The ways that we choose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Introduction:

The idea of this book is to have the reader participate in the fate of the main character. As you read the book you will have to make choices and depending of the choices you make the story will unfold. This can be called interactive reading.

Very few ideas can be truly new with billions of people on our planet. About 25 years ago the present author thought he was the first to solve Pells equation in Gaussian integers. I am still not sure if I really was the first one? At any rate the idea of an interactive book is definitely not new, but it fits really well to our world view where our decisions can cause major changes.

After you finish reading one branch of the story you may decide to read the other ones. This book can then be viewed as nine different stories with different endings. The suggested age of the reader can be anywhere between 15 and 120.

 

 

About the author: Chaim Sunitsky (aka as Michail Sunitsky) was born in Leningrad, USSR and immigrated to USA 25 years ago. He was chosen as one of six best math students to represent USA on the International Mathematics Olympiad in Sweden. Chaim did not know anything about Yidishkait when he came here, but by the time he was getting his bachelors degree in Princeton University he was Shomer Shabbos. Chaim authored many Jewish books in Russian and this is his first attempt to publish a book in English. He will be happy to hear your comments answer any questions at chaim@torahone.com.

Chapter One.

Choices of the ten-year-old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I was always a talented kid and loved to learn Chumash and Mishnayos. No wonder everyone in class always wanted to be my chavrusa. It was therefore especially upsetting when the teacher decided to sit Boruch next to me. Let me tell you a few words about Boruch and you will understand me. I was learning in a very prestigious yeshiva ktana. They dont just take everyone. My parents had no difficulty getting me in since we are known members of the community. Actually my father went to the same yeshiva gdola (in his time there was no yeshiva ktana affiliated with it yet). Some of the teachers in my yeshiva learned together with my father and one is even his old friend. Most members of my class come from our block, we have known each other as kids and as soon as the yeshiva ktana opened, we all knew where we will go.

One thing my father could never understand is how did Boruch even get accepted into this yeshiva. Let me tell you something: Boruch is a son of Baalei Tshuva, his parents are Russian Jews who were never religious and knew nothing about Judaism when they came to America. My father says he is really happy that so many Jews from the former Soviet Union became observant. He really does not discriminate them at all, in fact he told me that where the Baalei Tshuva stand even the fully righteous cant stand! However he cant understand why they would want to send their son to our yeshiva? There are special yeshivas for people like them. The kid was sent to public school in the first grade, and only around that time did his parents become fully Orthodox and took their kid out.

Of course its convenient for them to have their son in this school; after all they now live on our block. But my father says its not good for Boruch nor is it fair to us. Why should I be in class with a boy who was watching TV till he was six? In addition, obviously Boruch is behind in his studies and his father cant be too helpful either. He just recently learned some Hebrew and can barely study Mishnayos himself.

Now to add insult to injury, my Rebbi decided that since I am the top student I should learn with Boruch. I dont think its fair. I like Boruch but I also know that my studies come first. If I spend too much time explaining him the basics, I will never get to finish my assignments. I am going to talk to my Rebbi today and ask him to sit someone else next to me.

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I decided that I want to give Boruch a chance. Its not his fault that he never learned before he was six, I know he is smart and will catch up. Please continue to chapter 2(i) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

 

I spoke to my Rebbi and he sat a different boy next to me. My father agreed that I was right, my learning is far more important than helping Boruch. Please continue to chapter 2(ii) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

 


 

Chapter Two (i).

Yeshiva. Choices at 20.

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I never regretted my decision. Even though my father was first surprised at me, he later noticed the benefits I was getting from teaching Boruch. First of all I had to study much harder myself so as to be able to explain what I learn to him. Its amazing how often I thought I understood the Mishna, but only when I tried to explain it to Boruch I found it much more complex than I had thought. To my surprise Boruch turned out to have a very clear mind and while his Hebrew was lacking, once I was able to translate the Mishna for him, he would ask deep questions that challenged me to search further. Our greatest happiness was when we found the answer to his kushia right in Tosafos Yom Tov or other commentaries. My father said that asking the question that bothered Tosafos Yom Tov is in itself a great accomplishment. Once we learn to ask the right questions we will be able to search for the right answers. I could not have ever wished for a better chavrusa than Boruch, I am so glad my teacher sat him next to me.

Recently I entered the shiduchim parsha. I was always a top boy in every respect and our family has a great standing in the community. In particular we have very good yichus that my parents are very proud of. From my fathers family I come from the great master the Maharal of Prague, who is known to be the descendant of Dovid Hamelech! My mothers line comes from a long line of great rabbis including R. Shlomo Kluger, the famous Maharshak. When we sometimes come across his notes on the Gemora or the Shulchan Aruch I feel a special pride and the connection of generations.

Needless to say that the many resumes of great girls were flowing and many shadchanim and shadchanos tried to work with us. However when I went out it would never click. Then came along Ruthie, a daughter of the Rosenbergs, a well-known family living a few blocks away. I have never felt anything like this. The chemistry was just perfect. We understood each other without words. Her intellect, her talents, everything was just impeccable. However after our third date she dropped a bomb: she is a giyores. How can that be I asked? Its a long story she answered. As it turned out, her foster parents thought they could not have children and adapted Ruthie at young age. She does not know who her real parents are but she knows they are not Jewish. Later on the Rosenbergs had two children of their own but they continued to treat Ruthie as if she was their daughter, and almost nobody around knew she was adapted. When it came to shiduchim they were told they need to reveal to the perspective husband that Ruthie was not born Jewish, but they dont have to do this on the first date.

Now I had a real dilemma. On the one hand, my great ancestor Dovid Hamelech married many women who were converts. On the other hand, in our community this is rarely done. Yes, of course the Torah says not to mistreat a convert, and we have to be extra careful not to offend geirim, but we definitely do not have to marry them. Usually geirim marry others like themselves or Baalei Tshuva who generally dont have a good yichus. I said I needed to discuss this with my parents but in my mind I already knew what they would probably say.

 

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I spoke to my parents and encountered tremendous opposition. You need to drop this shiduch immediately. There are many girls out there, why would someone of your caliber settle for a giyores? Please continue to chapter 3(i) on page ??? (click here to continue).

My parents were more supportive than I had thought. If you really feel Ruthie is for you, continue with this shiduch. Please continue to chapter 3(ii) on page ??? (click here to continue).


 

Chapter Two (ii). Continued from chapter 1 on page ???

20 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I did not regret my decision. Boruch ultimately left our school anyway. I dont even know if he stayed religious in the end. His family moved a few years ago and I lost all contact with him. Meanwhile my new chavrusa was Shimshon, a boy from a family next block. He is one of those boys born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father owns a catering and they have a beautiful three story house. Shimshon is certainly a very smart boy, but tends to be a little lazy, as I also do sometimes. Either of us can learn in half an hour what others cant learn in a whole day. When we finished yeshiva ktana we had no problems getting into any yeshiva gdola we desired. Shimshon and his family have some Hassidic roots and therefore he was sent to a well-known yeshiva, where they daven Nusach Sfard. He tells me its really the best of both worlds, they teach the Gemora with the most advanced Yeshivishe Achronim but at the same time have a Hassidic touch and learn the writings of some Hassidic masters.

I went on to study in a mainstream Litvishe Yeshivah. My roommate and chavrusa is a really sweet guy, Yossi. We never had any conflicts until the issue of shiduchim came up. I was thinking about this really nice looking girl Leah, a daughter of my fathers boss. You have to realize that in our community its unusual for the boy to be the first one to come up with the girl he wants to marry. Usually we work with shadchanim, and they are the ones to make the first proposal. But my father said there is nothing wrong if I liked Leah when I accidentally saw her at my fathers workplace. My father made some inquiries and came back with positive feedback. One great advantage is that Leahs father is looking for a son in law who will continue learning Torah for many years after marriage. My father decided he will approach a known shadchan to get involved in this shiduch, so as to make it look like the original idea didnt come from me.

There is one small problem my father accidentally found out. It turns out that one of Leahs sisters was diagnosed with bulimia a few years ago. However, he was able to confirm that her condition was treated by an excellent specialist and she has been stable in the last two years. At any rate my father thinks this should not affect Leah as this condition is generally not hereditary. I did not know what bulimia was, and my father explained to me that certain people cause themselves to throw up after they eat. This disease is more common among girls and it mainly occurs when the girl is trying to lose weight and feels bad after eating. She first ends up eating a lot and then causes herself to purge the food she ate. When I heard this I remembered that the Gemora in Yuma mentions Bulmus a sickness that can happen when fasting? I asked my father if Bulimia is related to Bulmus? My father answered that it probably comes from the same Greek word that means hunger.

While my father was doing his inquiries, it turns out that Yossis shadchanes gave him the resume of the same girl! How unfair. I dont think she is for him anyway. Leah is from a well to do family and as I mentioned, her father wants a son in law who would learn in a Kollel. Yossi however told me he will probably start working after learning for a couple of years. I shared my frustration with my father. And then it occurred to me that if I tell Yossi about Leahs sister, he may drop this whole shiduch idea! He gets tons of resumes anyway, so why should he invest into a shiduch with a girl who has issues. I once read in a book by R. Avraham Twerski that the people in our community always over exaggerate psychological issues in the family and he is so right. Why should Yossi even start a shiduch with someone who has problems when there are so many girls without problems?

