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« Reply #350 on: September 17, 2010, 05:01:25 PM »


Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

When Elazar ben Durdaia (a notorious sinner) found that all his appeals for assistance had been turned down, he said: “It all depends entirely on myself.” He placed his head between his knees and wept until his soul departed from him. A voice from heaven then announced: “Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaia is destined for life in the world to come!”

Hearing this, Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] wept: “There are those who acquire their world in many years, and there are those who acquire their world in a single moment.”

Talmud, Avodah Zarah 17a

In this world of ours, more is less and less is more.

Quantitatively, the earth is but a tiny speck in a vast universe; in significance, it is the focus of G-d’s creation. Of the earth itself, inanimate matter constitutes virtually all of its mass, only a minute fraction of which are living cells. Plant life is more plentiful than animal life, and animals far more numerous than humans. Within the human being, the head, seat of man’s most sophisticated faculties, is smaller than the torso or limbs. In a word, the greater the quality, the lesser the quantity.

The same is true of man’s most precious resource: time. Quality time--time that is most optimally and fulfillingly utilized--comprises but a quantitative fraction of the time we consume. How many minutes of each day do we spend on truly meaningful things? The bulk of our hours are taken up with earning a living, sleeping, eating, and fulfilling a host of social and other obligations--worthy pursuits them all, but secondary to the purpose of our lives.

The very structure of time, as designed by its Creator, follows the “less is more” model. There are six mundane workdays, leading to a single day of spirit and tranquillity. Yom Kippur--the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” whose twenty-six hours bring us in touch with our deepest, most essential self--occupies less than 0.3 percent of the year. Everything we do takes time, but the greater the quality of our endeavor, the less the quantity of time it consumes.

The most potent of human deeds is teshuvah--our ability to rectify and sublimate past wrongdoing by returning to the timeless, inviolable core of self which was never tainted by sin in the first place. And teshuvah is the least “time-consuming” of events: the essence of teshuvah is a single wrench of self, a single flash of regret and resolve. “There are those who acquire their world in many years,” says the Talmud, building it brick by brick with the conventional tools of achievement. Then there are those who acquire their world in “a single moment”--in a single, timeless instant that molds the future and redefines the past.
« Reply #351 on: September 20, 2010, 10:10:16 PM »

The Perfect Quarrel
The Three Festivals: One Big Fight

By Mendel Kalmenson

Long before John Grey wrote his best-selling book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," prior even to those planets' creation, a different kind of book on relationships was written.

Released in the year 2000 B.C. (before creation), it has, to date, sold well over six billion copies, topping the charts as the best-seller of all time. This non-fiction work chronicles the first romance ever; one which took place between the Author and His beloved bride, the Jewish people. The wedding day was set for the sixth of Sivan. The venue was Mount Sinai, the menu was dairy, and the invite list included all the cosmos. They married on that historic day; the marriage has lasted three thousand years and counting. There were many hiccups on the way, as any good marriage would have, and much work was necessary to ensure its survival.

The couple can never come to a consensus regarding the naming, and the significance, of noteworthy milestones in their relationshipIt is through the lens of this union that all future ones can be seen, for they all are rooted in that very matrimony. Over the millennia, scholars have examined this relationship from every angle, and have used it as a source of countless relationship tips. Understanding the dynamics of this cosmic relationship can greatly benefit every marriage.

Interestingly, though, this relationship has, from its very inception, been plagued by a quarrel between the spouses. As is common with many couples, they find themselves continuously and constantly arguing the same argument. In this instance, the couple can never come to a consensus regarding the naming, and the significance, of noteworthy dates and milestones in their relationship.

Let us chronicle the history of this disagreement.

Love at First Sight

The relationship took root during the bride's difficult sojourn in the land of Egypt. That is when, like a knight in shining armor, the Groom rode into her life and saved her from the clutches of a tyrannical ruler. Since then they celebrate what you might call their very first date on the fifteenth day of Nissan, a holiday on which they relive and re-experiences the love at first sight they experienced on that fateful date.

As far as the name of the holiday is concerned, however, the bride and the Groom don't exactly see eye to eye. While disagreements are not an uncommon phenomenon amongst young couples, the point of difference between this couple is very uncommon indeed. In the Torah, the Groom chooses to name this holiday Chag Hamatzot, "the Holiday of Matzot"; the bride prefers the name Pesach, or Passover.

The name "Holiday of Matzot" recalls the unswerving loyalty the bride had to her Groom. Matzah is a product of the dough that had no time to rise due to the hurriedness of the exodus. It speaks of the bride's readiness to travel into the wilderness, far away from civilized life and its comforts and stability, with no knowledge of her destination and how she might reach it. Only someone deeply in love would follow her loved one the way this bride followed her Groom. As such, the Groom prefers the name "Matzot," to highlight and forever be reminded of His beloved bride's unshakable faithfulness.

In admirable disagreement the bride chooses to call it PassoverIn admirable disagreement the bride chooses to call it Passover, in commemoration of her Groom's unconditional allegiance to her, His undeserving betrothed, which He demonstrated when He "passed over" and spared the bride's homes during the course of the Plague of the Firstborn.

The Jewish nation had sadly been influenced by Egyptian culture and practices which were steeped in polytheism and idolatry of the highest order. In fact, Midrashic tradition has it that when G‑d informed the Angel of Death that the Jewish people were untouchable, an angelic commotion was raised: "Both the Egyptians and the Jews are idol-worshippers; how can you redeem one and punish the other?" What even the angels failed to understand was the extent of G‑d's love for His bride—a love, which transcended rhyme and reason, good and bad, and astonishingly even withstood unfaithfulness.

This was a love of no condition, and it is this love that the bride seeks to highlight on the night when she recalls His passing over her—in spite of angelic protestations.

What to Name the Anniversary?

This exact difference of opinion resurfaced come the following holiday, celebrated on the sixth of Sivan. The Groom dubbed the festival "Shavuot," while the bride, in her prayers, refers to it as Z'man Matan Toratenu—the "Time of the Giving of the Torah."

Shavuot means "weeks," and refers to the Biblical command to count seven weeks from Passover onwards, the conclusion of which is celebrated with a holiday. According to the Kabbalists, this physical count is paralleled by a spiritual count, whereby each day is not just counted but is made to count, as we progress on a spiritual journey of self-refinement. Each day of the Omer we labor on internalizing our spiritual gifts. As we progress with our character elevation, we become deserving and worthy of the gift – the Torah – that we receive on Shavuot each year.

The Groom seeks to underscore our commitment to His service. This is what He celebrates. And that's why He calls the day "Shavuot"; recalling the seven-week period of love and devotion embarked upon by His affectionate bride.

In His estimation, this holiday has nothing to do with His act of giving and has everything to do with the bride's devotionIncredibly, nowhere in the Torah is it mentioned that this holiday is at all related to the giving of the Torah. This important piece of information was conveniently left out by the Groom. In His estimation, this holiday has nothing to do with His act of giving and has everything to do with the bride's devotion.

The bride, however, maintains the opposite: the holiday has nothing to do with her and has everything to do with Him. She feels that no matter how much she accomplishes in the seven weeks, her finite service cannot possibly earn her the infinite treasure of light that G‑d generously gifts her with each year. Hence she's fond of calling it "the Time of the Giving of Torah."

Huts vs. Clouds

Come Sukkot, and like a seasoned old couple they are blessedly still at it.

The Talmudists argue about the definition of the word "sukkah" mentioned in the Torah: "So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkot [literally: booths] when I took them from the land of Egypt." One opinion is that the words sukkah is figurative, and actually refers to the encompassing Clouds of Glory that accompanied and sheltered the Jews during their sojourn in the desert. These clouds miraculously provided the nation with protection from the elements as well as enemy fire, leveled mountains to make traveling easier, and even washed, dried, and starched their clothing! The other Talmudic opinion is that the booths referred to are literal. We recall the wooden huts in which we dwelled while in the desert.

Here you may wonder: if the verse is referring to wooden huts, what then are we celebrating? G‑d providing us with shabby huts in the desert calls for a celebratory festival?

Well, by incorporating the Talmudic principle of "One master says one thing and the other says another, yet they aren't arguing" (or to employ a different Talmudic truth: "Both opposing opinions are the words of G‑d") we can bring our love story full circle.

The voice of a Groom who never tires of retelling the story of how and why He first fell in loveThe bride maintains that the sukkah is symbolic of the Clouds of Glory. She sits in her sukkah and recalls her Groom's miraculous and benevolent behavior towards her. It is the sweet and tender voice of an adoring bride as she tells her close friend about her Groom's love.

The Groom, however, begs to differ. The sukkah, He protests, is quite literal. "Look," He says, "look at how My bride sacrificed herself for forty years—willing to live in shabby decrepit huts, so long as the path she treaded led to Me." As He conveyed through His messenger Jeremiah: "I remembered for your the kindness of your youth, the love when you were a bride, your following me in the desert, in a land not sown."

This is the voice of the Groom who never tires of retelling the story of how and why He first fell in love.

It pays well to remember the secret of our successful marriage to G‑d, and it would do us wonders to apply this formula in our relationships with our own beloved husbands and wives, the beautiful offspring of that holy union.

I'd call this type of disagreement between couples the perfect argument. It's the charming dispute of spouses constantly seeking to set the other above themselves.

This is how a marriage flourishes.

I've actually tried arguing with my wife in this manner, and believe it or not it turned out to be fun. The best part about it? They were arguments that neither of us minded losing.

Note from the author:

The idea expressed above is based on the words of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the one who explained why G‑d refers to Passover as Chag Hamatzot, while we persist on calling it Passover.

An essay by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks inspired the thought regarding Sukkot.

I believe that this idea, the "recurring fight" between G‑d and His people, finds expression in many other areas too. Two more examples would be the holiday of Rosh Hashanah and the mitzvah of tefillin.

The best part about it? They were arguments that neither of us minded losing...We commonly refer to the first day of the Jewish year as Rosh Hashanah, whereas in the Torah it is referred to as "the Day of Shofar Blasts." The biblical commentator Rashi explains that the New Year is thus named to recall the Binding of Isaac, in whose stead a ram (from whose head we take the shofar) was offered. In order to recall the sacrifice of Isaac, and thus highlight the quality of the Jewish people, G‑d made shofar blowing central to the holiday's celebration and even named the holiday after this mitzvah.

We, on the other hand, call it Rosh Hashanah, expressing our purest belief that G‑d will again be gracious and once again give sustenance and existence to all of creation. As the new year approaches, the mystics teach, the worlds' continuity hangs in the balance. On Rosh Hashanah G‑d grants creation another year's worth of energy and vitality—which is then dispensed to all the days of the year. And so we call this day Rosh Hashanah – the "head" of the new year – just as the head contains the body's life-force which is then distributed amongst all the limbs.

On Rosh Hashanah we also coronate G‑d as our King. By extension, chassidic teachings see the blowing of the shofar as a symbol of this coronation, similar to trumpets used to announce the crowning of a new king. So the shofar we blow crowns G‑d. But the shofar He hears is our crown—for G‑d hears the shofar and remembers Isaac's binding; the paradigm of Jewish sacrifice throughout the ages.

As for tefillin, we are told that G‑d fulfills all the mitzvot—including the mitzvah of tefillin. In our tefillin we have parchment scrolls that proclaim "the Lord is our G‑d, the Lord is One."

What is written in His tefillin? The Midrash answers: "Who is as great as the Nation of Israel?!"

By Mendel Kalmenson   More articles...  |   
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson has traveled Europe, Asia and South America, reaching out to Jews in the remotest areas. He now resides with his wife Chanale, daughter Geulah, and son Dov, in Brooklyn, New York, where he serves as rabbi of the Besht Center, a spiritual center for young professionals.
Mendel regularly contributes articles to, most of them appearing in his Parshah column, "What the Rebbe Taught Me."

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« Reply #352 on: September 27, 2010, 10:27:43 PM »

What Massage Therapy Taught Me About Simchat Torah

by Chava'le Mishulovin

"Más participación", interrupts Margarita, my massage course instructor, "y menos presión."

I nod without looking up and continue to knead down the back of Yvonne, my fellow student; this time, as per my Venezuelan teacher's directions, using more participation (namely from my entire hand) and applying less pressure.

"Muy bien", she proclaims when I'm done, "very good".

With a small towel, I wipe away some sweat from my forehead.

Onto the shoulders now.

"If you are not relaxed, how can you bring relaxation to your patient?"My eager fingers grab, pinch and pull her stiff joints, bidding the cartilage to allow her shoulders the ease of movement they so desperately desire. I work vigorously. I stand stiffly as my fingers do their dance, their concentrated dance, upon Yvonne.

Deeper now, deeper. More pressure, more pressure. Get out all the knots. Dig!

I'm breathing hard and quickly.

Yvonne nudges me and points to our teacher. "Más participación y menos presión. Involucrate!" Margarita repeats herself. "More involvement and less pressure. Get involved! You need to involve ALL of your hand! Ease on the pressure!"

I roll my eyes and we all giggle. It's an ongoing joke, this constant reminder for me to slow down and focus on where my energy is coming from and where it's going to, rather than pounding away zealously.

I shake my wrists, take a deep breath and carefully resume my labor of love on my dear friend and classmate. "Victim", she claims with a wink.

I started this course about three weeks earlier and the classes are the highlight of my week. I'm absolutely in my element as Margarita lectures, demonstrates, tests, and guides us in everything there is to know about Masaje de Todo (Everything Massage). I knew a bit about massaging before I joined, having been blessed by G‑d with 'hands that heal', but entering the world of the erudite and gentle Margarita was entering into a whole new sphere of healing.

We'd always start our session with deep breathing.

We'd go through a series of postures and breathing exercises aimed at gaining control of the body and mind. We were to saturate our physical, mental and emotional selves with peace and tranquility.

"If you are not relaxed, how can you bring relaxation to your patient?" Margarita would challenge us when we would mutter about the silliness of pretending we are trees with roots reaching down fifteen floors to the ground level.

I had no patience for this stuff; I felt like it was a waste of time. I wanted to get right down to the "real thing". To the poking and prodding, twisting and tapping, kneading and knuckling, pinching and pressing, stroking and softening of the body. Y'know, REAL massage.

But the soft-spoken Margarita would not budge. "The peace and healing that comes from massage does not emanate from your hands alone but from all of your body's maneuvers and from all of your soul's energy".

Well, I was certainly not lacking in THAT department; the only problem was, my energy was fast and impatient. And so, week after week, class after class, I learned to slow, tame and focus my overflowing energy.

And when it would happen (as it often did), that after a gradual build-up of careful kneading and gliding, I would lose myself in the intensity and euphoria of the healing moment and I would start massaging with an uncalled for urgency, Margarita would be there to calm my intensely fervent moves. She'd remind me that an effective massage was a result of a process, not an instant. "Your massage will be a lot more productive if you slow down and use all your fingers as you rotate. You need to involve all sides at once and you won't need to exert so much energy when you do so, look-" she demonstrates on Yvonne, immediately eliciting a sleepy response of approval.

When will I learn?? When will her wise words penetrate? When will I finally realize that slow and steady, not fast and furious, wins the race?

When will I finally realize that slow and steady, not fast and furious, wins the race?Margarita is not the only one trying to teach me this.

My dentist has been trying for years. "Buy a softer toothbrush and don't brush so hard!" he chides me, shaking his head. "Brushing your teeth too quickly and with too much pressure will cause you to damage some teeth and miss out on others." He pokes one in the back of my mouth. "Like this one." Heh. If only he knew that I cram six months worth of flossing into the three weeks before the appointment.

It's the same message: For maximum effect, you need to deal with your 'challenge' from all sides. You need to focus the setting, gather your energy beforehand and then dispense it evenly and deliberately. A sudden spill of forceful energy in one area will never equate to careful attention to all details.

And so, like a dutiful student, in addition to memorizing the músculos del cuello, la espalda, las piernas etc (muscles of the neck, back and legs etc) as well as the difference between sweet almond, soothing lavender, invigorating spearmint and detoxicating rosemary body oils, I also repeated the vital mantra "Más participación y menos presión, más participación y menos presión" in between classes. "More participation and less pressure. More participation and less pressure". Involucracion ("Involvement") was the name of the game.

I was evolving from a simple civilian to a mighty massage therapist.

Walking in the streets, I frowned at incorrect postures; standing on line, my hands itched to ease the tension of the pregnant woman in front of me; and when I would bend down to pick up something from the floor, I always made sure to do it while flexing my knees.

One morning, praying from my siddur (prayer book), the budding massage therapist in me gave me a nudge. I realized, with a start, I was doing it all wrong. True, I was saying all the words from beginning to end in my tefillot (prayers) but there was no participación and no involucracion and thus, no productivity. I was trying to get to the end result by rushing; forgetting that prayer was a process and not an instant. You can only climb the ladder of prayer, rung by rung. Step by step. Page by page. Prayer by prayer. Awareness brings you to gratitude which brings you to humility which leads you to love which enables you to wholeheartedly embrace the Yoke of Heaven. That's a heavy process right there, no room for skimpiness.

You can't expect change and healing unless you go through all the steps. The deep breathing exercises we start off our class with is just as necessary as the intense friction on the back. The gentle music and the positive thoughts are as important as the vibrations down the calves.

Awareness brings you to gratitude which brings you to humility which leads you to love As such, I could not attain the love and acceptance of Heaven if I did not go through all prerequisite steps. Without first clearing my head, learning about G‑d, understanding the words I was saying and opening my heart, I would not get to where I desired. The effects of prayer would not be felt, nor attained by utterance alone.

There had to be más participación in all areas; mucha mucha más participación.

And it's not just in massage and not just in prayer that involvement makes all the difference. Sending over supper for a new mother is not complete if it's not warm; and what about including a good wish? Inviting a guest to sleep over in your home is generous; but you're a real "mensch" when the room is tidy and the guest is made to feel completely comfortable. Lend your music-player to your friend without warning them continuously not to break it. Give a discount to a needy customer without mentioning it. Smile as you hold open the door for another. Do your kind deeds wholeheartedly, all the way, and with as much participación and involucracion as you can summon. It's the most effective way.

And it's the Torah way.

