Malkah Forbes, born in Upstate New York, studied Computer Science at SUNY Oswego (B.A.), where she met her future husband, Jason. Soon after, they moved to the Seattle area where her husband could pursue his career in software engineering. In tandem, Jason was studying to become a rabbi. After Jason received his smicha (rabbinic ordination) from the UMJC, both he and Malkah became leaders of their current congregation, Beit HaShofar Synagogue in Seattle, WA. Currently, Malkah is an active rebbetzin and not only teaches Hebrew, but helps to oversee and spearhead new synagogue programs. Her latest project includes Riverton Mussar, which she and her husband co-founded in 2010. She has been a frequent contributor of drashes for the UMJC website, served on the board of the UMJC National Sisterhood, Achot, and has been a speaker for various sessions at the UMJC International Conference.
When Malkah is not writing for Riverton Mussar, she can be found enjoying her three teenagers, her two delightful cats, working on her interior and garden redesign business, knitting, and sporting a serious game of Mah Jongg.
I can recall a time when I was teaching my children a history lesson. We had begun a study on Greece and encountered the topic of the origins of the marathon. For those of you not aware of its origins, here it is in a nutshell.
In the 5th century B.C., the Persians invaded Greece, landing at Marathon, a small hamlet about 26 miles from the city of Athens. The Athenian army was more than outnumbered by the Persian army; this forced Athenians to send messengers to cities all over Greece asking for help if they had any hope to survive. The traditional origin of the marathon comes from the story how a man named Phidippides ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory and died on the spot.
After one of my twin sons heard this story, he exclaimed with his usual dry wit, "Marathon? It should be called a death race." After we recovered from his comment, I realized he did actually touch on something. He was addressing diligence gone too far.
Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death. — Exodus 35:2
We see with our own eyes how often a person neglects his duty in spite of his awareness of it and in spite of his having come to recognize as a truth what is required for the salvation of his soul and what is incumbent upon him in respect to his Creator. This neglect is due not to an inadequate recognition of his duty nor to any other cause but the increasing weight of his laziness upon him; so that he says, "I will eat a little," or "I will sleep a little," or "It is hard for me to leave the house," or "I have taken off my shirt, how can I put it on again?" (Canticles 5:3). "It is very hot outside," "It is very cold," or "It is raining too hard" and all the other excuses and pretenses that the mouth of fools is full of. Either way, the Torah is neglected, Divine service dispensed with, and the Creator abandoned. — Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, Chapter 6, pages 38-40
One must be so stubborn so as to overcome all the impediments that stand in the way of making a decision." -- Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov, Cheshbon HaNefesh
Why is it that you see the speck in the eye of your brother, but the log that is in your eye, you do not notice? How can you tell your brother, “Permit me, and I will remove the speck from your eye,” and hinneh, the log is in your eye? Hypocrite, remove first the log from your eye, and afterward, you will surely see to remove the speck from the eye of your brother. --Matthew 7:3-5, DHE
Now we will discuss humility in relation to one's deeds. This [subject] has four parts to it: conducting oneself in a lowly manner; bearing disparagement; being averse to [positions of] authority and fleeing from honor; and respecting others. --Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, page 156
Once the shochet of Salant came to see R. Israel. He proposed giving up shechitah [slaughter], because the heavy responsibility involved in kosher slaughtering was too onerous for him to bear.
"What do you intend to take up?" R. Israel asked him.
"I shall go into business", the shochet answered, "and open a store."
R. Israel looked at him in surprise. "You are concerned about shechitah which involves only one negative commandment, the prohibition against carrion. How much more so should you worry about shopkeeping, in which many admonitions and prohibitions are involved: 'You shall not rob, you shall not covet, you shall not defraud, you shall not overcharge, you shall not deal falsely, you shall not lie, as well as the positive and negative commandments applying to weights and measures, to keep away from falsehood, etc., etc.'"
