Melody of my soul

Catch the spark

What a newborn can teach us

February 9th, 2014


Childbirth is a miracle, possibly one of the most emotionally riveting experiences a man could witness, but I wouldn’t know – first hand, because the Torah forbids a man from seeing even the birth of his own children.  Modesty is the reason we are given, but even for a miracle?

Too often we lament the loss or failure to have things or experiences.  We are convinced that in those unfulfilled acquisitions, relationships, concepts, we have lost the opportunity for true satisfaction.  We can’t seem to satisfy ourselves with nurturing, safeguarding and developing what we already have.  We are humans in a Divine world of endless and alluring possibilities.  A true dilemma, this.  What are we supposed to want and have?  Do our desires exceed our entitlement, or do we get more than we bargain for?

Wanting and attaining are not inherently bad. We are supposed to strive and pursue things we want, but how do we discern and differentiate our wants from our needs?

Does a man need to see the miracle of birth?  The Torah and Rabbis tell us this is a breach of modesty.  Maybe because as men, since we didn’t carry a child to term or endure labor, we are undeserving of seeing this part of the miracle.

So what miracle is a man permitted to see?  The most miraculous of all, those tiny little hands, those little feet, the sweet breathing, the child.  Almost too much to take in.

An infant’s trust is so innocent and so complete.  Extend your finger, and the baby grabs it without knowing who you are.  No questions, no resistance, no reserve, just trust.

When an infant needs, it asks in the most authentic language of all, a cry.  We aren’t so different when we are too overwhelmed to express ourselves.  We cry when we are beyond the conventional words to help frame our experience.  In an infant’s crying, there is neither weakness nor strength.  It is just the free expression that fits the moment or need.  An expression that as adults we mostly fear to reveal in public, because it belies the persona we believe is expected of us.  But when we hear it in a child, we are able to display our own emotions and not hold back.  How powerful.  How miraculous.

An infant craves warmth, the warmth of a caress or an embrace.  Closeness is how they feel love.  And it is well documented that absent this closeness, a child’s emotional development may be stunted.  Things change as children get older.  They continue to hug us, but cuddle less.  They might love us, but not in so fiercely physical a manner.  The infant reminds us of a closeness we can’t do without.

Yes, a man may not witness the miracle of childbirth.  But every act, every expression from an infant conveys an authentic self we recognize once again when the infant reveals it to us.  And if we truly let them in, they can change our lives and renew our own sense of hope, to get back to who we truly are.

Their souls are luminous, beckoning and magnetic.  They can do nothing for themselves, and that total dependence generates an incomparable love, that inspires us to love and care well beyond ourselves

What am I really saying when I say, “Baruch Hashem” (Bless God)?

January 21st, 2014


There is a moment described as disgraceful to Israel, and it involved a blessing!  Our leader’s father in law, Yisro, hears about the destruction of the Egyptians and the salvation of Israel.  In those moments after he shook with fear,  he then expressed the famous words, “Baruch Hashem”, “Bless God!” for performing these acts and saving Israel!

Our commentators state, ironically, that his blessing, disgraced the people of Israel.  It took THIS man, a proselyte, to bless God, before Israel ever did.

But was it such a big disgrace?  Israel just witnessed the splitting of the see and in response opened up with one of the greatest songs to go down in history, “Az Yashir”- “Then we will sing!”.  It was prophetic, sang in unison by every member of the tribe, including our children (imagine trying to get children to sing spontaneously an incredibly poetic and prophetic song! Impossible!).  The song described the wonders that transpired at the sea, and all the great miracles Hashem performed on our behalf.  It was much more than, “Baruch Hashem”!

So what’s the big deal?

Rabbi Shimon Shwab answers in the following way.  Yisro set an entirely different principle that was never expressed before.  As an individual, not a collective nation, he opened his mouth to bless Hashem.  In fact he opened his mouth to “give something” to Hashem.  A blessing connotes, we actually have something to give back.  How could we give anything to an omnipotent being that has it all?  Hashem tells us, “What do I ask of you, but to love, and fear and perform all of my mitzvot (commandments).”  Hashem asks for reciprocity, because it isn’t real if it would be coercion.  Yisro personally reciprocates with this blessing to Hashem, without any coaxing or peer pressure.  The nation of Israel only thought to sing, when they came together and experienced a collective salvation.  They needed to be together in order to thank Hashem, bless Hashem.  They couldn’t do it on their own, unlike Yisro.  That imparts an important lesson for us all.

