Monday, September 29, 2008


The Rebbe on Rosh Hashana

(via CrownHeights.Info, a summary talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the main concepts of Rosh Hashana [in brief]...)

1. The Talmud tells us that, “The Mitzvah of the day (of Rosh Hashanah) is blowing the Shofar”.

2. The Rebbe now quotes the Baal Shem Tov who explains the Shofar’s meaning:

The Baal Shem Tov explains the Shofar with a parable: Blowing the Shofar is like a child crying to his father and saying, “Father, father, save me”.

3. The Rebbe now quotes the previous Chabad Rebbe’im (leaders) who clarify and define this explanation of the Shofar:

The Previous Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson) said in the name of the previous Rebbe’im (leaders of Chabad) that a message was once sent to the Chassidim (followers) as follows:

“The main point of the Shofar parable is the child’s cry, not the content which was said during the cry”.

4. The Rebbe now explains this message of the Rebbe’im:
With regards to what is said during the crying, every Jew is different; every Jew has a different way of communicating their specific needs and desires to Hashem. However the crying itself is equal by all Jews; we are all crying from our depths.

How do we all cry out as one and have Hashem hear our prayers? When we blow the Shofar.

5. The Rebbe now quotes Rebbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev who explains the process of blowing the Shofar:

When blowing the Shofar we first make a blessing on it and then we blow the Shofar.

Reb Levi Yitzchok explains this with a parable: There was once a child who wanted an apple and his father did not want to give it to him. The child went ahead and made a blessing on the apple right then and there, and the father was forced to give the child the apple so that he could eat it and fulfill the blessing he just made so that it wouldn’t be a wasted blessing (Bracha L’vatala).

So too, when we make the blessing before we blow the Shofar, “Blessed are you Hashem (G-d) our G-d who is the King of the universe who hears the sounds/cries of his people Israel with pity”, we are so to speak forcing Hashem to hear our cries with pity and give us what we want spiritually and in physically (children, life/health, and wealth)!

To add: In the parable of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak, the father originally did not want to give the child what he wanted, and never the less when the child made the blessing the father gave him what he wanted. How much more so with regards to Hashem our Father who wants to give us what we want more then our own desire to have it; when we make a blessing and then blow the Shofar, he gives us what we want.

6. The Rebbe now adds even more “fire” to this idea:

The rule regarding blessings is; “If you are in doubt, you cannot make the blessing” . [Editors addition: For example, if you are chewing on an apple and it dawns on you, “Did I make a blessing on this apple? I think I did but I am not so sure…”, then you do not make the blessing, because if you have already made one, you would be wasting one now].

Therefore, if our Sages determined that we must make the blessing, “Blessed are you Hashem our G-d who is the King of the universe who hears the sounds/cries of his people Israel with pity”; they have in fact just determined that Hashem must hear the sounds/cries of his people because if they would have even a smidgen of a doubt whether Hashem hears the Shofar or not, we would not be allowed to make a blessing to that effect, because, “If you are in doubt, you cannot make the blessing”!

Moreover, since Hashem is the One Who is giving us, and His hands are “full, open, Holy, and broad”, we must be receiving the blessings for children, life/health, and wealth in abundance.

5. The Previous Rebbe was very into making summaries. This is the summary of the whole forty eight hours of Rosh Hashanah:

The Jewish people accept Hashem as their king and that they will serve Him, and in return, Hashem, so to speak, accepts the yoke of the Jewish people, that He will give them their rain in its time and all the good things which they need.

Translated and adapted by Shalom Goldberg. Taken from Likutei Sichos volume two. Published on CrownHeights.Info.
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Shana Tova!

To all our readers and all of Klal Yisroel, Shana Tova uMetuka! And a Ksiva v'Chasima Tova!

May we all be blessed with an abundance of blessings (ad bli die!), and may we merit this year the ultimate blessing with the arrival of Moshiach tzidkaynu, mamosh, now!

(Photo via Flickr member HagirR.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

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Important for the End of Shemittah!

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Shemitta is the 7 year growing cycle and mitvah in the Torah, where on the 7th year a number of special rules apply about leaving the land fallow, specifically the Land of Israel. (Similar to resting on the 7th day, for Shabbat, we allow the land (and ourselves) to rest on the 7th year.)

The 7th year is about to end. As such, a general mitzvah comes upon all of Klal Yisroel, not only the farmers about to end the year and return to planting.

*** Forgiving of Debts. There are a number of specific required mitzvot relating to the forgiving of personal debts in the 7th year. If you have personal debts owed to you that you're not prepared to forgive, you should consult your competent orthodox rabbi immediately about a pruzbul. Immediately means BEFORE the start of Rosh Hashanah.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe specifically noted in the past...

...Another important practice connected to the Shemittah year applies in contemporary times for all Jews in Eretz Yisroel as well as in the diaspora. This is the "Pruzbul" contract which transfers all debts receivable to a rabbinic court.

The Alter Rebbe writes in the Shulchan Aruch:

Every G-d-fearing individual should be strict to make a Pruzbul in which there is no loss and which is easy to do. He should gather three qualified men and form a Bais Din and he should make the following declaration: "I hereby transfer to you all debts receivable which I have, so that I may be permitted to collect them whenever I wish." ...the proper time for the enactment of the Pruzbul is at the close of the sixth year before Rosh Hashanah of the seventh (Shemittah) year. - (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Choshen Mishpot, Loans, 1:35-36) (Akiva - Many other sources hold that the time for the Pruzbul is before the END of the 7th / Shemittah year, and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav further writes "but if he didn't do it at the end of the sixth year, he should do it in the seventh." That's RIGHT NOW!!!)

It is likewise a mitzvah to publicize this rule in all places. Since the appropriate time for the Pruzbul is Erev Rosh Hashanah, it will be good and proper to make the Pruzbul immediately after Hataras Nedarim (absolution of oaths) on the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah; at that time the three competent people will be available.

Chabad.Org has an online pruzbul.
Yeshiva World News has a Pruzbul form you can print out (in Hebrew).

L'Shana Tova, may Hashem grant you a good year, and a year where no one in Klal Yisroel has debts, but rather all are able to lend!

What a Pesach, Umm, Rosh Hashana

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

As Rosh Hashanah comes, the prayer that comes to mind for most is Usana b'Tokef, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die, Who by Fire, Who by Water... Yet, moments before the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, we're faced with a modern day Haman HaRasha, a modern day descendant of Amalek, who preaches daily his desire to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth (and destroy America shortly thereafter, but that's completely ignored). Make no mistake about it, our Father in Heaven has handed up a timely reminder.

This year, the prayer for Rosh Hashana is v'he shamda, in every generation they rise up against us.

Most years, we pray for our upcoming year, our _personal_ upcoming year. Ours, our family, our children, maybe our community. This year our Father has a message for us... pray for Klal Yisroel, pray for all of us. Pray for our brethren in Israel, under threat of the Haman of Iran, surrounded by wolves, with an enemy inside the gates more concerned with the death of Jews than their own lives, and self concerned leaders and useless politicians steering a rudderless ship. Pray for our brethren in the US and UK, with lives being thrust into turmoil by a financial crisis growing out of control with politicians more concerned about an election than preventing a depression. Pray for Klal Yisroel, where threats are going to come head to head with unbalanced excesses, giving multiple layers of risk and turmoil.

This year, while we all have our individual worries and troubles and needs, lets set those aside and focus on all of us together.

Pray for all to have a good and sweet year, a year of blessings, a year of peace, a year of shared prosperity, a year of safety where our enemies fall upon themselves, a year where we do not fear from terror or missiles or mortars or rockets or bombs or job loss or lost savings due to institutional collapse. A year when we are all well equipped to help our brothers and sisters in need.

...As we come before the Judge of judges, the King of kings, this thought was shared with me today. Remember, it just so happens that the True Judge is also our Father in Heaven. We have a bit of an in, so to speak. This year, we may need to take advantage of it.

We wish all our readers a good and sweet new year, and may we all be granted the ultimate in blessings, the coming of Moshiach tzidkaynu, mamosh, today.
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Everything Comes With A Reason

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

What a hectic week this has been. A water pipe broke inside the wall. The plumber came and made a loud and ongoing mess. “Ongoing” means that the whole apartment was covered with a fine coating of dust and he has to come back at least a few more times before it will be finished. The kitchen and dining room got the worse of it, but nothing was spared. Even my shoes were covered with a coating of fine, white powder.

I cleaned up most of it, but knowing that he had to come back I wasn’t so fussy. I was rushed so I didn’t clean my shoes right away, thinking to wait until he finished before polishing them. I ran off to the Kotel as usual.

