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"Instead of stinging nettle, myrtle will rise" (Isaiah 55:13)
"Instead of evil, good will rise." (The Malbim's Interpretation)
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B'ezrat Hashem, may we know no more sorrow and only hear besurot tovot.
First off, this post was inspired by Shirat Devorah's comment section of Change Your Name, Change Your Mazal.
It's very worth reading the comments, especially Devorah's insights.
So thank you very much to her, Rav Anava, and the commenters.
And no, I haven't had a chance to listen to shiur within the post.
(So if anything written here contradicts what Rav Anava says, then go with him because in such a case, he's right and I'm wrong.)
Anyway, I think people can get good guidance and inspiration from their Hebrew name, if you're knowledgeable about the person or meaning behind your name.
For example, the name Chana Leah.
Both Chana and Leah Imeinu invested heart and soul in prayer. In fact, that's what each one is famous for. Furthermore (and this goes together), emuna permeated their being.
So a Chana Leah should have great potential as a profound davener & baalat emuna.
(This includes those whose name is either Chana or Leah, not necessarily together although the combination of 2 extraordinary daveners seems quite powerful.)
But what if your name is Chana Leah and you've always considered yourself a poor davener who feels distant from Hashem?
So...I've noticed that in people who have tremendous potential in a particular area that sometimes their yetzer hara does everything it can to quash them in that particular area. Especially with tefillah, there's a tremendous resistance to connecting with Hashem in a heartfelt manner.
Tefillah can change so much. It's literally the most powerful act anyone can engage in. It sweetens dinim, it reaps miracles, it brings Mashiach, and so much more.
So anything that wants the world to be a Mashiach-less trashy bitter world will do everything it can to quash a person who unknowingly possesses tremendous potential in this area.
However, once you get over that hurdle, you might discover a thriving new you able to utilize tremendous potential you never knew you had.
That's just one example.
Also, Chana means "challah, niddah, hadlakat neirot" (essential mitzvot for women) and its root is "chen" -- often translated as "grace" or "charm" or a kind of beauty (not necessarily physical beauty). So take that into account too.
A lot of women with rose-flower names (Shoshana, Raizel, Vered, etc) seem to have strong nurturing tendencies.
I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has to do with how flowers themselves need to be nurtured to grow properly. Also, flowers display obvious stages of growth, they blossom, they provide pollen, nutrients, visual beauty, and scents which benefit others.
So rose-named people seem to want to help others blossom and flourish by providing others with a variety of nurturing (symbolized by the rose's attributes: pollen, nutrients, beautifying their environment, and giving off a good beneficial scent).
This nurturing doesn't always manifest as stereotypical nurturing - i.e., gentle, cuddly nurture. Some of these "roses" possess strong, outgoing personalities.
Regardless, many of these "roses" find themselves in roles where they're helping others be the best they can be. A lot of "roses" seem to be into healing, especially via natural methods like herbs, healthy diet, and so on.
But again, this nurturing others to be their best can sometimes be expressed in a way that dominating or aggressive -- like they've decided what's best for the other person (even if that's actually not what is best) and now they're going to bully that person into fulfilling that "potential."
Our challenge is always to use our innate character traits in the healthiest way possible.
As another example, one such rose-named woman I know clearly possesses so much compassion for others and a real desire to heal others and nurture them -- but she's consumed with bitterness. It's like a klippah over the real, wonderful her underneath. So she's in constant conflict because of that. But she's got amazing potential and I really hope she'll break through one day to fulfill her very real and helpful qualities.
So again, it's not that your personality is going to be a certain way. Some "roses" are extroverted and very hands-on while others are more introverted and reticent. Some act out their nurturing in a very positive way while others do so in a negative way.
To my mind, it's more about possessing certain qualities or a certain essence. And your personality and psychological/spiritual health determine how those qualities find expression.
Many Nechamas seem to provide others with a comforting, solid presence. Some Nechamas are solid, organized busy people who can help others sort out their minds and lives. Others are more of the soothing, reassuring type.
They can be good at giving chizuk, support, encouragement, down-to-earth advice, or just be a nice rock to lean on.
Regardless, many Nechamas are indeed comforting however they express it according to their individual personality.
A friend of mine once pointed out that many Yehudahs emanate a kind of "specialness" -- while at the same time, tend to be very difficult to raise. (Yes, one of her sons is named Yehudah.)
Looking around, I realized she was right.
I think you also find a lot of Yehudahs in some kind of leadership position. Or maybe that's just because it's such a common name.
This all makes sense because Yehudah is a progenitor of Mashiach. Yehudah is royalty. His name also contains Hashem's Name, plus the meaning "gratitude" and "confession."
Pretty powerful stuff.
Yehudit is an interesting one.
It's the feminine form of the name "Yehudah" -- with all that implies.
Furthermore, the most famous Yehudit was a wealthy, intelligent, committed woman who tricked a wicked general and cut off his head, saving the Jewish people.
I've noticed that many Yehudits are extremely competent people. They've got their act together and tend to be good at running things, including their home. They've got high standards for themselves (which sometimes translates into high standards for others). They tend not to put themselves in the limelight, but instead focus on their own ideals and living up to those ideals.
They're often incredibly faithful, dedicated people, particularly to their family members.
Just like our most famous Yehudit.
NOTE: I've come across several women from secular families whose parents named them YEHUDAH as their Hebrew name (or as part of their Hebrew name), and usually named after a grandfather or great-uncle.
It's so bizarre, the only thing I can think of is that the stereotypically feminine ending ("AH") is what throws them off. I guess they imagine it's a feminine name, although it's always only ever used as a boy's name, so I still don't understand why they give that name to their daughters without even feminizing it to "Yehudit."
Sure, some male names are feminized, like I've known a couple of Yaakovas and I've heard of a Yitzchaka and an Avrahama here and there. I've even heard of a Shmuella!
So people sometimes feminize male names, but I haven't seen this Yehudah-for-a-girl phenomenon with any other boy names, like a girl named Mordechai or Yechezkel, so I'm assuming it's the "AH" that's making the difference.
Furthermore, I grew up traditional-assimilated and even with my limited exposure to authentic Judaism, I would've thought that naming a girl "Yehudah" would've been a very weird thing.
And no, these are not generally such extremely assimilated Jews that they have no clue that Yehudah is only ever a boy's name. Maybe some of them are, but the ones I've known aren't.
