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« Reply #450 on: July 10, 2011, 02:32:27 PM »

by Rabbi Ephraim Shore
Our son nearly died in a car accident. Today we are witnessing the miracle of his recovery.

Six weeks ago, our son, Yaakov, 21, was hit by a car while rollerblading in Jerusalem. After two emergency head surgeries, he lay unconscious in the ICU of Hadassah Hospital, growing thinner and paler, with tubes coming in and out of just about every part of his body, for two weeks.

We didn't know if he'd make it out of the hospital. The terror of those days was thick and black and forever. The unrelenting beeps of the countless machines attached to him were all we had to remind us of the passing hours and days as we sat by his side, praying, reading him Torah, holding his hands.

Finally, Yaakov's brain pressure went down to levels the doctors felt were safe to begin the process of allowing him to wake up. It took four days to slowly wean him off all the heavy drugs. With trepidation, we waited for him to hopefully awake. Would he recognize us? Would he know how to talk, or had the brain been damaged in that area, as the doctors feared? Would he remember anything of his past? Would he have the same personality? Would he ever again be able to walk, taste, read or do other basic things? Life was one giant question mark. The doctors could not reassure us.

All we could do was pray with all our hearts to the master of the universe: "Please bring us back our Yaakov!"

With the Shavuot holiday coming, some of Yaakov’s army buddies offered to stay with him those 24 hours so my wife and I could be at home with our other children – to gain some rest, some perspective, and to experience the full impact of the holiday.

When God revealed himself to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah 3,800 years ago, tradition tells us that all the sick people were healed: the lame walked, the blind could see. On each Shavuot, the anniversary of that event, the same power of healing returns.

Yaakov with his parents and brother

As the holiday finished, we received a call from Yaakov's army buddies who had sat at his side for 24 hours. "Come quick! He's awake! He recognizes us and he understands."

With tears in our eyes, we rushed to the hospital. On the surface, it looked like a repeat of that same awful route two weeks before, driving and crying to the hospital. But this was so different: our tears were primal expressions of relief, of joy and of thanks. When we stood at Yaakov's side and saw him smile at us, his eyes glassy but shining with recognition and life, we once again had trouble standing.

He couldn't talk, and he could hardly even open his eyes, but when my wife bent over to kiss him, he somehow found the strength to reach out his hand to caress her cheek to say, "I love you." It was heaven opening up. When his friend said goodbye, he slowly took his hand and drew it to his mouth to kiss it, and then he winked. With those small movements he was able to let us know that our Yaakov was back.

We have witnessed something few people have the opportunity to see: a miracle.

But actually, we've seen lots of miracles. Almost daily. Rabbi Dessler explains that the only real difference between a miracle and "nature" is its frequency. Is manna appearing with the dew each morning for 40 years in the desert any more miraculous than rotting seeds transforming into stalks of wheat or mango trees? But since we see it all the time, we lose touch with the marvel of it. The same goes with every aspect of our body's wondrous functions.

Now I know, "Everything is a miracle!" just sounds trite. But when you see creation appearing before your eyes, trite is not trite anymore. It is profound.

We have beheld what can only be described as a rebirth of a human being. At first he was an immobile blob of flesh. Then his eyes opened and he began to recognize things. Over the next days, he started to breathe by himself again, and slowly to move his hands, his legs. Later, our joy knew no end when he was able to sip a popsicle, and soon after, to drink by himself. It took a while, but soon he could even hold a water bottle himself!

A few days later, he painfully forced out his first words and our ecstasy was beyond expression. Then he began to eat solids, and to tell us what he needed. Like a baby's umbilical cord, they gradually removed him from the myriad pipes which had supported every aspect of his bodily functions.

Each morning upon waking, we say a beautiful prayer of thanks before we even climb out of bed: "I thank you, living God, for returning my soul into me in kindness…" Judaism describes sleep as "one-sixtieth of death." Our Yaakov was in a state that was more like 59 sixtieths of death, but God returned his soul. Almost every day we see more of him coming back home from somewhere far, far away.

Each day we fought the lurking, awesome fear of "What if this is as far as he's going to go? Maybe it will stop here!" We drew upon every drop of optimism and forced ourselves to be "convinced" that he was going to move further along. We found ourselves (and still do) torn between an immense sense of gratitude for how far he has come, and our uncompromising yearning for Yaakov to regain all his abilities, memories and self.

Positive thinking has a potent impact on the outcome of things. In fact, Judaism demands optimism. We have a loving God who has infinite power to help us. He's got a great track record: just as He's helped us in a million ways until now, we can surely count on Him to help us going forward. We should be shocked and amazed when things don't go the way we want them too. Shocked enough to ask what lesson he is trying to teach us in His love.

After one more week in the ICU, Yaakov was moved to the neurological ward of the hospital, and a few days later, still with his tracheotomy pipe sticking out of his throat, he was transferred to a rehab hospital.

As we were leaving, saying good bye to our new friends, the staff of the ICU, a social worker shared with us that everyone who leaves this place leaves with two very special gifts. First, they have a newfound perspective on what really counts in life. Petty problems are just that, petty problems. Secondly, a realistic appreciation of the incredible miracle that is life. Every one of the hundreds of things we do each day is simply amazing. When you see your child without that ability, and you imagine what life will be like for him without it (eating by himself, talking, going to the bathroom, reading, walking, holding, understanding, remembering things), you know how appreciative we all must be. "These gifts are for you, the family. Your son won't remember what he went through, but you will."

On one of those first days of reawakening, Yaakov was in tremendous bodily pain, shaking all over, suffering terrible headaches and enveloped in a huge fog. He got a glimpse in a mirror of his shaved head, huge scar, pale, thin face, and he began to cry. I hugged him hard and cried with him, but I told him, "Yaakov, you might be crying from pain, and I'm really sorry that I'm not more sympathetic. But I am crying tears of joy. I don't expect you to understand yet, but seeing you alive, feeling and aware, is so huge that all I can do is cry." He understood, and he was calmed.

At first he didn't know his name or age, where he lives, or how many kids in our family. Today, Yaakov is out of most of his pain and he's communicating (in both Hebrew and English) beautifully. He still has a long way to go in a lot of areas, like a painful leg, broken jaw, more surgery, and holes in his memory, but we see more and more faculties returning almost daily.

He's returned to many of his wonderful traits, like not blaming and not complaining. Despite his present disabilities, he's almost always happy and he lights up when his next visitor shows up. Yesterday, we found more glass embedded in his arm, but he didn't complain or blame.

We've encouraged ourselves and people all over the world to work on these two important traits – not blaming and not complaining – and we've heard from hundreds of people about how they are working at it, just how difficult it is to change our negative habits, and the huge difference a little bit of awareness has made in their lives. (Click here to watch related video.)

One of my rabbis, a young father who was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, was treated and then went into remission, shared with me something I've never forgotten. "If someone had offered me $10 million to go through this experience, I would never have taken it. But now that I've gone through it, if someone offered me $10 million to take it away from me, I would never give it up."

Now I understand what he meant. The agony, the deep, unimaginable fear and heartache of these last few weeks are something I would not wish on anyone. But the lessons my wife and many of our friends and family have learned from this are so precious; it's hard to imagine going back and living life without them. My appreciation for the beauty and the miracle of life, my understanding of the power of kindness, love and friendship; the life-altering impact of small (and large) caring gestures; the intimacy with God that comes with tears and heartfelt prayer; the strength and comfort of community; and for an earth-shattering lesson in unconditional love for a child, with no expectations or judgments.

For all of these treasures, and for Yaakov's return to us, I will be forever grateful.

Click here to read Ephraim's first article about his son.

Click here to watch "Where's the Salt!" A video on the Don't Blame, Don't Complain campaign.

This article can also be read at:
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« Reply #451 on: July 13, 2011, 07:25:22 AM »

Printed from
Parshah Moment
Don’t Psychoanalyze!

By Shimon Posner

On the plane back to America, I was sitting next to a psychologist who mentioned to me how important it is for them never to psychoanalyze family members. One of the reasons: it’s not fair. Of course, Jews were psychoanalyzing way before Sigmund invited people to lie on his couch—we just had no name for it.

For the non-professional, a greater danger is pseudo-analysis. “Oh, she always does that, she’s so compulsive.” “There he goes again with his bipolar.” Worse: “The reason she always helps is because she’s eager to please—it’s her low self-esteem.” “You know why he gives so much tzedakah? He needs to see his name on a building. Typical megalomaniac!”

Says who? Is it that simple to know everything going on in someone else’s head? Are you always that accurate with what’s happening in your own head? Secondly, what difference does it make? A good act with bad intentions beats a bad act with good intentions—and the pavement is a lot smoother.

Granted, giving it your best and things not succeeding the way you like is aggravating and unrewarding. We know that. And all G‑d asks is that you do your best; the results are in His hands, we accept that. And that no action is ever wasted, good always accumulates, and whether results are immediately recognized or not is immaterial in the long run—and, from a G‑dly, timeless (beyond quantum physics) perspective, redundant. We believe that. But that is not what we’re talking about.

Look at it this way: Guy A helps old lady cross street because: the TV crew is filming, she has a big will, she has a wealthy nephew, etc. Guy B doesn’t help old lady cross street because: the TV crew is filming, she has a big will, she has a wealthy nephew, and how dare you think he’s so shallow! See, bottom line is, the lady needs help; your yin-yang harmony don’t do much. As the Kabbalah puts it: Love and awe are what make a mitzvah soar. A mitzvah without love and awe is a bird without wings. Love and awe without a mitzvah is wings without a bird.

Okay, so action is it. But can intentions be improved, sublimated, sanctified? Well, now you’re getting serious. But if you’re not just doing it, then you’re seriously not getting it.

The Parshah? When Pinchas acted decisively, he was ridiculed because his grandfather, a pantheistic priest, had done similarly: a plus-c’est-change chip off the old block in different circumstance.

No, G‑d announced at the beginning of the Parshah, he did good; I alone know the inner workings of man. Judge him primarily by what he does. And unless you’re in the business, your couch is for people to sit on—and if you’re blessed with it, for overflow company to sleep on.
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« Reply #452 on: July 14, 2011, 06:06:47 AM »

The Greatest Servant
A Jewish understanding of leadership
By Chana Kroll

From sunglasses, saxophones, and a press release consisting of a chocolate chip cookie recipe, to Supreme Court decisions and the war in Iraq—it’s interesting, amusing, and occasionally gripping to watch the “parade” known as the American presidential elections. This time around (this article was written in 2007—ed.), with a war raging in Iraq, global terrorism still posing an all-too-real threat, and the unfortunate realization of some of the social and environmental problems we were warned about growing up, there is certainly no shortage of issues to address as the race gains momentum.

Perhaps the most crucial issue, one which we try to touch on but which can not be captured on news cameras or in speeches, is whether any candidate really possesses what we can call true leadership.

A real leader is actually the greatest servant. It’s a tricky issue because, like modesty, leadership is one of those qualities that, as soon as a person begins describing his or her own mastery of it, you can’t help but feel that in fact they don’t have it. Rather, they have its exact opposite.

Real leaders tend to be those who run away from any type of position of power, and they rarely speak about themselves, because that just isn’t where their thoughts are. A real leader is actually the greatest servant. He doesn’t have a personal agenda at hand, but rather is there solely for the needs of the people he is leading.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Pinchas, we witness the ordination of Joshua bin Nun as the successor to our first national leader, Moses. Like Moses himself, Joshua never wanted to be a leader. Each, instead, wanted from an early age to serve. Moses: by going out into the fields where the Jews were working as slaves, and seeking ways to ease their suffering. Joshua: by devoting himself to Moses. Even as a young man, he was constantly present in the tent that served as a Torah study hall. As an adult, he remained Moses’s loyal student and aide. Both had to be persuaded to accept the role of leader.

Yet the deepest insights into what makes a real leader are revealed only when the responsibilities are about to change hands from Moses to Joshua.

Having just been told by G‑d that he is about to pass away, it would have been logical and human for Moses to turn his attention to settling his own affairs and giving last instructions to his family and followers. After all, what leader isn’t concerned with what his mark will be on history? What parent isn’t concerned with how well their wishes will be followed after they pass on?

The generals of the Jewish army always went first Moses wasn’t. He was concerned only about two things—that G‑d’s will be realized, and that the Jewish people not be left alone, without someone to understand them, protect them, inspire them, and when need be, comfort them. The words of his plea have forever encapsulated the meaning of what it means to be a Jewish leader: “G‑d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and who shall bring them in.” (Numbers 27:15–17)

Why is G‑d being addressed at this point as “G‑d of the spirits of all flesh”? According to our Sages, Moses is acknowledging a basic truth—that the personality of each individual is unique and known to G‑d—and he is beseeching G‑d to appoint a leader who can deal with each of these personalities. He is seeking a leader for the Jewish people who will be able to understand and empathize with each person. G‑d answers him by promising that the man He is appointing as Moses’s successor is indeed one “in whom there is spirit,” i.e. that he will be able to act in a way befitting the personality of each individual.

Joshua was just such a person, establishing a rapport with each person based on genuine empathy, not on attempts to curry favor. And true to the second part of Moses’s request, he “went before them and came in before them.” In other words, he didn’t send the nation out to war to fight battles. He went first, and he inspired in them the confidence to be successful and thus come back (“and come in before them”). For centuries, these were the defining characteristics of the army of the Jewish people; unlike other armies, where generals stay comfortably behind the line of fire, the generals of the Jewish army always went first, and with their good deeds, empathy and trust, were able to inspire confidence in their soldiers. Victory was the result.

Of course, this was true not only of physical battles, but of our internal spiritual battles as well. Each of us has to find the inspiration in Moses’ words to become true leaders in our own sphere of influence. By caring about and genuinely connecting to the souls of people we must influence—for starters, our families—and by relating to their individual personalities. By leading through example, even if it means stretching ourselves to the breaking point, and by strengthening our own trust in the One who is guiding us, whether we see His hand in things or not.

It’s a kind of leadership that tends to create not followers, but people who are genuine leaders in their own right. And that’s something this world could use a little more of.
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« Reply #453 on: July 15, 2011, 10:22:38 AM »

The "Don't Blame, Don't Complain" Campaign can change your life.
by Mrs. Lori Palatnik does not have wristbands like the one Lori has available (now don't complain!). Fortunately, any wristband will do the trick.
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« Reply #454 on: July 15, 2011, 11:30:09 AM »

Thanks Rachel.  I needed that.
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« Reply #455 on: July 17, 2011, 11:41:46 AM »

Marc- I'm glad it was helpful.  I need advice like that regularly   

In Memory of Leiby Kletzky
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
There are no words, only tears.
Tisha B’Av came early this year to Boro Park.

An eight-year-old boy, Leiby Kletzky, was on his way home from day camp in Brooklyn when he mysteriously disappeared. A frantic search, spearheaded by the FBI and aided by the entire community, failed to find him for two full days. And then his mother and father had to endure every parent's worst nightmare. Leiby was found dismembered.

Words fail to convey the immensity of this tragedy.

Apart from its ghoulish aspects, it is simply too much to imagine what it means to send off a smiling child for a summer’s day of fun only to learn that all that is left of him is a memory.

It's been said that the cruelest word in the English language is "never".

Never will Leiby’s parents ever again be able to hold him, to hug him, to prepare him for life with words of advice and of Torah. Never will his family be able to share in the milestones of his growth to maturity. Never will there be a bar mitzvah to celebrate, graduations to attend, a wedding canopy to stand under with him and his bride as he prepares to embark on his own journey to family and future.

Never will all those who knew Leiby as a child be able to find out what his unique talents might have enabled him to accomplish.

Never will the Jewish community discover the contributions Leiby might have made to it and to the larger world.

Ever since the beginning of mankind the Torah reminded us that a single death leaves none of us untouched. In the aftermath of the first murder, God turned to Cain in anger and admonished him with the words “The sounds of the bloods of your brother cry out to Me from the ground." Not blood, but bloods, in the plural. The commentators explain that when Cain killed his brother he effectively destroyed all of Abel’s future progeny as well.

In the words of the Talmud, he who murders one person is as if he destroys an entire world.

The loss of one person diminishes every one of us. It affects our collective future. It alters what might have been. It prevents us from ever receiving all the precious benefits every single life has to offer.

And when murder snuffs out the life of a child, the enormity of the word never - that we will never truly know what that child might have become - staggers us beyond comfort.

This is not the time for us to attempt any glib rationalizations or theological efforts to explain away the horror. Jewish law, in its profound wisdom, teaches us that we are not permitted to offer consolation "while the body is still before us." The time for comfort can come only after the necessary tears.

I remember very well a somewhat similar moment in the community I served as spiritual leader. There was a tragedy that involved a young child. No one could think of any words that might alleviate the suffering of the parents. We tried but found ourselves wanting.

The scene is indelibly etched in my mind. A small group of us went to the parents, hugged them, tried to say something, choked up and simply cried.

Days later, the parents told me the only thing that helped them get through their tragedy was what we did for them. Not our words, but our tears.

"You showed us that the pain wasn't ours alone. Your sharing our grief made it somewhat bearable."

And that is what we must do now for Leiby and his family.

We must let them know that we cry with them.

Our tears are the words our hearts don't know how to express.

The fact that we shed them proves that evil has not fully triumphed.

And most important of all, the Midrash assures us that the tears of the righteous summon the Almighty to hasten the day when wickedness and its practitioners will be eradicated from Earth.
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« Reply #456 on: July 17, 2011, 12:01:34 PM »

 cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry
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« Reply #457 on: July 17, 2011, 07:10:09 PM »

I find crimes of any type against children to be especially emotional for me.  This is one of the worst that I am of aware of some time.  I share sadness for the child and the parents... and the community.
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Posts: 245

« Reply #458 on: July 18, 2011, 08:15:52 AM »

Coping With Tragedy in Borough Park
Can we make peace with this?
By Tzvi Freeman

Dear Rabbi:

Today I read the horrifying news of the young boy brutally murdered in Borough Park. I know there are plenty of horrors in this world, but this one won’t let me rest or think of anything else.

Do you rabbis have answers?

—Y. T.


I have no answer to calm your soul and let you rest. But I can share the thoughts I have written to myself this day.

