Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just as Lost as you Are


Concerning this, those who speak in parables say "Come to Heshbon...." [Chukat 21:27]

In Maseches Bava Basra [78b], Chazal expound on this verse as follows: "Regarding this hamoshlim would say - This refers to those who rule [hamoshlim] over their yetzer hara.  'Come to Cheshbon' - Come and let us make a calculation [cheshbon] of world importance."  This teaches us that it is incumbent upon each individual to evaluate his deeds in order to determine whether or not he is acting properly.

R' Yitzchak Blaser, one of the primary figures in the Mussar movement, was approached by members of his community who requested that the Rav rouse them with words of inspiration in light of the upcoming High Holy days.

"Allow me to draw a parable" he began.  "A caravan lost its way in a forest. For a week the travelers wandered around aimlessly, unable to find their way out.  Suddenly, the men saw a lone figure walking in the distance. They quickly made their way toward him and asked him to show them the way out of the forest.

"My brothers and friends" replied the man, "you have been roaming this forest for only a week.  I, however, have already been lost for several weeks. Let us try to find the way out of here together, perhaps then we will be successful."

"But there is one area in which I can be of assistance" continued the man. "I will tell you the paths that I have already tried, and we will know not to mistakenly tread them again."

"This applies to our own situation as well" said R' Blaser with great humility. "I am just as lost as you are; only more so, for I am old and have already been lost for many years.  Yet my experience can be of benefit, as I will be able to enlighten you as to things that I have seen in my life which I have investigated and found to be trivial and meaningless!

"You can trust me on those matters that it would not be worth your while to try those things.

"Come, let us search together for the path that leads to complete repentance!"

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Tenth Red Cow


"They should take some of the ashes of the burnt purification offering [of the red cow] and place them in a vessel [filled] with spring water" [Chukas 19:17]
Rambam comments: "Nine red heifers were prepared from the time this mitzvah was given until the destruction of the Second Temple.  The first was prepared by Moshe, the second by Ezra, and there were seven from Ezra until the destruction of the Temple.  The tenth will be made by King Mashiach - May he be speedily revealed! Amen, may this be your Will!"

The fact that Rambam mentions the tenth red heifer that "will be made by King Mashiach" in his legal Code [the Mishneh Torah] is understood, since Rambam included in his Code many laws that will only be applicable in the future era.  What is difficult to comprehend is why he concluded this law with a prayer "May he be speedily revealed! Amen, may this be Your Will!"  Surely a legal Code is not the place for the author to record his personal emotions and feelings, or to lapse into prayerful wishes?

It could be argued, however, that with his "prayer", Rambam did teach us a point of Jewish Law - or, to be precise, three points:

Judaism requires a person:

1) Not merely to believe [intellectually] in Mashiach, but also to actively await and yearn [emotionally] for his coming [Laws of Kings 11:1]

2) Inevitably, feeling this void will lead a person to pray for Mashiach's coming, just as he prays for any other thing that is lacking in his life.

3) And being that the requirement to believe in Mashiach is in force at all times, it follows that likewise, a person must yearn and pray for Mashiach constantly.

Therefore:

1) Rambam included prayerful wishes here in his legal Code to indicate that awaiting Mashiach must not be only expressed intellectually, but emotionally too.

2) He stresses that Mashiach should come "speedily" to indicate Mashiach's coming should be a personal heartfelt desire.

3) He recorded the above principles, not in his codification of the laws concerning Mashiach, but here out of context, to indicate that one must express a yearning for Mashiach constantly, whatever the context of one's discusion happens to be.

Source: Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The View from Above

Yesterday was pretty chaotic for me, but I did have a couple of hours of sanity where I sat on someone else's roof deck, and took these photos.

Looking down towards Bondi Beach

Australia: Response to Shechita Outrage

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has issued a statement following reports in the media relating to shechita – the ritual slaughter of animals.

Their report entitled “KOSHER SLAUGHTER OF LIVESTOCK IN AUSTRALIA – MYTHS AND FACTS” has been sent to major mainstream media and was signed off by ECAJ President Dr Danny Lamm.

On June 26, The Age ran a front page story by Peter Munro - Outrage grows over ritual killing - which was backed up by an editorial in similar vein. The story also appeared in the Sun Herald. These pieces conflated Kosher slaughter with other forms of ritual slaughter and repeated many of the myths about Kosher slaughter of livestock which have circulated over the years, and some new ones.

MYTH number 1: The horrific mistreatment of animals in Indonesia shown by the 4 Corners program on 30 May 2011 is somehow related to Kosher slaughter.

FACT: There is no organized Jewish community – and therefore no Kosher slaughter – in Indonesia. The shocking practices revealed by the 4 Corners program would violate the most fundamental principles of Kosher slaughter. All of the animals shown in that program would be unfit for Kosher consumption because of their mistreatment. The Jewish community supports the government’s decision in effecting change in Indonesia to the practices revealed by 4 Corners, and any other inhumane treatment of livestock.

MYTH number 2: Australian religious slaughter abattoirs are like those in Indonesia.

FACT: Australian religious slaughter abbattoirs are highly regulated by government and only the best animal welfare practices are endorsed.

MYTH number 3: Animals linger in pain after kosher slaughter.

FACT: The nature of kosher slaughter in Australia is such that before the animal is able to register pain after its neck is cut the animal is either rendered insensible or is stunned.

MYTH number 4: Kosher slaughter of animals is cruel and inhumane.

FACT: Kosher slaughter is based on the animal’s welfare. A cardinal principle of Kosher slaughter of livestock is that the animal must be sound and healthy in every way, without injury or impairment of any kind, at the moment its neck is cut. This means that Kosher slaughter requires that the animal must not be mistreated before it is slaughtered. The slaughter-man must be well trained and highly skilled. The knife that is used must be long and span the neck of the animal. It must be honed to razor sharpness before each separate use, to ensure a quick, clean, single cut and rapid loss of consciousness by the animal. The knife is carefully checked by a supervisor before each kill to ensure there are no nicks, damage or other signs of imperfection.

