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« Reply #100 on: June 29, 2009, 08:59:32 AM »

Very interesting Rachel.  Looking forward to Part Two:


Lasting Peace

By Tzvi Freeman
Lasting peace is not created by intellectuals, for their minds are easily bribed from within and from without. Nor by those who follow their faith blindly, for at times their blindness wreaks havoc.

Lasting peace is the achievement of those who have made peace between the rigor of their mind and the simplicity of their faith. Their faith is firmly anchored beyond the whims of this world, and their mind sees clearly that proper results are achieved.
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« Reply #101 on: July 05, 2009, 09:20:27 AM »

Inside Workers

By Tzvi Freeman
When you look at a human being, you see his hands working, his feet walking, his mouth talking. You don't see his heart, his brain, his lungs and kidneys. They work quietly, inside. But they are the essential organs of life.

The world, too, has hands and feet -- those who are making the news and effecting change. The heart, the inner organs, they are those who work quietly from the inside, those unnoticed. Those who do a simple act of kindness without knowing its reward.
« Reply #102 on: July 05, 2009, 08:38:14 PM »


You requested part two so I am posting it. It is not something I would have otherwise posted.

The Threat of Extremism
Part II: When Liberty and Equality Become an End Goal
Sunday, July 05, 2009
By Chana Weisberg

This piece is a continuation from last week's blog post: Part I: Radical Islam's Goal of World Domination.

Last week we examined the distortion of the role of the Afterlife in radical Islam. This week we will look at another positive core value that is being distorted – albeit by people on the opposite spectrum of society – and this too is resulting in promoting the goals of radical Islam.

Most of us in the Western world vociferously defend the concepts of equality and liberty. Freedom of religion and multiculturalism are the foundations upon which American and Western societies were built. The democratic process ensures that every voice is heard and equal opportunities are made available for all. Unlike dictatorial societies, we pride ourselves on freedom of expression and every person's right to say and do as he or she chooses.

But what if that same freedom is giving voice to terrorists who want to destroy our very value system? Or what if by providing fanatics with a platform and rights, we ultimately enable the success of a program intended to suppress our own freedoms? What if through the medium of multiculturalism, one group intends to overtake and dominate all others and ultimately to forcefully impose their culture?

This is the astounding situation that is facing us in Western civilizations across the globe. Moreover, radical Islamists are very aware of our democratic mindset and plan on using these very noble principles to destroy the very fabric of life that we so cherish.

For the sake of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, we allow fanatical Imams to immigrate into our midst, teach the most hateful, inciteful messages of Islamic world domination and encourage their faithful to promote this plan through all means—peaceful or hostile—at their disposal.

Ironically, those who usually lobby for the rights of women and other exploited minorities are instead promoting the rights of people whose treatment of those same individuals is abhorrent.

We are protecting the rights of people who view women as less than human. People who come from a culture where "honor killings" are common. In radical Islamist cultures, if a young woman is found to have engaged in a "forbidden" sexual relationship (which might mean a relationship with a non-Muslim, or might mean that she has been forcibly raped) she is often killed by the members of her own family in order to honor their name and reputation. And this is the culture that they want to force upon us; these are the people whose "freedoms" we are so concerned about!

Why? How can we make sense of this irrational advocacy by elements of our press and large segments of our society for those whose goals are so antithetical to their own?

But perhaps the convictions of liberty and equality have become so distorted by many of us that these noble values are being applied to an extreme fanatical and irrational measure. Our ideals have no longer become a means to the end of a better life, but an end goal in themselves.

Have we become so shortsighted in the application of our values to the extent that they have become our new idolatry? Are we are even willing to forego our ultimate freedom and way of life for the sake of defending the voices of those who wish to destroy our way of life?

So, once upon a time, I used to believe that our world could be divided into black and white, good and bad. And, I believed, that the more of a good thing, the better.

But I've come to realize that in our complex world, almost everything—even good, noble causes—requires a balance, context and boundary.

Maimonides writes (Laws of De'ot ch. 1) that we should stay away from extremes. Not too miserly, not to giving. Not too indulgent, but not abstinent either. Not the local comedian, but not a sour face either. The proper path, he teaches, is always the middle ground—even with regards to admirable character traits.

Because the loftiest of traits or convictions, when taken to a fanatical extreme, can in fact become the worst possible manifestation of evil and destruction.

That is how the most beautiful concept of leading a more spiritual life can become malicious.

And how the noble virtues of liberty and equality can become their own, equally horrific, self-serving idolatry.

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« Reply #103 on: July 06, 2009, 07:03:10 PM »

Best post, ever!
« Reply #104 on: July 08, 2009, 08:48:58 PM »

This article made be uncomfortable not because it was critical of illiberal democracy.
I am posting Fareed Zakaria great article on illiberal democracy in another tread.

 I struggle with Judaism's especially orthodox Judaism's view on  freedom and democracy. For non- Jews Judaism is much more lenient but for Jews the Torah is a law book and must be obeyed.     While I was looking for some material on that I came across this article.
Judaism and Democracy

By: Aryeh Tepper
A commonly held view is that Judaism and liberal democracy necessarily exist in conflict with each other. This view finds adherents among both liberal democrats and Orthodox Jews. There are liberal democrats who consider Judaism to be a paternalistic religion that is hostile to freedom, and there are Orthodox Jews who consider liberal democracy's separation between church and state - the public and the private spheres - to be atheistic in intent and permissive in practice.

The apparent conflict between Judaism and democracy stems from differing evaluations of the freedom of the individual: whereas liberal democracies are constituted by the rights given to citizens by the state, in Judaism there are ten commandments given by (no less than) God. (According to one Talmudic authority there are actually 613 commandments for Jews). To state the matter grossly, but not altogether incorrectly, whereas liberal democracy is primarily concerned with the rights of the individual, Judaism is primarily concerned with an individual's duties. The two thus appear to exist in conflict with each other, because where Judaism demands obedience to God's will, liberal democracy, if it is to remain liberal, must guarantee the individual's right to freedom of, or from, religion.

It would be incorrect, however, to conclude from the differing evaluations of the freedom of the individual that the conflict between Judaism and liberal democracy is fundamental.

A thorough comparison between Judaism and democracy is, of course, beyond the limits of this article. However, in order to render questionable the commonly held opinion that Judaism and democracy are essentially opposed to each other, I would like to briefly explore a claim that has recently been raised by three different scholars ¯ Princeton University Professor Michael Walzer, recently deceased, Bar-Ilan Professor and President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Daniel Elazar, and President of the Jerusalem-based think-tank, the Shalem Center, Yoram Hazony. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, these three scholars have claimed, in different forms, that Judaism and democracy possess a common foundation.

The American Revolution is the best place to begin the exploration, because the American Revolution was the first modern, democratic revolution. If it can be demonstrated that the American revolutionaries turned to the Hebrew Bible - to the Torah - for inspiration and guidance, then this would indicate that the commonly held view about the conflict between Judaism and democracy might be mistaken.

It is of course well known that the founders of the American republic established their state in opposition to the British monarchy. But to whom did the founding fathers turn for inspiration in their fight against the tyranny of the throne? Princeton University Professor Michael Walzer, in his book, Exodus and Revolution, attempts to demonstrate the extent to which the story of Israel's exodus of Egypt functioned as a paradigm for political revolutions throughout history. The clearest example of the extent to which the exodus story functioned as a paradigm for later generations of political revolutionaries, is the case of the American Revolution, “In 1776, Benjamin Franklin proposed that the Great Seal of the United States should show Moses with his rod lifted and the Egyptian army drowning by the sea; while Jefferson urged a more pacific design: the column of Israelites marching through the wilderness led by God's pillars of cloud and fire.” (p. 6) Franklin went so far as to propose that the inscription of the Great Seal should read, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Why did Franklin and Jefferson see the American emancipation from England in light of the emancipation of the nation of Israel from Egypt? And where did Franklin get the strange notion that, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God?”

The answer, according to Walzer, is that Franklin and Jefferson read the Torah - what they called the Old Testament - according to its original intention: they read it as a political text. What is the nature of the Torah's political teaching?

The story is well-known: the nation of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt, and was tyrannically ruled by Pharoah. The savior Moses then appeared and, under the cover of the ten plagues sent by God, took the Jews out to freedom. The Torah thus set up an opposition between Pharoah's will and God's will. Pharoah wanted Israel to serve Egypt; God wanted Israel to serve Him. After God's will, not surprisingly, trumped Pharoah's will, and the Jews were led into the wilderness of freedom, one might expect that God would simply take Pharoah's place and rule over Israel like a tyrannical king. After all, God is stronger than Pharoah, and Israel was a nation of freed slaves, wandering around the desert, vulnerable.

The Torah teaches, however, that instead of ruling over Israel tyrannically, God made a brit, a covenant with Israel. An agreement. Both sides - God on one side, Israel on the other - while maintaining their integrity, accepted upon themselves duties and obligations.

This covenant between Israel and God was a political revolution. The idea that the right to rule does not simply belong to the stronger, but that power is established through the consent of both sides, was a radical political teaching. Professor Daniel Elazar in his series, The Covenant Tradition in Politics, claims that the idea of the covenant was instrumental in the political development of the West. Writes Elazar, “Politically the covenant idea has within it the seeds of modern constitutionalism in that covenants define and limit the powers of the parties to them, a limitation not inherent in nature but involving willed concessions.” (Covenant and Polity in Biblical Israel, p. 68) Elazar goes on to claim that, “The justification for the republican revolution was drawn directly and explicitly from the covenant idea,” the religious understanding of the covenant idea being that, “God, in establishing His covenant with humanity, rejected tyranny as a violation of the terms of that covenant.” (Covenant and Commonwealth, p. 50) It should now be evident that Benjamin Franklin, when he claimed that resistance to tyrants is obedience to God, was expressing the political spirit of the Torah thought through to a possible, logical conclusion.

According to Yoram Hazony, the spirit of resistance against tyranny that the Torah stimulated also lies at the root of the Western notion of civil disobedience. As Hazony wrote in his article, 'The Jewish Origin of the Western Disobedience Tradition,' from the summer, 1998, issue of Azure, “While the disobedience teaching of the West is well-known, virtually forgotten is the fact that this teaching is itself the essential Jewish political teaching.” It is the essential Jewish political teaching, according to Hazony, because, “Unqualified obedience to the state is the fundamentally pagan idea, the essential political teaching of the great idolatries of antiquity; [while] freedom of conscience and disobedience to unjust law are the core of the biblical political teaching, which arose as a rejection of pagan statism.” Hazony exaggerates when he states that freedom of conscience is a Biblical ideal, but his central point remains: the Jewish idea of God and His Law directs one's horizon beyond the particular horizon of the state. All laws must be justified before God's Law, and one can refuse to comply with man-made law upon the grounds that God's Law is superior. According to Hazony, the Greek appeal from that which is right by convention, to that which is right by nature, was preceded by the Jewish appeal from man-made law, to God-made Law. Hazony, in a silent nod to Michael Walzer, then ties his claim to the exodus story when he writes, “The subsequent story of the Jews in Egypt is a paradigm of resistance to oppressive government, to which resistors and revolutionaries throughout history have turned for inspiration. Like the other tales of the books of Moses, this one opens immediately with an act of resistance against the state,” the act of resistance being the refusal of the Hebrew mid-wives to carry out Pharoah's tyrannical order to kill all the Hebrew males (Exodus 1:15-21).

In telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, the Torah constructs a paradigm for resistance against tyrannical rulers. Democracy was, of course, also born out of resistance to tyranny. Walzer, Elazar, and Hazony all point out in different ways that the foundation of the Jewish tradition and the first principle of democracy oppose the same thing: tyranny. In other words, the foundation of the Jewish tradition and the first principle of democracy, far from existing in opposition to each other, actually exist in harmony with each other. It is an established, historical fact that Judaism served as the inspiration for certain democratic notions of freedom. This fact makes problematic the commonly-held view, which is in reality an extreme view, that Judaism and democracy exist in opposition to each other.

While the position that democracy and Judaism essentially exist in conflict with each other is an extreme view, one should guard against going to the opposite extreme and claiming that there is an essential harmony between Judaism and democracy. The truth is somewhere in the middle: while Judaism and democracy might agree about political fundamentals, there is a deep disagreement between the two over the proper ends of human life. It is beyond the limits of this article to investigate the question of the proper ends of life according to Judaism and democracy, but for present purposes it is sufficient to note that while democracy can tolerate atheism, Judaism, of course, cannot. We can imagine an individual claiming that freedom of conscience dictates that he or she be allowed to come to whatever conclusion seems fitting according to his or her mind with regard to the question of the existence or the non-existence of God. Judaism can respond at best that it is not afraid of speculation. However, according to Judaism, there is a correct answer to the question of God's existence. On the question of God's (non)-existence, however, contemporary democracy does not teach that there is a right answer; it remains silent.

Perhaps the best that can be said about the connection between Judaism and democracy is that, because of the common foundation, they can talk to each other. They both say 'no' to tyranny, and this 'no' forms a kind of fellowship. There is a common enemy.

Today, thousands of Orthodox Jews are free citizens of the United States of America, a country in which they feel completely at home. The present state of things demonstrates that democracy can make room for (Orthodox) Judaism in its midst. In light of the Jewish roots of certain democratic notions of freedom, perhaps this fact should not come as a surprise. The question that remains, however, is if Orthodox Judaism is able to conceive of a political system in which dissent against Judaism's fundamental principles can be accorded a legitimate place. This is a question that Orthodox Jews living in Israel have the responsibility, challenge, and privilege of wrestling with.

« Reply #105 on: July 09, 2009, 08:56:52 PM »

Mending the Bonds
by Rivka Zehava

Prayer is a powerful tool to repair our relationship with God and man.

It's Tammuz. The very name of this month knots my stomach tightly. For over 2000 years Jews have known that the three weeks from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av is an inauspicious time for the Jewish nation. It is a time in which God withdraws His usually benevolent and compassionate watch from us. Our history is full of tragedies and exiles that began and took place during this period, in which every year, we are made to hear the message, "My children, you have withdrawn from me. You have strayed. Feel the distance and what it causes, and come back."

The fear Tammuz instills in me is a good thing. It is meant to be a catalyst for action, for healing and mending. We are meant to contemplate the severed connection between God and us and to take tangible steps towards repairing it.

    Relationships need constant words of love and appreciation to stay strong and develop. Our relationship with God is no different.

The key to every relationship is communication. One of the most important ingredients for a healthy marriage is the ability to express oneself to their spouse, whether it be feelings of gratitude, anger or excitement. Rifts are opportunities to work it out together and come to an understanding. Like a plant requires water and sunshine to grow, our bonds necessitate constant words of love and appreciation to stay strong and develop.

One's relationship with God is no different; it also requires communication. The structured prayers serve as our crucial guide to expressing and connecting to our Creator. In addition, built into the heart of every human being is the natural power to talk to God, at any minute of any day. Wherever you are, you have the ability to simply open your mouth and speak to the Almighty, your heavenly Father Who loves you.

Brian used to get extremely nervous before big business meetings. He couldn't sleep the night before and would worry for days whether or not the deal would go through. Business was picking up speed and these stressful meetings were becoming more and more frequent. Brian realized he couldn't function anymore. One day, he saw a bumper sticker that said, DON'T TELL GOD HOW BIG YOUR PROBLEMS ARE, TELL YOUR PROBLEMS HOW BIG GOD IS. He decided to try it out.

For the first time in his life, he started talking to God. He would explain why he was nervous about this particular deal, laying down all the details of the other company and their deliberations. He would express his fears about the benefits and risks of the deal to his own company. "God, if it's good, make it work. If not, help it fall through." Brian felt himself calm down when he spoke things out with God. And soon enough he would take a minute to thank Him after each meeting, feeling the abundance of blessing in his life.

Red traffic lights are a perfect time to reconnect with God.

"Good Morning, God!" "Thanks for letting my car start, God!" "Please help me get to the office before my boss, God!!!"

One sentence can build a bridge between you and Him.

Loving Other Jews

These three weeks are also the time to work on repairing the bonds between our fellow Jews. The Talmud teaches us that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of the baseless hatred and lack of respect that crept into the lives of the Jewish nation.

    Praying for someone else requires opening your eyes to his plight and letting his pain flow through your heart.

This, too, can be repaired through prayer. There is a concept taught that if someone is in need of something and desperately wants his prayers to be answered, he should pray for somebody else who is in need and he will see himself answered first. It's not a business exchange; it is a character change. In order to pray for someone else, I need to open my eyes to see his plight and let his pain flow through my heart. His troubles become real; they become mine and spur me to beg for his rescue. God hears this brotherly cry and He is moved because He sees that I have let myself be moved. I have become a more compassionate person, therefore more deserving of Divine intervention in my own life.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev had a policy: if someone hurt him, he would pray for that person. His theory was if someone is wrong, there is no point in getting angry with him, rather he would pity him. He would ask God to help that person learn and change and eventually have a more satisfying life.

We all know someone who has poor social skills. It can be really irritating when they say the wrong thing at the wrong time or insist on things being done their way. But if we could stop and think about the sad life that person must lead because of this social handicap, we might be moved to compassion and intercede on their behalf.

It's Tammuz. Let's show God that we want to be close to him. Let's turn our daily lives into a stage for connecting to Him. Let's use prayer to draw us closer to our loved ones and our not so loved ones. May this be the last Tammuz that we spend in exile, distanced from God.

This article can also be read at:
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« Reply #106 on: July 14, 2009, 05:14:30 AM »


Once we ate from the tree of knowing good with evil, our world became a place of compounds and mixtures. You will not find beauty without ugliness, joy without sorrow, pleasure without pain. You cannot invent a thing that will provide benefit without threat of harm, or a man on this earth who does only good without fault.

Wherever you will find one form of good, you will find another sort of evil. And where that evil does not lie, another will take its place. Rare it is, so rare, to find pure and simple goodness in a single being.

Therefore, do not reject any thing for the harm it may render, nor despise any man for the ugliness within him. Rather, use each thing towards the purpose G-d conceived it for, and learn from each man all he has to offer.

« Reply #107 on: July 16, 2009, 09:40:28 PM »
The Benefits of Being Stupid When You're Old

By Jay Litvin

First of all I'm not really stupid. And second, you can't really call 53 old. But lately I have been feeling very stupid, and being the oldest in my class makes me feel very old. But perhaps there is some benefit to all of this.

I haven't felt so stupid since I was 10 years old and my family moved from the upper-lower class Chicago neighborhood where I fit in to the upper-middle-class neighborhood where I did not. I felt pretty smart at my old grammar school. But when I transferred to the new one, I seemed to be the dumbest in the class. It was a tremendous blow to my self esteem, especially since both my sisters were honor students.

I got through grammar and high school, but I dropped out of college and chose instead to apprentice at a film company where I eventually learned a lucrative trade and then went on to develop a career. I even received a college degree at the age of 32. I am married, with some very nice children.

So, self-esteem-wise I recovered. Until I moved to Israel and started going to Ulpan to learn Hebrew.

I am the oldest and the dumbest in my class. I'm having a terrible time learning Hebrew. I can't remember any of the words, no matter how often I hear them or look them up in my English/Hebrew dictionary. Verb conjugation is beyond me. And trying to form a sentence just to answer a question, let alone express a thought, causes my throat to tighten involuntarily. I am embarrassed by my incompetence among the other students. I sit in dread of being called on by the instructor, a very kind, middle-aged woman who, I can tell, takes pity on me. She calls on me rarely and even when I make mistakes, she treats me kindly and pretends I gave sort of the right answer. Fortunately it is an adult class, so people don't make fun of me; at most, they treat my erroneous responses with compassionate sickly grins and then look away quickly. At break time, I grab a cup of coffee and stand by myself hoping no one will come up to me and try to start a conversation in Hebrew.

I sit in class with a terrible pressure in my chest, difficulty breathing, and with a constant running diatribe at myself: "You're so stupid! How come everyone else gets it and you don't? Why are you so shy? Why can't you just speak up and make your mistakes and practice? Why have you put yourself in this position? Why didn't you just stay in America where at least you could speak?"

There seems to be this downward spiral of thoughts leading to a dark cavern of negativity that feels old and familiar, more connected to my childhood than to my reality.

By the time the class is over I feel terrible. Like a loser. And I dread the next class.

On the train ride home I try to console myself. "Look, it's just a class. You're the Public Relations Director for one of the largest organizations in Israel. You speak and write English better than most. You have a lovely wife and beautiful children...."

But it doesn't help.

Fortunately, I have a wife who I can talk to and when I express all this to her she makes me laugh and I feel better.

But today she didn't laugh. Today she said to me: "Can you imagine what its like for a young child to sit in a class and feel the way you do? Or what it must be like for someone who is learning disabled? Or for the Goldsteins' daughter who is failing miserably in school and wants to drop out?"

"No wonder she wants to drop out!" I said. "And maybe she should!" I continued, surprising even myself. "Maybe she can at least salvage her self-esteem if she doesn't have to sit in a classroom feeling like a dummy."

I had just returned from a particularly difficult day in my Hebrew class and so I had no difficulty doing the imagining my wife suggested.

What if, I thought, I were 10 years old instead of 53? What if I didn't have any professional success to counter the stupidity I was feeling in class? What if I didn't have a lovely, understanding wife to talk to, but rather two demanding parents who were embarrassed at my failures? What if the teacher was not so kind and instead mocked and embarrassed me when I made mistakes? What if my fellow students were other 10-year-old brats who enjoyed teasing and giggling when I goofed up? And what if these little cruel monsters were the only kids I knew? And what if I was so embarrassed by my stupidity that I avoided other children and had no friends? And what if - and this is the big one - I spent not just three hours a day three days a week in a Hebrew class feeling dumb, but six hours a day every day of the week in school feeling this bad? And then to top it all off, when school was over, I went home to face my parents with my poor grades or a note from the teacher?

What if I were the Goldsteins' daughter who is now 17 years old and has probably been feeling like this, hour by hour, minute by minute, for the past 12 years since she was 5 years old and entered kindergarten?

Yes, I thought, drop out! Save your life! Stop the torture immediately and save your self-esteem! Its more important than math and science. Save your pride and go on with your life!

Feeling stupid is awful--at any age. And no one should be made to feel this way. It's damaging and will only lead a person, like my friend's daughter, to a series of bad choices just to avoid the terrible feeling. To survive, they'll find some place, some group of people where they don't feel stupid. Maybe other drop outs, maybe drugs, maybe just boys looking to give a pretty runaway girl a place to stay and some kind words to make her feel attractive rather than stupid.

But, there is one benefit in feeling stupid, at least when you're old: Compassion. Hopefully, a little more patience and kindness with my own children. More diligence in rooting out the source of their problems at school. Making more time to advocate for them with their teachers. More encouragement and recognition of their successes.

Every person has his strengths and his talents. And it is up to us, parents and teachers, to find them and nurture them. It could be a good sense of humor or the ability to sing, vacuum the rug or set the table for dinner. It may even be as simple as being pretty. Fostering self esteem in any area is better than destroying it, even when a child does not live up to our expectations. In the long run, it is this sense of self-esteem and confidence that will yield the courage to learn, explore and succeed far more than any knowledge.

I hope I'll hang in there at Hebrew class. But I'm not sure. After each class of feeling stupid I find it harder to get up on time in the morning of my next class. Other responsibilities seem to be more urgent than learning Hebrew, and the distraction of reading or playing with the cat at night after a long day's work seems more important than struggling with my Hebrew homework.

But I'm an adult, and hopefully the importance of learning the language of the new country in which I live will keep me plugging away. After all, I'm not 10 years old or even 17, I'm 53 and should have learned how to handle these feelings by now, don't you think?

In truth, I don't know if I would really encourage the Goldsteins' daughter to drop out of school. That's a tough decision with many serious consequences. But, I tell you, before feeling this stupid in my Hebrew class, I never would have understood how it could be a consideration for her at all. Now I do.

By Jay Litvin   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad's Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad's Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children.
« Reply #108 on: July 18, 2009, 05:18:29 PM »

The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

By Elisha Greenbaum

A smoker once told me that quitting was dead easy; he personally had stopped dozens of times.

Well? Can one quit something (successfully) more than once? Can a recovering alcoholic still struggling for sobriety boast of his success in conquering his demons? How would you define a relapsed drug addict who is currently clean, but might fall off the wagon at any time?

A 12-stepper is trained never to believe himself cured, no matter how many years of clean slates he may have accumulated. "I am an addict," he will explain "and tomorrow, just like every living day of the last 23 years, I will wake up and struggle against my desires."

