Monday, 23 August 2010
You've probably read the story about Daniel who was thrown into the lion's den. The night passed, but in the morning when the officers removed the large rock covering the den, they discovered Daniel quite well and healthy with a docile lion sitting next to him. One wonders if such things are possible. Can it be that this most powerful of beasts could manage to hold itself back from attacking it's prey? Can it be possible for a man to withstand the power of this beast?! Dare a man even think of attempting to spend but a brief moment in the presence of such power?!
The Torah teaches us that in the days of redemption when the world will be filled with revealed good all around - the wolf will dwell with lamb. And one wonders if such a thing is really possible!
Perhaps such a life is not far off when we look at Kevin Richardson - a unique individual. One wonders what goes through his mind. One wonders how he even considers doing what he does. But perhaps there is a lesson in this for all of us. Perhaps, instead of tormenting animals and torturing animals constantly... perhaps, instead of feeling we are so far superior to them... perhaps if we would but learn to respect everything that should be respected... perhaps then, we could all dare to actually come close to an animal of such awesome strength.
Watching the clip makes one wonder about Kevin... Watch carefully though. Do you see his ego? Do you see his taking charge? Or do you see humility, kindness, appreciation and respect for a creature of this world. Of course this is how he behaves towards an animal. But maybe it's a lesson for how we need to behave towards everything and everyone around us. Whether it's just our innocent destruction of a leaf that we pull off from a tree (for no reason), or whether it's our taking charge over every living creature, or whether it's simply our awesome egos that puff out at anything we believe is worth far less than ourselves - perhaps in all these cases, we would do well to imagine the scenes of the video below and to consider the importance of truly appreciating all of creation. Whether it's appreciating a tree, an animal, a human being (dare we say it!) it seems we still have a long way to go. But peace? It's all possible. It's all there for us. But it's up to us to be humble enough to include the other in our lives, to be there for them, to take the time to understand them, to care for them and to truly show our love for them. Perhaps then, we have the start of a truly G-dly world - one where indeed, the wolf does lie with the lamb.
As for man, he too will be able to be surrounded by even the most ferocious of beasts, and yet with that will be protected from them all - will be loved by them all - and will be cared for by them all - as he too cares for and loves them.
Look... listen... and learn... Thank you Hashem for letting us get a glimpse of Your amazing wonders!
Friday, 20 August 2010
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 84a) relates the famous story about Rabbi Yochanan and an apparent gangster! Rabbi Yochanan was bathing in the river when a large impressive looking gangster came running by. Filled with tremendous strength, he jumped over the river to reach the other side. The man's name – Shimon ben Lakish – to become known as the great teacher Reish Lakish – none other than the main learning partner (Chavrusa) and brother-in-law of the man currently swimming in the river – Rabbi Yochanan!
Reish Lakish was a known bandit, gangster, gladiator and general circus entertainer. If anyone is thinking of ultimate material life – Reish Lakish was it! Blessed with a very strong, muscular body – he used it well to enjoy the "finer things" in life (which did not include much intellectual stimulus!)
Not being one to let a good moment go by – Rabbi Yochanan shouted out to the impressive looking gangster with the words, "Your strength would be better used for learning Torah." Can one imagine the insult these words must have had on the mighty gangster?! Turning back to the rabbi (an extremely good looking man,) he shouted, "…And your beauty for women!"
It was an equal dual something which both "fighters" were ready for! Rabbi Yochanan – the man known for his extreme good looks – spending his days immersed in Torah law – against Shimon ben Lakish – the town's gangster known for his promiscuity with the law. Rabbi Yochanan "insults" the strength of Reish Lakish – and Reish Lakish insults the beauty of Rabbi Yochanan. Is it ever a wonder to imagine that these two become such wonderful learning partners together?! To such a degree that Rabbi Yochanan cried over his death as he realised the loss of never having anyone to be able to raise the types of difficulties in Torah law as Reish Lakish would raise. And ultimately Rabbi Yochanan would even die as a result of his having lost his favourite learning partner!
