Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Rebbe gives blessings to light Chanuka lights in Iran...

In 1980, during the Iranian occupation of the American embassy, Rabbi Hershberg, the past chief Rabbi of Mexico, was scheduled to travel to Iran for a public service project. Because of the tense atmosphere at the time, many tried to persuade him to postpone his trip. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, encouraged him: "Go with blessing," The Rebbe told him. "You are certain to light the Chanukah menorah in Iran."

Rabbi Hershberg was puzzled by the Rebbe's closing words. He was not necessarily planning to stay in Iran for Chanukah. But if he would, there was no question that he would light a menorah. He did not understand the Rebbe's reference, nor the emphatic (em-fa-tik) tone in his words.

Afterwards, it all became clear. His mission in Iran took longer than expected, during which time he developed a relationship with some Iranian officials. He knew that there were six Jews among the hostages in the American embassy and he asked permission to light the menorah with them. "Just as we have granted permission for a priest to meet with the Christian hostages on their holiday," the Iranians replied, "we will allow you entry as well."

And so it was in the barricaded American embassy in Iran that Rabbi Hershberg lit the Chanukah menorah that year.

Chanuka is not over. Today is the last day, we still have a chance to bring down whatever light and blessings we need. Let's take advantage of this special day and accomplish whatever holiness we can....and we should take these chanuka lights, take these chanuka messages and miracles, to last us throughout the year....

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Story - Chanuka/Shehechiyonu.....Bergen-Belsen

The day before Chanuka was a tragic one in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; hundreds of Jews had been killed. However, the shattered and tortured surviving Jewish prisoners began looking for a way to kindle the Chanuka lights. They created some makeshift menora, a thread from their pants was a wick and a drop of black wax was oil.

Late at night word spread quickly in the barracks that the Bluzhever Rebbe would be kindling the menorah.
The Jews in Bergen-Belsen were well aware that anyone caught participating in any sort of religious act would be brutally punished. This did not however, stop the hundreds of them from gathering to watch the Rebbe do the mitzvah.

With intense concentration the Rebbe made the first 2 blessings. Then he paused, turned around and saw the emaciated faces in front of him.
He then turned back to his menora and with great emotion, said the blessing of Shehechiyanu, thanking G-d, "Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time". And he lit the wick.

A Jew from the crowd said, "Rebbe, i can understand why you lit the Chanuka lights, but i cannot understand how you could possibly make the shehechiyanu. Hundreds of Jews are being murdered every day in front of our eyes. How can you thank G-d that you lived to see this day!?

"I too had the same question", responded the Rebbe, But then i turned around, i saw hundreds of jews standing with Emuna, with belief and with trust, waiting to see the menora lit.
If after a massacre like yesterday's, Jews can still risk their lives and wait with eagerness to fulfill G-d's mitzvah, then for this alone i can recite the blessing thanking G-d, "Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time", - to see so many people displaying such strength, such emuna, here in Bergen -Belsen".

We face the challenges of our time, and struggle to cope with them and sometimes even reach the brink of despair - however, there are still a great many signs of hope. There are still many reasons to say Shehechiyanu.

Monday, December 19, 2011

PARSHA - Miketz - Chanuka. Make your dreams a reality!

In this week’s Torah reading Pharaoh the mighty ruler, has two dreams and so he summons Yosef/Joseph from his prison cell and Yosef interprets the dreams to Pharaoh so brilliantly that Pharaoh promotes him to the second most powerful person in Egypt.

Years earlier Yosef himself had dreams that indicated to him that he was destined to become a powerful ruler, and now, through interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, his own dreams of leadership were actualized. Yosef's dreams came to be when he rises to the occasion and not only interprets Pharaoh’s dream but takes it a step further and offers advice on how to save the Egyptian people from starvation. Advice giving is a bold act, which may have cost him his life. Yet, he made this courageous move in order to achieve his life's goal.

This week we too can take a step forward, with complete faith in our ability, to realize our dreams.
Tonight we begin celebrating Chanukah.
Chanukah is a story of a small group of courageous people, the Maccabees, who stood up to their Greek/Assyrian oppressors because they had a dream of a better reality. When they entered the Temple, it lay in ruin and shambles. It had been defiled and vandalized, yet they had a vision, a dream, of rededicating the Temple by kindling the Menorah Lights with pure, untouched oil. Given the circumstances, it would have been understandable had they kindled the menorah with impure oil.

Yet they searched for pure oil and found one tiny cruz.
Only because they had sought it, did they find it. Their unwavering trust and belief in the miraculous caused a miracle to occur, and the oil was lit and remained miraculously lit for eight nights.

Had they not moved forward, their dream would have remained just that, a dream.

This week, be courageous, take a bold step forward towards your dream, with complete faith in the possibility of the miraculous.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It is written in Tehillim "עבדו את ה' בשמחה", one should serve G-d with Joy.
The Rebbe explains that since a Jew is constantly serving G-d in all he does then he needs to always be joyful.

Our sages say that the Shechina, G-d's Holy Presence, does not rest on those who are sad or downhearted. It only rests where the joy of a mitzva is present.

When the prophet Elisha became angry at Yehoiram for his wicked ways, the spirit of prophecy left him. Only after music was played before him, did the spirit of prophecy return.

Walking around the marketplace, the Amora Rav Broika asked Eliyahu Hanavi if anyone who was there was meritorious of Olam Haboh,(the world to come), and Eliyahu Hanavi answered in the negative. Soon two brothers entered the marketplace, and Eliyahu Hanavi pointed to them, saying, "These will merit Olam Haboh." Rav Broika approached them and asked them how they conduct themselves. "We are joyful people and we make those who are sad, happy. If we hear about an argument, we make peace, using humor, between those quarreling."

The Rebbe explained that Yidden should rejoice out of trust that G-d will bring moshiach soon. This will then hasten G-d, so to speak, in sending moshiach."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Every little thing we do has an effect on the world

Though subtle, harmony in our personal lives helps bring harmony to the world. We may not be able to sense the “butterfly effect” of our behavior on the universe, and its effect is not always direct and overt. Nevertheless, we are told with absolute certainty that our actions do have a ripple effect on the world. We therefore are not victims of circumstances of world events; we have the power to change the world. As we refine ourselves we in some way also refine the universe.

We all have, in microcosm, the struggle between soul and body. Between G-d and the universe.

Next time, before you judge another person think of the ripple effect it has on the world. True, you may not be a terrorist or be committing another atrocity. Yet, even speaking badly about others is called a subtle form of “murder.”

The Baal Shem Tov tells us that we are like mirrors. Every event that we experience is actually a reflection of our own lives. It comes to teach us a lesson that we need to learn and repair.

Our individual effort changes the world. When we change the microcosm the macrocosm is directly affected.

Maimonides writes: A person must see himself and the world as equally balanced on two ends of the scale; by doing one good deed, he tips the scale and brings for himself and the entire world redemption and salvation (Laws of Repentance, 3:4).

If each of us would improve our own balance, we would change the landscape of the universe.

Simcha!! JOY!! :)

The Rebbe gives many reasons why we should have simcha/joy:
Because G-d created us. Because He made us a Jew. He is always with us. He has given us so many things. We should be joyful that we have the ability to connect with Him. And we should be full of joy that we are heading towards moshiach.

To someone who complained about sadness the Rebbe wrote that one should be so busy doing what needs to be accomplished, that there be no time to think about sadness

The Zohar says that the way one acts in this world, is the way that he is dealt with above. If a person is happy and acts joyously, then his situation will improve.

The holy Tzaddik Reb Elimelech from Lizhensk would often perform various afflictions on himself as a kappara, one of which was rolling in the snow without warm clothes. One cold, winter night, while rolling in the snow, Reb Elimelech did not notice a nail sticking out from a board, for it was covered in snow, and he rolled over it, piercing his hand. When he arrived home, his relatives, seeing the hole in his hand, made a great tumult and each gave their advice on how to stop the blood flow. Reb Elimelech's daughter, overhearing bits of the discussion, thought they were discussing a hole in the wall, called out, "What's the big deal? Take some straw and stuff it up!" Hearing this, everyone began laughing, and suddenly Reb Elimelech stopped bleeding. He explained that there had been a decree passed above, but through the joy his daughter had caused, a joy had been aroused above, nullifying the decree.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Every little thing we do - matters.