We believe that G‑d is good. And yet He has created beings that commit horrific evil, acts He Himself despises in the most ultimate sense of the word. Things about which we can only recoil in horror while turning to the heavens in indignant outrage, screaming, “Why did You allow this? How could You?!”

And all we receive from heaven is a silent tear.

Of all the questions we ask, why does this one never receive a satisfactory answer? We believe our Torah is a Torah of truth, of divine wisdom, yet of all the questions it answers, why on this one does it fail us?

We are told that good cannot come without evil, just as darkness cannot come without light.

But, G‑d, dear beneficent and all-powerful G‑d, could You not do whatever You please? Could you not create light without darkness, good without evil? At the very least, did You have to create an evil so hideous?

We are told that commensurate to the darkness will be the light, commensurate to the pain will be the reward. Looking at this world and the pain we have suffered, the reward must be beyond any measure.

But, my G‑d, you are good! Does everything have to be measured so precisely? Can a G‑d who is good allow such horror, even if ultimately it will become good?

We are told that human beings must be given free choice. That this is the ultimate kindness of G‑d to humankind, that He grants us the space to fail, and the opportunity to achieve greatness on our own.

But if this is kindness, then what is cruelty? Are there no limits? Even the most liberal parents, if they care, they will have limits on the freedoms they grant their children. And here, in our world, we see ugliness without bound.

My G‑d, each day I am surrounded by Your wonders. Each day, I see Your miracles, one after the other, Your unending goodness to me and to each of us. I will not lose faith, I will not stop praying to You. But if I will not stand up and demand, “Does the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” if I will not declare, “Why have you done evil to your people?”—then what kind of a creature am I? And in what sort of a G‑d do I believe?

One day, we will understand. Until then, we must be outraged. We must recoil with horror, we must reach deep inside ourselves, we must protest to G‑d Himself. For only the righteously indignant can heal this world.

That is our answer for now: That we cannot be allowed to understand. For if we would understand, we would not be outraged. And if we were not outraged, then why would we ever stand up and do all that is in our power that such horrors could never happen again? And then there would be no one to heal G‑d’s world.

And so the answer is only a silent tear, falling from heaven, into our hearts.

More on the above topic in our Knowledge Base at Pain, Suffering & Tragedy
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« Reply #459 on: July 19, 2011, 05:33:59 AM »

Weekly Sermonette
Priorities and Price Tags
By Yossy Goldman

Is it the money or the man, the cash or the kids? Of course, no one would ever admit to putting money ahead of their children; but is it not an all too common phenomenon? Aren't most parents, even good parents, guilty of making that mistake now and then?

In this week's Parshah the Jewish People are preparing for the conquest of Canaan and the allotment of the Promised Land amongst the twelve tribes of Israel, when the tribes of Reuben and Gad make a special request of Moses.

They had abundant herds of livestock and the land east of the Jordan River was especially suitable for grazing. They asked Moses if they could receive this land rather than land west of the Jordan. In making this request they expressed themselves thus: "Pens for the flock we shall build here for our livestock, and cities for our small children."

Immediately, Moses chastises them and corrects their mistake. "Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flock." Moses turns around their sequence, putting the children ahead of the animals.

Rashi observes that these tribes were more concerned about their money, i.e. livestock, than they were about their sons and daughters. Moses needed to give them a lesson in values and priorities. Put family first. Possessions come later.

The veteran American spiritual leader, Rabbi David Hollander, once told me the story of a fellow who somehow managed to get himself locked in inside a big department store after they closed up for the day. To compound the problem, it was over a holiday weekend. When all his attempts to get out proved futile, he decided to give vent to his frustrations by taking revenge on the store management. He spent the time of his incarceration swapping price tags on the merchandise. The result? A mink coat was now priced at $29.99, a necktie at $999.00. Furniture was going for the price of peanuts, the latest hi-fi for a song, and a set of underwear was absolutely unaffordable! Imagine the chaos when the store reopened.

The question is, are our own price tags correctly marked? Do we value the things in our own lives correctly? Are our priorities in order? Or do we too put the cattle and the sheep -- the car and the office -- ahead of our children?

How many workaholic husbands have told their wives, "Honey, I'm doing it all for you and the kids." But the businesses we are busy building for them actually take us away from them in the most important and formative years of their lives. Rightly has it been said, "the best thing you can spend on your kids is not money but time."

I've seen many people become "successes" over the years. They achieve professional success, career success, business success, growing their fame and fortunes. Too many in the process have become family failures. At the end of the day, our deepest satisfaction in life comes not from our professional achievements but from our family -- the growth, stability and togetherness that we have nurtured over the years -- what our Jewish parents and grandparents simply called nachas.

To paraphrase the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, "Jewish wealth is not measured in property portfolios or stocks and bonds; true Jewish wealth is being blessed with children who walk in the ways of G-d." For that, we need to be there for them and with them.

A congregant of mine once walked up to me and proclaimed, "Rabbi, I am a millionaire!" I knew the man to be of modest financial means but he immediately explained, "I'm a millionaire in nachas!"

Amen. I wish it upon all of us.
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« Reply #460 on: July 20, 2011, 07:21:50 AM »

In This Shadowy World
by Deborah Masel
A Torah scholar who perished in the Holocaust reveals the meaning of spiritual victory to a woman dying from cancer.

When she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2007, Deborah Masel’s life collapsed. Two and a half years later, her struggle to find meaning in the shadowy world of terminal disease induced her to write not only of her cancer experience, but of threads from the past that were woven into the fabric of this “final curtain.” In her search for comfort and meaning, Deborah found that the world of cancer was dominated by stories of physical survival, which was assumed to constitute “victory.” Yet her most treasured teacher, a Torah scholar who perished in the Holocaust, had awakened her, through the text he left behind, to the meaning of spiritual victory. If he could keep his disciples focused on God while the Nazis brutalized and dehumanized them, surely she could stay focused and not panic even when the cancer threatened to devour her.

Who among us can forget the day we discover that we are mortal, truly and irrevocably mortal. That we are going to die. It would be like forgetting the day the Twin Towers collapsed, or, if we are old enough, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.

I was on the phone with my teacher Rabbi Hoffman in Denver for our weekly study session. For years, every Friday morning Melbourne time, we’d studied Sacred Fire, the text we’d been learning as a group in Safed the previous year, before we were interrupted by the Second Lebanon War.

There’s nothing in the world quite like this text. Before the Second World War its author, the Rebbe of Piacezna, had spent years contemplating the principle of God’s ubiquity, theoretically and experientially. In a diary he kept before the war, he wrote of his desire to know that he was always in God’s presence, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Rebbe of Piacezna,
Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira

“My soul takes courage,” he wrote. “Even in the depths of hell I shall not fear, for You are with me!” His early theoretical writings explore the concept of darkness as a source of light, of God’s hiddenness as the source of human enlightenment and revelation. Darkness, he argued, the sense of exile and separation gives rise to a longing in the human heart, a yearning to connect, which we call spirituality. It is the very sense of separation that is the basis of revelation. These beliefs made him particularly well equipped to confront the great darkness of the Holocaust. The deeper the darkness became, the greater his spiritual response.

Related Article: Peanut Butter Time

I can’t remember which particular teaching from the Sacred Fire Rabbi Hoffman and I were studying the day I discovered my mortality, but I do remember hearing my mobile phone ring in the kitchen, and I remember hearing my son David answer it. I was trying to read the passage we were studying aloud over the phone, and I remember asking Rabbi Hoffman to take over because I was out of breath.

The call my son had answered had been from the breast scan clinic. Could I come next Tuesday for further tests? Something turned in the pit of my stomach, like some kind of sleeping monster awakening. My bowels turned to water. I had to run to the bathroom. I knew. In the pit of my stomach, I knew everything. I knew what wouldn’t be verified for another four weeks. I knew with a knowing I’d never known before. I knew with all my trembling being.

In the months and years that followed, as my advanced metastatic breast cancer spread to my lungs and my bones and my brain, my years of study of the Warsaw Ghetto writings of the Rebbe of Piacezna served me well. The year before my diagnosis, when katyusha rockets fell on the sleepy town of Safed, I panicked and fled. If I could flee from cancer now, I would. But I can’t. Those first weeks after the final, terrible diagnosis I begged, I prayed real, tearful prayers from the heart, the broken, desperate heart. I was groping in the dark, staring at the abyss, when my rebbe, the holy Rebbe of Piacezna who was murdered by the Nazis in November 1943, reached out, all the way from the Garden of Eden, and saved me.

It’s written in the Talmud that if anyone recites the words of a dead scholar, the lips of that scholar mutter in the grave. The Rebbe of Piacezna quoted this Talmudic teaching in the Sacred Fire, his text from the Warsaw Ghetto, and whenever I read these words, I hear him speak directly to me.

It must have been shortly after my initial diagnosis, when I was struggling to come to terms with the words “incurable” and “terminal.” Rabbi Hoffman called. We’d continued to have brief telephone conversations, but we hadn’t studied together since the session during which the breast scan clinic had called to ask me back for more tests.

I was alone in my room. The door was closed and I felt free to pour out my heart.

“What’s happening to me?” I asked him tearily.

The “why’s” wouldn’t arise until much later. Those first weeks, I struggled desperately with the “what.” I just couldn’t fathom what had happened to my world.

Rabbi Hoffman responded with what I thought were platitudes. He assured me that despite everything, despite the grim biopsy results…who knows? Who knows what could happen?

I felt angry and unheard. Then he cajoled me into studying some Sacred Fire with him. It was the week we read in the Torah about Moshe sending out spies to scout the Promised Land. They return with fearful tales of cruel giants and highly fortified cities. The place was impossible to conquer, they said. They tried to persuade the Israelites to return to Egypt, for surely slavery would be preferable to what awaited them in this ‘Promised Land.’

Two of the 12 spies, Joshua and Caleb, dissented and urged the people to have faith and keep going. Neither Rabbi Hoffman nor I could recall what the Piacezna Rebbe had written about this episode. We looked it up, Rabbi Hoffman in his home in Denver I in my Melbourne sickbed, 67 years after it was originally written in unimaginable, overwhelming and hopeless conditions. It was a very short piece, just three paragraphs. We found that in the Warsaw Ghetto in June, 1940, the Rebbe had noted that Caleb did not try to persuade the people to keep going by demolishing the arguments of the others. He didn’t dispute their reports of fearsome giants and the great likelihood of defeat. He simply said, “We must go forth.”

Rabbi Hoffman asked if I had the strength to read. I wasn’t sure, but I knew that back then, in the Warsaw Ghetto in June, 1940, the Rebbe hadn’t had the strength to write.

“Yes,” I said, and I read aloud, as best I could, over the phone. And as I read, we both gasped. The rebbe’s lips were moving! He was speaking to me! He was answering me.

I read: “Not only when we see reasonable openings and paths for our salvation to occur within the laws of nature must we have faith that God will save us, and take heart, but also, when we see no way for salvation to come through natural means, we must still believe…A person needs to say, ‘Yes, all the logic and facts may indeed be true. The people who inhabit the land may be very strong, and their cities well fortified, and so forth, but I still believe in God, who is beyond any boundaries, and above all nature. I believe that He will save us.’”

It was a straightforward statement of faith, and it was what I needed to hear. Later, by 1942, when his world was buried in a darkness hitherto unexperienced, the Rebbe’s revelations were profoundly subtle and incredibly beautiful. But on that day, at that moment, I needed to hear a proclamation of faith in a power that transcends diagnosis, prognosis, statistics. I needed to be reminded of the power of possibility, and that truly, anything could happen. By the time I finished reading, I was weeping cool tears of purest joy.

The Rebbe stayed with me. Some weeks later, I was on the phone with my psychiatrist, Dr. Birch, still struggling to come to terms with my situation. He was trying to convince me that metastatic cancer is not necessarily a sudden death sentence, that in some cases it is managed for years, like a chronic disease.

“Will I have a normal lifespan?” I asked, pathetically, as if he had the power to grant me one.

“Well,” he gently replied, “it’s not probable, but it’s possible.”

Those words struck a very deep chord. The Piacezna Rebbe was still working his holy magic. My teacher Avivah Zornberg taught me a powerful lesson. At the burning bush, when Moses asked God to describe Himself, God replied, “I am what I am and I will be what I will be.” Avivah interpreted this to mean, “I am the very principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen.”

Finally, some kind of peace, some sense of hope and faith fluttered within me. Nan, my meditation teacher, had instructed me to find a phrase, a sentence that could serve me as my mantra. I’d been searching for weeks, and now I had it. The Piacezna Rebbe had given it to me, through his writings, through Rabbi Hoffman, through Dr. Birch, through Avivah. Every day, for over a year, I sat quietly, alone, eyes closed, and whispered my mantra, instilling it into me, into my belief system.

“I believe with perfect faith in the principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen.”

That’s how it goes in this shadowy world. The longer I last, the more I see it. A mysterious world, full of suffering and injustice, sprinkled with little moments of light. The longer I last, the less important I feel, the more I see myself as a little wriggle, a pleasant but miniscule warp in a huge unfathomable scenario, whose years are significant, equally significant, be they fifty or a hundred and fifty,

The more I fade from my own sight, the more I believe. I believe in something greater than myself, greater even than this great spinning world. I believe in words of Torah that open up worlds of infinite possibility and I believe in that great love that was, that is, and that always will be.

Adapted from the author's latest book Soul to Soul: Writings from Dark Places, published by Gefen Publishing House

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« Reply #461 on: July 22, 2011, 04:58:50 PM »

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Saris, Camels and Tofu
Ingredients to Retain My Identity

by Chava’le Mishulovin

I watch, fascinated, as Raj deftly wraps, twists, and tucks the long red-and-gold sari around my friend. Raj hands her the material, directing how to adjust it. One final tug, and the transition from “tourist” to “local” is complete. With her dark skin, my friend Ruti really does look like an authentic sari-clad Indian.

She puts her hands together in the classic “namaste” fashion and grins coyly, waiting for me to snap a photo of her—the very reason we entered the shop. I’m mesmerized to witness how, in just a matter of moments, my fellow foreigner was suddenly transformed to appear identical to the thousands of local Indian women teeming around us. I take the photo, and she nudges me to dress up as well. I feel guilty misleading the shop owner into thinking we were sure about purchasing the saris, but she reminds me that Raj had invited us numerous times as we passed his shop in town. “Come to take pictures with my beautiful saris,” he would wave to us cheerfully. “All the Israelis and guests are doing it. It’s not problem.”

I turn to the mirror, eager to be faced with another newly born IndianIf that’s the case, I’m ready! I long to coalesce into my surroundings, and bedecking myself in their glamorous and flowy garments is definitely a prerequisite.

I giggle throughout the whole process, and when Raj proclaims me done, I turn to the mirror, eager to be faced with another newly born Indian. What I see, instead, is a tall, fair-skinned young woman with short hair, draped in an orange-and-burgundy sari, a bright green sweatshirt hood sticking out from the neck, and gray sneakers peeking out from the bottom. In short, I see an American pretending to be an Indian . . . and failing miserably.

I sigh, disappointed. Truthfully, I’m not shocked (my face doesn’t know the sun!), but I had been hoping to appear slightly more Indian and less American. Nu. Maybe my upcoming three-day camel trek in the Rajasthan desert will do it. I mean, it’s not very American to travel on camelback through a desert, equipped with only a small rucksack and a smattering of Hindi. Surely then I will feel properly assimilated.

But riding through the desert I meet up with other groups of foreigners, mostly Europeans, and boisterous greetings—in English—are exchanged. Our respective Indian guides know the desert better than we know the palms of our hands, and each leads his group on a separate trail, meeting for dinner. The guides cook food for everyone, and I pull out my kosher tuna and chips. We sit around the bonfire. We sleep under the stars, shivering, even under three layers. The guides walk barefoot. We yelp when we brush against the thorns. The guides smirk.

The camel-riding experience was exhilarating, but I felt no more Indian than before setting out. “Whaddaya mean?” my friends back home exclaim, incredulously. “You were in the middle of nowhere, with no outside communication, relying solely on the savviness of some Indian shepherd, and living the desert life day after day!” Eh, could be, but with the guides everything went so smoothly that even with the absence of toilets and running water, warm clothing at night and cool clothing in the day, proper food and a map, I still didn’t quite feel that I was “roughing it” like the Indians do. Specifically, I couldn’t train myself to think like the native Indians, to operate according to their rhythm.

It’s so frustrating! Try as I may, I simply cannot be, cannot feel, Indian! Why?! Why is it so hard for me to embrace the Indian lifestyle not merely from the outside, but from within as well?! I’m following all the steps—I’m wearing the saris, traveling on the camels, dousing my food in cumin, even getting “adopted” by Indian families, but it’s not changing my inner core. I still don’t feel like a real Indian! Where am I going wrong?!




I’m wondering what I am doing wrong. Yet, perhaps I am not doing anything wrong. Perhaps I am actually doing everything right.

Isn’t it a wonderful gift, as well as a powerful tool, to be able to be submerged in another culture, yet not drift away with it? To absorb their language, clothing, music, traditions, yet not get absorbed by them. To see, to hear, to taste, to appreciate, yet remain apart. Different.

After all, I am differentAfter all, I am different. I’m not Indian.

A co-therapist once explained a typical behavior where kids without sufficient self-esteem constantly change themselves to adapt to their surroundings. “Think of tofu,” he said to me. “It’s got no substance of its own. You stick it in meat, it becomes meat. You cook it with cheese, it becomes cheese. The flavor and smell is only a result of what it’s been hanging around. It’s nothing on its own.”

The imagery bounced around my head for days.

Am I a chunk of tofu sometimes? Does it ever happen that my essence is ignored as a means to take on the face of my peers? Am I able to withstand what’s cooking around me and stay true to myself, even in the intense heat of my environment?

I resolved to stay far away from the fragile and ever-evolving lifestyle of the tofu.

Shortly afterwards, my friend Naamah mentioned how her father opened up a yeshivah in Tel Aviv in order to spread light and Torah to the people there. Unfortunately, many of the teachers who had moved from their mitzvah-observant communities to Tel Aviv got influenced by their new atmosphere, and were no longer fitting to be role models in this school.

