Saturday, January 31, 2009

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A Rebbe Story for Motzie Shabbos

Stories of tzaddikim (the righteous) strengthen us in every way, teaching us lessons in emunah (faith), positive approaches to life and life's challenges, and even lessons in halacha (Jewish law). Here's a striking story for this motzie Shabbat (after Shabbos)...

The Rebbe Rashab's (the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe) gabbai (attendant/secretary) entered the beis midrash (the study hall) and walked over to one of the chassidim. "The Rebbe told me to call you," said the gabbai. "He is waiting for you in his room." As soon as the chassid heard this he hurried to the Rebbe.

"I have a shlichus (a mission) for you," the Rebbe Rashab said to him. "I want you to travel to the capital city and take care of a particular matter." The Rebbe detailed for the chassid the shlichus that he was being asked to do in the city, and when he finished he opened his desk drawer and took out a sum of money. He gave it to the chassid for the expenses of the trip.

The chassid was very surprised. He was a rich man and from time to time he would give the Rebbe large sums of money for tzedakah (charity funds). He was most astonished at the small sum the Rebbe gave him for the journey's expenses.

"Rebbe, the amounts I donate to the Rebbe are far greater than the sum the Rebbe is giving me now. Even if I were not wealthy I would be very happy to pay the trip's expenses from my own money, since it involes fulfilling a mission of the Rebbe."

"There is no connection between the large sums that you donate to tzedakah (charity) and the expenses of this trip," the Rebbe explained. "This is a mission for a public matter, and therefore the expenses must come from a public fund."

"You should know," added the Rebbe to the surprised chassid, "that because you are not paying for the journey with your own money, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) cannot stop you next time from carrying out another similar shlichus. If you were to pay for the trip from your own personal money, then next time the yetzer hara would convince you not to do the mission because you would have to pay for it. Now because you received the money to cover the costs of the trip, your yezter hara can't say anything."
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Friday, January 30, 2009

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Pidyon Shevuyim

Great is the mitzvah to redeem captives. There has been much controversy in the Jewish community over 3 yeshiva students who were caught entering Japan with a quantity of drugs. There is a significant custom among religious Jews to assist others by carrying small packages from place to place as they travel, thus saving others significant shipping costs while connecting friends and family through the transport of small packages that would otherwise be too costly.

In the case of these students, it's unclear whether they were simply carrying these (sealed?) packages as a favor to another, making them unwitting drug mules, or knowingly. What is known is that the potential prison term is extremely severe, and the prison conditions very harsh.

I have been asked to share this message of pidyon shevuyim - redeeming the captives...


As the trial of the youngest of the three yeshiva boys detained in Japan commences this Friday, 30 Jan '09 (Tokyo time zone is GMT +9 hours), and the other two bochurim's trial commence shortly thereafter, please pray for these poor victims, that they should promptly merit returning to their homes & community.

Yaakov Yosef ben Reizel
Yoel Zeev ben Mirel Risa Chava
Yosef ben Itte Rivka
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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Emunah from the Start

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

Hashem spoke to Moshe (Moses), "Come to Pharoah, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them - that you may know that I am Hashem."

The first plague introduces a new element. Hashem informs Moshe that He intends to make a mockery out of Egypt; flattening the pride of and fully crushing the ego of Pharaoh and his ministers, so that not only Egypt but also the Jews would know that "I Am Hashem:. The inclusion of the Jews in that category implies that even believing people are often imperfect in their emunah (faith).

That Pharaoh had resisted the evidence of the divine origin of the plagues is not a surprise. But even though the Jews were people of faith, their faith was not shalem perfect. It was not until the creas yam suf - splitting of the reed sea that the Torah says of the bnei yisroel (the sons of Israel) that they had emunah (faith) in Hashem and in His servant Moshe.

With the war that we just went through (though it appears unclear if it's actually ended or just taking a brief pause) we still want to explain away all the nisim (miracles) that happened. I spoke with tank crews yesterday and they told story after story of open miracles.

"And so that you may relate" - this is the of aspect of emunah, belief to such a degree that we would continue to tell of these events, "to our sons and son's sons" forever. Emunah is increased as we speak of the deeds of our Father in Heaven, for all of those who hear us and even within ourselves. Emunah is gift we can give to each other that can't be refused. When I speak to you and tell that Hashem is great, He really becomes great in our heart and in our minds. This is what we call 'Hoda'ah', we elevate all of creations as a result.

Chazal teach us that the words we speak create. If we speak with emunah then we repair and draw the world closer to Hashem. But if we complain and kvetch or explain away every detail as natural, then we distance and damage the world.

We can literally change the world for the good or the bad just with our speech. We must understand, exercise this and repair the damage.
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Isn’t It Too Late For Him?

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Here is a tough one. Yesterday, a rabbi with a long, gray beard brought a man over to me at the tefillin stand. I could see right away that they were brothers. I said, “Hey, it’s the same face.” The rabbi told me that, indeed, he was his brother and then excused himself to go daven mincha (afternoon prayers). I thought it was a little strange for him to just drop his brother off and leave like that.

The rabbi is so very religious that I assumed his brother would be religious too. But when I asked him if he had put on tefillin, he said that he had not. He added, “I have never put on tefillin.”

“Now I see why he left him here and quickly left,” I thought. But it was odd that he had never put on tefillin. After all, his brother is such an outgoing guy; I assumed that he would have helped him by now. But sometimes family members are so emotionally attached that they cannot help one another with certain things.

I convinced him to put on tefillin and showed him how to open his heart by praying for his family. He was surprised that he had such a good time with tefillin. He was genuinely happy. We took a couple of great pictures of him and then spoke about his life. He is 64 years old, married three times, but only to non-Jewish women. He has children from at least one of them.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What has he done with his life! What can we do for him? He’s not about to divorce his non-Jewish wife at 64 and go looking for a Jewish woman to make a Jewish family. Isn’t it too late for him?”

No, it is not. It is never too late for anyone. I gave him an English copy of the Shema Yisrael and told him to say it twice a day, every day, from now on. He liked the idea and might very well do it.

But that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to improve ourselves spiritually. No matter what we have or have not done in the past, even if we use just our very last breath to remember G-d, our portion in the World to Come will be improved.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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Achdut and Gaza

Photos by R. Nati, Article by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Photo - By the Gaza border from Israel.

Israel has had an incredible level of achdut, unity, through the recent Gaza war. Communities throughout Israel took in the residents and children under fire from the south (for example Beit Shemesh brought 1,000 high school students to learn under safer conditions). And almost everyone turned out to support the soldiers, sending assistance, treats, warmer clothing, etc.

The morale of the soldiers was immense, and strengthened because they knew the country was standing behind them.

One of the keys to the geulah is achdut, unity. Standing together and strengthening one another. The other side knows this and finds great danger in achdut (unity). As achdut grows the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) must bring out the big guns and make a full frontal attack.

During the recent war, the Breslevers went and danced with the troops. The Chabadniks went and put tefillin on the troops. Other groups went and said tehillim, brought Torah's for minyanim (prayer quorums), brought tzitzit (ritual fringes) for the soldiers to wear. The soldiers responded by praying, thanking Hashem, and fighting this milhemet mitzvah (war of mitzvah) with all their heart.

It is not a surprise that today the Yetzer Hara fought back. Like at Har Sinai, when Moshe Rabaynu (Moses our Teacher) went up, the Yetzer - which was forced out of the people by their purity, achdut, and connection with Hashem - fought back with images of the death of Moshe and the need for a holy cow (the golden calf). Today the Yetzer has fought back by tripping up a talmid chacham, a rosh yeshiva, insulting the achut (unity) and connection between those in need of prayer and those praying, those who would seem to have experienced miracles - direct help from Hashem in surviving and pushing back the brutal enemy, stating them unworthy. Pay no attention to such words, for the Yetzer Hara has come with all it's strength to damage the unity.

Instead, pay attention to this...Rabbi Nati today near the border of Gaza coming to support and encourage the troops...


The enemy has no care whether we are bearded or not, wearing a yarmulke or not, wearing a green army uniform or not. If you're a Jew, you're a target. There is no question we must stand together, yet let it not be in pain and under fire, let it be rejoicing in Torah, Mitzvot, our connection to HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He), and the ultimate rejoicing with the coming of Moshiach!

Let those who wish to grumble about the unworthy carefully examine their own soul first and be certain the evil inclination has not come with a tricky argument about protecting the kovod (respect) of the Torah in the name of destroying the achdut (unity) of the am (nation).
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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Book Review: The Warriors of Transcendence

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

A book review of The Warriors of Transcendence by Erez Moshe Doron, a Breslever chossid, written in Hebrew and translated to English by Deenah Rachel Misk, by Lev Hadvarim publishing.

