Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unbreakable

In this week's parsha, Shemos, we read about the burning bush. "The bush was on fire but the bush was not being consumed."

What is the meaning of this symbolism? What can we take from this to help us in our lives?

For the Jewish people in Egypt, the bondage had reached an all time low. Pharaoh inflicted with a skin ailment, was told by his doctors that to cure it, he needs to bathe in the blood of Jewish children. This was the blow that broke the Jewish people.

Until this point there was the hope, the understanding that as difficult as things are, there is a purpose to the suffering and soon will be an end to the bondage. But with their children being murdered, all hope of a future is gone.

Yet the Jewish people did not despair, when they had nothing left they remembered that a Jew always has Hashem and they cried out to Hashem with all their hearts. Hashem then heard their cries.

This is when Hashem shows Moshe the burning bush and this is the start of the redemption.

The bush burns but it is not consumed. This is the Jewish people. When there seems to be no fuel left we remember that we have Hashem and burn bright and strong and we are not consumed. This is what kick starts our redemption.

At times, life is so difficult, we can see no hope, but there is no reason to despair, rather it is time to shine brighter than ever and cry out to Hashem from a place far deeper than what we ever imagined, from the inner fire that can never be extinguished. And then Hashem gives us true redemption.

I am amazed every day by my wife Dina, I don't know what keeps her going. The struggle to take care of the family and being there for me. It used to be burning the wick at both ends, but now there is no more fuse. I always wonder how she does it, but now I think she is the real thing, a Jewish mother, unbreakable and with an open connection to Hashem.

I think we have already suffered enough, Hashem please send Moshiach.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rise Above It

In this week's parsha, Vayechi, Yosef bound his brothers with an oath, that when Hashem "raises you out of this," meaning, takes their descendants out of Egypt, they will take his bones, to be buried in Israel. The Torah then ends the book of Bereishis, Genesis, with this verse: "And Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten years, and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt."

Why was it the responsibility of all the children of Israel to take Yosef's bones, why not only his own children? Why is Yosef focused on at the end of the parsha? When the Torah chooses to finish a book with a verse, there is a significant message in that verse. What message is there for us in this verse?

The Jewish people are about to begin a most difficult and horrific exile in Egypt. Hashem gives them the psychological tools necessary to deal with it. These are lessons for all future exiles, including the present one.

First, we need to know that there is an end and a purpose to this galus, exile, Hashem will not only take us out of galus, but he will "raise us out of this." We will be raised to a higher level, we will see and enjoy the fruits of all the work, toil and suffering. Knowing this will help us overcome the difficulties of galus.

Second, we need to be like Yosef. Yosef becomes the ruler of Egypt. He rises above and rules galus even during the time of galus. We too, like Yosef, can rise above and rule our present galus. Like Yosef we are in it, but it doesn't rule us.

Third, Yosef stays with us until we leave galus. This is to be a reminder and strengthen us to rise above. Every Jew was obligated to carry Yosef, when things are difficult, think of Yosef, realize that you to can be like him and overcome and rise above any challenges that come our way.

It seems my family and I were chosen to endure open and difficult challenges, which we struggle with every day. It is hard to rise above, but there is nothing more gratifying then overcoming a challenge. Even though the challenge still exists, and the hardships endure, we try to find ways to rise above them. How enjoyable is it that I can make another Jew happy and I am grateful to Hashem that even in my present state I have found ways to do it.

Still, this galus has dragged on long enough, may Hashem remove the suffering and challenges and give us revealed good now.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Anguish Yes, Fear No

In this week's parsha, Vayigash, we read of the descent of the Jewish people into their first exile, Egypt. As they are about to exit the Holy Land, Hashem tells Yaakov, "don't  be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."

Rashi explains that Yaakov was "anguished over leaving the Holy Land."  How could I lead my family away from the best place for them to become a nation, the place most conducive to be a Jew and to be close to Hashem? How will we become Hashem's nation in a dark and distant exile?

Hashem tells him "don't be afraid to go down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there. I am going down to Egypt with you..."

While Hashem allays his fears about going down to Egypt, He does not even mention Yaakov's anguish over leaving Israel. Why not? Since this is Hashem's message to Yaakov as he goes down to the first Jewish exile, there must be  lessons here for every Jew on how to deal with the exile. What are those lessons?

Being in exile, one may feel that it is a lost cause trying to make a difference in a Jewish way. Hashem is telling us that the opposite is actually the case. The fact that Hashem puts us in a predicament, means that this situation is most conducive to accomplish our mission, it is here where we will be most effective and most successful.

The key is not to be afraid of the situation, don't be afraid of the exile, embrace it and find how to use your predicament to effect even greater change.

This is what Hashem tells Yaakov " don't be afraid of going down to Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation THERE." Why shouldn't you be afraid? Why will you succeed? Because Hashem is going down with you.

Now, if we succeed, there is the possibility to become comfortable and lose focus of our purpose. This is why Hashem doesn't mention Yaakov's anguish, because it is his anguish that will keep him focused on his essential purpose and bond with Hashem. This anguish is the force behind our success.

Sometimes I feel, that if only Hashem would speak to me, as he did to Yaakov, it would be so much easier to deal with the pain and suffering. But then I remind myself, that everything in Torah is Hashem talking to me. It is not easy to see it that way, but it is true. It takes effort and thought, again, it is not easy, but if you can put this in focus, you will find comfort in knowing that Hashem is talking to you and He is always with you, you are Yaakov.

So we need both, first, not to be afraid and second, the anguish. We need to realize that although we can succeed greatly in exile, it is not our place. We must cry out to Hashem that He send Moshiach and bring the exile to an end. May it happen soon.
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I want to thank my wife Dina, for her help writing this article.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

We Are Maccabees Too

In this week's parsha, Mikeitz, Yosef has two children, Menasheh and Efrayim. These names have meaning, Menasheh, "Hashem made me forget all my hardships and all my father's home." Efrayim, "Hashem made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."

Being in Egypt, Yosef was aware that he was put there to effect Egypt in a positive and G-dly way. But at the same time he needed to insure that he would not lose his Jewish identity, which is a possible effect when mingling in a foreign culture.

The names of his sons addressed these sentiments. Efrayim, to be fruitful in the land of my suffering, which is involving himself and effecting Egypt. Menasheh, is connected to his past, although he talks about forgetting, he is referring to the anguish he suffered, not the Jewish way of life and the Torah he learned, those he wanted to remember.

What lesson can we take from Yosef? Why did Minasheh come first? How does this connect to Chanuka?

Yosef sets the standard for all Jews at all times. We are Yosef! We are meant to effect the world around us, by participating and influencing our surroundings with Torah values. It is obvious that this is true, because Hashem put us here in a physical world.

The problem is that the world and its cultures are enticing, especially when we find success. This is why Menasheh comes first. In order to to be effective and not be swept away, we must constantly develop and strengthen our essential bond and foundation in Judaism. This needs to come first, if we want to be effective in our mission to change the world in a positive way.

In the story of Chanuka, many if not most of the Jewish people succumbed to the licentious lifestyle of the Greeks. They lost their way, and sense of moral superiority, their connection to Torah and holiness. The Maccabees, outnumbered and weak, saved the day and saved Judaism. Not because they were great warriors, but because they were true to Hashem and His Torah, and when your on Hashem's side you never loose.

Today, we find ourselves, again in a world of confusion and lies, the worlds culture is antisemitic and anti-Israel. As we witness the collapse of any semblance of decency, morality and truth. At this time we must strengthen our essential Jewish foundation. We must, like the Maccabees, stand strong for what we know to be the truth and the highest standard of living, the Torah way.

