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« Reply #150 on: October 14, 2009, 09:02:12 PM »[/img]

« Reply #151 on: October 18, 2009, 06:18:10 PM »

 To See or Not To See
When your fellow is but a mirror of yourself, and when he's actually a window...
By Mendel Kalmenson

And Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and covered their father's nakedness; their faces were turned backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness—Genesis 9:20-24.

What's puzzling about this narrative is the seeming redundancy in its last verse: "Their faces were turned backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness." Isn't it obvious that – unless possessing eyes in the back of their heads – if "their faces were turned backward," "they saw not their father's nakedness"?

What you see in your fellow reflects nothing but what you yourself possessTaking into account the Torah's calculated use of words, we can only conclude that the apparent surplus of words is not, in fact, excessive, but is rather indicating something.
The Mirror

The holy Baal Shem Tov taught: "When you see ill in your friend, it is your own ill that you are observing." Like a mirror that reflects nothing but what you place before it, so too what you see in your fellow reflects nothing but what you yourself possess.

In different words: People tend to project their own issues, shortcomings, deficiencies, and insecurities onto others, seeing in them exactly what they should rightfully be seeing, and working on, in themselves.

Is it always the case that when you see a flaw in someone else it is actually your own flaw you are seeing? Must that always we so?

The basis for this idea is quite simple.

The principle of Divine Providence dictates that not only is one's every encounter orchestrated by G‑d, but that every encounter must benefit the one who experiences it. For if there was nothing in it for him, why would G‑d show it to him?

So, everything you comes across – whatever, wherever, whenever, however, and in whoever – is all part of an ongoing conversation between G‑d and you. Your questions can be answered, and difficulties resolved, simply by walking down the street, sitting in the subway, or strolling in the park.

That is, so long as you are listening.

It stands to say, then, that if you were brought by Heaven to spot a fault in someone else, surely it is G‑d's gentle way of telling you that it's time for you to look inward.

But why say it indirectly, through the revelation of someone else's faults? Why not just speak to you directly?

we are not good at accepting criticism. If we didn't see it in someone else, we could never see it in ourselvesUnfortunately, that wouldn't work too well, since we humans are naturally not good at accepting criticism. If we didn't see it in someone else, we could never see it in ourselves.
Friendly Rebuke

Before entering the Baal Shem Tov's "mirror principle" into my theological data base, one final challenge is left to be dealt with.

The principle's underlying premise is Divine providence. If it weren't relevant to me, G‑d wouldn't cause me to see it. But couldn't my seeing the lack in my friend simply be so that I can help him right his wrongs? Maybe that is why G‑d brought me to see his failing.

To be honest, the thought is comforting; not all of the bad which I see in others necessarily exists in me...

But that cannot be the case. For if, as I have suggested, at times the negativity I am shown in others is strictly so that I can set them straight, I wouldn't be seeing negative in them; I would see only the need to fix.

I wouldn't hear voices of judgment in my mind, but only a call for action.
Mirror or Window

Imagine you saw someone walk right past a sign that says in bold letters: Danger – Don't Pass Beyond This Point. To the horror of everyone watching, the fellow loses his balance on some loose rocks, and begins to fall down a steep slope.

In those critical moments, when something might still be done to save him, would you busy yourself with thoughts of how big an idiot the guy must be?

Didn't he see the sign? Did he think he was smarter than the experts who put it up? Does he think he's superman?…

Or would you spring to action in the hope of saving a life?

If you see your fellow as a defendant on trial, it is you who is being triedThese different reactions and attitudes accurately indicate whether or not what you see in others is a reflection of yourself.

If you find yourself judging, it is you who deserves to be judged. If you see your fellow as a defendant on trial, it is you who is being tried. Your friend is no more than a mirror—providing you with an objective view of yourself. In fact, he is deserving of your gratitude, for without him you would remain unacquainted with parts of yourself.

If however, you saw this individual as a casualty in need, as someone you can help, you are looking at a window, not a mirror; a window of opportunity, transparent like glass.

    And Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.

There was no question that Noah messed up.

There was also no question that Noah needed help.

    And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

Ham chose to judge… and to report.

He didn't choose to act.

To him, Noah served as a crystal clear mirror.

    They didn't see – i.e., contemplate – the fact that their father was nakedAnd Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and covered their father's nakedness.

Shem and Japheth chose to act.

    Their faces were turned backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.

They didn't judge. They didn't see – i.e., contemplate – the fact that their father was naked.

To them Noah was a window.1

Adapted from a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 10 pg. 24-29.

By Mendel Kalmenson   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson has traveled Europe, Asia and South America, reaching out to Jews in the remotest areas. He now resides with his wife in Brooklyn, New York, where he is studying at the Chabad Kollel.

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« Reply #152 on: October 19, 2009, 07:45:56 PM »

The First Commandment
By Yanki Tauber

Billions of people have heard of the Ten Commandments, and many of them can name at least three or four; in fact, there must be a good few million who can list all ten, in order. Less common, however, is the knowledge that this 10-point encapsulation of G-d's message to man reads in two directions: from top to bottom, and from side to side.

What do I mean? The Ten Commandments were given to Moses engraved on two stone tablets -- five commandments on each stone -- like this:

1) I am the L-rd your G-d...

2) You shall have no other gods...

3) Do not take G-d's name in vain...

4) Remember the Shabbat...

5) Honor your father and your mother...

6) Do not kill

7) Do not commit adultery

8 ) Do not steal

9) Do not bear false witness...

10) Do not covet... anything of your fellow's

Why on two tablets? And why are the first five Commandments on one stone and the second five on the other? (5/5 may seem an even division, but it's really not: the first five Commandments total 146 words in the original Hebrew, the second five 26.) One of the reasons given by our sages is that the five latter Commandments are actually a reiteration of the first five. In other words, we're supposed to place these two tablets side by side and read across, like this:

1) I am the L-rd your G-d / Do not kill

2) You shall have no other gods / Do not commit adultery

3) Do not take G-d's name in vain / Do not steal

4) Remember the Shabbat / Do not bear false witness

5) Honor your father and your mother / Do not covet anything of your fellow's

This means that, in essence, there are only five Commandments. "Do not kill" is another way of saying "I am the L-rd your G-d"; the prohibition against adultery is the prohibition against idolatry; keeping Shabbat means being a truthful witness; and so on.

The Midrash explains the correlations of each of these five sets, but we're running out of space so we'll just look at the connection between Commandments #1 and #6. Why is "Do not kill" the flip side of "I am the L-rd your G-d"? Because, say the Sages, to murder a fellow man is to murder G-d:

    What is this analogous to? To a king of flesh and blood who entered a country and put up portraits of himself, and made statues of himself, and minted coins with his image. After a while, the people of the country overturned his portraits, broke his statues and invalidated his coins, thereby reducing the image of the king. So, too, one who sheds blood reduces the image of the King, as it is written (Genesis 9:6): "One who spills a man's blood... for in the image of G-d He made man."

Now there are murderers who say they believe in G-d. And there are people who are dead-set against murder who claim not to believe in a higher power. They're both wrong.

If you truly believe in G-d, you are incapable of murder. And if you truly believe that taking the life of another human is wrong -- not just because you lack the means or motive to do so or are afraid of ending up in jail, but because you recognize the transcendent, inviolable value of life -- that's just another way of saying you believe in G-d. Even if you're not one of those religious types who put it in those terms.

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

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Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #153 on: October 20, 2009, 07:45:50 AM »

Hi Rachel:

As always, a good post.

I would quibble however with the translation "Thou shalt not kill".  The Torah is full of approved killing-- perhaps the better translation is "Thou shalt not murder"?
« Reply #154 on: October 20, 2009, 07:50:47 PM »

Thank you,
My Hebrew is not good enough to handle the translation issues and philosophical differences of what is murder and what is killing. However I definitly agree with  your deeper poiint and here is an article by the same Rabbi that speaks to the issue.
Jew's Double Standard

By Yanki Tauber

A time to kill, a time to heal
A time for war, a time for peace
Ecclesiastes 3:3,8

Double standards are supposedly unethical. Yet Judaism -- the ethos contained in the Bible and expounded by the sages of Israel -- abounds with double standards. In fact, these double standards are at the heart of how we live and what we have taught the world -- and at the heart of what makes an ethical person.

One example of an ethical double standard is the different ways in which we regard tragedy, depending on who is the victim. When something bad happens to myself, the Torah tells me to trust in G-d's help, justify His ways, and examine my ways for what I might have done wrong so that I may learn a lesson from what occurred. Which are precisely the things I'm not supposed to do regarding someone else's troubles. (See When Bad Things Happen.)

Another Jewish double standard -- also relating to a difference in how we treat ourselves and how we treat others -- is the potential/actuality question. Briefly stated, we're supposed to judge ourselves by what we've actually achieved, and judge others by what they're capable of achieving. (For more on this, see this essay.)

But perhaps the most fascinating -- and important -- double standard in Judaism is in the way we apply the Divine commandment "Do not kill."

Much has been written on the infinite value that the Torah places on every individual life. After the concept of monotheism (from which it derives), this is the most revolutionary idea which the Jew has introduced to mankind -- "revolutionary" in the sense that it flies in the face of everything everyone previously believed (as indeed in the face of common sense), and "revolutionary" in the way it has transformed the face of civilized society.

Placing an infinite value on every human life means an utter rejection of any "scale" by which to quantify and qualify its worth. A retarded baby's life has the same value as that of the wisest person on earth. An 80-year-old "vegetable" cannot be sacrificed to save the life of a 20-year-old genius. The Talmud tells the story of a man who was threatened by the hoodlum that ran his city that he'd be killed unless he kills a certain person. The great sage Rava told this man: "What makes you think that your blood is redder than that person's blood?"

Torah law goes so far as to rule that an entire city cannot be saved by giving up a single individual. Because each and every life is of Divine -- and therefore infinite -- significance. Ten thousand infinities aren't any "more" than one infinity.

(For further discussion of this principle see: The Sacred and the Good, What's So Terrible About Idolatry, The Practical Implications of Infinity, and The First Commandment.)

In light of the above, it is surprising to find the following law in the Torah (derived from Deuteronomy 22:26): Habah l'hargecha hashkem l'hargo -- "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first." (This law applies equally to someone coming to kill someone else -- you're obligated to kill the murderer in order to save his intended victim.)

This law seems to contradict the principle of life's infinite value. If no life can be deemed less valuable that any other, what makes the victim's life more valuable than the murderer's life? Furthermore, this rule applies to anyone who is "coming to kill you" -- he hasn't even done anything yet! Maybe he won't succeed? Maybe he'll change his mind? Nor does the law say anything about trying to run away. It says: If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.

The same Torah that tells us that G-d placed a spark of Himself in every human being, thereby bestowing upon his or her physical existence a G-dly, infinite worth -- that same Torah also tells us that G-d has granted free choice to every person. Including the choice -- and the power -- to corrupt his or her G-d-given vitality and turn it against itself, using it to destroy life. A person can choose to turn himself into a murderer -- someone who is prepared to destroy life in order to achieve his aims. In which case he is no longer a life, but an anti-life.

To kill an anti-life is not a life-destroying act, it is a life-preserving act. It is not a violation of the commandment "Do not kill," but its affirmation. Without the law, "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first," the principle of life's infinite value is nothing more than an empty slogan, a mere idea.

Judaism is not an idea. It is a way of life -- G-d's ideas made real.

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

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« Reply #155 on: October 21, 2009, 06:27:29 PM »

The Jealous Lover
By Yanki Tauber

G-d talks to us in many voices: benevolent, authoritative, wrathful, romantic. Romantic? Just read Isaiah 54, or Song of Songs. Or listen to Him reminisce on our honeymoon: "I remember the kindness of your youth, your bridal love, following after me in the desert, in an unsown land..." (Jeremiah 2:1).

And like a jealous lover, He insists that ours be a monogamous relationship. Indeed, our sages regard the Seventh Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" as the extension and mirror-image of the Second Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me." (According to the Midrash, the first five Commandments correspond to the second five -- see last week's Comment.) We're married to each other, G-d is saying; the loyalty I expect from you is no less than that which you expect from your spouse.

Conversely, G-d is also saying: human love is divine. Love between a man and a woman will attain its most glorious heights and richest depths only when it is true to its divine essence -- when their place in each other's hearts and lives is as unequivocal as the Creator's place in His creation. When they can no more betray each other than a man can betray his G-d.
« Reply #156 on: October 22, 2009, 08:19:38 PM »

Short and sweet and insightful.
The Creator

« Reply #157 on: October 23, 2009, 07:06:47 AM »
Tom's House and Harry's Car

By Yanki Tauber

Chassidim like to tell the story about a certain individual who was flippant with his financial obligations. It reached the point that his debtors felt they had no recourse but to inform their rebbe of the situation. The Chassidic sage summoned the man and asked him: "Is it true what they tell me -- that you borrow money and don't repay, that you buy on credit and then evade payment?"

"But Rebbe!" exclaimed the chassid. "Haven't you taught us that the world is nothing, material cares are nothing, money is nothing? Why are they making a fuss about a few rubles? It's all nothing!"

"In that case," said the rebbe, "how about if we take this 'nothing' " -- and here the rebbe pointed to the body of the spiritual fellow -- "and we stretch it out upon this 'nothing' (the table), and with this 'nothing' (his belt) administer a dozen lashes to the first 'nothing'?"

Behind this humorous story lies a serious question. If, as the Psalmist proclaims, "The world, and all it contains, is G-d's," is there, in fact, such a thing as "theft"? Can something that does not, in truth, belong to you, be taken from you?

Of course, G-d said "You shall not steal." Those are the rules of the game. But maybe that's what it is -- a game. G-d is saying: "Let's make believe that this house belongs to Tom. And let's make believe that this car belongs to Harry. Now, Harry, you mustn't burn down 'Tom's house.' And Tom, you're not allowed to use 'Harry's car' without his permission." Is that what it amounts to?

According to the Midrash, the Third Commandment, "You shall not take G-d's name in vain," and the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not steal," are one and the same. Indeed, the Torah (in Leviticus 5:20) refers to financial fraud as "a betrayal of G-d." "Because," explains the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva, "in defrauding his fellow, he is defrauding the Third Party to their dealings."

On the face of it, this can be understood along the lines of our "rules of the game" thesis. The problem with stealing is not that a certain person's "ownership" has been violated (since everything belongs to G-d anyway), but that the divine command "You shall not steal" has been transgressed.

But if that were the case, asks the Lubavitcher Rebbe, why does Rabbi Akiva describe G-d as "the Third Party to their dealings"? Isn't He the only party? Aren't we saying that it's G-d's car that's been stolen, and the fact that He chose to register it in Harry's name is basically irrelevant?

But Rabbi Akiva is being consistent. Remember the verse "The world, and all it contains, is G-d's"? Rabbi Akiva, quoting this verse in the Talmud, interprets it to be saying, "He acquired, and bequeathed, and rules His world." What does this mean? Isn't it G-d's world because He created it? And if He "bequeathed" it, than it's not His anymore!

What Rabbi Akiva is saying, explains the Rebbe, is this: Obviously, it's His because He created it. But then He desired to make it His in a deeper and more meaningful way -- by bequeathing it to man.

To own a world because you made it is basically meaningless. In human terms, that's like dreaming up a life and trying to derive satisfaction from your own fantasy. For something to be real for us, it has to have existence outside of ourselves. To derive pleasure from something, we have to share its existence with others.

G-d desired to derive pleasure from His world. That's why He gave it to us, and asked us to share it with Him.

That's why He said: "Tom, this is your house. I mean it -- it is really and truly yours. Now this is what I would like you to do with it. I want you to put mezuzot -- little scrolls inscribed with the main points of your relationship with Me -- on its doorposts. I want its kitchen to be kosher. I want it to be a place that shelters a moral family life, a place in which hospitality is extended to the needy, a place where My Torah is studied.

"Of course, I could just put you in this house and tell you to do all this, without really giving it to you. But then you'd be doing all these things mechanically, like a robot. Deep down, you would sense that it's not really your home, that the things you're doing are not really your achievement. And then it wouldn't ever be truly My home, either. It would just be something I made up.

"That's why I gave it to you. You sense it to be yours because it really is. You experience what you make of it to be your own achievement because it really is. And when you choose, with the free will that I have granted you, to invite Me into your home and make Me at home in it, it will become truly mine, too, in the manner that I desire it to be mine.

"And please, don't steal Harry's car. Because I have a stake in every financial transaction that occurs between the two of you. When you deprive Harry of the ownership that I have given him over his piece of My world, you are depriving Me as well. You are making My ownership of My world all but meaningless."

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

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« Reply #158 on: October 24, 2009, 09:19:56 PM »
Why Don't You Spell Out G-d's Name?

By Aron Moss

As you know, I'm not a "believer." I am a logical person -- I only believe in things that can be logically proven. But I was just interested: Why do you always write "G-d"?


We do not write G-d's name in a place where it may be discarded or erased. Treating G-d's name with reverence is a way to give respect to G-d. So even though on a computer the name is not really being erased (and perhaps is not really there in the first place), and "G-d" is only an English term used to translate G-d's holy name, it is in keeping with this respect that I write "G-d" in my emails and on-line articles.

This causes problems. No matter how many times I write "G-d", the spell-check on the computer has no idea what I mean. "G-d" is not in its dictionary, and it won't accept it as an addition to the dictionary. So the computer comes up with all types of suggested corrections: Go, Do, G'day. And often half the name ends up on a new line: G-

I guess I shouldn't expect any better. No matter how smart a computer is, certain things are beyond it. How would you program a computer to have respect for G-d's name? It is unreasonable to ask a computer to relate to G-d, because G-d is not a logical concept -- He created intellect, and He cannot be captured by His own creation. A computer is limited to logic, so it can't handle spiritual concepts. Just as a metal-detector will beep when a gun is passed through it, but it cannot pick up a person's thoughts or intentions, intellect can grasp logic and rationale, but it cannot detect the Divine.

But a human is not a computer. Intellect is not where we begin and end. We have a soul that is beyond intellect, and our soul detects G-d because our soul sees G-d.

Jewish faith is about getting in touch with the soul that knows G-d already, without needing any proof. This is not negating intellect -- it is transcending it.

How do you get in touch with your soul? Ask G-d. He'll tell you.

By Aron Moss   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Aron Moss teaches Kabbalah, Talmud and practical Judaism in Sydney, Australia and is a frequent contributor to

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prentice crawford
« Reply #159 on: October 24, 2009, 11:27:08 PM »

 Unlike the computer, I assume God recognizes the reverence or irreverence of the persons heart and not how electrons are arranged on the screen. So if it's god or GOD or G-D or g-d or the B.G.U. (big guy upstairs), I don't think it matters a bit.
« Reply #160 on: October 25, 2009, 06:16:47 AM »


I was providing an explanation of my behavior not an attempt to change yours or anyone else's  behavior.  I don't find your spelling out the name of the Big Guy Upstairs at all disrespectful.
« Reply #161 on: October 25, 2009, 09:27:03 AM »
Life on the Witness Stand

By Yanki Tauber

What exactly are we doing here? Without doubt, this is one of the most urgent questions pondered by the human mind through the ages. All sorts of answers have been suggested by generations of philosophers, mystics and cab drivers. The founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, is said to have offered the following:

    G-d transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.

In other words, the universe originated as a concept in the divine mind, which G-d proceeded to transform into a physical world. Our task and role is to take this physical world and turn it back into a divine idea.

This explains the numerous references to man in the writings of the Sages as "G-d's partner in creation." Being a "partner" implies an equality that seems hard to justify in this case: whatever it is we accomplish in this world is hardly on par with the monumental fact that Someone first had to make the thing! But if we go with the Baal Shem Tov's formula, we indeed have a symmetry of roles: a) transforming spirituality into physicality; b) transforming physicality into spirituality.

In fact, the Talmud claims that ours is the greater achievement. Giving physical form to a spiritual concept is no small task, but transforming a piece of wood, stone or flesh into a spiritual idea is, by far, the more difficult endeavor (see Ketuboth 5a; in Taanit 5a, the Talmud illustrates this point with a story about a golden table leg filched from heaven).

What exactly do we do? We do mitzvot. Doing a mitzvah means taking a particular physical object or resource and using it to perform an action willed by G-d. A mitzvah announces to the world: "The universe is not a mass of matter, but G-dly light. These are not 'things' -- they are divine desires."

So is that what life is about, making announcements? Indeed it is. Because when brute matter starts making announcements -- when it begins to convey something, express something divine -- it ceases to be brute matter. It becomes spirit.

Every mitzvah announces this truth to the world; every mitzvah transforms matter into spirit. But there is one mitzvah which the Talmud singles out as the epitome of our "partnership with G-d in creation" -- the mitzvah of observing the Shabbat.

Observing the Shabbat means that for seven days a week our lives articulate the story of creation. G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; when the Jew applies his or her creative energies to the world for six days and rests on the seventh, s/he becomes the very embodiment of G-d's ongoing creative involvement with His creation. S/he proclaims (with his or her mouth when reciting the kiddush, and with every other organ, limb and faculty that works during the first six days of the week and rests on Shabbat): "G-d did not make a world and just leave it there, a pile of matter floating through space. The work of creation -- His and ours -- is perpetual. It goes on and on, week after week after week. Every moment of time, G-d condenses spirit into matter. And every moment of time, we distill matter into spirit."

