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« Reply #250 on: February 09, 2010, 07:58:56 PM »

Stuffed with Love
By Deena Yellin

The herd of brightly-colored stuffed animals filled our front porch with all the panache of an overblown Muppets production. They arrived by the dozens in gargantuan bags and boxes – Elmo, Kermit, Big Bird, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and enough Beanie Babies to strike envy in collectors everywhere. The cuddly creatures soon covered so much of our home that the cleaning lady surmised we were opening a toy store. In fact, we planned to give them out for free.

Meital had announced a stuffed animal drive for Israeli childrenIt all started when my then six-year-old daughter, Meital, asked me if there are kids in Israel who don't have toys. When I nodded, her eyes flew open. "Not even Barbies or stuffed animals?" she exclaimed. She immediately pulled out her purple knapsack and stuffed it with dolls. "I'm going to take this to them," she declared. Charmed by this outburst of altruism, I agreed to help her on our upcoming trip to Israel.

I forgot all about it until days later a neighbor offered to donate stuffed animals for "my daughter's project." Meital had announced a stuffed animal drive for Israeli children. Her teacher's enthusiastically joined the campaign by encouraging students to donate. My four-year-old son, not to be outdone, offered to collect stuffed animals at his nursery school. Soon, the animals were arriving at all hours and without notice. Some were from acquaintances and friends, but many were from strangers.

With each delivery, my daughter beamed, observing our community's keen concern for children in Israel. Some donations came with heartwarming notes. "What a wonderful idea. You should be so proud of your daughter," said one. "May you go from strength to strength," said another. "Thank you for doing this," said a third.

A young girl came to our door cradling a teddy bear in her arms. She was hesitant about giving up the beloved toy, but my daughter reassured her, "We're taking it to a child in Israel who needs it." The girl slowly handed over her bear. I was awed at the youngster's exquisite act of giving.

Initially, I anticipated we'd receive a handful of stuffed animals. Instead, we ended up with over 400.

When my husband saw our entire living room was covered in Jim Hensen décor, he inquired, "How are we getting all of this to Israel?" Good question, I thought, as I stuffed the toys into 12 oversized duffel bags. Clearly, professional expertise was needed, so I called Claire Ginsburg-Goldstein, head of "Bears for Bergenfield," an organization which has sent over 70,000 stuffed animals to sick and needy children in Israel. She obtained permission from the Israeli airline, ElAl, fto bring extra bags and then solicited volunteers to take the rest, helped us get a large van to the airport and offered a list of Israeli organizations where I could distribute the furry friends.

She declared us a security threat and insisted on checking each Elmo and Kermit for explosivesBut first, we needed to pass ElAl's airport security checkpoint. "Did anyone give you anything to take in your suitcase?" inquired the intimidating official glaring intently. I gulped, looked at the bag of toys and fessed up about our project. I expected a "kudos," or at least a smile from the official. Instead, she declared us a security threat and insisted on checking each Elmo and Kermit for explosives. Fortunately, every last cuddly cutie was given clearance to fly.

A few days later, we were distributing the toys at the children's ward of Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. We visited children who were lying motionless in hospital beds, some hooked up to tubes and machines. Sitting beside them were grim-faced parents who were puzzled when we walked in, certain we were in the wrong room. We explained that we brought stuffed animals donated by New Jersey Jews who wanted to wish them well. Their faces lit up. "That's beautiful," said one surprised mother after another.

My children took turns handing out the animals and their shouts of "Happy holiday!" and "Feel better soon!" reverberated through the halls. When we encountered a solemn faced child in a wheelchair, we held out various stuffed animals and grinned until he did too. A grandmother chased after us and grabbed my husband's arm. "You have no idea what you did for us today," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "You cheered everyone up. Thank you."

My daughter was pleased to see how the toys succeeded in generating happiness. A teenage patient requested a Winnie the Pooh, and each nurse wanted to take home a stuffed animal too (we obliged).

We delivered the rest of the stuffed animals to families living in Jerusalem's poorest neighborhoods. We entered decrepit homes where the paint peeled and the roof leaked. We met families with several children living in a one or two room dwelling. Some suffered from medical problems, like the seven-year-old girl who was left paralyzed by an illness, and the father with a severe heart condition. One mother was bedridden while her children were running around the house. None of the families owned a TV, car or electronic games. Nobody had backyards. My son immediately noticed that the children had few toys. When we gave the children stuffed animals, they acted as if we had brought them the world.

When our trip was all over, I asked my children how they felt. "We're lucky," mused my son, while his sister nodded.

My Uncle Motti, ever the pragmatist, says nachat (joy) from one's children comes rarely in a lifetime, so when it occurs, you must savor every bit of it. I figure I'm good for at least five years.

By Deena Yellin   More articles...  |   
Deena Yellin is a New Jersey based newspaper reporter who has written for The New York Times, Newsday and The Jerusalem Post. She recently contributed to an anthology called Bread and Fire: Jewish Women Find G-d in the Everyday (Urim Publications).

The content on this page is copyrighted by the author, publisher and/or, and is produced by If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with the copyright policy.
« Reply #251 on: February 10, 2010, 09:09:31 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Not Yet
By Yossy Goldman

Everyone knows that Rome wasn't built in a day. There isn't a building site on earth where the contractor hasn't explained away his delays by using that well-worn cliché. But did you know that Jerusalem wasn't built in a day either? Nor was the Holy Land.

In this week's Torah reading, the Almighty tells the Jewish people that they will not inherit the land of Canaan immediately. It will be to their benefit that the conquest of the Promised Land be gradual and deliberate. To settle the land successfully would take time and they were cautioned up front to be patient:

I shall not drive them away from you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wildlife of the field multiply against you. Little by little shall I drive them away from you, until you become fruitful and make the land your heritage. (Exodus 23:29-30)

Overnight sensations are often just that. They don't necessarily last. Slow and steady, step by step, the gradual approach usually enjoys longevity and enduring success.

Every Jew has a share in the Promised Land; not only geographically but spiritually. There is a piece of Jerusalem inside each of us. We all have the capacity for holiness, sanctity and spirituality. But sometimes we may be discouraged from beginning the journey to our own personal promised land. The road seems too long and arduous. Here G‑d is giving us wise words of encouragement. Don't expect overnight miracles. Don't say, "I have a whole country to conquer! How will I do it?" Rather say, "Where should I start today?" Don't look at the end of the road; look at the first few steps you need to take right now. Tomorrow you will take a few more steps and the next day a few more, and before long the whole land will be yours.

If you asked an optimistic entrepreneur, just starting on his first business venture, "Are you a millionaire?" he wouldn't say, "No." Most probably he'd say, "Not yet, I'm working on it!" It should be the same in our Jewish journeys.

Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) was a German-Jewish philosopher who as a young man actually considered opting out of Judaism completely. But his intellectual bent compelled him to at least do a proper examination of Judaism first. So he went to a synagogue and, as it happened, experienced a spiritual transformation. He went on to become a serious student of Judaism. It's told that when Rosenzweig was once asked, "Do you put on tefillin?" his answer was not yet. Not no, but "not yet" – and there is a critical difference between the two. No implies that I am not doing it now nor do I have any plans to do it any time soon. Not yet means that while presently I may not be there, I am still open to the suggestion. Hopefully, the time will soon come when I will be ready to make tefillin part of my daily observance.

The not yet approach is a good one. There is no one who does it all. We all have room for growth. We should all want to aspire higher. If we don't practice a particular good deed at the moment there is no reason why we cannot begin doing it in the near future. Let us never be discouraged by the length of the journey. Let us begin the first steps and keep moving. It may be slow but as long as there is steady growth we will get there.

So if someone asks, "do you put on tefillin," or "do you keep kosher," or "do you observe Shabbat," and you don't, please don't say no. Say not yet.
« Reply #252 on: February 11, 2010, 09:14:05 PM »

What Did the Tablets Look Like?
By Menachem Posner


I read in the Torah that Moses came down from the mountain with two tablets of stone,1 but did not see anything about their size, shape, or what kind of stone they were made of. Can you shed some light?


The Dimensions:

Tradition tells us that they were thick square blocks of stone, six handbreadths tall, six handbreadths wide, and three handbreadths deep. In modern measurements, that is just over 18”x18”x 9”. The sages of the Talmud demonstrate how tablets of this size--along with a few other relics--fit neatly into the Ark of the Covenenat that Moses made as described in Exodus.2

It is interesting to note that nowhere is there any mention of them having the rounded tops that are so common in the popular drawings of Moses and the tablets. This design appears to be the invention of non-Jewish artists.

The Material:

The tradition is that both sets of tablets were made of sapphire. After Moses broke the first set, G‑d revealed a large deposit of sapphire in Moses' tent. Moses used some of the stone to carve the second tablets and was permitted to keep the remains.3

The Writing:

The most common understanding is that the first five commandments were written on one tablet, and the other five commandments were on the second.4

The Torah describes the writing as "inscribed from both their sides; on one side and on the other side they were inscribed."5

This means that the inscription was engraved through and through. As such, the words were clearly legible on one side and written in mirror writing on the other. Now there are two Hebrew letters, the ם and the ס, that are closed from all sides. The centers of these letters, Rav Chisda concludes, must have been miraculously suspended in place.67

Others teach that the writing was miraculously legible on each side—in other words, although the letters were engraved all the way through, they could nevertheless be read from right to left on both sides. Rabenu Bachye explains that this is because the Torah can be understood on two levels, one revealed and one hidden.8
prentice crawford
« Reply #253 on: February 11, 2010, 10:10:49 PM »

Hi Rachel,
 Interesting post, I had never considered the size of the tablets and the dimensions given for the Ark of the Covenant being simpatico.
« Reply #254 on: February 12, 2010, 07:25:33 AM »

Man, I would love to hop in the time machine and see that!  Or what they were trying to explain.........  Either way it would be impressive.
Power User
Posts: 7833

« Reply #255 on: February 12, 2010, 09:44:08 AM »

Carat Weight And Size
How are sapphires measured?

Gemstones vary in density, so a sapphire and a diamond of the same carat weight are visually different sizes. Because sapphires tend to be heavier, a one carat sapphire is generally slightly smaller in size than a one carat diamond For ease of selection and setting, size is a more useful measurement, which we list in millimeters. Our standard size for a round sapphire is 6 mm, which is approximately one carat.

Brilliant Earth carries a variety of shapes and sizes beyond our standard so if you are looking for something more unique, please contact us.

 6 mm (.2362 inches)
equals approximately 1 carat

 Sapphires are generally measured by size rather than carat weight.

Contact Us | Our Blog | Refer A Friend | Testimonials | Press | Giving Back | Free Shipping | 30 Day Returns | Privacy Policy      © 2005-2010 Brilliant Earth, Inc
prentice crawford
« Reply #256 on: February 12, 2010, 06:09:03 PM »

 Having collected and cut gemstones as a hobby and being a little more than just interested in rocks and minerals, I can add that although most people associate sapphire with being a gemstone, that it is a matter of the quality and suitability of the crystal that determines that status. Corundum, is the base mineral of sapphires and ruby. The only difference between them is color. Rubies are red and sapphire is any color but red. Most commercial sapphires are blue but that's because that is what the market wants, blue sapphires. Corundum, which in its pure state is colorless, can grow into individual crystals or into large closely packed formations. Rubies, are of course rarer than sapphires and owe their color to trace amounts of chromium which is rarely associated with corundum. The smaller crystals that have few intrusions and that have been colored by trace minerals are the ones used for jewelry. Corundum has a hardness of 9 which gives it long wear life for jewelry but also makes it difficult to cut and polish. The large formations can be cut into blocks and use for a number of things, including tablets. grin
« Last Edit: February 12, 2010, 11:48:17 PM by prentice crawford » Logged
« Reply #257 on: February 17, 2010, 09:54:02 PM »

Interesting posts on sapphire Thanks
This week has been very busy and next week will be as well so posting might be light

Planet of the Apes

By Yaakov Brawer

"Dr. Teitelbaum! Excuse me Dr. Teitelbaum but you must help me! I'm supposed to graduate in November and I've just been notified that McGill won't credit me with Marketing Management II that I took last summer at U.B.C. and I won't have enough credits without it and ..." I looked at the teary-eyed, agitated undergraduate and said nothing. Long experience has taught me that there is no point in explaining that I am not Dr. Teitelbaum until they calm down.

Although Avraham Dovid Teitlebaum (a fellow chassid) and I resemble each other only slightly, McGill students seem incapable of seeing beyond the beard, yarmulke and tzitzit, and I am forever being mistaken for the former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Management. Presently, the student stopped for a breath and I pointed out her error. However, it didn't register. Rejuvenated by a lung full of fresh air, she pressed her suit with renewed vigor. I identified myself again. She ignored me and continued pleading. I interrupted her and once more indicated that she had the wrong person. She frowned impatiently, clearly annoyed that I wasn't giving her proper attention, and without breaking stride, continued her presentation. As she paused to marshal her thoughts for the final assault, I took advantage of the lull and insisted slowly, distinctly, and emphatically that I was not Dr. Teitlebaum. She scrutinized me for a few moments and suddenly her face lit up with the wonder of discovery. Her eyes grew wide and she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! there are two of you!"

There are indeed two of me. What my flustered friend probably doesn't realize, however, is that there are also two of her. There is she1 who operates on the instinctive level and who equates appearance with reality, and there is she2 who is capable of recording, analyzing and weighing information and arriving at a reasoned conclusion, appearances notwithstanding. As far as she1 was concerned, I had to be Dr. Teitlebaum simply because it was counter-intuitive that there could be two people on a university faculty with the exotic appearance of Dr. Teitlebaum. She2, who emerged only after she1 had been repeatedly challenged, correctly interpreted the available evidence and surmised that there were, in truth, two faculty members at McGill who shared the same unconventional features.

The fact that there are two of everyone is unsettling. The idea that our consciousness is not the unitary expression of a single self but rather a composite of independent components seems absurd for the simple reason that no one feels like more than one person. Nonetheless, such is the case and it can be convincingly demonstrated using the diagram depicted below (taken from The Self and Its Brain by Karl Popper and John Eccles, 1977, Springer International. p.63)

The diagonal line in the center of the picture is divided into two segments A-B and B-C by the middle vertical line. If you had to determine which of these segments is longer, without measuring them, your inclination would be to select segment A-B because it looks longer than B-C. If you were then told that the three vertical lines are parallel and equidistant, you would have to conclude, on the basis of basic high school geometry, that segments A-B and B-C must be of equal length, regardless of appearance. You thus have 2 different answers produced by your two different "selves". The instinctive, unreflective, and uncritical self simply takes appearances at face value. The other self, who is intellective and analytical, assesses the data and arrives at conclusions based on abstract reasoning and logic.

How is it that most of us spend our lives blithely unaware that two such incompatible individuals room together in our heads? The answer is that usually only one self is active at any particular time, and it is most often the intuitive, non-intellective self. Intellectual processes, whether creative or analytical, require effort. It is much easier and far more natural to simply accept things the way they appear to be. Thus, the instinctive self represents the default mode, and we, therefore, sail through life, oblivious to the appalling fact that our navigator is, distressingly often, a shallow simpleton. Worse, since we regard ourselves as intelligent beings, and since the "ourselves" that most often runs our brains is the shallow simpleton, we celebrate its fallacious, foolish, insubstantial fancies as wisdom.

In Chassidic terminology, the two disparate cognitive dimensions described above are defined as hergesh (instinct) and sechel (intelligence). Whereas hergesh is a trait common to all mammals, sechel, embodying abstract creative or analytical intelligence, is uniquely human. Consequently the description of man, by anthropologists, as an "intelligent ape" is singularly appropriate (albeit for reasons very different from those that led to the creation of the expression). Although hergesh is an attribute that we do indeed share with apes, we are also endowed with sechel, which would elevate us above all other members of the animal kingdom were we to make use of it. Since, however, this sublime quality is only sporadically engaged, the ape is alive and well, and very much in charge.

It is hergesh, not sechel, that generates the materialistic/naturalistic assumptions underlying modern secular man's view of the world and of himself. A mere glance out the window is sufficient to create a powerful impression of a multifarious world made out of variety of independent and self-sufficient things, held together by a few simple laws of nature. A brief perusal of the morning paper is all that one needs to conclude that earthly life is governed by random, chaotic, impersonal forces; natural, social, and economic. It is intuitively obvious that all forms of life evolved from simpler antecedent forms because, in our experience, everything comes from a prior something, and all animals do share common biological features. A glimpse at a corpse is proof enough that nothing survives bodily death. G-d and G-dliness are nowhere to be seen, and since, as far as hergesh is concerned, seeing is believing, they do not exist.

The common feature of all of these intuitive inferences (hergeshim) is that they are drawn from the perception of "things". Hergesh is not a function of the mind, but rather of the senses and as such, it does not deal in ideas or abstractions. Since hergesh can identify only "things" as real, it comes as no surprise that the values and goals of a hergesh-based society are centered on acquisition and power. Success in life is measured by the number of things that one is able to amass and the number of people (living things) over whom one has control.

One may well ask how it is possible that such a highly educated society should entertain an ape's-eye view of existence, and pursue such crass, shallow aspirations? The answer is that much of what the educational institutions impart is not sechel but rather hergesh disguised as sechel. The University is, after all, an instrument of society, and society runs on hergesh. The language, conventions, and styles are those of sechel, but the ideological content of a university education is based on hergesh. The curricula are contaminated with the germs of amoral, relativistic, materialistic, and secular bias and it is the rare student who emerges from the educational experience un-infected.

There is no joy on the planet of the apes. There are no lofty goals. There is no transcendent purpose, no meaning, no ultimate truth. There is prozac. There is also a burgeoning entertainment industry that keeps us anesthetized and oblivious to the painful realization that a hergesh-based life leads nowhere. There is also a way out. We can choose to stop being apes. We can think. We can break our addiction to hergesh and actively engage sechel, and if we do so, we will discover that the world is a very different place then it appears at first glance.

Revolutionary observations in physics, beginning in the early twentieth century, indicate that the "things" that constitute our world are shockingly ethereal. The discovery that mass is not a unique definitive physical property but rather a variant form of energy, that the electron described in high school physics as a little negatively charged BB can also be accurately characterized as an immaterial wave, and that subatomic particles/processes understand and obey abstract rules indicate that "being" is not a static, inanimate state but rather a dynamic, active process. The upshot of this is that a palpable, inert, "thing" such as a rock is, at its core, an incorporeal spiritual entity, pulsating with life, purpose and intelligence. Indeed, on the subatomic level, the rock has more in common with thoughts than with things. Moreover, the appearance of physical autonomy is an illusion. The recent experimental verifications of Bell's Theorem demonstrate a non-locality or "connectedness" underlying physical processes. In other words, at the subatomic level, the "things" that constitute our universe "know" each other and behave as different manifestations of a single, unified reality.

On another front, recent developments in the relatively new field of Cosmology show the universe to be far more improbable than any one ever imagined. In fact, a universe such as ours, designed to sustain intelligent life, is so improbable as to be virtually impossible. There are simply too many meaningful coincidences for it to have happened by chance. Intelligence and purpose permeate the cosmos. Remarkably, the only explanation as to why the myriad of diverse and seemingly unrelated physical constants and other parameters should converge to produce the universe in which we live is our presence. If any of these values were other than what they are, we could not exist. This realization has given rise to the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, the strong formulation of which concludes that man is the cornerstone of the universe, i.e. it was designed and implemented specifically with us in mind.

Similar advances in molecular and cell biology have inspired a biological version of the Anthropic Principle. It has become increasingly evident that the biochemical and molecular processes essential to the life of cells are far too complex and interdependent to have developed in response to natural forces and chance events. The irreducible complexity in fundamental biological systems and the expanding evidence of intelligent, purposeful design have rendered evolutionary explanations for the origin of life untenable.

Near death experiences have recently become a major focus of scientific exploration. Because of the subjective nature of these phenomena, they are very difficult to interpret, much less to explain. Research in this area has, nevertheless, produced powerful objective (corroborateable) evidence that awareness can exist independent of the brain and that the essence of human consciousness is spiritual.

A critical, impartial examination of a large body of hard evidence, readily available to anyone, does not support the materialist/reductionist view of reality with which we are so innately comfortable. One of the most delicious ironies in the history of science is that the very technology that was supposed to deliver mankind from the "higher superstition" (religion), has led it straight to G-d's door. Thus, counter-intuitively, sechel is a portal to faith, not an exit.

