Friday, July 31, 2009

Shabbat Nachamu / Va'etchanan

The wheel of life continues to turn. This cycle of moving from darkness to light is expressed on this Shabbat, the Shabbat after the fast of the Ninth of Av, the fast which commemorates the tragedy of the destruction of both the first and second Temple in Jerusalem.

The centerpiece of this week's reading, Va'etchanan, is the Ten Commandments. And the haftorah, from Isiah, is about comfort. "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami.....Comfort, My people, comfort them…" says G‑d to the prophets.

After destruction comes rebirth and rebuilding. After the destruction of the First Temple, came the building of the Second. After the destruction of the second Temple will come the advent of Moshiach and the building of the Third Temple. The sense of comfort after the darkness of destruction is so strong that in fact this is only the first of a series of seven haftorot, all with the theme of the promise of Redemption.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this idea can help us even if we are still at the stage of darkness. The darkness and desolation are not a cause for despair: on the contrary, they point to the greater joy which will follow. Recognizing this enables us to find joy at the darkest moment. This teaching applies to us as individual men and women, and also to the Jewish people as a whole.

The cycle of comfort is also seen in the Torah reading. Moses describes to the Jewish people how, forty years previously, they heard the Ten Commandments from G‑d. The reading does not mention it, but they knew and we know that following the Ten Commandments they made the Golden Calf, and other mistakes, resulting in them wandering in the desert for forty years. Yet now they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses reminds them about hearing the Ten Commandments from G‑d, and they are now able to hear them with a renewed sense of innocence.

They and we, after our long journey, as individuals and as a people, have left the realm of darkness, and are about to enter the light…

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 7:37

Wishing you all a comforted Shabbat!

PARSHA - Va'etchanan

In this week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, we learn of one of the Torah's positive commandments, which is to recite the "Shema," the central proclamation of our faith, twice each day..

With the declaration of "Shema Yisrael," the Jew testifies that G-d is One, and that nothing else exists except for Him.

The word echad, one, is composed of three letters: alef, chet and dalet.

The numerical equivalent of alef is one. G-d is alone and unique in the universe.

The numerical equivalent of chet is eight. Only G-d is King over all seven firmaments and the earth below.

The numerical equivalent of dalet is four. This expresses the concept that G-d is the sole Sovereign over all four directions: east, west, north and south.

By saying the "Shema," the Jew negates the independent existence of the world. He declares that all of creation -- the celestial spheres, the earth below and the four winds -- are completely nullified before Him. G-d is the One Who sustains and rules over them; without Him, they would not exist. G-d is One; there is nothing else but Him.

A Jew is obligated to recite the "Shema" by night and by day.

Nighttime, is a time of spiritual darkness, when G-d's light is hidden and concealed. At such times it is hard for the Jew to perceive G-dliness; his spiritual condition is as dark as night.

Daytime, by contrast, is a time when the sun illuminates. Symbolically, this alludes to the illumination of the Jew's soul, when G-dliness is readily perceived and apparent.

Yet regardless of one's spiritual condition, no matter if it is day or night, the Jew must always remember that the entire world is only G-dliness! G-d is the only King of the universe. G-d is One.

"Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One... when you lie down and when you rise."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Western Wall

Tisha B'av - Western Wall...

Today is Tisha B'av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago. We sit low and read Lamentations. Jews from the world over pray at the Western Wall and embrace its stones--our only remnant of the Holy Temple's grandeur.

The words and the cry, "If I forget thee O, Jerusalem!" kept us going through our exile and wanderings. Wherever we settled, we turned back to Jerusalem in prayer. Our synagogues face east, it points the way to our ultimate destination.

Even if we can't be there physically, we are there in heart and mind. Now, on Tisha B'Av, let's get as close as possible to these precious stones. Let us try to outline, our hopes and yearnings.

The Divine presence never left the Western Wall. And every Jew owns a piece of its rock. And no one gets lost between the cracks. The stones reflect our differences: Big and small, whole and broken, smooth and rough, together we form a formidable wall, a fortress of faith that endures forever.

Each stone block is like a page, each row a chapter, of our long Jewish history, written in stone. The Rock of Ages that guarantees Jewish survival.

But it's incomplete. We are not to get too comfortable with just one wall.

We pray daily for the Holy Temple's rebuilding through the righteous Moshiach speedily in our days. Our belief in Moshiach is a cornerstone of Judaism. "I fully believe in Moshiach's coming. Each day I await him," is the foundation on which all else stands.

We must leave no stone unturned. We must study, do mitzvot, prepare and look forward to the Redemption as we conclude Lamentations. "Return to us, O G-d, and we will return to You. Renew our days as once before!"


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Erev Tisha B' running....

The Talmud relates that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva once went to Jerusalem. Reaching the Temple Mount, they saw a fox run out of the Holy of Holies. Three of them started to cry and Rabbi Akiva laughed. They questioned each other's actions.

The three rabbis replied, "Should we not cry when foxes walk in the place about which it is written that the stranger who approaches will die."

Akiva said, "Thus I laugh, for the prophecy of Zecharyah depends on the prophecy of Uriah (see Isaiah 8:2). Now that I see the prophecy of Uriah - that Zion will be a plowed field - has been fulfilled, I know the prophecy of Zecharyah - that old men and old women will again dwell in the streets of Jerusalem - will also be fulfilled."

