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« Reply #50 on: April 05, 2009, 11:15:03 AM »

I thought this was very entertaining.
« Reply #51 on: April 07, 2009, 09:32:31 PM »

When the Sun Sings Again

By Lazer Gurkow
On Wednesday morning, April 8, 2009, Jews around the world will recite a blessing over the sun that was last recited twenty-eight years ago. This blessing is recited when the sun returns to its point of origin, where it was when it was first created. Though the sun passes this point every year it only passes this point on the eve of Wednesday, the date of its creation (the sun was created on the fourth of the six days of creation) once in twenty-eight years.

The astronomical calculations that lead to this conclusion are beyond the scope of this essay and have been well presented in the essays and books published in honor of the occasion. In this essay we ask why we chant the blessing only when the sun arrives at its point of origin. Why don't we bless G‑d for the sun every day?

Celestial Silence

To answer this question we go back to an event that occurred around 3,300 years agoTo answer this question we go back to a novel event that occurred a bit less than thirty-three-hundred years ago. Joshua led the Jewish army in battle against the native tribes of Canaan. Once, during a particularly vicious battle in the vicinity of Gibeon, the sun was about to set and Joshua, worried about the chaotic conditions of nighttime battle, prayed that sunset be delayed till the battle could be won. His prayers were answered and remarkably the sun did not set that day till the tide of battle turned and our ancestors emerged triumphant.1

It is interesting to note the precise words of Joshua's prayer. He did not ask G‑d to suspend the sun's pattern of descent, he asked that the sun "be silenced"; a curious choice of words for an otherwise remarkable prayer. What did he mean? Does the sun in fact sing a song?

Melodies of the Zodiac

Maimonides taught that the sun and the celestial bodies are beings of supreme intelligence and passionate souls.2 The frenetic pace of their physical movement is a reflection of their souls' intense passion and excitement.

The Torah declares, "The hosts of heaven bow to you."3 The mystics explained this curious biblical passage by pointing to the continuous voyage of the celestial bodies across the sky. Stars and planets orbit at incredible speeds, argued the mystics, because they are possessed by an innate knowledge of G‑d and are moved by a powerful urge to draw closer to Him. Their headlong rush across the vast tapestries of the skies reflects their deep yearning for a closer, more intimate, connection to G‑d.4

This, the mystics explained, is why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Holy of Holies, the room that housed the Divine Presence in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, was on the west side of the Temple Mount. The sun's constant movement westward represents its desire to draw closer to the Divine Presence in the west.5 In fact, its descent toward the west is its way of bowing to the Divine presence.6 And as its body bows to G‑d so does its soul. Its soul's devotion is expressed in the stirring melodies that it sings—as Job said, "The morning stars sing together and the angels shout for joy."7

One can almost imagine Joshua's thought process when he asked that the sun be silenced. Joshua needed more daylight to lead the Jews to victory. He knew that if he would ask the sun to arrest its descent the sun might object, citing its need to bow to G‑d over the skies of Israel. Joshua appealed to G‑d asking that the sun's spiritual journey be suspended in favor of the more important objective—the victory of the Jewish people.

On this day the sun begins an entirely new melodyThe sun was created to serve G‑d's purpose, but that Jews conquer the Land of Israel was G‑d's will. Joshua argued that the latter was more important than the former; Jewish victory should outweigh the sun's melody of devotion. He asked that the sun be silenced and his wish was granted.8

A New Song

We might suggest that this is also why we recite the blessing over the sun once in twenty-eight years. The sun's journey across our skies represents a constant melody sung by the sun in praise of G‑d. There is little reason for us to chime in every day, tuning in and out of the sun's twenty-eight year melody.

However, the day that the sun reaches its point of origin and departs on a new cycle around the world is different. This day inaugurates a whole new epoch. As the sun's physical journey begins anew so does its spiritual journey. On this day the sun begins an entirely new melody, which is why it is fitting that we gather to bless its voyage and salute its devotion with a melody of our own.9

This is why we gather in large groups amid great fanfare. It is not only in celebration of a novel blessing, it is a celebration of the sun's devotion; a royal sendoff of G‑d's devoted servant.

Indeed, on this day the heavens speak the glory of G‑d.10

Joshua 10:12-13.

Laws of the Foundations of the Torah 3:9.

Nechemia 9: 6.

Derech Mitzvotecha, Mitzvat Milah, 5a; Siddur Tefilos Mikol Hashanah, Shaar Hamilah, 142a.

This essay is based on a geocentric version of the universe, which has been the traditional position of Jewish scholars. A scholarly debate has sprung up on this issue since modern science adopted Copernicus's heliocentric view of the universe. However, the ideas developed in this essay are not impacted by this debate because its treatment of the sun is relative to our point of view. The reason the sun appears to set in the west is because its soul is indeed anchored in the west. See Igrot Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (vol. 18 p. 393; vol. 22 p. 508. For English, see Apologetics, section entitled "When Compromise Backfires") for a fascinating perspective on how this debate is impacted by the Theory of Relativity.

Tanya ch. 42.

Job 38:7.

See Torat Menachem 5745 p. 2367 where it is further explained that the spiritual blessing of the nations is derived from the sun, whose ability to draw Divine blessing to the world is rooted in its absolute devotion and reflected in its pattern of westerly descent. Joshua needed to arrest the sun's descent in order to ensure Jewish victory over the nations.

Though the sun and earth are aligned in their original positions once every year, we do not recite the blessing every year. This is because the sun's circuit around the earth is not only measured in spatial distance, but also in time—possibly because the sun's position determines all forms of time including that of day, season and calendar year. Therefore we do not consider the circuit complete until it reaches its point of origin at its time of origin, which is the beginning of the fourth day of the week.

Psalms 19:2.
« Reply #52 on: April 08, 2009, 11:32:43 AM »

I just came back from Birkat Hahama prayers.  I enjoyed it. It is not often that you get to participate in something that only happens 2 to 3 times in the average lifetime.

Thousands attend special 'sun' prayer
Apr. 8, 2009
ap and staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

Over 50,000 people took part in the Birkat Hahama prayers at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Wednesday morning.

The special event, a blessing of thanks for the world's creation, occurs when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created. It will not occur again for another 28 years.

Following the event, all roads surrounding Jerusalem's Old City were blocked. Police have requested that those attending the ceremony leave the Old City using public transportation.

In hundreds of places around the world, observant Jews planned to rise before dawn for outdoor prayers and dancing.

In New Zealand's capital, Wellington, Rabbi Haim Dovrat said it was a "re-staging of the heavens as they were at the beginning of time." Dovrat led the rare blessing at the city's Webb Street Synagogue about an hour after sunrise.

It was a "special celebration" as New Zealand's 7,500 Jews were the first in the world to give the blessing, he said.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, Jen Sonenklare said she is taking her children to a beach ceremony in their pajamas.

"This is the first time I've ever heard of this holiday," said Sonenklare, whose husband is Catholic. "If you want to give your kids a religious identity, this'll give them something fun to remember."

In Manhattan, a rabbi was to lead a gathering near the United Nations. Another group was to pray on the deck of a 17th-story penthouse near ground zero, the site of the demolished World Trade Center.

A Birkat Hahama ceremony in 1981 was held on the 107th-story observation deck of the World Trade Center's South Tower, and the rabbi is dedicating Wednesday's blessing to the memory of those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Organizers of a ceremony on the boardwalk in Long Beach, New York, on Long Island, said they would distribute sunglasses to worshippers. But they might go unused; the forecast was for a cloudy morning.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement scheduled live Webcasts from seven locations as the sun moves across the Earth, starting at 8 a.m. local time in Christchurch, New Zealand, followed by events in Brisbane, Australia; Jerusalem; London; New York; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Honolulu.

In Offenbach am Main, near Frankfurt, Germany, some of about 3,500 Jews in the town - mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union - were to mark Birkat Hachamah in front of their synagogue.

"For some, it'll be the first time - and the last time," said Rabbi Menachem M. Gurewitz of the elderly members of his congregation.

"The blessing is an affirmation of God, not as creator, but as the power that keeps the universe in existence," said Rabbi J. David Bleich, an expert on the holiday who wrote a book on the subject. "God didn't just create the universe, then go on an eternal sabbatical. He's like a generator of electricity: If it doesn't keep on working, the lights go out."

An especially colorful ceremony was reported by The New York Times in 1897, when a rabbi was arrested for presiding over the ritual as hundreds of Jews assembled without a permit in a city park. He and another rabbi tried to explain what they were doing to a police officer.

"The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an American Irishman an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure," the Times reported, adding that the officer, wondering "whether some new infection of lunacy had broken out ... seized the rabbi by the neck and took him to Essex Market Police Court."
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« Reply #53 on: April 08, 2009, 12:00:39 PM »

The Fragility of Freedom
by Rabbi Berel Wein

What it means to be free.

In the measured cadence and soaring beauty of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (a speech that American students were once required to commit to memory) there appears a phrase at the end -- "a new birth of freedom." Lincoln hit upon a basic value in Jewish life and in the Torah.

Freedom, rather than being a permanent and expected state of being, is fragile and rather rare in human history. Therefore, because of its very fragility and scarcity, freedom has to be treasured, appreciated and constantly renewed. Every person and every society regularly requires a new birth of freedom to maintain its hard-won liberty.

And this is one of the basic messages of Passover. The Haggada teaches us that "in each and every generation the Jew has to envision himself or herself as though he or she just left Egypt and its bondage." Passover is therefore not merely a commemorative holiday, though it is that as well, but more importantly it is a holiday of constant rebirth and renewal.

In our prayers, we refer to Passover as zman cheruteinu -- the time of our freedom. This implies not only past freedom but current freedom as well. Passover demands from us that we continue to struggle and appreciate our freedom. It is not without dangers and weaknesses. It must therefore be zealously guarded and always renewed.

The question naturally arises: "What is the true definition of freedom?" Where is the line between anarchy and licentiousness on the one hand, and responsible exercise of free rights on the other? All free societies grapple with these questions and issues. Freedom is undoubtedly limited by values, public concerns, other people's rights and a sense of choosing between right and wrong, justice and corruption.

Even if a consensus is reached as to the best definition of responsible freedom, who is to enforce that decision? The police? The courts? Personal conscience alone?

The rabbis of the Talmud defined freedom in conjunction with Torah and its laws and values. The concept of freedom according to the Talmud is engraved on the very stones of the Ten Commandments. But in being so engraved, it is also circumscribed by those commandments and the Torah. "There is no free person without the study and discipline of the Torah," was the motto of the Talmud.

Physical freedom without spiritual strength and its necessary limitations on human behavior becomes narcissism, addiction and dangerous foolishness. Thus supposed freedom can turn into a bitter case of self-tyranny, the worst form of slavery. One of the understandings in interpreting the words of the rabbis of the Mishna -- "a good heart" and "a bad heart" -- is precisely that point. A "good heart" knows limitations and discipline. "A bad heart" is wild, uncontrollable, capricious and ultimately self-destructive. The Torah warns against following the dictates of such a heart.

There is a thread that runs through many of the books of memoirs written by Prisoners of Zion regarding their experiences in the gulag and under Soviet persecution. That thread of similarity relates to their spiritual highs even in jails and punishment cells. The inner serenity of knowing one is right and morally upright ennobles a person to strive to be truly free -- free of one's desires and pressures, and free to view life and one's holy role in it in a clear and unbiased fashion. This is truly a gift of freedom. It is the new birth of freedom that we all crave.

Our evil inclination, our bad habits, our lack of discipline in speech and behavior all combine to make us addicts and slaves. We all know that merely telling an addict to stop does not bear positive results. The addict has to want to stop more than he or she wants to continue his or her addictive behavior. Passover provides the forum for us to stop our addictive behavior and to refashion ourselves for the good. It helps inject within us the new birth of freedom that can alone guarantee our future success in life, family, community and work.

So at the Seder table this Passover, we should truly see ourselves as being newly freed not only from the ancient Pharaoh but from our own modern selves as well. How spiritually uplifting and delightful that feeling of freedom will be.

Author Biography:

Berel Wein, the Founder and Director of The Destiny Foundation has, for over 20 years, been identified with the popularization of Jewish history through lectures worldwide, his more than 1000 audiotapes, books, seminars, educational tours and, most recently dramatic and documentary films.

Rabbi Wein has authored five Jewish History books - Triumph of Survival, The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era, Heralds of Destiny, the Medieval Era, Echoes of Glory, the Classical Era, and Faith and Fate, the story of the Jews in the Twentieth Century - all of which have received popular and critical acclaim. His newest book is The Oral Law of Sinai - An Illustrated History of the Mishnah Logic, Legend & Truth.

Rabbi Wein, a member of the Illinois Bar Association, is the recipient of the Educator of the Year Award from the Covenant Foundation in 1993. Most recently, Rabbi Wein received the Torah Prize Award from Machon Harav Frank in Jerusalem for his achievements in teaching Torah and spreading Judaism around the world. Rabbi Wein lives and teaches in Jerusalem. Visit his site at
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« Reply #54 on: April 09, 2009, 08:49:38 AM »

The Catapult
by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Passover: Why redemptive things happen to good people.

One day in 1962, something terrible happened to Dick and Judy Hoyt. After nine months of joyful anticipation of the birth of their first child, something went terribly wrong. During the delivery, the umbilical cord coiled around the baby's neck, cutting off oxygen to his brain. The baby was born brain-damaged and quadriplegic, coupled with cerebral palsy. The doctors said that the child would be a vegetable all his life, and recommended putting him into an institution.

Dick and Judy refused. They brought their son Rick home, determined to make the best of the situation. Six years later, when the local public school refused Rick as a student, Dick and Judy themselves taught him the alphabet.

Although Rick could neither talk nor move, Dick and Judy were convinced that he comprehended what was going on around him and that he was as intelligent as his two younger brothers. Rick was 11 years old when his parents raised $5,000 and approached computer engineers at Tufts University to build a computer that would allow Rick to communicate using the only motion he controlled, slight lateral head movements. The engineers refused, saying that the boy had nothing to communicate because nothing was happening inside his brain.

"It's not true," Dick insisted. "Tell him a joke." One engineer told a joke, and Rick laughed heartily. A few months later, the computer arrived at the Hoyt household in Holland, Massachusetts. By pressing a switch at the side of his head, Rick typed out the words, "Go Bruins."

At the age of 13, Rick was finally admitted to public school. Two years later a lacrosse player in the school suffered an accident that left him paralyzed. The school arranged a five-mile run to benefit him, and Rick wrote on his computer, "I want to do that."

Although Dick Hoyt, an ex-Marine who served in the Air National Guard, was out of shape, he agreed to push his son's wheelchair in the race. When they crossed the finish line, Rick was grinning from ear to ear. At home he wrote on his computer, "When I'm running, I feel like my disability disappears."

That was all Dick Hoyt needed to hear. In the three decades since then, Dick has pushed his son's wheelchair through 65 marathons (including 25 Boston Marathons) and 224 triathlons, including 6 Ironman competitions. For the bicycling segments, Rick sits in a seat in front of his father's bike; for the swimming segments, Rick lies in a life raft tied by a rope to his father's waist. None of this came easily to Dick. Before the first triathlon, he had to learn how to swim. "I sank like a stone at first," Dick recalls, "and I hadn't been on a bike since I was six years old." In 1992, the father and son duo, called "Team Hoyt," biked and ran across the USA-a 3,735 mile journey that took them 45 days.

In 1992, Dick founded the Hoyt Foundation, "to enhance the lives and mobility of people with disabilities, and to integrate the physically challenged into everyday life."

The video on youtube shows a middle-aged Dick Hoyt, his tattooed arms stretching forward in the water, swimming as he pulls a raft in which lies his immobile, grinning 35-year-old son. At the dock, Dick bends and, with visible difficulty, lifts Rick out of the raft. As he carries his son in his arms some 20 meters to a waiting wheelchair, the several dozen people lining the pier give Dick Hoyt a standing ovation.

Every time I watch the video, I am overcome by twin responses. First I cry at the sheer greatness of this man. Then I wonder if he would ever have become so great if his life had not been stricken -- and galvanized -- by misfortune.


On Passover we celebrate that God redeemed our ancestors from slavery in Egypt 3320 years ago. The sages asked the obvious question: If God is the sole power in the universe, is God not also responsible for inflicting them with slavery in the first place?

Free will means that human beings, such as Pharaoh, can choose to do evil, but whether they succeed in their nefarious schemes is up to God.

In fact, the question is sharpened by reading the 15th chapter of Genesis with the classical commentaries. When God promises Abraham that his descendents will inherit the Land of Israel, Abraham, who is used to covenants of mutuality, questions how this unilateral promise can be fulfilled if his descendents are not worthy. God, in an apparent non sequitur, replies that Abraham's offspring will be slaves in a foreign land and will suffer oppression for 400 years.

The classical commentators explain that the tribulations of slavery would make Abraham's descendents worthy of inheriting the land.

We are predisposed to thinking of suffering as punishment. This passage, in which God's decision to enslave Abraham's descendents clearly predates any wrongdoing on their part, offers a new paradigm: suffering as a galvanizer to growth and greatness.

What quality did the Jewish people need to acquire that could be won only through the experience of slavery?

The Talmud asserts that the defining characteristic of Jewish people is rachamim -- compassion. The Talmud goes so far as to say that if you meet a Jew who lacks compassion, you can legitimately doubt that he is a Jew.

Jewish compassion no doubt accounts for Jews being at the forefront of every social movement dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the downtrodden. This compassion was forged during the formative stage of the emergence of the Jewish nation -- in the crucible of slavery.

Thus the Seder table is laden with symbols of suffering: the bitter herbs, the salt water symbolic of tears, the choroses to remind us of mortar, even the matzah, called both "the bread of freedom" and "the bread of affliction." Can you imagine a celebration of American Independence Day full of emblems of British oppression: Tory uniforms? The muskets used in the Boston Massacre? The preponderance of symbols of suffering at the Seder suggests that Passover celebrates not only our redemption, but also the suffering that led to it.

One of the four Biblical mitzvot of the Seder is to eat the bitter herbs. We are commanded not only to gaze at what is bitter or to remember it, but to actually imbibe it. Only by "swallowing" the suffering served to us do we attain redemption.


Judaism does not glorify suffering. In fact, in the High Holiday liturgy, we ask for atonement, "but not through harsh illnesses." We should never ask to be tested. Yet Judaism understands that the purpose of life is individual and collective redemption (breaking out of our limitations, fixing our shortcomings, and achieving our full spiritual potential), and that the process of redemption often involves hardship, pain, and difficulty.

One of the most pervasive illusions is that the well-lived life is characterized by ease and pleasure. Therefore, anything that intrudes on our ease and pleasure (such as illness, the birth of a handicapped child, financial loss, or the death of a loved one) is by definition "bad." For many, the very question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" presupposes the definition of "bad" as equivalent to "painful."

In the Jewish concept, the well-lived life is characterized by inner growth that creates a person of depth and compassion. Acquiring these qualities usually requires passing through challenges and hardships.

The "ease and pleasure" model produces superficial people. The "inner growth through hardship" model produces people like Dick Hoyt. The crux of the issue is: how do you define freedom? This is the unspoken question behind the Seder. Is freedom lying on the beach for a year? Escape from all pain? Or rather embracing challenges and using them as a catapult for inner growth?

The very word "Passover" [in Hebrew Pesach] alludes to "leaping over." Thus, Passover is the time to replace the paradigm of "hardship as punishment" with the paradigm of "hardship as opportunity to catapult forward."

This is not to say that suffering necessarily produces spiritual greatness. An indispensable component of the formula is how we respond to the hardships that are put in our path. Here are the possibilities:



Last summer, a family from Manchester, England came to Jerusalem. The father, Leon Phillips, was a successful solicitor in his early forties when he was stricken with a nearly fatal brain tumor. Five years and three major surgeries later, Leon is in a wheelchair, his once thriving legal practice defunct, the family's financial resources strained due to their huge medical costs, and their faith and optimism foundering. Sitting with them in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel, I felt powerless to encourage them. After all, what did I know of such cataclysmic hardships?
Then suddenly it occurred to me: Take them to meet Dr. Melamed-Cohen! Dr. Melamed-Cohen, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, has been completely paralyzed and on life support for ten years. In that state, he has managed to write nine books using his eye movements on a special computer. I phoned his house, and his granddaughter relayed to him my request. Dr. Melamed-Cohen's reply was swift: "Yes, come!"

With difficulty, Lucille Phillips situated her husband in a taxi, put the wheelchair in the trunk, and off we went. The elevator Dr. Melamed-Cohen had installed during the early stages of his disease carried Mr. Phillips in his wheelchair up to the Melamed-Cohens' second-floor apartment.

