Friday, February 29, 2008

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Basic Info

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Many have questions about Judaism, and the basic practices certainly can seem different viewed from the outside, especially if one is looking at the commonly called Ultra-Orthodox. I received this basic info question...

Not to be mocking or disrespectful in any way but I always wanted to ask a person who is Jewish this... Do you guys still do animal sacrifices for your sins? Just wondering.

I try to be respectful in this and I want an honest answer, but I've gotten rude replies when asking others. Could you answer this question for me please? Thank you.

Here's my reply...

The answer is no. Those sacrifices you refer to were performed only in 1 location, in the Temple of G-d (in Hebrew called the Beis HaMikdash). This temple was located on the mountaintop in Jerusalem.

This holy temple was destroyed 1,938 years ago. Since sacrifices were permitted only there, none have occurred since. A little more info here, a decent Wikipedia overview.

Since that time, prayer has taken the place of sacrifices.

It's worth noting the place of those sacrifices is currently the most disputed spot in the world. You may hear it referred to in the news as Har HaBayit, or the Temple Mount, or Al Aqsa, as 700 years after the destruction of the Jewish temple the Muslims built a place of worship on the same spot (the Dome of the Rock).

According to Jewish religious tradition, the location of the Temple was the same place that Abraham came to (but did not) sacrifice Isaac, and that Jacob stopped on the way out of Israel, had a dream of angels going up and down, and the rocks merged under his head.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

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In Range

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Rafi at Life in Israel writes of his trip to S'Derot, and literally being under Kassam fire yesterday.

I live, oh, maybe 30-40 miles from S'Derot. I also live within Kassam range of the Shomron-Yehuda (West Bank). People are going about their business, Shabbos shopping & preparations are in progress. We don't feel our brother's pain.

A friend called from America, frantic in hearing the reports of what's going on. He lived in S'Derot for a while, couldn't take it anymore. He called from Texas. He knows their pain first hand, he feels it, but couldn't stay with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday evening the bus drivers were talking about it, the taxi drivers were talking about it, and the missiles fell. The world news shows pictures of poor palestinian families in anguish because terrorists were launching from their yard and their homes got hit in return fire. The news didn't mention that.

It also didn't show pictures of the shell shocked residents of S'Derot. It didn't show the 10 year old Jewish boy who had his arm blown off (it's just a flesh wound after all). And it won't show the funerals and bereaved Jewish families of the student and father and child killed in the last two days.

Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) decries the cycle of violence! Give me a break, they shoot and shoot and shoot, and when Israel finally shoots back it's decried and a cycle of violence. They don't decry the daily shooting of missiles at a civilian population (that's called a war crime by the way). They decry the disproportionate response. They're right, Israel ISN'T responding proportionately, as that would require targeting civilian areas and firing 2,500 artillery rounds into them.

Rice announces she's rushing over to re-engage the piece process (yes, piece, not peace). If you utter a lie 1,000 times, does it make it true? She's going to talk with Abbas, who has no power in Gaza and who said today "well, maybe we'll go back to war." The peace process is Israel sits quietly and bleeds quietly until people die (note destroyed lives, a shutdown town, a destroyed economy, a traumatized populace, and hundreds of injuries aren't enough, it's got to be literally a blood sacrifice).

We have no one upon whom to rely except for our Father in Heaven. I can't believe these fools even believe their own words, all I find for them is disgust. The news misrepresents the truth, taking true pictures and true tidbits but twisting it to give a story thats all lie. The politicians, well, they're interest and objectives certainly aren't truth or justice, or even peace. It's whatever they need to do to promote their political objectives, and personal ones.

Truth only remains in the four cubits of Torah.

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A Visit to Lod

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Lod, Israel is not the kind of place that you wander by for a tourist visit. It's primary claim to fame is probably that Israel's airport is officially within city limits. It's unusual among Israeli cities, in that it's a town with a mixed Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab population, both of which were much in evidence.

I wasn't there for an extended visit, but what I saw was an industrial town, a somewhat poor town, but with many synagogues and yeshivas...

A main drag area, palm trees always spruce things up...

Lod Israel

A mix of some new buildings, old buildings, and workshops dotted the area...

Lod Israel

Things like transmission towers and junction buildings were also mixed in. However, a nice California like greenery offered a redeeming feature...

Lod Israel

Not too bad from the distance, closer up shows an area that's hurting...

Lod Israel

Unlike other areas I've been, neither the taxi drivers I dealt with nor these area residents in the middle of the day seemed on the go...

Lod Israel

(Faces intentionally blurred to protect privacy.)

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The Light of a Mitzvah

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Chapter 40 of Tanya (by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, HaRav Shneur Zalman of Liadi) has an interesting discussion about kavanah (concentration/focus/meditation) in tefilah (prayer), Torah learning, and mitzvot.

It discusses specifically how maintaining a kavanah, a focus, that the prayer or learning or mitzvah is 'for it's own sake' allows these to be elevated to the highest worlds and directly connect with the light of the Ein Sof (the Infinite) via the Higher Will.

What's especially interesting to note is the end of this discussion, where the Alter Rebbe helps us understand what will be different in the time of Moshiach...

(the prayer or learning or mitzvah with it's kavanah) shines forth and is revealed with a great and infinite brightness that cannot shine forth and be revealed at all in any manner or form as long as the letters and the mitzvah are still in this material world, until the era of the end of days, when the world will be uplifted from it's materiality, "And the glory of G-d will be revealed..."

So we learn that in the time of the Geulah, a level of G-dliness will be revealed that the presence of G-d will be clear, and the results of Torah and mitzvot will literally shine. However, at this time, all is concealed and only the material can be seen.

Perhaps, on occasion, we get a slight glimmer. Otherwise, we sit in darkness and dream of the light. With a little emunah, and the words of the Torah, we know it's there.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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Save Yerushalayim

The sacredness of Jerusalem is the central theme of the Jewish tradition. Everyone wants to save Yerushalayim from being chopped up including the secular, religious, zionists, orthodox, left, right, central, and Jewish secular rappers...

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Palestinian Cannibalism

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Having previously taught their children from the youngest age to kill the Jews, bathe in their blood, and play with their body parts (all of these are documented REALITIES that have actually occurred), now they are teaching their children to EAT the enemy. Yes, you heard that right.

Palestinian Media Watch - Here. (Scroll down on that article, the top talks of EATING the Danes, the bottom of EATING the Jews.)

Mmm mmm mmm, Jew-kabob, Jew-burger, Jew-warma. I'm not sure you could match this in a Stephen King horror novel. AND YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE PEACE WITH THESE 'PEOPLE'? They are preparing their next generation to be enemies beyond human measure.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

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The Spiritual Perspective - Why Do A Mitzvah?

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

There are a number of reasons you can give for doing a mitzvah. Your reason for doing the mitzvah indicates the spiritual reality you are experiencing.

The sages tell us that when you want to encourage a person to do mitzvahs, you can tell him that if he does them he will get a huge reward in the World to Come. Then, hopefully, as he becomes accustomed to doing them, he will learn to do them for the right reason. So, what then is the right reason?

Some people do mitzvahs simply because they were taught to do them. They have been raised with these customs and have been doing them their entire lives. They never stop to ask themselves why they are doing them. Others do them because they enjoy doing them. Many do them for social reasons—everyone around them is doing them. Some do them because they see that an organized religious life leads to a better family life. Some do them because they love G-d and want to please Him. Most religious Jews say that they do the mitzvahs because G-d commanded us to do them. They nullify their will in order to fulfill G-d’s will. Some serve as a servant of G-d, and some as a loving child of G-d.

So what is the proper way to serve G-d? What should our intention be when we do a mitzvah? Any of these motivations is fine as long as you do the mitzvahs as they have been given, and you do them with joy.

Still, there must be a best way.

If you do the mitzvah simply because you were taught to do it, or just because it is a custom, even at these lower levels of understanding you will be fulfilling the basic requirements of that mitzvah. But the spiritual awareness that that mitzvah can bring will not come to you.

