Category Archives: Philosophy

Jewish philosophy and belief

Rollerblading on Shabbat: Worldviews

I saw the following short Q & A article on the Aish Hatorah  – Ask the Rabbi website which I’d like to share.

Rollerblading on Shabbat

Rollerblading on ShabbatMy fiance and I both enjoy rollerblading. I am curious to know if it is okay for us to roller-blade in a park on Saturdays if our intentions are to have fun rather than get in shape. Thank you very much.

The Aish Rabbi Replies: It’s funny you should mention this. I recently had to visit someone in the hospital on Shabbat afternoon, and walked 16 miles in the process. As I was walking, I saw some kids rollerblading, and thought to myself, “What a great idea. This could have really cut down my travel time!” It was too late to do anything about it, but I registered the idea for the future.

In answer to your question, it is permitted to use roller-blades on Shabbat, provided one does not carry them (i.e. when not wearing them) in a public domain. However, if roller-blades are customarily not used on Shabbat by observant Jews in your community, then you should also not use them. An exception could be made in case of pressing need, for example my hospital visit.

Source: Rollerblading on Shabbat: Shabbat – Forbidden Activities Response on Ask the Rabbi

It struck me how much one can get locked into their own worldview without realizing that in a different place and context, something which I might see as forbidden, is actually permissible.

Es passt nicht?

Take myself, for example. I live in a completely religious neighborhood in Israel. Most of the adult men don’t ride bikes even during the week because it’s considered Es passt nicht (Yiddish: “that’s not the way a person should go”). Using roller-blades in my town would probably be considered “not part of mainstream”.  Even for those who do use roller-blades in my district, for a guy to do it with his fiancé would be absolutely inconceivable. It doesn’t happen.  Therefor the image of a local newly engaged Yeshiva Bochur zooming down the main street on roller-blades with his fiancé on Shabbat, is so farfetched that it makes me giggle.

Yet here the Aish Rabbi actually permits it (within limitations of course) without blinking an eye. I write this with great admiration for him, because the Rabbi stripped away the social issues of Es passt nicht to deal with the essential Halachic issues of the Laws of Shabbat according to the worldview of the person who asked the question.

I believe that the Jewish Traveler should keep this idea in mind when visiting Jewish communities with different worldviews then his or her own. What might seem totally unacceptable in my world might be ethical and Kosher in another place. And conversely, when I meet a religious stringency on my journey which doesn’t fit with my tradition, that’s the time to be open and show respect.

Shabbat Shalom and safe rollerblading!

🙂

If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century #2

For Lack of Money

In last week’s post, If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century, I wrote that God promised Abraham three things to convince him to go on a journey; reputation, money and kids. As Rashi explains, these three factors are negatively affected during long-term travel.

If Abraham had gone on a trip today, something in the scale of a RTW (round-the-world) journey, he could have definitely made it financially. One of my favorite authors is Timothy Ferriss. In his best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim states that if you work correctly, outsource your life and move your occupation online, you can travel the world and make a living too.

Lately I read another fantastic book called The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau. Chris explains in painstaking detail “how to lead of life of adventure, meaning and purpose – and earn a good living”.

I really like the idea. Assuming Abraham was talented (a Midrash I once saw declared that he invented mathematics), then he would have done just fine with an online entrepreneurial business.

Fertility

Concerning fertility and having children, that’s a completely different ball-game. At first I really couldn’t understand what Rashi meant about travel not being good for fertility.  After all Abraham and Sarah traveled slowly from campsite to campsite. At many stops they set up shop convincing pagans to accept monotheism. What would be the problem with having children on the way? Privacy issues? I doubt it. The main problem was that Sarah was physically infertile. Literally. Nevertheless Rashi writes unequivocally that travel in general is not conducive to fertility.

What about today? Is modern travel good or bad for fertility? At first glance travel conditions today are great. Much better than 3000 years ago. Is there still an issue to deal with?

