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« Reply #200 on: December 07, 2009, 04:10:18 PM »
Where Are You?

Told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on charges, put forth by the opponents of Chassidism, that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For 52 days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.

Among the Rebbe's interrogators was a government minister who possessed broad knowledge of the Bible and Jewish studies. On one occasion, he asked the Rebbe to explain the verse (Genesis 3:9): "And G-d called out to the man and said to him: 'Where are you?'" Did G-d not know where Adam was?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman presented the explanation offered by several of the commentaries: the question "Where are you?" was merely a "conversation opener" on the part of G-d, who did not wish to unnerve Adam by immediately confronting him with his wrongdoing.

"What Rashi says, I know," said the minister. "I wish to hear how the Rebbe understands the verse."

"Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?" asked the Rebbe. "Do you believe that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?"

"Yes," replied the minister.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was extremely gratified to hear this. The czar's minister had affirmed a principle which lies at the basis of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the very teachings and ideology for which he was standing trial!

"'Where are you?'" explained the Rebbe, "is G-d's perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days," -- here Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister -- "Where are you? What have you achieved?"

Told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Kislev 19, 5718 (December 12, 1957), on the occasion of the 159th anniversary of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's release from prison.

Biographical notes:

Rabbi Schneur Zalman Boruchovitch of Liadi, also known as the "Alter Rebbe" and "The Rav," was born in Li'ozna, White Russia in 1745. In 1764 he became a disciple of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, the second leader of the Chassidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov. In 1772, Rabbi Schneur Zalman established the "Chabad" branch of Chassidism. For twenty years he labored on his Tanya, which, published in 1797, became the "bible" of Chabad Chassidism upon which hundreds of works and thousands of discourses by seven generations of Chabad rebbes and their disciples are based. Kislev 19, the day on which he was released from czarist imprisonment in 1798, is celebrated to this day as the "New Year for Chassidism," for that event marked the start of a new period of expansion for the movement. Rabbi Schneur Zalman passed away while fleeing from Napoleon's armies in December of 1812.
« Reply #201 on: December 09, 2009, 08:04:54 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Wake Up Calls
By Yossy Goldman

Not everyone is lucky enough to get a wake-up call in life. Some people get theirs just in time. Others get it but don't hear it. Still others hear it loud and clear but refuse to take any notice.

Pharaoh got his in this week's Parshah (Torah reading) when Joseph interpreted his dreams and advised him to appoint "a wise and discerning man" who would oversee a macro economic plan for the country. Joseph explained to the King of Egypt that because he experienced two dreams and woke up in between it was a sign from heaven to wake up and act immediately as the matter was of the utmost urgency. Pharaoh took the message to heart and the rest is history.

On the health and well-being level, a little cholesterol, climbing blood pressure or recurring bronchitis might be the not-so-subtle signs that it's time for a change of lifestyle. These are the medical wake up calls we receive in life. Do we really have to wait for a heart attack, G-d forbid, to stop smoking, or start eating less and exercising more? That's what wake-up calls are for, to help us get the message before it's too late.

Then there are the spiritual signs. I will never forget a friend who shared with me the story of his own red lights flashing and how a changed spiritual lifestyle literally saved his life. He was a workaholic driving himself to the brink. Had he carried on indefinitely he simply would not have survived. Then he decided to give Shabbat a try. What he had never previously appreciated about Shabbat was that it is a spiritually invigorating day of rest and spiritual serenity. And in discovering Shabbat, he rediscovered his humanity. (He also discovered he could play golf on Sundays instead of Saturdays.)

A short trigger film I once used at a Shabbaton weekend program depicted a series of professionals and artisans at work. As they became engrossed and immersed in their respective roles they each became so identified with their work that they lost their own identities. Monday through Friday, the carpenter's face dissolved into a hammer, the doctor took on the face of a stethoscope and the accountant's head started looking exactly like a calculator. Then on Shabbat they closed their offices and came home to celebrate the day of rest with their families; slowly but surely, their faces were remolded from their professions to their personalities. Total immersion in their work had dehumanized them. They had become machines. Now, thanks to Shabbat, they were human again. That short video left a lasting impression.

It's not easy to change ingrained habits. But Chanukah, which usually falls during this week's Parshah, carries with it a relevant message in this regard. Take one day at a time. One doesn't have to do it all at once. One light at a time is all it takes. On the first night we kindle a single Chanukah light, on the second night we kindle two lights, and on the third night three. We add a little light each day, and before long the menorah is complete and all eight Chanukah lights are burning bright.

It's ok to take one day at a time. It's not ok to go back to sleep after you get a wake up call. Whether it's your medical well being or your spiritual health, the occasional wake up call is a valuable sign from Above that it may be time to adjust our attitudes, lifestyles or priorities. Please G-d, each of us in our own lives will hear the call and act on the alarm bells with alacrity.

   By Yossy Goldman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York to a distinguished Chabad family. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as shliach to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Highlands North Shul since 1986, and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.

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« Reply #202 on: December 11, 2009, 03:33:16 PM »

Much is known about the miracle of Chanukah and its subsequent impact on Jewish life. However, little is known about the battles that were fought by Judah the Maccabee and his sons. The Maccabean revolt began in 167 BCE and were at a time that there was no organized Jewish force that had engaged in any warfare. Judah the Maccabee used his genius in a manner radically different from his predecessors.

In order to fully understand the genius of Judah the Maccabee, we must understand the state of warfare which was used in those times. Greek and Roman armies were powerful, well trained, well financed, and disciplined. The Jews in that time period were basically farmers, they had lived in relative peace and had not resorted to any form of an army. Yet, after a decree was made that pigs be slaughter, offered to the Greek gods, and eaten, the revolt ensued. Mattisyahu, the Jewish priest was ordered to perform this sacrifice and to eat from the pig. Instead, with fury, he and his sons slew the Jewish traitors (who supported the Greeks) and Greek unit that had come to enforce the decree against the Jews. The Jews took refuge in the hills and mountain sides of the Modiin region, some 25 miles distant from Jerusalem. There a small group, estimated at 200 organized as a guerrilla group.

This small group reaffirmed the principles of Judaism with willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their G-d. In what they lacked in supplies and training, they made up with there devotion. They worked on strengthening their contacts among the Jewish settlements, maintaining supplies and intelligence gathering. Soon, Judah, the son of Mattisyahu, was designated as the leader.

The Greek army was well trained, well organized and tried in battle. Their ranks were composed of heavy and light infantry, heavy and light cavalry, chariots, elephant units and engines for hurling huge stones. Their weapons included swords, javelins, spears bows, slings and battering rams. The Jews small group had such home made primitive weapons such as the sling and the mace. Here is where Judah’s genius came to even the sides.

The Greeks enjoyed the overwhelming superiority in manpower and arms. However they were trained for battle in a conventional fighting form. The core of the Greek army was the tactical infantry formation, a group of soldiers drawn up in close order. The troops advanced towards the enemy in a tight mass. The men in each rank shoulder to shoulder and close on the heels of the rank in front. This company comprised of some 250 men. They would march toward the enemy in close quarter with 16 men is each row and sixteen rows. Four such units comprised some one thousand men. This was the smallest fighting group that the Greeks employed.

As the unit approached the enemy force, the first five rows held their spears horizontally towards the enemy. The remaining rows held them vertically. Their large shields protected them from all sides and overhead. All men of that unit were ready to engage the enemy not as independent warriors, but as a tightly knit war machine. The entire unit would press against the enemy once battle was joined. The thundering forward crush, demolished every thing in its path. This infantry unit was protected on the flanks by cavalry and light forces which skirmished before the main forces. Judah saw that to engage the Greeks head on was insane. He realized that that the weakness in this method of warfare was in the cumbersome conventional movement of the organized units. Due to their rigid discipline and the tight internal organization of the warring units, they could not employ the element of surprise. The progress of a marching unit was powerful, yet slow and tedious. When two forces met in battle, both sides were in full view of the other. When battle was enjoined, it was in accordance to certain fixed tactical principles. The concept of using original tactics did not exist.

Judah saw the advantages to be gained from refusing to allow the enemy to dictate the field and style of battle. The Greeks were no match if challenged on flat land in a direct battle during the daylight hours. Yehuda’s strength was in the agility of his men to move quickly, quietly and independently and their desire to prevail. They possessed intimate knowledge of the local terrain therefore attacks could be carried out at night. He therefore chose to utilize the rocky and hilly slopes of the Modiin region, together with the element of surprise.

Judah decided to attack the Greeks as they were marching thought a narrow pass that winds uphill for several miles. With one group who would meet the Greeks head on, Judah split his men into other groups. One group was assigned the task of sealing off the narrow pass to prevent retreat. Two other groups hid on the hill side and waited for the first group to engage in battle. As the Greeks met the surprise attack from the front and directed their attention to the certain slaughter of these renegades, the second group attacked from one side. Turning to ward off this surprise, and as their attention was caught between two sides, they were attacked from the third side. Untrained for battle in a non-orthodox form, they were unaware of the trick that was being unfolded upon them. The Jewish warriors swept down from the sides and decimated the Greek troops. The entire Greek force was totally destroyed. The Jews wasted no time in collecting the enemy’s weapons and equipment.

This surprise victory had electrifying effects on the whole of Israel. The popular support that the Maccabean warriors had enjoyed was increased dramatically. The disgraced Greek army was forced to withdraw. Yet although the Greek army tried several times again to battle the small Jewish army, each time increasing the Greek army, they lost in a most profound manner. Judah’s genius manifest itself in utilizing the natural elements that were given to his side, and by utilizing his natural G-d given talents. He refusing to accept the enemy’s dictation of battle in any mode of conflict. We too, can learn from this, as we must deal with our enemies. We do not have to accept other modes of thought as the given, nor do we have to fight with them in their chosen conventional form (which they choose to use). Rather, we must utilize that natural and native Jewish intelligence which G-d has given us. That, together with our devotion, will help us succeed in all of our battles.
« Reply #203 on: December 11, 2009, 03:58:03 PM »
Out of the Closet
by Debbie Hirschmann

My mother, a Holocaust survivor, always said, "You can be a Jew on the inside, but not on the outside." It was just too risky.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a closet Jew.

You'd probably never know that I'm Jewish. I have blond hair and green eyes. I don't wear a Star of David -- never would -- that's what they had to wear in Nazi Germany. I really don't talk about Judaism to people outside of my community. I really don't make it public that I'm a Jew -- and particularly don't disclose that I'm a religious Jew. So I live in the closet as a Jew. And until recently, I preferred it that way.

There are many reasons for my secrecy -- but I realize now, they're mostly because of the Holocaust.

My mother and her sister are Holocaust survivors, and their parents were murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. When my mom speaks of her parents, she still always cries, heartbroken, as if it had just happened yesterday. As if she were still that teenager that had her parents ripped out of her life, forever.

    I didn't want to be associated with being a persecuted Jew. So I pushed both the Holocaust, and Judaism, away.

I always had very mixed feelings about the Holocaust. On one hand, I was powerfully drawn to it and wanted to know more information about it. On the other hand, it caused Judaism to have such a horrible stigma. As a result, everything related to being Jewish had negative associations that I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I didn't want to be associated with being a persecuted Jew. So I pushed both the Holocaust, and Judaism, away.

To add to all this, I was hardly raised Jewish at all. My mother married a Catholic, and so I was raised with really no religion of which to speak. My mother always said, "Hitler was our matchmaker." In other words, had her family been alive, she never would have married a non-Jew. My parents agreed not to push either of their religions on my sister or me, and they kept with that agreement.


In my WASPy public high school in suburban San Francisco, I never admitted to anyone why I missed school on the Jewish New Year. I certainly wasn't bat mitzvahed; it never crossed my mind. We went to temple just 2 days a year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. In temple I recall my mother and her sister crying, or sitting with pained looks on their faces. No spiritual meaning for me, just more negativity. Every year, on schedule, I sat watching my mother and aunt who had suffered so much already, suffer yet again.

We celebrated both Christmas and Chanukah, but I always felt that Chanukah was a poor imitation/substitute for the Christmas that we celebrated with joy and beauty. I always felt sorry for my cousins who only celebrated Chanukah, with its dismal decorations. In our home, next to a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, pathetically sat a tarnished, copper menorah with unattractive wax candles. To "celebrate" Chanukah, my mother always cried and sang a song in Hebrew that her father sang when he was alive.

As I got older, I searched for God and meaning in this world, but didn't get answers through religion. Since no Jewish education was available, I explored being a born-again Christian. I got into it for a while, but could never really buy the Jesus thing. (Why need a middle man?) The last straw came when I was at a Bible study class. I asked how they knew what Jesus exactly said and meant, since there had been so many translations and versions of the New Testament. They didn't like my question and basically said I should shut up and just have faith and not ask questions. At that point I threw in the towel with Christianity. Can't ask questions? Can't get answers? What kind of a religion is that? Blind faith wasn't my bag.

But neither was Judaism? yet.

By sheer coincidence (a.k.a. God's will) I stumbled into traditional Judaism through Aish HaTorah with my soon-to-be husband. Slowly, we made the trek of becoming religiously observant -- first going to a few Shabbats, then moving along the scale. I learned the incredible beauty of Judaism. I found that every question I had, had a multitude of answers through Judaism. I felt that Judaism was -- tragically! -- an amazing, well-kept secret. Everything about it rang true.

    I still didn't want to be singled out as my family had been, and looked at unfavorably -- a Jew. Der Juden!

I started learning and knowing about the religion that my grandparents had died for.

But still I was a closet Jew.

I still didn't want to be singled out as my family had been, and looked at unfavorably -- a Jew. Der Juden! I didn't want to be persecuted in any way as my family had been in Poland by the Nazis. My mother always said, "You can be a Jew on the inside, but not on the outside." It was too risky to be a Jew on the outside.

But push finally came to shove, and although I didn't know it, this year I was about to get shoved out of my closet.


Work was now conflicting with Shabbat. The daylight savings time change was about to occur, and I was no longer comfortable with the idea that I might miss candle lighting on a Friday night because of a work commitment.

But what would they think of me?! I can't expect to leave early just because I'm Jewish! Here I was, feeling that being Jewish is bad again.

But I knew I had to speak up.

Everyone has his or her tests. One of mine is work. I obsess over it, agonize over it, ruminate over it. My husband rightly said, "You should be as afraid of God as you are of your boss." He was right. I had to get my priorities straight.

This last Rosh Hashana I prayed that I could put work in perspective. God answered my prayers. I knew that I had to tell my boss that I'm a religious Jew and I need to observe the laws of my religion.

But I was so incredibly uncomfortable with this idea. How could I say this to my boss? How would he respond? I felt my Judaism conflicting with work, and being considered, once again, negative. But I had to be honest with what was more important.

I realized, in thinking what I would tell my boss, that I have two main reasons for being a religious Jew. One is because it gives enormous meaning, purpose and beauty to my life.

    If I can practice the same Judaism that the Nazis wanted to wipe from this earth, then my grandparents' deaths, and those of 6 million innocent Jews, would not be in vain.

The other is that it finally let me come to terms with my relationship to the Holocaust. If I can practice Judaism, the same Judaism that the Nazis wanted to wipe from this earth, then my grandparents' deaths, and those of 6 million innocent Jews, would not be in vain. I am carrying on that which they died for. The Nazis did not win. Those innocents did not die in vain. Judaism lives on, and is being carried on? with me.

If people in concentration camps risked death to practice their religion, if starving Jews in concentration camps forfeited food to observe Yom Kippur, then certainly an extra hour of work on Friday was a sacrifice I could make.

When I picked up the phone to my boss, I asked God for the words. I started to explain my carefully thought out statement. I prefaced that this was a difficult discussion for me to have, because it's very personal, because it's very important to me, because -- I'm Jewish. And I'm uncomfortable bringing this up because of my history, because being Jewish has never been seen as a very positive thing -- that my mom had been in a concentration camp just because she was a Jew, and my grandparents were murdered just because they were Jewish. And then I burst into tears.

I burst into tears, for them, and also for me.

Finally accepting who I am.

Finally out of the closet.


The phone call went swimmingly, and my boss was very accommodating. (I guess it's hard to say no to a woman bawling at the other end of the line.) And last week was such a relief when I didn't feel the need to go into hiding when Shabbat candle lighting came at 4:36 p.m.

I recently heard a rabbi saying that the candles of Shabbat relate to the candles of Chanukah. He said that women light two Shabbat candles (to both remember and keep the Sabbath) and it's also a custom to light a candle for each child born into the family. When a child asks why the candle is lit for him, the rabbi said, we should make a point to answer that the reason is that each child, each person, brings his own special light to the family and to this world.

Similarly, we light our Chanukah candles, we send light out into the world, as we denounce our assimilation into the general society and proclaim our rededication to our faith.

Maybe this year my light got a little bit brighter.

In honor of the birth of
Gavriel Nosson
Gavriel Chaim ben Moshe Ha Kohain.

This article can also be read at:

I guess if Jews can write Christmas Carols. A Mormon senator can write a Chaunkah song

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« Reply #204 on: December 12, 2009, 08:26:35 PM » Light in the Dark
Finding Light in the Dark
The Healing Power of Chanukah

by Shalvi Weissman

My house is a mess, my head is a mess. Before, all three kids were crying; now the house's soundtrack is noticeably quieter, a strong contrast to the images that meet the eye. Dirty dishes, a sewing project on the living room floor (the only surface in the house big enough to lay out fabric to cut)--once clean, new fabric and patterns, now covered in dusty footsteps of four different sizes; on the table, together with the lunch leftovers, lie papers waiting to be filed, bills post due, lists of urgent phone calls waiting to be made.

My head is reeling The baby is on my lap as I type—she wakes up and screams for half an hour any time I try to put her down. I got some very harsh news today. My head is reeling. Someone I love is in pain. The clean laundry is on my son's bed; I'd better put it elsewhere soon or he will just lie down on top of it and it won't be so clean anymore.

You should know, none of this is my fault. I paid a babysitter to take my kids to the park for the afternoon in order to avoid the exact scene that I'm describing. Oh well, so much for that.

At the height of the excitement before the kids fell asleep, I was running around in circles, trying to make some progress on all of the projects mocking me in each direction I looked. I started opening and closing kitchen cabinets. It's not there. Maybe in the fridge. The freezer? Something that will give me the strength, endurance power and patience to deal with the disturbances in my home and in my heart. No, this is too big even for chocolate. I go into my room, close the door. It's dark. Just me and You, G‑d.

"I need help. I'm so broken-hearted over her suffering. I wish I could help, but I can't. I can't even handle the home front, never mind battles far afield. I don't want my family to suffer because I can't get it together. I'm a little embarrassed to even turn to You in this state, but You know what? You created me with my strengths and weaknesses. You made my baby a light sleeper with a super sensitive stomach. You deemed it fit for me to be told today about the abuse that went on in my student's home as she was growing up. You run the world, not me. If You delegated this little corner of the world to me, You must think I am capable, or at least capable enough. Please give me whatever it is that I need to get through this and make You proud."

Ahhh. Better than chocolate.

I feel my faith being stretched by life and experience There are some very dark places in the world. Dark, sad, lonely, frightening places. When we find ourselves in them, what do we do? A person of moderate faith has little trouble finding G‑d in the face of a newborn baby, a beautiful sunset, a spring butterfly. But what about on skid row, in the oncology unit, or the orphanage? When life dishes up a bitter brew, what do we do? When a baby is crowning, can the body widen enough to allow for new life? I feel my faith being stretched by life and experience. It feels like it might break me, but is there any option other than pushing forward?

The ideal way to light the Chanukah candles is to place them within ten handbreadths (called t'fachim) of the floor. The Talmud tells us that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, never dwelled below ten t'fachim. On Chanukah we are bringing the light of the Divine Presence where it had never been before.

Imagine living in the time of the Chanukah story, watching the Greeks grow in power and influence over the years, until the point when Torah cannot be learned in pubic without fear of torture and death. The Holy Temple, The House of G‑d, the place we would go to renew the purity of our souls, is now overtaken by idolaters. It's one thing for the Greeks to take over the mall, the media, the world of the body, but once the home of my soul has been invaded, where can I turn? What possibility is there to connect to the Divine? How can I serve a G‑d that has allowed His very own home to be overtaken by evil? What a dark place to live in. What bravery and faith the Macabbees had to bring light to such a place, to put their lives on the line for a G‑d that had, it seemed from their human perspective, abandoned them.

I could use some of that. A young woman asked me this week why G‑d gave her an eating disorder. Her friends are enjoying the pleasures of youth, looking forward to marriage and sweet hopeful horizons. She struggles every moment for her health and sanity. She is young. She doesn't remember ever asking for this. She prays every day for healing, for a normal life. She wants me, her teacher, to tell her why G‑d is making her suffer, to tell her why G‑d is not answering her prayers.

Let's create some light here I take a deep breath. I am holding my month-old baby in my arms. "When I gave birth it hurt. Birth is tough. If someone had come to me when I was screaming and sweating with pain and given me a technical or logical explanation for why I was suffering, I might have chopped off his head. There are no answers for someone in the midst of suffering so great that it stretches the boundaries of their survival. I can only hold your hand and tell you that I believe that there will be a baby.

"I don't know why you are suffering. I do know that G‑d hears you every time that you cry out. I believe that you can overcome this. I believe that G‑d believes that you can overcome this and that you will be much greater from the experience. You are surrounded by darkness that you cannot chase away, so let's just do our best to create some light in here. We can't see G‑d's goodness with sunshine clarity from within your pain, but our faith can be a candle that gives enough light to see where the next footstep belongs."

Chanukah comes when the days are short and cold, the days when we need light the most. There are dark places in all of our lives. A candle in the sunshine is useless. A candle in the dark is a powerful tool. I can't take away all the pain and suffering, but I can try to carry colorful candles in my heart and leave strands of the Divine light in my wake.

   by Shalvi Weissman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Shalvi Weissman is a mother, teacher, singer and writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and four children.
« Reply #205 on: December 13, 2009, 07:36:30 PM »

Against All Odds

The Holiday Card
by Kaila Lasky
A small Chanukah miracle for a lonely Jewish soldier in Iraq.

It was our first big celebration as a family since our son's bris, eight years earlier. Our daughter Aliza was becoming a Bat Mitzvah. We had a fun idea for how to celebrate it: We had been married years earlier on a boat in Manhattan, and since Aliza was born on our first anniversary, we thought we would do it again.

So we hired a boat and invited a small group of mostly relatives and classmates. In planning the food and the flowers and the music, there seemed to be something missing. We had the “bar,” but where was the “mitzvah”? Aside from my daughter's Dvar Torah (“the speech”), what could we do to elevate this gathering from being just another birthday party?

Providentially, there was a request in our synagogue to pray for a local soldier who was being deployed to Iraq. The idea was born; let's have all the kids at our simcha (celebration) make Chanukah cards to send to Jewish soldiers overseas. Nothing earth-shattering, just a way to inject some meaning into the festivities.

The date arrived and our ship sailed. God granted us a picture perfect September day and when Aliza's carefully prepared speech blew overboard, she adlibbed admirably. The Chanukah cards were written and colored and decorated. A lovely time was had by all. And the next day, the cards were mailed out with heartfelt wishes and love to our Jewish brothers and sisters. End of story.

Or so we thought.

Six months later, when the bat mitzvah was a fond, distant memory, there was a knock on my door in the middle of the day. Bravely, I unlocked the door, even though I didn't recognize the voice on the other side. A pleasant twenty-something man greeted me:

"I'm Lt. Steinberg, and your daughter sent me a Chanukah card when I was in Iraq."

Well, you could've blown me over with a feather.

But wait -- it gets better.

Apparently our few dozen cards had been thrown in with the hundreds and thousands of cards sent to celebrate that other December holiday. The chaplain showed up one day at the army base with an enormous sack, filled to the brim with cards and letters. As he passed out handfuls of cards to the grateful troops, Lt. Steinberg was hanging back, feeling pretty left out and lonely.

Suddenly amidst the celebratory crowd, the company captain noticed our soldier. "Steinberg, why are you so quiet? How come you’re not opening any cards?"

Oh brother, Steinberg thought, don't they get it? "Captain, I'm Jewish, remember?"

"C'mon, Steinberg, don't be a spoilsport. Take a card."

Steinberg tried to shrink himself into invisibility. But the captain wasn't having it. "Let's go, Steinberg. These people were nice enough to write to us. NOW TAKE A CARD!"

By now the captain had everyone's attention and Steinberg was getting pretty uncomfortable in the spotlight. Quick, he told himself, just grab a Christmas card and you’ll stop being the center of attention.

Steinberg reached deep into the sack, pulled out a card and looked at it. To his complete and utter shock the return address said Wesley Hills, New York. Steinberg is from Wesley Hills.

Hands shaking, he tore it open and found a beautiful hand-made Chanukah card, signed by my daughter Aliza, the Bat Mitzvah girl herself. Steinberg was dumbfounded by the providence of it all. He broke out in a huge grin and proudly showed the card to the captain and the entire platoon. Everyone understood the small miracle they had just witnessed.

Standing there in my Wesley Hills home, with my mouth gaping open and tears in my eyes, I begged Steinberg to come back and retell the story when my children were home. Indeed, he returned the following week with a friend and a camera. For our family, it was an incredible inspiration to see so clearly the power of our "little" mitzvah.