It's not often a science fiction/fantasy genre action-adventure story shows up in the religious Jewish bookstore, but there it was, and shortly after on my bookshelf. The story starts with a prologue, a fantasy tale of a deity creating a world and the introduction of evil. How the people of the world reached heights of splendor and goodness, and then had evil tendencies released. And how a battle began between those under the influence of evil with their unique powers in the empire they built around them, and the leader of the good with his followers and unique powers, who would block, contain and destroy the evil.

In some ways, it's a standard fantasy story opening - introduction to the fantastic world in which the story is going to be told, scenario setting for the battle in which the main characters will be involved, and a bit of grounding in the fantasy land to which one is about to be inserted. But this fantasy is founded on concepts of Judaism, chassidus and kabbalah, and perhaps the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.

We immediately are taken to the dark city and experience an attempted escape, and are given a taste for the function of this fantasy world - powers of the will and soul manifest in physical results. We then move to the main character, an undercover agent who is fighting the infiltration of ideas and agents from the other side - he is a warrior of transcendence. He discovers an enemy has passed through his town and begins his journey together with his son. He encounters "transparent ones", beings of physical form but created out of positive willful thoughts and actions (in other words, what we would call malachim - angels - created from mitzvot). These beings have special powers but limit their worldly interaction.

The story progresses as such stories often do, training, battles, a quest, a war. It had great potential to entertain and to present another world different yet spiritually oriented like ours yet with major physical manifestations of that spirituality. But...

A danger in fantasy stories is creating a world to which one cannot connect or relate. The story flows reasonably well, but the world lacks a completeness, or rather lacks a sufficiently detailed foundational concept to become real. There are gaps that just leave one scratching ones head trying to make sense of it. At first I thought it was just a matter of time until sufficient detail emerges (this was the case in The Days of Peleg - where the amount of difference took about 100 pages to accumulate enough detail to settle into a solid graspable world view). However, the rules - the pattern of the fantasy world - never coalesce into a clear picture.

Similarly, several supporting characters are just a little bit hollow. They arrive and some background is given, but it's not quite enough to understand and relate to them.

The story is almost compelling, the fantasy world based on interesting concepts with potential. But it doesn't quite gel into a solid construct. The gaps in the world and the characters make the story a bit jumpy, mildly confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Available in the US and Israel at Jewish religious book stores and web sites.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Monday, January 26, 2009

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Is There Really Room For Everyone?

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

This question has to do with an old argument that should have been settled a long time ago. Simply stated, should we protect the sanctity of our Holy Torah and its treasured mitzvahs by reserving them for Jews we consider pure and ready, or should we go out and literally gather up every Jew we can find and try to bring them to the Torah?

Because of this controversy, Yours Truly was called a rasha (evil man) by the leader of the rabbis who champion the side that says, “Guard the holiness and purity of the mitzvahs.”

It was 1986. The Rav of that school of thought, referring to me, said, “Like that evil man who stands at the Kotel and puts tefillin on men who are wearing short pants and have dirty thoughts.”

Well, for the most part he was right. I was standing there putting tefillin on men who were wearing short pants. But in all honesty, I could not see their dirty thoughts. And it is amazing to me that even though he was far away in Benei Brak, he could see what they were thinking!

So how do we settle this longstanding argument? First, what is my defense? Basically, to sum it up, I believe that we are not allowed to keep the sick people out of the hospital. If we have to wait for them to go home and put on long pants, and then check to see that they wash their hands properly, or preferably, go to the mikvah, say the preparatory prayers, have a pure mind and proper intentions, it could take a very long time for any of them to come home. In fact, most likely all but a handful would die along the way. So I believe that we have to scrape them off the Wall, or anywhere else we can find them.

What do they say? They want to ensure that the mitzvah is being done in its most proper way as is fitting. They say, “Before doing such a mitzvah as tefillin there is the question of “cleanliness of body, and even cleanliness of soul.” They ask, “Have they learned the laws of tefillin well enough to merit and understand this mitzvah? Are they ready for this important step in their lives?”

However, the approach I follow, which is the Chassidic path, asks only one question; “Is your mother Jewish?” If they say, “yes” we bring them in and love them and set them on the path of uncovering their true identity. We try to show them how to strip away the peelings that bind them to the drudgery of an entirely physical world and lead them to the reality of their spiritual nature. Full throttle, fast forward, as much as they can handle at that time!

Who is right? Well, it seems to me that the many hundreds of thousands of Jews who now love Shabbos, putting on tefillin, and observing the delightful ways of purity at home are the proof that the Chassidic teachings are correct. Most of these Jews were brought home by other Jews who could not wait for them to wake up on their own.

Perhaps, way back then, when the world was so far from redemption, one might imagine that they could take their time coming home. But now, when the redemption is so very close, we cannot wait. We have to do whatever we can to find any living Jew and bring him or her to the joy and beauty of Torah.

Once the Moshiach comes and the revelation of Hashem’s Presence is evident to all, our spiritual capacities will have been set by our previous accomplishments.

When the Temple stood, and Hashem’s Presence was revealed not everyone experienced the same degree of revelation. Each person received according to his or her level of attainment.

The more we grow, the higher our station. This means that we will experience more of the revelation both in this world now and when the Redemption finally comes, too. But we better hurry, because we do not have a lot of time left!
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

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Momma Rochel brings Teshuva

Kever Rochel
by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I entered the office today, a bit nervous has I was completing a presentation for a major customer and about to review it with the head of my employing company (and to present it later in the afternoon at the customer).

In the middle of the presentation review, my wife called sounding distressed. I queried if it was urgent, she said no and asked I call her back. After the meeting I did so, and she said she was a bit upset after dealing with a government office and needed me to get some employment papers she would need to return to the office (and work through the process again). I said I'd try, but I was a bit rushed as the afternoon presentation had been moved up and I needed to head to the customer in just a few minutes...

I grabbed my gear and headed for the door, leaving lots of extra time in case of traffic. But I stopped and thought, since my wife is distressed I'll detour to the side office and take care of what she needed.

When I arrived there, one of the guys from the office, about 25, secular Israeli, was talking very animated to the ladies in the office. I kind of tuned it out while waiting, but then I heard "Rochel Imaynu - Our Mother Rochel". Seemed he was telling the by now well known story of soldiers being saved in Gaza by the appearance of a lady in black from several booby trapped houses.

He was almost jumping up and down while describing this miracle, saying his brother knew one of the soldiers who was there! He was describing loudly the chesed of Hashem, how G-d is protecting Israel, how we must recognize this nes (miracle) and thank Hashem! This secular spiked hair Tel Avivian Jewish secular non-kippah wearing Israeli was just going on and on about Hashem and miracles and mitzvot.

I was stunned. I couldn't believe this young man, who would never strike me as having any inkling towards Yiddishkeit, was bubbling over with enthusiasm towards G-d. Finally one of the ladies he was speaking to said, "ok, well if this is really true, and I'd need to speak to one of the soldiers who was there, I'm moving to Meah Shearim (super-ultra-orthodox religious neighborhood in Jerusalem)". At this point I spoke up, "no need to do that, if you recognize the kindness of Hashem, just add a mitzvah, just one mitzvah you don't do today, like light Shabbos candles." The other young woman in the room spoke up, "I like Shabbos candles!". I smiled, "Baruch Hashem".

Here I am standing in the middle of an office in Tel Aviv, while a secular spiked hair young Jewish Israeli man is talking to several young secular Jewish Israeli women about miracles and faith in Hashem...

And that, I told my wife this evening, is why she had a rough morning, so she could motivate me to walk into the middle of a conversation and suggest a mitzvah - and be inspired myself!

Mi K'Mocha Yisrael? Who is like you Israel? The spark awaits in every neshamah (soul), just waiting for something to light the fire. Even in Tel Aviv, with spiked hair or platform shoes.

One unseen result of the Gaza war is a burning flame of emunah, faith, bursting forth from so many soldiers AND their friends throughout Israeli society. We may truly have won a great battle, a great battle of faith.
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

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Ban the Magazine?

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Three weeks ago, we complained about Mishpacha magazine following the extreme chumra (super duper not required religious stringency) of avoiding female images in the magazine by Photoshopping out a picture of First Lady Laura Bush with 3 Chabad kosher supervisors in the Whitehouse kitchen for the Chanukah party.

Our complaint was not so much about the stringency, but rather that they modified a news photo and presented the modification as if it was the original, a lie of obfuscation.

This is an all too common error among some segments of religious society, where the stringency becomes the focus over the halacha (the basic religious law).

While Mishpacha Magazine chose not to print a retraction or my letter to the editor, they did print an "editorial clarification" which stated they following the rulings of religious leaders (that statement wasn't relevant because this had nothing to do with such rulings) and don't publish even modest pictures of women due to the sensitives of some readers who wish to avoid looking at pictures of women (so they can enjoy the magazine without lowering their religious observance). As not only I stated, they missed the point by focusing on the stringency at the cost of the halacha (veering into lies to avoid publishing the picture of a modestly dressed famous older woman).

But in this week's Misphacha (issue 243), we find they don't even keep to their own chumra (stringency)...


