Sunday, July 22, 2012
In Tanya, R. Schneur Zalman points out that on one hand, man is prone to selfishness and self-justification. On the other hand, man is in control over his impulses; he is not an animal and has the free will to act as he wills at any given time.
In other words, we might not be perfect, but we have the choice to do perfect. Or to put it in psychological terms, not everything that is wrong with us on the inside do we necessarily have to bring into expression on the outside.
This is the perfection which, R. Schneur Zalman tells us, we can achieve—to become a person who, despite being rife with imperfections on the inside, chooses to behave perfectly on the outside.
Feeling like doing something selfish and rotten but forcing ourselves to do something altruistic and noble is called a decent human being. Whenever we overcome our impulses to behave in a particular way, we are making the decision to do what ought to be done. Behavior is a choice.
It's like asking a Jew, “Did you eat on Yom Kippur?” and he answers, “Well, I felt hungry in my stomach.”
He did not eat! He didn’t. He just felt like eating..
Our job is to put our own imperfections aside and take actions that help make a perfect world.
A Jew has not only the license but the obligation to pursue perfection in his or her deeds. After all, there is really nothing stopping us. “Everyone is just as much of a mentch as he wants to be.”
His children suggested that in order for him to continue his annual tradition they would hire a horse and buggy to drive him to Lubavitch.
The elderly chassid refused the offer.
“After 120 years, when I will arrive to the upper worlds,” he explained, “I do not want to waste my time on discussions and debates with the horses. If they assist me in my travel to Lubavitch, they will demand part of my reward for going there.
“In truth, I can defeat the horses in debate. But, in a world of divine splendor, why should I waste my time debating horses?”
And the moral of the story:
We, too, have a “horse,” the animal within, to contend with. This internal animal is driven by selfish impulses, and resists acts of selflessness and G‑dliness.
When faced with an opportunity to do a good deed, such as demonstrating love for a fellow or giving charity, there is no place for negotiations and debates with a horse regarding the fulfillment of a divine precept.
It is a waste of time.
Wishing you a wonderful day, a day filled with doing good.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Neither the mountains' impressive height, prime location or other physical characteristics were taken into consideration. Not only did these features not convince G-d, as it were, to choose them, but their boasting had the opposite effect. For the Torah could only be given on a place where side issues were irrelevant; the Torah was revealed purely for its own sake.
The giving of the Torah on humble Mount Sinai contains a lesson for all of us in how we are to observe G-d's commandments. Personal considerations, motivations and/or rewards are not the real reason we perform mitzvot. Rather, a Jew fulfills the Torah's commandments solely because such is the will of G-d.
Observing mitzvot brings delight to the spirit, refines our character attributes, and purifies the soul, but the desire to obtain these personal benefits is not the Jew's genuine motivation.
Our motivation and intent in heeding G-d's word must be unadulterated by thoughts of personal gain or advantage. We serve Him solely for the sake of serving Him.
In fact, even if had G-d commanded us to perform actions which would not be rewarded, we would carry out His will with the same joy and vitality with which we observe the Torah commandments, solely because He wants us to!
One late Friday afternoon a poor man, who had not eaten in days, stood in the doorway of the home of Rabbi Yitzchak of Kalush. Smelling the freshly baked bread he held out his hand for something to eat. . .
The cook, wanting to save the freshly baked challot for shabbat looked around for an old, stale piece of bread, the kind that is usually given to beggars, but she found none.
“Slice up a loaf of the fresh bread” a man’s voice said, “no blood will be lost because of it.”
And so she cut into the, soft fresh challah, and gave the poor man a thick slice to eat, which he ate greedily. As he left, a man with kind eyes nodded to him. He was the one who had told the cook to cut the bread. The poor man knew that this man had saved his life.
Time passed. The poor man was not a very successful beggar. He did better as a thief. In time, he became the leader of highway robbers. They would rob highway travelers and as often as not, they would then kill their victims.
One day, they stopped a certain Jew. With rough shouts they tied him up, and took his money. Then suddenly, the chief took a second look. Instead of seeing the usual terror in his victim’s eyes, there was a glance of absolute calm, and in his eyes was a look of a profound kindness.
Suddenly the chief realized he had seen that look before. “Take this!” he said, throwing the money back into the Jew's lap. “Unbind him and let him go! he commanded to his men. “I owe this man a debt!”
“Do you remember?” he said to the Jew. “Once a poor beggar came to your door just before your holy day. ‘Give him some bread,’ you said. ‘No blood will be lost because of it.’
“I bet you never dreamed that the blood not lost would be your own! Go in peace, Rabbi Yitzchak of Kalush!”
The deliverance from Egypt and their witnessing G-d’s power in its full glory allowed them a degree of inspiration. And their next job now was to lift themselves to that level of inspiration on their own, through their own work and endeavors.
The seven week period that we are now in, between Pesach and Shavuot is that period for effort and growth that will show that we are sufficiently inspired to be able to accept the Torah.
