Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Steady Learning... Become a Posek in 5 Years!


So you're serious about learning?! You may well have come to the conclusion that there are two main components to Torah – Aggadata and Halacha. There certainly is more to it than that, but these two areas give one a good idea of the fullness of Torah.

The Aggadata are the stories that one finds scattered throughout the Gemara etc. Though they may seem like fables of sorts, in actuality they contain the deepest secrets of the universe. Those with a love for superficiality will think that the stories in the Aggadata are no better than "Jack and the Beanstalk" and the like. Stories filled with fantasy at the best of times, and just good general living guidance at others. Those who realise that every word in the Torah (Gemara included) are completely G‑d given, will surely realise that these stories can be compared to the most outer garments of the king (King).

Those whose lives are superficial tend to think the king is all about a crown on some man's head, some elegant and royal garments, together with the best of gold, silver and diamonds that money can buy! Those who understand that the king is actually a somebody, know full well that the external garments are nothing more than a hint at the real person inside. If one really wants to know more about the king, it may take a lifetime of effort to become more acquainted with the real person – the real soul – behind the garments.

With all the fun and stories out the way – together with the deepest secrets of life itself, there is the other important area of Torah – the Halacha. The Halacha – from the word "Holech" meaning "going" is the actual rules of how to go about living one's life. When it comes to waking up in the morning, what must be done?! What about when one gets dressed – are there laws to this to?! What about walking and the clothes one wears – are there specific rules to this too?! Then there are the holy days of the year, the Shabbat and festivals. There are laws that apply to eating and drinking. There are laws regarding honest business dealings. Laws for marriage and married life. In fact, there are laws for every single second of the day. Some people (Tzaddikim) are aware of every second of the day – making sure to utilise it so that that moment is engaged in the fulfilment of G-d's will. Others are less "enthusiastic" about things, but are still very serious about fulfilling G-d's will whenever they know more about it. They are careful with eating kosher, observing the holy days etc., though they may not quite know the intricacies of serving G-d every single second of the day!

The Shulchan Aruch – written by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) contains the laws for every Jew to master! It is divided into four sections, though it is the first section – Orach Chaim (The Path of Life), that is by far the most important for every single Jew to be familiar with – inside and out! But with 693 chapters of learning to get through, it is by no means an easy task! More than this, in order to truly understand the original text, one needs to learn something more – something even more practical to help in understanding how to fulfil the laws – some 500 years later. The Chofetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1839-1933) authored the most authoritative commentary on this first section of Shulchan Aruch – calling it the Mishna Berura or "Clear Teaching." Through learning the Mishna Berura one truly gets to grips with the first section of the Shulchan Aruch, and one learns how to conduct one's days on a day to day basis as every Jew should.

There is no excuse for anybody. Every Jew is required to work through these laws and to become totally fluent in them. Of course, knowing 693 chapters of law can certainly make one an authority of sorts! We could all leave the work of learning to the Poskim – the Halachic deciders. Alternatively we could get stuck into it ourselves, spending time each day, until we master the material on our own.

But where do we begin?! Programs of all sorts have sprouted up, and it has become easier than ever to learn the Mishna Berura today. In fact, you can find timetables to help you master the contents of the Mishna Berura in just one year! Then there are two other beautiful programs available. Would you believe that if you learned just one page (2 sides) of the Mishna Berura a day, you could complete the entire 693 chapters in just 2.5 years? And if this is too difficult, why not consider one of the most wonderful programs available – the Amud Yomi – just one side of a page of Mishna Berura a day. It will take 5 years to work through, but considering the effort you'll be putting in – for just one side of a page a day – you can become a walking encyclopaedia on the first section of the Shulchan Aruch in just this small amount of time! What's wonderful about this project is that if you follow the timetable set up, you will end up learning the laws applicable to each festival at the correct time, and then going back to the ordinary day to day learning when the festival is over.

