Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Synchronized Starlings in Netivot

Bird watchers enjoy a rare synchronized starling flyover as they form black clouds in Israel's skies.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Seven Keys to Shamayim

by Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita [Rav of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisroel and Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Vodaas]

[Adapted from a shiur that was delivered under the auspices of Irgun Shiurai Torah and prepared for publication by Rabbi Yochonon Donn]

Wordless Power
There are two types of song: one has words (this category would include the art of poetry) in which words are joined together to create a rhythmic pattern and a sense of uniformity. In this type, the feeling of enjoyment and relaxation that comes from hearing music results from the whole song including the words.

In the second type of song, the reason for the enjoyment it gives us is more obscure: it comes when notes are put together to create a wordless song. It is not logical that notes thrown together should elicit a sense of enjoyment in people, that wordless tunes can be enjoyed is a gift from Hashem.

Sefer Pe'as Hashulchan by Harav Yisrael of Shklov zt'l, cites the Vilna Gaon in saying that most of the secrets of Torah are hidden in the art of music and that without understanding music it is impossible to comprehend the Torah. This knowledge of music was given over to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai along with the rest of the Torah.

The Zohar even says that there is a heichal - an entranceway - in Shamayim that can be opened only with neginah (song). The Zohar relates that Dovid HaMelech approached that entrance only with the neginah of his Sefer Tehillim.

Keys to the Heichal
The seven major musical notes are called keys. Each of the seven keys opens a different door in Shamayim, and it is only through music that these entryways can be opened. Musicologists do not know why the term "key" is used, but it is quite possible that it is a tradition handed down from Yuval, whom the Torah identifies as the father of music.

When the Baal Ha'Tanya came to Shklov, the residents bombarded him with questions. Chabad sources say that he responded with only a niggun, which answered all their questions. As the Vilna Gaon explained, music opens the doors of Torah in Shamayim.

A Gemara in Arachin says that the kinor (stringed instrument) in the Beis Hamikdash had seven strings, but in the times of Moshiach it will have eight strings. There are seven major notes on a musical scale, and the seventh note corresponds to Shabbos, for Shabbos completes the kinor, so that even today one can sing. The seven days of the week are actually the seven tunes of Creation. When Shabbos - the seventh tune - arrives, the harp is complete. This is the reason why we usher in the Shabbos with kapitel 29 of Tehillim, which describes the seven kolos - since then we can proceed with song.

This is the reason for the minhag among Klal Yisrael of singing zemiros on Shabbos. HaRav Mordechai of Lechovich zt"l reportedly said that he would be able to believe that all the seven seas had dried up, but not that a Jew does not sing zemiros on Shabbos.

The reason people so enjoy songs is that the tones that form them have been combined ever since the six days of Creation. Some songs, however, only confuse a person, such as some modern-day songs that are based on, for example, the pounding of a drum, or on words that have no correlation to each other, such as many non-Jewish songs. While they have a tune, it is different than the accepted process of music.

This latter type of song leads to immorality, just as the tones of these songs have no relation to each other but are merely thrown together, immorality involves the relations of two people who are not meant for each other. Neither these songs nor illicit unions were predestined from Creation.

Seven Keys of Chesed
There is a fundamental difference between the seven ushpizin (the holy guests on Succot) and the twelve shvatim - the 12 tribes of Israel. Every Jew has a direct connection with the Ushpizin, whereas each shevet is a separate and unique entity, the shvatim are thus a symbol of disunity.

For every seven white keys, representing the major notes on the piano, there are five black keys, representing the minor notes, each of which is a half-tone higher or lower than the white key next to it. The black keys complement and harmonize with the white keys.

In general, someone who would play using just the white keys on the piano would be able to play only a lively song, while playing just the black keys would result in a sorrowful song of sadness.

It is likely then that another tradition handed down from Yuval is for the keys that play major notes to be white, for happy songs, while the black keys, which play the minor notes, are black, for mournful music.

White is a source of chessed (kindness) for Klal Yisrael (this may be one reason doctors wear white), on the Yamim Nora'im we wear white kittels. Black, on the other hand, represents the trait of gevurah (severity) and is a source and an expression of melancholy.