When you do a mitzvah out of love for the One Who wants you to do it, you will enjoy doing it and you will have a loving relationship with G-d. Imagine your bride saying that she wants you to kiss her. You rush to her to satisfy her wish. You do not stop to nullify your will, nor to make an accounting of the merit you will receive by doing what she wants. You do not even try to understand why she asked you for this. You simply rush to her and embrace her and love her with all your heart. When you serve G-d like this, it shows that you have attained the very lofty role of a lover, or child of G-d. But if you do the mitzvahs only out of love, some day you might become lazy and let them slide.

If you do the mitzvahs because you fear the One Who commands them, you have attained the lofty spiritual awareness of a servant of G-d. This is a very high spiritual level, but you may very well become rigid in your life. Acting solely out of obligation can make you feel apprehensive in your service.

So, what is the best way to serve? As a son? A servant? A member of the tribe? How can we get the most out of our performance of mitzvahs?

When an entirely righteous person gives a poor person a coin, his motivating intention is not to do a mitzvah. Nor does he give the coin because he is obligated to give it, although certainly we are obligated to give charity. He does not do it merely out of habit either. He is deeply aware of what he is doing. He does not give it because he fears or loves G-d either, although he certainly does. And he does not do it because he is entirely nullified to G-d. What then is his prime motivation for giving that coin to the poor person?

He gives the poor person the coin simply because the poor person needs it. That is not merely his reasoning, it is his actual experience. Of course, if you ask him why he gave it he could list a number of reasons, but he would be surprised that you even asked. “He needs it.” When he puts up a mezuzah or shakes the luluv, he is doing it for the same reason. His motivating feeling is that the world needs these things. Doing the mitzvahs makes the world a better place.

Surely, the primary reason we do mitzvahs is because G-d commanded us to do them. We learn to do these acts from the Torah. But what is your actual thought, intention, hope, when you are doing the mitzvah? Whatever it is at that time defines your current spiritual level.

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Excerpted from Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok of Kosher

...Many today look at our troubled times and see all types of Messianic prophecies being fulfilled around us. I agree that many prophecies are being fulfilled; some more profoundly than others. Yet, none of this means that the dawn of the Messianic era is immanently upon us. Heaven works according to its own calendar; therefore the actual advent of the Mashiah might be a long way off, or then again it might be tomorrow. What is certain is that prior to the coming of Mashiah, there must first be the restoration of some of the lost lines of communication (to Shamayim) that existed prior to their being severed.


Monday, February 25, 2008

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An Awesome Story of the World of Truth


Sunday, February 24, 2008


What the.... ???

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

I received this email off a mailing list I subscribed to, completely unrelated to religious topics. All I have to say is, what the ??? Is this type of thought process going on for real in some US quarters? This came from a relatively reputable person in a position of public authority in a US Northeast state. It's unclear if this person was just forwarding other sentiments, or added some of their own...

2nd Amendment, Federal Government Actions Are Grounds For Immediate Secession

I was just down in Tennessee an few weeks ago and those boys are ready for Civil War, the rematch! Thought they were right the first time, and awaiting the word... And they are not alone.

Buddy of mine also suggested that if Obama wins its RaHoWa [editor's note, that's apparently a White Supremacist code word for Racial Holy War, which Wikipedia states "is the belief that white people should unite and undertake a holy war against Jews and non-whites."].

I was at the Apple store in (Northeast Democratic oriented state) and I gave one of their geniuses my card. Sharp fellow... He looked at me and asked: so, who's the best candidate? I paused a second for nausea, and said, well, one is evil, one is clueless and the other is McCain, so I don't know which is worse.

Surprisingly this genius suggested that, at least if the clueless one is in, hopefully his advisors won't be so bad.

Now as it applies to the below email...

Considering the above, and if the Supreme Court foolishly finds that somehow the people in the second amendment means something different than what the people means in all of the others (the individual, not the state), worst case scenario we will be asked to part with our firearms or ask ourselves how important they are to us.

From my cold dead hands... comes immediately to mind when I think about it. How many of us are ready and able to stand by our rights to the end? And to what cost? The price will be very high in any scenario.

We need to ask ourselves this. Those of you in the military and law enforcement need to ask yourselves if you (worst case scenario), will have the integrity and conscientiousness to do what is ultimately right, or violate peoples personal freedom like we saw in Louisiana.

What in the world??? This came out in the US Northeast on an ordinary mailing list.

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Successful Learning, Thank You!

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

A week ago, I traveled up to Tzfat (Safed) for a special siyum (celebration of completion of learning). Two young men finished Gemora Makkos. A few days later, another 8 young men did the same thing (different tractate).

Ordinarily, this is nothing so special. Young men learning tractates of Gemora is pretty much the staple of the Torah learning system today. But these weren't ordinary young men.

These young men had been abused by the system. Yes, abused. Some are ADD, some have learning disabilities (undiagnosed), some are just more artistic or creative than the average fellow. All of them ran into rigid environments that protect the core by pushing out the non-conformists. They were yelled out, punished, some actually physically restrained or hit, and generally told that their nature's where bad.

When they thought of yeshiva, and by association the Torah world, a loving environment wasn't what came to mind. Torah became associated with degradation, punishment, pain. Some became defensive, some offensive, some escapist.

Parents cried, siblings scratched their heads (what's wrong with my brother?), yet in the end frequently reinforced the negative as they reacted to the youngsters direction. Not only on their way out, but left with a serious anger we are seeding future enemies from our own blood.

But in one place, in a small run down building hidden in the hills of Tzfat, one yeshiva is making a difference. Here boys are accepted lovingly, encouraged positively, and appreciated for each success that they can make. This is not the yeshiva of the illuiy (the genius) or the budding talmud chacham (future Torah sage), though indeed some of this young men have that potential! This is the yeshiva of accomplishment, where every step taken is appreciated for the success it is.

And this past week, those young men's accomplishments were indeed equal to any mainstream yeshiva. In some ways, they distinctly exceeded a regular track. For these young men will take their Torah, wrap it with their drive, their creativity, their push to tackle multiple tasks, and build the future. They may be the businessmen that end up supporting the yeshivas, or those who start the many institutions which make a community go, or develop new ways of sharing Torah with others.

The fires are being stoked, the wounds of the past healing over. And young men are being encouraged to their full potential.

These are the "at risk" kids in the hands of a yeshiva that cares and cries over every single soul, and strives to empower their holy potential and heal the wounds of the past.

Dear Contributors, those who have clicked our tzedakah button to the right, your contributions are going to their success. Their Torah is in your merit, their future brighter for your assistance.

Thank you, and may Hashem bless you, and bless them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

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Notice Anything Missing?

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

I guess it shouldn't surprise me in this day and age to find Israel erased from the map. But, when going to try to find a fix for my wireless router, I was surprised to find Israel erased from the map of a major hi-tech firm with several offices and research centers IN ISRAEL...

(Go to Linksys.Com, click Downloads at the top right of the screen, then click Middle East.)

Sorry, no Israel in that world. Cisco Systems, the major maker of routers and Internet equipment (for corporations) in the world, maintains one of their major R&D centers in Netanya, Israel. Since 1997. Cisco is the parent corporation of Linksys, who makes home & small business networking equipment.

While I don't expect them to list an Israeli office if the Linksys division doesn't have one, I certainly expect that if there is room for Lebanon on their map, there is room for Israel (labeled or not).

At first I was just going to pass this by, but hey, how long does it take to stand up? I'm not sure who to contact, but their contact page is here.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

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The Novice and the Miser

When Rabbi David Schochet of Toronto picked up the envelope from Buffalo and read the letter inside, he was taken aback. He was used to being asked to address Jewish audiences all over the continent, but this invitation was something different. This organization wanted him to speak before an "inter-faith" audience of both Jewish and non-Jewish students. He felt uncomfortable about it. How was he to speak about practical mitzvos such as Shabbos and kashrus to large numbers of non-Jews? His Buffalo contacts shrugged off his doubts. They insisted that lots of Jews would be in attendance and much could be accomplished.