Once upon a time, the Baal Shem Tov sent a group of his students on an important mission in another town. When they returned, he was not so interested in hearing about their mission as about the minutiae of their trip—what they ate, where the slept, how they traveled, etc.
They didn't understand the relevance of these details, but he insisted on hearing everything. When they related that one morning they sat down near a brook and drank some water there, the Baal Shem tov's face lit up and he said, "That water was waiting from the beginning of time for someone to come and make a blessing over it and drink it."
In Jewish mystical thought, space, time, and matter are understood to be forces of Divine energy—sparks which fell down to earth at the time of creation and which became embedded in all aspects of existence; these sparks must be elevated in holiness for the world to achieve perfection as per the Divine plan. This is why the little things you do in life are sometimes more important than the big things—the journey is sometimes as or more important than the final destination.
When we go to work or anywhere, let's take a moment to appreciate how we got there. Every second of our trip matters—the people we meet on the way, the cup of coffee we drink, the piece of paper we throw in the trashcan—all matter.
Quite often the things that are seemingly beyond our control are really opportunities to elevate sparks of Divine energy trapped in the mundane, and by doing so, to spiritual'ize the material.
It's a deeper way of looking at the world. And when we begin looking at life this way, a whole new world will be revealed to us—a G-dly world, an immortal world, the real world.
Every little thing we do - matters.

Prophet Elisha with poor widow.....oil.....vessels....

In Yesterday's haftora we read the story of A poor woman who cried to the Prophet Elisha, that her husband died and now the creditor has come to take her two sons as slaves.
So Elisha asked her what she has in her house. She
answered: 'Nothing, but a cruse of oil.'

"He said, 'Go borrow empty vessels and pour this oil into all these vessels.

A woman cries out about her husband's death—it's the death of her divine spark." My soul has become apathetic to any deeper, spiritual reality of life. And the creditor has come to take my two sons as slaves."

The sons are our emotions. My soul is dead, and my emotions have been enslaved.

"Said Elisha to her: what have you in your home?' Meaning, You must search within yourself for the answer to your crisis. The answer to human pain must ultimately come from man himself.

"I have nothing," the woman cries. "There is nothing left of my soul. I am spiritually and emotionally dead." But I do have something, a cruse of oil.

Oil, represents the core of cores of human identity. This core—the essence of human dignity—is the "cruse of oil" that could never be taken from you.

Your emotions may be faint and your soul may be dead, but your "cruse of oil" is always there. That part of your life that stands face to face with G-d's essence — essence to essence — never dies.

The prophet Elisha says "Go borrow empty vessels and pour the oil into all these vessels.'"

Empty and borrowed vessels is a metaphor for uninspired robot-like actions that are empty of passion and enthusiasm, actions which we could never call "our own" since our heart and soul are not present in these actions.

So the prophet says, Just perform G-dly deeds, even if they seem borrowed and empty to you.

When we don't feel G-d; we feel our mitzvot are hollow and empty acts, we are to remmeber that we do have a cruse of oil and we ARE capable of filling our lives with empty vessels with a schedule saturated with meaningful acts.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Today is not Yesterday.

In a small town in Russia lived a porter who made his living by transporting people and packages to and from the train station. The porter had a young son who assisted him with his work. Every morning the two would awaken early, recite their morning prayers, eat breakfast, prepare the horse and wagon, and hit the road.

One morning, which happened to be a fast day on the Jewish calendar. The porter roused his son at the usual time, and off to the synagogue they went. When they had finished praying, the porter informed his son that today there would be no eating due to the fast.

The day wore on. The son grew hungrier and hungrier. He kept asking his father continuously when they would finally be able to eat. Finally, the day ended and his hunger was satisfied.

The following morning, the boy refused to budge when his father tried to wake him. With an air of indignation the boy told his father, “I do not want to get up, and I do not want to work. I am afraid that you will not let me eat anything today either!”

“Ah, my son, have no fear,” replied the porter. “Today is not yesterday.”

Whenever the Rashbatz, the great chassidic mentor, told this story, he would tap his listener on the shoulder, as if to exclaim, “Get up! Today is not yesterday!”

What an important lesson.

Monday, October 10, 2011


What should we feel on the day after Yom Kippur? On Yom Kippur, we naturally feel spiritually awakened, but what happens the following day? Can we sustain the heightened awareness of Yom Kippur throughout the year?

Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew "comes close to G-d." That experience, however, must not be self-contained; it must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.

Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which to elevate our ordinary lives. By fusing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G-d's Presence.

Yom Kippur should not be viewed as an isolated experience, but as a means to enhance our relationship with G-d on a day-to-day level. The necessity of connecting Yom Kippur to the realities of the rest of the year is illustrated by the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur.

On this day he would enter the Holy of Holies where he was alone with the Shechinah, the revealed Divine Presence. No deeper religious experience is imaginable. Immediately, however, he would offer a short and simple prayer, requesting blessings for an untroubled livelihood on behalf of the Jewish people.

Fresh from his ascent to great spiritual heights, he would immediately thrust himself into concern for the Jewish people on a day-to-day level.

We, perhaps, do not experience the same heights as the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, but we do have spiritual peaks, times when we feel more in touch with our souls and with G-d.

Surely this applies to Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns.

We cannot allow such moments to remain unconnected to our ordinary lives; rather, the spiritual power of these special days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G-d.

This course of action also calls down blessings upon our material affairs.

When G-d sees that an individual focuses his intention on elevating the world around him and keeps that intention in mind even at the highest peaks of his spiritual experience, He rewards him with success both in his divine service and in his material affairs.

G-d blesses him with health, wealth, and children.

This approach to the service of G-d leads to the ultimate fusion of material prosperity and spiritual growth which will take place in the Era of the Redemption

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Maimonidies writes that we are obligated to be careful with the mitzvah of tzedakah,charity, more than all other mitzvot. The Jewish people will be redeemed from exile because of tzedakah.

And a person should give with a kind expression, sympathize with the poor person and offer him comforting words. One who gives tzedakah to a pauper with an unpleasant expression, even if he gives him a thousand gold coins, has lost his merit.

One who has rachmanut/compassion on others, G-d has compassion for him. All Jews are like brothers and if one brother will not have pity on another, then who will?

And as to the ruling of the Sages that, "Your own life takes precedence," this applies only in a case when;

If a traveler in the desert has just enough water to sustain his own life, and if he shares it with his friend they will both die, then his own life takes precedence. That is, when it is equally essential that both drink in order to save their lives.

But if a poor person needs bread for his children and firewood and clothes etc then all these take precedence over any fine clothing and family feasts for oneself and his household.

We thus see, that if the respective needs are not exactly equal, then one does not say, 'one's own life takes precedence,' even in a situation where one's own needs are quite real and far from frivolous. But bread for little ones surely still takes precedence over the valid but non-essential needs of one's own family.

And in regards to this mitzva of tzedaka one should go far beyond the letter of the law. And if he gives generously and with compassion this will arouse G-d's compassion on him. And who isn't always in need of G-d's mercy?

Tzedaka atones, and protects against misfortune. It is an actual cure for body and soul. And wouldn't we give anything for a cure?

Setting a limit to the amount one gives for charity is like limiting the sum one would spend in order to be cured and to stay alive.

The Rebbe clarified that the English translation for tzedakah, charity, is inaccurate, for it implies that giving is a kindness. Truthfully, tzedakah is the rightous thing to do - Tzeddek

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Everything from Hashem is GOOD!! Gam zu l'tova.

The Talmud tells a story of R'Akiva who was once traveling and brought along a candle for light, a rooster to wake him and a donkey to carry his belongings. It so happened that the city that he wanted to stay in did not allow him in, and so he was forced to spend the night out in the field. During the night a wind came and blew out his candle, a lion came and ate his donkey and a cat came and ate his rooster .R' Akiva said, "All that G-d does, He does for the good". Later on R'akiva discovered that that night the town had been attacked by bandits and had he been there, he too would have been robbed. And if the bandits would have seen the light from the candle or heard the sounds from the animals, they would have found him. Through him losing his belongings, his life was saved.

So even though R'Akiva did experience loss and pain, at the end it was revealed how it was all for the good.