Torah is not (only) about 613 commandments and a bunch of "you must" and "you may never" rules. Following the Torah is about having a connection with its Author, and when it comes to this relationship, complete immersion, complete participation, is required. You may be an employee from nine to five, a seatmate from 10:37-11:09, a customer for four minutes, and a high school student for four years, but some relationships are timeless. You're a family member 24/7, you're a human being 24/7 and your relationship with your Creator must be 24/7. It's the only way it can work. Just as you don't assure your husband "I'll be there for you on Tuesdays and Fridays", so you can not promise G‑d to be there "five minutes in the mornings and five minutes when I can't find a parking space". That's not a relationship. That's a (one-sided) business deal.

The Torah is called Torat Chayim, the Torah of Life. It gives us life as it guides us through life. Every part of life.

I must remember that I can't be a Torah Jew only in class, only with friends or only in the synagogue. Like breathing, Torah must be a natural and continuous part of my entire day and my every day. The Torah ought to be my fashion consultant, my dietitian and my entertainment advisor; it must be my absolute screenwriter. I am told that the rewards for such a committment are rather gratifying. When we accomplish that no part of our day is untouched by the Wisdom of Torah, we will be filled with calm, confidence and joy, for "there is no joy equal to one which comes from the alleviation of doubts".

Which brings us to Simchat Torah.

We read a portion of the Torah every Shabbat during the year. We finish the entire Five Books contained therein on the festival of Simchat Torah. We celebrate this holiday unlike any other in this holiday-filled month. Not with prayer nor with fasting, not with shofar blasts nor with willow-waving do we celebrate it, but with dancing. Pure joyous dancing. Hugging this life-giving Torah close to our hearts, we dance and sing with gratitude and appreciation. Jubilation shines from our faces.

And to acknowledge that our relationship with the Torah cannot be compartmentalized into autonomous days and deeds, on the very same day that we celebrate the completion of the Torah, we scroll right back to the first chapter, and begin reading Bereishit (Genesis).

We never stop with the Torah; it's our life.

From my massage course I've learned that to effectively reach my goal, I've got to surrender my entire being to it. Isolated bursts of energy are fine, but they don't heal, they don't cure and they definitely don't make for a very worthwhile relationship.

Like Margarita repeatedly coached me, it's not about más presión but about más participación.
« Reply #353 on: October 01, 2010, 06:11:35 PM »

If you did things right, celebrate that you have a G-d who appreciates your good work.

And if you fell on your face, celebrate that you have a G-d who does not abandon you when you fall.

Perhaps you might even allow Him to pick you up.
« Reply #354 on: October 03, 2010, 10:02:04 PM »

Holiday Over-Dosage
By Yossi Braun

My household cleaning service is getting frustrated. A festival. And then another one. And following it, a semi-festival (Chol Hamoed), where only some activities are off-limits. And then again two days off all forms of work. "Can't you guys schedule your festivals in a more organized fashion?"

It isn't much easier for us either. Cooking, grating, cleaning, baking, cleaning. Peeling, peeling, and more peeling. And did I mention cleaning? So much work just to jam-pack the stomach with cholent, fish, meat, kugel, ice cream, salads and spirits (we're only mentioning necessities, okay?). Every day. Two or three times a day. And then next week all over again...

Couldn't the Master Planner of these holidays space them out a bit more?My wallet and credit cards are also starting to kvetch under the strain. Loads of lamb shoulder steak, outfitting the entire family with matching outfits from head to toe, and front-wall seats in the synagogue get the bills skyrocketing in no time.

Couldn't the Master Planner of these holidays space them out a bit more, giving us a bit of time to breathe and recuperate before the next one? Looks like time management is not high on the list of priorities there.

And then there is the concern of overdosing. Wouldn't a monthly conveniently-sized spirituality dispenser with a small dosage to boost our spiritual circulatory system be just fine?

Here's the formal answer: The month of Tishrei is full of festivals, joy, and intensity; the following month, Cheshvan, does not even have one minor holiday. You need an extra super-duper dose of holiday spirituality to help get you through the dull, dry, festival-free month of Cheshvan.

Somehow, this answer doesn't satisfy me. That sounds like really poor planning. Cram up all the major festivals in the first month of the year and then follow it with a vacuum -- a month devoid of any parties, new outfits and stomachaches. Feels like a spiritual roller-coaster ride. Couldn't the descent "back to earth" be gradual, avoiding unnecessary turbulence and a potential collision upon landing?

Clearly, this is part of a detailed, direct, and deliberate plan. Herein lies the paradox of life: The only way to survive and cope in the outback is by filling your suitcases to the brim prior to the journey. Yet, the only way to develop coping skills and experience true independent growth is by camping in a site devoid of any amenities, facilities and resources.

The packing and planning in Tishrei, the first month of the year, is crucial to the success of our journey later on. Tishrei can be seen as the "head" of the year (the Hebrew letters of the word Tishrei can also spell the word "reishit," beginning and head). The head contains the brain, mouth, nose, ears, eyes and face -- intelligence, speech, smell, hearing and sight. All that crammed in one section of the body, the head? Couldn't these vital senses be spread out over the entire body? But that just wouldn't work. In order for the head to conduct all the affairs of the body it requires those vital tools to work with. Each of Tishrei's special days is another section of the "head" -- a source of strength and inspiration for all the following days throughout the year.

Having a festival in Cheshvan would be akin to hitting concrete pavement while hiking...Yet, the actual journey is done with the legs, or more correctly the heels (the least sensitive limb of the body), which takes its cue from the head. And it's only the heels that actually "goes places." Cheshvan is traveling time.

To get the maximum experience out of our trip we need to stock up very well before we go, with food for the journey and some basic appliances -- i.e. acceptance of G‑d's Sovereignty and awe of Heaven (Rosh Hashanah), teshuvah (Yom Kippur), joy and festivity (Sukkot), and dedication to Torah (Simchat Torah).

But, then it's time for "real life" in the jungle. Having a festival in Cheshvan would be akin to hitting concrete pavement while hiking in the countryside. It ruins the experience. This is the time to put to use all our coping and camping skills.

So let's stuff those overweight suitcases, eat to our full and write out fat checks -- loaded with sanctity, joy, commitment, resolutions and aspirations.

But, remember: at the end of the month the bills need to be paid. Come Cheshvan, make sure those checks don't bounce.
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« Reply #355 on: October 04, 2010, 06:51:01 PM »,7340,L-3963762,00.html

New halachic study says seducing enemy agents for the sake of national security is 'going above and beyond' and an 'utmost mitzvah'
« Reply #356 on: October 05, 2010, 09:30:16 PM »

Guest Columnists
The Forty-Day Mikveh
By Laibl Wolf

A nation's stories reveal its national psyche. What distinguishes the ancient Jewish spiritual tradition is its complete negation of fiction. With the rare exception of a small section of the ethical literature and one branch of Hassidic literature, the story is not a story -- it is a statement of reality, and truth is stranger than fiction.

Take the story of Noah and the global flood. A man hears a Divine instruction from Above and spends decades constructing a huge ferry that carries the species of the world across time into a new future. A mere story? Some will say so. Yet it is a curious fact that the account of the flood is contained in so many of the ancient pathways.

But the mystics of the Torah never doubted the veracity of the story. There was indeed a huge tidal destruction of the inhabited world. Why? Was it an act of cosmic wrath? Not really. Kabbalah teaches that the foremost energy that guides the cosmos is that of chessed -- goodness and compassion. Wrath is incompatible with this spiritual posture. There is clearly something much more sublime in the account of the flood.

Anyone who has been involved in renovating their house will recall those moments of self-doubt: I should have started right from scratch rather than tinkered with a bit here and bit there. But starting from scratch also destroys the memories and the emotions that are the fabric of our context and consciousness. What we would desire is the best of both worlds: a house with clean aesthetic lines and function, while retaining the warmth and hominess of its antecedent. We want to clean it up.

Something went wrong -- not with creation, but with the "wild card" -- the joker of the pack -- the human being. The cosmic house had to be renovated. Noah was chosen as builder-foreman.

That is why the Chassidic master, Rabbi Shneur Zalmen of Liadi, describes the flood as a cleansing process. The waters of the flood are like the waters of a ritualarium -- a mikveh -- where the waters spiritually cleanse the dross that accumulates in the course of our life's endeavors. The world received a spiritual cleansing, and this set the course of history on a course of hope and purpose.

Noah's is not a story. It is an account of spiritual redirection. Noah's very name reflects the positive nature of the events. The name "Noah" is etymologically connected to the word for inner peace and tranquility. This describes the mind and heart of the world after the "clean-up" of the flood. Just as a mikveh has to have 40 seah (an ancient measure of volume) of "living" waters, so did the rains of the flood last for forty days.

In all seeming adversity there is both opportunity and positivity. It may not always be apparent -- even if we look for it. But it is there. But that is only true of true stories. The fiction that derives from a finite human mind cannot contain the code for eternal truths. Hence the bias against fiction.

MASTERY: Every moment and place has a doorway for our entry. But we may not have the agility to enter with ease or elegance. Our clothes may become soiled. Our thoughts may become confused. Our feelings may be inappropriate. How many words do we say that later we would like to retract? How many thoughts do we think that we would like to recant? Therefore be pure in the spiritual clothes you wear. Be spiritually agile. Move elegantly through the trappings of life.

MEDITATION: Sit silently and recall your last meaningful conversation. What door did this episode open? Replay your words in your mind and determine what legacy they left -- both for you and the other. What feelings did that conversation awaken in you? Are these optimal? Could they be spiritually refined, even now, long after the conversation has ended? Every week, perhaps on Shabbat, enter your ark and rise above the turbulent waters of everyday affairs. Enter your spiritual spa and purify both body and soul.

Follow-up resources: The Healing Light (audio) and Relax and Breath (audio) available at Rabbi Wolf's Website (see link below)
« Reply #357 on: October 06, 2010, 08:57:16 AM »

How to Stop a Crying Baby

By Aron Moss

Question :
I feel so hard done by. I hate feeling like this when I know that I have many blessings to be grateful for, like a great family and wonderful children. But no matter how hard I work, it always seems like others have it much easier than I do. They are left inheritances, win prizes, travel the world, and I just slog and slave to live a decent life. I harbor such negativity – it is unhealthy. How can I start feeling more grateful for my blessings and less resentful about my hardships?

I hear your frustration. Let me offer you some wisdom that I was taught this morning. I learned it from my baby daughter.

She continued to sob, oblivious of my efforts to make her smileShe has been unwell and very moody and clingy over the last few days. This morning, for no apparent reason, she would not stop crying – nothing I did would placate her. I made funny faces, dangled her dolly in front of her and rubbed it in her face, sang silly songs, and made strange noises by cupping my hand underneath my armpit. But she continued to sob, oblivious of my efforts to make her smile.

So I changed tactics. I sat next to her on the floor and started crying myself.

It worked. She stopped crying immediately. First she looked at me a little surprised. But then, from behind her tears emerged a broad smile, and she started laughing. The more I cried, the more she giggled. She had finally snapped out of it, and we had some happy moments together for the first time in days.

Later I reflected on what had happened. What made her stop crying? Why was she laughing? Then it hit me. It is so simple.

The minute we focus on someone else's pain, we forget our own.

In her own babyish way, my daughter was doing what we all do sometimes, wallow in our own problems and feel miserable about them. This mindset is self-perpetuating. The more we think about our problems, the more miserable we feel, and the more we feel miserable, the more we focus on what we lack.

The best way to break this cycle is to look outside of ourselves and see if we can help someone else.She could now stop crying because she was freed from being stuck in herself As long as I was trying to take my baby daughter out of her sadness, it was her and her sadness that absorbed our attention. The second I shifted the focus and started crying myself, she was drawn out of her own sadness and became aware of my presence and my needs. She could now stop crying because she was freed from being stuck in herself. She was no longer the pitiful crybaby; she was the comforter and soother of a crying dad. So she laughed.

I think my baby girl is right. You may have good reason to feel down. But you need to stop soaking in self-pity and look around at what good you can do for others. Don't think of what you need, think of how you are needed. Don't look at what you are missing, see the gifts you can share with those who may be missing them.

You have so much to offer and so much good you can do. Don't let bitterness and envy prevent your soul from giving forth its light. It's time for your baby to stop crying and start smiling.
« Reply #358 on: October 08, 2010, 08:11:38 AM »

Can I Pray With an iPhone? Staff


I have a siddur app on my iPhone. Some people say I should only pray with a real paper and cardboard siddur. Will G‑d still listen if my siddur is electronic instead?


Aside from holding the entire Torah, Talmud, Maimonides, Code of Jewish Law and Tanya et al, providing access to thousands of classic works with the app and allowing mobile surfing of, another way you can assist that little device to fulfill its true purpose in life is by praying with it.

You've got a built-in compass, so you know you're facing east. At least one siddur app adjusts to display the relevant prayers for that day. It's lighter than any hard-copy siddur, and some of us find scrolling easier than to page flipping.

There are also disadvantages: If you bow too deeply, the display turns upside down in an attempt to accommodate. Beyond that, a real siddur has a certain sanctity to it that a virtual siddur cannot attain. It’s not disposable--a siddur is buried when it’s done its term--and the text is an integral part of its hardware rather than cyberdust that goes poof into the world of electron charges every time you turn it off.

You definitely can't pray from an iphone on Shabbat. G‑d rested from electronics on that day as well--and He instructed us to do the same. That's great. Just as resting on the seventh day undermined the institution of slavery in the ancient world, so it releases us from our slavery to technology in the techno-world.

During the week, the only halachic issue with an iPhone is the distractions bundled with it. Attempting to engage the Ultimate Master of the Universe while texting back and forth with your buddies is not going to work. Same thing with those auto-notifications about your email, etc.. Prayer is entirely a one-on-one connection--it demands your absolute and undivided attention. Imagine standing before your boss asking for a raise or having a heart-to-heart talk with your beloved—and texting your friends while you're at it.

Then of course, there is the very annoying issue of ring tones—the latest plague upon all houses of worship. These tones, after all, are designed to distract and annoy. One slips into a mode of rapture and mystic union with the divine only to be rudely cast back into the harsh material world by a neighbor's pocket blasting the cancan. The entire ambience of prayer falls through the floor.

The ring tone issue is easily solved by switching to vibrate. Notifications can be turned off in Settings. But you're still going to have those incoming calls and text messages popping up over your siddur. To avoid these, the only trick I know is to switch to Airplane Mode. It seems to me that this is a must for proper praying. Look, if you can do it on the runways of Planet Earth, you can do it on the runway to heaven as well.
« Reply #359 on: October 08, 2010, 08:44:18 AM »

What Is Love?
by Gila Manolson
Many people believe love is a sensation that magically generates when Mr. or Ms. Right appears. No wonder so many people are single. An excerpt from "Head to Heart."

A few years ago, I spoke to a group of high-schoolers about the Jewish idea of love.

"Someone define love," I said.

No response.

"Doesn't anyone want to try?" I asked.

Still no response.

"Tell you what: I'll define it, and you raise your hands if you agree. Okay?"


"Okay. Love is that feeling you get when you meet the right person."

Every hand went up. And I thought, Oy.

This is how many people approach a relationship. Consciously or unconsciously, they believe love is a sensation (based on physical and emotional attraction) that magically, spontaneously generates when Mr. or Ms. Right appears. And just as easily, it can spontaneously degenerate when the magic "just isn't there" anymore. You fall in love, and you can fall out of it.

The key word is passivity. Erich Fromm, in his famous treatise "The Art of Loving," noted the sad consequence of this misconception: "There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love." (That was back in 1956 -- chances are he'd be even more pessimistic today.)

So what is love -- real, lasting love?

Love is the attachment that results from deeply appreciating another's goodness.

The word "goodness" may surprise you. After all, most love stories don't feature a couple enraptured with each other's ethics. ("I'm captivated by your values!" he told her passionately. "And I've never met a man with such morals!" she cooed.) But in her study of real-life successful marriages ("The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts"), Judith Wallerstein reports that "the value these couples placed on the partner's moral qualities was an unexpected finding."

To the Jewish mind, it isn't unexpected at all. What we value most in ourselves, we value most in others. God created us to see ourselves as good (hence our need to either rationalize or regret our wrongdoings). So, too, we seek goodness in others. Nice looks, an engaging personality, intelligence, and talent (all of which count for something) may attract you, but goodness is what moves you to love.


If love comes from appreciating goodness, it needn't just happen -- you can make it happen. Love is active. You can create it. Just focus on the good in another person (and everyone has some). If you can do this easily, you'll love easily.

I was once at an intimate concert in which the performer, a deeply spiritual person, gazed warmly at his audience and said, "I want you to know, I love you all." I smiled tolerantly and thought, "Sure." Looking back, though, I realize my cynicism was misplaced. This man naturally saw the good in others, and our being there said enough about us that he could love us. Judaism actually idealizes this universal, unconditional love.

Obviously, there's a huge distance from here to the far more profound, personal love developed over the years, especially in marriage. But seeing goodness is the beginning.

Susan learned about this foundation of love after becoming engaged to David. When she called her parents to tell them the good news, they were elated. At the end of the conversation, her mother said, "Darling, I want you to know we love you, and we love David."

Susan was a bit dubious. "Mom," she said hesitantly, "I really appreciate your feelings, but, in all honesty, how can you say you love someone you've never met?"

"We're choosing to love him," her mother explained, "because love is a choice."

There's no better wisdom Susan's mother could have imparted to her before marriage. By focusing on the good, you can love almost anyone.


Now that you're feeling so warmly toward the entire human race, how can you deepen your love for someone? The way God created us, actions affect our feelings most. For example, if you want to become more compassionate, thinking compassionate thoughts may be a start, but giving tzedaka (charity) will get you there. Likewise, the best way to feel loving is to be loving -- and that means giving.

While most people believe love leads to giving, the truth (as Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes in his famous discourse on loving kindness) is exactly the opposite: Giving leads to love.

What is giving? When an enthusiastic handyman happily announces to his non- mechanically inclined wife, "Honey, wait till you see what I got you for your birthday -- a triple-decker toolbox!" that's not giving. Neither is a father's forcing violin lessons on his son because he himself always dreamed of being a virtuoso.

