Sunday, January 20, 2019

Lost at the Fair

"Olam Ha-Ze" by Barbara Mendes

"I was a stranger in a foreign land" [Yitro 18:3]

Moshe Rabbeinu, said the Chofetz Chaim, called his son Gershom ('stranger there') because he wished to be reminded daily that his life in this world was but a temporary one, like a stranger living in a foreign land.

The Chofetz Chaim explained this idea with a parable:

A merchant once went to a fair in order to purchase merchandise at a low cost.  The fair was being held in a distant location, so the merchant was forced to part with his family for a long time.

Before he left home, the merchant comforted his wife and children: "Do not be upset. It's true that I will be away for a long time and I will certainly miss all of you, but the time will pass quickly and, with the help of Hashem, I will soon return home.  You have my word that I will not tarry a moment longer than necessary."  The merchant then gathered his belongings and went on his way.

After a long trip, the merchant arrived at the fair.  Without wasting any time, he hurried to the marketplace and began investigating the merchandise.

At one of the booths, he met a friend whom he had not seen in many years.  After exchanging warm greetings, the friend suggested to the merchant that they leave the fair and go to a quiet area for a day or two, where they could sit and share memories from the past.

"I'm sorry" replied the merchant, "but I cannot accept your offer. Do you think I left my wife and children to engage in frivolous conversations?  Did I travel to such a distant land for my amusement? As soon as I finish acquiring the merchandise I need, I will immediately rush home."

So it is with man, said the Chofetz Chaim.  Every individual is placed in the world for the express purpose of fulfilling Hashem's will by doing mitzvot and performing good deeds.  But then the yetzer hara tries to lure the person into wasting his precious time on meaningless pursuits.

Therefore, concluded the Chofetz Chaim, a person must say to his yetzer hara exactly what the merchant said to his friend: Did I come to this world in order to engage in foolishness?  Do not even attempt to beguile me into wasting my precious time!

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Democrats vs Trump

A  six minute video from Rabbi Kessin: The persistent attacks of the Democrats on President Trump - recorded on Dec 29, 2018

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How God Handles Unrepented Sin

Latest shiur from Rabbi Kessin

God wants us all to experience the bliss of Olam Haba more than we can know. To this end, He devised so many ways sin can be expiated.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Last Song

The Mechilta states that "there are ten songs" beginning with the song at the sea led by Moshe, and concluding with the tenth song which will be sung with Moshiach. All the [nine] songs mentioned in scripture are written in the feminine [shirah] since their rejoicing was followed by ["gave birth to"] further servitude. The tenth song of Moshiach is written in the masculine [shir] to indicate that it is permanent.

Chassidic teachings explain that the first nine songs emphasized primarily a desire to come closer to G-d from a distance, like a woman who longs to come closer to and receive from her husband. However, the tenth song of Moshiach will be sung from a feeling that G-d is already close and found openly in our midst, like a husband who is gracefully endearing himself to his wife.

Source: Sichas Shabbos Parshas Beshalach 5752, Lubavitcher Rebbe

Thursday, January 10, 2019

4 Shevat: Yarzheit Baba Sali

Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeirah - The Baba Sali
Born: Tafillalt, Morocco,1890
Died: 4 Shevat, Israel, 1984

Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeirah was of a well-known rabbinical dynasty. His grandfather was the famous tzaddik, Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeirah. He had great skill in Talmudic interpretation and many of his halachic decisions were accepted and took root among his followers. He was regarded as someone who possessed the Ruach Hakodesh or "Divine Spirit".

Although still very young, people flocked to R' Yisrael for blessings for their parnassa (income), family, and health. Consequently he became known as "Baba Sali," (our praying father) because of the prayers that he would invoke on behalf of those who sought out his guidance.

One day, young Yisrael's father told him, "My child, you have a great power to bless people which you cannot measure. Your words can bring great help to men. From now on, you must use this power to say good things about others and to bless them."

Young Yisrael gave his word. Soon it became known that the blessings of this young child brought miraculous results. He became famous as Baba Sali. A master of the Kabbalah and a great Torah Sage, he took over his father's position as head of the yeshiva and Rabbi of the community. Although he regularly gave many lectures in Torah and kabbalah, he did not permit his students to write them down because he wanted his scholarship to remain unknown. Nevertheless, his fame as a holy man and a righteous Tzaddik continued to draw Jews to him from all over. Even Arabs came to receive his blessings and the coins he gave for charity.