Living, sentient beings must keep their passport handy We read this week of the "Forty-two journeys the Children of Israel traveled going out of Egypt" (Numbers 33:1) Doesn't seem to make sense, does it? The Jews may indeed have made 42 distinct stops in the desert, camped in 42 separate places, but only one of the journeys, the first, would have taken them out of Egypt.

In Jewish philosophy, "Egypt" represents not just a physical land peopled by real-life Jew enslavers, but also symbolizes a concept: the slave mentality. The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is etymologically related to the word Meitzorim, "boundaries": that psychological construct that traps you in place, unwilling or unable to break free from your mental shackles.

Throughout one's life one is forced to undertake a series of "journeys," traveling out of one's comfort zone to confront new challenges and conquer fresh territories. Only a corpse can be described as having completed its travel. Living, sentient beings must keep their passport handy, ready to be used on the next stage of their journey through life.

The events of one's past are not overweight baggage dragging you down; rather they are the accumulated experiences from which you may draw, helping you maneuver around the new obstacles which present. You may have struggled with an issue in the past and successfully overcame it, left that border crossing behind, as it were. Now there is a new you, undertaking a new journey and those very survival skills which have protected you to date will stand in your stead on your new adventure.

Freedom is waiting for you over the border An addict wakes each morning, resolved to spend the whole day overcoming his temptations. Each day is a new journey where fresh obstacles present to be surmounted. The skills and strengths gained from past battles will benefit you in your present struggle, but each journey is its own distinct struggle, and each new accomplishment helps you escape once again from the servitude of your private Egypt, towards the freedom waiting for you over the border.

By Elisha Greenbaum   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L'Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia
« Reply #109 on: July 29, 2009, 09:54:06 PM »

Mourning What is Missing
Understanding Tisha B'av

By Elana Mizrahi

I was sixteen years old when I became enchanted with Israel as I trekked throughout the Holy Land with a group of sunburned teenagers on a summer youth group trip. I called home to my mother, proclaiming that I wanted to live in Israel and marry a handsome Israeli soldier. The trip wasn't religiously oriented and the mission was more to expose young American Jews to the land than to expose us to Judaism. But when a land and a people are so inherently connected, that sole mission was impossible to achieve. As we went to the holy sites I thought to myself how I didn't really know what to do there, but when I came upon the Western Wall, my body swayed, my eyes welled with tears, and my lips couldn't stop themselves from whispering petitions. I thought I didn't know what to do, but I did.

The air continued to hang heavyBefore our journey ended, I remember a certain night that stood out from all the others. It was a dark night and the air continued to hang heavy from the boiling August sun. Our counselors explained to us that the night was Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, and that it was a tragic day in Jewish history. They didn't go into too many details, but we were told that it was the night of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We then did a reenactment of an escape from Roman soldiers. At the end we were also told that it was a fast day for the Jewish people.

I fasted through the night and the next day, my first time fasting for Tisha B'Av. At the time I didn't fast for the destruction of the Temples. This had little or no significance to me and was something too removed for me to comprehend. I fasted because I found out that it was a fast day for the Jewish people, and as a Jew, I wanted to share in this experience with my people.

Two years later I went to synagogue on the night of Tisha B'Av. I found myself sitting on the floor in cloth shoes like a mourner. In a weeping voice, the Rabbi led the congregation in the reading of the book of Lamentations and for the first time in my life I had a sensation of what it meant to mourn and feel a connection to the loss of the Holy Temple.

There is a famous story told about Napoleon Bonaparte. He was walking in the streets of Paris when he heard wailings and the sounds of people lamenting, coming from a synagogue. He turned to the person he was with and asked, "Why are they crying?"

The other answered, "They're mourning over the destruction of their Temple."

"When was it destroyed?"

"Almost two thousand years ago."

Napoleon then declared, "A nation still mourning after so long will be eternal. They will return to their land and rebuild their Temple."

Why would Napoleon make such an assertion? Maybe because Napoleon understood that people don't mourn thousands of years over broken bricks and stones. Tisha B'Av isn't about the destruction of a building. Tisha B'Av is about the exile of a people from their homeland, an estrangement of a nation from G‑d, and a separation of the spiritual from the physical. Tisha B'Av is about national tragedy and about personal suffering. Each one of us has individual struggles and all of us, in one form or another await, redemption from them, and the day when Tisha B'Av will no longer be a day of mourning, but a day of celebration.

Why do the Jewish people continue to mourn and weep?But why do the Jewish people continue to mourn and weep year after year? Isn't there such a thing as let go and live? Be happy with the moment and forget the past?

The Torah describes how grief-stricken Jacob was when informed that his son, Joseph, was attacked and killed by an animal. For twenty-two years, Jacob was inconsolable, unable to get over the death of his beloved Joseph. Rashi – a post-Talmudic commentator - explains that Jacob's mourning was beyond the mourning of a parent for their child. This is because Joseph was really still alive. Jacob's wounds could not heal because they weren't closed, Joseph was still alive and Jacob continued to bleed.

Mourning a death is very different than mourning something or someone that is missing. Even if a person is missing and presumed dead, the search for that person, or even the person's body, is never forgotten. We need proof. We need closure. For until there is closure, we cannot begin to move on. Yet this is what Tisha B'av is showing us. We are not mourning a death, we are mourning what is missing. The Temples were destroyed, but not forever, for the Third Temple will be rebuilt. But until it is, Tisha B'av is that reminder of what we have temporarily lost.

This is why in the Talmud (Shabbat 31), there is a discussion about which questions are asked by the Heavenly Court for admittance into Heaven after a person dies. One of the questions that the Talmud states is, "Did you expect (wait for) the Redemption?" The author of the Melech b'Piv - a Torah commentary - notes that the word used by the Sages is "to expect" (tzepita) or "wait for." It doesn't use "hope for" or "want," but a word which describes a looking out for - with certainty.

This is like the family with a missing child. Years may have gone by, but that family waits every single day for a phone call that their child has been found. Every day they grieve that the child is missing, yet simultaneously, every day they pray and hope. This is the crying and mourning we do on Tisha B'av. For as hard as it is to live without our Temple and to be in exile, we wait every single day for it to be returned to us and pray that immediately we will be redeemed.

   By Elana Mizrahi   
Originally from Northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, and writer. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
« Reply #110 on: August 04, 2009, 08:40:21 PM »

She Is Pure
by Andrea Eller

My first time preparing the deceased for Jewish burial.

When I got the call, I was unprepared. I forgot I had expressed interest in observing a tahara – preparing the deceased for burial. What had I been thinking? But I felt silly refusing the invitation, so I agreed. I told myself (unconvincingly) that this was the perfect opportunity to explore the mitzvah-with-no-quid-pro-quo. From the sidelines.

An hour later, Phyllis, the friend who had piqued my interest in the Chevra Kadisha, picked me up, reaffirming our agreement that nothing was expected of me and that if I were to change my mind, I could assist under her tutelage. Short odds on that. I didn't say much on the way to the funeral chapel, and when we arrived, I retreated into myself. I walked in and instantly tears caught in my throat and cried out for a ladies' room haven. The terrain summoned still-fresh sorrow for my father's unexpected passing a few months earlier. But there was a task to be performed here. I would hold off my own pain for later.

We took the stairs down to a dimly lit sitting parlor furnished in Victorian décor. At the back, the sad room opened to a corridor flanked on the far end by a heavy silver hospital-like door. There waited three other volunteers, Lara, Miriam and René, all friends of mine, who, with Phyllis, would comprise the tahara team.

Greetings were brief. We each donned two full-sleeved aprons with bibs -- the first yellow gauze, the second white plastic -- a pair of firemen's rubber boots to be worn over shoes, and two pairs of surgical gloves. A faded sheet with torn edges was taped to the outside of the door; each of us silently read its prayer that God help us perform this deed with the right intentions and facility. Help us? Not me. Help them. I'm watching.

Subdued and qualmish, I followed them through the door into an open, well-lit, white-tiled room. There on a spotlessly white gurney lay a stilled woman. Swaddled in white sheeting was Sarah bas Avraham, a woman well into her eighties. Her metal bed was waist high, slightly angled at its foot over a trough-like sink built into the floor. There were metal buckets and plastic buckets in the corners of the room, push brooms, hoses, and white cabinets filled with supplies: gauze, scissors, tape, sheets, strange-looking liquids, toothpicks, acetone, towels... Each labeled item had its labeled place. After we washed our hands at the sink, I backed into a corner with the brooms.

    I was afraid to look at Sarah's face, but my eyes were pulled to her.

Phyllis, the leader of the team, began by murmuring the closest thing to conversation I was to hear for the next hour and a half. "Sarah bas Avraham, please forgive us if anything we do as part of the work of the Chevra Kadisha offends your dignity in any way."

Silently, carefully, she began cutting away Sarah's encasement. As the binding fell away, Lara and Miriam inspected the body for wounds that might require stanching lest the burial clothing, which must be kept spotless, become stained. The only sounds were the clip clip of scissors and René's whispered prayers for Sarah. Reading from a laminated, timeworn sheet, she said a prayer at each step of the tahara.

I was afraid to look at Sarah's face, but my eyes were pulled to her. I never saw her fully, as care was taken to keep her face covered. The Kabbalists tell us that although the eyes of the dead cannot see, exposure of the face in such a setting of helplessness is a source of humiliation to the Neshama, the soul. They say that the Neshama hovers about the body in confusion and pain until burial is completed.

Now the silence was broken by the quiet plash of water running down the gurney and into the trough as Phyllis, Miriam, Lara and René gently and methodically cleansed Sarah, section by small section. Only the part of her being washed was exposed at any moment; all else was kept covered by a clean white sheet. The women took care to save any cloth that had absorbed even a drop of Sarah's blood -- blood that had been the source of her life. Such cloths would be included in Sarah's casket.

I had inched over to the gurney and was facing Phyllis, when by way of hand gestures she asked me if I would care to remove Sarah's nail polish. There must be as few physical obstructions as possible between the body of the deceased and its ultimate home.

"No way!" I thought as my head nodded yes independently.

    My throat turned to dust. This would be the first time I'd ever touched someone who was not alive.

My throat turned to dust. This would be the first time I'd ever touched someone who was not alive. But I was distracted from panic as Phyllis beckoned me to the head of the gurney where she would hand me cotton swabs saturated with acetone. It was odd. Why hadn't she just reach over and give me the swabs? I didn't know then that it is an insult to the deceased to hand articles over the body as if she were a thing, as if she had not been the vessel for a soul. Any exchange of objects is therefore conducted beyond the deceased, in deference to the body and soul that God had wed. I forced myself to pick up Sarah's right hand. It was surprisingly heavy and cool, frozen in a graceful curve. The experience was not at all macabre. My timorousness became wonder. What had she done with these hands? Had she cooked for a husband and children? Had she written letters? Played piano? Sown gardens? Carried grandchildren? Had she erred with these hands? With my own right hand I daubed the pink away, feeling an unexpected warmth for this stranger whose face I could only glimpse. And I felt a sense of privilege that would recur each time I would perform this part of a tahara, helping to prepare a Jewish woman for her endmost pilgrimage. I did not help with the culmination of the tahara -- purifying the body by way of water. All tasks up until this point had been in preparation for this. Sarah had to be slightly moved as wooden planks were positioned under her, lifting her from the gurney. Nor did I assist when in one swift movement Lara swept off Sarah's sheet, and René and Lara engulfed her in an unbroken watershoot from the buckets. "Tehora hi (She is pure), Tehora hi, Tehora hi," said the team, and it seemed to me that had the sanctifying waters spoken they would have answered, "Yes. Pure is She, Pure is She, Pure is She." Miriam shook out a fresh, dry white sheet and re-covered Sarah. The dressing process was very beautiful. Sarah was enshrouded in immaculate white cotton pants, undershirt, tunic and bonnet, in that order, each secured by the ladies with three-loop bows. The loops represent the three tines of the Hebrew letter Shin, the first letter of one of the Names of God. I took it upon myself to see that the bows lay spread out, flat and pretty -- another task I would eventually make mine -- while the other women beseeched Sarah bas Avraham in poignant Yiddish to remember herself as a Yiddishe tochter (Jewish daughter), and to recall her Hebrew name while on her final course.

    I found the lavatory, and there I wept, deeply and profusely.

Ensconced in the casket -- a simple, unvarnished pine box lined with fragrant straw -- Sarah looked clean, warm and cared for. After closing the casket we gathered around and asked Sarah for pardon had we performed any of our work without the full respect due her. We spoke of our hopes that in the world of the living had she paid any debt of pain or suffering, and that her wayfare henceforth be one of reward. We slowly backed away and out of the room, facing the casket in final tribute to the body and soul of Sarah bas Avraham.

I found the lavatory, and there I wept, deeply and profusely. Had the Chevra Kadisha tending to my father do for him what this Chevra had done for Sarah? Had they treated him with the same care afforded Sarah? Did he finally lay clean and cared for like Sarah?

Waiting for me in the darkened sitting parlor; my friends gracefully refrained from comment when I rejoined them. We left the chapel. Emotions not quite sated, a flood of love for this mitzvah washed over me and the makings of a bond with these women of the Chevra had begun. But most remarkably, and I'm so grateful for this, I felt a strengthened security in God Who commands this Chesed shel Emes, this altruistic kindness, a security born of an internal quieting that makes me truly less afraid, somehow, of the passage of death.

This article can also be read at:

 Care for the Dead
After a person dies, the eyes are closed, the body is laid on the floor and covered, and candles are lit next to the body. The body is never left alone until after burial, as a sign of respect. The people who sit with the dead body are called shomerim, from the root Shin-Mem-Reish, meaning "guards" or "keepers".

Respect for the dead body is a matter of paramount importance. For example, the shomerim may not eat, drink, or perform a commandment in the presence of the dead. To do so would be considered mocking the dead, because the dead can no longer do these things.

Most communities have an organization to care for the dead, known as the chevra kaddisha (the holy society). These people are volunteers. Their work is considered extremely meritorious, because they are performing a service for someone who can never repay them.

Autopsies in general are discouraged as desecration of the body. They are permitted, however, where it may save a life or where local law requires it. When autopsies must be performed, they should be minimally intrusive.

The presence of a dead body is considered a source of ritual impurity. For this reason, a kohein may not be in the presence of a corpse. People who have been in the presence of a body wash their hands before entering a home. This is done to symbolically remove spiritual impurity, not physical uncleanness: it applies regardless of whether you have physically touched the body.

In preparation for the burial, the body is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple, plain linen shroud. The Sages decreed that both the dress of the body and the coffin should be simple, so that a poor person would not receive less honor in death than a rich person. The body is wrapped in a tallit with its tzitzit rendered invalid. The body is not embalmed, and no organs or fluids may be removed. According to some sources, organ donation is permitted, because the subsequent burial of the donee will satisfy the requirement of burying the entire body.

The body must not be cremated. It must be buried in the earth. Coffins are not required, but if they are used, they must have holes drilled in them so the body comes in contact with the earth.

The body is never displayed at funerals; open casket ceremonies are forbidden by Jewish law. According to Jewish law, exposing a body is considered disrespectful, because it allows not only friends, but also enemies to view the dead, mocking their helpless state.
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« Reply #111 on: August 07, 2009, 09:12:48 AM »

Another gem Rachel- thank you. 
Both Ways

One who loves must learn fear. One who fears must learn love.

The thinker must do. The doer must think. The pacifist must fight, the fighter must find peace.

If you flow as a river, burn as a fire. If you burn as a furnace, flow as a river.

If you fly as a bird, sit firm as a rock. If you sit firmly, then fly as a bird.

Be a fire that flows. A rock that flies. Love with fear and fear with love.

For we are not fire, not water, not air, not rocks, not thoughts, not deeds, not fear, not love. We are G-dly beings.
« Reply #112 on: August 14, 2009, 10:05:21 PM »

I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Jealous Sister

Dear Rachel,

I'm fourteen-years-old and I am having an issue I hope you can help with. I'm happy most of the time, I like my group of friends, and I'm excited that we're going to be starting high school this fall.

The problem is - I can't help being envious of my younger sister, because she is prettier than me. I love her, but I can't help feeling jealous towards her sometimes, even though I know it's stupid and I feel angry with myself for this. I just don't know how to stop feeling this way.

Jealous Sister

Dear Jealous Sister,

First off, the fact that you're mature enough to understand that it is inappropriate to feel this way, and the fact that you are seeking help to deal with these feelings, are signs that you are a very together young lady - and so, you're already ahead of the game.

Recognize your positive qualities The Torah tells us to "Love your fellow as yourself." The implication here is that you love yourself first, and then you love your fellow as you love yourself. This teaches us a vitally important lesson. We must love ourselves—have proper self-esteem and self-appreciation—in order to properly love another. Before you can look at your sister without jealousy, you need to look at yourself more honestly. Recognize your positive qualities: your strengths; your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attributes. Sure, it's nice to be pretty - but there are a lot of things that are way more important: to be caring, mature, sensitive, compassion, intelligent, loyal. By asking your question you have already demonstrated that you possess these vitally important qualities.

You should also know- as the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You and your sister, like any two human beings, each have your own unique—and uniquely attractive—face. Still, that isn't the main quality that either of you has.

Back to the topic of loving ourselves and our fellows: why should we love ourselves?

Our rabbis have equated the commandment "Love your fellow as yourself" to the Tenth Commandment - "You shall not covet." What exactly is the connection between these two? On the surface, we can say that if we truly love someone we will be happy for them, and we will not be jealous of what they have.

But the connection goes much deeper. Why, in fact, is it wrong to be envious of someone's looks, talents, abilities, possessions, anything?

To understand the answer to that, we first need to understand - truly and deeply know - that G‑d created each and every one of us for a unique purpose in this world. This is the root and the reason for our self-love. If G‑d created us, then we are important. And if you could fulfill my mission in life, then one of us is unnecessary – but nothing that G‑d creates is unnecessary.

Nothing that G‑d creates is unnecessarySince each person has his own, individual, one-of-a-kind mission in life, it stands to reason that each person is sent down here with the unique combination of talents and capabilities that he or she needs to fulfill that mission. If you have artistic ability and I don't, that means that artistic ability is somehow necessary for you in order to do accomplish what you need to on this earth; for me, artistic ability is totally extraneous - sort of like a tail, or an extra ear. There are two sides to the coin- valuing my own uniqueness means both loving me with all my qualities, and loving the fact that those around me possess the qualities they possess.

"You shall not covet" is another way of saying "love yourself, because G‑d has created you in such a way that you are perfect for your job." Once we learn this lesson, the Torah further tells us "Love your neighbor as yourself." Now that you understand your own uniqueness, and that you are vital in G‑d's infinite plan for the world - understand that your fellow is also vital in the grand scheme of things, and is also endowed with the exact measure of physical, intellectual, and emotional attributes that he requires for his job.

I hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this any further.


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Chaya Sara Silberberg.

Chaya Sarah Silberberg serves as the rebbitzen of the Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan, since 1975. She also counsels, lectures, writes, and responds for's Ask the Rabbi service.
« Reply #113 on: August 15, 2009, 09:35:58 AM »

Saving Rabbi Lau
by Associated Press

After 64 years, Rabbi Lau finds the person who saved his life.

After surviving the Holocaust as a child, Israel Meir Lau -- a former Isr

After 64 years, Rabbi Lau finds the person who saved his life.

After surviving the Holocaust as a child, Israel Meir Lau -- a former Israeli chief rabbi -- spent decades searching for the man who saved his life.

That journey ended with an Associated Press report about a recently discovered Nazi document confirming the identity of the teenager who shielded him from German gunfire when his concentration camp was liberated.

In an emotional ceremony on Tuesday, the Holocaust memorial Rabbi Lau now chairs posthumously granted Feodor Mikhailichenko Israel's highest honor for non-Jews.

"This closes a circle of 64 years. You look for this person, to whom you owe your life, and you don't know whom to thank," said Rabbi Lau, 72. "He was my childhood hero. A man with a huge soul and a heart of gold."

Rabbi Lau had previously identified a fellow inmate, a non-Jewish Russian named Feodor, as his savior in the Buchenwald concentration camp, but he never learned the 18-year-old's full name. He said Feodor stole and cooked potatoes for him, knitted him wool earmuffs to protect him from the bitter cold and lay on top of him as gunfire erupted when the camp was liberated on Apr. 11, 1945. At the time, Lau was an 8-year-old boy nicknamed Lulek.

"Feodor, the Russian, looked after me in the daily life like a father would for a son. His concern and feeling of responsibility gave me a sense of security," Lau wrote in his 2005 autobiography.

Mikhailichenko grew so close to Rabbi Lau that he wanted to adopt him as a son. But Rabbi Lau kept his word to his murdered family and emigrated to pre-state Israel on a ship of orphaned refugee children. He lost track of Mikhailichenko and despite many efforts could never trace him again.

The mystery began to unfold in June 2008 when Holocaust researcher Kenneth Waltzer of Michigan State University discovered the man's true identity through a Nazi document he discovered in a recently opened secret archive in the small German town of Bad Arolsen. The document had been stashed away for more than six decades. Rabbi Lau first learned the full name of his rescuer through an AP report about the discovery.

Mikhailichenko returned to Russia, where he became a prominent geologist. He died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 66. But his daughters, Yulia Selutina and Yelena Belayaeva, were quickly tracked down and confirmed that their father often spoke lovingly about a young Jewish boy name Lulek in Buchenwald.

After last year's discovery, Rabbi Lau invited both daughters to Israel and had them at his home for dinner. There, he introduced them to many of his eight children, 50 grandchildren and five great- grandchildren. "I told them, 'all of this I owe to your father. If it wasn't for your father, none of them would exist,'" he said. "I looked for him for decades and I never forgot him for a single day."

Selutina teared up Tuesday as she accepted a medal and a certificate on her father's behalf. She said her father never forgot Lulek either, and traveled to Buchenwald a year before his death seeking information about him.

Mikhailichenko was featured in a 1992 Russian documentary detailing how he and other Russian inmates helped Lau survive by doing his chores and protecting him from the wrath of German guards.

Mikhailichenko's daughters met with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday. "There are not a lot of daughters in the world who can be as proud of their father as you can. Your father acted with ultimate humanity when he saved one soul and risked his life," Peres told them. "The entire state of Israel is proud of you and your family and will be grateful to you our entire lives."

Nearly all of the Polish-born Lau's family members were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps. Rabbi Lau's older brother Naftali cared for the young boy until the two were separated upon arrival at Buchenwald in January 1945.

Mikhailichenko was already a veteran inmate of the camp, having been arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 for robbery. He knew the ropes and watched over Lau.

When Buchenwald was liberated by American troops, Lau was among its youngest surviving prisoners. He went on to become one of Israel's most prominent spiritual leaders. He served as the country's chief rabbi between 1993-2003 and is currently the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, an advisory board to Israel's official Holocaust memorial.

Over 22,700 non-Jews have been recognized by Yad Vashem as "Righteous Among the Nations" since the designation was created in 1963. Those include Oskar Schindler, whose efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews were documented in the film "Schindler's List," and Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who is credited for having saved at least 20,000 Jews.

Mikhailichenko's name is now engraved alongside theirs in a garden at the memorial honoring their roles. Rabbi Lau said Mikhailichenko proved the goodness that exists in humans, regardless of nationality, religion or gender. "You see through him that there is a chance for humanity, there is hope for the world," he said. "Feodor is a lesson of morals, of ethics, of humanity."

Click here to view's short film about Rabbi Lau.( Buchenwald's youngest survivor)

This article can also be read at:
« Reply #114 on: August 16, 2009, 09:51:49 AM »

Guide to the Jewish Wedding
by Chaplain (CPT) Shlomo Shulman

Learn the deeper significance, and print out a copy for the wedding guests, too!

Easy Print One Page Guide to Jewish Weddings

A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals, symbolizing the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the Jewish people.

The following guide explains the beauty and joy of these the Jewish wedding traditions.

The Wedding Day

The dawning wedding day heralds the happiest and holiest day of one's life. This day is considered a personal Yom Kippur for the chatan (Hebrew for groom) and kallah (bride), for on this day all their past mistakes are forgiven as they merge into a new, complete soul.

As on Yom Kippur, both the chatan and kallah fast (in this case, from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony). And at the ceremony, the chatan wears a kittel, the traditional white robe worn on Yom Kippur.

[Sefardim do not have the custom to fast and wear a kittel.]

Kabbalat Panim

It is customary for the chatan and kallah not to see each other for one week preceding the wedding. This increases the anticipation and excitement of the event. Therefore, prior to the wedding ceremony, the chatan and kallah greet guests separately. This is called "Kabbalat Panim."

Jewish tradition likens the couple to a queen and king. The kallah will be seated on a "throne" to receive her guests, while the chatan is surrounded by guests who sing and toast him.