We shouldn’t wait to bless someone or something, or say thank you, because it is the standard, or the norm.  When we recognize greatness, when we feel someone has done something for us, the positive response should be immediate.  The reciprocity should be natural and not drawn out by public expectation.  We ought to expect from ourselves to perform based on our own productive and positive convictions.

That was what Yisro expressed.  He sensed the greatness of our creator, and that was all he needed to verbally acknowledge and bless the moment.

There are so many blessings in our lives, but it’s often easy to neglect and overlook them, because we are so busy focusing on what we think we are lacking (or perceive we deserve.)  So many acts of rebellion transpired by the nation of Israel after the splitting of the sea, where they lay claims on God that they were “sent to the desert to die.”  Hashem’s kindness and compassion didn’t last, and sometimes other people’s kindness and compassion doesn’t stay with us as well, because we are only lamenting on what we think we are missing in life.

Yisro actually had a lot to lament about.  He was originally an advisor to king Pharaoh, fully immersed in idolatry, and living a life antithetical to the Jewish existence.  The Egyptian’s demise was a direct philosophical disintegration to all of his prior beliefs and previous life.  He certainly could have lamented, mourned what he no longer had.  And it almost seemed initially, that his physical reaction was that lamentation.  ויחד:  his reaction was, “And he shook”.  Rashi and Seforno and others say, he had bumps coursing through his entire body upon hearing of the Egyptian demise.  But his words countered the emotional sentiment.  His words were his step towards the future.  His words were what paves his way to a new reality, and not the initial physiological reaction.

This imparts another powerful message.  Just because our body reacts, physically and emotionally to a situation, doesn’t mean we need to align with that reaction.  In fact, this may be counter to the popular motto “follow our hearts”.  But our hearts don’t always adhere to our religious and ethical principles.  Even if Yisro’s heart said, shudder and consider the loss of a previous life, his mouth spoke different.  His mouth dictated reality.  His mouth called it a blessing.  And our sages teach, “דברים שבלב אינו דברים”  “Devarim Shebilev Aino Devarim” (Words inside of the heart are not words- unless they are spoken).  We choose our destiny based on our actions and speech, not our thoughts.  And hopefully, if we are consistent with our principles of life, our thoughts will synchronize with our every word and every movement, more and more, each day.

If I would bring this lesson to a few basic words, they would be:  You do not feel your reality, you Make your reality.

Go and make your reality.

Have a great weak :)

snow shoe to your core.

January 14th, 2014


Everyone has there reasons to go out to the wilderness.  Part of the beauty of that journey is keeping it intimate, not explaining its intended purpose.   Regardless of our personal reason, there is a shared experience in the stroll of solitude.  Today I had the pleasure to snow shoe… solo.  What does it do for us, why do we do it?

It helps us move away from our distractions, all the things enmeshed into our reality and become one with something else, and I don’t really mean nature.  There is plenty of nature in Vancouver, it’s gorgeous here!  I don’t believe anyone who says they get bored of the mountainous views, the archipelagos en route to whistler, the breathtaking water and sights.  I just don’t believe it.

You become one with the self.  How so?

Hashem, our God, veils kedusha (holyness) into every single facet of this physical world. That being said, it’s not always easily perceived, because we take the physical manifestations of holyness and often use it and abuse it for our own purpose.  I’ve always wondered if G-d really intended for us to make the fruit roll up, the jolly ranchers, the industrial plants, the TV, the atom bomb, etc.  The raw material is molded into what we think we need or desire.

And sometimes we need to escape from all of those inventions.  When we get to a place that is left practically uncultivated, where nature is left to its own devices, asides from the paths we pave to take it in…there is a purity.  It is expressing itself from its very core, its very foundations.

That symbiotic expression, that consistent manifestation of nature expressed and unmodified is so incredible, it compels us to look into ourselves and wonder, what are we suppose to cultivate and leave uncultivated?  How much have we acted based on our passions, our principles, or our authentic self?  Nature emits a desire for us to revert back to the basics, without the hindrance of any physical, cognitive and spiritual changes.  We might rewind and think, what resides in our mind, in our actions, do they coalesce or conflict?

