A Timely Classic – SHA’AREI TESHUVAH – Now with a Magnificent New English Translation! Reviewed by Avraham Schreiber

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Shaarei TeshuvahIn our day, it would seem inconceivable to fully realize what precisely constitutes appropriate vs. inappropriate speech, were it not for the comprehensive works of the Chafetz Chaim, and the manner in which he analyzed and applied the fundamental Torah concepts of lashon hara and rechilus.

So too, it would appear equally inconceivable to comprehend what exactly constitutes a proper fulfillment of teshuvah, were it not for Rabbeinu Yonah’s thorough, detailed, and systematic approach to this essential concept, as presented in his classic mussar sefer, Sha’arei Teshuvah. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim, in composing his own works, relied heavily on the third sha’ar of Sha’arei Teshuvah, which discusses lashon hara and rechilus at length.

At the very outset of his sefer, Rabbeinu Yonah relates a potent parable found in Koheles Rabbah. To paraphrase that Midrash: A gang of thieves was thrown into prison by the king and there they remained until they started digging an underground tunnel through which they all escaped, except one prisoner. When the jail keeper arrived, he spotted the escape route and, seeing the one remaining prisoner, struck him. “Fool!” he said, “There’s a way to get out of here. Why didn’t you save yourself?”

Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah points out, is the way we can save ourselves. When we transgress, we harm not only others, but ourselves, too, and we impede the precious relationship we have with our Creator. Proper teshuvah can make amends, bringing about healing on many levels; it can even transform transgression into a source of merit. We’d be fools to not take advantage.

But still, the question remains: How do you get from here to there? What does teshuvah consist of? What are the various considerations? Is there a procedure to follow? Sha’arei Teshuvah provides the map to this particular treasure. If you can access the map, pay attention to the path and its pitfalls, you can reach the exalted goal.

To help us all successfully take on this worthwhile journey, we can now gratefully turn to a magnificent new English translation of this classic work, from Feldheim Publishers.

A good translation walks a fine line, and a very good translation walks a very fine line. The expertise of Rabbi Yosef Leibler, together with the editorial skills of Rabbi David Kahn, have produced a remarkable work of clarity and readability, while faithfully adhering to the style and substance of the original text. An outstanding translation must not only use the right words, but the right combination of words, and maintain that level of consistency throughout the project at hand — and that is what you have here.

Sometimes a translation will strive for word-for-word equivalence. The outcome can be entirely accurate, but the reading will be stilted and cumbersome. On the other hand, if you stray from the literal course in an effort to make style your highest priority, you may attain the readability you desire, but you’ve sacrificed the integrity and sanctity of the text. Translation is therefore a grave responsibility, especially with time-honored, sacred texts such as Sha’arei Teshuvah.

Thankfully, this new translation combines the best of both worlds. When you pause to consider the Hebrew original alongside the English, you’ll discover how highly readable the English is as it captures the thought, spirit, and flavor of the original text. In addition, as the translator points out, for even smoother reading, extra words or phrases are occasionally added (in brackets) to bring out what is implicitly stated in the language of the Rabbeinu Yonah.

This new edition also offers other outstanding features: Copious footnotes appear throughout the book that elaborate upon the text, incorporate commentary from a variety of authoritative works, and analyze difficult words and phrases. Also included: a brief, biographical sketch of Rabbeinu Yonah, and a convenient, all-English glossary.

All things considered, this new edition of Sha’arei Teshuvah is an illuminating, groundbreaking work. Its appearance in the month of Elul is an auspicious event. May we merit to study and reflect upon its contents, and then take its directives to heart as we cross the sacred threshold into a New Year.

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The Observant Jew – All I Need To Know I Learned From My Kindergartner. By Jonathan Gewirtz

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There is a common understanding that with age comes wisdom. I’d like to agree and challenge that at the same time. Though I think as we approach “the Golden Years” we achieve a certain amount of wisdom through life experience, and this is why one must stand up for anyone who is seventy years old, I think that at a certain level, we become stupider as we get older. Now, before you start disagreeing, or telling me that there is no such word as stupider, let me explain.

Any parent will happily regale you with tales of their child’s brilliance. How at only two, he could say, “gapa,” which you knew meant “I want to go to the park for, O, how I love the swings and monkey bars;” and how your daughter knew something was wrong immediately when the gum she found on the sidewalk didn’t taste right. But do we really think they’re so smart? I wonder.