So I really don't understand this, but it certainly exists (unfortunately).
Giving gender-specific names to the opposite gender is actually very harmful.
To contrast: "Yonah" can be a perfectly legitimate girl's name if you're naming her after a dove. Or it can be a perfectly legitimate boy's name if you're naming him after Yonah Hanavi in Tanach.
But most Hebrew names are specifically for one gender or the other.
So the female Yehudahs I've known have been very likable, but there's definitely some kind of block against their full feminine qualities shining through in a positive way. With one such female Yehudah, she always told me since high school that she wanted a hysterectomy because she was so certain she never wanted to have children.
I remember finding this odd because she liked children so much and was known as a good babysitter.
Fortunately, she later became frum and went to a rav to change her name to Yehudit.
After that, she felt more open toward having children and did indeed marry and become a mother. She later explained she felt that carrying a purely male name caused such a strong resistance to birthing children because that is a definite feminine tafkid and not at all a male one, and so the male aspect overwhelmed the female in her psyche.
But you can really mess up your kids by giving them a name that's clearly wrong for their gender.
Many females named Gitty, Tovah, and any variation thereof do seem to possess extra goodness. Some are indeed warm and outgoing, embracing others. Others are much more reserved.
Regardless, I've noticed that many Gittys and Tovahs possess an extra measure of compassion or just plain goodness. They want to be good to others and have others enjoy a good life.
Sometimes, this goodness is very much under the radar. Some Gittys and Tovahs can even come off as somewhat cold at first glance. And it can take you by surprise when their sincere goodness underneath is suddenly & unexpectedly expressed.
Many people named Batya are just plain lovely. Whether their outgoing or quiet, they're really pleasant to be around. Empathy, I think is their key to their loveliness. They tend to be more empathetic than average.
(Although again, sometimes that empathy doesn't manifest clearly and needs to be drawn out.)
Batya literally means "daughter of God" and was also the name of the very empathetic daughter of Pharoah who saved Moshe Rabbeinu's life.
So there you go.
Well, that's all I can think of for now.
To sum up:
There are No "Natural" Occurrences
When I was reading an exceptionally compelling graphic book featuring the story of Noach, the Mabul (Flood), and everything that led up to it based on Midrashim and other legitimate commentaries, I came across a graphic of the people of the Flood Generation exclaiming at how the Sun was suddenly rising in the West instead of the East. It also glowed with an especially strong and pleasant light.
This was one of Hashem's many kindnesses and warnings, giving that generation every opportunity possible to wake up and do teshuvah before it would be too late.
Yet what was their reaction?
"It doesn't mean anything. Apparently, it's just a coincidence."
"I heard that once every few hundred years, the Earth changes its orbit," said another one of the cartoon skeptics. "Come on, let's hurry up so we won't be late to the party."
We know that any time something unusual happens, we can find natural causes for it.
But it doesn't mean that the occurrence doesn't mean anything.
Even with something as predictable as a solar or lunar eclipse, the eclipse still contains a message for us.
So it's true that the Earth cycles through warmer periods and cooler periods.
It's true that the Sun also undergoes changes and cycles.
But these cycles aren't exact to the day or year.
So the question becomes: Why davka now and with these specific consequences?
The same goes for hurricanes, volcanoes, and everything else.
Chazal informed us millennia ago of the different punishments for different sins. Death by fire, choking on volcanic ash or drowning all mean something.
Scoffers will continue to insist that it's man-made global warming.
But Rivka Levy repeatedly brought evidence (the most recent discussion now found HERE) that undersea volcanoes are waking up. And indeed, we see that land volcanoes are also waking up.
The question is why?
Not what geological or astrophysical changes are causing it, but what Hashem wants to warn us about via ash, lava, hurricane winds and flooding storm surges, and earthquakes.
He loves us and wants to give us this time for soul-searching and self-improvement.
One Single Continent
While we're anyway discussing Noach's Ark, researchers discovered thousands of supposedly prehistoric carvings in India's Konkan region featuring animals native to Africa and NOT to that part of India -- like rhinos and hippos.
Of course, if you understand that the world once consisted of a giant landmass, making all regions accessible to all people and animals, then such carvings make sense. Either hippos and rhinos transversed that way pre-Mabul or else people who'd seen such animals decided to etch their memories into the cave walls.
Either way, it's not PROOF of the Torah's version of pre-Mabul geography. It's not like there's graffiti: "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Noah's Ark we go!"
(Those of us who are not "scientists" understand that indications, assumptions, and personal beliefs aren't substitutes for proven evidence.)
But it does fit in to the Torah's narrative.
Some people like to point out the situations in which a particularly loathsome person possibly possesses some kind of Jewish ancestor and therefore, possesses some kind of Jewish bloodline. (Although halachically speaking, there is no such thing because you're either Jewish or you aren't.) For example, some people note that the leader of the Shoah (yemach shemo) may have had a Jewish father via his mother's possible adultery.
Or with the popularly vilified Rothschild family: The Rothschild males started intermarrying around the 1920s. Almost no one in that family today in Jewish, though they still carry the name.
This kind of thing always gives Jews the heebie-jeebies, but the truth is that a very evil Jew-hater descending from a Jewish ancestor isn't anything new.
In Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), we meet our future genocidal villain, Amalek, for the first time. Amalek's mother is Timna, sister of Lotan and daughter of Seir -- and a princess to boot. Seir descends from Chor, who I'm pretty sure descended from Canaan, who descended from Cham (via another ancestor because Chor isn't listed among Canaan's direct descendants).
But Amalek's father is Eliphaz.
Eliphaz's mother is Canaanite (Cham), but his father is Esav. Esav is the son of Yitzchak Avinu and Rivka Imeinu.
Eliphaz is half Shem and half Cham/Canaan.
This makes Amalek one-fourth Shem and three-fourths Cham/Canaan.
Amalek's paternal great-grandparents are Yitzchak Avinu and Rivka Imeinu, some of the greatest tzaddikim who ever lived. They're bona fide Jews.
Millennia ago, Jewish Sages already delved into how such great & spiritually pure people could produce offspring like Esav (the grandfather of Amalek). In a nutshell, these offspring are the klippah, which is why Yaakov Avinu is considered the pinnacle of spiritual shlaimut (wholeness) and the sefirah of Tiferet -- because he produced no klippah in his offspring. (Though they weren't perfect because no one is perfect except Hashem, but they certainly possessed exalted Jewish souls.)
