Signs of material success are such things as money or fame…a winner.
Signs of spiritual success are such things as modesty, genuine humility, never arrogant, happy, joyfully thanking G-d throughout the day.
All good deeds are great. There is no way to tell which mitzvah is more important than the next. But somehow, when you explain the meaning of being a Jew to a bunch of America teens, and you can see that they are really listening; this seems to be the most important mitzvah of them all. After all, these are the kids who are going to take over when we are gone.
What does it mean to have devekus to Hashem? Because as you said at the table: You can't think of G-d when driving a car-you need to watch the road. So what is true devekus and what does it look like?
Devekus means cleaving to Hashem. But Hashem is all. There is nothing else. There is no separation between the creation and the Creator. So how is there not cleaving at all times? All is one.
The answer is that cleaving to Hashem means cleaving to the awareness of His Presence. When we consider Hashem as our King or as our Father we certainly can drive a car as our Father or our King would want. But if we are thinking about Hashem as the all and Only, the One Who fills and surrounds everything, then we better not be driving a car or we might go off the road.
Try to recall your greatest spiritual feeling. At some time or times in your life you had reason to be more aware of Hashem's Presence than you usually have. Try to repeat that experience. Try to hold that awareness in your mind for a second or two. If you can, you will want to hold it there even longer. That "holding it there" is your level of devekus. As greater moments come, use them as your spiritual moment to try to recall. From time to time, throughout the day, try to recreate that experience.
When an elevating moment comes look to see what you were doing when it happened. See what seems to be the reason it came, and then have that deed or thought become one of your regular deeds. If it was a significant experience you will want to go stand in the place where it happened from time to time and try to imagine it happening again.
Although the Gate opens from the top down, still we have to do our share to encourage Hashem to open it for us again.
There are different types, or levels of joy. Physical joy is wonderful and very welcome as long as it comes from a kosher (proper) source. Higher than this is emotional joy. This comes from such things as family love. Still higher than these is the joy that comes from intellectual accomplishment. Imagine how you would feel if you solved a problem that you had been working on for years and that solution will make life better for all.
There is another type of joy that none of these other types of joys can possibly reach. This is the spiritual joy that comes when Hashem blesses you by showing you that He is Present. This is the true meaning of the word Shechina. Shechina does not mean Hashem's Presence; it means Hashem's revealed Presence.
We can eat wonderful kosher food to experience physical joy, and we can give love to our closest family to experience emotional joy. We can work very hard and solve our intellectual problems, but what can we do to have Hashem bless us with the Shechina? The Talmud answers this question.
"The Shechina (Hashem's revealed Presence) does not come to rest (upon a person) while in a state of gloom, and not through laziness, and not through levity, and not through ridicule, and not through chatter, and not through idle conversations, but rather through the joy that is associated with a mitzvah."[i]
What can we do to increase our joy when doing a mitzvah? One thing is when we say the blessing, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments," stop for a moment and remember that "sanctified us with His commandments" means "made us holy with His commandments". When we fulfill a mitzvah we become holy. What more could anyone want from life? Remembering this should surely bring you joy.
Then, if you would like even more of this holy joy go help another Jew to find it too. When a candle lights another candle it not only does not lose any of its light, it actual gains light by standing in more light than it had been standing in before.
[i] Shabbos 30 b
For many people, the reading of the Haggadah is a boring and tiresome experience. A typical response is to either skip pages or to buy a “shorter” Haggadah designed to make the Seder less “painfully long.”
The Dry Bones Haggadah takes an opposite approach to the problem. It expands the Haggadah with colorful and funny cartoons framing every page. The Dry Bones Passover Seder experience is more than full; it’s more fun, and more enjoyable. Its Dry Bones cartoons speak directly to each of the Seder participants. Grumpy grandparents and bored kids are equally entertained. Dry Bones cartoon characters comment on the shared Seder experience and on the text being read aloud. This Haggadah provides the complete Hebrew text along with our accurate line-by-line English translation of the Hebrew for ease in keeping Hebrew readers and English readers together. This Haggadah gives detailed instructions in Hebrew and English along with translations and transliterations of all blessings.
The Dry Bones “Plague of Frogs” activity workbook is a companion piece to the Dry Bones Haggadah. Beyond origami, with this activity book your Seder table will spring to life with a “plague” of colorful frogs which you’ve built yourself.
Together, the cartoons of the Dry Bones Haggadah and the table-top plague of frogs combine to make a very special and meaningful experience for adults and children. They will make this truly “a night different from all other nights.” The Haggadah and the Plague of Frogs are available through Amazon.
The frogs are sooooo cute. I want them!