Then there they were, facing each other: two wheelchair-bound men whose lives had been stricken with devastating illness. In a subsequent letter, Lucille Phillips described the visit as "totally awesome":

    We felt so privileged to meet [Dr. Melamed-Cohen] and have a glimpse into the way he is able to conduct his life with such faith, joy, and determination despite his paralysis. We felt honoured to have managed to converse with him and felt so welcome there... We really felt absolutely in awe of him and his family!

Dr. Melamed-Cohen has called the years since his total paralysis, "the best years of my life." When questioned how that could be, since his prior life was filled with professional accomplishments and family joy, he explained that his illness caused him to meet challenges over which he had never thought he could be victorious. He has thus attained totally unexpected levels of depth and compassion.

His life with Lou Gehrig's disease has been neither easy nor pleasurable, but it is redolent with redemption.
Sara Yoheved Rigler is now planning her May speaking tour to the U.S.Click here to view her schedule.
Author Biography:
Sara Yoheved Rigler is the author of the bestseller Holy Woman and of the new Lights from Jerusalem. She is a graduate of Brandeis University. After fifteen years of practicing and teaching meditation and Eastern philosophy, she discovered "the world''s most hidden religion: Torah Judaism." Since 1985, she has been practicing the spiritual path of Torah. She is a popular international lecturer on subjects of Jewish spirituality and also presents a highly-acclaimed workshop for women, "Dressing the Soul." She resides in the Old City of Jerusalem with her husband and children.
Her articles have appeared in: Jewish Women Speak about Jewish Matters, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, and Heaven on Earth
« Reply #55 on: April 10, 2009, 08:52:21 AM »

My Personal Redemption
by Sara Sheiner

As a survivor of child abuse, Passover has special meaning for me.

I got married without knowing it. I may have looked like a sophisticated 20-year-old to the guests at my wedding, but if you were a child who has been abused, there is a part of you that is still a crying baby, an uncomfortable adolescent, a rebellious teenager, screaming and protesting every step of the way.

I never noticed growing up. I doubt if I did grow up. It all passed in the blur that absorbed my childhood, with its unspeakable and unspoken abuse. Then, one day, several years after my wedding, I woke up. I was ready to wake up. I found myself married to a wonderful man and the mother of small children -- and my memory suddenly came back. Perhaps that is not quite true. Rather, it seeped through slowly, drenching my personality with a new identity: incest survivor.

It was the month of Nissan, before Pesach time, and I thought: "Good, it's the month of redemption." Perhaps I thought recovery and redemption would take just a month, and next month I'd be on to other things.

That was seven years ago. My redemption has been a slow one, but miraculous nonetheless. Every year at Pesach time I have new insights into the redemption from Egypt, and every year, the redemption of the Jewish people, as recounted at the Seder, gives me a new insight into my own experience.

Last year at our Seder, my 4-year-old son blithely mentioned how "they threw the Jewish baby boys in the river..." When I heard this I was sickened at the sheer cruelty and domination -- abuse -- of the Jewish experience in Egypt. I felt it viscerally, because it so closely paralleled my own. And it came to me: this is why it had to be God Himself, as told in the Haggadah: "With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, I took you out of Egypt -- I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger... I am He, and no other."

The Jewish experience was worse than what I went through, which could afford be healed with a delayed recovery. The subjugation was total, physical and mental, no slave had ever escaped from Egypt. There was no rescue service, not the United Nations forces, not an army of angels, not anything but God Himself Who could have redeemed us. It was ultimate, primary healing.

And that's why to me, it is the most dramatic part of the Exodus story.

Slow Unfolding

Sometimes I feel frustrated at how far out from the source I am when it comes to healing. Not the ultimate rescue of being redeemed from bondage, with the added drama that had God waited a split-second longer there would have been nothing left to redeem. I never experienced any intervention into intolerable cycle of abuse and neglect, no rescue, no rehabilitation. It just passed in its own time. I waited out the secondary and tertiary waves of trauma, for safety and stability to build, until the memories could resurface and I could consciously start to heal.

In that time, I have grown up. I find, to my great sadness, that I cannot heal with the immediacy and intensity of a child. I feel frustrated at how slow, tortuous and undramatic is my unfolding from sickness to health, from bondage to freedom. But I wouldn't be able to do it any other way. My system has sustained so many shocks that it couldn't take another one. I would recover, then expire.

While I mourn that the child in me was injured but never had a chance to heal as a child, and even while the child in me may still be screaming for the revelation of miraculous, supernatural redemption, I can still celebrate that my healing has the more mature flavor of reality about it. My healing is happening within nature, not above it, but it is no less an act of God.

There is even an advantage to a protracted redemption: the very slowness of my healing engages my volition every step of the way, and in that sense it is a more conscious way to heal. Also, it's not everyone who could go through with it. Just as there were, among the Jews redeemed from the Egyptian bondage by God Himself, a segment of the population who wanted to go back to Egypt, there is a part of me that wants to go back. Like them, I was also born into bondage and it has the safety of familiarity.

But like them, I also have a destiny.

I don't know how I survived. I don't even think it was conscious. Just an indominatable survival instinct that must be an essential part of my character, a part deeper than I ever knew about. It kept me hanging on by whatever means I could until I came to a safe place where I could start to heal.

It's not very glorious; my children won't tell it to their children for generations. But it has its satisfactions. Now I delight in modesty; while once this would have been a travesty, considering what was going on behind closed doors. Now I have children and precious memories; once I had no memory, no baby, no nothing. Now I can, with God's help, take care of myself; not so long ago that wasn't even a possibility.

I am proud of changing myself, changing the pattern of dysfunction that has been with my family for generations. I am grateful that God took me out. I know that just as God took us of Egypt to serve Him with our fullest heart, He redeemed me for the very same reason.

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« Reply #56 on: April 11, 2009, 05:01:38 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
Just Do It
By Yossy Goldman

How do you develop confidence when you don't have it? How does one overcome fear, nerves and anxieties? Well, without going into major psychological dissertations (which I'm not qualified to do in the first place), let's see if we can find some insight in this week's Parshah.

Everything was set for the inauguration of the sacred service in the Sanctuary. The week-long preparations had been completed. Now it was Aaron's turn to approach the altar and begin the service. But Aaron was reluctant. He still felt a sense of shame for his part in the Golden Calf episode. So Moses calls out to Aaron, "Approach the altar and perform the services." (Leviticus 9:7). Aaron did so and completed all the required tasks correctly. But what exactly did Moses say to Aaron to assuage his fears? All he said was "Come and do your thing." He never actually dealt with his issues. How did he address his concerns, his feelings of inadequacy?

Perhaps, Moses was saying: Come and do, and all your fears will be stilled. You lack confidence? Start performing the services and you will see that it fits you like a glove. You were born to be a High Priest and that's where you belong.

Moses was telling Aaron that if he would begin performing his chosen role, the rest would follow. As they say in Yiddish, Apetit kumt mit'n essen. Even if you're not hungry, if you start eating, your appetite will follow. I suppose that's why the first course in a meal is called an "appetizer." (Trust Jews when it comes to food.)

Dr Moses was dispensing sound psychological advice. The surest way of developing confidence is to begin doing that which you fear. Throwing kids in the deep end to teach them how to swim may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it usually works. Some of the finest public speakers were microphone-shy, even neurotic at first. When we lack self-assurance, confronting our fears and phobias can be the best therapy. We discover that it really wasn't all that bad after all and we actually manage better than we ever imagined. And from there our self-belief grows until we become quite relaxed about the whole thing.

I remember when I was a young rabbi just starting out in my career. One morning, the dreaded phone call came. A relatively young woman had passed away. I knew I had to go to the family to comfort them, but what would I actually tell them? Did I have answers for people who had just been bereaved of their loving wife and mother? Could I play G-d? I was pretty paralyzed for a while and fiddled with all sorts of matters of far less importance. I knew why. I was stalling. It was a case of simple procrastination because I couldn't face this most unpleasant task which I felt unqualified to deal with.

Eventually, I forced myself to go because I knew I had to. It was my job and they were waiting for me. And lo and behold! I was actually able to deal with the family and their questions. And I discovered then that they didn't really expect me to wave any magic wands or resurrect the dead or answer for G-d. They felt comforted by my presence and were grateful that I was there for them in their hour of need.

It was for me a very important lesson and a growth point in my rabbinical practice. Experience really is a fantastic teacher.

I would venture to add that it applies to each of us in our Jewish lives. So many people are reluctant to get involved. Too many are intimidated by Judaism and because they are not confident enough about synagogue protocol or their Hebrew literacy, they simply opt out--and lose out. I can attest to hundreds of Jews of every age and stage who have been in that very position and then began coming to Shul. It didn't take them long at all to feel part of the Shul family and they've never looked back. But this most spiritually gratifying part of their lives would never have been theirs if they didn't take that first brave step.

"Come and do" said Moses to his humble and hesitant brother. Aaron came and did and the rest is history.
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« Reply #57 on: April 12, 2009, 05:41:05 AM »

Life in a Day
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By Tzvi Freeman
A day is more than a passage of time -- it is a passage of life.

Before you were formed in the womb your days were crafted, numbered and set in place. They are chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, facets of the wisdom this world imparts, gateways to the treasures that belong to this lifetime alone.

Each day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never -- for no two days in the history of the cosmos will ever be the same.
« Reply #58 on: April 12, 2009, 07:29:55 PM »

My Grandfather's Maror
by Chani Newman

Some bitter herbs cannot be eaten.

"You cannot understand what it was like. You can't imagine."

Suddenly our family Seder, usually exuberant with words of Torah, song, and the telling of our ancestors' exodus from Egypt, becomes more solemn, as my grandfather approaches the Hagadda with the baggage of a Holocaust survivor.

"What about all the times when God didn't save us?"

He can't help but ask the unanswerable questions which continue to haunt his thoughts. The younger generations sitting at the table grapple to explain the "answers" we tell ourselves to support our beliefs -- beliefs my grandfather himself puts into practice even after years of questioning. But as soon as he says it, describing just two graphic examples of the horror, I know my grandfather is right: "You were not there. You can never understand."

I distract myself by casting my gaze downward toward the bowl of maror (bitter herbs) sitting before me. I hold a plastic fork in my hand, using it to mix around the ground up pieces of horseradish. The tiny pieces move around the bowl easily, ready to be swallowed with a minimum amount of challenge to the taste buds.

And then, my fork hits something solid. Mixed up among the tiny pieces lies a large chunk of the original horseradish root, as solid as ever. I try to cut it and stab it with my fork, but to no avail. This piece will not be broken up tonight. It is too large, too hard, and too strong and bitter for anybody to eat whole.

I look up at my grandfather. I attempt to say something worthwhile, some words of comfort. We are still here, getting stronger, still praising God for the good. Thoughts that evil is man-made flit through my head. Thoughts that perhaps, regardless, we just can't understand, mortal humans as we are. But as my eyes turn back to the maror, silence is my response.

Why can't that chunk just go away? It's so much easier to deal with the mixture that has gone through the food processor. Frustrated, I stab at the chunk again, thinking how this piece is more connected to its root than the other pieces. This piece contains more bitterness than any of the ground up pieces.

The images will not go away from my grandfather's brain. He speaks of rabbis humiliated by Nazis who cut their skin off together with their beards, of public hangings. The pain and bitterness is rock solid, indigestible. But for myself, my brothers, my parents, the pain is ground up into tiny, palatable pieces. What can we do about the troubled solid chunk sitting in the bowl?

My eyes divert from the bowl before me and shift to the other symbolic foods on the table. They stop and rest on the lump of charoset (a mixture of sweet ingredients, including apples, wine, and nuts) on the Seder plate. We add sweet charoset to soften the maror's sharpness. The charoset, with its mortar-like texture and bloodlike ingredient of red wine, acknowledges the suffering and bitterness of the Hebrew slaves, while also introducing hope for sweetness in the future generations of our People.

The charoset contains fruits to which the eternal Jewish Nation is compared, and apples associated with Jewish women in Egypt giving birth to the next generation (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 114a). I peer at my family, seated around the table, and think of my new six-month-old nephew, my grandfather's first great-grandchild, whose family celebrates the holiday in far-off Israel.

Taking in the Passover spirit, I realize there is but one thing we can do to respond to my grandfather at such a Seder. We dip the maror in the charoset.

Author Biography:
Chani, a native of Long Island, has enjoyed creative writing for many years. She is a graduate of Stern College, and currently teaches preschool in Manhattan. She is also going for a Master’s degree in Jewish Philosophy at The Bernard Revel School of Judaic Studies. She recently got married and lives with her husband Yosef in Washington Heights.

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« Reply #59 on: April 13, 2009, 06:43:33 AM »

No Bread
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Passover &, four questions for a financial crisis.

What insights does Passover provide into our current financial crisis that can help alleviate our collective pain?

A fresh look at the Seder's traditional four questions offers much food for thought around your Seder table.

1. Why is it that in all other years we eat bread and matzah, but this year we eat only matzah?

Bread is the staff of life. Matzah is the symbol of poverty. To make money, in slang, is to "make some bread." To be blessed with much is to "have a lot of dough." But this year as we look at our bank accounts, our retirement plans and our depleted wallets, we are all too often reminded of the "bread of affliction" our ancestors subsisted on in the land of Egypt.

Why did this happen to us? Perhaps it's because God wants us to understand a biblical truth that we seem to have forgotten. "Man does not live by bread alone" the Torah teaches. We dare not confine the strivings of our lives solely to accumulating money. We must not make material gain our sole priority. There comes a time when we have to learn to negate our overriding emphasis on "making more bread." While society stresses wealth as the primary measure of personal worth, Judaism insists that once a year on Passover, we demonstrate the moral courage to renounce the power of bread as the ultimate ruler of our lives. Surrounded by our families we declare we can survive without the trappings of luxury.

It's ironic that one of the wealthiest men in the world didn't learn this lesson until it was too late. Sam Walton was the multibillionaire CEO of Wal-Mart, the fourth largest US Corporation. As he was lying on his deathbed, he struggled to get out his last three words on earth. He had given his life for his business. In that area, he succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Yet, it was at a price. He hardly spent any time with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. He didn't allow himself the moments of loving interaction, of playing and laughing with his loved ones. His final three words? "I blew it!" He had the billions, but by his own admission he had failed. Maybe we now should be thinking about and thanking God on Passover for this important reminder.

2. Why is it that in all other years we eat all kinds of vegetables, but this year we eat only bitter herbs?

Why does a good God sometimes make our lives not better, but bitter? The Jews asked it in Egypt with regard to their servitude. We ask it today with regard to our dwindling financial assets. It is a problem that every believer has to face in one form or another.

We can learn a great deal from a story that is told about the saintly rabbi, the Chafetz Chaim. Meeting a former student after many years, the rabbi asked about his welfare. The student, in difficult straits, responded, "Unfortunately things are very bad."

The rabbi immediately shot back, "God forbid, you are not permitted to say that. Do not ever declare that things are bad. Say instead they are bitter."

Perplexed, the student asked, "Bad, bitter -- what's the difference? My life is terrible."

"No, my son," the rabbi answered, "there is all the difference in the world between them. A medicine may be bitter but it isn't bad."

True faith requires an understanding that life often presents us with challenges -- bitter moments that temporarily leave us with an acrid taste, but help us to grow, to mature and to eventually become better human beings.

God planned the Egyptian experience for a purpose. In Deuteronomy He refers to it as "a fiery furnace" -- the way in which precious metals were purified. As harsh as it seemed at the time, it was all for a reason. The Torah tells us that the Jews who had endured and survived were all the better for it. And that too must be our hope as we confront our contemporary crisis. Yes, it is bitter -- just like a medicine that will make us better.

3. Why in all other years do we not dip even once, but in this year dip two times?

The past led many of us to believe that we could expect no dips in the economy. The good times would always roll without interruption.

It was in 1929, just before the Great Depression, that many of the brilliant economists of the time predicted that the "age of cycles" was over. The rules that limited human progress were no longer applicable. The stock market could now only go up and up. They claimed unlimited wealth was inevitable. The hubris of man clearly needed to be humbled. The crash of the 30s silenced those who had previously put all their trust in "my might and my power."

The prognosticators of our new millennium proved to be just as blind as their predecessors. They, too, assured us the old rules no longer applied, that we could spend without regard to the future, that we need not save because the value of our homes would only keep rising, that in short we were invincible and almighty.

In a striking passage, the Talmud explains why Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel were all barren from birth, requiring divine intervention in order to conceive. It was, the rabbis teach us, because "God desires the prayers of his beloved." When things come too easily to us we fall victim to a sense of entitlement. We think we no longer have to pray for blessings to come to us if they arrive even without being asked for. Prayers answered before they are spoken deny us the need and the opportunity to express them. Blessings too freely granted can also make us lose sight of our requirement for gratitude.

So we have dips in our fortunes. The good news is that they need not be permanent if we learn from them. All they ask of us is that when times are once again good we don't forget the source of our blessings.

4. Why is it that in all other years we eat either sitting or reclining, but in this year we eat only reclining?

To recline is to lean. And this year there are many who are forced to lean on others for assistance. The demands placed this year on charitable organizations are unprecedented. No one can simply sit back comfortably in his or her own chair, insensitive to the suffering of those around them.

That, in fact, is the very reason God tells us he forced our ancestors to spend all that time in Egypt before he brought them back to the Promised Land. "Be kind to the poor and to the stranger," He commands us, "because you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt." The purpose of Egyptian slavery was meant to teach us to empathize with the oppressed in every generation. We know what it means to be poor, to be hungry, to be mistreated. We were schooled in misery precisely so that we would not fail in our mission to be a light to the world, teaching compassion and kindness.

"This is the bread of affliction -- let all those who are hungry come and eat with us, let all those who are needy come and share our festive meal with our family." This is the way we begin our Passover Seder. It is the most fitting introduction to the holiday whose very story took place in order to teach us this lesson.

We all strive to be happy. We search for different ways to achieve this goal. What is the best way to secure it? We have tried so many different ways unsuccessfully. Social scientists have recently come to a remarkable conclusion. A recent issue of the prestigious Science magazine reveals that studies prove helping others is perhaps the most surefire way to gain personal happiness.

Strange then, isn't it, that we spend so much of our days dedicated to getting, when we would be so much better off if we put more of our efforts into giving. We could all learn much from Michael Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire founder of the Bloomberg financial information firm and New York Mayor, who donated $235 million in 2008, making him the leading individual living donor in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In explaining his philosophy, he said he intends to give away most of his fortune, because "the best measure of a philanthropist is that the check he leaves to the undertaker bounces." And that will insure that he dies a very happy man.

These explanations may not resolve our pressing contemporary problems, but they do permit us to realize that there are profound issues implicit in the divine reaction to our difficulties that transcend our understanding. Our struggle for meaning must always be matched with our firm belief that the God who cared enough for us to perform miracles in days of old continues to love us in the same measure to help us overcome our present crises. That is, after all, why we celebrate Passover.

Author Biography:
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is the author of 12 highly acclaimed books, including Understanding Judaism: The basics of Deed and Creed. He is a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Emeritus of Young Israel of Oceanside which he served for 37 years and from which he retired to pursue his interests in writing and lecturing around the globe. He is also the author of "If God is Good, Why is the World So Bad?"

This article can also be read at:
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« Reply #60 on: April 14, 2009, 01:31:22 PM »

The Freedom Connection
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By Tzvi Freeman
We are limited by the very fact that we have human form. There is no freedom in following our whim, only further slavery to our own limited selves. Freedom can only come by connecting to something infinite and beyond us.

And so Moses was told, "When you take the people out from Egypt, you shall all serve G-d on this mountain."
« Reply #61 on: April 14, 2009, 08:50:08 PM »
The Salted and Purified Rebuke

By Dovid Zaklikowski

What is a culture, an art and, many will claim, a talent?

The passion of rebuke.

We all have something to say about what everyone else is up to. We are quick to criticize and rebuke our friends, neighbors, educators, and leaders.

There is a huge industry, in fact, surrounding the phenomenon of discussing what other people are doing: Talk Radio. The New York Times recently reported that opinion-based news shows on stations such as FOX and MSNBC trump the old fashioned news on CNN. Most of these conversations center on public officials' actions, their policies, and gaffes.

The Torah teaches us to rebuke our fellows for their wrongdoings, as stated in Leviticus (19:17), "You shall surely rebuke your fellow." Discrete rebuke, with the intention of bringing about change in the rebuked individual, has always been part of Jewish practice.

The Passover meal celebrated in Jewish homes across the globe, known as the Seder, is divided into fifteen steps. The order of these steps contains many lessons for our daily lives. One of these lessons involves the appropriate way to rebuke our fellows.