What did Rabbi Yochanan see in this gangster?! And what ever made the gangster turn to Torah?! Rabbi Yochanan – a Tzaddik, saw only what there was to see. He saw a G-dly soul in front of him. So what that it was camouflaged in a gross material body filled with a dozen tattoos?! So what that the muscles on his arms were larger than both Rabbi Yochanan's legs put together (and Rabbi Yochanan was a BIG man!) Rabbi Yochanan could only notice the attribute of strength in the gangster. And it was to this that he focused. When used correctly even an attribute as tough as strength can bring sweetness to the world.
Seeing Reish Lakish's love for the "finer things" in life – clicking on to his language of "beauty" – Rabbi Yochanan told Shimon ben Lakish that he had a sister even more beautiful than he. In fact, he even made an offer that if Reish Lakish would make a change and use his strength for Torah – he would offer his sister as a bride for the great gangster! (Could a Torah scholar be any more foolish than this?! It his highly doubtful any Rosh Yeshiva would ever allow the sister of one of the generation's greatest Torah scholars to marry a gangster!) But then again, Rabbi Yochanan was no regular Rosh Yeshiva – he was an outstanding Tzaddik who looked to the deepest part of another human being. And it was there that he saw a holy spark of G-dliness waiting to be freed, to be awoken, to reveal itself!
As for the "gangster" – he thought the idea good too, and was "lured" into a little bit of learning. Once his soul was awoken, it did not take long for him to become the great Reish Lakish we all know about today.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches us we must learn from every single thing we see or hear that day (that moment.) Today we mourn the loss of a Jew – Yoseph ben Avraham Robinson. Shot dead near a shop that had a botched up robbery… A black man… a gangster… but a Jew! He was shot dead near a shop that had a botched up robbery…
I know nothing about his Torah learning – but from viewing the few videos available about him, it seems to me there is a spark of "Reish Lakish" here too.
Yosef was brought up as a regular non-Jewish person. His life was very much the gangster world life – though I personally know nothing at all about it. But something made him change – to throw it all away – for a little piece of Torah. Or perhaps for an entire cosmos of G-d! One looks at the picture of a refined looking Yosef and wonders what could ever have occurred to this person who just years before looked well the part of gangster! Yet the change occurred. It happened because it can happen. It happened so that we could all learn a lesson from a story such as his.
While we view skin colour and general behaviour as showing us the "true" essence of others, perhaps we should step back every now and again and become Rabbi Yochanans. Hidden inside the often very gross and material bodies of others may well lie a very G-dly spark. In fact, you'll find it in the least likely spot! But it is certainly there. In fact, the person opposite us at any one moment – no matter what they look like or how they seem to behave – may well have hidden inside them a G‑dly spark – at least as holy as ours is!
We can always watch them jumping over rivers. We can comment on their tattoos and gross behaviour. We can even shun them from society. We can all be "Roshei Yeshivas" and tell the world that they would certainly make unsuitable Shidduchim for others. When it comes to seeing that side of things – most of us will never have much difficulty in seeing the material physicality in front of us.
But if we want to, we can also see a sleeping G-dly soul waiting to be awoken in another. Inside him, there is also a piece of holiness far beyond what any of us could ever imagine. Perhaps it is our task to wake the other up – instead of continually shunning the other and maliciously gossiping on him to all and sundry. One never really knows, that person may well turn out to becoming one's best friend. They may turn out to becoming one's best learning partner in the world. They may even turn out to becoming one's own in-law! And who knows, if one is prepared to put in the effort to continue to hunt for that beautiful G-dly spark inside them – one may end up becoming so saddened by the loss of such a person – that one's very own life may feel quite hopeless without them.
Of course, it takes looking at the world around us and appreciating what there really is out there. The greatness of another. And the loss that such a person can bring to the world – without them.