But the point is that finding a Jewish ancestor in the bloodline of a despicable person -- including a Jew-hating person -- is nothing new and probably shouldn't spark neither undue interest nor undue shame.
It's a klippah going way, way back.
But we can learn from both ancient history and more recent history that it's best to make good decisions (like Yaakov Avinu) and avoid intermarriage and then, based on the above, I suppose you'll then avoid producing this kind of klippah.
May we all merit receiving Mashiach Tzidkeinu sweetly in our times.
Back to Part I
I want to start off by reiterating that the Pele Yoetz was a very holy and knowledgeable Jew who chose to die of plague in order to spare his community of suffering that same plague. He strove for honesty and yosher in every aspect of life.
And as much as he felt the pain of his fellow Jews in whatever difficult interpersonal situation they found themselves, the Pele Yoetz maintained equal awareness that Olam Haba is a very real place, and that rising to the occasion by overcoming your bad middot earns you a goodly portion in Olam Haba while giving in to your lower instincts and emotions can land you in a lot of trouble with Heavenly Judgement.
With this in mind, much of the his advice flies in the face of what our secular-influenced culture tells us now. Yet you’ll see that the Pele Yoetz’s advice follows the actual halacha.
In other words:
And this final point:
The Pele Yoetz focuses on your present and future behavior.
He barely focuses on external causes because despite your upbringing and many other factors, you still have the capacity to behave with good middot or you wouldn't be commanded to do so.
Needless to say, I struggle with the above as much as anyone else. Sometimes, I do my best to maintain my middot and succeed, but sometimes I fail. That's how it goes. I publish the Pele Yoetz's advice for myself as much as anyone else.
Secular modern psychology is atheistic, even if many psychologists aren’t actual atheists. So psychology focuses on the surface-level emotional well-being of the client rather than on the client’s soul and future well-being once the soul leaves the body.
Also, no therapist is going to be as mosser nefesh for you as the Pele Yoetz.
Your therapist will never take your Heavenly Punishment upon his- or herself like the Pele Yoetz did for his errant brethren.
So it's best to listen to him as much as we can.
Being "Real" -- for Real
Rav Avrohom Ehrman’s book Journey to Virtue notes that part of fulfilling the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha (love your neighbor as yourself) includes (but is not limited to):
The above is admittedly VERY HARD to do with people who treat you badly.
Modern society accuses people of being "fake" or "in denial" or "Pollyanna" or "a stooge" when they do things like only speak positively of others or camouflage other people's deficiencies.
Yet that's only true when your INTENTION is to cover up for a bad guy who uses your cover to keep hurting others. It's true when prefer to disassociate and actually pretend nothing in wrong and continue neglecting yourself or others, or if you're trying to be a goody-two-shoes.
In Judaism, you don't pretend that bad is good. (That's chanifah -- totally forbidden.)
You simply emphasize the good.
However, when your intention is to remain well-aware, but commit to HASHEM'S value system and follow the above strictures with integrity, then that's being more REAL than anything else.
Remember, as elucidated in a past post, Judaism considers the whole truth told only when the positive is included.
Modern society is the exact opposite. Truth is only when the negative is included.
When Separation is Good
And of course, there are the little known halachot of keeping away from people who repeatedly sin, display bad middot, etc., so as not to be influenced or harmed by them.
The Pele Yoetz himself urges family members who cannot get along (i.e., adult children & their parents, children-in-law & parents-in-law) to refrain from spending much time together and even from sitting together at gatherings, if necessary.
This separation from impossibly difficult situations includes helping a very abused wife get divorced if she so desires, calling this divorce assistance “a very great mitzvah” -- meaning, you'll increase your reward in Olam Haba by helping her.
On the other hand, the Pele Yoetz emphasizes that such relationships are from Hashem. So therefore: Rising to the occasion accrues generous reward (though he doesn’t promise you’ll see that reward in this lifetime).
This was a very complex post to put together because the Pele Yoetz acknowledges both the awful reality of some people’s behavior together with the unknowable Divine Plan behind putting you together with such people.
And he discusses both the spiritual reasons along with the here-and-now reasons as motivation to rise to the occasion when dealing with difficult people.
But his MAIN FOCUS is on CORRECT BEHAVIOR. He openly acknowledges that correct behavior may not influence the difficult person to behave better. He says that it can, but it doesn't necessarily.
This approach is very different than the approach even many frum advisors use today, so it can take time to internalize the Pele Yoetz's message because it initially feels like sandpaper-rubbing rather than a loving caress.
So it’s all together and that makes it difficult to sum things up (especially on a computer screen where the eye naturally skims the information rather than reading it carefully—mine too).
The Pele Yoetz doesn’t mince words when describing people (“lowly and disgusting” “depraved” “bad character” “bad and difficult”) nor does he make excuses for the miserable behavior.
You don’t hear about anyone’s unfortunate upbringing or background or environment. Instead, he mostly attributes people’s flaws to the generation or to general factors (like old age), rather than to specific circumstances.
HOWEVER, he also very strongly encourages people to push themselves spiritually to be the best they can be—despite the weakness of the generation and the rampant ignorance in society, or any other factors (like old age, stressful situations, etc).
His Balkan Jewish society was interesting because while there weren’t secular Jews per se, there were very ignorant Jews. Some didn’t know how to read or know how to read Hebrew.
For example, he advises a man who doesn’t know Hebrew to go to a Sage before Yom Kippur to have the Hebrew Vidui (Confession) translated into the vernacular.
(We don't need to do that nowadays because we have Artscroll and Metzudah and the like. But the point is to understand each word of Vidui.)
At the same time, Sarajevo was the Torah center where the Pele Yoetz learned too, and Sarajevo produced many talmidei chachamim and tzaddikim. And then you had everyone in between those 2 extremes.
No More Blame Game
The Pele Yoetz speaks strongly about the need to overcome your lesser middot and behave in an exemplary manner while at the same time acknowledging how hard that can be. Sometimes, his expectations seem too high—yet he addresses this too by saying that if the Torah commanded it, then it cannot be impossible.