It's a great program. I highly endorse it to anyone keen enough to want to engage in learning Halacha – Jewish law – seriously. You won't regret it! Of course, if you feel you'd like to work through it, but lack the necessary learning skills, you are always welcome to set up a one-on-one learning session with Rav Eliyahu and work through the Amud each day using Skype. The great thing is that you can accomplish an Amud within just 15-30 minutes a day!

So think of that! For just some 15-30 minutes a day, you'll get to understand the most basic Jewish laws applicable to every single Jew – in a period of just 5 years. You'll be an expert, and everyone will be asking *you* the right way to behave as a Jew!

If you're serious, I highly encourage you to take a look at Spend some time navigating the site and seeing how it works, and of course, don't forget to ask them to send you a free timetable for the 5 year learning schedule. It's a truly beautiful publication and a pleasure to work with. You'll be able to keep track of your progress, and as the days go by, you'll be excited to see just how much you're accomplishing. There's a short 5 minute insight Shiur in audio that is sent every day to help you master the material… all for free!

If you still don't come right in learning Halacha, and are in need of assistance, contact Rav Eliyahu directly, and set up a serious learning program. Go for it… 5 years, 2.5 years, or even one year! You can make it happen – this year… You can make it happen – TODAY!

Friday, 25 September 2009

One of the 36 Hidden Tzaddikim - Rabbi Aryeh Levine



There is a well known concept that in every generation there are 36 hidden Tzaddikim – righteous individuals. According to the Tanya – the magnum opus of the Alter Rebbe, the first Rebbe of Chabad, a Tzaddik is someone who has no evil inclination. His every thought, speech and action is devoted to pure goodness. Practically speaking – he cannot think bad even if he would (theoretically) want to. It is a level which is really given to a person at birth.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov – on the other hand – teaches that everybody can become a Tzaddik. In fact, he would become very angry at those that would attribute his level of righteousness to the fact that he was the grandson of the holy Baal Shem Tov. He would tell them that he worked on himself until he acquired his great levels of righteousness.

Which one is it really?! Are Tzaddikim born, or can one become a Tzaddik by working on oneself through learning much Torah and engaging in many good deeds?

This of course refers to the "regular" Tzaddik. In addition to the "regular" Tzaddik, is a group of select individuals all on their own. They stand out from the crowd in that one can often never really identify them properly. Their essence is devoted to complete goodness, yet the world doesn't seem to know about these people or hold them in much high esteem, if any esteem at all.

It is also taught that the hidden Tzaddik must be hidden so that others not know the work he is doing to rectify the world. If anybody would find out his status, he would be required to leave this world – immediately. Such is the greatness of the hidden Tzaddik. He is here with us, yet most of us are simply too naïve and foolish to actually be able to identify him, honour him and respect him for his greatness. Of course, he neither needs our honour or respect. He knows well himself of his own achievements and contributions to the world. With regular visitations from the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah the Prophet) and other Tzaddikim and great souls and angels that appear regularly to him, he is well aware of his mission in the world.

We are taught, that in fact, there are 36 of these hidden Tzaddikim that maintain the world at any one time. No more… no less. They are scattered about, doing their jobs faithfully – while we may often even encounter them, insult them, and take no notice of them even when we are in their very presence!

As we approach Yom Kippur, we should surely consider the ideas of Rosh HaShanah and the three books open in front of G-d at that point in time. One for the Tzaddikim (to be inscribed for life), one for the Reshaim (to be inscribed for….) and one for the middle-man – the Beinoni. He is given ten days to improve himself so that he too will be inscribed in the book of life and be considered a Tzaddik.

One wonders though – if one could get a glimpse of a real hidden Tzaddik, what would he be like?! If they are around, then isn't it fair that we learn from them at some point in time? After all, if life is about doing good and kind things – and the hidden Tzaddikim seem to be able to do this all the time – wouldn't it be best for us to know at least one of them, so that we too could learn the right way to behave?