A better level of good is when the negative experience itself turns out to be positive. Like in the story of Rabbi Nachum ish gam zu, called so, because he would always say, "This too is for the good".
One time, he was sent as a messenger to the king of Rome, to present a chest of precious gems as a gift on behalf of the Jewish people. During the night, the gems were stolen and replaced with dirt. When R'Nochum saw this he said, "This too is for the good" and he continued to present his gift to the king. When the king saw the dirt inside he wanted to punish R' Nochum. G-d though, sent Eliyahu Hanavi in the form of an officer, to suggest that perhaps this dirt is the same dirt that our forefather, Avraham had used to win wars.
They checked it out and indeed this dirt was found to be powerful ammunition.

We are now entering the time of the Redemption, a time when it will be crystal clear how every experience is only good - and not just the it will eventually bring to something good, but gam zu l'tova, this too is for the good.

May we experience this reality speedily in our days!

CHAI ELUL - Warmth....

Rabbi Nechemia of Dubrovna (1788-1852) once witnessed a Russian soldier being disciplined by his commander. The soldier's crime? While standing watch on a freezing winter night, his feet froze in their boots. "Had you remembered the oath you took to serve our Czar," his officer berated him, "the memory would have kept you warm."

"For 25 years," said Reb Nechemia, "this incident inspired my service of G-d"

Something that is alive is warm, it is vibrant. Coldness, apathy are symptoms of deadness. Life, can only come from within: when we know why we are doing something and are excited about what it will achieve, our every act and gesture throbs with vitality; when that knowledge and excitement are lacking, our actions will be dead and sluggish.

Three centuries ago, Jewish life was in a lethargic slump. Technically, Judaism was alive but the spark of life grew cold.

Then, on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul of the year 1698), Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was born. The baal Shem tov breathed life into Judaism, he added warmth and joy. He spoke of the immense love that G-d has for every Jew, of the cosmic significance of every mitzvah a Jew performs, of the divine meaningfulness that resides in every blade of grass, in every event, and in every thought in the universe. He spoke to the downtrodden masses and to the aloof scholars. He gave meaning to their existence, and thus joy, and thus life.

Elul 18 is also the birthday of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the "Chabad" branch of Chassidism. His teachings and works carried the Baal Shem Tov's vitalization of Judaism to greater heights.

This coming Shabbat is the 18th of Elul -18 is chai in hebrew, meaning life, so the 18th of Elul infuses life into the month of Elul, and via Elul into the entire year and life of the Jew."

PARSHA - Ki Seitzei - Pay Laborers

This week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains the commandment to pay a hired laborer on the same day that he has done his work. We, the Jewish people, are considered the "hired laborers" of G-d. Our "task" is to observe the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments), and our "payment" is the reward G-d grants us for having obeyed His will.

G-d Himself performs the same mitzvot He commands us to observe. If we are forbidden to delay payment to our employees then G-d too is required to "pay" every Jew immediately upon the performance of a mitzva. Yet the Torah states, that we will receive our reward when Moshiach comes. Is this not then a contradiction?

This physical world was created solely because "G-d desired a dwelling place down below." Precisely here, in a coarse material world that obscures the holiness within, G-d wants His Presence to be revealed.

And so our Divinely-appointed job; the task of transforming the world into a suitable dwelling place for G-d is a collective one. The Jewish people has undertaken the collective charge of preparing the world for Moshiach, an undertaking that is not the responsibility of one individual, but is the duty of all Jews, spanning the generations since the beginning of time. Every mitzva that a Jew performs refines his body and purifies the world at large, gradually infusing the material world with G-dliness. Over the thousands of years of the world's existence this holiness has accumulated, readying the world for its ultimate perfection - the revelation of Moshiach and the Messianic Era.

The full reward for our efforts will be granted only when the job is completed and Moshiach is revealed, speedily in our day.

In addition to the main reward that G-d will give us when Moshiach comes, He rewards us now as well, providing us with our sustenance, so that we may be able to complete our task of transforming this world into a Divine abode.

What is Faith?

What does it mean to believe?
Faith is not something that can be learned. If we learn something that is logical, we know it to be true and then there is no need for faith.
Faith indicates something that is above our understanding. Faith comes from our souls. Every Jew has a soul that is G-dly, it is a part of G-d within the Jew. This is our essence and our core. Jews are, 'believers the children of believers'.. In other words, belief in G-d is an inherited trait that every Jew inherited from our forefathers. On the other hand, just because we have this trait within us, does not mean that we necessarily behave according to the will of G-d in our everyday lives. As the sages say, "A thief on his way to commit a theft prays to G-d to help him succeed and not be caught."
This thief believes in G-d and that is why he prays to Him. Yet at the same time, he is going against the will of G-d by committing the sin of stealing. And that is because his belief in G-d is only external, it surrounds him but is not internalized and therefore it does not affect his behavior.
We are not always in touch with our G-dly essence, we need to patiently and consistently nurture our faith.
And how do we nurture our Faith?
Well, first of all, when we behave in a more refined way. When we do Mitzvot our bodies become more refined and we are more spiritually sensitive. Our conduct thus indirectly affects our Faith.
Another way we can nurture our faith and increase our spiritual sensitivity involves our thoughts and minds.
Our minds control how we feel. If we have positive thoughts about a person we tend to like them, we feel good about them.
In the same way, if we use our minds to know more about G-d, it will affect the way we feel about Him. Our minds become the direct route to affect and uncover our feeling of faith.
And cultivating this faith is so vital for each and every person.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It is invisible, but always with us. It can be our greatest enemy, but also our best friend. It’s always moving, yet unwavering. It can work for us or against us. It is never neutral, and it never stops.

What is it? It is Time.

The human race has conquered space. We have cleared out wildernesses and turned them into cities. Travel and telecommunications have allowed us to transcend great distances.

But time: Have we conquered time? Most people would answer that we can manage time, but never conquer it, because the clock continues to tick whether we like it or not. We cannot stop the clock nor can we turn it back.

Jewish thought however always made it a goal to conquer time. It wasn’t enough to manage time, but actually conquer it. We sanctify time – Shabbat and holidays.

Time is energy, the Zohar explains. Each moment is potent, filled with enormous power. Each moment is an opportunity, never neutral. When we utilize and actualize the energy of the moment, time becomes our ally, launching us into another dimension. If we do not use the moment, the moment “dies,” and like dead weight it contributes to the erosion of our beings, as the clock of our lives ticks down.

By filling time with meaning and spirit, we have the power to eternalize each moment in our lives.

How many moments of our day are just fleeting specks lost in the shuffle of life? But then comes that one moment – that can turn an experience that lives on forever.

Imagine if you were able to turn all your moments into eternity. This is the power and the mystery of the Jewish calendar: Each day, week and month is defined by its unique energy. Time becomes our greatest asset; a silent but powerful partner in life’s journey.

We are now about to enter a most powerful time of the year: The Hebrew month of Elul.

The days of Elul are called ‘ days of ‘compassion,’ because in this period Moshe was successful in his appeal for forgiveness from G-d, for the Golden Calf. So this month serves as the month of Divine mercy and forgiveness.

We must tap into the energy of this time and release its enormous power. Every moment is an opportunity – packed with powerful energy.

Parshat - R'ei. FREE CHOICE

This week's Torah portion, Re'ei opens with a fundamental principle of Judaism - free choice. G-d says to the Jewish people, "Look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, that you will hearken to G-d's commandments...; and the curse, if you will not hearken to G-d's commandments..." (Deut. 11:26-28).

Why did G-d create the world so as to necessitate blessings and curses? Why did G-d make it difficult for us to do what is appropriate and right?

Evil exist to allow for free choice. If there was only good in this world - we couldn't freely choose to do good; we would just do good by default. And there would be no room for reward and punishment.

Wrong exists only to allow a person to choose right. Evil is nothing but a means of improving our Divine service, to push us toward the correct path. Evil is not a curse, but a merit that enables us to succeed and prevail. Knowing this, gives us the ability and strength not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the negative.

Parshat Re'ei is read on the Shabbat when the month of Elul is blessed. In Elul, G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are manifested with particular intensity. At such a time, a person might think that his own efforts or initiative is unnecessary. Thus, the Torah reminds us, "Look, I give you today a blessing and a curse." Yes, G- d helps us but at the end of the day we still have to make that choice. So in Elul, when G-d's mercy is manifest, a Jew must intensify his efforts to vanquish evil.

It should be a time of emphasizing the positive and increasing our love for our fellow Jew. In the merit of our good deeds (especially charity), G-d will inscribe each and every one of us for good.