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I told Yossi about Leahs sister. I was well prepared when I spoke to him and I did my research. I had to explain to Yossi how serious bulimia is, and how in some cases it can cause a woman to never have children Chas Veshalom. Even when the condition seemed to have been treated, it can always come back due to stress or other issues in life. I was honest and emphasized that we are only talking about Leahs sister, but we have no information about whether Leah herself ever went to psychologists or psychiatrists. Yossi understood the hint: if Leahs sister had issues, we can never be sure about Leah herself. Please continue to chapter 3(iii) on page ??? (Click here to continue.

I decided to ask a Rav if this information can be revealed. I called a great expert on the laws of Loshon Hara who wrote a sefer on this topic and he told me that its absolutely forbidden for me to tell Yossi about Leahs sister. Even if her sister was currently sick, there are complex rules of when this can be told, and in my case, the only information I had was about her sisters former condition. I listened to the Posek and didnt say anything to Yossi. Please continue to chapter 3(iv) on page ??? (Click here to continue).


 

Chapter Three (i). Continued from chapter 2 (i) on page ???

30 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I know Ruthie was really upset when the shadchanes told her I backed out. She first could not believe it. After all we seemed to be such a great match. She wanted to know why I said no. At first the shadchanes tried to avoid the topic, but in the end Ruthie asked her straight out: is it because I am a giyores? All she could say was yes. I heard that Ruthie was crying for days and didnt want to do any more shiduchim, but in the end time treats everything.

Her parents now tell the prospective boy immediately that this is not their daughter, so that the same situation will not happen again. Let anyone going out with her know that she is a giyores. I heard her family moved to a different city, so dont know if she ended up marrying someone, I certainly hope that she did. She is a wonderful girl and if even if she wont find someone who was born Jewish, she can always marry another ger. The problem is that most converts have a very different background than her, as she grew up as a Jew. Its certainly a tricky situation when you are technically a convert but not really similar to other converts.

At any rate I did not regret my decision. Even though anyone can join the Jewish people and there is great mitzvah to love a ger, marrying one can be challenging. People need to marry those who are similar to them and good yichus is important to be preserved. Even though I never met a girl as appropriate with whom I was able to establish the rapport on the same level as with Ruthie, I did ultimately marry a fine girl from our community. She is from a distinguished family and two of her brothers became Roshey Yeshiva. The truth is I often feel embarrassed when I get to stay with my father in law for Shabbos or Yom Tov. I have to say divrey Torah and if my brothers in law are present they immediately start asking kushiyos which I find difficult to answer. I know they dont mean to embarrass me. We learn in Pirkey Avos that the one who is easily embarrassed cannot learn Torah. But what can I do with myself?

My wife also doesnt respect me much. She never says this but I know she feels she didnt get what she deserves. At first she honored me a lot especially since I got such fantastic recommendations from my Rosh Yeshiva, she thought she got herself a real Talmid Chochom. Another problem is that I only know how to learn the Gemora with Rishonim. When it comes to other parts of Torah, I was never taught and the Rosh Yeshiva assumed we could learn them on their own. He used to say that he has no need to teach us the Shulchan Aruch as we can learn it by ourselves. But I was too lazy to seriously learn Halacha and now my wife often catches me on not knowing the basic things. At some point I was considering to quit the Kollel and start working but my wife was terrified. What will my father and brothers say? This is such an embarrassment. So I didnt bring up this topic again.

Still I cant complain about my wife. She is really a great lady in most respects. She takes care of everything. She wakes up at 6AM, often after difficult night when she was getting up to take care of our crying baby. She then davins quickly, and wakes me up so I go to Kollel on time. She drives up our baby to her mother and goes to work to Manhattan. She keeps repeating what she was taught in school: my learning is the most important thing. Thats why she tries not to ask me for help in her household chores.

I should be happy but I feel so bad. I realize now that I am not really cut for learning the whole day, and I fell really bad that she is doing such a sacrifice just so I can learn. I wish I could be like my brothers in law but not everyone is able to truly learn deeply and enjoy the learning. Maybe this is what Chazal meant when they said: Many tried to do like R. Shimon bar Yochai but didnt succeed. It is assumed that the reason they didnt succeed is because they lacked parnasa, but in reality their lack of success was probably because not everyone can concentrate on learning full time. I wish I had realized this earlier but I already chose my path and its hard to change anything.

Meanwhile my father passed away and since my mom has Alzheimers, I had to take her into my house. My wife is taking care of my mom as if she was her own mother but I see its taking a toll on her. Having a person at home who is constantly forgetting the most basic things is challenging. We are now seriously considering putting my mom in a nursing home. I asked a Rav about this situation and he said that meikar hadin this is permitted. When I talked to my wife she said it should be my decision, but I can see how hard it is for her. She just does not want to be the one to push for it, but if my mom is in a nursing home it will be easier for everyone.

Meanwhile our second child was born and he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Having two sick people in one household was just too much to bear. I told my wife that we may have to consider giving our child to adoption. There are some Frum families that have no children, and they may be able to give our child better care than we can. My wife was so tired from everything that she no longer had an opinion of her own. She said she would accept any resolution. I had to make my own decision.

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING THREE CHOICES:

I decided to give my child to adoption and take care of my elderly mother. Please continue to chapter 2(i) on Please continue to chapter 4(i) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

I decided to place my elderly mother in a nursing home. Who knows what she could do when she is forgetting the most basic things and its hard enough with two small children, one of which also requires special attention. Please continue to chapter 4(ii) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

I decided no matter what the challenge to take care of my elderly mother and to keep my child home and my wife was fully supportive in this decision. Please continue to chapter 4(iii) on page ??? (Click here to continue).


 

Chapter Three (ii). Continued from chapter 2 (i) on page ???

30 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I never regretted my decision. Ruthie was the best wife one could desire. I was told by my married friends when I was preparing for the wedding, that soon after we start living together there will be issues. The blissful happiness never lasts forever. But they were wrong. Many marriages present a challenge but Ruthie and I are so well matched that we almost never have even a possibility of arguments because we usually want the same thing. In rare instances when we are not exactly on the same page, I noticed that Ruthie is very willing to give in to my will and emphasizes that she will follow any decision I make. This actually cases me to want to do what she prefers! I am a kind person by nature and when I see someone who is willing to compromise, I become even more willing to cooperate since I want to reward that person for kindness and softness. Maybe this is what Chovos Halevavos meant when he said that if a woman treats her husband like a king, he will treat her like a queen.

Recently I met Boruch, my former chavrusa from yeshiva ktana. I am happy to see that he is Shomer Mitzvos, though he seems to be on the modern side. It turns out he became a very successful computer programmer and opened his own Internet software company. He thinks that one day he might become as successful as the founders of Google. To tell you the truth I seriously doubt that, more businesses fail than succeed. But I can honestly say if Boruch succeeds I will only be happy. I have no envy in my heart what so ever. Everyone chooses their path in life. I wouldnt want to make money off internet, I am sure there are so many halachik questions that these types of business involve. Shabbos issues, questions of lifnei iver, and besides, most of our Gdolim are against the Internet altogether. Even if Boruch would offer me to switch lives with him, I would never want to be in his shoes. However there is an interesting idea Boruch gave which applies to me: he wants to open a new yeshiva for Russians. While there are a number of Yeshivas for Russian students, he says there arent nearly enough. He has very interesting ideas about this. He wants to include both Russian Sepharadim from Asia and Russian Ashkenazim from European parts of the Soviet Union to learn together. He wants the teachers of Halacha to include both Halacha for Sephardim and for Ashkenazim. He even thought of the types of Sefarim to use in his yeshiva: either Kitzur Shulchan Aruch with notes of R. Mordechai Eliyahu or Mishna Berura with notes of Ish Matzliach. Both possibilities have the advantage of covering halacha for both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. He thinks that the more traditional Sephardic Jews will have particularly good influence on the Ashkenazic students. And he thinks I can be the Rosh Yeshiva. He tells me he never met anyone who can explain things as good as I did. He does not promise me a large salary at first, but he can definitely pay me more than the Kollel stipend I am currently getting. He thinks that later on, the yeshiva will become self-sufficient and he will be able to pay me a good salary. He thinks I learned enough and its time to start teaching others already. I told him I will give him an answer in three days.

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I thought about it and decided this is not for me. There are only certain types of people who can do Kiruv and I am definitely now one of them. I am just not the type of outgoing person who can do this. Please continue to chapter 4(vi) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

As I thought about it I got more and more excited. I also spoke to my wife and she was fully supportive of the idea. I decided to give it a chance. Please continue to chapter 4(v) on page ??? (Click here to continue).


 

Chapter Three (iii). Continued from chapter 2 (ii) on page ???

