Using The Power of Yom Kippur

The human experience is quite conflicted. As Dr. David Lieberman says “Our body wants to feel good, our ego wants to look good, and our soul wants to do good.”

On Yom Kippur we set aside the desires of the body by not eating, drinking, bathing or having marital relationships.
We tone down the demands of the ego by confessing our faults and mistakes to G-d and by making restitution and asking for forgiveness from any people we may have harmed financially or emotionally.

When we eliminate the demands of our body and ego we can discover who we really are: amazing spiritual people who want to control our drives, love other people, and live with the awareness of our purposeful Creator who has given us the spiritual tools to perfect ourselves and the world.

May we all use the fasting, confessions and the power of the day to strengthen our spiritual foundations, so we can organize our lives and our world around loving, giving and fulfilling our purpose.


Do you suffer from Jonah-itis?

If you have one or more of the following symptoms you may be suffering from Jonah-itis:

– You are an expert in distracting yourself from doing what you are supposed to be doing.

– You have clarity in your core purpose, your mission, but rationalize why you should not actually be fulfilling it.

– You would rather die than move out of your comfort zone to accomplish something awesome.

– You would be prepared to spend exorbitant amounts of money to escape your reality and calling.

This disease is debilitating and may have disastrous consequences if not treated at the first sign of symptoms. Be warned that ignoring the symptoms is not an option – you will need to accomplish your core purpose whether you like it or not and whether you want to or not.

At the root of these symptoms is an individual’s unwillingness to admit that they are in this world to fulfill a higher spiritual purpose.

This disease was first is diagnosed in Jonah (Yona HaNavi) and is therefore named after him. None other, then Gd Himself, gave Jonah his personal mission. Yet he rejected it. He tried to escape. He rationalized it as not a good thing. Instead, he was willing to spend all his money to board a ship to nowhere and give up his life rather then surrender to a higher will. But ultimately Gd’s will must be fulfilled and Jonah had to surrender his personal desire and rational understanding to that of Gd.

Teshuva is a 3 step process:

1. Acknowledging and letting go – acknowledge the mistake and articulate exactly what went wrong. Feel the pain of the moment and meditate on it briefly. Let go of the resistance/rationalization/negativity. Recognize that it is our own inhibitions that are holding us back from accomplishing what we have been sent here to accomplish.

2. Taking ownership – verbalize the resistance or negativity either in writing or orally. This does not need to be communicated to anyone but keep it and return to it if and when faced with similar challenges in the future.

3. Commitment – committing to move forward is the most important step of all. Acknowledging, as human beings, our fragility and vulnerability to making mistakes whilst committing not to look at our mistake as a failure but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow.

You know my friends, from the beginning of time all the way back to Adam, Avraham and Moshe a certain pattern was evident. These people were heroes…men who had the courage to rise to a challenge and change the world in the process. Before doing so however they each went through a deep and usually painful internal struggle. It was only their persistence in the face of adversity, their desire and unbinding resolve to achieve the seemingly impossible that enabled them to become the heroes of history.

This same pattern can be observed among all heroic men and women who have made a real difference in our world. We all have a hero inside of us that is waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately it is usually only by overcoming massive internal inertia, a tragic event or some other a major challenge that helps you discover who you really are. You are the hero in this story of yours.

And perhaps my friends this is the reason that we read Maftir Yona towards the end of Yom Kippur – as a remedy to Jonah-itis. Yom Kippur is a call to action to each one of us to do teshuvah – to acknowledge and let go of our sins, our mistakes; to take ownership of our resistance and negativity and to commit to bring the tikkun/the repair to the world that only you can bring through the fulfillment of your core purpose, your unique mission.

This Yom Kippur the choice is yours.…or may be its not.

The Ramchal (Derech Hashem) on Yom Kippur

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) From Derech Hashem.

The significance of Yom Kippur is that God set aside one day for Israel, when their repentance is readily accepted and their aveiros (sins) can easily be erased.

Kapora actually erases aveiros, which is way beyond waht Selicha (forgiveness) and Mechila (pardon) acommplish. Yom Kippur is the one day set aside for this Kapora and the Ramchal points out that they can easily be erased on this day.

This rectifies all the spiritual damage caused by these aveiros, and removes the darkness that strengthened itself as a result of them.

