Thursday, March 26, 2009

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss:

Question of the Week:
I nearly died this week. I was stuck in an elevator for six hours, with absolutely no contact to the outside world. For the last two hours I was lying exhausted not eh floor gaping for air. Finally, I heard some noise and an arm reached in through the doors and helped pull me out. Thank G-d I am fine now, but I am trying to find some meaning in my experience. What was this supposed to teach me?

What a horrendous experience. I am sure many thoughts flew through your head during those six hours. But at least it was only six hours. I know people who have been stuck in an elevator for years.

Our inner life is made up of two periods. We spend some of our life on level ground, and we spend some time in an elevator. There are times when we are on solid ground, comfortable in who we are and sure of our direction, clear in our goals and secure in our identity. We are at a comfortable spiritual level, and see no reason to move.

But after a while coasting on one level we are ready to move up to a higher place. These are the times when, either by our own choice or by force of circumstance, we enter the elevator. We leave the solid ground of where we were and start moving from one level to another.

The only way to move up is to enter a temporarily insecure place, a moving and unstable state, where there is an element of risk, and sometimes in order to go up you must first go down. To truly graduate from one level to another, your present state has to be shaken up, your current security has to be taken away and you must reinvent yourself. When life takes an unexpected turn and you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, when your complacency is shattered and you are faced with new challenges that your previous self is not equipped to face, you're forced to dig deeper within the wellsprings of your soul and find a new you.

Not everyone knows how to do this. Sometimes we get stuck in the elevator. We can't bring ourselves to break with the past, don't feel confident enough to embrace the future, and so remain in a limbo state, neither here nor there, between one level and another, never taking the plunge and moving on. We may be stuck in a past relationship, refusing to accept that it's over, so we never really become open to a new relationship; or we may be too entangled with our parents to be able to mature into an independent adult; or trapped in past hurts that don't allow us to trust again; or wishing we were young and not accepting that we are now old; or full of regrets of what could have, should have and would have been if only we did this or that.

Until you realise that there is no could have, should have or would have, you will never get to the next level. You are today exactly where you are supposed to be, and all you have experienced in the past is the prelude to your next move. If that next move is a step upwards to the next level, then everything that led to it is redeemed.

You were trapped in an elevator. You got out. This means you are ready to break through the ghosts of your past and move to a new spiritual level. There is a hand reaching out to help you. Grab it and start the next chapter of your life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recap of our final lesson

Thank you for attending our sixth and final lesson of You Be The Judge. Here’s a quick recap of the session:

The Case of the Considerate Contractor
The main question of this lesson focuses on unsolicited goods or services. Can a benefactor legally and ethically demand compensation from the beneficiary? We began with a case in which a contractor, Adam Klein, noticed a house in desperate need of repair. Unable to contact the homeowners, he went ahead and completed the job. Afterwards, he justifiably wanted to be paid both for the materials and labor.

To address this question, we turned to a similar case in the Talmud. The general ruling is that if an owner insists that he did not want the improvement done to his property and that he would be willing to live without it, then he is not required to pay. If, however, he seems satisfied with it, but is trying to take advantage of the situation, then the court enjoins the beneficiary to compensate the craftsman for the lowest going rate for this sort of service.
The Case of the Discount Broker
The second case differs in that the service provided was repayment of a loan. Loans are quite different for many reasons. One of the most compelling, according to Jewish law, is that loans can often be negotiated according to various terms. Thus, the debtor would perhaps have been able to secure a better payment plan had he negotiated himself. Jewish law therefore rules that this debtor is neither obligated to repay the person from whom he had originally borrowed the money, nor the person who repaid the loan unbidden. However, if the loan was “purchased,” rather than repaid, the debtor would now be obligated to repay the perso who had “purchased” the loan.
The Case of the Missing Half Million
Our last case illustrated a fascinating twist in this principle. This time, one man owed another a million dollars, and the latter owed this sum to the bank. Due to difficult economic conditions, the first man was only able to scrape together a half a million dollars. He knew that this wouldn’t appease his creditor, so he went directly to the bank, which, in turn, forgave the loan. At first, the creditor was content, since his bank-loan was forgiven. However, when he found out that his debtor had only paid half a million, he demanded the other half, claiming that only half of this loan between these two men was forgiven. Can he rightfully sue for this sum or not?