30 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I have been married to Leah for 9 years now, and we were blessed with 4 children. From the outside our family looks almost ideal: a loving husband who learns in Kollel supported by his father in law, loving wife, healthy children. Only our neighbors who hear Leah scream at me know the truth. My family life is far from ideal. I now understand what the book of Mishlei says: its better to dwell on the corner of a housetop than with a scuffling woman even in a roomy house. I once read how the GRA explains the words of the Gemora: that they used to ask a person who recently married, whether he found a wife or finds a wife? If the answer is found in the past tense then the wife must be good and if its in the present tense, then she must be a difficult wife. According to the GRA, when the wife is good, the lucky newlywed quickly forgets this, but when she is difficult, the husband constantly suffers and remembers this all the time. Similarly, Shlomo Hamelech compares a quarrelsome wife to constant dripping on a rainy day.

In addition, my father in law has not been supporting me for the last two years and my wife is has nudged me since then. I am told I am good for nothing, and while everyone finds ways to make money we just have piling bills. I started looking for a job as a Rebbi but the salaries offered are so small, just slightly more than the money I make in Kollel.

One good thing happened last week though. I accidentally met Shimshon, my former chavrusa from yeshiva ktana. Wow, you should have seen that car! Here is someone who is doing well to be sure. He really knows how to get by and guess what? He wants to take me as a partner. At first I was so excited and told my wife soon our financial struggling will be over! But now I see the issue is more complex: not everything Shimshon does is perfectly legal. He needs someone to be the middleman between kidney paid donors and the recipients. I dont understand why this is illegal in the first place. This should be considered a great mitzvah. The one selling his kidney will get a lot of money. Most donors come from counties where 100,000 dollars is a huge sum of money. They are doing it totally voluntarily. And yet the one arranging this great mitzvah is considered by our government to be committing a crime. This reminds me of the prohibition era when the stupid new law made it illegal to do something that most law abiding citizens were doing until now. Except that kidney donation is not wine drinking. One can certainly survive without wine but the one whose kidneys failed lives on dialysis, and thats a life of Gehinom. He is certainly willing to give a lot of money in order to escape such a life.

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I decided I have no choice. I know there is a risk of getting a jail sentence. Well this would put me in good company with the GRA and the first Chabad Rebbe who also were jailed for no reason. I will do what I feel is right. Please continue to chapter 4(iv) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

I spoke to my wife, my Rebbe and my father and they all told me to stay away from this. Money comes and goes but joining Shimshon in his business is the road to Gehinom (or jail). Please continue to chapter 4(vii) on page ??? (Click here to continue).


 

Chapter Three (iv). Continued from chapter 2 (ii) on page ???

30 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

Yossi started meeting with Leah and very soon it turned serious, but I never regretted my decision. I was thinking that if Leah is meant for my chavrusa, then its best for everyone. In a few months I was dancing at Yossis wedding. Soon afterwards Yossi called me and said that Leah has a very nice girl for me. They went to high school together and she is truly sweet. I must admit, the first time I met Rivka I didnt feel any connection. But after a few dates I started looking forward to each new meeting with her.

 

You see, all my previous dates were simply boring. I had nothing to talk to with these girls. Not that they were not smart, but somehow their interests were different from mine. Some were well read but I have never even heard about the authors of the books they mentioned. Others were too standard, they just wanted a Talmid Chochom who knows how to learn, because thats what they were taught in school and told by the family. But with Rivka I feel totally different. We talk about Torah topics and I actually learn from her. I can see how her understanding of Judaism is deeper than mine. She was always into reading and as she was growing up she was never satisfied with just passing the tests or doing the assignments in school. When they started learning parts of Rambans commentary on the Chumash, Rivka simply fell in love with it. She continued studying the whole Ramban from the beginning to the end and would quote to me whole pieces by heart. I felt so embarrassed. Of course she recognized that she cannot understand many of Rambans hints, especially his Kabalistic pieces (what he calls Derech HaEmes the True Way), but even those insights she understood were enough to deepen her knowledge of Torah and commitment to Yidishkait.

 

Her love of Ramban transferred to me. I started to look forward to meeting with Rivka so we can discuss a new Ramban together. Until now I had only studied some Chidushei Ramban on the Gemora, but now I started learning the Ramban on Chumash and found so many treasures in his writings. I am surprised that so many times his words actually help understanding the Gemora! Just consider the shita of Maharshal that onaah (overcharging) can apply to the sale of lands as well. This is exactly what Ramban writes in his Chumash commentary and explains it based on the Biblical text! How many people charge exuberant prices when renting out apartments without realizing that according to Ramban they are breaking the Torah law! Or take for example the old dispute of whether keeping chametz outside of ones house on Pesach is forbidden on Biblical level. Ramban clearly proves that it is only a rabbinical prohibition. Similarly some questions regarding the fruits of the Shmita can be understood so well when one studies the Ramban.

 

But what I appreciated the most is when Rivka pointed out to me how learning Ramban strengthens Emuna! Just look at his commentary to the end of Vayikra when he brings step by step how the predictions of punishments of the Torah got fulfilled. He writes how the first rebuke of the Torah was fulfilled during the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, and the second rebuke in Parshas Ki Tavo was rebuked when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. (I later studying this topic at length and found that the GRA writes something similar in his commentary to a Kabalistic book: Tikunei Zohar Chadash.) Or Rambans words about the Tshuva process in the end of days. He writes that this prophesy was not yet fulfilled in his time. But it is being fulfilled now!

 

Rivka later told me that she was told that the GRA considers the ten Parshas of the book of Devarim to correspond to the ten centuries in the sixth millennia. This way the Tshuva process in Nitzavim corresponds to our generation. When I hear this from her I almost fell from my chair. I later made a table for myself with each Parsha in one column and the corresponding years in the other, and you would not believe how precise the correspondence is! Enough to say that the First World War, the Communist Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the World War Two all fell in the end of parshas Ki Tavo, on the rebukes of the Jewish people, and the parsha of Tshuva fell on the following generation! Can you imagine that the parsha with the worst rebukes corresponds to the generation when the worst calamities befell our nation. How could the GRA know about this?

 

I asked Rivka how she is able to notice these types of insights. When I read Rambans commentary I dont always notice the arguments that can be used to strengthen faith. She then revealed to me that her parents are very open to the non-observant Jews. They always invite many people for Shabbos, and there are deep discussions at their Shabbos table. Rivka was also able to influence some of the girls that came over to become more observant. She would tell me: you just dont understand what the non-observant Jews think of us. Their perception of Orthodox Jews is that we are backward people from the Dark Ages. Its only when they meet us that they can see we are not stupid or brainwashed. Many girls also feel that to be an Orthodox Jewish woman is to belong to society dominated by males. You have to know how influential feminism is in this country. Its only when they meet us, talk to us and see how we live, that their perception begins to change. I have yet to meet a person whose despise cannot be turned into love and respect.

 

She also told me one needs to know how to better illustrate concepts to contemporary Jews. Take for instance Ramban on Shemos 13:16 where he explains that many of the commandments are meant to preserve the memory of the miracle of Exodus. The Almighty would not keep making the wonders of similar caliber constantly in the Jewish history. As time would pass, the future generations will certainly begin to doubt if the events described in the Torah ever took place. The only way to guarantee the passage of tradition is to make sure the nation as a whole will remind itself constantly of what happened.

One was to illustrate this to a typical unobservant Jew is to compare it to preserving the memory of Holocaust. Many Jews feel the importance of remembering these events, especially in the era of Holocaust denial, and they will understand this analogy. Imagine that a group of Holocaust survivors wanted to guarantee that Holocaust would never be forgotten. They would accept on themselves and their descendants a way of life full of constant reminders of what they went through. They would write down on a scroll an accepted version of their experience and make sure many exact copies are made and exist in their possessions wherever they live. They would institute a public reading of this scroll on certain occasions. They could take the main passages of this scroll, affix them on their doors and lay them on their arms and heads pronouncing: We will not forget! They might want to make sure their descendants will have a similar tattoo mark on their arm, like the one the Nazis made on theirs. They may also dedicate one day a week for remembrance of what happened, and some special days as holidays: commemorating the day the allies released them, the day they traveled on ships to the Palestine and to the Western countries, and the day their special book was written and sealed. I could see the clear analogy between the example Rivka gave and many of our commandments. Obviously, the three holidays correspond to Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, but what does the tattoo marks correspond to? Is this Bris Milah? Yes, Rivka answered. Of course the analogy does not have to be perfect, as Bris Milah was given to Avraham, but we do find that the Torah specifically insists that an uncircumcised male cannot partake of the Pesach offering. So obviously there is a connection between the Exodus and the Bris Milah.

 

Rivka told me that it is very important for her that her husband will share her passion for Kiruv. I now understood that if I marry Rivka I would have to change my whole lifestyle.

