Saturday, October 31, 2009

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Words of Comfort

by Rebbetzin Ida at Mystical Paths

An inspiring talk by world-famous speaker Mrs. Miriam Swerdlov on the last day of the Shiva of her 3-year-old granddaughter Shula OBM.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

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Spiritual or Physical?

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Question:

“If a Jew lives his entire life being very kind, but he doesn’t put on tefillin, or do any of the other mitzvahs, what will happen to him in the next world?”

Answer:

Everything in creation has a body and a soul. The body of a rock is its physical substance. The soul of a rock is the life within it. If you look at a rock with a microscope you will see something moving around. There is life even in a rock.

A mitzvah also has a body and a soul. For instance, the body of the mitzvah of tefillin is the scrolls, black boxes, and straps. The soul of tefillin is its spiritual nature, which brings about the spiritual changes that come when you put them on.

The problem is, you can do a mitzvah every day, and be aware of only its body. You will have absolutely no idea that anything spiritual is happening. The inherent spiritual results of the mitzvah will never reach your conscious mind. They will happen, but you will not know it.

You can do a mitzvah only physically, but you cannot do a mitzvah only spiritually. This means that even though you put on tefillin without any thought of their spiritual nature, you still will have performed a mitzvah. However, if you simply have the spiritual awareness that comes from the mitzvah, but do not physically put them on, you will have accomplished neither the physical nor the spiritual mitzvah.

Obviously, the objective is to fulfill both the physical and spiritual requirements.

When you seek the soul of a mitzvah you will have holy thoughts. These holy thoughts will uplift you, and they will lead you to additional holy deeds. These deeds will bring more holy thoughts, and then more holy deeds. This will continue until you find yourself fulfilling the commandment, “So that you remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your G-d.”[i] You will become a holy being.

“Performing” the mitzvahs refers to physically doing the mitzvahs. “Remembering” the mitzvahs refers to the spiritual aspects of the mitzvahs. Why are we told to remember and to perform? If we perform them, doesn’t that show that we remembered them? No. There must be spiritual remembering, too.

Now to your specific question: The Jew who does many good deeds during his life, such as being kind to everyone he meets, will be rewarded with a huge heart in the next world. This does not mean that he will have a large physical heart. It means that all of the spiritual rewards for his kindnesses will come to him.

However, the areas of his spiritual body that are nourished by tefillin will not be developed at all. He will, so to speak, have a tiny arm, and be lacking in certain areas of his head.

Each mitzvah is designed to develop a particular spiritual area of your life. These spiritual areas are represented by their physical counterparts, such as, “doing” is represented by the arm, and “remembering” is represented by the head.

The woman who lights Shabbos candles will be greeted by a wondrous light in the next world. This light will actually elevate her soul. It will feel like a joyous, upward rush into G-d’s very Being. Even if she lighted her candles only physically in this world, this holy experience awaits her in the next world.

However, if she lights her Shabbos candles, and remembers the soul of the mitzvah, too, she will have an even greater share in the next world, and she will begin to see the spiritual benefits of the mitzvah in this world, too.

For instance, she could recognize that lighting candles:

- brings both physical and spiritual light into a darkened world,
- ushers in a time of peace and rest,
- makes the day holy,
- spreads invisible light that fills the room,
- reveals the physical things that otherwise would be hidden,
- brings a time of spiritual favor……

If she does this well enough, that wondrous, holy light awaiting her in the next world will begin to be revealed to her in this world, too.

[i] Numbers 15:40
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Happy Mother's Day!

by Rebbetzin Ida at Mystical Paths

Today is the yartzheit of Rochel Imanu (the Matriarch Rachel, wife of our forefather Jacob). On a yartzheit (date commemorating a death) we wish the neshama (soul) to ascend to a higher level than last year, though we are taught that Momma Rochel stands in a high place crying for her children - demanding their redemption.

What is so special about our Matriarch Rachel that her yaretzheit is celebrated by Jews worldwide? Further, why is Rachel called the Akeret Habayit, the foundation of the home?

We know from the Torah (Bible) that Rachel was the one who was to marry our forefather Jacob first. But her father Lavan tricked Jacob, and at unbelievable personal sacrifice she she divulged the secret signs between Jacob and her to her sister Leah to avoid her sister being shamed.

Then comes the story of Leah's son Reuven who brought home flowers for his mother. Rachel asks Leah for some and Leah responds 'no, is it not enough that you took my husband now you want my flowers too?' What are the lessons we learn from these stories?

What were the secret signs that Rachel revealed to her sister? They were the 3 mitzvot (commandments) that are especially given to a woman: lighting the Shabbas and holiday candles, challah, and family purity. These mitzvot are the foundation of a Jewish home.

By lighting the Shabbat and holiday candles the woman is bringing light into the world and ushers in the Shabbat and holidays. Challah is the portion of bread that is broken off from the dough and was given to the Kohein (priest) as part of his portion. Family Purity deals with the laws of intimacy between husband and wife.

The Gemora mentions Rachel's modesty, not her self sacrifice of seeing her husband marry her sister Leah first and work another 7 years. Why? Because when Leah rebuked her for wanting the flowers, instead of answering back she was silent. Even though she had reason to be upset she silenced herself.

In the Gemora it is written that because of Rachel's modesty she was awarded a son called Yosef. Who was Yosef (Joseph)? He was the one the Egyptians relied on to provide food for them and the world during the famine. Due to Yosef's (Joseph's) upbringing he was able to overcome the advances of Potifar's wife.

Women have additional trait of understanding, an intuition of how to handle situations and how do act and react to various scenarios. They know what is important and impart that knowledge to their children. Therefore, they are called Akeret Habayit (the foundation of the home).

Individuals are differentiated by their physical appearance, their environment, their habits, their interests and most of all by their potential. As mothers women have to use these tools in rearing their children. Children resemble their parents but look like themselves and have their environment as an influence in growing up. Each child has different interests, strengths and hobbies, but a mother recognizes a child's potential and uses that to educate them.

So today is a celebration of the hard and continuous work a women does in raising a family. It is the mother who the child looks to for advice and counsel in molding themselves into individuals and learning how do deal with life's issues.

