Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tisha BeAv Tales

Some stories for Tisha BeAv.. The Two brothers (As told by Rabbi Ari Kahn)

There were once two brothers, one married with children, the other single. They lived on a land that would become Yerushalayim. They lived side by side and shared a field with a fence running down the middle to separate the two brothers' parts. One night the married brother wakes up and thinks. It really is not fair that I have all the joy of having a wife and family as well as a fine crop from the field where as my brother only has the wealth from the grain we produce. So he got up in the middle of the night and picked up as many sacks of grain as he could carry and he silently climbed over the fence and deposited them in his brother's barn. Meanwhile, his brother woke up and started to think. It really is not fair that I have all this wealth from the grain that my brother and I both produce together but I only have myself to support where as he has a wife and children to support. So he got up in the middle of the night and picked up as many sacks of grain as he could carry and he silently climbed over the fence and deposited them in his brother's barn. In the morning, the brothers are shocked to find that they somehow have the same amount of sacks each. Hakodesh Baruch Hu says, "This is place where the Beis HaMikdash will be built". This story is not found in Midrash, Zohar or any ancient source. It is probably no more than 150 years old. There is however a counter story. There were once two brothers, one married with children, the other single. They lived on a land that would become Yerushalayim. They lived side by side and shared a field with a fence running down the middle to separate the two brother's parts. One night the married brother wakes up and thinks. It really is not fair that I have a wife and children to support and my brother only has himself to look after. Is it fair that we should split 50/50? Surely I deserve a lot larger share. So he got up and climbed over the fence in order to take from his brother as many sacks of grain as he could carry and bring them to his barn. Meanwhile, his brother wakes up and thinks to himself. You know all I have in life is my wealth from the grain where as my brother has joy from his family. It really is not fair that she should split the wealth 50/50 so he gets up and climbs over the fence and takes from his brother's barn as many sacks of grain as he can carry. In the morning the brothers are surprised to find that they both have the same amount of grain in their barns as they did yesterday. Hakodesh Baruch Hu says "This is the place where the Knesset will be built". Chaza"l say that the second Beis HaMikdash was built on chesed and was destroyed by sinas chinum.

The Navi's son and his "beshert"

(My own story) Once there was a Navi who had a grown up son of marriageable age. The Navi came to his son one day, very excited and said that he had the most wonderful news. Hashem had sent him a nevuah and had told him who and where his son's "beshert" is; his perfect soul mate, the one who he was destined to build a Beis Yisrael with. Not only that but she already knew of him and was eagerly waiting for him. The Navi told his son how he had seen one neshama being formed with all the ingredients one needed for a fulfilling life of Torah, Mitzvos and Simcha and how Hashem had split this neshama down the middle and placed one half in a girl's body and the other in his son's body and now, Hashem had revealed to him who this girl was. What person would not want to be told a nevuah like this? To know for certain that this person was his "beshert". As halacha dictates, they should meet at least once before the Chasuna. The son went to see her. Despite Hashem telling him that this girl was his "kenegdo", perfect for him and him for her in every way, he did not go to get to know her, to glimpse the joy he would have with her for the rest of his life. Instead he went to see if Hashem was correct in His assessment of this girl. Was she really as beautiful, resourceful and loyal as He had promised she would be? He would go and find out. Well, she certainly was nothing like what he had expected. He looked at her with a very critical eye and saw what he thought were many failings in her. He went back home disappointed and depressed. After telling his father about his trip, the son went up to his room and cried himself to sleep. Mesechet Taanit tells us that the day that the Meraglim (the spies) returned and spoke their lashon hara against Eretz Yisrael and the people cried, that was the 9th Av. Eretz Yisrael is the land that Hakodesh Baruch Hu chose for us to be the perfect land for us to perform His mitzvos. Eretz Yisrael is our "beshert". The meraglim doubted Hashem and we are still paying the price today.