P1070002
Page 16: This first photo is a demonstration. Naturally, the crowd contains, oh my, females. On the right side of the photo, a female child is clearly seen, as well as a woman with a black coat and white scarf.

One assumes the Mishpacha photo adjuster was off this day. But, we'll give them a pass as it's a large crowd photo. After all, any magazine can make one mistake...

P1070003
Page 35: This photo is a historical picture of Jewish life in Gaza. The caption says "Jewish family in Gaza...". Note the two small humans at the bottom of the picture - being this is a religious Jewish family and they have no head coverings and long hair, they clearly appear to be the family daughters. Unless I'm mistaken, that makes them, gasp, female.

Two female photos have graced page 35 of Mishpacha, this could be a serious issue. But again, we'll give it a pass as it's an OLD photo, maybe that makes it ok...

P1070002
Page 40: Mishpacha reporter and photograher in Gaza. Reporter meets with IDF soldiers, who have been in the field for 3 weeks. They're dirty and grungy, no showers in the field. No showers, no shaving, all the guys in the photo series have beards...

Oh wait, what's that face in the background with no beard, silky smooth skin, chest bumps, and carefully plucked eyebrows. Oh no, could it be, yes I think it is, it's a chayelet, a female IDF support soldier.

Clearly I'm holding Mishpacha to a ridiculous standard. However, they set a standard that has them deleting the First Lady of the United States out of a photo where she asked the rabbaim to come in and kosher the national Whitehouse kitchen due to concerns of ANY female image - regardless of level of modesty or newsworthiness, or whether it turns the resulting photo into a lie.

If that's their standard of kosher, then this week they're treif 3 times over.

Will they be printing an URGENT RECALL of all copies of this issue, will they be printing a SERIOUS APOLOGY to all of their readers who hold the chuma?

Should Mishpacha be declared treif for violation of the chumra?

Consultation with rabbinic authority may be appropriate.
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Friday, January 23, 2009

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Thoughts on Obama

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Since Tuesday, every day has seen President Obama focused on Israel. Frankly my head is spinning, the world has (once again) changed so quickly it's difficult to absorb the paradigm shift.

-> Tuesday President Obama's first call was to Abbas of the Palestine Authority.

-> Wednesday President Obama appointed a "special envoy" to Israel and the Palestinians, one who's mother is Lebanese!

-> Wednesday Secretary of State Clinton said the "Middle East conflict" is a top priority.

-> Thursday President Obama insisted Israel fully open the border crossings. The same border crossings that are being shot at (yes since the cease fire), and within UN trucks being inspected war electronics (night vision, military radios, etc) are being found.

Wow, US economic meltdown, loosing the war in Afghanistan, and Obama's #1 issue is Israel. Events are coming, and fast! Yet we rely on our Father in Heaven, and believe in the coming of Moshiach every day. (And his name isn't Barak.)


by Reb Dr. Moshe Newman at Mystical Paths

Now we can truly say that the USA has become an ObamaNation. Let us hope that it does not become an abomination. Perhaps Hashem is telling us that the way to bring the redemption is Ba'Rak O'b'Ma-- Rak is Hebrew for "only" and Mah means "what". Mah expresses the concept of humility as in "Mah anachnu--we are nothing." The prefix "Ba" means "in" or "with." "O" is the connecting vav and means "and/or." Thus, the president's name is an allusion to the perspective and character trait necessary for geulah which will come Ba'Rak--With [our awareness that the entire world is] Only [Hashem]--O'B'Mah--And With [true humility that we are] Mah, nothing.
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The Levi Was Not Enslaved

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Why wasn’t the tribe of Levi enslaved by Pharaoh?[i] Let’s face it; Pharaoh was not a nice guy. Why would he allow all of those Jews to escape bondage?

There is the historical reason why they were not enslaved, and there is the spiritual reason.

The historical reason is that when Pharaoh first “invited” the Jews to join in the national effort to build Egypt, the tribe of Levi did not join in with the rest of the tribes. How were they allowed to exclude themselves from this work? When Yosef bought the land of Egypt for Pharaoh by selling the stored food to the starving Egyptians, the Egyptian priests escaped the forced sale of their land. They were able to keep their land due to the stipend that Pharaoh gave to them.[ii] Since they were supported by the state, they had no need to sell their land to buy food. When Pharaoh began the labor that ultimately turned into slavery, he simply extended his customary special treatment of the Egyptians priests to the tribe of Levi, since they were the teachers of Torah.

The spiritual reason is that the tribe of Levi escaped enslavement in order to teach us about Egyptian bondage. The concept “Egypt” signifies the limitations that the world imposes upon us. We all must go out into the physical world, i.e. Egypt, in order to find food and support our families. When we do this, there is a very real chance that we will become enslaved by our motives. Money can become the goal. Even after we have enough to be comfortable, we can still feel the burning need to work harder and harder in order to get more. We will have become enslaved by our own lusts for the physical world.

But what are we to do to? We must go out into the physical world in order to sustain ourselves. The Torah teaches that when we go out into the world the way the tribe of Levi went out, with our primary concern being Torah, “Egypt” will not be able to enslave us. We will move about freely, sustained without becoming stuck in the enticing physical world.

As always, the Torah is teaching both the physical, historical perspective as well as the mystical, ongoing perspective. We must learn of both these lessons in order to apply them to our lives.

[i] Exodus 5:4 Rashi
[ii] Genesis 47:22
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

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Faith in the Tzaddikim


by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

"And they believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe" (Shmos 14:31).

The midrash tells us: "whoever believes in Hashem is as if he believes in the true shepherd Moshe, and whoever believes in the true shepherd is as if he believes in Hashem, Creator of the world" (Mechilta, Beshalach).

The Talmud teaches: The Torah is acquired by means of 48 qualities. One of these is emunas chachamim, "faith in the tzaddikim" (Avot 6:6)

The vast majority of these qualities focus on one's diligence and efforts in pursuing Torah study and rectifying bad character traits. However right in the middle of all of these 48 is faith in the tzaddikim. The Tzaddikim are the ones who transmit the Torah to us, so without faith in their teachings we will never be able to acquire the Torah. That being the case, of what value is intellectual pursuit and diligent study?

An integral part of achieving faith in Hashem is by having faith in the tzaddik. After all, how can we with our defective sechal (intellect) and lack of Daat (knowledge, but knowledge of truth) in this ever confusing and changing world ever hope to come to choosing right from wrong, what is correct? How do we chose from pure and tamei (impure), kosher from traif (non-kosher)? For leading us through the confusion we have to rely on the Tzaddik.

These righteous individuals they who have risen above the mundane and physical restraints and limitations of the defective human sechal (intellect), they know. We can rely on them in much the same way as a child relies on a parent, to whom he look up as all knowing.

"Most sea men are Chassidim" (Talmud Kiddushin 82a). "This is because they are in constant danger and are always turning to Hashem" (Rashi) We can relate this to the crossing of the sea of reeds. The Jews believed in Moshe and followed him across. The sea was split like walls raising between the tribes, symbolic of the "sea of Knowledge" too dangerous to navigate across without the proper tools and navigational aides- these are the advice of the Tzaddik who guides us on the proper course.

Pharaoh on the other hand did not have any belief, he felt that he had the tools with which to cross on his own. As is the case today, with Artscroll and the many translations and incredible volume of holy seforim (Torah books), we have a ready access to the deep Ocean of the Torah. Yet we have to be even more careful than before as we sit at home without a Rav to teach us (with the rav was the only way until recent generations).

We must be aware that we are not properly equipped, and turn to those who are. Otherwise G-d forbid, like Pharaoh being ill trained and ill equipped to handle the turbulent sea, the walls came crashing down upon him and the Mitzrim [Egyptians] (Likutey Halakhot, Netilat Yadayim Li'seudah 6:39).

Rebbe Nachman said, From me you can begin to get a glimpse of the greatness of Hashem" (Tzaddik #284).

The Tzaddik is one who has attained Torah and has acquired Ruach HaKodesh (divine inspiration/insight). With faith in the Tzaddikim, they can help us achieve greatness in spirituality and closeness to Hashem.

"Even mentioning their names helps us draw from their Holiness." (Likutey Halakhot, Netilat Yadayim li'Seudah 4:6)

Photo: The Breslev Tzadik of Meah Shearim, my rav and teacher, HaRav Shalom Arush, shlita, author of the Garden of Emunah, dancing at the bar mitzvah of one of the son's of one of his talmidim in Jerusalem.
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Well That Didn't Take Long

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

President Obama's first call 'was to President Abbas' (news link)

When we read the navi'im (biblical prophets), we often assume the worst. After all, history has not been kind (so to speak). When we read "those who dwell on the borders will wander from town to town...", we assume the worst. When we read that Gog's coalition will march in and surround Jerusalem, escorted by the men of Yehuda, we assume the very worst.