“The Sages spoke only of one whom the controversy pursues him. And he flees from it and the peace flees from him and he runs after it [i.e the peace]—THAT is called a ‘rodef shalom—a pursuer of peace’ and his deeds will be praised at the gates.”
Several times, the Pele Yoetz makes the point that being a rodef shalom—a pursuer of peace—implies behaving peacefully with truly difficult people. Else why do you need to pursue peace? If a person is lovely, then peace exists on its own—no need to go running after it.
So he definitely understands that some people are difficult and that maintaining your middot with them is very difficult.
How does that all connect with lashon hara?
Our most difficult and painful relationships are exactly what trip us up, spiritually speaking.
There is opportunity for great loss—or great gain, depending on our response.
Lashon hara for no halachically permissible reason entails spiritual loss.
Problems among family ties can trip off the most lashon hara.
So among our more intricate family relationships, the Pele Yoetz has a lot to say.
Below, you’ll see some of the advice he offers both spouses and in-laws.
Note: Coming from secular Western society, it’s quite a pop in the face. So be prepared…
General Advice for Relatives
The Pele Yoetz insists on exemplary behavior on the part of spouses and in-laws even toward a spouse or child/parent-in-law who is awful.
First, he reminds both husbands and wives:
Love of the soul is the most important love of all, so the spiritual goals for you & your spouse need to be foremost at all times.
He actually repeats this idea for husbands, wives, and parents throughout the book.
Ladies First: Advice for Wives
The Pele Yoetz says to wives:
It is difficult to offer general advice because not all people think alike.
Note: I wish EVERY person involved in ANY shalom bayis counseling would commit the above to memory and engrave it on their heart!
It IS difficult to offer general advice because NOT ALL PEOPLE THINK ALIKE. The Pele Yoetz encourages women to conduct themselves according to the nature of HER husband and HIS character—NOT according to whatever stereotypes your advisor has of men or according to your rebbetzin’s husband’s nature.
He stated this nearly 2 centuries ago, but who is listening?
Anyway the Pele Yoetz also advises wives:
Many give this advice despite the fact that pleasing and appeasing behavior never changes abusive people. Also, because most people with personality disorders FEAR intimacy, giving them more love not only doesn’t help but can even trigger MORE abusive behavior, depending.
But the Pele Yoetz doesn’t advise respectful behavior to improve shalom bayit (although he says that explaining to the person using soft words can help, which he bases on a verse from Mishlei--but no promises).
As indicated above, he clearly states that the reason for good treatment, whether for husbands or wives, is for Hashem’s Sake and for the sake of your Olam Haba.
Because, as the Pele Yoetz states, the whole point of relationships is to facilitate spiritual goals.
Even with marriage, the Pele Yoetz encourages a wife to look behind the curtain of her husband (“whether praiseworthy or dishonorable”) because that marriage (like EVERYTHING else in life) is a decree from the King of the Universe.
You honor your husband because doing so honors HASHEM and his decree.
This is just like the idea propagated throughout Judaism (including the Pele Yoetz) that you should be among the insulted who do not return a hurt with a hurt, which is an ideal Judaism also upholds outside of marriage.
Because the unpleasant incident or situation is from Hashem. Therefore, there is some benefit to it, like an atonement or middah-building exercise, or whatever.
Unlike modern-day shalom bayis advisers, the Pele Yoetz doesn’t focus on pleasing the husband nor does he start engage in exaggerated generalizations about men in an effort to blindside the wife into submission.
(Secular/non-Jewish therapist often do the same, including using their diagnosis of the husband suffering from a personality disorder or Aspergers or just needing unconditional love or whatever in order to manipulate the wife into co-dependence or submission.)
In fact, he doesn’t mince words. He acknowledges that some husbands are “dishonorable” and that a husband can be “harsh in character and opinions, a lowly and disgusting man who shares no good--ish kasheh b’middotav u’v’de’otav, nivzeh v’chadal ishim, chasar kol tov.”
(Nor does he quantify such behavior with allusions to an unfortunate background or dysfunctional upbringing of the aforesaid “lowly and disgusting man.”)
He wants a wife to rise above her natural inclinations in the face of such behavior—just as he encourages EVERY person (including the husbands of dysfunctional wives) to respond to ALL insulting or dishonorable behavior with dignity.
(Meaning, his mussar isn’t just for wives or even just for marriage, but a general principle applicable to all interpersonal dealings.)
At the same time, the Pele Yoetz encourages a wife to wait for a more relaxed moment and then “rebuke” her husband in a soft, sweet way by saying things like:
“Why did you do this-and-such? What is my sin and what is my transgression that you got worked up against me and got angry at me when I’ve done nothing to harm you? Is this good in the Eyes of Hashem?—and other good things.”
(Note: The language suggested by the Pele Yoetz was originally for early 19th-Century Sefardi Bulgarians and may need to be adjusted for modern English-speakers. They are just suggestions, after all.)
He also recommends pleading sweetly with an abusive husband in a more conducive moment, but he’s clear that these are only recommendations. He makes no guarantees that such words will reap the desired effect if the behind-the-scenes Heavenly decrees indicate otherwise.
Finally, he insists that:
(Again, the Pele Yoetz obviously understands how challenging this is, else why would he advise utilizing such strength in the face of such a nisayon?)
At the same time, the Pele Yoetz obviously heard from suffering wives he’s clearly aware of abusive behavior.
For example, in the case of physical abuse and insensitive behavior in the bedroom, the Pele Yoetz extols as a very big mitzvah to help such a wife, whether by Jewish officials beating the husband into submission or by assisting her in obtaining a divorce if she wants. (Interestingly, he offers neither option to husbands suffering from difficult or evil wives.)
How does this connect to lashon hara?
The Pele Yoetz shows heavy insistence against bad-mouthing your husband in any way, yet if it’s l’toelet (like she needs outside official help to protect her from an especially abusive husband), then obviously she can say something. Otherwise, how would the Pele Yoetz have known what was going on in her home or that a woman needed such help?
But whether the husband’s behavior is severe or just annoying, it’s clear that a lot of what passes for acceptable conversation nowadays is actually completely forbidden.
In actuality, no joking or kvetching about your husband is permissible, even when his behavior seems to justify complaint.
Finally, the Pele Yoetz advises an abused wife:
Again, this doesn't rule out divorce from such a person or asking for intervention.