--From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 204 - 205
His attitude, always to bear in mind the good of the next person, made him adopt a more lenient attitude in all matters of permitted and forbidden things, based on the principle "the power to rule leniently is to be preferred." As has been stated, Rabbi Israel [Salanter] would punctiliously observe all stringencies and comply with all opinions. This applied where he himself alone was involved. Wherever others were concerned, he would always seek the ways and means to rule leniently. This accounts for his many well-known rulings in matters pertaining to health and danger to life,"danger to life being graver than ritual prohibitions."
From here stemmed his audacious granting of permission to perform acts otherwise forbidden on Shabbat and to eat on Yom Kippur during the outbreak of the cholera epidemic in Vilna. And from here stemmed his lenient ruling on his own conduct where others might thereby suffer hardship. Reliable sources indicate that one of the reasons for Rabbi Israel [Salanter] refusing to accept a rabbinical appointment was that he sided with the more lenient opinions in many halachot in opposition to the prevailing stricter rulings of the other authorities, and he was unwilling to stir up objections and arguments. --The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2 pages 253-54.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter took particular pains always to be on time for his lectures. Yet once it had become very late and he had still not made his appearance. Concerned, his students went outside to look for him. When they reached the bridge leading to the city, they noticed him standing deep in conversation with a young woman. They understood that he was occupied with some grave matter and withdrew.
When he finally entered the Yeshivah, R. Israel apologized for being so late, but explained that a matter of life and death had detained him. The students subsequently investigated and finally the details of the incident were pieced together: On his way to the Bet Midrash, he was about to cross the bridge when he suddenly noticed an excited woman rushing towards the river. He stood in her way, stopped her and asked her why she was running. She tried to pass by him and told him to leave her alone. R. Israel grasped her by the sleeve and repeated his request that she tell him what was the matter. Forced to remain where she was, she unfolded her tale of woe.
A short while ago her two children were taken ill, and had died a few days later. So overcome with grief was her husband that he had been unable to work for the past several weeks. They had been forced to hire someone else to drive their wagon, and in this way managed to subsist and cover the costs of the husband's illness. Suddenly the horse died. Their sole means of support was gone. In despair, she had decided to throw herself into the river.
R. Israel talked to her at length. Tenderly and softly he explained to her that God could easily make good her deficiencies. She was still young. A year from now she could bear another child, and so on. Her husband would recover and resume his occupation. As for the loss of the horse, he would send her the money for another the next day. Slowly the woman became pacified and regained her composure. She thanked R. Israel for the goodness of his heart and returned home. A year later R. Israel was invited to attend the Brit Milah of her newly born son.
– The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 247- 248.
Not only was Rabbi Israel [Salanter] opposed to the performance of the finer points of mitzvot at the expense of human beings, he held that one had no right even to perform the essentials of a mitzvah or even extricate himself from grievous sin if he thereby inflicted suffering on someone else.
A question was submitted to him: Someone had sinned in secret against a friend of his by speaking evil of him. Was it permissible for this person now to go to his friend and seek forgiveness? In so doing, however, he would have to disclose what he had said to the friend he had maligned.
Rabbi Israel [Salanter] ruled, that although the questioner would absolve himself from grievous guilt by seeking his friends forgiveness, he had no right to pursue his own good by hurting his friend - enhancing his righteousness at the expense of causing distress to someone else. This is the extent to which R. Israel took the feelings of others into account, how he engaged in complicated calculations so as to avoid giving any hurt or distress to others. -- The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2 pages 229 - 230
Praying alone on Saturday nights or at the end of fast days, Rabbi Israel [Salanter] would defer his tefillah (prayer) till an hour or more after dark. When praying with the congregation, however, he would hurry to start immediately and not wait a minute beyond the earliest permissible time, so as not to hold back the congregation
So, too, he would take very long to recite the tefillah when alone. When he prayed with a congregation that would wait for him to finish, however, he would be among the first, "so as not to burden the public." Even in the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Penitence, when he would observe special stringencies, he would only take a little longer than usual to recite the first three berachot of the Shemoneh Esreh, but hurry through the rest as was his custom, and so finish together with the congregation. --From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, pages 224 - 225.