Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hall of Exchanges


At the moment when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the "Revolving Sword" also came into existence. This sword guards the passage between the Heavenly Garden and this earthly existence. Some people call this sword the "Flaming Sword" - because it whirls with such a brilliant, blinding light that it seems to be on fire. But it should more properly be called the "Sword of Transformations", because it changes one thing into another. The Revolving Sword slices both ways - good and evil, evil and good - but it also mixes them up.

In this earthly world, it is not always easy to tell what is evil and what is good, because when they pass the Revolving Sword, they are finely chopped together. Our job when we incarnate here is to sort the wheat from the chaff - the good from the evil - to set things right again. When this great work is finished, the universe will be in balance once again, and the Moshiach will come.

But this work is not so easy, because our souls are also mixed up in this world. Between the Revolving Sword and this earth plane is the "Hall of Exchanges", where souls can become switched in their destinies. Some souls make it through the Hall and into their properly designated bodies, but others do not. That is why it can happen that the "garments of skin" we wear here might not reflect our true spiritual natures: "There are righteous men who are reached according to the deeds of the wicked, and wicked persons who are reached according to the deeds of the righteous." (Ecclesiastes 8:14)

It was because of the Hall of Exchanges that our saintly father Abraham was born into a family of sinful idol worshippers. But he could not remain in his birthplace, the city of Ur, because his soul was driven to seek the One True G-d. He was born into a house of idolatry, but his soul did not really belong to it.

And so it has continued throughout history, among rich and poor, among rulers and those who are ruled. A person such as Napoleon, who was born a mere peasant, might really have the soul of a king. Or the crown prince could have the soul of an ignorant peasant. A Torah scholar can be born of illiterate parents, a sinner can give birth to a saint, a Jew can return as a gentile.... nothing on earth is really as it should be. And thus it will continue, until the Great Work is done and the Moshiach comes, to set all things right again.

"Jewish Tales of Reincarnation" by Yonassan Gershom

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hell on Earth

The Alter Rebbe
Reb Noah was a devoted disciple of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who lived in 18th century Russia. Among the Lubavitcher Hasidim, Reb Schneur Zalman is known as the Alter Rebbe because he was the first in the line of seven Lubavitcher Rebbes.

Reb Noah's son eventually married the Alter Rebbe's daughter and from that union came the Rebbe who was known as the Tzemach Tzedek. To this day, the memory of Reb Noah is well honoured amongst Lubavitchers, who tell this story about him.

After Reb Noah died and came before the Heavenly Court, they looked into his case and found that he had been a very good Jew. All his life he had observed the commandments as best he could and never missed any opportunity to perform an additional mitzvah.

Now, as is wellknown amongst the Hasidim, when a Jew says the appropriate blessing before doing a mitzvah, then a holy angel is born from that very act. These angels, it is said, will come to testify on behalf of the soul after death. And so it happened that when Reb Noah stood before the Heavenly Court, thousands upon thousands of luminous mitzvah angels came to his trial, saying "I was born from such-and-such a good deed performed by Reb Noah when he was alive on earth".

The Heavenly Court was very impressed by the testimony of all these mitzvah angels and was about to decide that Reb Noah should go immediately to Gan Eden. But suddenly another angel appeared, which was not very luminous at all. In fact, this angel was dull and lacking in light. The darkened angel stood before the Court and said "I was born from a sin that Reb Noah committed during his life on earth." Then the angel revealed to the Court exactly what the sin had been.

The three judges who sit on the Heavenly Court deliberated long and hard. On the one hand, Reb Noah was a holy man who had led a basically righteous life, so he deserved to go to Gan Eden. But on the other hand, he had committed the sin. Just as no good deed every goes unrewarded, so does no sin ever go unpunished. At long last, the Court decided to give Reb Noah two choices: he could spend a half-hour in Gehenna now, to atone for the sin, and then go straight to Gan Eden. Or, he could avoid the pain of purgatory by reincarnating on earth once again and atoning for the sin there.

Reb Noah answered: "With all due respect to this Court, I would like to consult with my Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman, before I make a decision. All my life I never did anything concerning my spiritual life without first asking the Rebbe's advice. And so I would like permission to ask the Rebbe about this now."

