Why was Moses so Mean to the Egyptian People?


This year leading up the Passover, my daughter asked me “why was Moses so mean to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people?”

She had been learning the story of Passover, and came up with this question on her own. We asked her teachers, and they said that the plagues were barely discussed in class – mostly just the frogs. This was her own revelation.

I can only speak for myself, but after having been a very active participant in my family Seder for the last 15+ years, I must admit that I almost always took the plagues for granted. Not that if I stopped to think about it I wouldn’t be troubled by the suffering of an entire population, but most of the time I simply didn’t think about it. It took the fresh un-jaded perspective of an innocent four-year-old to call out the suffering that goes unrecognized.

So how to answer her question? Of course not all of the Egyptians were evil. In fact, I have to believe that there were Egyptians who were good and righteous people. Pharaoh’s daughter knew that she was saving a Jewish baby’s life as she lifted Moses out of the water, and she defied her father’s decree to do the right thing. It can’t be that all Egyptians personally deserved this punishment.

This question has been percolating in my head over the last couple of weeks, and there’s only one explanation I can really get behind. The status quo of the Jewish people being enslaved by Egypt at that time was so bad and twisted and cemented in place like the mortar of the bricks we commemorate with charoset, that the only way to break through was with a catastrophic jolt of unprecedented proportions. God decided that only such an extreme, violent, and vicious series of plagues could change the course of history.

AJWS published a supplementary reading for the recounting plagues during the Seder that parallels them with modern day suffering that can be found throughout the world. Looking at this list you begin to appreciate that the system remains broken. The seismic shifts that freed the Israelites were not strong enough to prevent the suffering of hundreds of millions throughout the millennia until today. In each and every generation major reforms and collaborative efforts are required to combat the global problems of the day such as violence against women and girls, hunger and poverty, the spread of preventable disease, and the suffering of children caught up in wars of attrition.

Just like it took my innocent daughter’s question to get me to think differently about the 10 plagues, so too do we all need a fresh perspective on the world. We have to stop skimming past the shocking news stories of human rights abuses that come to us from Syria, Central Africa, South America, and other parts of the world. The first step is to make sure we recognize that these problems even exist.

Can we do anything about them? Can one person make a difference? I have to believe so, and the story of Passover drives that message home. My daughter didn’t ask why God was mean to the Egyptians; she asked why Moses was mean to the Egyptian people. When God determined that 10 rounds of suffering would be required to change everything, one man was tasked with putting that plan into action – a single person sent to change the world.

With Passover in the rearview mirror, I set my sights forward to changes that I can affect in this world. Right now that means preparing for day of lobbying in Washington, DC to help get the International Violence Against Women Act passed in the 2015 congressional session.

How are you going to look at the world differently after this Passover? What change are you going to assume responsibility for bringing about in this world?

Why Charity Water?

Dahlia has been working hard at her goal of raising $5000 for charity: water, but she is a little concerned that we’ve strayed from the message too much in an effort to take advantage of her cuteness. (This email will contain no blatant cuteness, but you can click here if you really need some now.) Her birthday is just over 2 weeks away (January 13, 2012), and she wants to make sure people get in their charitable donations before the end of 2011. 
Dahlia has asked us to compose a message that clearly explains what this campaign is all about, and why she cares so much about water: 
1. Why do a fundraiser? Is she not getting presents?
Fear not! Dahlia will be getting presents for her first birthday. Mom and Dad, grandparents and other friends/family will still be getting her some birthday gifts. This 1 year old will not be deprived of material showering on January 13th. We decided, however, that since 1 year olds don’t really know what’s going on, and can’t appreciate the difference between 5 presents and 15 presents, that dedicating this birthday to a charity could have meaning in Dahlia’s life for many more years to come than something from BabiesRUs.
2. What support Water?  
It’s hard for a 1 year old to choose their favorite charity – there are so many options! What sealed the deal for Dahlia was her love of bath time and trips to the pool. This kid just loves water! If she’s ever in a bad mood or under the weather, just plop her in the tub and she’s splashing and squealing like a happy little piglet (sorry Dahlia, but it’s true!)
3. Why charity: water?
Now this is a good question. There are a lot of organizations that focus on water, but something stood out about this non-profit. First of all, 100% of the money we raise will be spent on water projects in the developing world. Charity: water’s overhead is paid for my corporate sponsors, so we’re not paying for some NYC fundraiser’s salary. ALSO, the $5000 we will hopefully raise is going to pay for an entire water project for a school, village or hospital. It’s a tangible difference that this money is going to make, and Dahlia will get a report afterwards with the GPS location of her Water Project. If you want a taste of what charity: water does so well, check out some of their videos
4. Are you just going to ask me for money again next year?
Probably not. We would like to make a positive impact on the world every year (and not only around birthdays), but that can’t simply mean asking our friends and family to make donations. There are other ways to make the world a better place (volunteering, promoting awareness, advocacy) that don’t rely on hitting up loved-ones for cash. So while we’re not going to promise this is the last fundraiser that will ever come from the Steinbergs, don’t worry that this is going to be an annual campaign you need to worry about each year.
5. Thank You 
We truly appreciate every single donation that has been made, and realize that it is no simple act to part with hard-earned money. We also appreciate everyone who has shared this campaign with other people through email, tweets and facebook posts. It’s been so nice to receive donations from people we did not send emails to! And thank you to everyone who has sent us encouraging messages about enjoying this campaign. It’s been both fun and meaningful for us, and we hope it’s a bit of both for all of you as well. 
We hope this explains clearly what Dahlia’s Birthday Campaign is all about, and if you would like to make a donation, please click on the link below:
*A note about ANONYMOUS donations: Just keep in mind that if you made your donation anonymously, your name will not be shared with the Steinbergs. We will have no idea that you gave, and will not know to send you a thank you when this is over. So if you choose to leave your name off of the website, please send us a note so we can know that you made a gift. 