The task that lay before the Jewish people as they left Egypt is the task we face throughout our lives.We all have moments when we feel inspired - It could be a class or a speech that we hear or even a specific event in our lives that make us reconsider the path that we are taking. But as we all know this inspiration that we receive soon evaporates within our usual day-to-day existence.But we really ought to use those moments of inspiration as a catalyst for incredible growth and improvements in our service of G-d.
The key is to take that impulse and then work to sustain those sparks of enthusiasm to enthuse us every day to ensure that the initial ember never dies but keeps carrying us forward.Those flashes of inspiration are a gift from G-d and our job now is to create the inspiration ourselves.
This may not be easy and may take intense work on our part to keep stoking the fire, but if we do this we will be living a life inspired.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
"Oh, Let me tell you a story that I heard from my father about a simple Jew in the Land of Israel" said the Rebbe.
There was once a simple Jewish farmer who lived outside of Jerusalem. He did not know how to study Torah, nor did he even understand the words of his prayers. In fact, he couldn't grasp the order of the prayers; when he came to the city once a week to sell his produce, he would go to the local rabbi, who would write down the order of the prayers for him for the seven days of that week.
Once, the farmer came and was shocked to see that the Jewish stores were closed!
What's going on? He thought. Could he possibly have miscounted the days? Was it perhaps Shabbat today?
How relieved he was when he saw a Jew carrying his tefillin. "No, it's not Shabbat". But after inquiring as to what was going on, he was told that it was a public fast-day.
A fast day? Why hadn't the rabbi warned him? He quickly rushed over to the rabbi. "Rabbi!" he cried out. "Today is a fast day!? You didn't write it down and I already ate and i said the wrong prayers!"
"Relax", said the Rabbi. This is not a regular fast day. We just decreed this special fast-day for the residents of Jerusalem because of the possibility of a drought due to our lack of rain, but you don't live here and so you are not obligated."
"When you need rain, you decree a fast?" he questioned. "When my fields don't have enough rain" said the farmer, "I go out and say to the One Above, 'Father! I need rain.' And then it starts to rain."
"If that's so" said the rabbi, "Why don't you try it now and let's see if it works here too"
And so the farmer went out and through tears he cried out, "Father in Heaven! Can it be that the people of Your holy city will expire from famine? Don't You see that they need rain?"
Immediately the sky darkened and rain began to fall.
As the Rebbe Maharash completed the story, he said to his visitor , "So? Do you think you are able to distinguish who in the Land has a lofty soul?"
Monday, April 2, 2012
And they left the shop
But the sword missed Napoleon.. "Pierre," Napolean said to the store-owner,"you saved my life! How can I repay you?"
"I have everything I need, thank you," replied Pierre. " But tell me, what did it feel like hiding under those mattresses?"
Napoleon was livid. " What!?? -Do you know who you're talking to?! I am Napoleon the Emperor of the French empire!" he roared.
"Guards! Take him to the firing squad,".
Poor Pierre was standing with his hands tied behind his back, whispering his last prayers. Four soldiers drew their guns, awaiting the order to fire.
Suddenly Napoleon appeared. "Free this man!" he commanded. He then turned to Pierre and said,
"You wanted to know how I felt under those mattresses, "Now you know."
While historians can debate whether this actually happened, we can certainly take a lesson from it.
When we commemorate the Exodus, everything that we do to reenact the story helps us to actualize the experience. By eating matzah, specifically handmade matzah, as our ancestors prepared in Egypt, we relive the episode in a dramatic and genuine way. We recall the haste in which the Jews left Egypt—they didn't even have time to let the dough rise. Through eating bitter herbs, we remember the bitterness of the slavery. With the drinking of four cups of wine, we relive the joy of liberty, reclining expansively like free men.
like them, we too can experience true freedom from our oppressors--be they the "Pharaohs," psychological inhibitions or spiritual obstacles. On the night of the Seder we are released from their chains. It is a night when our essential spark is permitted to shine; when we overcome the limitations that prevent us from being the person that we want to be.
The very fact that G‑d has issued a command to the person imparts a sense of significance to that person’s life. He or she is now bonded with G-d by a Divine instruction. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this connection is there even if the person does not fulfill the instruction. As the Sages put it, “even though he sinned, he is a Jew.” The fact that the 613 commands in the Torah are addressed to the individual gives that person a significant role and purpose. And of course, this role is properly fulfilled by observance of the commands. Yet the person who does not yet observe them has not lost his role in the system.
When it comes to a command such as charity, in which one has to give something away, we all need encouragement. The Sages tell us that this is the force of the word “Tzav” : to give us encouragement through the generations. The encouragement is the knowledge that through this command of G-d we are truly connected with Him.
This Shabbat, is the Shabbat before Pesach it's called Shabbat haGadol, the Great Shabbat.
When the Jews were in Egypt, they were commanded on that day to take a lamb and tie it to the bedpost. Which they were later to bring as a Pesach sacrifice. The lamb was the god for the Egyptians and so when they saw this it made them very angry but they could not utter a sound in protest.
Many miracles were performed at that time, so we refer to this day as Shabbat haGadol.