The Court consulted the Heavenly Records and found that it was indeed true. Reb Noah never did anything important without first asking the Rebbe's advice. "Very well" the Court replied, "you may return to earth in the spirit and consult with the Alter Rebbe about your decision".

Back on earth, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was sitting at the table as usual, learning Torah with his Hasidim. Then the soul of Reb Noah appeared to him in the spirit and posed the question: "Earth or Gehenna?" The Rebbe turned to his Hasidim and said "Reb Noah is here right now, and he is asking what judgment he should choose: a half hour in hell or to be reborn in this world another time."

The Hasidim said nothing. What could they say? If the Rebbe didn't know, how could they presume to decide for him? So they sat there in silence, waiting to hear what the Rebbe's answer would be.

The Alter Rebbe put his hand on his forehead, then rested his elbow on the table and concentrated very deeply. For a long long time he just sat there in silence, turning the question over in his mind, weighing all the consequences. Then came the answer: "Gehenna - to purgatory!"

As soon as the Rebbe had said the word "Gehenna", the Hasidim all heard a voice cry out "Oy, Rebbe!" At the same moment they saw, burned into the wall by the door, the outline of a human hand. It had been made by Reb Noah's soul as it entered Gehenna.

From this the Hasidim understood what a burden it is to come to this world. Better to spend half an hour in the fires of purgatory than a whole lifetime on earth once again!

Sweetening Judgments

from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

When the messengers who bring suffering are despatched, they are made to take an oath: that they will neither set out nor return except on such and such a day, at such and such a time, and only (carry out their mission) by using the designated means. However, repentance, prayer and charity have the power to nullify (the enactment of) this oath.

Reciting the Torah chapters concerning the Choshen, the Breastplate (Exodus 28:15-30; 39:8-21) is a tikkun (rectification) for harsh judgments.

A person who suffers affliction should give charity. This charity will be considered as if it were a fee paid to a judge for his services, which when accepted, nullifies the verdict's validity. And through this his suffering will be alleviated.

When a person rebukes his friend for the right motives, he has a thread of lovingkindness drawn over him.

A person who does not accept rebuke will experience suffering.

To sweeten harsh judgments, recite Psalm 39 and Psalm 77.

When the nations have issued an evil decree against the Jews, Psalm 62 should be said.

A person can determine and understand his sins from the suffering which he experiences.

There are four things which abolish harsh decrees: Tzedakah (charity), crying out to G-d, changing one's name and improving one's conduct.

Crying out to G-d helps the individual only prior to the final decree.

A person's accusers are beaten off by the study of Torah.

A final decree accompanied by an oath cannot be abolished, even for the sake of an entire community.

The effects of a decree against a person apply only in a specific place. He can save himself by changing his location.

A person should tell others of his anguish so that they will pray for mercy on his behalf.

Accepting suffering with love is like bringing a sacrifice.

A person who falls down while walking should see this as a sign of a downfall on a spiritual level. Falling down while walking sometimes serves to nullify a pronouncement of death which has been issued against the person.

A person who finds himself suffering from harsh judgment should make it a habit to gaze at the Heavens.

The Holy One exonerates the person who teaches righteousness to the wicked.

A man of truth receives G-d's lovingkindness undisguised by judgments.

Trust in G-d sweetens judgment and draws down lovingkindness.

Through faith (emunah) it is possible to convince G-d to follow your will.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Book of Remedies

by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

At one of the most critical junctures of Jewish history, with Assyrian King Sennacherib's vast army closing in on Jerusalem, Hezekiah King of Judah suddenly fell mortally ill. His entire body was covered with horrible sores. The prophet Isaiah came to him and said, "Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you will die and not live" (Isaiah 38:1; Kings II, 20:1).

With God's prophet telling him to make his will and prepare to die, a lesser man might have given up the fight. Not Hezekiah. He had a tradition from his ancestor, King David: "Even if a sharp sword is pressing on your neck, don't despair of pleading for God's mercy" (Berakhot 10a).

The Midrash throws light on the meaning of Hezekiah's illness. "Rabbi Levi said: Hezekiah mused, `It isn't good for people to enjoy constant good health until the day they die. This way they'll never think of repentance. But if they fall sick and then recover, they'll come to repent their sins.' God said to Hezekiah, `This is a good idea. And I'll start with you!'" (Bereshit Rabbah 65:9).

