middot truth rebbetzin malkah
rebbetzin malkah

rebbetzin malkah

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 SeattleWA.  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.

Friday, 25 February 2011 00:00

doctor's orders

art-takenumberVisitors entering his room in Halberstadt would find him [Rabbi Yisrael Salanter] with a German book open in front of him, performing physical exercises, following the instructions and diagrams with utmost precision as ordered by the doctor.

As has been previously related, he took up carpentry for a while, because the doctor had so ordered. To him, the commandment to preserve one's life was as binding as any other mitzvah, and doctor's orders important rules of halachah, on the same level as the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch with respect to forbidden and permitted foods, which had to be carried out to the letter.

Once he was seen gazing at the heavens at twilight. He was waiting for the exact moment when the stars would appear. Having apparently been ordered by his doctor to rest from his studies for three days, he obviously faithfully complied. As the third day was ending, however, he stood outside to mark the exact time when the restriction would end. "Just as it is forbidden to delay Torah study for a minute, because of the mitzvah," he explained, "so is it forbidden to begin one minute too early, because of the mitzvah of guarding one's health."  -- The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, page 192

Thursday, 10 February 2011 22:07

the finer points

art-matzahEven while living in Salant, it happened once that Rabbi Israel [Salanter] was unable to be present when his shemurah matzah was being baked. Knowing that he took the greatest pains to observe all the finer points involved in the baking of the matzah, his disciples had undertaken to supervise for him in his absence. They asked for his instructions. What should they be most careful to watch?

Rabbi Israel ordered them to be especially careful not to distress the woman kneading the dough in their zeal, since she was an unfortunate widow, and they would thereby transgress the prohibition, "You shall not oppress a widow..." "The kashrut of the matzah is not complete with the observance of all the embellishments of the laws of Pesach alone," he would say, "But with the observance of all the finer points of the Choshen Mishpat as well." --from The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2, pages 220 - 221

Saturday, 25 December 2010 21:32

cascading effect of indulgence

art-washingOnce Rabbi Israel [Salanter] and his friend Rabbi Mordecai Meltzer were walking through the narrow sidestreets of Vilna. They stopped and entered a synagogue to join in the minchah service. Rabbi Mordecai poured a copious stream of water over his hands while Rabbi Israel [Salanter] by contrast, merely moistened his, hardly using any water at all.

Astonished Rabbi Mordecai blurted out:"Do you not, sir, observe the custom of washing before praying?"

"Indeed, I do," replied Rabbi Israel [Salanter]. "But I see here that the synagogue is frequented by a limited number of worshippers. Visitors do not usually come here. The shamash certainly intended to provide just enough water for the regular worshippers. If we waste a large quantity, the deficiency will be felt by one of the congregants. He will upbraid the shamash and withhold the few pennies he normally gives. And so we will be guilty of denying the shamash his livelihood."

-- The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2, pages 219 - 220

Thursday, 23 December 2010 17:12

fences to live by

art-rockwallSomething there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."                     

--Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Thursday, 23 December 2010 16:31

are you sure?

art-castleIt is an amazing thing, my brother.  Any other foe, when you defeat him once or twice, will leave you alone and give up the idea of attacking you.  Aware of your superior strength, he loses hope of ever defeating and overpowering you. 

The evil inclination, however, will not leave you alone after one or even a hundred defeats, regardless of whether it defeats you or you defeat it.  For if it defeats you, it will utterly destroy you; and if you defeat it once, it will lie in wait for you all your life in order to subdue you, as our Masters of blessed memory, said: Do not be sure of yourself until the day of your death (Talmud, Avot 2:4).    — Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda, Duties of the Heart , V2, Chapter 5: "Wholehearted Devotion of All Acts"  

Thursday, 23 December 2010 15:51

walking the fence line

art-ironfenceThe Hebrew word for separation is p'rishut. P'rishut translates also as abstinence.

Fences exist in life for many reasons.  They are there to establish boundaries, whether it be for the purpose of property lines, construction zones, or to protect innocent people from certain harm. 

When we separate ourselves from things that are potentially harmful, we have a space in which we can reside safely and grow without threat.  While we may walk a fence line and think there is no good reason for the fence, the fenced area is merely a buffer for what lies beyond.  We must be certain that this separation is necessary and accept its purpose and authority in our lives.

This meditation can be used as a tool to focus your mind and soul on the fences in life that you have erected for soul-safety.