At 19 he was inducted as the Rosh Hayeshiva, after his father's death. After an extended one year trip to Eretz Yisrael he returned, and was compelled to take the position of Rav of the community after the murder of his brother by an Arab. He gave daily lectures, served as a judge in the beit din (rabbinical court), and set the tone for the kehilla. The community appreciated that nothing escaped his holy, penetrating eyes. From throughout Morocco, people converged on his home for his blessings, his counsel, and his encouragement.

In 1964 when Baba Sali noted that much of Moroccan Jewry had emigrated to Eretz Yisrael, he followed them to fulfill his dream of settling there. Baba Sali chose Yavne as his home because many of his followers had settled there.

In 1970 he moved to Netivot where he was steadily visited by Chassidim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim who sought his unique counsel. He stressed emunah (faith), humility, ahavat Yisrael (love of fellow Jews) and kiyum hamitzvot (fulfillment of mitzvot). His phenomenal memory allowed him to access information at will, whether it dealt with law, Talmud, Kabbalah,etc.

He was very humble and did not want to attract attention, however, his prophetic powers and his miraculous prayers soon became renowned. Thousands of Jews from all over the world would come to seek his advice and blessings for children, health, and livelihood. Baba Sali was very close to other great Torah scholars, especially the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whom he referred to as "the Great Eagle in the Heavens." He strongly encouraged the Rebbe's Mitzvah campaigns, especially urging young girls to light candles for Shabbat and Yom Tov.


Young and old, men and women, observant and secular, Sephardim and Ashkenazim of every stripe, all streamed to the door of the great kabbalist and tsaddik, Baba Sali, in Netivot, seeking his blessing and help. Everyone, without exception, held him in the highest esteem.

Once a man from Holon, Eliyahu, was scheduled to have his legs amputated. His spinal cord had been damaged by a bullet in the Yom Kippur War. He had already spent much time in the hospital, and so was reconciled to his fate. The procedure was to take place on Friday.

That Thursday, an elderly woman acquaintance suggested that he receive a blessing from Baba Sali before the operation. She said that she knew of someone who had been paralyzed, yet was healed through Baba Sali's blessing. Although Eli was not at all observant, he decided to try it anyway, in desperation. Maybe, maybe....

It would have been impossible to get permission to leave the hospital the day before the operation, so Eli snuck out. He didn't even disclose his intention to see Baba Sali to his concerned family.

Eli sat on a chair in the waiting room near the entrance to the tsaddik's room. After many hours, finally his turn came. The custom was, before anything, to approach Baba Sali on his couch and kiss his hand, but because of the advanced thrombosis of his legs and the crippling pain that accompanied it, Eli was unable even to rise to enter the room.

Following Baba Sali's instruction, Rabbanit Simi, his wife, approached Eli and asked, "Do you put on tefillin?" Do you keep Shabbat? Do you say blessings?

"No," admitted Eli, and burst into sobs.

Baba Sali seemed to be moved by Eli's suffering and his sincerity. He said to him, "If you do my will and observe the Shabbat and repent completely, then G-d, too, will listen to my will."

With great emotion, Eli promptly cried out, "I accept upon myself the obligation to observe the Shabbat in all its details. I also promise to do full tshuvah, to 'return' in repentance all the way."

At Baba Sali's directive, Eli was served tea. After he drank it, the Rabbanit suggested that being that the Rav had blessed him, he should try to get up, in order to go and and kiss the Rav's hand.

After much effort and pain, Eli managed to rise. He couldn't believe it-his legs were obeying him! Shakily, he walked over to Baba Sali and kissed his hand! By then nearly delirious with shock and joy, he began to thank Baba Sali profusely. The Rav interrupted him, saying with a smile, "Don't thank me. Just say: 'Blessed are those who sanctify His name publicly!'"

As if in a dream, Eli stumbled out the door and descended the stairs. He experimented, walking this way and that. He had to know: Was he really awake? Could this truly be happening? With each step, his legs felt better.