Yet, the Soviet Union fell with a whisper, not with rivers of blood. The wars of Russia-Georgia and Israel-Hamas created devastation ("the Galilee will be devastated"), but again relatively few deaths (by general war standards, compare US-Iraq estimated 100,000 deaths versus Israel-Hamas 1,300 deaths).

A new king has arisen. If Gog marches into Israel diplomatically, with painful expulsions and the stationing of coalition peacekeeping troops, we will cry and lament our averot (sins) that brought such events. Yet, if Gog u'Magog is mostly a diplomatic battle, in the end we will sing Hodu L'Hashem Ki Tov, Ki l'Olam Hasdo, Praise to Hashem for He is Good, for His kindness is everlasting!

(Of course, all Hashem does is for the good. But we would like His presence to be obvious and His goodness to be in a way that we and the whole world can easily see and understand.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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The Coming...

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

We wish President Obama well, and pray that the government and it's ministers will be favorably disposed to us, to all of Klal Yisroel, and to the nation of Israel. Like every new president, he gets his honeymoon - his chance to come in, get up to speed, start making his changes in policy, flub a few things, and for us to get a feel for where he's headed and how well he's going to do it.

There have been times when the US has been in serious trouble. National division, terrible scandals, civil unrest, external enemies, economic downturns, war. There have been times of American MISERY. The Great Depression, Vietnam, the late 70's Stagflation. Times when hope faded.

The 2000's where not one of them. The economy grew at a steady strong rate from 1994 - 2007, with a brief recession in there due to a bubble bursting and another due to 9/11. World stability was still good, with the sole exception was 9/11.

Standards of living went way up. Many people made money on real estate, upgraded their homes, extracted and spent equity. New cars became the norm. Big screen TV's a standard. From the rich to the poor, almost everyone was on the train.

As the election came along, the Republicans were recognized as having failed at governing well. They overspent, wildly so. They abandoned much of their conservative principles, losing some of their base, and their limited government principles, losing more of their base. The Democrats were energized, opposing a president who starting overstepping their traditional concerns of personal rights, and had been spewing much rhetoric that was out of step with much of the country.

So the Democrats were energized for a fight, and the Republicans ready to dump many of their people. The Democrats ran a great campaign, maximizing use of the latest methods (internet, you tube, etc). The Republicans ran an average campaign at best (I'm being generous), clearly not enough to overcome the challenges.

So the Democrats won. But along the way, before the economic troubles of our time became so clear and deep, Mr. Obama transformed from a strong candidate to The One. While the United States of America can be rightly proud at overcoming barriers of the past and selecting a son of immigrants from a formerly persecuted segment of society, things seem to have gone a little overboard.

Perhaps when Moshiach comes (may it be today!) we will again see such a celebration and outpouring of adulation. Until then, such ... worship ... of a public figure is ... worrisome. He is indeed being declared the ... savior.

One wonders if indeed we are seeing the opposite forces at work, bestowing faith that should be in G-d and directing it towards a man.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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Talking Head Punditry - President Obama

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I took a bit of time this evening (Israel time) to watch the US presidential inauguration. Since the talking heads can take the time to say a variety of inane things, I figure I can too...

- Musical Interludes: Pleasant and mild, though I pity the musicians who had to play under the cold temperatures. Why the US has a series of national songs practically impossible to sing decently is a mystery, and the bet at any such event is whether the singer will come out barely surviving or being completely destroyed.

- Invocation: The preacher was preaching quite nicely and somewhat generically, evening saying Shema Yisroel (in English of course). He blew it by going too long, and diving into Jaysus preaching at the end. Pity. Wrong approach for such a national stage.

- The Oath: Don't these guys rehearse or anything? Chief Justice Roberts clearly is inexperienced in oath giving (too many words before stopping), and President Obama a little overeager to follow. A good reminder to the president that he's still just a normal guy with an extraordinary job.

- The Speech: Mostly standard presidential blah blah blah. Highlights included a quote from Koheles, general lowering of expectations (wise), a statement he's open to talks with dictators (if they "open their closed fist"), and a statement about new relationships with Muslims of the world (that's a little worrying as Israel is usually the sacrificial lamb).

As always, as a "new king arises" we look to see if he knows Yosef, and pray to HaKodesh Baruch Hu that the "ministers and government be disposed favorably towards us"...

In this past Gaza war in Israel, we truly saw that "some rely upon chariots and some upon horses, but we rely upon and invoke the name of Hashem", as the nation and soldiers came together in an unprecedented level of prayer and faith in Hashem. Now if the leaders of Israel could only turn that way for just a moment!
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The Tzaddik HaDor

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

There is confusion regarding the idea of the Tzaddik Hador, the righteous leader of the generation. There are many tzaddikim, many righteous men, rabbis, teachers, and hidden ones. But there is only one tzaddik hador, and if we merit he becomes the Tzaddik Emet.

Tzaddik Emet is the soul of "Moshe - Moshiach", the redeemer. Throughout history there has been and only will be seven times, 7 gigulim of the neshomah (7 re-entries into this world of the essence of the soul) of Moshe Rebbaynu (Moses our Teacher), the soul of the Moshe Moshiach (Zohar Parshat Mishpatim and Ari Zal - Sha'arei Gigulim). These times have been: Moshe Rebbaynu (Moses our Teacher), some count Dovid HaMelech (King David), Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi), the Ari HaKodesh, the Baal Shem Tov, some count Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, some count the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabbad. We are presently waiting for the the last manifestation - in Moshiach.

(According to Breslev, Rebbe Nachman was 5th in this line. His Torah is the Torah of this, the last generation. He said his fire would burn until the Moshiach, and that Moshiach would be a decendant of his. See Chai Morahran, in English the books Tzaddik and Until Moshiach by Breslev Research Institute.)

But we were discussing the Tzaddik Hador. The last know widely accepted (by the majority of Jews) Tzaddik Hador was the Rebbe of Chabad.

Mordechai was the Tzaddik Hador in the time of the Purim story. Reb Nosson of Breslev teaches us some awesome details about this in Likutey Chalchot, hilchos Purim... The tzaddik hador is the most spiritually awake person alive. He not only has the ability to find and wake up the souls of Am Israel, he can if we help him. Can wake up the Divine presence. The Purim story is not just a story of Mordechai and Ester, but the story of the tzaddik HaDor and the Shechina, the Divine Presence. (More on this in a future post, Hashem willing.)

As the Zohar teaches us – everyone is against or afraid of the idea of there having to be a tzaddik. HaTzaddik, "THE" Tzaddik, HaDor - namely the Tzaddik of "THIS" generation. The Holy Zohar teaches (Zohar I, 28a): "Woe to the world for they do not provide help for the Shechina (Divine Presence) during the exile, or for Moshe (i.e. the Tzaddik), who is always with Her and never moves from Her… Moshe did not die. He is called Adam. Of Adam it is written (Bereishit 2:20), 'And Adam had no helpmate'. This applies to the last exile: Adam – the Tzaddik – has no helpmate. Everyone is against the Tzaddik".

May we all sincerely and wholeheartedly turn to Hashem in prayer and seek out, support and reveal the Shechina hidden within the exile along with Her helpmate 'HaTZaDDiK HaDoR' Amen.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

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Only G-d is Everywhere

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Three American men and a young boy walked up to the tefillin stand a couple of days ago. Something didn’t seem right to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Their razor cut hairstyles and blue jeans didn’t fit any Jewish community that I could recall. For sure the boy and two of the men did not look Jewish.

I asked the apparent leader of the group if he was Jewish. He said that he was. “Is your mother Jewish?” I wanted to make sure since no one with him seemed Jewish.

He said that she was.

When I started to put tefillin on him, the boy came closer. I asked if he was his son. He said that he was, and that the boy was thirteen years old and would be coming to the Kotel next year for his bar mitzvah.

“Something’s not straight here,” I thought. (Bar Mitzvahs are at thirteen not fourteen) But I did not want to start up with him and risk having him walk away without putting on tefillin.

“Are you sure your mother is Jewish?” He assured me that she was.

“I was last here thirteen years ago when I came to pray for his health.” He pointed to his son.

After he read the prayers in English he cited the chapter and line where they are found in the Torah.

“Uh Oh!” I thought, “The only ones who don’t know how to put on tefillin but can cite the location of the prayers in the Bible are Xians.

“It seems like maybe you have been studying something new,” I said.

“I’ve been studying the Bible,” he answered.

“And maybe something new added to it too?” I asked.

I have been studying the Old Testament and the New Testament too,” he said proudly.

“But that book is not right.”

“It talks of the messiah,” he said.

“When the messiah comes there will be peace. Do you see peace in the world?” I asked.

He said that he didn’t.

“Then the messiah hasn’t come yet,” I said. “The messiah has to be a Jewish man from the tribe of Yehudah. And the tribes are fixed according to the father of the child. Who is your messiah’s father?” I asked.

He said, “god.”

