Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Which Car Are You? (Includes Video)

We live in special times when we have the ability to learn from so many today. One of the biggest things one can see through the variety of videos shared, is just how much people are showing today how important it is to stick together - to be together. There are videos showing us how people judge others by their cars and their looks, and videos showing how important it is to stay far from this. Has G-d ever displayed such in-your-face footage of what is happening in the world and awakening us to strive to improve ourselves to prepare for a better world where peace will reign?

When will that be - and what will that time be like? It will be when we learn to unite and care for each other - as we should; when we learn to stop our harsh judgments of others, expecting them to live the exact same life as they do - only with less pleasure than we have. When we are able to give freely to the other - just because. When we value the other - just because. When we realise the other can feel - just like we do. These in-your-face videos show us just how much G-d is speeding up our lives towards that time - making us open our eyes to see how far we have strayed from truth, and how important it is to awaken and to see the Oneness of life.

Let us not forget, that when something is wrong, it is wrong. The message is not to give in to everything because everything is right. It is that we need to take care to stay far from needless baseless judgments based only on a baseless hatred. 

What wonderful teaching we can learn from a video like below. Enjoy!

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Great Designer


The famous question: Did human beings come from apes, or did God create this world (and many others too)? 

The story was once told about the famous Posek - Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. It happened on one occasion that he was sitting on an airplane. On the plane there was a very disruptive young boy who showed very little respect to his grandfather. On this same plane, Reb Moshe sat with a grandson of his who seemed to be showing his grandfather much respect throughout the journey. Reb Moshe was asked how it happened to be that on one side of the plane the grandson showed his father little respect (with the grandfather even giving in to his grandson), yet on the other side of the plane, a grandson would show his grandfather so much respect.

Reb Moshe answered: It is because they believe that they are descended from apes. Since this is so, it is only natural that the grandfather should show his grandson much respect - after all, he is two generations further removed from an ape. Whereas in our case, we received the Torah over three thousand years ago. As each generation comes about, we are further removed from the greatness of the generations before us which are one generation closer to that Godly experience of hearing God and seeing the Torah as it was given by God. This is why the grandson shows his grandfather much respect.

It's an important decision to make that affects our entire lives. Are we living as improved apes? Or are we living as souls from God? For those who continue to believe in the ape (let alone frog) theory, it is a wonder how they can continue to see the miracles of the world and imagine that yes indeed this entire world came about through a non-existent Bang that made life in a most basic form which then miraculously changed over the millions of years where nature became humans.

Yet - for the believer in a God - it is not all that difficult to perceive the true miracles of life as implanted in the world. Here, they are implanted by a Being who has taken everything into account already - to make a world filled with miracles - operating like nature - and allowing us to live as we do.

In fact, it takes a far greater believer to believe that we came from apes, than that we have come from God - as souls living in bodies. In this wonderful video clip, Rabbi Avigdor Miller shares with us one of the most remarkable of miracles we take for granted. The apple - the apple tree - and the pip! Here, God has implanted a miraculous entity which continues to allow itself to grow forever. Indeed, He has also created a ground surface able to receive the miraculous seed. He has created the winds and the winged creatures who eat the seeds inside the apples dropping them from their bodies with their digested food - to continue to implant themselves into the ground. The ground awakens, taking the genetics of the seed, causes it to grow - and another life-sustaining tree grows!

It is not a silver coin inside the apple that makes it stand out. It is a simple seed that for us looks like nothing more than something we'd rather throw away. Inside it - however, is another apple tree waiting to grow.

So too, has God created all of nature this way. The wealth that surrounds us is hidden within nature. It is hidden in ways that cause us to think it worthless and even worthy of being thrown out. Yet, it's value is far greater than silver - far greater than gold! It's value is life itself - the greatest gift of all.

It is there, for everyone - even the apes. Enjoy the video!


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Homeless Man Does Extraordinary Act (Video)


I am constantly on the look out for acts of kindness! Of course, practising them oneself is the most important thing - that goes without saying. What amazes me is to see the tremendous kindness so often exhibited by those who don't have. I am amazed at the inconsistency regarding the ratio of wealth to actual goodness performed. How can it be that some are blessed with billions of dollars, and yet others have nothing save for their lives?

While the billionaire awakens with a full bank account each day, the poor man awakens to wonder how he will survive the day... Yet ironically, he will still find the means to give to someone that day. If they have nothing - they will so often given up their lives so that another may live. One who is blessed is surely tested each day and should become aware of the enormous responsibility on his shoulders - to others. If the poor can give up their lives for another - what will the wealthy person answer as to his reason for withholding his wealth?

This video shows the amazing quality that King Solomon speaks about. "There is one who feigns riches but has nothing; one who feigns poverty but has great wealth" (Proverbs 13:7). There are those who seem to be wealthy - but they have nothing. In truth, their wealth is never used. What then is it's benefit?! What honour can their be to feign the riches which will never be used to help others in need?! 

While charity may be given - the bulk of their wealth remains locked up with no benefit accruing from it. Yet, there is another who seems poor (who really is poor) - yet his actions show how wealthy he really is. This man in the video shows us that sometimes it is those who lack everything - who are the wealthiest of all. "Who is wealthy?" Ben Zoma asks. "One who is satisfied with his lot," he answers.

Though this be the case, as a nation who should show others the light of life - we should constantly do everything we can to never have to see another in need - not for anything. It is not just the amazing video we need to see. It is not the amazing quality of watching one is lacks - give. It is for those of us who have, to do everything we can - so that another never need to go without.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Otto Warmbier – Korach and His Congregation (Parshat Korach) – and the Kikayon


Death! A word that conjures up little feelings of excitement – for most. Life – on the other hand, is the very purpose of existence. That word – when expressed in its most fullest manner, takes on feelings of joy and blessing.

What a shock to the entire world to have to see in yesterday's news the death of Otto Warmbier (19 June 2017) – a 22 year old student who had taken a trip overseas to explore life elsewhere, and use it as a stepping stone towards his further progress in life. Here was a young man ready to give of himself to others, only to find it all taken away from him far too early. What exactly happened that lead up to this, nobody will ever know. It seems he had stolen a propaganda sign – though the video footage is by no means clear. Was it clear enough to be certain?