A song that is played using a combination of black and white keys mixes chessed and gevurah. Together the seven white keys and five black keys of an octave equal twelve, the number of tribes of Israel, which as mentoned above, can symbolize disunity. Such a song is appropriate only for galus. When Moshiach arrives, however, everything will be white, for there will be no atzvus (sadness).

Chazal tell us that when Moshiach comes, an eighth key will be added to music; this key will be a 'roundup' of the previous seven (similar to the all-inclusive kollel used in gematriyos).

In Sefer Tehillim (68:7) when Dovid HaMelech relates the events of our redemption from Mitzrayim, he says motzi asirim bakosharos - "(Hashem) releases those who are bound in chains". The Gemara explains that the word "bakosharos" is a combination of bechi and shiros - simultaneous crying and laughter. This is a song played with both the white and black keys. When Moshiach comes, however, there will only be shirah - a joyous song played with the white keys.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How Strong Are You?

Art by Paul David Bond
Words by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

In Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] there is a passage that reads: Ben Zoma said, Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination as it says, 'He who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city.' The message here is clear - dealing with, and changing negative behavior is extremely difficult. Why does discipline and self control need so much strength?

The mystics explain that every one of us is operated by two forces - the animal soul and the Divine soul. The animal soul is the source of our ego and encourages hedonism, aggression, laziness and emptiness. The Divine soul is the source of moral reasoning and spiritual consciousness. It inspires an awareness of a higher purpose and gives us the ability to think rationally and objectively, making decisions for ethical behavior and appropriate responses to everyday experiences.

Each soul has its own dominant force. The animal soul is driven by instincts that are highly emotional, whereas the Divine soul is dominated by the power of intellect and reason. Both souls fight for control of the person. Both struggle to shape our personality and define our identity.

This is where the challenge of self control lies. The animalistic force is quick. It is emotional and instinctive and prompts a very swift response. The Divine soul is intellectual. It needs time to cognitively process the appropriate and moral response. So when we are insulted or provoked or presented with temptations and ethical dilemmas, the immediate response will be the feelings generated by the instincts and explosive emotions of the animal soul. We are tempted to get angry or do the wrong thing before we give the moral reason a chance.

Self control therefore needs the incredible strength of restraint. It requires holding back for just a few seconds between the things that happen to us and our response, creating a little space to think and process the point of view of the Divine voice. It is what Stephen Covey calls the "pause button between the stimulus and the response".

We need to train ourselves not to act quickly and instinctively. We need to use the unique ability of the human being to stop and ask ourselves the question - is this wrong or right? It takes amazing strength to wait a few seconds, but those few seconds can be the difference between an animalistic act and a divine one..

Next time you are faced with a challenge, give yourself a few seconds for the voice of the soul to be heard.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

HafTorah Beshalach: The Victory Song of Devorah

Written by Reuven Gavriel ben Nissim Ebrahimoff

Read from the Book of Shoftim or Judges

Chapters 4 [The story] and 5 [the Song] for Ashkenazim, Just Chapter 5 for Sephardim.

Deborah commissions Barak to rid Israel of Cannanite oppression. The Prophetess brings about a spiritual regeneration.

The Story Line: 4:1-3 Bnai Yisrael sins by worshipping idols and are subdued by the Cana'anim [Cananites]. 4:4,5 The Prophetess Deborah, wife of Lapidot, becomes the leader of the Jews. 4:6-9 She sends Barak a prophetic message to wage war against the enemy. Hashem confuses Sisera's camp. 4:10-16 The enemy is defeated, just one person remains - Sisera. 4:17-22 Yael kills general Sisera by driving a spike through his head. 4:23-24 Bnai Yisrael kills King Yavin.

Devorah's Song - 5:1-3 Introduction: Praises to Hashem. Torah study and observance brings victory to Bnai Yisrael. 5:4-5 Without Torah they loose and with it they win. 5:6-13 Deborah's Song begins with the description of Matan Torah [The Giving of the Torah]. Start doing circumcisions again and Hashem will bless you. When you want evil decrees to be reversed, Praise Hashem. Thanks to Hashem for the most recent victory and protection from the enemy. 5:14-18 Praise for the Jews who joined the battle and condemnation of those who did not. 5:19-22 The miracles of the war. 5:23-27 Meroz is cursed and Yael is blessed. 5:28-30 False hopes in Sisra's camp. The Conclusion. This event broke the power King Yabin had over the Israelites.