Hezekiah saw that illness can have a positive side if it prompts us to examine ourselves. What have we been doing with our lives? How have we been using our bodies? What is our true purpose in this world? How can we attain it?

As Hezekiah lay in mortal danger, he asked the prophet where he had gone astray. Isaiah explained that he had failed to carry out the first commandment of the Torah, to be fruitful and multiply. Hezekiah said this was because he had seen with holy spirit that his offspring would be unworthy. But Isaiah said this was not his business: he had an obligation to have children. Hezekiah understood his mistake and undertook to marry and have children.

That sickness is a prompt from God to examine ourselves was a lesson Hezekiah, spiritual leader of his people, had long wanted to teach. The point is brought out in a rabbinic comment on Hezekiah's prayer as he lay sick: "I did what is good in Your eyes." Enumerating Hezekiah's achievements during his reign, the Rabbis said he was alluding in his prayer to two major innovations: he "joined Redemption to Prayer, and he put away the Book of Remedies" (Berakhot 10b; Pesachim 56a).

"Joining Redemption to Prayer" literally refers to Hezekiah's institution of the rule that during the daily prayer services no interruption may be made between recital of the blessing of Redemption that follows the Shema and commencement of the silent Amidah prayer. But what about the Book of Remedies? What was it, and why did Hezekiah ban it?

Extant clay tablets and papyruses indicate that the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt possessed a vast body of medical knowledge. Hundreds of therapeutic plant, mineral and animal substances were in use, as well as a wide variety of surgical and other treatments. It would be easy to speculate that the Book of Remedies included medical techniques borrowed from other cultures with which the Jews had contact.

On the other hand, Rabbi Shimon bar Tzemach (the TaShBaTz, 1361-1444) states that the source of the book was supernatural: when Noah was in the ark during the flood, destructive spirits injured his sons, but an angel took one of them to the Garden of Eden and taught him all the remedies in the world (Seder HaDorot #1657).

The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Girondi, 1194-1270) opines that the Book of Remedies was composed by Hezekiah's ancestor, King Solomon, whose God-given wisdom enabled him to deduce the healing properties of the various trees and plants from allusions buried in the Torah (Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Introduction).

By any account, the Book of Remedies contained the accumulated healing wisdom of the Jewish People. Why then did Hezekiah put it away? It was not that the remedies were ineffective. On the contrary, in Hezekiah's view they were too effective! "When a person became sick, he would follow what was written in the book and be healed, and as a result people's hearts were not humbled before Heaven because of illness" (Rashi on Pesachim 56a). In the words of the Rambam (ad loc.): "They did not have trust that it is the Holy One, blessed be He, Who heals and binds up wounds."

Resort to the Book of Remedies turned sickness and healing into nothing but a mechanical process. Hezekiah was not seeking to withhold medical expertise because of some morbid desire to make people suffer their sicknesses to the full so as to somehow expiate their sins. Far from wanting them to be sick, Hezekiah saw that reliance on the Book of Remedies actually prevented people from being truly healed. While the remedies it contained might alleviate their bodily ailments, the very effectiveness of these physical cures allowed those who used them to avoid confronting the underlying spiritual flaws to which their bodily ailments pointed.

King Hezekiah wanted the people to understand that illness, terrible as it may be, is sent by God for a purpose. It is to prompt us to examine ourselves and our lives, to ask ourselves where we have strayed from our mission and what steps we must take in the future in order to attain genuine self-fulfilment. Concealing the Book of Remedies would encourage people to take their lives in hand and actualize their latent spiritual powers, playing an active role in their own healing process.

Putting away the Book of Remedies was thus intimately bound up with King Hezekiah's second innovation, "joining Redemption to Prayer." This was more than a technical rule of religious ritual. Hezekiah redeemed prayer itself! He taught people how to pray again. Prayer brings us to the ultimate connection with God. And precisely because prayer is so exalted, it is surrounded by endless obstacles. For many people it seems like a meaningless, tiresome burden: prayer is in exile. Hezekiah sought to tear down the barriers and reveal the new-old pathway of prayer in its true splendor.

Prayer is not just a matter of asking God for favors. It is our way to channel divine power and blessing into ourselves, our lives and the whole world. Through prayer the soul rises to God and is healed, and in turn sends healing power into the body. By truly redeeming prayer Hezekiah was able to put away the Book of Remedies. There was simply no more need for it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reaching the Palace

If G d's presence fills the universe, if there is no place where He is absent, and if He can be found wherever a person is, then why are angels required to bring a person's prayers up to G-d from chamber to chamber?

