Category Archives: JEWISH THOUGHT



[From Atkins to the Zone and] everything in between, diet, nutrition and fitness are the all consuming topics of this generation.  Countless hours are invested in trying to find that perfect combination of food, nutritional supplements and exercise.    In the process, kitchens are transformed into mini-labs complete with scales and measures, herbs and sprout growers, juicers grinders and processors of all sorts.  [Precious space in small apartments has been dedicated to all kinds of exercise equipment.] Books and magazines on health and nutrition crowd the shelves and pantries are filled with nutritional experiments.

Contemporary diet and nutrition programs have, for many, virtually  become  belief systems.  Each dietary path has its devoted adherents – ready to defend their faith to the last spoonful.   How can this be, we wonder?   Health and fitness are purely a physical, factual matter– are they not?  Yet people speak in terms of guilt, shame and taboo when they talk about eating. What is the deeper message in all of this from the Heavenly prospective? Is it only weight control or is there a more profound meaning to this diet revolution?

First, let us take a moment to think about just how many facets of  life reflect occupation or preoccupation with food.  Eating and drinking are primary pleasures that have generated a multi billion dollar industry. Today, there is virtually no taste experience that is not available to the kosher consumer and so all of the  gustatory adventures available to the world at large  are open to observant Jews as well.

Inspired by the media and the merchandizing masters, the average person spends a startling percentage of his or her waking hours, buying, preparing and eating food and drinking beverages.  In reaction, many will then invest additional time learning to resist temptation.  If we add to these figures the amount of time and effort spent on learning to live with  food allergies and combating eating disorders we can easily see how  some enormous percent of  time and energy is spent in these pursuits.

Thus, dieting has a tremendous mass appeal because it meets the diverse needs of large numbers of people.

Let us return to our original question.  What is it about diet –whether elective or mandated by  an allergy or condition–that has become such a preoccupying factor in people’s  lives? Perhaps this phenomenon is a preparatory precursor to the time, in the hopefully not too distant future, when the Creator will impose a new world order known as the “birth pangs” of the world’s redeemer (Mashiach) bringing with it a new state of higher consciousness for all mankind. Yet to achieve this new state of consciousness there will have to be a refocus upon things spiritual.  How can this happen we may wonder when we spend so much time pursuing materialistic goals. How will we ever willingly follow principles that are linked to spirituality which require the dedication of considerable time and effort?

Society’s preoccupation with food and specifically with dieting is perhaps a part of the Divine solution to this question.   For there is nothing like a diet to train a person in the skills needed to  achieve the discipline of following rules established by someone other than themselves  and experience the humility of  trying to overcome obstacles.

Instilling belief:     Dieting works best when the dieter believes in his or her chosen diet.  Changing life long eating habits is challenging and for most  that challenge can only be met when the dieter is persuaded that the diet will completely overhaul and change his or her life.

Disciplined Action:   Once convinced of the virtues of a  particular way of eating, the dieter is willing to weigh every mouthful, go miles out of the way to find certified organic foods,  eat only according to a rigid schedule and learn to tolerate the physiological and psychological challenges that are a  part of the process.

Reaping the Rewards:    When  dieters  painstakingly follow their diet plan, they experience  the  “good feeling”  that comes with  gaining control and mastery over their desires.  Indeed,  weight control may  be their first  experience of  self imposed discipline and restriction which leads them towards personal empowerment.

Let us bring that intuition into focus and look at it more closely.

Towards a Universal Diet:

The new age goals of fitness and  health  are very important to many of us.   Whether prodded by their fears of gaining or losing weight, of becoming ill or of  showing the signs of aging,  many of us are willing to spend time and effort studying and investigating competing dietary claims and adhering to restrictive dietary regimens.  Many are willing to swallow the inflated costs of  buying  organic foods and  nutritional supplements and endure strenuous and often monotonous  exercise regimens.