As the Pele Yoetz agitates against husbands who "may their name be obliterated" are "biliya'al (depraved)" and "treat Jewish women like maidservants (shifchot)":
"It is fitting for anyone who has the ability to chastise them [the abusive husbands] when possible. And if they have the ability to extract their wives from their hand when it's the desire of the wife--because a woman cannot dwell in the same place as a snake--it's a great mitzvah to save the oppressed from his oppressor."
Advice for Husbands
Likewise, the Pele Yoetz insists that husbands behave with exemplary middot toward even a difficult and wicked wife, all the more so toward a regular wife.
And again, he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of doing so for Hashem’s Sake.
And he holds the husband of a dysfunctional wife to much higher standards than he holds the wife of a dysfunctional husband.
The Pele Yoetz insists that in general, there’s an obligation of “mighty love--ahavah azah” between a husband and wife, repeating what’s written in Yevamot 62b, that a husband is obliged to love his wife as himself and to honor her more than himself.
The obligation to be sensitive is cast upon you more than her as Baba Metzia 59a says: "A husband must always be cautious in regards to hurting his wife because since her tears are near, so is her pain.”
I know, I know.
This is in direct contrast to what’s taught in shalom bayis shiurim, which teach that the obligation of sensitivity is upon the wife.
The husband gets a free pass because "he’s a man" and "men aren't smart enough" and "can’t understand these things"—or so they claim.
This is why it is so important to turn to classic sources written by real tzaddikim and leave behind all the secular-influenced or Christian-influenced blather.
People who offer such advice come from despair; they’ve despaired of getting men to fulfill their halachic responsibilities—just like feminists have despaired of men.
So instead, they dump everything onto the wife. And looking at marriage and children today, it obviously isn’t helping. But their despair doesn’t let them think with an expanded mind.
Thank God we have our Sages to open our minds to the truth!
Anyway, the Pele Yoetz insists even if a wife:
--nonetheless, a husband should never:
Furthermore, the Pele Yoetz insists that a husband:
A husband must bear the yoke and be among the insulted who do not insult and accept upon yourself the Judgment of Heaven with joy "because a woman is sent to man from God."
Again, the Pele Yoetz avoids being superficial about things.
He clearly realizes that some people are just plain bad apples, yet because these people are challenges sent by Hashem, we are supposed to rise to the occasion.
He cautions husbands several times that hating a bad or difficult wife can lead to producing a ben sorer u’moreh—the son of a hated wife, as mentioned in the Torah.
To my mind, this a very high demand in light of the terrible middot mentioned above.
How can a man love the kind of sinful, vindictive wife mentioned above?
Again, the Pele Yoetz bases his advice on achieving the best Afterlife possible. The awful spouse is merely the conduit to achieve a blissful eternity:
Though sympathetic to the challenges of a dysfunctional spouse (and even supports divorce for an abused woman), the Pele Yoetz reassures both suffering wives and suffering husbands that if they can maintain their own good middot (including refraining from lashon hara), then their Heavenly Reward will be tremendous.
Note: He provides a more advice & obligations for both husbands and wives than listed here.
Advice for Children-in-Law
The Pele Yoetz insists that a daughter-in-law should:
Please note that the Pele Yoetz doesn’t say “even if she THINKS they are bothersome and have bad character,” but that they ARE bothersome and DO have bad character. Once again, he acknowledges that some people are indeed bad apples and doesn't dismiss the daughter-in-law's perception as mere tension common in that relationship.
Again, the Pele Yoetz doesn’t get all sentimental about it all.
The reason for the above is because the merit of the parents aids the children. Meaning that performing the above actually helps the daughter-in-law. In a sense, she’s doing it for herself and her own children.
He reassures both children and children-in-law that in regard to honoring parents and parents-in-law, “one who honors others will be respected and his reward will be greatly increased and l’fum tzaara agrah”—one’s reward comes according to one’s exertion.
Interestingly, the Pele Yoetz states that:
Regarding adult children and their own parents, the Pele Yoetz recommends:
He advises that in situations in which parents-in-law and children-in-law cannot behave peacefully and properly with each other, then:
Advice for Parents Still Raising Children
Finally, the Pele Yoetz also speaks against discussing your children negatively with others.
The Ben Ish Chai in Laws for Women goes as far as saying that a mother who complains to the father about the children is actually endangering them because if justified, her complaints against them can cause them to be punished from Shamayim.
He doesn’t condemn a beneficial discussion of how best to handle Junior’s difficult behavior, but he’s referring to the litany of teinos some parents pour forth toward their spouse.
Why "Getting It Off Your Chest" Ultimately Doesn't Help
Much of the above advice is anathema to Western mores. With the modern emphasis on standing up for yourself and your rights, being “honest” and “real” about everything, “being yourself,” and much more, the Pele Yoetz’s advice seems backwards and constraining.
Yet over the years, I cannot deny that all the people who publicize the faults of their spouses or in-laws (children or parents) receive no good from this and don’t even experience real relief.
It’s hard for me to say this, but this includes those who really suffer (as the Pele Yoetz acknowledged above) and whose complaints leak out due to their immense pain.
I’m really sympathetic to those whose pain leaks out because living with a horrible spouse infects your very being and every aspect of life.
Particularly for women, who are likened to the Moon which receives light from the Sun (i.e. her husband), a woman whose husband maltreats or neglects her genuinely feels like a cold dead rock suspended in a dark airless Universe.
A woman in such a situation will find it very difficult to keep it all in and only pour out her heart to Hashem (as the Pele Yoetz encourages her to do) but not to other people (unless there’s a toelet, like to get divorced, as the Pele Yoetz notes).
One woman I knew married to an emotionally abusive man even became suicidal at one point—despite frequently leaking out her pain and resentment to others, despite therapy and despite consultation with rabbis. All the outpourings and/or comments never helped.
Whether it’s via humorous jabs or sad comments or even tearful admissions, I’ve seen that it really doesn’t help and any relief is only temporary. (Though relief isn’t guaranteed because sometimes the listener responds in a way the speaker finds hurtful.)
Like I've said before, my initial heart's reaction is to listen and empathize with the other. But I can't help seeing that all the intended support and empathy doesn't seem to offer more than temporary relief. However, when there has been something practical that I could do, then things ended up better.