The answer is that G-d arranged things this way so that it would seem to a person that he is extremely distant, and would strive to get closer.

This can be understood by this story of the Baal Shem Tov. There was once a great and wise king who used optical illusions to give the impression that he had built walls, towers and gates around his palace. He then gave the order that whoever comes to him must go through the gates, and that treasures be scattered at all the gates.

Thus, some people who came to see the king found treasures at the first gate, took them and immediately turned around and went home, while others continued going through more gates until they could not carry anymore treasures, at which point they too turned around and went home.

However, the king's only son was not interested in the treasures, but only in reaching his father. He then realized that in reality, there were no walls at all separating him from his father, and that it was all an optical illusion.

The analogy of the story is that G-d hides Himself in various veils and walls. However, His glory fills the universe, and every single movement or thought is only Him. Thus, even all the angels and heavenly chambers were all created from His very essence, like the shell of an insect is an integral part of its body. Hence, there is absolutely no separation between man and G-d, and with this knowledge, all evildoers are dispersed.

from the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Woman of Worth

The blessings a man receives, according to our sages, are not for himself, but for his wife and on her account.

And so, they said,"Honor your wife so you may become wealthy."

Tzvi Freeman "Bringing Heaven down to Earth"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chag Sameach

For the eight days of Sukkot, we build a thatched hut with three walls which is called a Sukkah.  For those who have had the privilege of doing so, you will know that a Sukkah is a very holy place.  Just to walk inside it brings a feeling of peace and spirituality.  We eat, drink and some even sleep in their sukkahs.  More than usual, we acknowledge our dependence on G-d for the weather (which can often be rainy and/or windy during the festival, as if to test our endurance qualities).

Sukkot begins tonight (Wednesday).  I will not be blogging again until after Shabbat - 3 days. 

Chag Sameach everyone!

Story: The Dry Sukkah - from The Baal Shem Tov's Teachings on the Torah

"During these seven days you must live in Succahs (thatched huts). This is so that future generations will know that I (G·d) had the Israelites live in Succahs when I brought them out of Egypt." Leviticus 23:42-43

One year, in the holy community of Kitov, it poured with rained on the first night of Succos. Rabbi Chaim, a great Torah scholar and opponent to the fledgling Chassidic movement ("the Sect"), was slightly aggravated that he would not be unable to enjoy the first night in the Succah.
While waiting in his house for the rain to abate, Reb Chaim saw one of his acquaintances casually walking down the street as if he had already finished his Yom Tov meal in the Succah. When Rabbi Chaim inquired as to where he was going, the man told him that he was returning from having dinner in the Succah of Rabbi Gershon Kitover (the brother-in-law and close follower of the Baal Shem Tov).

"And Rabbi Chaim," he continued, "there was a miracle there because not a single drop of rain was falling through the schach."

Rabbi Chaim asked his son to go to Rabbi Gershon's Succah and see if it really wasn't raining there. When his son came to the Rabbi Gershon's Succah, he looked in and sure enough, everyone was sitting, talking and eating. There was not a single drop of rain coming through the schach into the Succah. Rabbi Gershon invited Rabbi Chaim's son to join them but he refused, explaining that he had to return to have Yom Tov dinner with his father.

When the son returned, he told his father, Rabbi Chaim, that it was true. "Father, Rabbi Gershon was sitting in his Succah, and I saw with my own eyes that there was not even a single drop of rain coming into the Succah."

Rabbi Chaim rolled his eyes. Of course he believed his son's report but he wasn't that impressed. The rain finally relented and Rabbi Chaim and his son went into their own wet Succah for Kiddush and the Yom Tov meal. Naturally, they discussed the miracle of Rabbi Gershon's dry Succah and other miracles that the so-called tzaddikim (Holy men) of the Sect were able to do. Rabbi Chaim said, "In my opinion, creating such miracles, as obviously done by our friend Rabbi Gershon, is against the spirit of the Torah."

Early the next morning, Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Gershon met on their way to the mikveh (ritual bath), in preparation for fulfilling the mitzvah of the lulav and esrog.