We have a custom on this shabbat to read a portion of the Haggadah which tells the story of the Exodus
Thursday, March 29, 2012
This week's Torah Portion, Tzav, continues on the theme of offerings. When the temple stood, and offerings were brought, it was common to bring an offering for a special occasion, such as an offering of gratitude or an offering of atonement. However, there were also routine offerings that were brought on a daily basis and all of these offerings were placed on the very same altar, using the same fire, the ‘Aish Tamid’ - the eternal flame.
In this week’s reading, it speaks of this fire, and the verse says; "Aish tamid..... “An eternal flame shall burn upon the altar, it shall not be extinguished.” (6:6)
A double expression here - eternal flame and it shall not be extinguished - This is the teaching of consistency. A flame that is eternal—meaning that is constantly being fed—is one that will never be extinguished.
To bring an offering in a time of inspiration, when one is overwhelmed with remorse, or with gratitude, requires little effort. But to bring a routine offering, day in and day out, with that same excitement and inspiration, now, that's hard work. Yet all offerings, both unusual and routine, were offered on the same ‘eternal, constant’ flame.
The key to lasting success is perseverance - keeping at it - continuously , through the easy times and the hard. When we start something it is easy to find the passion and excitement to get started. A week later, a month later or years later, that is when we need the perseverance to keep the momentum.
We all have something in our lives which need constant attention, passion and perseverance to continue to grow - this week's torah reading infuses us with 'perseverance energy' to keep the flames alive and to continue to persevere towards success and fulfillment on a physical and spiritual level.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
"Rebbe, what are you doing here?" Rabbi Shimon asked in surprise.
"Leave out my 'Rebbe' and your 'Rebbe' and come with me to carry a bale of hay to a poor widow who has no hay upon which to lay her broken body," the Sassover replied sharply.
The two holy leaders went together, hauling a bale of hay on their shoulders. Astonished bystanders stared in wonder and moved aside to make room for them to pass.
As they went, Rabbi Moshe-Leib remarked, "Were the Holy Temple standing today, we would be bringing sacrifices. Now we bring straw, and it is as though we have all the kavanot, the spiritual intentions, that come with offering the korban mincha sacrifice."
Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was following in his father R' Yaakov's footsteps who would take a job before Pesach grinding wheat at the mill, not for himself, though he was also a poor man, but for a widow and orphan who lived in his neighborhood. And he did this despite his great love for the Torah, which he learned constantly.
R Moshe Leib Sossover, despite his greatness in Torah, did not worry about his honor when it came to performing acts of kindness for his fellow Jew.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
But when the innkeeper discovered that they didnt have sufficient funds to pay for even one night's stay, he sent them away. The Bnei yissascher's father, the school teacher, was shocked and offered to pay for their lodgings.
The peasants ended up staying for two weeks until the raging storm abated. They then thanked the schoolteacher and left.
With Pesach approaching, the schoolteacher, before going home to his family, went to the innkeeper to collect his salary. The innkeeper owed the teacher 40 rubles for teaching his children, but the teacher owed the innkeeper 43 rubles for the peasants stay that he had offered to pay. The innkeeper said he can bring the 3 rubles back when he returns after the Holiday.
The school teacher traveled to his village, but could not bring himself to go home empty handed. Meanwhile, his son the Bnei Yissascher heard that his father was back in town and ran with great emotion to him and begged him to come home. He wanted to show him his new shoes and clothes that his mommy bought -on credit, mind you, for the pesach holiday. This only made the father feel worse.
As they walked home, they saw a chariot rumbling down the street, hit a bump and a package fall out of it. The Bnei Yissascher's father picked up the package and ran after the coach but the coach turned a corner and disappeared. The father, seeing no distinguishing marks on the bag, understood that in such a situation it may be presumed that the owner would relinquish all hope of its recovery, and since there was no possible way for him to locate the owner, it was therefore his to keep. He opened it and found exactly 43 rubles.
The night of the seder, the Bnei Yissascher was given the merit to open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi. When he opened the door, he called to his father, "Ta, the coachman is here!" But there was no one there.
The Bnei Yissascher's father pulled the boy aside and told him that he must promise never to tell anyone this story until he was on his death bed.
This story was told by a student of the Bnei Yissascher, who heard it from the Bnei Yissascher on his death bed!
The man was conflicted. Which day should he choose? Should he choose Rosh Hashanah, to hear the sounding of the shofar? Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Passover, to celebrate a seder? His wedding anniversary?
This prisoner, not being able to make up his mind, wrote a letter to one of the rabbinic leaders of that generation, the Radbaz, asking for his advice.
The Radbaz said the prisoner should choose the first available day. Whatever it is, grab it now, don't wait — be it a holiday, a Shabbat, a Monday, a Wednesday.
This was a marvelous reply. More important, it holds true for us as well. We are psychological prisoners of our bad habits. We feel it is too difficult to summon the will to do things right. "I'm not ready yet. I can't change now. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week etc." These excuses provide us with an escape from responsibility.