True giving, as Erich Fromm points out, is other-oriented, and requires four elements. The first is care, demonstrating active concern for the recipient's life and growth. The second is responsibility, responding to his or her expressed and unexpressed needs (particularly, in an adult relationship, emotional needs). The third is respect, "the ability to see a person as he [or she] is, to be aware of his [or her] unique individuality," and, consequently, wanting that person to "grow and unfold as he [or she] is." These three components all depend upon the fourth, knowledge. You can care for, respond to, and respect another only as deeply as you know him or her.


The effect of genuine, other-oriented giving is profound. It allows you into another person's world and opens you up to perceiving his or her goodness. At the same time, it means investing part of yourself in the other, enabling you to love this person as you love yourself.

Many years ago, I met a woman whom I found very unpleasant. So I decided to try out the "giving leads to love" theory. One day I invited her for dinner. A few days later I offered to help her with a personal problem. On another occasion I read something she'd written and offered feedback and praise. Today we have a warm relationship. The more you give, the more you love. This is why your parents (who've given you more than you'll ever know) undoubtedly love you more than you love them, and you, in turn, will love your own children more than they'll love you.

Because deep, intimate love emanates from knowledge and giving, it comes not overnight but over time -- which nearly always means after marriage. The intensity many couples feel before marrying is usually great affection boosted by commonality, chemistry, and anticipation. These may be the seeds of love, but they have yet to sprout. On the wedding day, emotions run high, but true love should be at its lowest, because it will hopefully always be growing, as husband and wife give more and more to each other.

A woman I know once explained why she's been happily married for 25 years. "A relationship has its ups and downs," she told me. "The downs can be really low -- and when you're in one, you have three choices: Leave, stay in a loveless marriage, or choose to love your spouse."

Dr. Jill Murray (author of "But I Love Him: Protecting Your Daughter from Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships") writes that if someone mistreats you while professing to love you, remember: "Love is a behavior." A relationship thrives when partners are committed to behaving lovingly through continual, unconditional giving -- not only saying, "I love you," but showing it.

Reprinted with permission from "HEAD TO HEART" by Gila Manolson. Published by: Targum Press, Inc.
« Reply #360 on: October 10, 2010, 10:14:43 AM »

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The Ultimate Employee

By Naftali Silberberg


You're looking for a manager to run a new store you've just opened. Two people apply for the job, both honest and upright individuals, both seemingly credentialed for the position. The resumes indicate that Applicant A was until recently employed as a manager of a successful retail establishment. Applicant B was an entrepreneur who had actually owned a similar store in the past—but had closed it when it failed to show a profit.

Whom do you hire?


If you follow conventional reasoning, you will go with the guy who successfully managed in the past. Out-of-the-box thinking, however, dictates that you give the nod to the guy who went bankrupt.

A tzaddik is an indentured employee, someone accustomed to following ordersThere is a fundamental difference between a business owner and an employee. On average, an employee's primary function is to follow orders; he doesn't take risks and he's not expected to expand the business in completely new directions. An owner, on the other hand, answers to no one. He has only one concern, and that is increasing his company's revenues. Typically, an entrepreneur is more an independent and original thinker.

And while Applicant B failed in his last endeavor, with proper direction and oversight – with care taken that these directions not quash his entrepreneurial spirit – odds are that he can take your store to levels that Applicant A cannot even imagine.

The Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim, 19th century Baghdadi scholar) uses this analogy to explain the Talmudic saying (Berachot 34b), "In the place that ba'alei teshuvah (penitents) stand, perfect tzaddikim (righteous individuals) cannot stand."

A tzaddik is an indentured employee, someone accustomed to following orders. He has never tasted independence, never been on his own. Though he honestly and industriously labors in G‑d's service, he has never felt the need to take a gamble, never felt the rush experienced by someone who goes out on a limb—he's always on the straight and steady.

In contrast, the baal teshuvah was hitherto self-employed. Yes he closed up shop when he realized that his company wasn't profitable, but in the interim he had tasted freedom and independence. He wasn't following any set of rules when he was pursuing his desires and pleasures. He learned how to think unconventionally and how to drum up business when it seemed that none was to be found.

They both make for nice employees, they'll both drum up business for their Employer, but...

"In the place that the ba'al teshuvah stands, the perfect tzaddik cannot stand."
« Reply #361 on: October 11, 2010, 12:41:26 PM »

Israel's Man of Courage

By Deena Yellin
Steve Averbach was riding the Egged No. 6 bus in Jerusalem on the morning of May 18, 2003 when a Palestinian terrorist disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew boarded the bus near the French Hill neighborhood. As a gun instructor, police officer and former Golani soldier, Averbach was trained to search crowds for suspicious people.

He noted the man's clean-shaven face and telltale bulge of explosives and reached for his weapon. His act scared the terrorist into detonating himself prematurely, saving an untold number of lives. He blew up a near-empty bus instead of waiting for the Downtown crowds. Hamas took responsibility for the attack.

A steel ball bearing tore into his spine, forever altering his lifeAverbach's severely wounded body was found in the wreckage. Glass had punctured his lungs. A steel ball bearing tore into his spine, forever altering his life. His hand was still on the trigger of his gun. He was barely conscious but he mustered enough strength to inform police that his gun was loaded. He didn't want anyone to get hurt.

An investigation confirmed that the bomber had planned an explosion in the center of town. Averbach had prevented dozens of deaths and was given a government award for bravery.

His heroism earned him fans the world over. He received letters and visitors from France, Australia and North Carolina. Actor Christopher Reeve visited Averbach as he was recovering at Sheba Medical Center to talk to him about stem cell research.

But Averbach's exhibition of courage wasn't over.

The strong and courageous soldier and gun instructor, whose prowess with weapons won him the nickname "Guns," now remained confined to a wheelchair, unable to even scratch his nose. He was paralyzed from the neck down, a prisoner in his body. Nevertheless, the 37-year-old father of four insisted on living his life without regrets.

"If I had to, I would do it all again," he said of his split-second choice to pull his gun on the terrorist instead of fleeing for his safety. "It was required of me… If I wouldn't have done anything, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself."

He admitted in an interview in 2004 that he missed playing Frisbee with his four sons, taking them to the beach and teaching them to ride a bike. And yet, as his aide held a straw to his mouth so he could sip a drink, he asserted, "I made a choice. My choice was the correct one, so I can live with the outcome."

"He talked to everyone and they were changed from the experience"Not content to spend the remainder of his life as a quiet spectator, he became an activist. He spoke to crowds from Bar Ilan University, Young Judea, Birthright Israel, and at Jewish centers and synagogues throughout America. He talked about making a difference in the world and what it meant to sacrifice for the Jewish people.

He made an impact on everyone he met, said his sister, Eileen Sapadin of Englewood. "He was very much alive. Whatever he had left to give, he gave. He talked to everyone and they were changed from the experience."

Averbach saw beyond his personal suffering, and wanted to help the many people in Israel whose lives were affected by terrorist attacks. Although traveling was difficult for him, he opted to raise funds by speaking to groups throughout the world. Through speaking engagements, he raised thousands of dollars for Tikvot, an Israeli non-profit organization which helps rehabilitate terror victims and their families through sports activities. Averbach was appointed the organization's vice president.

Sapadin's husband, Allen Sapadin, a Hackensack dermatologist, said he was never surprised by Averbach's bravery on the bus in 2003. But he was amazed and awed by Averbach's courage every day since he became a quadriplegic.

"Even with his suffering, he said he would do it all again and meant it," he said. "He never expressed anger or bitterness about his situation. He felt his job was to protect Israel. That's something he would never have relinquished. That's how dedicated he was to Israel."

Eileen, added, "He suffered quietly. He didn't complain." After the attack, he didn't describe himself as a victim of terror, but as a survivor of terror.

Even before Averbach boarded Bus No. 6, he led a noble life, Eileen said. "He moved to Israel by himself when he was just a teenager. He joined the army, and not just any unit, but the most elite unit. He trained experts to fight terrorism. He had such a love for Israel. He wanted people to understand how important it was to support Israel. He wanted people to be educated about their duty to defend themselves."

Averbach grew up in West Long Branch, New Jersey and was a restless teenager, popular among his classmates at Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township. He visited Israel in 1982 at age 16 and instantly fell in love with the country. "He felt at home there," said his mother, Maida Averbach, a nurse in Long Branch. "Once he went to Israel, he felt he had to live there. He told me, 'These are my people.'"

Although he didn't know any Hebrew at the time, the moment he got off the plane, he realized Israel was totally unique and wanted to stay. "The love for the country fell right over me," he told a newspaper reporter years later.

He didn't describe himself as a victim of terror, but as a survivor of terrorHe made aliyah at age 18 and joined the elite Golani unit of the IDF, fighting in Lebanon and Gaza. He later worked in the Jerusalem Police Department's anti-terrorist unit and as an instructor at a school that trains police officers and security firms.

Rabbi Howie Jachter, Judaic Studies Instructor at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, New Jersey, dedicated a book to Averbach in 2003. The book is a compilation of original insights, by students, on the Talmud, said Jachter. Averbach spoke at the school and left a strong impression on everyone who heard his story. "We wanted to do something, so we decided to dedicate the book to him because of his heroism and dedication to the Nation and Land of Israel. We also did it in support of Steve's nephew, Daniel Sapadin, a member of the class."

Israel's fearless man of steel died in his sleep on June 3, 2010 at age 44, a result of complications from his paralysis… But not before inspiring hundreds around the world who met him, were saved by him, and heard the tale of his selfless love for Israel.

Several hundred mourners accompanied Averbach to his final resting place in Jerusalem's Har HaMenuchot cemetery. Among them were members of the Israeli police, IDF, people whose lives he saved, and friends and admirers from all walks of life.

"He was brave," Maida Averbach said. "He didn't like his situation but he was brave. He dealt with it as best he could. And he helped other terror victims too. He rose to the occasion. He inspired people."
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« Reply #362 on: October 11, 2010, 02:03:26 PM »

Lots of examples of bravery in Israel, many examples of people who chose to engage terrorists to protect others.
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Posts: 42558

« Reply #363 on: October 11, 2010, 05:02:41 PM »

Glenn Beck recently spoke of a conversation between Moses and God wherein God commanded Moses to accomplish something.

But how?

Use what you have in your hand.

But its only a stick/staff!

Use it.

Something like this.  Anyone have the reference/story?

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Posts: 42558

« Reply #364 on: October 12, 2010, 10:23:33 AM »

While awaiting an answer to my previous question, here's this on monotheism in Judaism:

The History of Monotheism
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Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The essence of Judaism is the belief in the One G-d. Indeed, all monotheistic faiths trace their origin to Abraham, the discoverer (or re-discoverer) of this truth.

The Jewish belief in G-d is expressed in the first two of the Ten Commandments. The first affirms the truth of His being. The second is the negative complement to the first--the disavowal of idolatry. Idolatry is not necessarily a lack of belief in G-d; indeed, the Second Commandment begins, "You shall have no other gods before Me..." Rather, idolatry also includes any denial of G-d's oneness -- his absolute singularity, unity and exclusiveness of being. To ascribe any divisions or compartmentalizations to the divine being, or to believe that G-d has any partners or intermediaries to His creation and sustenance of the universe, is to transgress the prohibition of idolatry.

The particulars of the laws of idolatry are spelled out by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, in a twelve-chapter section entitled Laws Concerning Idolatry and its Customs. Here Maimonides defines idolatry and examines the various forms of idol-worship and its accompanying practices, the penalties they carry, the status of an idolator, etc.

In the first chapter of Laws Concerning Idolatry, Maimonides outlines the history of man's recognition of the truth of the One G-d. Originally, man knew his Maker; but "in the generation of Enosh (Adam's grandson), humanity erred grievously, and the wisdom of that generations wise men was confused; Enosh himself was among those who erred. Their error lay in that they believed that it would be pleasing to G-d if they were to venerate the forces of nature which serve Him, as a king desires that his ministers and servants be venerated. Soon they were erecting temples and altars to the sun and the stars, offering sacrifices and hymns of praise to them, believing all this to be the will of G-d."

In later generations, Maimonides continues, "there arose false prophets... and other charlatans who claimed to have received communications from the various heavenly bodies as to how they are to be served and which images are to represent them. As the years went by, the venerable and awesome name of G-d was forgotten from the lips and minds of humanity; no longer were they aware of Him at all. The common folk knew only the wood or stone image in its stone temple which they had been trained from childhood to bow down to and serve and swear by; the wiser ones among them believed in the stars and constellations that these images represented; but none recognized or even knew of the Creator except for rare individuals such as Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem and Eber. And so the world turned until the pillar of the universe, our father Abraham, was born.

"No sooner was [Abraham] weaned -- and he was but a small child -- that his mind began to seek and wonder: How do the heavenly bodies orbit without a moving force? Who moves them? They cannot move themselves! Immersed amongst the foolish idol-worshippers of Ur Casdim, he had no one to teach him anything; his father, mother and countrymen, and he amongst them, all worshipped idols. But his heart sought, and came to know that there is one G-d... who created all and that in all existence there is none other than Him. He came to know that the entire world erred...

"At the age of forty, Abraham recognized his Creator... He began to debate with the people of Ur Casdim... He smashed the idols, and began to teach the people that it is only fitting to serve the one G-d... He continued to call in a great voice to the world, teaching them that there is one G-d for the entire universe, and that He alone is it fitting to serve. He carried his call from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom... Many gathered to ask about his words, and he would explain to each according to his understanding until he had shown him the path of truth. Thousands and then tens of thousands joined him...and he implanted this great principle in their heart and wrote many books on it. After Abraham's passing, Isaac, and then Jacob, continued his work, until Jacob's descendents, and those who joined them, formed a nation that knew G-d.

"However, when the people of Israel dwelled in Egypt for many years, they regressed to learn from the behavior of the Egyptians and to worship idols with them... just a little longer, and the great principle implanted by Abraham would have been uprooted, and the descendents of Jacob would have reverted to the error of humanity and their contorted ways. But out of G-d's love to us, and His keeping of the oath He made to Abraham... G-d chose Israel as His, crowned them with mitzvot, and instructed them the way in which to serve Him, and the laws concerning idolatry and those who err with it."

History as Law

Thus Maimonides concludes the first chapter of Laws Concerning Idolatry. In the next eleven chapters he proceeds to spell out the legal particulars of "idolatry and those who err with it."

The Mishneh Torah is a purely Halachic, or legal, work. On the rare occasions on which Maimonides digresses with an historical fact or a philosophical insight, it is always revealed, upon closer examination, to be a legally instructive point. The same is true of the opening chapter of Laws Concerning Idolatry: every detail of this lengthy history is a Halachah, a crucial component of the Torah's prohibition of idolatry. In this essay, we will dwell on two of the important points that Maimonides is making in this chapter.

Maimonides' first point is that idolatry is not only a religious sin but also a rational error. Enosh's generation "erred grievously and the wisdom of that generation's wise men was confused"; humanity was deceived by false prophets and charlatans. Abraham arrived at the truth of G-d's oneness not by Divine revelation or supernatural powers, but in a process by which "his mind began to seek and wander... until he comprehended the truth and understood the righteous path by his sound wisdom." He gained adherents to his faith not by working wonders or prophesying in the name of G-d, but by explaining to each according to his understanding, until he had shown him the path of truth. Maimonides does not mention G-d's many revelations to Abraham (see Genesis 12:1, 12:7 15:1-21, et al); he also makes no mention of the many prophecies and miracles that accompanied the development of the nation that knew G-d in its formative years. For even if none of this had come to pass, man could still have come to recognize the oneness of G-d, and would have been expected to do so. Idolatry is irrational; man, using nothing more than his capacity to reason, can discern its fallacy and discover the truth.

[This is also emphasized by Maimonides' statement that "At the age of forty, Abraham recognized his Creator." There exist several accounts as to the year of Abraham's discovery. The Talmud states that Abraham recognized his Creator at age three; other sources cite his age at the time as 4; other as 50. Maimonides' source seems to be a variant version of the Midrash that states that he was 48t. As many commentaries suggest, there is no contradiction between these accounts -- each represents another level of recognition achieved by Abraham; indeed, Maimonides himself informs us that his quest began "soon after he was weaned, and he was but a small child." Why, then, does Maimonides choose to speak particularly of the recognition Abraham attained at age forty? Indeed, of what Halachic significance is Abraham's age at all? But Maimonides wishes to again underscore that Abraham's refutation of idolatry was a rational one. Forty is described by our sages as "the age of understanding" -- the point at which a person's cognitive powers attain full maturity. Thus, the level of discovery Abraham achieved at age forty represents his ultimate understanding of the divine truth.]

On the other hand, near the end of the historical account, Maimonides makes the very opposite point: without Divine intervention, the faith founded by Abraham would not have survived.

Human reason is not enough. It can expose fallacies, discover truth, transform a life, convince thousands, found a nation. But it is only as strong as the human self of which it springs. It can be distorted and suppressed by the tribulations of life: break the person, and you have invalidated his or her ideas. The exile and hardship experienced by the Israelites in Egypt almost destroyed the nation that knew G-d. If G-d had not revealed Himself to us at Sinai, the great principle implanted by Abraham would have been uprooted.

Mind and More

In the first chapter of Laws Concerning Idolatry, Maimonides is instructing us how the mitzvah "You shall have no other gods before Me" is to be observed.

It is not enough to say: "G-d revealed Himself to us at Sinai and told us that there are no other deities or forces that are partner to His being and His rulership of the universe. So I know that it is so. If He said so, that's enough for me: the logic of this truth is irrelevant." No, says Maimonides. The Second Commandment obligates the Jew that his mind, not only his convictions, should negate the possibility of other gods. He must not only accept that this is so, but also comprehend that, rationally, it cannot be otherwise. Every Jew is commanded to develop the recognition of Divine truth attained by Abraham: a recognition so absolute that it can, by the force of reason alone, dispel a universally entrenched doctrine and convince thousands to transform their lives.

On the other hand, a person might take this to the other extreme, and say: "The oneness of G-d is not a matter of faith, it's a fact. The nature of reality attests to it--I can prove it to anyone. It is the revelation at Sinai that is irrelevant. Monotheism is a rational truth, supported by irrefutable arguments."