People have been divided into rich and poor. And it is the obligation of the rich to share with the poor.
If G-d wants the poor to be provided for, why did he create a society that was unequal to begin with? Why not provide the poor person with his needs directly, and not require him to undergo the indignity of begging from the rich?

Our sages answer that G-d created the world in a manner that allowed people to perfect it. Not that G-d 'needs' any assistance from us, He could have created the world in any form He desired, including one that would not have needed any human intervention. But he wanted to leave room for our input, for our effort. When a Jew carries out his Divinely mission in this world, He becomes a partner with G-d and receives an abundance of blessing, not as a gift but as a reward.
All the blessings that G-d grants to us - health, children, livelihood - become a deserved grant rather than a donation.

G-d wants to allow us the opportunity to learn kindness, compassion and benevolence, to emulate His ways. And so we observe a lack in someone else and we try to fill it.

The affluent one must constantly recognize that it was not his power, creativity or intelligence that brought him wealth, but G-d's blessing alone. And when we share what we have with others, we call G-d's blessing upon ourselves and are then able to give even more to charity.

When Moshiach comes, please G-d very soon, we will see how our many acts of charity and loving-kindness throughout the generations, has transformed this world into a more perfect one and our mission, of becoming partners with G-d in creation, will be complete

Believing in Moshiach

We pray and we believe that G‑d listens to our prayers; we believe that everything that happens is orchestrated by a benevolent Creator; we believe that through studying Torah and observing the commandments we are connecting to the A-mighty. But as strong as we may believe all the above, these aren't self-evident truths in a world which amazingly has the ability to deny the existence of its own Creator and life-force.

The belief in the coming of Moshiach\ is one of the thirteen core-principles of our faith. It would certainly be nice to see an end to global suffering, but that is a universal ideal. Why is that a principle of the Jewish faith?

Yes, we await the Messianic Era because we look forward to finally having peace and reaping the fruits of our long exile toil, but the Messianic Era isn't all about us—it's primarily about a world which will be a reflection of its Creator, a world where the rights and wrongs of the Torah are self-evident truths. In the Messianic Era, the truths of the Torah will be as self-evident as the laws of gravity and mathematics.

On a deeper level, our belief in Moshiach is our belief in the supreme truth of the Torah. Our belief that the world was created by G‑d and the world must conform to the Torah and not vice versa. And our belief must express itself in a commitment to maintain this attitude even when it takes a large measure of faith and conviction to live in such a manner.

May we merit to see the realization of our most fervent wish, the coming of Moshiach who will reveal the truths - which always were.

Are you ready for Moshiach?

Once, a king informed all of the people in his palace that they were invited to a feast. However, he did not tell anyone at what time the party was scheduled.
Some of the servants said, "We have so much work to do. We cannot just cease working while we wait until the king tells us that it is time for the feast. When the king does decide that it is time, we will notice the preparations being made. Only then will we prepare ourselves and put on our fine clothes for the party."
Other servants were wiser. They said. "The king is capable of preparing a banquet at a moment's notice. We had better wash up and get dressed now, so we won't be caught off guard." They dressed in their finest clothing, eagerly awaiting any mention of the upcoming party.
After some time passed, the king suddenly made an announcement: "All residents of the palace are to come to the banquet hall immediately." The clever servants were all dressed appropriately for a royal feast, and they proceeded to the banquet hall. The ones who had not prepared them-selves properly had to come in their soiled work clothes.

The king was very pleased with the wise servants and served them a lavish feast. To the other servants he turned and said, "Fools! Why did you not get ready immediately? Did I not tell you that I was preparing a banquet? How dare you arrive in shabby work clothes!

Moshiach can come at any given moment. Let us be like the clever servants. Let us be prepared, dressed in our finery. The Torah and mitzvot that we learned and kept, and the good deeds we performed that will be our finest clothing.
Moshiach is coming - are we ready?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don't hurt others....

The holy Arizal once very much enjoyed the hospitality of another Jew."I would like to repay you. Ask me what you will, and I will bless you!" Said the holy Ari, to his kind host.

"What can I ask for, Rebbe?" the man answered, "Thanks to G-d, I have money. I am healthy. There is only one thing I want; We had children, but now for many years my wife has not been able to bear any more. We have asked doctors what the problem is, but they have found nothing wrong."

The holy Ari contemplated for a moment, and then said, "I see the reason. Know this, my friend: The trait of compassion, which is a mark of the descendents of our forefather Avraham, is very important. A person must be extremely careful not to cause suffering to his friends, to other people, or to any living creature.

"You have a chicken coop. In the past, a small ladder was fixed at its entrance, so that the chicks might go down to find bowls of food and water. When your wife noticed that the ladder and ground beneath it were becoming dirty, she had the ladder removed and placed the food directly in the coop. From that day on, the chicks have been greatly distressed: for the pleasure of going up and down the ladder has been taken away from them.

"In their distress, the chicks have chirped, and the sounds of their sorrow have risen to the Throne of Glory, where they stand as an accusation against your wife. Since then, she has been prevented from bearing children."

The host listened with amazement. He quickly ran to find the ladder and returned it to its original place, at the entrance to the coop.

It was not long before G-d blessed the man's wife, and she began to bear children as before.

A person must be extremely careful not to cause suffering to his friends, to other people, or to any living creature.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


At one time or another we all come face to face with an event that appears so terrible that it threatens us emotionally and psychologically. How are we to view the difficulties of our life, when everything appears bleak and we cannot see beyond the limits of our own pain.
Contrary to our experience of challenging events, the Torah tells us that "Nothing bad descends from Above". Everything that happens is inherently good, for it stems from G-d, the "epitome of goodness".

We are coming toward Tisha B'av, when we mourn for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. When we had the Holy Temple - we were in a spiritual freedom. G-d's blessings were perceived as such, without the obscuring veil of nature. Meaning, we were able to see the Divine revelation and we recognized that everything was directly from the hand of G-d.

However, in the state of exile that we find ourselves now - we are unable to perceive the G-dly spirit that is controlling our destiny. In reality, nothing has changed - the world is still controlled by the Divine Designer - it is only our perception that has changed.

On the surface exile appears to be a terrible punishment for our sins, but the challenge of exile is what unleashes the greatest most potent forces of our soul.

Despite the countless regimes that have oppressed us, one constant has remained and that is our unwavering faith in G-d. There is nothing that the Jewish people who lived during the times of the Holy Temple could have done to express such deep soul-commitment. Only we, who live in the darkness of exile have been challenged to tap the deepest, most powerful resources of our soul.

We must view difficulty not as a negative experience, but a the greatest facilitator of growth. And while these situations are often beyond our control, our attitude IS within our control. We have the ability to accept the challenges as they were meant to be - opportunities for positive growth. Although we may never fully understand why certain things happen, ultimately, they can - and therefore must - make as better people.

Parshat Masei - Aharon's passing

In this week's Torah portion of Maasei, we read about the journeys of the Jews in the desert, and about the different places where they camped. One of those places was Hor Hahar, where Aharon the High Priest passed away. And it says that Aharon passed away on the first day of the fifth month.

Chassidut teaches that on the anniversary of a person's passing, everything he strived for during his life, all his holy work, gets added strength and brings about change in the world. This is true of every Jew, and especially true of a great tzaddik like Aharon HaKohain.

We can see a clear connection between Aharon's work and the date of his passing. The first day of the fifth month is Rosh Chodesh Av, it's a sad time for the Jewish people. It's the beginning of the nine days during which we mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.

The Torah states that Aharon passed away, "on day one" of the month. The word "one" reminds us of Aharon's special work. He was a person who loved peace and pursued peace, He would do all he could to stop arguments and help people join together in unity.

Our Rabbis tell us that the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the exile which followed happened because of a lack of unity. If this is so, then creating more unity takes away the reason for the exile, and when there is no reason for this exile then it will come to an end!

So that extra power of unity which comes on the anniversary of Aharon's passing, [which is this coming Monday] is just what we need to help us during these sad days.

We must follow in the path of Aharon, as our Rabbis tell us: "Be like the students of Aharon - love peace and pursue peace." And just as Hor Hahar was one of our nation's last stops on the journey to the Holy Land, the journey of the Jewish people throughout the centuries will reach its destination - the redemption! Amen, now!

Sholom! PEACE!