Initially I had my headphones on and plugged into music, and it actually was ruining the hike.  I pulled them out and suddenly I was able to enjoy myself, and think about my own core.

The big question is:  Can we get to this place when immersed in our everyday life???

I was listening to some lectures today about focused thought, how to get there, and a very important statement crossed my ears.  It is said to be from the Ba’al Shem Tov derived from Nachmonidies:

“The place that our thoughts go, is the place we actually are in.”

It was something along those lines.  Meaning, we can be in one place physically, but be entirely somewhere else, because our essence is our thoughts.  Our thoughts determine our true reality.  The purity of nature when left uncultivated is so clean and beautiful, we wouldn’t dare taint it.  If we considered for a moment what it meant to have a pure clean thought like uncultivated nature, we wouldn’t dare want to taint it.

Hiking today motivated me to find a way to get to that place more often, where my cognition is not a hodgepodge of tasks, desires and responsibilities… rather just one pure thought at a time.

I hope one day we all can get to a place where we don’t find serenity by merely escaping the burdens of life, but can tap into that place wherever we are, because we long to discover our core, and nourish our soul.



Shovels and Dirt: Parables for life

January 6th, 2014

shovel-dirt-webThere are parables we derive from life experiences.

One example can be the act of burial.

Dry dirt:  On a beautiful sunny day, and when the dirt is dry, it goes in more easily.  It is not encumbered or burdened by the element of weather, and the lightness of the dirt flows almost too easily through the shovel.

Reflection:  our bodies, our major sustaining element is water.  It is what we are, what we drink, our rippled reflection, our attraction to the sea, the tears that flow, the sweat of our brow, the droplets from the sky.  It is all encompassing, and on so many levels projects vitality and life.   Without the water, the burden of burial is not as apparent.  The dryness isn’t heavy, perhaps lifeless and almost hollow.  The very element which sustains us is also the one that makes it hard to let go when someone fades from the world.

How we shovel:  Unfortunately, as I have frequented the cemetery, I thought about how to pace myself when I shovel.  When someone comes in with all of their enthusiasm, and puts all their weight into shoveling, they also usually peter out quickly.  When it is slow, methodical, steady, the job gets done at a good pace, because endurance prevails.

Reflection:  The pace of shoveling is so much like our pace of life.  We often are struggling to attain desired results, finished products.  And that leads us sometimes to act quickly, rashly, and irrationally.  We move in haste because we only have the end goal in mind, not the process.  However, the end goal can be accomplished, perhaps even better, when we are more patient, when we are slow and steady, when we appreciate the here and now.

This flows on so many levels.

Our children:  We can push through the day, dread the hard moments, long for bedtime, and hope for respite from the noise.  Or we can cherish the moments, embrace the noise, appreciate the milestones, think deeply about our personal experiences with them, and pace ourselves through each second of life.  No moment is insignificant for them, it shouldn’t be for us as well.

Ourselves:  Do we shovel hard hoping to fill the hole, or consider our movements?  Do we pace ourselves well enough to look forward to not only tomorrow, but also today?

When we take our time and don’t feel overburdened, we don’t have to come in to each day with a heavy heart.  As our Torah etches for us:  ויחזק לב פרעה:  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened: many of our commentators suggest this was not Divine’s subjugation of his free will, but Pharaoh’s will to hold on to his heresy and disbelieve in a higher power great than himself.

When we pace ourselves, not only do we slow down, we are able to hear rich and deep messages from the environment around us.

So I guess now it’s time to ask you.

How do you shovel?





Return to blogging.

October 7th, 2013

Welcome back to the new year, everyone (for those that celebrate the Jewish new year).  Work is back in full swing, kids are back in school, and the ideas are flowing…endlessly.

I think it’s about time to start  blogging through the ideas to work through the concepts that are floating in my stream of conscious.

So stay tuned for quite a few Torah blogs.

Look forward to writing!

death, and death

May 7th, 2013

Calvin-gets-existentialquite a morbid title, I know…

Most likely will keep away a few readers, but that’s not why I write my blog.  I should probably explain why I do it, because I neglected to give that form of clarity since its inception.

The tangent on why I write my blog:

There is a famous line that iterates an important principle of the Steipler Gaon:  A life that one leaves unrecorded isn’t worth living.  It places an imperative, perhaps an unfair one, on all of us.  Write what you’ve learned in this world, share it with others, at the risk of being criticized or ignored.  Write nonetheless.  Recording one’s thoughts is one of many methods of self examination.