The Haftorah's Connection between the Parsha and Haftorah: The Parsha of Beshalach contains the song that Moshe sang at the Yam Suf [Sea of Reeds], after Hashem rescued the nation of Israel from the Egyptian army. The Haftarah contains the song that was sung after Deborah defeated the Cananites.

The Biography of Deborah: Deborah was one of the seven Prophetesses, and knew the secret of Divine wisdom. She was a Shofettet [female judge] and war leader that led Israel from foreign oppression.

She lived in the latter half of the 12th century BCE.
Her husband was called a Lapidot [Wick Maker] She prophesied for 40 years.
Deborah was independently wealthy, she owned palm trees in Jericho, Orchards in Ramah. Oil producing olive trees in Beit-el.
She sat under a palm tree in order to avoid seclusion with men.
The Mishkan was in Shilo at the time.
Six miracles occurred on this day.
She came from the tribe of Naftali
She lived in Atarot.

Timeline: This story occurred about 3135 years ago.

The location of this Haftara is Mt. Tabor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Last Song

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

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

Source: Sichas Shabbos Parshas Beshalach 5752, Lubavitcher Rebbe

Monday, January 21, 2013

Parshas HaMann: Segula for Parnossa

Art: Heidi Malott

Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Riminov [1745-1815], a disciple of the Holy Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, instructed everyone to read "Parshat HaMann" specifically on the Yom Shlishi [Tuesday] of Parshat [Torah portion of] Beshalach in the "Shnayim Mikra v'Echad Targum" format, i.e. reading the Hebrew verses twice and the Aramaic translation of Onkelos once.   This year it will occur on Tuesday 22 January.

Not to be confused with the evil villain of the Purim story, Parshat haMann [The Chapter of the Manna] is found in the 16th Chapter of the Book of Exodus: verses 4-36. This Chapter details the episode of the miraculous "Manna" [bread from heaven] that sustained the Children of Israel during their 40-year journey in the desert.

Rav Yosef Caaro, the "mechaber" [compiler] of the monumental Halachic text, the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 1:5, instructs us to recite it daily. Other giants of Halacha also point to the importance of reciting it daily: The Tur 1; Aruch Hashulchan 1:22; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 1:9.

By so doing, every Jew acknowledges that his/her livelihood comes from only from Hashem. Reciting the Parshat HaMann daily strengthens one's Emuna and Bitachon [belief and trust] in HASHEM, and is a "Segula for Parnassa" [auspicious for having a healthy income].

To read Parshat haMann in Hebrew [with the Aramaic translation of Onkelos], please visit:

English version here:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sydney: Hottest Day on Record

As fires burn around the country, Sydney reached 45.8 degrees [that's 114.4 Fahrenheit] - thankfully a cool change is expected this evening. Read more: Sydney's hottest day on record as mercury hits 45.8 degrees

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why Do You Need to Control Me?

"Let My People Go!" But Can They Let Themselves Go?

by: Rabbi YY Jacobson 

Three Boys
Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging of how great their fathers are.
The first one says: "Well, my father runs the fastest. He can fire an arrow, and start to run, I tell you, he gets there before the arrow".
The second one says: "Ha! You think that's fast! My father is a hunter. He can shoot his gun and be there before the bullet".
The third one listens to the other two and shakes his head. He then says: "You two know nothing about fast. My father is a civil servant. He stops working at 4:30 and he is home by 3:45"!

The First Commandment
The Biblical account of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt has been one of the most inspiring stories for the oppressed, enslaved and downtrodden throughout history. From the American Revolution, to the slaves of the American South, to Martin Luther King’s Let Freedom Ring, the narrative of the Exodus provided countless peoples with the courage to hope for a better future, and to act on the dream.

Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh demanding liberty for his people only brought more misery to the Hebrew slaves; the Egyptian monarch increased their torture. The Hebrews now would not listen any longer to the promise of redemption. Now let us pay heed to this strange verse in the weekly portion, Vaeira:

So G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them to the children of Israel, and to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. [1]

G-d is charging Moses with two directives: Command the people of Israel and then command Pharaoh the king. However, the verse is ambiguous: What did G-d command Moses to instruct the people? The message for Pharaoh is clear: Let the children of Israel out of Egypt. But what is it that Moses is supposed to command the people themselves? The Jerusalem Talmud [2] says something profoundly enigmatic:

G-d instructed Moses to command to the Jewish people the laws of freeing slaves.