“Then he can’t be the messiah because he is not from the tribe of Yehudah.” I asked him if G-d was in the heart of the devil.” He tried to avoid answering. I pressed him. “Is G-d everywhere?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Then only worship G-d Who is everywhere.”

He agreed.

I asked if the man he called the messiah was everywhere. He tried to change the subject. I asked again, “Where is G-d?” He tried to avoid the question. I asked again.

He finally had to say that yes, G-d is everywhere.

“Then don’t worship that man you call the messiah because he is not everywhere,” I said.

“He is the son of god,” he said.

“So are you,” I said. He was thrown back. I said it again. “You are the son of G-d.”

“We are the children of god,“ he argued.

I told him, “It’s the same word in Hebrew.” And again I said, “You are the son of G-d.”

He had to agree.

I made him repeat it so his son and the other men with him were sure to hear him say it. “So if you are the son of G-d, why are you telling me about that guy being the son of god? We are all the sons of G-d.” And again I said, “Don’t worship him because he is not everywhere.”

“When the messiah comes don’t you think that he will be divine?” he asked.

“He will be a man of flesh and blood just like we are,” I told him.

His head jerked backwards. He was shocked by my answer.

“Don’t you go to the High Priest for atonement?” he asked.

“No. No way,” I answered.

“Then what do you do for atonement?” he wanted to know.

“I go home and eat with my friends at my table,” I answered. “There’s no Temple today. Our tables are our altars now.”

Again I pressed him, “Only worship the G-d Who is everywhere and that man is not everywhere.”

“G-d the Father,” he offered.

“G-d the Only,” I countered.

He repeated himself. I repeated myself. Again I said, “Only worship the One Who is everywhere and that man is not everywhere.”

“The holy spirit,” he said.

“The Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh) is not everywhere,” I said. “Don’t worship it, either. Worship only the one G-d Who is everywhere.”

I took the tefillin off him and gave him my website address. I told him to write me his questions.

“If I write to you, will you answer me?” he asked.

I said that I would, but I doubted he would write. I told his son to remember my address because his father was going to forget it on purpose.

They walked away, shaken, but probably unchanged. Xians are taught that all they need to do to be saved is to believe in their “son of god.” And if they do not believe in the divinity of their “messiah/god” they will not be forgiven for their sins and they will burn in hell forever. This is a real fear for them that rules their spiritual and even their physical lives.

But this guy was unusual. Always, when I try to give Xians even one or two thoughts that threaten their belief they immediately back away. He didn’t. Maybe he will write after all. We’ll see.
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A German's View on Islam

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

I received this via email, and thought it worth sharing...

A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

'Very few people were true Nazis,' he said, 'but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff meant to make us feel better and meant to somehow diminish the spectra of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Xian and tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder and honor-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics w ho teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.

The hard quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the 'silent majority,' is cowed and extraneous. Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.

China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a war mongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.

And who can forget Rwanda which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun. Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts; the fanatics who threaten our way of life.


It pretty much says it all.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

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Aliyah Info: Jobs and Testing in Israel

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Israel is not the US. Job interview questions that would be illegal in the US are common in Israel, as is a level of "testing" that few American companies would dare to require...

- Reliability testing... This is a 1 hour test, partially computer based, designed to determine if a person has dishonest tendencies that would make him/her inappropriate for a job at a bank, insurance company, or other similar financially oriented institution (where everyone is tested) or job role (say a bookkeeper). This test is mildly annoying, repetitive, and times the response of the answers as part of the evaluation.

- Skills testing... This is a 2 hour test, computer based, designed to extract those areas where a person has skill aptitudes. This is used particularly on entry level employees (and by the army), or to confirm that those headed to certain specialty areas have the assumed necessary aptitudes.

- Psychometric testing... This is a day long test designed to evaluate soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, responsibility, work habits, and generally if a person is all around "normal". JobMob as a nice article on this. Some consider this testing "dreaded".

- Security testing... Many a company in Israel does national security work or has some level of military or security agency interaction. Employees in such positions require security clearance and must undergo a stringent security review.

For an American, all of these tests involve a level of personal information interaction that is culturally uncomfortable. Knowing what you're in for helps a bit.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

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A Baal Shem Tov Story: Reb Dovid

It's a custom to tell stories of tzaddikim (the righteous sages) during melava malka (the post-Shabbos meal). The custom among hassidim is to tell Baal Shem Tov stories, or stories of other rebbaim (grand rabbi's).

So, here is a Baal Shem Tov story. Many miraculous stories are told about the saintly Baal Shem Tov (literally the Master of the Good Name), who brought the path of hassidus, great insights into kabbalah, and hope to a generation of embattled Jews (teaching that every soul has a immeasurable and special value and every person should be treasured). Are all the miraculous stories the literal truth? Of course not. But could they be, with such a saintly man, literally yes...


[Story received from Yaakov Levy, shared with him by a friend at Cong. Shuva Yisrael in Los Angeles]

Many years ago, in a little village deep in the Carpathian Mountains, there lived a simple Jewish man named Reb Dovid. Although he was extremely poor and unlearned, he had strong faith in God and was happy with his lot in life.

One morning, Reb Dovid was davening (praying) in the simple shul of his village. The other men had already completed their prayers and left for work. Reb Dovid felt a warm glow fill his heart as he slowly recited the prayers in the siddur (prayer book).

Just then, Rabbi Israel – the Holy Baal Shem Tov was walking past the village and perceived the heavenly light streaming out from the tiny village shul. He quickly walked to the shul and looked in the window. There, he saw Reb Dovid davening and wearing his Tallit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries).

Rabbi Israel entered the shul, sat down, and began learning while he waited for Reb Dovid to finish his prayers.

Hour after hour passed and it was already late in the afternoon by the time Reb Dovid completed his prayers and took off his Tallit and Tefillin.

"Shalom Aleichem (Peace be to you), Aleichem Shalom" they greeted each other.

After speaking to each other for a while, Rabbi Israel asked Reb Dovid, “Tell me my friend, why were you davening for so long?”

"Rabbi,” Reb Dovid replied in a hushed tone, “I don't really know the meaning of the words of the siddur or even the right prayers to say. So I usually start at the beginning of the siddur and stop with the minyan. But today, I felt particularly inspired and didn’t stop until I reached the end of the siddur."

"My dear friend,” asked Rabbi Israel, “Would you like me to teach you what prayers to say and when to say them?"

"Oh Rabbi, I can't tell you how much that would mean to me. But I don't want to be a bother to you."

"Oh no Reb Dovid, it wouldn't be a bother at all," said the Baal Shem Tov. "In fact, I would be honored to teach you the prayers."

The two men sat together for several hours while Rabbi Israel taught Reb Dovid the different prayers in the siddur. They started with the morning prayers, than those said before and after eating, for the afternoon prayers, for the evening prayers, for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and so on. Between the pages of the siddur, separating the different prayers, Rabbi Israel placed small pieces of paper with notes to remind Reb Dovid about each of the prayers.

After explaining the entire siddur, Rabbi Israel bid farewell and left, walking quickly along the road leading from the town.

Reb Dovid was so thrilled that he started dancing around the room, hugging his siddur filled with the small pieces of paper between the pages. Suddenly, the siddur somehow slipped from his hands and fell to the floor. The pieces of paper scattered everywhere.

Reb Dovid was bewildered and dismayed. On one hand, he thought, “I so want to know the proper prayers and when to say them.” On the other hand, he felt extremely embarrassed at the thought of running after the Rabbi and asking him to take the time to explain the prayers to him again.

But Reb Dovid's desire to pray properly outweighed his embarrassment. He grabbed the siddur and the pieces of paper and raced after the Rabbi.


At first he didn't see the Baal Shem Tov. Then he reached the top of a hill where he could barely make out the Rabbi far in the distance. “Whew,” he signed in relief and started running even faster as the Baal Shem Tov again disappeared into a forest.

Suddenly, Reb Dovid found himself standing high above a wide, raging river and there next to the river, stood the Baal Shem Tov.

Reb Dovid was relieved. It would take a while for the Baal Shem Tov to find a way across the river. He quickly started climbing down the mountain to the river. Then he saw the Baal Shem Tov take off his gartel (a special prayer belt) from around his waist, stretch it out, and seemingly dance on it across the river. As soon as he reached the opposite bank, he put his gartel back on and continued walking away without even glancing back.

Reb Dovid reached the edge of the river and stood in disbelief as he watched the Rabbi on the other side of the river. He yelled out, “Rabbi! Rabbi!” but his voice could not be heard above the roaring water.

Without a thought, Reb Dovid took off his gartel, stretched it out, and seemingly danced on it as he crossed the raging river. As soon as he reached the opposite bank, he started running as fast as he could after the Baal Shem Tov.

"Rabbi, Rabbi! Wait for me,” he yelled.

The Baal Shem Tov turned around. He was startled to see Reb Dovid running after him. "What are you doing here?"

Reb Dovid held out the siddur and the pieces of paper. "Rabbi, I'm so sorry. I dropped the siddur and all the pieces of paper fell out."