We all have something to say about what everyone else is up to Towards the beginning of the Seder are some interesting, and seemingly bizarre, customs. We ritually wash our hands, referred to as "purification," or Urchatz in Hebrew. We then have a piece of a vegetable, known as Karpas, dipped in salt-water. Then we take the middle of our three thin matzahs and break it in half, known as Yachatz. The smaller half of the matzah is returned to the Seder plate, while the larger half is hidden until the end of the night, when it is eaten prior to the Grace after Meals.

One of the reasons for breaking the matzah is because matzah also commemorates the bread of the poor—thin cracker bread. As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would eat this broken and cheap bread.

Yet the order of the Seder is peculiar. Why don't we break the matzah earlier, prior to the washing of the hands and the dipping of the vegetable? Shouldn't the entire Seder be over this broken matzah, which holds so much meaning for the Passover experience?

The broken spirit represented by the broken matzah could refer to any individual who is down because of a mistake or wrongdoing. The breaking of the matzah is also a symbol for rebuking—the breaking of the spirit.

As individuals, we sometimes silently enjoy putting down the other so that we could be elevated at their expense As individuals, we sometimes silently enjoy putting down the other so that we could be elevated at their expense. Our intention, in these cases, is not G‑dly; nor will it make a difference in the person we are rebuking.

When coming to rebuke another, we must first wash our hands. We need to purify ourselves spiritually, thus removing any personal agendas which would result in damaging rebuke.

We then need to dip that satisfaction we might've received, symbolized by the good vegetable, in saltwater, to remove, to erode, the egotistic layers which cause us to put down others. The salt reveals the essence of good in us, the kinder source in our hearts.

Only then, when there is no other reason beside goodly intention, should one rebuke.

When rebuke is given in this way, coming from the heart, from the depth of good, it will surely enter the heart of the other, and bring about meaningful improvement.

Adapted from the written notes of Passover commentary of my grandfather, the venerated scholar and teacher Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet, of blessed memory
« Reply #62 on: April 15, 2009, 09:17:39 PM »

The story of a prayerby Sarah Shapiro
as told by Joseph Freuchtwanger, nephew of Rabbi Davids

It was erev Pesach, 1944. The entire Jewish community of Rotterdam -- men, women, and children -- had just been transferred from Vesterbork, a deportation camp in Holland, to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Conditions in Vesterbork had been harsh, but continued religious observance had to a remarkable extent preserved the Jews' dignity and their will to live. Under the leadership of the loved and revered Torah scholar Rabbi Aharon (Bernard) Davids, some semblance of communal cohesiveness and optimism had been sustained. Upon arrival at Bergen-Belsen, however, daily existence took a sudden, overwhelmingly drastic turn for the worse, as most of the things that make a human being feel human were taken away. In what for us -- some 60 years later -- has become a familiar yet impossible-to-imagine scenario, families were divided, people starved, the absurdly hard labor broke body and soul, and disease was spreading fast.

Matzah for the Seder was, of course, unavailable.

Rabbi Davids, then in his early forties -- whose wife and three children had been separated from him upon arrival in the camp -- yearned to keep the spirit of his family and flock alive, even as their physical strength ebbed. Yet under such calamitous circumstances, refraining from eating chametz would surely bring on illness and death for an unknown number of Jews. What should be done during the week of Passover with their small daily rations of bread?

He conferred with other rabbinical authorities in the camp, and after anguished and lengthy discussion of this dilemma, they agreed upon a course of action.

On the 14th of Nisan, the Seder night, Rabbi Davids sat at the head of the long table in the male barracks, conducting the ceremony not from a Haggadah -- for of course there was none -- but from memory. When he reached the blessing, "...Who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to eat matzah..." he lifted up his voice and clearly recited the following prayer, as later translated into English by Prof. Harold Fisch:

    Heavenly Father, it is manifest and known to You that we desire to carry out your will in regard to the commandment of eating matzah, and strictly refraining from chametz on the Festival of Pesach. But we are sick at heart at being prevented in this by reason of the oppression and mortal danger in which we find ourselves. We stand ready to perform Your commandments of which it is said, "You shall do them and live by them," (Vayikra 18:5) that is to say, you shall live by them and not die by them. And accordingly we heed Your warning, as it is written: "Take heed to thyself and keep thy soul alive." (Devarim 4:9) Therefore we beseech You that You will keep us in life and establish us and redeem us speedily from our servitude so that we may in time come to perform Your statutes and carry out Your will with a perfect heart. Amen.

He then reached for a piece of bread and took a bite, thereby urging his brethren to do likewise.

Rabbi Davids, along with his son Elijah, died shortly before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by the allied forces.

His wife Erika and their daughters, along with approximately 2,800 others, were evacuated by train from the camp. During the two-week journey to nowhere, 570 died and were buried in a mass grave somewhere along the way. Those who survived the trip were abandoned by the Nazis near the East German village of Troebits.

In 1947, Erika emigrated with her daughters to the land of Israel, taking with her a copy of the prayer that her husband had composed. She died in a Herzliya nursing home in1997.

Each year, her family and its descendants read the prayer aloud on the Seder night, to hear again how Rabbi Davids asked for God's help, beseeching a shattered people to do the unthinkable and live, not die, by them.

This article originally appeared in Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union.
« Reply #63 on: April 16, 2009, 08:30:48 AM »

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

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

A Map of the Subconscious

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

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

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

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

The Secret of Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

Know Thyself

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

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

"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," the Talmud states. The challenge in creating and maintaining a meaningful and powerful relationship is the need to split our own seas each day, to learn how in the depth of our spirits we yearn to love and share our lives with another human being and with our creator.3
1.  Talmud, Sotah 2a. The Talmud is discussing second marriages, however, in many Jewish works, this quote is applied to all marriage (see for example Akeidas Yitzchak Parshas Vayeishev).
2.  This notion of viewing the macrocosm as a metaphor for the microcosm is central to all Jewish writings. "Man is a miniature universe," our sages have declared (Midrash Tanchumah Pekudei 3), a microcosm of the entire created existence. The human being thus includes the elements of the land as well as the elements of the sea -- man has both a terrestrial and an aquatic aspect to his life. In Kabbalah terminology, the sea is defined as alma d'eiskasya, the "hidden world," while land is described as alma d'eitgalya, the "revealed world" (Torah Or Parshas Beshalach).
3.  This essay is based on a discourse by the second Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer (1773-1827), known as the Miteler Rebbe. (Published in Maamarei Admur Haemtzaei, Kuntrasim, Derushei Chasunah.)

« Reply #64 on: April 18, 2009, 06:24:50 PM »

Chassidic Masters

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back and forth, upward and on, the flame of man dances, his two most basic drives conspiring to propel him to bridge ever-wider gulfs between transcendence and immanence, between the ideal and the real.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

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

« Reply #65 on: April 20, 2009, 09:05:23 PM »
Two Candles for Sammy

By Simon Wiesenthal

I first heard of Sammy Rosenbaum in 1965, when a Mrs. Rawicz from Rabka came into my office in Vienna to testify at a War Crimes trial. Mrs. Rawicz remembered Sammy Rosenbaum as "a frail boy, with a pale, thin face and big, dark eyes, who looked much older than his age -- as did many children who learned too early about life." Sammy was nine years old in 1939 when the Germans entered Rabka and made life a nightmare.

Sammy's father was a tailor who lived in two musty rooms and a tiny kitchen in an old house. But they were happy and religious. Every Friday night Sammy went with his father to the synagogue, after his mother and sister lit the Shabbat candles.

In 1940 the SS set up a training center in a former Polish Army barracks near Rabka. In the early phase of the war, the SS platoons shot their victims; fifty, a hundred, even a hundred and fifty people a day.

The SS men were being hardened at Rabka so they would become insensitive to blood, to the agonizing cries of women and children. The job must be done with a minimum of fuss and maximum of efficiency. That was a Fuhrerbefehl -- the Fuhrer's order.

The school commander was SS Untersturmfuhrer Wilhelm Rosenbaum from Hamburg. Cynical and brutal, he walked around with a riding crop. "His appearance frightened us," the woman from Rabka remembered.

Early in 1942, SS Rosenbaum ordered all Rabka's Jews to appear at the local school to "register." The sick and the elderly would be deported, and the others would labor for the Wehrmacht.

Toward the end of the registration, SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum appeared, accompanied by two deputies, Hermann Oder and Walter Proch. SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum read through the list of names. "Suddenly, he beat his riding crop hard on the table," the woman from Rabka told me. "We each winced as if we had been whipped." SS man Rosenbaum shouted: "What's this? Rosenbaum? Jews! How dare these verdammte Juden have my good German name?"

He threw the list on the table and strode out. We knew the Rosenbaums would be killed; it was only a matter of time. People would be executed because their name was Rosenberg, or if their first name happened to be Adolf or Hermann.

The Police school practiced executions in a clearing in the woods. SS students shot Jews and Poles rounded up by the Gestapo, while SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum observed students' reactions with clinical detachment. If a student flinched, he was removed from the execution squad and sent to the front.

After the registration, Mrs. Rawicz worked in the police school as a charwoman. "When the SS men came back from the clearing in the woods I had to clean their boots covered with blood." It was a Friday morning in June 1942. Two SS men escorted "the Jew Rosenbaum," his wife, and their fifteen-year-old daughter Paula. Behind them came SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum.

"The woman and the girl were marched around the schoolhouse and then I heard some shots," the witness said. "I saw SS man Rosenbaum beat our Rosenbaum with his riding crop, shouting: 'You dirty Jews, I'll teach you a lesson for having my German name!' Then the SS man took his revolver and shot Rosenbaum the tailor two or three times. Then the SS sent an unarmed kapo (Jewish policeman) to the quarry to get Sammy.

He went to Zakryty in a horse drawn cart. He stopped and waved at Sammy Rosenbaum. Everybody in the quarry stared -- the Jewish laborers and the SS guards. Sammy put the stone in his hands on the truck, and walked toward the cart.

Sammy looked up at the kapo. "Where are they?" he asked - "Father, Mother, and Paula. Where?" The kapo just shook his head.

Sammy understood. "They're dead." He muttered, and spoke matter-of-factly: "Our name is Rosenbaum, and now you've come for me." He stepped up and sat down next to the kapo.

The policeman had expected the boy to cry, perhaps run away. Riding out to Zakryty, the policeman wondered how he might have forewarned the boy, allow him to disappear in the woods, where the Polish underground might help him. Now it was too late. The SS guards were watching.

The kapo told Sammy what had happened that morning. Sammy asked if they could stop for a moment at his house. When they got there, he stepped down and walked into the front room, leaving the door open. He looked over the table with the half-filled teacups left from breakfast. He looked at the clock. It was half past three. Father, Mother and Paula were already buried, and no one had lit a candle for them. Slowly methodically, Sammy cleaned off the table and put the candlesticks on it.

"I could see Sammy from the outside," the kapo told Mrs. Rawicz. "He put on his skullcap, and lit the candles. Two for his father, two for his mother, two for his sister. And he prayed. I saw his lips moving. He said Kaddish for them." Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. Father Rosenbaum always said Kaddish for his dead parents, and had shown Sammy the prayer. Now he was the only one left in his family. He stood quietly, looking at the six candles.

The Jewish policeman outside saw Sammy slowly shaking his head, as though he suddenly remembered something. Then Sammy placed two more candles on the table, took a match and lit them, and prayed.

"The boy knew he was already dead," the policeman said later. "He lit the candles and said Kaddish for himself."

Sammy came out, and sat down near the kapo, who was crying. The boy didn't cry. The kapo wiped away his tears with the back of his hand and pulled the reins, but the tears kept coming. The boy didn't say a word. He gently touched the older man's arm, to comfort him -- to forgive him for taking him away.

They rode to the clearing in the woods, where SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum and his students waited.

"About time!" screamed the SS man.

No tombstone bears Sammy Rosenbaum's name. No one might have remembered him if the woman from Rabka had not come into my office. But every year, one day in June, I light two candles for him and say Kaddish
« Reply #66 on: April 20, 2009, 09:12:59 PM »
"This Is My Torah Scroll"
By Ruth Benjamin

Henryk was very young in 1945, when the War ended and solitary survivors tried frantically to trace their relatives. He had spent what seemed to be most of his life with his nanny, who had hidden him away from the Nazis at his father's request. There was great personal risk involved, but the woman had readily taken it, as she loved the boy.

All the Jews were being killed, and Henryk's nanny did not think for a moment that the father, Joseph Foxman, would survive the infamous destruction of the Vilna Ghetto. He would surely have been transferred to Auschwitz -— and everyone knew that nobody ever came back from Auschwitz. She therefore had no scruples about adopting the boy, having him baptized into the Catholic Church and taught catechism by the local priest.
He told his son that he was a Jew and that his name was Avraham

It was Simchat Torah when his father came to take him. The heartbroken nanny had packed all his clothing and his small catechism book, stressing to the father that the boy had become a good Catholic. Joseph Foxman took his son by the hand and led him directly to the Great Synagogue of Vilna. On the way, he told his son that he was a Jew and that his name was Avraham.

Not far from the house, they passed the church and the boy reverently crossed himself, causing his father great anguish. Just then, a priest emerged who knew the boy, and when Henryk rushed over to kiss his hand, the priest spoke to him, reminding him of his Catholic faith.

Everything inside of Joseph wanted to drag his son away from the priest and from the church. But he knew that this was not the way to do things. He nodded to the priest, holding his son more closely. After all, these people had harbored his child and saved the child's life. He had to show his son Judaism, living Judaism, and in this way all these foreign beliefs would be naturally abandoned and forgotten.

They entered the Great Synagogue of Vilna, now a remnant of a past, vibrant Jewish era. There they found some Jewish survivors from Auschwitz who had made their way back to Vilna and were now rebuilding their lives and their Jewish spirits. Amid the stark reality of their suffering and terrible loss, in much diminished numbers, they were singing and dancing with real joy while celebrating Simchat Torah.

Avraham stared wide-eyed around him and picked up a tattered prayer book with a touch of affection. Something deep inside of him responded to the atmosphere, and he was happy to be there with the father he barely knew. He held back, though, from joining the dancing.

A Jewish man wearing a Soviet Army uniform could not take his eyes off the boy, and he came over to Joseph. "Is this child... Jewish?" he asked, a touch of awe in his voice.
"This is the first live Jewish child I have come across in all this time..."

The father answered that the boy was Jewish and introduced his son. As the soldier stared at Henryk-Avraham, he fought to hold back tears. "Over these four terrible years, I have traveled thousands of miles, and this is the first live Jewish child I have come across in all this time. Would you like to dance with me on my shoulders?" he asked the boy, who was staring back at him, fascinated.

The father nodded permission, and the soldier hoisted the boy high onto his shoulders. With tears now coursing down his cheeks and a heart full of real joy, the soldier joined in the dancing.

"This is my Torah scroll," he cried.

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League -- the Avraham in our story -- remembers this as his first conscious feeling of a connection with Judaism and of being a Jew.

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Originally published in Kosher Spirit
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London

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« Reply #67 on: April 28, 2009, 07:09:16 AM »

The Source

By Tzvi Freeman
It's not that Abraham and Moses gave the world the ideas of morality and value of life. These ideas were known to Adam and to Noah -- only that with time, humankind had mostly forgotten them.

What these giants brought to the world was a greater idea: That the values essential to humanity's survival can only endure when they are seen as an outcome of monotheism. They must be tied to an underlying reality, and that reality is the knowledge of a Oneness that brings us into being.
Shadow Guy
Posts: 1

« Reply #68 on: May 02, 2009, 07:36:59 PM »

Rachel, you are quite the Rebbetzin, thank you.
« Reply #69 on: May 03, 2009, 10:03:20 AM »

Thanks Shadow Guy.   

The Hitchhiker's Guide to God
by Elliot Olshansky
      You need to find the right question for the answer to make sense.

For as much as there is wrong with Facebook -- endless status updates about minutiae of our friends' lives, for starters, not to mention potential consequences in our professional lives from ill-advised photos or comments -- one thing I love about the program is its ability to reconnect us with friends and family members whom we may have lost contact with for whatever reason.

Recently, Facebook allowed me to reconnect with a friend from high school, whom I hadn't seen in years. Unfortunately, she's been through a great deal of hardship in the last few years, including some that requires heavy medication. She told me that she sometimes feels like she ought to be dead.

She challenged me to tell her why she shouldn't be dead.   

My reaction was instant and instinctive. I told her that she should never say or think such a thing. Her response was to tell me about some of the physical and emotional pain she'd suffered in recent years, and the physical pain she still suffers now. She challenged me to tell her why she shouldn't be dead.

Her descriptions of her life since we'd last seen each other were shocking, and I could tell that under the circumstances, words like "Things happen for a reason" or "God works in mysterious ways," would come off as little more than empty platitudes.

Instead, I wound up telling her about the day I discovered a kabbalistic connection in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The 42-Letter Name

I was blessed to spend my 27th birthday in Israel, having just gotten in under the age limit for one of Aish's Birthright trips. The main focus of our day was a trip to Tzfat. After touring some of the holiest and most important sites in the city, taking a break for lunch, and doing some shopping, our group visited the gallery of Avraham Lowenthal, who presented some of his mystical art.

Having grown up in a reform congregation, and currently being part of an unaffiliated one, I was unfamiliar with many of the concepts explored in Lowenthal's works, and as he described them, I was intrigued. What fascinated me most was his representation of Ana Bekoach, and explanation of the 42-letter Holy Name. Upon hearing for the first time that God has a name 42 letters long, a light bulb went off in my head.

I was in middle school when I read Douglas Adams' book, and was fuzzy on many of the details, but one main plot point had always stuck with me. A hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional race had built a giant supercomputer, called Deep Thought, to compute the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. After seven and a half million years of computing time, Deep Thought gives the answer: 42. The pan-dimensional beings are stunned until Deep Thought explains that they need to find the actual Question of Life, the Universe and Everything in order for the answer to make any sense. Another computer is constructed to discover the question, that computer being the Earth...but we'll get to that later.

For years after reading the book, even as I forgot many other elements of the story, I would still answer any questions as to the "meaning of life" with a joking response of "42." To learn about the 42-letter Holy Name -- and that my longtime joke actually had a spiritual meaning -- simply blew my mind. And I now have Lowenthal's representation of Ana Bekoach hanging in my apartment.

Recently, though, another element to the Hitchhiker's Guide/Kabbalah connection occurred to me. In Adams' story, the Earth is created to discover the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, a question many of us have undoubtedly given some amount of thought to. There is so much that we don't understand about the world, so much that we question. At some level, we know that God has the answer, or, going back to the 42-letter Holy Name, God could actually be the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Yet still, we remain confused in many ways.

Are we all like the fourth son who does not know how to ask?   

Could it be, looking back to Passover, that we are all, in our own ways, like the fourth son who does not know how to ask?

The Right Question

I told my friend about going to Tzfat and making the connection to the Hitchhiker's Guide, and said that while I certainly didn't know what the right question was, her question of why she shouldn't be dead wasn't it. While I was discussing this with her, another thought popped into my head, another reason why she wouldn't be better off dead.

It was a quote from Jackie Robinson, now immortalized in the rotunda dedicated to him at the New York Mets' new stadium: "A life is not important, except for the impact it has on other lives."

As I shared the quote with my friend, saying with conviction that her life can still impact others, I realized that it made perfect sense for me to think about Robinson while discussing Kabbalah and the Hitchhiker's Guide.

Robinson's now-retired jersey number is, after all, 42.
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« Reply #70 on: May 04, 2009, 02:20:02 AM »


By Tzvi Freeman
He doesn't need you to report on the dirt in His world. He is quite aware of its existence, He put it there and doesn't really care to hear about it.

He sent you here to search out the jewels hidden in the mud, clean them and polish them until they shine. And when you bring them to Him, the angels make a crown of them for Him, saying, "Look what Your children have made for You out of the mud!"
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Posts: 42462

« Reply #71 on: May 06, 2009, 09:22:38 AM »

The Inner Plane

By Tzvi Freeman
We balance two planes of being.

An outer world, in which we are helplessly carried down a stream and told, "Now is winter, soon will come spring, then summer, then autumn, then winter again. The unborn will live, the living will whither and die, a world will continue as it must be."

And an inner world, of which we are master. In which we choose that life will be life and death will have meaning and the world we enter and leave behind will be filled with purpose.

The outer world is but a stage. The inner world is its soul for which it was brought into being.
« Reply #72 on: May 06, 2009, 08:14:16 PM »

"A kiss is the highest form of speech because you can talk and listen at the same time."