"Rabbi," said Rabbi Gershon to Rabbi Chaim, "I understand that you were sitting in your Succah last night and speaking loshon hara (slander) about me."

Rabbi Chaim answered with astonishment, "How did you find out about what I said in my Succah? I was sitting there completely alone with my son. And I'm sure he didn't tell you what I said. The only logical answer is that a Heavenly angel told you. But that seems impossible because an angel does not have the authority to speak loshon hara."

Rabbi Gershon answered, "Our Sages teach us that 'Whoever fulfills one mitzvah acquires one angel to speak up in his defense, and whoever does one transgression acquires one prosecuting angel to speak against him.' So it was that prosecuting angel who you created last night by your loshon hara about me who came and told me what you said."

And so it was.

Freely adapted by Tzvi Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) from a story found in Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Festivals by Rabbi S.Y. Zevin


"The footsteps of man are directed by G-d" (Psalms 37:23).

When a Jew comes to a particular place it is for an inner Divine intent and purpose -- to perform a mitzvah : whether a mitzvah between man and G-d, or a mitzvah between man and his fellow-man.

– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1749-1812)

Blood Tests

Those who possess the evil characteristic of always desiring to outdo others cannot accept the truth. When people have the desire to always be right, even when the truth is plain before their eyes, they will distort it in order to maintain their imagined superiority. This applies in all areas of life.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that this abovementioned evil characteristic is akin to strife. He explains that the source of the urge to be victorious, along with the desire to control others, is none other than one's own blood. The verse states (Isaiah 63:3) "Their blood was sprinkled". The root of the Hebrew "nitzcham" (their blood) is Netzach which also translates as "victory".

The desire to be victorious is naturally inherent in the blood. However, someone who serves G-d with all his being succeeds in purifying his blood from evil desires. In this way he can break down within himself the attribute of strife, and the desire to rule over others, and thus bring about peace.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that there are ways to purify the entire bloodstream at once. The cause of sin is the evil inclination, which has taken up residence in the heart, causing putrid blood to flow throughout the body.

Remaining Silent
One way to purify this blood is to remain silent when insulted, to bear embarrassment. By remaining silent, a person controls his desire to return the insult and he refrains from anger, a manifestation of the evil inclination.

This is apparent from the reaction one feels when insulted: when a person is shamed, he blushes, and his face becomes flushed with embarrassment. He then turns white, as if his blood were drained. The blood symbolizes his sins, and his reaction of turning "white" symbolizes a cleansing of those sins that have permeated his bloodstream. Even though blood is still rushing through his body, his control over himself and desistance from retort is true repentance, for it constitutes a powerful act of controlling his evil inclination.

A person who is humiliated should bear in mind the spiritual benefits that accrue through the suffering he undergoes. Blood represents judgment. It requires much patience to endure suffering (in the form of judgment, humiliation etc). Blood also represents repentance. When we remain silent in the face of embarrassment and opposition, we purify our blood and achieve our highest potential. A normal flow of blood is facilitated by an attitude of joy which allows us to feel a spirit of renewal.

Source: "Anatomy of the Soul" - Chaim Kramer - from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Torah Secrets of Parnossa

Art: Heidi Malott

by Robert L. Kremnizer

We begin with a saying from the Talmud familiar to all Chabad children; If a person says, "I strived and failed" - don't believe him. "I didn't strive and succeeded" - don't believe him. "I strived and succeeded" - believe him.

The Rebbe has explained - and the whole of this section is based on that explanation of the concept of parnossah (financial sustenance). Jewish parnossah appears at first glance to contradict this section of Talmud. We will see however that this is of course not so.

The wording of the Torah in relation to work and Shabbos is that "in six days your work shall be done and the seventh day will be for you a holy day, a Shabbos on which to withdraw from mundane pursuits." An important distinction needs to be understood; a Jew's parnossah and a non-Jew's parnossah is entirely different and this section is restricted to Jewish parnossah.

The wording does not say, "you will work." It says, "your work shall be done" in a passive sense.

The Hebrew word for "your work shall be done", is a passive word. Can we therefore say that all we have to do is to exist, and we will have parnossah? Clearly this cannot be true because the world is so designed that everything in nature requires the participation of man.