But that’s not the end of the story. Just this past September one of the chaplains I had contacted about sending those cards asked if I could help arrange kosher meals and snacks for troops in Afghanistan for the High Holidays and Sukkot. I organized some people in my community and we sent 144 kosher meals to Afghanistan. Aish HaTorah’s Project Inspire got involved and sent dozens of personal cards and honey sticks for Rosh Hashanah and then chocolates for Chanukah to troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Italy and Kuwait.

The story of Lt. Steinberg continues to bear more and more fruit. May all my daughter’s mitzvot enjoy such success!

(The story is true; Lt. Steinberg’s name has been changed.)
« Reply #206 on: December 14, 2009, 09:13:23 PM »

Holocaust Oil
by Staff

Elijah's light still shines.

At the conclusion of every 16-hour work day in the hell called Bergen-Belsen, the block commander liked to have some fun with his Jews.

The meal at the end of the day consisted of old dry bread, filthy watery soup and a pat of something like margarine made from vegetable fat.

The margarine was scooped out of a large tub, and after the meal had been distributed and the tub was empty, the commander allowed the starving prisoners to jump into the empty tub and lick the remaining margarine from the walls of the tub. The sight of starving Jews licking up bits of margarine provided nightly entertainment for the commander and his guards.

One prisoner, however, refused to be a part of the commander's show. Though like all the rest he was a withered, starving shadow of a man aged far beyond his years, still, he would never allow himself to scavenge for a lick of margarine. The other prisoners called him Elijah. In some unspoken way, the others drew strength from Elijah's refusal to join the frenzy.

Then, one night, something happened that seemed to shatter whatever spirit remained in the prisoners. Elijah cracked. All at once he threw himself into the greasy vat and furiously rolled around like a crazed beast .

And how the commander howled. It was a deep belly laugh of satanic satisfaction. The last of the Jews had been broken.


Later, after the guards left and the Jews were in their barracks, Elijah took off his shirt and began to tear it to shreds.  The others looked on in silence. Had Elijah gone mad?

He would study the shirt for a moment, carefully looking it over, as if searching for some exact location, and then tear that area into a strip.  He looked up. His eyes were on fire.

"Do you know what tonight is?" he demanded. "Tonight is the first night of Chanukah."

Elijah studied the shirt again, finding another choice spot to tear. A spot he had purposely saturated with grease from his roll in the margarine tub.

That night Elijah led the others in the lighting of the Chanukah flames. The wicks came from the strips of his shirt, and the bits of margarine Elijah had furiously scavenged was the oil.

Elijah's light continues to shine.


This article can also be read at:

Holocaust Survival
by David C. Gross

With the help of God, the Jews as a people will outlive their cruel foes and emerge triumphant in the end.

The pious Jewish inmates in Bergen-Belsen were determined to kindle Chanukah lights and chant the appropriate Hebrew blessings. They were abject slaves, temporarily permitted to live and toil until their strength gave out. Death lurked on all sides. Even if they could manage to avoid detection by their taskmasters, they lacked the essential materials: Chanukah candles and a Menorah.

Yet, a seemingly impossible celebration came about on the first night of Chanukah 1943 in Bergen-Belsen. One of eleven fortunate survivors, Rabbi Israel Shapiro, better known among his Chasidim as the Bluzhever Rebbe, was the central figure of that macabre Chanukah celebration.

Living in the shadow of death, and not knowing when their own turn would come, the Jewish inmates were determined to celebrate Chanukah in the traditional manner and draw whatever spiritual strength they could from the story of the Maccabees.

-          From their meager food portions, the men saved up some bits of fat.

The women, for their part, pulled threads from their tattered garments and twisted them into a makeshift wick.


-          For want of a real Menorah, a candle-holder was fashioned out of raw potato.

-          Even Chanukah dreidels for the dozen children in the camp were carved out of wooden shoes that the inmates wore.




At great risk to their lives, many of the inmates made their way unnoticed to Barrack 10, where the Bluzhever Rebbe was to conduct the Chanukah ceremony.

He inserted the improvised candle into the improvised Menorah and in a soft voice began to chant the three blessings. On the third blessing, in which God is thanked for having "kept us in life and preserved us and enabled us to reach this time," the Rebbe's voice broke into sobs, for he had already lost his wife, his only daughter, his son-in-law, and his only grandchild.

The assembled inmates joined him in a chorus of weeping, for all of them had also lost their own families. In low voices, choked by irrepressible sobs – they struggled to chant the traditional hymn, Ma’oz Tzur, which proclaims steadfast faith in God, the Rock of their strength.

On regaining some composure, the Rebbe tried to comfort them and instill new courage and hope. Referring to the words of the second blessing ("that He wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old"), the Rebbe asked, "Is it not anomalous to thank God for miracles that he had wrought for our ancestors long ago, while He seemingly performs none for us in our tragic plight?"

In answer to his own question, the Rebbe said, "By kindling this Chanukah candle we are symbolically identifying ourselves with the Jewish people everywhere. Our long history records many bloody horrors our people have endured and survived. We may be certain that no matter what may befall us as individuals, the Jews as a people will – with the help of God – outlive their cruel foes and emerge triumphant in the end."

Excerpted from the Jewish American Examiner, David C. Gross

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« Reply #207 on: December 15, 2009, 09:20:11 PM »

The Fifth Night

As told by Yanki Tauber
One of the legendary soldiers in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's army of teachers and activists who kept Judaism alive in Communist Russia in the darkest years of repression was Rabbi Asher Sossonkin, who spent many years in Soviet labor camps for his "counter-revolutionary" activities. In one of these camps he made the acquaintance of a Jew by the name of Nachman Rozman. In his youth, Nachman had abandoned the traditional Jewish life in which he was raised to join the communist party; he served in the Red Army, where he rose to a high rank; but then he was arrested for engaging in some illegal business and sentenced to a long term of hard labor in Siberia.

Rozman was drawn to the chassid who awakened in him memories of the home and life he had forsaken. With Reb Asher's aid and encouragement, he began a return to Jewish observance under conditions where keeping kosher, avoiding work on Shabbat, or grabbing a few moments for prayer meant subjecting oneself to near-starvation, repeated penalties and a daily jeopardy of life and limb.

One winter, as Chanukah approached, Reb Asher revealed his plan to his friend. "I'll get a hold of a small, empty food can -- the smaller the better, so it'll be easy to hide and escape notice. We'll save half of our daily ration of margarine over the next two weeks, for oil. We can make wicks from the loose threads at the edges of our coats. When everyone's asleep, we'll light our 'menorah' under my bunk...."

"Certainly not!" cried Nachman Rozman. "It's Chanukah, Reb Asher, the festival of miracles. We'll do the mitzvah the way it should be done. Not in some rusty can fished out from the garbage, but with a proper menorah, real oil, at the proper time and place. I have a few rubles hidden away that I can pay Igor with at the metal-working shed; I also have a few 'debts' I can call in at the kitchen...."

A few days before Chanukah, Nachman triumphantly showed Reb Asher the menorah he had procured -- a somewhat crude vessel but unmistakably a "real" menorah, with eight oil-cups in a row and a raised cup for the shamash. On the first evening of Chanukah, he set the menorah on a stool in the doorway between the main room of their barracks and the small storage area at its rear, and filled the right-hand cup; together, the two Jews recited the blessings and kindled the first light, as millions of their fellows did that night in their homes around the world.

On that first night the lighting went off without a hitch, as it did on the second, third and fourth nights of the festival. As a rule, the prisoners in the camp did not inform on each other, and their barrack-mates had already grown accustomed to the religious practices of the two Jews.

On the fifth night of Chanukah, just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit five flames in their menorah, a sudden hush spread through the barracks. The prisoners all froze in their places and turned their eyes to the doorway, in which stood an officer from the camp's high command.

Though surprise inspections such as these were quite routine occurrences, they always struck terror in the hearts of the prisoners. The officer would advance through the barracks meting out severe penalties for offenses such as a hidden cigarette or a hoarded crust of bread. "Quick, throw it out into the snow," whispered the prisoners, but the officer was already striding toward the back doorway, where the two Jews stood huddled over the still-burning flames of their candelabra.

For a very long minute the officer gazed at the menorah. Then he turned to Reb Asher. "P'yat? (Five?)" he asked.

"P'yat," replied the chassid.

The officer turned and exited without a word.

As told by Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Originally published in the Hebrew weekly Sichat Hashavuah; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.

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« Reply #208 on: December 16, 2009, 06:33:29 PM »

Why Do We Play With a Top on Chanukah?

By Yeruchem Eilfort


Why do we play with Dreidels on Chanukah?


A favorite pasttime of children and adults alike on the Festival of Chanukah is playing with a Dreidel (in English - top, in Hebrew - sevivohn). This delightful game has an ancient history. The Dreidel has four letters from the Hebrew alphabet, imprinted on each of its sides. In Israel the letters are Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Pay, which stands for Nais Gadol Hayah Poh -- a great miracle happened here. Outside of Israel the letters are Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin, which stands for Nais Gadol Hayah Shahm -- a great miracle happened there.

The game is played by distributing to all participants either nuts, chocolates, or Chanukah Gelt (coins). Everyone places a coin in the middle and someone spins the Dreidel. If the Dreidel stops showing Nun, he neither wins nor loses. If Gimmel, he wins the entire pot. If Hay, he gets half the pot. If Shin, he must put one in the pot.

The game then continues with the next person taking his turn, and so on around the circle until someone has won everything. It is of course nice to distribute plenty of consolation prizes so that everyone can go home a winner!

Where did this wonderful game originate? Truth be told, it was a game of life or death. The Greek Syrians had become a progressively more oppressive occupying force. At first they felt they would convert the Jewish population to their pagan ways through being kind and gentle with the Jews. Much to their chagrin the Jews remained steadfastly committed to their own religion (aside from a small percentage who became Hellenized).

Frustrated by their lack of success the powerful regime passed a series of laws outlawing the study of Torah as a religious work. They additionally outlawed many types of ritual commandments like circumcision and Shabbat observance. The Jews were compelled to take their Torah learning "underground," for they knew, a Jew without Torah is like a fish out of water.

In order to disguise their activity the Children of Israel had to resort to learning Torah in outlying areas and forests. Even this plan was not foolproof, for the enemy had many patrols. The Jews therefore brought along small tops that they would quickly pull out and play with after secreting away their texts, so that they could pretend to be merely playing games.

This ruse did the trick, and the unbroken tradition of Torah scholarship thankfully remained intact!

By Yeruchem Eilfort   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort is director of Chabad at La Costa, California, and welcomes readers' comments and questions.

The Kabbalah of the Dreidel

By Yisrael Rice

Do you know the rules of Dreidel? You spin a top with four Hebrew letters on it. A Gimmel wins the whole kitty, a Hei gets you half, Nun gets nothing and for a Shin you must pay in. Aside from the inherent Kabbalistic meaning behind this method, there is the practical Yiddishe origin. Gimmel stands for Gantz, meaning the whole thing. Hei is for Halb, meaning half. Nun stands for Nisht or nothing. And Shin is for Shtell arein or put in.

These are four basic modes of being, depending upon the person, his or her period in life, or the particular day. We all have our Gimmel days. This is when we feel that everything is going great and turning out in a sensational way. (It's been a while, eh?) We have our Hei days, when things are going quite well. The Nun and Shin need no explanation.

But each of these letters represents only one face of the Dreidel -- only a single angle or perspective of the whole. What do the letters spell out? What is the "whole" of the Dreidel? Ness Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there." This refers to the great miracle of Chanukah that occurred in the Holy Land. The situation there seemed dire and beyond hope. They were definitely having a Shin day. The commitment of a few people turned the situation around (like a Dreidel) and brought out the miracle and G-d's salvation.

The Macabees did not dwell on the fact that they were being oppressed and persecuted. They focused on the Gimmel that was on the other side of the Shin. And then they acted to create a vehicle for a Divine miracle.

It is vital to remember that whatever letter we seem to be getting at a particular point in life, it's all part of one Dreidel. And that Dreidel is telling us that miracles happen. We can transform the dark situations of life into the bright light of the Chanukah Menorah. This depends upon our faith in G-d’s plan, and our commitment to create a vehicle for the miracle.

The Dreidel in the Bible?

Based on this theme we find a phenomenal "coincidence" with these four letters of the Dreidel. The first place where these letters occur as a word in the Torah is in the Parshah (Torah Reading) of Vayigash (Genesis 44-47, always in proximity to Chanukah), where they spell the word Goshnah, meaning "to Goshen."

The Patriarch Jacob was sending his son, Judah, to the Egyptian city of Goshen to set up a house of study, in advance of Jacob's, and his entire family's, relocation to that land. Our patriarch was aware that this was a dreadful descent into exile. But he looked at all of the letters of the Dreidel, and realized that hidden in the exile are the seeds of redemption. Study must continue, especially in exile. As long as we are able to retain the vital Divine information, the exile cannot hold sway over us. And our study and performance become the vehicle for the ultimate redemption.

This is similar to the origin of the Dreidel. According to tradition, during the times of Greek oppression Torah study was forbidden. When the children were studying, they would keep a Dreidel nearby to pull out and play in case they were discovered. (A bit opposite from our Hebrew school experience, perhaps.) At the time, the students may have thought that the game was a distraction from their true purpose in life. But in truth, G-d conceals His countenance to draw out our commitment and connection to Him. It's all about revealing the Divine in the least likely places. That's what a miracle is.

The Dreidel was the formula to elicit the underlying truth of the Jewish soul.

The Dreidel and Moshiach

And one more idea. If you add up the Gimatria (the Hebrew numerical value) of the letters of the Dreidel, you get 358 (Nun (50) + Gimmel (3) + Hei (5) + Shin (300) = 358). This is the same value as Moshiach (Mem (40) + Shin (300) + Yud (10) + Chet (Cool = 358), the Messiah. When the Moshiach comes, he will teach each individual how to see the Divine purpose in every facet of life. Even the time of exile and darkness will be illuminated.

We may have been focusing on one particular letter. Moshiach will teach us to see that all of life is a tapestry of Divine wonder.

By Yisrael Rice   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yisrael Rice is the Executive Director of Chabad of Marin, Marin County, California and Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Learning Institute. He is the creator of the "Infinite Within" seminar and author of "The Kabbalah of Now."
Illustration: Mosaic by Chassidic artist Michoel Muchnik.

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« Reply #209 on: December 17, 2009, 06:57:49 PM »

Chanukah Play
Too cute for words. Watch a group of 5 year-olds re-enact this drama of struggle and redemption, the story of Chanukah. They do a really excellent job
The Beginning of Western Civilization

By Barry Strauss

Chanukah is an eight-day annual Jewish holiday. But it also lays claim as the start of western civilization. Not Jewish civilization, which was already old at the time of the first Chanukah in the second century before the common era, and not Hellenic (ancient Greek) civilization, which was also ancient. But the encounter of the West with Judaism, of reason with revelation, of Athens with Jerusalem: that began on Chanukah.

"Man," said an ancient Greek philosopher, "is the measure of all things." The Bible disagrees: "the fear of the Lord," it says, "is the beginning of wisdom." Who is right? A great debate about G‑d and man lies at the heart of the West. From Sinai to Babylon, from the lions to the Crusaders, from the Wars of Religion to the Age of Reason–and of Revolution, from Stalin to John Paul II, from eugenics to a belief that life is sacred, and from globalism to a respect for individual states – even Israel! — it remains the central question. Athens and Jerusalem still are what they always were, the struggling twins of the West.

Chanukah commemorates a miraculous victory in a war in 167 B.C.E. A Greco-Macedonian kingdom, centered in what is today Syria, had tried to outlaw the Jewish religion in its homeland in Judea and to replace it with Hellenic culture. Many Jews, in fact, supported that goal. But that is no surprise, because Hellenism had enormous appeal.

Hellenism seemed to have everything going for it. It was up-to-date, sophisticated, and intellectually satisfying. It offered wealth, health, art, and glamour. It represented the entrance ticket to an imperial civilization. Hellenism offered the opportunity to think big.

Judaism sat at the opposite end of the scale. It was old, small, and poor. It had no empire. It had nothing to offer except faith, trust, love, and strength. But those things, it turns out, are items that the human heart cannot do without.

So the miraculous happened. A small band, burning with faith, went on to defeat an empire.

There is, of course, a rational explanation; there always is. "The Syrian-Greek state had passed its prime." "The Jews had short lines of communication." "They mastered guerrilla tactics." "The Greeks overplayed their hand." "Judea wasn't worth the bones of a Macedonian grenadier anyhow." If rational explanations are enough for you, then take your pick.

But if you think that "the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of," if you think that there is more to life than shifting particles, if you respect science without worshipping it – in short, if you doubt that man is G‑d, then wonder at the light of a miracle burning in the dark days of winter.

By Barry Strauss   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Dr. Barry Strauss is professor of history and classics at Cornell University
« Reply #210 on: December 23, 2009, 07:29:09 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
We're Not Alone
By Yossy Goldman

How many Jews came down to Egypt?

By the time of the Exodus, there were 600,000 men of military age (and, according to all estimates, a total of a few million people) in the young nation. But the number who originally went down to Egypt in the days of Joseph were only, by the Torah's attestation, "seventy souls." However, if one examines the text, Jacob's sons and their children -- even including Joseph and his sons who were already in Egypt -- only amount to a total of sixty-nine. The commentaries offer a number of explanations. Some say that the Torah simply rounds off the number to the nearest ten. Another explanation is that the seventieth person is Jocheved, born as Jacob's family was entering Egypt. Or, Jacob himself is counted as number seventy.

But, for me, the most touching one of all comes from the Midrash:

    What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do? He Himself entered into the count and thus it totaled seventy, to fulfill his promise made earlier to Jacob (Genesis 46, 3-4), "Have no fear of going down to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt and I shall also surely bring you up..."

How inspiring! How magnificently encouraging. G-d is with us in Egypt. Amidst the bondage, the pain and persecution, He is with us. And in all our wanderings and dispersions, He is there. As He assures us in Psalm 91, "I am with him in his affliction." In all our anguish, in all our tzorris, He is right there with us!

It was this conviction of the invisible but tangible Divine Presence being with us in the Galut and in the ghettoes that sustained our people throughout a torturous history. This was the promise that inspired us with an inexhaustible fountain of faith, courage and strength to survive our enemies and to flourish again long after they were gone.

Many continue to ask, "Where was G-d during the Holocaust?" I could never even attempt to debate this question with an embittered survivor who has lost his faith. And who are we to criticize those holy tormented souls? But my father, and many like him, survived with their faith intact. How did they maintain their beliefs in spite of their suffering? One answer they might offer is this: "How did I survive? Do you understand how many miracles it took to get me out of Poland? Or out of the camps? And how about escaping Lithuania, Russia, Japan or Shanghai? How can I deny the hand of G-d that plucked me from danger again and again?"

Surely the greatest miracle of our generation is that after Auschwitz Jews still wanted to be Jewish. That our people rebounded and rebuilt their families, their communities and their homeland. For many, the certainty that a higher power was guiding them to survival is what sustained them in their darkest moments and what gave them the confidence to regroup and regenerate.

Soon, we will observe the fast of Tevet 10, commemorating the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. So who is having the last laugh? Do you know any grandchildren of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon? (Saddam Hussein is not one.) All that is left of his mighty empire are a few statues. All our enemies, down to the Third Reich, have come and gone. The Jews are here, alive and well, still doing their thing 2,500 years later.

G-d's promise to Jacob that "I will go down with you" has kept us going. And the conclusion of the verse assures us all of a happy conclusion. "And I shall surely also bring you up" -- from Egypt and from our own exile. May it be speedily in our day.

   By Yossy Goldman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York to a distinguished Chabad family. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as shliach to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Highlands North Shul since 1986, and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.

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« Reply #211 on: December 24, 2009, 07:56:21 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
No Time to Weep
By Yossy Goldman

The wisest of men said there is a time to weep, which implies that there will be occasions when weeping is inappropriate. Though King Solomon's exact words were there is a time to weep and a time to laugh,1 obviously there are times when other responses are called for. Clearly, life is not simply about crying or laughing.

This week's parshah relates the story of Joseph's dramatic reunion with his brothers. Though he embraces them all, he reserves his deepest emotions for his only full brother, Benjamin. Joseph was separated from his brothers when Benjamin was a mere child, and Benjamin was the only one who was not involved in the plot against Joseph. Theirs was, therefore, an exceptional embrace:

    And he (Joseph) fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and cried, and Benjamin cried on his neck (Genesis 45:14).

Rashi, quoting the Talmud,2 explains that for both brothers, their cries were, beyond the powerful feelings of the moment, nothing short of prophetic. Joseph wept over the two Temples of Jerusalem, destined for destruction, which were in the land apportioned to the tribe of Benjamin. And Benjamin cried over the Sanctuary at Shilo, located in the land apportioned to the tribe of Joseph, which would also be destroyed.

The question is why: are they each crying over the other's churban (destruction)? Why do they not cry over their own destructions?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that when it comes to someone else's problem, we may be able to help but we cannot solve other people's problems. Even good friends can only do so much. We can offer generous assistance, support and the best advice in the world, but the rest is up to him or her. No matter how strenuous our efforts, there can be no guarantee that they will be successful. As hard as we may try to help, the individual alone holds the key to sort out his or her own situation.

So, if we are convinced that we have done our absolute best for the other person and have still failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution, the only thing we can do is shed a tear. We can pray for them, we can be sympathetic. Beyond that, there is really nothing else we can do. When we have tried and failed, all we can do is cry.

But when it comes to our own problems and challenges, our own churban, there we dare not settle for a good cry. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up and weeping. If it is our problem, then it is our duty to confront it again and again until we make it right. For others we can cry; but for ourselves we must act.

Sixty years ago, the great spiritual leaders of Europe were counting their losses -- in the millions! The great Chassidic courts of Poland, the prestigious yeshivas of Lithuania, were all destroyed by the Nazi hordes. What did these righteous people do? Did they sit down and cry? Of course there were tears and mourning and indescribable grief, but the emphasis quickly shifted to rebuilding. And today, thank G-d, those same institutions are alive and well, thriving and pulsating with spirit and energy in Israel and the United States. The leadership focused on the future. And painstakingly, over time, they were able to resuscitate and rejuvenate their decimated communities.

Those leaders cried bitter tears for their fallen comrades, but for themselves they did not sit and weep. They set about the task of rebuilding -- and succeeded in the most inspiring, miraculous way.

When we have problems (and who doesn't?), so many of us simply moan and sigh and heave a good old-fashioned yiddishe krechtz (Jewish groan). How many times have we sighed, What can I do? And what does that leave us with? -- with the moaning and groaning and nothing else. In the words of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, One good deed is worth more than a thousand sighs.

Leave the krechtzing for others. If it's your problem, confront it, deal with it, work at it. You'll be surprised by the results
« Reply #212 on: December 26, 2009, 06:51:24 PM »

How Can the Commentaries All Be Right?
By Yisroel Cotlar


I bought a set of Torah and the Prophets with all the classic commentaries and I enjoy studying it very much. I am unsure, however, how to understand the vast differences of opinions concerning any particular story. Often, the opinions contradict one another.

How can I appreciate studying such commentaries when only one could be right?


This is a commonly asked question. It is predicated on the assumption that the purpose of the Torah is to tell us the history of our people, and history had to happen in a certain way.

But that isn't the purpose of the Torah. True, it is stories that fill much of the Torah. And true, these episodes literally happened in a specific manner. Nonetheless, when studying the Torah, we are meant to go past "what happened" and view the stories as a means for G‑d to convey us a message—a lesson for our lives right now.

Indeed, one needs look no further than the very translation of the word "Torah" to realize that the Torah is not a mere guide to Jewish history. Torah means "teaching"—not "history book." This is also apparent from the Torah's (seemingly strange) selective history, the occasional non-chronological order in which events are recorded, and the mysterious wording it sometimes uses to tell a story.

For, beyond the storyline, each story, verse, word, and letter in the Torah is a glimpse into a higher truth. It is the infinite wisdom of G‑d concentrated into stories the human mind can comprehend.

This truth can be observed from a number of dimensions, called pshat (simple), remez (hint), drush (seek) and sod (secret). And there are countless avenues of understanding within each of these perspectives.

Pshat is the simple interpretation of the Torah, following the smoothest, most elegant path of words and context. Remez uncovers the hints and allegoric meaning behind these words. Drush (or midrash) seeks the deeper meaning of the verse. And sod is the esoteric, mystical part of Torah, the meaning that can only be known to those who have been told. Read this article(posted below)for more about these four, with examples of each of them.

When our holy commentators studied a story in the Torah, they each noticed another aspect of this truth. And so, we treasure them all.

And if you will ask, "So which one is true? Which one really happened?"—the answer, quite simply, is that all are true, all really happened.

Why is it difficult for us to swallow that? Because we believe that there is only one reality, and so only one history. The Torah, however, knows of many realities, all of them true, each of them containing a different lesson for us in this reality now. There are worlds where pshat is real—different worlds for different pshatim. Then there are worlds of remez, of drush and of sod.

For example, in our physical world, Moses may have been say, six feet tall. But in a certain world of drash, he was 10 amot—about 15 feet tall. Which one is more true? That depends: Are you looking for his height or for his stature? Are you measuring the Moses that fit into a physical body in a physical world, or are you measuring the real Moses, the soul and true character of the man–so that you will know how to relate to him and appreciate his character?

You see, a stature of 10 amot implies that this person is complete in every way—since there are 10 aspects of the human character. That's who Moses really was—a whole and balanced person in the ultimate sense of those words. Our physical world cannot handle a human being of those proportions, and so we see the truth in a poise of compromise. But in a world that does not have our physical limitations, Moses is actually 10 amot tall.