I am far from good at adhering to this principle, in fact I’m a delinquent.  The thoughts never stop, and I often wonder how much worthy material passes through me and fades from my mind.  Perhaps it leaves because I have done absolutely nothing with it.  Maybe those thoughts deem me unworthy of retention.  I’m ok with that, for now.

So why do I write, if I neglect so many thoughts?  When I feel compelled to write, the thoughts press on my entire being and they don’t let go.  And my resolution is to put it in writing hoping the feelings will ooze out, to provide me with some clarity and relief.  I hope my reason for writing changes soon, but I’ll tell you my reason for letting the other thoughts pass me by.

I have a hard time distinguishing the thoughts that are merely external influences entering into my stream of consciousness and the thoughts that are resonating in my very core.  Why write if it’s not from the core?  It’s the same with a song…why write if it’s not from the core.  The melody isn’t real, it’s just a recycled hodge podge of lyrics and melody that aren’t really who I am, anyway.

So there it is.  Why I write.


Back to the title:  I’m waiting for my flight to new york, to bury my wife’s grandfather, Robert Ratzker.  This is the third funeral I’ve flown to NY for in just over a year.  My dear Aunt Ruthie and Grandma Hellen have left this world as well, just over a year ago.  I visit the hospital, as you’ve read from my previous blog, and I think considerably about how to heal and how to die.

I develop relationships with patients who have healed and who have died, too many.  And I think about if I am really living.  Or perhaps another way to put it, am I living enough.  We receive assurance and approval from our family and friends that all is well, but death makes you second guess your existence.  It makes you wonder, is life even about deserving life?  Why does our soul exist inside of our body for as long as it does?

Honestly, I don’t have answers to these questions, only more questions flowing through my core, begging me to search for answers.

When someone you actually care about dies, it makes me try to find the answers, search a little deeper, longer, with more alacrity.

But I will still ask myself, is that what I am suppose to learn from this, or have I even scratched the surface.


too be continued


March 21st, 2013

DP169568There are bouts of our existence where we have the opportunity to stop and wonder, what do I do next?  As rare as these chances are, they also feel constant.  At that point there is a choice that leads to every and no road simultaneously.  Where is the path we are suppose to choose is entirely left up to us.  We can peg the choice on an external factor, a friend, a loved one, a foe, a stressful situation, an incentive, but ultimately the choice is ours.  At the end of the day, no one else controls our will.  No one else can do for us.  There are no messengers that moves our hands, the flutter of our lashes, rolling of our eyes, gulp in our throat, the clenching of our fists.  Nothing keeps us awake and puts us to asleep.  Nothing makes us smile or forces us to cry.  When we (if) arrive at this realization, it’s quite jarring.  Someone might argue it’s liberating to know the choice is ours and ours alone.  However, there is that word we can’t evade, that concept that holds us in its tentacles for all of time.  Loneliness.  If my will is mine alone, when will I ever NOT feel alone.  That’s perhaps why we tend to attribute our development, our identity, to things outside of ourselves.  We thank our parents for teaching us to live honest lives and appreciate all we are given, thank our spouses for actualizing our potential and finding respite in this dizzy world, thank our mentors for teaching us things we otherwise couldn’t possibly discover, thank our children for teaching us patience, blame our adversaries for anger, blame the media for coaxing us into impulsive consumerism and irrational political perspectives, blame the weather for bad moods, blame metaphysical stumbling blocks for our limitations.  Yet we know deep down, all these choices are ours. Admitting to that level of independence is a yolk upon our neck, a reality that is cumbersome. It is also liberating, with the proviso of accepting the responsibility of our every move. But let me ask you this. Which is worse?  Taking the blame for the outcomes of our lives, or having no choice at all. I will leave the CHOICE in your hands ;).

A performance where I’m not a wallflower

March 12th, 2013

I’m simply not accustomed to it.  In fact I’m downright shilly-shally about the whole thing.  For over a year my vocal coach, Jan, kept telling me he wants to see me put together a concert.  He wouldn’t accept a no, ‘it’s too hard’, ‘I have too much on my plate’, ‘I can’t handle it’, ‘I’m not ready’, ‘I’m a perfectionist’, ‘no one will like it’, or any of the other excuses.