So there's a difference between pouring your heart out when it can't help you (but maybe it feels like it helps you) and pouring your heart out when it can.
I'm not demonizing anyone for doing it -- believe me, I understand what emotional pain is like -- I'm just saying there is a way to do it that's beneficial and a way that is not.
Well, not me saying it, but the Pele Yoetz.
I'll be following up this last bit in another post.
So to sum up:
Back to Part I
May this post be considered a kaparah for my own falls into lashon hara and may we all be protected from any sins of the tongue.
It's local election-time here in Eretz Yisrael and one of the very gratifying aspects of living in a frum community is the positive difference in priorities.
For example, in some frum areas, you can see large posters in the streets and announcements in the local newspapers with messages like:
A VERY SEVERE
THE ELECTIONS ARE APPROACHING
and the lashon hara scorches any good from it.
Every candidate and their supporters can promote themselves according to
HOW THEY CAN BENEFIT THE PUBLIC
without promoting the failings of or smearing the other candidate
We must show our children how a ben Torah behaves during election time
and not how we profane the Name of Heaven for "the sake of Heaven."
Citizens concerned about their souls and the souls of their children
Mi k'amcha Yisrael?
Kudos to my brothers and sisters with the right set of priorities and who invest money and time in promoting these correct values.
No one's saying the frum communities are perfect, but the influence of Torah is definitely both seen and felt.
In the Pele Yoetz, Rav Eliezer Papo stresses that the whole point of being a rodef shalom (a pursuer of peace) is davka with people who don't want to behave peaceably with you.
And he repeatedly reassures the reader that responding with good middot to difficult people reaps loads of Heavenly Reward.
As he writes in the chapter entitled Peace/Shalom:
The Sages spoke only of one whom the controversy pursues him.
In another section, the Pele Yoetz points out that it is no challenge to respond peaceably to people who are pleasant and refined.
No need to race off in hot pursuit of peace with lovely people!
Instead, being a rodef shalom is davka with people who are difficult. That's the mitzvah. You need to run after peace when peace starts acting like an escaped fugitive.
Note: Needless to say, this does not apply to terrorists and the like of whom the Gemara says, "He who comes to kill you, rise early and kill him [first]."
He also explains throughout the book that if it is impossible to maintain civility around a certain person, then best to avoid that person.
That's right -- peace doesn't always mean being all lovey-dovey. It depends on the dynamics of a situation. Sometimes peace means to embrace the other and sometimes it means to avoid him or her.
Either way, the challenge of difficult people is implied in the actual mitzvah.
You're not a rodef shalom when it comes easy.
You're only a rodef shalom when the shalom is hard to come by.
May we all succeed in living in peace with our brothers and sisters.
For Part II
The American Seventies brought a new wave of openness.
Everyone was supposed to be open about their feelings, their issues, and their negative experiences.
The new culture insisted on validation and support for a "victim."
(This is despite the fact that "confession" - to the group or to a designated member - is one of the classic signs of a cult. For example, cults expect members to reveal fears, secrets, sins, bad attitudes, bad middot, etc. so the cult can play on these...just like secular society does today.)
Increasingly, tell-all books, both memoirs and thinly disguised autobiographical "fiction" decimated parents, ex-spouses, and friends -- and hit the best-seller lists.
You had "right" to express your feelings and talk about your experiences, even if it meant condemning other people who couldn't be there defend themselves.
Case-in-point: Many of these best-sellers were later contradicted by the people featured within (like Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest) or by researchers (like those who researched Flora Rheta Schreiber's Sybil). Even if Christina Crawford's siblings are just in denial and covering up Joan Crawford's abusive parenting, the point is that a strenuous case can be made for seeing different angles of the same story OR that the author is the dysfunctional person and engaging in widespread character assassination.
And this extended to the personal level. Especially as a young adult, your parents impact your life so much that it’s hard to talk about yourself without referencing your upbringing and your relationship with them.
As you move into other life-stages, your spouse and his family impact your life in a way that’s all-encompassing. Then your children. And your children feel like an extension of you (which is even truer for women because her biological child was physically part of her body at one point), so maybe you talk about them as freely as you talk about yourself.
In secular society, talking freely about your family members, your spouse and his or her family members, and your children is a given.
In fact, you may be criticized for keeping mum about your problems with them, being labeled as “repressed” or “secretive” or “fearful” or “fake.”
Well-meaning people discourage you from “keeping it all in” and encourage you to “be open, be honest.” Abused (or those who feel they’ve been abused) people enthuse about how much better they feel about telling everything because holding back felt like “protecting” their abuser.
But then again, have you ever encountered situations in which the self-proclaimed victim was actually a manipulator? Or somewhat deluded and self-absorbed? Or simply a bit too subjective?
Note: If there is actual clear-cut abuse and the abuser is a danger to society, of course there is value—and sometimes a Torah obligation—to expose this information to protect others from abuse & bring the abuser to justice.
Again, many people openly discuss the flaws of their family members. They feel it’s their “right.”
And society is constantly telling them it’s not only okay, but it’s even “healthy” for them to do so.
Judaism, however, is very different.
What about Painful Situations?
The laws of lashon hara are complex and all-encompassing. And while they allow for lashon hara l'toelet (negative speech for a beneficial purpose) and sometimes even obligate one to speak lashon hara l'toelet, the halacha demands that even such lashon hara l'toelet occur within specific boundaries.
So even when the lashon hara is for a beneficial purpose, it still doesn't allow for a free-for-all.
If you grew up secular with the "right" to express yourself however you feel, the laws of lashon hara demand quite an adjustment.
To their eternal credit, a great many Orthodox Jewish women have taken upon themselves to learn 1 or 2 halachot a day to keep on top of lashon hara and prevent verbal mishaps.
Yet a lot of the surrounding culture still seeps in.
When I think of how much I know about a friend’s parents, spouse, parents-in-law, or children—EVEN when I don’t know the friend so well—it gives pause for thought.
After many instances of this over the years and learning the laws of lashon hara, I started to realize that it's not good to know much of what I’ve been told. It’s not my business and there’s no toelet (practical benefit) to to it.
Several times, it also happened that I thought that I was the designated "one or two confidants" permitted (with certain strictures) by halacha, only to discover later that I was merely yet another in a long line of confidants, which included the speaker's friends, therapists, siblings or other family members, telephone hotlines, rebbetzins, contacts -- or some combination thereof.