It would seem that there are problems with long-haul travel that Abraham and Sarah didn’t need to worry about that the modern couple does. According to scientific findings, jet-lag, erratic sleep cycles, changes in diet and lack of routine, have a bad effect (even if short term) on a woman’s reproductive cycle.

See the following articles for details:

Another thing that our ancestors probably didn’t have to cope with like we do is STRESS. Travel might be fun, but when you are in a non-stop state of new experiences, unfamiliar foods, coupled with catching planes and trains, shlepping around luggage and looking for where to eat and what to do every day, that’s stress.

It’s good stress when you travel on vacation (or eu-stress to be exact), but stress nevertheless. Many people I know return from vacation more exhausted then when they left and need a vacation to recuperate from the vacation.

I’m not saying that this is definitely what Rashi had in mind when he wrote that travel is harmful to fertility, but maybe it is…

Enjoy.

If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century

The First Jewish Traveler

In this week’s Parasha, Lech Lecha, God commanded Abraham as follows:

And God said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, your birthplace and your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and .make your name great; and you will be a blessing’.

Rashi comments on the verse that long-term travel negatively affects three things:

  1. Reputation
  2. Money
  3. Fertility

God was telling Abraham to go on a journey with a “One Way Ticket To The Blues”. Abraham, as it seems, was a bit concerned about these issues (after all he and Sarah didn’t yet have kids). Therefor God promised him that if Abraham went as told he would get plenty of wealth, a good name and of course have children too.

I was wondering what would have happened if Abraham had traveled in the 21st century. Would he still have reason to be concerned about money, reputation and fertility or maybe not?

Reputation

Lets start with reputation. When Abraham left Haran he was a serious person to be reckoned with. Everybody knew about his escapades in the furnace and how he became a monotheist.  He was a Somebody. But the day he left, who else but the people back home knew him? Of course there were traveling merchants who might tell stories about Abraham, but I doubt it was enough to keep up a long-term and serious reputation.

Today it would be completely different. Abraham’s run in with Nimrod at the furnace would have been publicized in the front page of the online New York Times. He would be famous on Youtube and blogged about in every religious forum. He’s have a LinkedIn profile. Maybe Abraham himself would post daily in his Lech Lecha Travel Blog. Today reputation is simple to keep up, as long as you know how to manage it online.

Money

In ancient times people were very attached to the agricultural world. There were of course some traveling merchants, but most were born, lived and died in one city or country (barring expulsions and exiles). Once a person went on a long journey there weren’t too many options to earn money and saving finished up quickly. Therefor it was assumed that Abraham would have difficulty supporting his family on the one way journey.

Today things are very different. One can earn money on every spot on the globe, whether you are in a hotel room or sitting on a beach. If you are a writer like Rolf Potts or Pico Iyar who make a full-time living from travel writing, then travel and money are interchangeable.

Even if you don’t write for a living, there are thousands of people who earn an online living as information workers or virtual entrepreneurs.

To be continued…

Is the One Bag Solution Good For Jews?

Jewish One Bag Solution

A while back I wrote about the OneBag.com website and the one bag solution, showing how to pack light without checking in your luggage (Life is a Journey – So Pack Light). It occurred to me at the time that however you try to minimize your belongings, there are a few items that an observant Jew just has to take with. These items naturally take up precious space and you end off forgoing other vital items to avoid a second bag.

One Bag SolutionIt’s not only a Tallis & Tefillin (or a snood/hat/wig), but also some emergency Kosher food, a Siddur (if you intend to pray on the way without a Minyan), a few basic cooking implements (if there aren’t any Kosher stores on the way) and so forth. If you’re planning on being in the backwaters of Jewish life over Rosh Hashanah, then you’ll need also a Shofar and a Machzor too. If you travel on Succos then you need 4 Minim (and maybe a portable Succah). If you are in transit on Channukah then you need to light candles. One mustn’t forget a regular Shabbos with Challa, wine, a Bentcher and Havdoloh implements. Continue reading Is the One Bag Solution Good For Jews?

Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

It’s been a heavy week. On one hand, my regular workload. On the other hand, I came down with a bout of pneumonia. And that meant I’ve been going to sleep earlier every night to have the strength to cope with work the next day (I know that I should have stayed in bed, but…). And that meant no time for writing.

In order to keep up a continuous pace on my site, here’s something for the upcoming festival of Rosh Hashana about why we keep two days even in Israel: Continue reading Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

Jewish Damage Control – Ki Seitse

The Strange Case of the Yefas Toar

This week’s Parasha Ki Seitse opens with a remarkable set of laws about the Yefas To’ar:

Jewish Damage ControlWhen you will go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity; and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (Deut. 21:10)

Unbelievable!

The same Torah forbids having relations with any non-Jewish woman (remember the story of Pinchas who killed Zimri for that very reason?) and makes marrying a non-Jewish woman punishable by spiritual death. The same Halocho forbids premarital or extra-marital sex, Negiah or even Yichud, yet permits marrying a gentile woman under war conditions? Bizarre…

There are a number of explanations for this leniency and I’ll start with a story.

If the Torah Demands Something

jewish damage controlWhile living in London, Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, gave a shiur (class) every Friday night to non-religious young people. He invited them into his home and taught them the weekly Torah portion. When it came to this week’s parsha, Ki Seitze, he spent the entire week pondering how to explain the Yefas Toar — the law allowing a Jewish soldier in battle to take and even marry a female non-Jewish captive.

How was he going to put across this seemingly strange concept to his young pupils? Try as he might, he could think of no suitable approach. Friday night arrived, and still no explanation had materialized in his head. So he prayed that Hashem would put the right words into his mouth. Suddenly, during the Friday night meal, it came to him…

With his students seated around the Shabbos table, Rabbi Abramsky remarked, “Before we open the Chumash, I want you to know something: From what we are about to read we will see clearly how the entire Torah is obligatory upon us.”

From this week’s Parsha we learn that the Torah never demands that which is beyond a person’s ability: In a situation where it is impossible to hold back, the Torah permits us to follow our instincts!”

It must be then, that everything else the Torah demands of us is certainly within our capabilities,  within our reach and obligatory upon us all…”
(Peninei Rabbeinu Yechzkel)

I’d like to add a thought within the context of Jewish Traveling.

Kings on the Road

In the introduction to Sefer Ahalech Be’Amitecha by Rav Betzalel Stern zt”l (his monumental work on the laws of travel), I read an interesting explanation to the following verses from the laws of kings and kingship:

And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them (Deut. 17:18-19).

Rashi comments on the words “a copy of this law” to mean that the king should have two copies of the Torah in his possession; one in the royal treasury and one to carry with him wherever he goes.

Rav Stern zt”l comments that when one is on the road it is natural to seek leniency in the observance of Halacha. If on business and certainly on vacation, the tendency is to be more liberal and even lax in the code of behavior we take for granted at home.

I’m not referring only to severe infractions of Halacha, but even to minor changes in normative Jewish activity, whether by loosening up in dress standards, in what and where we eat, in visiting places one would never dream of doing at home (a mixed beach or non-Jewish houses of worship) and so forth.

Therefor, explained Rav Stern, the king carried with him an auxiliary copy of the Torah during his travels to remind him that the Torah is valid and obligatory wherever he goes. (I would add, if I may, that loosening up a bit on vacation is fine. After all you do want to relax. Otherwise stay home. It’s when one ends off transgressing the basics, then one is in trouble).

Jewish Damage Control

In my opinion, this is the message of the Yefas Toar. The Torah gives us a healthy framework for living wherever we are and whatever we are doing, irrespective if in normative situations or in extreme circumstances like war.

Even when one finds themselves beyond their ability to exert self-control and literally “lose it”, nevertheless they haven’t completely lost their connection to Jewish life and behavior. There’s a possibility of Jewish damage control. Slowing down the decline and getting back to their senses.

With bombs falling around you and bullets whizzing in your ears you’ve fallen in love with a beautiful non-Jewish girl? OK, here are the rules for stabilizing the situation, finding balance and remaining a good Jew.