While I was helping at the tefillin stand, I had a little run-in with the Arab who was sweeping up the litter. Inconsideration is one of my pet peeves. I just don’t like it. How selfish it is to throw trash on the floor anywhere, but at the Kotel it is unbelievable that people can be so unaware.

While I was bringing a Jew to the stand to put on tefillin, the cleaner went to sweep up a piece of paper by my foot and actually let his filthy broom brush along the bottom of my clean pants, socks and shoe! I yelled at his rudeness, but he just smiled and shrugged it off.

A half-hour later, the same guy came back and did it again! I quickly looked at him to see if maybe he was doing it on purpose. I had two choices: I could blow my stack (which I briefly did) or I could say, “I’m here every day for over twenty-two years and this has never happened to me before, and now, today this rude guy has put his fifthly broom on me twice! What is going on?”

It wasn’t until some time later that I figured it out. Hashem was helping me to clean my shoes. He was so kind to actually send someone over with a brush to dust them off.

From my perspective, G-d was just showing me His love by brushing off my shoes. But maybe He was saying, “You don’t go to the Kotel to pray with dirty shoes.”

Friday, September 26, 2008


How to Approach Rosh Hashanah?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

As many of you know, I am a Chabadnik while my friend and occasionaly co-blogger R. Nati is a Breslever. As he prepared to depart for Uman for Rosh Hashana (to the tziyon of his Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev), he very much wanted me to join him and worked hard to convince me to do so.

There's a tagline of a Chabad chassidic story, of an encounter between a shaliach of a Chabad Rebbe sent to spend some time with another chassidic rebbe and an offer of that rebbe to join his chassidus and be a close chossid, 'the chossid is a chossid but he's not thine (yours), the rebbe is a rebbe but he's not mine' [naturally it rhymes in Yiddish].

The path of Breslev on Rosh Hashana is one of great yirat Hashem, awe and fear of Hashem the One True Judge. One prays with great intensity for judgment for the good and allocation of shefa (the bounty of blessings from above) for the year. One approaches the gates of prayer with the largest minyan (prayer quorum) possible, as well as prayer together with tzaddikim, and at the kever of a tzaddik - especially the rebbe - if possible. This way, though one's tefilot (prayers) may not be worthy when the gates of prayer open for the group (in the merit of the holy rebbe, or the holy tzaddikim, or the righteous or meritorious among the group) your prayers will be able to slip in. This is the awesome day of judgment, who shall live and who shall die, who shall receive easily and who shall struggle.

The Chabad focus on Rosh Hashana is different. As the story told by Rav Solevechick, zt"l goes, he had a cheder rebbe when he was a child who was a Chabad chossid. He used to say he remembed every year as Rosh Hashana came from his youth when his teacher would come in Elul and tell the children, "kindelach (children), do you know what's coming? Rosh Hashana? And do you know what's so special about Rosh Hashana? It's coronation day!!! On Rosh Hashana, WE get to crown the King of kings! And who crowns the King of kings? Moshe the butcher, Berel the baker, Shlomo the shoe maker. We do kindelach!" For Chabad, Rosh Hashana is the awesome day that is the very purpose of creation, for a king without subjects is not a king. So on Rosh Hashana we fulfill the very purpose of creation by declaring Hashem our King, the King of kings. It's coronation day, an awesome day with an awesome responsibility - to crown the King of kings and accept His authority over us as his loyal subjects. As we fulfill our awesome responsibility, we trust in Hashem to fulfill His and take good care of His people, forgiving our transgressions and granting our requests for a good year.

So which path is right?

Both are.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Financial: Conspiracy or Debt Comes Home?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Many people are spinning wild scenarios around the current US situation, tying it to every conspiracy theory ever propagated. ...US Treasury to become effective Dictator...Detention camps (Rex 84) built throughout the US...UN vehicles seen being prepositioned at US staging unmarked military style helicopters seen over parts of the US...US elections to be canceled due to (insert emergency type here: multiple natural disasters, economic, terrorism threat) making US president effective dictator...trilateral commission crashing US economy to devalue currency and force regional adoption of Amero - then to merge with Euro for a one world currency and financial control...CFR (council on foreign relations) operating beyond congressional control to foment (insert world event here: war, terrorism, anti-terrorism, world domination)...Russia is controlling the weather and particularly hurricane patterns & strength to weaken the US and destroy US oil resources...the Illuminati have infiltrated the highest levels of everything and are marshaling all world resources to their one world dictatorial scheme...

Mix in a few religious and/or racist overtones, and you get da joos are causing it, or the devil is causing it, the Rothschild's, or the merged Shabtai Tzvi & Frankist descendants, the aryans who escaped after WWII, or wait I almost forgot the Freemasons, no no no, the Shriners, or maybe its....da jews!!!!

Friends, take a deep breath. We need to point a few things out.

America is broken. It has spent the last 40 years shutting down it's own industries, selling off it's assets, and transferring it's wealth overseas. It was able to sell itself as the dream, and most of that wealth circled back to invest itself into America. But it's over. The pyramid of debt, massively increased by the last 10 years of spending growth and debt to pay for it by the US government and a corresponding massive personal spending growth paid for with an impossibly high amount of personal leveraged debt, the pyramid has exceeded the ability of the foundation to support it. The foundation was sold off, shut down, sent overseas, the foundation was whittled away while more was piled on the top.

The supports holding it all up were foreign reinvestment. But something funny happened, the foreigners decided to start investing some of their money at home. With some of the supports removed, the pile (no longer a pyramid with a nice supporting base, now an unstable tower) started to fall.

With it, the foreign investment cycle supporting it all has ended. Even if a true crash is stopped, the reality perceived no longer matches the dream and the investment cycle, the foreign support, is simply over. No longer will the world finance massive US government debt - or corporate debt - or personal debt at ultra-cheap rates. The US, the tower of babbling debt, is too risky. That giant tower built on cheap supports with the foundation sold off and pocketed will now incur a much higher support cost.

Meaning: Those debt bills are now due in full, and will get paid over the next couple of years.

That's what there is to worry about. Massive business closure, job loss, bank closure, home loss, governments being forced to work within their means - which includes paying the current debt bill, all the way up to economic shutdown. In other words - a full fledged crash and depression.

In the midst of this (interesting timing, huh) we've got Russia on the rampage, a Haman HaRasha in Iran who wants to blow up the world (but Israel first) to bring the Islamic end of days and has the material in hand to do it, the US financial crisis leading to a major US and * world * economic decline, and an Islamic movement that wants to crush the West and doesn't mind sacrificing their own lives to do so.

Regardless of whether we are in the time of the geulah or not, EVERY nation the Jews have prospered in and assimilated into - every Jewish golden age - has ended unpleasantly. You DON'T need conspiracy level stuff to have a complete disaster on your hands. Concerns about Barak Obama, or a Bush dictatorship, election conspiracies, weather control, the Illumanti or tri-lateral commission or Council on Foreign Relations running the US from the inside, all pale beside the REALITIES going on.

Whether we are in the chevlay Moshiach or not, we have moved from a time of world stability to a more chaotic time. Simple wisdom suggests planning appropriately.

Update: Sultan Knish adds more on the US Culture of Debt.

Photo Tour: Rosh Hashana at the Shuk

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

The Jerusalem shuk has to be one of the most interesting and colorful places in Israel. Yet, at no time is it more so than before Rosh Hashana...

We all want to be a head and not a tail, and the fish mongers are ready to help you out...



A new fruit is a new blessing for the 2nd day, the exotic fruit vendor is ready...

Flower??? No, Dragon Fruit!


Lizard in a ball? No, it's a Sugar/Custard Apple...


and a full selection of things I've never seen before. We've got your pineapple, your dragon fruit, your star fruit, your sugar apple, your passion fruit, your ugly bumpy yellow thing, your weird red round thing, and a few others as well...


Our enemies should be eliminated, says the Leek (rhymes in Hebrew)! Huge leeks come out in spring, but a special 2nd small crop is put in for Rosh Hashana...


Lots of honey for a sweet new year!


Our merits should be many, like the many seeds of a pomegranate...


Unlike Serandez, who's been experimenting with frightening stinky fruits and fruits that will burn out the inside of your mouth if eaten at the wrong time, all of these looked interesting and worth a try. My daughter insisted on a dragon fruit, and this little flower awaits our Rosh Hashana (hopefully it will stay good until then?)