Unbeknownst to me, Jan, posted several (embarrassing) videos of me singing some of my originals on youtube.  I knew he was video recording it, but I didn’t expect them to be open to the public eye.  I don’t know how to tolerate looking at a mirror of me singing for several consecutive minutes my own originals.  But it happened, and I dealt with it.  As a closet introvert, I’m perfectly comfortable with public speaking when I feel prepared, or know who is directly in front of me.  However, even when it is a Torah lecture, Drasha, serving as chazzan on the bimah, a public address, the audience is there for an occasion and the occasion is NOT me.  They are attending shul on shabbos and I just happen to be the one leading them in prayer.  They are in pursuit of a Torah lecture and I just happen to be the one giving it.  They are timing the Drasha to make sure it doesn’t cut into quality chulent time, and I just happen to be the one hoping I don’t go too long.

But to host a concert in a separate space from the shul/synagogue, separate from a holiday, an event or an occasion, is so much different.  To play in front of an audience…not because it’s a wedding, a chanuka party, a melava malka, bar mitzvah, an occasion…is new to me.

I’m no longer just filling a role.  It’s becoming the centre of attention.  I think my hesitation all these years of putting out an album and putting together a performance, was because I wasn’t sure how to justify this level of personal attention.  I like to think of myself as a conduit to help direct others in their path toward a meaningful life.  I like working with people, in fact I love people ferociously.  I love being with people, talking to them about life, about their woes and fortunes.  I live off every conversation.  Connecting to others  increases my zest for life.  But I don’t like when things are about ME.

So I am aware that at this concert I will not be a wallflower.  But I also need to make it clear (however impossible as it seems), this isn’t about me.  Yes, I wrote half the music being performed.  Yes, I’m lead singing and drove everyone up the wall to come to MY concert.  But the message I am imparting, in my songs, in my originals, in this benefit, amounts to one thing…the first song.  ”With a little help of my friends.”  I’m here to fundraise for those in need, I hope my songs add meaning to your life.  At the end of it, I want to share with you things I’ve composed, songs I passionately feel, so YOU can come out with a good experience.

As long as that clear, I look forward to seeing you thursday night, March 14th, 8 pm, at the Media Club!!!  quirky “with a little help”

We are what we praise

March 1st, 2013

Purim has a really odd custom:  
As we read Megilas Esther, carefully attending diligently to every word: something unusual happens.  
Everyone is listening intently without interruption to a beautiful chanting of the Megillah:  

Chapter one goes by, chapter 2.  Beautiful

And all the sudden chapter 3 verse 1:  we make a ruckus!  the booing, the groggers, the firecrackers set ablaze in the shul parking lot, the cannonballs come out (ok maybe not cannon balls)- and then calm:    
Then comes Verse 2:  more noise: people are banging their feet, more noise:  and it stops again.  
It happens again in verse 4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12,15-   We say the name Haman 64 times in the Megillah, triggering this reaction – 64 times!
Now imagine for a moment:  Prime Minister Steven Harper coming into Schara Tzedeck to experience his first megillah reading.  What would he think – or any stranger for that matter?
He would think it was question period in the house of commons!

We call this custom הכאת המן :  smiting his name:  actively wiping it out every time it is mentioned:

The origin of this custom comes from the special Maftir of Parshas Zachor, which we just read, that is always read the Shabbos before Purim reminding us to wipe out the name of Amalek:  the ancestors of Haman.  So important is this Mitzvah that is a Torah obligation, and this day is declared SHABBOS ZACHOR:  the day to remember to never rest, until we completely blot out evil in our world.  Booing Hamman, twirling the grogger, stamping our feet, making the ruckus, is a symbolic act of wiping out the name of Amalek.  

What a somber prelude to Purim!   Why is wiping out Amalek the introduction to a day of Joy?

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner:  Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, a champion of Torah learning and an incredibly philosophical  20th century, author of the Pachad Yitzchak, deals with this mandate of  Zachor:  

He cites a very unusual law. Scoffing, scorning, making fun of another Jew -  לצנות, is absolutely forbidden

With ONE exception:  one who worships עבודה זרע:  Idolatry

Rav Hutner posits the permissibility of scorning anything that would drive us toward evil and hold us back from divine service.  So why only point out idolatry?  

