temple? What are we really asking for? 

Maybe we are seeking the feeling of home.  

My name is Avi Orlow. Over 20 years ago, I was honored to start as a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) while its beit midrash, or study hall, was still nascent. There, I felt that sense of home described in Psalm 27. I came to YCT with a deep love for the Jewish people, and thanks to my education there, I left it years later with a profound appreciation for what Judaism has to offer humanity. I look back fondly at how after every class we would discuss how we might transmit the experience of YCT’s spiritual environment to the outside world. 

Many of us yearn to create a sense of home in multiple areas of our lives. For me, I have attempted to replicate that feeling of comfort in both my professional and personal spheres. It is not surprising, then, that my professional growth has run parallel to that of my family. The same spring I was ordained by YCT in 2004, I became a new father. I was fortunate enough to have our son’s bris, and then his pidyon haben, at YCT. Soon after these events and my graduation, our growing family packed up our books, the BabyBjörn, and our life in New York as we prepared to take on the bigger world.

Along the way, my career has taken me all over the country. First, I spent four years as a Hillel rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis where we opened our home to students. While I loved working on campus, I moved on when given the chance to impact how thousands of young people every summer understand Jewish camp to be their home away from home. I have spent the last 13 years at Foundation for Jewish Camp where I have traveled the country learning from and with Jewish camps all over North America about how to spread joyous Judaism. During that time, my wife and I have been blessed with three more amazing children.

While I have helped build the home that is my family, I have never forgotten the home I knew at YCT. My connection to YCT has waxed and waned over time, but I have always stayed curious as to the successes and challenges of my fellow alumni in our efforts to bring the goodness of the YCT beit midrash to the world. Many of us started at YCT with little more than a vision for what Open Orthodoxy could mean. In some moments, I haven’t always been sure how much impact our small school has had on the world.

Recent events, however, have made me realize that the home we all built together at YCT is being realized in unforeseen ways across generations.

A few weeks ago, I was picking up some of my children at the Camp Stone bus stop in White Plains, New York, where I live. I was expecting to see the usual neighborhood YCT suspects: Rabbis Jack Nahmod (‘05), Seth Braunstein (‘06), and YCT faculty member Chaim Marder. Our children are all friends from the neighborhood and we send them to the same camp. 

a school bus stopping on a road with its doors open while a line of small children with backpacks walk in a line to get onto the bus

I was surprised, however, when I spotted Rabbi Seth Winberg (‘11), the executive director of Brandeis Hillel, at the stop. It was his daughter Hadas’s first summer at camp so she had flown there. She had assumed, however, that she would know people on the way home, so she came back on the White Plains bus. Rabbi Seth had come in from Boston to pick her up. As we chatted and caught up, the buses rolled up the street. Rabbi Seth found Hadas, and I found my daughter Emunah. I asked Emunah if she knew Hadas. She responded, “Of course I do, Abba! We just sat next to each other on the nine-hour ride home from camp.” What are the odds, I thought to myself!

When we got home, Emunah did not want to talk with us. We were not surprised. She just wanted to talk with her camp friends. She talked with her friend Amollia for over an hour. Later that night, she was having trouble falling asleep. It turns out that when you work in camping as I do, your kids do not get homesick at camp. Rather, they get campsick at home. To calm her down, I asked her to go through a list of her friends. I stopped her when she told me about Amolia Antine from Maryland. Her father, Rabbi Nissin Antine (‘06), from Potomac, was ordained two years after me at YCT. Truly, what a very small world! It was astonishing to me that, without any direction or interference from me, my child had just naturally gravitated toward the children of other YCT rabbis.

When Kalil Gibran’s Prophet is asked about children, he responds:

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Emunah discovered these people on her own. She is her own person, and she is finding friends who share her interests and her values. It is amazing to see the emergence of the next generation of YCT as our children build their own community. 

This time of year, when I get to L’David 27, I reflect on how the world is sometimes a very big and a very scary space. I cannot say that I want to hide from it in the Temple, but there is a part of me that yearns for the comfort and holiness of the beit midrash I knew as a rabbinical student. I know that the YCT rabbis are each doing what we can to share this experience of home from the beit midrash with the larger world. And while I might not be able to gaze upon the beauty of our children’s “house of tomorrow,” I find that even a glimpse is heartwarming, affirming, and worthy of meditation. 