At Sinai, the 613 mitzvot were synopsized as Ten Commandments inscribed upon two "Tablets of Testimony" -- five on the first tablet and five on the second. Why on two tablets? The Midrash explains that this is to emphasize that the sixth commandment is an extension of the first, the seventh mirrors the second, and so on. (See our previous articles, The First Commandment, The Jealous Lover and Tom's House and Harry's Car.)

Thus Ninth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your fellow", is the correlate of the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it." In the words of the Midrash:

    This is to say that one who violates the Shabbat testifies before He who spoke the world into being that He did not create his world in six days and He did not rest on the seventh; and that one who keeps the Shabbat testifies before He who spoke the world into being that He created His world in six days and He rested on the seventh. As it is written (Isaiah 43:10): "You are My testifiers, says the L-rd."
« Reply #162 on: October 26, 2009, 08:37:49 AM »
« Reply #163 on: October 27, 2009, 08:35:21 PM »

A Blurry Line
By Yanki Tauber

For several weeks now, we've been looking at the Ten Commandments -- specifically, the correlation between the first five, inscribed on one tablet, and the second five, inscribed on the second tablet. We have seen how the Sixth Commandment, "Do not kill" is in fact just another way of saying "I am the L-rd your G-d"; how the 7th mirrors the 2nd, that the 8th is rooted in the 3rd, and so on.

Which brings us to commandments 5 and 10. What is the connection between them? This is what the Midrash says:

    It is written, "Honor your father and your mother", and corresponding to that it is written, "You shall not covet." This is to teach us that a person who covets will end up fathering a son who curses his father and mother, and who honors one who is not his [true] father.

In the first four sets of commandments, we have seen that the connection runs deep -- to the extent that the two commandments in each "set" may be regarded as two expressions of the very same principle. I am therefore convinced that a similar connection is implicit in the above-quoted words from the Midrash, though I have yet to uncover it. (If any of our readers has any thoughts on the matter, I'd appreciate hearing from you).

In the meanwhile, let us discuss some parallels that can be discerned from the sayings of the sages and Chassidic masters on these two commandments.

As a rule, the five commandments on the first tablet speak of matters 'between man and G-d", while the second tablets governs the relationship "between man and man." The 5th and 10th commandments, however, seem exceptions to this rule.

"Honor your father and your mother" seems a purely social law. As for the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet your fellow's house... You shall not covet your fellow's wife", this does not speak of the case in which action is taken as a result of the coveter's desire -- that would be a transgression of the 8th commandment ("You shall not steal") or the 7th ("You shall not commit adultery"). So it is not at all apparent that anything adverse has been done to the "fellow" in question. In fact, I know some homeowners for whom a primary objective in building their home was that it should be coveted by their neighbors. Desiring what does not belong to you seems more a sin against G-d (showing dissatisfaction with what He has allotted to you) or against yourself (souring the blessings of life with misguided strivings) than against a fellow human being.

Perhaps, then, "Honor your father" really belongs on the second tablet, and "You shall not covet" ought to have been inscribed on the first?

There are two Chassidic teachings which, I believe, shed some light on these two "misplaced" commandments.

The ancient philosophers formulated a rule that "a finite thing cannot possess an infinite quality." But the Chassidic masters point out that the human being (on the face of it, a finite thing) violates this rule by possessing the infinite power of procreation -- the power to give birth to children, who in turn will give birth to children, ad infinitum. (The finiteness of the physical universe in time and space may impose external limits, but the potential itself is infinite). It is for this reason that a marriage is referred to as an "eternal edifice" and the matrimonial union is considered the most divine of human endeavors.

The second Chassidic teaching concerns the power of thought. The physical plane on which we interact with each other -- say the Chassidic masters -- is but the most external layer of reality, behind which lies a succession of deeper, spiritual selves, on which we also affect and are affected by the doings of our fellow souls. What we say and even think about each other has a profound effect -- even if it never leads to action, and even if the one who is spoken or thought about remains unaware of what his fellow has thought or spoken about him. (A famous story illustrating this truth is told of Chassidism's founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.)

In other words, honoring your father and mother means honoring the divine in man (which is what makes them your father and mother), and refraining from coveting, if only in unexpressed thought, what is rightfully your fellow's means acknowledging that your relationship with him or her extends beyond the visible, physical plain, to envelop your spiritual self and soul.

So while the two tablets delineate the respective realms of the human and the divine, the concluding commandment on each tablet demonstrates that the line between them is far less sharp and rigid than we may believe.

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« Reply #164 on: October 27, 2009, 08:37:23 PM »

Abusive Mother
by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

How far does honoring parents go?

Dear Rebbetzin Twerski,

One of my closest friends, let's call her Sarah, has a very difficult mother who lives with her. Her mother is abusive, verbally and sometimes does physically (like throwing kitchen stuff). Sarah's mother is now in her 80’s and has had illnesses. Sarah has always cooperated with the doctors and arranged everything for her mother. She cooks , does laundry, takes her mother to the doctor, changes her bed sheets etc., but the mother sometimes calls the food “dog food,” blames Sarah for her father's death and says that she wishes she had never given birth to her. The mother tells people horrible things about her. Sarah hears her on the phone saying things about her.

Sarah's spouse is ill and the mother often stares at the spouse and makes fun of the person. It’s a terrible mess. This abuse has been going on since Sarah was young, and she has always been praying to God to help fix things with her mother.

I have begged Sarah to ask her mother to move out of the house, but the mother just asks for money to move and refuses to go. It's very hard on her to deal with this on a daily basis, but she wants to do the right thing and still look after her mother. According to Jewish law, is Sarah required to put up with this?

Thanks in advance for your help and suggestions.

Dear Reader:

For starters, your friend is fortunate that in the midst of the trials and tribulations of so difficult a life, she has a person like you who is concerned and cares so deeply about her.

Having said that, it must be pointed out that the question posed here is not one articulated by Sarah; it comes from you, a devoted friend, but a second party nonetheless. We often erroneously assume that our perception of a given situation mirrors and coincides with that which is the reality of the other. We project our feelings and assessments about a given scenario on another individual. The why's, wherefores and how's of the choices that people make in their lives are very complex and not easily distilled or fathomed by an outsider.

You question the parameters of Jewish law on the matter of honoring one’s parents. The response is that we are obligated to honor our parents to the extent that we have to provide for their needs, i.e. food, shelter and means of getting where they need to go. If they have means, we may use their resources before our own. If we are not personally able, in a hands-on manner, to meet these requirements, i.e. living at a distance, etc., we may delegate the responsibility to others. The point is that their basic needs be met.

    If parents are abusive or the relationship is a toxic one, children are not obligated to tolerate pain or suffering.

It must be noted, however, that psychological and emotional factors have weight in the equation. If parents are abusive or the relationship is a toxic one, children are not obligated to tolerate pain or suffering. They may provide for their parents’ needs from a distance or through others. Subjecting oneself to unnecessary punishment is not mandated, indicated or desirable from a Torah perspective.

The Talmud relates the instance of one of the great Sages who had a mentally deranged mother. It describes the abuse she subjected him to even in public settings. On one occasion, he was holding forth to an august body of scholars and his mother strode into the study hall and lashed out at him in front of the entire assemblage. The rabbi did not flinch or react. Clearly, he did not take it personally. He waited for her tirade to end and gently and lovingly escorted her out.

Remarkably, there are those who can transcend their personal feelings and involvement. They are able to temper the hurt and pain by adopting an observer’s stance rather than a personal one. They are able to look from the outside in as though hovering above the interaction with an objective curiosity. This posture is a product of understanding the unhealthy place from which the parent is coming and as such what is driving the aberrant behavior. Awareness of the pathetic lack of well-being that is at the root of the presenting behavior allows for compassion and empathy to replace anger and resentment.

Moreover, dear reader, you as an outsider are applying your logic, your own unique mental perception to a situation that is clearly emotionally and psychologically driven. The relationship between children and parents defies logical analysis. The mind cannot plumb the depths and intricacies of the parent/child relationship. Scores of books have been written on the subject, but the last word, a definitive and all encompassing elucidation of the mysterious bond between parents and their offspring remains elusive.

Witness the many recorded and astonishing cases of battered children who prefer returning to their abusive biological parent - the perpetrator - rather than accept protection from a surrogate, proving again the hardcore emotional attachment that cannot be explained. There are those who suggest an intense drive exists on the part of a child, young or old, to be redeemed - to have the caretaker who originally gave the child the message he or she is unlovable - to change the parent’s mind and tell the child he or she is indeed valued. This quest for love and approval is ever present and never ceases.

As an aside, it is instructive to note that in Marriage Course 101, one is cautioned against the cardinal offense of attacking the parents of one’s spouse in marital disputes. Even when the criticism is totally valid, parents are unfair game in arguments. Arguably, it would constitute an example of hitting “below the belt,” a place where the spouse is rendered defenseless because the parent/child relationship is not defined by logic, and the truth in these situations is irrelevant. Bottom-line, criticism of one’s parents, factual as it might be, hurts to one’s core.

    Abandoning a mother, no matter how insufferable she may be, especially one in her eighties, is not a pleasant prospect.

Dear reader, it is clear and evident from your description that your friend’s relationship with her mother, even in its unfortunate and toxic state, is nevertheless a long standing one. It is obvious as well that the horrors shared with you notwithstanding, she has still made her choice. It is very likely that in weighing her options, for her this scenario remains the least of all evils. Abandoning a mother, no matter how insufferable she may be, and especially one in her eighties, is not a pleasant prospect. If your friend would have really wanted to go that route, she would have done it a long time ago.

Consider Maureen whose mother had “never been there for her.” Her upbringing was a painful one. Her mother battled depression and was virtually non-existent in her life. Maureen experienced acute emotional deprivation for much of her life, feeling “unhinged” particularly during her adolescence and in search of something to fill the void in her life. Her spiritual journey led her to an observant life that gave her a handle, a sense of purpose and meaning in dealing with situations that were less than desirable.

Her mother took ill and despite all the feelings of past disappointments that flooded her mind and could have dictated her behavior, she took the high road. She built an extension for her mother in her own home and nursed her through very trying times. When her spirits fell from time to time, she was boosted by her support system, her friends who were always there to encourage her. In the years following her mother’s death, Maureen considered the decision to take care of her mother, despite the myriad of difficulties that entailed, the proudest moments of her life.

My advice to you, my dear deader would be to apprise Sarah that her Torah responsibilities entail no more than seeing to it that her mother’s needs are met; ideally through herself, but in the instance where the emotional price is too high, to provide such through a third party.

Above and beyond that I would encourage you to give your friend whatever support you can to discharge what she perceives as her responsibility. It is not useful or productive, however well meaning on your part, to encourage her in the direction she seems loath to take. Recognize and appreciate that there is much to be said and great respect to be extended to someone who is willing to pay such a steep price for the value of caring for a parent.

Be assured as well that when it is all said and done (her mother, after all, is quite elderly), your friend’s exemplary and sacrificial behavior will escort her for the rest of her life. It will hopefully and justly be a source of great pride. She will have achieved the distinction of having behaved in an exalted way when the going was tough and the chips were really down – and not too many people can boast of that.

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prentice crawford
« Reply #165 on: October 28, 2009, 04:03:11 AM »


I was providing an explanation of my behavior not an attempt to change yours or anyone else's  behavior.  I don't find your spelling out the name of the Big Guy Upstairs at all disrespectful.
Hi Rachel,
 That's not what I thought at all; it's just that I find it fascinating the way in which we humans express our natural proclivity for superstitious rites, even when following a standard religious dogma. It's not enough to follow the teachings given, we seem to have this insatiable need to add more to it.
 It's my observation that we seem to require more of ourselves than God does. That makes me wonder; does God want more from us?
Power User
Posts: 42498

« Reply #166 on: October 28, 2009, 06:38:14 AM »

Interesting question there PC.


Harmony is a matter of emphasis:

Let dissonance slip by.

Celebrate beauty.
prentice crawford
« Reply #167 on: October 28, 2009, 08:14:44 PM »

 You bring up another important theme, that of ascetic's; often scripture is sung or rendered by way of poetry. Again the spoken words alone are not enough.
« Reply #168 on: October 28, 2009, 09:36:25 PM »

 The Three Journeys of Abraham
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Courtesy of

A sizable portion of the book of Genesis is devoted to the life of Abraham, the first Jew. Most curiously, however, we first meet Abraham rather late in his celebrated life: the first event of Abraham's life described in detail by the Torah occurred when he was seventy-five years old!

By that time, Abraham was able to look back upon a lifetime of fruitful--indeed unprecedented--achievement. As a young child, his inquisitive mind discerned a greater truth implicit in the workings of the universe, and he came to know the One G-d. A lone man pitted against the entire world, he battled the entrenched pagan perversity of his time, bringing many to a life of monotheistic belief and morality.

But then came an event of such significance that it eclipses the first seven and a half decades of Abraham's life. An event that marked the forging of a new phenomenon--the Jew--and redefined the journey of life.

The event was G-d's call to Abraham to "Go to you, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." Now that you have realized the full capacity of your conscious powers, go on to you. I will show you a place that is the essence of your own self, a place that lies beyond the land, birthplace, and father's house that you know.

Instinct, Environment and Reason

The countless factors involved in making us what we are can be generalized under three categories: the natural, the impressed, and the acquired.

We begin life already programmed with the drives and inclinations that form an inborn psyche and character. Then begins, from the moment of birth, the influence of our environment, as parents, teachers and peers impress their manners and attitudes upon our souls. Finally, a third and overriding influence comes with the attainment of intellectual maturity: man, alone among G-d's creatures, has been granted an objective intellect with which he can, to a great extent, control the stimuli to which he is exposed and the manner in which they shall affect him. With his mind, he is empowered to develop himself beyond--and even contrary to--his genetic and conditioned self.

This is the deeper significance of the words "your land, your birthplace and your father's house" in G-d's call to Abraham. Eretz, the Hebrew word for land and earth, is etymologically related to the word ratzon--will and desire; so your land also translates as your natural desires. Your birthplace--moladtecha--is a reference to the influence of home and society. And beit avicha, your father's house, refers to man as a mature and rational being, forging his mind-set, character and behavior with the transcendent objectivity of the intellect. (In the terminology of Kabbalah and Chassidism, the intellect is referred to as the father within man, since it is the progenitor of, and authority over, his feelings and behavior patterns.)

By conventional standards, this constitutes the ultimate in human achievement: the development of one's natural instincts, the assimilation of learned and observed truths, and the remaking of self through the objective arbiter of mind. In truth, however, the intellect is still part and parcel of our humanity, remaining ever subject to the deficiencies and limitations of the human state; while it may surmount the confines of the inborn and the impressed, ultimately, the intellect is never truly free of the ego and its prejudices.

But there is a higher self to man, a self free of all that defines and confines the human. This is the spark of G-dliness that is the core of his soul--the divine essence that G-d breathed into him, the image of G-d in which he was created. The eretz that G-d promised to show Abraham.

[This explains the order in which the terms land, birthplace and father's house appear in the verse. When a person embarks on a journey, he first leaves his (father's) home, then departs his city (birthplace), and only then leaves the borders of his land; yet in our verse this order is reversed. According to the deeper meaning of these terms, however, the order is accurate: first a person departs from his base instincts via his education and environmental influences; these, in turn, are overruled by his faculty for objective reasoning; finally, he is called upon to transcend even his rational self in his journey to the divine essence of his soul.]

In his journey of discovery, Abraham must obviously depart the land, birthplace and father's house of his native Mesopotamia; he must obviously reject the pagan culture of Ur Casdim and Charan. But this is not the departure of which we are speaking in the above-quoted verse. For Abraham received this call many years after he had renounced the pagan ways of his family and birthplace, recognized G-d, and had a profound impact on his society. Still he is told: Go! Depart from your nature, depart from your habits, depart from your rational self. After rejecting your negative, idolatrous origins, you must now also transcend your positive and gainful past. Reach beyond yourself, albeit a perfected self.

Human perfection is simply not enough. For anything human--even the objective, transcendent intellect--is still part and parcel of the created reality, ever subject to and defined by it. Yet G-d invites us--in His first command to the first Jew--to experience that which transcends all limit and definition: Himself.

But first we must go to you. Go away from your finite self, to come to the you that only G-d can show you--the you that is one with Him.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber
Originally published in "Week in Review"
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« Reply #169 on: October 29, 2009, 09:41:01 PM »


I'm pretty sure I know why people are more interested in superstition that than true religion.  Acting on superstition  is fun and exciting  and usually   pretty easy following religious precepts is usually much harder and  more boring. Would you rather  A.- write G-d or  B. give more to charity and be nicer to you in-laws. Superstition would win every time. You can feel righteous without doing any work.  

That being said  I don't find the writing of G-d to be superstitious it  seems to be core aspect of Judaism.   However  the explanation  of  why its is not superstition  would  involve a  detailed  discussion of the Oral Law  and the role of Rabbis in Judaism.
 (  You may not be convinced anyway)  If you are really interested I can send you some links.

Gorgeous George
by Yael Zoldan M.A.

George doesn’t walk, he waltzes.

George Locker is a buoyant 93-year-old man with twinkly raisin eyes behind wire rimmed glasses and large hands that are always reaching out to draw people in. I am lucky enough to be George’s neighbor. For reasons known only to George, he likes to call me Gorgeous.

George wakes up smiling after 9:00 a.m. each day and greets himself with a cheerful, “Good Morning Georgie Locker!” He wakes up late because he goes to sleep late. He’s out until 11:00 p.m. each night having dinner with his sister Ione, who is a youngster at 88. After a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal and the morning paper at his neat kitchen table, George steps out into the sunshine, ready to take the day.

His cheerfulness is legendary. Just a year after his wife’s death George is fond of remarking that every day is a good day. He says this with such conviction that one feels compelled not only to believe him, but to agree with him. He is the only person I have ever met who recalls the Depression fondly. As the second of seven children, George lived in a one bedroom apartment over a shoe shop and worked for pennies as a newspaper delivery boy. “Oh, but Mama was an angel. She made sure we were all happy.” It seems to me that Mama must have done some kind of job.

At least one day a week is dedicated to bowling. George is a crack shot bowler, the senior member of his league. “Come here, Zevi,” he calls to my son and from behind his back brings out a trophy on a pedestal that reads, ‘Best in League, 1969.’ “Found this in the attic. It’s yours now, ‘cause you always watch the driveway when I’m backing out. You’re my policeman. And I didn’t forget you either, Eitan. Here you go!” Out comes a golden figure kneeling with a ball in hand, ‘Bowling Champion, 1973’. “Now whatta ya say, boys?” he kibbitzes, “How about a handshake for Uncle Georgie!”

    "Gonna get a hole in one, this time, Gorgeous.”

On warm days, George goes golfing. He steps out into the sunshine, bright and early, to wait for his friend Sam or sometimes his brother, Irving, to come pick him up. Long afternoons are spent practicing for these expeditions with balls and clubs in his backyard. He’s the Pied Piper, patiently lining up the neighborhood kids in order of size and showing them how to bend, how to swing, how to putt. Everyone gets a turn and everyone plays nice for George. When he realized that his clubs were too big for their little hands he took the irons to the blacksmith and had them soldered down to child size. At the sound of Sam’s horn honking, George turns to go. “Gonna get a hole in one, this time, Gorgeous,” he promises me and with a broad grin and jaunty wave he folds himself neatly into the car.

On odd days, George takes care of errands and household chores. Sometimes he goes to Costco, or to get a haircut, “Gotta keep neat, you know,” he says running a hand through his thick iron gray hair. In the spring he mows his lawn with his old lawnmower and cuts back tree branches. In the fall, he vigorously rakes the leaves into large crunchy piles and watches with pleasure as the kids jump in them. And when the winter snows come, George heads out with his parka, knit cap and his trusty old shovel. “Need help with the driveway?” he calls out to my husband, whistling, “I’m just about done with mine.”

When his errands are done George maneuvers his silver gray Buick Le Sabre back into the driveway. “George! George!” the kids all call as he steps out of the car. He rolls up the window with a broad dry hand and grins. Then he looks at the ragtag band of sweaty, sticky neighborhood kids and shakes his head in wonder. “How is it possible that they’re all so good looking?” he marvels. “Now tell me, kids, who wants to learn the cha-cha-cha?”

In the six years that I have lived next door I’ve noticed that George doesn’t walk, he waltzes. Sometimes he even shimmies. Life as George knows it is a dance, an endless pleasure, a cause for celebration. “Smell that clean air!” he says and suddenly I do. It smells green and crisp with the promise of flowers. Why didn’t I smell it before?