May the light of Chanuka light up the world and may we soon dedicate our Holy Temple again.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Seeing Things from Hashem's Paradigm

In this week's parsha, Vayeishev,  we read about Yosef. Despised by his brothers, sold into slavery, and thrown into jail on false charges. An orphan, alone, in a foreign land. Yet you don't get the feeling that Yosef was depressed or down at all. He seems positive, able to rise above and succeed in every situation.

How is Yosef able to stay positive? How can we be like Yosef and stay positive?

There are several approaches one can take when knocked down with challenges. You can become a life long victim, the "woe is to me" mentality. This type of existence is a miserable one. Than there is the guy who can get up after being knocked down. Although this sounds admirable, it can be exhausting, and it is very difficult.

Then there is the "Yosef" approach. Yosef's paradigm was the key to his positive outlook. Yosef saw himself as part of Hashem's plan, he saw every situation as part of the plan. When you perceive the world from this perspective, every "so called" challenge, knock down, etc., is nothing more than part of the plan and therefore positive. You are therefore never knocked down to begin with.

Our perspective is the key to our happiness. When we only see ourselves, we are stuck with the difficulty of being knocked down, the pain, the hurt, the anguish, the suffering, etc.

However, when you see everything as part of Hashem's plan, every situation is seen as an opportunity. The crazier/stranger the situation, the more meaning could be found in it. Instead of being knocked down, you are uplifted.

It is not easy to get past ourselves, but by doing so, we can see things from Yosef's perspective. By seeing it all as part of Hashem's plan, we can overcome life's challenges.

I have so much faith in our ability to be like Yosef, and always know our challenges to be purposeful. To be able to lead with wisdom and grace. Yet we have too many challenges and we have seen too much pain. It is time for Hashem to let us all know how well we have done, and bring Moshiach now.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Yaakov or Yisrael

In this week's parsha, Vayishlach, we read how Yaakov fights with an angel and wins. The angel tells him, that he will be also called Yisrael, "because you struggled with Hashem('s angel) and with men, and prevailed." Later in our parsha, Hashem tells Yaakov that his name will now be Yisrael. He goes on to be called by both names, sometimes Yisrael and other times Yaakov.

These are the names we are called by, Bnei Yisrael, the Children of Israel and Bais Yaakov, the House of Jacob.

What is the significance of these names? Why keep both names, if Yisrael is so special, why keep Yaakov?

As Jews we have a constant inner struggle. On one hand, there is being a part of this physical world, with all the hardships and pleasures that go with it. On the other, there is our ability to rise above it all and be one with Hashem.

Our name Yaakov, which means heel, is the part of us that deals with this world. Yaakov also means to trick, being clever, because it is our mission to transform this world into a G-dly place. Since this world is a world of lies and corruption, we must be clever not to be taken by it's allure.

Yisrael is our ability to rise above it all. Above both physical and spiritual realms, which are both creations, and connect with our essence, our Neshama, which is actually a part of Hashem, and not subject to the deceit of creation.

While Yisrael sounds nice, it doesn't effect the change we are meant to accomplish in the world. Yet it is necessary for us to go there from time to time, to rejuvenate and remind ourselves of our purpose. Yaakov is the part of us that transform this world, which can only be done by taking part in it.

On a personal level, our lives are full of pain and struggles. It is there that we accomplish our primary purpose. Our struggles have meaning, our suffering is accomplishing amazing things. It is hard to see it this way. That is when we need to connect with Hashem, rise above and rejuvenate. From time to time we need to let go and allow Hashem to take over.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our Suffering Has Meaning

In this week's Parsha, Vayeitzei, we read about Yaakov's life in Charan. Fraught with difficulty, living in Lavan's environment. Lavan, a corrupt, lying, cheating fiend, tried to swindle Yaakov in every which way. Yet through it all, Yaakov succeeds in building a beautiful family, and amassing great wealth. 

This seems to be the theme of the parsha. 

Why is it important to tell us all these details, a whole parsha of Yaakov's difficulties, and victories? 

The parsha starts with Yaakov's dream, where he saw a ladder whose base was on earth and its top was in heaven. How does this dream connect with the rest of the parsha? 

What are we meant to take from this parsha for our personal lives and as a people? 

We are Yaakov, Yaakov's leaving to Charan is us going into exile. Many lessons are to be taken to deal with our nations struggles, and our personal suffering. 

To accomplish great things is fraught with difficulties. Yaakov starting the Jewish nation is challenged with suffering, but he knows that these difficulties are the motions necessary to accomplish the purpose at hand. Ultimately he succeeds and returns to the land of Israel with a beautiful family and great wealth. His suffering is not for naught, rather it is the foundation of his greatest accomplishments. 

All this is symbolized in Yaakov's dream. The ladder is standing on the ground, symbolizing the physical world with all the difficulties and suffering. Its top reaches heaven, symbolizing that our interaction with the physical world can be holy and reach the heaven. The suffering and difficulties we endure are accomplishing amazing things, and in the end, when Moshiach comes we see the fruits of our labor. Even more, we create the ladder that connects heaven and earth, fusing the two. This fusion is the essential purpose of creation, it is the Jewish mission, making this world a dwelling for Hashem. 

I'm not sure why, but this fusion is accomplished through our suffering. I think we have suffered enough. Let Moshiach come. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wild Child

In this week's parsha, Toldos, we read about the twins, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov being the wholesome studious one while Esav was a "wild child."

Yaakov our forefather was holy, so it makes sense that the Torah tells us all about him, but why tell us so much about Esav?

When it came time for Yitzchak to give his blessings, we find that he wanted to give them to Esav. It was only when Yaakov dressed as Esav, that he was able to receive the blessings. Why did he want to give the blessings to Esav?

We must conclude, that Yitzchak saw something in Esav's nature that was positive and if harnessed can do amazing things. What did he see in Esav?

Yitzchak knew that the purpose of Judaism is to transform this coarse physical world into a holy place. Yitzchak felt that though Yaakov was studious, he lacked the strength and the chutzpa necessary to take on the physical world. Esav surely did have strength and chutzpa, what he lacked was the holiness and will to do Hashem's bidding. Yitzchak was hoping to change that by giving him the blessings. When Yaakov came dressed in Esav's clothing, Yitzchak realized that Yaakov did indeed have what it takes and was happy to give him the blessings.

Some of us have a Yaakov-like disposition, some of us have a "wild child" nature. While being the wholesome studious one is special, the strong chutzpa type can accomplish amazing things if his/her energy is harnessed and directed to fulfill Hashem's will. This attitude is needed especially now when we are fighting with a dark physical exile.

We need both and Yaakov was both. He was Yaakov regularly and Esav when he had to be. This is why both are spoken about, because we also need to know the qualities of Esav if we are going to harness his nature to change this world.

Both types are a source of pride to Hashem. Although I would venture to say that conquering and directing a "wild child" nature is an even greater accomplishment and gives Hashem great joy.

The main thing is that you don't look at your nature as an obstacle, but rather, as blessing and opportunity to make a difference. Whether Yaakov or wild child, you have a lot to contribute, you can change the world into Hashem's home. Now go make a difference.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Only Your Attitude Matters

In this week's Parsha, Chayei Sarah, we read how Avraham purchased the Mearas Hamachpela, the double cave where Adam and Chava (Eve), Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Yaacov and Leah are buried. He purchased the Mearas Hamachpela and the field it is in, which is in our Holy City Hebron.

He starts his request to the Hittites for the burial property, "I am a foreigner and a resident among you." Avraham goes on to purchase the property for 400 silver Shekels.

Why does Avraham say that he is a foreigner and a resident? What lesson can we take from Avraham's attitude?

