Sunday, 30 March 2014

Safety First - Protect Yourself - Be Aware

Though this is a blog about Torah - I found it worthwhile to include the video below - because part of Torah observance is about being safe. One is commanded to look after one's health on a variety of levels, and it is essential that everyone do everything they can to keep themselves safe at all times. The video below speaks about the dangers of a seemingly harmless item in one's home - a 9V battery! Amazingly keeping these batteries lying around without taking care to look after them correctly - can result in a fire - ultimately burning (as in this instance) an entire house down!

Many people laugh at the "silliness" of people who speak about things that seem so far off - but the video clearly indicates just how dangerous leaving a battery like this lying about can be. 

After seeing a social networking post recently posted by a well known rabbi with thousands of friends watching his every word and picture - I commented on the danger he was sharing with others - albeit unintentionally. He had posted a "sweet" picture of his young son/grandson learning some Torah via an educational CD filled with audio and visual stimulation to help him learn. The boy was watching it on his laptop on the bed in his pyjamas clearly ready to fall asleep - which he was now doing! I commented that the picture was extremely dangerous to show. Leaving a laptop on a bed actually causes the extreme heat coming from the computer to heat up the material of the bed - which can in fact ignite the entire bed. This very incident happened just recently in Israel and an entire family - save for the mother - died in the tragedy. Again, I mentioned this in the post. Comments raged from, "I'm sure the rabbi would never let his children fall asleep like this. He was surely just taking the sweet picture for illustration purposes and then removed the computer immediately," to, "The computer would never fall off the bed causing a health hazard," to, "Don't be over judgmental," and then a variety of other scoffing remarks. In the end, the rabbi was lauded for his outstanding creative ability in taking this "awesome" picture - ultimately advertising the importance of using this particular product - so that others would buy it too.

Most agreed it was certainly in keeping with fun, Torah and the rabbi's good name to show this image - so that G-d forbid - others would do the same - by allowing their own children to play on their laptops, fall asleep later at night at the computer and simply already be in bed!

Never be fooled for a moment. The Torah demands we keep safe at all times. This video below does a great job of telling things as they should be. Laptops on beds can make fires (even if the rabbi owns it and his sweet children harmlessly play on it,) and a 9 volt battery can bring an entire house down.

You're welcome to choose the side you want. Support the rabbi - or scoff at those who insist on safety. But never forget - it's your life and the life of your own family at stake. To me, it's a "no-brainer"! Wise up to everyday happenings, everyday dangers - and do everything you can to keep safe - always! By being alive - you'll be able to serve Hashem - just as He wants.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Yossele Rosenblatt - An All Time Chazan (Guest Post)

Yossele Rosenblatt died in 1933, but his style of hazzanut continues to inspire and guide cantors from all streams of Judaism until today. No other hazzan has ever attained the popularity and fame that Rosenblatt achieved. He retained his strong commitment to observant Judaism and was uncompromising about his beliefs -- he always appeared wearing his large black yarmulke and the frock coat that distinguished him as a religious Jew -- yet he created a legacy that continues to enthrall Jews from all streams of the Jewish world. 

Yossele was born in 1882 in the Ukraine. His father was a hazzan who often performed in the court of the Sadagora Rebbe. While Yossele was still quite young he would travel to the Rebbe's court and sing with his father. As Yossele grew older more and more people came to hear the young prodigy. 

At age 18 Rosenblatt was given the position of hazzan in Munkacs, Hungary and from there he moved to Pressburg where his creativity as a composer began to develop. His fame grew and people traveled for great distances to hear him perform. His style was influenced by his Hassidic background but he wasn't averse to stretching his magnificent tenor to new ranges and heights. The trademark Yossele "kretch" -- sob -- which would later become his trademark was already evident in these early pieces. The first recording of his singing was made in 1905 and he continued to develop, both as a composer and as a singer. Rosenblatt moved to Hamburg where he lived for five years and, in 1911 he immigrated to America with his family where a job as hazzan of the Ohab Zedek synagogue in New York was waiting for him. 

Once Rosenblatt had situated himself at Ohav Zedek his fame increased. In addition to his position at the synagogues, the New York Jewish community requested his presence at memorial and philanthropic events. The New York Times featured him in an article, writing that "The cantor is a singer of natural powers and moving eloquence" and his prayers and chants moved the largely non-religious audience which "listened with uncovered heads." 

After World War I Rosenblatt performed throughout the United States for relief efforts that were aimed at helping European Jews who had been left homeless. When he sang in Chicago Cleofonte Campanini, general director of the Chicago Opera, came to hear him. Campanini was captivated by Rosenblatt and offered him $1,000 per performance if he would sing the role of Eleazar in the La Juive opera. Campanini promised Rosenblatt that there would be no need for him to compromise any of his religious beliefs. No Shabbat performances would be scheduled, the company would obtain kosher food for him, Rosenblatt wouldn't be asked to shave his beard or alter his appearance in any way and he wouldn't be asked to sing with women. 