At this time there is an Ashkenazi tradition for the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom to stand together and break a plate. The reason is to show the seriousness of the commitment -- just as a plate can never be fully repaired, so too a broken relationship can never be fully repaired.


Next comes the badeken, the veiling of the kallah by the chatan. The veil symbolizes the idea of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive physical appearances may be, the soul and character are paramount. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac (Genesis ch. 29).

The Ashkenazi custom is that the chatan, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to where the kallah is seated and places the veil over her face. This signals the groom's commitment to clothe and protect his wife.


The wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (canopy), a symbol of the home that the new couple will build together. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome people in unconditional hospitality.

The Ashkenazi custom is to have the chuppah ceremony outside under the stars, as a sign of the blessing given by God to the patriarch Abraham, that his children shall be "as the stars of the heavens"(Genesis 15:5). Sefardim generally have the chuppah indoors.

The Ashkenazi custom is that the chatan and kallah wear no jewelry under the chuppah (marriage canopy). Their mutual commitment is based on who they are as people, not on any material possessions.

The chatan, followed by the kallah, are usually escorted to the chuppah by their respective sets of parents.

Under the chuppah, the Ashkenazi custom is that the kallah circles the chatan seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of the couple's new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately.

The kallah then settles at the chatan's right-hand side.

[At this point, the Sefardic custom is that the chatan says the blessing She'hecheyanu over a new tallit, and has in mind that the blessing also goes on the marriage. The tallit is then held by four young men over the head of the chatan and kallah.]

Blessings of Betrothal (Kiddushin)

Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings, recited by the rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup.

Wine, a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition, is associated with Kiddush, the sanctification prayer recited on Shabbat and festivals. Marriage, called Kiddushin, is the sanctification of a man and woman to each other.

Giving of the Ring

In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the chatan gives an object of value to the kallah. This is traditionally done with a ring. The ring should be made of plain gold, without blemishes or ornamentation (e.g. stones) -- just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty.

The chatan now takes the wedding ring in his hand, and in clear view of two witnesses, declares to the kallah, "Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel." He then places the ring on the forefinger of the bride's right hand. According to Jewish law, this is the central moment of the wedding ceremony, and at this point the couple is fully married.

If the kallah also wants to give a ring to the chatan, this is only done afterwards, not under the chuppah. This is to prevent confusion as to what constitutes the actual marriage, as prescribed by the Torah.

Ketubah (Marriage Contract)

Now comes the reading of the ketubah (marriage contract) in the original Aramaic text. The ketubah outlines the chatan's various responsibilities -- to provide his wife with food, shelter and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. Protecting the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed.

The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The ketubah is the property of the kallah and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home.

The reading of the ketubah acts as a break between the first part of the ceremony -- Kiddushin ("betrothal"), and the latter part -- Nissuin ("marriage").

The Seven Blessings

The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) are now recited over the second cup of wine. The theme of these blessings links the chatan and kallah to our faith in God as Creator of the world, Bestower of joy and love, and the ultimate Redeemer of our people.

These blessings are recited by the rabbi or other people that the families wish to honor.

At the conclusion of the seven blessings, the chatan and kallah again drink some of the wine.

Click here for audio versions of the Sheva Brachot, as well as a printable PDF of the text in Hebrew, English, and transliteration.

Breaking the Glass

A glass is now placed on the floor, and the chatan shatters it with his foot. This serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, is mindful of the Psalmist's injunction to "set Jerusalem above my highest joy."

In jest, some explain that this is the last time the groom gets to "put his foot down."

(In Israel, the Ashkenazi custom is that the glass is broken earlier, prior to the reading of the ketubah. Sefardim always break the glass at the end of the ceremony, even in Israel.)

This marks the conclusion of the ceremony. With shouts of "Mazel Tov," the chatan and kallah are then given an enthusiastic reception from the guests as they leave the chuppah together.



The couple is then escorted to a private "yichud room" and left alone for a few minutes. These moments of seclusion signify their new status of living together as husband and wife.

Since the couple has been fasting since the morning, at this point they will also have something to eat.

[Sefardim do not have the custom of the yichud room; the chatan and kallah immediately proceed to the wedding hall after the chuppah ceremony.]

The Festive Meal (Seudah)

It is a mitzvah for guests to bring simcha (joy) to the chatan and the kallah on their wedding day. There is much music and dancing as the guests celebrate with the new couple; some guests entertain with feats of juggling and acrobatics.

After the meal, Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is recited, and the Sheva Brachot are repeated.

During the week following the wedding, it is customary for friends and relatives to host festive meals in honor of the chatan and kallah. This is called the week of Sheva Brachot, in reference to the blessings said at the conclusion of each of these festive meals.

If both the bride and groom are marrying for the second time, sheva brachot are recited only on the night of the wedding. The last bracha, Asher Bara, can be recited for three days.

Mazel tov!
« Reply #115 on: August 20, 2009, 05:59:15 AM »

The Gift of Enough
An Elul Lesson

By Robyn Cuspin
Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.
(The Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1)

Dinner is over, but my work is far from done. A small portion of spaghetti bolognaise waits for me on the floor, while an overturned bowl reveals only part of the story. My toddler likes spaghetti bolognaise. In fact, he loves it, which is why I made it for him tonight. The first two bowlfuls went down well. The trouble started when he requested a third bowl. Now, even very active toddlers have a limit to how much spaghetti bolognaise they can eat, and I had a suspicion that anything leftover would wind up on the floor.

I played it safe. I gave him another small spoonful. "More, more!" he responded, dangling his bowl over the side of his high chair tray. I added two more noodles. "More, more!" he insisted, continuing to hold his bowl over the side of his tray. His threat was obvious. I added a single additional strand, and said firmly, "That's it."

"More, more!" he insisted.

"No more," I responded firmly, "That's it."

He chucked the bowl onto the floor. Now he got the message. The problem is that he didn't like the message he was getting. He looked me in the eye, and very deliberately, turned the bowl upside down and dropped the contents on the floor. Then, for good measure, he chucked the bowl onto the floor as well. He looked at the mess he had made. Then he looked at me and smiled, as though to say, "Either you give me what I want on my terms, or I am not accepting anything from you at all."

I looked at the floor. It was a small mess. A contained mess. But it was also a wake-up call. I too am frequently the recipient of gifts that don't come on my terms. Looking at the blob of spaghetti on the floor, I wondered how often I respond to my Benefactor in the same way.

My life is filled with blessings. Yet I can easily pass an entire day focusing entirely on what I am lacking. I can get caught up in small frustrations and spend hours agonizing over miniscule losses. I can, in a sense, ignore the first two bowls of spaghetti and focus entirely on the fact that the third bowl is not entirely to my liking.

It's Elul, which is written with the Hebrew letters: Aleph, Lamed, Vov, Lamed. Written backwards it would spell: Lamed, Vov, Lamed, Aleph. Read this way, it spells two Hebrew words, the juxtaposition of which explain the entire struggle of this month. Lamed-Vov spells Lo – which means "for Him." Lamed-Aleph also spells Lo though the different letter changes the meaning to "No," a negation of our own self-interest. Elul poses the question: Who and what are we promoting in our life? Are we spending our time and our energy merely pursuing our own self-interests and self-advancement, or are we capable of accepting the challenge of Elul and recognizing that spiritual growth involves shifting our focus from the material realm and the realm of self-gratification in order to focus on the spiritual side of our existence, the side which concerns the meaning and purpose of our lives.

Allowing ourselves to become overly dependant on physical comforts can get in the way of our freedom to pursue spiritual goals. Sometimes G‑d helps us out by giving us a nudge in the right direction. He says "No" to something we want, which is in a sense saying "Enough of this already." The challenge of Elul means recognizing that G‑d is still speaking to us, even when He says "no."

The experience of satiety finally becomes possibleAs long as we continue to need more than we have, we remain in a state of incompletion, which we experience as an insatiable need for more. But when we begin to find fulfillment in what we already possess, then, for the first time, the experience of happiness and satiety finally becomes possible to us. G‑d wants us to experience the fullness and satisfaction lying just beneath the surface of our desire for more. So when He sees us getting caught up in the endless cycle of the bottomless more, he gives us a gift, the gift of a firm, "That's It. No More."

When this is the response we receive to our request for more, then, like the demanding toddler, we need to learn how to accept it gracefully, rather than emptying the rest of our bowl onto the floor. The difference between Jacob and Esau is that when comparing their wealth, Esau answered, "I have plenty," while Jacob, who had much less, answered, "I have it all" (Genesis 3:9). G‑d wants us, too, to experience the contentment of having it all. What prevents us from experiencing true satisfaction in our lives is our continual need for more.

This Elul, let's work on recognizing the blessing concealed in the gift of enough.

By Robyn Cuspin   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Robyn Cuspin is a therapist living in Israel.
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« Reply #116 on: August 20, 2009, 09:01:41 AM »

From the wisdom of the Navajo, here's a way to define happiness and well-being:

The Navajo word hozro ... means a sort of blend of being in harmony with one's environment, at peace with one's circumstances, content with the day, devoid of anger, and free from anxieties.

Tony Hillerman, The Ghostway, p. 146
« Reply #117 on: August 27, 2009, 08:53:37 PM »

Thats very nice, Thanks for sharing

Shaloms's meaning of peace includes the idea of wholeness or completeness

The Judge and the Refugee
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

In the Torah-section of Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) we read of the cities of refuge, to which a man who had killed accidentally could flee, find sanctuary and atone. The Chassidic masters note that Shoftim is always read in the month of Elul; for Elul is, in time, what the cities of refuge were in space. It is a month of sanctuary and repentance, a protected time in which a person can turn from the shortcomings of his past and dedicate himself to a new and sanctified future.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe analyzes an important feature of the cities: they were only to be found in the land of Israel, even though the judges and officers who executed Torah law were to be appointed wherever Jews live. Why does the law extend everywhere, while refuge belongs to the Holy Land? And what does this imply for the month of Elul, our place of spiritual refuge in the calendar of the Jewish year?

A Paradox

The Midrash Sifri interprets the opening verse of our Parshah, "You shall set judges and officers in all your gates" to apply to "all your dwelling-places," even those outside Israel. It then continues: One might think that cities of refuge were also to exist outside the land of Israel. Therefore the Torah uses the restrictive term "these are the cities of refuge" to indicate that they were to be provided only within Israel.

Nonetheless, the Sifri says that someone who committed accidental homicide outside the land of Israel and who fled to one of the cities of refuge would be granted sanctuary there. It was the cities themselves, not the people they protected, that were confined to the land of Israel.

The fact that the Sifri initiates a comparison between the "judges and officers" and the cities of refuge, indicates that they have a relationship to one another. It is this: The judges who applied the law and the officers who executed the sentences, did not aim at retribution, but at the refinement of the guilty. And the aim of the cities of refuge was to impose on the fugitive an atoning exile--atonement in the sense of a remorse which effaces the crime until he regains his original closeness to G-d's will.

We might then have thought that if this safeguard, this place of atonement, was available in the holy environment of the land of Israel, it would be all the more necessary outside its borders where it was easier to fall into wrongdoing. And yet only judges and officers were to be provided beyond the land of Israel's borders--only the agents of the law, not its refuge.

Transcendence or Empathy

There are two phases in teshuvah, or repentance. There is remorse over what has been done, and commitment to act differently in the future. These are inextricably connected. For the only test of sincere remorse is the subsequent commitment to a better way of life. To be contrite about the past without changing one's behavior is a hollow gesture.

This the deeper significance of the law that the city of refuge is found only in the land of Israel. For a man could not atone while clinging to the environment which led him to sin. He might feel remorse. But he would not have taken the decisive step away from his past. For this, he had to escape to the "land of Israel," i.e., to holiness. There, on its sanctified earth, his commitment to a better future could have substance.

Judges, however, could be appointed outside the land of Israel. For it is written in the Ethics of the Fathers, "Do not judge your fellow-man until you come to his place." A court which sits in the land of Israel cannot know the trials and temptations which exist outside, or the difficulties of being loyal to one's faith in a place of exile. The land of Israel is a land where "the eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." It is a land of Divine grace. One cannot judge a man by its standards if that man lives outside its protection.

So judges had to be drawn from the same environment as their defendants. They had not only to know what he had done; they had to experience for themselves the environment which brought him to it.

Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (the second Chabad Rebbe) was once giving private audiences, when he interrupted for some time before continuing. It transpired that a man who had had an audience wanted the Rebbe's help in setting right a particularly degrading act he had done. The Rebbe later said to one of his close disciples that one must discover some analogous quality in oneself--on however refined a level--before one can help someone to remedy his sin. His interruption of the audiences had been to attempt to find in himself this point from which he could identify with the sinner.

It was this principle that lay behind G-d's command to Moses when the Israelites had made the golden calf: "Go, get thee down, for your people have dealt corruptly." For at that moment, Moses was inhabiting the spiritual heights of Mt. Sinai, neither eating nor drinking, divorced from the world. The Israelites were degraded through their sin. But by telling him to "go down" to "your people" G-d created a bond between Moses and the people, on the basis of which Moses was able to plead on their behalf.

Three Degrees of Refuge

Although all the cities of refuge were to be in the land of Israel, they were not all in the same territory. There were the three in the land of Israel proper--the Holy Land. Three were in the territories east of the Jordan, where "manslaughter was common" (Talmud, Makkot 9b). And, in the Time to Come "the L-rd your G-d will enlarge your borders" three more will be provided, in the newly occupied land.

This means that every level of spirituality has its own refuge, from the relatively lawless eastern territories to the Holy Land, and even in the Time to Come. And this is true spiritually as well as geographically. At every stage of a man's religious life there is the possibility of some shortcoming for which there must be refuge and atonement. Even if he never disobeys G-d's will, he may still not have done all within his power to draw close to G-d.

This is the task of the month of Elul. It is a time of self-examination when each person must ask himself whether what he has achieved was all he could have achieved. And if not, he must repent, and strive towards a more fulfilled future. Businessman and scholar--he who has lived in the world and he who has spent his days under the canopy of the Torah--both must make Elul a time of self-reckoning and refuge.

It is the way of the Western world to make Elul--the month of high summer--a time for vacation from study. The opposite should be the case. It is above all the time for self-examination, a time to change one's life. And the place for this is the city of refuge in the "Holy Land", which, in the geography of the soul, is a place of Torah.

Each Jew should set aside Elul, or at least from the 18th onwards (the last 12 days, a day for each month of the year), or at any rate the days when Selichot are said, and make his refuge in a place of Torah.

A refuge is a place to which one flees: That is, where one lays aside one's past and makes a new home. Elul is the sublimation of the past for the sake of a better future. And it is the necessary preparation for the blessings of Rosh Hashanah, the promise of plenty and fulfillment in the year to come.


Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
From Torah Studies (Kehot 1986), an adaptation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's talks by Britain's Chief Rabbi, Dr.Jonathan Sacks
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« Reply #118 on: August 28, 2009, 08:26:12 AM »

Thank you Rachel.

For some time now my attention has focused on The Ten Commandments.  This little "thought for the day" piece addresses one of them.


The Autograph

By Tzvi Freeman
When He had finished His world, complete and whole, each thing in its place, the earth below and the heavens beyond,

…it was then that the Artist signed His holy name, with a stillness within the busy painting, a vacuum in time, so that the Infinite Light could kiss the finite world and enter within. And He called it Shabbat.

In each thing there is a Shabbat, an opening that allows life to enter, a desire to receive from Beyond. In each being there is a sense of wonder, of knowing that there is something greater. Of knowing something it will never truly know. And with that perception it receives life, for it allows entry to the Infinite.
« Reply #119 on: September 03, 2009, 06:17:07 AM »

A Brief History of Shabbat

By Yanki Tauber

1. Creation

"In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth..." (Genesis 1:1)

For six days G-d created. "And G-d saw all that He had made and, behold, it was very good...

".... It was evening and it was morning, the sixth day. And the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their host. And G-d completed on the seventh day His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

"And G-d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it he rested from all his work which G-d had created, to make..." (Genesis 1:31-2:3)

Hebron, 18th Century BCE
2. Sarah's Shabbat Lamp
(c) Michoel Muchnik

Thirty-eight centuries ago, Abraham and Sarah embarked on a journey to bring the idea and morals of monotheism to a predominantly pagan world. Their journey took them from their native Ur Kasdim to Charan (Mesopotamia) and from there to the Land of Canaan, where they settled first in Beer Sheba and later in Hebron. They pitched their tents at the desert crossroads, and offered food, drink and lodging to all wayfarers of every tribe and creed. Wherever they went, they taught the truth of the One G-d, creator of heaven and earth. (Genesis ch.12; Talmud, Sotah 10a; Midrashim)

In Sarah's tent, a special miracle proclaimed that Divine presence dwelled therein: the lamp she lit every Friday evening in honor of the Divine day of rest miraculously kept burning all week, until the next Friday eve. When Sarah died (1677 BCE) the miracle of her Shabbat lamp ceased. But on the day of Sarah's passing, Rebecca was born. And when Rebecca was brought to Sarah's tent as the destined wife of Sarah's son, Isaac, the miracle of the lamp returned. Once again the light of Shabbat filled the tent of the matriarch of Israel and radiated its holiness to the entire week. (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 60)

Egypt, 1373 BCE
3. A Day of Rest

(c) Zalman Kleinman
Sarah and Rebecca's descendents are now in Egypt, slaves of a cruel king. Moses, their destined leader, is rescued from the river by Pharaoh's daughter and is raised in the royal palace. "Then it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers, and saw their suffering" (Exodus 2:11)

The Midrash relates: "Moses saw that they had no rest, so he went to Pharaoh and said: 'If one has a slave and he does not give him rest one day in the week, the slave will die. These are your slaves -- if you do not give them one day a week, they will die.' Said Pharaoh: "Go and do with them as you say.' So Moses ordained for them the Shabbat day for rest." (Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 1:32)

Marah, Nissan 24, 1313 BCE
4. Mitzvah at Marah

G-d appears to Moses in a burning bush and empowers him to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. After ten plagues and much nudging, Pharaoh finally lets them go. They cross the (miraculously split) Sea of Reeds and come to Marah. "There G-d gave them statutes and laws" -- including the commandment to observe the Shabbat. (Exodus 15:25; Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b)

Zin Desert, Iyar 15, 1313 BCE
5. Double Manna

A month after the Exodus, the matzah that the Children of Israel took with them from Egypt was finished. For the next forty years, the Israelites were sustained by the manna. "In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. The layer of dew went up, and behold, on the surface of the desert, a fine, bare substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, 'It is manna,' because they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them: 'This is the bread that G-d has given you to eat.'" (Exodus 16:13-15)

The manna came each day and provided that day's precise needs. "Whoever gathered much did not have more, and whoever gathered little did not have less; each one according to his eating capacity, they gathered." Indeed, it was forbidden to leave manna from one day to the next. (Exodus 16:18-19)

Every day, that is, except Friday. "It came to pass on the sixth day that they gathered a double portion of bread, two omers for each one. The leaders of the community came and reported it to Moses. And [Moses] said to them: 'That is what G-d has said: Tomorrow is a rest day, a holy Shabbat to G-d. Bake whatever you wish to bake, and cook whatever you wish to cook, and all the rest leave over to keep until morning.' So they left it over until morning... And Moses said, 'Eat it today, for today is a Shabbat to G-d; today you will not find it in the field.'" (Exodus 16:22-26)

"See, G-d has given you the Shabbat. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day." (Exodus 16:29-30)

Today, we place two challah loaves on the Shabbat table and cover them with a cloth, to represent the dew-covered, double portion of mannah that came down from heaven in honor of Shabbat.

Mount Sinai, Sivan 6, 1313 BCE
6. "Remember" and "Keep"

"Moses brought the people out toward G-d from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. And the entire Mount Sinai smoked, because G-d had descended upon it in fire... and the entire mountain quaked violently. The sound of the shofar grew increasingly stronger... And G-d spoke all these words, saying..."

Ten Commandments were spoken that day at Sinai, ten mitzvot that form the core of the Torah. The fourth commandment concerned the Shabbat:

"Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it. Six days may you work and perform all your labor; but the seventh day is a Shabbat to the L-rd your G-d: you shall do no work -- neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your sojourner who is in your cities. For [in] six days G-d made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, G-d blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it." (Exodus 19:17-20:1; 20:8-11)

When Moses reviews the Ten Commandments (in Deuteronomy 5), the fourth commandment begins: "Keep the Shabbat day...." The Talmud explains: "Zachor ('remember') and Shamor ('keep') were said by G-d in a single utterance -- something which the human mouth cannot articulate and the human ear cannot hear...."

We remember the Shabbat by proclaiming its sanctity over a cup of wine in the Kiddush and Havdalah rituals; we keep the Shabbat by abstaining from work. But the "positive" and "negative" aspects of Shabbat are one -- two faces of its singular essence -- as demonstrated by the two-as-one Divine utterance.

Sinai Desert, Tishrei 11, 1313 BCE
7. The Tabernacle: Work Defined

"You shall do no work" was the Divine command. But what constitutes "work"?

Four months after the revelation at Sinai came the request from G-d, "They shall make for me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell amidst them," accompanied with detailed instructions as to how this sanctuary is to be constructed. And on that same occasion, the commandment to keep the Shabbat was reiterated -- "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to G-d" (Exodus 35:2). Teaching us -- explain our sages -- two things: 1) That the work we are enjoined and empowered to do six days a week is, in essence, the work of making a home for G-d out of the materials of our physical lives; 2) That this work is the work we must cease on Shabbat.

Studying G-d's detailed instructions to Moses for the making of the Sanctuary, the Mishnah (Talmud, Shabbat 73a) identifies thirty-nine melachot -- categories of creative work -- that were involved in the making of the Sanctuary. These include: all stages of agricultural work from plowing and sowing to reaping and winnowing and baking; weaving and sewing, writing, building, and lighting a fire.

The 39 melachot and their derivatives form the basis and core of the laws of Shabbat rest.

Sinai Desert, Tishrei 11, 1313 BCE
8. Shabbat Torah Reading Instituted

To convey G-d's instructions regarding the making of the Sanctuary and the observance of Shabbat, "Moses gathered together the entire community of the Children of Israel." in doing so, "Moses instituted for all generations that Jews should gather in their synagogues to read from the Torah on Shabbat" -- as Jews throughout the world do to this very day. (Exodus 35:1; Yalkut Shimoni, on verse)

The annual Shabbat Torah reading cycle is more than a weekly lesson; it's how we "live with the times" -- finding in the current week's Torah portion ("parshah") direction and inspiration for every event and action in our daily lives. (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

The Holy Land, 2nd Century BCE
9. The Invention of Cholent

No one knows who was the first person to put up a pot of cholent on Friday afternoon. But this trademark Shabbat dish has its origins in the dispute between the Torah-faithful Jews and a breakaway Jewish sect called the Tzedukim.

The Tzedukim (also known as the Sadducees) accepted the Written Torah but rejected the Torah She-Baal Peh ("Oral Torah") -- the traditional interpretation of the Torah which Moses received at Sinai and which was handed down through the generations from teacher to disciple. When the Tzedukim read in the Torah, "You shall not burn any fire in all your homes on the Shabbat day" (Exodus 35:3) they understood the verse literally -- and spent the entire Shabbat in the cold and dark. Their Shabbat meals were bereft of the glow of candlelight, and while the food cooked before Shabbat may have retained some of its warmth for the Friday night meal, their Shabbat day meal consisted of cold food only. The traditional interpretation, however, is that it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat (the creation of fire being one of the 39 melachot), but one can certainly derive benefit from fire that was lit before Shabbat.

Thus, the Jews who were faithful to the Sinaitic tradition made it a point include at least one hot dish in their Shabbat daytime meal, which was cooked and placed on the fire before Shabbat and simmered on a covered flame1 all night long -- both to honor and pleasure the Shabbat, and to express their rejection of the Tzedukim's false interpretation. Hence cholent: a stew (typically of meat, beans and potatoes, but also made with a great variety of stewable foods) that is eaten in the daytime meal.

"Caesar asked Rabbi Jushua ben Channanya: Why do Shabbat foods smell so good? said he to him: We have a special spice, 'shabbat' is its name..." (Talmud, Shabbat 119a)

Israel and Babylonia, 100 BCE - 300 CE
10. Preparing for Shabbat

(c) Shoshannah Brombacher
By instruction as well as by personal example, the sages of the Talmud taught to honor and pleasure the Shabbat.