Indeed, every now and again – G-d gives us a glimpse into the life of one of them. Such was the life of the Tzaddik Rabbi Aryeh Levin. He may well have "left" the world some 40 years ago – but his life is certainly one that we can all learn from today.

A video documentary was made about his life - but it is no longer available online. If you are able to view it, you will see a beautiful introduction into a peek of the life of this Tzaddik – someone who we can all learn from. We can learn what life is really all about. Rabbi Benjy Levin is Rav Aryeh's grandson and it could well be that if you are in touch with him, he may be able to assist in your obtaining this beautiful documentary.

At the end of the video, someone who was affected by Rav Aryeh shares a beautiful teaching from him. He once asked Rav Aryeh if indeed he was one of the 36 hidden Tzaddikim. Rav Aryeh answered him that the hidden Tzaddikim are not a select group of people born into this world to fulfil a full life of righteousness from beginning to end. Rather there are always 36 hidden Tzaddikim in the world involved in Mitzvot and kind deeds. However, some of these individuals will be involved in this amazing goodness for just a moment, others a minute, others an hour or a day… maybe more. While engaged in their goodness, it is they who are the hidden Tzaddikim at that point in time – the reason for G-d's having created the world. When they finish their service, they leave the status of hidden Tzaddik, and let another take it over. At any one time, there will always be these 36 people involved in the most amazing goodness and kindness in the world. But the flame is transferred from one to another. At some point in time, that flame may even be in your hand. It will then be you – who is the hidden Tzaddik. Of course, you can choose how long to hold on to that title for, to continue with that goodness and be one of the 36 hidden great and righteous individuals who maintain this world – who G-d created the world for. The choice is all of ours.

Though we may not be the Tzaddik that the Alter Rebbe speaks about – or even that one that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov speaks about – each of us has the opportunity – every single moment to be the hidden Tzaddik that Rav Aryeh Levin speaks about.

Should you wish to learn more about this Tzaddik, why not purchase the book about his life? "A Tzaddik in our Time" by Simcha Raz can be obtained via Amazon by simply clicking on the link below!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Time, Healing, Sincerity and Relationships


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), father of the Mussar movement (involved with the improvement of one's character traits,) had this to say:

"In three matters the world holds on to the secondary and sets aside the most important things.

1. When they recite the "Pesukei Dezimra" prayers – those prayers composed mainly of Psalms, preceding the blessings over the Shema, the Shema and the main Amidah – they do so with Kavana – intention and enthusiasm! But when they get to the main Shemoneh Esrei prayer – the prayer consisting of 18 (19) blessings recited silently in complete attachment to G-d, they say it in a hurry, with frigidity and without Kavana.

2. During the days of Selichot (those days preceding Rosh HaShanah when we arise early to recite additional prayers requesting forgiveness from G-d) and during the Ten Days of Repentance, they say Selichot and they fast, but they forget to repent and do Teshuva (i.e. regret for their bad ways, resolve to improve in the future, returning stolen items, fulfilling promises and paying back debts).

3. Before Pesach, they clean their homes (and scrape their walls dry) from every crumb of Chamtez. But the real Chametz that can be clearly seen – in the shops etc. they sell with an open heart and in clear view of the eye."

Have we forgotten life's most important real values and fallen back on external stringencies in the hope of fooling others (and ourselves)?!

When it comes time to prayer, do we really put our all into the first few words, only to begin yawning, falling asleep, talking or other such things – when it comes to the moment of "isolation" in prayer with G-d? Was Rabbi Yisrael referring to us?!

What of those special days that precede the awesome day(s) of Rosh HaShanah, the day on which the entire world is judged? Do we concern ourselves with waking early to recite additional prayers (which we often simply rattle off in a few minutes tops!) – but neglect to realise why, in fact, we are reciting them?!