We are summoned to chart the path of repentance and self-renewal. Who we will become is dependent on the direction we choose now. We are only what we choose to be, and if we so choose, we can change.
And we don't have to wait for tomorrow. We can do it now.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Famed for his phenomenal mind and analytical treatment of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Sholom DovBer wrote and delivered some 2,000 discourses of Chassidic teaching over the 38 years of his leadership.
In 1897, he established the Tomchei Temimim yeshivah, the first institution of Jewish learning to combine the study of the "body" of Torah (Talmudic and legal studies) with its mystical "soul" (the teachings of Chassidism); it was this unique yeshivah that produced the army of learned, inspired and devoted Chassidim who, in the decades to come, would literally give their lives to keep Judaism alive under Soviet rule.
The yahrtzeit of a Tzaddik is an auspicious day. A day to increase in Torah Learning, Prayer, Charity and acts of kindness.
One of the Rebbe Rashab's followers, Reb Monye Monissohn, was a wealthy gem dealer. Once, when they were sitting together, the Rebbe spoke very highly about some simple, unlearned Jews.
"Why do you make such a fuss about them?" Reb Monye asked the Rebbe.
"Each one of them has many special and noble qualities," explained the Rebbe.
"I can't see any of these qualities," said Reb Monye.
The Rebbe remained silent. A while later, he asked Reb Monye if he had brought his package of diamonds with him. Indeed, Reb Monye had brought the diamonds. Reb Monye took the Rebbe into a different room and arranged the diamonds for him to see. Reb Monye pointed to one gem in particular, extolling its beautiful color and quality.
"I can't see anything special in it," the Rebbe said.
"That is because you have to be a "maven" to know how to look at diamonds!" explained Reb Monye.
"Every Jew, too, is something beautiful and extra-ordinary," the Rebbe said.
"But you have to be a "maven" to know how to look at him."
Thursday, March 15, 2012
And so if this is the case then how will we know how to observe the practical mitzvot?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that in the future there will be no lapses of memory. Once we learn something, it will be imprinted in our memory forever. Memory loss is a manifestation of impurity, which will evaporate when Moshiach comes. Furthermore, any memories that we might have lost before Moshiach comes will be restored to us. Therefore, we won't need to dedicate as much time to memorizing the details of the Law, and will be able to spend the bulk of our time studying the inner dimensions of Torah.
Additionally, in the Messianic era we will be granted an extra level of understanding and from our study of the Torah's mystical dimensions, we will be able to infer all the practical laws of Jewish observance.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds that when Moshiach will come our evil inclination will be removed, and our nature and instincts will be transformed. Just a a young child instinctively draws his hand away from fire, we will have a natural aversion to those things forbidden by the Torah, and a natural inclination to do the things the Torah requires.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
In response to a man who was troubled and downcast because of his many debts, the Rebbe wrote that his biggest trouble was his lack of bitachon in G-d, for that is the key to everything. The Rebbe encouraged the man to toil in strengthening his belief that even if there seems to be no way for matters to work out, he should nevertheless trust in G-d - for G-d works above nature, and thus all can be good.
Reb Shaul Ber Kobakov, a successful lumber merchant from the city of Minsk, was one of the followers of the 4th Chabad Rebbe the Rebbe Maharash (and later of the Rebbe Rashab). Once, when on a business trip, as he waited on the railway platform, he heard an announcement that his train would be delayed, so he decided to wash his hands and pray the evening prayer of Aravit. Another Jewish merchant who was also there and knowing that Reb Shaul Ber was not one to rush through his prayers, went over to him and warned him that his train would probably arrive before he finished the amidah prayer.
"That's of no interest to me," replied the Reb Shaul Ber. "Now is the time for Aravit, so now i will pray."
While he stood in a quiet corner and prayed for a full hour, the train came and left. When he finished, he waited for the next train and repeated to the other merchant that when it was time to pray nothing mattered to him, even his business.
Just then the next train clattered to a halt, but before the Reb Shaul Ber climbed on, whom did he see, stepping down from the train? It was none other than the owner of the forests to whom he was about to travel! That man came over and greeted him, explaining that he had waited for him at his station as they had planned, but when Reb Shaul Ber had not shown up, he had decided to travel to see him.
From this Reb Shaul Ber understood that he must be desperate to sell his forests, and was thus able to strike a good bargain
How was it possible that after all the miracles that the Jews witnessed, like the manna from heaven, the splitting of the sea and having heard the voice of G-d at Sinai, could they create a Golden Calf and turn to idolatry? It seemed that any likelihood of such a thing happening was most certainly out of the question. Nobody would believe that a People so religiously convinced could make such a turn around.
But time and again this is the story of human history, the most unexpected, the unthinkable DOES happen.
And but when that does happen, what should we make of it?
Well, once in the throes of dismal failure and disappointment, we can suddenly realize a new dimension that was impossible before. The Talmud explains the inexplicable about the golden calf that it was to give an opportunity to do Teshuva. G-d allowed this to come to bring awareness for future generations that one should never give up the belief that change and repentance is still possible.