The key principle, unique to Jewish law, is attributed to Rabbi Nathan and derived from a passage about responsibilities towards someone’s property in another person’s possession in the Book of Leviticus. The principle asserts that when a debtor owes money to a creditor who owes money to a third party, the original debtor may clear both debts by paying the third party directly. Applying this to our case, the first man who negotiated with the bank was thereby able to clear both debts, and the middleman’s case was overruled.
A Chassidic Perspective
Throughout this course, we have discussed the mystical underpinnings of ownership. Our lessons have emphasizes the difference between secular and Jewish law – a pragmatic approach in order to maintain justice in society, versus a system of revealing an underlying, divine truth. Every object encompasses divine sparks, and it is within the power of its owner to elevate them. When ownership is transferred, the divine sparks become associated with the new owner. Similarly, when money is lent, it is as if the creditor has a lien on all the sparks belonging to the debtor. Thus, in accordance with Rabbi Nathan’s principle, when money is lent twofold, the sparks of the initial debtor become associated with the final creditor. This reflects his ability to settle the accounts directly with the third party.
Thank you again for joining, and I very much look forward to seeing you at our next JLI Course, Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis.

Monday, March 23, 2009

KOSHER BRUNCH with Worldwide Synchronized Lecture

In Jewish tradition, this year is a Hakhel year, a year of gathering and connection, celebrating Jewish unity of heart through unity of purpose.

Passover is the birth of our nation, the festival of freedom. Join us on Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 12:00pm in the Fort Garry Hotel and enjoy a delicious Kosher brunch. Unite with hundreds of communities around the world as Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks shares a message about freedom, hope, and unity for our uncertain world, via a simultaneous global webcast. Let's celebrate freedom together!

Cost is $35 per person and a subsidized rate of just $25 for students.

Brought to you by the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute. For more information, visit, email or give us a call at (204) 414-5624.


The stories of Genesis are famous because they are more than just stories. They help us hold a mirror to our spirit and see ourselves in a whole new way. Ambition, jealousy, courage, and conviction are among the themes that we will explore, as we examine the lives of Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, and Abraham. Begins May, 2009. Cost is $79. Bring a friend and recieve 10% off.

Brought to you by the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute. For more information, visit, email or give us a call at (204) 414-5624.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Whats an Opshernish? By Rabbi Moss:

Question of the Week:
I was delighted to meet you and your family, but I must apologize for mistaking your 2 year old son for a girl. I only called him a pretty little princess because he has such long hair and a pony tail. I now understand that it is a Jewish custom (that I'd never heard of before) to allow a boy's hair to grow long from birth and only cut it on his third birthday. Can you explain this to me, and why it is only done for boys?

Your mistake is totally understandable, and we took no offense to it at all. We are used to correcting people and telling them that he is a boy, and he is used to it too.
In fact, him telling you, "I'm not a girl, I'm a boy" is itself a vital stage in his development, and perhaps one of the reasons for the custom of letting a boy's hair grow.

One of the major differences between boys and girls is in their identity development. The male identity needs to be acquired. The female identity is innate. A boy needs to learn to be a boy, and eventually a man. A girl is a girl, and always was one. Her female identity needs to be protected and nurtured, but it doesn't need to be acquired. The boy's male identity does.

This may be due to the fact that all fetuses begin as female. Even boys started off as girls, and only 40 days from conception do they become male. Not only that, but all children, even boys, are born from their mothers. This means that every child starts off as a female, within a female. This is fine for girls. But for a boy, he has to actually become male, and move away from his female beginnings. No wonder men have such fragile egos...

One way of reinforcing the male identity in young boys is to delay their haircut until age three. Until then, they are constantly mistaken for little girls, and they hear their parents saying 'no, he's a boy' over and over again. They learn to say it themselves - I'm not a girl, I am a boy. This repetition drums into them their male identity.

And then at age three, when a new and deeper level of self-awareness starts to emerge, we take this long haired boy and give him a haircut. It is from then that he wears his kippah all the time, we leave his little sidelocks, he starts wearing tzitzis, and he is now one of the boys.