 

PLEASE MAKE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TWO CHOICES:

I must say I am not really cut to influence others. I need to first grow myself, as the Gemora says: fix yourself and then fix other. Also I am not so sure I want to keep an open house, I like my privacy. Would I be able to handle guests including non-religious Jews every Shabbos? I am also not so sure of what influence they will have on my kids. In the end I decided that while I like Rivka, we would not make a good match. Please continue to chapter 4(ix) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

 

In the end Rivka got me very excited about this Kiruv idea. She said she wants our home to be open to others. She does not want our children to grow judgmental. Though this is not exactly how I had imagined my future life, I am ready to change for Rivka. Please continue to chapter 4(viii) on page ??? (Click here to continue).

 

 


 

Chapter Four (i). Continued from chapter 3 (i) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I had thought we would have a very large family one day. The truth is I never gave much thought to this, but it seemed that almost everyone in my class comes from large families. Only one of my classmates was the only child. We are so accustomed to see large families that we never contemplate how each child born is a miracle.

Of course we know there are families that cannot have children. But this is so rare that nobody thinks that it will happen to them. And once the couple has their first child, they assume the next one will come soon. Thats why after we gave away our second child with Down syndrome we expected the next one very soon. A few months later we were though that my wife is pregnant, but it turned out it was not so. Months kept passing, then a year passed, we both wanted another child but it was not happening. When three years passed, my wife started having stomach pains. She went to a doctor and it turned out she has a condition. She needed an urgent operation. What is even scarier is she was told that after the surgery she will never be able to have children. Needless to say we went to get second opinion and third opinion. My father in law got us appointments with the best specialists but there was really nothing they could do.

Well everything is up to Hashem. What is not meant to be is not meant to be. Sometimes I wonder if this is some kind of a punishment for something. Every child is a gift from Hashem. Maybe when we gave away our second gift from Hashem, He decided to no longer give us any new gifts. At any rate I have no reasons to complain, after all I had one child, my daughter Dina who now became a teenager. My wife and I now put all our hopes into her.

And then a new disaster happened. Before I go on let me explain to you something about our daughter. Dina is a very smart child and she is a perfectionist. That in itself is not so bad, but the problem with some perfectionists is that they become too worried when things dont go their way. My daughter can cry if she gets a mark below her expectations (and those expectations are usually 100 or at least 95). She always studies so hard but even that cant guarantee perfect grades. Once she submitted an extra credit essay and somehow the teacher seemed to have misplaced it. When my daughter found that out she was in hysterics the whole week. No amount of persuasion that this is completely unimportant could change her mind. I tried to explain to her how the GRA says in his famous letter to his wife: tomorrow you will laugh at what you cried today, but it didnt help. I asked her: do you think that five years from now you will remember this? Why is it so important to you? But none of this helped.

Having a child who is a perfectionist is challenging but that alone would not get us worried. However a tragedy struck when we were totally unprepared. My daughter was diagnosed with anorexia. For those who have never heard of this decease, I can only wish you that you never have to personally encounter it. In fact most people who first hear about it simply cannot understand what the whole problem is. Anorexics just dont want to eat normally and want to be very skinny. They absolutely cannot see their bodies objectively, and even when they are very skinny they think they are fat.

When people are Chas Veshalom diagnosed with cancer or heart problems everybody understands that this is very serious. But few people even know that anorexia can be deadly too. 20% of people with anorexia can end up dying without ever reaching old age. Some die at 20, some at 30 or 40. Most people cannot understand why cant anorexics simply eat? But anorexia is a sickness like any other. Anorexics cant eat because thats what their brain tells them. If they start eating and gaining weight, their brain tells them they are fat, they failed the task and they need to lose weight again.

My wife and I dont remember how it all started, but our daughter was definitely never fat. Indeed she was actually on the thin side. However people in my family have very heavy bones. My daughter did not look fat at all, but her weight was 150 pounds, much more than most girls her age and height. At some point she decided she wants to look even skinnier and started dieting by cutting on snacks and sugar. My wife didnt find that alarming, after all there is nothing healthy about pastries and sweet product anyway. My daughter lost some weight and was now 120 pounds and looked really skinny, but she didnt feel that was enough. Now her goal weight was 100 pounds. Many people blame us for not noticing the danger, but you have to realize that when the changes are gradual, its very hard to notice them. Those who didnt see Dina for a long time and later met her thought she looked like a ghost, but we kept seeing her every day and didnt notice anything.

Now looking back we find it hard to understand how we missed all the signs. I cry when I remember Dina sitting in her coat on a warm day and saying she is cold. Why didnt we realize then that something is wrong? Why Why Why? When she was taking only vegetables with her for her lunch why didnt we see red?

Well eventually when she poured out her soup into the sink we knew something is not right. We took her to one doctor, then another, and it became clear that our daughter had anorexia. I have to give credit to my wife, she dropped everything and started educating herself on what to do. It turned out the only proven method is feeding the anorexic child until their weight is restored. Unfortunately its easier said than done. Who would have told us that gaining back weight is much harder than losing it? So many people struggle to lose some weight that few know that getting it back is even harder.

The refeeding becomes a constant fight between the parents and the child. Actually my wife views it not as fighting against the child but as fighting against the decease. This is not our child. Our wonderful daughter always listened to us. Could she have turned into this rebel who destroys her lunch and lies to her parents? This is not her! Its her decease that is fighting.

My wife and I went through real Gehinom for about a year. After we were able to control Dinas meals and force her to eat, we discovered that she doing exercises at night in order to lose back the weight she was gaining. My wife ended sleeping with her in one bed for half a year. Only when Dina gained her normal weight did she become reasonably sane. My wife is still always worried about what will happen in the future and especially regarding shiduchim for Dina, but the hardest time is now passed.

Looking back at my life so far, and I am now probably passed the middle of my life, I can see I made a lot of mistakes. My worst mistake was probably giving away my child with Down syndrome. I gave away one sick child and now I have another one I have to always worry about. I truly regret what I did. It was my choice and I take all responsibility. Had I insisted on keeping my son, my wife would not object and we would manage somehow. Still whatever happened is passed and I hope and pray for the best in the future. When we had the hardest time of refeeding my daughter, our family was totally dysfunctional. My wife and I were constantly worried and would occasionally scream at each other. Now, when the hardest period is hopefully over I can truly appreciate the peace and quiet at our home. Any experience in life teaches us something and my experience taught me to further appreciate my wife. I truly thank Hashem for giving us strength to go through all this suffering.

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


Chapter Four (ii). Continued from chapter 3 (i) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

 

My child with a Down syndrome gives me the greatest happiness. He is such a kind boy, and its not for nothing people say that Down children are very attached to their parents. I am so happy he is nearby; I have so much Nachas from him. We are trying to always stay in touch with latest advances in treatment of special children. My wife always reads new books on this subject, and our child is growing to fulfil his potential to the best degree possible.

However a tragedy struck us a year ago: I was diagnosed with renal failure. In one moment my life crashed. The constant travelling I now do is to the hospital and back twice a week. After another dialysis I am so weak that the next day I can barely do anything. The only thing that can save me is a kidney donation but the line is so long.

Some people have relatives who are willing to donate a kidney for them, but I would never dare asking my siblings for such a sacrifice. It says that the fundamental principle of Torah is to love a fellow like oneself. But how can the Torah demand such a thing? I once read in the commentary called Haksav Vehakabala, that what this posuk means is that we should love others in a way we expect them to love us. I figured from this that we can only expect from others as much as we would be willing to do for them. Would I donate one of my kidneys to someone else? I dont know but I dont think its likely. Would I do it even for my brother or sister? I really dont know. So it would be hypocritical for me to expect it from them. Certainly I am not going to ask for this. My brothers and sisters know I am sick, so let them make their own decisions. I am certainly not judging them.

 

My suffering continued for a few months and my prospects for the future were dim. I had signed up at a Jewish organization that pairs up potential kidney donors. I did this just in case, though I did not put too much hope into this. Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from them that they have a donor. He says he knows me from a long time ago and feels that at some point I literally saved his life and he wants to pay back. I kept guessing who this might be? I dont remember ever saving anyones life. So I figured it must be some tzadik who does not want me to feel bad when I take such a gift from him, thats why he is saying this. At any rate I dont feel bad accepting his sacrifice. After all, our sages say that the poor man does more to the rich by accepting his charity than the rich does to the poor. How much more so the merit this person will have for literally saving my life. If he decided to do this I will certainly accept his self-sacrifice. The Rabbis also consider kidney donation to be a great mitzvah though of course nobody is obligated to do this.

Meanwhile my donor told the organization he does not mind if I find out who he is but only after the operation. All the analysis was performed and when the doctors confirmed that we are compatible, the operation was scheduled.

When I woke up from anesthesia, the person lying next to me was Boruch. He is the one who donated his kidney to bring me my life again. How can I ever thank him? He keeps telling me that it is he who owes his life to me. What would happen if you didnt agree to learn with that Russian boy when you were 10?