Let me give you an example. This is a true story that really happened. Two boys, let’s call them “Yosef” and “Noach,” were friends, on different teams in Pirchei baseball. When they found out they were to play against each other in the same game, each was so excited to be able to play with his friend. In his innocent exuberance, Yosef said, “Oh boy! I can’t wait. I hope Noach wins!” Now, the adults around will give this story a grin, sympathetically clucking at the innocent notion of the boy who didn’t realize that if Noach were to win, Yosef’s team would lose. He missed the point of the game, which is that your team is supposed to win, not the other’s.

Another example. Friends gave my two-year old daughter a present. Before she even opened the present, she danced wildly around in circles with it, exuding pure elation. “Daddy!” she cried, as she pointed to the “My Little Pony” wrapping paper, “I got ponies!” As a father, I smiled at her naïveté, as if to say, “Silly girl, the paper isn’t the gift, it’s what’s inside the paper that’s important.”

Now, let’s look at these stories and decide who is really making the mistake. In the first case, the boy was so happy for his friend and wished him well. That is the ultimate expression of good sportsmanship, and better yet, of midos tovos. He could have looked at the grown-ups and said, “You think playing is about winning? It’s about feeling good and enjoying yourself. If I feel good and am happy when my friend wins, haven’t I progressed beyond your simple understanding of the point?” If we think about it, the child has just exhibited the maturity we would attribute to someone much more advanced in years and with tremendous life experience. We would understand if someone with white hair (whatever was left of it) would say, “I don’t care about winning, it means more to someone else,” but if we hear it from a six-year old we think it’s a mistake.

What about the girl who was over the moon about the wrapping paper? Could she not have turned to me and said, “But Daddy, if you appreciate even the little things, such as the paper that it is wrapped in, and find the joy in them, won’t you be able to appreciate the gift inside that much more?”

How truly wise she is beyond her years. But it is not the wisdom of experience; I believe it is the wisdom of a pure soul, as yet uncorrupted by the materialistic world around us.

The Chovos Halevavos, in his brilliant, enlightening discussion on humility lists the benefits of being humble enjoyed both in this world and the next. The first benefit of being humble, he says, is that you are happy with your lot. You don’t expect anything, so you appreciate every bit of HaShem’s kindness. In addition, you are better able to cope with life’s challenges because you don’t feel you “deserve” better (now THERE’S a dangerous phrase,) and you can calmly do what you need to do.

What does it mean that you are able to enjoy every little detail? It means that you are happy to get the ponies on your wrapping paper, even if you don’t really like the gift; that you take pleasure in seeing the joy in your friend’s face when he accomplishes, even if you have to lose for it to happen; that you are able to ignore the mess your child made in the kitchen and appreciate the gooey cupcake she prepared for you.

It means that you can come closer to that pure state of the neshama, which recognizes the kindness of the Al-mighty. That you can rise above the pettiness and regain the charm of the innocent children.

Let me leave you with one last story to illustrate my point. One winter, our family traveled to Florida for vacation during winter break from school. Upon their return to nursery, each child was asked to name something they did over the break. My daughter responded, “I saw my Bobbie and Zeidy, and rode on a train.”

When we heard what she had said, my wife looked at me quizzically. “We flew down to Florida. What is she saying about a train ride?” It took me a minute, but then it clicked. “Remember when we came back from the airport? We took a monorail to the long-term parking lot. That was her “train ride.””

So, my three-year old was able to find the same joy and appreciation she had from seeing her grandparents in something as simple and mundane as a four-minute train ride. We saw it as a burden, another obstacle to overcome, but she saw it as an adventure, a gift. Children are very wise; we would be wise to learn from them.

The author is a regular contributor to The Front Page who also writes a weekly Torah publication, the Migdal Ohr, now in its eighth year. He is also available to write your feature article on these pages, or to write speeches for you for your next simcha. For more information, visit www.JewishSpeechWriter.com – Your Thoughts, the Perfect Words™ or e-mail info@jewishspeechwriter.com.

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The Observant Jew – Marketing and Stuff. By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

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I am writing this article at the Tire Center at Costco. Not one to waste time, I brought my laptop so you could all join me for the thrilling experience of waiting for my car to be ready. As I walked in, I had to smile at the sign I passed. On the front of the store is a sign with an arrow pointing to the spot where I now stand. It reads, “For your convenience, tires are sold in the Tire Center.” That’s great! So much more convenient than when tires used to be sold in the produce aisle.

