Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Answering the Non-Believer (Including Two Fascinating Videos)

Technology has contributed to our lives today in ways generations gone by could barely even dream of. Those in the "older" generation may well remember such brilliant encyclopaedias as the World Book and Britannica. These were the ultimate resource tool for any serious student of anything and everything about life. They were beautifully bound and contained information on just about anything anyone could ever imagine. Those purchasing these masterpieces would need to purchase the year book to keep up with the latest developments throughout the year, but if one had the patience to work through a few hundred extra pages of info, one could be brought up to date on just about anything! I guess that's where the expression concerning a smart person – "He/She is a walking encyclopaedia" came from. 

In today's times, technology has moved so fast, that a set of even 100 of such books does little justice to the amount of change in the world today. Amazingly however, the Internet has allowed people to share with others around the world (in real time of course!) the progression of some astounding developments. It's fantastic to be able to see these things happening – on demand and immediately!

Two video clips had recently caught my attention – both actually quite old (one year and two years) but had to do with unbelievable developments in technology that allow those who have various physical disabilities to be able to have the additional luxury of those not lacking these disabilities.

The videos point to the advancement in science and technology, and one who watches them objectively can only but think how brilliant Man is to be able to develop such amazing tools. Think of this for a moment… A person who is paralysed is suddenly able to walk again with the aid of a machine. Sounds too good to be true. Think of the brilliance of inventing a device to allow a paraplegic person to actually walk again. He wears a "suit" of sorts which hold on to his legs and at the touch of a button is able to move his legs. He can't actually move the legs himself, but the machine does the work for him. One watches the video and thinks of just how brilliant science is. Okay, it costs some $20 000 to own one of these kits, but if one can afford it and is in such a position (Lo Aleinu) Man has invented something to help this person. Nobody wants to ever need it. But if one finds himself in such a position (Lo Aleinu) and has the means – one can turn around and truly thank science for the developments it has made!

But imagine something even more wondrous. Imagine a blind person being able to see again. The eyes may not work, so instead a whole new concept to seeing takes place. Imagine a person developing a system of sound that causes the listener to hear images?! Instead of being able to see with one's eyes, one can suddenly see with one's ears! How does one even begin to come up with such ideas?! But they are out there, and when one sees the progress of science one can really give tremendous respect for just how much it has advanced. After all, we were certainly once all monkeys many millions of years ago…

But for those who are able to take a few steps back and reconsider, perhaps such video footage can help us in another direction altogether. The direction whereby we stop *every single day* and acknowledge that actually those of us who are healthy (Baruch Hashem) actually have all this technology built into ourselves. We *can* actually see! We *can* actually hear! And we don't need to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the machine that gives us these comforts. How much would the person unable to see give (if he could afford it) if he knew the latest machine would indeed allow him to see?! How much would a paraplegic person give to own a machine (if it worked) that allowed him to walk again?! And how much do those with health truly give thanks (every single day) for having these inbuilt working "utilities?"

If we can imagine that instead of considering ourselves monkeys – that we are actually real human beings created by a Divine Creator, we can wake up every single morning and thank Him (immediately!) for the wonders which He has already implanted inside us!

Of course, the non-believer will always look to the wonders of science – and rightly so. To develop a machine to help a paraplegic person walk is incredible! To develop technology to allow a blind person to see through his hearing is another incredible miracle! But the believer cannot be fooled. He knows that he never had to pay a cent for his ultimate machine and that it's able to perform all these things for him every single day. He gets the best out of everything without having to praise science. Instead – he praises G-d. He acknowledges that science may be great… but G-d is greater. It is G-d who hides behind all of this, ultimately giving each of us the freedom of choice to decide. He tells each of us – you can be amazed at science and think that not just so long ago you were once a monkey and now look how far you've come – being able to even help a paraplegic person walk – or you can be amazed every single morning when you wake up, find you're able to move by yourself, see by yourself, hear by yourself and do everything else by yourself and turn only one direction – upwards! There, you realise that the most unbelievable machine – the human body – created by G-d Himself, is given – free of charge. Other than the ups and downs which happen with it, it works almost perfectly! Walking is steady, sight is beautiful, hearing – pleasant!

It amazes me to see the wonders of technology. Every day one is able to tune in somewhere to see an advancement of science somewhere in the world. One is not limited to learning on a once a year basis of new things just out. Rather one can keep up with technology every single day. And as one does so, one is able to see and consider just how amazing and brilliant Man is to be able to develop such wonders to help himself. 

But there's something that amazes me more! With all this around us, there are still so many who while acknowledging the brilliance of man-made machines, cannot spend time each day – turning to the actual Creator of the entire world – and thank Him for the wonder of the human body, the wonder of sight, of hearing, of walking. Everything working just as it should.

So where exactly is G-d then and why can't He come up with His own YouTube videos to show us what His latest developments in cutting technology are all about?! When you wake in the morning, take a short visit to the mirror (if you don't usually.) Then take a good look at what you'll see. There's an amazing machine (on the private "YouTube") designed by the greatest Scientist of all. So long as we are treating it right – this machine continues to work splendidly! The eyes on it cost nothing to acquire. Neither did the ears, mouth, tongue or nose. Neither did the arms which work together with the hands with thousands of muscle movements in perfect precision (ask a heart, eye or brain surgeon to confirm that!) 

And with such simplicity – G-d hides Himself behind this, taking no real credit for His work. Those who do not wish to believe He is there will always be truly amazed by science and what it has brought us. But those who believe turn to G-d in thanks every single day for their gifts that they have been granted. When they turn to science, it is only to confirm more of just how great G-d is in allowing us to further our own growth through even more progress. The believer is amazed that the body can work so perfectly – at no initial cost at all!

For the Jew, his first thought as he awakens is his thanking G-d for having woken up. Shortly afterwards he begins to feel his body and thanks G-d for its perfection. This is the beginning of a Jew's day. It is also the beginning of a Jew's life.

Isn't science amazing?! Isn't the Scientist amazing?!

