We just kicked off the new Jewish year of 5781 on Rosh Hashanah this week, so here are a couple of downloadable free graphics to get you inspired & motivated for the new year!
There's meaning in everything, but we often struggle to understand the message.
One major help in understanding God's messages is Perek Shirah — Chapter of Song, which features prominently in Finding My Father's Song.
(Here's a downloadable PDF of the entire song: Perek Shirah in English.)
Perek Shirah is an ancient collection of over eighty verses put together by King David, whose most famous book is the Book of Psalms.
But after King David finished writing the Book of Psalms, Perek Shirah came to him as a type of even higher revelation.
Each part of Creation has its own song, and this is what was revealed to King David.
Perek Shirah was first mentioned in written Jewish texts around two thousand years ago (although knowledge of Perek Shirah could exist long before its textual mention, especially since much of Jewish scholarship was passed down orally, in addition to the wealth of written scholarship lost or destroyed throughout the ages).
The most respected Jewish sages throughout history praised the power of Perek Shirah to save a person’s soul, both in this world and in the Afterlife.
Perek Shirah isn't widely known outside the ultra-Orthodox community, where it is popular due to its powerful spiritual attributes.
Yet several stories exist of how Perek Shirah helped people understand the message hidden in a distressing event.
For example, Sara Yoheved Rigler writes about how the Song of the Rat helped her & her husband understand what the giant rat in their home needed to tell them:
My Rat's Tale
Another couple realized that the invasion of scorpions into their new apartment hinted at their unintentional callousness in leaving a homeless man with whom they'd been sharing their meals. Upon contacting him to inform him of their new location (accompanied by a sincere offer to continue hosting him for meals), the scorpion infestation disappeared.
(The Song of the Scorpion within Perek Shirah is Psalm 145:9: "God is good to all and His Compassion is upon all His creatures." Thus, the couple realized their unintentional abandonment of the homeless man lacked compassion.)
It's not always clear to exactly what creature Perek Shirah refers. For example, the smameet mentioned toward the end of Perek Shirah could either be a small lizard or a spider. (And therefore, you can feel free to apply the message of the smameet to both the spiders you encounter, and the cute little gecko lizards.)
Furthermore, the meaning of the song isn't always as apparent as it was in the above instances.
But it's still worth taking a look to see whether the song of a particular creature or phenomenon holds a special message for you.
Of course, sometimes the reason for the event is something else entirely, something far less obvious & far more esoteric.
Judaism very much embraces paradox and isn't about a "bibbity-bobbity-boo!" approach to tackling life's challenges.
But it's still worth seeking out the message.
You never know what you'll find.
Free Inspirational Posters for Free Download: A Millennia-Old Short Jewish Prayer to Start Your Morning in the Best Way Possible
At the end of this post, you'll find graphics to download for free.
(If you use them online, I'd be grateful for attribution & a link back to this site, but since I'm offering these for free, so you don't have to link or attribute.)
You can also print them out as posters.
Upon waking up in the morning, a Jew is supposed to thank God for returning one's soul to the body.
There is an idea in Judaism that sleep is 1/60th of death.
The human soul comprises different aspects & levels (which is why Judaism has several different names for the soul — to describe its different aspects & levels).
When one goes to sleep at night, part of the soul rises to another plane and tells of its deeds that day. (Yes, part of this process can be expressed in a metaphorical dream.) It is judged and usually given yet another chance for a better tomorrow.
The soul then descends back into the body and then at some point, the person wakes up.
So for millennia, Jews have said the following short prayer immediately upon waking:
Thankful am I before You, Living & Enduring King, that you returned within me my soul with mercy — Great is Your Faithfulness!
Modeh (or Modah for a female) ani lifanecha Melech Chai v'Kayam sheh hechazarta bi nishmati b'chemlah — rabbah emunatecha!
In Hebrew, the guttural throat-clearing sound is often represented by "ch." There is no native "ch" (like the English "ch" of "cheese") in Hebrew, so whenever you see a Hebrew word written with "ch," please know that it represents the guttural throat-clearing sound.
For the images, there are 3 options:
Of course, you can also feel free to download all three graphics.
Hover your mouse-arrow over your chosen image, then press right-click on your mouse, then choose the option that best suits you.
I love pie.
But many times, piecrust — even of the pies sold in cafes and restaurants — resembles a tasteless cardboard wafer.
Yet a good pie just isn't the same without a really good piecrust.
Over the years, I've experimented with different tips for handmade piecrust.