(Note:  For more information on meditative techniques, see the source Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.)

Take a seat upon either a carpeted or uncarpeted floor.  The goal is to find a firm seat in a quiet place.  First, take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing brings oxygen to your brain and helps clear the mind. Close your eyes. Continue breathing until you feel relaxed.

The focus of this meditation is to help you visualize the fences that are set up in your life and to embrace them as safety barriers to your soul.

Using a verse from Psalms 119:37 for meditation, choose whether you will say the Hebrew or the English. Repeat it in your mind until you are comfortable with it and can let it flow freely in your thoughts:

הַֽעֲבֵר עֵינַי מֵרְאוֹת שָׁוְא בִּדְרָכֶךָ חַיֵּֽנִי

(Ha'aver aynai meyr'ot shav bid'rachecha chai'yeyni)

Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity; and give me life in Your way.

—Psalms 119:37

Imagine as you repeat this verse, either aloud or in your mind, that you are walking along a fence line. This fence stretches out over the distance before you; though it meanders, it is secure and well-maintained. Try, as you repeat this verse over and over, to experience the safety you feel next to this fence, protecting you from dangers on the other side, known or unknown.

Visualize your slow movement along the fence line while repeating this psalm. Let the words become part of your steps ... match the words to each step. Focus on the security of your steps, knowing you are safe because of this barrier in your life.  Connect this fence in your mind to a fence you have erected in life to protect you from a known destructive behavior.  While you might be tempted to consider what is on the other side of the fence, focus your mind on the side you are on.  Find contentment and comfort in that safety and assuredness that Hashem has helped you find. If you find you are struggling with a fence you have erected and want to tear it down or hop the fence, concentrate even more strongly on the need to stay on the correct side.  It is okay to realize the struggle and acknowledge it; however, in the end, you are a master over it with the help of Hashem.

As you end the meditation, carry with you the visualization of this meditation. When you encounter a difficult moment, remember your fence. If you feel your fence has been compromised, bravely mend it and return to this meditation to recall the peace and wholeness that separation brings as well as safety from sin.


Gospel references taken from Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (DHE)®, © Copyright Vine of David 2010. Used by permission.

Thursday, 16 December 2010 10:47

to be or not to be

art-burningbushTruth: The soul is created from the place of the Holy Spirit, as it is written (Bereishit 2:7): "And He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life."  It is hewn from a place of purity and created from the Celestial Radiance, from the Throne of Glory.  And there is no falsehood above, in the place of the Holy of Holies, but all is truth, as it is written (Yirmeyahu 10:10): "And Hashem God is truth."  I have found it written (Shemot 3:14): "I will be what I will be" [eheyeh asher eheyeh], and (Yirmehayu 10:10): "And Hashem God is truth; He is the Living God and the Eternal King."  Derive from this that God, the Holy One Blessed be He is truth; for the eheyeh, whose gematria [numerical equivalent] is twenty-one, is found twenty-one times [twenty-one multiplied by twenty-one equals 441, the gematria of emet, [truth]. And the gematria of the word eheyeh itself is twenty-one [so that eheyeh asher eheyeh,  being understood as a compounding of ehyeh, would, in itself, give the same result.                         

--Rabbi Shraga Silverstein, Orchot Tzadikim (The Ways of the Tzadikim), The Gate of Truth

Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:24


art-networkingWho is a rachil?  One who peddles tidbits from one person to another, saying, "Mr. A said so and so; I heard so and so about Mrs. B." Even if it is true, it destroys the world. There is a more serious wrongdoing included in this prohibition: lashon hara (evil speech) – speaking disparagingly about others, even if speaking the truth.  —Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Temperaments 7:2

Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:15

unnecessary information

art-unnecessaryinfo2Our Rabbis taught: The gatherer was Zelophehad. And thus it is said, and while the Children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man [gathering sticks, etc.]; whilst elsewhere it is said, our father died in the wilderness; just as there Zelophehad [is meant], so here too Zelophehad [is meant]: this is R. Akiba's view. Said R. Judah b. Bathyra to him, ‘Akiba! in either case you will have to give an account [for your statement]: if you are right, the Torah shielded him, while you reveal him; and if not, you cast a stigma upon a righteous man.’ --Talmud, Shabbat 96b

Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:14

get real

art-obscurity2Emet, truth, is composed of three letters: the first, the last, and the middle letters of the Hebrew alephbet.  Like a stool, it has a firm foundation.

Page 6 of 12

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