His three colleagues responded, "Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us."

But why? The Third Temple did not yet exist, the Jewish people were still in exile and the fast of Tisha B'Av was still in force.

To answer, we have to understand the inner purpose and concept of a fast. A fast day is described as "a desirable day for G-d." The spiritual content of such a day is inherently good. In fact, it contains such great goodness that all that stood on it before must be removed, so that the innate goodness can be revealed.

Rabbi Akiva saw not the surface situation but the inner reality. He saw like an architect - or perceived the plan of The Architect. Knowing that external appearances change, shift and thus have no lasting substance, Rabbi Akiva showed his colleagues how to look at a day like Tisha B'Av.

Of course one must fast and observe all the laws connected with the temporarily negative nature of the day. But primarily one must see - and thus work for - the inner purpose, the positive reality of the day. The vision of the inner truth leads through the fast - and the teshuva and mitzvos it engenders - to the realization of the prophecy that Moshiach is coming imminently and that Tisha B'Av will be a day of gladness and rejoicing - speedily in our days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Napolean in disguise on 9 Av

One summer evening Napoleon, the French Emperor, dressed in disguise and set out for the Jews' district to learn about his citizens. The neighborhood was quieter than usual and so thinking that it may be a Jewish Holiday, Napolean went off to the Synagogue to investigate.

Expecting to see festive celebrants, Napolean was surprised to see the Jews crouching on low stools, chanting to a sorrowful tune. It was an atmosphere of mourning with sounds of lamentation filling the air.

"What happened?" Napoleon asked of a Jew."Why are you all crying like that?"

"We are mourning the destruction of our Holy Temple," explained the Jew sadly.

"The destruction of what?" he asked.

"We used to have a Holy Temple," the man continued. "A place where G-d's Divine Presence dwelt. Three times a year we made special pilgrimages to serve Him. But it was destroyed, and that is why we are in mourning."

Napoleon was confused. How could it be that he had not even heard of such a terrible event?

"And who had the audacity to destroy your Temple?" he wanted to know. "The evil Romans", was the reply.

"The Romans?!" Napoleon cried. "Do you mean to tell me that the Romans have invaded our land?"

"No, it wasn't here in France," the man answered. "It was in the Land of Israel, in the holy city of Jerusalem."

"Jerusalem? Hmmmm,. When did this all occur?"

"Eighteen hundred years ago!" he told Napolean.

"Eighteen hundred years ago?" Napoleon sputtered. "Are you saying that all these people are sitting here mourning an occurrence that happened so many hundreds of years ago?"

"We Jews see the destruction of the Temple as the beginning of all our woes". The Jew continued. "It was then that we were exiled from our land, and dispersed among the nations to be persecuted and humiliated. But we also believe," he stated with conviction, "that our Father in Heaven will one day redeem us. At that time He will rebuild the Holy Temple, gather all the Jews from exile and bring us back to our land."

Napoleon then declared, "At first I thought you Jews were peculiar, clinging to your ancient sorrows. But I now see that you are an eternal people. In the end, you will return to your land and rebuild your Holy Temple. I don't know when it will happen: this year, next year, ten years from now or even two hundred. But it will happen one day, of that I have no doubt."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unwarranted Love

Why was the Temple destroyed?

One of the reasons given by our Sages was unwarranted hatred. The Jewish people, even during the siege of Jerusalem, remained fractionalized and divided. And on the individual level, there was a lack of concern, love, and respect for each other.

How can this be corrected?

By showing unrestrained love. By reaching out to another person - any other person - and showing him care, consideration, and concern. Do a favor for someone else, not because there is a reason to do so, but because you care for him.

Don’t spend time thinking of reasons why and whether you should help another person. Use that same time to think about how you can help him.

Do good. Don’t wait for others to start. Be an initiator, the others will respond, the heart opens to the heart. One cannot see another person shower good upon him and not be moved by that.

What is the motivating principle for this motif?

The fact that at the core of every person there lies a soul which is a G-dly spark, and that every element of existence is being maintained by G-d each moment. Knowing this inspires a person to reach out.

Every entity seeks to express its inner nature. Reaching out with love and kindness inspires and encourages the good and generosity that lie at the core of all others to come to the surface.

Such deeds affect the macrocosm as well as the microcosm, bringing closer the Era of the Redemption, when these concepts will be concrete realities, not merely abstract truths.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Today in Jewish History - PASSING OF "ARI".

Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, known as Ari HaKadosh ("The Holy Lion") passed away on the 5th of Av of the year 5332 from creation (1572 CE). Born in Jerusalem in 1534, he spent many years in secluded study near Cairo, Egypt. In 1570 he settled in Sefad, where he lived for two years until his passing at age 38.

During that brief period, the Ari revolutionized the study of Kabbalah, and came to be universally regarded as one of the most important figures in Jewish mysticism. It was he who proclaimed, "In these times, we are allowed and duty-bound to reveal this wisdom," opening the door to the integration of the teachings of Kabbalah--until then the province of a select few in each generation--into "mainstream" Judaism.