Here's my disclaimer: I think the best way to make any piecrust is to just dump the ingredients into your food processor, then keep pressing "Pulse" until your pie dough achieves that mealy bunch-of-peas look.
The "pulsed" piecrust turns out well with very little effort on your part.
But my food processor broke down a couple of years ago and we never managed to invest in a new one. So for us, it's either handmade piecrust or nothing.
And it seems like now, for people in quarantine who are looking for something practical and rewarding to do with ingredients they (hopefully) have on hand, improving piecrust-making skills might be a gratifying activity.
Note: The following does not include an actual recipe, just tips for how to use the recipe of your choice. Why? Because I've never found a piecrust recipe that works consistently every time. I find that I always need to adjust the amounts, depending on the level of humidity in the kitchen, type of flour used, etc.
Tips for Piecrust Techniques
Interestingly, the process of rubbing the fat and dough between your fingers lends a good effect to the dough (can't remember the exact chemistry of it all, but it's definitely a helpful process).
It's hard to explain the folding in words, but after you roll out your dough into a circle or square shape (uneven is fine), you start folding like how an envelope is created:
Some like to keep it in a ball for the refrigeration time, then roll it out and place it in the pan.
I found that shaping it in the pan before refrigerating is both easier & more efficient.
Tips for Ingredients
I made a mistake with this vodka tip.
The first time, I used half vodka and half water.
But the second time, I thought to try all vodka, no water.
So I sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of vodka instead of 2 tablespoons of water, but the dough didn't come together.
So I added a third tablespoon, and it still didn't come together.
Finally, I realized that I needed regular liquid instead of alcohol, so I added a tablespoon of ice water. Then the dough was almost too wet, but still workable.
I also regretted my focus on vodka because with 3 tablespoons in only a little more than a cup of flour, the piecrust would probably not taste good.
Anyway, I needed to bake the piecrust before filling it, which called for baking it at a very high heat for 8-10 minutes.
When the piecrust was almost ready, something forced my oven door open with the sound of WHOOSH! and I saw a glow of blue-yellow fire flash out for a split second, then disappear.
I quickly turned off the oven and closed the oven door, racking my brains to figure out what just happened and how I was supposed to make challah if my oven was emitting fire?
Was old baking paper stuck in there? Or oil?
Finally, I realized that the vodka probably emitted alcohol fumes, which probably caught on fire, forcing open the oven and shooting out that burst of fire (which, with the predominant blue color, is what flaming alcohol looks like).
I was also grateful to God for taking care of the vodka-taste by burning the alcohol out of the pie without burning the pie or anything else.
That just goes to show how important it is to say the time-honored phrase l'khvod Shabbat (for the honor of the Sabbath) when cooking & baking for Shabbat — God really helps you make the food turn out well for that holy day!
(The oven continues to work fine, by the way.)
And the piecrust had no alcohol taste.
You can use whatever piecrust recipe you have on hand, and apply the above tips for a piecrust worth eating.
Wishing you bracha v'hatzlacha (blessing & success)!
Doing Laundry with Vinegar, Baking Soda, Citric Acid, and Salt instead of Regular Laundry Detergents & Fabric Softeners: Different Methods & Their Results
With all the information about the unhealthy aspects (hormone disruption, respiratory issues, allergies, etc.) of standard laundry detergents & fabric softeners, I decided to start using more natural ingredients for washing clothes, towels, and bed linens.
I've never seen borax (a highly recommended natural cleaner) or ammonia here in Israel (which either means they aren't available in the areas I've visited or else they're sold under a completely different name in Hebrew), so I use the following products instead (the ch in Hebrew-English transliteration represents a guttural sound not found in English):
The above are found in every grocery store in Israel.
Note: If you're totally new to any of this (as I once was), please be careful to not use anything but the clear vinegar because the coloring in other vinegars can stain your clothes (although I've successfully used the synthetic colored vinegar with dark laundry. But I wouldn't try it with white or pastel laundry.)
BTW: I never saw citric acid in America (except for in ingredients lists), so I was surprised to see it in the spice section of every Israeli grocery store, and initially wondered what it was for. Israelis use it to get rid of the hard water build-up in kettles and urns. There is also an Iraqi soup that calls for lots of lemons, but people use citric acid instead.
Yeah, the water in Israel is what's called "hard" water (I never knew there were different kinds of water like this—i.e., hard vs. soft—until I came to Israel), which basically means that white or gray limescale deposits build up pretty fast in your kettle, urn, faucets, sinks, and washing machine.
(White vinegar & powdered citric acid each help get rid of those deposits.)