MYTH number 5: Kosher slaughter involves bleeding an animal to death.

FACT: The cause of death with Kosher slaughter is exactly the same as with non-Kosher slaughter – loss of consciousness through lack of oxygen. Whilst Jews are absolutely forbidden to consume any kind of blood, most of the bleed out occurs after the animal is dead or has lost consciousness. In the case of sheep, correctly slaughtered by the Kosher method, this occurs between two and eight seconds after the neck is cut, not twenty seconds.

MYTH number 6: Kosher slaughter requires an animal to suffer.

FACT: The opposite is true. In Australia, if an animal is in obvious distress, it is pronounced unfit for Kosher consumption by the supervisor, resulting in a financial penalty (loss of income) by the owner of the animal. The whole process of Kosher slaughter as practised in Australia is intended to kill the animal as quickly and painlessly as possible without injuring it beforehand.

MYTH number 7: Stunning is a humane way to kill an animal.

FACT: Stunning does not necessarily kill the animal. Captive bolt stunning (the most common form of stunning used in Australia) involves delivering a heavy blow to the animal’s head – like being struck on the forehead with a steel hammer – before its throat is cut. When done properly the animal is instantly rendered both unconscious and paralyzed. Sometimes the stunning is botched and the animal undergoes unnecessary suffering. Jewish law does not permit pre-stunning and requires that the animal must not be injured or mistreated in any way before it is slaughtered. At the moment its neck is cut, it must be whole, healthy, uninjured and unimpaired.

MYTH number 8: Kosher slaughter is alien to the Australian way of life and our humane values.

FACT: Kosher slaughter has been occurring in Australia since the mid-nineteenth century in accordance with Australian laws and has nothing to do with the horrific scenes shown in the 4Corners program. Like all animal slaughter in Australia Kosher slaughter is subject to strict government regulation and inspection. Kosher meat is processed in Australia by Australians and meets the high standards we all expect in this country.

MYTH number 9: Maybe Kosher slaughter was once the most humane way to kill livestock but it has been rendered obsolete and unnecessary by modern scientific methods.

FACT: The techniques of Kosher slaughter, properly conducted, have been endorsed by Professor Temple Grandin, who was interviewed in the 4 Corners program. She is arguably the world’s foremost authority on the humane treatment of livestock. (She is not Jewish). In the April 2010 edition of Meat and Poultry magazine (at page 82) Professor Grandin comments favourably about the humaneness of Kosher slaughter.

MYTH number 10: Scientific tests conducted in New Zealand (the Massey study) prove that animals killed by Kosher slaughter suffer more than animals which are stunned before their necks are cut, or immediately afterwards.

FACT: Some of the flaws and short-comings of the Massey study are discussed by Professor Grandin in the aforementioned article. Briefly, the conditions of the experiments conducted in the study did not replicate those of Kosher slaughter, especially as regards the knife’s size, sharpness, and smoothness, and the training and skill of the slaughter-man. The Massey study extrapolated information from calves to cows to sheep and even poultry, even though the physiology of each is fundamentally distinct. Whatever the scientific studies show, no one can truthfully claim that Kosher slaughter is not a humane method of slaughter, as Professor Grandin acknowledges. There is no absolutely ideal and totally painless method for slaughtering an animal, and therefore a variety of acceptable methods, which seek to effect the kill as quickly and painlessly as possible, can all coexist.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lost Penguin Update

For those who were worried about last week's Lost Penguin [now named "Happy Feet"] - you will be pleased to hear he is being looked after and New Zealand zoo staff are hoping he will make a full recovery, and that he will be well enough to take up the offer of a place onboard a cruise-ship back home to Antarctica.

The emperor penguin swam about 3200km from its Antarctic home to Peka Peka beach, about 60km north of Wellington. The only previous recording of an emperor penguin in New Zealand was at Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967.

Full story here

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Australia's disappearing beach

A popular beach known as Inskip Point near Australia's Frazer Island began to disappear into a sinkhole yesterday.   As nearby campers looked on, the beach began to vanish in front of them.

Miriam's Well

Art: Devorah Designs


[Please pray for the refuah shelaima [complete recovery] of Chaya Bracha Miriam Shira bat Mira, from the Lubavitch community in Chicago, mother of four young children]


"The congregation had no water, so they ganged up against Moshe and Aharon..." [Chukas 20:2]

Water assists the digestive system to break down food, and the water within the bloodstream carries those nutrients to all parts of the body.  This represents the mission of all Jewish women: to bring the well of living water - Torah - to nourish all segments of the Jewish people, even those who totally lack knowledge of it.  Thus we find that, while still in Egypt, Miriam devoted herself to small children, and her heroic efforts led to the annulment of Pharoah's decree against children.  Consequently, it was in her merit that the well water came, since water represents the universal dissemination of Torah.

Thus, when a mother, sister or teacher educates a child, we witness the modern-day "living waters of Miriam" sustaining the Jewish people in exile, making it possible to go peacefully throughout our current "sojourn" in the "desert" of exile.

In addition to providing water to drink, Miriam's well also made it possible for the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah [family purity] to be fulfilled.  There was no other source of water in the desert, so Miriam's well served as a mikvah, enabling children to be born throughout the forty years.

The custom of drawing water on Motzei Shabbat [to draw from the well of Miriam] is cited in the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch.  This appears to suggest that it is applicable today; however, this was not a custom practiced in the House of the Chabad Rebbeim.  In any case, it certainly applies to all of us spiritually: studying this law about Miriam's well influences the whole week, that it may be a healthy week in both spiritual and physical terms.

Source: Gutnick Chumash: Based on various Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Yarzheit: 26 Sivan: Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel

Kever of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, Amuka Israel

Tradition has it that Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel - יונתן בן עוזיאל - gave a blessing to all those who are unmarried that if they visited his resting place they would merit to meet their soulmates and marry within the period of one year. This blessing has worked for all these centuries and countless numbers of people have married.