Feeling unclear about how to respond, Rabbi Schochet decided to consult with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zs'kl. He telephoned to Chabad world headquarters in Brooklyn and explained his dilemma to one of the Rebbe's secretaries. An answer was soon forthcoming. The Rebbe recommended that he accept the invitation, and prepare to speak on a topic applicable to non-Jews also, such as tzedakah, for the Torah portion of that week, Re'ey, included the verse [Deut. 15:8], "You shall surely open your hands to him...."

When the date came, Rabbi Schochet crossed the border. Since it was a night engagement, his hosts provided him with a hotel room. He checked in, rested for awhile, and reviewed his notes. When he entered the auditorium, two sights immediately surprised him: the audience was much larger than he expected, and among the people gathered there was a group of young novice priests, easily distinguishable by their collars. Again, Rabbi Schochet felt apprehensive but, recalling the Rebbe's advice and blessing, his confidence returned. During his lecture, he related a now-famous incident that had occurred in the mid 1600's in Cracow. In brief:

A certain wealthy man was scorned by the Jewish community because of his notorious stinginess. They called him "Shiya the miser." He never contributed to any charitable appeal. When he died, it was decided to bury him in an unprestigious corner of the cemetery and inscribe on his tombstone, "Shiya the miser."

In the ensuing weeks, the esteemed rabbi of the city, R. Yomtov Lippman Heller, author of "Tosefos Yomtov," noticed a dramatic increase in the number of poor Jews seeking his help to purchase their Shabbos needs. He referred them to various funds for needy families, but they told him that the treasurers of those funds insisted no money was available. How could it be that so many different funds had simultaneously become depleted? He investigated. It turned out the so-called miser had been single-handedly supporting every one of those funds- secretly-and for years!

Shocked, the rabbi immediately instructed that all Cracow Jewry gather the next evening at the central synagogue to ask forgiveness of Reb Shiya for their disrespectful treatment of him. He also gave instructions that when he himself passed away, he should be buried next to Shiya. In this way, when people came to visit his gravesite they would also be paying respect to the person who had made the great mitzvah of giving charity anonymously for so many years, at the expense of his own reputation and social life. He also had the tombstone inscription changed to read, "Shiya the holy miser."

The talk was very well received. One of the young priests even came up to talk to him afterwards. He thanked the Rabbi profusely for his lecture, and then asked him to please repeat the story. Rabbi Schochet didn't feel so comfortable speaking at length with a priest in public, so he invited him to drop by his hotel room.

Later that evening, the rabbi answered the quiet knock at the door. He welcomed the priest in, offered him a comfortable seat, and repeated the story that so interested the young man. His listener concentrated intensely. After, he sat quietly for a moment and then asked the rabbi to please do him the kindness of telling the story just one more time; he wanted to be sure that he was retaining all the details.

Rabbi Schochet was startled by this unexpected request. The whole situation was becoming bizarre. Perhaps his 'guest' wasn't quite normal?

Nevertheless, he told the story for a third time, and again noticed that the young man was listening with rapt attention and great concentration. This time, he asked the rabbi a number of questions about the Tosefos YomTov: who was he, when was he, what other books did he write, and so forth. Some of his questions Rabbi Schochet was able to answer, and some not.

Finally, the novice thanked him profusely, mumbling several times about how important it was to him to have heard this story. By now the rabbi was more than half convinced that the man in the room with him was out of his mind. And yet, he also felt somewhat drawn to him. A light shone in his eyes, as well as a sadness that bespoke some sort of inner conflict, but not abnormality.

He escorted his guest to the door, still wondering. For a long time the unsolved riddle of this strange encounter gnawed at him, but eventually he let the memory slide away.

* * *
Fifteen years later, Rabbi Schochet had the opportunity to go to the Holy Land for a visit. One day, when he was at the Western Wall, a man came up to him and said "Sholom Aleichem." Rabbi Schochet wasn't sure how to react. It wasn't anyone he knew. Was he seeking tzedakah? As he reached towards his pocket the man suddenly grabbed his hand and shook it heartily, insisting that they knew each other. The rabbi stared at him and racked his memory, but still had no idea who he was. Perhaps he had mistaken him for someone else?

When Rabbi Schochet suggested that to him, he laughed. "Do you remember that time in Buffalo fifteen years ago that you spoke to an audience of Jews and non-Jews about tzedakah?"

"Yes," he replied. "So?"

"And you told a story about a miserly rich man in Cracow, remember?"

The rabbi nodded affirmatively, flashing back to that strange episode in the hotel room.

"Well," the man said with a huge smile, "I am that young priest who kept asking you to repeat the story!"

Rabbi Schochet couldn't believe it. Standing in front of him at the Western Wall was an obviously observant Jew. He was flabbergasted and virtually speechless. "But, but...."

The man cheerfully related his whole story.

"When my parents migrated to the United States, they concealed their Jewish identity and raised me as a non-Jew. They even sent me to a seminary for priests when I became old enough.
"My mother passed away while I was still in that school. Before she died, she told me the secret of her identity and that therefore I was really Jewish. I can't begin to tell you how shocked I was. She also told me that story about the miser who was buried next to a great rabbi, and said that the "stingy" rich man of the story was her ancestor! She did not, however, remember the name of the rabbi.

"When you told the story that night, it reminded me of what my mother told me on her deathbed. But you knew so many more details. I was fascinated. I felt I needed to know and retain as much as I possibly could. That's why I kept asking you to repeat it.

"Afterwards, thoughts of my lineage allowed me no rest. I started to investigate Judaism and became captivated. Finally I made the decision to return to my people. I came to Israel and studied for a long time in a yeshiva. Now I am married with a wonderful Jewish family and fully committed to the Torah way of life."

Rabbi Schochet listened, spellbound. He thanked his "old friend" for recognizing him and initiating the conversation. He couldn't stop marveling at the intricacies of Divine Providence, and that at last, after all these years, he could begin to understand the profound effect of the Rebbe's unusual advice.

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Lekket Sipurim.]

Biographical note:
R. Yomtov Lippman Heller, zs'kl, [1579-1654], is known as the "Tosefos Yomtov," after his major commentary on the Mishna, the most famous of his many scholarly works. As a young man, he studied in Prague under the Maharal and subsequently under Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem, a predecessor of the Baal Shem Tov. In Cracow, he succeeded Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, the "Bach" as chief rabbi, and Yaakov Yehoshua, the P'nei Yehoshua, as rosh yeshiva.

Editor's note:
This story is sometimes told in the name of other contemporary rabbis. Rabbi Schochet has confirmed the details.

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Absurd Extremes

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

In Eretz Yisroel, in the Land of Israel, we find higher levels of kedushah, holiness, than outside of Israel. In the physical realm, we see this expressed in people striving for closer attachment to Hashem through the layering of meticulous observance of the mitzvot. Say what? We find multiple kosher supervision, items especially prepared with intention for the mitzvah, application of additional stringencies. And that's just the physical realms.

But, free will must reign. The Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, exists in Eretz Yisroel as well. And, just as we find higher levels of kedushah, the Yetzer must be empowered with higher levels of tuma (impurity) to be able to offset the kedushah and provide man with choice.

Fortunately, through the kindness of HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He), Eretz Yisroel is not flooded with cesspools of depravity (yes it has such things to some extent). Rather, the opposite of kedushah here in Israel is a massive secular inclination. So massive that the purveyors of it go to such incredible extremes it's barely believable outside of Israel.

The extreme of the day is a current government minister and former Defense Minister announcing "Israel doesn't actually need any land, we can freely give it away, because land is no defense against missles. (Having more doesn't help, haven't less doesn't hurt.)" Or, in his literal words...

Former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, currently serving at Minister of Infrastructure in the Olmert government, addressed the Jerusalem Conference Wednesday morning, saying long-range missiles make retention of territory irrelevant for Israel.

“Syria today has the Shahab-3 missile,” Ben Eliezer said, “with a range of 1,250 km.” The Shahab-3 is an Iranian-produced missile that places all of the Jewish state within striking range. “The era of missiles makes territory less important than ever before,” Ben-Eliezer added.

Now, can anyone imagine any nation in the world saying "ahh, take our land, please!". Japan and Russia have been feuding over 3 tiny artic islands for over 75 years. Serbia is now screaming (and threatening) because Kosovo, a small territory filled with a people that desperately didn't want to be part of Serbia, announced their independence.

