Use difficulties and setbacks as challenges to help you become a better person. Think of a specific difficulty or setback that has already helped develop your character.
Today is the end of my first week in my new marriage, the third day going into shabbat.
I had a fairy tale wedding in the park looking over the Old City in Jerusalem. A place my Grandfather would have given has left arm to have been. G-d has given me a wife, who is the hardest working Aishet Heil that I have ever met. Three Sheva Brachat with my friends, that kept the wedding going and a new life.
I bless all of you as a new groom with Love and a peaceful Shabbat.
Love Yehuda Lave
Do not say that the earlier days were better than these, because this is not a quest that comes from wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
One time, I was relaxing and I used the opportunity to go back in time to enjoy a fun-filled day in a summer camp, some forty years earlier. Only later did it occur to me that at the spa I was also having a wonderful time! Why could I not enjoy this present moment? Why did I have to go back in time to an experience of the past?
The reason, I think, is because that enjoyable day at camp had closure; it had ended having indeed been a great day. While the spa was equally pleasant, there was still an uncertainty as to whether this spirit would be maintained. At any moment, there might have been a call from the office with some disturbing news. The subconscious expectation that something upsetting might happen did not (and still does not) allow me to fully enjoy the present.
King Solomon says that it is not wise to reflect upon the past as idyllic. Why? When circumstances are favorable, wisdom allows us to actually enjoy the present. As the Psalmist says, He will not fear bad tidings, his heart being firm in trust in God (Psalms 112:7). There is no reason to have an attitude of foreboding. While it is foolish to build castles in the sky, it is equally foolish to build dungeons in the cellar.
Today I shall ... try to enjoy whatever I can to the utmost, and trust in God for the future.
If you return, O Israel ... you shall return unto Me (Jeremiah 4:1).
The Sages say that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul, form an acrostic for the verse in Song of Songs: I am devoted to my Lover and He is devoted to me (6:3). Song of Songs utilizes the relationship between a bridegroom and his betrothed to depict the relationship between God and Israel. Any separation between the two causes an intense longing for one another, an actual "lovesickness" (ibid. 2:5).
The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God's love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.
Song of Songs depicts the suffering of Israel sustained at the hands of its enemies, and we can conclude that the Divine distress at this suffering of His beloved Israel is great. Teshuvah is a long process, but all that is needed for the restoration of the ultimate relationship is a beginning: a sincere regret for having deviated from His will, and a resolve to return.
Today I shall ...
seek to restore my personal relationship with God by dedicating myself to teshuvah.
G-d has a plan for us
Jewish Comedians and Splitting the Sea A surprising answer to why so many Jews become comedians.
When Robin Williams, arguably one of the greatest comedians died, some people gave him an interesting title: "honorary Jew." Why the Jew label? Couldn't he have been left as a brilliantly comedic non-Jew?
Well if you look back at most of the great comedians from the previous generation, they were predominantly Jewish. This is a group it seems some people badly wanted him to be part of. Here is a short list of some Jewish comedians, with their real names:
Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky), Mel Brooks (Melvyn Kaminsky), Milton Berle (Mendel Berlinger), Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman), Jackie Mason (Yaakov Moshe Maza), Buddy Hackett (Leonard Hacker), Jerry Lewis (Joseph Levitch), Danny Kaye (Daniel Kaminski), Victor Borge (Borge Rosenbaum), Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Cohen), Joan Rivers (Joan Molinsky) And my personal favorite Tony Curtis (Bernie Schwartz)
Growing up I had a passion for jokes and stand-up comedy; I even performed once in a while. The fact that I became a rabbi instead of a stand-up comic tells you how good I was.
Why are Jews so funny? Is it a coincidence that nearly all the great entertainers of recent memory were of Jewish stock, or is something deeper going on?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of my favorite commentators on the Torah, answered the question for me. He makes a short but remarkable statement which changed the way I looked at comedy and why so many Jews are comedians. The relationship between Jews and comedy actually goes back to our birth as a people.
When the Jewish people left Egypt they were pursued by Pharaoh and the Egyptian army who regretted letting them leave in the first place. Several days after leaving Egypt the Jewish people arrived at the Red Sea. Behind them were the Egyptian soldiers and in front of them was the sea. They were trapped.
The Torah describes the scene quite vividly, "…and when Pharaoh drew close, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were very afraid; and the children of Israel cried out to God." (Exodus 14:10-11)
You could have expected them to cry out to God, or to complain to Moses, but what they did after that was rather unexpected: "And they said to Moses: Were there no graves in Egypt, that you brought us to die here in the wilderness?"
What kind of statement is that? Of course there were graves in Egypt. Their own parents and grandparents had been buried there.
Rabbi Hirsch gives a short and fascinating explanation of this verse. He says, "This sharp and ironic statement was made at a time of the deepest anxiety and despair. This marks the sense of wit that is a characteristic trait of the clearheaded Jewish people."
He's telling us something remarkable: the Jewish people made a joke. They assumed that this was the end of the road. All bets were off. Hundreds of years of Jewish history were about to come to a gruesome and pitiful end. Instead of crying, they made a sarcastic comment. "Oh I see Moses, there wasn't a grave in Egypt that you had to shlep us to die here instead!"