Even if so, has society reached such a low level where theft of a political symbol is worse than the terror we face every day – literal terror – which is rewarded by those sponsoring and furthering its growth continually? Besides all this, does stealing require the punishment of death? Does it require 15 years of hard labour – a punishment that surely lead to excruciating pain resulting in a type of coma state leading ultimately to death? Yet terrorists – real terrorists – are rewarded, praised, valued and publicized on TV and other media with smiles on their faces as the world allow them to continue unharmed?

Korach stood opposite Moshe fighting for his right for power – though Moshe was not only clearly in the right, but offered a path in this world that lead to life. What ever could we imagine the path Korach would have chosen for the Jewish people had he won his right to leading the Jewish people – or at the very least in taking some sort of leadership role? Was he really in it for his interest in the safety of life, the preservation of life, the goodness of life and the well-being of society – or was he – perhaps, only in it for the power and glory he would gain from his position of authority? We’ll never know of course, but one thing is for sure, his plan did not succeed. Apparently God new better!

Moshe stood up for the rights of life making certain that not only would Korach not succeed, but he would be eliminated from the face of the Earth – swallowed into the ground, never to be heard from again. This was the approach taken by Moshe when confronted by the evil scheme that Korach was plotting – because to have a Korach act as a judge of any kind for the well-being of society – would mean that Evil would rule life. Moshe – in full view of everybody – set up a scene that would determine who was truly entitled to the roles of leadership within the Jewish nation.

As society – we need to identify with the wrong. We need to speak about it – actually saying the words that what is happening is wrong. It is unacceptable to simply continue life while seeking pleasure at the expense of life – the lives of others – no matter how or when this occurs. Even more importantly – we need to act to make sure it never happens. It is for each of us to behave in a Moshe-like manner to have no desire to even negotiate it. We never negotiate evil – no matter what it is. We eliminate it. We focus on good. We do good. This never means we have the right to take the law into our own hands. What it means, is to never be prepared to accept the evil ever. It means being prepared to stand against it. It means to keep as far away from it as possible – whenever we can. The Torah approach is one which speaks about keeping close to those who do good – and to staying far from those whose paths in life are its very opposite to it.

It has been a tragic couple of weeks for anyone following the news recently, going back to these very themes – and others! Themes of society and its duties, and themes of cleaving to those who do good, and staying away from those who plot bad.

In one story, a young boy is caught “stealing” a bicycle. Without anybody knowing exactly what happened and whether this genuinely did happen (and again, the stealing and its punishment theme) a tattoo artist took the law into his own hands, inscribing the words “I am a thief and a loser” onto the forehead of the young boy. In addition, he cut his hair short, to make certain none of it would cover his (the tattoo artist’s) “work of art”. As far as I know – having watched the news – the boy has disappeared, never to be seen from again. This is the value of life – where a bicycle can supersede a human life. If indeed the boy did steal, then surely all efforts should be made to have the child disciplined in a manner fitting for the crime – as so decided by the courts. When a person with no knowledge of law and life – is permitted to take the law into his own hands (literally), publicize the event and embarrass a young boy further, it is a statement of society that we are all entitled to embarrass and hurt others whenever we feel like it. Are we then – any better than the boy who stole?!

In yet another tragedy, a young woman encouraged a young man who probably admired her as his “girlfriend” of sorts – to take his own life. With some 20 000 messages exchanged between the two – it seems the only thing she could clearly assist the young man with was getting to value and appreciate that indeed, his life was worth nothing. Death… was far more important than life. Yet again…

Even as he exited his car with the carbon monoxide blowing through in full force – and he sent a message to her telling her of his pain – she encouraged him then and there to go ahead with the “good” deed. She has lost her case in court and will receive her sentence for assisting in manslaughter in just a few weeks time. Was her life more important than his? Was his worth nothing? Are we being taught by our educators and parents about the value of life over death – or have we lowered ourselves to using our technology (which can be used for so much good) to encourage others along any path they feel – even when clearly – it is against the very reason we are here – to live?

In yet another tragic event, a matador is gored by the bull he is fighting. A sport which speaks about the value of an animal life in comparison to a human life. The animal – in this case – is here for all and sundry’s pleasure to watch and delight in – as it jumps about in frustration while the matador prepares to kill it. Then every so often, things do not go according to plan and the animal wins! Then it is a tragedy again. How could the animal win?! “We have lost a true sportsman” – the world will say. A society devoted to pleasure. A society devoted to death. A society that has lost its morals of the beauty of creation – favouring money and power as means of enjoyment – so long as it is someone else who dies. It is that same society that will criticize (and even ban) the laws of slaughtering according to Jewish law – involving just one cut to the animal’s throat with a perfectly sharp knife so as to cause the animal the least amount of pain as possible at the time of death. The next bull fight will be showing in not such a long time – with the arena full… and the animal forced to suffer – all with the permission of the state, yet the country will ban Jewish Shechitah (slaughtering of animals according to Jewish law) considering it to be cruel.

The bullfighting won’t stop. The pranks of children on their classmates won’t stop either. The bullying of elders (who know “what’s right”) over children will continue. Corrupt governments will continue onwards. Everything will always look squeaky clean with all those involved wearing the smartest of clothing, using the most modern devices (because we just must keep up with technology), using the most sophisticated arenas to house all the “evil-doers” to watch while others’ lives are at stake – as long as it isn’t them! It will all continue.

Korach and his crowd “rose from the dead” just as soon as they went down to encourage the world along such paths. They will all continue – unless we change. Every single one of us. Never to allow the most minimum of evil – ever. Never to support it, no matter how fun it looks. Never to encourage it. More – to continue to separate from it – never to even get close to it.

As we enter the summer months, we begin to feel the Chagim (the Jewish festivals) approaching. As we recite Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) each Shabbat afternoon, we surely consider the value of life – realising that just some 12 weeks away – we will all be judged – for our very lives – for this world, and the next. Then it’s Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, when it will be our final moments to repent and pray for our lives and to pray for life! Here, we consider life! Will we live, or will we die? What is the value of our lives? We read the Haftarah of Yonah (the book of Jonah in the Prophets).