Rashi sites the Midrash explaining Avraham's words: "If you like, I'm a stranger, if not I will soon be a resident and take it legally, since Hashem said to me, 'I will give this land to your progeny.' " Hearing Avraham's sure attitude, the Hittites respected him and offered him the land.

Avraham knew who he was, he never flinched, knowing that Hashem was with him. He made his case, sell it to me or lose your right to control the land.

Sometimes we forget who we are, what is rightfully ours and who our only true ally is.

Who are you? You are a Jew, chosen to share Hashem's truth with the world. We are respected as "the" people of the book. When we teach truth the world listens. What is rightfully ours?  The Torah, the whole land of Israel, and soon all the land until the Euphrates, which was promised to Avraham. Our only true ally is Hashem, and when we put our trust in Him, instead of the false promises of those who ultimately do what is their best interest, we succeed and the world respects us. It is a mistake to play by the world's rules, when our Torah laws are far superior, more meaningful and considerate.

Don't be afraid to be who you are, you will be respected by your neighbors and those you come in contact with. It is time to turn to Hashem as you come to realize, that He alone can be trusted.

Whether you see yourself as a stranger or a resident makes no difference, only your attitude matters. When you are sure of yourself because you have Hashem and His Torah, the Hittites of the world respect and follow our lead.

May we soon merit the coming of Moshiach, who will lead us all to our Holy Land and rebuild our Holy Temple, on our Temple Mountain. The whole world will be transformed and see the truth we always had.

Until that day, may our brothers and sisters who live in the holy city of Chevron be safe. May Hashem bless them and reward them for their self sacrifice. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We Are A Miracle

In this week's Parsha, Vayera, we find words that, for me, are a source of Simcha, Emuna and Bitachon (joy, belief and trust in Hashem). "And Hashem remembered Sarah as He had said, and Hashem did for Sarah as He had spoken. And Sarah conceived, and bore Avraham a son in his old age, at the appointed time of which Hashem had spoken."

Why do these verses give me so much strength? How do they fill me with Simcha, Emuna and Bitachon?

For starters, we are not supposed to be here, our entire existence is a miracle. These verses express how Avraham and Sarah are blessed with a baby, though both were unable to have children. On top of that, he was 100, she was 90,  far passed the age of childbirth. Hashem gave Sarah youth and opened her womb to conceive, to Avraham he gave the ability to sire children. The birth of Yitzchok, our forefather, is only by miracle.

I could only imagine Sarah's joy when she recognized that she was pregnant after all this time, her anticipation to giving birth and finally, holding her baby in her arms. Just the thought fills me with joy.

Hashem promised Avraham that he would have children. Then he told them when. At the precise moment, Hashem gave them Yitzchok from whom we all descend.

In Hashem we can trust, in Hashem we can believe. Hashem does miracles, He makes promises and does what He says. One can never lose hope, because Hashem can and will do miracles for you, just as He did for Avraham and Sarah.

He will also keep His promise, to send Moshiach and take us out of this long and dark exile. The time has come.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Experience The Connection

This week's Parsha, Lech Lecha, starts when Avram is 75 years old. Hashem tells him his first command, to go to a land that He will show him.

Why doesn't the Torah tell us about his early life, how he recognized his creator, how he came to understand that Hashem is is the one true G-d and the sacrifices he made, standing up for his belief in Hashem? Why doesn't the Torah tell us about the kind of person he was, as it does by Noach, "Noach was a righteous man...?" What lesson is the Torah trying to impress on us by starting the story of Avram with a command?

Avram was the first Jew. His life is a lesson on what being a Jew is all about. The Torah only shares stories of Avram that provide a lesson for us, on how to be a Jew.

By opening with Hashem's first command to Avram, Hashem is sending us a message. That the connection between Hashem and a Jew is not based on ones understanding of Hashem, so that the greater the understanding the greater the connection. Rather our connection is because he chose us regardless of our philosophical or theological understanding. Our connection is greater than any understanding, it is an intrinsic connection with Hashem, because he chose us, like he chose Avram.

By not describing Avram's character, Hashem stresses this point. That a Jew is always connected, regardless of his or her spiritual state.

Also, opening with a command, tells us that our purpose is, first and foremost, to do Hashem's commandments. The way we experience this connection is by doing Mitzvas.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that you need to reach some spiritual level to start doing Mitzvas. The opposite is true, by doing Mitzvas you experience the infinite connection that is always there.

This week many are experiencing this connection by the Great Challah Bake, where thousands of Jewish women are getting together to do the Mitzva of Challah and by a global Shabbat, Jews all over the world are uniting to keep Shabbos. If you can take part, wonderful, if not find a mitzva that you can do regularly and if you are already keeping the Mitzvas, find a way to do them better.

Have a beautiful Shabbos and may it truly be a unifying one.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Do You See?

In this week's Parsha, Noach, we read that Noach planted a vineyard, made wine, got drunk and uncovered himself in his tent. His son Cham "saw his nakedness," and told his brothers Shem and Yafes. They, walking backwards, covered their father, "and they did not see their father's nakedness."

What was the difference between Cham and his brothers? What lesson can we take from Shem and Yafes about how we should see others?

When a friend has a downfall, when he has a moral failing, what do you see?

Some are like Cham, all they see is the "nakedness," the negative. All their friend's positivity is lost to them, they could only see him for his failing.

To this person, the Baal Shem Tov says, that if you see a negative trait in a friend, it is because you have that very same negative trait. Since he has it, he sees it in others and he needs to correct his own failing.

Others are like Shem and Yafes. They see their friend as the good person he always was. They don't see their friend's "Nakedness," they refuse to define him by his failing. His failing needs to be corrected, but he himself is good.

Because he sees his friend as good, he is in position to help his friend correct his ways.

Seeing good in people is a positive trait. Seeing positive in people uplifts them and uplifts you.

We all need friendship to keep us going and to strengthen our moral self. Be a good friend, be an uplifting friend. Uplift a friend and you will positively effect his circle of influence and so on. This is one of the ways, Ahavas Yisroel, loving your fellow Jew, uplifts the world and brings Moshiach.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Standing Up To The Snake

In this week's Parsha, Berashis, we read of the cunning deceit of the snake. Playing on Chava's nature, to get both Adam and Chava to go against Hashem's will.

It seems that this is the beginning of all of humanity's troubles. It is also replayed over and over again in every generation. The cunning, deceive the world to go against truth and decency, to go against Hashem.

Why is this the first story of humanity? What lesson can we take from this for ourselves and for our time?

This story is our personal daily struggle with the the snake, the evil inclination. Every day, he cunningly plays on our weaknesses, only to create distance between us and Hashem.

This story is first because this is our essential struggle. 

Every time we overcome his cunning, we are drawn closer to Hashem and Hashem is filled with pride. His truth wins the moment, false deception trumped.

The nature of man is to follow his pleasures and his perceived best interest, regardless of what is right and true. The same is true for the nations of the world. In their hatred of the Jewish people, they choose to deceive themselves, allowing/supporting the snakes that that seek to annihilate us.

Now we are being tested, as even those that "claimed" to be our friends, end up being snakes. Our brothers and sisters in Israel are being murdered, and the world is supporting the murderers. Now that we have played by the worlds dishonest rules and failed, perhaps it is time to do what Hashem wants and do what is right in His eyes.

We are good, right, smart, kind and decent, we have nothing to prove. All that is necessary is courage. Courage to do what is right.

May Hashem protect us, and our brothers and sisters in the holy land. May the leadership in Israel have the courage to do what Hashem wants despite the pressure of the world. Hashem is with you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be A Mentch

The last parsha of the Torah, V'Zos Habracha, we read of Moshe's passing and how the Jewish men  mourned his passing for thirty days. "And the Bnei Yisroel, sons of Israel wept." In contrast, by Aaron's passing, both men and women "all the House of Israel" wept. Why was Aaron mourned by all?  Because he brought peace amongst friends and between husband and wife.

