Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Drowning Man in the Sea


Imagine the scene for a moment…

A man begins his refreshing swim in the sea. He walks steadily into the sea from the beach area. As he does so, the water begins to move upwards, starting from his feet, until his knees… to his body. As the man walks deeper into the sea, the water covers his body even further. Suddenly, he finds his feet lifting off the ocean bed as he realises that he is no longer able to walk any further without drowning. He lifts himself up, and begins to swim.

Things seem okay, but not everybody is a strong swimmer. Some may be able to swim for longer times than others, but ultimately everyone reaches a point when they simply cannot continue any longer. Before the man knows it, he realises that with his feet now totally off the ground he has only his arms to keep him afloat. He begins to swim to keep himself afloat. Suddenly, his calm swimming motions turn into something different. His arms begin waving about violently as he hopes to attract the attention of others – that somebody should be able to save him. But they don't see this. Instead they see a man swimming. A strong man they say! Someone who is far stronger than the sea itself – they say! Anyhow, he looks afloat and he seems to be doing just fine. He is breathing. He is moving – in fact with tremendous strength! Surely he is healthy!

Then, without notice, the man, unable to keep afloat, begins to feel the first moments of his life ebbing away. Before he knows it, his head drops below the water. Unable to swim much longer, he sinks – for but a moment. But with amazing strength, he pulls himself up again. Again, he waves his hands, in the hope that he will attract the attention of others – who are enjoying their bathing experience as they soak up the sun. They look at him – and again, everybody turns to each other expressing how amazed they are at the man in the sea who is able to keep himself going. He's a strong man – they say to each other, and then proceed once again to enjoy the warm rays of the sun.

Meanwhile, with strength ebbing, the man's head falls below the water again, this time, unable to breathe properly, he swallows some water – and "breathes" some of it into his lungs. He pulls himself up, yet again, his arms now totally out of control as they wave about trying to attract attention yet again… Still those watching admire the strong swimmer. He is surely doing just fine – they say.

Then… suddenly, without notice, the man loses all strength. Finding himself now in the middle of the ocean with nobody taking an interest in him, he swiftly sinks under the clear blue waters. The "spectators" having now soaked up a good amount of warm sunshine – look on, as they whisper amongst themselves of the event just seen. Each expressing their own illogical logic! "He'll come up soon," says one. "He's just doing some under-water swimming now," says another. And yet another says, "He must learn some time soon how to swim on his own. You'll see, he'll be thankful we let him work it out on his own…" Minutes pass, turning into hours. He has gone, disappeared from sight.

Sirens are heard, screaming on the beach – as everyone begins to realise what has happened. The man his gone. His family may suddenly realise this moment, suddenly awaken to the reality – a reality – which of course could be seen minutes earlier. The reality of thinking that the man was just swimming – his arms waving about – just swimming strokes to help him enjoy the water. Yet the truth is unlike any of these people. The man's violent gestures in the water, were indeed nothing less than a call for help. Not a call for attention – but a real call for help. When one finds oneself at the moment before drowning, there simply is no other clear way of telling others, than by yelling (and embarrassing oneself), and moving one's arms about fiercely!

The Torah speaks about helping a fellow Jew before it's too late. "Balancing the load of a donkey, as it begins to fall off, can be achieved by one man… but once the load falls off, even five men will have a hard time getting it all back on again." The Baal Shem Tov compares the body to the donkey as they both share the same root in Hebrew – ChMR. When the "donkey" is filled to capacity, and the load begins to wobble, it takes just one friend to come along and set it back right again. But once the load has fallen, even five friends will be unable to load it up again.

What of someone whose load is not upon him, but rather is actively pushing down upon him from the top – and pulling him down from the bottom too – just like the swimmer?! What will be if the friends take no notice then?! There is only one way to go, and it is not the way of safety. Its way brings one into the world of the water itself, turning the person into the life of water itself, as the drowning man struggles with the ferocious waters, until he, like the waters, rests calmly… floating… a donkey… without a soul.

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they walked miraculously through the sea of waters, as it split for them. And from there, it was on to receiving the Torah itself – the festival of Shavuot.

As the Torah itself testifies, if there is no flour, there is no Torah. If the body is not taken care of (to be able to live!) then no Torah in the world will be absorbed into the person. Instead, the powerful raging waters of Torah will simply engulf the person, bringing him into their own world. For a body without a life in it can rest tranquilly in the sea of Torah without a struggle.

As the Jews made their journey to receiving the Torah, the waters split for them. To have attempted to deal with the power of those waters fighting against the Egyptian army would have been completely futile! There would have been only one direction for them – down!

So too, as we approach this Shavuot, let us remember these ideas. For there are many who wish to live. Who wish to bring the values of Torah into the world. Yet the Egyptians are still around them, forcing them into these waters – waters that do not split too easily. Waters that split only when there is someone else out there who helps the swimmer in the middle of the sea. He may "jump in" – so to speak so that the sea splits for the other.

The "swimmer" calls out as he gesticulates madly that he is drowning… but who is listening?! Do we see the swimmer as playing? As someone not trying?! Or do we see him as asking for help – and come to the rescue… before it's too late?!

There is only one soul in a body. Once the soul leaves it, there is no bringing it back – not until Moshiach and Techiyat HaMeitim. Then of course, we can cry as much as we want thinking of what could have been with the life of this person. Or we can take the call of help seriously enough to realise that our help is not just a little – but it saves a soul. As the Torah teaches – one who saves another person, saves an entire world. His reward has no limit!