Yonah is asked by God to go to the city of Ninveh and to tell the inhabitants that they are to do teshuva (they must repent of their evil ways). If not, God will destroy the entire city. Life is not worth anything, when it is filled with evil. When it is filled with good, however, then life is worth something; even Evil can change its ways – and it must! Then that death state becomes one of life – and then life is worth living. Yonah, however, is reluctant to do as he is bidden to. For various reasons, he does not want the city to repent. They are evil people who should be destroyed (much like the Generation of the Flood) – he thinks.

God does not think the city should be destroyed. To God, life is the most important thing – right here in this world. He wants a world of life, a dwelling place below – and he wants a world of good. It does not count that the bad is there. What counts now, is turning the darkness into light. Getting things right! Yonah is hesitant and runs away from his mission. Ultimately he is swallowed by a large fish – where Yonah begins to reconsider the value of life. He is spat out onto the dry land and finds his way into the city, announcing to all the importance of improving their ways. The city does the repentance required, changing their behaviour and all the people are saved. Yonah is disappointed – to say the least – in the results. God asks Yonah if he really cares. Is he grieved by the fact that an entire city of living people and industry can be destroyed – “just like that”?

Meanwhile, after his hard work, Yonah lies down to take a rest. God causes a Kakiyon tree to grow where Yonah is resting, providing him shade and protection. The tree grows immediately and Yonah rejoices in its protection from the harsh sun! He is ecstatic now that he is protected! The next morning – God sends a worm to eat the shady, leafy tree, and the leaves wither, leaving Yonah with no shade at all. The harsh sun burns down on Yonah, and unable to deal with the extreme heat asks God (again) to let him die! God asks him yet again the same question asked before, “Are you grieved by the Kikayon Yonah? (the fact that it has died)” Yonah tells God that indeed he is grieved. He is grieving at the loss of the wonderful tree that had provided him shade and life!

God tells Yonah the message of life. He tells him – Yonah, there you have it. You grieve over a plant (much like society may do…) that provided you shade. It only lived a night and a day, but still you grieved over it. Yet with all this, can you not imagine how much I would grieve by losing an entire population – an entire city?! Human beings – who represent the purpose of creation. They must surely be able to do good – when they choose to. And this is their purpose! When they come right – they do good. I want them to do good, because I grieve over these creations – who live many years – providing so much to My world. There were indeed 120 000 people. Not only that, but there were even animals there too…

You – Yonah – grieved over a plant. You forgot the humans. You forgot the animals. You forgot life. You were so concerned over death all the time, that you couldn’t sit back and see what life was all about. Life, Yonah – says God – is what I want.

Embarrassment, senseless death… pleasure at the expense of an animal – or even the loss of life at the expense of the pleasure of those watching the death, or the death of a young boy at the hands (literally as the fingers type the message) of a girl – are not want I (God) want in my world.


“For man is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Every human being has the potential to bring shade to others. Every human being – a Kikayon for someone else – to bring joy and happiness to them. Let us never forget the words in Pirkei Avot (4:3), “There is no man who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place.” Our duty is to see that in everyone – all the time. There is no person that does not have the ability to turn his life to good, to encourage others to do good, and to love good over evil. It must – however – be done.

It is up to us to learn the lessons, because we are here to create a world of life where all can smile and laugh, where all delight in the beauty of what life actually is. We must learn from the stories we read.

Otto’s short life – or perhaps his bitter death, should be a wake up call for all telling us that something is wrong in society and it is for us to avoid these mistakes in life that lead to the death of anyone. No matter how fun, pleasurable, or innocent, something might appear, if it contains within it the potential to cause another harm, we must flee from it immediately – and encourage others likewise. Many don’t know, but Otto also had a connection with the Jewish community. I am not sure of the particulars of his interest in Judaism (or something I do not know about his ancestry etc.) but he had taken part in the Birthright Israel as well as lead (as I have heard it) some Pesach Sedarim. His loss is a loss to the world of good.

I have included a video of Otto which I hope the readers of my blog will find meaningful and that it will serve the purpose of encouraging us to be better, do more good, and live life as it should be – life… not death. Stop all the judgments. Stop the criticisms. See the little good of the other – and do everything to make it greater. There is a Kikayon tree waiting to grow and to give shade and shelter to someone else.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Children From Divorced Homes and Halachah


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
(Posted on this site with permission)

Their mothers live among us and are relatively invisible. They have children who have no one to take them to shul. They have no one to take them to father & son learning programs. Rarely do they get a Shabbos meal invitation. Their social lives are awkward at best.

They are the divorced women who live in our communities – a group whose numbers are growing dramatically. And true, there are fantastic people – the Rabbi Dovid Greenblatts, the Rabbi Yaakov Benders, the Dov Wolowitzs of the world, and others, but somehow it is not enough.They bear an almost unbearable burden. Most are financially insecure and have their hands full just making it through the week. Often they experience such legal strains and financial stress that the strongest among would buckle under the pressure.

THE HALACHA

What does halacha say about these women and their plight? The psukim in the Torah tell us about orphans, widows and converts. But what about the growing number of divorcees? And if, in fact, the answer is that we should devote more resources to this invisible group.

A few years ago, one such woman approached a number of Gedolim in Eretz Yisroel about the plight of divorcees an obtained a remarkable letter. Because there was a slight factual miscommunication in the recipient of the letter – there was a delay in the publication. The three Gedolim? Rav Aron Leib Shteinman Shlita, Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita, and l’havdil – Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l. The letter is translated below:


To the Honorable Organization..

We have heard of the remarkable acts of chessed that you do with widows, rachmana litzlan, in a most befitting manner. Now you approach with a question in regard to divorced women:
Do they have the same a similar halachic status in regard to Tzedaka and in the manner in which to deal with them on an equal basis?
Our opinion is that the circumstances and situations are equal in their importance.
May the Holy One Blessed Be He enable you to continue in your blessed handiwork.

One who signs with wishes of blessing,

[Rav] Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, Bnei Brak 5769 [zt”l]
We too join with what has been mentioned above,
[Rav] A.L. Shteinman
[Rav] Chaim Kanievsky

A FAMOUS PASUK WHOSE MEANING FEW UNDERSTAND

There is a pretty famous verse in the Torah whose true meaning has eluded the vast majority of people – Zeh Kaili v’Anveihu. Most people only understand it to mean that when it comes to items involving a Mitzvah, we should spend to buy the fancier and better one.