Note: All the following applies to a side-loading washing machine using hard water, and then putting the wet laundry through a dryer.
(An added benefit of using the above products is that, when they clean your clothes, they also clean out the hard-water limescale from your washing machine and plumbing.)
Dark & Colored Laundry
What I use:
What I used:
Note: My brief research showed that citric acid might fade colors, so I only use it with white laundry.
A One-Time Experiment Using Salt Only
What I used:
Only once did I use coarse sea salt alone: to clean a load of very dirty cleaning rags.
So based on this, I would not generally use salt on its own as a laundry detergent.
What I Continue to Use
Here are my conclusions:
Reminder: All this laundry was done using a side-loading machine & hard water, not the soft water more common in the USA. That could make a difference in the results.
I hope you found this helpful.
After an unexpectedly long hiatus, I've decided to get back to blogging on this website.
Thank God, I've been blessed with a full family life & ongoing writing projects.
So I never intended to put off posting here for so long. It was one of those things for which I always meant to make the time, but just didn't.
Sometimes, I thought of ideas for a post that didn't seem to fit here. Other times, I just didn't push myself to flesh out the suitable idea simmering in my mind for months.
Still, I'm not yet sure how often a post will appear here. But my intention is to post at least more than I have until now (as opposed to letting over a year go by with no sign of life)!
For those who kept checking in throughout the down-time, you have my appreciation and gratitude.
And for those checking out this blog out for the first time—welcome & thank you!
Right now, I'm working on creating real blog posts (and not just announcements of a new book launch).
In the meantime, please enjoy the motivational poster below, which you can download & use for free, no attribution necessary.
(To download: Hold your mouse over the image, then right-click your mouse. From the menu box that appears, click "Save" or "Save as," then follow your preference to save it to your device.)
(The background image is courtesy of photographer Mohamed Hassan.)
I'm glad and grateful to announce the publication of Finding My Father's Song: A Novella of Loss, Loneliness, Love, and Hope in paperback.
Right now, it's available on Amazon, but there is an automatic process that should put it up for sale on Book Depository in a few weeks.
To download free sample chapters of the book:
Free download of First 3 Chapters PDF
Free download of First 3 Chapters MOBI (Kindle)
Free download of First 3 Chapters EPUB
To buy the paperback on Amazon, please click image:
And seeing as we've just passed Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I'd like to wish everyone a sweet, wonderful year for 5779!
In a previous post (How Limits & Boundaries Produce Real Creativity), we discussed how limitations and boundaries enhance creativity and genius, rather than dull them.
In fact, in yet another post, we saw the way a brilliant marketer used his unusual and complex name to his advantage, showcasing what a good marketer he really is.
Had he just decided that since he can change his name to any other name, that he should find a more conventional and pronounceable name (or just break the boundary on names and choose something simply to be different or offensive), he wouldn't have been able to come up with as nearly an effective and appealing ad.
Working within the limitation enhanced his creativity and cleverness.
The Best Art
Likewise, the best art works within structure.
Let's look at the field of writing.
Publishers of mysteries often say things like, "I would love to see a really good locked-room mystery!"
(A locked-room mystery is when a body is found in a locked room with no window and therefore, no apparent exit for the perpetrator.)
This is one of the hardest mysteries to write. Therefore, anyone who can write it well shows greater genius than one who writes a, say, a whodunit that takes place in an open park in a crime-ridden neighborhood at night.
In the field of music, the works considered genius are those of classical composers, such as Bach and Mozart, who composed their works according to certain rhythms and structures.
In the world of religious Judaism, a popular form of art includes Hebrew verses or even entire books incorporated into a painting on that theme.
Why do we admire art which incorporates verses of Psalms into a thematic painting?
Because doing so demands such skill and innovation.
The Innovative Beauty of Prohibitions
Millennia of Jewish scholarship has emphasized the importance of limitations, from limiting our speech to expressing gratitude for the limits God set on the oceans at the seashores.
Yet the idea of being limited often leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the modern millennial; limits are often seen as confining, strangling, suffocating, strait-jacketing, and so on.
Yet our Sages tell us that limiting our speech can merit us a light so great that even the greatest angels cannot perceive it. And without limits on our oceans, our world would be flooded and mostly uninhabitable.
"Restraint" seems like a quaint idea or else something necessary in only very extreme situations. Yet it is also arguably the best translation of the word gevurah, a highly prized quality in Judaism (often translated as "strength" or "might"). Gevurah is also one of the Kabbalistic Sefiras.