How, then, do we deal with hergesh? Do we view it as a pathology, an unfortunate but inescapable aberrant dimension of consciousness that must be constantly suppressed, the ape within? Hergesh is, in fact, a priceless gift, which if properly utilized, complements and perfects sechel. Finely honed and properly directed, intuition elevates the intellect and takes the mind beyond the structured logic of sechel. It is a unique source of insight that is unrestrained by the rules of language and mathematics. What about the ape? The ape is not hergesh, but rather hergesh abused. Hergesh functions properly only in concert with sechel. When it is focused on the intellection, the ideas, engendered by sechel, it illuminates the conceptual crannies inaccessible to formal thought and it imparts color to the black and white cogitations of the rationale mind. However, when sechel is inactive, hergesh is left without a mind, and its subsequent undisciplined, undiscerning and uncritical activity, directed toward things rather than ideas, produces the shallow, distorted world view and empty values so common in contemporary society.

Our challenge, then, is to be whole, to use all of our G-d-given faculties in pursuit of truth. King David perceived the hand of G-d in everything and encountered Divinity everywhere. "Yours is the heaven, Yours also the earth. The world and all it contains, You have established them" (Psalm 89, verse 12). The same Divine Providence that has designed the universe to meet our every need, has also imbued us with the intellectual attributes , sechel and hergesh, necessary to recognize the power of the creator in creation. It only remains for us to utilize them toward this end.
« Reply #258 on: February 17, 2010, 09:59:40 PM »

It's not for naught that we are called "The People of the Book."

At the inauguration of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on July 24, 1918, Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel's first president, made the following observation: "It seems at first sight paradoxical that in a land with so sparse a population, in a land where everything still remains to be done, in a land crying out for such simple things as ploughs, roads, and harbors, we should begin by creating a center of spiritual and intellectual development."1

This telling act, as profoundly articulated by Mr. Weizmann, is reminiscent of an earlier one by the ancestors of those who established this university.

The Bible relates that even before relocating his family from Canaan to Egypt, Jacob sent Judah to Egypt on a special mission.2

Before they had houses in which to live, they had a house in which to studyThe objective of this mission is the subject of dispute. Some say that he was sent to tend to emigrational technicalities and to scout out housing accommodations for Jacob's large family.3

The Midrash4 offers a different take: "Judah descended to Egypt before the rest of the family in order to establish a house of study."

Thus, before they had houses in which to live, they had a house in which to study.

But where does this obsession with education stem from?

In a rare and personal disclosure, G‑d says regarding Abraham: "I cherish him." Why? "For he shall instruct his children and household after him to keep the ways of G‑d, to do charity and justice."5

It wasn't his intellectual prowess or integrity, neither was it his legendary kindness or even his spirit of activism and sacrifice that earned Abraham G‑d's unique affection. It was his exemplary focus on education.

Further confirmation that education must be the subject of our individual and collective focus came at Sinai, before our first face-to-face meeting with G‑d.

Before G‑d agreed to that meeting, at which occasion He planned to gift us the Torah, He asked Moses to present trustworthy guarantors who would ensure the Torah's continued observance.

He didn't trust the adults. Even the elders and scholars were ruled out. But when the children were mentioned, He was satisfied and the deal was concluded.6

The Sages develop and expand Torah law and thought, but it's the children who preserve its practice and tradition.

The Cherubs
Of all the utensils in the Holy Temple, the Holy Ark was the holiest. It housed the Tablets, the bedrock of our faith. Indeed, the Tablets served as the marriage document binding G‑d to our people.

G‑d chose the Jewish children to watch over the TorahBut who could be trusted to guard this seminal manuscript that communicates G‑d's love and wisdom? In whose hands should lay the treasured "marriage contract"?

"From the lid [of the Ark] you shall make two cherubs at its ends. Their wings shall spread upwards, sheltering the lid with their wings"—Exodus7

"Each of the cherubs had the image of a child's face"—Talmud8

"One in the likeness of a boy and the other of a girl"—Zohar9

The cherubs weren't made in the image of Moses, but in the image of our children.

G‑d chose the Jewish children to watch over the Torah and constitute His national guard. It is their wings that will carry the Torah into the future.10

Pure Gold
From the verse, "You shall not make gods of silver with Me…"11 we learn that "it is forbidden to make the cherubs out of silver." Furthermore we are told, "If you deviate from My instruction and make them of silver, instead of gold, they are like false gods before Me."12

Why the all or nothing approach?

Also, this particular stipulation applies strictly to the cherubs. All the other vessels in the Temple may be made of silver (or other metals) if no gold can be found.13 Why the distinction?

Symbolically, however, the answer is quite clear: Regarding the rest of the vessels of the Temple, while ideally all G‑dly instruments should be made of gold – representing the very best – when in a pinch, silver can suffice.

But when it comes to the education of our children, as represented by the cherubs, there is no room for compromise. Only the purest and best schooling will do.

(This is not to say that schools should charge the price of gold, sadly one of the reasons why attendance at Jewish schools has fallen.14 Rather, that they offer their students the highest caliber of instruction.)

What is a good Jewish education? Culture, Yiddish, Talmud? When the subject material and the manner in which it is taught is downgraded to even "silver," instead of raising children who grow up walking in the ways of G‑d, one creates, G‑d forbid, "false gods!"—children who grow up worshipping themselves.

True Gold
But how is gold defined? What is a good Jewish education? Culture, Yiddish, Talmud?

Here too, the cherubs offer insight.

"You shall make two cherubs of gold; beaten shall you make them."15

Rashi explains: "Do not separately craft the cherubs and then afterwards attach them to the lid. Rather, take a big block of gold at the outset of the making of the lid, and strike it at its middle with a hammer and mallet so that the shapes of the cherubs are hammered out and protrude upward."

What would be wrong if they were made separately and then attached? Does the process itself have to be so difficult?

Perhaps it can be said that the Ark – and its lid – represents the Torah that it houses; while the cherubs represent the children.16

When it comes to "building" your child, so to speak – i.e., implanting within him or her a value system, mindset, worldview, etc. – this can be done in one of two ways: Separate from the lid, the Torah, or molded from the lid itself.

We must want our children to be one with Torah, fashioned out of Torah. To the point that separating from Torah, G‑d forbid, would be like separating from themselves. Their every bend and curve should be indistinguishable from the gold of which they are fashioned.

An example to illustrate:

One day, as I handed some coins to my wife, my just-turned-one-year-old daughter proudly belted out: "Mommy, tzedakah [charity]!"

To her, coins aren't money; they're charityMy wife explained: "We've developed a daily routine, where every morning, together, we place a few coins in the charity box. She has grown to love this practice, and now calls out 'tzedakah!' whenever she catches sight of any coins."

To her, coins aren't money; they're charity.

Permitted Worship
Lastly and amazingly, the only imagery allowed in the Temple, in seeming contradiction to G‑d's command, "You shall not make images with Me," was that of children.

Apparently, other than Himself, G‑d allows only one other form of worship: the worship of our children's education.

Then again, aren't they one and the same?
« Reply #259 on: February 21, 2010, 09:58:41 PM »

Moses (1393-1273 BCE)
Today is the anniversary of his birth and passing

Maimonides calls him "the most perfect human being", and the sages of the Talmud said that "the Divine Presence spoke from his throat." Yet the Torah also attests that the man who took the Children of Israel out of Egypt and received the Torah from G-d was "the most humble man on the face of the earth."

Moses was born in Egypt on the 7th of Adar of the year 2368 from creation (1393 BCE), at a time when the Israelites were slaves to the rulers of the land and subject to many harsh decrees. He was the third born of Jocheved and Amram's three children -- his brother Aaron was his senior by three years, and his sister Miriam by six.

When he was three months old, Moses was hidden in a basket set afloat in the Nile to escape Pharaoh's decree that all male Hebrew children be drowned; he was retrieved from the river by Pharaoh's daughter, Batyah, who raised him in the palace. At age 20, Moses fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian he saw beating a Jew and made his way to Midian, where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, and fathered two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

When he was 80 years old, Moses was shepherding his father-in-law's sheep when G-d revealed himself to him in a burning bush at Mount Horeb (Sinai) and instructed him to liberate the Children of Israel. Moses took the Israelites out of Egypt, performed numerous miracles for them (the ten plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea, extracting water from a rock, bringing down the manna, and numerous others), received the Torah from G-d and taught it to the people, built the Mishkan (Divine dwelling) in the desert, and led the Children of Israel for 40 years as they journeyed through the wilderness; but G-d did not allow him to bring them into the Holy Land. Moses passed away on his 120th birthday on Mount Nebo, within sight of the land he yearned to enter.

Waters of Strife
the price of leadership

By Yanki Tauber

One of the most puzzling passages in the Torah is the story of the Waters of Strife, in the wake of which G-d decreed that Moses would die in the desert and would not enter the Land of Israel.

A hundred generations of Torah scholars, beginning with Moses himself and continuing with the sages of the Midrash, the biblical commentaries and the Chassidic masters, struggle with this enigmatic chapter. As we speak, someone is writing a "Parshah piece" that searches for some explanation of the event, or at least a lesson to be derived from it.

But first the facts (as related in Numbers 20:1-13):

After traveling for forty years in the wilderness, the people of Israel arrive in Kadesh in the Zin Desert, on the border of the Holy Land. There is no water, the people are thirsty, and as they are wont to do in such and similar circumstances, they complain to Moses. It is not a pretty sight. "If only we had died," they rage, "when our brethren died before G-d! Why have you brought the congregation of G-d to this desert, to die there, us and our cattle? Why have you taken us out of Egypt -- to bring us to this evil place...?"

Moses calls on G-d, who instructs him to "take the staff, and gather the people, you and Aaron your brother. And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give its water." When all are assembled before "the rock," Moses addresses the people: "Listen, rebellious ones! Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?" Moses raises his hand and strikes the rock twice with his staff. Water gushes forth, and the people and their cattle drink.

Whereupon G-d says to Moses and Aaron: "Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel; therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them."

What did Moses do wrong? What was the sin that warranted such a devastating punishment?

The commentaries search the text for clues. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) points out that G-d instructed Moses to speak to the rock, whilst Moses struck it. Thus he failed to "sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel" (extracting water by speaking would have been a greater miracle).

Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204) has a different explanation: Moses' failing was that he got angry and spoke harshly to the people (his "Listen, you troublemakers!" speech).

(The Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev (1740-1810) has an interesting insight here: Rashi's and Maimonides' explanations, says the Barditchever, are two sides of the same coin. A tzaddik is not only a leader of his people but also the master of his environment. These two roles are intertwined, the latter deriving from the former. If a leader's relationship with his people is loving and harmonious, then the physical world, too, willingly yields its resources to the furtherance of their goals. But if his influence is achieved through harsh words of rebuke, then he will find it necessary to do battle with nature at every turn and forcefully impose his will on the physical world.)

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270) finds difficulty with both explanations. If Moses wasn't supposed to strike the rock, he argues, why did G-d tell him to take along his staff? The Torah repeats this fact, further emphasizing that "Moses took along the staff from the presence of G-d, as He had commanded him." In light of G-d's instructions to Moses on a previous occasion to extract water from a rock by striking it (see Exodus 17:6), was it not reasonable for Moses to assume that the staff was to serve a similar function in this case? (Unless G-d was setting him up for this -- but more on that later.) As for Maimonides' explanation, there were other instances in which the Torah tells us (more explicitly than in this case) that Moses got angry, and for apparently less justification. If no punishment was decreed in those cases, why now?

Nachmanides offers his explanation: Moses erred in saying to the people, "Shall we then bring forth water for you from this rock?" -- words that can be seen to imply that extracting water from a rock is something that Moses does, rather than G-d. The moment a leader assumes an identity of his own and his accomplishments are attributed to him personally -- the moment he comes to embody anything other than his people's collective identity and their relationship with G-d -- he has failed in his role. (Nachmanides finds support for his explanation in G-d's opening words to Moses, "Because you did not believe in Me..." -- implying that this was a failure of faith rather than a lapse of obedience or a surrender to anger.)

But there is one common denominator in these and the numerous other explanations offered by the commentaries: the implication that whatever the problem was, it wasn't really the problem. Basically, G-d is getting Moses on a technicality. In his arguments with G-d Moses senses this, in effect saying to G-d: "You set me up!"

The text supports his complaint. Forty years earlier there occurred the incident of the Spies, in which the generation that came out of Egypt and received the Torah at Sinai revealed themselves to be unwilling and unable to progress to the next stage of G-d's plan -- to enter and take possession of the Holy Land. At that time, the Torah recounts, G-d decreed that the entire generation (all males above the age of 20) would die out in the desert. With the sole exception of two men. "Except for Caleb the son of Yefuneh and Joshua the son of Nun" (the two spies who resisted the plot of their ten colleagues -- Numbers 14:30).

Moses, who craved to enter the Holy Land with every fiber of his being, was not guilty of the sin of the Spies, so some other pretext had to be found. Since "with the righteous, G-d is exacting as a hairsbreadth," it wasn't impossible to find a pretext. But G-d had already determined 40 years earlier that the entire generation -- Moses and Aaron included -- would not enter the Land. "This is a plot that you contrived against me," the Midrash quotes Moses saying to the Almighty.

Indeed, why? If Moses was innocent of his generation's sin, why was it decreed that he share their fate? There is a poignant Midrash that offers the following parable:

A shepherd was given the king's flock to feed and care for, and the flock was lost. When the shepherd sought to enter the royal palace, the king refused him entry. "When the flock that was entrusted to you is recovered, you, too, will be admitted."

The original plan was that the 600,000 whom Moses took out of Egypt should enter the Land. But that generation remained in the desert. You are their leader, said G-d to Moses. Their fate is your fate.

This message is implicit in G-d's words to Moses immediately following his striking of the rock: "... therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them." From this the Midrash derives: "This congregation" you will not bring in; that congregation you will. "This congregation" -- the generation whom Moses confronted at the rock -- was not Moses' generation. His generation were buried in the desert.

When they will enter the Land, G-d is saying to Moses -- and they will, when the Final Redemption will redeem all generations of history -- you will lead them in.


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« Reply #260 on: February 22, 2010, 01:57:57 PM »

I enjoyed that one.
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« Reply #261 on: February 23, 2010, 03:30:27 PM »

By Bracha Goetz
How can I explain to my young child that it makes sense to believe in an invisible G‑d?

You can explain this concept to your child the same way you explain it to anybody (including yourself)… only children can probably grasp it quicker and better!

In one of my picture books for young children, The Invisible Book, this perplexing question, one of life's deepest puzzles, is explored in a very simple manner. The boy in the book looks around his world and realizes that there are many invisible forces in his life, like air, electricity, and gravity.

Continuing his exploration, he finds that thoughts and feelings are invisible, too, and so are sounds and smells. Even the strong force of magnetism is invisible. Through recognizing the invisible nature of so many indisputably real things we experience, we can believe that we have been blessed with invisible souls by an invisible G‑d.

The joy we experience in our souls from doing a mitzvah is invisible, and yet we are strongly aware of how intensely wonderful it can be. Amazingly, the joy becomes almost palpable when we engage in learning about the most basic, yet deepest, questions of life with our children. This holds true even when they are teens or already adults. In countless ways, if we are open to it, our children become our spiritual guides.

Why can children more readily understand, when first exposed to these deep concepts, what is much harder for us to grasp as adults? Children seem to "see" that they are, in essence, invisible souls made in the image of our invisible G‑d with a similar infinite spiritual energy. They are more "in touch" with their pure souls, which have not been covered over with years of confusing messages that deny our spiritual essence.

Children may come up with questions like: "Where is G‑d? Why can't we see G‑d? What is a soul? What does G‑d want us to do?" We can let our children know that these kinds of questions are actually coming from a place within them that is connected to G‑d. And the questions themselves are proof that they are much more than just bodies. We can't see spirituality, but like many other invisible things, we can feel its effects and awesome power.

We can ask our young children to blow on the palms of their hands and feel the gentle invisible wind. In Hebrew, the word for wind is ruach, and, interestingly, it's the same word for "spirit." With the invisible spirit within us, our souls, we can act in the world as the wind does, and bring about much wonderment and goodness.

We can let children know that G‑d wants us to increase goodness in the world. And we can explain to our children that the Torah explains exactly how to be good. We can also ask our children what answers they have for their questions because we honestly want to know what they are thinking about this important subject.

What we don't need is to be afraid of exploring these essential questions with our children, even if we feel we don't have all the answers. This is an exploration with no end. If we can humbly return to these questions again and again throughout our lives, we can find richer meaning. Then we can help each other with the unique insights garnered through one's personal trials.

As invisible time goes by, the spiritual searching and discovering that we share with our families – even, or especially, about G‑d – can create invisible bonds of love that last forever.
« Reply #262 on: February 25, 2010, 08:39:23 PM »

Purim Saddam
By Tzvi Jacobs

"Hi, Mom. Got my orders today," David Zuk said. "I'm going to Saudi. I have to leave first thing tomorrow morning.

"Oh, no," his mother said, her "no" echoing in her 20-year old son's head.

"I was assigned to the 101st," David said with a sinking voice, as he slumped against the glass wall of the phone booth. "I almost cried when they told me."

The 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles," fought on the front lines during all the wars: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Viet Nam. Only a fraction of the early ranks had ever returned alive.

David's mother tried to find encouraging words for her only son, but it was hard. She had never been able to get used to her son's unpredictable life choices. When he was 16, he had become involved with Orthodox Jews and made himself separate from the family by eating only kosher. Two years later when he joined the Army, she just about gave up. Now, upon hearing this ominous news, all she could think was, "I told you so."

The Gulf War had broken out a month earlier, on January 17, 1991. David knew he would be on the front lines, facing the open jaws of the ravenous war. "They said we'll be there at least a year," David said, not knowing when he would see her next. "Take care, Mom. I love you," he added faintly,

David closed the door of the phone booth and ambled back to his barrack. Gazing at the snow-covered hills surrounding Fort Knox Army Base in northwestern Kentucky, he was awe-struck by their quiet beauty, as if seeing them for the first time. He wondered if he would ever see them again. He thought of the preposterous story circulating around the army base that someone had predicted the war would end by Purim, the Jewish holiday instituted to thank and praise G-d for saving the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation some 2,300 years ago.

"Purim's only a month away. No way it will be over by then!" David said to himself.

Saddam Hussein, thought David, certainly fits the character of Haman, the villain of the story of Purim. The wicked Haman got the king of Persia to issue a royal decree to command the populace to massacre all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Similarly, for a whole year Saddam Hussein had been boasting that he would "burn half of Israel" with SCUD missiles laden with deadly chemical gas. Those missiles would surely maim and kill thousands of Israelis and prove to the Arab nations that Israel was vulnerable. Then the world would clearly see that G-d had forsaken the Jews as the "Chosen People," and that instead Saddam Hussein had been chosen to rule the world. The scenario sounded preposterous... until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Back at the barracks, David stood beside his cot and daavened (prayed) the evening prayer. How ironic that he was being shipped to war to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Before falling asleep, he vividly recalled news clips of the SCUD missiles fired at cities in Israel. These 40-foot Soviet-made missiles had been enhanced with a 600-pound, European-made payload of explosives. Designed to flatten buildings, the explosion of a SCUD warhead creates a frontal pressure wave that blasts away concrete and sends shattered glass flying up to 1,400 feet away in all directions, creating a torrent of lethal "knives."

As David lay in his bed, he continued to recall the news he had heard and read from Israel. The first night that SCUDS were fired at Israel, one of them made a direct hit on an apartment house in a crowded Tel Aviv neighborhood. As a result of this midnight strike, 400 apartments housing 1,200 people were either destroyed or damaged. Tel Aviv hospitals were prepared to handle mass casualties, as had been the experience in Teheran, Iran, when Iraq fired SCUDS into Teheran's neighborhoods in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War.

The ambulances arrived at a Tel Aviv hospital. One young man had some scratches from broken glass; a woman had a sprain; the injuries were all minor. "The 'victims' could have doctored themselves," said one of the hospital staff. "Even the non-religious declared it a miracle."

During the first week of war, Iraq fired about two dozen SCUDS at Israel and damaged or destroyed thousands of apartments and other buildings. On the first Saturday of the attacks, one SCUD scored a direct hit on a bomb shelter, which was used as a makeshift synagogue on Saturday morning; two hundred worshippers were packed inside. The blast flung the people around like rag dolls. Only the shelter's eastern wall, upon which the ark housing the Torah scroll leaned against, remained standing. When Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir visited the site he asked if there were any people in the bomb shelter. "Yes," replied Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, "Two hundred. They were saved by a miracle." No one was injured.

How long would their mazal (good fortune) last? To protect Israel, David was ready to risk his life. With that thought, David whispered the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O' Israel") prayer and fell asleep.