And George loves to share. On days when it is too hot or cold to stay outside he’ll invite the kids in for a tour of his neat, tidy house. With open hands he’ll give away the spoils of his 90 plus years, silky yarmulkas and black fedoras, gag gifts and postcards and pictures. With each one comes a story. “That’s the uniform I wore when I was a neighborhood guard during World War II. My job was to make sure everyone abided by the blackout hours so the Germans couldn’t spot us and bomb us. I ever tell you about the time...” he’ll say as little ears strain to listen and bright eyes alight upon his face.

I watch him with awe and puzzlement. Surely life has hurt George, too. No one escapes its ups and downs. So I ask him tentatively why I never see sadness on his face. “I don’t pay twice, Gorgeous,” he answers firmly shaking his head. “You’ve gotta be sad when you’ve gotta be sad. There’s no point being sad again, after.”

He loves to share stories of his large extended family, his niece the professional clown, his nephew who works for the circus, his great grandson the skateboard champion. He loves to tell jokes and he loves food, especially cake. In fact, at 93 years of age George has decided to learn to cook. “Well, first Mama cooked for me, then my wife and then my sister. It’s been a good run,” he says nodding his head, “but I think it’s time I learned to take care of myself.” Last night, George made tilapia with fried onions and mushrooms. "It was delicious," he says. I bet it was. Last night, I made fish sticks.

    As he looks around smiling at God’s world I imagine God looking down and smiling at him.

But life is not always a waltz. Just a few months ago George fell badly, stumbling on the bottom step of a dance hall. He broke seven fragile ribs, suffered a cerebral hematoma and punctured his lung. It was bad. His injuries were serious and the recovery was bound to be a long one. All of us neighbors worried. We thought he was invincible but now he was weakened and slowed down. We remembered suddenly that he is old. How would he golf and bowl and dance? How could he stand being incapacitated, dependent? What would happen to our George?

We should’ve known better. It’s true what they say, you really can’t keep a good man down. After a few brief months of recuperation George astonished his doctors by walking on his own two feet back to his house, to his car, to his bowling and his golf. With his neighbors laughing and crying and cheering, he walked back to his life. “I’m a real lucky guy,” he says when he thinks of it, “That could have been a bad fall!”

Sometimes, I wonder what George would consider a bad fall and then I decide that I don’t want to know.

This is what I do want to know. I want to know how to face life with a smile, how to deal with good times and bad, difficulties and opportunities with the same bright face. I want to know what magic George possesses that makes everyone his friend, that has him seeing the goodness in people and then drawing it out of them. I want to know how one lives 93 years and determines that they have been good overall and that that is more than good enough.

I am not George. I was not given the gift of a sunny and easy nature. I don’t golf and I don’t kibbitz. I fret and analyze. I hurry and wait. But I too have been blessed. God has given me George Locker as a neighbor, as a friend and a teacher. As the cold grayness of winter come upon us, I will bask in the warmth of George’s happy smile. I will look at my children through his eyes and see past the crumbs and the ketchup to their bright smiles, their shining eyes. I will try to see the dance in every day, the vigor of play, the joy of a pile of crunchy leaves. Every day is a good day, George says. And I am learning day by day to believe him.

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« Reply #170 on: November 01, 2009, 04:13:02 PM »

Private Pain, Public Remarks
by Rachel Davids

Why do people think my private dating life is up for public discussion?

I sometimes wonder if people realize that a slight comment can cause so much pain. Why is it that just because your plight is well-known, people assume they can ask you anything about it, in public? Couples who are childless, people who are sick or disfigured, someone who is having business trouble or going through a divorce; the list goes on.

Being single in a marriage-minded world is my public experience of pain.

I cringe at the thought of so many people being aware of my challenge (in the community I live in, being single is viewed as a major life challenge). I’m forced to speak about very private things and answer questions I would never ask someone else. The ease with which people talk to me about dating and my private life is so hurtful and throws me off guard.

I have started grading painful words on a scale of 1 to 10; it makes me feel better and helps me reframe people’s idiocy into “what were they thinking?” so I can have a laugh. Yes, everyone means well, but if I hear another one of these expressions again any time soon…

    * Each date is bringing you closer to the right one.
    * This will be the year.
    * I just don't know anyone good enough for you.

At a Shabbos table, small children look up at me and ask if I have a husband and why not. Last week in the kosher grocery store I was cornered by a loud busy body who heard there was a guy in my age range in town. I was going to ask her if he had a pulse or should I just jump at it because in this market a gal shouldn't be picky.

Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto has published a book with his findings from worldwide research on the affects of water, evidence that thoughts, words, ideas and music affect the molecular structure of water. He claims that if human speech or thoughts are directed at water droplets before they are frozen, images of the resulting water crystals will be beautiful or ugly, depending on how positive or negative were the words or thoughts. Imagine how powerful words are if they can effect the molecular structure of water.

    “What should we say?” The answer is most often, “Nothing.”

People don't mean to throw stones and cause pain; they may really be concerned and caring. People want to know, “What should we say?” and the answer is most often, “Nothing.” The key is to think before you speak. Evaluate if it could possibly cause any pain. If the answer is yes, then don't say it.

We like to know all the news and be involved, but it shouldn’t be at someone else’s expense. If a painful topic comes up perhaps recognizing that you don’t have anything to say and admitting it is a show of support. You don’t have to have all of the answers.

No one means to say things that break your heart. They just don't realize that when you say goodbye to them you want to lie in bed and cry. I have spent a lot of time wondering why I was the recipient of so many of these “concerned comments.” I really believe God is teaching me to be more sensitive. When I see someone in a situation I don‘t understand or cannot relate to, I have to stop myself before I speak. I don't know how they feel. I don’t know what will make them cringe and want to hide. Maybe what I am about to say will really hurt them.

Perhaps God has made me the receiver of so many "sticks and stones" so I could be more careful with others. When I want to ask an inappropriate question with no real reason I think twice. Sensitivity seems to be a real exercise which requires lots of training. God gave me the opportunity to have a lot of training, and if it means I can prevent someone else from hurting, doesn’t that make it a blessing?

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prentice crawford
« Reply #171 on: November 02, 2009, 12:51:55 AM »

Hi Rachel,
 To a certain point I would say you are right that some individuals are just lazy about things and will use whatever is at hand as cover for a more meaningful and deeper commitment to a Faith; however, some folks work every hard at their superstitions and they can be just as difficult to perform and adhere to as any direct mandate from a Religion's word of God directive. What I was referring to is the oppsite of what you're saying; I'm talking about over compensating and doing more than what's required by adding superstitions, secular traditions and other embellishments to what in most cases is already a large body of religious mandated practices to please God.
 And please, I'm not judging you personally, I simply used G-d as an example. Catholics would have a hard time finding in the Bible were God said he wanted penance rendered by saying Hail Marys. cheesy As far as more info I'm always interested in learning more but I'll tell you that I have skimmed lightly over the subject at hand, over the years, and years. grin
« Last Edit: November 02, 2009, 02:28:00 AM by prentice crawford » Logged
« Reply #172 on: November 02, 2009, 08:08:08 PM »

Weekly Sermonette
A Jew's Gotta Do

By Yossy Goldman

Is it a sin to argue with G-d? Is it sacrilegious to question the Divine? Well, Abraham did it. Not for himself, but on behalf of the people of Sodom, whom G-d had decided to destroy because of their wickedness. Abraham was the paragon of chesed, the personification of kindness and compassion. He grappled with the Almighty, attempting to negotiate a stay of execution for the inhabitants of the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" he asks G-d. "Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?" "If there are 50 righteous men, will you spare them? 45? 40... 30... 20... 10?" In the end, Abraham cannot find even a minyan of righteous men in the cities and he gives up. And then the verse reads, V'Avraham shov l'mkomo -- "And Abraham went back to his place." Having failed in his valiant attempt, he acknowledges defeat and retreats to his corner.

But there is also an alternative interpretation to those last words. And Abraham went back to his place can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and to help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people. Abraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat. He went right back to his ways, even though this particular attempt did not meet with success.

What happens when we lose? We hurt, we sulk, and we give up. It didn't work, it's no use. It's futile, why bother? Just throw in the towel.

Not Abraham. Abraham stuck to his principles. He may have experienced a setback, but he would still champion the cause of justice. He would still speak out for those in peril. And he would still take his case to the highest authority in the universe, G-d Almighty Himself.

Abraham teaches us not to lose faith, not to deviate from our chosen path or our sincerely held convictions. If we believe it is the right thing to do, then it is right even if there is no reward in sight. If it is right, then stick to it, no matter the outcome.

One of my favorite cartoon characters is good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts. In one strip that sticks in my memory there is a storm raging outside and Charlie Brown is determined to go out to fly his kite. His friends tell him he must be crazy to attempt flying a kite in this weather, it'll be destroyed by the wind in no time. But in the last frame we see Charlie, resolutely marching out the door, his kite firmly tucked under his arm, and the caption reads, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

Do we believe in our principles of faith because of expediency? Are we virtuous because we believe it is the way to the good life? Are we waiting for the big payoff for our good behavior? What happens when we don't see it? Do we become frustrated, disillusioned and angry at G-d?

Some people become religious for the wrong reasons. They are looking for some magical solution to their problems in life. And when the problems don't disappear as quickly or as magically as they expected, they give up their religious lifestyle. It didn't work; I'm outta here.

Virtue is its own reward. Sleeping better at night because our conscience is clear is also part of the deal. Or, in the words of the Sages, "the reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah."

Our founding father reminds us that a Jew's gotta do what a Jew's gotta do, regardless of the outcome. Whether we see the fruits of our labors or not, if it's the right thing to do, then carry on doing it.

May we all be true children of Abraham.
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« Reply #173 on: November 03, 2009, 08:42:27 PM »

A Jew follows all the rules and regulations, prays all the time asking God for help.  He has a rather crummy life.  His wife is a shrew getting fatter by the day, his business never catches a break, his children are no goodniks.   For his neighbor its the reverse. He is exceedingly casual about all the rules and regulations of Judiasm and his life is great.  Gorgeous wife who loves him, business success comes easily, his children are all tremendously reailzed, etc. 

So the bad luck Jew prays more and more to God and follows the rules and regulations with ever greater dedication.  Still, its more of the same in his life and his neighbors life.  Finally one day he gets mad with God and demands to know "Why God why?  I do every thing you ask and my life is in the dumps yet my neighbor barely pays you attention and him you bless.  I demand to know why!"

God answers "Because you noodge too much."
« Reply #174 on: November 03, 2009, 08:59:00 PM »
« Reply #175 on: November 04, 2009, 09:17:11 PM »

Whom to Marry
By Yanki Tauber

A wise man once said that the most difficult question to answer is a question that has a simple answer.

Because a simple answer is the most difficult kind of answer to accept. A simple answer seems an insult to our intelligence, a making light of our dilemma. But often the most profound question or the most pressing problem does have a simple solution.

Whom should you marry? Unless you are the head of state of a superpower at a time of global crisis, no other decision you will make in the course of your lifetime will affect you as deeply and as irrevocably, for the better and for the worse, as this one. And no other decision will be made in as high-pressure circumstances, and in as subjective a state of mind, as this one.

What does the Torah, which the Jew regards as G-d's "blueprint for creation" and his own guidebook for life, say about what to look for in the person whom you are considering to accept as your partner in life? Something terribly simple.

The first marriage of which we read in the Torah is the marriage of Adam and Eve. Theirs, of course, was the ultimate "made to order" marriage: G-d Himself created the bride and presented her to the groom. When Adam said to Eve, "You are the only woman in the world for me," she knew he was telling the truth. There's a message here about how to regard your spouse once you're married, but not much guidance in how to select a husband or wife.

The next marriage described in the Torah took place a couple of thousand years later--the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. By now, there was more of a selection--a bride had to be chosen for Isaac. Abraham decided not to send his son to do the choosing himself, but his trusted servant Eliezer.

Eliezer loaded ten of his master's camels with goodies and gifts (a generous dowry never hurt a match) and traveled to Abraham's old hometown, Charan (good family connections never hurt, either). Then he prayed (that always helps). Then he put his plan into action.

He waited at the village well. It was evening, and the young women of the village came to draw water. His plan went like this: he would ask a maiden for some water from her pitcher. If she says, "Draw your own water, buddy," forget it. If she says, "Please, drink your fill," that's better, but still not what we're looking for. If she says, "Drink, my lord, and I will give thy camels drink also" (that's how people spoke in biblical times)--she's the one.

Reams of commentary have been written on the story of Rebecca at the well. Many profound insights have been gleaned from the Torah's 67-verse account of Eliezer's mission. But one gem of an answer shines through them all in its pristine simplicity: marry someone with a good heart.

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Yanki Tauber is content editor of Chaba
« Reply #176 on: November 05, 2009, 07:57:15 PM »

What Happens After We Die?
By Shlomo Yaffe and Yanki Tauber

One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that life does not begin with birth nor end with death. This is articulated in the verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d, who gave it."1

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often point out that a basic law of physics (known as the First Law of Thermodynamics) is that no energy is ever "lost" or destroyed; it only assumes another form. If such is the case with physical energy, how much more so a spiritual entity such as the soul, whose existence is not limited by time and space nor any of the other delineators of the physical state. Certainly, the spiritual energy that in the human being is the source of sight and hearing, emotion and intellect, will and consciousness does not cease to exist merely because the physical body has ceased to function; rather, it passes from one form of existence (physical life as expressed and acted via the body) to a higher, exclusively spiritual form of existence.

While there are numerous stations in a soul's journey, these can generally be grouped into four general phases:
i) the wholly spiritual existence of the soul before it enters the body;
ii) physical life;
iii) post-physical life in Gan Eden (the "Garden of Eden," also called "Heaven" and "Paradise");
iv) the "World to Come" (Olam HaBa) that follows the resurrection of the dead.

What are these four phases and why are all four necessary?

To See or Not to See: The Free Choice Paradox

As discussed at length in Chassidic teaching,2 the ultimate purpose of the soul is fulfilled during the time it spends in this physical world making this world "a dwelling place for G-d" by finding and expressing G-dliness in everyday life through its fulfillment of the mitzvot.

But for our actions in this world to have true significance, they must be the product of our free choice. If we were to experience the power and beauty of the Divine presence we bring into the world with our mitzvot, we would always choose what is right and thereby lose our autonomy. The obvious becomes robotic. Our accomplishments would not be ours, any more than it is an "accomplishment" that we eat three meals a day and avoid jumping into fire.

Hence, this crucial stage of our lives is enacted under the conditions of almost total spiritual blackout: in a world in which the Divine reality is hidden, in which our purpose in life is not obvious; a world in which "all its affairs are severe and evil and wicked men prevail."3 In such a world, our positive and G-dly actions would be truly our own choice and achievement.

On the other hand, however, how would it be possible to discover, and act upon, goodness and truth under such conditions at all? If the soul is plunged into such a G-dless world and cut off from all knowledge of the Divine, by what means could it ever discover the path of truth?

This is why the soul exists in a purely spiritual state before it descends in to this world. In its pre-physical existence, the soul is fortified with the Divine wisdom, knowledge and vision that will empower it in its struggles to transcend and transform the physical reality.

In the words of the Talmud: "The fetus in its mother's womb is taught the entire Torah... When its time comes to emerge into the atmosphere of the world, an angel comes and slaps it on its mouth, making it forget everything."4

An obvious question: If we're made to forget it all, why teach it to us in the first place? But herein lies the entire paradox of knowledge and choice: we can't see the truth, we can't even manifestly know it, but at the same time we do know it, deep inside us. Deep enough that we can choose to ignore it, but also deep enough that wherever we are and whatever we become we can always choose to unearth it. This, in the final analysis, is choice: our choice to pursue the knowledge implanted in our soul or to suppress it.

The Mutual Exclusivity of Achievement and Reward

Thus the stage is set for Phase II: the tests, trials and tribulations of physical life. The characteristics of the physical--its finiteness, its opaqueness, its self-centeredness, its tendency to conceal what lies behind it--form a heavy veil that obscures virtually all knowledge and memory of our Divine source. And yet, deep down we know right from wrong. Somehow, we know that life is meaningful, that we are here to fulfill a Divine purpose; somehow, when confronted with a choice between a G-dly action and an unG-dly one, we know the difference. The knowledge is faint--a dim, subconscious memory from a prior, spiritual state. We can silence it or amplify it--the choice is ours.

Everything physical is, by definition, finite; indeed, that is what makes it a concealment of the infinitude of the Divine. Intrinsic to physical life is that it is finite in time: it ends. Once it ends--once our soul is freed from its physical embodiment--we can no longer achieve and accomplish. But now, finally, we can behold and derive satisfaction from what we have accomplished.

The two are mutually exclusive: achievement precludes satisfaction; satisfaction precludes achievement. Achievement can only take place in the spiritual blindness of the physical world; satisfaction can only take place in the choice-less environment of the spiritual reality.

The Talmud quotes the verse: "You shall keep the mitzvah, the decrees and the laws which I command you today to do them."5 "Today to do them," explains the Talmud, "but not to do them tomorrow. Today to do them, and tomorrow to receive their reward."6 The Ethics expresses it thus: "A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the world to come. And a single moment of bliss in the world to come is greater than all of this world."7

It's as if we spent a hundred years watching an orchestra performing a symphony on television--with the sound turned off. We watched the hand-movements of the conductor and the musicians. Sometimes we asked: why are the people on the screen making all these strange motions to no purpose? Sometimes we understood that a great piece of music was being played, but didn't hear a single note. After a hundred years of watching in silence, we watch it again--this time with the sound turned on.

The orchestra is ourselves, and the music--played well or poorly--are the deeds of our lives.

What is Heaven and Hell?

Heaven and hell is where the soul receives its punishment and reward after death. Yes, Judaism believes in, and Jewish traditional sources extensively discuss, punishment and reward in the afterlife (indeed, it is one of the "Thirteen Principles" of Judaism enumerated by Maimonides). But these are a very different "heaven" and "hell" than what one finds described in medieval Christian texts or New Yorker cartoons. Heaven is not a place of halos and harps, nor is hell populated by those red creatures with pitchforks depicted on the label of non-kosher canned meat.

After death, the soul returns to its Divine Source, together with all the G-dliness it has "extracted" from the physical world by using it for meaningful purposes. The soul now relives its experiences on another plane, and experiences the good it accomplished during its physical lifetime as incredible happiness and pleasure, and the negative as incredibly painful.

This pleasure and pain are not reward and punishment in the conventional sense--in the sense that we might punish a criminal by sending him to jail or reward a dedicated employee with a raise. It is rather that we experience our own life in its reality--a reality from which we were sheltered during our physical lifetimes. We experience the true import and effect of our actions. Turning up the volume on that TV set with that symphony orchestra can be intensely pleasurable or intensely painful,8--depending on how we played the music of our lives.

When the soul departs from the body, it stands before the Heavenly Court to give a "judgment and accounting" of its earthly life.9 But the Heavenly Court only does the "accounting" part; the "judgment" part--that only the soul itself can do.10 Only the soul can pass judgment on itself--only it can know and sense the true extent of what it accomplished, or neglected to accomplish, in the course of its physical life. Freed from the limitations and concealments of the physical state, it can now see G-dliness; it can now look back at its own life and experience what it truly was. The soul's experience of the G-dliness it brought into the world with its mitzvot and positive actions is the exquisite pleasure of Gan Eden (the "Garden of Eden"--i.e., Paradise); its experience of the destructiveness it wrought through its lapses and transgressions is the excruciating pain of Gehinom ("Gehenna" or "Purgatory").

The truth hurts. The truth also cleanses and heals. The spiritual pain of gehinom--the soul's pain in facing the truth of its life--cleanses and heals the soul of the spiritual stains and blemishes that its failings and misdeeds have attached to it. Freed of this husk of negativity, the soul is now able to fully enjoy the immeasurable good that its life engendered and "bask in the Divine radiance" emitted by the G-dliness it brought into the world.

For a G-dly soul spawns far more good in its lifetime than evil. The core of the soul is unadulterated goodness; the good we accomplish is infinite, the evil but shallow and superficial. So even the most wicked of souls, say our sages, experiences, at most, twelve months of gehinom, followed by an eternity of heaven. Furthermore, a soul's experience of gehinom can be mitigated by the action of his or her children and loved ones, here on earth. Reciting Kaddish and engaging in other good deeds "in merit of" and "for the elevation of" the departed soul means that the soul, in effect, is continuing to act positively upon the physical world, thereby adding to the goodness of its physical lifetime.11

The soul, on its part, remains involved in the lives of those it leaves behind when it departs physical life. The soul of a parent continues to watch over the lives of his/her children and grandchildren, to derive pride (or pain) from their deeds and accomplishments, and to intercede on their behalf before the Heavenly Throne; the same applies to those to whom a soul was connected with bonds of love, friendship and community. In fact, because the soul is no longer constricted by the limitations of the physical state, its relationship with its loved ones is, in many ways, even deeper and more meaningful than before.