Wishing all Mothers worldwide a Yashe Koach (a heartfelt thanks) for the 24/7 work that is building our future of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel)!!!

Mama Rochel cries for her children to be returned to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and their connection with Hashem. May it speedily be so with the coming of Moshiach!
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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H1N1, Vaccines, and Hysteria

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

A little technical due to necessary background. I get to the point in the bottom third.

We are commanded to believe in Hashem and have faith, yet also required to actively protect our health (as well as avoid taking risks with our lives).

While in the last 15 years a few drugs have been developed that do treat viruses, most viral infections cannot be treated. The only treatment has been vaccine, which 'teaches' the body's immune system how to defeat the virus before one actually gets it - thereby providing one with protection against it.

Except for our grandparents, few of us know of the terrible diseases of just 3 generations ago. Out of every 100 children, 23 died to one disease or another, 8 went blind, 9 went deaf, 6 were paralyzed. The scourges of this time are unknown today...diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, pertussis, and polio. Diphtheria was one of the top 10 causes of death at any age.



The US population in 1900 was 76 million, and the number of people getting one of these life threatening diseases was 1.1 million PER YEAR.

Every single child went through MULTIPLE of these diseases (and others) during childhood. 1 in 4 children died by age 10.

These viral diseases were defeated with vaccines. (Bacterial diseases were also a risk, and they were defeated with antibiotics.)

These diseases aren't gone, they're just RARE as most people are vaccinated against them.

Now vaccines are pretty wonderful in preventing those life threatening and disabling diseases! But vaccines aren't without risks...

3 in 100 children will have a minor side effect (fever, swelling, minor illness), 1 in 1000 will have a serious side effect and may require hospitalization, 1 in 10,000 will have a debilitating side effect, and 1 in 100,000 will die from vaccination.

Those are serious numbers, but a lot less than 1 in 4 DYING from the disease. For all the major diseases above, there's not much question of statistically going for the vaccine over the potential for the disease. HOWEVER, several factors have recently changed the equation...

- First, people have demanded more convenience, and the manufacturers have responded. Instead of shots, people wants oral or nasal vaccines. These forms may require live viruses or new chemicals to maintain, introducing higher risks.

- Second, manufacturers have taken the same techniques and applied them to non-life-threatening / non-debilitating diseases and lifestyle diseases. For example Chicken Pox and HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

- Third, the creation of viruses for changing diseases such as the flu and pneumonia provide only seasonal benefits.

In the first case, new techniques may introduce new risks. Large samples and many years (5-10) are required to truly determine possible side effects on a large population basis.

In the second case, these are not required for life preservation. So the question is not life or disability versus side effect risk - it's convenience versus side effect risk. Further, the vaccines may provide less protection than a case of the disease - meaning it may need to be periodically repeated throughout one's life increasing the risk. (For example, the Chicken Pox vaccine has a 5-10 year protection rate. Yet the greatest life threat of chicken pox is to pregnant women. Meaning any female child getting this vaccine will HAVE to repeat it prior to entering their child bearing years.)

In the third case, the diseases targeted are not typically fatal to normal healthy adults or (not young) children. So again, the risks of side effects have to be weighed against the inconvenience of the diseases (unless in the risk group) versus the side effect risk.

Net net, every vaccine carries a risk. In the case of childhood diseases, it's pretty clear the risk of the disease far outweighs the risk of the vaccine.

(Certainly if you're a person who's had a side effort or a child with one, you probably disagree. But I had a similar discussion with someone who refused to wear a seat belt because they had a parent killed in a car accident because they couldn't remove their seat belt during a car fire [Hashem ya'a'zor!] Statistically it pays to wear the seat belt even though in a small number of cases the seat belt can hurt chances of survival versus the majority of the time when it helps.)

So what about the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine?

I recently received a somewhat hysterical email going around the Jewish community about possible harm from the H1N1 flu vaccine. I just spent several hours doing some serious research and here's my best understanding...

EVERY flu is life threatening and kills hundreds of thousands around the world every year (37,000 per year in the US). BUT most of those affected are elderly or have other diseases weakening them.

So what about H1N1? H1N1 statistics are hard to come by. My calculations say it seems to be killing about 1 in 215 people who get it. Official pronouncements say 1 in 2000 who get it. Unlike the regular flu about 50% of the people getting H1N1 seem to be healthy adults, pregnant women, and healthy children.

Normally, as a healthy adult or healthy older child, the risks associated with a vaccine make it not worth getting a flu vaccine.

But H1N1 presents an unusual profile. Death rates are higher and include the otherwise healthy. BUT, the vaccine has been RUSHED and safety tests have been short term. Several models contain unusual ingredients, others (the nasal type) are actually serving up live (weakened) virus!

Net net, what's all that mean. Here's my advice...

Seasonal flu vaccine - If you are in a normal flu risk category including elderly, pregnant, chronic illness, get it. Millions get this vaccine every year and it's proven to be very safe. I took this vaccine this year myself.

H1N1 flu vaccine - I can't give you any intelligent advice here. There's too many factors and not enough information at this time to make an informed decision. The risk level of H1N1 is still a guess, and the risk of vaccine side effects for this vaccine and it's different variants is also a guess.

If you're not in an area where the H1N1 Swine Flu is at high infection levels, I'd wait a bit to see both the disease statistics and the vaccine statistics - as with both numbers going up quickly right now we're certain to get improved data in relatively short order. That's what I plan to personally do.

But I'm not a doctor or an epidemiologist. Consult YOUR physician about YOUR health, check WHICH type of vaccine is available in your area (as some types seem to be riskier than others), and ask Hashem to give you the wisdom to make the right choice for YOU and your family.

An interesting side note. A study recently came out showing high levels of Vitamin D(3) consumption significantly reduce flu risk (Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Volume 14, Number 2, Summer 2009). As Vitamin D levels normally fall in the winter months, it may be worth taking Vitamin D(3) supplements for it's potential flu protection value. Take the article and consult your physician.

May Hashem keep all of us safe and healthy. Remember, Tefilah, Teshuvah, and Tzedakah lessen the decree!
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Momma Rochel

Tonight is the yaretzheit of Rochel imaynu (our biblical matriarch Rachel)...

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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Video: R. Kaplan, zt"l on Jewish Mysticism

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt"l, an amazing talmud chacham and a major translator of chassidic, mystical and kabbalah works from 20 years ago, speaking on a religion TV program about such topics as Jewish mysticism, kabbalah, meditation, practical kabbalah, and prophecy. Rabbi Kaplan passed away in the early 80's. His translations of kabbalah works such as the Bahir and Sefer Yetzirah remain the authoritative English translations.

Parts 1 & 2 below.





Thanks to reader Robert S. for these links!
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Monday, October 26, 2009

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What a Blessing!

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Question:

“How do you say blessings on food with more kavana (concentration)? What are some useful kavanas (intentions) to have in mind when saying blessings, to help achieve a spiritual experience (i.e. to attain awareness of G-d), and to avoid having them become rote?”

Answer:

On a number of occasions, such as when performing most mitzvahs, before and after eating, and on certain other occasions of pleasure, we recite a blessing. Almost all of these blessings include G-d’s Name. Typically, they will begin with the words, “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe .…”

Why do we say these blessings? Are we really giving G-d a blessing, as it seems? Does G-d need, or want, our blessings?

The reason we say these blessings is not to give G-d a blessing, but rather, to give ourselves a blessing.

If you would say to someone “Boy, you are so good,” you are recalling the goodness that that person represents to you. You reflect on, and to some degree experience, that goodness.

When we address G-d by saying, “Blessed are You …” we are trying to reflect on, to fathom, just what a blessing the nature of G-d really is. We are trying to imagine the blessings that come from even the slightest awareness of His Presence. Obviously, G-d is listening; why else would we be talking to Him? It is also obvious that He is very close to us, or we would be screaming those blessings so He could hear.

The popular saying, “You are what you eat,” is talking about your body. What you fill your body with turns into your very flesh and bones.

As for your experience in being, that is shaped by what you think. For instance, if you were to think of negative subjects, your experience of life would become negative. Conversely, when you think of holy subjects, you begin to experience holiness.

When you try to approach G-d’s nature by conceiving of His greatness, you begin to approach G-d, blessed be He. This is why we say the blessings.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

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“Phooey!”

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

“Phooey! What do you believe that %##@ for?”

For a middle-aged, supposedly religious, Jewish woman, she sounded more like an ex-marine.

It was Friday night. There were eight seminary girls and this salty woman at the Shabbos table. One of the girls mentioned something that she had heard about living outside the Land of Israel.

“If you die outside the Land, your bones are going to have to roll over and over under the ground until you get to Israel. Only then will you be taken up for Judgment.”

That’s when the ex-marine let her have it. “That is totally ridiculous! Absurd! Do you believe everything you hear?” she barked.

I tried to explain:

In all sayings there is a storyline, and a teaching behind that storyline. Sometimes the literal details of the storyline sound so fantastic that you could swear that they are not true. Be careful. Do not throw away a precious jewel just because its wrappings seem strange.

The story about the bones appears way too primitive to be true. It is like a fairy tale that you might tell children when you want to scare them into behaving. But, when you try to understand the teaching behind the physical details of the story, you begin to appreciate the details of the story as well.

There is a tremendous spiritual advantage to living in Israel. It is easier to be spiritually aware here than anywhere else in the world.

The Temple site, in Jerusalem, is the center of the spiritual universe. It was from here, and it will again be from here, that the Torah will spread throughout the world. Yes, there are often more problems living here than in some quiet, faraway country, but the benefits are well worth it.

When you live in a country where the spiritual reality is deeply hidden, you are more likely to have a greater attachment to the physical world. Your interests and loves will tend to be mostly physical.

This is what that story about the bones is trying to show us. All Jewish souls, just like all Jewish prayer, first come to the site of the Holy Temple before they go up. When you live and die away from Israel, your worldly attachments and deeds are going to drag on (pull down) your Judgment. Those physical attachments will affect your Judgment so much, that it will be as if your very bones will have to roll over and over again in the ground that you stayed in, before they finally reach the Holy Site.

We are not obligated to believe the literal details of a metaphor. The details come only to vividly explain the teaching that is behind the metaphor. But, be careful. As it has turned out many times before, many ideas that seem totally fantastic, even impossible, may very well turn out to be literally true.
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

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The Offspring of Noah

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

"These are the offspring of Noah, Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with Hashem." The first question that arises is what are the offspring? Then comes the answer, RIGHTEOUSNESS. According to the Midrash the Torah comes to teach us that the primary "offspring" of the righteous are their good deeds. (Rashi)

There is a famous debate about the righteousness of Noach, whether he would or would not be considered righteous in a different generation. Noah was righteous and deserved to be saved because he kept the covenant of Hashem - he guarded the brit, he was pure (in an adult manner). Thus he was the Tzaddik Hador 'righteous in his generations'.

"Now the Earth had become corrupt; and the Earth became filled with robbery. And Hashem saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth." The generation of the flood was destroyed because of thievery, and for forbidden & depraved acts. They openly sinned and were openly destroyed.

The Holy Zohar tells us that boiling hot water burst forth from the ground, skinned them alive,melted the flesh, and even the bones were disintegrated - blotted out, never to be seen again, not even on the day of judgment.

But with Noach Hashem says, "But with you I'll establish My covenant" (Bereishis) In the Holy Zohar, Rabbi Elazer tells us when there are righteous in the world then the worlds both above and below are firmly established. (Zohar Bereishit 153) Rabbi Shimon said this is a hidden matter, 'When there is a righteous person in the world, the Shechinah immediately attaches Herself to him and never leaves him. "She desires him", which then brings the upper desire to be aroused towards Her with jealously towards Her (Zohar Bereshis 154).

This brings Hashem's attention to this Tzaddik. Rabbi Elazer said as long as the people hold on to the covenant, no nation nor tongue in the world can harm them. And because Noach kept and protected the covenant, the Holy one, blessed be He, protected him. A we see the rest of the generation did not observe the covenant, and the Holy One removed them from the world (Zohar Bereshis 156). Rabbi Yitzchak tells us "in the same way they sinned they were removed" (Zohar Bereshis 151).
'Openly'

Our keeping of the covenant Shmiras HaBris is the foundation of our nation and our source of our protection. The brit between Hashem and ourselves connects us to the sefirah of yesod, the source of all spiritual sefa or blessing in this lower world (or lack there of). When there is an abundance of shefa in the world then there is peace and prosperity. When there is a lack then the opposite is true.

The underlying message is pure and simple. War, natural disasters, famine, plagues, slaughter and massacres (i.e. terrorism) can be traced to the destructive spiritual forces arising from humanities negative (adult) acts. What we do here effects the upper worlds and then causes a reaction here.

Today as we stand quite literally alone against the world, a physical worldly flood against us as it were, we need to check out how we are holding. Are we guarding the brit? Are we looking at, or joking or speaking or thinking about pure things or Hashem forbid! (Adult) Purity can save us or sink us.

As Hashem's children we are the Noah's of this generation. May we be counted righteous and be able to enter the ark of safety. This is why Rebbe Nachman spoke so much about Tikun HaBrit. For the last 60 years we have been bombarded with impure media and fashion. It's all a ploy to strip our spiritual protection away at a time when we need it the most.

It's time to say Tikun Haklali and to focus on pure things. Every little act helps. Guard your eyes, every billboard is either taivat momon, taivat achilah, or taivat hani'uv or all three. It's time to cry out to our Father and beg for mercy for we are truly facing a flood. The tsunami is upon us! Abba, help please, we are drowning, save us! But you see He's already given us an ark, the Torah of Truth.

Lets band together on what we say and how we conduct ourselves. Even in the act of marriage! If we but make an effort to purify ourselves and the world just a little, we may be able to pull all of the world to the side of merit!

May we all have a great Shabbos.
Shalom from the Holy City.
Reb Nati
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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Kevel Rochel & Authentic Red String

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Rochel Imaynu, Rachel the biblical matriarch, beloved wife of Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our forefather), has her yaretzheit next week on the 11th of Cheshvon (next Thursday the evening of Oct. 28). In honor of this upcoming occasion, my wife, daughter, son and I traveled to Kever Rochel last night to perform the segulah of the red bendel (red string), for charity (an offer for you at the end of this article)...

Kever Rochel Red String

We entered the well known Tomb of Rachel in Bet Lechem to wrap the holy kever 7 times with red string (while reciting certain pesukim)...

Kever Rochel Red String

This is a bit tricky, as the men's and women's sections are walled off from each other, and of course there's other worshipers there as well.

Kever Rochel Red String

Kever Rochel Red String

So here's the deal. Our son's yeshiva needs some help!

Donate _any_ tax deductible amount and we'll send you 1 foot / 30cm of authentic red string wrapped around Kever Rochel.

Need more than 1 foot (1 foot of string is good for 1 person to wear as a bracelet)? Just donate a little more and let us know how much you need.



- If you don't like Paypal, you can donate via check here. Then let us know and we'll send it out.

- All monies raised to be directed to Yeshiva Nishmat Shlomo in Tzfat, Israel, tax deductible Nishmat Shlomo, Inc. IRS TAX ID#22-3804793.

May the mitzvah of charity open for you many doors of blessing, and the blessings of the segulah of the red strings for health, safety, children, and success.

Kever Rochel - Ladies Section entrance...
Kever Rochel Red String
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Monday, October 19, 2009

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Nine Year Olds and G-d

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Question:

“I just came back from learning with two boys. We were learning about what was created on each day. One boy asked, ‘Who created G-d?’ How would you answer a nine- year-old boy?”

Answer:

The first rule of children’s Jewish education is that it must be fun for them. If it is not enjoyable, then, as soon as they are able, they are going to run away.

I often see grown men who are still running away from teachers they had when they were small children. To this day, they refuse to put on tefillin because they were taught by a teacher who did not know the joy of the mitzvah. Instead of sharing the wonderment of the mitzvah, he forced them to put them on. You can not stuff information into children. They must be brought to see the excitement of the Torah in a happy frame of mind.

As to this specific question: First, congratulate the child who asked. Let him know that he is very smart to have asked such an excellent question. Also, it is wise to have small trinkets in your pocket to reward such good questions.

You have to answer children on their level, in ways that they can understand.

For instance, you could answer, “Imagine two characters in a comic book having a conversation. One of the characters asks the other, ‘How did you get here on this page?”

“And the other character answers, ‘Charlie, the artist, is drawing me. That is how I am here. And you know what? Charlie, the artist, is also drawing you. That is how you are here, too.’

“The other character stops and thinks for a moment, and then he asks, ‘But, who is drawing Charlie?’”

The obvious answer is, Charlie is not drawn; he is the one who is doing all of the drawing.

Learning with children is a tremendous honor and an awesome responsibility. May Hashem bless you with success in guiding those most valuable treasures that you have been entrusted to teach. Their education is our future.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

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The Cave of Eliyahu HaNavi, zachor l'tov

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Passing through Haifa recently, I was able to briefly visit Marat Eliyahu, the cave of Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the biblical prophet) where tradition says he hid out before confronting the priests of baal on Mt. Carmel.

The cave is in the side of the mountain, with an ancient building around it.


The outside entrance.
Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu

In to the cave.
Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu

The cave is square with a room like indentation on the left, and an alcove like indentation in the front. Strangely the walls have some ancient graffiti carved into the stone in Greek. (?)
Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu

It's pretty musty in there. There's a water channel on the left wall, maybe for drainage during the winter. Because of the air, not a place I'd hang out - though others apparently disagree.
Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu

Many times one may wonder is this really what we think it is, is there really such a tradition and history to this place? These next pictures from the past say definitely yes...
Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu

Cave of Elijah - Eliyahu
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Friday, October 16, 2009

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Back

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

It's been a few chaotic months that hasn't found me much on Mystical Paths. Hashem willing, with changing circumstances I'll be back a bit more frequently.

There are numerous ways that Hashem relates to us in our lives. Just as we find a series of names for Hashem in the Torah, as we find changing circumstances and challenges in our lives we find different ways of relating to Hashem and how Hashem's hand is apparent.

Challenges may appear tough and to strain us to our very limits. Yet they test and exercise our strengths and force us to stretch and grow further. Our emunah (faith) may appear to be a static trust in Hashem. But with challenges we have an opportunity to see if it's strong enough, wide enough, deep enough to hold us to Hashem, to our Rebbe's and teachers, and to the paths of the tzaddikim.

And if not, if we (G-d forbid) fall? If the challenges appear to be overcoming us? As Rebbe Nachman says, Ein Shum Ye'ush B'Olam Klal - There is No Such Thing as Despair in the World. We MAY NOT despair! We have to have faith in Hashem that this is for the best, go to our Rebbe's, teachers and friends for advice and support, and go on knowing that I only failed today. Tomorrow, that's another day - and tomorrow, G-d willing, I'll survive all the challenges and tests and have MORE faith in Hashem.

And G-d willing, this will be a Shana Tova, a good year filled with spiritual and material blessings for all of us!

From the Holy Land and the Holy City,
Reb Nati
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

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The Beginning

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

This week we read the first portion of the Torah. The Torah is the story of mankind’s, more specifically the Jewish people’s, journey on earth. As such, it is fitting that it begins with the story of the creation of the world.

Until quite recently, the world’s scientific community scoffed at the Torah’s teaching that the world has been created. They taunted, “Where is your proof for such a notion?” They insisted that the world had always been.

Now, almost all scientists agree that, indeed, the world has been created.

A number of interesting things come from this change in scientific understanding. It is now clear that the Torah is not merely a book that has been handed down from father to son. For, if it was, who was the first father standing there to witness the creation, and pass that information on? Obviously, no one on earth could have seen the creation.

But even now, many scientists object to the Torah’s teaching that the creation is made from absolutely nothing. They claim that it was not created from nothing, rather from a very small amount of mass (a few millimeters across). They say that this tiny mass exploded, scattered, and formed the universe.

Look at the Torah’s explanation, recorded by the Sages almost two thousand years ago: “The world was created as one rock and it rushed to expand in order to fulfill G-d’s wish.”[i]

Recently, some leading scientists have come to agree that this “one rock” must have been created from nothing.

As we see, science is rushing to catch up with us, again.

[i] Bereishis Rabbah 5:7

Picture: "Big Bang" by David Friedman - Kabbalah Art. Check out the incredible kabbalah themed art at his site.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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Doing the Segulah of Chafrashat Challah

by Reb Akiva's Wife at Mystical Paths

Baking Challah is a tremendous mitzvah for Jewish women. With rushed lives and wonderful kosher bakeries, it's very easy to buy great quality challot for Shabbat. Yet, making challah for your family, taking challah (the mitzvah of removing a portion of the dough of the kohein), and enhancing your family Shabbos table with the work of your own hands specifically with the intention for Shabbat, is a tremendous mitzvah.

Besides the direct benefits to your family, there is a special segulah (a spiritual door opener) for home challah makers. It's to perform the mitzvah of Taking Challah with a brocha as part of a group of 43 (the numerical equivalent of challah) in the merit of couples who want to have children but have not yet been so blessed.

This week, for Shabbat Berashes (the first Shabbos of the new year), I'm putting together a group to perform this segulah for a particular couple in need. If you bake challah and will be doing so this week, please join us by emailing me to get the names to include in your tefillot. Wonderful nisim (miracles) are written about the segulah of chafrashat challah.

This is for Shabbat Berashis, baking on October 15 or 16, 2009.

נשים יקרות
אני רוצה לאסף 43 נשים למצו הפרשת חלה לשבת בראשית לסגולה לאלו שצריכים.
נא להודיעה לי בדואל אם רוצות להשתתף

Email me at: rebakivaswife -at- mpaths .dot. com to join the group and receive the instructions (nothing difficult) and the names.

(The email is written for human interpretation to prevent spam programs from reading it. Read it and type it the proper email address way with @mpaths.com)

Challah In Progress
P1000175

P1000202
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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Accepting a Bracha

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

It might sound ridiculous, but many have trouble accepting a bracha (blessing). Not with hearing a tzaddik give the bracha, but with receipt of the actual bracha...

A person has been out of work for an extended period of time. Though reasonably qualified, they've been turned down for tens of jobs. They get a bracha and suddenly a day later get a call from one of the places they interviewed to say "we're interested, we'd like you to come in for an offer today"...

They can't believe it. They're suddenly not sure they're really qualified for the job. They're worried it won't work out. They're not sure they'll be able to get back into the swing of things.

This is a natural human reaction, but it's also a defect in one's emunah and counter productive to the bracha! It sounds like a cliche', but have a little faith! In yourself, in chachomos tzaddikim, and in Hashem! You may not feel deserving, but He's the True Judge.

A couple has been married for 7 years without children. They've prayed, gone to the doctors, and visited holy sites. After much trouble they secure a meeting with a tzaddik and receive a bracha for children. A few months later the wife discovers she's pregnant. Suddenly they're fearful, practically terrified. Will the pregnancy go ok, will the child be born healthy and normal, will the wife be able to handle childbirth, will they be decent parents.

Again, a normal reaction. But in this case not only a defect but actually damaging to reality. Have some faith, the gates of heaven are always open to prayer, tears and fulfilling the words of the tzaddikim. Doors that Hashem has closed He can't open? Roles you thought were out of reach have suddenly been provided? Thank Hashem and trust that He knows the right thing.
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New Year, New Look

As you can see (if you're reading this on the blog site), we're trying out a new look for the new Jewish year of 5770.

Please let us know what you think.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

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Path of My Front Door

by Reb Nati at Mystical Paths

Stickers on my front door:

Ein Ode Milvado - There is Nothing Besides Him

Ein Shum Yeush B'Olam Klal - There is No Such Thing as Despair in the World

I have 2 stickers on my front door, the above. A chossid came to my door asking for tzedakah and asked, "I don't understand the stickers on your door."

I said, "When I leave in the morning, I turn and lock the door and remember 'There is Nothing Besides Him (Hashem)'.

When I return in the evening after the difficulties of the day and perhaps hear the children being wild inside, I go to open the door and remember 'There is No Such Thing as Despair in the World'"


-- Please daven for one of my teachers, HaRav Shabtai ben Devorah Pearl, shlita. He's been diagnosed with the machla and has been given a short time.
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David Is An Atheist … Well, Not A Very Good One

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

David absolutely refused to put on tefillin! He insisted that he was an atheist, and that he was going to raise his children as atheists, and that it will not affect their Jewishness at all!

“You’re right,” I told him.

That surprised him.

I explained, “Belief, or lack of belief, in G-d has nothing to do with being a Jew. Belief has to do with religion. Being Jewish has to do with having a Jewish mother. We are a people, not a religion.”

“But, you are not really an atheist,” I added.

“Yes, I am,” he argued.

“An atheist knows that there is no G-d,” I explained. “You can’t prove that there isn’t a G-d. You mean to say that you are an agnostic. An agnostic says that he doesn’t believe in G-d.”

“That’s right,” he agreed.

“But, you’re not a very good agnostic, either,” I told him.

“What do you mean?”

I asked him where he lives. He said, “Los Angeles.”

I said, “Let’s say that you are driving in L.A. and you make a wrong turn. You end up in Downtown, in the Watts District.” (This is a dangerous neighborhood in L.A.) “Then, your car breaks down! You get out to go look for a gas station, and you see 10 or 15 tough guys walking toward you. A few of them have big clubs in their hands, too. What do you do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he answered.

“That’s not true. You would start praying real quick. You would say, “G-d help me! You are not really a very good agnostic.”

I asked him if he believed in existence.

“You mean reality?” he asked.

“Yeah, the one reality that is all that exists,” I said.

He said, “Sure.”

“Well, that is G-d,” I explained. “G-d’s most holy Name means Existence (Was, Is, and Will Be). G-d is the one existent Being. He is all.”

I changed the subject, “How come, wherever you go, you always try to learn something new from the people you meet, and when you come to your own homeland, to your own people, you throw out your chest and say, ‘No!’?”

“You should be coming here saying, ‘Show me what you know.’ What did you come here for, anyway, to teach us, or to learn something from us? Don’t you believe in education?”

“You got me, mister,” he said. “You said the word, ‘education.’”

I put tefillin on him–obviously it was his first time. He prayed nicely to Existence, and we took a couple of good pictures. When I took the tefillin off of his arm, he leaned over, and with a smile, said to his friend, “Don’t tell my father.”
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

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Thoughts on Simchas Torah

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Just some random Simchas Torah thoughts and observations...

- "In Israel we have to squeeze the ruchniyus (spirituality) of two days into one day". Not exactly, it's the kedushah (holiness) of Eretz Yisroel (the holy land) that infuses more into the same moment. [In Israel the holy days of Shemeni Atzeres and Simchas Torah are observed on the same day.]

- After having a bit alcoholic to drink someone commented to me, "you seem to be in good shape but enjoying yourself". I responded "the mitzvah is to be b'simcha (joyful), not to be blitzed or pass out." I'd like to think that's my own smart answer, but rather it's experience.

- One Chabad chossid did become very seriously intoxicated and proceeded to cry and scream for 2 hours about how all of our work is worth nothing, for Moshiach hasn't come. He continued to scream "How can we get up tomorrow and it's yet another Sunday that's still the same? Without Moshiach and without the Divine Presence. How can we go on with just another day, another week, of golus (exile from Hashem)?" Literally with tears and moans and screaming in peoples faces.

Naturally everyone thought he'd lost it, pitied him for his seemingly out of control actions...

But I wonder. If I let myself go that far, would I be calling out for Moshiach, the Geulah (redemption), and bemoaning our separation from HaKodesh Baruch Hu? Unfortunately I suspect not. Is he to be pitied, or me?

When the yanin (wine) goes in, the secrets come out.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once answered someone, "if only 10 people really wanted Moshiach...". This Simchas Torah I met 1.
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

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The Heart

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

The heart of the Jewish people is Israel. The heart of Israel is Jerusalem. And the heart of Jerusalem is Har HaBayit - the Temple Mount. This is the spot where Avraham brought Yitzchok, where Yaakov had his dream. It's where the Holy Temples stood, where the Divine Presence dwelt.

- The Israeli government would like to ignore it, to keep Jews away and just let the Arabs quietly continue their use of the place. (It's understandable, governments just want quiet.)

- The ultra-orthodox establishment would like to ignore it and keep Jews away from there. There's many serious halachic (Jewish law) issues as well as hashkafa (Jewish tradition/theology) issues that come to the fore there. (It's understandable, what rabbi wants the challenge of facing the most serious issues of the religion?)

- The secular Israels would just wall the place off, they don't want religious stuff putting lives or starting battles. The secular Jews outside of Israel for the most part don't even know what I'm talking about.

But some how (meaning hashgacha pratit - Divine providence) Har HaBayit keeps coming to the fore...

For those who haven't been following the news, before Yom Kippur a normal quiet small (kosher) Jewish tour of the Temple Mount was going on. Suddenly the tour was confronted by hundreds of muslims who attacked them with rocks and bricks. The police stopped the budding riot (and stopped the muslims from moving on to the Kotel and throwing bricks from 5 stories above onto the heads of the Jews below).

Since then the muslim preachers have been trying to start a religious war, calling for the world of islam to come and defend the mosque there against the massive Jewish incursion (50 people touring). Every day new claims of religious outrage are made and calls for violent defense declared.

The Israeli police found much of the situation a set up (riot materials pre-piled for example), and limited access to older worshippers (less likely to riot).


On Friday, Hoshannah Rabbah, the muslims have called for MASSIVE RIOTS in Jerusalem. Friday being Hoshannah Rabbah, it's also a very big day for Jews to come to the Kotel.

Once again we're being reminded that even if we try to ignore it, Har HaBayit won't go away. Even if we try to abandon it, we won't be allowed to. We cannot keep Jerusalem without Har HaBayit, and we cannot keep Israel without Jerusalem.

And it's almost Hoshannah Rabbah, where it's coming to a head.

h/t Israel Matzav - Day of Rage
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Who's Counting

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Right before the holiday of Sukkot, someone sent me money to hand out to the poor. Unfortunately, there are quite a few needy people here. The nice thing about giving charity without going through an organization is that this way there are no overhead costs. Every penny of it gets right into the poor person’s pocket.

After he sent the money, he told me that he wanted $180 of it to go specifically for the mitzvah of helping a couple to get married. For the first year of a couple’s marriage, it is a special mitzvah to help them to get settled into their new life.

There is a well known spiritual principal that whenever you need something for yourself you should look around and find someone else who needs that same thing. Then, if you will help them to receive what they need, Hashem is going to see to it that you receive what you need.

Obviously, the man who gave me the money wants to get married, and sent this money to help him to find his bride.

I cashed the $180 at the money changer, and received 657.50 shekels.

I thought, “Who can I give this money to so it will go only for this mitzvah?” You have to be very careful that you fulfill the wishes of the person who is sending you on a mission, especially when the deed is going to cause something to come back to him.

I remembered that a friend of mine’s son was married a few months ago. I called my friend, and asked him to meet me at the Kotel.

I said, “Someone gave me some money for a groom and bride. He wants the money to go specifically for this mitzvah. I am thinking to give it to your son, Chaim, but you have to guarantee that it does not go into your general expense pocket. I know that you help them a lot, but still, I want to be sure that this money goes only for something that they really need, and not into your general fund.”

“I am going to see him tonight, and I will hand him the money.”

“It has to go for something to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘Groom and Bride,’” I said again, as I handed him the money.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “They have so many expenses.... He just called me and complained that he had to spend 652 shekels for a sukka!” (The hut that we need in order to fulfill one of the mitzvahs of Sukkot)

A tear came to my eye. “Count the money!” I told him.

He counted the money and yelled out, “Oh, my G-d! It’s exactly what he spent!”

G-d’s accountants are busy at work.
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

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Melitz Simchas Beis HaShoevah

Direct Video Link: Melitz Simchas Beis HaShoevah



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Walnuts!

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Do you know what a walnut is? No, I was not referring to those large, light brown, healthy nuts that we eat. I was referring the sprinkling of unusual characters that pop up now and then at the Kotel. I guess I should have spelled it, “Wall Nut.”

There is an interesting psychosis that sometimes lands on tourists here called Jerusalem Syndrome. They say that it has to do with the intense spiritual atmosphere that permeates this holy place. The disease is usually mild, and resolves itself within a few weeks, but for those few weeks, whoopee!

A while back, a local Wall Nut came up to me at the tefillin stand and announced, “I am Moshiach ben Dovid!” This is the messiah who will bring the final Redemption. When he comes, he will bring peace to the entire world.

I answered him with amazement. “That’s funny. You’re the third guy to tell me that today!”

“Rabbi, you are going to hell tonight!” he yelled, as he stormed away.

Apparently, messiahs like to be the only messiah.

Another time, a very normal looking, American, non-Jewish tourist asked me, “What’s supposed to happen when the messiah comes here?”

“Why do you ask? Do you think that something is supposed to happen now that you are here?” I asked.

“Well, I will never see you again, so I guess I can tell you … but, I have a strong feeling that I am supposed to make some kind of announcement as to who I am.”

“Well, unless you want to spend the next couple of weeks in the hospital, I suggest that you make it very softly.”

He quietly walked away.

There has been a middle aged, non-Jewish woman walking around the Old City from time to time. She wears a long white dress with G-d’s most holy Name embroidered in large golden letters across her chest. She announces that she is Hashem!

With these few cases as introductory, background information, I would like to introduce you to the latest addition to the club. He showed up at the Kotel just in time for Succot, the Bagman!

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Monday, October 05, 2009

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Movie "Capitalism" Anti-Semetic???

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Michael Moore's new docutainment drama Capitalism is, as the name implies, a long rant against...capitalism. Apparently Mr. Moore presents almost 2 hours of the evils of capitalism through those who have been hurt by the system, and recommends throughout the movie that the (not actual quote) 'workers of the world unite and throw off the evil chains of capitalism for socialism'.

To which I say "whatever". If a millionaire documentary maker who's selling movie tickets for $10 each wants to rant against the system that gave him those opportunities, it's a system that allows him to do so.

HOWEVER, mainstream blogger Anne Althouse picked up on a secondary theme of the movie, (not actual quote) 'all the evils of capitalism are from the Jews...'

(Althouse) The most striking thing in the movie was the religion. I think Moore is seriously motivated by Christianity. He says he is (and has been since he was a boy). And he presented various priests, Biblical quotations, and movie footage from "Jesus of Nazareth" to make the argument that Christianity requires socialism. With this theme, I found it unsettling that in attacking the banking system, Moore presented quite a parade of Jewish names and faces. He never says the word "Jewish," but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it's up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

Am I wrong to see Moore as an anti-Semite? I don't know, but the movie worked as anti-Semitic propaganda. I had to struggle to fight off the idea the movie seemed to want to plant in my head.


When a mid-western law professor starts spotting mass media anti-semitism, it's time to pay attention.
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Simchas Beis HaShoeva with the Melitzer Rebbe

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I was honored this evening to be able to go, together with my son, to join well known Jewish blogger Rabbi Lazer Brody, shlita at the Simchas Beis HaShoeva of the Melitzer Rebbe, shlita in Ashdod, Israel. Below are a few pictures I'm able to share from the occasion...