How ironic to watch messages as they are displayed each day on some of the many Jewish newsgroups. One person lets others know of his special opportunity – this week only – of a luxurious 7 day stay in a beautiful place, filled with those things fit for a king – for only thousands upon thousands of dollars. While the very next post speaks of a family destitute unable to pay their rent… their taxes… let alone to be able to eat.

How far have we moved from the path of life – the path of seeing the pain of a swimmer – drowning – but instead seeing him as playing?!

With Shavuot upon us, let us re-examine what is truly important, and the necessity to help those in desperate help to simply be able to live – for without this, without being able to pay those most basic expenses, life is simply not worth living – for anybody.

Our duty is to answer the call of help when the swimmer – the one drowning – calls out for help. We can ask thousands of questions if we wish – who he is, what his name is, how much he really earns, does he really need help or is he bluffing etc. but sadly by the time we may finish with our enquiries – it may simply be too late. When another is drowning… when another is chocking, there is nothing else left to do than to save immediately!

We have a number of projects on the go for saving a number of people from the tremendous economic difficulties many are going through today. These people are still not yet able to pay their most basic bills – though they work hard each day. Salaries just do not cover the amounts due – and the large taxes we must regularly pay.

If you are in *any* position to help, please do not delay. These people are drowning and calling – screaming for help, their hands violently waving about hoping and praying that those "watching" will recognise that their moving about is not a game, but life itself. Let us help them to live, so that they – just like we – can continue to observe the Torah and it's Mitzvos bringing further light and goodness into the world – this Shavuot and beyond!

There are two special projects (amongst the others) in high alert need.

1. A newly married couple struggling to keep their head above waters just to begin life together – to start their life and make something of it together. (More info available by request for those truly interested in helping.)
2. A divorced woman battling with day to day expenses (though she works every day for a monthly salary) who must also support family struggling with various medical problems.
3. A widowed woman battling with day to day expenses

These are both priorities.

Thank you for your help. May you all merit "Kabbalas HaTorah BeSimcha U'Bepenimyus" – receiving the Torah (this Shavuot and beyond) in happiness and absorption inside you.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Our Torah - Just a Broken Telephone Conversation?!


In 1984 (25 years ago), the Lubavitcher Rebbe set into motion a cycle of learning – to join all the Jewish people together – in the learning of Jewish law. Learning to be done would include working through the Rambam's – Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204) Mishneh Torah (Second Torah) or the Yad HaChazaka (The Strong Hand) as it is also known. The word Yad – hand – has the Hebrew numerical value of 14 – the amount of books in the entire guide.

The guide includes all of Jewish law, both at the times of the Temple (to be rebuilt immediately) as well as to those times when the Temple does not stand (the current time until Moshiach reveals himself.) 1000 chapters work through the entire corpus of Jewish law. Studying just 3 chapters a day will allow one to complete the entire cycle in just under a year, although one may choose to learn just one chapter a day and complete the cycle in 3 years (something worthwhile for those learning it for the first or second times, to be able to spend much more time on each chapter and gain much from it.) The Rambam was heavily criticised for his work as he did not indicate the sources of his legal rulings. Today, there is no Jewish legal authority who considers the Rambam's work as anything less than the absolute roots of all Jewish law today!

The Rambam begins his magnum opus with an introduction. While it seems that many people wish to get to the nitty gritty of things, this is one introduction that is an absolute necessity to read. It includes a number of ideas that take the reader into concepts he may not otherwise consider, for example, the Rambam's famous statement that in *his* day nobody was really able to learn Talmud properly anymore, and so he compiled his guide so that people would just be able to read the Tanach – and then this guide – and already know the entire law. Perhaps he may well have put most Yeshivot out of business with a statement like that. Yet, with a very careful study of the Rambam, one can clearly see how accurate this statement of his actually is.

Indeed, until one has a thorough grasp of the laws in the Rambam, the Talmud is truly a sea of law filled with waves crashing all over, and one simply has no idea where one is. After a good understanding of the laws in Rambam, one turns to the Talmud with a whole new approach in learning – one that suddenly brings the Talmud to life, and helps to ease one's way into understanding the source of these laws, and how they come about. Naturally there is much more to learning Halachah – Jewish law!

Nevertheless, the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe saw a need for learning Rambam as opposed to any other structured learning order – shows clearly how he saw it as being the root of everything necessary to care for the Jewish soul. (This excludes the previous Rebbe's institution of learning the regular portions of Chumash and Rashi, Tehillim and Tanya, and by no means takes into account the tremendous amount of active Mitzvot one is required to perform – constantly, together with inspiring others to do likewise!)

If one were to begin a book of law, where would be the best place to start? The Torah itself begins with a series of stories on how G-d created the world, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel… Noah and his generation… Abraham and his generation etc. The Jews go into Egypt, are taken out, receive the Torah (FINALLY!) and onwards into the Land of Israel. From here – as they say – the rest is history! But what of the actual law?

So many today know the well known game played by children – "Broken Telephone." A humorous game, whereby a message is transmitted from one child to the next, as it is whispered ever so quietly into the other's ear. The message may begin with something like, "Today, the president of the United States announced in a speech that he would let the Jewish people live peacefully in their own land without the need to invite terrorists into it and please the rest of the world", and it may end up at the other side of the room with the last child in the series announcing what the message was, "The fish says we should all jump up and down!"

Today, people think that Torah is a similar game. One in which some child (with a very bad memory) whispered a message to another (thousands of years ago) without ever confirming whether the other heard it, and that that child then whispered the message (including every secret of Torah ever passed down in the past 3300 years and more) to another child – also with a very bad memory, who forgot most, and couldn't pronounce their words correctly either. So today we have a watered down version of what the real Torah was then.