The Midrash relates that when G-d wanted to create man He asked the attributes what they thought about it. 'Chesed'/ Kindness, said, create man because he will perform acts of kindness. 'Emes'/ Truth, said, do not create man for man fills the world with lies and deceit. 'Tzedek'/ Righteousness, said, create man because he will give charity. Lastly 'Sholom'/ Peace said absolutely not. People quarrel all day and there is no peace. To break the deadlock G-d threw 'Truth' to the ground and ruled two against one in favor of creation.

R' Bunim of Pshische says, 'Why did G-d throw away 'truth'? Why didn't He throw away 'Peace'? Because we can't exist without Peace.

R' Bunim once passed by a construction site and noticed that a worker was having a hard time fitting two pieces of wood together, for one side had something sticking out of it and it wouldn't fit peacefully into the other. So what did he do? He carved into the wood of the other piece, making space for this piece to fit in smoothly.
Turning to his followers, he said, "You see how peace is made between two conflicting parties? Don't force the stubborn one to give in to you - But rather make space in yourself for the other side to fit into you. Then you can live in harmony.

Peace is the greatest thing of all. The Mishnah says, ""G‑d did not find a vessel that could hold blessing other than shalom (peace)."

The rebbe of Lublin said, It is better to live with your relative, friend or neighbor in a state of a false peace than to be honest and live in a true state of conflict.
Even though it is not a true peace, but because it carries the name - sholom/peace it will [we hope] eventually lead to true peace. However, conflict just gets worse and worse. It gets blown out of proportion till its fire can be too difficult to extinguish.

Sholom is peace. Sholom is G-d's name.

Make this a peace filled day!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Watch your tongue!

The king of Persia once fell ill and his doctors prescribed the milk of a lioness. One brave man accepted the challenge of obtaining the milk. He took with him ten goats and went on his way. Nearing the lion's habitat, he stopped at a distance and sent a goat towards the lioness, which she quickly caught and devoured. The next day, he came a bit closer and gave her another goat. After ten days, he was able to approach and even pet the lioness! He pet her, took some milk in peace, and left.

On his trip returning home, while napping, he dreamt that his limbs were arguing with each other about who had been the most influential in acquiring the milk. The feet said, "Without us, you would not have gotten here," the hands claimed, "We took the milk," and the mind took the credit for the idea. The tongue then spoke up, "If I hadn't suggested the idea, it would never have happened." The other limbs laughed, "How do you dare compare yourself to us?! You're not an active limb like we are!" The tongue responded, "You will yet see that I control you."

Finally arriving at the palace, the man eagerly said to the king, "Your majesty! Here is the milk of a dog!" The king became furious and ordered that the man be hanged. As he was being led to the gallows, the limbs began to 'cry' and the tongue said, "I will save you and you will see that I am in charge." The man pleaded to be taken back to the king and he then told the king that truthfully, the milk had been taken from a lioness. This was checked out and he was subsequently freed. The limbs all surrendered to the tongue, "Now we see that indeed, 'life and death is dependent on the tongue.'"

What happens to our prayers?

The sages say: "G-d does not reject the prayers of a multitude."

However, it seems to be that this is not so! Every day, three times a day, the Jewish people pray eighteen blessings, including many prayers for redemption. "Sound the great Shofar...Restore our judges...Return us to Jerusalem..." And yet, for close to 2000 years we are still in exile!

The Shaloh Hakodesh offers the following explanation: "G-d hears our prayers and the angels fashion them into a crown for Him. However, He does not necessarily carry out the request exactly as we asked. The prayer reached its destination and the reward is still to come."

In other words, the prayer has its effect up above even if we don't see immediate results down here below.

However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that since our primary existence is our spiritual soul and not our physical body, the spiritual effect is not incidental, but rather, it is the priority.

At the same time though, when we pray, we don't have in mind a spiritual effect. When we ask for redemption, obviously we are asking for a redemption that will be felt in the physical realm. Our sages have established the prayers for redemption as part of the daily blessings. Therefore, it is understood that the blessings will be fulfilled - otherwise, they would be vain blessings, and we are forbidden to use G-d's name in vain.

How then will these blessings be carried out? G-d will link our prayers to the prayers of previous generations. In their merit, we will experience the immediate redemption.

Creat a wonderful day!

There was once a great and powerful king. His most precious treasure was a diamond –- the most flawless diamond in the world.

One day, at a royal party, the king flaunted his diamond, passing it from guest to guest as it rested on a soft velvet pillow. Abruptly, the diamond fell and became deeply scratched.

The king summoned his jewelers to correct the blemish. However, they informed him that they could not remove the blemish without cutting the surface, thus reducing the diamond's value.

Finally, a craftsman appeared and assured the king that he could fix the diamond without reducing its value.

Several days later, the artist returned with the diamond. The king was astonished to see that the ugly scratch had disappeared. In its place a beautiful rose was engraved.

The scratch had become the stem of an exquisite flower.

And so too in our lives, a scratch can become the stem of something beautiful.

Actually, the stem did not become anything, it was transformed by the work and skill and insight of the artist.

This is a matter of inner work. The ability to see damage and negative attributes as potential for beauty and positive expression is more than perspective, it is a fundamental transformation of what, why and how we think about every detail of every event.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The soul of man is a lamp of G-d". Ki ner Hashem nishmas odom

"The soul of man is a lamp of G-d."

Like the candle, man is made up of different elements.
The candle's wick, flame, and oil resemble the body, soul, and their spiritual vitality.

The soul, like the flame, blazes with yearning. It burns brightly within, striving for holiness. It fiercely desires to tear itself free from physical reality and unite with its Source.
Yet, like the flame of the candle, the soul falls back, returning to illuminate the world and leave its mark on physical reality. For only as it exists within a human being can the soul accomplish its purpose of descent.

The body is likened to the wick of the candle.
The body houses the soul.
The soul can only fulfill its purpose through the body's senses; it can only understand with the body's mind, and it can only fulfill G-d's commandments with the body's limbs.
It is the body that provides the means and opportunity for the soul's relationship with creation.

The Torah, like the oil of the lamp, is the source for spiritual enlightenment, providing the direction for a meaningful life. Pure and clear, like the oil, the Torah and its mitzvot direct us to our ultimate purpose, permeating humanity and creation with a brighter goodness and truer perspective, in harmony with the will of our Creator.

Praying with a MINYAN

Prayer, the service of the heart, is one of the many ways that love of G‑d is expressed.

Although one may pray in private, praying in a synagogue with a congregation has always traditionally been preferable.

When ten men pray together, constituting a minyan, the Divine Presence rests on them. The prayer of a minyan is considered more effective than private prayer, because no interceding angels are needed to raise the prayer to G‑d. Rather, the prayers are accepted immediately.

G‑d never rejects the prayers of a congregation. Sometimes, a person's concentration and intention may be imperfect but if he prays with a congregation, his prayers will be heard. And as we all probably do not have perfect concentration when we pray, it is all the more important that we pray with a minyan. It is said that in the merit of praying with a minyan, one will make a living more easily and be blessed with the fruits of his labor. In fact, even if praying with a minyan causes one financial loss, G‑d will repay him by granting him extra success.

In addition, when praying with a minyan, one is able to say and/or hear many prayers that are only recited with a minyan, like the Kaddish, the repetition of the Amidah and the Torah reading.

Praying with a minyan is also said to be beneficial for long life.

The "Miser's" three legal court cases.

The townspeople of Berditchev were surprised when R' Levi Yitzchok attended the funeral of the rich miser. "Everyone took him to be a miser", explained R' Levi Yitzchok, "but I have discovered his true character through three legal cases which I had been called upon to decide."

"The first case concerned a wine merchant who went into shock when he discovered that he lost an enormous amount of money. He was not able to be revived until finally a man came forward and handed him the missing money that he said he had found. However, not long after, another man came forward, claiming that really it was he that had found the lost money, yet he had kept it until now. When he heard about the person who had given away an enormous amount of money to save the life of a stranger, he felt regret and now wanted to return the money to the generous donor.

The first man, however, didn't want to give up his mitzva of saving a person's life. They came to settle the matter halachically, and I ruled that the first man, whose funeral we just attended, was not required to accept the money."

"The second time I met him was when a poor man had fabricated a story to his wife and told her that while he was going to a distant town to 'strike it rich', he had arranged that she should go to our rich man here every week for a 'salary', so to speak.