Jordanian Soldier Terrorist Murderer of Seven 14 year old School Girls during a Peace Tour
Every day when my daughter enters her school in Israel, she passes a memorial at the entrance to seven 13 & 14 year old girls from her school who were SLAUGHTERED during a visit to a “Peace Island” by a Jordanian soldier 20 years ago. This week the murderer was released from Jordanian prison…
Jordan announced over the weekend that soldier (who’s name should be blotted out) who murdered seven Israeli YOUNG TEENAGE school girls visiting a peace along the Naharayim border with Israel in 1997 was released. Ironically, the location where the attack occurred is known as Peace Island. While Israeli school children were visiting the area, shots rang out from the Jordanian side as a Jordanian soldier decided to murder the visiting girls, resulting in the slaughter of seven of the 13-14 year old girls, plus the wounding of 7 more and a teacher.
At the time, King Hussein of Jordan promised Israel the soldier would spend the rest of his life in jail and he flew to Israel to personally extend his condolences. The soldier was spared the death penalty under grounds of mental incompetence. His sentence was originally 25 years imprisonment.
My daughter says: Just last week was the memorial of the slaughter of the seven 14 year old girls. He gets to go free, return to his family and even be celebrated as a hero while 7 families lost their 14 year old daughters. And as you see from the picture, doesn’t look like prison was particularly bad for him.
If you want to understand why peace in the Middle East is a problem, this is a perfect example. THEY ARE CELEBRATING THE KILLER OF SEVEN 13 & 14 YEAR OLD SCHOOL GIRLS!
(Jordanian Terrorist Murderer of CHILDREN) was given a rousing welcome in his home village in northern Jordan after being freed on Sunday. He expressed no remorse for the killings. Terrorist Murderer was greeted by chanting supporters who kissed him on the cheek and raised a photo of him with the caption, "Welcome to the hero Terrorist Murderer." The soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli students at the scenic "Island of Peace" border post in March 1997, killing seven and wounding seven, including a teacher. "The release of this hero has cheered us. Israel has committed crimes against many Jordanians that were never accounted for," said Saleh Armouti, a leading Jordanian parliamentarian who proudly supports the slaughter of CHILDREN.
Among the people we pray for in our daily prayers are the Tzadikim (the righteous) and the Chasidim (the pious). The righteous are defined as the Jews who do what is correct and just in the eyes of Hashem, and the pious are defined as the Jews who fulfill their duties toward G-d and man beyond the line of the law.
But doesn't the tzadik sometimes do more than the commandments require, and doesn't the chassid do what is correct? So what is the main distinction between these two holy people?
The tzadik stresses what is right. The root of tzadik means right, just, and this is the life that that the tzadik lives.
"Chasid" derives from chesed which means kindness. The chasid enjoys serving Hashem so it is only natural for him to do even more than is required. It is this kindness that leads the Chasid to live life as an outward expression of love for G-d and other people.
And my suggestion: see the kindness in the righteousness and the righteousness in the kindness. Get the best of both worlds.
He is from Shri Lanka. He is not Jewish so I was really surprised with his questions. He asked, "Is a woman allowed to put on tallis (prayer shawl) and tefillin?"
How many goyim have you met who know the word tallis? Or are interested in the law regarding tefillin and women?
I explained, "They are not forbidden, but they should not do it. A woman should fulfill a woman's role and a man should fulfill a man's role. For 4000 years tallis and tefillin have been only a man's mitzvah and not a woman's so they should certainly not be trying to change this. The Torah tells us that a woman should dress like a woman and a man should dress like a man."
He said that he had seen a video and had wondered. Then he asked about putting on tefillin and I could see that he had been using them!
"How do you know about tallis and tefillin?" I asked, expecting a problem coming.
He said, "I put them on every day…"
"Oh, no!" I thought. We have a problem here. And just before I started to jump on the guy, he finished his sentence.
"I am a caretaker and I had an old Jewish man as a patient. He was crippled completely and could only move his eyes. I would put tallis and tefillin on him every day."
"What a wonderful thing you did. Not only was it kind, but you helped a Jew who couldn't do the mitzvah to wear tefillin. He must have loved you."
He beamed… and justifiably so. I briefly told him the 7 Mitzvahs of Noah and explained that he should follow them and have a wonderful life in this world and a share in the World to Come.
He walked away happy with himself and for a good reason. I had never heard of such a thing before. I wonder what kind of special reward he is going to get in Heaven. I wouldn't bet on it, but maybe he will come back as a Jew!
We are told to drink so much on Purim that we cannot tell the difference between "Bless Mordechai and curse Haman," or the other way around! What does this mean? How is it possible to drink like that?
First, for a well-known fact: if you mix drinks – whiskey, wine and vodka or whatever - the chances are that you are going to become violently ill and miss the entire point of the party. (You will also earn the great disrespect, to put it mildly, of the one who has to clean up after you.) It is best to drink wine since wine was served at the original Purim party.[ii] Whatever taste you prefer is fine, but know that sweet wine usually makes you sick, and stick to one type throughout the entire day.