Indeed many Jews will firmly state that they believe that the Torah was given over 3300 years ago, but that everything was mixed up along the way, and that's why we have the variety of stylistic "Judaisms" of today, including reform, conservative, and a host of names too unbelievable to even mention! Indeed, when Moses was living in a physical body, there simply wasn’t electricity, no cars – and "sadly" not even the Internet! What would Moses know today of driving to Shul on the holy Shabbat day?! Besides, even if he did have some 2 cents worth of his own mind to say about it – do we really remember it today – what with the state of affairs of forgetful children who cannot pronounce their words correctly – nor confirm if the other really heard them correctly in any case!

And so, the Rambam does not begin his work with the laws, but rather a clear description of the entire transmission of the Torah. Indeed, from Moses, the Torah was passed to Joshua, and from him to the elders. Eli (the Kohen in the famous story of Hana who could not have children) and Pinchas, received it from the elders. The prophet Samuel (the son born to Hana in the story with Hana and Eli) received it from Eli and he passed the entire transmission of Torah to Kind David. And so the Torah was passed – from teacher to student – as the Rambam lists 40 generations of transmission, accurately mentioning exactly who received the Torah from whom.

These were no simple children unable to pronounce words properly. Nor did they forget easily! In addition they *all* feared G-d, were either great prophets themselves or filled with Divine Inspiration, and wanted nothing more than to serve G-d with every fibre of their being! Do spend some time looking through the list of the transmission and become acquainted with these great individuals who made up the beginning of Jewish history.

These people were not interested in bribery, wealth, honour, greatness etc. They wanted only to serve G-d every day of their lives. They knew that this is simply what life is all about – connecting to G-d at all times in everything one does.

Were King David to walk into a reform synagogue (which he would not) on a Friday evening while both men and women sat next to each other singing with the piano accompanying them as the main singer arrogantly demonstrated her way of praising G-d through singing "sections" of the "Standing Prayer" aloud, I have no doubt there would be an absolute silence, and a feeling of complete embarrassment by all, as they realised just who this man – King David really was.

But as these same people read of the stories contained in the Tanach, they consider King David a simple poor man. Someone who had a hard life. If only *he* had had a car, it would have made his life so much easier when it came to driving to Shul on Friday night! But the reality of meeting him in person would no doubt stir in all of us such a fear of what truth really is – of what fearing G-d is all about – I have no doubt, most of us would simply melt away in embarrassment!

The truth of the transmission of Torah is clearly discussed in the Rambam's introduction. It serves to teach us the biggest lesson in life we all need to know. Without this introduction, we will continue to scoff at the questions regarding the truth of Torah – of its accuracy, of its true authenticity.

There is nothing but the same Torah in our hands today as it was given to Moses – by G-d Himself over 3300 years ago. It was handed from teacher to student in a long chain of transmission (still continued to this very day – from teacher to student). Teachers knew about fear of G-d and truth of Torah – and it was these teachers who taught their students these very same values.

The written law we have today – is exactly the same law that Moses was given over 3300 years ago. The oral law today – is that same law that Moses received way back then too. Nothing has changed. The Rambam makes it clear. The mysteries contained in the Torah were those same mysteries taught to Moses then – and each of us has the choice in life to grab hold them today – as if they were our very life (because they are!) – and to spend our lives immersed in learning Torah, teaching it and practicing it.

First comes this acknowledgment, to realise the Mesora – the tradition – the *real* tradition – is as true today as it was then… and when one is then ready to move on, one begins to turn the pages of the Rambam and learn the laws of life. The laws of the soul – as contained in a body. Its duties. Its connection with G-d. About angels and mysteries (chapters 3 & 4)… and about the every day law of giving charity to another. About guarding the holy Sabbath day, keeping the laws of Family Purity, and eating Kosher food (for nothing in these laws has changed one iota even if we think our food is cleaner today than it was then.)

There is nothing more left to do or to say – says the Rambam. The transmission is a clear one made up of the greatest people in the Jewish nation. People whose memories were *perfect*. People of the greatest stature that the generations have ever known about. People who strove for absolute perfection in serving G-d every day of their lives – every moment of the day!

Now it is up to each of us to begin the cycle today without delay, and to learn how to behave as a Jew, what to do, how to do it, when to do it. And from here, we will grow to degrees that slowly but surely, we will not just do – but we will hear what it really is all about, until one day as we turn around, we will realise that we have suddenly connected to G-d. We become One with Him, and realise that our lives are filled with meaning.

For more information about studying Rambam and resources both in English text and audio, see: Learn Rambam in Just One Year!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Mikvah - Purifying Waters of Life


Imagine the world before creation… the Spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters. A topsy turvy world flooded with water, the source of life. G-d brings light into the world… and darkness. He separates the waters and the dry land is seen. It is here where creation takes place. Life comes into the world. Even the dry earth is filled with a sense of life – or else it would be non-existent. The plants grow, the animals move, and man speaks.

None will survive without the waters, the very essence of all creation. Inside those waters rest a stillness, a purity of G-dliness. Without these waters, life ends. But the waters have been separated, and it seems we mostly associate them with the fluid that enters our body – that it is only here where life exists. Yet, in truth, we look upon that same fluid as the very element to bring comfort to ourselves, whether it be through taking a bath, a shower, a swim in the pool or in the sea itself.

Not for nothing do these waters bring life to the soul inside the body – and to the body itself as it becomes refreshed and rejuvenated through being in contact with them. It is from them that all life began. 