However, while the departed soul is aware and cognizant of all that transpires in the lives of its loved ones, the souls remaining in the physical word are limited to what they can perceive via the five senses as facilitated by their physical bodies. We can impact the soul of a departed loved one through our positive actions, but we cannot communicate with it through conventional means (speech, sight, physical contact, etc.) that, prior to its passing, defined the way that we related to each other. (Indeed, the Torah expressly forbids the idolatrous practices of necromancy, mediumism and similar attempts to "make contact" with the world of the dead.) Hence the occurrence of death, while signifying an elevation for the soul of the departed, is experienced as a tragic loss for those it leaves behind.

Reincarnation: A Second Go

Each individual soul is dispatched to the physical world with its own individualized mission to accomplish. As Jews, we all have the same Torah with the same 613 mitzvot; but each of us has his or her own set of challenges, distinct talents and capabilities, and particular mitzvot which form the crux of his or her mission in life.

At times, a soul may not conclude its mission in a single lifetime. In such cases, it returns to earth for a "second go" to complete the job. This is the concept of gilgul neshamot--commonly referred to as "reincarnation"--extensively discussed in the teachings of Kabbalah.12 This is why we often find ourselves powerfully drawn to a particular mitzvah or cause and make it the focus of our lives, dedicating to it a seemingly disproportionate part of our time and energy: it is our soul gravitating to the "missing pieces" of its Divinely-ordained purpose.13

The World to Come

Just as the individual soul passes through three stages--preparation for its mission, the mission itself, and the subsequent phase of satisfaction and reward--so, too, does Creation as a whole. A chain of spiritual "worlds" precede the physical reality, to serve it as a source of Divine vitality and empowerment. Then comes the era of Olam HaZeh ("This World") in which the Divine purpose of creation is played out. Finally, once humanity as a whole has completed its mission of making the physical world a "dwelling place for G-d," comes the era of universal reward--the World to Come (Olam HaBa).

There is a major difference between a soul's individual "world of reward" in Gan Eden and the universal reward of the World to Come. Gan Eden is a spiritual world, inhabited by souls without physical bodies; the World to Come is a physical world, inhabited by souls with physical bodies14 (though the very nature of the physical will undergo a fundamental transformation, as per below).

In the World to Come, the physical reality will so perfectly "house" and reflect the Divine reality that it will transcend the finitude and temporality which define it today. Thus, while in today's imperfect world the soul can only experience "reward" after it departs from the body and physical life, in the World to Come, the soul and body will be reunited, and will together enjoy the fruits of their labor. Thus the prophets of Israel spoke of a time when all who died will be restored to life: their bodies will be regenerated15 and their souls restored to their bodies. "Death will be eradicated forever"16 and 'the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea."17

This, of course, will spell the end of the "Era of Achievement."18 The veil of physicality, rarified to complete transparency, will no longer conceal the truth of G-d, but will rather express it and reveal it in an even more profound way than the most lofty spiritual reality. Goodness and G-dliness will cease to be something we do and achieve, for it will be what we are. Yet our experience of goodness will be absolute. Body and soul both, reunited as they were before they were separated by death, will inhabit all the good that we accomplished with our freely chosen actions in the challenges and concealments of physical life.
1.    Ecclesiastes 12:7.
2.    See Body: The Physical World According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and our articles on The Purpose of Creation and A Dwelling for G-d in the Physical World
3.    Tanya, chapter 6.
4.    Talmud, Nidah 30b.
5.    Deuteronomy 7:11.
6.    Talmud, Eruvin 22a.
7.    Ethics of the Fathers 4:17.
8.    Thus the Sages speak about a "Gehenna of Fire," in which we experience the full destructive "heat" of our illicit desires, anger and hatreds; and a "Gehenna of Snow," in which we are exposed to the "coldness" of our moments of indifference to G-d and to our fellows.
9.    Ethics of the Fathers 3:1; et al.
10.    Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.
11.    This is why there is a greater emphasis on the recitation of Kaddish and other actions for the elevation of a departed soul during the first year after death.
12.    Indeed, the Kabbalists say that these days--after 6,000 years of human history--a "new" soul is a rarity; the overwhelming majority of us are reincarnated souls, returned to earth to fill the gaps of a previous lifetime.
13.    For more on the subject, see our articles on Reincarnation.
14.    This is actually a matter of contention between two great Jewish thinkers and Torah authorities, Maimonides and Nachmanides; the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidism follow the approach of Nachmonides, who sees the ultimate reward as occurring in a world of embodied souls. For more on this, see The Resurrection of the Dead.
15.    Interestingly, long before the discovery of genetics and the DNA the Talmud talks about a tiny, indestructible bone in the body called luz from which the entire body will be "rebuilt" after it returned to dust.
16.    Isaiah 25:8.
17.    Isaiah 11:9
18.    The Talmud goes so far as to quote the verse (Ecclesiastes 12:1), "There will come years of which you will say: I have no desire in them," and declare: "This refers to the days of the Messianic Era, in which there is neither merit nor obligation" (Talmud, Shabbat 151b).

By Shlomo Yaffe and Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Yanki Tauber is content editor of
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, spiritual leader of Congregation Agudas Achim of West Hartford, Connecticut, is on the editorial staff of
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London

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« Reply #177 on: November 06, 2009, 06:58:07 AM »

I've decided not to let lack of experience and a few disagreements  stop me from posting this. I will say the besides  "reality" TV the most sexist portrayal  on TV is sitcom  Dads.
The Dumb Father
by Yisrael Feuerman

Too many fathers think parenting is a woman's domain.

Friends of mine, a couple in their late 30s, recently asked for advice:

“Monica, our 6-year-old daughter, just started first grade," the mother began. "She’s very unhappy, but she won’t tell us why. She comes home in a sour mood on the verge of tears, saying she doesn’t want to go back and she has always liked school."

I turned to Dave, her husband, who nodded solemnly in agreement.

“She is an adorable girl,” the mother continued. “Lately she doesn't seem to want to play with friends and she is noshing all the time."

As it turned out, the little girl confided in her big sister that during recess she asked the other girls if she could play with them and they cruelly said “No.” Their daughter was filled with shame and embarrassment.

The mother wondered if she should talk to the teacher or the principal, and then said something about bullying in schools –- an obviously very important topic. The mother spoke for both of them as the father sat quietly. But Dave, who I knew from a variety of circumstances, is no dope. He always has something pithy or on the mark to say about whatever might come up in synagogue or in the study group we both belong to.

I turned to Dave: "What’s your take?"

“Everything my wife says is true. Monica is not a happy camper, though she usually is.”

The mother and I brainstormed some more. Dave said nothing. His silence suggested that he was receding and tuning out. He was in the room in presence only.

I wondered why. Maybe he had his own memories of being bullied. That would be most natural because our children’s experiences almost always evoke our own childhood.

But many men are reluctant to contribute emotionally at home because they feel it is “their wife’s territory.” In many homes the mother is the unspoken head of all the touchy-feely emotional issues. She’s the resident expert and the man automatically yields to her expertise.

But is it really yielding? Dave isn't the type to yield easily. He is a competitive guy on the court, at work, even at shul. He doesn’t like to lose.

    Popular media is forever reducing dad to a well-meaning boob-in-chief.

You want to know a secret? Most men don’t like to lose and they are unlikely to play if they think they will. And at home we lose most of the time -- the wife knows the ins and outs in ways that men don't know. So some men stay out, or out of desperation, they unwittingly thwart their wives.

Popular media is forever reducing dad to a well-meaning boob-in-chief -- an emotional, clueless klutz and a figure of fun. (Think: The Simpsons, or Berenstain Bears.) But the Torah takes fatherhood very seriously. The Jewish father is most decidedly not a clown.

The Torah says, "Shema bni mussar avicha v’al titosh Toras imecha -- Heed the lessons of your father and the teachings of your mother." A child must hear from both.

I brought up the idea with Dave. Why didn’t he speak? Why did he treat himself as though his job was just to show up, shlep furniture, and write checks?

He gave an embarrassed smile. “I’m not so sure of my place,” he finally offered. "Many times, I’m not sure what to say or do, so I leave it to those more competent than me,” he said, gesturing toward his wife.

I offered a question or two: What was Monica’s play like at home? Did she play at least some of the time with her father as well as her mother and sister? This was discussed for a short period, and then a few minutes before we were to end, Dave said he had an idea: Monica should take along an attractive toy -- maybe even a disposable camera with a flash, and instead of asking to play, she should say, “Who wants to take pictures with me?" A lot of kids will gravitate to her.

“Kids need gadgets,” he said rather succinctly, “to get things going.”

It was natural that a man would come up with this idea, I thought. Men have an instinctive feel for the usefulness of tools in the school yard and in social settings, the new bicycle, the sophisticated electronic device, a cool car.

David knew he had a good idea, (we later found out it was a bulls-eye with Monica) but then he had a revelation: “I make myself ‘dumb’ in front of my wife. I tell myself I am being gracious or whatever, but truth is, I really don’t know why I do it. I’m probably just afraid to compete,” he offered somewhat in jest.

I thought there was more than a little truth in his words. Fathers, when you are tempted to “go dumb” in front of your family, consider that you may be trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, you may fear that you will look foolish in front of her or in front of the family or yourself.

    There are few things more damaging to a child than an absent father.

You must resist these fears and speak up anyway. Your children need you. There are few things more damaging to a child than an absent father. Even if you don’t have the vaguest idea of what to say to or do, have no fear! You may goof up and say or suggest the “wrong” thing, but time and experience will teach you to get it right. And for goodness sakes! Take advantage of those runs to the supermarket to spend some “alone” time with your kid. Ask your son questions he will want to respond to. Take an interest in your daughter’s school and play life. Ask them what they want from life, from you.

Mothers, pull back. Create a space for the fathers to enter. Resist the temptations and false satisfactions of being the “superior” parent. If your husband goes “dumb,” encourage him to talk.

The worst thing either parent can do is withdraw from the game. If both mother and father play, everyone wins.

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« Reply #178 on: November 06, 2009, 07:55:38 AM »

« Reply #179 on: November 08, 2009, 10:48:16 AM »

What Kind of G‑d Would Ask You to Sacrifice Your Son?
a conversation
By Yanki Tauber

Skeptic: I assume even you guys have a problem with this one. G‑d testing Abraham by ordering him to sacrifice his son! And--even worse--Abraham rushing to fulfill the macabre command. Now if that's not the epitome of everything wrong with religion...

Believer: Personally, I have no problem with it. Though I admit it's not as easy for me to explain to a skeptic as, for example, the story of the Exodus.

Skeptic: You have no problem with it? G‑d not only condoning, but actually asking for the sacrifice of a human life as a demonstration of faith? If that's how you feel about it, you're no different from the suicide bombers who believe they're killing themselves and scores of innocent men, women and children because G‑d wants them to...!

Believer: Aren't you leaving something out? If you're going to read the Akeidah story, read it to the end.

Skeptic: I know. In the end Isaac isn't killed. But that's almost besides the point.

Believer: No, that is the point. Or at least a very important point of the story. After Abraham demonstrates the depth of his faith and commitment to G‑d with his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, G‑d commands Abraham, "Do not reach out you hand to the lad! Do not do anything to him!" G‑d makes it clear that He does NOT want us to offer human sacrifices to Him.

This gets repeated many times throughout the Torah. The Torah expressly forbids human sacrifice, and calls it an "abomination." We serve G‑d by living a G‑dly life and giving life to others, not by dying and killing. Judaism celebrates life and mourns death, not vice versa.

Skeptic: Ok, so let's say that G‑d wants to make the point that He's a G‑d who desires life, not death. Why does He have to go through the whole sadistic spiel of getting Abraham to truss up his beloved child like a lamb and lift the slaughtering knife over the kid's outstretched neck, before announcing, "No, never mind, I don't want you to do this"? He could simply have revealed Himself to Abraham and said: "Abraham, I know that all your neighbors are heavily into this, sacrificing their kids to their gods, but listen, that's not what I want. I want you to be the father of a people who shun this kind of thing, and teach everyone else how bad it is."

Believer: But if G‑d did only that, what would everyone have said? "Oh, that's Abraham, with his no-sacrifices-needed religion. He calls it a "life-affirming" faith, but he's just a wimp. The simple truth is that he's not as committed as we are. He's like those limousine liberals with "principles"--until it affects their own pocket or comfort."

Skeptic: Hey, I resent that.

Believer: Sorry. Seriously, do you know what Hassan Nasrallah said?

Skeptic: You mean that Hezbullah guy?

Believer: Yes. He said, "We're going to win this fight. You know why? Because the Jews want to live, and we want to die."

Skeptic: I hate to say this, but the guy has a point. They'll always have that advantage over us--that they're happy to die for what they believe in, and we're not.

Believer: No, he's wrong. If the reason we desired life and did everything in our power to avoid death was that we're a bunch self-absorbed spoiled rich kids who cannot imagine anything more important than our own puny existence, then he'd be right. But the Akeidah proves him wrong. The Akeidah shows that our commitment to life comes from a place no less powerful and absolute--indeed, far more powerful and absolute--than the suicide bomber's pursuit of death and destruction.

Abraham demonstrated that we are prepared to give our life for G‑d--that we recognize that there is a truth and reality that is greater than our own existence and we are absolutely committed to serving this higher truth. So when G‑d tells us that that's not what He wants from us--that He wants us not to die and kill for Him but to live and nurture life as His "partner in creation"--our pursuit of life is motivated and empowered by our commitment to G‑d, and is as absolute and as powerful as its source.

Skeptic: But wouldn't all this be true also if G‑d and Abraham hadn't staged their scary little show on Mount Moriah?

Believer: No, it wouldn't. It may be true in theory, but theories don't necessarily mean anything in real life. Unless Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for G‑d was actually experienced by him in the most tangible way, the first Jew could not have forged a commitment to life that's as powerful as the evildoer's worship of death.

The whole point of Judaism is not to die for G‑d, but to live for G‑d. But unless you're prepared to quite literally die for G‑d, you cannot truly live for G‑d.

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

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« Reply #180 on: November 08, 2009, 03:36:25 PM »

« Reply #181 on: November 12, 2009, 07:45:38 PM »

Souls in the Rain
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

If G-d is "perfect," as Judaism says, what prompted Him to create the universe? What void was He seeking to fill?

The answer provided in Jewish Mysticism is that G-d desired marriage. Marriage necessitates the existence of someone distinct from yourself with whom to share your life, a union of husband and wife. G-d chose humanity as His bride.

What a marriage this has been--a roller coaster of romance, affection, quarrels and estrangement. In every generation, many counselors advocated a divorce while others proclaimed the Groom dead. Yet, the relationship has endured because both partners intrinsically know that they belong together. When all veils are removed, man manifestly yearns for union with G-d.

According to the Kabbalah, the High Holiday season is the annual experience of the cosmic matrimony between G-d and humanity. The five key spiritual moments of the season parallel the basic phases of a conventional courtship and union. The holidays invite us to journey through this process again and rejuvenate the relationship.
The Courtship

The Hebrew month of Elul precedes the High Holidays. This month is described in Chassidic teachings as a time when "the King goes out to the field to meet with His people, greeting them with kindness and tenderness, displaying a joyous face to all." We, in turn, "open our hearts to G-d."

This time provides us with an opportunity to get to know G-d.
The Groom Proposes

The world goes haywire, says Master Kabbalist Rabbi Issac Luriah. "During the night of Rosh Hashanah," he writes, "the consciousness animating the universe becomes frail and weak." The great Jewish mystics would, in fact, feel physically weak during the night of Rosh Hashanah.

All of existence was brought into being for the sake of this proposed marriage. If we refuse Him, then it was all in vain. The entire cosmos awaits our decision.
The Bride Commits

On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, a piercing sound rises from the Earth: the cry of the shofar. It is a simple cry, expressing man's yearning to connect with the Divine.

We have decided. Our answer is yes.
The Wedding

The wedding day arrives: Yom Kippur. A day described in the Kabbalah as "the time of oneness" in which cosmic bride and groom forge a bond for eternity.

In the Jewish tradition, bride and groom fast on their wedding day. On the day we unite with G-d, we abstain from food or drink as well. The Talmud teaches that upon marriage, all the sins of the groom and bride are forgiven.

That's why this day is called Yom Kippur, "the day of atonement."

The marriage ceremony begins with the stirring melody of Kol Nidre, in which we remove the power from vows and addictions that tie us down. During these profound moments, we attempt to free ourselves from compulsive behavior and negative habits and let go of resentment, animosity, anger, fear and envy.

The traditional Jewish marriage ceremony culminates with the bride and groom entering a secluded room (cheder yichud in Hebrew) to spend time alone with each other. Yom Kippur culminates with the Ne'ilah, or closure prayer, so called because as the sun of Yom Kippur sets, the gates of heaven close--with us inside.

During Ne'ilah, every soul is alone with G-d.
The Celebration

When the bride and groom exit their private room, the party begins. From Yom Kippur we leap into the seven-day festival of Sukkot, described in the Torah as "the time of our Joy."

These days are filled with feasting and ecstatic happiness, celebrating the union between G-d and His people.

The wedding feast is over. The guests and relatives have returned home. In a consummation of the relationship, bride and groom experience intimacy for the first time, their lives melded together as a husband and wife.

Hence, following the seven days of Sukkot, we reach the zenith of the High Holiday season: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, described in the Kabbalah as the "time of intimacy with the Divine." During these two charged days the joy reaches its peak, as G-d and His people merge into a seamless whole. A Divine seed is planted in each of our hearts.

That's why we recite special prayers for rain on the festival of Shemini Atzeret. What is rain? In the midst of intimacy between heaven and earth, procreative drops from heaven are absorbed, fertilized and nurtured by mother-earth, which in time will give birth to its botanical children.
The Ordinary Month

The honeymoon comes to an end and the excitement begins to fade. Now the marriage becomes about caring for each other and demonstrating trust and loyalty as we work through the daily grind of life.

Out of the twelve months in the Jewish calendar, the only one lacking a single festive day immediately follows the High Holiday season. The Hebrew month of Cheshvan is the time to build a genuine relationship with our marriage Partner in our everyday lives. This is the time to discover the joy born out of a continous relationship with G-d.
« Reply #182 on: November 13, 2009, 07:37:58 AM »
Marriage: From Caterpillar to Butterfly
by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

Lessons from the first marriage in history.

When we study the chapters of the Torah dealing with Creation, it almost seems as though Eve was created as an afterthought. Adam was created alone, and only afterward did God say, “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him” (Bereishis 2:18).

In his commentary to this verse, Ramban states that Adam, the First Man, must have had a method of procreating even before Eve was fashioned. All creatures were created male and female in order to procreate. If so, why was it necessary for God to make Eve into a separate being? Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to be self-sufficient — to be able to bear and raise children without the need for another person? Isn’t that total independence a utopian dream?

The answer appears in the verse quoted above. "It is not good that man be alone." There is something “not good” about being alone. The entire purpose of Creation is for us to perfect ourselves, and one of the most meaningful ways of doing so is by learning to do for others. In the words of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin “For this is the basic principle of mankind: he was not created for himself, but to help others, as much as is possible for him to do with the strengths he was given.”

Had Adam functioned on his own, he would have been lacking one of the keystones of humanity and would have been branded "not good" for life.

    We all entered this world as consummate takers.

We all entered this world as consummate takers. Anyone who has had a baby or has been in close contact with one knows that babies are the greatest takers. They never worry about anyone else. Their entire focus in life is to be fed, warm, dry, and cuddled, and they have absolutely no interest in how their needs affect you. They couldn’t care less whether you had a hard day or whether you haven’t slept for two nights. Their motto is, “Feed me; clothe me; diaper me; burp me; love me; take care of me.”

And that lasts … for a long while.

Pardon me for reminding you, but you, too, were born this way. You, too, were once self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic. The purpose of life is to transcend that natural inclination toward taking and to become a giver. It is a lifelong endeavor, but if there is one turning point at which we must make the switch from taker to giver, that point is the day of our marriage. Marriage requires us to undergo a metamorphosis -- to go from caterpillar to butterfly.

In marriage, we can no longer think primarily about ourselves. The “me” must become “we,” and the “I” must become “us.” That is the entire purpose of marriage, and that is why God said, “It is not good that man be alone."

This does not mean that a person who never finds his or her soul mate is doomed. One of the most famous charity workers in Jerusalem is a man who never married, and he is a giver of the highest degree. But the process of learning to be a giver is far more difficult if one is not married. The ideal situation, which is what God had in mind for each of us, is to marry and have someone to whom to give.

There is a common misconception that one’s love for another person increases when he or she receives from that person. The true way to build love is to give unconditionally. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the Hebrew word ahavah, love, is related to the word hav, to give.

Since giving builds love, we can perhaps understand the inordinate obsession people have for their pets. If children are the hardest thing in the world, pets are the easiest. They don’t give you heartache, they don’t need braces, and they don’t have to be accepted into a seminary or school. But above all, you have to give to pets unconditionally. That is why people are literally in love with their pets. They treat them better than they treat their children.

