Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Yahrtzeit - 4 Shevat - Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira - Baba Sali



Born: 1890 (Rosh HaShanah)
Died: 1984

Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira is one of the most famous miracle rabbis known today. He was born in Morocco and made Aliyah much later in his life. 

He was known as an Admor (meaning the equivalent of a Chassidic Rebbe) and had the additional abbreviation Meluban added after his name – meaning “accustomed to miracles”. He was a true servant of G-d in every sense of the word, wanting nothing else in his life than to fulfil G-d’s wishes. Although an Admor in his own right, he had a strong connection with many of the other Chassidic Rebbe’s including the Lubavitcher Rebbe. There is a famous correspondence between the two. The Baba Sali wanted very much to learn and live by the Lubavitcher Rebbe i.e. in New York with him. The Rebbe wrote back telling him that G-d had blessed him with powers that were meant to help those in Israel where he ended up living. It was because of this that the Baba Sali ended up settling where he did!

He was an authentic Kabbalist – not like the popular “Kabbalist” of today’s generation. He did not use his “magical powers” to perform things to show off. On the contrary, it was because he was so attached to G-d at all times, that “The Tzaddik decrees and G-d fulfils.” He never made use of his knowledge of practical Kabbalah. His powers and Ruach HaKodesh came not from practical use of G-d’s Names and the like, but rather because of his extreme holiness!

His father was the first born son of Rebbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira – well known for his knowledge of Kabbalah and his complete devotion to Hashem. He in turn was a direct descendant of Rebbi Shmuel Elbaz – a pupil of Rabbi Chaim Vital, the student of the holy Arizal!

The most famous story concerns how “Elbaz” became known as Abuchatzeira. In those days, it is told, one person from the Yeshiva would go around collecting the necessary funding to help the Yeshiva (and those learning in it) to be supported monetarily. There were no cars in those days, and in fact, in order to build up wealth, it was necessary to travel overseas – and that was done *without* an airplane! The only means to do so was by ship.

In the Yeshiva where Rabbi Shmuel Elbaz (a great Tzaddik himself!) learned, they decided to cast lots by drawing thin sticks from the hand of one person. Various sizes were placed in the hand, making them all look the same size. The person picking out the shortest stick would be chosen for the arduous journey across the sea. As things turned out, this time it was Rabbi Shmuel who chose that “unwanted” stick, and he set out immediately onto his Shlichus (mission) to bring in the funding necessary to simply continue living and be able to continue learning.

Rabbi Shmuel was a humble man. He set out to the dock, and saw a ship ready to set sail. The fee to board it was a high one, and Rabbi Shmuel lacked the money to purchase a ticket. What would he do?! He approached the captain and asked him if he could perhaps board it, and take up some lodging aboard the ship where the storage rooms were. A place perhaps – where brooms were stored – and there would be just enough room for him to stay closeted in. The captain refused. 

Rabbi Shmuel told the captain that he would be delighted to work for his boarding of course! He would clean the deck, serve the passengers food, whatever it would take. The captain refused.

There was nothing Rabbi Shmuel could say or do to convince the captain to take him aboard. Rabbi Shmuel knew well the importance of his mission and realised that he would still travel – no matter what! The ship set sail shortly thereafter. As it did so, Rabbi Shmuel took out a mat that he had brought with him to sit upon. He threw it open upon the waters. The mat floated. Rabbi Shmuel sat on top of it… and it continued to float, moving at the same pace as the large ship. Suddenly people were shouting about at the miracle they were seeing in front of their eyes. The commotion alerted the captain, who realised that his “poor Jewish peddler beggar” was in reality a very great man – a Tzaddik. Naturally he offered him a wonderful cabin onboard with all sorts of delights to honour the great Tzaddik!

Rabbi Shmuel declined, and continued the entire journey next to the ship until he reached his destination! From the day this story became known, Rabbi Shmuel became known as Abu Chatzeira – or the translation of these Arabic words, “Father of the Mat.” Since then, all of his descendants have been known as Abuchatzeira.

Of course, his descendants did not only inherit this prestigious name, but also the ability to perform miracles – naturally!

To tell the stories about Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeira, would fill volumes of books, and indeed many have been printed. Each better than the next, filled with stories most of us would think of only as fantasy and fairy tales. Ironically – they’re true!

Being a holy man, Rabbi Yisrael guarded his eyes from any site forbidden by the Torah. He would wear a cloak around him that completely shielded him from anything “unsightly”. In addition, he would usually walk, accompanied by his Gabbai (sexton) wherever he went – even when it was to the Mikvah! In this way, he could keep his eyes on the ground without bumping into anything.