Every time we do an aveira (sin) much spiritual damage is caused and darkness (which includes the concealment of G-d) is strengthened. But the Kapora of Yom Kippur corrects the spiritual damage and removes the resulting darkness resulting from our sins.

Individuals who do teshuva (repent) on this day can therefore return to the levels of holiness and closeness to God from which they were cast as a result of their sins, for it is on this day that a Light shines forth that can complete this entire concept.

To accomplish this erasing of Aveiros we need to do teshuva. Yom Kippur has a special Light (spiritual energy) which enables us to return to the level we were at before we did our Aveiros.

Rabbi Dessler points out that the Teshuva of Yom Kippur is of a different nature and is much more achievable than the Teshuva of any other day. In the Rambam’s Hichos Teshuva, the formulation for Teshuva for Yom Kippur is noticeably different from the formulation for every other day besides Yom Kippur. Perhaps the Ramchal is alluding to this difference when he said above that our aveiros “can easily be erased on this day”.

In order to receive this Light, Israel must keep all the commandments associated with this day.

To access this spiritual cleansing we need to do the mitzvos of the day.

This is particularly true of the fast, since this causes each individual to be greatly divorced from the physical and elevated, to some degree, toward the aspect of the melachim (angels).

The fast is a Torah level mitzvot as opposed to a Rabbinic enactment. By abstaining from our main daily physical activity, eating, our spiritual side is more pronounced and this increase in spiritual character moves us in the direction of the purer spiritual creations, like the melachim (angels).

Other details of this day depend on the particulars of this rectification.

It’s a good day to follow all the mitzvos to the best degree possible.

Tzom Gedaliah

Tzom Gedaliah (Fast of Gedaliah) is an annual fast day instituted by the Jewish Sages to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah Ben Achikam, the Governor of Israel during the days of Nebuchadnetzar King of Babylonia. As a result of Gedaliah’s death the final vestiges of Judean autonomy after the Babylonian conquest were destroyed, many thousands of Jews were slain, and the remaining Jews were driven into final exile.

The fast is observed on the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah, the third of Tishrei. In the Prophetic Writings this fast is called ‘The Fast of the Seventh’ in allusion to Tishrei, the seventh month.
— from

There have been many, many righteous people who have died. In fact, there is probably no day in the year which did not have a righteous person die on it. Does this mean that we should fast every day?

The Maharsha, who asks this question, provides the following explanation: We fast on this day not solely because Gedalya was killed. It is true that Gedalya’s death in it of itself was a tragedy, as he was righteous. However, it is because of the effect his death had – that all Jews left the land of Israel and went into exile – that we fast. We see how great of a tragedy the death of a righteous person is by the fact that the mention of this fast in the verse in Zecharia is juxtaposed with all the other fasts which commemorate the destruction of the Temple. The common denominator between the four fasts listed in the verse is the fact that the extent of the tragedy of all of them is equal, because the death of a righteous person is on par with the destruction of the Temple. Although this is true, we do not, and we practically could not, fast on every day a righteous person died.

The Maharsha continues and tells us what we are supposed to learn from the events which we are commemorating with a fast today. This murder took place in the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur – the holiest time of the year. Yishmael should have thought about what he was going to do, realized what time of the year it was, and instead of assassinating Gedalya, he should have repented. We all know that did not happen. Yishmael not only killed a person, he killed a righteous person, and caused the nation of Israel to suffer a great tragedy which we feel to this day.

We see that after the two days on which the whole nation of Israel prayed for life and a good year, we suffered a great downfall. On this day, we should truly feel troubled and worried about our devotion to Hashem. We should focus our prayers on requesting mercy from Hashem. We should not be so confident that the prayers we just completed on Rosh HaShana sufficed. We should ask from Hashem that not only should He raise us from the depths to which we have sunk after our downfalls, but He should decree a good and long life for the whole nation.

— from

One Minute Guide to Rosh Hashanah

The foundation of Judaism is that all existence is dependent on G-d who created, supervises and influences both the spiritual and physical realms of the universe.

In addition G-d created man who was given the tools and instructions to perfect and unify the physical world and connect it back to its G-dly source.

Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of man, G-d evaluates our progress in our mission both individually and collectively and judges what resources and events are necessary to help bring the world closer to its perfection.