Rav Hutner brings his source from the words of Mishley, Parables, written by Shlomo Hamelech. Chapter 27 verse 21

ואיש לפי מהללו:  

How do we measure the worth of man?  By his aptitude for moral integrity?  No.

ואיש לפי מהללו:    The man:  is measured by his praise.  

Most commentators and translators explain :  ”A man is measured by those who praise him”
Rav Hutner cites the explanation of Rabbeinu Yonah of Garona.
A man’s worth is measured by who (or what) he praises: (the virtual opposite!)  One’s true essence can be determined by what he esteems

אם הוא משבח את המעשים הטובים והאנשים הצדיקים – תדע שהוא אדם טוב,  
“If he praises good deeds and righteous individuals, then you know he is a good person.

ואם הוא משבח מעשים מגונים או מהלל רשעים – להיפך.
And if he praises disgraceful acts and evil people [in this context, idols], who you might not want to introduce to bubby and zeidy: who aren’t traveling on the path of righteousness- then you are not a good person.
in short:  you are what you praise.
According to Rabeinu Yonah:  Whether you work all day, play all day or even learn Torah all day (ideally a mixture of all three):  those acts will not define you.  Who you pick as your mentors, or in contrast, who you “idolize”- is the barometer for who you really are.
Defining a person by who he praises or longs for, we do not deny the right to enjoy life, become successful, play sports, or amass wealth and stature. It means what enchants us will help determine our actions and devotions. 

It’s no secret, that you can understand who or what someone praises by how they carry on with their life.  From a musical standpoint, I will say without hesitation, that I have learned a tremendous amount from the creativity, exuberance and sheer genius of Michael Jackson.  Yet I will never relate to the guy, although he strongly influenced my own musical preference and expression.  An article was written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a celebrity Rabbi who, in addition, I take his character with a grain of salt as well.  However, his article about Michael Jackson revealed some very interesting insights about who the man was. 
He wrote, after his untimely death in 2006, By the time I met Michael in the Summer of 1999 he was already one of the most famous people in the world. But he seemed lethargic, burned-out, and purposeless.  My fear was that Michael’s life would be cut short.
Shmuley told michael he should be: replacing his desire for attention and ticket sales with a hunger for righteous action…he took him to meet Elie Weisel, and attemped to incorporate more meaningful encounters that will elevate him beyond his Stardom.  However, Michael Jackson personally felt some of the things Shmuley requested, like handing out books in Newark NJ for parents to read were too ordinary for a superstar. He felt he was being demystified. He needed the throngs, he thrived on the adulation of the crowds.
The superstar can’t endure the diminishing of their own importance.  Michael told Shmuley his motivation behind his stardom:   I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That’s all. That’s the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved.”  IN spite of his stardom and hero like status, he was the center of the world and yet he never felt loved.  In the end, he went down as the King of Pop- who never felt loved.  U a sad conclusion. 

So by scorning idolatry, we are avoiding a very dangerous course. 
By giving too much attention to idolatry aka impermanent things not linked to our essence (for Michael Jackson it was stardom, it’s different for eveyone), it makes those things an inordinately significant part of life.  We even believe we need those things!  That is the danger of our current idolizing generation.  The Iphone:  Ipad, Itunes, American Idol, World Idol, America’s got talent, Canada, Europe, we all have talent!  You should know A recent national survey conducted on teensfound half of the heroes that teenagers named were well-known celebrities. Even more disturbing was that Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man came out as far more popular than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.  Yes,  we mock the worship of people and things, when we know it all comes from G-d and is not all about the I generation. 

Praising a righteous person is different.  The defining character traits of the righteous must include humility, avoiding great honor, but feeling honored to do for others and serve Hashem.  Those who praise the righteous aspire to their goodness, not their greatness


We wipe out Amalek’s memory to celebrate purim, and sound the alarm every time Haman the Amalekei is mentioned, because they are the epitome of idolatry and take us away from goodness! 
Haman, couldn’t stand the fact Mordechai wouldn’t bow to him. Hamman relished in recognition, and when he wasn’t acknowledged for his celebrity greatness, he desired revenge.  But it wasn’t enough to want to kill one man, he devised an elaborate plan for genocide just because, someone wouldn’t acknowledge his greatness.  Amalek attacked us when we were weak to demonstrate their greatness, showing no fear in G-d and moral goodness.  Amalek’s philosophy denies anything that doesn’t contribute to their own personal prowess.  It challenges our purpose in this world. It taunts our moral code.  Amalek entices us to indulge in things that make us feel great, but aren’t good.   Those who praise the righteous aspire to their goodness, not their greatness. 