***********************************

"It was said that whenever Rabbi Yonathan, son of Uziel, sat down to delve into the Torah, any bird straying over his head was burnt by his words."  [Tractate Sukkah 28a]

"No fly passed over the table of the prophet Elisha." [Tractate Brakhoth 10b]

The Baal Shem Tov taught: A person is surrounded by spiritual worlds that mirror his thoughts. If his thoughts are holy, then he is surrounded by holy worlds, but if his thoughts are impure, then he is he surrounded by impure worlds.

By the same token, wherever a person's thoughts are, and whichever worlds surround him, so too he is surrounded in this earthly world, be it with kosher birds and animals, or non-kosher birds and animals. In the source text [Ben Porath Yoseph 56d-57a], the Baal Shem Tov adds that whatever happens to a person is also a mirror of his inner world. Thus, G d is constantly talking to each and everyone of us, trying to make us aware of what is going on inside us. Hence, when we see some human act "out there" that is "non-kosher," we should look inside ourselves for similar failings, rather than judge the other person.

There are three categories of worlds: the pure, the impure, and the in-between. Above these categories is the world of pure thought, which cannot be fathomed. This, then, is why any bird straying above Rabbi Yonathan son of Uziel was burnt. ["Straying birds" is an allusion to straying thoughts, which were "burnt" by Rabbi Yonathan's Torah study. Similarly, no fly, being a non-kosher creature, flew over Elisha's table, because his thoughts were always holy.]

And because no fly passed over Elisha's table, his host knew that he his thoughts were holy and that he was a holy man.

[from the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Anger Management


by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

Question:
I have come to the realization that I have a real temper problem. I lose my cool quickly and fairly often. With the smallest provocation I fly off the handle, scream and shout and say things that I later regret. Sometimes I can be quite abusive, humiliating those around me. I really need to work on this problem. What do you suggest?

Answer:
Fixing a personality defect or a character flaw is no different to treating a physical disease.

There are 5 steps in dealing with physical illness:

a) The first and most critical step is to recognize that we are ill.
b) We don't have the necessary expertise ourselves, so we go to the doctor.
c) The professional makes a diagnosis.
d) Based on an accurate diagnosis the doctor prescribes the appropriate treatment.
e) Just focusing on the specific sickness is ineffective. We need to develop a general health plan. Healthy routines of eating, exercise, rest and stress management, affect our general strength and help prevent future disease.

Dealing with a character deficit such as out of control anger is no different.

a) You have to recognize that you have a problem (you have done that already - congratulations, you are on the way to recovery).

b) Don't do it alone. Discuss it with a mentor and if necessary with a competent therapist.

c) Although the ultimate goal of self control is obvious, it can only really be sustained with a good diagnosis. You need to understand why you are so easily provoked, what are the red flags that ignite an outburst and what are the times that you are most vulnerable.

d) With a good diagnosis your mentor or counselor can help you develop a good action plan. This will include learning how to recognize the onset of an angry mood and the strategies to make sure it doesn't explode.

e) You need a general health plan. Sometimes we fail in specific areas because we have lost a general positive focus. Developing a good plan of growth where we ensure that we are involved in activities of kindness, spiritual growth, personal study all create a stronger person that can fight specific weaknesses with strength .

You have already completed step one. Only four to go - good luck. 

Created at Twilight



"But if Hashem will create a phenomenon, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them" [Korach 16:30]

Rashi cites the Gemara in Maseches Sanhedrin [110a]: "If the mouth of the earth is a creation from the six days of Creation," said Moshe Rabbeinu, "then fine. But if not, may Hashem create one!"

Why, asked the Chasam Sofer [R' Moshe Sofer], did Moshe Rabbeinu have any doubt as to whether or not the mouth of the earth had been created during the six days of Creation?  For Chazal state [Avot 5:9] explicitly:

Ten things were created at twilight on the eve of the first Sabbath:
the mouth of the earth
the mouth of the well
the mouth of the ass
the rainbow;
the manna;
Aaron's staff;
the Shamir, writing;
the inscription on the tablets of the Ten Commandments;
and the tablets themselves. 

How then could Moshe have overlooked this Mishnah?
One of the ten things enumerated by Chazal, answered the Chasam Sofer, was "Moshe's grave".  This grave, whose location is unknown, was also created at twilight of that erev Shabbos.

Hashem therefore concealed all ten things from Moshe so that he would not hear of his own passing.  Thus, Moshe had to request "If the mouth of the earth is a creation from the six days of Creation, then fine. But if not, may Hashem create one!"

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Torah vs Hawking - 2012 and beyond

Rabbi David Katz has uploaded a fascinating 5-part video shiur.  If you're interested in Comet Elenin, the earthquakes and volcanoes, the Temple Mount UFO , the 2012 theory, the Mayan calendar, The God Particle and the Hadron Collider, time travel, Stephen Hawking, the cardinal cross in the sky,solar flares, the eclipses and the summer solstice, 666, the secret of the number 6, Daniel's 1290 days, mincha gedola and the coming of Moshiach..... you'll find it all here. 












Also see: The Case for a 5772-based Geula

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Storm damages Chapel at Churchill Downs

[Hat tip SSE]

Louisville Ky. - Officials at Churchill Downs are working to relocate horses after a powerful storm that spawned tornadoes blew through Louisville.
A few barns partially collapsed and horses were running loose Wednesday night at the track, home of the Kentucky Derby. The chapel was also damaged. There are no reports of serious injuries to humans or horses.
Churchill Downs Chapel, before the storm


The Bride's Debt


It once happened in Safed, that a disciple of the Holy Ari had to go on a long journey. Before departing, he came to his teacher for a letter of recommendation. The Ari wrote it for him, then blessed him and said "May G-d be with you, and may you go in peace".

The disciple then asked "Master, can you tell me anything about what will happen when I get there?"