"But what are you doing here?" asked the Baal Shem Tov.

"Rabbi! I've come to ask you to please put the pieces of paper back into the siddur."

"But how did you cross the river?"

"Rabbi, I crossed on my gartel, just like you."

"You know", said the Baal Shem Tov, putting his arm around Reb Dovid, "you don’t need my papers. The way that you've been davening (praying) until now is just fine."
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Friday, January 16, 2009

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Ban Ki Buffoon

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

While Hamas rejects truce conditions on the basis of their fundamental right to import serious weaponry and continue to attack and kill Jews, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Buffoon demands Israel implement an immediate unilateral ceasefire due to the ongoing negative impact of war on the PaliArab population (particularly the negative impact on the non-uniformed Hamas combatants firing from within UN facilities - a change from their previous role of training to fire while receiving salaries from those facilities).

While Secretary General Ban Ki Buffoon was making this demand, a Jewish child was fighting for his life after being struck (in the head) by a Grad missile fired at Be'er Sheva from Gaza City (despite his mother's best efforts to cover his body with hers during the incoming attack).

In Mr. Buffoon's calcuation, and by his representation as leader of the United Nations, it is perfectly acceptable for that Jewish child to have his head blown up but not acceptable for Israel to attempt to stop Jewish children from having their heads blow up.

Dear Mr. Buffoon and all of the United Nations - if this truly is your wish, please show us how this is supposed to work by demonstrating first. I await South Korea's disbanding of it's military and opening it's doors to North Korea (that has been cruelly starved and deprived of consumer electronics for so many years), Russia's withdrawal from Chechnia and Georgia, and the United States and Britian being brought to justice for the over 100,000 civilian deaths during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

If the Hamas PaliArabs wish to stop this war, and yes it is a WAR, all they have to do is STOP FIRING MISSILES AT ISRAELI CIVILIANS (of which 25 were fired today, each and every one legally qualifying as a clear international war crime - other point you're busy avoiding.) Just like the Germans in World War II, the possiblity of killing even 1 Jew is worth more to them than the lives of their own people, their own women and children. (They could aim these missiles at the Israeli army forces, but they don't do that, do they? They aim EVERY SINGLE ONE at civilian population centers.)

Dear World - they come for us first, but we are NEVER the last. Watch those pro-Hamas marches in your major cities. You have already imported this mindset right into your midst. Looking forward to your immediate unilateral ceasefire with Al Quieda, Chechnia, Eta, the IRA, and every other terrorist organization.

They rely upon chariots and horses, but we upon and invoke the name of Hashem our G-d. They bend and fall, but we rise and stand firm. Hashem deliver us, may the King answer us on the day we call.

Shabbat Shalom umVarach from Israel,
Reb Akiva
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US Plane Crash: The Rise of Militant Gooslam

Excepted from Big Hollywood, article by Andy Levy...

In the wake of the events of 1-15, in which a wedge of Geese brought down a US Airways aircraft, here’s what you won’t be hearing about from the so-called “Mainstream Media”: We brought this on ourselves.

After an event such as this one, it’s important to look at the root causes: Why did the Geese attack us? Well, the truth is, for years we have been oppressing the Geese, using them for the fuel they provide for our bodies.

Boneless Goose Breast, Brandied Roast Goose, Roast Goose with Cumberland Sauce and Apricot Stuffing. And of course, the Xmas Goose. In the name of religion, we have been engaged in what can only be called a Crusade against the Geese. Is it any wonder that a few brave suicide Geese would seek revenge?

Under the neocon/neofascist Cheney-Bush administration, Goose consumption is up 1541%. Geese have been systematically deprived of their rights at a level never seen before. (Look around your workplace: do you see any Geese? Wouldn’t you be nervous if you did?) Reports of shameful anti-Goose activity are at an all-time high, mainly in the South and Midwest, of course.

The fact is, WE (and, of course, Israel) are responsible for the rise of militant Gooslam. Given our actions, is it any wonder that gaggles of Goslings would reject the teachings of moderate Goose leaders, when those leaders are perceived as being in the pocket of the West? Given our actions, is it any wonder that these young Gooslamists would flock to more assertive leaders, leaders whose commitment to their cause cannot be questioned? Given our actions, the rise of a “Goosama” was inevitable. We have only ourselves to blame. (Does anyone doubt that somewhere there’s a photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with a Goose?)

...Read the whole thing.
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Being Connected to a Tzadik

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

This is a question to all of us, but this is posed by Reb Meir Elkabas

Question: A person who has already sinned and blemished himself in life – in what merit does he have to repent and start serving Hashem? If now he is in the hands of the evil side how can he possibly get out?

The holy Arizal answers that the soul of the greatest Tzaddik enters and attaches himself to the soul of this low and far Jew and helps him come out of his darkness (this is what is termed in kabbalistic literature as an "Ibur Nefesh"). This is one of the reasons why Rebbe Nachman stresses the necessity of attaching oneself to the true Tzaddik of the generation. He explains that before a true and great Tzaddik comes down to the world it is possible to approach and serve Hashem without any external merit or help. However, once a true Tzaddik come into the world it is "IMPOSSIBLE" to come close to Hashem without the help of and attachment to this true Tzaddik.

This is because Hashem created the world in a way that free will must exist at every level in life. Thus, once an unbelievable enlightening and unique Tzaddik does come into the world – an equal amount of darkness and concealment must also come into the world, making it impossible to overcome this darkness without the help of this Tzaddik who can counter this darkness.

When the Jews were in Egypt, Hashem Himself could have taken the Jews out of Egypt. Instead he chose to designate Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our teacher) as the savior and redeemer of the Jews. Why? The Talmud, Midrash and Zohar all teach that the whole world was only created for the Tzaddik. At the beginning of creation Hashem foresaw that there would sprout forth individuals who would succeed in totally breaking the physical barriers separating them from Hashem and spirituality. For them the whole creation was created. If so, what chance does the average Jew who doesn't "make it" have to come close to Hashem? For this reason Hashem sent Moshe to save and lead the Jews out of Egypt. Through their faith in Moshe – the "Faithful Shepherd" – they could they safely make the dangerous and difficult journey to complete spirituality – The Holy Land.

May we all have the merit to find, search and attach ourselves to the True Tzaddik of this generation.

Reb Nachman Chazan was Reb Noson's closest disciple and the leading Breslover chassid after Reb Noson passed away. He was once asked if he would talk about a miracle which Rebbe Nachman had performed. Reb Nachman Chazan's expression became very intense and he exclaimed with great fervor, "A miracle?! You want me to tell you one of the Rebbe's miracles? I! I am Rebbe Nachman's miracle!"

Reb Nachman Chazan felt his service to God to be insignificant and worthless. He felt too distanced from G-d to be of any consequence. Yet, G-d had seen fit to draw him close to Reb Noson, who fed him many dosages of Rebbe Nachman's "medicines." He eventually rose to a great spiritual position, and so he exclaimed, "I am Rebbe Nachman's miracle.
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

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“Did You Put On Tefillin Today?”

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

This afternoon at the Kotel a very fine looking elderly Chassid walked past the tefillin stand. He looked like a Rebbe. There were two younger Chassidim accompanying him. He had a very sweet Jewish face, quick to smile, with a fine grey beard, the kind of rabbi you would immediately take to.

It was packed at the stand and we could have used some help. I was busy wrapping tefillin on someone when he walked by. I looked up and called over to him, “Did you put on tefillin today?”

He was very surprised that I would ask. In fact, he was taken aback and his face and voice showed it. “Do you really think that I would not have put on tefillin today?”

“On how many people?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s what you mean.” He smiled and walked by. He didn’t jump on my invitation to come help (not that I thought he would), but he did get the message.

Guys, it’s not enough to put tefillin on your own arm. We have to be concerned with the other guy’s arm too.

(Photo from DrLaz.Com of Tefillin being put on Hollywood comedian and actor Howie Mandel by Dr. David Lazerson, Ph.D, who is a renowned public educator and race relations expert, and a Lubavitcher Chossid.)
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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False Alarm in Jerusalem

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

Today, the 'Tzeva Adom' (missile alert - red color) alarms went off! There was for a few tense moments panic and stress. What was this? It was simon, a sign that we need to wake up and do t'shuva. With emunah we can combat this stress, with Emunah! Look up for our redemption draws near. This was a loving reminder to us here in the holy city to turn to Hashem!

(Spelling correction applied.)
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Minimizing Fasting

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Following up on Akiva's post about fasting, here's some additional chassidic input...

Why minimize fasts today? Because the Redemption is going to come from spiritually motivated joy, not from fasting. Fasting is not a joyful experience. If you have the burning need to fast - to abstain from something that is spoiling you - then give up your sorrow. Look at the bright side of things and thank G-d for your portion. We are on our way to the greatest celebration ever and we should be preparing for the wondrous event.
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Aliyah Moments: Humerous Slang

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

As one learns modern Hebrew in Israel, sometimes one encounters language nuances that just make one wonder...

