Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven

TorahAnytime.Com uses the tag line of “G-d’s Reason for the Internet” by which they mean that the learning of Torah and spiritual growth is the reason that G-d created the Internet. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no potential spiritual downside to such a powerful tool, but the presence of so many distinguished Rabbis on the site, shows that they agree with its potential on the upside.

Rabbi Yosef Viener of Monsey has a recent shiur titled Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven in which he mentions some of the political considerations regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress. However, he strongly points out that it’s easy to get caught up in the politics, but G-ds reason for the Persian threat then and now is for us to daven and do teshuva. Please watch the video.

Meanwhile, in Queens, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd was making similar points while discussing The Special Power of Prayer on Purim. Rabbi Schwerd also points out the connection between the Nachash (the snake) and Haman and why there is a requirement to curse Haman on Purim and the continuing necessity of our spiritual response of prayer on Purim. Please watch the video or download the audio of this great shiur.

Get More Out of Your Hallel

Chanukah is a time of L’hodos U’l’hallel, To give thanks and praise to Hashem and we fulfill that obligation with the saying of the Full Hallel all eight days. Here are some notes from Maharal: Emerging Patterns by Yaakov Rosenblatt on Hallel.

Give Praise Servants of Hashem from this time forth and forever more
Despite Hashem’s loftiness, He is still intimately involved with the life of man and continually bestows goodness through kindness, judgment or mercy.
He raise the needy from the dust is through judgment because the poor should be provided for.
To seat them with the nobles, nobles of His people is through kindness because although raising the poor out of poverty is just, elevating them to sit with nobles is an act of kindness.
He transforms the barren women into a joyful mother of children is an act of mercy since this women is not capable and therefore is not in the realm of judgment, nor is it kindness since children are not above and beyond human needs, rather it is mercy because even though this woman is unable to have children naturally, Hashem still allows her to conceive and bear children.

When Yisroel Went of out of Egypt, the House of Yaakov from a people of a Strange Language
After praising Hashem for His kindness through normal realms, we now praise Hashem for the miracles that transcend nature.
The sea saw and fled, the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep – water takes the shape of its container and the Earth is shaped by man. When Hashem acts and gives form and definition to all creation it is natural that the sea fled and the mountains skipped.
Hashem turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters – when Hashem is the force, even a rock is shaped effortlessly.

Not to us Hashem, but to Your Name Give Glory
This Psalm says the reason that Hashem performs miracles for the Jews is to give recognition to His name, His love and His truth. Only Hashem deserves this recognition and not things like idols which clearly have no power and are weaker than man. Man’s powers are listed in decreasing importance: speech, sight, hearing, smell, feeling, walking, and making sounds.

Hashem will Bless our Remembrance: He will Bless the House of Yisrael
Hashem will Bless our Remembrance requests that the lasting impact we will have on others and the world will be a blessing.
The Dead cannot praise Hashem, nor can any who go down into silence shows that only when the human body and the world are functioning properly can they “sing” the praises of Hashem. King David says allow us to live, allow us to thrive, so our very existence can proclaim your glory.

I love Hashem Who Hears my Voice and my Supplications
You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. King David thanks Hashem for saving his soul which represents the spiritual, the eyes which are the connection between the spiritual and the physical because they do not actively enter the world, but monitor it for the mind/soul to process, and the feet which represent the physical. Tears represent a loss of part of the soul.

How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me?
I will carry the cup that You have filled with salvation, and call upon the name of Hashem – A cup that is filled represents ones meaningful accomplishments and we think Hashem for the ability to act in meaningful ways.
I will carry …in my arms to show the cup that you filled precedes me and proclaims your greatness
I will pay my vows to Hashem in the Presence of all His People to use every opportunity to proclaim the greatness of Hashem and to publicly honor Hashem’s glory

Give Thanks to Hashem for He is Good
Thanks also mean to concede, so to the extent that a person recognizes and acknowledges the Hashem has given him everything is the extent to which he will thank Him. Different groups: humanity, Jews, Kohanim and G-d fearing people, have experienced different benefits and will therefore thank Hashem differently.

Out of My Distress I called upon Hashem
There are three levels of hatred, basic dislike (all the nations) because of economic, cultural or military threats, dislike due to differences in values which only the Jews hold (they surrounded me) and deep seated hatred (they surrounded me like bees) due to the subconscious understanding that the success of the nations is dependent on the Jew’s failure. If we act according to our spiritual potential the world’s event will be centralized around us for our benefit. If we do not, we are punished and the the nations are successful.

O praise Hashem all you Nations
Hallelukah combines a word of praise with Hashem’s name and is used to praise the miraculous because the only the one who created the worlds (Heh – this world, Yud – the next) can suspend the rules to perform miracles when he sees fit.

When Silence Means No

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

“Even when you do what you know to be right…, you should feel humility and shame before Hashem.”

(Chouos Halevauos, Gate of Submission to Hashem, ch. 4)

I dumped my pocketbook out on the living room table, sure that the keys would come out of their hiding place, but they didn’t. It’s never good when you forget AMEN (Hebrew acronym for arnak, mafteichos and nayad — wallet, keys and mobile) before you leave the house.

This time it was more than unpleasant. Looking for the keys meant missing the last bus to the community where I was expected to speak. The women who arranged the evening were just beginning their journey toward greater observance, and coming late would potentially enforce some of their hoary old stereotypical images of chareidim.

I looked upward and said, “Hashem, You know where the keys are. If it’s Your will, open my eyes and let me find them.” I then put some money aside for tzedakah, re-examined the table, and found the keys where I must have looked but just not seen them. Hashem literally opened my eyes. I knew that my next response would be crucial.

How are you supposed to respond to an answered prayer?

There are several models. One is to react like an athlete who just broke a record: “Yes, folks, it was a lot of hard work, but I just kept going till I made it to the finish line.” In spiritual terms it might sound like: “I knew that davening would help. It works for me. I really had kavanah. It’s been so much easier since I learned through the sources. It’s just a skill like any other skill; since I mastered it everything is different.”

There are about four unnecessary references to self in this model, and no references to G-d. The subtle transformation of tefillah into what the Gemara calls “iyun tefillah” (Rosh Hashanah 16b) in the negative sense begins with subconsciously removing Hashem from the picture and substituting for it a curious form of self-empowerment. If you ever fall into this trap, try to recall the words spoken at Nachshon Wachsman’s funeral.

Nachshon was nineteen when he was abducted by Arabs on October 11, 1994. From the moment he was kidnapped his parents recognized that their son’s fate was determined by Heaven. Tens of thousands davened for him, including nonreligious mothers who lit Shabbos candles on his behalf.

No one will forget his father’s words to all those who had davened for his safe return: “G-d did listen to your prayers. Sometimes, just as a father would like to always say yes to all his children’s requests, sometimes he must say no, though the child may not understand why. So too our Father in Heaven heard our prayers, and His answer was no.” This response embodied absolute reliance on Hashem as was echoed by the mothers of the three kidnapped boys who unified the entire Jewish people in prayer. The words “regardless of the outcome, I will always have emunah” will never be forgotten.

This mindset leaves you open to make more and more supplications to the only One Who can really help. This is also called iyun tefillah, but it is of course seen as holy rather than at best a first step toward what tefillah is meant to be, or at worst a pathetic capitulation to your ego.

What are the mechanics of tefillah? Why even formulate words when the consequences are determined by Hashem, Who is fully aware of what we need the most?

Ramchal tells us (Derech Hashem, section 4, para. 5) that “In His infinite wisdom, Hashem created the world with rules and with order. One of His rules is that the created beings receive the flow of His goodness by being awakened to draw close to Him. The flow from Above, which descends, is in proportion to the awakening. The L-rd wants to give His creations daily all the goodness that they can receive. It is for this reason that prayer is the way that we draw down His blessing, which is given in accordance with what [His creatures] need, and what their position is in this world.”

Prayer is meant to draw you closer to Hashem. Ego can only take you further away from Him in every sense. When Hashem appeared to Avraham and asked him to leave everything and follow Him to the Land, He made promises. One of them was that He would empower Avraham to be a source of blessing. Avraham was humble enough to receive this gift. You can see this from the way he responded when his own prayers were not answered. He had beseeched Hashem to save at least one of the five metropolises that comprised the territory of Sedom. When his pleas were denied, his response was not anger toward Him, but the words,”I am dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:32).

Avraham was unique in his humility because there is no doubt that had his request been fulfilled, he would have felt the very same way.

Reprinted with permission – Hamodia 18 Tammuz 5774/ July 16, 2014

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s site at www.tziporahheller.com

Let’s Learn to Daven

We can pronounce the words. We might even be able to read pretty fast. And we know we to shake, bow and clop. But do we really know how to daven. Are we coming close to where davening can be taking us.

These are some of the questions that Rabbi Zev Cohen asks in his Preparing to Daven shiur. It’s definitely worth your time. Rabbi Cohen also has a whole series called Let’s Learn to Daven.

There’s another great davening improvement initiative taking place at the Weekly Tefilah Focus. Each 5 minute weekly lesson is available in video, audio or text. This week is the first lesson, starting with Ashrei:

“We all want to get to Olam HaBa and be considered a “ben Olam HaBa” while still in this world. The Gemara in Brachos teaches us that one who says Ashrei three times a day is assured to be a ben Olam HaBa. This clearly cannot mean mere recitation. Chazal are telling us that this reward is reserved for one who thinks deeply about what the p’sukim in Ashrei are teaching us, and as a result, strengthens his emunah in Hashem.”

A Mother’s Prayer

By the time this column posts, the drama will be over. My daughter, Elana, now a high school senior at Reenas Beis Yaakov in Edison, NJ, will know which seminaries have accepted her, and she will have made her choice.

It’s a tumultuous experience, the seminary application, interview, and selection process. Elana has enjoyed being with the same group of friends since second grade. They light up my house with their positive energy and laughter on Shabbos, and I have watched all of them develop into lovely young women ready to venture out into the next chapter of their lives. Our house will be very quiet next year, not just because of Elana’s hoped for departure for Israel, but also, the loss of all of her friends parading through the house, studying with her, chilling with her, and giving me joy, nachas and envy, as Elana has enjoyed close friendships the likes of which I have never known. I send her off into her life after Reenas with lots of pride, and encouragement, and a big sigh.

I also send her off with prayer. This is something that any frum woman reading this column would have an. . . of course. . . response to. But an awareness struck me recently that every baalas teshuvah can relate to.

I drove Elana to her first seminary interview, held in a high school, which gave over a classroom to the Rabbi who was conducting the interviews. Since we hadn’t attended the open house, he graciously allowed me to watch a seminary video with Elana, and to receive a summary overview of the seminary from his perspective. And then he excused me outside of the room so that he could interview Elana without her mother sitting on the couch behind her.

The interview was very early in the morning so I had brought my siddur with me. As she and the Rabbi continued their conversation, I opened my siddur and proceeded with morning blessings, Shema, and Shomonei Esrei. Whenever I could, I tucked in special prayer for Elana, that she should be relaxed and confident and be able to impress the Rabbi with her special qualities.

There I was, standing outside of her interview room, siddur in hand, eyes closed, praying for my daughter. This was not an unusual sight for any of the other religious teenagers walking the hallways between classes. They’d seen their moms do the same for years.

For a moment, when my prayers were finished for the time being, tears sprung to my eyes.

My mother has never prayed for me. I don’t believe so, anyway. She doesn’t have a religious life or a relationship with our Creator, one that I am aware of. She doesn’t own a siddur, and she doesn’t ever go to shul. She is a worrier, so perhaps all of the worries she has sent up to heaven over the years have been received as prayer. I’d like to think so.

I stand outside of Elana’s interview room wanting the best for her. I stand outside of that room knowing that it’s in Hashem’s hands, and asking Hashem to help her. I stand outside that room sending another prayer, one of thousands, that I have said for her over her lifetime. I have prayed for her friendships, and her health, and her love of Torah, and her success on any number of tests. I have prayed for her happiness, and her refuah from sickness, and so many details of her life, she would probably be surprised to know. I have no doubt, if she goes to Israel next year, I will stand with siddur in hand and plead with Hashem to watch over her.

A baalas teshuvah mourns the loss of many things, and accepts that the path is sometimes a lonely and trying one. I miss something I never had, and probably never will – a mother who prays for me.

If you pray every day for your children, don’t think, “of course.” It is a gift, one your children may never fully appreciate until they are standing with siddur in hand, praying for their own children. And then they will understand a mother’s prayer.

Of Angels and Men

VaYera 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 And he [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw, three strange men standing near him

-Bereshis 18:2

The three “men” were angels

-Rashi ibid

When a man’s ways please HaShem, He causes even mans enemies to be at peace with him.

- Mishlei 16: 7

Two ministering angels , one good the other bad , escort a person home from the synagogue Friday evening.  When he comes home to find the lamps lit, the table set and his bed made the good angel says ‘May it be HaShems will that next Shabbos we find things the same way ’ and the bad angel is compelled to respond ‘Amen’ against his will

-Tractate Shabbos 119B

And Elokim said “Let Me Us make man”. Alternatively: “Man has [already] been made.”

-Bereshis 1:26

Chaza”l teach us that Malochim-Angels are fundamentally opposed to the creation and ongoing existence of human beings:  Rebee Seemon said: When HaShem, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed groups and parties, some saying, ‘Let him be created,’ while others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ As it is written, “Loving-kindness and truth met up, justice and peace kissed.” (Tehillim 85:11): The Angel Loving-kindness said, ‘Create man, because he will dispense loving-kindness’; the Angel Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, because he full of lies’; the Angel Charity said, ‘Create man , because he will perform acts of altruism’; the Angel Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.”’ What did God do? God took Truth and cast it to the earth, as it is written, “and truth will be sent to the earth.” (Doniel 8:12)The Malochim said before the Holy One, “Master of the Universe! Why do you despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” Hence it is written, “Let truth sprout from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12) …Me’od –‘Very ’) is [in reference to] Adam; [the letters מאד–very are a word jumble for אדם–man i.e. Adam=man is good] as it is written, “And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31), i.e. and behold Adam was good. Rav Huna the Elder of Tziporen, said: While the Malochim were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, HaShem created the first human. God said to them, “Why are you arguing. Man has already been made!” (Bereshis Rabbah 8:5).

This  Midrash implies that the creation of Man took place “under protest”. Even when temporarily suppressed many protests are ultimately successful. So it is not out of the question that the Angelic naysayers were complicit in the undoing of humanity through the first sin and the subsequent degradation of humanity by the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion.

The human predilection for lies and strife are a product of mans constrained G-d consciousness. An angel has but to lift its eyes to attain a limitless, incomparable awareness of HaShem and how His glory fills the universe. In marked contrast, even after years of intense exertion, mans G-d consciousness is meager. The light that man beholds is relatively dim and is known as “the Diminutive Face”.  Angels are illuminati bathed in HaShems infinite light. The angelic sense of superiority in terms of their G-d consciousness underlies the various “no-votes” protesting the very creation of man. Regarding uncircumcised man there was no adequate argument to refute the angel’s dismissiveness. There was no debating with them.  HaShem Kivayachol-so to speak had to ignore their protests and present His creation of Man as a fait accompli.

Many Mechabrim-Torah authors, in particular the Ramcha”l , explain that the very Raison d’être of Klal Yisrael- the Jewish People is to rectify the sin of the first man and to bring humanity back to the pre-sin state. As such it would stand to reason that our founding patriarch, Avraham, would earn the angelic seal of approval.

The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov takes this approach in explaining the Angels post-circumcision visit with Avraham.

The new edition of Man, Avraham Avinu after the covenant of circumcision, could do something that angels could not.  As dim and meager as his light may have been he was capable of transforming darkness into light and able to draw new light into the gloom of our murky, materialistic world.  In marked contrast angels see things as they are without recognizing any potential for qualitative change. To an angel what’s light is light and what’s dark is dark. For the angels heaven is heavenly and the earth is, well, hopelessly earthy.

As long as the foreskin adheres to man all of mans internal light and potential for illumination are trapped and imprisoned within his being. But when man, Avraham, removes the foreskin his internal and external transformative powers are unleashed. Avraham spread G-d consciousness to the four corners of the earth and, in so doing, made something heavenly out of the earth.

The Tikunei Zohar reveals two remarkable, complementary acronyms in the phrase   מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה-Who (mee) will ascend (ya’aleh) for us (lahnu) to heaven (HaShamaymah) [Devarim30 :12].  The first letters of each word form an acronym for Milah-circumcision. The last letters of each word form an acronym for the tetragrammaton-HaShems proper four letter Name. The encoded allusion being that the circumcised one, Avraham, can in fact ascend to Heaven for us and bring HaShem to the earth.

An angel can take light and multiply the light, take the tiniest blade of grass and exhort it to grow tall, thick and lush (Bereshis Rabbah 10:6). But these are, after all, quantitative expansions not qualitative transformations. Angels are incapable of making the inert-mineral botanic or metamorphosing the botanic into animal or the animal into the human. Omnivorous man ingests the mineral, the botanic and the animal and, through digestion, integrates them into his speech-endowed being.  When man uses this nutrition to serve HaShem through speech AKA prayer he has not merely grown the grass tall…he has altered the grass into something human, speaking and prayerful.  The angels were forced to recognize their relative inferiority and could no longer argue the uselessness of man in HaShems creation.  Impressed and even awestruck they too wanted to partake of the circumcised mans meal.

 Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Vayera Inyan 16 (page 72A ) 

Message to the World – The Power of Prayer

Imagine you’re in a room full of Jewish addicts. And you’re volunteering to lead a group on Tuesday evenings. The group is called “Spirituality.” What would you talk about?

This week I decided to ask them what they would talk about. I tossed out a question that I had heard a rabbi ask at the time the Super Bowl was happening, about creating one’s own super bowl ad. “What message would you want to give to the world in thirty seconds if you had a chance to speak to 100 million people?” I asked. They loved it!

With my arm outstretched into a closed fist (a mike), I walked around holding it in front of each resident of the Jewish Women’s Recovery House, as she spoke. Leslie, twenty-four, had been in the recovery house for almost four months since she got out of jail after her last DUI. She was very eager to respond. “Here’s what I’d say!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. “If you radiate positive energy into the world, that’s what you’ll attract. If you give off negative energy – that’s what you’ll attract!” I told her she had a few more seconds before her thirty seconds would be up, so she elaborated just a little bit more, and just as excitedly.

Next Rosie wanted “the mike.” Rosie, thirty-five, and a registered nurse, had only been in the recovery house for a week and a half after being released from a local psychiatric hospital. “I started reading a book I found by a Rabbi Twerski. Here it is!” she said, picking it up from the couch, right next to her. “It’s called Angels Don’t Leave Footprints: Discovering What’s Right with Yourself. And I only started it, but it says that we are really better than angels because we can change and grow. We each have a piece of G‑d inside of us. It just gets covered up, but there’s always hope that we can come to recognize who we really are.”

Ellen, forty-one, a publicist, had come from a detox facility after getting clean from heroin. She had also not been in the house for a full two weeks yet. Ellen waited patiently for everyone else who wanted to speak to go before her, but when her turn came, she was just as ready to share her message as were all the others. “I’ve learned that G‑d hears us. The answers G‑d gives us in life, they may not be the ones we wanted to get, but who are we to know what’s ultimately good for us? It can sometimes be a very long road until we really accept that.”

Then, I don’t know how or why, but all of a sudden it hit me! “I just realized something! I practically shouted. Your words – the words that each of you just spoke here – they really did reach 100 million people – but they reached even more than 100 million people!” They were all looking at me like I was nuts. “They reached everybody in the whole world!”

“Your words, your messages to the world … they sounded like prayers to me,” and my voice started cracking. “You have so much. You are such enlightened souls from all you’ve been through.”

I had to keep going. “You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, right? In the physical realm, the flapping wings of just one butterfly can create tiny changes in the atmosphere, but those tiny changes can end up eventually altering the path of something like a tornado! In the spiritual realm, our individual prayers travel far and wide – they don’t stay put within these walls – prayers don’t care about walls – they go right through them! A tiny prayer’s vibrations travel all around the world, way faster than the speed of light! So your words, your prayers, really could havereached everybody in the whole world already.”

There was complete stillness, and a glow in the room. “Yeah,” smiled Rosie. “I guess they really could have.”

Did you get the messages that these women sent you last Tuesday night? I’m sure you did, in some way. It could have reached you in a ray of hope you felt in one flash of an instant.

But just in case the flapping of their beautiful fragile wings was imperceptible, now you have this.

Bracha Goetz is the author of twelve Jewish children’s books including Remarkable Park , The Invisible Book and The Happiness Box.

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The Book of the People – The ArtScroll Siddur at 25

Assuming I must have missed something — something that would be hard to miss, but stranger things have happened — I did a Google search before I wrote this article:

ARTSCROLL SIDDUR ANNIVERSARY — nope. Too narrow?

ARTSCROLL ANNIVERSARY … Nope.

For all practical purposes, at least as far as I can tell, the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Artscroll Siddur has gone unremarked.

In a way, this is of a piece with the fundamentally restrained, dignified style of Mesorah Publications. It is also consistent with the central theme of their incredible endeavor, a perspective from which 25 years is, in the scheme of things, pretty small potatoes, and in which the publishers and authors of the Artscroll “series” (really an undertaking far greater than a “series”) see themselves as conduits of something far greater than themselves.

But we can do it for them, and not only because 25 years is, in our individual lives, a very significant amount of time, but because the publication of the Artscroll Siddur in 1984 literally turned a page in the history of the Jewish people.

In a time when more Jews were more ignorant of their heritage than ever before, and more in danger of disappearing from the nation of Israel as identifying Jews in no small part because of the inaccessibility, mystery and intimidation of the tradition, Artscroll fulfilled the dictum in Pirkei Avos, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” A man was needed; more than one, in fact; but fundamentally two — Rabbis Meir Zolotowitz and Nosson Scherman — stepped forward and took the responsibility to do the work.

For all the sweat, heart and brain that was poured into the Artscroll Siddur by these men and those who worked with them, I cannot believe that they could have had an inkling of just how phenomenal this work would be, and how much it would mean to people such as you and me.
Of course they must have realized that never before had the traditional Jewish liturgy — including the full range of responsibilities of a Jew besides “merely” understanding the words of prayer found in any bilingual siddur — become so completely accessible to so many seeking access. They knew that, even if it was not perfect, no more comprehensive, approachable siddur had ever been published in the vernacular for non-scholarly use in the home and synagogue. And they cannot have been unaware of at least the possible “political” impact this assertive broadside from the once-quiescent English-speaking community of strictly orthodox or “yeshiva” Jews would have on the course of Jewish communal and religious life for a generation.

But they could not have realized what it would mean to us to find out that, yes, there is one — there is a book — a siddur — there is one work you can buy that will tell you how to do it: How to go about being really Jewish in prayer and, in no small measure, throughout the day. When to stand in shul; when to sit; what to answer; when to bow, and in which direction — all those mysteries that, observed in our peripheral vision, kept so many of us, too self-conscious or proud to look like complete dorks in an orthodox shul or to require the embarrassing personal tutelage of an insider to even consider stepping through that door.

Now we could learn how to do it, and to some degree why we were doing it, and how much more we had to do, at our own pace; in private; and on an adult level.

This was a gift of freedom that I can hardly imagine Rabbis Zlotowitz and Scherman could have understood they were giving so many of us.

The Artscroll Siddur turned 25 last August, quietly. But the voices it enabled, empowered and amplified — hundreds, no, thousands of Jewish spirits — have not only filled the Heavens with a magnificent raash gadol [great noise] for 25 years, but have unleashed an eternity of song for which so many of us and our descendants will always be grateful.

Thank you, Artscroll.

Powerless

What would you do if you were one of the world’s greatest magicians? No, not like David Blaine and slight of hand type magic, but real magic. Would you sell your abilities to become wealthy? If you knew God blessed you with these abilities would you use them to do something He didn’t want you to do?

Is there real magic?

The forces of power in the world are created by God and some people have figured out how to tap into them. We often find that which we desperately seek. Many of us are curious, fascinated, or skeptical of strange powers, ESP, psychics, or people into real magic. But some people strongly gravitate towards impure forces, and try in many ways to acquire unusual abilities. Others are merely “blessed” with these abilities.

Everything in life is a test and a challenge. In the areas of normal human behavior we have lots of challenges. Relationships, work, honesty, love, a lifetime of spiritual struggles follows all of us around. Along with life’s struggles comes challenges and difficulties that we don’t relate to as a spiritual task, but rather merely a hurdle from the natural world. We wish we could magically avoid or overcome the hurdle. Is this the fascination with Super Heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman? Do they help us vicariously enjoy the world through the fantasy of extra abilities?

Bilaam, the ancient sorcerer

Bilaam was one man who had special abilities and those talents merely allowed him to do more spiritual damage and become more of an egotist. His self-worth was so large that he thought he deserved the royal treatment. In Numbers Chapter 22 we see a person who appears on the outside to righteous and only want to do what God wants. Yet we see how easily he is lead to do that which we know God doesn’t want. How come? Because it’s all a show. He really doesn’t care about God, even though he recognizes Him as the source of his blessings. He is blinded by honor and gifts.

This is precisely the danger of special abilities. The stronger you are, the more people you have the power to help and to hurt.

As human beings we have incredible abilities that largely go untapped. And all the more so we are able to ask the Almighty for assistance that we lack in many areas. We are able to ask God to save our life, heal the sick, stop a war, and He often answers our prayers.

One request remains as one of the most important and often forgotten. That request is for the ability to use whatever blessings we receive only for the good. Let us not fall into the trap of using our blessings to go away from our Benefactor. What would be more of an insult to Him than that?

Baalei Teshuva often have blessing they were given because of the circumstances of their upbringing. Some want to ignore these blessings. Some are embarrassed about them. Some give them up as if they are tainted.

Nothing is an accident. If you feel like there’s something wrong the way you grew up and therefore there’s something wrong with the blessings you possess, you may be correct. But you may also be very incorrect. It might even be an extreme lack of appreciation to God to ignore or reject the blessings you have.

An alternative to shunning our blessings is to pray for assistance to use the blessings correctly.

God still runs the world

As one sage once put it, “God runs almost everything in the entire world. And the last bit left.He also controls.”

Even with all of his abilities, Bilaam was still unable to curse the Jewish people, as Balak, the king wanted him to. It wasn’t for lack of trying. He did his best, but when he opened his mouth to curse, God put in his words a blessing.

A person can point a gun, but if the Almighty really doesn’t want the victim to die, they’ll survive, or the bullet will jam, or the shooter will miss. There are so many ways for Him to circumvent the plan of the killer. Its part of the plan of life that the Almighty gives us free will and doesn’t force us into doing mitzvos or avoiding transgressions. But that doesn’t mean if He really wants to stop something from happening He can’t. He can and He does, often.

The real thing

Why did Balak choose Bilaam to hire to curse the Jews. Because he recognized their true power lies in their mouths. Prayer is the true power of the servants of God, so Balak looked for someone else who had the power of the mouth to fight them.

Our power is prayer. That’s what helps us the most because with prayer you can tap into the power of the Almighty. With His help, is there anything you can’t accomplish?

Don’t waste your time with minor powers like magic, ESP, and psychic abilities. Develop the power of prayer and you can have the world in the palm of your hand.

Every Today is Another Chance to Get Things Right

I saw this slogan on a bus while walking to work. Often, you don’t find interesting slogans like this on a bus. Where did the quote come from? You might be surprised if I tell you it’s from a TV show. The TV show is called ‘Daybreak’ and recently premiered on. The premise of the show is that the main character is framed for a murder and his family is in danger. Every morning he wakes up and has to repeat the same day and has to find out who framed him for the murder and he has to keep his family safe. Until he solves the mystery, the day will keep repeating itself.Upon further reflection, this quote is a great way to approach tefilla. After almost 5 years of taking classes at various Jewish outreach groups in the city, I made some breakthroughs this year and decided it was time to take some steps towards becoming more observant than in previous years when I had balked at such an idea (perhaps this will be the subject of a future post). One of the things I did was go to Israel for two weeks in July and learn at She’arim, one of the wonderful womens’ seminaries in Jerusalem. It was a transformative two weeks and the only regret I have was that I wished I had stayed a little longer. After coming back from Israel, I started davening twice a day. Before Israel (BI), I prayed for 15-20 minutes in the morning, semi-rushed because I slept in until 8:00, sometimes 8:15 and I needed to be at work at 9:00. After Israel (AI), I find myself getting up at 7:20-7:30, and davening for 30-40 minutes (my mornings are so much calmer now) and also davening Mincha. Read more Every Today is Another Chance to Get Things Right

A Miss is a Mile – Old Tehillim Found Open to Psalm 83 (or perhaps 84)

By Chaim Grossferstant

Let me begin by making an admission. I am not a card carrying member of the “alert Hanoch Teller immediately” crowd and am somewhat skeptical of “visionaries” who sense Hashgacha Pratis everywhere. It’s not that I don’t believe that Hashgacha Pratis exists everywhere; it’s just that I think that the maintenance of our free-choice is set up in such a way that we should be mostly oblivious to Hashgacha Pratis most of the time.

But there is a recent news item that really causes a thinking Jew in these perilous times to pause and ponder. Yesterday, the New York Sun reported (page 9) that on Tuesday Irish archaeologists discovered an ancient book of psalms spotted by a construction worker while driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog. (Parenthetically there are a number of blogs I’d like to drive the shovel of a backhoe into!) What we would call a “Tehillim”, it is a Psalter and has been approximately dated to the years 800–1000 A. C. E. Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland described it as “really a miracle find.”

But what makes the find of particular interest to people who are Jewish but not necessarily archeologists is that the book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which, according to the AP, “G-d hears complaints of other nations’ attempts to wipe out the name of Israel” and that in effect, the Psalter cannot be moved from that page. Because “It could take months of study just to identify the safest way to pry open the pages without damaging or destroying them.”
Read more A Miss is a Mile – Old Tehillim Found Open to Psalm 83 (or perhaps 84)

Starting Off on the Right Foot

It seems to me that Borchi Nofshi, Psalm 104, which is said on Rosh Chodesh mornings might just be the most overlooked section of our prayers. By the time we finish Hallel, leining and mussaf (if you are davening ashkenaz) you are probably already late for your train/bus/car pool and Borchi Nofshi often gets short shrift.

Add to that the fact that Nissan is probably the most hectic month of the year (in case you are wondering why, you better start your Pesach cleaning NOW!). Therefore, it just might be that the Borchi Nafshi we say tomorrow may not get the proper attention it deserves.



Read more Starting Off on the Right Foot

Getting the Proper Focus

Abuhav Synagogue The Abuhav Synagogue in Tzefas, Israel is one of the most beautiful shuls I’ve been in. It is ornately painted and was constructed along the theme of the Pesach song Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One?) .

On top of the bima where the shaliach tzibur (prayer leader) stands is a dome, with many paintings upon it. Directly in the sight of the shaliach tzibur is a painting with the title “Makom HaMikdash” (the site of the Holy Temple). The weird thing is that the painting does not depict the Beis HaMikdash at all. Rather, it depicts the mosque that currently sits on top of the temple mount. The explanation is that when the shaliach tzibur looks up he sees that, because of senseless hatred among the Jews, in the place of the Beis HaMikdash now stands a mosque. This should serve to focus the shaliach tzibur, who represents the entire kehillah (congregation), on an all-encompassing love for all Jews.

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Remedies for Spiritual Freeze

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I don’t feel any kind of emotion when I go to synagogue. Praying seems to be a drag, and I feel nothing. I want to be a proper BT, but I just can’t seem to pray. What should I do?

Thanks, FR from New Jersey

Dear FR,

The old Novardok Yeshiva remedy for firing up a person with your problem is to say the prayer “Nishmas kol chai” from the Shabbos morning service; you can say it at any time or at any place, and it works wonders. Say each word slowly, loudly, and with fervor, as if you’re counting one-hundred dollar bills. If you don’t understand the Hebrew, say the translation from an English prayer book, then go back and say the Hebrew. Contemplate every word. By the time you’re through, you’ll have thawed out. Normally, when a person says “Nishmas” like he/she should, he/she kindles a bonfire of love for Hashem in their heart.
Read more Remedies for Spiritual Freeze