A story is told of the young Rabbi Yisroel. He came home from school one day and approached his father R’ Massoud. He told his father that he had been in class, and one of his classmates had done something terrible (R' Yisroel never stood for injustice!), and so he had considered cursing him for it! R’ Massoud scolded R’ Yisrael and told him that his mouth would be used for giving blessings when he would get older – blessings that would be fulfilled, and that he should never use it for bad things. Needless to say, R’ Yisrael never spoke any bad word again. Indeed his mouth was used for blessings, and the very words themselves would cause miracles to happen.

He was also known for his miracle of making Arak (a very strong alcoholic beverage) appear from nowhere. He would have a celebration at his home, inviting many guests – who he promised would never get drunk from drinking Arak while with him. Nobody ever did! When the Arak would reach the bottom of the bottle, R’ Yisrael would place a cloth over the bottle, and then continue to pour as if pouring from a full bottle. The Arak never ended.

R’ Yisrael wasn’t known for his celebrating though. On the contrary, he spent much time fasting. So much so that one can see from the thinness of his body – just how much he must have fasted! Often, R’ Yisrael would undertake a very dangerous fast – known in Kabbalah as a Taanis Hafsaka – an interrupted fast! It is called “interrupted” because the fast begins after Shabbat, and continues until the beginning of the next Shabbat (which interrupts it!) There is no eating or drinking during this entire time. So great is this fast, that the Kabbalah speaks of it as being the equivalent of thousands of ordinary fasts!!! (NOTE: This should NOT be undertaken by ANYONE! Fasting in general is something that needs to be discussed with one’s Rabbi before doing anything like this. There are far greater ways of doing Teshuva today than to weaken the body and find oneself unable to do anything as a result, or worse, become severely sick!) In addition, R’ Yisrael would recite the Tikkun Chatzot prayer (midnight prayer for the destruction of the Temple) every single night – after which he would study Torah until the morning and then pray.

R’ Yisrael had already begun this holy path of life even before he was 13 years old! His older brother R’ Dovid HY”D (a very great Tzaddik who was killed Al Kiddush Hashem!) noticed him the first time he undertook this fast, and seeing his weakness (hidden from everyone else apparently!) he scolded his brother telling him that there was no reason for someone so young to have to fast. He wasn’t even BarMitzvah – what could he have done wrong?! The truth is that R’ Yisrael had never done anything wrong. His entire life was devoted completely to G-d.

The stories concerning his level of Kashrut are legendary. He refused to eat any processed food, and only ate from what his wife would cook for him. He had his own private Shochet who he trusted (and tested!) and would eat no other meat! (A far cry from today’s “Kashrut experts” who believe that any food product with any sign that indicates that it is Kosher means it is Kosher, not having a clue about the actual standards used!)

Such a Tzaddik comes into this world but once in many many generations. His Brochas are legendary, and those who read about this great Tzaddik today long to receive a blessing from him.

His eldest son R’ Meir died just months before he did. In fact, R’ Yisrael said that after his son died, there was no reason for him to continue living, and died within the year! R’ Meir had five sons – Rav Elazar (murdered 27 Tammuz 5771 by Asher Dahan) Rav Dovid, Rav Refael, Rav Yeshua Ve'Rachamim and Rav Yekutiel. All the sons are outstanding Mekubalim in their own rights. Rav Dovid has a Yeshiva in Nahariya. The Baba Sali had another son - Baba Baruch - born to him in his old age. 

The Baba Sali is buried in Netivot where he lived for the last years of his life.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the books of the Abir Yaakov (Baba Sali's grandfather,) Rabbi Dovid HY"D (Baba Sali's brother) or biographies about the family, be in touch with Reb Eliyahu. Books are sent from the Holy Land of Israel!

Light a candle for Baba Sali
Yisrael ben Massoud

May the merit of this Tzaddik stand by us all
and help us in being granted
all the salvations that each of us needs.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Why Don't They Learn? Surgery in Installments



The big question on the world’s mind is – who won?! After another battle in Gaza, the world are “up in arms” about who actually won, and who lost. Everyone has his opinion.

The question really isn’t so much about who won, as it is – especially to the Jewish people – are we actually progressing to our intended goal (world peace – aka “the coming of our righteous redeemer” and the immediate redemption)? We’ve certainly been through enough wars already. As the cliché goes – with apologies – the battle is being won but what of the war?!