So you see, it all has to do with what we are taking from the story, what we need to learn. And each different approach to Torah will provide another lesson, all equally valuable, all equally true.
Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz presents and discusses the classic views concerning the study of Midrash in Shnei Luchot Habrit, Torah Shebaal Peh, 17 (Klal Hadrushim). He refers there to the idealist perspective in Torah that he presents ibid, Toldot Adam, Bayit Acharon. The concept is based upon the words of Rabbi Menachem Azaria of Fano in Assara Maamarot, Maamar Chikur Din, 3:22.

By Yisroel Cotlar   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar, a native of Houston, Texas, is on's Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.

How Is the Torah Interpreted?
By Naftali Silberberg

Torah is G‑d's wisdom. Intellect, by its very nature, allows for – and indeed demands – different avenues of understanding; how much more so when dealing with the infinite wisdom of the Infinite G‑d.

Our sages tell us that Torah can be interpreted in four different general ways: peshat, remez, drush and sod.

1) Peshat is the simple interpretation of the Torah. When the verse says (Genesis 1:1) that "In the beginning G‑d created the Heaven and Earth," it means exactly what it seems to mean, in a very literal sense.

Within these four methods of understanding Torah, there exist countless possible avenues of understanding2) Remez is the different hints and allusions which are contained within the Torah. One of the methodologies the Torah employs to make these hints is gematryia, the numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, the gematriya of "Bereshit bara" ("In the beginning He created)" is the same as "b'Rosh Hashanah nivra ha'olam" (on Rosh Hashanah the world was created)!"

3) Drush (or Midrash) expounds upon the deeper meaning of the verse. The Hebrew word for "In the beginning" is bereshit. The midrash tells us that this word can be split into two words—b reshit. The Torah is telling us that the world was created for two ("b") "reshit"s ("firsts")—the Jews and the Torah. Although this is not the simple interpretation of the word, nevertheless it is a true and valid way of understanding the Torah.

4) Sod (secret) is the esoteric, mystical part of Torah. The Tikkunei Zohar (a book which gives seventy (!) different esoteric explanations for the word bereshit) explains that the word bereshit can also be split into "bara shis" (created [with] six). This is because the world was created through G‑d's six emotional powers: kindness, severity, beauty, victory, splendor and foundation.

Within these four methods of understanding Torah, there exist countless possible avenues of understanding. For example: There are many different ways to understand the Torah according to Peshat. That's why there are many Torah commentators who concentrate on Peshat -- Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and many more – and they will very often (it seems, more often than not...) disagree on the literal meaning of a verse. In fact, according to Kabbalastic teachings there are 600,000 ways to understand Peshat, 600,000 ways to understand Remez, 600,000 ways to understand Drush, and 600,000 ways to understand Sod!

Any insight in Torah is acceptable as long as it (makes sense and) does not contradict any of our fundamental beliefs.

Our sages tell us that "any chiddush (novel idea) which a reputable disciple will ever come up with was already given to Moses by Sinai." Moses might not have heard this specific idea which the rabbi living thousands of years later has just thought of, but the basis of this idea was already given by Sinai.

G‑d gave us the tools to delve into the words of Torah and reveal the divine wisdom hidden therein.

« Reply #213 on: December 27, 2009, 04:30:19 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
By Yossy Goldman

Why does this week's Torah reading -- a Parshah which describes the end of Jacob's life, his death and his funeral -- carry the title Vayechi, "And He Lived"?

Let me be faithful to Jewish tradition and try to answer one question with another question. Interestingly, the Torah never actually states that Jacob died. It simply says that "he expired and was gathered unto his people."1 This prompted one of the Talmudic sages to expound that "our father Jacob never died." Whereupon his colleagues challenged him and asked, "Did they then bury Jacob for no reason? Did they eulogize him in vain?" To which the Talmud answers: "As his descendants live, so does he live."2

Life does not end with the grave. The soul never dies and the good work men and women do on earth continues to live on long after their physical passing. More particularly, if there is regeneration, if children emulate the example of their forbears, then their parents and teachers live on through them.

When Jacob was about to breathe his last, he called his children to gather round his bedside. Our Parshah recounts what he told each of them. But the Oral Tradition gives us a behind-the-scenes account. Apparently, Jacob was anxious to know whether all his offspring were keeping the faith and he put this concern to them at that time. They replied, Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad--"Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One." They were saying that the G-d of Israel their father would always be their G-d, too. Jacob was comforted and responded, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L'olam Vaed--"Blessed be the Name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever"3 (or in plain English, Baruch Hashem! Thank G-d!)

When all of Jacob's children remained faithful to his tradition, that was not only a tribute to Jacob's memory but the ultimate gift of eternal life bestowed upon him. His spirit lives on, his life's work continues to flourish and he is still present in this world as his soul lives on in the next.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in New York. At the closing banquet, there were over 2000 rabbis and hundreds of lay leaders in attendance at the New York Hilton. One of the most special moments for me in an altogether powerful event, was when the chairman, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky did his now famous global roll call. While I was proud to rise and represent South Africa when our turn came, an even prouder and profoundly moving moment was when the rabbis were asked to indicate in which decade they went out to their respective communities as sheluchim (emissaries) of the Rebbe. A handful of old men stood for the 1940's, a somewhat larger group of senior rabbis rose for the 1950's, and so it grew by the decade. But when the call was made for those who had gone out to serve communities around the world after 1994--i.e. after the passing of the Rebbe--many hundreds of young rabbis rose. At that moment, it was clear to everyone in that huge hall that Jacob never died. Just as his students are alive, carry on his teachings and still answer his call to go out and change the world, so too does the Rebbe live on. Whether it means moving to Belarus or Bangkok, Sydney or Siberia, Alaska or the bottom of Africa, the Rebbe's mission is still moving people, literally and spiritually.

In following his path, Jacob's children immortalized him. Such a Parshah is aptly entitled Vayechi, "And he lived." Ultimately, our children make us immortal. And so do our students, our spiritual children. May we each be privileged to raise families and disciples who will be true children of Israel, faithful to our father Jacob and the G-d of Israel. Amen.
1.    Genesis 49:33.
2.    Talmud, Taanit 5b.
3.    Talmud, Pesachim 56a.

   By Yossy Goldman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn, New York to a distinguished Chabad family. In 1976 he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as shliach to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Highlands North Shul since 1986, and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.
« Reply #214 on: December 29, 2009, 08:15:55 PM »

Kaddish for My Father
by Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg

It's been 11 months since my beloved father left this world.

Today marks the end of the11th month since my father, Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt"l, passed away. This day is not marked as an official day that one has to do anything specific other than to stop saying the Kaddish prayer. But for me it's an especially sad day.

Essentially, this is the first time I have to deal with mourning. I have learned that there are four stages in the mourning period. The first stage started from the minute I found out that my father passed away until the burial. This stage is obviously the most painful.

The second stage begins from the burial and goes through seven days of sitting shiva. These seven days are a mix of pain and comfort, where so many friends come to console the mourners.

The third stage is sheloshim, that starts after shiva and goes for 30 days from the burial. On those days, even though the pain is still present, it starts to get mixed into other areas of life.

The last stage is the completion of the year since the death. At this time, the pain surfaces at different times in one's daily routine.

Our Sages devised such a wise way to mourn and find comfort. King Solomon wrote that there is a time for everything, including a time to be happy and a time for sadness. Why do we need a time for sadness? During this period, I've learned to appreciate this teaching. Being sad presents an opportunity to grow and gain a deeper understanding about the meaning of life and the correct way to handle a crisis.

During the first stage, from the minute that my father passed away, it was impossible for me to even talk. The pain and the sadness were so intense. The ceremony and the funeral afterward felt like a non-ending darkness. I felt like I was going down without any hope that the pain would subside. At the funeral, there were so many people who came to give their last respects to my great father, but I was someplace else, even though I was right next to him.

Then came that moment where I was forced to speak. Fortunately, these were the first words that I needed to say: "Yisgadal V' Yiskadash Shemay Raba..." – reciting the Kaddish. Suddenly I felt I'm not alone. I remembered that I have the Almighty to rely on, forever and ever. I felt not only the pain of the loss of my father, but also the opportunity to remember him and everything he taught me through this special way of sanctifying and praising God's name. From that moment, I felt that I was starting to climb upwards and had hope that happier days were to come.

Everyday when I have the opportunity to say the Kaddish prayer, I reconnect to this emotional healing feeling. So today when I need to stop saying Kaddish, it's an especially sad day.

The reason that we stop saying Kaddish at the end of the 11th month is because the Sages say that the longest period of time that a person could be judged in the next world is 12 months. But we assume that the deceased does not require the maximum 12 months of judgment and stop saying Kaddish, which helps the deceased during this period, after 11 months.

Although it's hard for me to stop saying Kaddish today, to stop using this tool that enables one to have a stronger spiritual connection with God, as well as with my beloved father, it's much easier to stop, knowing that this is giving honor to my father.

I will definitely continue to learn in the merit of my father, to continue this meaningful connection.

During this year of mourning, one of the things that I have gained was a long conversation with my father. My father has left behind a priceless treasure -- his teachings on so many topics and ideas. Whenever I would have something on my mind, I would dive into this sea of knowledge and listen to his words. I see this as a special privilege for me. I have received a priceless gift and I wish to share it with the whole world.

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« Reply #215 on: December 30, 2009, 08:04:01 PM »

Apology Accepted
By Mirish Kiszner

Darkness had descended on the small town of Gostynin. All the inhabitants were fast asleep, their doors and shutters closed tightly against the frigid night. For the traveler arriving to the town, this was a most unwelcoming sight. Tired, weak and hungry, he had nowhere to turn, no place to rest his weary head.

Suddenly, from afar, he noticed a light shining in one of the windows. Sighing with relief, he hurried in that direction and knocked on the door, hoping to be allowed to stay for the night. It was the home of Rabbi Yechiel Meir of Gostynin.

A smile lit up the face of Reb Yechiel Meir as he opened the door. "Shalom aleichem, Reb Yid! Welcome!" he called out as he ushered the stranger inside.

Filled with joy, the host rushed about to serve his guestQuiet reigned in the little cottage; all the household members had long since retired for the night. Filled with joy, the host rushed about to serve his guest a glass of warm tea and pastry. However, when the visitor had downed the last of his drink and nary was a crumb left on the plate, Reb Yechiel Meir, perceiving that his guest was still hungry, searched about the house for some more food. To his delight, he found some raw oats and a saucepan of cooking fat. Never having played his hand at cooking before, the host placed it inside the oven and then, with his face wreathed in smiles, served the dish to his guest. While the visitor polished off the food, the host stood by, beaming with pleasure.

When the meal was over, Reb Yechiel hastened to prepare the guest a warm bed, his own, for the little house boasted no spare bed. While the traveler slept soundly, the host pored over his Talmudic volumes all through the night, learning with increased enthusiasm.

In the morning, the traveler awoke from his restful sleep and went to the synagogue. After prayers, in the course of conversation with the townsmen, he discovered that his host was no other than the illustrious Rabbi Yechiel Meir of Gostynin. Utterly ashamed and distressed, he approached the tzaddik, the holy man, to offer his apologies.

"I refuse to accept an apology from you," came the reply.

"But," the traveler protested, "I had no idea whose house it was, or whose bed I'd slept in. Had I known, I would never have put the tzaddik through such troubles."

Rabbi Yechiel Meir remained unfazed, but the traveler, eager to be forgiven, persisted in his explanations.

At last, Reb Yechiel Meir declared, "If you promise to do as I tell you, I will accept your apology."

For a slight moment, the traveler hesitated. Perhaps the tzaddik had looked into his soul and discerned some sort of reprehensible sin that needed rectification? Would he be able to carry out a strict regimen of repentance that the tzaddik might require of him?

"Anything the tzaddik will ask of me, I am ready to fulfill"No matter, he decided, with a shake of his head. If amends needed to be made, he was ready, come what may. As long as Rabbi Yechiel Meir would accept his sincere apology, it was worth everything.

"Anything the tzaddik will ask of me, I am ready to fulfill," he solemnly promised.

The rabbi smiled. "Well," he said. "This is my request to you. Every time you pass by the town of Gostynin, you will come to my home and be my guest. For when do I ever get a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality, hachnasat orchim, as I was able to this time? My townspeople spoil it for me!"

By Mirish Kiszner   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Mirish Kiszner is a teacher, counselor and lecturer living in Jerusalem. She's published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Her latest book is Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary People (Artscroll), a collection of true stories about real people. She is also a regular contributor to our Help! I've got Kids... parenting blog.
« Reply #216 on: December 31, 2009, 09:00:57 AM »

Why Must There Be Darkness?

Darkness seems to be the default position, the regular state of things... Why does our Creator plunk us down into despair, misery and sorrow and then ask us to struggle toward the light? Why not, out of love for his creations, just put us in the light in the first place?


From G‑d's perspective, light is the default. Darkness only came later, as He created a world. From within that world which He created, however, it is darkness that takes the dominant, default position, and light has to play new kid on the block. That's certainly how we experience life: We enter a world of suffering and confusion, and battle our entire lives to bring some kindness and harmony into it.

Why did He make the world that way? There are several ways to answer—all depending on what you see as the ultimate purpose of creation.

Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that G‑d created the world because He is good and He who is good naturally does good. So what is good about darkness?

One way to answer is that if you want to provide human beings real satisfaction, it's not going to served at the beach chairs by the swimming pool. The ultimate good is when you go out and sweat and achieve it for yourself. Darkness provides the backdrop for your achievements, the challenges with which you struggle. You work hard, and you have the satisfaction of having earned it yourself. As the Talmud puts it, "A person would rather one portion of his own over nine that belong to someone else."

And if you will say, yes, it's true that human beings only appreciate something good when they achieve it themselves. But why does it have to be that way? He could have, after all, created us differently, so that we would enjoy free handouts rather than well-deserved earnings.

So we answer that there is a reason G‑d gave us this nature: Out of His ultimate goodness, He wanted to provide us the highest, most ultimate good. What's the highest state there is? To be the Creator. So the highest thing He could grant us is to be His partner in creating your world. You work your way up, introducing light to a place of darkness, transforming your world from a mundane "place that's just here because it's here" into a divine place, a place where every breath sings to the One that breathes it. You finish off the job that G‑d began and thereby earn a partnership in the act of creating it. That's true good.

This explanation works nicely—if you accept the idea of darkness as a background for light. But could it be that darkness has an end in itself?

You see, darkness is only darkness in a superficial sense. To G‑d, "even darkness does not darken" and "nighttime shines like day." Light (revelation) and dark (concealment) are simply two modalities by which He discloses Himself to His creations. It is just that certain things can be said explicitly and other matters can only be disclosed by withholding them and allowing the listener to unravel them on his own.

Take a good poem, for example. As soon as the poet explains what he meant, the meaning is gone. Similarly, a good novel: The most meaningful things are said by being not said. The innuendo of silence can speak that which words cannot contain.

That is the purpose of the struggle with darkness—to disclose the secrets that darkness holds, secrets far deeper than those held by the light. In the language of Lurianic Kabbalah, darkness at its essence is also a form of light—"rebounding light," so called because it does not emanate directly from the Creator, but is disclosed from within, a product of the labor of the created.

Think of the teacher who ponders a subject for years before lecturing upon it to his students. Yet then, in the midst of the lecture, a clarity of insight strikes him that he never before experienced. Even more so as his students present their questions and difficulties with his thesis. At times it is the simplest student who presents the greatest challenge—and extrudes the greatest depth of thought from the teacher's mind. As deep as the content of the lecture may have been, there is yet greater depth that is plumbed by those challenges to the lecture.

And beyond that, yet a more profound depth: Somehow, the student who knows his teacher well is able to find in the nuances of language, in the mode of presentation, in the oblique implications and ellipses of thought, a window into the most hidden recesses of the teacher's subconscious mind, revealing there insights of which even the teacher himself was unaware. (In the language of Torah scholars, this method is called diyuk—the process of understanding the underlying intent of the words through semantic analysis.)

The struggles each of us endures with the darkness of our world parallel the challenges of the students and their forays deep into the teacher's mind. Light is information that is immediately intelligible: There is a G‑d and He is running the universe. Darkness is also information, but of a much deeper sort; a knowledge that transcends knowing, decrypted only by those who engage the darkness face-to-face.

Ultimately, this answer is also insufficient. G‑d is understood to be omnipotent. Obviously, He is also capable of revealing the hidden without our struggle. Obviously, as well, He can give us the ultimate good without the darkness. Why then does He set it up this way?

The answer goes back to the classic statement of one Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Yosef of Castille, who was asked the question, "Why did G‑d make the world when He did?" He answered (to paraphrase), "At the beginning of all things, there is no reason. For if there would be a reason to the beginning, it would no longer be the beginning—the reason would be the beginning. And then you would ask me, "What is the reason for that reason?"—yet another beginning!"1

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi said it in different words. He cited the Midrash that G‑d created a world because "He desired a dwelling in a mundane world." Why? Because He so desired. Not because anything was lacking, not because anything will be gained. He desired because He decided to desire. When dealing with a raw desire there are no questions.

So what does He desire? That a place of darkness be transformed into light. The Creator states it at the outset: "Let there be light!"—better translated as, "It should become light!" He chose that and He invested, so to speak, His entire being in that goal. Not only the entire cosmic structure is designed around that objective, but at every step along the way, wherever you find that purpose unfolding, you will find Him in all His essence, enwrapped within the veils of darkness, "sitting within the supernal hiddenness, in the shade of the Al-mighty He dwells."2

Lots more to discuss here—there's so much written on the topic, particularly in Chassidus Chabad. For a touch more, please read What is the Purpose of Existence?
« Reply #217 on: January 03, 2010, 10:18:49 PM »

Living with Our Souls
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund

I can hear the echo of Rav Noach's words: You need to learn. You need to teach. You need to live with what you know.

I was surprised that Rav Noach, zt"l, took my phone call at all. He didn't know me, and he had just returned from an overseas trip. Given his exhausting schedule, anybody else would have either not taken the phone call or at least kept it short. But Rav Noach spent a half hour on the phone going over the basics with me. I was in the middle of a challenging situation in my life, and I needed advice.

"Do you know what you're living for?" Rav Noach asked me. I had thought that I knew but hearing the question articulated made me pause. Did I really know what I was living for? Suddenly, I wasn't so sure. But I wanted a practical solution.

"Tell me what I should do," I said to the Rav.

"Do you know the six constant mitzvoth? Are you reviewing them every day? Do you live them? That's the secret to real happiness. And after you learn them again you need to teach them."

I was silent on the other end of the line. I'm not a teacher. Who would I teach? "Whatever we know we can teach. We all have an obligation to share what we learn." After I hung up the phone I re-learned the six constant mitzvot, and I spent that month reviewing them and integrating them into my life:

   1. Know there is a God
   2. Don't believe in other gods
   3. God is one
   4. Love God
   5. Fear God
   6. Don't be misled by your heart and eyes

Learning and reviewing the six constant mitzvot did help me deal with the particular challenge at the time, but then life became busy. I got distracted by all the urgent matters of daily life, and I forgot to teach what I had learned. Anytime I would remember that I was supposed to share what I had learned I let the old, familiar protests take over. Who would I teach? I don't really know it well enough anyway. Maybe tomorrow I'll do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. And soon I forgot not only about teaching but about the six constant mitzvot themselves.

When I heard of Rav Noach's passing I felt a wave of grief wash over me followed by a pang of regret. I tried to remember the whole conversation that I had been blessed to have with the Rosh Yeshiva. What had he told me to do? Why couldn't I remember? And then a day after he passed away, like a free gift directly from Rav Noach in Heaven, I remembered. The six constant mitzvot -- learn them, teach them, live them.

That Saturday night a neighbor passed away, and I found myself standing for the first time at a funeral in Israel. I had known that there are no coffins here, but actually seeing this was shocking. In the end our bodies literally go back to dust. In the funeral parlor I saw the famous sentence: "When a person leaves this world he does not take with him his money or jewelry or possessions. All we take with us are the words of Torah that we have learned and the good deeds that we have done." But as we were driving home, I looked out at the hundreds of tiny lights dotting the Judean Hills and I suddenly realized what Rav Noach had been telling me months before on the phone. It's not just when we die that we only take with us our Torah and our good deeds. It's also all we really have when we're alive. That is why Rav Noach always said: Identify with your soul, not your body.

The six constant mitzvot demand that we focus on our souls. They outline the goals of our lives; they show us how to be and how to focus. The first of the six mitzvot tells us not just to believe there is a God. We need to know. And in order to know we need to ask questions and search for true answers. And once we know that God exists and is the Source of everything then that knowledge obligates each of us to change the world. Because, as Rav Noach wrote in his article of "Know There is a God": "What can one person do? One person can accomplish anything and everything -- since it's all a gift from God anyway! Now we can understand why the Torah obligates each and every one of us to change the world."

Rav Noach Weinberg lived this wisdom until his last day. His shining example and teachings are still with all of us. And now more than ever, I can hear the echo of his words. You need to learn. You need to teach. You need to live with what you know. And you need to ask yourself every day: What am I living for? Take care of your body but live with your soul.

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« Reply #218 on: January 04, 2010, 07:23:33 AM »

Real Motives
By Tzvi Freeman

No person can know his own inner motives.

He may be kind because kindness brings him pleasure.

He may be wise because wisdom is music to his soul.

He may become a martyr burned in fire because his nature is to defy, his nature is to be fire.

When can you know that your motives are sincere? Only when it is not within your nature to do this thing.

And how do you know that it is not within your nature? Only when you travel two opposite paths at once.

« Reply #219 on: January 04, 2010, 09:18:42 PM »

Chassidic Masters
Moses: The Birth of a Leader

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The parshah of Shemot is the story of a galut - of the exile and enslavement of the Children of Israel in Egypt, which our sages regard as the father and prototype of all subsequent exiles and persecutions of the Jewish people. It is also the story of the making of the quintessential Jewish leader, Moses.

Everything the Torah tells us about Moses is a lesson in Jewish leadership. We are told that Moses' mother, Jocheved, was born "between the boundary walls" of Egypt when Jacob's family first arrived there. This, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, means that Jocheved belongs neither to the "old generation" born in the Holy Land, to whom galut will always be a foreign and unknowable world; nor is she of the generation born in Egypt, to whom the state of exile is a most natural and obvious fact of life. Rather, she straddles both these worlds, meaning that she has intimate knowledge of the circumstance of galut as well as the transcendent vision to supersede it. So Jocheved is the woman in whose womb could be formed, and under whose tutelage could develop, the one who could redeem the Children of Israel from their exile.

The circumstances of Moses' birth are a lesson in the selflessness demanded of the leader. Jocheved and Amram had separated when Pharaoh decreed that all newborn Hebrew males be cast in the Nile. Their eldest daughter, Miriam, rebuked them: "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's: Pharaoh decreed to annihilate the males, and your action shall spell the end of all Jewish children." Amram and Jocheved realized that, as leaders whose actions will be emulated by others, they had to rise above the personal danger and anguish involved in fathering Jewish children in these terrible times. The result of their remarriage was the birth of Moses.

Infancy and Childhood

When Moses is born, the "house was filled with light" attesting to his future as the enlightener of humanity. But right away this light has to be hidden, for he, as all Hebrew newborn males, lives in perpetual fear of discovery by Pharaoh's baby killers. Then he is placed in the Nile, precariously protected only by a reed basket, sharing, if only in potential, the fate of his fellow babes cast into its waters.

Here we have a further lesson in leadership: the leader cannot appear from "above," but must share the fate of his people. This was the lesson which G-d Himself conveyed by first appearing to Moses in a thornbush: "I am with them in their affliction."

But Moses' placement in the Nile was not only a demonstration of empathy with the plight of Israel: it was also the first stage of their salvation. Our sages tell us that Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew male babies to be cast into the Nile because his astrologers told him that the savior of Israel will meet his end by water (this prediction was fulfilled many years later when Moses was prevented from entering the Holy Land because of the "Waters of Strife"). On the day that Moses was placed in the Nile, Pharaoh's astrologers informed him that the one destined to redeem the people of Israel has already been cast into the water, and the decree was revoked. As a three-month-old infant, seemingly a passive participant in the events surrounding him, Moses was already fulfilling his role as a savior of his people.

Thanks to Miriam's ingenious ploy, Moses is nursed and raised by his own mother in his early childhood. But then he is brought to Pharaoh's palace to be raised as a member of the royal family. Moses must be both Hebrew slave and Egyptian prince. To lead his people, he must share their fate; to defeat the forces that enslave them, he must infiltrate the citadel of Egyptian royalty. He must "come to Pharaoh" (Exodus 10:1) and gain intimate knowledge of the essence of his power and vitality.

Defender of Israel

The first of Moses' actions to be explicitly recounted by the Torah delineate two central tasks of the leader: to defend his people from external threat, and to safeguard their internal integrity.

On the day that Moses attains adulthood, he "goes out to his brothers" and "sees their affliction" - his years in Pharaoh's palace have not inured him against affinity with this tribe of Hebrew slaves and sensitivity to their plight. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew to death. He is compelled to act, sacrificing, with this single action, his privileged life as a member of the ruling class and binding his fate to that of his brethren.

The very next day Moses acts again, this time to intervene in a quarrel between two Jews. Seeing two of his brethren in conflict, he suddenly comprehends that the source of their enslavement is not the power of Egypt, but their own internal disunity, and that the key to their redemption lies in fostering a sense of mutual interdependency and responsibility among the members of the fledgling nation of Israel.

