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Inbox: Issue 1019

“No matter which side you’re on (tzedakah receiver, giver, or ineligible): learn the Beis HaLevi’s Maamar Habitachon. It’s oxygen”

There’s No Comparison [Second Thoughts / Issue 1018]

I wanted to comment on the article criticizing the cost and beauty of sheitlach and shtreimlach. They’re not the same. A shtreimel is a chassidishe levush, and there’s meaning behind each of the chassidishe levushim. While you can indeed be yotzei the minhag with a hundred-dollar shtreimel, a more beautiful one is seen as hiddur mitzvah. Most chassidishe rebbes wear well-made, expensive shtreimlach.

A beautiful sheitel is very, very different. Wearing a more beautiful sheitel isn’t a hiddur mitzvah. On the contrary! And most chassidishe rebbetzins don’t wear sheitlach at all.

F. G.


Authentic Wedding Simchah Endures [Inbox / Issue 1018]

I’m backing the letter by Gitel Moses in which she said she’s willing to simplify the simchahs she’s making… as long as she’s the second person to start the trend.

For two weeks during one summer a few years back, Yad Eliezer, together with an anonymous benefactor, experimented with the trailblazing idea of holding weddings on Erev Shabbos, as a way of making them more simple. The goal of the project was that this would become the norm.

The motive behind the initiative — the possibility of persuading people to make a beautiful simchah without going into debt — spoke to our hearts. After speaking to a very chashuv Knesset member’s family who did it happily and said they would do it again, we were convinced. If they could do it, so would we.

The chuppah, held at 10 a.m. (we had makeup and hair done at five a.m.) in a sunlit garden surrounded by trees, flowers, and chirping birds, was mesmerizing.

The couple was only in the yichud room for a half hour so as not to detain the guests. The simchah was amazing, and almost no one left early. We all danced the day away, until bentshing and sheva brachos at 2 p.m.

Additionally, Yad Eliezer provided and delivered all the food for the Shabbos sheva brachos meals on Thursday evening, which made this feasible.

During Covid, many rabbanim spoke about how Hashem was possibly telling us something about the way we spend on our weddings (we did a Covid wedding, too), hoping it would change the way we feel we must keep up with the crowd.

In my humble opinion, regretfully, neither the Yad Eliezer weddings nor the Covid affairs changed the mindset of the tzibbur. The experiment failed.

But I would do a Friday wedding again. People still remember it as a beautiful and unforgettable affair. Downgrading externals can be done, and along with others, my family proved that long after the music fades and the debts linger, authentic simchah will endure.

Naomi Knobel


Effective Communication [Picture This / Issue 1018]

I’m enjoying the serial “Picture This” about the newlyweds adjusting to married life. It’s good writing if it can rile me up, and this story is doing just that! Although I know the story is fiction, I feel it’s an  opportunity to put a few key things out there.

I’m a licensed counselor and I have worked as a dating coach for many years. I believe that this couple is struggling with a very common issue called “effective communication.” Perhaps they weren’t taught properly as chassan/kallah or perhaps they are having trouble applying what they were taught.

The following suggestions I’m making aren’t just rules for newly married couples, they’re guidelines for all married couples. The good news is that it is never too late to start applying them to your marriage.

  1. Money is a delicate issue. Two people who share a life need to know how to effectively share their money. Couples shouldn’t make big purchases using joint assets (or accounts) without consulting with each other.
  2. Couples should never complain to their parents about each other. Ever. There are many good couple therapists, mentors, rabbi/rebbetzins they can talk to instead. They’re simply too “nogeia b’davar” and will see your spouse differently, or worse, like in this story, will call your spouse out on something that should have been kept between the two of you. I once heard a quote, “If you complain about your spouse to your parents, remember that you will forgive him/her and move on, but your parents will never forget.”
  3. Whether they did or did not discuss this in advance, Estee is not her husband’s mashgiach. It’s not her place to tell him off. Couples need to give each other safe open space to talk and share without judging each other.

Rivka Recht, LPC/Dating Coach

Assumptions or Knowledge? [Double Take / Issue 1017]

The generous uncle.

The father of the bride.

Social pressure.

There’s another issue that drew my attention.

Sometimes we don’t just see the facts. We interpret them through the prism through which we see reality.

The uncle wasn’t told that the violinist was gifting his rebbi with his performance. Heshy just saw a talented musician and imagined the hefty price paid for his services. The same goes for the floral arrangements. How was he to know that it was artificial and didn’t cost his nephew a penny?

Many judgments we make are based on assumptions rather than knowledge.

Dan l’chaf zechus takes a lot of effort.


The Benefits of Donating [Inbox / Issue 1016]

I feel that it was a little inappropriate to publish a letter from a baal tzedakah who is upset that yungeleit live a better lifestyle than he would wish them to, and that it irks him to channel his money to them.

Coming off the Adirei HaTorah event that showcased our yungeleit and pleaded for people to really step up to the plate to donate generously toward them, printing that letter was certainly damaging and could cool off potential partners in hachzakas haTorah.

Secondly, there was a lack of dan l’chaf zechus and a concept of “ad shetagia limekomo,” in judging a couple struggling with infertility who saved up money but took free treatment. Just a moment of standing in their shoes should give you enough room in your heart to allow them this luxury.

Lastly, you may be shayach to the old generation — so am I — but we have directly caused our children to have greater hasagos and desires as to what Olam Hazeh has to offer. And it is very hard to withhold these pleasures from them when there is social pressure and eeeeeveryone has them.

It’s true we want our tzedakah to go to a good cause, but we should also not be like that ‘‘frummer’’ who is looking for the “mehudar ani’’ on Purim. The beauty of donating to a kollel is that you’re not only giving money to an ani, you’re also getting an equal share in his learning, and after 120 when they will be ‘‘handling’’ the sugya in Chullin or Eiruvin in Yeshivah shel Maalah, you will be on the front row holding your own like a lion.

Rafi Brodie

An Exception to the Rule [Inbox / Issue 1016]

In response to the reader who sent in a letter about a friend who was seemingly stashing away his own money while taking from an infertility organization, I understand why from the outside that would seem frustrating. But as someone who has been in that parshah, I can assure you that this acquaintance of yours is a yachid. And that there’s probably a lot more to the story that you don’t know.

The pain of infertility is indescribable. If you have a loved one going through this nisayon, and you don’t want to approach them about it to offer help due the sensitivity of the topic, there are two things to do. First, say Tehillim every day from the bottom of your heart. Second, donate generously to organizations that help with infertility. As someone who’s been there, I can assure you that every penny is being put to good use.

And please don’t make any assumptions based on a story of an individual, who may have not even told you the whole story….

Name Withheld

The Sting of Not Receiving [Inbox / Issue 1016]

I’ve very much related to the sentiment shared by some letters to the editor that tzedakah distribution, and its effects, are “unfair,” or are contributing to those who have less coming out ahead.

I felt it when my parents — scrupulously honest and incredibly hardworking — barely scraped by and could never afford to buy me clothing as nice as the girls who had their beautiful outfits donated (or subsidized).

I felt the sting when someone close to me experienced a tragedy with financial repercussions and before Yom Tov received meat, chicken, and fish orders from one (beautiful and generous!) organization, grocery credits from another, and then... a $1,000 gift card that enabled her to splurge on extras more than I could.

And I feel it when I recognize that my husband — an adir Torah not learning in an Adirei HaTorah-funded institution, who committed himself to full-time learning with dedication and sacrifice — isn’t eligible for the boosted paychecks or wash-n-set coupons or grocery gift cards that others are because he chooses to learn where he learns best, and that’s not the kollel with the highest payout.

Because I don’t have the ideas, bandwidth, or position to suggest any change on a global or communal level, I’m approaching this from a more personal place: the sting and resentment.

I know that I lack exactly as much as I need to — and I would lack just the same with a tripled kollel salary. I know that Hashem pays for my wash-n-sets and that I have precisely what He’s gifted me for Yom Tov, and I wouldn’t have more if organizations left it at my door.

I highly recommend this to every individual, no matter which side you’re on (tzedakah receiver, giver, or ineligible): learn the Beis HaLevi’s Maamar Habitachon. It’s oxygen.


Dignity for Sale [Inbox / Issue 1016]

Rav Yaakov Michoel Jacobs a”h, a close talmid of Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l, wrote the sefer Bemechitzas Rabbeinu, a collection of things he heard and saw over a period of 40 years.

On page 163, he writes, “A talmid asked Rav Yaakov, ‘Why is it that if there is tzedakah collected for a poor man, and the poor man dies before the fund is depleted, according to halachah the remaining sum belongs to his heirs and is not returned to the donors or distributed to another ani?’”

Rav Yaakov answered that, “The only merchandise a poor man can sell is his honor, and if the gabbaim already sold [his honor] to the donors when they raised funds for him, all the profit from this sale belongs to him and to his heirs, like any regular business transaction.” He continued, “It is permissible for an ani to refuse a donation that is beneath his honor [dignity], because the ani can sell his merchandise for any price he wants, and if he feels that his honor is worth no less than a certain sum, he has the right to do this [to refuse to take less].”

Perhaps the above conversation might contribute some perspective to the discussions regarding worthy recipients and worthy expenditures of charitable funds.

Rivka Frankel

Financial Coaching Helps [Inbox / Issue 1015]

Just like the letter writer who wrote about how they struggle financially even though they’re very careful with their spending, I’m in the same boat. I don’t spend extra money to keep up with the Cohens and just try to live a regular life, yet I, too, have struggled to make ends meet without spending on extravagant things. As a middle-class family I understand the “in between” of not qualifying for assistance and yet working hard to provide for our family with dignity.

I wanted to let readers know about an amazing organization that has helped us see that there is a way for the average middle class family like us.

We worked with a coach from RSK, a financial coaching company, who was compassionate and nonjudgmental. The coach helped us start from the bottom up and first assess what our goals and challenges were. During each step of the way, the coach was respectful, optimistic, and creative in helping us find what works for us, and very practically helpful for our family’s specific needs. We were able to reach one goal at a time and really reach financial stability and self-sufficiency.

I hope other middle-class families can benefit the same way we did.


The Post-War Era [Tales of the Talmud / Issue 1015]

Having toured the National Library of Israel two weeks ago, I found the feature Tales of the Talmud: Tragedies and Triumphs very informative. But the author seems to have omitted a very important era — that of postwar America, and in particular, the impact of MP Press’s numerous editions of Shas by our longtime neighbor in Monsey, Mr. Manny Polak z”l.

Manny survived the Holocaust, and as soon as his hometown of Solotvyn was liberated, he returned and was shocked by the desolation in the Jewish Quarter. The large Vizhnitzer kloiz was ransacked. Thousands of seforim had been desecrated and were strewn about. One sefer in particular caught his eye. It was a volume of Tur Choshen Mishpat that had been left open on the table, as though someone was still in the midst of studying. That sight would come back to him later.

Eventually, Mr. Polak was reunited with a sister and three brothers and met his wife in Arad, Romania. Theirs was the first Jewish marriage in that region after the war, and it attracted guests from all over.

Mr. and Mrs. Polak arrived in America in 1949 and settled on Manhattan’s Upper West Side until they moved to Monsey in 1957. Mr. Polak’s brother-in-law learned of a printing press that was for sale, and they partnered to buy it.

Looking for something he could do to honor the memory of his murdered parents, Mr. Polak walked into a seforim store on the Lower East Side. While conversing with the proprietor, he noticed a sefer open on the counter. He was surprised to find it was a tattered copy of the Lemberg edition of the Tur Choshen Mishpat. The vision of the Tur in the Vizhnitzer kloiz merged with the one in front of him, and he knew he had to reprint that sefer in memory of his parents.

When he shared his plans with a seforim dealer, the man warned him not to try it. “Young man, I hope you know what you are doing. There are no buyers for such seforim in America,” he said. But Mr. Polak would not be deterred, and he printed the seforim. He was sitting at a wedding with a rabbi from his area and told him what he just printed in his parent’s memory. The rabbi expressed an interest in purchasing the seforim and returned a few days later to purchase the whole lot.

He was driven by a dream to print a special edition of Shas, one that would honor his parents’ memory. In 1955, using the acclaimed 1886 Vilna Shas as his prototype, he began work to print a 20-volume set in a large, 11-by-16-inch format. It would be the first of its kind in America. It had clear letters printed on beautiful paper — thin, yet strong, with high opacity. At the back of the final volume, he included a tribute to his parents.

This became the prototype of what is now known as the “chassan Shas.”

The success of the Shas encouraged Mr. Polak to try his hand at printing other large sets. Until then, the Shulchan Aruch had always been printed in sections, with Yoreh Dei’ah printed in Vilna and the others in Lemberg. MP Press made history by producing the first complete set of Shulchan Aruch in ten volumes in the same format as the Shas. Next came a six-volume Rambam, a complete set of Tur, and a similar Talmud Yerushalmi.

In the words of the famous Jewish historian, Rav Berel Wein, “If not for Manny Polak there never would have been an ArtScroll.”

Manny Polak passed away in 2021 at the age of 99. Yehi zichro baruch.

Yisroel Safrin,

Telz-Stone, Israel and Boynton Beach, Florida


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1019)

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