You can find out more about Yosef – and his book which is due to hit the shelves Chanukah 2010 (something he will not see in this world) – here: http://yosephrobinson.com/index.html
But before you go there, why not take a look at something of his life in the video below:
PS: The following article was published a day after this post and tells more about the facts of the tragedy as well as about Yosef's life.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
It may not be that time of year when we read about Bilam's talking donkey, but coming across this video made me reconsider just how amazing some of G-d's creatures really are. Of course, they are all amazing! But every now and again, one of them stands out just a little more. I'm at a loss in understanding how such animals work. You may have better ideas than I do about why they behave as they do. But the evidence of such amazing behaviour is becoming clearer and clearer as the days go by. With thanks to video cameras, the Internet and people who simply want to share amazing stories - we are privileged to live in a generation that can look around at creation on a daily basis and be constantly in awe of the creations of the Creator.
I often consider the Gemara in Tractate Brachot that speaks about how King David would sleep - but would not sleep - much like a horse does. I've never really watched how horses sleep and am no authority, but watching this horse has definitely given a new insight into the way in which some horses might indeed sleep! It's unique... it's really special.
I wonder what the Mussar greats like the Chovot HaLevavot would have to say when seeing such wonders of the world. Their books are constantly filled with the thoughts we must internalise as we look around us and be in constant awe of G-d. Sometimes, we get lazy! We see the sky every day, the moon and the stars, and we lose track of the amazing novelty of the sun rising and setting each day. Do we really care?! Does it make us any closer to G-d?! Of course if it was a once off we'd be in amazement! But every day?! Does that actually prove that G-d exists?! The Mussar authorities teach us to take note of every wonder of the world - even when we see it every day, because in fact, everything is indeed a wonder pointing to the Artist who created it.
When of course we get a glimpse - every now and again - into something a little more unusual, this should spur us on into seeing G-d in creation and allowing us to throw off any crazy ideas we have that everything in the world simply exists - just because it does! Bang or not!
So... a horse is a horse is a horse... or is it?!
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
What's really involved when it comes to rebuking a fellow Jew?! We see someone doing something "wrong" and we "know better." We want to correct the other. It can take a life time of learning to find out the right approach to take when coming to rebuke another. It takes much tact, control and sensitivity to get it right. Many are ready to let it all out when it comes to telling off the other regarding the correct behaviour necessary in any given situation. Often, we simply know better. When it comes to rebuking, we're ready to truly put the other in their place showing them exactly where they are wrong. But do we really know the right approach when it comes to rebuke? Do we really know the correct approach when it comes to helping another improve their behaviour?! Have we studied enough?! Are we ourselves learned enough? Are we perfect enough to know the truth and correctness of every situation at any time - always?! Perhaps a little consideration of these ideas may make us a little more sensitive the next time we're ready to let another know just what correct behaviour is all about.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe shares an approach consistent with real Torah Judaism as to the path to take when it comes to teaching another, rebuking them and guiding them. He tells us what it means to focus on helping another to appreciate Torah, Judaism and how to improve and be an even better Jew. The approach might seem like old news to some - and yet to others, something quite foreign. Perhaps the only way to find out if it really works... is to give it a try!
Monday, 9 August 2010
If you have somehow found your way to this post today, it may be for good reason. As the Baal Shem Tov teaches – "Everything that one sees or hears should be used in the service of G-d." Nothing is coincidence. No matter what we're seeing or hearing, the Torah teaches us to "tune in." There's a message there just for us!
We have all been there… The doorbell rings and a poor man presents himself "begging" for help. In today's world, "beggars" seem to be popping up even more than ever! Practically every blog we visit sports a "donate" button from the author of the blog – often his only means to bring in money. (Check it out of course… he may be quite well off and asking for just that little extra!)
Or you check your email to find at least five to ten emails from a variety of institutions asking for your help! Let alone the numerous letters that arrive regularly from a variety of "solicitors." It seems like everybody has in some way today become a "beggar" of sorts – at least in our eyes! How do we react? Are we irritated at the "poverty" surrounding us? Do we become angry at the poor man for asking for nothing more than… life?! Are we angry at the Torah scholar for asking us to support his "habit" of studying all day without – apparently – actually making any contribution to the world?!
What of the new immigrant to Israel who so often seems to be running around from one side of Israel to the other (on a daily basis!) trying to get hold of everyone and anyone who will help them to be able to start their lives living in the Holy Land – when they have absolutely nothing?! Or what of the older couple who marry without any money?! Do we become irritated at them for "demanding" from us some sort of help so that they too can marry just like everyone else – with an attractive Chuppa, a beautiful Ketuba, a brand new suit and hat for the Chattan and a quality dress for the Kallah?! Do we feel they deserve less for their "crime" of marrying late?!