The Talmud is referring to a law recorded later in Exodus: [3] If a Jew sells himself as a slave, the owner must let him go after six years. He is forbidden to hold on to the slave for longer. This was the law Moses was to share with the Israelites while they were in Egyptian bondage.

The Basis for the Commentary
The Talmud bases this novel and seemingly unfounded interpretation on a fascinating narrative in the book of Jeremiah: [4]

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: So says the Lord G-d of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers on the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves, saying: "At the end of seven years you shall let go every man his brother Jew who has been sold to you, and when he has served you for six years you shall let him go free from you."

The question is, where do we find a covenant made by G-d with the Jewish people when they left Egypt to free their slaves? In a brilliant speculation, the Talmud suggests that this is the meaning of the above enigmatic verse, “G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them to the children of Israel, and to Pharaoh the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” The commandment to the children of Israel was to set free their slaves.

Yet this seems like a cruel joke. The Children of Israel at this point were crushed and tormented slave themselves, subjugated by a genocidal despot and a tyrannical regime, enduring horrific torture. Yet at this point in time G-d wants Moses to command them about the laws relevant to the aristocrat, the feudal lord, the slave-owner?! [5]

What is more, as the Torah puts it: “G-d commanded them to the children of Israel, and to Pharaoh the king of Egypt to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” It seems like the two instructions—the one to the Israelites and the one to the Egyptian king—are linked. And furthermore: the commandment to the Israelites preceded the commandment to Pharaoh. But what does the commandment to the Jewish that they free their slaves one day in the future have to do with the mission to Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free from bondage?

Who Is Free?
The answer to this question is profoundly simple and moving, and is vital to the understanding of liberty in the biblical imagination.

Before Pharaoh can liberate the Jewish slaves, they must be ready to become free. You can take a man out of slavery, but it may prove more challenging to take slavery out of a man. Externally, you may be free; internally you may still be enslaved.

What is the first and foremost symptom of bring free? That you learn to confer freedom on others.

The dictator, the control freak, or the abusive spouse or parent, does not know how give others freedom. He (or she) feels compelled to force others into the mold that he has created for them. Uncomfortable in his own skin, he is afraid that someone will overshadow him, expose his weaknesses, usurp his position or make him feel extra in this world. Outwardly he attempts to appear powerful, but inwardly his power is a symptom of inner misery and confinement.

Only when one learns to embrace others, not for whom he would like them to be, but for whom they are, then can he begin to embrace himself, not for whom he wishes he was, but for whom he is. When we free those around us, we are freeing ourselves. By accepting them, we learn to accept ourselves.

Who is powerful? He who empowers. Who is free? He who can free others. Who is a leader? He who creates other leaders.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power,” Abraham Lincoln said. Ask yourself, do you know how to celebrate the soaring success of your loved ones and constituents? Do you encourage them to spread their wings and maximize their potentials? Can you allow others to shine?

Pharaoh may set you free physically. But former slaves can become present tyrants. People who were abused often become abusers themselves. It is what they know about life; it is the paradigm they were raised with. They grew up in abuse and slavery, so they continue the cycle with others. The first Mitzvah the Jews had to hear from Moses before even he can go the Pharaoh to let them go free was: One day you will be free. Remember that freedom is a gift; use it to free others.

Source and footnotes: click here

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Obama’s ''Mask Off’'' with Hagel Nomination

Hat tip: Joe


“You know, the truth is that I’m sort of OK with Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense for a simple reason. I sort of like the mask off this administration. He’s dramatically anti-Israel, he’s borderline anti-Semitic. He’s been very clear about his lack of support for the state of Israel. Look at his voting record; he’s one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter in support of Israel in October of 2000, when the Palestinians launched violence against the state of Israel. In 2001, in the middle of a war, as the PLO is waging war against Israel, there were only 11 senators who wouldn’t sign a letter urging Bush not to meet with Arafat. Hagel was one of those people.