Sometimes great unexpected tragedy occurs (G-d forbid), for it serves as an instrument later in creating within us a drive to do something that would truly change our lives. Somehow we could never have come to this thru normal circumstances.
G-d gives us difficult challenges that at the time make no sense. We search in vain only to realize later that this propelled us to a new level in achieving something we would other wise never do.
As the Rebbe says, "We have the power to transform pain into action and tears into growth".
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Once, Reb Michoel Beliner, a spiritual mentor,'s son fell deathly ill. The doctors said that there was nothing they could do. Reb Michoel's followers advised him to immediately travel to the 3rd Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. Reb Michoel began to weep, saying that he would strongly like to go, but the doctors said that it was only a matter of hours, how could he now set out on the road? One of the older chassidim berated him. He quoted from the Talmud that one should never despair of being granted G-d's mercy, and added that surely the good angels would succeed in having the Heavenly verdict postponed until he reached the Rebbe. And so Reb Michoel set out on his trip.
Arriving in Lubavitch, Reb Michoel was fortunate to immediately have a private audience with the Rebbe.
R'Michoel later related: "When I entered the Rebbe's room and handed him my personal request for my son, I thought to myself, 'The doctors said it's only a few hours...,Who knows what has in the interim happened with my son? ' and I began to weep. But then the Rebbe read my note and said, 'Don't cry. You must have bitachon in G-d with simple trust that He will save your son. Tracht gut vet zien gut. (Think good and things will be good.) You will yet celebrate the bar-mitzvot of your grandsons!' "The Rebbe said.
Soon after, the bo recovered. And from then on, whenever Reb Michoel experienced difficulty he would bring to mind the luminous face of the Rebbe as he spoke those words, and the situation would actually change for the better.
The Rebbe explains that when a person places his full trust in G-d, feeling fully at ease with complete bitachon, that is enough for him to merit G-d's salvation. This is true even for someone who is seemingly undeserving, for toiling in strengthening his bitachon, that alone gives him the merit to be helped. That is the deeper message of the words of the Tzemach Tzedek, "Tracht gut" - "Think good and things will be good."
Monday, February 27, 2012
"Why do you say that?" asked the customer.
"Well, if G-d would be real would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If G-d existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving father would allow all of these things."
The customer thought for a moment, but didn't respond. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop. As he went outside, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy hair, dirty and unkempt.
The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and said to the barber, "You know what? Barbers do not exist."
"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "And I just worked on you!!"
"No!" the customer exclaimed. "Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair, like the man outside."
Ah but Barbers do exist!! "What happens is, people do not come to me."
"Exactly!" affirmed the customer. "Thats the point! G-d too does exist! What happens is people don't go to Him."
G-d is there for us. We just have to go to Him. Pray to Him. Connect with Him. And you will surely see there is a G-d!
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Joy is central to connecting to G-d. Being happy when you do a mitzvah demonstrates that you like this connection, this tremendous privilege of serving the Infinite Author of All Things. And in fact, the Arizal, a master Kabbalist, once asserted that the gates of wisdom and divine inspiration were opened for him only as a reward for doing mitzvot with boundless joy.
Not just mitzvot, but everything we do—eating, sleeping, business, and even leisure activities—can be part of the way we connect to G-d. All it takes is the right intentions.
"Serve G-d with joy!" applies to all times and situations.
When we're happy, the toughest tasks are a breeze, the strongest adversaries are easily vanquished. On the other hand, if we're down, even simple challenges seem overwhelming.
*Envision being given the opportunity to host your nation's head of state in your humble home. Picture how overjoyed and excited you'd be at the honor. When we do a mitzvah, we cause G-d to dwell with us here in our world—and we get to host Him! Shouldn't this be a cause for joy?
If we Consider how small and insignificant we are by comparison to G-d, and then contemplate on how much He loves and cherishes us -that definitely is a cause for joy.
* We should recognize that all that transpires is part of G-d's plan, and that G-d is in control. And we should understand that no evil could emanate from G-d—for He is entirely good.
* We should feel overjoyed and secure in the knowledge that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, and Someone is looking out for us.
Let a sense of purpose lend bounce to your step as you go about your daily activities.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
"My daughter is very ill," he announced solemnly. "Here is an added stipend for each of you. Please fast and pray for her recovery." He handed each student an envelope with money and they promised to fulfill his request.
And so they did. Or rather, so did all of them but one. Rabbi Yitzchak Drohovitcher (who later became a leading kabbalist in his generation), but was then a young man, he spent the money at a local grocery, purchasing a hearty meal for himself. While all the others committed themselves to fast, he sat down to eat.
Soon, word spread that thank g-d the young girl's condition had taken a change for the better and the crisis had passed. Later, when she fully recovered, Reb Yosephah invited everyone to a thanksgiving celebration. At the feast, he reproved Rabbi Yitzchak, "I am surprised at your strange, disrespectful behavior. While all your fellow students were immersed in prayer and fasting, you indulged in a meal."