On his "new" legs, he went over to Yeshiva HaNegev, not too far from the home of Baba Sali. When the students realized they were seeing the results of a miracle that had just occurred, they surrounded Eli with happy dancing and singing, and words of praise and gratitude to G-d.

Rejoicing in his new-found ability to walk, Eli returned to the home of Baba Sali to say goodbye properly and to thank him again. He also expressed his fear that his legs would relapse to their previous weakness and disease. Baba Sali calmed him, saying cheerfully, "Don't worry. In the merit of your oath to 'return' and repent, and especially that you promised to observe Shabbat according to its laws, which is equal to all the commandments, G-d has done this miracle and nullified the decree against you. Now it is up to you to fulfill your words."

Leaving Baba Sali's house again, Eli telephoned his mother. "I'm all better!" he shouted, without explanation. She figured that fear of the surgery had caused him to loose touch with reality. "Are you coming home?" she asked with concern. "Or will you go straight to the hospital?"

Eli then told her what he had promised Baba Sali, the blessing that he had received from the tsaddik, and the miraculous improvement that had already occurred. As soon as he hung up, he called his doctor at Achilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and informed him of his cure. The doctor told Eli to be back at the hospital the following day, and to "stop acting crazy!"

Eli did go to the hospital the next day. The doctor was barely able to accept the evidence of his eyes. After a few days and many tests, Eli was released. The first thing he did was to return to Netivot, to thank Baba Sali again. The Rav requested of his household that a seudat hoda'ah, a meal of thanksgiving to G-d in honor of the miracle, be prepared and served. At the end of the meal, Baba Sali blessed a bottle of water and told Eli to deliver it to the hospital so that his doctor could drink l'chaim from it. "And tell him," added Baba Sali, "not to be so hasty to cut off legs."

Baba Sali's gabbai (attendant) during most of his years in Netivot, Rabbi Eliyahu Alfasi [who witnessed much of the story and heard the rest of the details from Eli of Holon], reports that he once asked Baba Sali how he performed this great miracle. The tzaddik answered him innocently, "Believe me, Eliyahu, all I did was tell him 'Stand up!'"

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Libby's Story

First published in Binah Magazine December 2018

Re-printed with permission

Written by Suri Epstein

Sometimes a miracle can spark an outpouring of love. And sometimes a groundswell of love can help create a miracle.

Little Libby Nagel, her mother Shoni and her grand- mother Jacqui have had both experiences.

Libby was a bubbly 3-year-old toddler with a head full of curls and a smile that charmed everyone she met, living in Sydney, Australia, with her parents and three older brothers. One Thursday afternoon in 2014, her mother Shoni took her to the park. But Libby wasn’t herself and didn’t want to play. She was fine the next day, but on Shabbos she was so lethargic she fell off Shoni’s lap at shul.

The family ate lunch at the house of close friends. The husband, a pediatrician, observed Libby and by the next day, urged Shoni to take her for an ultrasound on Monday. When the medical staff saw the results of the ultra- sound, the room went quiet.  The head of the department sat them down and informed Shoni and her husband Josh that their life was about to change forever.

“He told us that Libby had stage-4 neuroblastoma, a very aggressive and unpredictable cancer,” Shoni says. “He sent us directly to the Emergency Department of Sydney Children’s Hospital. That was the day our world turned upside down.”

Eight thousand miles away in Ramat Beit Shemesh, when Shoni’s mother, Jacqui Taub, heard the news,  she felt as though her life were ending too. “When I found out about the diagnosis my world fell apart,” she says. “I just screamed. Shoni is my youngest and this was her youngest. I was terrified that we were going to lose my baby’s baby.”

A Grandmother's Love

Jacqui got on a plane the next day, to spend the next two months with her daughter and granddaughter. That was no easy matter. Jacqui’s health was poor; she had undergone three hip replacement surgeries and a spinal fusion, had advanced arthritis, and lives in constant, debilitating pain. The 20-hour flight was physically agonizing for her. She also had the added stress of leaving a sick husband behind in Eretz Yisrael; he had been diagnosed with incurable cancer six years ago.

“It was so hard for me to see Shoni having to go through this and not be able to do something for my little girl,” Jacqui says.