Enjoy the videos!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Sefirat HaOmer and Chanukah - Days that Count

A question often posed by the keen student of Halachah when dealing with the laws of Chanukah – is whether or not it shares a similarity to the laws of Sefirat HaOmer and the Mitzvah of counting the 49 days.

During the days between Pesach and Shavuot, we have a Mitzvah to count 49 days. The Mitzvah includes making a blessing before the actual counting. There are numerous laws with what happens if a person forgets to count a day and whether or not one may continue counting with (or without) a blessing on the remainder of the days. One who does indeed forget an entire day, may continue counting, but he loses out on his opportunity to recite the blessing on the subsequent days.

Those who enter Chanukah thinking in the mode of the Sefirat HaOmer days, enter it wondering a similar idea. If one forgets to light the candles on one evening, may one light candles on the evening that one remembers?! And if so, does one need to somehow make up for having missed a light (or even two?!) And may one recite the blessings for lighting if one had forgotten to light for a night – or two?

Let's give an example: Reuven lights his candle on the first night. Comes the second night – he recites the necessary blessings and then lights two lights. On the third night – having such a great time during Chanukah – he goes out to a party (of the frum kind of course!) which begins during the daylight hours of that second day. He enjoys himself so much that he parties himself out completely, falls asleep, and awakens on the third day of Chanukah in the mid afternoon! Suddenly he realises he had forgotten to light his candles for the third night.

Wanting to make up for his mistake, Reuven considers lighting the candles (with the blessings too!) during the third day, or perhaps even lighting two Menorahs on the fourth night – one with three candles and the other with four. 

Reuven should certainly reconsider lighting the three candles during the daytime (with a blessing) – because lighting candles in broad daylight is pretty much like lighting a candle in broad daylight! It achieves very little. Once there is light all around, it doesn't do much to anyone to light candles so that others can see… As for his second option of lighting two Menorahs, his idea is indeed an "upright" one, but does the Halacha require him to do this?

Has Reuven lost out in some way or may he recite the blessings on the fourth night, light just one Menorah (with his four candles – or even one according to the requirements of the strict law) and get on with the remainder of his festival with joy?!

Does Chanukah share a similarity with the Sefiras HaOmer of losing out on the blessings (or even the lights?) on the subsequent nights?

The law is clear – Chanukah is not like Sefiras HaOmer at all – and making such a comparison is ridiculous. These are two completely separate Mitzvot having nothing to do with each other, and trying to use the logic of one towards the other has no basis at all. 

But maybe if we consider what each of these different time periods is all about, we can understand why the Halacha allows us to continue lighting even if we forget a night – and even continuing with the blessings.

The time period between Pesach and Shavuot is all about growth. The Jewish people had found themselves on the lowest level of impurity on that day that they left Egypt. In fact, their entire journey out of Egypt until they received the Torah, was one devoted to growth. Each day, they grew out of a level of impurity and entered a new level of purity until they were absolutely ready to receive the Torah.

The festival of Chanukah – Festival of Lights – does not have anything to do with growth as such – it has to do with light! Of course every day is a new day, and a day of growth, and we certainly do add an additional candle. But a candle does not have to necessarily represent growth. A candle is light. Light is goodness. And light radiates, no matter what the situation. In fact, so long as there is darkness around, light will always chase it away.

Growth, on the other hand, is a process. As the Lubavticher Rebbe teaches – "Every living thing must grow." Look around, see nature. Every day that goes by sees the plants and animals growing further. All things continue to grow. Trees continue for ever and ever growing and growing, becoming larger and larger. Though we don't always see the growth visibly, those trees are growing nevertheless. Children grow continuously although most people never actually see this happening. 

But when looking backwards in time and making comparisons, one can really see how (physically) they have grown during the year. This physical growth happens all the time (until the person is a mature adult – and even then it continues but it takes a new direction!) It must happen spiritually too – especially for a person who is composed of both a G-dly and an animal soul. Just as we would worry about a child who would stop growing, so too should every person worry about their own spiritual growth hoping never to become dwarfed and stunted. Every day – every moment – must see new growth.

When one does not grow, one can liken this to a process of death – where everything comes to an end. The Torah teaches something even worse. Not only does one who does not grow – not grow, but more than this, for those that abandon the Torah for just one day – the Torah abandons them for a day. This is not just a death, but an actual regression in one's learning. When we walk away from the Torah, she does the same to us. When we walk a mile away from, she walks a mile away from us – and we find ourselves having now moved two miles away (even though we thought we had only moved one mile!)

When it comes to growth – it must be constant. When one stops, one has lost the battle of life. When it comes to these 49 days, there must be continual growth. When a day goes by and there is forgetfulness and a disinterest in growing, then our very lives have come to an end. At this point in time, one forfeits the right to make a blessing. One has lost sight of what is important in life. One has limited one's ability to grow. One has forfeited the blessing.

Chanukah – on the other hand is not just a festival of growth (as we add one light each evening) – it a festival of light! When it comes to doing something good, it does not matter what is going on around us. We can do good any time we want! We can remove the darkness and turn everything around for the good and bring light into a situation whenever we want to! When it comes to doing good, there is never a need to knock oneself down and imagine the possibility that because we have not done something good for some time that we have lost out.

When it comes to light – to doing good, one is never a loser. One can do it any time one likes! Even if one has just come out of the lowest low in one's life – or even if one G-d forbid – feels one is still there – one can turn on the light, one can do a good deed!

Chanukah teaches us to value light, to value good things, of bringing good to oneself and to others. So even if one forgets to light the candles one night, one may continue to light on all the subsequent nights – even with a blessing. 

Sefirat HaOmer may well be about growth. Growth is something that is often not easy. But it is something that we must be involved in all the time – no matter what. When we don't – we lose out on what life is all about – and at those times, we literally pull ourselves away from what our purpose in the world is.

