Monday, February 28, 2011

2012: More insights

Both Lazer Beams and The Cool Jew have recently published this video below about 2012. If you've already watched it, you may like to check out the other one below it, from Rabbi Matityahu Glazeson, regarding the Mayan 2012 prediction. (Note: the Glazerson video is actually part of a 9-video set, the previous five can be seen here


מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת "The Dwelling of the Testimony" [Pekudei 38:21]
Why, asked the Malbim {R' Meir Leibush Malbim} is the Mishkan referred to as the "Dwelling of Testimony?"

In the pesukim that follow, answered the Malbim, the Torah gives us an accounting of the vast amounts of gold, silver and other materials that were used in the construction of the Mishkan.  It records how much was donated toward the Mishkan's construction and how much was put to use.

The Mishkan itself was the best evidence that there was absolutely no dishonesty in relation to the Mishkan's construction, and that every last donation was accounted for and put to use.  For it is inconceivable that the Divine Presence would ever dwell in a place that was tainted with corruption.  If any of the donations had been misappropriated, the Divine Presence would never have rested there.

[Source: Rabbi Y. Bronstein]

Fundraising and Fraud
"It is not proper to collect money in Israel for institutions that are outside of Israel. The money is needed in Israel. Additionally, every tzedaka fund should have separate people as its fundraiser and director. When it comes to peoples' money given to tzedaka, one needs to be extremely careful to make sure that people will not be suspicious of fraud. This concern is in addition to bearing in mind what G-d says about the use of tzedaka funds." [Igros Kodesh Lubavitcher Rebbe vol. 21 letter 8165]

Two signatures required
"I was satisfied to hear that your tzedaka institution requires two signatures on any cheque written. This is in accordance with the instruction of our holy sages." [Igros Kodesh Lubavitcher Rebbe vol. 21 letter 7978]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Measure for Measure


Whoever shames his friend in public to the point of making him turn pale is as if he sheds blood...for we see that the red drains out of his face and is replaced by white.  [Ben Ish Chai]

A pious man was once insulted in the synagogue.  When he came home, he sent the insulter a basket of grapes as a gift, with the following message: "You have presented me today with a basketful of your mitzvot.  I, too, present you with a laden basket".

Why, if Reuven insults and embarrasses Shimon, do Reuven's mitzvot go to Shimon and Shimon's sins go to Reuven?

Red represents sins, and white represents mitzvot, as in: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they will become white as snow" [Isaiah 1:18].  When Reuven shames Shimon, he replaces the red in Shimon's face with white.  Measure for measure, the red of Shimon's sins will replace the white of mitzvot in Reuven's soul.

Source: from the writings of the Ben Ish Chai

Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Trees and Men

What is the connection between man and a tree?

The unique quality of a tree, which no animal possesses, is that it is firmly and deeply rooted in its source of life and energy - the ground. And due to this firm rooting, the tree grows taller and stronger than any member of the animal kingdom.

Thus the "tree" within man is that part of his make-up which is (a) the most deep-rooted in the soul; and consequently (b) it is the most powerful. And this is: his character and emotions.

While at first glance, the intellect would appear to be a man's most expressive and "personal" faculty, chassidic thought teaches that one's emotions and character are in fact more deep-rooted in the soul. For this reason our emotions tend to be powerful and uncompromising, like a tall tree, because their deep "roots" unleash the inner wellsprings of the soul directly into the conscious arena.

Intellect, on the other hand, has no fixed roots (rather like members of the animal kingdom which are not fixed to one particular place). So we are able to be intellectually involved in all sorts of matters with which we have no personal connection, since the intellect is not so deeply rooted in the soul that it will passionately "take offense" to something which runs contrary to a person's make-up.

Likewise, changing one's mind is relatively easy, whereas changing one's personality - from miserly to generous, or from evil to good - is no easier than uprooting a tree and planting it somewhere else. Nevertheless, the Torah wishes us to do exactly that: to change our character and emotional traits for the good. In this way we bring perfection to even the innermost aspects of the soul, where the "roots" of our emotions reach.

And it is in this vein that the Talmud warns us only to study Torah from "a respectable Torah scholar" i.e. one whose knowledge "bore fruit" in the form of good deeds and fine character. For a person should seek a teacher who has both intellectual and emotional refinement, who will provide a living example of how to cultivate his "arborous" side.

Based on Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe vol 24

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Arab unrest signals Messiah's coming'

Are Arab leaders being punished for religious persecution? Prominent rabbis offer explanations for Mideast uprisings

by Kobi Nahshoni  YNet.News

Prominent rabbis from the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox sector have offered their own curious interpretations for the upheaval that is spreading through the Middle East, stating that the events are a clear proof that a higher power is at work.

The cellular portal Haredim, which offered a collection of responses on the matter, quoted Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian sector in Bnei Brak, as blaming the instability in the region on contemptuous attitudes towards Torah study.

"Recently it appears that there is a powerful effort to destroy and agitate the world of the Torah, through various attempts to prosecute kollels and yeshiva students," Steinman said. "When you try to agitate the world of the Torah, God agitates the world."

Steinman explained that the sages of the Talmud teach that there is a connection between Torah study and the existence of the world.

"God does great and strange things in the world, to make them deal with the (disasters) instead of looking for ways to mind those observing the Torah and the mitzvot," he said. "Because if they don't study, it will continue to move closer to us."