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


 

Chapter Four (iii). Continued from chapter 3 (i) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

We never regretted our decision. My son Shlomie brings us so much Nachas! We had three other children since then and he plays with them and even babysits to some extent. He is capable of changing diapers, giving a bottle and much more. Actually it seems that a lot depends on how we treat our special children. Generally, children with Down syndrome have a level of understanding of an average nine year old child, but there are some exclusions. In fact there are some people with Down syndrome who get college degrees, one woman even graduated at the top of her class, and one woman in Spain became a political leader. The main idea that my wife learned is that we should set our goals high and not place any limits on the possible accomplishments of Shlomie. Boruch Hashem this worked really well and my son is quite a smart kid. His brain is very well developed, he can now play chess and solve puzzles. We basically bring him up almost like a regular kid his age. On Shabbos we read together various stories of R. Chaim Walder and Shlomie loves them. We also read articles from the Flatbush Jewish Press, the Jewish Home and the Community Magazine. These publications have Divrey Torah as well as various interesting articles on all kinds of topics. Sometimes, Shlomie even solves the riddles from the Community Magazine and we send in his answer. In the next volume, his name appears with other winners.

What really came as a pleasant surprise is that by keeping Shlomie in the family, taking care of my mom actually became easier. I wonder why I used to think that having a sick mother and a sick child makes it more difficult. Shlomie is not really sick and he actually helps my mother. In this case a minus times a minus actually gives a plus. In fact my mother had so much Nachas from our son and he also became very close to his grandmother. Down children are the kindest on earth. I wonder if they are even capable of ever hating someone or being angry. I dont know, I am certainly not an expert, but I love my son and he is the kindest being I ever met. Given my moms condition, we try to always have an adult in the house. However sometimes her nurse is not with her, and if we have to leave the house for a short time, Shlomie stays and takes care of my mom. At one point he called Hatzalah when he my mom fell down. What would we do without him?

I was wondering what the Halachic status of my son is? Is he obligated to keep the mitzvos? I asked a shaila and was told that R. Eliyashiv paskened that if a Down syndrome child does not lose what is given to him, he is considered normal and can even be counted in a minyan. This was certainly great news to hear, for according to this psak not only Shlomie but most people with Down syndrome are considered normal. I was also told that other great Poskim generally agree that a typical child with Down syndrome, who can understand that the world is ruled by Hashem is not considered a shote. Well Shlomie certainly understands that. In fact he knows all the thirteen principles of faith. We learn together Halachik books like Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Berura and I am very proud of him.

I kept telling Shlomie a parable I once heard in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. He asks about the statement traditionally said at the time when we finish learning a tractate: I work and get rewarded. Does not everyone get rewarded for their work? No. If a person worked but didnt do the assigned job he will never be paid. Just imagine a shoe repairman who was given a pair of shoes to fix and he was not able to do this, but presented a bill, claiming he tried his best! Well learning Torah is different, says the Chofetz Chaim. Even the one who only tried to learn he will get rewarded. And Shlomie is certainly trying. I can see he really is.

While my son was growing up, my wife did a lot of research on the topic of Down syndrome kids. She read lots of material and tried to apply what she learned. After a while Shlomie developed to the extent we never could imagine. When other parents of regular kids would see him in Shul they would tell me as compliment that he is better at reading Chumash and Rashi than many regular kids. And his behavior is exceptional. It then occurred to me that my experience could be used in our community.

Now of course I am not a psychologist, I dont have any special degrees, but did learn Torah for many years including many Sifrei Mussar and that helped me gain a lot of insight into people. Together with my wife and her research we seemed to combine the best knowledge on how to bring up kids and specifically how to bring up special kids. So I started writing articles in our local newspapers on this topic. My articles had a lot of success as unfortunately there are a lot of parents in our situation. And then I received a phone call from a very wealthy member of our community. He said he was very impressed with my articles and he sees that I am really sincere and love kids. He wants to open a special school for kids who cannot attend a regular yeshiva and he wants me to be the principal! He said he wants the school to both use the most advanced methods that the society developed for educating special kids and at the same time to be on appropriate level of teaching Yidishkait. He said this idea came to him when he read one of the articles that even those kids who never develop passed the understanding of a nine year old are still obligated to learn Torah and keep all the mitzvos! (I later found out that he also has a personal interest since unfortunately one of his grandsons has Down syndrome.)

Now I am in my forties, and the Pirkei Avos says that a forty year old acquires understanding. I hope I did acquire some understanding. I certainly have a lot of experience now. Looking back at my choices in life I think I made one very important choice that influenced the rest of my life: when I decided to not give Shlomie away and invested so much time into teaching him. My life is now full of meaning. I run a school for special kids. I get invited to seminars all over the globe. The only continent I didnt visit lecturing is Antarctica. I hope I will continue to help others see Nachas from all of their children.

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


 

Chapter Four (iv). Continued from chapter 3 (iii) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

The judge is obviously an anti-Semite. 30 years in jail for what? Just because I was trying to help people? What about my children? Couldnt she have pity on them? Didnt she see how my wife cried when she heard the sentence? Couldnt she at least be sympathetic to my wifes plight? She will now have to raise our kids alone. Is it the fault of my kids?

This is just unbelievable. I will come out when I am 70. Its like a life sentence. Who does she think I am second Madoff? Even if according to her world-view I deserved a punishment, but 30 years? I am a first time offender, could not she consider that?

Its all my lawyers fault. He took the money and did a lousy job. He used to say I should plea-bargain. I bet he just wanted to make his job easier. Now he says its my fault, had I plead they would have given me a much lighter sentence. Yeah, right. The plea offer was eight years. At that time I thought its way too much, considering I am only a first time offender. I am not a criminal. Whats the point of keeping me in jail for the rest of my life and paying for it from tax-payers money? But I am not giving up. I will try to appeal. My father in law already started collecting money to hire better lawyers

I still cant understand what went wrong? I was so successful in my youth, a promising kid with life ahead of me. Someone must have placed an ayin hara on me. All these people that only know how to envy those who are successful.

Can it be I did something wrong in my choices in life? I cant think straight now, but I need to go over this. Hashem will be with me no matter where I am. I will take a notebook and write down everything I did in life, everything I can remember. I will examine my life thoroughly and do tshuva for anything I might have done wrong. Unfortunately I will now have a lot of time to think it over.

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.

 


 

Chapter Four (v). Continued from chapter 3 (ii) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

One thing I was right about is that Boruchs business didnt last very long. But before he went bankrupt he was able to pay the first down payment for the mortgage of our yeshiva thats what matters the most. My life underwent nothing short of revolution because of the yeshiva. We have five talmidim that not only fully observe now but are making progress with their parents. Can you believe that? Usually its the parents who try to change the kids but here its exactly the opposite. I guess its the fulfillment of the prophesy of Malachi: veheshiv lev avos el banim velev banim el avosam (He will return the hearts of fathers to their sons and the hearts of the sons to their fathers). I once heard R. Ezriel Tauber saying based on Rashi on this pasuk that in the end of days the children will be bringing parents back to tshuva. By the way, forgot to tell you: I now study Tanach thoroughly. It was Boruch who insisted that we include serious Navi study in our program. At first it was very hard to learn Navi, I could not even understand the language. There are so many new words and expressions. But I said to myself: was it easy to learn the Gemora or to get accustomed to Rashis unique style? No! I had to get used to the language. So if I was willing to invest time to understand the Gemora or Rashi, why cant I invest time to understand our Neviim? Did not we learn in maseches Kidushin that every father has to teach his son all of the written Torah. Why is this not done today? I had once asked my Rebbe about it when I was learning maseches Kidushin, why we usually dont learn the entire written today and he showed me the Shachs commentary to the Shulchan Aruch that explains why we dont do this. I guess most people rely on the Shach and thats how I ended up not knowing the Navi and not even being able to understand the verses when I read them. I had never concentrated much on Tanach except a little bit in Yeshiva Ktana. But Boruch wanted in his yeshiva to restore the learning to the system that our sages preferred. Once I started teaching the Russian kids I invested a lot of time to learn the Nach.

I now feel like Hashem is talking to me through his ancient prophets. I read the call of Yeshayahu to return from exile, the criticisms of Amos and Hoshea to our ancestors. I think Amoss way to relate to people should be studied by every Kiruv worker. He talks to everyone in a way they can relate to, using parables and puns. He often starts with something that people want to hear, and once he gets their attention tells them his message. And he emphasizes that he is a regular person like them, not a professional prophet. When someone tells a prospective Baal Tshuva that he is a Rabbi, its not always possible to find a common language. But imagine someone says: I am also a programmer or a doctor, like you! But of all the prophets, the words of one Messenger - Malachi speak to me the most. He is the last of all the Biblical prophets and we dont even know his name for sure. He is simply called the Messenger. When I read his message I want to cry. Since Hashem knew this would the final prophet, and He would not communicate with our people directly for thousands of years, He put into the words of Malachi the final communication to His children. Just re-reading this gave me so much strength. How much did we miss in our yeshiva. Our teachers always assumed that their main role is to help us learn the Gemora with Rishonim, they thought we can learn everything else on our own. But we never got our hands on this.