If peace is so special, why didn't Moshe involve himself in peace making as well? Didn't he himself teach that it is acceptable to twist the truth to make peace.

Moshe is the transmitter of Hashem's word, the Torah, the truth. While peace is created by bending the truth, truth is unwielding, it doesn't take feelings in to account.

Moshe's main purpose was to accurately teach Hashem's Torah, he had to be a beacon of unwielding truth. This precluded him from truth bending, even with the best of intentions.

This is also why, sometimes, Torah discussions and debates could sound harsh and tactless. Because it about truth, which just is.

It is the truth of Torah that makes us who we are. It is because of our commitment to the truth that Hashem chose us.

What takes precedence, truth or peace?

When it comes to Torah study be like Moshe, truth over peace. When counseling people be like Aaron, peace over truth.

Ultimately, truth is essential to our existence, while peace is a tool employed by our Torah of truth. Start with truth and pursue peace when it is called for.

Don't be a hard-nosed, tactless person, be a mentch. A mentch knows when to be like Moshe and when to be like Aaron. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Are You a Hammer or a Nail?

What is the value of another Jew?

Sukkos is a time of unity, comradery, and brotherly love. We sit together in the Sukkah, we dance together every night at Simchas Beis Hashoeva and with the Torah on Simchas Torah, we eat delicious food and sing songs. We of course daven together and bring together the Arba Minim, the Four Kinds, the Lulav, Esrog, Haddasim and Aravot.

The taking together of the Arba Minim is a biblical commandment "And you should take for yourselves, a beautiful fruit of the tree (Esrog), a date palm frond (Lulav), a sprig that has a thick woody stem (Haddasim) and willows of the brook (Aravos)."

Our sages have attributed symbolism to this Mitzvah, specifically with regards to unity of the Jewish people.

Torah knowledge is the flavor of Judaism and doing Mitzvahs is the fragrance. As far as fragrance and flavor is concerned, there are four Kinds of Jews.

First there is the Lulav. An unopen date palm frond, leaves united together, straight and tall. The dates that grow on the date palm are flavorful but do not have a distinct smell. This is the one we say the blessing on "Al Netilas Lulav." It symbolizes our Torah scholars, who's main occupation is studying Torah, the flavor of Judaism, just as dates have flavor. True, they too, do many Mitzvahs, but their main involvement is in Torah study, and are recognized for that. Tall beacons of light we look to for guidance and leadership.

The Esrog. A citron, pretty, fragrant and flavorful. The Esrog stays on the tree year round, uniting the seasons. This symbolizes the very well rounded Jew who studies Torah regularly and fulfills Mitzvahs with joy and love.

Haddasim. Myrtles, who's stem is woody and thick and who's leaves smell so good. Its leaves are clustered in united groups of three, with the top of the leaves of the bottom cluster covering the bottom of the leaves of the higher cluster. Haddasim are symbolic of those of us who love doing Mitzvahs and strengthen all the Jews around them, with their Mitzvahs and kindness. They learn Torah as well, but much less, they are busy "doing."

Aravos. Willows of the brook, commonly have redish stems, with clusters of two leaves up its stems. They grow bunched together, united and in abundance. They have neither taste nor distinct smell. Aravos are symbolic of those of us who's involvement in Torah and Mitzvahs are minimal.

Which of these Four Kinds is most important? Seems to be the Lulav, symbolic of Torah scholars. If the Lulav is the top tier, why does the verse mention it second, after the Esrog?

Would you rather be a hammer or a nail?

On one hand, a nail is useless with out a hammer. However, together they build something sturdy. With the hammer's influence, the nail is guided into its rightful place and the nail will continue to serve its purpose, long after the hammer is gone, holding the piece together.

Without the nail the hammer would be miserably locked up in its tool box, accomplishing nothing. With nails it can build many wonderful things.

In the end a hammer is useless without a nail and vice versa.

This is true for the Four Kinds. Remove any one of the four and you have only three, and they are useless, no Mitzvah can be done with three.

(Interesting note: Only Aravos have any Jewish religious use on their own. On our third most holy day, Hoshana Rabba, we use five Aravos at the culmination of the service. During the Sukkos holiday the the alter in the Temple was decorated with long Aravos.)

When the Torah speaks of the daughters of Tzelafchad, it mentions them out of order, to symbolize that they were equally great.

Same for the Four Kinds, the Torah changes the order, to teach us they are equal in value.

Same is for every Jew. Every one of us is necessary, we each have a unique part in the Jewish mission. The mission is incomplete without every Jews contribution. So the Torah scholar needs the well rounded Jew and the lay person and they all need the less observant Jew.

The value of every Jew is infinite. It is time to embrace every Jew. The Lulav, Esrog the Haddasim and especially the Aravos. When we are united we complete each other. When we are united in brotherly love, Hashem is overjoyed, our unity, to Him, is irresistible. Therefore, our unity is what will bring Moshiach. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Listen And You Will Hear

In this week's Parsha, Haazinu, there is so much depth, so much meaning. Everyone should learn it and find personal meaning. You will find, that it talks to you.

There is one verse that I keep going back to and is for me a source of strength and meaning.

The Jewish people suffering by the hands of their enemies. All their efforts putting faith in others, turns out to be false hope. Hashem says "See now, that it is I, I, and there is no deity on par with Me, I kill and I bring to life, I strike and I heal, and no one can deliver from My hand."

What about this verse gives me strength and meaning?

When I was diagnosed with ALS, there were two possible roads to travel. I could have been prey to a "why me?" attitude, fallen in to depression and been miserable. Instead, knowing that this is from Hashem, makes me think "if Hashem put me in this predicament, there must be a good reason. How could I serve His purpose from my situation? What can be done from my position now, that could not be accomplished, when I was well?"

True I can't do many of the things I once could, but with what I do have, I have found a ways to make a difference. The things I love to do most, to teach and lift others up, I'm still doing. The method changed, before I would speak, now I write (never dreamed I would become a writer). It seems that because of my predicament, the words are more effective.

The problem with "why me?" is that your focus is on "me," the ultimate false deity. To this Hashem says "See it is I" who put you here, Hashem tailor made your scenario. Therefore, find your mission and strengths specifically from your situation. You don't have to be challenge with suffering to learn this lesson, you need only be alive, because "I kill and I  bring to life," it is Hashem that chooses for you to be alive, recognizing this, is the beginning of meaning in your life. However if you are suffering, know that "I strike and I heal." Again this is from Hashem, there is purpose in your struggle that can only be realized through your struggle. Find a way to turn your pain in to positive, your struggle in to strength.

With all that said, we've struggled and suffered enough, it is time for Moshiach to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

With Togetherness

In this week's parsha, Vayelech, we have the Mitzvah of Hakhel. "Assemble the nation, the men the women, the children... In order that they hear and in order that they learn and fear Hashem..., and will be careful to do all the words of this Torah."

The Mitzvah of Hakhel happened during the Sukkos holiday following a Shmitah, Sabbatical, year. All the Jewish people would assemble. The king, standing on a podium built for the occasion, would read selections from the book of Devarim, including the Shema, for all to hear.

While most Mitzvahs are stated without the reason, here the Torah elaborates and lists the reasons. In order that they hear, learn, fear Hashem and keep the Torah.

What can we learn from the fact that the reasons are listed? What lesson can we take from here, for family life?

The Mitzvah of Hakhel was done at the Temple and lead by the king, both of which we don't have today. Do we see this Mitzvah as unobservable today?

