Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Conscious and the Subconcious Mitzvot

Do we really have free choice? Most people tend to view this as a yes-or-no type of question, but the correct answer is in fact, yes and no.

a) The inner core of the soul is totally at one with G-d. At this subconscious level, the soul of every Jew wishes to observe all the mitzvot and to avoid transgressing any prohibitions. There is no desire for evil here; there simply is no other option than doing good.

b) At the conscious level however, where we interact with the more superficial layers of the soul's complex psyche, there is room for both good and evil. Here, the soul's inner desire to observe all the mitzvot is felt only as a weaker 'signal', which is susceptible to 'interference' from the opposing messages of our animalistic instincts. So at the conscious level, we do indeed possess free choice.

In general, the Torah speaks to our conscious mind. We are told to observe the mitzvot with the full awareness of what we are doing, and we are charged with bringing an awareness of spirituality into our normal, daily lives.

However, at this conscious level, we are susceptible to being drawn away from a life of holiness, or stifled by the limitations that the world appears to present. So while most of the mitzvot were given to the conscious part of the soul, G-d saw it necessary to give us some mitzvot which speak directly to the inner core of the soul, helping the soul's unlimited energy and total commitment to good to flow outwards to the conscious mind. These special mitzvot help us stay in tune with our subconscious commitment to Judaism, when our conscious observance becomes strained or limited.

With most mitzvot, G-d told Moshe to address the Jewish people with the term דבר "daber" [speak] or אמור "emor" [say]. While the mitzvot conveyed with these terms are of course obligatory, the more passive, indirect mood of the words "speak" and "say" indicate that these mitzvot are directed at the superficial layers of the soul which possess free choice.

Parshas Tzav, in contrast, uses the more direct imperative term צו "tsav" [command], alluding to a type of mitzvah which speaks to the soul's inner core that does not possess true free-choice; and is simply "commanded" to obey G-d's will. These special mitzvot which are included in this Parsha are aimed at helping our inner identity of unquestioning and uninhibited commitment to the Jewish faith surface in everyday life.

Based on Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Monday, March 12, 2018

Did the Rabbis Invent the Noachide Laws ?

Where do the Noahide Laws come from?  Did the Rabbis ''invent'' them ?  Rabbi Tovia Singer answers.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fire at R' Elimelech's Kever on his Yarzheit

Just a few days ago, it was the yarzheit of Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, and a fire broke out causing immense damage: Heavy Damage Seen Following Fire At Tziyon Of Reb Elimelech In Lizhensk On Yartzheit

Pictures of the Ohel of Reb Elimelech before the fire can be seen here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Meshane Makom Meshane Mazel - Change your Place, Change your Mazel

Following yesterday's post about the Three Blessings, there are two other ways to change your Mazal.

One is by changing your Hebrew name [but this should not be done without a long consultation with a learned Rabbi, and is usually only done in the case of a severe life-threatening illness] and the other one is by moving to a new address, or even a new city or country.

By changing our place in life we can change our destiny.  In Hebrew this is called ''MeShane Makom [change your place] MeShane Mazal [change your fortune]..  Mazal has many descriptions but basically it means the way your blessings come down to you.  In Jewish Astrology the signs are known as Mazalot.  That's why we wish people ''Mazal Tov'' on a joyous occasion, because their Mazal is good.    The story below will help you understand.

Art: Jacek Yerka
Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles

Many of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov's ways might have seemed strange to an outsider, but Reb Zev Wolf Kitzes, the Baal Shem Tov's constant companion, had enough confidence in his Rebbe never to doubt his actions. He knew that in the end -- even if it took years -- all would be for the best.

Reb Zev Wolf once accompanied the Besht on a visit to a certain village Jew. The impoverished villager welcomed the Besht into his home.

"I must have a donation of 18 rubles," the Besht requested. The poor man did not have this large sum. But, considering that it was the Besht making the request, the villager took some of his furniture and his cow, sold them, and gave the Besht the money. Reb Zev Wolf looked on silently while the Besht took the money and then departed.

Several days later the villager's rent was due on his inn. He could not produce the sum and the landlord evicted him. The villager, seeing no future for himself in this small village, decided to try his luck elsewhere. He finally found himself a tiny hut in a different village with a different landlord. By selling some more of his possessions, the villager managed to buy a cow. The cow provided him with his sole source of income; he sold her milk and eked out a meager living.

Some time later the landlord's cow became sick and her milk was unusable. One of the landlord's servants who knew of the new tenant quickly went to this villager and bought milk for the landlord. When the landlord was served the milk, he commented, "This milk is of a superior quality. Tell the owner that I will pay handsomely for the privilege of being his only customer."

