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Two are better than one, Koheles style.


קהלת פרק ד

(ט) טוֹבִים הַשְּׁנַיִם מִן הָאֶחָד אֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ לָהֶם שָׂכָר טוֹב בַּעֲמָלָם:
(י) כִּי אִם יִפֹּלוּ הָאֶחָד יָקִים אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ וְאִילוֹ הָאֶחָד שֶׁיִּפּוֹל וְאֵין שֵׁנִי לַהֲקִימוֹ:



Two are better than one, who share the reward of their labor. For if they fall, each can raise his chaver/friend; but if one falls, no second can raise him.
-- Koheles 4:9,10)


If two people are falling, how can being togther help? Now you have twice the clumsiness to deal with! But look more closely at the choice of word that we translate as "friend" -- chaver. The root of this word denotes a connection that permits flow or sharing between the two connected entities. The end is also curious, if one falls, why can't any other second raise him?

Now... why does anything fall? Falling comes only from one thing... lack of balance. These two, when connected, are balanced and therefore can support the falling and failing of the other. When they a…
The rasha asks, "What is this service to you?"; "to you" and not "to him".

The ba'al hagada continues by telling us that by removing himself from the community, he has denied the fundmental principle. At first glance that seems a bit extreme. Ok, he is not interested in participating; or at least he wants to know what he gets out of it before particiating -- but "kafar ba'ikar" (denies the fundamental principle)?!?

I would like to suggest that the ba'al hagada is not, in fact, darshening the words of the rasha with "to you" and not "to him". Rather, the ba'al hagada is telling us the question of the rasha. The rasha is looking at the whole service is something to get something out of. The difference between him and the chacham is that the chacham understands the fundamental principle of hakaras hatov -- of course there is some service/work to be done -- the chacham simply wants the details. The rasha denie…

Thought for the Day: Dayeinu -- It Would Have Been Enough for Us.

One of the highlights of the seder is "dayeinu"; one amazing chesed after another, each followed by the declaration, "Dayeinu!". However, at least one line begs explanation: "If You had split the sea for us, but not brought us through on dry land; Dayeinu!" How could it possibly have been enough to split the sea and then let it come crashing down on us? If the purpose was to get us out of Mitzrayim and into Eretz Yisrael, this would be a counter-productive move; to say the least. Moreover, the very next paragraph goes through the same list; this time without the dayeinus. So this back to back recitation can't just be announce that we are thankful for each and every chesed.

Rather, I believe, that dayeinu is coming to tell us precisely "k'p'shuto"... it really would have been enough for us to experience k'rias yam suf, and nothing more. Every moment in this world is worthwhile just for itself. In p'sukei d'zimra …
Thank you, the living and enduring King. Who has, in His great mercy, returned my soul to me. You have a lot of faith in me.

That is how a Jew start his waking hours. Making a declaration that waking up was a gift and we have gratitude for another day of life. But that is not the end of the declaration; we also acknowledge that we have things to do, and G-d has faith in us.

I awoke earlier than usual this morning -- 3:00AM. I usually get up early. I try the get up before 4:00AM and I have a series of alarms to prod me. My poor wife... I almost always catch the first alarm at 3:45AM on my watch, and remember to disable the 4:00AM alarm on my alarm clock, and and downstairs before the 4:10AM alarm on my palm pilot starts beeping. But some mornings I don't...

In any case, this morning I awoke at 3:00AM and tried to turn over to sleep another 45 minutes or so. No use; so I finally got up around 3:30, figuring I might as well use the extra time (since I wasn't getting any mor…
Almost a week.

It has been nearly a week. The surreality (is that a word?) of being is stating to wear off. I am very glad I started this writing. I couldn't write for a day or so after my mother's passing. The next day my wife encouraged (so to speak) me to stay home. I spent a lot of time writing that day. As I felt the tears well up, my natural reaction was to stifle it; but I forced myself to let the tears and weeping come. When I talked to others -- on the phone or in person -- I was able (with effort) to maintain myself. Alone I could let the feelings come, and the writing seemed to open doors. I am not cried out... but I think I can now allow myself that luxury when I need it.

At the same time I am planning a wedding. Well, to be honest, I am consutling occaisionally on the planning of my daughter's upcoming wedding. And, oh yes, Pesach is also coming. Trying to keep my head on work is verging on impossible. I am choosing tasks that are more mechanical...…
Please no more, "well, the main thing is to make her comfortable".

This post is very politically incorrect; you have been warned. I really didn't want to hear one more time, "the main thing is to keep her comfortable". Comfort in this world is *not* the main thing; it is not even a goal. Comfort is sometimes a means to a desired goal, but sometimes being uncomfortable is the appropriate means. In fact, sometimes the discomfort itself *is* the only way to get where you want to go. When is that? When you want to grow, become better, stronger, more than you were before. That effort can never be anything but uncomfortable.

Therefore, my conclusion is that the drive for comfort is motivated by an underlying hypothesis that this particular life is no longer worth living. I reject that hypothesis without reservation. No moment of life, not breath, is ever a waste; it is always worth it. Life is not always comfortable; in fact, it rarely is. How dare hospice …
Life after death.

My sister grabbed my mother's lifeless body. I told her it was time to go. She wouldn't let go; "If I let go, it's going to be real!" I had told her earlier that the body nourishes the soul in this world like the placenta nourishes the baby in the womb. "It's a placenta... Mom let it go, now you need to." She reluctantly let go. "But she is still warm!" "We need to go." "But..."