Jerusalem of Gold

A few years ago, one Shabbos during the Nine Days, someone stood up in shul and proceeded to lecture the community on his thoughts on Tisha BeAv. "If you are a Zionist", he told us, "then it made no sense to continue mourning for Yerushalayim anymore. Anyone who just looks at the beautiful rebuilt Yerushalayim, its towers, bridges and tunnels would see this", he said. While I was sitting there I was trying to think of mashal (a parable) that could perhaps get him to realise how foolish his words were. This is it: A husband and wife had a terrible fight. In a fit of anger the wife threw her wedding ring out of the kitchen window and it landed somewhere amongst the bushes in the front garden. Her husband, upon seeing this, stormed out of the house and disappeared down the road. After sometime the wife calms down and goes out into the front garden to look for her ring. She searches and searches but cannot find it. Eventually she sits down on the grass and begins to cry bitter tears. Her husband returns and holds out his hand to her. She takes it and gets up and together they begin looking for the ring. Eventually they find it. They take the ring inside and polish it until the gold shines like the sun. Then the wife realises that the diamond in the centre of the ring is missing. They both sit there in the kitchen and cry. How are they to find that little diamond in the garden? Yerushalayim today is like that polished gold ring. However the Beis HaMikdash, the diamond in the centre is still lost. We must understand that we still have great cause to cry and mourn until Yamos HaMashiach, may it come very soon.

The Bowl of Soup

(Not my own story) Midrash Tanchuma tells us that fruits and vegetables have only 10% of the taste they once had before the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. We do not even remember what a real apple or real cucumber tastes like and we don't even realize what we are missing. I once heard a story of a poor family who were waiting to go to a fancy simcha. The father had instructed everyone to starve themselves the whole day in order to enjoy the delicious food at the simcha. He described to them how he had once been to a simcha many years ago and that his children had no idea what delights awaited them. His children who ate only onions and cabbage soup really did have no idea. They waited and waited and became more and more impatient and hungry as the day wore on. They reached a point when they could no longer wait anymore and so they boiled themselves some cabbage and Onion soup to eat. They didn't think that this would ruin their appetite and would just be something to tie them over until the seuda that evening. They were so blind with hunger however that they gulped the soup down, burning their palettes and lips. They went to the Seuda and saw everyone around them enjoying the wonderful food. However, no matter what they put in their mouths, sweet or savoury, fried or roasted, they could taste nothing. The father began to cry, knowing what he had lost out on. His children stared at their father. "What was he so upset about?" they asked themselves.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Credit Card Ramblings

Credit Card Ramblings

The UK won't accept anything but British chips!

I have a MasterCard Gold credit card issued from my bank. The last time I was in England, some three years ago, I found that I could not use my Israeli credit card in many places due to the fact that it had no chip. A standard Israeli credit card does not come with a chip because the system is not in use in Israel. When I tried paying for toys for my kids in a large toy shop in Romford they told me that company policy was not to accept any cards without a chip. I explained that I was a tourist and that they had an obligation to accept my valid card. Nevertheless, they would not budge. The famous UK camera shop "Jessops" also refused to take my credit card. No chip! I generally had no problems with supermarkets except one mini market in Scotland that refused to accept it.

When I got home I asked my bank if they could issue me with a credit card that had the chip.The bank checked with the credit card company Isracart and they replied that the chip was only available to Israel Platinum card holders. OK I said, so give me a Platinum card! The bank refused. In other words, according to Israecart, only wealthy people were allowed to use their credit card in England! I complained to the bank and to the credit card company but to no avail. They would not issue me with a chip card.

In order to vent my frustration (this was before I opened my blog) I sent out an email to all my contacts telling them about this "rich only" policy. The email got forwarded on until a few days later I received an email from a high up executive in a rival Israel credit card company who expressed interest in what I had written and wanted me to supply him with further details so that he could check and follow this up. I complied with his request and he found my experience to be true. He thanked me for this information and expressed alarm at the UK's new policy towards foreign credit cards.

That was almost three years ago. As I am planning a trip to England this summer, I recently enquired at my bank whether the situation had changed. To my pleasant surpriseI found that it had and now I have an Israeli Isracart Mastercard Gold with a UK style chip!

Who to give the Credit?

But do I really have a credit card that I can use in Britain now? Actually the answer is no because Israecart's policy is that when you purchase anything in foreign currency they debit your account immediately. In other words, you use your card in the UK and it turns into a direct Debit card. No credit!