There are many other ingredients needed to produce a healthy male. He will need a strong father figure, good male role models, and acceptance by his peers. A haircut alone isn't enough. But the haircut is a powerful first step for a little boy on his road to manhood.

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Altein

Lesson 6 of You Be The Judge:

Lesson 6: The Arm Twister

Dear JLI Student,

Are there favors that you are not willing to repay? Do you feel you should be obligated when someone does you a kindness that you never asked for?

If you wake up after a snowstorm to find that the children next door have shoveled your walk, should you pay them for their initiative? If they save you the money of hiring some other neighborhood kid, that would seem to be the fair thing to do. But if you have already paid a snow removal service, they have not really done you a favor, and you may feel very differently about being forced to pay them.

In Lesson Six, we will look at different kinds of unsolicited favors and services and see which ones obligate the recipients and which do not. Looking forward to seeing you at the Chabad Torah Centre on Tuesday evening, 7:30pm.

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

Supreme Court Decision on Definition of Employee

Supreme Court Decision.pdf - Google Docs

Post Lesson 5:

Thank you for attending our fifth lesson of You Be The Judge. Here’s a quick recap of the session:

Working for Whom?

The beginning of out lesson outlined the distinction between an independent contractor and an employee. An independent contractor enjoys autonomy and flexibility but has no assurance of a steady paycheck, while an employee sacrifices freedom in exchange for predictable, timely compensation.

We reviewed the Biblical example of Jacob’s employment and its emphasis on employees adhering to the highest ethical standards. Conversely, in a tale from the Talmud, Rav Huna tried to justifiably withhold wages from workers. His actions were admonished, illustrating the ethical obligations of employers.

What is an Employee?

Distinguishing between the two categories of independent contractor and employee can pose quite difficult. In this vein, our discussion began with a landmark American case, U.S. v. Silk, in which courts debated the statuses of coal unloaders and truck drivers. We focused on several factors, such as whether the employer provides specific directions of not just what to do, but how to do it, whether the employer provides tools for the work, whether the employer provides place for the work to be done, and whether the employer can tell the worker when to come and go. Nevertheless, we found that many employment situations fail to fall neatly into one category or the other. Even in this case, two courts ruled that they were both independent contractors – and then the Supreme Court overruled the lower courts, stating that the truck drivers were independent contractors, whereas the coal unloaders were actually employers.

Jewish Labor Law

We started by highlighting the important Jewish principle that it is undesirable for a person to be enslaved to another person. As a consequence, although an independent contractor can be held to a contract, an employee can quit a job at any time without penalty. Additionally, the Biblical model of the “Hebrew slave,” Jewish law recognizes severance pay for employees – but not independent contractors. Thus, it is important to determine whether a given worker is an employee or independent contractor in order to assess what compensation the Jewish court can require.

We then surveyed two Talmudic cases, one involving a school bus driver, and the other tutor, in order to evaluate their respective statuses. The main criteria considered in this discussion were a) whether the worker was paid by the job or by the hour, and b) whether the worker was bound by a set schedule or not. The bus driver received compensation per child on his route (similar to an independent contractor) but was still bound to driving the route at a particular time each day (similar to an employee). Conversely, the tutor was paid per hour (similar to an employee), but had the discretion over what he would be teaching and when (similar to an independent contractor).

We concluded that the critical factor as to whether one is an employee or not is whether one’s time is under the control of an employer. Thus, the bus driver was ruled to be an employee while the tutor was ruled to be an independent contractor.

Mystical Insights into Employment: G-d as our Employer

G-d binds Himself by the same laws that He commands of us. The Torah instructs an employer to pay wages at the end of the workday. Why then do we not receive payment immediately for our good deeds?

One answer is that we are considered to be independent contractors who are not paid at the end of each workday, but when the task is completed. This would imply that our payment is not due until the end of our lives, when our contract is delivered.

However, the primary reward of the soul is not in the afterlife, but in the period when the soul returns to the world in the era of resurrection after death. The resurrection of the dead occurs in the messianic era, when the entire world has been transformed due to the collective labor of all souls since the beginning of time. Thus, our true reward is received at the completion of our collective mission.

Thank you again for joining, and I very much look forward to seeing you next week for lesson three.