Carmel fire as punishment?

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, an unconventional Lithuanian leader who is believed to have mystic powers, offered a different explanation. "It is evident that many unnatural things are happening," he said. "People have come to me and said that it's 'Gog and Magog'. We cannot know. But it's probable that any unrest that God creates shows that the Messiah is coming, and that we must begin to prepare for it and become stronger."

Another prominent rabbi, Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, is certain that God is causing the turmoil in order to put the people in their place.

"God goes and humiliates (those feeling) sinful pride," he said. "At first there was this little fire here, and a state that thought that it is big and strong suddenly needed help from the entire world. Not a war, nothing special, just a small fire.

"When they continued to think that they are smart, and see everything and understand what to do and how to do it, God came and disturbed the nations, and here they are, scared again because they could not predict such a big thing, and again they do not know what to do," he added. "God is laughing at them, waiting to see when they will understand and become wiser."

The one who does not see that God is running the world, Lefkowitz concluded, is not evil, but a fool.
Source: Ynet News

21 Adar: The Rebbe of Rebbes: Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk

"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 [21 Adar begins tonight: Thursday Feb 24] 

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 information can be found at : JewishGen
The Sefer Mipeninei Noam Elimelech (english) is available here: Targum Press

Egypt Overturned, But Israel's Existence Still Questioned

Art: Jacek Yerka

A story of an Island and a Whale by Rabbi YY Jacobson

Two old Jewish men are standing in front of the Czar's firing squad. The officer asks them if they would like a final cigarette.

One of them says, "No, I don't smoke, and you can drop dead."

The other whispers in his ear, "Shhh, Yankle, don't make trouble."


The Whale
The latest developments in Egypt have become a source of concern in Israel. The Jewish State is in doubt whether the new emerging powers in Egypt will honor the cold peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed three decades ago. This only underscores yet once again the vulnerable position of Israel, and how its very existence is still questioned. A revolution so inspiring and uplifting in the land of the Pharaohs, but Israel's right of existence is still not a simple matter.

Let us reflect a bit on this.

One of the great Talmudic sages related the following episode:

Once, while on a ship, we came to what we assumed was a large island, since we saw on it sand and growing grass. We disembarked the ship, went on to the island, built a fire, and cooked our meal. Yet what we assumed to be an island was really a fish. When the fish felt the heat, he rolled over and we were plunged into the water. Had the ship not been nearby, we would have drowned. -- Talmud Bava Basra 73b.

What is the meaning behind this absurd Talmudic tale, related by one of its great sages, Rabba the son of Bar Chana?

According to some of the great Talmudic commentators, this tale captures, in intriguing metaphor, one of the most essential truths about Jewish history, particularly one relating to the holiday of Purim, which will be celebrated in a few weeks.

The Journey
From the moment they stood at Mt. Sinai more than three millennia ago, the Jewish people have been traveling on a lone and long journey. Their destination is a world healed, redeemed and reunified with its Creator; a society cleansed from ego-centricity, hatred and bloodshed; a universe permeated with moral and spiritual awareness, filled with "the knowledge of the Divine as the waters cover the sea" (in the words of the prophet Isaiah chapter 11). The Torah and its Mitzvos serve as their blueprint for this courageous voyage in a vast and seemingly endless sea.

Yet the waters have often become increasingly tumultuous and the voyage discouraging, if not apparently futile. So when in the midst of their journey they observed what seemed to be an island of serenity, an oasis of tranquility, a respite from a miserable fate, many of them abandoned the "ship" of Jewish consciousness and commitment for the perceived blessings of freedom and happiness.

The era in which the Purim story occurred was a classical example of this pattern. The king was married to a Jewish woman; large segments of Jewish society assimilated into Persian culture; the Jewish establishment played a pivotal role in the economical and political structures of the Persian Empire. The community had been invited to the royal feast and given status as equal citizens. In reciprocity, the Jews learned how to "behave;" how to become integrated and law abiding citizens. They did not demand kosher food or kosher wine at the feast, nor did they create any other waves that would disturb the equilibrium and make them stand out as Jews.

Seventy years after being expelled from their ancient homeland, their Temple being burnt to the ground, many of them had abandoned the old ship, secure in their belief that they have reached an island of serenity; they finally "made it."

Identity Crisis
Throughout history, the struggle of Jewish identity and our relationships with the world around us has become so challenging, that it often caused us to redefine ourselves from within. Jean-Paul Sartre claimed in his Sur le Question Juif that the only thing Jews had in common was that they were the victims of hate. It is not Jews who create anti-Semitism, he said, but anti-Semitism that creates Jews. Arthur Koestler wrote: "Self-hatred is the Jews patriotism." Franz Kafka said: "What do I have in common with the Jews? I don't even have anything in common with myself."

Time and time again we have been lured into the faith that if we abandon the "ship" of Judaism-of Torah and Mitzvos-we would gain acceptance among the brotherhood of mankind. "Be a man in the street and a Jew at home," was the 19th century slogan by the Enlightened Jews in Western Europe. If only Jews weren't so Jewish we would have less anti-Semitism, so went the theory.

The past three centuries have produced a dazzling variety of movements, ideals and solutions to the age-old "Jewish problem," offering islands of hope for a people tormented by persecution and targeted for abuse. The Enlightenment (Haskalah) came to "civilize" us and allow us free entry into European society; the Marxists and Socialists promised to create a utopia for us and all of mankind; Zionism's goal was to grant us a State, a national identity, and thus cure anti-Semitism once and for all; Reform came to make us acceptable to the non-Jewish society and to inculcate us with humanistic values; secularism came to free us from the burdens of tradition which have supposedly hindered our progress and happiness.