Censorship of a Yeshiva University Student Paper


An article was recently published on the YUbeacon website, and then taken down at the request of the Yeshiva University Administration. This is no big surprise, which is why I made sure to copy the article before it was removed.

I don’t think it’s an amazing article, nor do I think what the anonymous author wrote is altogether shocking, but there’s no excuse for censorship of the student paper for something of this nature.

You can read the article for yourself below:

How Do I Even Begin To Explain This
Posted on 05 December 2011.
Written by: Anonymous

I leave the melave malka with my new Longchamp bag slung over my shoulder as I walk down the busy streets of Midtown Manhattan. Looking into the eyes of the New Yorkers on the streets, I suppress a sly smile.

In a city of over 1 million people I don’t stand out at all. I look the same as any twenty-year-old woman as I check into the hotel and take the elevator up to the third floor.

Opening up my large purse and pulling out my things for the night, I can’t look at my reflection in the mirror on the nightstand. I’m not ready for that yet. Peeling off my Stern-girl exterior I slip on my lace and spray my newly-liberated skin with a noticeable amount of floral perfume.

Smiling to myself as I smooth down my freshly-ironed hair, I hear my Blackberry ping as I reach for it with my free hand. It’s him.

“Should I pick up some drinks?”

“Why not? Sure.”

I put my phone on the nightstand and crouch down to perfect my glossy pout when that familiar bell chimes again.

“I don’t understand why these bottles say they’re different sizes. They all look the same.”

I chuckle to myself. My phone rings in my hand.

After a short and frivolous conversation on the levels of eventual intoxication produced by different amounts of beer, his phone dies. I go back to glossing my lips and curling my eyelashes.

Adjusting the clasp on my Hadaya necklace, I finally take in my whole reflection in the bathroom mirror. My transformation from Occasionally-Cute-Modern-Orthodox-Girl into Sexually-Appealing-Secular-Woman: complete. I had managed to startle myself so much that I rush to cover myself in my peacoat. My hand won’t stop twitching at my side while I sit impatiently on the bed. “How long does it take a person to walk?” I think aloud.

A minute later there’s a key turning the lock in the front door. Breathing deeply in an attempt to regain my composure, I stand up and open the door with a coy grin. He says “hey” as he walks in with a bare head. After all of our secret rendezvouses, I’m still not used to seeing him without his yarmulke on, but this time it’s somewhat of a comfort.

My partner in crime improvises with the room key as a bottle opener and we gorge ourselves on Stella Artois and cable television. In between swigs, I glance over at him; my cheeks are flushed and my head feels lighter with every drop. Making him think I’m farther gone than I actually am helps me shut off my conscience when I kiss him hard on the mouth. That little pest of a conscience is screaming again when he starts taking off my dress, so I shut her up with a last gulp of beer.

As soon as my bra hits the floor, the voice is gone.

Between the fumbling, the pain, the pleasure, I convince myself that I’ve learned how to make love.

Cuddling with him that night, I tell him how much he means to me, but I know I can’t tell him I love him. He removes his arm from around me and turns away. I bite down hard on my lip but my emotions betray me and I let out a whimper.