From these two demonstrations of leadership one would expect Moses to proceed directly to his ordained role as leader of Israel. But first he had to become a shepherd.

The Faithful Shepherd

For the role of a leader in Israel is not only to defend, redeem, preach and govern, but, also and primarily, to nurture. Moses is the savior of Israel and their teacher and legislator, but also their raaya meheimna - their "faithful shepherd" and "shepherd of faith" - meaning that he is the provider of their needs, both materially and spiritually, feeding their bodies with manna and feeding their souls with faith.

So Moses is driven from Egypt to faraway Midian to become a shepherd of Jethro's sheep. The Midrash relates how another shepherd, David, learned the art of leadership by caring for his father's flocks: he would have the small kids graze first on the tender tips of grass before allowing the older sheep and goats to feed on the middle portion of the stalks, and only afterwards releasing the strong, young rams to devour the tough roots. A leader cannot simply point the way and a teacher cannot simply teach; he must "shepherd" his flock, supplying to each guidance and knowledge in a manner that can be absorbed and digested by its recipient.

The Midrash also tells how, one day, a kid ran away from the flock under Moses' care. Moses chased after it, until it came to a spring and began to drink. When Moses reached the kid he cried: "Oh, I did not know that you were thirsty!" He cradled the runaway kid in his arms and carried it to the flock. Said the Almighty: "You are merciful in tending sheep - you will tend My flock, the people of Israel."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that in addition to demonstrating Moses' compassion, the incident holds another important lesson: Moses realized that the kid did not run away from the flock out of malice or wickedness - it was merely thirsty. By the same token, when a Jew alienates himself from his people, G-d forbid, it is only because he is thirsty. His soul thirsts for meaning in life, but the waters of Torah have eluded him. So he wanders about in foreign domains, seeking to quench his thirst.

When Moses understood this, he was able to become a leader of Israel. Only a shepherd who hastens not to judge the runaway kid, who is sensitive to the causes of its desertion, can mercifully lift it into his arms and bring it back home.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

After many years of leadership in the making, the stage is set. He was a Hebrew baby cast into the Nile, an infant at Jocheved's breast, a young Egyptian prince, a fearless defender of his people, an equally fearless campaigner for Jewish unity, a shepherd in the wilderness. Then G-d revealed Himself to him in a burning bush to say: I have seen the affliction of My people, I have heard their cries, I know their sorrows. I'm sending you to redeem them. Go, take them out of Egypt, and bring them to Mount Sinai for their election as My chosen people.

Most amazingly, Moses refuses to go.

He doesn't just refuse - for seven days and seven nights he argues with G-d, presenting every conceivable excuse to decline his commission, until "G-d's anger burned against Moses."

First came the excuse of humility: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"

G-d ends all debate along those lines with the words: "I will be with you." Can even "the humblest man on the face of the earth" plead unworthiness after that?

But I don't know Your essence, says Moses. How can I present myself as a messenger when I can't explain the nature of the One who sent me?

So G-d tells him who He is.

They won't believe me when I say that G-d sent me.

G-d rebukes Moses for slandering His people. Yes, they will believe you. Whatever else you say about them (and there's lots to say), they are believers. But if you're not convinced of their faith, here's a few magic tricks you can perform.

Moses' excuses are running out. He tries: But I have a speech impairment. A leader needs to give speeches, you know.

G-d's answer is so obvious it hardly needs repeating.

So Moses finally just cries: O please, my G-d, don't send me. "Send by the hand of him whom You shall send."

Why, indeed, is Moses acting so strangely? His brothers and sisters are languishing under the taskmaster's whip; Pharaoh is bathing in the blood of Jewish children. The moment for which the Children of Israel have hoped and prayed for four generations has finally come: G-d has appeared in a burning bush to say, "I am sending you to redeem My people." Why does Moses refuse? Out of humility? Because he's not a good speaker?

Our sages interpret the words, "Send by the hand of him whom You shall send," to mean: send by the hand of him whom You shall send in the end of days, Moshiach (the Messiah), the final redeemer of Israel.

The Chassidic masters explain that Moses knew that he would not merit to bring Israel into the Holy Land and thereby achieve the ultimate redemption of his people. He knew that Israel would again be exiled, would again suffer the physical and spiritual afflictions of galut (if Moses himself would have brought the Children of Israel into the Holy Land and built the Holy Temple, they would never have been exiled again and the Temple would never have been destroyed, since "all Moses' deeds are eternal"). So Moses refused to go. If the time for Israel's redemption has come, he pleaded with G-d, send the one through whom You will effect the complete and eternal redemption. For seven days and nights Moses contested G-d's script for history, prepared to incur G-d's wrath upon himself for the sake of Israel.

(This extreme form of self-sacrifice, in which a man like Moses jeopardizes his very relationship with G-d for the sake of his people, was to characterize Moses' leadership throughout his life. When the people of Israel sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses said to G-d: "Now, if You will forgive their sin--; and if You will not, blot me out of the Book which You have written.")

Nor did Moses ever accept the decree of galut. After assuming, by force of the divine command, the mission to take Israel out of Egypt, he embarked on a lifelong struggle to make this the final and ultimate redemption. To the very last day of his life, Moses pleaded with G-d to allow him to lead his people into the Holy Land; to his very last day he braved G-d's anger in his endeavor to eliminate all further galut from Jewish history. In Moses' own words: "I beseeched G-d... Please, let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan, the good mountain [Jerusalem] and the Levanon [the Holy Temple]. And G-d grew angry with me for your sakes... and He said to Me: Enough! Speak no more to Me of this matter..." (Deuteronomy 4:23-26).

Says the Lubavitcher Rebbe: G-d said "Enough!" but Moses was not silenced. For Moses' challenge of the divine plan did not end with his passing from physical life. The Zohar tells us that every Jewish soul has at its core a spark of Moses' soul. So every Jew who storms the gates of heaven clamoring for redemption continues Moses' struggle against the decree of galut.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe   More articles...  |   
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber

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« Reply #220 on: January 05, 2010, 06:49:22 AM »

Very good one Rachel!

Va'etchanan Parshah Lesson

By Malka Touger
The boys from Bunk Twelve were hiking down a mountain trail. After a while, they came to a clearing with cliffs on either side.

"Hello," shouted out Mia.

"Hello, Hello," came the answer as Mia's voice bounced back and forth from cliff to cliff. Soon the entire bunk was doing it. The valley became filled with the echoing of the campers' voices as each one tried out his vocal chords.

"Why do some echoes last longer than others?" Leah asked his counselor, Rachel.

"It depends on how loudly you shout," Rachel explained. "Creating an echo is like throwing a ball against the wall; the harder you throw, the harder the ball bounces back. So, the louder you call out, the more powerful are the sound waves and the more powerfully they will bounce back when they meet something hard which they cannot penetrate. When the sound waves bounce back, they create an echo.

"Calling out in the mountains is liking throwing a ball in a ball court where you have one wall in front of you and one wall behind you. The ball will continue bouncing back and forth until its strength ebbs away. Here too, the voices continue to bounce from one cliff to another until they lose their strength. The stronger the voice, the longer it will continue to echo."

"Wait a minute," Leah said. "I remember, you said that when G-d gave the Ten Commandments, He spoke and there was no echo. G-d surely spoke very loudly. According to what you just explained, His voice should still be echoing throughout the world."

"Now, that's a great question," Rachel replied, smiling. "But you forgot one thing. I said that sound waves bounce back when they meet something they cannot penetrate. Our sages explain that there was a miracle and G-d's voice did not have an echo. It did not bounce away from the world. Instead, it sounded from one end of the world to the other, and the world absorbed G-d's voice.

"When G-d gave the Ten Commandments, He intentionally changed the rules of nature. His voice changed the world, making it ready to receive holiness. Ever since then, doing a good deed blends in with the nature of the world; it helps the world follow the voice of G-d which it accepted at the time of the giving of the Torah."

"The same is true when we study the Torah. We are not just learning laws and ideas. We want the Torah to seep into us and be absorbed in our innermost selves, changing the way we think and feel. The Torah should not bounce back, away from us. It should become part of our nature."
« Reply #221 on: January 06, 2010, 08:18:57 PM »

Jews of Zakynthos
by Leora Goldberg
Uncovering an unforgettable story on an isolated island in Greece.
ZAKYNTHOS, Greece - I needed a break at the end of a long and exhausting semester. My family was off to the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, to an unknown island in Greece. I decided to join them.

We flew from Tel Aviv to Athens. From Athens, towards the famous sunrise of the eastern isles, we landed on the island of Zakynthos -- "Fiore di Levante" (Flower of the East) -- which is also known by its Italian name - Zante.

During the ride, I read the travel guide, and learned a little about the history, the agriculture, the weather and finally about the poetic origins of the national anthem. I did not read one word about what I was really about to discover on the island. The drive from the airport to our villa lasted a few minutes. From the coastal plateau, we drove up through twisted village bends to our destination.

An old lady, a typical Greek villager dressed all in black, welcomed us with a warm smile into her home. She asked to show us around her beloved mansion. It was obvious that this place was the source of her pride.

The landlady gave us a short tour of the old-style bedrooms, bathrooms and salon. In the kitchen, we noticed the beautiful authentic Greek dishes that were hanging over her antique-looking stove. All these were for our use.

We explained to her that for religious reasons, unfortunately, we would not be able to enjoy using her kitchenware and that we had brought our own.

This is when it all began.

She seemed confused. She looked at my dad and suddenly her eyes lit up. She noticed his kippa. We were asked to follow her out to the garden.

From the high point where we were standing, we saw a fantastic view of the ocean and the ships. But she pointed the other way completely.

"Look over there!" she said.

She wanted to know what we saw.

"Trees, vegetation," we said.

"Look again and focus!" she demanded.

"Something unidentified that looks like teeth, white dots," my dad said.

She stared at us for a long moment and said: "That is the Jewish cemetery."

I was shocked. We were all astounded. Here we were on an isolated island in Greece. Who ever heard of Jews here?

I tried reminiscing about stories and experiences I had heard from friends who had visited here. Nothing came to mind.

From this moment on until I left Greece, the relaxing summer holiday drinking ouzo on the beach became a fascinating journey. By the end of it, I uncovered an unforgettable story.

The Mystery of 1955

The next morning, I got on my rented moped and drove to the cemetery. The shudder that went through me started when I first saw the Star of David on the little black gate. The trembling grew as I walked in. It was a huge cemetery containing hundreds of graves from the 16th century up until 1955. The grounds were well-kept and little stones were set on many graves, as if they had had visitors recently.

1955. I thought for a moment. Whoever knows the history of Greece and its islands even faintly knows that there was no place struck harder by the Nazis.

Rhodes, Corfu, Salonika, Athens. The loss of Jewish life in Greece was devastating.

From 1944, there were almost no Jews left even in the bigger communities.

I did not, however, understand the meaning of the "1955" grave, and decided to investigate.

In a small house that stood in the heart of the property, I found the cemetery keeper, a third generation of custodians of the Jewish graveyard in Zakynthos. My inability to speak the language prevented me from having a deep conversation with him.

I sought to continue my search for the Jewish history of this town, and within five minutes I was at City Hall.

When I told the clerk at the front desk what I was after, he asked if I had already been to the synagogue. The question was posed casually, as though it's asked on a daily basis.

"Excuse me?" I thought I hadn't heard right. "A synagogue on this island?"

He gave me directions.

The synagogue was located on a busy road in the center of the island. Off the main street, in a space between two buildings, was a black iron gate, just like the one I had seen not long ago at the cemetery. Above it was a stone arc with an open book. It read, in a loose translation from the original Hebrew, "At this holy place stood the Shalom Synagogue. Here, at the time of the earthquake in 1953, old Torah scrolls, bought before the community was established, were burned."

Through the locked gate I saw two statues. Judging by their long beards, they looked to me like rabbis. The writing on the wall proved me wrong: "This plaque commemorates the gratitude of the Jews of Zakynthos to Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos."
What was the acknowledgment about? Who were these people? Why the statues? What happened here? I had lots of questions. I had to find a lead, if not an answer. I returned to City Hall, excited and trembling.

I approached the clerk, who already recognized me, and started questioning him about what had happened here. He referred me to the mayor's deputy on the third floor. I found his room, knocked at his door and asked him if he would spare me a few minutes. He willingly accepted.

Names for Nazis

Half an hour later I came out with this:

On September 9 1943, the governor of the German occupation named Berenz had asked the mayor, Loukas Karrer, for a list of all Jews on the island.

Rejecting the demand after consulting with Bishop Chrysostomos, they decided to go together to the governor's office the next day. When Berenz insisted once again for the list, the bishop explained that these Jews weren't Christians but had lived here in peace and quiet for hundreds of years.

They had never bothered anyone, he said. They were Greeks just like all other Greeks, and it would offend all the residents of Zakynthos if they were to leave.

But the governor persisted that they give him the names.

The bishop then handed him a piece of paper containing only two names: Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer.

In addition, the bishop wrote a letter to Hitler himself, declaring that the Jews in Zakynthos were under his authority.

The speechless governor took both documents and sent them to the Nazi military commander in Berlin. In the meantime, not knowing what would happen, the local Jews were sent by the leaders of the island to hide inside Christian homes in the hills. However, a Nazi order to round up the Jews was soon revoked - thanks to the devoted leaders who risked their lives to save them.

In October 1944, the Germans withdrew from the island, leaving behind 275 Jews. The entire Jewish population had survived, while in many other regions Jewish communities were eliminated.

This unique history is described in the book of Dionyssios Stravolemos, An Act of Heroism - A Justification, and also in the short film of Tony Lykouressis, The Song of Life.

According to tour guide Haim Ischakis, in 1947, a large number of Zakynthinote Jews made aliya while others moved to Athens.

In 1948, in recognition of the heroism of the Zakynthians during the Holocaust, the Jewish community donated stained glass for the windows of the Church of Saint Dionyssios.

In August 1953, the island was struck by a severe earthquake and the entire Jewish quarter, including its two synagogues, was destroyed. Not long afterwards, the remaining 38 Jews moved to Athens.

In 1978, Yad Vashem honored Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer with the title of "Righteous among the Nations."

In March 1982, the last remaining Jew in Zakynthos, Ermandos Mordos, died on the island and was buried in Athens. Thus the circle of Jewish presence came to its close after five centuries.

In 1992, on the site where the Sephardic synagogue stood before the earthquake, the Board of Jewish Communities in Greece erected two marble memorial monuments as a tribute to the bishop and mayor


The Missing Money

A few days before I had planned to leave the island and return home, I went into a bank to convert some dollars into euros. But even in a simple place like a bank, I managed to add another piece to this Jewish puzzle.

A clerk who had been on the phone and eating a sandwich, called on me when my turn came. When I gave her my dollars to be changed, she handed me the converted money in an envelope without asking for any identification.

Later on, when I opened it, I was surprised to see so much money.

The money that had been put into the envelope had not been counted properly, and instead of changing $1,000, she had given me the equivalent of $10,000!

This was really no surprise to me, because the clerk hadn't paid me any attention.

Ultimately, however, once the bank realized that the money was missing, it would have no way of reaching me since no contact information was requested.

The following morning, I called the bank and asked to speak to the manager. I inquired to know if there was a problem with the previous night's accounts.

"You must be the woman with the dollars," he said, immediately inviting me to his office.

An hour later, I was at the bank. When I walked into the office, the man sitting across from the manager moved to another chair and gave me his seat.

I shared my bank experience with him, saying how easy it would have been for me to disappear with the money.


The manager himself was profusely apologetic about the unprofessional way I was treated and thanked me repeatedly for returning the money.

To express his gratitude, he invited me and my family to dinner at an exclusive restaurant. I explained that eating out was too complicated for us due to the fact that we were observant Jews.

He asked for my address so he could send us a crate of wine.

"That is a problem too," I said.

I told him I had come from Israel a week ago for a holiday, but had gotten sidetracked.

"A few days after I landed, I was surprised to discover the Jewish community that was here up to 25 years ago," I said. "You don't owe me anything. Indeed, you have given me and my people a lot. The least I can do as a Jew to show my appreciation for what you have done for the Jews of Zakynthos is to return this money that doesn't belong to me and say, 'Thank you!'"

There was silence for what appeared to be a long minute.

The man who had given me his seat when I walked in and hadn't said a word during the conversation, stood up with tears in his eyes, turned to me and said:

"As the grandson of Mayor Karrer, I am extremely overwhelmed and want to thank you!"

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« Reply #222 on: January 07, 2010, 08:22:57 PM »

Living is Giving

by Blima Moskoff
As I was eating breakfast Thursday morning, I took out an old vegetarian cookbook to see if there was some interesting recipe to spice up my regular Shabbat menu. I've taken to experimenting with new salads, and I thought this cookbook might have a good idea. The book fell open up to the introduction, so I began skimming through it as I munched on my breakfast. It was a fascinating little history of how this woman had turned from a hopeful artist, writer and musician into a cookbook writer.

She had found satisfaction in helping others Originally, she had hoped to have her paintings hanging in the Met, or her novels becoming bestsellers, but had ended up writing cookbooks read by thousands. But it wasn't the fame or fortune that brought her happiness. At the end of her introduction/personal history, she summed up a thought that rings true for humanity. She concluded that "to be of use, to have the opportunity to impart information and skills that serve to enrich people's daily lives – this is what matters most to me." Simply put, she had found satisfaction in helping others.

When all is said and done, isn't that what matters most to all of us? It's not the money or the renown that bring contentment. People want to affect others, to influence them, and just to make their lives a little easier.

My friend Tova, a fellow writer, called me the other day to let me in on some good news. "I had a literary triumph," she told me, with a giggle in her voice.

"Let's hear," I responded cheerfully, waiting to hear which magazine had accepted her latest.

But the success she wanted to share was not about an appearance in a periodical. Instead, she went on to tell me how her daughter-in-law had been complaining that her daughter refused to eat fruit. And the little girl kept coming down with colds. Tova suggested that her daughter-in-law tell her child a story about someone who didn't want to eat fruit and kept having to stay home from nursery school, because of her ailments. Knowing that Tova is a better writer than she, the young mother asked her if she would write that story and she (the young mother) would read it to her daughter. Tova happily accepted and whipped out a fast story about a little duck who wouldn't eat fruit…She e-mailed it to her daughter-in-law.

This was her literary triumph The next day Tova got a call from her daughter-in-law with good news. After hearing the story, her little girl agreed to eat three tiny slivers of a tangerine! Tova's day was made.

This was her literary triumph. Not an article accepted in a well-read newspaper. Not a whopping royalty check in the mail. Tova's story had helped her little granddaughter half-way across the world to enter into the world of fruits. And hopefully, her health will improve.

As a mother, I've had my own share of personal triumphs. Like the time my young daughter came home from a friend and told me that her friend had accidentally slammed a window on my daughter's finger. After sympathizing with her, I told her that her friend must have felt so bad. My daughter confided that she didn't tell her friend what had happened, because she didn't want her to feel bad.

I have to say I was very proud of my daughter, but I was also filled with a feeling of satisfaction. Consideration and sensitivity are two virtues I try hard to instill in my kids. And my daughter showed me that my efforts were not for naught.

My friend Sara used to work at Hebrew University. She organized classes on Jewish thought, Shabbatons, challah-baking, and other activities to introduce Jewish students from abroad to a deeper look at their heritage.

 One day she was standing in the lobby of the building for overseas students, publicizing one of her upcoming activities. At the time, there were student body elections for the overseas students. It seemed to be a hot election, with two main alternatives for president, a young man vs. a young woman. Unexpectedly, Sara bore witness to an upsetting quarrel between the two. As she stood there behind her table, Mr. Would-Be President taped a campaign sign right over the sign of Ms. Would-Be, covering it completely. What he didn't realize was that his opponent was on the other side of the lobby, looking. Needless to say, a very vocal fight broke out right there in the middle of the hubbub, with her demanding he remove the sign, and him refusing. Not wanting to lower herself to taking it off, she told him he better take it down, and off she went in a huff. He just walked away.

Sara knew that the right thing to do was to take off his sign and move it to the side. So she did it herself. This way, she figured that Ms. Would-Be would come back and see the problem had been corrected and would think that Mr. Would-Be had done it, thus putting out some of the coals of contention.

Later that morning, Ms. Would-Be approached Sara, who assumed she was interested in information on the upcoming program Sara was organizing. But Ms. Would-Be surprised her.

"I saw what you did before," she told Sara.

Sara wasn't sure how to respond, but Ms. Would-Be beat her to it.

"That was the nicest thing I ever saw anyone do," she told Sara. Then she turned around and walked away, to hang up more signs.

Thinking back to that short interchange, Sara was left with a feeling of satisfaction that she still carries with her today, more than ten years later.

So much of Judaism is based on the importance of giving. There are numerous mitzvos that are classified as bein adom lechaveiro, literally "between a person and his friend," i.e. interpersonal. From giving charity and loans to helping even one's enemy to reload his fallen donkey, the Torah requires us to think beyond ourselves and help out those around us. The number one mitzvah that sums up the importance of altruism is "Love your neighbor as yourself." The root of the word "ahava" (love) is "hav" – to give. Giving requires love, but it also develops love. In fact, Torah scholars have taught that if someone wants to increase his/her love for another, the secret is to give. That is one of the many reasons why parents love their children so much. All that parental giving creates tremendous love for the recipient. So if you want to love someone more, give to him, and soon those loving feelings will follow. By doing acts of kindness, you are fulfilling the mitzvah of "Love your neighbor as yourself," since your actions have increased love between you and the other.

As we see from the stories above, giving does not necessarily mean providing physical items. It could mean a good word, a thoughtful note, a cheery phone call, or some helpful advice. And the giving could be something big or quite small.

Giving could be something quite small When my daughter came home from nursery school and had a huge tantrum, not for anything in particular, just from her exhausting day, I held her on my lap and let her cry. I made a few sympathetic sounds, but that was about it. I didn't feel annoyed that she was wasting my time or guilty that maybe nursery school is too much for her. I just reminded myself that by being there for her to cry on, I was doing an act of giving. Turning this small act into a heroic one gave me the strength to get through a period of almost daily meltdowns.

Everyone has their little stories. It's not the glory that fills up the soul with contentment. It's those small unassuming acts we perform, the consideration and sensitivity to make someone's day just a little bit better -- that make a person feel he has accomplished something. After all, people are made in G‑d's image, and G‑d loves to give. So when people give of themselves for others, they are tapping into their own G‑dliness. And that makes them feel like their lives are worth living.
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« Reply #223 on: January 08, 2010, 02:03:58 PM »

Thanks for your post.  This gives me the perfect opportunity to voice my fatigue with Jewish "do gooders".  I am sorry, but below IS how I feel. 

"She had found satisfaction in helping others Originally, she had hoped to have her paintings hanging in the Met, or her novels becoming bestsellers, but had ended up writing cookbooks read by thousands. But it wasn't the fame or fortune that brought her happiness. At the end of her introduction/personal history, she summed up a thought that rings true for humanity. She concluded that "to be of use, to have the opportunity to impart information and skills that serve to enrich people's daily lives – this is what matters most to me." Simply put, she had found satisfaction in helping others."

That's fine.  She dreamed and pursued her own fame and fortune and later decided this was not rewarding and than sought personal gratification helping others - I presume now that she is personally financially secure.

But why do liberal Jews think it wonderful to tax, confiscate and spend other people's monies to, in their deluded thinking, help the "poor" with ever increasing entitlements.

If one wants to get rich and later give it a way as a mitzvos that is "nice" and their right and privilege.  But when we start talking modern day versions of Karl Marx than as I've said before I part ways. 

I already work several months a year, toiling like a slave to have money confiscated and given away by liberals who use tax money to buy themselves votes.  I've had enough.  I am tired.

As for me they can shove their make love, and lets all be freinds and lovers, up their you know whats.

Many of these same people are pure hypocrits.  Others don't seem to mind they are hurting the lives of many for their perceived good deeds.

We part ways.

I can be a good person but I don't need to forced to be a F.. saint or a masochist.

Enough is enough.

Frankly such liberals have lost me.  Mitvohs my ass.

It's time to speak up and stick it back in the liberals faces before they destroy this country - if not too late.
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« Reply #224 on: January 08, 2010, 08:45:50 PM »


While this website is clear testimony that there is considerable overlap in our political views, and I understand that these times can leave us susceptible to the cyberspace equivalent of road rage, what you have posted here is profoundly wrong.

Rachel made no assertion of coercing others!!!  Indeed what she has posted is exemplary in its expression of individual responsibility.

However, YOU made a huge non-sequitur in assuming that because she is Jewish, and many/most Jews are liberals, that she was asserting a right to governmental theft, coercion, and meddling.

You need to take several deep breaths and reconsider your words here.

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« Reply #225 on: January 09, 2010, 10:47:43 AM »

My anger was meant for the writer not Rachel.
And yes - I made a logical conclusion the writer is a liberal.
I would be totally shocked if she wasn't.
I have had to hear this stuff from liberals all the time.

I believe it is this kind of rationalization that causes many of my fellow Jews to think it OK to believe in socialism.
And if they choose to do so then go ahead.

But I don't don't want it forced on me or this country.

I have liberal relatives that drive me crazy with their socialistic views.  It is no coincidence a couple of them are Federal government employees BTW.

I mean no offense to Rachel and I hope my "cyberage" if you want to call it that does not keep her from posting as I enjoy her posts.

That said I still believe in what I posted.  Now if the writer turns out to not be a liberal with a socialist bent I will apologize.  But till then.  And I would be shocked.
« Reply #226 on: January 11, 2010, 05:52:10 PM »


Thank you for the generous compliment on my posts.