But Chanukah comes around to teach us that even if we get lost in our growth and feel ourselves falling – there is never a moment that we can't stop ourselves, wherever we are… and light a candle, do something good, and bring some light into the world.

Be focused on the importance of counting the days of Sefirat HaOmer always. But when in doubt, switch into Chanukah mode. Light a candle. You'll be surprised at how much darkness you can remove!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Dedicate to the New Artscroll Linear Transliterated Tehillim

Artscroll publications have kindly partnered with Chessed Ve'Emet in publishing 2000 copies of their Seif edition of the transliterated and translated pocket size Tehillim. This is a major undertaking for Chessed Ve'Emet and we want you to be a part of it!

Chessed Ve'Emet run an international women's united Tehillim project, bringing women from all over the world together - wherever they may be - in the recitation of Tehillim each week every Shabbat. There are currently more than 130 ladies involved in this project with new ladies joining all the time. 

We decided to push forwards with a motivator to encourage even more ladies to join - by offering a free stunningly attractive Artscroll Tehillim to every lady that joins. Right now, the printing press is HOT and ready for these books to be printed.

We are still in need of donations to make the project a reality. We'd like your help - but we'd like to give back something too.

Your donation will give you the opportunity to dedicate a portion of these books in memory of a loved with your dedication appearing inside the book.

Some time ago, the Israeli government were considering releasing 1000 terrorists for the release of Gilad Shalit. At that time, we made it a goal to find 1000 women taking part in this Tehillim group in order to secure his release (from Above!) without their being any need of releasing 1000 terrorists!

We now offer everyone the opportunity to donate for the release of Gilad Shalit. A full page inside the Tehillim will be dedicated to all those who take part in this part of the project, together with a prayer for the immediate release of a Jewish prisoner held captive - one of the greatest Mitzvot of charity. Be a part of this project TODAY!

You can find out more about this project by visiting "Eternal Memory."

The project is URGENT and donations must come in by no later than the end of today! It is our final opportunity to make this project happen. We are seeking donations from everyone. Those who are able to contribute significantly will receive more space in the book for their dedications.

Need more info? Contact Rav Eliyahu - and he will be happy to call you back - anywhere in the world and discuss this amazing and once in a lifetime opportunity!

Thank you everyone!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Go on... Take it with a Pinch of Salt (Parshat Vayera.)

This weeks Parsha – Vayera – relates the famous story of the city of Sodom as it is turned completely upside down and burnt in every which way one can think of. What lead to its demise? 

We are taught that the city of Sodom was a most unscrupulous city! It simply had no values. The type of people living there however, were certainly well off! To live in the city of Sodom – one had to be on the very top of the Wealthiest of the World list. Sodom was all about the good things in this physical world – and if you wanted to be a part of it – you had to bring your own things with you.

There was no such thing as giving anybody anything in a city filled with the millionaires of that day. There was no reason to give to anybody. Everybody already had! And nobody thought twice that there could ever be a situation that somebody didn't! If one would dare to enter the city with a lack of funds, one would be thrown out immediately at best – and killed at worst. Sodom did not want poverty. In fact, it didn't even want to know that such a thing existed. Life – for those of the world of Sodom – was all about enjoying the luxuries of the physical world – without a thought that there might be anything or anyone else on this planet experiencing the slightest tinge of suffering!

Lot – the nephew of Avraham – and his wife on the other hand had obviously learnt a little about the act of kindness, and it seems that they were ready to help – so long as nobody else knew about it! But why did the entire city of Sodom deserve its most ignoble fate?

"The world is built on kindness" – says King David (Psalms 89:3). G-d built a world of give and take. It was His desire that there should be givers and takers. After all, G-d Himself is the ultimate Giver and we – human beings (and other creatures too) the ultimate Receivers. We have nothing we can give to G-d. We can only take. How embarrassing for any human being to consider then the idea that he choose never to give to another because they are poor! How embarrassing – when after all, even he has nothing – without the kind grace of G-d!

Sodom was not destroyed because it was up to no good. It was destroyed because it already had no existence! After all, if it was a city that could not abide by the law of the world – Kindness – the Law of Giving – the law of building the world – the very foundation of life – then it had no existence of its own in any case. The physical manifestation of a city going up in smoke, was no more than the reality of showing the world the true spiritual essence of the city. A city that has crumbled spiritually – is also a city that has crumbled physically. The physical occurrence was merely the reality of what the city was already in a spiritual sense. It had no life. It was not a part of it. Life is about kindness. The world continues to exist because of kindness. A city that does not abide by such a "law" is obviously not a part of this world at all! Demolition to such a city can hardly be considered anything more than a showing up of the reality of its "life."

The strong contrast of life in the city of Sodom against life today, points clearly to the low moral life system which the barbarians of the Bible era lived vis-à-vis ourselves. Today, those with wealth are sharing it with the world. Nobody is left homeless or without food. All are – thank G-d – clothed and continually feeling the kindnesses of those who have been blessed materially in abundance! In stark contrast to that city of Sodom, the world of today has learned about moral values. It seems that in today's times even those with wealth want others to share the same luxuries they have – whether it's fancy cars, large yachts (and all the parties that go on them too) – or whether it's owning a mansion in every country. What types of lessons could the civilized of today ever learn from those barbarians who lived in the times of Sodom?!

One might wonder why it was that Lot's wife was stricken with a death sentence that ended up turning her into a pillar of salt! Perhaps an insight into her ignoble death may help us in understanding the similarities (if we can stretch ourselves to see them) between the city of Sodom and the world which we live in today!

The Torah teaches us that, as things turned out, visitors would (try to) frequent the area for assistance. Some – apparently had the chutzpah – to ask for a pinch of salt (perhaps even just a grain!) The Torah doesn't tell us about everyone's reaction to these terrible crimes of the city of Sodom. It does however tell us that Lot's wife refused to part with her own share of this rare delicacy! 