"It was said of the sage Shammai that all his days he ate for the honor of the Shabbat. How so? For when he found a prime specimen, he would say, 'This is for Shabbat.' Then, if he found a better one, he would set aside that one for Shabbat and eat the first one...." (Talmud, Beitza 16b)

"Said R. Judah in the name of Rav: So was the custom of R. Judah bar Illa'i: On Friday, they would bring before him a tub filled with hot water, and he would wash his face hand and feet; he then wrapped himself in fringed sheets and would have the appearance of an angel of G-d." (Talmud, Shabbat 25b)

Rava would personally prepare the fish for Shabbat. Rav Chisda chopped vegetables. Raba and Rav Yosef chopped wood. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak would be seen running about on Friday carrying bundles on his shoulders. Many of these were wealthy men who had numerous servants to do their work; yet they insisted on personally toiling in honor of the Shabbat (Talmud, Shabbat 119a; Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Shabbat)

Worldwide, 151 BCE to Date
11. Sacrifice and Martyrdom

Shabbat is the eternal soulmate of the people of Israel, and our source of strength and endurance. This was recognized by friend and foe alike. Throughout the generations, our enemies have repeatedly attempted to take away the Shabbat from us.

When the Syrian-Greeks ruled the Holy Land, they forbade Shabbat observance. Many Jews fled the cities to live in the caves of the Judean hills so that they could keep the day of rest. Many were discovered and killed. Finally the Jews revolted and fought for the right to keep their religion. Their miraculous victory is celebrated to this day with the festival of Chanukah. (Book of Hashmoneons; Talmud)

The Jew continued to sacrifice for Shabbat throughout the long night of exile. In Rome, Jewish slaves were beaten for refusing to work on Shabbat. In Inquisition-era Spain, secret Jews ("marranos") gathered in underground cellars to light the Shabbat candles and make Kiddush. Under Soviet rule, Jews suffered hunger, imprisonment, exile to Siberia and worse for being a "religious parasite" -- i.e., one who wouldn't work on Shabbat. Even in Auschwitz, Jews went to superhuman lengths to sanctify the holy day.

And yet it has also been said that, "more than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews."

United States, 1920-1950
12. The Shomer Shabbat Movement

In the decades that closed 19th century and opened the 20th, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled the pogroms, persecutions and crushing poverty in Eastern Europe in search of a better life in America. But the "New World" offered its opportunities at a steep spiritual price. Shabbat was still a regular workday in the United States; "blue laws" forbade the opening of businesses on Sunday; and the "melting pot" credo preached the abandonment of "non-American" religions and cultures. A primary casualty was the Shabbat. Many Jews felt that they could not earn a living in America without working on Shabbat; others saw it as a hindrance to the dream of assimilation within, and acceptance by, American society. The Jew's thousands-year tenacious hold on the Shabbat was slipping.

In the1920s and 30s the tide began to turn. Jewish labor leaders campaigned for a five-day workweek. Rallies were held in support of Shabbat observance. Consumer groups formed pledging to support businesses that kept the Shabbat; soon Shomer Shabbat ("Shabbat Observant") signs were being displayed in shop windows. Shabbat clubs were conducted for Jewish children. Slowly, the momentum built, laying the groundwork for large-scale return to Judaism and Shabbat observance in the decades to come.

Israel, 1948
13. Shabbat Goes Legal

Though conceived as a "secular" state, the modern state of Israel passed a law, shortly after its establishment, declaring Shabbat the official day of rest. In most localities, commercial businesses are closed and public transportation does not operate on Shabbat; government agencies and government-controlled corporations are officially Shabbat observant.

New York, 1974
14. The Shabbat Candles Lighting Campaign

In 1974, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a world-wide Shabbat Candles campaign to encourage Jewish women and girls to bring the light of Shabbat into their home by fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday evening, 18 minutes before sunset. In particular, the Rebbe campaigned to restore the age-old custom (dating back to the matriarch Rebecca) that young girls, too, should light their own candle. In a time of increasing darkness, the Rebbe declared, we must respond with an increasing of light.

In the years since, the Rebbe's followers and emissaries across the globe have distributed millions of Shabbat candle-lighting kits and have introduced countless thousands of Jewish women and girls -- and their families -- to the beauty and holiness of Shabbat.

The Immediate Future, Everywhere
15. The World to Come

(c) Michoel Muchnik
Shabbat, our sages tell us, is "a taste of the World to Come." As the six-day workweek culminates in Shabbat, so, too, will the six millennia of our work and toil to make to world a home for G-d culminate in the Messianic Era -- "the day that is wholly Shabbat and tranquility, for life everlasting." (Talmud, Berachot 57b; Nachmonides on Genesis 1; Grace After Meals)

"And at that time, there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust. The entire occupation of the world will be only to know G-d... For the earth shall be filed with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea..." (Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:5)

May it be now.
1.    The melachah of lighting a fire also includes adding fuel to a fire or stoking its embers or coals so as to increase its heat. Thus, a rabbinical ordinance forbids leaving food on an open flame, lest one forget and, out of habit, inadvertently violate the Shabbat by stoking the fire (or turning up the flame, etc.). Hence the blech -- a metal sheet placed over the fire upon which the cholent pot (and any other food that one wishes to keep warm for Shabbat) is placed. The fact that the flame is covered makes it less accessible and serves to remind us that it is forbidden to tamper with it.

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« Reply #120 on: September 07, 2009, 10:05:53 AM »

The Lady, the Tiger and Freedom of Choice
By Yanki Tauber

You're standing in the center of a large arena. Tiers of spectators rise steeply on all sides. Directly in front of you are two massive doors (thick oak planks, huge iron fittings). Behind one door is life and bliss; behind the other awaits excruciating death.

The princess up in the grandstand catches your eye and is about to indicate the door leading to life and bliss (yes, folks, now it can be revealed: she's decided to transcend her selfish feelings and save his life). But at that moment Mr. Philosopher appears at her elbow.

"No!" he hisses into her ear. "Stop! Don't you want your heart's beloved to be free?"

"Of course I do. That's why I want to tell him..."

"If you tell him, you'll deprive him of his freedom! Right now, he's free to choose whichever door he wants. But if you tell him which door to open, he'll cease to have any choice in the matter -- he'll have to open that door..."

Freedom of choice is the most precious of gifts granted to man. It is also one of the most misunderstood.

As commonly perceived, freedom of choice means an uncompelled choice between two (or more) options. If the choice is in any way influenced in either direction by anything outside of the chooser, it's not truly free.

According to this line of thinking, anyone telling you what to do is impinging on your freedom. And if the person telling you what to do is doing so from a position of authority (as a parent, teacher, government official, etc.), your acceptance of such authority means that you are relinquishing your freedom of choice.

But the only way that you can be faced with a truly equal choice between two possibilities is if your choice is being made in absolute ignorance. The moment you know anything about the nature of what lies behind those two possibilities, your choice is going to be influenced by that knowledge.

Ignorance, however, is not freedom -- it's the very opposite of freedom. Placing a person in front of two blank doors while depriving him of the knowledge of what lies in store for him behind them does not make the person free -- it enslaves him to the cruel caprice of chance.

By granting the man in the arena the knowledge of what lies behind each of the doors, we grant him the ultimate freedom to choose: not to choose between two possibilities (we've just deprived him of that choice), but to choose the one possibility which is most consistent with his deepest, truest desire.

The Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt has come to represent humanity's inextinguishable striving for freedom. The image of Moses standing before Pharaoh demanding "Let my people go!" has inspired campaigners for human freedom and equality throughout the generations.

Look up that scene in your bible, however, and you'll discover some interesting details. Moses does not say "Let my people go!"; he demands in the name of G-d, "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me." G-d, revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush, does not say to Moses, "Get them out of totalitarian Egypt and bring them to Athens to found the world's first democracy "; He says: "Bring them to Mount Sinai, where I'm going to give them lots and lots of commandments."

So why do we celebrate the anniversary of the Exodus as our annual "Festival of Freedom"?

Because at Sinai we became truly free. At Sinai we were granted the gift of knowledge: we were told which pathways and actions lead to the fulfillment of our soul's most deep-seated desires, and which pathways and actions are contrary to them.

Having glimpsed these truths at Sinai, we are definitely more inclined toward the right door than to the wrong. We have fewer choices, but far more freedom.

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By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

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« Reply #121 on: September 09, 2009, 07:21:24 PM »

Better or Bitter?
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Five-year-old Lily shows us how to get through life's challenges.

"Sometimes it really hurts when the doctor puts a needle in my arm."

I am visiting five-year-old Lily, whose mother attends my parenting classes. Last summer, Lily had some awful headaches. One night, they became so terrible that Lily woke up her parents in middle of the night. The shock upon receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumor was beyond.

Lily's initial treatments included six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and then some more chemotherapy. Besides treatment days, Lily never complained or even missed a day of school. This summer, Lily has just been put on a clinical drug trial.

We are sitting across from each other, beautiful Lily, her incredibly gracious mother, Felicia, and I. Lily is chatting and busy coloring a white tzedakah box that I had brought over.

She stops for a moment as her soft voice grows serious. "Sometimes it really hurts, you know. And I get scared."

Felicia leans towards Lily. "That's okay sweetie, we sometimes all get scared. I'm scared of spiders, did you know that?"

Lily's eyes open wide.

"And I'm scared of big bugs," I add. "Not only that, but one of my children jumps from loud thunder and lightning. It's okay to sometimes be afraid."

Lily giggles. I want to scoop this precious child into my arms and kiss all her fears away.

Driving home, I cannot get Lily out of my mind. I am trying hard to find some profound thoughts to come away with. While spending time with Lily and Felicia, I feel as if I've been privy to a most priceless moment in time. I am moved by this child and her sweet innocence as she confronts a most difficult challenge.

Our Choice

There is no life that will be spared adversity. True, some challenges are more arduous then others, but for each person, their challenge is an uphill battle. Health issues, financial problems, marital stability, difficulties while raising children, are just a few of the struggles that may come our way. We cannot choose our life challenge. But we can choose how to get through the challenge. Will we become better or bitter? That is up to us.

    We cannot choose our life challenge. But we can choose how to get through the challenge.

The Hebrew word for challenge is ‘nisayon.' The root of the word is 'nes,' which can also be defined as ‘miracle' or ‘banner.' My mother once explained to me that as we go through our nisayon , our life test, and then emerge stronger and wiser, we have created our own personal banner. We have unearthed a part of ourselves that until now remained concealed deep within us. We've discovered our hidden potential. And that becomes the miracle of life.

Our banner is our legacy through which we are remembered. When going through difficulties, instead of being miserable and sinking into despair, let us ask ourselves, "How have I colored my banner?" Did I choose to create a banner filled with colors of faith, courage, and strength, or did I pull up the covers and become overwhelmed with my sadness? Did I reach out to others in my life or did I only have room for myself?

A Kindness a Day

Felicia told me that Lily's preschool class had embarked upon their own tzedakah project this year. After collecting coins, the class discussed where the charity should go. Lily's teacher called to say that Lily raised her hand and expressed her wish. She described going to the doctor and finding children in the office who had just a few toys and crayons to play with as they waited. Some toys were broken and old.

"Can we give the charity to my doctor's office?" she asked.

The decision was unanimous.

    If this child, amidst her pain, can think of others and see their needs, what about us?

If this child, amidst her pain, can think of others and see their needs, what about us? Can we not sensitize ourselves despite the stress and burdens that we shoulder, to open our eyes and bring a kindness each day into this world of ours?

Parents, especially, need to remember that the greatest kindness begins at home. There are times that we have patience for the world but our own children and spouses remain longing for a compassionate word or a sympathetic ear. The next time your daughter asks for a bedtime story or your son for a game of catch, just say yes. And say it with a smile, as if you really do want to spend time together. Take a moment to call your spouse during the day, even send a text. Don't get into your daily aggravations or which bills need to be paid. Instead, simply say "I love you." "I can't wait to see you".

Lights for Lily

Jennifer, a mother who is an old college friend of Felicia's, wanted to ‘do something' for Lily, but what?

Recognizing the power of doing mitzvahs in the merit of another, Jennifer started a campaign called ‘Lights for Lily.' Each week she sends out hundreds of emails that are then forwarded to hundreds more, asking women to light their Shabbos candles and add a special prayer for Lily. Some of these women have never lit Shabbos candles before. Some have never even really prayed. But we are a family and we are responsible for each other.

So this week, and each week to come, as you kindle your Shabbos lights, please close your eyes and pierce the heavens above. Take a moment and say a prayer for Leah Chana bas Frayda Rochel. Choose a new mitzvah, do an act of kindness, give charity, and think of this little girl who has taught me how to handle life's challenges while thinking of others. And when you are done reading this article, pass it on. Let us join together as one people.

Lily has surely painted a most incredible banner. Now it is our turn.

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« Reply #122 on: September 13, 2009, 02:55:02 PM »

Falling in Love in Elul
by Rabbi Jason Gelber

What's love got to do with it?

The month of Elul is an acronym of a verse from Song of Songs, "Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li," "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. This concept -- loving God and feeling His love for us -- is a central theme of Elul. But this month doesn't have one love-inspiring holiday in it! What is it about this month that represents the relationship of love between us and the Almighty?

We all know about the natural love that a parent has for a child. Even before birth, the mother is giving of herself, literally, and the giving never stops.

But what about a child's love to his parents? When does the child begin to truly love the parent?

I discovered the answer when my oldest son was born. The physical and emotional exhaustion of caring for a newborn -- one that liked to cry, and didn't like to sleep -- was like nothing my wife and I had ever encountered before. Thinking about everything our parents had done for us -- happily, too! -- there was no way we could ever repay them. The sheer enormity of their caring for us was bigger than we were. In these life-changing weeks following the birth of our first child when we transformed from being children into parents ourselves, our appreciation and love for our own parents transformed as well.

When the child becomes a parent himself and experientially feels how much his parents have done for him, that's when the child begins to truly love and appreciate his parents. To the degree that the child recognizes how much his parents have given him, to that degree his love for his parents will grow.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe writes, "Gratitude awakens love in the receiver and naturally inspires it in the giver as well."

This is the key to understanding the experience of love in Elul.

Every year on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we humbly submit our prayers and supplications to God, begging to be inscribed and sealed for a good year. As the season of the High Holidays draws to a close, the rest of the year we watch as our fate unfolds. It is at that last point of the year, the final month of Elul, that we can look back and see the entire past year spread out before us. That's when we can fully appreciate that we were indeed sealed in the Book of Life. We can see the myriad blessings that God heaped upon us and our loved ones. And the more we savor the details of the blessings God bestowed upon us, the more our appreciation will grow.

In Elul we come full circle, back to where we started from, and see with a new depth of feeling the enormous gift of love that God has showered upon us. In that moment of gratitude to Him we can feel a deep love for Him. I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me.

In all of our relationships -- marriage, friendship, business -- we are natural experts at seeing what those around us are doing wrong. We have to make a real effort to focus on what's going right. But it is only when we re-train our eyes to see how much the other is actually doing and giving for us that our feelings of gratitude and love will grow.

Rabbi Wolbe recommends engaging in daily exercises to strengthen our "gratitude muscle," the most potent of which is a verbal recognition of another's kindness. Three times a day practice saying thank you to people who may perform everyday kindness to us. And if you look carefully, you'll see that there are more than enough opportunities. There is the postman who delivers the mail, the cashier who scans our food at the supermarket, and the salesman who helps us find what we need at the store. We are in fact receiving all the time -- from God and others around us, and have so much to be grateful for.

Let's use this Elul as an opportunity to recognize the kindness that others have done for us, and especially to reflect on how much our Father in Heaven has done for us in the past 12 months. As we head into the month of Elul, followed by the High Holidays, may our hearts be so full of appreciation and love for the Almighty, and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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« Reply #123 on: September 14, 2009, 06:31:19 PM »
« Reply #124 on: September 14, 2009, 06:35:06 PM »

It’s A Wonderful Life
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

The film's powerful Rosh Hashana message.

It's a wonderful life.

At least that's what a movie by that title, considered a classic of American cinema, wants us to believe. George Bailey, the hero of the film powerfully acted by James Stewart, finally decides upon suicide as his only recourse to solve his financial problems. Because he has a $15,000 life insurance policy he feels he's worth more dead than alive. Acting on his desire to help his family he's ready to jump off a bridge when the angel Clarence intercedes not only to save his life but to make him realize that it is really worth living.

The way the angel accomplishes this incredible transformation from a man anxiously seeking his own annihilation to a person perceiving the true value of his existence and the ultimate meaning of his life contains a powerful Rosh Hashana message.

How should we fulfill our obligation to better ourselves as we reach the 10 days of repentance on the Hebrew calendar? Many of us emphasize focusing on our sinfulness. It is a time to seek out our flaws, to seriously consider our failings. And of course that must be part of our personal stock taking.

    First become aware of the positives in your life.

But that cannot be the whole story. If we spend our time only in self-condemnation we stand in danger of losing sight of the ways in which we have been successful. If we stress only the ways we've gone wrong we won't ever be able to notice our accomplishments. We need to first become aware of the positives in our lives.

This point explains the sequence of the days book-ending our spiritual journey from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we fast. We beat our breasts in confession of all of our sins. We cry out to God, “Who are we? What is our lives? We come from the dust of the earth and we return to the dust of the earth.” It is a recognition of how much we have failed, how far we have come from reaching our fullest potential. Yom Kippur is a necessary restraint to our egos. Before we can feel fully reconciled with God it is essential for us to demonstrate our understanding of our imperfection.

But it is not Yom Kippur that begins the process of our purification. The 10 days of repentance start with Rosh Hashana for good reason. Rosh Hashana doesn't mark the first day of creation, but rather the last -- the day on which the first human beings were created. Just as a host fully prepares for his guests before they enter his home, so too, the Midrash explains, God filled the earth on the first five days of creation with everything people might need before He brought them into being. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day to endow them with a sense of their uniqueness and spiritual stature. It is we who were created in the image of God. Realizing this is a necessary prelude to leading a life worthy of our divine origin and our sacred nobility.

So on Rosh Hashana we begin getting closer to God by reminding ourselves that we are Godly, that we have a pure soul. On Yom Kippur we conclude the journey by acknowledging that we have not yet achieved all that of which we are capable.

Rosh Hashana asks us to remember how much we are worth to God, to our families, to our friends, and to the world. We feast as an expression of the joy we find in our life. And that understanding must precede the Yom Kippur emphasis on our failings that prompt us to fast and to cry over our imperfections.

To lead our lives only from a Yom Kippur perspective is to insure discontent and despondency. To be overwhelmed by a constant feeling that we are failures is to invite the pernicious desire to end it all. Why bother going on if we can never do anything right, why continue the struggle if we are doomed to always losing the battle? Suicide is the response chosen by those weighed down by a devastating sense that they accomplished nothing in their lives. It goes against God who as the ultimate giver of life decided that we still have a positive role to play here on earth. (Article continues below.)

Click below to watch a trailer for "It's a Wonderful Life"

In the film, after suffering a financial setback of $8,000 that puts his small saving and loans bank at risk, George feels his life is worthless. Despite the serious consequences this entails, if George would have framed his life as a balance sheet of accumulated good versus the mistakes and bad things he has done, he would have been able to put events in a more balanced perspective and not judge himself so harshly.

    In the cosmic balance sheet of one's life, sin does not wipe out the positive gains.

In business, your losses can wipe out your balance sheet. But in the cosmic balance sheet of one's life, sin does not wipe out the positive gains. You are not your business or profession.

When George bitterly wept that he wished he would never have been born, Clarence, with his angelic power, showed him what the world would have been like if his wish really came true. He showed him his life's balance sheet. George never realized how many people he had affected during his lifetime. He had no idea how different his community, his family, his friends, his neighbors, and indeed the world would have looked had he never been on earth.

When George comes to realize how many lives he has touched and how much of an impact he has had on so many others, he can at last acknowledge the truth of his brother’s toast that he is “the richest man in town.”

There are countless “Georges” among us. There are all too many who deserve to be recognized as successes when we consider the ripple effects of their deeds translated into the achievements of others. And perhaps most relevant of all, in the time of our own introspection, as we feel ourselves burdened by the sins of our failures, we ought to make room for the contentment and peace of mind that comes from knowing that God also weighs the good we inspire in all those around us.

Perhaps the most powerful irony associated with “It's a Wonderful Life,” is the message implicit in its reception when it was released in 1946. The movie was a box office failure leading critics to say that Frank Capra, producer and director, was past his prime and no longer capable of producing a major motion picture. What an incredibly mistaken evaluation for a film that today is ranked by the American film industry as one of the top 10 classic movies in its genre ever made. What appeared at first glance to have been a failure is in retrospect one of the most outstanding successes. Isn't that the whole point of the film itself?

As we reflect upon the meaning of our earthly existence before the High Holy days, keep in mind that sometimes it takes years for the beauty of our own lives and its significance to be fully recognized.

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« Reply #125 on: September 15, 2009, 08:28:20 PM »

High Holidays Trailer

I thought it was pretty  funny

Divine Dreams
By Mendy Herson

Think about your deepest wish. I don't mean an ice cream sundae or new shoes; I mean something really close to your heart, a deep-seated desire that strikes at your very core.

Develop this idea, so that you're imagining it in detail. Focus on it, emblazoning its image on the backdrop of your mind.

Now, how would you feel if someone made this wish a reality? Can you imagine the feeling?

Well, that's how G‑d feels when we live right.

The Torah teaches that "divine dreaming" is what gives rise to our entire existence. Before creation, G‑d "craved" something – a deep desire burned into the "divine psyche" – and created the world to "satisfy" this "craving."

[G‑d obviously doesn't have a "craving" as we understand the sensation. "Craving" is a Rabbinic metaphor for "deep-seated desire beyond our (human) understanding." So read craving as: deep-seated-beyond-the-human-ken desire].

What image is "emblazoned on the divine mind"? What is so monumental that it could grant G‑d "divine satisfaction"?


And me.

And our struggles to live the purpose of our Creation.

I believe we all struggle. Maintaining a healthy perspective and balancing our values/priorities isn't easy, so morally-conscious people struggle to maintain their higher vision and balance.

For some of us, it's too many distractions. For some, it's the existential distress that comes with having too few distractions. But a meaningful life has its price: The Struggle.

And that struggle is what G‑d finds so precious.

In the Torah's Creation-narrative, we find G‑d's creative process metaphorically depicted as Divine Speech: "Let there be light."

G‑d "spoke" the world into being. But, thought usually comes before speech, so what was G‑d thinking?

Our Sages say that G‑d was contemplating a very deep-seated wish: That deep "mental image" was you and I finding the strength to do the right thing.

Sometimes it's "How do I deal with that annoying situation?" Sometimes it's "I know I have that family responsibility, but I'm just too tired."

Sometimes it will involve finding the moral strength to light Shabbat candles or lay tefillin.

So, at any given moment, recognize that you have something productive to do. Remember that G‑d contemplated this very moment.

And make His dream come true.

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Rabbi Mendy Herson is director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

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« Reply #126 on: September 16, 2009, 08:33:06 PM »

Barrels in the Snow
By Tuvia Bolton

The story is told about a chassid who, every year on the first day of Elul, would begin walking by foot to his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866), in order to spend the High Holidays with the Rebbe.

Now this was no easy task, because the weather was usually freezing and snowy at that time of year in Russia. It became even more difficult as our chassid grew progressively older each year, but he kept it up. Until finally, one year, on a lonely road in the middle of some snowy forest his "batteries finally ran out"; his legs simply would not move another step.

"Nu, at least I'm dying on the way to the Rebbe," he consoled himself. "I just hope I'll get a Jewish burial and the animals don't eat me." He was on the verge of collapsing in the snow when suddenly he heard something in the distance.

It was a wagon! It sounded far away but the sounds were unmistakable: wheels crunching on the snow and the plodding of horses. Occasionally the wind wafted a few notes of the song the driver was singing. It didn't take long until it reached him; it was a wagon filled with large barrels, and it stopped before the freezing Jew. "Hey Moshke!" The wagon-driver yelled (that is what the non-Jews called all the Jews). "Hey! Want a ride? If you can find a place, jump in!" he stuck out his hand. With renewed strength the old chassid gratefully grabbed the hand, pulled himself up onto the wagon, then onto the barrels, and finally wedged himself down between them as the wagon began to move.

But his gratitude did not keep him warm. After a few minutes huddled between the barrels he was abruptly reminded that he was freezing, and not being able to move didn't help any.

That was when he noticed a small spigot sticking out of one of the barrels.

"Maybe it's wine, or vinegar, or maybe something else," he thought to himself. "But, it might be...".

With a shivering hand he turned the handle over the spigot. No, it wasn't wine or oil, not vinegar or anything else, it! "Ivan" he yelled to the driver "I need a little of your merchandise here, I'm freezing! I'll pay, I promise. Can I take a small cup?" "Of course, my friend" shouted the driver over his shoulder. "As much as you need! Sure is cold out here!"