In 2005, there was a group of 27 senators, including Hagel, there was a letter to President Bush to pressure Palestinian authorities to ban terrorist groups from participating in elections. So Hagel was fine with terrorist groups participating in elections. That, no doubt, worked out extraordinarily well in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is now in charge. 2006, there were 12 senators, only 12, who refused to sign a letter asking that Hezbollah be designated a terrorist organization. He was against that. Hezbollah, obviously, has been launching rockets on Israel for years, and years and years. Beyond that, when it comes to Iran, this is a guy has opposed sanctions on Iran. He doesn’t like sanctions on Iran. He thinks we ought to be having direct, bi-lateral negotiations with a terrorist regime in Iran.

So, here’s my conclusion: I’m happy with him as Secretary of Defense because I’m sick of all of these people Obama trots out pretending to be pro-Israel, and all of these Jews who deceive themselves by pretending he’s pro-Israel. Let them nominate somebody who is obviously anti-Israel and borderline anti-Semitic and then we’ll at least know where he stands.

Also see Yeranen Yaakov's take on this: for those who can't read Hebrew, the gematria of Barack + Hagen equals ''Gog and Armilus''.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Extreme Weather

Severe weather that hit Israel and the region over the weekend is set to continue this week. Torrential rain has blocked roads in Jerusalem and flights to Tel Aviv have been re-routed, with sandstorms expected in Israel's southern regions. Hail and snow are also forecast. Story: Israel battered by Storms

Australia: National heat record expected
Weather analysis to be released today is expected to show Australia is sweltering through its hottest days in history.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Egos and the Laws of Forgiveness

A wise person understands that everything he sees or hears should be carefully considered: everything we experience, and everything that is brought to our attention, is for a purpose.

I guess it is not a coincidence that last Friday afternoon I found myself with some spare time and listened to Rabbi Mizrachi's latest lecture Personality Issues and in the following 36 hours I found myself confronting other peoples'egos and their effect on those around them.

There seem to be so many people struggling with their egos, and in the process, severely hurting other people.  Perhaps if they would stand back and look at the situation through the other person's eyes, and realize that other people matter, and it's not all about ME.... they would behave differently.   Try telling that to an egocentric person, and watch him become extremely angry.  It doesn't matter how intelligent, learned or ''orthodox'' they are, when it comes to their own ego, they are as stubborn as mules.

If someone upsets you, for example, passes you in the street and doesn't acknowledge you..... you may decide to become angry with that person and assume he is deliberately ignoring you.  Your ego will come to the conclusion that he is upset with you.  Instead of assuming the worst and relating his behaviour to YOU, try and give him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he is so absorbed in his own worries, he did not even see you!  Is that so hard to do?  For some people, it seems it is.  Most of us spend our time worrying about ourselves and relating everything to ME, when actually we should be going out of our way to understand that other people have problems too, and it's not always about US..... it's about THEM.  

Egocentric people see everything as an attack against THEM, no-one else's problems matter as much as the fact that their own ego has been hurt.   If we can climb down from our own pedestal and realize that other people have problems too, and try to focus on helping them, instead of getting angry with them and assuming they are attacking us, we would all find life much easier.  

Is it okay to hurt someone else just to prove a point and win an argument? No.
Is it okay to bear a grudge against someone, even though that person has already apologized to you? No.
Is it okay to behave in a nasty way because you believe someone has offended you? No.

I remember going to a function many years ago, and as we entered the room, we were frantically summoned by an elderly aunt...... she forcefully told us ''don't talk to Sarah''  -  ''Why?'' we said...... ''because Sarah isn't talking to me!''she replied.  

How many people do you know who you no longer speak to because of something that happened years ago?   This kind of situation is all ego-based, and it is something that can be fixed, if only we have the courage to fix ourselves first.

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. [Oscar Wilde]

The people criticized G-d and Moshe: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There's no bread and no water, and we're sick of this unwholesome (manna) bread." G-d sent venomous snakes upon the people, and they bit the people. Many people of Israel died. The people came to Moshe and said "We have sinned! For we have spoken against G-d and against you! Pray to G-d that He should remove the snakes from us!" Moshe prayed on behalf of the people. [Chukas 21:5-7]

Even after the people criticized Moshe heavily, resulting in a punishment of venomous snakes, we nevertheless find that Moshe did not bear a grudge and prayed for the people to be saved. "From here we learn" writes Rashi, "that if a person asks you for forgiveness you should not be cruel and refrain from forgiving."