-Reposted from YCT Blog

Zero-Based Budgeting and Avinu Malkeynu

For many of us who actually work off a budget, be if for profit, for not-for-profit or personal we just roll over one year’s budget from the last. Developed by Peter Pyhrr in the 1970s, Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified and approved for each new period. ZBB starts from a “zero base” at the beginning of every budget period, analyzing needs and costs of every function within an organization and allocating funds accordingly, regardless of how much money has previously been budgeted to any given line item.

zero_based_budget_process_ppt_example_file_Slide01

There are positives to ZBB:

  1. Accuracy: This type of budgeting helps companies to evaluate every department to ensure they are appropriately funded.
  2. Efficiency: It helps judge the actual needs by focusing on current numbers rather than the momentum of previous budgets.
  3. Reduced waste: It can remove redundant spending by re-examining potentially unnecessary expenditures.
  4. Coordination and Communication: It allows for better communication within departments by involving employees in decision-making and budget prioritization.

There are also drawbacks of ZBB:

  1. Bureaucracy: Creating ZBB within a company can take enormous amounts of time, effort, and analysis that would require extra staff. This could cause the process to be counterproductive in cutting costs.
  2. Bloat: In using ZBB, managers can skew proposed budgets to characterize expenditures on pet projects as vital activities, inventing a “necessity” for them.
  3. Intangible Justifications: This type of budgeting requires departments to justify their budget, which can be difficult on many levels. Departments such as advertising and marketing have to justify expenses they may or may not use in the next year due to the fluctuation of the market. This could cost them profits in the future due to not being able to justify a certain amount.
  4. Managerial Time: ZBB comes at the cost of time and training for managers. This means spending significantly more time every period on the budget.
  5. Slower Response Time: Due to the amount of time and training is required to do ZBB, managerial staff could be less likely to revise the budget in response to a changing market. This means that it will take longer for a company to move money into departments that need it the most at the time. ZBB could potentially leave gaps in a company because the budget might not react to departments’ sudden needs

Performance measures are a key component of the ZBB process. At the core, ZBB requires quality measures that can be used to analyze the impact of alternative funding scenarios on program operations and outcomes. Without quality measures ZBB simply will not work because decisions cannot be ranked or evaluated. Traditionally, a ZBB analysis focused on three types of measures:

  1. effectiveness,
  2. efficiency, and
  3. workload for each decision unit.

I was thinking about this yesterday near the end of Yom Kippur when singing the end of Avinu Malkeynu. There we say:

ah-vee-noo mahl-kay-noo chah-nay-noo vah-ahh-nay-noo kee ayn bah-noo mah-ahh-seem ahh-say eeh-mah-noo tzih-dah-kah vah-cheh-sed vih-hoe-shee-ay-noo- Our Father, Our King! favor us and answer us for we have no good deeds; deal with us charitably and kindly with us

Every other time I said this it came off as a child pleading to their Father to save them. Yes we know we are crap and have done nothing good, but since you love us as a parent loves a child you will save us. But here during Neilah at the end of Yom Kippur after a day in which we have already repented and we have done teshuva I got to thinking about what this means. Maybe after the slate has been cleaned from year of sin, it has also been cleared from any good we have done. We too have to go through a ZBB for our lives. For better and for worse nothing will roll over from last year.

So let’s get to work and make 5782 everything we want it to be. Here is to a year filled with health, happiness, effectiveness, efficiency, and good decisions.

Reb Asher the Dairyman: Will We Hear Him This Year?

For various reasons I recently found myself reading Isaac Bashevis Singer‘s In My Father’s Court recently. I just love his depiction of the old world and his story telling. Each of the stories helps to paint a different aspect of Singer’s early life growing up the son of a Hassidic Rebbe and Rebeitzen. His family had moved from the country into Warsaw. In the stories we see Singer himself exploring the world beyond his own.

Isaac Bashevis Singer

There is one story there I can not get out of my mind. The title of the story Reb Asher the Dairyman already had me thinking I could reconnect with Shalom Aleichem‘s Tevye. But this is a different story. Reb Asher was tall, broad, strong, with a black beard, large eyes, and “the voice of a lion”. He volunteered in Singer’s Father’s makeshift High Holiday minyan as the Hazzan. Singer also tells how Reb Asher takes him under his wing to bring him to the train to see more of the outside world. It is clear that Reb Asher is a friend of the family.