The second cup was better than the first, and in a minute he was warm. He was happy! He was going to the Rebbe! G-d made him a miracle! He began singing. In no time the driver was singing with him and, needless to say, the ten-hour drive passed like minutes.

Before he knew it they had reached Lubavitch. The driver helped him out of his "seat" gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and they warmly parted. Our Chassid made straight for the Shul (synagogue) where he immediately gathered everyone around him and said he wanted to tell them something.

"Today I learned a very great lesson." He began, occasionally rubbing his hands to warm up. "You know that the Torah is compared to water, right? But the Torah is supposed to make you warm and happy, and that is why the Baal Shem Tov and all the Rebbes began teaching Chassidus -- to make Jews warm and happy, right? Torah includes all kinds of water, so Chassidus must be the vodka of Torah, right? The part of Torah that makes you warm and happy, right?" No one knew exactly what he was getting at but everyone respected him because of his age and waited for him to continue. "Well, I just discovered that a chassid can be surrounded by barrels of Chassidus, by a sea of Torah, and still be cold, even freezing to death.

"But...if just a little bit goes INSIDE... Ahhh. That is a completely different story! Then he becomes warm and alive. In fact then, he can even warm up the whole world around him as well..."

By Tuvia Bolton   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
A popular teacher, musician and storyteller, Rabbi Tuvia Bolton is co-director and a senior lecturer at Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel
« Reply #127 on: September 17, 2009, 08:44:02 PM »

 Every time I read the Binding of Isaac I am uncomfortable. I think that is part of the point.

Chassidic Masters
The Binding of Isaac

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

The founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, once related:

In Mezeritch, it was extremely difficult to be accepted as a disciple of our master, Rabbi DovBer. There was a group of Chassidim who, having failed to merit to learn directly from our master, wanted to at least serve his pupils: to bring them water to wash their hands upon waking, to sweep the floors of the study hall, to heat the ovens during the winter months, and so on. These were known as "the oven stokers."

One winter night, as I lay on a bench in the study hall, I overheard a conversation between three of the "oven stokers." "What was so special about the test of the akeidah?" the first one asked. "If G-d had revealed Himself to me and commanded me to sacrifice my only son, would I not obey?"

Answering his own question, he said: "If G-d told me to sacrifice my only son, I would delay my doing so for a while, to keep him with me for a few days. Abraham's greatness lay in that he arose early in the morning to immediately fulfill the Divine command."

Said the second one: "If G-d told me to sacrifice my only son, I, too, would waste not a moment to carry out His command. But I would do so with a heavy heart. Abraham's greatness lay in that he went to the akeidah with a heart full of joy over the opportunity to fulfill G-d's will."

Said the third: "I, too, would carry out G-d's will with joy. I think that Abraham's uniqueness lies in his reaction upon finding out that it was all a test. When G-d commanded him, 'Do not touch the child, and do nothing to him,' Abraham was overjoyed--not because his only child would not die, but because he was being given the opportunity to carry out another command of G-d."

Rabbi Schneur Zalman concluded: "Do you think this was mere talk? Each of them was describing the degree of self-sacrifice he himself had attained in his service of the Almighty."

This particular question--what is it that sets apart the akeidah from the countless other instances of human martyrdom and self-sacrifice?--is raised by almost all the commentaries and expounders of Torah.

For the binding of Isaac has come to represent the ultimate in the Jew's devotion to G-d. Every morning, we preface our prayers by reading the Torah's account of the akeidah and then say: "Master of the Universe! Just as Abraham our father suppressed his compassion for his only son to do Your will with a whole heart, so may Your compassion suppress Your wrath against us, and may Your mercy prevail over Your attributes of strict justice."

And on Rosh Hashanah, when the world trembles in judgment before G-d, we evoke the binding of Isaac by sounding the horn of a ram (reminiscent of the ram which replaced Isaac as an offering) as if to say: If we have no other merit, remember Abraham's deed. Remember how the first Jew bound all succeeding generations of Jews in a covenant of self-sacrifice to You.

Obviously, the supreme test of a person's faith is his willingness to sacrifice his very existence for its sake. But what is so unique about Abraham's sacrifice? Have not countless thousands of Jews given their lives rather than renounce their covenant with the Almighty?

One might perhaps explain that the willingness to sacrifice one's child is a far greater demonstration of faith than to forfeit one's own life. But in this, too, Abraham was not unique. Time and again through the generations, Jews have encouraged their children to go to their deaths rather than violate their faith. Typical is the story of "Chanah and her seven sons," who, seeing her seven children tortured to death rather than bow before a Greek idol, proclaimed: "My children! Go to Abraham your father and say to him: You bound one offering upon the altar, and I have bound seven offerings..."

Furthermore, while Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, in thousands of akeidot throughout our history Jews actually gave up their lives and the lives of their entire families. And, unlike Abraham, G-d had not directly spoken to them and requested their sacrifice. Their deeds were based on their own convictions and the strength of their commitment to an invisible and often elusive G-d. And many gave their lives rather than violate even a relatively minor tenet of their faith, even in cases in which the Torah does not require the Jew to do so.

Nevertheless, as the Abrabanel writes in his commentary on Genesis, it is the binding of Isaac "that is forever on our lips in our prayers... For in it lies the entire strength of Israel and their merit before their Heavenly Father..." Why? What about the many thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice in reiteration of our loyalty to G-d?

The same question may be asked in regard to Abraham himself. The akeidah was the tenth and final "test" in Abraham's life. In his first test of faith, Abraham was cast into a fiery furnace for his refusal to acknowledge the arch-idol of his native Ur Casdim, the emperor Nimrod, and his continued commitment to teaching the world the truth of a one, non-corporeal and omnipotent G-d. All this before G-d had revealed Himself to him and had chosen him and his descendents to serve as a "light unto the nations" and the purveyors of His word to humanity.

This early act of self-sacrifice seems, in a certain respect, to be even greater than the latter ones. A man, all on his own, comes to recognize the truth and devotes himself to its dissemination--to the extent that he is even willing to sacrifice his very life to this end. All this without a command or even sign from Above.

And yet, the binding of Isaac is considered the most important test of Abraham's faith. The Talmud asks: "Why did G-d, in commanding Abraham regarding the akeidah, say 'Please, take your son'?" Answers the Talmud: "G-d said to Abraham: 'I have tried you with many tests and you have withstood them all. Now, I beg you, please withstand this test for Me, lest they say that the earlier ones were of no substance'" (Talmud, Sanhedrin 89b).

Again we ask, Why? Granting that the akeidah was the most demanding test of all, why are the others "of no substance" without it?

The Chassidic masters explain the significance of the akeida with a metaphor:

Once there was an untamed wilderness. Not a trail penetrated its thick underbrush, not a map charted its forbidding terrain. But one day there came a man who accomplished the impossible: He cut a path through this impregnable land.

Many trod in his footsteps. It was still a most difficult journey, but they had his charts to consult, his trail to follow. Over the years, there were some who made the journey under even more trying conditions than those which had challenged the first pioneer: While he had done his work in broad daylight, they stumbled about in the black of night; while he had only his determination for company, they made the trip weighed down by heavy burdens. But all were equally indebted to him. Indeed, all their attainments could be said to be but extensions of his own great deed.

Abraham was the pioneer of self-sacrifice. And the first instance of true self-sacrifice in all of history was the binding of Isaac.

For to sacrifice one's self is not the same as to sacrifice one's life--there is a world of difference between the two.

The human story includes many chapters of heroic sacrifice. Every generation and society has had its martyrs--individuals who gave their lives for their faith, for their homeland, and for virtually every cause under the sun. They did so for a variety of reasons. For some it was an act of desperation. To them, their lives were not worth living unless a certain objective could be attained. Others believed that their deed would be richly rewarded in the hereafter, so they readily exchanged the temporal benefits of physical life for the soul's eternal gain. Finally, there were those for whom their cause had grown to be more significant to them than their lives. They had come to so completely identify with a certain goal that it became more integral to their "self" than their existence as individuals.

In all the above cases, the martyr is sacrificing his life, but not his self. Indeed, he is sacrificing his physical life for the sake of his self, whether it is for the sake of the self projected by his obsession, the spiritual self of his immortal soul, or a broader, universal "self" he has come to identify with. Ultimately, his is a selfish act, "selfish" in the most positive and altruistic sense of the word--here is an individual who has succeeded in transcending the narrow, material definition of "self" which dominates our corporeal world--but selfish nonetheless.

Abraham was a man with a mission. A mission for which he sacrificed everything, a mission more important to him than his own life.

For many years he had agonized over the fact that there was no heir to this mission, that his work of bringing the beliefs and ethics of monotheism to a pagan world would cease with his passing from the world. Then came the Divine promise: miraculously, at the age of 100, he will have a son, out of whom will stem the people of Israel. "You shall call his name Isaac," said G-d, "and I shall establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him."

And then G-d told him to destroy it all.

When Abraham bound Isaac upon the altar, it was not in the service of any calling or cause. In fact, it ran contrary to everything he believed in and taught, to everything he had sacrificed his life for, to everything G-d Himself had told him. He could see no reason, no purpose for his act. Every element of his self cried out against it--his material self, his spiritual self, his transcendent, altruistic self. But he did it. Why? Because G-d had told him to.

Abraham was the pioneer of self sacrifice. Before Abraham, the self was inviolable territory. Man could enlighten the self's priorities, he could even broaden and sublimate it, but he could not supersede it. Indeed, how could he? As a creature of free choice, man's every act stems from within. His every deed has a motive (conscious or otherwise), and his every motive has a rationale--a reason why it is beneficial to his own existence. So how could he be motivated to annihilate his own self? The instinct to preserve and enhance one's self is the source and objective of a creature's every drive and desire--man could no more transcend it than lift himself up by pulling on the hair of his own head.

Yet Abraham did the impossible. He sacrificed his self for the sake of something beyond the scope of the most transcendent of identities. Had he not done so, no other act of self-sacrifice--previous or subsequent, of his own or of his descendents--could be presumed to be of any "substance," to be anything more than a product of the self. But when Abraham bound Isaac upon the altar, the heavenly voice proclaimed: "Now I know that you fear G-d." Now I know that the will of G-d supersedes even your most basic instincts. Now I know that all your deeds, including those which could be explained as self-motivated, are, in essence, driven by the desire to serve your Creator. Now I know that your entire life was of true, selfless substance.

So when we speak of the akeidah, we also speak of those who trod the path this great deed blazed. Of the countless thousands who died for the creed of Abraham, of the many millions who lived for its sake. Their sacrifices, great and petty, cataclysmic and everyday, may, on the surface, seem but the outgrowth of their personal beliefs and aspirations: commendable and extraordinary, but only the fulfillment of an individual soul's identity. But the akeidah revealed them to be so much more than that.

For Abraham bequeathed to his descendents the essence of Jewishness: that at the core of one's very being lies not the self but one's commitment to the Creator. And that, ultimately, one's every choice and act is an expression of that "spark of Divinity" within.
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« Reply #128 on: September 18, 2009, 03:04:25 AM »


Have you ever read Carl Jung's "Answer to Job"?  I've recently started it.   Very deep.
« Reply #129 on: September 18, 2009, 04:31:09 PM »

I have not read the Jung book. I will have to check it out.

The Crime I Didn’t Commit
by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Change for the New Year starts here.

Circuit Court Judge Alice Gilbert had an innovative idea. She required every person convicted in her courtroom -- for crimes ranging from manslaughter to passing bad checks -- to write a 2,000-word essay answering four questions:

1.How did my crime affect me?
2. How did my crime affect my family?
3. How did my crime affect the community?
4. What can be done to prevent such crimes in the future?

On a recent visit to Michigan, I stayed with Judge Gilbert (who happens to be my cousin). I was intrigued by her brilliant idea of requiring convicts to confront the consequences of their actions, which surely had reduced recidivism in her district. Judge Gilbert, after 28 years on the bench, is now retired, but she keeps two boxes of the compulsory essays (with names deleted) in her basement. Always interested in the process of changing human behavior, I asked to read some of the essays.

I picked out the most severe crimes: a drunken driver who had killed a teenage girl; a high school student who had given birth to a baby, stuffed him into her closet and went off to school; a guy who had robbed a gas station and killed a hapless customer. With great anticipation, I sat down to read these dramatic confrontations of human beings with their shadow selves, these epiphanies of the damage they had caused to themselves and their loved ones, and the flood of contrition surely unleashed by such honest soul-searching.

No go! What I read instead was essay after essay explaining why the writer was not really guilty of the crime. Totally ignoring the four questions, each convict wrote at length -- some far exceeding 2,000 words -- of how events had conspired to produce the horrific outcome and that it was absolutely, positively not the fault of the writer.

    Why is it so hard for people to admit they did wrong?

The drunk driver, whom I’ll call Frank, started by complaining that although it was sad that “this young girl, who should be alive, isn’t,” (he could not even own up to the word “dead,”) that was no reason that her friends and relatives should be harassing him with telephone calls and notes, both at home and at work. Frank went on to describe what had really happened that dark night when he was driving the pick-up truck. It was the fault of the weather; the rain made for low - in fact, no -- visibility. It was the fault of the girl herself and the man who was with her; they had hit a dog (proving no visibility!) and she was sitting in the middle of the road trying to help the dog, while the man was doing a lousy job of redirecting traffic around her. It was the fault of the police, who failed to test Frank’s breath, which would have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two glasses of wine he had drunk could not have inebriated a man of his weight.

(And why, pray tell, did the police not test Frank’s breath? Because both Frank and his companion Doris claimed that Doris was driving the pick-up. So the police tested Doris’s breath. Only later investigation revealed that Frank was indeed the driver.) Frank was adamant that the incompetent police should have figured out at the scene of the accident that he was driving (despite his own lies) and they should have given him a breath test immediately.

As for the high school girl and the dead baby, she didn’t realize she was pregnant until the baby started coming out, and she did everything she could to save the baby’s life, and ...

Why is it so hard for people to admit they did wrong? The first step in the process of teshuvah, of changing one’s behavior, is to admit, “I did it!” A Jew confesses transgressions not to a priest or any other human being, but to God. Trying to change without admitting wrong-doing is like trying to ski without snow.


Three major obstacles keep us humans from that simple act of admitting wrong-doing. The first is a sense of “I’m as rotten as my sins.” The human ego is too wobbly a table to load it up with a couple hundred pounds of wrong-doings. If I admit that I cheated on my exams, then I’m a despicable, dishonest cheat. If I admit that my outbursts of anger traumatize my children/employees/friends, then I’m an out-of-control, savage ogre. My wrong actions are not simply the garments that clothe my essential self; they become my image of who I really am.

This misconception derives from the “Shrek fallacy.” As Shrek famously declared, “Ogres are like onions. They have layers,” meaning that they are complex beings with multiple layers of personality components. Since human beings, too, have layers, the faulty syllogism is that human beings are like onions. This is a lethal analogy because, if you take an onion apart, layer by layer, in the end you will find... nothing.

This fear, that we are nothing but the sum total of our personality traits and actions with nothing inside, leads to the existential angst that fuels justification and rationalization at the expense of truly admitting our faults. Justification and rationalization are splintery boards to bolster up the wobbly table.

    The soul is like a candle flame. It cannot be tarnished, soiled, or stained in any way.

Judaism counters the Shrek fallacy with the assertion that a human being is essentially a Divine soul. If you take off the layers of personality and actions, you will find shining within a perfect, pure, immutable Divine soul.

The soul is like a candle flame. It cannot be tarnished, soiled, or stained in any way. Transgressions are like curtains strung around the flame. Many layers of thick curtains, especially room-darkener curtains, can shroud the flame so that its light is totally invisible, but the flame is unaffected.

The more a person, through the spiritual practices enjoined by the Torah, identifies with this inner core of spirituality, with this perfect, immutable Divine soul, the more courage the person will have to admit wrongdoing. The person realizes that sin adheres to the essential self as little as dirt adheres to fire -- not at all. Thus teshuvah is predicated on establishing a sense of oneself as a soul, on connecting to one’s inner core of good. From that bulwark, confession of wrongdoing proceeds not as a paralyzing, guilt-inducing exercise, but as the first step in taking down the curtains that veil the soul.


My daughter and I are planning a trip to Hawaii. I spent more than three mind-boggling hours yesterday on the internet, comparing flight prices, researching vacation packages, reading descriptions about various hotels, exploring the possibilities for kosher food, and investigating tours of Maui. I never would have invested so much time and energy if I didn’t believe that my daughter and I would eventually get to Hawaii. If I were toying with travel to an impossible destination -- impossible because the place, like Shangri-la, is a fantasy that does not exist or because the place, like North Korea, is off limits to American citizens -- I would not have invested myself in planning the journey.

To admit your wrongdoings in order to plunge into the journey called teshuvah requires belief that you can actually arrive at the destination: real change. This conviction is undermined by the fallacy that your actions are determined by heredity and environment, and therefore you cannot change. If teshuvah is your Shangri-la or North Korea, you’ll never embark on the journey.

Judaism insists that human beings have free will in the moral sphere. Yes, everything is determined by God except your choices between right and wrong. You can choose not to cheat on your exams, not to yell at your children, not to gossip, not to carry a grudge, etc. Free choice is, in fact, what distinguishes humans from the animal kingdom.

    People can change. Don’t we all know someone who smoked for decades and then, after a heart attack, never picked up another cigarette?

The “I Can’t Change” fallacy is fueled by your past failures at reaching your desired destination. Mark Twain quipped, “Quit smoking? It’s easy! I’ve done it dozens of times.” If you have tried to stop smoking (or yelling or cheating or gossiping) many times, and each time you succumbed to the habit, then you are easy prey for the “I Can’t Change” fallacy.

But don’t we all know someone who smoked for decades and then, after a heart attack, went cold turkey and never picked up another cigarette? Don’t we all know a recovering alcoholic who, through persevering in a 12-step program, stopped drinking? I personally know people who, through the Jewish method of Mussar, changed themselves from screaming banshees who yelled at their kids several times a day to parents who almost never yell at their kids.

The travel brochure for the destination called “Teshuvah“ promises that it’s a long and arduous journey, but you can get there. And when you do, you’ll realize it was worth the trip.


The third obstacle to honestly admitting our transgressions is our hopelessness that the mess we made can ever be cleaned up. The life-altering process of teshuvah changes who we are so fundamentally that God erases our past. The result of our teshuvah is that God performs the miracle of expunging our sin. It's as if it never happened. If we do the requisite steps of confession, regret, and making a concrete plan to change (and, when another person was involved, asking forgiveness and making restitution), then God cleans up the mess.

Unfortunately, many of us believe that God can clean up a little marinara sauce spilled on the kitchen floor, but not six tons of oil spilled in the ocean. We have to remind ourselves that God is God, which by definition means that God can do anything.

Years ago a woman whom I’ll call Beth came to Jerusalem bearing a deep dark secret. Beth enrolled in one of the programs that teaches Judaism to adults with minimal Jewish background. When the month of Elul (the month preceding Rosh Hashana) rolled around and Beth started learning about teshuva, she recoiled. She had committed a sin so grievous that she was sure that teshuvah was impossible. When Beth was 19 years old, she had had an affair with one of her college professors.

    You think God is too small to forgive big sins.”

This professor was married, with children. For young Beth, the affair was an escapade, but it turned out that the professor was serious about their relationship. He divorced his wife, who proceeded to have a nervous breakdown. Beth, however, had no intention of getting married at that age. She ditched the professor, but he did not return to his family. As the years passed, Beth was haunted by what she had done. When she eventually learned about teshuvah, she was sure that there was no way to cleanse from her soul the stain of destroying an entire family.

One of Beth’s teachers took her to a prominent rabbi. He told her, “Your problem is that you think God is too small to forgive big sins.” He explained that her sin was indeed big, but she had to realize that God is bigger. Beth protested that she could not possibly fix the damage she had caused. The rabbi advised her to learn the laws of lashon hara (proper speech). When other women would see that Beth never gossiped or divulged secrets, they would come to her to confide their conflicts. Eventually a woman who was grappling with the same temptation would confide in her, and Beth would be able to guide the woman away from committing that sin. That would be her expiation.

With an infinite God, teshuvah is always possible. Once we realize that our sins do not define us, that we can indeed change, and that God can absolve us for even the worst misdeeds, we can be brave enough to admit that we did wrong. That’s the beginning of teshuvah.

Sara Yoheved Rigler’s next American lecture tour will be in November. She still has a few dates available for Shabbatons and workshops. If you would like to bring her to your community, please write to

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« Reply #130 on: September 18, 2009, 04:36:55 PM »

Best Wishes for a Sweet and Happy New Year

Shana Tova!
« Reply #131 on: September 20, 2009, 09:14:59 PM »

Tashlich's Subtle Message
by Dovid Frankel

The antidote to wallowing in self pity.

The yearly tradition begs the question, what's up with Tashlich? We go out to a river, lake or pond and say a brief prayer followed by the token "throwing in of our sins." The kids accumulate stale bread for weeks to be able to have lots of ‘sins' to throw in. Kind of strange if you think about it. Judaism isn't about symbols and rituals; it's a lot deeper than that.

The answer is very simple yet so refreshing. Man is good. Man is beautiful. Man is extraordinary. At the very essence, the human being is pure and holy. Created in God's image with the capacity to soar to the heights of Godliness, we aren't sinners, but rather we sin.

Unfortunately, throughout the travails and temptations of daily life, we ‘acquire' many sins and transgressions. They come to us in times of despair or acts of arrogance. We purchase them in fits of anger or digest them in moments of weaknesses. We might own them. We might carry them. And we might even relish some of them. But they never become us. They never become who we are. And they definitely aren't what we really want to be.

They are always a separate entity that can be disowned, disavowed and cast away at any time. The symbolic act of throwing away our sins brings that message home in a dramatic, concrete manner.

Tashlich is the biggest antidote to wallowing in self pity. When we think about our habits we throw up our hands in the air and tell ourselves, "It's been years! There's no way I can change now." Or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Tashlich teaches us otherwise. Yes we can change. We can improve because we are at our core holy and pure -- a spark of the divine.

The good struggle is to scrub away that superficial coating of sin. Scrape away the cynicism, repudiate the negativism and snap out of our disenchantment. As long as we can grasp the immeasurable greatness and potential of our souls, then nothing can stop us. If we would only begin to comprehend that the love God has for us is unfathomable and limitless, then and only then, can we truly begin our journey to complete and credible repentance.

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« Reply #132 on: September 21, 2009, 07:07:49 AM »

...For the Sin of Sexual Immorality
by Bracha Goetz

Silence may be golden, but not when abuse is involved.

Karen's older brother told her that there was nothing wrong with him touching her body. And he seemed to know a lot more at age 14 than she did at age six. This progressed gradually and steadily from touching above the clothes to actual rape that continued for years. Eventually Karen's older brother went on to get married and have a family, appearing just fine to nearly everyone in the community. He left his younger sister, now in her late twenties, emotionally, sexually and spiritually crippled.

There are 50 young women with backgrounds similar to Karen's in just one recently formed support group for women. They all grew up in Jewish homes and they have all been sexually abused. These are the ones who have the courage to step forward.

Thank God it is now beginning to come to light, and victims are starting to learn that they are not the only ones with this secret corrosive problem. We have the opportunity to take necessary constructive actions. Not only can we support those who are already victims, we can implement effective prevention education to stop the growth of abuse in our communities.

It's not only teenage older brothers or cousins with characteristically raging hormones who can become abusers. Approximately 80% of sexual abuse is committed by a trusted family member or family friend, with roughly 15% being committed by teachers, coaches, youth group leaders or clergy. Less than 5% of sexual abusers are strangers to their victims. This makes sense because gaining the trust of the victim is a prerequisite in the grooming process leading to sexual abuse occurring and not being reported.

Silence may be golden, but not when abuse is involved. Abuse thrives in silence.

    Karen, at age six, needs to be taught that she has the right to say “No!” to any unwanted touch.

Karen, at age six, needs to be taught that she has the right to say “No!” to any unwanted touch -- even if it's from an older brother or an uncle. David, at age four, needs to be told that nobody should touch him in the private areas that are covered by his bathing suit, unless it is for health or hygienic purposes, no matter who the person is. Debbie, at age nine, needs to learn to tell a trusted parent as soon as possible if anybody attempts to touch her in a confusing way.


The Seventh Commandment

On Yom Kippur, a day when we face our transgressions, we read a portion of the Torah that explicitly delineates many sexually immoral acts. And every one of these immoral acts can be summarized by the seventh of the Ten Commandments, "Lo Teenof" (Exodus 20:13). It is usually translated narrowly as “Do not commit adultery,” but it is more broadly interpreted by most Torah commentators as “Do not engage in illicit sexual activities.”