This incident turned the tide of fortune for the villager. Each day he delivered milk to the manor and each day the landlord commented on the quality of the milk and milk products derived from it. He grew fond of the Jew and began to consult him about his business, slowly turning over to him many responsibilities. The landlord trusted him implicitly and appreciated the Jew's honesty, reliability, and faithful service.

The landlord's relationship and bond with the villager became so deep that, being childless, he transferred ownership of that village and the nearby city to the Jew. Feeling that now everything was in good hands, the landlord took leave and went abroad after having given the Jew legal title to that area.  A few years later, Reb Zev Wolf came to the village of the new landlord collecting money on behalf of Jewish prisoners and captives. Reb Zev Wolf had already collected all but 300 rubles of the sum which the Besht had designated.

Upon meeting with the village rabbi, Reb Zev Wolf questioned him as to why he was so festively attired."I am going, together with a group of the town dignitaries, to greet the landlord of this city who will be paying us a visit today. Why don't you come along with us? He is a Jew and will most probably be willing to contribute to your cause."

Reb Zev Wolf accompanied the rabbi and his companions. The landlord greeted the delegation warmly, paying special attention to Reb Zev Wolf. After a little while, the landlord took Reb Zev Wolf aside."You don't remember me, do you?" he asked. Reb Zev Wolf could not place the wealthy man's face. The landlord went on to retell the story of his change of fortune. Then, he took out 300 rubles and gave it to Reb Zev Wolf.

It was only upon returning to the Besht that Reb Zev Wolf understood the entire story. "The last 300 rubles were donated by the village Jew whom you once asked for a donation of 18 rubles. Today he is a wealthy man."

"Let me now tell you why I extracted that large sum from him when his circumstances were so difficult," explained the Besht. "A change of fortune was awaiting him in the future but not in that place. It was necessary to bring him to the end of his rope so that he would be forced to leave and settle elsewhere. That is exactly what happened. The rest you already know."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Rebbe of Rebbes: R' Elimelech of Lizensk

"Today, in our bitter exile, there are people who receive ruach hakodesh more easily than in the time of the prophets." [Noam Elimelech]

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk was the student of Dov Ber of Mezerich, the brother of Meshulam Zushia of Anipoli. He was born in 1717, and died on 21 Adar in 1786.

During the lifetime of Dov Ber of Mezerich he traveled widely with his brother all over Poland to spread Hassidism. After Dov Ber's death, Rebbe Elimelech settled in Lizhensk and attained great fame, thanks to his lofty life. During his lifetime, Lizhensk was turned into a center of Polish-Galician Hassidism. There, many famous Tzadikim and Hassidic activists of Galicia were educated and obtained their inspiration during the 18th century.

Rebbe Elimelech is the author of “Noam Elimelech” [Lvov 1798], a book of commentaries on the Pentateuch. In that book, the role of a Tzadik is set out and explained, and the doctrine of Hassidism is explained in greater detail. This book was subject to an intense investigation by the opponents of Hassidism. Many of his expositions are published in his work “Darche Tzedek”, and other works.

The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a, a direct descendant of the "Noam Elimelech", stated that Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzhin said that 500 years before Rebbe Elimelech was born, the world received abundance in his merit. Now, after his death, even more so!

It is said that Rabbi Elimelech promised anyone who would visit his grave that they would not leave this world without teshuva.

Kever of Rabbi Elimelech in Lizensk, Poland [Photo: יהונתן וואקסמאן]
Ohel of Rebbe Elimelech, Lizensk Poland [Photo: יהונתן וואקסמאן]

After Rebbe Elimelech passed away, Rebbe Reb Zisha of Hanipoli was approached by his brother’s students to be their new leader. Rabbi Zisha declined and explained his reason with a parable. “The possuk in Bereshis 2:10 states “And a river went forth from Eden to water the garden and from there it split into four paths.”

The Torah is eternal and alludes to all events above and below for all generations. Eden alludes to our holy master the Baal Shem Tov. The river was his student the holy Mezitcher Maggid. The garden refers to my brother the Rebbe Elimelech.

This then is the meaning: a river flows from Eden to water the garden, the Torah flows as water from the Baal Shem Tov by way of the Mezritcher Maggid to the Rebbe Elimelech. From there it separates into four paths: they are :

1.The Holy Rebbe the Chozeh or Seer of Lublin;
2.The Holy Rebbe Avodas Yisrael the Koznitzer Maggid;
3. The Holy Rebbe Mendel Rimanover; and
4.The Holy Ohev Yisrael the Apta Rav.

Stories of Noam Elimelech

The Light of The Rebbe’s Prayer Sash
related by the Rabbi of Madin, grandson of the Ropshitzer
Rebbe Elimelech had a custom that after the afternoon Mincha service he would converse with his close followers. He would then proceed to a special private room to pray the evening Maariv service alone in seclusion, purity and sanctity.

Rabbi Naftali Ropshitzer, a student of the Rebbe always yearned to also be in that room. He constantly wished to see the deeds of his Rebbe and how he prayed at that time. Once he stole into the room unnoticed and hid beneath the bed. The holy Rebbe entered and closed the door behind him. He took his “gartel,” the traditional sash or belt used by Hassidim for prayer and preceded to fasten it about himself.

The first time he wound the sash about his waist the whole house was filled with an awesome unbelievable light. The second time he tied the gartel winding it around, the light grew in intensity until the Ropshitzer could no longer endure it. He grew weak and found himself fainting. He called out in a loud voice.

Rebbe Elimelech heard the cries of distress coming from his student and recognized their source. “Naftali my son are you here?” the Rebbe asked. “Fortunately, you did not remain here for the third and final time I wound the gartel. If you had remained your soul would have surely left your body from the intensity of the great light. Therefore leave now.”

An unusual guest for Tea
related in the name of The Shinover Rebbe

The author of the Hasidic work Maor va’Shemesh was a student of the Rebbe Elimelech. Once he asked the Rebbe Elimelech to be allowed to serve him, thereby learning directly from his Rebbe. Rebbe Elimelech conceded and asked him for a cup of tea. After preparing the tea, the student entered the room to give it to the Rebbe. Inside he saw the awesome figure of an old man sitting beside Rebbe Elimelech. He was overcome by fear, trembling and shaking so much so that he dropped the cup spilling the tea on the floor and ran out.

Later Rebbe Elimelech saw his student and asked him why he hadn’t given him the tea he requested. He answered that he had brought it but when he saw the figure of the old man he was so frightened he spilled the tea. The Rebbe then said to him in Yiddish “Oy vey iz das kind voos ken nisht kiken dem taten in poonim arayn: Woe is to the child who cannot look his own father in the face.” That old man you saw was none other than our forefather Avraham peace be upon him!

More can be found at Jewish Gen

The Three Blessings

Chassidus teaches that the Angel Michoel is responsible for bestowing the Jewish people with the three blessings of  health, wealth and children.  Some people have all three, some people have only one of them, and some people have none at all.  The word ''children'' does not just refer to being blessed with having children, but also that the child grows up to be a mensch... that you receive nachas [loosely translated as pride and pleasure] from your children.

The Zohar teaches that if a Jewish woman covers her hair, she will be blessed with all three..... [Likutei Sichos, vol. 13, p. 188 Lubavitcher Rebbe]

.... unfortunately, these days, it is not always that simple.   Our souls are all reincarnations and our situations in this life are probably determined by our past lives and whatever needs to be atoned for and fixed in this life  [although for women, covering the hair is still a very good way to give yourself and your family extra blessing from Above].

Of course, Torah, Tefilla [prayer] and Tzedaka [charity] can improve all three blessings.

There are two tests – for a wealthy person, his challenge is to not believe that he is the creator [of his wealth].

For the person in dire straits, it is to still believe.

Both can be educated through the “Ma-an” [manna - the daily seeds which fell, giving the Jews food during their duration in the desert].

For the wealthy person, the Ma-an was literally the Jews' sustenance  - for though people were famously wealthy – having taken the Egyptian wealth, nonetheless they were in a desert, and the Ma-an was their sole sustenance which forced them to daily look Heavenward.

In contrast, the Ma-an was miraculous in that if you took extra even for one day, it rotted [in other words, the poor person could appreciate that extra was actually not a blessing].

How To Unlock Divine Flow 

However, the key to unlock the Divine infinite flow is by setting aside one’s ego – acknowledging that everything is merely G-d’s kindness.

We find there is a commentary that explains that after Yitzchok gave Maaser [tithe] on the produce of his fields, he discovered that the same produce multiplied one hundred times.

In other words, what Hashem is coming to teach us is that from the reward of giving Maaser, man is blessed even a hundred times more. 

We can ask, if the ultimate reward is spirituality, and fulfilling unconditionally G-d’s will, why does the Torah promise physical rewards [as we learn in the Shema]?