All of these attempts have been brilliantly captured in that ancient Talmudic tale: Once, while on a ship, we came to what we assumed was a large island, since we saw on it sand and growing grass. We disembarked the ship, went on to the island, built a fire, and cooked our meal.

Yet, ironically, the end of the Talmudic tale also came to be:

What we assumed to be an island was really a fish. When the fish felt the heat, he rolled over and we were plunged into the water. Had the ship not been nearby, we would have drowned.

Each time we came to feel comfortable on the island, and we began at last to live out our latent dreams, the "fish" turned over and threw us back into the raging waters. In the days of Purim, when the Jews felt that they had successfully integrated into mainstream culture, under the very nose of a Jewish queen-the king was persuaded to issue forth a plan of genocide for the Jewish people.

Assimilation never cured prejudice. Not in the days of Purim, nor at any time in the future. It didn't even in 15th century Spain, where Jews converted to Christianity and yet still suffered from persecution under the vicious doctrine of limpieza de sangre ("purity of blood"), the forerunner of modern racial anti-Semitism. It didn't in 20th century Germany where Jews were often "more German" than the Germans. It didn't in the Modern State of Israel constructed as a secular democracy.

The historical truth remains that none of the above movements achieved their stated goals. The Holocaust made mockery of Jewish integration in the general humanistic world; Zionism created the State of Israel, which we cherish deeply, but only exacerbated the problems of anti-Semitism and still struggles to provide security for its citizens. Israel still needs to fight for its "right" to exist. Stalin "cured" us of the "paradise" of Marxism and Socialism; the Enlightenment apparently did not sufficiently civilize us; secularism has deprived generations of direction and meaning, leaving our youth thirsty for identity and purpose (1).

Our Hope
"Had the ship not been nearby, we would have drowned," is how the Talmudic sage concludes the episode. What saved us during the time of Purim - and what has guaranteed our existence throughout our long and difficult history - was not forfeiting our identity and surrendering our truth; it was our animated relationship with the living G-d, the creator of heaven and earth, and our dedication to His Torah and Mitzvos that has allowed us to survive and thrive, till we reach the culmination of the voyage, speedily in our days (2).

1) Interestingly, the metaphor employed in the Talmudic tale is the fish. What the travelers felt was an island was really a fish waiting to plunge them into the waters. The zodiac sign for the month of Adar is Pisces, fish (mazal dogim.) As the book of Esther relates, the Persian Minister Haman chose a day in the month of Adar (the 13th) to exterminate the Jewish people (Maharsah to Bava Basra 73b). Conversely, what is unique about fish? They must remain submerged in their natural element of water to survive. So too, the Jewish people must remain in their habitat of Torah and Mitzvos for their continued existence (see Talmud Berechos 61a).

2) This essay is based on the commentary of the Maharsah (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Eidels) to Talmud Bava Basra 73b and on other sources.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Flawless Mitzvah

"Every generous person shall bring it" [Vayakhel 35:5]

A benefactor donated a large plot of land for R' Meir Shapiro's yeshivah, Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin.  At the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the building, the benefactor was accorded great honor and seated at the head table reserved for the distinguished guests.

Sitting next to the man was R' Yisrael of Chortkov, who turned to him and said "I do not envy you over this mitzvah because it will lead to great honor.  I do envy you, however, for the mitzvah that you performed secretly, the one that lead to this one [see Avot 4:2].  For that must have been a flawless mitzvah if it was capable of leading to a mitzvah as great as this one."

Source: Rabbi Y. Bronstein


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wisdom to the Wise

"He has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship" Vayakhel 35:31

The Midrash Rabbah states that Betzalel must have already possessed an extraordinary degree of wisdom even before he was blessed, for Hashem does not bestow wisdom upon an individual unless he is already wise.  This is as the verse states: "He gives wisdom to the wise" [Daniel 2:21]

To what can this be compared?  To a man who wanted to buy wine, oil, or honey, and walked into a store with an empty jug in hand.  If the storekeeper is intelligent, he does not have to ask the customer which of the three he wants to purchase.  All he needs to do is smell the man's jug; if it gives off the scent of wine, then he has come to purchase wine.  If, however, the scent is that of honey, then he has come to buy honey.

So it is with wisdom. When Hashem sees a person that has some wisdom, He fills him with more!

Source: Rabbi Y. Bronstein

Monday, February 21, 2011

Earthquake Shakes Up Suez Canal as Iran Warships Approach

Iranian warship Alvand - Suez Canal
An earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale shook up residents at the entrance to the Suez Canal early Monday morning, 48 hours before two Iranian ships, a frigate and a supply vessel, are expected to enter the canal.

The National Institute for Astronomical and Geophysical Research reported that tremors from the 3 a.m. quake lasted for 27 minutes, but caused no damage

Source: Israel National News

18 And it shall come to pass in that day, when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that My fury shall arise up in My nostrils.