The list is endless. Have you ever heard of a Baal Teshuva with no money?! All such a person may want is a new pair of Tefillin which he cannot afford. He might even want a basic library of books to learn from – but nobody will help, because we feel that when G-d blesses him then he'll have. And if G-d doesn't want him to have, then he won't. Why is it *our* obligation to provide for someone else?! Let him get a real job, two or even three – so that he can support himself! Why must he be such a burden on society, often taking away from my opportunity to own a better car, the latest gadget or a new summer wardrobe?!
The Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) can come up with thousands of excuses for not helping another – for not giving support – financial support of course! Just catch yourself next time you find some Internet site asking for your support – or a poor man literally begging at your front door – because nobody else cares enough to help him live just like everybody in this world deserves to – in their own home, married and feeling that they have the basics to have the strength to contribute to live – like everyone else. And when you catch yourself – as you may laugh at the irony of all this, you might want to consider a most awesome and beautiful teaching brought in the holy Zohar – that basic text of Kabbalah written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Just when you thought that charity was all about the pity you need to take on another "poor wreck who just can't seem to make a life for himself," Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai gives us something else to think about… The "poor soul in need of help," may not be in as much need of help as you think. In fact, the poor soul in need of help may actually be… you!
And more than the giver seems to think he is giving to the poor man – it is the "poor man" who gives in far greater measure than the giver could ever hope to give the poor man! When the poor man makes his request, he does not do so for himself (though he is truly in need) – but it is G-d Who orchestrates events in a fair way. The poor man needs help! But so does the "wealthy" (the giver.) And so through pure Divine Providence, G-d brings the two together, for good reason. Let them both help each other, and let there be blessing for all…
In Bereishis (Parshat Vayera 104a) the Zohar teaches:
Rabbi Elazar said:
(He is about to explain that it is one G-d's kindnesses with those who love Him and observe His commandments, that before G-d comes to execute judgment, He presents them with a Mitzva that they will gain merit through it that no bad will reach them.)
And so it says: Come and see just how the Holy One blessed be He conducts His kindness with all of creation, and all the more so to those that go in His ways – that even at the time the Holy One blessed be He wants to judge the world, He causes one who loves Him to gain merit through a Mitzvah that the judgment will not come to the world.
For we have learned – at the time that the Holy One blessed be He loves a person, He send him a gift! And what is the gift?! It is a poor person that the Holy One blessed be He sends in order for him to gain merit – because the poor man below is actually an example of the "poor man above" which is the Divine Presence which is called poor, because she has nothing of her own. And since he gains merit (through giving) because of the poor man, the "poor man" Above draws down upon him a thread of kindness which is drawn from the right side. And He spreads it upon his head and makes an impression on him – so that through this, when judgment comes to the world, the "destroyer" will be careful not to harm him. And when the "destroyer" raises his eyes and he sees the imprint of the thread of kindness, he departs from him and is careful not to cause any harm to him. Therefore the Holy One blessed be He precedes for him a certain merit through which he can gain immunity.
Come and see! When the Holy One blessed be He wanted to bring judgment upon S'dom, he first gave immunity to Abraham through a Mitzvah, and He sent him a present of three guests in order that he would gain merit through them – in order that he would be able to save Lot his nephew from S'dom. That is what it means when it says, "And G-d remembered Abraham, and He sent out Lot from amidst the upheaval." It does not say, "And G-d remembered Lot," because he was not saved through his own merit. Rather he was saved in the merit of Abraham. And through what did the Holy One Blessed be He remember Abraham? He remembered what he had merited from before through the three angels!
Similar to this, a person who merits to give charity to others – at the time when there is judgment in the world, the Holy One blessed be He remembers for him the charity that he already did. At every moment that a person merits to do a Mitzvah – so it is written down Above. Even when judgment rests upon Him, the Holy One Blessed be He remembers his act of kindness that he did with others and the Mitzvah that he merited through this. On that day that judgment comes to the world, the charity that he did saves him from death. Therefore the Holy One blessed be He preceded to grant merit to Abraham with the Mitzvah of inviting guests in order to grant him merit – and through this merit, he saved Lot, his relative!