May everyone's year be a good and sweet one, and filled with interesting fruits. Shana Tova!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

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A Special Day - of the Future

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Via PalmTreeOfDevorah...

The 25th of Elul, which falls on Thursday, September 25 this year is a special day. According to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol, today is the anniversary of the first of the "Six Days of Creation", which culminate on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the sixth day, when Adam was created. On each of these six days the unique light of the relevant day shines in all the worlds.

Today is the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The Holy Zohar states that at the end of days an awesome event will take place on this date (Balak 212b).

Free Home Delivery! - From Mystical Paths,

The Arrested Students in Japan

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

This Morning at the Kotel...

As usual, I was learning at the Kotel this morning. It was many hours before sunrise. I looked up and saw an unusual scene. Really, I should not say unusual because something unusual is always happening at the Kotel. This time it was an elderly Japanese man with two young Japanese women. They were coming through the gate in the fence that separates the men’s section from the women’s section.

I went over to them. Recalling my few remaining sentences in Japanese from fifty years ago, I told them that the women were to go to the women’s side and that the man should stay on the men’s side. I told him that he needed a head covering. I took him to the stand where the yarmulkes are kept and went back to learning.

The man walked over to me and said (in slow English), “I am an attorney. I am representing the Jewish boys who are in prison in Japan for carrying drugs into the airport.”

I remembered the case. It was in the local news a couple of months ago. Apparently, some crook convinced those religious boys to take a few religious items and deliver them to someone in Japan. He gave them free tickets to visit a famous Rebbe for their service. The boys did not know it, but those items were hollowed out and filled with dangerous drugs. It turned out that the crook gave them free tickets to hell. Smuggling drugs anywhere in the world is a serious offense, but in Japan it is particularly serious. They face spending the next twenty years of their precious lives in prison for those “free” tickets.

He continued speaking very slowly, as if he was measuring every word: “They asked me if I would come to the Wailing Wall and have someone pray for them.”

My heart ached. I immediately called out looking up, asking Hashem to help those poor boys. The man folded his hands respectfully in front of his chest and looked up reverently with me as I beseeched Hashem to help them. When I finished praying he was very happy that he was able to fulfill his mission. I turned to him and said, “May G-d bless you so that you will be successful in helping those boys.”

He thanked me and said that he knows that the boys are innocent and that he will try as much as he possibly can to have them released.

Before writing this, I wondered why I should tell you this story. Now that I have written it, I think that it is to have you pray for them, too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Terror Attack - Jerusalem

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Reports are a short time ago a terrorist intentionally ramped a car into a crowd in Jerusalem. Early reports state 17-19 wounded, the majority young soldiers on a prayer tour headed towards the Kotel prior to Rosh Hashana.

The terrorist is reported to be a legal Arab resident of East Jerusalem. This will make the 3rd such attack by East Jerusalem residents with full Israel rights and access, well employed and in good family situations. The vehicle used was reported to be a very expensive luxury BMW.

Soon, as Israel is forced to impose travel and work restrictions upon the population of East Jerusalem to protect the innocent civilians of Israel, you will hear screams of apartheid and racism. When that comes, remember the tractors and BMW's of death.

More here and here.

(Reuters photo via YNetNews.)

Monday, September 22, 2008


Returning to God Through Expanded and Constricted Consciousness

by Reb Moshe Newman at Mystical Paths

In light of chodesh Elul—the month especially powerful for tshuvah, I would like to discuss a famous teaching by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: that there are two types of tshuvahbaki b’ratzo, baki b’shov—literally, expert in running and expert in returning. For our purposes, I would like to interpret this as the type of tshuvah we do from expanded consciousness and the type we do from constricted consciousness.

The Lifetime Process of Tshuvah
Tshuvah is usually translated as repentance. However, as is known, its root is shuv—return. In our most pure point of Truth, we are one with God, as it were. Before we come into a physical body, our pure souls are totally present with Truth. This consciousness is our natural state. However, due to Hashem’s Desire that we be His partners to raise up the darkness (as discussed in previous articles), He orchestrates our birth into this physical world and we become alienated from our souls’ knowledge of Him. We are forced into constricted consciousness. As infants and children, we are totally egocentric. As teenagers, we begin to have awareness of something beyond self and throughout adulthood (hopefully) we become more and more aware of the Unity of Hashem. Thus, our whole life is a process of tshuvah.

In Rebbe Nachman’s magnum opus, Likutei Moharan, Torah 6, we are taught that the only way to tshuvah shlaymah—complete return [to the soul consciousness of Truth]—is by being a “baki b’halachah—an expert in halachah.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that there are two expertises in halachah—baki b’ratzo,baki b’shov—expertise in running and returning—going up and going down.

Expertise in "Going"
Halachah has two meanings: As a noun, the body of Jewish law and as a gerund (a verb in a noun form), walking (going). The body of Jewish law is called halachah because it delineates a Jew’s proper behavior in accordance with God’s Will as expressed in the Torah. The Torah is the “owner’s manual”, the instruction booklet, as it were, for the “hi-tech” piece of equipment called the neshamah. The neshamah’s job is to channel the vital energy called kedushah into the world. The ability for anyone, Israel or Gentile, to recognize Hashem’s Unity is dependent upon the flow of kedushah. And so, being complete in one’s return to Hashem mandates an expertise in halachah.

"Tuning" the Neshamah
The neshamah is a very refined and delicate, yet very strong instrument. The difference between a finely tuned and poorly tuned Stradivarius violin is that the instrument can produce the most lovely musical tones, but if the strings are not tuned properly, the music will not sound beautiful. One must be an expert in music in order to fully understand the owner’s manual explaining how to properly tune a Stradivarius. So too the neshamah. An “untuned” neshamah indeed channels kedushah, but not nearly as powerfully as a “tuned” neshamah. The Torah tells us how to “tune” the neshamah, but we need to be or to consult an expert in the Torah in order to properly tune it. Halachah is the expert’s explanation to the layman of how-to keep Torah, i.e. how to tune the neshamah.

Walking as a Model for the Life Process in This World
Now as we said, halachah also means walking. What is being an “expert in walking—baki b’halachah?” Walking is the basic mode of human transportation. It is the way Hashem desired for humans to go from one place to the next. The ultimate going from one place to the next is going from this world to the next world, Olam HaBa—the World to Come. Hashem could have created humans as gliders or floaters or rollers, but he created us as walkers. Walking is the model for how we experience this world.

Walking is an oscillation between stability and instability, between order and chaos. While we are taking a step, we are on one leg and unstable. In between steps, both legs are planted and we are stable. Hashem created the world out of chaos because He Desired that Light should come out of darkness. So the way we go through life is a back and forth between instability/stability, chaos/order, darkness/Light, constricted consciousness/expanded consciousness. Every moment our consciousness fluctuates. This is the nature of the physical world—oscillation, rhythm, waves, cycles, digital on/off (1/0). This is why Yakov keeps both names—Yakov represents constricted consciousness, Yisrael represents expanded consciousness.

Hashem Desires Sin?!?!
As mentioned in “Baruch P’tarani” the most constricted consciousness is called ruach shtus—a spirit of foolishness. This, the sages teach, is a person’s state when he sins, God forbid. From the side of expanded consciousness we know that every thought, feeling, word and action is entirely Hashem’s orchestration. Therefore, even though it is His Desire for us to take responsibility for our actions, there is a place to say that when a person falls into sin, it is because Hashem desired that sin and so, gave the person a ruach shtus.

As Rebbe Nachman teaches, the reason Hashem desires a sin is that when the person falls and then does tshuvah, he causes the transformation of the dark place he fell which was devoid of Hashem, as it were, into true Light. This is what King David is referring to in Psalms, “…if I reach She’ol—hell, You are here.” This is being baki b’shov—an expert in going down.

Waiting in order to Manifest the Love of the Chen of the Sin

The gemara teaches, “One who wishes to purify himself (to do tshuvah) is helped [by Heavenly agents]…they tell him ‘wait.’” How in the world does it help someone to wait and remain in his fallen state? He is embarrassed by his misdeed and wants to repent. But the gemara says “they help him…they say ‘wait’.” Because if the only reaction is regretting the sin/fall, promising never to do it again (which is certainly a good reaction), one has missed a very important component of tshuvah and the ultimate reason Hashem caused the fall. Hashem wants the revelation of His Light in that dark place. True, the sinner’s repentance raises up the holy sparks from the place he fell, but it is incomplete. For, from the Divine Providence side of the paradox, Hashem orchestrated the constricted consciousness that led to the sin, He created the sin itself and the very feeling of embarrassment that the person experiences after realizing he has fallen. Thus, Rebbe Nachman teaches that one cannot do complete tshuvah unless he can be totally present and quiet with the feeling of embarrassment. Only then can he say, “Wow, Hashem, You created this feeling and this place of the darkness of my sin. You are an Awesome Creator!” This, as we’ve pointed out previously, is an aspect of fixing the sin of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—loving the chen in the sin, as it were.