When I travel, I generally do not make conversation with my seatmates. I exchange pleasantries, and then settle in for a flight in solitude. Once, however, I was flying to Brazil, which is a 10-hour flight. When you are going to spend 10 hours sitting next to someone, you feel that you must make some attempt at conversation. My seatmate turned out to be a cardiac-care nurse who was on her way to a medical conference. She was obviously an intelligent individual. In the midst of an otherwise sensible conversation, she took out her wallet and said -- and I’ll quote verbatim -- “I want to show you the love of my life.” She flipped open her wallet and showed me a collage of her three children, lovingly surrounding the most prized member of the family: her dog. “This is the love of my life,” she said, pointing to the dog -- lest I foolishly assume that she was talking about her children.

“What kind of dog is it?” I asked, for lack of a better rejoinder.

“It’s a Rottweiler,” she said proudly.

    This dog was the love of her life because she had to give so much to it unconditionally.

I don’t know much about dogs, but I do know that you stay far away from Rottweilers. But this was the love of her life. Why? Because she had to give so much to it. Now, unlike her children, her dog probably returned her love. It was probably very happy to see her. But that is not where her overwhelming love came from. It came from unconditional giving.

For Her Sake

To make a comparison from the ridiculous to the sublime, when we look at episodes in the lives of our great rabbis, we find Torah giants whose thoughtfulness and willingness to give to their wives made their marriages so beautiful. I could write an entire book of such stories, but I’ll share one that has had the most profound impact on me. It is a story that occurred with Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Twerski, the Hornosteipel Rebbe of Milwaukee.

Two months before his passing, the Rebbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From the Rebbe’s 50 years of experience visiting sick patients, he understood that his end was near. He summoned his son, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski (who is a medical doctor), to discuss his options.

“The doctors suggest that I undergo chemotherapy,” the Rebbe said. “It is ‘blessing in vain’ [i.e. — a waste of time], no?”

The son nodded in agreement; based on his medical knowledge, his father had already suffered irreversible damage.

“I am going to suffer terribly from chemotherapy, right?” asked the Rebbe.

Rabbi Dr. Twerski nodded again.

“It is not worthwhile to go through it,” concluded the Rebbe. “It is not going to help, and I will suffer. I am going to inform the doctors that I don’t want chemotherapy.”

Painful as it was to confirm his father’s analysis, Rabbi Dr. Twerski had to agree that it was the right move.

While this conversation transpired, Rebbetzin Twerski was outside discussing her husband’s illness with the attending physician, who told her that chemotherapy was an option. She walked into her husband’s room, and, unaware of the previous conversation, she said, “I want you to have chemotherapy.”

A moment later the attending physician walked in, and he said, “So, are we going through with chemotherapy?”

“Yes,” replied the Rebbe, leaving his son opened-mouthed.

Later that day, Rabbi Dr. Twerski had an opportunity to ask his father why he had changed his mind so quickly.

    Here is a man who knew that there would be no payback.

“We both know that the chemotherapy won’t help. We both know that I am going to suffer from it,” said the Rebbe. “If I don’t try the treatment, however, your mother will not forgive herself. She will always think to herself, ‘I should have insisted that he have chemotherapy. I’m sure he would have lived longer if he had done so.’

“I don’t want your mother to suffer from such guilt, so I’ll do it for her sake,” the Rebbe concluded.

We all have times in marriage in which we go beyond the call of duty for our spouses. In many cases, however, our actions are fueled by a “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude. Here is a man who knew that there would be no payback. But he was ready to suffer through the horrific physical discomfort of the chemotherapy anyway, just to spare his wife feelings of guilt.

A Second Opinion

There are other reasons why Eve was fashioned from Adam. A spouse plays an important role that can be fulfilled only by a separate party: a spouse provides a second opinion.

One of the basic human traits is that we have a difficult time viewing situations in an objective manner. Our vested interests will taint our view on a matter, even if we try to ignore it. It is important, therefore, to have the input of an impartial second party to help us view our lives properly.

The problem is that we also have egos, we crave independence, and we tend to chafe when people tell us what to do -- especially when that person is an outsider. This leads to a situation in which we cannot judge issues in life on our own lest our subjectivity lead us to make a mistake, but when objective observers weigh in with advice, we are inclined to reject their opinion.

God did us a great favor. He provided us with an insider who can provide us with an unbiased, loving opinion. A spouse has the advantage of being part of you — as our Sages said, “Ishto kegufo -- one’s wife is like himself” — but he or she is also objective enough to tell you, “I’m sorry, but you are viewing this issue incorrectly.”

The Netziv finds an allusion to this idea in the words, “It is not good that man be alone, I will make for him a helper, corresponding to him [an eizer kenegdo].” Although the term kenegdo may be translated as “corresponding to him,” the more common translation is “opposite him or opposing him.” This leads the Talmud (Yevamos 63b) to point out that eizer kenegdo seems to be an oxymoron. A wife is either a helper to her husband or opposite him. How can she be both?

    On occasion, the "helper" must be “opposing him.”

The Netziv explains that a wife is indeed a helper, but the help may sometimes come in the form of opposing him. It may be difficult for us to hear our spouses tell us, “Honey, you’re making a mistake,” but the alternative is to stumble through life repeating our blunders or committing even greater ones. On occasion, the "helper" must be “opposing him.”

It is important to remember that, like everything else in life, "opposing him" can be overdone. Have you ever noticed that a salt shaker has several holes, while a pepper shaker has only a few? Food is enhanced by the sharpness of pepper, but only if it is applied in small measure. Criticism, like pepper, must be used sparingly. If you lay it on too thick, it has a negative effect.

Remember the Past

I would like to draw one more lesson from the very first marriage in history, and it is one that we must all incorporate into our marriages if they are to succeed.

As we all know, on the very first day of that marriage, God told Adam that he could partake of the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden except for the Tree of Knowledge. Adam relayed the commandment to Eve, but before long, the Serpent enticed her into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and she, in turn, gave Adam to eat from the tree. This sin affected the world in the worst possible way, for one of the curses that came upon mankind as a result of that sin was death.

Directly following the verse in which God informs Adam that he would eventually die, as would all of his offspring, the Torah states, “The man called his wife’s name Chava, Eve, because she had become the mother of all the living” (Bereishis 3:20).

Have you ever noticed this strange juxtaposition? If we were to name a person who just brought death upon mankind, we might have been tempted to call her Misah (death). It may not sound as good as "Chavah," but it certainly would have been appropriate given the situation that had just unfolded.

At the moment when all seemed bleak, Adam took note of what chesed, kindness, is all about.

The Talmud (Sotah 14a) states that the Torah begins with kindness and ends with kindness. The final verses of the Torah deal with God burying Moses. Performing a burial is called a chesed shel emes, a true kindness. Where is the chesed at the beginning of the Torah? As a result of partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve were suddenly aware of the fact that they were unclothed, and they became bashful. Although this bashfulness was a result of their sin, God nevertheless performed a kindness and made clothing for them. This, says the Talmud, is the first chesed mentioned in the Torah.

Left to our own devices, we might have assumed that there was an immeasurable kindness that preceded this one. God had no need for us mortals in the world. He created us to enable us to reap the reward for our mitzvot. Why doesn’t the Talmud consider the creation of mankind the first kindness in history

The creation of Adam was indeed a chesed, but not a particularly difficult one. Adam was the most perfect being ever created, and he was to perform an important function in the world. But when Adam and Eve sinned, bringing death and destruction to the pristine new world, they felt terrible about themselves. When God showed them that He was willing to look beyond their mistakes and love them and take care of them despite their wrongdoings, that was a tremendous kindness.

    If our marriages are to succeed, we must all learn to look beyond our spouses’ mistakes.

Adam perceived that, and put that form of chesed into practice. Eve had committed the greatest mistake imaginable. No one would ever make such a grave error again. Adam looked at her and said, “You are still Eve. You are still the mother of all mankind.”

If our marriages are to succeed, we must all learn to look beyond our spouses’ mistakes. We must learn not to narrow our focus to the present state of affairs, but to look at the totality of our relationships and consider all the good our spouses have done for us.

Don’t dwell on mistakes. Forgive and forget. Remember, no woman will ever make a greater mistake than Eve did. Even forgetting to mail the mortgage check is not as bad as eating from the Tree of Knowledge. (It’s pretty bad, but not as bad.) Look at the totality of your relationship, and remember that your spouse is the one who has provided you with so much happiness and blessing.

Patience for the Future

The Hebrew word for marriage is nisu’in, which has its roots in the word naso, to carry. In marriage, one must carry — and sometimes it can indeed be a schlep — his or her spouse’s foibles and negative traits, along with the idiosyncrasies that so endear us to one another.

In our world of instant communication, we are no longer used to waiting. In order to succeed in marriage, however, you must have the patience to allow your spouse to change, to grow, and to overcome the obstacles that he or she has been born with. People do change, but it takes years. Marriage is not instant. Changing oneself is not instant. You must learn to have patience with the other person’s foibles and carry them until they can change.

And that is what marriage is about — learning to have patience to allow the other person to become better, and to schlep around their idiosyncrasies until that happens.

Like everything that is worth having, a happy, successful marriage requires work. But there is not a more worthwhile investment in the world. Nothing is as rewarding as a good marriage.

Whether you are a single person -- may God send your soul mate speedily -- a newlywed, or an old hand at marriage, remember that marriage is about giving, about caring enough to criticize respectfully, about willing to forget and to forego -- about willing to make that change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Excerpted from Rabbi Frand's new book, "It's Never Too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough" Artscroll publications.
Click here to order your copy.

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« Reply #183 on: November 15, 2009, 09:10:54 AM »

Is My Mirror Telling the Truth?
by Shalvi Weissman

If I could be given any gift to help me in my job as a teacher, I know exactly what I would ask for. I haven't ever seen one, but I know that I need it. I want a special kind of mirror that I can hold up for my students to gaze into, and instead of seeing themselves as they always do, they would see themselves as I see them.

I first began to wish for this magical mirror while sitting with a student who had spent the last twenty or so hours in bed after taking a handful of Tylenol and downing it with a six pack of beer. She told me that she was hideously fat, too ugly to be seen in public, and while she didn't want to kill herself, she wanted to get messed up enough to not feel anything for a while. In front of me sat a lovely young woman; a warm, caring, intelligent and attractive girl who was adored by her fellow students and the other teachers. She saw someone else. I don't quite understand who it was she was seeing, or why, but as I sat and cried with her I told her about my magic mirror, holding up my hand and staring into it, as if together we might be able to wish it into existence.

I don't quite understand who she was seeing Yesterday I had a class with a different young woman. She listened and read, shared ideas and a song. She seemed to me to have had the kind of childhood I would have picked, had I been given a choice, and she seemed to be headed for a promising future, yet somewhere along the line something must have gone wrong. After class I heard from another staff member that this same girl's mind is so filled with suicidal and other destructive thoughts that she is afraid to be alone with herself. Again I wished for my magical mirror.

With these thoughts fresh in my mind I opened my e-mail. A picture appeared. In the thumbnail were a mother and daughter with huge smiles, arm in arm, rejoicing together at a wedding. When I clicked on the picture it came up huge on the screen. Now I saw wrinkles, age marks, crooked teeth and spotty mascara. I went back to the thumbnail, a picture of pure happiness. After having seen the close up I noticed the wrinkles in the smaller picture, too, but they were in the supporting role and not center stage. It was still a beautiful picture.

They see the thumbnail, not the big picture I do the same thing to myself. There are people who see great things in me, but for the most part they are looking at the thumbnail, not the close-up. They don't see me first thing in the morning with a smushy face lined with sleep – but not enough of it – getting aggravated over every little obstacle between me and the bus that will come to collect my children, even if the "obstacle" is the children themselves! They don't see the inner struggles, the ugly thoughts, the stupid and hurtful mistakes made in the privacy of my own mind and home. I tend to zoom in on the negative, hoping that by doing so I might be able to fix something, though in truth more progress has been made in my life when I've focused on the vision of my heart, and not the details of my sharp eye.

Vision. A friend of mine once asked a great woman, a woman who raised many children, each of whom became a rabbi, teacher, kabbalist, or community leader—a success in every true measure of success: "Can you give me some advice on raising children? How did you do what you did?"

She answered briefly, after a few moments of thought, "Tzarich chazon – You need vision." Although chazon also means prophecy, a mother or teacher does not need to be a prophet in order to see the greatness of a child's soul – but it does take prophetic vision.

What made this great woman's children as great as she herself was not only the vision that she held for them. From the day they were born, and maybe even before, she acted in accordance with her vision. Every day, every moment of their childhood, she saw them not only as children but as leaders-in-training, and dealt with them accordingly, teaching and demonstrating the tools and traits that they would need for their trades.

I see my student as diamonds In Hebrew the word for education is chinuch. It contains within it the word chein, grace. Maybe the essence of education is seeing the true grace hidden within our students. When we see the shine of their souls and reflect it back to them, it inspires them to aspire to reach their true potential.

There is a beautiful story of a woman who waited one Sunday to receive a dollar from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was the custom that on Sundays hundreds of people would come to receive a dollar, intended for charity, and a blessing as they passed by. This woman waited for a number of hours in line. When it was finally her turn, she asked the Rebbe how he had the stamina to stand for so long when she, much younger in years, was exhausted. He responded: "When you count diamonds, you don't get tired." No matter what the issue, concern, or baggage a person approached the Rebbe with, he saw past all the muck. He saw the beauty within. He saw the diamond.

So, too, I view my students as diamonds and I have a vision for them. I see their beauty and strength from a perspective that they do not yet have. I see some of the close-up with it's fault lines that seem to go on forever, but I've been around long enough not to believe them. I see the bigger picture of who they are today, and hold in my heart a vision of who they may yet be. I have yet to be asked for my magical wish list, but if I continue to teach and treat my students in accordance with the vision of my heart, I believe that they will come to see that image in the mirror on the wall.

   by Shalvi Weissman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Shalvi Weissman is a mother, teacher, singer and writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and three children.
« Reply #184 on: November 16, 2009, 08:22:05 PM »

Iggeres HaRamban - The Ramban's Letter
According to tradition, after his exile from Spain for his defense of Judaism, the great Ramban (Nachmanides) sent this letter to his son

Hear, my son, the instruction of your father and don't forsake the teaching of your mother (Mishlei 1:Cool. Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger, a serious character flaw which causes people to sin. As our Rabbis said (Nedarim 22a):Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom as it is says in (Koheles 12:10), "Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh." "Evil" here means Gehinnom, as we read (Mishlei 16:4): "...and the wicked are destined for the day of evil." Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart.This radiant quality is the finest of all admirable traits (see Avodah Zarah 20b), because (Mishlei 22:4), "Following humility comes the fear of Hashem."

Through humility you will also come to fear Hashem. It will cause you to always think about (see Avos 3:1) where you came from and where you are going, and that while alive you are only like a maggot and a worm, and the same after death. It will also remind you before Whom you will be judged, the King of Glory, as it is stated (I Melachim 8:27; Mishlei 15:11), "Even the heaven and the heavens of heaven can't contain You" -- "How much less the hearts of people!" It is also written (Yirmeyahu 23:24), "Do I not fill heaven and earth? says Hashem."

When you think about all these things, you will come to fear Hashem who created you, and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you. Also, when you act humbly and modestly before everyone, and are afraid of Hashem and of sin, the radiance of His glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come!

And now, my son, understand and observe that whoever feels that he is greater than others is rebelling against the Kingship of Hashem, because he is adorning himself with His garments, as it is written (Tehillim 93:1), "Hashem reigns, He wears clothes of pride." Why should one feel proud? Is it because of wealth? Hashem makes one poor or rich (I Shmuel 2:7). Is it because of honor? It belongs to Hashem, as we read (I Divrei Hayamim 29:12), "Wealth and honor come from You." So how could one adorn himself with Hashem's honor? And one who is proud of his wisdom surely knows that Hashem "takes away the speech of assured men and reasoning from the sages" (Iyov 12:20)!? So we see that everyone is the same before Hashem, since with His anger He lowers the proud and when He wishes He raises the low. So lower yourself and Hashem will lift you up!

Therefore, I will now explain to you how to always behave humbly. Speak gently at all times, with your head bowed, your eyes looking down to the ground and your heart focusing on Hashem. Don't look at the face of the person to whom you are speaking. Consider everyone as greater than yourself. If he is wise or rich, you should give him respect. If he is poor and you are richer -- or wiser -- than he, consider yourself to be more guilty than he, and that he is more worthy than you, since when he sins it is through error, while yours is deliberate and you should know better!

In all your actions, words and thoughts, always regard yourself as standing before Hashem, with His Shechinah above you, for His glory fills the whole world. Speak with fear and awe, as a slave standing before his master. Act with restraint in front of everyone. When someone calls you, don't answer loudly, but gently and softly, as one who stands before his master.

Torah should always be learned diligently, so you will be able to fulfill it's commands. When you arise from your learning reflect carefully on what you have studied, in order to see what in it that you can be put into practice. Examine your actions every morning and evening, and in this way every one of your days will be spent in teshuvah (repentance).

Concentrate on your prayers by removing all worldly concerns from your heart. Prepare your heart before Hashem, purify your thoughts and think about what you are going to say. If you follow this in all your daily actions, you will not come to sin. This way everything you do will be proper, and your prayer will be pure, clear, clean, devout and acceptable to Hashem, as it is written (Tehillim 10:17), "When their heart is directed to You, listen to them."

Read this letter at least once a week and neglect none of it. Fulfill it, and in so doing, walk with it forever in the ways of Hashem, may he be blessed,so that you will succeed in all your ways. Thus you will succeed and merit the World to Come which lies hidden away for the righteous. Every day that you shall read this letter, heaven shall answer your heart's desires. Amen, Sela!

This translation is part of the Worldwide network of learning materials of Pirchei Shoshanim (c)1996.
Pirchei Shoshanim is part of the Shema Yisrael Torah Network which can be found at or through e-mail,
or by telephone at 732-370-3344 or fax 732-367-6608.
« Reply #185 on: November 17, 2009, 09:24:39 PM »

Yesterday was  one year since the terrorist attack in Mumbai

Broken But Not Crushed
Tragedy in Mumbai

By Chana Weisberg
By the time my ten year old son returned home from school, late yesterday afternoon, the situation for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad of Mumbai, was not looking good. Conflicting reports were circulating but it was confirmed that their two year old son, Moshe, had been rescued by his nanny who managed to escape with him in blood splattered clothes while both his parents were reportedly lying unconscious, still hostages to the terrorists.

For the entire evening as well as this morning, our minds and hearts were consumed with thoughts and prayers for the Holtzbergs. But while we all prayed and hoped beyond hope, a little voice in the back of my mind asserted that the situation did not bode well. Reality was sadly reality and the more time that expired the worse it looked.
He also asked if he could bring me a tea, or do a chore. Any chore.

From the moment that my son came home, he, like Jews the world over, was consumed with the situation. He mentioned how his class had recited Psalms for over two hours that day. But that didn't prevent him from immediately beginning to recite some more…And more…And then patiently trying to convince his four year old sister to repeat just another chapter together with him.

Later, I noticed him slip some of his money in the pushka. He also asked if he could bring me a tea, or do a chore. Any chore. It was clear that he was trying to gather as many positive deeds in the Holtzberg's merit.

Like the rest of us, my son was glued to the news sites on the computer, for any shred of good news about this family. At one point, he mentioned to me how he had heard that Moshe had cried for his parents in the middle of the night. He was visibly affected by this image.

"But," he assured me confidently, "tonight is Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Kislev, the day that the Rebbe recovered from his heart attack. And tonight," at this point his voice rose slightly, "we'll also hear how the Holtzbergs will be saved. It will be good!"

I listened and I nodded. "G‑d willing," I replied.

And yet that little voice in the back of my head once again wondered if perhaps I should warn my sensitive child that things didn't always turn out for the good. Perhaps I should prepare him for what we hoped we would never hear, but that was still a definite possibility.

My son went to sleep last night only after asking that if we heard the good news (that he was sure we would hear), we should please wake him immediately. And when I woke up very early this morning, I found him curled up on my bedroom floor, clearly wanting the comfort of his parents nearby.

As the unfolding situation became more and more grim and I saw my son still reciting extra prayers this morning, I once again wondered, should I perhaps warn my child that we live in the "real" world, where things don't always turn out the way they are supposed to? A world where prayers and good deeds aren't always answered. A world where darkness often obscures light.
But I realize too, that if I succumb to that little voice in the back of my head, I'll only be giving greater power to the evil around us.

No, I didn't say anything to my son.

Because I came to realize that it was he who had the right perspective on the situation and not I.

As I write these words, we all know that unfortunately no miracle happened. I, like all of you, am consumed by such sadness, such grief for the life that could have been… for Gavriel and Rivka…grief for little Moshe…and grief for the terrible pain that their families must be enduring.

I am plagued by questions too.

How could this have happened? How could all of our prayers and good deeds not have weighed in?

How could evil gain such control over our world? And over such good people whose sole life's preoccupation was bringing light, joy and meaning to our world? How could goodness be so vanquished?

Heavy, unbearable, haunting questions.

But I realize too, that if I succumb to that little voice in the back of my head, to this perspective of doubt, pain, and immobility, I'll only be giving greater power to the evil around us.

We can't remain crushed, afraid, and unable to move forward.