Although the judgment is partially based on our past year’s performance, a major determinant is our commitment for the upcoming year.

To what degree are we committed to helping others and increasing our spiritual capabilities and to what degree will we succumb to the always present pull of ego-centricity and self-centered materialism.

The Shofar which was present at the giving of the Torah and will be sounded when we have succeeded in our mission, gives tribute today to the King of Kings.

The observance of the mitzvah of Shofar testifies that we are still committed to G-d’s plan and enables the spiritual judicial system to dismiss our mistakes for mitigating circumstances.

May we all increase our spiritual commitments and thereby merit to be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Ten Ways to Help Your Children Have a More Meaningful Yomin Noraim

1. Explain to your children how Hashem actively seeks ways to forgive, and will forgive them – even if the best they can do is want to do teshuva.

2. Remind them that Yiddishkeit is not all-or-nothing – that their aveiros do not invalidate their mitzvos or diminish Hashem’s love.

3. Model the virtue of personal growth by sharing your own goals to improve a particular mitzvah or middah, or by working to improve something together with your children.

4. Urge them to privately recall something they wish they could undo, and reassure them that now is their opportunity to erase whatever they regret.

5. Share your personal stories of Hashgacha Pratis with your children to demonstrate Hashem’s direct involvement in your family’s day-to-day lives.

6. Encourage your children to focus on two or three things they truly appreciate as constant reminders of Hashem’s benevolence in their own lives.

7. Sincerely ask your children for mechilah during the Yomim Noraim to teach that everyone can make mistakes, and are equally worthy of being forgiven.

8. Suggest they undertake a small goal to improve their Yiddishkeit with reassurance that the most proper and effective way to grow is through small, obtainable steps of self-improvement.

9. Make a special effort during the Yomin Noraim to model Hashem’s middah of patience, compassion and forgiveness in your interactions with your spouse and children.

10. Show your children they are the center of your world. Postpone a meeting or ignore a phone call to make time for them so they’ll feel cherished and can comprehend that Hashem, too, considers them the center of His world.

For for more information about Priority-1’s training programs, resources and consultations for parents and educators, please call 800-33-FOREVER or visit

Falling In or Standing Out?

Why is Viduy Maasros called a viduy when we aren’t confessing to any wrongdoing?
Chazal teach us that on Rosh Hashanah we are judged collectively and individually. How is that possible?
… I have removed all sacred shares from my home; I have given [the suitable shares] to the Levi, the orphan and widow, in accordance with all the precepts that You commanded us. I have not transgressed your commands nor have I forgotten anything. I have not consumed of it [the second maaser-tithe;] while in mourning, I have not apportioned / consumed any of it while tamei-halachically impure; nor have I used any for the dead, I have paid attention to the Voice of HaShem my Elokim and have acted in harmony with all that You commanded me.

—Devarim 26:13,14

Hashkifah-Look down; from your holy meon– habitation; in heaven and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us, the land streaming milk and honey, as You swore to our forefathers.

—Ibid 15

And the men arose from there, and they looked down upon Sodom …

—Bereishis 18:16

and they looked down:  Wherever the word הַשְׁקָפָה =hashkafah is found in TeNaK”h, it indicates misfortune, except (Devarim 26:15) “Look down (הַשְׁקִיפָה) from your holy meon,” for the power of gifts to the poor is so great that it transforms the Divine attribute of Wrath to Mercy.

—Rashi ibid from Midrash Tanchuma Ki Sisa 14

Divine Judgment is passed on the world at four intervals [annually] … On Rosh Hashanah all those who’ve come into the world pass before Him like children of Maron i.e. single-file, individually

Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 16A

And [please] do not put Your slave on trial; for before You [under Your exacting judgment] no living being will be vindicated.

—Tehillim 143:2

Who can say: “I have made my heart meritorious; I have purified myself from my sin”?

—Mishlei 20:9

Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said in the name of Rav Yochanan: [All the same on Rosh Hashanah] they are all viewed [together] with a single [all-encompassing] look. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok said: We also have learned the same idea: “[From the place of His habitation He looks השגיח upon all the inhabitants of the earth.] He that inventively designed the hearts of them all, Who comprehends all their doings” (Tehillim 33:14,15). … what it means is this: The Creator sees their hearts all-together and considers all their doings[collectively].

Gemara Rosh Hashanah 18A

The revealed facet of this teaching of the sages is self-evident but the esoteric meaning is undoubtedly difficult to grasp

—Rambams commentary to Mishnah ibid

Rabi Yochonan taught “tithe so that you grow wealthy.”

—Taanis 8B

The pauper speaks pleadingly; but the affluent respond impudently.

—Mishlei 18:23

 The juxtaposition of the Yamim Nora’im-days of Awe; and Parashas Ki Savo, almost always read a mere two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, is among the oddest vagaries of the Torah calendar. Whereas the month of Elul, the yemei Selichos and Yamim Noraim are characterized by detailed A-Z confessionals the “viduy” maasros-“confession” of proper tithing; that we find in Parashas Ki Savo seems to be anything but a confessional. While the Sforno and other commentaries search for a subtextual sin being alluded to; on the surface it reads like a kind of turned-on-its-head anti-confessional informed by an apparently unseemly braggadocio.

In it the “confessor” does not own up to any wrongdoing at all. On the contrary — he spells out all of the righteous and law-abiding things that he has done vis-à-vis the tithing of his agricultural produce.  If this braggarts confessional were not enough the cocky confessor concludes his Divine conversation with a crude, insistent, strong-armed demand; boldly inviting Divine scrutiny and reeking of tit for tat: “Hashkifah … and bless Your people Israel, and the soil that You have given us … as You swore to our forefathers.” It’s almost as if the confessor was kivyachol-so to speak; challenging HaShem by insisting “I’ve done mine, now You do Yours!”

We know that on the yemei hadin-judgment days; of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the Divine Judgment proceeds along two, seemingly mutually exclusive tracks; the individual and the collective.  On the one hand the mishnah teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, like sheep passing beneath the shepherds crook for exclusive inspection, all pass before G-d single-file, kivyachol, to be judged individually.  But on the other hand the gemara, teaches that on Rosh Hashanah all are viewed and judged collectively with a single all-encompassing look. According to the Lubliner Kohen, the gemara was, so to speak, apprehensive of the awesome and awful implications of trying to survive such a withering examination and, so, it diluted “sweetened” absolute justice with the less demanding single, all-encompassing look. The Rambams comment that “the esoteric meaning of this mishnah is undoubtedly difficult to grasp” is interpreted by one of the great 20th century Jewish thinkers to mean that judging collectively and individually simultaneously are two antithetical elements in one process. It seems impossible that they could coexist.

That said, being judged as a member of a large collective is the safer of the two tracks and lends itself to greater optimism for a positive outcome for the defendants. As the Izhbitzer explains; HaShem judgmental scrutiny is infinite in its scope and breadth and plumbs the infinitesimal in its attention to detail.  Whenever He focuses on a single individual that individual is gripped by terror, for no individual can face G-d and declare that s/he is completely righteous and totally free of sin. One on trial by G-d can only exhale and begin to relax a bit when s/he is part of a communal body and when it is that collective entity, rather than its individual component parts, that is being judged. In a collective the component parts “clarify” one another for every soul is outstanding and pure in one specialized field. Or, as the Lubliner Kohen puts it, component parts of the whole are complimentary.  What one lacks another completes … and vice versa.

Read more Falling In or Standing Out?

Having and Being and the Happiness of Sukkot

In this article by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, she brings down the Orchot Tzadikim to explain that happiness is never about having, it is about being”

“Western society is infused with the right of the pursuit happiness. We hunt it down with relentless drive. Do we find it? I’m not so sure. Sure, no one is happy when they are hungry, cold, in pain, or deprived of companionship. But the tricky part is that being satiated, warm, healthy and surrounded by our fellow homo sapiens doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness.

Orchot Tzadikim, one of the classic Jewish ethical works, presents us with an interesting theory: Happiness is never about having (possessions, status, friends, etc.); it is about being. Ultimately it is about abandoning the role of a stranger in the universe, and becoming experientially mindful of God’s constant love, wisdom and providence. The result is a continual feeling of serenity and content that is independent of outside factors.

By no means does this mean escapism or denial. It means acceptance of the fact that we are here to elevate ourselves and the world around us, and that we need the inspiration and challenges that God provides for this to happen.”

Read the article to find the seven ways that the Orchos Tzaddim presents to can change our thinking and to bring the happiness of Sukkot into our lives.