Removing the Possibility for Depression
The process of baki b’ratzo/baki b’shov removes the possibility for depression. Depression worsens the sin, reinforcing the constricted consciousness. Rather, we become happy which is the necessary prerequisite for re-expanding our consciousness. This is tshuvah from constricted consciousness—baki b’shov. Baki b’shov is about feeling true joy and love towards Hashem as the Amazing Creator and Orchestrator of the spirit of foolishness, the sin, the feeling of embarrassment and the place called She’ol. Rebbi Nachman teaches that when a person stays silent with his feelings of embarrassment, recognizing Hashem there, it automatically flips everything up to the highest level—Kesser. Thus the teaching, “They help him…they say, ‘wait.’”

Paradoxically, baki b’ratzo,an expert in running [up]—entails choosing to feel the pain of having sinned and taking full responsibility for the damage which was done from the place of Kesser. This is tshuvah from expanded consciousness. For in that state, we achieve a greater state of recognition of the unity of all things, that our actions do indeed affect the whole world and the extent of the damage from our sin. So, even though from the side of Divine Providence, we were Hashem’s puppets in the fall, nevertheless, we choose to take responsibility, feeling and regretting the pain we’ve caused in the world by what we’ve done. This taking responsibility is in accordance with Divine Will and further rectifies the Tree.

Another way of saying this is that in order to do complete tshuvah—to return to neshamah consciousness and the ability to most effectively channel kedushah into the world, we cannot be in a state of low self-esteem. We must come to the joy of knowing that Hashem runs every detail of our lives perfectly and that we are perfect manifestations of His Will in each moment. Only once we have the proper perspective of humble, healthy self-esteem can we actually go ahead and take responsibility, feeling the embarrassment as a part of our regret and commitment never to fall again.

Permission to Feel Essential Embarrassment
Recalling our discussion in “Psychosomatic Torah,” a physiological state of defense which blocks higher consciousness/heart-centeredness is caused by a subconscious perception that a certain feeling is wrong. One of the most insidious [appropriate use of word] beliefs which has infiltrated the Nation of Israel is that to feel embarrassed is wrong. The whole world—Western and Eastern cultures—is terrified of embarrassment. This perspective has been embedded in us from our earliest moments of self-awareness. Indeed, the Torah proscribes embarrassing someone else as akin to murder. Nevertheless, the feeling of embarrassment itself, as Torah 6 teaches, is essential for tshuvah shlaymah.

Paradox Consciousness allows for being present and at peace with the emotion of embarrassment—and any other uncomfortable feeling. Through the paradoxical experience of feeling embarrassed and, at the same time, joyful knowing that Hashem created this feeling for Good, we illuminate the GodLight in that feeling. Once we have this as our guiding perspective, then even if we fall numerous times, God forbid, we will never come to depression. Rather, we will avail ourselves of the opportunity to break open our hearts and cry from the depths of our pain which raises us to infinitely higher perceptions of joy and bliss. This is called being “Adam yoshev al ha’kisae—Man sitting on [Hashem’s] throne.” May we merit such awareness and come to the state of tshuvah shlaymah.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

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Financial: Trust and Confidence

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

The whole financial system is based on trust, and your use of it is based on confidence. One institution trusts a piece of paper from another with a promise to pay (a "check"). You have confidence that when you hand over your money, whenever you go back to get it, it will be given to you.

Trust between financial institutions fails when they begin to perceive another institution as being in a risky situation, and think it may not be able to honor it's promises. Right now almost every institution is looking at it's neighbor suspiciously, given what happened to Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG. Since they no longer trust the other, they institute extra requirements to increase the likelihood of payment. Those cost extra, a lot extra, and strain the situation even further - where even institutions that were well balanced and in good shape may not be able to handle the strain of these extra costs.

Now for the confidence. Those in the know, the professional money managers who run the big pension funds, the hedge funds and large scale investors, saw this happening and lost their confidence. So they went to get their money NOW, before their institutions would go under. This put the institutions under massive pressure, which has now leaked out to even the average person reducing our confidence. Which makes us want to get our money out to "safety", which puts the institutions under MAXIMUM pressure.

Trust and Confidence are not the base cause of this problem, but they are what has brought it to a knife's edge of meltdown.

My children and I had a discussion of the Rothchild's over Shabbat. While the bracha and success of the father was an amazing blessing from heaven, the success of the next general as an international banking system spread across Europe could be attributed to the father sending them out, and the brothers having absolute trust in financial commitments made or received from their brothers.

The US Treasury's rescue plan is 100% focused on the trust problem. They will invest up to US $700 BILLION to "buy" troubled investments from the various institutions, so that no institution has to worry about whether another has the "bad mortgages" and can be trusted to cover it's commitments.

As I write this, it's late night Sunday in Israel. The US Congress has to approve, write the law, and fund this plan. At the moment they are balking because: it's an election year, no individuals get to claim enough credit, it may seem that they are bailing out the institutions and not really helping the people (there is some truth to this), and everyone wants to get their little thing in to say they took care of their people. They have till the open of markets Monday (9:00 AM Eastern) to get it done.

And even then, your guess is as good as mine as to whether it will be enough.

UPDATE: Lets Play Political Stock Market Chicken!

Financial: Can't Get Your Money?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I saw a financial headline on Thursday that I didn't understand. It was "Putnam Investments closed its $15 billion Prime Money Market Fund" with no further info at the time. This was odd, funds normally close because they're "full", they've reached the money capacity of the investment scheme they have in mind. But that's not news, it's normal. So why was this HEADLINE BREAKING FINANCIAL NEWS? Now I've seen an article explaining, and you need to know...

First a little background. Banks don't actually have your money, they just keep a small portion - called the reserve - for handling day to day money requests. The rest they loan out or invest or do business with. That's how banks make money, by renting out your money.

Similarly, mutual funds also don't have your money. In the case of stock funds this is obvious, they have your money in stocks and keep a small cash buffer for immediate withdrawal requests, selling the stock they hold for you to cover the rest. But it turns out "stable" mutual funds ALSO don't have your money. It was assumed they do since they invest in cash instruments - meaning since they hold treasury bonds, bank CDs, and high value corporate bonds, things considered 'cash equivalents' that they could not loose value and always instantly be easily redeemed (returned from equivalent to actual cash).

Or not...

(CNBC) U.S. money management firm The Reserve said on Friday two of its funds have filed an application with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission asking to be allowed to suspend or delay redemption requests due to a massive rush by investors to withdraw their money.

Reserve said its $62 billion Primary Fund has received redemption requests for about $60 billion this week. The firm asked the SEC for the right to suspend redemptions from both its Primary Fund and its U.S. Government Fund in order to protect the funds' shareholders.

U.S. asset manager Putnam Investments said on Thursday that it had closed its $15 billion Prime Money Market Fund due to significant redemption pressure.

This is a classic bank run. Everyone goes for their money, the bank doesn't actually have more than about 10%. In this case, everyone goes for their mutual fund money and it can't redeem the cash instruments fast enough to cover the demand. And worse, in trying to do so, they flood the market and the cash instruments become worth LESS THAN CASH...

The normally rock-solid reputation of money funds—which typically invest in short-term debt such as government and corporate bonds— took a major hit Tuesday when the value of Primary Fund RFIXX shares fell below the $1 benchmark for the funds. The phenomenon, generally known as "breaking the buck," means that holders in that fund actually lose money.

This is not a minor deal. Funds that are trying to stop paying, funds that can't sell their cash instruments fast enough to redeem, and funds who can no longer get $1 for their $1 _high quality_ cash instrument.

THIS is why the US government and central banks around the world are reacting so strongly. This flood either stops now, or these major cracks in the system turn into full fledged breaks.

Be advised.

Updated: How close to a true financial meltdown have things been? "ALMOST ARMAGEDDON, MARKETS WERE 500 TRADES FROM A MELTDOWN"

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

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by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Late tonight starts Selichot, the special week of requests for forgiveness prior to Rosh Hashana. Here's a story and a song to start your preparation...

From Generation to Generation by HaRav Dr. Avraham Twerski -

I was reciting tehillim, psalms at the Kotel when I saw a blind man being escorted to the Kotel, guided by others at either side. He was a sephardic Jew, his sharp graceful features accentuated by thin curly payos. He approached the Kotel and leaned forward to give it an affectionate kiss. He ran his hands over it's surface, his super-sensitive fingers feeling centuries of history, glory, and suffering in every crevice and ripple. Then he began his dialog with G-d. Yes, a dialog, for although only one voice was audible, he knew he had a responsive listener.

He spoke directly, respectfully and with great clarity, exactly as if the conversation were with a person. He gestured with his hands to provide the necessary emphasis and description that his words required. At one point, he abruptly stopped, hesitated a moment and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I already told You that yesterday."

This was simple and sincere prayer at its best. There was no doubt in this man's mind that what he had told G-d yesterday was heard, and that there was therefore no reason to repeat it.

I turned back to continue reciting tehillim (Psalms), realizing that I had never really prayed before.

Music - Adon HaSelichot, courtesy of WeJew Jewish Media Supersite

May G-d grant us all a wonderful year, full of blessings and abundance, with no troubles or concerns for the Jewish people or the Holy Land of Israel, and with the ultimate bracha, the coming of Moshiach Tzidkaynu and the Geulah Shalayma!

Shavua Tov and Shana Tova!

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US Election in the Torah?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Forwarded by a friend. "We do not know if the Torah can be used to predict the future or the exact meaning of these codes. Word or letter wrapping from end to beginning to text as one contiguous body is allowed for."

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Friday, September 19, 2008

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Financial: You're Letting Them Do What???

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

(Yahoo - AP) The United States Federal Reserve has waived its restrictions on how much bank holding companies can lend to their investment banking affiliates. The depositor-insured funds had previously been walled off from being used by the companies' riskier broker-dealer units in order to protect the capital of a bank and its depositors.

When a US bank is in trouble, it's almost always because it's investment division or it's loan division has screwed up. They've taken greater risks - sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally - than fits their business model. Then they don't have the capital to cover the debts, and they're toast. BUT, the deposit reserve is just fine and once the debt imbalance is cleared off (by the FDIC insurance fund) they're a worthy asset to pick up and another bank takes them over. Because the deposits are the bank value. As long as they are there, there is value.

What happens when a bank 'lends' its deposit reserve to the troubled investment division? Well, it can't, it's illegal and monitored. The deposit base is stable. Even if the bank corporation crashes, the deposit base is ready to be transferred to a rescuing bank. Your accounts are generally safe under this model.

...But it's not illegal or monitored as of MONDAY. Next time a bank goes down, there may be nothing left but an empty shell. A deposit reserve that isn't there can't be transferred, normal account operation can't resume.

Before, the banks were at risk. Now, the customers are.

(Being fair, the idea is to give the banks access to the money they need to 'fix' the problems before they, using their own - or rather your - wallet, knowing the Fed literally can't cover it all. But as we're already written, AIG "could not quantify" it's risk and impact. So the banks are being allowed to try to fix a problem without knowing if it's fixable.)

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Financial: Rolling into Israel

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

In the US, everyone is taking a deep breath and those who play drops in the market are busy scooping up some quality paper at bargain basement prices. Warren Buffet, the master of this model, is out scooping up whole companies. And as fast as the market fell, the market rises. But this is not a market bubble, the market is merely reacting to peoples action trend of the day. Since those with cash have called a market low and opened up their pockets, the market soars.

In Israel, while the credit leverage is lower and the banks have little direct local mess on the mortgage side, everyone in the world bought into those save nicely yielding insured US mortgage banked securities. We see the first impact of it today, with Israeli Bank Leumi filing a lawsuit against bankrupt Lehman Brothers...

(Ynetnews) Bank Leumi filed a NIS 370 million ($105 million) damages suit against fallen American holdings giant Lehman Brothers, Thursday, with the Tel Aviv District Court...

Not quite as hopeless as it sounds, the suit requests a freezing of any Lehman assets in Israel for possible payment. Unlike the US, Israelis are more familiar with financial system shenanigans and therefore react much faster...

(Haaretz) The global hysteria has reached Tel Aviv. As Morgan Stanley scrambles for a buyer and the credit markets freeze up, redemptions from savings vehicles in Israel have soared. From Tuesday, the public has withdrawn NIS 4.9 billion from savings funds.

"They're in a panic. People want their money. They're hysterical," said the manager of a big mutual fund Thursday. "They're breaking savings funds. They've lost their faith in the financial system."

Thursday Israel's mutual funds sector alone saw NIS 1 billion taken out, on top of NIS 2.5 billion in redemptions on Wednesday. Nor are investors showing the love for other avenues. Provident fund managers estimate that a quarter billion shekels were taken out each day this week. The withdrawals aren't as strong at pension funds, if only because the money in them isn't accessible without paying a hefty penalty: tax of 35%...

Israelis don't expect the government to bail them out, and there is no nice FDIC like system creating an appearance of security guarantee. The worry in Israel is not a local mortgage sector problem, the Israeli system has always had high down payments and low leverage. It's a question of how much local mutual, investment, and pension funds are invested in US and UK mortgage bundle instruments.

But there is a local real estate problem coming to Israel. With the mortgage bubble, many overseas Jews took some of that easily available home equity and used it to buy a place (for vacation, investment, or retirement) in Israel. With demand soaring prices soared as well. This led to the interesting phenomena of average Israelis being priced out of the market in high demand areas, while the use pattern sees those areas with an effective population drop as those properties are vacant part or much of the year.

Anyway, back to the problem. While these purchases may have had a high initial down payment (say 30%), with faltering economy's back 'home', will the owners be able to maintain an Israeli property? Especially if it's a vacation home. It's my belief we'll initially see many of these properties first return as rentals, then when that floods the market quickly placed up for sale - with an associated drop in value due to the number of sales - and possibly abandoned due to inability to pay.

The percentage of such homes at risk is small compared to the US market, but this same percentage already had a major impact on Israeli housing prices and the incentive to build. It's reversal will have a similar impact.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

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Links of Interest

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

(Clusterstock) Major economist review: Are your Bank deposits safe?

(Serandez) Rosh Hashana fruit: Scary!

Today is Chai Elul, the 18th of the hebrew month of Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov and the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, HaRav Shneur Zalman of Liadi. May their holy merits stand for us, and their teachings spread throughout Klal Yisroel and the world.

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Strike for Israel?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

At 9:00 AM Eastern Time, Strike For Israel will take place. A group of Jewish students has been organizing a protest against their own communities SILENCE in the face of the steps being taken to DIVIDE JERUSALEM and CHOP AWAY most of Israel.

Shhhhhhh. Don't say a word. Congratulations to Tzipi Livni on her successful election as the head of Kadima, who's been negotiating the division, expulsion, and disassembling of Israel but hasn't dared say a word about it (documents are leaking, but it's like chametz found in the middle of the floor on Pesach, just cover it and pretend it's not there until later.)

Shas is now faced with the ultimate choice - not just staying in but enable the creation of a new Tzipi Kadima lead government while ignoring the chametz in the middle of the floor, or stand up and say WE HAVE A PROBLEM HERE. Or rather, as I've discussed in the past the stark choice of Yavne or Yerushalayim. Does Shas choose education and the future generation at the literal loss of the Israel of today, or do they choose to stand for Jerusalem today at the loss of their guaranteed education model towards the future. In other words, do you bet on being the majority in the future (a generation or two away) at intense pain today, or do you try to save today?

So far, their choices have been highly questionable and are putting many at great risk. The choices of the US yeshiva students however, is to be commended.

Good luck with your protest (a walk out at 9:00 AM local time) - may the leaders stand up and take notice that it's TIME TO SPEAK OUT. As with the financial crisis, you must stop the problem before it has too much leverage and becomes impossibly painful to unwind.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Financial: Next Up

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Next up...the FDIC???? Oh my doesn't even start to cover this one...

(Yahoo - AP) Banks are not the only ones struggling in the growing financial crisis. The fund established to insure their deposits is also feeling the pinch, and the taxpayer may be the lender of last resort. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose insurance fund has slipped below the minimum target level set by Congress, could be forced to tap tax dollars through a Treasury Department loan if Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest thrift, or another struggling rival fails, economists and industry analysts said Tuesday.

The FDIC has enough money left to cover 2 medium-large bank failures, 1 large failure, or 10 smaller failures. Then it's empty and the government has to start printing money to cover failure insurance (trying to sell extra treasury bonds, which get costlier every time it happens - like $85 billion for AIG today, next time???).

Sooner than expected. People (wealthy ones) have asked the Breslev tzaddikim what to do - the response - put your money into tangible assets immediately. Buy a house in Israel (no loan) if you have the funds to cover it.

For who knows their value next week.

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The Biggest Story of the Past 50 Years

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Headline: "The Biggest Financial Story of the Past 50 Years"

( Bigger than the dot-com bust? Yep. Bigger than Black Monday in 1987? Yep. Bigger than the oil shock of the 1970s? Mmmhmm.

This is the biggest financial shock to the U.S. and the World Financial System since the Great Depression. BUT, there's a conflict with the navi (biblical prophets) here. The US has some roles to play, namely a battle with Iran, before it's job is done. And a financially collapsed US can't do that.

Here's my prediction: As the financial system teeters, those holding massive amounts of US dollars - China and the Arab Oil Emirates - rush in to prop up the system. Why? Because they have almost as much to loose. 20 years of trade inbalance, 20 years of dollars piling up, are at risk. The reason the news reports keep turning to Abu Daibi and Dubai is because they have both the means and the interest in stopping a failure from happening.

But it doesn't fix the problem. The broken loan structures, investment bundles, insurances, all have to unwind. They will prop it up, but it will be very unstable.

Then those looking for US weakness will try to take advantage. An oil shock, a major insurgency, terrorism unleashed, something to hurt, drain, break the system.

The US will be forced to respond, strongly, quickly, harshly. It can no longer afford to act so nice, it's very national stability will be on the line.

The times of the words of the navi'im will be here.

The tzaddikim are praying that it be gentle, it be diplomatic, or even better it be a spiritual battle. That Gog u'Magog has been divided into 3 parts, and we only have part 3 left to experience. And that it be unpleasant, not deadly, faith shaking, not life threatening.

May their prayers be successful, and we must add ours to theirs, and may we all merit to see the coming of Moshiach tzidkaynu, mamash, today.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

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Plundering the Pile of Gold

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

When an extremely complex operation breaks, it's difficult to explain or even see all the details. Like a huge splash in an already busy pond, the waves combine with all the other activity to wash against the boats, wildlife, and shore in different ways, but impacting all.

"How the Masters of the Universe ran amok and cost us the earth" is the first serious essay giving good insight without burying us completely in every technical detail. Yet in short it says, not content to just pick up the gold lying all around, the masters of investment kept grabbing and digging for more, until they dug the dirt right out from under themselves.

I mean, come on, AIG is the worlds largest insurance company. Having worked in a major insurance company corporate office for many years, I can tell you stability is their key operating principle. For if you're going to pay policy claims 10, 20, or 50 years from now, you have to be taking the customer premiums now and investing them in long term stable investments - like real estate. (Though many readers bells probably went off when I wrote real estate, that's not the problem here.) Invest in land development or putting up a new office building, recoup profits 20 years later.

But AIG couldn't see past the pile of gold that the investment firms were digging into. (Hey, you're fellow CEO's are getting billion dollar stock options, why can't you?) Now, they may not have been an investment bank, but they did think a bit and come up with a way to get into the game. They (along with others) created investment insurance. Specifically called a "credit swap", they would cover the risk on the big mortgage investment bundles for only 5% of the deal. Which sounds fine and dandy when there is no risk, it's free money! But when there is not only risk but active failures in progress, suddenly AIG has to actively cover the payouts and show that it can cover the 30% failure rate going on.

Of course, it can't. 5% payments don't cover 30% failure. Hence "AIG needs an immediate infusion of $75 BILLION with a B dollars." And who's going to take on that risk which "AIG told investors in December that it estimated valuation losses on its credit default swaps for October and November at just over $1bn. AIG has scrapped the adjustment because market conditions mean it cannot “reliably quantify” the figure."

That's how an insurance company goes down. It writes policies with an unknown risk and doesn't set the premium at a level to cover the risk that comes up. But one of the dams that has been holding back a complete financial flood has been the "insurance" covering the failures. Now it is 100% clear the insurance is completely and woefully inadequate, and the failure to cover is going to take down the insurance writers as well.

But it get worse. As the dam is crumbling, like people standing by watching a levee fail in the recent hurricanes, they're grabbing anything they can to throw into the breech...

(Mish's Global Economic Trends)
New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D) is going to violate regulations and allow AIG to borrow up to $20 billion from its subsidiaries. Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York approves this transaction. New York state insurance superintendent Eric R. Dinallo claims "At this point the insurance companies are financially strong and solvent and fully able to meet any claims." In the proposed swap-o-rama the spokesman for the superintendent claims "We're not going to allow them to put junk in the place of good stuff." (as if he has any clue).

Here's the Deal: If the "insurance companies are financially strong and solvent" why do they need to raise $75 billion in another all night poker game with every rule in the book being broken to do so?

What's At Risk? : Life insurance policies, retirement annuities, and those with policy coverage against all manner of calamities, from financial to natural disasters are put at risk just so AIG can make good on a bunch of derivative bets gone bad.

Right now, illegally and with the regulators watching and nodding in agreement as it happens, lot's of bank deposits, life insurance savings and any unencumbered cash held in the system .... i.e. real life savings and earnings .... has suddenly been made available by the weekend rule changes by the Fed and US treasury. They are now being swept into accounts that hold the other side of the derivative trades.

The firewalls against fraud have been torn in expedience "to save the system from itself". ...There will be nothing left but the empty husk when the locusts and other assorted parasites have finished.

While writing for some years about the coming financial crisis, this is the most upsetting and frightening article I have written. This is the dam breaking and peoples savings getting washed away, without them even knowing it (YET). Because it's a low speed disaster, it doesn't seem quite real. There seems to be time to wait until tomorrow. With investments, hey, they almost always recover (though it may be some years).

But now we're talking about billions or even trillions of dollars, and our accounts to be used to cover impossible high risk debts under the assumption that things will stabilize and the money will be able to be returned before we need it.

Will all the "coverages" of the system protect you as these grabs fail to recover? But, a bank run (or insurance / investment run) will make things worse. So one must judge whether self protection is worth the risk of adding to the systemic pressure.

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Please Proceed Calmy To The Emergency Exits...

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Ladies and Gentlemen. Please remember the words of our emergency lecture at takeoff, and proceed calmly and orderly to the emergency exits.

"Consumer confidence" is an incredibly important part of the US economy. Having created the ultimate consumer nation, the economy became about 70% based on you, the consumer's, willingness at any given moment to part with your money and consume. As your access to credit made extending your consumption almost free, confidence increased and consumption increased to never before seen levels. New homes for the nuclear family had to be build with 4 car garages, for mom had a mini-van with full entertainment package to keep the youngsters entertained, dad had a SUV that could rival an army HMMV in Iraq in outdoor capabilities but had never seen a lick of mud, Billy had a a mustang convertible, and Sally - who just got her license last week - was stuck with only a brand new Toyota Corolla with Bose surround sound multi-CD system and integrated GPS.

The poorer among us were much less fortunate, having only 1 new car and being able to afford only 1 $6,000 High Definition Plasma Television (requiring 3 delivery men to lift into the living room).

The cheap money flow increased, as all those dollars that went overseas to Dubai and Abu Daibi and China came back looking for "safe investments". And what could be more safe than investing in US real estate? Hey, it's as physical and tangible as it gets, right? A business can go out of business, but a house is always a house.

But as the competition not for investment but TO invest increased, it created an unsustainable cycle (take our money, please, we'll pay YOU 1% to borrow it!) Everyone flush with available credit ran to get their better piece of the American dream - a home, a bigger home, a better home, a second home, yet another bigger home. Houses not being an unlimited resource, competition drove prices up while investment competition continued to drive the cost of money down.

As the system reached it's limits, the US Federal Reserve made a fatal mistake. They raised interested rates. As everyone was leveraged to the hilt, a small increase in interest rates was enough to increase their payments 25% or even 50%. The Fed didn't notice what was happening and continued to raise rates to head off a future possible inflation. Not lot, just 1.5% over 6 months.

But that's all it took. People leveraged to a level not seen since the Great Depression were suddenly facing payment increases of 100% or more. They scrambled to find buyers but THEY had bought at the peak, no saviors were to be found.

And with that, what has been called a Housing Bubble but was really a Financial Bubble began the long downhill roll to collapse.

Because it is a low speed disaster, no one noticed. Even if people stop paying their loans, it's a 6 month process until someone repossess. Then the repossesor tries to sell and recover the loss (and in the past, often make a profit as they have a few years of payments in pocket and get to resell the property) and doesn't take a financial loss until it's clear the property won't move.