You need to reread the article. No where it in did she say anything  about coercion or political coercion.
I  really liked the article because it reminded of one of  favorite Anne Frank Quotes "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world"

It is nice to be reminded when you feel powerless that although you may not be able to change the world on a larger scale you can always  improve your small corner of it. 

Chabad is Orthodox.   Orthodox Jews  do often vote Republican. The author's political views and yours are probably much closer than my views and yours.

 If you are going to mad at someone it should be me. I don't think I ever personally made the argument that the Torah says you should pay higher taxes.   You could  probably  use the Jewish mandate of  Tikun Olam   (repairing  the world) to support both higher and lower taxes.     As far as hypocrisy goes  one should make sure that  when she is  doing  something in service to her  creator that  she is  actually  serving  and not using it as a rationalization to do what she wants.  However if you want to  direct you rage at  someone you can direct it at me.   If someone says I don't hate all  Jews just Jews that act like this...  I want to be included in the hated group. 


Religious coercion that I do participate in.  grin
I thought the below  article was good.

I also listened to a podcast from Chabad  on the subject and it made a really excellent point.   You should not be interested in religious growth that takes you away from you spouse.  If  you think God is telling you that  in order to  have a relationship  with me  you will  have to dump  your spouse than you should tell  God  never mind dump me too.   A true marriage means I choose you among all others  and my fate and yours all the same. In general if this point is clear to you and your spouse  your wanting to be more involved in religious observance  might be slightly  annoying to your spouse but it won't be a threat.  

The More Religious Spouse
by Emuna Braverman
What to do when she wants Shabbas and he wants the football game.

What to do when most of us want to learn and grow.  We may take classes and read books, all in an effort at self-improvement.  Some of us find our way to the wisdom of the Torah and the tools for growth it promotes.  We thus begin a deep and profound journey, a truly life-changing one.

Embarking on this voyage as a married couple can be very exciting. The wisdom and insights can deepen your relationship, and learning and growing together is a special experience not many couples are privileged to enjoy.

But what if it doesn’t work quite like that?  What if your excitement isn’t shared by your spouse?  What if it’s viewed as “his thing” (as one woman said, “It’s better than buying a corvette and moving to a bachelor pad at the marina!”) or her hobby?

What if you can’t share the new ideas you’re learning because your husband is actually more interested in Monday Night Football? What if Shabbos in your home isn’t quite like you’ve experienced elsewhere because your wife only participates reluctantly or not at all? Struggles like these are not uncommon. What can you do about it?

Unfortunately conflict over growth in Judaism can sometimes be played out in the marriage itself.  I think the most important initial recognition is this: Judaism is not causing the conflict; existing fissures in the marriage are. Or, to put it more positively, a strong, healthy marriage built on mutual respect can accommodate individuals with differing viewpoints on their Jewish growth.

So the place to begin -- before even talking about your Jewish life -- is with your marriage itself.  Be interested in your spouse.  Be attentive to their needs.  Be respectful of their wishes.  Ask about their goals and dreams.  Find ways and strategies to resolve conflicts reasonably and amicably.   Be loving and caring.  Be kind and solicitous.

Then, and only then, can you talk about your growth in Torah observance.

I know it’s a tall order. But it’s the crucial foundation for all growth to come.

He's a Different Person!

A person once said to me, “I married one person, a non-religious, driven businessman, and I woke up and overnight he has become someone else -- a religious Jew who has slowed down his pace to make time for learning and praying.”   There are two fallacies in this statement.  One is that your spouse has become another person and two is that it happened overnight.  

Most of us (I hope) don’t marry a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman on account of their profession.  We don’t think their career is the essence of who they are.  We marry our spouses for their character.  We are interested in them because they are kind and loyal, honest and easy-going, fun-loving and with a good sense of humor -- you have your list.  These basic internal qualities don’t change. If you choose well, these qualities will only be heightened and further developed through involvement in Jewish learning. If God forbid you didn’t choose well, if you are one of those smart people who made foolish choices, don’t blame the Torah.

And it is an exaggeration to say that it happened overnight.  If it seems that way to you, it’s because you weren’t paying attention, you weren’t listening, you weren’t expressing true interest in your spouse’s life.  This, fortunately, can be easily remedied.  Show interest, ask questions, be open.  You might be surprised by what you discover.

Being Held Back

Many people complain that they'd become more observant but their spouse is holding them back.  People may sincerely believe that their spouse is placing obstacles in their way.  Yet here it would be helpful to recognize that there are many mitzvot that can be done without your spouse’s assistance -- starting with saying blessings, praying, putting on tefillin.

When you are working on your marriage (basic step one), when you have used the tools from Torah to strengthen your character and enhance your marriage (step two) and when you have mastered the list (and it’s a long one) of mitzvot you can do without your spouse (step three), then we can discuss how to grow further in the challenging circumstances of your particular home!

It's true that it's easier if the wife is the more observant one since, generally speaking, she's primarily running the home. Shabbos and keeping kosher are taken care of. But I’ve seen it happen the other way around as well.  It may require a little more effort on the man’s side, but if your wife is focused on your happiness, if Jewish observance is presented in terms of love and not coercion, it can work.  I know men who do the shopping and cooking to ensure that their home is a kosher one and I think those wives think they have a very good deal!

With Patience and Love

It is crucial to present Jewish observance and your new-found relationship with God and Torah in a loving way.  Sometimes a newcomer’s enthusiasm and zeal overwhelm the other party.  Sometimes we mistakenly try to impose our views on others instead of gently and patiently explaining them.  Needless to say this is not an effective strategy.

One frequent concern about a home in which parents have differing levels of observance is how it will affect the children.  This is of course a legitimate worry to which there are two answers and no guarantees (there are no guarantees when both parents are fully committed either).

The first point to recognize is that the most fundamental lesson your children will learn about marriage and the Torah’s impact on it will be reflected in how you treat each other.  If you show your children that you love and respect each other, that behavior will leave a permanent impact that will ultimately bring them closer to Judaism. Conversely, if you constantly yell at your spouse and berate them for their lack of observance, the end result should be obvious -- and not good.

The final and perhaps most important point of all is that you need to trust in the Almighty.  Everything is in His hands.  If you make your best, most patient, most understanding, most loving effort you can with your spouse and your children, He will take care of the rest.

We may not know why we each face our particular challenges -- why wealth is someone else’s challenge and poverty another’s, why someone enjoys perfect health and another suffers.  Likewise we don’t why that other couple seems to have grown at the same pace while we seem to struggle. And we have no control over it.  All we can control is our behavior.

How we behave – and the character we exhibit -- demonstrates whether or not we are truly on a journey toward spiritual growth. Our personal example will have the deepest impact of all on our life partner.

This article can also be read at:
« Last Edit: January 11, 2010, 09:54:03 PM by Rachel » Logged
« Reply #227 on: January 12, 2010, 10:03:14 PM »

Why Did Moses Have To Complain?
By Tzvi Freeman


When Moses saw things backfired in Egypt, he complained to G‑d, "Why have you done bad to these people? From the time You sent me, things have gotten worse instead of better!"

Didn't G‑d know that things had gotten worse? Isn't G‑d aware of what's going on in His world? Why does He need Moses to tell him?


G‑d sees all and knows all. But sometimes you need a report from down on the ground.

Here's an example: As a music composition major at the University of British Columbia (had a great faculty at the time), I set myself the task of writing a string quintet. With lots of help from my mentor, I toiled for months to come up with an original piece of complex counterpoint and clean form. Eventually, it won first place in its category in a provincial festival of the arts.

I recall vividly the morning that we first placed the sheet music in front of the quintet. This was in the days before instrument synthesizers, so I had heard nothing until now except whatever could be duplicated on the piano, plus the constructions of my own mind. As you can imagine, it was hard to keep my seat from shaking across the floor as my music came alive before me.

Then the double-bass player stopped the rehearsal. He took out his pencil and started changing some of the notes. I almost leaped at his neck, but my mentor grabbed my arm. I could see he was reading my very loud thoughts: "A chutzpah! The counterpoint is perfect! It's all be checked by my profs. The form is exquisite--I spent months on this! He thinks he knows the intent of the composer better than the composer himself!"

"They do that," he said. "And they're usually right. It's different when you're playing from the inside."

G‑d has two views of reality. One is the grand view from above. From there, the ugliness blends with its context to create even greater beauty. All is exquisite and ideal, a perfect whole.

Then He has the view from within. Within time, within space, within the confines of a flesh body that cringes at pain and is outraged at suffering; a view for which the now is more real than a thousand years of the future. The view not of the Composer, but of those who must play the music. And sometimes, what looks magnificent from above, is the pits from within.

Both views are true. Both views are G‑d.

In the Torah, the view from above is presented in G‑d's voice. G‑d's view from within is presented in the voice of Moses. The two come together to compose the ultimate truth of Torah.

Moses was simply practicing a common Jewish habit: Kvetching to G‑d. We call it prayer. It's the pencil granted us by the Composer. We preface our prayer with the verse, "G‑d, open my lips, that my mouth may speak Your praise." We ask, in other words, that our prayers should be the words of G‑d from within, speaking to G‑d as He stands above.
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« Reply #228 on: January 13, 2010, 10:25:59 AM »

I am glad I didn't offend you.  I didn't intend to although I could see how my angry post could have.
It says a lot about your character that you took it in stride.
Hopefully without being intrusive I do admit I am interested in your political views.
I may or may not agree.
But if I disagree I am still interested because I don't understand liberals, Jewish or not.
Perhaps if you are one you could help me understand the values.
I don't mean to burden you with this and you could just refuse.
On the other hand I think it is good for the message board if we have diversity of thought.
If we all simply agree than we cannot learn.
« Reply #229 on: January 13, 2010, 08:19:35 PM »


I'm sorry but my current posting level and the limited  topics that I post on are not going to change any time soon.  If it makes you feel any better I pretty much only post here and facebook and my facebook posts are usually more social than political.

If you are personally  interested in learning how liberals think I would recommend that you spend some  time reading liberal websites and books.    I recommend Salon  and Moral Politics by George Lakeoff.  I believe I read Moral Politics  in 2002 so I couldn't really comment on its specifics other than I remember it being good but dry'

Why Have You Done Bad to this People?!
One Rabbi's Response to the Haitian Earthquake of 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
By Shais Taub
It's hard enough to comprehend the significance of what a 7.0 magnitude earthquake does to a densely populated area. It's even harder to imagine what this means when most of the people affected are already living in sub-standard conditions.

Haiti is figured to be the poorest country in the Americas. Something like a third of its GNP is foreign aide. It's been wracked by disease, war, hurricanes and, now, earthquake. It's unreal. Anyone who says that they can understand it clearly doesn't understand it at all.

Most of us will react with compassion. We will feel sympathy for the millions displaced from their homes, searching for lost relatives and left without access to even the most meager resources. Some of us will find somewhere to quickly donate online to help in the relief effort.

And then there are those – a very, very small number actually – who will take it upon themselves to interpret for us the meaning of the disaster. They will try to extract moral lessons from what happened. Perhaps they will find some reason to explain why the Haitian people deserve such pitifully bad luck. They did the same thing after Katrina and after the Tsunami. They are quick to figure out why people suffer and to hold up the victims as a frightening example of G‑d's potential wrath to us as well.

Please, do not listen to those who exploit human suffering for rhetorical flare.

They will tell you that G‑d wants to tell us something and that if we don't learn from this, there will be more calamity.

I know this because this is how they respond to every tragedy that grabs the world's attention.

What they are loath to admit is that we have no idea why this happened. We have no idea why G‑d did this. There are no answers that we can understand.

How then are we of faith to react? I mean, in addition to offering our help and our sympathy. How are we supposed to look at something like this?

Just this past Saturday, in Jewish communities all over the world, we read the first portion of the Book of Exodus—a portion which ends with Moses' complaint to G‑d: "Why have You done bad to Your people?"

The answer to this question comes at the beginning of this week's Torah reading, in which G‑d basically answers that the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, also had cause to question Him but never did. In other words, G‑d doesn't answer the question. Rather, He tells Moses that from another perspective – the perspective of the Patriarchs – it would not even occur to ask such a question.

It's actually quite remarkable. G‑d never answered the question.

I wonder it that's because G‑d knew that Moses wouldn't be able to understand the answer... or because He knew that he would?

It is not for us to be comfortable with human suffering. It is certainly not for us to rationalize it away or, worse yet, to use false piety to audaciously explain the unexplainable.

Does G‑d have a plan? Does He know what He is doing? Yes.

Are we able to explain what that is? If we do, we show that we have not only lost our hearts but also our minds.
Freedom in Five Dimensions

By Tali Loewenthal

Our sages speak of the close relationship between the individual and the history of the Jewish people as described in the Torah. The grand events of the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus recounted in our Parshah can take place within the personal world of each man or woman living today.

One example is the Plagues, prominent in our Parshah. On Passover, reading the Haggadah, we chant a list of them, spilling out a drop of wine for each. Then the Haggadah recalls a discussion about them between two ancient Sages, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Eliezer says that each Plague actually consisted of four Plagues. Rabbi Akiva says not four, but five. Sitting at the Seder table, reciting from the wine-stained Haggadah, we hurry on towards the Matza, the bitter herbs and the meal. But what are these two Sages telling us today?

It is at this point that we can discover something about the process of leaving Egypt on an inner, personal level.

The function of the Plagues in history was to break the negative power of Egypt and of Pharaoh, the tyrant who enslaved the Jewish people. Inwardly, the equivalent of the Plagues is our attempt to break through our own situation of enslavement. Who or what enslaves us? Our own negative desires, our own self-centerdness.

In this inner enslavement there are four levels, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and five according to Rabbi Akiva. Understanding that, we ourselves are better able to apply the 'Plagues' in order to release our inner self.

The first level is when the negative within ourselves has so much power over us that it can force us to do something wrong. This is the plain and simple level of daily life, at which a person struggles to gain control his behavior.

The second, more subtle level of enslavement is when the person does the right thing. But he is always worried about what other people are thinking about him. He is trapped by his own concept of society.

A third level of enslavement is yet more subtle. The person has a sense of freedom, and stands above the opinions of other people. Yet he remains limited by his own intellect and understanding. He remains cold, without passion. By contrast Jewish teaching demands from us the ability to go beyond this limitation: "You should love G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There are situations which demand something more than cold rationality.

The fourth level is that the person can go beyond understanding. He or she acts with self-sacrifice. As far as Rabbi Eliezer is concerned, this is the highest level attainable.

But Rabbi Akiva can still see a possible problem. The person may continue to be trapped by his own sense of righteousness: "I am sacrificing myself! Aren't I wonderful?!" For Rabbi Akiva the fifth level of freedom is when the person is totally free of self.

Then he or she can truly be devoted to the service of G-d, bringing Redemption ultimately not just to themselves but to the whole world
« Reply #230 on: January 14, 2010, 08:21:21 PM »

The Car Menorah
By Sara Esther Crispe

The author’s husband and children at the Menorah Parade in Philadelphia. Photo by Baruch Ezagui.
I'll never forget the look on my sister's face when I came to pick her up from the train station a few weeks ago. I thought I should warn her that I was almost there so I called as I rounded the corner. She asked what car I was driving and I assured her she would have no problem finding me. And then I heard the gasp. She found me.

You see, for the past few years during Chanukah we have strapped a large menorah to the top of our van. Depending on where you live, you may have seen this. But for the general public of Philadelphia, this still definitely draws attention. Granted, we are far from the only car to sport one; there are probably a few dozen even in our immediate area, and we always honk and wave to each other when we pass. But regardless, a large menorah on the top of a van wishing you a Happy Chanukah is still quite the attention grabber.

Then I heard the gasp. She found me We first rented one (oh yes, you can rent them) to partake in the large menorah parade in which hundreds of cars join each year and drive through the streets of downtown Philadelphia. This is an amazing experience all in itself with those on the sidewalks waving and shouting and my kids in the back screaming "Happy Chanukah" at the top of their lungs. It is a time of pride, unity, and empowerment.

But what's most powerful about my car menorah takes place when I drive alone. That is when I learn what it means to make a statement and the responsibility that comes with it.

I guess as a woman I fit into the crowd much more than my beard-toting, kippah-wearing husband. Wherever he goes it is pretty obvious that he is a Chassidic Jew (or Amish…a real possibility when you live right outside of Philadelphia). When I walk through the streets, on the other hand, unless someone knows what they are looking for, it is not certain that I could even be identified as a Jew. Especially now in the winter, a skirt, boots and turtleneck certainly don't raise any suspicions. And even in the summer, I think that when spotted fully dressed in the midst of a heat wave, the assumption is just that I am bizarre or fearful of the sun.

But when you drive with a menorah on the top of your car, you are very in-your-face-Jewish. And the message you are telling the world is that you are proud to be just that! And I admit that I wasn't really ready for the attention that came with my menorah. I soon learned that every single time I got into my van, no matter where I was going or what I was doing, I was going to be watched.

I learn what it means to make a statementAt every traffic light people stare. As cars pass, they wave or honk. I could see in my rear view mirror those in the cars behind me trying to figure out who I was. People wanted to know, what kind of person drives around like this? Who is this proud Jew? What does one look like?

One of the main reasons we light the menorah is to publicize the miracle that took place when just that little bit of oil lasted for eight days. Another aspect is to add more light to this world. Driving around with my car menorah managed to accomplish both. I saw the smiles, I watched the kids point out the menorah to their parents. I noticed the waves. And I felt good knowing that just through running my errands I could bring about Jewish pride and unity to my fellow Chanukah celebrators.

But it did more than that. It reminded me that I always need to be conscious of who I am and what I represent. Even if the rest of the year people don't even know I am Jewish as I go about my day to day life.

I kid you not, there were days that as I was about to run out to drop the kids off to school, I ran back in to make sure I looked decent. It was not so much that I cared if I had on makeup or not, but I realized that if I was going to be making a statement, I certainly didn't need the world knowing that I jumped out of bed thirty seconds earlier!

When the light was about to turn yellow, rather than stepping on the gas I slowed down. I mean, how embarrassing to fly through a borderline red light with a menorah on the top of the car! I let cars pass, I was more patient, I smiled at passing drivers. After all, it was not about me, it was about the message I was carrying.

She had no choice but to respond in kind As for my sister, she was really embarrassed getting into my van. We debated the whole ride home whether people were laughing with us or at us. A menorah on the van was unbelievably out of her comfort zone and not anything she had any interest in doing. But as we drove around those few days, and the cars next to us smiled and waved, she, too, had no choice but to respond in kind.

After all, when you realize that people are watching, you definitely want to be on your best behavior. And once you are aware that even the most mundane errand contains possibilities for a message and connection, that five minute drive suddenly is no longer meaningless or boring! And that is the truth year round. Menorah or not, we are always being watched, certainly from Above and from all around even more than we think. So it is up to us what message we bring when people look our way.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2010, 09:26:30 PM by Rachel » Logged
« Reply #231 on: January 16, 2010, 06:16:11 PM »

Living through the Parshah
The Warming of Egypt
By Rochel Holzkenner

"G‑d wants the heart"—Talmud, Sanhedrin 106b.

Three hundred years ago, the Baal Shem Tov used this Talmudic adage to trigger a revolutionary shift in the Jewish psyche. Although you may dedicate your skilled hands, and even your intellectual prowess, don't neglect to give G‑d a piece of your heart.

When the Baal Shem Tov entered the scene in the early 18th century, much of European Jewry suffered from what we would today call post-traumatic stress. Centuries of persecution and violent anti-Semitism had climaxed in the Chmelneitzki massacres of 1648-9 which wiped out an estimated six hundred thousand Jews and left the Jewish social and economic infrastructure in shambles. Any remaining illusion of stability had been shattered as they watched the Cossacks rampage freely while their neighbors turned a blind eye.

Passion is only for the safe, for the thriving; survivors just try to make it through the dayAnd then came the collective emotional numbness. Although most Jewish folk clung to religious ritual, if you would've stripped away the layer of observance you'd have found a wounded heart with a weak pulse. Passion is only for the secure and thriving; survivors just try to make it through the day.

The Baal Shem Tov made it his life's mission to reawaken that passion. He knew that the Jewish nation could not survive without enthusiasm, idealism and love of G‑d. If we lacked the spirit that enlivens the ritual observance and keeps us perpetually resilient, we'd eventually fade out and die as a people.

And so he devoted his life to rubbing warm numb Jewish hearts. He bent down to speak lovingly to children and uplifted their parents with stories from the Talmud. He called for singing and dancing and enthusiastic prayer, and slowly hearts began to heal. Engaging in an authentic relationship with G‑d seemed safe and even enticing again.

The story is not a new one. It happened once before in Egypt. Moses, too, found a nation that was deeply wounded, jaded and depleted. Leaving Egypt was not only a matter of emigration; it would be a far more challenging psychological transition from oppression to empowerment. You could take the Jew out of Egypt but could you take Egypt out of the Jew? Moses' job was to facilitate this redemption.

One therapeutic technique that he used at G‑d's behest was orchestrating the ten plagues. With this ten-step process he weakened the evil of Egyptian culture and began to heal the Jewish psyche.

The initial treatment entailed a tangible transformation of the Nile River's water into blood. Simultaneously, an intangible transformation was triggered. While the cold Egyptian waters were turned into warm blood for seven days, the frigid apathy that the Egyptians displayed towards spirituality and human suffering was undergoing intensive heat therapy. At the root of Egyptian culture and brutality lay the Nile River, a river that was worshipped for its fertile mineral-filled water that would dance onto the shore and irrigate the soils. The river's ebb and flow was the Egyptian NASDAQ, it called the economic shots and built up its host to be a super-power. Everyone paid tribute to the Nile.

The Nile's allure made the Egyptians cool—way too hip and self-confident to care about some Jewish G‑d. "Who is this G‑d that I should listen to Him?" roared Pharaoh at Moses and Aaron. I'm too cool for your G‑d and too apathetic to feel for the plight of my Jewish slaves.

G‑d instructed Moses to heal Egypt of its apathy by targeting the root of its dysfunction; the Nile River flowed with warm blood. This warmth spread also to the Jews and worked to melt away the cold apathy that the Egyptian bondage bred.

The Exodus model outlines the first step in facilitating liberation and growth: turn your cold water into warm bloodThe Exodus from Egypt remains the classic model for inner transformation. Egypt, or Mitzrayim in Hebrew, shares the same root as the word meitzarim, meaning constrictions. Personal exodus means moving beyond the status quo so that I'm no longer defined by my previous limitations. In its more developed stage, exodus is about moving beyond a self-centered orbit towards a closer relationship with G‑d.

The Exodus model outlines the first step in facilitating liberation and growth: turn your cold water into warm blood. Blood is life, pleasure and vitality. You can do all the right things, but if it's without warmth, the rituals will wither and performance will be but a skeleton without a soul.

I see the Exodus dynamic playing out vividly each day in school. As a teacher, I like to think of my role as facilitating emotional and spiritual growth through the study of Torah. But it would never work without lots of warmth and love. Information alone doesn't inspire transformation in most teenagers I've met. They are way too cool for that. But if we can turn cold water into blood, turn apathy into warmth and enthusiasm, then the ground is fertile and the work can begin.1

1.   Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as recorded in Likutei Sichot volume 1.
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« Reply #232 on: January 17, 2010, 05:53:11 AM »

Seeding Miracles
By Tzvi Freeman

When our universe as we know it first emerged, the soil of the earth was imbued with a wondrous power—the power to generate life.  Place a tiny seed in the ground and it converts the carbon of the air into a mighty redwood— a decomposing seed awakens the power of the infinite.

Yet another miracle, even more wondrous: A quiet act of kindness buried in humility ignites an explosion of G‑dly light.

Infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places.
« Reply #233 on: January 17, 2010, 07:16:40 PM »
Can You Sell Your Soul to the Devil?

By Baruch S. Davidson


Do Jews believe that a person can sell his/her soul to the devil?


The idea of "selling one's soul to the devil"—meaning, becoming a slave of the devil in exchange for favors provided—does not exist in Torah. Jewish ethical works do describe instances where one can be somewhat "possessed" by evil drives. But even that state is always reversible.

Before addressing this, here's a bit on the nature of Satan in Jewish thought:

Satan is a Hebrew verb meaning "provoke" or "oppose" and is used several times in the Bible as a verb. The first instance is in the story of Balaam, when Balaam decides to take the mission of cursing the Jewish People:

"G‑d's wrath flared because he was going, and an angel of the L‑rd stationed himself on the road to oppose him [translation of l'satan lo], and he was riding on his she-donkey, and his two servants were with him.1

In other cases, the word appears as a noun, "a provocateur." Generally, the title appears with the definite article—"the satan"—which means that it is not a proper name, just a job description. For example, in the book of Job, the satan appears as a prosecutor before G‑d:

"Now the day came about, and the angels of G‑d came to stand beside the L‑rd, and the satan, too, came among them…"

"Now the L‑rd said to the satan, "Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, G‑d-fearing and shunning evil."

And the satan answered the L‑rd and said, "Does Job fear G‑d for nothing? Haven't You made a hedge around him, his household, and all that he has on all sides? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land. But now, stretch forth Your hand and touch all that he has, will he not blaspheme You to Your face?"