But Israel, she doesn't need land. Take the holy land, please! Can anyone imagine anything so absurd?

Yet here we see proof of the Yetzer at work. Only in Israel do we see government officials attempting to destroy their own land. (Some may try to bring examples of the US State Dept undermining positions of Republican administrations, but they're doing that with the best intention of a different policy that they believe is better for the US, whether true or not.)

Sometimes we learn of the positive through a negative. Here, when seeing the absurd lengths to which the violent secularists will go to deconstruct Israel, we learn of the holy potential of this holy land and how hard one must fight to avoid it if here.

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Not So Inclusive Just Yet

A Special Submission for BeyondBT by Akiva

In "Can Beyond BT Be More Inclusive" (here, Alan asks an interesting question. He says, "Beyond BT has established its place in the right wing of the Orthodox spectrum" and asks "Can Beyond BT make room for a Left Wing Modern Orthodox BT like myself?"

While I won't try to answer this relative to Beyond BT, I'd like to expand the question, has the orthodox Jewish world "moved right", and "is there room for left wing modern orthodox"?

The net answer, I think, is somewhat interesting. For generations, observant Judaism was under attack and in retreat...

Read the rest over at BeyondBT.
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The Snow of Jerusalem

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

A reader requested (via email) that I post some photos from the Jerusalem snow storm of the century. I was in Jerusalem this morning, and here they are, Jerusalem Snow Storm of the Century photos...

The'a the'a the'a the'a that's all folks.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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Prime Humor, Prime Disaster

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

(JPost - Feb 18) Olmert praised the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. "Despite the [continuing] Kassam fire, it was a very good move since there are no longer 30,000 soldiers protecting 1,200 citizens," he said.

Olmert mentioned Sunday's decision by a ministerial committee he led to approve a budget of NIS 350 million to fortify 3,600 Gaza belt homes against Kassam rockets.

Further, a significant amount of money is being invested for the completion of the Iron Dome anti-Kassam system, currently under development by Israel's Rafael (Armaments Development Authority), the Prime Minister said Monday.

Ha. HaHa. HaHaHaHaHaHaHa. ROFL. This is a joke, right? I mean, it's Purim Katan (the small Purim in a 2 Adar month year), so this is a Purim Shpiel, right? It's got to be.

I mean, previously there were 1,200 idealistic zionistic citizens PROTECTING 30,000 citizens that were in Gaza attack range They SPLIT the enemy, preventing large scale attack coordination, they BUFFERED the country, acting as a close target, they provided LOCAL jobs, pumping up the Arab civilian economy which somewhat kept the population focused on normal life, and produced $500 million in exports.

Sharon and Olmert ended all that, destroying the efforts of 1,200, pulling out the supporting 30,000 soldiers, and ended up with 30,000 civilians under constant enemy bombardment. Now there are 30,000 internal refugees and/or shell shocked civilians, a need to spend NIS 350 million on fortification, tens of thousands daily on air force attacks, and hundreds of millions on futuristic defense systems of questionable value (stopping a $3,000 rocket with a $300,000 anti-rocket can be somewhat of a long term problem).

But those 30,000 soldiers are no longer at risk, and we gained peace. Oh wait, no we didn't. We got 30,000 civilians under attack, and have spent NIS 1 billion in costs, FOR A FALSE VISION IN THE NAME OF FALSE IDEOLOGIES.

And they still are holding up that vision. They are either deluded or consummate lier's (or both).

BTW, I thought the job of soldiers was to protect the citizens, not the other way around???

UPDATE: Rivka commented,

Where does the 1200 citizens figure come from? There were at least 8000 people living in jewish communities in Gush Katif - did Olmert actually say 1200? (and if yes, did no one challenge it?)

That is how he is quoted in the article, so yes it appears to have been him saying it. And no, it appears no one challenged him on it. Even I bought it.

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Meet the Future Peace Partner

Thanks to blog reader and friend Danny for this eye opening video...

Danny asked, "Where do they get those rifles from?" The answer is, these were provided by the US to the Palestinian Authority. 3 times the US has demanded Israel permit the transfer of weapons and ammunition. The total amount of rifles transferred is over 100,000, and over 1,000,000 rounds of rifle ammunition. The last request, umm, demand included over 30 Russian armored personnel carriers.

This video was shot in Shechem (Nablus), currently under no one's control (technically under Palestinian Authority control). All US weapons previously delivered to Gaza were taken over and are in current use by Hamas.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

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The Spirtual Perspective - Part 17

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Sometimes we can become very frustrated when trying to do a mitzvah. There could be any number of things causing the problem. It might be lack of funds, transportation, or maybe the person we are trying to help is not cooperating. It just does not seem to be working.

One of my rough times comes when I am trying to help a bunch of young kids to put on tefillin. Obviously, this should be a time of great joy, but still, they hold their arms like loose strands of limp spaghetti. This makes helping them so much more difficult. I ask them to stiffen their arms and they try to help, but they just do not know which muscle to try to stiffen. It is so easy to become frustrated, even hot at a time like this. It’s like trying to bind loose leather straps on floppy, rubbery arms. It’s easy to say something that could (G-d forbid) ruin the kids’ experience.

At times like this, when you begin to feel frustrated, before you blow up, think of someone you love, someone who is a good example of patience, some loving friend or rabbi. The chances are you will smile and go on with the patience you need to do the job right. This is one of the great values in having met those special people in your life.

On a recent trip, I was asked to speak to a class of seven-year-old boys. I love it. Not only is it a privilege, it is fun. I am fortunate to have a lot of good stories that kids love to hear. One of my regulars is a story of how a group of very young boys at the Kotel got an army captain to put on tefillin when I couldn’t. The kids eat up the stories about kids being heroes.

Some six months after my talk, I got a call from a rabbi friend of mine whose son Berel was in that class. It was during Chol haMoed Succot (the intermediate days of the holiday of Succot). He told me that his wife had just returned from taking three of their children out to look for Jews to shake the lulav and esrog. They have a regular “route,” visiting stores and offices where they know at least one Jew works. On their way, they always go by a certain store where there is an extremely negative Jewish man. He won’t even answer them when they wish him a good Shabbos. They offered him the lulav but, as they suspected, he didn’t answer. He just growled under his breath.

After they walked away, seven-year-old Berel stopped his mother and said, “Mommy, let me try.” At first his mother did not understand what he wanted. “Mommy, give me the lulav. Let me go back and try to get him to wave it.”

“But the man is being very negative, Berel. I don’t think he will listen to you.”

“Mommy, remember what Gutman said? That sometimes little kids can do things that even big people can’t do? Let me try.”

“Okay, but be careful, he is very grouchy!” The boy took the luvav and esrog and ran back to the man.

“Sir, he said, as he looked way up at the tall man’s face. “Would you like to shake the lulav?” The man looked down at the little boy and grouched.

“Please,” he begged. “Please, please, please,” he said whining with the urgency that only little kids can whine. He shook both his legs as he pleaded with the man. The man mumbled something under his breath, and then slowly reached down and took the lulav from the boy. Berel told him the blessing which he repeated word for word, and then he waved the lulav.

How happy was this little boy! How proud he was that he brought a Jewish man to do a mitzvah when no one else could do it. Hooray, for little Berel.

Who gained that day? Well, surely the grouchy old man gained (who might even have smiled before it was over). And surely little Berel gained. What a blessing he got that day. Also, Berel’s parents were blessed in that they have such a son as Berel. And don’t forget Gutman who was blessed to be able to tell Berel that little kids can do big things. And on and on, the blessing goes around and around. We see that whenever we bring someone to do a good deed, it’s a win-win situation, everyone wins.

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Down In The Sewer

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

When we think, metaphorically speaking, of being dragged down into the sewer, we think of (G-d forbid) encountering inappropriate sights. Or, being bombarded with negative stimulus that leads to inappropriate thoughts. We think the opposite of kedushah (holiness) is large stinking piles of sewage.

Of course, such things do exist. And just like coming in contact with sewage truly can infect and be deadly physically, these things can do so spiritually.

But the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) doesn't often try to draw one into sewage, for most people just won't go (at least not in the beginning).

