Elul…make the most of it

Elul…sweetness, light, redemption.

This is the month that Hashem gives us the opportunity to determine our destiny. Not to succumb to a fate that is inconsistent with our innermost desire but the choice to proactively affect our lives. The Slonimer Rebbe z”l writes that on Rosh Hashana we choose the life we want to live and ask for the tools that will assist us in refining and lighting up our world. Elul is a 30 days of preparation so that you have absolute clarity when making that decision.

The fact that you woke up this morning and are able to read this message is Hashem telling you, “I want you here, you have a mission to accomplish, and this mission has been waiting since the beginning of time for YOU to achieve.” We are here, partnering with Hashem to make a difference. We are granted the years of our life to fix, resolve and leave our mark, as we live our legacy. We don’t have much time. Seize the opportunities that are granted to you and make a difference.

We each have incredible potential and it’s about time that we stop talking and reading about it and take action. Live every day of your life to your best. Not the best…but YOUR best!

The questions we should be asking ourselves as we account for our existence are:
“Why am I here?”
“Am I living a meaningful life?”
“Am I living consistently with my values?”
“Am I the best spouse, teacher, friend, mentor, parent that I can possibly be?”

These are not “one off” questions, they are questions that can and need to be asked daily. These are the questions that help orient our lives and make them meaningful. Truthful answers to these questions have the power to help us transcend adversity and embrace each opportunity to reveal our inner essence.

We can be assured (but never perturbed) when at the moment of enlightenment, as we feel that we have discovered our unique mission in this world the inevitable happens. There will be a distraction. There will be obstacles. There will be challenges. And that is part of our story. Overcoming difficulty brings you closer to your mission. We are not born at the peak of a mountain, because it is not so much about the destination as much as it is about the journey to arrive there.

Hashem charges us to live a fulfilled life whereby we realize and actualize our dormant potential. We must act with courage to leap beyond our comfort zone to live our legacy.

אלול spelt backwards is לולא which translates as “if only”. This precious month is about reflecting all those lost opportunities throughout the year when I could have or should have but didn’t. It’s about asking for forgiveness for not bringing to the world what I was meant to. It’s about resolving to remain steadfast and committed to my mission.

May it be your will Hashem that we are granted clarity. That we are strengthened in our resolve to foster a deeper relationship with You as we embrace our unique mission in this world and remain loyal throughout the journey.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman has released an ebook “Days are Coming – Inspiration for Elul and Tishrei”. Subscribe at hitoreri.com to receive your copy.

Parshas Shekalim – Restoring the Fire

Here is an excerpt from the Shem MiShmuel on Parshas Shekalim: The Power of the Fiery Shekel:


Rabbi Meir said, “The Holy One, may He be blessed, took a type of fiery coin from under his Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe. He said to him, ‘This shall they give.’ ” (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4)


Reish Lakish said, “It was known and revealed to He Who spoke and made the world that in the future Haman would count out shekalim [to buy the right to exterminate] Yisrael. Therefore He arranged His shekalim [the obligatory half-shekel] to precede Haman’s shekalim.” (Megillah 13b)

When describing the evil nation Amalek, the Torah tells us that we should remember:

“…how he chanced upon you on the way…” (Devarim 25:18)

They cooled you down and made you lukewarm after your great heat, when all the nations feared to attack you. (Rashi loc. cit.)\

When Yisrael performed their mitzvos with a burning desire for closeness to God, they were invincible. But as soon as they lost their enthusiasm, as happened just prior to the war with Amalek, the enemy was able to strike, clearing a path for attack by any other adversary. As a future safeguard against this repeating itself on a national level, God gave the mitzvah of the half-shekel, the embodiment of excitement in mitzvah performance, the burning fervor of the fiery coin. Thus the Jewish people’s means of salvation was in place long before Haman, the wicked progeny of Amalek, was able to try his ancestral wiles against klal Yisrael. And in a deeper sense, we re-experience these feelings each year. Although we no longer give the half-shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, we are certainly able to reawaken our burning desire to serve God with all our strength.

We can now understand how it is that the simple mitzvah of the half-shekel can enable an errant Jew to rejoin the klal. Our task as Jews is to perform every mitzvah and to learn every word of the Torah with a great and passionate love. Failure to do so may mean that even a technically observant Jew has failed to achieve full membership of the Jewish nation. But anyone, even the least observant person, who appreciates the great power inherent in his soul and gives the half-shekel, intent on awakening these strengths, has revised his personality and Jewish orientation to the extent that he is now truly part of klal Yisrael.

The Tenth of Teves – A Fast for Torah

An excerpt From Torah.org:

The Rambam writes that the wise and the prophets should desire the arrival of Moshiach not because the stature of the Jews will have changed for the better, nor because they can then rejoice, but rather because they will be free to study the Torah without distraction. Exile is a time when we are all burdened with worries and afflicted by persecutions. Exile is not conducive to Torah study. With the start of the siege of Jerusalem, our exile effectively began. The splendor of the Torah began to dim. For the first time in our history, we were not in the optimal setting for Torah study. We were in a decline. With death of Ezra years later, the distance from the proper method of Torah study increased. With the translation of the Torah into Greek, we fell to a new low: not only were we in exile, but we were faced with the new challenge a translation presented.

The three events that the Fast of the Tenth of Teves commemorate share an unfortunate common denominator: a decline in diligent Torah study. This decline started with the siege of Jerusalem and remains with us until this very day. It is very clear what pain we are still suffering from that stems from the events of the Tenth of Teves. We should all feel this pain. We should all realize what a great loss we have been afflicted with. Most importantly, we should implement the words of the Rambam by reminding ourselves of these matters, so that we repent and improve our conduct.