We’ve seen the Creator of the world set up Divine Providence to the Jewish people being granted an entire state – with world permission – in 1948. What a win that war was! Apparently the Jewish people got their own state and “independence”! What about the 1956 Sinai Campaign? What about the 1967 “6 Day War”? The Israelis have certainly showed “who’s boss!” (but not yet quite – who’s Boss!) Then there was the 1973 Yom Kippur war too. Haven’t they been through enough yet?! What happened to Israeli independence – the one the world agreed upon (apparently?!) in 1948?! There have been other wars too, and notably the last war in Gaza. We all know the images – of those wounded in hospital being visited by the “great members of parliament” greeting them and thanking them for their truly great work – only to return back to the comfort of their homes, while the soldiers lie in agony after their most “uplifting” experience with a member of parliament! And then on the other side of the newspaper, reports with pictures of the “winning soldiers” smiling at victory – carrying their heavy backpacks and weapons with them. Stubble-beards (from days and weeks of not shaving) and sweaty looking faces. Victory!!!

But, is there really a winner here – in any of these wars? Or are we just keeping the media and armies busy to make the world think we’ve reached – or are about to immediately – world peace?!

Imagine the foolish doctor performing surgery on his patient in need of a complete surgical procedure. The doctor cuts… and those watching shout out BLOOD BLOOD!!! STOP! The doctor stares at all in amazement… then seals the wound and brings the patient back from his anaesthetic. The patient groans in pain. “Don’t worry,’ the doctor says, “We’ll be doing some more tomorrow!” The next day arrives… and there’s blood again. The doctor feels they should do a little more though. So he fiddles around with some body parts – when all of a sudden the nurse screams, “Doctor… you’ve moved his heart to the side… STOP!” Well, the nurse certainly knows what she is talking about having studied years of surgery. She’s also familiar with the patient, having consulted with him a dozen times before the major surgery.

The doctor puts everything back again… seals everything up, and brings the patient back to consciousness again. The patient groans in severe pain this time. “Don’t worry,” the doctor says… “We’ll do some more… tomorrow!”

Is this the behaviour of a knowledgeable surgeon? He operates in instalments, never actually getting through the entire operation, because everybody screams to him that he’s drawn blood, or moved something where they believe it shouldn’t be? When will it end? When will the doctor finally do what needs to be done?! How long will he listen to those who have no knowledge of what is really happening? How long will he let the patient suffer for… or does he even care?!

The current war has been no different. The words of the Rebbe in the video below boldly indicate the dangers of the behaviour of our current “leaders.” When will we learn?!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Ethics of our Fathers - Pirkei Avot - How to be "Just a Good Person"


The Torah is made up of a written law and an oral law. In the oral law we find 63 tractates dealing with the explanation of everything written in the Written Law. One of these tractates is known as Pirkei Avot – literally “Chapters of our Fathers”. Colloquially it is known simply as “Ethics of our Fathers.”

We live in a world where everybody believes they have the right approach to living. Who needs a Divine set of laws to tell us what to do?! How often do we hear people speaking of “just being a good person”? Who needs the laws of keeping the Sabbath day holy, the laws of eating Kosher, or the laws for Family Purity? So many think that “just being a good person” is all that counts!

Of course there is far more to it than simply being a “good person.” But – in any case, how does one become a good person? Is being a good person all about placing one’s knife on the right of one’s plate and one’s fork on the left side? Is it about a man opening the door to let a lady through first?! Is it about a man moving a chair, waiting for a woman to be seated, and then pushing the chair into it’s correct place?!

Is being a good person simply about smiling at everyone all the time? What does it mean to “be a good person”?! Actually even those who continually philosophise life into “being a good person” have little idea of what this means. (Those who seem to think it’s all about ‘The Ten Commandments’ also need to reconsider… all 10 of them!)

The Sages knew well what “being a good person” is really all about. Their main teachings are included in this tractate of just 6 chapters and a little over 100 short sayings. In fact, these teachings were also given to Moses when he was on Mount Sinai, and are no less important to life than Tefillin, Tzizit, Kashrut, Shabbat or any other teaching!

Within this short space of just 6 chapters, our Sages have taught us what being a good person is really all about. Even if you feel you can’t take on the commandments that seem too illogical to you at this point in time, you surely agree that we all need to be “good people”. But like everything in life, even learning how to be a good person takes time and patience as one needs to know the true system behind it all.

Our Sages have taught us that “Derech Eretz Kadma LeTorah” – basic good behaviour precedes Torah. When it comes to grounding oneself in learning Torah, the first thing we need is a set of really good manners – about everything in life, whether pertaining to man, or to G-d. Just like one must build a foundation to a building before the building, so too must one cultivate one’s behaviour, and refine it to be an example to all – before one can tread the truly refined path of Torah.