That may be so, Maimonides is saying, but the Jew's denial of alien gods is more than an irrefutable philosophy. It is a faith implanted in the core of our souls, which endures also when logic ceases to function and reason is rendered impotent. To truly believe one must comprehend, but comprehension alone is but the mortal shadow of immortal faith. The philosophy-faith of Abraham barely survived Egypt; the supra-rational faith we attained at Sinai, where G-d chose Israel as His, crowned them with mitzvot, and instructed them the way in which to serve Him, has survived a hundred Egypts and every madness of history.

« Reply #365 on: October 13, 2010, 04:35:51 PM »

Glenn Beck recently spoke of a conversation between Moses and God wherein God commanded Moses to accomplish something.

But how?

Use what you have in your hand.

But its only a stick/staff!

Use it.

Something like this.  Anyone have the reference/story?

Hi Marc,
I'm not familiar with that story.  

I am posting a couple of  articles that are sort of related but are not what you wanted

Family Parshah
By Moshe Bogomilsky

Moses said to G-d, "Behold I am of uncircumcised (closed) lips..." G-d's response: "See, I have made you master over Pharaoh; and Aharon your brother shall be your spokesman." (6:30-7:1)

Question: How did the fact that G-d had made Moses a master over Pharaoh and had appointed Aharon his spokesman refute Moses's argument that his speech difficulty made him an unsuitable messenger?

Answer: Every nation has its own language. Usually, when heads of governments meet, each speaks his native tongue with an interpreter between them. An exception to this rule is a meeting between the head of a small country and the head of a major power. Then it is customary to speak the language of the larger country.

When G-d told Moses to deliver a message to Pharaoh, he assumed that he was to speak in the Egyptian language. He therefore told G-d that since he had left Egypt at a young age and was now 80 years old, he lacked fluency in the Egyptian language and would have to stutter to find the proper words.1

G-d told him, "I have appointed you a master over Pharaoh. Thus, he is your inferior, and you are the head of a major empire. Consequently, in accordance with proper protocol, you will address him in Hebrew. Do not be concerned about his inability to understand Hebrew because Aharon will be your interpreter."

Moses said to G-d, "Behold, I am of uncircumcised (closed) lips." (6:30)

Question: He was referring to the injury which he suffered when he touched his tongue with a burning coal (see here for the full story). Why was his tongue injured and not his hand?

Answer: When Pharaoh's daughter Batya found the baby Moses in the Nile River, she asked a number of Egyptian women to nurse him. Destined to speak directly with G-d, "mouth to mouth,"2 Moses refused their milk.

However, during the process, some of the milk of the Egyptian nurses fell on his tongue and he spat it out immediately.

When non-kosher food comes in contact with a kosher utensil it needs to be made Kosher ("Koshering"). This is normally done by immersing the utensil in boiling water or using fire to make it red hot so that it will expel whatever it had absorbed. Thus, Moses's tongue was burned in order to remove all traces of Egyptian milk.

See, I have made you a master over Pharaoh. (7:1)

Question: It should have said, "I will make you" (in the future tense).

Answer: In the above-mentioned incident during Moses's childhood, in which Pharaoh tested the young lad who had taken off his crown, Pharaoh was unable to discover that Moses was the redeemer of the Jews, but Moses injured his mouth, affecting his power of speech.

There is no event that occurs accidentally. Every incident is governed by Divine Providence. When the episode with Moses and Pharaoh's crown occurred, G-d declared him Pharaoh's master and took away from Pharaoh the power to harm him.

Now, eighty years later, G-d said to Moses, "I have already made you a master over Pharaoh for many years, and just as he was unable to do you any harm then, now too, efforts to harm you will be of no avail."

Aharon threw his staff in front of Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a snake. (7:10)

Question: What message did Moses and Aharon want to give Pharaoh?

Answer: Pharaoh claimed that the Jews had sinned and that they did not deserve to be taken out of Egypt. Moses and Aharon responded that a person's environment plays a very important role in his development.

Even a holy staff can turn into a vicious snake in the company of Pharaoh. On the other hand, a "snake" in the company of Moses and Aharon can transform itself in to a holy staff.

1.   See Rashbam 4:10.
2.   See Numbers 12:

The Wonderful Staff
Tzipporah, Yithro's daughter, was famous for her fine character and beauty. In Midyan, where she lived with her father and six sisters, people often talked of Tzipporah's kindness and wisdom. Many were the princes who came to Yithro, seeking the hand of his daughter in marriage.

To all suitors Yithro had but one answer: "In my garden there grows a wonderful staff. If your Royal Highness will get it out of the ground, Tzipporah will be yours."

Eagerly the suitor would go into the garden and up to that wonderful staff glittering in the sun with a million colors and hues. His first attempt to pull the staff out of the ground would bring no results. Again and again he would try to pull at the staff with all his might, but of no avail. The staff simply could not be dislodged from the ground. Thus the princes came hopefully, and left abashed and mystified. Tzipporah would often go into the garden, admire the wonderful staff and wonder who her husband would be.

But how did this wonderful staff come to be there? Well, it is quite a story.

The staff was as old as the world itself. When G-d created the world, He created that wonderful staff out of pure sapphire. On it were engraved the Hebrew letters of G-d's Name, and ten other mysterious letters.

G-d gave this staff to Adam to walk with it in the Garden of Eden. Later it turned up in the hands of the pious Noah, and he passed it on to Shem.

Shem passed it on to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob treasured it greatly, and before Jacob died in Egypt, he gave it to Joseph. When Joseph died, Yithro, who was one of Pharaoh's chief counsellors, took it. Returning to Midyan, Yithro planted it in his garden, and there it stuck in the ground and nobody could get it out again.

When Moses fled from Egypt and finally found refuge in Midyan, in the house of Yithro, he took a walk in the garden and saw the Divine staff. He barely touched it, when the staff almost jumped out of the ground. There he was, holding that Divine staff, and he brought it into the house.

Yithro knew then that Moses was a G-dly man. He offered him to become his son-in-law, and Moses gladly agreed.

It was with this Divine staff that Moses later performed all the miracles in Egypt at G-d's command. With this staff, too, Moses split the Red Sea, and brought water out of the rock.

This Divine staff will turn up again in the hands of Messiah, a descendant of David, who will once again perform wonderful miracles with it at G-d's command, when the hour of Israel's complete Redemption will come.

« Last Edit: October 13, 2010, 04:43:31 PM by Rachel » Logged
« Reply #366 on: October 13, 2010, 04:42:51 PM »

By Yanki Tauber

It's probably the oldest question in the history of human thought. It's surely the most disturbing, the most frequently asked and the least satisfactorily answered: Why, oh why, do bad things happen to good people?

Everyone asks the question: philosophers, theologians, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. No one really answers it. The Bible devotes the 41 chapters of the Book of Job to the subject, offering several interesting explanations only to refute them all, the conclusion being that finite man cannot fathom the ways of G-d.

For most, the protest against evil is something that rises out of one's own encounters with the rough spots of life. To a true leader who feels the pain of his people as his own, it is a bottomless cry issuing from the seemingly bottomless well of human suffering.

It didn't take long for Moses to issue that cry. Shortly after G-d appeared to him in a burning bush to appoint him liberator of Israel, Moses was back.

And Moses returned to G-d and said: "My G-d, why have You done evil to this people?! Why have You sent me?! For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done worse to this nation; and You have not saved Your people!'' (Exodus 5:22-23).

And what does G-d say? Hold on just a little longer and you'll see that it all turns out right at the end. Encouraging words, especially when coming from G-d Himself; but still no answer for the ultimate Question.

Was it a failing on the part of Moses that he protested G-d's way of doing things? A cursory reading of the Talmudic and Midrashic expositions on Moses' dialogue with G-d would suggest that it was. Moses is criticized for not measuring up to the unquestioning faith of the Patriarchs; by some accounts, he is even punished for his outburst.

But a fundamental rule of Torah scholarship is that "the Torah does not speak negatively even of an impure animal" unless there is a positive, constructive lesson to be derived. To what end does the Torah tell us about Moses' "failing"?

Some would say that this is to teach us that even great men such as Moses can experience doubt and despair. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, takes a different approach. Moses' protest to G-d , says the Rebbe, was not a breach of faith, but an act of faith of the highest order.

Indeed, the question/protest/outcry, "Why have You done evil to Your people?!" can issue only from the mouth of a true believer. The non-believer, too, may be outraged by the cruelty and suffering our world abounds with, but just who is he outraged at? The blind workings of fate? The oblivious and apersonal god of physical law and evolutionary process? The random arrangement of quarks that make up the universe?

Even people who believe in G-d are not necessarily driven to confront Him as Moses did. They may not believe that He is truly responsible for all that transpires in the world. They may not be convinced of His ultimate goodness. They may think that it's pointless to protest to Him, since He doesn't really care how they feel about it. Or maybe everything's just fine in their lives, and what's happening to the rest of the world just doesn't concern them.

The true believer, on the other hand, knows that everything that happens happens only because it is ordained from Above. He knows that G-d is the essence of good and that only good flows from Him. And he also knows that man can talk to G-d and expect a response to his entreaties. So he cannot but cry out: "My G-d, why have You done evil to Your people?!"

This is what we must learn from Moses. We must speak to G-d, confront Him, ask Him: Why is there evil and suffering in Your world? We do not know enough to comprehend the answer; we must, however, believe and care enough to ask the question.
« Reply #367 on: October 18, 2010, 09:43:02 PM »

Friends Don't Grow on Trees
by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon
Why are some people blessed with wonderful, caring friends while others seem destined for loneliness?


I have a gut feeling that 'Friends' is something more than a trendy sitcom. I mean Google just gave me 63,000,000 references for friends, in .28 seconds. That should tell us something.

And it does. Our search, our desire, and our need to surround ourselves with people we can share our lives with, begins when we are not yet verbal and seems to never ever end.

At times, it seems that our very existence is frequently dominated by the friends we have -- or have not. We long for friends; we require friends. We yearn for friends; we pine for friends. Friends can give us reason to live… to cry… to emulate… to strive… to show off… to play… to be silly… and to be somber.

What power!

And yet, defining exactly where this immense might really emanates from is elusive. Think of your three closest friends and try to identify the role they play in your life. Not so easy, is it? Now try to imagine experiencing any event of your life, of even minor significance, without any good friend with you. What could be more sad?

But attaining success in this most critical pursuit is far from automatic. We are all familiar with people who are surrounded with loads of good, loyal friends, while others know of no such circle. Instead, they shuffle along, pretending to love their autonomy and solitude ("You can't really count on anyone but yourself…"), while they suffer in silence -- alone, dispirited, and secretly afraid of tomorrow.

The question is, "Why?" Why are some people seemingly blessed with wonderful, wise, and caring friends while so many others somehow appear destined for loneliness?

The question is a troubling one. Not only because it affects so many people so profoundly, but because it calls into focus the ageless quandary about God's role in pre-determining our lives vs. our own efforts in causing our successes and failures. What is the reality? Are some people really blessed with those great relationships? Are others actually destined for a life of insipid isolation?


Great minds have grappled with this most central life question throughout the millennia. Philosophical literature and responsa are replete with attempts at unlocking the mystery of exactly how much God intervenes and determines our destiny and our decisions in life. While far from being an authority on this most confounding topic, I can state one truism about it. Not too many of us ever did or ever will fully understand it.

What does seem clear, however, is that few, if any, events in our personal lives occur without both of these dynamics at play. In other words, just about everything that happens to us, happens as a result of a combination of God's will and our own efforts.

For example, no one ever became a millionaire by collecting tolls on the Bayonne Bridge. Becoming exceedingly wealthy usually requires a plan of action, a failure or three, and a heck of a lot of effort. And then some divine intervention, as well (or a very rich and dead uncle). And yet, many follow the exact same formula and still come up empty-handed.

Similarly, it's unfair to expect to live a long, healthy life while you constantly feast on pastrami burgers, Cajun fries, deep chocolate mousse, and pancake syrup, never leave your couch except to meander over to the microwave, smoke three packs a day, and face constant financial and emotional stress. Of course, we all know people, some of them in their 80's or above, who seem to be doing just that. (We probably can't stand them!)

In other words, there are no guarantees. Usually we just play the percentages. In finances, health and countless other crucial areas in life we realize God has the final say, but we need to do our fair share. And then we pray and hope for the best. Very reasonable.

But not everything should be approached that way. There are certain facets of our existence that seem to be weighted more to one side or the other.

For instance, while cosmetics, clothes, style, and grooming can certainly help, a person's good looks are probably more dictated by God than by his own efforts. Frustrating, perhaps, but true nonetheless. And you might think you have 'lucky' numbers or are privy to some incredible "system," but whether or not you win the lottery is clearly more in the Divine domain than in yours. Sorry. And perhaps even more obviously, whether someone is prone to allergies or not has very little to do with how many vitamins he takes. These things -- and others -- have more to do with God's choices for us than our efforts for ourselves.

Conversely, it could be argued that while people may be born with predispositions toward certain character traits (kindness, sensitivity, patience etc.), more often than not, we are responsible for our behavior. The more work we put into perfecting our temperament and disposition the more perfect they are likely to become. Sure, God's help is always important, but it seems that when it comes to our moral fiber, we hold the needle and thread.

So sometimes God's mainly running the show, sometimes we are, and sometimes it seems more equally balanced.


And now we come to friendship. Which category does that seem to best fit into? Many or most people appear to have referred this department to the supervisor Himself. As we said earlier, some of us are blessed with many wonderful friends; others are destined to relative solitude.

Frankly, I disagree.

Akiva, a friend of mine, heard that a rabbi of note was moving into his neighborhood some years ago. He had enjoyed a casual and infrequent relationship with him, but always dreamed of developing it into a true friendship. He didn't wait for the rabbi to move in and then "see what happens." He didn't count on serendipity (God) to orchestrate their paths crossing. He actually sat down and wrote him a letter before he moved -- welcoming him to the neighborhood and suggesting they plan a once-a-week study session for an hour, after the move.

Fact is, for some reason the rabbi turned down Akiva's initial request. But the letter was heartily appreciated and it launched their current friendship of note.

Friendship is neither a luxury, nor a burden, nor a symptom of unresolved childhood dependency issues. It is an essential component of the human condition. Yes -- some need friends more, some less. But even the Sages of the Mishna -- some 1800 plus years ago -- implored us to, "Accept a teacher upon yourself and acquire a friend (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6)."

And acquiring friends does not mean waiting at home for your cell phone to vibrate, and then deploring your bad fortune when you feel alone. Acquisitions of this kind require serious motivation, very specific strategies, and the courage to risk. It isn't easy to lay bare your vulnerabilities and chance rejection. Often you need to summon up some hefty doses of chutzpah to approach someone you barely know and strike up a conversation, ask a question, or invite him/her to an event. And circumstances -- real ones, like age, time, neighborhood, cliques, financial standing, shyness, bad breath etc. -- frequently present formidable obstacles to overcome. But it's worth the effort.

Life is just too complicated and fragile to go it alone. Everyone needs at least a mini Advisory Board these days. And hoping, praying, or expecting these friendships to breed and develop on their own is unrealistic, at best; precarious at worst.

Taking an active role in this crucial hunt means sitting down with pen, paper and brain and thinking through who, within your personal radar, would be a really valuable addition to your address book. Crude and unromantic as it may sound, specific tactics then need to be formulated and implemented in order to increase your chances of establishing a meaningful friendship.

"But doesn't God just sort of put people together if they belong together?"

Yes… sometimes. But more often than not, you need to do most of the work. And the same work ethic certainly applies afterwards -- when you want to make the friendship meaningful, satisfying, and lasting.

God can help. But you must make it happen.

That's just the way it is.

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #368 on: October 20, 2010, 11:56:30 AM »

How To Be A Father

By Tzvi Freeman
Dear Rabbi,

I'm a father and I have no idea how to bring up a Jewish boy. All I know is not to do as my father did. Although that's generally exactly what I end up doing. I want my son to grow up strong in his Jewishness and confident about his own self.

A. Dad

Shalom Dad,

There's only two short lines you need to know. It's the first dialog there is between a father and his son in the written Torah:

Then Isaac said to his father, "My father?"

And Abraham said, "Here I am, my son."

There's more, but we need to stop here first, so you can see the forest.

We've had those words before—only once before—at the beginning of this same tale. Abraham is answering his son with the same words he used earlier to answer G‑d:

So it was, after all these things, that G‑d tested Abraham, and He said to him, "Abraham!" And Abraham answered, "Here I am!"

And then G‑d asks Abraham to do something that goes against every cell of his body and soul: To harden his heart, turn off his mind, take his son and "raise him up for a sacrifice on one of the mountains I will show you.."

Men know the modality. Numbness. "Gotta do what I gotta do." We do it when we go to war and when we go to work, when we fire an employee and when we discipline a child. There's a small voice inside, screaming, "This is not who I am! How can I do this?" And we just tell it to shut up so we can get the job done.

We've all been there. You've got a deadline at work. A major meeting about a big contract. Nudniks to deal with, driving you nuts. Rush hour traffic stuns your nerves. 7:30 AM the next morning, and you don't want to go. Not a cell in your body wants to go. But you have to.

Okay, it's not who you are—you're a family man with family priorities. But to feed a family, a man's got to make sacrifices. Don't feel what you feel, don't think what you think. To do so would be to drive yourself insane. Smother that voice inside. Be a man, as men have been ever since their feet met the cold, hard earth. Just do.

The dad inside gets turned off. And along with him, so do his kids.



"I'm busy now."


"Sorry, son, I'm busy. Go talk to Mom."

That's what this bizarre world can do to a man: On the way to provide for his family, he sacrifices them on their own altar.

So here is Abraham, in the midst of his greatest test. He can only have one focus: To do what he was told. And that's where he is, 100%. After all, this isn't just about making a living. This is about hearing G_d's voice. And so, Isaac calls out to him, not certain that his father is really there.

"My father?"

"Here I am, my son. All of me. For all of you What's up?"

Perhaps that was the whole test. Perhaps with that alone, Abraham proved that he was fit to be the father of the nation that would bring G‑d's compassion into the world.

Perhaps. But this I know for certain: With those words, Abraham passed on the torch to the next generation. Because when Isaac saw that his father was all there for him, in the same way and to the same degree as he was there for G_d when G_d spoke to him, then he was ready to be all there for his father and for his father's G_d.