There's no doubt that Rosenblatt was tempted by the offer but in the end, he demurred, feeling that by moving to the non-Jewish stage he might compromise his principles. He later explained that "The cantor of the past and the opera star of the future waged a fierce struggle within me." He felt that his voice was a gift from God and he wanted to use his voice only in God's service. 

Rosenblatt is best remembered as a hazzan who chanted in a structured, metered style. This is the style which continues to influence the hazzanut of all streams of Judaism till today. Rosenblatt fused a dramatic style with soothing emotive expressions which included high notes that were hit at unusually high speeds. He used cantillations which caused his voice to break in the middle of arrangements and transformed his voice into a falsetto which created the famous Rosenblatt sobs to convey deep emotions. 

Rosenblatt was particularly famous for his High Holiday hazzanut. He incorporated sections of operatic-like recitatives, snippets of folk melodies and large sections of improvised chanting into his high holiday repotoire. This drew overflow crowds to his Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. Rosenblatt wanted to create musical dramas that would allow listeners to experience the liturgy as true Days of Awe supplications. A number of his recordings have been preserved and some are available on the Lowell Milken Music Archive.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Being Saved - When at the Very Bottom of the Sea (with video clip)

Not everyone experiences life under the sea. Let alone to be stranded there - for days on end with no clothing, no food and no water (save for the sea water of course!) and then be able to miraculously swim back to safety to find air, food, water, clothing and life again! 

Though most will never relate to such an episode - there are indeed many who face this very situation while living on the land itself. They look around them at millions of people who seem to be going about life quite "healthily" - but at the end of each day find themselves with nothing. The situation can become desperate! Those on the outside, watching the "nebach" of society, are often quick to condemn and insult one who has fallen on hard times. Many will share their most knowledgeable opinions about why things have turned out that way for someone. "He didn't work hard," they may say. Or alternatively, "If only he wouldn't be so lazy," is offered as a plausible reason as to his current hard times. Others will offer, "If he would only have studied medicine in university as we told him to..." as the reason for the person's current woes.

But when one is stranded... when one is actually there... all the insults in the world do nothing to alleviate the suffering. Our duty is to help where we can, not to insult - just as much as it is the duty of the doctor to heal (and to do everything possible to heal!) and not to predict bad tidings which may well never happen.

Harrison Okene could well understand those words, because when he found himself on a ship almost a year ago, his fate would take on a similar story. Well qualified in hotel management and catering - he was a chef (though he calls himself merely a cook!) Yet when his ship was toppled over by the powerful seas that fateful day, even his greatest skills at cooking a cuisine of the very best flavours and spices would do nothing to save his life. The ship of which he was a part of the crew, sunk hard with 10 out of the 12 crew losing their lives and another never to be found. He was the lucky one - to survive. It seems, miraculously, an air bubble formed in the particular area of the ship he had escaped to and wearing just his boxer shorts, he remained seated hoping, praying and simply wishing someone would rescue him. What else could he do? Trying to find a job at that location wouldn't offer the assistance he needed then. All those stories about working hard for his living and taking care of himself didn't account for much. Finding himself at rock bottom (literally!) meant all he had left in his life was the hope that another would take care of him.

And so he waited. He ate nothing for three days. Somehow his body dealt with the extreme cold under the sea. What more could he do? Suddenly a hand appeared from nowhere. Miraculously (again!) he noticed it coming through and grabbed it. He could well have been asleep, but miraculously he was awake to see it - and he grabbed it. The rescue team realised there was someone still alive. The rest - as they say - is history.

The team took the greatest of care to save his life. There was no criticism for his having chosen chef-school as his means of earning a living - nor that he had decided to pursue his career on a ship (of all places!) in the dangerous area of the seas. Instead was the care and compassion of a team of people prepared to save someone in trouble - someone who was literally sinking! To save - because that's what needed to be done!

They explained exactly how they would help him - because that's what he needed! They even tied an "umbilical" to him so that they would hold onto him throughout the entire process. (Imagine the kindness of people prepared to construct an artificial cord to one in need today - when most so much want to keep away from assisting the one in need - telling them it's for their own good!) They explained to him what he needed to do. They gave him the oxygen he needed to stay alive while under water. They brought him up to ground level - safely, making sure that decompression was attended to correctly so as not to cause additional problems.

It's amazing what one can learn about how to give charity today - just from a story about a man who found himself sinking on a ship! But it's true - when one learns from all things in life, one can take these lessons seriously enough to realise that saving a (well qualified) man who has sunk in the sea, is really not that much different than saving any person who is struggling in life. That person too is currently helpless, and having reached his particular station in life, can do little more than to sit out and wait for a hand to come through, and pull one up to safety - all the while caring and sharing what will be happening until the other is on level ground again. That's what Tzeddakah - charity - is really all about. It's the one Mitzvah that acknowledges another person's needs and desires - as much as one acknowledges the needs of oneself. No wonder the Torah says - it is in this merit that the final Redemption will be hastened! 