The ubiquitous bobby pin of America is called a grandma clip in Hebrew. Having pondered this for some time, I'm certain I've come up with the accurate explanation...

In the early 1900's, a Jewish immigrant to the US from Hungary saw his grandmother struggling to keep her hair under her tichel (hair kerchief) during a windy New York winter. Being he worked in a metal shop, he tried a few designs until ultimately coming up with a thin well gripping clip to help his grandmother.

As everyone knows, a Jewish grandmother is called a bubbie. However, those of Hugarian extraction add an acent twist that changes this to bobbie. As people from the neighborhood saw how well the clips kept the hair and tichel in place, they asked the family children what the shiny clips in their grandmother's head were, and they replied, "those are her bobbie pins".

Hence the name Bobby Pins.


(Note Wikipedia has what must be a completely inaccurate story about some silly hair style called the "bob" and the special clips required to keep it in place - 'bobby pins'. But everyone knows Wikipedia is non-authoritative. They also note the British call this item a hair grip - but what do they know about English anyway?)

On a side note, cotton candy is referred to as grandma's hair in Hebrew. Chuckle.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

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Fasting

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I received an interesting question about Shovavim fasting...

- I was discouraged from doing some Shoavim fasting. I was told it is not good for Ashkenazim to accustom themselves to fasting. Do you have any idea why?

Noting I did not write the Shovavim article, it was from Rav Tzadok of koshertorah.com. I am not an expert in Sephardi practices, the rav's suggestion in the article was to consult a sephardi rav for specific fasting details, however...

Regarding Ashkenazim and fasting, this strikes me as an odd statement as many a talmiday chachomim (Torah scholars and historical religious leaders) among the non-chassidic Ashkenazim were accustomed to fasting regularly. It's noted that we are weaker today and such practices are generally discouraged. (This may be simply be due to living in a time of plenty, for our bodies are accustomed to being treated gently and with lots of resources making it much more difficult to go without as opposed to someone who has lived a life of scarcity.)

Fasting as a regular practice to lead to piousness or get closer to Hashem is definitely discouraged among the chassidim. The Alter Rebbe in Tanya does recommend a large series of fasts (hundreds, literally) to atone for common yet serious averot (sins) in ones life - mentioning that spreading these out across the winter months when days are short over a period of years (say, 10) is a reasonable practice. But this is for attonement, a tikkun (a repair) for averot (sins) to cleanse one completely in this world. Not for increasing one's piousness (with an attendant danger to ego inflation.)

And for one who cannot fast? The Alter Rebbe writes such fasts can be redeemed with tzedakah (charity) - this is above the 10% required of every person. I have heard a story (in the name of Rav Hillel of Parich? not certain) where the rav asks, and what if one is weak and cannot fast such a large number, or one is poor and cannot redeem the fasts? Well then, he answers, don't sin! :-)

The basic answer to your question may be the average person is discouraged from taking on the stringencies of the pious. Such practices are not required, one must be very careful to take them on with proper intention, and failure in them may carry the risk of a decrease in ones religious observance.

This is not to discourage one from reaching for greater heights. Just to be aware and prepare for the journey.
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Oh Sheez, We Won

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

With incredible blessings from HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He), it appears Israel is about to win the Israeli-Hamas war. The people came together, the soldiers blessed Hashem, we stood as one. Hashem blessed Israel with a skilled army chief who prepared, and a reasonable defense minister who backed him up.

The faith of the country was increased. Not in the might of the IDF or the hand of man, but in humble faith to G-d.

And as in 1967, Israel won (G-d willing). Soldiers came home with miraculous stories of survival and salvation. Yes, the army truly did a good job in equipping, planning, and training. And yes, the soldiers were motivated. And yes, the intelligence services did a fantastic job of spotting the enemy sites.

But the enemy defense map that fell into the hands of the Israeli unit, that was a miracle. The unit that avoided 3 booby-trapped houses, that was a miracle. The units that avoided trap after trap, spotted and killed the enemy in their own tunnels, those are miracles.

And the incoming fire - the missile that went down the man hole, that was a miracle. The missile that hit the gas main, under maintenance and shut off, that was a miracle. The missile that landed by the synagogue during the few times it was empty, that was a miracle.

And perhaps the most serious miracles of all - - - the members of the Knesset kept their mouths shut. The generals kept their mouths shut. The commanders kept their moutsh shut. Even the government leaders kept their mouths shut. The army spokespeople did their job, were allowed to do their job, and did it well. They did interviews, they posted videos, they emailed bloggers. And everyone let them. In Israel, that is a massive miracle!

The people saw the miracles and many recognized them. But not the politicians...

As they closed in on victory, one tried to stop it ("ok, ceasefire now"). One started to get hubris ("oh, we're crushing them, yeah we're crushing them"). And one just didn't know what to do. The military strategy was excellent. The political strategy...well, it's somewhat "oh sheez, we won, what now?".

They can't reoccupy Gaza, that would admit leaving was wrong. They can't leave Gaza without a reliable peace partner, there isn't one. They need Egypt to patrol the border, they won't do it. Egypt won't permit a peacekeeper border force on their side, Hamas vows to kill any that come on their side. Which means Israel has to own the border, which admits leaving was a mistake (and puts Israel in the position of "controlling" all Gazan imports and exports).

Oops.

What they wanted to do was beat up Hamas a bit so they would stop attacking Israel negotiate a functional future. Hamas proved they truly were a dedicated suicide organization, as they committed organizational suicide (death by Israeli soldier) rather than admit defeat. So now Hashem handed the Israeli government a victory IT DID NOT WANT.

They don't believe in The Land, they'll give up parts of their own country to anyone who says they'll make nice nice. They don't believe in the Torah, though the Torah (parshat Haazinu) told them they'd suffer missiles from a non-nation, from Hamas! They don't believe in the navi'im, though the navi Zephaniah says if you leave Gaza you'll lose Ashkelon and Ashdod - a lesson learned live under fire.

Now Hashem has forced the Land upon them, and taught them the lessons of the Torah and from the navi.

...And they don't know what to do. They're struggling, fighting!, to maintain their secular post-zionist (whatever that means) outlook and figure how to salvage a return to the Roadmap, Land for Peace, Oslo, Wye, Sharm el Sheik, and the hope of the PLO rather than Hashem, Torah, and the hope of Moshiach.

This stage ends with the external enemy that's been a thorn suddenly fading away. The non-nation, the vile nation, "Hamas", gone as a threat and concern.

Hashem, please grant the politicians the wisdom to go in the right direction, or turns their hearts to do so.
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Monday, January 12, 2009

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The Gaza Syndrome

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

There is no suffering without sin. (Gemora) All yissurim (troubles) come from aveyrot (sins). What is happening in the world today is a result of our behavior. By our deeds we either tip the tiklah (the divine scale) towards zehut (merit) or hov (deficit). By our actions we determine the amount of divine blessing that comes down or the lack of it.

Now if we heed the voice of Hashem and do teshuva then there is no need for the tragedies to befall us. Hashem runs the world down to the smallest leaf that falls from a tree and covers a worm so the sun doesn't burn it, to asteroids hitting the planet Jupiter. The Creator runs the world by Divine provenience, we have no choice in the matter.

Hamas would not be here and a single person would not be hurt or killed if Hashem did not will it. So instead of attacking the stick that He chose to beat us with, we need to turn to the Wielder. It is much more easier to do T'SHUVAH that to mobilize thousands of men and machines.

But it doesn't look that way. We have been conditioned by a Anti G-d Matrix to the point that we do not believe in the truth any more. Instead, the media bombards us with their truth of the moment while selling us more cars, cosmetics, movies, clothes, etc. (Creating beyond desires to NEEDS for goods that never existed before.)

It is written in the Torah, Parshat Haazinu, "if we do not listen to the voice of Hashem then we will be made to listen to the voice of our enemies" and even goes on to describe the Palestinians and specifically say He will send Hamas and attacks by missiles! Stop looking at the symptom and start to look at the cause! If we can fix this at the root then there is no need for the pain and suffering.

We must try, none would argue with that. But if some choose to stay in the dark, it hurts the rest. For we are a people, a whole. We must appeal to all our brothers and sisters for all our sake, and for the sake of all the world.

We are running out of time. Every good deed counts, every thought of returning to Hashem is not wasted. Hurry! Cash in on all the mitzvot today that you can and reap the peace and security you'll receive in the place of stress and fear.

May we all take positive steps towards Hashem today, and find true and complete peace tomorrow.
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Remember the Children

Several years ago I received the following presentation, which I was able to post and share through several hosting services back then. Fortunately hosting options have improved, leading to much nicer presentation appearance.

While the PROPAGANDA of current war ranges on, in which article after article and interview after interview decrying the fate of those in Gaza, remember the Jewish children who have been targeted in the past, and are targeted today (with the 3rd Hamas missile hit on a kindergarten!)

