It’s Not Over Yet for Amazon.com’s Pedophilia Peddling

I received an email, this time from Amazon.com’s customer service, stating that The Pedophile’s Guide was no longer for sale at Amazon.com. That demonstrates that people are still outraged at the phenomenon itself, and that when we vote with our wallets, we get results. Kudos to everyone who spoke up against the sale of Philip R. Greaves’ ugly ode to prurience.

However, it should be known that the war is not over yet. Amazon.com still carries a host of other titles that either portray pedophilia in a not-so-negative light, or openly extol its “virtues” and bash what these perverts refer to as the “pseudoscience of victimology”. What pedophiles mean by this is that the notion that children involved in these relationships are abused is simply hype. It seems that the most prolific author of this drivel is one David L. Riegel, whose books (e.g. Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers) are still for sale at Amazon.com.

Don’t let up! Keep this boycott going until the last of these titles is removed! Pedophiles should have no safe haven, no quarter, and should occupy no space in human culture. By protesting the presence of their expressions at every turn, we come a step closer to pushing this phenomenon back under the slimy, malodorous rock from whence it comes.

Here is the transcript of my ongoing dialogue with Amazon.com:

The answer is, no. I had said that I would not purchase another item from Amazon.com until Greaves’ AND like titles are removed from the catalog. I am thankful that The Pedophile’s Guide is no longer available, but there are at least a dozen other titles on the Amazon.com site, including everything by David L. Riegel–whose books are nothing but a celebration of pedophilia in the guise of serious academic inquiry. Please remove all books that promote pedophilia from the Amazon.com site.

On Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 8:05 PM, Amazon.com Customer Service wrote:

Hello,

This book is no longer available for sale.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1K5IKDPQF6F5K&k=hy

If no, please click here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1K5IKDPQF6F5K&k=hn

Best regards,

Vijaykanna S.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.
http://www.amazon.com/your-account

—- Original message: —-

11/11/10 04:29:28
Your Name:Tani Burton
Other info:I am boycotting Amazon.com until Greave’s book is removed
Comments:Amazon.com, by carrying Greave’s book is giving tacit legitimacy to pedophilia, which, when acted upon, constitutes a crime, and even when harbored without a victim, is listed in the DSM as a mental disorder. Amazon.com is lending legitimacy to a perversion that thoroughly traumatizes and ruins the lives of its victims. Worse, the book is available for electronic download through Kindle, which means that stock availability is not a barrier to its acquisition.

As an ongoing customer of Amazon.com, I hereby state that I will not purchase another item from Amazon.com until that title (and like titles) are removed entirely from Amazon.com’s offerings.

Tani Burton

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Amazon.com and Pedophilia: A Call to Action!

I was sent, in an email, a link to an article on MSNBC regarding Amazon.com’s refusal to remove a self-published book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct from their website offerings. The book was authored by a depraved and sick man named Philip R. Greaves II, and offers advice to pedophiles along the following lines:

“This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter sentences should they ever be caught.”

(all misspellings are Greaves’)

Despite the uproar from Amazon.com’s customers, the retailing giant has until this point refused to cease carrying the title, which is available electronically through their Kindle option. I have not given any of this information in order to facilitate acquisition of this dangerous item, but to underscore the fact that, given the book’s electronic format, it can be downloaded by an unlimited number of people; stock quantity is no longer a barrier to its dissemination. You don’t have to be a professional in my line of work to be able to imagine the potential damage, hurt, pain and trauma that may befall children as a result of the strategies provided by the book’s demented author.

Amazon.com’s position is that it continues to carry and distribute the book in deference to principles of free speech and in opposition to notions of censorship. However, I contend that Amazon.com, like every other business, has the ability–and the obligation–to choose its merchandise in a responsible manner. Amazon.com is not the ACLU; it is a business, a publicly-owned book retailer with stockholders. The company does not bear any responsibility for being the vanguard of free speech. I do not know if Amazon.com also has titles that instruct readers how to murder people, how to torture animals or how to successfully pull off a Ponzi scheme, but it would be patently obvious if so that Amazon.com would be making itself somewhat of an accessory to potential crime, heinous crimes.

I have been a customer of Amazon.com. However, I refuse to buy another book from them until they remove this and all similar titles from their catalog. I call upon the readers of this article to take the same stand, and to communicate to Amazon.com accordingly. Pedophiles do not deserve encouragement to concretize their deranged fantasies upon innocent children, destroy the lives of their victims, and leave their noxious imprint upon our society for generations to come. You can contact Amazon.com by clicking on this link and tell it to them straight!

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Tisha B’Av 5770: Where is the Love?

This morning during kinnos, I found myself spacing out, my thoughts blurring together as my eyes lit upon themes of destruction, starvation, crusades, and devastation. I have been to many shiurim over the years about the kinnos, and I am informed as to the historical background of each one, who Rabbi Elazar HaKalir was, and what the Jewish communities of Worms and Mainz had to endure. Yet, every year, reciting the kinnos is a very difficult avodah for me.

There is a concept of being “mosif tzar”, increasing one’s pain and mourning on Tisha b’Av, and undoubtedly the kinnos were composed to facilitate this. When one reads about the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, it should be impossible not to feel pain. If this is not your reaction, you should check yourself out. On the other hand, if one’s sole reaction to reading about these events is anger and resentment–if one comes away simply gnashing his or her teeth at Romans, crusaders and Nazis, may the memory of them be obliterated–he or she is missing the point.