For the health advocate, a profound yet practical benefit of these programs  is an enhanced awareness of the significance of  these actions.  This awareness  can lead to an heightened level of consciousness that will incorporate self control and discipline into many other facets of  their lives.         However this is only the beginning.  May we soon see the day that we who  had previously weighed and measured our portions,  are weighing  and measuring the consequences of our actions; monitoring and directing our thoughts and emotions  in accordance with the Creator’s guidelines. We will then be able to  “exercise”  our free will to choose to fulfill the Creator’s will (mitzvoth and ma’asim tovim). These acts of Divine service will then serve as spiritual “wings” for us to reach new supernal heights. This elevation of the consciousness will also empower us to resist ephemeral temptations as we will then see life from an ethereal position  and understand the futility of pursuing temporal goals and ambitions as an end unto themselves.

Therefore, we need not despair for  the Creator has already embedded within the mundane activities of this world the potential for reconnecting with Hashem.  May we all  merit to see the final redemption (geulah) soon in our days.





                The following is an abridged
version of some of the inspiring words of Rav S. R. Hirsch regarding the important
significance of the offering of the half shekel (from his “Collected Writings”
 Feldheim Pub. For the Rabbi Dr. Joseph
Breuer Foundation)

                       As the fifteenth of
Shevat has passed, and we have celebrated the festival of rejuvenation for the
trees, now Parashas Shekalim quickly steps into our midst and brings us the
first greeting of our own rejuvenation.

                        Parashath Shekalim
reminds us that we all belong to the great and holy community of G-d and that
each one has to contribute to this common task.                 Israel is to be the nucleus
around which a rejuvenated and liberated humanity will gather to serve G-d.
Therefore every Jewish heart should desire a Temple for all mankind. It is
through the full and upright collaboration in this holy work that our existence
possesses true meaning.

            The shekel of the sanctuary calls
for united effort: It consists of two halves; it is formed by twenty gerahs,
twice ten, and each individual can contribute only half a shekel. What each of
us can contribute to the work is only a part and the contribution of our brother
must be joined with it together in order to make a whole. But in relationship to
us and our powers and talents it must contain “ten” a whole and complete sum,
the whole of what has been placed within our power. Every individual should
always strive to be imbued with the timeless shekel truth. This truth will
inspire, stimulate and transform Jewish life into an overwhelming demonstration
of dedication to the will of Hashem. Security and life, joyfulness, bliss,
divine protection, happiness and peace – “Shekel-duty” is the wondrous source
from which these blessings will flow.

            Only through such a contribution do
we elevate and consecrate and sanctify our whole earthly pilgrimage, raising
what is transitory in us to the sphere of the eternal, what is human in us to
the Divine. Therefore, every year, before or along with the entry of Adar, this
lesson of the shekel comes afresh before our minds in order to renew in us the
Jewish communal feeling and the consciousness that we all belong to the great
Jewish Sanctuary.



All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia



            “When a man departs from this world, neither silver nor gold, nor precious stones nor pearls escort him, but only Torah study and good deeds…” . “…Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold, says Hashem, Master of Legions.”  Avos 6:9


                 Like someone who counts and recounts their most valuable financial holdings, the Almighty counted and then recounted us again in the Torah, as Rashi reveals to us: that because of G-d’s love for our nation, He counted us frequently. The Ramban says: it was also a great honor for each person to give their name as an individual to Moshe and Aharon. The Sforno adds: that everyone’s name was Divinely inspired to indicate each person’s personal virtues. Let us attempt to derive from the census taken three times in the midbar of the shevatim, together with the names of their princes and the position of each shevet in relationship to each other, a paradigm of our Nation as the Creator’s most valued “asset”.

          Taking the liberty to use investment parlance in parallel to our Nation will make more visceral our comprehending the uniqueness of our role in this life. It is generally recognized that in order to maximize one’s investment returns, a preferred strategy is to diversify one’s assets. This is achieved by choosing a wide variety of stocks and bonds from various  economic and geographical  sectors. Many financial institutions have created  “fund families” that do this for the investor by buying  stocks, bonds and other assets that correspond to the various  goals  of  the investor to increase his holdings, maximize future potential and minimize risk. An individual portfolio is the sum total of his or her financial investments.

      Just as proper financial investing needs structure and diversity, so we clearly find with the Torah’s delineation of each the various Shevatim. Each Shevit can be seen as corresponding to  a specific “fund sector” with all of the Shevatim together making up the entire gamut of a potentially perfect supernal “investment portfolio” for the Creator. The princes of each Shevit/fund therefore can be seen as corresponding to the “fund managers”, while the members of each Shevit corresponding to the individual “shares of stock” allocated to each of the funds which, B’H, split many times over the ensuing centuries. The marching positions of each Sheivet could be seen as parallel to the various “economic sectors” in which each fund is invested and the resting position corresponding to the “geographical  market” in which the fund is located.  