All that investment money from inside the US and overseas was bundled up in multi-billion dollar blocks of home mortgages. The "good" bundles have lost ONLY 5-10%, the "bad" bundles have lost up to 50%. And which bundles are good or bad is completely unknown!

First impacted where the people who could no longer make their payments. Homes were lost. Then credit tightened up and people stopped the leveraged buying (goodbye new cars, boats, luxury good sales). Now, the investment impact of all that "lost" money is now coming due.

But it's an election year, and the US is over 60% a pure consumer economy. That all important "confidence" must be managed. YOU CAN'T BE TOLD WHAT'S COMING, because if you were really very worried you'd slow your buying, which will make it worse.

Friends, the big impact time is here. The financial firefighters are now pouring water on the flames. But it's clear, much of the building is already lost.

What was an average downswing recession buffered by export growth due to the cheap dollar just became something else.

The Breslev tzaddikim have told their followers weeks ago this may be the last year (or last year in a long time?) that it is possible to travel to Uman (the Ukranian burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev) for Rosh Hashana.

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What Goes Around Comes Around

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

On the way to the Kotel yesterday, I saw a friend who looked a bit concerned. I asked, and he told me that he had a lot of things on his mind. I said, “May Hashem bless you and solve all of your problems.”

He said, “Thank you, and may Hashem bless you and all of your projects, too.”

A couple of blocks later, a few young boys came up to me singing a lovely song about Hashem and His holy city. One of the boys is a Kohen and had his bar mitzvah just a few weeks ago. I jokingly scolded him for not coming to my minyan (quorum) in the morning so he could give us a blessing. He said that he davened (prayed) with his minyan.

I said, “Now that you are a bar mitzvah, you have to come give me a blessing.”

“I’ll do it right now,” he said.

I bent down so he could put his hands on my hat. He gave me the blessing that the Kohen says for the congregation. It made me very happy. I walked away smiling and humming softly.

Right before the entrance to the Kotel, an acquaintance visiting from Canada stopped me and asked me to give a blessing to his friend, that he needed a healing.

I told his friend, “Whenever you want a blessing, go out and give another Jew a blessing, and Hashem will certainly bless you.” Then I asked Hashem to bless the man to fulfill all of his needs. He looked very happy.

I took a few steps, and the fellow at the tefillin stand stopped me. He asked me to go over and show an Israeli man how to bless his children. He knows that I often encourage fathers to bless their children at the Kotel. The man was with two small boys. One looked to be three years old, and the other, around five years old. I went over and asked the man to bless his two children.

Pointing to the five-year-old, he said, “He should bless me.”

I said, “Okay, first you give him a blessing, then he will give you one.”

He put his hand on the little boy’s head and read the blessing for his son. Then he blessed his younger son. I said to the five-year-old, “Now, you ask Hashem to bless your father.”

The little boy smiled and immediately raised his hand, reaching up toward his father’s head. The man was very tall, so the boy could barely reach his father’s chest. His father bent down. The little boy put his hand on his father’s head and said, “Hashem, bless my father.” His face was beaming like a clear sunny day. He was truly radiant. His father saw his little boy blessing him and shining, and his face lit up, too.

What a joy it is to bless, and to be blessed.

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Monday, September 15, 2008


Achieving Paradox Consciousness

by Reb Moshe Newman at Mystical Paths

Basic Torah premise: God created the world in order to bestow Good.

Reviewing from previous articles: Before the sin, Adam and Chava experienced only bliss, but could not appreciate it. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was created by God in order to enable mankind to experience and appreciate His ultimate Good. Humans exist within a paradox of experiencing 100% free choice while simultaneously being puppets of 100% Divine providence. Eating from the tree before its time caused an inexorable plummeting of humanity into constricted consciousness—the tendency to forget Hashem’s Presence and the Divine Perfection of each moment. Constricted consciousness is associated with an experience of less than 100% peace, love, joy and gratitude. Constricted consciousness is associated with feelings of lack of safety and discomfort. Hashem desired this state of constricted consciousness because it ultimately motivated the unleashing of humanity’s creative powers. Humanity’s creative powers are a major expression of Hashem’s Creativity. The unfolding of 6000 years of Creation is Hashem’s production—His “movie” as it were. By the end of this 6000 year process, practically every possible combination of good and evil will have manifested in the world through the lives of trillions of people, each with his/her own unique combination of good and evil. The unfolding of history is the ultimate “good movie.” Not by coincidence do we call these 6000 years history—His Story.

Just as the conclusion of a truly gripping movie or play elicits a spontaneous standing ovation, at the conclusion of Hashem’s “Show”—when Moshiach will be king and every person will have seen the awesome perfection of his/her life (lives) [please God, soon!!]—we will give Hashem a standing ovation, as it were. Every one of us will experience the explosion of our hearts breaking open in wondrous bliss. This is Rebbe Nachman’s teaching (Likutei Moharan II 2) that the main delights of the World to Come are in praising and thanking Hashem. Having faith in this outcome allows for that experience now.

Peace, Love, Joy and Gratitude: Experiencing Hashem’s Good

The experience of Hashem’s Good is feeling peace, love, joy and gratitude (PLJ&G). How many of us experience 100% peace, love, joy and gratitude in each moment? It is very hard, to say the least. Happiness is a choice. In order to choose, we must be aware. Choosing to feel PLJ&G mandates awareness of what takes us away from PLJ&G. The only way—I repeat, the only way to move towards 100% PLJ&G in our lives is through paradox consciousness. In paradox consciousness, we take full responsibility for our lives while realizing that every moment is absolutely perfect, even if we messed up, even if our circumstances are uncomfortable or, God forbid, tragic. It is only when we forget that Hashem has made each moment of our lives so perfect that we lose the experience of PLJ&G.

The Two Sides of “Elu V’Elu…”

In discussions about paradox consciousness, I have noticed that it is hard to stay focused on the Divine Providence/Unity side. For instance, when I talk about seeing the good points in evil, people want to jump to the Free Choice/Multiplicity side, “But we’re not allowed…But we have to take responsibility for...,” etc. And I have to remind them, true from the Free Choice side, but right now we are talking about Divine Providence. Some months ago, when I spent a Shabbat at Reb Nati’s house, I had a discussion with a yeshivah student about the chassidishe and yishivish outlooks in serving Hashem within the context of paradox. It took me an hour of repeatedly explaining paradox consciousness before he finally understood that I was not discussing right and wrong. He kept assuming that I was saying that the chassidishe way is right and the yeshivish way is wrong. And so, he kept arguing with me. I would agree with his points and then remind him that his argument was applicable only from the side of Free Choice/Multiplicity. From Divine Providence/Unity, since Hashem is running everything, it is Hashem Who implants the perspectives in a Jew’s heart which leads to being chassidish or yeshivish. Finally, he got it. He said, “You mean, your not saying that I’m wrong?” I laughed and said, “No, my brother. ‘Elu v’elu divrei Elokim chayim—these and these are the words of the Living God’ is not just a nice idea. It’s the Truth.”

On the side of Free Choice, the phrase “Elu v’elu divrei Elo-him chayim” applies to the halachic parameters as received by Moshe and transmitted to the sages throughout the generations. On the side of Divine Providence, “elu v’elu…” includes absolutely everything. There is no such thing as an idea, a concept, a thought, a word, an evil occurrence, a bad person or anything that is devoid of Hashem’s providence.

Rebbe Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan 4) that when a person knows that absolutely everything that happens to him—including every idea that comes into his head, every word that comes out of his mouth—is from Heaven, then he is experiencing an aspect of the World to Come in this world. PLJ&G is the experience of the World to Come. In order to experience PLJ&G, we must be in touch with our hearts. The way to know if you are in touch with your heart is, can you easily come to tears of joy, gratitude or pain? When you meditate on all the wonderful things Hashem has given you, can you come to tears? When you meditate on the pain of this world, can you come to tears? If not, know that your heart is clogged.

Staying With the Question

Ultimately, Hashem is a Question to us. Thus the gemara focuses on questions. Many Talmudic exchanges are left as questions. Leaving a question unanswered is uncomfortable. Becoming comfortable with the discomfort of question enables greater relationship with the Ultimate Question—Hashem.

