Friday, August 9, 2013

Not Even Your Socks

בס"ד
The Parsha for this week - Ki Teitzei

 This World, The Next World, and Your Socks



The end was drawing near. Mr Wolf Lazerson, one 
of the richest Jews in the country was on his death bed
with all his children surrounding him. "I have two last 
requests to make," he said in a weak voice. "The first is 
that you do not read my will until the shloshim, and the 
second is that you bury me with my socks on"

"But Dad," his son protested "halacha doesn't  allow 
such a thing." "I don't care," Wolf said "that's what I want." 
No amount of convincing was going to change his mind. 
He insisted on keeping the socks on, and that was that. 
His children were disturbed knowing that their 
father insisted on doing something that he himself knew was contrary 
to halacha.

A few days later, the father was niftar and the children consulted a poseik 
who told them that their father's wish must be ignored and so he was buried 
without his socks. At the shloshim, they opened his will. "My dear Children," 
they read, "I left you a lot of money and a large estate.I wanted you to realize 
before dividing it up that in the end you can't take any of it with you 
- not even your socks. love, Dad."   and as Rabbi Dovid Kaplan concluded, 
a story like this can really knock your socks off.

In this weeks sedra, it says "VeLo takim lecha matzeva asher saneh 
Hashem Elokecha"  "and you shall not make for yourselves a pillar..."
It is brought down in Pirkei Avot, this world is compared to a corridor leading 
up to the world to come. Fix yourselves in the corridor so you can enter the 
Banquet Hall. A person needs to be constantly aware that this world is fleeting 
and temporal. One must utilize all his worldly dealings and all his physical 
necessities as a preparation for the service of G-d, for the world to come.  
Chazal often refer to "worldly pleasures" as "lecha" (literally "for yourselves")

Kedushas HaLevi teaches us that the Torah is saying "VeLo takim lecha matzeva..." 
and you shall not make the "Lecha" a pillar.  In other words, you shall not make 
your worldly pleasures into a pillar, i.e., into that which is strong, sturdy and 
everlasting, but rather, only as preparation for the world to come.

May we  merit to utilize all that Hashem gives us leTova.

Credit:
The short story at the top was taken from Rabbi Dovid Kaplan's 
- Awesome for the Shabbos Table!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Depth of Tragedy

                                                                                                                                                           בס"ד
www.articlesbase.com

This is a very difficult post to write because there are so many raw emotions and opposing views on the subject that I know it may not be a very popular piece. Yet, I feel that if we look at the big picture, it will help us through what at first glance appears to be a nightmare scenario, one which makes us wonder, "What is going on?"

We have just completed the 'Three Weeks' which, in the Jewish calendar, has been known to be a time fraught with many calamities for the Jewish People. On a national level it is a time of the destruction of the first and second Temples, the foundation of Jewish spiritual life. So many horrible things happened to our people during this period that we have been instructed to be very careful throughout these days. The last nine days leading up to Tisha B'Av, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, we treat as a time of mourning,  holding by many of the traditions attached to that sad event. So real is the danger, that we are forbidden from swimming as well.

This year, while thank G-d, there was no major catastrophe affecting the Land of Israel, several terrible events permeated our beings. One is the ever-increasing contempt and misplaced criticism between our brothers. There is so much infighting involving different sectors of society that it is hurtful to watch. We are supposed to be as one and yet we treat each other like our own worst enemy. I heard a very true statement that is quite ironic - our enemies don't differentiate between us. They are anxious and willing to annihilate all of our people; national religious, haredi, reform, secular and chassidic Jews. To them, we are one unit. And that is what we are meant to be.  The commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) obviously lost its meaning even to some who claim to have a fear of Heaven. Sadly, this internal strife reached a pinnacle over the past three weeks. At a time when we should strive for peace and guarding our tongues from loshon hara (evil talk and tale-bearing) instead we bring shame upon ourselves.

Then something less public and more dreadful brought us all into different corners of the ring. As if bickering over our different views would somehow bring back the three precious souls who lost their lives through parental misjudgments. Yes, three young babies in the course of two weeks left this world through pain and suffering, being left alone in the back seat of their parent's hot car. One can say the parents were negligent and failed in their responsibilities, but it is really irrelevant because the torment they will endure the rest of their lives will more than make up for any lack of civil punishment. It's difficult to imagine how one can go on after such a catastrophe. In Israel, despite the squabbling, we are as one family in agony and therefore we are all grieving. 

If we view these instances through spiritual eyes, we may still not be able to comprehend it, but we can come to an acceptance on a different level.

As much as it hurts, Hashem (G-d) decided that those infants were meant to leave this world. Each detail was predetermined so that even the amount of suffering they experienced was somehow beneficial to their neshamas (souls). We will never know or understand the reasons, but this was decreed in Shomayim (Heaven). Even the poor parents, regardless of the turn of events which led to the disaster, are destined to suffer for the remainder of their existence on earth. This too, though it is humanly impossible to fathom why, is somehow the way it was intended to be and for their ultimate good. When someone passes away, we say "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" which means, Blessed is the True Judge". We accept G-d's decision, as painful as it is. When we pass these tests in our material lives knowing that everything  He does is for the best, that is basis of emunaAcknowledging this can, with Hashem’s help, give the families the strength to go on.