19 For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath have I spoken: Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel;

20 so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep upon the ground, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. Ezekiel 38:18-20

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Disengagement and Divine Retribution

More See Retribution for Disengagement Doers by David Yisraeli, Chabad Info

While right-wing activists have been warning for years of the downfall of all public leaders associated with the expulsion of Gaza's Jewish population, the ultra-Orthodox seemed less inclined to see the connection. However, public opinion has changed with a clear pattern being formed, as one leader after another suddenly and inexplicably disappears from public life.

13 Adar-I 5771 (17.02.2011)
Articles and op-eds by many right-wing organizations opposing Israel's disengagement are unsurprising. Even the occasional harsh rhetoric against leaders who subscribed to the notion of pulling out thousands of Jews from their decades-old homes seemed natural.

Sometimes, these pundits went so far as to connect the career short stops of many Israeli leaders. This style of commentary was uncommon, and left for the most radical.

It seems that the ultra-Orthodox community, that basically ignored the plight of Gaza's Jewry, is now recanting their original perspective. And they are beginning their trek by lashing out at the perpetrators of the evacuation plan.

In the author's own words:

"No matter how you look at it, in recent years a coup has taken place. Yes, a revolution similar to that in Egypt. But there's one difference: Here (in Israel) it was done quietly, gradually and even legally.

"In just a few years all positions of government were either replaced, impeached or simply left office: two prime ministers, chief of staff, chief commissioner and senior ministers.

"The common characteristic in all these instances was a career cut short unexpectedly. A second common factor is that all the demoted officials had a part in the disengagement plan."

Although the religious community ignored the detriment of the dire path, down which Israel's leaders were dragging the nation, apparently the ultra-Orthodox believe in the lessons taught. It's too bad that their own spiritual leaders didn't heed the warning of the Torah. Like many issues brought before the insular, and self-isolating Chareidi community in Israel, it seems that their realizations on the correct path come a little too late.

The article from the Hamevaser newspaper (free translation):

It started some years ago, as what seemed a mere hype. Perhaps a little disturbing.

Some determined people raised their voices claiming to know the secret cord connecting the implementation of the Gaza pullout plan and the political blows landing on countless Israeli leaders. Reluctance from mainstream media was clearly expected. No one can know what's to happen.

Purporting to determine "a price tag" for ones involvement in the disengagement plan, is not our place.

These voices began emerging with the sudden exit of the "father of the disengagement," Ariel Sharon, from the political scene. An unexpected decline in his health, and since then, silence. It is a tragedy. A prime minister at the height of his career and popularity is wiped off, in an instant, from being relevant. However, Sharon's disappearance can be attributed to natural causes. He was not a young man and his health was certainly not up to par.

After this, the stream turned into floods. The 'cases' began to proliferate, spinning many twists, making front page colored headlines. All these instances were isolated, with nothing connecting them. Only the 'knowers' continued to cry out, to explain and to prove.

Now this hum of untraditional political elucidation became louder. Now, everyone was beginning to hear their message. Even without drawing any conclusions, the picture reality was painting was nothing but chilling.

No matter how you look at it, in recent years a coup has taken place. Yes, a revolution similar to that in Egypt. But there's one difference: Here (in Israel) it was done quietly, gradually and even legally.

In just a few years all positions of government were either replaced, impeached or simply left office: two prime ministers, chief of staff, chief commissioner and senior ministers.

The common characteristic in all these instances was a career cut short unexpectedly. A second common factor is that all the demoted officials had a part in the disengagement plan.

Then came the second stage. Executives seeking to advance and surpass previously reached vertices. They are all talented, highly experienced and well known. Their upward path is seemingly guaranteed. But it seems that they carry a destructive genetic code. They were at the disengagement. And, just when they learn of a possible appointment, and nearly reach to the top of their career's summit, an unexpected blow comes from an unknown place that casts them down, lower than their original stature. The careers end with their reputations tarnished for good.

This was the case with the last appointment for chief of staff Yoav Galant - he was one of the most celebrated officers in the nation, having fought bravely to defend his nation, returning with a crown of victory. Just before his career met its climax, a minor argument with neighbors concerning the location of the fence in is driveway, erected a Wall of China in front of his dreams of career advancement. He leaves the scene, degraded and humiliated.

And then the realization hits you. Yoav Galant served at the military secretary of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from 2002, after which he was promoted to major general. During his tenure, the preparation and execution of the disengagement plan took place. This is no longer a coincidence.

It's a giant puzzle, made up of many pieces, that makes up one big picture. You can ignore it, divert attention away from it, but it won't go away. It's there. It exists.

These thoughts began to bother me last week.

I went to speak to a friend whose logical style rejects any of the prejudices and hateful rhetoric which are common amongst many analysts. I showed him the Galant story, and the scores of others who partook in the disengagement, having been removed from public office in utter disgrace, amid degrading red newspaper headlines.

As I expected, he exhibited skepticism. He spent some time to find a decisive argument to dispel my train of thought.

And then he said: "What about Yai Naveh? He is going to be the temporary chief of staff. That's what Barak and Netanyahu agreed!"

I quickly reviewed the records. Naveh served as the commander at the Central Command, actually executing the disengagement. What's more, he ran the notorious Amonah evacuation which is remembered for its police brutality, apparently upon the orders of the army hierarchy.

My tower of reason, built upon this theory of retribution, was on the brink of collapse.

I did not give up. I countered my friend's argument. "If it happens that even as an interim chief of staff he is rejected, will you agree that there is something?"