And we scorn and revolt their dangerous customs and beliefs.  We need to first challenge and negate their philosophy in order to fully enjoy Purim, a time of love for Hahsem and one another. 

What we praise (and don’t praise) shapes our identity, and impacts our children as well.  Our children hear it, they see it, they know what we love and what we just don’t have the attention span for or the interest in.  Our children see us gravitate to what influences us and occupies our time. 

Our inspiration becomes our children’s inspiration. L’dor va dor.  Our children one day will tell others what we praised, and how we occupied our time.  Who we looked up to.  What we held dear.  Will it be, he loved gelt- or golf- more than anything in the world?  Or will it be, “he loved golf, but nothing was as great, as important- as richly satisfying to him as his family and his devotion toward a meaningful Torah life.  What will it be?  In the end, and forever more, that is what becomes our legacy. 


Bed blockers is an unfair term

January 10th, 2013

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imagesPart of my job as a rabbi here in Vancouver is visiting Jewish patients at Vancouver General.  As many volunteers and other visitors can attest, visiting the sick can lead to a roller coaster of emotions.  In door number one you meet a lucid, grateful, steadily recovering patient.  In door number two, you meet a rapidly deteriorating patient, who you might have very little to offer.  In door number 3, it’s a little bit different.

There are patients I see weekly who are elderly individuals maintaining status quo, but are not improving enough to return home and live independently.  Their living situation is in a holding pattern.  Bound by the hospital and their restrictions, they are trapped.  They might be sleeping during the day, allowed out of their room on occasions, and rely on the nurses to bring them hospital food.  I don’t have to tell you how depressing this is for them.  Some are looking to transfer into elderly homes, and others are having a very difficult time gripping with the reality- they are no longer able to live independently.  That situation is paralyzing, because it means they have advanced to an extremely declining state in their life.  I’ve seen the pain in their eyes, when they hear the words assisted living.

This morning, 690 CBC radio in Vancouver used a rather objectionable term for these individuals.  They did not coin the term, it is the phrase used to report the following statistic.  “National statistics show there were 42-hundred so-called Bed Blockers across the country”.  And I need to convey to you the following.  In the near three years I have been visiting Vancouver General, I have only met one patient that preferred to stay in the hospital over leaving.  That’s 1 out of 100′s,  There are many links discussing the issues with finding a place outside the hospital for these elderly patients.  I’m not here to discuss the complexity of that issue.  I’d prefer to convey one simple message.

Put your eyes on the eyes of the patient.  Hear what they hear.  Surround yourself with the smell, the look, the coldness, the noise of the hospital.  One of these patients I intended to visit last week was quarantined due to a GI (gastrointestinal) outbreak.  These patients are subject and vulnerable to far more sickness and diseases by simply being where they are.  They don’t have a choice, and yet there are people out there with the audacity to call them bed blockers.  To dumb this issue down even further I’ll suggest the following.

Visit your elders, find out who these “bed blockers” are.  Come with me, go alone.  And then see what you can do for them.  Can you pray for their health, can you find them assisted care.  Can you change their life, and give them more of a reason to live.  They are our grandparents, parents, patriarchs, matriarchs, roots, foundations, pioneers, cultural richness, history, our pain, our experience, the legacy we aught to follow.  How dare anyone even open their mouth to imply that they are a burden.  It infuriates me to the core.  What if you become a burden one day to others?  Have you ever felt that way?  One of the most degrading realities is that one is incapable of contributing and needs to rely on others.

A Torah concept is to be a שונאה מתנות:  a hater of presents.  Why shouldn’t we like presents?  Why does that make any sense?  This isn’t referring to being unappreciative of what people give to us out of their heart and soul.  This is about relying on another person because we can’t take care of ourselves.  We should long for the ability to do for ourselves and others.  That also means we should shift our focus and perspective of our elders.  How can we make them feel useful, a contributing member to society.  These are things we need to constantly advocate and bring to fruition.

Thank you for listening.