“You see,” Naamah concluded sadly, “it’s just much too hard to be a good influence in such a place. You’re definitely going to get affected.”

Instantly, the tofu image came to mind; but this time, something was nagging at me. Something in the tofu comparison didn’t seem so appropriate anymore. I recalled a conversation regarding this very topic of moving out to spiritually desolate communities at the risk of your own spiritual health.

“Sure, you can be a learned and pious individual, but moving away from your source of life, the Torah, is bound to make you stumble,” stated one individual. “No matter how energetically the water is bubbling, moving the pot off the stove will cool it down eventually.”

“Aha,” responded the other. “That’s if you take it off the stove. But if you make sure to continuously stay connected, if you never pull out the kettle’s plug from the outlet, you can go as far away for as long as desired, and you will remain boiling hot. The danger arises only when you sever your soul’s connection with its Source.”

“Naamah,” I comforted my friend, “It’s not impossible. If you continuously and actively remind yourself who you are and where you come from, you will stay true to yourself. If you keep up your learning and make regular accountings of where you are spiritually, you will stay on the right path.”

That turned the tofu analogy upside down. Tofu leaves its simple comfort zone and enters into a realm of flavors and smells it has never encountered before. It’s definitely overwhelming for our little white tofu, as he’s steamed and broiled, frozen and crumbled, chopped and blended, all in a dizzying medley of colors and textures.

Thus it appears to be, as the therapist believed, that tofu abandons its essence when it associates with outsiders.

However, in fact the opposite stands true.

When questioning the identity of an unfamiliar dish whose main ingredient is tofu, you will never hear “meat” or “cheesecake” as a response. You will hear “tofu.” It may look and taste and feel just like the chicken or fish in front of you, but the cook will not deny that it is, in reality, tofu.

The trick is to be yourself in someone else’s living roomHence we see that tofu does not, in fact, desert its essence. Regardless of what it’s being presented as, tofu remains tofu.

And that is our ideal.

To be true to yourself while sitting in your living room is no big feat. That’s what the angels do in heaven, and they get absolutely no credit for that.

The trick is to be yourself in someone else’s living room. To remain who you are no matter where you are.

So now, when I travel about the world, whether it’s to India, the Caribbean islands, or Portland, Oregon, rubbing shoulders with the locals and with fellow tourists, I always keep in mind where my journey started. In order to make sure the changes in climate, language and culture do not effect essential changes in my heart and in my convictions, I pause often to reflect upon my roots, my direction and my growth.

I’ll wear that sari; but I won’t enter that temple.

I’ll ride that camel; but I won’t stray from the path of the Torah.

I will be the tofu that can mesh with anything, but at the end of the day, stands up proudly and declares, “This is who I am—and nowhere that I go, and nothing that you do, will ever change that.”
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« Reply #462 on: July 25, 2011, 12:04:05 PM »

by Sara Yoheved Rigler
Living in a world where appearances mask reality.

I was 226 meters beneath the earth's surface at the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, touring what had been one of the most lucrative gold mines in the world. Felicia, our guide, explained that while the defunct mine still contained gold, it was too little to be worth mining. "You see," she said, waving her hand toward the wall of the tunnel we were walking through, "There is still gold here."

I pointed my flashlight at the rocky wall, where I indeed saw glittering specks of gold. "Yes, I see the gold," I announced, running my finger along the specks.

Felicia laughed. "That's not the gold. That's what they call 'fool's gold.' It's only 20% gold. People are fooled by its gold-like appearance."

"Then where's the real gold?" I queried.

Felicia pointed to a shiny black spot of rock, as big as my fingernail. "This is real gold, 99% gold."

"But it doesn't look like gold at all," I protested. "It's black."

"That's right," Felicia agreed. "To make it look like gold, you have to go through a complicated process. First you crush the rock. Then you pulverize it, until it's like powder. Then you have to add cyanide, a deadly poison."

"And then the color turns to gold?"

"Not yet. At that stage, it looks like thick polish." Felicia went on to explain additional stages of the process until, finally, the gold looks like gold.

I stared at the shiny black spot on the wall, irked. How could something look so different than what it really is?

Related Article: Transcendence and Oneness

Physical Appearance vs. Scientific Truth

Appearances deceive. We seem to be stationary, but we are really sitting on a giant ball that is spinning at the speed of 1000 mph. Our planet itself is moving around the sun at 67,000 mph. Yet our perception swears that we are not moving.

The chair you are sitting on appears to be solid, but it is composed of spinning atoms, where the proportion of solid matter to empty space is much less than a fraction of 1%. The proportion of matter to space in the average atom is akin to a single baseball in the middle of a giant baseball stadium. In fact, scientists tell us that all the matter in the world would theoretically fit into a teaspoon. What you think of as solid matter is almost all empty space. But it appears, even to the trained physicist, to be so solid.

The final scientific death-blow to the world of appearances is quantum physics, with its mystifying, illogical, mind-boggling realities. Once thought to apply only to the micro-world of atoms and subatomic particles, quantum mechanics during the last decade has replaced classical physics (including Einstein's Theory of Relativity) as applying to the macro-world as well. As Dr. Vlatko Vedral, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, wrote in the June, 2011 issue of Scientific American: "Few modern physicists think that classical physics has equal status with quantum mechanics; it is but a useful approximation of a world that is quantum at all scales."

Thus the most advanced science substantiates the claim: We live in a world where appearances mask reality.

Physical Appearance vs. Spiritual Truth

From a Torah perspective, the most pernicious of all false appearances is the illusion of Divine absence, a world devoid of God. The Hebrew word for "world" is olam, derived from the root word meaning "hidden." God is deliberately hidden in our world.

Yet, in truth, God is not only the source of all that exists, but, as the Torah proclaims, Ein od milvado – nothing exists except God. This means that everything, including this phantasmagoric physical world, exists within God. Denying the existence of God is like a fish denying the existence of water.

This is not an abstract point. All the substantive choices we make are based on which world we believe in: the apparent physical world or its underlying spiritual reality. Yet, to penetrate beneath the mask of physical appearance requires a mental process more arduous than turning black rock into gold jewelry.

A world disconnected from its Divine source is a fool's gold world, which leads to choosing falsity over truth:

In a fool's gold world, if you steal money, you're richer.

In reality, if you steal money, you're diminished and poorer.

In a fool's gold world, if you deride and embarrass someone with a clever put-down, you come out on top.

In reality, if you deride and embarrass someone with a clever put-down, you damage yourself even more than you damage your victim.

In a fool's gold world, if you win an argument with your spouse, you've won.

In reality, every time you argue with your spouse, you've lost.

In a fool's gold world, cheating helps you pass your test.

In reality, if you cheat, you've failed your real test.

In a fool's gold world, if you give a large sum of money to charity, you have less.

In reality, if you give a large sum of money to charity, you have more. (As a wise woman said at the end of her life: "All I really have is what I gave away.")

In a fool's gold world, others in the same line of business are your competitors, and the more your competitor succeeds, the worse it is for you.

In reality, all of us are part of the whole, and the more the other succeeds, the better it is for the whole, which includes you.

In a fool's gold world, the worst eventuality is death.

In reality, the worst eventuality is a life devoid of meaning and purpose.

In a fool's gold world, your essential identity appears to be your body, so you invest your time, attention, and money in beautifying/strengthening/preserving the body.

In reality, your essential identity is your soul, so (while fulfilling the mitzvah to take care of the body) you invest most of your time, attention, and money in enhancing your awareness of and acting according to your soul.

Unearthing the real gold may require going deep below the surface and undergoing an intricate process of refinement, but is investing in counterfeit ever worth it?
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« Reply #463 on: July 27, 2011, 09:38:01 AM »

Norway, I Cry for You
by Sara Yoheved Rigler

An Arab woman from Qatar taught me how to mourn the Norwegian children.

I didn’t even hear about the massacre in Norway until Sunday night. When it occurred on Friday, I was too busy with my Shabbos preparations to check the news on the internet. Saturday night, I didn’t even turn on my computer, and I don't have a television. Sunday night, one of the women who attends a class in my home mentioned that a right-wing terrorist had gone on a shooting spree in Norway and many people were dead, but after the class I was too tired to look at the news.

Finally, on Monday night, I went online. First, I looked up the latest developments in the Leiby Kletzky murder case. I read the statement issued by Leiby’s parents after the shiva. It was followed by a sampling of the thousands of condolence messages received by the Kletzkys. One in particular caught my eye, and then my heart. It was from an Arab woman in Qatar. It read:

    “My deepest condolences to the parents, especially Leiby’s mother. As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old. To carry a baby for 9 months, give birth, struggle with sleepless nights, ailments, aches and pains, the first step, first smile, first fall, going from milestone to milestone, cheering with them, crying with them, worrying with them, wearing your heart on your sleeve every moment of the day. These are precious moments etched in our hearts forever. And then, suddenly, cruelly and horribly, your child is snatched from you, and in one second your life is completely and utterly destroyed. I pray that God help you find inner strength to cope with this immense tragedy, for the sake of your daughters, your husband and all the others who need you in their lives. I cried for your son, and I cried for your heart that will forever have a piece missing. With deepest sympathy, Carmen Ali from Qatar.”

Then I googled the Norway massacre. I read about the bombing in Oslo and then the shooting spree on Utoya Island, where youth from Norway’s Labor Party were holding a summer camp. I read that 92 people were dead, most of them teenagers. I read that the terrorist was a right-wing extremist who hated Muslims (and apparently a lot of other people). I shook my head, muttered, “How horrible!” and went to bed.

This morning, however, when I was doing my heshbon hanefesh (review of yesterday’s spiritual failures and victories), I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my reaction to Norway’s tragedy. For two weeks, ever since the death of Leiby Kletzky, I have been crying over the death of one Jewish child, and I didn’t shed a single tear over the death of dozens of Norwegian children?

With a chill, I realized that this is how people all over the world must have reacted every time we in Israel suffered a massive terror attack. While we were crying and burying our dead, they were shaking their heads, clicking their tongues, and going on to the next news item. What is wrong with them? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with us?

I realized that I was not devastated by Norway’s tragedy because I do not identify with the dozens of mothers who are burying their children this week. After all, what do I have in common with these blond-haired, blue-eyed women with Nordic features who are on the other end of the religious and political spectrum from me?

That’s when I remembered the letter to the Kletzkys from the woman in Qatar. How could she, a Muslim Arab, identify with a Jewish Hasidic woman in Brooklyn? She wrote: “As a mother of 2 boys, I know what a long, long journey it is for a mother to bring up her baby to be 9 years old.” She recounted the common experiences they shared: the pregnancy and birth, the sleepless nights, the ailments.... She stood in Itta Kletsky’s shoes, and she cried with her.

Related Article: Learning from Leiby

I, too, am a mother. Like Itta Kletsky. Like Carmen Ali. Like the scores of blond-haired Norwegian mothers who will never again embrace their murdered children. Learning from the example of my Muslim sister, I sat there and visualized all we have in common: the jubilation over the child’s first smile, the worry over his first fever, the anxiety over his first day at school. I sat there until I wept for the slain children of Norway.

In some ways, these parents are in a worse situation than Leiby Kletzky’s parents. The Kletzkys had a whole community focused on their personal loss. In Norway there are so many dead that each child gets no more than a photo and a short paragraph in the news. Thousands of mourners crowded into the Kletskys’ apartment every day of the seven-day shiva period. In Norway, thousands mourn in the center of Oslo, but how many beat a trail to each victim’s home? Judaism mandates a week of shiva, in which the parents are forbidden to work, bathe, or do anything other than grieve, while people visit them to fulfill the mitzvah of “comforting the mourners.” What did the Norwegian parents do the day after they buried their children? What framework do they have to ease them through the mourning process?

In their public statement, Leiby Kletzky’s parents addressed “all of God’s children around the world who held our dear Leiby in their thoughts and prayers. We pray that none of you should ever have to live through what we did. But if any tragedy is to ever befall any of you, God forbid, you should be blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours. We feel that through Leiby we’ve become family with you all.”

Last Friday, tragedy did befall scores of Norwegian parents, and few of them were “blessed with a community and public as supportive as ours.” Let us, the Jewish People, unite again in a message to these stricken parents: We are crying for your children—and for you.

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« Reply #464 on: July 28, 2011, 07:22:00 AM »

Weekly Sermonette
The Power of Prayer
By Yossy Goldman

A fellow was boasting about what a good citizen he was and what a refined, disciplined lifestyle he led. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't gamble, I don't cheat on my wife, I am early to bed and early to rise, and I work hard all day and attend religious services faithfully." Very impressive, right? Then he added, "I've been like this for the last five years, but just you wait until they let me out of this place!"

Although prisons were not really part of the Jewish judicial system, there were occasions when individuals would have their freedom of movement curtailed. One such example was the City of Refuge. If a person was guilty of manslaughter (i.e., unintentional murder) the perpetrator would flee to one of the specially designated Cities of Refuge throughout Biblical Israel where he was given safe haven from the wrath of a would-be avenging relative of the victim.

The Torah tells us that his term of exile would end with the death of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Talmud tells of an interesting practice that developed. The mother of the Kohen Gadol at the time would make a point of bringing gifts of food to those exiled so that they should not pray for the early demise of her son, to which their own freedom was linked.

Now this is very strange. Here is a man who, though not a murderer, is not entirely innocent of any negligence either. The rabbis teach that G-d does not allow misfortune to befall the righteous. If this person caused a loss of life, we can safely assume that he is less than righteous. Opposite him stands the High Priest of Israel, noble, aristocratic and, arguably, the holiest Jew alive. Of the entire nation, he alone had the awesome responsibility and privilege of entering the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple, the "Holy of Holies," on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Do we really have reason to fear that the prayers of this morally tainted prisoner will have such a negative effect on the revered and exalted High Priest, to the extent that the Kohen Gadol may die? And his poor mother has to go and shlep food parcels to distant cities to soften up the prisoner so he should go easy in his prayers so that her holy son may live? Does this make sense?

But such is the power of prayer--the prayer of any individual, noble or ordinary, righteous or even sinful.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Otherwise, I suppose, Shuls around the world would be overflowing daily. But we do believe fervently in the power of prayer. And though, ideally, we pray in Hebrew and with a congregation, the most important ingredient for our prayers to be successful is sincerity. "G-d wants the heart," we are taught. The language and the setting are secondary to the genuineness of our prayers. Nothing can be more genuine than a tear shed in prayer.

By all means, learn the language of our Siddur, the prayer book. Improve your Hebrew reading so you can follow the services and daven with fluency. But remember, most important of all is our sincerity. May all our prayers be answered.
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« Reply #465 on: July 29, 2011, 07:17:13 AM »

Life’s Journeys
By Nechoma Greisman

It took forty-two stages for the Jews to get from Egypt to Israel, over a period of forty years. Each stage of the journey was determined exclusively by divine decree—the cloud which hovered over the Jewish camp began to move on when they were required to relocate. The entire camp then packed up their belongings and moved on, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was stationary, they were stationary, and when the cloud moved again, they followed the cloud. This is what happened through forty-two stops and starts to get to Israel.

The Torah states, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt . . .” (Numbers 33:1). The question is asked why the verse states, “These are the journeys,” in the plural. They weren’t going out of Egypt on all of the 42 journeys. Surely after the first stage of the journey, after they had arrived in Rameses, they were no longer leaving Egypt but Rameses, and so on? After the first stage of the journey, weren’t the other 41 stages going to Israel, but not from Egypt? The simple answer is that until a person arrives at the ultimate goal, Israel (in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one), he is always in the process of leaving Egypt.

However, the verse has an even deeper meaning—it refers to the journeys through life of every individual. Moreover, every person’s life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of the Jews from Egypt to Israel. In other words, it is possible to identify each person’s journey through life with the 42 stages of the journey described in the Torah.

The word “Egypt” in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, can also be derived from the word meaning “constricted” or “limiting place.” In Hebrew, a meitzar is a strait. It comes from the word tzar, “narrow.”

Every person, in his or her life, has situations which the Torah describes as a limitation and constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this constricted area, a person has to exert energy. And when he manages to escape the constriction, it is as if he has left that place and gone to a place that is a wide-open place. When you’re finished with that problem, you breathe a sigh of relief: “I’ve gotten out of that tight spot.”

The verse therefore means that the life of the Jew, which begins at his birth, is a succession of tight spots followed by relief and expansion. It means that at every given time in our life, in every given stage in our life, we are given certain obstacles and certain tests. These are the tight spots. Of course, these situations are not meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. On the contrary, through overcoming these difficulties, we become strengthened and our awareness of G‑d is expanded.

This can be compared to an army. When you go for basic training, they make you run ten miles, they make you carry packs, they make you go through difficult situations. Why? Because only after you have undergone the difficulties they put you through do you become a good soldier. If you had never done that, you wouldn’t even have known you were capable of doing it. When you undergo difficulties, you build up your strength. Just as this is true of physical situations, it is true also in spiritual situations.

In this context, “Egypt” doesn’t mean a geographical land, a country called Egypt; rather, it refers to the stages of constriction and development that we all go through on our journey to spiritual perfection—signified by the Land of Israel.

This is life. What may be difficult at the age of five is a joke at the age of ten, and what’s difficult at the age of ten is a joke at the age of twenty. A person who just got married is struggling with the first year of marriage and getting used to marriage. That’s a big struggle. But when people are married for twenty-five years and are marrying off their children, there’s a whole different set of difficulties and problems. Then there are the problems that come with older age and being grandparents. Every stage in life has its own qualities. G‑d is constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to deal with them and grow through them. Then we go to another stage, and then we come to a third stage and a fourth stage. This is a succession of constrictions.

When does it end? It ends at the end of a person’s life. In other words, the beginning is Egypt—the birth; coming into Israel at the end of the 42nd journey is when a person completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the World to Come. Until then, a person’s life is a series of journeys, each one being a strait in comparison to the one after it, and the tests change and get more difficult as you pass through them. This is on an individual basis.

This also happens every single day. There are, of course, different levels. The nation goes on its journeys, the individual on his. On any given day, the person goes through these journeys from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night.