Rabbi Yitzchak answered quietly: "Fasting is nothing out of the ordinary for me. Quite the contrary, having enough money to purchase a meal is exceptional. Thus, when I sat down to eat, the angels asked: 'Why has Yitzchak been able to purchase a wholesome meal during the week?' Other angels responded, relating that my meal came about because of your generosity.
"Therefore, it was decreed that generosity should be shown to you as well and your daughter be granted a speedy recovery."
Sunday, February 5, 2012
What gives song/music its power? How does it have the ability to transport us to another time and place?
The Kabbalah says: The way a soul can move around is through song. Songs have this power because they are the language of the Divine.
When G-d created the universe, He consulted, so to speak, with the angels: “Should I bestow upon the human race the gift of music?” The angels replied with a resounding “no.” “The human race will not appreciate the sublime power of melody. They won’t know how to appreciate angelic, divine nature of song. “Give us your gift of music,” the angels said, “and we will sing Your praises, we will sing Your songs. We will know how to use the power of melody to reach great spiritual heights.”
“No. I will give the gift of music to humans". Decided G-d, "Because I want them to have something to remember Me with.
“Sometimes life will be difficult. Man can feel depressed and hopeless. I therefore want them to have song to remind them, that even you’re stuck in the dire straits of material existence or are experiencing loneliness you can break out in song, which will lift your spirits.
“Yes indeed,” G-d concluded, “I will give the human being the language of music and song, so that he can use it to discover transcendence.”
Song has the ability to transport the soul because the source of its power is its Divine language. Songs have the ability to lift our spirits to unprecedented heights. It is spiritual transportation.
To access the music within, we need to get in touch with our life’s purpose and recognize that every moment of our day, every activity and every interaction is a spiritual opportunity.
High time to start singing.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
After a while one of the soldiers cried out: "Hey, we have to hurry up and get back to our base before inspection so that they don't catch us missing!"
The soldiers quickly paid and starting running back to the army camp, but having drunk too much one by one, they fell to the ground, at the side of the road.
It was their bad luck that just then one of the officers passed by and found them lying there drunk.
The next day, of course they were summoned to appear to the commander's office. The soldiers were trembling with fear, knowing they may be severely punished for what they did.
The commander spoke in a harsh voice explaining to them the army laws that they had transgressed.
Suddenly though, he changed his tone. His voice became softer and he said; "I also like to have some vodka from time to time. I understand your reason for escape, i am aware that it has been a long time since you were last allowed to visit the inn. Thus i have decided not to punish you for this act!"
"However", barked the commander pointing to one soldier, "Everybody is exempt from punishment - except you! You will be penalized because when i passed by on the road i noticed that all of the soldiers were lying with their heads in the direction of the army camp - except you. Your head was in the direction of the inn!"
We all have our ups and downs in our service of G-d. It happens that sometimes we may fall. However, what is important is - in what direction our heads are.
The downfalls lose their impact when we keep sight of our direction.
Monday, January 30, 2012
The general was thrilled. He prepared a large sack and waited anxiously for the day. But then the king regretted his decision. Not wanting to renege on his promise the king's advisers advised the king to place musicians at the treasury house and have them play the most beautiful music. This would distract the general from despoiling the king's treasury.
Sure enough the plan worked. The general became paralyzed and fixated with the music. By the time the general realized that he was losing the chance of a lifetime, the hour of opportunity had passed. He wound up with just a few small items, but lost all that potential for riches because of his distraction with the orchestra.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian said this parable refers to this world. G-d puts us in this world and tells us to "grab the jewels", i.e. – the mitzvot. However, at the same time, G-d gives us distractions of life. We become fixated with these distractions. One day, someone taps us on the shoulder and says, "It is time to leave this world." We look back and bemoan the fact that we have missed our opportunity of mining this world for the spiritual treasures that were available to us. We leave the world empty handed or at best, we leave with our sacks half full.
When the mitzvot are just there for our taking, it is hard to imagine that there will come a time that they will not be there anymore. We need to foresee the future and take the proper implications from that vision.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Our sages explain that if we merit, G-d will hasten the redemption for us, but if not then it'll come in its regular time. It's the very actions we do that cause Moshiach to come. G-d carefully constructed a perfect system that the result of any good deed is a better world. The redemption is not a reward, it’s just part of nature, it’s how G-d originally planned the universe.
Therefore, every single act that we do directly impacts the world as a whole either for the better or for the worse. As soon as enough good is done, Moshiach will automatically arrive. G-d created this system and gave us the free choice to use it.
We bring Moshiach. It’s completely in our hands.
It says that G-d heartened Paroh's heart. What does a hardened heart mean? Did Pharaoh no longer have free choice? The truth is that G-d still allowed Pharaoh free choice despite hardening his heart.
The mystics explain that G-d did not alter Pharaoh heart. Pharaoh’s heart became hardened automatically after a lifetime of evil and G-d sent Moses to warn him about the next plague despite his ‘hardened heart’ because everyone has 100% free choice.
Pharaoh, despite everything he had done which had hardened and desensitized his soul, still possessed a spark of good, a sliver of power to turn himself into a good person. There is no such thing as I can’t.