I complained to the bank. They told me that there was nothing they could do as this was Isracart's policy. Again, it seems that Israelcart has a "rich only"policy whereby you have to have lots of money in your account to cover purchases made in Britian.

The bank did however offer me another solution. They could issue me with a second card that I could use as a credit card while in Britain. An American Express card."Great" I thought! However it transpires that there are two little problems with this solution.

(1). My parents inform me that most places in Britain do not accept American Express. It's not very popular.

(2). There is no option whatsoever to order one with a UK style chip!

"Service is not available to you!"

Recently I tried to take out some cash from the caspamat (ATM) here in Israel with my British credit card. After putting in my pin and requesting a small amount of money I received the reply: "Service is not available to you!"

After trying another three caspamatim and receiving the same message, I spoke to my parents and asked them to phone the bank up in England to find out what was going on. The situation is like this. The bank said that Israel was one of the worst countries in the world for credit card cash withdrawal frauds and that as a result, they had blocked all cash withdrawal transactions in Israel. Yes, that's right. These international credit card criminals are operating mainly in Ukrain, Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Israel. Interesting isn't it; all former Soviet Union states plus Israel.

It is a chilul Hashem on an massive international scale!

You can still use the credit card but only to purchase items in shops.

How ironic. It seems that when I get to Britain, they won't accept my card in the shops without a chip and I will only be able to withdraw cash.

In Israel however, I can only use my British Credit card to purchase things in shops and I cannot withdraw any cash.

Go figure.

**** UPDATE ****

Chevrat CAL offered me a VISA Platinum card with British style chip that can be used as a true credit card while abroad for a monthly fee of NIS 13 a month. I received a simple form in the post, filled it out and returned it the same day. It took about two weeks until I received the card in the post. You receive an Internet code with your first statement which allows you to check the statement at anytime online wherever you are in the world. I used this card exclusively while I was in England and only paid the next month. The pin and chip method worked perfectly in every store I used it. Thank you thank you chevrat CAL !

Nightmare at Tescos

My wife on the other hand, tried to use her Isracard Mastercard (no pin) in a Tesco's supermarket. The bill came to around £40. My wife pointed out to the check-out girl that she could not use the chip and pin system as she had no pin on her card. The checkout counter woman examined the card and totally freaked out. She called her supervisor who also freaked out. The supervisor pushed some buttons storing the transaction in the computer and told my wife to go to the supervisor's desk at the front of the supermarket. People stared at my wife and wispered (had her card been rejected? had she tried to use a stolen card?...).

She found her way to the desk and there she queued up waiting to speak to the supervisor. People passing by stared at her as this desk is where you go when your method of payment has been rejected. After a humiliating 10 mins she eventually got to speak to someone. The supervisor phoned up Mastercard and eventually, after a few minutes of tension received a permission code to complete the transaction. My wife received a new receipt and left the store after a very embarrassing 20 mins. Within 2 mins she received a phone call from Isracard in Israel on her mobile phone. They had noticed that Tesco had debited my wife's account twice and that she needed to go back to the store to sort it out. My wife, who was still outside went back to the supervisor's desk and queued up again. After another embarassing 5 mins of waiting she explained that she had received a phone call from her credit card company that they had debited her account twice. The supervisor went off to check. My wife was left there for another 5 mins while passers by stared at her as if she were a shoplifter.

Eventually the supervisor returned with a ream of papers and explained that the original transaction had been cancelled when the check-out counter woman realised that she had no pin on her card but the money had still been debited from her account. However the amount had within seconds been returned. Then after the permission code it was again removed. The supervisor advised my wife that the next time she shopped at Tescos she should tell the check-out girl to immediately store the transaction and then go straight to this desk to receive a permission code. Eventually, after some 40 mins of embarrassment and tension, my wife finally got to leave the store. She never tried to use her card again whilst in England except to withdraw cash. BTW, only the cash point tills outside banks accepted her card. She tried twice in two different places to withdraw money from cash point tills in motorway service stations but her card was rejected. Let this be a warning to all of you!