The Struggle Over The Temple Mount

By: Chaim Yochanan Cohen

The Temple Mount. In Hebrew, Har HaBayit. No other religious site arouses as much passion and controversy as this particular piece of real estate. Within the context of Israel's present-day situation, control over Jerusalem's destiny is like the fury of a hurricane, with the Temple Mount encompassing the very eye of the storm. Endless political and historical commentaries have been written about this particular storm. However, standard textbooks cannot explain the deeper underpinnings of the existential struggle for control over the Temple Mount. Fortunately, the esoteric writings of the Kabbalah provide lucid answers not only to the multi-faceted triumphs and tribulations of daily life for the Jew, but also to the core mystery surrounding the Temple Mount.


The Zohar, the primary treatise of the Kabbalah, made its appearance during the 1280's or 1290's in Spain. Moses de Leon (1250-1305) is considered to have published the work in the name of the original author: the second-century Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Known as the Rashbi, bar Yochai lived during the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE).

Since de Leon's revelation, a select cadre of religious mystics and scholarly Talmudists hid Kabbalistic teachings from the inquisitive gaze of the masses. Today such a vanguard no longer maintains exclusive rights. In fact, schools of Kabbalah are flourishing worldwide; even pop-singer Madonna has joined the bandwagon!

And yet, for all its present-day fanfare, there is a sense that the Kabbalah's appeal for our generation is not the pseudo-MTV apparition soon to vanish before the next onslaught of new-age mystical fads.

If anything, the nearly 2,000 years which have elapsed since the teachings were first recorded have lent a degree of credibility to this tome unsurpassed in the annals of religious mystical doctrine.


To dig more deeply into our subject of the Temple Mount, we need some background information on several concepts as perceived from Jewish mysticism.

Let us begin with the Gemara's description of the Temple Mount as “the place where Heaven and Earth kiss.” (Bava Basra 74a).

This seemingly simple and poetic description requires us to understand the mystical concept of a “kiss.” (The ideas which follow are taken primarily from the mystical work “Nefesh HaChaim” by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, 1749-1821, a leading student of the Vilna Gaon.)

Jewish mysticism describes the mouth as the quintessential organ of connection. The mouth serves a number of distinct functions: eating, speaking, breathing, and of course, kissing. This, according to the Kabbalah, means that all these aspects of the mouth's functionality are somehow intertwined.

1. Eating. Food fuses the physicality of the finite body with the spiritual infinite soul. We grow faint without food, and if the soul begins to take further leave, we lose consciousness. Eventually the soul would take leave permanently (i.e. death) without sufficient food or water. The mouth therefore connects the body and soul by providing the “mystical glue” which binds the two opposite spectrums of physicality and spirituality.

2. Speaking. Words represent a most intimate form of connection with others. They reveal to the highest degree possible what we seek to share about inner selves. The word “davar” in Hebrew means “thing;” it also means “speech.” Not only do we therefore create new realities with our speech, but our ability to speak is one of the key distinctions separating humanity from the animal kingdom. In short, the mouth connects our inner-created realities with their outer-reality counterparts.

3. Breathing. The first Man, as recorded in the the beginning of the Book of Genesis, was formed from “the dust of the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life.” (Genesis, 2:7) Man is therefore a divine combination of raw material and refined spiritual matter. The Zohar states that “one who blows, blows from within.” This indicates that Man's soul is in direct connection with G-d's essence.

4. Kissing. What does a kiss have to do with showing affection? What is the attraction of such an unhygienic mode of behavior? Surely, there must be other, less sloppy ways of expressing sympathy, caring, and love. And yet, universally this is our way of establishing a most intimate connection with another. The organ which bonds body and soul through eating, the organ which connects our soul to G-d's very essence through breathing, and the organ which creates an outer reality from inner sources though speech, all combine to form a kiss.

With this background in mind, seemingly far removed from the present-day chaos and political turmoil surrounding the Temple Mount, we now readdress our original question. What is the significance of stating that the Temple Mount is “the place where Heaven and Earth kiss?”


There is an axiom in the Kabbalah that all which occurs on Earth occurs in Heaven as well. Physical actions below have their spiritual counterparts above, and vice-versa.

Therefore, if we narrow our discussion to the concept of eating, for example, we find that just as we require food to maintain a connection between body and soul, so too does the world need to eat, as it were, to maintain its soul: G-d.

This action was most manifest during the First and Second Temple periods. The sacrifices offered on those altars represented the “food” which kept the Divine Presence in the Temple's “Holy of Holies,” the innermost chamber where the Ark was kept.

The Torah (Numbers 28) refers to these sacrifices as "G-d's bread." Obviously a metaphor, this description - when combined with the Kabbalistic principles discussed above – lend a new understanding into the words of our sages: "G-d fills the world as a soul fills a body."

Since the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE, prayers – that aspect of our inner world manifesting its reality in the outer world through the connection of speech – have substituted for the sacrifices.

The Temple Mount represents that point on the physical earth where G-d bestows His kiss, as it were, His most intimate connection, to the People of the Book, Am Yisrael.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Moslem Arabs, also descendants of the Patriarch Avraham, instinctively sense the holiness of the site, and desire to worship on Judaism's holiest connection point.


In Jewish writings, the Land of Israel is described as they eye of the world; and the Temple Mount as the very pupil of the eye.

Overall, there are a number of reasons why G-d selected the area of the Temple Mount to provide His most intimate connection with the Jewish People.

First of all, the Foundation Stone – the rock from which the world was created – is believed to be located at the Temple Mount.

Secondly, it was the place where Cain and Abel (as well as Noah) were all believed to have sacrificed offerings to G-d.

Thirdly, this is also the site where Avraham was commanded to offer his son Yitzhak as a sacrifice.

Fourthly, the Holy Ark containing the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed is buried in a secret vault under the Mount.

And finally, the Third (and final) Temple is expected to be built on this site as a prelude to the Messianic Era.

This place, therefore, at which “Heaven and Earth kiss” represents the most intimate relation that existed, and will ever exist between G-d and the Jewish people.

In summary, we can credit a few key Kabbalistic sources for shedding light on the awe and mystery surrounding the Temple Mount, and the inherient nature of the cosmic struggle for its possession.
« Reply #73 on: May 09, 2009, 02:28:35 PM »

Bachelors in Heaven

By Yanki Tauber

You meet the man of your dreams. It's love at first sight (you practically fall off your camel the first time you set eyes on him). Not only is he righteous, gracious, handsome, sensitive and spiritual -- the kind of guy who's out meditating in the fields on summer afternoons -- he's also immensely rich. The stalwart heir of the most prestigious family in Canaan!

But there's this one strange thing: no one knows where he's been or what he's been doing for the last three years. Three years ago, following a trip with his father to the summit of a lonely mountain, he vanished into thin air. And now he's returned as suddenly as he disappeared, not a day older -- those who know him swear -- than the day he dropped off the face of the earth.

What does this mean? What does this bode for your marriage?

In marked contrast to other religions, Judaism does not advocate disengagement from the physical world. In fact, some would say that the Torah way of life is not a "religion" at all. The bulk of its 613 mitzvot (divine commandments) are concerned with decidedly non-religious issues: what you eat, how you dress, what kind of neighbor you are, how you treat your parents, how you speak to your children, how you relate to your spouse.

The Tanya (the basic work of Chabad Chassidism) puts it thus,

    This is what man is about; this is the purpose of his creation, and of the creation of all the worlds, higher and lower: to make for G-d a dwelling in the physical realm

Certainly, there's lots of spiritual stuff going on as well. Each day begins with a lengthy hour of prayer. Each day has set times devoted to the study of Torah. The Jew is instructed to meditate upon the greatness of G-d and develop feelings of love and awe in his or her heart. The Talmudic passage (Ethics of the Fathers 5:22) which describes the ideal life-cycle for the Jew designates the first two decades of life wholly to spiritual pursuits.

But always the spiritual stuff is there as a prelude and preparation for the physical -- not vice versa. The morning prayers set the tone for a day in the marketplace; a sanctified childhood and youth prepare for a lifetime of interaction with the material world; a wholly spiritual soul is created and primed for its descent into physical life; the spiritual state of Gan Eden (the "afterlife") precedes the soul's reinvestment in its body in the divinely perfect, yet also physical, "World to Come".

The "dwelling for G-d in the physical realm" is the objective, the purpose. The spiritual stuff is the roadmap, the pep-talk, existing solely to guide, inspire and vitalize the making of our physical lives something that is true to its creator and essence.

An examination of the chronology of Isaac's life, as recounted in the Book of Genesis and its attendant Midrashim, reveals an inexplicable gap of nearly three years. According to Genesis 21:5, Abraham was 100 years old when his son, Isaac, was born. According to Genesis 25:26, Isaac was 60 years old when his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, were born, twenty years after his marriage to Rebecca at age 40. That same chapter recounts an event (Esau's selling of his birthright to Jacob) that occurred on the day that "the lads matured". The Torah regards 13 as the age of maturity, which would make Isaac 73 at the time. But that day was also the day of Abraham's passing. As per Genesis 25:7, Abraham lived 175 years -- which places that day 75 years after Isaac's birth.

According to one explanation offered by the biblical commentators, Isaac spent three years -- the period between the time he was bound upon the altar on Mount Moriah and his marriage to Rebecca -- in the Garden of Eden, in a wholly spiritual state of existence. These years were not part of his physical life. Thus, on the day that Jacob and Esau made their historical deal, Isaac was in his 73rd year of physical life -- while for everyone else, 75 years of physical time had transpired from the time of Isaac's birth.

What does this mean for us? The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers the following insight. In the life-cycle of a human being, there is nothing that signifies the soul's descent into physical life more than the act and experience of marriage. Marriage is when a person ceases to live within his own body and begins to share his very soul with another body, in a relationship that is predicated on the most physical of human drives. The "mundane" aspects of life -- earning a living, financial planning, homemaking, shopping -- consume ever-widening arcs of one's existence and ever-deepening involvement of one's energies. At the same time, it is the most deeply satisfying of life's endeavors. For this is what man is about.

How does one prepare for marriage? By becoming more physical, more materially oriented, in preparation for this further plunge into the human state? Isaac did the very opposite -- he retreated to a state of utter spirituality. This gave him the vision, the perspective, the fortitude, to make his physical life a divine place, rather than a place that obscures the divine.

Want to know how close you are to G-d? Look at what kind of a husband you are. Want to be a good husband? Get close to G-d.

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe

About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London
« Reply #74 on: May 10, 2009, 03:18:27 PM »

A Five part (so far) series explaining aspects orthodox Judaism.  I am not orthodox but think the videos  are entertaining and informative. My favorite is the 2nd Fear No Evil

What to Wear on My Hair?

Fear No Evil

The Hole Truth

A Kosher Konundrum

Jewish Women...Dirrty?

« Reply #75 on: May 11, 2009, 09:54:44 PM »

Lazy Eyes
by Ilana Rubenstein

My quest not to become blinded to life's beauty.

I first noticed my daughter's left eye wandering outwards before her second birthday. Shortly after she turned three, she was diagnosed with a "lazy eye." The problem is that when one eye doesn't follow the other the brain essentially shuts off its use, favoring the good eye and losing the sight in the other. So while her right eye, the "good eye," has 20/20 vision, she has begun to lose sight in the "lazy eye."

In order to restore the vision in her left eye, or at least prevent any further atrophy, we were sent home with a box of patches and instructed to patch the "good eye" for an hour a day, to force the "lazy eye" out of semi-retirement. And so despite her protests and tears, we began patching.

I was thinking that maybe we could all use a bit of this therapy. The Jewish people are now approaching the end of the 33-day period during the counting of the Omer when we recall a plague that killed 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva's students in Talmudic times. We are taught that the plague came upon them because they did not have respect for each other. Our Sages explain that this lack of respect came from an inability to see the spiritual greatness in each individual.

As descendants of Rebbe Akiva's students, we too fall short in this task. To see the greatness in others -- and to act with appropriate respect -- is a skill that must be honed. And like a lazy eye, without use this vision atrophies, leaving our "critical" eye to dominate.

Oxygen Deprived

I recently read an account by a recovering alcoholic. He recalled that after years of living across the street from a gray school building, he awoke one day to discover that the bricks had turned red. Indeed, the bricks had always been red, yet only in sobriety did the world come into color. This had a biological explanation: as the brain is deprived of oxygen, the ability to see in color is diminished.

This got me thinking about how we often become blinded to the beauty before us. We busy ourselves with distractions, work, entertainment, money -- depriving our own brains of what they need to see our world in all its radiant beauty.

The Torah charges us to "Love your fellow as yourself." This directive is two-fold: We must accord respect to our fellow, but we must begin by honoring ourselves. By removing the noise in our lives, this time period forces us to take a closer look at ourselves and begin the work of respectfully working on who we are.

Like the distractions that keep our brains from receiving the oxygen necessary to see the world in color, noise prevents us from listening to the music that is innately within each person. This noise can be our cell phones and Blackberries, as much as it is the voice that tells us we are not good enough, or can only succeed by beating out someone else.

Sights and Sounds

Seeing the greatness in others is not merely an exercise of vision; it requires a keen ear as well. During this 33-day period, as a custom of mourning, we refrain from listening to music. The other day I found myself setting out on a long drive without any CDs in my car. There were only so many cycles of the 24 hour news channel I could endure, and talk radio left much to be desired. I would have to sit in silence. With this opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, I found myself in a sea of worry and judgmentalism. Had I completed my to-do list? What if I don't arrive on time? If only that person hadn't let me down, the project would be a success... This brief encounter with my thoughts was at times uncomfortable. I am used to noise. Sefirah forces us to listen to the sounds of silence.

When we turn down the volume of our judgments and distractions, we begin to hear the music in the silence. From this place we can find respect for ourselves and others.

My daughter still fusses when it's time to put on her eye patch, but she is quickly lost in her Lego and forgets that she's practicing using her "lazy eye." Watching her, my own vision has become stronger. I have become keenly aware of the times I use my dominant eye -- judging and creating divides between myself and another. I have also found the ability to start practicing the use of my own "lazy eye," looking for opportunities of compassion and understanding. These days, the world has become more colorful and the silences more melodic.

Putting it into Practice

Here are a few exercises to sharpen your eyes and ears:

•  Try designating some time with a loved one without any distractions. Shut off your cell phone, don't answer the email, and be only available to that person. Listen. Let them guide how you spend the time. Notice when you want to direct, comment or criticize.

•  Choose a route you usually travel while on the phone or listening to something. Travel in silence. Is there an interesting doorknob on a house you never noticed? You might be surprised by all the details you usually overlook.

•  Find an activity during which you usually multi-task. Eat breakfast over the paper? Check messages while you drink your coffee? Fold laundry while on the phone? Try doing one thing at a time. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself and your routines.

Author Biography:
Ilana Rubenstein lives in Toronto where she studies and teaches.
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« Reply #76 on: May 13, 2009, 03:23:27 AM »

Maturity of the Soul

By Tzvi Freeman
The ultimate elevation of the soul is to find it has purpose. To discover that it is not here simply to be, but to accomplish, to heal, to make better. In that moment of discovery, the soul graduates from being G‑d's little child to become His representative.
« Reply #77 on: May 14, 2009, 09:35:29 PM »
The King, the Peasant and the Nightingale

By Yanki Tauber

The story is told of a king who once decided to reward a peasant who had done him a great service. "Shall I give him a sack of gold? a bag of pearls?" thought the king. "But these mean virtually nothing to me. I want, for once, to truly give something -- something that I will miss, a gift that constitutes a sacrifice for me."

Now this king had a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human ear had ever heard. He treasured the nightingale over all else, and literally found life unbearable without it. So he summoned the peasant to his palace and gave him the bird . "This," said the king, "is in appreciation for your loyalty and devotion." "Thank you, Your Majesty," said the peasant, and took the royal gift to his humble home.

A while later, the king was passing through the peasant's village and commanded his coachman to halt at the peasant's door. "How are you enjoying my gift?" he inquired of his beloved subject.

"The truth to tell, Your Majesty," said the peasant, "the bird's meat was quite tough -- all but inedible, in fact. But I cooked it with lots of potatoes, and it gave the stew an interesting flavor."

Throughout the Torah, we find descriptions of the material rewards which G-d promises for those who adhere to His commandments. A case in point is the opening chapter of the Torah reading of Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34): "If you walk in my statutes, and keep My commandments and do them; I will give your rain in due season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit..." And on and on, about blessings in the field and blessings in the home, fertile cattle, good health and peace in the land.

Many scholars and sages ponder this emphasis on material reward for the observance of the mitzvot. If G-d finds it necessary to reward a righteous life, wouldn't spiritual blessings, awarded to the soul after it is freed from the confines and limitations of the body, more aptly reciprocate a G-dly life?

But the Chassidic masters say: Physical life is the most G-dly gift of all. Depending, of course, on what we do with it.
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« Reply #78 on: May 15, 2009, 08:08:46 PM »

Rachel, perhaps this is not my place (not being of the Jewish faith) or the right forum, but I have a question.

Almost every semester I try to take a class at a local college; exercise my brain and body (I work out a lot).
I will take languages, art history, music, a variety of subjects.

A few years ago I took an Opera Class (I like Classical Music) from a teacher named Kay Lipton.
Dr. Lipton, Phd from UCLA was truly a marvelous teacher; brilliant, inspiring, and thoughtful.  In exchange,
I tried to be a good student (A+) and to be fair, I had a good foundation.  I think we respected each other; the other
students simply wanted the credit.

Head of the Mozart Society, her knowledge of music was breathtaking.  Only to be exceeded by her strong base in her Jewish faith.  We exchanged many "enjoyable" arguments especially concerning the conducting of Herbert von Karian and the music of Richard Wagner.

She left to follow her husband to a new "job". I was saddened only because I wanted to take another of her classes.  And I enjoyed her personally.  She will be sorely missed.

Her husband is a Cantor.  Pardon my ignorance, but my question is could you expound a little bit on the position of "Cantor".

Thank you.

« Last Edit: May 15, 2009, 11:00:42 PM by JDN » Logged
« Reply #79 on: May 16, 2009, 10:27:30 AM »

I  am always happy to answer questions about Judaism (assuming I know or can find out the answer).  The only time I don't like taking about Judaism/Religion   is when someone starts the conversation as a conversion attempt.    As as side note my Mother finds  my adult interest in Judaism hilarious because  I was not the scholar in Sunday School. 

Speaking of questions,
   What kinds of material are people interested in.  I'm not sure who  besides Marc is reading this thread.   In general I pick out material that I personally find touching or helpful and Ithat I think others will as well.   

Cantor/Hazzon is Jewish musical Clergy that leads or participates in the prayer service .  Historically the Rabbi's  main job was to answer questions relating to Jewish Law and not necessary lead the prayer services.   

A cantor could be the main person who leads the service or leads the musical part of the service .  Most of a traditional Jewish  prayer service is sung or chanted and it is very nice to have some one who can sing well lead the service. Not all synagogues have a cantor on staff. My smaller synagogue only has one for the High Holidays( Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur) and the Rabbi usually  leads the service including the singing. 

The curriculum for cantors  generally include, but are not limited to:

    * Learning a nusach (liturgical tradition.)
    * Learning the laws and traditions pertaining to Jewish prayer service
    * The history and content of the siddur
    * Music theory, sight-reading sheet music
    * Learning an instrument, usually a piano or guitar.
    * Singing technique
    * Cantillation – tropes for the liturgical chanting of biblical books
    * Choral

Cantors would spend a lot time preparing students for their bar/bat mitvah.

Here are two links for more information
« Reply #80 on: May 16, 2009, 10:31:03 AM »
The Counting of the Omer

   S'firat Ha-Omer (in Hebrew)

    You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... -Leviticus 23:15-16

    You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the L-RD, your G-d -Deuteronomy 16:9-10

According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15), we are obligated to count the days from Passover to Shavu'ot. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. This grain offering was referred to as the Omer.

Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu'ot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days. So on the 16th day, you would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer." The Orthodox Union has a chart that provides the transliterated Hebrew and English text of the counting day-by-day.

The counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu'ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.

This period is a time of partial mourning, during which weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing are not conducted, in memory of a plague during the lifetime of Rabbi Akiba. Haircuts during this time are also forbidden. The 33rd day of the Omer (the eighteenth of Iyar) is a minor holiday commemorating a break in the plague. The holiday is known as Lag b'Omer. The mourning practices of the omer period are lifted on that date. The word "Lag" is not really a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals). See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numbers.

The Other Side of Unforgivable
Counting the Omer
By Tzippora Price

A friend of mine felt insulted by a comment I had made. Although the comment wasn't intended to be hurtful, was not said in anger, and was open to various interpretations, she felt slighted nonetheless. Over the course of the next two years, I apologized three times, including once in a formal letter. Finally she forgave me, acknowledging "At least you feel bad about it." But the friendship was over. In her mind, what I had done was unforgivable.