While they call for their children to be human shields, we defend and cry for the loss of every one of ours...


(full size access here)

Warning - Graphic images!

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

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Israelis Are Really Stubborn

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

An Israeli came to the Kotel with a group of young boys. The boys were around 11 years old and he was maybe 25. He was their guard. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder. It’s the reality here that when you travel around the country with a group, especially with a group of children, you have an armed guard go with you. The guards are always ex-soldiers or amazingly, ex-soldierettes – Yes, young Jewish women also carry rifles here.

Israelis are famous for being stubborn. Once they set their mind to something it is really hard to move them. I went up to the guard and asked him to come put on tefillin. He refused in a way that meant “No, and don’t bother me either.” He was sitting on a step and was not about to get up to put on tefillin. I saw how strongly he refused and felt it was best to back off. Most often, when you push on a guy like that it ends up in an argument which doesn’t help anyone. But instead, I gave it one more shot. He was sitting with a handful of the young kids.

“How many Jews are there in the world?” I asked loudly. The kids all threw out wild guesses. He guessed too. I didn’t even hear their responses. I just shook my head, “No. Not even close.” That usually gets their interest up.

“In the entire world, there is only one Jew.” They all looked at me like I was nuts. “Really,” I went on “There is only one Jew in the entire world … and each of us has a portion of that one Jewish body.”

The boys tried to understand what I was saying. I looked at the guard and said, “And that’s why it’s so important for you to put on tefillin. Even though you are only putting it on your arm, since we are all one you will be protecting the soldiers on the frontline.”

I never know what to expect when I challenge someone like this. Will he get tougher, dig in and forget the deepest truth of our existence, or will he understand what I was saying?

He smiled a little and stood up. I took him by the arm and put tefillin on him. It was a warm, shared experience. We felt that closeness that only true brothers feel, and although they didn’t know it, the thousands of Jews on the front felt it too.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

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Instructions from the Navi - Part 3

by R. Nati at Mystical Paths

(Continuing instructions from Yishaiyahu HaNavi, Isaiah the (biblical) prophet for these troubled times... Part 1 here, Part 2 here)

4) EMUNAH! Faith in Hashem, pure unadulterated belief in Hashem! This is righteousness. The product of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quiet and security forever. (Isaiah 32:17) He says it straight, the way to peace is through righteousness, not through treaties and deals.

What is righteousness, and how do we to obtain this? Again he tells us...

"Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to doing evil. Learn to do good, to seek justice, vindicate the victim, render justice to the orphan, take up the grievance of the widow. 'Come now let us reason together, says Hashem...If you are willing and obey, you will eat of the goodness of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword...for the mouth of Hashem has spoken" (Isaiah 1:16-20)

"Woe to those who inscribe inscriptions of falsehood and who write fraudulent documents to deprive the destitute of justice and to rob justice of the poor of My people...What will you do about the day of retribution, about the catastrophe that comes from afar? (The word catastrophe in Hebrew can be translated as holocaust.) Where will you leave your wealth? ... "You will not survive, your money can't save you."

Oh, Ariel, (Jerusalem) ...It will happen with quick suddenness. By Hashem, Master of Legions, will be remembered, with thunder and earthquake and loud sound, storm and tempest and consumming fire...the multitude of nations who muster themshelves against Ariel... so will be the multitude of all the nations that muster themselves against Mount Tzion. Ponder it and be astonished, They have been utterly blinded, they are drunk... (Isaiah 29:5-9)

"Now go and write this prophecy on a tablet in their presence and inscribe it in a book; let it remain until the final day." (Isaiah 30:8)

I'm no prophet but it does that day may be close or at hand. Ad mosai? (Until when???) We keep asking when, and Hashem says 'when do you want it?' We can end this one of two ways. We can repent and turn to Hashem out of love as in the ways descibed above. Or Hashem forbid, we can wait and turn to Hashem through punishment, it is up to us! For we will return, it's up to us how.

Hashem is our judge; our lawgiver; our king; He will save us. But the end of the ungodly nations, Isaiah is pretty clear on what will be fall them who stand against Hashem. Not only does He judge the nations and punish them, He starts with their heavenly host. He first removes their protection, He descends on Edom and judges them according to their deeds. 'For Hashem is making a sacrifice at Bozrah and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.'(Isaiah 34:6).

So is there to do? The prophet tells us!

(Isaiah 35:2-10) They will see the glory of Hashem, the majesty of our G-d. Now here are the instructions:

"Strengthen the weak hands and give support to failing knees. Say to those of impatient heart, 'Be strong; do not fear.' Behold, your G-d will come with revenge, with divine retribution; He will come and save you... Then the redeemed of Hashem will return and come to Tzion with glad song, with eternal gladness on their heads they will attain joy and gladness, and sadness and sighing will flee."

A person is confronted daily by many many obstacles which try annihilate him completely. It would be utterly impossible to stand up against them were the Holy one, blessed be He, not to help a person every single second of every single day.
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Friday, January 09, 2009

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Shovavim

by Rabbi Ariel bar Tzadok of KosherTorah.Com

(Reprinted with permission. About the best explanation of Shovavim that I've seen.)

Shovavim is the Hebrew term for mischief-makers. Fittingly, the word is also an acronym for the six weekly Torah portions Shemot, Vaera, Bo, Beshelah, Yitro and Mishpatim. The reading of these portions fall within the two Hebrew months of Tevet and Shevat. These two months exert a difficult astrological influence, a sort-of spiritual "Murphy's Law;" if anything can go wrong, now is the time for it. Therefore, this period is considered auspicious for fasting and the rectification of the sins of character weakness (most notably sexual sins).

There are many different types of traditions associated with these weeks, yet they are all for similar purpose, this being teshuva and tikkun. The general sin, which almost everyone is guilty of, is one form or another of sexual impropriety. This can mean forbidden relations or behaviors on one's own part, or even the mere thoughts that we allow ourselves to think.

Our Sages and especially the Masters of the Kabbalah emphasize that sexual blemishes are the greatest stains upon the soul and serve to create great distance between our Creator and ourselves. Yet, it is never enough just to proclaim our remorse or desire to repent. A change of attitude must accompany our statements of remorse. Repentance must be taken to heart and acted upon with true sincerity, not just filed away as a mere academic performance.

Honest change in one's internal character only comes about when one first changes one's external behavior. Change seldom arises independently from within; we must often help it along. We are admonished by Rabbi Meir in Pirkei Avot to do the right thing, even for the wrong reasons, for in the end doing the right thing, even for the wrong reasons will transform us internally to do the right thing for the right reasons. The actions change the attitude, not the other way around.

As important as it is for one to change one's behavior, changing attitudes is most important. Even when we are doing the right things, we must still look deep within ourselves to address our improper attitudes and desires.

Comprehensively changing what one does can only come about through a cultivation and expression of inner strength, discipline and moral character. Remorse and apologies mean nothing so long as one continues to repeat offensive behavior. Shovavim is a time for us to not only change undesirable behavior but also to reflect within one's heart upon the reasons why one has chosen wanton ways and what one can do to better oneself to no longer weakly choose to embrace foolish choices.

Teshuva means to turn away from one's wanton behavior and to choose what is good. Tikkun takes this one step further. Tikkun means to repair. It is not enough that one no longer create further damage, one must also make repair of the damage that one has already caused. This is the meaning of taking responsibility for one's actions. Only when one does what need be done to make repairs for what one has broken can it be said that one indeed has turned from their former ways and has made teshuva.

Rectification of sexual blemishes must be accomplished in two different ways. First, one must repair the spiritual damage caused by one's deeds. This is done by reciting certain prayers, meditations and by fasting. The second, yet primary method of rectification is that one must address one's personal weaknesses and character flaws that led one to stumble into the forbidden behavior in the first place. Unless one learns strength of character and addresses the heart of the problem within oneself, no amount of spiritual work will make tikkun.

To state it simply, unless one can first rectify the source of blemish within one's character, the results of those blemishes in both the physical and spiritual world cannot be rectified and wiped clean. Let no one misunderstand this, for our entire Torah is based upon this principle.

...

Tevet and Shevat exert a negative astrological influence, but this force of negativity (dinim) can only become manifest if and when one's reckless behavior creates a doorway for it to materialize. If we act in ways that violate Holy Torah, we create the opportunity for negative things to manifest, in the worst of ways, in this most negative of times. Therefore, if something bad happens now, it is not because Heaven ordained it so, but rather because we were not careful enough to have avoided its coming.

In conclusion, how one chooses to observe the days of Shovavim is entirely up to the individual. There are absolutely no Halakhic requirements herein, other than the perennial mitzvah of teshuva. Yet, although one is not necessarily obligated to observe the traditions of this time, it is still a wise, meritorious and spiritually helpful thing to do. One should consult with one's local Rav for specific information and details what you as an individual can do and what your community as a whole can do.
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