Those words are all you need to know to be a real Jewish dad. The rest will follow.

"Here I am, my son. All of me."
« Reply #369 on: October 21, 2010, 09:22:40 AM »

A Pillar of Salt

By Sara Esther Crispe

So I'm told we should "live with the times" and find how our lives are connected to the Torah portion (parshah) of the week. That only when we see ourselves in the Torah can we say we've truly learned.

I read the parshah and I learn of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I learn of how Lot is saved and how his wife is turned into a pillar of salt. And I search to see my life in these words. I'd rather not see it, of course, as the connection is too intense, too real, too true. I'd rather pretend that this is merely a story, a lesson about universal evil needing to be removed. How do I relate to a pillar of salt? And yet I do -- all too much.

So this is the story. An evil community is destined to be destroyed. It is to be totally annihilated and Abraham is foretold of the destruction. He argues with G-d, begging him not to destroy the land and those who inhabit it. He begs that the people be spared in the merit of fifty righteous people. Yet he cannot find fifty. He tries to find forty-five. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. Still he cannot. The city is utterly evil, and it is to be destroyed. Only Lot and his family will be saved. There is one condition. Don't look back. But the temptation is too great. And Lot's wife looks. And she is turned into a pillar of salt.

So I too am often that pillar of salt. Stuck and hardened between where I never should have been and where I need to go. If only I could have the strength to let go. I try to reason, to rationalize why certain things are good for me. And even if they aren't good for me, they are good for someone, right? At least one person, right? Wrong. There is no good there. There is nothing to be redeemed. It must be destroyed. The relationship cannot exist. The only thing that can be saved is me. And only if I leave and don't look back. Never look back.

Yet I can't help it. I take the first step away. I leave where I never should have been towards where I must go. If only I can make it there and leave this behind. Truly leave behind me what aims to bring me down and destroy me with it. If I can keep going it will be gone forever. If I can let go, it will lose its power to hurt me. And yet, time and time again, I look back. And I am once again as frozen as that pillar of salt.
« Reply #370 on: October 22, 2010, 04:58:33 PM »

Death Trap
by Yehuda Yifrach
The situation seemed hopeless. We were sitting ducks inside a tin, rolling coffin.

If a miracle hadn’t happened that Friday afternoon as we were driving to our Shabbat destination, this article would never have been written. Instead you would have read the standard description of a horrible terror attack. “Six Family Members of Amona Killed.” The political reactions would have been immediate; the eulogies short and heart rending.

But a guiding hand from Heaven made things happen differently, so that I am here and able to relate what happened that day.

We were on our way to spend Shabbat in the pre-military training program in Neve Zuf. We had just passed the intersection near the old British police station when out of the blue I started thinking about a number of terror attacks that had occurred and wiped out entire families. I thought of the Zur Family, the Secheveschovs, the Hutiels -- and then wondered why in the world I was bringing up these depressing incidents now.

About two kilometers west of the intersection, I had to slow the car because of a sharp swerve in the road. Suddenly I heard gun shots at close range. I yelled at my wife and kids, “Get down! We’re being shot at!” At the same time I stepped on the gas to gather speed and get out of danger’s range. To my horror the motor didn’t react. I lowered the gear and pressed on the gas pedal again and again, but realized, in shock, that the motor had died. The first bullet must have hit the mechanics inside the hood. (I later found out that the bullet passed through the radiator and oil pump, emptying the oil tank within seconds.)

The situation seemed hopeless. We were sitting ducks inside a tin, rolling coffin.

The terrorist continued firing at us methodically, another bullet every two, three seconds. Our vehicle had turned into a death trap in which my wife and our four panic-stricken children sat captives. We were likely to get hit any minute.

It was a lose-lose situation: If I get out of the car and start firing my small revolver at my unseen assailants, I’ll expose the family even more. And there is no way to flee the scene with a dead motor.

I figured that the firing was coming from the southern mountain to my right, so I turned the steering wheel and guided the car into the opposite lane, as close as possible to a rock outcrop at the side of the road, to get out of the Palestinians’ vision.

When the car stopped I quickly got out, grabbed the kids and literally threw them, one after the other, into the bushes around the edge of the mountain. The little one started to cry, “Ima!” and ran into the middle of the road hysterical. I ran after her, scooped her up and pushed her into the arms of her sister. Only then did I have a chance to release the trigger of my gun and look around for the terrorists.

There was a lull in the shooting and I imagined that they must have cut back to check on the number of victims they’d killed. So I advanced in their direction to prevent them from reaching my family when they started up again. As I crouched my way back across the road I was thinking, “How exactly am I going to conduct a shoot out with an unknown number of assailants and my small 26 Glouck revolver which has only ten bullets in it?"

I couldn’t see any sign of the attackers, so I returned to the car and decided to stop the first car that passed by to get my family out of there. The first two cars that I tried to flag down were Palestinians. They almost ran me over as they simply picked up speed and fled the scene instead of stopping for us. Right after them, a Rabatz (security officer) from one of the settlements drove up, evaluated the situation and helped me evacuate my wife and kids. Then a patrol of border police arrived, closed the road and began to sweep the area. At that point, for us the incident was finished.

But I couldn’t get over the experience. We had clearly been spared by an outright miracle. When I survey the lay of the land and the distances involved, I simply cannot understand how they didn’t hit us. They stood above the road, several meters from our slow rolling automobile, methodically shooting fatal bullets, one after another into our vehicle. Yet they missed every time (except for that first bullet which damaged the car).

For me, this was an unnerving experience. I’ve had my baptism by fire in the Army, but this was something completely different. That Shabbat eve we faced the Angel of Death and looked into the very whites of his eyes.

Even now as I’m sitting at the computer writing these lines, they could have been conducting our funerals. They could be eulogizing us, and relating how Ayelet was finishing a course in coaching and had begun her new book; how Maayan was an outstanding student and wrote the weekly family newspaper, how Ateret had finally learned to ride a two wheeler without the help of auxiliary supports, how Raanana loved to sing, and how Malachi, the baby, started to walk only this week.

When I think about that fateful Friday, how humdrum and conventional what could have been the last day of our lives. Like other people who have had near death experiences, I realize how short and precious life is and how important it should be to live it to its fullest, without wasting time and energy on day dreams, false desires and nonsense.

But beyond my personal story, I’m thinking there is the bigger one. Usually we’re all taken up with our personal lives, what I call the Small Story. We’re completely involved with our careers, our family, and the constant urgent demands on us. News and politics pass over our heads, and don’t really bother us or interest us that much. But in the background the Big Story is always there, the story of the Jewish nation, which after 2,000 years of exile finally returned and established an independent government of its own. And, as in all generations, there are no lack of those who are trying to destroy us.

There are moments in one’s life when the Big Story pushes its way into the Small Story. These are moments of clarity, when matters become crystallized, and the essence of our collective fate takes over.

The Big Story comes on the screen and reminds us of the difficult truth that we try so hard to ignore: we live in a bad neighborhood, surrounded by real and dangerous enemies, and if we don’t stand up and protect ourselves, we cannot survive.

Translated from Hebrew by Leah Abramowitz
Power User
Posts: 15536

« Reply #371 on: October 22, 2010, 07:17:43 PM »

Note: The Glock 26 is a semi-automatic handgun, not a revolver. I very good one, I might add.
« Reply #372 on: October 27, 2010, 10:23:48 PM »

It was translated article and that may have been lost in translation

Rarick I interpreted the whole article to be about the importance of action when dealing with one'e enemies.  Sometimes there can be a struggle between  faith and action but I'm  pretty sure the author would agree with the idea   --pray as if there is only God and act as if there is only you.  However if you are not into praying or seeing miracles that is your  right  but the story sounds pretty miraculous to me.

Parshah Messages
The Marriage Prerequisite

By Naftali Silberberg

"Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebecca the daughter of Bethuel" (Genesis 25:20).

At the age of ninety, after many decades of childlessness, Sarah gave birth to her only child, Isaac. We can only imagine how happy she would have been had she been given the opportunity to rock one of Isaac's children, her very own ainikel, on her knee. Sarah, the very first yiddishe mama, would certainly have taken great pleasure in showing all her friends the baby pictures and videos of her grandchildren... And besides the nachas which every grandparent has from a grandchild, Sarah would also have had great spiritual satisfaction from watching her grandchildren as they grew up, as Isaac's progeny represented the future of the Jewish nation. Sarah and Abraham toiled their entire lives to proclaim the importance of the belief in One G-d. Isaac's child would be the one to ensure that this legacy would continue and flourish.

But Sarah never lived to see any grandchildren. She passed away when Isaac was 37 years old -- three years before he married Rebecca. Why did Isaac wait so long to marry? Why didn't Abraham, years earlier, consider sending his servant to fetch a wife for him from his hometown in Mesopotamia?

Why did Isaac wait so long to marry?The major event which occurred shortly before Isaac and Rebecca's wedding was the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah. Credit for passing this test is usually attributed to Abraham. But Isaac was 37 at the time,1 was certainly aware of his father's intentions, and willingly submitted himself to be sacrificed as per G-d's command. Since Isaac's wedding plans commenced immediately upon returning from this "traumatic" event, there certainly is a correlation between the two. The fact that the first wedding in the Torah is preceded by a tremendous sacrifice is a message for every Jewish bride and groom for all time.

People are naturally self-centered. Our own physical and spiritual development and growth are foremost on our minds. This is not necessarily evil; in fact, Jewish law recognizes the primacy of a person's own welfare over all other concerns -- including the interests of others. This preoccupation with self, however, comes to a crashing halt when a person walks down the wedding aisle. At that point, bride and groom wholly commit themselves to each other. When a single person is on a sinking boat, no one will blame him for running for the life boats to save his own life, even if his friend might be asleep in their cabin. But such a move is unthinkable for the married person whose spouse is in need of assistance. Aside for their commitment to each other, husband and wife are also committed to an ideal which they both share and wish to perpetuate -- the establishment of a Jewish home, a home suffused with holiness, a home where the Divine Presence is always welcome. At this point, even the personal spiritual development of the bride and groom becomes secondary to the goal for which they are "sacrificing" themselves. The mundane task of changing a diaper suddenly takes priority over the mother's prayers or the father's study!

Isaac was not ready for marriage until he experienced firsthand the concept of total self-sacrifice. Only then was he able to appreciate marriage for what it really is, and create a marriage which was the paradigm which all his descendents attempt to emulate.

the Binding coincided with Sarah's death – and according to the Midrash, it actually caused i
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« Reply #373 on: October 27, 2010, 10:31:50 PM »

Yeah, I figured it was a translation issue. As a gun nut, I was forced to point it out.  grin
« Reply #374 on: October 28, 2010, 08:58:39 AM »

Aging with Grace

By Mendel Kalmenson
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation. He went flying down the river in his boat with his video camera to his eye, making a moving picture of the moving river upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly toward the end of his vacation. He showed his vacation to his camera, which pictured it, preserving it forever: the river, the trees, the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat behind which he stood with his camera preserving his vacation even as he was having it so that after he had had it he would still have it. It would be there. With a flick of a switch, there it would be. But he would not be in it. He would never be in it."—Wendell Berry1

Seizing the Moment
V'Avraham v'Sara zekeinim ba'im bayamim. "Now, Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years."2

If Abraham and Sarah were old, isn't it obvious that they were well on in years?3

They were always totally "there"But the Hebrew word ba'im literally means "entering." And the literal translation of bayamim is "in the days."

Hence the literal translation of the verse is: "And Abraham and Sarah were old, they entered in the days…"

They entered each day as one would enter his home, fully and without reserve. They connected with each moment and held it close. They embraced time and allowed themselves to be embraced by it.

They were always totally "there," whenever and wherever they were.

Thus, the first half of the verse refers to the amount of years, very many of them, that Abraham and Sarah lived. The second half informs us of the manner in which those years were lived.

They were no stranger to hardship; they were often its host—but they never sought escape. They didn't hide when faced with difficulties; they dealt, as best as they could.

Ignoring a moment's call, they believed, is ignoring its caller.

They truly lived life in the here and now.

Wrinkle Free
Chassidim are wont to say that age isn't told by your ID card.

Ever noticed that two people could be the same age, perhaps born on the same day, even led similar lives—yet one of them is wrinkle-free, while the other one looks ancient?

The former never let things get to him; the latter rarely did not.

The former built impregnable walls around him, afraid to fight a war; the latter's face is filled with furrows, his battle scars.

The former has an intricate defense system, mechanisms to ward off pain; the latter decided to never build one, viewing such a system – not the pain – as the enemy.

To him any form of blocking out life equals death.

Painkillers – literal or figurative – also numb joyBecause the impenetrable walls built for security don't distinguish between hate and love. They do their job indiscriminately, keeping out friend and foe alike.

Painkillers – literal or figurative – also numb joy.

Wrinkles are often a sign of hardship and grief, but they also tell the story of laughter and joy.

Time to rethink Botox?

Keeping Young
V'Avraham zaken ba bayamim. "Now, Abraham was old, well on years…"4

This verse is stated a full forty-one years after the first verse describing Abraham's (and Sarah's) age.5 Why the need for a second report?6 Isn't obvious that, unless you're Benjamin Button, someone old and well on in years only gets older and weller on-in-years as time passes?

Were this verse to refer to the quantity of years Abraham had lived, the question would stand. But it does not; it refers, again, to the quality of Abraham's life.

It is within the nature of man to grow less excitable the more he ages. For excitement and novelty are closely related. Since very little is new to him – he's seen it all – things, good or bad, rarely affect him. His mode of existence, views, and reactions are pretty much set in stone.

But Abraham was different.

He never grew old in that sense. He might have aged in years but not in spirit. He was as open to learning and change like a youngster on his first day of school.

This is the Torah's point in stating the same verse twice.

Thirty-seven years had passed between them, years filled with suffering and joy. Yet, Abraham was still young at heart.

In those nearly four decades, the entire region of Sodom had been destroyed. Sarah had been abducted by Abimelech and released.

After a lifetime of barrenness, Sarah bore him a son!

He had been brought to drive Hagar and Ishmael out of his home. There was the dispute over his property with Abimelech. Then the truce.

He opened an inn in the meantime. Then embarked on a groundbreaking campaign to promote monotheism.

He was reunited with his penitent son, Ishmael.

He was tested by G‑d many times over, culminating with the traumatic Binding of Isaac.

Most recently, his life companion and rock, his beloved Sarah, had died.

So many challenges, so many milestones, so much change… So many challenges, so many milestones, so much change… Yet, Abraham still hadn't grown old. Older in years perhaps, but not old in character.

He had every right, by now, to stop "entering" his days; but he considered that right to be wrong.

He had every excuse in the world to retire from vigorous living; But to retire would mean to expire.

Until his last day he would never stop taking messages from life.

He wore his flowing white beard and matching head of hair as one would a badge of honor. The crinkles around his eyes that hinted of countless smiles, he considered beauty marks.

What's in It for Me?
Sometimes we're so busy making a living that we forget to live. Sometimes we're so busy doing that we forget about being.

Sometimes we're so busy dodging life's curveballs that we forget to swing at its strikes.

Time passed does not mean time lived. Time managed does not mean time well spent.

Always remain open—in mind, spirit, heart, and soul, for learning never ends.7

Every day has its song. Every hour its call. Every second offers something unique and fleeting.

Every moment is heaven knocking at your door.

To be sure, the hurts of life are sometimes excruciating, and rightfully call for a needed respite, but the keys to the gates erected must always be retained, otherwise one's castle can become one's prison.8

From Entries, by Wendell Berry. New York: Pantheon, 1994.

Genesis 18:11.

See Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 49:16 for alternative answers. See the Rebbe's talk, upon which this essay is based, for a lengthy discussion regarding those answers.

Genesis 24:1.

See Likkutei Sichot vol. 35 pg. 89 footnote 3 for the calculation.

See Kli Yakar and Nachmanides for alternative answers. See the Rebbe's talk for more discussion of Nachmanides' answer.

Many have puzzled about the paradoxical term ascribed to a Torah scholar, "talmid chacham," which literally translates as "student-sage." Is he a student or is he a sage? I'd like to suggest, possibly the obvious, that the point here, influenced by Judaism's take on scholarship, is that a true scholar must always remain open to study, never ceasing to be a student. The two are synonymous, one and the same. The moment one concludes his studies and views himself as an established sage, he loses that very title.

Based on a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 35 pg. 89f
« Reply #375 on: October 31, 2010, 09:07:20 PM »

The Dry Cleaner Syndrome

The Dry Cleaner Syndrome
by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon
A new definition for insanity.

It all started a few years ago when a new dry cleaner, Kno-Washee (fictitious name, but pun intended), opened up near my house. Being the posh kind of guy that I am, I wear a fresh dress shirt every day – ironed, pressed, and starched. That means frequent trips to the dry cleaners, and being a very busy fellow, I valued the convenience that Kno-Washee was bringing to my life.

The first time I subjected my unsuspecting 100% cottons to this establishment I noticed that the Chinese clerk/alterations-lady was not, shall I say, overly-friendly. 

I’m not inviting her over for Boggle, I thought. Who cares how friendly she is? Maybe if I worked in a store that was not much larger than a medium-sized toaster-oven I wouldn’t be so friendly either?

The first few deposits and withdrawals were uneventful. The starch content was a bit paltry and some English language skills could have helped matters, but the turnaround time was swift, the price was in the acceptable realm, and best of all there was no line (always important for BUSY people). I kept going.

Trouble began soon after. Unwelcome yellowed spots began to invade my wardrobe. I brought it to the attention of Miss Toaster-Oven, thinking she would be pleased to be notified that perhaps some of the laundresses in her factory were eating bananas on the job. I was mistaken.

“YOU did this,” she suggested, subtlety pointing her index sewing finger surprisingly close to my midsection.

“OIL STAIN!” she declared.

Apparently, the preparatory classes she attended concentrated on certain key phrases that would be most useful for her enterprise in my neighborhood. But “Our fault,” “We’ll try again,” and “No charge,” were not high on the list. “Oil stain,” “No understand English,” and “Next!” were all seen as more serviceable.