Since that friendship ended, I have decided that there is very little place in my life for unforgivable, especially among friends, and extra-specially among family. Most hurts, misunderstandings, and even hurtful acts can and should be forgiven. We grow, they grow, and we chalk it up to life experience. In this way, allowing for mistakes and imperfections, I have found that relationships can grow and flourish for years.

Most hurts can be forgiven I wasn't always like this. In fact, I suspect that once upon a time, I was very much like my friend. I was easily hurt, and I guarded my hurt tightly. The world was populated by people who could have and should have known better. I have had to learn how to push myself to say "I was hurt by what you said." Most of the time, the other party responds, "I had no idea. I am sorry." Or sometimes with the response, "Well I was hurt by something you said/did as well."

What pushed me to change, to learn how to forgive and move on, was a growing awareness that I, too, am imperfect. Perhaps once upon a time, I honestly expected to achieve perfection by age thirty. Now thirty has come and gone, and the elusive self-perfection that seemed just around the corner has faded into the distant horizon.

Now I am as old as my parents were when, as a teenager, I judged them so harshly, and expected them to be much more together than I am now. I am aware that one day my own kids will come to me with a list of my transgressions, and at that time I hope they will find my failings forgivable.

Yet how can I expect to be forgiven if I have not extended the same grace to others, if I have not demonstrated with my daily behavior that we can treasure our relationships despite their imperfections?

The Omer period is especially suited to the emotional stock-taking and spiritual stretching that long-term relationships require. Although the Jewish people were on the lowest level of spiritual imperfection, the long-standing relationship that G‑d had established with our forefathers meant that G‑d still found us worthy of redemption and forgiveness, and allowed us to develop a special relationship with Him through receiving the Torah.

G‑d still found us worthy of redemption and forgiveness Sometimes it is hard for me to forgive someone when I recognize that she will probably make the same mistake again, and maybe in the same way, despite her best intentions. At that time, I find it helpful to remind myself that shortly after the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai and received the Torah, we messed up and almost destroyed our new found spiritual connection with G‑d. At that time, when unexpected setbacks delayed Moses from returning, it was the very same Jews who accepted the Torah and promised to keep it faithfully that immediately regressed to idolatry.

And G‑d forgave them. G‑d forgave us. If they worshipped a golden calf shortly after receiving the Torah, and G‑d forgave them, then I can also forgive people. After all, that was pretty big, and G‑d let it go, so I can let things go as well.

The problem is: how do you get there? How do you learn how to forgive when it is not an intrinsic part of your personality, and not just say 'that's G‑d, not me'?

That's where counting the Omer comes in. Every day we count one day. We acknowledge that today, we are a little better than we were yesterday. A little more loving. A little more humble. Today I can be a little more forgiving, a little more understanding. I can acknowledge that even when people should have known, they didn't, or they felt pressured, or they just made a mistake.

For a long time, I hoped that my friend would forgive me if I just apologized again, or said things differently. But then, after awhile, I realized that it wasn't about me anymore. By that point, it was about her holding on to something that should have blown over a long time ago.

That experience taught me that forgiving isn't about the forgiven. It is about the forgiver. By forgiving, I move up the spiritual ladder. I climb up another rung.

These days, I don't expect to reach the top of the ladder. Perfection is somewhere up there in the clouds. But I can expect to keep climbing, and I can expect the Omer period to remind me to keep moving forward.

Each of these achievements deserves it own blessing The Omer teaches us that it is not okay to remain in the same place we were yesterday. When we count the Omer, we make a blessing on that day's count, which reflects the singular spiritual achievement of that individual day.

Unfortunately, many things in life are looked at only in their entirety, in terms of their completion. Little, if any, credit is given for the process, the journey. We don't look at how many days someone spent in the college library. We look at whether or not they received a degree. We don't look at how many buses or trains someone took to work, we look at whether they got there on time, whether they made it before the bell rang.

Yet the Omer teaches us to look at things differently. Did we move forward today? Did we come closer to our goal? Did we hold out a little longer before we blew our cool? Each of these achievements deserves its own place in our consciousness and awareness. Each deserves it own blessing.

Recognizing that I am growing, I can recognize the growth of those around me. I can smile. I can apologize. And I can also forgive.
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« Reply #81 on: May 16, 2009, 12:52:32 PM »

Rachel; thank you. 

Interesting; so in addition to faith, perhaps the commonality of music draws my teacher and her husband close together.

As for material, I always read and learn on this post.  Unlike Marc my knowledge is minimal, but I truly enjoy learning about
religions and you do a wonderful job posting.  It is a pleasant reprieve from the politics.

« Reply #82 on: May 17, 2009, 09:29:50 PM »

Thanks JDN,

Lag B'Omer was actually a few days ago
Whispering Flames: The Fire of Lag B'Omer__
by Rabbi Doniel Baron

Tapping into the fiery, spiritual energy that is embedded in every iota of creation.

Fire. With dancing, leaping, flashing tongues of flame, fire lights up the Lag B'Omer night sky. Jews light bonfires to commemorate the holiday, continuing a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Lag B'Omer is the day on which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed the chief mystical work, the Zohar, through an explosion of fire, and it is the day on which he died.

The tongues of flame whisper a message. What is the mysterious, inner meaning of all the fire?

To unravel the mystery, we need to go 3,500 years back in time to young Abraham in Mesopotamia, left to mind his father's idol shop. He looked at the sun, the moon, the stars and heavenly bodies and concluded that it would be ridiculous to think that inanimate, man-made idols had control over these things. As he contemplated more and more evidence of design in the world, he concluded that there must be a Creator who controls all.

The world around him thought otherwise, and even united to build a tower to "fight" their conception of God. But the more Abraham saw in the world, the more he realized that everything is guided by the hand of the Creator.

Abraham's discovery is expressed through a metaphor that sheds light on the deeper meaning of fire. Abraham coming to recognize God is compared to a wanderer who sees a mansion engulfed in flames and subsequently concludes that the mansion must have an owner. The master of the house then sees the wanderer and introduces himself. Abraham similarly looked at the world and concluded that it must have a Master, and merited the Master's acknowledgement (Bereishit Rabba 39:1).

This is a difficult parable to understand. A burning mansion is more a sign of neglect than of ownership. What did Abraham, the wanderer of the parable, see that pointed to a Master?

The Hebrew language, the language of creation according to Jewish tradition, provides us with the key to unlocking the metaphor.

The Hebrew word for 'thing,' the generic word that captures all physical objects, is 'davar.' Davar derives from the Hebrew root 'dibur' which means 'to speak.' This is no coincidence. It teaches us that every davar expresses a dibur -- a spoken message. Every physical object or phenomenon, in addition to its physical reality, conveys a spiritual comment on existence.

For example, a rose, on the surface level, is aesthetically pleasing and fragrant. But the rose also conveys a deeper message: intricacy and symmetry that points to intelligent design and a Designer. The external message is readily apparent. However, the inner meaning of an object can be elusive, and sometimes one needs to develop a sensitivity before one can understand the dibur - the message, that lies hidden within every davar - thing.

The fire of the mansion was an allusion to the dibur in every object in the world. Abraham saw the mansion - the world - on fire. Fire is a unique phenomenon. It has the power to transform anything that comes into contact with it into fire itself. The release of the latent energy in the object cast into the flames gives rise to a more powerful fire. Fire reveals that within everything, in addition to the practical function of a davar - a thing, there lies hidden energy that, when tapped, gives off light that was not apparent to one looking only at the practical function of the object. That energy is the metaphor for the dibur - the message embedded in everything in the world.

Abraham was able to look at the world and see the fire burning. As a child, he contemplated the sun, the moon and the stars and concluded that they were too sophisticated to be the product of chance. There had to have been a Creator, a Designer who fashioned everything in the world, and continues to control it all. For Abraham, the sun served more than its practical external functions of giving off warmth and light. It broadcasted the message that something so awesome could not have come about by itself.

Physics teaches the laws of entropy. Left alone, things in nature move from a state of higher order to lower order, marching toward chaos. Abraham realized that it is impossible to understand the world as the product of chance. To Abraham, everything in the world expressed a deeper meaning, intelligent design and a Designer who continues to guide his creation.

Abraham saw the mansion burning. The flames, however, were not the fire of destruction. Instead, they represented the hidden energy in the mansion of the world, the inner message, the dibur, that points to the greatness of the Creator who could form such a place. The figurative flames whisper that in addition to the simple function of every davar in the word, there lies a deeper meaning that points to God for those like Abraham who had the eyes to see it.

It is no wonder that we commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with fire. Rabbi Shimon lived in both realms at the same time; in the world of the physical as we know it, and in the realm where the spirituality in everything physical, the dibur in everything, was apparent. To Rabbi Shimon, the world was ablaze with spiritual energy, abounding with tongues of fire whispering messages about the Creator. Not surprisingly, Rabbi Shimon gave us the Zohar, the book of the mystical inner meaning that belies everything.

The ancient, the mystical and the spiritual have applications in modern times. The practical challenge of Lag B'Omer is to see the potential energy in every object and every person, instead of being fooled by the facade of the external.

Spirituality and providence are everywhere, even for those of us who are not Rabbi Shimon. However, we can easily smother the flames of inner meaning by covering over any sparks of life and attributing everything to chance.

Lag B'Omer invites us to look deeper and to hear the ever-present broadcast throughout creation. The flames of Lag B'Omer call to us and whisper that there is more to every person and every object than meets the eye, that one should never give up even if a situation looks hopeless. Look beyond the superficial and acknowledge deeper realms of existence; embrace worlds that we cannot see or touch, but which are every bit as real as the one in which we live.

Click here for more articles on Lag B'Omer.
Author Biography:
Rabbi Doniel Baron is a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminar. He received his law degree from NYU School of Law and practiced law at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. He presently lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
This article can also be read at:
« Reply #83 on: May 18, 2009, 10:16:34 PM »

Sleepless in New Jersey
by Allison Josephs

What if living out the dreams of your ancestors keeps you up at night?

Growing up, I remember hearing stories about two of my great-grandfathers, both of whom left behind tradition in pursuit of the American dream.

Grandpop Sam, my father's grandfather, was an avowed Capitalist, even as a child. So at the ripe old age of twelve, when Communism began to sweep through Eastern Europe, he left his entire family behind in Russia - along with his religious lifestyle - never to see either again. He arrived penniless and parentless, hardly knowing a word of English, and not a decade later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he got married, opened a cigar factory, and was soon buying a new Cadillac for himself every two years.

My mother's grandfather, Abraham, did not fare as well in America. Although he did everything in his power to provide for his family (including keeping his haberdashery open on the Sabbath), Grandpa Abraham died at 36 from leukemia, leaving behind his young wife and three children to struggle through unyielding financial hardship at the start of the Great Depression.

Along the way, both of these great-grandfathers shed their Jewish observance in order to make a better life here in America. Three generations later, I was quite representative: upper middle class, assimilated, and living in Northern New Jersey.

Our comfortable lifestyle was founded on our great-grandfathers' sacrifices. My father was a doctor. We had a pool in our backyard, a vacation house in the mountains, and we attended private school. My mom had us in more after-school activities than I can remember: dance, gymnastics, ice skating, tennis, baton twirling, piano lessons and Hebrew school, to name a few. On Saturday mornings we'd climb into bed with my parents for tickle-wars with my father, followed by a waffles-and-bacon breakfast prepared by mom. And we rarely missed our Thursday family night out for Chinese food.

Despite all the wonderful things I had in my life, it occurred to me one day, at around the age of eight when I was well into collecting Garbage Pail Kid cards, though still regularly conducting Barbie weddings, that there was something enormous missing from my life. No, not a sense of fashion; everyone in the late 80's was wearing their hair big and tall, with rhinestone-studded baggy shirts, tight pants, and slouch socks. What I was missing, rather, was something profound and yet so basic:I didn't know why I was alive.

This realization was brought on by a discussion my father and I were having about infinity. He was trying to explain that not only do numbers go on forever, but that there's also an infinite amount of space between every integer. We then started talking about how the universe has no end either. (One might wonder why a father would burden his young child with such knotty concepts, but my dad is a natural born numbers guy who hadn't a clue at the time how his seemingly harmless banter would come to wreak havoc on my psyche.)

This notion of infinity started messing with my little eight year old brain, and I began staying up at night, trying to wrap my head around these concepts.

Then a tragic event exacerbated my worries about infinity and launched me into years of insomnia, panic attacks, and existential angst. As the story was retold in whispers by my classmates on a cold December morning of my 4th grade year, my schoolmate Angela's father had gone crazy the night before. Thinking he was going to die, he decided to take his kids along with him. Angela's mother came home later that evening to find her whole family dead at her husband's hand.

Now, I grew up in a sleepy suburban town where things like this just didn't happen. So when something like this did happen, I was forced to confront the fact that I too could die at any moment, and that life was not nearly as stable and predictable as I had always assumed. This got me thinking about the eternity of death -- how I'd be either somewhere or nowhere forever. Then I realized something even more disturbing: I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the time I'd been given before I had to confront that unknown eternity.

I approached my parents one day -- I was almost nine -- and casually asked, "Why are we here?"

"Where?" they responded, sharing quizzical looks.

"You know," I persisted, "living. What are we here for?"

While most parents probably dread the day their kid asks them "where did I come from," my parents would have gladly discussed some birds and bees with me at that moment to avoid the philosophical Pandora's Box I had just opened. "Um," is about all they could muster in response

Their inability to answer my question upset and surprised me. They were the ones who brought me into this world. How could they not know what they were doing in it? It seemed irresponsible of them to have gotten me tangled up in this mess of existence when they hadn't bothered to figure it out for themselves yet.

Desperately, I began asking other people this question -- friends, family, teachers, anyone who might have a clue. But no one seemed able to answer what I had assumed to be a very basic question.

Eventually I came to think that life was not much more than people staying so busy that they never had time to consider what they were staying so busy for in the first place. But I was never able to keep myself distracted for very long. During the day, when I was tied up with school or other activities, I could push away the big questions that haunted me. But late at night, when all the noise was gone and I was left alone with my thoughts, I was tortured. Why did the day I just lived even matter? Why should I bother waking up tomorrow to do it all over again?

I never once considered the possibility that there simply was no purpose. The world seemed too detailed and complex, human beings too full of talent and abilities, to have it all be used for nothing. But each day that passed without finding an answer brought me one day closer to the end, and I was painfully aware that once my time ran out, I would get no more.

Over the next eight years, I would suffer from off-and-on insomnia and panic attacks. I would get a nauseous, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mind would fixate on the fact that there was no way of escaping the eternity that awaited me. I would repeat over and over again to myself, "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God" until someone (usually my older sister) would pull me out of my state.

It was around junior year of high school that I took a class called "Taoism and Pirkei Avot" at the local twice-a-week Hebrew high school. Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") didn't promise to be too interesting, but getting to study Taosim seemed exotic and exciting.

My teacher, tall and lanky, wore a ying-yang ring and a yarmulke. A young, approachable observant Jew, he showed us that Pirkei Avot was similar to the Tao Te Ching, and at the same time distinctly profound and relevant. We were a motley crew of teenagers searching for something deeper, studying and discussing some of Judaism's thoughtful wisdom. For the first time I understood that my heritage had more to offer than good food, humor, and guilt.

Hawaiian Epiphany

Soon after the semester wrapped up, my family took a winter break trip to Hawaii. We stayed right by the shore in Maui for a week, and my father -- good old numbers guy -- told me to listen to the waves. So I did. I listened in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. I listened to them when I went to sleep, and when I woke up the next day I heard them again. It occurred to me that waves had never stopped crashing. I ran to my father to announce my discovery.

He looked at me as if I had gone mad. "Waves don't stop. So what?"

But I challenged him to do the math, and we figured out that if the world was a million years old, the waves on that shore would have crashed 10 to 12 trillion times, without once ever stopping. And not just on that one shore - but on countless shores across the planet.

And then it hit me: If I had spent 16 years taking something so profound for granted, I must be missing so much more. I spent the rest of my vacation trying to appreciate the natural world like I never had before. But it wasn't until the last day of the trip that my life would change forever.

My family and I were hiking through a breathtaking tropical rainforest called the Road to Hanna (where Jurassic Park was filmed). In the middle of the hike, we came upon some bamboo shoots whose bark was covered in green and gold vertical stripes

"Did someone paint these on here?" I wondered aloud.

Everyone in my family had an opinion on the matter. Some said painted, some said natural, but my father came over to settle the confusion. "These lines are too straight and flawless to be natural," he assured us.

But when I looked up, I saw that the shoots towered over us 50 feet in the sky, with stripes all the way to the top.

"Wow," I muttered to myself, "God has quite a paintbrush."

I took a few more steps and shook off the wonder of the moment, only to stop in front of the most incredible tree I've ever seen. It had a smooth bark, lavender background, and was covered in pink, blue, and green swirls. There was no doubt in my mind: Some nutty artist was painting the trees in this forest. It was the only thing that made sense. But when my mother told me to look up, I saw that the color continued to the top of the trunk. And for a brief moment, it was as though I understood the entire universe.

The best way I've been able to describe my experience is that I had a moment of clarity during which I tapped into a greater sense of harmony in existence. And in an instant I went from intense doubting to intense belief in God.

The nauseous, empty feeling that used to occur in the pit of my stomach as I'd contemplate my own demise was suddenly filled with warmth and light. What I realized in that moment was that from every comet to every caterpillar, every thing in the universe was in its exact right place and time, including me and my life.

Of course, I was petrified to leave Hawaii. I doubted -- in all of New Jersey's ugliness -- if I'd ever experience such transcendence again. But when I got back home and continued on with my Jewish studies, I began to understand that it is not occasional moments of spirituality that provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Yes, those moments give us inspiration and often point us in the right direction. But it is through day-to-day study and observance that a person builds a lasting connection with that awesome force that I tapped into in the forest in Hawaii.

My great-grandfathers sacrificed everything to pursue the American Dream. Three generations later, I retraced a path back to their Jewish roots and returned to a place of tradition and observance that had been all but forgotten within my family. I learned that everyday actions can transcend our transient lives, and connect us to something greater and more permanent. Now I live my life with that knowledge, which has finally -- and thankfully -- put my mind at rest.

Author Biography:
Allison Josephs is the creator of, which features her online videos and blogs that challenge the public perception of Orthodox Jews and traditional Judaism. She is also is a regular blogger on Allison has been involved in the field of Jewish Outreach for ten years, teaching and lecturing, and has worked for Partners in Torah, Sinai Retreats, NCSY and Stars of David. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Columbia University.
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« Reply #84 on: May 19, 2009, 10:09:36 PM »

Star of David
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

From the Holocaust to the Israeli flag, what is the deeper meaning of this six-pointed Jewish symbol?

In modern times, the Star of David has become a premier Jewish symbol. This six-pointed star (hexagram), made of two interlocking triangles, can be found on mezuzahs, menorahs, tallis bags, and kipot. Ambulances in Israel bear the sign of the "Red Star of David," and the flag of Israel has a blue Star of David planted squarely in the center.

What is the origin of this six-pointed symbol?

Through the Jewish people's long and often difficult history, we have come to the realization that our only hope is to place our trust in God. The six points of the Star of David symbolize God's rule over the universe in all six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down.

Originally, the Hebrew name Magen David -- literally "Shield of David" -- poetically referred to God. It acknowledges that our military hero, King David, did not win by his own might, but by the support of the Almighty. This is also alluded to in the third blessing after the Haftorah reading on Shabbat: "Blessed are you God, Shield of David."

Various other explanations exist on the meaning behind the Star of David.

One idea is that a six-pointed star receives form and substance from its solid center. This inner core represents the spiritual dimension, surrounded by the six universal directions. (A similar idea applies to Shabbat -- the seventh day which gives balance and perspective to the six weekdays.)

In Kabbalah, the two triangles represent the dichotomies inherent in man: good vs. evil, spiritual vs. physical, etc. The two triangles may also represent the reciprocal relationship between the Jewish people and God. The triangle pointing "up" symbolizes our good deeds which go up to heaven, and then activate a flow of goodness back down to the world, symbolized by the triangle pointing down.

A more practical theory is that during the Bar Kochba rebellion (first century), a new technology was developed for shields using the inherent stability of the triangle. Behind the shield were two interlocking triangles, forming a hexagonal pattern of support points. (Buckminster Fuller showed how strong triangle-based designs are with his geodesics.)

One cynical suggestion is that the Star of David is an appropriate symbol for the internal strife that often afflicts Jewish nation: two triangles pointing in opposite directions!

The Star of David was a sad symbol of the Holocaust, when the Nazis forced Jews to wear an identifying yellow star. Actually, Jews were forced to wear special badges during the Middle Ages, both by Muslim and Christian authorities, and even in Israel under the Ottoman Empire.