Our sages have stated clearly in the Talmud that there is no pain or punishment without sin. In order to understand the perspective from which the kinnos were composed, we have to consider the Hebrew word אבל, which is normally used like the conjunction “but”. In the text of Tachanun, the supplication prayer that follows the amidah, we find the following introduction:

אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ. תָּבוא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ וְאַל תִּתְעַלַּם מִתְּחִנָּתֵנוּ. שֶׁאֵין אָנוּ עַזֵּי פָנִים וּקְשֵׁי ערֶף לומַר לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ צַדִּיקִים אֲנַחְנוּ וְלא חָטָאנוּ. אֲבָל אֲנַחְנוּ וַאֲבותֵינוּ חָטָאנוּ:

Our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, let our prayer come before You and do not ignore our supplication, for we are not so brazen and stiff-necked to say, our L-rd and G-d of our forefathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned. Truly, we and our forefathers have sinned.

Here, the word אבל is used in its true sense to mean, “truly” or even “alas”. The composers of the kinnos did not intend to voice a complaint in doing so, like “how, G-d can You have done this to us?”  Rather, the kinnos are a confirmation that what has been prophesied in our Torah has come to pass: unfaithfulness to G-d’s Torah leads to destruction.  Alas, we see the fruit of our straying away.  Interestingly enough the Hebrew word for a mourner is composed of precisely the same letters, even written the same way: אבל.  Perhaps we can learn from this that the essence of one who is in mourning is a person who is confronted with an undeniable truth, an ultimate message, and can do nothing else but acknowledge it.

There is no doubt that the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash are basic articles of Jewish faith, two major items that Jews have yearned for more than two millennia.  The very fact that you and I merit to be a part of the nation that have maintained this sacred yearning for so long should be the cause of great joy.   But let’s not neglect our responsibility for the continuation of the Exile and the delaying of Moshiach’s coming.  What we should be mourning today is our contribution to these things.

I mentioned before that our sources state explicitly that unfaithfulness to G-d’s Torah leads to destruction.  Remember, friends, that a large percentage of the mitzvos are categorized as bein adam lechavero, “between man and his fellow”.  Take inventory at the end of a day, and try to discern whether on the interpersonal level we have made this world a better place or not.  Did you engage in the most basic acts of kindness? Did you smile at someone, wish them a good morning (or a “good Shabbos” [!!]), hold a door for someone, try to determine where you could be of help?  Did you encourage anyone today? Did you use your words to create peace in the world? If you cannot answer “yes” to any of these questions, and you find that your behaviors reflected the opposite of these things, do not go to sleep until you have rectified the situation.  Modern technology obligates us; you can always send an email, leave a voice message, write an encouraging letter or greeting card–even after hours.

G-d allowed the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed, but He left us standing.  It was a show of kindness from Him that He took His wrath out on the “wood and stones”, and not the Jewish nation in its entirety.  The Beis HaMikdash was G-d’s home amongst us as it were.  But our behavior towards each other was so saturated with hate that it was no longer a comfortable place for Him.

If we invest our energy in caring for each other the way He cares for us, if we try to see the preciousness of every soul and the tenderness of every heart, we will merit a similar reaction from the One Who loves us all, and see the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash–G-d’s dwelling place in our world–speedily and in our days, amen.

Gimmel Tammuz 5770: Remembering the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztvk”l

There are certain people that I wish I had met personally. It frustrates me to no end that I was born and raised mere blocks away from 770 Eastern Parkway, but did not have the presence of mind or the awareness–and hence, not the desire–to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory. It’s as if I had entered the proverbial room just after he’d left it. It amazes me to think that I was born in Methodist Hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, swung my Louisville Slugger for the Saint Francis Xavier little league in Prospect Park, and spent hours in the candy store on Ninth Street in front of a Pac Man machine, while a few steps away, someone was changing the world.

Last night, as the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit swept in, I pulled the Sefer Tanya off the shelf and flipped it open to the place where I had left off a while ago.

On that page, the Alter Rebbe gave a deep explanation of the verse, כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ “for this thing (the Torah) is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). Incidentally, this is the key verse upon which the first section of Tanya is based, and serves as the source for the three-tier model of thought, speech and action–three main areas where a person’s spiritual work lies.

There, the Alter Rebbe quoted the Zohar in explaining that “to do it” refers to the “fuel” that keeps the flame of G-d burning on one’s head, the holy fire of the soul. What is this fuel? Ma’asim tovim, good deeds and actions. This is the purpose and mission for which the pure and perfect soul’s descent into the corporeal realm, which is fraught with so much darkness, is justified: so that goodness will be wrought in the physical world.

Upon reflection, I don’t know what could sum up the essence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe more accurately. The Rebbe lived this teaching so concretely, always placing the emphasis on the doing. Even though Chabad has an enormous proprietary system of mikvaos, yeshivos, seminaries, batei din, and hechsherim–all of the things required to sustain a worldwide community of Lubavitcher Chassidim, this was not enough for the Rebbe. The Rebbe could not be satisfied with a following of chassidim observing the mitzvos while the rest of the Jewish people languished and atrophied spiritually. He sent his people everywhere to help their brethren “do it”: learn Hebrew, learn Torah, daven, put on tefillin, light Shabbos candles, give tzedakah–actualize the Torah in their lives, and hence, in the world.

But lest one think that this is merely the stupendous account of a successful kiruvmagnate–think again. The Rebbe’s efforts flowed forth from a deep and genuine sense of caring about other people, from a desire to transform this into a better and more meaningful world for all of its inhabitants (the Rebbe’s outreach efforts went beyond the Jewish people to non-Jews as well), and from an unquenchable thirst for closeness to G-d Himself. This is evident in the interactions he had with everyone with whom he came into contact. This genuineness and caring is such a rare and precious commodity, as hard to find as common decency and honesty in our own age.

Again, however, caring was not enough. Many of us spend time taking pride in the kol torah of our batei midrash and wondering what will be with our fellow Jews out there. The Rebbe built an army of caring soldiers committed to implementing his vision in every corner of the world–which is where you will find Lubavitcher sh’lichim(emissaries). Steven Covey, in his well-known self-development book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, writes in a section on pro-activity that one should focus on “be” and not “have”. The Rebbe went a step forward; he focused on “do”. His efforts continue to keep the holy flame of Jewish souls burning.