"You will marry a beautiful woman" the Ari replied. "And she is your destined soulmate for this life. But after you have been happily married for only six months, she will suddenly die. And here is the reason: In another incarnation, this woman was a man, and you were also a man then. He was your dearest friend, but he also caused you some legal trouble for six months. Finally, he brought a lawsuit against you in the civil courts, which caused you to lose 600 gold coins, even though you were innocent of his charges.

"Now" continued the Ari, "this friend from another life is once again reincarnated - as the woman you will marry on your journey. His soul has come to make atonement for his sins against you. For the six months of trouble that he caused in that life, you will have six months of happiness in this life. The inheritance you will receive when she dies is to repay you for the 600 gold pieces you lost in the past life. But even though you know this, you should be kind and patient to this woman, and grant her forgiveness for the trouble she caused you in the previous life."

And everything happened exactly as the Holy Ari said it would.

[Shivchei Ha-Ari, 16th century]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Amazing Segula Ring - Free !





If you're looking for a Segula Ring, there is a far better alternative, inexpensive and always beneficial.


You pick up the phone and ring your mother, ask her how she is and if there's anything you can do for her today.

Blessings are guaranteed.

[And if you don't want what I'm talking about, see here and here]

Never Despair

The whole reason a person is placed in this world is to go through all that he must! He must be as strong and as solid as a rock to bear everything in life. Whatever a person experiences, he must hope and yearn and wait for God, and under no circumstances should he despair of God's mercy.

The main thing is for you to have the belief in yourself, like my belief in you, that you can still make a new start now.

[Reb Nosson of Breslov]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Korach's Mistake

According to Chasidic thought, Korach's rebellion occurred at this point in time since it was prompted by the sin of the spies.  The inner reason why the spies did not want to enter the Land of Israel was because they preferred the exclusively spiritual life of the desert to a life of serving G-d and physical concerns, such as the need to earn a living.  The downfall of the spies thus sent a powerful message that Judaism prioritizes physical action over spiritual and intellectual pursuits.

Upon hearing this, Korach protested to Moshe "Why have you made yourselves elite over G-d's assembly?" [Korach 16:3]  "I can appreciate" argued Korach, "that you are a more spiritual and holy person than us, but since we now see that Judaism makes physical action the priority, how are you better than anybody else? Aren't your actions the same as ours?"

Korach's mistake was that the Torah does not demand lifeless action, but rather deeds that shine with inspiration and spiritual enlightenment.  Thus, the two mistakes of the spies and Korach teach us that a healthy equilibrium is required: One must not shy away from physical life, like the spies.  But on the other hand, Judaism's emphasis on action must never lead to a life of meaningless ritual and spiritual bankruptcy.  Every mitzvah should be carried out with the highest levels of spiritual consciousness.

Our struggle to harmonize physical action with spiritual contemplation is fought on three fronts:

a) the need to ensure that one's intentions do not remain in the realm of wishful thinking and that concrete action takes place;
b) that one's actions should always be dictated by the Torah's value system;
c) that action should never be overglorified, and that one should always aspire to be more spiritual.

Our Sages taught that the world was made with the letter ה.  This is because its shape represents the equilibrium between the more spiritual dimensions of thought and speech, versus physical deed.  Korach's name - קרח - is spelled by letters that are all distortions of the left side of the letter hei, indicating how he wished to upset this equilibrium in the area of deeds.

In the ches ח the gap between deed and thought/speech is closed, suggesting that the physical no longer looks up to or aspires to the spiritual - which is why Korach rebelled against the spiritual leadership of Moshe and Aharon.

In the kuf ק deed has extended below and is no longer dictated by the thought and speech of Torah.
And in the raish ר, deed is missing altogether.

In short, it is relatively easy to be entirely spiritual and aloof, or entirely physical and mundane.  Our challenge is to harmonize both these qualities in our daily life, thus making a home for G-d below.

Based on Likutei Sichos, Lubavitcher Rebbe

Volcanic Ash: More flight disruptions

Ash cloud from Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano

Flights have again been disrupted as a volcanic ash cloud from a Chilean volcano drifts across Australian airspace.  For Sydney all domestic Qantas and Jetstar flights to and from the city from 3pm have been suspended. Qantas said it was reviewing its international flights to and from Sydney.

The air cloud has travelled around Earth one-and-a-half times and is "particularly persistent in the atmosphere", Airservices Australia said.

Read more: Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Way of Strife

"Why do you elevate yourselves over Hashem's congregation?" [Korach 16:3]

Such is the nature of a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven, noted R' Simchah Bunim of P'shischa. It blinds the eyes and closes the hearts of the quarrelers, so that they lose their common sense.

For the Torah testifies about Moshe Rabbeinu: "Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth." How could anyone possibly accuse him of possessing the contemptible trait of arrogance? Yet this is exactly what Korach and his assembly did, as the verse states: "Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?"

Rather, this is the way of strife, the power of impurity that accompanies it totally corrupts an individual's intellect.

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

The World's Obsession with Israel

Unless you are an Australian, you probably have no clue who Austen Tayshus is...... he is one of Australia's best-known comedians, real name Sandy Gutman .... and although he is someone I've known for most of my life through family connections, I rarely get to see him these days, but did manage to catch him on the "Q and A" show a couple of weeks ago, and just found there is a video of that show on You Tube.

If you begin watching at 40:00 mins on the video, you will see him in action, as a woman in the audience mentions the recent boycott of a Sydney council against Israel.... and Sandy [the one with the sunglasses] socks it to the anti-semitic guests on the show.   His comment [at 41:36] to anti-Israel Lee Rhiannon "Why are you so OBSESSED with Israel?" is something we would all like to know - why are all these people so obsessed with Israel?  And a special note about journalist and flotilla-participator Paul McGeogh's response to a question at 46:30 - where he tries, and fails, to justify his blatant anti-semitic journalism. 

For all those who missed the show, or for everyone who ever wanted to know, I'm posting the video here..... why is everyone so obsessed with Israel?  They don't really have a good answer, but at least the question was asked! Thank you Sandy.