We invite all who value the Mitzvah of Tzedakkah to take part in assisting some very special people who live their lives at rock bottom level on a daily basis to visit our Bayit Chadash Project - and to give them a chance to start life in dignity.

Enjoy the video! The actual rescue starts at about 5:50.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein - The Aruch HaShulchan

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829 - 23 Adar Beit 1908) - commonly known as the Aruch HaShulchan - after the magnum opus he wrote with that very name was a Rabbi and Posek of the highest calibre. His multi-volumed work - taking over twenty years to write - covers all four sections of the accepted code of Jewish law - the Shulchan Aruch - written in the exact same format. It is based mostly upon the Jerusalem Talmud and the Rambam.

Whereas the way of the Shulchan Aruch is to give the Psak Halacha directly, it is the way of the Aruch HaShulchan to work in the opposite manner by first providing all the necessary sources - Rishonim and Acharonim (which he argues upon frequently,) and then leading into the Halacha itself. The author is lenient wherever he can be. He was not "just" an author of a major Halachic work considered authoritative today, but he was also the Rav of an entire city - Novozybkov (now Bryansk region). It was due to his actual rabbinical experience that he focused on bringing lenient opinions whenever necessary - having actually seen how important this was in practice. His introduction to his work brings in his feelings and why he chose to Paskin as he did. Even the intro is a master work! It is fascinating to note that though he is not considered a Chassid, the town he was Rav for was in fact made of a majority of Chassidim - and of them - Chabad stood out most!

9 years later he became the Rav of Navardok (for which he is best known) and remained there for 34 years. He was close to Rav Shmuel Salant of Jerusalem and was a firm supporter of the Rebbi Meir Baal HaNeis charity fund - a fund supporting the Jews of Eretz Yisrael (charity being given in the merit of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNeis.) In fact any charity given to support Jews living in Israel today is really a part of this much larger fund - though this was the essential fund that began the focus and importance of supporting those living in Israel.

There was always a challenge within the Torah world as to which of the Halachic works would be accepted - the Mishnah Berurah or the Aruch HaShulchan (both published at very similar times - though the Aruch HaShulchan was printed later leading many to accept it as more authoritative!) Though the Mishnah Berurah gained greater acceptance for a standard in learning - this in no way detracted from the greatness of the Aruch HaShulchan which is just as necessary when it comes to deciding Halacha in a proper Torah context. The Aruch HaShulchan is simply a master piece in Halacha!

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein once said that the decisions of the Aruch HaShulchan - who was a full-time practising Rav - take precedence over many Poskim who were not practising Rabbanim. A Rav takes into account more than just the black and white facts of a case before rendering a Halachic decision.

There are two beautiful editions available for purchase, one being the Oz VeHadar which also includes footnotes of the Mishna Berurah's rulings where differences are found. This in fact highlights the importance of learning all these Halachic works together - and not assuming one can learn each one independent of the other. (This is a great general principle in learning Torah and Halacha - which is really all one and perfect!)

Rabbi Epstein had an exceptionally humble and wise son - Rabbi Baruch - who due to not being able to secure a job in Rabbinics in the United States at that time(!) - became a successful bookkeeper. Let that not attest to any lack of knowledge in Torah on his part - when we know he compiled two hugely successful works in the Torah world today - the Torah Temimah - an entire commentary on the Chumash showing the references of the Gemara to the various sections in the Chumash - as well as Mekor Baruch - a major work of immense proportions sharing about the history of his family. One section is translated and is known as "My Uncle the Netziv". It is a fascinating story of the relationship between Rabbi Baruch and his uncle Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda of Volohzin. In fact his uncle was none other than his brother-in-law as well, having married his sister after his first wife died (making him the son-in-law of the Aruch HaShulchan.)

You can keep up with daily learning of Aruch HaShulchan by accessing the Aruch HaShulchan Luach here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Parshat Shemini - What is Kashrut?

Parshat Shemini deals with the laws of Kashrut in Jewish law. The Jewish people were commanded with a unique set of dietary laws which they are required to follow in today's times as much as they followed them in years gone by.

The world say you are what you eat - and the Torah stresses the point that the food we put into our bodies actually becomes a part of our very flesh and blood. Depending upon what we eat, so does this change our very personalities! It's amazing how so many people in the world are compassionate to the needs of vegetarians, vegans and others who espouse diets which claim to be healthier as well as preventing the death of animals - yet so often, these same people will laugh at those who wish to follow a kosher diet.