This condition of being on a continual journey can have two possible reactions. One reaction is that the person can become very arrogant and say, “Look how far I’ve come. I remember, years ago, I was on this level and now I’ve really struggled and worked hard, and now I’m on a much higher level.” To the arrogant person, the Torah says, “Don’t be so arrogant. You may have gone through 22 journeys. That’s fantastic, but you still have another 20 to go. As long as you are alive, you can never become complacent about the number of journeys you’ve traveled.”

Then there’s a person who can get depressed. He’s saying, “My goodness, this is terrible. I’m on such a low level. How can I ever get to the level of this other person? Look at her. She’s so much higher than me, and what’s the point of even starting?” For that person there is also a word of encouragement. Depending on who you are and on how you’re relating, the Torah has a reaction for each situation. The reaction to that person is: Do not despair, because G‑d never intended that a person go from Egypt to Israel in one move. The Torah told us from the very beginning that it’s going to take 42 small journeys. No one should ever get depressed, because as long as you’re involved in the journeying, as long as you didn’t give up and stop running, you’re still in the race. G‑d is the One who can read everybody’s heart. He is the One who gives points. You cannot ever compare yourself to anybody else, because you don’t know where the other person started from and what their handicaps are. The important thing is to know that you have to keep going. Just keep going from one journey to the next, and let G‑d do the grading.

To a person who says despairingly, “Look how far I have to go,” the Torah says, “Do not give up. After all, look how far you’ve come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don’t take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop.”

Eventually, all of us will get to the Land of Israel. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!
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« Reply #466 on: July 31, 2011, 10:13:52 AM »
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« Reply #467 on: August 03, 2011, 08:39:20 AM »

Making Exceptions
by William Kolbrener

Baseless hatred stems from hating others for what we fear may be true about ourselves.

Getting from the house to school in the morning – or rather the two schools that my youngest sons attend – always takes a while. Shmuel, like a seven-year-old version of the English poet, William Wordsworth, stops to marvel at the wonders of nature; while Pinhas, five, comports himself like a young Isaac Newton, pausing to consider how things work. Today, a garbage pick-up fired both of their imaginations. Shmuel seemed to be readying a sonnet; Pinhas an engineering diagram. Yes, getting to school takes a long time.

Between the flights of sublimity and the mechanical inquiries, I pursue another topic, “How to Cross the Street.” First, an undergraduate course in semiotics: “What do the thick white lines on the pavement mean?” “What does the blue and white illuminated image of the pedestrian represent?” “Yes, this is the place to cross the street!”

So we stand and dutifully wait. One car zooms by; and then another. A young father, with an mp3 player – probably listening to a lecture – his five-year-old daughter in tow, crosses down the block, away from the pedestrian crossing. I see Pinhas wondering: What exactly is abba trying to pass off on us? “You don’t have to cross here,” he finally affirms, another car whizzing by: “Look at them.” He points to his father and daughter still in sight and already at the grocery store across the street, poised to buy a white roll and chocolate milk.
Shmuel and Pinhas

I preempt the request I know is coming. “No, you can’t have lakhmania and choco, Mommy packed you a lunch.” And: “Just because other people do the wrong thing does not mean that it’s right.” Finally, a car stops, the driver waving us across benevolently. I nod in gratitude – in Israel, traffic regulations are often viewed as suggestions – “Thank you for abiding by the law.”

Pinhas is first to school today. Shmuel, sometimes shy, is reticent to accompany us, so he waits outside the school gates. A group of boys, pushing their heads through the metal bars, starts to tease him, even as I stand by: “You guys have a problem?” I ask, mimicking what boys typically say when taunting Shmuel, who has Down Syndrome. When I come back, Shmuel is still standing there. He looks confused, a departure from his wondrous happy, friendly self: one of the boys is standing with his tongue hanging out with a mocking stare.

When I return home, my wife asks: “What do you expect?” This was one of the schools that would not take Shmuel; why should we expect more from children than their teachers? Or, a principal who had told us – he has a niece with Down Syndrome, so he assured us, “I know” – that “mainstreaming is not good for special children.” Besides, he added, “it would give the school a bad name.”

The Torah enjoins, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in the same chapter of Leviticus, “You shall love the stranger.” Love the one with whom you identify, as well as the one who seems different from you. Rashi, the eleventh-century commentator who guides generations through difficult passages, writes that the Torah assumes one may come to hate the stranger because he has a “defect.” His deficiency, whatever it may be, arouses a desire to afflict him, or at least distance him.

But the verse continues: “You yourself were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” You see him as different, but he is just like you. The stranger’s so-called defect, Rashi writes, is your own. That characteristic which we are unable to acknowledge – too painful or unpleasant – we externalize in a hatred for others. We were once slaves in Egypt, “strangers in a strange land,” immersed in idolatry. So, we look at the stranger and project upon him that which we fear might be most true about ourselves. But we fear it – this is the Torah’s insight – because it is true. We instinctively hate the other for reminding us of the “defect” which is our own.

The answer to the question opening Hamlet – “Who’s there?” – is never simply answered. We have a natural propensity, the Torah tells us, to be in denial about our selves, but also to project onto others the perceived shortcomings from which we most want to escape. We hate the thing which – in a way we cannot yet face – helps to define who we are. Jewish prayer and ritual, as a corrective to those inclinations, refer to the God who took the Jewish people out of Egypt, not the God Who created the heavens and the earth, emphasizing: “Remember who you are, remember from where you came.” Your past – and you – are also exceptional. The verse concludes: “I am your God” – Rashi explains, both your God and the stranger’s. You are not only united in your history; you and the stranger, who you want to distance from the camp, have the same God. So be open-minded to the stranger within.

In the end, we may have more in common with children of difference, like Shmuel, than we are willing to admit. The school principal’s protests about mainstreaming may reveal as much about his own personal insecurities – one is not always efficient, brilliant, and scholarly – as about purported concerns for the “name” of the school. The proximity of children with Down Syndrome, or exceptional children of any kind, make us uneasy about the ways in which we may also be merely ordinary, less than competent, imperfect. How else to explain a school – or a community – that wants to project an image of perfection in order to maintain its good name?

But that image is a communal fantasy, not the Torah’s ideal. Keeping special children out of the “mainstream” may be, in many cases, the right thing. But sometimes, it is as much about parents – or uncles – who nurture images of themselves helping them to forget what they do not want to know. As far as myself, I have a lot to learn from the indefatigably questioning and studious Pinhas, but probably even more from my more bashful Shmuel, who takes in the world in awe, and who laughs and dances with unselfconscious glee and abandonment. The stranger we try to flee almost always has an uncannily familiar face. But becoming more tolerant to that which is more singular in ourselves – acknowledging the stranger within – makes it easier to be tolerant of the exceptional in others.

Back on the morning trek to school, walking in the direction of Shmuel’s school now, we encounter the bouncy-gait of the nine-year-old Yehuda: “Good morning Shmuel!” Shortly after, a smiling boy on a bicycle, and an exuberant “Shalom Shmuel!” “He is my friend,” Shmuel boasts loudly. And then the gawky eleven-year-old from down the block, who keeps a rooster in our building courtyard, volunteers, “Can I walk with Shmuel to heder?” We are grateful to the school principal who declared, “It’s a big mitzvah” to accept Shmuel into the school. But the children in Shmuel’s school, like his brothers and sisters, perhaps benefit most in learning to take for granted – instead of taking exceptional at – including Shmuel in their play. For from a very early age, children notice the exceptions we make, and turn them into second nature, whether crossing the street in the wrong place or making a new friend, even though he may be a bit different.

Excerpted from Open Minded Torah by William Kolbrener. . In Open Minded Torah, William Kolbrener offers a voice advocating renewed Jewish commitment and openness for the twenty-first century. In essays as likely to turn to baseball, the NASDAQ and Denzel Washington as to Shakespeare, quantum physics and psychoanalysis, Kolbrener provides powerful—and often surprising—insights into how open mindedness allows for authentic Jewish engagement.

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« Reply #468 on: August 05, 2011, 04:28:23 PM »

Ever Thought That G‑d Hates You?

By Rochel Holzkenner

Joe and Gertrude were bickering loudly as they drove down I-95 in their ’82 Cadillac. “Look at us now,” shouted Gertrude, clutching the passenger door. “I sit on one end of the seat and you on the other.” She sighed with nostalgia. “Remember when we’d drive as newlyweds—we’d sit closer together.”

“Gertrude, my dear,” her husband interjected, “I’ve been sitting in the same spot for the past thirty years—right in front of the steering wheel. You’re the one who’s shifted over . . .”

Don’t all dynamic relationships have their ups and downs? I’d think it would be no different in our relationship with G‑d. There are moments of love and gratitude, and moments of anger and frustration.

One such painful drama that Moses rehashed was the negative report about the land of Israel given by ten of the spies who scouted the land thirty-eight years earlier. Frightened that they’d be unable to conquer the land, they discouraged the people from even trying. Pandemonium spread. The thought of an impossible, even suicidal battle against the strong Canaanite nations was petrifying.

Moses vividly paints the atmosphere of fear and paranoia:

You spoke slanderously in your tents. You said, “G‑d took us out of the land of Egypt because He hates us! [He wishes] to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites and destroy us!” (Deuteronomy 1:27)

What a radical thing to say: “G‑d took us out of Egypt because He hates us”! Yet, when the story of the spies played out in real time (in the Book of Numbers), the Torah doesn’t mention this radical accusation.

Here’s how the Israelites’ reaction is described in Numbers (14:2):

All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert.”

Although pretty despondent, there’s no mention of G‑d hating them.

So, come Deuteronomy, and Moses is not just repeating the story, he’s adding a new element to the crisis.

Notice that Moses qualifies his words: “You spoke slanderously in your tents.” They didn’t make this ridiculous, slanderous claim publicly; they didn’t dare. It was only after everyone had gone back to their tents that they furtively whispered and complained that G‑d hated them.

There were two types of slander. The claims that they made publicly were based on a reality—the odds would be against them if they battled for Israel. But in private they spoke a slander that was patently untrue. G‑d didn’t hate them, He loved them, and He’d shown His love for them countless times.

In order to mask your resentment towards Him, you projected the hatred onto HimWhy does Moses feel the need to disclose their furtive remarks? According to the biblical commentator Rashi, Moses was telling them the following: “He [G‑d] loved you, but you hated Him, as in the common saying: ‘What is in your heart about your beloved, is in his heart about you.’”

It was really you who were disappointed and angry at G‑d, Moses explains. But in order to mask your resentment towards Him, you projected the hatred onto Him. You whispered that G‑d hates you, that He’s out to get you.

But does not the very aphorism that Rashi cites—“What is in your heart about your beloved, is in his heart about you”—contradict the present context? The Jews here “hated” G‑d, while G‑d maintained His love towards them. By all accounts, their hearts were far from reflecting one another!

But here’s how the Jews mirrored G‑d’s heart: “How unfair,” they lamented. “G‑d hates us, even though we love Him.” The crisis over the spies’ negative report wreaked havoc. On the surface of their consciousness the Jews felt that G‑d had rejected them, hated them. Lying under the surface was intense resentment towards G‑d for promising them a land that seemed impossible to conquer.

In fact, the opposite was true: G‑d loved them despite their resentment towards Him. Here’s where Rashi’s rule plays out precisely. “What is in your heart about your beloved is in his heart about you.”

Moses is making a powerful point. G‑d loves you even if you’re angry, resentful, or even hateful towards Him. And if you have a hard time believing this possible, remember your own experience: You, who thought that G‑d hated you even though you loved Him, know what it’s like to love unconditionally.

Moses wanted to bring this dynamic to their attention. G‑d’s love is unconditional. This knowledge is not only heart-warming, it’s also healing.

How often does this play out in our lives. Life is disappointing or frightening, and we immediately point the finger at G‑d: You hate me, even though I have nothing against You!

Moses brings a little objective self-awareness to the table.

Flip around your perspective and you’ll be able to empathize with G‑d’s experienceFlip around your perspective and you’ll be able to empathize with G‑d’s experience. He has nothing against you; in fact He loves you, despite the fact that you currently hate Him.

When we’re able to realize that G‑d loves us, despite the disappointments in our life, and despite our palpable bitterness towards Him, then the anger begins to melt away in the face of warmth and care. The circumstances may remain painful, but the anger begins to dissipate.

If we can experience this classic epiphany—that G‑d loves us, even as we wallow in pain and resentment—we will have no choice but to love Him back.1

Based on the Rebbe’s teachings, recorded in Likkutei Sichot, vol. 34, pp. 17ff.
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« Reply #469 on: August 07, 2011, 07:39:15 PM »

A Love Story
A Tisha B’Av Insight

By Samantha Barnett

I grew up dreaming about my Prince Charming, besotted with the idea of “love” as I understood it. I knew my grandmother had been married by the age of nineteen to a man who absolutely adored her, and their love was a lasting one.

On Sundays, my grandfather used to take my grandmother and me out for ice cream. The two of them would share a cone and smile at each other. I remember the way he looked at her and the way she returned his gaze. To him, she was clearly the most beautiful woman alive, and I could tell by his expression that he felt lucky to be married to her. As they passed the ice cream cone back and forth, I knew my grandmother felt cherished and protected by my grandfather. Even after so many years of marriage, their love seemed fresh and new.

From watching my grandparents interact, love seemed easyFrom watching my grandparents interact, love seemed easy. I developed the conviction that love was easily attainable, and I became consumed with the idea of romance. I read romantic novels, watched romantic movies and dreamed romantic dreams. One thing was certain: if love was involved, I was hooked.

But as I grew up, I began to see problems in the world of love. I watched people compromising themselves for romances that were obviously temporary. I saw momentary pleasure taking the place of true intimacy. I met children and adults who had been thoroughly hurt by their parents’ bad marriages. I watched couples separate after years of dating because they knew they could never marry each other, and that left me perplexed because I had always assumed that marriage was the goal of dating. I found it ironic that in a world obsessed with analyzing and discussing others’ relationships, it has become tough to find good relationship role models.

And I wondered: is the romance of my grandparents’ generation already an ancient phenomenon? Does my generation, witnessing skyrocketing divorce rates and illicit affairs plastered across the media, even believe that true love is possible? Do we realize what we are missing?

A Divine Relationship
The Jewish nation is likened to a bride. We found “Mr. Right” in G‑d, but through our actions we grew apart from Him. Consequently, we lost the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, our strongest connection to Him. We have become used to life without a Temple, and to us it seems normal, but it is not. We are missing out on a deep, soulful relationship with G‑d, and that is something to cry about.

In fact, we have a designated day to grieve over this loss: Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the month of Av. Perhaps, if we take a closer look at this day of fasting and commemoration, we’ll better understand how to fix and maintain the important relationships in our lives.

Night of Sadness
After the Jewish people escaped from Egypt, we needed a homeland. G‑d promised us the land of Israel, and we began to journey through the desert in the direction of the Holy Land. But before we were to enter the land, the people approached Moses and requested he send ahead a group of men to scout out the layout of the land and its inhabitants, so that they could strategize how to conquer this new and foreign country.

Moses agreed, and assigned spiritual leaders from each of the twelve tribes to act as spies. When they returned, the entire nation assembled to hear their reports. Ten of the leaders publicly pointed out why the Jewish people would not be successful in acquiring the Land. Their words planted seeds of doubt in the minds of the Jewish people, and some began to wonder if they might have done better to remain in slavery in Egypt. That night the Jewish people cried, afraid of the land and afraid of its inhabitants.

We have become used to life without a TempleThis night of sadness took place on the ninth of Av, a day which has become synonymous with tragedy and mourning. The sin of the spies is considered the source of all the other tragedies which would occur on Tisha B’Av in later years.

Lack of Trust

The reason the sin of the spies was considered so grave was because the Jewish people lost faith in G‑d so quickly, when they had just been privy to open revelations of G‑dliness. He performed miracle after miracle: He bombarded the evil Egyptians with plagues, split the Red Sea, and revealed Himself at Mount Sinai. But still, we lost faith in Him.

The cornerstone of any relationship is trust. Without trust in G‑d, we ultimately permanently damaged our relationship with Him.

Physicality Versus Spirituality
The deeper reason the Jews in the desert cried upon hearing the spies’ report was a desire to remain close to G‑d. Life was good in the desert. Miracles happened on a daily basis. The Jewish people knew that entering Israel would involve returning to reality, toiling on the land instead of receiving manna from Heaven, thus having less time to spend studying the Torah.

But what we failed to understand is that entering the Land would enable us to live in the ultimate reality. G‑d wants us to live in this physical world and use its very physicality for spiritual purposes. Our mission in the world is to infuse our surroundings with spirituality and G‑dliness. The spiritual vortex of the world is Israel, Jerusalem in particular, and specifically the Holy Temple. The ultimate relationship connects the physical and spiritual worlds, enhancing each of them. Unfortunately, the Jews in the desert didn’t realize that entering the Land of Israel would have accomplished that, creating a better reality than they had in the desert.

I once asked a rabbi why the Western Wall is so important to the Jewish people. Shouldn’t our holiest site be Mount Sinai? After all, Mount Sinai is the mountain where G‑d spoke to Moses and gave him the Torah. It is there that each and every Jew heard firsthand the voice of the Almighty. Yet this mountain is not considered the holiest place for a Jew. That title is reserved for the place where the Holy Temple stood.

The mission of a Jewish person is to take physical matter and make it holyThe mission of a Jewish person is to take physical matter and make it holy. In the desert and at Mount Sinai, G‑d spoke to us, and that was incredible! But we were like infants being fed by our mother; we were not yet partners with the Almighty. The Temple site is so holy because there we built a home for G‑d out of our own blood, sweat and raw materials. It is the place where we worked together with the Almighty to bring His presence down to earth, thus infusing the physical matter with holiness. Holiness with G‑d is a more mature relationship than we had at Mount Sinai. It is a love affair. It takes two to make it work.

Where Did We Go Wrong?
The Jews in the desert were being noncommittal. They had the ultimate romance with G‑d, who granted them constant miracles. We had found our perfect match, and yet we were scared to move on to the next stage of the relationship. Our greatest flaw was that we did not want to grow. We wanted the overwhelming passion of new love, and were afraid to move into an unknown future.

The romantic stage of a relationship is indeed wonderful, but it doesn’t last, because romance is not true love. True love is based in reality. It is when we share the mundane experiences of life with our partner that we learn to truly love. Our shared moments and growth are our most intimate, and our partnership makes the world a better place.