            And now let us ask how is the  value of these “funds” measured? – It is through the “production” of  mitzvoth and ma’asim tovim that the value of  the  “stock”  increases and the overall Heavenly “portfolio” grows.   

   Unfortunately at various junctures in the historical road map for “investment strategy” parts of our nation’s performance was not always sterling causing our “assets” being downgraded. This has in turn caused a weakening in some of our investment “sectors” due to our inability to fulfill certain mitzvoth while in galus.  However, fortunately the “C.E.O” of the entire creation has never “sold us short” and even as we function with a less than ideal portfolio – ie. without our Beis Hamikdash with its many precious mitzvoth – causing our “financial statements” to be less than ideal, we have remained the Creator’s chosen possession and  with His help there is always the opportunity for us to make good our loses and thereby regain our previous spiritual  “market position and value”.  

           Armed with these “investment” strategies, we can use our distinctive capabilities to maximize our spiritual assets and thus enhance our “global position” with the goal of restoring the crown of Torah soon to its proper position.

               True, as the pesukim quoted above state: the silver nor gold and other treasures of this world do not accompany us to the next, but the Creator’s most precious treasure – our mitzvoth performed with ahavas Hashem, together with His  gold which we acquire through adhering to the mitzvoth of restraint demonstrating our yerias Hashem do in fact accompany us.      

   May we all merit to “invest” all our energy and capabilities profitably at each stage of our journey through life..  

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia


awakening from sleep, we resume our life’s journey. From the moment that the
holy Jewish soul is returned to the body, a fresh opportunity is presented to
actualize our lifelong process of growth. How do we achieve this lofty goal?   

Chazal explain
that sleep is the period of time when our soul (the neshama) ascends to the
supernal realms. The vacuum left behind causes a temporary influx of what we
call – tum’ah – spiritual impurity. Upon awakening this tum’ah recedes to our
hands with our sages giving us the knowledge of how to remove it by
re-sanctifying our hands.

    But even before we do that, t he
first thing we do in the morning is say “modeh ani”, proclaiming our
humble gratitude to our Creator for showing His confidence in us by restoring
our soul to our body, giving us another day of life in which to fulfill Torah
and mitzvoth. We surely appreciate that the renewal of our life each day is a
gift — a fresh opportunity to actualize our lifelong process of spiritual
growth.  How do we achieve this lofty
goal in a practical way? And how, we might ask,  are we  permitted 
to say “modeh ani,” before we have purified our hands?

             In order to try to answer these
questions, we will look a bit more deeply into the spiritual connection between
our hands and our voices.

The Malbim
explains that the hands represent the earthly power and might that lie within
the domain of  Eisav; but the voice,
which emanates from the realm of the soul lies within the domain of Yaakov.

 When Yaakov approached Yitzchok for his
brachos, Yitzchok touched him and felt the “hands of Eisav” but heard the “voice
of Yaakov”, and thus made the immortal declaration:  “…hakol 
kol Yaakov —- ve hayadayim yedai  Eisav.” (Toldos 27:  22)

more deeply into these words, we come to learn that, according to the Malbim, Hashem
desired that Yaakov be given both spiritual and material gifts and
blessings.   However, material blessings would come to Yaakov
not by means of natural cause and effect, but only through hashgacha, through
his voice – his Torah and tefillah. If however, G-d forbid, his Torah learning and
tefillah were to be  diminished then the
flow of material blessings would also decrease. 

now we are ready to address our earlier question – how is it that we are
permitted to utter the “Modeh ani…” even before we wash our hands?   First we should recognize that the impurity
that rests on our hands when we wake up is reflected in interesting ways.
Accordingly to one neurologist, the first parts of the body to, so to speak,
wake up after sleep are the hands. Conceptually, we can understand this as
follows: Our Sages have taught us that the first inclination that “wakes” up
within us is the yetzer hara and only later in life does the yetzer hatov
“awaken” thereby becoming proactive. Thus Eisav, the embodiment of the  yetzer hora, proceeded Yaakov and was born
first, the Midrash teaches in order to absorb any extant impurities, so that
Yaakov Aveinu could be born free of blemishes. Another moshal which can clarify
this issue is that many fruits initially are surrounded by an inedible klipah
which actually protects the valuable fruit until it fully develops. 

