Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri

Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri 1820 - 22 Iyar 1930 – known as the Saba Kadisha (the Holy Grandfather – because of his length of years – almost 110!) was born in Instanbul, scion to a line of outstanding Rabbis. In his youth he corresponded with Rabbi Akiva Eiger and his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Sofer – The Chatam Sofer. He was known for his sharpness. His way in Halacha was to intertwine the words of the Rishonim with the final decision leaning on the opinions of the masters of Kabbalah from the schools of the Arizal and the Rashash.

A few years after he married he began to take care of a number of young orphans in his own home! He was a Rosh Yeshiva in Kushta, but refused to accept a salary any higher than what the Avreichim who were learning there were getting. He became the Chacham Bashi of Damascus – a post he maintained for 20 years until after the First World War.

In 1908 the Sages of Tzefat asked him to become the Rabbi of the city and to bring peace into the community which was then in need of someone to assist them. He arrived in Tzefat in1917 (aged 97!) and from that moment onwards decided he would never leave the boundaries of the Land of Israel. Later he went to live in Jerusalem, living in the street which today is known by his name i.e. Rechov Alfandri. During these last years, his home was open only for a select group of Torah students.

Even though he merited very old age, his body remained strong until his last years when he was very ill. He was able to stand by himself and his eye sight remained perfect until his very last days – even though he had used them to read handwritten texts and the smallest of print of masses of Torah works.

On the evening of 22 Iyar 1930 after reciting the Tikun Chatzos prayers (special prayers recited by righteous individuals at midnight every night,) he wrote his last response (Teshuva) – one of the longest he ever wrote. In the morning after dawn, he put on his Tefillin, read the Shema and immediately upon finishing it even before starting the main Amidah prayer he died in his chair adorned with his Tallis and Tefillin – at the age of almost 110.

His Halachic rulings on the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch were printed after he died in the work known as Shailot and Teshuvot of Maharsha (Moreinu Harav Shlomo Eliezer) Alfandri known also as "HaSaba Kadisha". 

One famous story told about him concerns an evening when he went out to make the blessing on the new moon. At the end of the blessing, he looked up and began clapping his hands in consternation. He shouted out, "I see that a large scale war will soon break out!" This happened in April 1914 shortly before World War One broke out!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Rabbi Ezra Attia - Rosh Yeshiva Porat Yosef - Yahrtzeit 19 Iyar

Rabbi Ezra Attia (1887 - 19 Iyar 1970) was one of the greatest Torah giants, and teachers of contemporary times. He was not just a Posek, but extremely well versed in all the hidden mystical Torah (Kabbalah.) He was the Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva teaching hundreds of the Sefardi Talmidei Chachamim of today – and certainly tens of the greatest of Sefardi leaders in world Jewry today. He was well known for being the teacher of Chacham Ovadia Yosef (died 2013), previous Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Israel and no doubt the greatest of the Sefardi Poskim of recent times! He also taught Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the elder Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri (died at over 100-110 years of age in 2006), Rabbi Yehuda Tzadka, Rabbi Ben-Tzion Abba Shaul, and many other well known Tzaddikim, Torah giants, Poskim and Mekubalim.

His parents were having a difficult time in having children, and so they went to the grave of Ezra HaSofer to daven for Divine help. His mother had mentioned that should they be blessed with a son, she would call him Ezra after Ezra HaSofer and would devote his entire life to Torah. The blessing came about, and indeed Rabbi Ezra Attia achieved the highest of Torah levels.

His family was extremely poor, and he would eat only one pita a day – if he was lucky. He told his pupils that when things were good, he would share a pita with his mother. On rare occasions he would even divide an egg in half! His father-in-law was the great Rabbi Avraham Sallam the Kabbalist.

He studied Torah under Rabbi Chaim Shaul Dweck – the well known Kabbalist responsible for the Sadeh commentary on the Eitz Chaim of the Arizal. His other teacher was Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfrandi (who Yahrzeit falls out in just a few days!) another of the greatest kabblists of recent times – who died at the age of almost 111 in 1930!

Perhaps one of his most famous stories concerns his pupil Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. One day (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was still a Bachur in his teens) when it became apparent that Rabbi Yosef was not attending Shiurim, Rabbi Attiya looked into things and found out that he had taken a job helping his father in his grocery store. He was forced to work due to the extreme poverty in which they lived. When Rabbi Attiya tried to convince his father of the importance of Torah study, the father did not listen, saying that the money needed was more important. The next day, Rabbi Attiya himself appeared at the grocery store all dressed up in a work apron. When asked about it, he told Rabbi Yosef's father that he had told Rabbi Yosef to continue his learning as he had already found someone else to take his job at the store for no pay! The worker – was none other than Rabbi Attiya himself! When the father saw just how much Torah study meant to the both of them, he left Rabbi Yosef to continue study. Today, we can see just how much that decision has affected the entire Jewish world!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What Would You Do?: Assist a Woman to Buy Groceries (Video Included)

She stands in line, ready to make a purchase. She has a family to feed - a baby in need of baby food, diapers and - well, everything a baby needs! She doesn't have the money for it all (let alone to imagine how she will pay her rent and taxes!) What would you do? Would you help?

This beautiful video shows a group of very special people who, when put to the test showed their true colours! Indeed, when one sees someone struggling financially - no matter what - if one is able to assist, the Torah teaches we should go all out for them. Of course, if one can't assist, a man in this video shows us another set of true colours - feeling empathetic rather than shouting out insults is also something special. Both take doing. So next time you're solicited for funds from someone who seems to look quite healthy - but going through hard times, consider this video. 

Remember, there is a Creator over all things who is ultimately putting each one of us through this test - every single day, even when we think we're not being watched. One day, however, the Creator will reveal Himself. Out comes the cameras and one is suddenly aware of the test that one had gone through. There's a "Crew" watching us in every situation just wanting and waiting to see the best sides of ourselves - constantly. Are you showing yours? If you can - help. If you can't - feel the other's pain as if it were your own. It may once have been your own too, that's why it should encourage you to give now - if you can! It's important to feel. And if you've never "been there", pay it forwards to others today - so that you may always be blessed. Life is a wheel that goes around.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Best Ways of Ever Giving Charity: Two Awesome Videos

Everyone knows that giving charity is one of life's major tests. It's not always easy to give even when we have the best of intentions. But there are always times we do want to give. We want to make the difference in another's life - especially when we know just how much they need help. Everybody needs help - at some point in time. It's always good - as they say - to pay it forwards.

I had seen the video below a few weeks ago and it caught my attention. The Rambam lists 8 levels of charity. The highest when we help someone get a job, employ him (and pay him WELL,) support his activities, give him a loan, refer others to him etc. etc. The list continues with aspects concerning the giver and recipient and which of the parties is aware that the other is involved in the transaction. The lowest level is giving even when one does so begrudgingly.

Here's a quick story of someone who wanted to give to others without embarrassing them:

A wealthy man once wanted to make sure that the poor of his town were taken care of. He did not want to embarrass them with his gifts. What did he do? He had a company ship over a quantity of bricks to his home and instructed them to place the bricks on his front lawn. He then called up the first needy man and told him he had a problem! He was in need of the bricks - but in his backyard! He would pay him $200 if he could move the bricks there so that he could continue with some work. What a pleasure - thought the poor man. Just a couple of hours later, it was all done - and he was $200 richer!

The wealthy man then called another of the poor in town. He explained to him that some bricks had been delivered and placed in the backyard. He needed them on the front lawn. He would pay him well - $200 if he could help. The poor man was only too happy! In just a couple of hours the bricks were on the front lawn - and this poor man - like the other, was already $200 richer!

And so the wealthy man continued - assisting in this same way - for all the poor in town.

Giving is something we can all do to help another. We can do it even without embarrassing them! There's always a way to make it happen!

In our video, a man does the same thing - making one in-need "wealthy" without causing any embarrassment! (Surely he would have found out later - but this is not the point. At the time it was happening, the man in need had no idea what was planned.) We should watch and learn - that giving in ways that do not cause embarrassment to the other are indeed ranked in the highest of levels of charity.

It was the follow up to this story that blew me away the most! You'll have to watch it to believe it. Those who saw the act of kindness, were so encouraged, so taken in by the good deed, that they also wanted a part. They also wanted to help this homeless man. They did so by donating generously! So much money came in that they were able to purchase a home for the homeless man (see the deal in the video) and assist him with some very fine furnishings! This is indeed an aspect of the highest level of charity.

Chessed Ve'Emet is also involved in assisting those who lack, to be able to own their own home items, including furniture, appliances and other necessities - all brand new! Our dream is to be able to assist those lacking to be able - very much like this man - to own their very own homes. Any time one is involved in showing others the importance of giving to the highest extent possible creates a great Kiddush Hashem - a sanctification of the Name of G-d. Likewise we can well imagine what discouraging others from performing such acts of kindness can do, let alone showing up the true lack of value they have for another. We really do need to watch videos like this and see that even amongst the nations of the world, there are those who value the honour of another and wish for their very best - nothing less than the best! Imagine how much more beautiful this world would be, if instead of always thinking that the other could get by on the street, we would think of how to assist them to live in dignity and honour!

For those wanting to learn more of our activities, see our main page: Bayit Chadash - Wedding Project - assisting orphans to marry in dignity.

This video is extremely powerful! May we learn to perform acts of kindness in similar ways and give wherever we can to those in need.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Study Torah - Perform Mitzvot

Our Parsha this week - Parshat Bechukotai starts off no holds barred! The Torah - life - is all about the study of Torah and the fulfillment of Mitzvot. It is these things that bring blessing into our lives - in so many ways.

The Parsha (Leviticus 26:3) begins, "If you will follow My laws, and observe My commandments and perform them...". Rashi points out that if the Torah were to simply have stated 'following My laws," one would have to come to have thought that this refers to fulfilling the Mitzvot only. Now since the verse also indicates 'observing My commandments," - surely this part is teaching us to fulfill the Mitzvot. If so, why the need for the first part of the verse? What differentiates the following of the laws to the observing of the commandments and performing them? Since every word is there for a reason - there must surely be a difference between the two.

Rashi points out that the first part of the verse indicates that we are commanded to toil in Torah. After all - if we don't toil - we will not know what to do! What Mitzvot can we ever perform, if we never know what the Mitzvot are really all about?!

Therefore, Rashi points out - toil in the Torah so that you will be able to practise the Mitzvot in reality. He then brings another proof from the book of Deuteronomy (5:1): "And you shall learn them (i.e. the commandments,) and guard them to do them." Here again - the important point that before one can actually do - one must spend time learning.

We live in times where knowledge seems to be everywhere we look. Due to this, we often think we already know everything. There are many of us who keep fully Kosher, observe the Shabbat day, fulfill the laws of Family Purity, give charity, never speak any gossip about others and a host of other vital Mitzvot we fulfill every single day. With all this - we wonder why the world still seems to be so topsy-turvy. Are we not already observing the Divine Will? Is this not enough?

One verse is all that is needed to tell us there is more involved. Learning the laws of Shabbat can take years. Two out of the six volumes of the Mishnah Berurah written by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan - the Chafetz Chaim - are devoted exclusively to the laws of Shabbat. Chapters 242-407 of the Shulchan Aruch's first section of Orach Chaim, that's 165 chapters out of 697 are devoted to the laws that every Jew must be fluent in - in order to observe the Shabbat day. Chapters 408-417, another 10 chapters are devoted to the laws of Eiruvei Techumin. This is a huge portion of the first section of the basic standard code of Jewish law. We need to ask ourselves, do we keep the Shabbat day because of a Shiur we attended - or because we have studied these laws in depth?

If this is so for the laws of Shabbat, we need to ask ourselves if we have studied the laws of Kashrut sufficiently too. Are we making mistakes? Do we keep the laws because we think we are keeping them - or because we really are keeping them correctly? What can we say about the laws of speaking Lashon Hara? Have we actually studied the laws from the original text - the Chafetz Chaim? So too we can ask ourselves these questions with regards to all the laws of the Torah. Have we actually sat down and studied what needs to be done?

Our mission - according to this week's Parsha - is to get heavily involved in Torah study. We must devote sufficient time each day to labour and toil over the Torah so that we actually know what must be done. When we do this and then practise these Mitzvot, the real blessings of life will flow, in ways we simply cannot imagine!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Support Your Fellow - First!

This week's Parsha - Parshat Behar contains an important lesson for life. It's all about money. It's all about being Jewish. It's all about understanding the unity of the Jewish people. It's really about caring - where caring counts the most - first! 

The verse (Leviticus 25:14) states, "When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, do not aggrieve one another." Every word means something. It's written there for a reason. No word in the Chumash is extraneous. The choice of the wording is selective because though another could be used just as easily - it is this word that makes all the difference for this particular point.

Rashi points us in the right direction - the need to focus ourselves not just on the choice of words - but on how we interact with each other. Naturally (as Rashi says) the verse is coming to teach us that we should not aggrieve each other when involved in business transactions. Honesty is just such an obvious point when it comes to working on ourselves and behaving correctly - making a society healthy. Who could think otherwise? Who could honestly think he/she has the right to destroy another's livelihood - and life - when it comes to a business transaction? But still, the verse informs us of the necessity. Honour your friend's money as much as you honour your own. Value his money as much as you value your own. Appreciate his right to having the good things in life - as much as you demand it of yourself. Our verse tells us all this.

Rashi asks - from where do we know that when you sell something, you should sell it to a Jew who is (actually) your fellow? We know it from this verse which says that when you make a sale i.e. when you are about to make a sale, sell to your fellow. Rashi asks likewise - and from where do we know that when you come to make a purchase, purchase from a Jew who is your fellow? For this, the verse teaches, "from the hand of your fellow." (i.e a Jew.)

The verse points out to us that when it comes to business - if you are Jewish - your first choice of customer should be the person who is "your fellow." When you come to make a purchase - support "your fellow" first as well. This is an important rule in a world filled with an infinite amount of business opportunities available from so many billions of people. We always have the choice of whom to interact with first. It can be a person on the other side of the world who we do not even know - nor have any relationship with. Likewise - we could just as easily find a fellow Jew who lives right next door(!) (who may legitimately be in need of work / income etc. or likewise in need of the service that you offer.) 

This is one of the core responsibilities of being Jewish. It's about connecting with each other first. Assisting each other first. In as fast a paced world as ours where everyone is grabbing their own opportunities wherever they can - with so many of our fellow Jews not being able to get by - it is imperative that we take these words to heart - and do everything we can to offer our services to them first - and likewise to make our purchases with them first. Let no Jew be lacking anything - ever.

As the verse continues - but don't forget - even when you do curb your desires of supporting the rest of the world - and attune yourself to the importance of your very own nation, and now offer your services to your fellow Jew - or even when you make a purchase from him - do not aggrieve him. Do not cheat him (just because you feel you have done your share now in supporting him in some way.) Now that you have come to support him - being totally honest is no less of a responsibility than attending to his support.

Lessons for life. Honesty in business. Helping another Jew to cope with life when the world may seem to be against him. Be a part of it!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Help the Donkey - Before it's too Late!

This week's Parsha - Parshat Behar, contains a selection of exceptionally powerful principles on the topic of kindness, charity and honesty (even if the verses seem to be somewhat mixed within a variety of other important Torah areas.)

The verse teaches (Leviticus 25:35), "If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him... so that he can live with you." This is perhaps one of the most powerful verses in the Torah discussing the Mitzvah of Tzedakah - charity. But what does this have to do with helping a donkey?

Rashi teaches us a vital lesson, as he states regarding this verse: The verse does not use the expression, 'and you shall stand him up" but rather, 'you shall strengthen him.' This is because the verse is teaching us regarding the situation of a person who has not fallen yet. He is still standing (so to speak). But the verse comes to warn one - don't let him descend further and fall completely, because if that happens, it will be most difficult to stand him up again! Rather - the verse teaches - strengthen him now - from the moment he stretches out his hand (the literal translation of the verse) before he falls. This is like a person who is about to fall and his hand stretches out (as if he is hoping to catch something to steady himself and save himself from falling.)

Rashi explains: What is this compared to? To a donkey with a load on it which is now becoming unsteady and about to fall onto the ground. If the load is still upon the donkey, a person can hold onto it and steady it and stand it back to its place. However, if it has already fallen onto the ground, then even five men will be unable to stand it up again! So too here, support the poor person and strengthen him in order to prevent him from falling.

The message is clear. The giving of charity is something done best the moment the poor person asks. All too often we make our own accounts in our heads that a person looks okay - they surely are not in need (even though they are asking.) We give them ideas for new projects that will "surely" make them wealthy. We already know them so well that it simply can't be that the truth is as they say - that they have no money and that they are unable to continue living the way they are any longer. Others choose not to believe that the other is actually desperate and in great need of money - to live.

We make up things that they will be able to make it through. We even think to ourselves - that if we ever will see them fall completely that then we will help them. All sorts of accounts in our own heads - just as long as we don't have to come through to help them. Whether it's their need for food, clothing or shelter or other necessary things in life, we imagine to ourselves how the other will surely manage. And if not... then we will take care of them. But for now - we're exempt. They will turn out just fine!

Our verse teaches us different. The time to help is when the hand of the poor person is stretched out. His stretching out his hand to us, is his way of telling us that he is about to fall - just like a person who is literally about to fall and sticks out his hand ready to grasp anything that will steady him again.

The verse warns -- but if you wait and think that there will be another time that you can help - when you see the other (in your eyes) as really needing, at that time, it may already be too late. The donkey will have fallen with it's load. And whereas the help given just moments before would have steadied the person again, giving him hope to continue, now, not even five men will be able to do the job of assisting this person back onto their feet again. The humiliation they will now have to go through... The fact that they had to sell their most sentimental items (just to get by - and will never be able to get back again)... The total embarrassment they will have to experience as the entire community now begin their talking about the latest poor fellow who they must help - Nebach! The shame. Nothing will ever help to regain the person who once was - who he was before the fall.

We must think of the donkey every time a poor person asks for help - of any kind. It will be a tragedy for us all if it falls. It may even be impossible to ever lift them up again - even with a group of the strongest of men!

The Rambam teaches that the highest level of charity is to prevent a person from becoming poor by offering a loan or employment (honest - where the employee is paid so that he can live with the income he receives!) investing in his business or any other assistance that will avoid the poverty he finds himself in. Let us never forget that powerful teaching from the Rambam - because it is through acts of kindness - of genuine caring and concern for the other, doing everything we can to help them to live - just like us - that will hasten to repair the world, bringing true happiness to all. 

May it always be that that person - who once lacked - live with us - with all the necessities and luxuries we desire and expect for ourselves.


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