Food for Thought

I remember hearing a shiur many years ago, one of the first shiurim I attended, given by Rabbi Mordechai Berger .... about the fact that when we are hungry, it is not that we desperately need the food we crave, but rather that our soul is craving to connect to Hashem, and through eating [and making the appropriate blessing on the food], we are enabling our soul to connect.   And that is why we feel hungry or thirsty several times a day, even though our body doesn't necessarily need all that food to survive.

It doesn't really matter what you eat [or drink] - your need to connect to Hashem will be achieved whether you eat a stick of celery or a giant piece of chocolate..... you will feel satisfied by either, because the goal has been achieved: your soul has re-connected to Hashem through the act of eating.

This has been explained much better than I can in Rabbi Oliver's latest post The True Purpose of Thirst and Hunger

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Kind Word


by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

Charity and kindness are of the most important aspects of Jewish tradition. The Talmud teaches that compassion and acts of goodness are the trademarks of the Jewish soul. Charity brings blessing, hastens the final redemption and is compared to all of the Mitzvot put together.

There are various forms of giving. We can assist someone in need with something tangible like money or gifts. Another form of kindness, of equal importance, is time. Spending time guiding, advising, motivating, or just being a listening ear are all legitimate ways to fulfill this important Mitzvah.

But there is another form of giving that is possibly even more powerful and important. It takes very little effort and yet does not receive the attention and importance it deserves. This is simply saying something small to someone in a way that makes them feel valued and respected. This can be achieved by saying a kind or uplifting word to someone feeling down or as simple as a warm "hello" greeting to a friend or even a stranger.

The Talmud teaches that he who gives a coin to a poor person receives three types of blessings. However, if he says a soothing word and makes him feel better, he is given eleven blessings. It also teaches that greeting someone properly brings the blessing of longevity.

Giving someone time or money fulfills an external need. They provide important support but don't address the inner essence of the individual. A kind word or a warm greeting respects their human dignity and inner soul. Every human being is created in the image of G-d and possesses a soul of Divine origin. Respecting and uplifting that person is recognition of his/her Divine imprint.

We might not all have a lot of time or financial resources to help others in big ways. But we can all take a few seconds to say something positive to someone else or to greet the neighbor, garbage collector or the mailman with a smile. These small acts of real kindness deepen relationships, and inject a positive energy and a flow of blessing into all of existence.

Leave a Message of Support for Gilad


On the eve of the fifth anniversary of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s capture, an online campaign launched in Australia and highlighting his continuing captivity by Hamas, has gone global.
The site Meet Gilad.com is the brainchild of Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.
Its aim is twofold: to collect one million personal messages of support for Shalit from around the world, and to build a coordinated global network of organisations, which can work towards “goals of mutual interest”.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Sins of the Father

Art: Marianne Caroselli

"He reckons the fathers' transgression to the sons' account, up to the third and fourth generations" [Shelach 14:18]

In explaining how children can be punished for the sins of their parents, R' Berechiah HaNakdan recounts the following parable:

A hungry wolf met a fox and desired to devour it.

"Why would you want to devour me?" asked the sly fox.  "I am thin and have few bones... go and devour a fat-fleshed human, and you will enjoy the feast."

"I cannot devour a human" replied the wolf, "as the verse states "Of every beast I will demand it" [Bereishis 9:5] - [this verse warns beasts against killing people - see Rashi there]

The fox cackled and said "You have nothing to fear, for it is not you who will receive the punishment, but your children, as the verse says "He reckons the fathers' transgression to the sons' account."

The wolf was persuaded by the fox, and it began to search for a human.  On the way, it fell into a trap laid by hunters.  The wolf began yelling for help.  When the fox heard the calls of the wolf, it carefully approached the wolf.

"You liar!" screamed the wolf.  "Did you not say that only my children would get punished for my sins?"

"Fool that you are" replied the fox, "You are also not getting punished on account of your own sins, but for the sins of your fathers."

"How could that be?" screamed the wolf....."Why would I suffer for what others have done?"

"And why did you set out to devour humans?" queried the fox.  "Was it not because you were counting on the fact that it would be your children who would suffer for your sins? Since you felt it was fair that your children bear your sins, it is only fitting that you bear your fathers' sins!"

A child, concluded R' Berechiah, is only punished for his father's sins if he is guilty of the same sins.  This is because an individual's punishment is meted out measure for measure. When someone emulates the sinful ways of his father, without concern that his children will receive punishment on account of his sins, he too gets punished for the sins of his fathers.

If this is true of the negative, how much more so is it true of the positive: when a righteous son follows in the ways of a righteous father, he will certainly be rewarded for the good deeds of his father!

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Gift of Self


In the city of Lizhensk, where Rabbi Elimelech taught, there is a steep rocky hill with a cliff known as "Rabbi Elimelech's Table". Yaakov-Yitzchak ish Horowitz, the famous Seer of Lublin, used to climb up there when he was young. He would sit alone and meditate for hours on the meaning of true humility, and how the nullification of the ego could be achieved.

One day, while he was deep in his meditations, Reb Yaakov came to the conclusion that the only way to give himself completely to G-d was to literally offer up his own life. So he went to the very brink of the ledge and looked down, intending to throw himself onto the rocks below.

But a friend named Zalke had secretly followed him up the trail from the village and was hiding in the bushes, watching. When he realized that Reb Yaakov was about to commit suicide, Zalke ran toward him, grabbed him by the belt, and pulled him back from the ledge to safety. Then Zalke remained there with his friend for a long time, comforting and encouraging him to remain in this world, until he had finally talked his soul out of its grim purpose.

Years later, after Reb Yaakov had become known as the Seer of Lublin, his old friend Zalke - now Rabbi Zalke - went to visit him. As he entered the room, the Seer went up to him, took both of his hands in his, and gazed deeply into his eyes. Then the Seer said "My dear, dear Zalke, my friend, my life - I truly love you like a brother. This is because, in my soul's first incarnation on this earth, you were my father. But when I think back to what you did to me in Lizhensk - how you talked me into remaining in this sorrowful world - then I find I cannot love you as much."