I know what they were trying to say, but it’s a great segue into this week’s topic – Marketing. In specific, what is important to people and makes them buy a particular product. Front Page readers have already been treated to the history of Coca Cola, so, as it is an election year, in the interest of equal time, I’d like to talk about Pepsi.

Not the history of Pepsi, nor even the history of any particular era. Today, I’d like to focus on one particular ad campaign they ran when I was in Yeshiva, and which they have revived to some degree. The slogan, as I recall, which would entice you to envision yourself guzzling an ice cold Pepsi, with the cool droplets of water dripping off it in the hot summer sun, feeling the utmost refreshment, actually conveyed none of that delicious imagery. No, the slogan they used to sell Pepsi was:

Drink Pepsi – Get Stuff.

That’s it. Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff. Nothing else. After that there was presumably a catalog where you could trade in points or bottle caps for such wondrous items as T-shirts, pens, Frisbees and can holders. Now, as a bochur in Yeshiva, perhaps already exercising my comedic skills, I envisioned the Marketing gurus who came up with that slogan.

“Dude, how can we get people to drink more Pepsi?”

“I dunno man. That’s a tough one.”

“Wait a minute, I got it! We can give them stuff!”

“Sure! Uh… like what should we give them?”

“I dunno, like, stuff.”

“Excellent!”

And just like that, these two boneheads were probably getting paid $100,000 a year (a lot of money when I was in Yeshiva) to come up with this brilliant plan. But you know what’s even scarier? It was successful! That’s right, people bought Pepsi not because it tasted good, not because they liked it, but to get something. What? STUFF!

I think it says a lot about our society when we become focused on materialism to the point where we don’t even care what we’re getting, as long as we’re getting something. The truth is, when you wear a Pepsi T-shirt, you just become a walking billboard for them, yet we wear commercial logos like a trophy, as if they were sponsoring our run to catch the bus or our attempt at a slam dunk in the bungalow colony basketball game. (Anyone who knows me will find that last image even more hilarious.)

But, if we get something, we’re willing to spend more for it, as long as we feel like we’re getting it for free. How many of us have spent thirty dollars to “win” a stuffed animal at a carnival or amusement park? How about racking up a twenty-dollar tab on tokens and skeeball to get enough tickets to trade in for a 14-cent plastic necklace?

The truth is, it’s human nature to want things and to do crazy things to get them. That’s where the genius of the Pepsi campaign shines through. They knew that people would buy their drink not because of its merits or virtues, but because of their selfish However, there is an antidote. It’s called Torah. (Thanks Rabbi Hoffman!)

There’s an old joke about when HaShem went around to various nations offering them the Torah. He went to one nation and said, “Would you like my Torah?”

“What’s in it?” they asked. “Well,” said G-d, “It says things like ‘Don’t kill.’” “No thanks,” came the reply.

The next group – “Want my Mitzvos?” “What are they?” “Don’t steal.” “Sorry, not interested.”

Finally HaShem came to Moshe. “Do you want My commandments?” asked the Master of the World.

“How much do they cost?” asked Moshe.

“Why, they’re free, of course.”

“Good, I’ll take ten.”

It’s sad because that’s really how people think of the Jewish people, focused on money. It’s sadder that for many it’s true. But the end of the story doesn’t have to be that way.

The Torah teaches us to value other things. It teaches us to be happy with what we have because we realize that HaShem is like a doctor, giving us the exact dosage of success that we need to be healthy. If we push and insist on taking extra doses against doctor’s orders, He won’t stop us, but we will get sick.

Torah teaches us that the things that are really valuable are the mitzvos, the people in our lives, improving ourselves, and getting to know HaKadosh Boruch Hu. Those are the things money can’t buy. And they’re much more valuable than anything Pepsi is giving out.

One more thing, this campaign is not original to Pepsi. If you look in Parshas Bechukosai, HaShem said, “If you keep My laws, I will give you rain at its proper time, and the land will produce much. There will be peace in the land and you will have more food than you can eat. I will dwell with you and make you My people.”

If I had to summarize this promise of HaShem?

Live Torah – Get Lots of Stuff. Now THAT’S excellent.

The author is a regular contributor to The Front Page who also writes a weekly Torah publication, the Migdal Ohr, now in its ninth year. He is available to write speeches for you for your next simcha. For more information, visit www.JewishSpeechWriter.com – Your Thoughts, the Perfect Words™ or e-mail info@jewishspeechwriter.com. © 2008 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.

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Book Week Begins Early – Use Code fld20 & Save 20% Off Most English Books!