And G-d separated these waters into four main channels – and a river flowed out from Eden. That place of absolute purity, of absolute goodness and kindness, that place of heaven on earth. And through these waters, the rest of the world has some contact with the original waters originating in Eden itself.

When those waters gather of their own accord without any human intervention, into a specific sized vessel inside the ground itself, they become known as a Mikvah – a place used for the “purification” of every married Jewish woman once a month. She enters these waters after experiencing a “loss” of life some 12 days before. It is by no means a physical purity which she seeks, nor did she do anything consciously wrong to need these holy waters. Through the mystical process related directly to the concept of conception, and having lost the opportunity (often by no choice of her own) of conceiving a child, a spiritual “impurity” rests upon her. She must remove this through re-entering the womb of life itself. She enters the waters in the ground, covering her naked body completely – not even one hair of her head remains above the water, and then renews herself (through the mystical process of the Mikvah) as a baby leaving the womb filled with water around it. But more, she unites with the original water that lies in the Garden of Eden itself.

It is not something to be taken lightly, for every Jewish woman must spend much time and money in being able to fulfil this Mitzvah – this commandment. It is a most precious one, that ultimately brings into the world holy Jewish souls. Souls that will enter bodies – to bring goodness and kindness to this world.


One of our projects that we work on is all about helping women (who are struggling financially) to immerse in a Mikvah at no cost to themselves. (See for more information.)

I have received a variety of emails from people expressing their disgust at this project as well as our others. I have been told that there is no such a need - and that in fact the administators of Mikvahs should pay for everything on their own. It is their Mitzvah and they should do it for nothing. The following email was recently received, and I felt it important to quote in order to highlight just what people really think, and the urgency for our project to become well known - and for others to know how much assistance we truly need:

"I am fairly new to Israel - as an unmarried woman, I do not go to the mikvah.
I am shocked to hear that women have to pay to go do a mitzvah. How this this [sic] be allowed to happen?
I understand that mikavot need to be maintained - surely this could be derived from charging fees for men who have no obligation to do this but do it out of their own free will.
It is absolutely horrendous that a person is prevented from doing a galactic directive because of finances. And this in Israel!!"

Sadly, I was unable to convince the above person of the importance of this Mitzvah and the real need that we have in helping women and the Mikvaot pay for the huge fees they must pay. If that wasn't good enough, there was no way I would succeed in convincing this person that Mitzvah or not - the Mikvah administration must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own upkeep - and if nobody would pay to use the Mikvah - there simply wouldn't be a Mikvah.

After being in touch with an administrator for a particular Mikvah to enquire about the real costs, I received the following reply:

"You asked about the costs per person using the Mikva.   We have not done an accurate assessment of this.   We only know that we have a shortfall!   Whenever there are repairs or exceptional costs, there needs to be a fund raising activity.   The fee charged per visit is nominal and certainly does not cover the total costs.   It would be an interesting exercise to do but as of now, any estimate would simply be a rough one.   I know you wrote, that your donation is for the purposes of helping women immersing and not for repairs and maintenance.   We will honour your request however, I am sure you would appreciate the immaculate condition in which the Mikva is maintained and most importantly, how much this is appreciated by the ladies.   International guests have remarked how well kept this facility is, with all the personal requirements a lady needs being available and included in the fee charged."

Based on these two points - and the holiness of the Mikvah - we appeal to everyone who can, to make a donation to help us. Since receiving this last reply, we have expanded our project to include helping the Mikvah administration as well, although all monies brought in, will go first to the women to help them. Once these amounts have been covered, the surplus will be given to help for the upkeep and building of the Mikvah.

Our project is now running successfuly in both Israel and South Africa.

As an overview - there are indeed real costs that are involved in the building of a kosher Mikvah. Most people never see them. But they are there. They include:

1. The costs involved in hiring a competent Halachic Rabbinical authority to oversee the project from beginning to end - and to watch over constantly to see that the Mikvah is kosher at all times. Did you know that the laws for a Mikvah are some of the most comprehensive laws of the Torah?! In order to be competent in these laws, it is not sufficient just to read through them quickly and know what to do, rather one must go through the process of "shimush" - serving another competent rabbi in order to learn just what is involved. There is no way possible to learn about building a kosher Mikvah without doing this. This can take *years* of learning. Most people never think about paying the rabbi for his efforts. It is something - they feel - that should be done as a Mitzvah!

2. The costs of the water: While it is true that rain water is what makes the Mikvah kosher, there is much more to the water issue, including bringing in water through other (halchically acceptable) means. In addition, women who prepare themselves at the Mikvah will run at least one full bath of water every time they go. There is a real cost to this - although many think that water is free!

3. The cost of the Balanit - the "Mikvah-lady". Once again, many women (and men) feel that this is a job that should be done as Mitzvah - for free. The fact that the Balanit has to put in tremendous effort to carryout various checks during the evening and spend a late night involved in strenuous work does not seem to feature into the equation of compensating another for their work.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Microsoft would give us software for free too, even though they may put in effort in developing a program to run on a computer?! Attending to the purity of a Jewish woman far superceedes the cost of a window on one's computer. For that matter, perhaps doctors and lawyers should also grant their services at no charge, since they do the favour of helping those in need, whether it's medical or legal and *that* is also a Mitzvah!

4. The cost of the actual building: Did you know this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars just to set up the Mikvah? The Mikvah requires premises to be located on (property!) It also needs to be prepared halachically and beautifully. What an embarrasment it would be for a woman to immerse in a filthy Mikvah - inside a building filled with mold and creatures crawling around it. It costs much money just to prepare the basic design of the Mikvah.