He agreed. Perhaps because he knew, as well as I did, that Naveh's appointment was finalized from all perspectives. His name had already been announced in all the newspapers. Barak and Netanyahu wouldn't risk it again.

But then on Saturday night, the news was aired on Israeli television and radio: Naveh's appointment has been revoked.

Gantz is to replace him, as the permanent chief of staff. If you're interested in the facts, (he) served as a commander in the Northern Command, holding no responsibility for the disengagement plan.

Source: Chabad Info

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Purim Katan: Above Nature

Art Jacek Yerka
This year being a Jewish leap year, we have two Adars.  (The Jewish calendar follows a 19 year cycle, and there are seven leap years in each cycle.... which means that during the cycle we have 19 Purims, but only 7 Purim Katans)  We celebrate Purim in the second Adar, but in Adar I we celebrate "Purim Katan" (the little Purim) on 14 Adar I which begins tonight Thursday February 17.

There is a strong connection between Purim and Purim Katan. The Mishnah teaches: “There is no difference between the first Adar and the second Adar, except for the reading of the Megillah and the distribution of gifts to the poor.” [Megillah 6b]

How to nullify a decree [reprinted from - author unknown]

Both Mordechai and Esther realized that the decree regarding the Jews was the result of improper Jewish behavior.

Since it is abundantly clear that one cannot nullify an end result (the decree) without first nullifying the cause (the erroneous Jewish conduct), their first act was to call Jews to repentance and fasting.

Once the spiritual cause of the decree had been ameliorated through repentance, and because G-d desires that one act through natural means, Esther then went to Achashveirosh in an attempt to abolish the decree.

Because the appeal to Achashveirosh was merely the natural vessel for the true salvation that came from above, it is understandable that Mordechai and Esther were less concerned with physical appearance or diplomatic skills as they were with repentance.

The lesson for us is obvious: There are those who think that during times of distress and misfortune, G-d forbid, natural means should be the first course of action. The story of Purim teaches us that natural means are only a second step; the first step must be to strengthen our bond with G-d by studying His Torah and performing His mitzvos. Then, and only then, should we turn to natural means to extricate ourselves from our difficulties.

When we act in this manner, we can be secure in the knowledge that whatever natural garment we employ will act to convey the supernatural miracle that is ultimately responsible for extracting us from the troubles we may find ourselves in.

For just as this is so regarding Israel as a whole, so too is it in regard to individual Jews: Every Jew must know that he is bound up with G-d, Who totally transcends nature.

It is true that G-d's blessings must be clothed in the natural vessel of human action ("G-d shall bless you in all that you do"). However, after all is said and done, human activity is no more than a garment and vehicle for G-d's blessings. The main emphasis must not be on the garment, but on stimulating G-d's abundant blessings through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos.

A Mystical Jewish Formula....(not)

Received via email -  there are people who actually believe all this stuff, and forward it on to their closest friends, even when it's total nonsense, as this one is.

For those who believe in segulot (A mystical Jewish formula for good mazel) and who of us can't use that!?   Please do not break! Just 27 words.

"G'mar Chatima Tova!   GOD our Father, walk through my house & take away all my worries & illness & please watch over & heal my family ... Amen."

This prayer is so powerful. Pass this to 12 people including me.  A blessing is coming to you in 4 mins of a new job, a house, marriage, good health, or financially'.
 Do not break or ask questions.

For those who don't know:  "G'mar Chatima Tova!" is what we say to each other at Rosh Hashanah time: it means "you should be written for a good year".  That's all it means.

Square, not round

Now it came to pass when he drew closer to the camp and saw the calf and the dances, that Moses' anger was kindled, and he flung the tablets from his hands, shattering them at the foot of the mountain. [Ki Tisa 32:19]

According to the Talmud, the Tablets were each 6 x 6 tefachim in size, and together they filled the Ark, leaving no space [Bava Basra 14a].  From this we see that the Tablets were square in shape.

Furthermore, there is a halachic principle that the vessels of the Temple are only valid if they are "intact and full". Thus, it was a legal imperative that the Tablets filled the Ark completely leaving no space.  Obviously, ths would preclude them from being rounded in shape.

The concept of tablets with rounded tops is actually non-Jewish in origin, being derived from Roman tradition (the nation that destroyed our holy Temple).  Nevertheless, the image found its way into our books due to the non-Jewish censorship of printing spanning many centuries.  As a result, today there are even religious Jews who depict the tablets as being round on the top, contrary to the Talmud.

It is a mitzvah to publicize at every opportunity that, according to Jewish sources, the Tablets are square in shape.

[Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Ki Tisa 5741 - Lubavitcher Rebbe]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Soul Attractions

Art: Vladimir Kush

Sometimes, when a person performs great acts of charity, he is not merely acting under the inspiration of the outstanding baalei tzedakah (masters of charity) of the past, but his act of charity may forge a spiritual link with those great baalei tzedakah.

R' Shmuel Uzida, author of Midrash Shmuel on Pirkei Avos, was a close disciple of the Holy Arizal. One time, he visited his master, and the Arizal showered extraordinary honour upon him. First he stood up before him. Then he sat R' Shmuel at his side in the position of highest distinction.

The Arizal's foremost disciple, R' Chaim Vital, was amazed by this most unusual conduct, and after R' Shmuel took his leave, he humbly asked his master for an explanation.

The Arizal replied: "You should know that it was not for my dear student R' Shmuel that I stood up! Rather, I stood up for the holy Tanna, R' Pinchas ben Yair, who entered the room together with him."