This principle is recorded by Rambam in his legal Code, the Mishneh Torah, in three places and there are a number of variations which need to be explained.

1) In Laws of Personal Injury, Rambam describes the method and process of forgiveness. "Once the attacker has asked forgiveness once, and then a second time, and we know that he has repented for his sin and he has abandoned the evil that he has done, then one must forgive him". However in Laws of Teshuvah these details are omitted. Instead, we are told that "When the sinner asks him for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a full heart and a willing spirit." Similarly, in Laws of Moral Conduct: "If the person returns and aks him for forgiveness, then he should forgive."

2) The person who forgives is given a different name in each of the three laws. In Laws of Moral Conduct he is called the "forgiver"; in Laws of Teshuvah a "person", and in Laws of Personal Injury he is called the "injured party".

3) One further detail is that in Laws of Teshuvah a person is told not to be "difficult to appease". Why does Rambam use this phrase, and why only in Laws of Teshuvah?

The Explanation

Forgiveness can be carried out on three levels:

1) When one person sins against another, he becomes liable to be punished for the sin that he committed. In order to be relieved of this punishment he needs to appease both G-d and the person that he sinned against. Therefore, through forgiving a person for his sin, one alleviates him from a Heavenly punishment.

2) A higher level of forgiveness is to forgive not just the act of sin but the sinner himself. i.e. even though one person may forgive another for a particular bad act (thus relieving him from being punished) there still may remain a trace of dislike for the person in general. Thus, a higher level of forgiveness is to forgive the entire person completely for his wrong, so that there remains no trace of bad feeling between them.

3) The highest level of forgiveness is an emotion that is so strong and positive that it actually uproots the sins of the past, making it as if they never occurred at all. After such a forgiveness, the sinner will be loved by the offended party to the very same degree that he was loved before the sin.

It is these three types of forgiveness which Rambam refers to in his three different laws:

1) In Laws of Personal Injury, Rambam discusses the laws of compensation for specific damages that one person causes another. Thus, when he speaks there of forgiveness for a sin, he is speaking of the forgiveness that is required to relieve the sinner from the punishment of that specific sin. Therefore, Rambam spells out the precise method of forgiveness that is required to achieve atonement ("when the attacker has asked forgiveness once, and then a second time, and we know that he has repented for his sin etc. then one must forgive him"), because only by following this precise method can we be sure that the sinner will be acquitted of this punishment.

To stress the point further, Rambam speaks in terms of an "injured party" and the "forgiving" of the injury, as we are speaking here of a specific sin and its atonement.

2) In Laws of Moral Conduct, the focus is not on the actual sin and its atonement, but rather, the character of the forgiver. And, if a person is to be of fine character, it is insufficient to forgive a person just so that he will be freed from punishment. Rather, one should forgive another person completely (i.e. the second level above). Therefore, in Laws of Moral Conduct, Rambam stresses that "When one person sins against another, he should not hide the matter and remain silent" for it would be a bad character trait to harbor resentment, keeping one's ill feelings to oneself. Therefore "it is a mitzvah for him to bring the matter into the open".

Thus, we can understand why Rambam omits here details of the process of forgiveness, for the main emphasis here is not the atonement of the sinner, but the required character traits of the victim.

To stress the point further, the person is termed here not as the "injured party" but as the "forgiver".

3) In Laws of Teshuvah, Rambam is speaking of the highest level of forgiveness which is required for a person to achieve a total "return to G-d". For this to occur, the forgiveness must be done in a manner that is so deep that one uproots the sin totally; as if it had never occurred at all. This is because total forgiveness is a crucial factor in the sinner's overall return to G-d, as Rambam writes: "Sins between man and his fellow man... are not forgiven until... the person has been asked for forgiveness..."

Thus, Rambam stresses here that "A person should be easily placated and difficult to anger, and when the sinner asks him for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a full heart and a willing spirit" (despite the fact that these details are more appropriate to Laws of Moral Conduct), because the goodwill of the victim is a crucial part of the sinner's teshuvah. Only when the victim is completely forgiving - to the extent that the sin is uprooted, as if it never existed - can we be sure that the sinner has returned to be as close to G-d as he was prior to the sin.