The next morning David and more than 300 other soldiers boarded a chartered 747 headed towards Saudi Arabia. They refueled in Rome at midnight and took off after two hours. Within minutes, David drifted into a deep sleep. In what seemed like minutes later but in reality turned out to be six hours, a blinding light flooded the cabin of the jet. David peered through the thick window next to his seat. "So this is Saudi," he mused. A harsh sun reflected off the whitest sand he had ever seen. Miles and miles of sand. For the next hour and a half, all David saw below was white sand, with an occasional darkened area which appeared to be some sort of man-made rock formation.

The 747 jet landed in the coastal city of Dhahran. David stepped down from the plane into the 115 degree heat. He felt like he had marched into a huge solar oven. The soldiers were transported across the burning sand to a stadium-size tent. They were directed to their cots and told to go to sleep.

At 5:30 the next morning, nerve-shattering alarms blasted the dawn. In a heartbeat, David reached for his gas mask, took the required quick breath, and strapped the mask to his face. The maximum time limit for this procedure was 15 seconds; David did it in 3 seconds flat. Thousands of gas mask rehearsals had finally paid off. Like a machine gun firing into the dark, David's heart pounded uncontrollably at an invisible enemy. Three minutes later, an officer came into the tent and announced, "The Iraqis fired a SCUD, and our Patriot missile intercepted it. No gas has been detected. Keep your masks on until the signal is given."

No gas was detected and no one was injured, but Saddam won a round on the psychological battlefield. Besides the constant fear of chemical weapons, Hussein had another silent ally: the desert. The first troops sent in August had all become sick with heat strokes. Even in the "winter," the midday temperature always rose above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The desert proved to be a harsh, foreign environment. Water had to be rationed. Showers were allowed only once a month.

Every day, just before sunset, the hot, white sun would turn bright red, and at sunset, it would appear to melt into the sand -- an orangish red lava flowing off a huge ball of fire across the white sand. Then, within minutes, the temperature would drop 50 degrees. Everyone would have to wear thermal gloves and a warm jacket to keep from shivering. The temperature would be only 60 to 70 degrees, yet because of the rapid and drastic change in temperature, the soldiers would feel as if they were freezing.

Hussein was proving himself to be more cunning and his soldiers more entrenched than originally thought. Dave heard reports that Hussein could drag out the war for years.

Saddam Hussein kept firing SCUDS into Israel. Civilian targets were hit, buildings were destroyed, but the human injuries were surprisingly light. Back in the States, many Americans were concluding that the SCUDS were basically harmless, giant firecrackers.

Then, on the morning of February 25, David and 100 other soldiers received orders to fly that evening to Al-Khobar. They would be staying in the nearby Army barrack, which had originally been a large, steel-framed warehouse. Later that evening, during suppertime, a fragment of a SCUD blasted through the barrack's metal roof, followed by a gigantic explosion which was heard for miles around. Nothing was left of the barrack, except an eight-foot deep crater. Twenty-eight soldiers were killed in the ensuing explosion; 89 others, wounded.

"I'm supposed to be dead," David said to himself. At the last moment, the plane scheduled to transport David and 100 fellow soldiers to Al-Khobar the previous evening had malfunctioned. The "malfunction" saved their lives.

Before that attack, the American soldiers felt no anger towards the Iraqis, but now they were enraged. They wanted Saddam Hussein dead. Hussein became their Haman, the very embodiment of evil. They felt like the Jews who stamp their feet when the name of Haman is mentioned during the public reading of the Scroll of Esther on the Purim holiday: they wanted him stamped out, once and for all.

The Gulf War intensified and the Allied forces became more aggressive, sending countless air-raids into Iraq. The Army transferred David to the front lines, 50 miles from the village of Ur Kasdim, where the Jewish patriarch Abraham had refused to bow down to the idols of King Nimrod. The pagan king subsequently threw young Abraham into a fiery furnace, yet miraculously he was not burned.

On the quiet nights, when sorties were not taking off from the Army's makeshift runway, David often gazed at the stars. There were no lights for hundreds of miles and David could see thousands of stars in the Milky Way. Here G-d's blessing and promise to Abraham, "I will increase your seed as the stars of the heaven" (Genesis 22:17), had great meaning.

By now Saddam's army had fired more than 30 SCUDS which struck Israel. If only he could drag Israel into the war, then the other Arab nations would unite with him, and he would rule the oil-rich Middle East and the world would be at his mercy.

Suddenly, then the long-awaited land war was underway. The Allies marched into Kuwait and invaded Iraq. Then, on February 27, after a mere 100 hours of Allied fighting, the BBC announced that the Persian Gulf War was over. Not for a moment did any of the soldiers believe it. Two weeks later, on March 11, 1991, Newsweek published a cover story on the war and called the Persian Gulf War "a triumph of almost Biblical proportions." Only after returning to the United States, did David find out that the War had actually ended on Purim.

With David, every single soldier in the 101st Airborne Division returned home, alive! Like in the days following the miracle of Purim, joyous celebrations and prayers of thanksgiving were held in towns throughout America, and "the days of darkness were tranformed to light, joy and happiness."

Thirteen months after the Gulf War ended, while stationed at Fort Campbell, David spent Shabbat at the home of Rabbi Zalman Posner in Nashville, Tennessee. "Have you seen this booklet?" his host asked. David glanced at it, and saw it was entitled, "I Will Show You Wonders: Public Statements of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Before and During the Gulf Crisis."

David had never before heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. On that Shabbat, he learned about the Rebbe's predictions regarding the Gulf War, how the Rebbe publicly proclaimed that the Land of Israel would be safe and that nobody in Israel would need gas masks, and that it was said in the Rebbe's name that the Gulf War would end by Purim.

Following the Gulf War, David completed a two-year stint in the Army and then joined the ranks of young men studying Torah in the Yeshiva Tiferet Bachurim at the Rabbinical College of America, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Sources: Private First-Class David Zuk; "Missiles and Miracles: The SCUD Story" David Rothschild (Nefesh Magazine, 1992); "Why Were SCUD Casualties So Low?" S. Fetter, G. Lewis & L. Gronlund (Nature, Jan. 1993

I remember this Purim.    The President of the Congregation and the Rabbi dressed up together as a combination of  Haman and Saddam.  The front of their t-shirt said Ha -Man and the back said Saddam- Hussein so we blot out both of their names at once and the war ended during services. 
« Reply #263 on: February 25, 2010, 08:54:25 PM »

Purim begins at sunset on Saturday February 27, 2010
and continues through nightfall on Sunday February 28, 2010

In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. - Esther 9:1
And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. - Esther 9:17

[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. - Esther 9:22

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of G-d. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to G-d. Mordecai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.

In leap years, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover. The 14th day of the first Adar in a leap year is celebrated as a minor holiday called Purim Katan, which means "little Purim." There are no specific observances for Purim Katan; however, a person should celebrate the holiday and should not mourn or fast. Some communities also observe a "Purim Katan" on the anniversary of any day when their community was saved from a catastrophe, destruction, evil or oppression.

The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.

The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther's three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.

The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when they speak of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers; see illustration) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman."

We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.

In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman's pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman's three-cornered hat. My recipe is included below.

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.

Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.
« Reply #264 on: February 28, 2010, 05:43:24 PM »

The Kabbalah of the Absurd

By Tzvi Freeman

The major impediment to a proper understanding of Purim is a confusion between madness and the absurd. The distinction is not trivial. Madness is cheap. Absurdity is ingenious.

A joker feigns madness; idiots see themselves and laugh nervously. A comedian commits the absurd, with superb, brilliant genius.

That is the core distinction: Madness has no brains. Absurdity is intelligence in a context of madness.

All of us know madness well. We spend a third of our lives insane. At day, we walk about making rational decisions and at least attempting to make sense. But then at night, a strange thing happens. We lie in stillness and madness sets in. The world survives, but only because we wisely quarantine the madness to the privacy of our own beds. It is madness nonetheless.

The world is filled with madness, infinitely more than it is with sanity. Nature itself is a wondrous weave of the two, of symmetry within chaos, meaning within randomness, signal emanating from within the background noise. The scientist sets his focii upon the patterns, the predictable, that which can be defined and known within reason. His world is a chimera, reality escapes his grasp. For reality is mostly mad.

Religions rely on dogma before reason. Mathematics on axioms before corollaries. Philosophy looks to break the chains of dogma and axioms--and it fails, miserably. For without madness there is no world.

Now let me tell you the Kaballah of reason, madness and absurdity: In our world, madness lies below reason. In the higher world, the positions are reversed.

Reason is G‑d contracting His infinite light within the puny boxes of a consistent world, beating out the notes in rigid conformity to the tick-tock of the metronome, following the color-code in deathly paint-by-numbers order. The result may be magnificent, fascinating, fodder for countless doctorates and journals- -but it is nothing less than a suffocating straitjacket for a living, infinite G‑d.

The unencumbered context of the Infinite Light is totally mad. Anything could be, all at once--or nothing at all. There is no reality since all things could be, therefore none of them really are. Whatever is, is without reason, without meaning, as a toddler will tell you, simply "because."

The Kabbalists call this realm the world of Tohu. It precedes the world of Tikun. The chassidic masters called it the transcendent light that precedes the constricted, orderly realm of the immanent light. From it extends all the chaos, axioms, dogma and madness of our mad world. From tikun and immanent light extend order and reason. And that is why madness has the power to win over reason.

And yet, tikun is the destiny of tohu and it's healing. Transcendence finds fulfillment in immanence. And this is where the absurd comes to play.

Purim is absurd because Judaism is absurd because the very existence of Jews is absurd. Ultimately, G‑d is the proto-absurd.

Simply put: Judaism is absurd because it demands an absurd G‑d. A G‑d who wakes in the middle of the slumber of transcendent madness and says, "They are my people, the people of this dream, and I must save them." That isness should care. That that which is should have meaning. Reason in a context that defies all reason.

Jews are absurd because they continue to exist. There is no reason for this. But furthermore--and these two must be related--because we insist on telling G‑d what to do. Not some silly god that sits on a stool and frets over nature. The ultimate Reality of Being. We enter a throne room to which we could never be called, since there we do not exist nor can we exist, and there we say, "Let us tell You how to run Your kingdom."

Purim is absurd because Haman knew the secret of G‑d's madness and rose beyond reason to that place with a lottery, obviating his own reason and appealing to Chaos. Raising his feud with Mordechai to a gallows 50 cubits high, the 50th gate that cannot be understood and there he expected his chance to win, in a place where nothing matters, because it is beyond all that.

And from there was His downfall. For he did not know that G‑d is not just reasonable or mad. G‑d is absurd.

All of reality is absurd, as absurd as the king who decrees that those who he decreed to be eliminated by his decree should stand and protect themselves from those that he decreed should eliminate them--and he prays that they should win.

As light wins over darkness, tikun over tohu, the Jew over his exile. May we soon be redeemed.
« Reply #265 on: March 04, 2010, 06:56:03 PM »

Life's Passages
Unbreakable Devotion
By Chana Weisberg

One of the most dramatic scenes in our nation's history unfolded as Moses descended Mt. Sinai holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. As he witnesses his people worshipping the Golden Calf, he throws down the tablets, shattering to pieces the priceless covenantal agreement between the Jewish people and their G‑d.

The commentaries offer various reasons as to why Moses broke the tablets. One of the explanations given is that Moses was attempting to spare the nation of G‑d's wrath, by destroying the binding contract that contained the holy pact that His nation flagrantly breached.

Rashi (on Exodus 34:1) explains:

This can be compared to a king who went abroad and left his betrothed with the maidservants. Because of the immoral behavior of the maidservants, she acquired a bad reputation. Her "bridesman" [the person appointed to defend the bride should any problems arise] arose and tore up her marriage contract. He said, "If the king decides to kill her, I will say to him, 'She is not yet your wife.'"

But in breaking the tablets, Moses was also perhaps trying to engrave on his people's psyche an essential message that would remain with them for all eternity.

Moses was telling them that due to their grave sin their "contractual agreement" with G‑d had been violated and hence shattered. G‑d was now effectively freed from any commitment to them.

Yet Moses wanted them to see and understand that though the tablets had been shattered, G‑d will not desert them. Even without any "contract," they will remain His chosen people. G‑d's connection to the Jewish people is beyond contractual agreements, beyond circumstances and bad choices, and even beyond logic itself.

It is an essential unbreakable bond of love, for all times and places.

And perhaps in doing so, Moses was beseeching the Jewish people to reciprocate in kind, by rededicating themselves to G‑d for all times as His chosen people—even when it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. Even in circumstances when it is not rationally beneficial...

Even if it seems that He isn't keeping His promises to us… Even if it entails a more exacting code of moral behavior… Even if it the nations of the world hate us for it… And even if it means reaching deep within our souls to access a tiny ember of a flickering flame of faith.

Our people understood the lesson of Moses' dramatic act. It became etched into the very fabric of our being. It is a message that has helped us to respond to G‑d in kind, even during the most trying times.
« Reply #266 on: March 05, 2010, 10:44:28 AM »

A House In Three Versions

By Yanki Tauber

Two significant events followed the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: a) the sin of the Golden Calf b) the making of the Miskan ("Tabernacle"), the portable sanctuary the Israelites built in the desert.

In the Torah, the accounts of these two events are intertwined, with the narrative alternating between them. How did they actually occur in time? Which one came first--the calf or the Tabernacle?

Amongst the commentaries, there are no less than three different answers to this question.

1) According to the Zohar, first came G‑d's command to build the Mishkan, followed by the people's donation of their gold and other materials for its construction. After that came the sin of the Golden Calf. Indeed, the implication is that it was only because they had consecrated the materials for the Mishkan before they were tainted by their sin that the people were able to later build the divine abode in their midst.

2) According to Rashi, the sin of the Golden Calf came first. Everything about the Mishkan -- the divine command, the donation and the construction -- occurred after the people had repented from their sin. The implication is that had they not sinned by worshipping a calf of gold, there would not have been a Mishkan at all!

3) According to Nachmanides, first came the divine command to build the Mishkan; then came the people's sin and repentance; and after that, the people's donation of the materials for the Mishkan.

What is the deeper meaning behind these three versions?

The Mishkan represents the idea of "making G‑d a home in the physical world": taking the materials of our physical existence and, by dedicating them towards a G‑dly purpose, transforming them into something that expresses and reveals the goodness and perfection of their Creator.

The question is: who best equipped to build this "home for G‑d"?

One approach is that only the pure and righteous tzaddik, only someone who is untainted by the materiality of the world, can sanctify it. For if a person is himself part of this lowly existence, how could he elevate it?

A second approach says: If the tzaddik is completely untouched by anything lowly and negative, how could he sanctify it? Only the baal teshuvah, one who has succumbed to the temptations of the material world and triumphed over them, can now raise it up to holiness.

But what about the sinner? One who has neither remained above, nor fallen and climbed out, but is still stuck in the morass of the material? According to the third view, the command to build the Mishkan came before the sin of the Golden Calf, but the implementation of this command began only after it. This means that these divine instructions remained in force even as the people were worshipping their idol of gold. In other words, a positive act, and act of holiness, is positive and holy regardless of where you are. Every individual, regardless of his current spiritual station, is empowered to make his life a home for G‑d.

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« Reply #267 on: March 09, 2010, 06:57:21 AM »

Thank you for continuing my education Rachel.
« Reply #268 on: March 09, 2010, 09:48:19 PM »

You are welcome. I'm glad you liked the article

The Inside-Out House
By Lazer Gurkow

Shortly after the Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Horodok (1730?-1788) arrived in the Holy Land, it happened that a man climbed the Mount of Olives and sounded a shofar (ram's horn). A rumor quickly spread that the shofar's call heralded the arrival of Moshiach. When word of this reached Rabbi Mendel, he threw the windows wide open and sniffed the air. He then sadly closed the windows and remarked, "I don't smell Moshiach."1

In retelling this story, Chassidim have often asked: why did Rabbi Mendel need to open the window to sniff the air outside to know if Moshiach had arrived? Why couldn't he smell the air in his own room? Rabbi Mendel--they would explain--was sniffing the air to determine if the hallmark of the messianic era, the revealed manifestation of the Divine, was present. He therefore sniffed the outside air, for within his room the Divine was already present!

Order Reversed

This story sheds light on an exchange, recorded in the Talmud, between Moses and Betzalel, Moses' chief architect for the building of the Tabernacle. Moses summoned Betzalel and relayed G-d's instructions for building the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary built by the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert). First he laid out the measurements of the sacred vessels that would inhabit the Tabernacle, and then the dimensions of the Tabernacle itself.

Betzalel, the prototype architect, objected to the order. "As a rule," he argued, "a person first builds a residence and then makes its furniture." Moses conceded the point and exclaimed, "Indeed, you stood in G-d's shadow and understood his intention." (The name Betzalel is etymologically composed of two Hebrew words, b'tzel E-l, which mean "in the shadow of G-d.")2

G-d and People

What is the underlying principle of the different perspectives on the Tabernacle expressed by Moses and Betzalel?

The purpose of the tabernacle, and the temple that followed it, was to establish a domain for G-d within the physical space of our world.3

When G-d descended upon Mount Sinai, his presence was overwhelming and the people could not withstand the sheer intensity of the experience. They were physically thrown back from the mountain and G-d dispatched angels to lead them back. Their souls expired from the spiritual intensity and G-d nursed them back to life.4

After the Sinai experience, it was clear that the people could not be exposed to a direct revelation of G-d's presence. G-d instructed them to build a special chamber instead, where his unrestricted presence would be manifest. Only the worthy, such as the high priest, would access this sacred chamber; but its aura would affect those outside.

Gradual Transformation

The environment outside the chamber was yet incapable of supporting a direct revelation of divinity. However, with effort and commitment, revelation could, over time, be made possible. According to our prophets, this will be accomplished in the messianic era when there will be a direct revelation of G-dliness throughout the world.5

The work that makes this possible is diligent study of Torah and the practice of its commandments. Every time Torah is studied, a mini revelation, similar to that of mount Sinai, is effected. Every object utilized in the performance of a mitzvah is enveloped by a surge of divinity, similar to that of the Tabernacle.6

This regular diet of divinity gradually purifies our worldly environment and lifts the universal veil. We are closing in on the utopia of direct revelation that will be manifest in the messianic era.

When G-d first instructed that the tabernacle be constructed, he envisioned this utopia. He anticipated a day when the divinity within the sacred chamber would expand to envelop the entire nation and when the human eye would see G-d and not be overwhelmed by the experience.7

Vision and Reality

Moses, a G-dly man, envisioned this utopia as well. Gazing out upon the world, he ignored its imperfections and saw only its divine potential. His mandate was to expose the "outside" world gradually to the divine presence on the "inside," and he wished to accelerate the process. By building the Holy Ark before the walls that would enclose it, he hoped to offer to the "outside" a glimpse of its own capacity and thereby activate its potential.

Betzalel, the architect, was a realist with the patience of a man accustomed to long-term goals. The environment on the outside was not prepared to host the Divine presence just yet. He recognized that it was not appropriate to expose the Holy Ark to a yet unconditioned "outside." It would require centuries of gentle coaxing, committed coaching and tireless training.

Moses was the visionary; Betzalel the realist. Moses' vision inspired confidence in the project; Betzalel's realism made it possible. We pray for the day that Moses' vision becomes Betzalel's reality.8
« Reply #269 on: March 10, 2010, 09:33:00 PM »
People are starving for so many things.

Simon Green* looked like he hadn't seen himself in a very long time. Downright frightening in appearance, his overall condition was appalling.

"Guess how old I am!" he would chortle, waving his cane in the air, "Ninety-seven! Brain's sharp as a pin, but it's not easy getting old." He would rest his cane on the tiled floor and I would nod politely, waiting impatiently for him to enter the elevator and reach the ground floor of our apartment building. His whole demeanor made me uncomfortable. Even 15 seconds was too long to share an enclosed space.

On the rare occasions when he left his house and his door would be ajar for three seconds, the entire building held their breath. But he was so proud; the idea of accepting help from a social service program infuriated him.

"I'm a retired soldier!" he would state indignantly when I gently enquired if he needed any help. "I fought in Korea, Vietnam! Social Services, my foot! All they'll do is send me some chatty busybody who'll blast my ears with her nonsense. Why, when I was in the army…" and I would listen kindly, adding in the requisite 'yes?' and 'wow!', while mentally wishing to end the conversation and proceed with my day.

One freezing day when the first snowflakes began to fall, a neighbor knocked on my door. "Come here," she said, pointing to Simon's door. "Do you hear something?"

We pressed our ears to the dark wood. There was definitely a sound; a low raspy groan that stopped and started at a few second intervals. We called an ambulance that arrived three hours later, complaining of icy roads and inundated emergency services.

They smashed his door with ease but the news was not good. Simon was alive, but unconscious. It was eerie to watch him being led out on a stretcher from his home of 55 years.