We see from the Gemorah in (Shabbos 133b) an entirely different explanation of it. Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sherr zatzal explains (Leket Sichos Mussar p.76) that the pasuk of “Zeh Kaili v’Anveihu” teaches us the obligation of feeling and understanding that the performance of Chessed brings us closer to Hashem.

This is on account of the Gemorah’s understanding of the word “Anvehu” to mean “Ani v’hu – I and Him.” The meaning of this Pasuk is therefore, “This is my G-d, and I shall bind myself to Him. I know that I can accomplish this binding through the notion of performing acts of Chessed.” The consequences of this particular Pasuk are an obligation of thought: It is something that we must think – Chessed binds us to Hashem – Ani VeHu.

The existence of this group of people then, provides us with an opportunity similar to that of a shul. What is one of the main purposes of davening? It is to form a close bond with Hashem. Chessed does the same thing, and according to this Gemorah in Shabbos – it is a halachic obligation of thought to realize this.

MAKE THEM FEEL AS A PERSON AND NOT CHESSED

One very important point that we must have in mind is that it is the greatest chessed for chessed not to be done as if it is chessed. All people have what to contribute, in conversation and in social activity. Our obligation is to realize that everyone is created B’Tzelem Elokim in the image of Hashem and that there is depth to who they are as people. Their social contribution, their thoughts and opinions matter and they are enjoyable company.

There was a famous bakery owner in Williamsburg. Mr. Gelb, who not only gave needy people Challah and cake for Shabbos and Yom Tov, but also gave them change so that their self-esteem would remain intact. An even higher level that can sometimes be achieved is to actually render any assistance in such a manner that even we do not detect or perceive it as chessed per se.

PRACTICAL STEPS

So, practically, what does this mean? We can help in two ways. Boruch Hashem one of our askanim, Rabbi Dovid Greenblatt has created an excellent organization called, “Sister to Sister.” This organization is a remarkable way in which one can lend assistance to this invisible group.

A second way, however, is to seek out members of this invisible group and actively help them. Boruch Hashem, some of these divorcees have an ex that cares enough about his children to provide for them even more than the court-mandated child support. Others often get a pittance and some not even at all.

MEN TOO

We must also not forget that divorced men, as well, need to be welcomed in our homes and need emotional support and assistance. Often men are perceived as the evil ones when, in fact, they too have suffered enormously. Whatever happened in a marriage is not our concern. Ahavas Yiroel and Chessed must be applied to all parties – these Mitzvos are gender neutral.

TZNIUS

When helping them, it should, of course, be done in the most tznius manner as possible, and with the contributions of both the husband and wife. There are many ways to do this. It should also be done in a manner where they do not feel that you are doing it as a chessed.

• Learn with the child
• Notice kids in shul
• Offer to take the children out with yours on an outing
• Help keep up with the homework
• Shabbos invitations – realize that often their families cannot take them back
• Extend invitations earlier rather than later
• Occasional financial help or a gift
• Offer to babysit once a month
• Ask if they need anything at Costco
• Offer to build them a Sukkah – or to use yours
• Ask in general, “Is there anything specific I can do for you?”
• Just call to say hello
• Share your husband’s flowers with her
• Get to know their favorite food items and that of their children
• Suggest shidduchim when possible and appropriate
• Suggest shidduchim for their children
• Help them deal with fixing the house
• Help them deal with fixing their car
• Help them deal with the IRS
• Help them in general negotiations
• Help them ensure that their kids have friends
• Sheitels – look out for a new one for them.
• Avoid avoiding them
• Don’t be judgmental
• Don’t stigmatize
• Don’t say things in a pitying way
• Be sensitive to call them back
• Avoid saying insensitive things or asking insensitive questions

LOVING CHESSED

The posuk in Micha (6:8) states, “..What does Hashem require of you? Merely to do justice and love Chessed..” The idea is that we must foster and develop a love of Chessed. Rav Sherr explains that there are three elements to this love:

1] To love doing acts of Chessed ourselves.

2] To love and appreciate a situation where Chessed is being performed by others – either for another or for others.

3] To love the existence of opportunities for Chessed in the world.

The Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chessed 2:1) that not only must one love Chessed but one must stick to this character trait and always go beyond the measure of what is required. He give the analogy of a parent. A loving parent gives more food and clothing than the child requires, so too must we do likewise in sticking to the Midah of Chessed.

CONCLUSION

The dramatic rise in divorces provides us all with an unprecedented opportunity for chessed. These opportunities should be done, when possible, with the utmost consideration and thought for their self-esteem and self-perception. These are the sons and daughters of Avrohom Avinu, Yitzchok Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu, and should be treated in lie with their stature.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Why is it So Hard for the Poor Man to Ask for Help?


There are some powerful lessons in this week's Parshah - Behar (/Bechukotai). One of the most powerful teachings of the Torah appears in this week's portion - speaking about the importance of charity to others. 

Those who have seen a "beggar" (a term which strips a human being from all his dignity) often wonder how it can come about that a person should "lower" themselves to such a state. How did they get there? - people ask. They see the man lying on the ground with an old blanket around him. In front of him lies a plastic cup or a dish - practically empty, save for a few kind donations of the smallest of coins. 

Here lies a human being, but he has lost hope in life. What ever brought him to this? He tries to sleep as much as he can - just to pass the time until perhaps he will die... He waits for enough money to collect in the dish with the hope that he will be able to afford a loaf of bread and a glass of water - if he is lucky. It may take the entire day for this to happen - as passersby visit the most expensive of clothing shops / cellphone shops / "collectables" shops - and other "necessary" stores near to the man lying on the ground - on the list for the day, where the most vital of things should be purchased.

Our Parshah tells us the story. It once happened that here was a man filled with dignity. He was clean, smelled good, had a smile - and even laughed at things in life. Believe it or not - a human being - just like us! He must have given something to society at some point in time. It is just inconceivable that he did not. That is just how life works. As Ben Azzai in Pirkei Avot (4:3) teaches: "Despise no man, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no man who does not have his place."

This dignified man got along with life - moving and trying to do whatever he could. As time went on, he was not supported by others in the work and effort that he did. People did not buy from him. People did not hire his service. People would bargain with the man to get the service and goods he provided at bargain prices - often smiling to their relatives when they left - remarking at the good deal they had got! He continued on. Not much later he was unable to purchase new garments for himself. He could not even afford a new pair of spectacles he was much in need of! 

He felt it better to try to get some business - even at a loss - rather than to beg and ask others for help. With time, he could not even have a shower - because he could not afford to rent an apartment. Owning one - was not even something that appeared in his dreams... His diet - though once healthy - progressed to buying the barest minimum - eventually settling for just one meal a day (perhaps.) People began to detest the man, feeling he did not look good (now), he smelled bad. Why should they support him?! He had become a liability to society now. Why - he didn't even pay his taxes!

And then it happened. He gave up. He gave up on himself. He gave up on society. He gave up on life. Right there and then, he took the only blanket he had left, together with his last plastic cup - and he sat himself down on a business thoroughfare road somewhere. There were thousands of people walking by every day. Maybe someone would help. Really help! Get him on his feet again! Get him out of the debt he now owed... But the people walk by. They can only see a "beggar" - someone who does not contribute to society in any way. Why should anybody really take an active interest in his life? After all, three are considered dead anyway, the poor, the childless and the blind (Nedarim 64b). The poor man (and anyone who is this - knows well this feeling) is literally the walking dead.

The Torah is sensitive. There should never be a situation of a person having to become a "beggar". Let him become a professional, a person who is able to take care of himself (See Rambam's hierarchy of laws of charity - with the highest level being to give in order to help the other to be able to support himself.) Here is a person with talents and skills - and a soul... A person who can make a difference to others. But today - he sits with a cup in front of him because he has given up, because he may well never have even been given a chance!

Here the Torah teaches us - when we see the other falling - even before he stretches out his hand to ask - step in, make the difference to him NOW(!) before it is too late. When we give when the other is still stable - but in need - we do far better than when we give when the other has already fallen. Then... then it becomes practically impossible to get him up again. His dignity has been destroyed. His life's possessions have been taken away from him. The banks have closed his accounts, never to allow him to open them again(!)... His name has been ruined! The donkey has fallen / the load has fallen. It has become impossible to ever get it up again...

So many people walk around saying they are "good people". Many say how much they can relate to the man-man commandments, though they don't believe in God's commandments. Here is one of the ultimate tests. Here - we are faced with a person who seems - in our eyes - to be someone who is worth nothing (God forbid). So much so, we feel it is *his* duty to take care of himself - to get a job (whatever line we want to use - to let us off the hook from helping the other.) But now - we must come to the rescue and help the other - no matter what. We just cannot let them fall - because then... then, it will be too late. Too little... too late...

For those who don't know, I personally support myself only through Torah teaching on this site and my main site www.lovingkindness.co. It is not easy to find people willing to pay the amounts I need in order to live(!) and really, I too rely upon those who value Torah teaching and outreach - to help me to continue my own path in life. I am also a professional photographer (some of my pictures - for sale - can be seen here). People can purchase those photos - or hire me as their photographer for photography in Jerusalem. If you have valued any of my posts - please consider helping me to progress in the path I have chosen for myself, so that I too may never collapse like the load of a donkey.

There are donate buttons on this page as well as my main website. Please let others know. Share this post with others who may be able to offer help in any way.

Eliyahu Shear
Rabbi, author and editor, photographer, graphic designer - so much to offer...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Rabbi Who "Lusts" for Money


Having seen so much negative publicity about rabbis asking for financial assistance, and the apparent chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem's Name,) I felt it important to bring out some vital information, so often neglected by the public. I'm not going in to the sources as to the permissibility of the action - rather, and more importantly, I felt another angle was necessary - one that leans towards the concept of "rabbi," his role, and how too often, he is simply taken for granted. Apparently, he is seen as a spiritual being who devotes his life completely to God, and with this, has no need to actually live a physical life. When he does choose to, he is so often condemned for his inappropriate behaviour. Perhaps, we need to seriously re-consider our thinking of who he is, his role, his availability for others, and in fact, his vital contribution to Jewish society, and in truth, the world in general.

So great has the "desecration" become, it is considered taboo for a rabbi - or a Torah scholar to dare to ask for money. He is looked down upon, frowned upon, and dismissed as someone who needs to go out and get a "proper job". Alternatively at the very least he should be prepared to offer himself to everyone at no cost, because he has indeed chosen a life of poverty - the life of the "rabbi", a spiritual being connected to God, with no need for a physical life.

Rabbis - are in fact just like other people - human beings who are composed of souls that live inside bodies. These bodies of their's require the exact same food to live, a home to live in, and maybe a car to get around in (they should be so lucky - so deserving!) They even wear garments to keep themselves warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and be of the types that are quality enough that they (the garments) bring enough respect to them, that the world may feel they are in fact dignified, honorable and clean in every respect. Surely wearing rags would do even more damage - than his apparent "lust" for wealth. 

It's not really the negative publicity that's as much of a problem - as is the sudden calling upon of the rabbi for some things he can actually give to the other - from that very person who once humiliated, insulted and degraded "the rabbis" for their apparent "lust of money", apparently contradicting everything they ever imagined about this spiritual being (they assume) they call a rabbi.

It's when suddenly at 12am they feel low about life and want someone to talk to who understands something about life - and they pick up the phone to call their "rabbi" for help. And he's actually there - prepared to talk and to listen... It's when there's a marriage and they suddenly need their "rabbi" to officiate - and he doesn't just do the ceremony as some might think - he spends years learning the laws to make sure it is done correctly. Subjects such as these require sharp, clear minds - and most of all the ability to be able to sit and learn for hours every day - without disturbance, in order to clarify that the final "show" will actually be in accordance with normative Jewish law.

It's when their baby boy turns 8 days and they need the "rabbi" (Mohel in this case - who could also be the rabbi) to take care of the commandment at that time. It's when suddenly they may need a Mezuzah checked - and call the "rabbi" (Sofer in this case - but could equally be the community rabbi) to check - or even to know just where to put the Mezuzah up. It's when they need a divorce (which can actually happen) and they need the "lustful" rabbi to have spent years learning the laws gratis as a gift to all and sundry - never to charge for his time spent in learning - to make sure he does what needs to - as it should be done.