Nevertheless, the Seer of Lublin did remain in this world, and lived to a ripe old age. At the wedding of his grand-daughter, Hinda, when the time came for the gifts to be announced, the aged Seer was sitting at the table with his head in his hands, and appeared to be asleep. Over and over the master of ceremonies kept announcing "And now for the wedding gifts from the bride's family...." and waited for the Seer to answer. But the Seer remained motionless and did not seem to hear. Then everyone became silent, and waited respectfully for him to wake up.

A half hour passed and the crowd was getting restless. So his son leaned over and whispered in his ear "Father, wake up - they are calling for you to announce the gifts from the bride's family". The Seer looked up with a start and replied "Then I give myself. After thirteen years, the gift will be brought."

The wedding guests were puzzled by this strange announcement. What on earth could it mean? Of course, there were other generous gifts from the bride's side, and the Seer's family hastened to announce them. But the strange incident remained in the minds of the people. A few years later, the Seer of Lublin passed away.

Thirteen years after the wedding announcement, Hinda bore a son, whom she named Yaakov Yitzchak after her deceased grandfather. When the boy grew up, he looked exactly like his famous grandfather, right down to the fact that his right eye was a little bigger than his left. It is said that he was the very same soul, come back to fulfill his promise to "give himself" for a wedding present.

Source: "Jewish Tales of Reincarnation" - Yonassan Gershom

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Technically Challenged

Did you hear a click?

Rita and Frank were trying to take a photo to send to their friends for Frank's 84th birthday, but as Rita listened in vain for the traditional camera 'click' they ended up with a video instead, which - as they say these days - is now going viral.

Blood Moon: Total Lunar Eclipse

Red moons and lunar eclipses are not good for the Jews. To understand the reasons why this is the case, see: Effects of an Eclipse

This month's full moon will pass almost directly through the center of Earth's shadow on Wednesday (June 15) in what will be an unusually long total eclipse of the moon.
More at: Lunar Eclipse June 15 and Space.com

The June 15 total lunar eclipse will be visible to observers in Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. It is said that this eclipse will be one of the darkest eclipses ever. It will be second only to the July 16, 2000 total lunar eclipse.

New Zealand Church in Ruins

Poor old New Zealand, not only quaking but also cut off, because over the weekend there were so many cancelled flights due to the ash cloud from the Chilean volcano.  
I noticed quite a few Twitters tweeting about the connection between the name Christchurch and the damaged churches....  they are saying "is G-d angry with the church"? 

AP – Damaged St. John the Baptist Church is seen following series of earthquakes that shook Christchurch

Source: Yahoo News

Monday, June 13, 2011

Up-dated: Collapsed Church - New Zealand Quake

Buildings have been evacuated and at least two people rescued from a collapsed church as Christchurch was rocked by a number of aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.0 in magnitude.

Further big aftershocks continue to rock the city, as reports flow in of further building collapses and building damage.

Police said St John's Church in central Christchurch had collapsed trapping two people, who had been rescued.
Source: Rotorua Daily Post

New Zealand:  Christchurch has been struck by a powerful 5.5 magnitude earthquake which was felt as far south as Dunedin.
The quake was at a depth of 11km, centred 10km south of Christchurch, off the coast of Sumner.

".....there was severe shaking with the ground "moving side-to side......People started running out of the building, they were quite frightened."
The shake was felt in Ashburton, Timaru and Dunedin.
Damage report
There have been reports of liquefaction bubbling up from the ground in the central Christchurch suburb of Richmond and the outer suburbs.

Source: NZ Herald

Recognizing Abuse

by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

Mirror Theory
We can all think of a few people that we would describe as being 'impossible'. These are individuals who push the wrong buttons, irritate us to no end and annoy us whenever we talk to them. These are the people that we find arrogant, critical, and negative or possess some other character deficit. How do we handle impossible people?

The interesting thing is that we don't all find the same people hard to take. The guy that annoys me doesn't bother my wife and the neighbor that she dreads talking to I can communicate with easily. Why do these difficult people clash with some but not with others?

The Baal Shem Tov explained this with the "mirror theory". He taught that when we look at others we are looking at a mirror. When we observe and analyze the behavior of other people we actually discover ourselves in them. The profile we create for others is shaped by our own personality.

None of us are perfect. We all have our deficiencies and areas of personality that are underdeveloped and need work. But we are often unaware of these deficits. Self love often causes us to be in denial, preventing us from resolving and correcting these weaknesses.

When we observe character defects in other people and criticize them, it is really the undeveloped parts of our personality that are showing up. We are only so irritated by these blemishes because the very same issues are unresolved within ourselves. My spouse might not have the same area of weakness, and therefore does not notice it in others.

When we see faults in others it can be used as an opportunity for self reflection. If we think someone is arrogant we can examine our own egos. If we describe someone as being unkind we can examine our level of kindness, compassion and empathy. If our friend's judgmental nature bothers us we should think about how we view other people.

We should always endeavor to look at people in a positive light. But when it becomes difficult, it is an opportunity to look inwards.

Art: Jack Vettriano

What about Abuse?
Is the "mirror theory" always true? For example, what about a woman who stands up to her husband who is abusing her physically or emotionally. Does it mean that because she has identified the abuse, there is something wrong with her? Does it mean that she has an abusive side to her?

Answer:

Thank you for asking this important question, allowing me to clarify the concept that I was sharing.

Inappropriate control, physical or emotional abuse is inexcusable. No one should ever have to be controlled or be the subject of any form of abuse. One of the most important aspects of a person is their dignity. In Halachic sources, we discover that there are instances where certain laws are suspended to preserve the dignity of the human being. The Talmud says that embarrassing or humiliating someone, particularly in public, is comparable to murder.

Victims of any form of abuse should never blame themselves in any way. Being the recipient of abuse is not a reflection of an abusive personality within the victim. A chronic controller or abuser is unwell, and identifying a sickness of another does not mean I myself am sick.