Another fantastic result of my teaching is that I started concentrating on Halacha. I now study these books very carefully to be able to explain their words to others. I can only think of what I would have lost had I not agreed on Boruchs proposal. What I really love about teaching others is that I now understand everything so much better myself. When I learn in order to explain, I gain much deeper insight. I once heard that the GRA used to explain this in Kabalistic terms: the teacher is bestowed special Divine energy to be mashpia to the student and this way the teacher absorbs much of it himself. He also compares the relationship of a teacher to student is to the relationship of a husband to his wife!

And by the way do you know what happened to Boruch? Once his business failed he decided to join the yeshivas faculty. It turns out he is a fantastic teacher and kids just love him. He can always come up with amazing analogies. I think he would be great even if he taught in a mainstream yeshiva. So often we learn the Bava Kama and just cant understand how any of this applies to us. Boruch has this amazing ability to give examples from everyday life that illustrate the Gemora.

Moreover, because he is such a computer whiz, Boruch applies his knowledge to research the Torah codes. Some of the things he discovers are amazing. For example he checked where the name Matityahu appeared in the Torah with equidistant intervals with the smallest skips and found it in Parshat Behaalotcha (Bemidbar 10:9): If a war will come to our land, the sons of Aharon should will blow the trumpets and be remembered before Hashem and saved from the enemy. If you count from the last letter of the word (should blow) you will get the name Matytyahu with skips of 6 letters, and these verses summarize the story of the rebellion that led to the Chanuka miracle! When Boruch told me this I added that probably the number six corresponds to Matytyahu and his five sons. I also mentioned to him that our sages also teach that Chanuka is hinted in the beginning of this Parsha. This way Boruch and I constantly discover new hints in the Torah, he provides the programming support and I look for ideas in the words of our sages.

He is also really good with parents. They can understand him and whats even more important he can understand them. He has many great ideas. Eventually he wants to expand the yeshiva and open another branch in Israel. That may become possible once some of our alumni grow up. I once read that Sarah Schenirer used to send girls who just recently graduated her first school in order to open new Bais Yakovs in other cities in Poland. Sometimes there is simply no time to wait.

Boruch tells me that something similar needs to happen with the Russian Jews. For seventy years they had no access to Yidishkait and anyone who knew the Torah passed away a long time ago. The only way to rebuild is create a new generation of teachers from Russian background. I can see that most Russian Jews can relate best only to other Russian Jews, so we urgently need teachers who speak Russian, the ones who have Russian mentality and who share the common experience with other Jews from the former Soviet Union.

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


 

Chapter Four (vi). Continued from chapter 3 (ii) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I am not sure if I made the right choice but nobody can really know this. My situation was so similar to a case I once heard about two Roshei Yeshiva who were asked the same question and answered two opposite answers. They were asked by someone in their yeshiva who was invited to come to a faraway town with a small Jewish community for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That community needed a Chazan and a Baal Tokea, and a Baal Koreh and this man knew how to do all this. Basically it would be a one man show. He would read the Torah, do Chazaras Hashatz, and blow the Shofar. And of course they would pay for this. However it was not clear if that Shul had even ten Shomrei Shabbos Jews in their minyan.

 

One of the Roshei Yeshiva told him that its a great mitzvah to go. He will be mezakei rabim, he will bring knowledge of Torah into that community. Let them see what the real yeshivishe davening is like. He will make sure that everything is done correctly for them. The shofar blowing will be done according to the law.

 

The other Rosh Yeshiva said that there is nothing like praying in the yeshiva especially on the High Holidays. We always learn that ones life comes first and this is especially true in regards to spiritual development. Why would one go during the holiest days of the year to be far from the Torah center, and pray with people who barely observe any mitzvos?

 

Indeed, influencing others is not for everyone. You may bring others closer to Torah or you may bring yourself further from Torah. R. Elchanan Wasserman writes that something that touches what is ritually unclean becomes unclean, but if you touch something that is clean, you dont become clean. I once heard that R. Moshe Shternbuch explains why the Esrog is not taken together with the other three species on Sukkos but is held in a different hand and we only bring the four species together for a short time. It is known that according to our sages, the Esrog represents the tzadik and the other species represent people who are not so righteous. The tzadik should only come in contact with others temporarily, but he should not constantly stay in their company lest they influence him.

 

At any rate I made my choice and there is no turning back. Boruch found a different principal for his school and I heard its doing really well. I recently read an article in Mishpacha how the school that started with just one class now hosts over a hundred students, and that some of their graduates are already studying in Mir, Lakewood, and Brisk Yerushalaim. To be honest when I read this I was a little envious. I could have been the director of this school. But I said to myself: who knows if I would be able to accomplish the same? I am not an envious person by nature, I chose my path.

 

You may be wondering how my Kollel learning is doing. It has been quite good. I learned the entire Gemora with Tosafos and Rosh and I have a Chavrusa I am close to. I was also asked to give a shiur in a neighborhood Shul and they pay me quite well for it. People also found out that I am knowledgeable in Halacha and they sometimes present me with Halachic shailos. I always do serious research before answering and so I now have a reputation of a Posek. Of course I know my limitations, I never really pasken anything, I only search for similar shailos that were already asked. Boruch Hashem in our day its not hard, there are such great sefarim that explain every Halacha. But I am very thorough, if I find that the same question is mentioned in Piskey Tshuvos or in Nitei Gavriel, I first check the sources quoted and only then answer the shaila. So my life is meaningful and I guess I am happy in doing my part in serving Hashem. I was recently thinking of even writing a new Halachik Sefer in English with short answers to common questions. I hope its going to be useful and it will also help my family financially.

 

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.

 

 


 

 

Chapter Four (vii). Continued from chapter 3 (iii) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

 

I am so happy I didnt listen to Shimshon. Guess what? Two years later the guy was in jail. Boruch Hashem Who saved me from this. And I was this close to accepting his proposal. Well in the end all parnasa is in the Hands of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Many people say this but unfortunately so few actually internalize the message. The Chazon Ish writes that even when we do our Hishtadlus in parnasa, the actual sustenance does not come from the Hishtadlus.

 

Consider for instance a person who opens a competing store or business that causes someone elses parnasa to be diminished. There are specific laws in the Gemora of when this is permitted and when it is forbidden. Some of the factors include the location of the two stores, whether the second store owner lives in the same town or at least shares in the tax burden of the town where he wants to open the store. It also depends on the products and services that the stores offer. One interesting example is opening a competing Jewish school. Since more competition creates better education, our sages permit opening a new school.

 

Even though there are specific laws for all this, according to the Chazon Ish, the person will still get whatever sustenance he was supposed to get. As the Talmud teaches, what one makes throughout the year is decided on Rosh Hashana, the only exception is what he spends on mitzvos. If we would really accept these statements, we would never try to gain anything illegally. Why would one do something against the law if he will in the end gain absolutely nothing? So why do even Frum people sometimes break the laws? Well thats how the Yetzer Hara always worked. It impresses people with new ways to make easy money while in reality this path can only lead to jail. Shlomo Hamelech already said: Yesh derech yashar lifnei ish, veacharito darchei maves there is a way that seems straight to a man, but it leads to death.

 

So you may be wondering, how I am managing financially. Well at first I was hoping I would just continue learning and somehow monetary issues will settle. I once read that the GRA explains that when someone tries to learn, Hashem will send him a tree, that is a rich man who will support him. After a while I understood that I cant just be waiting for my tree but I need to do my Hishtadlus.

 

First of all, we sat down with my wife and tried to figure out how much money we actually need. We realized that we can no longer afford buying everything that might be useful, but only things that are absolutely necessary. This way we can stay within a much smaller budget than before.

 

Meanwhile I realized that I can make some money in additional ways besides for the Kollel stipend. First of all in the evenings I now have a few Chavrusas who pay me to learn with them. They are all working people who want to learn with a Talmid Chochom (I know it sounds presumptuous to call myself a Talmid Chochom, but I have been learning seriously for three decades now and I finished the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch a few times. Moreover I prepare for lessons with them and my skills at explaining difficult sugias are improving.) I recently accepted an offer to become a permanent Baal Koreh for a Shul and they pay me nicely. I also learned to blow the shofar really well, and now every Rosh Hashana I get additional payment for being a Baal Tokea. I had to research the topic of being paid for doing a mitzvah on Shabbos or Yom Tov. There is a dispute if simply taking money for this is allowed. But it turns out there is a way to do this so it would be permissible according to all opinions: if I get paid for something done on both weekdays and Holidays. So I blow the shofar on Slichos as well and this way I get paid for everything at once.

 

If I had a good voice I would also try Chazanus, but unfortunately my musical talents leave a lot to be desired. So while I am definitely not rich, our family has what it needs and I am thankful to Hashem for this. As Shlomo Hamelech said: Better to have a little but with fear of Hashem than great treasure and trouble with it.

 

One issue that keeps troubling me is how I will pay my kids weddings? In our community weddings are expensive and we barely have any savings. But I try to solve problems as they come and not worry too much about the distant future. The issue of extravagant weddings is being address by our Gdolim, and maybe by the time my kids will be marrying some solutions will be found. I wish there were special community wedding halls that would have standard catering for all members of our Kehilla. This would bring the prices down significantly. Imagine if the music at a wedding would not cost a few thousand dollars, but there would be two or three permanent musicians working in a hall, playing at weddings every day. Then they would be paid only two or three hundred dollars per wedding.