One of the poisonous effects of this long and bitter exile is that Western thought has crept into Jewish consciousness. Western ideology arose from Greco-Roman culture. The Greeks taught that the purpose of this world is self-actualization. They taught that we must and can have answers to all questions. The most revered Greeks were the ones who purported to have all the answers—the philosophers. This attitude has infiltrated into many yeshivot where Torah learning is considered to be for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and becoming smart. True, there is the aspect of learning Torah in order to know what to do—halachah. That, however, is a relatively small aspect of why we learn Torah. Learning Torah gives us vessels to have the most experiential, intimate relationship with the Creator—to be able to experience GodLight. The attitude that the goal of Torah is to be smart and feel successful leads to rabbi adulation complex--a sense that only a rabbi/Torah scholar/intellectually advanced person can have an intimate relationship with Hashem. The idea that intellect and knowledge are the main keys to coming closer to Hashem is a false and deeply damaging perspective.

As soon as we conclude that we know something, we have automatically constricted our consciousness, because, no matter how smart we are, no matter how much Torah we have learned, compared to the Infinite Intellect of Hashem, we know absolutely nothing. Here lies a major stumbling block for developing intimacy with Hashem. Western culture has imbued us with a subliminal fear of not being smart which is perceived as being unsuccessful. This is why so many of us feel uncomfortable when someone tells us something we already know. To discharge the discomfort, we instinctively say, “I know” or nod our heads with “Uh huh.” We are subconsciously afraid of being perceived as “less than.” Any fear we have of not being important or smart or of being not good enough blocks our deepest relationship with Hashem. Fears such as these tend to be suppressed and, as discussed in “Psychosomatic Torah” this causes a disconnection from the heart.

Try an experiment with yourself. Next time someone tells you something you already know, make it a point to stay silent, as if you didn’t know. You will come to notice a most definite sense of discomfort. Underlying this discomfort is fear of not being good enough. Rebbe Nachman teaches that ever higher spiritual growth can only occur by letting go, over and over, of what we know. Paradox consciousness allows for letting go.

The Heart is the Organ for Perceiving Paradox

In yeshivah, I was taught that the head has to lead the heart. They based this on the verse, “V’yadata hayom v’hashevosa el l’vavecha ki Hashem hu haElokim…—You shall know today and bring it to your heart that Hashem is God…” This is actually an insidious misunderstanding of the verse. “V’hashevosa el l’vavecha…” means not BRING, but rather RETURN it to your heart. This implies that our initial experience should be a heart experience. Then, we must use the intellect to interpret and direct what our hearts are telling us. Finally, our intellect must be “returned to” and manifested through the heart.

Rebbe Nachman states that the main da’at—the main knowledge of Hashem is in the heart. Through the heart, we get a taste of infinity. The heart has the ability to experience paradox which is part of experiencing infinity. The heart can perceive two opposite, mutually exclusive emotions simultaneously. This is why a truly open heart produces tears. For the open heart feels the joy of infinite good and the pain of infinite evil simultaneously. Intellect is finite and cannot experience paradox. The best the intellect can do is to consider the concept of infinity, the concept of paradox. This is why Hashem wants the heart—Rachmana lieba bau’i. Hashem wants an intimate relationship with each of us.

There are two choices to make in each moment—doing and being, what we do or don’t do and how we feel. It is Hashem’s desire that we choose happiness at all times. Paradox consciousness enables us to choose PLJ&G, no matter what we are doing and no matter what is happening to us.

My purpose, dear readers, in these writings is to increase our ability to experience peace, love, joy and gratitude in each moment. As mentioned above, to choose happiness, we must be aware of the influences which pull us into constricted consciousness. In future articles, please God, I hope to detail practical, simple experiential exercises which I teach my patients as part of their healing. These exercises, be”H, will help you discover suppressed emotions which interfere with 100% PLJ&G. The exercises will help you develop paradox consciousness. In the meantime, begin with the self-experiment mentioned above—to remain silent when someone tells you something you already know. Once you have learned to feel this underlying discomfort, you will notice it in many places in your life. Developing this awareness is the first step to letting go of all the underlying tensions that numb us out in our daily lives. Please let me know what you discover.

May Hashem bless us with the true experience of His Great Love, His Great Light—feeling 100% peace, love, joy and gratitude through the ability to maintain paradox consciousness.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

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Pogrom AGAINST the Settlers

...key details of the terror incident at Yitzhar that the media conveniently forgot to report, over at the Muqata.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Kever Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

On a recent trip to Tzfat, we took the opportunity to stop by a tziyon, a holy resting place, that we'd always bypassed previously.

The kever, the holy resting place, of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, one of the 5 disciplines of Rabbi Akiva, lies on the side of the road near the entrance to the holy city of Tzfat. It's unusual in being a small ancient building built over a tiny burial cave, with a larger newer (but still very old) building and picnic area built around it. The tziyon also carries an unusual sign for a special segulah associated with it.

The tiny cave carries a special warning, "no candles", as there is neither air nor space. Unfortunately, this warning is generally ignored, as the cave is heavily smoke covered and practically hard to breath within.

Heichal HaNegina carries this story of him, from the Gemora...

Rabbi Yehuda never dressed in the noble manner befitting a person of his stature. In fact, he didn't even own any warm clothing at all. One day his wife managed to purchase some inexpensive wool yarn. She spun it and wove it into cloth. From this material she fashioned a loose robe worn as a cloak. She even decorated it with beautiful embroidery to give it a finer appearance, as was fitting for her distinguished husband. Now, this type of garment was worn at that time by men and women alike, so Rabbi Yehuda and his wife shared it. When she needed to do errands in the marketplace she wore it; when Rabbi Yehuda went to the study hall he would wear the new cloak. He was, in fact, so pleased to own this warm coat that he composed a special blessing to be recited before putting it on: "Blessed is G-d who has enwrapped me in a cloak." Never mind that his coat was made of coarse homespun wool or that others had cloaks of far superior quality--Rabbi Yehuda was completely satisfied with his and never even noticed the others.

Once Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared a day of public fast and prayer because of a problem which beset the Jewish community. On such a day it was customary for all the Sages to gather together at the residence of the Nasi to pray as a group. This time, as well, they all came, with the exception of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai.

It so happened that when the fast day was proclaimed, Rabbi Yehuda's wife was wearing the shared cape. Rabbi Yehuda, lacking a coat, was unable to join his colleagues. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel noted his absence with surprise, and questioned the other Sages to discover the reason he had failed to come. They explained to the Nasi that Rabbi Yehuda was unable to come because he had no coat to wear.

When the Nasi heard this he was quick to dispatch a messenger to Rabbi Yehuda bearing a beautiful new cloak. When the messenger arrived, Rabbi Yehuda was seated on a mat on the floor engaged in the study of Torah. "The Nasi has sent this coat to the Rabbi as a gift," said the messenger. "He asks that Rabbi Yehuda wear it and come to pray with the other Sages."

Rabbi Yehuda answered: "I have no need for a gift, as I already have a coat, thank G-d. My wife will return soon and bring it, and then I will come to the Nasi's house. I lack nothing; as you can see I am very wealthy."

And with those words he lifted a corner of the mat on which he sat. There, sparkling like fire, were hundreds of gold dinars. The messenger was left speechless by the sight of such an enormous fortune.

Rabbi Yehuda explained: "You see, I have enormous wealth if I want it, but I do not desire to benefit from this world any more than necessary." As he spoke, the golden coins disappeared, fulfilling his spoken desire.

Rabbi Yehuda lived as always, in poverty. But he was satisfied with what he had, and he exemplified the words of the Sages [Pirkei Avos, 4:1]: "Who is a rich man. He who is happy with his lot."

Heichal HaNegina notes his yaretzheit is the 14th of Iyar, and "anyone who makes an "early Shabbos," owes it to Rabbi Yehuda. In the Mishna in Brachos [4:1], it is brought that Mincha, the afternoon prayer, may be said until "evening" [sunset]; Rabbi Yehuda, however, holds that it may only be said until "plag HaMincha" which is 1-1/4 Halachic hours before sunset. Although that is not the Halacha, we do rely on Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion to permit a person to daven Ma'ariv, the evening prayer, after "plag" – which is the basis for the "early Shabbos" minyanim."

The last photo is from the Muqata blog, who noticed this little plaque that says, "In this place soap was buried that was made from Jews, May G-d Avenge their deaths, murdered by the Germans, May their names be eradicated." who followed up and found an article from the past that says, "In 1949, many Jews -- residents from Tzfat came to the cave of Rabbi Yehuda ben Ila'i, and buried soap from the fat of Jews that were made by the German Nazis; it was brought by one of the immigrants to Israel."

The 2nd to last picture has a huge recently placed stone saying "It is the custom to circle the burial site 7 times, each time saying Psalm 29 and the passage Ana b'Koach." It doesn't say why.

May the merit of this holy tanna stand for Klal Yisroel!

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