Note: The one speaking about her problems was never manipulative as far as I could tell. She didn't intend to gather a long chain of confidants -- it just happened. How? In a very painful situation, people get desperate and jump from promoted solution to promoted solution. Also, continuous pain is bound to leak out at times.
Having said that, it's notable that all this outpouring and seeking never brought the speaker any relief (except very temporary relief). On the contrary, sometimes the response of a chosen confidant piled even more frustration into the equation. It certainly never produced a solution to the problematic relationship, so the pattern of seeking out new confidants continued, often for years.
So while understandable, it's rarely helpful and even damaging -- though it FEELS like the right thing to do. It feels "cleansing" and "honest" and "real." But unless performed according to halacha, it usually doesn't help and even harms. This idea will be discussed further in Part II.
On the other hand, here's a positive example...
Children are People Too
As a young mother, one of the aspects of the FFB community that hit me in the face was how other young mothers seemed very uncomfortable if I complained too much about a child (especially a child around 5 or older) or mentioned more than very neutral normal things for that age.
While previous experience in the secular world already impressed upon me the importance of NOT kvetching about older children, especially when they were around (including NOT indulging in the oh-so acceptable joking manner that "allows" parents to publically malign & humiliate their preteen or teenager), I was surprised that these yeshivish women rejected lashon hara regarding a much younger child too.
Initially, I felt the discomfort and defensiveness that comes when indulging in a behavior I thought was okay, but suddenly got a hint that it really wasn't.
But after mulling it over, I realized they were absolutely right.
Children have a right to grow up without being stigmatized by their parents for their innate character flaws (which we all have) or more disturbingly, being stigmatized because the parents’ character flaws prevent them from seeing their child accurately.
Openness is Not a Jewish Value
Recently, an acquaintance mentioned that her 10-year-old son is on Ritalin.
She said it proudly and gratefully (“It works! It doesn’t always work with everyone.”) Little did she know that despite having put one of my own children on the lowest dose of Ritalin for several months after a couple of years of struggling to learn to read, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I wish I’d invested in davening & cheshbon hanefesh rather than medicating the problem, and certainly as a long-term solution, research shows it’s very problematic.
But I didn’t say anything except, “Mm. I understand.” (Because I do understand—I just don’t agree. But I’m definitely sympathetic.)
Since she is a very sincere, knowledgeable, and especially refined frum lady, it was surprising that she blabbed like this. However, both secular and frum media encourage openness about mental health issues and psychotropic medication in the mistaken belief that such openness is a fantastic boon to dealing with mental health issues -- and even part of the main solution.
And this is the openness encouraged by secular society, along with the attitude encouraged by secular psychiatry which has unfortunately been promoted by English-speaking frum media for years now: "Down with stigma!"
The question is whether a mother has a right to reveal that information to others? Especially since the mother above intends it as a long-term solution, if I see that child at 15, I’m going to assume he’s still on Ritalin (or some variation thereof). And does the 10-year-old mind that his mother (who is an otherwise sincerely frum and dedicated person) just blabs that out to anyone? (A lot of 10-year-olds on Ritalin do NOT want anyone to know!)
Another mother of a sixteen-year-old mentioned that she had her son on Ritalin to keep him in yeshivah. Yet my son, who was friends with him, said that the sixteen-year-old doesn’t want ANYONE to know, it’s a big secret, and I need to make sure I never let out a peep about it, including never indicating to the boy in any way that I know.
Is that okay?
While we needn’t pretend our lives or our family members are perfect, halacha still demands circumspection regarding what we say about them.
The Basic Halacha of Lashon Hara
There are 3 people involved in lashon hara:
And the basic halacha of lashon hara is this:
If I, the speaker, think negatively of what I’m saying about someone, it’s forbidden. (It’s forbidden even if the listener feels positively about it and the subject of the speech doesn’t mind.)
Example: Let’s say I think vegetarians are ridiculous. The listener thinks vegetarianism is fine. The vegetarian of whom I’m speaking is fine with everyone knowing he’s a vegetarian. But because I mean it in a derogatory way, it’s lashon hara.
If you, the listener, think negatively of what I’m saying about someone, it’s forbidden. (It’s forbidden even if the speaker feels positively about it and the subject of the speech doesn’t mind.)
Example: Let’s say I think vegetarians are admirable. The listener thinks vegetarianism is for dummies. The vegetarian of whom I’m speaking is fine with everyone knowing he’s a vegetarian. But because the listener hears it in a derogatory way, it’s lashon hara.
If the person being spoken about doesn’t want other people to know OR doesn’t want people to talk about that facet of them, it’s forbidden. (It’s forbidden even if both the speaker and the listener feel positively about it.)
Example: Let’s say both I and the listener think vegetarians are admirable. But the vegetarian of whom I’m speaking prefers to keep his vegetarianism a secret; he feels private about it and doesn’t want it known or spoken of. So even though you and I speak of him in a positive way, it’s still lashon hara.
As you can see, it can get a bit complicated.
While reading through the above, you may already be conjuring up situations that lead you to say, “But what about this? And what about that?”
That’s when you need to ask a lashon hara expert.
Also, the above shows how easy it is to stumble into lashon hara, particularly if both you and the listener feel positively about the subject, even though the subject doesn’t want it known or talked about OR if both you and the subject feel positively and you didn’t realize that the listener feels negatively.
This is why many people advise against talking about other people at all. It’s so easy for even a well-meaning & careful speaker to stumble in this area.
So making a daily study of the laws of speech really helped me in this area. It made me a lot more aware and helped me, even though it’s hard to be perfect about this. But I got better and that’s always good.
Then I read the Pele Yoetz talking about problems with close family members and believe me, it was quite a knock upside the head coming from secular society.
May this post be considered a kaparah for my own falls into lashon hara and may we all be protected from any sins of the tongue.
Here are some posts from the frum blogosphere worth delving into:
A Sichah From Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, zatzal
I keep referencing Rav Levi Yitzchok Bender on this blog. Finally, here is a direct translation of one of his talks. It's truly inspiring and he empathetically addresses those times when you feel "dry" about your connection to Hashem and your avodah.
Full of fiery encouragement, a tzaddik's unwavering confidence in your ability to make it (spiritually speaking), and understanding, this talk shows different angles to the idea of "keep on going" even when things feel "dry" or meaningless.