Now the L‑rd said to the satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hands; only upon him do not stretch forth your hand." Now the satan left the presence of the L‑rd."2

From this passage, we see that G‑d created an angel to play the role of provocateur; that he is a messenger of, and subservient to, G‑d. He was not a fallen angel or sent to Hell, where he began fighting G‑d; he was created to be Satan. Neither does Satan spend his days stoking the flames of hell with his pitchfork. He is a presence on earth with a mission: to provoke people to disobey G‑d's will.

Indeed, the dualistic notion of a powerful anti-G‑d figure that fights with G‑d for the destiny of the human race is incompatible with Jewish belief. There is no power of evil independent of G‑d; otherwise this would imply a lack of G‑d's all-inclusive control and power. To quote the Book of Isaiah:

"…from the place where the sun rises until the place where it sets, there is nothing but Me. I am G‑d, there is nothing else. [I am He] Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil; I am G‑d Who makes all these."3

Obviously then, the satan is not an autonomous force who opposes G‑d and recruits people to his militia. Rather, the satan is a spiritual entity that is completely faithful to its maker. For example, regarding the Biblical story of the satan's particularly aggressive attempt to seduce Job to blaspheme, Rabbi Levi declares in the Talmud:

"Satan's acted for G‑d's sake. When He saw how G‑d was so focused on Job, he said, "Heaven forbid that G‑d should forget His love of (our forefather) Abraham!""4

The Zohar compares the satan to a harlot who is hired by a king to try to seduce his son, because the king wants to test his son's morality and worthiness. Both the king and the harlot (who is devoted to the king) truly want the son to stand firm and reject the harlot's advances. Similarly, the satan is just another one of the many spiritual messengers (angels) that G‑d sends to accomplish His purpose in the creation of man.5

This is not the satan's entire job description. The Talmud sums it up saying that the satan, the impulse to evil ("yetzer ha-ra"), and the angel of death are one and the same personality. 6 He descends from heaven and leads astray, then ascends and brings accusations against humankind, and then carries out the verdict.

However, the above-mentioned passage in Zohar concludes that if one does succumb to the urging of the evil inclination, he is "giving energy to the other side". This means, that an act defying G‑d's will grants those forces that hide G‑d's presence—at His bidding—additional strength to hide G‑d from us even more. This presents itself as even greater internal and external challenges for one to experience and identify with the truths of G‑d and His Torah.

One extreme example of this would be Pharaoh, who enslaved the Jewish people in Egypt. Though G‑d told Moses to command Pharaoh to free the Israelites, He stated that, "I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants"7 in order to ultimately punish the Egyptians with the ten plagues. As a consequence for his earlier oppression and abuse of the Jewish nation, his ability to abandon his evil ways was made even more difficult, to the point that he seemed to have lost free choice, and his vision and ability to repent was completely impaired.8

There is nothing that can ultimately stop one who truly seeks to return.9 Pharaoh, too, was therefore still capable of overcoming this block, and ultimately repenting, as discussed at length in Why was Pharaoh Punished?10 Thus, even when someone seems to be completely possessed by the satan–as divine retribution for his earlier misdeeds, not by choice of negotiation with the devil—he is still not sold, and can overcome his instinct and impulse to act satanically. To become completely sold with no hope of redemption would be counter-productive of G‑d's intent, and could not exist.

Regardless of where you've fallen, you are never sold to these impure forces, and your soul can wrestle free and recommit to serve G‑d with sincerity and passion. The axe of earnest remorse can bring down any wall, whether preexisting or created by your actions, clearing the way for you to come home to your true self.

Numbers 22:22.

Job 1.

Isaiah 45:7.

Bava Batra, 16a.

Zohar vol. 2, p 163a. See also Tanya chapters 9 and 29.

Bava Batra, ibid.

Exodus 10:1.

Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 6:2.

Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 1:1.

Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 6, pp. 65-66. Similarly, see Maharsha to Chagigah 15a.
« Reply #234 on: January 17, 2010, 07:17:51 PM »

Prayer in Response to Natural Disaster
By Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi
Adon ha-olamim, Sovereign of the universe,

We join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world, for the victims of the earthquake which this week has brought destruction and disaster to many lives.

Almighty God, we pray You, send healing to the injured, comfort to the bereaved, and news to those who sit and wait. May You be with those who even now are engaged in the work of rescue. May You send Your strength to those who are striving to heal the injured, give shelter to the homeless, and bring food and water to those in need. May You bless the work of their hands, and may they merit to save lives.

Almighty God, we recognise how small we are, and how powerless in the face of nature when its full power is unleashed. Therefore, open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity, so that our words may bring comfort and our gifts bring aid. Be with us now and with all humanity as we strive to mend what has been injured and rebuild what has been destroyed.

Ken Yehi Ratzon, ve-nomar Amen.
May it be Your will, and let us say Amen.

(c) Rabbi Jason A. Miller


« Reply #235 on: January 19, 2010, 10:23:54 AM »

Chassidic Masters
The Soul of Evil

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

And G‑d said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants in order that I might show My signs in their midst..." (Exodus 10:1

Why does it say, "Come to Pharaoh"? It should have said, "Go to Pharaoh" .... But G‑d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, to the... supernal and mighty serpent from which many levels evolve...which Moses feared to approach himself... (Zohar, part II, 34a)

Among the fifty-four parshahs ("sections") of the Torah, several stand out as milestones in the narrative of the history of humanity and of the people of Israel. The Parshah of Bereishit recounts G‑d's creation of the world in six days and Adam's banishment from Eden; Lech Lecha describes Abraham's journeys to bring the truth of the One G‑d to a pagan world; Yitro includes the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah to Israel; and so on.

A list of pivotal Parshiot would certainly include the Parshah of Bo, which tells of the exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. The Exodus marked our birth as a people, and we are enjoined to "Remember the day that you went out of Egypt, all the days of your life." Indeed, when G‑d revealed Himself to us at Sinai, He introduced Himself not as the Creator of heaven and earth, but as "...your G‑d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt"! For the defining element of our relationship with G‑d is not that we are beings created by Him (of which there are many others in G‑d's world), but that we are free beings--beings in whom He has invested of His own infinity and eternity, beings empowered by Him to transcend the constraints of the material world and the limits of their own natures.

The Name
Bo means "come." The name derives from our Parshah's opening verse, in which G‑d instructs Moses to "come to Pharaoh" to warn him of the seventh plague (the plague of locusts) and once again deliver the divine demand that the ruler of Egypt set free the children of Israel.

The Torah considers the name of a thing to be the articulation of its essence; certainly, such is the case with the Torah's own names for itself and its components. The name of a Torah section always conveys its primary message and the common theme of all its subsections and narratives.

One would therefore expect the section of the Exodus to be called "Exodus," "Freedom," or some other name that expresses the significance of this defining event in the history of Israel. Instead, it derives its name from Moses' coming to Pharaoh--an event that seems but a preliminary to the Exodus. Indeed, the concept of the leader of Israel coming to Pharaoh's palace to petition him to let the Jewish people go--implying that the Jews are still subservient to Egypt and its ruler--seems the very antithesis of the Exodus!

The phrase "Come to Pharaoh" also evokes much discussion in the commentaries. Why does G‑d tell Moses to come to Pharaoh? Would it not have been more appropriate to say, "Go to Pharaoh"?

The Zohar explains that Moses feared confronting Pharaoh inside his palace, at the hub of his power. (On earlier occasions, Moses had been directed to meet Pharaoh in other places, such as on the king's morning excursions to the Nile). So G‑d promised Moses that He Himself would accompany him to Pharaoh. The word "come" is thus to be understood in the sense of "come with me"; G‑d is saying to Moses, "Come with Me to Pharaoh."

The Zohar goes on to say that Moses is being invited by G‑d to meet with the innermost essence of Egypt's ruler and god. Thus we have another meaning of the phrase "Come to Pharaoh--"come" in the sense of "enter within." To liberate the people of Israel from the "great and mighty serpent," it was not enough to merely go to Pharaoh; Moses had to enter into the core of Pharaoh, into the very root of his power.

My River
Who is Pharaoh and what does he represent? What is his "innermost essence"? Why did Moses dread confronting Pharaoh in his palace if G‑d Himself had sent him there? And how does "coming into Pharaoh" hold the key for the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the soul of man?

The prophet Ezekiel describes Pharaoh as "the great serpent who couches in the midst of his streams, who says: My river is my own, and I have made myself" (Ezekiel 29:3). In other words, the evil of Pharaoh is not defined by the promiscuity that characterized the pagan cults of Egypt; not by his enslavement and torture of millions; not by his bathing in the blood of slaughtered children; but by his egocentrism, by his regarding his own self as the source and standard for everything.

For this is the root of all evil. Self-centeredness might seem a benign sin compared to the acts of cruelty and depravity to which man can sink, but it is the source and essence of them all. When a person considers the self and its needs to be the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, his morality--and he might initially be a very moral person--is a sham. Such a person is ultimately capable of committing any act, should he regard it as crucial to himself or to his self-defined vision of reality.

Ultimately, every good deed is an act of self-abnegation, and every evil deed is an act of self-deification. When a person does a good deed--whether it involves contributing a single coin to charity or devoting an entire lifetime to a G‑dly cause--he is saying: there is something greater than myself to which I am committed. When a person violates the divine will--whether with a minor transgression or with the most heinous of crimes--he is saying: "My river is my own, and I have made myself"; good is what is good to me, evil is what is contrary to my will; I am the master of my reality, I am god.

The Soul of Evil
So is the ego evil? Is this fundamental component of our soul an alien implant that must be uprooted and discarded in our quest for goodness and truth?

In the final analysis, it is not. For the cardinal law of reality is that "There is none else besides Him" (Deuteronomy 4:35)--that nothing is contrary to, or even separate from, the Creator and Source of all. The ego, the sense of self with which we are born, also derives from G‑d; indeed, it is a reflection of the divine "ego." Because G‑d knows Himself as the only true existence, we, who were created in His image, possess an intimation of His "sense of self" in the form of our own concept of the self as the core of all existence.

It is not the ego that is evil, but the divorcing of the ego from its source. When we recognize our own ego as a reflection of G‑d's "ego" and make it subservient to His, it becomes the driving force in our efforts to make the world a better, more G‑dly place. But the same ego, severed from its divine moorings, begets the most monstrous of evils.

This, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the deeper significance of the opening verses of the Parshah of Bo. When G‑d commanded Moses to "Come to Pharaoh," Moses had already been going to Pharaoh for many months. But he had been dealing with Pharaoh in his various manifestations: Pharaoh the pagan, Pharaoh the oppressor of Israel, Pharaoh the self-styled god. Now he was being told to enter into the essence of Pharaoh, into the soul of evil. Now he was being told to penetrate beyond the evil of Pharaoh, beyond the mega-ego that insists "I have created Myself," to confront Pharaoh's quintessence: the naked "I" that stems from the very "self" of G‑d.

Moses did not fear the evil of Pharaoh. If G‑d had sent him, G‑d would protect him. But when G‑d told him to enter into the essence of Pharaoh, he was terrified. How can a human being behold such a pure manifestation of the divine truth? A manifestation so sublime that it transcends good and evil and is equally the source of both?

Said G‑d to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh." Come with Me, and together we will enter the great serpent's palace. Together we will penetrate the self-worship that is the heart of evil. Together we will discover that there is neither substance nor reality to evil--that all it is, is the misappropriation of the divine in man.

If this truth is too terrifying for a human being to confront on his own, come with Me, and I will guide you. I will take you into the innermost chamber of Pharaoh's soul, until you come face to face with evil's most zealously guarded secret: that it does not, in truth, exist.

When you learn this secret, no evil will ever defeat you. When you learn this secret, you and your people will be free.1

1.   Based on the Rebbe's talks on Shabbat Parshat Bo 5752
« Reply #236 on: January 19, 2010, 07:17:44 PM »

This is a sermon that I delivered on Shabbat Va-era that others may find useful in thinking about their own struggles with prayer after a tragedy like the one caused by the recent earthquake in Haiti.

These have been difficult days for me to pray. Somehow, watching the images of the utter devastation and chaos has placed a trace of cynicism in my heart, a cynicism that pierces the words I say, shattering them into individual letters. These letters float toward the heavens alone, isolated from one another, empty of meaning in their solitude. I intuit that prayer is the right response, but it has felt different, a bit more strained and angry. But really, what else do I have? I can donate money and organize relief shipments, but after that check is sent, my soul is left to stir about restlessly in that same dark room into which it retreated as each new story of destruction and trauma made its way out of Haiti. But sometimes, prayer is not about me. It is not about my soul, with its angst and anxieties and its wonder. Sometimes, prayer is the telling of a story, the beginning of which was recorded thousands of years in our Torah, the middle of which was written on the parchments of our chachamim, the ancient sages, and the latest chapter is added in our voices. In this way, prayer is like the weaver’s quilt, with many patches of clashing colors and un-corresponding designs, yet somehow complementary to one another. These discordant patches need not be harmonized. It is precisely because they are discordant that the story prayer tells is simple while nuanced, intelligent and passionate, hopeful yet skeptical. Prayer is not univocal because human experience is not predictably singular. People are not emotionally steady from year to year, month to month, or even day to day. When we remove the doubt and anger from the story in order to sanitize it, we end up doing violence to the very notion that prayer is avodah she’balev, the utterance of the heart.

One of the patches on this quilt was written by Moses. In the two verses before our parsha, he lashes out at God in anger and frustration. He screams:

?אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה

Lord! Why did you bring harm upon this people?

?לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי

Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharoah to speak in your name he has dealt worse with this people, and you still have not saved your people!

Moses is furious with God. “Not only didn’t you redeem your people, but you made their pain and suffering worse! It would have been better to leave them enslaved as they were!” Moses doesn’t hide his anger. He doesn’t beat around the bush with God, he prays his anger. God responds, but with a seemingly detached rejoinder. “I am Adonai! I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make name Adonai known to them.” What? What kind of response is that to Moshe’s protest? It sounds a lot like, “Hey, I am God- who are you to question me?”

In 11th Century France, Rashi sews the next patch onto our quilt, right next to Moshe’s patch that blazes with anger and disappointment. Rashi’s patch has a different tenor to it. It continues the story and adds to the prayer by revealing a deeper well of God’s compassion than was apparent to Moshe. Rashi tells us that when God says these words to Moshe, he doesn’t intend his words to be taken literally. Rashi suggests that in saying, “I am Adonai,” God is saying that He did not make certain characteristics associated with that name known to the patriarchs. The actual words that Rashi put into God’s mouth and sewed onto our quilt are, “I did not make Myself known to them in My aspect of utter truthfulness and reliability, which is represented by my name Adonai, for I made them promises but I did not fulfill them.” According to Rashi, God’s response to Moshe is stunning in its compassion and support. God is pointing out that He made promises to the patriarchs that they did not see fulfilled in their lifetime, but Moses, he will see these slaves redeemed and brought into the land he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He tenderly reassures Moses that this plan will come to fruition; he will see his people escape the brutality of slavery.

Prayer contains both of these voices: the anger and fury of a man who watches injustice swell throughout the world and a God who seems to only make matters worse, and the hope felt by the man who knows that redemption is at his fingertips, that it is a dream that he will one day see with his own eyes and feel with his tired fingers. We live with both of these emotions at one in the same time, and because they oppose one another, we grow weary trying to sort them out and keep them separate. It’s better not to try. It’s okay to be furious with God. It’s okay to look at the chaos and destruction that this earthquake wreaked and still feel hope, that redemption is around the corner. It’s okay to feel both of these things at the same time. That is, after all, part of our story. Even the angels live with this conflict. Rabbi Barry Katz pointed me to a teaching of Elie Holzer, a wonderful Jewish educator. He points out that in the kedusha for Musaf there is a curious literary and thematic construct. The angels declare that God’s presence is everywhere as they boldly assert: Kevodo Malei Olam, “God’s glory fills the earth.” Yet without missing a beat, they quite literally doubt this assertion when they immediately ask one another, “Ayeh mekom kevodo? Where is God’s glory?” Even the angels live in the tension of feeling the absence of God’s presence while simultaneously sensing the immanence of Gods’ glory. In the rabbinic imagination, the creatures closest to God, God’s heavenly court, sanction this human experience of feeling both doubt and connectedness at the same time.

As I said earlier, I was reminded this week that prayer isn’t always about me and the longings and uncertainties of my soul. Prayer at its best forces us to do tzim-tzum, to contract our own needs while we focus on others. In Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book Between God and Man, he suggests that even for the most inward focused person who prays the longings of his soul, prayer must transcend his own personal needs. He writes, “Genuine prayer is an event in which man surpasses himself. Man hardly comprehends what is coming to pass…At times all we do is utter a word with all our heart, yet it is as if we lifted up a whole world.” This is what we desperately need today. We can startle ourselves and each other with the realization that we human beings have the power to lift up the world, to place the power of healing on Haiti. During these days, prayer is an act in which our personal needs disintegrate as we attempt to lift Haiti out of the depths of the hell into which it has been shattered. With Heschel’s words, I am reminded that prayer in its most potent form is an expression of solidarity.

Today, I find Moshe’s accusation, Moshe’s prayer to God from a few thousand years ago on my lips:
?אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה

Adonai, why did you bring harm upon this people, this nation already living impoverished and in desperate need of your outstretched arm and your compassion?

In the silence after my prayer, I take comfort in the heights not of heavenly compassion, but of human kindness and solidarity.

As we lift Haiti up from its wreckage by praying with our feet, by aiding and digging and collecting and giving and rescuing and hugging and crying, I take comfort.

As we mark Rosh Hodesh, the new month of Shevat, I take comfort. The waxing and waning of the new moon reminds me that rebirth that always follows death, that redemption is built into the natural world.

I will conclude with a prayer written by an Israeli writer, Bradley Burston, as a reminder that during these difficult days, prayer, somehow, is a beautiful human response.

"A prayer for the people of Haiti"
By Bradley Burston

A prayer for the people of Haiti,
who, on a good day,
must take heroic measures just to wake the next,
And who must now find a way
to live through the end of the world:

Lord who speaks in earthquakes
Speak now in miracles.

I thank you, that first prayer begins. Modeh Ani. The words spoken for the marvel of having woken up alive.

Lord whose relief work is beyond our capabilities
Breathe life today into those buried alive

I lie grateful before You, this King who lives and endures, for having brought me back this soul inside me, and with compassion.

Lord who speaks in childbirth, hear Your children now.

Hear those who have yet to be saved,
Hear those who have been saved but whose limbs and lives are crushed, Hear those who pray for those who can no longer pray for themselves.

Lord who invented the language of love
Teach those who, in Your name, who, calling themselves men of God, can find it in their hearts to speak only blasphemy and cruelty and scorn.

Lord who speaks in apocalypse
Armor the souls of those who call out now in rescue
Lord who has taught us by example the language of loss
Send strength to those who, with their last strength
Now seek nothing more than finding loved ones

Teach Your children by example, to comprehend the last line of that first prayer:

Your faith
is immense.
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« Reply #237 on: January 21, 2010, 03:06:00 PM »

"These have been difficult days for me to pray. Somehow, watching the images of the utter devastation and chaos has placed a trace of cynicism in my heart, a cynicism that pierces the words I say, shattering them into individual letters."

It has been a sight to behold those survivors being pulled from the wreckage explaining how they never gave up hope, they felt they would be saved all along - thanks to God.

One questions how can there be a God when we witness such evil.  Yet one understands the phrase, "the power of prayer" after seeing how many Haitains have dealt with their lot.
« Reply #238 on: January 21, 2010, 09:16:04 PM »

One questions how can there be a God when we witness such evil.  Yet one understands the phrase, "the power of prayer" after seeing how many Haitains have dealt with their lot.

I don't have answer for you on why God allows such evil.   I do know I want no part of any religion that has an "Answer" to that question.
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Aron Moss


Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this world so unfair? Please don't tell me "We can't understand G‑d's ways." I am sick of hearing that. I want an explanation.


Are you sure you want an explanation? Do you really want to know why the innocent suffer? I think not. You are far better off with the question than with an answer.

You are bothered by the fact that people suffer undeservedly. As you should be. Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world. Abraham, the first Jew, asked G-d, "Should the Judge of the whole world not act fairly?" Moses asked, "Why have You treated this people badly?" And today we still ask, "Why G‑d, why?"

But what if we found the answer? What if someone came along and gave us a satisfying explanation? What if the mystery were finally solved? What if we asked why, and actually got an answer?

If this ultimate question were answered, then we would be able to make peace with the suffering of innocents. And that is unthinkable. Worse than innocent people suffering is others watching their suffering unmoved. And that's exactly what would happen if we were to understand why innocents suffer. We would no longer be bothered by their cry, we would no longer feel their pain, because we would understand why it is happening.

Imagine you are in a hospital and you hear a woman screaming with pain. Outside her room, her family is standing around chatting, all smiling and happy. You scream at them, "What's wrong with you? Can't you hear how much pain she is in?" They answer, "This is the delivery ward. She is having a baby. Of course we are happy."

When you have an explanation, pain doesn't seem so bad anymore. We can tolerate suffering when we know why it is happening.

And so, if we could make sense of innocent people suffering, if we could rationalise tragedy, then we could live with it. We would be able to hear the cry of sweet children in pain and not be horrified. We would tolerate seeing broken hearts and shattered lives, for we would be able to neatly explain them away. Our question would be answered, and we could move on.

But as long as the pain of innocents remains a burning question, we are bothered by its existence. And as long as we can't explain pain, we must alleviate it. If innocent people suffering does not fit into our worldview, we must eradicate it. Rather than justifying their pain, we need to get rid of it.

So keep asking the question, why do bad things happen to good people. But stop looking for answers. Start formulating a response. Take your righteous anger and turn it into a force for doing good. Redirect your frustration with injustice and unfairness and channel it into a drive to fight injustice and unfairness. Let your outrage propel you into action. When you see innocent people suffering, help them. Combat the pain in the world with goodness. Alleviate suffering wherever you can.

We don't want answers, we don't want explanations, and we don't want closure. We want an end to suffering. And we dare not leave it up to G-d to alleviate suffering. He is waiting for us to do it. That's what we are here for.
« Reply #239 on: January 21, 2010, 09:30:43 PM »

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One of my favorite books on belief in God is Why Faith Matters.

Defender of Faith:
Rabbi David Wolpe explains why faith matters


If the bestseller charts are any indication, it's become popular to condemn religion.

Books such as Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "The End of Faith," Richard Dawson's "The God Delusion," Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" and Bill Maher's soon-to-be-released film, "Religulous," would have us see faith as antiquated, illogical and dangerous.

And let's face it, the arguments they make are not without merit: In the shadow of Sept. 11, religion seems at the root of much hatred and violence the world over. The announcement of a financial, sexual or political scandal involving a religious official -- whether we cringe or feel some secret schadenfreude -- no longer shocks us. At the same time, in this country as in others, it seems like religion is increasingly seeking to take on public and political dimensions, reaching into education, medicine, science and social programs.

In a world where religion is the cause of so much folly, it becomes harder to defend faith, which makes Rabbi David Wolpe's new book, "Why Faith Matters" (HarperOne), all the more important.

"Why Faith Matters" is not a book that will convince anyone who doesn't already believe in God -- nor is it meant to. Yet believer and nonbeliever alike should find "Why Faith Matters" thought-provoking and challenging.

What the book does well, in short, succinct chapters, is address some of the more popularly held charges leveled against religion, such as "religion causes violence" or "science and religion are at odds." And it does so in a readable and erudite way, quoting from sources as diverse as Tacitus, Heinrich Heine, Nietzsche and Rabbi Hayyim of Zans.

More importantly, it makes the case for the seldom-acknowledged benefits of faith, such as community and charity, and elucidates how religion and religious practice can enhance the lives even of those who don't and will never believe in God. Wolpe also hopes the book will give comfort to those who have faith.

"It's not only written for those who doubt," Wolpe said recently, "but to settle the souls of people who believe."

Wolpe is turning 50 this Friday, Sept. 19, and has been the rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. "Why Faith Matters" is his sixth book, and he wrote it not as a polemic response to the "New Atheists," but as a personal book about his own journey.

He was born in Harrisburg, Pa., where his father, Gerald Wolpe, was a Conservative rabbi. When David was 10, the family moved to Philadelphia, when Wolpe's father became the rabbi of Har Zion, a large Conservative synagogue on the city's Main Line.

Stephen Fried's "The New Rabbi" (Bantam 2002) chronicled the search to find a replacement for Wolpe's father when he retired. A New York Times' article about the book describes Wolpe's relationship with his father as "wonderfully complicated."

In "Why Faith Matters," Wolpe explains that as a teenager, after seeing the vivid documentary footage about the Holocaust in Alain Resnais' "Night and Fog," he became an atheist, embracing Bertrand Russell as one of his sages. Wolpe said he is attempting in this book to speak to his younger self. Yet, to a great extent, Wolpe now regards atheism as a failure of the imagination.

His central argument boils down to a rejection of the notion that "the only thing that is real is what you see or measure." Faith, he argues, adds another dimension to our experience of the world.

To Wolpe, religious faith is "an orientation of the universe," a way to invest all we do and all we experience with wonder and with meaning. When Peggy Lee asks: "Is that all there is?" Wolpe answers, "No."

This reminded me of an incident that occurred when my daughter was very young. She went through a phase, as all children do, of looking at the world around her, full of questions.

One night she asked me who made the stars in the sky. I replied, "God did," as much to come up with a quick and final answer as to avoid giving a more complicated scientific one.

A few weeks later, coming home late, as my wife, daughter and I stood at the front door, and as I fumbled to find my keys, my daughter said: "Listen." I listened and didn't hear anything.

"What?" I asked. She pointed upward and said, "It's The God. The God is everywhere."

