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!


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