Because now is the time to fight—not with doubt and questions, but with the innocent faith of my child, with unity and love towards one another, and with as many rational and irrational good deeds that we can muster.

For the sake of Gavriel and Rivka.

For the sake of little Moshe.

And for the sake of good in our world.

   By Chana Weisberg   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Chana Weisberg is on the editorial staff of She is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and Divine Whispers: Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
« Reply #186 on: November 18, 2009, 06:29:33 AM »
The Torah's Esau

By Yanki Tauber

How should a person be judged -- by what he or she is, or by what s/he can be? That, say the Chassidic masters, depends on who that person is.

If the person is yourself, you must judge yourself by your actions, not your potential. You cannot say to yourself: "OK, I've been sort of lazy lately, and I've messed up a bit, but I know that I can be better. That's the real me -- not the person that the rest of the world sees." On the contrary, if you know that you can do better, you ought to do better. Why else were your talents and resources granted to you -- so that they should rot from misuse inside their wrappings?

If, however, the person being judged is someone other than yourself, you must take the opposite approach. After all, you have no way of knowing, and certainly no way of truly understanding, the circumstances that are preventing that person from actualizing his or her potential. So if you see someone who's a real mess, don't look at what s/he is -- focus instead on what that person can be. In fact, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, the more messed up that person is, the greater the admiration you should have for him or her.

Why is that? Rabbi Schneur Zalman bases his amazing statement on a saying by the sages of the Talmud: "The greater a person is, the greater his evil inclination." Indeed, it stands to reason: otherwise, how could we say that G-d has granted every individual absolute freedom of choice? Don't we see people who are challenged by addictions and temptations far greater than anything we ourselves are ever subjected to? If such a person, too, has been granted the power to control his or her life, that means that they have also been fortified with spiritual strengths far beyond what the "average" person possesses.

The implications of this are twofold: If you see a truly great person, know that he or she has wrestled with demons more ominous and powerful than anything you've ever had to deal with. And if you see someone who has sunk to depths which you cannot even fathom, know that s/he is blessed with equally unfathomable potentials.

This, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the deeper meaning behind a curious commentary by Rashi on the opening verses of the parshah (Torah section) of Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). Toldot begins, "And these are the toldot ('generations') of Isaac, the son of Abraham." Rashi explains: who are these "generations"? "Jacob and Esau who are spoken of in the parshah." But isn't that obvious? Why does Rashi need to explain?

The standard explanation is that, in the Torah, the word toldot can have several meanings. It can mean "children" and "descendents," and it can also mean "products" and "deeds" (all of which are "generated" by a person). Since the account of Jacob's and Esau's birth does not immediately follow the parshah's opening verse, and since the parshah of Toldot also describes events and deeds of Isaac's life, there can be some doubt as to how to translate the word toldot in this context. So Rashi feels the need to tell us that, in this case, it refers to "Jacob and Esau who are spoken of in the parshah."

But, says the Rebbe, there is also another meaning implicit in Rashi's commentary. On a deeper level, Rashi is addressing the question: How do such righteous and holy parents as Isaac and Rebecca, and a righteous and holy environment such as their home, produce a wicked and violent man such as Esau? After all, Esau was Jacob's twin, sharing the same gene-pool and upbringing. Jacob makes sense. But where does Esau come from?

Indeed, says Rashi, the wicked Esau is not a "product" of Isaac and Rebecca, but a monster of his own making. Who are the toldot of Isaac? The Jacob and Esau who are spoken of in the parshah. The Torah's Esau is a man of great potential for good -- as great as the evil he allowed himself to succumb to.

To Esau this says: See what you could be. To us, this says: The next time you see an Esau, look again.
« Reply #187 on: November 19, 2009, 09:54:39 PM »
To Dig a Well

By Yanki Tauber

To dig a well you need persistence. Pick a spot and stick with it. Don't stop boring when you hit a rocky stretch, and you won't be able to take your work home with you.

To dig a well you need humility. If you're one of those creative types who needs to leave a personal imprint on everything he does, find another job. You're not creating the product -- you're not even manufacturing it. It's there beneath the surface, ready and waiting. You're just there to remove the stuff that's in the way, so that it can well up, fresh and bubbling, of its own accord.

To dig a well you need faith. Faith that beneath the sand and rock, beneath the slime and grime and dust and dirt, awaits that fresh and bubbling water, waiting for you to cut a path to it. Faith that if you pick a spot and stick with it, set aside your pretensions and simply commit to doing what needs doing, you will eventually hit a vein of fluid life.

Abraham and Isaac had much in common, of course. Abraham was the first Jew, and Isaac was his heir as the torch-carrier of the creed and morals of monotheism in a pagan world. Each faced similar challenges in the course of his life (decades of childlessness, famine, wife-nabbing, hostile tyrants, renegade sons...). But they were also as different as two personalities can be.

Abraham was constantly on the move; Isaac stayed put. Abraham was G-d's salesman, pitching his tent at the crossroads of caravan routes and inviting wayfarers in so that he could teach them and enlighten them. Isaac, on the other hand, was the silent, secluded type; he, too, had many disciples, but they were inspired by his piety and commitment rather than his charisma and activism. In the Kabbalah, Abraham personifies the attribute of Chessed (benevolence, love) while Isaac embodies Gevurah (rigor, awe, self-abnegation). In their daily lives, Abraham was a shepherd, Isaac a welldigger.

As Jews, we are Abraham's children. We traverse the world as G-d's salesmen, bringing the word and way of G-d to its inhabitants. We care for it as G-d's shepherds, commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, educate the ignorant and redeem the oppressed. We transform it as G-d's artists and artisans, charged to remake the human mind and heart, remake society, remake creation.

But even as we journey and explore, even as we preach and teach and give and transform, we are also the children of Isaac. We also appreciate that at the core of every individual and every creation lies a pool of pure, life-giving waters. We understand that we do not create goodness, or manufacture it, or even bestow it. The goodness is there; we only unearth it. We are only the welldiggers.

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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« Reply #188 on: November 19, 2009, 11:49:12 PM »

« Reply #2989 on: November 18, 2009, 11:19:25 AM »     


Don't blame God for terrorism
After the Fort Hood massacre and others, some people — often atheist stalwarts — like to point at the corrosive influence of religion. But a closer look suggests that the most notorious killers usually act on secular motives.
By Dinesh D'Souza

Did Islam make him do it? While we don't really know the motivation for the Fort Hood massacre in Texas, we do know that the alleged perpetrator, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, was a Muslim with connections to a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen. So once again we hear that Islam is the problem. Atheist commentators go even further, charging that religion motivates people to do terrible things in the name of God.

This critique of religion has an even more serious allegation. It is that religiously motivated fanatics cannot be deterred from their crimes because they commit them without regard to their own safety, in the hopes of becoming martyrs and going straight to heaven. Muslim terrorists, in particular, are believed to sign up for jihad in the expectation of gaining immediate entry into paradise and enjoying the company of nubile virgins there.

Plausible though this critique appears, it is seriously flawed. Hasan wasn't suicidal in the manner of the 9/11 attackers, although he obviously had to expect that he would be apprehended, injured or killed. Moreover, while Hasan was clearly influenced by the doctrines of radical Islam, his main motivation seems to have been both personal and political: He vigorously opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and didn't want to be deployed.

The real motives
But even in the case of Muslims who do go on suicide missions, from 9/11 to the London bombing to the Bali attacks and, most recently, the Mumbai massacre, the quest for heaven hardly seems to be the primary motive. Robert Pape's Dying to Win, a detailed study of suicide missions, concludes that these have nothing to do with promises of postmortem reward but rather are propelled by more mundane motives of revenge against enemies: They invaded our country, they stole our land, they raped my sister, and so on.

My own study of the rhetoric of the Islamic radicals shows that their exhortations make onlyperfunctory references to paradise, on the rare occasions when they mention the subject at all. The predominant theme in this literature is that "Islam is under attack" from the forces of global atheism and immorality, and that Muslims should fight back to protect their religion, their values and their way of life. So even in the special case of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, the 72 virgins hypothesis could be flawed.

But the important point is that Islamic terrorism is a special case. Suicide terrorism in its origins has nothing to do with religion or the afterlife; its motives are secular. Consider the case of the Japanese kamikazes during World War II. They were not moved by the prospect of paradise but by fanatical loyalty to the emperor. So, too, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka have been launching suicide attacks for decades not out of religious motives but in a desperate struggle over land and self-determination.

If religious beliefs in life after death are the source of terrorism, where are the Buddhist suicide bombers? Nor has anyone been able to identify the Christian bin Laden, the Christian equivalent of al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, or the Christian "nation of martyrs" patterned along the lines of post-Khomeini Iran. The vast majority of people in the world believe in God and the afterlife, yet hardly any of them launch suicide attacks in the hope of hastening their journey to heavenly bliss.

So the atheist attempt to indict religion for the crimes of the radical Muslims fails. But more than this: It boomerangs on the atheists. To see why, we must understand the charge as part of a larger critique. For two centuries, leading atheists have alleged that belief in the next world detracts from the pressing task of improving this one. The afterlife, in this view, is anti-life. This seems to be the impulse behind the harsh subtitle of Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens is far from the first to espouse this view.

Indeed, its most famous advocate was Karl Marx. In an 1844 manuscript, Marx wrote that "religion is the opiate of the people." He argued that religion is a kind of drug that turns people's attention away from the evils of the world and toward another world. Religion numbs man's awareness of social injustice. Consequently, religion must be eliminated as an enemy of the revolution for social justice. Marx concludes, "The overcoming of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness."

Atheism as state doctrine
Marx's call to eliminate the next world by establishing a communist utopia on this one was taken up with a vengeance by Lenin and a host of communist leaders who followed him. These despots established atheism as state doctrine in the Soviet Union, and other Marxist regimes around the world followed. In the past hundred years, these regimes, led by people such as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il and others, have murdered over 100 million people. Even bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, doesn't come close.

Atheist Richard Dawkins seeks to minimize the crimes of atheist regimes by arguing that "individual atheists may do evil things, but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism." Dawkins is a respected biologist but evidently knows no history. All he has to do is to crack open Marx's works to discover that atheism is not incidental to the communist scheme; it is absolutely central. The whole idea is to create a new man and a new utopia free of the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality.

Whatever motivated Nidal Hasan to go on his shooting spree at Fort Hood, his actions are hardly an indictment of the belief in God or immortality. Indeed, such beliefs have proved far less dangerous to society than the attempts to establish the God-free utopia. If we need to watch out for heaven-seeking Muslims bent on killing innocent people and flying planes into buildings, we need to be just as vigilant against atheist fanatics who are willing to murder millions in order to establish their version of heaven down to earth.

« Reply #189 on: November 20, 2009, 03:53:27 PM »

By Yanki Tauber
"Do you come here often?"

"No. I mean, I'm here every day."

"Why did you say, 'No'?"

"Because I hate being here. I feel like such an impostor... This isn't who I am."

"So why do you do it?"

"My mother told me to."

Imagine what Jacob must have felt like dressed in Esau's clothing, stealing into his father's room and conniving to receive the blessings intended for his brother. Wholesome, sensitive Jacob, who had spent his entire lifetime closeted in the "tents of study," donning hunting clothes and pasting artificial hair on his arms and the back of his neck to procure "the dew of heaven and the fat of the land." Whatever for does Jacob need "the dew of heaven and the fat of the land," anyway?

Indeed, Isaac planned to divide the world between his two sons. Esau the enterprising "man of the world" would get its material resources, and holy Jacob would inherit the spiritual legacy of Abraham. Jacob would preside over the tents of study where the divine wisdom is learned and taught, and in which a plaque on the wall would credit brother Esau for his generous contributions toward the support of these holy endeavors.

But Rebecca intervened. No, she said, the material world cannot be left to the materialists. It is the Jacobs of the world -- the spiritual ones who spurn the race for power and wealth -- who must wield the power and control the wealth. "Get in there," she said to her son. "Put on your brother's clothes and enter your father's room -- we cannot let Esau get the blessings."

"But what will I do with the fat of the land? I'm no businessman."

"Thank G-d! Imagine what our world would be like if its business were run by businessmen!"

Many years went by. Some of Jacob's descendants became scholars, mystics and men and women of the spirit. Others donned business suits, lab coats, or craftsmen's gear. At first, the latter felt awkward in their foreign clothes. But as generation followed generation, these became somewhat more comfortable with repeated wear.

So each generation made sure to tell their children the story of the Jew in the hunter's clothes. Remember, they said, this isn't who we are. This is a costume, a disguise. We're doing it only because our mother told us to.
« Reply #190 on: November 22, 2009, 09:27:00 PM »
Falling In Love With God - Part 1
by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.

To enjoy the greatest pleasure in life, we need to embrace the half of the glass that's full and the half that's empty.

What is life's greatest pleasure? It's not an easy question. Close your eyes a minute and think about it before you read any further.

What did you come up with?

We know the answer is not cars, vacations or golf, although some of us may have a pretty good argument. Love gets a high rating by many while others vote for success, children and power. (That's more on target, but not the ultimate!)

How about knowing and having a relationship with the Creator of the Universe?

Even an atheist would agree that if there really is a God, then to know Him would be the ultimate pleasure -- greater than Maui, family and all the success in the world.

In the great medieval classic entitled Duties of the Heart, the author Rabbi Bachya Ibn Paquda discusses four steps to falling in love with God.

The four steps are:

   1. Appreciate how great it is to be alive
   2. Mastering the Gratitude-attitude
   3. The power of "letting go."
   4. The art of Service

This article discusses the first step. Underlying the application of his method is a fundamental principle of Judaism: If you want to grow spiritually, you must grow emotionally and psychologically. Indeed, it's impossible to become spiritually mature without becoming emotionally mature at the same time.

To begin, says Ibn Paquda, you cannot fall in love with God until you fall in love with life first. It is impossible to love God if you do not deeply and passionately appreciate all that is good about being alive. Unfortunately, to become a master of appreciation is not easy to achieve.


Do you appreciate your hand? Most of us say we do, but we really don't. There is a crucial difference between having an "intellectual appreciation" of your hand, as opposed to having an "emotional appreciation" of your hand.

When we emotionally appreciate something, we experience a "pleasure burst." We've all had pleasure bursts. When something good happens, or we see a gorgeous sunset, we appreciate the beauty and goodness of the moment. But most of the time we are not experiencing pleasure bursts at all, which means we are not actively appreciating how great it is to be alive.

Which should give you a bigger pleasure burst -- a bowl of ice cream or your hand?

Obviously, your hand is worth much more than a bowl of Ben and Jerry's, but we don't feel it, because we are not able to obtain a real emotional appreciation of our hands. Why don't we have a deeper and more consistent emotional appreciation of life and all that is good about it? Because we find it hard to accept that life isn't perfect.

A major reason why we are not in love with life is because we use much of our time and energy fighting and obsessing about what's not right with ourselves and others. We simply cannot tolerate the apparent imperfections. It's not that we're all perfectionists, rather it's that we have acquired a destructive way of seeing the world, which results in making us miserable.

    We all know the person who goes a picnic but can't have a good time because he forgot the mustard.

A classic illustration of this is the story of the person who goes on a picnic and is having a great time with friends and family on a cloudless summer day until he discovers there is no mustard for his hotdog. The entire day is shot! Suddenly, not only is his hotdog inedible, but the whole day is ruined.

Sound familiar? This is how most of us live our lives day in and day out. We cannot tolerate imperfection and when we discover something that is wrong or missing in our lives, we obsess over it. Sometimes we are able to change what's wrong, but if we can't we often wipe ourselves out with frustration, anger or resentment.

My wife can't seem to manage money in a responsible fashion. My husband never picks the right gift for special occasions. I am always struggling with food, insufficient income or lack of self-confidence. I'm not married. I married the wrong the person. I don't have kids. My kids drive me crazy with their constant demands. We all have imperfection in our lives!


We are all familiar with the piece of wisdom that suggests that in order to be happy we need to learn how to focus on the half of the glass that's full rather than on the half that's empty. I have come to believe that learning to focus on the good alone is not the complete truth nor the real challenge of life. The real challenge of life is being able to focus on and embrace both -- the half that's full and the half that's empty.

Embracing both the good and the bad is our ultimate challenge and the key to emotional well-being and true happiness. No one enjoys only accomplishing half of a goal. Not only do we want to get to the finish line, we want to win the gold as well.

But life isn't perfect and more often than not, we don't get everything we want or accomplish everything we want. Therefore, we must learn to embrace the ugly or imperfect parts of ourselves and our lives while working responsibly to beautify them as much as possible. Only then will we be able to stop obsessing about what's wrong and begin to appreciate what's right.

The liberation that comes through acceptance is wonderfully expressed by the playwright, Arthur Miller in the play, After the Fall:

    The same dream returned each night until I dared not to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face and it was horrible, but I kissed it. I think one must take one's life in one's arms.

Obsessively rejecting what we don't like about our lives always leads to psychological pain, while acceptance of what we don't like is the key to emotional health.


Ask yourself this question: "What do you find totally unacceptable about yourself and your life?" What do you obsess about changing? The irony is that we think our obsessing will somehow help us gain control of the thing we don't like. The truth is that the thing we continually fight, reject, and obsess over actually gains more and more control over us!

    He will most likely blow-up at anyone who suggests he should just enjoy his mustardless hotdog the way it is.

For example, Let's go back to the guy at the picnic who is obsessing about his mustardless hotdog. The more he focuses on the "loss," the more power it gains over him and the worse he feels. This is why he will most like blow-up at anyone who suggests he should just get over it and enjoy his hotdog the way it is.

Until there is acceptance of what's wrong, there can be no appreciation of the good.

Before we can change what we don't like, we must make friends with it first. This is what the rabbis meant when they said regarding the evil inclination, "Draw it close with the right hand and push it away with the left." We must accept it, not totally reject it. Pushing away with both hands only gives it more power over us.

Only when we genuinely embrace the bad parts of our life, can we begin to appreciate and enjoy the good parts of our life. Learning to accept what's bad is a challenging task, but we can master it by working with a few tools.

The first and most important step is to recognize and admit what you obsess over. Ask yourself these questions, "What do I obsess about on a regular basis? What do I find totally unacceptable about myself, my life, my relationships? What do I hate most about myself, my life, my relationships?"

Most likely these are the issues that you are using "both hands" to push away. And these things which you are working so hard to reject are the issues you must learn to draw close. Again remember, acceptance doesn't mean giving-in or giving-up. It means I am taking ownership of them because right now they belong to me.


In order to take ownership, you need to verbalize it. For example, say out loud, "I hate that my mind works so slow and that I feel so stupid, but this is the mind I was given and I must learn to accept it even though it makes me feel limited and inferior to others."

Once you've owned and made friends with the part of you that you don't like, you need to take responsibility to make adjustments where possible so that your limitation will be less of an obstacle. In the example above, a reasonable step might be to take a class in improving reading and comprehension ability.

Awareness is the key to mastering the skill of acceptance. We must first acknowledge what we find so repulsive about ourselves before we can embrace it and take ownership of it.
The Four Part series Falling in Love with God includes:
Part 1: Falling in Love with God
Part 2: Mastering the Gratitude Attitude
Part 3: Indebtedness
Part 4: Service Payback Time
« Reply #191 on: November 23, 2009, 04:53:56 PM »
Weekly Sermonette
A Ladder to Heaven

By Yossy Goldman

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

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

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

There is a beautiful message here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a safe and successful journe
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« Reply #192 on: November 24, 2009, 04:43:18 AM »


I needed your post #190.

Thank you,
« Reply #193 on: November 24, 2009, 09:10:41 PM »

I'm glad the post was helpful.  I really like this series.

Mastering The Gratitude Attitude
by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.

It starts with getting rid of the entitlement attitude, which puts one's "rights" ahead of everything else.

What in life do you feel is coming to you? Health? A good job? Children? A peaceful retirement? Check yourself out.

If you're like me, you probably have a whole list of things you feel entitled to, and if you don't get them, you feel cheated. If you are unable to take a vacation or buy the home you've dreamed of, then life has robbed you of something you are entitled to!

We live in a society that feeds an entitlement attitude. Compare the Bill of Rights, which focuses on our entitlements, to the Torah, which focuses on our responsibilities and obligations.


The entitlement attitude says, "life owes me something," or "people owe me something," or "God owes me something."

You know if you're into entitlement because the result leaves you constantly feeling angry, resentful, or frustrated. If you believe that someone owes you something and that person doesn't come through, you feel angry. You feel you've been ripped-off and cheated out of what I rightly deserve.

But entitlement is a lie. It's a perversion of reality.

There is nothing in the universe that states, "Dov Heller deserves to live a long, happy, and successful life!" My feelings of entitlement are born from within my own mind. Objectively speaking, there is no basis for such claims.

    Everything good we do get must be looked at as a gift.

Even though Judaism maintains that God created us for pleasure and wants us to have pleasure, we still should not feel entitled to getting what we desire. This is because everything good we do get must be looked at as a gift. Understanding this creates an awareness that the source of all our good is God.