precious soul, which has now been graciously returned to us, needs be the
director of all our deeds. Therefore, first thing upon awakening, we proclaim are
the “modeh ani…” to acknowledge that it is our neshoma for which we thank
Hashem. The neshoma is embodied in the voice – the kol, kol Ya’kov, a Divine
gift. And since the praise is of a purely spiritual content, it lies beyond the
realm of any negative influence of impurity. Therefore, we are able to express this
praise  even before washing  our hands. However, for other praises,
blessings and tefillos that are connected with our physical endowments and
pleasures, we need  first annul any
remaining impurity and re-sanctify ourselves through netillas yadayim.

          Interestingly, the nusach of netillas
yadayim, the first blessing of the day, provides a profound insight:  “Blessed ( or: The Source of all) are You,
Hashem, our G-d King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments,
and has commanded us on the washing –“netillas yadayim” – of the hands. Notably,
the Sages did not choose for this blessing the word “rechitza” meaning “washing”
but “netilla” meaning “taking”, as 
in the bracha of  the lulov  where we say “al netillas lulav,” on the
taking of the lulov, Perhaps a deeper reason for the selection of this – nusach
 is  that just as the mitzvah of lulov is
accomplished through the  act of “taking
hold” of  the lulov, so also do we
achieve spiritual success with the use of our hands – our ma’aseh yadayim –  by  “taking
hold of “ , i.e., controlling and directing  our actions toward the fulfillment of the will
of  Hashem.  May we soon merit to raise our voices and
hands together in a unison greeting the Moshiach and the final redemption soon
in our days.              

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia



           Experiencing the
crunch of inflation is very uncomfortable feeling but learning to reframe ones
attitude can greatly alleviate the stress that can accompany it. No doubt,
needing more money than we have or expect to receive is very uneasy and
disturbing, so let us ask if there anything on the practical level that can
mitigate the detrimental emotions that often accompany it?   

             Everything in
life being relative, let us start by learning to see our challenges in
perspective. However, before we begin we will clearly point out that this
article and these suggestions are not being expressed in any way to minimize
the seriousness of ones personal challenges but only in order to hopefully
reevaluate and thereby avoid or alleviate the ominous prognosis and even
perhaps transform it into a positive productive experience. (This subject is
financial but the same type of reframing can be done with any stressful issue.

              It was written
in the news recently that there is a country named Zimbabwe whose inflation rate has
become the highest in the world, surging past the whopping – 1,000 – one
thousand per cent mark. This crises of inflation has caused the prices of goods
to increase to the point that products are now eleven times more expensive as
they were only twelve months ago. The entire country is suffering from food,
fuel and foreign currency shortages. Their money has devaluated so much that
believe it or not – 110,000 Zimbabwe
dollars equals only seventy-nine U.S. cents. Yes you saw right, this is not a

printing error. A carton of orange juice costs about 500,000 Zimbabwe
dollars which is equivalent to about three and one half U.S. dollars. To make
matters worse two-thirds of the population are unemployed and impoverished with
no sign of economic recovery.

            Now after reading
these heartrending facts let us return to our reaction to our own problems
during these times of inflation. Oh, we are now saying: what problem? Yes,
after reading or hearing of such a heartrending national dilemma, our problems
seem to pale in relationship to the hardships of others. What then should be
our attitude in life toward financial concerns? It is stated in the Torah that
Mine is the – cesef – silver, Mine is the – zahav – gold says Hashem. Perhaps a
lesson that we can learn from here is by “deflating” our (material)
expectations and “inflating” our (spiritual) aspirations in achieving a level
of becoming – “samach bi-chelko” – satisfied with our lot, we can greatly “en-rich”
ourselves and the whole world with the true “current-cy” that being “In G-d we really
trust”. May we all merit to always feel “plentiful” thereby being able to “share”
this “abundance of positive feelings” with others.              






All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia