Tuesday, 29 June 2010

17 Tammuz: What there is. What there Can be...

The 17th of Tammuz marks the date of the beginning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It began with the breaching of the walls and continued, until ultimately on the 9th day of the month of Av the Temple was set alight, and burnt to the ground. Our main physical reminder of the Temple is the Kotel HaMaaravi – the Western Wall.

The Temple is the ultimate structure we all long for. A tiny blog post of just a few lines will surely do no justice to the loss we actually have. While the physical building is a certain loss, it is nothing in comparison with the power behind this "building" and its ultimate message – complete peace and freedom – for every single person and for every single thing. Our fasting represents in our efforts of mourning, but a spark in comparison to the fierce flames that burnt the building down. 

Many are surprised to hear that there are many outstanding and ordinary individuals that recite the entire Tikun Chatzot prayers every single evening at the correct time (6 hours after the stars come out – according to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Midnight (based upon timed-hours, not 12pm exactly) according to the Shulchan Aruch and other sources.) 

Yet others are surprised to learn that when building a new home, one must leave a patch of the inside area completely exposed, never to be painted properly – all as a remembrance of the destruction that occurred. And yet there are still others completely oblivious to the law in Jerusalem of not playing music at a wedding or Simcha (except for one instrument only i.e. a drum!) – in memory of the destruction around us. Still others ignore the fact that provided they pray as indicated by Jewish law, they will include at least three prayers every single day asking for the rebuilding of the Temple!

It may seem like we mourn this destruction for just three weeks of every year, but those that know what the real loss is mourn it every single day… every moment. Ever found yourself crying over not having enough money to pay the bills? You're mourning the destruction – and you may not even know it. Ever found yourself in physical pain? You're mourning the loss of the Temple without even knowing it! But these are really just the ice-breakers of what the pain to us is really all about when it comes to truly appreciating our loss.

I'd like to share a story. It could be written on any post, but it somehow fits in well with the general theme of loss, of destruction, of a lack of appreciation, of our readiness to humiliate, laugh and scoff at everything around us without a care in the world of appreciating true greatness. I think it gives us the ability to consider people differently, and ultimately realise what true growth is, what true greatness is, and perhaps even encourage us to take the necessary steps in building the Beit HaMikdash – today!

The story is told about the great Posek (ruler on Jewish law par excellence) – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986). He grew up in Russia and by the age of 16 (according to at least one authoritative opinion) had already been through and mastered the entire Talmud and Shulchan Aruch – the basic keys to the entire Jewish tradition! He was said to have worked through these texts hundreds of times in his lifetime!

Times were exceptionally difficult for the Jews of Russia during the years that Rav Moshe was growing up. For those wishing to find out just what he went through, there is a published biography of his life by Artscroll publishers. In addition for even further insight – the 8th book of the Igrot Kodesh includes a comprehensive biography – not to be skipped!

In his late 30's Rav Moshe had to flee Russia and he had to do so fast! He did not know which place would be better for him – but he decided to flee to the USA. Ironically, though this would become the huge centre of Torah it is today – back in those days it was not an easy thing to get a job as a Torah teacher (of any kind) there! Friends and family convinced Rav Moshe not to come to the States. How would he ever get a job? Who would employ him? He was just a rabbi. Nobody wanted a rabbi in America!

Rav Moshe however knew well the danger of remaining in Russia. Not only was one's physical life at risk, but worse, one's very spiritual life was in danger. Staying in Russia meant, that even if one would be a great rabbi, it could be quite realistic to assume that one's children would lack a Jewish education – perhaps not even know what Jewishness meant!

Rav Moshe had his answer ready to all those that condemned his "irresponsible" decision to immigrate to the USA. He told them that as far as he was concerned, even if he would be required to sweep the streets (and not be able to focus on Torah learning or teaching ever again,) he would sooner be living in America and be able to give his children the chance of living as Jews, than to risk the dangers of living in Russia!

Of course, Rav Moshe could certainly have stayed behind in Russia and hoped for the best. However, he took the brave choice of moving to America just to give his children the opportunity to live as free Jews! To be able to learn Torah without the threat of immediate death. And even if it meant sweeping streets, this would be far better than not giving them any education at all.

The story is a beautiful one. But something is missing! We know how it all ended up. Rav Moshe became the Gadol HaDor – the giant of the generation in terms of Halacha. No serious student of Jewish law will begin to rule – without a thorough knowledge of Rav Moshe's Teshuvas (responsa) as published in his 8 volume Igrot Moshe – answers of questions dealing with just about every part of life one can imagine! Answers so encyclopaedic in nature, that one can only but marvel that the author must have had the entire Torah closer to his finger tips than any of the most modern computer disks with the entire Torah on a disk! The answers came out at speeds faster than a computer with quotations and relevant points being written much as one would write a letter to one's friend (without even the need for hours of thought!)

So what is the missing link in the story?! It seems like everything worked out well – didn't it?! The missing link is right there – in the thirties – those years that Rav Moshe was making plans to go to America. While Rav Moshe was preparing for the possibility of becoming great (the great man he was indeed to become) the rest of the world, friends and family – no less(!) were warning him that his Torah was not needed. Nobody would pay for it, and if he would have been lucky – he could have merited to sweep the streets to earn his way in life.

And what a loss that would have been to the world. Of course, in retrospect, everybody could clearly see just how great Rav Moshe was, but in the present, they were not prepared (sic). They were prepared for nothing less than insults, complaints, criticisms and a variety of other most negative statements!

Has the situation changed? Have we yet come to appreciate the value of a Torah scholar – or do we constantly feel him to be a waste of time? Would it indeed be better for him to sweep streets, pack shelves, and clean houses, than to study and be able to contribute something worthwhile to the world? Of course, not everyone is a Rav Moshe. But I guess… had Rav Moshe ended up sweeping the streets, the world might never have been able to make such a statement… because Rav Moshe would not have become Rav Moshe.

Our acknowledgment of the greatness of another and his desire to succeed in a given field not only gives him the encouragement to want to become that great person, but in addition, we quite often find that life turns around, and the one so encouraged, ends up bringing blessing to the entire world including the one who did the encouraging!

Of course, this is no less true of the Temple either. As we look at the "street sweeper" as it lies in ruins (right by the Kotel), we consider it too as nothing less than ruins – something old, something destroyed, something worthy of nothing. But in truth, the soul of the Temple is still there, and is waiting to be woken up. Our Torah study and our Mitzvot literally bring it to life.

When we encourage another instead of criticize; when we appreciate the other for who they are; when we see their greatness even where it does not yet show (and may never too!); when we begin to realise what there can actually be – then we begin the process of growth, one that builds mountains, one that builds lands and countries, one that builds the world, and ultimately builds the most precious of all buildings – the Beit HaMikdash itself.

Of course, we all have free choice. We can see another human being as a street sweeper. And we can see a building as a ruin. Alternatively we can be greater than the average Joe. Where others see street sweepers, we can see giants! And where others see ruins – we can see the beginnings of freedom, happiness, satisfaction and goodness. What a wonderful world – if only we could open our eyes.  

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Rebbe Meeting with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu - Video

Today - 25 Sivan 5770, the Tzaddik and Kabbalist, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was Niftar. He was born in 1929 and appointed as the youngest Dayan (judge) in Israel ever - at the age of just 31 years! His mother was a grandchild of the great Tzaddik and Kabbalist, the Ben Ish Chai - Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, and his father, Rabbi Salman Eliyahu was a known Mekaven (someone who practises the intentions - Kavannot - during prayers) and Kabbalist - though he died when Rav Mordechai was a young boy. He was Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1983-1993. He paid attention to helping secular Jews, was strong in promoting the important values of a proper Jewish education, observing Shabbat, Family Purity, fighting assimilation, and making Aliyah.

His relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a most special one indeed! In the short video clip below, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu can be seen speaking with the Rebbe. This clip is especially beautiful as it points to an important concept of helping Jews in need physically, of providing them with their necessary food and drink simply to live (after all, "if there is no flour, there is no Torah.") Rav Eliyahu listens, clarifies, and accepts the Rebbe's stance on the matter. (Now it's time for us all to understand these beautiful words too.)

Reflections on Building the Beit HaMikdash

The holy books write in the name of the holy Zohar that during the time of the First Temple, had the Jewish people guarded the aspect of peace in the world as they should have done, they would have merited Moshiach and the true redemption. 

The Chofetz Chaim in Shemirat HaLashon points out that the way to achieve peace is to concentrate all our efforts upon removing from ourselves the attribute of baseless hatred to another – eventually expressed in our bad language and speech. What does it mean to have baseless hatred of another? Does anybody today really hate another for no reason? 

Imagine this scenario: You find yourself in a new place – a far away land, and you confront a fellow Jew whom you have never met before. He looks quite different to you. Perhaps you wear denims and he a smart suit. Perhaps your hair is grown, yet his is shaved save for his long Peyot which hang gracefully on either side of his face. You shave (using an electric shaver of course!) yet his beard hangs – perhaps even looking a little untidy!

Before you have a chance to even greet him, you turn up your nose with feelings of disgust. Not even a hello, not even a question in to finding out his personality. His very looks turn you off. This is baseless hatred. Perhaps his voice is higher than yours, or lower. Perhaps he is thinner or larger. One turns towards the other and feels uncomfortable. This is baseless hatred. When one finds oneself in such a situation, one must grab a hold of oneself and come to one's senses in realising that the other is very much the same as oneself. It is only the outer garments that make for a difference in personalities. But in truth, one is exactly the same (see Tanya Chapter 32.) The root of both souls emanates from the exact same place – no matter how the souls end up looking as they reach this world. 

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that one must love a fellow Jew – even someone one has never seen in one's life before. How easy it is to turn one's face away from another one doesn't know. But how much of a challenge it is to smile, to acknowledge and to the love the other – no matter what – especially when one doesn't even know them.

Peace. This is our goal. Had we had it in the days of the First Temple, Moshiach would have revealed himself and we would have already been living in the times of redemption. 

Each day that passes by gives us the unique opportunity to turn the situation around. It can be done. But it starts with each of us – each and every moment of the day. Just imagine in your own mind the wonderful feeling of finding out that the Jew who you've never even seen before – is the most special person in the entire world. Were you only to get to know them correctly and spend much time with them, you would love them as your best friend! As you now encounter that Jew whom you have never seen before, the baseless hatred that may have its opportunity to awaken itself with a variety of claims and excuses about the other, turns into nothing more than a baseless love. Imagine that!

It's never over, because we must imagine that if we turn it around right now – this moment, that the peace that was expected of us then – is the peace demanded of us today. Our duty is to grab hold of this opportunity facing us right now – and to make a change and to truly see the other for who he is. If one does not yet know – then he should investigate until indeed he can see the wonderful qualities of the other.

What would one give to know that he took part in the building of a fine palace?! What would be if the king invited each of the citizens to donate a small donation in honour of the finest physical building to be built – that his name would be engraved on a plaque especially for him for having made his contribution? What would he give to know that an entire section of the palace had been built exclusively for him for his small physical donation? Would he be prepared to donate the dollar – or perhaps two? Would he not give of his wealth – immediately – to know that his money was going towards the most important physical project in the world?!

Yet the building of the Beit HaMikdash today – right now – is not only about the physical act of charity that will most certainly hasten its building. Rather, every moment we turn to another in kindness – no matter what it be. Every moment we turn to the other with baseless love. Never having seen the other, we choose not to make a judgment – ever. We choose instead, to do the best we can to find the good points of the other to see those parts of the other that make us have no other feeling than love. Here is our very contribution to the building of this wonderful structure. Of course, it's not just a physical structure, but rather it contains within it the ultimate spiritual blessings we are all in need of – right now!

The ultimate blessing comes when the attribute of peace is rectified. When suddenly there is nothing but peace within our own hearts towards every other Jew. This – says the Chofetz Chaim – is the ultimate key, the ultimate donation towards the most wonderful "building" in the world – the one that brings peace to each of us in absolute perfection. Our words are powerful – as are our very thoughts. When we feel baseless hatred to another – G-d forbid – this leads to us talking badly of them too. Our responsibility now is to focus on that good, the beautiful, to share it where and when it counts the most and in this way bring goodness to everyone.

Are you prepared to give a dollar to see your name engraved on a plaque in the king's palace with a room dedicated to you? Our donation is not in the exclusive domain of what we think dollars are all about. Our dollar can be that simple characteristic of seeking peace – as did Aharon HaKohen do. Sometimes, of course, the giving of a dollar can do wonders in breaking the ice of bringing peace to others too. The goal however is not the dollar, it is not the physical building. It is the flow of peace from one person who has it… to another who still lacks it – and needs it at that point in his life. Together, the air is purified making a true dwelling place for G-d to rest His Divine Presence in this world – as the Temple descends from above to below and we all rejoice with the greatest of blessings!


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