The first statements in Torah make clear that the world is created, and we are put on the world to complete the work of creation. There are various worlds, as we shall see elsewhere but in this, the physical world, the lowest of all possible worlds, there is a partnership between Hashem and mankind. Clearly, therefore, one cannot simply sit believing what will be will be and what won't be won't be. We know this is wrong because Torah directs our intervention into that partnership.

As far as work is concerned although the word is passive, involvement is required - passive involvement. Six days a week, the work has to be done but the perspective of a Jew is that that work is passive, that he is as it were grudgingly doing it.

Now the Torah also says: "Strive with hands in order to be able to eat, and you will be happy and it will be good for you." The simple meaning of this is the directive not to be a beggar. Man should work for himself and be independent and not be a burden on the community.

The deeper level is that one is required to work with one's hands not one's head or one's heart. A Jew's head is his seichel, his intellect, and his heart is his middos, his emotion. These must be reserved for Torah and mitzvos. Only then can he be truly happy. One must strive with the hands, and then he will eat and then he will be happy and it will be good for him. When will he be happy and it be good for him? Only when working with the hands, not with the head, not with the heart.

No stress. Why no stress? No head, no heart. Where is the head and the heart? Learning Torah, doing mitzvos. What is the primary job? The primary job is to be a Jew who learns Torah and does his mitzvos. What is the secondary begrudged job? Earning a living with the hands. Reserve seichel for Talmud. Reserve middos for learning to be good to others, loving and being kind to a wife and learning to be good to enemies and all those irritating people who keep treading on one's feet which may be too big.

Incidentally, the second quote lists two happinesses; happy and good for you. This means happy in this world and it will be good for you in the World to Come. If one does not work with one's head and one's heart, not only will there be more happiness here but life will be easier in the World to Come - in Gan Eden.

This is what the notion of passivity about the work being done means. For six days there is no question that a Jew must work. But only that which is necessary.

What is necessary? Unfortunately, there is no fixed measure for this. Everyone has to manage this calculation alone.

How can a person approach his business like that? Let us understand that we have all grown up in a host society where parnossah is a sacred cow. The Torah is eternal and applies in all aspects to every generation. Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a false god. Pharaoh threw Jewish children into the Nile. Chassidus teaches that the modern Pharaoh throwing Jewish children into the Nile is society throwing Jewish children into a pursuit of parnossah which eclipses any real perspective of life.

The Torah also says that "Hashem your G-d will bless you in everything that you do." Now, who is doing the blessing? It is that Hashem will bless you in everything you do. Does the brachah (blessing) of parnossah come from us or from Hashem? Every Jew must make this decision.

If a man believes that parnossah comes from him, he has an excellent reason for throwing his head and his heart into the process of earning it, and earning more. How does he obtain more? - by working harder.

He will lie awake at night, he will worry and he will plan, calculating and artfully dodging. People fall in love with this disease until their life is wasted. The head and heart is involved to the exclusion of everything else.

When the words of the Torah are understood for what they say, namely, that the brachah comes from Hashem, your G-d, and who "will bless you in everything that you do", there is a whole and dramatic change in perspective. If the brachos come from Hashem and not as the product of one's effort, a man would be a fool for investing his head and heart into the labor. What a waste of energy this is! Would a man guaranteed $1,000.00 next week irrespective of his effort, work? Even if so, how hard? Would he kill himself? He may work but only to establish a connection between himself and being paid.

How much more so would this be true if he knew he would not earn any more by investing emotional effort. Who would kill themselves for nothing if their parnossah was anyway fixed?

Here is a secret of Torah: What brings parnossah to a Jew is the brachah from Hashem. Therefore, the question becomes only, what needs to be done in order to obtain that brachah? This becomes the only concern. Clearly, one of the things not necessary is to put the head and the heart into the enterprise.

But then why work at all? Why not go to shul and learn, daven and go out into the street and try to help people all day? In fact, can't we say that working is a sign of lack of emunah (faith)? If the brachah is from Hashem and Hashem is going to sustain us, can't we leave it to Him? We learn elsewhere in this book that the whole purpose of the neshomah being sent down into a Jewish body is to learn Torah and do mitzvos and to so make a dwelling place for G-d in the lowest of all possible worlds. If Hashem designs this plan, He cannot allow us to starve, and therefore maybe we should not work at all?