Today, with email (nothing less than with the advantage of CC and BCC) – we can send out just one email to every person we've ever just said hello to, asking them for forgiveness. Then we can head for Facebook and ask another 5000 of our very best "friends" for forgiveness, and thereafter log in to Twitter and once again with the most sensitive attitude, ask all 20 000 of our followers to forgive us for hurting them during the year?!

But what of the people we have really hurt? Are we able to truly restore broken relationships? Do we regard our quickie "I hope you'll forgive me for the things done this past year," as sufficient to heal relationships that have been destroyed over many years?! It may take far longer in healing a relationship that has been destroyed over the years than a simple "Please forgive me." Though words can be powerful, they are also very often cheap. Said in the right way, years of hurt can be healed. Said incorrectly, and the relationship can possibly sink even lower. But then again… maybe it's really the Selichot that really count?! Maybe it's the fasting?! Maybe it's the quickie that we all get sucked into as we run around asking all and sundry to forgive us. Maybe… maybe not.

Do you know someone whose every stringency to remove Chometz on Pesach is contrasted against the same person passing by another dressed in rags just hoping to get through the day with whatever food he can – without so much as acknowledging him, let alone offering to provide for him – in whatever he needs (isn't he a human being too?!) Though of course, the "best" of us will tell our great stories regarding just how much we've helped those in need this year, whether it's been in donating a $200 000 garden to a "deserving cause" or whether it's just by opening up our Pesach home to those who wish to inspect it to reveal everything in perfect Pesach condition – while neglecting to mention the *real* Chometz lurking about in full view of every one else's eyes?!

Who are we really fooling? Life is a serious commitment. Those reading this post know that they are a part of it. It takes time to heal. Time to grow. It takes time to learn to see things in the right perspective. It takes time to be able to honestly and objectively stand back to see what's really important, and what is in fact secondary. While miracles do happen – while forgiveness can be speedy – while growth can suddenly spurt, surely we should be more concerned with understanding that our stay in this world for some 70-120 years is about constant growth, constant forgiveness, constant healing in relationships?

The head of the year gives us a chance to reflect on ourselves – in honesty. It gives us the chance to realise that our Torah is not a novel consisting of 300 pages, which we read swiftly, only to put it away in a garage to gather dust somewhere – after all, we've read it already.

Torah is infinite – because the soul is infinite. Every interaction we have, with ourselves, with another and with G-d, is infinite in its ramifications. If we're looking to understand what it means to grow, to improve and develop ourselves, it's going to mean a serious commitment to the Torah and her values – for a lifetime! It's going to mean constant learning, time spent every single day devoted to understanding just how far there is to go. To understand that relationships can sometimes break down. They can also heal. We can sometimes break down, but we can also heal. And sometimes we may even believe that G-d has broken down… but this too can heal.

Of course, we can take the swift approach too. We can start our prayers with the explosion of a bomb, only to simmer down (instantly!) into a pile of ashes. We can fast and say additional "prayers" to ask for forgiveness from G-d as our speedy way of "destroy everything throughout the year, and then spend a few minutes in repairing everything perfectly." And we can even make certain that with our every effort, we clean our Pesach homes from every vestige of Chometz so that all others will see just how pious we are…. (when of course neglecting the real Chometz clearly visible to the naked eye of any objective person…)

Or we can spend some twenty minutes to an hour in solitude. And as we do so, we can reconsider just exactly where we are in life. How far we've come, and how far we still must go. How much there really is to do – and to realise just how much time and patience it will require. Twenty minutes of solitude – or perhaps an hour… not once of course, but every day. Suddenly we will realise that what counts is the "main prayer" when it comes to G-d, the essence of real forgiveness – when it comes to man, and the essence of being true to oneself as to others, when it comes to oneself.