The truth is that we do not understand any of the laws of Kashrut. The Torah describes in great detail what makes food kosher. Some examples include that a fish should have both scales and fins, only certain birds (fitting in with the domesticated type) are kosher, only certain animals (namely domesticated animals) are kosher, an animal must have split hooves and chew the cud to be kosher, one may not mix meat and milk together, derive benefit from the mixture or eat the forbidden mixture. 

Then there are laws that deal with the permissibility of eating fruits from trees not yet three years old, or eating these same fruits if various portions given to the Kohanim and other are not yet removed. In fact the laws of kashrut are exceptionally complex! There are laws that relate to the way cooking is actually done. There are a host of additional laws for food over the Pesach (Passover) holiday. There are even laws attached to cutlery and crockery - which are "merely" the items which the food is cooked in and placed upon!

Though we do not understand these laws, we must keep in mind that the fact that we are commanded to keep them, means that these foods are not only going to be healthiest for us (when eaten in a healthy diet framework!) but that they will keep the soul in best working order together with the body too.

Here is Rabbi Chaim Vogleman in an introductory Shiur, sharing a little about the origins of Kashrut and what it's all about!

Watch on TorahCafé.com!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Worldwide Shabbos Project - Be a Part of It!

I'm always fond of the many people who I have encountered who speak about being prepared to follow a universal set of laws of some sort. They often point out that observing all of the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah is something not everybody needs to do today - though they believe firmly that the Ten Commandments should certainly be universally accepted. Little do they realise that the number 4 on the "Top Ten" is the Mitzvah to keep the Sabbath day holy.

At the beginning of the Jewish year 5774, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein - Chief Rabbi of South Africa, embarked upon a massive project aimed at uniting all South African Jews in fulfilling this Mitzvah together. It was the Shabbat of Parshat Lech Lecha - a time when Abraham was commanded by G-d to "go to yourself" - become who you really are. Leave the lifestyle of your fathers (who were idol worshipers) and cleave to the ways of the One G-d. Keeping the Sabbath day certainly testifies to the acknowledgement that there is a G-d who created the world in six days and then "rested" on the seventh day - and so too commanded us to, in order to testify to this. It was an immense project that brought tremendous unity to the Jewish people of South Africa.

Already - plans have been set in motion for another unity project. But it seems that the project is set to become global. Let all Jews - wherever they are - keep one Shabbat together. The Parsha will be Parshat Noach (of 5775). While Abraham set out in leaving the idolatrous ways and moving towards serving the one G-d - just one Parsha before - Noah - together with his close family - encased themselves into an Ark. Together with at least 2 of each animal - in order to save the world from extinction - Noah and his family also took themselves out of the floods of materialism in order to secure themselves with the One G-d. So too, we can already begin anticipating our own Arks - a place to take ourselves into, away from the floods of materialism - and shield ourselves in a container filled with peace and kindness - one removed from the rage of worldly activity.

Don't forget - it's Number 4 on the "Top Ten"! The laws of Shabbat are most complex, filling one entire volume of the 6 volumes of Mishna Berura written by the Chafetz Chaim - Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan. If you're getting ready to observe this Shabbat with the entire Jewish world - be certain to start learning all about what it means to observe the Shabbat and how one can do so in the best possible manner. If you feel you need a study partner to get started - contact Reb Eliyahu.

Here's what the Chief Rabbi has in mind! Make certain to visit to find out more about how you can keep Shabbat. Don't forget to tell your family, friends and the entire world!

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Purim Dream

Dreams mostly happen on the night that they happen. They don't usually happen before the night. But this Purim dream is already happening though it's just over a day until Purim itself.

Jews around the world will be celebrating. There's a victory that occurred some two and a half thousand years ago - and it's still being celebrated! An evil man by the name of Haman plotted to destroy the entire Jewish people, but a Jewish man named Mordechai together with his relative Esther entered to save the day! There were others involved - and even G-d Himself (though not mentioned in the Megillah) had His share in saving the Jewish people from mass genocide!

It seems so foreign to think about, and yet we know of similar periods in Jewish history about the enemies of the Jewish people doing whatever they wish in their hope of their greatest desires... But we're still here and going strong! It was at Purim that the Jewish people truly accepted upon themselves the Oral Torah - a set of rules not formally written down - and with all this happening and a complete revival of Judaism in every sense of the word, the Jewish people emerged victorious! With that - the celebrations were to begin - at least as much as Mordechai instituted them then. The Jewish people were commanded to remember the day of Purim through an abundance of love towards each other - charity to the poor, gift packages of at least two different items for a friend and a special meal for the day - not to mention the reading of the Megillah and hearing the story of the miracles that occurred! Who could ask for a happier day?! 