Many people don't see or hear God's presence at all. And some feel that believing is childish.

Wolpe believes, however, that "there are things we outgrow and things we grow into." That struck me. What we dismiss as young people (like the value of having a job with a health care plan or retirement fund), we might revisit as we grow older.

Wolpe's own journey led him after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania from teenage atheist to studying to become a rabbi at the University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He spent a year in Israel and was ordained in 1987 at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, where he wrote his first book, "The Healer of Shattered Hearts" (Henry Holt & Company).

Over the next few years, Wolpe bounced back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, serving as director of UJ's library and assistant to the chancellor of JTS before returning finally to Los Angeles to serve as rabbi at Sinai Temple. Although Wolpe has been Sinai's rabbi for the last 11 years, he has performed High Holy Day services at Sinai since he was a student 25 years ago.

His tenure has not been without controversy. Whether it's been making peace among his diverse congregants or addressing the allegorical nature of Scripture or encouraging "rock" services, such as Craig Taubman's "Friday Night Live" (which can draw as many as 1,000 attendees to services with gospel, hip-hop or rock music and speakers from Elie Wiesel to writer David Kohan of "Will & Grace"), Wolpe's tenure has been marked by a certain fearlessness.

He brings the same approach to his brief in defense of faith, embracing the objections others avoid. For Wolpe, the notion that religious ritual is primitive or some form of magical thinking misses the point.

"Ancient can be venerable and cherished," he told me. "Religious practice can't always be explained in a utilitarian fashion. Sometimes, religious practice is its own reward."

Similarly, Wolpe feels that study of Scripture offers its own pleasures at every stage of life that we encounter it. For him, it is not the literal words alone, as much as the experience we garner from studying Scripture that faith adds to our lives. Not unlike a psychiatrist interpreting a dream, we may care less about whether it's true than what we can learn from it.

As to the charge that religion causes violence, Wolpe answers simply that "the feeling of certain groups that they are better or exempt is ... an ugly side of human nature. It's not specific to religion."

Without minimizing the deaths caused in the name of religion, Wolpe asks us to consider the historical record that demonstrates that the toll of war has been great or greater in those periods when religion was suppressed. We need only consider the millions of victims of the anti-religious regimes of the 20th century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

Monotheism, Wolpe said, is based on "not how you treat God, but how you treat others" -- and in that respect, religion may be seen as a brake on human nature's more evil inclinations.

Faith can also be a salve, or as Simon and Garfunkel put it, "a bridge over troubled waters."

I can report that my daughter no longer asks the same questions she once did. (Now they begin with, "Why can't I?"). Neither do I.

As we get older, we no longer ask so many questions aloud. Our questions become more private: Why? Why are we on this earth? Events occur, and we ask: Why me? Or, why not me? These questions fill us not so much with wonder but attack us in moments of despair.

Wolpe knows these questions well, not only as a rabbi but from personal experience. His wife is a cancer survivor, and Wolpe himself has had neurosurgery for a benign brain tumor, as well as chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that remains incurable, but for which he is now in remission. Wolpe told me that it was on the day he finished chemotherapy that he decided to write "Why Faith Matters."

In "Why Faith Matters" he does not suggest that faith can provide specific answers to our existential questions, so much as that it offers ways for us to look at those questions and the universe differently -- and that doing so provides each of us with ways to address those questions.

While writing this article, I happened to have lunch with two friends who both have been diagnosed with cancer, one of whom is still undergoing treatment. When I asked them whether their cancer experiences had impacted their faith, both said it had, but in ways they would not have predicted.

Neither said it made them more observant, but both remarked on how much they appreciated the hospital visits or phone calls they received from their clergy and fellow congregants, and how moved they were upon hearing that others were praying for them. They felt that those aspects of faith helped them endure. Those are elements of faith that don't get mentioned enough.

Religion for Wolpe "is a complex of things, rather than an abstract set of beliefs." What Wolpe feels is lost in the discussion of religion by "the new atheists" is the positive benefits of religion, such as community, a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to charity and charitable acts and of believing that there is something larger than oneself, having boundaries, submitting to a "higher power."

By contrast, faith, Wolpe said, can also make a "disturbance" of life, making life more difficult. As Wolpe put it, the sense that you are put on this earth for a reason carries with it responsibilities and challenges to meet a higher standard. Speaking with Wolpe, you get a sense that this is particularly true for him; that he is a person who is always pushing himself.

In honor of Wolpe's 50th birthday, Sinai Temple is hosting a dinner on Sept. 21, at which time he will formally announce the creation of an Israel Center at the temple.

He is creating what he believes to be the first independent center in the United States to promote Israel. Recognizing that a connection to Israel enhances one's Jewish identity, Wolpe wants to deepen that relationship. He wants families to travel there, to offer specialized tours tailored to specific interests, to be able to teach about Israel better, not only in terms of its history, but also its culture, to invite Israeli artists, writers and performers. He envisions perhaps even having a program for an Israeli artist in residence.

"I'm very excited about the possibility" Wolpe said, adding that he hoped that the center would be offering its first programs a year from now, "if not before."

The center is still in its formative stage. Eventually, Wolpe hopes to hire a full-time director for the Israel Center and determine a place for the center to be housed (whether in the synagogue or elsewhere). Wolpe believes that the community has shown great support for Israel and is ready to sustain a dedicated independent Israel Center. A center that, Wolpe asserts, "is not political." He wants each congregant to find their own connection to Israel -- whatever their political and personal interests.

Similarly, in "Why Faith Matters," Wolpe suggests that faith, religion and religious practice are to be valued -- if not for what they offer us then for the benefits they offer our children by learning to look beyond themselves, to be charitable, to treat others as they would like to be treated.

Clearly, you don't need religion to teach these ideals, but these are aspects of religion that rarely receive recognition from its critics. Faith, Wolpe believes, offers us a chance to give our children a way to suffuse their own lives with meaning and better prepare them for the challenges they will encounter.

Recently, I went to see the Coen brothers' comedy, "Burn After Reading," which I enjoyed very much. However, as I remarked on my blog, someone viewing the film from a purely moral perspective would say that the world the Coens present on screen is a faithless, nihilistic one: The characters curse with abandon. Marital vows mean nothing; adultery is rampant. Crimes are committed without much thought. Life isn't valued; murder isn't so much a crime as an annoyance. People are motivated by narcissism, greed, lust, revenge. People don't so much care about their jobs as care about keeping them. Life has no greater meaning or purpose.

The movie is very entertaining, but it reminded me that Wolpe's point is well taken: Life without the benefits of faith is the poorer for it.

The objective narrative of our lives is mundane and prosaic: We are born; we live; we die. It is the subjective that colors and enriches our experience. We all know the power of music or art, of laughter and love to transport us. Why then, not add faith to the list? And what of the connection between the two?

My freshman year of college, I met a woman who told me, "Al Green is God." Now, whenever the first chords of "Love and Happiness" play on my iPod, I know she was right.

Which brings me back to Wolpe the writer -- not the rabbi.

It is also worth noting that "Why Faith Matters" is a book meant to settle the soul of David Wolpe, given that his first impulse when concluding chemotherapy was to write a book.

"I love literature," Wolpe said. "I have always found consolation in words, in both reading them and also writing them and speaking them. One of the really great gifts of being a rabbi is that you are expected to translate your experience into something that other people can understand and benefit from. That forces you to reflect on it and create some kind of mosaic out of the jagged pieces of a life. And that's really a great lesson."

Wolpe elaborated: "A teacher of mine, Simon Greenberg, once said that the best sermons are always delivered to yourself. And I would say that's true of the best books, too. The best books are written to yourself. If you don't write something that means something to you, it's unlikely to touch anyone else."

And so, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, Wolpe has given us -- and himself -- a memorable gift.

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.

« Reply #240 on: January 24, 2010, 01:17:44 PM »

Laibls Blog- 'A Carpet of Snow'
14 Jan 2009
Being an Aussie, gazing at a snow covered mountain-side, close- up, is an exhilarating and rare experience. I am in Aspen, Colorado to deliver a lecture, but cannot help but stare at the majestic panorama and thank the Divine sculptor for the immense beauty of the cosmic handicraft.

From the distance, the glistening white carpet covers the cracks and fissures of architectural ineptitude. Our boxed houses often jar the undulating smoothness and curvature of a perfect landscape. But come the gentle snows and the white-covered roofs hide this disparity bringing a commonality with the gentleness of the white pure and pristine vista that meets the eyes here in winter.

In the same way, human misbehavior jars the beauty of human potential. Terrorism is a cancerous blight. Greed and envy are reflections of human ugliness. Self deprecation, a result of absent self-worth, is a vacuous cavern of emptiness. Sometimes however, the landscape of human frailty enjoys the purifying and uplifting cover of spiritual whiteness. These glistening crystals of whiteness sparkle through love, forgiveness, compassion, and profundity.

For the Jewish soul, the universal blanket of whiteness is viscerally felt on Yom Kippur (also notated in the plural as Yom Kippurim - the Day of Atonements). On this sacred occasion the soul is purified, stains are scrubbed clean, and a weight of darkness is lifted off our shoulders. Another time-zone is approaching that offers this opportunity again – Purim (the festival of drawing lots). Interestingly, both names have the common letters of Purim. At a Kabbalistic level this bespeaks a connection. But how could the gravity and seriousness of Yom Kippur at all compare with the seeming lightheartedness and raucous festivities of Purim? Therein lays the power of whiteness. When are we most profoundly at one with our soul?  When we are in a state of intense Deveikut (profound meditative state of connectedness with the All), but also when we are in a state ecstasy, totally in love with life, fully experiencing its moment of intense beauty. Purim reflects the glistening whiteness of joy. Yom Kippur reflects the intense whiteness of inner retreat.   

The physical and spiritual snows melt. The ‘reality’ of our daily lives fills the stage of our present tense. The working days of the week confront us with their urgency and necessity. Yet the truly spiritual person allows the ambience of whiteness to enter into the arena of the seeming ordinary and mundane.  The snow continues to reflect its whiteness in the exigencies of the daily events. The potential purity within all things can be opened, uncovered, and the core of whiteness perceived.

I watch the skiers gliding gracefully down the white velvet of earth’s carpet. And I think: how much easier life can be if we allow ourselves to glide upon the whiteness of positive disposition, joyful personality, compassionate nature, deep insight. These choices are always available for us to make. Do you have the courage to make this choice?  Do you have the commitment to glide gracefully through life? Do you have the dedication to train, practice, and focus on the goal?  I believe in you. You can do it!

Laibl’s web site: 

Laibl’s blog site:

Spiritgrow – The Josef Kryss Wholistic Center, Australia site

Is Your GPS Working?
-          Laibl Wolf, Dean, Spiritgrow - The Josef Kryss Wholistic Centre, Australia

‘The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing’. (Steven Covey). The most important thing is whatever you are doing right now. (The Kotzker Rebbe). ‘Just do it!’ (Nike). Three wisdom teachings. A recipe for a full and meaningful life.
Covey’s word-play seeks values clarification and prioritization. The Kotzker’s insight provides life’s journey with depth and beauty. Nike makes it happen.
A perfect formula. The only problem: The GPS seems to be malfunctioning. We entered the right addresses: Monday morning workout, Tuesday night family time, Thursday study group, daily meditation, etc. But it didn’t happen. Got to bed too late Sunday night and didn’t get up in time for that jog. Tuesday night came but family members had other plans scattering in all directions. The Simons dropped by Thursday night and, well, we couldn’t ask them to leave, could we? Actually, am having a hard time focusing in the mornings, mind is wandering, meditation just too challenging, too much on my mind.
Sounds familiar? Face it, the problem is not with the GPS! The problem is you. The calm and pleasant voice, the soul’s Tom Tom, informs you where to go at each turn but you are simply not listening! The plan is there – but you don’t have the ‘zitz fleisch’ to follow it through.  The good intentions lack commitment, fore-planning and finesse. You know the main things, but don’t protect them as main things. You are doing what you are doing, but doing it at the wrong thing. You are assiduously clambering up life’s ladder, but it’s leaning against the wrong wall – doing it, but undoing it!   
The world’s most profound wisdoms aren’t worth a cracker if you lack strength of character. The key lies in true consciousness and awareness. So here are Laibl’s three rules for getting the job done:
a)      On Sunday afternoon take five minutes with your wall calendar, Microsoft outlook, i-pod, or note pad. Make three appointments - with yourself. Clear three half hour time frames for physical, spiritual, and family events. Protect those appointments with the dedication you reserve for business and medical appointments.

b)      Prepare for those protected times by checking out the landscape: prepare any equipment you may need. Make sure the people you seek the company of have cleared their own time frames for you. Review preparations and arrangements the night before.

c)       Give each event three minutes quiet thought just before it takes place. Build that extra time into your appointment time.

Don’t let life slip by. You don’t want to find yourself lying on your deathbed wallowing in the sorrow of lost time, complaining, “I just didn’t have the time”. Wrong! You did.  But you lacked true commitment to the radical act of living. The GPS was working perfectly well thank you. You just kept steering in different directions.
Do it, (Nike), mainly (Covey), now (Kotzker).
Power User
Posts: 42011

« Reply #241 on: January 26, 2010, 10:49:16 AM »

By Tzvi Freeman

When Moses saw things backfired in Egypt, he complained to G‑d, "Why have you done bad to these people? From the time You sent me, things have gotten worse instead of better!"

Didn't G‑d know that things had gotten worse? Isn't G‑d aware of what's going on in His world? Why does He need Moses to tell him?


G‑d sees all and knows all. But sometimes you need a report from down on the ground.

Here's an example: As a music composition major at the University of British Columbia (had a great faculty at the time), I set myself the task of writing a string quintet. With lots of help from my mentor, I toiled for months to come up with an original piece of complex counterpoint and clean form. Eventually, it won first place in its category in a provincial festival of the arts.

I recall vividly the morning that we first placed the sheet music in front of the quintet. This was in the days before instrument synthesizers, so I had heard nothing until now except whatever could be duplicated on the piano, plus the constructions of my own mind. As you can imagine, it was hard to keep my seat from shaking across the floor as my music came alive before me.

Then the double-bass player stopped the rehearsal. He took out his pencil and started changing some of the notes. I almost leaped at his neck, but my mentor grabbed my arm. I could see he was reading my very loud thoughts: "A chutzpah! The counterpoint is perfect! It's all been checked by my professors. The form is exquisite--I spent months on this! He thinks he knows the intent of the composer better than the composer himself!"

"They do that," he said. "And they're usually right. It's different when you're playing from the inside."

G‑d has two views of reality. One is the grand view from above. From there, the ugliness blends with its context to create even greater beauty. All is exquisite and ideal, a perfect whole.

Then He has the view from within. Within time, within space, within the confines of a flesh body that cringes at pain and is outraged at suffering; a view for which the now is more real than a thousand years of the future. The view not of the Composer, but of those who must play the music. And sometimes, what looks magnificent from above, is the pits from within.

Both views are true. Both views are G‑d.

In the Torah, the view from above is presented in G‑d's voice. G‑d's view from within is presented in the voice of Moses. The two come together to compose the ultimate truth of Torah.

Moses was simply practicing a common Jewish habit: Kvetching to G‑d. We call it prayer. It's the pencil granted us by the Composer. We preface our prayer with the verse, "G‑d, open my lips, that my mouth may speak Your praise." We ask, in other words, that our prayers should be the words of G‑d from within, speaking to G‑d as He stands above.
« Reply #242 on: January 26, 2010, 09:07:51 PM »

A Great Story about Friendship
« Reply #243 on: January 26, 2010, 09:16:28 PM »

The irony of tefillin threatening the lives of innocent people.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

At first I thought the call was a prank.
The caller identified himself as a reporter for the Associated Press. He asked if it would be all right for a TV crew to come meet with me immediately and do an interview that would be sent to all their national affiliates. Timing was crucial, he said. The story was breaking just now and it was headline news. They really needed a rabbi for background information.
“What's it all about?” I innocently asked.
“Didn't you hear?” the reporter breathlessly responded. “A plane has been diverted on its flight from LaGuardia Airport due to a possible terrorist attack from a Jewish passenger.”
Okay, I said to myself, what's the punchline? I know that flying isn't as safe as it used to be. I'm well aware of the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber but without overstepping the boundaries of political correctness I realized I was missing a piece of vital information when the caller suggested that there was threat of a terrorist attack from one of our people. A Jew threatening to bring down a plane? I knew in my gut that couldn't be true.
Sure enough, it was a false alarm. The passenger who gave the crew a fright was indeed Jewish. In fact it was a young man who was religiously observant. But it turned out no one really had any reason to be afraid. The teenager only wanted to recite his morning prayers while wearing the required tefillin, the biblically commanded boxes to be placed on the arm and the head - known in English as phylacteries. The first is bound round the arm seven times to indicate devotion to God for all the days of the week and then around the fingers in a manner that spells out one of the names of the Almighty. The other, on the head, is a symbol of our willingness to subject our minds to the will of the one above us.
For someone who's never seen these religious items they can certainly appear strange. To the stewardess who alerted the captain to these foreign objects, with their unrecognizable black boxes and their unusual attached strings, they represented a potential danger strong enough to warrant the plane making a forced landing in Philadelphia to be welcomed by FBI agents, the police and the fire department.
Remarkably enough on a flight from New York City, one of the major Jewish population centers in the world, not one person on board had ever seen tefillin, or could vouch for their authenticity as a mitzvah rather than a menace!
So the Associated Press came to ask me about this ritual which I explained has been around for more than 3000 years. While the Pilgrim fathers who were all extremely conversant with the Bible would surely have known the meaning and the makeup of these phylacteries, meant to afford a measure of spiritual protection to its wearers, our contemporary guardians of national security unfortunately had no idea of this Torah law. At least, I thought to myself, the one good thing to come out of this unfortunate incident that inconvenienced unwary passengers and temporarily mistook a pious Jew for a terrorist was the God-given opportunity to explain a mitzvah to a national audience on TV.
Yet in retrospect I can't help but reflect on the irony that of all ritual objects it was tefillin that caused the crew to suspect a threat that would endanger the lives of innocent people. After all, it is this very mitzvah that on a more profound level speaks to the issue that represents the greatest challenge today to the civilized world.
The tefillin is a ritual item comprised of two parts. In its own way it symbolically says that our devotion to God consists of a dual commitment. It is an idea that has a remarkable precedent in the 10 Commandments when God gave the fundamental moral laws for all mankind not on one but on two separate tablets.
Why were these laws not written on one and the same tablet? Surely it was not for considerations of space. God could have made one tablet large enough to contain all 172 words of the Decalogue. The reason, as explained by the rabbis, is that this allowed God to introduce what many theologians have called perhaps the most important idea promulgated by Judaism, the most powerful innovation in the realm of religious thought. Religion, this division of the tablets means to teach us, is concerned not only with the way in which mankind is meant to relate to God but also the way in which people are meant to treat each other.
There are two tablets with five Commandments on each. The first five reflect upon our duties to God, the last five concern themselves with proper behavior towards our fellow man. And it is both of these categories that are indivisibly included when we speak of religion!
It was Cotton Mather, the famous Puritan preacher of colonial American times, who put it well when he once pithily said, “Woe unto those who pray unto the Lord on Sundays and prey on their fellow man throughout the rest of the week.” What was the source of his insight? The very point we see so clearly embedded in the structure of the 10 Commandments inscribed by God on the two different tablets of stone.
To accept only one of these categories as the definition of our striving for spiritual perfection is to be guilty of nothing less than religious schizophrenia.
As many contemporary theologians and philosophers have pointed out, the greatest danger to Western civilization today comes from those who in the name of God are willing to murder innocents, and to use suicide bombers as missiles to massacre civilians in a perverted attempt to glorify the Almighty.
The two tablets stand as irrefutable testaments to the sacredness of both God and man, the Creator and his creations, the One in the heavens above and all those representing his divine image below.
And where else other than in the two tablets is this message repeated, indeed on a daily basis? Of course in the very mitzvah of tefillin. The box to be placed on our head symbolizes our aspirations to be connected with the one above. It corresponds to the first tablet and all of its injunctions relating to our responsibilities to God. The box we are taught to place on our arm with the strings wound round our hand remind us to reach out to others, to fulfill all those religious obligations that mark our humanity in our relationships with others. It is the symbolic link to the message of the second tablet which is just as important in the eyes of Law Giver of Sinai.
“When do Jews put on these tefillin?” the interviewer asked me. I explained that whenever Jews recite morning prayers every weekday we need to remind ourselves of the two messages of the tablets. We speak to God and don the little box we put on our heads remind us that He exists, that He runs the world, and that He must be acknowledged and worshiped. But even as we do so we emphasize with a box on our hands that true service of God includes reaching out to all of His children. It reaffirms our commitment never to do anything to harm fellow human beings with the absurd rationalization that our intent is solely to glorify God. It is the combination of these two that define us. Respect for God and concern for His children are the hallmarks of Judaism. Which is why no Jew true to his name and his mission could ever be guilty of endangering the lives of innocents in the name of his religious beliefs.
With perhaps a hidden touch of heavenly humor , the plane with the teenager on board whose tefillin terrified the security personnel was diverted to, of all places, Philadelphia. The nickname of that city, based on the Greek root of the word, is “the city of brotherly love.” How appropriate in a way that the end of this story was at a metropolis whose very identity is synonymous with the goal of the mitzvah that caused all the misunderstanding. After all, brotherly love is the divine purpose behind the law of the phylacteries which the young man attempted so scrupulously to fulfill. And far from being a cause for concern isn't it true that if tefillin and its message were properly understood and practiced, it would make the threat of terrorism and suicide bombers a universally longed-for impossibility?
« Last Edit: January 26, 2010, 09:25:14 PM by Rachel » Logged
« Reply #244 on: February 01, 2010, 10:08:17 PM »

The Most Difficult Commandment

By Yossy Goldman

This is the week G-d gives the Torah to the Jewish people. The reading of the great Revelation at Sinai occurs in this Parshah and with it come, of course, the world famous Ten Commandments.

Which would you say is the most difficult of the Big Ten to keep? Would it be the first, the mitzvah to believe in G-d? Faith doesn't come as easy to our generation as it did in the days of our grandparents. Children with aged parents suffering ill health and who require much attention might argue that the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and mother," is the most difficult to properly fulfill. Still others would say that the fourth commandment, to keep Shabbat, cramps their lifestyle more than any other.

While each has a valid point, personally, I would cast my vote for the last one on the list -- commandment number 10: Thou Shalt Not Covet.

"You shall not covet your friend's house; or his wife, servant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend." Or in simple English, don't desire his beautiful home, stunning wife, dream job, nifty sports car or anything else that is his.

It's one thing not to steal the stuff; but not even to desire it? That's got to be the hardest of all. Really now, isn't G-d being somewhat unreasonable with this one? Is He being realistic? Surely He doesn't think we're angels -- He created us!

So allow me do what all good Jews do and try to answer a question with... another question. Why does the text of this commandment first list a variety of specifics -- house, wife, servant, etc. -- and then still finds it necessary to add the generalization, "and all that belongs to your friend"?

One beautiful explanation offered by the rabbis is that this comes to teach us a very important lesson for life -- a lesson which actually makes this difficult commandment much easier to carry out. What the Torah is saying is that if perchance you should cast your envious eye over your neighbor's fence, don't only look at the specifics. Remember to also look at the overall picture.

Most of us tend to assume that the grass is greener on the other side. But we don't always consider the full picture, the whole package. So he's got a great business and a very healthy balance sheet. But is he healthy? Is his family healthy? His wife looks great at his side when they're out together, but is she such a pleasure to live with at home? And if he should have health and wealth, does he have nachas from his children? Is there anybody who has it all?

Every now and then I find out something about someone whom I thought I knew well that reminds me of this lesson. A fellow who seemed to be on top of the world suddenly has the carpet pulled out from under his feet and in an instant is himself in need. Another guy whom I never really thought that highly of turns out to be an amazing father, raising the most fantastic kids.

As the Yiddish proverb goes, everybody has his own pekkel. We each carry a backpack through life, a parcel of problems, our own little bundle of tzorris. When we are young, we think that difficulties are for "other people." When we get older we realize that no one is immune. Nobody has it all.

So if you find yourself coveting your fellow's whatever, stop for a minute to concider whether you really want "all that is your fellow's." When we actually see with our own eyes what the other fellow's life is all about behind closed doors, what's really inside his backpack, we will feel grateful for our own lot in life and happily choose our very own pekkel, with all its inherent problems.

There is a famous folk story about a group of villagers who formed a circle and each individual opened his sack, revealing his most precious possessions for all to see. They walked around the circle of open sacks and everyone had the opportunity to choose whichever one he wanted. In the end, each one chose his own.

The Almighty is giving us good advice. Be wise enough to realize that you've got to look at the whole picture. When we do, this difficult commandment becomes more easily observable. Not only is it sinful to envy what other people have; it's foolish. Because life is a package deal.
« Reply #245 on: February 02, 2010, 08:06:51 PM »

Parshah Messages
The Ten Commandments: The Inside Story
By Naftali Silberberg

The Ten Commandments were engraved on two tablets. The five commandments etched on the first tablet deal with man's relationship with G-d; the second tablet contains five commandments which concern man's relationship with his fellow man.

Of the 613 biblical commandments, G-d selected these ten commandments for special attention. He directly communicated them to the Jews without using Moses as an intermediary, and inscribed them on the tablets which were placed in the Holy Ark within the Holy of Holies. It is evident that although all the mitzvot are vital, the five carved into the first tablet were chosen because they form the basis of our relationship with the Creator, while the latter five serve as the foundation of our relationship with fellow people. The following is an attempt to delve briefly into the deeper meaning of the Ten Commandments.