"He's Jewish," we told the ambulance men. "Please pass it on to the hospital staff."

"Okay," they replied nonchalantly as they transferred his comatose form into the elevator. "We'll make sure to call the chaplain." There was no one else to call. While foraging for his passport and legal documents, the ambulance team had tried to contact names they found in an old telephone book. There was no one left. Simon died a few hours later, alone, a nurse casually disconnecting the medical apparatus attached to a man that had breathed alone for 97 years.

Back home, my husband entered the spooky property to find the Jewish paperwork needed to show the community burial society. There was not a single working light bulb. Amidst a great heap of a woman's frilly dresses, unwashed linens and what-nots, my husband unearthed a ketubah marriage document dated 1952. His wife’s death certificate, some 20 years later, lay on the same pile of memorabilia; echoes of people's lives that would be incinerated by rowdy builders after the government laid their hands on this ownerless property.

After a two-hour hunt my husband emerged with a bottle of milk. I eyed him in alarm as he casually opened the fridge and neatly deposited it into the milk slot.

"Can you take that out of here?" I finally sputtered.

"Why?" he asked innocently. "It was kept in the fridge. And besides, it's ours. Look." He pointed to where a messy scrawl in black marker clearly showed our address. I gasped. It couldn't be! But it was.

The local Jewish milk company kindly agreed to deliver milk daily to the 100 families who live in our immediate vicinity, a distance from the main Jewish enclave. For weeks, the milk delivery system had gone awry, with missing cartons every day. All the neighbors complained to the milk company to report the error – they apparently weren’t delivering the right quantity. The milk company agreed to label each bottle with its intended address to prove they were sending the right amount. While the labeling hadn’t helped the problem, it now solved the mystery.

"There were three of our bottles in his fridge," my husband remarked.

"Please put it back!" I told my husband. "It makes me feel sick." Simon had taken our milk because he was hungry and didn’t have anything else to eat! I couldn’t bear to look at the only nourishment a sick Jewish man had consumed in weeks. And I, his neighbor, had gaily continued my daily tasks, indifferent to the plight of this elderly recluse.

Of course I had tried, my conscience hastened to reassure me. I had offered to help him more than once. It insulted him; what was I to do? I should have done something. Surely there was a way to help him. But it was just more convenient to accept his independence and look the other way.

When I was growing up, I had a weekly errand to deliver fresh potato kugel and cake to an elderly, childless neighbor each Friday before Shabbat. My mother took on this responsibility so faithfully that whenever she went away she would make sure another member of the family would fill in this duty. My mother had plenty of space left in her heart, mind and schedule to care for those who were dependent on others. I was ashamed to tell my mother that I had allowed my neighbor to die hungry. I am ashamed that my heart, mind and schedule could not expand enough to lavish care on a helpless Jewish man.

Last week my husband brought home a sickly man who suffers from several mental and physical disorders. His house was bitterly cold, he complained, and no one cared. His central heating system was broken and he couldn't deal with the bureaucracy on his own. He had been warming himself by sleeping with six threadbare cardigans.

That night, my husband brought him some electric heaters and started the process of dealing with the gas company. And I turned off our heaters. I knew I didn't deserve heat until this sick man was warmed by our concern.

The closer I look, the more I see that all around me, people are hungry. For food, for love, for a sympathetic ear. People are starving for so many things.

And that’s when I think of Simon Green.

*The name has been changed.

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« Reply #270 on: March 12, 2010, 06:21:36 AM »

There are no things. There are only words. The Divine Words of Creation.

The words become fragmented, their letters scattered.
Only then are they called things; for scattered, they have no meaning.
Words in exile.

If so, their redemption lies in the story we tell with them. How we reorganize fragments into meaning, things into words, redefining what is real and what is not, and living life accordingly.

Life is in the interpretation of the words G-d gives us.
« Reply #271 on: March 14, 2010, 10:35:24 AM »

Small Commitments; Huge Battles

Guest Columnists
Small Commitments; Huge Battles

By Levi Avtzon

After closely observing myself and the world around me, I have come to realize that it is much easier to make large lifestyle changes than small ones.

People regularly plunge head-first into huge commitments such as marriage, bringing a child into the world, or volunteering time to the local charity chapter. Some even fly to a third-world country and dedicate their lives to help unfortunate souls.

When it comes to the small sacrifices however, like spending a mere five minutes with that same child or spouse that we so wholeheartedly chose to care and nurture for the rest of our lives, a world war takes place.

The same phenomenon can be found in our relationship with G‑d. Many of us, especially those who have grown up in Torah-observant homes, readily commit to eating only kosher food our entire lives, to abstain from work one day a week, and pray three times every day… forever!

Why does the holy "give-my-life-away" individual find it so difficult to win the tiny battles?But small battles, such as praying with a bit more concentration, infusing our Shabbats not only with don'ts, but more importantly with do's, such as studying extra Torah and beating to a higher tune, seem as unbeatable as Mount Suribachi!

Why? Why does the holy "give-my-life-away" individual find it so difficult to win the tiny battles?

Sacrifices are the theme of this week's Torah reading, Vayikra. The chassidic masters have taught that the in our post-Temple era, we don't sacrifice four-legged animals; rather we sacrifice animals of temptation and natural instincts—the animal within us.

Not to demean the big stuff which are the bedrock of who we are and what we do, but may I venture to say that the real battle, the real sacrifices that are sacrificed daily on our altar, are the small stuff—those that when won don't make us feel like a "prince in shining armor," and unfortunately don't cause too much guilt when avoided or lost.

Like the time we refrain from giving that knee-jerk reaction to our spouse/child/boss/local-nudnik.

The time we pray to G‑d not only with our mouth, but with our heart and mind as well.

The two minutes we spend doing homework with our child.

These are not ego-building victories, but they are the victories that G‑d seeks from us. The battles that make every day a D-Day.
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« Reply #272 on: March 15, 2010, 06:42:11 AM »

Life in Words
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By Tzvi Freeman
Not with toil and not with struggle, but by the word of His mouth did the One Above create His world.

Not with toil and not with struggle, but with words of wisdom and kindness does He require we sustain it.

If so, what is the effort He demands from us?

That we invest our very essence in those words, as He invested His very essence within this world He made.

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« Reply #273 on: March 18, 2010, 07:36:54 AM »

By Tzvi Freeman
Yesterday, you were inspired.
Today, that is all gone.
And so, you are depressed.

But this is the way the system works: Everything begins with inspiration.
Then the inspiration steps aside
—to make room for you to do something with it.

For fire to become deeds.
« Reply #274 on: March 18, 2010, 10:19:44 PM »

The Shrinking of Man
Is it a good thing that we've become so small?
By Yanki Tauber

Once upon a time, man was very big. The stars were tiny lights suspended in the "sky," which was a blue, rooflike covering a few hundred miles above his head. The earth on which he stood was about a quarter the size it is today. At the very most, he was aware of the existence of several hundred thousand other human beings (the word "million" wasn't even in his vocabulary). He was obviously the most important thing around--stones were just stones and animals were just animals. It was equally obvious that he stood at the pinnacle of creation and all these other things existed solely to serve his needs.

Over the centuries man shrank. His world grew larger; suddenly, there were all these other people, and all these other species, dwarfing his significance. At the same time, it became tinier and tinier, until it was an infinitesimal speck in a universe of mind-numbing vastness.

Did man become humbler? Did we become less infatuated with self? Interestingly enough, the shrinking of man had the very opposite effect. Ideals such as devotion and sacrifice became "human weaknesses." Pride, once a sin, became a mark of psychological health. People started asking whether greed was indeed inferior to virtue, until greed became a virtue, ending the argument. Why is it that the more we came to appreciate our insignificance, the more selfish we became?

Upon closer examination, this is no paradox. The person who sees himself as the kingpin of creation, as something of paramount importance to the grand divine plan, is driven to fill that role and serve that plan; the person who believes that everything exists to serve his existence is certain that his existence serves a purpose beyond mere existence.

On the other hand, if man is insignificant, then he serves no higher purpose. "I am nothing" can be just another way of saying, "There's nothing but me."

This is not to say that the person who sees himself as the center of creation is not susceptible to egoism and self-aggrandizement. Nor is it to say that feelings of inconsequentiality will never be accompanied by altruistic behavior. The point is that feelings of insignificance do not make a person selfless--indeed, the most virulent forms of egomania derive from a lack of self worth. Conversely, a sense of self worth can be the source of either arrogance or humility--depending on how a person regards his worth.

The difference, says Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, is the difference between two alephs. In the opening verse of the book of Chronicles, the name "Adam" is written in the Torah with an oversize aleph; in the opening verse of Leviticus, the word vayikra, which refers to G-d's calling to Moses, is spelled with a miniature aleph.

Adam and Moses were both great men, and both were cognizant of their greatness. Adam was the "handiwork of G-d" fashioned after "the divine image." His sense of himself as the crown of G-d's creation is led to his downfall, when he understood this to mean that nothing is beyond his ken.

Moses was well aware of the fact that, of all G-d's creations, he was the only one to whom G-d spoke "face to face"; he knew that it was to and through him that G-d communicated His wisdom and will to His world. But rather than the inflated aleph of Adam, this knowledge evoked in him the self-effacing aleph of Vayikra. Moses felt diminished by his gifts, humbled by the awesome responsibility of proving equal to them. As the Torah attests, "Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth"--not despite but because of his greatness.

Ancient man was both blessed and cursed by the prevailing evidence of his greatness. Modern man is both blessed and cursed by the increasing evidence of his smallness. Our challenge is to avail ourselves of both blessings: to couple our knowledge of how small we truly are with our sense of how great we can truly be. To become humbly great, which is the greatest kind of humility there is
« Reply #275 on: March 25, 2010, 07:33:32 PM »
The Lady and the Nose

By Lazer Gurkow

A young man went on a date. After the first meeting he told his friends that he was impressed with the young lady's character, but not with the shape of her nose. After several further dates the young man fell in love. When his friends asked about the nose, he replied, "When I look at her I see a lovely face, not an unattractive nose."

For the first few months the young husband didn't notice the shape of his wife's nose, but soon he began to notice it again. Only this time he surprised himself when he actually came to adore it.

First his love blinded him to the faults in her appearance and he subconsciously learned to ignore them. Then he came to love her so much that he was infatuated with her every attribute. The unappealing became appealing. The unattractive nose was transformed into a source of even greater attraction.


The love between husband and wife is a metaphor for the love between ourselves and G-d.

G-d instructed our ancestors to build an altar in the Tabernacle and maintain a continuous fire upon it. As the Torah puts it, "The flame may not be extinguished" (Leviticus 6:6). The mystics rendered this instruction in a slightly different manner. The altar represents our hearts, and the fire--our love for G-d. We must keep our love for G-d aflame, palpable in our hearts at all times; and when we do, "The 'not' will be extinguished."1

The not is our desire to refuse G-d's wishes periodically. This not is stimulated by our attraction to worldly pleasures. Nurturing a continuous love for G-d reduces our attraction to worldly pleasures, thus also extinguishing our not, our desire to say no to G-d.

The first step is to extinguish the not. The second step is to turn the not into a shall by harnessing our desire for worldly pleasures to the service of G-d. When our passion for worldly pleasures becomes a passion for G-d, when the desire to avoid G-d becomes a desire to embrace Him, then we, like the young husband in the story, have turned a formerly unappealing attribute into a conduit for greater love.

A Great Miracle

Our sges relate how on the last Shabbat before our ancestors left Egypt they designated lambs for the upcoming Passover Sacrifice. They explained to their Egyptian neighbors that they were instructed by G-d to offer up a sacrifice because the night of their redemption was at hand. On that night, they told their neighbors, all first-born Egyptian males would die.

Upon hearing this, the Egyptian first-born men pleaded with Pharaoh to liberate the Jews, but Pharaoh refused and an armed clash erupted between the first-born Egyptians and the royal forces. Many died in this battle, but Pharaoh's forces ultimately prevailed. This revolt was titled a "great miracle" and it is commemorated every year on the Shabbat before Passover.2

The astute reader will ask, "Where is the miracle?" The revolt was a completely natural occurrence, and furthermore, it failed. What is there to celebrate?

Opposition Transformed

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the miracle lay not in the outcome of the battle, but in the very fact that it was waged. For many years Egypt enslaved our ancestors and expended its resources on persecuting them. The first-born were the most revered in all Egypt. They were also the principle taskmasters and antagonizers of our people.

For nine long plagues the Egyptians held out. They scoffed at G-d and opposed his demand to liberate our people.

Like the young husband who silenced his ambivalence in order to love his bride, so did G-d silence the voices of Egyptian opposition in order to liberate his people. The tenth and final plague miraculously accomplished this goal. It terminated Egypt's opposition to G-d and to His demand to liberate our people.

The civil war, however, went beyond this step. It not only stopped the opposition, but also turned the oppressors into supporters. For the first time, Egyptians rallied in support of the Jewish cause. This was the first time that the forces arrayed against G-d crossed the line in support of G-d.

This was a miracle. Not a simple miracle, but a "great miracle." Most miracles overrule the natural order. Rarely does a miracle force the natural order to work against its own nature in acceptance of G-d's will. This one did. 3

It was the Egyptians' nature to deny the existence of G-d.4 The civil war erupted because many Egyptians turned against their own nature. They suddenly accepted G-d and his demand to liberate the Jews. This transformation was not superimposed from above. It came from within themselves. The first-born men wanted to live and they came to believe that for them to survive they would need to liberate the Jews. Like the young man who ultimately turned his ambivalence into a conduit for greater love, so did G-d transform his opponents into believers, who advocated obedience and faith.

This explains why we refer to the Shabbat that commemorates this great miracle as Shabbat HaGadol, "The Great Shabbat." Shabbat is about escaping the tangled web of worldly affairs. G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Similarly we are required to rest from our worldly affairs on the seventh day and concentrate on G-d. In a sense, we silence the voices of the distracting world so that we can devote ourselves to G-d. But on this Shabbat we go one step further. Instead of silencing the world, we celebrate it. Rather than escaping the world on this Shabbat, we highlight its divine origin. As the Egyptian first-born did, we recognize that the weekday world was also created by G-d and rather than view it as a possible distraction, we invite it to worship in Shabbat-style devotion. Among Shabbats of the year, this one is "great" because it integrates the world with G-d, enabling all other Shabbats to influence the weekday world that is ushered in behind them.5

« Reply #276 on: March 25, 2010, 07:40:09 PM »
« Reply #277 on: March 28, 2010, 07:29:39 PM »

The Feast

By Tuvia Bolton

Editor's note: This is an old Jewish story/joke/metaphor. Versions abound. My favorite is Tuvia Bolton's rendition:

There were once two beggars who used to go around begging together. One was Jewish and the other a gentile. As the night of Passover approached, the Jewish beggar offered to help his non-Jewish friend get invited to a seder (the festive Passover meal accompanied by many commandments and rituals) and get a good meal. "Just put on some Jewish clothes and come with me to the synagogue. Everyone brings home poor guests for the seder. It's easy, you'll see."

The non-Jewish beggar happily agreed. On the first night of Passover they went to the synagogue, and sure enough, both got invited to different homes for the festive ceremony.

Hours later they met in a predetermined place in the local park. But to the amazement of the Jewish beggar, his friend was blazing mad.

"What did you do to me?" He shouted. "You call that a meal? It was torture!! It was hell! I'll pay you back for this--you'll see..."

"What do you mean? What happened?" the Jew asked.

"What happened? As if you didn't know! You Jews are crazy--that's what happened! First we drank a glass of wine. I like wine, but on an empty stomach... My head started spinning a bit but I figured that any second we would begin the meal. The smell of the food from the kitchen was great. Then we ate a bit of parsley. Then they started talking, and talking, and talking. In Hebrew. All the time I'm smiling and nodding my head as if I understand what they're saying--like you told me to--but my head is really swimming and hurting from the wine and I'm dying of hunger.

"The smell of the food from the kitchen is making me insane, but they don't bring it out. For two hours they don't bring anything out! Just talking, and more talking. Then, just what I needed.... another cup of wine! Then we get up, wash hands, sit back down and eat this big wafer called matzah that tastes like newspaper, leaning to the left (don't ask me why...). I started choking, almost threw up. And then finally they give me this lettuce, I took a big bite and wham! My mouth was on fire. My throat! There was horseradish inside! Nothing to eat but horseradish! You guys are crazy....

"Well, I just got up and left. Enough is enough!"

"Ah, I should have told you." replied the Jew. "What a shame! After the bitter herbs is a glorious meal. You suffered so long; you should have just held out for a few more minutes...!"

The editor again: Jewish history is a seder. We've had our appetite teased with small moments of triumph. But mostly we've had "bread of faith" that our palates can't really appreciate. And generous helpings of bitter herbs.

The lesson? Two thoughts come to mind. You need patience to be a Jew. And since we've swallowed the maror already, we might as well hold out one minute longer and get the feast...
« Reply #278 on: March 28, 2010, 07:42:58 PM »

Chassidic Masters
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

A central event in the Parshah of Shemini is the death of Aaron's two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, who "offered a strange fire before G-d, which He had not commanded" the result being that "A fire went out from G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d."

There is much in the Torah's account, and in the words of our Sages, that implies that Nadav and Avihu's act of was not a "sin" per se. The Torah records Moses' words to Aaron immediately following the tragedy: "This is what G-d spoke, saying: 'I shall be sanctified by those who are close to Me.'" Rashi, citing the Talmud and Midrash, explains his meaning:

Moses said to Aaron, "When G-d said 'I shall be sanctified by those close to Me,' I thought it referred to me or you; now I see that they are greater then both of us."

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar writes in his Ohr Hachaim commentary on Torah:

[Theirs was] a death by Divine 'kiss' like that experienced by the perfectly righteous--it is only that the righteous die when the Divine 'kiss' approaches them, while they died by their approaching it.... Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near [to G-d] in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kiss and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them."

The Chassidic masters explain that life--the retention of a spiritual soul within a physical body--entails a tenuous balance between two powerful forces in the soul: ratzo (striving, running away) and shuv (return, settling). Ratzo is the soul's striving for transcendence, its yearning to tear free of the entanglements of material life and achieve a self-nullifying reunion with its Creator and Source. At the same time, however, every human soul is also possesses shuv--a will for actualization, a commitment to live a physical life and make an imprint upon a physical world.

Thus the verse (Proverbs 20:27) calls the soul of man "a lamp of G-d." The lamp's flame surges upwards, as if to tear free from the wick and lose itself in the great expanses of energy that gird the heavens. But even as it strains heavenward, the flame is also pulling back, tightening its grip on the wick and drinking thirstily of the oil in the lamp that sustains its continued existence as an individual flame. And it is this tension of conflicting energies, this vacillation from being to dissolution and back again, that produces light.

So, too, with the soul of man. The striving to escape physical life is checked by the will to be and achieve, which is in turn checked by the striving for spirituality and transcendence. When a person's involvements with the world threaten to overwhelm him and make him their prisoner, the soul's ratzo resists this by awakening his inherent desire to connect with his source in G-d; and when a person's spirituality threatens to carry him off to the sublime yonder, the soul's shuv kicks in, arousing a desire for physical life and worldly achievement. Together, the conflict and collision of these two drives produce a flame that illuminates its surroundings with a G-dly light: a life that escapes the pull of earth even as it interacts with it and develops it in harmony with the soul's spiritual vision.

So the "Divine fire" that consumed the souls of Nadav and Avihu is the very fire that is intrinsic to every soul: the soul's burning desire to tear free of the physical trappings that distance it from its Source. Nadav and Avihu "came close to G-d" by indulging and fuelling their soul's ratzo the point that it overpowered its shuv, and they broke free of the "cycle" of life. Thus their souls literally severed their connection with their bodies and were utterly consumed in ecstatic reunion with G-d.

This, however, was a "strange fire," a fire that "G-d had not commanded." Man was not created to consume his material being in a fire of spiritual ecstasy. Although He imbued our souls with the drive for self-transcendence, G-d wants us to anchor our fervor to reality. He wants us to "settle" this yearning within our physical self, to absorb it and make it part of our everyday life and experience.

Following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, G-d specifically commanded that their example should not be repeated:

And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, who came close to G-d and died: "... Speak to Aaron your brother, that he come not at all times into the Holy... So that he die not..." (Leviticus 16:1-2).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds: The purpose of this Divine command was not to limit the degree of self-transcendence and closeness to G-d attainable by man. On the contrary: the commandment empowered us to accommodate, as a physically alive human beings, the very fire that consumed the souls of Nadav and Avihu. Hence the "strange fire" of Aaron's two sons was also "strange" in a positive sense: an unprecedented act that introduced opened a new vista in man's service of G-d.

