Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Chayei Adam on Torah Study

The Chayei Adam – Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820), Dayan (Rabbinic judge) in Vilna towards the end of his life – teaches in his first Halacha on the laws of Torah Study:

"It is a positive commandment from the Torah to study Torah, as it says, 'And you shall teach them to your children.' And it is written, 'And you shall teach them.' And it is written, "This shall be the reward when you listen…" There are many other such similar verses.

"Therefore every Jewish person is obligated to study Torah, whether he is poor or whether rich, whether completely healthy or filled with pain (G-d forbid), whether young or very old. Even a poor person who goes around collecting money from house to house, even a husband with children is obligated to set for himself a time to learn Torah – both during the day and at night, as it says, 'And you shall meditate in it day and night.' A person who does not know how to learn should support others who are able to learn, and it will be considered to him as if he was learning himself. A person can make a stipulation with his friend that he should study Torah and he will provide for him his living, and they will divide the rewards of Torah and the reward of livelihood so that they will both profit."

All are obligated to learn. Nobody is exempt. Those who lack the time or who find they cannot understand as much as they would like – and therefore feel the need to concentrate more on work than on Torah – they too can take part in the Mitzvah of Torah study – by supporting those who truly wish to learn and to teach.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

One Man Does Make a Difference

Many Jews find themselves in the uncomfortable position of desiring to fulfill Mitzvot, yet feeling embarrassed to do so. The Baal Teshuva may feel this more so than others when he finds himself surrounded by family and friends who may not be as observant as he is. If it relates to eating out, or just socializing, the Baal Teshuva may feel it necessary to mix with others doing what they consider "the right thing."

The Shulchan Aruch – the ultimate guide to Jewish living on a daily basis and for one's entire life, begins itself with the law that one should never be embarrassed in front of other people who may mock him for his strong beliefs and his strong desire to do what is truly right i.e. following the rules of life as laid out in the Torah.

It seems straight forward, yet the task can take a lifetime of working on oneself until one truly appreciates what it means to be a Jew, to study Torah and to fulfill Mitzvot. There is nothing greater than this, and it steers oneself and the world in the right direction.

For this reason, the Shulchan Aruch begins its laws in this way: Before we can even begin to do what is right, we must know and internalize that fulfillment of Torah is the task required of us in this world. There is no need to feel ashamed of this – ever.

There will be many who may laugh. Many laughed at Noach. Many laughed at Avraham our father. But where are they today?! Those who mocked the life of Noach – a man who wished for nothing more than to really do the right thing – were wiped out in a massive flood. Those who laughed at Abraham our father – where are they?! Those idol worshipers of old are long since gone – together with their idols that have long since been destroyed and burned (with only their "children idols" who have continued the cults.) Yet Noach established the world with his righteousness. Abraham established the entire Jewish nation – that nation devoted to setting the world straight with values and morals that are the foundations of a just, upright, healthy and happy society. That nation has continued until this day. And Noach's "nation" – the entire world – has continued until this day.

Those who stood up to the correct value system demanded of them have brought life to the world. There were those too, who being just "one person" were able to destroy the world. They have come about in every generation. (May we see no more of them!) Such is the strength (value) of one person in this world.

We look at ourselves each day and wonder if we're worth anything. Can we make a difference to the world? Are we making a difference to the world? Does our life count for anything at all?

It has certainly counted when it came to those who chose to destroy the world, having killed millions of people – single-handedly! They made a difference to the world. Just like every person with the basic make up of an ordinary bodily system, two arms and two legs etc. just with these vessels – they destroyed millions of lives.

And it has certainly counted when it has come to building the world. Adam – one man, brought life into the world. His descendants destroyed it – not appreciating the power that each had. Noach valued life, and he valued his own. He knew well his own power. Nothing stopped him from doing the right thing. Not all the laughing in the world. He continued his life – building an ark, building a place of refuge. Secluding himself to the lifestyle that G-d had wanted. Noach was righteous!

Thanks to Noach's righteousness, the world continued. Just one man. His descendants, even during his lifetime did not value their lives either – nor those around them – doing everything they could to destroy others. Murder, adultery, theft – these were the goals of those generations – even in front of the eyes of their own grandfather who watched it happening! But these nations have also disappeared. They have turned into a conglomeration of idol worshipping nations scattered around the globe – even those people who while cleaving to their "religion" will claim no association with idolatry at all.

But Noach's tenth generation son knew the value of life and he chose to follow the path begun by Noach. A path of the acknowledgment of One G-d. The path of doing really the right thing – and not having concern for the laughers out there – the scoffers, jokers and merry-makers. Abraham knew well the importance that one person could have in the world. And through him 70 souls came about – who descended to Egypt. And from these souls came about the 600 000 souls of the Jewish people who have inhabited this world since then in every generation. You'll find these people scattered around the globe. You might even be one of them…

And if you are, it would be worthwhile to once again reflect on the Abraham's and Noach's of the world. Those people who knew well the value of one life – and what it could contribute to the world. In reflecting about this, one is sure to realize that a person such as himself is one of these people. He is one of these people, who can make a world of difference… to the world.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us about the value of one life in the video clip below.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How to Put on Tefillin - Chabad Custom


The video below puts it all into perspective:

In case you're still lost here's a clear guide. Note: These steps are for those who wish to follow the custom of Chabad. There are other customs, and if you follow another, please ask your local orthodox rabbi to show you the best way for you.