5. The upkeep costs: Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be continually invested into the Mikvah in order to keep it running correctly. Pipes may break, walls may crack, heating elements stop working etc. Anyone who has recently called a plumber to fix their tap (let alone their million dollar Mikvah) will know just how expensive it can be just for a tap. Imagine the repulsion we would have, to walk into a bathroom to find a non-woking toilet?! A non-working Mikvah has the same effect upon the soul.

6. Banking fees: Today, adding money to one's bank account can cost one - as can withdrawing the amount. Let alone the real cost of interest. Because many Mikvaot do not have ready funds available - they must borrow from banks, being forced to pay back thousands of dollars - just on interest. This is done at the expense of the administrators of the Mikvah. Don't they deserve the right to run their "pool of purity" as much as any working person deserves to be paid honestly for ther job?!

These are just a few of the basic costs involved.

Our project is aimed at helping women who cannot afford the monthly cost. It is also now growing in order to help the Mikvaot who are struggling financially.

We need your help. While we thank you for all your support, your true thanks comes and will come from G-d Almighty Himself. For by joining us in this project, we all work together in fulfilling G-d's will, and ultimately bringing in beautiful Jewish souls into this world. Souls who contribute to the world with acts of goodness and kindness.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Rebbi Shimon's Light - in the Darkness...


On the 33rd day of the Omer – Lag Ba'Omer, the students of Rebbi Akiva stopped dying during the plague that took their lives. It is told that they did not give honour – one to the other – and therefore received this harsh punishment.

Rebbi Akiva had 5 students, however, who did not die in this plague. One of the most famous of these 5 students – Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai ironically "left this world" on this day. How ironic! Rebbi Shimon certainly knew what real honour was all about and he certainly gave it to all. How could it be, that on the very day that all Rebbi Akiva's students stopped dying, Rebbi Shimon – that one to give honour did actually "die"? (Note: Tzaddikim do not die in the traditional sense of the word, as the Torah testifies, Tzaddikim even when they die are alive, and the wicked, even when they live, they are dead.)

Who is Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai?! He is most famous for his composition of that outstanding work – the Zohar. Thousands of pages filled with the most mystical insights of every aspect of G-dliness, available to us today – and the absolute core of Kabbalistic study. And while it seems that the Zohar may be finite, it is far from this. The famed and holy Ari HaKadosh would spend a week at a time meditating over just one paragraph of the Zohar – in order to plumb through the deep mysteries contained in it. If so, one would certainly need infinite lifetimes to be able to truly understand just how deep it is.

Rebbi Shimon represents *everything* light. Alive today as much as he was some 1900 years ago, the very name Rebbi Shimon brings light into the world – in every aspect of life.

What exactly is light? What is darkness? Don't we already see? There is so much light around us already – just look at the wonders of the world. Does one really need the additional light of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai?

Chassidim are known to farbreng – to get together speaking about words of Torah, of Chassidut, of encouragement, of miracles! A time for meaningful talk and growth. Although there are certainly special times for these meetings, any moment in time is as a good as ever to farbreng with friends, rabbis, mashpi'im and others.

It happened in the days of Rabbi Hillel of Paritch some 200 years ago. Rabbi Hillel was an outstanding Chassid (and practically a Rebbe himself) – of the Mittler Rebbe in particular. The Chassidim were "meeting" – and the location was in an old dark cellar. Time passed, and a certain chassid entered the room. As he sat down – in the total darkness of the room, and looked around, he turned to a fellow chassid and remarked how dark it was in the room. The chassid replied that he needn't worry. If he would just sit for a little while longer in the room, he would be accustomed to it and be able to see, just like he and all the other Chassidim. One starts to get used to it, and before long one can even see – he said! Rabbi Hillel heard the chassid speak this way and replied him, "That is the problem: becoming accustomed to darkness and thinking it is light! Always remember you are in darkness, and strive to elevate yourself above it."

While we live our lives in this world thinking we are already in the light, we should refresh our ways of thinking, of realising that while we may have gotten used to the lifestyle of physical and material things – this lifestyle is one of darkness. There is a far greater lifestyle awaiting us. One filled with real light.

Rebbi Shimon is just one of the Tzaddikim who has paved for us the path of light. Who show us in every word they say, what true light is really all about. The Torah – sharing a connection with the word "Orah" (light) and indeed the Aramaic word for Torah – "Orayta" means light – is the only real light of the world.

Let us use this special day of Rebbi Shimon's – a day of light – in reminding ourselves that there is a real light which we must strive for. It often takes our own energy of preparing wood, gasoline and a match – to get things started, but that is the wonderful world of Torah, of light and warmth that awaits each of us every single day. Light a candle for Rebbi Shimon today. And more than this, light up your life with some Kabbalah – some Chassidut – and some Halachic Torah (and more!) – every single day of your life.

Spend some extra time each day learning another teaching of Torah – or even studying the text of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai himself – the Zohar.

May the merit of Rebbi Shimon stand by us all, so that we merit the ultimate light of the world, the coming of Moshiach, with the revelation of G-dliness in this world below.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Unity, Care and Kindness


Imagine a world made up of only good things. A world in which even the vocabulary of languages consisted of only good words. Imagine this world for a moment… It would be a world of unity, of care, of kindness. It would be a world of sensitivity, connection. A world where even the word "judgment" would not exist, because each creature would see only the goodness of the other. Each creature would feel only a connection to another. Each creature would want nothing more than to care and be kind to the other.