It's when their relationship with a partner may be falling apart - and they feel the need to talk to their "rabbi" to help put things back together again - or when the father of a child dating someone of another religion feels it is not the right thing to do - and feels he must now speak to the "rabbi" to help. Now the rabbi must help - though just moments before (in their eyes at least) - he was greedy about money, bowing and kowtowing to the wealthy for help.

It's when the person realises suddenly that he needs to actually learn some Torah - he needs to grow, he needs some life, he needs some meaning which he feels suddenly that he might find in the Torah... and he calls - "heaven forbid" - the "rabbi" to help him get on track again - and return.

But God forbid that the rabbi should mention he needs any money to live - or God forbid he take a cent from anyone (especially if he has the chutzpah - the audacity - to ask from the wealthy) - lest he appear in their eyes as greedy or the like - bowing, kowtowing and lowering himself from his exalted level of spirituality - to make out as if he is a physical being of any kind.

Let us be clear, just like a doctor may study medicine for many years and then begin to charge huge sums for the work he does, as does the accountant or lawyer, the rabbi has involved himself in many years of study as well. What makes him different in the eyes of others, is the fact that they believe that by following God, by being spiritual, by living a more spiritual (apparently dignified) life, he should offer his service at no charge, or at minimum charge, or should at least compromise to everyone's wishes to what they can afford. He dare not ask for money when he is battling (note: to survive!) because this should be beneath the dignity of one who sets himself up in the eyes of others as a Godly person, a spiritual person engaged in spiritual pursuits.

The truth is - as any Jew should know, the rabbi performs many functions. Sometimes he talks to inspire a congregation. Sometimes he teaches children. Sometimes he teaches adults. Sometimes he acts as a friend. Other times he will help others with the rituals they are in need of performing. Sometimes he offers spiritual advice to assist others in their growth in life. He may be available all day and all night - being prepared to wake up whenever another is in need - in order to help them immediately. He has so many hats - even if it appears he only wears one (an old black one that seems to look like he really needs to replace it!) He does so much... (very often without any charge at all!) Yet, many do not realise just how much he gives... until of course, it is they who suddenly need his help...

It may seem "undignified" for the rabbi to have to ask for money to live, but in truth, it is not he who is at fault. It is we - the one's who will not pay him his fair due to live appropriately and be able to give of his time without the need to wonder how to make ends meet. When we give more, without his having to ask - he will be able to do more, and appear even more dignified in our eyes for the tremendous work and good that he does in fact do.

It just takes a little thought to ponder upon his role in life and how so many need it. When we see him asking for help, for financial assistance, it is not for us to judge how lowly he is and what a chillul Hashem (a desecration of God's Name) he has done. Rather, it is for us to remember, that he too is a person who needs to live, to eat, to wear garments, to have a house to live in and maybe even a car to drive! 

We must remember, that when we give without stinginess, then when the day comes that it is we who need the help from that rabbi - he will be there for us. For if not, then when one day we do need his help - for anything - he will not be there for us. He will be unable to learn. Perhaps, one day, instead of offering sage advice to make the difference in a life-or-death question that one has - he will find that "rabbi" checking his goods out at the supermarket.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Mikvah of the Arizal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria - Mystic: Why I Took This Photo


The picture may look a little dreary for some, but that's only because many are not aware of what they are looking at. I guess that's a little like someone involved in mining who seems to only see dirt - and then all of a sudden realises that while it may look like a lot of dirt - when one looks and searches, one finds gold and diamonds all around one! It's about putting aside the outward appearance and instead, focusing on what the treasure in front of us actually is!

Here I was in the holy city of Safed in Israel. Nobody who values this pool of water can be in Safed and not immerse in it... 

Here lies the Mikvah of the Arizal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572). This is the very place that he would immerse in to purify his body every day. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria was one of the key rabbis involved in transmitting the authentic teachings of kabbalah to us - until today. His teacher was no less than Elijah the Prophet himself. While there will always be pessimists who consider that ridiculous, a sampling of his work is enough for anyone to realise that it is simply not possible for a person of flesh and blood to express himself in such a way - and in so doing, teach the most hidden secrets of Creation and life, unless of course there was someone from a far superior realm guiding him. Indeed - this was Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet! We may as well mention that when it came to teaching the Baal Shem Tov - Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem (1698-1760) - the secrets of Torah, it was Achiya HaShiloni - the teacher of Elijah the Prophet - who taught him! 

In the world of Torah, there is nothing strange about what lies hidden from the human eye. Just because a blind man cannot see, does not mean that physical human beings do not exist. There are certainly others who do see them. For those who purify themselves sufficiently, they too may be privy to the experiences of visions in seeing and learning from the Maggidim - the Angels from on High, from the souls of those who have already left this world, as well as from the great Prophets themselves...

The Mikvah is one the most mysterious of creations that God has blessed us with. Herein lies parts of the mysteries of birth. Just as the baby will find itself immersed in the womb, surrounded by water, so too is the Mikvah a womb for the "bigger" body to immerse itself in - in order to return to that womb, and to start life again, so to speak. Water has always carried with it that description, that property of purity. In fact the body itself is composed of some 73% water! Water is life! When feeling exhausted, it is to water that we will turn to refresh ourselves again! It is the most keen component in a healthy lifestyle. Drink water - and lots of it - every day! 8 glasses? Go for 12 - every single day! Our bodies love water, and it is the most basic of all healthy diets in order to keep the body working at its very very best! Without it, dehydration occurs, loss of energy, and simply an inability to do anything. One cannot survive in this physical for too long without re-hydrating ourselves!

Just as water absorbed into the internal part of the body has the effect of purifying one - so too does water when it is applied to the outside of the body. Yet again, after a hard day of work, after a workout, after just about any physical activity - a well earned shower and bath is taken by us all. The warm (or cool) water refreshes us yet again making us feel ready to start life again, or to just relax, feeling just wonderful!

The most mysterious of water is that that is completely natural - untouched by human hands! This is the water from the clouds - rain! It is God's own direct source of purity which He sends to us regularly - without which we would die! Once that water is handled by man, however, it does indeed lose something of its purity. So the Torah instructs us, that in the making of a system of water that will bring the highest levels of purity to us, we must make a Mikvah!

The Mikvah is a completely natural body of water made according to the strict laws as set down in the Shulchan Aruch - the Jewish work of law par excellence. After preparing a hole in the ground, one waits for the rain to fill it up. It is this water that will bring purity in the spiritual sense of the word - to the person who immerses inside it! Modern Mikvaot do not work in this exact way - but rather, they have a pool specially attached to the natural body of water, with an opening that connects the two. As long as the opening is open, then even the man-made pool connects to the holiness from the original water. If it is closed however, it is simply a man-made pool! That water is cleaned out regularly to keep the Mikvah clean and hygienic. The original rain-water however remains in the hole originally prepared.

Another type of Mikvah is a natural spring. After all, what can be more natural in terms of water than water which flows from a natural spring - with no human intervention at all?! While it is not always easy to get to a natural spring, there are indeed some around, and then there are those who use them! The Mikvah pictured in the image above is indeed from a natural spring. The water has flowed from the snow coming from the mountains - already for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Due to this, the water is absolutely freezing and immersing for even the most minimum of time is an experience one will never forget! Not all Mikvaot are like this however. Modern Mikvaot are warmed up through permissible means. Tradition has it that one who immerses in the Mikvah of the Ari will certainly do Teshuvah (he will repent from all his sins) before he dies - a very meritorious thing to do!

A story is told that when the Arizal died, as is the custom that a Jewish body be immersed in a Mikvah before burial - they took his body for immersion right here... When they placed the body inside, the body began to move on its own, and the Arizal immersed himself, by himself...

The Arizal would immerse in this Mikvah daily - even when he was very sick, suffering from a stomach problem, though his mother had constantly warned him not to immerse due to his bad health. He died at the young age of just 38! This is the very same Mikvah one can immerse in today! Not only the Arizal, but hundreds of thousands of people - some of them the greatest giants of the Torah world in every aspect of Torah - have immersed in that very pool! It is an awesome experience to immerse there - as one contemplates just how many people have stood in that exact spot - the greatest of giants of every generation! It must surely add to the holiness!

It is a Mitzvah for a woman to immerse in a Mikvah once a month i.e. when she has her menstrual cycle. This is the only time she needs to immerse. Men have the custom to immerse in a Mikvah before Rosh HaShanah - the New Year - and the day before Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. Yet others are careful to immerse once a week on the eve of the Sabbath day. Yet others - especially Chassidim and those who immerse themselves for their studies of kabbalah - will immerse themselves every single day, every morning before the morning prayers (Shacharit). 

There are other important times that a man should immerse as well (contact me for more details.)

In summary: The Mikvah is a pool of natural water. The water purifies a person spiritually from any type of spiritual impurity he may have - as he immerses himself, his entire body without any intervening substance whatsoever (including watches, jewlry or even dirty nails etc.) completely naked in one-go into the "womb" of life, emerging completely purified, to begin his service of serving God again, as if he were a new-born baby. When immersing, his body should be relaxed with his fingers opened slightly so that the water will reach every place of the body. His eyes may be closed gently and he should not hold on to anything inside the pool while immersing.

This picture is the Mikvah that was used by the Arizal himself, and it stands out as a reminder of how important it is for a man to immerse regularly. Those who wish to study the secrets of Torah (Kabbalah) should not do so under any circumstances if they do not immerse in a Mikvah regularly (every single day.) The experience is refreshing, rejuvenating, cleansing and purifying. Anyone doing so regularly will begin to feel like there is a whole different way of life, a newness to everything, and a clarity in one's way of thinking (even!)

Immersing in a Mikvah is for me - one of the most important parts of the day. It somehow gives a charged-start to all of my activities!

You can purchase this picture here, print it out and contemplate some of these thoughts whenever you look at it - or meditate on your own thoughts. If you have never been to a Mikvah before, do it today! If you have, but don't do so regularly - make a new start! And if you do go regularly - you are truly blessed!

By purchasing one of my pictures, or booking a time to learn with me online, or making a donation, you are not just taking a part in supporting a Torah scholar, but you are assisting a Jew to be able to live while giving him the opportunity to continue his own learning in Torah. Be a part of it - today!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Man in Purple - Praying at the Kotel - Why I Took This Photo


I'm constantly fascinated by the different types of people who come to pray at the Kotel - the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Here was someone who surely stood out from the crowd. It seems like most of us might think the "royal purple" garments worn by this man would not be the norm for the type of garments we would wear on a daily basis. However, here he is - standing at the holiest site in the world pouring his heart out to his Creator. It makes no difference if he is Jewish or not - here is a man in need of having his prayers answered. He too contains within himself a spark of Godliness in need of redemption.

You may have seen my previous post about a man who had come to pray at the Kotel, and wondered why I would post another such similar image. In truth, however, the images are completely different. The garments worn by the two men are certainly different - but more importantly, their prayers are different. Most of us would not consider this. We are too distracted by the physical... We would see two people standing at the same place and assume things to be the same. We would make judgments about their garments... but this is not what prayer is all about, this is not what a soul is all about. In fact, this is not what life is all about.

When God created His world, He filled it with an infinite array of creatures - many of which we have never seen in our lives before, and many which we never will. To the scuba-diver who finds himself deep below in the hidden waters concealed from the average person, life is quite different. There, he/she finds himself/herself amongst creatures which most will never come to see. With modern technology, the average person has been privy to worlds unseen... To the astronaut thousands of kilometres above the Earth's surface - he too sees worlds that most will never see. With modern technology, the average person has again been privy to seeing sights he would never see in his ordinary life.

Just as these people are privy to worlds unseen by the average person - so too are there other worlds which none of us might even be aware... but they are there.

Hidden, in the deepest resources of these worlds, is what goes on in the mind of a person. Here, one will find the deepest of thoughts that each of us has - which others will never see. Here, one will see the fear and the love one has for God too. While on the outside, we may all look the same - save for perhaps the different external garments we wear, on the inside, our worlds differ from each other as do the colours black and white. 