May his merits protect us.

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Reflections from the Gottman Training Seminar

Yesterday, I finished a two-day training at Yeshiva University with the Gottmans, Dr. Jon Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz-Gottman. Couples therapy is, for me, an odyssey. Even though I have been working with couples clinically for some time now, the dynamic that exists in couples therapy–between the members of the couple, between the couple and the therapist, even between the couple and the therapy itself–is always something that challenges me, something that is as unique as the people I sit with in the office.

Having the proper tools to approach this type of work is vital. One of the main points of emphasis at the conference, was the need for research to validate treatment interventions, which is something that Dr. Gottman has been doing for 35 years. Thousands of hours of videotaped sessions, where the members of the couple are wearing heart monitors and pulse oximeters (which measure oxygen saturation in the blood), and sitting on chairs atop platforms known as “jiggle-ometers” (which measure fidgeting) have yielded results that can verify one way or another if treatment interventions are working and if the theories behind them are true.

I think what interests me about this point is that it seems like a novel idea to subject adult treatment methods to verification through research. Anyone who has browsed the self-help or psychology sections of bookstores has seen the scores of volumes touting the latest and most avant-guard approach. Has anyone ever wondered if these would hold up to research? Are we courageous enough to face that as practitioners?

But the fact is, when it comes to child treatment approaches, the research has been extensive. I had the pleasure of meeting Roni Loeb-Richter, who runs the Pinat HaYeled (child division) at the Family Institute in Har Nof, and who gave me a window on what has been going on in that field for years. And it’s research. Extensive research. The best professionals in that field are always getting refreshed by examining the latest findings in medical and psychological research, videotaping, going to conferences, studying parent-child relationships, and incorporating all of that into their practices. It’s refreshing to see a similar process going on in adult treatment, and couples treatment.

Bandler and Grinder did this type of work as well, and their findings eventually coalesced into the modality known as Neuro-Liguistic Programming (NLP). But NLP is more of an operator’s manual for effective human communication. They showed us what works, and how it operates. Their work has been an important contribution to the fields of personal development, which in turn has had positive ramifications for communication in business and in therapy. However, if you look at the Gottmans’ Sound Relationship House model, which is the organizational basis of their method, you will see that the top “floor” of the house is “Shared Meaning”. In other words, although they have researched and documented “what works” in couples’ communication and coping skills, the entire method aims towards this ultimate goal of creating shared meaning for the couple. It is with a clarified sense of the meaning shared by the couple that conflicts can be managed.

We heard at the conference that nearly 70% of all conflict items in a couple are perpetual, an that success comes not from resolving them, but managing them. I imagine that this is one of those instances where Frankl’s concept of attitudinal values–where a person can take a stance towards an unchangeable reality?

Conscience: Its Risks and Returns

In Logotherapy, there is a strong emphasis on conscience. In Frankl’s lexicon, the word differs from what many call conscience, which is closer to Freud’s concept of superego (I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post). The logotherapeutic conscience refers to the mechanism, as it were, that exists in each human being, that enables him or her to perceive what life demands of him or her. This could mean perceiving meaning in a situation, sensing one’s own responsibility in that situation, or detecting one’s own sense of mission in life. The point is that in logotherapy, the idea is the conscience detects or receives these messages from beyond the self, as opposed to from within the self. Frankl illustrates this by pointing out the fact that, very often, situations arise where, due to the demands of one’s conscience, one goes against all of the didactic, parental, moral, and societal “rules”.

The person who comes from a conservative, patriotic family whose members have served in the military, but who becomes a conscientious (note the term) objector to an army draft, is a classic example of this. Here, it is possible to see the distinction being made between conscience as Frankl sees it and the superego proposed by Freud. If the conscience and superego were identical, this person should not be able to muster the strength to avoid army service, as all of the inputs in his life that have contributed to his superego have told him that serving in the army is a positive, even obligatory item. Yet, for reasons of conscience, the CO is able to take a stand against the values of the people around him and choose an alternative that he feels is right.

Does the fact that the conscience detects meaning from beyond mean that the person will always understand the message being delivered to him or her accurately and do what is objectively “right”? Isn’t it dangerous to live according to one’s intuition. What if is one is wrong? The Taliban also believe in their mission of conscience.

The mechanistic alternative, of course, is to view oneself as a collection of synapses and ego drives, taking every step to satisfy one’s desires and thereby bringing homeostasis to one’s system.

This is a topic that has come up recently in our training meetings. I have come to an idea that being right in an empirical sense is not the issue; rather, it is living one’s life according to one’s conscience that is of value in and of itself. A conscience-based life. Being directed by conscience, rather than mechanistic ego drives, has value in and of itself. It puts people in touch with what they believe in, enables them to live more congruently with their values and to detect their missions in life as they see them. The world we live in, influenced by mechanical materialism, does not allow people to listen to their consciences; it’s too “pre-scientific” and “metaphysical”. But this has brought about a world that suffers from a sense of meaninglessness. It’s not the being right that is meaningful; it is getting attuned with, and acting according to, what one perceives to be right. This is what can restore meaning to a person’s life

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Names and Redemption: Shemos 5770

This week’s parsha begins with the phrase,ואלא שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה, “these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Mitzrayim”. Since the arrival of the bnei yisrael in Mitzrayim was already mentioned only six chapters before this one, it seems superfluous to repeat the idea as if was never stated.

Why does the Torah have to say this here?

The Ramban explains that this first verse in Shemos is actually a direct continuation from the topic begun earlier in Bereishis. There, we are told that, “Israel dwelled in the land of Mitzrayim, in the land of Goshen. They had a portion in it, were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” This sounds very positive. However, the Kli Yakar informs us that the verse is telling us something very negative. Despite the Jews’ original intention to live temporarily in Mitzrayim, i.e. for the duration of the famine, they became so ensconced there that G-d had to forcefully take them out with a “strong hand”.

A few verses later, in Parshas Vayechi, we read that after Yaakov Avinu passed away, the eyes of the Bnei Yisrael “closed” to their own pilght; they became unaware, like the mice in a mine shaft who cannot detect the subtle changes in the quality of the air available to them—until it is too late. What does this mean? It means that the golus Mitzrayim (the Egyptian exile) began way before a “new king arose in Mitzrayim” and enslaved the Jews; it began when everything was prosperous. But the eyes of Israel being closed also implies that whatever happened during the 210 years after the twelve tribes arrival in Mitzrayim was essentially tangential.

The Ramban refers to the book of Shemos as Sefer Galus v’Geulah—the book of exile and redemption. Not simply, “Exodus”, which refers only to leaving Egypt, but also geulah, being redeemed. It’s not enough to leave; you have to be redeemed. Leaving Egypt did not make us free. We did not only gain freedom from the enslavement of Egypt; we went towards the awesome responsibility of being servants of Hashem.

Exile, says the Ramban, would not be concluded until the Jews returned to their place and to the spiritual level of the forefathers. This was achieved through the milestones of Har Sinai and the building of the Mishkan, which created the context for an indwelling of the Shechinah. True redemption.

By dint of the fact that this section of the Torah has two names, “Shemos” and “Sefer Galus v’Geulah”, the Ramban is telling us that there is an intrinsic connection between names and redemption.

The Midrash tells us that one of the things that the bnei yisrael did not change while enslaved in Egypt was their names. This continued for the entire 210 year period of their servitude. If you stop to think about this for a second, very few of us can claim that type of Jewish continuity for that length of time, no matter where our families come from. Even in this country, where the language is Hebrew, many people do not have traditional Jewish names.

What is a name?

There are many views on this topic. Here, the words of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, shlit”a, are precise. The words shem and sham are interrelated. First of all, they have the exact same shoresh—even the same letters. What is the difference between sham and shem? We use the word sham to indicate where something is located or contained. In fact, the word shamayim is simply a plural form of the word sham; shamayim is the ultimate sham, the totality of sham. There can be no more sham-ness than the seemingly endless shamayim. Shem, on the other hand, is a word that indicates both the content of an item and its purpose.

Consider another word: shomem, which means both astonishing and desolate. When we describe a place in this way, we mean that there is no content and no purpose there; it is the exact opposite of shem. And it just so happens that the word Mitzrayim has the same gematria (numerical value) as the word shomem (380). Later in the parsha, when Paro is first told to release the bnei yisrael so that they could serve G-d, his response is, תכבד את העבודה על האנשים ויעשו בה ואל יעשו בדברי שקר, “increase the workload on these people, and keep them busy, and do not let them busy themselves with falsehood”. As if to say that the prescription for our lives was to be slaves, to work purposelessly for the duration of our miserable lives, without any deeper meaning. That is Mitzrayim. The Ramchal says that Paro’s response is the classic technique of the yetzer hara: keep the guy busy, so busy that he never has time or energy to take stock of his life.

Why was it so important for the bnei yisrael to retain their names?

A name tells us about the essential purpose and mission of the person to whom it belongs. The fact that the Sefer Galus v’Geulah begins with the names teaches us that people of the tribes of Israel, because of their names, were able to remember their mission even in the darkest stages of exile and slavery. The Midrash goes through each name, from Reuven to Binyamin, describing how each relates to the essence of that tribe, its tachlis, and a different aspect of geulah.

This applies each of us. When life seems purposeless, when we do not clearly sense our place in the world, we experience golus , exile, on a personal level. But that name brings us back; it tells us that we are needed in this world, that we each have a mission and a contribution to make. Sometime, a long time ago, we were welcomed into this world by our parents, and they delivered this message to us, the most affirming message possible: we wanted you here, and we have called you by name!

The Midrash tells us that this is precisely how Hashem feels about each one of us. שקולים הם ישראל כצבא השמים נאמר כאן שמות ונאמר בכוכבים שמות שנאמר מונה מספר לכוכבים לכוכם שמות יקרא, “Israel is like the stars in Heaven; here the verse mentions names, and there regarding stars, the verse mentions names”. מנא מספרם כמה היו ולפי שהם משולים לכוכבים קרא שמות לכולם, “He counted how many of them there were, and because they are like stars, He called names upon all of them.” I couldn’t figure out this Midrash; because they are like stars, He called names upon all of them? Are we being told that, just like Hashem knows about each star, He knows about each Jew? There would not be much of a chiddush here; He created everything, after all!

Rather, as Rashi statesלהודיע חבתן שנמשלו לכוכבים שמוציאן ומכניסן במספר ובשמותם שנאמר המוציא במספר צבאם לכלם בשם יקרא, “the Torah tells us here to inform us that we are beloved to Hashem; Israel is compared to the stars, as the verse states, ‘Who takes out the stars by the number of their host, He calls each one by name'”.

Why are stars so important?

The Malbim tells us, regarding that verse in Yeshaya, כל אחד יש לו שם מיוחד על פי פעולתו, “each one has a special name, in accordance with its purpose.” Now, we can understand the comparison, because each one of us has a unique name that hints at the awesome, unique mission each one of us has. And Hashem counts each one of us.

One other point: stars have a special quality of being points of light against the dark background of space. They glow even in the ultimate darkness, all the time. This is like klal yisrael, who, by tapping into the power of a name, are able to find light in the darkest moments, sparks of geulah that remind us that the true geulah is on its way, bimheira v’yameinu amen!

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“Three Lives”: Frankl Himself Is Met By Meaning

I am not sure who the author of the following account is, but it is a beautiful chronicling of the intersection of Logotherapeutic meaning and how we, as Jews, understand the concept of hashgacha pratis.

Three Lives

I want to share with you a story tonight. It is a story about a Jewish girl who became an opera singer, performing in front of Adolf Hitler, about a world-renowned Jewish spiritual master and a world-famous psychiatrist – and how their three lives converged. It was a strange phenomenon. The famed professor Victor Frankl, author of the perennial best-seller Man’s Search for Meaning and founder of Logotherapy, would send each year a check to Chabad of Vienna before the High Holidays. Nobody in the Chabad center or in the larger Jewish community could understand why. Here was a man who was not affiliated in any fashion with the Jewish community of Vienna. He did not even attend synagogue even on Yom Kippur. He was married to a very religious Catholic woman. He is not even buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vienna. Yet, he would not miss a single year of sending a contribution to Chabad before Yom Kippur.

The enigma was answered only in 1992.

I Am the First Emissary

Margareta Chajes walked into the office of my colleague, Rabbi Jacob Biederman, the ambassador of Chabad to Austria. Rabbi Biederman built the magnificent “Lauder Campus” in Vienna creating a Jewish renaissance in Austria, the country which gave birth to the greatest monster in Jewish and human history, Adolf Hitler yemach shemo. Margareta, an 85-year-old woman, was dressed very classy, and looked youthful and energetic. She told Rabbi Biederman: “I know you think you are the first shliach, you are the first emissary, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Vienna; but that is not the case. I have served as the first ambassador of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the city, many years before you.”

You see, in the 1930’s Margareta was a young Jewish opera singer in Vienna. She even performed at the Saltzburg Opera Festival in 1939 in the presence of Hitler himself. She escaped to the US, but lost her family in the Holocaust. Years later, she paid a visit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who, she said, became like a father figure to her.

From the Chassidim to the Opera

She began to relate her story. Margareta’s maiden family name was Hager; she was an heir to the famed Chassidic Hager family, producing the Rebbe’s and leaders of the Vishnitz Chassidic group.

As a young girl, she left home. The lifestyle and belief system of her parents did not inspire her. She traveled to the cultural center of the world, Vienna, where Margareta Hager, a granddaughter of the Vishnitzer Chassidic Rebbes, became an opera singer. Margareta performed during the 1930’s in the Salzburger Festspiele (pronounced: Fest Shpile) — The Salzburg Festival — a prominent festival of music and drama, held each summer within the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On 12 March 1938, German troops marched into Salzburg. The Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Germany – was now complete, and Nazi ideology immediately affect the Salzburg Festival. All Jewish artists were banned, the leading Jewish conductors and composers were “deleted.” Yet Margareta Chajes was still performing. For the Festspiele in August 1939, Hitler himself made an appearance at two Mozart operas. He did not know that one of the young women singing so majestically was a young Jewess, a scion of a Chassidic family, Margareta Chajes. Shortly thereafter, the general management made a surprise announcement that the Festival would terminate on 31 August, a week ahead of the scheduled finale on 8 September. The reason was, supposedly, that the Vienna Philharmonic was required to perform at the Nuremberg Party Convention. But the Germans were brilliant liars. The true reason became apparent on September 1st when the German army invaded Poland and unleashed the Second World War – exactly 70 years ago — which exterminated a third of our people, including much of Margareta’s family. On the very night after her performance at the Salzburg Festspiele, close friends smuggled her out of Germany to Italy. From there she managed to embark on the last boat to the US before the war broke out just a few days later. Margareta settled in Detroit, where she married a fine Jewish young man with the family name Chajes (a grandson of one of the most famous 19th century Polish Rabbis and Talmudic commentator, the Maharatz Chayos, and they gave birth to a beautiful daughter.

Forward the tape recorder of history. It is now many years after the war. Jews were rebuilding their lives and their careers. The rabbis were rebuilding their communities. But one rabbi was thinking of not just of his own community. You see, the daughter of Margareta married a prominent Jewish doctor, who was honored by the dinner of a Chabad institution in the US and his mother-in-law, Margareta, acquired an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

“I walked into the Rebbe’s room,” related Margareta to Rabbi Biederman, “I cannot explain why, but suddenly, for the first time since the Holocaust, I felt that I could cry. I – like so many other survivors who have lost entire families — never cried before. We knew that if we would start crying, we might never stop, or that in order to survive we can’t express our emotions. But at that moment, it was a though the dam obstructing my inner waterfall of tears was removed. I began sobbing like a baby. I shared with the Rebbe my entire story: Innocent childhood; leaving home; becoming a star in Vienna ; performing in front of Hitler; escaping to the US; learning of the death of my closest kin.

The Rebbe listened. But he not only listened with his ears. He listened with his eyes, with his heart, with his soul, and he took it all in. I shared everything and he absorbed everything. That night I felt like I was given a second father. I felt that the Rebbe adopted me as his daughter.

Two Requests

At the end of my meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I expressed my strong desire to go back and visit Vienna. The Rebbe requested from me that before I make the trip, I visit him again. A short while later, en route to Vienna, I visited the Rebbe. He asked me for a favor: to visit two people during my stay in the city. The first was Viennese Chief Rabbi Akiva Eisenberg, and give him regards from the Rebbe (the Rebbe said that his secretary would give me the details and literature to give to Rabbi Eisenberg). The second person he wanted me to visit I would have to look up myself. The Rebbe said that he was a professor at the University of Vienna and his name was Dr. Victor Frankl.

You Will Prevail

“Send Dr. Frankl my regards,” the Lubavitcher Rebbe said to me, “and tell him in my name that he should not give up. He must remain strong and continue his work with vigor and passion. If he continues to remain strong, he will prevail.”

Speaking in German so Margareta would understand, the Rebbe spoke for a long time about the messages he wished to convey to Dr. Frankl. Close to forty years later she did not recall all of the details, but the primary point was that Frankl should never give up and he should keep on working to achieve his goals with unflinching courage and determination.

I didn’t understand a word the Rebbe said. Who was Dr. Frankl? Why was the Rebbe sending him this message? Why through me? I did not have an answer to any of these questions, but I obeyed.

Margareta traveled to Vienna. Her visit with Rabbi Eisenberg was simple. Meeting Victor Frankl proved far more difficult. When she arrived at the University they informed her that the professor has not shown up in two weeks. There was thus no way she could meet him. After a few failed attempts to locate him at the University, Margareta gave up.

Yet feeling guilty not to fulfill the Rebbe’s request, she decided to violate Austrian manners. She looked up the professor’s private home address, traveled there and knocked at the door.

A woman opened the door. “May I see Herr Frankl please?”

“Yes, please wait.”

“I saw a room filled with crosses,” Margareta continues her tale. “It was obvious that this was a Christian home. I thought to myself, that this must be a mistake; this can’t be the person whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe wanted me to encourage.” You see, in 1947 Frankl married his second wife — a very devout Catholic, Eleonore Katharina Schwindt. Victor Frankl showed up a few moments later, and after ascertaining that he was the professor at the University, she said she had regards for him. “He was extremely impatient, and frankly looked quite uninterested. It felt very awkward.” “I have regards from Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn, New York,” Margareta told him. “Rabbi Schneerson asked me to tell you in his name that you must not give up. You ought remain strong and continue your work with unflinching determination and you will prevail”.

“Do not fall into despair. March on with confidence,” Rabbi Schneerson said, “and I promise, you will achieve great success.” Suddenly, the uninterested professor broke down. He began sobbing like a baby. He could not calm down. I did not understand what was going on. I just saw him weeping uncontrollably.

“Wow,” Dr. Frankl told me. “This Rabbi from Brooklyn knew exactly when to send you here.” He could not thank her enough. “So you see Rabbi Biederman?” Margareta completed her tale. “I have been an emissary of the Rebbe to Vienna many years before you came around.”

Forever Grateful

Rabbi Biederman was intrigued. Victor Frankl was now 87 years of age, and was an international celebrity. He had written 32 books which were translated into 30 languages. His book “Man’s Search for Meaning” has been deemed by the Library of Congress as being one of the ten most influential books of the 20th century. What was the secret behind the Rebbe’s message to Victor Frankl?

“I called him immediately,” Biederman recalls. “Do you remember Margarete Chajes?” Rabbi Biederman asked Dr. Frankl. “No,” the professor responds. Well, he can be forgiven. More than 40 years had gone by. “Do you remember a regards she gave you from Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn?” Rabbi Biederman asked the professor. Suddenly, a change in his voice. Dr. Frankl melted like butter in a frying pan. “Of course I remember. I will never forget it. My gratitude to Rabbi Schneerson is eternal.” And Victor Frankl began to unveil the “rest of the story,” which captures one of the greatest debates of the last 100 years, encapsulates the essence of Jewishness and reveals to us the secret of Kol Nidrei.

In the Camps

Victor Frankl was born in 1905 – three years after the Lubavitcher Rebbe — in Vienna. The young Frankl studied neurology and psychiatry and in 1923 became part of the inner circle of one of the most famous Jews of the time, Dr. Sigmund Freud, the “Father of Psychoanalysis” who lived and practiced in Vienna.

The “Final Solution” did not skip over the Frankl family (7). Victor’s mother and father were murdered in Auschwitz; his first Jewish wife, pregnant, was murdered in Bergen-Belsen. All of his siblings and relatives were exterminated. Professor Frankl was a lone survivor (he had one sister who immigrated to Australia before the war.) He returned to Vienna where he taught neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna.

The Great Debate

Already before the war, and even more so during his three years in the Nazi death camps, Victor Frankl developed ideas which differed radically from Freud. Yet the entire faculty of his department at the University consisted of staunch Freudian scholars. Academically they hunted down Victor Frankl calling his ideas “pseudo-science,” and the joke of the century.

You see, friends, this was no small debate. These two Jews were debating the very meaning of human identity and Victor Frankl had been advocating a view extremely alien to the then-dominant Freudian outlook. In a word: A human being has a SOUL, what we Jews call a Neshamah.

Freud, like most medical schools, emphasized the idea that all things come down to physiology. The human mind and heart could be best understood as a “side effect” of brain mechanisms. Humans are like machines, responding to stimuli from within or from without, a completely physical, predictable and godless machine, albeit a very complicated machine, creating psychotics, neurotics, and of course psychiatrists. [The difference? The neurotic build castles in the air; the psychotic lives in them, and the psychiatrist? – he collects the rent from both.]

Victor Frankl disagreed. He felt that Freud and his chevrah reduced the human being to a mere mechanical creature depriving him or her of his true essence. “If Freud were in the concentration camps,” Frankl wrote, “he would have changed his position.” Beyond the basic natural drives and instincts of people, he would have encountered the human “capacity for self-transcendence.” “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Of course, there are many things about our life we have no control over. But there is a dimension of the human self – the essence of human identity — which nothing and nobody can control. It is transcendent by its very “nature” – free, uninhibited, wholesome and deeply spiritual, never defined by life’s circumstances and limitations, but rather free to define them, to define their meaning and message.

A person – he taught — was not a son of his past, but the father of his future.

Derision

But in the University in the 40’s and 50’s they defined Frankl’s ideas as fanatic religiosity, raising up all the old, unscientific notions of conscience, religion and guilt. It was unpopular for students to attend his courses.