So when you are traveling and find yourself doing things you might regret, don’t let go of it all. Hold on tight to any Halocho you can keep. Keep Shabbos, eat Kosher, put on Tefillin, wash Netilas Yodayim, say a Brocho before eating. Hold on to whatever you can. Eventually you’ll catch yourself, keep your Jewish identity and come out a stronger and better Jew in the end.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

Jewish Genetic Travel Code

If there’s one Parasha in the Torah which expresses the Jewish Genetic Code for traveling, I believe it’s the present one – Mas’ei (“Travels”).

Forty two times is the word vayis’u “and they traveled” repeated in the first chapter. Forty two times the entire nation, men, women and children uprooted themselves from their present neighborhood and moved on. Forty-two homes in forty years.

At first glance it seems like a lot of travel and instability for a traditional family even in biblical times, but Rashi points out a few facts which shed some light on the topic and puts things into proportion.

  1. Fourteen stops were made in the first year in the desert before the sin of the spies (see Shlach – See things as they are)
  2. Another eight stops were made in the last year in the wilderness after the passing of Aharon the Cohen.
  3. That leaves a total of 20 stops in 38 years.

On average 22.8 months of stability in each site. Less than two years.

30 Cities in 30 Days

OK, that’s not exactly long-term permanent residence, but in today’s upwardly mobile, transient, disposable lifestyle, it’s not a far cry from the modern lifestyle , when short-term job-hopping has become a norm. Of course not every job change involves relocation to a new point on the globe, but people today are far more open to change than in any other time in history. Open to change doesn’t always mean a “30 cities in 30 days” journey, but it isn’t 30 years in one job/city either.

BTW, if the idea of 30 cities in 30 days appeals to you, check out this blog; he did 30 photos in each city too…

People do like some change; whether change of scene or change of jobs and some like it more frequent than others.

Take the case of Ted Greenberg, a former suicide researcher turned comedian:

“In August of 2005, I left my position at the Columbia University department of child psychiatry to pursue stand-up comedy full time. Occasionally I receive an inquiry about the U.S. securities market. I left that field in July of 1997. Less frequently, I’m asked for a ride to the airport in a Checker cab. I gave up my hack license in September of 1988. January of 2006 represents five consecutive months of me not changing careers.” (NY Times).

Age and Willingness to Change

Of course not everyone likes frequent changes of jobs and scenery and there is a definite correlation between age and willingness to change.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty YearsAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the younger one is, the shorter their tenure at one employer. The older one is, the longer they’re likely to stay at the same employer. With travel too, the younger crowd is far more likely to backpack around the world than someone in their 50’s and 60’s.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

This brings me back to the 42 stops of the Jewish People in the desert. I assume that the younger kids coped pretty well with all the moving around. Maybe it was even fun and exciting and lots of action. But how did middle-aged parents manage with moving so many times? Pack-unpack-pack-unpack again and again. I’ve personally moved 15 times and the idea of another move sounds horrible to me (unless it’s to a luxurious beachfront cottage in French Polynesia). If I had to move 42 times in 40 years, I’d really lose it.

I believe this question can be answered from a few perspectives.

First of all they didn’t move because their boss suggested a job relocation. They moved because the Almighty Himself told them “GO!”. So they went. You just don’t mess with God, even if it seems inconvenient.

Secondly, they were living at an exceedingly high spiritual level. Every day they experienced open miracles; the Pillar of Cloud, The Pillar of Fire, the Mannah, the Well of Miriam and many more. When you are walking hand in hand with God (so to speak), nothing is really difficult to do. Even to pack up your house and kids 42 times.

Of course all this is valid for people who’ve experienced Mount Sinai and heard God speak, but what message can we take from their experience? We who are living in a much diminished and hidden spiritual realm (Hester Panim).

The Meaning of Travel

This reminds me again of the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Sichot HaRan 85.

Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.