Indeed the Baal Shem Tov asks - Why is Kabbalah called the hidden wisdom? Those who wish to learn the mystical aspects of Torah are welcome to go into any well-shelved Jewish book store and purchase books on every subject of mysticism from the theory to the practical... Anyone with a good knowledge of Hebrew can read these books in the original and learn the apparent "hidden wisdom". The Baal Shem Tov answers that Kabbalah is based on two foundations which are hidden - the love of God and the fear of God. These emotions are hidden within every person and differ from one to the next. Whereas everyone may observe the Shabbat day, eat Kosher, wear Tefillin (for men) etc. everyone will do so with their own feelings... and it is this that is hidden. The mystic will achieve his closeness to the Creator not because of the books he reads, but because of his emotions as he cleaves to his Creator in ecstasy and trembling. To the outside observer however, none will know... because in Kabbalah, everything is hidden... The reader (only) of such books will never grasp the essence of the study, because without the "hidden," it really is all hidden. Much like the fool who picks a beautiful flower from the garden thinking that he does so because of how much love he has towards it - yet immediately brings it to a state of death(!) - so too the student of kabbalah and the "practitioner" who attempts to study it after having uprooted it from its Source, and his lacking all fear and love of the entire Torah.

Here - a man stands praying. He wears particular - unique external garments, and those watching may well make their own judgments. However, when it comes to God, it is not the outside which attracts His attention, it is the inner world of each of us. He has created it, but it is we who bring it out from potential into reality. 

Our obligation is to look beyond the facade - beyond the veneer of the other (and even of ourselves!) Our obligation is to see the beauty of the external - even if it appears so different to our own, and thereafter to penetrate to the inner and to realise just how different it is from the other.

Our two men praying may look similar - as far as ordinary appearances may go. After all, they both stand at the same place. They may seem to be praying and talking to their Creator. Inside, however, they are completely different. They are celebrating being themselves in their very own way. Their external garments are merely a sign of something they feel close to in terms of physical garments. They have chosen those garments because it makes them feel the way they'd like to - physically. The garments express something about their inner selves, much like a doctor wears particular garments, a soldier wears others and a policeman wears yet another type of uniform - each expressing who they are at that point in time. Their inner garments - of thought, speech and action - are however most different.

When we stand watching over others, no matter how different they may seem, we must be aware that there is something they all share. They all come from the Highest of Roots of Creation, their souls having traveled into their bodies to express themselves differently, to offer something unique to the world. They may show their uniqueness through their external garments, but for us, we must look deeper than the external. We must realise that they too have their own desires, wishes and mostly needs in life. We must value them for that. We must realise, they too pray for the things they need. 

We respect them for who they are, because no matter how different the external seems from what we might be used to, hidden inside all of that, rests a soul with its own struggles, its own pain and its own connection with its Creator. Its own love and its own fear.

Purple? Even Mordechai the Jew wore purple (Esther 8:15) at the end of the story of Purim. The Wall is the same for everyone. The Creator is the same Creator for all. Now, it is up to realise, that no matter how much the scene may look the same - everything is different. Everything is unique.

You can purchase this picture here, print it and consider the thoughts included here - or add your own - as you consider the beauty of life.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Cave of Machpelah - Hebron - Why I Took This Photo


The Cave of Machpelah... One of the most mysterious places in the world. The very architecture of the building that rests upon the Cave (under the ground) gives the picture a completely esoteric - perhaps magical - majestic look. Built by King Herod some 2000 years ago, the building adds to the awe of what really lies beneath it...

This is the place that Abraham purchased as a burial ground for his wife Sarah over 3500 years ago... and it would be the same place he would be buried. Isaac was buried there too - with his wife Rebecca. Here, Jacob is buried too with his wife Leah... but his other wife Rachel is buried on the way to Beit Lechem. The head of Esau can be found in this cave as well... Most mysteriously of all, it is here that the very first two people of Creation are buried - Adam and Chava (Eve). It is a place filled with holiness and the deepest of mysteries. It is said that it is the entrance to the Garden of Eden...

When one enters the Ulam Yitzchak (the Hall of Isaac), a section open only at certain times to the Jewish world - one will also see a structure built over a small sealed hole. Here is the entrance to the caves themselves... They say that the winds of the Garden of Eden can be felt here - and it is especially auspicious to recite one's petitions by whispering them at the entrance of the hole...

Let us always remember - we are not praying to the Garden of Eden. We are not praying to the stones in the building. We are certainly not praying to Adam or Eve - or any of the Forefathers. We are praying in a place of holiness - because the souls of the people buried in this place lived especially holy lives - their lives being dedicated to God. The place in physical terms has a spiritual counterpart. We are a part of this physical/spiritual holiness that exists in this place - and we direct our prayers from this point - much like an arrow shot directly through a perfectly straight tube would more likely hit the target to which the tube was actually touching - more so than an arrow shot without being directed through the tube - and at a great distance away from the target.

Here in Hebron - a place of holiness, we pray. Here, in the location closest to these souls - we pray. Our prayers directed to God - the Creator - who can supply all our needs. We are joined - much like the arrow shot through a narrow tube with its very end touching the target point!

A famous story speaks about Rabbi Avraham Azulai retrieving the sword of the Sultan which had fallen into this hole - lying closest to the actual graves of the holy souls (or bodies at least!) buried there.. More of the story can be found at The Fallen Sword of the Sultan. The Sultan's soldiers who had been sent down to retrieve the sword had died on their attempts to obtain it... When Hebron was liberated (see previous post - Hebron Day - 50th Anniversary of Liberation) 50 years ago, Moshe Dayan - Minister of Defense, sent a young girl named Michal down the hole to find out what lay beneath it - inside the actual caves. More of this story can be found out here.

Hebron is one of the 4 holy cities of the Land of Israel, the other three being Jerusalem, Tiberies and Safed.

I have personally been to Hebron (the Cave of Machpelah) numerous times. It is most special to be able to stand in such proximity to these holy souls who had once walked in the very places I have stood. Here, one's prayers are especially powerful being so close to the gates of the spiritual worlds open to the words being spoken.

You can find out more about this holy place by seeing Cave of Machpelah on the Wikipedia.

I keep this very picture on my fridge in the form of a fridge magnet - so that whenever I need something to eat - I always remind myself of this beautiful and special place! These magnets are available from us directly for those interested, and for those wishing to purchase this picture, or see some of my others, you can do so right here. Please support me in the work I do. Thanks!

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