A Succos Reawakening

A few years ago, on Chol HaMoed Succos, our family headed to New Jersey for a few days of outdoor fun. It’s the time of year when our family spends the most extended time together. One of the expected highlights was a ferry ride between Delaware and New Jersey where we hoped to spot dolphins and whales sporting in the water. Unfortunately, on the morning of the ferry ride, we got a late start and the ferry left without us. We missed the boat! The following year, our family excitedly set out for our annual Chol HaMoed Trip.

On this trip we headed, once again, for New Jersey making our first stop at Allaire State Park, a restoration type village twenty minutes from Lakewood. At the Park, we rode an old time railroad and the children placed coins on the tracks and marveled at how the locomotive flattened them and smoothed them out. Afterwards, we walked through the village watching a blacksmith perform his trade, 1800s style. Next, we rented old-time fishing poles: a reed of bamboo, a piece of string, a cork, and frozen hot dogs for bait! We fished in the village pond and it seemed like the entire village was cheering us on when we snagged quite a large tenacious fish, along with two other smaller fish. Finally, we hiked along the Manasquan water table surrounded by streams, creeks, a small waterfall, lush greenery and, to the delight of the children, lots of mud. That night, upon returning to Lakewood, we had a barbeque in the Succah complete with S’mores.

The next morning, we were off vegetable picking. We visited a farm where you can pick just about any vegetable you could imagine. Potatoes, string beans, sweet potatoes, peppers (even hot ones which left the kids red in the face, teary-eyed and screaming for a drink!). There were black-eyed peas, eggplants, cucumbers, onions, you name it. We picked zucchini nearly the length of my arm and about as wide as my thigh! We ate corn, sugar sweet, straight out of the husk, no cooking or butter needed, thank you. On the way back, we stopped at the Manasquan Reservoir where we took in a gorgeous sunset and the children romped in a park complete with a zip-line. The evening was topped off with pizza and ice cream in the Succah.

The next morning, back on the road again. This time to the Shenedoah River where we rented row boats and attempted to fish with a broken rod and reel and uncooperative worms. The setting was bucolic; shimmering water, bright sun, a light breeze and ducks diving for their lunch as we floated along.

After this whirlwind, incredible three days, I asked my four year old daughter which part of Chol HaMoed she liked the best. She looked up at me through her wispy bangs, widened her big blue eyes and said, in her sing-song voice: ‘The Lulav’. Whoa! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I almost missed the boat again! I almost got so caught up in the Chol, that I forgot the Moed. I picked up my daughter, swung her around, gave her a big hug and a kiss, and secretly thanked her for her unintended lesson.

The next morning, Hoshana Rabbah, I took advantage of my last chance of thr year to bentsch lulav. I made the brocha with extra focus and kavanah and with sincere thanks to Hashem, and my daughter, that I didn’t lose the lulav for the trees.

This piece originally appeared in Horizons magazine.
Originally posted October 23, 2006.

I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Is Judaism a meritocracy or an aristocracy?
Why do we dwell in our Sukkos on Shabbos but do not fulfill the mitzvah of Lulav on Shabbos?
Why is a stolen Lulav invalid for performing the mitzvah when one does fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah in anothers Sukkah?

[The nation of] Israel was crowned with three crown: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. Ahron merited the crown of priesthood, as the passuk-verse; declares: “And it will be an eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants following him.”(Bemidbar 25:13).  David merited the crown of royalty, as the passuk declares: “His progeny will continue eternally, and his throne will be as the sun before Me.” (Tehillim 89:37)

The crown of Torah lays at rest; waiting and ready for all, as the passuk declares:  “The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4).  Whoever desires may come and take it. Lest you say that the other crowns are superior to the crown of Torah, consider that the passuk declares: “By me [Torah], kings reign, princes decree justice, and nobles rule” (Mishlei 8:15,16).  Thus, you have learned that the crown of Torah is greater than the other two.

— Rambam: Laws of Torah Study 3:1, 2

 

Today is to do them (the mitzvos) and tomorrow is NOT to do them. Today is to do them and tomorrow is to receive their reward.

— Eruvin 22A

Judaism contains elements of both an aristocracy and a meritocracy. On the one hand being a Kohen, a Levi or a candidate for Moshiach– the Messiah; is purely an accident of birth.  Jewish identity itself is determined by biological matrilineal descent while tribal identity is determined by patrilineal descent.

But on the other hand our sages teach us that a mamzer-one born from a kares prohibited union; who is a talmid chacam-Torah scholar; takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol-High Priest; who is an am haaretz-ignoramus. Anticipating sociological patterns, Chazal comment “take heed of [the dignity of] the children of the impoverished, for Torah [scholarship] shall emanate from them”(Nedarim 81A) and “[why is it] that the sons of talmidei chachamim are rarely talmidei chachamim themselves?” (ibid).  Some of history’s greatest Jews e.g. Onkelos, Rabi Meir and Rabi Akivah were geirim-righteous converts; or their descendants.  On this level Judaism is the ultimate meritocracy with no glass ceilings that impede upward social-spiritual mobility.

We will see that paradoxically; the aristocratic, heredity-based aspect is actually the more egalitarian, classless of the two elements whereas the meritocracy creates a stratified, multi-tiered hierarchy. Based on two Halachic differences between Sukkah and Lulav-the four species; the Izhbitzer understands the two mitzvos of the holiday in light of the hereditary- and merit-based components of kedushas Yisrael-Jewish sanctity.

On Shabbos the Halachah exempts us from fulfilling the mitzvah of Lulav whereas we are still obligated in the mitzvah of Sukkah.  The reason for the contrast is that Shabbos is a scintilla of Olam Haba-the Coming-World wherein avodah-serving the Creator through the exercise of free-will; no longer exists. There (then?) all that the person toiled to acquire in the here-and-now world through his choices and actions are secured in his heart. This is why all 39 categories of creative activity are prohibited on Shabbos. Whether we are speaking of our weekly Shabbosos or “The Day that shall be entirely Shabbos and eternal rest”, only one who has exerted himself on Shabbos eve will enjoy the fruits of his labors on Shabbos (Cp. Avodah Zarah 2A). Sukkah is an effortless mitzvah, one is merely “there.” Sukkah represents the hereditary kedushas Yisrael present in the heart of every Jew passed along like spiritual DNA from the patriarchs. The mitzvah of Sukkah resonates with same the kind of “all our work is done” sensibility that inform Shabbos and Olam Haba.

But Lulav, which we take up in our hands and move in every possible direction of human endeavor, is characteristic of all mitzvos maasiyos– the mitzvos requiring decision-making, exertion and activity. The Izhbitzer’s disciple, Rav Laibeleh Eiger points out that the gimatriya-numerical value; of Esrog is 610. When we count the other three species used to fulfill the mitzvah along with the Esrog the sum is 613, the precise total of all of the mitzvos. The 4 species embody every possible avodah endeavor. There is something very proactive, workmanlike and this-worldly about Lulav that makes it inconsistent with Shabbos.

Read more I’m Happy … Feeling like a Room without a Glass Roof

Succah: A Temporary Structure

One of the interesting laws about a succah is that it isn’t allowed to be too high. How high is too high? The Mishnah tells us: 20 Amos, which is about 35 feet tall.

The Talmud explains that a succah has to be a temporary structure. It is meant to represent the travels of the Jews in the desert after The Exodus from Egypt. Likewise it is supposed to represent the transient nature of our material possessions in this world. “If the succah is too high it is invalid, because it will have to be built in a more permanent way.”

Interestingly, the Talmud maintains that a person is allowed to build a permanent succah, as long as it isn’t too high. It is only when a person builds a succah in a way that it is so high that it must be permanent, that halacha declares it invalid.

A few months ago I read an article written by a woman who described a life altering odyssey that she had undergone. She described how at the age of eighteen she was engaged to a wonderful man. She considered him the best guy in the world, and he catered to her every desire. And then he broke the engagement. He told her, “I really liked you. But I see that with you everything must be ‘just so’ for you to be happy. I cannot live a life like that.”

The writer explains how pained she was by the broken engagement. But eventually she took his words to heart, and realized that he was right. She was living a life where everything had to be just right for her to be happy. And she decided that she must change.

She began to challenge herself in every area of life to prove that she could survive in different circumstances. First she skipped meals occasionally; then she fasted. Sometimes she went to sleep late, sometimes she woke up early, even though this deprived her of her normal sleep routine. She came to realize that life still worked even if things weren’t the way she preferred.

We do not wish on anyone the challenging experiences that that woman went through. We certainly bless people with a life that is stable, permanent, and comfortable. But the message of the succah is that it doesn’t have to be perfect for us to be able to function. Our living life correctly doesn’t hinge on everything being “just right”.

When you build your succah you may build it permanent and beautiful. But you may not build it at a height that requires that it must be permanent, because that symbolizes an attitude that everything must be “just right”, otherwise it will not stand.

The Mishnah in Avos states that if a person wants to succeed in Torah he should, “Eat bread, drink water, and sleep on the floor.” Certainly there are people who have succeeded in Torah even though their menu was more varied than the Mishnah describes, and their accommodations more comfortable than sleeping on the floor.

What the Mishnah seems to be conveying is that to succeed in Torah, you have to realize than amenities are not requirements. You can build your succah as permanent as you wish, as long as your succah is not built in such a way that it must be permanent.

As one man said to me: I will mortgage my home if I must. I will sleep in a tent if that is what is required. But my daughter must have a Jewish education.

So as you build your succah of life, make sure to build it in a way that recognizes that it could be temporary. In that way you will ensure that your’s will be a succah that will last forever.

With best wishes for a wonderful Yom Tov,

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine
Originally Published October 2009

The 60 Second Guide to Succos

Three Principles of Judaism
Judaism believes in the importance of both action and belief. The Jewish principles of belief can be divided into three categories 1) G-d is the source and ultimate authority over all existence, 2) G-d revealed his plan for the perfection of the world through the prophetic experience, 3) G-d exercises providence over the world in response to man’s actions to assist in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection.

Jewish Holidays and The Three Principles
Every Jewish holiday has a spiritual energy which man can access in pursuit of self perfection. Three of the primary Jewish holidays help us strengthen our understanding and connection to the three principles of Jewish belief. Pesach is focused on G-d’s existence, Shavuos is focused on G-d’s revelation and Succos is focused on G-d’s providence.

Succos and G-d’s Providence
Succos is a reminder that G-d provided and continues to provide a special level of providence over the Jewish people. This special providence guarantees the physical survival of the Jewish people throughout history and provides a special continuing spiritual connection between G-d and every Jew. This special providence was originally provided by the special clouds that surrounded the Jews when they left Egypt. This providence is renewed every Succos when we live in the Sukkah and when we hold and wave the four species of the lulav, esrog, willows and mytle branches.

Happiness and Pleasure
Succos is a time of special happiness. Pleasure is the experiencing of unity and completion, while happiness is the active pursuit of that completion. We experience unity in the physical realm in a musical piece, work of art or the beauty of nature, in the emotional realm when two hearts beat as one, in the intellectual world through the understanding and reconciliation of ideas and concepts, and in the spiritual world through the experience of the unity of the body and soul.

The Happiness of Succos
On Succos the end of the harvest season provides physical happiness, the connection to others through the many meals and collective prayer services promotes emotional happiness, while the spiritual cleansing of Yom Kippur and the sense of G-d’s presence in the Sukkah creates a spiritual happiness.

May we all merit to use the tools G-d provided us to achieve the highest levels of understanding and happiness.

The Succah Hug

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman
hitoreri.com

My family loves hugs. Towards the end of my overseas trips or school camps, I eagerly anticipate my family’s hugs. And the longer I have spent away the more intense these hugs tend to be.

There are times in our lives when we just need a shoulder to lean on or a comforting cuddle. Then there are times when we really need a true bear hug.

The pasuk says, semolo tachas roshi, veyemino techabkaini, meaning, His left hand supports my head (referring to Rosh Hashana) and His right hand embraces me (referring to the sukkos hug). The left refers to the middas hadin which is when Hashem acts with discipline and judgment, while the right is representative of middas hachesed – Hashem’s loving kindness.

Succos is the time of year when Hashem gives us a hug. Interestingly, the succah can be built in a few ways: with two and a bit walls, three walls or ideally four walls. Some of us are ok with a shoulder to lean on (2 and bit wall succah), while some of us need a comforting cuddle (3 walls succah) but then there are those of us who need a huge Divine bear hug (4 walls succah).

After Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, while the intention is for us to purify and discover who we are, some of us are not really happy with what we discovered about ourselves or quite ready to make all the necessary changes. On Succos Hashem says: You are my beloved child and I love you anyway…come and give Me a hug.

It is the only mitzvah that we are are totally engaged in with every fibre of our being. With our clothes, possessions, and as one chassidic master said, “and even with the mud on your boots.”

Perhaps that is why succos is referred to as zman simchasainu – the time of our joy – because for seven precious days, Hashem accepts me and embraces me as I am. It is this acceptance and love that will hopefully spark within me the desire to return the hug, savour it, and remember its warmth when confronting the challenges or relishing in the joys this new year will bring.

Hug Sameach!

Kinah – Woe for all the heads without Tefillin – We have what to cry about!

1
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
2
The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
3
The Chutzpah around us and within.
The skirts…the so called “styles”…
the pressure to conform
The lewdness …the angry language
Rap -rap -rap….bark -bark –bark!
Bitter and desperate…is the new normal
The almost total loss of respect
Nothing and no one is Holy
The good ones are ridiculed-
The object of derision
For framing a G-dly Image
And dressing as humans do
For keeping the Shabbos Holy
Watching our eyes and tongues!
While pictures of the unthinkable
The pop-ups of our lives
Invade constantly
On every bus that passes by
Our brothers and sisters
Drop like fall leaves
Fewer and fewer hang strong
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
4
The inmates are running the asylum.
Clouds of chaos gather all around
Bombs are fashioned for our final solution
And we are lost in the mirror again.
Wondering if we are loved or looking good
70 wolves salivate with teeth like daggers
Aimed to devour our tiny flock!
Where are we?
Busy with our cell phones
Texting our way to oblivion
Dealing with emergencies of little import
Consumed by crumb size concerns
Like Chometz…And the size of our noses
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
5
The Chillul HASHEM
We have lost our luster
Suspicion surrounds us
The Nation of HASHEM
The people of truth
Are ridiculed and considered low
While every sports team and slick politician
Has their stadium…Their edifice their complex
Where their glory is on open display
Where is the place of HASHEM in this world?
Billions speak falsely in His name
Identity theft on the grandest scale
Religion is a rejected and dirty word
We are tagged zealots and bigots
For preserving four cubit of Halacha
This is our crime
And so we owe the world an apology
HASHEM and we His People
Share all time low approval ratings
For this we truly owe a broken heart
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
6
What can be done when what’s done is done?
Who can rebuild such a wall torn down?
Our Holy Temple is destroyed!
Echoing in the cosmos
Is a muffled scream!
Of unspeakable abuse
A silent crime!
Against our most beautiful daughters
Made to suffer alone
Scarred in a way
No one can say
With more than broken hearts
Shattered Tablets
And bitter memories
Bleed bad blood
And families crumble
With no happy choices
But to seek greatness
And avoid the pit of insanity
There I said it! Without saying it!
Woe to us on this bitter day!
We have what to cry about!
7
Where are our boys
Our three boys
The cry of a nation
How can we go up to our father
and the youth are not with us?
How can we go up to our Father in Heaven
and youthful innocence is no longer with us?
HASHEM wants the heart!
Where’s the heart?
A frantic cry and persistent search!
The pain of parents…all parents
Amplified and Magnified
The frustration of a nation
Turned sudden victims
Imprisoned by the worst news
Too little…too late
Savages have ravaged us
In our most sacred home
Three sweet faces of joy
Plucked from our midst
For the sake of pure cruelty
Our hearts… are shattered
Our minds are raging and
We are painfully aware
They are all our children
A piece of each of us is torn away
On this day of brutal truth!
We have what to cry about!
8
How did it happen? Where are you?
Unanswerable questions!
Persist in their asking!
Where a person’s mind is…
Says the Ba’al Shem Tov
That is where he is entirely!
So with a single Holy thought!
One of 60,000 a day!
An apple…a golden apple
Is rescued from the thieves
And goodness is restored
When opening our inner eyes
We begin to realize
The ground we are standing upon
Is not less than the Holy of Holies
The shoes are easily removed
A Burning bush…is revealed
We survived! We survived!
Till this historic moment!
You and I together
With a song …the wail of a longing heart…
Brought history and destiny to meet and embrace
As tearful friends reunited!
After thousands of years!
Moshiach is born!
On this special day!
We have what to cry about!

Na’aseh V’nishma – Making Torah Observance the Core or One’s Life

Rabbi Noson Weisz is one of the best at making spiritual concepts from the Ramban, the Maharal and Rabbi Dessler accessible.

In this essay, Rabbi Weisz explains:

Perhaps the best known passage in Jewish literature concerning the covenant at Sinai is the following passage of Talmud:

Rabbi Simai expounded, “When Israel uttered na’aseh before nishma, or “we will do” before “we will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came to each and every Jew and tied two crowns to each Jew, one corresponding to na’aseh and one corresponding to nishma. (Talmud, Sabbos, 88a)

The statement “we will do, and we will hear,” amounts to a commitment to carry out God’s commandments even before hearing what the observance of those commandments actually involves. Only someone who is totally willing to shape his entire life around Torah observance would be willing to make such a commitment.

To the modern mind, isn’t this kind of blind acceptance irrational?

BLIND ACCEPTANCE OR COERCION?

Perhaps we can begin to glimpse the answer to this question by considering a neighboring Talmudic passage nearly as well known as the previous.

They stood at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 19:17) R’Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said, “This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as though it were an upturned vat and He said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, well and good. But if not your burial will be right here!'” Rav Acha bar Yakov said, “From here stem strong grounds for a complaint of coercion regarding the acceptance of the Torah.” (Talmud, Shabos 88a)
This passage would appear to indicate the diametric opposite to the first; far from accepting the Torah willingly, the Jewish people had to be coerced to accept it.

Is there any way to reconcile a willingness to say na’aseh v’nishma with a need to coerce the Jews into accepting the Torah?

Give the article a read for an explanation according to the Maharal.

The One Minute Guide to Shavuos

The foundation of Judaism is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual. G-d created both a physical and spiritual world. The centerpiece of creation is man who is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. Our collective purpose is to transform the world into a unified G-d connected spiritual world.

To accomplish this spiritual transformation G-d transmitted the necessary knowledge and tools in the form of the Torah. The Torah informs us how to turn physical acts into G-d connected spiritual acts. Every positive act we perform can be G-d connected, but the ones with the greatest connection power are the mitzvos G-d explicitly specified in the Torah.

The holiday of Shavuos is the day that G-d spiritually transmitted the Torah. The entire Jewish nation experienced this transmission and Moses experienced it to a much greater degree. The day is filled with a spiritual energy through which we can deepen our commitment to connect to G-d through the learning of Torah.

On Shavuos and other Jewish Holidays (Passover, Succos), there is a mitzvah to enhance the joy of the holiday with one special meal at night and one special meal during the day. In doing so we transform the physical act of eating into a spiritual G-d connected activity.

Chag Someach!

Seven Ushpizin…then Shmini Atzeres

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-

 Every day [of Sukkos] they would go around the Mizbayach-altar once. But on that day [the seventh day AKA  Hoshannah Rabbah] they did so seven times.

– Tractate Sukkah 52A

 Rabi Avira extrapolated [some say that it was Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi] the Yetzer Hara– the inclination to Evil has seven names: HaShem called it “Evil”…Moshe called it “uncircumcised”…[King] david called it “impure”…[King] Shlomo called it “hater”… Yeshaya called it “obstacle”…Yechezkel called it “stone” Yoel called it “the concealed one”…

– Tractate Sukkah 43B

 The exodus from Egypt was incomplete until the parting of the Sea of Reeds seven days after the Slaying of the Firstborn and so we can easily understand why the Moed-holiday of Pesach lasts for seven days (in Israel/ on a Torah level). But whether the Sukkos that we dwell in are meant to recall actual booths or clouds of glory  it seems odd that the Moed-holiday of Sukkos should last for seven days plus an eighth day of Shmini Atzeres when the Moed of the Giving of the Torah, Shavuos, is a mere one day festival(in Israel/ on a Torah level.)

The Biskovitzer explains that each of the daily circuits (Hakafos) of the festival of Sukkos is meant to vanquish another aspect, another “name”, of the Yetzer Hara. This can be accomplished by properly welcoming the individual Ushpizin– ethereal guest for each day of the festival.  The placement of this teaching regarding the Yetzer Hara in tractate Sukkah informs us that HaShem empowered the seven Ushpizin as adversaries to the various aspects of the Yetzer Hara.  Each of the individual Ushpizin ‘s  specialized holiness undoes a different aspect of the Yetzer Hara . If an individual’s attitude is that he will not rest until that days characteristic of the Yetzer Hara is completely subdued and ameliorated, until he achieves a scintilla of Yaakov’s conquest of the angel who was not released from Yaakov’s grip until he agreed to bless him as Yisrael-the metaphysical equivalent of “crying uncle” (Bereshis 32:27), then he will have properly welcomed that days Ushpiz and will be aided by the Ushpiz in achieving his goal.

To illustrate the principle here are a few of the examples that the Biskovitzer provides:

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is uncircumcised we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to create barriers and blockages that obstruct the Torahs’s  message from ever entering a person’s heart. Yitzchak Avinu, the first one to be circumcised on the eighth day is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara.

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is an obstacle or a stumbling block we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s power to use smoke and mirrors to deceive people and trip them up on dangers unknown to them until after it is too late. Yaakov Avinu, the one who prevented the greatest of all cosmic errors, the near miss of Yitzchok conferring the blessings on Esav, is the Ushpiz who negates this aspect of the Yetzer Hara. Far from deceiving his father, it was Yaakov who saved his literally and figuratively blind father from falling into a trap that he was incapable of seeing himself. Long before it became one of the 613 Mitzvahs Yaakov fulfilled the pasuk of “You shall not set stumbling blocks before the blind” (V’Yikra 19:14)

When we say that the Yetzer Hara is a stone we refer to the Yetzer Hara’s being the irresistible force and the immovable object simultaneously.  There are times when we “hear” the Torahs message, truly want to do and be good and know full well that what we are doing is wrong but the Yetzer Hara is just too heavy and forceful to resist or turn aside and we in turn are too weighed down to flee. There was never anyone so oppressed by a dense, weighty temptation as Yoseph HaTzadik. The Yalkut Shimoni relates that his temptress, Potiphar’s wife even had him fitted with a weighted steel choker to try to get him to lower his head and eyes to compel him to gaze at her. Yet Yoseph HaTzadik resisted the irresistible temptation, rolled aside the immovable stone that would have immobilized a lesser man and “fled and got outdoors” (Bereshis 39:12-13).

Vanquishing the Yetzer Hara allows room, to draw HaShem K’vyachol-so to speak from His heavenly abode so that his Divine Indwelling inhabits the lower spheres of our material world. These seven days, seven circuits, seven Ushpizin and seven aspects are all preparatory to Shmini Atzeres, a day that alludes to the ultimate unity of HaShem and Israel and the utter eradication of the Yetzer Hara. This world is of seven days-six days of creation and the seventh day, Shabbos, that completes, complements, blesses and fulfills all the others. Anything characterized by eight is otherworldly. Shmini Atzeres is the sneak preview, the trailers of the time about which the Torah declares: “Hashem alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with Him.” (Devarim 32:12)

 Adapted from Neos Deshe;  Hoshana Rabbah D”H B’chol and Shmini Atzeres D’H Chag. (pages 168-170, 210-212 in new edition) 

 

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

Many veteran Chozrim B’Tshuva grapple with the problem of “plateauing”. The epiphanies and ecstasies of our journeys beginnings become ever-fading memories nearly lost in the mists of time. We yearn for those tempestuous days when every Torah thought was revolutionary and every insight was likely to generate a paradigm shift wherein one conceptual world view is replaced by another. Such insights fast-tracked our spiritual growth, empowered us to make major lifestyle changes and fueled our passion for Torah, Jewish community and our integration into K’lalYisrael. As months turned into years and decades we found ourselves confronted with the same sort of enthusiasm killing rote-Mitzvah-performance and been-there-done-that Torah study that dogged our FFB brethren. Now as we gray about the temples we’ve “arrived” as solid/stolid, well-established members of the Torah middle class. Yet in quiet desperation we ache for some miraculous elixir that will jump-start our growth and ascent.

The Izhbitzer Rebbe, HaGaon Rav Mordechai Yoseph Lainer OBM was the scion of a great Rabbinic dynasty and a leading disciple of the Chasidic schools of Przysucha (P’shischa) and Kotzk. In time he formed his own school. As a Rebbe-Chasidic Master in his own right he groomed and mentored such towering intellects and soaring spirits as Rav Leibeleh Eiger, Rav Tzadok-the Kohen of Lublin, his sons the Bais Yaakov and Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer and his grandson the Radzyner-Rav Gershon Henoch, the Ba’al HaT’cheles zecher kulom l’vracha.

Chasidic folklore has it that when Rav Mordechai Yoseph first visited Przysucha the Rebbe Reb Binim challenged him to…“see who’s taller”. Standing back to back, the strapping Rebbe towered over his diminutive neophyte disciple. Still, the Rebbe Reb Binim graciously conceded “Now I’m the taller one. But you’re still young. With the passage of time you shall grow” clearly implying that, ultimately, Rav Mordechai Yosephs level would exceed his own. That the student would grow taller than the mentor.

It was the Rebbe Reb Binim who first nicknamed Rav Mordechai Yoseph the Mei HaShiloach – “The Waters of the Shiloah”. This refers to the Silwan Brook that, by tradition, flowed slowly and deliberately through the Bais HaMikdash Courtyard. This flattering moniker is the Hebrew cognate of “still waters run deep”. The Rebbe Reb Binim said of Rav Mordechai Yoseph “He is like the waters of the Shiloah which flow unhurriedly and reach the deepest depths.”

The Rebbe Reb Binims assessment of the Izhbitzer was both apt and prescient. His Torah insights, and those of the school that he formed, eschew superficiality. While firmly anchored in Torah and Chasidic tradition the Torah of the Izhbitzer school is ground-breaking and, often, radical. An Izhbitzer insight turns everything we knew, all of our conventional Torah wisdom, on its ear. Not by overturning the apple cart but by digging more deeply and, as in the game of Boggle™, by shifting our vantage point. By turns genuine, profound, authentic and revolutionary the Divrei Torah of the Izhbitzer school have the power to help those of us who have flat-lined spiritually rediscover our red-blooded beating hearts and those of us on autopilot along the broad, well-traveled Torah information super-highway blaze new trails and ascend the roads less traveled.

This series, concentrating on the Parsha or the Jewish calendar, will attempt to draw still waters that run deep from Rav Mordechai Yosephs wellsprings for imbibing by the English speaking public. It is hoped that the refreshing Mei HaShiloach will serve (Mishlei 25:25) “As cold waters to a faint soul, so is good news from a far country” to recapture our youthful ardor to ascend for life.

The Ramchal on the Yomim Tovim

[5] The Highest Wisdom also decreed to give Israel additional sanctity by granting them holy days other than Shabbos, when the Jew receives various levels of holiness. None of these holy days, however, have as much Influence and sanctity as Shabbos.

The degree to which a person must abstain from worldly occupations on these days depends on the level of their Influence. Various types of work are therefore forbidden on many of these days.

Yom Kippur is the highest of these holy days, and therefore the prohibition against work is the most severe.

Below this are the other festivals, and on a still lower level, their intermediate days (Choi ha-Mo’ed).

Lower yet is the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), when only women abstain from work.

Finally, there are Chanukah and Purim, when work is not curtailed at all. On Chanukah thanks are offered, and in addition to this, Purim is a time of joy. All these levels depend on the particular sustenance granted, which is the spiritual Light that shines on that particular day.

[6] Besides the sanctification that exists to various degrees depending on the holiness of each particular day, there is another concept that is specific to each one.

On each of these special days, something happened whereby at this time a great rectification was accomplished and a great Light shone. The Highest Wisdom decreed that on every anniversary of this period, a counterpart of its original Light should shine forth, and the results of its rectification renewed to those who accept it.

We are therefore commanded to observe Pesach with all its rituals to recall the Exodus. At the time of the Exodus, we experienced an extremely great rectification, and therefore, on the anniversary of this event, there shines forth a Light that parallels the one that illuminated us then. Since the results of that rectification are renewed in us, we are obliged to keep all these rituals.

Shavuos likewise involves a great rectification, since it is the time when the Torah was given.

Sukkos involves the Clouds of Glory, as it is written (Vayikra 23:43), “That future generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in sukkos Even though this is not celebrated on the anniversary of the Exodus, the Torah set a time that is appropriate for its commemoration.

Chanukah and Purim also involve this same concept. The is true of the days mentioned in the Scroll of Fasts (Me. Ta’anis). These were annulled, however, because the could not abide by them, and were therefore exempted commemorating them to stimulate their original light.

Translation from the Way of G-d – Feldheim

Here are the dates and approximate year of the Yomim Tovim

3924 BCE – Creation of the physical universe

3924 BCE – Creation of man: – Rosh Hoshana (1st of Tishrei)

3924 BCE – Rest from Creation – Shabbos

1476 BCE – Exodus from Egypt – Passover – 1st day (15th of Nissan)

1476 BCE – Splitting of Red Sea – Passover – last day (22th of Nissan)

1476 BCE – Receiving Torah at Mount Sinai – Shavuos (6th of Sivan)

1476 BCE – Golden Calf & Breaking of 1st Tablets- (17th of Tammuz)

1476 BCE – Second Set of Tablets – Yom Kippur (10th of Tishrei)

1476 BCE – Return of Clouds of Protection – Succos (15th of Tishrei)

The 60 Second Guide to Succos

Three Principles of Judaism
Judaism believes in the importance of both action and belief. The Jewish principles of belief can be divided into three categories 1) G-d is the source and ultimate authority over all existence, 2) G-d revealed his plan for the perfection of the world through the prophetic experience, 3) G-d exercises providence over the world in response to man’s actions to assist in bringing the world to its ultimate perfection.

Jewish Holidays and The Three Principles
Every Jewish holiday has a spiritual energy which man can access in pursuit of self perfection. Three of the primary Jewish holidays help us strengthen our understanding and connection to the three principals of Jewish belief. Pesach is focused on G-d’s existence, Shavuos is focused on G-d’s revelation and Succos is focused on G-d’s providence.

Succos and G-d’s Providence
Succos is a reminder that G-d provided and continues to provide a special level of providence over the Jewish people. This special providence guarantees the physical survival of the Jewish people throughout history and provides a special continuing spiritual connection between G-d and every Jew. This special providence was originally provided by the special clouds that surrounded the Jews when they left Egypt. This providence is renewed every Succos when we live in the Sukkah and when we hold and wave the four species of the lulav, esrog, willows and mytle branches.

Happiness and Pleasure
Succos is a time of special happiness. Pleasure is the experiencing of unity and completion, while happiness is the active pursuit of that completion. We experience unity in the physical realm in a musical piece, work of art or the beauty of nature, in the emotional realm when two hearts beat as one, in the intellectual word through the understanding and reconciliation of ideas and concepts, and in the spiritual world through the experience of the unity of the body and soul.

The Happiness of Succos
On Succos the end of the harvest season provides physical happiness, the connection to others through the many meals and collective prayer services promotes emotional happiness, while the spiritual cleansing of Yom Kippur and the sense of G-d’s presence in the Sukkah creates a spiritual happiness.

May we all merit to use the tools G-d provided us to achieve the highest levels of understanding and happiness.

For My Husband, Ode to Our Last Sukkah

We didn’t realize it would be,
The last sukkah of you and me.
Those boards, they stretched – it wasn’t wide,
Still all our children fit inside.
And grandchildren, as they came too,
And all the guests, thanks most to you.

The decorations that you saved,
All through the years, everyone raved.
How our grandchildren loved to see
What their parents once made at three!
The decorations grew and grew,
As each year brought us something new.

Now we go to our children’s home.
Now we are the ones who roam.
Yes, over thirty years have passed,
Our fragile house of hope did last.
As baal teshuvas we began this trend.
May our chain of sukkahs never end.
What was built came out of our hunger, our thirst.
It wasn’t our last sukkah. Just our first.


Bracha Goetz is the author of sixteen children’s books, including Remarkable Park , Let’s Stay Safe! and The Invisible Book.

What Should Baalei Teshuvah Do To Increase Their Chances of Acceptance?

Acceptance and Rejection are big concerns of Baalei Teshuva.

What should Baalei Teshuvah do to increase their chances of acceptance?

What should Baalei Teshuvah avoid doing to minimize the chances of rejection?

Is it even possible for Baalei Teshuvah to increase their chances of acceptance?

Submitted by Derech Emet
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DerechEmet/

Sukkos Thoughts

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Every Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos we read the Haftorah (Yechezkel, Chapter 38) about the final confrontation at the end of days between Gog and the nation of Israel. How does Succos connect with Gog, Magog and the end of days? It is ironic to note that after the exodus from Egypt, while travelling in the desert, a place that offers absolutely no natural security or protection, the Jewish people experienced their greatest sense of true security, protected from their enemies and entirely provided for by G-d. Every year, when theJew leaves his home for a week to eat, sleep and live in a succah; an often flimsy structure with a roof made of bits of wood, reed, bamboo, etc., he actualizes this idea that ultimate care and protection come only from G-d. By virtue of the closeness to G-d he has achieved during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he can now experience a sense of true security. The word “Gog” in Hebrew means roof. Modern man, divorced from a belief in G-d, deeply believes that a good job, a big bank account, a solid economy, a high tech army, in short, a strong solid “roof over his head,” is the source of true security. These two world views cannot co-exist forever. We are told by the prophets that armageddon is inevitable, a final confrontation that will witness the destruction of mankind’s false faith. Succos teaches us that our apparently flimsy roofs will ultimately be triumphant over modern man’s misguided sense of security.

Rabbi Chaim Salenger from Ohr Somayach

Hidden and Revealed

The essence of Rosh Hashanah is our crowning of G-d as our “king.” A coronation, explain the Chassidic masters, is effected by two things — unity and joy: a people joyously unite to select, accept and submit to an exalted figure who embodies their collective identity and innermost strivings (if the coronation lacks either joy or unity, chassidic teaching explains, it results not in a true king, but merely in a “ruler”). But there is also a third element without which the coronation could not happen — awe. And the nature of awe is that it eclipses and mutes the joy. Sukkot, then, is simply the revelation of Rosh Hashanah. The joy and unity that are the essence of our commitment to G-d, and which were “concealed” by the awe that characterizes the first days of Tishrei, erupt on the 15th of the month in the form of the festival of Sukkot.

In the words of the Psalmist, “Sound the shofar on the new moon, in concealment to the day of our festival.” Our crowning G-d king with the sounding of the shofar on the 1st of Tishrei (“the new moon”) remains in concealment until “the day of our festival,” the full moon of Sukkot, when it manifests itself in a seven-day feast of joy.

Yanki Tauber of Chabad.org

Reality Therapy

The holiday of Sukkot is an exercise in faith. True faith is not the belief that because God runs the world, everything will turn out the way we would like it to. True faith is the belief that because God runs the world, however things turn out is an expression of His love for us and is for our ultimate good.

When we leave our houses to dwell in the sukkah, we leave behind the illusion of security fostered by our cozy homes. After all, our houses may be invulnerable to rain, but they are vulnerable to the bank’s foreclosure. All physical security is an illusion. In this sense, Sukkot is a week of reality therapy.

Instead, the sukkah offers the comfort (and joy) of dwelling within the Divine Presence. The mystical Clouds of Glory surround the sukkah, creating a place of Divine immanence. The nature of spiritual reality is that it is eternal, imperishable, and invincible.

Sara Yoheved Rigler at Aish.com

Chag Someach to All

Have a wonderful joyful Succos.
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From Derech Emes

Directions of Lulav Waivings
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Rashi: left, right, front, back, up, down

Tur: front, left, right, back, up, down

Beth Yosef and Rema: front, right, back, left, up, down

Levush: front, right, left, up, down, back

Ari: right, left, front, up, down, back

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Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos – Actions to Match Up to Our Prayers

From Days of Majesty – By Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the golden calf and were given the second set of luchos. Yet even after this tremendous act of pardon, we still did not know if we had found favor in Hashem’s eyes. During the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, the Jewish people gave away much of the wealth that they had taked from Egypt, for the sake of building the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the dessert. On Sukkos Hashem responded by showing His intense love for us when He returned the Clouds of Glory (commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Shir HaShirim 1:4)

Every year from Elul until Yom Kippur, we toil to repair our relationship with our Creator. When Yom Kippur ends, although we are cleansed of our aveiros, our job is not complete. Between Yom Kippur and Sukkos we engage ourselves completely in mitzvos in order to encourage Hashem to show His deep love for us. Perhaps these four days are the most critical in the entire Jewish calendar, for they determine the true extent of our devotion to HaShem. The intense love that is meant to exist between us cannot return until our actions match up to our prayers.

In the merit of our serving HaShem with devotion, may he show His true love to us, His children, and bring us all back to His Home quickly.