The choice is ours. G-d has three books open in front of him. But perhaps He lets each of us choose where to write the rest of our stories – the rest of our lives. There is a short road which is long, and there is a long road that is short. And then, there is a middle road – a road open to most of us during the ten days, to give us the opportunity of deciding on which road in life we really wish to be traveling on.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Third Jihad - Free Viewing

This DVD is being shown free until 15 September.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Givers and Takers


The Jewish year is drawing to an end and we look forward to the good things to come in 5770. Personally I spent some time reflecting about the year that's been. As I considered my own growth in certain areas, and lack of it in others, I thought of the many types of people I met this year. Who were those that inspired me the most, and who were those who taught me the value of staying far away from? I considered the work we've been doing on our websites and blogs and the response we've had.

It's certainly been filled with variety. I thought about the "old school" and the new. How we're changing as people in the world. Technology is on the upswing (in spite of the fact that the world says there's no more money!) And people are buying it! And a lot more of it than they did when the economy was booming! They're also using it! And in abundance!

We've "met" anonymous donors to our projects who have given to our projects without batting an eyelid. It's been phenomenal and incredible! The kindness generated by people across the world donating to our causes – and this having thereafter been transferred over to others in need has been extraordinary! There seem to be those unique individuals in the world – who, when they see a project that's in need of assistance, come through – no matter what. There's never a question as to how to arrange the funds. Those wishing to give, notice the "Donate" button, click on it, enter their "magic" credit card details, and the money is transferred. From this point, this "virtual action" (or so it seems) is transferred into real money, into real physical items which benefit others.

Yet, we've also met people (in the real world!) who we've done work for who have out-run us with the abundance of excuses physically possible – as to why they simply could not manage to get payment to us. We've sometimes had to travel to far off places to receive money owed, though in today's times, checks work well (and can be sent to a postal box), depositing money into another's bank account is a cinch, and even doing a direct deposit using the online Internet banking facilities is as simple as 1,2,3 today – and the costs are even cheaper than the previous two! Aren't people different?!

Personally, having become a lot more connected with people using the powerful resources on the Internet – I've also got a good look into how others work. It's not an intentional thing of course… but when one connects to Facebook or the like and sees 10 new posts posted by one's friends, one does become a little curious at what's really going on.

What stands out most is that in spite of the apparent awful economy we're in, people have more and more time to spend twiddling their fingers on their keyboards as they make known their daily activities: "LOL" or "I'm going to eat lunch now", or perhaps "I'm now putting food in my mouth" or similar totally irrelevant things. There are those who've used every possible application, like starting their own virtual farms, where they simply MUST feed their virtual animals – even on Shabbat! And if that isn't enough, because they may be observing the Shabbat – they'll try their best to find friends across the globe who are not into Shabbat yet – or who are just out of – so that their "precious" animals can be fed.

There are the "serious gamblers" who will spend all night involved in virtual gambling – and one wonders if they're any better off than real big time gamblers…

Then there are those who are simply bored with life. They'll let everyone know all about it. Their day is going slow, nothing happening. They don't know what to do with their lives. And if you think these are the "regular folk", you may find it a wonder to know that these people are often the more "important" members of the community too! (Have time on your hands, and bored? We have a wealth of projects you could join up with and make a real difference with your "bored" time.)

We have to wonder where we've come from, and where we are going to. Is life all about sharing a 140 meaningless message that gets sent into the nowhere world of cyberspace with none of the 20 000 followers interested in it? Is it all about letting our friends become aware of every single act we do – no matter how gruesome or ugly it is (often accompanied with a picture just to indicate the truth)?

Is life perhaps about taking care of virtual pets all day long – or perhaps adopting the sheep that leave another friend's farm?! Is life about giving others all sorts of virtual gifts… ALL day long?!

Is life about always "being there" for others, when all this really means is a brief two-liner message that says "… has sent you a virtual hug" or better yet "…has sent you a virtual Lulav" (because you can't afford one this year). These of course are all very real things that happen, and one wonders if this is what life is all about.