This understanding that everything is a gift forms the basis of our relationship with God. Judaism also looks at the bad as coming from God and it should ultimately be viewed as a gift. However a discussion of this complex issue is beyond the limits of this article.

Neither God, nor anyone else for that matter, owes us anything. Do you believe this is true? Most people do not.


There are many things we feel entitled to. For example, aren't we entitled to have people treat us fairly, with sensitivity, with respect? Where is that written? The truth is that any kindness we receive from others is always a gift.

What about marriage? This is an area of life which is full of expectation. What do you think your spouse owes you? Financial support? Emotional support? Is he or she the one who is supposed to make you happy for the rest of your life?

Your spouse owes you nothing! Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler emphasized this point in his Strive for Truth when he said, "When demands begin, love departs." If we would focus on our responsibilities to our spouses and what we can do to make them happy, our marriages would be much more fulfilling. Focus on what you are not getting that you feel entitled to and your marriage will be painful.

A distinction must be made between the illegitimacy of "entitlement" in an absolute sense and our legitimate claim to seek "justice" and the fulfillment of one's rights under society's laws or under a body of religious laws. For example, when a person isn't paid for his work, he is "entitled" by society's laws to sue for his wages. A wife who is being treated disrespectfully by her husband is "entitled" by Torah law to be given respect.

But in an absolute sense, a person is not entitled to be paid or to be given respect because there is nothing in the universe that guarantees any kind of individual rights.


Eliminating entitlement from your life and embracing gratitude is spiritually and psychologically liberating.

Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift. My eyes are a gift. So is my wife, my clothes, my job and my every breath. This is a major shift from the entitlement mode. Recognizing that everything good in life is ultimately a gift is a fundamental truth of reality.

    Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.

To speak of seeing everything good we have as a gift leads us to confront the reality of a giver and the source of all this good: God.

Gratitude is where we begin to experience God in a powerfully personal way. "Thank you" is the simplest and one of the most powerful prayers a person can say. If you can say, "Thank you," you can connect with God and begin to develop a personal relationship with Him.

A powerful, although tragic, example of someone who mastered the gratitude attitude was a great Jewish woman named Bruria. The story of Bruria is told in the Talmud. Bruria and her husband, Rabbi Meir, had two sons who both died one Friday afternoon before Shabbat. Bruria decided not to tell her husband of the tragedy until after Shabbat since, according to Jewish law, one is not permitted to have a funeral on Shabbat or to openly mourn. There was nothing they could do until after Shabbat so she kept the information to herself and allowed her husband to enjoy the day (imagine being able to do that!). Explaining where the boys were was the least of her challenges.

When Shabbat was over this is how Bruria broke the horrible news to her husband. She asked him a legal question: What is the proper course of action if one person borrows two jewels from another and then the original owner requests that the return of the jewels. He replied with the obvious answer that one is obligated to return the loan upon demand. She then took her husband to where their two dead sons lay and said, "God has requested that we return the loan of our two jewels."

Bruria teaches us a potentially life transforming lesson here: Everything we have is on loan!


My ears are on loan, my health is on loan, my children are on loan. Everything is a loan that is given as a gift.

What have we done that we could claim we earned life, health, financial success, or children? We have done nothing. As I mentioned earlier, when we internalize this truth, we become spiritually and psychologically liberated.

How freeing to live with a sense that everything good is on loan.

This is the key to internalizing the gratitude attitude. Once we understand that everything is a gift, we can begin to feel gratitude towards God, the source of all good, and grow closer to Him in an authentic and joyful way.

The Four Part series Falling in Love with God includes:
Part 1: Falling in Love with God
Part 2: Mastering the Gratitude Attitude
Part 3: Indebtedness
Part 4: Service Payback Time

This article can also be read at:

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« Reply #194 on: November 25, 2009, 06:54:50 AM »

The Chase
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Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
And it was reported to Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled. And he took his kinsmen with him, and he chased after him a seven days' journey; and they overtook him at Mount Gilad....

And Jacob was angry and strove with Laban... And he said: "What is my crime and what is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? ...Twenty years I have been in your employ... In the day drought consumed me, and the frost at night; and my sleep departed from my eyes..."

And Laban said: "...Come, let us make a covenant, I and you." ... And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there upon the heap... And Laban said to Jacob: "...This heap be witness, and this monument be witness, that I will not cross this heap to you, and you will not cross this heap and monument to me, for harm..." And they spent the night on the hill.

And Laban rose in the morning... and he returned to his place. And Jacob went on his way. (Genesis 31:4-32:2)

Each and every creation has at its heart a "spark of holiness"Why does a man who has spent his entire life in the "tents of study" in pursuit of wisdom and closeness to G‑d, leave the spiritual oasis of Be'er Sheva, home of Abraham and Isaac, and go to Charan in Paddan-Aram, the world's capital of idolatry and deceit, to spend twenty years as a shepherd in the employ of Laban the Deceiver?

He is hunting sparks.

Each and every creation, no matter how material and mundane, has at its heart a "spark of holiness." A spark that embodies G‑d's desire that it exist and its function within G‑d's overall purpose for creation. A spark that is the original instrument of its creation and which remains nestled within it to continually supply it with being and vitality. A spark of holiness that constitutes its "soul"—its spiritual content and design.

Entrenched in the physical reality, these holy sparks are virtual prisoners within their material encasements. The physical world, with its illusions of self-sufficiency and arbitrariness, suppresses all but the faintest glimmer of G‑dliness and purposefulness.

The soul of man descends into the trappings and trials of physical life in order to reclaim these sparks. By assuming a physical body that will eat, wear clothes, inhabit a home, and otherwise make use of the objects and forces of the physical existence, the soul can redeem the sparks of holiness they incorporate. For when a person utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve the Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence and purpose.

"The deeds of the fathers are signposts for the children."1 The story of Jacob's journey to Charan, where he spent twenty years in the home and employ of the evil Laban, is the story of our own lives. The soul, too, leaves behind a spiritual and G‑dly existence to preoccupy itself with material needs, to become a shepherd and entrepreneur in the Charans of the world.2 The soul, too, must condescend to deal with the crassness, hostility and deceptions of an alien employer. It must struggle to extract the sparks of holiness from their mundane husks, to deliver the flocks of Laban into the domain of Jacob.

Unfinished Business
Among the "signposts" in Jacob's journey is the rather strange closing chapter in his dealings with Laban.

Jacob's mission in Charan seemed complete. As he tells Rachel and Leah, Laban's wealth has been "delivered"3 to him—the material resources of this alien land have been sublimated, their sparks of holiness redeemed through Jacob's exploitation of them for good and G‑dly ends. Indeed, the Almighty has communicated to him it is time he came home. Rachel and Leah, too, sense that all opportunities in Charan have been utilized, that there no longer remains "a portion or inheritance for us in our father's house." So Jacob "rose up and set his sons and his wives on the camels. And he led away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had acquired, the possessions of his purchase, which he had acquired in Paddan-Aram, to go to... the land of Canaan."4

But Laban pursues Jacob, and they have a final confrontation on Mount Gilad. Reconciled, they break bread together and camp for the night. Then, each goes his own way, having sealed a mutual non-aggression pact, to be attested to by a pile of stones which marks their respective domains.5

Obviously, there was still some unfinished business between them, some lingering sparks still languishing in Laban's camp. In the words of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch: "Jacob had left behind Torah letters (a kabbalistic term for the "sparks of holiness" imbedded in creation6) which he had not yet extracted from Laban. This is why Laban pursued him—to give him the letters which remained with him. An entire chapter was added to the Torah by these letters."7

To Pursue and to be Pursued
In other words, there are two types of "sparks" that we redeem in the course of our lives. The first type are those which we consciously pursue, having recognized the potential for sanctity and goodness in an object or event within our life's trajectory. Indeed, we human beings pride ourselves on the measure of control we have learned to exercise over our lives: we plan our education, decide whom to marry, choose a community, chart a career and save for retirement. We're constantly manipulating our environment, cultivating opportunities and maneuvering ourselves into the right place and time to properly take advantage of them.

...opportunities representing potentials so lofty that they cannot be identified by our humanly finite facultiesBut every so often, we are confronted with something that is neither of our making nor in our control. Something that seemed so readily in our grasp remains incomprehensibly elusive; something we've done everything in our power to avoid invades our lives. These are "sparks" of the second sort: opportunities which we would never have realized on our own, since they represent potentials so lofty that they cannot be identified and consciously developed by our humanly finite perception and faculties. So our redemption of these sparks can only come about unwittingly, when, by divine providence, our involvement with them is forced upon our by circumstances beyond his control.

Thus our lives are divided into "Charan" periods and "Mount Gilad" events. The bulk of our efforts are conscious and focused: goals are defined, opportunities recognized, endeavors planned and achieved. But then there are the situations we never desired, the encounters which pursue us even as we flee from them. These may aggravate and exasperate us; like Jacob on Mount Gilead we cry, "What more do you want of me? Are my decades scorching days and freezing nights not enough?" But we must never dismiss theses encounters and fail to extract the kernel of good that certainly lies buried within them. Indeed, they contain the most elusive, and most rewarding, achievements of our lives.8

1.  Nachmanides' commentary on Genesis 12:6.
2.  See Or HaChaim commentary on Genesis 28:14.
3.  Thus the verb hatzalah, which means "save," "redeem" and "deliver," is used by the Torah to describe Jacob's success in exacting a profit from Laban's flocks (Genesis 31:9 and 16). The same word is used in connection with the "great riches" with which the Jews left Egypt, "leaving it as a silo emptied of its grain, as a pond emptied of its fish"—a reference to the "sparks of holiness" whose redemption was the purpose of their descent into Egyptian exile (Exodus 12:36; see Genesis 15:14 and Talmud, Berachot 9a-b).
4.  Genesis 31, verses 9, 3, 14 and 17-18 respectively.
5.  We find a similar phenomenon in the prohibition of a Jew to live in Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16): having been utterly "emptied" of its sparks, there is no longer anything to be accomplished through one's involvement with the material resources in that corner of the world.
6.  The sparks of holiness are referred to in the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidism as "letters", since it is the "letters" of the divine speech (e.g. "And G‑d said: 'Let there be light!' And there was light") which create and sustain each created entity and constitute its soul and essence (see Tanya, part II, ch. 1).
7.  Quoted by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch in Ohr HaTorah, vol. V, p. 869a.
8.  Based on a talk by the Rebbe, Tishrei 27, 5712 (October 27, 1951); Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 260-264.
« Reply #195 on: November 25, 2009, 05:55:42 PM »

By Jay Litvin

Along the way I met angels. It was about 19 years ago. There were maybe 10,000 or so of them hovering about. They were all of different sizes and shapes. Some looked like Walt Disney cartoon angels, the kind that carried Goofy to heaven when he'd been hit over the head. Others were straight out of store window displays or greeting cards. Some looked like the plaster angels I used to buy in a Mexican market, primitive, brightly painted in pastel blues and pinks. It was a fascinating assortment, all vigorously flapping their big, little and medium sized wings.

I met them one day in my car. After days of deliberation and overcoming a tremendous amount of fear, my wife and I had decided to let our six year old son cross the street on his own. The place was Milwaukee. Not as bad as New York or Chicago, but with cars just as hard that drove just as fast. The images that passed through our minds were as gruesome as if he'd been walking across 42nd and Broadway for the first time. Little fragile bones, soft pink skin. You get the picture.

We came up with this plan. Unbeknownst to him, after he left the house, I would get into the car, drive to each of the corners he would have to cross, park the car where he couldn't see me, and watch. I didn't know if I could protect him. But at least I would know his fate.

(I haven't thought about this day for years. Then the other day something happened to pry loose a crystal clear image in my memory.)

I sat in the car and saw him approach the first corner. He looked absolutely tiny. He walked with these little steps, looking this way and that, stopping every once in a while to look at something on the ground or to turn his head and catch a glimpse of a bird in a tree or a cloud or something up high in a window. He had on this little striped blue and yellow tee-shirt, blue shorts, little socks that came just above his ankles, and blue sneakers.

As he approached the first corner, my heart was thumping, my hands gripped the steering wheel. I mustered up all my concentration and attempted, through mental telepathy, to remind him to stop and look both ways. My eyes didn't blink for fear that in the momentary blackness when my lids would cover my eyes something horrible would happen. As he came to the curb, my hand moved to the door handle and I calculated how fast I could open the door and run to grab him. There was no hope of rescue, but I gripped the handle nonetheless.

Whether he received my message, or whether his own good sense kicked in, he stopped. Cars were coming from both directions. What would he do? As he waited, looking both ways, back and forth, back and forth, calculating when to cross, I experienced a profound helplessness. I felt as if I had no spine, no muscles in my legs or arms, no vivifying force animating my body. I sat and watched and waited and tried to breath. He was out of my hands. Then he made his move. When the coast was completely clear, he started to skip across the street, happy as a clam, spry as a bunny.

At the next corner I learned to pray. At the time, I was not religious. But as I sat crouched in the car I decided there must be a G-d. As I watched my son approach, I could not accept his vulnerability to the great unknown forces of darkness and harm in the world. Nor could I accept my helplessness to keep him safe. I refused to believe that this little guy was out there on his own with no protection. It made no sense to me that a little life would be brought into this world, forced one day to claim his independence, and then be set adrift with no one nor nothing to watch over him. I prayed. I beseeched whatever benevolent forces there were in the world with the power to watch over my son to come to him now and protect him.

Don't get me wrong. My hand was still on the handle of the car door. I was poised like a race horse at the gate, prepared to sprint even though I knew the race would be lost. Yet I prayed with the full strength of my love and fear and terrible fantasies combined. And then he crossed the street again.

At the third corner, I had trouble finding a place to park where he wouldn't see me. I panicked. By this time I was convinced that my prayers and my concentration (reminding him to stop and look both ways) were the only things protecting him. What would happen if I couldn't get he car parked in time to take up my position with my hand gripping the door handle (which by now had become a superstition)? What if I was unable to focus my unblinking eyes on his little striped t-shirt and begin praying before he reached the corner? Finally I scooted down an alley, and positioned the car so that just the hood and part of my window was sticking out, allowing me to keep him in view without him seeing me.

As he approached the corner, I took my position, hand in place, eyes unblinking, mind focused and my lips mumbling prayers for Divine mercy and protection.

Then I saw the angels.

There were thousands of them. All hovering about flapping their wings, covering him from head to toe, some touching him. I realized that my son was not walking, but being carried forward by these angels. I saw this clearly when they all, including my son, came to the corner. The angels stopped, and then my son stopped. The angels moved in unison, as though they shared one mind. I remember thinking how strange this was since all the angels were so different one from the other. How did those Walt Disney angels know what the Mexican plaster angels were thinking and doing? But sure enough, they all moved together and brought my son to a standstill right at the edge of the curb. And they didn't let him budge. It was fascinating to watch. While most of the angels stood holding my son, others flew out, like scouts, to make sure no cars were coming. Then as they flew back to make their report, a new batch of angels flew out again to keep the vigil. I wondered if the mission of some of them was to actually stop the cars from proceeding down the street so my son could cross. Angels were flying back and forth, to and fro, in the same way I now imagine angels ascended and descended Jacob's ladder. I sat transfixed.

Finally, when all was quiet, the angels moved my son across the street. And as I watched I felt my hand let go of the door handle. My eyes began to blink again. My mind relaxed and seemed to fill with light. And I took a deep, long breath. I think - though I can't trust my memory on this point - that I smiled.

I know my son smiled. I saw him (and can see him perfectly clear in my memory even now) with a big grin on his little face and I saw him kind of skip and hop and chuckle across the street. I noticed for the first time how absolutely sure of himself he was. How much he was enjoying his new freedom. How he embraced it with not the slightest twinge of anxiety or worry. I wondered, then, if he could see the angels and I wondered how anyone could possibly have children and not believe in G-d and angels and still survive the growth of their offspring without a nervous breakdown.

I didn't actually see the angels again after that. But I knew they were there. As each child after him was born and grew and reached that time when he or she needed to cross the street I remembered the angels, but I didn't actually see them. I continued to pray, though not so desperately. I even continued to drive to each street corner, but now more out of curiosity than out of genuine worry and dread. And as each of them grew older, I even stopped thinking of the angels so much, except on especially worrisome occasions.

For my son who introduced me to angels, I didn't think of them at all. Not until the other day.

My son is now 25. He lives in New York. I went there on a business trip and we spent a lot of time together. He showed me his apartment. We daavened together. We went out to dinner. Did a little shopping. He hung out with me while I went about my business. We talked about him and about me and about his brothers and sisters and about his mom. We talked about his future. It was clear that he knew how to cross the street by himself, yet he still walked close by me down the street and sometimes I had the feeling that it was he looking out for me, rather than the other way around. He'd pick lint off my coat or ask if I remembered my tickets as we headed out to find a cab to take me to the airport. I loved him so much during those days. I enjoyed him. I liked the man he had become. Yet now I had to leave him and go home, many, many miles away.

We had trouble finding a cab and he carried my suitcase for me as we walked to a cab stand by Grand Central Station. We hugged and I held my tears inside my eyes when we said good-bye. He let me kiss him. I put my luggage inside the trunk, and as I got inside the cab he said, "Don't forget to get your luggage out when you get to the airport, Ta." I turned my head away so he wouldn't see my tears and my heartache, my worry and hope, my fear and regret, my lips moving in prayer.

And just before the cab turned the corner I looked back. And then once again I saw the angels carrying him down the street.

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 #196 on: November 26, 2009, 01:35:17 PM »
Falling In Love With God, Step 3: Indebtedness
by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.

To experience God deeply, we must face the undeniable truth that we are hugely indebted to our Creator.

Twenty-five years ago, I enrolled in Harvard Divinity School to study modern theology from a very liberal perspective. From this perspective, God was an academic subject, an abstraction.

The reason I opted for this"modern" way of looking at God was that because the more traditional way turned me off. But after much soul searching, I realized what it was that bothered me so much. Truth be told, I found the more traditional way very threatening – it meant taking God seriously as a real"being."

After all, if God is only a concept, then I don't owe God anything and I don't have to change my life in any significant way. But if God is really there, and really is the Creator of the universe, then I have to take Him seriously. And that meant changing my life in some significant ways.

The moment I acknowledged my indebtedness to God in a personal way, I knew my life would never be the same. God now became the center of my life. I could no longer keep God on the periphery.


Acknowledging indebtedness is key to falling in love with God. It is the third of the four steps in this process.

Let's quickly review steps one and two before examining step three in detail.

The first step requires that we develop an appreciation for how great life is. (See Falling in Love with God) To fall in love with God we must first fall in love with life first. Until we appreciate how good life is, it is impossible to appreciate how good God is.

Once we appreciate how much good we have, we are ready to move on to step two which is to develop a gratitude attitude. (See The Gratitude Attitude) The gratitude attitude means recognizing that everything we have is a gift and that we're entitled to nothing.

Gratitude is the link to connecting the good of life to its source -- namely God. Gratitude is about saying,"Thank you" to God for all the good He's given us. When we understand that everything is not only a gift but a loan as well, we will feel a tremendous closeness to God.

    When we acknowledge that everything we have is a loan, we feel a tremendous closeness to God.

Step three of falling in love with God is perhaps the most challenging. It makes us makes them feel uncomfortable and we are inclined to skip it. After all, no one likes being indebted to someone else.

Yet, to experience God deeply, we must face the undeniable truth that we are hugely indebted to the Creator of the universe.

If you lost your hands and someone gave you new ones, you'd feel not only a great sense of gratitude, but a deep sense of indebtedness. How much more do we owe the Creator of the universe who not only gave us hands, but also eyes, legs, feet, a brain, etc.

One might say,"but I didn't ask for these things." It doesn't matter. You may not have asked the person who saved your life to pull you out of the ocean when you were drowning, but you are indebted nonetheless!

Yet, there are some people who might feel,"I wish he hadn't saved my life!" As strange as this might seem, some people have such a negative feeling about their life, that rather than feel indebted to God for the gift of life, they feel angry at God for having put them in such a lousy situation.

My response is that such an attitude is most often the result of having endured much pain, disappointment, and discouragement. Such attitudes require a total shift.


Judaism posits that life is essentially good. Because of life's struggles, we can easily lose this focus. This is why it is so important to constantly work on one's attitude. We cannot feel indebted unless we have an appreciation of life and an attitude of gratitude towards God.

Yes, feeling indebted is an uncomfortable feeling. This is because each of us has a strong drive to be autonomous, independent, and above all, in control. When we owe another person for something he or she did for us, we lose a little of our freedom, independence and control. The benefactor has gained some power over us.

Our rabbis tell us that honoring our parents is one of the hardest commandments to fulfill. The reason is because to honor our parents means to live with a constant awareness that they gave us life and that we are indebted to them forever! Just like our ego resists acknowledging our debt to our parents, even more so does it resist acknowledging our debt to God.

We bristle at the thought of living in a state of constant indebtedness to God, because we are afraid that we will lose our freedom and control over our lives. This is a very scary thought indeed and one which is normal to resist.

There's only one way to get past the discomfort of feeling indebted. We must lead with our minds, not with our hearts. We must ask ourselves the simple question,"Is it true or not?"