Upon hearing this, R' Chaim Vital ran after R'Shmuel and asked him "What special mitzvah did you perform today which might have earned you great merit?"

R' Shmuel reluctantly revealed what had transpired early that morning. "I was passing by a house and I heard heartrending crying and wailing coming from within. Upon inquiry, the members of the household told me that their home had been broken into that night, and the thieves had stripped the house bare of every last item. The thieves had even stolen the clothing off their backs. I didn't hesitate for a moment, and I gave them the clothing off my back in order to calm them down. I then ran home and put on my Shabbos clothing which, as you can see, I am wearing right now."

R' Chaim Vital went back to his master, the Arizal, and related this story to him. The Arizal observed: "Now you can understand why the spirit of R' Pinchas ben Yair accompanied R' Shmuel today. Because R' Pinchas excelled in acts of kindness, charity and ransoming captives, so his soul is attracted to those who follow his example."

[Shulchan Hatahor, Shaar Tzedakah, Chapter 2]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rectifying Past Lives

What happens to people who fail to do teshuvah for past wrong-doings - is there no hope for them?

The answer brings us to the Divine gift of reincarnation.

All Kabbalistic sources are in agreement: the soul (or the portion of the soul that requires it) will be reincarnated to rectify any wrongdoings committed in its previous lifetime. To facilitate this, the reincarnated individual will be drawn to the specific areas which require rectification (tikunim).

According to the Arizal, the Talmud [Shabbat 118b] alludes to this when it tells us that Rabbi Yosef was asked about his father Rabbah: "Which mitzvah was he most careful to perform?" The questioner knew that every Jew is required to fulfill all the mitzvot to the best of his ability. Clearly, however, he was asking a deeper question: if a person is inordinately connected to a particular mitzvah, it indicates that his entire mission in being born was to rectify that mitzvah. According to this, the questioner was asking which particular mitzvah had Rabbah's soul been lacking in his previous incarnation.

The Arizal writes that the same applies to every single individual. The main characteristics of one's spiritual weaknesses are the specific areas one must rectify [see Sha'ar HaGilgulim 16]

Everyone has difficulties in their character traits which G-d gave them to work on in this life. If they were given a problem, it is their task to find out how to use it in a way that serves G-d, rather than going against His directives.

The very thing which a person will have the most trouble doing, is perhaps the one thing they need to rectify in this life.

from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
adapted by Chaim Kramer

[Igros Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 5, letter 1257]

You tell me you are giving the proper amount of tzedaka. However your shalom bayis (peace in the home) situation needs great improvement.

The fact that you are having great difficulties in this area is a sign that this mitzvah has not been completed in your previous life. The holy Arizal teaches us that most souls living in a body have been here before. The reason they come back again is to fulfil those mitzvos that they did not do properly the first time around.

Those mitzvos that they did complete in their previous lifetime do not require any more refinement, and therefore their observance is easy.

However, those mitzvos that one did not complete in his previous lifetime are the ones most difficult to do. The yetzer hara targets these non-completed mitzvos as the ones to oppose most.

The fact that the issue of shalom bayis is so difficult for you proves that it is a mitzvah which needs fulfilment. In your past lifetime you did not refine this mitzvah. Now is your opportunity.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You get what you give

וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַי־הֹוָ־ה
"let each one give [וְנָתְנוּ] to the Lord an atonement for his soul "[Ki Tisa 30:12]

The Ba'al HaTurim notes that the word וְנָתְנוּ is a palindrome: it can be read both backwards and forwards.  This is to teach us that whatever a person donates to tzedakah will ultimately be returned to him: one never loses by giving charity.

There was a rich man in Volozhin who used to give generously to the poor of his city.  Misfortune struck, however, and he lost much of his wealth.

He approached R' Chaim of Volozhin with the following question: "Rebbe" he said, "I do not know what to do. As you know, I used to give a large sum of money each month to the poor people of Volozhin.  Due to the hard times which have befallen me, however, I don't have that much money to give. Should I simply give a smaller sum than I have in the past, or should I borrow money from others and give the same amount that I am accustomed to giving?"

R' Chaim thought for a moment and then responded: "Continue to give the exact amount that you have always given.  As far as your livelihood is concerned, do not worry, for Hashem will provide you with all that you need."

A few weeks later, the man returned to R' Chaim, but now he was happy.  "Rebbe" he said, "your words have been fulfilled! I did exactly as you said: I borrowed money and distributed it to the poor. Shortly thereafter, I participated in a lottery and won an enormous sum of money."

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The World of Truth

Art: Jacek Yerka

Written by Rabbi Zamir Cohen

The existence of an Afterworld and the fact that there is life after death are fundamental principles of the Jewish religion. Already in Genesis 2:7, the Torah testifies to the existence of the soul and its eternity. It says: “The Lord God formed the man dust from the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, so that man became a living soul.”

Commenting on this verse, the Zohar says: “One who breathes, breathes from himself,” indicating that the soul is a part of God. Since God’s essence is entirely spiritual, and not material, it is inconceivable that the soul is transitory.

To those who believe in a God Who oversees His handiworks and Whose deeds are based on justice, the fact that there is life after death is a logical and rational corollary of reality. If there were no Afterworld, then this world would be just a playground without any importance, or without any future ramifications. If such were the case, Hitler could have murdered six million Jews without having to account for his crimes after his death, Heaven forbid. Obviously, God Who watches over man must also have reserved a place where good people receive rewards, and the wicked are punished, even though it is not visible to mortal eyes.