The mirror theory I shared with you is very different. What I was referring to was noticing deficiencies and weaknesses of other people that fall within the normal realm of human function. These deficiencies do not really affect or compromise us. They just seem to annoy and bother us even though other people do not appear to be affected.

It is these "blemishes" that we notice or highlight in others, which are really a mirror image of our own. It is these weaknesses that our sages refer to when they say that we should judge others favourably and focus on fixing ourselves first.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transparency


"It was the season when the first grapes ripen..." [Shelach 13:20 ]

Moses did not command the spies to bring back grapes in particular, but just "fruit", and we find that they brought back various fruits - grapes, pomegranates and figs [v.23]

So why does the Torah stress that "It was the season when the first grapes ripen" and not simply, the time when fruit was ripening?

The process of spying out the Land to conquer it represents our daily mission of evaluating how to advance the "conquering" of this physical world for G-d, through the most effective use of time and resources for Torah.  Verse 20 concludes that the goal of this process is represented by grapes: grapes are unique in that their seeds are visible through their skins, and this teaches us that the goal of our observance is to make the physical "skin" of this world transparent to its higher, spiritual purpose.

Source: Based on Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbos Parshas Shelach 5750

Lightning destroys Church Tower

First Free Will Baptist Church caught fire Friday night after lightning struck near the steeple, breaking the steeple in half, according to Wilson County authorities.

Source: WRAL

Hat tip: Daisy

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ontario: Another Church Steeple Down

The high winds tore the steeple off this church in Sarsfield, Ont.

Severe weather is sweeping across southern and central Ontario, leading to at least one reported death on Wednesday and spawning several tornado reports.

East of the city, in the rural community of Sarsfield, high winds tore the steeple off the St-Hugues Catholic Church, which was built in the late 19th century.

That would be the fourth steeple destroyed this year

Source: CBC News

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Questions about Moshiach and the Geula

Author: SG

1. If the Geula and Moshiach are here, why is everything getting worse?

Moshiach is not synonymous with the Geula; rather, Moshiach brings the Geula to completion.

Moshiach is here, but the full Geula is not here; because there are many stages to the Geula. It is a process that develops over time.

The temporary bad is for the ultimate, eternal good.
_______________________________

The Geula process started in 1991, when we entered the stage of Yomos HaMoshiach [the days of Moshiach].

The stage we are in now is still a hidden stage, which contributes to still having free-choice. 
Free-choice increases, as the darkness gets greater.
_______________________
Things happening now are counter-intuitive.

One would think that things should get progressively better as we get closer to the Geula, and then Moshiach and Hashem are revealed. But that is not how the Geula comes.... Just the opposite occurs; things get progressively worse... [although some things do get better].

“There are no atheists in a foxhole.”   When things are good, human nature is to forget about G-d; but when the chips are down, people then scream out to G-d, to help them.

Also, the soul has many levels: Pressure squeezes out the deeper levels, allowing us to access them.

G-d wants things to happen in a natural manner, seemingly happening by themselves.... although gigantic miracles will take place along the way - the greatest miracles that mankind has ever seen.
_____________________

2. Why do things get worse?

Because the level of Hashem that is being revealed now in the world, was never able to be revealed before. It is totally different to anything that has happened in the past. 

This is the level of Etzem, that totally transcends all other levels of revelation in the past; including all the miracles and revelations to Tzadikim and the prophets.

Etzem - by definition - is hidden. But as it, and we, sink lower into the creation, Etzem then openly comes into revelation.

Etzem is not found in the upper spiritual worlds, where angels and Gan Eden are found; because only a ray of G-d is revealed there. But specfically in this physical world, is the Etzem of G-d to be found and revealed.

This is why, at the time of Techias Hamasim [revival of the dead] both the body and soul will become alive. Since the body's source is higher than the soul.

Also, the Lubavitcher Rebbe quoted the Yilkat Shmonei Midrash many times; but the Yilkat says that the whole world is scared, and Moshiach comes but does not stop the war  -  he just says, don’t be scared!
None of the sources that talk about the Geula [including the Gemorrah] say that good things happen. But the Rebbe said that we should realize that the negative occurrences are a positive sign of the imminent Geula.
________________________

3. What are the stages of Geula?

First there is Galus, then Yomos HaMoshiach [the end stage, being the open Geula], then Techias Hamasim, with each stage having many ascending levels.

Galus: the period before 1991.
This period is compared to the time of pregnancy:  A pregnant woman carries on with her life as before; but inside, on a hidden level, the baby is continually growing. The baby is compared to Moshiach; and the woman’s body is compared to the creation.

A pregnant woman’s body continually changes, in preparation for the birth; so too, the world has been continually changing [being refined] in order to get ready for the birth- the revelation of Moshiach; who then brings the Geula.
______________________________

4. What is Geula [redemption]?

Geula comes from the word Gelui – to reveal.

Geula is considered as Labor: the process through which the baby is born [revealed].
The baby [Moshiach] is now fully grown [only hidden]; labor’s purpose is to push the baby out - birth.

The end goal, [after Techias Hamasim] is when the highest level of Hashem, called Etzem, is revealed permanently, in the entire creation.

There are many stages in between.
___________________________
Moshiach will be openly guiding world events.

Moshiach's greatness and wisdom at this time will be even greater than in the time of King Solomon. King Solomon’s wisdom was respected worldwide, and many leaders and people came to learn from his greatness and knowledge.

The Jews, through the Torah, will be followed worldwide; when the Creator – G-d - reveals Himself worldwide; and all people will realize that He runs the world..... And that the way to survive and exist, is to follow His will, as revealed in the Torah, and Jewish Halacha [ways of conduct].  

Jews will then only be occupied with growing closer to G-d; through understanding the deeper levels of Torah that will be revealed at that time.

There will no longer be competition between people for: power, money, honor, etc. It will be a time of eternal peace and no war.

Physicality will directly connect to its source, so food and other things will be plentiful.