It is the way of Hashem that His blessing must flow down in a natural way. For whatever reason, it is His requirement that, even when nature is suspended, the suspension is through nature and in a way which is apparently natural. In order to receive the blessing, man must make a keli (vessel) to contain that brachah. The vessel must be part of nature so that the brachah devolves through apparently natural means. The keli for parnossah is work. This is the reason, and the sole reason, a Jew is required to work.

The wording we referred to in the Torah also really connotes toil. When a person does what he loves to do, he does not get tired. A person tires quickly from what he hates. A Jewish neshomah, no matter how it is covered up, fundamentally desires to learn Torah and do mitzvos. A Jewish neshomah thirsts for Torah. Everything else becomes work, toil.

What about all those people who love work; they are successful making money and they love to work. Let us understand; there is nothing wrong with making plenty of money. Indeed only a fool denies this, so some people not only love work, they want to multiply the effort and the time spent working. Sadly, some successful people become so involved that when they have more money than they can spend in a thousand years, they still must work - because otherwise they have nothing to do! In other words, what is basically a curse has become a consuming need. The tail has begun to wag the dog. Work is a curse given to us as a result of the sin with the fruit of the tree. The poor person who lives in order that he should work is to be pitied in his lack of understanding.

So what must a Jew do? Every man therefore must make a vessel according to his level. This vessel must begin with a Jew's understanding of his identity. There was a Chassid of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe who was asked whether he was a lawyer. "Certainly not," he replied, "I am a Jew whose parnossah comes to me through the vehicle of the legal profession."

The primary perspective is that a person is a Jew whose neshomah has descended into his body to fulfill his purpose in this world. If the purpose is being fulfilled, there is a guarantee; Hashem says it will be good for you and you will be happy. It will be good for you in this world, it will be good for you in the next world, you will have no worries, and will overcome all problems. As we have seen, every neshomah has just what it needs to do its job.

Does all the above mean a man can forget work and simply play? Then even the hands are not in it. The head and the heart are not there, but the hands are not there either. Hands need to be in the office, to pick up the telephone, to do the mail. Allowing parnossah to take over one's being however and permitting it the central perspective of one's life is throwing life away into the Nile.

Finally, as to the size of the vessel, there is a concluding aspect. The size of the vessel seems to vary with a man's spiritual level. It is an incredible thing that for those people on a high enough level, the vessel may be extremely small. R. Shimon Bar Yochai, who wrote the Zohar, spent thirteen years in a cave with his son buried to their necks in sand.

Theoretically, they should have died of exposure and starvation. But for a Tzaddik that cave happened to have a stream running past it and a carob tree outside. Being perfect Tzaddikim, they had almost no burden of work for their sustenance. On the other hand, men of lesser stature in the mistaken belief that they were Tzaddikim, refused to make a vessel and consequently starved to death.

There is a conclusion however that can be calculated. A Jew fulfilling his purpose will be looked after by Hashem; the more genuine time he spends on this purpose, the lesser the vessel of work required. The more he ignores his function in the world, the greater must the vessel be.

What then of this section of Talmud at the beginning of this chapter? If a person says, "I strived and failed" - don't believe him. "I didn't strive and succeeded" - don't believe him. "I strived and succeeded" - believe him. How does this stand in the face of everything we have learned? This section of Talmud clearly suggests that the harder you try, the better is your edge at succeeding. This section of Talmud expresses spiritual endeavors.

Learning Torah and doing mitzvos is absolutely directly connected with a man's effort. It is difficult. There are aspects of Yiddishkeit which are wonderful. Chassidus teaches a man to soar in the heavens and to see with new eyes but there are aspects of learning how and doing so which are very difficult. This is where the head and heart are required. Exertion with the head and heart in Torah and mitzvos take a Jew out of the realm of weariness and on to the mountain top of fulfillment. There - if a man strives and succeeds - believe him.

To Life: Vanessa's Wedding Surprise

Most watched You Tube video of the week:

"My surprise for my wife Vanessa on our wedding day. All of Vanessa's close friends and family rehearsed for a month in secret, leading up to the reception. What we lack in polish, we hopefully make up for in joy and love."

Souls and Names

Art by Sharon Tomlinson
The Talmud (Berachot 7b) teaches that a Hebrew name has an influence on its bearer. Therefore, it is extremely important to name children after individuals with positive character traits who led fortunate lives and helped bring goodness to the world.