Get into it yourself - or think of previous years, and you'll know just what it's all about! Everyone is filled with tremendous happiness - tremendous love for the other too! Everyone seems so much more at ease - with real smiles on their faces! There's a "Shalom" waiting for you from practically everybody - and strangely enough - you'll find yourself saying it to others too! It seems that people feel easier - in fact with no embarrassment at all - about asking for money to help them (Matanot LaEvyonim - charity for the poor - "gifts for the poor.") More than this - people feel easier about giving them. There's no shame because everyone suddenly realises what it's all about. It's about happiness, kindness and giving. You'll see Jews of all kinds coming through - passing by your home too! Some will be wearing hats of every kind! Others will have Peyot purchased from a toy shop! Kids will be wearing beards! Nobody criticizes anybody - no matter what they wear! There's just so much joy - so much giving!

You'll probably even be invited out for a special Seudah - a Mitzvah meal! There will be meat and wine and other wonderful delicacies! You'll have friends (you never even knew about!) knocking on your door with a special gift package with an assortment of sweets, chocolates and even real food! In fact, you may be thinking - you'll be doing just the same.

It's an amazing day. It celebrates victory to the Jewish people. There's some Torah during the day as we read the Megillah. There's the festivities of the physical body too! There's even a combination where with a "little" wine, both body and soul feel good about things - together. True homeostasis! The Simcha (happiness) experienced by all is beyond what anybody can ever think of...

And yet, the day after Purim, it all seems to fall apart - again! The beautiful "Shalom" greeting has faded. People feel critical of the one with Peyos - or the one wearing a different hat (let alone if the other wears the brim up or down!) Their desire to give money to a poor person is replaced with "Why doesn't he just get a job," or the like. The poor feel once again ashamed to approach another for any assistance - ever again. As for gifts, those in real need can only but hope that someone will care to assist them - one day soon. As for a festive meal - or any meal at all, the poor man may well be confronted with a "You can live on bread and eggs," remark. And while a Shabbat invitation may come about - it's rare to find a caring person for the other six days of the week! Why does this happen? What happens to us just hours after a day experiencing what true joy is all about?

Purim is here - not for itself. Not just for the day itself. It is here to teach us what it really does mean to be Jewish. Purim is a day to be celebrated all year long. When we realise this - when we are truly able to see the foolishness of holding ourselves back from each other - we will have the opportunity to awaken that beautiful force that existed so many years ago - a force that will bring the truest joy to us all. Victory again! Love again! One can wonder if it will come from heaven itself - like so many feel and learn about. But maybe not. Maybe it's up to us. Maybe it's for us to bring in the joy. To grab hold of the Simcha as it exists from above, and pull it down hard into this world, so that when we see another Jew - any day of the year, we see him as if it were Purim. He is a Purim Jew. So am I. I see his need to be greeted. I see my need to greet. I see his need to have blessing. I need it too myself. I see his need for good food and physical satisfaction. I hope for it myself too. I see his need for a gift - because I so often need this comfort.

Purim will be here just around the corner. Internalise its message, or there will have to be another year before it comes around again. Make a difference to yourself this Purim - so that you can be a Purim Jew - all year around.

The Rambam (click image at top of post for larger picture) teaches that giving money to the poor is the greatest of all the Mitzvot on Purim - because it gives them the opportunity to express their own happiness by purchasing the things they need most for themselves. There's no need to embarrass them with what we feel they should have (because they are poor.) Those who are orphans, widows and converts - feel the pain of not having even more than others. If you are one of them - you know what this means. If you are not, it can take much "alone time" to realise just how great their pain is.

For those taking in the message of Purim - all year around - may you be blessed for all your kindness whenever you do it. You are blessed already! For those wishing to assist some orphans in great need - in starting their very own homes with their own families, we encourage you to visit our own Bayit Chadash - Wedding Project, and make a donation any time - but in particular this Purim. 

If you would like to know more about our projects and take part in any way you can, see our main page or contact us via email directly

Purim Somayach!!!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Coping With a Tragic Loss - a Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The Lubavitch community recently suffered the tragic loss of the Shlucha Mrs Rashi Minkowicz. The letter below was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to her mother Mrs Sara Lieberman after the tragic passing of her mother Mrs Rashi Gansburg. I thank for sharing this letter and making me aware of these beautiful thoughts of the Rebbe. His words are powerful, filled with kindness and comfort, and share a real care for the value of a soul, its mission in the world and how to understand and appreciate more about life itself. The Rebbe himself speaks with total humility as he describes some themes in life that we should all take to heart.

By the Grace of G-d
14 Teves, 5730 [December 23, 1969]
Brooklyn, NY

Greetings and Blessings,

I received, on time, your letter -- though the circumstances have delayed my answer -- in which you write of the passing of you mother, obm, and your thoughts and feelings in connection to this.