I get dressed the next day and hail him a cab before I walk back to the university cafeteria. Wanting nothing more than to sink into the earth with a lifetime subscription to The New Yorker and an endless supply of blueberry smoothies, I drag my feet as I walk.

I call up my cousin who lives in the east Village with her stockbroker boyfriend. She’s touching up her manicure while we talk.

“I made a stupid mistake.”

“What did you do?”

My silence is enough of an answer.

“Well, now you have to learn from it.”

Not wanting to hear such rational words, I mutter something and hang up.

The only thing I learn is how to do the walk of shame the day after.

An Anti-Social Orthodox Jewry


This week, the RCA, OU, NCYI, Agudah, and a few other organizations claiming to represent North American Orthodox Jews issued a short statement on Same Sex Marriage:

On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear: We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family. The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, we believe the institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children. It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society. Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate. The integrity of marriage in its traditional form must be preserved.


Of all the things I disagree with this statement on, one line stands out as particularly egregious: “It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society.” Really? The Rabbis aren’t trying to impose Jewish values on a secular society – they are simply concerned for the perpetuity of that secular society.

Is anyone else puzzled by a group of Orthodox Rabbis making suggestions for what would help maintain a healthy American secular society?

Halacha was designed to keep Jews separate from the larger society. There are numerous laws developed over the ages to prevent Jews from intermingling with non-Jews. We have to eat special food, participate in communal prayers multiple times each day, and separate ourselves for Shabbat and holidays. It goes so far that if a non-Jew (even a heterosexual one!) pours a a glass of kosher non-mevushal wine, we cannot drink it! Many wear special clothing, live in clustered neighborhoods, and send our children to exclusive schools.

If there is anything that is antithetical to American society, it should be Orthodox Judaism.

But of course that’s not true. America is a country where people are respected regardless of their differences. A country where we tolerate people who look different, act different, believe differently and were born different. Diversity is what makes this country so amazing, and what strengthens our social fabric.

If these six organizations want to oppose Same-Sex Marriage, they have that right. But they should not hide behind a false excuse. Admit that the motivation is religious, and be prepared for the repercussions of pushing a religious agenda in a secular arena.

And for the record, if these organizations cared about “the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children,” then maybe they would be advocating for the tens of thousands of orphaned children waiting for adoption in states that deny gays and lesbians (both single and coupled) from adopting. Florida alone has 19,000 kids in their foster system, but does not allow gay couples or singles to adopt.

Can someone explain to those children in Florida foster homes that the OU is looking out for their best interests by denying homosexuals equal rights?

Parashat Tazriah: Publicizing a Sin


R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch succinctly described Tzara’at as a physical manifestation of a spiritual affliction. Whether it affected the home, clothing or body, it was a clear and visual sign that a spiritual cleansing was required – a sin, or sins, had been committed. Sometimes the affliction could be cured quickly, and sometimes the afflicted person would be required to live outside the camp for a certain period of time to become pure again.

But what seems a little fishy is that God would create a system reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Why create a marker that allows the whole neighborhood to know that someone has sinned? We have an obligation a rebuke a sinner, but not to publicize the sins! Couldn’t a system be devised that would be very clear and obvious to the offender, but not result in full-disclosure to other people? Why are we adding potential embarrassment of the sinner to an already bad situation?

To better understand why, we can look in the Gemara in Masechet Arachin that outlines seven different sins that could be the cause for Tzara’at: Lashon Hara, Murder, Swearing Falsely, Illicit Relations, Pride, Theft and Miserliness. The common denominator among all of these is an abuse or neglect of our obligations to one another as human beings.

A person’s Kavod and privacy is taken into consideration for most mitzvoth between a person and God, but when it comes to someone who has mistreated their fellow human being, it must be stopped swiftly and effectively. Even if this might result in the embarrassment of the offender, the Tzara’at is in place to stop the offense and set the sinner on the path to Teshuvah. The risk is too great that others in the community will fall victim to the offender’s hurtful ways.

As we read through this parashah full of elaborate descriptions for dealing with Tzara’at, let’s think about why so much attention is devoted to this one halacha, and take the extra time to be considerate to one another’s feelings and sensitivities.

This Dvar Torah was written for the Mt Sinai Jewish Center Kesher Newsletter.