When we think of great troubles in life, we think of those who (Lo Alaynu, please G-d not to us!) encounter a tragedy. A car accident that seriously injures (G-d forbid). A fire that costs lives (Chas v'Shalom). Interaction with extreme violence (crime, terrorism).

But, people that enter such times enter a different world. One is not drawn down at such a time, one isn't even on the same plane of existence. This is not the place of the Yetzer Hara, this is a din, a challenge, a life that must be rebuild.

No, the Yetzer Hara, he comes every day. His challenges are more subtle, crafty, wiley. Little disturbances that set a negative tone to the day. Interruptions that draw ones mind to all the little things in life that you just struggle to get past. And when the day ends, you go, where did it go? Indeed, it passed without notice focused on ... trivia.

Tefillos (prayer) cannot ascend and connect to Hashem without kavanah (focus & concentration), and neither tefillos nor mitzvos (commanded deeds) can ascend without the twin wings of love and fear of Hashem. Prayer by rote is like an injured bird, it just flops around down on the ground in this world. (Don't worry, there's hope for that bird to be healed!) And when we're worried about the trivia, all of what truly matters is probably being done by rote.

If I ask you, "How was your day?", do you think about how work went, or school, or do you think about how your morning prayer went?

The weather was incredible, the kids had a good day in school, traffic was lite, but my day could have been better, for my tefillos and mitzvos were ... preoccupied.

And that's truly being down in the sewer. For my prayers are flopping around on the ground, and I didn't even notice!

G-d willing, and with a focus on what's important, perhaps I'll have a better day tomorrow.

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Links of Interest


Sunday, February 17, 2008

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UN Condemns Egypt for Economic Blockade of Gaza!

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

(AUP) NY - The United Nations General Assembly, in coordination with the United Nations Security Council, has condemned Egypt for their ongoing blockade of Gaza and the horrendous impact on the civilian population. The resolution specifically stated that "Egypt is destroying the lives of 1.5 million civilians simply to pressure a neighboring power."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, "Egypt's recent threats to forcibly re-close their border with Gaza and stave off the flow of supplies is a crime against humanity." The Secretary General called on all Arab nations to stop using refugee lives as a diplomatic weapon.

NOT! Because, that would make sense in a world of truth. Instead, we get this feces fed to us...

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah met Saturday at Sharm el-Sheik, condemning the Israeli “siege on the Gaza Strip” and calling for “an end to the blockade on the Palestinian people, which causes them much suffering.”

which, of course, when put in the context of this...

Egypt has warned Palestinians against trying to break through its resealed Gaza border about two weeks after Hamas militants blew it open to defy an Israeli-led blockade.

After allowing (allowing??? they blew the border fence up!) hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to cross into the Sinai peninsula last month, Egypt on Sunday closed the border to Palestinians seeking entry.

A day later, one person was killed and dozens more wounded in clashes between Egyptian border guards and Palestinian militants. Security sources said several thousand Palestinians in Egypt would be returned to Gaza in organized groups.

"Whoever breaks the border line will have his foot broken," Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in comments carried by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) on Thursday.

shows who's doing the blockading and what they are worried about (which isn't the lives of the Gaza civilians.)

How long will the world listen to these lies???

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

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Aliyah Update: The Humor, The Angst

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Aliyah is almost impossible without either a good sense of humor, a good attitude, or both. We lost ours for a couple of weeks, but there's some hope its coming back...

- We tried to make a doctors appointment for one of our daughters. The receptionist insisted she couldn't as the computer said our daughter was out of the country. As she was standing next to us, this was rather bizarre. She couldn't fix it, but could be pushed into making the appointment anyway. You just gotta laugh.

- Local yeshiva's wouldn't let our boys in as they don't speak Hebrew (yet) and therefore wouldn't be able to get along. After great struggle we finally got one to relent after arranging ulpan (Hebrew language class) in parallel. Turns out they love and are getting along great (thank G-d) in Hebrew yeshiva class, but detest ulpan (seems Israeli teachers can't control a room full of Anglos). Completely counter-intuitive and opposite our concerns. Laugh or cry? Our choice.

- I didn't mind leaving the US Northeast, especially will not miss the winter weather. It's supposed to snow here on Monday.

- A lady came up to me on the street trying to find a local address, asking me in Russian! Fortunately, as she was trying to ask where and explain to me (something), she had it written in Hebrew and I could confirm she was on the right street and point the direction (in pantomime). But boy I wanted to hug her and say, "I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL!!!"

- We were invited to a lovely Shabbos meal Friday, a huge table with a large host family, our large family and some yeshiva young men from Mir. As we were discussing settling in, one of the Mir yeshiva bochrim quoted the Gemora (Brachos) on the things that come via yisurim (difficulties), one of which is a place in Eretz Yisroel. Our host, who has been here 6 years, turn to him and said "I always wanted to just punch people whenever they said that." Oh yeah.

When in the US, I always would tell people that Eretz Yisroel is the opposite of the US. In the US, ruchniyus, spirituality, comes hard. Synagogue may not be close by, or yeshiva, or good Jewish education, etc. Getting a kosher mezuzah or tefillin may be hard and expensive. In Israel, none of that is true, all the Jewish needs are readily available. It's the gashmiyus (the physicality) that comes hard. Getting a drivers license is a major production, mailing a package a big deal, decent grocery shopping completely inconvienent.

In America, one prays for the ruchniyus, struggling to reach for a connection to Hashem. In Israel, one prays for every little thing every day. The connection is there waiting to be grasped, being able to do it is another matter.

And praying for everything is not a negative, but it is a hard adjustment, especially when most of those things were taken for granted.

Shavua Tov.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

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The Reality of Politics versus The Reality of Spirituality

Neshama emailed this comment about the recent political posts...

Your blog is billed as Mystical, but where is the mystical side of this coming election fiasco comment you posted? Since when has the US spent over 2 (two) years on pre-election dancing? This was never included in the constitution and only began in the early 19th Century (in order to control and fix elections).

With all of the political and social disruption in the Holy Land, all of the possible scenarios of Divine Intervention to be seen, world economics on a see-saw, spiraling out of recognition, all of the weird weather conditions rumbling over the globe, how can one think this is business as usual.

Who is a Wise Man? … One Who Can See What is Being Born [Tamid 32(a)]

Sharing some thoughts with you. This is serious and everyone is asleep.

Maybe everyone should begin informing their loved ones and friends. So many things are quietly going on in the background of our busy lives while we are blindly focused on family matters, school, work, shopping (?), and a myriad of other things that use up every minute of our days...

The Eisav’s of the world together with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel are [and have been since Pres. Bush visited] “discussing” with Yishmael’s so-called representative in Ramallah how to carve up the Holiest Jewish City on Earth.

Is it any wonder that:

The Bush Financial and Economic Bust of 2008 - The Destruction of Capital / Economic Depression - Feb 07, 2008

World bourses lost 5.2 trillion dlrs in January: credit rater AFP - Sat Feb 9, 11:54 AM PARIS (AFP) - World stockmarkets lost 5.2 trillion dollars (3.6 trillion euros) in January thanks to the fallout from the US subprime crisis and fears of a global economic slowdown, Standard & Poor's said Saturday.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating how banks, credit rating firms and lenders valued and disclosed complex mortgage-backed securities that ultimately led to the subprime crisis, a top agency enforcer said on Saturday.

NEW YORK (AFP) - US stock markets tumbled heavily in the week to Friday, giving Wall Street a fresh battering, despite Congress granting a green light to a giant economic stimulus package sought by the White House.

Japan stocks fall on option-led selling AP - Fri Feb 8, 4:56 AM ET
TOKYO - Japanese stocks fell Friday as investors sold stocks to settle futures options, with many buyers remaining on the sidelines ahead of talks among the finance chiefs of the Group of Seven industrialized countries.


Sound far-fetched? Give it some deep hard thought.

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Unease Revisited

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

As I posted a seemingly anti-Obama article, a reader and Obama supporter requested I post some salient points on the other side. I think that's only fair...