Comedy and humor have a purpose. The Jewish people have gone through thousands of years of Jewish history, and along the way we have seen and been part of some of the worst atrocities the world has known. We have survived beatings, torture, forced conversions, exiles, pogroms and holocausts. We needed something to help us survive those hardships. One of the abilities that God encoded into our spiritual DNA from our earliest beginnings as a people was the ability to laugh. The Jewish people used comedy as one of many survival tools. And God knows, we've needed it.
A few years ago Leo Zisman of blessed memory, a survivor of Birkenau, and his wife Myrna, accompanied a group of young professionals to Poland on a tour that I was leading. Leo gave us a detailed explanation of what living during the horrors of the Holocaust was like. He also had a terrific and mischievous sense of humor.
I asked him how he had the mental stamina to survive such an atrocious experience. He replied that many people would tell each other jokes and funny stories from the shtetl in order to escape the terrible reality they were faced with on a daily basis. Those moments of laughter lifted them out of their misery for a few moments every day.
I even saw a book for sale in the Majdanek gift shop (yes, even the camps have gift shops) entitled "Laughter in Hell" that cataloged many of the stories, plays and jokes that were told in the camps.
Medical research has shown the benefits a good laugh can have on your mind and body. Among other things laughter can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormone levels, improve cardiac health and trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain killers.
The Talmud tells a story about the great sage Rabbi Beroka who one day met Elijah the prophet in the market place. Rabbi Beroka asked him, "Who in the market is worthy of achieving the next world?" Elijah pointed at two men and said they were ideal candidates. Rabbi Beroka was surprised as these two men did not fit the image of very righteous individuals. Intrigued, Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked, "What do you do for a living?"
They replied, "We are clowns and we tell jokes for a living. When we see people around us who are a bit down hearted we cheer them up with a joke and a few funny words."
Using the power of humor to lift people's spirits when they are down is worthy enough of assuring a place in heaven.
André Rieu - Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) women singing
Andre Rieu is performing with his orchestra in Israel
The violinist spoke to the Jerusalem Post about his upcoming concerts in Israel.BY PENINA )
If you are one of the few people in our hemisphere who has never heard of him, do yourself a favor and don't tell anyone – just read this article and then pretend that you knew all along.
Rieu is one of the most accomplished and popular entertainers on the face of the earth. Combining classical and waltz music with wit, charm, fun and charisma, his concert tours with his orchestra consistently rank among the Billboard top 25 music tours worldwide year after year, and have generated far in excess of half a billion dollars.
With many of his shows in venues of tens of thousands of seats that are nearly always completely sold out, he appears before more than half a million people each year. Sales of his dozens of CDs and DVDs number in the tens of millions. These are popularity benchmarks that few pop idols even approach.
Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra began touring in 1988 and over the past 30 years performed in more countries than most people can even name, but they never appeared in Israel. Until now.
When the famous violinist announced that he had scheduled concerts in Israel next month, the switchboards lit up as phones at the box office began ringing off the hook.
In advance of his visit, this musical phenomenon took time out for an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
For more than three decades, your concerts have been a huge attraction, uniting fans from all over the world. To what do you attribute this worldwide success?
The secret to the worldwide success is the way we present the music. Communication with the audience and emotions are the key. We play with all our hearts. We have a lot of fun on stage and I encourage my audience to have fun with us. I introduced humor into the classical music world; my concerts are everything but stiff.
Of course, one has to work very hard every day, never give up on your dreams (mine was to travel the world with my own orchestra) and always show your inner feelings. People notice when the things you do are fake, but all of our enthusiasm is genuine. Loving what you are doing gives you the power and energy to go on and to become successful. I do not work, I have fun and I love to give people a good time! This is your first visit to Israel, but is seems like you have many fans here who have been waiting for you and are very excited about your arrival. The fact all four of your concerts in our country sold out so quickly was a big surprise here.
We, too, are very excited! It will be our first visit to Israel and I would already like to thank our friends there for the wonderful warm welcome they gave us.
What do you know and what have you heard about Israel? Israel is a fascinating country with an impressive cultural history. My wife Marjorie's oldest friend has been living in Israel for decades and he has told us beautiful stories about it. It is a small country but has contributed so many fantastic musicians to the worldwide arts scene. What do you know about the Israeli audience?
I know that the Israeli audience is very enthusiastic and charismatic; I see a lot of Israeli flags during my summer concerts in Maastricht, and many smiles and much enthusiasm, so I decided to come to your magnificent country. I cannot wait finally to visit Tel Aviv. There are musicians from 13 different nations in my orchestra and I think it would be exciting to have a musician or soloist from Israel touring the world with us, too.
Have you met Israelis in your concerts before?
Did you have a chance to hear some stories about our special country? People write me daily with wonderful stories about their lives but there was one just recently that particularly touched me. A family from Israel wrote to us that their grandmother's life was saved by my mother-in-law during the Second World War.
I've been married for 43 years to my wife, Marjorie.
