Friday, March 4, 2011

Parshat Shkolim - Tzedoko - Charity

When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, each Jew contributed an annual half-shekel to the Temple coffers. In commemoration, the Torah reading this Shabbat is supplemented with the verses that relate G-d's commandment regarding the giving of this half-shekel.

We, too, give a commemorative half shekel to charity—on the Fast of Esther.

The first step to achieve personal redemption is via charity. Kindness, charity and selflessness are vital ingredients in a person's quest for spirituality, but why would charity be the starting point?

Our life's-blood goes into every penny we earn. When we take part of this and give it away to charity, we are demonstrating that we are willing to give our very essence to G-d. This thereby brings meaning and significance into our entire work week.

Our sages say that "Charity is equal to all other mitzvot combined"! Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe) explains that whereas every mitzvah is designed to introduce holiness into a specific part of our being, the charity has the ability to sanctify our entire being. It elevates the entire labor which netted the earnings, and the entire individual who toiled – physically and/or mentally – for this livelihood.

In order to start the process of redemption, it is first necessary to take the major step of infusing the whole day with an aura of holiness. Only then can we successfully confront all the struggles and tribulations which we will certainly encounter on this challenging yet rewarding journey. Charity has the ability to suffuse the most mundane business meeting with holy purpose.

Additionally, let us bear in mind that one never loses by giving charity. In the words of the prophet Malachi (3:10): "Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says the L-rd of Hosts, [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it."

Not a bad deal, eh?

Bitochon - Trust G-d!

Do you trust that G-d is taking care of you? Do you truly believe that He is watching over you, planning out your life in the way that is best for you, even if this involves challenges and struggles? If yes, then you have no need to worry about the future, no need to stress about what is coming next. You can feel safe, like a baby in his mother's arms.

This doesn't mean, however, that you mustn't plan for the future; it's just that you don't need to worry about it.

You wonder, how could it be that all these bumps in our lives are actually for our good??

To explain, think of a beautifully woven tapestry.
On the back, it looks like a mess with knots and clumps. But on the front, there may be a masterpiece - a magnificent picture. That's what our lives are like. To us, it often seems a mess - with stops and starts and all sorts of knots. But to G-d, Who sees the true masterpiece of our lives, all of these little bits make up the complete picture, the perfect picture. When our lives are done, and we are in our final "home"-right next to G-d-then we will be able to look back and see the whys and wherefores of our lives. We will then understand the purpose and reason for all our difficult challenges. No longer will we question the tough times we faced, and why we had to go through them. In fact, we will be grateful for the things that made us who we were. They were the knots that allowed us to weave our final masterpiece.

We must keep this in mind and hold onto our faith and trust that there is a magnificent picture and an Artist Who is designing it all. Only a fool would look at the back of the tapestry and question the purpose of all that mess. Let's not be a fool. No point in worrying about the future. With this faith, you can live in the now, and trust that G-d, your Higher Power, is guiding you and watching you -- every step of the way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Story - Love your fellow as yourself!

“Love your fellow as yourself.”

Rabbi Yisroel of Rizhin illustrated this with the following story:

Once there were two friends whose souls were intertwined with a great love. They lived very far from one other. One of them was falsely accused of a crime, convicted and sentenced to death. A proclamation was made that everyone in the land must attend this criminal's execution.

When his friend came to the execution, he recognized him. He cried out loudly, “Leave that man alone! It is I who committed the crime.”

The execution was stopped. The matter was brought before the king, who summoned both men and asked them the truth of the matter. Only one of them could have committed the crime, so why is the other one willing to die in vain?

The friend of the condemned man answered the king, “I know that my friend did not commit any crime. I know his character. He couldn't have done it. And so this is nothing but a miscarriage of justice. My life depends on my friend's life. It is better that I die and not see his death. In fact, if I have received such a punishment as having to see my friend's death, I must myself be deserving of death.”

And the other man replied in a similar fashion.

When the king saw the great love between these two men, he let them both free. And he requested of them, “You are such great friends that I would like you to take me into your circle of friendship, with that same amount of love. And I will be the same kind of friend to you.”