The Jewish People knew that they had a mission to do at each one of the 42 stops. Deep spiritual acts which would affect the course of history and influence the coming generations forever after. When one knows, as they did, that a journey has meaning and significance, then it’s probably easy to pack again and go on.

It’s only when we think a trip is for nothing that we find it so hard. According to Rav Nachman of Breslov, every single trip we take is important, to us, to the people we meet and to generations to come.

Nesivos Shalom related in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov that the Torah records the nation’s forty-two encampments from when they left Egypt until they entered the Land of Israel, to teach us that every individual must endure forty-two ‘travels’ in his lifetime. Not all of those travels are physical, but every Jew encounters forty-two challenges that confront him.

One who understands that life is a process of growth, views every challenging situation as an opportunity of achieving greater spiritual heights.

Have a safe and meaningful trip.

Overcoming the Culture Shock of Coming Home

Home Sweet Home?

How marvelous to return home after a long trip! Your own bed, your favorite chair, the foods you’ve always loved and of course the family and friends you missed so badly. Coming home from the outposts of society, from the other side of Mars, where you had to struggle with a language barrier, weird customs and challenging new situations every moment of the day, is truly bliss. Heaven on earth.

But is this REALLY so?

Of course many of us miss the familiar surroundings back home, but does returning home resolve all the issues or does it create new challenges that we didn’t know existed before leaving?

Honi Ha-M’agel

culture shock of coming homeIt reminds me of the Talmudic story of Honi ha-M’agel who fell asleep for seventy years and when he woke the world had moved on. People died and were born. Nobody knew him as he was now (though his scholarship was still revered). Reality was different from what he remembered. He couldn’t cope with the changes and preferred to leave the world permanently.

Similarly, when you go away on a long trip, you change. You grow and develop, learn and progress. The person who went on the journey can be intrinsically different then the one who had left weeks or months before. At the same time, those who remained behind at home, who hadn’t gone through the growth of travel, seem to be the same as before. They might not connect at all to your travel experiences. This gap creates stress and a feeling of not belonging anymore.

Homecoming Difficulties

One of my favorite travel writers, Rolf Potts, beautifully summarizes the experience of homecoming, in his book “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”:

Of all the adventures and challenges that wait on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home.

On a certain level, coming home will be a drag because it signals the end of all the fun, freedom, and serendipity that you enjoyed on the road. But on a less tangible level, returning home after a vivid experience overseas can be just plain weird and unsettling. Every aspect of home will look more or less like it did when you left, but it will feel completely different.

In trying to make sense of this homecoming experience, people often quote T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

As inspiring as this sounds, however, “knowing” your home for the first time means that you’ll feel like a stranger in a place that should feel familiar (Chapter 11).

Culture Shock of Coming Home

culture shock of coming homeHere are a few suggestions for coping with the culture shock of coming home, which I picked up here and there:

  • Accept that you will feel different when you return home. Its normal.
  • Realize that the people who know you will probably not see more than basic changes in you on your return. Only you understand the difference.
  • Expect both change and no change in those you left at home. They’ve moved on too, though physically remaining in the same place in your absence.
  • Give yourself time to adjust.

In addition, you can also expect some of the following things to occur after you arrive:

  • Mild Travel Depression – give yourself a few days to hide out when you get home till you get over it.
  • Not everyone wants to hear your stories – most people only want to hear the micro-short version. Don’t blab on endlessly about your experiences. K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple.
  • People will have moved on with their lives without you – just like you’ve changed, so have they.

Here are a few links on the topic I’d recommend for coping with your homecoming.

Jewish Homecoming

I’ll conclude with a Jewish take on homecoming which I believe helps ease you back into the local reality.

There is a tradition that one who returns home from abroad should get an Aliyah to the Torah Reading on the Shabbos following his arrival. I always assumed that this is to be able to say Birkas Hagomel, which is recited upon crossing the sea or dessert or coming out of danger.

It occurs to me that there is an additional and deeper idea in giving an Aliyah to a returning traveler. As much as Jews are one People and one Nation they are also as diverse as can be. It’s not only that “two Jews have three opinions”, but rather that Jews can be extremely different culturally from each other. For example, Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in prayer text, pronunciation, traditional foods. Hasidim differ from Modern Orthodox in dress code, religious philosophy and more.

Nevertheless there is one common denominator among all (traditional) Jews – the Torah. After thousands of years of dispersion and persecution, our Torah remains identical wherever we go. The same text, the same Laws in Yemen as in Paris. In Hawaii as in Jerusalem.

When one returns home after a long journey abroad and gets an Aliyah, remember the following – I’ve seen the world and its vast diversity of culture and traditions, codes of behavior and foods.  Nevertheless as a Jew I share a common bond of Torah with every other Jew and especially with those back home. Despite the changes and differences in other countries and cultures, there’s more to bond us together than to set us apart. Time will pass and so will the culture shock.

Welcome back.

Every Trip Has Two Goals – Yours and God’s

Travel Disappointments

When traveling abroad, whether for family, community, business or pleasure you probably go with a list of hopes and expectations. If it’s for family you hope to meet someone, improve or repair a relationship or just enjoy their company.

When it’s for business, you hope to meet your contact, close the deal or make some money for yourself or your company. If you go for pleasure then you hope to see the sights, relax, meet people, enjoy the company of your spouse or whatever you have planned.

Whatever reason you travel and even when you’re completely open to new and unexpected situations, there’s always a chance you’ll be disappointed and not get what you wanted. Maybe you missed the plane or your contact wasn’t where you expected. Maybe your family member wasn’t so excited to see you after all and you got into a fight. Maybe the trip didn’t improve your marriage or you didn’t make any money. Whatever it was, at times nothing goes as planned and you return after a long and expensive trip totally devastated and disappointed.

Every Trip Has Two GoalsWhat’s the Jewish take on the post-trip blues? That every trip has two goals, at least. Yours and God’s. Consider it like a Co-operative Travel…

Co-operative Travel

I came across a fascinating piece of inspiration and encouragement in the book Ahalech Be’amitecha (I Will Walk in Your Truth) by the late Rabbi Betzalel Stern. This book deals entirely with the Jewish laws and perspectives on travel. It’s a small-sized book with over 500 packed pages of information and I’m constantly picking up some new and interesting tidbits on Jewish travel.

In the opening pages, Rabbi Stern makes the following remarks:

Every traveler should know that all routes that a person walks or travels on, are decreed from heaven and they are an expression of the Divine Will for a lofty and hidden purpose. And He the Almighty arouses within an individual the will and the heart’s desire to walk or travel on a particular route.

When one is faced with the need to travel, one shouldn’t insist on blocking it from coming to pass.

In other words, every trip comes with two sets of goals; our goals for the trip and God’s goals.

In the footnotes on the second paragraph, Rabbi Stern quotes the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Sichot HaRan 85:

Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.

Later on in the book (Ahalech Be’Amitecha Ch. 27:26) Rabbi Stern adds the following words:

If one went on a trip for a specific purpose and despite great effort, work and expense, they didn’t fulfill their goal, they shouldn’t regret the trip nor be depressed. This is because the true purpose of a trip is hidden and it could be that this Divine purpose was fully achieved.

I find these words a comfort and inspiration before leaving on a trip, because no matter what happens, whether you feel your goals were accomplished or not, you can rest assured that there was a deeper meaning to the traveling. Even if its to influence or assist a stranger on the way, there’s always something to make your trip significant.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter and Travel

The following inspirational travel story happened to the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter.

Every Trip Has Two Goals
Rav Mordechai Gifter

One winter day, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was at the airport about to embark on a trip to New York. One of his close students was getting married and had sent nine airplane tickets inside the invitation to his wedding. Rabbi Gifter and eight of his students were going to attend the event.

They boarded the aircraft, and just after settling in their seats, the pilot announced over the loudspeakers, that due to a blizzard in New York, they would not be able to land at Kennedy Airport. They would be heading towards Washington National Airport instead, and make their way to New York when they were able to. When they arrived at the Washington airport, Rav Gifter and his students soon realized that they were not going to make it to New York in time for the wedding.

When it was time to pray Maariv, they searched for a private place, and asked a worker who was mopping the floor if he knew of a quiet place for them to pray. The man’s reaction startled them, because he dropped his mop in alarm and it clattered to the floor. He stared at them, and then directed them to a storage room where they could pray undisturbed.

The group commenced their prayers, but instead of leaving, the cleaner stood silently at the door, watching them with a dazed expression on his face. When they had finished, they were astonished to hear him ask, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?” One of the boys explained, “We need a minyan of ten men for Kaddish, and we’re missing one man.” To their surprise, the cleaner responded, “I am a Jew. I can join your group to complete the minyan. Please,” he asked, “let me say the Kaddish.”

Rabbi Gifter helped the man recite the unfamiliar words, and after he had finished, the worker took a deep breath and said, “As you can see, I wasn’t brought up as a practicing Jew, and I barely know anything about Judaism. My father passed away several years ago, and last night he appeared to me in a dream. He said, ‘Tomorrow night is my Yahrtzeit, please say Kaddish for my soul with a minyan of ten Jewish men!’ I cried out, ‘How can I say Kaddish?! I barely know how to say the words! And how will I find a minyan?’ My father said, ‘Don’t worry, I will arrange it for you’.

Now, here you are, exactly nine of you,” continued the worker, his voice full of emotion, “Sent from Heaven so that I can say Kaddish for the benefit of my father’s departed soul!”

Rabbi Gifter then told him their side of the story, how they had only arrived there due to a snow storm in New York. Rav Gifter said, “Look how Hashem runs the world! See how He orchestrated our meeting together? Nine invitations to a wedding, a blizzard in New York, the airplane’s rerouting to Washington National Airport, and missing the wedding— all this happened so that you could say Kaddish for your father!”

No trip goes to waste !

How to Be Welcome Wherever You Go

Hosting is Like Gambling

Welcome Wherever You GoTaking in foreign house-guests is like gambling. You may meet wonderful people from the other side of the globe arriving with a bottle of your favorite wine and flowers. As a bonus they’ll even keep you entertained with inspiring life stories.

On the other hand, your guests could be sullen, irritable people with no manners and plenty of B.O. If that isn’t enough you’ll discover to your chagrin that a few silver pieces from the closet have gone AWOL. It’s all a matter of luck and of being a good reader of people.

Jewish tradition strongly encourages inviting guests (Hachnasas Orchim) to your home. In fact the Midrash states that “Greater is the act of receiving guests, than of receiving the Divine Presence”. There are astonishing tales about how far the Torah Sages went to receive guests.

Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, the Chozeh of Lublin, kept an open house. He himself served his guests, who were from all walks of life. One day a poor man came to the house and the Rabbi served him a meal. When the guest was finished his meal, the Rabbi cleared the table and brought the empty plate and utensils into the kitchen.

The poor man was astounded and said, “Rebbe, I understand that the Rabbi occupies himself with Hachnasas Orchim to fulfill the Mitzvah. But why does the Rabbi clear the table himself? Doesn’t he have servants in the house? The Rabbi replied, “Taking out the pan of ashes from the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Yom Kippur was part of the tasks of the High Priest.  Am I more important than the High Priest?”.

Welcome Wherever You GoOn another occasion, a guest arrived in middle of the night. The Rabbi tended to him himself, serving him a meal and preparing his bed. The guest was unrefined and his strong smell indicated that he had neglected to bathe in the recent past.

The next morning, the servants in the house wanted to send him on his way due to his odor. The Rabbi rebuked the servants and responded, “Don’t wake him; let him sleep until he wakes up on his own. God provided me with the opportunity for Hachnasas Orchim, and you want to ruin it and snatch it away from me?” (Niflaos Harebbi, Ch. 90)

Being Welcome Wherever You Go

After reading stories such as these I can get the mistaken impression that when backpacking through Europe and arriving at a Jewish community for Shabbos, I can expect unconditional love and care without any obligations on my part as a guest. Don’t make that mistake! A guest has far more obligations to his host then the host has towards him.