A brief consideration of the condiment salt will make us aware that though much food can be eaten without any necessary toppings, salt does have a way of bringing out the extra taste hidden inside the food. It's not a necessity – granted! But it's much appreciated and makes all the difference of the concept between eating to live – or living to eat! Call it a luxury if you must! Our former case speaks of one who will settle for a piece of bread – if it will help in keeping him alive. Our latter case speaks of the person who feels the need to experience some goodness and taste in the world. Though the extreme of this case is certainly a danger – most people in the world need some sort of spice to keep their spirits in life up! Nothing big… just a grain of salt – sometimes!

The "Lot's wives" of the world however think differently about the salt of others – especially the poor. They consider it a tremendous encroachment on their own lives when the poor man asks for something so "large." In fact, one might even find the "Lot's wives" of the world claiming that they too lack this precious and rare commodity – and that is why they cannot give any of it away. If that is not the reason, they will be forthright in explaining to the one who lacks – that while they (the "Lot's wives") do in fact have this grain of salt (to help keep their spirits in life up which they exclusively need – unlike others), they just don't have enough for everyone. Besides… the poor man can do with the piece of bread – even if it doesn't have the flavour the salt adds to it! In this way, a slamming of the door in the face of the poor man is forthright in coming!

We must judge the "Lot's wives" of the world favourably. It could be quite probable that they too lack the grain of salt after all. It could even be that they don't have enough. (It may after all actually belong to their banks!) And perhaps after all – the poor simply do not need the same sophisticated lifestyle as the wealthy.

With fire and brimstone (literally) G-d turns the entire city upside down. For some reason – perhaps because of their better Middot (character traits), G-d saves Lot and his family – on condition that nobody looks back at the city they once came from. It is not for those who have actually taken part in the criminal activities of a city to be given the right to see its destruction if they have been granted immunity as a gift!

Sadly Lot's wife turns around and is immediately turned into a pillar of salt. Not a pinch and not even a grain… an entire pillar. The reason is clear. This is truly what she was. Her very essence contained nothing less than the desire for the absolute good things in life – and she had plenty of it. (It didn't belong to the bank after all!) In fact, not only this, but she had so much of it – that there was enough to give to everybody who asked her. Many must have come through asking for help. But they were turned away. The "Lot's wives" of the world understand that it's not the question of having or not… there is indeed plenty to give. It's just a question of concealing it from others that counts most.

Of course, those that tread this path of concealment must understand that one day things might truly be turned upside down, and instead of everything looking just right, one might find oneself turned into a pillar of salt for everyone to see. It will be clear then, that all the things that were constantly spoken about as being lacking – were actually there. The only concealment taking place was in the form of a lie!

What was wrong with Sodom?! Let alone parting with a grain of salt, they would steal – everything and anything from someone who already had nothing! But in particular they did it with cunning. Amazingly the entire city would rob a man walking through – with each person taking just a Perutah – one cent away from him. In this way, the courts could not prosecute anyone since theoretically no real crime had been committed. After all, would any judge today judge monetary cases of a victim claiming someone had stolen a cent from him?!

But G-d could not tolerate such behaviour. It is the very essence of the breaking up of society. When those who have are able to take – even that little extra small amount from those who don't – and still claim honesty… this is a city deserving of destruction. It is not because of a small crime. It is because the very purpose of the world has been lost. The kindness upon which the world is built has been destroyed. The "thief" is prepared to take even a cent that doesn't truly belong to him. And the victim must part with it without being able to cry over his loss – because nobody will listen!

Today's stores sell goods at 3.99 "Bob" or even 3.98 in order to attract attention. When one arrives at the till to ring it up, the cashier will charge 4 Bob without giving change. Of course the marketing manager for the goods is happy to stick the price tag with the cheaper amount displayed to give the impression that the item is cheaper, but the finance manager is required to collect that little extra – even though it is not actually written anywhere. Many times the final amount of goods will come to an amount ending in a 5 e.g. 3.95 Bob. When the purchaser pays his 4 Bob – he may never receive his 5 Bob change – for a lack of 5 Bob coins. The owner of the store once again comes away with an extra 5 Bob for every single purchase – amounts adding up to hundreds of thousands of extra dollars during the year! But does the 5 Bob actually count – and is there any theft involved?! Many stores will not include a price – or even tell you one, until the item is rung up – forcing one to pay whatever the cost.

And yet others will claim that while their regular price is ten times as much – it has been brought down now as a discount just for you! When these statements are said without any proof – they too fit into the category of theft. Of course, nobody can ever sue those involved in such transactions because the crime is far too small to warrant any court and judge setting up time to deal with such petty instances in life. In fact, even one's own friends might laugh at one's feelings of dissatisfaction at those making up statements regarding their charge of service or product… Yet the buyer may well feel the pain – immensely!

The bus driver may clip an extra ticket "by mistake." There is never anyone to complain to, but the purchaser must pay. It's only a few Bob… get another ticket!

Was it only the Sodomites who knew about petty theft that never hurt anyone?! Was it only the Sodomites who understood that the wealthy have no obligation to help the poor? Was it only the Sodomites who "didn't really have"? Or do we find that perhaps there still are some in today's world who have modelled the character traits of the Sodomites down to a "T".

Perhaps it is time to revisit the story of Sodom. To revisit the life (and lifestyle) of Lot's wife. To examine if perhaps we can find anything in it that may resemble something of life today. And then – to take a true accounting of ourselves to see whether we can appreciate the real needs of the other – to see our lives for the blessings we have and what more we can do to make sure the other is able to live their life as wonderfully and with all the physical blessings that we live our own. Perhaps we need to learn more about what real honesty is - and what real theft is. Perhaps we need to learn the laws of business, the laws of kindness and the laws of caring for another.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

We are All Beggars

The Chofetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (1839-1933) wrote some of the most well read works in Jewish law today. His Mishna Berurah – a commentary on the first section of the Code of Jewish law – the Shulchan Aruch – is accepted as being one of the most studied works in regular Yeshiva life today. In today's times, when it comes to understanding day-to-day Halachah, it is to the Mishna Berurah that we turn.

In addition to this masterpiece, the Chofetz Chaim wrote additional authoritative books, including a work encompassing all the laws of forbidden speech taken from the entire Talmud (and other works) – entitled "Chofetz Chaim" and a work encompassing the entire gamut of Midrash related material sharing the beauty as to the importance of observing these laws of forbidden speech – entitled "Shemirat HaLashon."

There is however another beautiful work that is in need of much study. "Ahavat Chessed" is the Chofetz Chaim's summary of the laws of kindness towards a fellow Jew. He takes one from the laws of loaning money to simply dealing with what kindness is all about. Of course all these books mentioned above are in need of study on a regular basis, and in fact there are structured programs allowing one to finish studying them every single year (and so should they be!)

At the very beginning of his second section of the book, the Chofetz Chaim awakens us into appreciating a fact that most of us never really think about. 

Let's first put ourselves in our own shoes as we hear that knock at the door… We all know the feelings we get on seeing a "beggar" at the door. Thousands of thoughts fill our heads immediately as we begin to come up with excuses as to why not to give. "Why can't he get a regular job?" or perhaps, "Why can't he manage to live on less?!" Then we think up such things as, "Why must *I* always be the person to help when others have so much more than I do?" We even go so far as to perhaps recommending an entire plan of action as to how he/she should live his/her life and actually tell them to their faces – often with a most unwelcome slamming of the door in their faces.

It seems we're all authorities when it comes to the financial lives of others, knowing exactly how they should be living (and when they're demanding too much from us wanting more than their due!) We often know where they should go to shop for cheaper things. We can often give them tens of phone numbers to call of people who "can help." In short, we much prefer telling others off and making them clearly aware that as for ourselves, we're all taken care of! Now… it's up to them to "get a life" and stop becoming burdens on society!

But are we really all taken care of?! Even the most wealthy?! Are they really as independent as they think they are? Or is it maybe – somewhere possible to imagine that just like this beggar – they too are beggars in their own lives?! Perhaps the man at the door is simply a little worse off. But when it comes to real life, we are all in fact in exactly the same boat.

And so the Chofetz Chaim comes in to tell us the truth of each of our lives. In fact, loving kindness is an attribute we all best take to heart – immediately. The reason? We all need it! Every single one of us. The poorest of the poor, is in reality – no less independent than the wealthiest of the wealthy. Though the false illusion appears to distract us from the reality, every single one of us is in need of someone else, of something!

When G-d created man, He created him in His own image. But what exactly is the image of G-d?! G-d is the very Essence of good – of kindness, of the aspect of giving. If there is one trait clearly visible it is the fact that He gives. "G-d is good to all" (Psalms 145:9) and, "He gives bread to all flesh – for His kindness is everlasting" (Psalms 136:25). 

The world around us, nature, people, everything – it is all something that G-d has brought about – for us. To be created in His image is to be built with the quality of kindness, of giving. To push this aspect of ourselves aside – ever – is to remove (at least at that moment in time when it is actually needed) the image of G-d that has been imprinted into each one of us. Our very being is about doing an act of kindness to another. The entire world exists – only because of kindness. As King David teaches, "The world is built upon kindness" (Psalms 89:3)

In fact, the entire world exists solely on acts of kindness – nothing else! Every day, every moment, every person and every thing – exists solely because of some force of kindness that is acting upon it at that point in time. Even the wealthiest cannot exist without a constant force of kindness acting upon them (though they not even be aware of it!)

The Chofetz Chaim points out regarding the well known story of Sodom and Gemorrah. Here was a self-sufficient town filled with only the wealthiest of the wealthy. In fact the entire area was sealed off – except to those who already had wealth. The poor man would not dare to enter – lest he be killed. Poverty was not for these cities. Anybody entering the city in the hope of someone else giving him wealth – may just as well have entered an inferno!

Sodom and Gemorrah had absolutely no need to interact with any other city in the entire world. It was completely self-sufficient. There would never be any need for political fighting of any kind – because they kept solely to themselves. They neither took from anyone (having everything already!) nor did they give to anyone. They simply existed on their own… It was *this* very thing that lead G-d to destroy the city. It was a city that could not exist, because to put it simply – there was no kindness. Nobody was willing to give to anyone. Everyone felt that they already had, and therefore had no need to give to another. This is not G-dly. This is not the Divine Will of this world. This is the antithesis of what G-d wants – a world filled with kindness – with everyone continually giving to everyone else!

Today, there is no longer a trace of those cities. They could have no existence today – because they never had any existence – even then!

Let's now view our own lives for just a moment. As we do so, we will see that there is not a moment that goes by without us needing the assistance of another (and hence why solitary confinement is such a superb punishment to make the greatest of the great go absolutely mad!) 

Of course, we can always turn our heads up at the beggar who "begs" for help. We can tell him how he should live his life – and stop depending on society with such burdens! Or we can realise, we are no different…

Every person goes through a variety of life experiences. To each experience, he will need assistance. Sometimes, one needs the financial help of a friend. Even the wealthy require financial help. Many times they wish to expand multi-million dollar businesses and must consult with big loan companies in order to acquire the finance they need to become even bigger. But do they ever consider this to be a form of begging – after all they are wealthy enough as it is?!"

Sometimes a person needs the help of another to find work. And even when wealthy – if work does not constantly come through (if clients do not constantly come through) the wealthy man will become poor… soon! Here lies the positive Mitzvah of, "And you shall strengthen him… and he should live *with* you" (Leviticus 25:25). Of course, this includes every single person!

Sometimes a person requires the kindness of his friend to help with his bodily needs, for example when he has a Simcha! It won't be much fun if others are not around to enjoy it! What good would a wedding be if there were no guests, no band, no caterers?! Everybody realises then that they must get help from others in order to have their own happiness in life!

When one is sad, one needs the assistance of friends to console him and to speak gently to him. Here we see the Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim – comforting mourners (for example.) And such a person needs the friendship of others to help cheer him up! 

Sometimes one must travel. Here too one needs the assistance of others. It may be that we need help finding our way around a new place, or assistance in finding out where to eat, the cost of things etc. Often one may even need the assistance of another for directions – or even to find a bathroom in a hurry! Hopefully there will be someone who will help us when we need such things in an emergency situation!

When we are invited as guests, we need the help of the host to make us feel welcome. When one is ill, one needs the help of others – to visit him and to help provide him with his needs, as he may be confined to bed. One can then surely realise just how much we are dependent on others. Even the wealthiest of the wealthy can find themselves confined to bed needing the assistance of those – who lack money, who have barely enough to live on… Yet it is their assistance that he may need. This falls under the commandment of Bikkur Cholim – of visiting the sick.

And when each of us dies, we need the most ultimate kindness of all. The Torah calls this the Kindness of Truth, because it is a kindness to which nobody will ever be repaid. When one dies, one is in need of the assistance of others to see to one's burial. The body will not manage to clean itself and walk to it's grave by itself – and then cover itself with soil. Rather, it will be through the kindness of others that after death, a person's body will be dealt with honourably until the last mound of dust is placed upon it.

The short of it is that the world would cease to exist were it not for the attribute of kindness. Were it not for kindness, none of us would be able to get through life – because it is through the constant kindness of others that we are fortunate enough to manage to get through our lives and obtain the things we need. Not even the wealthiest man in the world would be able to attain all these things with just his wealth alone.

And therefore, when we encounter a man who asks for nothing more than just some money to live – we should do well to consider how life is made up of continual kindnesses. Today, he is in need of the kindness of wealth (no matter how much!) Tomorrow, the giver of that money may be in need of assistance as he lies in bed. And who knows? The next day, the "beggar" may be the very person who takes care of, and buries the wealthy man… But will the wealthy man then feel disgust towards his "intruder" the previous day?!

Our obligation is to strengthen ourselves tremendously in this awesome attribute. Our obligation is to realise that even if we are doing fine in terms of wealth – we are all in essence "beggars".

Of course, the real beggars can find out for themselves if they ever feel that way. As we stand in Shul on the holy day of Yom Kippur – a day filled with prayer, repentance – and forgiveness, we realise that actually, without the kindness of G-d, we are truly nothing. At that point in time, as we stand praying, we identify well, that all is in His hands… the wealth we will receive in the coming year, the health… our family life and children… all is in His hands. Will you be asking for something this year?! Might there be a smudge of "begging" going on?! Can it be that we could ever be beggars? Even the most wealthy?!

It can! And if so, we must certainly reflect hard in our hearts back at our thoughts and our speech as we turn to "open the door" each time we encounter another asking for help. As we do so, we realise, we are truly no better than they. Perhaps – they are even greater than we – though they seem to ask us for our help! Perhaps they will help us tomorrow. Who knows, it may be their very kindness that one day ensures each of us is buried honourably and given the respect each of us is truly due. Today he is but a beggar worth nothing… Tomorrow – he is our "life saviour!" let us think twice before slamming the door, before advising him how he should live his life, before demeaning or embarrassing him. We are no different to him. Just that today we are on the inside of that door and he is on the outside. Tomorrow, however, things may be quite different.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

You too Can Merit the Revelation of Eliyahu Hanavi – Elijah the Prophet (with video clip!)

There are few people in the world who may not wish for that extraordinary experience in life! It's true, many are happy to live their day to day physical lives. But then there are the rest of us wanting to connect with the Source far above us! How ever are we to do it?! The Kabbalistic tradition teaches us not to fear – but to know that when our deeds are worthy enough, we are all able to merit a variety of super ordinary experiences in life that bring us further in touch with the Creator of the world.

The Prophet Elijah – Eliyahu HaNavi – testifies himself in the book "Tanna Devei Eliyahu" when talking about the prophetess Devorah, that, "I bring the heavens and the earth to testify, whether Jew or non-Jew, whether man or woman, whether slave or maidservant – everything in accordance with the deeds that one does – so too will the Divine Presence rest upon him." (Tanna Devei Eliyahu 9:1)

Indeed the revelation of Eliyahu HaNavi is a reality. It's a blessing. And it comes to all who sanctify themselves doing that much little extra in turning themselves into G-dly people. All are capable and all can merit that this great prophet appear before one to teach one the secrets of the Torah!

But those striving for such lofty goals constantly moan and cry out regarding their plight – wondering if they will ever succeed. Will they ever become so holy as to merit the revelation?! Can they *really* do it?! Or did they perhaps misunderstand the vivid words that Eliyahu HaNavi himself already said?!

Rosh HaShanah has passed. Yom Kippur approaches… and then it's Sukkot, and still we find ourselves with a feeling of hollowness inside, wishing that we too could merit such a sighting. Oh… to be one of those great Tzaddikim who merit the revelation of Elijah the Prophet!

But do we really know what it is all about?! After all, if we have never actually seen Eliyahu HaNavi – do we know what to expect? Do we know when to prepare for the visitation?! Will we need to be awake at midnight as we recite the Tikkun Chatzot prayer and thereafter spend the rest of the early hours of the morning immersed in learning both the revealed and more mystical inner parts of the Torah?! And if we don't know what to expect, how can we best prepare to make it an actuality! Will we need to be wearing all-white garments immersed in a meditative state?! Must we be wearing our Tefillin and Tallitot (if men)?! Should we be in a state of a full week fast?!

How can *we* merit to have Elijah the Prophet appear to us?

In Pirkei Avot 1:17 Shimon ben Gamliel teaches, "Action is the main thing!" Eliyahu HaNavi reiterates this as he teaches that Ruach HaKodesh – the Divine Spirit comes only to one who is involved in actual deeds. If Elijah the Prophet teaches this, then it is certain that it is through our deeds that we will merit the revelation of Elijah the Prophet himself!

But will we indeed merit Eliyahu HaNavi?! Is it guaranteed?! YES! Sometimes, however, it takes a little lateral thinking…

So… if after watching the video below you are interested in a visitation of the great Prophet Elijah, make a contribution to the lives of a couple about to be married… a woman needing funds to immerse in a Mikvah… a Torah scholar in need of books… A Torah scholar simply wanting to spend his days and nights learning without interruption and the need to have to earn a "regular" living, a Yeshiva needing to beginBaalei Teshuva ("returnees" to observant Jewish life) in need of getting a head start on proper Jewish observance... or a number of Bnei Torah in need of Lulavim and help with Sukkot expenses… or simply visit http://lovingkindness.co and acquaint yourself with some very special Mitzvah projects – and make the difference in life you would expect Elijah the Prophet to make… in your very own life…

Enjoy the clip – as Yaakov and his Rebbe reveal the secret you've been waiting to hear!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Daniel in the Lion's Den (or Maybe just Kevin...) - with Video Clip

You've probably read the story about Daniel who was thrown into the lion's den. The night passed, but in the morning when the officers removed the large rock covering the den, they discovered Daniel quite well and healthy with a docile lion sitting next to him. One wonders if such things are possible. Can it be that this most powerful of beasts could manage to hold itself back from attacking it's prey? Can it be possible for a man to withstand the power of this beast?! Dare a man even think of attempting to spend but a brief moment in the presence of such power?!

The Torah teaches us that in the days of redemption when the world will be filled with revealed good all around - the wolf will dwell with lamb. And one wonders if such a thing is really possible!

Perhaps such a life is not far off when we look at Kevin Richardson - a unique individual. One wonders what goes through his mind. One wonders how he even considers doing what he does. But perhaps there is a lesson in this for all of us. Perhaps, instead of tormenting animals and torturing animals constantly... perhaps, instead of feeling we are so far superior to them... perhaps if we would but learn to respect everything that should be respected... perhaps then, we could all dare to actually come close to an animal of such awesome strength.

Watching the clip makes one wonder about Kevin... Watch carefully though. Do you see his ego? Do you see his taking charge? Or do you see humility, kindness, appreciation and respect for a creature of this world. Of course this is how he behaves towards an animal. But maybe it's a lesson for how we need to behave towards everything and everyone around us. Whether it's just our innocent destruction of a leaf that we pull off from a tree (for no reason), or whether it's our taking charge over every living creature, or whether it's simply our awesome egos that puff out at anything we believe is worth far less than ourselves - perhaps in all these cases, we would do well to imagine the scenes of the video below and to consider the importance of truly appreciating all of creation. Whether it's appreciating a tree, an animal, a human being (dare we say it!) it seems we still have a long way to go. But peace? It's all possible. It's all there for us. But it's up to us to be humble enough to include the other in our lives, to be there for them, to take the time to understand them, to care for them and to truly show our love for them. Perhaps then, we have the start of a truly G-dly world - one where indeed, the wolf does lie with the lamb. 

As for man, he too will be able to be surrounded by even the most ferocious of beasts, and yet with that will be protected from them all - will be loved by them all - and will be cared for by them all - as he too cares for and loves them.

Look... listen... and learn... Thank you Hashem for  letting us get a glimpse of Your amazing wonders!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Rabbi Yochanan and the "Gangster" – with Video Clip

The Talmud (Bava Metzia 84a) relates the famous story about Rabbi Yochanan and an apparent gangster! Rabbi Yochanan was bathing in the river when a large impressive looking gangster came running by. Filled with tremendous strength, he jumped over the river to reach the other side. The man's name – Shimon ben Lakish – to become known as the great teacher Reish Lakish – none other than the main learning partner (Chavrusa) and brother-in-law of the man currently swimming in the river – Rabbi Yochanan!

Reish Lakish was a known bandit, gangster, gladiator and general circus entertainer. If anyone is thinking of ultimate material life – Reish Lakish was it! Blessed with a very strong, muscular body – he used it well to enjoy the "finer things" in life (which did not include much intellectual stimulus!)

Not being one to let a good moment go by – Rabbi Yochanan shouted out to the impressive looking gangster with the words, "Your strength would be better used for learning Torah." Can one imagine the insult these words must have had on the mighty gangster?! Turning back to the rabbi (an extremely good looking man,) he shouted, "…And your beauty for women!"

It was an equal dual something which both "fighters" were ready for! Rabbi Yochanan – the man known for his extreme good looks – spending his days immersed in Torah law – against Shimon ben Lakish – the town's gangster known for his promiscuity with the law. Rabbi Yochanan "insults" the strength of Reish Lakish – and Reish Lakish insults the beauty of Rabbi Yochanan. Is it ever a wonder to imagine that these two become such wonderful learning partners together?! To such a degree that Rabbi Yochanan cried over his death as he realised the loss of never having anyone to be able to raise the types of difficulties in Torah law as Reish Lakish would raise. And ultimately Rabbi Yochanan would even die as a result of his having lost his favourite learning partner!

What did Rabbi Yochanan see in this gangster?! And what ever made the gangster turn to Torah?! Rabbi Yochanan – a Tzaddik, saw only what there was to see. He saw a G-dly soul in front of him. So what that it was camouflaged in a gross material body filled with a dozen tattoos?! So what that the muscles on his arms were larger than both Rabbi Yochanan's legs put together (and Rabbi Yochanan was a BIG man!) Rabbi Yochanan could only notice the attribute of strength in the gangster. And it was to this that he focused. When used correctly even an attribute as tough as strength can bring sweetness to the world.

Seeing Reish Lakish's love for the "finer things" in life – clicking on to his language of "beauty" – Rabbi Yochanan told Shimon ben Lakish that he had a sister even more beautiful than he. In fact, he even made an offer that if Reish Lakish would make a change and use his strength for Torah – he would offer his sister as a bride for the great gangster! (Could a Torah scholar be any more foolish than this?! It his highly doubtful any Rosh Yeshiva would ever allow the sister of one of the generation's greatest Torah scholars to marry a gangster!) But then again, Rabbi Yochanan was no regular Rosh Yeshiva – he was an outstanding Tzaddik who looked to the deepest part of another human being. And it was there that he saw a holy spark of G-dliness waiting to be freed, to be awoken, to reveal itself!

As for the "gangster" – he thought the idea good too, and was "lured" into a little bit of learning. Once his soul was awoken, it did not take long for him to become the great Reish Lakish we all know about today.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches us we must learn from every single thing we see or hear that day (that moment.) Today we mourn the loss of a Jew – Yoseph ben Avraham Robinson. Shot dead near a shop that had a botched up robbery… A black man… a gangster… but a Jew! He was shot dead near a shop that had a botched up robbery…

I know nothing about his Torah learning – but from viewing the few videos available about him, it seems to me there is a spark of "Reish Lakish" here too.

Yosef was brought up as a regular non-Jewish person. His life was very much the gangster world life – though I personally know nothing at all about it. But something made him change – to throw it all away – for a little piece of Torah. Or perhaps for an entire cosmos of G-d! One looks at the picture of a refined looking Yosef and wonders what could ever have occurred to this person who just years before looked well the part of gangster! Yet the change occurred. It happened because it can happen. It happened so that we could all learn a lesson from a story such as his.

While we view skin colour and general behaviour as showing us the "true" essence of others, perhaps we should step back every now and again and become Rabbi Yochanans. Hidden inside the often very gross and material bodies of others may well lie a very G-dly spark. In fact, you'll find it in the least likely spot! But it is certainly there. In fact, the person opposite us at any one moment – no matter what they look like or how they seem to behave – may well have hidden inside them a G‑dly spark – at least as holy as ours is!

We can always watch them jumping over rivers. We can comment on their tattoos and gross behaviour. We can even shun them from society. We can all be "Roshei Yeshivas" and tell the world that they would certainly make unsuitable Shidduchim for others. When it comes to seeing that side of things – most of us will never have much difficulty in seeing the material physicality in front of us.

But if we want to, we can also see a sleeping G-dly soul waiting to be awoken in another. Inside him, there is also a piece of holiness far beyond what any of us could ever imagine. Perhaps it is our task to wake the other up – instead of continually shunning the other and maliciously gossiping on him to all and sundry. One never really knows, that person may well turn out to becoming one's best friend. They may turn out to becoming one's best learning partner in the world. They may even turn out to becoming one's own in-law! And who knows, if one is prepared to put in the effort to continue to hunt for that beautiful G-dly spark inside them – one may end up becoming so saddened by the loss of such a person – that one's very own life may feel quite hopeless without them.

Of course, it takes looking at the world around us and appreciating what there really is out there. The greatness of another. And the loss that such a person can bring to the world – without them.

You can find out more about Yosef – and his book which is due to hit the shelves Chanukah 2010 (something he will not see in this world) – here: http://yosephrobinson.com/index.html

But before you go there, why not take a look at something of his life in the video below:

PS: The following article was published a day after this post and tells more about the facts of the tragedy as well as about Yosef's life.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Bilam's Talking Horse... Could it be?!

It may not be that time of year when we read about Bilam's talking donkey, but coming across this video made me reconsider just how amazing some of G-d's creatures really are. Of course, they are all amazing! But every now and again, one of them stands out just a little more. I'm at a loss in understanding how such animals work. You may have better ideas than I do about why they behave as they do. But the evidence of such amazing behaviour is becoming clearer and clearer as the days go by. With thanks to video cameras, the Internet and people who simply want to share amazing stories - we are privileged to live in a generation that can look around at creation on a daily basis and be constantly in awe of the creations of the Creator.

I often consider the Gemara in Tractate Brachot that speaks about how King David would sleep - but would not sleep - much like a horse does. I've never really watched how horses sleep and am no authority, but watching this horse has definitely given a new insight into the way in which some horses might indeed sleep! It's unique... it's really special.

I wonder what the Mussar greats like the Chovot HaLevavot would have to say when seeing such wonders of the world. Their books are constantly filled with the thoughts we must internalise as we look around us and be in constant awe of G-d. Sometimes, we get lazy! We see the sky every day, the moon and the stars, and we lose track of the amazing novelty of the sun rising and setting each day. Do we really care?! Does it make us any closer to G-d?! Of course if it was a once off we'd be in amazement! But every day?! Does that actually prove that G-d exists?! The Mussar authorities teach us to take note of every wonder of the world - even when we see it every day, because in fact, everything is indeed a wonder pointing to the Artist who created it.

When of course we get a glimpse - every now and again - into something a little more unusual, this should spur us on into seeing G-d in creation and allowing us to throw off any crazy ideas we have that everything in the world simply exists - just because it does! Bang or not!

So... a horse is a horse is a horse... or is it?!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

How to Rebuke your Fellow Jew (with Video Clip)

What's really involved when it comes to rebuking a fellow Jew?! We see someone doing something "wrong" and we "know better." We want to correct the other. It can take a life time of learning to find out the right approach to take when coming to rebuke another. It takes much tact, control and sensitivity to get it right. Many are ready to let it all out when it comes to telling off the other regarding the correct behaviour necessary in any given situation. Often, we simply know better. When it comes to rebuking, we're ready to truly put the other in their place showing them exactly where they are wrong. But do we really know the right approach when it comes to rebuke? Do we really know the correct approach when it comes to helping another improve their behaviour?! Have we studied enough?! Are we ourselves learned enough? Are we perfect enough to know the truth and correctness of every situation at any time - always?! Perhaps a little consideration of these ideas may make us a little more sensitive the next time we're ready to let another know just what correct behaviour is all about.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe shares an approach consistent with real Torah Judaism as to the path to take when it comes to teaching another, rebuking them and guiding them. He tells us what it means to focus on helping another to appreciate Torah, Judaism and how to improve and be an even better Jew. The approach might seem like old news to some - and yet to others, something quite foreign. Perhaps the only way to find out if it really works... is to give it a try!


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