“The situation was horrible,” Frankl told Rabbi Biederman. “Rabiner Biederman!” Frankl said. He then added these shocking words: “I could survive the German death camps, but I could not survive the horrific derision of my colleagues at the university who would not stop taunting me and undermining my every iota of progress.” “The pressure against me was so severe, that I decided to give up. It was simply too much to bear emotionally. I was drained, exhausted, depressed. I fell into a melancholy. I was watching all of my life-work fade away right before my eyes. One day, sitting at home, I began drafting my resignation papers for my University job. In the battle between Freud and Frankl – Freud would be triumphant. Soul-less-ness would prove more powerful than soul-full-ness.”

Hope

“And then suddenly, as I am sitting in my home, depressed, defected, feeling down, in walks a beautiful woman. She gives me regards from a Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneerson from Brooklyn, New York. His message? ‘Don’t dare to give up. Don’t dare to despair. If you will continue your work with absolute determination, you will prevail.’ I could not believe my ears. Somebody in Brooklyn, no less a Chassidic Rebbe, knew about my predicament? And what is more – he cared about my predicament? And what is more – he sent someone to locate me in Vienna to shower me with courage and inspiration? I began to sob. I cried uncontrollably. I was so moved. I felt like a transformed man. That is exactly what I needed to hear. Someone believed in me, in my work, in my contributions, in my ideas about the infinite transcendence and potential of the human person and in my ability to prevail.”

“That very moment I knew that I would not surrender. I tore up my resignation papers. New vitality was blown into me. I was confident, secure, and motivated.” “Indeed,” Victor continues, “his words came true. A few months later, I was given a chair at the University.” And a short while later, Frankl’s magnum opus “Man’s Search for Meaning” was translated into English. It became not only an ongoing bestseller to this very day, but has been deemed as one of the 10 most influential books of the 20th century. The professor’s career began to soar. The once-scoffed-at professor became one of the most celebrated psychiatrists of a generation. “Man’s Search for Meaning” has been translated into 28 languages and has sold over 10 million copies during his life time. Frankl became a guest lecturer at 209 universities on all five continents, held 29 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, and received 19 national and international awards and medals for his work in psychotherapy.

His brand of therapy inspired thousands of other books, seminars, workshops, new-age and spiritual groups, which have all been based on Frankl’s ideas of the unique ability of the human to choose its path discover meaning in every experience. From Scot Peck’s “Road Less Traveled” to Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, and hundreds of other bestsellers during the last 30 years, all of them were students of Victor Frankl’s perspectives.

Victor Frankl concluded his story to Rabbi Beiderman in these words:

“איך וועל אים אייביק דאנקבאר זיין”

“I will forever be grateful to him,” to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I Love Chabad

Not knowing who he was talking too, Frankl added: “A number of years ago Chabad established itself here in Vienna. I became a supporter. You too should support it. They are the best…” Rabbi Biederman finally understood why he was getting a check in the mail before each Yom Kippur. Their conversation was over.

Tefilin Each Day

But the story is not over. In 2003, Dr. Shimon Cown, a Lubavitch Australian expert on Frankl, went to visit his non-Jewish widow, Elenor, in Vienna. She took out a pair of tefilin and showed it to him. “My late husband would put these on each and every day,” she said to him. Then she took out a pair of tzitzis he made for himself to wear. At night in bed, Victor would recite the book of Tehilim (Psalms). You get it? On Yom Kippur nobody saw him in shul, but a day of tefilin he did not miss. When they asked in interviews whether he believed in G-d, he would usually not give a direct answer. But a day of tefilin he would not miss! What a Jew!

The Soldier

In 1973, an Israeli soldier lay in the hospital, depressed and dejected, saying that he feels like committing suicide. You see, he lost both his legs during the Yom Kippur war. He felt that without legs his future was hopeless. One day, his doctor walked into the room. The soldier was sitting upright, and looked relaxed and happy. The doctor looked at him, and saw that his eyes regained that passionate gaze. What happened? The doctor asked. The soldier pointed to his night table. He has just finished reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the stories about how certain Jews behaved in the death camps. He learnt of the capacity of the human being to choose to turn adversity into triumph by discovering the meaning in his life’s experiences. “This transformed me,” the soldier said.

One Message

This, friends, was the potential the Rebbe saw when he decided to send Margareta on a mission to Vienna. Imagine: One single message from a man in Brooklyn who cared literally transformed tens of millions of lives! And what was the message? Don’t despair. You will prevail. Because the Lubavitcher Rebbe was determined to get out to the world this message: we really do have a soul; the soul is the deepest and most real part of us; and that we will never be fully alive if we don’t access our souls. What is a soul? A soul is our inner identity, our raison d’être. The soul of music is the composer’s vision that energizes and gives life to the notes played in a musical composition. The actual notes are like the body expressing the vision and feeling of the soul within them. Each soul is the expression of G-d’s intention and vision in creating that particular being. The soul is the very fabric of our being—as conceived by G-d’s vision in wanting us to exist. Each of us is a unique musical note in a grand cosmic composition. It is incumbent upon us to discover our soul—our higher calling—and play its unique music.

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Rabbinic Scandals and You

The current scandal involving Rabbi Leib Tropper is the latest in a series of “spiritual abuse” cases that have occurred in the Orthodox community in recent years, to the horror of all of us.

This case, however, is particularly intriguing for several reasons: first, it is the first instance that I know about where a major personality in the religious world was brought down via a headlining expose that ultimately originated in an internet blog. Second, it is a very dilated and distorted window on the relationship between Jewish organizations, their directors and their donors. Third, it clearly exemplifies the words of our Sages. “Rabbi Yochanan ben Broka said, ‘Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret, they will exact punishment from him in public'” (Avos 4:5). And were it not for the instantaneous speed with which information can be posted and sent to a virtually unlimited number of people via the internet, this problem may have gone on undetected and unnoticed for years. It appears that uncovering deception happens very quickly these days.