So whether it is a blue star waving proudly on a flag, or a gold star adorning a synagogue's entrance, the Star of David stands as a reminder that for the Jewish people... in God we trust.

Author Biography:

Rabbi Shraga Simmons spent his childhood trekking through snow in Buffalo, New York. He holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. He is the senior editor of and the director of He is also regarded as an expert on media bias relating to the Middle East conflict, and was the founding editor of Rabbi Simmons lives with his wife and children in the Modi'in region of Israel.
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« Reply #85 on: May 22, 2009, 06:13:00 AM »

Tradition Today: The meaning of Jerusalem
May. 21, 2009

As we celebrate Jerusalem Day, we are acutely aware of the fact that Jerusalem is the center of a heated political dispute concerning its future. Unfortunately that dispute has resulted in accusations that Jerusalem and especially the Temple Mount are not really central to Judaism. This goes so far as to claim that there never was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount. These statements are absurd. No matter what one thinks concerning the future of Jerusalem, the fact of its centrality to Judaism is so blatant that it should need no reiteration. The existence of the Temple on the Temple Mount is so well attested by historical evidence, Jewish and non-Jewish, that one wonders how anyone could possible deny it.

True, Jerusalem is a Johnny-come-lately on the scene of Jewish history. It is never mentioned by name in the Torah, Judaism's most ancient book. There is however, reference to "Salem," shalem, which, with good reason, we assume is an ancient name of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:18). Strangely enough even the story of the akeida (the binding of Isaac) is told with no specific reference to Jerusalem, although it seems obvious from the conclusion of the story - "and Abraham named that site Adonai-yireh [the Lord will see], hence the present saying, 'On the mount of the Lord there is vision'" (Gen. 22:14) - that the reference is to a place that had sacred ritual significance. Later on, in II Chronicles 3:1, the Temple Mount is specifically identified as Mount Moriah, the site of the akeida.

Deuteronomy refers constantly to "the place that I will choose" but does not tell us where that is. It is only with David's conquest that Jerusalem comes into our history. Quite rightly it is known as "the city of David" since he made it the royal capital. See II Samuel 5:6-9. More importantly, he also insured its centrality by bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:12-18). The Ark, the throne of God, the symbol of God's presence, had always moved from place to place. Giving it a permanent resting place in Jerusalem transformed a political capital into a religious site of the first importance.

The mountain on which the Ark sat, Mount Zion, became the equivalent of Mount Sinai and from then on was known as the "Mountain of the Lord." Solomon's building of the Temple, a permanent building to replace the portable tent, reinforced the concept of Jerusalem as God's dwelling - "city of the Great King" - as the psalmist phrased it (Psalm 48). How anyone can possibly ignore the numerous biblical references is difficult to understand. The Christian Bible as well testifies to the existence of the Temple on its mountain. Indeed without that the Gospel stories make no sense.

As for as Islam is concerned, if there was no sacredness to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount why did Muhammad - according to its tradition - come there and why was the Dome of the Rock built? That shrine is built on the rock that was considered sacred because of the sacrifice that took place there - even if its tradition records a different son being offered up and because that rock was thought to be the very foundation of the creation.

Several years ago, when doing research for a book about Jerusalem, I came across a letter from a group of rabbis in Jerusalem which was found in the Cairo Geniza describing exactly the relationship between the Dome of the Rock and the Temple. According to that letter the Muslims, under the Caliph Omar I, came to the Jews and asked them to "show them the site of the Temple." The Jews were ordered to clear the mount of the rubbish that had accumulated there and to identify "the stone known as the Foundation Stone." When it was uncovered Omar ordered that "the sanctuary and a dome be erected over the stone." As a reward for their assistance 70 households of Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem and dwell "near the site of the Temple and its gates" (The Jerusalem Anthology, page 159).

The connection of our people to Jerusalem in the past is beyond question, as is the identity of the Temple Mount. What matters now is the meaning that Jerusalem has for us today and will have in the future. The prophets gave Jerusalem not only a past but also a future. The time will come, they taught, when "the mountain of the Lord's House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills and all the nations shall gaze upon it with joy. And many peoples shall go and say: Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord... that He may instruct us in His ways... For instruction shall go forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem... And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war" (Isaiah 2:2-4).

This vision was the most exalted vision that anyone has ever had. Jerusalem is the symbol of that wondrous time when peace - shalom - a word that is embedded in the name Yerushalayim - will prevail. To be worthy of that is our task. That is its meaning for us today and the challenge that Jerusalem sets for us and for all humanity.

The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the author of several books, the most recent being Entering Torah.
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« Reply #86 on: May 22, 2009, 09:54:50 PM »

The Quest for Self

By Yanki Tauber
There's a passage in the book of Zechariah that describes an encounter between a human being and a flock of angels, in which the human is referred to as "a journeyer among the stationary ones."

"The Journeyer" is a most apt appellation for our restless race. Other creatures also move from place to place, but only man's migrations are motivated by the desire to be someplace other than where he is now. Unlike mice, maple trees and angels, who are content to be what and where they are, the human being is constantly on the go--forever striving to get somewhere, preferably somewhere where no one has been before.

The problem is, there's nowhere left to go.

A century ago it was "Go west, young man!"; west went the young men, until there was no west left. Then one man won the race to the North Pole, and another to the South. Another human was first to reach the summit of Everest (though who exactly that was is still a matter of debate), and yet another made the "giant leap" of leaving a bootprint on the moon.

So what's left? A trip to another galaxy? A foray into the future? Will these destinations, if and when they are reached, satisfy the seeking spirit of The Journeyer?


We've all heard the story of the impoverished villager who dreams of a treasure buried under a bridge in Krakow. Arriving in the big city, he locates the bridge of his dream. The tollkeeper, noticing a loitering man with a shovel and suspicious intentions, confronts the pauper, who confesses his mission. "Dreams!" exclaims the guard. "Why, only last night I dreamt that in the home of Chaim Yankel the peddler in the village of Usseldorf, a chest of gold coins is buried in the wall behind the stove. So do I travel all the way to Usseldorf to break down the wall of some poor yokel's home?" Chaim Yankel hurries home, demolishes the wall behind his stove, and lives happily ever after on his buried treasure.

After all journeys are consummated, after all quests are realized, there remains one frontier which few have penetrated and fewer still have conquered: the frontier of self. We traverse the planet and beyond, we map the cosmos and the infrastructure of the atom, seeking some indication, some sign, of what it's all about; but how many of us have entered into the interior of our souls?

Lech lecha, the opening words of the Divine call to Abraham which launches and defines Jewish history, literally means, "Go to yourself." "Go to yourself," G-d commanded the first Jew, "from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you."

When the Divine call came, Abraham could look back at a life of unprecedented discovery and achievement. This was the man who discovered the truth of the One G-d, faced down the mightiest king of his time, braved death in a fiery furnace for his beliefs, and converted thousands to a monotheistic faith and ethos. All this he achieved entirely on his own, with no teacher, mentor or heavenly voice to direct him, with nothing but his great mind to guide him and his passionate quest for truth to drive him.

Then, in Abraham's 75th year, came the Divine command: "Go to yourself!" Now that you've completed your explorations and attained your goals, turn inward and embark on a journey into the essence of your own being.


Paradoxically, the more personal our journey, the more we require guidance and aid.

A well-developed sense of direction can guide us through the most labyrinthal road system; a keen social sense can negotiate the most convoluted office politics; the data and learning patterns stored in our brain facilitate our pursuit of new fields of study. But when we seek a path to the core of self, the knowledge and skills of a lifetime are suddenly ineffectual. We find ourselves in the dark, with no recourse but to call upon our Creator. "G-d, who am I?" we cry. "Give me a clue; tell me why You made me."

This paradox is implicit in the Torah's first recorded instruction to the first Jew. When Abraham is commanded to "Go to yourself," this resourceful, self-made man is told to set aside his inborn talents ("your land"), the personality developed in seven-and-a-half decades of interaction with his environment ("your birthplace"), and the wisdom discovered and formulated by his phenomenal mind ("your father's house"), and "blindly" follow G-d "to the land that I will show you."

In our outward journeys, our knowledge, talents and personality are the tools with which we explore the world beyond us. But in seeking our true self, these very tools--which constitute an exterior, superimposed "self" of their own--conceal as much as they reveal, distort even as they illuminate.

We employ these tools in our quest--we have no others. But if our journey is to lead us to the quintessence of self rather than some phantom thereof, it must be guided by He who created us in His image and sketched the blueprint of our souls in His Torah.

The Quest for Self

By Yanki Tauber
There's a passage in the book of Zechariah that describes an encounter between a human being and a flock of angels, in which the human is referred to as "a journeyer among the stationary ones."

"The Journeyer" is a most apt appellation for our restless race. Other creatures also move from place to place, but only man's migrations are motivated by the desire to be someplace other than where he is now. Unlike mice, maple trees and angels, who are content to be what and where they are, the human being is constantly on the go--forever striving to get somewhere, preferably somewhere where no one has been before.

The problem is, there's nowhere left to go.

A century ago it was "Go west, young man!"; west went the young men, until there was no west left. Then one man won the race to the North Pole, and another to the South. Another human was first to reach the summit of Everest (though who exactly that was is still a matter of debate), and yet another made the "giant leap" of leaving a bootprint on the moon.

So what's left? A trip to another galaxy? A foray into the future? Will these destinations, if and when they are reached, satisfy the seeking spirit of The Journeyer?


We've all heard the story of the impoverished villager who dreams of a treasure buried under a bridge in Krakow. Arriving in the big city, he locates the bridge of his dream. The tollkeeper, noticing a loitering man with a shovel and suspicious intentions, confronts the pauper, who confesses his mission. "Dreams!" exclaims the guard. "Why, only last night I dreamt that in the home of Chaim Yankel the peddler in the village of Usseldorf, a chest of gold coins is buried in the wall behind the stove. So do I travel all the way to Usseldorf to break down the wall of some poor yokel's home?" Chaim Yankel hurries home, demolishes the wall behind his stove, and lives happily ever after on his buried treasure.

After all journeys are consummated, after all quests are realized, there remains one frontier which few have penetrated and fewer still have conquered: the frontier of self. We traverse the planet and beyond, we map the cosmos and the infrastructure of the atom, seeking some indication, some sign, of what it's all about; but how many of us have entered into the interior of our souls?

Lech lecha, the opening words of the Divine call to Abraham which launches and defines Jewish history, literally means, "Go to yourself." "Go to yourself," G-d commanded the first Jew, "from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you."

When the Divine call came, Abraham could look back at a life of unprecedented discovery and achievement. This was the man who discovered the truth of the One G-d, faced down the mightiest king of his time, braved death in a fiery furnace for his beliefs, and converted thousands to a monotheistic faith and ethos. All this he achieved entirely on his own, with no teacher, mentor or heavenly voice to direct him, with nothing but his great mind to guide him and his passionate quest for truth to drive him.

Then, in Abraham's 75th year, came the Divine command: "Go to yourself!" Now that you've completed your explorations and attained your goals, turn inward and embark on a journey into the essence of your own being.


Paradoxically, the more personal our journey, the more we require guidance and aid.

A well-developed sense of direction can guide us through the most labyrinthal road system; a keen social sense can negotiate the most convoluted office politics; the data and learning patterns stored in our brain facilitate our pursuit of new fields of study. But when we seek a path to the core of self, the knowledge and skills of a lifetime are suddenly ineffectual. We find ourselves in the dark, with no recourse but to call upon our Creator. "G-d, who am I?" we cry. "Give me a clue; tell me why You made me."

This paradox is implicit in the Torah's first recorded instruction to the first Jew. When Abraham is commanded to "Go to yourself," this resourceful, self-made man is told to set aside his inborn talents ("your land"), the personality developed in seven-and-a-half decades of interaction with his environment ("your birthplace"), and the wisdom discovered and formulated by his phenomenal mind ("your father's house"), and "blindly" follow G-d "to the land that I will show you."

In our outward journeys, our knowledge, talents and personality are the tools with which we explore the world beyond us. But in seeking our true self, these very tools--which constitute an exterior, superimposed "self" of their own--conceal as much as they reveal, distort even as they illuminate.

We employ these tools in our quest--we have no others. But if our journey is to lead us to the quintessence of self rather than some phantom thereof, it must be guided by He who created us in His image and sketched the blueprint of our souls in His Torah.
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Posts: 15532

« Reply #87 on: May 24, 2009, 09:21:37 AM »

You might like this book, Rachel. I liked it when I read it many years ago. I was interested to find the aspects of Jewish spirituality that meshed with Native American spirituality.
« Reply #88 on: May 24, 2009, 11:38:42 AM »

You might like this book, Rachel. I liked it when I read it many years ago. I was interested to find the aspects of Jewish spirituality that meshed with Native American spirituality.

G M,

I found a very reasonable copy of Amazon and I will definitely check it out.

« Reply #89 on: May 28, 2009, 10:15:42 PM »

Renewing Our Vows
by Riva Pomerantz
Marla and Steve were high-school sweethearts who got married with the whole town in attendance. It was a dream wedding, and their smiles as they gazed at each other under the wedding canopy radiated absolute bliss.

After many years of children and bills and taxes and layoffs, Marla and Steve were still smiling, but...Life had gotten in the way. There were days when they barely said a few words to each other before collapsing in bed, exhausted. There were times that they argued, that they let each other down. It happens, you know.

Steve was surprised to come home from work one day to find Marla standing in the living room, gazing longingly at something in her hands.

"Honey, take a look at this," Marla said. Steve came over to see the picture Marla was holding and he felt his heart catch in his throat.

"Look at us," she whispered softly. "Remember how we stood together, 24 years ago, and became man and wife?"

He nodded.

"Remember those dreams and hopes? Remember how we felt, what we thought about?" she pressed him.

Again a nod.

"I feel like we've drifted," she said sadly. "How about we do it all again?"

Steve looked at his wife and smiled. It was a wonderful idea -- a symbol of renewal, of recapturing the love and commitment they had shared together so many years prior. And as they renewed their marriage vows before a small, joyous crowd of well-wishers, Marla and Steve felt more connected than ever before.

This week, on the holiday of Shavuot, the entire Jewish Nation is invited to attend the "Re-Nup" of the year, where we renew the vows we took at the marriage ceremony on Mt. Sinai over 3000 years ago. No tuxedo required.

Every Jewish soul stood at the foot of that majestic mountain. The wedding was perfect -- down to the flowers. The "Groom," God, as it were, united in total harmony with the "Bride," the Jewish People, for better or worse, through good times and bad. There were lightning bolts and celestial pronouncements that left an indelible impression on every soul in attendance. We were completely in love and radiated with infinite hopes and dreams. Our hearts beat with one singular purpose: to devote ourselves to God and serve Him by keeping His Torah and mitzvot.

We felt eternal bliss.

And know, Life gets in the way. Kids, work, bills, taxes, sometimes it's hard for "spouses" to make time for each other. Our connection with our new Better Half became tenuous, the love began to fade. Sometimes there was just no time to spend even a few minutes fulfilling the hopes and dreams that had so rosily reflected in our eyes when we stood at that blazing mountain. Sometimes there were barely a few words we mumbled to God all day, if any at all.

"I'm about to go into a meeting, God. If you could just give me good health, a decent living, and let my kid win the wrestling championship, that would be great. Talk to You later!"

"On the weekend, I'm really going to read that new Jewish book and bring a little spirituality into my life. I promise!"

Like Steve and Marla, we get caught up in the vicissitudes of life and gradually we become like two strangers living in the same house. Except with God, the distance is caused by us; His commitment to the relationship never wavers.

It's time to renew our vows.

Shavuot gives us the opportunity to step out of our hectic lives and celebrate our anniversary by rekindling the deep, passionate love between us and God and recommit ourselves to the relationship.

It's a chance to reflect and reconnect with our Beloved. It's a time to bask in the sweetness of our relationship and to treasure the precious wedding gift, the Torah, that He gave us at Mt. Sinai. Far more than a cheesecake fest, Shavuot is a once-a-year opportunity to celebrate with God and remind ourselves of our pledge to be His cherished nation. For richer, for poorer.

Happy Anniversary.
Author Biography:
Riva (Henig) Pomerantz lives with her husband and four children in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Her stories and articles appear on, in Mishpacha Magazine, and in several other publications. Her serialized story, Green Fences, will be released in Summer 2009, to be published by Targum Press. You can visit Riva's website and read her blog at
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« Reply #90 on: June 04, 2009, 09:44:34 PM »
Should I pray for the death of terrorists?

By Tzvi Freeman

I am a subscriber to the Daily Dose and enjoy reading many of the spiritually enlightening essays at From the writings you present, the Rebbe seems to have been a peaceful man, full of love. I am torn by the coverage of the war in Gaza. I love and respect the ideology of Judaism, but I can not get my mind around the "act of defense," i.e. the murder of others, even if they are the oppressors, which amounts to a glorification of war. Prayer, I am told, is an act of enlightenment. Am I to pray for the brutal demise of the enemy?


The quick and simple answer: It depends. If the enemy is the dark evil of this world, pray for an end to evil. If the enemy is a human being, defend yourself, attack first if necessary, and pray that all your enemies will live, become your friends and fulfill the mission for which they were born: To join together to create a peaceful, harmonious world.

Welcome to the inscrutable world of Judaism, where there are so few issues on which an honest, educated Jew cannot be conflicted. In Halacha, in ethics, in mysticism, in whatever field—even once an issue is resolved, it must take into account so many angles and conditions that very little can be said in a simple line or two, other than, "Hear O Israel, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is One." And as the paradigm of Jewishness, the Rebbe's approach was one that could never be pigeon-holed. In every assertion, its opposite lies; in every approach, the other road must be taken into account.

And here you have touched one such perfect example. Just yesterday, a friend referred me to a talk in which the Rebbe discussed your question. This was in September of 1982, at the height of an incendiary war between Iraq and Iran that had begun to threaten the entire region with the fear of nuclear reprisals. "Nations are attacking one another," the Rebbe repeated again and again, "and the whole world teeters."

He spoke of how some take a partial approach to the war, praying for "whatever is good, whatever that may be." He himself opposed such a position. War is not good, he said, because human lives are lost, and "...we are commanded to care for the poor even if they be idolators, together with our own-- all the more so to care for their lives."

The talk that followed gave us a remarkable look into the Rebbe's Weltanschauung. The Rebbe's words are not always smooth reading--filled with allusion and euphemism. I've translated from the Yiddish:

    Yes, there are violent people and terrorists in the world. But there is nothing that says the only way to deal with this is through taking their lives. Even when we speak of "the enemy and the avenger," our actions must be "to stop the enemy and the avenger." Meaning, to stop and to annul this that he is an enemy and avenger. In the language of the Talmud, "the sins should cease--not the sinners themselves." To the point that they will become friends of the Jews and assist us. As the promise concerning the Time to Come, "Strangers will arise and tend to your sheep"—although they are "strangers," that is not the emphasis. The emphasis is that they nevertheless tend to your sheep.1

You read that correctly--the Rebbe prays that the terrorists should become our friends. But does this mean we should not defend ourselves? On the contrary, the Rebbe took a zero-tolerance approach to self-defense. He rested his argument, as always, upon a halachic ruling. Here is how he explained this to Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, then chief rabbi of the U.K., in a letter dated November, 1980:

    I am completely and unequivocally opposed to the surrender of any of the liberated areas currently under negotiation, such as Judah and Samaria, the Golan, etc., for the simple reason—and only reason—that surrendering any part of them would contravene a clear ruling found in Shulchan Aruch (O.C., Ch. 329, par. 6,7). I have repeatedly emphasized that this ruling has nothing to do with the sanctity of the land of Israel, with "the days of Moshiach," the coming redemption or similar considerations—but solely with saving lives.

The Rebbe here refers to a ruling in the standard codification of Jewish Law that discusses a border town attacked by marauders. The ruling is that all that are able must go out, even on Shabbat, to fight with them—even if the marauders are only attacking to obtain straw. The reasoning behind this ruling is that once a border town has become vincible, life within those borders is endangered. The Rebbe generalizes this logic: In a situation involving danger to human life, the mitigating factor for determining action is exclusively how best to protect and save lives, and nothing else. Not how will we justify this, not how do we finance this, not what the world will say or what they will think of us. Just the protection of lives.

    To drive my point: The source for this ruling is in the Talmud (Eruvin 45a). The example given of a border-town is the city of Neharde'a in Babylon (present-day Iraq) — clearly not in Israel. As I have emphasized time and again that it is a question of, and should be judged purely on the basis of, saving lives and not geography.