A good relationship is not about lust, attraction or “me.” A strong relationship is borne when both partners focus on giving, and exploring what’s special about “us.” The ultimate partnership is between two people who can “build” with each other. G‑d, too, wants to partner with us in building. The Temple can stand only as long as we keep building it through nurturing our relationship to the divine.

Relationship breakups are tough. Whenever a relationship dissolves in books or movies, the woman ends up sitting on a couch and eating ice cream to “get over” her partner. But, we observe Tisha B’Av because we can never “get over” the relationship we have lost with G‑d. This relationship is not disposable. It is irreplaceable.

And yet, we cry. We cry because we know He wants a relationship with us, but we messed up. We cry because the home that we built with G‑d is destroyed, and we want to build it with Him again. We cry because, even 2,000 years after our falling out, we still crave His love and yearn to be as in love with Him as He is with us.

Rectifying the Divine Relationship
We have the chance to be the couple who emanates loveMost importantly, we don’t cry because we feel hopeless. We cry to change ourselves. We cry because through tears we hope to grow. This world was created for us to connect with G‑d, and we must cultivate our inner longing to unite with Him. Our relationships with each other are a taste of this divine relationship. With that in mind, how could we not direct every effort into developing and cultivating them? How can we settle for anything less?

Sometimes it can be difficult for us to relate to the loss of a Temple we never knew and a relationship with G‑d we never experienced. We don’t even know anyone who has known it!

But if we recognize the loss of the Temple as the loss of our greatest relationship, perhaps we can relate a bit more deeply. We’ve missed 2,000 years of anniversaries.

We have the chance to be the couple who emanates love. The pair whom people stop to ask: “What’s your secret?” We have the chance to be the light unto the nations—but we can’t do it without partnering with the ultimate source of the light.
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« Reply #470 on: August 08, 2011, 06:51:08 AM »

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« Reply #471 on: August 10, 2011, 08:43:50 PM »

By Leigh Spencer

I had the dream again.
I’m running
child clutched to my chest
holding in arms and legs
to avoid the bullets
that may come.
Hoping this body is thick enough
to protect him
one last time.

Footfalls of the soldiers
so much faster than mine
are close now.
I see the fence.
Run faster
kicking dust and bone fragments
at the soldiers
now just out of reach.

They reach
my shoulder
wrench me back sideways.
But the fence is right there!
I throw him
with the summoned strength
of my lost generation.
Hoist his bottom, just over
as the soldiers bear down.
His terrified, screaming face
thankfully on the other side
is the last thing I see

I called my grandmother this weekend.
She sounded tired, cried recently.
She and Zeide were watching
a documentary on Auschwitz.
She tells me again
that she would give everything she owns
for just one picture
of her mother.

I wonder—
Whose dream am I having?
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« Reply #472 on: August 11, 2011, 07:36:07 AM »

Maimonides prescribed prayer and action

Q. The S&P downgraded America’s credit rating, the country remains engaged in two wars, millions are unemployed and approval ratings for Congress are at historic lows.
It was against this backdrop that Texas Governor Rick Perry held The Response, a prayer event in which he prayed for the economy, among other areas of ”darkness” in America.
In a critique of the revival, Frank Bruni wrote in his New York Times column that when it comes to fixing out country’s problems, “faith and prayer just won’t cut it. In fact, they’ll get in the way.”
Is Bruni right?
A. Time to ring in the jokes. You know, like the guy who prays to win the lottery until God finally says “It would help to buy a ticket!” Or the man in the flood who, as the water level rises, is so confident in his faith that he ignores the rescuers in the boat and the helicopter, proclaiming “God will save me!” When the flood overtakes him and he drowns he finds himself in heaven. Crestfallen, he says to God, “Why didn’t you rescue me? I trusted you.” “What do you want?” answers God, “I sent you a boat and helicopter!”
These jokes make fun of people who believe that prayer is all one needs. There is an old Yiddish saying, “Love is good. Love with noodles is better.” Prayer is good. Prayer with action is better. To say it will “get in the way” misunderstands prayer and misunderstands those who pray. People do not pray as a substitute for action, but as a supplement to action. The greatest philosopher of Judaism, Maimonides, was a physician. He did not advise his patients to pray alone. Indeed he specifically inveighed against the practice of using the Torah as a magical talisman to cure illness. People think, wrote Maimonides, that the words of the Torah are a healing of the body, but they are not; they are a healing of the spirit. Pray, but also go to the doctor.
Surely we can all agree that the spirit of this country cries out for healing. We need it very badly and for people to pray together is a powerful statement of spiritual solidarity. There was one element of the rally that troubled me; it ought not to be specifically Christian rally. As a Jew, I wish to be included in any prayer that the government sponsors. But to maintain that prayer, which is the mobilization of the human spirit toward God, is a hindrance to solving our national ills is fatuous. There is a lot of work to do. Let us pray we have the courage and wisdom to do it. Buy the ticket and send the boat.
DAVID WOLPE  | AUG 10, 2011 10:01 AM
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« Reply #473 on: August 12, 2011, 06:50:23 PM »

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Living through the Parshah
Fusing Idealism and Realism
By Rochel Holzkenner

There are two types of people: the idealists and the realists. The idealistic folks dream of a world with social justice, body-soul synchrony, environmental conservation, and of living with higher consciousness. The realistic people invest in practical and obtainable goals like financial security, time management and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Personally, I resonate with both the idealist and the realist. I think we're probably all a composite of both, albeit a little more of one side than the other.

To be a true idealist you cannot consider the resistance that you may encounter while implementing your dreams. Pure idealism follows the dictates of truth alone, and doesn't bend to environmental or social constraints.

Pure idealism follows the dictates of truth alone, and doesn't bend to environmental or social constraintsOn the other hand, without realistic thinking my dreams would stay in the world of fantasy, never tested, never validated in the real world, and never helping anyone.

In 1940, when the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was on the boat from war-torn Europe to America, he called over one of his aides, Rabbi Hodakov, and instructed him to take out pen and paper; the Rebbe would dictate, and he would write. The Rebbe then proceeded to outline his plan for creating a flourishing Judaism in America. He described how he would create three institutions upon his arrival in the new country – a publishing house, and an educational arm: one for children, another for adults – and he outlined the details of each institution.

After dictating his plans, the Rebbe said, "You would perhaps think that I would wait until getting to America to begin formulating my plans. Then, I could evaluate the needs of the American community and plan accordingly. No! Then I would be influenced by what I see, and my vision for America would be tainted. I want a European (uncompromised) Judaism, not an American (compromised) Judaism!"

Our life's work is to integrate our highest ideals into the most practical framework of life, say the kabbalists. And this merge requires integrity and lots of creative work.

What will the world be like in the Messianic Era? The kabbalists characterize it very simply: the fusion of the loftiest ideals for humanity with a pragmatic lifestyle; a fully expressed soul that lives comfortably in a physical body. That's what they call redemptive living.

G‑d didn't allow Moses to enter the Land of Israel. He begged and pleaded with G‑d to forgive him and allow him entrance. G‑d had forgiven the Jewish people when Moses pleaded on their behalf, but when it came to Moses' own mistake, G‑d did not budge.

G‑d didn't want him in Israel, sin or no sin. The sin seemed like a convenient pretext; bottom line, Moses wasn't going.

Which is hard to swallow in light of the fact that Moses never wanted the job of leader in the first place, and yet was an incredibly dedicated leader for over 40 years. And now, when the journey was about to culminate and the nation would finally settle in a land of their own, Moses was excluded.

Moses' power was such that if he had led the Jews into Israel, things would have been simpleThe Talmud compares Moses to the light of the sun and Joshua to the light of the moon.1 Think about the sun's intensity. When it shines its rays, everything is entirely illuminated. The moon is more subtle. The sky stays black when it shines; the night retains its dark intrigue.

Moses' power was such that if he had led the Jews into Israel, things would have been simple. They would have conquered the land without great challenge. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple its holiness would have been so intense that it could have never been destroyed.

Which sounds great!

But G‑d didn't want it to be that simple. Yes Moses was dynamic, and could outshine darkness, but then the Jews would be passive and let Moses do the work for them. In order to take ownership of the land, they'd have to be active participants.

Joshua was a perfect candidate. He was a strong a leader, but not strong enough to banish darkness entirely. Together they would work to resolve the many challenges that confronted them and ultimately to settle the land.

The people had a vision—to settle in the Promised Land. Practically, this vision was very hard to implement. Other people were living in the land. It would be hard for them to self-govern, to get along. Moses' leadership would have ironed out these problems. But G‑d didn't want them to miss out on the healthy process of planting seeds of vision into the rough soil of reality. And that they'd have to do without Moses.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus are about G‑d; when they're repeated, they're about the impression they made belowAs if to emphasize how sacred is the fusion of vision with real life living, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses repeats the Ten Commandments. In his rendition, however, the experience at Sinai seems so different. In the initial account, in the Book of Exodus, the Torah describes Sinai as filled with smoke while G‑d descended upon it in a fire. The whole nation trembled. Thunder and lightening preceded G‑d's words. After hearing G‑d speak to them directly, the people begged Moses that he should transmit G‑d's words, because every time He uttered a word, it knocked them out.

Yet here in the second rendition, Moses barely makes mention of all the fanfare. What he does describe is the impression that the experience at Sinai had on the nation. "You were shown to know that G‑d is your G‑d... On the earth G‑d showed His great fire and His words you heard... Face to face G‑d spoke to you."

The Ten Commandments in Exodus are all about G‑d; when they are repeated in Deuteronomy, they're about the impression they made here below. Together they create the charge to thread the lofty idealism of Torah into the reality of life.

This successful fusion is what the sages call the "Torah of Moshiach."2

Bava Batra 75a. According to Rashi (on Numbers 27:20, based on the Sifri), this statement has a literal basis. Upon descending Mount Sinai, Moses' face shone with rays of light (see Exodus 34:29). Years later, when Moses officially designated Joshua as his successor, he granted him "from his glory" (Numbers, ibid.)—but not all his glory. This means that though Joshua's countenance also shone, it paled in comparison to Moses' light as the moon pales in comparison to the sun.

Based on the Rebbe's talk delivered on Shabbat Parshat Va'etchanan 5751 (1991).

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« Reply #474 on: August 14, 2011, 04:57:05 PM »

What Is Love?

By Shais Taub
Why Do We Ask, “What Is Love?”
Whenever we ask, “What is love?” it’s usually because a) we’re unsure if a certain special someone really loves us, or b) because a certain special someone just accused us of not really loving them.

When we are truly engaged in giving and receiving love, we don’t ponder such philosophical questions. It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually is. For example, nobody sits down to a full meal and asks, “What is a pastrami sandwich?”

It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually isSo, if we’re even asking the question, “What is love?” it probably means that we don’t feel completely loved, or that someone doesn’t feel completely loved by us.

But since we’re asking, let’s try to answer the question.

“Am I Loved?” Vs. “Do I Love?”
The two scenarios that usually cause us to contemplate “What is love?” give meaning to the question. Either we wonder, “Am I loved?” or we ask, “Do I love?”

It is easier to first address the “What is love?” question in terms of the love we feel coming toward us. If we understand how to recognize when we are being loved, we can also learn to recognize our love for another.

When we are loved, we tend to feel it intuitively in our guts. But how does it work? Is there an extrasensory perception in the heart that is able to read the feelings in another person’s heart?

In fact, it’s really not that ethereal or supernatural. On the contrary, it’s pretty practical and down-to-earth. Our hearts take cues from our senses. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch or smell teaches us about our universe. We don’t need to contemplate or ask questions. Our sensory organs report to our brains, and our brains interpret the data and send the report to our hearts. So, if we see a loving smile, hear loving words, or feel a loving touch, the brain processes this information and concludes, “Hey, we are being loved right now!”

In short, when we are loved, there is tangible proof. It’s not an abstract thought or feeling, it’s concrete and evidenced. As King Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs (27:19), “As water reflects a man’s face back to him, so is the heart of one man to another.” This means, when you are treated with love, your heart feels that love.

Love is an Action
Now we can address the second part of the “What is love” quandary—how to know if we love someone else?

The answer is straightforward. When we behave lovingly towards someone, it means we love that person.

When we ask a question like “What is love?” we assume that we’re trying to define an abstract concept similar to “What is freedom?” or “What is good fortune?” But truthfully, love is not a concept. It’s an action.

To ask, “What is love?” is like asking, “What is running?” or “What is swimming?” If you’ve ever seen someone run or swim, you know exactly what running and swimming entail.

In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an actionThe Hebrew word for love, ahavah, reveals this true definition of love, for the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which means “to give.” In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an action. If you love your beloved, then you must show it. By the same token, if you are loved, that will show, too. You will recognize it by the way you are treated.

G‑d Teaches Us How to Love
G‑d commands us (Deut. 6:5), “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d.” This precept leads us to voice the age-old question, “How can we be commanded to feel a feeling?” Either you feel it or you don’t, right?

An answer offered by our tradition explains that we are not being ordered to feel a feeling in the abstract sense. Rather, the command is for us to behave lovingly. In this light, “And you shall love,” actually means, “You shall perform acts of love.”

This is the true test: action, deeds, performance.

Feelings can be deceptive. Sometimes, what we perceive as love may in fact be another emotion. But actions cannot be mistaken. So, rather than ask, “What is love?” we must ask, “Do I perform acts of love for my beloved?” and “Does my beloved perform acts of love for me?”
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« Reply #475 on: August 15, 2011, 05:28:30 AM »


I think I get the point, but what of the meaning of someone acting as described out of a sense of duty, not feeling?
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« Reply #476 on: August 19, 2011, 06:44:31 PM »

I think this is underrated.  I miss George Carlin and his insight.

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« Reply #477 on: August 22, 2011, 11:31:56 AM »
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« Reply #478 on: August 23, 2011, 08:27:28 AM »


I think I get the point, but what of the meaning of someone acting as described out of a sense of duty, not feeling?

Marc:  A brief answer to you question

Judaism values action more than thoughts and believes that action leads to thoughts. If you want to be charitable give to charity and you feel more charitable. I have certainly found this true in my own life and any psychology I have studied

Also I am going to be much happier if my husband treats me well all the time even if sometimes he is just being dutiful.   He will probably feel more loving to me than he if treats me badly and we will both be happier.

I believe marriage/love   is  a commitment beyond fluctuating  feelings of desire, attraction,  and loving feelings.   

If you are speaking of sibling and parents. I would try to increase positive interactions and then feelings of love would follow. 
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« Reply #479 on: August 23, 2011, 08:28:24 AM »

Weekly Sermonette
Virtue, Vice and Vision
By Yossy Goldman

Blessings and curses. Stirring stuff from the Bible this week as Moses again cautions his congregation. The great prophet reminds them that living a life of goodness will bring them blessings while ignoring the Divine call must inexorably lead to a cursed existence.

Moses prefaces his admonition with the Hebrew word Re'eh, "See." See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. But why "see"? What is there to see? Did he show them anything at all? The Torah does not use flowery language just because it has a nice ring to it and sounds poetic. What was there to behold? Why Re'eh?

One answer is that how we look will, in itself, determine whether our lives will be blessed or cursed. How do we look at others, at ourselves? Our perspective, how we behold and see things, will result in our own lives being blessed or, G-d forbid, the opposite.

The saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once chanced upon a strong, young man who was brazenly eating on Yom Kippur. The Rabbi suggested that perhaps he was feeling ill. The fellow insisted he was in the best of health. Perhaps he had forgotten that today was the holy day of fasting? "Who doesn't know that today is Yom Kippur?" responded the young man. Perhaps he was never taught that Jews do not eat on this day? "Every child knows that Yom Kippur is a fast day, Rabbi!" Whereupon Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his eyes heavenward and said, "Master of the Universe, see how wonderful Your people are! Here is a Jew who, despite everything, refuses to tell a lie!" The Berditchever was always able to look at others with a compassionate, understanding and benevolent eye.

How do we view the good fortune enjoyed by others? Are we happy for them, or do we look at them with begrudging envy? How do we look at ourselves and our own shortcomings? Are we objectively truthful or subjectively slanted? "He is a stingy, rotten good for nothing. Me? I am just careful about how I spend my money." "She is a bore of bores, anti-social. Me? I just happen to enjoy staying at home." "He is as stubborn as an ox! Me? I am a determined person."

Clearly, the manner in which we look at our world and those around us will have a major impact on the way life will treat us. Quite justifiably, Moses says, "See." For how we see things in life will undoubtedly affect life's outcomes.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), once told how when he was a young child he asked his father: "Why does a person have two eyes?" "The right eye," his father replied, "is to be used lovingly, when looking at a fellow Jew; the left eye is to be used discerningly, when looking at sweets or other objects that are not that important in the grand scheme of things."

(When I was in yeshivah, the same building also housed a synagogue where we would often interact with the adult men who would come to the daily minyan. One particular gentleman, may he rest in peace, always seemed to us rather cantankerous, what you might call a grumpy old man. I cannot remember whether he was actually a bit cross-eyed or not, but we referred to him as "left-eyed Sam" because he always seemed to be looking at us students with that proverbial left eye.)

The Parshah that is entitled Re'eh, "See," is a perennial reminder to all of us that even our vision can bring virtue or vice. Let us look at the world correctly and invite the blessings of G-d into our lives.
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« Reply #480 on: August 24, 2011, 04:39:09 PM »


I think I get the point, but what of the meaning of someone acting as described out of a sense of duty, not feeling?

Marc:  A brief answer to you question

Judaism values action more than thoughts and believes that action leads to thoughts. If you want to be charitable give to charity and you feel more charitable. I have certainly found this true in my own life and any psychology I have studied

Also I am going to be much happier if my husband treats me well all the time even if sometimes he is just being dutiful.   He will probably feel more loving to me than he if treats me badly and we will both be happier.

I believe marriage/love   is  a commitment beyond fluctuating  feelings of desire, attraction,  and loving feelings.   

If you are speaking of sibling and parents. I would try to increase positive interactions and then feelings of love would follow. 

I think duty is a vastly undervalued (In most places, forgotten) concept in today's society, to our great loss.
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« Reply #481 on: August 24, 2011, 05:00:48 PM »

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« Reply #482 on: August 24, 2011, 10:03:37 PM »

You Think You’re Busy?