In my early naiveté, I would foolishly argue as to the culpability of the infraction, and occasionally she would even agree to wash them again (it didn’t help). But, by and large, I became accustomed to expecting the occasional yellow visitors every now and then.

But a short time later, Kno-Washee upped the ante – they lost one of my shirts. I liked that Hilfiger button-down. They did promise me $30 if the shirt was not found, but it took them over a month and about a dozen reminders before they declared the item irrecoverable.

I began getting more and more annoyed with them, but strangely unwilling to change venues. I asked friends which dry cleaner they frequented, but each one had his own unique tale of dissatisfaction:

“My shirts are never ready on time.” “Parking near there is impossible.” “A little pricey…”

While those annoyances seemed less severe than spots and lost shirts, I still couldn’t seem to make the obvious and necessary move. It was almost as if I preferred to complain than remedy – not entirely rational.

Related Article: Free Will: Our Greatest Power

While mired in my funk of complacency, I then received a new opportunity to make my exit – a small, but quite noticeable hole found its way about four inches from the bottom of a Hart, Schaffner, Marx selection of mine. Depending on the size of my girth on any particular day, my belt either did or didn’t cover the unwelcomed aperture. My annoyance was morphing into plain old anger, which was exacerbated by Miss Toaster-Oven’s refusal to accept responsibility for their recklessness.

Time marched on and I experienced a streak of several consecutive weeks without incident. But instead of enjoying my good fortune, I couldn't shake a sense of foreboding doom. I knew it was just a matter of time. About a week later, the shoe dropped. A gash near button number four infected the center of a Joseph A. Bank beauty that was less than three weeks old! It looked like someone had used a box cutter to iron my poor defenseless shirt. What was wrong with these people!? 

This time I wasn't going to wait. I stormed out of the house and headed straight to Kno-Washee. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Once and for all I would give them a piece of my mind.   

But when I hit my corner, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. This is going nowhere, I lamented. They don't even understand English. Other than just letting off some steam, there really was no point. It was then that the anger finally shifted from them to me. If I chose to suffer, I had no one to blame but myself. I declared that I simply could not, and would not go back there ever again. If the true definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results, I was more than qualified for the loony bin. 

Related Article: Moments of Choice, Lives of Greatness

But believe it or not, four days later I went back to Kno-Washee with shirts in tow. Before you dispatch the men in the white coats to come and get me, permit me to explain. I did a lot of thinking during those four days. I had gone through a saga that was enormously frustrating and seemingly irrational. What normal, self-respecting person would subject himself to constant, predictable abuse? To be irritated with them is normal. To be upset with myself seemed also to be rational. But why couldn't I just leave? What kind of masochist had I become?

Strange as it may sound, it was my answer to these questions that told me to go back. It's not that I wanted to punish myself or that I was too timid to make the switch. I kept going back because I decided that convenience was really the number one, top priority for me. I decided that bringing my shirts to a place so close to my home, with no line (you now understand why), was actually worth the occasional mishap, misplace, or misfortune that I suffered. It was a cost that I was willing to pay, for the convenience that I desired. There was no point getting angry or upset – not at them; not at me. With that simple yet profound realization, my attitude changed completely. 

We all experience our own versions of the Kno-Washee syndrome. We moan about the lousy pay, the obnoxious supervisor, or the long hours that we face at work, but more often we don't quit. First we get angry at the boss or the owner, then we get angry at ourselves for accepting the less than desirable conditions, but rarely do things change. The point is that it is really okay. In most cases, you are not a self-loathing, dysfunctional masochist. You are simply deciding that after all is said and done, the job is still worth it – despite all the travails and tribulations. It is a true expression of your free will.

We argue with our spouses and decry all the changes that they need to make, but usually we conclude that the problems we face are still worth staying in the marriage. We complain about the horrors of living in the city, but most of the loudest complainers never leave. Psychotic thinking? No. It's called prioritizing. When we keep a keen eye on what our real priorities are, our decision making process comes into sharper focus. I had discovered with a newfound clarity that getting angry at anybody was misplaced and totally unproductive.

The key to mastering this reaction is setting aside time to think through matters before they occur:

What are my priorities in this marriage/job/dry cleaner/contractor/class/computer/purchase/date etc.?
How much imperfection will I accept? Where will I draw the line?
How will I prevent frustration from morphing into useless anger?
Naturally, there are cases where real abuse does occur. And sometimes people do punish themselves and accept more suffering than is healthy. Definitely there are lines that should never be crossed. But with a little prior preparation and some clear understanding of what is most important to you in each situation, you can save yourself a lot of headaches and frustrations.

So if you can't help but snicker the next time you see me walking down the street holding my dirty shirts, I'll forgive you. Why not? I even forgave Kno-Washee.

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #376 on: November 01, 2010, 08:27:44 PM »

How Rebecca Learned to Fly
By Stacey Goldman

We all have limitations. Some of us are stagnating, feeling unable to overcome the hurdles life has placed in front of us. Some of us thrive as a result of a challenging environment -- our struggles refine our characters and make us even greater people. And sometimes, no matter what we do, we cannot seem to rise above the circumstances of our birth. Alone, we do not know how to harness the necessary tools to arrive at the next level of our spiritual journey.

A person in this situation must decide: do I stay where I am, unfulfilled yet knowing I tried my best, or do I seek help, do I attach myself to someone who can see beyond my limited vision and allow them to pull me up with them? Some of us thrive as a result of a challenging environment As much as we know we need to constantly strive, reaching out to someone else to help enable us to reach our spiritual potential takes a great deal of humility, especially if that person is your husband. This was the case with Rebecca and Isaac early on in their marriage.

The first two sentences of our Torah portion, Toldot, inform us of the familial relationships of Isaac and Rebecca:

Verse 19: These are the descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac.

Verse 20: Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Betuel the Aramite, of Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramite, for a wife.

We are well aware of Abraham’s righteousness, but who were Betuel the Aramite and Lavan the Aramite? We will become all too familiar with Lavan and his evil ways in the Torah portions of the coming weeks. The Midrash relates to us stories of Betuel’s evil doings as well. Despite this negative family environment, last week we read just how far Rebecca’s chesed, lovingkindness, extended with regard to Abraham’s servant Eliezer when she watered all of his camels for him. Rashi tells us that the only reason Rebecca’s lineage is mentioned here is to praise her, “She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person, from a place of evil people, and yet, she did not learn their deeds.” She clearly rose above and beyond the circumstances of her birth!

Her limitations, however, become apparent in the next sentence:

Verse 21: Isaac prayed to G-d on behalf of his wife, for she was barren. G-d granted his prayer and his wife, Rebecca, conceived.

Is it possible, as the verse implies, that only Isaac prayed for their ability to conceive? Can you imagine a woman struggling with infertility not pouring her heart out in her own prayers? Rashi assures us that she most definitely prayed as well. Based on the Talmud, Rashi illustrates for us how they each stood in their own corner and prayed to G-d to be blessed with a child. Yet even though Rebecca was proactive and they worked together as a couple to overcome their difficulties, the text begs the question: why is Isaac’s prayer the only one mentioned and the only one explicitly answered?

Rashi’s explanation provides its own set of questions: “The Torah says ‘his prayer’ and not 'her prayer.' This is because the prayer of a Tzaddik (a righteous person) who is also the child of a Tzaddik is not the same as the prayer of a Tzaddik who is the child of a wicked person.”

What limited Rebecca was actually thinking she had limitations Is Rashi telling us that there is a qualitative difference in the prayers of Rebecca and Isaac? Actually, yes. Rebecca thought she had limitations. She did not grow up in a home of G-d-fearing people. While she was born with certain innate qualities, she had to make a conscious effort to be good and do the right thing, constantly battling the norms surrounding her. Isaac was surrounded from his time in the womb with righteous people. There was nothing to slow down his rise to great spiritual heights. There was only encouragement and continued growth. How could Rebecca’s prayer ever match that of her husband?

What limited Rebecca was actually thinking she had limitations. The Lubavitcher Rebbe tells us that while Rebecca was praying to G-d on behalf of her husband’s illustrious lineage, Isaac was praying on behalf of her incredible growth and continued potential! He said to G-d, “Please G-d, my wife grew up in the home of such wicked people as Betuel and Lavan, yet she is so righteous. She certainly deserves to be blessed with a child."

The Torah is telling us that Isaac’s prayer was the only one explicitly accepted not because of who he was, but because of who Rebecca was. Rebecca’s prayer was ineffective because she did not have enough trust in her own qualities and her own ability to achieve greatness. She could not achieve her proper role until she was able to see herself through her husband’s eyes, that she was a woman with the innate capability to reach tremendous spiritual heights both because of and in spite of her background!

Just as Isaac was able to look beyond Rebecca’s background to see the amazing qualities that would make her his ideal partner in forging the Jewish people, Rebecca was able to see how Isaac would help her to achieve what she could not do alone. He, with his pure upbringing, could open her mind to the spiritual heights she was capable of, but not fully aware of because of her background. He also knew that because of where she came from and how she was raised, she had traversed many more miles of spiritual growth than he would ever experience. With these mutual feelings of humility and respect, they were blessed with a child.

So we learn that often, to truly know who we are and what we are capable of, we have to see ourselves through the eyes of another. And that ultimately the only limitations we really have are the ones we put on ourselves.
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« Reply #377 on: November 04, 2010, 12:58:39 PM »
« Reply #378 on: November 07, 2010, 03:16:20 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
A Ladder to Heaven
By Yossy Goldman

So what's the best way to get to heaven? Walk across a busy highway? Perform some amazing act of faith? Save a thousand lives? Well, a pretty good answer may be found in this week's Parshah.

We read the story of Jacob's dream and the famous ladder with its feet on the ground and head in the heavens. "And behold the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it."

Let me ask you what they might call in Yiddish, a klotz kashe (simplistic question). Do angels need a ladder? Everyone knows angels have wings, not feet. So, if you have wings, why would you need a ladder?

There is a beautiful message here.

In climbing heavenward one does not necessarily need wings. Dispense with the dramatic. Forget about fancy leaps and bounds. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that needs to be traversed step-by-step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical and eminently manageable.

Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which to them seems otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the journey can be embarked upon and that the destination aspired to is actually not in outer space.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I would pass a very big building on my way to school every morning. It was the King's County Savings Bank. All these years later I still remember the Chinese proverb that was engraved over the large portals at the entrance to the bank. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step." Now that's not only Chinese wisdom; we Jews agree. And it's not limited to starting a savings plan. It is a simple yet powerful idea that it need not be "all or nothing."

What do you think is a rabbi's fantasy? A guy walking into my office and saying, "Rabbi, I want to become 'frum' (fully observant), now tell me what I must do"? Is that what I lie awake dreaming of? And if it did happen, do you think I would throw the book at him and insist he did every single mitzvah from that moment on? Never! Why not? Because a commitment like that is usually here today and gone tomorrow. Like the popular saying goes, "Easy come, easy go." I'm afraid I haven't had such wonderful experiences with the "instant Jew" types. The correct and most successful method of achieving our Jewish objectives is the slow and steady approach. Gradual, yet consistent. As soon as one has become comfortable with one mitzvah, it is time to start on the next, and so on and so forth. Then, through constant growth, slowly but surely we become more knowledgeable, committed, fulfilled and happy in our faith.

When my father was in yeshiva, his teacher once asked the following question: "If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?" The class thought it was a pretty dumb question -- until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed.

If the fellow on top was going down, but the guy on the bottom was going up, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.

And so my friends, it doesn't really matter what your starting point is or where you are at on the ladder of religious life. As long as you are moving in the right direction, as long as you are going up, you will, please G-d, succeed in climbing the heavenly heights.

Wishing you a safe and successful journey.
« Reply #379 on: November 16, 2010, 08:52:23 AM »

Parshah Musings
Do You Remember?
By Elisha Greenbaum
Parshah Musings
Do You Remember?

By Elisha Greenbaum

Remember doing something so embarrassingly stupid as a child that even now the memory of that moment makes you blush? Or do you remember being bullied? Think back to that sharp agony of ignominy and I bet you can even now taste the bile, and smell the sickly smell of your own humiliation.

Memories are powerful. They can pull you back into the moment with such clarity that you would swear you are still there.

I remember as a 14-year-old, away from home for the first time, studying in an overseas yeshiva. I had received a birthday/Chanukah present from my parents and wanted to write a thank-you note, which would simultaneously demonstrate that I was really studying Torah and not wasting my time.

I found a verse in this week's Torah portion where Jacob expresses his thanks to G-d for the kindnesses he'd received to date: kotonti mikol hachasodim -- "I have been humbled from all the kindnesses."1 And thus I started off my letter to home: "Dear Daddy and Mommy, kotonti mikol hachasodim..."

My stupidity was in leaving the unfinished letter lying around for others to read and make fun of.

Thinking back, I can see the humor of a 14-year-old starting a letter with such affected pomposity but at the time I was mortified by the teasing I received.

Interestingly, according to one of the explanations of the above verse, Jacob too was at that time summoning up remembrances of past humiliations.

Jacob was seemingly riding high. The down-at-heels pauper who had stumbled into the country but a few short years before had been transformed into a wealthy magnate with an excess of possessions, four wives and a host of children. Strange, then, for Jacob to declaim Kotonti -- "I feel low, unworthy, diminished."

For a person to grow, to develop, one first must undergo a process of diminishment. Every accomplishment is preceded by a period of struggle. Strength, for example, is developed by tearing one's muscles during exercise. Over the following few days the body repairs itself and larger muscles grow. Similarly, any new intellectual achievement demands focusing one's total concentration on the task at hand, during which time all one's previous knowledge is not only useless but distracting.

Some people can't do it. They get stuck in a zone of comfort. They remain so entranced by their previous accomplishment, their self-image is so locked into their vision of self as is, that they don't have sufficient breadth of vision to dream of what may be.

Jacob had previously experienced a process of self-development when he first left the comforts of home to travel out into the big wide world. Now, years later, he was traveling back to Israel a self-made man, with the opportunity to relax, comfortable in his past achievements and at ease with his new station in life. By declaring kotonti, Jacob was challenging himself to stay hungry. He was purposely summoning up those powerful memories of previous humiliations and discomfort to guarantee that he enter this new phase of life still unsatisfied, and with a reawakened drive to achieve new success.

His declaration kotonti symbolized a figurative purge of past triumphs. "I revoke everything I have strived for and attained till now," said Jacob, "and commit myself to humbly starting again."2

1.   Vayishlach 32:11.
2.   Based on a talk of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichot volume 20, page 166.

« Reply #380 on: November 21, 2010, 03:03:43 PM »

The Garments of Marriage

By Hanna Perlberger

Until my mid‐thirties, I was one of those Jews who thought being Jewish was a mere accident of birth, and that it was completely irrelevant and unrelated to my life. I had no Jewish radar. I didn't seek out or spot the Jewish students at college or law school. I didn't play Jewish geography, because it wasn't my landscape.

And then I went to a funeral of a Jewish woman I had never met.

Her husband was a judge, and my fiancé had gone to high school with him some thirty years ago. It was just one of those unfortunate things one has to do ‐ I wasn't expecting my world to change.

At first, I was surprised at the number of people who came to pay their respects. There were easily a few thousand people jammed into the hall. Speaker after speaker after speaker told of the untold dedication and fervent love of this woman, and the immeasurable and seemingly irreplaceable service she had rendered to the Jewish community.

I had no Jewish radarI had never known anyone like that. I was greatly moved and suddenly very afraid ‐ how could the community survive this loss? How could "we" endure it, I wondered, and I was startled that I included myself in that "we". What could I possibly do? How could I help? I felt completely inadequate. Me? Help the Jewish people? When I didn't even identify as a Jew?

So what does someone do who doesn't know the Hebrew alphabet, who hadn't even observed Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah for the past twenty-five years?

Not being one who ever likes to start with the basics, I took a Kabbalah class.

My plan was that for twelve weeks I would plumb the deepest and most esoteric mysteries of Judaism, and then I would volunteer for something.

I had to write a paper (this was no slouch course) on something from the Zohar. I wrote about the idea that after death, a soul is wrapped in a garment, but that the garment is comprised of all of the holy deeds that were performed during one' s lifetime. It could be like a magnificent robe, or, G‐d forbid, a small patch of cloth, or worse.

This was sixteen years ago, but this idea has guided and inspired me countless times, and I have used the imagery in other ways. After doing divorce law for years, and then, unfortunately, doing more and more divorces in the religious community, I became very interested in trying to teach the Jewish concept of "shalom bayit" (marital harmony, as it is defined).

The most powerful image for me is that marriage is a protective garment, which we must, in turn, protect. First of all, how are garments made? I don't know much about textiles, but I do remember making a potholder in camp. We all made that potholder, weaving those colorful loops in and out. The point is you need things going in both directions in order to unify them into one whole piece of cloth.

There is no coincidence that we hear the phrase "the fabric of society" or the "fabric of marriage." It's meant to harmonize disparate things into an enduring foundation, and if it falls apart, the consequences are discord and are often disastrous.

You need things going in both directions in order to unify them Without getting into the many examples of obvious bad behavior, the garments of our marriages can be ripped apart by many behaviors that we think are innocent or justified. Often, it's the little things that make it unravel. When we "innocently" make fun of our spouses, roll our eyes and "out" their idiosyncrasies, usually in their presence, we are not poking fun, we are poking holes in our garment.

When we defend our every behavior and maintain an incessant need to be right, we are tearing. When we nag, belittle and endlessly complain, the garment will lose its shape. When we don't listen to what hurts the other person, especially when we are the source of the pain, or when we don't confront our own areas where we need to grow, we are shredding.

When we don't stand up for our spouse, and insist that our children speak respectfully to him or her; when we forget that our spouse is number one and when we let other people forget it also; when we don't get off the phone or the computer when our spouses come home, so that we give the message that his or her presence doesn't make a difference and causes no shift in reality, then we are staining our garments.

Years ago, the primate exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo burned down. At the entrance to the new and rebuilt exhibit, there is a slab of wood from one of the charred trees, on which is inscribed a quote by Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

The Torah takes this further. The Torah takes this responsibility out of committees, and drops it into our individual laps. After we left Egypt, a census was taken, and instead of counting the people, each person had to contribute a coin to charity and then the coins were counted. In my opinion, this was a defining moment. G‐d was not counting people, He wasn't counting heads, or men who could serve in the army – He was counting givers.

The nature of a slave is not to be a giver. One can't give what one doesn't have. But how many people do you know who went through the Depression and then became compulsive hoarders? How many people didn't suffer deprivation, but are afraid to give because they think it will diminish them?

G‐d set the Jews of Egypt free along with the wealth of Egypt and then taught them the lesson that in order to be really free, they must learn to give. Givers are not afraid to look illusion in the eye. I have always maintained that if you want to know who someone is, just look at his or her checkbook (I guess these days it would have to be their on‐line banking). And how are they "spending" their days and their hours? What are they doing for others? Are they making a positive difference in this world?

Giving is how we weave the very fabric of our lives. Every positive deed we perform, every act of kindness, is enduring. And that is why G‑d taught us to be givers when He counted us through giving that coin.

Givers are not afraid to look illusion in the eyeBut there was another lesson as well. The coin we gave was not a full coin. It was called machzit hashekel, half a shekel, for we were counted in pairs. We each gave a half to show that as much as we have something to give, our true ability to impact this world and produce is when we work with others, and specifically when we find and join with our soulmates, our other half.

Therefore, every time we withhold a criticism, every time we show gratitude, every time we cause someone's face to light up with a genuine compliment or lessen their pain, when we stand up for and build up our children and our spouses, and when we take the high road in our professional and business dealings, we are being givers and we are being partners. And we are getting so much more, in that we are clothing our souls by creating moments of ultimate reality that enshroud us with eternity.

Sixteen years ago, a woman named Miriam died. That day, I woke up and decided I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be a giver and I wanted to give to the Jewish people. That day, I decided that I was a Jew. That day, I began to leave Egypt and that day, I started to weave my own garment of light that I hope awaits me.
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« Reply #381 on: November 21, 2010, 05:22:05 PM »


What's the Jewish concept(s) of the afterlife?
« Reply #382 on: November 21, 2010, 05:36:26 PM »


Jewish Concepts of the afterlife are lacking in details and emphasis.    Here is a brief answer.

Do Jews Believe in an Afterlife?

By Tzvi Freeman


There isn't anything after life, because life never ends. It just goes higher and higher. The soul is liberated from the body and returns closer to her source than ever before.

The Torah assumes this in its language many times -- describing Abraham's death, for example, as going to rest with his fathers and similar phrases. The Talmud discusses the experiences of several people who made the trip there and back. Classic Jewish works such as Maavor Yabok describe the process of entering the higher world of life as a reflection of the soul's experiences while within the body: If the soul has become entrenched in material pleasures, she experiences the pain of ripping herself away from them so that she can experience the infinitely higher pleasure of basking in G-dly light. If she is soiled and injured by acts that sundered her from her true self while below, then she must be cleansed and healed.

On the other hand, the good deeds and wisdom she has gained on her mission below serve as a protection for her journey upwards. You want a real good spacesuit to make this trip.

The Zohar tells us that if it were not for the intercession of the pure souls above, our world could not endure for even a moment. Each of our lives is strongly impacted by the work of our ancestors in that other world. Grandma's still watching over you.

Why should souls basking in divine light above be at all concerned about what's happening in your mundane life below? Because, there they feel the truth that is so easy to overlook while down here: that this lowly, material world is the center-stage of G-d's purpose in creating all that exists.

That is also why, at the final resolution, all souls will return to physical bodies in this world.

Here is a longer answer
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« Reply #383 on: November 21, 2010, 05:49:12 PM »

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« Reply #384 on: November 21, 2010, 07:03:26 PM »

"The soul is liberated from the body and returns closer to her source than ever before. , , , If the soul has become entrenched in material pleasures, she experiences the pain of ripping herself away from them so that she can experience the infinitely higher pleasure of basking in G-dly light. If she is soiled and injured by acts that sundered her from her true self while below, then she must be cleansed and healed. On the other hand, the good deeds and wisdom she has gained on her mission below serve as a protection for her journey upwards."

Why the use of the feminine pronouns here?
« Reply #385 on: November 21, 2010, 07:38:59 PM »

I have a very brief  answer. In Hebrew, there is no "it." Every noun is either of male or female gender.  In Hebrew, God is masculine and the soul is feminine.   

There is probably a longer mystical  answer but I don't know it .   
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« Reply #386 on: November 21, 2010, 10:15:05 PM »

OK, , , but this is English, not Hebrew.  I can tell because I know I can't read or speak Hebrew, but I can read this. cheesy
« Reply #387 on: November 23, 2010, 08:59:47 PM »

I missed a piece in my explanation.
It is traditional in Jewish thought because of the Hebrew (The Holy Tongue) to refer to the soul as feminine or use no pronouns at all.  It would be kind of disrespectful to call the soul an it.     

Weekly Sermonette
“How Are You Today?”
By Yossy Goldman

Would you think that “how are you today?” can be a religious question? And that it plays an important role in a major Biblical narrative?

In this week’s Parshah, Vayeishev (Genesis 37–40), we read the dramatic story of Joseph—the technicolor dream coat, the sibling rivalry in Jacob’s family, and Joseph’s descent to Egypt, sold into slavery. After being framed by his master’s wife for scorning her attempts at seduction, young Joseph finds himself incarcerated in an Egyptian jail. There he meets the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and correctly interprets their respective dreams. Later, when Pharaoh himself will be perturbed by his own dreams, the butler will remember Joseph, and Joseph will be brought from the dungeon to the royal court. His dream analysis will satisfy the monarch, and the young Hebrew slave boy will be catapulted to prominence and named viceroy of Egypt.

How did Joseph’s salvation begin? It began with the imprisoned Joseph noticing that the butler and baker were looking somewhat depressed. “And Joseph came to them in the morning and he saw them, and behold, they were troubled. He asked Pharaoh’s officials . . . ‘Why do you look so bad today?’” (Genesis 40:6–7). They tell him about their disturbing dreams, he interprets the dreams correctly, and the rest is history.

But why did Joseph have to ask them anything at all? Why was it so strange to see people in prison looking sad? Surely depression is quite the norm in dungeons. Wouldn’t we expect most people in jail to look miserable?

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the answer is that Joseph was exhibiting a higher sense of care and concern for his fellow human beings. Torn away from his father and home life, imprisoned in a foreign land, he could have been forgiven for wallowing in his own miseries. Yet, upon seeing his fellow prisoners looking particularly unsettled, he was sensitive enough to take the time to inquire about their well-being. In the end, not only did he help them, but his own salvation came about through that fateful encounter. Had he thought to himself, “Hey, I’ve got my own problems, why worry about them?” he might have languished in prison indefinitely.

Sometimes, says the Rebbe, a simple “how are you today?” can prove historic.

It’s a lesson to all of us to be a little friendlier. To greet people, perhaps even to smile more often.

Some years ago, after studying in the Talmud how one of the great sages declared that he had never allowed anyone else to greet him first but always made a point of initiating the greeting, I made a personal resolution to try and put this approach into practice. Every Shabbat I walk quite a few kilometers to and from our shul here in Johannesburg. I pass by many fellow pedestrians, mostly local black residents. Rarely had any of them greeted me, but now I am the one to say “good morning” to them. They always respond, though I must confess that some do look rather surprised. In a country where for many years they were not acknowledged as full-fledged citizens, a simple “hello” can become a very humanizing experience. Conversely, I am sometimes unpleasantly surprised when, ironically, a fellow Jew will walk right by me without even so much as a nod.

When we meet someone we know and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” do we wait for the answer? Try this experiment. Next time you are asked how you are doing, answer “Lousy!” See if the other person is listening and responds, or just carries on his merry way, oblivious to your response.

Aside from Joseph’s many outstanding qualities which we ought to try and emulate, in this rather simple passage Joseph reminds us to be genuinely interested in other people’s well-being. And that it should not be beneath our dignity, nor should we be inhibited, to make an honest and sincere inquiry as to their condition. Who knows? It may not only change their lives, but ours.

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« Reply #388 on: November 24, 2010, 12:45:16 AM »

"I missed a piece in my explanation.  It is traditional in Jewish thought because of the Hebrew (The Holy Tongue) to refer to the soul as feminine or use no pronouns at all.  It would be kind of disrespectful to call the soul an it."

Thank you.
« Reply #389 on: November 26, 2010, 10:05:22 AM »

Image and Influence
By Yossy Goldman

How much do our parents and grandparents influence us? Of course, the genes we inherit from them determine lots of important things about us – from our cholesterol levels to when we will go grey. But what about emotionally or spiritually?

I'd like to suggest that they influence us more than we might care to admit. We also tend to underestimate the potential they have in molding the value systems of the next generation.

A powerful case in point is the story in this week's Parshah. Joseph is sold into slavery down in Egypt and winds up in the house of Potiphar. His master's wife casts her lustful gaze on the handsome young man and repeatedly attempts to seduce him. Joseph is consistent in his refusal to even consider her advances. Then one day, the entire household goes to the temple for a special occasion. She feigns illness in order to be home alone with Joseph. He comes to the house "to do his work" (Genesis 39:11). Rashi offers two interpretations: the simple--that he came to work; and another, that he actually came to do his work with her!

Determined as he was, on this occasion Joseph was beginning to falter. Morale and morality were weakening and it seemed as if he was about to succumb to the temptress' entreaties.

Then suddenly something happened to help Joseph regain his senses and self-control. What was it--did they come home early? Did the postman ring the bell? Says Rashi, there appeared before Joseph an vision, an vision so potent that it restored his composure there and then. What was that image? Quoting the Talmud, Rashi says it was "the image of the visage of his father." Joseph suddenly saw his father Jacob's face, and with that his moral resolve was restored.

Was this a telepathic message transmitted from the Holy Land? According to the simple reading, at that stage Jacob didn't even know that Joseph was alive. He had been missing and presumed dead, devoured by a wild animal. The straightforward understanding of this Talmudic passage is that Joseph remembered his father and envisioned his patriarchal face, the classical image of the sage with the long, white beard. And with that image in his mind, Joseph found renewed spiritual stamina to resist temptation.

Some might understand this episode as Joseph not wanting to disappoint his aged father. Others might see the image as a catalyst evoking in Joseph his own latent spiritual resources. Either way, with Jacob's visage in his mind, Joseph wasn't prepared to lose the moral high ground. He couldn't and wouldn't do it to his dad. And, through his father; Joseph remembered who he was--a proud son of Jacob and grandson of Isaac and Abraham.

Such was the effect Jacob had on Joseph and such is the effect every father and mother, grandfather and grandfather, can potentially bring to bear on their offspring. Of course, they would have to be respected by their children as men and women of stature for their image to represent any kind of moral symbolism. If the image of a parent or grandparent would send a signal to the young person to, say, "go for it, my boy!" then clearly the system will fail. I can safely say that if not for the image of my own father and grandfather and their subtle influence on me, I would never have become a rabbi. They didn't push me at all but their influence was profound. Just their image, their character and very being, was enough to guide me in the right direction during my own wavering moments of youthful indecision.

Joseph was nearly lost way down in Egypt land but that one image of his father saved him from sin and helped him go on to achieve greatness. May we all be good role models and may our own images help inspire our children and grandchildren
« Reply #390 on: December 01, 2010, 12:08:29 PM »

Chanukah-- Starts at sundown tongiht! How did that happen??? Happy Chanukah!!!

What is Chanukah?
By Tzvi Freeman
Did Chanukah happen years ago? Or is it happening now? Was there ever a time when it was not happening? The story of a little candle pushing away the monster of frightening darkness is ever-alive within each of us—and in the world outside of us.

You might call it the cosmic mega-drama. Watch it happen at the dawn of each day and at every winter solstice, with every breath of life, every cry of a newborn child, every blade of grass that breaks out from under the soil, every flash of genius, every stroke of beauty, every decision to do good in the face of evil, to build where others destroy, to move humanity forward when others pull us toward chaos. All those and more are Chanukah.

Some History

You would have thought the Jewish people and the ancient Greeks would get along. After all, they had so much in common. Both valued wisdom and beauty. Many Greek philosophers even acknowledged a single, great Mind behind all the cosmos, similar to Jewish monotheism.

Well, they did manage somewhat—at first. The Jews tolerated Greek rule from the time of Alexander of Macedonia. Many Jews studied Hellenistic philosophy, and King Ptolemy had the Jewish Torah translated into Greek. But when King Antiochus attempted to force Hellenism down our throats, we rebelled.

Antiochus forbade ritual circumcision. Mothers openly circumcised their infant boys in defiance. Antiochus forbade the keeping of the Sabbath. Jews were forced to leave Jerusalem so they could keep the day of rest holy. Antiochus forbade the study of Torah as a sacred text. Jews found ways to teach classes of children and adults in secret. When the Greeks raised up idols in the cities and towns and demanded that the Jews worship them, all-out war ensued.

It was the first time in history that a people had fought not for their country or their lives, but for their beliefs and their right to religious freedoms.

Problem was, the Syrian-Greek army was the most powerful in the world. Their soldiers marched in a compact formation of overlapping shields and long spears, almost invincible in those times. They had advanced weapons, were highly trained and, even brought elephants to the battlefield. The Jewish resistance, on the other hand, began with a handful of brothers of the priestly class, calling themselves the Maccabees.

There were many acts of courage, but the Maccabees firmly believed that their victory came from Above. Eventually, they received a sign that it was so: When they took back Jerusalem and the Temple, they searched and found a single flask of undefiled olive oil—just what was needed to light the sacred menorah. Although the flask held only enough for a single day, the light of the menorah miraculously burned for eight complete days, providing just enough time to prepare new oil. To the Jewish people, this was like a nod from Above that yes, He was with us all along.

Chanukah Insights:


Without miracles, we might come to believe that the laws of physics define reality. Once we witness the inexplicable, we see that there is a higher reality. And then we look back at physics and say, “This too is a miracle.” The miracle of a small flask of oil burning for eight days was this sort of miracle.

Then there are those small miracles that occur every day. Those acts of synchronicity we call “coincidence” because in them G‑d prefers to remain anonymous. But when we open our eyes and hearts, we see there is truly no place void of this wondrous, unlimited G‑d. These were the sort of miracles the Maccabees saw in their battles against the mighty Greek army.

The Power of the Individual

Chanukah was a victory of few over many. Each Maccabee was a hero, essential to the victory.

One could think that in those days, when the population of the world was so much smaller, a single individual would have more power to change the world. In fact, just the opposite is true. Technology and information have put enormous power in the hands of whoever wants it.

Just sixty and some years ago, one madman came to the verge of destroying the world. His failure to develop atomic weapons on time is still inexplicable—it can only be attributed to the great mercies of the One Above who takes care of His world and promised that it would always stand. Today we have seen that not even an army is needed, nor warheads or missiles—but only an obsessive will to destroy.

Such is the power of darkness. A thousand times more is the power of light, of any one of us to transform the entire world to good. A small child kissing the mezuzah on the door of her house, an act of kindness asking nothing in return, a sacrifice of convenience to benefit another—each of these things are like bursts of light in the nighttime sky. True, they make less noise. Rarely are they reported in the daily news. But while darkness passes like the shadows of clouds on a windy day, this light endures, accumulating until it leaves no room for evil to remain.

The Mind and Beyond

Today’s Western society is built on the foundations of these two cultures, the Jewish and the Greek. Both treasured the human mind. The Greeks reached the pinnacle of intellect at their time. But the experience of Mount Sinai had taught the Jew that there is something greater than the human mind. There is a G‑d, indescribable and inexplicable. And therefore, a world could not be built on human reason alone.

The idea annoyed the Greeks to no end. While they appreciated the wisdom of the Torah, they demanded that the Jews abandon the notion that it was something Divine.

Ethics, to an ancient Greek, meant that which is right in the eyes of society. To a Jew, it means that which is right in the eyes of G‑d. The difference is crucial: ethics built solely on the convenience of the time can produce a society where human beings are treated as numbers in a computer, or where the central value is the accumulation of wealth. At its extreme, it can produce a Stalinist Russia or a Nazi Germany.

A healthy mind is one that recognizes that there will always be wonder, because G‑d is beyond the human mind. And a healthy society is a balanced one, whose soil nurtures human accomplishment but whose bedrock is the ethical standard of an Eternal Being.

Last Word

Some people are waiting for a final, apocalyptic war. But the final war is not fought on battlefields, nor at sea, nor in the skies above. Neither is it a war between leaders or nations. The final war is fought in the heart of each human being, with the armies of his or her deeds in this world. The final war is the battle of Chanukah and the miracle of light.

Also by Tzvi Freeman:
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« Reply #391 on: December 02, 2010, 11:19:05 AM »

Thank you for that Rachel.

Anyone have the Adam Sandler version?
« Reply #392 on: December 02, 2010, 08:28:59 PM »

The Power of the Individual

Chanukah was a victory of few over many. Each Maccabee was a hero, essential to the victory.

One could think that, in those days, when the population of the world was so much smaller, a single individual would have more power to change the world. In fact, just the opposite is true. Technology and information has put enormous power in the hands of whoever wants it.

In recent history, one madman came to the verge of destroying the world. His failure to develop atomic weapons on time is still inexplicable -- it can only be attributed to the great mercies of the One Above who takes care of His world and promised it would always stand. Today we have seen that not even an army is needed, nor warheads or missiles -- but only an obsessive will to destroy.

Such is the power of darkness.

A thousand times over is the power of light, of any one of us to transform the entire world to good. A small child kissing the mezuzah on the door of her house, an act of kindness asking nothing in return, a sacrifice of convenience to benefit another -- each of these things are as bursts of light in the nighttime sky. True, they make less noise. Rarely are they reported in the daily news. But while darkness passes as the shadows of clouds on a windy day, this light endures, accumulating until it leaves no room for evil to remain.
« Reply #393 on: December 02, 2010, 08:37:13 PM »

 A really fun parody,Chanukah story

Light One Candle/The Holiness of Chanukah

This is more somber --One of my favorite Rabbis followed by my favorite Chanukah song

« Reply #394 on: December 04, 2010, 09:33:01 PM »

The Dog Tag Dilemma

By Doron Kornbluth

Do you know what a Protestant B is? I know what a Protestant is, and I know what a Catholic is, and I know what a Jew is . . . but until recently, I had never heard of a Protestant B.

I learned what a Protestant B is from an essay by Debra Darvick that appeared in an issue of Hadassah Magazine. It is a chapter from a book she is working on about the American Jewish experience. And this essay is about the experience of retired Army Major Mike Neulander, who now lives in Newport News, Virginia, and who is now a Judaic silversmith. This is his story.

Then, as now, Jews were forbidden by Saudi law to enter the countryDog tags. When you get right down to it, the military’s dog tag classification forced me to reclaim my Judaism.

In the fall of 1990, things were heating up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I had been an Army captain and a helicopter maintenance test pilot for a decade, and received notice that I would be transferred to the First Cavalry Division, which was on alert for the Persian Gulf War. Consequently, I also got wind of the Department of Defense “dog tag dilemma” vis-à-vis Jewish personnel. Then as now, Jews were forbidden by Saudi law to enter the country. But our Secretary of Defense flat-out told the king of Saudi Arabia, “We have Jews in our military. They’ve trained with their units and they’re going. Blink and look the other way.”

With Kuwait occupied and the Iraqis at his border, King Fahd did the practical thing. We shipped out, but there was still the issue of classification. Normally the dog tags of Jewish servicemen are imprinted with the word “Jewish.” But Defense, fearing that this would put Jewish soldiers at further risk should they be captured on Iraqi soil, substituted the classification “Protestant B” on the tags. I didn’t like the whole idea of classifying Jews as Protestant-anything, and so I decided to leave my dog tag alone. I figured if I were captured, it was in G‑d’s hands. Changing my tags was tantamount to denying my religion, and I couldn’t swallow that.

In September 1990 I went off to defend a country that I was prohibited from entering. The “Jewish” on my dog tag remained as clear and unmistakable as the American star on the hood of every Army truck.

A few days after my arrival, the Baptist chaplain approached me. “I just got a secret message through channels,” he said. “There’s going to be a Jewish gathering. A holiday? Simkatoro or something like that. You want to go? It’s at 1800 hours at Dhahran Airbase.”

Simkatoro turned out to be Simchat Torah, a holiday that hadn’t registered on my religious radar in eons. Services were held in absolute secrecy in a windowless room in a cinder block building. The chaplain led a swift and simple service. We couldn’t risk singing or dancing, but Rabbi Ben Romer had managed to smuggle in a bottle of Manischewitz. Normally I can’t stand the stuff, but that night, the wine tasted of Shabbat and family and Seders of long ago. My soul was warmed by the forbidden alcohol and by the memories swirling around me and my fellow soldiers. We were strangers to one another in a land stranger than any of us had ever experienced, but for that brief hour, we were home.

The wind was blowing dry across the tent, but inside there was an incredible feeling of celebrationOnly Americans would have had the chutzpah to celebrate Simchat Torah under the noses of the Saudis. Irony and pride twisted together inside me like barbed wire. Celebrating my Judaism that evening made me even prouder to be an American, thankful once more for the freedoms we have. I had only been in Saudi Arabia a week, but I already had a keen understanding of how restrictive its society was.

Soon after, things began coming to a head. The next time I was able to do anything remotely Jewish was Chanukah. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was G‑d’s hand that placed a Jewish colonel in charge of our unit. Colonel Lawrence Schneider relayed messages of Jewish gatherings to us immediately. Had a non-Jew been in that position, the information would likely have taken a back seat to a more pressing issue. Like war. But it didn’t.

When notice of the Chanukah party was decoded, we knew about it at once. The first thing we saw when we entered the tent was food, tons of it. Care packages from the States—cookies, latkes, sour cream and applesauce, and cans and cans of gefilte fish. The wind was blowing dry across the tent, but inside there was an incredible feeling of celebration. As Rabbi Romer talked about the theme of Chanukah and the ragtag bunch of Maccabee soldiers fighting Jewry’s oppressors thousands of years ago, it wasn’t hard to make the connection to what lay ahead of us. There, in the middle of the desert, inside an olive green tent, we felt like we were the Maccabees. If we had to go down, we were going to go down fighting, as they did.

We blessed the candles, acknowledging the King of the Universe who commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights. We said the second prayer, praising G‑d for the miracles He performed, in those days and now. And we sang the third blessing, the Shehecheyanu, thanking G‑d for keeping us in life and for enabling us to reach this season.

We knew war was imminent. All week we had received reports of mass destruction, projections of the chemical weapons that were likely to be unleashed. Intelligence estimates put the first rounds of casualties at 12,500 soldiers. I heard those numbers and thought, “That’s my whole division!” I sat back in my chair, my gefilte fish cans at my feet. They were in the desert, about to go to war, singing songs of praise to G‑d who had saved our ancestors in battle once before.

The feeling of unity was as pervasive as our apprehension, as real as the sand that found its way into everything from our socks to our toothbrushes. I felt more Jewish there on that lonely Saudi plain, our tanks and guns at the ready, than I had ever felt back home in synagogue.

That Chanukah in the desert solidified for me the urge to reconnect with my Judaism. I felt religion welling up inside me. Any soldier will tell you that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I know that part of my feelings were tied to the looming war and my desire to get with G‑d before the unknown descended in the clouds of battle. It sounds corny, but as we downed the latkes and cookies and wiped the last of the applesauce from our plates, everyone grew quiet, keenly aware of the link with history, thinking of what we were about to do and what had been done by soldiers like us so long ago.

Silently, he withdrew the metal rectangle and its beaded chain from beneath his shirt The trooper beside me stared ahead at nothing in particular, absentmindedly fingering his dog tag. “How’d you classify?” I asked, nodding to my tag. Silently, he withdrew the metal rectangle and its beaded chain from beneath his shirt and held it out for me to read. Like mine, his read, “Jewish.”

Somewhere in a military depot someplace, I am sure that there must be boxes and boxes of dog tags, still in their wrappers, all marked “Protestant B.”
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« Reply #395 on: December 04, 2010, 09:52:25 PM »

The idea of Jewish religious ceremonies and Manischewitz being consumed on Saudi soil just makes me very, very happy.
« Reply #396 on: December 07, 2010, 08:34:46 AM »

A Little Bit of Oil Can Go a Long Way: How Jews Defeat Defeatism

Would you set out on an important road trip if you only had enough gas for the first 20 miles and no forseeable way of filling your car up for a week? If you were a Maccabee you would.

I recently started wondering why the Jews decided to light the menorah with the paltry sum of oil they found. Why bother lighting an eternal light that you know you can't keep burning? Why not just wait a week until you have enough oil to do the mitzvah properly?

Because when the chance to fulfill a mitzvah comes up, we're supposed to jump on it, even if it can't always be done perfectly. So often in life, we miss out on wonderful opportunities because the conditions surrounding them aren't ideal.

Only problem is, if you wait around for the perfect scenario to come about, you may end up waiting indefinitely. Perhaps one of the reasons the Maccabees weren't defeated is because they weren't defeatists.

They gave all they had when it came to the war even though their chances of winning were impossible. They jumped on the opportunity to rekindle the menorah even though they knew their resources were insufficient. Then they let go and relied on God for the rest.

The story of Chanukah is remarkable because God did come through in those two instances (the oil and the war) and repaid the efforts of the Maccabees with miracles, but truth be told, life doesn't always work out so well.

So why start a task if there's a good chance that it will get derailed along the way by events that are out of our control - or if you know you don't have the fortitude, ability, or resources to complete it yourself? Our sages tell us "lo alecha hamlacha ligmor v'lo atah ben chorine le'hebatel meemenah" - we're not obligated to finish the work, but we're also not allowed to neglect it.  We can't let the audaciousness of the task intimidate us and prevent us from doing whatever we can.

What that means on a practical level is that when it comes to accomplishing, the key is jump right in with all of the resources and talents that we do have.  God will (or won't) step in to do the rest - by miracles or through the help of others - but we'll have done our part. If we focus only on the end result, we'll never take that first, trail-blazing step, and the journey will be over before it's even begun.

Happy Chanukah!


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« Reply #397 on: December 08, 2010, 12:07:30 PM »

They say the most profound darkness comes just before the dawn. The harshest oppression of our forefathers in Egypt came just before their liberation.

That was a coarse darkness of slavery of the body. Today it is a darkness of the soul, a deep slumber of the spirit of Man. There are sparks of light, glimmerings of a sun that never shone before --but the darkness of night overwhelms all.

Prepare for dawn.

« Reply #398 on: December 13, 2010, 10:13:14 PM »

Re-Defining Normal
My Brother Josh

By Ariella Sunny Levi

The author with her brother
I spent twenty years of my life wishing he were “normal.” Imagining. Yearning. Wondering about ordinary things like—what would he be like? What would he look like? Would we get along, and what would we have in common? I tried to picture us going to the same school. I fantasized about bumping into him in the hallways and meeting up inadvertently at the water fountain. I reveled in the imagined sibling coziness of sharing snacks at recess, playing tag on the playground, and laughing out loud about our teachers.

As I got a little older I began to wonder if he would be cool, what his style would be like, and if my friends would have crushes on him like they did on my other two brothers.

I spent twenty years of my life wishing he were “normal”But growing up with Josh, my blind and severely disabled older brother, did not come with the usual perks of riding in the same carpool, playing tag, or sharing a granola bar bite-for-bite. Growing up with Josh came with, among many other emotions, a feeling of being cheated out of a sibling. Sure, he was my big brother, but due to his condition it was impossible for us to have a “normal” relationship. He couldn’t see me. Couldn’t understand me. Couldn’t have a coherent conversation with me. And couldn’t even argue with me.

As we grew up and I became more independent, he didn’t. It was hard for me to accept that he would never “get better” and learn to see or think. There I was starting to read, write, cross the street and pour myself a cup of juice—basic things that most people take for granted—and my older brother couldn’t—and wouldn’t—ever be able to do any of those things.

Instead, Josh taught himself to unscrew doorknobs and cabinet handles, climb up bookshelves, and splash barefoot in the toilets. He made lots of strange, loud noises, hurled nuts and bolts through the air at dangerous speeds, and repeatedly waved his arms around his head as if he were trying to swat a hundred flies at once.

By the time Josh turned twelve years old, his needs were so great that my parents decided to place him in a group home that would provide a 24/7 controlled environment. When I was told about his upcoming move I was both relieved and heartbroken. Even though living under the same roof with Josh was difficult, I was sure going to miss him. Plus, watching a totally helpless sibling get—from my young perspective—evicted, was not an easy pill to swallow. I felt bad for Josh, mad at G‑d, and frustrated with every aspect of the situation.

How could it be, I wondered, that a loving G‑d would do such a horrible thing to my brother? How could it be that a merciful G‑d, who can perform all sorts of amazing miracles, was refusing my simple, pure-hearted request for my brother to heal up and be normal? It didn’t make any sense to me. Therefore, I reasoned, it must be that G‑d wasn’t actually all that loving or merciful after all.

While I was busy struggling with divinity and spiritual disillusionment at the age of nine, Josh’s life was being packed up in boxes and moved out. His new “home” was a thirty-minute drive from our house, and on Sundays my family and I would pile into the car and drive out to visit him. Seeing him in his new place, among a bunch of other evicted, disfigured, disabled and generally scary-looking boys, was heart-wrenching for me. For a while I was too sad to even go inside. I would wait in the car for him to come out. But Josh didn’t seem to mind the new situation too much. This was his new home. These boys were his new friends. And this was something I was going to have to accept.

How could it be, I wondered, that a loving G‑d would do such a horrible thing to my brother? And I did. Sort of.

Life went on as usual. Our noisy house quieted down in some ways, but it was still as bustling and busy as ever. The rush of daily life with four teenagers in the house was dynamic, even deafening at times. And before I knew it, so much had changed. We were all growing up. There were bar and bat mitzvahs, driver’s tests, SATs, high school graduations, summer jobs, college graduations, weddings, and then babies!

We were all moving on and moving away, going off into the world to pursue our dreams and follow our hearts. But not much had changed in Josh’s life. There were no major milestones to celebrate. No bar mitzvah, no graduation, no driver’s license, no job. He did move into a different group home in a neighboring suburb of Chicago, but that was about it.

The six of us kids have now all grown up. Three of my siblings live in Israel, one lives in New York, and Josh and I live in Chicago. Aside from Josh, we are all busy with our lives, families, friends, and jobs. Communication with one another is infrequent and rushed. A short email every now and then, or a phone call before a holiday, has become the norm.

But being Josh’s only sibling in Chicago, I feel a deep responsibility to be there for him. I make an effort to follow in my parents’ footsteps, pile in the car on Sundays with my husband and kids, and make the trek out to the suburbs to visit him. We pick him up and take him out in nature to picnic, play, and walk arm-in-arm through big empty fields.

My kids enjoy holding his soft, delicate hands and feeding him pretzels. They are not afraid of their uncle Josh, not even when he screams loudly, shakes his arms, or waves his hands around his head in hot pursuit of a hundred invisible flies. They have learned to accept and understand his differences, and they have become sensitive to people with disabilities.

I have learned to slow down and appreciate the little things, especially the little triumphs my kids make and the ways they play with each other. My husband has learned to take his brother-in-law, a man older than himself, to the bathroom, respectfully and humbly.

My kids enjoy holding his soft, delicate hands. They are not afraid of their uncle Josh, not even when he screams loudlyReflecting on my Sundays with Josh, I find that in many ways I actually have “more” of a relationship with Josh than with my normal siblings. Who else can I walk with arm-in-arm through the forest at a snail’s pace? Who else can I sit with silently and enjoy the sound of the chirping birds and the rustling leaves? Who else wants to sit on the ground and eat a picnic of trail mix and leftover Shabbat food with me and my kids? Which other sibling of mine has this kind of time? And if they did, which one of them would ever want to spend it in this way?

No, instead we use our ability to speak—to rush through a trivial conversation. We use our gift of vision to look at each other and comment on our superficial appearances. But with Josh, there is so much more than words. So much more than what meets the eye. It’s pure arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, silent, sincere, spiritual togetherness. There is nobody in the world, other than Josh, with whom I have such a relationship. It's the most grounding and profound relationship that I know.

So I no longer wonder what life would be like if Josh were “normal.” I have four other siblings, and I know from them that if Josh were normal he too would probably be too busy with work and family to spend quality time with me, and therefore we wouldn’t really have much to do with each other. I deeply appreciate our special connection, and I see G‑d’s blessing in it. After so many difficult years of wishing I could change reality, I finally accept it with love and see its purpose and beauty. I have redefined my definition of normal. And most importantly, I see that for all those years, I was the one who couldn’t see. Josh has remained constant in so many ways. It was I who was living in my own world, unable to communicate with him. It was I who made it impossible to have a relationship. Josh was always there.

Thank G‑d for giving sight to the blind. That He opened my eyes before it was too late.
« Reply #399 on: December 20, 2010, 10:04:39 PM »

The Mark Madoff Tragedy
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Do the sins of the fathers get transmitted to the children?

The handsome prince had it all.

It was a life of luxury that knew no limits. Private jets, magnificent mansions, unlimited funds to satisfy every whim. The ending? Death by suicide, hanging from his dog’s leash, the body unceremoniously cremated without so much as a kind word recited by way of final eulogy.

That is the remarkable story of Mark Madoff, son of Bernie Madoff responsible for the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that left thousands of unsuspecting investors defrauded of much, if not all, of their life's savings.

Related Article: The Madoff Madness

The life and death of Mark Madoff is truly a powerful morality tale. But there's one part of the story that begs for clarification from a Jewish perspective.

Journalists and media commentators have been all too quick in declaring that what we've seen here is a perfect illustration of "biblical justice." Whether Mark himself was guilty or not is beside the point, they say; doesn't the Bible itself teach us in the Ten Commandments that God “remembers the sins of the fathers upon the children”?

According to the Torah, does liability for sin get transmitted from generation to generation even if the descendents have done no wrong?

Unequivocally no. The Torah itself clearly rejects this approach. When God instructs judges on how to ethically and morally fulfill their divine task he tells them in no uncertain terms, “Fathers shall not be put to death for the sins of children, neither shall children be put to death for the sins of the fathers; every man shall be put to death only for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).

The prophet Ezekiel put it beautifully. “Shall the parents eat sour grapes,” he castigated the people, “and the children's teeth be set on edge?” (Ezekiel 18:1– 3). There is no way God would allow the results of sin to affect the innocent, just as only those who choose to eat sour grapes suffer the natural consequences.

So what is the meaning of the sentence that God “remembers the sins of the fathers upon the children”? While there are a number of different possibilities for what the verse is actually teaching, the explanation that has always spoken most powerfully to me is the one offered by Samson Raphael Hirsch, the prominent 19th century rabbinic scholar.

Whenever God sees someone sin, the Torah tells us the first thing He does is to “remember the sins of the father.” What made the child commit the crime? Was it solely his own fault or was his waywardness due to the fact that he had no proper parental guidance? Was he denied a decent role model by his father and mother? Did he grow up without the benefit of ethical counsel from his elders that could have helped him to lead a life in accord with Torah law? What were the sins of the father that must become part of the total picture determining the extent of the son’s guilt?

In short, what God does is to take into account the nature of one's upbringing before passing judgment on the severity of that person's sins. God remembers - not to punish the innocent but to find a measure of exoneration for the guilty, to mitigate their culpability.

Ironically, the very verse that demonstrates such a great measure of divine compassion is all too often misunderstood as implying a cruel and unjust heavenly system that allows for penalizing the innocent simply because of their biological antecedents.

That is why no one deserves to be condemned for parental crimes, no matter how severe. As of now neither I nor anyone else knows for sure whether Mark Madoff was party to his father's transgressions or not.

We do know that Mark and his brother turned their father into the FBI. We do know that Mark cut off all communication with his father and never spoke to him from the time the Ponzi scheme became public knowledge.

Is it possible that he was a co-conspirator in the greatest theft of private investment funds in history? Of course. But without the certainty we need to withhold our final judgment. Mark did not deserve his horrible end simply because he is his father's son.

Let's try to remember the sins of the father as we think about Mark, and perhaps that will allow us to show a little more compassion for him.

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