    The said ruling deals with a situation where gentiles (that is the term, not enemies) besiege a Jewish border-town, ostensibly to obtain "straw and chaff," and then leave. But because of the possible danger, not only to the Jews of the town, but also the cities, the Shulchan Aruch rules that upon receiving news of the gentiles (even only of preparations), the Jews must mobilize immediately and take up arms even on Shabbat — in accordance with the rule that "saving lives supersedes Shabbat."

The Rebbe continues that the decision whether a particular concession will endanger lives or not must be left up to the experts. Just as in a medical question, the experts are the doctors, so in a military question, the experts are military experts. Yet even they are not to make political, economical or sociological considerations, but simply: the protection of human lives. Since all the experts he consulted agreed that returning the areas of Judah and Samaria would place many millions of lives in greater danger, the Rebbe was opposed.

On the one hand, a hawkish view indeed: Not an inch of territory could be relinquished to the PLO. Even the very act of discussing territory, the Rebbe asserted, was enough to embolden the terrorists and endanger lives. Furthermore, the Rebbe would cite the Talmudic ethos of self-defense: "If someone is coming to kill you, rise early to kill him first."2 "Which means," the Rebbe insisted, "that it is possible to know that someone wants to cause mortal harm, and in such a case, one has the responsibility to prepare a preemptive attack."3

Yet, even here, the Rebbe noted that the dictum does not say that you must actually kill anyone, only that you must be ready to do so. They said, "Rise early to kill him," he pointed out, not, "Rise early and kill him." If you show that you are ready to attack first, there will be no need for such. The emphasis in all these matters was on psychological warfare first: Act weak, and all are placed in danger. Show you are strong and no one will be hurt. Again, what was the consideration? Simply the protection of life.

Indeed, the Rebbe expressed his concern over the loss of Arab lives on several occasions. For example, a month after the talk cited earlier, the Rebbe spoke again about security and defense in Israel. Again he declared that those who proposed relinquishing territory were endangering the inhabitants. With strong, secure borders, the Rebbe asserted, there would be no need for war. Citing the verse about the Land of Israel, "you are bolted with iron and bronze," the Rebbe noted that:

    If the door is well bolted and locked, there is no need for war. Obviously, bolts and locks don't go out to battle. And if so, this is to the advantage of those who oppose us. For if there is no need for war, no one is killed or wounded on the opposing side either.4

Similarly, shortly after the Yom Kippur War, as the Rebbe was bemoaning the upcoming Geneva Conference at which "nothing would be accomplished," he interjected, "At least, in the interim there is a ceasefire. For even if an Egyptian falls in battle, it is not a good thing…"

And then, in an almost mystical way, the Rebbe invoked the guardian angel of Egypt, saying, "He also has an opinion. If we explain to him that this is not good for them either, that could have an effect."

The Rebbe was the most outspoken critic of Israeli compromise, and yet a passionate humanitarian. In all my years standing at the Rebbe's farbrengens, never did I hear the Rebbe speak about death to the enemy. It's not something you could begin to imagine. Neither could I imagine the Rebbe saying "the opposite of a blessing" (that's the term the Rebbe would use for--well, if he wouldn't say it, should I?) on any person, even the most nefarious dictator (other than "may their names be erased" on "Hitler and his professors"). Dumbo could grow wings, but the Rebbe wouldn't speak bad of any person. In that very talk that provided the answer to your question about prayer, the Rebbe mentioned this, as well:

    We should speak only good and desirable things about Jewish people. G‑d forbid to say something derogatory about a Jew. We must try not to say anything derogatory about any human being. For with negative words, the opposite of blessing is brought into the world, G‑d forbid. And right now we are in a situation where we must inundate the entire world with blessings of revealed, visible good…

This was how the Rebbe understood the mission of the Jewish People, our purpose in this world: To be a light unto the nations that they should do their part in building a stable, peaceful and harmonious world, a world where the light of a great teacher we call the moshiach could shine, and  "all the nations will serve G-d as one." As the Rebbe wrote in one of his last political correspondences, in 1991 to Mr. Ardadiusz Rybicki, President of the Council for Polish-Jewish Relations:

    Our sages of the Talmud explain why the creation of man differed from the creation of other living species and why, among other things, man was created as a single individual, unlike other living creatures created in pairs. One of the reasons—our sages declare—is that it was G‑d's design that the human race, all humans everywhere and at all times, should know that each and all descend from the one and the same single progenitor, a fully developed human being created in the image of G‑d, so that no human being could claim superior ancestral origin; hence would also find it easier to cultivate a real feeling of kinship in all inter-human relationships.

Yes, it is conflicting to be a Jew. We are not meant for warring and killing. But G-d has placed us in a world—or perhaps, we have made His world into such a place—that sometimes a life must be taken to save one, or even many lives. It's strange, but there is something of profound beauty in a soul large enough to straddle both sides of such a conflicting world. Pacifism alone can turn as ugly as its opposite, militant extreme, but to know the season for each thing and temper one with the other, that takes great wisdom.

Perhaps that is the wisdom the Torah demands of us. Perhaps that is why He has sent our souls into a world of such conflict, so that we can also become that profound beauty, and only then can we make harmony out of conflict. Which is the true meaning of peace.

See also Why Is There So Much War and Violence in Torah?

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17 Comments Posted
1.    Hitvaduyot, 13 Elul, 5742
2.    Talmud, Brachot 58a, ibid 62b; ibid Yoma 85b
3.    Sichot Kodesh 5729, Breishit
4.    Hitvaduyot, 13 Tishrei, 5743

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« Reply #91 on: June 08, 2009, 08:04:59 PM »

On any list of nonfiction authors that many people may not know but should, Robert Wright would rank high. Among his books are "The Moral Animal" (1994), which argues that natural selection rewards principled behavior and is gradually improving human ethics; and "Nonzero" (2000), which argues that history is moving in a positive direction: Social, political and economic forces, the book said, can operate in a "nonzero" rather than a "zero sum" way. In short, it is not necessary for A to gain at the expense of B; rather, both can gain.

Now Mr. Wright completes the circle by finding roughly the same promising trend in higher affairs. "The Evolution of God" -- really about religion rather than the divine -- supposes that, for all their faults, the monotheistic faiths have prospered because they encourage people to get along.

 Mr. Wright begins "The Evolution of God" by wondering not whether faiths are true but why they proliferated in early society. His conclusion is that the initial impulse of faith was the self-interest of its administrative class. "Whenever people sense the presence of a puzzling and momentous force," he writes, "they want to believe there is a way to comprehend it. If you can convince them you're the key to comprehension, you can reach great stature." Shamans pretended to understand nature, the leading mystery of ancient days. But the claim was just a way for them to earn a living, Mr. Wright asserts; surely few shamans actually believed that they knew why storms came or disease struck.

What is the contemporary equivalent to the tribal shaman? Stockbrokers. Like shamans, stockbrokers claim the ability to augur hidden forces -- and, like shamans, Mr. Wright says, their advice is almost always worthless. In general, customers (ancient farmers needing rain, modern investors) want to believe that someone has secret, mystic knowledge of a powerful unknown (the natural world, Wall Street). Like investment advisers today, mediums of the far past claimed mystic knowledge and charged for it. In some old tribal cultures, Mr. Wright adds, the word shaman meant roughly "politician." Angling for religious power was thus essentially the same as angling for tribal leadership.

The Evolution of God
By Robert Wright
(Little, Brown, 567 pages, $25.99)
This, Mr. Wright infers, is how most religion began. Not exactly a glorious moment of revelation upon a mountaintop. Is the theory persuasive? Mr. Wright is prone to supposing that strong conclusions regarding precivilization can be drawn from the writings of anthropologists. Maybe anthropology is correct at times, but the field is chronically speculative and inferential -- building theories of history on it may be building on sand. For instance, Mr. Wright finds it significant that the earliest Buryat and Inuit cultures, in Siberia and the Arctic, viewed shamans as we now view politicians. But the Inuit also believed that their society was descended from invincible giants. Roll such points together and you have -- I am not sure what.

The closer Mr. Wright's analysis draws to the Common Era, the more forceful it becomes. The most striking contention in "The Evolution of God" concerns St. Paul, Christianity's first administrative leader. Ancient religions died off, Mr. Wright claims, because they were designed for specific ethnic groups and possessed no appeal outside them. Judaism spoke to those born into the faith, limiting its potential scope. Paul wanted Christianity to become a global faith, appealing to anyone from any land or ethnic group. So he offered something no faith had offered to that point -- universal brotherhood. Did Jesus intend to start a new, broader-based religion? That's hardly clear -- Christ never used the word "Christian" or instructed his disciples to promote a new faith. Paul, by contrast, actively wished to start a cross-borders, proselytizing system of belief. His innovation, according to Mr. Wright, was to realize that the promise of brotherhood could appeal to the whole world -- and as a Roman citizen, Paul thought in whole-world terms.

"The Evolution of God" goes on to analyze the spread of Christianity -- and, later, Islam -- in language that at times strains to sound of the moment: Had Pauline thinking failed, Mr. Wright observes, "another version of Christianity probably would have prevailed, a version featuring the doctrine of interethnic amity, the doctrine that realized the network externalities offered by the open platform of the Roman Empire."

But there is no doubt that Paul's core idea of brotherhood-based faith, intended to overcome delineations between people and groups, was a tremendous success in historical terms. Centuries later, Islam would emphasize some of the same qualities as early Christianity, especially the embrace of anyone from any nation. Broadly, Mr. Wright argues that religions act fierce or nationalistic when adherents feel threatened. But "when a religious group senses an auspicious non-zero-sum relationship with another group, it is more likely to create tolerant scriptures or find tolerance in existing scriptures." As the world grows ever more interdependent, this sentiment is an especially propitious one.

In the course of a long work ostensibly about God, Mr. Wright never tells the reader whether he believes that a supreme being exists. After extended hemming and hawing on this essential point, he proffers only that a person who accepts God as actual is "not necessarily crazy." Talk about praising with faint damnation! But taken together, "The Moral Animal," "Nonzero" and "The Evolution of God" represent a powerful addition to modern thought. If biology, culture and faith all seek a better world, maybe there is hope.

Mr. Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox" and the forthcoming "Sonic Boom," about the accelerating pace of economic change.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A15
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« Reply #92 on: June 14, 2009, 01:03:34 PM »

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By Tzvi Freeman
That which can be grasped will change.

That which does not change cannot be grasped
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« Reply #93 on: June 14, 2009, 08:06:23 PM »

A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

I have enjoyed this book and I have found it gives a path to link the religions of the past and present.  Is it an absolute but I think it explains many of the similarities which occur.  It gives you a broad picture from which you can look at the many religious beliefs of the past and present.  A lingua franka if you will.  The mind is wired in a similar way in everyone..yes there are differences but the similarities out weight the differences.  Therefore the similarities in the various religions arise from this mind trying to explain the great mystery of life and the universe IMHO.  I must also point out that the use of number in religion is is older than the historical records we have today, is it no wonder it is the skeleton on which religion is laid down?  Well that is my view of the book.  I highly recommend it
« Last Edit: June 14, 2009, 08:19:25 PM by Freki » Logged
« Reply #94 on: June 14, 2009, 09:53:39 PM »


Interesting book. You might want to check out Euclid's Elements.

The Great Mistake
by Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Why did the Creator design such a vulnerable knee?

Some call it "God's mistake." No, I'm not referring to the ostrich or the mosquito. Nor even to politicians.

It's the knee.

"It is, without question, ill-suited for the jobs we ask it to do," says James M. Fox, M.D., director of the Center for the Disorders of the Knee in Van Nuys, California, and author of the book Save Your Knees. "It wasn't designed for football, soccer, automobile accidents, being a carpenter or plumber, or squatting and kneeling all day long. It was well designed originally, but there was no way to anticipate all the things we would end up asking it to do."

With all due respect to Dr. Fox, the Creator does not make mistakes, nor could He have failed to anticipate every possible form of activity when He designed the human being. Nevertheless, the preponderance of knee-related maladies forces us to wonder why, in designing the human knee, the Almighty chose to do it this way.

The Hebrew word for "knee" is berech. Curiously, it is spelled exactly the same as the word for "blessed" - baruch. The nature of biblical Hebrew is such that seemingly unrelated words often share a common grammatical root, alerting us that they are not as dissimilar as they might seem. To understand the common thread between berech and baruch, we must first investigate the essence of blessing.

Wellsprings of Prosperity

Possibly the most instructive example of Divine blessing appears in the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 4, where a poor widow beseeches the prophet Elisha to save her sons from being sold as slaves in payment of her debts.

"What do you have in the house?" asks the prophet.

"I have nothing but a small vial of oil," the widow replies.

Elisha instructs her to go to her neighbors and borrow all the pots, jugs, and buckets she can find. He then tells her to take her tiny container of oil and start to pour. The widow follows his instructions and, miraculously, enough oil pours forth from the vial to fill all the borrowed vessels. She takes the oil to the marketplace, sells it off to pay her debts, and lives out the rest of her life comfortably.

Why does the prophet's rescue of this widow require such a complicated process? Why couldn't Elisha have told her to simply go home and find a bag of gold on her dining room table or buried in her back yard?

From this incident we learn that the nature of blessing is increase. The Almighty does not bless us by giving us what we lack; He blesses us by expanding and increasing that which we already possess.

In Jewish prayers, the phrase that appears more than any other is, "Blessed are You, Lord, our God ..." By declaring that the Almighty is blessed, we affirm that God is the wellspring of all blessing. It is He Who created us and everything that is ours, and it is He Who increases or decreases that which we already have. With respect to wealth, wisdom, strength, and talent, we acknowledge our Creator as the source of all, recognizing that everything is given on credit in anticipation of our good deeds and subject to immediate forfeiture if we fail to use it responsibly.

Therefore, whenever we take pleasure in the material world, we articulate a blessing to God as an expression of gratitude, expressing as well our hope that we will continue to merit more of the same.

The Gift of Vulnerability

Nothing in the human condition symbolizes this aspect of our relationship with the Almighty more strikingly than the knee.

Human beings are naturally predisposed to believe that we are self-sufficient -- dependent on nothing other than ourselves and our own resources. We easily overlook or disregard our physical limitations, imagining that we are masters of our own fate and soldiers of our own fortune.

When we indulge in this kind of supreme arrogance, we isolate ourselves from human society, cutting ourselves off from other people and distancing ourselves from our Creator.

The counter-evolutionary design of the knee, by which the entire body rests upon so delicate a mechanism, provides a sobering counterweight to the hubris of the human ego. The human knee is ideally designed for one thing: to walk straight ahead, on even ground, at a moderate pace. But as soon as we speed up, slow down, turn, carry, or climb, we cause increased strain, placing ourselves at risk for injury and incapacity.

Similarly, in our pursuit of wealth, power and recognition, we dare not forget that a false step, a hasty turn, or an ill-conceived leap of overconfidence can deal a crippling blow in an instant. By relying solely upon our own resources, we place ourselves in danger of forfeiting all the blessings that have been given us.

However, when we recognize our own limitations, when we accept our dependency, acknowledge our vulnerability, and relax our reflexive egoism, then we come to appreciate that God's blessings carry with them responsibility, and that we must earn them over and over again. Healthy relationships cannot exist without vulnerability. Only when we recognize that we are not self-sufficient can we accept that we need God's involvement in our lives.

This universal truth applies equally to other people and to the Master of Creation. Only when we lower our psychological defenses and make ourselves vulnerable to others can we let them into our lives, loving them and allowing them to love us. And only by allowing others into our lives can we begin to develop the intimacy with the Divine that yields unimaginable strength, unsurpassed joy, and boundless blessing.

Author Biography:
Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis, MO, where he also writes and lectures. Visit him at
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« Reply #95 on: June 18, 2009, 10:05:35 PM »

The Mystical Dimension of Challah
Insights into Parshat Shelach

by Chana Slavaticki

A curious eighteen-month-old was once playing with a nickel and started to choke on it. His four year old brother observed how their frantic mother administered the Heimlich maneuver in a desperate attempt to pump the nickel out. Their father hurried to dial for an ambulance, but to everyone's great relief, the nickel miraculously came out. The next morning, the four-year-old approached his mother with his blue eyes misting, and a serious expression on his face. He said, "Don't worry, Mommy, I don't mind to give up on candy, or any other treats. I promise not to ask for money ever again."

His mother was perplexed, and wondered what prompted him to make such a strange statement. He explained, "I saw how worried you were about getting back that nickel-- that you pressed on the baby's stomach, and Daddy immediately called for an ambulance. So don't worry, I won't ask you for money!"

Each saw reality from a different perspectiveBoth the child and his mother observed the identical scene, but each saw reality from a different perspective. To the child it all boiled down to a nickel. To the mother it was about life itself. We, too, see a big world out there- how do we perceive it? Does it boil down to dollars and cents– is it all a matter of materialism and physicality? Or are we cognizant of the G‑dly life force behind everything?

The opening words of the Torah are "B'reishit Bara Elokim," in the beginning G‑d created the world. The Midrash1 explains that this can also be interpreted to mean that G‑d created the world in the merit of the mitzvot that are referred to as "Reishit," first. One such mitzvah is the mitzvah of "separating challah," a commandment to reserve part of the bread dough for Kohanim (click here for details on how this mitzvah is observed today). The portion of dough which is separated from the rest is described in the Torah as "reishit arisoteichem," the first of your dough.2 What could possibly be so important about separating a piece of dough that the Midrash states that this is the purpose of creation?

In addition, Torah is well known for its brevity. Many commandments are learned from just a single verse or even word. In contrast, five verses in the Torah portion of Shelach are devoted to the topic of separating challah.3 Why does this mitzvah warrant such great elaboration?

To add another puzzling dimension to this picture, there is another Midrash4 that notes that the mitzvah of separating challah in the Torah is followed by the prohibition of idol worship. The juxtaposition of these two laws teaches us that "one who fulfills the mitzvah of separating challah, it's as if he has nullified the worship of idols while one who does not fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah, it's as if he sustains the worship of idols."5 What association can there be between the simple act of separating challah and nullifying idol worship, which goes against the most basic tenets of Judaism?

This act signifies her recognition that the dough is a gift from G‑dThere are many preliminary steps that go into the process that results in separating that elastic piece of dough in the comfort our kitchens. One must plow the soil, plant the grains, water them meticulously, cut the crops, sift the kernels... and the list goes on and on. After investing intensive time and effort, the farmer may come to the erroneous conclusion that it was his great exertion, with the help of "mother nature," that led to his success. On a broader scale, bread, also known as the "staff of life," is a metaphor for all of physicality and materialism. In many cultures, the term "dough" is slang for money (as in "got dough?"). This is because money enables us to buy our "dough" – our sustenance, as well as all our material needs. It is also why one who earns an income for the home is called the "breadwinner". Just as the farmer can mistakenly conclude that it was his talent and effort that resulted in his dough, it is all too easy for a person to attribute his "dough" (his material success) to his brilliance, beauty, creativity, or charisma.

This is where the mitzvah of separating challah comes in. The ingredients have skillfully been mixed together, and pliable dough has been formed. Amid the delicious aroma that has begun to envelop the kitchen, the woman of the home pauses for an introspective moment. She separates a portion of the dough, and says the blessing. She then lifts it up and says "This is challah." This conscious act signifies her recognition that the dough, and by extension all of our material success, is not simply a result of human effort, but is a gift from G‑d.

How does this mitzvah, and the concept it represents, negate or G‑d forbid sustain the worship of idols? Idol worship can take many forms. The crudest form of idol worship of bygone eras was prostrating in front of figurines of wood and stone. Today, with equally passionate enthusiasm, we worship the idols of wealth, power, beauty and success. There are other, more subtle forms of idol worship as well. The mistaken notion that after G‑d created the sun, moon, and all of nature, He invested in them individual power, when in truth, nothing in this world has individual power; it is all controlled by G‑d.6 To take this a step further, if someone believes that anything in this world even exists independently of G‑d, that, too, on some level is idol worship. This is the opposite of what we, as human beings, perceive. The world seems to cry out "I exist" when in reality, the real and only true existence is G‑dliness, something that we cannot see, but have to deeply contemplate.