Yet, to go back to the start of things… it amazed me to see those with large hands and small mouths (the normal physical size reflecting the truth of what is actually more important,) whose "huge stature" far outweighed those stuck with the problem of large mouths and tiny hands (a strange phenomenon to see in the physical reality of things.) Indeed, it was incredible to see the many people who I had contact with who simply gave of themselves in so many ways.

These were no "virtual givers". The money was real. The kindness? REAL! The thoughts? SINCERE! There were those who simply made it happen. Who gave over something – just like the "old school" of life taught. These real doers allowed us to share together with them the ability to give to others lacking the means to live truly honourable lives – as every Jew is entitled to by virtue of simply living in G-d's world. (Every Jewish male deserves to own his own Lulav at Sukkot time, which surely outweighs his need to constantly have to take care of another's virtual pet on his Friday – someone else's Shabbat in another part of the world!)

Today we've become "sophisticated". We live in a world where if one doesn't send a virtual greeting card, it's something to argue about! If one doesn't respond to a Twitter message, it's an insult… and if one doesn't comment on the recently posted image of a friend's newborn baby (just moments after birth), still unclothed, then it's a sure sign of a lack of interest in the "important things" in the life of another.

Who are we really? What is life really all about?! Are we ready to embrace the important values of the Torah… to being a person whose sincerity and care for another is real? Are we ready to embrace truth? To learn and understand what real goodness is?

It's out there – for I have surely seen it. Seeing the real action of those who have helped – it has brought me to seeing just how wonderful the world of goodness and giving really is. The "virtual" livers (no pun intended) lack the inner core soul of life itself. They're helping the world in a variety of ways… so long as there's no need for food, clothing, shelter, love or achievement.

Of course, we have this free choice to decide upon every day. G-d too, has three books open before Him where He chooses to place each of us. Are we looking for a virtual gift from G-d, or do we want something real too? Will it be good enough if G‑d blesses us with a virtual house, a virtual car, virtual food, virtual clothing and a virtual lievelihood? Perhaps the virtual millions of dollar wins that appear in our inboxes as Spam are going to do the trick of bringing this world to a state fitting to be filled with the Divine Presence?

Would it be good enough for us to experience the "Facebook" version of G-d or perhaps even the 140 character "Twitter version" – or do we ourselves want the real thing?

If it's the real thing we're after, we best be tuning in to the most real values of life ourselves. Real life is about doing real things. Not just moving one's lips constantly preaching how others should live their lives… Real things – real actions – are good, positive, helpful, caring and filled with love and sincerity. They come about through speaking about real things too – words of goodness and kindness…only, and in turn, ultimately those good and beautiful words that are spoken are rooted in one's own thoughts… the most translucent of everything… the closest to what any virtual reality could be – though far greater than it. These are the root thoughts that bring actual tangible physical goodness into this world – for each other.

This is where it truly does all begin. Our first step is to acknowledge the reality for what it is, to realise that this is a world of concreteness – of physicality – though only in clothing over the ethereal. If we're going to be wanting the "real thing" from G-d Himself over this next year, perhaps it's time for us to consider others – and those closest to ourselves in particular – in the same way – real, in need of real physical things.

As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, when it comes to the physical needs of another – don't criticise them, (mis-)judge them, or tell them how things should really be and what they need to do – to be alright, rather consider the other's physical needs as your spiritual needs. Just as you would be most particular about that tiny spot on your Etrog this year – ruining your perfect Etrog – be concerned of the tiniest spot on another's coat – all the more so when the entire coat is in need of replacement.

When it comes to the others spiritual needs however, consider those needs as you would your physical needs. Just as you would do everything you could to get yourself the best of everything physical wanting nothing but the most luxurious of everything – desire and give over as much as you can to another (without overwhelming them) so that their spiritual needs can be taken care of – that they can learn correctly, understand correctly, grow correctly, and ultimately become the best person they are able to become during their time in this world.


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