Artscroll have done a remarkable job in presenting to the public these teachings in an easy to read English. If you’re interested in seeing what life really is all about, and what it means to be nothing less than just “a good person” – then you’ll have to purchase this book. It will keep you entertained for hours and hours. Great to read together with other family members and friends. Discuss these beautiful teachings together. I have no doubt, if improving yourself is a goal you strive for, this book will be one of your favourites ever!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A Tale of Two Souls - Learn the Tanya Through These Outstanding Audio Lessons


The Tanya was written by the great Chasidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in the late eighteenth century. The Tanya is considered to be one of the most extraordinary books of moral teachings ever written. A seminal document in the study of Kabbalah, the Tanya explores and solves the dilemmas of the human soul by arriving at the root causes of its struggles. Though it is a classic Jewish spiritual text, the Tanya and its present commentary take a broad and comprehensive approach that is not specific to Judaism nor tied to a particular personality type or time or point of view.

A battle of two souls is a constant for the "average" person. The Tanya explores the difficulties encountered of the "average" man striving for G-dliness, striving to cleave to the Creator of the world, while at the same time being constantly attacked by the animal soul wanting to dominate and rule over the "city" - the body.

These lessons are in audio, which means you can listen to them at your leisure without the need to concentrate on a text. They are guaranteed to inspire you and make you aware of the reality of being a person with ordinary material needs - aspiring for nothing less than total cleaving to G-d.

These Shiurim are given by Rabbi YY Jacobson. If you'd like to learn privately (not these audio Shiurim) you can schedule private lessons together with Rav Eliyahu (on Skype or in person) and learn together, discussing the realities of life, the thirst for G-dliness and the constant challenge of having to live in a material world.

  • Discover the inner world of Chassidus
  • Brilliant and inspiring in-depth Lessons in English on the entire 53 chapters of Tanya
  • This Series of 150 Lessons is presented by the renowned chassidus teacher Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson

Monday, 19 January 2009

Yahrtzeit of the Alter Rebbe - Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi - 24 Tevet

Yahrtzeit 24 Tevet

Born: 1745
Died: 1812 (24 Tevet)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady was the first Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch dynasty. His father’s name was Baruch, and because of this his last name would become Baruchowitz (son of Baruch.) He was an exceptionally brilliant young man and it is told that his soul was a Neshama Chadasha – a new soul. This is a kabbalistic expression teaching the very high level of the soul which has no need to come to the world for perfecting itself in the normal sense of other souls which come to repair themselves in this world. For more information about the nature of the “new soul,” see the Arizal’s work Shaar HaGiglulim (Gate of Reincarnations) where he describes the different level of souls and their need for repair. 

For more information about the life of the Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s father Baruch and his teachers, see the previous Rebbi – Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch’s “Lubavitcher Rabbi’s Memoirs.”

In this beautiful two volume work, one gets a view of the life of the hidden Tzaddikim and their efforts in bringing the Torah – including the hidden aspects – to the masses. 

The name Schneur is actually a combination of the two words “Shnei Ohr” – meaning “Two lights”. The Rebbi exemplified what this meant, because he became an authority in both the revealed Torah through his magnum opus in Halacha (Jewish law) – the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and through the hidden Torah (Kabbalah) in his work “Tanya” – a masterpiece that tells of the battle of the animal soul and the G-dly soul to be found inside the average person.

The Alter Rebbe’s son, who would take over the Nesius (the leadership of the Chabad movement) would become known as R’ Dov Ber Shneuri – because his father was named “Schneur”. All the descendants afterwards would become known as Schneerson (the son of Shneur.) 

The Alter Rebbe lived at the time when the great giant in Torah known as the Gaon of Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer 1720-1797) lived. In fact, when the Alter Rebbe had spent some time learning already – he was faced with a decision of continuing his learning either from the leader of the Misnagdim (those opposed to the teachings of Chassidut) or from the leader of the Chassidim at the time – the Maggid of Mezritch – Rabbi Dov Ber, the student of the Baal Shem Tov. It is said that he made up his mind regarding to whom to turn, based upon just one point that entered his mind…

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was already an outstanding Talmid Chacham (great Torah sage) even in his early twenties (and before!) His question in continuing his progress in attaching himself to G-d revolved around the two areas – learning and prayer. Which was the better – learning or prayer?! Rabbi Shneur Zalman thought to himself – if I am interested in learning more – then I must travel to Vilna. If I am interested in learning how to pray, I must travel to the Maggid. Since I already know how to learn, I will turn my attention to learning how to pray. And with this, the Alter Rebbe made his path towards learning from the Great Maggid!