G-d always gives a person the tools he or she needs to do the right thing. No one is ever beyond the power of Teshuva, of returning to G-d and his good ways.
Every good deed we do not only makes our heart a little ‘softer’, more sensitive to spirituality, but automatically brings the entire world one step closer to Moshiach.
We are always in control, and we always have100% free choice. What we do with it is up to us! Let's choose wisely!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Little Chaim doesn't like fish. Now what if his father were to command him to like fish – would the son be able to overcome his inherent dislike of fish and begin to love it?
It is a basic part of the Shema prayer, “And you shall love G-d with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might”. How is it possible that G-d has given us a mitzvah, a commandment, to 'love' Him? If we do not have love in our hearts for G-d, how is it possible to change our nature and begin to love G-d?
What is it that makes it possible to command someone to love G-d yet to command someone to love fish may be foolish?
The basic difference is that man can exist without fish. A man is not dependent on fish alone for his life. But man can not exist independent from G-d; man's total existence is dependent on G-d. More than that, nothing exists outside of G-d. While we may appear to have an independent existence, it is only because our senses can not perceive G-d. We are limited beings.
Our every moment existence is totally dependent upon His good will, which He never retracts. Even when man sins against Him, He gives man the ability to continue.
We in fact have an inherent love of G-d hidden in our soul. And so by contemplating on G-d that He is the source of our existence and provider of our physical needs, evokes that hidden love for Him.
The active concept of love of G-d is the contemplation and awareness of His goodness. The more we contemplate on His goodness, the greater will be our awareness of Him. The more we will be aware of Him the more love we will feel for Him in our hearts.
However the more we look at ourselves as a separate entity, the less we can feel any love for G-d. The more we try to see G-d in our lives, the more He will give us the ability to perceive Him in this world.
Monday, January 23, 2012
A dream can fuse two opposites; in a dream state, we can visualize things that are logically impossible. While praying, we can become aroused with love for G-d. When the prayer is over, though, the love vanishes and we go back to our preoccupation with material mundane matters.
However, we should not assume that our spiritual service while in exile has no value. Even if the inspiration later vanishes every spiritual success is real and permanent. Our G-dly soul is always complete, and its accomplishments can never be erased.
The fact that we are in a 'dream-state' has a positive component. It means that we are able to overcome boundaries tht to our rational mind seem insurmountable. Our rational mind tells us that we must progress in an orderly, systematic fashion. We mustn't think too big or get ahead of ourselves. However, in a dream state we ignore all these limitations and can make a huge spiritual leap all at once, out of proportion to our previous level.
Our exile is a state of sleep but through increasing in Torah and Mitzvot we can awaken in an instant to the ultimate state of redemption.
Friday, January 20, 2012
'Gratitude is an attitude'.
This week’s torah portion of Va'aira, demonstrates just how far Jewish tradition teaches us to be grateful and to remember our benefactors.
Seven of the ten plagues occur in this week’s reading. Moshe, messenger of G‑d, is bringing down these terrifying plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt. Yet, interestingly, he calls upon his brother Aaron to be the agent for the first three plagues—blood, frogs and lice. Why did Moshe not do those himself?
The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, teaches us that this is because it was through the waters of the Nile River that Moshe was saved as an infant when he was put in the basket. It would have been insensitive and inappropriate, even after so many years later, for him to strike those very waters that saved him. The blood and the frogs both came directly from the water, and so Aaron struck the water rather than Moshe.
And the same thing with the lice that came from out of the ground, the earth too, had helped Moshe to cover the body of the Egyptian taskmaster whom he had killed while defending a Jewish slave. Therefore, it would have been wrong for Moshe to strike the earth, and so for this plague too, Aaron did it.
What a monumental lesson to each of us on the importance of gratitude. Do water and earth have feelings? Would they know the difference if they were struck, and who was doing the striking? How much more so should we be considerate of human beings when they have done us a kindness..
The story is told of the Chatam Sofer that he once did an enormous favor for someone. Later, the fellow asked him, “Rabbi, what can I ever do to repay you for your kindness?” The Chatam Sofer replied, “One day, when you get upset and angry with me, please remember what I have done for you today—and, rather than pelting me with big rocks, please throw small stones instead.”
Once again, the Torah is teaching us not only religious ritual, but how to be better people—more sensitive, and yes, eternally grateful human beings.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Baal Shem Tov offered this parable for the spiritual process by which the sparks of holiness came into our physical world:
G-d deliberately caused the sparks of holiness to fall into the physical world, and then insisted that only the Jewish people, of whom it is said, “You are sons of Hashem, your G–d,” be charged with the mission of refining them.
Refining the lofty sparks of holiness trapped in the physical world is a task and privilege specifically assigned to the Jewish people.
Wow what a privilege. And how do we refine these sparks? By doing Mitzvot and living holy.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Who is this formidable foe who greets us upon our entry into this world and attempts to accompany our every action throughout our existence?
He is known as the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination.