This, says the Rebbe, is the meaning of a remark attributed to the founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov: "It is only out of a great kindness on the part of the Almighty that one remains alive after prayer."

Prayer is the endeavor to transcend the enmeshments of material life and come close to one's essence and source in G-d. When a person truly achieves this closeness--when he truly prays--he can experience an attachment to G-d of the magnitude that "released" the souls of Nadav and Avihu. But G-d has enabled us (in the very act of commanding us to do so) to incorporate such sublime experiences into our daily, humanly defined lives.

So life's constant to-and-fro movement is more than a cycle that runs from existence to oblivion and back. It is, rather, an upward spiral: man escapes his finite self, but is driven back to make his transcendent achievements an integral part of his individual being; brought back to earth, his "escapist" nature now reasserts itself, compelling him to reach beyond the horizon of his new, expanded self as well; transcending his new self, his shuv once again draws him back to reality.

Back and forth, upward and on, the flame of man dances, his two most basic drives conspiring to propel him to bridge ever-wider gulfs between transcendence and immanence, between the ideal and the real.
« Reply #279 on: April 01, 2010, 09:51:51 PM »

The Wilderness Inside
A Passover Lesson

By Sara Debbie Gutfreund

I was always an admirer of the people who left everything behind and set off into the wild in order to live 'authentic' lives. I remember when I first encountered the raw passion of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the idealistic yearning of Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond. I remember when I first read these words of Thoreau: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

How will I learn to live deliberately? After reading these words long ago, I walked down the brick paths of my university campus and stared at the first green leaves dotting the bare branches around me. And I asked myself: How will I learn to live deliberately? How will I figure out how to live at all?

Recently I read a fascinating book by Jon Krakauer called Into the Wild. It is a true story about a college graduate named Chris McCandless who hitchhiked to Alaska in 1992 and walked alone into the wilderness. He had donated all of his savings to charity, left behind all of his possessions and burnt all the cash in his wallet. In the end, this young man dies of starvation. Some dismiss his journey as foolish and irresponsible. But others believe that Chris was sincere in his beliefs and at least had the courage to try to live according to them.

He writes to one of his friends during his journey: "So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon," (Krakauer, Into the Wild, p. 58) After I finished the book, I began to think about courage and the wilderness a little more.

Since my earliest years, I have been enthralled with nature. Everything fascinated me from the tiniest flower to the grandest ocean. I guess most children are like that, constantly longing to be outside and part of the hugeness of the universe. But that yearning only became stronger as I grew. I felt like I belonged when I was diving between the ocean's waves. I found peace along rocky, mountain trails drinking in the brilliant blue sky and the vibrant green forest. Skiing down pure white slopes, I glimpsed a spark of potential in every icicle. Scuba diving hundreds of feet beneath the water's surface, I stared at colors and shapes that whispered of unknown worlds, waiting to be discovered.

There are two ways to use the beauty of this worldBut when I think a bit more deeply about my pull to the wild, I realize that there are two ways to use the beauty of this world. One way is to walk into the wild in order to escape one's inner turmoil. Get away from it all. Find some peace and quiet. Block out the pressures of life by distracting oneself with nature's beauty. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but there is another approach that takes far more courage. And that is to walk into the wild in order to go towards one's self.

I have only recently learned how to do this. How to hike into the mountains in order to bring the peace of the earth and the sky into my own home. How to dive beneath the water in order to instill that sense of wonder and adventure in myself and in others.

And during this time of year, I begin thinking about the wilderness of the desert that we crossed through as a Nation. I think about the glaring sun and the vast, unknown spaces. I think about the silent, star lit skies and the miles of endless sand. And I start to understand why it was so hard for the Jews to leave Egypt.

Not only did they have to leave behind the comfort of the familiar, but they were not going to the desert in order to escape. They were escaping the Egyptians, but leaving meant facing an even more complex enemy: the weaknesses inside of them. Even though they were slaves in Egypt, four fifths of the Jewish nation chose to stay! They preferred to stay in a place where they knew what was physically expected of them, and they were free of spiritual obligations. The minority of Jews who crossed the sea and ventured into the desert were not journeying towards a place of freedom from obligations.

We were on our way to Mt. Sinai to find out what our responsibilities would be towards each other and towards the world around us. We were journeying towards the truth inside of ourselves which sometimes can only be found in wide, unfamiliar spaces. And most importantly, we were not alone. Our Creator was guiding us and helping us temporarily shed the limits of our physical selves.

We were journeying towards the truth inside of ourselvesWe lived in homes that could be taken down and re-built in days. We ate food that dripped down from the sky. We didn't need the leaven-saturated existence of stable, material structures. We lived by the simplicity of what matzah is. No time to stand around and let the dough rise. No time to stay in one place when there are so many miles to cover before it's too late. We lived by the clouds, by the pillar of fire, by the Divine words filling the desert silence.

And every year at this time, we all enter the wilderness of the desert once again. We ask ourselves if we can temporarily leave behind the familiar expectations and constructs in our lives. Can we make room in our homes and inside of ourselves for a new journey to begin? And can we use the beauty and excitement of our journey to learn who we are and what our responsibilities are?

We all leave Egypt every year at this time. We are each given the opportunity to let go of our limited perspectives of life and venture into the wilderness inside of us. But the question is: What do we do when we emerge from the desert? How do we use the gift of our journey through the desert? Do we bring the miraculous into our everyday consciousness or do we relegate it to the pages of the Passover Hagaddah? And that is where real courage is found. Not in escaping into the wilderness, but in using the wilderness to reach the truth within ourselves.

   By Sara Debbie Gutfreund   More articles...  |   
Sara Debbie Gutfreund lives in Telzstone, Israel with her husband and children. She holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas. She is a freelance writer and is currently working on her first novel.

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« Reply #280 on: April 06, 2010, 09:22:31 PM »

Split Your Sea
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," states the Talmud.1

What is the meaning behind these words? True, the process of finding and maintaining a life partner may be challenging and difficult, nothing short of a miracle. But why, of all miracles described in the Bible, does the Talmud choose specifically the miracle of the splitting of the sea to capture the process of marriage?

A Map of the Subconscious

What is the difference between the land and the sea? Both are vibrant and action-filled enviroments populated by a myriad of creatures and a great variety of minerals and vegetation. Yet the universe of dry land is exposed and out in the open for all to see and appreciate, while the world of the sea is hidden beneath a blanket of water.

In Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah and Chassidic spirituality), these two physical planes reflect the conscious and unconscious dimensions of the human psyche.2 Both parts of the self are extremely vibrant and dynamic. The difference between them is that while our conscious self is displayed and exhibited for ourselves and others to feel and experience, our subconscious self remains hidden, not only from other people but even from ourselves. Most of us know very little of what is going on in the sub-cellars of our psyche.

If you were given a glimpse into your own "sea" and discovered the universe of personality hidden beneath your conscious brain, what do you think you would find? Shame, fear, guilt, pain, insecurity, an urge to destroy, to survive, to dominate, a cry for love? Would you discover Freud's Libido, Jung's collective unconscious, Adler's search for power and control, Frankl's quest for meaning?

Where Freud diagnosed the libido as a craving for a parent, and Jung saw it as a longing etched in our collective unconscious, the Kabbalah understood it as a quest for union with G-d In Kabbalah, at the core of the human condition is a yearning for oneness. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the Chabad school of Kabbalah, was one of the greatest soul-experts in the history of Judaism, has written on the subject more then any other Jewish sage. In 1796, a hundred years before Freud, he published a book, the Tanya, in which he presented his "map of the subconscious," based on the Talmudic and Kabbalistic tradition. Rabbi Schnuer Zalman offers a facinating parable for the inner life of the soul: quoteing the biblical verse, "The soul of man is a divine flame" (Proverbs 20:27), he explains that just as the flame is always swaying, dancing, licking the air, seeking to tear free of the wick and rise heavenward, so too the soul in man is always aspiring to leave its shell and experience oneness with the divine.

The Secret of Intimacy

This quest for a relationship with the divine is manifested in our search for relationships with our twin flame here below. Where Freud diagnosed the libido as a craving for union with a parent, and Jung saw it as a longing for the opposite gender etched in our collective unconscious, the Kabbalah understood it as a quest for union with G-d. Our desire for intimacy is one of the profoundest expressions of our existential craving for Truth, for Oneness, for G-d.

As the Book of Genesis states, "G-d created Man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them." Clearly, it was in the union and oneness of the genders that the first Adam, the first human being, reflected the image of G-d.

This view of relationships and intimacy is expressed in the very Hebrew names for man and woman given by Adam in Genesis. The Hebrew words for man and woman -- Ish and Isah -- both contain the Hebrew word for fire, Eish. They also each contain one more letter--a yud and a hei respectively--which when combined makes up G-d's name. The significance of this is profound. Man without woman, and woman without man, lack the fullness of G-d's name. When they unite, the two-half images of the divine within them also unite. The fire and passion drawing them to each other is their yearning to recreate the full name of G-d between them.

At a Jewish wedding ceremony, this blessing is recited: Blessed are You, G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the human being in His image... Why is this blessing said at a wedding ceremony? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say such a blessing when a child is born? The answer is that it is through the uniting of man and woman that the image of G-d is most closely reflected.

Our desire for intimacy is one of the profoundest expressions of our existential craving for TruthThe ramifications of this idea are important. It means that marriage is not a suspension of one's natural individual self for the sake of uniting with a stranger. Rather, through marriage man and woman return to their true natural state, a single being reflecting G-d, each in his and her own unique way. Marriage allows wife and husband to discover their full and complete self, a self made up of masculine and feminine energy.

Know Thyself

We may travel through life unaware of this dimension of self, seeking oneness with the divine. Throughout our years on this planet we may behave as though this element of self does not exist. Though its symptoms reverberate through our consciousness -- most often in the feelings of emptiness and lack of contentment when our spiritual self is un-satiated -- we are prone to dismiss it or deny it. After all, at least in the short term, it is far easier to accept that we are nothing more than intelligent beasts craving self-gratification than spiritual souls craving for G-d.

When we view the surface self, selfishness is easier than selflessness; isolation more natural than relationship; solitariness more innate than love and commitment. Only when we "split our sea," when we discover the depth of our souls, the subtle vibrations of our subconscious, do we discover that oneness satisfies our deepest core; that love is the most natural expression of our most profound selves.

"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," the Talmud states. The challenge in creating and maintaining a meaningful and powerful relationship is the need to split our own seas each day, to learn how in the depth of our spirits we yearn to love and share our lives with another human being and with our creator.3

1.   Talmud, Sotah 2a. The Talmud is discussing second marriages, however, in many Jewish works, this quote is applied to all marriage (see for example Akeidas Yitzchak Parshas Vayeishev).
2.   This notion of viewing the macrocosm as a metaphor for the microcosm is central to all Jewish writings. "Man is a miniature universe," our sages have declared (Midrash Tanchumah Pekudei 3), a microcosm of the entire created existence. The human being thus includes the elements of the land as well as the elements of the sea -- man has both a terrestrial and an aquatic aspect to his life. In Kabbalah terminology, the sea is defined as alma d'eiskasya, the "hidden world," while land is described as alma d'eitgalya, the "revealed world" (Torah Or Parshas Beshalach).
3.   This essay is based on a discourse by the second Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer (1773-1827), known as the Miteler Rebbe. (Published in Maamarei Admur Haemtzaei, Kuntrasim, Derushei Chasunah.)

   By Yosef Y. Jacobson   More articles...  |   
Rabbi Yosef Y Jacobson is editor of, a website of Jewish news and commentary in English and Yiddish. Rabbi Jacobson is also a popular and widely-sought speaker on Chassidic teaching and the author of the tape series "A Tale of Two Souls."
Originally posted on
Image: Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz. Ms. Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London
« Reply #281 on: April 08, 2010, 07:23:16 PM »

Angels in the Dark
by Rabbi Shmuel Burstein

The amazing story of survival in the sewers of Lvov.

It was the end of May, 1943 and Jewish Lvov was burning. Once home to Poland's third largest Jewish community, Lvov's 100,000 Jews numbered less than 8,000. "They are killing the Jewish police! This is the end!" came a cry from the ghetto.

Huge buildings, entire blocks were on fire. Jews ran in all directions. Hundreds made a dash for the sewers, hoping to avoid detection by vicious German dogs and their inhuman masters. Jewish children were rounded up and tossed into awaiting trucks like sacks of raw potatoes. Watching helplessly at the fate of their children, some women threw themselves down from several stories high. Little Krystyna Chiger beheld all of this in fear and terror.

For months, a small group of Jews were preparing for this moment. Yaakov Berestycki understood the fate of Lvov's already martyred Jews would soon be his own. Daily, he and a few others clawed away at a concrete floor with spoons and forks and small tools from the apartment of a Jew named Weiss to gain entry into the sewers.

Ignacy Chiger was their leader. Weeks before the ghetto's destruction they broke through and lowered themselves into the sewers of Lvov. As they searched for a place that might be their 'home,' they were discovered by three Polish sewer workers.

    The three Poles could have easily handed them over to the Nazis for a reward of badly needed food.

The three Poles could have easily handed them over to the Nazis for a reward of badly needed food. With no options before them, Weiss and Chiger explained what they had done. A cherubic-looking Pole named Leopold Socha was amused. He followed the diggers and raised himself up through the floor of the ghetto apartment. He beheld a defiant Jewish mother, Paulina Chiger, clutching two children closely to her chest. Deeply moved by the frightened youngsters, he broke out in a magnificent smile.

Leopold Socha was not merely any sewer worker; he was Chief Supervisor of all of Lvov's sewers. He knew the best places to hide and how to lead prowling German inspectors in a direction away from clandestine Jews.

For Krystyna, her brother Pavel and the rest, the escape into the sewers was a nightmare. Accompanied by screams and shrieking in a stone and lime chamber that trapped all sound, the Jews entered a world of cold darkness. The deafening sound of the river waters terrified Krystyna. Her subterranean world was inhabited by rats that made no secret of their presence, and she could not see where she was going.

Lvov's labyrinth underground system was actually a complicated work of art, designed by early 20th century Italian engineers. As it wove its way beneath the city's major landmarks and streets, the 20-foot wide Peltew River roared, charging mightily. It snatched all those who got too close, including Krystyna's beloved Uncle Kuba.

Another Jew who descended that terrible day in May 1943 was a resourceful, spirited Jew named Mundek Margolies. His name was on several deportation lists. Each time he somehow managed to escape. While in the ghetto he grew fond of Klara Keller. Mundek convinced her to take a chance with life by coming with him into the sewers, leaving her sister, Mania, behind.

    Socha promised Chiger that he would protect 20 Jews -- for a price.

Socha promised Chiger that he would protect 20 Jews -- for a price. The Chigers provided the lion's share of the money, having stashed some cash and valuables away before the war. Socha brought whatever food he could each day, as well as news from a place called Earth. He gave them pages of newspapers and took their clothes home to clean each week. On Passover he provided potatoes.

Over time the 20 hidden Jews shrank to ten. Some died. After living under inhuman conditions for several months, some left out of sheer madness. A newborn baby was smothered by its mother to save the lives of the others who trembled at the sound of his pitiful cries.

This small group of Jews struggled to maintain some semblance of Jewish life in their underground hiding place. Yaakov Berestycki, a chassid, found a relatively clean place to put on tefillin each morning.

Paulina Chiger asked Socha if he could bring her some candles. She wished to bring light of Shabbat into the sewers. Socha loved those who loved God as much as he did and he was excited by the challenge. Every Friday, Socha was paid by Ignacy and Paulina later lit her candles.

Socha spoke to the children. He played with them and tried to raise the spirits of all 'his' Jews. He took Krystyna to a place where she could see light drifting into the sewers as she sat upon his shoulders.

Mundek Margolies made daring forays into the destroyed ghetto to bring anything left behind that would make the lives of his friends more bearable. He had resolved to marry Klara after the war. They eventually learned that Klara's sister, Mania, was sent to Janowska concentration camp. Klara blamed herself for abandoning her.

In the hellish world of concentration camps Janowska was particularly horrific. People were left overnight to see how quickly they could freeze to death in icing vats of water. Each morning nooses were prepared in the large square. Jews were "invited" to "volunteer" to be hanged. Tragically, there was no shortage of daily volunteers. Despite all this, Mundek determined to sneak himself into Janowska to rescue Mania and other Jews he could convince to follow him into the sewers.

    It was insane. It was impossible. But angels can fly.

It was insane. It was impossible. But angels can fly. Mundek changed identities with a Jewish slave he spied out from a work detail on one of his courageous flights outside the sewer. He smuggled himself into Janowska with the work detail at evening.

A little over a day later he located Mania behind a fence. Mania told him she simply could not live in a sewer and wrote a note to Klara, begging that she not blame herself. She blessed Klara with life.

Mundek met other Jews, urging them to leave. They thanked him and blessed him. But they were weak and terrified. The angel returned to the sewers, alone.

After several months the Chigers' money ran out. They met with Socha and he told them such an enormous risk required compensation; that Wrobleski and Kowalow, his two Polish friends, could not be expected to assist him otherwise. They wished each other goodbye and good luck.

The following day a familiar shuffling of footsteps was heard. It was Socha! He became so committed to preserving their lives he saw no alternative but to use his own money. But he was concerned that his buddies, upon learning that the money was his, would back out of the rescue. So he asked Chiger to pretend he had found extra money and that is was really Jewish money being paid to Wrobleski and Kowalow.

One day Socha revealed to the Jews his motive for rescue. He had been a convicted felon, spent considerable time in jail before the war. This mission was his way to show that he was a changed man and return to God.

Protective wings sheltered the hidden Jews. They survived discovery by a Pole who opened up a manhole cover and shouted: "It's true! There are Jews in the sewers!" (Socha moved them to a safer location.) They survived the planting of mines only days before the Germans fled Lvov, as the Russian army neared. Socha and Kowalow shouted with all the authority men in overalls could muster before well-dressed German soldiers. They warned that gas pipes lay directly below the ground they were digging for the mines. The Germans would blow up the whole street, themselves included.

It was a lie. And it saved the subterranean Jews.

They survived the melting snows and heavy spring rains in the winter of 1944. The water filled their small basin and rose above their necks. Krystyna screamed to Yaakov, the chassid, "Pray, Yaakov! Pray to God to save us!" Yaakov prayed and the water receded. Sixty years later she said, "It was a miracle."

    After 14 months underground, Socha lifted the manhole cover, telling the Jews they were free.

The long awaited day of liberation came. In July 1944, after 14 months underground, Socha lifted the manhole cover, telling the Jews they were free! Like creatures from another planet, hunched over from a hideout with low ceilings, ten ragged, thin and filthy survivors found themselves surrounded by Poles who gaped in wonder: "Jews really did live in the sewers!" After months of darkness, their eyes were blinded by the sunshine. Everything seemed red, "bathed in the color of blood." Socha brought them indoors, to dark rooms where their eyes could adjust to light.

Months after liberation, Socha and his daughter were riding their bicycles in the street. A truck came careening in the direction of Socha's little girl. He steered quickly to knock her out of the way. Once again he saved a life -- his daughter's -- but Socha was killed, his blood dripping into the sewer. 'His' Jews, dispersed around Poland and Europe, returned to pay their last respects.

Krystyna still cannot cry. In the sewer she learned to suffer quietly. Her body swallows her tears. She dreads the sound of rushing water and moments of darkness. But she is a healer -- a medical professional with an office in New York and has raised a Jewish family. Her brother Pavel served in the IDF and also raised a new generation. Ignacy and Paulina lived out their lives in Israel where Paulina continued bringing the light of Shabbat into her home.

Yaakov moved to Paris where he, too, raised a Jewish family and lived a full life. All those in the sewer, but for Krystyna, have since passed to a world with angels on high.

Mundek and Klara married shortly after the war. After moving to London from Poland, they established together a flourishing kosher catering business, still run by the family. He danced in the very center at every celebration he catered, grabbing his clients by the hand and beaming a broad smile, for his Jewish world was revived. Every Jewish simcha was his simcha. The world of darkness he once knew was now filled with light.

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« Reply #282 on: April 14, 2010, 08:45:58 PM »

Parshah Recovery
Hidden Treasures

By Rabbi Ben A.

"When you come into the land of Canaan which I give you for a possession and I will put a case of tzaraat affliction in a house..."—Leviticus 14:34.

In the Book of Leviticus, the Torah speaks of tzaraat, a malady that occurred in Biblical times. The affliction not only appeared on people but also on inanimate objects including the walls of one's house. In the event that one's house became infected, the entire affected area had to be removed, entailing great expense to the homeowner.