With a kick back into the world of reality – the world of humans. One in which one man will swallow his fellow alive. A world where a fellow Jew will watch gleefully as the other cries over their financial difficulties, looking forward to taking even more than their own dues. Isn't it a wonder that man has not yet learned to internalise such words as unity, care and kindness?

Even with visible pain showing, man will often do his best to continue his afflictions upon another. Who cares?! And… isn't *this* kindness?! And after all, this is really what unity is all about – while one gains immensely from the pain of the other, the other loses, emotionally, financially, mentally and more. This is true unity then – isn't it?!

And yet, G-d has created animals in the world. Animals whose most basic instincts contain the values of true unity, care and kindness – without even a thought of an ulterior gain. The lion only roars and claws it's prey when it is hungry… but it has no choice. When it is sated however, it has no need to attack – certainly not just for the sake of "more".

Who would think that an elephant could be gentle?! Who would think that a small dog could trust the weight of an elephant upon it?! Who would think they could be friends?! To care for each other – dare we say love each other?! They certainly wouldn't make it if they were clothed in human bodies (with human tongues) – as the "elephant" would delight in the pain it could inflict on the small "dog."

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that one must learn from everything one sees and hears – to add this into one's own service of G-d, to improve one's ways. And indeed, the Torah teaches that were it not for the Torah, we would have to learn from animals. Perhaps were the Torah speaking alive today (not being the closed book it apparently often is,) it may well teach something even stronger. If anything – turn first to the animals (it might say!) and see how they behave and learn from them. And after one has satiated oneself with the values of "animals", one may turn to the Torah, ready to understand now what it actually means to be a human – let alone a Jew.

Actions speak louder than words – of course. And a picture is worth more than 1000 words. So sit back and enjoy this video. Close your latest Torah thriller, and absorb the values of true kindness, care and unity contained in this short video clip. Perhaps it will make a change in you for the better. Perhaps it will awaken a spark inside of you that says, "If an animal can behave like this… then surely, at the very least, I can live my life as an animal – if nothing greater."

Isn't it truly odd… how animals can be so much greater than humans?!

For another article on this same subject with video, see:

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Considering Abortion? You Might Save More than One Life...


Many young (and older) women consider the option of abortion a question of personal taste, personal feelings, a personal choice. Organisations supporting abortion may claim such facts such as the body of a woman belonging to her, and that she has the free choice to do with it as she wishes. (A similar idea is expressed by those that plaster their bodies with tattoos.)

The Torah – of course – tells us in no uncertain terms that the body that we own is a gift to us given by G-d Almighty Himself. We are to treat it with the respect it deserves. It is the vehicle which allows our souls to express themselves in this world. To perform acts of goodness and kindness to ourselves, to G-d – and to others. Whether it comes to tattoos, striking oneself, harming oneself, eating unhealthy (to degrees that literally affect the possibility of life/death situations) – or whether it comes to abortion, the Torah is clear – the body belongs to G-d.

Naturally, when it comes to the question of abortion, it is not only the body of the woman herself at stake – but another body too, a body that at this point in time has no free choice as to its own wishes. In addition, contrary to the tattoo or causing harm to one's own body – aborting a baby while in the womb is not just a situation of harm caused to another body – but rather it concerns the soul inside that body too. A life…

Many rabbis are asked the question from women falling pregnant "accidentally" if they can go through with abortion. They're not ready for having children – they might say. Or they might possibly comment that they didn't really want to fall pregnant. There may be a variety of excuses to terminate the life of another. (Is it any different to the "living" world where others use the same excuses to kill off those that are irritating *their* way of life?!)

It is a most sensitive situation that must be dealt with, with honesty, kindness, concern and deliberation. It is quite often that the woman (mother-to-be – no less!) is simply too immature to appreciate what is actually about to happen and how her life will change – for the rest of her life – as she brings into this world a child who will develop into an adult, give something to society, and ultimately be a blessing for the mother at some point in her life (and perhaps if she does not see the blessing in life, she may well come to see it at that point in time when she has already left this world.)

Perhaps the only way to ever convince a mother of her current wish to terminate the pregnancy, is to let her give birth, live out her life to see what the soul inside that body was all about and then imagine herself back in time wondering if she would make the same decision were she back at that point in time again today.

But it goes much further, because – to express it simply – the saving of the life of this child may well in the long run save the lives of others too. Perhaps just one, perhaps many….

If you or a friend finds yourself (themselves) in such a sensitive test in life, please do read the story below (it is true!) It is hoped that the power of these words should convince any woman that the decision to abort may cause her to lose more than one life – and the decision to save – may well end up the reason for the life – of her very best friend…

A link is included at the bottom of the post for those wishing to be in touch with a wonderful organisation in Israel known as "Efrat" – an organisation that saves the lives of Jewish children in Israel.

The story is adapted by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles of

A Life for a Life

Yoni, an Israeli Defense Force soldier stationed in Hebron, was shot by an Arab terrorist. It happened very early in the morning, and no one else was awake to hear it. Yoni passed out and was bleeding steadily, his life heading toward a silent end.

But another soldier stationed nearby heard the shot and went to investigate. He found a fellow Israeli soldier bleeding to death. He tried the best he could to stop the bleeding and called for help. Waiting for help to arrive, he kept applying pressure to the wound--literally holding Yoni's life in his hands.

Yoni was taken to a hospital in Be’er Sheva where he underwent surgery. Yoni's parents were notified and they rushed to the hospital. Imagine the fear of the parents who were only told "your son has been injured and is in the hospital." When they arrived the doctor told them that Yoni was shot but will be alright. However, had it not been for the immediate actions of the other soldier, their son Yoni would have bled to death.

It was a miracle that the other soldier heard what no one else heard, and managed to locate Yoni as quickly as he did. The parents wanted to thank that soldier, but he had just left the hospital after hearing that the soldier he helped would survive.

While recuperating at home, Yoni and his parents called the army to find out the name of the other soldier so they could thank him personally. Unfortunately, that soldier's name was not recorded and although they tried to ask around they simply couldn’t track down who that other soldier was.

Yoni's mother knew that the important thing of course is that Yoni is well, yet she could not help feeling that as long as she couldn’t meet and thank the solider who bravely saved her son’s life--the entire frightening episode would not be fully over. Not being able to thank the soldier continued to give her an empty feeling…but then she had an idea.

The couple owned a grocery store in Kiryat Malachi (a town near Ashdod), so they decided to put up a sign in the store, describing what happened, figuring that Israel is a small country and eventually they might found out who the mystery soldier was.

Months passed with no response. Finally, one morning about a year later, a woman customer noticed the sign hanging by the door of the store. She recalled how happy her son Yair was when he came home one Friday night and told them how he heard a shot and was able to save another soldier’s life in Hebron. She went back and told the owner of the store. The story matched. The two women now decided to try to reach their sons on cell phones and see if they could meet at the store. Fortunately it turned out that both the young men and even the fathers were able to all meet that afternoon at the store.

The families soon gathered for an emotional "rendezvous". The soldiers recounted army experiences and finally after all this time Yoni’s mother could stand up and thank Yair for saving her son’s life or as she put it, “You saved my world”. She looked forward to feeling “completion” after all this time by thanking the soldier, but little did she know that the story was hardly complete.

After the tearful thank you, Yair’s mother quietly pulled her aside and asked to speak with her outside. The two women went out alone. And she asked Yoni’s mother: “Look at me-- don’t you remember me?”

“No, I’m sorry did we meet before?”

"Yes,” Yair’s mother replied. “You see there is a particular reason I came into your store today. I used to live here, and this time although I was just passing by, I wanted to give you my business, even though I was only buying a few things.”

“What are you talking about?” Yoni’s mother asked.

The other woman answered, “Twenty years ago I used to live around here and came all the time to buy milk and bread. One day you noticed that I looked really down and you were very nice and asked me why I seemed so down and I confided in you. I told you that I was going through a very difficult time and on top of that I was pregnant and planning on having an abortion. As soon as I said “abortion” you called your husband over and the two of you seemed to forget about your own store and business, and just sat down and patiently listened to me. I still remember clearly what you said.

“You told me that it is true that I was going through a hard time but sometimes the good things in life come through difficulty, and the best things come through the biggest difficulties. You spoke of the joy of being a mother and that the most beautiful word to hear in the Hebrew language is “Ima” (mother) when spoken by one’s child. You both spoke and spoke until I was convinced that I actually should have this baby--so you see G-d paid you back!”

”What do you mean? asked Yoni’s mother”. The answer astounded and thrilled her.

“I had a boy twenty years ago that you saved by telling me to think twice before doing the abortion.” With happy tears she declared, "My beloved Yair wouldn’t have been alive if not for you. He was the one you were looking for. He was the one who grew up to save your son Yoni’s life!"

Note: This incredible story is true. The actual names are on file.

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from, the website of a wonderful organization, EFRAT, that dedicatedly (and non-violently!) works to prevent abortions by Jewish mothers in Israel, through counseling and financial incentives.

For those of you who may consider abortion an option - still...
Listen to the words of a 12 year old:

Friday, 1 May 2009

Parshat Kedoshim - Holiness. Honesty in Business


Parshat Kedoshim – Holy – is filled with the best Torah advice we could ever be given about how to live as Jews. How to be holy.

Students at Yeshivot today spend most of their days involved with a variety of Gemara texts teaching students the values of dealing with bulls breaking through fences and goring the neighbour's bull. They learn the values of whether it is permitted to pour hot food or liquid over cold on Shabbat, and just how long to wait after eating meat before eating milk. And they learn a variety of tremendously important laws that take up valued time as they explore what the Rishonim and Acharonim (early and later commentaries) have to say about these points.

In addition, it often happens that such Torah scholars become experts in the principles of washing one's hands correctly before eating bread, setting up an Eruv for carrying on the Shabbat, tying one's Tzizit correctly and making the correct blessings on food. Of course, the laws are not just important – they are the very blood life of Torah.

But these laws usually affect the relationship that a Jew has between Jew and… G-d. In addition to this, there are important laws that must be learnt that apply between man and his fellow man. In fact, out of the four sections of the most basic legal code of Jewish law – the Shulchan Aruch – one complete section (one quarter) is completely devoted to some very special laws between man and his fellow man – namely the laws of business.

Sadly, the average student of Torah will never read them – ever. In fact, he may be an outstanding businessman already (having gained millions of dollars) that he may feel he simply no longer needs to learn the ins and outs of real Torah business. That section – Choshen Mishpat – usually hides itself in most libraries – or at best displays itself beautifully as it simply decorates an already full library carrying heavy leather bound books dealing with the principles of the exact time to wait between meat and milk or the particular details of first vessel, second vessel and third vessel for cooking purposes on Shabbat.

After all this (which is truly important and absolute necessary,) one does however wonder just where the laws of business have gone to. After all, Parshat Kedoshim speaks about these laws in great detail. One learns from chapter 19 vv 11-13 such great principles as not stealing (one of those listed on the "Top 10"), not denying falsely, not lying to each other and not swearing falsely. Easy things to stumble upon when concealing one's truest intentions in a business transaction. And it continues to detail not cheating one's fellow – not robbing from him, and one which amazes many to this day – not withholding the wages due to a worker… until the morning!