Welcome Wherever You Go

Here’s a list of common Don’ts and Do’s in order so that you’ll be welcome wherever you go:

Don’ts

  • Don’t invade your host’s privacy. Don’t read her mail, (snail-mail or Gmail), walk into his bedroom or ask personal unsolicited questions.
  • Don’t smoke in their home (or even outside near their windows) if they are non-smokers
  • Don’t get drunk at their table.
  • Don’t talk non-stop or stay silent throughout your stay. Balance is the key.
  • Don’t sit on their couch all day long whether you are watching TV or just spacing out.
  • Don’t criticize your host; not about their kids, marriage, cooking or political opinions.
  • Don’t use their electrical appliances or equipment without permission.
  • Don’t take food from the fridge, freezer or pantry if you weren’t offered.
  • Don’t show up without notice.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome (better leave before the first subtle hint).
  • Don’t live your dirty clothes or any other belongings strewn about the house.
  • Don’t feed their kids or pets without getting the green light. They might be allergic or on a special diet.
  • Don’t bring in other guests uninvited.
  • Don’t expect the household to suddenly revolve around you.You need to adopt their customs and not the other way around.
  • Don’t take anything from the house (even a roll of toilet paper) without permission.

Do’s

  • Nail down the dates of the visit before you arrive — and stick to them. Let your plans be known, especially if you intend to be absent in the middle and will be coming and going at odd hours.
  • Be clear about who’ll be joining you (including your significant other, kids, pets or traveling companions).
  • Welcome Wherever You GoPack smart, so you won’t need too much space nor will you need to borrow clothes from your hosts.
  • Keep tabs on your stuff. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived. Put your clothes away, hang up your towel and straighten the bed every morning.
  • Follow the house rules. If they take off their shoes at the door and wear slippers (like in Korea), respect and follow their lead.If they lock the doors at all times, do the same.
  • Keep your kids in check. Just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean your kids can go berserk in the house. Your kids are your responsibility.
  • Help out with the chores. Even little things like clearing the table are meaningful to your host.
  • Bring or send a thank-you gift and follow-up with a note. When you get home, send a quick note to let them know how much you enjoyed your stay. It’s the thought that count.
  • If you use it, replace it. Borrowing toothpaste or sunscreen is fine. But if you end up using it up, devouring an entire box of cookies or polishing off the last bottle of milk, it’s time to go to the store and replenish the things you’ve used. Be generous and considerate, and not someone who eats their friends out of house and home.
  • Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom. If the house only has one bathroom, ask when it is convenient for you to use it and don’t stay in the shower for an hour.
  • Be careful about Internet and phone usage. If you need to use the Internet or phone at your hosts’ home, rather than assuming you can use their facilities, make sure you ask them first if this is okay with them – even if they have an unlimited plan.
  • Do your own laundry.
  • Entertain yourself. It’s not the job of the hosts to occupy you.
  • Be ready to catch public transportation and taxis. Your host isn’t your chauffeur.
  • A short stay is a pleasant stay and leaves everyone feeling good about each other. As Ben Franklin once said, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
  • Keep yourself neat and clean and brush your teeth regularly (whether you do so at home or not).
  • Be appreciative. Thank them regularly for the food, the company and whatever they do for you. Don’t wait till you leave to say a short thanks.
  • Do bless the host. In fact there is a special blessing for the hosts to be recited at Birkas Hamazon.

The Talmud (Tractate Berachos pg. 58A) states it succinctly:

A good guest says; “Look how much the hosts did for me. All the meat and wine they brought was for me. All the cakes they brought were for me. Everything the host did was for my benefit”.

But a bad guest says; “What did the host do for me at all? I ate only one slice of bread. I had only a piece of meat and I only drank one cupful. Everything the host did was for himself and his family”.

Be a good guest and the doors will always be open to you.