To stress this point further, Rambam writes "It is forbidden for a person (not an "injured party" or "forgiver") to be cruel and difficult to appease" - i.e. here we are not talking merely of the minimum forgiveness that is required to relieve the sinner from his punishment. Rather, here we are talking of the victim as a "person". And one can hope that he will not merely "forgive" his fellow who hurt him, freeing him from punishment, but that he will allow himself to be "appeased" completely, thereby helping his fellow Jew to come to a complete Teshuvah.

Source: Based on Likutei Sichos Vol 28 Lubavitcher Rebbe

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Flame is in the Thorns

The Story of the Soul That Never Stops Burning
by Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson

Irritation, Aggravation, and Frustration
A boy asks his father to explain the differences among irritation, aggravation, and frustration.
Dad picks up the phone and dials a number at random. When the phone is answered he asks, "Can I speak to Alf, please?"
"No! There's no one called Alf here." The person hangs up.
"That's irritation," says Dad.
He picks up the phone again, dials the same number and asks for Alf a second time.
"No--there's no one here called Alf. Go away. If you call again I shall telephone the police." End of conversation.
"That's aggravation."
"Then what's 'frustration'?" asks his son.
The father picks up the phone and dials a third time:
"Hello, this is Alf. Have I received any phone calls?"

The Vision
This coming Sunday, the 24th of the Hebrew month of Teves, marks 200 years from the passing of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi [1745-1812], the man who revolutionized the landscape of Jewish thought, synthesizing the rational, legalistic and mystical streams of Judaism into a unified, comprehensive program for life, in a system known as “Chabad Chasidism.” [ will be hosting Saturday night and Sunday all day an 11-hour webcast, with nine teachers exploring the works of this spiritual and intellectual giant. Click here to tune in to the program Saturday night and Sunday morning.]

For this occasion, I will share today an insight by this spiritual giant on the weekly Torah portion, Shemos.
The inaugural vision in which Moses was appointed to become the molder of the Jewish Nation and its eternal teacher, we should assume, contains within it the essence of Judaism.

Moses, shepherding his father-in-law's sheep in the Sinai wilderness, suddenly sees a blazing thorn-bush. "G-d's angel appeared to Moses in a blaze of fire from amid a thorny-bush," we read in this week's portion, Shemos (1). "He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but was not consumed. Moses said to himself, 'I must go over there and gaze at this great sight—why isn't the bush burning up from the flames'". When Moses approaches the scene, G-d reveals Himself to him, charging Moses with the mission of leading the Jewish people to redemption.

What was the spiritual and psychological symbolism behind the vision of a burning bush?

Human Trees and Bushes
"Man is a tree of the field," states the Torah (2). All humans are compared to trees and bushes. Just like trees and bushes, we humans contain hidden roots, motives and drives buried beneath our conscious self. Just like trees and bushes, we also possess a personality that is visibly displayed, each in a different from and shape (3).

Some human beings can be compared to tall and splendorous trees, with strong trunks enveloped by branches, flowers and fruits. Others may be compared to bushes, humble plants, lacking the stature and majesty commanded by a tree. Some individuals may even see themselves as thorn-bushes, harboring unresolved tension and unsettled turmoil. Like a thorn, their struggles and conflicts are a source of constant irritation and frustration, as they never feel content and complete within themselves (4).

All people—all trees and bushes—are aflame. Each person has a fire burning within him or her, yearning for meaning, wholesomeness, and love. Just as the flame of a candle is forever licking the air, reaching upward toward heaven, so too each soul longs to kiss heaven and touch the texture of eternity (5).

Yet, for many human trees the longing flame of the soul is satisfied and ultimately quenched by their sense of spiritual accomplishment and success. These people feel content with their spiritual achievements; complacent in their relationship with G-d, satisfied with the meaning and love they find in their lives.

The human thorn-bushes, on the other hand, experience a different fate. The thorns within them never allow them to become content with who they are, and they dream for a life of truth that always seems elusive. Thus their yearning flames are never quenched. They burn and burn and their fire never ceases. Since the ultimate peace they are searching for remains beyond them, and the reality and depth of G-d always eludes them, their internal void is never filled, leaving them humbled and thirsty, ablaze with a flame and yearning that is never satisfied and quenched.