[In our current existence, the flow of life from G-d to the world has to first pass though many filters in order to come down into the world, but in the future, these filters will be removed, and everything will grow exponentially faster and larger in size.  So there will be no need for war, since everyone will have everything that they need.]
___________________________

All levels of the creation will be elevated:

Inanimate and plant life will begin to communicate with humans.

All animals will become herbivorous (eat only plants) i.e. "the wolf will lie with the lamb” - not because the wolf will control his instinct to eat the lamb, but rather, his instincts will be transformed, and he will not want meat anymore.  

Mankind will all serve G-d together.
__________________________

5.  What is Etzem?

Etzem is a level of G-d that is the source of everything, therefore, it includes everything. Here, there are no contradictions, or paradoxes, everything is unified.

Since Etzem is the source of everything, it is higher than all things, and can therefore unite them.  

Etzem unites two paradoxes, two opposites: the body and the soul, the physical and spiritual worlds, finite and infinite, etc.

Previously only Geluim were revealed into the world, but now Etzem is being revealed.  Geluim are things that we can relate to, as limited human beings: miracles, the Shechina, holiness, etc.
The problem is, in order for us to be able to handle these revelations, they had to be brought down to our level; otherwise, the creation would not be able to contain these revelations and they would disappear.  [This happened at Mount Sinai: when the Jews heard the first two commandments directly from G-d, their souls flew out of their bodies.The next eight commandments had to be told to them through Moshe, who could handle these great revelations.  So too now, regarding Moshiach.]

But now, after thousands of years of refinement, the world is now ready to receive the greatest revelation of all - Etzem.
___________________________

6. What is the delay?

Period of refinement.
The initial refinement is over, this was needed to bring the Geula; but now there is a different refinement/ preparation needed, to reveal the highest level of Hashem totally into the world: Etzem.

Moshiach has to come willingly, not by force.
Kings in the past were more like dictators - their every desire, and whim, had to be fulfilled.
But Moshiach is the polar opposite, he is a public servant. He has no other desires than to do G-d’s will, in order to guide all mankind to fulfillment.

Everyone on the planet now, has to be able to understand this, with their physical intellect, and then to want this to occur, realizing that this will be the best thing for all mankind. [The world will have changed enough in the meantime for this to occur.]
________________________

7. Why did the Lubavitcher Rebbe say that the Geula is here, and we just have to open our eyes? Also, that all the Avodah [G-dly service] needed to bring the Geula, has been done?

Even though the process of Geula has started, we still have to view world events in the light of Moshiach - “to open our eyes” - since the Geula is still hidden from our eyes.

The Avodah needed to bring the Geula has been done, but now we have to reveal this hidden light into the open.
______________________________

8. What should I do to bring the Geula faster?

1. Chitas - learn selected portions of the day in: Chumash [Moshe], Tanya [Alter Rebbe], and Tehillim [King David].  Not in order to learn, but rather, in order to bring the Geula. 

2. Learn Rambam: one or three chapters a day. This is the summation of Halacha [Jewish law- G-ds will]. By finishing the total fourteen volumes, we then have brought G-d’s Will into the world.

3. Learn about the Geula.

4. Learn Chassidus 

5. Learn Torah - and do Hiddur Mitzvahs [do Mitzvahs in the most exceptional manner possible in an expansive, beautiful manner; and be exacting, and have Kavana [doing them with the brain and heart - understanding and feeling].

6. All non-Jews should learn about the “Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach .” And do them because this is as G-d commanded Moses at Mount Sinai.

7. Live a Moshiach life.

8. Give a lot of charity.

Etc…..

Komarna Rebbes

Komarno is near the city of Lviv

Source: Yitzchak Yaakov Rosenbaum HaLevi - as heard from the Komarno Rebbe Eliezer Tzvi Safrin shlita

[Interestingly, all of the previous Komarna Rebbes passed away during the time of the Omer]
......................................

After the collapse of communism in 1990, the chassidim of the Komarna dynasty travelled to search for the graves of their Rebbes which had been destroyed by the Nazis.

They arrived in Komarno [Ukraine] and asked many people where they could locate the part of town where the Jews had lived. Here they found an old farmer and questioned him regarding the whereabouts of any Jewish graves.

The farmer had no idea, he couldn't help them at all.... but the chassidim continued to question him and ask him if he could think of anything that could help them....... suddenly the farmer remembered that there is a certain paddock, about a mile from the town of Komarno, where they take the cows and sheep to graze. The animals would always stop at a certain point and refuse to go any further. They would only eat the grass on one side of the paddock.

Ohel of Komarna Rebbes
The farmer took the chassidim to the paddock and showed them the area that the cattle refused to graze in. The chassidim began to gently dig at the grass and discovered the graves of their Rebbes. Although the headstones had been destroyed by the Nazis, the graves were lying untouched beneath the grass.

.............................

A visitor to the ohel reported a newly-lit candle burning in the corner. He wondered who had been there and left it - he went outside and asked the children playing there who it was who had just visited and left the candle. The children said that no-one had been there at all, and that he was the first visitor that day.
............................

Pirkei Avot [ch.2] states: "Weigh the loss from a mitzvah against its reward." This is an admonition to the leaders of the community, said Komarno Rebbe Eliezer Zvi Safrin [1830-1898] zatz'l, that they should be willing to sacrifice their personal spiritual gain in order to raise the level of others. Even if a person must interrupt his own learning or growth in order to engage in kiruv (bringing others closer), this loss is insignificant compared to the rewards.

Rav Safrin -- known as the "Sar Bet Hazohar" [Master of the Zohar]: Regarding this the Zohar [II:128b] says that if one helps another overcome his yetzer hara, it is as if he has created a new person. Moreover, there is no greater honor to Hashem than this, the Zohar says. If one holds the hand of a rasha and tries to lead the rasha on a new path, he accomplishes three things: he helps to crush the yetzer hara, he brings honor to G-d, and he causes the world to endure. Such a person will merit to see children and grandchildren, and about him it says "Mighty in the land will his offspring be, a generation of the upright who shall be blessed." [Zekan Beto]