"She innocently went and asked for what she thought was her due, and the rich man, understanding the situation, paid her for many months. When the husband returned, he insisted on repaying his benefactor. The "miser", however, replied that his business was solely with the wife, and he had nothing to do with the husband. Again, he was entitled to keep his mitzva.

"And the third time I met him was after a wealthy man who had gone bankrupt asked this rich man for a loan. 'Who will be your guarantor?' this rich man asked.

"'My only guarantor is G-d,' he replied. Our rich miser here said, "He is a Guarantor I can really trust!"

"When the day arrived for the man to repay his loan, the man said. 'You owe me nothing,' 'Your Guarantor already paid me.

" Once again, He was not required to accept repayment of his loan.

So, you see, my friends, he was no miser. On the contrary, he was a great and saintly person who practiced the giving of charity on the highest level - that of giving quietly, with no public acknowledgment. And he is now standing before the Heavenly Court, accompanied by his mitzvot, which are testifying to his saintliness before that Highest Court."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Hashem is the refiner and purifier of silver"

In the Book of Prophets, Malachi, there is a verse which says: "He, [Gd], will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."

A woman once wanted to understand how this statement applied to the character and nature of G-d, and went to find out more about the process of refining silver and see if perhaps she would then understand this verse better.

Without disclosing her reason of interest, she made an appointment with a silversmith to watch him work.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest, so as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about G-d holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the verse, that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver".

She asked the silversmith if he had to sit in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. The man answered yes, that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on it the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

"And how do you know when the silver is fully refined ?" she asked the silversmith.
"Oh, that's easy", he answered with a smile, "when I see my image in it."

If you are ever feeling the heat of the fire, remember that you are in G-d's hand, He has His eye on you, and He will keep holding you and watching you until He sees His image in you.

Learn Torah

Once, there were two sisters. One married a rich man; the other's husband was poor. Ironically though, it was the wealthy sister who was the unhappy one. Her sister couldn't understand why she should be so miserable. "He supports you handsomely. He buys you beautiful clothes and expensive jewelry. Just look at your diamonds! Why are you so unhappy?"

Replied the wealthy sister, "Actually, I am jealous of you, my sister. You have a wonderful, loving relationship with your husband. Yes, my husband does buy me expensive things. It is true that he spends money on me. But your husband spends time with you, and mine does not."

We just celebrated Shavuout, the Season of the Giving of the Torah. We adorn our Torahs with exquisite velvet mantles, precious silver crowns, breastplates, bells and pointers, but all these expensive ornaments don't come close to spending time with the Torah. And the Torah is unhappy and cries out, "Thanks for the silver, thanks for the décor, but what I really want is you! I want your time, your mind. I want you!"

So on Shavuot we are reminded that we need to open the book and spend some quality time, meaningful study time, with the Torah.

Practically speaking, this is the season to commit oneself to a regular time for Torah study. Wherever we are in our Jewish education, it must be ongoing. We must have fixed times for learning Torah and those times should be non-negotiable.

Hopefully, this Shavuot was not only the Season of the Giving of the Torah for us, which was G-d's job, but was also the Season of Receiving the Torah - which is our job.

Shavuos; G-d offers the Torah to other nations.

The day drew near when G-d desired to give the Torah to His chosen people, the children of Israel. He saw now that they were cleansed of the impurities that had filled their lives in the slavery of Egypt.

But G-d decided that it would only be fair to first offer the Torah to the other nations of the earth before offering it to the children of Israel. And so, He first approached the descendants of Esau and offered them the Torah with these inviting words:

"Sons of Esau, I bring you a gift - My holy Torah. Accept it and ye shall be blessed with long life, you and your children also."

"What is written in Your Torah?" they questioned.

"It is written in My Torah: `You shall not murder!' "

"But that is ridiculous!" they protested.

"We are soldiers, men of war who live by the sword! How do you expect us to accept a Torah that preaches against our chosen way of life? No, thank you. Your Torah is no use to us at all."

G-d then took the Torah to the children of Ishmael and offered it to them:

"Children of Ishmael, accept the Torah which I bring you this day, and if you keep its commandments you shall be blessed with all good!"

"What does Your Torah demand of us?" the Ishmaelites asked cautiously.

"My Torah says 'You shall not steal!' " replied the Almighty.

"That wouldn't suit us at all," replied the sons of Ishmael. "We are men of commerce, and such a law would interfere with our business transactions. We are sorry, but we have no use for Your Torah."

The next people that G-d approached were the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon and all the people of Canaan, to whom He said:

"I bring you a most precious gift - My Torah. Take it and you shall all be blessed with many days upon your land!"

The Canaanites spoke up, saying: "First tell us what is written in Your Torah."

"In My Torah it is written: 'You shall have fair scales, correct weights, and give full measure,' " replied the Almighty.

"We do not want to accept Your Torah which is so finicky about such matters. Your Torah is not for us!" answered the Canaanites emphatically.

And thus, after G-d had taken the Torah to all the other nations of the world who lacked sufficient understanding to estimate its worth, He went to the children of Israel. He was confident that His chosen people would appreciate the Torah and accept it eagerly.

And we did.

"Love your fellow as yourself"

"Love your fellow as yourself", says the Torah.

"This is a major principle of the Torah", said Rabbi Akiva.

And The Baal Shem tov taught us that, "A soul enters this world for seventy or eighty years just to do a favor for another".

We, the Jewish People, are a single soul radiating into many bodies, bonding us as one.

A healthy body is one where every part works in harmony. A healthy Jewish people is one big, caring family where each individual loves the other as his or her own self. Where one Jew faces rough times and the others hold his hands. Where one meets good fortune and all of us celebrate. Where no one is labeled or alienated for his or her beliefs, behaviors or background. Where each runs to do an act of kindness for the other.

Love for those closest to home nurtures love for the extended family of humanity, and from there, love for all G‑d's creatures. But if love doesn't start at home, from where will it come?

Practically speaking…

1) Start each morning by saying, "I accept upon myself the mitzvah to love my fellow Jew as myself."

2) Follow Hillel's golden rule: "If you wouldn't like it done to you, don't do it to the other guy."

3) Speak only good about fellow Jews. Don't even listen to a bad word, unless some real benefit will come through your conversation.

4) Always be on the lookout for opportunities to do another Jew a favor.

5) Invite other Jews to share in the most precious thing we have, our Torah and mitzvahs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

R' Akiva / Respect.

We are now in the Omer mourning period. We are mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva who perished at this time because they did not have enough respect one for another.

What's the big deal about respect?
Let's think about it for a minute.

Everyone deserves respect. We all have merit in this world. We all have something to share and to teach from our life's experiences.

Without respect, many negative things may happen between two people. They might not listen to one another. They might not speak to one another. They might not even look at one another. They might not think about one another. They might not help one another. They might even do harm to one another.

Think of what the world would be like if we gave more respect to even one person. We learn, in fact, that in the time of Rabbi Akiva, there was hope for the imminent coming of Moshiach. What can we do now to bring Moshiach in our time? Perhaps we can begin with more respect.

We can start by focusing on a single person. We can greet him with a smile. We can ask how he is doing. We can ask for his opinions and advice. We can thank him for the good he has done. We can recognize his special interests and abilities. We can humbly say we are sorry for not giving him more of our attention.

We can encourage others to give us more respect, too. We don't have to be treated like doormats. We can ask others about how we can gain more of their respect. We can patiently spend time with people to iron out differences.

It takes time to show more respect. It is an ongoing process, at times even a soul-searching process; definitely not something that happens overnight. Thus, we have this mourning period of the Omer to dwell on this.

Like Rabbi Akiva's students, we can study Torah with someone new and we can become friends. "Hillel says: Be of the disciplines of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and drawing them near to the Torah" (Ethics 1:12).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

49 days to refine ourselves

The Jews who left Egypt were so excited about the prospect of receiving the Torah that they counted down the days until it would happen. We relive this experience each year through counting the Omer, the seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot, when we received the Torah.

The Hebrew word for counting is "sefirah". Rearranging those letters can spell the word "sapir", which means "a shining sapphire". On each day leading up to the giving of the Torah, the Jews took time to refine themselves, to make their characters shine. And each year we do the same. From Passover until Shavuot we engage in a forty-nine day process of self-refinement.

Anyone who has tried to work through a character flaw will concede that it is very difficult. The famous scholar Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once commented that it is easier to learn through the entire Talmud than it is to change one ugly characteristic!