While most Mitzvahs connected to the Temple are not done today, Hakhel is unique, that at least parts of it can. This is because the reasons for this Mitzvah are part of the Mitzvah. True we have no king, true we have no Temple, but the reasons, "in order that they listen, learn, fear and do," can still be implemented.

How is the Hakhel done today? Any time this year, gather your family or friends or community. The goal is to strengthen their feeling towards Hashem and the Torah.

The prerequisite is that you are "assembled," meaning all of you are in a state of togetherness, with brotherly love. "Togetherness" sets the mood and opens the heart to hear words of meaning and chizuk (strengthening), "in order that they hear..."

When I started to lose my ability to speak, it made me aware of the power of speech. I had to decide what is truly worth saying. Now, unable to speak, I dream of what I would tell them, if I could.

Words are powerful, when used correctly they can lift up a spirit, when abused, they can destroy.

Our children and spouses ache for our recognition and love. Especially during the holidays, when we spend so much time together. With so much to do, Mitzvahs, Davening, cooking, cleaning etc., they could be ignored, or worse mistreated, in our need to have things perfect.

You first need to see them as "most important." Don't be so religious that your family will suffer. Don't shove Yiddishkiet at them. Rather, bring them close with love and kindness.

They value your words and remember them. Your actions are equally, if not, more important. Create a loving atmosphere, focus your attention on them. Listen to what they have to share with you. They want you to know them, and to be proud of them.

When you have set a loving atmosphere, then you can tell them about how Hashem has chosen us to be His. Their ears and their hearts will be open to hear and to learn, to fear Hashem and to keep His Torah.

If I could talk, I would tell my kids how much I love them and how proud I am of them. How lucky we  are to be Hashem's children, and the Rebbe's soldiers.

I would tell them to be kind and to use their talents and gifts to serve Hashem and to lift others up.

I would tell them to smile a lot and be positive. There is nothing better than helping or making another Jew happy, even if it means taking a loss.

I would tell my daughters how pretty they look in their Yom Tov outfits. I would tell my boys to tuck their shirt in.

What would I tell my wife? Now, that is none of your business.

Consider making a Hakhel get together with your family and friends. Create an atmosphere of togetherness, speak to their hearts with love and kindness. Most important, make your spouse and children feel "most important."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Mother's Tears

Dear friends,

I wrote this letter to Dina, after a long and difficult year. She thought that I should publish it because it is a letter/dvar Torah. Perhaps other women will draw strength from it as well.

Have a happy and sweet year!
____

Dear Dina my heart of gold,

This year has been difficult, your tears didn't go unnoticed. I'm sure the tears I saw, were only the tip of the ice burg. How many were shared with your pillow, how many were written in to your blog and how many have you held back.

Who can understand the heart of a Jewish mother? It is like you have a sixth sense, only Jewish women have it. It is a closeness to Hashem, as if you can sense His sadness as well. Sometimes you sense His joy.

This is talked about in the last mishnah in Taanisץ  That on Yom Kippur, the girls would go dancing in the vineyards, just like Tu B'Av. What was special about those times? They are times of forgiveness of sins, and the girls could sense Hashem's joy, which caused them to well with joy, this caused them to go out and dance.

Now, if women can sense Hashem's joy, it would follow that they sense His sadness as well. And so you cry even more.

I think the deepest crying is for the children. I think this is why you identify so strongly with the Haftora of the second day of Rosh Hashana. Rochel is  crying for her children and there is nothing to console her. It just seems endless, with no reprieve in sight. So much work, so much selfless giving and giving, with no gain no reward.

The Haftora continues. Hashem says, you can stop crying, there is reward for your work. There is hope, the children will return to their borders. Moshiach is coming and it's your work, your tears, your love and your joy that brought him.

Your suffering is not in vain. You will see the fruits of your hard work and you will be honored. I don't know why Hashem chose us, but he did. We, like Rochel, won't give up and we won't let him down.

In this week's parsha we read the words from Moshe to Yehoshua "chazak v'ematz", be strong and courageous. Perhaps it is our bitachon, simcha and emunah that will bring an end to this dark galus.

I am with you,

Your Yosef Yitzchak

Friday, September 11, 2015

Only We Can

Rosh Hashana marks the day Adam and Chava were created, it is the birthday of humanity. The mission of mankind began 5776 years ago, on this day. Therefore it is, by definition, the New Year for humanity.

Our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov took on the mission and when Hashem took us out of Egypt, the mission became ours.

What is unique about us, that enables us to accomplish Hashem's purpose? Couldn't the angels do it?

Hashem wants that this physical world be transformed in to a place that his presence could dwell openly. He created this world unfinished and put us on it, just to transform it. We are his greatest masterpiece, we are different from all other creations. With out us the world is a fish tank, void of any meaning, with the sole purpose of being observed.

An angel is spiritual, holy ad powerful but lacks freedom of choice. The physical world is not his domain. Hashem sends angels on all kinds of missions but not being physical, precludes them from transforming the physical.

We, on the other hand, are a fusion of soul and body. We have a physical body that is drawn to earthly pleasures and a Neshama, G-dly soul, which is drawn to everything G-dly and holy. While our body is part of the world, the Neshama, being a part of Hashem, trancends all physical and spiritual realms. Being part of Hashem it has the creative ability to transform this unfinished world.

Every time we do a Mitzvah we infuse the physical object/s used in performance of the  Mitzvah with holiness. Every time you say words of Torah or prayer, you are transforming the place, infusing it with holiness. When you do every day things with the intention to serve Hashem, for example, if you work to support your family, so that you can bring them up in the ways of our Torah. Everything connected to your work becomes infused with holiness. Every aspect of life becomes a holy endeavor.

With time the world is transformed in to a dwelling fit for Hashem. At that time our work finishing creation will be done and Moshiach will come.

May he come soon.

_____

About the Year 5776

The year 5776 is the longest possible year. It is a leap year, which adds 30 days. The months of Cheshvon and Kislev are the only months that can have either 29 or 30 days, this year they both have 30. Making this year 385 days.

5776 is a Hakhel year. The year following a sabbatical year, all Jews, men, women and children would gather at the Temple in Jerusalem. The king would read from the Torah, for all to hear. It is a custom, to make get-togethers during this year, at which every one participates in Torah (this can be done by having  one person say a Torah teaching, while participants listen), Avoda, prayer, an Gemilas Chasadim, charity. Strengthening the bonds between Jews and our commitment to Hashem. Consider hosting a Hakhel party/gathering at your home or arranging a large Hakhel event for the whole community.

May you have a happy and sweet year!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Soul Sync

This week's parsha, Nitzavim, is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashana. There are so many things about this parsha that connect to Rosh Hashana. Nitzavim speaks of our commitment to Hashem, His Torah and Mitzvahs. It teaches about Teshuva, repentance, and tells of our return to Hashem in this dark exile. How Hashem will gather us from the farthest places. It is clearly talking about us and our time, as we sit on the threshold of Moshiach's coming.

Being that the parsha speaks about Teshuva as the prelude to the in-gathering of the exiles, and being that we want it to happen already, lets talk about Teshuva.

Teshuva means "return to Hashem". On a basic level this means, to regret your way, ask for forgiveness and get back on Hashem's path.

For a person who has broken trust and wants to once again be trusted, being remorseful and saying "I'm sorry" is not enough. He needs to reach higher, find a greater level of character and prove himself worthy.

However Teshuva could be so much more. Even the holiest of people can tap in to the power of Teshuva.

The verse says "and you will return until Hashem your G-D".

What does "until" mean? When you say return, it implies, going back to a place or situation you were in before. What place are we speaking of here?

This takes us to a whole new level of Teshuva, to a place where we are in perfect harmony with Hashem.

Each of us have a Neshama, a piece of Hashem inside of us. It is our essence. Over time we could become so involved in the physical, mundane world that our Neshama gets forgotten. Even Mitzvahs could be done out of habit, void of meaning.

Teshuva is connecting to your G-dly essence, your Neshama. It is a journey to your core, every step you take inward, brings clarity. You see how you are one with Hashem, and that He loves you because you are part of Him. When you connect at this level, the lower levels of Teshuva are automatic. How could you remain the same after connecting so deeply? Regret, remorse and bitterness over your previous state will overtake you, and you become closer to Hashem.

Being that our Neshama is infinite, there is always deeper/higher levels to connect to. Through Teshuva even a Tzadik can find new levels of G-dlyness to connect to.

Your essence it already there, your Neshama has always been at the highest level. You now have to "return until Hashem" return to where your Neshama is one with Hashem. Since Hashem is infinite so is our journey, giving us the ability to get ever closer.

Suffering also brings you closer to Hashem. We have suffered enough. Perhaps Hashem wants our closeness to come from our own initiative.

Being a father and a husband, I love my family to no end, like any father and husband would, and still, there is great pleasure when the love and closeness from my family, is from their own initiative.

In preparation for Rosh Hashana, let us take the initiative a get closer to Hashem. May He, with his fatherly love, send Moshiach and gather the exiles and bring us home.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Heart to Understand

In this week's parsha, Ki Savo, Moshe says to the Jewish people, "Hashem didn't give you a heart to understand... Until this day."

Usually we connect the brain with understanding and the heart to emotions. However, here it says "a heart to understand". What is the connection between the heart and understanding that we speak of here?

The answer could be found by looking at the Hebrew word used here, Daas (daat/דעת), which we translate as understanding.

Just because someone it smart, doesn't stop him from doing immature or stupid things. Watch a smart child play in the mud wearing his nicest clothes or a genius implode over a trivial matter.

This is because he lacks Daas.

What is daas? Daas is the ability to take your smarts and apply it to your emotional make up. It is the bridge between the mind and heart. This takes time and effort.

For the Jewish people in the desert it took forty years to develop this level of understanding, where their heart and mind beat to the same Jewish drum.

This process can be accomplish by every one of us, through time and effort. Every day we become more in sync, every Torah lesson we apply to ourselves, we become more in tune with Hashem.

The same is true for our relationships. First you get to know each other. But with time and effort the relationship gets deeper and you begin to sense your others way of seeing things. Until there comes a time that you are so in sync, that you don't have to think about it, you just know.

This is "a heart to understand".  When your emotions, and subsequently your actions, are in sync with your mind, specifically with your Torah knowledge.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Together We Are Strong

In this week's Parsha, Ki Seitzei, we read, "You should not see your brother's donkey or his ox falling on the way and pretend as if you don't see them, you should pick up (the load) with him."

The simple meaning here is to help someone in need.

On a deeper level, it is about seeing someone who has fallen spiritually.

What lessons can we take from here for helping pick up someone who has fallen spiritually?

Many view those less observant than them negatively, ignore them or even worse, tell them off and denigrate them.

This is a terrible mistake and not the Torah way.

The first thing is to realize that he is your "brother", not an enemy. Treat him with love and brotherhood.

The next thing is to realize that it is his animal that has fallen not him. His neshama is pristine, he is essentially holy and wants to be Hashem's. It is only his "animal", his "physical" situation, nature and upbringing that put him where he is today.

Then the Torah tells us not to pretend that you don't see him. Ignoring him is a form of hate towards a fellow Jew, which not only is an essential violation of the Torah but you will cause him to fall even further.

Finally help pick up his load with him. Showing him love, you will lift his spirit strengthen him. Then he will start to pick himself up, you will only need to help.

Now in the month of Elul we must increase our love towards each other. Overcome and destroy the walls that divide us. Embrace your brother, sister or friend that you are  at odds with. Let us enter the new year united. Hashem loves most when we are together. "Together" our prayers are powerful. "Together" Hashem will grant us a good year. "Together" He will grant our greatest wish, He will send Moshiach and put an end to this painful, bitter exile.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You are Royalty

In this week's Parsha, Shoftim, we read about the Mitzvah of appointing a king.

One of the laws a king must follow is that he have two copies of the Torah scroll made for him. One to be placed in his treasury, and the other should accompany him constantly "and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Hashem his G-d, to keep all the words of this Torah..."

Isn't one Torah enough, why did a king need two? What point is there in having one Torah kept in his treasury?

To be a king means to wield great power. Whereas every Jew is obligated to write a Torah, a king must write two. This act is an extra measure and different from other laws pertaining to kings, as it doesn't make sense. The king goes through this experience mearly for its humbling effect. This Torah is put in his treasury or lit. Beis gnazav, his hidden place, a place the king goes to when important decisions need to made. Going to war, taxes, major projects, etc. Seeing his Torah there (and possibly the Torahs of the kings before him) is a strong reminder, that while the great power to make these decisions are in his hands, he should be humbled and bend to Hashem's will when making them.

We are all consider kings and queens, as Hashem empowers us to make decisions that effect our "kingdoms" big or small. Yourself, your family, your wealth, your treatment of others, etc. You May be learning from the outside Torah, yet you must write it in the deepest recesses of your being. So that when making important decisions you will bend to Hashem's will.

Royalty fails in arrogance and succeeds in humility. A Jew is royalty, in dress, in speech, in thoughts and action.

Now in month of Elul, the King of kings, is open to all of us. Get close to Hashem now, go out to greet Him. He, in turn, will grant you a happy and sweet New Year.


Dedicate in memory of Chaya Spalter, a true Bas Melech, who's Bas Mitzvah would have been this week. In honor of the Torah dedication for Chaya, being celebrated this Sunday.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Related and Chosen

In this week's Parsha, Re'eh, we read "You are children to Hashem your G-D". We also read "... Hashem has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people".

Which one is it, are we Hashem's children or has He chosen us? What can we learn from this for our personal relationships?  
Does one choose their relatives? 

Hashem is telling us that there is two ways he relates to us.

First as His children. Just as a parent is one with his child and nothing can change that, so too Hashem's bond with us can never be severed, we are His children.

Second He chooses us. He wants us and chooses us every day to be His Treasure.

Not only are we intrinsically one because of our essential bond but Hashem continues to treasure each and every one of us because He chooses to.

It is possible to be in a relationship and take for granted the fact that you are essentially one, thinking that this is enough.

Your children and your spouse ache for you to choose them every day. When you don't, they feel hurt, taken for granted and used. It is because of the intrinsic bond that they yearn for your love.

Don't just be your child's father, be a father to your child. Same for mothers, same for spouses. Show them that you choose them, that you treasure them.

Don't be difficult, don't be stubborn, don't make requirements for your love. Choose to give them your love because they are your treasures.


Diagnosed with ALS, unable to move, I am blessed with plenty time to think. When considering what is most important to me, the conclusion is always the same. The most important thing is that my wife and children feel loved and cherished by me, and I try my best to show them that I do.  Life is so short, make sure your family knows how much you cherish them and that you choose them over and over again. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hashem in your Home


In this weeks parsha, Eikev, we read "And now Israel, what is Hashem your G-d asking of you? Only to revere Him, to walk in His ways, to love Him..."

What is Hashem asking of us? How does one revere and love Hashem?

When Hashem created this world, He made his presence hidden. You could know that He is there but you can't see Him. This enables freedom of choice, because if Hashem was visible we would be ashamed to commit a sin. His presence would be so imposing, you would not have a choice.