In a later section of the Torah, such laws are elaborated upon when it comes to being honest with one's measures, for example, not setting a scale to be slightly off one way or the other, or simply swallowing up the extra 5 cents change due to another simply because "we don't have 5 cents… so you lose!" (For some it's 5 cents, and for others it's just a few dollars. Yet for others, it can be thousands and more!)

There are hundreds of chapters with thousands of laws dealing with honest business dealings – as laid out in Choshen Mishpat. But a simple look at the points brought out in Parshat Kedoshim wake us up to realize it's the simple things that count. Paying one's employee on time. A far cry from the excuses most come up with – that they simply don't have money. Although they employ and get others to work for them, they simply refuse to pay on time – because *they* don't have the money now. Isn't it a wonder that they were able to use the other's skills however?!

There are those that will spend hours on a telephone conversation to find out if you're really the right person to consult with – while not paying a cent for the other's time, or consulting for a one hour appointment, staying two hours and then claiming that they really only needed the hour scheduled for – and will therefore not pay for the additional hour.

Then there are those who change the payment system. After a good job done and payment is asked, many will pay less, with excuses ranging from anything such as "I watched you work, and I don't believe you used all the time to attend to my problem and have decided (of my own accord) to pay you what I feel is right!" to anything like "You can't charge me that amount when others charge less." The excuses are too innumerable to count, and an entire web site could be set up for those looking for excuses, where they could pick up the exact and most fitting one for the occasion!

Then there are those who do not honor appointments, taking the time of another, using it, without payment – because they simply were not able to come that day.

But the same people who will claim these principles of great "honesty" will be the first to become irritated at seeing others taking chances by putting in sugar into their cup of coffee before the coffee is poured (on Shabbat of course.) They will critcise and become annoyed to see the serious violations being committed.

Where have we gone when it comes to real honesty in business?! When it comes to treating another human being with the respect due for his effort in the work he provides. In paying him an honest wage (a livable wage?!) In paying him – on time! In paying him with a thank you and a sense of appreciation for the work done. In being as particular with respecting his wealth – as one would with respecting the Shabbat day, Kashrut or the laws of Family Purity.

Perhaps it is our focus on the nitty-gritty (call it "between G-d and me, rather than the concern of any other human being on the planet) – rather than the reality – those things that need to be worked upon, that the final Geula has not yet arrived.

In 1994, a soldier in Israel by the name of Nachshon Wachsman was captured by Arabs. His parents put in tremendous effort to do everything they could to save him. Candles were lit. Prayer rallies were held at the Kotel – the Western Wall. It seems that there was tremendous Jewish unity at this point in time!

Unfortunately the prayers did not help, and Nachshon HY"D was murdered (see story)

Whether the following story is true or not – it still carries a profound lesson for us all and should awaken each of us to realize the importance of honesty in business:

At this time when Nachshon had been captured, a young man who had been in a coma awoke, requesting to speak to one of the leading Rabbis of the generation. He had a story to tell him…

He said that he had seen a certain elderly woman in his dream coma state – and had been given a message from her to tell over. When the Rabbi showed the man a picture of his own (now deceased) wife – he confirmed that this was the woman who delivered the message. She told him that during this period of time, the unity of the Jewish people had been so great, that it was appropriate and right that Moshiach would reveal himself, taking us all out of this exile! But there was one thing holding things back – the problems of theft and forbidden money that people had taken through their business activities.

Without money, none of us can live. It does make the world go around, because it allows us to interact with each other, giving and taking correctly – and ultimately helping each other to live as real people should. Everybody deserves a chance at living in life – living with the most basic necessities that we all want for ourselves.

The moment we take into our own hands, the choice of choosing how *we* are going to do our "honest" business, we take away from the very life of the other. The other who works hard to live – just as you do. Who wishes to own a house – just as you do. Who wishes to own a car – as you do. Who wishes to wear new, comfortable, and attractive clothing – as you do. Who wishes to eat the tasty foods the G-d has blessed us with – as you do. In fact, every other Jew wants nothing more – than what you do.

And therefore not for nothing do we learn in this same Parsha – immediately afterwards in fact – to love each other as we love ourselves. Rabbi Akiva teaches that this is a great principle in the Torah. In fact, Hillel the Sage, teaches about this principle – the one of "what is hateful to yourself, do not do to others" – that this is the entire Torah, and the rest is mere commentary. What is there left to do – but to study it, so as to know how to behave correctly.

A short look around should wake us all up to realize the state of affairs we find ourselves in. One in which the Jewish people are far from free. Each of us is still bound to the regular laws of nature – a world filled with violence and more…

Perhaps, instead of the sole focus of our learning being on how to keep the Shabbat day correctly (which should not be taken lightly!) – we should also spend *much* time focused simply on how to be fair with our fellow when it comes to money – when it comes to business. Not just for the sake of learning – but to actually implement in our day to day lives.

Your fellow's wealth is as precious to him – as yours is to you. His time is as precious to him as yours is to you. And his very life is as precious to him as yours is to you.

May we go from strength to strength – from loving each other as we love ourselves, to ultimately fulfilling the teaching of Rabbi Akiva in the best way possible, to be deserving to becoming as great a student as Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai – who did fulfill this teaching as it was taught, and ultimately bringing in the light of Torah, the light of goodness – of G-d – and the ultimate Geula – redemption – immediately!


Related Posts with Thumbnails