It is interesting to observe that the Ten Commandments do not appear as one list of ten; they appear, instead, in two columns. The first five focus on the relationship between an individual and God, while the second five focus on the relationship between people, with the directive to honor parents being the perfect segue way between the two.

And each commandment between an individual and God corresponds to the directive that is in the parallel column, between individual people. So the seventh commandment against engaging in illicit sexual activity corresponds to the second one -- to not go after other gods. Engaging in idol worship involves surrendering one's self to powerful destructive forces, just as engaging in illicit sexual activities does as well

Someone who betrays the marital relationship betrays God as well. Engaging in illicit sexual activities basically comes down to demonstrating disregard for another's rights, and since we are all made in the image of God, each illicit act demonstrates a disregard for the reality of God as well.

Judaism is not about denying physical pleasures. It's about recognizing spirituality within physicality, thereby enhancing one's pleasure as much as possible. Every material blessing in our lives contains within it the potential to bring us to the greatest spiritual heights. Intimacy is a God-given gift, and when used to reinforce a sense of oneness and unity in marital relationships, it has the potential to simultaneously draw people closer to each other and closer to God.

Involvement in prostitution, pornography, incestuous relationships, molestation -- all abusive behaviors -- come under the umbrella of sexual immorality. Not only do these behaviors cause the perpetrators to deny their own spiritual essence, as well as that of the individual being victimized, they also cause the victim to lose sight of the connection to his or her spiritual essence.

We can see more clearly how this operates through focusing on one of the basest examples. A small and innocent child learns to trust from trusting those who are older, wiser, and bigger than he is. A child also learns to trust in God from trusting those older than him. When an adult or older teen in this child's life abuses him, he learns repeatedly not to trust in God because he feels that he is not being protected in the most intimate ways.

When a young person has been repeatedly abused, the child very often stops thinking of God as being loving. God comes to be viewed as unjust and cruel, like those he trusted who turned out, instead, to darken his life. Little by little, the child's image of God becomes drained of its light.

Thankfully, even when children are sexually abused, their spiritual essence can never be completely destroyed. The pure flame within can be dimmed, but no matter what, the indestructible spark remains in each child. That spark, that neshama, that spiritual essence is what we need to strive to recognize. And it is what the survivors of abusive, illicit relationships need to work hard to re-discover within themselves.

When we make a choice to follow our divine directions, instead of careening toward danger, we can be aroused to recognize the spiritual essence of every physical blessing. Through respecting and appreciating the Divine connection that we all share, we can achieve the greatest heights of genuine lasting pleasure.

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« Reply #133 on: September 22, 2009, 07:01:27 PM »

Man and Woman
By Tzvi Freeman

It is a mistake to consider man and woman two separate beings. They are no more than two halves of a single form, two converse hemispheres that fit tightly together to make a perfect whole. They are heaven and earth encapsulated in flesh and blood.

It is only that on its way to enter this world, this sphere was shattered apart. What was once the infinity of a perfect globe became two finite surfaces. What was once a duet of sublime harmony became two bizarre solos of unfinished motions, of unresolved discord.

So much so, that each one hears in itself only half a melody, and so too it hears in the other. Each sees the other and says, "That is broken." Feigning wholeness, the two halves wander aimlessly in space alone.

Until each fragment allows itself to surrender, to admit that it too is broken. Only then can it search for the warmth it is missing. For the depth of its own self that was ripped away. For the harmony that will make sense of its song.

And in perfect union, two finite beings find in one another infinite beauty.

By Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman. To order Tzvi's book, "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, click here.

The content on this page is copyrighted by the author, publisher and/or, and is produced by If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with the copyright policy.

The Rabbi's Shofar and the Dog

« Last Edit: September 22, 2009, 07:05:46 PM by Rachel » Logged
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« Reply #134 on: September 22, 2009, 08:01:17 PM »

Nice post and nice clip.

That said, I'd like to jump back for a bit to the prior post on the Seventh Commandment. 

In modern life, people often wait 10-20 years after sexual maturity before having children.

What are they to do during these years?
« Reply #135 on: September 23, 2009, 09:17:40 PM »

The article actually does not mention having children as a reason for intimacy.   Being fruitful and multiplying is very import in Judaism but it not the only reason for intimacy

The article said
" Intimacy is a God-given gift, and when used to reinforce a sense of oneness and unity in marital relationships, it has the potential to simultaneously draw people closer to each other and closer to God."

The articles I normally post for this thread are from Orthodox sources and I am not Orthodox. If you were to ask an Orthodox Rabbi about the issue  I believe he would tell you that the modern world is wrong and you should get  married early.    Very religious Jews often marry young and marry quickly.    Couple often get engaged after a few months and wedding are planned  by the parents  in a few months.

When I was 22  and in Israel I was asked by my 5 year old Orthodox cousin why I wasn't married yet. I said I was too young  and he said no you're not.

However where does that leave us living in the modern world.   It is very easy to preach no intimacy  before marriage when you are married and  getting your emotional and physical needs met

My Rabbi who is Conservative Jew  (don't be confused that is one of those liberal sects) gave an interesting sermon  a few years about how Judaism doesn't let you opt out.  No matter where you are or what you are doing you still  have an obligation to make the best moral choice you can.   Living together before marriage (lets assume he was being euphemistic for other acts as well )  doesn't mean you get opt out of making moral choices. 

 I think casual sex is wrong and intimacy should be meaningful.  I don't believe all non-marital intimacy is casual.  The best advise I  have heard is  ---  At all times  you have a choice between chasing meaning and chasing non-meaning.  Chase meaning.

A slight related article

Why Do We Fall in Love?

Why Do We Fall in Love?

By Simon Jacobson

What lies behind the attraction between the sexes? Sexuality is a subject about which no one is neutral. Everyone has a sexual nature, everyone has a need for sexuality, everyone has a sexual personality that has been formed by home, schooling, the trial and error of life experience, and whatever they pick up along the way from the subtle and not-so-subtle influences of the society in which they live.

In seeking to make sense of our sexuality we must look to its origins. Where does our sexuality come from? In this article, I would like to look at two approaches to that question.

Is the mystique and the romance, the music and the moonlight, just nature's way of hoodwinking men and women to reproduce? One is the prevalent, contemporary, scientific approach. And then we'll contrast it with the Torah approach - specifically, the Kabbalistic-Chassidic perspective on Torah.

There are, of course, numerous secular-scientific theories of sexuality. Let us examine what is probably the most dominant one: the biological or evolutionary theory which is essentially based on the idea that "the survival of the fittest" is the primary force in nature and the source of any given creature's particular characteristics, from single cells right up the "evolutionary chain" to animals and humans.

From this perspective, our sexuality derives from the fact that the perpetuation of the species is achieved through a sexual relationship between a male and a female. The male will therefore search for the female that is most fertile, and that will bear the healthiest offspring; and the female will search for a male that provides the healthiest seed, that is the most virile and that will protect the young.

This theory explains many things about our sexuality. It explains why men and women seek out and mate with each other. It explains why certain features in the woman or in the man are extremely enticing to the opposite sex because they reflect on elements of fertility or signs of health that are important for the perpetuation of the species.

What this theory essentially says is that behind the mystique and the beauty, the romance and the sensuality in which human sexuality comes enveloped, behind it all really lies a primal force: the need to exist, and to perpetuate that existence. Since the human being is an animal with a certain degree of sophistication, human sexuality has evolved to address that sophistication. Modern man is not prepared to think of him or herself merely as production machines to bear children, so in order to entice two people into a union, evolution and biology have conspired to imbue the sexual act not only with pleasure but also with a mystique that compels us along the romantic journey.

Gazing into a loved one's eyes across a candlelit table-for-two, the human being may think that he or she has risen above a survival-of-the-fittest mode of existence; but, in truth, this "rising higher" is just nature's way of packaging that drive. Two human beings courting each other are essentially the same as two bees courting each other. One bee will buzz a certain way or give off a certain scent, but what it comes down to is that these are tactics to get them together to mate and bear offspring. By the same token, the accouterments of human sexuality, the romance, the flowers, the music, the moonlight are really just nature's way of getting two people together.
Sexual attraction between human beings is driven by a completely different force: their search for their divine image

Nature is ruthless. Nature must prevail. So nature finds the means to get a male and a female to mate.

This, basically, is the scientific approach to human sexuality. Let us now contrast this with the Torah's approach.

The Torah's conception of human sexuality is expressed in the opening chapters of Genesis, and states that sexual attraction between human beings is driven by a completely different force: their search for their divine image, for their quintessential self.

The Torah describes man as originally having been created as a "two-sided" being: "Male and female He created them and He called their name: man." G-d then split this two-sided creature into two, and ever since, the divided halves of the divine image seek and yearn for each other.

They're not half individuals; man is a full-fledged personality and woman is a full-fledged personality. But there are elements in their transcendental persona, in their completeness, that remain incomplete if they don't find each other. There's something missing in each of them; they were once part of a greater whole.

To put it in more mystical, or more divine, terms: they're really searching to become one with G-d.

The human race is in essence one entity, a male-female singularity. When man and woman come together and unite in a marital union, they recreate the divine image in which they were both formed as one.
We have a split of two energies, and a yearning and inclination to become one whole

The teachings of Kabbalah take this a step further, seeing the male/female dynamic not just as two sexes within a species. According to the Kabbalah, these are two forms of energy that, in the most abstract form, are referred to as an internal energy and a projective energy. Feminine energy and masculine energy exist in each man and in each woman, and in every part of nature.

Even G-dliness is sometimes described in the feminine and sometimes in the masculine. Contrary to the common perception of the "patriarchal" G-d of the Bible, many of the divine attributes are feminine, such as the Shechinah, which is the feminine dimension of G-dliness.

So what we have here is a split of two energies, and a yearning and inclination to become one whole. The human race was created in the divine image, but that human race is half male and half female, and through their union they become that larger whole, that divine image that searches for union with G-d, that seeks a higher reality.

This is the soul of sexual attraction. This attraction, which manifests itself in many physical sensations, from a faster heartbeat to a physical attraction to another person, is essentially the attraction of male to female and female to male to become a complete, divine whole, connecting to their source in G-d. Not that they've ever been completely disconnected; but consciously, people can go off on their own individual narcissistic, even selfish, path. And here, there's a voice in you saying: I yearn for something greater. When a man is physically attracted to a woman, or a woman to a man, it may seem a very biological thing, but from a Jewish, Torah perspective, it's just a physical manifestation of a very deep spiritual attraction.

This is not to say that the Torah's concept of sexuality is not intrinsically tied in to the objective of creating new life. It certainly is. But perpetuation of the species is not the sole end of our sexuality. Rather, it's the other way around: the divine nature of our sexuality - the fact that the union of male and female completes the divine image in which they were created - is what gives us the power to bring life into the world.

So there is something divine about the union itself. This is reflected in Halachah (Torah law) which extends the sanctity of marriage also to circumstances in which the generation of offspring is not a possibility (such as in the case of a man and/or woman who are beyond childbearing age, or who are physically unable to bear children). If sexuality were simply the mechanism for childbearing, one might argue: "Hey, no perpetuation of the species, what's the point of marriage and sexuality? Just a selfish pleasure? Where's the holiness?" The answer is, yes, sexuality qua sexuality is holy. Male and female uniting is a divine act, a divine experience.

By Simon Jacobson   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
© The Meaningful Life Center. Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (William Morrow, 1995), and the founder and director of the Meaningful Life Center.

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« Reply #136 on: September 24, 2009, 12:44:26 PM »

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By Tzvi Freeman
Self-pity is nothing less than an impulse to destroy yourself. And this is its script:

"This is the way you were made. These are the facts of your situation. It's bad. Worse than anybody else in the whole world. In fact, it's so bad, it's impossible to do anything about it. And therefore, you are free from any responsibility to clean it up. Nobody can blame you for anything."

Self-pity is a liar and a thief. A liar, because everyone is granted the power to clean up his own mess, if only he will try. A thief, because as long as it sits inside you, it is stealing away the days of your life.
« Reply #137 on: September 24, 2009, 08:45:16 PM »

By Jay Litvin

These were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn't figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I'd been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G-d.

I was and had been feeling distant from Him. A strange feeling for me. Even in my late teens I had been able to connect with Him when I needed to. He always answers my calls. Sometimes I don't even need to call. I just feel his companionship as I journey through life.
We share the same disease, so we never have to worry about boring each other

But these last months had been lonely. I had been separate from Him, unable even to call out. And I didn't know why.

Just before Yom Kippur, I received an e-mail from a friend. He's not a religious Jew, though we discourse often about G-d and Torah. He's a writer and has a way with words. We also share the same disease, and talk much about our symptoms, history, fears, treatments and aches. There's a special something that happens with people who share the same disease. We never have to worry about boring each other. All our concerns and obsessions about the daily changes in our health or symptoms, our latest internet discoveries about new cures and clinical trials may bore others, but are continuously fascinating to us.

At the end of this email my friend wrote: "Jay, this Yom Kippur, I don't think you should go to shul and ask G-d for forgiveness. This Yom Kippur you should stay home and G-d should come crawling on His knees and beg you to forgive Him for what He's done to you."

When I read these lines I laughed. My friend is a sacrilegious provocateur. He believed what he said, but he mainly wrote those words to shock me. I filed his words, but paid them little attention.

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G-d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G-d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G-d.

I put on my kittel and my tallit and I went to shul. I had received permission from my doctors and rabbi to fast. I beat my chest and listed my sins. I asked forgiveness. And yet, no matter how long the list of sins was, no matter how much I sought forgiveness, I could not find any act so heinous as to deserve the punishment that I felt was being inflicted upon me.

I prayed for G-d's forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we -- He and I -- can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G-d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.
I realized that I was angry at G-d

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerabitity. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G-d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

As I continued my prayers throughout the day, with my anger and inability to forgive foremost in my mind, the words in my prayer book began to transform from pleas for forgiveness to instructions on how to forgive. Could it be that on this Yom Kippur, G-d was teaching me how to forgive Him? Were these words lessons on forgiveness from the Master of Forgiveness?

The instructions seemed clear: Forgive for the sake of forgiveness. Forgive not because there is a reason that you understand (for you may never understand My ways) nor because I deserve it (for the ways that I manifest are often terrible and frightening). Forgive solely out of love, so we can be close once again. Forgive because you, created in My image, are also a forgiver. I created you with that capacity so that always, no matter what happens in your life, you and I can be close, so that you and whomever you love, despite what transpires between you, can always reunite and begin again, clean and pure, ready for a new start.

The message and instructions were there and I began to hear through the prayers G-d speaking to me, reaching out for reconciliation, waiting for my forgiveness, providing instruction on how to forgive Him.

Again I remembered my friend's provocative e-mail. No, G-d was not crawling. But was He begging? Was He beseeching me for forgiveness and reconciliation? Was our unity more important to Him than any sin I had committed against Him or any pain He had inflicted upon me?

Still, I could not do it. Even seeing the extent to which He was reaching out to me, I was incapable of forgiveness. Though I wanted to forgive, on this day of truth, I saw that I could not. What He had done to me remained too terrible, too intentional to forgive.

As the closing Ne'ilah prayer approached, I was in despair. It all seemed hopeless. When I presented my case before my invisible set of internal of judges I carry with me, I was judged right, He guilty. He deserved my distance and rejection and I would stubbornly and righteously continue it.

As the sun began to set I felt completely alone. The loneliness was intolerable.

The feeling reminded me of times when I argue with my wife. We fight about some injustice or hurt that has occurred. I present my case before my internal judges and I am proven right. I withdraw in righteousness, punish her with rejection and distance. Sometimes it will last a few hours, sometimes a couple of days. But finally, the loneliness sets in. The distance becomes unbearable. The withdrawal demands an end. My desire for reconciliation and reunification overpowers any need to be right or to punish. And so, without needing to even speak about what it was we were fighting about, eventually we forgive each other so that we can be together again, loving again, carrying on our lives and relationship and family in good will and with a fresh start. We don't forgive because of any reason, nor out of our acceptance of each other's human pettiness or frailty or imperfection. We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite. Simply so we can be together again. So that things will be the way they should.
We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G-d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we -- G-d and I -- could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G-d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

I don't want anger and blame to ruin any moment of my life nor rend me from the unity with which G-d has created the world and that only I have the power to destroy.

Thankfully, G-d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

By Jay Litvin   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad's Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad's Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children.

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« Reply #138 on: September 26, 2009, 10:11:01 PM »

Shabbat as a Sanctuary in Time
The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals, the Jewish equivalent of sacred architecture.
By Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Judaism's particular genius is in consecrating time, in the view of one influential Jewish thinker. This theme, too, like many other concepts of Shabbat, has its roots in the Bible. Reprinted with permission from The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, published by Noonday Press.

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, quality-less, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the "essence of the Day," which, with man's repentance, atones for the sins of man.

Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances--the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year--depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year. It is, for example, the evening, morning, or afternoon that brings with it the call to prayer. The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days.

In a well-composed work of art an idea of outstanding importance is not introduced haphazardly, but, like a king at an official ceremony, it is presented at a moment and in a way that will bring to light its authority and leadership. In the Bible, words are employed with exquisite care, particularly those which, like pillars of fire, lead the way in the far-flung system of the biblical world of meaning.

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?

It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy." There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.

This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place--a holy mountain or a holy spring--whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.

When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time. When at Sinai the word of God was about to be voiced, a call for holiness in man was proclaimed: "Thou shalt be unto me a holy people." It was only after the people had succumbed to the temptation of worshipping a thing, a golden calf, that the erection of a Tabernacle, of holiness in space, was commanded. The sanctity of time came first, the sanctity of man came second, and the sanctity of space last. Time was hallowed by God; space, the Tabernacle, was consecrated by Moses.

While the festivals celebrate events that happened in time, the date of the month assigned for each festival in the calendar is determined by the life in nature. Passover and the Feast of Booths [Sukkot], for example, coincide with the full moon, and the date of all festivals is a day in the month, and the month is a reflection of what goes on periodically in the realm of nature, since the Jewish month begins with the new moon, with the reappearance of the lunar crescent in the evening sky. In contrast, the Sabbath is entirely independent of the month and unrelated to the moon. Its date is not determined by any event in nature, such as the new moon, but by the act of creation. Thus the essence of the Sabbath is completely detached from the world of space.

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Ph.D. (1907-1972), born in Warsaw and educated in Poland and Germany, was Professor of Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Among his books are Man Is Not Alone, God in Search of Man, The Earth is the Lord's, and Israel: Echo of Eternity.
« Reply #139 on: September 27, 2009, 07:40:00 AM »
« Reply #140 on: September 29, 2009, 07:04:44 AM »

This prayer is read in our synagoguge every year on Yom Kippur  and it is one of my favorites.

Confederate Soldier's Prayer

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for
- but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.
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« Reply #141 on: September 29, 2009, 08:38:55 AM »

« Reply #142 on: October 01, 2009, 09:39:53 PM »

Marc, I'm glad you liked the poem,

Choosing Happiness
by Judy Gruen

Make the joy of Sukkot a daily part of your life.

It's ironic that of all the Jewish holidays, only Sukkot is singled out as the "season of our happiness." Why not Passover, when we were finally freed from Egyptian bondage? Why not Purim, when Haman's genocidal plot against us was foiled? How can we be commanded to be happy on this holiday, especially when we are told to leave our comfortable homes and dwell in our sukkahs?

In fact, Sukkot reveals that we will never find true happiness in even the sturdiest material possessions, such as our homes. And we know from painful, tumultuous economic events how quickly material wealth can also disappear. During Sukkot, we celebrate the only "wealth" that is permanent: our spiritual connection and God and His abiding love for the Jewish people. It brings home the idea that happiness isn't about having; it's about our attitudes.

During Sukkot, the Almighty's Clouds of Glory protected the Jews during 40 long years of desert wanderings. These Clouds of Glory, and the manna that fed us, were tangible proof of God's care and protection. That up-close and personal connection between the Jewish people and God is the source of real, transcendent happiness, and we have a special opportunity to tap into it, even when sitting in a flimsy sukkah.

Is it possible to hold on to the happiness of Sukkot and make it part of our lives all year-round? Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., a happiness expert who teaches positive psychology and education at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya, Israel, believes we can.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Ben-Shahar excelled academically, athletically, and socially. Still, he wasn't happy. Given everything he had going for him, "it didn't make sense," he recalls. "I should have been happy, and I was baffled. I realized something was missing, and decided to look closely at my life." As part of his search for answers, Ben-Shahar switched majors from computer science to philosophy and psychology. In the process, he found not only the keys to happiness, but a career in helping others find it as well.

Ben-Shahar went on to earn a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard, and for four years taught one of the university's most popular elective courses, on positive psychology. As a professor at Harvard, Ben-Shahar found that today's students shared the same struggles he once did, and that being affluent and smart enough to attend one of the world's most prestigious universities was no guarantee of happiness.

"Happiness and unhappiness do not discriminate," he explains. "They are distributed evenly across society, age and economic sectors. But the United States leads the pack in terms of the pressure that is put on students to get high grades, to always think about the future. Adults in the work world face similar pressure. But with all this emphasis on the future, many people end up missing the present."

In addition to his courses, Ben-Shahar is the author, most recently, of The Pursuit of Perfect. Through his books and lectures, he shares what he has learned attaining the often elusive goal of happiness. Much of his advice runs counter to the vaunted values of American society, such as material success.

    "Additional pay and professional accolades don't make us happier. More quality time off to savor the joy we already have does."

"Working more hours may make us more money, but we'll pay the 'ultimate currency' if we do," he explains. "The fact is, additional pay and professional accolades don't make us happier. More quality time off to savor the joy we already have does. We all feel more time pressures today, and part of it is economic, but part of it involves the choices we make about how we spend our time."

Numerous studies on happiness have consistently confirmed many of the same happiness boosters, and Ben-Shahar notes that all of these are built in to the fabric of Jewish life. One of them is a day of rest. "We know that people who take a day of rest are happier and more productive than those who don't, because we have to 'recreate' if we want to create. This is not only a value but also a tool to success."

A second one is gratitude. "Research shows that people who express hakarat hatov, gratitude for what they have, are happier people and more generous as well," he observes. And from the moment a Jew wakes up, he or she has unlimited opportunities to express gratitude, from saying "modeh ani" upon arising from bed, to making a blessing after going to the bathroom for a healthy body, to blessings for food, and innumerable others included in daily prayers, even for "small" things such as being able to see and stand up straight.

Practicing rituals and having a sense of spirituality also make people happier, Ben-Shahar notes. "Going to a synagogue is valuable, as is spending time with family around the dinner table. Rituals are part of most happy people's lives."

Some philosophers in earlier generations wrongly predicted that science and technological innovation would become the new god. While it brought wealth, it didn't bring happiness for those who bought into the philosophy. "Viktor Frankel called living without God an 'existential vacuum,'" Ben-Shahar says, adding that secularists who like to point to Nietzsche's famous quote that "God is dead" completely misunderstand his meaning. "Nietzsche didn't say this with satisfaction, but with pathos. He realized that a life without God meant a deep existential emptiness for many." Rabbi Nachum Braverman, Executive Director of Jerusalem Partners and the author of The Bible for the Clueless but Curious -- A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Real People, observes that these undisputed ingredients for happiness: gratitude, community, observing a day of rest, and a spiritual basis, are all built on a framework for living that transcends the self. "Living only for yourself and about yourself is a cramped and diminished way to life," he explains. "That's why happiness is not a goal, it's a byproduct of living well. When it becomes a goal, it's just another form of egotism: it's all about me, and if that's the case, you can never find it. Jewish values and practice keep people focused on something broader than their own egos, and from living as impetuously as their emotions might dictate. Living in a community that gives context and offers meaningful relationships with people with shared values is a surer path to happiness."

    A happy life is not a pain-free life.

But a happy life is not a pain-free life, both teachers agree. "The only people who don't experience painful emotions are either dead or psychopaths," Ben-Shahar explains. "A full life has sadness, anger, envy, fear, and disappointment. If we don't give ourselves permission to experience painful emotions, they intensify, become toxic and they stick. When we let them flow through us, they weaken and dissipate."

Still, the experience of happiness is very subjective, in part because we choose how to respond to pain and disappointment. "I believe that people can make the best of things that do happen," Ben-Shahar notes. "Resilient people look for and create growth from difficult situations. You can choose to be devastated by events, or you can derive benefit from them."

Ultimately, Ben-Shahar says, happiness results from the innumerable choices we make, including choosing to feel gratitude even during hard times: "Do I focus on the fact I have my health and food on the table, or do I focus on the fact that I have to sell my Ferrari? Focus on the yesh versus the ain (what I have versus what I do not have)." There are few better opportunities for this kind of focus than during Sukkot, when we eat, and possibly even sleep, in little booths that are built for contemplation, not construction awards.