The Arizal writes that the nature and behavior of a person, whether good or bad, can be discovered by analyzing his or her name. For example, a child named Yehudah could possibly be destined for leadership, for Yehudah, the fourth son of Jacob, symbolized monarchy and most Jewish kings descended from the tribe of Yehudah.

It is said that parents are actually blessed with prophesy when naming their newborn babies.

According to the Arizal, even the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in one's name can be indicative of an individual's character. For example the gematria of the name Elisheva is equivalent to the numerical value of the Hebrew words yemei simcha, meaning "days of happiness," perhaps portending a joyous life for a baby girl named Elisheva.

It is precisely because the fortunes and misfortunes of mankind are concealed in the secrets of the letters, vowels and meanings of Hebrew names that a seriously ill person is given an additional name like Chaim, meaning "life," or Rafael, meaning "God heals," in order to influence his destiny. We hope and pray that the new name will herald a new mazel, or fortune, for the stricken individual.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk, writes in his classic work on Torah "Noam Elimelech" (Bamidbar) that there is a profound connection between the soul of an infant and the soul of the person for whom he or she is named.

When a child is named after the deceased, the latter's soul is elevated to a higher realm in heaven and a spiritual affinity is created between the soul of the departed and the soul of the newborn child. That deep spiritual bond between these two souls can have a profound impact on the child.

Zocher HaBris 24:4, who also quotes Noam Elimelech on Bamidbar: “If they give him the name of a tzaddik who has already lived in this world, this will cause him also to become a tzaddik, because it has aroused the soul of the departed tzaddik in the Supernal World.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unanswered Prayers

Painting: "Power of Prayer" by Alex Levin
from the writings of Rav Kook zt"l

"קַוֵּה אֶל-ה', חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה אֶל-ה"

"Hope to God. Be strong and He will give you courage, and hope to God." [Ps. 27:14]

Why does the psalm repeat the phrase "hope to God"?

The Sages learned from this repetition that we should be tenacious in prayer. "If a person prays but is not answered, he should pray again" [Berachot 32a].

Yet one could ask: If God did not answer my prayer the first time, what will I accomplish by praying again?

The answer to this question requires understanding the very essence of prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to elevate the soul by bolstering its powers with images of holiness and perfection. There are an infinite variety of such mental images, and God knows exactly which ones are needed to perfect each individual soul. Divine wisdom determines what we are lacking - thus providing the stimulus for our prayers - so that the soul may perfect itself in the appropriate area.

On occasion, a particular visualization in all of its aspects may not succeed in penetrating the depths of the soul. In such cases, acceptance of the prayer is delayed until the prayer is repeated sufficiently so that soul will fully assimilate this image of holiness.

We should not be discouraged if our prayers are not answered outright. All worldly matters have the potential to provide spiritual gains of eternal value. People are usually disheartened if they do not succeed easily; but if we are aware that our actions are gradually bringing us closer towards our goal, though the path be long and difficult, we will be encouraged by our incremental progress.

Therefore the psalm repeats the phrase "hope to God." The basis of hope is recognizing the value of these prerequisite steps. We must realize that each prayer, every holy aspiration and image, brings us that much closer to our goal. Not having fully arrived, we need to "be strong and take courage," to gather strength to continue our spiritual efforts, "and hope to God."
[adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I p. 151; Introduction to Olat Re'iyah p. 25]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Old Path

A Jewish family on the outskirts of a small village in Russia believed that their grandfather had buried a treasure under a tree, along the road from Bialystok to Slonim when he was fleeing from the Cossacks. One member of the family earnestly determined to find the treasure. He dug under every tree along the road, but in vain. Though exhausted, he continued his search.

An old man, passing by, noticed the young man with spade in hand, perspiration trickling down his forehead. "What are you looking for?" he asked.

"I am searching for a treasure my grandfather buried along this road." was the reply.

"You'll never find it" the elderly passerby smiled. "In your grandfather's days people went along the old path, and you are looking along new paths of which your grandfather knew nothing."

Moral: Jews seek spiritual riches along new roads, unaware that the most beautiful treasures can be found only along the old ones.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Essence of Prayers

Keep in mind that the essence of your prayers is the faith you have in them that they will be answered.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov