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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Reposted from way back in 2007.

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the Charedim Shmurah Matzah Bakery in Boro Park.

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Charedim bakes the thinnest, crispiest shmura matzah you can find. Of course, all of the matzah is made, at least according to the sign on the wall “L’shem Matzos Mitzvah”.

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One guy was pounding the dough on a constant basis. Although he had been working over ten hours, he was smiling and happy to pose for a picture, even telling me to take it over since he was not in a good position on the first one.

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The matzah was then rolled out on tables until extremely flat (this pic is taken through plexiglass).

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My daughters got a kick out of the “coundtdown” where they count down the last ten seconds before the 18 minute period is completed and then everyone stops for the tables and utensils to be cleaned.

After the rolling, the matzah was then placed on rods and brought to a wood burning stove that was roaring with flames.

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The baker was so helpful,

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he told me where to stand to take the best picture and counted down from three to one to the perfect point when to take this shot.

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After they are baked, the matzahs are removed from the oven and placed in a bin where they are inspected and packaged.

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We were also fortunate enough to see a gentlemen “taking challah” on a batch.

Chag Kasher v’ Sameach, I will not be blogging over Chol HaMoed.

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I wrote this on motzei Tisha B’Av, three years ago. It subsequently appeared in Horizons Magazine and on Lazer Beams and here on Temunot on July 24, 2007.

This Tisha B’Av, unlike most years, I decided to pray at the late afternoon minyan, around 7:20 PM. As always, my eight-and-a-half year old son jumped at the opportunity to come to shul. He stood, as usual, wide-eyed at the pulpit during the Torah-reading and he found it particularly interesting to watch men don their talleisim and tefillin so late in the day.

During the praying, the skies began to crackle with lightning and bellow with thunder. By the time mincha had concluded, it was pouring so hard that we decided to sit for the 25 minutes or so before maariv instead of braving the downpour and running home, even though home was just across the street.

Usually, when waiting between mincha and maariv, my son and I will review the parsha or learn pirkei avos. As it is generally not permitted to learn Torah on Tisha B’Av, we sat down instead to shmooze about the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. I thought perhaps that I could teach him something that would make Tisha B’Av just a touch more relevant.

The lamentation of Eili Zion has always struck a chord with me. The haunting niggun recounting the vivid allegory of a mother in labor has the ability to squeeze at least one tear out of an otherwise exhausted body and calloused heart. So, I began telling Aryeh about how the wailing of the Jewish nation throughout our long galus is compared to the cries of a woman in labor. I described the well-known concept that just as the excruciating pain of childbirth ends with the ultimate joy of the birth of a child, so too our pain and tears on Tisha B’Av culminate in the birth of mashiach. I explained further how we are taught that mashiach is actually born on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av. As I added this point, my son glanced up at me with deep brown, watery eyes. He appeared somewhat hurt or confused. I thought that perhaps the idea of mashiach being born on Tisha B’Av was too foreign for him to comprehend or that maybe I had somehow frightened him. He looked like a wounded bird, suddenly unable to soar. He stammered, with a crack in his voice, “Abba, does that mean I can’t be mashiach?”

How do you react to a question like that? No parenting book I have ever read had equipped me for such a question. Having been born in the dead of winter, Aryeh had just heard for the very first time something that hinted at the possibility that he can’t be mashiach. I tried to recover by stating that maybe this teaching doesn’t mean that the mashiach is physically born on Tisha B’Av but that he reveals himself to us on Tisha B’Av. I’m not quite sure if he bought that explanation but I sure was glad that the time for maariv had arrived.

By the time we laughingly puddle-hopped home and Aryeh had changed out of his drenched clothes, he probably had forgotten about his question. I, of course, could not. I shared the discussion with my wife, oldest daughter and my in-laws over our break-fast meal. I mentioned that sometimes we need a child to remind us of the things that we so easily forget. Sometimes we need a child to remind us that we, each and everyone of us, have tremendous potential. That we can be and that we are great. In a day and age when we often find it hard to believe that mashiach can come during our lifetimes, we need a child who truly believes that he himself can actually be mashiach. And perhaps we need such a child and such a question to remind us how careful we must be with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our children.

That motzei Tisha B’Av, as I momentarily excused myself from the table, I quipped to my family, “I’m going to tuck in the mashiach.” As my son was laying down on the top bunk, we were pretty much eye to eye. He rapidly surrendered to slumber and I exercised the parental prerogative of watching a child peacefully sleep. I lingered a little longer than usual laughing to myself at the notion that I could make Tisha B’Av a little more relevant to him. Boy, did he turn the tables on me.

In the very last passage of Navi (the prophets), the prophet Malachi tells us that just before mashiach comes, Eliyahu haNavi will “return the hearts of the fathers through the hearts of the sons” –the sons will be the ones to teach the fathers. Mission accomplished.

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How did Antiochus Look?