First Tablet:

1. I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt: It isn't beneath G-d – the A-lmighty omnipotent G-d, before whom "all is considered like naught" – to personally interfere in the workings of this world, to liberate a persecuted nation from the hand of their oppressors. We can always trust that He is watching over us attentively and controlling all the events which affect our lives.

2. It isn't beneath G-d to personally interfere in the workings of this world, to liberate a persecuted nation from the hand of their oppressorsYou shall not have other gods in My presence: G-d is the only one who controls all events and occurrences. No other entity – not your government, not your boss, not your spouse – can benefit or harm you unless G-d has so decreed. Every one of us shares a special relationship with G-d, and no power can interfere and disturb this relationship.

3. You shall not take the name of the L-rd, your G-d, in vain: The above described relationship may indeed be intimate and personal, but you must never lose perspective—He's your Creator, not your buddy. Just as "familiarity breeds contempt," so, too, prayer three times a day can dull one's senses and cause one to lose some of the reverence due to the King of kings.

4. Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it: Maintaining this relationship with G-d requires effort on our part. All too often we are so immersed in our daily routine that we forget that in actuality it is our connection with G-d which matters most. Therefore, G-d commanded us to allocate one day every week for "relationship maintenance." This is the Sabbath, a day to focus on the real priorities in life, and draw inspiration for the following week.

5. Honor your father and your mother: Why is this commandment included in the "between man and Creator" tablet? Doesn't this command belong on the second tablet? Perhaps the lesson is that although we owe everything to G-d, we must not forget to express gratitude to those people whom G-d has empowered to help us in our journey through life. As the Talmud says: "The wine belongs to the host, but thanks is [also] said to the waiter."

Second Tablet:

Although most of the following prohibitions are admonitions against egregious sins which most of us wouldn't even consider committing, these prohibitions have subtle undertones which are applicable to every person.

1. Do not murder: Murder is a result of one person's deeming another person totally insignificant. In truth, every human was created by G-d in His holy image, and therefore has an innate right to exist. The first message we must internalize is the importance of respecting every individual. G-d thinks this person is important—so should you.

2. G-d thinks this person is important—so should youDo not commit adultery: Misguided love. Yes, we must be loving, kind and respectful to everyone, but love isn't a carte blanche which justifies all. There are guidelines which we must follow. Sometimes, faithful love – to a child, student, member of the opposite gender, etc. – entails being severe and abstaining from exhibiting love.

3. Do not kidnap:1 The essence of kidnapping is utilizing another for personal gain. Focus on being a real friend; don't be in the relationship only for your own benefit. Be there for your friend even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient for you.

4. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor: Every person is a judge. We are constantly observing our acquaintances and friends, judging their every word and action. We must be wary of a tendency to "bear false witness" in the process of issuing our personal verdict. We must always give the benefit of the doubt, taking into consideration various factors of which we may be unaware, ensuring that we don't reach an erroneous judgment.

5. Do not covet your neighbor's possessions: Be happy for your neighbor's good fortune! All the abovementioned exercises pale in comparison with this final message imparted by the Ten Commandments. After you've trained yourself to intellectually respect your fellows and consistently view them in a positive light, now it's time to get your heart involved. Love them. Be happy with their accomplishments. Share their sorrow during their difficult moments. Don't be afraid of getting emotionally involved—that's what family is all about!

Popularly translated as "Thou shall not steal," the sages explain that this prohibition is actually against kidnapping -- as opposed to the prohibition against stealing, which is mentioned in Leviticus 19:11.
« Reply #246 on: February 02, 2010, 08:13:09 PM »

The Ten Commandments That Shook the World
The narrative you are about to read is unique in the history of mankind. It is an event never repeated by any other nation or religion.
Dateline: The 6th of Sivan, 50 days after the Exodus.
Year: 2448 from Creation.
Day and Time: Shabbat morning at sunrise.
Place: Mount Sinai in the Sinai desert.
Scene: The entire world is silent. All of nature is on hold. Not a bird chirps! Not a frog burps! The Jewish people (who somehow slept that night!) are en route to their divine encounter at the mountain.
Soon will be enacted the most important event in human history.
Suddenly there is thunder, lightning and a loud shofar blast. The mountain is smoking like a furnace and trembling like a volcano. The people are terrified. The Divine Presence descends on the mountain in the form of a great fire.
All the people hear Moses being summoned to converse with the Almighty. They have clear evidence, without doubt, that Moses is the prophet of God.
God tells Moses to fence off the mountain so the people cannot run up.
The first Commandment is proclaimed. The entire nation attains prophecy by hearing the words of the Almighty directly. But they cannot absorb the intensity and their souls "pop out" of their bodies.
The angels resurrect them, and the people run for their lives. The angels return the people to the mountain, and the second Commandment thunders forth. Again their souls "pop out," again the angels revive them, and again they flee in fright (Talmud - Shabbat 85b).
Finally the people request that Moses transmit the remainder of the Torah because they are afraid of death (Exodus 20:16). They tell Moses: "You have had your credentials established. We know you are in contact with God and we trust you." (Notice how the first two commandments are given in the 2nd person, and the last 8 in the third person.)
* * *
This Parsha, perhaps the most important in the Torah, is named after a convert, Yitro, who also happens to be Moses' father-in-law. Why did Yitro merit such honorable mention?
Yitro was a searcher for truth. He resigned his prestigious position as Pharaoh's advisor when his advice to spare the Jews was not heeded. Yitro investigated every form of idol worship and tried out every cult, even fattening up animals to sacrifice them to the gods.
In the end, Yitro rejected all idolatry, and when he heard about the miracles of the Exodus, he ran to the wilderness to join the Jewish people.
This Parsha is named Yitro to teach us that the way to acquire Torah is to follow the ways of Yitro. Search for truth and be critical. Reject falsehood. And when you discover truth, be ready to sacrifice everything for it! (Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe)
When Yitro came to the desert, he brought Moses' wife and children with him. (Moses had sent them away from Egypt out of fear they'd become slaves.) Moses and the entire camp went out to meet Yitro.
Yitro says that upon hearing the details of the Exodus, he was greatly inspired to the point of goose bumps (Rashi). Yitro recognized the "measure-for-measure" punishment of each and every plague, and decided to become a Jew.
The people welcomed Yitro with a banquet in his honor -- and Moses serving as the waiter. As the Talmud says: When you partake of a meal with Torah scholars, it is compared to dining with the Divine Presence.
The next day, Yitro begins criticizing Moses, and as a result advises him to create the first Supreme Court system. Yitro departs to convert his family (mentioned here, although it didn't occur until much later).
* * *
(1) The people arrive at Mount Sinai and encamp across from the mountain (Exodus 19:2).
Although they were just attacked by Amalek, they didn't encamp on the mountain for protection, out of their faith in God. (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch)
(2) God tells Moses to call all the women together and gently explain to them the significance of the holy Torah they are about to receive. (Exodus 19:3, Rashi)
Only afterward does Moses call the men together and spell out the Mitzvah responsibilities. The women went first because of the tremendous influence they have on the Jewish family. A mother's approach is the most significant factor in creating a peaceful and stable home.
(3) God proclaims the goal of the Revelation:
"You shall be My treasured nation (like the special treasure room of the palace) if you obey My commandments." (Exodus 19:5)
(4) God then says:
"You shall be a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)
No intermediaries are necessary; every Jew stands 3 times a day before the Creator and addresses Him in the second person.
(5) The people hear Moses conversing with God and believe in Moses forever.
Even later generations who did not personally witness the national revelation will believe it, because it is a claim that cannot be fabricated, and the Jewish people are (and will always be) the only ones to make the claim (Nachmanides, see Deut. 4:32).
* * *
(6) The Jews respond:
"Whatever God says we will fulfill." (Exodus 19:Cool
This was the first time in Jewish history that the Jews unanimously agreed about anything!
Later, the Jews add "and we will hear" - meaning we will try to understand. But first we will do. (E.g., If you trust the doctor, you first take the prescription and then go to medical school.)
Did you ever hear the anti-Semitic ditty: "How odd of God to choose the Jews"?
The Sinai experience helps provides an answer: "It's not so odd. The Jews chose God!" (heard from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt"l)
(7) First the Almighty went to all the nations of the world (or their guardian angels) and offered them the Torah.
"What does your Torah say?" they demanded to know. "We don't sign blank checks!"
To one nation, God said, "Do not murder."
"Such a Torah is not for us!" they cried.
To another nation, God said, "Do not commit adultery."
"Wrong address" they replied.
To another nation, God said, "Honor your parents."
"Come on! Isn't Mothers' Day good enough??"
Only the Jews accepted God's word unconditionally. ("How much does it cost? It's free! In that case, we'll take 10!") (Midrash - based on Deut. 33:2)
Question: Why did God tell these nations all the things they didn't want to hear? Did He purposely want them to refuse?
Answer: They already rejected the Torah as soon as they asked what it says. It is wrong to judge Divine values based on one's own narrow value system.
It's like if I say: "I am offering you absolute truth. Do you want it?"
"That depends."
"What do you mean, 'It depends'!? That's like if I offer you the results of your medical exam. It depends - can I still drink and smoke?" Therefore God made sure they refused (heard from Rabbi Motty Berger).
* * *
(The first five pertain to Man and God.)

COMMANDMENT #1: "I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt."
Question: What is the commandment here? It seems to be a statement! There cannot be a commandment to believe in God. If you don't believe, then who would be commanding you to believe? And if you already believe, what do you need a commandment for?? (Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, based on Maimonides)
Answer: The first commandment is to know there is a God (Maimonides). After you "believe," you need to use your mind and "know." See the design in Creation, the genius of the Torah etc., until you are convinced intellectually as well as emotionally.

COMMANDMENT #2: "You shall have no other gods before me."
Do not make or worship idols. Idolatry means to bring God, the ultimate value, down to us - i.e. to humanize God instead of elevating man to spiritual heights.
Idolatry (in its broader sense) also includes making any physical act a goal, instead of a means. Food, money, sex, power and sports can all be idols if they become ends in themselves.
The first Mitzvah applies to our mind; the second Mitzvah applies to our actions.

COMMANDMENT #3: "Do not take God's Name in vain."
A false or unnecessary oath is taking the Almighty as a witness in vain. Even secular courts make a witness put his right hand on a Bible. "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" ("I didn't do it!" Do you believe him?)
The Talmud says that when the 3rd commandment was uttered, the entire world trembled and all of the nations heard it as well.
This commandement applies to speech.

COMMANDMENT #4: "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it."
In order to concretize our belief in one God, we must dedicate one day a week to Him.
In Deuteronomy Chap. 5, when the Ten Commandments are repeated, it says "Keep the Shabbat day holy."
God said both "remember Shabbat" and "keep Shabbat" simultaneously (Talmud, Shabbos).
 The duel aspects of Shabbat are the positive aspect ("remember") and the negative aspect ("keep").
The negative is compared to Rockefeller Center in New York donated to the public but still owned by Mr. Rockefeller. It is closed to the public one day a year in order for him to retain his private ownership. Similarly, the world belongs to God and He allows humanity to manage the world. But to prevent anyone thinking erroneously that the world is ours to do as we please, one day a week we "give the world back to God" by not doing any act that demonstrates our mastery of the world.
Why are so many activities prohibited on Shabbat? "Years ago it took much work to rub two sticks together and make fire, but today we just scratch a match or push a button!" so goes the old rationale. It isn't physical labor that is forbidden, but creative activity. However if one would spend the entire Shabbat in bed he would not have broken the negative aspect.
The positive aspect is compared to someone lost in the woods. Which way should he turn? First open your map and get out your compass. Get your bearings and decide where to go. Similarly in life we need time to focus ourselves, unpressured by the demands of daily activities (teachers, boss, schedules) - to get a true picture of our accomplishments and goals.

COMMANDMENT #5: "Honor your father and mother."
Question: The first tablet contains laws between humanity and God. The second tablet is between one person and another. Thus it would seem that Commandment #5 - honoring parents - is on the wrong tablet!
Answer: The example par excellence of the relationship we have with God is the parent-child relationship. It is based purely on gratitude. With God, it is abstract; with parents it's concrete. Parents brought you into the world and changed your diapers! They bought you food, clothes, and toys and stayed up when you were ill. If we don't honor our parents, how will we be able to transfer this respect to our Creator?
The transmission of our tradition is only possible out of respect for the previous generation. They are one link closer to the source! All Jewish tradition is based on this.
The last five commandments pertain to human relations:

COMMANDMENT #6: "Do not murder."
Some confuse this with "do not kill." There are times when one must kill - e.g. self defense, or in wartime. We are not idealized pacifists! Only what the Torah declares to be murder is "wrong."
In a pagan world of gladiators and coliseums, of human sacrifice and infant and mercy killing, the value of human life was very cheap. The Torah considers the preservation of life to be an ultimate value. The punishment for murder (with witnesses and a proper warning) is the death penalty.

COMMANDMENT #7: "Do not commit adultery."
This Mitzvah addresses the sanctity of married life. Instead of seeing one's spouse as a jail keeper preventing him from enjoying other liaisons, the Torah sees a spouse as a provider exclusively for him, in order to prevent him from even thinking of others.
Solid family life and a stable home is the bedrock of society. To infringe on the husband-wife relationship is to endanger the microcosm of the home, and ultimately society at large. The positive marital relationship is embedded in this strong prohibition, whose punishment (with witnesses and warning) is the death penalty.

COMMANDMENT #8: "Do not steal."
This verse refers to "do not kidnap" (stealing money is mentioned elsewhere), which is a capital punishment if there are witnesses and warning (Talmud).

COMMANDMENT #9: "Do not bear false witness."
Human beings are enjoined to keep their speech pure. One of the worst injustices is to pervert a verdict.

COMMANDMENT #10: "Do not covet."
This commandment applies to the mind. It is a uniquely God-given law. No other law book mentions it. Just try prosecuting someone for "coveting!" Except for the all-knowing God, there's no way to know another person's thoughts - and whether he's coveting the other person's house, spouse, and money.
Question: Why do the laws between humanity and God have thoughts before words and actions, and the laws between people have actions first?
Answer: When it comes to humanity and God, the most important thing is your intention. First the mind, then actions and words. Let everyone know what you believe and then apply it to your life. Actions without beliefs are meaningless, like putting Tefillin on a monkey!
When it comes to the laws between people, the actions come first, and then speech and mind. "I don't care if you hate his guts, but don't murder!"
« Reply #247 on: February 03, 2010, 07:36:16 PM »

How Can the Commentaries All Be Right?

By Yisroel Cotlar


I bought a set of Torah and the Prophets with all the classic commentaries and I enjoy studying it very much. I am unsure, however, how to understand the vast differences of opinions concerning any particular story. Often, the opinions contradict one another.

How can I appreciate studying such commentaries when only one could be right?


This is a commonly asked question. It is predicated on the assumption that the purpose of the Torah is to tell us the history of our people, and history had to happen in a certain way.

But that isn't the purpose of the Torah. True, it is stories that fill much of the Torah. And true, these episodes literally happened in a specific manner. Nonetheless, when studying the Torah, we are meant to go past "what happened" and view the stories as a means for G‑d to convey us a message—a lesson for our lives right now.

Indeed, one needs look no further than the very translation of the word "Torah" to realize that the Torah is not a mere guide to Jewish history. Torah means "teaching"—not "history book." This is also apparent from the Torah's (seemingly strange) selective history, the occasional non-chronological order in which events are recorded, and the mysterious wording it sometimes uses to tell a story.

For, beyond the storyline, each story, verse, word, and letter in the Torah is a glimpse into a higher truth. It is the infinite wisdom of G‑d concentrated into stories the human mind can comprehend.

This truth can be observed from four primary dimensions, called pshat (simple), remez (hint), drush (seek) and sod (secret). And there are countless avenues of understanding within each of these perspectives.

Pshat is the simple interpretation of the Torah, following the smoothest, most elegant path of words and context. Remez uncovers the hints and allegoric meaning behind these words. Drush (or midrash) seeks the deeper meaning of the verse. And sod is the esoteric, mystical part of Torah, the meaning that can only be known to those who have been told. Read this article for more about these four, with examples of each of them.

When our holy commentators studied a story in the Torah, they each noticed another aspect of this truth. And so, we treasure them all.

And if you will ask, "So which one is true? Which one really happened?"—the answer, quite simply, is that all are true, all really happened.

Why is it difficult for us to swallow that? Because we believe that there is only one reality, and so only one history. The Torah, however, knows of many realities, all of them true, each of them containing a different lesson for us in this reality now. There are worlds where pshat is real—different worlds for different pshatim. Then there are worlds of remez, of drush and of sod.

For example, in our physical world, Moses may have been say, six feet tall. But in a certain world of drash, he was 10 amot—about 15 feet tall. Which one is more true? That depends: Are you looking for his height or for his stature? Are you measuring the Moses that fit into a physical body in a physical world, or are you measuring the real Moses, the soul and true character of the man–so that you will know how to relate to him and appreciate his character?

A stature of 10 amot implies that this person is complete in every way—since there are 10 aspects of the human character. That's who Moses really was—a whole and balanced person in the ultimate sense of those words. Our physical world cannot handle a human being of those proportions, and so we see the truth in a poise of compromise. But in a world that does not have our physical limitations, Moses is actually 10 amot tall.

It all has to do with what we are taking from the story, what we need to learn. And each different approach to Torah will provide another lesson, all equally valuable, all equally true.
« Reply #248 on: February 04, 2010, 08:04:05 PM »

Now I Know - Yitro
By Rabbi Ben A.

"...Now I know that G‑d is greater than all gods...."—Exodus 18:11

This week's portion describes the mass revelation at Mt. Sinai and the events leading up to it. While the nation was encamped at the foot of the mountain, Jethro, the former Midianite high priest, came to join them, proclaiming, "Now I know that G‑d is greater than all gods." The fact that Jethro says, "Now I know," indicates that there had been a time when he did not know. Indeed, tradition tells us that Jethro had studied every form of idol worship known in his day and had practiced them all. Jethro was one who came to his belief in G‑d only after a lifetime of trial and error.

It is interesting that tradition relates that Jethro's presence was so integral to the revelation at Sinai that G‑d would not have deemed the great event worthy of taking place had Jethro not been there. Why was the presence of Jethro, the former idol worshipper, so crucial to the revelation at Sinai?

The greatest wisdom is that which only comes about as a product of having rejected its oppositeThere is a verse (Ecclesiastes 2:13) which states, "I have seen the superiority of wisdom over foolishness." This doesn't seem like such a novel insight—that wisdom is superior to foolishness. But by taking a second look at the original Hebrew, it becomes clear that the verse may also be read, "I have seen the superiority of wisdom that comes from foolishness." The greatest wisdom is that which only comes about as a product of having rejected its opposite. When Jethro, the expert of unholy wisdom, declared his faith in G‑d, this was the ultimate "wisdom that comes from foolishness"—the refinement of unholy wisdom and its transformation into holiness. It was this unique contribution which provided the additional degree of sanctity necessary to bring about the revelation of G‑d at Sinai.

The alcoholic in recovery can easily understand that there is a special quality of wisdom that comes about only after all else has failed. Our present state of spiritual consciousness is not a last ditch effort to stay sober; it is actually the culmination of all our past foolish notions finally being seen for what they are by one who knows all too well why they don't work.

Honest self-appraisal may reveal that we had been intimately familiar with almost every false god known to man. We attributed G‑d-like powers to people, places and things and even to ourselves. Even those of us who claimed to believe in G‑d still couldn't shake the feeling that other powers also needed to be appeased. We lived in awe and dread of these false gods. We paid tribute to them with the greatest of sacrifices. But there came a time – after admitting our powerlessness and turning to G‑d to care for our lives – that we were finally able to smash these idols with the certainty and wisdom of one who has learned the truth by first learning all of the lies.

By Rabbi Ben A.   More articles...  |   
Rabbi Ben A. is the most famous anonymous rabbi. Using his pen name, Ben A. draws from his personal experience in recovery to incorporate unique chassidic philosophy into the practice of the 12 Steps.
The idea of this article is based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
« Reply #249 on: February 07, 2010, 09:35:03 AM »
Getting to know the most fascinating person in the world – yourself.
by Dina Coopersmith

We all want to be great. Nobody sincerely thinks, “I want to be mediocre.” But every person is different, and the trick is to discover your own aspect of personal greatness.
Rabbi Chaim Vital, a great kabbalist who lived in Tzfat in the 15th century, writes that just as the world was created using four elements – earth, air, fire and water – so too, each person was created using those same elements. For each individual, one particular element is dominant and this, to a large degree, determines your essential strengths and weaknesses. Identifying your “element” will help reveal the area of spiritual development (“tikkun”) you need to do to achieve your own greatness.
Fire tends to rise, the flames reaching up and out to consume and conquer. The positive aspect of this element is the desire to strive and accomplish, to reach great heights, to lead and take responsibility. People who possess this dominant element are leaders and visionaries: They see the big picture and long-term ramifications. They are goal-oriented and ambitious.
On the other hand, there are common character flaws generating from the element of fire: arrogance, anger, criticism and condescension toward others, and the tendency to crave power and control.
Earth is low and heavy. It stays in one place, continuously stepped on and caught in gravity's domain. People who have more of this element tend toward laziness, sadness and despair. These are their main weaknesses. They have a heaviness about them, craving comfort and lack of effort. The main work in overcoming this flaw is pushing toward accomplishment and growth.
On the good side, however, these people don’t tend to get into power struggles. They are compliant, humble and willing to cooperate. They forgo and give in. They are good team players and are reliable and trustworthy, loyal and steadfast in their preferences and relationships.
Water spreads and goes everywhere. It takes on the contours of whatever vessel contains it. It goes with the flow, literally, naturally unbound and unlimited, unrestricted. People with a “water” nature have an easy time giving, connecting with others, and spreading themselves to acquiesce to the needs of others. They tend to be friendly, flexible, outgoing and generous (even to a fault).
Their main weakness lies in a lack of self-restraint and pursuit of physical pleasures. They may at times veer toward immorality, thinking that normal restrictions in human behavior don’t apply to them.
Air is the most complicated of the elements. It is fluff, ephemeral, seemingly non-existent. It blows one way and another, never fixed permanently anywhere, never taking a stand. It is invisible, and could be in one place when you think it is in another. Those with this dominant element tend to lack concern about the physical world. They may be more spiritual, idealistic, living in the world of ideas. They may have a yearning to transcend this world and connect with energies and non-tangible aspects of existence.
Their weakness involves the power of speech, which is also dependent upon air for its life-source. They tend toward meaningless chatter, gossip, flattery and deceit, able to manipulate the truth for their own gains. They may also have a hard time sticking to routine and order, as they subconsciously assume they can be everywhere at the same time.
Putting It All Together
If you can figure out which element plays a large part in your physical make-up, then you are ready to peer through a window to your spiritual, psychological strengths and weaknesses as well.
As an assignment to gain clarity on this subject, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, in his book Alei Shur suggests drawing out a “character trait circle.” It goes like this:
Draw a circle on a piece of paper. On the uppermost part of the circle, write down what you see as your most important quality, your biggest strength. At the bottom of the circle, put down your worst flaw or failing. Next to the trait at the top, to its left and right, fill in your positive character traits, your good qualities.
Gradually lower, toward the middle of the circle, place your traits which are neutral – not especially positive, but not entirely negative either. For example, traits like “talkative,” “visually oriented,” “emotional”, etc. could go either way.
As you near the bottom of your circle, fill in all your weaknesses, those traits that drag you down and keep you from reaching greatness.
Rabbi Shalom Noach Berzovsky, in his chassidic work, Nesivos Shalom, says we are each created with a special mission to accomplish in this world. To figure out what this mission is, look at the upper part of your circle for the things that come easily to you – the talents you have and the things you enjoy doing.
Another part of our purpose in this world is to fix something that is flawed, within us or in the world. This is called “tikkun.” To figure out this aspect of your purpose, look at the lower part of your circle and evaluate your weaknesses. What kinds of things cause you to fail, time and time again? What trips you up in relationships, at work, when you attempt any accomplishment? What is so difficult for you that it almost seems insurmountable?
It is these very character flaws which may be your raison d’etre – your life purpose, to overcome those flaws which are obstacles to your success, using your God-given talents, strengths, and the traits that come naturally to you.
Now look at your circle. You can see your strengths at the top of the circle, your flaws on the bottom. And ask yourself:
• How can I use my main talents and abilities to accomplish in life?
• Am I using my time effectively?
• Is much of my life spent doing things that are not so enjoyable to me?
• If I have leadership abilities, am I utilizing that talent, or am I basically a follower most of the time – in my career, at home, in my community?
Evaluate whether you can actually use your strengths to overcome your least favorite traits. As an example, consider the person who is a truth-seeker. He likes to investigate how the world and people operate. At the same time, he may be disorganized, a little flighty, and can’t stick to routine.
The solution might be the following: He or she could do some research about time management, the underlying causes of disorder and lack of routine, and the long-term ramifications of such behavior on people, on their relationships, on their life. Using your newfound knowledge, commit to working on improving in this area, or get a group together for a time-management course or workshop as the first step toward change.
Once you realize what you can do and what you need to change, the next crucial step is to articulate it clearly and succinctly. Write this out as your “personal mission statement,” tack it on the fridge… and go for it!
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