If we can admit intellectually that we are indebted to God, then our ego resistance will begin to soften and the emotional discomfort will dissipate; it will not only become easier to tolerate, but it will become nothing less than transformational!

    King David described this transformational experience as"the breaking of the heart.

King David described this transformational experience as"the breaking of the heart." This is an experience of total submission to the truth that we owe God everything we have. It's an experience of letting go -- letting go of the illusion that we are in control and autonomous. It's an experience of acknowledging the truth that we are"radically dependent" on God for all the good He has given us. To admit this requires humility.

When we recognize and accept that we are indebted to God, we gain a clarity that will change our lives forever. Our entire self-concept is transformed when we acknowledge our total dependence on God as well as our relationship to the universe. We discover who we really are and what our place is in the vast of creation.

After this experience, nothing is ever the same! It's a cosmic paradigm shift. Above all, our experience of God is transformed into something real and alive.

I remember the moment at Harvard when I stopped fighting and"submitted" to this truth. It was both scary and exhilarating. And it was for sure a cosmic paradigm shift that has changed the way I see myself and my place in the universe to this present day.


When you acknowledge and begin to live with the humility of indebtedness to God on a regular basis, you will feel a closeness to God that is very real. After this experience, God can not remain an abstraction. He will be powerfully real.

The most important tool you can use to grow in this way, is to ask yourself the following questions:

   1. What is my definition of God?
   2. Is it true that God is the source of everything good I have?
   3. If God is the source of everything good I have, do I not owe Him something?
   4. What stops me from"letting go" and acknowledging my total indebtedness to God?

If you honestly grapple with these questions, they will lead you towards this very wonderful experience of coming to terms with God in radically new way.
« Reply #197 on: November 27, 2009, 08:23:39 AM »
Did You Ask To Be Born?

By Yanki Tauber

Once upon a time there was a village full of disgruntled people. All day long they walked around with these sour faces, each bemoaning his troubles, each jealous of her neighbor's successes.

One day, a wise old man arrived in the village. He assembled them all in the village square and said to them: "I want you each to go and bring your most precious possession, the thing you cherish most in your life, and place it here in middle of the square." Soon there was a large pile of bundles and packages, of all shapes and sizes, in the center of the village square.

"Now," instructed the wise man, "you may each select for yourselves any one of these gifts. The choice is yours--take any package you desire."

Every man, woman and child in the village did exactly the same thing. Each chose his own bundle.

The Torah, as we all know, begins at the beginning, describing G-d's creation of the heavens and the earth, the continents and the oceans, vegetation and animal life. Then, in its 26th verse, we proceed to the creation of man. "And G-d said," we read, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..."

G-d is asking a council of human souls if He should create the human soul! Let us? Up to this point--and from here on through the rest of the Torah--G-d is spoken of as the ultimate singularity. He is the Boss, the exclusive source and mover of all. But in this single instance, there is an "us," a choir of opinions, a supernal boardroom before which the Creator places a proposal and asks for approval.

With whom did G-d consult when He desired to create the human being? Our sages offer a number of explanations. One is that G-d asked the angels, so as to temper their later criticisms of the failings of mortal man. Another explanation is that G-d was involving all elements of the universe, or all aspects of His infinitely potentialed being, in the formation of the multi-faceted soul of man. All these explanations, of course, raise at least as many questions as they answer. Indeed, it is regarding this particular verse that the sages have stated: "The Torah says it thus; anyone who wishes to misunderstand, let him misunderstand..." Obviously, there is an important message here to us--important enough that the Torah insists on this particular phraseology despite the fact that it allows for (encourages?) misunderstanding.

But there is one interpretation of this verse which presents us with a conundrum of a paradox. The Midrash offers the following explanation: "With whom did He consult? With the souls of the righteous."1 G-d is asking a council of human souls if He should create the human soul!

The plot thickens. Who are these "righteous" (tzaddikim) with whom G-d consulted? According to the prophet Isaiah, "Your people are all tzaddikim."2 We each posses the soul of a tzaddik (regardless of the extent to which we allow its expression). In other words, G-d asked each and every one of us if we desire to be created, if we choose to accept the challenge of earthly life. Only then did He proceed to create us.

If asking a soul whether it wants to be created sounds like a catch-22, this paradox in fact resolves a much deeper paradox--the paradox of divine decree and human choice.

G-d is forever telling us what to do G-d is forever telling us what to do. Indeed, the very word Torah means "instruction," and that's basically what the Torah is: a series of instructions from on high. And yet we are told that "a fundamental principle of the Torah" is that "freedom of choice has been granted to man."3 What exactly are our choices, if G-d is constantly instructing us?

The question runs deeper. Let us assume that, in any given situation, under any set of circumstances, the choice is ours as to how we should act. But what kind of choice is this, if no one asked us if we want to be in that situation and under those set of circumstances in the first place? What kind of "choice" is there, if we didn't choose whether or not we should be presented with that choice?

So the Torah reveals to us this amazing secret: that ultimate choice was made by us, before we even existed. Before G-d emanated your soul and breathed it into your body, you were asked if you should be. So in every situation in which you find yourself, in every challenge you face in your life--you are there because you chose to be placed in that life.

The life we have is the life we want We go through life complaining, "I didn't ask to be born...!" But a thousand times a day we refute that claim. With countless choices and actions, we affirm that the life we have is the life we want.

Of course we do. After all, we chose it.
1.    Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:7.
2.    Isaiah 60:21.
3.    Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah 5:1.

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By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London
« Reply #198 on: November 29, 2009, 08:40:13 PM »

The Kitchen or the Library?

By Yanki Tauber

A huge fireplace dominated the room, in which a fire blazed round the clock. To its right were the food preparation areas. A massive oaken table, seating fourteen, indicated that the food in this home would be eaten right here, within sight of where the staff of butchers and chefs had prepared it for consumption. It was also obvious that this was the epicenter of the building, while the other rooms (sleeping alcoves, storage rooms and guest reception areas) filled secondary roles to the structure's central space.

"My design," explained the architect, "recaptures the home's initial, primal function: to shelter and nourish its inhabitants" "My design for A New Home for the New Millennium may seem revolutionary," explained the architect, "but only because we have drifted away in recent centuries from the home's initial, primal function. The kitchen moved from the core of the house to its periphery. It shrunk in size, sometimes to miniscule proportions, or it became little more than a showcase for expensive gadgetry. The dinning table devolved into an undersized 'kitchen table' and thence to a small countertop at which one perches to 'grabs a bite.' My design represents the endeavor to recapture the original purpose of the home: to shelter and nourish its inhabitants..."

A smattering of applause. Then the second architect unveiled his design.

At first glance, the second architect's model was similar in form and dimensions to the first. But closer examination revealed it to be a fundamentally different structure. The kitchen and other service areas were out in the courtyard. The building's core was an intimate room, furnished with bookshelves bearing a collection of ancient and modern volumes. It was a space for people to pursue intellectual study, listen to heart-stirring music, and engage in soul-enriching dialogue.

Is that all we are -- bodies that eat? "As you can see," the second architect began, "I have taken the very opposite approach of my esteemed colleague. Yes, the home should cater to our visceral needs; but is that all it is? Is that all we are--bodies that eat? To me, the primary function of a home is to house and facilitate our spiritual self--the self that thinks and feels, the self that gains and imparts knowledge and wisdom, the self the thrives on receiving and sharing joy..."

"G‑d desired a home in this world."1 Indeed, say the Chassidic masters, this is the purpose for which G‑d created all the worlds supernal and lowly, and the purpose of everything we do in and with our lives.

Following the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, G‑d instructed that a "model home" be built -- a structure that will embody, on a highly condensed and intensified scale, His vision of a dwelling for Himself in the physical world. Thus the portable Mishkan ("Tabernacle") was built in the desert to accompany the Children of Israel in their journeys, later achieving a more permanent form in the Beit Hamikdash ("Holy Temple") in Jerusalem.

A "model home" that embodies, on a highly condensed and intensified scale, G‑d's vision of a dwelling for Himself in the physical world The design and construction of the Tabernacle are described, in great detail, beginning in Exodus 25. The Sanctuary itself consisted of two chambers. An outer chamber, the "Holy," housed the menorah (seven branched candelabra), the "table" on which the 12 showbread were displayed, and a small altar for burning incense. The inner "Holy of Holies" contained the ark which held the Torah.2 The "courtyard" enclosing the Sanctuary contained the large Outer Altar on which the korbanot (animal and meal offerings) where offered.3

Which of these "vessels" most represented the significance of the divine dwelling? In which of these various functions did the primary objective and raison d'être of the edifice lie? Two of the great commentators and interpreters of Torah offer two contrasting perspectives on this question.

According to Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204), the Holy Temple is most basically defined as "a house for G‑d that is prepared for the offering of korbanot."4 According to Naschmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1195-1270), "The main object... is realized in the ark, as G‑d says to Moses, 'I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the ark's cover...'"5

According to the Talmud, when we are confronted with differing opinions amongst Torah sages we should appreciate that "these and these are both the words of the living G‑d."6

In the home we make for G‑d out of our lives, where does G‑d live--in the kitchen or in the library? What is our purpose in this world--to serve G‑d with our bodies, or to serve G‑d with our souls? Which is the greater mitzvah--to eat kosher or to study Torah? Who is closer to G‑d--the honest businessman or the ascetic sage? Which is the holiest part of ourselves--our physical being or our transcendent strivings?

In the home we make for G‑d out of our lives, where does G‑d live--in the kitchen or in the library?

These and these are both the words of the living G‑d.
1.    Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 16.
2.    The ark held the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, as well a a Torah scroll.
3.    The word korban means "something that is brought close." The korbanot were primarily animals which were offered up to G‑d, along with a meal offering and a wine libation (though there were also meal offering that were brought alone). After the animal was slaughtered in the Temple courtyard, its blood and fat were offered upon the altar, and its flesh was eaten in conditions of ritual purity. Thus an ordinary ox or sheep was uplifted from its mundane existence and brought close to G‑d.
On a deeper level, the korban represents the effort to elevate and sanctify the "animal" within oneself. According to the chassidic masters, each of us is comprised of both a "G‑dly" and an "animal" self. The G‑dly self is our spiritual essence, the transcendent soul within us which seeks to escape the mundane and cleave to its divine source. But there is also an animal side to us, self which is driven and fulfilled by our physical needs and desires and spawns our selfish drives and aspirations.
This is the animal in us that is to be offered as a korban to G‑d. Its "blood"--i.e., its fervor and passion for material things--is to be sprinkled on the altar; its "fat"--its excessive indulgence and pleasure-seeking--is to be burned. But the gist of the animal soul is not sacrificed, but reoriented. Its "meat" is to be eaten in holiness--the physical drives themselves are not to be disavowed and suppressed, but are to be refined and directed towards higher and loftier ends.
Thus the korban represents the endeavor to sanctify and "bring close to G‑d" our daily, physical and material existence by eliminating and sacrificing its negative and destructive elements and developing the substance itself into something that serves a higher, G‑dly goal.
4.    Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Holy Temple 1:1
5.    Nachmanides' commentary on Exodus 25:1.
6.    Talmud, Eruvin 13b.

By Yanki Tauber   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London
« Reply #199 on: December 01, 2009, 07:26:34 PM »


By Yanki Tauber

The amazing thing was how quickly it happened. Within minutes, hundreds of millions of light bulbs, air conditioners, microwave ovens, computers, refrigerators, phone systems, traffic lights, cash registers, subway cars and blow-dryers died. Ceased. Stopped. Just like that.

Actually, it didn't take any time at all to happen. Because nothing happened. Rather, it stopped happening. The flow of electricity, which modern life had grown so dependent upon, stopped flowing. The delicate equilibrium of ebb and flow which enables the transmission of the electric energy from one geographical point to another was somehow disrupted, and thousands of cities went dark, one by one.

Luminance, movement and artificial thought do not come naturally to the light bulb, subway car and computer. Essentially, these are just variously shaped and joined pieces of plastic, metal and glass. It's only that they've been ingeniously designed and constructed in such a way that a current of electricity passing through them makes then perform a variety of complex -- and very useful -- tasks. But even as they perform these tasks, they remain dark, dumb and immobile bits of matter. They're not really acting -- they're being acted upon by the current of energy that's "enlivening" them. The moment this external acting force ceases to act, these objects will simply revert to their natural state. The subway car becomes a waiting room and the computer becomes a desk ornament.

When the juice stopped flowing in the cities of the Northeast, we weren't just set back 150 years. A century-and-a-half ago we got along just fine without electrical appliances. In 2003, we had to learn all over again to accept the temperature of the atmosphere on a summer evening, make do with more humble sources of light, use our own two feet as a means of transportation, and do our computing with a naked human mind, aided, at most, with pencil and paper.

But imagine that life itself ran on electricity. That the engine of our heart, the RAM and ROM of our brain, the force fields that pull together countless billions of cells, atoms and quarks into a "body", the surges of will and desire that form the core of our "self" -- were all wired to one huge "power station". Imagine that we lived with the awareness that, in every instant of time, we were utterly dependant upon this outside power source for existence and life. That our existence and life were not inherent qualities that we somehow "possess", but are acted upon us by that external energy source, and that the moment that source should cease to so act, we would simply cease.

That, in fact, is how the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), describes the entirety of creation. All of existence, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was created by G-d ex nihilo ("something from nothing"). Since "something from nothing" is an absolute impossibility, this means that the essential nature of our existence remains "nothing"; our somethingness is a quality that must be constantly imposed upon us by an outside force that is beyond both "something" and "nothing" (for indeed He created both notions) and can thus manipulate them both, imposing the one upon the other.

G-d's creation of the world, therefore, was not a one-time act. G-d constantly "speaks" the world into being, exactly as He did the very first time He uttered "Let there be..." "If the letters," writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman, "of the Ten Utterances by which the earth was created during the Six Days of Creation were to depart from it for an instant, G-d forbid, it would revert to naught and absolute nothingness, exactly as before the Six Days of Creation" (Tanya, part II, ch. 1).

A frightening thought? I don't think so. In fact, the more I think about it, the more encouraging it is. What this basically means is that every nanosecond of time G-d looks upon our world, contemplates all the good and evil, kindness and cruelty, triumphs and failings, imperfections and strivings that goes on in it, and makes a conscious decision to grant it existence and life. It's as if you would ask the Creator, a billion times a second, "Seeing what's become of it, would you do it all over again?" and G-d says, "Yes, I would, exactly as it is" -- and does it.

If G-d sees something worthwhile there, I'm assuming that we, too, can.
What Is G‑d?

By Tzvi Freeman

Somewhere along the way, I misplaced G‑d. The other day I realized that I hadn't seen G‑d in quite a while--probably not since childhood. And it's not just that I can't find G‑d--I also seem to have lost my sense of what G‑d is... Why did this happen? If I had Him when I was a child, why shouldn't I have Him now?


You've got one clue, but you missed the other. It has to do with your language. Call it "thing-fixation."

That's probably the main disaster of your childhood --not being weaned, not leaving behind pampers for underpants, not sitting in a desk in first grade --but when you learned about things.

The entire world has been reduced in our minds to a mass junkyard of thingy stuff. So even G‑d gets defined as a thing... I don't mean, "you learned about things of the world." I mean, you learned the idea of things. You learned that the world is made of stuff, objects, material goomp that's just "out there". Later in life, you started running after those things, accumulating them, amassing more and more mounds of things to fill your home, your backyard and your driveway. By now, the entire world has been reduced in your mind to nothing but a mass junkyard of thingy stuff. So even G‑d gets defined as a thing --and you're trying to find the place where He fits. Because, after all, all things fit in places.

When you woke up to life as a small child, it wasn't like that. There were no things. There was just the experience of being. Of sensing, of living, of breathing and doing. Screaming, nursing, burping. Those were all real. Those are life. Things are not real. Things are fiction. They don't exist. We made them up.

The Birth of Thinginess

How did things come to be? Here's my catch on it.

In the beginning, there were no things. All of humankind knew life as does a small child, even as they grew older and wiser. But then someone got it into his head to draw pictures of all the stuff he had. Eventually, pictures became glyphs, a nifty device for esoteric communication. Glyph-lovers--such as the cult-priests of ancient Egypt--created thousands of glyphs to represent all the stuff Pharaoh was accumulating. Soon the idea seeped into the spoken language, as well: the idea of a "thing"--a static snapshot of a distinct whateveritis in a frozen moment of time. Stuff was born. And the world was never again the same.

In Hebrew, verbs rule Evidence? Because in ancient, biblical Hebrew, there is no word for stuff. Or thing. Or object or anything similar. In raw, primal Hebrew, you don't say, "Hey, where's that thing I put over here?" You say, "Where is the desired (chefetz) that I put here?" You don't say, "What's that thing?" --you say, "What's that word?" That's the closest you can get to the idea of thing: a word. All of reality is made of words. Look in the creation story: The whole of heaven and earth is nothing but words.

In fact, in ancient Hebrew, there aren't really any nouns, either. In languages like English, nouns are the masters and verbs are their slaves, with adjectives and associated forms dancing about to serve them. In Hebrew, verbs rule. Big, little, wise, foolish, king, priest, eye, ear--all of these sound like things, but in Hebrew they are forms of verbs. In fact, according to Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz (1560?-1630), author of the classic Shnei Luchot HaBrit, everything in Hebrew is really a verb. Everything is an event, a happening, a process --flowing, moving, never static. Just like when you were a small child.

In Hebrew, there is not even a present-tense. There are participles, but the idea of a present tense only arose later. In real Hebrew, nothing ever is--all is movement.

That fits, because Hebrew was not written in glyphs. Hebrew was the first language we know of to be written with symbols that represent sounds, not things. With the Hebrew alphabet--the mother of all alphabets--you don't see things, you see sounds. Even the process of reading is different: when you read glyphs, the order doesn't matter so much. You just sort of look and everything is there. Even modern Chinese glyphs can be written in any direction. With an alphabet, sequence is everything. Nothing has meaning standing on its own. Everything is in the flow.

Get The Flow

Things are not real. Things are fiction. They don't exist. We made them up. The flow is real. Things are not real. Ask a physicist: the more we examine stuff--what they call matter--we see that it's not there. All that's really there is events: waves, vibrations, fields of energy. Life is a concert, not a museum.

Think of writing music, as opposed to painting a portrait. The portrait artist stands back and beholds his art, his still rendition of a frozen moment--and he beholds it all at once. Then he politely asks his model to please return to the pose of that which has now become the prime reality, the portrait. A portrait of that which is but never was.

A composer of music cannot do this. You can't freeze a moment of music--it vanishes as soon as you attempt to do such. Like the fictional stuff they call matter: Frozen to absolute zero, without energy, without movement, it no longer exists. Because, in truth, all that exists is the flow of being.

The Name

The flow of being: now you have found G‑d The flow of being: now you have found G‑d. In fact, in Hebrew, that's His name. G‑d's name is a series of four letters that express all forms of the verb of all verbs, the verb to be: is, was, being, will be, about to be, causing to be, should be --all of these are in those four letters of G‑d's name. As G‑d told Moses when he asked for His name, "I will be that which I will be."

In our modern languages that doesn't work. We quickly slip into the trap of thingness again. Who is G‑d? We answer, "He is One who was, is and will be."

There we go with the "thing that is" business again. No, G‑d is not a thing that is or was or will be. G‑d is isness itself. Oy! The frustration of the language. We need new words: Ising. Isness. Isingness. Isifying. Isifier. In Hebrew you can conjugate the verb to be in all these ways and more. Perhaps in English one day we will do the same. Until then, we are like artists using pastels to imitate Rembrandt; like musicians trying to play middle-eastern strains in tempered C Major.

And the proof: We ask questions that make sense only in English, but in Hebrew are plainly absurd. Such as, "Does G‑d exist?" In Hebrew, that's a tautology, somewhat the equivalent of "Does existence exist?"

There is no need to "believe" in this G‑d--if you know what we are talking about, you just know. You will know, also, that there is nothing else but this G‑d--what is there that stands outside isness?

Think simple: You wake up in the morning and, even before coffee, there is As for faith and belief, those are reserved for greater things. Like believing that this great Isness that isifies all that ises cares, knows, has compassion, can be related to. In other words, saying that reality is a caring experience. Which reduces to saying that compassion is real, purpose is real, life is real. That's something you have to believe. But G‑d's existence--like most ideas that men argue about--that's just a matter of semantics.

Think simple: You wake up in the morning and, even before coffee, there is. Reality. Existence. Not "the things that exist" but existence itself. The flow. The infinite flow of light and energy. Of being, of existence. Of is. Think of all that flow of isingness all in a single, perfectly simple point. Get into it, commune with it, speak to it, become one with it --that is G‑d.

   By Tzvi Freeman   More articles...  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman heads's Ask The Rabbi team, and is a senior member of the editorial team. He is the author of a number of highly original renditions of Kabbalah and Chassidic teaching, including the universally acclaimed "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth." To order Tzvi's books click here. Rabbi Freeman is available for public speaking and workshops. Read more on his bio page.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children's books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London

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