My friend, Jessie, told a related story which may help clarify this concept. There was a great Tzaddik (righteous man) who was niftar (passed away) and when he went to the next world, he was judged as righteous. Just as he was about to enter Gan Eden, an accusing angel told the Heavenly Courts that he had nursed from a non-Jewish mother for two months because his own mother was ill. Therefore, he was sent back to earth and was born to a Jewish mother who nursed him for two months. Immediately, a bat kol (Divine 'voice' proclaiming G-d's Will) came from Shomayim (Heaven) and welcomed the Tzaddik to his rightful place in Gan Eden. But to the new parents of the two month old baby, they were faced with an aching loss. We have no clue. Hashem runs the world in every aspect down to the next meal of the smallest ant on a blade of grass and everything He does is for the good.

By all estimations, we are living the birth pangs of Moshiach. We are told it will be a rough ride but we must hang on with all our spiritual might. It is no coincidence that recently we have lost many holy Tzaddikim.... Torah Giants, Scholars, sinless babies plus other upright men and women who have died simply for being Jews. These excruciating sacrifices are the price we pay to bring us closer to our final Redemption. May it be G-d's will that there will soon be an end to all this heartbreak and struggle, bringing us together in song and joy to the newly rebuild Beit Hamikdash!





Forbidden Fruit

בס"ד
www.applegazette.com

“.. of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Genesis 2:17)

From the beginning of creation man’s freedom of choice has been tested. Adam was told directly by G-d Himself not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but with a little friendly persuasion, he chose to disobey Hashem’s Will. At first glance it appears that Adam’s choice was based solely on lack of self-discipline, but how could anyone in his right mind purposely disobey the Master of the Universe? Our Sages tell us that his motives were not as dishonorable as they appear. All he wanted was to get closer to Hashem and to understand the difference between good and evil so he would be better able to live his life as G-d intended. Unfortunately for future generations, it was the wrong decision.

One mistake, one bite of one little ‘apple’, and humankind is banished from the Garden of Eden. One erroneous judgment and man was condemned to toil by the “sweat of his face” for his daily bread, woman was decreed to endure pain with childbirth and to all human beings death now became a reality. Such a seemingly innocent action held the power to generate such guilt and caused the evil inclination to reside within mankind.

Someone pointed out a very interesting idea to me the other day. We all have access to a seemingly innocuous device, namely the computer with internet access, which also has the ability to destroy one’s whole future. Hashem gave man the intelligence to construct it but it takes aTzaddik (righteous individual) to be able to back away and refuse the dangerous enticement it holds. It is no coincidence that the first mainstream personal computer, and now a major icon worldwide, was made by a company with the name, none other than: Apple. The company logo portrays the fruit of temptation with a bite out of it! This is the same fruit the world recognizes as the fruit that Adam and Eve ate. (We know from our Sages it was not actually an apple they ate, nonetheless, this is the fruit that the general public accepts). All leading Rabbis of our generation have openly declared these electronic devices to be hazardous. Overflowing with knowledge, both beneficial and harmful, it lures us into believing that it is safe and useful.

Yes, it can be. Yet, I too, diminish its danger. I am only using it for work, to earn parnassa (income) and to spread emuna, to share Torah and do kiruv (Jewish Outreach). I set limits and try not to get carried away. I tell myself that a little news story and a short scrabble game can’t hurt. I rationalize that it keeps me in touch with what’s happening in the world and allows my ever aging mind the mental exercise it needs to stay sharp.

If it would end at that, there would be no problem. But who can truthfully say that they don’t spend a minute extra doing wasteful and pointless things. This in itself is “Bitul Torah” (neglect of Torah study). Couldn’t this time also be better spent working on interpersonal relationships rather than ignoring those we care about? Once we plunk ourselves down on the chair by the computer, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) plays havoc with our desires. Just a minute more on this site and a second more reading that and before we know it, we have wasted precious hours on this hypnotic invention. And that’s not to mention the lewd and sinful options available to those who show no restraint!

With the advent of Moshiach, prophecies tell of a fight between good and evil. It will be a spiritual war between belief in Hashem, our steadfastness of emuna on one side versus those diametrically opposed to this principle on the other. Like the snake in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), the computer, internet and all the technology of this modern world are deadly temptations feeding the venomous enemy. Snakes symbolize so many negative traits such as immorality and deceit (by way of its forked tongue). We see this clearly as the internet is full of deception with people hiding behind aliases and false intentions.

Since nothing in the world is coincidence, I will leave you with something else to think about. The Tree of Knowledge contained good and evil. We humans are constantly confronted with the choice between the two. Everything that has a negative side also has a positive aspect. That is what free will is all about.

The gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word snake, nachash, (נחש‎), is 358.
The gematria of Moshiach (משיח) is also 358.
Chet is Hebrew for sin and the gematria of the letter chet is 8.
If we take the chet (ח) out of nachash, we will have the gematria 350, which is also the gematria for keren, קרן, the ram’s horn which will one day be blown to herald the arrival of Moshiach.
So if we work together to remove the sin, the chet, from our lives by making an effort to stay off the computer and internet as much as possible, we will help bring Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, speedily, in the coming days, amen!



Monday, January 7, 2013

Emuna Cats


בס"ד

I’m not really a cat lover. I do have a soft spot for animals but until we took in Reggie eight years ago, I would have never thought I would adopt a cat. I grew up with a dog and after I was married we looked after a variety of living creatures; birds, fish, hamsters, dogs and even a rabbit (against my better judgment). Then one day, I saw an ad from a friend who was trying to find homes for a litter of kittens that had been abandoned by the garbage bin. After a couple of weeks, her plea to rescue these fluffy felines finally got to me. I decided to bring home a live Chanukah gift for our kids. In fact, Reggie chose us rather than the other way around as he would not let us leave without him. 

Since learning over the years, it seems that having a pet is really not so simple in terms of halachot, purity and holiness. Many owners are not aware of the numerous problems that can arise with these furry mammals, but that is a whole different discussion.