(A reader writes...) I'm bothered by the picture you chose to include in your post. It's fake and we all know that. Somehow these fake pictures have a way of getting into peoples minds and becoming real.

I'm sure you guessed, but I am an Obama supporter. As a supporter I don't mind if you vote against him, think he's the worst candidate ever, and bad for Israel. That's your right, I disagree, but those are fair opinions.

What isn't a fair opinion is carrying on about him being a Muslim. He made a commitment to a church, was baptized, and attends regularly.

But somehow these lies persist. I don't understand how they do. And when I see how quickly lies like this spread I get afraid.

I'm not trying to convince you that Senator Obama is the best thing ever. I just would like to see some of the outrageous stories die off so we can focus on what policies are best.

This article, here, on a past event in Senator Obama's life does a beautiful job in showing him to be a truly stand up guy. We would all be lucky if our leaders acted so well.

Fair points. The truth is, I'm not following the US election very closely. My personal tendency is towards the Republican side, though I've been completely, and I do mean completely, disappointed by Bush. I hear that Obama has taken some reasonable positions regarding Israel and Middle East politics, and though a few have been a bit amateurish, so were Bush's at this stage in the election process last time around.

My unease is focused on something different. In a truly multi-cultural US, where people have come, made their lives in America, and their children are making successful futures right up to running for President, do we consider that background? Do we consider people's backgrounds at that level, when such a thing is done to a Jew, would it be ok, would I find it acceptable? (No.)

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

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Let there be NO DOUBT

that the UN hs COMPLETELY and TOTALLY against Israel...

The wonderful Dry Bones shares this comic, which he notes on his blog is DIRECT QUOTES FROM THE UN SPOKESPERSON...


"Middle East Statement:

A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Secretary-General has noted today's announcement of an agreed ceasefire in Gaza, and commends Egypt for its continuing efforts to calm a volatile and worrying situation. He calls for all parties to abide by the terms of the ceasefire and to move quickly back to the process of national dialogue in the pursuit of national unity."

Question: You read a statement about the situation in Gaza before and I know it's difficult to change terminology, but we have a new Secretary-General now, so let me try it again. A year and half after the last Israeli withdrew from Gaza, the UN system still refers to Gaza as an Occupied Palestinian Territory. The only people who are not Palestinian in Gaza currently are UN people. Do you mean that Gaza is occupied by the UN?

Spokesperson:Definitely not.

Question: So who is it occupied by?

Spokesperson: Well…

Correspondent: I think there are some Israeli soldiers on the border…

Question: Not borders, who is Gaza occupied by?

Spokesperson: Traditionally, this is the terminology we have used. Yes?

Question: But the situation on the ground changed since Israel withdrew from Gaza

Spokesperson: I will look into this.

Correspondent: Thank you.

Never forget, Israel stands alone. We have only our Father in Heaven to turn to. Clearly, the UN and the world's idea of justice and truth is ... ridiculous.
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by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Someone requested the following to be posted. Now, given Barak Obama's background, there may be legitimate concern that he has significant islamic sensibilities or leanings. There's been no actual hints of this in his political career or his campaign positions, but there is in his personal background.

Now, Mitt Romney (who's campaign just closed) was the last candidate to encounter such a problem. His mormon background and faith, and the general intensity of people of that faith's involvement with their church leaders, led some to ask if a man of that faith can be faithful to the role of President of the United States.

The man before that who encountered such a problem was Yosef Liberman (Joe Liberman), who was the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in the last US election. Could that Jew be trusted not to put Israel's concerns first over that of the United States? Could a Jew who won't work on Saturday and won't eat certain foods be Vice President?

Which leads me to an interesting dilemma. I don't know much about Barak Obama, and don't know if his personal background of experience with islam while growing up should be of concern when the major enemy of the United States at this time is radical islam. And because of the way this has been handled in the past, I don't know if it's even fair to raise as a question!

It just leads me with a sense of unease. Unease as a minority in the US that such status could be of concern. And, just maybe, unease that it really shouldn't be but actually is something to be concerned about.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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In the Clouds

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

After a long day of driving, I'm somewhat limited to sharing some images of the holy city of Tzfat (Safed) on a wintery day...

On the way up the mountains to Tzfat, they begin to burst with green after the rains of blessing...


On a grey and raining day, the neighborhoods sulk...


The city of mystics in the mountains finds itself not with a storm above it, but within the clouds itself...


The ancient cemetery, the resting place of mekubalim and tzaddikim of so many generations past, where the holy Ari, zt"l, is visited daily, is neither empty of holy souls, nor those who would seek them, even in the midst of the storm...


The mikvah of the Ari zt'l awaits those who come for it's cleansing and freezing waters. In the winter it's both freezing outside and freezing inside, yet always warm for the neshamah.

The hill behind and above the mikvah is now bare, struck by a Katyusha during the Lebanon war the bushes and trees burned away, it seems nothing has yet regrown. The area is strangely desolate...


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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

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Culture War

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Yitz, commenting on my Defending the Torah vs. Loving Your Fellow article wrote:

"While I can "hear" your point to a great extent, I think you kinda lost it in your last sentence, even tho it was in parenthesis:

(Of course, it is possible in Israel that some violently secular policeman did choose to cruise a religious neighborhood on Shabbos just to upset the residents. I prefer to look with a good eye, however.)

Where is your good eye toward the Chareidim? Do you really feel their pain? If it were Yassamnikim coming thru a Nitzan or other former Hitnatkut area & they booed him, how would you react? If Sharon got out of his coma & drove thru?

I realize that I'm probably in the minority, but I have to agree with most of what Ben-Yehuda wrote above. I also once heard from a Rav I highly respect, that the Chareidim shout "Shabbos" out of pain, their pain of seeing another Jew defiling the sanctity of the holy Day. In addition, they say it for themselves - as a kind of reminder, "Hey even if you saw a Jew driving, remember it's...SHABBOS!!!"

In an area for improvement, I find in Israel many people are so invested in their position that they rarely see the other with a good eye, or rather rarely see the other as a brother or even a person! As R. Nati's post of the past, interacting with a Yassamnik (who now shows up in his yeshiva), he never really considered charedim brothers or even people. This doesn't seem to matter whether it's a store clerk (the "small head", 'oh, it's a customer, do I truly have to be bothered'), bus driver, or government official.

I consider this an outgrowth of the socialist and communist background of the country, where people are divided and have to fight for their piece of the pie, and have to push down the other to get that piece (as opposed to trying to bake a bigger pie!)

There's a famous story from the Chofetz Chaim. The yeshiva administration came to tell him that they caught one of the talmidim (students) being mechalel Shabbos (violating the Shabbos). They requested permission to expel the student. The Chofetz Chaim told them to send him the young man.

The story was told by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l, who told it in Miami and said, "we don't know what the Chofetz Chaim said, but we know it was only a few minutes, the young man left the Chofetz Chaim in tears, became Shomer Shabbos (returned to Shabbos observance) and stayed in the yeshiva." When Reb Shlomo told this story, he says in the back an old man got up, said HE was that student, and told him what the Choftez Chaim said...

He came to his office terrified. The Chofetz Chaim, already a very old man, slowly came over to him, took his hand, and _cried_ "Shabbos, Shabbos..." and his hot tears fell on the young man's hand.

If people are crying out from their hearts, Shabbos, Shabbos, then their actions are understandable, and a message from the heart will be heard by the heart. But, while it may have started like that in the past, in a crowd that's not how the young men are acting now.

If a rav was leading the kehillah to block a road, with tears in his eyes for Shabbos, I would join him.

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Shomer Shabbos

Commentor Sheron wrote the following,in response to Defending the Torah vs. Loving Your Fellow...

...Many years ago when I was not Shomer Shabbos (not Shabbos observant) I drove to Jerusalem to visit a friend. At the entrance to Jerusalem, near the traffic lights that were in the middle of the road, sat an old charedie ("ultra-orthodox" religious) man. He was shaking his finger at every car that passed. He did more to remind me of what it means to keep Shabbat than any person chasing a car and yelling 'Shabbos'. His quiet protest. The effort that he made to gently chastise us "koffrim" (rebellious ones) brought many back. True Ahavat Israel (love of your fellow).