La’asot N’Kama (To Exact Revenge)


In the last few weeks I’ve heard the word נקמה (revenge) mentioned in regards to the horrific massacre in Itamar, the bombing in Jerusalem, and the rocket attacks in the South. We hear it mentioned every time there’s a terrorist attack, and it’s the reason why some people refer to the situation in Israel as a Cycle of Violence. There’s even a song played at some Jewish Weddings (horrifyingly almost at ours) that glorifies the idea of נקמה.

If you can tell from having read anything else on this blog, or my tweets, I am not a big fan of Revenge. While it may feel good in the short run, it’s rarely perpetrated against the original offender, it leads to more bloodshed, and doesn’t heal the original wound. It embroils people in deeper conflicts, and creates an even greater stumbling block for peace.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised earlier tonight to see a mention of נקמה that I could jive with. It was written by the Rambam in his Mishneh Torah, and I ran across it during my daily study of a Perek from Mishneh Torah (part of a Mt Sinai Education Committee initiative). Here is the text:

.הנקמה שאין נקמה גדולה ממנה שתכרת הנפש ולא תזכה לאותן החיים

“The word revenge that can be exacted is the cutting off of the soul, and the denial of eternal life in the next world.”

(Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, 8:5)

The Rambam had just described the most wonderful perception of the afterworld, and he explains that the worst thing that could happen to you is that you are denied access to this “House of God” after death.

When we read in the news about concerns about “Price Tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to the Itamar murders, it’s disturbing and horrific in its own right. There is no excuse to attack someone because you suspect they live in the same town as a person who attacked you.

We need to work together as best as possible to work towards peace in all situations, and especially with the Palestinian people. While the IDF and PA should continue to hunt down the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks, the rest of Israel and the world can rest assured that Justice will surely be had in the world to come.

The focus of the people of Itamar, Israel, Palestine and the world should be Peace.

More Cracking, Less Packing


I couldn’t resist writing a new post on this historic day. In the past week we have seen a lame-duck congress pass a couple of really significant bills:

  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – REPEALED!
  • 9/11 First Responders Health Care Bill – PASSED!
  • Tax Cuts for Everyone – umm…
  • START Arms Control treaty with Russia – Passed

Many people are applauding and marveling at the amazing progress made by Congress, but are our expectations simple too low? DADT should have clearly been repealed years ago, the First Responder’s bill should never have been held hostage by Republicans who were too focused on taxes, and we almost missed out on a no-brainer nuclear treaty with Russia!

And all of this is before we get the most radicalized new members of congress this country has ever seen!

Which brings us to the other big political news this week. The US Census has released the data that indicates how many congressional seats will be awarded to each state. With the new numbers of seats comes the redrawing of district lines, and that could be the secret to fixing a lot of what’s wrong with Congress today.

Too Much Packing

When politicians are tasked with redrawing district lines, they are essentially deciding which voters will be clustered together to choose a single candidate. For too long, the prevailing strategy has been what analysts are now calling “Packing.” This describes the drawing of a district to contain an overwhelming majority of one party’s supporters in order to all but guarantee victory for that party. This helps party leaders feel confident about the outcome in their elections, but it also has a very negative an insidious outcome.

Let’s explore a district that was packed by Democratic state leaders to be an overwhelmingly Democratic district. During the primary process, the electorate knows that the Republican candidates don’t have a chance. Because of this, Democratic candidates are not concerned with being moderate or appealing to non-Democrats. They are simply concerned with getting as many Democratic voters to support them. This often leads to candidates focusing on the extremists in their parties, and losing their perspective of what compromise and governance is all about.

When so many districts across this country are packed in this way, we find extremists populating Congress, and we see a serious decrease in willingness to “reach across the aisle.” There is less compromise and less cooperation. Congress can accomplish less, and the American people ultimately suffer.

What needs to happen is a little more Cracking.

The alternative strategy for redrawing district lines is called Cracking. This calls for the breaking down of packed districts, and the creation of districts that could easily by won by both Democrats and Republicans. In situations like this, the politicians are forced during the general election to get independent voters to swing in their direction. They are much more concerned with being considered moderate, and there is a sincere desire to govern towards the middle of the American populace.

Not enough State Governments are employing Cracking as their chief strategy for redrawing district lines, and the reasons are obvious. These decisions are being made by politicians! And if they want to stay in power, they must ensure their party will win more elections.

The silver bullet to solve this problem is independent commissions established to redraw district lines. I believe California is trying this, and it could work a long way towards bringing politics back towards the center.

This country has such low expectations for congress that we are amazed when the 9/11 bill passes – clearly something is wrong. We need to work towards punishing extremism, rewarding moderation, and stop allowing politicians to choose who gets to vote for them.