While some see Judaism as a list of prohibitions, many religious Jews discovered enhanced spiritual growth by asking themselves, "How can I do this within the parameters of Jewish Law?" Or, "What can I do instead?"
Finally, it's possible to expand this idea of limitations from art to expression of the human soul by examining the following idea:
Who is the greater person?
It is limitation which allow our soul's potential to truly shine.
A couple of years after I'd left my secular assimilated lifestyle for an Orthodox Jewish life, I met a woman who'd once been immersed in her life as an artist.
She'd painted and sculpted whatever she felt compelled to create, clothed herself as her spirit moved her, and hung out in Greenwich Village.
There were no boundaries or limitations on how she could express herself.
"Wasn't it difficult to channel your art in a religious way?" I asked her. "I mean, after you were used to painting and sculpting whatever you wanted, wasn't it difficult to limit yourself after you entered the more structured and limiting world of Orthodox Judaism?"
Nodding to herself, her brow wrinkled in thought before she said, "I wouldn't say 'difficult'...."
She paused again, searching for the right words until she finally said, "Yes, it's true that I can't create whatever I want—although in a way I can, because my soul expresses different and better aspects now—but my art became better." She pursed her lips, thinking over what she was saying, then she nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I feel that Orthodox Judaism actually improves your art."
"Really?" I said. After having read books by people who felt confined by Orthodox Judaism, it was startling to hear such a contrasting view. "Having your art conform to Orthodox standards actually improves your art?"
"Yes," she said. "Because without limitations, there is no real creativity."
Now, that really stumped me.
In so many different ways, the secular world always insists that creativity demands total uninhibited freedom.
And throughout my life, I kept seeing that the definition of good art in any field was always how much it pushed past the current boundaries—whether the end product was actually any good or not.
For example, the highly lauded field of "experimental art" or "experimental music" is often merely something that hasn't been done yet.
And at this point, what is left to do is often ugly, disturbing, and in bad taste.
Noting my perplexity, she explained, "If you can just do anything you want, then what's the challenge in that? How can you be truly creative and how can you even begin the cultivation of artistic genius if you just do 'whatever'?"
She told me to imagine a pipe channeling water toward a certain destination.
The very act of channeling the water causes the water to be limited in its direction and its form.
Yet that same "limited" water is much more productive and valuable than if it were just flooding around everywhere with no direction or purpose.
"When you can only create within certain limitations," she continued, "then that forces you to think outside the box and to stretch your mind in ways you never would have before. And doing that increases your creativity and makes your art even better."
Needless to say, she's right.
Many people complain about the formulaic structure of movies today. Many novels resemble each other too, just in different genres. The same characters pop up in different guises, all expressing the same ideas in different voices.
And then yet another boundary is crossed, which seems either exciting or distressing, depending which side of the boundary you stand on. But that eventually becomes copied ad naseam until the next boundary is violated.
Breaking boundaries isn't necessarily creativity.
It takes no innovation to say, "What are the taboos of society and how can I push past them?"
For example, if your society frowns on stealing, it takes no genius to identify that boundary or to break through it. You just go out and steal something.
Likewise, self-indulgent expression takes little creativity or genius. Your emotions merely lead you to chafe against a society that doesn't cater to your individual quirks or tastes. You chafe against it and then you rant against it with mind-numbing slogans and meaningless symbols. Maybe you even express your self-righteous ranting in a book or via some other art in a way that seems fresh at the time, but will seem shallow and melodramatic in another generation or two.
And despite all the hype and self-congratulations of those who indulge themselves this way, there's no real creativity there either.
The above applies to any creative endeavor, which is why we quip, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
Inventors create because something is missing.
Real innovators create because of the limits.
Genuine creativity and genius is born from limitation.
Thank you very much to all the readers who downloaded their free copy of Finding My Father's Song!
I really appreciate it and I hope that you'll get something from the story that stays with you.
But before you go, please take a look at the image below.
This guy needs to promote his business when he has a very unusual name that most people would look at and think, "How on earth...?"
Can you imagine asking for this guy on the phone?
But he uses the difficulty and uniqueness of his name as his hook and he does so in a very appealing manner. The whole presentation makes you feel comfortable about giving him a call, even if you would totally mash up the pronunciation or just go with skipping his last name altogether and referring to him as Benjamin...right?
Upfront, honest, committed, and approachable -- that's the branding here.
It demonstrates that he real does know how to what he says he does (marketing and sales consultation).
Anyway, I think it's a great example of how you can make custard and meringues from the eggs life throws at you.