 

Another solution might be to make two weddings at once. That would bring the cost down significantly since the same photographers and musicians could be hired and the same flowers could also be used for more than one wedding. The Rema mentions how in the old times a rich family would often combine a wedding for their child with a wedding of a poor orphan. So why not help regular people who are not too rich pair up in a joint wedding? This would be especially useful when the families know each other and share a lot of guests!

 

Another idea on how to make some extra money came to my mind very recently. I was always good at drawing, so I thought of maybe trying to work as a Sofer, writing Mezuzos and Tfillins. One advantage of this is that it can be done at any time, so I dont have to cancel any of the jobs I already have. I could do this in the afternoons when I am not in Kollel and before the time I meet with my Chavrusas. I am only afraid that if I make a mistake, the mitzvah object will become invalid, and I am not a very careful person. It is so easy to make a mistake in one letter. My friend who is a Sofer told me that there are a lot of clients today who want to buy a small parchment with Pitum Haketores written on it. And the advantage in writing it is that if a minor mistake is made, you would not be breaking the law of lifney iver. He offered to give me a parchment and I tried to write Pitum Haketores, and it looked really nice and the nearest Judaica store paid me $20 for it. I think this is not bad for starters. As the Talmud says, one should look for a profession that is clean and not too difficult. Boruch Hashem, I think I now found a few such professions.

 

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


 

Chapter Four (viii). Continued from chapter 3 (iv) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

 

I never regretted that choice. I must say I am not really an outgoing person. I would describe myself as an introvert. But almost nobody is fully an introvert or an extravert, we all are usually somewhere in the middle leaning to one of the sides. Living with Rivka for almost ten years, I can say I changed a lot. Our Shabbos table is always full of guests exactly like Rivka wanted. And with time I got to love this too. It is really so exciting. In fact I noticed that it is easier for me when there are many guests than when there are only two or three. If there are few people and they are on the quite side I always feel I need to carry a conversation. But when we have many guests, there is always someone who will do most of the talking and I feel I am potur.

 

We had three kids with Rivka and our oldest daughter is so talented that she skipped a grade and is now in the fourth grade. I could never hope to find a better mother of my children. Since Rivka is so smart she is able to transfer her curiosity to her kids. Our eldest daughter recently wrote her own book in the style of Dr. Seuss. I was simply amazed at this. She is so gifted. Most people who read this poem think it was written by at least a sixth-grader. Well you judge for yourself:

 

Did you ever wish,

On a very bad day,

That all of your problems

Would just run away?

Well, that was my wish

That is, up until

I went for a visit

To Greenest- Grass Hill

Nothing sad ever happened

On dear Greenest-Grass Hill

It was all smooth, smiley, peaceful and still

Yes, nothing bad ever entered

The Greenest- Grass gate;

It was always better, nicer, finer,

And greater than great!

Children could play. The weatherman would say,

That the sun would shine bright for yet another day,

(With a sweet, gentle breeze blowing everyones way)

In fact, on this hill,

Nothing happened at all,

Nothing changed in the least

Not from winter til fall

It was always just perfect

No less and no more

There was no job to do;

Nothing to work for.

They had all they could want

Everything and more

Not a rosebush less

Than the yard next door.

Nothing to hope for,

No surprise to be had,

I had thought, with no troubles,

Id feel very glad.

Well, quickly my smile

Turned into a frown.

With no problems to fix,

I was feeling quite down.

I wanted to work hard

And get something done.

It was boring, you see;

A perfect life is no fun!

So I left that hill fast,

Quick as I could race,

Away from this perfect

Nightmare of a place.

And its gloomy to think

That its going on still

With people still living

On Greenest- Grass Hill.

They never move forward

No reason to try

Oh, the chances they miss!

To grow and aim high

In a problem-free world

Theres no bad, its true

But you lose out

On a lot of the good things, too!

So before you start wishing

Your trouble just ends,

Think, My problems and I,

We are really best friends!

 

And she also drew amazing pictures to illustrate this. When her teacher saw the poem she gave her the best possible grade and wrote that she thinks one day she see my daughters books all over the Judaica stores! I was even thinking to submit this poem to be published by Feldheim! I think kids will love it.

So my life is good, I have no reasons to complain. We can never know if we make the right choices in life since we can never know what our lives would be had we made different choices. But I thank Hashem constantly for helping me make my most important choice in life marrying Rivka.

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.

Chapter Four (ix). Continued from chapter 3 (iv) on page ???

40 years old

(Pirkei Avos 5:21).

I dont know whether I was right or wrong not to marry Rivka. She ended up marrying someone that is probably much more appropriate for Kiruv than me. I met her husband in yeshiva and I know he was always outgoing and wanted to teach others. A real extravert! From what I heard they have exactly the kind of Shabbos table that Rivka wanted. Well best of wishes for her. I certainly dont envy others. I once heard that when a person dies he will now be asked why he didnt reach the level of this or that tzadik, for every person is different. What he will be asked is why he didnt reach his own potential.

Anyway, I married a very nice girl whose main ambition was that I sit and learn full time. At first our financial situation was not the best, but Bas Sheva was always very supportive. Her parents are not rich but they really appreciate Torah learning and Bas Sheva grew up living very modestly. Sometimes rich parents are willing to support their son in law who is learning, but later on, when they cant continue covering all the bills, the son in law is not able to appropriately provide for their daughter who was raised in comfort. My parents in law could not give us a lot of money but they compensated this by raising Bas Sheva the way she is. My Bas Sheva never asks for much, and is a very capable wife. She is also good at sewing and besides saving us a lot of money on our own clothes, she makes some money on the side as a seamstress. I am very thankful to Hashem that I have Bas Sheva. Its as if she is that Eishes Chail, who came down from the pages of Mishlei.

I believe that what happened next was also in her merit. Its not for nothing that the GRA writes that ones parnasa generally comes for the merits of a righteous wife. One of the members of our Shul is a very wealthy guy. He has a lot of property including a few houses in Borough Park. He once approached me and said: I know you learn here all the time and you are a promising Talmid Chochom, and I know you are struggling with parnasa. Well I just bought a new building and I need a manager. The work is only for a few hours a day, but I will pay you a full salary, enough to support your family. Who could believe this? Its actually true. Now I understand the saying of our sages in the end of Kesubos about the great share in the World to Come for someone who makes a partnership with a Talmid Chochom. R. Eliyahu Dessler specifically describes that this is referring to someone who does it for the benefit of the Talmid Chochom, not for his own benefit. I believe this is exactly what happened here. The reason this man chose me to be his manager is so that I can learn Torah without worrying about parnasa.

What is really great about my new job is that I dont have to actually do much during the time I am at work. I just have to be in the office in the afternoons Monday through Thursday and at times deal with tenants or with other employees. During most of the time at work, I can just sit and learn. To make sure I am not stealing time from my boss I asked his permission to learn when there is nothing to do. He said, of course! Now only I can you learn, I want you to learn whenever there is nothing to do. Why do you think I chose you for this job in the first place? So you learn during spare your time. Your learning will only bring more success to my business! You certainly remember how our sages teach that a Talmid Chochom always brings a blessing similarly to the way Hashem blessed the house the Egyptian because of Yosef. Needless to say I love this arrangement.

I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky? Many people learn full time but few are able to settle so well. As our sages say: not every person can have both tables. This is similar to the English proverb: you can't have your cake and eat it or you can't have the best of both worlds, except that our sages dont use the words cant. Sometimes you can but its very rare. Indeed the Rema says in the Shulchan Aruch that learning most of the time and working a little is ideal. He calls it matas Elokim, a special present from Hashem, but its very rare.

Recently I was going through my life, trying to understand why I got such a present? I thought that maybe when I decided not to say Loshon Hara about Leah, it was the most important decision I ever made. It was a very difficult decision. I really thought at the time that Leah would be the best spouse for me especially since her father would pay for my learning for many years. Maybe thats why Hashem rewarded me with a wonderful wife and good parnasa.

 

Please continue to the end of the book for conclusions.


 

Concluding words.

Now that you are finished with one of the version of this book, you may want to see the other ones. Just go back and review the choices you made, and follow an alternate path. I tried to make the various paths dependent on the choices one makes, but the correspondence is not always obvious just as in real life the Divine reward and punishment is not always easy to see.

If you finished reading all the nine versions of the book you can compare the nine end results. Please dont be judgmental. Even when we make bad choices its not only our own fault, and there are possibilities for correction later. I must tell you I love all the versions of the main character. I am not judging him in the fourth version, even though he is now in jail. This is indeed the saddest of the nine endings. My favorite ending is the fifth, but this is a personal choice. I purposefully left the book at 40 years old. On average there are still at least three more decades of choices to be made. Maybe you will be the one to write the continuation of this book!