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We love books. It is our passion. So June is an exciting time as it is when “Book Week” is celebrated in Israel (for about a month!). In fact, the Israeli National Library announced recently that 7,863 new books were printed in Israel in 2013. That is 235 more books than in 2012. Amazing, right? This is supposed to be the time when reading is no longer popular!

So to celebrate Jewish books we are offering 20% off almost all Feldheim English language books – just use the code fld20 and enjoy!

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Who was the Ramchal? Honoring the Books & Marking the Death of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

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Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, more commonly known as the Ramchal, was born in 1707 in Padua, Italy. When he was just a teenager, he had already been recognized as a genius. The Ramchal authored many classic books by the time he reached his 20′s, including the popular The Way of G-d: Derech Hashem. In addition to writing, the Ramchal studied and taught Kabbalah. His take on Kabbalah and his teaching it in public forum was the source of much controversy, especially since he was doing this less than 100 years after Shabtai Tzvi. The Jewish leadership forced him to stop teaching Kabbalah publicly, and he left Italy to live in Amsterdam. There, he continued to write and completed another famous work, Path of the Just: Mesilas Yesharim. From Amsterdam, the Ramchal moved to Eretz Yisrael where he lived for 4 years before he and his family passed away from a plague on 26 Iyar 1747. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is buried in Tiberias, Israel. 

To mark the yahrtzeit of the Ramchal which falls on the 26th of Iyar, Feldheim is offering a special discount on all books by the Ramchal. Use the code “Ramchal” at checkout and save 25% until May 30, 2014.  Click here to find all Ramchal titles including the newest title published The Way of Torah.

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The Fall of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and Her 1948 Refugees

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Forever My Jerusalem by Puah Shteiner takes readers back 66 years in time to when Jews lived in the Old City of Jerusalem but found themselves under siege.  During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanian army attacked and eventually overtook the old city of Jerusalem. All Jewish residents were expelled and became refugees overnight.  This powerful autobiographical story of the fall and evacuation of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is told by Puah Shteiner who lived though the siege and battles as a young girl. She describes how the Jewish Quarter was evacuated and its homes plundered and synagogues destroyed by the Arab victors.  The author also describes being relocated by the brand new government of Israel in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon (being driven there in a truck with mattresses). Her detailed descriptions of the initial arrival in a refugee apartment, walking around the deserted homes of Katamon Arabs and efforts to qualify for a legally approved apartment in the new State are fascinating. They provide first hand accounts into the real life struggles of those forced out of the Old City as the nascent State of Israel tries to survive and deal with a growing Jewish refugee challenge.  The author’s father was taken captive by the Jordanian army and held as a POW for a lengthy period of time and she recounts the hardships this separation caused.

To find this book click here.

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Inspiration for Young Readers from Aharon Margalit

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After inspiring tens of thousands of adult readers, the huge bestseller As Long as I Live by Aharon Margalit is now available in a graphic version for younger readers. Entitled Ahrele, it will be a series of books which will tell the incredible story of determination, belief and trust in Hashem which supported the author through his experiences of illness and overcoming the disability of severe stuttering. Aharon Margalit’s optimism and wisdom is something to share with every child!  Find volume one of the series book here.

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An Interview with Beloved Author Yaffa Ganz

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Exciting news for Jewish children (and parents) everywhere!! Many of the beloved Yaffa Ganz titles are being reprinted so that a new generation of kids can enjoy the classics we all grew up on.

In anticipation, we jumped on the opportunity to talk to Yaffa Ganz and learn about her experiences as a writer:

How has the Jewish book industry changed since you started writing?

Like Topsy, it’s grown and grown. There are at least ten Judaica children’s books in 2014  for every one published in 2004!

Tell us about the differences in writing and publishing a book back then versus the current process.  

Writing then and writing now hasn’t changed any but publishing is different. With all the magic new technology, publishing books is cheaper and  easier than ever before. But on the flip side, there’s lots more competition so that fewer copies of each book are sold. Personally, for me as an author, I spend the same amount of time and  do the same amount of work on any given book…although I probably land up making less money!

During your career, you’ve written many children’s titles, a Jewish history series geared toward teens, and many articles/essays for adults. What do you focus on for each audience?

Obviously I focus first of all on the age group I’m writing for. Choice of topic, level of language, head and heart – all have to be appropriate for the  reader. Aside from that, I just begin to work and then plow ahead!

Your writing varies from children’s fiction to Jewish history and Jewish contemporary life. Which do you relate to best?