Libby was immediately admitted to the hospital and things started moving at a breakneck speed. “They did surgery within the week,” Shoni explains.

For her mother Jacqui, watching helplessly as the nightmare unfolded, there was a sense of awe. “I was amazed with my daughter, how incredibly strong she was. I couldn’t believe that my baby was handling this tragedy the way she was.” “In that situation there’s no time for contemplation,”

Shoni says. “It’s just what you do.”

Over the next 15 months, the toddler underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, three weeks of radiation, a bone-marrow transplant, surgery, and five months of immunotherapy.  Jacqui traveled between Israel and Australia four times during the first year.

“That child of mine, Shoni, she had such strength,” Jacqui says. “She had a smile on her face. She started baking challos, speaking to women’s groups, and was very upbeat. She still managed to laugh.”

Jacqui wrote cathartic stories about her beloved grandchild, “Libbylicious,” describing how her beautiful curls were like petals that would fall out, but grow back again.

Libby’s treatment continued. The results were nothing short of miraculous. “She responded amazingly to treatment,” Shoni says. “She was doing so well.”

But then everything changed overnight.  Again.  Shoni had taken Libby for her end-of-treatment scan. She was driving home when the doctor called her with shocking news. “You’re not going to believe this,” he told her. “A tumor came back to the front of her brain.” Shoni literally was sick on the side of the road.

With neuroblastoma there’s a 50% chance of relapse in children, which is a devastatingly high number.  But out of that, only 4% contract something called a CNS relapse, which is what Libby had. “The only thing worse than a diagnosis is finding out that your child relapsed,” Shoni says. “You already went through it once, so you know what you’re in for.”

Shoni and Josh were dumbfounded.  Jacqui was shattered. “I have no words to express that helplessness you feel as a mother and grandmother,” she says.

The hospital informed the Nagels that there was nothing more to do for Libby. “The oncologist said, ‘Many oncologists are going to tell you just to enjoy the rest of her life.’” But Shoni adamantly refused to accept defeat.  Her husband Josh was sponsored for a job in the US. which opened up life-saving treatment opportunities for Libby. The family moved to the U.S. and Libby began aggressive treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the only hospital in the world that offered hope for a cure for this rare condition.

“We landed in the middle of the winter, the likes of which we had never experienced before,” Shoni says with a laugh. “I literally knew one person in all of New York.”

But a week after the Nagels’ oldest son’s bar mitzvah — a year into Libby’s relapse treatment — her platelets (the cell that causes blood to clot) dropped from a normal level of 150,000 to 400,000... to 0. It wasn’t clear what the cause was, but it seemed that she’d grown allergic to donor platelets.

“This was the start of a year from gehinnom,” Shoni says. It was a period of platelet transfusions on an almost daily basis, of endless surgeries and invasive procedures. The situation was so dire that they had to suspend treatment for the neuroblastoma. And in the middle of that, her mother-in-law passed away.

The situation has also been very hard on Libby’s siblings. “Libby’s treatment was traumatic on her brothers,” Shoni says. “Even today they remember our absence and crave our attention and worry incessantly about their baby sister.” 
Jacqui with Libby and two of her siblings

And the agony that Jacqui felt for her child and grandchild was just another chapter in an already hard life. Her mother had abandoned the family when Jacqui was 2 years old. At the age of 8, she was sent to a Christian boarding school for two years. She dropped out of high school at the age of 16, thanks to an undiagnosed case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Devastated by unresolved childhood trauma, she endured decades of panic attacks as well as a broken marriage. 

“My life was always lived by the skin of my teeth,” Jacqui says. “But fear’s never been part of my world. I’m not frightened to fail.” 

When she was in her 30s, she began to find herself creatively. “Nobody knew that I had any talent at all,” she explains. She became a published poet in Australia, and wrote and illustrated six children’s books. Then she had a sudden image in her head — a picture of a little man made from clay wearing a tallis and a kippah. 
Photo Chana Zuber Flicker

“I had no experience with ceramics,” she says. She bought clay and spent three months crafting her first piece. “I’m self-taught with Hashem’s help,” she says. 

Jacqui moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1997 and continued developing her talents in her tiny Mercaz Klitah (Absorption Center) room in Raanana. “I shlepped the samples back and forth across a huge field to a girl who had a kiln and who fired them for me,” she says. 

