Friday, September 4, 2009

PARSHA - Ki Tavo (Walk in His Ways)

There is a positive commandment in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, "You shall walk in His ways", requiring us "to emulate the Holy One, Blessed be He." Maimonides writes, "Just as G-d is gracious, so shall you be gracious. Just as G-d is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as G-d is pious, so shall you be pious." Indeed, the commandment implies that a Jew is required to emulate G-d to the best of his ability, at all times and in all circumstances."

"You shall walk in His ways", the word "walk," implies an ongoing and perpetual sense of motion.

One of the differences between the soul of a Jew and an angel is that angels are stationary beings, fixed in their spiritual positions, whereas the Jewish soul constantly ascends from one spiritual level to the next. The Jew is constantly in motion, reaching higher and higher spiritual heights by virtue of his actions.

It sometimes happens that a Jew may observe mitzvot, yet he remains on the same spiritual rung as before. His performance of the mitzva did not cause him to progress or ascend any further. The commandment "You shall walk in His ways" comes to teach us that a Jew must never be stagnant, and that his performance of the mitzvot must always lead to an improvement of his overall spiritual condition.

By observing the Torah's mitzvot because they are "His ways" - because of our desire to emulate the Creator, will assure our spiritual ascent to higher and higher levels of G-dliness.

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 6:58p.m.

PARSHA - Ki Tavo (We Hashem's Bikurim)

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, contains the commandment of bikurim, first fruits offering. As it says:

"And it shall be, when you come into the land...and you shall take of all the fruit of the earth...and put it in a basket...and you shall go to the priest...and the priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the L-rd your G-d."
The mitzva of first fruits applies to the "seven kinds by which the land of Israel is praised" -- grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates, wheat and barley.

Whoever cultivated these special fruits on his portion of land was obligated to bring the very first of his harvest to G-d's representative on earth - the priest who served in the Holy Temple -- thereby thanking G-d for His bounty and joyfully acknowledging the Creator of all things.

In the mitzva of bikurim, the farmer must go against his natural inclination to retain for himself the very best of the fruits of his labor, and hand them over to the priest in Jerusalem.

Even though we dont have the Holy Temple now, we can still observe this mitzva, in the spiritual sense; by thinking of ourselves as the "first fruit" of G-d: every action we take, every thought we have and every word that comes out of our mouths must be our absolute best, the MOST choice and select we are capable of producing.
And this should be applied to all details of our lives, as our Sages said, "All of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven."

Until Moshiach comes, every Jew must picture himself at all times as if he is standing in the Holy Temple, about to hand over his basket of offerings to the priest.

May our efforts to refine ourselves in this manner bring the Final Redemption speedily in our day, and with it, the opportunity to observe the mitzva of bikurim in the literal physical sense as well.

Candle lighting time for l.a. is 6:58

shabbat shalom!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some of Baal Shem Tov's sayings...

Just over 300 years ago, on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul, which is Monday, is the birthday of the holy Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov. In the course of his 62 years of earthly life he revolutionized the way we see ourselves, our world, and our place in it.

The following are some of his teachings:

1. Everything is by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by G-d to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.

2. Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G-d.

3. "Love your fellow as yourself" is an interpretation of and commentary on "Love the L-rd, your G-d" . He who loves a fellow Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has within himself a "part of G-d Above".

4. G-d's love of each and every Jew is infinitely greater than the love of elderly parents to their only child born to them in their later years.

5. G-d loves all Jews without distinction; the greatest Torah genius and scholar and the most simple Jew are loved equally by G-d.

6. One must have total self-sacrifice and dedication for love of one's fellow, even towards a Jew whom one has never seen.

7. A soul may descend to this world and live seventy or eighty years just in order to do a Jew a material favor, and certainly a spiritual one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Story - Tzedoko saved him from drowning - in dream

Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi used to say; “Be careful about how you do a small mitzvah, just as if it were a big one, for you do not know the reward of mitzvot.”

Once, Rabbi Yitzchak was on his way to the synagogue. He met a poor man holding a small coin in his hand worth only half a ma’ah, which was the smallest currency in those days.

“Please Rabbi,” the man said, “have pity on me. I have no food or money. My family have not eaten for days. Can you give me something?”

Rabbi Yitzchak looked sad. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I also have no money. How shall I help you?” He dug deep into his pocket. “All I have is this coin. It’s only half a ma’ah.”

“Bless you Rabbi,” said the poor man, “Your half a coin and my half a coin will make a whole coin, and that will be enough to buy a loaf of bread for my family.”

That night, he had a frightening dream. He dreamt he was standing by the sea, when a group of murderers suddenly grabbed him, and threw him into the water. Rabbi Yitzchak could not swim, and was about to drown…

Suddenly he saw his teacher, the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was filled with hope. Rabbi Shimon saw his distress, and stretched out his arms to save him; but no matter how hard he tried, he could not reach Rabbi Yitzchak.

Rabbi Yitzchak was about to give up hope. Suddenly, in his dream, a poor beggar appeared out of nowhere, and pulled Rabbi Yitzchak out of the water. It was the same man to whom he had given the half a coin that morning.

Rabbi Yitzchak woke up with a start and trembling with fear. “Oh,” he cried, “what a strange dream! What could it mean?”

As he thought about it, he said to himself, “This is truly extraordinary! I must have been in terrible danger. Even my great teacher, Rabbi Shimon, could not help me, despite all his merit. Thank G-d, I helped that poor beggar. If I have been spared, it is only because of the charity I gave to him!”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reb Yisroel Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, was born on the 18th day of Elul (this coming Monday) in the year 1698 in a little town in the Ukraine. His father, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a member of the secret society of hidden tzaddikim, passed away when young Yisroel was only five years old; his last words to his son were, "Fear nothing, but G-d alone. Love every Jew with all your heart and all your soul."

The young orphan would spend much of his time wandering and meditating in the forests that surrounded his hometown; there, watching the great miracles of nature, and seeing the divine hand in every little flower and blade of grass left a profound impression upon him, and later on, in one of his lectures to his disciples, he said: "When you see a leaf blown from a tree and whirled along the pathway, don't think it's an accident, for it's moved by the will of G-d!"

Drawing from the mystical "soul of Torah" the Baal Shem Tov, "Master of the Good Name," as he came to be known, taught about the spark of G-dliness that is to be found in every creation and about the great love that G-d has for each and every one of His children, scholars and simple folk alike. He emphasized the importance of joy and simple faith in serving G-d.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov instilled new life and new hope into the scattered and shattered flocks of Israel in all lands, and fortified them with faith and courage.

He passed away on Shovuot, at the age of 62, but his teachings are still studied and followed. The movement he founded has become a vital force in Jewish life.