When we reach the level of “you shall love your fellow as yourself,” Hashem desires to rest His presence amongst us, so that we will also love Him, and that He will be our faithful Friend.

Vayakhel....EVERY Jew needed...

In this week's Torah portion of Vayakhel, we read that both men and women participated in the construction and preparations of the materials for the Mishkan (the portable Sanctuary). Yet two individuals were singled out: Beztalel, from the tribe of Yehuda, and Oholiav, from the tribe of Dan.

In many ways, the tribe of Yehuda was considered leader of all the tribes. The kings from the dynasty of King David were descendants of Yehuda and Moshiach, too, will be a descendant of Yehuda. When the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years, the tribe of Yehuda always traveled first. Spiritually, they were on a high level.

The tribe of Dan, on the other hand, was the very last tribe to travel in the desert. They were considered to be on the lowest spiritual level of all the tribes.

These two individuals represent two very opposite extremes of our people. By choosing them, the Torah teaches us that all Jews, regardless of their level of knowledge or observance, have an equal share in G-d's sanctuary.
In fact, even if all the Jews from the tribe of Yehudah had built the sanctuary themselves, G-d would not have rested His holiness there. G-d would say: if you want Me to dwell in your midst, I need every single Jew, including those who may be on the lowest spiritual level, to be involved and present.

For this reason, this Torah portion starts with the verse of, "Moshe gathered the entire congregation of the Children of Israel". Only after gathering all the people together-regardless their place on the spiritual spectrum- did Moshe speak to them.

Battles are won with JOY.....

When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch ("Tzemach Tzeddek," 1789-1866) was in Petersburg to attend the Rabbinical Convention of 1843, he received a special permit from the Russian Minister of War to address the Jewish soldiers serving at the military installation in nearby Kronstadt.

This was in the days of the infamous "Cantonists" decree, when, by order of Czar Nikolai I, six- and seven-year-old Jewish children were conscripted into the Russian Army for a period of twenty-five years and indoctrinated into Christianity, G-d save us. The fact that the Rebbe was granted permission to address the Jewish soldiers at Kronstadt was nothing less than a miracle, since the primary purpose of their conscription was to tear them away from their faith.

When the Rebbe arrived, he was greeted by the waiting soldiers, who said to him: "Rebbe! We've been toiling all morning to prepare for your coming, polishing our buttons in your honor. Now it's your turn to work hard: polish our souls, which have been dulled and coarsened by our many years of disconnection from Jewish life."

Following his address, in which he encouraged their heroic efforts to cling to their faith, the Rebbe said: "You polished your buttons with sand and water. The soul, too, is polished with sand and water: [The sand are] the holy letters of Tehillim (Psalms) recited with a generous infusion of tears."

One of the soldiers spoke up: "But Rebbe, battles are won with joy, not tears."

"So speaks a soldier!" said the Rebbe, with obvious satisfaction. "Yes, you're right. A soldier enters the fray of battle to the tune of a joyous march, not with tears. It is by the power of his joy that he is victorious even in the most dangerous and challenging endeavors."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moshiach - Let's do Good!

The Torah and prophets speak about "The End of Days" as a time of peace and harmony.
Finally, this era is just around the corner.

There are two things that can be said about this world we live in. Either, it's a hotchpotch of objects and events going nowhere in particular. Or, there's a plan. A method buried somewhere in all the madness, a goal towards which all this is headed.

For thousands of years, Judaism proceeded to convince the rest of the world that the Creator has a plan, and that life has purpose. That all this is leading somewhere-and somewhere good.

Moshiach is a leader who will redeem mankind from meaninglessness, and teach the purpose of life to the universe.

When the Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked if he had a message for the world, the Rebbe said, as he did on numerous other occasions: "Moshiach is ready to come now, we all must only do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness… if we do a little more Moshiach will come immediately".

'Goodness' is like water collecting in a cup—drop by drop, deed by deed. When the cup is full, it overflows. When we fill this world with enough good, G-d sends Moshiach. G-d gave us the Torah as a tool to do good and G-d is waiting for our move. Let’s work together to bring Moshiach, now.
Let’s do good!

Think Positive and it will be Positive.