The spiritual task on Purim is not simply to be happy. We must try to experience the highest spiritual joy possible. This joy comes when Hashem's Presence is unmasked. How can drinking on Purim do this? By breaking down the human system of logic that prevents this understanding from dawning. We try to take a peek into the greatest mystery of all. This can happen only when there is joy, and this joy has to be the joy that comes from doing a mitzvah. We are not searching for mere physical joy, such as the joy that comes from eating and drinking. But on Purim, even the joy that comes from eating and drinking is a mitzvah!
Once, there was a holy King. This King was not just an ordinary king. This King demonstrated his royalty by exuding a wondrous feeling of bliss. This feeling was so strong and so enjoyable that when his subjects would come into the palace for a feast, they would say, "This feeling emanating from the King is so wonderful, if only there could be more of it." They reasoned that the only thing stopping the King's bliss from entirely filling the room was their own bodies, which took up so much space.
They decided to shrink in order to leave more room for the King's bliss. And it worked. As they shrunk, more and more bliss filled the room. They enjoyed the additional bliss so much that they shrunk again and again until finally, they completely disappeared.
Unfortunately, this left the King with a problem. "I want to enjoy a feast with my subjects, but every time I invite them over," he complained, "they disappear on me. I want to eat and drink with my friends, but they evaporate right before my eyes. I don't want to eat and drink all this food by myself."
"Wait a minute, I know what I can do," he reasoned. "After all, I am the King, so I can do whatever I want. I'm going to apportion myself around the banquet table. I am going to take small portions of myself and form these individual portions into different people, and on each person I am going to put a distinct mask. Each portion is going to see itself solely as the person that its mask depicts. And this mask is going to be stuck on each portion so that none of them will be able to remove its mask for the entire party. Maybe some portions will be able to sneak a peek from time to time, but for the most part, the masks are going to be permanently affixed."
"What a party it will be! There will be eating and drinking and grand entertainment, with everyone ordering whatever he wants and eating whatever he orders. Then, at the appropriate time, when the feast is over, the strings holding on the masks will be loosened and each portion will be able to lift off its mask and see it was really only me sitting there the entire time."
This is the hidden story of Purim. This is why we wear masks and costumes on Purim, hiding our true identity. The truth is, only the King will be at your Purim meal, but you will not know this because logic tells you that you and your friends are the only ones there.
And this is why we drink so much on Purim. When the wine goes in, the mysteries come out. This year, when you are so very drunk, try to recall who is really filling your body. Try to take a peek under your mask.
"Know this day and take it to your heart that the L-rd is G-d; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else." Ain od! (There is no other).[iii]
[i] First published in Gutman's book on the weekly Torah portions; "From the Old City" First published in Gutman's book on the weekly Torah portions; "From the Old City" Now available as Podcast at www.thereisone .com http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/from-the-old-city-by-gutman/id465594080
[ii] Esther 1:7
[iii] Deuteronomy 4:39
I was walking to the Kotel when someone commented on my life stories.[i] I told him the only thing good that possibly came out of all that mess is that I am sometimes able to help people when others can't.
A half an hour later I was standing by my tefillin cart when a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks came in. After spending some time standing by the Kotel their guide took them to the tefillin stand and explained a little about tefillin. Shmuli came over to me and said, "You see the tall one of them? He's a Jew."
"How do you know?"
"He's an Israeli. I spoke with him. I tried, but he refused to put on tefillin."
I walked over to the group and saw that the Israeli spoke fluent Tibetan. I asked, "Who is the senior monk?"
Immediately one of the monks put his hand on his chest and said, "I am."
"I'll make a deal with you. I will tell you one of the biggest secrets of Buddhism, but only on the condition that you tell him (pointing to the Israeli) to put these on."
The monk objected, "But he is a Buddhist."
"No. Buddhism is his religion. He is a Jewish person no matter what his beliefs are."
The monk reached out and picked up a tefillin rosh and handed it to me.
I said, "But first I have to tell you the secret. What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
This is one of the oldest and most befuddling koans the Buddhists treasure. Koans are riddles, most often they are supposed to be something you cannot answer but make you think about them over and over again.
"I reached out and took his hands, "How many are these." I pulled them.
He looked at me without answering. I pulled his hands again. "How many am I pulling?"
This time he answered, "Two."
"No. How many is this?" I motioned to his hands and his arms."
He said, "Two."
"How many are these?" This time with both my hands I pointed to his hands, his arms, and his body.
He said, "One,"
I clapped my hands and said, "The two are one. All existence is one," and he got it. His eyes twinkled.
I put the tefillin on the Israeli monk having him repeat the blessing and the Shema. The monks all left and he wanted to go so I took the tefillin off and gently patted him on his cheek and softly said, "Come home. We're waiting for you."
Will it immediately change his life? I would be surprised, but you never know what good will come from doing a mitzvah. For some reason Hashem had him come to the tefillin stand when I was there to help him. Please G-d he will come home soon.
[i] Coming Back to Earth
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