The Alter Rebbe would end up taking the reins (reign) of the main teachings of Chassidut as taught by the holy Baal Shem Tov. He would become the first of 7 Chabad Rebbes to live – all whose “soul” purpose was (is) to fulfil the ultimate blessing in the world of the bringing of Moshiach. In fact, this process began in great measure with the Baal Shem Tov, who was told by Moshiach himself, while on an ascent to heaven (Aliyat Neshama) that he (the Messiah) would come when the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov would spread outwards. This became the mission of the Baal Shem Tov, who passed it on to the Maggid, who passed it to the Alter Rebbe, who passed it continually onwards until it reached the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe who put tremendous stress on doing everything we can to bring Moshiach RIGHT NOW!

To understand more about the Alter Rebbe would take many books. A brief posting as this can do no more than give this simple outline for the reader to think over.

Now, it is up to the reader interested in learning more to begin the process of learning just who this special soul was (is), what his teachings are, the legal and the mystical and to begin to understand G-dliness as taught through the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov.

Should you wish to learn more of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings, or more about the Alter Rebbe, do be in touch with Rav Eliyahu directly

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Book Review: Rabbi Nachman's Stories

The times we are living in are filled with mystery. Is there anywhere we can search that will help us understand some of the secrets of life today?!

Rabbi Nachman taught that the greatest secrets of life can be found through the telling of “simple” stories. Stories that even a young child is able to enjoy. On the surface, stories seem fun and enjoyable. Inside, they contain the mysteries of life itself. Much like the entire first book of the Five Books of Moses – completely filled with stories of a variety of great men who are ultimately responsible for the revelation of monotheism in the world.

Rabbi Nachman was a master story teller. He is well known for 13 “lengthy” stories and dozens of others, each one filled with greater fantasy – than the next! You’ll hear about spiders and flies, about magic castles, about a master of prayer and some beggars. Most of all, Rabbi Nachman speaks about life itself – as it is lived day to day. Your life – and mine.

These beautiful stories were translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Included at the bottom of each page is a masterful commentary put together from a variety of authoritative sources.

If it’s the mysteries of life you’re after, you’ll find them hidden in this book. Of course, one reading may not be sufficient, and you may have to keep returning many more times. With 552 pages of “entertainment” available, it’s sure to keep you busy for hours on end!

It’s really a must for every Jewish home. You don’t have to be a scholar to read it – it’s so simple to read! And if you are a scholar, you’ll need years to master its contents.

Don’t wait another moment.

Purchase Rabbi Nachman’s Stories TODAY!

If you’re looking for other worthwhile books, do see the Torah Treasure Store and make a purchase from the comfort of your home.

If you're looking for a new book to read,
and are not sure what book is best for you,
contact Rav Eliyahu:

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Rambam - Yahrtzeit 20 Tevet

Born: 1135 (1138?)
Died: 1204

The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimon) was (is) one of the greatest Rabbis to have ever lived. His entire life and being resembles the perfection of what it means to be a Jew. How strange it was that in his day he was looked down upon by the very Jewish world that would end up admiring him on a daily basis!

The Rambam was born in Cordova, Spain. He was an inquisitive child wanting to know everything about everything. Apparently his desire for knowledge (and justice!) never waned nor ended. His early thirst would end up making him one of the greatest people to have ever lived! He spent much time involved in study, learning not just about the Torah, the ways of a Jew and the laws of how to be a Jew, but he became an expert in a variety of the secular studies, including but by no means limited to – mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and medicine. So great was he in medicine (a qualified doctor who would probably outdo most doctors of even today!) that he eventually became the personal physician of the Sultan!

It is known that the day of the Rambam was not one of idle chatter or waste. He was busy from day to night – and night to day. At times (mostly) when employed with the Sultan – he would come home having barely eaten the entire day and literally collapse on his bed. But it was not to rest that he lay down, rather his day was just beginning! A long queue of ill people would line up waiting hours all in order to receive expert advice on how to cure their sicknesses. The Rambam was the ultimate doctor who believed nothing less than preventing disease as being the solution to sickness – a far cry from the world of doctors today who delight in the ill health of others who must pay millions of dollars for “cures”. The Rambam would receive Jews and non-Jews alike. He was a true example of what a Jew is meant to be in the world – a true light to the nations. He was there for all and wished the best for all. Even to the degree of making sure that another’s body was healthy and fit ultimately to serve the Creator of the world.

Not for nothing do the words written on a large sign above his grave in Tiberies read: “From Moshe (Moses – who received the Torah on Mount Sinai) until Moshe (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), there has never been another like Moshe.” The greatness of the Rambam was certainly on that level of Moshe himself. Just like the first Moses spent time involved with the needs of the community, taking care of everyone – whether life issues, Torah issues, or anything to do with one’s relationship with G-d, so too did this Moshe involve himself in life.