"Think positive and it will be positive."
Meditation of G-d leads one to be aware that you are in His world, and He is the boss. G-d places a person in a particular time and place with a specific mission. All difficulties, trials, and tribulations are only there to be overcome. To jump the hurdle like an athlete, requires energy, stamina, and a good diet. A positive state of mind combined with a joyful heart, coupled with a daily Torah learning schedule and sincere prayer are required to run the course.

The Rebbe once said to someone: “If one is confronted with a problem and one has emunah (faith), then one trusts that G-d will help overcome the problems, but if one has Bitachon (trust), one do not see that there is a problem because G-d does not send any problems--only challenges!”

Anxiety and fear are results of lack of trust. In whichever situation, one should have the overall feeling that “I desire only the King and ultimately He is in charge of my destiny.” One will not earn a penny more than what He has decided one will earn, nor will one have anything that has not been allotted by G-d. Love G-d with all your strength. Love Him in whichever way He decides to deal with you, for all is orchestrated from Above.

This is in no way contradictory to praying to G-d for a change for the better; and indeed, G-d's salvation can come in the blink of an eye. The correct balance is to do what one is supposed to be doing in the present situation, pray for improvement and change, and have strong faith and trust that G-d will help guide and direct one’s affairs in the best possible manner.

Parshat Ki Tisa - 13 Attributes of Mercy

After the Golden Calf disaster, Moshe sought to open a channel for the Jewish people to attain G‑d’s forgiveness. And indeed, G‑d revealed to Moshe the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, opening a pathway for all future generations to achieve atonement and healing:

And the L‑rd passed before him and proclaimed: “L‑rd, L‑rd, benevolent G‑d, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands etc etc . . .” (Exodus 34:6–7)

Why is “an abundance of truth” considered one of the attributes of mercy? Compassion, graciousness and kindness seem par for the course; but truth? Truth is a severe and honest judge, unwilling to overlook misdeeds and transgressions.

The reality, however, is that our shortcomings and failures are genuine and true only on the surfaces, only affecting an outer layer of self. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and the intertwined concept of teshuvah, properly translated as a “return” to one’s real self, are the road that reconnect us to our potential, our truest self. This potential always remains whole and unaffected by whatever temporary detour we may have taken.

When we invoke these attributes, we connect to our relationship that is rooted in a place much deeper within us than any failure can reach. As is known, even the greatest typhoon only roils the waters of the sea close to the surface, but the oceanic depths remain calm and untroubled. We have a place within our soul that is deeply connected to the Infinite, a place that the effects of our negative choices cannot reach.

We are fundamentally, essentially and truly G‑dly and positive. We can access that reality at any time we choose. And G‑d’s attribute of truth cuts away all the external layers and sees us for whom we truly are.


The Talmud relates that the great sage Rava had the practice of opening his lecture in Talmudic law with a joke. Only after his students would laugh, would he continue with a serious presentation of in-depth analysis of Jewish Law.

Oftentimes, public speakers use this technique in order to gain everyone's attention and focus. However, for Rava that was not necessary; his students were dedicated scholars ready to receive his teachings with full concentration. If so, why would Rava need his disciples to laugh at the beginning of each lecture?

Our sages tell us that "Simchah, joy and happiness, breaks through walls." We all possess symbolic fences and barriers surrounding our minds and hearts, which make us scared to grow and change beyond our comfort zone. When we are sad and our mood is down, these walls are strengthened. With our positive energy and vitality drained from our system, it's not long before we slip into apathy and complacency.

But, joy can tear these fences down. When we are upbeat, positive and in a happy mood we become more flexible and confident. We are willing to test fresh ideas, challenge old habits, engage in new and improved behaviors and grow beyond our comfort level. In times of intense joy and celebration our inhibitions disappear completely and our minds and hearts are unblocked, ready to soar to new heights.

For Rava, dedicated students were not enough. He wanted them to be creative and grow in their learning by thinking beyond their natural ability. He wanted them to ask challenging questions and think of alternative ways to approach the material. Laughing at the beginning of class opened their minds to think more broadly.

Personal growth, change and human development can only happen in the context of optimism, joy and an upbeat mood. Keep laughing—it breaks through walls.