Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bottom of the 9th


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 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
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.