  1. Remove the hand Tefillin from the Tefillin case
  2. Place the Tefillin in the middle section of the upper arm where the bicep is raised
  3. Before tightening the Tefillin, recite the blessing: "Baruch ata ado-noy e‑lo‑heinu melech ha-olam asher kide-shanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzi-vanu le-ho-niach Tefillin"
  4. There should be no talking from the time this blessing is made until the head Tefillin are securely fastened upon the head
  5. Tighten the strap, securing the hand Tefillin on the bicep
  6. Wrap the strap two times (away from the body) around the upper section of the Tefillin (i.e. nearest to your shoulder, not elbow) creating the letter "Shin"
  7. Wrap the strap a three times around the lower arm
  8. Leave a small gap after the third winding
  9. Wrap the strap another four times until reaching the hand
  10. Wrap the remainder length of the strap around the palm of the hand
  11. Take the head Tefillin from the case and secure it onto the head. Note: No blessing is recited according to the Chabad custom (and others), hence the reason that there should be no talking from the beginning of the recitation of the blessing on the hand-Tefillin until the head-Tefillin is secured in place
  12. Before tightening the head-Tefillin, make sure the knot (the letter Dalet) at the back of the head is positioned just in the nape of the head in the middle of the back of the head.
  13. The head-Tefillin must be position "between the eyes" on the top area of the head i.e. it must be position above the hairline in the immediate centre of the head directly between the two eyes (though sitting on the top of the head.) Tighten the head-Tefillin
  14. Back to the hand-Tefillin
  15. Unwind the strap secured in the palm and wrap the strap once around the upper joint (closest to the Palm of the hand) of the middle finger
  16. Wrap the strap once around the middle joint of the middle finger
  17. Wrap the strap once (again) around the upper joint of the middle finger
  18. Wrap the strap around the palm of the hand until the strap is all wrapped out, and tuck the small remainder piece inside the palm securing it


Chassidim and G-d fearing Jews wear 2 pairs of Tefillin. The "ordinary" Tefillin are known as "Rashi Tefillin". The second pair of Tefillin are known as "Rabbeinu Tam". 

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Yissachar or Zevulun - Who are You?


As Moshe our teacher prepares to leave the world, he leaves each of the tribes with a blessing fitting to the qualities most inherent in each. Moshe tells each tribe that there is something unique that they have to offer the world. When each does the job they're supposed to, there is an air of peace within the Jewish people. Twelve tribes bring twelve approaches to life in general. Working together and uniting brings peace to them all. Each tribe applies the talents they have been blessed with – from the unique soul position in the world of souls – and through this, in this world the tribes get along well with each other, bringing complete perfection to the world.

The two tribes that stand out as showing this approach of unity are the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun. Moshe blesses them (Deuteronomy 33:18):

"And to Zevulun he said, 'Rejoice Zevulun in your excursions, and Yissachar in your tents.'"

Zevulun and Yissachar are a team. Together they succeed. In this world there are two vital ingredients for any Jew – Torah, and earning a living to be able to live! If there is no Torah, there is no flour, and if there is no flour, there is no Torah. In the days of the giving of the Torah – over 3300 years ago, this was true, all the more so today, we see how difficult it is to be able to do both – to be able to master the entire Torah and spend the necessary time working to earn a living just to be able to live like ordinary people.

Rashi teaches, "Zevulun and Issachar made a partnership, Zevulun dwelt at the seashore and would go out to engage in commerce in ships, earning a living, and feeding Issachar – and they (Issachar) would sit and study Torah. Therefore the Torah preceded Zevulun to Issachar (in the giving of the blessings) because the Torah of Issachar only came about through Zevulun… Zevulun would be successful in business, and Issachar would be successful in the tents of Torah, to sit and calculate the years and fix the months."

The Torah is vast and complex. Every sincere Jew wants to master it in its entirety. Those who spend time learning know only too well just how much one needs to spend time learning with a clear mind in order to master the Torah and to know what it is that is demanded from each of us. Many will never reach these higher levels of understanding the complexities of Jewish law and mysticism, but we often turn to our leaders to guide us in the right direction. Without the means for these giants in Torah to be able to learn, not only will they not succeed in learning, but those desiring the advice they so often need, will be unable to gain this when the time comes. The relationship must be an equally responsible one. One in which each party has respect for the other.

Earning a living does not exempt one from learning Torah, and learning Torah does not exempt one from earning a living. Those, however, who feel ashamed of our Torah giants for having "wasted away" their lives "irresponsibly" while "being dependant on others" to support them may wish to take another look at the relationship that brings happiness to the world and to G-d. It is one where the Torah scholar – knowing his strengths, applies them to studying, so that he will be able to teach others and thus bring about a world filled with knowledge, growth and upright living. The businessman in turn, knowing that his blessing of wealth comes *only* from G-d, continues to pursue his life earning the means for him to live – and also to provide for the Torah scholar – who also provides for this world in ways most of us can never begin to understand.