He wrote numerous masterful works which are studied daily by Jews all around the world. Most famous for his philosophical work the Moreh Nevuchim – a work that showed the inconsistencies with secular philosophy – and his Mishneh Torah – or Yad HaChazaka, the Rambam covered every area of Torah available!

The Yad HaChazaka – “The Strong Hand” is a 14 volume work composed of 1000 chapters that legalise the entire Torah into an easily readable format. Unfortunately the Rambam did not include any original sources as to where he had learned the law. Because of this, his generation burned his books claiming him to be a fake. How can one come to legalise the entire Torah and not even put the effort in to show where he was quoting from? Did he perhaps simply make up everything on his own account causing all Jews to stumble (G-d forbid) for generations to come?! Ironically one of the greatest “enemies” of the Rambam – Rabbi Yonah of Geronda turned around after the Talmud was burned in the very same place that they had burned the Rambam’s books earlier – and did complete Teshuva. He wrote a work known as “The Gates of Repentance” – Shaarei Teshuva – in order to make amends and encourage others to learn of the importance of being careful with one’s actions – before realising just what they can end up doing! From that point onwards, Rabbeinu Yona became a great supporter of the Rambam.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted some decades ago the importance of learning the entire Rambam. The Rambam writes clearly in his introduction to his work that because learning Talmud in his day (1000 years ago!!!) had become difficult, and that people found it difficult to understand how to learn the proper law from the Talmud – that he compiled his work for everyone to learn and know what to do in every situation – whether for our times alone or for the times when the Temple stands! Such a statement seems to have been lost with the focus in many places to concentrate on Talmud study while neglecting to understand the actual law. Yet the Rambam himself made it!

The Rebbe’s plan was to set in motion the unbelievable idea to connect Jews around the world every single day with learning the same legal material. It would unite Jews and give them something to talk about to each other every day – since everyone would be learning the same Torah. More than this, one who completes the Rambam each year – literally as the Rambam himself says – completes learning the ENTIRE TORAH!

The Rebbe instituted 3 learning patterns that people with different time constraints could choose. One can either learn 3 chapters a day and complete the cycle in one year, one chapter a day and complete it in 3 years, or learn from the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam (a concise summary of all the laws) to complete this shorter book in a year.

What exactly will you learn from the Rambam’s magnum opus Mishna Torah? You’ll learn about the fundamentals of G-d and prophecy. You’ll learn about the right way to behave. The right way to eat. You’ll learn how to observe the Sabbath day. The laws of eating Kosher. You’ll learn about the Temple, all the things that happen there and all the different vessels and make-up of it. You’ll learn about the laws of family purity. You’ll learn about the phases of the moon – if you’re good at mathematics! You’ll learn about the different Jewish festivals – Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, Pesach and Sukkot. You’ll learn about life itself and the right approach to take to it all – to know what’s important and what’s not. And if you think that’s all, keep tuned right up until the very last chapters, where you’ll learn all about Moshiach – the righteous redeemer who will ultimately take us out of this exile we find ourselves in.

If we can learn just one thing from the Rambam’s teachings, let us learn something that can carry us through in improving the world on a daily basis *today!* The Rambam is really the authority par excellence of the laws of charity. Contrary to popular belief, charity is not about feeling sorry for another’s apparent “misfortune”. It’s about establishing the world. If money makes the world go around, then it is people filled with kindness that will distribute it to make things happen!

The Rambam lists 8 different levels of charity. Each of us being filled with kindness wants to do only the best. We want the best house, the best car, the best computer and cell phone. Why not want the best of charity too?! Charity is not feeling sorry for the other. It’s about seeing the greatness of another and his potential. It’s about seeing what G-d has blessed them with, what they can give to the world – if only they have the means. It’s about supporting another, giving them a loan (to do what *they* want to make a success of life!) and bringing them in to your own business, showing them the ropes, making them feel good about being them. It’s not about dropping a penny into the old hat laid in front of them, worn out from people treading upon it as they walk down the street without a care for whoever gets in their way!

This is charity. This is kindness. This is what makes the world go around. The Rambam will not accept anything less (except to those who feel they too can accept less in their own lives.) The Rambam is the prime example of loving another just as much as oneself. Because if we wish for a mansion for ourselves, then perhaps they do too. And therefore, if I am to fulfil this commandment in the best possible way – both with love and kindness – it means wishing for my friend the same that I have. And more, it means actively involving oneself to insure that they receive just as I do – no matter how much. To make another great with the potential they have. This is the highest level of charity. To wish another the pleasures we have – this is the highest level of charity. To make another be able to stand on his own two feet in life never having to feel the shame of asking another for help – ever… this is the highest level of charity. Can there be any other level? Sure. The Rambam says, you can give with a sour face too, embarrass another, make him feel bad about his life and then expect some sort of respect for your “act of kindness” – this too is charity. But it’s really only for those who feel that doing the barest minimum is good enough. Naturally, we all know better!