A frequently asked question is: why do righteous people suffer, while the wicked enjoy life? In general, people think that a good life is a comfortable, financially well based and illness-free one, while every other type of life is bad. This view is correct when one confines his outlook on life only to the here and now. However, when one is aware of the existence of a soul and understands that there is an eternal Afterworld, the picture becomes totally different. With such a realization, one understands that those righteous people who suffer on earth, receive everlasting reward in the World to Come, while the wicked do not receive this everlasting reward, and are even punished in the Afterworld.

This realization also makes our suffering on earth bearable, because what are 70-80 years of suffering, in comparison to the eternal life of joy awaiting the righteous in the Afterworld? When measured in the light of eternity, they are a mere drop in the bucket — a fleeting period which passes before we know it.

From the Jewish point of view, the existence of the eternal soul is no less evident than the palm of one’s hand. “This world” is the world of action and doing, the world of “here and now.” In the Afterworld, we experience the eternal manifestation of our essence, as we fashioned it here on earth. It is inconceivable that, after causing the suffering and death of millions of people, Hitler could free himself of his responsibility simply by swallowing a capsule of poison. Obviously absolute justice will take its toll in a different dimension of reality.

Bearing in mind that ultimate delight is achieved by forming an eternal bond with God, who is the truly happy person- one who leads a comfortable life, but has a weak link to God, or one who suffers many hardships, yet develops a close link to God? Which of these two types will be happier, in terms of eternal existence?

What is Life After Death? When a person’s soul reaches Heaven, it doesn't undergo an arbitrary trial, which is forced on it by an external and alien element. At that time, it is shown various scenes, which pass before his eyes like a movie or film. The first film may be called, "This is Your Life", and depicts all of the decisions one made, the thoughts he entertained and the good and bad deeds he committed throughout his life. But the soul isn’t the only entity, which sees these scenes. They are divulged to all the other souls in Heaven, who bear any relationship with him.

The Afterworld is called the “World of Truth” because there we are apprised of the true value of all our good deeds and the true ramifications of all our flaws, as well as of life’s genuine purpose.

The second film describes how one could have lived, if he had made the right decisions in his life and had seized the opportunities presented to him to realize his potential. This film, which illustrates the sorrow created by wasted potential, is harder for him to bear than the first one. However, it purifies and cleanses him no less thoroughly than the first one. The sorrow and the suffering result in remorse, which terminates in the removal of the barriers which his bad deeds and faulty decisions created between him and God and enable his soul to totally connect to its Creator.This experience is what we refer to as Gehinnom (Purgatory).

Gehinnom isn’t a place occupied by a demon with a spear and burning charcoals. It is a place where our bad deeds are exposed to all, with all the accompanying pain and shame they engender. But not all souls merit reaching Gehinnom. It is meant for people who have performed good deeds in their lives, but must still undergo purification due to their bad deeds. However, there are a few people on earth who are so wicked, that they don’t even merit to reach Gehinnom, but receive eternal punishment. (Pharaoh is an example of such a person.)

Gan Eden (Paradise) is where the soul arrives after its sins have been expiated. It is where the soul experiences the greatest possible delight — the feeling of closeness to God. Not all souls experience the same degree of delight in Gan Eden. Instead, it is like a large concert hall, which has seats in the front, the middle and the back rows, as well as in the mezzanine. The status of a soul in the World of Truth is determined by the levels and quality of a person’s good deeds on earth.

Every good deed one commits may be discharged in many ways. One can give charity in secret, or can boast about his deeds. He can do a kindness genially or begrudgingly.

A second factor which determines the essence of the quality of the Gan Eden one merits is his relation to spiritual pursuits in this world. A person can have a front seat at a concert, but if he hasn’t attuned his ear to the music being played, he won’t truly appreciate it. Thus, if a person engages in activities which purify his soul and develops a sensitivity to a spiritual reality, he will have untold delight when he reaches Gan Eden. However, if his life centers on earthly delights – eating, indulging, and entertainment — then he won’t enjoy the spiritual delights offered him in the World to Come.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

All for the best

Faith makes you truly alive.
It fills your every day with good.
When troubles come, as they will, take comfort in your faith that whatever happens is for the best.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Three Keys

As I began to type this blog post, there was a tiny buzz on the main intercom. I ignored it.... because this time of the morning (the sun has just risen) the only people pressing buzzers are usually doing it by mistake. A few minutes later, another tiny buzz..... so I picked up the intercom and a little voice said "We forgot our key, we're locked out, can you let us in..." I let them in the main door... and returned to type up "The Three Keys". I'm sure there's some kind of message in that..... maybe our generation is "locked out" too.

Art: "Key" by Nikoletta Bati
"Engrave on it with signet-ring [type] engraving: "Holy to Hashem" פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם קֹדֶשׁ לַי־הֹוָ־ה 
[Tetzaveh 28:36]

In Maseches Ta'anis (2a) R' Yochanan states that there are three maftechos, three keys, in Hashem's possession that He never entrusts to others:

*the key to childbirth
*the key to rain
*and the key to resuscitating the dead.

