by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
A Chabad shliach (messenger) in Germany was asked this question, and he sent it on to me: “What’s the point in putting tefillin on a Jew who has no idea of what he is doing, and to make him read a text which he does not understand? In many cases, the Jew just puts on tefillin to get away from you quick.”
I wrote: This is why I have them read the Shema in a language that they understand when I put tefillin on them. Then, I have them close their eyes, picture everyone they love, and ask G-d to bless them. Doing this brings their love and concern for others into the mitzvah. These kinds of things begin to bring emotional, and even spiritual, changes to their lives. I encourage them to begin a lifelong conversation with G-d. When they finish, I tell them, “Pray like that every day, even without tefillin. Talk to G-d.”
Even without doing anything but the mitzvah of tefillin itself, they are still rewarded for having done a mitzvah. The problem is that they are not aware of this reward, so just putting on tefillin usually does not change their lives. This is why it is so important to teach them to do more than just the bare minimum of the mitzvah. But this must be done in a way that they experience love or spiritual awareness, and not G-d forbid, an additional burden! It is extremely important that they have a warm experience when you introduce them to a mitzvah, or they will not want to do it again.
Also you, who are in a community where your presence is ongoing, should get their telephone number, or invite them for Shabbos, or somehow see to it that there is follow-up.
As it turned out, the same subject came up later that day when I was being interviewed for one of the Israeli newspapers. When I explained to the reporter some of the ways that I try to touch the spiritual being of the Jews when I put tefillin on them, he asked me if spirituality was something stressed by other people who work in outreach.
I said that, sadly, it is not. I went on to explain that even though these types of exercises (like picturing loved ones) are important for everyone, they are much more important when helping at the Kotel.
The Jews around the world who care enough to help others generally get to see the people they help more than once. They invite them for Shabbos, or they see them once a week when they make their “rounds.” They can maintain contact. I usually see my “customers” only once. I almost always have only three minutes to changes their lives. I have to do something right then and there.
The reporter stopped for a moment and then said, “That’s an awesome responsibility!” He is a smart man. He summed up the urgency of helping others.
Oh, what did the shliach in Germany do with my answer?
He wrote, “Your email made me get my tefillin and go to work. Pictured here are two friends who met again today for the first time in 18 years! They served in the Red Russian Navy as officers. I asked them if they would have believed me if I would have told them in 1952 that one day they would meet in Germany and put on tefillin? They just laughed.”
We should look for other Jews to help because of our love for them. But if, for some reason, you have not yet come to that love, then you can do it because you are obligated. “If I am only for myself, what am I?”[i]
[i] Avoth 1:12, and “Jews are responsible for one another (areivin zeh ba-zeh)." (Shavuot 39a)
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
By now most are aware that the Baba Elazar, zt”l, a grandson of the Baba Sali, zt”l, was murdered this past Thursday.
One strong response to this is fear. Among the sephardi communities in Israel, the more amiti, the more simple Jews of faith, they are shaking in fear that such an event occurred from among the Jews and during the 3 weeks. The murderer was a Jew, a man from within the orthodox community. One who dressed the part, attended synagogue regularly, even gave Torah lessons. While the ashkenazi approach and as has been heard from many Torah leaders is “the death of a tzadik is a kaparah, a price being paid by the people of Israel to prevent a terrible judgement”, the sephardi approach is (at least by some), “the hand of a man from our community has spilled the blood of a tzadik, what will be the terrible response and decree from Heaven?”
Similarly even among some of secular Israel, the murder of a major rabbi (by the hand of a Jew) is crossing a barrier (of horror and control) among civil society.
Some in synagogue this Shabbos noted that the 6th Torah portion read, which corresponds to the 6th day of the week (Thursday) when this terrible event occurred was specifically the Torah laws for dealing with an intentional (and unintentional) murderer.
The rav was murdered by a religiously dressed Jew who was (or previously was) part of the community, wielding a 40cm / 16 inch knife. Significant information about who this man was and why he did what he did waits to come out. While many are speculating on some Torah lesson the man supposedly gave about Moshiach ben Yosef, our sources with close inside information say the reasons are much more sinister. But we await further confirmation.
May the death of this tzadik be (oy, another) kapparah for Am Yisroel. And may we see the geulah shalaymah b’rachamim (in mercy) mamash today!
The Spinka Rebbe of Jerusalem left this world yesterday. While we don’t note the passing of every rebbe, we say this info which caught our attention…
(Circus Tent) The Spinka Rebbe of Yerushalayim, Reb Mordche Duvid Kahana, zt"l, was niftar yesterday. Most people never really knew him. He had a tiny shul on Rehov Salant in Meah Shearim… RMD was a great-grandson of the late Rav Nachman Kahana, Rov of Spinka, the author of the "Orchos Chaim," who was a SIL of the Imrei Yosef, the first Spinka Rebbe, and who traced his yichus, ben achar ben, to the Baal Kuntres HaSfeikos, the brother of the "Ketzos." (The same Kahanas who fought the Teitelbaum Rabbonim in Sighet...)
RMD was known - those that knew him - as a Masmid and Talmid Chochom who was on staff - like his father before him - of the Otzar HaPoskim, meaning he worked for a living...
The Spinka Rebbe was known as an Ish HaShalom who never - or rarely - got involved in politics. Despite being very Conservative when it came to his own life and family, he never took that to others, meaning he never yelled and screamed that all others were living in sin by doing what they do. In politics he also was not heard from, although the Eda HaCharedis saw him as of their own.
However, he was heard from when it came to the danger of giving land to Arab Terrorists/Hamas, and he was part of the group "Vaad HoRabbonim L'Inyonei Pikuach Nefesh," a Rabbinical group that saw it as its mission to make known to the world the dangers of giving land to Arabs/Terrorists. Which makes perfect sense, since JEWISH lives should be beyond politics, and whether or not you're a Zionist shouldn't matter (many from Meah Shearim being not only non-Zionist but anti-Zionist).
A quiet tzadik who worked for a living and only stood up when lives of Klal Yisroel were at stake. May his merits stand as a blessing to all Israel.
by Moshe Newman with edits by Reb Akiva
I received one of those good-luck chain emails today. Since everything is Min HaShamayim (from the hand of heaven), I decided to read it and add a Jewish perspective.
Note, if you read this post and forward to 5 friends within the hour you’re certain of good karma. And if you ignore it, well, lets just say we know 3 people who did and it didn’t work out well for them…
> I don't know if it works, but who am I to tempt fate???
The above statement is ridiculous. Please do not read this and worry about tempting "fate". Rather, have faith in the One Who controls all and if you think the following statements are reminders of good approaches, behaviors and outlooks in life, please send it on to those about whom you care. In my opinion, in our daily busy lives, it is good to be reminded of helpful attitudes. And G-d "likes" positivity.
> *Feng Shui*
> This is without a doubt one of the nicest good luck forwards I have
> received.. Hope it works for you -- and me!
There is no such thing as "luck". However, G-d wants free choice, so he made the world look like luck.
> Lotus Touts: You have 6 minutes…
or as long or short as you want. G-d has Infinite patience.
> There's some mighty fine advice in these words, even if you're not
> superstitious. This Lotus Touts has been sent to you for good luck.
> It has been sent around the world ten times so far.
Ten is the number which signifies the next level of spirituality. The next level is faith that good and bad in your life comes from the Creator of all good and bad. There is no luck, no fate, no superstition.
> Do not keep this message.
or go ahead and keep it if that is what your heart tells you to do.
> The Lotus Touts must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES.
or whenever you wish. Your actions are up to you as your Creator has given you free will.
> Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise.
> This is true, even if you are not
> superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.
Your actions may be up to you, but what happens to you is not. Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.
> ONE. **Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.* *
> TWO. **Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their
> conversational skills will be as important as any other. **
> THREE. **Don't believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you
> want. **
> FOUR. **When you say, 'I love you,' mean it.**
> FIVE. **When you say, 'I'm sorry,' look the person in the eye. **
> SIX. **Believe in love.**
> SEVEN. **Never laugh at anyone's dreams. People who don't have dreams
> don't have much. **
> EIGHT.. **In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling. **
> NINE.** **Don't judge people by their relatives. **
> TEN. ** Talk slowly but think quickly. **
> ELEVEN. **Remember that great achievements involve great
> risk. **
> TWELVE. **When you lose, don't lose the lesson.** **
> THIRTEEN. **Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for
> others; and Responsibility for all your actions. **
> FORTEEN. **Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship. **
> FIFTEEN. **When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps
> to correct it.**
> SIXTEEN. ** Spend some time alone. **
And additions to bring it home…
SEVENTEEN: Pray to God in the following way:
- Acknowledge Him as the Ingenious Orchestrator/Choreographer of all ideas that come into the world.
- Ask Him for His Truth, acknowledging that it is possible to be attached to lies without even knowing it and that, if there is anything in your life that is a lie, He should reveal it to you such that you can release it and cling only to His Truth.
- Pray that God gives you the ability to remember and implement any and all of the above that is a reflection of His Truth.
- Ask that He should allow the above perspectives to permeate His world.
- Thank Hashem for the opportunity to promote Good in the world.
- Do tshuvah.
- Acknowledge to God your mistake of believing in fate/superstition.
- Acknowledge God as the amazing Creator of you, your mistake, and the mistaken perception itself. Regret the mistaken perception and promise not to do it again.
There is no fate, only faith in Divine Will and prayer always helps!
> Now, here's the FUN part!
> Send this to at least 5 people and your life will improve.
Sending it to one person or just applying it to your own life will help the world. The more positivity you send out, the more Hashem sends back to you, especially if you are aware that you are being a messenger for Godliness by distributing these ideas.
> 1-4 people: Your life will improve slightly.
> 5-9 people: Your life will improve to your liking.
> 9-14 people: You will have at least 5 surprises in the next 3 weeks
> 15 and above: Your life will improve drastically and everything you ever
> dreamed of will begin to take shape.
The more positivity you engender in the world, the more Light comes into your life. Especially when the positivity is based in Truth, i.e. that God runs everything.
> A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your
> heart. Do not keep this message.
Or go ahead and keep it if, after you've prayed about sending it or not, your heart tells you not to. Ask God to bestow Good upon you and all the world and Good will certainly happen whether you send this or not.
In my humble opinion, these additions of FAITH make this now a far more valuable chain e-mail and more worthy of going around the world.
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
The City of David project has been excavating the ancient city of Jerusalem underneath the more recently built area nowadays called Silwan (for those familiar with Jerusalem, this is the area which you would enter if you continued out the Dung Gate of the Old City and head straight).
Underneath, far underneath the modern ramshackle structures it turns out the ancient city of the kings of Israel rests. A dedicated privately financed team has spent many years carefully excavating and doing a full set of archeological research. Along the way they’ve found ancient structures, possibly a palace, the water channel of Chizkiyahu, and more.
Recently they’ve been doing their most ambitious project. As part of their excavations, they found the primary paved road that provided the path to the 2nd Beis HaMikdash, the Holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount (today where the Dome of the Rock sits). They’ve been carefully excavating the road (deep underground) back up to (not in, not under) the Temple Mount. Along the road also runs an ancient drainage channel, basically an old sewer drain.
During their excavations they found a variety of artifacts under the road and in the channel, many apparently from where Jews tried to hide during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and leaving behind some artifacts after they were found and slaughtered by the Romans.
A few days ago their most significant find EVER was announced. They found a small golden bell with a loop for being tied to a piece of clothing near the wall of the Temple Mount (deep under the current above ground level). If religious Jews reading this recognize that description, it’s because…
Exodus 28:31-34: And you shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue…. And upon the skirts of it you shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the skirts thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a (cloth) pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about.
That’s the description of the blue robe of the Kohein Gadol, the high priest of the Holy Jewish Temple. The Kohein Gadol was the ONLY one of the priestly class to wear such a garment with bells.
The press and the archeologists are trying to hem and haw around the find. Maybe it is from the high priest, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s from some other rich person who liked to wander about with gold bells. But let’s engage in a bit of informed speculation…
1. Only the Kohein Gadol wore a garment with golden bells among the kohanim.
2. No one, rich or otherwise, is going to go to the Beis HaMikdash wearing a garment that imitated the Kohein Gadol with golden bells. L’havdil, it would be equivalent to going to a papal mass in the Vatican carrying a large gold cross on a 5 foot staff and wearing a big red pointy papal style hat.
3. The Kohein Gadol only wore the ephod, the garment with bells for certain special services such as for Yom Kippur. These services took place near the mizbayach (the altar) and in the heichal – meaning the Kohein Gadol only wore the ephod when doing services some distance away from where the bell was found.
4. There’s only 1 service where the Kohein Gadol wore the ephod (with the golden bells) and physically left the Beis HaMikdash. That service was the sacrifice of the Par Adumah, the sacrifice and preparation of the ashes of the red heifer.
The Par Adumah was slaughtered and burned (to ash) by the Kohein Gadol on Har HaZaytim, the Mount of Olives. The Kohein Gadol would proceed out of the Beis HaMikdash down the entrance street (to which everyone coming to the Beis HaMikdash had already ritually prepared, so there were no issues of tumah – ritual impurity). From the City of David area, a wooden pathway would be built across the valley and up the Mt. of Olives, to prevent the Kohein Gadol from encountering tumah.
This is the path the City of David team has been excavating. Which means, in my informed speculation…
This is a bell from the Kohein Gadol on his way (or returning) from performing the ritual of the Red Heifer.
This is the first and only artifact from the Beis HaMikdash known to exist and in Jewish hands. (Rumors of such artifacts in the hands of the Vatican are strong but have never been proven.)
And it was found (or verified or announced) during the 3 weeks (mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash)!
…I am astounded!
by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
A reader asked:
“The blessing that the kohanim (priests) bless us with is called the triple blessing, but in it we ask for four blessings. They say that the first two (blessing and guarding), are really one, because one without the other is worthless.
“So it seems that all of our prayers are like this. Although we usually pray for only the most urgent things, the Sages have taught us to pray for many things, because any one of these things without the other is meaningless. You need a balance of all these things to live and prosper.
“This theme of balance is evident in all of Hashem’s creations. The ecosystem, the universe, even our own bodies; if even one little thing goes off balance, the ripple effects are catastrophic.
“Do you have any insights to share?”
That famous blessing is called triple, because in it we ask Hashem to bless us three times.
“Hashem bless you and guard you. Hashem make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. Hashem turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”
As for your desire for balance, the Torah does teach us to take the center path, so in a way, you could say that this represents balance. Certainly what you say seems to make sense.
But in truth, my personal goal is not balance. I am an extremist--an ultimate-ist--and as such, I always search for the most complete solution… revealing G-d’s glory in all that I do. I do not want a little good mixed with a little bad, or a little of this with a little of that. I would like to see the ultimate, final Redemption come right now.
Yes, if you have a toothache you do not pray at that time for your livelihood, but you know what? When the redemption comes, there will be no more tooth aches. Yes, I yell about the toothache, but I say, “G-d take the toothaches away! Bring Your final redemption now.”
I do not see those blessings as representing a balance because they just keep getting better and better, until finally the blessing ends with peace. There can be no peace if anything good is missing. Not even a tiny toothache, nor a single lost soul can remain. So, I do not see balance as the goal, but rather G-d revealing His glorious Presence and all of the other things will also be healed.
The one blessing of peace really includes all of the other blessings. You cannot have true peace if you do not have all of those other important things. And this is why His Name is Shalom (Peace).
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
This past week Lone Tree Brewery invited a group of bloggers and tweeters to a Gush Etzion Boutique Food Producers food expo. I attended with my older son to get an idea of what’s going on in the food business in Yehuda/Shomron (the West Bank). He attended for free beer and wine.
Gush Etzion is a mix of agricultural areas (mostly vineyards and orchards), residential areas, and small industrial areas. It has a high percentage of American (and British and Australian) immigrants. And many of those immigrants have brought their specialties, hobbies, interests and expertise to Israel, with Gush Etzion providing an environment where they can flourish.
Chocoholique is a boutique producer of chocolate liquors. The alcohol content is lower than the average chocolate liquor, with a much smoother and richer flavor of chocolate than any other chocolate liquor I’ve tried. I sampled the chocolate-peanut butter, chocolate-peppermint, and chocolate-coconut flavors. The peanut butter was a Reece's peanut butter cup in an adult version, the peppermint was an adult peppermint patty. The coconut was smooth and well flavored. I didn’t try the chocolate-cherry, chili, intense chocolate, cinnamon, or espresso.
Their products are kosher l’mehadrin (glatt kosher) and very reasonably priced – particularly given the quality. I purchased a bottle of the chocolate-peppermint as an end-of-Shabbos meal treat for my wife. I highly recommend this product, enjoying it far more than any other chocolate liquor I’ve had.
This is their web site, which could use some work.
Lone Tree Brewery is an all natural organic micro-brewery with a series of specialty beers.
Now I’ll admit up front I’m not a beer maven (specialist) nor much of a beer drinker. As one of their people was saying, in some areas (including Israel) people have developed the modern custom to drink their beer in a very cold glass…to hide as much of the beer flavor as possible. (This conversation came up with a British fellow who was sampling as well, who wanted all his samples at room temperature).
I sampled most of their product line, trying their India Pale Ale, English Northern Ale, Belgian Piraate, Extra Oatmeal Stout, and Pale Ale.
The India Pale Ale was a nice flavorful beer that both my son and I enjoyed. Not to strong, not to weak, a good beer flavor that most people would enjoy. The English Northern Ale was a stronger beer with more flavor and hints of bitter that I really enjoyed and my son liked as well. My wife, trying one on Shabbos (we took some home), found the strength and bitter not to her liking. The Pale Ale is more similar to a high quality mass market beer. It was nice but not really different than any other higher end beer. My wife, on the other hand, enjoyed this one.
The Extra Oatmeal Stout was something completely different. I’ve had Guinness and other dark beers before, so I was expecting a heavy and bitter beer. Instead it was smooth with no heaviness…and a strong flavor of oatmeal, which was weird but not unpleasant. I would definitely buy one and enjoy it again. My son, on the other hand, was completely put off by the oatmeal flavor. The Belgian Piraate was ok, neither my son or I thought it was much different from the India Pale Ale. It didn’t really stand out compared to the others. (At least to my non-beer oriented palate.)
Now these beers are completely organic and natural as well as being kosher l’mehadrin (glatt kosher). They also state that they are unfiltered, so the yeast may continue working even in the bottle. After buying a variety and enjoying them on Shabbos, my son noted that the flavor profile changed from the first sip to the time a glass was completed at a leisurely pace. Kind of like a fine wine (without sulfites) who’s flavor profile changes as it gets oxygenated, these beers were doing the same thing. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve had a beer without strong preservatives that could change flavors.
Lone Tree Beer. About twice the price of the mass market swill (in Israel), and worth it.
Settler food, natural, made with love and quality…it’s good for you! Support the Jews of the land, give their products a try. They ship world wide.
pictures by Reb Gutman Locks, comments by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
If you want to see the future of any people, look at the children. If they’re mimicking their parents actions with love and joy, the future is bright.
Two boys at the Kotel (Western Wall), Jerusalem, Israel
A group of girls, probably a day camp, on the Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem. “Future Jewish Mommies in Training.”
A 30 minute Torah shmooze by Rabbi Nati.
by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
Watch out for the Three Weeks, and the Nine Days, even more so. This is a time when tempers can flare with little or no reason. Also, you may find yourself bumping into walls (and then, maybe even yelling at the wall.) Just plain stupid things can pop unexpectedly trying to catch you to see if you will smile or blow your stack. When these kinds of things happen, if you will say, “Aha! The Three Weeks!” then you will not react so strongly. The more times you catch it, the easier it becomes.
For instance, as soon as the Three Weeks began, well, really the next day, I bit down on a hard piece of fruit and I ripped the inside of my gum. “Ow!” Boy did that hurt. I still can’t chew food on that side of my mouth. Okay, how do I see it? It has to be, “me and my big mouth.” I do sometimes say things loudly without thinking. Or else why did it happen to my mouth and not my foot?
The next morning, I told my dentist, who happens to daven (pray) in my minyan (quorum) what happened. I said, “I bit down on a hard piece of fruit and I ripped my gum! What can I put on it?”
“On the fruit?” he asked.
Now, that’s got to be the Three Weeks.
Spotted in the Times of London. (It’s possible we might have modified the text.)
Kudos to Elder of Ziyon for the per-capita graphic and calculation.
Major towns and cities throughout Israel have Industrial Parks or Industrial Zones, sometimes more than one. This is where land is set aside for industrial buildings and office buildings of various types. Sometimes these are small manufacturing, outlet stores, furniture stores, sometimes it’s large manufacturing, other times it’s high tech.
Often particular industrial parks will take on a particular flavor or type of business.
For example, the Har Hotzvim industrial park in Jerusalem has a large number of pharmaceutical research firms. The Kiryat Arie industrial park in Petach Tikvah is much older, having a manufacturing section, a telecommunications section, and a cutting edge information technology section.
Here’s a few pictures of these parks…
In Petach Tikvah’s park, we find Kodak near Oracle, IBM, Marvel networking, and others. To the left of the Kodak building is Petach Tikvah’s new soccer stadium, which is also next to the new in-park train station.
In Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim, with find a Johnson & Johnson pharmecutical company, Teva drugs, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp’s News Data Systems IT research firm.
Petach Tikvah’s park has a lot of satellite dishes and satellite technology companies. This one is Gilat, a creator of technology for satellite networks and communications.
Intel has a big presence in Israel. Both “fabs”, chip fabrication facilities, and research facilities. This one is in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim.
Of course, industrial parks are not just about high tech and pharma, there’s also physical world manufacturing going on as well. This is in Petach Tikvah’s park. Odis manufactures irrigation filtration equipment used throughout Israel, Africa and Europe.
There’s a lot going on in Israel. The economy is growing, unemployment is medium to low and decreasing, it’s a good place to get a job.
by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
“Is it kosher meditation to sit quietly, as in, “He leads me beside still waters…”[i] and to let the body and mind be quiet or peaceful.”
Reb Gutman’s response:
There are many places in the Torah and Kabbalah where silence is praised.
Here are just a few of them:[ii]
“[If] a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.”[iii]
“…there was silence. Now the king is coming.”[iv]
“Commune with your heart upon your bed and be still.”[v]
“The Chanukah lights are to be looked at only.”[vi]
“When the great yearning produces the intense scream for complete adherence, the scream that is completely silent will come.”[vii]
In stillness, there is no apparent movement. Movement requires distinction, duality. In silence, the soul seeks unobstructed, reaching farther, scanning freely; for in silence, there is nothing to distract, nothing to which you can attach.
In the above sources, we see silence, stillness, or light are the subjects. These are unchanging subjects, and the hope is not to gain a deeper understanding of them, but rather to experience what happens when we still the mind by simply focusing on them.
But, Reb Aharon, the author of the blog article, brought down some excellent sources that seem to say that silence in meditation is a tool of magicians and idol worshipers and is absolutely forbidden!
Reb Aharon wrote, “The primal meditative state advocated by the ones who practice idol worship is to clear one’s mind. Psychic or mediumistic ‘messages’ are easily detected on a still mind. It intimates quietness of mind [Rashi], mental [and/or, physical] solitude [Onkelos] All this is in direct opposition to the Torah way of thought and meditation.”
How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? Who is right? Is silence a kosher meditation tool, or not?
As with all apparent contradictions in the Torah, this one is easily reconciled when we get more information. Reb Aharon’s sources were referring to entirely passive meditation. Meditation can be divided into two phases or types, passive and active.
When the subject of meditation is one that is used solely to focus on, and not to study, then the mind will become passive. Two examples of passive subjects are a candle flame and Hashem’s name. These subjects are used merely as tools to affix the mind, in order to ignore all other mental input, and to become passive.
This system will give you many health benefits, such as improving your concentration and lowering your blood pressure. It can also produce mystical results, which can be very beneficial, or dangerous, depending on your practice.
Active subjects are chosen in order to increase one’s understanding of that subject. An excellent example of an active meditation subject is “Place.” Ask yourself, “where is the Place?” Each time you come to an answer, look deeper and deeper, until you truly understand that the Place is everywhere, including within and around you. Then go even deeper until you see that, in fact, “Place” is one of G-d’s names, and G-d is the Place that fills and surrounds you. With this subject, your mind is actively engaged, as you look deeper and deeper.
Perhaps the most productive way to learn to meditate is to start with a passive subject, such as watching your breath move in and out of your nostrils. Focus on your breath over and over again. At this stage, this is a completely passive technique. Then, every minute or so, while you are still focusing on the air passing in and out of your nostrils, remember the line in the Torah when G-d created Adam (the first man), “He [G-d] blew into his [Adam’s] nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being.”[viii]
This method gives you all of the benefits of an entirely passive technique, and then by inserting the quote from the Torah, you also utilize an active technique. Try to understand that line from the Torah is talking about man today. See that indeed even today, G-d is the One who is actually breathing in and out our every breath. This is active meditation. The passive phase of the meditation opens your mind, and then you fill your open mind with the deep concept that G-d is ever-present, filling and surrounding all. This technique gives you the benefit of both systems, and it eliminates the danger of the entirely passive technique.
Magicians use entirely passive systems, to prevent their minds from ever interfering. This allows whatever unclean forces that surround them to take over. This is why a meditating magician is frequently pictured gazing into a crystal ball. He wants to completely empty his mind. This type of meditation is the one that is dangerous and should not be used.
However, as the above sources point out, mystical silence is a most precious experience. In fact, it is not an empty silence at all. It is the spiritually rich, un-manifest, ayin.[ix] This silence is to be sought... not scorned.
[i] Psalms 23
[ii] Taming The Raging Mind -105 Jewish Meditation Techniques & the Mystical Experiences they can Produce - Gutman Locks
[iii] Gemora Megillah 18a.
[iv] Gemora Berakoth 58a.
[v] Psalms 4.
[vi] Liturgy, Chanukah.
[vii] Keter Shem Tov 166, Yekarim 6, Sichot HaRan 16.
[viii] Genesis 2:7
[ix] G-d creates the world as “something from nothing” (yesh me’ayin)
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Many years ago I met a wonderful young man while visiting Rav Nati. He told an unusual story of meeting chassidim from Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY, USA) and becoming a baal teshuvah (a Jew not raised as religious adopting orthodox Jewish practice) via them (unusual as the chassidim from Williamsburg rarely interact personally with non-religious Jews). He lived and learned with them for some years and subsequently moved to Jerusalem to further his Judaism and life. As part of this furthering he was looking to get married.
A couple of years later my wife and I received this interesting phone call. “Hi, Akiva? This is Moshe (name changed). I wonder if I could ask a favor of you? I’m getting married in a few weeks [Mazel Tov I responded!]. I have no family in Israel and I’m wondering… … … could you make sheva brachos for me and my kallah?”
[ In Jewish tradition, after getting married the new couple are hosted for a week after their wedding for a meal and the recitation of the 7 blessings of marriage. (Sheva means sevel and Brachos means blessings.) They are traditionally hosted by family, friends, community, and the blessings ceremony requires the presence of 10 men – so such a meal is usually a big deal. For those who’s family are not orthodox or are not long time members of a religious community, arranging such can be very challenging and even depressing as it can be hard to get acquaintances to make such a commitment. ]
I briefly consulted my wife (to whom most of the effort would fall for a large communal meal) and we agreed.
The meal was prepared, guests arrived as planned (if you want 10 men, invite 12-13), and the chosson and kallah (groom and bride) arrived at a reasonable time. (It’s been my experience at many such events that the bride and groom arrive late.) The meal was a hit (we made Chinese style – easy to prepare but looks fancy.)
The blessings were recited, the wine was drunk (wine is used during the first and last blessing), the guests departed and I began cleaning up.
Some minutes later I was surprised to see the chosson (groom) was still hanging around the table, and glancing around to see where the kallah (bride) was, I found her huddled on the sofa with my wife in intense discussion in Hebrew.
A brief aside on the bride and groom. Our young man had become religious at around 14 or 15 in the U.S. He was a very sweet young fellow out to live a positive life for Hashem and Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) and was in his early 20’s when they got married. The bride was a sweet beautiful young lady from a very traditional religious Sephardi family who had emigrated to Israel. She was the oldest of 8 or so sisters, being 20 when they got married.
Looking over at my wife as I cleared the table, I signaled if she needed me to come over for anything. She strongly shook her head, waving me off. As she continued I heard her struggling with her Hebrew, which was very strange as her Hebrew is excellent (if at a learned rather than native level).
After some time the conversation concluded, the chosson and kallah said a grateful goodbye and departed.
I approached my wife and asked her what the intense conversation was about. Where they having early marital / adjustment problems? My wife wouldn’t answer, just saying it was private.
A few hours later after we retired for the evening my wife’s cell phone rang. She groggily answered and quickly entered a rapid fire conversation in Hebrew that I couldn’t follow. After it ended I asked her what in the world is going on? Though she tried to avoid telling me, after a bit I was able to get it out of her.
Here’s what she told me…
The kallah (bride) is the oldest sister in the family. The mother, being from a very traditional very modest Jewish sephardi culture, simply never talked to her daughter about adult marital things. Apparently neither did her kallah-teacher, who teaches the Jewish laws of marital purity (times when a couple may not be intimate).
When her husband approached her to perform marital relations, she’d never heard of it. When he said he wanted to, well you know, she thought he was crazy!
Though he was rather innocent himself, never having had marital relations, he did know the technical aspects. When he described to her what should be done between a husband and wife, she thought he must be an animal for suggesting such a thing!
The conversation on our sofa was her asking my wife about normal activity between a husband and wife. Apparently the kallah felt my wife was the first woman she was comfortable enough to approach (or it being the 3rd day after the wedding, perhaps her husband’s insistence drove her to it). My wife’s struggle with Hebrew was because she simply didn’t know the words (in Hebrew) to refer to all the practicalities involved!
The late night call was to re-confirm that what her husband was about to do was indeed the right thing, appropriate and permitted.
For most hearing this story, it’s shocking. But why? Is it really so strange to think that until a young woman (or young man) is about to enter a healthy marital relationship they shouldn’t need to know the mechanics of marital relations? Is it really so strange to to believe there is (or was) a 20 year old woman who didn’t know about “it”?
Innocence is one thing that can’t be returned. It can be taken away, it can be torn away, destroyed, damaged, corrupted. Or it can be proper and appropriate.
Today we seem to be forced to teach our young children about body parts that should not be touched, about people (anyone) who may act inappropriate, about not trusting anyone, not appearing the wrong way, not drawing the wrong attention. We chip away at their innocence bit by bit, both in the name of protection and in the name of defense against an increasingly gender-intense surrounding society.
Innocence has it’s place, it shouldn’t be lost too soon or until appropriate in an appropriate setting. I’m saddened to have had to chip away at my own children’s and feel this corruptive influence pervading modern society [and leaking into religious society].
We don’t live in the garden, but neither to we have to embrace corruption.
[ The last I heard from them, the young couple had a good marriage and had been blessed with children. ]
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Sometimes I despair for my fellow Jews. They frequently feel strongly and rush to protest something…anything! When asked how things should be, what the solution is, they often respond “I don’t know, but not like that!”
They throw themselves at good causes, stupid causes, often self hurtful causes. They feel things should be just and right, and dammit they’re going to do something about it – even if what they do doesn’t help one bit.
For smart people sometimes (maybe even often?) they don’t think things through. They feel things are wrong and they’re not going to stand for it. They rush off to do something, anything, to make things better (whatever that may mean from their particular point of view).
Sometimes I despair for my fellow Jews. They even feel for their enemies while those enemies are doing their best to kill them. They want everyone to have it better, even if some of that ‘everyone’ is doing their best to blow the crap (and all their body parts) out of them.
Sometimes I despair for my fellow Jews, that even on religious fast days devoted to lessons of internal hatred they’re protesting against each other over strongly held positions. They’re screaming and rushing about determined to fix the world if these other people would just get out of their way.
Whether it be Shabbos or Kosher, or Peace or respecting the enemy’s honor (?!?), or housing or education or help for the poor, or traffic or the environment, they’re going to fix it, dammit.
But when it really matters and all that energy, all that caring, all that intense desire to do something, to make it right, to make it better, when in moments of trouble or pain or danger or need, when all those Jews momentarily or briefly come together (or are sometimes pushed together), I no longer despair for my fellow Jews. I revel in them.
For they will fix the world, indeed they will make it better, they will make it right, and just, and holy.
We see that Jewish drive all the time. When it’s harnessed, when it’s properly directed…perhaps by Moshiach tzidkaynu, watch out… the Jews will change the world.
True stories from the Western Wall by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
We are taught that we should love our fellow Jew as we love ourselves.[i] But here is a Jew who, in some ways, loves his fellow Jew even more than he loves himself.
He was trying to leave the Kotel area, when a volunteer at the tefillin stand blocked his way and tried to get him to put on tefillin. He flatly refused. He was quiet, but tough. Not the kind of guy who liked to smile. The volunteer did not want to give up and was not being too tactful about it, either.
One of the “regulars” at the tefillin booth called to me and motioned that I should jump in. I motioned for him to get the volunteer out of there or it wouldn’t work. He did, and I stepped in.
The conversation went something like this:
“Hi, where are you from?” Not that I was particularly interested in where he was from, but this line gave me a friendly introduction into the conversation.
He said, “New York.”
I imitated his heavy New York accent, and asked him what he did. He said that he was a lawyer. He acted like a lawyer, too. He was not about to be pushed around. I saw how strong he was in his refusal to put on tefillin, so I asked him if he had ever put them on before. He said that he had not, and that he had no reason to put them on then, either.
“I’ll give you an excellent reason to put them on,” I said.
He looked at me and tilted the top of his head toward me as if he were preparing to block whatever I would say.
I said, “Here you are, a Jewish man in your fifties, and you have never put on tefillin in your life. If you put on tefillin here at the Kotel, G-d is going to listen to whatever you say. You have a wonderful opportunity to help the Jews who are in danger. You can be a guardian to our soldiers and to all of the Jews who are danger.”
He looked at me, thought for half a second, and then nodded, “Okay.”
I put tefillin on him, and after he read the “Shema,” I asked him to pray for us. He stood there for a long time, praying for the Jewish people, people whom he had never even seen before. That is what is happening in the picture above.
When he finished, I told him, “You just did an amazing thing. The only reason you put on tefillin was for us! You would never have done it if it were just for yourself. You should know the way it works around here: When you give a blessing to someone else, G-d gives you an even greater blessing.”
He smiled for the first time since I had walked up to him. As you can see from the picture below, he was one happy lawyer.
[i] Leviticus 19:18
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
(Thanks to Uriel, a US West Coast Jew working hard to merit aliyah and geulah, for these references.)
Tuesday is the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the mourning period of the 3 weeks, a day and time of many tragedies of Jewish history, the fall of the walls of Jerusalem and slaughter of her citizenry, and ultimately the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Jewish Temple).
There’s a variety of mourning customs observed during this period of 3 weeks (such as no haircuts, no music, no weddings), but the fact it falls in the middle of summer and school vacation also means people don’t necessarily avoid vacations or summer camp or trips during this time.
Also, because it’s a time of tradgety and judgement, we avoid judging others including reducing punishments to children and being especially careful to avoid violence of any type.
Uriel forwarded me these following halachic statements, brought from the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), that I hadn’t heard before: (edited for clarity)
The Shulhan Aruch was written as a strictly Halachic code, rarely includes Kabbalistic concepts in presenting Halachic guidelines. Yet, the Shulhan Aruch writes that during the three weeks one should not go outdoors to partially shady areas between the fourth and ninth hours (referring to Halachic hours) of the day (approximately 9:30am – 3:30pm) due to the demon “Keteb Meriri”, when this demon is most threatening. He adds that during this period, parents should make a point not to hit their children, and teachers should likewise refrain from smacking students, in order to avoid risks.
The Midrash Shoher Tob (Tehillim 91) speaks about a dangerous “demon” called “Keteb Meriri” that is covered with scales and hair, has eyeballs all over its body, and sees from the eye situated on its chest. It generally resides in areas that are partly sunny and partly shady, and moves by rolling like a ball. Anyone who comes near this demon, the Midrash comments, exposes himself to great danger. The Midrash in fact relates that there were schoolchildren who suffered harm as a result of “Keteb Meriri.” It is specifically during the three weeks of between Shiba Asar Be’Tamuz and Tisha B’Ab, the Midrash teaches, that this harmful spirit surfaces and poses danger.
The Midrash tells the story of Rabbi Abahu who saw a teacher with a branch ready to hit an unruly student. Rabbi Abahu sharply condemned the teacher, noting that “Keteb Meriri” was standing right behind him with an iron rod, ready to strike. This story shows the dangers of administering any type of corporal punishment during this period, when we are exposed to the dangers of “Keteb Meriri.”
For the same reason, one should refrain from unnecessary travel during the three weeks. Hacham Ovadia Yosef writes that the rule during this period is “Ashreh Yoshebeh Betecha” – “Fortunate are those who dwell in Your home,” meaning, it is far preferable to remain at home rather than travel. Children, especially, must be supervised very carefully during the three weeks so they are protected from danger. Although it is customary to allow recreational trips and swimming during this period, extra care must be taken to ensure safety. In particular, one must not travel alone, in a deserted area, between the fourth and ninth hours of the day – approximately 9:30am-3:30pm – during the three weeks, because of the danger posed by the “demons” which roam freely at that time. This refers only to deserted area; it is certainly permissible to travel to a city alone during these hours.
The Aruch Ha’shulhan cites authorities who limit this Halacha to uninhabited areas, such as forests and the like. Inside a city, however, the presence of many people, as well as the presence of Mezuzot on the doorposts, offers a degree of protection from this harmful spirit.
On one level, this restriction essentially renders this Halacha practically irrelevant nowadays, when we usually spend our time in towns, cities and other inhabited areas. Nevertheless, this Halacha demonstrates the importance of avoiding danger during this three-week period and keeping a “low profile,” as this period is particularly suited for mishaps and calamity, Heaven forbid.
How are we to understand this type of explanation nowadays? Further, on a practical basis (though anecdotal), there is a significant increase in injury and accidents among the religious Jewish community over the summer.
On a rational and statistical basis, we can easily say that because many more young people are involved in activities they generally don’t involve themselves in during the year, and further these activities have risks that they aren’t exposed to during the year, it’s a natural consequence that people hiking are going to fall and get hurt, people who rarely drive regularly are more at risk of an accident during vacation driving, etc.
On a spiritual basis we can invoke many explanations (such as people being less involved in Torah and good deeds, giving more openings to spiritual judgments).
The question is, should we be worried about demons or the more direct natural and easily understood risks of summer vacation season? Though this blog is Mystical Paths, personally I’ve already been cut off in the car 3 times by young chassidim in rental cars. I’m more worried about people being wild and carefree (careless) than a scaly hairy eyeballed creature, though if I run into such I’ll let you know.
May Hashem grant all of our readers a safe summer.
(Pictures – #1 is Hairy Eyeball Ale, I don’t know if it’s kosher or not but as a traditional beer it has a good chance it is. #2 is Rambutan hairy fruit from Indonesia.)
by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
Last week, a ‘charedi (“ultra-orthodox”) man and his wife visited Jerusalem from Brooklyn. He had seen my videos and read Coming Back to Earth, and he wanted to meet with me. We met on Shabbos afternoon, and he told me that he has a nice family, lots of kids, a good wife, everyone is healthy (thank G-d), and that he is very successful in business. “But,” he went on, he is not really happy. “Life doesn’t seem to be doing anything.”
His wife jumped in and said, “He doesn’t enjoy learning. Show him how to enjoy learning.”
“It’s a huge mistake not to be happy,” I told him.
“My entire community is depressed,” he said.
I have heard this many times. It seems that there is rampant depression in many religious communities.
This problem is very difficult to solve, not because the depression itself is hard to heal (believe me it is not), but because these religious Jews usually assume that they are only reacting naturally to the “burden” of religious life. They deny that anything is wrong, and they assume that they are the way they are because of the weight that they have to sustain.
The “yoke of Torah” does not increase our burden; it lightens the load that life imposes upon us. The Zohar tells us, “Just as did G-d put Adam (man) in the Garden of Eden then, so does He put man in the Garden today, when he busies himself with Torah andmitzvahs.”[i]
When we rely on G-d’s kindness, and we understand that all that is happening to us is His doing, then we return to the Garden. We live in the actual Garden of Eden that the Torah tells us about. When we live in the Garden, life is pleasant. We even find our livelihood lying on the ground right in front of us, just as we did in the wilderness when we left Egyptian slavery.
Anyone, at any time, can ask himself, “What’s wrong?” and he (or she) will be able to compile a huge list of things that are truly wrong. If instead, this same person asks, “What’s right?” he could compile a huge list of things that are truly right. We get to choose whichever world we want to focus on, and that is the world we live in.
If only we would listen to what the Torah tells us, we would not be sad. “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments….” The mitzvahs we do make us holy, exactly as the blessing says. This is an actual holiness that G-d instills within us when we do something holy. This holiness has been created for us to experience and enjoy-- right here in this world! It elevates us so that we can perceive His holiness.[ii]
When you live with only a mundane perspective, you will always try to accumulate more. This will be your objective. Accumulating possessions does not satisfy a person, for long. Possessions require care, protection, and maintenance. Very soon, the initial joy leaves, and you have to search for another possession to give you that joy.
When you spend more and more time doing holy things, and are aware of their holy nature, you will acquire a spiritual, or holy, perspective. When this is your daily perspective, your major drive will be to give. The mindset of one who strives to give is the exact opposite of one whose objective is to take. Giving makes you feel good, and that feeling lasts even beyond your memory. This is one reason why a holy life is so joyful.
But, if you believe that the Torah and mitzvahs are burdensome, then you have refused His holy mantle, and instead you have created a weight that will certainly pull you down.
Whenever you say a blessing and then go on to do that mitzvah, try to see how G-d is making you holy with that mitzvah. What is happening when you do it? The more holiness that we recognize in this world, the more we will grow spiritually now. Then our capacity to perceive His presence both in this world and in the World to Come will be greater. Our portions in this world and in that World are determined by our deeds in this world. As you see, Torah and mitzvahs are a joyful and precious opportunity… not a burden.
[i] Zohar 27a
[ii] “… you shall be holy because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:44
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by Rabbi Nati at Mystical Paths
I was asked recently, "Reb Nati, where are we holding?" The time has past to merely speak about where we are, for all the signs show us we are in Chevlei Moshiach (the birth pangs of the redemption). A time that the greatest of our sages said 'they longed for but did not want to see' (Gemora).
So this post will not be about where we are historically or to time stamp us on where we are holding on the geula scale. It will focus on the second question "If we are there, then what do we do?" I'll come back to this, but first to respond to a question the day, "why do have to suffer the tragic events that we have of recent heard, OY OY TaTi Ad Moshai!” Or to put it another way, why do the righteous suffer?