A few words regarding the names in this book. The main character is not named, I hope the reader will associate with him. Boruch is a Jewish name that was given to the boy originally named Boris, a common name among Russian Jews. Of course Boruch means blessed, and he brings a blessing by saving the life to the main character in the second version. Shimshon is the person who makes difficult decisions ending up doing illegal activity. Its possible he did it Leshem Shamaim just as the Biblical Shimshon (Samson). I used the name Yossi for the friend who becomes the victim of Loshon Hara because the Biblical Yosef used to bring evil reports against his brothers. Shlomie a kid diagnosed with Down syndrome has the name of the wisest man King Solomon. The reason for this is twofold. I wanted to emphasize his potential to grow despite his possible limitations. I also used this as a euphemism, similarly to our sages calling a blind person: Sagi Nahor (that one who sees a lot). Indeed in some way a blind person can see deeper as he doesnt get distracted by physical sights, and similarly children with Down syndrome often show special talents that others dont have. Rivka is the wisest wife who teaches her husband, just as the Biblical Rivka understood the nature of Eisav and Yakov better than her husband. Ruthie is of course named after the first well known giyores, Ruth the Moabite. Leah, the loyal wife who has difficult relationship with her husband reminds us of her Biblical prototype. I named the ideal wife Bas Sheva, just as our sages teach that Shlomo wrote the last chapter of Mishlei about her. The name of the wife in first three versions is left out on purpose. This is done to emphasize that the main character is not close to his spouse, and does not bother to mention her name.


 

Glossary.

Ashkenazim - European Jews.

 

Baal Koreh the one who reads the Torah scroll.

 

Baal Tokea the one blowing the Shofar.

 

Baal Tshuva (plural: Baalei Tshuva) literally, the repentant. Today this usually refers to those Jews who were not brought up religious and returned to Jewish observance.

 

Bais Yakov Jewish schools for girls. The name literally means the house of Jacob and is based on the explanation of our sages that this expression refers to the Jewish women who were always much more open to spiritual and accepted the Torah with love and didnt worship the Golden Calf.

 

Bava Kama a Talmudic tractate dealing with damages.

 

Bris Milah circumcision.

 

Brisk a famous yeshiva in Jerusalem stemming from the town of Brisk (Brest).

 

Chametz leaven. On Pesach its forbidden for a Jew not only to eat chametz but even to keep it in the house unless its sold to a gentile.

 

Chas Veshalom - G-d forbid.

 

Chavrusa (literally: a friend), a Torah learning partner.

 

Chazanus being a Chazan (cantor).

 

Chazaras Hashatz repetition of the main prayer done by a Chazan (cantor).

 

Chidushei novel interpretations.

 

Chofetz Chaim R. Yisroel Meir Hakohen, one of the most well-known European rabbis of recent generations.

 

Chumash The Five Books of Moshe.

 

Daven(ing) Pray(ing).

 

Devarim the last book of Moshe (Deuteronomy).

 

Dovid Hamelech King David.

 

Divrey Torah words of Torah.

 

Eishes Chail Woman of Valor. A poem about an ideal woman in the end of the book of provers.

 

R. Elchanan Wasserman a major European Rav who was killed during the Holocaust.

 

Frum (Yiddish) religiously observant.

 

Gdolim great rabbis.

 

Gehinom Hell.

 

Gemora: commentary to the Mishna that includes intricate reasoning. Most of the studies in yeshiva concentrate on Gemora.

 

Ger (fem. Giyores) convert to Judaism.

 

GRA The Vilna Gaon, an extremely influential European Rabbi. The quotes from the GRA in this book are real. The division of years 5000-6000 in the Jewish Calendar, does indeed correspond closely to the history of this millennia (so far) as I wrote in a different book.

R. Eliyahu Dessler a famous authority in Mussar (Jewish ethics).

 

Halacha Jewish law.

 

Hashem (lit. The Name) G-d. Orthodox Jews generally dont pronounce G-ds Names except in prayer, and instead say Hashem.

 

Hishtadlus trying, making an effort to achieve something.

 

Ki Tavo Torah portion that predicts the world calamities if we dont listen to Hashem.

 

Keilla community.

 

Kidushin a Talmudic tractate that deals with the laws of marriage and mentions the obligations of father to the son.

 

Kollel yeshiva for married men.

 

Kushios questions raised in learning.

 

Lifney iver placing a stumbling block before the blind. This prohibition of the Torah includes any assistance in doing something forbidden or causing someone to sin. Since even one missing or incorrectly written letter makes the Mezuza or Tfilin non-kosher, the sofer ends up places a stumbling block before the one who uses it.

 

Litvishe Lithuanian. Yeshivos today a generally divided into Litvishe, Chassidic and Sephardi.

 

Loshon Hara literally: bad mouth. Speaking evil against others.

 

Maharal of Prague R. Judah Loew who was the chief Rabbi of Prague close to five centuries ago.

 

Maharshal R. Shlomo Luria, an important Talmudic and Halachic commentator who lived about 5 centuries ago.

 

Maharshak R. Shlomo Kluger, an important Rabbi and very prolific writer who lived about 2 centuries ago.

 

Maseches tractate of the Talmud or Mishna.

 

Mashpia influence.

 

Meikar Hadin according to the letter of the law.

 

Mezakei rabim one who brings merits to others.

 

Mishlei Book of Proverbs.

 

Mishna, (plural: Mishnayos) part of the Oral Torah that was compiled approximately 1800 years ago.

 

Mitzvah (pl. mitzvos) Torah command or a good deed.

 

R. Moshe Shternbuch an influential Rabbi living in Jerusalem.

 

Mir a famous yeshiva coming from a small Belorussian town of Mir.

 

Mussar Jewish ethical teachings.

 

Nach Neviim and Kesuvim other prophetic books besides the Five Books of Moshe.

 

Nachas enjoyment.

 

Navi prophet.

 

Neviim - prophets. The second part of the Written Torah that consists of Chumash, Neviim and Ksuvim.

 

Nitei Gavriel a well-known multi volume halachic series.

 

Nitzavim Torah portion that describes the repentance of the Jewish people and the ingathering of the exiles.

 

Nusach the specific prayer rite. Nusach Sfard Chassidic prayer rite that is partially based on the rite of Sephardim (Spanish and Eastern Jews).

 

Parnasa livelihood.

 

Parsha(s) a weekly Torah portion.

 

Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos three Jewish holidays.

 

Piskey Tshuvos a well-known book on halacha.

 

Pitum Haketores a passage in the Torah dealing with fragrant incense that was burned in the Temple. This passage is recited as part of daily davening.

 

Posek decider or arbiter in Halacha.

 

Posuk verse (in the Torah).

 

Pirkei Avos: teaching of the fathers a tractate of Mishna that deals with Jewish moral code.

 

Rashi R. Shlomo Yitzchaki a major Torah and Talmud commentator.

 

Rema R. Moshe Isserles one of two authors of the Shulchan Aruch.

 

Rishonim: early authorities in Jewish law and Talmudic commentaries. The period of Rishonim is considered to have ended about 500 years ago.

 

Rosh Yeshiva Head of yeshiva.

 

Sefer (plural: sefarim) book.

 

Sephardim Jews from Spain and Asian and African countries.

 

Shach Sifsei Cohen, a commentary on the Shulchan that deals with Jewish law.

 

Shadchan (fem. Shadchanes, plural: shadchanim and shadchanos) matchmaker.

 

Shaila (plural: shailos) halachic inquiry.

 

Shemos Second Book of Moshe (Exodus).

 

Shiduch, (plural: Shiduchim) matchmaking. Shiduchim parsha the process of looking for a shiduch.

 

Shita Halachik opinion.

 

Shlomo Hamelech King Solomon.

 

Shmita Letting the Land of Israel resting on the seventh year.

 

Shote literally fool. In Halachic context this refers to a retarded or crazy individual who is absolved from keeping the mitzvos.

 

Shomer Mitzvos keeping the commandments.

 

Shomrei Shabbos Jews, who keep Shabbos.

 

Shul synagogue.

 

Shulchan Aruch literally, the set table. The main code of Jewish law.

 

Sifrei Mussar books of Jewish ethics.

 

Slichos special supplications recited before Rosh Hashana and during the 10 days of repentance from Rosh Hashana till Yom Kipur.

 

Sugia (plural: sugias) portions of the Talmud.

 

Talmid (plural: talmidim) student(s).

 

Talmid Chochom a Torah scholar.

 

Talmud Torah learning Torah.

 

Tanach Torah, Neviim and Ksuvim the entire written Torah.

 

Tshuva repentance.

 

Tosafos Yom Tov commentary to the Mishna that raises complicated questions. It is similar to Tosafos commentary to the Talmud.

 

Tzadik righteous person.

 

Vayikra Third Book of Moshe (Leviticus).

 

Yerushalaim Jerusalem.

 

Yeshayahu Isaiah.

 

Yeshiva Ktana Elementary and Junior High School yeshiva.

 

Yeshiva Gdola Yeshiva High School.

 

Yetzer Hara Evil inclination.

 

Yichus lineage.