Rabbi Braverman adds that living a meaningful life helps us to cope with loss, even incomprehensible loss. "When the Mishna asks the famous question, 'Aizeh hu ashier?' (Who is wealthy?) it means that we have all been dealt a different portion in life, with individual tests and opportunities. When you stop fighting against your portion, you can realize it for the opportunity it is."

If you want to ensure that the joy of Sukkot lasts longer than your sukkah decorations, try some of Ben-Shahar's tools for happiness: start a gratitude journal, exercise, meditate, learn therapeutic cognitive techniques, simplify your life, set goals, identify your strengths and find your passion. Not enough? Here are more from his web site:

   1. Give yourself permission to be human. Accepting emotions -- such as fear, sadness, or anxiety -- as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions leads to frustration and unhappiness.


   2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. Make sure you have happiness boosters throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.


   3. Happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our financial or social status. Our well being is determined by how we choose to interpret external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

   4. Simplify! We are trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. We compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.


   5. Remember the mind-body connection. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.


   6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

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« Reply #143 on: October 02, 2009, 07:23:16 AM »

Rachel et al:

For some reason  wink the Creator seems to be putting messages about happiness in my path.  From your post, to a Dennis Prager talk CD I just shared with my son, to this:

"The natural state of man, the way G-d created us, is to be happy. Look at children and you will see."
« Reply #144 on: October 02, 2009, 05:56:14 PM »

A Sukkah of Peace
by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Finding serenity under the stars.

Warren Buffet says that we have gone through an economic Pearl Harbor. We've read about our ‘financial tsunami', ‘recession sized depression', and ‘crisis of a lifetime'. I glance at today's paper and the New York Times screams out at me: "Jobless, Sleepless, Hopeless".

"I am not married, my parents have passed away, so I am quite scared of what will happen if I do not land a job within the next couple of months...The thing I identified with most -- my work -- has left me feeling lost."

We have come to define ourselves through our jobs and our bank accounts and when that is diminished we feel ourselves diminished as well. We live in a society where we equate our possessions with our self worth.

The article goes on to say that the Rutgers University survey of the unemployed found most respondents lives corroded by despair.

77% say they are stressed.
68% are depressed.
61% feel helpless.
55% are angry.
54% feel hopeless.

We are living through most challenging times. If you're not worried then you surely know someone who is. Those who never had to think twice now bag their lunch and hold back on vacations, new clothing, and eating out. Debt collectors call about missed credit card payments and mortgages. Tuition bills loom as parents stay awake wondering how they will manage it all. We are witness to personal devastation and it is a frightening sight to behold.

Without Peace <

    Where can we possibly find peace?

There is yet another type of anguish that erodes the home. When couples live with strife, when we knock each other down through biting words or long silent treatments, fissures form in our marriage. This is one battle that never yields any winners. There are, sadly, only losers. Destructive emotions in our homes destroy all that is sacred and holy inside. The lights within begin to dim.

Dear Slovie, I am having a hard time falling asleep. My husband is not talking to me. He ignores me in front of our children or talks to me through them. We had a big fight, I don't even know about what anymore. I am so anxious. Help me.

It is more than just a job or a good night's sleep that we are seeking. We are seeking serenity. In Hebrew it's called ‘menuchat hanefesh' -- peace within our soul. But in this difficult world of ours where can we possibly find peace?

A Spiritual Embrace

How easy it would be to just give up and say, "It is what it is." But we Jews never give up. We never lose hope. Inside each and every one of us lies a flicker of a light; a spark that never dies. And as we kindle our Shabbat and holiday candles, we bring blessing and light into our lives even though it may feel as if we are living in the blackest of nights. Dawn brings its radiant glow only after the night seems long and unilluminated.

Bearing this faith we are now ready to enter the sukkah, dwelling under God's protection. The Torah tells us that for one week we are to leave our permanent homes and live in a temporary residence. We eat in the sukkah, we talk in the sukkah, we read in the sukkah, and some people even sleep in the sukkah. As comfortable as we may feel inside its walls, we never really forget that this sukkah-dwelling is only temporary. Now we get it! Our world here is only a temporary residence.

    Nothing lasts forever. We are simply visitors, just passing through.

Material security is left behind as we contemplate our spiritual security. The sukkah replaces our homes and we are struck with the thought that ‘all this' is transient. Nothing lasts forever. We are simply visitors, just passing through.

And all those things that we thought were so important? Those things we craved and thought we just can't live without? The giant flat screen TV, the leather sofa for our den, the must-have sweater and shoes? Guess what? They are not important anymore.

In this temporary residence, we are forced to ask these life changing questions: What have I devoted myself to? What can I never live without? What happens when I leave my possessions behind? What remains of me? I am forced to confront myself and ask: "Who am I?"

Am I not so much greater than the amount of money I earn or the type of car that I drive?

A New Yorker I know spent the summer in Jerusalem. She lived with a family in their tiny apartment, loving each and every moment. She studied Torah and immersed herself in Judaism for the very first time in her life. When she returned to her Madison Avenue apartment, she could not believe how much time she had been giving to thinking about the shade of her wood floors and grand kitchen renovation.

"What was I busy with? How much time did I devote to nonsense? Who needs all this? I was dedicating myself to my body while neglecting my soul."

Sitting in the sukkah under the stars, we realize that possessions and stuff do not bring peace. That life in this world is transient and we will never find serenity in that which is fleeting. We can understand that it's living with purpose that will bring us a sense of lasting peace.

What Really Counts

You're sitting in your sukkah surrounded by family and friends. As you look around, you realize the bottom line -- this is what counts in life. Here lies my legacy and all the rest just doesn't matter.

The fight that you had with your husband over taking out the garbage or the argument you had with your wife because she forgot to pick up your suit from the dry cleaners just isn't worth it. Why hurt the ones I love?

According to Jewish law, our sukkah must have at least three walls. It is as if God is wrapping his arm around you, welcoming you with His embrace. Come, step out of your home and all the anxiety that lies within. Never stop believing. Never give up hope. You are here for a reason. Think about your legacy, the purpose of your moments here on earth.

As we enter the sukkah, we offer a most beautiful prayer: "May it be your will, my God and God of my forefather's, that You cause Your Presence to reside amongst us; that You spread over us the sukkah of Your peace..."

Enter your sukkat shalom,'your sukkah of peace. Each day, as you sit inside its walls, take a moment. Look around. See the blessings that surround you. Define your mission; seek true purpose in your days.

We have all been given tools to fulfill our own personal mission. Not so that we may accumulate possessions or live for temporary pleasures. Our sukkah helps us focus on that which is everlasting; our spiritual goals. It helps us focus on the blessings and joy that lie right before our eyes. We can then realize a sense of serenity and peace that has long been elusive.

And when the holiday is over don't forget that you have been embraced in a place filled with God's presence. Hold onto your sukkah of peace and allow it to guide your journey throughout the year.

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« Reply #145 on: October 05, 2009, 08:39:30 PM »

Just Leave Home Without It
by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

A Sukkot perspective.

I hate packing. You never really know what to take, which bag to use, and how to stuff it all in. And you never get it right.

There is, however, one thing worse than packing -- packing to go home. Ugh.

And so, there I was engaging in my annual grim chore of 'closing up' the summer bungalow and packing to go home.

It's such a familiar scene. Valises and garbage bags strewn all over the cabin, the usual confusion between laundry just washed and laundry not yet washed, six or seven very lonely, widowed socks, and the occasional whine and whimper, "I just can't believe it's over!"

This year was no different -- except for one observation. I was tossing some shirts into my bag when I realized just how many of them I had actually never worn the entire summer. I remembered when I had brought them thinking how essential they would be.

"Can't leave this one home."
"Oh, this one is perfect for paddle ball in the scorching sun."
"I'll wear it to the pool."

As it turns out, I wore something else to the pool... and to the paddle ball court.

Next to my bag lay a small open box with a few books awaiting transport. I gingerly squeezed in a few more hardcovers and paused. Most of them would be returning as they arrived, untouched and undisturbed.

And then there's the ultimate experience of over-preparation -- the plane ride.

"It's a four hour flight? Finally, I'll get some work done. Folders, files, laptop, correspondence, editing, review, old statements, home renovation plans etc. That's good for the first hour. Then there's that fat, old novel that's been sleeping comfortably under my bed for six years, and oh -- my ethical will -- perfect time to sink my teeth into that. And with the time remaining I'll study the weekly Torah portion and recite a few dozen Psalms."

Need I reveal the truth of what I actually accomplish on that trip? I'm lucky if I return home not leaving the novel on the plane. But we are creatures of habit. I know the routine all too well, and I'll probably continue to plan... and to fail.

Which brings us to the trip we call life. The more serious among us utilize the final days and weeks of the year to pack our belongings for the journey into the New Year. What shall we take along and what shall we leave behind? Which actions, relationships, and thought processes are honestly essential to our growth and which habits are just getting in the way?

    Why are we still lugging around the same burdens and empty resolutions?

Some of us never 'find the time' to take this inventory -- how tragic. But those who do are often the creatures of habit. This year's list looks oddly familiar to last year's... and the year's before. Indeed, at year's end, when we unpack our suitcase, we find that so many of the contents have remained untouched. They are stale, dusty, and sadly, quite familiar.

We stare down at our luggage and shake our heads. We become despondent, frustrated, and downcast. What happened to all of our good intentions from last year? Why are we still lugging around the same burdens and empty resolutions?

The problem is that we don't know how to pack. Instead of just transferring our entire wardrobes from closet to suitcase, we need to carefully select just a few essentials that will realistically be utilized. When we plan to change everything, we often change nothing. In other words, if the luggage is overweight, a penalty is assessed. Everything needs to fit into your 'carry on.'

The Sukkot Solution

But God, of course, understands. He knows how we're wired. (After all, He wired us.) So He provides a solution. It's called Sukkot. The High Holy Days' Express has hardly come to a full stop when the Sukkot journey begins. He didn't have to make it that way. He could have waited a few weeks and then given us Sukkot. But no, He wanted to give us a chance to act on our resolutions immediately.

As most of us know, Sukkot is the time of year when we leave our sturdy, secure homes and transfer our dwelling to a structure that is insubstantial and frail. Many of us leave 6 or 7 room apartments or homes to spend significant time in huts that are no larger than 8' by 10'. We cast our ever-present need for protection to the heavens and demonstrate our belief in God by placing our bodies and souls in His purview and domain.

But no matter how physically elaborate our actual sukkah may be, there are obvious limitations on what we can bring along. We endeavor to create an atmosphere that is radiant and cozy -- but most of our comforts must be left behind. So we must choose carefully, weighing our decisions and defining what is truly indispensable.

    When we bring too much, most of the stuff never really gets used. And when we try to change too much, it just doesn't work.

We need to separate out the myriad gadgets that distract us and strip life down to the essentials.

It is an exercise that is designed to help us prioritize.

"Do we really need that stemware in the sukkah?"
"Will one sweater suffice? Which one?"
"Which chairs are best suited for a meal of two hours?"

Sukkot teaches us that unlike the American Express card, we must leave home without it. When we bring too much, most of the stuff never really gets used. And when we try to change too much, it just doesn't work. It is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

Most prudent is to choose wisely and realistically. Plan to complete one task, or perhaps, two and then feel really good about it. That great feeling of accomplishment gives us the fuel for future and greater journeys.

That is the beauty of Sukkot. We move out, but we don't take everything along.

Then we can sit in our smaller but simpler Sukkot, peer out between the delicate bamboos, see the vast heavens and bask in His love -- endless and supreme. We do so with the prayer that this year will be different. That we will truly tap into our potential.

Sukkot is coming. Just in time.

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« Reply #146 on: October 11, 2009, 10:25:29 PM »

From the Chassidic Masters
Broken and Whole
Why were the broken Tablets preseved in the Holy Ark?
By Tzvi Freeman

And there arose not since a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face; [who performed] all the signs and wonders which G-d sent [Moses] to do in the land of Egypt... [who equaled] that mighty hand, those great awesome things, which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel (closing verses of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

"That which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel" -- that his heart emboldened him to break the Tablets before their eyes, as it is written, "[I grabbed hold of the two Tablets and threw them from my two hands] and I broke them before your eyes." (Rashi's commentary on verse)

Which is Higher?

Which takes precedence, the Torah or the Jewish people? Are the people only here in order to fulfil the Torah? Or is the Torah only here to reveal the richness of the soul? Or are they an indivisible whole?

When Moses saw the people standing below reveling in their worship of a golden calf, two options lay before him. On the one hand, Torah; on the other, his people. But he could not have both. Because if his people would receive the Torah in the state to which they had descended, they would be destroyed.

Without hesitation, Moses threw down the tablets and saved his people.

Meaning that there is something about these people that is present even when they are committing the gravest sin. Something that makes them more valuable than even the Torah, than G-d's innermost wisdom.

It would seem, then, that the soul is greater than the Torah.

Yet, how do we know that this is so? How do we know the value of any human life? Only because the Torah tells us this story. Without the Torah, we would not know the greatness of the soul and of the people.

So we have two sides of the coin: The soul cannot realize its greatness without the Torah. And the Torah cannot be fathomed to its depths until it is shattered for the sake of the people.

Therefore, the ultimate Torah, as G-d truly wanted it to be received, could only enter once Moses had sacrificed it for his people. Only then came the Torah as it made room for forgiveness, for human input, for that which is beyond the letter of the law. The essential Torah, as it is one with the people who are receiving it.

Breaking Limits

Everything Man is given comes in a finite package. True, the Unknowable, the source of wisdom and blessing, is infinite. But we are not. So, we can only receive wisdom and blessing piece by piece, in parcel form.

Even the tablets Moses carried down from Mount Sinai were defined and bounded. There was a limited set of laws, no more and no less. If you obeyed them, you were good. If not, you were bad. And that was that.

And so, when G-d saw Moses mourning over the broken tablets, He told him, "You have done well by smashing the tablets. For now you will receive a Torah that you may extend wider than the sea."

With the second tablets came the ability for the human mind to extend the Torah within the framework of the Oral Law. As well, there came the possibility that a Jew could fail and yet restore his place with G-d.

So, too, with every failure. In truth, there is only one thing that can put you further ahead than success, and that is failure. When you are successful, you are whole and complete. That is wonderful, but with wholeness you cannot break out beyond your own universe.

When you fail, you are broken. You look at the pieces of yourself lying on the ground and say, "This is worthless. I must go beyond this."

Now you can escape. Now you can grow to join the Infinite. The shell is broken, the shell of a created being. Now you discover that G-d Himself was hidden inside. You discover the Infinite.

The Whole Torah

Why not remain broken? When broken, you can achieve the highest heights. When you are nothing, you can receive everything.

But you are not made only to receive. You must also face the real world and challenge its chutzpah over and over. To do that, you need supreme wholeness, as though you were Adam in the Garden before his fall. You need wholeness, as the second tablets were whole.

Once the people had achieved forgiveness and atonement for their failure, Moses was told to carve a second set of tablets. These were not the work of G-d, as the first ones. Rather, they were the achievement of human work. They were merited through the repentance of the people and the stubborn pleading of Moses. These remained whole.

Living a Paradox

Both the second, whole tablets and the original, broken ones were placed together in the Ark. So too, in the Ark of your heart lie two sets of tablets, one broken and one whole. After all, when you find the Infinite, where will you put it? In your broken vessel? It will not stay. In a new, whole one? It will not fit.

So you allow your heart to feel broken in bitterness for its confines. And yet it is whole in the joy of a boundless soul.

And if you should say, "But it is impossible! It is beyond the capacity of a created being to be both something and nothing at once."

You are right. It is impossible. That is precisely the advantage that Man holds over the angels: Only the human heart can be broken and whole at once. That is why G-d created you. To join heaven and earth. Nothingness and Being. To make the impossible real.

   By Tzvi Freeman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; rendered by Tzvi Freeman

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« Reply #147 on: October 14, 2009, 08:54:54 PM »

Off the Face of the Earth
by Peter Lane Taylor

The remarkable story of a group of Holocaust survivors who hid in one of the world's largest caves.

The night of October 12, 1942, when the Stermers finally ran for good, was moonless and unseasonably cold. The roads in and out of the town of Korolowka, deep in the farm country of western Ukraine, were empty of the cart traffic that had peaked during the fall harvest days. After a month of backbreaking work, most residents had already drifted off to sleep.

Zaida Stermer, his wife, Esther, and their six children dug up their last remaining possessions from behind their house, loaded their wagons with food and fuel, and, just before midnight, quietly fled into the darkness. Traveling with them were nearly two dozen neighbors and relatives, all fellow Jews who, like the Stermers, had so far survived a year under the German occupation of their homeland. Their destination, a large cave about five miles to the north, was their last hope of finding refuge from the Nazis’ intensifying roundups and mass executions of Ukrainian Jews.

The dirt track they rode on ended by a shallow sinkhole, where the Stermers and their neighbors unloaded their carts, descended the slope, and squeezed through the cave’s narrow entrance. In their first hours underground, the darkness around them must have seemed limitless. Navigating with only candles and lanterns, they would have had little depth perception and been able to see no more than a few feet. They made their way to a natural alcove not far from the entrance and huddled in the darkness. As the Stermers and the other families settled in for that first night beneath the cold, damp earth, there was little in their past to suggest that they were prepared for the ordeal ahead.
* * *

At the surface, Priest’s Grotto is little more than a weedy hole in the ground amid the endless wheat fields stretching across western Ukraine. A short distance away, a low stand of hardwoods withers in the heat and is the only sign of cover for miles around. With the exception of a shallow, 90-foot-wide depression in the flat ground, there’s nothing to indicate that one of the longest horizontal labyrinths in the world lies just underfoot.

On the afternoon of July 18, 2003, I am standing with Chris Nicola, a leading American caver, at the bottom of the sinkhole, sorting our gear. It has taken us four days, traveling by jet, train, and finally ox cart, to get here from New York City. Our guides, 46-year-old Sergey Yepephanov and 24-year-old Sasha Zimels, are standing next to the rusting three-foot-wide metal entrance pipe that leads underground.

I’ve come here to explore Priest’s Grotto for the first time. For Nicola, a 20-year veteran of major cave systems in the U.S. and Mexico, our expedition is the culmination of a journey that began in 1993, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, when he became one of the first Americans to explore Ukraine’s famous Gypsum Giant cave systems. His last excursion was here, to the cave known locally as Popowa Yama, or Priest’s Grotto, because of its location on land once owned by a parish priest.

    At 77 miles, Priest’s Grotto ranks as the tenth longest cave in the world.

At 77 miles, Priest’s Grotto is the second longest of the Gypsum Giants and currently ranks as the tenth longest cave in the world. Yet what Nicola found fascinating about the cave was located just minutes inside the entrance: Soon after they’d set out, his group passed two partially intact stone walls and other signs of habitation including several old shoes, buttons, and a hand-chiseled millstone. Nicola’s guides from the local caving association told him the campsite had already been there when their group first explored that portion of the cave in the early 1960’s.

“My guides called the site Khatki, or ‘cottage,’” Nicola, now 53, recalls. “They told me that it was settled by a group of local Jews who had fled to the cave during the Holocaust. But that’s where the story ended. No one else could remember what had actually happened there or even if the Jews had survived the war at all.”

Intrigued, Nicola began asking questions in the nearby towns. Western Ukraine is a region where the Gypsum Giants have long been revered as national landmarks and where uncomfortable memories of the Holocaust still linger. Some local villagers told him that, after the Russian troops pushed back the Germans in 1944, the survivors were seen stumbling back to town, covered in thick, yellow mud. Others said the Jews never saw daylight again.

On a later trip, Nicola learned more. “Rumors kept developing that at least three families did survive,” he says. But how had they lived in such an inhospitable environment, Nicola wondered, and where were they today? As a caver, he was awed by the courage and resourcefulness that such long-term survival underground must have demanded. And he was amazed that the story wasn’t better known, even among Holocaust experts.

Back home in Queens, New York, Nicola intensified his efforts to locate a Priest’s Grotto survivor. He added information about the story to his Web site on Ukrainian caves (, hoping that anyone searching the Internet for the topic would contact him. For four years he got no response. Then, one evening in December 2002, Nicola received an email from a man who said that his father-in-law was one of the original Priest’s Grotto survivors and was, in fact, living just a few miles away in the Bronx. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Nicola says, “I was afraid to even touch the print key in case I were to accidentally erase it.”

Seven months later we are standing outside the cave itself. Our two dozen duffels contain over 200 pounds of photographic and survey gear and enough supplies to remain underground for three days.
* * *

“My mother always said, ‘We are not going to the slaughterhouse.’ She said to my brother, Nissel, ‘Go to the forest, find a hole, anything.’ Thanks to him, we survived.”

    "‘Go to the forest, find a hole, anything.’ Thanks to him, we survived.”

Shulim Stermer leaned forward across the dining room table as he spoke, his eyes side through heavy prescription glasses. His brother Shlomo, their sister Yetta Katz, and his niece Pepkale Blitzer sat respectfully on either side of him, surrounded by Shulim and Shlomo’s wives and several children and grandchildren. At 84, Shulim is the oldest living survivor from Priest’s Grotto.

After Chris Nicola met that first Priest’s Grotto survivor, Solomon Wexler, in the Bronx, Wexler had introduced him to his Canadian cousins and fellow survivors, the Stermers. Throughout 2003, Chris and I made five trips to Montreal to interview the Stermer family. Over the course of several long conversations we learned that the facts of their story were even more extraordinary that the rumors. The Stermers and several other families had escaped the Holocaust by living in two separate caves for close to two years. The first was a tourist cave known as Verteba. Only later did their group -- which eventually swelled to 38 people -- discover and inhabit the then unexplored Priest’s Grotto, where they lived for 344 days. Though some of the survivors lost touch with each other in the years after the war, the Stermers, their in-laws the Dodyks, and Sol Wexler remained close. In all, we were able to make contact with six living survivors: the two Stermer brothers (Shulim, 84, and Shlomo, 74); their sister, Yetta, 78; their cousin, Sol Wexler, 74; and their nieces Shunkale, 70, and Pepkale, 65.

Shulim Stermer’s ninth-floor apartment was spacious and airy, with high ceilings and eight-foot plate glass windows running the length of the western wall. Hung on one wall was a large, striking photography of the six Stermer children with their parents, Esther and Zaida, taken a few years before World War II. On the dining room table lay one of their most precious family treasures: a memoir of their survival, originally written in Yiddish by their mother, Esther, and then privately published in English in 1975.

“My mother never trusted authority,” Shulim told us. “The Germans, the Russians, the Ukrainians. It didn’t matter. She taught us early on that no matter who it was, if they told you to do one thing, you always did the opposite. If the Germans said, ‘Go to the ghettos, you’ll be safe there,’ you went to the forest or the mountains. You went as far away from the ghettos as you could go.”

In the early 1930’s, Esther Stermer was the proud matriarch of one of the most well-regarded families in Korolowka. Her husband was a successful merchant. It was a rare time of opportunity for many Jews in Western Ukraine; Jewish cultural life and Zionist and socialist movements were thriving.

But with the rise of Nazi power in Germany, and increasing anti-Semitic violence at home, all that soon came to an end. In 1939 the Germans seized Czechoslovakia and then invaded Poland. Threatened by Hitler’s eastward advance, the Russians countered by invading western -- or Polish -- Ukraine. For a short time, a cynical non-aggression pact between the Germans and the Russians kept the region quiet even as the rest of Europe erupted in war. That shaky peace collapsed in June 1941, when Hitler’s armies stormed the border from Poland and rolled across Ukraine’s open plains toward Stalingrad and the oil fields of the Caspian Sea. Almost immediately, German Einsatzgruppen paramilitary units began roaming the country, executing Jews and others at will.

The Stermers’ town of Korolowka was officially declared judenfrei -- “free of Jews” -- in the summer of 1942, and the Germans stepped up their efforts to eliminate the Jewish population. During the holiday of Sukkot, the Gestapo encircled the town, forced the Jews to dig mass graves, and executed them dozens at a time. Though the Stermers and a few other families managed to escape, their fate seemed inevitable. No Jew would get out alive.

“Death stalked each step,” Esther wrote of that autumn. “But we were not surrendering to this fate.... Our family in particular would not let the Germans have their way easily. We had vigor, ingenuity, and determination to survive.... But where can we survive? Clearly, there was no place on Earth for us.”

    The true record for surviving underground was set by the women and children of Priest’s Grotto, who never ventured out of the cave during their entire 344-day ordeal.