The truth is that "none amongst us knows anything at all" concerning the ways of G-d, Who created humans, directs them, and observes them with a most specific Divine providence. But certainly, certainly, He is the very essence of good, and, as the expression goes, "it is in the nature of the good to do good." If, at times, what G-d does is at all not understood by the human mind -- little wonder: What significance has a limited, measured, finite creature in relation to the infinite and endless, and especially in relation to the "the absolutely Infinite and Endless" (B'li G'vul V'Ein Sof Ha'amiti)?

Nevertheless, G-d chose to reveal a fraction of His wisdom to man, to flesh and blood. This He did with His holy Torah, called "The Torah of Light" and "The Torah of Life" -- that is to say, it illuminates man's path in life in such a manner that even his limited faculties may comprehend its light. Thus, also in the case of the above-mentioned occurrence, and the similar, one can find an understanding -- at least a partial one -- in accordance with what is explained in our (written and oral) Torah.

Actually, this understanding is to be found in two rulings of Torah Law which address our actual conduct in these circumstances. At first glance, they seem to stand in contradiction one to the other, though they appear in the same section of the Code of Jewish Law. The section (Yoreh Deah 394) begins: "One must not mourn excessively (beyond what our sages have instructed us); one who does so in extreme..." Yet, at the section's end it is brought that "one who does not mourn as the sages have guided us is a callous and cruel person." Now, if in such a case it is natural to mourn, what's so terrible about one who mourns more? Why the harsh rebuke mentioned in the law? And if to mourn excessively is so terrible, why is it cruel to mourn less?

The explanation lies in the concluding words of our sages (as quoted from Maimonides): "One should fear and worry, search one's deeds and repent."

It is self-understood that the soul is eternal. Obviously, an illness of the flesh or blood cannot terminate or diminish the life of the soul -- it can only damage the flesh and the blood themselves and the bond between them and the soul. That is to say, it can bring to the cessation of this bond -- death, G-d forbid -- and with the severing of what binds the soul to the flesh, the soul ascends and frees herself of the shackles of the body, of its limitations and restrictions. Through the good deeds she has performed during the period she was upon earth and within the body, she is elevated to a higher, much higher, level than her status prior to her descent into the body. As our sages expressed it: The descent of the soul is a descent for the sake of an ascent, an ascent above and beyond her prior state.

From this it is understood that anyone close to this soul, anyone to whom she was dear, must appreciate that the soul has ascended, higher, even, than the level she was at previously; it is only that in our lives, in our world, it is a loss. And just as the closer one is to the soul, all the more precious to them is the soul's elevation, so it is with the second aspect -- the intensity of the pain. For they, all the more so, feel the loss of her departure from the body and from life in this world.

Also, it is a loss in the sense that -- it seems -- the soul could have ascended even higher by remaining in this world, as our sages taught in the Ethics of our Fathers: "One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is preferable to the entire world to come."

Thus, since the occurrence contains these two conflicting facets -- on the one hand, the freeing of the soul of the body's shackles and her ascent to a higher world, the world of truth; on the other, the above-mentioned loss -- the result is the two rulings. The "Torah of Truth" mandates that one mourn, for the time-period set by our sages. At the same time, it is forbidden to mourn excessively (that is, beyond the set mourning period, and also in regards to the intensity of the mourning within these days).

As said, the primary cause for mourning such an occurrence is the loss on the part of the living. This is the object of the mourning period: The living need to understand why it is that they deserved this loss. This is why "One should fear and worry, search one's deeds and repent."

Through this another thing is attained -- the bond between the living and the soul who has ascended endures. For the soul is enduring and eternal, and sees and observes what is taking place with those connected with her and close to her. Every good deed they do causes her spiritual pleasure, specifically, the accomplishments of those she has educated and raised with the education that bring the said good deeds; that is to say, she has a part in those deeds resulting of the education she provided her children and the ones she influenced.

Since all of the above constitute directives of our Torah, the wisdom and will of G-d, the fulfillment of these directives is part and parcel of our service of G-d of which it is said "Serve G-d with joy." A directive of Torah also serves as the source of strength which provides the abilities to carry it out. Consequently, since the Torah addresses these instructions to each and every individual, it is within the capacity of each individual to carry it out -- and more so, to carry it out in a manner of "Serve G-d with joy."

All this applies to the entire family, but even more so, and with yet a greater supply of fortitude -- as well as a greater degree of responsibility -- in regard to those who are in a position to affect the other family members who will emulate their example. Therefore, the responsibility to implement all of the above falls first and foremost upon the head of the family and the senior child, in this case I am referring to you and your father. The guarantee "You have toiled, you have found" applies here as well.

In all the above also lies the answer to your question as to how you can lighten the load, etc. -- through a behavior consistent with the above verse, with a strong faith in G-d that you will succeed in this endeavor.

May it be the will of G-d that you have good tidings concerning all the above, open and revealed good.