The Gemara derived this from three verses:

*Hashem does not entrust the key to childbirth to a messenger, as the verse states: "G-d remembered Rachel; G-d hearkened to her and He opened (vayiftach) her womb" [Bereishis 30:22]

*Hashem does not entrust the key of rain to a messenger, as the verse states: "Hashem shall open for you His storehouse of goodness, the heavens, to provide rain for your Land in its time" [Devarim 28:12]

*And Hashem does not entrust the key of resuscitating the dead to a messenger, as the verse states: "Then you will know that I am Hashem, when I open your graves" [Yechezkel 37:13]

These three keys, remarked the Vilna Gaon, are alluded to in the verse: "Pituchei chosam kodesh laHashem" - פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם קֹדֶשׁ לַי־הֹוָ־ה -

The acronym of the word  חֹתָם (Ches, taf, mem) which means "seal" hints to the following words:

Ches - Chayah (a woman who has recently given birth)
Taf - Techiyas HaMeisim (the resuscitation of the dead)
Mem - Matar (rain)

The verse can therefore be read as follows:  "The keys of (pituchei) childbirth, resuscitation of the dead, and rain - ChoTaM - are designated for Hashem's use only ("kodesh laHashem").

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Granny saves the Jewellery Store

I love this: an elderly woman has beaten off a gang of thieves in the UK:

The robbery was - initially - no less successful for being brutally basic: three men with sledgehammers simply smashed the windows of the jewellery shop in the broad light of day, and grabbed the loot.

As they filled their bags with gold from the Michael Jones Jewellers in Northampton UK, their accomplices waited, revving their getaway mopeds. Staff at the Northampton shop froze in horror and members of the public walked on by.

But then, the cavalry arrived, in the shape of a woman in a red coat, matching hat and sensible shoes - handbag flailing.

In a film that instantly became a viral internet clip, the elderly-looking woman is shown charging towards the armed robbers. The thugs - twice her size - didn't stand a chance.

A swing at the head of one of the moped drivers saw him accelerate down the street in alarm, leaving his accomplice without his ride.

Four of the six men are now in custody, police confirmed, and the mystery hero of Northampton will be rewarded.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Couple of Links

From Divine Information: Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi gives a simple-to-understand lecture on how to bring Mashiach: everything you ever wanted to know about the end days.  Click here to listen

A new site for B'nei Noach: The Seven Universal Laws for all Humanity :
The world's existence is preserved through three things: Torah study, Prayer and Kind Deeds. For society to flourish mankind as a whole must come to appreciate the importance of Truth, Justice and Peace, and conduct itself accordingly. Within the great Family of Man, each individual has his or her path within a path. Yet there is ONE Universal ethical basis for us all.

The Psychic Breastplate

Picture: Rabbi Mordechai Becher
"And Aaron shall carry the names of the Children of Israel in the Breastplate of Judgment over his heart, when he enters the Holy Place, as a rememberance before G·d at all times. And you shall place the Urim and the Tumin (a parchment containing G-d's name) into the (fold of the) Breastplate of Judgment so that it will be over Aaron's heart when he comes before G·d . . "
[Tetzaveh 28:29-30]

The Breastplate of Judgment was a prophetic device, worn by the High Priest, through which questions could be asked of G·d. When the king or the High Court (Sanhedrin) would ask a question, the Priest would see various letters sparkle or bulge out. Using Divine Inspiration, he would then be able to combine the letters to spell out the answer. [See Aryeh Kaplan, Handbook of Jewish Thought, vol. 1 (New York: Moznaim, 1979), 6:36 and fn. 110, for more on this subject]

There were twelve precious stones set in the Breastplate of Judgment. They were engraved with the names of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the names of the twelve tribes, and the words "tribes of Yeshurun." Certain letters, such as the gimel or the zayin, were written only once. [Yoma 73b]

As our Sages have said, the Breastplate barely contained all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Therefore, when they had to ask a question that used several of the same letters, such as "Should I go to Bavel," how were they answered?

The question "Should I go to Bavel?" contains two letters beit, and three lameds. However, it is likely that the author was only using this as an example of a phrase with repeating letters, because there were at least five beits and four lameds in the Breastplate - enough to spell out these words.

There is a very great mystery in this . . . I heard from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov], that each of the twenty-two letters [of the Hebrew alphabet] contains within it all the other letters of the alphabet - these can be attained by spelling out each letter in full. For instance, writing out the letter aleph in full provides a lamed and a phey. Furthermore, each of these letters can be further expanded, to produce even more letters, until the entire Hebrew alphabet is reconstituted - except for the letter mem which, when written in full, will not produce any additional letters.

Since G·d commanded that all twenty-two letters be inscribed on the Breastplate, when the priest would be enwrapped in Divine inspiration, the letters would shine in their expanded forms. This enabled the priest to receive everything he needed to know. This is the meaning of "shoham stones and filling stones "avnei miluyim" for the apron and for the Breastplate" [Tetzaveh 25:7].

"Avnei miluyim" read alternatively as "stones that are filled out" - meaning that the engraved letters shone in their expanded forms. In a number of other lessons on this theme, the Baal Shem Tov explains that additional letters can be derived from a single letter by using the techniques of gematria (numerical value of the letters), or by dividing the letters into their component parts. It is possible that those approaches were originally mentioned with this lesson, since there are a number of other letters, such as the gimel, zayin, ches, tes and samech that could never be derived from the other letters, no matter how many times they are spelled out.

Source: From the writings of the Baal Shem Tov
Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore