Your Main Educator

your main educator - piaseczner

A lot of  people walk around thinking that they’re owed something because their education wasn’t as good as it could have been.

  • It was my school’s job to make sure I knew how to speak Hebrew
  • It was my parents’ job to push me harder
  • It was my parents’ job to push me less
  • It was my Jewish college or Hillel’s job to create a more [fill in the blank] environment

Every educator – whether it’s a parent, teacher, counselor, clergy member – has a responsibility to make their domain of education the best it can be; to foster each and every individual’s growth. And you know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe they messed up.

But now that you’re old enough to care about your growth, advancement, and quality of life (and let’s be frank, you were probably old enough 10 years ago), they can’t care anymore than you do. They can’t make any more of a difference in your life than you’re willing to make in your own.

Decide who has the greatest impact on your life – other people or yourself – and own it.

Because only once we’re willing to own our stories can we really learn from others.


The Question: Do You Have a Father?

This story is an a favorite of mine. It goes along really well with the whole genealogy slash appreciation-for-your-roots theme.

And, it’s a great example of a successful, hit-you-in-the-heart Hassidic/Litvish philosophical fusion. Yes, they do exist.

And its inspiration derives from this week’s parsha. I first heard it from my rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, a student of Rabbi Joeph Dov Soloveitchik z”l.

On a cold, dark, Russian day, not long after Chanukah, the young Joseph Dov found himself at cheder (a Jewish school) with a bevvy of sleepy, unengaged peers. The teacher, hearing how monotonously his students were reading the words of that weekly Torah reading, brought them to a halt with a seemingly simple question. What resulted was a life-changing moment for Joseph Dov:

What kind of question did Joseph ask his brothers, Ha-yesh lachem av? Do you have a father? Of course they had a father, everybody has a father! The only person who had no father was the first man of creation, Adam…Joseph asked the brothers,  [are you] rooted in your father? Do you look upon him the way the branches, or the blossoms, look upon the roots of the tree? Do you look upon your father as the feeder, as the foundation of your existence?…Are you modest and humble? Do you admit that the old father represents an old tradition?

Do you believe that the father is capable of telling you something new, something exciting? Something challenging? Something you did not know before? Or are you insolent, arrogant, and vain, and deny your dependence upon your father, upon your source?

All in all, as Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet said when he told over the story:

do you have a father

Lots of good questions, and sometimes, it’s good to sit with those questions rather than answer them. But please feel free to share your thoughts and answers below.






I Will Not Let You Go Until You Bless Me

So, what do you do if, G-d forbid, you find yourself in the midst of crisis?…How do you survive the trauma and pain?

There’s one biblical passage which that’s deeply helpful…in which, at night, Jacob wrestles with an unknown, unnamed adversary: “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” …the key phrase is when Jacob says to the stranger, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”Within every crisis lies the possibility of blessing…

Crisis forces us to make difficult but necessary decisions.  It makes us ask, “Who am I and what really matters to me?” It plunges us from the surface to the depths, where we discover strengths we didn’t know we had, and a clarity of purpose we had hitherto lacked. So you have to say to every crisis, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

— Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Letters to the Next Generation

If you’re ever in need of a pick-me-up, read Letter 8 in the anthology above.  It’s worth reading. and re-reading.

Reflecting on Today’s News

In my Holocaust education class today (I am in graduate school for Jewish Education), our professor gave out a survey called HEEQ. It’s used to gauge the resilience and engagement a student can handle when learning about the Holocaust. After completing the survey, those of us who wanted to could share their answer to the questions. One of them was:

“During this unit, have you thought about the Holocaust in connection with reading/watching the news [regarding] current events?”

Of course, there was no way of knowing that today would be the day that a deal would be reached between the Free World and Iran. The truth is, today isn’t the first day I’ve thought about Iran in this way. For a while, negotiations have smelt more like Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill, and the sad thing is, I got used to it. I’m not one to look at current events and say, “see, there’s another holocaust in the making,” but I am one to look for similarities in history, and from this side of the 21st Century, appeasement doesn’t seem to work in the long run.

Really, more than saying something, I’m asking something: What can I do when I feel as though history is repeating itself? The props, techniques, and characters are different, but the plot is nothing new.

I don’t have an answer other than live each day for the gift it is. Stand up for your (my) values. Choose a life of responsiveness and responsibility. In a small effort to cope with the weighty question above, I’d like to start posting quotes from a book that changed the way I think and speak about pretty much everything, Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Every day, his ideas find me, in the the newspaper, books, podcasts, conversations, and especially prayer. Here’s a good one to start with:

One's Own Way


Parshat Shlach: A Different Way of Looking at Things


If there’s any parsha that elicits my facepalm reflex, it’s this one. After being stuffed with endless amounts of poultry, you’d think the people would catch onto the fact that what G-d actually asks of them is what is indeed what’s best for them. Please people, say it with me, “the Egyptians enslaved us. Egypt was bad place to be…”

Understandably, change can be challenging to move with full steam ahead  – even the good, highly anticipated kind. And as the Jewish people proved in last week’s parsha, looking on the bright side isn’t something the majority of people are willing to do.

Thankfully though, Moshe is not alone on the “bright side” train this time around; now he has the likes of Joshua and Caleb on his side, two of the ten spies who went to inspect the Land of Canaan before bringing in the nation. With a huge interest in the Tribe of Ephraim, I’m going to leave a rendering of Joshua’s character for another time (there’s much to say!). This week, I’d like to bring a thought on Caleb:

After the majority of the spies advised against moving forward into Canaan, Caleb is praised for his voicing an unwavering “can do” attitude, despite the negative talk around him. The text states that “there was another spirit with him” (14:24). What is this “other spirit?” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, it was “a different way of looking at things and a different will that saved him from the sin of his comrades.” He had the determination and desire to look beyond the present moment and see the tremendous possibilities for the Jewish people’s future as the G-d’s Chosen people, in G-d’s Chosen land. Though he understood the road to this future would be challenging and trying, he didn’t consider it a dead end sign, and he refused to say or see otherwise.

This kind of trait, is not meant to be deluding. Yes, when something is wrong, address it, but don’t address it with a nostalgic sigh or cry: “life was so much better before this! Life was so much easier, so much more predictable, and practical!” That kind of attitude does not lead to the continuity, progress, and life Bnei Yisrael was really asking for under all those layers of complaints. The only reason we exist, is because there were people before us who chose to envision life in a different way, and followed through with that vision, full steam ahead. Seeing the good doesn’t happen on it own – we must take responsibility for what we perceive, and when called for, look at things a different way from our colleagues. Life doesn’t get better for us unless we want to see that it can be. Many times, that takes a different, less popular way of looking at things…but isn’t it worth it?

I Can Only Say One Word

In 1912, upon returning from the second Agudath Yisrael Convention, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik was noticeably displeased. His disciples asked him, “what’s wrong? How was the convention?” After a few moments pause, he answered them with a story:

When I was a young boy, my mother went to shop at one of the local markets. She asked the boy who worked there how much a tomato would cost. “Tzen,” ten, was his answer. Then she went over to the potatoes and asked the boy the same question: how much would a potato cost? The boy answered, tzen. Puzzled by the uniformity in price, my mother picked up a carrot and asked for its price. The boy once again answered, tzen.

I Can Only Say One Word

She turned to the shop’s owner and inquired about the boy’s answers. Was everything indeed the same price? The shop owner shook his head. “No, this boy has a speech impediment. The only word he can say is tzen.”

With the story finished, R’ Chaim turned to his disciples.” When I went to the convention, a German rabbi was asked to give the opening sermon. This rabbi effused stature and charisma, wielding commanding rhetoric and prose, but not one word of Torah. “But as for me,” he insisted, “I have a speech impediment, and I can only say one word: Torah. Without that commonality, I can’t move forward.”