(-- Zohar with Matok Midvash commentary.)
Indeed, more than the giver gives to the poor man, it is the poor man who gives to the wealthy one! The wealthy man may believe all is well because he has "blessed himself with the work of his own hands" – feeling he has no obligation to give to another. His attitude may not just extend to his own – often selfish desires – but more, it may extend to showing an angry face towards the one asking for help. It really does not matter what the asker is in need of. He is surely in need – if he has been brought to "your door" asking for something. Should you be wondering if he really is legit, consider this… If he is, you will be performing a tremendous Mitzvah in helping him. If he is not, G-d overseas everything and can certainly cause events to come about that at one point or another will reveal his true fake identity. Yet as for you – when asked on the Day of Judgment about your transaction – you will yet be able to answer that you gave innocently and honestly in the hope that this beggar was real. It's a win-win!
Next time you may find yourself in the "uncompromising" position of being asked for help from a "beggar", consider instead, that it is not even necessarily that the beggar really needs *your* personal help. He just needs help, and is asking anyone to help. G-d will surely come through for him. But Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches us to think a little differently. It could well be that a judgment is being ready to be issued from Above. But because of G-d's love, He does not want the judgment to reach the proportions He had intended. In order to prevent the judgment being executed, G-d allows us to sweeten the judgment. He brings us to a "beggar." Better yet – He brings the "beggar" to us! And He offers us the opportunity to "immunize" ourselves so that when the judgment is executed, the angel in charge ready to fulfill it's mission, will see a thread of kindness hanging over the person who performed this very kind deed. The angel will see this goodness, and realize that he has no power over such an individual, and he will depart… leaving all well with the giver of charity.'
Consider this: The beggar may not even be a real person… He/she may well be an angel or even the prophet Elijah. He'll never actually need the money you're going to give him. Where it goes – nobody knows! Instead, just like the angels in the story of Abraham – the "poor man" – the "beggar" – is really just a disguise of a beggar simply to give you the opportunity to perform a Mitzvah and save yourself.
Indeed… Charity saves from death!
For further sources discussing the value of Tzedakah (charity), including the importance of giving to the Land of Israel - Eretz Yisrael (E.Y.) and to those that live there, see:
Tanya Igeret HaKodesh – Chapters 3, 4 (E.Y. end), 5 (E.Y. end), 6 (E.Y. end), 8 (E.Y. end), 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 21 (E.Y), 30, 32
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Please see our projects and make your contribution today! If you feel the power of the words of this Zohar taking an effect, please let us know when you make your donation. In this way, may your words have the effect of informing all "judging" angels to stay far away – and that instead of bringing judgments, threads of kindness be extended to you and your family.
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Wednesday, 4 August 2010
In today's day and age, just about everyone is an expert about things like life, relationships and dare we even mention marriage?! The average person is clear about life values, what's important, how to judge others (or rather not to) and just about anything that's worthy of being under the heading of "life-skills."
Looking at today's divorce rates, it's clear, "everyone" is an authority about what being a life partner is all about, and how to go about finding one too. Running a Shidduch service and "bumping into" dozens of young (and elderly) singles, I've learned that it's the young who are far clearer today about real moral ethics than the elderly have ever been. They are often ready to share their own knowledge about what they know as being right – whether in terms of who they are looking for (rightly so!) or whether in terms of how the Shadchan should do their job. They are quick to let you know whether you're entitled to charge for your efforts – and even quicker to let you know that you just don't know a thing about life (or them!) There are of course those who are sincere, ready for real life and willing to hear another opinion. (And to those like that, I say "THANK YOU!")
Today, everything is about instant gratification. We're the ultimate "I"nstant generation. Whether it's the latest gadget (that may have an "I" somewhere in its name – usually at the very beginning!) or whether it's simply about the "I"go (sic). The main thing is that in today's world a 56K "I"nternet line no longer does it for the need for speed when it comes to downloads, uploads or "I"nstant talk with a prospective partner (for life!) Today everything is Mega this and Mega that (taken out of the context of MArriaGE!)
The world of Shidduchim has become far too laborious for the average "I" person. In the "good ol' days" a caring and concerned friend (mentor etc.) would take charge of guiding two people to their future destiny. Today it's "I"nternet sites filled with pictures of just about every variety of colour and shape anyone could ever imagine. Clicking on the image will give "I"nstant gratification as one learns all about another person, from their age and location to their favourite hobbies and what they enjoy doing with their time when life is simply too boring to doing anything worthwhile.
The main page of many of these sites sports a graphic or the like, indicating the "successful" marriages made – often in the thousands – luring the newbie into imagining that the fantasy portrayed is the reality. Personally, I've never seen any of the sites indicating if anyone divorced and whether the general statistic of the divorce rate applies to individuals meeting this way (though I do know of people who have divorced.)
Are people fickle though? In setting up our Shidduch database, we put effort into designing a comprehensive questionnaire to really steer singles into learning about themselves and what they want in life. Many have never joined us because they felt the questionnaire was too long – and they wanted to stick with the "I"nstant gratification principle. Speed! If only there was something quick – they said! So we set up a special 60 second Shidduch database exclusive to the "I" generation person. In just 60 seconds, you can find out exactly who you are, tell us about yourself and we'll let other "on-the-go" singles know all about you. Great idea?! Ironically, emails came in laughing at the thought of the possibility of a 60 second Shidduch.
Today – we have both options available. If you're ready to get serious – there's work to be done! But if you think that's funny, you can always join the quick-fix! Of course, if you think that *that's* funny and you feel things should actually be serious, and you're still laughing at the serious system – then you may find yourself at a loss for ever finding someone – let alone – yourself.
So what could we imagine marriage to really be all about? Do we realise the commitment we're making or are we more interested in the quick-fix (how ever it comes about and how ever long it lasts for?!)
Imagine a piano… It plays music. Great! You could get yourself some good keyboards for just a few hundred dollars. Now, imagine learning how to play it. It's going to take time, and money of course. But even then for just another few hundred dollars you could probably manage that too. You could even become good at it. But it still requires some commitment.
Ever played piano together with someone else though? It's called a duet. And now, playing piano takes on new vistas altogether. It's not really all about the "I" any longer actually. It's now about the "you", the "we" and "it's really best that we keep in tune!" It's all about the timing and the time… It takes a lot more effort to play together, in harmony, in time and with the correct rhythm when you've got to coordinate your music with someone else.
And then of course imagine switching roles every now and again?! Imagine jumping from your side of the piano to your partners, as they take over your role – and then back again – yet again!
Imagine though handling all this. And as you change roles (a breather!) you still have enough time for a moment of love. Imagine sharing a touch as you pass each other – a touch of kindness and love as the roles are exchanged. Imagine finding the time for this?!
Imagine – as things always happen – that as you're busy changing roles you collapse! But you still get up again remembering exactly where you left off? No hard feelings. No… The feelings of love are still there. Playing the piano can be great fun when done together. Playing music in harmony with another is a great blessing! And one never has to give up, because it can be done.
Of course, the piano is easy to acquire, and even learning to play it can be done. But doing it all together takes much more work, and dealing with the normal "falls" of life can be quite disconcerting! But when one is doing all this with a life time friend – one might find it a lot easier. After 62 odd years together, one might actually enjoy it.
I guess that's what marriage is really all about. It's about getting the piano together. It's about learning how to play the duet together. It's about changing roles and still showing the love when both are needed (always of course!) And it's about being able to get up after the fall – still with a great smile on one's face. It's not at all instant. I don't believe 60 seconds will do it (though it's there for those who are interested!)
But, as so many young (young) singles have shared – what do Shadchanim know about making introductions today?! They really don't know a thing about the person concerned, nor what's important in a married life. I must therefore take leave of all this preaching, and leave it to the experts now.
Enjoy the video. Just a superficial glance is enough to tell anyone in just a short moment – what marriage is really all about.