Being that Hashem can't be seen, it is possible to forget for moments, that He is there.

Hashem wants you to make Him a real part of your life. To develop such a close relationship with Him that His presence feels as if you could see Him.

This takes a strong commitment, getting to know Hashem through the study of his Torah, and getting closer to him through davening. Use words like "Baruch Hashem" blessed is Hashem, "B'ezras Hashem" with Hashem's help, "Im yirtzeh Hashem" if Hashem wants. When making important decisions, ask: What does Hashem want?

When Hashem is felt in your home, you can't help but follow in His ways. Your choice to make Hashem's presence important in your home is true reverence. The more you develop your relationship with Hashem, the the more your life becomes an expression of your love for him.

Baruch Hashem I am blessed with many visitors, people of all levels of Jewish observance. The one thing that is clear is that all believe deeply in Hashem. We all believe. Yet Hashem wants even more, He wants us to feel Him in our day to day lives.

I bless you that when you welcome Shabbos into your home, you truly feel Hashem's presence, and that presence permeates your entire being. Good Shabbos. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Break Out

In this week's Parsha, Vaeschanan, we read how Hashem took for Himself "a nation from within a nation". The Jewish people from within the Egyptians. Moshe is expressing how this only happened for us. Never has one nation been taken out from within another, aside for the Jewish people from Egypt.


Why is this detail important for us to know?  What lesson can we take from here for our personal lives?


Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which is from the word maytzar, constraint or limitations. When Hashem took us out of Egypt, He removed us from all constraints, physical, psychological and spiritual. When we cleave to Hashem and His Torah we are open and free. The only constraints we have are the ones we accept upon ourselves.


In every situation we have the ability to be free. Even in this dark exile, where the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, as each of us has difficulties, suffering, and pain.


It is our choices that express our free nature, not our predicaments. In every situation we find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness.


Today this seems harder than ever, as there is great temptation to be like "them" (non-Jews). But we have been there before, and if you try, Hashem will surely help you free yourself from your Egypt.


On a more subtle level, those who's Jewish observance is because he wants to be like "them" (other Jews), needs to ask if they are proper role models. Are they stuck in a religious Egypt? Does their fervor turn them to dislike those who don't share their convictions? This is not a free person, he also needs to free himself from his false religious notions. For his way is also not "Jewish".


On a deeper level. Each of us have the ability to free ourselves from our current levels and reach higher plateaus. Yesterday's freedom is today's Egypt. If you are not growing you are not free. If you could ask yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to Hashem? Then you are free.


Finally, realize, that to get closer to Hashem, you need to love his children, and see them as "us", not "them", including those you deem less observant or more observant. 


Loving each other is the key to our redemption, it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult, nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.


Dedicated to Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, who despite his physical constraints, remains free and an example to all of us. May he be taken out of his Egypt immediately. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Happy or Sad? It is all Perspective

This week's Parsha, Devarim is always read the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av. For Haftora we read Chazon Yishayahu, the vision of Isaia, giving this Shabbos the name Shabbos Chazon. This year Shabbos Chazon falls on Tisha B'Av and the fast is pushed to Sunday.

When this occurs we celebrate Shabbos even more joyfully than a regular Shabbos.

Isn't it Tisha B'Av, our saddest day? Why the extra joy?

Both the parsha and Haftora seem to rebuke the Jewish people. Both contain the dreaded word "Eicha" which brings to mind Meggilas Eicha, the book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B'Av. Wherein our prophet Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem.

Moshe, Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu represent different stages of Jewish nationhood.

Moshe, just before entering The land of Israel, warns the Jewish nation not to forget the great purpose they were chosen for and our connection with Hashem whose Torah is our guide. Yishayahu, during the First Temple Era, chastises the Jewish people for being superficial. Yirmiyahu, after the destruction of the First Temple, laments how low we have fallen.

Each ends with words of hope and promise and in each case we came bouncing back strengthened and greater than before.

Sometimes, in order to build, you first need to demolish. It is a necessary loss to achieve something greater. When you focus on the past, the destruction is devastating. However, when you you focus on the future, that which seemed awful becomes positive.

Knowing that soon Moshiach will come and our Temple rebuilt more beautiful than ever. Seeing how the Jewish people will have achieved unimagined levels of greatness and holiness, due to our prolonged suffering in this exile.

Even more than all that, we will finally achieve our ultimate purpose, making this world a dwelling for Hashem. This is why He created existence and this is why He created us, to accomplish Hashem's goal. What could be greater than that?

So is Tisha B'Av happy or Sad? It was sad but soon it will be happy. This year we get a taste of our future, a taste of Moshiach as the fast gets pushed off. The happy essence of the day is revealed, therefore we celebrate Shabbos with more joy than usual.

Sometimes I wonder, what could we be achieving in this exile? We live under threat, the whole world is against our existence.

Perhaps that is the answer. I have been suffering from ALS for over two years now. Not able to move or talk, I exist. But when visitors come, I fill with joy, and when they leave they too seem full of joy.

Perhaps in these last moments of exile, it is our Jewish presence that makes the difference. So express your Jewishness a little more. Find ways to add to your Mitzvahs and do them with joy, knowing that you are changing the world for good.

May this year's Tisha B'Av fast be pushed off for good.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Great Women Teach Us


This week's Parsha, Mattos Maasei, ends with the Daughters of Tzelafchad, keeping the words of Hashem, marrying into their father's tribe, Menashe.

The Torah here mentions them by name for the third time, an honor which is bestowed on very few. Not only that, Hashem chooses to close the book of Bamidbar, Numbers, with them. This clearly indicates that there is something about them that is central to the book of Bamidbar.

Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milka and Noa.

What are we meant to learn from these great women? How does it highlight the central theme of the book of Bamidbar?

The first thing to know about the daughter's of Tzelafchad is that they were selfless. In the case they brought before the Jewish people, they did not ask for any personal gain but rather that the Torah law be fulfilled, that their father have a portion of the holy land named for him.

They were holy, righteous learned and wise, they were patient and waited until the fortieth year in the desert to make their case. They never took there eye off the goal, to get their father, his rightful part in the holy land.

The book of Bamidbar is all about making our way to the Holy Land. Which for us means not simply living in Israel but living there under Torah rule, with the coming of Moshiach.

How do we accomplish this? First, by being learned and having the wisdom to understand our purpose. To be patient and do the necessary steps to bring it about. Keeping our focus on our purpose and finally, to stand before Hashem, now in the last moments of this exile and demand that justice be served, that He send Moshiach. Not for our personal gain but because it is what Hashem wants and what the Jewish people rightfully earned.

Hashem, being proud of the daughters of Tzelafchad, mentions them three times. If we act like them he will surely be proud and send Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Strength Through Dark Times


In this week's parsha, Pinchas, we read about the regular sacrifices brought on the Temple altar. There were daily, Shabbat, new month and festival offerings.

Every day two yearling lambs were brought as "constant burnt offerings. The first you should do in the morning, and the second you should do in the afternoon".

What is the significance of bringing one in the "morning" and one in the "afternoon"? What lessons could we take from this constant burnt offering, for our relationship with Hashem, and for our personal relationships?

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is "korban" which comes from the word karov, close. The idea here it to bring yourself closer, strengthen your connection with Hashem.

This must be "constant". Hashem wants us to work on developing our relationship with Him every day.

How do you get closer to Hashem? By being a "burnt offering". Burnt offerings were unique, whereas other sacrifices, only parts were burnt on the altar, the burnt offering was entirely consumed. Hashem wants us to give our total self to him. To be open and vulnerable and to allow our entire self to be consumed, becoming one with Hashem.