Rabbi Sholom noticed that one of his students at the yeshiva was missing on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday morning he approached him, "I know you for two years", he told the boy. "You never missed a day of yeshiva. Tell me why were you absent."
At first the student didn't want to say but then gave in, he said: " I missed yeshiva because I was at the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer games. And I probably won't be in yeshiva tomorrow as well. It's the final day of the championship."
"How do you play this game of soccer ? How do you win?"Asked the Rabbi.
"Well," said the student, "there are eleven players, and their aim is to kick the ball into a large netted goal...
"So what's the big deal?" asked the Rabbi. "Go there, kick the ball in the goal and come back to yeshiva!"
The boy laughed. "Oh, you don't understand! There is an opposing team and their job is to stop our team from getting the ball into their goal!"
"Then why...." suggested the Rabbi, "don't you sneak into the stadium at night and kick the ball into the goal when they are not looking! Then you can win and return to yeshiva!"
"Oy! Rebbe! You don't understand. You don't score if the other team is not trying to stop you! Its no big deal to kick a ball into an empty net if there is no one trying to stop you!"
"Ah!" exclaimed the Rabbi, " It's no big deal to come to yeshiva when nothing is trying to hold you back! It is when the Yetzer Harah is crouching in the goal, that it is most difficult to score. That is when you really score points. Come tomorrow, and you can't imagine how much that is worth in G-d's scorecard!
The Yetzer Harah is our ultimate challenger. He stands crouched in the door, ready to block any shot and spring on a near hit. Our job is to realize that we must overcome him when the urge is the greatest. Because when it is most difficult to do the right thing, that is the time we can really score points!
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Why are we fasting? It's not our fault that the Temple was destroyed. The people at that time refused to listen to the prophets who warned them to better their ways. We are still suffering the consequences.
On this, the sages explain: "Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation." If so, a fast day is not really a sad day, but an opportune day. It's a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that first destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times—may that be very soon.
"Because of baseless hatred between Jews," says the Talmud, "was Jerusalem destroyed."
Why, asks the Lubavitcher Rebbe, does the Talmud insist that the hate was "baseless"? Were there not reasons, both ideological and pragmatic, for the divisions amongst the Jews? But no reason, explains the Rebbe, is reason enough for hate. The commonality of our fate runs so much deeper than any possible cause for animosity. All hate, then, is baseless hatred.
So if "baseless hatred" was the cause of the destruction, continues the Rebbe, its remedy is "baseless love"--our rediscovery of the intrinsic unity which overrides all reasons for discord and strife.
Show love to a fellow Jew--no matter how he or she differs from you. For if there is one redeeming virtue in being under siege, it is the opportunity to realize that we're all in this together.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Angels are unidirectional. Their characters are molded by G-d into single, predetermined profiles. Some angels serve G-d in love. Others serve G-d with joy. etc. Angels are described as stationary. It is incapable of doing things that are different from their nature.
But we are different. We are referred to as G-d's bride. If G-d is the king, then we are his queen. On the chessboard this means that the Jewish soul IS capable of multi-directional travel. We each have our own characteristics and prefer our own path of worship. Some of us are joyful, others loving. Some like to study, and so on. Our paths are unique to ourselves, but unlike angels, we CAN veer from our characters.
Just before his passing, Yaakov blesses his sons. Each son receives a blessing consistent with his character of spiritual worship.
After Yaakov blessed each son individually, he repeated all the blessings to each of his sons because he wanted his children to enjoy all forms of spiritual worship, not only those with their individual characters. He wanted them to engage in all mitzvot even those inconsistent with their personalities.
Jacob's blessing, which enabled his sons to transcend their limitations and enjoy all manner of spiritual worship, endows us, too, with that wonderful ability. Which means that no mitzvah is beyond our potential.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
This week’s Torah reading speaks of Yaakov's final years of life, the seventeen years he spends reunited with his family and the blessings he gives them for the future.
Throughout his life, Yaakov is continually being taken by surprise; him taking the blessings from Esav, then needing to run away, being tricked into marrying the sister of the woman he loves and then the disappearance of his beloved son, Yosef. But at the end of his life he is peacefully reunited with his family, and in these final years, he is able to recognize the patterns of his journey through life. He sees the intent of each step along the way, realizing the bigger picture. It becomes clear to him that all the details of his life were bringing him to this place he was now at.
In life we have the ‘big picture’ vision and ‘small picture’ vision. Very often we find ourselves stuck in the ‘small picture’ reality. We get bogged down by the small picture vision of life that we forget the big picture. We see the trees and not the forest, as it were. Our lives have a route, yet, we often lose ourselves in the minutiae, “this and this person did this to me, i can’t believe this is happening to me now, etc . . ." It is because of this that we forget the bigger picture, and we veer off course.
This week’s Torah reading gives us the ability to step back from the details and recognize the little fragments as integral parts of a whole. And This way, we recognize the minutiae for what it is and we dont get stuck in the smallness of events and/or emotions.
This week, let's keep sight of our greater goals and purpose, and not get bogged down by the details.