We think we can understand why sinners suffer or must undergo suffering. However, we know that the righteous also suffer (as the current news tells, BD"E), sometimes even more than sinners. This demands clarification. And our sages have explained it in two ways.
- The Jewish people are all joined together into a complete entity known KLAL ISRAEL (maharal, in Nesiv Hatchacha, perek 2). Therefore, sometimes the righteous may suffer in order to expiate atonement on behalf of the Dor (generation) or even for past generations. Hashem repays them in the World to Come with untold reward for having made the Tikun (spiritual repair) not only for the individual but for the entire world (Daas Tevunos 166). We can see an example of this with terrible events like the recent loss of the holy soul Leibby Kletzky of blessed memory. (And may Hashem comfort his parents among the mourners of Israel and Zion.)
- Kabbalists tell us that a person who did not complete his purpose in this world must return again, in a reincarnation, to correct that which was lacking in his previous life. And according to most, in this generation all the souls have all been here before. Thus a person’s goal is to correct or to complete all that has not been repaired (Michtav Me'Eliyahu, chelek 4, daf 120). This is accomplished either through self improvement in the areas where he was not successful in his previous life or through suffering.
All of this is to put heavenly soul accounts in order. The Arizal of blessed memory tells that the period of IKVESA DEMASHICHA (the birthpangs of the geulah), which we are clearly in by all accounts at this time will be a time of unprecedented spiritual cleansing of all neshamos (souls) as everything must be purified and refined from all the generations from Adom HaRishon until now. (Shomer Emunim, also in Likutei Torah parsha Ki Seitzei).
The Chofetz Chaim told us that when Moshiach comes the world will be in a state of completeness. Therefore there is a need beforehand to settle all the old accounts of all spiritual blemishes. The remaining debts of previous generations (those that remain after the Holocaust and those created since) are being laid on this generation.
We must rectify all these outstanding accounts prior to Moshiach's coming. These recitifications will provide a tikkun for all actions of all previous generations (Ramchal, Daas tevunos, 1:42).
Many of these tragic events have centered around our beloved Jewish children. For example the Cantonists decrees of Czar  Nicholas in 1827. The purpose of these events during this time is to spiritually cleanse and repair all the blemishes from the previous generations.
There are 3 ways to achieve the soul corrections:
1. by being righteous and not sinning. (Daas Teunous 40)
2. by doing TeShuvah.
3. by accepting Yissurim. (painful events)
Every Jew has the responsibility to atone for the failings of KLAL ISRAEL, and being that we are almost all reincarnations of earlier generations each one of us has a PERSONAL OBLIGATION to prefect all aspects in which he failed to succeed in his previous lifetimes.
Perhaps this gives some glimmer of understanding to the horrific events of the recent past, for they are all part of the CHEVLEI MOSHIACH process. A person should not fear, nor give up hope, when he undergoes Yissurim. We must remember that everything that Hashem does is for our ultimate good.
Sometimes we are directed into a situation in which we can effect a tikun not only for ourselves but for the entire Klal. During these day of avoda just prior to Moshiach we must appreciate that Hashem the ultimate Repairer knows exactly what will fix what and which are the appropriate events to help us survive.
According to Rebbeinu Yona (Shaarei Teshuvah, Shaar 4, ot 12), One of the charater traits of the Tzaddikim in their abillity to to pay off their debts and still sing praise to Ha Kodosh Baruch HU!
May it be Hashem's will that we merit to be purified by doing teshuvah and good deeds so that we will avoid the remaining Chevlei Moshiach and merit a complete and speedy geulah.
Until then, here's a special site built to strengthen emunah after this horrible event.
true stories from the Western Wall by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
“Okay then, instead of putting on tefillin, give your son a blessing.”
This is my first move in such cases. They are almost always very attached to their children, and they usually agree to give them a blessing. I had him put his right hand on the boy’s head and read the blessing of the kohanim (priests). This is the traditional blessing that fathers give to their children on Friday night after coming home from the synagogue.
After the blessing, I told him to pray for what he wanted G-d to give the boy. The fathers always reach into their hearts for the best that they could possibly wish for their sons.
He did all this, but still, when I tried again to have him put on tefillin, he refused. Okay, so his refusal was a tiny bit softer than when I first asked, but his “no” still meant “NO!” So I pulled out my biggest tool.
I turned to the little boy and said, “Tell your father to put on tefillin.”
The little boy picked up on it right away. He looked up at his father and said, “Aba, put on tefillin.”
The father looked down at his son and said, “Do you want me to put on tefillin?”
The boy said, “Yes.”
The father smiled, and we walked over to the tefillin stand and put on tefillin.
I told the boy, “This is your mitzvah. It is only because of you that your father is putting on tefillin.” He beamed.
From the picture above, you see that they had a good time with the tefillin. They always do. It’s just the animal inclination that we all have that refuses to do a mitzvah. Our holy inclination loves to do mitzvahs, but you have to get the animal to agree.
Video link - Fathers blessing their sons at the Kotel
by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
One of the aspects of this is the concept of dressing modestly (classy, not sexy) and the prohibition (applicable to both genders) not to wear clothing meant for the other gender.
In our generation a skirt or dress is considered the appropriate outer garments for a woman, one that specifically covers the knees (while sitting) and is not skin tight or form fitting. As with any clothing item, fashion applies and custom applies. The combination in this case means within the religious Jewish communities skirts or dresses usually reach mid-calf or ankle length (when standing) and are not tapered but are straight, billowed, or various other forms of not-tight. (Different communities may have a specific custom of keeping around mid-calf or keeping around ankle or floor length, depending on the community.)
Antidotal evidence seems to indicate that the United States Transportation Security Administration (the TSA) has determined that women’s lower body coverings that are not tight or form fitting, and specifically longer skirts, are considered “excessive clothing” and are a security risk that requires an extra (standard invasive glove wearing) pat down.
Meaning religious Jewish women are now up for a standard security feel-up when they travel.
(This does not seem to be in practice everywhere, but outside the US Northeast, with a concentration of religious Jewish women, that “skirt” is now out of place and excessive… Remember, it’s now counter-cultural and therefore cool to be a religious Jew!)