Reggie is an indoor-outdoor cat. He enjoys the benefits of life in the warmth of our home including regular meals, yet he is free to run in the outdoors to his little heart’s content.  He has it pretty good. By contrast, our neighborhood is overrun with street cats. They mostly live out of the garbage bins and literally fend for themselves. Three brothers recently found a nice little hideout in the entrance of our apartment. When they aren't out searching for food, they can be found snuggling up together or playing. Despite their hard lives, these cats seem happy.

Reggie knows he will be fed and doesn't worry where his next meal is coming from. When he is hungry, he comes in and there is food and water waiting for him. If, for some reason, the bowls are empty, a few meows or a different method of grabbing my attention is all that is needed to have them refilled. If cats possessed human qualities, it would seem that Reggie should have much stronger emuna than all those street cats. After all, he trusts in us, his guardians, to ensure he has all he needs met. He never does without. He knows there is nothing to worry about and for him, life is good.

Upon deeper examination, though, it is really the homeless variety that has a much higher level of emuna. Despite their difficulties in life, they forge on daily in their struggle for survival. They are always scavenging for food and they somehow manage to find their sustenance, yet at the end of the day, they are happy and content.

Although cats are selfish by nature, whenever we occasionally to throw a few scraps their way (yes, we’re guilty) they are so thankful, they purr with gratitude. Reggie, on the other hand, takes it all for granted. I know he appreciates it in his own animal way, but the trio outside really makes me feel like they are grateful for anything they receive.

This is something we should be striving for as well. By being complacent and assuming it is all coming to us, we are not showing HaShem our gratitude. He doesn't have to give us anything and we shouldn't be presumptuous about all our blessings. We could very well be like the street cats, down and out, not knowing where our next meal is coming from or how we are going to pay our rent or mortgage. We must constantly pray for even the most basic mercies such as having a roof over our heads. With emuna, when we realize that it is all for the best, the Master of the World will provide for us.

Every living creature has some unique qualities we can learn from. The Gemara in Eruvin (100:43a-line 46) says that we learn tzniut (modesty) from a cat. A cat is very private in its personal hygiene among other things.

Perek Shira also tells of the wisdom we can gain through G-d’s creations. Unlike dogs, cats don’t try to please others and are persistent in their goals. The cat says, in Psalm 18:38, “I will pursue my enemies and overtake them, and will not turn back until they are destroyed.” While this probably refers to a cat hunting a mouse for dinner, we can apply it to standing up for what we believe in or resolving to defeat our adversaries. Yet don’t be fooled into assuming that our successes come about through our own might.

For the cat also observes, “If you raise up to place your nest among the stars like an eagle, from there I shall bring you down, says G-d (Ovadia 1:4). If we are too haughty, HaShem can surely put us in our place. Physically and spiritually, it is only through His guiding hand that we can soar to any heights at all.

In these days of turmoil, when our enemies seek to destroy us and we have no one to turn to but our Father in Heaven, we must pray that our leaders take heed of the lessons of the cat as well. We must firm in our resolve to defend our right to exist in freedom and holiness in the Land HaShem promised us. But only if we act with the modesty and integrity fit for the children of the King, will we merit G-d’s Divine protection.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, then HaShem will be his security. I was young and also have aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken with his children begging for bread. HaShem will give might to His people. HaShem will bless his people with peace”. (from Grace After Meals; Artscroll)

Ken Yehi Ratzon – May it be G-d’s Will!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bottom of the 9th

בס"ד


I am dedicating this previously published article l’iluy neshmat Yoseph ben Yitchak Dovid z”l, my beloved Father who left this world one week ago.

Bottom of the 9th
Originally published on www.breslev.co.il  6/3/2011


Baseball season is now upon us. The truth is, I am not a big sports fan and never really understood all the rules of the different games, but during high school, I enjoyed a baseball game now and then. My father on the other hand, may he be well and live a long life, can tell you anything you want to know about any sport and then some. However, when one becomes religiously observant, and advances in spiritual pursuits, sports and other similar forms of entertainment lose their appeal as they take us away from more lofty objectives. Since our sages, including Rebbe Nachman of Breslev zt’l (may the memory of the righteous be for blessing)say one can and should elevate all mundane matters into the realm of holiness, let’s give it a try.

When it came to sports, I was never much of an athlete. As a result, in high school, when our whole school participated in tryouts for the girls’ basketball team, I was shocked when I made it through to the second round. It made me step back and think, ‘hey, maybe I CAN do it’. If the coach had confidence in me, I must have some potential. The same holds true for all of us in this material world. G-d, our Master Coach, would never have brought us here with our individualized tasks, if He didn’t think we could achieve our goals. That awareness should give each of us some encouragement.

During a baseball game, there are always players sitting in the dugout, but they don’t have to remain there. In order to get a turn on the field, a team member first must prove himself. By hard work and making an effort to progress, anyone can be in the first lineup (allegorically, gain entry to the World to Come). But one won’t get a chance to play in the major leagues if he doesn’t even get up to bat. He must first take the initiative to improve and when he finally gets his break, he shouldn’t waste a second of this prime opportunity. Similar to a batter who spends several minutes in the batter’s cage warming up before his turn up at bat, we ought to also prepare ourselves as a prelude to our prayers and other sacred undertakings. If we don’t strengthen ourselves in emuna and holiness, we will surely strike out. Even if this happens, don’t despair. Rebbe Nachman says “There is no despair in the World”. If we get knocked down, we must pick ourselves up and try again. In baseball, we are given only 3 chances… three strikes and you’re out.  In life, we have as many new opportunities as we desire. Contrary to the rules of baseball, Rabbi Lazer Brody teaches that if HaShem does something three times, we can assume He will do it again.  

The catcher, just like our yetzer hara (evil inclination), is anxiously waiting to cash in on our failures. One blunder can make the difference between sending the ball high into left field or right into the catcher’s mitt. If we hit a foul ball, we simply need to adjust our strategy slightly and accept helpful tips from the coach. In baseball, once the hitter is already at the plate it’s too late to review the rules, but in the game of life, constantly strengthening our knowledge of Torah is primary. “Torah study has the power to direct a person with the proper and correct advice in all of his endeavors. It is vitally important to have faith in the Tzadikkim. Then, by studying their words, the Torah will guide man to his proper course in life” (Likutey Moharan 1, 61:1).

Life has a way of throwing curveballs at us when we’re least expecting it. Understanding that it is all from Hashem and for the very best, we can overcome the difficulties with a clear and tranquil mind. Occasionally, we are presented with situations in order to be united with others, even those with whom we don’t always see eye to eye. One rule of thumb in sports is to know your opponent which is also beneficial in making peace with a family member, neighbor or friend. Rebbe Nachman tells us to seek out the good points in both ourselves and others to bring about happiness.  Sometimes, a well-placed bunt into the infield is all you need to get on base and bring your teammates home.


                                                     
Despite all his hard work, occasionally a batter may be replaced by a pinch hitter. Unfortunately, in baseball, the substituted player is never allowed back into that game. Rabbi Brody explains in his lesson ‘Unconditional Love’ that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai zt’l states in the Zohar, when someone gets angry, they lose their Neshama and Ruach, (parts of the soul), the Nefesh  (basic soul) takes a walk and sends a pinch hitter (from the dark side) to fill in. If this happens, the Jewish Neshama (soul) is lost, a far worse penalty than losing out on one baseball match.

Once the pitcher warms up, he situates himself on the pitcher’s mound, intent on striking the batter out. He is on the ‘other side’, the same team as the catcher, so a staunch performance is paramount in foiling their plans. If the batter is prepared and has trained sufficiently, he will be able to outmaneuver them. Sure enough, a fast-ball makes its way to the plate and with one crack it flies into the air, but alas, it is caught before it hits the ground. With 2 out and bases loaded at the bottom of the 9th, nothing short of a miracle will win the game. The batter says a prayer as he knows he cannot win the game alone. He hits the ball so perfectly that he can’t believe his eyes. But wait…..the outfielder tries to grab the ball and it instantly disappears!  Poof!

"All of the desires of this world are like rays of light. - You try to catch them in your hand only to find there is nothing in your grasp." (Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom #6)

The batter wakes up to find that it was all just a dream. We too will wake up one day and realize that our existence was more fleeting than we understood. Only Torah and Mitzvot (good deeds and following the commandments) are eternal and worthy of our time and efforts. 

The world in which we live today can be compared to the bottom of the 9th inning. It is only with HaShem’s help that we will merit to triumph, and only if we do our utmost to prove our commitment to our Creator and His Manual (Torah). With the World Series looming, isn’t it time to step up to the plate and give it all we’ve got?  And one more thing ~ it’s still not too late to slide Home!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

23rd of September, 2012 ~ Worldwide Prayer for Moshiach

Rabbi Lazer Brody wrote:
The Chafetz Chaim said: "If only thousands and millions of sincere Jews would show to Hashem how they truly desire Mashiach, he would surely come immediately." Let's follow the advice of the Tzaddik and pray all together, giving tsedaka right before. The moment will be on September 23, 2012 at 18:00 Israel time, 8:00 AM Los Angeles, 11:00 AM New York, 10:00 AM Peru, 12:00 Noon Buenos Aires,17:00 Paris, 19:00 Moscow, 23:00 HongKong, 1:00 AM Sept 24 Sydney...

This is on the 7th of Tishrei, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beyond Logic



Photo Credit:  Breslev Israel
This post is in memory of my Cherished Mother, Shayndle Toba bas Yoseph Aron v’Leah on her 22nd Yartzeit ~ 4th of Tammuz 5772 – 2012.  May she have a לעילוי נשמה, (elevation of the soul). 


On Shabbat eve, G-d imparts an additional soul to the person and at Shabbat's end, He takes it away-- Talmud, Beitza 16a


I know that I am not the first person in the world to lose a mother. It is one of the most sorrowful yet inevitable realities of life, but not everyone goes through a whole personal metamorphosis in the process.


The 4thof Tammuz (this year June 24th) is my mother's 22nd Yartzeit, the anniversary of her death. It is hard to believe that 22 years have passed, yet it seems like much more than 22 years since I last spoke with my mother. It actually has been more than 23 and a half years since we had any sort of normal conversation. Neither ripe old age nor some disabling disease caused her death. It was the tragic result of a horrible road accident.


Driving with my mother on an intercity freeway, my father fell asleep at the wheel and as a result the car flipped over several times before landing in a rocky ditch at the side of the road. The fact that both of my parents weren't killed instantly was in itself a miracle. The car was a total write-off. A valuable lesson to be learned from this would appear to be; never drive while very tired. But that isn't why I chose to write this in my mother's memory. There is a much more urgent message I feel compelled to pass along: In times of greatest despair, have faith (emuna) in G-d and believe in miracles. And most importantly, never underestimate the power of prayer! These may not be new or unique concepts for those of you who are frum (religious) from birth. They are fundamental principles which should be ingrained into the core of one's intellect from day one. But for those of us who are chozer b'tshuva (penitent), who made the conscious decision to redirect our lives, we often require a boost to reinforce this major leap of faith.


The whole incident occurred as my husband and I were just beginning our journey down the road of religious observance. It had been less than a year since we began to keep Shabbat and Kashrut. My first test in this ordeal fell on me like a load of bricks just a half hour before the onset of Shabbat. As if it wasn't shock enough to receive a phone call with the unthinkable news of the crash, I was faced with the most difficult decision of my life. Yet, there was really no choice to make. Despite the doctors' pleas for us to hurry to the hospital and be at my mother's side for what they claimed would be her last hours in this world, we could not desecrate the laws of Shabbat by driving. There was no case of pikuach nefesh here. There was nothing I could physically do to help save her life. The doctors were doing all they could for her severe head trauma and other multiple injuries. So I chose the only thing that was available to me and the one thing in which I had placed all my hope....I prayed to HaShem to save my mother. (My father sustained multiple fractures and external injuries, but nothing life-threatening, thank G-d)


The fact that my mother survived over Shabbat was the first sampling of the numerous miracles that encompassed me over the course of the next year and a half. The initial diagnosis of her impending death was followed by an unequivocal prognosis that if she did survive at all, she would be a 'vegetable'. Ultimately, she proved the doctors totally wrong and far surpassed the expectations of all involved. These medical practitioners were forced to admit that they had been mistaken, calling her progress nothing other than miraculous. With limited space in this article, I will refrain from all the grueling and cumbersome details of all that transpired until her final departure from this world, when she finally succumbed to a heart attack. Suffice to say, all that occurred was beyond the realm of earthly reason and logic. Our fervent prayers were answered with chillingly unexpected results beyond any of my wildest expectations. It was a humbling experience which brought into my being a conviction so unwavering that there was no longer any doubt in my mind of the existence of G-d. In addition to that profound understanding was the underlying essence of something much more cliché; learn to value all of HaShem’s blessings and never take them for granted since one never knows when they will be gone. As the old saying goes, appreciate each day as if it were your last.


On this day, I look back with love and gratitude for the gifts that I was blessed to have received. When my mother passed away I was entering my eighth month of pregnancy. The unborn child I was carrying gave me unparalleled strength. Instead of being left with a huge void in my life, I looked forward to bearing a new life. The sharp pains of mourning were replaced with the sharp pains of labor. He came into the world quickly on Shabbat, twelve days before Rosh Hashana.

My family when I was a baby
Within two years of my mother's death our decision to make aliya to Israel became a reality.  Six months following our arrival we were blessed with a baby girl, our fifth child, whom we lovingly named after my mother a’h. One desire my mother had was to visit Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. That longing never materialized but I feel that now she is somehow fulfilling her dream through us. All the knowledge of emuna and trust in G-d that I acquired through her suffering, I brought with me to secure our new life in the Holy Land. 


Only with the comprehension that there is a Greater Power than man, the Holy One, Blessed be He, Creator of the Universe, can one make any sense of what is going on in the world today. It is not for us to question why things happen as they do, but to grab onto them and discover ways to improve ourselves. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to do more to elevate our actions, to become better people and grow closer to G-d. We will thereby not only bring peace into our own lives, but to the world itself via 'spiritual osmosis'.

The Torah reading for the week of the 4th of Tammuz 22 years ago was Chukat. This Parasha tells the story of the time when the Jewish people were crossing the desert on their way to Israel and found themselves in desperate in need of water. G-d spoke to Moses and told him 'speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it will give forth its water' (Bamidbar 20:8) With the entire congregation assembled before Moses and his brother, Aaron, it was the prime opportunity to sanctify G-d's Name and give witness to this undeniable miracle. But, instead of trying to produce water from the rock by speaking to it as he had been commanded, Moses struck it twice with his rod. One interpretation of this episode explains that his show of anger appeared to the people as if he did not have faith in G-d. For this he was punished and not allowed to enter the Land of Israel. How relevant this lesson is today. We must trust in HaShem and abide by His Laws, in order to deserve the right to keep our Land and the privilege to dwell there.



I share this with you in memory of my beloved mother. As time fades the vision in my mind's eye of this once-vibrant and beautiful woman, her strength and courage is indelibly etched in my memory. As I groped through the fog of anguish to find meaning in adversity, her pain and suffering was the catalyst through which I confirmed the true meaning of life. This testimonial is but a taste of the full depth of that revelation. It is my hope that I have succeeded in imparting at least some of that enlightenment as an inspiration to others. 


This article was first published on Breslev Israel on my mother's 21st Yarzeit: 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pop

בס"ד 
Pop and me
It seems like only yesterday that my parents, my brother and I would frequently enjoy Sunday afternoons with my adored maternal grandparents, Leah and Yosef Aron, of blessed memory, affectionately known as Nanny and Pop. They lived about an hour’s drive through a tree-lined country road and we looked forward to the love and attention they showered on us. They were quiet, modest people who exuded a feeling of warmth and family devotion.  During the week, Nanny would help her husband in their women’s clothing store for which Pop was the dressmaker. He could be found sitting in the back of the store diligently working with needle and thread to satisfy his customers’ requests. Nanny endearingly called him ‘Boss’ as she fulfilled her multifaceted roles of co-worker, wife, mother and grandmother.

My most cherished memories are of getting together with the whole family, including aunt, uncle and cousins, for holidays such as Pesach (Passover) or Chanukah. Before any family gathering, Nanny would be busy in the kitchen preparing the festive meal.  I watched with fascination, as she mixed together all the ingredients needed for the cake. Her method of baking was very simple but the desserts always tasted delicious. These special times are eternally engraved in my mind and I am thankful to HaShem for being given the opportunity to have known my grandparents. Due to the tragedy of the Holocaust, many were not blessed with this privilege.  Baruch HaShem, thank G-d, all four of my grandparents left Europe long before the war broke out, but their stay in Canada was merely a temporary stepping stone for our survival.

Despite his small physical stature and calm demeanor, Pop’s heart and soul were larger than life. I can still see his kind, sweet smile and hear his cheerful laugh. He was the Patriarch of our family, seated respectfully at the head of the table as we participated in the traditional meals. While none of us were religiously observant during that period, we nevertheless followed his lead, as he read the Pesach Haggada and sang the customary songs. He would always hide the ofikomen (matza piece) in the same place, yet finding it still brought delight to young and old alike.  He imbued us with a fondness for our heritage which will remain with us always, and for that I am grateful. 

Despite societal pressures, Pop endeavored to remain true to his beliefs and would never compromise his devotion to Judaism. Living in small-town Canada in the early 1920s, keeping kosher wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today. Before I was born, my grandparents raised chickens in their yard so they were ensured a kosher chicken for Shabbat. (As a child, my mother a’h took pleasure in watching the chickens run around, but found it difficult knowing they would soon be shechted [ritually slaughtered]).  I was told that although Pop would accompany other family members for a meal in a restaurant occasionally, he would only order fish, as he couldn’t bring himself to eat treif (non-kosher). He did what he had to do, and so my grandparents attempted to set an example, despite the fact that everyone around them was giving in to the lure of the modern world.

The course of recent generations has been anything but smooth. We are all victims of the ‘enlightened’ culture which made our journey all the more challenging. The number of Jewish Neshamot (souls) who have lost their spiritual direction is staggering. Those families who have not been touched by intermarriage are few and far between. Yet, thank G-d, the numbers of returnees to their roots, to true Torah Judaism is increasing by leaps and bounds. This overwhelming teshuva movement was a prophecy of the days leading up to Moshiach, the days which are presently upon us.

The path to any admirable goal is never straight and rarely effortless. There can be pitfalls and roadblocks, stumbling blocks and icy patches, but the incentive to succeed comes from the desire to attain the lofty objective. Once we finally reach the pinnacle, the awesome view on the other side takes our breath away and we don’t know how we ever lived without it.

In the article, Illuminating our Children, Rabbi Lazer Brody writes “Tradition tells us that a person’s favorable judgment in the Heavenly Court after he finishes his term of service in this world is conditional; one doesn’t earn his or her permanent place in Gan Eden until the Heavenly Court sees how the subsequent three generations turn out. In other words, once your great-grandchildren are living lives of emuna, you get your permanent penthouse in Paradise.”

After all our ups and downs, our return to a Torah lifestyle and our aliya to the Holy Land of Israel, I pray that my dear, beloved Pop, may finally be able to settle down right next to the Heavenly Throne and the King of Kings Himself, along with all our righteous ancestors. And may we all merit to greet our departed loved ones once again with the fulfillment of the thirteenth principle of faith, techiyat hameitim (resurrection of the dead) as stated in the Mishnah, Sanhedrin.


 This post is dedicated li'iluy nishmat (elevation of the soul) of Yosef Aron ben Meyer v’Chaya Gittel for his 33rd yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) 19th of Shevat

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Damage Control

Tel Aviv - Photo credit: Uri Ovadia
B"H
I realize I am a bit late in writing this. It seems like it should be old news, after all. The truth is, sadly, I fear it is just the beginning. Like a snowball full of dirt and hard stones, this whole episode has become quite an unpleasant and dangerous game. I am referring to the recent occurrences of intolerance and distasteful (to put it mildly) actions within our own people. 

The list of intramural hatred in Israel is endless and I know it won't go down well with many when I say that we should all be held accountable. The frightening thought is that if we don't do something to rectify it soon, the consequences may be devastating. G-d promised to protect our land and our people if we obey His laws but did we forget that also includes Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)? With thousands of missiles aimed at our heads, we must ask ourselves the ultimate question; Do we deserve HaShem's Divine protection?

The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) tells us that Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred destroyed the Second Temple. According to the Gemora, Tractate Yevamos (62b) it was also the cause of the loss of Rabbi Akiva's talmidim (students), twenty four THOUSAND, to be exact. Their fatal failure was the lack of respect towards one another. This is no small matter.

The media is the worst culprit of all as it feeds the evil inclination's need for gossip and the cultivation of distortion and lies. We are subjected to so much misinformation; truth is ne'er to be found. 

The facts are shameful and embarrassing to write. Men who call themselves G-d fearing, who outwardly reflect the look of righteous individuals, physically and emotionally attack young girls and soldiers, all in the name of TorahTheir actions are counterproductive and reek of hypocrisy with a misplaced belief that what they are doing is 'l'shem shamayim' (for the sake of Heaven). I don't know of any Jewish Holy writings that condone this type of behavior. For a youngster in the formative stage of life, it is not a nurturing message to send. We are not livestock that can be kept in line with the sting of a whip or a cattle prod. Those who have no understanding of the sanctity of religious life will only be pushed farther away. Plus, it creates a whole slew of further sins including loshon hora (slander), taking revenge and holding a grudge, to name a few. Just yesterday I read about a secular man who spit on an ultra-orthodox girl. Other accounts say he allegedly kicked her. Tit for tat? What is going on here? I think it's time to tell people to grow up! This is not child's play.

It hurts. It really hurts to see the dissension and the name-calling. I can only imagine how our Father in Heaven feels watching His beloved children at each other's throats like vultures over their prey. Do we really want to end up as the satan's lunch?

What is even more painful is when I hear about our brothers and sisters being brutally dragged out of their homes by our own 'protective' armed forces, our own sons. What happened to the pride of developing our land, when being a settler was something we longed for, not something to detest? It is bad enough that it is against G-d's Will to remove anyone from their dwellings in this Land, but to do so in the middle of the night without warning and with such venom? It happened in Gush Katif and now it is happening at other outposts. Where is our humanity? Where is our sense of compassion, if nothing else? We treat our enemies with more respect. We have totally lost our perspective.

We each have to take responsibility for the improper actions of the few because we are all one. It is not 'him' or 'her' or 'them', it is US! Since everything that happens is for a reason, we must look within ourselves and find something to change, something to improve. Like a spoken word, the damage caused by hurtful conduct is next to impossible to repair, but we have to try. A smile, a kind comment, a helpful deed - there are so many redeeming ways to erase the darkness.

We must stop this cycle of madness. If our enemies choose to act like barbarians they will simply self-destruct. Do we want to be on that level? They would probably like nothing better than to witness a civil war within Israel. But that is not the endgame of the Jewish People. Our purpose is to be a source of G-dliness, a Light unto the Nations. Through love and unity we can surely accomplish that goal. Once we master that tenuous and challenging task, HaShem will gladly be our strength and our shield, as He has been always.

As we say in our morning prayers, “Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name….may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation”.  Please, may it be soon. Amen.


Friday, September 9, 2011

David's Shield - A Call for Unity




from Breslev.co.il

(This article first appeared on Breslev.co.il)

If you are a Jewish male, you either wear a kippa (yarmulke, skull cap) or you don’t. If you do wear a kippa, it may be crocheted, suede, colorful or just plain black or white. Or maybe you just wear one for that special occasion; your son’s Bar Mitzvah or your nephew’s Brit Mila (circumcision), or possibly not at all. If you’re a married Jewish woman, you either cover your head or you don’t. It may be that you wear a hat, a headscarf, a ‘sheitle’ (wig), or a ‘snood’ but it could be that you only cover your head when going to ‘shul’ (synagogue) or maybe not at all. Your head coverings and clothing styles may classify you by what you have taken upon yourself, and the path you have chosen, but by definition, we are all Jews. Whether Chassidic, Charedi, National Religious or non-observant, we are all one big family.  And like any family, it requires a lot of tolerance, understanding and emuna to keep peace in the home. If we want HaShem’s blessings and protection, we must make peace amongst ourselves a top priority.

The Jewish People is somewhat like mushroom, bean and barley soup. All the ingredients are very unique, special and necessary. Together they incorporate the proper flavor, texture and nutrients, maximizing the end result. Without each and every item, it just wouldn’t be mushroom, bean and barley soup. Similarly, without every element of the Jewish People, we would not be able to complete the task at hand, that of being a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Everyone, despite their background or present level, has something invaluable to contribute. It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to look for the good in others and appreciate our differences.
 
Regardless of one’s religious or political affiliations, there is one sign which is universally accepted as a Jewish symbol ~ the Magen David, Star (or Shield) of David. Jews the world over, wear this emblem on a chain close to their hearts.  As well, many Jewish items proudly display this logo of old. On the surface, this symbol is simply a representation of the shield that King David used in battle. But when one delves deeper into its significance, the results are very profound.
 
The Magen David is made up of two triangles, one over the other with six points. If one compares these conjoined triangles to the Jewish People, it illustrates how we are melded together as one, yet with each sector maintaining its own ‘point’. Our views and interpretations may extend in different directions, but the center, The Torah, is where we unite. The Star of David is representative of the number seven by counting 6 points plus the center. The number seven is very important in Judaism, one central reason being the commandment to observe the Sabbath (Shabbat): six days of Creation followed by the seventh day of rest.
 
The Magen David is often blue in color, as on the Israeli Flag. While the blue of the flag was chosen by man, blue is essential to the Biblical directive for the tzitzit (fringes) that men wear, one thread of each corner to be dipped into the extraordinary and rare blue techelet dye. “And they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of techelet.  And you shall look upon it and remember all of the commandments of Hashem and you shall do them," (Bamidbar 15:38, 39). As well, the design of the Israeli flag with two blue stripes on either side of the star was inspired by the “Tallit” (prayer shawl) which Jewish men of all persuasions wear during prayer. And when the time comes, in preparation for burial, this same Tallit, if it fits the specifications, may be used to wrap his purified body.
 
G-d Himself has been referred to as David’s Shield as seen from the Blessings of the Haftarah recited on Shabbat and Festivals ‘Blessed are You, HaShem, Shield of David’. When HaShem shielded David in battle and during his flight from Saul, King David was inspired to write these verses of Tehillim (Psalms) Thou hast also given me Thy shield of salvation’ (18:36) and “He is a shield unto all them that take refuge in Him” (18:31)  
 
It is no coincidence that the connection between our People and David’s Shield, the Star of David, is one of vast proportions. It is through David HaMelech’s progeny that Moshiach will arise and save us. Today, when the need for G-d’s protection and salvation is immeasurable, we must unite together in a mosaic of sweet harmony. As Rebbe Nachman, of blessed memory, said, “Every single Jew has in him a portion of God above” (Likutei Moharan 35:1). If we can just put our differences aside and gather all those sparks of holiness, the results will be astounding!
 
We each believe our way is the right way, which is acceptable as long as our goals are for the sake of Heaven. But if each one of us will commit to reaching out to someone with a differing view, and internalize that we are all brothers and sisters, we will merit altering the universe. In the end, when Moshiach comes to redeem us, he will bring with him all the answers we so desperately crave and we will finally unify in a world of Peace, Truth and HaShem’s Eternal Light. G-d willing, may it be soon in our days, amen!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Mouse in the House


There must be some spiritual reason I have yet to understand to explain why the strangest things happen to our family on Shabbat (the Sabbath). One instance I’m referring to is unwelcome intruders from nature. There is no doubt that the fact we live in a ground floor apartment with direct access to grass, trees and bushes facilitates their entry, but why do they always seek our attention on the holiest day of the week? Specifically when we are not allowed to capture or kill bugs or any living creature, they honor us with their presence. I can only attribute it to being a test from HaShem (G-d).  