Monday, February 11, 2008

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The Spiritual Perspective, Part 16

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Then, what is the spiritual? If we cannot define it, or taste it, how do we know that it is genuine? Is every spiritual experience positive?

Be careful here. There are many spiritual possibilities in the world, and the vast majority of them turn out to be extremely negative. Why “turn out” to be negative and not simply, “are negative”? Because, in their initial stages they seem positive, very positive. Almost every religion has some type of spiritual manifestation. Some of these experiences are induced by fasting, chanting, or intense belief. Some come about from meditative techniques, asceticism, or from unclean spiritual practices, such as necromancy or magic.

The Zohar teaches that whatever man becomes attached to in his spiritual practice, that will be what he brings down from the spiritual world.[i] This means that even unclean practices bring some type of spiritual results! This is why it is so essential to live within the physical specifications of the Torah. The body, the physicality of the Torah and mitzvahs, guides us safely toward the proper spiritual goal.

Most religions of the world teach that the more “spiritual” their believers become, the further they will move away from the world. They believe, if they want to grow spiritually they must avoid the world; that the world is an illusion, a trap, or some even say that the world is evil! The deeper their spiritual experiences, the further away they will go.

To cite one common example, a Buddhist monk might look very young for his years. His face could be almost completely free of wrinkles. His skin might even seem to glow. All this looks so very positive. After all, doesn’t the world try to stay young?

How does he accomplish this amazing feat? His teacher taught him their traditional secret. For the rest of his life he is to wander aimlessly, and while he wanders he is to count his steps. He is to count every step he takes until he gets to one hundred, and then he is to start over again. One, two, three, four, no home, five, six, no property, seven, eight, no wife, nine, ten, no children, no work, no books, eleven, count, and let go of the world around you. He becomes so entirely detached from his physical surroundings that his natural soul shines unimpeded. His face relaxes. He lives a, problem-free, peaceful—and empty—existence.

The Torah teaches the exact opposite of this. The more spiritual you become, the greater is our obligation (and privilege) to help our fellow man. We are told that we have been put in this physical world to elevate it, to make it a better place, not to ignore it. And the way we do this is by using the physical world for spiritual purposes. The Torah tells us to get wrinkled, Jewish wrinkles; wrinkles that come from concern and effort for the world around us.

But if there are clean and unclean spiritual experiences, what are the true experiences that we are to seek? The highest possible spiritual attainment in this world is the revelation of G-d’s Presence. And the successful steps along the way will reveal brief moments of this Glory. In fact, this is the purpose of life in this world. We are to reveal the true Being who fills all.

But these glorious experiences do not come automatically by doing a mitzvah, or when learning Torah. If they would, thousands and thousands of Jews would be talking about them. And no one is. They must be striven for. Special attention has to be given to the spiritual perspective, or it will not be seen. In fact, it has to be your daily priority and goal. Instead of talking to G-d only three times a day when you pray, if you truly seek spiritual awareness, you will talk to G-d all day long. Instead of talking to yourself in your thoughts, you will talk to G-d. G-d will become your constant “companion.”

“Know this day, and take it to your heart that the L-rd He is G-d; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else.”[ii]

To really know that G-d is all that exists is the ultimate spiritual understanding. But for this knowledge to become your spiritual awareness, that is, real in your life, you must take this understanding to heart again and again. It is not enough to have one or two warm experiences, or a few amazing flashes of deep understanding. Spiritual thinking has to become your ongoing mindset. The more time you spend developing the spiritual perspective, the sooner it will become your reality. And when it does, and when you are blessed with the great blessing of His revelation, you will say, “It was for this that I was created.”

Even though our ongoing mindset becomes spiritual, this spiritual thinking does not take us out of the world. Instead, it gives us greater compassion for others, and greater resolve to try to elevate all that we can. It turns out that this greatest spiritual revelation shows us both the essential opportunity that the world gives us, and its relative unimportance when compared to the spiritual. Although the spiritual is the goal, the physical is the tool. The carpenter wants the house, that is why he is working, but he also loves his tools that allow him to build it.

[i] Zohar 1:99b
[ii] Deuteronomy 4:39

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Holy Veggies!

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

The first shemittah vegetables are starting to show up in the market. These are the ones that have had the majority of their grown in the shemittah, the 7th year of rest for the land.

The label on this package of potatoes reads:

Otzar Beis Din - The Organized Jewish Court

Shabbos Ha'Aretz - The Rest Day of the Land
"And it was for you to eat."

These veggies where gathered for the Otzar Beis Din from the fields of Jewish farmers that followed the requirements of the Beis Din from the 6th year, and there is no concern of the prohibition of s'fichin (a prohibition against gathering produce in one's field which grew of it's own accord [from seeds that fell in the 6th year] due to concern that some would sow in the 7th year and proclaim it to be fallen seed).

They were strictly supervised, and there is no concern of them being mixed with produce that violates shemittah (a farmer who intentionally sows his field in the 7th year and brings the produce to market or into his own home).

These veggies have the kedusah (holiness) of the 7th year, they should be used for regular eating and it's prohibited to waste them (such as using them for non-food purposes, say a decoration).

According to the decision of the Beis Din, the cost of this item is prohibited to be beyond the normal market price for these vegetables.

Holy french fries, batman.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

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S'Derot Protest

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Having a few children have their legs blown off has reawakened people to the situation in S'derot. Though some would like to imply the "little" Kassam rockets are a joke that can be ignored, the ongoing bombardment is ruining peoples lives and peace of mind. Oh yeah, and occasionally blowing children's legs off.

They're protesting this morning in Jerusalem, here's the announced protest plan:

A convoys of cars from S'derot will be leaving around 8:00 AM toward Jerusalem - they plan to get to the entrance of Jerusalem around 9:30. People from all over the country will be meeting them at the entrance. Then the demonstration will move on to the Prime Minister's Residence.

For more information, please call Yehuda Freudman, 050-8736348.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

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Defending the Torah vs. Loving Your Fellow

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

This past Shabbat I encountered a new phenomenon in my new religious community in Eretz Yisroel. Walking home from synagogue on Shabbos night, a police car cruised up along one of the side streets of the community. He clearly appeared to be on patrol.

I continued on my way with several of my children, walking to a main intersection that has a number of synagogues. There we encountered a small crowd of men and teenagers chatting after services prior to heading home to make kiddush and start the Shabbos meal. The police cruiser had completed his patrol up and down that long side street and now came down the main street...

Now, this is Israel, it's assumed that the police are Jewish. And, even if they're not, the community wants peace and quiet from weekday activities on Shabbos. They .. won't .. tolerate .. disturbances .. on .. Shabbos. They will _defend_ Shabbos.

So, as the police vehicle cruised slowly by, the young men jumped into the street shouting SHABBOS, SHABBOS !!!!, almost threatening to attack the vehicle. (But not doing so. There are some communities where they will attack vehicles that enter on Shabbos.)

Well, we all know that having somebody jump screaming in your face is the way to positively affect people about religion, right? After all, how could anyone not understand the joys and wonder of Shabbos by having 30 men in dark coats and hats jump screaming at their car?

They jumped into the street shouting SHABBOS, SHABBOS (all together, it was impressive and mildly scary). So I shouted also, AT THEM --> "AHAVAS YISROEL!!!" (Love of your Fellow!!!) Everyone paused and turned, what in the world was that??? They thought for a second, then another group, maybe 8 or so fellows just in front of me turned and shouted, at me, SHABBOS, SHABBOS!!!

So I shouted at them, AHAVAS YISROEL!!! Then the group in the street shouted again, SHABBOS, SHABBOS!!! So I shouted again, AHAVAS YISROEL!!! At that point they just kind of walked away stunned, heading home to their Shabbos meals, as did we.

The group in front of us continued along at about the same pace for about a block, then one of them, a youngster around 16, turned and somewhat tentatively said "Good Shabbos". I responded warmly, "Good Shabbos!", and headed on my way.