Furthermore, why would it be so laudable that in the messianic era so many Divine miracles will create a miraculous physical abundance [such as “When you plant, things will grow” – “The taste of the tree’s bark will be like its fruit” – all indicating a world of complete physical pleasure]

The answer is that in truth, everything in the physical flows from the Torah.

Hence when a Jew engages in the Torah [as the Zohar teaches, “First G-d creates through Torah, then Jews maintain through its study”] so this manifests not only spiritually, but also physically.

In the era of Moshiach this flow will be apparent.

Sources: Likutei Sichos 4 Page 1099; Likutei Sichos 5 Page 12; Likutei Sichos 37 Page 79; Kabbalah Wisdom OhrTmimim

Note....there are a couple of other ways to improve your mazal, and these will be mentioned in my next post.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Tests of Wealth and Poverty

Art Tricia McKellar

Excerpts from an article by Nechama Greisman

Sometimes people look at difficulties in life as a punishment. According to Chassidus, when a person has to face tests and challenges in life, this is not because he deserves punishment. Rather, he has to face challenges in order to raise him up to a higher level. HaShem would like him to bring out his emunah — his faith and trust in G-d, or his ahavas Yisrael, his love for a fellow, or for the Torah. Let’s say you have to contend with a very, very unpleasant person. You say, perhaps, “Why did HaShem make me the daughter-in-law of this woman who is so difficult to deal with?” You keep saying to yourself, “My friend has such a nice mother-in-law; how come I got her?”

The answer is that perhaps HaShem wanted… not perhaps. HaShem definitely wanted you to work on a certain trait and you would never know how to work on it if you didn’t have practice. So this difficult person that you have to deal with is a way of bringing out or working or strengthening those middos [traits] that might be weak in you, but not in your friend. That’s why she doesn’t have that test. This is not, G-d forbid, a punishment.

Tests, or nisyonos, can generally be classified into two groups. There are nisyonos of poverty, whether material or spiritual, and there are nisyonos of wealth, whether material or spiritual. In the simplest sense, when a person lacks something in life, whether it’s a lack of money or a lack of personality traits that we would like to have, or lack of husband or lack of parents, or any lack, anything that we think we should have, or want to have and we don’t have, that is called a nisayon of poverty. When a person has wealth, more than other people are endowed with, such as intellectual wealth, good looks, outstanding qualities of some sort, or simply a lot of money — this is a test of wealth.

Each kind of test is given to a person to develop a different kind of middah that is vital for true service of HaShem.

A person could spend his whole life being very discouraged, depressed and angry over his lot in life, and it will lead him nowhere. However, a Jew who is filled with Torah will learn to deal with his situation.

One must realize that if HaShem placed him in a particular situation, this is for a reason. It is something that is clearly necessary for him, and it is certainly for his benefit. There is a story about a man who had a terrible wife. Later on, he found out that in a previous incarnation he was guilty of a sin that carried the death sentence. However, instead of administering the death sentence, the Heavenly Court decided that he would have a wife who would regularly shame him in public. Each time this happened, it removed part of the death sentence. We don’t always realize that when we experience some negative situation, it is part of the account from the past or the present. I once read an article that was written by a famous dancer in the New York City Ballet. She described the painful exercises that she had to go through to keep fit for performing on stage. She described it as actual physical pain. When you read it you say, Ribono shel Olam, who would want to be a dancer? It is such a terrible life. But there were plenty of rewards and that’s why she did it.

Similarly [lehavdil], when a person is imbued with faith in HaShem, he knows that sometimes he has to pay a price for other good things in life. Every painful experience for the body is a tikkun [rectification] for the soul. Suffering cleanses. Of course, this does not mean that one should look for suffering, G-d forbid. But if this happens by Divine Providence, then one must accept suffering with love, knowing that it is for the person’s own good. 

Acceptance is the first thing that the test of poverty is supposed to bring out. To accept it and not say it was a mistake, I don’t deserve it, this is bad. To say, “HaShem understands why it happened. He knows that it was addressed to me, it wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t meant for someone else. If I got it, it’s my package, and that it truly is for the good, whether I understand it or not.” 

If anybody here in this room has gone through a difficult time, and I think every one of us has, in different ways, you will know that it isn’t easy to say these words and truly internalize them and believe them. For some people it can be a lifetime task learning to accept with love what HaShem gives us. But you don’t learn that unless you have this test. If you never had a hard day in your life how are you going to learn to accept difficulties? So HaShem gives one person an illness, another one has a child who has a problem, another one is not pretty, or whatever.

Source: Chabad

Tuesday, March 6, 2018