The Melitzer Rebbe, shlita (in blue) dancing with his son-in-law (in gold)...
Simchas Beis HaShoeva Melitz

Rabbi Brody, shlita, dancing with the children...
Simchas Beis HaShoeva Melitz

Rabbi Brody (on the right) giving it his all for the Rebbe (on the left in blue)...
Simchas Beis HaShoeva Melitz

The Melitzer Rebbe, shlita, dancing and reaching another world...
Melitzer Rebbe, shlita

All photos live from tonight, by Akiva. Creative Commons licensed non-commercial use with attribution allowed. (This means you may share these photos on your blog or web site, as long as you say they are from here and link back to this blog.)
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Friday, October 02, 2009

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You Made a Difference!

This year's Mystical Paths charity campaign was run by my wife. I'd like to thank her, and all of you, for making it a success. Here's her report:

G'Mar Tov!

We would like to offer all of you a Yasher Koach and a big T'zku L'Mitvot (a big thank you) on behalf of the poor here in Israel. Your generous donations for Yom Tov made a significant difference to many individuals and families. Here are just a few samples...

She sits alone at Kever Rochel (the tomb of our Matriarch Rachel) praying fervently for some yeshuah (salvation). As she reads the Book of Tehillim (Psalms) she cries and beseeches Hashem (G-d) for guidance and help. We went and distributed money to her and greetings from the generous Mystical Paths donors from all over the world. This woman blesses everyone that they should continue to give with a full heart and always be able to do so. She wishes everyone around the world a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous Shannah Tovah.

As she sits outside the supermarket holding her sign telling about her circumstances she watches as families walk out of the store laden with packages for Yom Tov. Every so often she counts what she has collected and checks her list of what items she can now afford to purchase, a jar of honey, one small chicken for her whole family, a challah. When we approach her she begins to cry, "You have not forgotten me! I knew that you would come! Always you worry about me and my children for the holiday. Please thank everyone on my behalf and relay to them that they will be in my tefilot (prayers) during the holidays.

He stands outside the supermarket approaching individuals asking for charity. He is so sad and worried about providing for his children. When approached he is so surprised and overwhelmed. He can now enter the supermarket with dignity and purchase food for the holiday. In addition, he is so happy that he can purchase some new clothes for his children. "Please give all the donors my sincere thanks for helping to make my holiday a happy one. I feel so good now! Hashem (G-d) will bless each and everyone of you and your family. There is no doubt in my mind that all those who gave will be blessed!"

She makes the rounds from vendor to vendor looking through their garbage for any salvageable produce. She eyes the fresh produce wishing she could afford better. When we approach her she is shocked. People around the world worry about her and her circumstance! As we give her the money she blesses everyone for a Shannah Tovah and to always be B'Simcha (Joyful) when giving and always be blessed to enjoy the holiday.

Thank you dear readers for answering the call of tzedakah (charity). We are honored to be your emissaries to the needy.

G'Mar K'Tivah V'Hatimah Tovah
(A Final Written and Sealed Happy New Year)

And of course, Chag Samayach - a joyful and happy Succot!!!
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Dew Upon My Succah

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I've been a bit stressed and depressed recently. But "the season of our rejoicing" is upon us and, as they say in the old country, the spirit of the holiday is in the air.

While in the U.S. this means being inundated with music and decorations and colors and icons that aren't mine, here in Israel it's the lulav and esrog stands everywhere, succah decorations being sold on every corner, huge piles of large date palm branches to green up the succah schach.

It's also running out at midnight to the hardware store (some child damage to a sink faucet) and finding it still open due to the many shoppers needing bolts, chairs, lights, and boards for their succahs.

It's seeing succahs going up on every patio, in every yard, and some literally hanging off the edge of high rise buildings. Religious, somewhat religious, non-religious, everyone in Israel puts up a succah.

And everyone is smiling! You'd think all the effort of putting up a succah would have people stressed out. But no, everyone knows the season of our rejoicing is here.

As I finished up my succah tonight and stepped out, I found the tools and chairs covered in DEW! Dew, do you hear, dew!!! What's the big deal? Literally since I've been in Israel, nearing 2 years now, the dew has not fallen. In the holy land, the difference between life and death water-wise is seasonal rain in the winter and dew through the spring-early summer and fall.

Everyone speaks of the rain not having fallen. Israel's water supplies are critical. But the difference, even with the rains, of some green and some moisture or a dry crispy land with many a brush fire and blackened hills is...the dew.

Tonight, for the first time in over a year and a half, the dew fell. On Rosh Hashana the rains fell, and now after Yom Kippur the dew fell.

For those in the Land, it is indeed a time for rejoicing. Even while the world turns upside down, evil is declared good and Israel and the Jews are vilified, Hashem reminds us...we can indeed rely upon our Father in Heaven. Indeed, clearly we have no one else upon whom to rely.

Chag Samayach!
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Thursday, October 01, 2009

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Be Happy — It’s the Commandment

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Which is the greater sin: to drink water on Yom Kippur or to not be happy on Succot?

It is mid-afternoon on a hot Yom Kippur. You are waiting for the noon services to finally begin, and you are very thirsty. Someone walks up to you and offers you a glass of ice-cold water. What do you say? You would probably say, “Are you nuts? Drink on Yom Kippur? No way!” Even if he offered you $100 to drink it, still you would not do so.

But you know, there is a time when you are allowed to drink on Yom Kippur. That is when you are sick, or if you drink just a tiny bit. But still, you are not sick and you are going to fulfill this most important mitzvah. So you do not drink.

But how do we know that it is forbidden to drink at all on Yom Kippur? The Torah only tells us to “afflict” ourselves on this day. Perhaps afflict means to hit ourselves with straps, or to lie down on cactus plants? No. The sages explain that “to afflict ourselves” means that on this day we should abstain from eating, drinking, bathing, and so on.

We learn that it is forbidden to drink on Yom Kippur from the rabbis and not directly from the Torah. Still, we would never even dream of drinking on Yom Kippur.

And how do we know not to be sad during the seven days of Succot? The Torah itself says, “And you shall rejoice for (these) seven days.” And there is never an excuse when you are allowed to be sad on Succot, not even the tiniest bit.

Clearly, we see that as important as it is not to drink on Yom Kippur, it is even more crucial not to be sad on Succot!

Have a happy holiday—it’s the mitzvah.

This article first appeared in From The Old City - A Practical Torah Commentary.
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