I don’t personally know Harry Maryles, or the authors of “the unorthodox Jew” or failedmessiah.com, but I do have a message for them and everyone who reads their blogs: instead of simply using our soapboxes to judge and castigate others with the rationalization that we are simply trying to restore honesty and transparency to the religious world, we should realize that these events happen in front of our eyes because they have a message for us; we have to take mussar from these events. We have to realize that “there but for the grace of G-d go I”. Quite literally.

Anyone who reads the accounts of the snake, Esav or Lavan, would be letting themselves off easy if they simply snarled, called these personalities, “bad guys”, and flipped to the next page. Hashem gives us detailed accounts of these people because He wants us to take it to the second level, and ask ourselves, “how am I like the snake, Esav, or Lavan?” From there, we can work to eradicate these personality traits.

Parenthetically, I am very dismayed at the proliferation of frum internet tabloids, blogs that symbiotically live off of systemic problems in the religious world and supply their readers with a type of Orthodox (or, really anti-Orthodox) pornography that serves to confirm their suspicions that every religious Jew or rabbi is actually an evil pervert, while eroding the emunas chachamim of others. Solutions or invitations to substantive discussion are rarely offered on these sites. Lots of people have an axe to grind; I suggest that maybe it’s not such a responsible thing to do in front of six billion people?

I say this because I am a therapist, and because I am essentially “one degree of separation” from many of the people who make it onto these unsavory lists. I am a YU musmach, I have been an assistant rabbi in Monsey myself, and I work with this underbelly of the frum world professionally. I consulted to NCSY leaders immediately after the Baruch Lanner affair several years ago, and I listen to the thought distortions of offenders on a weekly basis; it’s harrowing. But a person should thank G-d that he or she has not been given the impairments of conscience coupled with the overactive yetzer hara that have led other people down the path of destruction.

One addictions treatment expert has put it this way, “every single person who has come into my office has said initially that they never imagined this could happen to them.”

If you think about it, these high profile cases of corruption may simply be a very monstrous, pathological version of the “disconnect” that affects everyone according to their level, the incongruity that comes from knowing what is right and not doing it–or doing the opposite. How can people smoke, when the label on the box clearly tells them that doing so will kill them? They light up anyway. How can people talk in shul, insult people, cheat on tests, run cash businesses, overestimate accident damages, double park, ignore newcomers, drive over 25 miles per hour in a school zone, not call their mother, get to work late, submit restaurant receipts as tax write-offs, etc., etc., etc.?

On a clinical note: in these very awful cases that have surfaced in recent years, I propose that, if you examine each one, they probably all adhere to a set of diagnostic criteria for pathology that predisposes them in this direction. It does not excuse the actions of these people, of course, but it would be very beneficial to the Jewish community if some type of screening test could be developed and administered to people who would become the heads of our institutions.

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Chanukah: Restoring Our Temple, Returning to One

CandlesRebbe Nachman, as recorded in Likutei Eitzos, Chanukah, makes a somewhat enigmatic statement: the selach na (“please forgive”s) that we utter on Yom Kippur enable us to partake of the holiness of Chanukah.

What is the connection?

In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 7:11, the Rebbe relates to the interaction between G-d and Moshe Rabbenu during the aftermath of the sin of the spies.  Moshe Rabbenu says to G-d, “please forgive this people for their sin in Your great kindness”.   In this case, Moshe Rabbenu was not only relating to the sin of speaking lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael, thereby causing an epidemic of bad faith amongst the Children of Israel; instead, he took the long view, and considered the sin in terms of its ultimate consequence: the future destruction of the Holy Temple.  The gemara (Taanis 29) states, “Hashem, may He be blessed, said to them, ‘you cried a crying for no reason.  I will establish a crying for all generations’.”  As we know, the lamenting over the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael occurred on Tisha b’Av, as did the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Sin destroyed the Holy Temple.  The absence of the Temple is problematic in and of itself, because it was the primary mechanism in the expiation of sin for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.  The verse (Yeshaya 1) states, “righteousness dwells in it”, and Rashi explains this to mean that this was possible because the morning tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from the previous night, while the afternoon tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from that day.  As long as the Beis HaMikdash was extant, it was possible for the Jewish people to be clean of sin.  Rebbe Nachman emphasizes here that this is all-important, because the Jewish people, due to their delicateness and high level of spirituality, cannot really bear the weight of sin, even for one day.  Without the Beis HaMikdash, there is no way to relieve ourselves of that crushing burden–and Moshe Rabbenu knew this.  Therefore, he said:

סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה

Now, if you look at part of this phrase, namely:

הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה

You will notice that the roshei teivos (first letters), when arranged properly, spell out the word חנוכה, “Chanukah”.  Moshe Rabbenu asked specifically that the forgiveness of the Jewish people should involve an antidote to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash–a chanukas habayis (re-dedication of the house).  When the Maccabi’im entered the Beis HaMikdash and purified the altar, as we commemorate on Chanukah, this was an example of Moshe Rabbenu’s request for restoration made manifest for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The main aspect of the holiness of Chanukah that we aim for is the very purpose of that Holy Temple: to know that Hashem Hu HaElokim, that the L-rd is G-d–specifically, that His attributes of kindness and judgement, which appear as separate, contradictory forces in the world, are aspects of His Oneness. We end Yom Kippur with this statement, this idea. And we re-invoke it on Chanukah. This knowledge can enable us to purify ourselves from sin.

In addition, as we gaze at the menorah’s warm radiance, and the candles burn on into the night, let us tap into that desire that lies deep within us, to carry this knowledge of holiness and purity forth to our children, for all generations.

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