G‑d Himself acknowledges this challenge. The Torah instructs us to count forty-nine days. "And you should count for weeks," begins the verse, and then the next verse concludes, "...count fifty days". Well, are we counting 49 days or 50 days to Shavuot?

Says G-d to us, "You count 49 steps, you work hard, challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone and to weed out those destructive behaviors. And then, [says G‑d,] I will give you a gift; I will do the finishing touches, I will give you the 50th step; the holiday of Shavout", which is on the fiftieth day.

G-d is waiting to help us work through our challenges and He is most inspired to help those of us who take the grueling work of self-refinement seriously. Do your part, and He will do His!

Be holy!

"You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy."

Can we, creatures of habit bound by natural limits, achieve true transcendence? Or are we ultimately trapped by our own finite boundaries, unable to free ourselves from our very own margins, no more than a leopard can change its spots or a tiger its stripes?

“You shall be holy.” Goodness, virtue and love, as great as they may be, are still part of the system, and thus, bound by its rules, boundaries and parameters. Holiness, by contrast, is more than human. Becoming holy means that your virtue is not only on your terms and your convenience, but going beyond yourself in helping another even when it’s not convenient for you.

By sanctifying our material lives, we transform the confined boundaries of existence into a form of higher energy.

Every moment in our lives we have the choice – which part of ourselves will control our lives? To serve our own needs [even healthy ones] or to serve a higher purpose, by sanctifying life.

In practical terms, being holy means going out of our comfort zone and conventional behavior.

As long as our behavior is defined by the parameters of our natural inclinations and acquired routines, then we remain trapped by the very structure we are following. When we go beyond our comfort zones and do something unexpected, we allow our Divine souls to emerge, freeing us of the shackles of nature’s constraints. In turn, this allows us to sanctify our existence:

So don’t just be good, be holy. Don’t just be human, be Divine.

Omer/ Counting/Time

Don't we all wish we had more time? We'd love to study Torah, spend quality time with our loved ones, and pursue hobbies and dreams which we have always postponed -- but between the duties of work and chores, there seems to be nary an extra moment to devote to these important endeavors.

We are currently in the midst of the seven-week Omer counting period. The mitzvah which dominates these days involves counting time; or, in other words, making time count.

A peek at the history of leisure time will give us some much needed perspective in the area of time management. What are we doing with all the extra time afforded to us by modern technology? To answer this question, most of us need only to look in the direction of some of the other "conveniences" and distractions provided by the very same sciences.

Maimonides writes (Laws of Kings 12:4): "The sages and prophets longed for the Messianic Era... only in order to be free to study Torah and its wisdom; with no oppressor or deterrence."

As the era of Redemption approaches ever nearer, we are experiencing a taste of this awesome possibility. And as time becomes more plentiful, knowledge has also become more accessible by quantum leaps. In times past, the average person needed to trudge to a library or synagogue for study texts; now it is within the means of the average consumer to own a modest personal library and, for everyone, the internet offers so many opportunities to broaden horizons, with hundreds of thousands of pages of Torah knowledge and so many audio classes as well.

As we "count time" this Omer period, let us resolve to make more of our time. The time is there -- the question is only how we will choose to use it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessing on Fruit Trees

Our Sages composed a blessing to recite when one sees fruit trees in bloom. This is said once a year, and preferably in the Hebrew month of Nissan.

"Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who left nothing lacking in His world, and who created in it good creations and (specifically) good trees for human beings to enjoy (benefit from)."

This blessing should be said while standing next to a fruit tree in blossom and it should be said with a sense of awe and appreciation of G-d and His Creations.

Our sages have assigned special blessings when they felt that we ought to realize and acknowledge a special level of appreciation to G-d.

And to appreciate trees.

Trees put oxygen back into the air we breathe. Trees provide shade and shelter, homes for birds and animals, prevent soil erosion, and eventually supply us with lumber and paper.

During the month of Nissan, take a walk in search of flowering fruit trees and recite the special blessing.

The blessing, in essence, makes the following statement: I acknowledge that G-d has gone "beyond the call of duty" with this fruit tree. If all that this tree would give me is a delicious fruit to eat, it would be more than worthy of having been created. But before the fruit is ready for the picking - even before it has started to grow - this tree gives us all a beautiful visual and smelling display. Before my sense of taste is given its treat, my eyes and nose enjoy part of G-d's world.

This sentiment is echoed in the words of the blessing. Let's say it with feelings of spiritual and physical joy.

Paradox of Pesach/life

Children think in terms of black and white-the good and the bad, the light and dark. Young, undeveloped minds don’t yet appreciate the nuances of life, the gray areas, the ambiguous and the ambivalent.

There is purity in the innocence of simplicity, but our lives are more complex than that. Living in a world that is both orderly and paradoxical, we can only appreciate life in its entirety when we embrace both dimensions.

When asked the question: “How is your life?”, a child usually answers “good” or “bad” based on his/her emotions of the moment. An adult would answer “Some things are great; some not so great; some things can go either way.” In other words, life is complex. There is no such thing as good without bad, and vice versa.

The challenge is to appreciate the flow and ride the waves.

The holiday of Pesach that we just celebrated is the paradox of life. We did not remember only the exodus but also the exile. We did not solely recreate the joy, but also the pain. We drank wine, but also tasted bitter herbs. Matzo is symbolic of our humility; wine demonstrates our proud sense of freedom.

We respect the process – from the lowest points to the highest, and we recognize how it replays itself in our lives today.

And so are we kings or paupers? The answer is both. True humility brings one to true greatness.


We traditionally end the Passover Seder with the fervent hope of “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

Because Jerusalem is much more than a city, we can be miles away from Jerusalem even while living there. Jerusalem is an ideal that we are struggling to reach for.

In general, the Jewish story can be summed up as a long journey from Egypt to Jerusalem. Beyond being just geographical locations, they symbolize two opposite spiritual states. The journey from Egypt to Jerusalem is a spiritual odyssey.

Egypt is called "Mitzrayim," in Hebrew, which also means limitations, restrictions, obstacles. It represents a state in which our souls are enslaved to material desires and tied down to physical limitations.

Jerusalem means “the city of peace”—a place of peace between body and soul, the ideal and reality. When we live our lives according to our ideals rather than our cravings, when the world values goodness and generosity over selfish gain—then we are in Jerusalem.

When we overcome our concern for our own needs and think and do for others, we have left Egypt. We allowed our innate goodness to prevail over our instinctive selfishness. We're then out of Egypt, but not yet in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, we won't have to conquer our selfish nature; our nature would itself be kind and selfless. There would be no need for a battle to do good in the city of inner peace; it would come naturally.

Even if we are living in the city called Jerusalem, as long as there remains suffering, injustice and unholiness in the world, we haven’t reached the Promised Land. As long as we remain slaves to our own negative instincts and selfish desires, we are still struggling to truly leave Egypt.

Perhaps this year, our efforts to better ourselves and our world will bring the fulfillment of the words of the Haggadah:

"This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free."

Next year in Jerusalem . . . literally.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seudat Mitzva - Lavish Meal for mitzva

Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl would strongly encourage the Jewish custom of conducting a seudat mitzva - a feast celebrating a mitzvah. Whenever he heard of a brit milah, a bar mitzva, or a celebration upon the completion of the study of a tractate in the Talmud, he would hasten to participate, and urge that the meal be as lavish as possible.

He related: "One year on Rosh Hashonah, when the fate of the Jewish People was to be decided, the prosecuting angel in the heavenly court, came with a huge load of sins, G-d forbid, which he placed on the scale. Angel Michoel, the supernal advocate of Israel, brought a load of mitzvot, but alas, these failed to tip the scales to the side of merit.

And so the defending angel argued before the Heavenly Court: "It is true that there are more sins than mitzvot, but the balance between them is not being gauged properly. When a Jew does a mitzvah, he does it with a joyous heart, elated at the opportunity to serve his Creator. His transgressions, on the other hand, occur at a moment of weakness, they are done without enthusiasm, and with a heart heavy with regret.

"Can you prove to us that this is indeed the case?", challenged the prosecuting angel.

"Certainly", said Michoel, the defending angel, "Observe, if you will, what happens when a Jew does a mitzva; he prepares a lavish feast, and invites his friends to come share in his joy in having merited to fulfill a Divine commandment. Now tell me, have you ever seen a Jew throw a party to celebrate the fact that he has transgressed the divine will....?