Her mother was in the Dutch resistance and risked her life helping many Jews, including her future husband, my father-in-law, who was Jewish. This family from Israel also send us an old black and white photograph, showing a group of people in Maastricht at a ceremony after the war. In that photo are Marjorie's mother, father and grandmother, together with the people that were saved. We had never seen that image before and did not know about it. We were very moved!
Can you tell us about your family Jewish connection?
My father-in-law and his relatives were Jews; some of them left Berlin back in the 1930s in order to hide from the Nazis. My father-in-law left everything he had; the only luggage he had was his vinyl record collection, about 300 records – and the music on those albums turned out to become my first repertoire I played with my Maastricht Salon Orchestra, back in the 1980s! His record collection introduced me to all of this wonderful repertoire like operetta, music from the 1920s and 1930s and so much more. When I grew up, there was only classical music at my home – Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.
I had never even heard about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones as a young boy. Only much later. Is there some extraordinary experience from one of your concerts that you particularly recall, one special concert that you will never forget?
Every concert is special in its own right, but performing in front of 60,000 soccer fans back in 1995 during halftime Ajax Amsterdam vs FC Bayern Munich was quite an extraordinary experience. You can watch it on Youtube. Also performing, on the other hand, for just a few hundred people in the tiny town square in Cortona, Tuscany, was so delightful and charming. The most romantic setting was in front of Schönbrunn Castle in Vienna and the most unusual setting was filming a song in Switzerland and playing in front of the Eiger Northface. But then again, there are so many precious moments that I am not able to mention just one that I'll never forget. Are you preparing anything special for the Israeli audience?
The concerts will be a wonderful mixture of delicious waltzes, well-known arias from musicals and operas, famous movie melodies and much more. I'll try to play some famous local pieces, too, because I like to explore and perform music that everybody knows. I played some tangos in Argentina, for example. I heard that there is a big Russian community in Israel and a lot of them are coming to our concerts. So maybe we will play not only some Israeli favorites but also Russian songs.
Are there any special places you would like to visit while in Israel? Any food you would like to try? It would be tremendous to see Jerusalem and the Western Wall, such an iconic piece in architectural history! And food... I hope to try some local dishes, as long as it's healthy, but I'm sure the Israeli kitchen is both healthy and kosher, ha ha! Maybe some falafels with humus, or Israeli salad.
As one of the greatest and famous artists in the world, what would you advise for a young musician at the beginning of his or her career?
I would advise to practice every day, enjoy what you are doing and never give up your dreams. Walt Disney used to say, "If you can dream it, you can do it." I love that quote! It doesn't matter if you are a little nervous – imagine, I'm still shaky before each concert – but those thrills are more or less necessary in order to keep focused and to prevent yourself from slipping into an "automatic pilot" mode. The most important advice is to love what you do. Is there any young artist you would like to collaborate with?
That's a difficult question, I'd have to think about it.But I'd love to perform with Bruce Springsteen one day!
Have you ever heard Israeli music? Do you know some Israeli artists?
I happen to know quite a few Israeli musicians, but one name that immediately comes forward is Itzhak Perlman. He is one of the greatest violinists of all time and I admire his way of playing. Isn't it great that he never gave up his ambitions despite his polio? And when my son Marc, who collects film soundtracks, showed me a YouTube movie where Mr. Perlman played the theme from Schindler's List, I was moved to tears. So hauntingly beautiful, so touching. When did you realize that you want to turn your love for the music into a career?
That must have been during the time I was part of a symphony orchestra, where I used to lead the second violin section. I saw my colleagues anxiously look at their watches, awaiting the lunch break or the end of a rehearsal or concert. "Why is that so important?" I thought. "Don't you enjoy what you are doing? If you loved your job, time wouldn't be such an issue."
Besides that, when we played an opera, we took our place in the orchestra pit where we could not see the audience. I heard the audience clapping, but that did not satisfy me. I wanted to see their smiles and happy faces, too.
Then, I wanted to have an orchestra of my own. First, there was the Maastricht Salon Orchestra, founded in 1978, consisting of only five musicians (myself included).
In 1988, I started the Johann Strauss Orchestra, named after my big hero and the one and only true King of the Waltz, Johann Strauss. Back then, I had 12 young people on stage, all dressed in black. Nowadays, more than 60 men and women are with me, the ladies wearing these beautiful gowns.
Everything you see on stage exists four times. Four sets of instruments, four sets of dresses etc., as we play all around the world, this year on four continents. I have the biggest private orchestra in the world and my company has 110 people on fixed payroll, I have my own recording studio and own wonderful team who organize the travel, hotels, visas. etc. That makes me very proud, but it is also a great responsibility. Some of my musicians have been with me since the beginning; I love their endless loyalty and our shared dream, to let the whole world waltz! We are a big family – including many couples in the orchestra! What would you wish for the coming year? A lot of joy, happiness, health and many beautiful (musical) moments that my audience and I will never forget!
Over the years, many Israelis have traveled overseas to hear Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, but now you can catch him at Tel Aviv's Menora Mivtachim Arena on April 3, 4, 5 and 7.
There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, "These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective."
In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.
In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, "If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity." In other words, people who see everything from an "I am great/right" perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.
When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.
Today I shall ... be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.