The longest period of time a human is recorded to have survived underground is 205 days. The record was set in Texas’ Midnight Cave in 1972 by Frenchman Michel Siffre, as part of a NASA-sponsored experiment studying the effects of long-duration space-flight. Yet, in listening to the survivors, Chris Nicola and I had realized that the true record was set by the women and children of Priest’s Grotto, who never ventured out of the cave during their entire 344-day ordeal. Modern cavers require special clothing to ward off hypothermia, advanced technology for lighting and travel, and intensive instruction in ropes and navigation to survive underground for just a few days. How did 38 untrained, ill-equipped people survive for so long in such a hostile environment during history’s darkest era? That was the question our expedition had come some 7,000 miles to answer.
* * *

The Stermers’ first underground home, the tourist cave of Verteba, was a temporary refuge at best. At worst, it was a death trap. The cave had poor ventilation and no dependable water source. And the families would almost certainly be discovered when the snows melted in April and the local peasants (many of whom had welcomed the invading Germans) returned to their fields near the mouth of the cave.

“Our situation at that time was really, really bad,” recalled Shlomo Stermer, the younger brother. “We didn’t have any water, and we had to catch the rips that came off the walls in cups. We also couldn’t cook inside without choking on the smoke. We had no idea how we were going to survive.”

Much of the heavy labor fell to the Stermer men: the father, Shabsy – whom everyone called Zaida, or Grandpa – and his three sons, Nissel, age 25, Shulim, 22, and Shlomo, 13. Esther Stermer and her adult daughters Chana and Henia took charge of domestic chores with the help of Yetta, 17, the family’s youngest girl.

Before fleeing with their families to the cave, Zaida, Nissel, and Henia’s husband, Fishel Dodky, had received special permission to collect scrap metal under official protection from the local police. It was perilous, humiliating labor. But their ability to return to their houses, move freely in public, and buy supplies on the black market represented their families’ only lifeline. Week after week, they drove their wagons to the cave under cover of darkness through the deep snow. At the edge of the sinkhole, they descended the icy slopes carrying hundred-pound sacks of flour, potatoes, kerosene, and water on their backs, and then dragged them through the mud inside the cave. Through the winter of 1942-43, the families’ survival hung in a precarious balance between the secrecy of their location and the security of their supply lines. The men warned their families that the Germans were intensifying their hunt for Jews, and in February 1943 the group decided to move even deeper into the cave. They sealed themselves in a low, sickle-shaped room more than a thousand feet from daylight and began to search for a second, secret exit in case the Gestapo attempted to blockade them inside. The Stermer brothers discovered a small fracture in the ceiling of a nearby passage and feverishly began digging with picks and axes. Day after day, the men tunneled upward, finally breaking through to the surface after four weeks. It was the first time many of them had seen the sky in months.

Before returning underground, Shulim concealed their exit with earth and logs and suspended a long chain down to the cave’s floor below. If the Nazis discovered their refuge, his family could escape by climbing up the chain using small kick steps in the walls for support. After roughly 150 days of living in perpetual terror of being discovered, the Stermers and their neighbors finally began to feel they might have a chance of surviving.
* * *

Four weeks later, the Jews’ optimism was shattered by the sound of bootsteps and rattling guns. “The Germans are here!” someone suddenly yelled in Yiddish. “They’ve discovered us!”

    “The Germans are here!” someone suddenly yelled in Yiddish. “They’ve discovered us!”

Young Shlomo was sleeping closest to the entrance of the chamber and was caught helpless before he had the chance to run. In the glare of the Gestapo’s flashlights he could see that others had been captured, too. At the entrance to their refuge, Shlomo’s mother, Esther, was standing toe-to-toe with the Gestapo’s commanding officer. Shlomo could hear her speaking in German.

“Very well, so you have found us. What do you think?” Esther said. “Do you think that unless you kill us the Fuhrer will lose the war? Look at how we live here, like rats. All we want is to live, to survive the war years. Leave us here.”

Sixty years later, Shlomo rose out of his chair to imitate his mother as he quoted her. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!” he continued. “Here was my mother, in the middle of the war, standing up to the Germans!”

As Esther confronted the soldiers, stalling for time, the rest of her children and the other survivors slipped away into the dark maze of passageways branching off from the campsite. In the end, the Germans managed to seize just eight of the Jews and began to march them back to the cave’s entrance at gunpoint. Miraculously, six of the prisoners, including Esther, were able to escape and eventually return to their families. But Sol Wexler would soon learn that his mother and nine-year-old brother had been forced into an open grave and shot.

For those who remained inside the cave, the next three hours were spent in a state of terror and confusion. Few of the survivors had kept track of how far they had fled in the dark, and many ended up out of earshot of one another, lost without matches, candles, water, or any idea of how to find their way back to camp.

« Reply #148 on: October 14, 2009, 08:58:10 PM »

For the middle son, Shulim, in particular, the shock of being discovered was cataclysmic. When Esther finally found her way back to the encampment, she was horrified to see her middle son lying paralyzed at the bottom of the exit shaft he had dug just weeks earlier.

“I saw that all had climbed through the exit except Shulim, who was sitting on the ground trembling, head thrown back,” she wrote. “I ran to him, spoke to him, but he did not reply. His eyes were glazed, his teeth clenched and he was drooling at the mouth.”

Back in Montreal, Shulim grew quiet when we raised the topic of his breakdown.

    “I had a complete shock. It was a miracle that I even survived.”

“I was almost destroyed in the first cave,” he finally offered. “I had a complete shock. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t take a spoon and pick it up to my mouth. It was a miracle that I even survived.”

It was the worst possible time for Shulim to break down. No one else knew how to open the trap door at the top of the exit shaft. Shulim’s sister, Chana, and Sol Wexler were the first to reach the top, but they were unable to move the logs that locked the door in place. As the other survivors began to bottleneck near the surface, panic set in.

Finally, with one last effort, Sol and Chana succeeded in breaking through to the surface, and everyone rushed from the exit. Outside, the air was cold and wet, and many of the survivors began to shiver uncontrollably. To the north, they could see the Gestapo and their dogs running search grids around the sinkhole looking for a secret exit. Shulim was the last to leave, carried up the shaft on his brothers’ shoulders. Then the survivors slipped away through the grass and fled into the darkness.
* * *

Throughout the month of April 1943, the Jews lived like outlaws in their own community. The Stermers moved along the back roads at night between the boarded-up remains of their house in Korolowka and a hidden bunker in a barn.

Desperate to find a permanent refuge, the Stermers’ eldest son, Nissel, sought the counsel of his friend, Munko Lubudzin, a forester who lived in the woods near Korolowka. Though many Ukrainian Christians willingly participated in the Holocaust -- and the Ukrainian police actively collaborated with the Nazis -- Munko Lubudzin faithfully assisted the Stermers throughout the war. Munko told Nissel about a sinkhole a few miles outside of town, located in the fields of a local parish priest. At the surface, there was nothing remarkable about the place. Unlike at Verteba, there was little indication that the sinkhole might contain an entrance to a sizable cave. It was only a hole in the ground where farmers their dead livestock to rot.

Nissel knew there were several caves in the area that had a history of ancient human habitation. Based on this slim hope, Nissel and brother Shulim left Korolowka at first light on May 1, 1943, along with their friend, Karl Kurz, and two of the Dodyk brothers. The men raced through the fields north of town to the edge of the sinkhole. “When we came there, there was some nice, nice grass, like a golf course.” Shulim remembered, his voice rising excitedly. “And then you have a big ravine about 40 feet deep and water used to drip in.”

The men descended the loose dirt at the top using an open old rope, then clambered down the last 20 feet using logs as a makeshift ladder. At the bottom, the mud came up to their knees, and the stench of the rotting livestock made the men gag, but they could see a small opening, about the size of a fireplace. Nissel was the first to squeeze through. Inside, it was completely black, but by the dim light of their candles the men could see that they were in a small room surrounded by large boulders. “After that,” Shulim said, “the cave just kept on going.”

    “The cave just kept on going.”

Seventy-five feet farther on, the men crawled into a chamber so large that their candles could scarcely light the walls or the ceiling overhead. After their six months in Verteba, they were now experienced cave explorers. They pulled out a coil of rope, tied one end to a bounder, and began searching the network of passages for a suitable place for camp. Three hours later, disoriented and fatigued, Shulim dragged his foot over a small ledge, dislodging a stone, which rolled downhill and splashed into a clear underground lake. The men laughed for the first time in months: They had found a water source.

“By the time we went into the second cave, I think there was truly no place else that we could go,” Pepkale said. “It was judenfrei. Any Jew who was seen anywhere could have been shot by anybody. It was just a godsend that they found this place.”

Four days later, on May 5, the Stermers, their in-laws the Dodyks, and various other relatives and friends packed up their last supplies and fled to Priest’s Grotto. The group now numbered 38 in all. The oldest was a 75-year-old grandmother; the youngest included Esther’s four-year-old granddaughter Pepkale and a toddler. They descended the sinkhole one by one in silence, climbing hand over hand down the rocky faces and stepping on the slippery wet logs for support. At the bottom, the complete darkness inside the narrow entrance was terrifying, and the youngest children started to cry as they crawled through the opening. It would be the last time many of them would see the sky for nearly a year.
* * *

For their new home, the survivors chose a series of four interconnected rooms far to the left of the cave’s main passageways. Compared with the world they had left above them, the initial security of their new refuge must have seemed like heaven. For the smallest children, Priest’s Grotto was the first taste of real freedom they had ever experienced. “We would sing and play in the grotto,” Pepkale recalled back in Montreal. “It was the only I had ever felt safe.”

“Long ago,” Esther wrote of their refuge, “people believed that spirits and ghosts lived in ruins and in caves. Now we could see that there were none here. The devils and the evil spirits were on the outside, not in the grotto.”

It wasn’t long, however, before the Jews’ initial relief was overshadowed by the question of how they were going to survive. Drawing on the lessons of Verteba, the families found a ventilated chamber for their cooking fire, isolated their water sources, and constructed beds of wooden planks. Reestablishing their supply lines was their next urgent priority. The men had lost their scrap-metal exemption, and there was only enough kerosene, flour, and other supplies to last two weeks.

The three Stermer brothers made their first foray out of the cave accompanied by several other men. At the top of the sinkhole they sprinted through the high grass to the edge of the woods a thousand feet away, where they crouched down and waited. Overhead, a thin crescent moon lay hidden behind a dark skin of low clouds, and the wind blew across the plains with a persistent moan. From behind the trees, Nissel scanned the horizon to see if anyone had seen them come out of the sinkhole. But the landscape was quiet, a few smoldering buildings the only signs of life.

On Nissel’s cue, the men scattered into the woods and began to dismember 20 large trees, working frantically with axes and saws in almost total darkness. Half the men chopped off the branches and cut the trunks into five-foot lengths, while the others carried the logs back to the cave across the open fields.

“This was terrible danger,” Shulim exclaimed. “You hear listen. And you hear the cutting with the ax: ‘Pow! Boom! Bam!’ So much noise!” As he spoke, Shulim cut his hands through the air, a sense of defiance still lingering in his voice.

Their second covert mission took place a few days later. The men left the cave as a group and then split up at the edge of the sinkhole to secure food and other vital reserves for their own individual families. Nissel and Shulim sprinted west through the fields, staying near the trees for cover. It was a three-mile round-trip journey from Priest’s Grotto to their friend Munko Lubudzin’s house, where the brothers traded a few remaining valuables for cooking oil, detergent, matches and flour.

“When we got out, there was the Big Dipper,” Shulim told us when we asked how they kept time without watches. “The Big Dipper was like that” -- in the empty space in front of him, he circumscribed a wide arc with his arms across the table. “It was turning, turning, and when it was almost horizontal we knew it would soon be morning. We knew we had to get back.”

    The next day, the men slept for 20 uninterrupted hours.

When Nissel, Shulim, and the other men finally returned to the cave, they whispered a password to one of the younger boys, posted just inside of the entrance, who quickly dislodged a large boulder to let them back in.

The next day, the men slept for 20 uninterrupted hours, while Esther and her daughters piled the Stermers’ rations neatly upon shelves they’d built under their wooden bunks. In all, the men had secured enough supplies for another six weeks.

As Shulim finished his story, Yetta turned to face him. She had been watching her older brother intently while he spoke. “We wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for them!” she finally burst out through a surge of tears. “Every time we needed something, they brought the flour and potatoes so I could make the soup.”

Shulim smiled at his sister.

“Yetta made the best soup in the world,” he said softly.
« Reply #149 on: October 14, 2009, 08:58:55 PM »

As summer 1943 arrived, World War II raged across Europe more fiercely than ever. Poland’s remaining ghettos were liquidated and Jewish resistance crushed. All the while, the Stermers and their neighbors lived in a state of near-hibernation under the fields of Ukraine. The combination of the cave’s naturally high humidity and the moisture from their own respiration kept their tattered clothes constantly damp; even the slightest breeze could induce hypothermia. They slept for up to 22 hours at a time, lying side by side on their plank beds and rising only to eat, relieve themselves, or attend to other rudiments of staying alive.

    The combination of stress and sensory deprivation the Jews endured was almost without parallel.

Survival expert Kenneth Kamler, M.D., author of Surviving the Extremes, believes the combination of stress and sensory deprivation the Jews endured was almost without parallel. “Their experience was analogous to long-duration spaceflight. They had no day-night rhythm, and because of the lack of light, slept for extensive periods, but they could never relax.”

During their waking hours, the Stermers worked on improving their home, digging stairs and trenches to make walking easier. They limited their use of candles and lanterns to two or three brief periods each day, often working in complete darkness. The family obeyed a chain of command that began with Esther and extended down through her eldest sons with military precision. In explorer Ernest Shackleton’s account of his ship’s long imprisonment in the Antarctic sea ice, he stressed the importance of maintaining shipboard routines and adhering to a strict code of responsibilities. Esther’s memoir reveals a similar attitude toward discipline. “Inside our cave, each one of us did his assigned duties,” she writes. “We cooked, we washed, we made needed repairs. Cleanliness was of the utmost importance. Life in our grotto went on with its own normality.”

In early July, however, the survivors’ rising confidence was shattered by the sound of one of the Dodyk men screaming.

“The entrance to the cave is blocked!” he shouted, scrambling into Khatki. “We will die here of starvation!”

The other men jumped from their beds and crawled quickly to the entrance, discovering a wall of earth and boulders trapping them inside. From underground, it was impossible to know if some of the men had been spotted in the woods, or if a Gestapo patrol had followed their tracks to the entrance. Instead of storming the entrance, whoever it was had simply sealed them in.

The men found a narrow gap between two rocks a few feet from the blocked entrance and frantically started to dig for daylight. For the next three nights they tunneled upward, chiseling away at the stones at the loose fracture gradually turned toward the ceiling. On the fourth day, Nissel pried a large rock from the top of the shaft and felt the wind rush in from outside, carrying with it the warm, tangy aroma of a passing thunderstorm.

    A group of Ukrainian villagers had blocked the entrance to the cave.

The survivors later learned that a group of Ukrainian villagers had worked with picks and shovels until they filled the ravine and blocked the entrance to the cave. “Some of the Ukrainians helped us to survive,” Shulim said simply. “But some of them were very bad.”

With their refuge no longer a secret, the Jews stood steady guard with sickles and axes at the bottom of the entrance shaft and listened constantly for the sound of strange voices. It was impossible to know whether the Nazis or local police were planning to ambush the cave or if they had given its inhabitants up for dead.

Nissel and Shulim ventured even deeper into the cave’s labyrinths, looking desperately for a breach where they could begin digging for a secret exit. By this time the two oldest brothers were finely attuned to the state of sensory deprivation underground. They could walk for hours without tracing their steps, recognizing each passageway merely by feel. It took two weeks to find a suitable spot, and more weeks to tunnel through layers of rock, gravel, and clay. As they reached the 50-foot mark, however, the shaft started to collapse, showering the men with rock and debris. After two serious cave-ins, they gave up for good.

Though exhausted from their failed effort, the Jews could no longer put off restocking their supplies for another long winter. The plains of Ukraine yield an unimaginable bounty every September and October. Yet the risk of being caught above ground had never been greater. The lack of food over the summer had made the men weak, and during harvest the nearby fields were crowded with farmers and prowled by Nazi patrols.

“In the fall the farmers harvested potatoes and made big pile,” Shulim said. “Twelve of us went out with sacks and carried potatoes all night long. We would come up to a pile and say, ‘Good evening. Is anyone there?’ And if no one answered, we would get to work.” The men collected enough potatoes to last through the winter and hauled them to Priest’s Grotto, where the younger boys and women were waiting to drag them back to Khatki.
* * *

On November 10, 1943, the older Stermer men went to their friend, Semen Sawkie, who, like Munko Lubudzin, faithfully sold them food and fuel throughout the war. Sawkie sold them 250 pounds of desperately needed grain and helped them transport it to the woods near Priest’s Grotto in his wagon. Nissel then ventured to the cave entrance, where his youngest brother, Shlomo, was waiting to make sure all was clear. Soon the men were lugging the heavy sacks to the cave.

Unknown to them, the Ukrainian police had watched them approach and were preparing for an ambush. When Nissel and Shulim reached the edge of the sinkhole, they slipped down the entrance shaft and, with Shlomo’s help, began pulling the sacks into the cave from below. “But one of the sacks got stuck,” Shulim said suddenly, shoving his shoulder against an imaginary obstacle in front of him. “And the entrance was blocked. No one could get in our out.”

Then the men heard footsteps above them. “We’re all here,” the men in the cave said to themselves. “So who’s outside?”

    There was a barrage of bullets ricocheting into the cave’s narrow opening.

The next thing Shulim and Shlomo remember hearing was a barrage of bullets ricocheting into the cave’s narrow opening. The men took cover behind the boulders that had been used to blockade the entrance. Other than barring entry to the bottom of the shaft, the men were helpless against a full-scale assault.

But after the initial round of gunfire, the survivors never heard another shot. Local peasants who gathered around the grotto after the attack told the Ukrainian police that the Jews were armed and had secret exits all over the place, information that they believed to be true. Scared of what might await them at the bottom of the sinkhole, the officers didn’t attempt to enter but instead swept the fields looking for another way in. They found nothing.

“If that sack didn’t get stuck, we wouldn’t be here,” Shullim finally said. “It was one of many miracles.”
* * *

As the first snows began to fall across western Ukraine, the sinkhole drifted over, leaving no trace of the entrance. Underground, with enough food and fuel for more than two months, the men moved a massive boulder in front of the entry shaft and barricaded it with logs.

After seven months underground, the Jews’ fight for survival was becoming a war of attrition. Their meager diet of grain and soup lacked protein, calcium, and crucial vitamins, leaving them vulnerable to jaundice and scurvy. “I remember that I was always hungry,” the Stermers’ granddaughter, Pepkale, said. “I knew I mustn’t ask for more, but I used to say to my mother, ‘Couldn’t I have just a little bit more bread?’ But that was the ration for the day.” Many of the survivors would eventually dwindle to two-thirds their normal weight.

Yet, surrounded by family, the Stermers were able to draw on more than just physical courage and endurance to keep themselves alive. “We knew that our family would always be loyal to one another,” Pepkale said. “Even when things were at their words, you could always look around and see your sister, your mother, and the rest of your family. It helped us to remember what we were fighting for.”

Survival expert Kamler suggests that Pepkale’s view is more than sentiment. “The one thing that’s common to every survival story is the belief in something greater than yourself,” he says. “For the Jews hiding in the cave, it was their need to save their families. There’s no doubt that family was the number one factor in their survival.”
* * *

With only a few hours remaining until our planned rendezvous with our surface support team, Sergey appears in the entry room. During a two-hour soul, he’s rediscovered a chamber a half mile from Khatki that has graffiti written on the walls. Chris, Sasha, and I reach the room a few minutes later and find Sergey kneeling under a large crack between two sheets of bedrock. He rolls his face skyward, sending a curtain of soft orange light across the ceiling, where there are at least ten different inscriptions scrawled into the stone.

The first words Chris and I see are written in Ukrainian, some as recently as 2000. The others are the names of various local cavers who first explored this region of the cave some 40 years ago. When Chris first saw this chamber on one of his early trips, led by legendary Ukrainian caver Valery Rogozhnikov, these names were just graffiti. Now he sees something different. “My God,” I hear him whisper.

Directly above him, written in charcoal on the ceiling, are the words: “Stermer,” “Dodyk,” “K. Kurz,” “Salomon,” and “Wekselblad” – a name we knew was later anglicized to “Wexler.” Two feet farther down on the ceiling is the date “1943.”

The unique thing about caves, as compared with other environments, is the way history survives underground, almost as if in a vacuum. Above ground, buildings decay, memories fade, the past is gradually lost. But over our heads the five names look as bold as the day they’d been written: only a faint encrustation of tiny gypsum crystals – which grow continually on the cave walls – betrays the intervening six decades. Chris gazes at the names for a long while. After ten years of searching for the survivors, months of interviews, and three days of reconstructing the smallest details of their lives here in the cave, his mission is nearly complete.
* * *

As the winter of 1944 turned to spring, their friend, Munko, told the Stermer men that he could see bright, orange explosions over the eastern hills at night. Though it would be another year until the final collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich, the Russian front was quickly advancing west.

    The message in the bottle read simply: “The Germans are already gone.”

The survivors greeted the news of their potential liberation with a mixture of elation and dread. Overhead, the front passed back and forth over the entrance to the sinkhole in a volley of artillery and small-arms fire, but beneath dozens of feet of solid bedrock, the Jews had no way of knowing when it was safe to come out. One morning in early April, Shlomo approached the bottom of the entrance shaft and saw a small bottle in the mud. The message in the bottle, dropped by a peasant friend, read simply: “The Germans are already gone.”

For ten more days the Stermer and their neighbors waited for the chaos to subside; then, on April 12, 1944, they stashed their tools and supplies deep inside the cave and squeezed one by one through Priest’s Grotto’s narrow entrance. Heavy snow had fallen over the previous week, and ice-cold water flowed into the shaft from above, covering them with mud. Outside the entrance, the Jews scaled the steep banks of the sinkhole and rose to stand in the blinding sunshine for the first time in 344 days.

At first, they stood motionless, barely able to recognize one another in the brilliant light reflecting off the snow. Their faces were jaundiced and drawn, their clothes were tattered, and they were caked with thick, yellow mud. In the distance, the road to Korolowka was littered with burnt-out German tanks and machinery, but for Esther and her family, the sight of their war-torn homeland was one of the most beautiful things they had ever seen.

Sixty years later, in the soft afternoon light of the Stermers’ living room in Montreal, the survivors recounted their memories of their liberation with quiet awe. Shulim was silent for the first time all afternoon, and Shlomo said repeatedly, “It was a beautiful, beautiful day.”

“When we came out the sun must have been shining,” Pepkale said. At five years old, she had spent nearly a third of her life underground. “I told my mother, I said, ‘Close the candle! Turn out the light!’ I couldn’t believe it. I had forgotten completely what the sun was.”

Their town of Korolowka had been almost completely destroyed. Of the more than 14,000 Jews that lived in the region before World War II, barely 300 had survived. Even with the Germans gone, Ukraine remained a dangerous place. After surviving the Nazi Holocaust, both Zaida Stermer and Fishel Dodyk were killed that summer by local Ukrainians.

    Of the more than 14,000 Jews that lived in the region before World War II, barely 300 had survived.

The Stermers told no one about their underground refuge; who knew when they might need to take to it again? They abandoned Korolowka forever in June 1945, finally arriving at a displaced-persons camp in Fernwald, Germany, in November. They spent the next few weeks eating, showering, and sleeping securely for the first time in more than half a decade. Family photos from that period show the survivors dressed in tailored shirts and jackets and posing defiantly, as if nothing in the world could defeat them.

In 1947 the Stermers arrived in Canada. Nissel took up work as a butcher. Shulim found a factory job. Esther and her daughters became homemakers. The three brothers eventually found success in the construction business, drawing on many of the skills they had learned underground. Yet even among their closest friends, they talked little of their experiences.

Today, the Stermers’ survival saga continues to shape virtually everything about their lives. Some, like Pepkale, travel with small stashes of food to safeguard against the possibility of going hungry. Many of the survivors remain devoutly religious, both in spite of and because of their time underground.

As Chris and I prepared to leave, the Montreal skyline was going dark. Most of Shulim’s relatives were gone, and his apartment was still and quiet.

“When we get together like this and I see the grandchildren, and it’s an affair,” he said at the door, “I see the family and I see nice kids. And I say to myself, ‘It was worth the fight to survive.’ “

Click here to purchase "The Secrets of the Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story," by Peter Lane Taylor, with Chris Nicola

Photo credits: Peter Lane Taylor, copyright 2003

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