Thus, Rabbi Nochum of Chernobyl's affinity for celebrating a Mitzvah with a lavish meal.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Parshat Tazria - Why specifically a Cohen..../ Hachodesh

Tzaraat, often mistranslated as "leprosy', is discussed in this week's Torah portion of Tazria.

Tzaraat used to strike when a Jew would indulge in gossip or malicious talk. It would present as various whitish spots that would break out on one's body, house or clothes. The Jew in question would then visit a Kohen, a priest, to confirm that he was indeed suffering from tzaraat and then be sent out of the city to undergo an intensive program of repentance and purification rituals.

Interestingly though, even if an educated member of the public were to diagnose the symptoms of tzaraat, the sufferer would STILL need to have the diagnosis confirmed by a member of the priesthood.
Why did one specifically need a Kohen, a priest, to declare him impure with this afflicted disease?

Kohanim were entrusted with a sacred responsibility. Daily, they would gather in the Temple to bless the nation. They have come to symbolize "men of blessing."
Because they were concerned with the benefit of the nation, they alone had the capability to render judgment in case one sinned.

Hence, an important lesson: Occasionally, one observes improper behavior on the part of another. How tempting to stand in judgment, and to banish the sinner "out of the camp." From the Torah's insistence that the Kohen play a part in the drama, we learn that the only ones qualified to condemn are those who have served their time in the cause of love.
Only someone who has proven himself to be truly dedicated to the welfare of others can dare to criticize, and he is to also then involve himself in the process of the Jew's atonement.
This week we also bless the new month of Nissan and we do the special Hachodesh reading where it recounts G‑d's communication to Moshe two weeks before the Exodus, regarding the establishment of a Jewish (lunar) calendar, the Paschal Offering, matzah, bitter herbs, and the seder.
The special Hachodesh haftorah is a prophecy regarding the Paschal Offering that will be brought in the Third Holy Temple.

Honorable Haughtiness

Reb Mottel, a follower of the Alter Rebbe, (Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi)was wont to serve G-d with haughtiness. How so? Well, the Yetzer Hora, the evil inclination, would approach him and say, "Mottel, do such and such a sin...."

And Reb Mottel would bellow in response "WHAT?? I should sin? I am a follower of the Rebbe! I am fabulously wealthy and learned! Yet, you dare tell me to sin?"

In essence, each of us can use this approach. The Alter Rebbe observed that "a Jew neither desires, nor can, be separated from G-dliness and it is only his evil inclination that forces him." As such, the Yetzer Hora can be rebuffed by way of haughtiness.

When the evil inclination tries his tactics to get us to sin, G-d forbid, we should be firm: "I am a descendant of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yakov; I stood at Mt. Sinai and accepted the Torah. The Mishna even says: "The world was created for me" - the entire world rests on me! You want me to degrade myself and blindly follow my sinful desires? I have more than enough power to ignore your enticements!"

This is honorable haughtiness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Jewish Yardstick

There is a system of measurement called "The Jewish Yardstick."

The Jewish yardstick is simple to use and it doesn't interfere with any other system of measurement. The rules for using the Jewish yardstick are as follows:

When measuring up your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or any stranger, judge him leniently and favorably.
When measuring yourself and your accomplishments, be stringent.

In Chasidic terminology one would say: Look at another with the "right eye", with kindness; look at yourself with the "left eye", with strictness or severity.

Such an approach is based on the commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself." Just as a person's intrinsic self-love allows him to overlook his own faults, so too, must we overlook the faults of another.

In regard to our personal conduct, we strive to both push away the negative and to do good. When relating to another individual however, the Jewish yardstick's method is to channel our energies solely into the positive path of "Do good."

Although there may be times when someone's conduct warrants reproof, before criticizing - even before giving "constructive criticism" - we should question ourselves as to whether we are fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, one must first love the other person just as a father loves his child. And of course, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech. Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.

Be extra kind and be extra sensitive, for the ultimate value of every Jew is after all, immeasurable.

Getting Rid of Ego...

"Rabbi, how can I rid myself of my ego? As hard as I try, it keeps coming back. After years of work, my ego is still there!"

"Fighting your ego", responded the Rabbi, "is like trying to think about nothing. The harder you try, the further you get from your goal. As long as you are taking yourself so seriously, you are feeding into your ego. Even if you are fighting your ego, it's still all about you."

A desire to be spiritual can also be self-centered. As long as it is you who calls the shots and decides what is high and holy, then you remain under your ego's spell.

There is only one way to truly transcend your ego: do a mitzvah. A mitzvah is a divine command as communicated in the Torah. Doing a mitzvah means doing something just because G‑d wants you to, and for no other reason.

Whether the mitzvah feels good, like resting on Shabbat, or something like wrapping tefillin on your arm; whether it is as easy as putting up a mezuzah on your doorpost or as hard as honoring your parents, when you do a mitzvah you go beyond the parameters of what defines a human and you touch the Divine - you are doing not what you feel like but rather what G‑d asks of you.

The mitzvah life is about not taking ourselves so seriously, because we are only here to serve others - both G‑d and our fellow human beings. Even self-improvement, in the mitzvah world, is only important because G‑d wants us to refine ourselves.

Do a mitzvah today and focus not on yourself, but on your purpose. When you do, the weight of ego is lifted off your shoulders, and you are free.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shemini - Kosher all day...

A sign on a door tells us what's inside. A storefront with the word SHOES on its entrance explains what we can expect to find in this store. Of course, it’s not the signs that make things into what they are. The signs simply describe what is already there.

Parshat Shemini, this week's Torah portion, tells us about the signs of kosher animals. Kosher animals have two signs: they have split hooves and they chew their cud. The signs that tell us if a fish is kosher, are fins and scales.

However, it is not the signs that make the animal kosher. G-d created these animals with a kosher nature. The signs merely tell us that they are kosher.

When we eat the meat of any animal, its nature becomes part of us, and it affects the way we think. We are what we eat. The meat of kosher animals is fit for a Jew to eat, because of its kosher nature. When we eat this food, it affects us in the proper way. So, G-d gave those animals signs to inform us that they are kosher.

Other animals were created with non-kosher natures. This means that their meat will not affect us in a good way.

Kosher animals have split hooves, which means that their feet are divided. We can divide our activities throughout the day into two categories. One category includes praying, studying Torah, giving charity and helping others. The other category includes mundane activities such as eating, playing, reading, and doing business etc.

Though they are different types of activities, they should be like two parts of a one single hoof. Meaning, that just as we pray, study and do holy activities we must also do the mundane activities in a holy way, like a Jew. The foods we eat, the words we use, the places we go and the way we conduct our business should all belong to one kosher, holy, lifestyle.

The second kosher sign, chewing the cud, teaches us that just as animals take time to chew their cud, bringing up their food over and over again, we too must take the time, to think things over and plan to do things in a way which is kosher fit for a Jew.

Thus, through having split hooves and chewing the cud, internally, we come to keep kosher not just in our kitchen but in our whole life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Purim - A special time to ask G-d for our needs.

When G-d tells us to do something, He accepts upon Himself the same obligations. Hence, since Jews are commanded to wear tefilin, G-d, too, "dons" tefillin. Understandably though, His tefillin are slightly different. Whereas our tefillin speak of our love for G-d and our responsibility to obey His commands, G-d's tefillin speak of His love for the Jewish people.

This reciprocal relationship is expressed in the upcoming holiday of Purim. On Purim, we have the mitzva of giving charity to every single who extends his/her hand for help.

Our Sages explain, that on Purim, we, too, have the right to "put out our hand" to G-d and ask Him for our needs. As we are commanded by G-d to fulfill the needs of others when they extend their hands on Purim, G-d will also fulfill our needs when we do the same.

How do we put out our hand to G-d? Through prayer.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that on Purim one should rise early to pray and ask G-d for everything that he needs. And not only for oneself, but for others as well, for Purim-like Yom Kippur-is an especially auspicious time for our prayers.

Thus, amidst the rejoicing, merrymaking, charity-giving, gifts of food sending, Megila-hearing etc, it is a truly opportune time to spend some minutes in heartfelt prayer to G-d, putting out our hands for all of our own personal needs, and for the needs of our family and friends. And, at the same time, for the global need - the revelation of Moshiach and the final Redemption.