For more information about these laws of charity see the articles on this very site under the chapter heading “Rambam Rules” or see Lesson 1 immediately!

Amazingly the Rambam’s Yahrtzeit falls out every single year in Parshas Shmot – the portion of the Torah which makes mention of G-d’s “Strong Hand” – the Yad HaChazaka. In fact the very last words of this portion says “And G-d spoke to Moses ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a ‘Strong Hand’ he will send them out (from Egypt where they were exiled) and with a ‘Strong Hand’ he will drive them out from his land.”

It seems that there is power in the Yad Hachazaka – The Strong Hand, in that it literally contains within it the power to cause those who hold the Jewish people in exile to do everything possible to force them into freedom. Perhaps this beautiful hint in this portion of Torah which we read this week is a sign to us all to focus our learning on this important work and to realise that through it we will add in hastening to bring the final redemption – may it be immediately!

If you would like to learn the Rambam’s teachings, contact Rav Eliyahu and schedule a learning session with him in person or over Skype –

There is a plethora of material available about the Rambam on the Internet.

For more see:

Learn the ENTIRE Rambam in Just ONE YEAR! (The end of the article lists numerous resources to help you learn, including online audio Shiurim and more!)

A video from the Rebbe speaking about the importance of learning Rambam

For a more info about learning Rambam and to download a beautiful Rambam learning calendar see Rambam Calendar.

We are involved in a number of activities to helping others including sharing Torah on this blog at absolutely no cost. See our latest Mikva Project for more info.

Light a candle for the Rambam 

May the merit of the Rambam help us all to be able to learn his teachings and the entire Torah, to be able to understand it all and practise everything we learn.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Judging G-d Favorably


The Mishna in Pirkei Avot – Ethics of our Fathers – teaches us to judge people favourably. The idea is a simple one. If we have never lived the lifestyle of another, how can we come to suddenly make judgments about them – in anything? It seems too obvious an issue to actually ignore, but come what may – the test is huge. It’s easy to judge ourselves favourably at all times, but when it comes to another, we can think up billions of reasons as to why they should have or could have done things differently. It’s a tough test – make no mistake!

It’s not the subject of this article however. This article takes things one step further. Imagine for a moment the idea of judging another favourably – because you have never lived their lives and therefore don’t know why they have done what they have – to coming to judge G-d Himself favourably! Who could ever have lived G-d’s life?! Besides, what does it mean to judge G-d favourably?

We’ve all heard the famous story. In fact the entire story has turned itself into a cliché. It goes something like this:

When something “bad” happens to one, one must always think that G-d does everything for the good. The story – Ploni Almoni is getting ready for his flight to Timbuktu. It’s a 5am flight, and he’d had a late night and was even a little tipsy! He got some 2 hours sleep before waking suddenly to realise his flight is to leave in 30 minutes time!!! He gets dressed, and “flies” out of his apartment directly into the waiting taxi – which then speeds off faster than the destined plane.

Ploni arrives at the airport with just 2 minutes before the plane is about to take off, and begins ranting and raving to all and sundry that the plane must wait – HE’S ARRIVED!!! But, the pilots have another agenda – not to mention schedule! And the plane takes off…

Within moments of taking flight, something goes horribly wrong and there’s a disaster. Of course all this while, Ploni has been screaming the most unmentionable “French words” possible. He becomes angry with G-d Himself for allowing him to become drunk – for allowing him to oversleep – for allowing the plane to take off – without him! Suddenly… within moments, his attitude changes as he realises his life is spared…

This story is of course a true one and there are many who can testify to such incidents happening to themselves. How many stories became known of those who for some odd reason simply never made it to work on September 11 2001?! We can imagine well their feelings when they missed work – both before… and after the disaster.

I suppose it’s all about judging G-d favourably and knowing that He knows about everything better than we do. And when we miss that all important bus, plane, train or taxi – that there’s really a good reason why it happened! Our problem is in trying to work out what the disaster could possibly have been had we actually made our plans a “reality.” An impossible task, as nobody can ever know what would be – if it hadn’t been! So when we miss the bus, can we ever tell if something negative was meant for us and that this was for our best? Can we tell that even if nothing apparent good happened to us during this time – that this was *still* for our best?!