While we read these passages of the Torah, we may wish to look up from the book for a moment and think about our lives today. Where is the real tribe of Zevulun today? And where is Issachar?! Those who have studied Jewish history know fully well that they no longer exist – certainly not in a revealing way, anyway. We know about the tribe of Levi, and encounter this tribe often, especially when the Levi is called to the Torah in second place. We know of the descendants of Aharon the Kohen (also the tribe of Levi) because they are called to the Torah for the first reading. And we know that the majority of Jews living today are from the tribe of Yehuda – that tribe that cleaved to the true ways of Torah living as instructed by the better kings of Yehuda, beginning with King David and continuing through his son Solomon. It seems that many living today are also from the tribe of Benjamin. Though the other tribes have disappeared, we await our reuniting with them with the revelation of the Messiah.

But what ever happened to Zevulun and Issachar?! Surely this pair should likewise have continued to exist?! This was a powerful team. Brothers who cared for each other with immense love. Surely the unique relationship – the financial support of the one together with the Torah learning of the other should well have continued its relationship throughout the generations?!

Perhaps it should have, but perhaps something else happened along the way. Perhaps the partnership fell through. Perhaps it could be that Zevulun finally earning his millions of dollars chose to keep it for himself. And perhaps, the tribe of Issachar totally immersed in Torah study could simply not continue learning anymore – when there is no flour, there is no Torah. And so, the tribes disintegrated, to be lost for thousands of years.

Today, we may well only have the tribe of Yehuda and Levi (and perhaps Benjamin too) spending time studying Torah and fulfilling Mitzvot. But what will be if the attitude taken in days gone by continues? Could it be that those studying Torah could simply fall away (once again?!) And if so, it may be that those spending their days in earning millions (for themselves) could find themselves abandoned from the true values of Torah, ultimately assimilating into the nations of the world – just as happened to the tribe of Zevulun thousands of years ago.

We can take a great lesson from the history of the Jewish people. When we as a team – work together – when we realise our strengths and the strengths of others, and help support each other as best as we can, with the talents and knowledge that we have… perhaps then we will have the greatest happiness possible. G-d blesses some with abundant wealth, while others, no matter how hard they try, earn the barest minimum to live. The Torah scholars are still consulted for answers to life's most basic questions, they are asked to pray for their brothers and sisters too, but they lack the financial means to continue learning and praying in peace, to be able to provide those answers and prayers when they are needed.

If so, our duty is a clear one. When we see that we are blessed in our commerce, we must push ourselves more and more, to give more and more so that those who lead our nation can continue to do so with clear heads, being able to enjoy the satisfaction of learning and teaching, helping others to grow and cope with life's daily battles. In return, those giving may well find themselves with the greatest of rewards, as they finally see themselves making a contribution to this world that has its effects around the entire world. It is through this that we have ultimate peace. It is a world of giving and taking. A world of business and a world of Torah. A world of appreciation for each other and the talents we can give each other – without any criticism whatsoever. Through mutual understanding and mutual giving, we are able to benefit others, and in turn benefit ourselves so that each of us is able to feel blessed each day with our contribution to the world.

Those wishing to learn more about the projects we are involved in, are highly encouraged to take a look at our main pages

We encourage everyone to take part – no matter how much you can. Become a partner with us so that together we can be even more successful in helping others. Together we can do it. We need your support.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Yahrtzeit 18 Tishrei - Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (and a Story!)

Under the Table - and How to Get Up


The 18th Tishrei – the fourth day of the festival of Sukkot, is the anniversary of the passing of the Tzaddik – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810.) Great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (his mother Feiga was the daughter of Idel, the daughter of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760)) – he was a Tzaddik in his own right. He is one of the better known great Rebbi's today with a following of tens of thousands of Chassisim and more! Many people, though not dressed in the "Chassidic garb" spend hundreds of hours each year involved in learning Rabbi Nachman's magnum opus "Likutei Moharan" (the collected teachings of Rabbi Nachman), as well as his teachings written over by his pupil Rabbi Nosson of Nemirov as collected in his Likutei Halachot – a commentary of 3600 pages on the main code of Jewish Law – the Shulchan Aruch written by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575.)

Rabbi Nachman was just 38 and a half years old when he left this world, though to begin to speak of his accomplishments during this brief period of time would be impossible for even the greatest of the Breslov leaders of our times. They themselves would be the first to admit this! To some, Rabbi Nachman was the Kabbalist par excellence, while to others he was the master story teller! His stories are so well known, so popular and meaningful that they can be found within ordinary secular libraries. Their messages hit home – they move the heart, and they speak of the mysteries of the world! As for Rabbi Nachman's teachings, he covers everything from the importance of learning Jewish law – Halacha – as it is taught traditionally without any "Chassidic twists," to the importance of secluded meditation – daily – between just the person and G-d – Hisbodedus, to the importance of growth through the entire Torah – literally everything! He was a true master and a Rebbi. There are hundreds of sites on the Internet teaching his teachings, often quoting the same exact quotes again and again – because of their great importance in daily life. "Never give up" – Rabbi Nachman taught, and "There is no such thing as despair!".He taught – "If you believe that you can damage, believe that you can fix."

Practically almost all of Rabbi Nachman's teachings have been translated into an abundance of languages, including English, with the help of such rabbis as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum. Likutei Halachot has not yet been translated in its entirety however.

In honour of Rabbi Nachman's yahrtzeit, one of his stories follows. For a full commentary on this wonderful story, get a hold of the book "Under the Table" written by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, or see the author's own site (and be in touch with him directly) at The book – based on this story, explores and teaches the importance of facing reality, of meditation, of correct eating habits, of observation of Mitzvot and much more. Written in beautifully flowing English, it will keep you glued from started to finish – so much that you'll want to read it again and again, and so you should.


A royal prince once became mad and thought that he was a turkey. He felt compelled to sit naked under the table, pecking at bones and pieces of bread like a turkey. The royal physicians all gave up hope of ever curing him of his madness, and the king suffered tremendous grief.

A sage then came and said, "I will undertake to cure him." The sage undressed and sat naked under the table next to the prince, picking crumbs and bones. "Who are you?" asked the prince. "What are you doing here?"

"And you?" replied the sage. "What are you doing here?"

"I am a turkey," said the prince.

"I am also a turkey," answered the sage.

They sat together like this for some time, until they became good friends. One day, the sage signalled the king's servants to throw him shirts. He said to the prince, "What makes you think that a turkey can't wear a shirt? You can wear a shirt and still be a turkey." With that, that two of them put on shirts.

After a while, he signaled them again, and they threw him a pair of pants. Just as before, he said, "What makes you think that you can't be turkey if you wear pants?"

The sage continued in this manner until they were both completely dressed. Then he signalled again, and they were given regular food from the table. Again the sage said, "What makes you think that you will stop being a turkey if you eat good food? You can eat whatever you want and still be a turkey!" They both ate the food.

Finally, the sage said, "What makes you think a turkey must sit under the table? Even a turkey can sit at the table."

The sage continued in this manner until the prince was completely cured.

(Story taken from "Rabbi Nachman's Stories" translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. A must for every Jewish home and mind!)

Monday, 5 October 2009

Never Good Enough for Anyone Else? Just be the Great You!


How many times in life have you dreamed your dreams? How many times have you wanted to be something you felt you should be? How many times do you know other people who tell you – you can't! People who will tell you that you don't have what it takes. You don't have the ability to succeed. You don't have the means. Physically you can't do it. You have to be like everyone else. Get a job, get a steady income. Better yet, go to university, become a "standard" doctor, lawyer or accountant, then get married, have three kids, and get the standard job that everyone does, work like everyone does and get by in life.

If only things were so easy! But what about those of us who want to make a success of our lives? Those of us who don't want to be doctors or lawyers. Those of us who want to simply be ourselves?! Is it okay to fail? Is it possible to still succeed in the paths we want to go on if we pull ourselves up again? Or is there a point we must simply give in to the norms of society – as in the rules above?!

When an ill person is diagnosed by a doctor with a terrible disease – G-d forbid, does he accept it and wait for his life to end (in exact accordance with the doctors predictions?!) Perhaps – or usually – he goes for a second opinion. Perhaps another doctor knows better! Yet when we're insulted for the lives we have chosen for ourselves, do we walk on and visit another "doctor" for a second opinion? Or do we accept the insult, look at ourselves without hope and think that maybe the insulter is right after all?! What about if you are the insulter himself?! Have you ever stopped to consider that things are not as you say they are for the other? Are there not other variables at work all the time that can make things change at any point in time for a person – especially one who chooses a good path in life?!

Isn't the world filled with infinite possibilities? Is there really a guarantee for anything?! Even the shops today will give no more than a one year guarantee on the latest technological device designed to last a life time! If one does become a doctor – and the best brain surgeon in the world – is this a guarantee for success. Nothing could ever go wrong for such an individual, unable to ever fall short of success! Never could an operation accidentally go wrong and the doctor find himself in a huge lawsuit… Never could an operation go wrong causing a patient to die. It's never happened?!

Yet what of the simple person… One day he wins the lottery. Or perhaps he meets a great Hollywood actor who likes him so much that he invites him to the latest auditions in the next blockbuster movie. Suddenly Mr. Nobody becomes Mr Popular and Mr Next Millionaire! Things change fast and we need to be in control of understanding that things are not just one way.

There is no guarantee for anything. And there is no stopping anybody from accomplishing any goal they are ready to achieve… even if they fail one million times. They can get up again and go on to making a success. Does it matter that success has not happened within the year? There is still another year ahead where success can happen. Perhaps, in fact, the year gone by has not been a failure, but has rather been the foundation for the success in store in the next year. In nay case, even if nothing happens the next year… still there is another year ahead for greater achievements. It can still happen – and it will! And for those who feel they have it all, there is no guarantee that they will even live the year to enjoy it.

When it comes to ourselves we need to see the good we have and what we can accomplish. We need to feel positive that we can achieve the goals we'd like to. We need to feel strong that we can do it ourselves without having to feel insulted by those that undermine our abilities to make a success of who we are – because we are unique. That's what makes each of us great. Thank G-d we're all so unique. It's through this that we are able to make an individual contribution to the world, something that others will gain benefit from. Through this we also become the best we can at who we really are. We're all unique – and there are no guarantees for success in any one particular way of life over another. Our job is to move forwards in a direction we see as being best suited for the talents we have. Our job is not to become the next human robot who ends up like the rest of the world, stuck in a rut of life filled with sadness at what life has given us. Our job is to become ourselves, and to become the great people we are.

As for those who feel they have already achieved success and are in a stronger position to insult others not yet on their level of life… Perhaps it is time to consider if indeed their lives are truly a success. Do they really know all the answers?! Have they truly seen everything there is to the world? Do they really know how everything should turn out – and what will make another person successful and happy in life? Perhaps it is time to change the tune. Perhaps it is time to encourage the other so that the other will actually make a success of life – doing the things he/she wishes to do.

Of course, who am I to think such thoughts?! Can I really convince others of such ideas? Maybe not…

But here is someone in the video below who perhaps understands these concepts better than all of us. He's just a person like everyone else. He came from a family that already had all the answers. His mother – a nurse, had delivered hundreds of babies, so she well knew about delivering babies. The doctors were also experts in their fields knowing this baby would be just fine! In fact everyone involved in the birth of the baby who would grow into the man in this video were the most expert of all authorities in how everything should be done… and yet, with all of that, they were blinded to a far more powerful force that humbled every one of them in making them realise, they knew absolutely nothing. Isn't it strange how those who know everything there is to know in life – often know absolutely nothing?!

Of course, as Nick himself says, had the doctors – in all their mighty wisdom – actually known what would be, they would definitely have aborted this child. Wouldn't you have?! If so, the powerful message that this man has to offer the world would have never have come about. For one, I would not have been affected as much as I was, and for another, I wonder if you would ever have become affected as much as you may find yourself after watching this 20 minute video.

We don't know anything about life at all – no matter how much we think we know about it. Those who say they do may simply have a large ego that can be humbled in the most powerful way in just one second! It's time to look at ourselves at what we can do right in the world, to be successful to ourselves and to others. It's also time we stop telling others how to live their lives, but instead encourage, support and help as much as possible to make everyone become as successful as they truly are able to become. The video below is for those who feel the need to grow… to develop themselves and to become better human beings. I hope this is you…

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sukkot - Unity Through Diversity - or All the Same?


The festival of Sukkot contains within it two completely contrasting Mitzvot. It is odd that a festival so geared up for the idea of unity be filled with such contrasts.

On the one hand we have the Mitzvah of the 4 species. On the other, we have the Mitzvah to dwell in Sukkot. What is the constant between these two Mitzvot, and how are they different? Hidden inside both of these Mitzvot are the keys to understanding the uniqueness of the Jewish people, the uniqueness of each Jew – and the greatness that lies at the core of a Jewish soul, irrespective of any apparent unique quality that every Jew has.

Our sages teach us that the four species – the Etrog (the citrus fruit), the Lulav (the palm branch), the Aravot (willows) and the Haddasim (myrtles) must be brought together as one unit and shaken in this way. Should one of the species be missing, the entire Lulav bundle is Pasul – it loses its status of being fitting to shake in order to fulfil the Mitzva of the Lulav bundle. There are many laws regarding the status of each of these species in order for them to be valid. To highlight just one – while the Etrog can cost $100 and even more and must fit certain exact requirements, the Aravot (willows) can cost as little as $1 and seems to have "lesser" requirements. Of course if you go to the Lulav-fair, you'll see people checking *all* the species, but you'll probably notice how careful most are with the tiniest speck that appears on an Etrog. It simply must be perfect! On the other hand, most will pick up the first Aravot that looks acceptable and get on with things. Sadly to say, the Aravot can wilt, with its leaves falling off in no time at all. Should this happen (within even the day or two) the Aravot are no longer Kosher. Should this be so, the entire bundle used in the Mitzvah – including the $500 Etrog has the status of being not Kosher! So much for a Lulav bundle worth $550, with the $1 Aravot which is not fit to be used! Indeed, every part of the Lulav bundle must be Kosher.

One could consider this similar to a Sefer Torah. Each letter must be written perfectly for the scroll to be kosher. Should one letter be missing, or an additional letter added, or a letter faded and impossible to read etc. the entire Sefer Torah – from Parshat Bereishit to Parshat VeZot HaBracha is Pasul and may not be read from in order to fulfil the biblical requirement of reading from a Sefer Torah. This is the wonder of the fullness of Torah – the fullness of the Jewish people and every single Jew. As there are some 600 000 letters in the Sefer Torah, there are also 600 000 Jewish souls. A lack of one Jew from the Jewish people (someone who distances himself from the Jewish people G-d forbid, or perhaps someone who has no real knowledge of Torah G-d forbid) means that the entire Jewish people are lacking and are in a state of Pasul – a state which renders them non-kosher. We need every single Jew to be doing his/her part in terms of the obligations upon the Jewish people – in order for the nation to be a strong and healthy one. So too, when it comes to the four species, the "lowly" Aravah branch is as important to the bundle – as is the "royal" Etrog.

What do these species represent?

In fact, the species have a number of levels to them. Briefly, just two will be discussed, as they both give an insight into understanding the importance of unity. Unity through diversity.

In the first instance, the four species are a reflection of a person. They represent essential parts of the body which aid a Jew in fulfilling Mitzvot correctly. Without these parts of the body being sanctified correctly, it becomes very difficult to observe Mitzvot properly.

The Etrog – in all its glory, represents the heart. For without a Jewish heart, there truly is no life for a Jew in this world.

The Lulav – straight and long as it is, represents the spine of a person. This of course is the most important part of the body which glues everything together. It must be strong, upright and connected! A healthy spine means that a person is able to hold himself high. It gives him honour and respect. Hidden within it is of course the spinal cord. Should anything happen to this – G-d forbid, the ramifications for life are not ones anyone of us wishes to think about. A healthy spine allows us to get around and to fulfil our obligations in this world – through the observance of Mitzvot.

The Hadassim – those beautifully shaped leaves with a wonderful fragrance – looking much like eyes, correspond to the eyes, which must be guarded from the frightening sights most people expose them to each and every day. Though the average sight seems perfectly healthy – most images we look at each day are filled with things the Torah tells us to stay clear away from! Examples are far too numerous to even begin to list. Our eyes should be guarded to view only Torah – much as our spines should be used to get around to fulfil Mitzvot and our hearts be directed to serving G-d – only!

The Aravot – those wide shaped leaves, looking much like the mouth of a person – represent just that. It's not only important what goes into it (kosher food), but also what comes out of it. Today, our "mouths" express themselves through the thousands of emails we send out to others as well (and all other writing we do.) We need to be careful how we express ourselves, and that the words we choose will be beneficial to others and help the world, not bringing it down. Our mouths should be sanctified to say only words of Torah, goodness and kindness. A tough task – by anyones standards!

The four species clearly hint to the person as a whole and his need to focus on channelling all his body's uses to a G-dly purpose.

But our sages teach us something deeper. They teach that though the species can refer to the individual, more importantly they teach about the entire Jewish people as a whole. The festival of Sukkot is not just an individual festival. It's a festival about unity – connecting with others and seeing the good things they can contribute to life. If so, if Sukkot is all about unity, then how do these species teach the different types of Jews?

Much like on Pesach – we read about the four sons who represent the four different Jews, so too, on Sukkot we have another four representations for the variety of Jewish people in the world.

Our sages teach:

The "royal" Etrog in all its glory, having both a terrific smell and a wonderful taste, represent those Jews engaged in both Torah study and Mitzvot. The fragrance of their Mitzvot reaches to all parts of the world, and the "taste" of their Torah study is felt by all.

The Haddasim – with beautiful fragrance, though lacking taste, refer to those Jews who are filled with Mitzvot – who love doing Mitzvot, though they still have much to do in terms of Torah learning itself. Perhaps they have simply never been taught how to learn properly. Or perhaps they don't have the time. Nevertheless, they contribute to the world with the glow of Mitzvot that they perform. Their smell reaches out affecting thousands upon thousands of people – daily!

The Lulav branch – standing tall and mighty, contains taste (the date fruit), though has no smell. The Lulav represents those Jews who spend much time engaged in Torah learning, though there is still much work for them to do in terms of Mitzvah observance. Of course, this does not mean that they do not do Mitzvot, it means that their focus is more centred on their learning with less focus given to spreading Mitzvot outwards.

Surely the "Haddas" Jew learns Torah too – how else could he perform the Mitzvot if he did not know what to do?! The "Lulav" Jew certainly performs Mitzvot too, after all, the Torah learning teaches him to do – and to do! But their focuses remain in a certain direction more so than another. We're all different and tend to express ourselves and our loves of life in different ways.

The "lowly" Aravot, cheap in price, simple in design, and short lived when not connected to their trees and roots, reflect the Jew who has neither Torah learning nor Mitzvot. Naturally every Jew is filled with Mitzvot as a pomegranate is filled with seeds. However, in comparison to the other three categories of Jews, this Jew does not seem to have any time to learn. He doesn't have time to do Mitzvot either… or perhaps, he is just lazy! But still, at his root, he is still a Jew.

Without the Jew who has neither Torah nor Mitzvot, the entire Lulav bundle is Pasul – not kosher! It doesn't matter that nobody takes notice of drooping Aravot that wilt and die off quickly, still if it receives no water and does die, the entire bundle is Pasul! More so, the Aravot MUST be joined to the entire bundle when the bundle is shaken. It is not sufficient to hold it at a distance while "the good things" get shaken up! Ashkenazi custom has it that the Aravot will be positioned on the left side of the Lulav, with the Etrog touching IT (first at least) as it rests on the entire bundle. It is the duty of the "Etrog" – the Jew filled with Torah and Mitzvot – to associate with the "Aravah" Jew, keeping him connected and being with him at the worst of times, in order to help him grow in whatever way he is able to. In addition, it is the duty of the Aravah Jew to connect with the "Etrog" Jew. He too must get out of his "comfort zone" and make sure he associates with those "in the know!"

In the Chabad custom of bundling the Lulav (according to the Arizal,) the Aravot must be hidden inside the Haddasim. In this way the Aravot literally touch all the species at the same time. On the one hand this Lulav bundle shouts out that we would prefer the Aravot to not be there (we don't want to see them!), yet on the other hand the Lulav bundle shouts out – "Every Jew has an obligation to connect with that Aravah Jew and help him to know what Yiddishkeit is all about!" Naturally, in addition, the Aravah Jew must realise – once again, that though he be "lowly" – though he be ready to wilt away (G-d forbid) – his duty is to get cracking and associate with those who understand Torah and Mitzvot and to learn from *all of them*. He must nestle in to every Shiur that he can in order to learn how things should be done. He gains much from this. He gains in that everybody else will crowd around him and support him – even if he appears to be wilting. He gains in that the water – the life giving liquid – that surrounds the other species, also drips off onto him so that he continue to have life! And he gains in that he need not have to feel any embarrassment. He's not pushed off to the side, but rather gathered in amongst the other Jews to become a part of them – not to give up, but to become a part. In return, every Jew must see to it – no matter how great they are – even if they are "royal" Etrogim – to surround and accompany this Jew through his journey in life, to make a success of him fulfilling his role in life that G-d wants from him.

So it seems clear. We're all different. Yet our diversity is what unites us. Without each of us realising our differences and appreciating them for what they are, we cannot unite. We cannot connect with each other. And if this is so, then our entire bundle is PASUL! The Jewish people remain in a state of Galut – of exile – with every Jew staying as far away from the next as possible. Sukkot comes onto the scene to teach us that this must not be! Our duty is to see the greatness of the other – whatever it is, and then to draw the other even closer so that they too will become a part of the nation. To feel a sense of pride at being Jewish, and to desire nothing more than to unite – study Torah, and fulfil Mitzvot.

Different? Or the same?!

With all this going on, we are sure to think that every Jew is different. And just at that time that we do, Sukkot reminds us of another Mitzva… sitting in the Sukka. Every Jew must sit in the Sukkah during the 7 days of Sukkot. As they sit inside, they fulfil their obligation of fulfilling a Mitzvah! Just two Mitzvot allow one to fulfil a Mitzvah every single second of the day being totally consumed in the Mitzvah with every part of the body – the Mitzvah of Sukka – and the Mitzvah to live in the Land of Israel. (The Mitzvah for women to immerse in a Mikvah also shares this common theme.)

Of course, the Sukka makes no differentiation of who is sitting in the Sukkah. Everyone is equal there! Whether an Aravah Jew, an Etrog Jew, a Haddas Jew or a Lulav Jew. Whether dressed in black and white garments, with hat and beard… whether sheitel or head scarf… every Jew is equal and every Jew fulfils the Mitzvah of Sukka by simply being under the Schach. Their entire body becomes surrounded by the splendorous light that envelops them as they sit inside it – though they may not see it. All are equal!

Which is it then? Are we different or are we the same?! Which is the higher level?! Which is greater, the Sukka or the four species?!

The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) – a Tzaddik of proportions that most of us could never begin to understand – came to this world to teach the most wondrous teachings of the Torah. Life-giving – life refreshing teachings that no Jewish soul should ever be without, even for a moment! One of his most beautiful teachings he brought to the world was that one should love even the simple Jew. At that time in history it seemed like only the greatest of the great (the Etrogim?) were respected in the Jewish world. Who cared about the street sweeper, though he be a simple Jew just trying to earn a living to feed himself and his family – just trying to get through life with the barest minimum?! The Baal Shem Tov revolutionised the Jewish spirit to the Jewish world. "Love even the simple Jew as much as the Tzaddik," said the Baal Shem Tov.

His successor – Rabbi Dov Bear, the Maggid of Mezritch (? – 1772) explained further. He taught that one should love the biggest Rasha (the most evil Jew) as much as one loves the Tzaddik. Here he pointed out a novelty from the Baal Shem Tov's teaching. One must see the most evil Jew as being as special as the greatest Tzaddik. Yes, you know that feeling of visiting a Tzaddik? You know how you may feel humbled in his presence? You feel such honour towards him, glowing in his presence! You want to be attached to him. You just want to love him, for him to know you love him, and for him to love you back in return. Says the Maggid – love the most evil Jew… like this!

When the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812) took over the reigns of the Chassidic movement, founding the Chassidut of Chabad, he refined the Maggid's teaching. In just one statement he summed it all up. Though having written an entire work discussing the Tzaddik, the Beinoni (the middle-man) and the Rasha (the wicked) – he taught, "There is no such thing as a Rasha!" Before studying Pirkei Avot during the summer months, we read "And Your nation are all Tzaddikim". Indeed, this is so. It is by virtue of being Jewish that we are indeed all Tzaddikim and deserving of the world‑to‑come. With Torah study or not… with Mitzvah observance or not… every Jew is a Tzaddik.

When we attach ourselves to the four species, we see the greatness of every Jew. We see how every Jew is different. Yet we understand that each has something great to contribute – even when it seems like it's nothing more than the barest minimum simple thing.

When we attach ourselves to the Sukka, we elevate ourselves to levels beyond the norm. We elevate ourselves to the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov (for the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe would only have taught what the Baal Shem Tov had taught within his own teachings to them.) We elevate ourselves to a level, where we realise that every Jew is a part of G-d from Above. There is no difference. There is nothing that should demarcate us as being different. In our essence, we are all the same. Our greatness is that G-d created us as He chose to. And because we are His handiwork, we are automatically great.

Surely – we all need to work on ourselves constantly. We need more smell… more taste… and even with it all we need to give of all of this to others who don't have any – and they too should work on being prepared to accept it and grow from this too. But when it comes down to the final moment of life, of this world and the next, our greatest level of service to G-d is to be able to literally see each other as Divine sparks. Sparks of souls that connect together to make up the entire Shechina – the indwelling Divine Presence.

It's not an easy task – by any means. But we need to realise something. We need to realise that this is why we are in this world for 70-120 years. We are here to grow and perfect ourselves. Though we stumble, our goal must constantly be in front of us. And at those times when we feel we have forgotten it or cannot achieve it, we find that we are confronted again – with another Sukkot. It's not there as a means of repetition. It's there to once again focus us in the right direction. There is no such thing in Torah as repetition. There can be no two Pesach evenings that are the same as they were in previous years – with the same Haggadah. There can be no two Shofar sounds that are the same from year to year (though they sound exactly the same!) There can be no two Yom Kippur's that are simply mirror images of years gone by. There can be no boredom – ever, in Yiddishkeit. There can be no similarity in our observance of Sukkot from one year to the next.

Each is unique. Each is special. Each teaches us how to grow even further. Each brings us closer to G-d, to others and to ourselves. And each helps us to realise that we have a path ahead of us, a purpose to life. The world goes around. The seasons come and go. The festivals seem to repeat themselves. Yet the message is clear. With all our differences – we are the same. With all our similarities, we are different. With all our uniqueness – we sit in one Sukka, the same one wherever we go. And in it, we realise we are all G-dly souls, destined to work on ourselves, to grow and fulfil G-d's wishes. Next to G-d, however – next to Infinity, we are all exactly the same.

When Moshiach comes, we are taught that we will all be sitting and eating our "Yom Tov" meal in the Sukka made up G-d Himself. In this Sukka, we will all be dancing… in a circle – Tzaddikim and "Reshaim" alike. We will all be partaking of the special "wine" and "meat" G-d has prepared for us since the beginning of creation. This is because our essences will be revealed there. It is the Sukka which highlights our essence. It is the circular dance – which highlights our similarities with nobody leading the dance, and nobody following. Engulfed inside G-d's own presence, we all fuse into One. There, inside the Sukka and surrounding light of G-d, we see that we are exactly the same.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Making Lulav Rings, Assembling your Lulav and Shaking it!

Still wondering how to assemble your Lulav, make the rings and how to shake it all up? To make it easy for you, I have posted three videos below teaching just how easy it is to make the Lulav rings. You can choose either way - whatever is easier! Thereafter, simple instructions are given to assemble your entire Lulav bundle. Please note, the instructions below will be for Chabad custom. Enjoy!


  • Two rings are placed on the Lulav (palm branch) proper, and these should be covered by the Hadassim (myrtle branches) and Aravot (willows), even the top ring, at least somewhat.
  • Three rings are used to bind the Hadassim and Aravot to the Lulav.
  • These three rings are to be all within one handbreath
Chabad custom is to increase in the 3 necessary Hadassim in various amounts, though as in all customs, only 2 Aravot are used.


Wave the Lulav three times to and fro in each direction. Each time the four species are brought back, their lower tips should touch the chest (over the heart.) One faces east when shaking.

The first shake is to the south
The second shake is to the north
The third is east (straight ahead)
The fourth is upward
The fifth is downward
The sixth is to the west - twice southwest and once due west


  • The top of the Esrog should be held next to the bottom of the Lulav.
  • When holding the Esrog while making the movements and during the Hoshanot, the top of the Esrog should be covered with the fingers.
  • When moving the Lulav and Esrog due west, the Esrog should be uncovered.

One should make the blessing "Al netilat lulav" and "Shehecheyanu" early on the first available day to fulfill the Mitzvah. If the first day of Sukkot falls out on Shabbat, it is forbidden to shake the Lulav. In such a case, the first opportunity to bentch Lulav will be on Sunday morning. Those eager to fulfill the Mitzvah should bentch as soon as possible from daylight.

When making the blessing, hold only the Lulav, then pick up the Esrog (the correct way up i.e. the way the Etrog grows - Pitam on the top and the part that was attached to the tree pointing downwards) and slowly bring it together to the Lulav while making the Shehecheyanu blessing, touching the two together (bringing all four species together) at the conclusion of the blessing.

Wave the Lulav/Esrog in the directions indicated above.


During Hallel, only the Lulav is held until those periods of time when the shaking takes place. At that point, the Esrog is held together with the Lulav, shaked, and then the Esrog is placed down again while the Lulav remains in the right hand (for right handed people.)

During Hallel when saying "Hodu Lashem..." face east and wave the Lulav and Esrog three times in each direction, while saying the words:

"Hodu" - southeast
"Ki" - northeast
"Tov" - east
"Ki" - upward
"Leolam" - downward
"Chasdo" - twice southwest and once due west

The Lulav is not shaken at the time of saying G-d's name.

When reciting the "Ana Hashem Hoshiya Na" in Hallel:

Face east as above. When reciting the following words, face the following directions:

"Ana" - southeast and northeast
"Hoshiya" - east and upward
"Na" - downward and twice southwest and once due west

When reciting the final Hodu of Hallel follow the directions for Hodu above.

For further Torah related questions
or to study any Torah book of your choice
Contact Reb Eliyahu of Chessed Ve'Emet:



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