My daughter, Rina, recently visited the Living Torah Museum which she thoroughly enjoyed or, as she said, “You should tell them it’s amazing, they should all go!” Of the many interesting items she viewed, I thought that this coin depicting Antiochus Epiphannes was quite interesting. The museum is in Brooklyn and tours can be scheduled by calling 718-686-8174.

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The Monster

This originally appeared on Beyond Teshuva last year and I usually find some way to reincarnate it for Elul.

As a kid, my family would spend summers in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. It was the best time of the year for a city kid: fresh air, freedom and mosquitoes. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. One summer, I must have been fifteen, I worked as a Counselor In Training for five year-olds at a day camp. I was technically too young to be a CIT but my father, A”H, was the accountant for the owners and I reaped the benefits.

On Sunday mornings, while my mother slept in, my father would drive my younger brother and me to Monticello to do the weekly shopping. My father was a coupon clipper and he would flip through his plastic red coupon box as we trolled the aisles of Shop Rite. Before heading home, we would make the obligatory stop at Katz’s kosher bakery for delicious gooey cakes and pastries freshly baked and packaged in Katz’s signature pink boxes. (A single bite of one of those chocolate custard donuts could have easily clogged an artery)

One Sunday morning, my younger brother and I saw a sign-up table for a 10k race the following Sunday (that’s 6.2 miles for the metrically challenged among us). The race was called “The Monster”. My brother and I decided that it would be cool to run the race and since the funds being raised were going to benefit children with Cerebral Palsy we’d get a good deed out of it as well. We signed up for the race and my father ponied up the registration fees. Unfortunately for him, they didn’t take coupons!

Now, a race doesn’t get called “The Monster” for nothing. The Monster was disproportionately uphill which gave rise to its notoriety as one of the most grueling races in the county. That fact made little impression on my brother and me. Heck, we were teenagers, the entire race could have been 90 degrees straight up Mt. Kilimanjaro and we wouldn’t have flinched. Now, we didn’t think to train at all in the little time left before the race (unless you count the hours I spent running after my campers each day). We didn’t even think to buy a decent pair of running shoes. And so, before you know it, Sunday rolled around and we showed up on Main Street in Monticello in high-top New Balance basketball sneakers! We dutifully pinned our race numbers on our shirts and headed to the starting line.

The race started out just fine as we proudly kept pace with the veteran runners at the front of the pack. All was still going well about a half mile in as we gratefully grabbed the sweating cups offered at the first water station. About a mile in, things began to change. For a race that was disproportionately uphill, things were going downhill fast. For some unexplained reason, my high-top sneakers, which had served me so well on the basketball court, began to fail me. They were becoming increasingly heavier, itchier and wetter. I might just as well have been running the race in snowshoes! For some other inexplicable reason the water stations were becoming spaced at light year intervals. Hey, this is not so simple, I began to think. At some point, I began walking and shortly thereafter nearly half-crawling. Oh, if only I could wring out my socks for a few precious sips of water.

When it finally appeared that I was nearing the end of the race, there was a steep downhill incline that extended all the way to the finish line. After all of that up-hill climbing it was comforting to know that what goes up still must come down. As I reached the hill, I broke out into a full-fledged sprint laughingly leaving the other, more properly paced runners in my dust. Such is the foolish pride of youth that refuses to watch others actually do something better and smarter than oneself.

That evening, The Monster safely behind us, my brother and I sprawled out on the deck lounge chairs to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower is the most prevalent meteor shower observable from the Northern hemisphere. On a clear, dark night you can see close to 100 “shooting stars” within an hour! And it was a crystal clear night with a waning moon and no sign of the bright lights we had left behind in the city since Memorial day. Truly awesome. We lay there, in our hooded race sweatshirts, for hours. Partially because we had never seen anything so beautiful in our lives but mostly because we couldn’t move our legs!

For the next two weeks, my muscles were so fatigued that I could barely walk. Each morning presented a new challenge to get out of bed and climb on to the bus for work. Every day I looked forward to arts & crafts when I was given a 45 minute break. I would lie down on the playground ride that the kids affectionately called the “vomit wheel” grateful for the opportunity to be off my feet.

Elul presents us with the opportunity to begin our preparations for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Walking in to these holy days without preparation is not recommended. Squeezing teshuvah in to those few hours spent in shul on these days is simply not enough. You can’t run a 10K race without training and you can’t squeeze a year’s worth of teshuvah into three days. And so, we have been given a mandatory training period called Elul. An entire month set aside to allow us to begin our introspection and prepare and pace ourselves for the big days–Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As with exercise, it’s important to start slow, warming up and steadily increasing both in intensity and duration so that by the time the Yomim Noraim arrive, we will be in proper shape for them.

Remember: Showing up in sneakers on Yom Kippur is a good move but trying to run a 10K race in high top basketball sneakers is bound to lead to failure.

Click here for “The Return of the Monster”

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Just a shot of my daughter and me as we leave the Maaras HaMachpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) in Chevron.

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