This strange disease was not a physical malady but rather a physical manifestation of a spiritual illness. When a person was spiritually sick, G‑d would alert him to his condition by afflicting first his possessions and then his body so that he would be roused to proper penitence and mend his ways.

Many times, however, a person who had done nothing wrong would also find the walls of his home afflicted. Why did innocent people suffer as well?

What seemed to have been a stroke of bad luck was actually a great blessingThe answer is that many Israelites lived in houses built by the Canaanites who had previously occupied the land. Many of the Canaanites hid their wealth inside the walls of their homes, thus, when an Israelite's house would become afflicted, he would be forced to remove the wall and find the hidden treasure. So, what seemed to have been a stroke of bad luck or an unwarranted punishment from Above was actually a great blessing.

When we look back at all of the trouble we have had in our lives, it is not that hard to come to terms with the problems we had before coming to recovery. We realize that G‑d sent us visible signs to force us to realize how sick we really were. But what about when life slaps us in the face even in sobriety, even when we're doing the right things? When this happens, we cry foul. "What have I done now to deserve such problems?"

What we come to realize is that the hidden treasures of life are sometimes only discovered through hardship and loss. Those difficulties that we are so quick to judge as "G‑d giving us a hard time" may actually be His way of sending us gifts beyond our dreams. We may curse our troubles, never even knowing of the treasure intended for us that will more than offset the immediate loss. Of course, if we only knew what was behind the wall, then we would be happy to knock it down. But we don't know. That's what faith is for—to feel peaceful, secure, grateful and happy even when we don't know what's happening. When we fear hardship and change, we not only show a lack of faith but unknowingly forgo great blessings that lie waiting for us just on the other side of our troubles.
« Reply #283 on: April 21, 2010, 08:44:41 PM »

Do It Now
by Greg Yaris
Sometimes there are no second chances.

It was June. I had been working very hard for a number of months, and had just successfully concluded a very large transaction. Physically and emotionally, I needed a break.

An email was pushed to me -- a trip to Israel, with speakers I had never heard, and to places I had never been. It was perfect, and my wife graciously agreed. It was fairly last minute and the only flight I could get was Los Angeles -- New York -- London -- Israel. Grueling, but worth it.

The Sunday before my trip, I was barbequing in the backyard and called my father on the cell phone. My parents, who live in Dallas, were going to be in Connecticut for a bar mitzvah the same weekend that I was flying through JFK, so I thought it would be nice to try and meet.

I was telling my father about the trip, and he was interested in every detail. "Wow, that just sounds wonderful. I wish I could go to Israel again."

And in one of those rare moments of clarity, I blurted out, before I could really think of all the reasons why what I was about to say was wrong, "Why don't you come with me?"

He was stunned (I was stunned).

"You are going to be in New York anyway. Just bring two extra shirts and a passport."

My father played his hole card. "The money -- it's just too expensive."

It must have been because I was sitting out in the sun, or maybe it was the half a beer I had drunk, but the next thing out of my mouth was, "It's on me. I have a single room and you can stay with me."

Taken aback, my father said, "Let me speak with your mother. I'll get back to you." Five minutes later, the phone rang. "I'm in."

I gulped. What had been a respite from work had suddenly become a father/son trip. I got online, and ten minutes and one large credit card bill later, he had a seat next to me on the plane and a spot on my trip.

Before I knew it, I was on the way to New York to meet my father. I had mixed emotions -- excitement over the trip, but also trepidation about my traveling companion.

My father and I were close, but we hadn't lived in the same town for 30 years. Eight days together, without any other family... I couldn't remember ever spending that much time alone with my father.


I was waiting by the gate, reading the newspaper, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up, saw his smiling face, and all trepidation disappeared. With many decisions we make, we can see pros and cons -- with this decision, there were only pros, no cons.

Two flights and a long cab ride later, we were in Jerusalem. I needed to make phone calls home and to the office. My father (and I'm supposed to be the religious one in the family), wanted to go to the Kotel to take pictures. I needed to take a nap; he needed to see the town. Who's the elder one in this relationship?

And it was like that all week. He couldn't get enough. It was like he wanted to take big handfuls of Israel home with him. He couldn't get enough of who we were meeting and what we were seeing. He'd spend each dinner with another table of people from our group. He was the most popular person there.

It's hard to explain how special our time was together. Seeing my father passionate about something so central to who I am and doing it together, was one of the highlights of my life.

Friday night, we got dressed up and went to the Kotel. And for the first time in my life, I danced to Lecha Dodi with my father and a hundred yeshiva boys. And I thought, God willing, maybe my children will take me here someday.

In what really felt like the blink of an eye, we were on a plane back home. Israel -- London -- New York. At JFK, we parted, him to Dallas, me back to Los Angeles. But when we hugged, we knew that we had done something special together. Something unplanned, unprepared for, and in the end, spectacular.

My father mentioned the trip many times to me over the summer. He sent me copies of his pictures. There we were, in Tel Aviv, overlooking the Mediterranean, smiling together. Memories that will last a lifetime.

In September, my father contracted a staph infection. The doctors didn't know why, and it took weeks of penicillin to cure. He came home older, but determined to recover.

Two weeks after he got home, he was given permission to start exercising. His first morning back on the treadmill, he died, probably of a heart attack.

I miss him badly. I miss him three times a day when I say Kaddish. I miss him in the odd minutes, when I should be working, or concentrating on my driving. I'm comforted that he lived a long, fulfilled life, and that although he had much left that he wanted to accomplish, he had accomplished much.

I think back to what might not have been if I hadn't blurted out, "Why not come with me?" If I had stopped to think how much this trip was going to cost. If I had spent even a moment thinking, "Do I really want to burden myself with my father?" One of the greatest opportunities of my life would have been lost.

Sometimes it's better not to think. Sometimes you just have to say, "Do it now." Because if you don't, you may never get the chance.


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« Reply #284 on: April 30, 2010, 02:44:17 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Life is a Picture Postcard...
By Yossy Goldman

I was planning to procrastinate, but I never got around to it.

Whether you consider the above quotation wise, witty or silly, it can actually be quite a sobering thought. How many of us can truly say we don't put off important things we know we should have done yesterday? Don't you just go green with envy when you meet those super-efficient amazons who are so punctual, organized and always put together? Don't they infuriate you…with yourself?

From my own experience I now know that if something is important I better attend to it immediately, otherwise I simply don't trust myself to "get around to it." I know I could benefit from a Time Management course. In fact, I once signed up for one but I never made it there. No time. There are still so many new ideas, projects and plans I'd like to get around to. I know that with better personal discipline they might actually materialize.

You might be surprised to learn that effective time management is not only a professional value but also a religious imperative. This week's Parshah details the Jewish Festivals, in the context of which we read about the Counting of the Omer during the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Just as the Israelites counted the days after the Exodus in eager anticipation to receive the Torah, so do we count these 49 days annually.

But why count time? Time marches on inexorably, whether we take note of it or not. What value is there in counting the days? The answer is that we count these 49 days to make us conscious of the preciousness of every single day. To make us more sensitive to the value of a day, an hour, a moment. As Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch once said, "A summer's day and a winter's night is a year."

I heard a classic analogy on this theme in the name of the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933). Life is like a picture postcard, he said. Ever had the experience of being on vacation and sending a picture postcard home or to a friend? We start writing with a large scrawl and then think of new things to say and before we know it we're at the end of the card and there's no more room. So what do we do? We start writing smaller and then when we're out of space we start winding our words around the edges of the card to get it all in. Before we know it, we're turning the card upside down to squeeze in the last few vital words in our message.

Sound familiar? Isn't life like that? We start off young and reckless without a worry in the world and as we get older we realize that life is short. So we start cramming and trying to squeeze in all those important things we never got around to. Sometimes our attempts are quite desperate, even pathetic, as we seek to put some meaning into our lives before it's too late. (Maybe that's what a mid-life crisis is all about.)

So the Torah tells us to count our days – because they are, in fact, numbered. We each have an allotted number of days and years in which to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Hopefully, by counting time we will appreciate it better. So, whatever it is that is important for each of us to get done, please G‑d, we will all get around to it.
« Reply #285 on: May 03, 2010, 09:09:11 PM »

Hey, Who’s Counting?

By Baruch Epstein

We leave Egypt and are immediately placed on the 49-day plan: we have seven weeks to rid ourselves of the filth of Egypt and arrive at the heights of Sinai—literally and spiritually.

Chassidic philosophy explains that these seven weeks are a metaphor for the personal journey we each make as we build our own relationship with G‑d. G‑d does not leave us to find our own way. He provides a systematic process – the process of counting the Omer – and we are off and running, shedding 200 years of Egyptian decadence on the way to Sinai purity.

Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Paper or plastic?There seems to be a contradiction, though. There is nothing more personal than an individual's relationship with G‑d; that is the message of Divine Providence: G‑d customizes your world for you. On the other hand, there is nothing more absolute than numbers; two is two—no "kinda, sorta, two-ish" about it.

So how can inflexible digits chart the person-to-G‑d relationship? And how can any method be standardized for all people?

Let's say, for example, that today is the 9th day of the Omer. One week and two days. Today we all are nine days along on the road to spiritual refinement. All of us?! What if the first week's focus (chesed, loving-kindness) was easier for me and I'm at step 14, while others' strength won't be reached until week five? Can't they be allotted more time now and do some makeup work in a month?

And then there is this: all this counting begins on Passover, named for the time when G‑d "skipped over," when G‑d shows us that we are not restricted by natural processes, and we move by leaps and bounds, going out of order. So how does this work: G‑d shows us that we are not restricted by process, that we can "skip to the head of the line"—and then He compels us to follow a firm "color by number" pattern?

Here's what I've come up with. This is the whole point of creation: merging apparent opposites and illustrating the singularity of G‑d in the apparent diversity of all the stuff He made. When we can bring the spiritual and undefined – personal growth – into the mundane – numbers – we have demonstrated the true infinity of G‑d. He is not limited to the heavens nor bogged down by Earth, and neither are we.

Society bombards us with its mutually exclusive choices: do you send your child to a school that encourages dog-eat-dog competition for academic success or one that focuses on win-win character development? Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Paper or plastic? Choosing any option means another is rejected.

We have been transformed from stiff slaves of routine into graceful spiritual long jumpersBut having experienced Passover, the skipping out of Egypt – ready or not, deserving or not – we have been transformed from stiff slaves of routine into graceful spiritual long jumpers, and we can channel that boundless energy right into the rigors of the ordinary. We all can do it – we all must do it – and as Torah tells us, despite some bumps and bruises – we all did it. We got to Sinai, and we accepted the Torah, demonstrating that the seemingly irreconcilable forces of boundless spirituality and bounded nature both emanate from the same Single G‑d.

We don't have to compromise, forego quality for quantity. The counting of the Omer compels us from the perch of spiritual indulgence into the grind of the measurable, while uplifting the despair of "the same old same old" into inspiring sanctity – all at G‑d's pace.

Like the child on the swing set we need a push to get started (we're given that on Passover) and then it's up to us to keep pumping to lift us beyond the drab, without leaving the everyday behind.
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« Reply #286 on: May 07, 2010, 08:46:03 AM »

By Tzvi Freeman
Just as we learn to walk by falling down, so we learn to be awake by groping in the dark.

When there is no support, no brightness to keep us on our toes, when we are all on our own, that is when we learn to be awake.

Truly awake—not because it is day, but because we are awake.

« Reply #287 on: May 11, 2010, 06:46:06 PM »

Take Me To Your Leader
-          Laibl Wolf, Dean, Spiritgrow - The Josef Kryss Wholistic Centre, Australia
The whining mantra of current leadership literature is: ‘Where are our leaders?’ Yet, in a world democratized by the social networks of blogs, facebook, and twitter, leadership is up for grabs. The President of USA grabbed the opportunity during his election campaign and came out trumps. (Not sure if that is a good advertisement for the efficacy of these new networks or not!).

There are people in positions of power. They operate in the corridors of the Kremlin, White House, Downing St, or China’s Great Hall of the People. But power and leadership are not synonymous. One is brute force and the other is wisdom. There are also people in pivotal positions. They bear titles like President, Prime Minister, CEO, and Coach. But position and leadership can also be poles apart.  One is a rung on a ladder and the other ensures that the ladder is leaning against the correct wall!

Consider those whom we would all agree to have been great leaders: Moses, Gandhi, Einstein. The common denominators?  Humility and belief. Moses believed in G-d. Ghandi believed in active pacifism. Einstein believed in cosmic design. But each was humble. Moses is described in the Bible as being the “most humble of all people”. Gandhi is aid to have drunk urine regularly to practice humility. Einstein was wont to say: “I feel like a child playing with sand on the edge of a vast sea.” 

Yet each was a strong, charismatic, and assertive personality. In other words, leadership and humility are not only compatible, but one is a prerequisite to the other.

What is the difference between assertiveness and domination? The dominating individual deals (inadequately) with his/her insecurity by controlling others. The assertive individual bequeaths his/her gifts on the other, despite the other. In both instances the voice may be strong, the posture assured, the power of personality overt. But there is a world of difference between the two: selfishness and selflessness.

There is many a wannabe leader at social club level, at national level and beyond. But their influence extends only as far as their voice carries. The true leader’s influence extends into history and inspires future generations. Will Obama, Putin, Sarkozy, and Rudd inspire your children?

My sense is that the current shortage of true leadership is your fault – yes you! You possess leadership qualities but deny us, all of us, your giftedness.  I am guessing that the reason is because you don’t realize your capacity or are simply irresponsible or a coward.  Our teaching is that no one soul is reincarnated into this world without it possessing a unique quality unlike that of any other human. So I know you are special.  I know you have the potential to contribute uniquely to society and creation.  I know you are a gift to the world – but only if you take yourself interested enough to share the gift with others.

The world, the newspaper headlines, the state of the economy and society, are all reflections of you and me. Each one of us radiates waves of our psyche, character, and commitment to the edges of world consciousness. But if you hold back, deny us, hide, profess incapacity, then the world will continue to be rudderless (no pun intended) and leaderless.

In other words, we deserve the ‘leaders’ we get.  So create change by exercising your personal leadership both within (inner wisdom) and without (social wisdom).

Begin with your own family.

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« Reply #288 on: May 13, 2010, 07:27:07 PM »

By Tzvi Freeman
Not only is there is no conflict between your work and your time for study, meditation and prayer—on the contrary, they compliment one another:

When you start your day by connecting it to Torah, the day shines and all its parts work in synchronicity. And when you work honestly, carrying the morning’s inspiration in your heart, your work itself rolls out the Torah before your open eyes.

« Reply #289 on: May 19, 2010, 09:14:45 PM »

What Is the Torah?
By Hayim Donin

Courtesy Farbrengen Magazine
The Jewish faith does not stop with "And G-d created the heavens and the earth." It starts there. It continues to acknowledge that "I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt." He is a living G-d, who continues to play a role in the universe He created. He is a sovereign G-d, who is concerned about the behavior of the people He created, and to that end has found ways to make His will known to mankind.

Central to the belief in a living G-d is the Jewish belief that He communicated His will and His commandments to the creature whom He endowed with free will, but whom He called to be His obedient servant. The very essence of Judaism rests upon the acceptance of a spiritual-historical event in which our ancestors participated as a group, as well as upon acceptance of subsequent spiritual revelations to the Prophets of Israel. The extraordinary historical event I refer to is the promulgation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. G-d's will was also made manifest in the Written Torah, written down by Moses under Divine prophecy during the forty-year period after the exodus.

Side by side with the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch), we believe that G-d's will was also made manifest in the Oral Tradition or Oral Torah which also had its source at Sinai, revealed to Moses and then orally taught by him to the religious heads of Israel. The Written Torah itself alludes to these oral instructions. This Oral Torah - which clarifies and provides the details for many of the commandments contained in the Written Torah - was transmitted from generation to generation until finally recorded in the second century to become the cornerstone upon which the Talmud was built.

Torah is a record of G-d reaching out to man, and not vice versa. No interpretation of Judaism is Jewishly valid if it does not posit G-d as the source of Torah.

What is "the Torah"?

Technically it refers to the Five Books of Moses. This is the Written Torah (Torah SheBiktav). The scroll upon which it is written and which is kept in the Holy Ark of the synagogue is called a Scroll of the Torah (Sefer Torah). In a sense, this is the constitution of the Jewish people. By Torah is also meant the Oral Torah (Torah She-B'al Peh) "which Moses received at Sinai, and transmitted to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly..." (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1).

The Oral Torah included the finer points of the commandments, the details of the general principles contained in the Scriptures and the ways by which the commandments were to be applied. For example, the Torah forbids "work" on the Sabbath. What constitutes "work"? How shall "work" be defined for purposes of the Sabbath? Except for several references to such tasks as gathering wood, kindling fire, cooking and baking, the Written Torah does not say. The Oral Torah does.

The Written Torah commands that animals needed for food be killed "as I have commanded you" (Deuteronomy 12:21). How shall this slaughtering take place? What regulations govern such slaughtering? The Written Torah does not say. The Oral Torah does.

The Written Torah commands us to "bind them as a sign upon your hands and as frontlets between your eyes." This reference to tefillin leaves us in the dark as to how they were to be made up, what they were to consist of, how they were to be donned. The Written Torah does not say. The Oral Torah does.

The Written Torah prescribes capital punishment for various crimes. What legal rules and procedures had to be followed before such a verdict could be handed down? What were the limitations? The Written Torah does not say. The Oral Torah does.

Ultimately, this Oral Torah was reduced to writing. During the second century C.E., it was incorporated into the Mishnah, which in turn became the cornerstone for the Gemara which consists of the monumental records and minutes of the case discussions and legal debates conducted by the Sages. Mishnah and Gemara together make up the Talmud.

The Torah, whether Written or Oral, is the teaching that directs man how to live. Although it speaks primarily to Israel, it also has directives for all of mankind. It is concerned with every aspect of human life. Ritual laws, generally thought of as "religious observances," are only part of the total complex of commandments. The commandments of the Torah, its statutes and regulations, cover the entire range of human and social behavior. It asserts its jurisdiction in areas of behavior which in other religions are generally thought of as belonging to the ethical or moral domains or to the jurisdiction of secular civil and criminal codes of law. Even its non-legal and non-statutory sections stress spiritual truths and convey insight into the still finer extra-legal ethical and moral norms of behavior.

The rest of the books of the Hebrew Bible, written over a period of many centuries, consists of the Prophets (Neviim) and the Sacred Writings (Ketuvim). These books convey the teachings of the Prophets in the context of Israel's history over a period of about seven hundred years. They tell of the Prophets' visions of G-d and of their ongoing struggles to promote greater allegiance among the people to the teachings of the Torah; of their struggles against the many false prophets and priests who so often misled the people and turned them away from G-d and the Torah. Among these books is the inspirational Psalms that reflects man's deepest religious sentiments.

The Torah, with the Neviim and the Ketuvim are together referred to as TaNaKh. (This is what the Christian world and non-Jews calls the "Old Testament" but which to the Jew has always been the only testament.) In the broadest sense, however, the study of Torah refers not only to the Scriptures and the Oral Torah, but also to the entire body of rabbinic legislation and interpretation based upon the Torah that developed over the centuries. For the Torah was always a living law, constantly applied by a living people to real conditions that were often changing. Though these are obviously the result of human efforts, they are an integral part of the entire body of religious jurisprudence to which the Torah itself grants authoritative status: "And you shall observe and do according to all that they shall teach you. According to the law which they shall teach you and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall do" (Deuteronomy 17:10-11).

Torah is the embodiment of the Jewish faith. It contains the terms of his Covenant with G-d. It is what makes a Jew Jewish.
« Reply #290 on: May 19, 2010, 09:16:00 PM »

The Mathematics of Marriage

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

When a person knows and grasps in his mind a Torah law... he thereby grasps and holds and encompasses with his mind the divine wisdom and will... while his mind is simultaneously enveloped within them. This makes for a wonderful union, like which there is none other and which has no parallel anywhere in the terresterial world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, is attained. (Tanya, chapter 5)

Marriage comes in three varieties: the singular marriage, the twosome marriage, and the three-dimensional marriage.

In a singular marriage, one partner is completely consumed by the dominant other, as he or she cedes his or her will and identity to serve the other's will and identity. Two have joined to become one, yet theirs is not so much a union as an annihilation: either one abnegates one's own understanding, feelings and very self to the others, or one's ego swallows up the other's mind, heart and very being.

In the twosome marriage, each partner preserves his or her distinction as an individual. They share thoughts, feelings and resources, and deeply affect and are affected by each other; but each does so on his own terms, assimilating the marital bond as part of his own experience and identity. So what we have here is not a union, only a relationship between individuals.