But we must. Judging another favourably is tough… but judging G-d favourably is infinitely harder. And yet, it’s the corner stone of absolute faith!

I think I got a dose of my own medicine recently. In fact yesterday it seemed to all come together. I’d like to share my story with you as crazy as my thinking had sounded way back then.

Recently I had joined a great site on the Internet known as Liveperson. It’s a site that allows one to act as an expert of sorts to help people solve their problems. I chose the role of Rabbi to teach over Judaism, Torah and anything Jewish. Baruch Hashem, people must have liked the photograph, and clicked on my name a few times and I had some really successful sessions, teaching others and helping them with some general Jewish questions. The great thing about this site is that it allows you to choose your own income, which means you get paid a per-minute charge of whatever you like. You can choose up to $20 per-minute (if you feel you’re that good!) Actually there are some who do – and who are successful with this too. (So much for those who believe that the harder one breaks one’s body, the more one is likely to be able to support oneself!)

Business on this site had slowed down a little. I keep my software loaded whenever I’m by my computer and hope and pray someone will call when I am available so that I can generate additional income. But nobody had called on that particular day…

It just happened to be that on the day of the funeral of Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holzberg HYD, just about morning time (when I still had time) a call came through! As things turned out, I had tried another logic and had increased my “per-minute charge” to a much larger amount. And a call came through!

The caller was adamant that he needed to understand more about G-d. He became very philosophical, but wanted to know the truth. He was upset by a number of points I had made to him – especially those concerning that I couldn’t actually show him G‑d in the flesh. In fact, he tried his hardest to prove to me that the whole of religion and G-d was a man-made thing, and that we actually all come from frogs, fish, apes, and a variety of other interesting creatures that he came up with.

I didn’t mind. I was being paid per minute. I was doing my best to point him in the right direction. He was certainly paying (the system doesn’t allow talking without paying. It’s clearly visible.) And he wanted more. We had been talking for an hour, and while there was much time before the funeral, we had decided to leave early as we were getting a ride in. Naturally I felt a pulling telling me to stay longer. We were by no means late for the funeral and here I was making a small fortune. Needless to say, the Mitzvah of accompanying those who have passed on was far greater than a few dollars, and so we left. I do remember mumbling to myself quite a bit that I could have gained a lot more money had I stayed talking to him. It would have helped with the rent! He certainly wanted to continue the discussion and was apparently enjoying it. At the same time, I may have actually helped him to “see the light”, so talking a bit longer (and making a little extra money) would have done us all some good.

I was looking forward to my latest check from Liveperson, although it never arrived. I checked the site out and saw written next to this thief’s name that he had declined the charge that had appeared on his credit card! When I confronted Liveperson about this, they simply explained that these things happen and that they cannot make a person pay for something if they argue about the credit card charge. (Perhaps they base this on the possibility that someone was using a stolen card and the owner therefore claimed he had not used it.)

The importance of the Mitzvah was far more important than a few dollars. But could it have been possible that I was a little upset that the call had come just when I was about to leave? After all, this thief had wanted to chat the entire afternoon. I could well have made a substantial amount of money. Of course, in reality, I would have actually lost a few hours of time – wasted, on someone not worthy to be told the time of day.

Judging G-d favourably would have helped me before I had even begun the conversation. It would have made me realise that in fact, what would have been better, would have been for the connection to be dropped and the call ended – immediately. I would have certainly been upset at having lost an income. But obviously, I would never have known that the income was never in the coming!

What of dropped connections?! Actually Liveperson does not have a good connection in Israel – although they are based here. Many times what happens is that the call does drop. When this occurs one may well lose the client and be unable to continue talking further – causing again, a loss of income. Could there be any good in this at all?!

Yesterday, everything came together. I had a repeat client contact me again. We spoke for some time and the call did in fact drop. I was really upset about this, as once again, this meant I would lose further income. What I didn’t know… is that when this happened, the client wrote in a comment about my service, complimenting me and thanking me…. The client joined up again, and when the call ended, made *another* comment – giving me two reviews in one day – both good!

It seems that even though the call dropped and it appeared that I had lost out – again – that in fact I had only gained.

None of us can understand things when they don’t seem to go right for us. But if we were to know what might have been hidden by “the road not taken” – we might suddenly realise that in fact however the situation has turned out – it is indeed for the good. What often looks like good, may well turn out not to be. And what often looks like the opposite – may well in fact have truly been “a blessing in disguise.”

Judging G-d favourably is probably our best ticket into helping us cope with the challenges of life – when they just don’t seem good. And let us not be fooled by those challenges when everything seems to simply go our way. Instead… just let G-d.


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