I wonder if they understood my message, the way of Aharon HaKohein, loving peace and pursuing peace. Also, simple intelligence says that the police aren't going to be wasting their time cruising the area if they don't have a concern. G-d forbid somebody needs them and they refuse to come due to concern for their own safety! (Of course, it is possible in Israel that some violently secular policeman did choose to cruise a religious neighborhood on Shabbos just to upset the residents. I prefer to look with a good eye, however.)

(Painting by Rabbi Elyah Succot, courtesy of A Simple Jew.)

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Friday, February 08, 2008

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Book Review: The Days of Peleg

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

The Days of Peleg, by Jon Saboe, is a massive tome, and that's the wrong way to start for a tome brings thoughts of boring reference material, and The Days of Peleg is anything but boring.

The author warns you right at the beginning he's going to do something unusual, he's going to immerse you in a different world view. He builds a image of our ancient world based on the narrative from the Torah and Jewish Midrashim, blending it together with history, archeology, and ancient oddities that have been discovered.

We meet his main character, Peleg, in ancient Babylon, the Babylon after the fall of the Tower of Babel, a flourishing civilization of academies where, as the Midrashim teach, people don't age! (For we are before the time of Avraham avenu.) However, people are beginning to die, a new experience for society, and the academies are trying to figure out what in the world is going on.

The first third of the book is spent in Babylon, as the academies debate reality and prepare research teams to travel the world, a 10 year mission (when old age is a foreign concept, decade long travels are...normal.) This opening segment is intriguing, but with the number of foreign concepts presented takes a while to absorb. In some ways this is a sad thing for us, as it brings the realization that our world view is remarkably tied to current societal and scientific assumptions, and these are not so in line with traditional sources.

The second third of the book is spent on Peleg's travels. We journey with Peleg around the ancient world, encountering ancient civilizations or the seeds of them in their early days. Again, following the words from the Torah and the Midrashim, these civilizations are all dispersed from Bavel and/or the time of Noah. All mankind is related, separated by only a few generations. In this section, the author weaves a very engaging tale, excitement and adventure, danger and escape, while tying in links to ancient mysteries that befuddle current science (my personal favorite is a reference to the massive statues on Easter Island).

The final third of the book brings Peleg's return to Babylon. It's a time of turmoil, Nimrod and Tamuz are on the rise. Knowledge that contradicts the propagated world view of the leaders is no longer welcome. Here we find Peleg interacting with people we know of from the Torah, Shem, Eber (sons of Noah who maintain the knowledge of G-d), and even Terach and a young Avram. Escape, chase, capture are the focus of this time.

The author does an incredible job of bringing these times alive, and bringing these historical figures to life. He places us in a world that we know from the Torah and Midrashim, but never spend the time to imagine how it could be alive according to the words of those Midrashim. Near the end of the story, we encounter Avram and the war of the kings, and pass through Shalem, the early Jerusalem, truly bringing these times to life.

But, while sourced on the Torah and Jewish Midrashim, in the final third the author brings his own religious world view. And that view involves the main character learning and adhering to a theological concept from Christianity. Parts of the midrashic based story are adjusted to support the development of this position and to lay a historical Midrashic groundwork for Christianity, and we end with the main character suddenly making a major mental shift to a very Christian position.

In summary, I found the book to be very engaging and interesting, and an exciting story at the same time. Truly enjoyable and a book you can't put down once you get into it. For the size of the book (huge), the price is excellent (it's softback). However, the theological concepts in the final third of the book prevent me from recommending the book to a Jewish audience.

The author maintains a website on the book, here.

(Disclosure: The author has been an active advertiser on Mystical Paths, and sent me the book free for review.)

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Church, Hospital, HQ, Education Building?

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

Some parts of Jerusalem just have an amazing history. As I walked out of Meah Shearim one day, I passed this building, which I thought was a church...

Italian Hospital Jerusalem

Italian Hospital Jerusalem

On closer inspection, I saw an Israeli flag, and saw that the icons had been chisled off! ...

Italian Hospitcal Jerusalem

Well, this is darned unusual, I thought. Israel goes way overboard in respecting other religions, to the point of damaging Jewish holy sites and preventing Jewish access when it conflicts with other religions. So here you have a church that's been taken over by Israel? Pretty weird. On closer inspection, it turned out that this wasn't the case...

Italian Hospital Jerusalem

Seems it was a hospital that the BRITISH turned into a military facility. Israel apparently found a better use for this structure. Behind it sits the new Ministry of Education building, an impressive, if much more modern, structure of it's own...


In many ways, that's the living view of Jerusalem. A modern structure next to a repurposed older structure, fully in use today for a living city.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

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The Land of Israel

(The following was forwarded by a reader, a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbbe, it serves as an excellent reminder...)

Letter To (Then) Member Of Knesset Of The Techiya Party,
Mrs. Geulah Cohen,
19 Sivan, 5729 (1969):

Blessings and Greetings!

I received your letter some time ago, but due to circumstances beyond my control, my answer was delayed until now.

... I wonder a bit about your surprise that in certain circles, myself among them, the title “State of Israel” was never accepted. The reason is quite easy to understand: The land of Canaan was given as an inheritance to the Nation of Israel beginning with the covenant between G-d and Abraham. The name “Land of Israel” was then established, in place of the name “Land of Canaan.” So has it been fixed for thousands of years. This is firmly grounded in the Torah, and is rooted in the vocabulary of the entire nation, from young to old. Such matters are not subject to the vote of the majority, the outcome of which is liable to change from time to time (this change being, naturally, capricious). After all the various incidents and changes which have occurred recently — for better, or, painfully, for the opposite — it is also impossible to be confident about the present change. Actually, such conjecture whether or not to accept the new title is quite unnecessary since in my opinion, as I mentioned, the matter is not given to determination by referendum. Just as the name of the “Nation of Israel” is not subject to vote in order to determine whether the Jewish People shall be referred to as they are in the Torah — The “Nation of Israel,” or the “Nation of Canaan,” etc. — so it is regarding the “Land of Israel.”

Assume one were to raise an additional point: suppose a new title for the land were necessary. Such an addition weakens the claim and ownership of the Nation of Israel over the Land of Israel, including even the confined area which was liberated in 1948, because:

i. a new name gives the entire entity the appearance of being something novel, which was only born in 1948. Thus, inevitably, Jewish claim and ownership over the land also began only then. There is at least a shade of connotation of novelty — the diametric opposite of the Torah’s stance as represented by Rashi in the opening of his explanation of the Torah.

Here I stress that the custom of our nation from time immemorial has been that a five-year-old begins studying the Five Books of Moses. This means that Rashi’s words are directed to the Children of Israel beginning at age five:

“If the nations of the world should say to the Jews ‘You are thieves, for you have conquered the land of the seven nations,’ the Children of Israel should answer them: ‘The whole world belongs to the Holy One; at will He gave it to them, and at will He took it from them and gave it to us.’”

You are most certainly aware that many, many nations have made this claim, even in our times. I have not found a single answer to this claim besides the most ancient traditional one found in the words of our sages.

ii. Some say that this term, “State of Israel” is another manifestation of the general approach and plan to become “like the nations of the world.” This theory has already claimed many lives, both physical and spiritual — and to our anguish continues to wreak destruction among the sons and daughters of Israel.

I am especially surprised that you should be the one to raise such an argument. Until now, I had been positive that you were counted among those who say that the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation of Israel, and that its borders are specifically delineated in the Torah. In Parshas Masei it is written: “All these shall be your boundaries on all sides.” Yet “because of our sins we were exiled from our land and driven far from our soil” — but even during the exile it is still our land and our soil. This title, “State of Israel,” allows room to label parts of the Land of Israel as no more than “territories” which were “conquered” by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Six Day War. Furthermore, the entire concept of conquest implies seizing the land by force from its owners through one’s own superior military prowess.

I do not wish to speak at length about this painful subject, mainly because the general cause for it is the approach of wanting to be like all the nations. Certainly my comments are not necessary, for you surely read about it in the newspapers and books which are available in the Land of Canaan (— according to the writers of those articles and books; it is just that some of them say this openly, and others only hint that this is their intention).

... May it be G-d’s Will that you send along positive news concerning all the above, as we discussed during your visit here.

“With Respect and Blessing,

/signed: Menachem Schneerson/
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