By Aron Moss


Rabbi, I appreciate your invitation to join your classes, but I just don’t have time in my life for spirituality right now. My week is packed with work, family commitments, fitness, and a little socializing and time to relax. I don’t see where I can fit in spiritual activities. I don’t want to burn out, do I?


Is the pot full?There was once a rabbi teaching a classroom full of students. He started his lesson by saying, “My dear students, today is our last class together before you graduate. For this special occasion I am going to do something different. I am going to teach you the secret of a good cholent.”

The students were aghast. Cholent, the traditional Shabbat stew, is a classic of Jewish cooking, but hardly a profound subject for a rabbi to teach his students for their final lesson.

The rabbi took out a crockpot and filled it to the brim with potatoes. He then turned to his students and asked, “Tell me, now that I have filled the pot with potatoes—is the pot full?”

“Yes,” his students replied, confused by the simplicity of the question, for there was no way to fit in any more potatoes into the pot.

With a smile, the rabbi took out a bag of beans and poured it into the pot, and the beans managed to slip between the spaces among the potatoes. “Okay,” said the rabbi, “now is the pot full?” Looking into the pot, the students agreed that it was indeed full.

Without missing a beat, the rabbi took out a bag of barley and poured it into the pot. The small kernels meandered effortlessly between the cracks and crevices among the potatoes and beans.

“Now it’s full,” said the students.

“Really?” said the rabbi, taking out his collection of spices. He then began shaking generous amounts of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder all over the pot. The students watched dumbfounded as the spices easily settled into what had seemed to be a completely full pot.

The rabbi, obviously enjoying himself, asked again, “Is it full yet?”

Without waiting for the answer, the rabbi produced a jug of water and proceeded to pour its contents into the pot. To the amazement of his students, he was able to empty the entire jug of water into the pot without a drop spilling over the sides.

“All right,” said the rabbi, a look of satisfaction on his face. “Now it really is full, right?” The students all nodded in agreement. “Are you sure?” prodded the rabbi. “Are you absolutely certain that I can’t fit anything more into this pot?” Suddenly unsure of themselves, the students looked at each other nervously and said, “Surely you can’t put anything else into there!”

With drama and pathos, the rabbi raised a finger in the air, lowered it slowly, and flicked a switch on the side of the pot, turning on the heating element lying beneath. “You see,” said the rabbi triumphantly, “I just filled the pot with the most important ingredient of all—warmth. Without it, the pot may as well be empty.”

The rabbi paused, and looked deeply into the eyes of his stunned students. “My children,” he finally addressed them, “you are about to leave my class and go on to live busy lives. In the big world out there, you will no longer have the luxury of studying holy texts all day. In time you will be consumed by the pressures of looking after a family and making a living. But always remember this: your material pursuits are just the potatoes and beans of life. Your spirituality, that is the warmth.

“Until the fire is turned on, the pot is full of disparate ingredients. It is the warmth that unites them all into one single stew.

It is the warmth that unites them all“If you don’t maintain a spiritual connection, through praying every day, studying the holy books, and keeping focused on the true meaning of your lives, then you will end up as a cold, raw cholent —very busy, very full, but completely empty. When you have lost touch with your soul, your family life will suffer, your career will be unfulfilling, you won’t be motivated even to exercise.

“But if you keep the fire burning in your soul, if you stick to a daily schedule that nourishes the spirit, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, then those few minutes will bring warmth and inspiration to all your other activities. A spiritual connection imbues your entire life with meaning, keeps you anchored and directed, inspired and motivated. It permeates all you do with a sense of purpose, and makes you succeed.

“You may be wondering,” continued the rabbi, “how will you have time for all this. How will you be able to juggle the demands of material life along with your spiritual development? You will find the answer by looking at the cholent. Did you notice that, though the pot seemed full of potatoes, beans, barley, spices and water, when I added the warmth it did not overflow? Never think that adding spirituality to your schedule will overburden you. On the contrary, it will bring everything else in your life together, because it will remind you why you do all these other things in the first place: you work in order to be able to live a life of meaning, you get married in order to bring the best out in yourself and your spouse, you have children in order to educate them in the ways of goodness, you keep fit in order to have the strength to fulfil your mission. Spirituality is the warmth that does not take up space, it creates more.”

With a loving smile, the rabbi concluded his farewell with words of wisdom that I think apply equally to you:

“You should never think that you are so busy that you can’t afford to concentrate on your soul. The truth is, you can’t afford not to. May G‑d bless you that each and every one of you should always be a warm pot of cholent.
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« Reply #483 on: August 25, 2011, 12:59:53 AM »

You find some real gems Rachel.
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« Reply #484 on: August 25, 2011, 06:36:28 AM »

Marc-- Thanks! I'm glad you liked them.

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Life's Passages
Both Mother and Father

By Chana Weisberg

My Father in Heaven, My King,

Do You hear me? Little me, all the way down here?

Can You possibly care about what I'm going through?

You seem so distant. So powerful and so removed.

Up there. So far away. So infinitely removed from little me down here.

Do You remember what You are putting me through--the difficulties I face daily, the challenges that seem so insurmountable to me?

Do You care about such small things?

Yet, somehow, my G-d, I feel You do care.

Hold my hand, strengthen me, help me overcome this hurdle.

Comfort me like a parent soothes her child.

Let me feel Your closeness, not Your distance.

Let me be surrounded by the warmth of Your presence, not Your indifferent, infinite Omnipotence.

Wipe away my tears.

Embrace me like a mother.

"See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of G-d…And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of G-d and you stray from the path that I command you today…" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

In this week's parshah, Moses reviews some of the fundamental commandments, including serving G-d, not straying after idolatry and living a life of purity in the Holy Land.

Moses puts these commandments into perspective by explaining that the choice of whether or not to accept the Torah in its totality is nothing less than the choice between blessing and curse, between life and death.

Later in the parshah (Deuteronomy 14:1), Moses declares:

    "You are children to the L-rd, your G-d"

How are we like children to G-d? In what way is G-d like a parent to us?

To understand this, we must first understand the behavioral and psychological differences between a mother and father.1

The Talmud relates:

    Rebbe said: It is known that a son [affectionately] honors his mother more than his father because she sways him by her tender words…and it is known that a son fears his father more than his mother because he teaches him Torah.

Elsewhere, the Talmud2 states:

    The father is duty bound to circumcise his son, to redeem him (if he is a first born), to teach him Torah, to teach him a craft, and some say to teach him how to swim.

The mother, however, is not obligated with these educational duties to her son.3

With these statements, the Talmud is teaching us about the mother and father archetypes.

(It is important to clarify that we are not referring to mothers and fathers or women and men per se, but rather to archetypes. An actual mother may have some "fatherly" characteristics and vice versa, and at different stages of the child's life and development, each parent will necessarily need to adjust their archetypical approach to their child.)

Maternal love involves being affectionate, playing with the child and showering him with love and tenderness. 4

Paternal love is involved in passing on knowledge, teaching him Torah or helping him acquire a skill.

The mother never stops being affectionate and loving to her child, even when the child is an adult. No matter how mature and independent her child grows, in her mind's eye she still cannot forget the fact that this child was once a part of her. She gave her life and blood for this baby, and will therefore always see her child as needing her help and protection.

Both the mother's and the father's relationship are genuine and powerful. Both feel passionate love and indisputable affection for their child.

Yet the mother and father are moving in opposite directions vis-a-vis their child. Father moves away from his child, while mother moves toward him.

Father is preoccupied with disengaging himself from the child by acting as a teacher and a leader, offering opportunities for the child's growth and change. Through his guidance in teaching his child, he is weaning him to live independently and responsibly.

The mother, on the other hand, is not obligated with such educational duties since her instinct is to hold onto her child, to repress his adulthood--the very result that education is meant to foster.

The paternal love helps the child free himself from the parents' authority and move away from him, while the maternal love intensifies her attachment to her child.

The mother's and father's archetypical approaches to expressing their love are rooted in G-d's bilateral relationship with His people.

"You are children to the L-rd, your G-d."

G-d acts as both a mother and a father. He displays both modes of love: protecting and helping, as well as disciplining and teaching. We cry to G-d like a young child trusting in his mother's solacing embrace, while we also revere G-d and serve Him with utmost respect and veneration.

G-d, as our Father, is at an infinite distance from us, charging us with responsibility to display independence. He demands our courage in making the right decisions in our lives. He expects us to combat evil and rebukes our weaknesses or fluctuations. He orders us to overcome temptations, to "hearken the commandments" and choose "blessings" rather than "stray from the path" and choose "curses."

In truth, "evil" and the path of the "curses" is a nonentity. Darkness is just the concealment of light, a state of being veiling the inner truth. Darkness exists only to challenge us to defeat it, to rouse our innermost strengths and convictions. Its purpose is to allow us to conquer it and in this way offers us the ultimate in freedom of choice.

By revealing the light and transforming the negativity into underlying goodness, we are being forced to push ourselves to the limit and cultivate innate, dormant capabilities. We thus mature into spiritually complete individuals.

Yet, at the same time that G-d as our Father decrees Divine law, G-d as our Mother, as the Shechinah, provides Divine help. The Shechinah comes down to be together with her children. Nothing, not even sinfulness and disobedience, can sever the unshakable bond between Mother and child. The more independent and mature the child seems, the more the Mother sees his need for her help, and intensifies her love, cleaving to her child. The Shechinah--"the One who dwells with them in their impurity"5--is always present, ministering to and facilitating for her child.

G-d provides us with freedom of choice and warns us to choose blessing and goodness on our journey towards independence and spiritual growth.

But at the same time, G-d is with us like a mother, helping us wipe away our tears and frustrations, tenderly holding our hand.
1.    The concepts in this essay are further developed in the essay "Torah and Shechinah" in Family Redeemed by Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (Toras Harav 2000).
2.    Kiddushin 29a.
3.    Talmud, ibid.
4.    The words in the Talmud, meshedalto bidvorim, "she sways him with words," is related to the phrase (Jeremiah 13:19), yeled shaashuim, a child with whom one plays, laughs, dances and sings.
5.    Leviticus 16:16.

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« Reply #485 on: August 25, 2011, 11:23:04 AM »

Chutzpah Menachem Av 25, 5771 · August 25, 2011
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Print this Page

The first thing you must know before anything else applies: Truth demands chutzpah. If what you are doing is the right thing to do, don’t give two cents about what others have to say.

Without that knowledge secure in your heart and soul, don’t imagine you can take a single step forward. Once you’ve passed its test, then you can begin to grow.

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« Reply #486 on: August 26, 2011, 09:41:01 AM »

Rabbi Wolpe
Why light Shabbat candles? Judaism teaches us that, rather than action resulting from emotion, our emotion often arises out of our actions. Do good and you will feel the motivation to do more good. Sometimes your heart follows your hands. Light candles each week and holiness will grow in your life through sacred deeds. Spread the light. Shabbat Shalom.
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« Reply #487 on: August 28, 2011, 08:34:40 AM »

Here Comes the Judge
By Yossy Goldman

Don't be judgmental. Unless, of course you happen to be a judge. Then it's your job.

This week's parshah, Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) , lists the Biblical command for judges to be appointed in every city and town to adjudicate and maintain a just, ordered, civil society. Interestingly, it occurs in the first week of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare in earnest for the Days of Judgment ahead, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are, however, some significant differences between earthly judges of flesh and blood and the Heavenly Judge. In the earthly court, if, after a fair trial, a defendant is found guilty, then there's really not much room for clemency on the part of the judge. The law is the law and must take its course. The accused may shed rivers of tears, but no human judge can be certain if his remorse is genuine. His feelings of regret are touching but of limited legal consequence. After all, a human judge may only make a decision based on "what the eye can see." The misdeed was seen to have been committed. The remorse, who knows? Perhaps he's a good actor and is only acting contrite. The Supreme Judge, however, does know whether the accused genuinely regrets his actions or is merely putting on an act. Therefore, He alone is able to forgive. That is why in heavenly judgments, teshuvah (repentance) is effective.

The Maharal of Prague gave another reason. Only G‑d is able to judge the whole person. Every one of us has good and bad to some extent. Even those who have sinned may have many other good deeds that outweigh the bad ones. Perhaps even one good deed was of such major significance that it alone could serve as a weighty counterbalance. The point is, only G‑d knows. Only He can judge the individual in the context of his whole life and all his deeds, good and bad.

Our goal is to emulate the Heavenly Court. We should try to look at the totality of the person. You think he is bad, but is he all bad? Does he have no redeeming virtues? Surely, he must have some good in him as well. Look at the whole person.

A teacher once conducted an experiment. He held up a white plate and showed it to the class. In the center of the plate was a small black spot. He then asked the class to describe what they saw. One student said he saw a black spot. Another said it must be a target for shooting practice. A third suggested that the plate was dirty or damaged. Whereupon the teacher asked, "Doesn't anyone see a white plate?"

There may have been a small black spot but, essentially, it was a white plate. Why do we only see the dirt? Let us learn to find the good in others. Nobody is perfect, not even ourselves. Let's not be so judgmental and critical. Let's try to see the good in others.
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« Reply #488 on: August 29, 2011, 06:52:07 AM »

My Encounter with Hemingway
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Judaism is a religion of life.
The year was 1956. I had just been ordained and felt I needed a vacation after completing years of rigorous study. Together with two other newly minted rabbis, we decided on a trip that in those days was considered rather exotic. We chose pre-Castro Cuba as our destination - not too far away, not too costly, beautiful and totally different from our New York City environment.

One day as we drove through Havana and its outskirts, our combination taxi driver/guide pointed out a magnificent estate and told us that this was the residence of the writer, Ernest Hemingway. "Stop the car," we told him. "We want to go in." He shook his head and vehemently told us, "No, no, that is impossible. No one can just come in to visit. Only very important people who have an appointment."

With the chutzpah of the young, I insisted that we would be able to get in and approached the guard with these words: "Would you please call Mr. Hemingway and tell him that three rabbis from New York are here to see him."

How could Hemingway not be intrigued? Surely he would wonder what in the world three rabbis wanted to talk to him about. We held our breaths, and the guard himself could not believe it when the message came back from the house that Mr. Hemingway would see us.

We were ushered into Hemingway's presence as he sat with his wife Mary in their spacious den. What followed, we subsequently learnt, was a verbal volley meant to establish whether it was worthwhile for him to spend any time talking to us. He questioned us about our backgrounds, threw some literary allusions at us to see if we would understand their meaning, asked what we thought was the symbolic meaning of some passages in his A Farewell To Arms - and then after about 15 minutes totally changed his demeanor and spoke to us with a great deal of warmth and friendship.

"Rabbis," he said to us, "forgive me for having been brusque with you at first but before continuing I had to make certain it was worth my while to talk to you. To be honest, I've long wanted to engage a rabbi in conversation. I just never had the opportunity. And now suddenly out of the blue you've come to me."

Hemingway then opened up to us in most remarkable manner. He told us he had a great interest in religion for many years which he pursued privately and never discussed or wrote about. He said during one period of his life he set aside time to study many of the major religions in depth. On a few occasions he even attempted to personally follow the rituals of certain faiths for a short time to see if they would "speak to him."

"I'm basically not a spiritual person," he confessed. But he said that after he thought deeply about the different religions he studied, he came to an important conclusion. Fundamentally he realized all religions divide into one of two major categories. There are religions of death and there are religions of life. Religions of death are the ones whose primary emphasis is preparation for an afterlife. This world and its pleasures are renounced in favor of dedicating oneself totally to the world to come. "Obviously," he added, "that isn't for me." What he respects, he continued, are religions like Judaism which stress our obligations to what we are here for now on earth rather than the hereafter.

With his perceptive mind, he summed up the essence of Judaism perhaps better than most Jews themselves can. Judaism is a religion of life. "Choose life," says the Bible. Death of course is recorded but what happens afterwards purposely remains hidden from the reader.

I took the opportunity to compliment Hemingway on his analysis and had the temerity to ask if I might teach him something that would add to his insight. I told him of the biblical law that prohibits the Kohanim, all the members of the Jewish priesthood, from coming into any contact with the dead. If they did so, they would be considered impure. To this day Kohanim cannot enter a funeral chapel with a body inside.

The rabbinic commentators questioned the reason behind this law. The answer that resonates most with scholars is that the Torah wanted to ensure that the priestly class, those assigned to dedicate themselves to the spiritual needs of their people, did not misconstrue their primary function. In all too many religions, the holy men devote themselves almost exclusively to matters revolving around death. Even in our own times, the only connection many people have with a spiritual leader is at a funeral. That is why the Bible forbade the priests from having any contact with the dead - so that they spend their time, their efforts, their concerns and their energy with the living.

Hemingway smiled and thanked me for sharing with him this beautiful idea.

My encounter with Hemingway became all the more poignant when on July 2, 1961 I learned with the world that the man whose hand wrote the books we revere to this day chose to use it to put the barrel of his shotgun into his mouth and commit suicide. Somehow he was never able to find a spiritual source on which to lean in order to give him a reason for living. He had taught the world, in his words, "But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated." And yet, tragically, the biblical ideal to "choose life" that he praised in our meeting could not guide him in the end.

Related Article: Heaven Can Wait

Worshipping Death

But his insight into the diametrically opposed fundamental difference between religions is today more relevant than ever. Osama bin Ladin is dead but his words aptly describe the contemporary clash between two major spiritual orientations. Fanatical Islam stands opposed to Western civilization. Bin Laden starkly defined the difference between the two: "You Americans worship life; we worship death."

To worship death is to teach children from early youth that their greatest achievement is to die the death of a martyr. To worship life is to teach children that the best way to make their lives meaningful is to live up to their potential so that through their achievements they leave a legacy to help future mankind.

Our biblical heritage directs us to reject the idolization of death. God has entrusted us with too many things to do while we are alive to opt to forsake it.

The Torah was given at a time when the religions of the Hebrews’ neighbors were preoccupied almost entirely with death. The Egypt from the ancient Hebrews fled was a nation which devoted its efforts and much of its wealth to preparations for the afterlife.