My sister-in-law asked if my sister and I wanted a few minutes alone. We looked at her and said, "She is your mother just as much as ours; you are our sister." My brother had been called away, but he was with us on the phone. "I thought I was prepared.", he said, "I thought I had said my good-byes." We cried together on the phone. We had all thought we were prepared. But there is, apparently, no preparation for this. What we would give for her to take even one more labored breath. The…
My Mother's Death

You may want to skip this; it is intentionally graphic. I am writing this because I think it would have helped me when we were going through that last few days and hours of my mother's life to have known what others had experienced and what to expect.

My mother had been difficult to get along with for years. It now turns out that a lot of the problems were caused by the many pain and psychiatric drugs she was taking. Several different doctors who were not talking to each other were all prescribing medicine/drugs for her. My brother and his wife (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude I can never hope to repay for the care they gave our mother the last few years) finally got her into a geriatric psychiatric hospital, Senior Bridges. After spending almost two weeks there (a place she referred to as "prison") she came out with her medications cut in half and was a new person. I wish people wouldn't be so squeamish about the title and just get the ne…
Faith and a sense of humor, that is what you need to make it in this world -- R' Henoch Leibowitz, shlita.

We put on some music for my mother... Country Western via internet radio. All of the sudden we heard:
I can't quote the book
The chapter or the verse
You can't tell me it all ends
In a slow ride in a hearse
You know I'm more and more convinced
The longer that i live
Yeah, this can't be
No, this can't be
No, this can't be all there is

from "Believe", by Brooks and Dunn. And that was followed by, "send me an angel and show me the way".

Whew... some times that sense of humor is a bit sharp.

One breath at a time...

כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּ יָהּ: (תהלים פרק קנ פסוק ו)
King David chose to end his opus to the gamut of human emotion, the Book of Psalms, by declaring, "Every living thing shall praise G-d; Praise G-d!" King David chose to use the unusual word "neshama" to mean "living thing"; and our Rabbis of Blessed Memory tell us that King David's intent in using this word was to also express the message "with every breath (n'shima) I will praise G-d".

I am sitting in front of my mother. The skin on her face drawn and sunken. To be honest I have never seen live person look like this. Hospice tells us that she has hours, not days. The little blue pamphlet they gave us told us her breathing would become more irregular as time goes on. I hold my breath every time Mom hesitates... then I breathe when she does; and I thank G-d for that breath (mine and hers).

She seems to be past the pain now. She seems to not even like the medicine …

Saying good-bye to Mom.

I really thought I could wait till Sunday. I talked to Mom on the phone on Thursday... she was a little confused, but lucid. Our very close friend had lost her father the day before. She pushed me... offered all of her airline miles to me... just go. My wife was scheduled for a procedure on Friday... Shabbos away from home is never fun. In the end I was convinced... American has a compassion fare... new problem: no compassion seats for a return trip... ok, come back later, fly back overnight. My wife and kids ran around getting my packed, buying food for me, making arrangements.

I arrived Friday morning and was met by my brother, his wife, and my Dad. We spent a couple of hours visiting and letting my brother get a little work done at his Reno store. One the way to see Mom, I got a quite unexpected phone call. "Mr. Allen? This is ....; I want to ask your daughter to marry me and I would like your blessing."

We arrived at my Mom's room. She recognized me and I wa…
Parshas Vayikra
When a person (אָדָם) shall bring an offering.

ויקרא פרק א פסוק ב
אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב...

Parshas v'yikra begins, "when a person will bring a korban...". The Torah could just as well have left out the word "person", and even if it did want a word there, the usual word would be "ish". The uncharacteristic use of the word "adam" prompts Rashi to comment:

רש"י ויקרא פרק א פסוק ב
למה נאמר, מה אדם הראשון לא הקריב מן הגזל, שהכל היה שלו, אף אתם לא תקריבו מן הגזל

"Just as the first person did not offer a korban from stolen property, because everything was 'shelo', so too you shall not bring an offering from stolen property." The word "shelo", of course, means "his"..... or "His"; that is "belongs to HaShem". If we translate "shelo" as "His", then we can understand the pasuk is telling us that just as Adam HaRishon had absolute clarity that everything was fr…
Siyum on Masechta Shabbos -- 11 years in the making!
On Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5766, my chavrusa (really much more of a rebbi than a chavrusa) and I were zoche to be m'sayim masechta shabbos; a schedule we half jokingly call our "daf chodshi" (one page a month). The specific date was chosen because it is also R' Mannes's father's yahrtzeit, but the fact is we really did finish at that time. Hosting a siyum two weeks before Pesach is not easy; but my family has always celebrated siyumim together and we all worked hard to get everything together.

A year ago or so, someone commented to me, "11 years? wow... you have a lot of patience". But that is a mistake. For, (as pointed out to me by R' Mannes) in the hadran we say, "our minds are on you, and your mind is on us." The masechate is a living entity with which we have an eternal relationship. Eleven years is not a long time to spend developing that relationship.

I was honored to have R&…
I am starting this blog in response to the last few days of my life. This many jarringly different and powerful events in such a short period of time demands a response. Since last Wednesday, I have experienced (in order):
The celebration of the completion of a major tractate of the Talmud -- 11 years in the making.The death of a dear friend's father, preparing his body for burial, and laying him to rest.My mother slipping away from this world; and traveling to spend her last few days together with her and my brother and sister.The engagement of my oldest daughter to a wonderful young man whom we welcome into our family with open arms.The conflicting emotions have left me literally stunned... not knowing which way to turn or how to feel.

I do know that I cannot possibly hope to understand the entire meaning of anything that happens in my life. Of one thing, however, I am certain. The events do have meaning. The least I can do is acknowledge that fact and put the effort into dra…