"Morning" is symbolic of the good times, when the light of Hashem shines bright. At these times things are easy, there are no obstacles to overcome. "Afternoon" is the hard times, when the sun is going down, obstacles make Hashem seem distant. Even in these dark times of exile we need to come closer. The darker it is, the greater the effort we need to give to connect. The bond we forge in these dark times, is beyond anything we could have created in times of light.

Ultimately the light will return but because of the closeness we have developed, the light will be greater than anything we could have imagined.

Same is true for personal relationships. To get closer you must be "constant", you must work on your relationship every day. Give your entire self to your other, allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. This is easy when things are fine. However, it is the persistence and effort in times of difficulty that will take your relationship to a whole new level. Deeper, stronger and more wonderful than anything you could have imagined.

Struggling with ALS has been a tremendous strain on my family, especially on my wife. Nevertheless, it has brought us closer as a family and as a couple. And for that I am thankful.
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Dedicated to my wife Dina, whose strength, kindness and love has been the glue that holds our family together, a true aishes chayil.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Modesty and Fidelity

In this week's parsha, we have the famous verse, "Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisrael", "How good are your tents Jacob, your dwellings Israel". 

The wicked Balam wanted to curse the Jewish people but when he saw their modesty and fidelity he could only bless them. What did he see? He saw their tents set up in a way as to give each one privacy. There was no direct line of sight from one tent into another. He saw that they were organized according to their tribes, which was possible because of marital fidelity. 

This is followed by the prophecy of Moshiach's coming. 

What lesson can we take from here? How does it connect to Moshiach? 

Many are unaware that the laws of modesty apply to both men and women. It covers modesty in speech, dress, action and thought. 

We also have laws of appropriate behavior between men and women. 

It is these laws that has been our protection and makes us special and holy. 

We find these laws difficult because they go against nature. 

It is natural for a man to have inappropriate thoughts. Which can bring to immodest speech and actions. 

While men love dress codes and uniforms it goes against the grain and is totally unnatural to women. To women, their dress is an expression of how they feel inside. If the dress code is not how they feel, it feels like a lie. 

To this we have a two step plan. First, laws to set boundaries and safeguards. Second, to work on our inside so it resembles the Jewish spirit.  

Don't think that this means that you have to be a prude or that you need to dress in shmattes. Rather, to become beautiful and dignified within and allow that to be expressed in thought, speech, action and dress. 

A Jewish man is meant to be a light of decency and a living example to the world around him. 

A Jewish woman is meant to be a bas melech, a princess, beautiful and dignified. Her presence effecting her surroundings. 

When we act with modesty and fidelity we are in a position to change the world around us. We become as Hashem's ambassadors to make His presence known, accepted and welcome to all. It is the foundation upon which our Torah and Mitzvahs stand. It protects from our worst enemies because we are protected when we are Hashem's ambassadors. Finally, it is the basis and starting point of our positive effect on the world that will bring Moshiach. 

 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Simply G-dly

In this week's Parsha, Chukas, we are taught the law of the Red Heifer. If someone comes in contact with a dead body, they have to be purified by being sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer. About this Mitzvah the Torah says "Zos Chukas HaTorah", "THIS is the decree of the Torah". Meaning, there is something about this Mitzvah which is central to Torah and its observance. 

This Mitzvah is a "chok", a Mitzvah who's rational is beyond human comprehension and is done just because it is Hashem's will. 

What are some lessons that we can take from this Mitzvah that effect Jewish life and observance? 

The first lesson is that we must be alive. Our attitude, outlook and focus must be positive and alive. Some see Torah as a bunch of rules telling them what they can't do. To them Torah becomes a miserable ball and chain which they lug around. Some even take pride in this form of misery "Look at how miserable I am for Hashem". This is not living. The Torah wants us to purify ourselves from even contact with death. To live with Torah, is to see the positive purpose and mission that Hashem has given to us. Instead of a ball and chain, Torah becomes wings with which you can soar. Mitzvos become a joy to do. Even the negative commandments are kept out of joy and positivity. You get to be Hashem's messenger to do these things. 

Another thing we can learn from the red heifer is, that its reason is beyond human comprehension. We only do it because it is Hashem's will. Same could be true about all the Mitzvos, even the ones we do understand, we can and should do them for a higher purpose, because it is Hashem's will. This makes our seemingly mundane actions meaningful too. 

Being unable to do anything for myself, I see more than ever how simple actions can be meaningful and G-dly. Just sitting, keeping me company, is so precious to me. 

This perhaps is the  most important lesson of all. It is easy to see prayer, Torah study, teffillin, Shabbos candles, etc. As G-dly. To Hashem, our most mundane act can be G-dly. This is especially true when we show kindness to one another, what is more G-dly than that. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Humbly Together

In this week's parsha, Korach, we read about the rebellion of Korach against Moshe. Eventually Korach died being swallowed alive by the earth. 

By all accounts Korach was a religious man and a Torah scholar. What moves a man like him to rebel against Moshe, who was installed by Hashem as the leader of the Jewish people? Why was he swallowed by the earth? 

It is not enough to be religious and learned in Torah. There is a third ingredient that is necessary and that is humility. When one is ego driven he is doomed to fail. All the Torah in the world won't help from being swallowed alive by his ego. Not being able to see anyone other than himself, he even fails to recognize the true leader of the Jewish people. This is the route of all divisiveness. He knows  that everything Moshe does is Hashem's will but his ego doesn't want to recognize Hashem's authority either. Recognizing Moshe's authority is recognizing Hashem's authority. 

While this example is extreme, it is something we could learn from. When you feel like you are getting the raw end of a situation. Before starting an argument, ask yourself, is this truly unfair or is this my ego rearing his ugly head? 

Being humble will be your salvation in all your relationships. At home, at work, at shul and everywhere else. It will also help you overcome life's challenges because instead of thinking "why me?", you will think "Hashem put me in this predicament, what is His reason for putting me here? What does He want me to gain from this situation? How would He want me to use my situation to effect others positively?" etc. 

Being humble does not mean feeble, week or insignificant. Being humble means that you can recognize the other, not only yourself. It means you are not alone. It means that you feel that Hashem is always with you. 
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I grew up by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was easy to see that he was the leader of the Jewish People. 

Since I was a young yeshiva student, I've felt that the greatest accomplishment was to do what the Rebbe wants. 

However, There was a competing need, the need to be in the presence of the Rebbe. 

To be by the Rebbe, or to do his holy work?

Though I was in his presence on many occasions, from the age of 16, whenever I had to choose, between doing the Rebbe's work, and being in his presence, doing his work always won out. I felt that being by the Rebbe, was for me, while doing his work, was for him. 

It seemed clear, That to be the Rebbe's soldier, accomplishing what he wanted, was by far more important. 

Gimmel Tammuz, 21 years ago, some were shattered, broken, and it took them some time to pick up the pieces, and figure out what to do next. Until this point, for them, being by the Rebbe was everything. What now?

For me it was sad, but it didn't break me. It was clear. Just continue to do what the Rebbe wants. 

Ultimately, I got the best of both. Being close on hundreds of occasions, and doing the Rebbe's work. 

When I was close I felt that he was proud of me, I was his man, his soldier. 

Going on Shlichus was just the next step, as I was already a Shliach. 

Now, when you are the Rebbe's messenger, you are one with the Rebbe, you can't get any closer than that. 

The Rebbe is the Moshe of our generation. Hashem speaks through him. His mission is Hashem's mission. Doing the Rebbe's mission is doing Hashem's mission.  You are then one with the Rebbe, one with Hashem. Now that's close. 

What is there left to do? Just a little. 

You are the man, or at least you could be if you chose. In your home, at work and wherever you are. 

This way we will accomplish the mission. We will bring Moshiach and be once again in his presence.