With the sight Moses beheld in the wilderness, he was shown one of the fundamental truths of Judaism: More than anywhere else, G-d is present in the flame of the thorn-bush. The prerequisite to Moses' assuming the role of the eternal teacher of the people of Israel was his discovery that the deepest truth of G-d is experienced in the very search and longing for Him. The moment one feels that "I have G-d," he might have everything but G-d.

The Master Key
A story (6):
One year, the Baal Shem Tov (7) said to Rabbi Ze'ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples, "You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kabbalistic meditations that pertain to shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing." Rabbi Ze'ev applied himself to the task with trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the kabbalistic writings that discuss the significance of the shofar and its mystical secrets. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each meditation he needed to reflect upon while blowing the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah and Rabbi Ze'ev stood on the platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue, surrounded by a sea of worshippers. In a corner stood the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day -- the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze'ev reached into his pocket and his heart froze: The paper had disappeared. He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. He searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes froze his mind. Tears of frustration filled his eyes as he realized that now he must blow the shofar like a simpleton, devoid of spiritual meaning and ecstasy. Rabbi Ze'ev blew the litany of sounds required by Jewish law and returned to his place, an emptiness etched deeply in his heart.

At the conclusion of prayers, the Baal Shem Tov approached Rabbi Ze'ev, who sat sobbing under his tallis. "Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze'ev!" he exclaimed. "That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!"
"But Rebbe... Why?..."

"In the King's palace," said the Baal Shem Tov, "there are many gates and doors leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. The meditations are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds.

"But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the Divine palace. That master key is a broken heart (8)."

1) Exodus 3: 1-3.
2) Deuteronomy 20:19. Talmud Taanis 7a.
3) Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 6 pp. 308-309. Igros Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe vol. 1, pp. 247-250.
4) See Tanya chapter 15, 27, 29, 30, 31.
5) See Tanya chapter 19, based on Proverbs 20:27.
6) Week In Review (VHH, 1996, edited by Yanki Tauber) Vol. 7 No 51.
7) 1698-1760. The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of the Chassidic movement. This year marks the 250th anniversary of his yartzeit.
8) This essay is based on a discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism. The kernel of this discourse he received from his mentor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezrich (d. 1772), who heard it from his teacher, the Baal Shem Tov.

During a public debate that took place in 1783 in the Russian City Minsk, between Rabbi Schneur Zalman and the great Lithuanian scholars who fiercely opposed Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained how Moses' vision of the burning bush served as the nucleus of the Chassidic contribution to Judaism. He pointed out that this quality of an unquenchable flame embodied the uniqueness of the simple Jew who's heartfelt prayer was filled with an Insatiable yearning for G-dliness, vs. the accomplished Torah scholar whose fire has been quenched by his intellectual creativity and innovations (The complete episode around the debate was related by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch in 1942 and published in Sefer HaSichos 5702 pp. 46-47; Kesser Shem Tov, 1998 edition, section b, pp. 19-21).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Chamber of Wealth

24 Tevet: Yarzheit of the Alter Rebbe

The founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - "the Alter Rebbe" [1745-1812], passed away on the eve of the 24th of Tevet, at approximately 10:30 pm, shortly after reciting the Havdalah prayer marking the end of the Shabbat. The Rebbe was in the village of Peyena, fleeing Napoleon's armies, which had swept through the Rebbe's hometown of Liadi three months earlier in their advance towards Moscow. He was in his 68th year at the time of his passing, and was succeeded by his son, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch.

The Alter Rebbe would often repeat in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that wealth can be Gan Eden (paradise) or it can be Gehenom (purgatory). The Alter Rebbe explained this saying as follows. If one uses his wealth for charitable purposes, then it is paradise. If one uses it for self-indulgence or holds it treasured away in order not to give charity, then it is purgatory.

The Mitteler Rebbe, when he was just 7 years old, asked his father "Why are wealthy people so haughty? Even those who are not born into wealth, yet when they become wealthy they change nature and become conceited."

The Alter Rebbe responded "God set up a system in which wealth inherently causes conceit. The chamber of wealth, in Heaven, is found between Gan Eden and Gehenom. There are two doors to this chamber. One opens to Gan Eden and the other opens to Gehenom. Ze le'umas ze asa Elokim - God made one opposite the other.  [Source: Chaim Dalfin: The Seven Chabad Lubavitch Rebbes]