It's interesting to note the choice of wording that the Midrash uses. It says "one who fulfills the mitzvah of separating challah, it's as if he nullifies the worship of idols while one who does not fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah, it's as if he sustains the worship of idols." This implies that there is an idol that is currently in existence whose validation or nullification is tied to the mitzvah of challah. The idol we are referring to is the entire universe. It acts as one big "idol" by presenting a façade that it exists independent of G‑d. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that 7 that, in truth, G‑d is constantly recreating the world every second; and if He were to stop, the entire universe would instantly cease to exist. So despite the facade that the world presents, it all amounts to "nothing" without the G‑dly life force that is energizing it. Separating a portion of the dough shatters that idol of independent existence. This, albeit small, act reflects our great awareness that despite its veneer, the entire world is G‑d incognito.8

It reflects a desire to connect with the One aboveInterestingly, this idea is also reflected in the actual word "challah." It begins with the Hebrew letter chet, which is closed on the top as well as on both of its sides. There remains only an opening from below. This is symbolic of one who is tempted by the negative impulses from "below"-- the base animalistic desires, and the temptations of the material world. Challah concludes with the Hebrew letter hei, which is very similar in shape to the chet. It, too, is also almost entirely closed on all three sides, with an opening at the bottom. But, in contrast to the letter chet, the inner leg of the hei has a small opening at the top. Despite the gaping hole at the bottom, which is one's natural inclination to be drawn after materialism, the additional opening at the top reflects an awareness of, and desire to connect with, the One above.9

According to Kabbalah,10 the word "challah" can be divided into two words "chol hei". This means "place the hei." The world that we inhabit appears to be like the initial letter "chet" It is a world where we are inclined towards the corporeal, and G‑dliness seems to be out of the picture. The purpose of our existence is to "place the hei" in the picture of life; to tap into the miniscule opening at the top, and become cognizant of the Divinity in all of Creation.

One time, the son of the famed Maggid of Mezeritch came to his father in tears. He explained that he had been playing "Hide and Seek" with his friends, and it had been his turn to hide. "So what happened?" his father gently asked him. "No one found me," he responded. Said his father "That's wonderful - that means you won the game." "No," he responded sadly, "My friends simply stopped looking for me." At this point, the Maggid too, started to cry, as he raised his eyes heavenward and said: "G‑d feels the same way. He concealed Himself in the universe, and wants us to seek Him out. He, too, cries when we stop searching for Him."

Challah is our steadfast commitment not to give up in the middle of the game.
1.    Midrash Rabba Aleph
2.    The actual term "challah" refers to the portion that is separated. However, over time, people have come to refer to the bread that we eat on Shabbat as challah.
3.    Bamidbar 15: 17-21
4.    Vayikra Rabba 15:6
5.    The mitzvah is not to actually bake challah. But when one does make a dough using the required amount of flour, and a drop of water, (or honey, wine, grape juice, olive oil, or milk) it then becomes a requirement to separate a portion for G‑d, and recite the blessing.
6.    Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship
7.    Shaar Hayichud V'haemunah
8.    On the other hand, if one mistakenly forgets to separate challah he is by default "upholding idol worship," by giving credence to the erroneous belief that the world exists without G‑d's constant second to second involvement. (Likutei Sichot Volume 18 pages 183-185)
9.    This concept is explained in connection with the words chametz (leavened bread) and matzah (unleavened bread). Both words share two identical letters; The mem and tzadik The only difference is that the word chametz, contains the letter chet whereas matzah contains the letter hei. Chametz, dough that rises, represents arrogance. Just as the dough is "puffed up" it is symbolic of a person who is full of himself. He is compared to the chet, because he is influenced by the material. Yet like the chet, which has no opening at the top, he is closed to the possibility for self transcendence because he is so full of himself. In contrast, matzah, which is flat, symbolizes humility. A person who possesses this trait, is like the hei which has the opening above, suggestive of the possibility to connect to G‑d which stems from humility. (Likutei Sichot Volume 1 pages 129-132)
10.    Tikunei Zohar, Tikkun 16, Ohr Hatorah page 541

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Chana Slavaticki has been an educator for over a decade, and lectures at various adult education institutes and Chabad Centers. She lives in Baltimore , Maryland with her husband and three children.

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« Reply #96 on: June 21, 2009, 06:36:32 AM »
« Reply #97 on: June 23, 2009, 06:30:26 AM »

I'm leaving on vacation today and I'm not sure If will have much time to post for a week or two.  I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to respond to various posts.
When the Twitter Revolution Began

( The orignial article has links to  a lot of other articles)
By Tzvi Freeman

If the popular demonstrations going on in Iran right now turn into a full blown revolution—and it's getting darn close—it may well go down in history as the Twitter Revolution. I've only recently started twittering—although I had no idea when I began what I needed it for. I certainly didn't expect it would become the backbone of a revolution. Yet what's happening now is reminiscent of the role fax machines and email played in the popular demonstrations that led to the fall of the Communist party in what was then the U.S.S.R., as well as in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany and other states.

Call it consumer technology, open communication systems, or populist information technologies—the same theme has been behind every major social upheaval in history. Go back a little further to the cultural revolution that shook the Western World in the sixties, something that would never have been possible were it not for the opening of the airwaves to alternative radio stations and the advent of portable transistor radios. The "establishment" would never have played Joan Baez and Bob Dylan singing those things. The sense of empowerment that came from driving your own car down an open highway and turning on the radio to hear someone your own age singing (with an even worse voice than your own) the words you always wanted to scream out—that let forth an energy that never quite got back in its box.

Call it consumer technology, open communication systems, or populist information technologies—the same theme has been behind every major social upheaval in historyThey say the Russian Revolution was driven by the mimeograph machine. The only reason Russia was spared a revolution in 1848—"the year of revolutions" for the rest of Europe—was the inability of recalcitrant groups to communicate with one another. Those popular uprisings of the 19th century, as well as their root in the French Revolution, were made possible by the proliferation of newspapers. It's hard to imagine the American Revolution without a fairly large literate base of people all reading the same news in popular format.

The mother of all European revolutions was the Reformation of the 16th century. Without a doubt, the invention of the printing press had everything to do with that upheaval. Once the Bible was printed and distributed, the power was in the hands of the people. Because information—and the ability to distribute it—is power.

Now think back to the first populist information technology and imagine what sort of a revolution that must have wrought. I'm talking about the alphabet, the first form of writing accessible to the masses.

The move from glyphic writing to the alphabet shares much in common with today's digital revolution. Before digital technology, data was stored in analog form. Audio, for example, was stored in grooves in a vinyl disk analogous to sound waves, or in imprints that mimicked those same waves on magnetic tape. Video was stored in a series of translucent picture frames on a film. Digital technologies, however, store all data in strings of 1s and 0s—whether that data be numbers, text, graphics, audio, video or even smells. The alphabet does something similar, something that must have seemed quite revolutionary at the time. Whereas Egyptian hieroglyphics et al principally represented objects with analogous imagery, an alphabet uses a small set of simple symbols to represent all the vocalized sounds out of which words are formed.

By representing multiple media with non-analogous digits, digital technologies are able to reduce storage size, avoid generation loss, facilitate blending and synergy of media, and—most important—vastly increase the power of any little guy to move a lot of information to a lot of people in a lot of places very fast.

By representing sound with imagery, the alphabet had a similar impact. No longer did you have to memorize hundreds of glyphs before initiation as a scribe. Anyone who could memorize a set of letters not much larger than the digits on his hands and feet could figure out for himself how to write whatever pleased him to write. Even if he didn't use the same character combinations as the next guy, you could still figure out what words he was intending. New words and concepts could be easily added, without awaiting approval from the official society of scribes. The linear format and simplicity of the alphabet made copying a much simpler feat, with less likelihood of generation-loss, allowing for swifter and wider distribution of texts. Any child with a soft piece of clay, or a lambskin and some charcoal now became a scribe, no initiation rites required.

Any child with a soft piece of clay, or a lambskin and some charcoal now became a scribe, no initiation rites requiredPerhaps even more significant was the necessarily linear format of the alphabet. Take a moment to think how differently your eyes and your ears operate. The eyes naturally scan a scene by jumping about almost erratically, finding and registering the most significant features of whatever phenomena stand before you. The ears, on the other hand, are serial processors, taking in audio stimuli in threads and processing the data in chunks as it comes in. When I worked in early literacy software, the first goal we had for children was to learn to do something quite unnatural—to scan linearly from left to right. When you read a picture book to a pre-literate child, pointing to the words with your finger and turning the pages in order, you are teaching just that—how to use the eyes as though they were ears, in a linear, procedural process.

One contract was for a firm that taught literacy to factory laborers. As it turns out, adults who have never gained alphabet literacy lack more than reading skills—they lack the ability to think in procedural terms. A supervisor can show them, "first you do this, then this, and only then can you do this…" They will memorize the procedure and follow it faithfully. But then, the factory procedure changes and so must the procedure. Now they are lost. A literate person understands the procedure—and the whole concept of procedure in general—and so he is able to adapt. An illiterate person just does it, without cognition, so that any change pulls the carpet out from under his feet and he must start all over again.

In a summer job for a law firm, I was assigned to read through the oratories of the Squamish tribes of British Columbia, as they addressed "the grand father"—the prime minister of Canada (Laurier and then Borden). Initially I was enthralled by the grandeur and spellbinding imagery of their speeches. But then I found myself impatiently asking, "Where is this going? What is the plot to the story? What is the point?" But there was no point, the stories just meandered from one event to the next and the imagery followed about as much pattern as a loose daydream.

Learning to read linear text provides the reader with an ability to think in linear terms. Historical chronology now replaces the never ever land of myths and legends. Logic replaces superstition. Algorithms and corollaries dominate over axioms. The human being begins to see himself within a linear path as well, moving from past to future, ignorance to knowledge, childishness to maturity with destiny, with a story that makes sense. Words such as person, purpose and progress now enter the lexicon. Pharaoh's pyramid begins to crumble.

When did all this begin? Elsewhere, I discussed the revolutionary shift from glyphs to the alphabet that first appears in the Land of Canaan. I pointed out that this was not a matter of invention alone—the Egyptian scribes had long used a small set of glyphs to represent the sounds of foreign names. Rather, it seems tied to a social revolution, to a new and wild notion that information belongs to everybody. (Best books on the topic of the origins of the alphabet are by the acknowledged expert, Joseph Naveh. See Origins of the Alphabet and Early History of the Alphabet. You'll also want to read what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has to say in chapter 7 of The Dignity of Difference.)

From its very birth, Judaism has been deeply tied to the free flow of knowledge; to the right for every member of society to play a role in justice and human dignityIt seems to have begun only once, in only one place. Whereas glyphic writing appeared independently in perhaps eight different places in the world, all alphabets in use today can be traced to the scrawls found in the Sinai peninsula and pottery in Canaan—at about the time of the Exodus. By the time of the Judges, archeological evidence points to a generally literate society.

What role the alphabet played in the social revolutions of that period we can only conjecture. There's no doubt, it was huge. For an eye-opener concerning the stark contrast between The Torah of Moses and other legislative documents of the period, read Dr. Joshua Berman's book, Created Equal—How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought or his online essay The Case for God: A Political and Economic Perspective.

Cutting to the chase, the very idea of a national exodus and a mass revelation at Sinai was radically out of context with the mindset of the period. Slaves are people? G‑d cares about common men? There's something wrong with oppression? Humanity has purpose? Equality? Life is sacred? All these ideas would have seemed preposterous to any other society at the time. In fact, no other society attempted to set them into practice for another three thousand years, when the Fathers of the American Constitution used the Hebrew Bible as their prototype.

The Torah also introduced the first linear story of humanity. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi discussed this in his now classic work on Jewish historiography, Zakhor—Jewish History and Jewish Memory. The stories of Genesis are as sharply distinct from the epic sagas of the ancient world as they are from those Squamish tales. They are a kind of un-mythology, following a definite sequence, working towards a fulfillment of promised destiny. Without the stories of Abraham and his covenant, or of Joseph and his brothers, the Exodus cannot be told. Without the story of the Exodus, Mount Sinai has no place. And so it continues, as we are launched into a destiny of a nation whose story has yet to resolve, and with whom the concepts of purpose, progress and destiny were born.

From its very birth, Judaism has been deeply tied to the free flow of knowledge; to the right—or rather, need—for every member of society to play a role in justice and human dignity; to the recognition of the individual as a sacred unit and to the empowerment of each one of us to know and make known the truth. Abraham, our father, smashed the idols of falseness and Moses empowered every man, woman and child to know truth firsthand. One can almost imagine our ancestors, slaves in Egypt, passing scribbled notes to one another, "Assemble at Ramses, noon tomorrow."

If today, it's Twitter that's carrying on that tradition, I'm with Twitter. And with the young people who clamor bravely today in Tehran for justice, liberty and the dignity of human life.

   By Tzvi Freeman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman heads's Ask The Rabbi team, and is a senior member of the editorial team. He is the author of a number of highly original renditions of Kabbalah and Chassidic teaching, including the universally acclaimed "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth." To order Tzvi's books click here.

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« Reply #98 on: June 23, 2009, 08:34:53 AM »

Nice piece Rachel-- though the curmudgeon in me notes IIRC that the man the young in Teheran are supporting was a key founder in the nuke program which may well be intended to wipe out Israel.

Anyway, enjoy your vacation, we look forward to your return.


By Tzvi Freeman
The history of humankind is not about the rise and fall of empires, their wars and their conquests. It is about a different sort of war, a singular one: The battle over whether the Creator of this place belongs here or in some heaven above.

That is the battle each one of us fights, and that is the story of all humanity's journey. And that is all that really matters. For that is all there is to any human being.
« Reply #99 on: June 28, 2009, 08:53:57 PM »

Thanks Marc,

I am having  a lot of fun at the Florida Theme Parks but hopefully our next vacation we will actually get to sleep and it won't be in the 90's

The Threat of Extremism
Part I: Radical Islam’s Goal of World Domination
Sunday, June 28, 2009
By Chana Weisberg

A few weeks ago, our friend Rabbi Avraham Rothman, a rabbi of the Aish HaTorah congregation in our community, invited my husband and I to join him at the premier of a groundbreaking new film that I consider a must-watch for anyone who values his freedom: "The Third Jihad."

The film confirmed a gradual shift in my perspective that has been germinating for some time now.

I used to think in terms of black and white. An idea, response, conviction or action was either right or wrong.

Some ideas or principles are just always good. Take kindness and generosity—how could you possibly go wrong by being nice to people? Same with finding depth and spiritual meaning, seemingly a positive course for leading a more valuable life. Ditto for freedom, equality, justice and liberty as cornerstones for what every human being needs and deserves.

But as time goes on, I realize that the same principle can be both right and wrong, depending on its measure and extreme. Moreover, the very same ideal can bring the greatest beauty and goodness to our world— or wreak absolute havoc and evil brutality.

The Third Jihad tells the account of one brave Muslim American doctor, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. The film is based on the FBI's release of a radical Islamist manifesto outlining a plan to destroy America from within, by taking advantage of the United States' democratic process.

Through chilling video footage of radical Islamists throughout the world, as well as interviews with experts in the fields of defense and international terror, the film clearly depicts the Islamic goal of world domination.

To achieve their goal, the radical Islamists employ both hostile as well as peaceful methods.

Through building terror networks and committing acts of terror throughout the free world, Islamists call attention to their cause while inflicting untold damage and horror to Western sensibilities and intimidate into silence those who would oppose them.

Their "peaceful" means There are very few individuals who are aware of and are openly fighting this agenda. Fewer yet are Muslims. include mass immigration to infiltrate our societies, as well as funding the sending of fanatical Imams from the hotbed of their radical societies, like Saudi Arabia, to teach, preach and convert as many as they can to their harsh interpretation of the Sharia (Islamic law). Hardened criminals are converted to Islam by Imams who arrive at their prison cells to win them over and convert them, and later build for them special communities, like Islamberg in Upstate N.Y., from where they can channel their aggressive energies to destroy Western society.

Compounding the danger is the fact that a significant and growing percentage of Muslims are increasingly identifying with the extreme and repugnant ideologies espoused by Islam's most radical elements. With its high birthrate and its aggressive recruitment efforts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today. In Europe, for example, Muslims already represent 20% of the population, and Islamic propaganda assures its faithful that by the year 2050, Muslims will be the largest segment of the European population. All this make the threat posed by radical Islam all the more frightening.

Most frightening about this perilous situation is that this is a well kept secret (to which our press associations are apparently willing corroborators—but more on that later).

And the large grants provided to departments of Middle Eastern Studies in prestigious Ivy League universities also ensure that a sympathetic approach to Radical Islam is taught by our society's "intellectuals" and then advocated by the student population.

There are very few individuals who are aware of and are openly fighting this agenda. Fewer yet are Muslims.

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim physician, is an exception. His amazing courage in fighting the radical Islamist agenda by increasing public awareness of this menace--despite the risk to his life--provides a valuable lesson for all of us, about the ability of every individual to make a difference in our world by standing up for one's convictions.

Distorting Something Positive: Idealization of the Afterlife

The Third Jihad is a chilling message to the West to awaken and realize the threat facing its very existence, its democratic way of life and value system.

But as I watched this gripping video, my recurring thought was how a positive ideal could become absolutely evil if distorted from its proper context or taken to too extreme a measure.

As I watched the Rather than cherishing life as the precious gift that it is, death becomes a means to attaining one's most gratifying pleasures in some spiritual Afterlife. footage documenting Radical Islamists' goal to enforce Sharia worldwide, I couldn't help but think of the surface similarities to many universal religious values. Yet, while the values may be similar at the starting point, how different are the results and end goals.

At the core of Islamic teaching is the realization of the temporality of physical existence and submission to a Higher Power. Infuse your life with a higher purpose, the Imams preach, where the spiritual reigns supreme.

This is a beautiful ideal. One that Western society, with its feverish pursuit of materialism at the expense of spiritual wellbeing, has much to learn from. Valuing a spiritual existence is a positive core value.

This lofty ideal, however, is distorted by fanatical extremism. Taken to the extreme of Radical Islam, physical life becomes meaningless. Rather than cherishing life as the precious gift that it is, death becomes a means to attaining one's most gratifying (physical) pleasures in some spiritual Afterlife.

One religious woman shown in the film is respected by her co-religionists for being the mother of three suicide bombers. She proudly and unflinchingly declares that she would be thrilled to send all her ten sons to their death for the noble cause of Islam.

In another frame, young children proudly demonstrate their "military" training—to execute suicide bombings.

The underlying theme in all this is the ideal that our physical life is temporary while the eternal and most meaningful life is in the hereafter. That is why a mother is willing to send her child, or even all her children, to their deaths along with as many "infidels" as possible.

The result of this extreme application is that rather than fostering a more spiritual lifestyle in our world, the greatest atrocities are committed because life in the here and now has become insignificant. This distorted focus also results in the debasement of the entire concept of the spiritual Afterlife, which becomes merely a means for attaining one's most perverted lusts.

On the other extreme, in Western society, material luxuries are pursued despite the steep spiritual price and the neglect of our soul's wellbeing. The pursuit of physical pleasures has become revered, while spiritual growth has become unimportant, relegated, at most, to a back burner, somewhere way down on our long list of essential priorities, the top of which is dominated by items needed to enhance our material standard of living.

In contrast to both radical Islam and Western society, in Judaism, a spiritual life does not come at the expense of the physical. Physical or material existence is not meant to be disregarded, but rather used, channeled and sanctified for a divine purpose. Our physical world and physical life need not be sinful, debased or disdainful, but a medium for a greater spiritual existence—which the spiritual soul alone, without a physical body or physical world, is incapable of attaining.

So hallowed and cherished Physical or material existence is not meant to be disregarded, but rather used, channeled and sanctified for a divine purpose. is our time in this world, as an opportunity to refine and channel our physical reality for greater goodness, that the Sages state, "Greater is one hour of doing good deeds in this world than all the time in the world to come." For this reason, saving a life is the greatest virtue and most pressing commandment, for which other commandments are overridden. Moreover, in Judaism, the spiritual worlds are but "waiting stops" for the soul, until the most ideal of times comes, when the redemption will happen here, on this physical world, and all souls will return to their physical bodies.

Similarly, it can be argued that capital sentences – which are regular and frequent occurrences in Islamic societies, along with the ghastly "honor killings" – for severe or immoral crimes are an important deterrent against crime. However, this too, taken to an extreme, by becoming a common occurrence, merely debases life rather than encouraging a greater, more refined way of living.

In Judaism, there are also capital crimes. But though the law permitted capital punishment for severe offenses, the courts were enjoined to spare no effort in finding reasons to acquit. Consequently, executions were so rare that the Talmud derogatorily refers to a Court of Law that has executed even one individual in seventy years as a "murderous court."

Because life is cherished as the most precious gift that G‑d has given us.

Belief in the Afterlife or belief in a more spiritual existence needs to provide us with the impetus to live more meaningful lives that are not geared only to immediate gratification, but in which we work towards refining ourselves into better, more loving, more harmonious and more giving individuals. If belief in the Afterlife, however, causes a disregard for the sanctity of life—ours and our fellow humans'—as well as a disdain for physical pleasures in this world only to expect them in their most lustful, debased form in the world to come, then this belief has become an escape mechanism to permit the greatest perversions, brutalities and atrocities—all supposedly in the name of G‑d.

Stay tuned for "Part Two: When Liberty and Equality Become an End Goal"
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