When she’d amassed a suitcase full of samples, she took them to an upscale store in Jerusalem’s Old City. The owner immediately purchased most of her items. She continued creating her ceramics and growing her business for the next few decades. 

It was many years later, as Jacqui watched Libby’s horrific situation unfold, that she felt she’d lost her drive. But then she was struck by inspiration. She decided that she was going to make a magnificent ceramic chess set. The pieces would feature different groups of Chassidim telling a story. It would be an important distraction for her from the difficult time they were going through, as well as a means to fund the frequent trips to the U.S. 

“My mom had felt so helpless and frustrated about not living near us,” Shoni says. “She wanted to be proactive, so she did the thing she’s brilliant at.” 

Photo Chana Zuber Flicker

The chess project took a year and a half to complete, and proved to be a life-saving distraction from her emotional and physical pain. Even though her body is wracked with arthritis and she is no longer mobile, she says that when she’s working, she doesn’t feel pain. “I just strap up my hands and my fingers work,” she says. 

“It’s a miracle. I understand why Hashem has given this gift to me. He wanted to help me through these horrible times. But I am convinced that there are so many people out there with talents from Hashem, but they don’t know it. You can be a success doing anything you want.” 

She hoped selling the chess set would fund her flights to the U.S., but she was three-quarters of the way from completing her masterpiece when she was struck by another insight. She realized that the precious chess set was meant to be sold for tzedakah as a zechus for Libby’s recovery. 

“The chess set didn’t belong to me,” she says. 

“My mother is an unbelievable neshamah,” Shoni says. “She was doing something in Libby’s merit, something in return for all the chessed that was done for us.” 

Shoni has been overwhelmed by the amount of chessed that was done for her family in their Five Towns community and across New York. Organizations, schools, and individuals have selflessly offered financial, emotional and medical support. 

“My child is alive because of Chai Lifeline, without  which we would not have been able to navigate a new country and relocation,” Shoni says. “They give to Libby and to the boys and support us in so many ways.” 

While Jacqui worked on the chess set, a friend of a friend heard about it and asked to see it when it was done. She didn’t give his interest any thought. But when she finally completed the set, she had no idea how she would find a buyer. She was at a simchah and this man approached her and asked her if she’d finished the chess set. She sent him photos of the completed item, and he said he wanted it. He purchased the set for a substantial amount of money — and the entire profit went to tzedakah in Libby’s zechus. 

So how is Libby doing? “Libby is a miracle,” Shoni says. “Medically she shouldn’t be walking around. The hospital staff is floored by her. G-d really works in mysterious ways. She’s here because of all of the Tehillim groups and chessed done in her name. There’s no other explanation — she’s miraculous.” Bli ayin hara, she’s gone over two months without a transfusion. Even more amazingly, she still hasn’t completed her cancer treatment for the relapse, but has been cancer-free for two years. “No children have survived without treating CNS; she has only had partial treatment, but is still here.” 

Now six and a half years old, Libby is an upbeat and carefree child who brings joy to everyone around her. No matter how painful her treatments, she bounces back to her cheery self instantly. She’s also a gifted artist like her grandmother. “She’s amazing,” Shoni says. “Thank G-d we’re in a good place at the moment.” “That little girl has taught me so much,” Jacqui says. “She’s given me strength to go on. She’s a source of encouragement.” 

Throughout their ordeal, the family has never wavered in their belief. “When I daven, I say a prayer I composed asking Hashem to give Shoni the strength and the courage to do what she has to do, and keep her family strong, and keep her emunah,” Jacqui says. “And Hashem is answering her tefillos because that’s what she’s doing.” 

As for Jacqui? “I’m blessed with so many blessings. My husband is doing okay. He’s alive. He has a certain quality to his life. My family is my tafkid.” The bond between the three generations is a powerful one that’s sustained all of them. “I’m incredibly proud of my mom,” Shoni says. “She’s wonderful.” “Let me tell you that Shoni is amazing. She’s one of the most amazing people I know,” Jacqui says with a laugh. “And my other kids, of course.”

Monday, January 7, 2019

How Evil People are Handled by God

Latest Rabbi Kessin shiur

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?


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.