Then there is marriage in its true and ultimate sense: a marriage in which two individuals collaborate in the creation of a third reality which encompasses and suffuses them both, while preserving their differences as the very dynamics of their union. A true marriage houses not a single, all-negating being, nor two distinct beings, but a threesome that is the essence of unity: the individual selves of the marriage partners, and the marriage itself--the third element within whose context their two beings unite into a harmonious whole.


As human beings, we inhabit a finite and corporeal reality, which, by nature and definition, precludes all contact with anything truly infinite, transcendent and absolute. Nevertheless, the Creator has established channels of awareness and experience which extend beyond the boundaries of our existence and allow us to relate to His all-transcendent truth.

These outlets to a higher reality assume many forms, but may be divided into three general categories, akin to the three types of marriages described above.

On the unilateral level of relationship, there are occasions when the Almighty chooses to overwhelm us with a supra-natural, supra-rational dose of His reality. For example, we may witness a miracle which shatters the very foundations of how we understand ourselves and our world--an experience which we cannot assimilate in any humanly sensible way except to be overcome with awe and humility. Another example of the unilateral relationship is when a person, confronted with a challenge to his deepest convictions, will choose to sacrifice his very existence for the sake of a higher truth.

In both these cases, the wall which encloses our self-bound existence has been breached. Yet the result is not so much a union of the human with the divine, but the negation of the human, the exposure of its insubstantiality in face of the divine.

Then there are the twosome type relationships between Heaven and earth--natural, humanly digestible points of contact between our world and the divine reality. Every sunrise, every beat of the human heart and every flutter of an insect's wings, is G-d acting upon our reality. While these divine deeds are no less miraculous than the splitting of the Red Sea, nature is G-d's way of affecting our world through a veil of constraint, routine and predictability--a veil which filters His input into our lives in a way that is readily absorbable by our finite senses and minds. On our part, the whole of human science is man's attempt to gain insight into what lies behind and beyond the mere facts of his existence.

Through these natural channels of connection we relate to the divine truth on our own terms, without annihilating the norms of human existence and experience. On the other hand, however, they cannot be said to truly unite the earthly and the divine--only to establish a connection between them as two distinct and irreconcilable realms.

Meeting of Minds

But on the 6th day of Sivan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 bce), G-d descended on Mount Sinai and "gave a threefold Torah to a threefold people through a third-born on a third day in the third month."1 Torah is the third element of our relationship with G-d -- the element which makes our relationship a true marriage.

In the words of the Midrash, at Sinai "The higher realms descended to the lower realms" with G-d's descent upon Mount Sinai, while "The lower realms ascended to the higher realms" with Moses ascent to the top of the mountain.2 Had there only been a descent from Above to below, the divine reality would have totally overwhelmed the earthly reality, resulting in a one-sided marriage -- a relationship that is wholly defined by the nature and character of only one of its partners. If there had been only an ascent from below to Above, our encounter with the divine would have been characterized by the finiteness and tactility of our physical existence, resulting in a "twosome" marriage in which each side relates to the other from behind the defining walls of self. But at Sinai there occurred both a descent from above by G-d as well as a rising upwards of man. In other words, this was an encounter in which each partner not only relates to and connects with the other but also participates in defining the nature of the relationship between them, so that the relationship affirms his individual identity even as it expands it to include the very different identity of the other partner.3

For at Sinai was introduced the third element of Torah, where the finiteness of man unites with the infinity of G-d in a union that is both finite and infinite, both human and divine.

Torah is the wisdom and will of G-d. But G-d did not communicate His wisdom and will as a detailed manifesto and a codified list of instructions. Instead, He gave us a relatively short (79,976 word) Written Torah (the Five Books of Moses), together with the Oral Torah--a set of guidelines by which the Written Torah is to be interpreted and extrapolated, and applied to the myriads of possibilities conjured up by the human experience. So while the Written Torah encapsulates the immense sea of legal, homiletic, philosophical and mystical teaching we know as Torah,4 it is the human mind and life which G-d designated as the tools with which to unlock the many layers of meaning and instruction implicit in its every word.

This is most powerfully demonstrated by the Talmud's account of a halachic dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues:

Rabbi Eliezer brought them all sorts of proofs, but they were rejected... Finally, he said to them: If the law is as I say, may it be proven from heaven! There then issued a heavenly voice which proclaimed: What do you want of Rabbi Eliezer--the law is as he says...

Rabbi Joshua stood on his feet and said: The Torah is not in heaven!5 ... We take no notice of heavenly voices, since You, G-d, have already, at Sinai, written in the Torah to follow the majority.6

Rabbi Nathan subsequently met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: What did G-d do at that moment? [Elijah] replied: He smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me, My children have triumphed over Me.7

Torah is where the human and the divine fuse to one. Where a kernel of divine wisdom germinates in the human mind, gaining depth, breadth and definition, and is then tangibilized in the physicality of human life.

In this marriage, our humanity is not obliterated within the infinite expanse of the divine; but neither does it remain distinct of it. In this marriage, our human finiteness and subjectivity themselves become instruments of the divine truth, joining with it to create the ultimate expression of divine immanence in our world: the Torah.

1.   Talmud, Shabbat 88a.
2.   Midrash Tanchuma, Vaeira 15; Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 12:4.
Thus there were, in fact, three stages to the union of heaven and earth: 1) the descent of the higher realms to the lower; 2) the ascent of the lower realms to the higher; 3) the collision or merger of these two movements in a single marriage and union.
On the historical level, the first millennium of history, which was characterized by an abundant flow of life and nurture from Above, was a time in which the relationship between heaven and earth was defined exclusively by the higher realms. The second millennium, which saw the refinement and self-elevation of earth, was a time of upward striving on the part of the lower realms. And the third millennium, which commenced the age of Torah, saw the union of the supernal and the earthly in the convergence of the two.
In the immediate events leading to the revelation at Sinai, these three stages were actualized in: 1) the Exodus, which was a unilateral, divinely initiated revelation and redemption from Above; 2) the seven-week period of preparation and self-refinement between the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai (re-enacted each year with our Counting of the Omer); and 3) the Giving of the Torah, in which G-d came down on Mount Sinai and Moses ascended the mountain.
On another level, the revelation at Sinai, though it included elements of the lower realms ascending, was primarily a revelation from Above. This is followed by many centuries of self-refinement and self-perfection on our part, to be followed by the Era of Moshiach and its ultimate union of heaven and earth (see next essay, Yes and No).

4.   In the words of the Talmud, Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud and Aggadah, and even everything that a qualified student is destined to deduce before his teacherall was already said to Moses at Sinai (Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 2:4).
5.   Deuteronomy 30:12.
6.   Exodus 23:2.
7.   Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b.
« Reply #291 on: May 24, 2010, 04:09:14 PM »

Guest Columnists
On Humility
By Jonathan Sacks

How virtues change! Moses, the greatest hero of Jewish tradition, is described by the Bible as "a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." By today's standards he was clearly wrongly advised. He should have hired an agent, sharpened up his image, let slip some calculated indiscretions about his conversations with the Almighty and sold his story to the press for a six-figure sum. With any luck, he might have landed up with his own television chat show, dispensing wisdom to those willing to bare their soul to the watching millions. He would have had his fifteen minutes of fame. Instead he had to settle for the lesser consolation of three thousand years of moral influence.

Humility is the orphaned virtue of our age. Charles Dickens dealt it a mortal blow in his portrayal of the unctuous Uriah Heep, the man who kept saying, "I am the 'umblest person going." Its demise, though, came a century later with the threatening anonymity of mass culture alongside the loss of neighbourhoods and congregations. A community is a place of friends. Urban society is a landscape of strangers. Yet there is an irrepressible human urge for recognition. So a culture emerged out of the various ways of "making a statement" to people we do not know, but who, we hope, will somehow notice. Beliefs ceased to be things confessed in prayer and became slogans emblazoned on t-shirts. A comprehensive repertoire developed of signalling individuality, from personalized number-plates, to in-your-face dressing, to designer labels worn on the outside, not within. You can trace an entire cultural transformation in the shift from renown to fame to celebrity to being famous for being famous. The creed of our age is, "If you've got it, flaunt it." Humility, being humble, did not stand a chance.

This is a shame. Humility -- true humility -- is one of the most expansive and life-enhancing of all virtues. It does not mean undervaluing yourself. It means valuing other people. It signals a certain openness to life's grandeur and the willingness to be surprised, uplifted, by goodness wherever one finds it. I learned the meaning of humility from my late father. He had come over to this country at the age of five, fleeing persecution in Poland. His family was poor and he had to leave school at the age of fourteen to support them. What education he had was largely self-taught. Yet he loved excellence, in whatever field or form it came. He had a passion for classical music and painting, and his taste in literature was impeccable, far better than mine. He was an enthusiast. He had -- and this was what I so cherished in him -- the capacity to admire. That, I think, is what the greater part of humility is, the capacity to be open to something greater than oneself. False humility is the pretence that one is small. True humility is the consciousness of standing in the presence of greatness, which is why it is the virtue of prophets, those who feel most vividly the nearness of G-d.

As a young man, full of questions about faith, I travelled to the United States where, I had heard, there were outstanding rabbis. I met many, but I also had the privilege of meeting the greatest Jewish leader of my generation, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Heir to the dynastic leadership of a relatively small group of Jewish mystics, he had escaped from Europe to New York during the Second World War and had turned the tattered remnants of his flock into a worldwide movement. Wherever I travelled, I heard tales of his extraordinary leadership, many verging on the miraculous. He was, I was told, one of the outstanding charismatic leaders of our time. I resolved to meet him if I could.

I did, and was utterly surprised. He was certainly not charismatic in any conventional sense. Quiet, self-effacing, understated, one might hardly have noticed him had it not been for the reverence in which he was held by his disciples. That meeting, though, changed my life. He was a world-famous figure. I was an anonymous student from three thousand miles away. Yet in his presence I seemed to be the most important person in the world. He asked me about myself; he listened carefully; he challenged me to become a leader, something I had never contemplated before. Quickly it became clear to me that he believed in me more than I believed in myself. As I left the room, it occurred to me that it had been full of my presence and his absence. Perhaps that is what listening is, considered as a religious act. I then knew that greatness is measured by what we efface ourselves towards. There was no grandeur in his manner; neither was there any false modesty. He was serene, dignified, majestic; a man of transcending humility who gathered you into his embrace and taught you to look up.

True virtue never needs to advertise itself. That is why I find the aggressive packaging of personality so sad. It speaks of loneliness, the profound, endemic loneliness of a world without relationships of fidelity and trust. It testifies ultimately to a loss of faith -- a loss of that knowledge, so precious to previous generations, that beyond the visible surfaces of this world is a Presence who knows us, loves us, and takes notice of our deeds. What else, secure in that knowledge, could we need? Time and again, when conducting a funeral or visiting mourners, I discover that the deceased had led a life of generosity and kindness unknown to even close relatives. I came to the conclusion -- one I never dreamed of before I was given this window into private worlds - that the vast majority of saintly or generous acts are done quietly with no desire for public recognition. That is humility, and what a glorious revelation it is of the human spirit.

Humility, then, is more than just a virtue: it is a form of perception, a language in which the "I" is silent so that I can hear the "Thou", the unspoken call beneath human speech, the Divine whisper within all that moves, the voice of otherness that calls me to redeem its loneliness with the touch of love. Humility is what opens us to the world.

And does it matter that it no longer fits the confines of our age? The truth is that moral beauty, like music, always moves those who can hear beneath the noise. Virtues may be out of fashion, but they are never out of date. The things that call attention to themselves are never interesting for long, which is why our attention span grows shorter by the year. Humility -- the polar opposite of "advertisements for myself" -- never fails to leave its afterglow. We know when we have been in the presence of someone in whom the Divine presence breathes. We feel affirmed, enlarged, and with good reason. For we have met someone who, not taking himself or herself seriously at all, has shown us what it is to take with utmost seriousness that which is not I.
« Reply #292 on: May 30, 2010, 11:01:58 PM »

Heads Up!

By Yossy Goldman

Perspective: what a difference it can make. How we look, where we look and the way we look at things always colors our impressions.

In this week's Parshah, the word ur'eetem--"and you shall see"--occurs twice. The first is at the beginning of the Parshah, in the story of the spies sent by Moses to investigate the Promised Land; and the second time is at the very end, in the chapter on the mitzvah of tzitzit. In the first verse, Moses instructs the spies "And you shall see the land, what is it... are the people strong or weak... is the land fertile or lean... are the cities open or fortified?" In the second verse, we are commanded to place tzitzit--fringes--on the corners of our garments and told: "And you shall look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and fulfill them."

The same word, ur'eetem, is used both times; yet look at the stark contrast between these two chapters. The first time, with the spies, it turned tragic. Their negative report of the land caused the people to reject the Divine promise; their cries of fear and despair caused G-d to decree that that day would become a time of "weeping for generations." Indeed, it was Tisha B'Av, and the resulting 40-year delay in entering Israel was to be the first of many national calamities to befall our people on that same day. On the other hand, the second instance of the word ur'eetem in our Parshah is a positive one: looking at the fringes is a way to remember all G-d's commandments and to observe a G-dly life.

It all depends on how we look at things. It all comes down to where we go looking. To see the land as the Spies saw it is to see earthiness, a materialistic perspective. To see the tzitzit is to gaze at a mitzvah of G-d, a heavenly perspective.

Ever watch an army of ants at work? Isn't it fascinating how they march in a straight line? Such disciplined workers, it is quite amazing. Ants, you see, have one-dimensional vision. That's why they follow their noses and the guy right in front of them. They have no peripheral vision and therefore no distractions from their single-minded, though limited, perspective.

I remember a farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) in yeshiva in Montreal when I was a student. Reb Velvel Greenglass, the mashpia and mentor (may he be well) was waxing lyrical on the difference between a human being and an animal. The animal was created in a horizontal line. The cow, naturally, looks downward, at the grass. Munching grass is its full-time occupation. All a cow thinks about all day is its food. Ever see a cow looking up at the sky and pondering the meaning of life? Human beings, however, were created in a vertical orientation. It is much easier for humans to look upward, to contemplate that which is higher and more meaningful. (I guess that's why the chimps and baboons that stand vertically think they are gantze mentschen.)

To be people of vision we must look upward. There is a higher purpose to life. There is a deeper meaning to what meets the eye. The whole of Kabbalah and mysticism is based on the principle of the metaphysical. This fundamental principle is that there is not only the self-evident body but also the invisible soul; not only the universe but also a cosmic plan and a profound reason for every experience in life, whether it be obvious to us or not.

If we only look at the land, at that which is earthly and material, the world is crass and careless, helter-skelter and hollow. But when we raise our sights and lift our heads heavenward, we see so much more. When we utilize our unique human mind power and spiritual potential, we can better discern the wood from the trees, the lofty from the low. The Sages of the Talmud noted that by looking at the tzitzit, we not only see the commandments of G-d but we discover G-d Himself.1

I guess, where you look always determines what you find.
« Reply #293 on: June 03, 2010, 07:46:57 PM »

Love the Stranger
Lessons Learned from a Special Child
By Simon Jacobson

A number of years ago, at one of my weekly classes I was discussing the fact that each one of us was sent to this Earth with an indispensable mission. And this mission imbues each human being with unique qualities, all the necessary faculties we need to fulfill our respective mission. Even if someone is weak or deficient in one area, even one born with a "handicap," this same person is blessed with other strengths that compensate for and allow this individual to realize his or her calling. Some of these strengths may often be less obvious than others, and then it is our sacred responsibility to help uncover these deeper resources. Nothing is holier and more dignified than helping a person discover hidden potential, allowing him to actualize his unique life calling.

Resourceful as he was, with a pinch of desperation, he eked out a jobTo illustrate the point, I shared the classic joke about the immigrant who got off the boat in NY. With no language and no contacts, he went looking for a menial job at the local Lower East Side synagogue. He applied to be the shamash (sexton) of the synagogue. Following a positive interview, he was given a contract to sign. Instead of signing his name he placed an X on the dotted line. "No, that will not do," said the employer, "we need you to sign the contract with your full name." "I can't," the greenhorn immigrant blurted out, "I don't how to write." "Well, in that case, I am sorry but we cannot hire you. The job requires someone who can write in English."

Dejected, he left and went off searching for opportunities. Resourceful as he was, with a pinch of desperation, he eked out a livelihood. Over the years, with diligence, ingenuity and persistence he climbed the ladder and ultimately became a very prosperous man. He became known in town for his enormous wealth, and was greatly respected by his peers and above all, by the banks that readily issued him the loans he requested.

One day, a new bank manager was going over this fellow's latest loan application, and notices that instead of a signature there is an X at the bottom. The manager calls him up and says, "My dear sir, you forgot to sign the application." "I did sign it, with an X," he replied. She was bewildered. "Why do you sign with an X and not with your name, if I may ask?" "Well," he sheepishly replied, "I never learned how to sign my name." The bank manager smiled and remarked: "Now listen here. You made so much money without knowing the language. Just imagine how much more successful you would have become had you received an education and learned to sign your name."

"Madam," the gentleman calmly said, "if I knew how to sign my name I would have become the shamash in the local synagogue…"

After my class, a striking young man approached me. As he got closer I saw that he suffered from some motor complications. He asked to speak with me privately. After everyone left we sat down, and he began to tell me his story. His words came out slowly, due to a speech impediment, and he shared with me that he was born with a rare disease that affected his nervous system, which also impaired his mental capacity and growth. He later discovered that his parents gave him away as a newborn, after hearing that he was diagnosed with severe mental handicaps. Over the years, it turned out that the diagnosis was not completely accurate, though he still suffered from many problems. At that point, his parents were not willing or unable to handle him and they chose to have no contact with him.

With a special charm, clearly the result of years of struggle, he had emerged with a very rare type of warmthHis parents were clearly wealthy – and quite prominent, as he would later discover – and they provided that he be cared for in a quality institution for children with special needs. But they never came to visit him, and for all practical purposes he was brought up as an orphan. A "privileged orphan," he was told. All his physical needs met, except for the most important one: Unconditional love from nurturing parents.

As much as I tried, I could not completely control my feelings pouring out for his soul. However, more powerful than all his pain was the refined light shining out of this young but old man. He was simply an exquisite human being. With a special charm, clearly the result of years of struggle, he had emerged with a very rare type of warmth, which basked everything around him in a soft glow.

"And tonight," he tells me, "you said that each one of us has a unique mission despite appearances. I, too, like the fellow in your story, lack certain abilities. But, unlike the wealthy man in your story, I do not know what strengths I have in return. Can you help me discover my special qualities?"

I was taken. He wasn't aware of his own level of refinement. This tortured man could give more love and kindness than most people I know, yet he was crying for help.

What can I say, my heart went out to him in the deepest possible way, and we began to communicate regularly. He would attend many of my classes and I would converse with him about many things, and he would always elicit in me kindness I did not know I had. From time to time, he would address his own feelings of rejection and his desire to confront his parents. He had tracked them down, but was terrified of contacting them.

Mischievous thoughts began to creep into my brain about contacting them myself. But what would I say? Who am I to call them? I tried not to be judgmental; who knows what they have endured; what caused them to give up and desert their own child? But is it being judgmental to ask whether any parent has such a right – no matter what the excuse? And is it my role to be the one that confronts these parents?

These were the thoughts running through my mind. Yet despite my discomfort, I was slowly building the courage to pick up the phone. I also had to figure how to get my friend to give me his parents name without tipping him off that I may call. Or maybe I should share with him my intentions.

I finally got his number, began dialing a few times and hung up before finishingProcrastination settled in, as it does in all awkward situations, and more time passed. Finally, I said to myself, okay, I'll wait for a day when I am in a particularly perturbed mood – due to some of the inhumanities of life, or just the plain sadness of existential loneliness – and need to release it somewhere, that's when I'll call his father.

Great plan. But as great plans go, they don't always work as you would like them to. I finally got his number, began dialing a few times and hung up before finishing. "This is not going to work," I said to myself. "I really need a kick in the pants, one of those that make you feel that nothing on Earth matters, including your own petty pride or shame, when you can gather the chutzpah to do anything."

And then, tragedy struck in the form of the death of my father, when everything simply melts away, and then I finally made the call.

"Hello, good afternoon, this is Simon Jacobson. I am a friend of your son's and would like to speak to you about him." Deathly silence on the other end of the line. What do I say now? "Hello, hi, may we speak for a few moments?"

"What can I do for you?" was the brisk and cold response.

"I know your son. He is an extraordinary man and I thought that would make you proud."

Click. The father hung up the phone.

What do I do now? Call back? I decided to wait. A few days later I tried again. This time his secretary did not let the call through, so I left a message saying that "this matter is very personal and can have profound long-term consequences for good or for bad."

I tried again the next day and what do you know, he took my call. Now what? I simply said: "Please understand. I am not in the business of meddling. I am not being critical or judgmental. I simply feel from the depths of my heart that it would be life-transforming for you and your wife to meet your son."

"We don't want to talk about it, we don't want to go there, we did what we felt was best for everyone."

"I am sure you did. Still, today, now, your son has grown to be a tremendous soul. He needs to see you and you need to see him. Please consider that."

"I'll get back to you."

We scheduled the fateful meeting that everybody dreadedHe didn't. But now I was on the warpath. So I called again. He did apologize for not getting back – almost making me respect his cordiality, until I remembered why were here in the first place – and said that his wife would not be able to do it. Too uncomfortable. He mumbled something about having "long ago buried this." But I persisted. "So then I'll arrange for you to meet your son without your wife."

"No, not yet." I could tell from the change in his father's tone that he had done some research on me (google or whatever).

At this point, I decided to share with their son my maneuvers, and I could see, though he protested, that he was deeply moved by my efforts.

It would require too much paper (or kb in e-mail measurements) for me to describe the entire back-and-forth process spanning over several months. Let me suffice by saying that he finally relented, and together with his wife we scheduled the fateful meeting that everybody dreaded. At their insistence, which surprised me, they wanted me to be present at the meeting, I figured, to serve as a bit of a buffer.

The big day came. We met at their lavish home in the living room, tea and biscuits on the table, all choreographed to the tee, except for the emotions that would be released.

Oh man, this was one of the most heart wrenching experiences I would ever endure, and I wondered what havoc did I wreak. But too late. Here we were. Initially, everybody was cordial, even detached, like strangers meeting about buying a house. "What do you do?" "Where have you traveled?" "Are you a Yankees fan?" "How's the weather?" – you get the idea. After sitting silent, trying to be invisible and letting things take their natural, biological course (or so I hoped), I finally piped in and said the first serious statement of the evening. "Your son told me his story. He must have a lot of anger inside of him, but he hasn't shown it to me, or maybe not even to himself. You must have many feelings yourselves. I really don't belong here, but since I am here, allow me to say that your son is one of the most beautiful people I know. I have discovered through him new horizons of human dignity and the capacity of the soul to shine in this harsh world. I think it would be truly life-changing for you to get to know each other."

I made my way out the door, leaving them alone…Before I stood up to leave, our hero turned to his parents and uttered a few words that could melt any heart. With a stutter and a bit slowly – his speech was impeded, as you may recall – he began: "Mumma, Puppa" – I could tell that he worked long and hard to get those words out (he never referred to his parents that way when he spoke with me).

"Mumma, Puppa… I, I am not perfect. You, too, you also not perfect. I have forgiven you. Can you forgive me?…"

We all burst into tears. I made my way out the door, leaving them alone…

We are all "strangers" in this world. We are all "special children." All in need and deserving of unconditional love. Some people's specialness is more obvious than others. Some exceptional souls are concealed beneath a veneer of "normalcy" and established "comfort zones." Others, less fortunate on one end, but more so on another, do not have the mask of "regularity" which hides their special souls. When the mask of the "ordinary" is torn off or exposed due to trauma or loss, suddenly extraordinary dimensions emerge, ones that we were not aware of.

But all our souls are strangers on this material planet. The only difference between people is that some know this fact and some don't.

Some think that they have "made their home" and are comfortable in the corporeal reality and its institutions. To the extent that they feel there is nothing else but what I see and hear, nothing more than the here and now that I experience with my senses. Material beings on a material journey, with perhaps some bouts of spiritual, transcendent experiences. Isn't that what we call "maturity" and "success" – to have finally made it, leaving behind the naiveté and inexperience of youth, mastering and controls of power and influence in this world?

And others – far fewer – know that they are souls on a spiritual journey through a material universe, on a bodily stage with physical props, and are thus always "strangers," even when they build their homes and learn the ropes to maneuver through the conventions of "establishment." As accustomed and as friendly as they become to the tangible world, as immersed as they may be, they never become "part" of this world, always remain "above and beyond," strangers enchanted and even apprehensive of the material reality around them.

Love the stranger, for you too were – and always are – a stranger in your own limitations and constraints.
prentice crawford
« Reply #294 on: June 23, 2010, 03:09:53 PM »

 Since God spoke the world into creation, "Let there be light."  I thought this would spark conversation here. smiley

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Posts: 42479

« Reply #295 on: June 27, 2010, 02:38:37 AM »

If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,
 then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.

But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is,
 then it is you yourself that needs repair.

A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe
-words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman
Tammuz 15, 5770 * June 27, 2010
« Reply #296 on: July 02, 2010, 01:09:06 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Destiny Beckons
By Yossy Goldman

Pinchas, the hero of this week’s Parshah, was previously unheard of. Though as a grandson of Aaron he belonged to the “royal family,” he was an unseeded young man, who, with a single act of bravery was catapulted to stardom.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 82a) tells the behind the scenes story. Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, publicly flaunts his intimate relationship with a heathen Midianite princess. Moses is momentarily stymied. Pinchas respectfully reminds Moses that he himself taught the principle that one who behaves as Zimri did may be executed by the zealous. Moses responds that since Pinchas remembered this, he, Pinchas, should be the one to actually carry it out. Pinchas duly does just that and the terrible plague that had taken the lives of thousands is stilled. G-d blesses Pinchas with His Covenant of Peace and Pinchas goes down in history as the hero who saved the day.

Rare and precious are those crossroads of life when the chance to unleash our inner calling presents itself But why did Moses forget what he himself had taught? Apparently, Divine Providence saw fit that the great prophet should suffer a temporary memory lapse in order that young Pinchas assume his destined status.

Now Pinchas could have made a simple calculation. Here stand Moses and Aaron, other prominent elders and leaders and they are all silent. In the face of such brazen moral travesty all these great men stand back. Who, then, am I to step forward? How can I, little old me, a new kid on the block, stand up and say what I believe in their august presence? Surely I must keep quiet and hold my peace.

But Pinchas did not say that. And thank G-d he didn’t. Had he kept his silence, the plague might not have been averted and Pinchas would have remained a non-entity.

This, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, serves a powerful lesson to all of us. If you witnesses a situation where you feel that you can make a difference, then you must. And the fact that greater people than you seem paralyzed should not necessarily mean that you too should remain idle. Perhaps this is your unique chance to do something historic. Perhaps you are earmarked for greatness and G-d is opening your window of opportunity. Deny yourself this moment and you deny destiny.

Sometimes the moment is yours. Sometimes greater people may vacillate and the responsibility and opportunity rest with you and you alone. Each of us has so much unlocked potential. Rare and precious are those crossroads of life when the chance to unleash that inner calling presents itself. This is your baby, your moment of glory, your own personal calling and you dare not desist from it.

Such was the case with Pinchas and such may be the scenario that every one of us may find ourselves playing out one day.

In the story of Purim, the Megillah records how Queen Esther is asked by Mordechai to intercede with King Ahasuerus on behalf of her people. She explains that she fears this may be absolutely suicidal for her. Mordechai responds with rather strong words, Relief and deliverance will come for the Jews from an other place, and you and your father’s house will perish. What Mordechai was telling Esther was that the chance to single handedly save one’s entire nation doesn’t present itself every day. It is a unique moment and ought to be seized. If you won’t do it, someone else will; but this once in a lifetime opportunity may be lost to you forever.

Pinchas reminds us that when opportunity knocks we should open the door quickly. Do not hesitate. Destiny may be beckoning.
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Posts: 42479

« Reply #297 on: July 04, 2010, 10:04:07 AM »

Split Your Sea
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea,"
states the Talmud.1

What is the meaning behind these words? True, the process of finding and
maintaining a life partner may be challenging and difficult, nothing short
of a miracle. But why, of all miracles described in the Bible, does the
Talmud choose specifically the miracle of the splitting of the sea to
capture the process of marriage?

A Map of the Subconscious

What is the difference between the land and the sea? Both are vibrant and
action-filled enviroments populated by a myriad of creatures and a great
variety of minerals and vegetation. Yet the universe of dry land is exposed
and out in the open for all to see and appreciate, while the world of the
sea is hidden beneath a blanket of water.

In Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah and Chassidic spirituality), these two
physical planes reflect the conscious and unconscious dimensions of the
human psyche.2 Both parts of the self are extremely vibrant and dynamic. The
difference between them is that while our conscious self is displayed and
exhibited for ourselves and others to feel and experience, our subconscious
self remains hidden, not only from other people but even from ourselves.
Most of us know very little of what is going on in the sub-cellars of our

If you were given a glimpse into your own "sea" and discovered the universe
of personality hidden beneath your conscious brain, what do you think you
would find? Shame, fear, guilt, pain, insecurity, an urge to destroy, to
survive, to dominate, a cry for love? Would you discover Freud's Libido,
Jung's collective unconscious, Adler's search for power and control,
Frankl's quest for meaning?

Where Freud diagnosed the libido as a craving for a parent, and Jung saw it
as a longing etched in our collective unconscious, the Kabbalah understood
it as a quest for union with G-d In Kabbalah, at the core of the human
condition is a yearning for oneness. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
(1745-1812), founder of the Chabad school of Kabbalah, was one of the
greatest soul-experts in the history of Judaism, has written on the subject
more then any other Jewish sage. In 1796, a hundred years before Freud, he
published a book, the Tanya, in which he presented his "map of the
subconscious," based on the Talmudic and Kabbalistic tradition. Rabbi
Schnuer Zalman offers a facinating parable for the inner life of the soul:
quoteing the biblical verse, "The soul of man is a divine flame" (Proverbs
20:27), he explains that just as the flame is always swaying, dancing,
licking the air, seeking to tear free of the wick and rise heavenward, so
too the soul in man is always aspiring to leave its shell and experience
oneness with the divine.

The Secret of Intimacy

This quest for a relationship with the divine is manifested in our search
for relationships with our twin flame here below. Where Freud diagnosed the
libido as a craving for union with a parent, and Jung saw it as a longing
for the opposite gender etched in our collective unconscious, the Kabbalah
understood it as a quest for union with G-d. Our desire for intimacy is one
of the profoundest expressions of our existential craving for Truth, for
Oneness, for G-d.

As the Book of Genesis states, "G-d created Man in His image, in the image
of G-d He created him; male and female He created them." Clearly, it was in
the union and oneness of the genders that the first Adam, the first human
being, reflected the image of G-d.

This view of relationships and intimacy is expressed in the very Hebrew
names for man and woman given by Adam in Genesis. The Hebrew words for man
and woman -- Ish and Isah -- both contain the Hebrew word for fire, Eish.
They also each contain one more letter--a yud and a hei respectively--which
when combined makes up G-d's name. The significance of this is profound. Man
without woman, and woman without man, lack the fullness of G-d's name. When
they unite, the two-half images of the divine within them also unite. The
fire and passion drawing them to each other is their yearning to recreate
the full name of G-d between them.

At a Jewish wedding ceremony, this blessing is recited: Blessed are You,
G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the human being in His image... Why
is this blessing said at a wedding ceremony? Wouldn't it be more appropriate
to say such a blessing when a child is born? The answer is that it is
through the uniting of man and woman that the image of G-d is most closely

Our desire for intimacy is one of the profoundest expressions of our
existential craving for TruthThe ramifications of this idea are important.
It means that marriage is not a suspension of one's natural individual self
for the sake of uniting with a stranger. Rather, through marriage man and
woman return to their true natural state, a single being reflecting G-d,
each in his and her own unique way. Marriage allows wife and husband to
discover their full and complete self, a self made up of masculine and
feminine energy.

Know Thyself

We may travel through life unaware of this dimension of self, seeking
oneness with the divine. Throughout our years on this planet we may behave
as though this element of self does not exist. Though its symptoms
reverberate through our consciousness -- most often in the feelings of
emptiness and lack of contentment when our spiritual self is un-satiated -- 
we are prone to dismiss it or deny it. After all, at least in the short
term, it is far easier to accept that we are nothing more than intelligent
beasts craving self-gratification than spiritual souls craving for G-d.

When we view the surface self, selfishness is easier than selflessness;
isolation more natural than relationship; solitariness more innate than love
and commitment. Only when we "split our sea," when we discover the depth of
our souls, the subtle vibrations of our subconscious, do we discover that
oneness satisfies our deepest core; that love is the most natural expression
of our most profound selves.

"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," the
Talmud states. The challenge in creating and maintaining a meaningful and
powerful relationship is the need to split our own seas each day, to learn
how in the depth of our spirits we yearn to love and share our lives with
another human being and with our creator.3

1.   Talmud, Sotah 2a. The Talmud is discussing second marriages, however,
in many Jewish works, this quote is applied to all marriage (see for example
Akeidas Yitzchak Parshas Vayeishev).
2.   This notion of viewing the macrocosm as a metaphor for the microcosm is
central to all Jewish writings. "Man is a miniature universe," our sages
have declared (Midrash Tanchumah Pekudei 3), a microcosm of the entire
created existence. The human being thus includes the elements of the land as
well as the elements of the sea -- man has both a terrestrial and an aquatic
aspect to his life. In Kabbalah terminology, the sea is defined as alma
d'eiskasya, the "hidden world," while land is described as alma d'eitgalya,
the "revealed world" (Torah Or Parshas Beshalach).
3.   This essay is based on a discourse by the second Chabad-Lubavitch
Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer (1773-1827), known as the Miteler Rebbe. (Published in
Maamarei Admur Haemtzaei, Kuntrasim, Derushei Chasunah.)

   By Yosef Y. Jacobson   More articles...  |
Rabbi Yosef Y Jacobson is editor of, a website of Jewish news
and commentary in English and Yiddish. Rabbi Jacobson is also a popular and
widely-sought speaker on Chassidic teaching and the author of the tape
series "A Tale of Two Souls."
Originally posted on
Image: Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz. Ms. Kranz has been
illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books)
since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her
clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of
« Reply #298 on: July 08, 2010, 09:18:22 PM »

Living through the Parshah
Brother of Peace
By Rochel Holzkenner

Dysfunctional family dynamics tend to repeat themselves generation after generation—until someone kicks the cycle. The Torah repeats the story of sibling rivalry time and again. It begins with an older brother who's jealous of a younger brother's advantage; drama ensues and things turn ugly. Cain was rabidly envious of Abel. Ishmael boasted and taunted Isaac. Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers—nice families torn apart by jealousy.

Aaron kicks the pandemic of sibling rivalry.1 His younger brother Moses is extraordinary from birth. Then G‑d chose him to be the redeemer of the Jewish people. The Torah describes Moses' return to Egypt from Midian after G‑d empowered him with the mission of redeeming the Jewish people. Aaron went out to meet him and he kissed him. Without the slightest tinge of envy, Aaron embraces his role as Moses' assistant and mouthpiece.

More than a thousand years later, Aaron was still viewed as the paradigm of love and peaceIf you want to learn about love and peace, watch Aaron. Love was his modus operandi. Later, after Aaron passed away, the Torah tells us that the "entire nation of Israel mourned for thirty days"—both the men and the women, explains Rashi. Contrast this to the Torah's description of Moses' passing: "And the children of Israel wept for him"—the men only. Rashi quotes the Midrash and explains: "Because Aaron had pursued peace; he promoted love between disputing parties and between man and his wife." Aaron's death left everyone feeling lonely.

More than a thousand years later, Aaron was still viewed as the paradigm of love and peace. Hillel, the great sage of Israel, puts out the following advice in the Mishnah, "Be of the disciples of Aaron! Loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the created beings and bringing them close to the Torah."2

There were three key miracles that ensured the survival of the Jews in the desert: the manna, the traveling well of water and the "clouds of glory" that shielded them from assault. When Aaron died, the clouds of glory disappeared (temporarily). It became apparent that Aaron's merit had been fueling them. The clouds represented everything that Aaron stood for—millions of people can be shielded by the same cloud, unlike food or water that can't be shared by even two people simultaneously. Like the clouds, Aaron protected and cherished everyone equally. He adored the most simple person in the same way as the most sophisticated. "Love the created being," says Hillel—even if their only virtue was the fact that they were G‑d's creations, Aaron loved them.

It is interesting to note that Aaron's yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) is the only one mentioned in the entire Torah, "And he died there…on the first day of the fifth month."3 Although Aaron's passing is recorded earlier in the Book of Numbers,4 the date is mentioned later, in the Torah reading of Massei, which is always read within the week of his yahrtzeit on the first day of Av.

To understand Aaron's yahrtzeit it to understand Aaron's unconditional love for others.

Aaron saw through personal distinction and social placement to the place where we are all one"The first day of the fifth month." Five is the number of transcendence. It took four rungs of evolutionary descent for G‑d's infinite light to become a world of limitations and distinct differences. First G‑d contracted his light to create the World of Emanation. Still much too refined to contain physical matter, G‑d's light contracted once again to create the World of Creation, then the World of Formation and finally the world as we know it—the World of Action (for more on the topic of the "Four Worlds," click here). Climb back up those four rungs and reach the fifth rung, and you're back in the space where there is no division—you're back to the One light. From the perspective of five there is not yet a hierarchy of creation; everything is equally close to G‑d.

Day one of the fifth month. One embodies simple, harmonious unity. There are no separate factions from the vantage point of one, it floats above any division.

So Aaron's passing exposed his life's work. (On the day of a person's yahrtzeit, his cumulative actions and learning shines on Earth.) When he looked at you, he saw through personal distinction and social placement to the place where we are all one, working together as one unit and equally precious.5

Perhaps that's why he wasn't envious of his younger brother for stealing the limelight. To Aaron they were one unit, working together towards a greater end. When we're on the same team, your triumph is my victory.

When we buy into the apparent differences that exist between us, it's hard to treat everyone with the same respect. And it's difficult not to be envious!

In 1991, in the wake of the Crown Heights riots, Mayor of NYC David Dinkins visited the Rebbe on Sunday afternoon to receive a dollar and a blessing. The Rebbe said that he hoped the Mayor would be able to bring peace to the city.

"Both sides," Mr. Dinkins said.

"We are not two sides," the Rebbe replied. "We are one side. We are one people, living in one city, under one administration and under one G‑d."

In fact it was Joseph's sons Ephriam and Menashe who first changed the trend. When Isaac blessed the younger grandson Ephraim with his right hand, Menasha was happy for his younger brother. Ever since we customarily bless children to be like Ephraim and Menashe, and to rejoice in the success of others, even if it puts them at an advantage over you.

Ethics 1:12.

Numbers 33:38.


Based on the Rebbe's talk delivered on Shabbat Parshat Matot-Massai 5751 (1991).
« Reply #299 on: July 11, 2010, 05:48:19 PM »

Hearing G-d's Word - Devarim

By Rabbi Ben A.

"These are the words that Moses spoke to the entire people of Israel..."—Deuteronomy 1:1.

The book of Deuteronomy relates the monologue spoken by Moses just before the people entered the Promised Land. As it is stated, "These are the words that Moses spoke to the entire people of Israel." Unlike the other four books, which are "the word of G‑d," Deuteronomy is the "word of Moses"—that is, it is his final address to the people.

That does not mean that this book is of mortal invention, but rather that Moses delivered these words through divine inspiration. In the first four books of the Torah, Moses merely took dictation from G‑d, precisely relaying each word without regard to his own understanding. The words of Deuteronomy, however, were first integrated into Moses' own consciousness; and only then were they spoken by him. This does not mean that the content of this book is somehow diluted or compromised by having passed through mortal understanding. Rather, what it means is that Moses attained a level at which G‑d's word could be faithfully transmitted—not just through his mouth, but also through his brain. In his final days, Moses did not just transmit G‑d's message; he first conceived it in his own mind.

Moses did not just transmit G‑d's message; he first conceived it in his own mindThere is a reason why this fusion of mortal and G‑dly intelligence occurred when it did, in the days just prior to entering the Holy Land.

After forty years of wandering in the desert, protected by miracles, the people were poised to meet their destiny and to face the "real world." They would need to be able to take the rarefied spiritual concepts that they had learned during their forty years in the desert and apply them to ordinary life. They needed to put theory into practice and in order to do so they needed to hear G‑d's word integrated and conveyed through the intellect of another human being.

"G‑d speaks through people," is a common saying in recovery. Lofty spiritual concepts are worth little to us in dealing with everyday life if we never hear them spoken in simple, human terms, filtered through the mortal, finite mind of another alcoholic or addict.

Some of us may wonder how it can be that the very same thought that we had come across in our religious studies couldn't help us overcome our alcoholism, but when heard spoken – in slightly different words – by another alcoholic, had a profound and transformative effect. If G‑d's own word hadn't worked on us, how could the word of a mere mortal?

The answer is, of course, that that is G‑d's word—as understood and communicated by another human being who shares our disease.
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