Death in Egypt of old was viewed not as an ending but the beginning of a journey to eternity. A process of embalming preserved the corpse by extracting the organs, filling the shell with salt and linen, and wrapping it in bandages and amulets. The next life, ancient Egyptians believed, would be an enhancement of this one. The dead would need to be sustained and amused, so their tombs were filled with food and drink, instructive texts, games, and jewelry. Model figures, called Shabti were also buried with the dead between the Middle Kingdom (3500 - 4000 years ago) and the Ptolemaic Period (2300 years ago). They provided friendship for the deceased, and acted as their laborers. Slaves were put to death and entombed together with their masters so that they might continue to serve them The Egyptians also believed that if the pharaoh's body could be mummified after death the pharaoh would live forever - and that's why they built the pyramids as tombs designed to protect the buried pharaoh's body and his belongings.

It was to the Hebrews of this time that a literally new way of life, rather than a way of death, was presented. The Bible didn't need to teach those who received it that the soul survives after death. Their world was populated by people who excessively devoted their lives to death, at the expense of properly living life. What they needed to hear was how to reverse these priorities.

The Bible spoke solely in terms of terrestrial obligations. Love not death, but your neighbor, as yourself. Free the slave; do not inter him with the wealthy so that he may continue to serve his master in the afterworld. Help the widow; do not just tell her to rejoice because her husband is now in a better place. Be kind to your worker; do not force him to labor with backbreaking effort in order to build pyramids for the greater glory of the deceased.

King Solomon put it well in his book of Proverbs." It [the Torah] is a tree of life unto those who grasp hold of it." (Proverbs 3:18)

Perhaps this can explain the Torah’s omission of details about death and its aftermath. It was a purposeful decision by God to help us focus on our human obligations on earth - so that we may be pleasantly surprised when our time comes to leave it.

This is an excerpt from Rabbi Blech's latest as yet unpublished work, Why We Shouldn't Fear Death.

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« Reply #489 on: August 30, 2011, 07:48:20 AM »

Rosh Chodesh
The Jewish Calendar   ( A Video)

Rosh Chodesh, the head of the month, plays a big role in the Jewish calendar, where the lunar cycle is front and center. Learn how the Jewish calendar works.

Riding with the Moon
By Yanki Tauber

Clowns are cavorting to the music, children are clamoring for sweets, people are lining up to be frightened or thrilled or amused. Another day in the glorious theme park of life.

Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster?

If you’re a Ferris wheel kind of guy, you want your ups and downs to follow an even cycle. You acknowledge that life is a ride—that there are times to ascend and times to descend, times to move and times to halt, and times to sway gently in the breeze. But you need for it to follow a regular pattern, so that you can reflect on what has been and prepare for what’s to come.

If you opt for the roller coaster, it’s because you know that the real fun comes when you’re caught unawares. When you inch up a long, seemingly endless incline, only to plunge into a bottomless pit; when a slow, graceful somersault follows a twisting hurdle through dark tunnels. When you never know what the ride will throw at you next, and have only your grip on the handlebar and your faith in the designer’s ingenuity to get you through it.

Another day in the theme park of life. Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster?

Did you ever wonder why our calendar has both weeks and months? Why follow two different cycles that never match up?

The week came first. As the Bible tells it, G‑d created the world in seven days—six days of work and a seventh of rest. According to the Kabbalists, everything in creation is modeled upon a structure of seven sefirot (“lights” or “spheres”)—including time itself. The weekly Shabbat, first observed by Adam only hours after his creation, is thus the key to living our lives as “partners with G‑d in creation,” of attuning our own creative powers with those of our Creator.

In other words, the seven-day week is nature’s inner clock—the system by which it was brought into being, and by which it continues to be sustained and maintained by its Creator.

And then, one dark night in Egypt some 2,448 years after the first Shabbat, the month was born.

And G‑d spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: “This new moon shall be for you the head of months, the first of the month of the year for you . . .” (Exodus 12:1–2)

The week is generated by seven sunsets and seven sunrises, a repetitive event by which each day in the cycle is virtually indistinguishable from its fellows; the month, on the other hand, has its progress marked by the moon’s phases, as it grows from crescent to fullness, only to dwindle back to oblivion and await another rebirth. The week was programmed by the Creator into creation; the month, on the other hand, must be created anew each time—according to Torah law, a new month is proclaimed only after the Sanhedrin (supreme court) hears testimony from two witnesses who saw the new moon. Shabbat, which commemorates the creation of the natural order, is a product of the week; the festivals that commemorate the miracles of Jewish history (Passover, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, etc.) are all products of the month.

If the week represents all that is regular and immutable in our world, the month represents the new, the unanticipatable, the miraculous.

Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster? Imagine that you could ride both simultaneously. If you can imagine that, you know the experience of living with the Jewish calendar.
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« Reply #490 on: August 31, 2011, 06:39:56 PM »

A Tiny Fix and a Little Snip
Two Elul Parables

By Nissan Mindel

The Hole In The Boat

A man was called to the beach to paint a boat. He brought his paint and brushes and began to paint the boat a bright, new red, as he was hired to do. As he painted the boat, he noticed that the paint was seeping through the bottom of the boat. He realized that there was a leak, and he decided to mend it. When the painting was done, he collected his money for the job and went away.

The following day the owner of the boat came to the painter and presented him with a large check. The painter was surprised. "You have already paid me for painting the boat," he said.

"But this is not for the paint job. It is for mending the leak in the boat."

"That was so small a thing that I even did not want to charge you for it. Surely you are not paying me this huge amount for so small a thing?"

"My dear friend, you do not understand. Let me tell you what happened.”

"When I asked you to paint the boat I had forgotten to mention to you about the leak. When the boat was nice and dry, my children took the boat and went fishing. When I found that they had gone out in the boat, I was frantic for I remembered that the boat had a leak! Imagine my relief and happiness when I saw them coming back safe and sound. I examined the boat and saw that you had repaired the leak. Now you see what you have done? You have saved the lives of my children! I haven't enough money to repay you for your 'little' good deed...”

A Piece of String

A wealthy merchant bought a wonderful candelabra for his home. It was a masterpiece, made of pure crystal and studded with precious stones. It cost a real fortune.

Because of the candelabra's massive size, the ceiling in the merchant's dining room could not support its weight. In order to hang this beautiful candelabrum, a hole was bored in the ceiling, through which a rope was run and fastened to a beam in the attic.

Everybody who came to the house admired the wonderful candelabra, and the merchant and his family were very proud of it.

One day a poor boy came begging for old clothes. He was told to go up to the attic, where their old clothes were stored, and to help himself to some. He went up to the attic, and collected a neat bundle of clothes. After packing them into his bag, he searched for a piece of string with which to tie it. He saw a rope wound around a nail and decided to help himself to a piece. So he took out his pocketknife and cut the rope.

Crash! There was a terrific smash, and the next moment the whole family rushed to the attic crying: "You idiot! Look what you have done! You have ruined us!"

The poor boy could not understand what all the excitement was about. He said: "What do you mean, ruined you? All I did was to take a small piece of rope. Surely this did not ruin you?"

"You poor fish," replied the merchant. "Yes, all you did was to take a piece of rope. But it so happened that my precious candelabra hung by it. Now you have broken it beyond repair!"

These two stories, my friends, have one moral: Very often, by doing what seems to us a "small" good deed we never know what wonderful thing we have really done. And conversely, in committing what seems to us a "small" transgression, we are causing a terrible catastrophe. Both good deeds and bad deeds cause a "chain reaction." One good deed brings another good deed in its succession, and one transgression brings another. Each of them, no matter how seemingly small, may create or destroy worlds. Don't you think these two stories are worth remembering?
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« Reply #491 on: September 01, 2011, 08:02:23 AM »

ABC's of Elul
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
The last month of the Jewish calendar is actually the most important – serving as preparation for the High Holidays.

If you had an important court date scheduled ― one that would determine your financial future, or even your very life ― you'd be sure to prepare for weeks beforehand.

On Rosh Hashana, each individual is judged on the merit of his deeds. Whether he will live out the year or not. Whether he will have financial success or ruin. Whether he will be healthy or ill. All of these are determined on Rosh Hashana.

Elul ― the month preceding Rosh Hashana ― begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life's goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life ― rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l'dodi v'dodi lee ― "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people.

In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashana is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually-inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.


Beginning on Saturday night before Rosh Hashana, we recite "Slichot", a special series of prayers that invoke God's mercy. If Rosh Hashana falls at the beginning of the week, then "Slichot" begin on the Saturday night of the previous week. (Sefardim begin saying "Slichot" on Rosh Chodesh Elul.)

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses asked God to explain His system for relating with the world. God's answer, known as the "13 Attributes of Mercy," forms the essence of the "Slichot" prayers. The "13 Attributes" speak of "God's patience." The same God Who created us with a clean slate and a world of opportunity, gives us another opportunity if we've misused the first one.

"Slichot" should be said with a minyan. If this is not possible, then "Slichot" should still be said alone, omitting the parts in Aramaic and the "13 Attributes of Mercy."

Finally, the most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we'll want to know what we're asking for!

Additions to the Services

Beginning the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, it is the Ashkenazi custom to blow the shofar every morning after prayers, in order to awaken us for the coming Day of Judgement. The shofar's wailing sound inspires us to use the opportunity of Elul to its fullest.

Also beginning in Elul, we say Psalm 27 in the morning and evening services. In this Psalm, King David exclaims: "One thing I ask... is to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life." we focus on the unifying force of God in our lives, and strive to increase our connection to the infinite transcendent dimension.

40-Day Period

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.

On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later ― on the seminal Yom Kippur ― he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year's holiest day, Yom Kippur.

Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah's Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh ― the ritual purification bath ― contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon ― an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.

Events of the Year 2448

Many of the Jewish holidays are based on the events of one crucial year in Jewish history -- 2448, or 1312 BCE.

About 3,300 years ago, in the Jewish year 2448, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt ― following the plague of the First Born. The date was the 15th of Nissan, the first Passover celebration.

One week later, with the Egyptian troops in full chase, the Red Sea split ― and the Jewish people walked through on dry land. This occurred on the seventh and final day of the Passover holiday.

Ten Commandments and Mount Sinai - Fifty days later, on the holiday of Shavuot, God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. At Sinai, the Jews regained the immortal level of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Moses' First Ascent - Following the revelation, Moses went up Mount Sinai to learn more details of the Torah directly from God. At the end of 40 days, God handed Moses two sapphire tablets of identical shape and size ― upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved.

The Golden Calf - On the 16th of Tammuz, when Moses had not yet returned from the mountain, the Jewish people began to panic. They sought a new "leader" and built the Golden Calf. Immediately, the Clouds of Glory ― the divine protection of God ― departed. The Jews had relinquished their spiritual greatness and become mortal again. On the 17th of Tammuz, Moses came down from the mountain, smashed the Tablets, destroyed the Calf, and punished the transgressors.

Moses' Second Ascent - On the 19th of Tammuz, Moses ascended Mount Sinai again to plead for the lives of the Jewish people. He prayed with great intensity, and after 40 days, God agreed to spare the Jewish people in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moses returned to the people. Their lives were spared, but the sin was not yet forgiven.

Moses' Third and Final Ascent - Moses ascended Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for 40 days (bringing the total number of days spent there to 120). Henceforth, the month of Elul became a special time for drawing close to God. At the end of the 40 days ― on the 10th of Tishrei ― God agreed to mete out the punishment for the Golden Calf over many generations. He then gave Moses a new, second set of Tablets.

Moses came down from the mountain with good news for the people: The reunification was complete, and the relationship restored. Thereafter, the 10th of Tishrei was designated as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Midrashic Sources: Exodus Rabba 32:7, 51:8; Tanchuma - Ki Tisa 35

Recommended Reading

Rabbeinu Yitchak Abohav writes in "Menoras HaMeor":

Any intelligent person who is scheduled for trial before a mortal king will surely spend sleepless nights and days preparing his case. He will seek the advice of every knowledgeable person he knows who can help him prepare his case. He will go to great lengths to attain a favorable verdict, even if all that is at stake is but a small part of his fortune, and he faces no personal risk.

Should he not do so as well when brought to judgment before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One, when not only he, but his children and his fortune all hang in the balance?

With this in mind, here is some suggested reading for the High Holidays.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Survival Kit (Shimon Apisdorf, Leviathan Press) - The award-winning guide to getting more meaning out of the High Holidays. With humor and sophistication, this book offers invaluable insight to the significance of the holidays and prayers. User-friendly format.

ArtScroll Machzor - The most complete and well organized prayer book on the market today. Includes full English/Hebrew text of all prayers, plus explanations, laws and customs. Features a masterful essay on the essence of the High Holidays. Separate volumes for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The Book of Our Heritage (Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Feldheim 1978) - A thorough review of the Jewish calendar. Includes month-by-month explanations of all the holidays, laws and customs throughout the Jewish year. A classic.

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« Reply #492 on: September 07, 2011, 08:54:38 AM »

 The Covenant A Jewish Reflection on 9-11

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« Reply #493 on: September 07, 2011, 06:27:18 PM »

 The Covenant A Jewish Reflection on 9-11


Thanks Rachel.
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« Reply #494 on: September 08, 2011, 09:24:51 PM »

GM, You are welcome. I'm glad you liked it.

9/11: Forgive and Forget?
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
We are not the ones who have the right to make that decision.

    God, I need your guidance. I continue to grieve for all the victims of 9/11 even after a decade has passed. My heart is filled with pain, and with anger at the terrorists responsible for the horrible deaths on that day of infamy in which 3,000 innocents perished. But I know that you teach us to forgive those who sin. In the Bible you often tell us that you are a God who is slow to anger, merciful and forgiving. We are supposed to imitate you and adopt Your behavior as guidelines for our own personal conduct.

    Does that really mean that no matter how difficult it is, I have to now tell myself to forgive all those who intentionally and with callous premeditation committed these unspeakable crimes? Am I guilty of failing my spiritual obligations if I'm not willing to respond to barbaric acts with love and forgiveness? God, how far does clemency go? In the name of religion, must I today be prepared to pardon even those who committed murder?

Forgiveness is a divine trait. It defines the goodness of God. Without it, human beings probably couldn't survive. Because God forgives, there's still hope for sinners. When we do wrong, God reassures us that He won't abandon us as a result of our transgressions. Divine forgiveness is the quality that most clearly proves God's love for us.

That is why the many passages in the Bible that affirm God's willingness to forgive our sins are so important. They comfort us and they fill us with confidence. We know none of us are perfect. If we would be judged solely on our actions, we would surely fall short. Thank God, the heavenly court isn't that strict. We can rest assured, as the prophet Isaiah told us, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."

It makes perfect sense, then, for us to understand that if we expect God to forgive us for our failings, we have to be prepared to forgive others as well. What we need when we're being judged from above certainly deserves to be granted to those we are judging. We are guided by the profound words of Alexander Pope: "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

That all makes it seem like we have no choice in the matter. Forgiveness appears to be our only moral option. But the more we study the Bible, the more we recognize a peculiar paradox. The same God who preaches forgiveness very often doesn't forgive. Instead, He punishes sinners. He holds people responsible. He criticizes, He condemns, and afflicts those who committed crimes. Adam and Eve sinned, and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Cain sinned and was condemned to become a wanderer over the face of the earth. The generation of Noah sinned and a flood destroyed them. The builders of the Tower of Babel sinned and their speech was turned into babble. In one story after another, from the Five Books of Moses through the works of the prophets, we read of retribution, of accountability, of divine punishment, and the withholding of automatic forgiveness.

Isn't this an innate contradiction in the Bible? The same book in which God identifies himself as merciful and forgiving, repeatedly shows us a God of justice who withholds undeserved pardons. There must be something we're missing. There can't be such an obvious contradiction in the Bible. And sure enough, just a little reflection makes clear why there are times when God forgives people for their sins, and why at other times He refuses.

The Price for Forgiveness

Heavenly pardon is predicated on a condition. Before God grants forgiveness, He asks us to acknowledge that we were wrong and renounce the sinful behavior.

God is willing to overlook the sins of the past for the sake of an altered future. He is ready to pardon the most terrible wrongs for the price of remorse, regret and the desire for a new beginning. But the one thing God's forgiveness is unwilling to do is to condone vicious crimes by simply accepting them. An unrepentant sinner mistakes God's mercy for permission to continue his ways. To forgive such a person isn't kindness; its cruelty to all those who'll be hurt by the evil that wasn't stopped before it could do more harm.

Yes, it was the same God who drowned the wicked generation of Noah and who saved the evil people of Ninveh. Those who were destroyed by the Flood were given plenty of warning. They watched Noah build his ark for many years. Noah told them what God planned to do if they didn't repent. But they didn't believe him – even when it started to rain and pour like never before. So of course people who didn't see the need to ask for forgiveness weren't forgiven.

But when Jonah told the residents of the city of Ninveh that they were doomed due to their evil behavior, they took the message to heart and committed themselves to a new way of life. The people who changed were immediately forgiven. God wasn't going to hold their past against them – because it was really a thing of the past.

Don't Forgive Them Unless

Forgiving people who don't personally atone for the sins makes a statement: Repentance isn't really necessary. Can anything be more immoral than encouraging evil by refraining from any condemnation of those who commit it?

The day after the Columbine High School massacre, a group of students announced that they forgave the killers. A short while after the Oklahoma bombing, some people put out a call to forgive Timothy McVeigh. And on September 12th, on several American campuses, colleges groups pleaded for forgiveness for the terrorists responsible for the horrific events of the previous day.

These weren't just misguided gestures of compassion. They were serious sins with potentially tragic consequences. Evil unchallenged is evil condoned. To forgive and forget, as Arthur Schopenhauer so well put it, "means to throw valuable experience out the window." And without the benefit of experience's lessons, we are almost certain to be doomed to repeat them.

The terrorists who piloted the planes into the Twin Towers never asked to be forgiven. They expressed not the slightest remorse as they went to their deaths together with their victims. Those who sent them, those who financed them, and those who applauded their mission never for a moment regretted what happened. Forgiving them is no less than granting license to murder thousands of more innocent people.