How to Deal with Obnoxious People by Y.Y. Jacobson
(H/T Shirat Devorah)
This is one of the most helpful articles I've ever read on this topic. Why? Because many people like to take quotes from tzaddikim and then use them in a very superficial (and therefore harmful) manner -- especially the idea that seeing a flaw in others indicates a the same flaw in you.
The idea that seeing a flaw in others indicates a flaw in you has been used in such a superficial bibbity-bobbity-boo manner, more as a slap-in-the-face "Shut up" mechanism (usually accompanied by a superior knowing smile).
Being whomped in the eye by another's bad middot COULD mean that you are as bad as they or even that you're worse.
But not necessarily.
As explained in the article, seeing someone exhibit, for example, extreme cruelty does NOT automatically mean you indulge in extreme cruelty too!
Judaism contains much more profundity and complexity than that. When people start using the words of tzaddikim as battering ram-platitudes, it's a sign that you need to take a deeper look into the tzaddik's words and figure out what he REALLY meant.
Remember, tzaddikim always speak from a place of caring and compassion.
If you're not feeling inspired by their words -- or even worse, if you're feeling battered or crushed by their words, then it's time to push their "mouthpiece" aside and delve into what the tzaddikim REALLY meant.
Mishkoltz Rebbe Shlit"a: Geula This Year - If...
Very important words of chizuk and direction. Especially important to read the comment section for further elucidation.
Solid Change Takes Time
Dr. Zev Ballen takes on the issue of a person stopping medication as they're working on emuna, then expands the lesson within to cover all spiritual processes. It's an important read because even though Rav Shalom Arush is generally against medication, everything really is from Hashem and a person stopping her medication before she's ready can cause harm, both to herself and others. (In other words, maybe Hashem doesn't want her to stop her medication yet. And who knows why?)
As someone who is against long-term medication (short-term medication can be okay in some situations) to treat mental illness, this article is an important reminder against being too superficial & indulging in black-and-white thinking. Each person's situation needs to be looked at individually, and not according to one's agendas or while one's mind is in superficial "snap-solution" mode.
Then & Now
I've discovered a tremendous amount of good sense on the blog, My Perspective. Very well-written and concise, it's a hidden gem in the Jewish blogosphere.
The best advice I've gotten has also been from fellow mothers and caring friends. Note that in the 3rd example, the correct advice was not just given by an experienced mother, but by a woman who knew the child well. This is what's missing in most situations of "official capacity" with either therapists or yoetzim (advisers) and exactly what is very hard -- yet so essential -- to have in order to offer the best advice.
Empathy and a real desire to both hear and see the other person (including that person's positive potential) are also essential and can easily be missing in "official capacity."
If you go to the post Mishkoltz Rebbe Shlit"a: Geula This Year - If... and also read the comments, you'll see a clarifying discussion of the Rebbe's valuable directive.
The Mishkoltz Rebbe apparently claimed that we will merit Mashiach this year if we strengthen ourselves in the following 3 ways:
I admit that I also automatically interpreted this in mind as doing teshuvah until my extrapolation (an extrapolation which another reader apparently also made & fortunately mentioned) was clarified in the comments.
And I think it's important to note that crucial difference.
The Rebbe apparently said l'hitchazek (to strengthen) ourselves in those 3 areas.
He didn't say to do teshuvah (even though, yes, strengthening these areas is definitely an aspect of teshuvah).
He didn't say to become perfect.
He didn't say to conquer even one bad middah.
He didn't even say to perfect yourself in "just" those 3 areas (or in even 1 of them).
He said l'hitchazek.
Wherever you are, whatever level you're holding on: l'hitchazek.
Bulk it up.
In other words: Go 1 babystep beyond your current level or comfort zone.
Emuna means more than faith; it means knowing that Hashem Himself really is behind every single thing and He has only your best interests in mind.
L'hitchazek in emuna can mean saying "Gam zu l'tovah" or "Thank you" (even through gritted teeth or tears), or "Hashem, I understand that my suffering is seemingly very bad. I even feel tremendous pain. My tribulations seem unbearable, but I believe they're all for the best despite the fact that I don't see how..."
It can mean talking to Hashem more, going over your day (or even just the past hour) and discussing with Him what happened and what you think or how you feel about it.
It can mean staying silent in the face of an insult and mentally requesting something you really want from Hashem instead of answering back.
Force yourself to smile (at Hashem), even when things are going wrong and even when the smile feels more like a grimace, all awkward and tight.
It can mean a whole lot of things.
L'hitchazek means you don't need to be completely victorious, just up your game a bit.
This can mean so much, it's hard to know where to start.
You can learn more Torah. You can learn your same Torah, but with more enthusiasm or satisfaction. You can work on internalizing what you learned; how can you apply it practically within the next hour?
You can learn more mussar -- even one line a day from a classic sefer like Mesilat Yesharim or Chassidus or Orchot Tzaddikim or Pele Yoetz.
You can learn more halacha, even just 1 a day.
You can look into the commentaries for a deeper understanding of your favorite Tehillim or a particularly interesting part of Tanach.
What strengthens unity among Jews?
Giving tzedakah. (Chabad has a lovely custom of saying, "Hareini mekabel/mekabelet alei mitzvat asei 'V'ahavta l're'echa k'mocha' -- Behold, I now accept upon myself fulfillment of the positive mitzvah 'And you shall love to your fellow as yourself'.")
Visiting the sick (can include making a meal or even just a salad).
Giving the benefit of the doubt.
Davening for someone.
Finding some positive quality within even a truly repellent person (not to justify or excuse their awfulness, but just to note that the good point exists).
Accepting an apology.
Greeting others (of your own gender).
Doing a favor.
Resisting the urge to speak any kind of lashon hara (even if it's true), imagining that the person is your twin sister or brother, or your child. How would you feel about them then?
Again, the list could go on. A lot depends on your personality, individual situation and resources, including your challenges and your areas of strength.
The above are things that even a relatively secular person could do (or be pleasantly encouraged to do) because it's about strengthening, not achieving an entire spiritual makeover (although if one could manage it, that would be really good too).
May we all merit l'hitchazek in emuna, Torah, and achdut this year.
Help a frum family get their children back!:
I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
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