Lesson 5 of You Be The Judge:

Employee vs Independent Contractors; Lesson 5:

It can be scary going into business on your own and losing the security of a weekly paycheck. In addition, the self-employed no longer receive a host of benefits such as health insurance and vacation pay.

Nevertheless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an ever-increasing number of workers choose to leave the tyranny of the 9-5 working world, opting instead to become independent contractors. These individuals act as their own bosses, setting their own hours and determining for themselves what work they want to accept and on what terms.

Which working choices have you made? Do the benefits of working for yourself outweigh the shortcomings? And is it always so easy to figure out just who is an employee and who is an independent contractor? We’ll discuss this in Lesson Five.

High Court Split Over Case on Judicial Ethics

Lesson 4 Recap:

Thank you for attending our fourth lesson of You Be The Judge II. Here’s a quick recap of the session:

Going Beyond the Letter of the Law

Our lesson began with a discussion of the ethical and the legal. In general, a judge’s role is mainly to determine guilt and enforce legal principles. The Jewish system, on the other hand, sees a judge as a mentor as well, and the Talmud discusses the importance of acting beyond the letter of the law. In addition, a Biblical verse instructs a person to “do that which is right and good in the eyes of G-d (Deuteronomy 6:18).” Thus, in the Jewish tradition, ethics and law are deeply connected.

In this lesson, we discussed a particular instance in which sages legislated compliance with higher legal standards which is referred to as bar metsra. When a landowner is selling a plot of land, he has the moral obligation to offer it first to neighboring landowners. The Talmud reasons that a potential buyer could easily purchase a different lot at a similar price. However a neighbor might have a vested interest in owning the adjoining lot, since it is burdensome owning and caring for scattered properties. Thus, decency dictates that the neighbor be given the opportunity to meet the purchase price of the lot. A buyer who neglects to provide a neighbor this right can be taken to a rabbinic courts and penalized.

Cases Involving the Right of First Refusal

After studying the Talmudic passage about bar metsra, we discussed a similar case in American law in which purchasers bought a property while neglecting to get a waiver from a neighbor with first refusal rights. In that case, because four years had passed since the purchase of the property and because the neighbors with the rights of first refusal had already verbally indicated that they did not intend to purchase the property, the new owners were allowed to keep the house.

We also reviewed a case brought before a Jewish court and the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Sofer. This quandary focused on a house seized from Moshe by secular courts because of outstanding debts and awarded to Yehudah, who was first in line to collect. Yehudah felt compassion for the elderly Moshe, though, and allowed him to remain in the house free of charge. Moshe’s neighbor Dan argued that Yehudah had no rights to the property and that he wished to exercised his rights as the bar metsra and evict Moshe in order to claim the house for himself. The rabbi pointed out that whole principle of bar metsra is not based on neighborly rights, but rather the dictum to do, “that which is right and good.” Rabbis are often forced to competing priorities and differing perspectives. In accordance with this principle and judging the particulars of the situation, he ruled against such an eviction.

Bar Metsra: A Mystical View

In previous lessons, we discussed the mystical truth of a person’s connection to the divine sparks embedded in his or her possessions. Everything in the world occurs by hashgacha pratis, Divine Providence. Thus, when the divine sparks connected to two people are found in close proximity to one another, it means that the sparks are related to one another as well as to their respective owners.

Our lesson concluded with a story from the Talmud in which the angels protested G-d giving the Torah to the Jewish Nation. They claimed that according to the principle of bar metsra, the Heavens were physically closer to G-d, and they should thus be first in line to receive such a treasure. The Alshich commented that the angels were only interested in the spiritual dimensions of the Torah and not its physical components, since they had no connection to physical life. Moshe responded with two nuances of the bar metsra principle: first of all, since it is a great inconvenience for a seller to divine his property and sell it in different parts, a neighbor cannot put forth this principle to claim just one portion of the property. Second, if two buyers wish to acquire the same property, one for housing and the other for farming, the former takes precedence. Since the purpose of the Torah is to build a “dwelling place” in the world for G-d, and since this is done through the physical mitzvot, the Jewish People’s claim to the Torah outweighs that of the angels.

Thank you again for joining, and I very much look forward to seeing you next week for lesson three.