The knowledge that everything is for a reason became apparent Friday night two weeks ago when our daughter came home long after I had fallen asleep. Like most mothers who have some kind of built-in antennae when it comes to their children, I awoke when she arrived. Had I not gotten up to check on things soon thereafter, no one would have seen the humongous tarantula racing across the bathroom floor. I reflexively let out a shriek which launched my husband and daughter quickly from their beds. Thank G-d, the striped, furry creature crawled onto our washing machine which was less than a meter from the side door. A few strategic sweeps and several tense moments later, the arachnid was back in his own habitat. Instead of complaining that my sleep had been interrupted, I was able to sincerely thank HaShem for the disturbance.

The following week I was looking forward to a rejuvenating, early Shabbat sleep once again, but it was delayed as one of our sons spotted an unusual visitor in the living room. “Mom, there’s a mouse!” was all I needed to hear to get me to spring into action. The tiny grey mammal ran here and there until he scurried down the hall to the boys’ room. Instead of screaming and jumping onto a chair to evade the critter, I tried to get a closer look at him. He was actually quite cute. If rodents didn’t spread disease and leave droppings everywhere, I would have even invited him to stay awhile, but sadly it was the mouse which seemed distressed. He explored every possible exit route and found a dead end at each corner, all the while trying to avoid the ‘giants’ in the room. We wanted him out and he wanted out, but how? Finally, our son brought in a box to use but we were unsuccessful in luring him inside. It wasn’t until he escaped into a small bathroom that we were able to shut the door with the mouse and our son inside. Before long, our son came out proudly holding the box rattling with its live contents. He quickly rushed outside to release the frightened little mouse back into the wild.                   

Since each occurrence in our lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant or minute, has a purpose, I tried to think of what HaShem was trying to teach me with yet another Friday night Shabbat incident. I read that Rav Chaim Kanievsky, may he be blessed, instructed with regards to getting rid of mice, one must be stringent in giving maaser money (tithe – 10% of one’s earnings) to the poor. This was a valuable lesson, but we already got rid of the mouse so it didn’t really apply here. Also, the quandary involved not only a mouse, but all pint-sized creations which enter our home in error. While trying to decipher Divinely sent messages, I try to draw on my intuition but I realize we can never discount anything. Occasionally my perception is crystal clear and at other times, it’s as clear as mud.

In this case, several thoughts came to mind, but one which flashed in my head like a neon sign had significance for others as well. Both the tarantula and the mouse could slip through any teeny opening but the message they brought was larger than life. When they first crossed the threshold between their world and ours, they were filled with fear. Both were out of their element despite the fact that they could have certainly built their homes within ours. Had we left them alone, they may have easily created a comfortable living area, setting up an unobtrusive corner somewhere and live it up so to speak. Over time, there would have been families of both species creating generations of mice and tarantulas under our roof. Soon they would lose sight of where they came from and how they got there. Both should have been burrowing down in their natural dwelling places out in the field but somehow lost their way. For reasons known to G-d alone, they were sent into ‘exile’, to foreign territory just like all of our people who are scattered to the ‘four corners’ of the earth. Baruch HaShem, (thank G-d) humans are on a higher level than the rodents and spiders. Man does not act on instinct alone but through freedom of choice. Man can choose to make his home anywhere he desires, so doesn’t it make sense to live amongst his own people, in the land G-d gave to us?

Yes, it is a difficult decision to leave the comfortable corner we have set up for ourselves in someone else’s house, but it CAN be done. To quote from Sichot HaRan #11 (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom) “The Rebbe said he had great joy of being worthy to have been in the Land of Israel. He endured many obstacles, doubts, delays and disturbances in order to make his journey to the Land of Israel. Money was also an obstacle. But he overcame everything and finished the job completely—he made it to the Land of Israel!

He said, “I believe—and I know a lot about this subject—.every motion, every thought, everything that one does attempting to do something holy is not wasted. When one breaks through all the obstacles and achieves his holy goal, his every move and all the uncertainties and confusion that he faced when he was still in the throes of doubt and bewilderment—‘Can I do this or not?’—with hurdles facing him at every turn; when one finally overcomes them, those very obstacles, doubts, etc., every last one of them, are all made into exalted and sacred things, marked for good.”  (from Ask A Breslover, by Ozer Bergman)

The first week after we made aliya to Israel, our daughter got terribly sick with what turned out to be a common case of strep throat. A friend told me that everything in the Land is bigger and much more intense; the illnesses, the bugs, the plants, the weather but also the Kedusha (holiness). I found that to be true as I have witnessed extremes in all areas of life since coming ‘Home’.  I have never seen such weird and gigantic insects nor as beautiful and unique birds as I have here. I can also report that nowhere in the world are the miracles as huge, frequent and obvious…. at least to anyone who chooses to see them. One phenomenon that is actually reduced in Israel is fear. With a strengthening of our emuna and a complete reliance on HaShem, Israel becomes the safest place in the world. As Rabbi Lazer Brody says “When you fear One, you fear no one”.  

So don’t be stuck like a mouse in the house. Just as mice and tarantulas don’t belong in our homes, the Jewish people don’t belong in any other land but Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. There’s no time like the present to cross back over the threshold. Your family is waiting to welcome you home!