There we read:

One year, at the close of the Day of Atonement, this same Asher, our friend and benefactor, saved our very lives. It happened in this manner. After the day-long fast, we had eaten the repast. Later a number of Jews gathered in our house to dance and rejoice. My father had already put up the first beam of the Sukkah. Late that night we had at last fallen asleep. Since benches and pews has been set up in the bedroom, and the entire house was in disorder, each of us slept wherever he could find a spot. But one thing we has forgotten- to extinguish the candles that were still burning on some of the pews. Late that night Asher had to drive to the railroad station to pick up milk. He passed our house and noticed that it was unusually bright. This was not the glow of candles, or of a lamp, but rather the glare of a great fire. Asher realized that our house must be burning. He rang the bell at the gate, but janitor did not rush to open it. He too was asleep. Then Asher set to ringing the bell and beating on the door with such furor that at las the Gentile awoke and opened the gate. Asher raced up the stairs and knocked on our door, but no one answered. Then Asher the mighty hurled his broad shoulders against the door and forced it open. Bursting into the house, he found the entire family asleep while all around, benches, prayer stands, prayer books, and holiday prayer books were aflame. He began to call our in his booming cantorial voice and finally roused us, and then he tore off our quilts and set to smothering the conflagration.

In My Father’s Court (166-167)

In some way we see Singer depicting Asher reliving the Midrash of Avram discovering God when stopping to investigate a castle that is has it’s lights on and/or is engulfed in fire. But in another way this story from the old world seems prescient in describing our moment in history today. Just like the Singer family we have fallen asleep and the world is burning. Be it global warming and its forest fires, political fervor, raging racism, or this evolving Covid-19 plague, our reality feels like it burning to the ground. How do we deal with trauma? How might we address the underlying root causes?

As we prepare for Yom Kippur I pause to think about the voice of the Hazan. Will I allow myself to get lost in the nostalgia? Will his voice lull us to sleep with a false sense of comfort? Or, will the booming “voice of the lion” wake us? We will only be saved when we face the issues burning all around us. As we prepare to stand in God’s Court during Yom Kippur we should all be blessed to be saved by our friend Reb Asher on his way to the railroad station to pick up the milk.

Tzom Rabin

On November 4th, 1995 at 21:30,  at Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Accords assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. I pause to remember the man he was and his importance to the Jewish people. In President Bill Clinton’s eulogy for Rabin he wrote, “Yitzhak Rabin lived the history of Israel. Throughout every trial and triumph, the struggle for independence, the wars for survival, the pursuit of peace and all he served on the front lines, this son of David and of Solomon, took up arms to defend Israel’s freedom and lay down his life to secure Israel’s future.” As I look back on the past 26 years since his death I think about how much has changed and how much as stayed the same.

Israel's Yitzhak Rabin assassinated at peace rally - archive, 1995 | Middle  East and North Africa | The Guardian

There are clearly growing generational gaps between the Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and the Gen Zers. We have not even begun to understand the impact of the recent political and environmental shifts let alone the effect of Covid-19 on this next generation.

Just as my father knew exactly where he was when Kennedy was shot, I know exactly where I was when Rabin was shot. And for our four children Rabin will be as distant as Kennedy is to me. Despite the distance of time, I hope that our children learn from Rabin that contributing to the world as a responsible citizen does not happen despite their Jewish identity, but actually can be lived out more fully through their Jewish identity. Rabin’s assassination teaches us how violence is senseless. And I want Rabin’s memory to be for what he did and tried to do, not what was done to him.

I was thinking about this yesterday in trying help my children understand the significance of Tzom Gedalia.  Gedalia was the governor of Yehudah. His assassination by a fellow Jew ended Jewish autonomy following the destruction of the First Temple.  Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” When will we learn?

A Majestic Light: Shanah Tova

In trying to prepare for Rosh HaShanah I find myself swept into the surge of amazing popular Israel rock. Most recently I have been listening to Shemesh- Sun by Hanan Ben Ari. Completely worth Listening to before Rosh HaShanah.