With blessings for success in all your endeavors and good tidings,

[Signature: M. Schneersohn]

Monday, 10 March 2014

HaShavat Aveidah - Kiddush Hashem - Returning a Lost Object & Sanctifying G-d's Name (with video clip)

So often one hears that the Torah is dry. So often one hears that it's too ritualistic. Too many dos and too many don'ts! Too much of things that relate to older days. So many feel that the Torah lacks modernism. 

So far from the real truth are such comments. The Torah is as vibrant as ever! It's filled with a level of modernity that no other book can come close to - and still hold it's own throughout the years of "change." What's so beautiful is being able to catch that "modernity" when it happens - to see the Torah's truth and it's vitality at the moment it occurs!

Returning a lost object is a commandment in the Torah, "Do not see the ox of your brother or his sheep straying and hide away from them - you shall surely return them to your brother," (Deuteronomy 22:1). When one performs the action of returning what the other may have lost, one performs a Mitzvah - a Mitzvah that was as fresh thousands of years ago - as it still is today.

When others get to  hear about the good action, when they get to see it, one performs yet another special Mitzvah - a Kiddush Hashem - a sanctification of G-d's Name. This means that others will see that this is the right way to behave - and seeing it coming from someone who follows the Torah gives the other the strength they may need, to see the beauty of Torah, and it's goodness.

Torah is as fresh as ever. Those learning and practising it show the world just how modern it is, how kind it is, how much truth there is in it. The end result is a world that focuses on giving, on the other and on improving oneself to be a truly great person!

Don't forget to watch the video below!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Tzav! Encouragement - GO!

Imagine the scene: The Creator of the world has just taken the Israelites out of Egypt. Miracles all around! After a tragic event - namely the building and worshiping of the Golden Calf, the same Creator instructs Moshe to build a Mishkan - a Tabernacle where He will rest His Shechina (Divine indwelling presence.) He has forgiven everyone and is now about to do the very opposite of what would be expected! Not only does He not hide Himself - He shares with the Israelites the secrets on what to do so that His revelation will be realised!

Everyone donates. Everyone is a part of it. The nation seems united again in serving G-d. Now it's time to get to work inside this place of holiness. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this holy task?! There seems to be such a "high" for everyone - and yet at the start of service G-d commands Moshe to instruct Aharon with what he is to do. The Torah uses the word "Tzav" - "command." Rashi points out that this word is one that indicates enthusiasm, quickness, liveliness as if it to say - "make the other enthusiastic about what he is about to do. Command with liveliness and make the other excited by what he is doing too!" Rashi says, it (the word Tzav) is "immediate" and "for the generations (to come.)"

Yes, at such a "high" point, encouragement and liveliness are still needed. Even when it seems like everything is in place and that the other will surely be able to get on with the activity - even then, guidance is still necessary. Sharing enthusiasm and getting the other to be enthusiastic - is still needed. It's needed immediately - and it's also needed forever. When it's given immediately, it will also carry through for life and for all generations to come!

We live in a generation of selfishness. It's one that says I am for myself and you are for yourself. The child of today so often grows up with the parent simply hoping that things will work out for them. Let them choose their path in life and they are certain to succeed! Let them do it all on their own. 

But even an Aharon requires encouragement. And even a Moshe needs to be reminded to share the command with alacrity and excitement! Even he needs direction - even at that moment when thing seem to be on the "highest of high!" Even here, a Moshe must be instructed to deliver the message of inspiration to the other - to assist him to be successful in what he is about to do!

This is our lesson in life today. We need to focus and realise that everyone needs encouragement! Indeed, when one gives the other encouragement - helping them to grow in life - or even more so actively directs them on to a path that will be most suitable for the person - that person will succeed.

Success comes to those who are constantly inspired - and become active because of this inspiration, this desire to move quickly and do things with speed! While some are strong enough to do it on their own - our Parsha Tzav tells us that not everyone can - and there's no embarrassment if one can't do it on one's own! 

Our Parsha focuses on what we must do for the other - to give them whatever they need to get on and succeed in what they can do best. Encouragement - inspiration. Be inspired yourself. Be inspired to share the inspiration. Pass it along to the other - so that they too will succeed! Do it immediately. Do it always - for every person in every situation. Do it now - because by doing so, it will last - for the other person's entire life! Tzav!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Color Your World With Kindness

Greek mythology teaches that there was a King Midas who had some sort of unique touch. Everything he touched turned to gold - even on one occasion when he touched his own daughter! We live in a world where it does seem like there are those who have this same effect. There are those whose every business deal seems to meet with success. They seem to win every competition. It seems that everything goes right for them - always! Not everyone has this magic touch - but there is another far more special touch each one of us does have... It's the type of touch that turns everything into color. Not always for ourselves - but for others. I guess when it affects others, it must reciprocate and affect ourselves as well - even if it takes some time before the results can be seen!