Whatever I happen to be working on is what I like best! The world is out there waiting to be written about and it’s all very interesting, don’t you think?

What was your aliyah to Israel like?

The day we came was probably the hardest day of my life and the  most blessed. The hardest because fifty years ago, communication was not what it is today and it meant leaving my parents behind; the most blessed because  it was the fulfillment of a Jew’s dreams. Once we arrived, every single day was a privilege and a blessing.

Are any of the characters in the Savta Simcha or Simmy & Mimmy series based on people in your life?

Everything an author writes is based on something that lit his/her imagination. Many of  my characters are undoubtedly somehow, indirectly, subconsciously based on someone I knew, met, saw or heard of. There are probably bits and pieces of all sorts of people in my characters, but they are never purposely based on a specific character.                                          

What made you choose a boy who lives in Australia in Yedidya and the Esrog Tree?

Probably because Australia seemed so very far-away from Israel and therefore a bit mythical! Somehow today, it seems closer. Perhaps because the world has grown so much smaller. Or because today I know so many wonderful people who are from Australia.

Can you tell us a little bit about writing for kids? Do you always have a lesson in mind before?

Never! I don’t write to “teach a lesson”. I write so that Jewish kids will have something fun to read. Of course we want their “fun reading” to be positive and Jewish and wholesome as well.

Which book did you enjoy writing the most? Why?

Sand and Stars – A Jewish Journey Through Time was the hardest because it was the longest and the most serious. But I got a lot of satisfaction from doing A Jewish Factfinder – A bookful of Important Torah Facts and Handy Jewish Information. It’s a very short and concise book – actually a book of lists – and I think it’s a great book for every Jewish kid.  The Adventures of Jeremy Levi and Hello Heddy Levi were lots of fun as was the Mimmy Simmy Series. But the Savta Simcha books probably win the prize for enjoyment, despite the hard work that went into them.

What are you working on now?

Feldheim Publishers is reprinting many of my books which were out of print for several years and we’re busy working on that. Some new ideas are “cooking” but at the moment, I’m mostly thinking about “cleaning” … for Pesach! However I would  like to see more of my books translated into Hebrew for my many grandchildren who don’t speak English.

For information on Yaffa Ganz’s many books, click here.

 

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Author of Bestselling The Life-Transforming Diet as Guest Blogger!

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Acclaimed author David Zulberg is an ACE-certified fitness specialist and health coachand is considered one of the foremost experts in Maimonides’ medical works. He turned to the forgotten wisdom of Maimonides to find consensus about ideal human nutrition, and both emotional and physical health while incorporating the latest dietary and fitness guidelines. His bestselling book The Life-Transforming Diet is currently in its 7th printing.

Featured as a guest blogger last week for the Jewish Book Council, Zulberg talks about his journeys beginning with researching and writing his book, leading to his exploration of the herbal aspects of Maimonides’ works (which included trips to India and China) and continuing on to developing his own kosher herbal remedies:

“After the book was published, I pursued my interest in the herbal aspect of Rambam’s writings. Besides writing about nutritional and lifestyle habits, Rambam details herbal remedies extensively in his medical works…I succeeded in communicating with the most renowned expert in the translation of Maimonides’ works from the original Arabic and other manuscripts of that era…I researched the best herbal ingredients for an appetite suppressant based on Maimonides’ nutritional suggestions and the most current herbal scientific research…To make the formulations kosher one needs the actual ingredients to be sourced kosher and the actual encapsulation needs to be supervised.”

Be sure to read Zulberg’s full blog post here!

For more information on The Life-Transforming Diet, click here.

 

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Bringing the Torah Portion to Life – with a Mashal Tov!

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There are many books relating to the weekly parashah that aim to interpret and draw lessons from the stories and characters in the Torah. Mashal Tov! by Rabbi Yeshaya Greenberger is unique in that it brings Torah lessons through parables based on classical meforshim. Each stimulating mashal inspires discussion that engages the whole family!

A recent review in The Jewish Connection asserts:

Mashal Tov! is perfect for the Shabbos table all year round…you can give your child a precious gift that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The Jewish Connection also emphasizes the discussion that the parables found in Mashal Tov! are sure to encourage:

“After your child gives over the appropriate week’s Torah parashah parable, you can utilize this as a precious opportunity to create a discussion that will interest the entire family and make the Torah portion truly come alive for family members and guests alike.”

To read the full review, click here.

Learn more about Mashal Tov! here!

 

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