To speak of forgiveness as if it were the automatic entitlement of every criminal is to pervert a noble sentiment into a carte blanche for mayhem and chaos. We might as well open the doors of every jail and release all the thieves, rapists and murderers. Our wonderful act of compassion wouldn't take too long to be followed by the cries of the victims of our folly! To forgive those who remain unrepentant is to become an accomplice to future crimes.

What If A Nazi Asked For Forgiveness?

What if a Nazi asked for forgiveness at some later date? What if a brutal murderer realizes the enormity of his crimes and honestly regrets his past deeds? What if the plea for forgiveness is accompanied by sincere remorse? Can the crimes of the past be forgotten? Is a troubled conscience sufficient to secure automatic forgiveness?

This is not just a theoretical question. Something exactly like that happened toward the end of the Holocaust. And the man who had to decide what to do in such a situation, a concentration camp victim who had suffered indescribable mistreatment and torture, wrote a remarkable book about his experience.

Simon Wiesenthal was a prisoner of the Nazis, confined to slave labor in a German hospital. One day he was suddenly pulled away from his work and brought into a room where an SS soldier lay dying. The German officer, Karl, confessed to Wiesenthal that he had committed atrocious crimes. Although raised as a good Catholic and in his youth God-fearing, Karl had allowed himself to become a sadistic accomplice to Nazi ideology. Now that he knew his end was near and he would soon be facing his Maker, Karl was overcome by the enormity of his sins.

More than anything else, Karl knew that he needed atonement. He wanted to die with a clear conscience. So he asked that a Jew be brought to him. And from this Jew, Simon Wiesenthal, the killer asked for absolution.


Wiesenthal has been haunted by this scene his entire life. When it happened, he was in such shock that he didn't know how to respond. His emotions pulled him in different directions. Anger mixed with pity, hatred with compassion, and revulsion with mercy. His conclusion was to leave in utter silence. He didn't grant Karl the forgiveness the German desperately sought.

Years later, Wiesenthal shared the story with a number of prominent intellectuals, theologians and religious leaders. How would they have reacted? he asked them. In the light of religious teachings and ethical ideals, what should have been the proper response? Was there a more suitable reply than silence?

Wiesenthal collected the answers and had them published as a book entitled, The Sunflower. The range of responses offers a fascinating insight into different views on forgiveness. Some, like the British journalist Christopher Hollis, believe that the law of God is the law of love, no matter what the situation. We have an obligation to forgive our fellow human beings even when they have caused us the greatest harm. A remorseful murderer deserved compassion.

And Who Are You To Forgive?

One rabbi offered a different perspective. No one can forgive crimes not committed against him or her personally. What Karl sought could only come from his victims. It is preposterous to think that one solitary Jew can presume to speak for 6 million.

This rabbi had been invited to address a group of prominent business executives. Among them were some of the most important CEOs in the country. His lecture dealt with the Holocaust and its lessons for us. He stressed the importance of memory and the need to continue to bear witness to the crime of genocide.

When he finished, one of the very famous names in American corporate life angrily rebutted the essence of his talk. "I'm tired," he said," of hearing about the Holocaust. You claim that you're speaking in the name of morality. Why can't you demonstrate true morality by learning to forgive and forget?"

To a stunned audience, the rabbi replied by asking them for permission to tell a story about Rabbi Israel Kagan, commonly known as the Chafetz Chaim. In the history of the Jewish people, he explained, there has hardly ever been someone considered as saintly as the Chafetz Chaim. A Polish rabbi and scholar of the late 19th and early 20th century, he was universally revered not just for his piety but more importantly for his extreme concern for the feelings of his fellow man.

Rabbi Kagan was traveling on a train, immersed in a religious book he was studying. Alongside him sat three Jews anxious to while away the time by playing cards. The game required a fourth hand so they asked the unrecognized stranger to join them. Rabbi Kagan politely refused, explaining that he preferred to continue his reading. The frustrated card players refused to take no for an answer. They began to beat the poor Rabbi until they left him bleeding.

Hours later, the train pulled into the station. Hundreds of people swarmed the platform waiting to greet the great sage. Posters bore signs of Welcome to the Chafetz Chaim. As the rabbi, embarrassed by all the adulation, walked off the train with his bruises, the crowd lifted him up and carried him off on their shoulders. Watching with horror were the three Jews who had not long before accosted the simple Jew sitting in their cabin, now revealed as one of the spiritual giants of their generation. Profoundly ashamed and plagued by their guilt, they managed to make their way through the crowd and reached their unwilling card player partner.

With tears, they poured out their feelings of shame and remorse. How could they possibly have assaulted this great Rabbi? They begged for forgiveness. And incredibly enough, the rabbi said no. The man who spent his life preaching love now refused to extend it to people who harmed him and regretted their actions. It seemed incomprehensible. So the three Jews attributed it to a momentary lapse. Perhaps, they thought, it was just too soon for the rabbi to forgive them. He probably needed some time to get over the hurt. They would wait a while and ask again at a more propitious moment.

Several weeks passed and it was now close to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Even the simplest Jews knew that they had to gain forgiveness from their friends if they wanted to be pardoned by God. With trepidation, the wicked three wrangled an appointment and once again were able to speak to the Rabbi. They pleaded their case. Still the Rabbi said no. He would not forgive them.

The rabbi's son was present as this strange scene played itself out. Puzzled by his father's peculiar behavior, he couldn't contain himself. It was so unlike anything he had ever witnessed before. Why did his father suddenly act so cruelly? Why would he persist in tormenting people who only asked for a simple expression of forgiveness?

The son dared to ask. His father explained. "Do you really think I don't want to forgive these poor Jews before the High Holy days? If it were only in my power to do so, don't you know that I would have forgiven them when they stood before me at the railroad station? Of course I, Rabbi Kagan, forgive them for what they did to me. When they learned who I was, they were mortified and filled with shame for what they had done. But the man they beat up was the one they presumed to be a simple, unassuming poor person with no crowd of well-wishers waiting to greet him. He was the victim and only he is the one capable of granting them forgiveness. Let them go find that person. I am incapable of releasing them from their guilt."

Upon completing the story, the rabbi turned to the executive who suggested that it was time for us to move on after the Holocaust and to forgive and forget. "I would be more than happy to do so if I only could. But I was not the one who was sealed in the gas chambers to die a horrible death. I didn't have my child pulled from my breast and shot it in front of my eyes. I was not among the tortured, the beaten, the whipped, and the murdered. It is they and they alone who can offer forgiveness. Go and find those 6 million and ask them if they are prepared to forgive and forget."

A decade after 9/11 there are those who raise the question: Should we forgive those who murdered the thousands of innocents?

Perhaps the most appropriate response is simply this: We are not the ones who have the right to make that decision. Though 10 years have passed, we may not forgive and we dare not forget.

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« Reply #495 on: September 09, 2011, 11:26:39 AM »

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Living through the Parshah
Outreach or Self-Promotion?
By Rochel Holzkenner

Most things I hear are either immediately deleted, or backed up in my long-term memory. But some things I’ll hear will germinate in my active memory for days, tumbling around and calling for attention.

It happened on Thursday evening, as I was working through Shabbat cooking. I was listening to a stimulating Torah class while my hands moved through greens and challah dough. Rabbi G. was giving a lecture to shluchot (female Chabad emissaries) about the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision. “We are not in the business of expert outreach,” he began, “we are in the business of passionately loving G‑d. If you love G‑d, you’ll naturally love His children. As passion tends to be infectious, if you’re into Him, the people you love will eventually share your passion.” In this organic process, we are to reach out to our fellow Jews and “share our love” of G‑d with others.

I needed to pinpoint the difference between the two modalities. After all, the end result of both was Jewish outreachThis was a paradigm shift that I needed to process, and it rested anxiously on my cerebral cortex for days. I needed to pinpoint the difference between the two modalities that Rabbi G. had described. After all, the end result of both was Jewish outreach.

Then I learned about a fascinating commandment in Deuteronomy (22:Cool:

When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].

Like people, the mitzvot are multi-dimensional and operate on many planes simultaneously. At its primary plane, the obligation to build a rail around a roof teaches the fundamental importance of personal liability and responsibility. On another plane, this same commandment is talking of metaphysical rails and roofs. Let’s hang out in the metaphysical and explore the same commandment again.

“When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof.”

There are houses made of wood and bricks, and houses built of effort and accomplishment. One can “build” up a friend to be a solid edifice of G‑d-centered living, or build a network that develops into an oasis of spirituality. Although these houses have noble engineers, the Torah cautions these “home builders” to make a guardrail for their roof!

Idealist drives can easily become enmeshed with self-promotion. The ego will surreptitiously enter into the psyche, camouflaging itself as the drive to help and inspire others. I may aspire to be an influential mentor or an outreach expert only in order to feel great about myself and get my name out there. So G‑d asks me to be conscious of this tendency, and advises a spiritual home builder to “make a guardrail for your roof”—to keep my ego in check. Strive for altruism.

The question is: who cares? As long as good work is being done, houses are being built, why the scrutiny? If self-promotion will inspire outreach, then perhaps it is a good thing. Addressing this doubt, the Torah writes:

“. . . so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from.”

Ego talk may speak the same words, but those words can’t penetrate heartsThe surest way to touch the life of another person is to talk to him or her from your heart, with tender sincerity. Ego talk may speak the same words, but those words can’t penetrate hearts. When the ego goes unchecked, the house that’s built is tenuous, and the people will fall off. In other words, it’s irresponsible to let your pride go unchecked, because other people are depending on you guidance, and your guidance is potent only when you can let go of your own hidden agenda.

The magic way to inspire others is to communicate from the heart, sharing what is real and meaningful to you. That’s not something that comes from outreach training, but from loving G‑d, trying to draw yourself close to Him, and inviting the people you love to join you in your process.

Based on a talk by the Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 24, p. 137).
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« Reply #496 on: September 11, 2011, 08:34:05 AM »

Wanton Hatred, Wanton Love
By Zalman Shmotkin

September 17, 2001

Standing only a few hours before Rosh Hashanah, when we pray to G‑d to demonstrate His mercy to the entire world, please allow me to share with you some reflections about the recent events that have so affected us.

We all look for consolation, and we seek to console. But the sheer enormity of the evil we just experienced is so hideous, so repellent, we’re left with no words.

Of course, we stand behind our military, our intelligence agencies and our elected leaders in their efforts to eradicate this evil.

But we shy away from personally looking this evil straight in the eye; we shrink from taking it on. Timidly, we prod and encourage each other to “return to normal life.”

For how could anyone of us purport to combat something so grotesque and so awesome?

I’d like to propose, though, that we can and need to do just that.

Much has been written about the motivation, the conditioning, the bloodcurdling ruthlessness, the precision of last week’s crimes against humanity.

All accounts and hypotheses point to the same simple truth. The primary motivation, the underlying force behind every action executed by last week’s murderers was: hatred.

Pure, unbridled, blind, indiscriminate Hatred. Hatred of freedom, hatred of democracy, hatred of “infidels,” hatred of Jews, hatred of anything and everything besides the murderers themselves. Wanton, simple hatred.

It is this that we must combat. It is this that we must eradicate.

What is the remedy to wanton hatred? The Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory answered this many times, with clarity and certitude: Wanton love.

Raw, cold-blooded, fanatical, baseless, relentless hatred can be matched and combated only with pure, undiscriminating, uninhibited, unyielding, baseless, unsolicited love and acts of kindness.

But we need not just plain love. We need love that costs us. Love for which we get nothing back.

The barbarians willingly gave up their lives to sow their hatred. We need to be willing to lose sleep, to suffer losses, to be uncomfortable, to sacrifice our pleasures, in order to help another human being—with at least the precision, determination and passion that evil’s compatriots of last week employed to fulfill their mission of hate.

Every one of us can make a difference.

The Rebbe would always quote the Maimonidean adage: Each person should see himself as though the entire world is on a delicate balance, and with one deed, he or she can tip the scales.

Only a few handfuls of terrorists turned our world upside down. Let us not underestimate the power of each of us to turn it upright again.

Every good act, every expression of kindness and love, will be a thousand antibodies to neutralize the viruses put in place by the forces of evil.

In response to darkness, we will fill the earth with light. To defeat evil, we will saturate our globe with good.

And when we do our part, G‑d will surely do His part to protect us and transform our world into the one we all hope and yearn for, one that will be filled with His glory, like the waters fill the ocean.
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« Reply #497 on: September 13, 2011, 08:50:38 PM »

G-d in the Fast Lane

By Yossy Goldman

Can one plan to be blessed? Obviously, we believe that when we live life as G-d intended us to, we will find or lives blessed in many ways. Even if we do not always see the results tangibly or immediately, we certainly are aware of many blessings that come with the territory of leading a G-dly life. But there is a verse in our Parshah, which promises us blessings we never even dreamed of.

If you will listen to the voice of G-d... and observe the commandments... All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you... (Deuteronomy 28:2)

What does it mean that blessings will overtake you? Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, one of the classic Biblical commentators, suggests that it means you will be blessed even when you made no effort to seek those blessings. It will come out of the blue, an unexpected windfall.

"How do you know that your livelihood's in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps it lies in the opposite direction..." The story is told of the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that he once saw a young man running down the street. The Chassidic master stopped him and asked, "Where are you running?" The fellow answered, "To make a living, rabbi." To which the Berditchever responded, "So how do you know that your living lies in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps your livelihood is to be found in the opposite direction, and you're running away from it?"

Do we ever know for sure? How often do the best laid plans of mice and men come to naught? Haven't we all had the experience of trying our hardest to do a deal, and yet with all the planning and strategizing nothing whatsoever materialized? And on the other hand, there may have been times when we put no work into it at all and suddenly from nowhere we landed the deal of the year? The truth is we don't know where the blessing of our livelihood lies.

Our soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down And so it is with spiritual blessings. There are times when we make the effort and remain uninspired and there are times when we become inspired effortlessly. According to the Baal Shem Tov, our unconscious soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down to our conscious soul and we are touched, moved or inspired.

We live in an era of much confusion. Many are lost, floundering about in spiritual wildernesses. But many are finding themselves too. There have been many who didn't necessarily go looking for G-d but G-d found them. "How did you get inspired?" "To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. I was minding my own business and I bumped into this Rabbi." Or, "I was sitting next to this fellow on the plane..." If you feel the spirit overtaking you, slow down Or, "I was just a tourist at the Western Wall but something moved me." Everybody has a story. In some stories we went looking for G-d, in others He came looking for us.

So if you feel the spirit overtaking you, don't speed up. Slow down. Let it catch up with you. May the blessings of G-d overtake you and transform your life.
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« Reply #498 on: September 20, 2011, 01:53:37 PM »

The First Day of Creation
By Ted Roberts

It had been a busy six days, even for the King of the universe. The earth and all its contents—well, that was accomplishment enough. But the galaxies and rules governing their orbit—sun, moon and stars, and that concept of infinite space. He was particularly proud of that. Just imagine! The garden and its two occupants on planet Earth dwelled not in a boxed enclosure, but in nothingness. No beginning, no end, no top, no bottom. It had to be that way, since the universe was the mind of the Creator, and no one should stretch out his hand and touch that boundary. Thus was mystery introduced into the world.

Now, at the end of this sixth day, He would rest. And so, with great satisfaction, He surveyed His handiwork and meditated on all that He had done. It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to be. Several ragged edges were purposely left unfinished. The creature called “man” must have some mission besides mere survival.

It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to beBut what was that squeak, that dim voice from below? It was the human He had made. It was addressing Him, its Creator. It was asking for His attention.

“Master, Creator, are you up there? Can you hear me?”

“I, who can hear a grasshopper land on a blade of grass, can certainly hear my most favored creation when he calls out for me. Speak,” roared the L‑rd G‑d of creation.

“Beg your pardon, Sir, but You forgot something.” This was before the dialogues with Abraham and Job and the prophets. He was the architect of the universe, and this puny voice out of a structure that He had engineered was accusing him of carelessness. Impudence of the highest degree!

“I know You imbued your creation with hate, because Cain threw a sharp stick at me. I beg of you that when you issue your rules, it would be helpful to include one commanding our offspring to honor us, the nurturing parents. And Sir, You forgot love. May I ask that of You? We humans need love, or we shall treat each other like the animals. You took great care with the mechanism whereby we nourish ourselves. A great job, Sir. And you marvelously designed the tools of procreation so that, like the muskrats and elephants, we could prolong our species. It seems to work splendidly. Already, two rabbits have grown to two hundred, and it works wonderfully with mosquitoes, too. They swarm everywhere and feed off my flesh, but as I surveyed the garden I noticed an unpleasant truth. Some of the creatures who existed on that first day no longer walked upon the garden’s mossy turf. I think I counted more rabbits yesterday. I think the wolves are eating the rabbits.”

The L‑rd listened with divine patience. Later, did He not endure forty years of official complaints from the stiff-necked Children of Israel? He answered with controlled brevity. “Ah, you finally discovered the flaw in creation. Know that it is yours to correct. What exactly do you think is missing?”

“It is difficult to explain, Sir,” said Adam, for he was voicing the complaint that something that should be within us is missing. “A feeling of kindness, of warmth, plainly was lacking in the animals. And humans, too. I know it is missing because I do not have it for the woman—is that the right word?—you made for me. It’s like a warm feeling in the chest.

And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void“It is not necessary—this feeling—for me and the woman to make more of us. I know, wait. I know how to explain it. It is like the feeling you have for us. In a lesser degree, of course, but it would be constructive if we had that glow for our fellow creatures, like the new one that the woman carries in her stomach. Please, Sir, bestow upon us that warmth. I call it love.”

“It must come from you,” boomed the Master of the universe. “Even I have not the power to bestow it upon you. It is the blemish I left for you to cure. I was waiting for you to notice this absence.”

But the L‑rd was proud of His creation and His wisdom. And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void. And He imbued a small dose even into the beasts. Some inherited much, some a little.

Consequently, given the effectiveness of the procreation mechanism and the L‑rd’s granting of Adam’s wish, His breed still walks upon the earth. And on Eden’s green fields, the wolves, sometimes, lie down with the rabbits.
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« Reply #499 on: September 21, 2011, 07:25:27 AM »

Weekly Sermonette
Choose Life

By Yossy Goldman

I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?

One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?

It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”

Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.

As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.

By Yossy Goldman

I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?

One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?

It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”

Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.

As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
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