There's a kid's game called Tag - or perhaps simply "you're it!" When you're touched - you need to touch someone else - because at the moment - "you're it!" The most unique of Tag games however is all about the excitement of "being it" so that one can reach the other - who needs it - no matter how the "touch" comes about. The truth is, nobody is really running away, because everybody really does need to be tagged - so that they can tag the other - and bring color into their lives.

It's an amazing "game" of sorts. It says - there's someone else in need. When one helps them - they too feel inspired - to give to the other. There's no need for selfishness in this game. No need to step away from the other to enjoy for oneself only. It's a different need. It says - your world should be at least as colorful as mine. I know it should be, because once it happened that someone colored my world - and I am simply over joyous to reach out and touch you - to color your world too. 

Try it some time - soon! It's really this type of touch which we all already actually have - that turns you into a king (queen!) too!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Thoughts on Jewish Unity & Who is Your Rabbi?

Current events are filled with a variety of opinions and much controversy. It seems it has always been this way (ever since at least that famous episode concerning a difference of opinion between Cain and Abel!) In particular, the Jewish people seem to have had a variety of conflicting opinions within themselves since time immemorial too. Perhaps it began with a difference of opinion between Yosef and his brothers. Perhaps it was at the time when the Jewish people went down into Egypt with the Levites being exempt from work whereas the rest of the Jewish people were engaged in slave labour. Perhaps it all started when Moses stood up to be the leader of the Jewish people, causing the vicious hatred of a family member (Korach) antagonizing a group of other Jews to join in the battle of hatred and animosity. Or maybe it began a little later when Jeraboam broke away from the then current King of all Israel - Rechavam - son of Solomon. With the violence that ensued after all that it was not really just 10 tribes against 2, but as we can recall throughout history, a battle within every possible segment of Jewry.

Times change but it seems like the essence of the disunity continues. In today's times we can find a variety of Jewish flavours even within the category of Jewry known as Orthodoxy. Being a Shadchan means becoming well aware of the the different colours in the spectrum of light which ultimately lead back to the white colour they all came from. One can find what many call the ultra orthodox Charedim. One can find Dati Leumi and then there are those who are also that but refer to themselves as Torani too. Those not partaking of the regular Dati Leumi often prefer a Chardal approach - the "mustard" approach of following a mixture of Charedim, Dati Leumi and Rabbi (Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen) Kook philosophies. There are religious Zionists, and then those who are not religious. Then there are the countless groups of Chassidim each with their own Rebbes. There are the Litvaks and yet another group who follow the Zilberstein approach. It seems that everyone is simply following their Rebbe - their teacher - much like one can imagine Jews did at the times the Gemara was written down. Though there was disagreement - there was / is still a way to follow Jewish law. 

It seems like there is no end to the infinite rays of light that stem from the One G-d. Outside of the religious world within Israel itself too - there live a large population of secular Jews, wanting little to do with the active observance of Jewish law. And within all these people - there just seems to be a world of conflict.

I'm often amused at the reaction of so many who - no matter which category they fit into - object to anyone spending time in learning - at least anything that goes on for more than a short period a week or perhaps a lifetime. It seems that whenever a question of Jewish law arises, many are quick to "ask their rabbis" on how to behave. When it comes to birth, circumcision, barmitzvas, wedding, divorce and ultimately death - a rabbi is consulted to rule in a legal way as to what to do. I wonder to myself how the rabbi appears as if suddenly at that point in time filled with the gigantic knowledge needed in order to rule in Jewish law, when so many are so against Jews devoting their lives to learning Torah. Isn't it after all these very people - those who make Torah study their lives - who will be available when it comes to dealing with the urgent questions so many of us have. They'll be there when we need them - but only if we are prepared to support them to become who they will become.

I think of the karate master who will practise his techniques for years on end spending hours every single day mastering every single movement. Watching a karate master perform a kata - for example - may even make one wonder if he could ever win a fight. His moves are slow and deliberate. But by that time, the fight will be over. Not so however! His practise, his deliberateness, his breathing and his slow movements - are just the beginnings and the essence of it all - the very techniques used to win his fight - when the time comes. But it's not good enough to do once. It must be done over and over, day after day, year after year - for an entire lifetime(!) so that when needed, it comes naturally!

So too is Jewish learning. It may seem like it goes nowhere. It may seem like those studying will never contribute anything to society (G-d forbid!) But one day, when they're needed in actuality (let alone the contribution that they do make on a constant basis!) they will be there. They'll even be there for you.

It doesn't really matter which direction they take. Every Jew has something to contribute. Some may be Red Jews, others Orange. You'll find Yellow Jews, Green ones, Blue, Indigo and Violet. But ultimately their source is all routed in that one White Light.

It's such a pity so many choose to fight. It's such a pity they do not see just how much others do give of themselves throughout life. I guess, it's when you really need them and have already destroyed them, that then - we'll turn around and realise just how much we will have lost.


Related Posts with Thumbnails