Beside the amazing and mysterious sound of Shemesh the lyrics are the perfect thing to get into Malchuyot- God’s Coronation Day. He sings:

I find myself longing. Seeking an answer. See me, give me Your hand. I am one who’s willing to change. Come and light up my days. With a Or Yafe Ganuz-beautiful, hidden light for almost a million generations. And then I shall be like a sun to the world. I shall be like a bird, wandering across space. You, You shall be my King forevermore. I thank Thee for the path You’ve sworn unto me

Shemesh- Hanan Ben Ari

I too find myself longing. It is hard to finding meaning in the world these days. Ben Ari is asking us to reach out and be open to the Or Ganuz hidden light. Rav Nachman teaches ” Anyone who wants to experience a taste of the Or HaGanuz (Hidden Light)—i.e., the mysteries of the Torah that will be revealed in the Future—must elevate the aspect of fear to its source.” ( Likutei Moharan 15:1:2 ) This reminds me of the oft quoted poem Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson. She writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

When we are open to the Or Ganuz we become the sun that lights the room. In allowing ourselves to self-actualize we make room for God, the King, to do the same. The majestic light of Rosh HaShanah inspires us to live up to our potential. We just need to be open to the experience. May you have a Shana Tova U’Metukah- a good and sweet New Year full of light.

Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog

I remind each of my children all of the time, ” I love them the most of all…just like their three siblings.” This year as I have been feebly trying to prepare for the High Holidays during Elul. One thing that had helped is that I have found myself singing again and again to different covers of Deveykus‘s Haben Yakir Li. The lyrics are taken from a section of Jeremiah that we read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. There we read:

Truly, Efraim is a dear child to Me,
A child  in whom I delight!
Whenever I speak of him,
My thoughts would dwell on him still.
That is why My heart yearns for him;
I will receive him back in love
—declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:20

For me it expresses an extraordinary expression of God’s anthropopathic love of Israel. Here is one version with some nice violin:

There is some ambiguity about the text when it says ” Whenever I speak of him“. Is it when I speak to him, about him, or even against him? Rashi explores the meaning of “whenever I speak of him” and comments:

Every time that I speak of him. And the Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (2:3) explains: It is enough My speech (דַּי דִבּוּרִי) with which I endowed him, that I taught him My Torah, for Me to have mercy on him.

Rashi on Jeremiah 31:20

This is an interesting thought. It is as if God recalls learning with Efraim and that reminds God how much God loves him.

This parental love through learning reminded me of a Rashi from Parshat Vayigash. Yosef, Efraim’s father, reveals his identity to his brothers. Finding out that their father is still alive he sends agalot– wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt. There Rashi comments:

By sending the wagons (agalot), Yosef sent him a sign. What was the (topic) they had studied before he (Yosef) left? The topic of the egla arufa -beheaded heifer (see Shoftim). Thus the text states, “when he saw the agalot which Yosef sent,” and not which Pharoh sent.

Rashi on Bereishit 45:27

There is something deep about parent’s love of a child. Even though he was told that Yosef died years earlier, once he saw these agalot Yaakov just knew that Yosef was alive due to the learning that they shared before Yosef’s abduction. This love gets even deeper when it comes in the context of their learning Torah together. This is a love that never could believe that Yosef is truly dead. This is also a love that wants to allow Efraim’s return regardless of his misdeeds.

I was thinking about this parental love in the context of learning while studying with Emunah in preparation for Bat Mitzah this coming spring. It feels special, just like the learning I do with her three siblings. They are all dear to me.

On another level I was thinking about Emunah when sharing this Torah thought with you through this blog. I started this practice of writing a weekly blog when she was born. Emunah and this blog* recently turned 12.

*For those following along at home this is my 756th blog post.

Breaks Over: Preparing for the Fall Transition

This summer has been transformative for our children. After months of masks and social isolation they just needed camp. And now I am worried about the confluence of the resurgence of the Delta varient and their headed back to school. How will we rally them to get back into Covid restrictions after a summer of freedom?

I was thinking about this and I was reminded of a joke that my father used to say. As my dad would tell it, a man dies and goes to hell. There he is given three choices of how to spend eternity. In room one, it’s the classic version, the evil-doers being engulfed by fire and brimstone. In room two, people are buried up to their necks in poop. In room three, people are standing around knee-deep in excrement, drinking coffee. The man chooses option three. He is excited to join the group and he gets a big cup of coffee. While it is clearly not heaven, it is not that bad. He is feeling pretty good about his decision. Just as he takes his first sip there is an announcement over a loudspeaker: “Attention! Coffee break is over! Back on your heads!”

Today is my father’s 3rd Yahrzeit. I miss him, his wit, and his ability to get to the heart of the matter. This will be a difficult fall for our children, but it was a great coffee break.


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