Defeating Self-Defeat

Why do people constantly sabotage themselves?
How does the scapegoat atone for the sins of Uza and Azael?

And Ahron [the Kohen Gadol-high priest] should place two lots on the two goats; one [marked] for HaShem and the other [marked] for Azazel

— Vayikra 16:8

And Ahron should press his two hands on the live goats head and confess all the sins of the Bnei Yisrael-Jewish people; on it, rebellious acts and unintentional offenses.  When, by doing so, he has placed them [all of these sins] on the goats head, he should send it into the desert with a man of the hour.

— Ibid 16:21

What would he [the man of the hour] do? He would take a crimson ribbon and tear it in two.  Half was tied to a sharp boulder while the other half was tied between the goat’s two horns.  He then pushed the goat backwards [over the peak] and it would roll down the mountain.  The goat was ripped limb from limb before it got halfway down the craggy mountain.

— Mishnah Yoma 6:6

The Rabbis taught: [why] “Azazel”?  That it should be strong and hard … the academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught [why] “Azazel”? for it atones for the deeds of Uza and Azael [two fallen angels].

—Yoma 67B

Rami bar Chama taught: the numerical values of the word Hasoton-the Satan; is 364. This implies that for 364 days of the year he has authorization to prosecute but that on [one of the year’s 365 days] Yom Kippur … he does not.

—Yoma 20A

Reish Lakish taught: The Satan-the prosecuting attorney on High; the Yetzer Hara-the inclination to evil; and the Malach Hamaves-the Angel of Death; are one and the same entity.

—Bava Basra 16A

It is odd and almost counterintuitive that man, allegedly the most highly evolved of all organisms, should have the weakest of all survival instincts.  From the cradle to the grave humans are capable of reckless behaviors that endanger lives and limbs.  Humanities self-destructive tendencies manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways.  From subconscious acts of self-sabotaging predicated on the excessive fear of failure, to cuttings and other forms of self-inflicted mutilation; from anorexia to obsessive overeating; from rampant consumerism that spells ecological disaster to nuclear fueled geopolitics that continue to push the envelope towards assured mutual destruction.

The most striking expression of the inclination to self-destruct is found in individuals who commit suicide including the most faddish and trendy iterations of murdering oneself including physician-assisted suicide, cop-assisted suicide and murder-suicides characteristic of both domestic violence and terrorist bombings. All in all both individual humans and humanity as a whole seem hell-bent on self-destruction.

Whence this uniquely human drive to destroy ourselves?

The centerpiece avodah –Divine service; of Yom Kippur was the lottery of the two goats; one goat dedicated to HaShem whose blood was sprinkled in the inner sanctum while the other goat was designated as the sair laAzazel-the goat “dedicated” to Azazel; and was pushed off of a jagged cliff in the desert wilderness.  In the popular vernacular the goat that “lost” the lottery is commonly known as the scapegoat.  Many a proverbial quill has been broken in the commentaries attempts to explain such a puzzling avodah, especially on the holiest day of the year. The Ramban characterizes it as a bribe to the sitra achara-“the ‘other’ [dark] side”; while the Lubliner Kohen does not mince words and calls it an act of idolatrous worship that is, nevertheless, the Will of HaShem.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer Rebbe, offers a novel approach that recasts the sair laAzazel as the antidote for the human drive for self-destruction. But before presenting it I must introduce the foundation to unlocking the mystery of human self-destructiveness upon which the Bais Yaakov’s approach is based. It is a teaching found in the text and a hagahah-margin gloss; in Rav Chaim Volozhiners Nefesh Hachaim (pp.21, 23).

Read more Defeating Self-Defeat

The 60 Second Guide to Yom Kippur

While Rosh Hashanah is focused on G-d’s existence, authority and supervision of the world, Yom Kippur is focused on our role in G-d’s plan for the perfection of humanity.

We’re created half-spiritual and half-physical with a strong ego, so we’re conflicted between doing what is good (spiritual) and what feels (physical) or looks good (ego).

Judaism does not deny us physical or accomplishment pleasures, rather we’re instructed to make these pleasures secondary to a focus on becoming giving, emotionally mature, G-d aware individuals.

However, because the ego and body drives are so strong, we make mistakes and instead of driving towards the long-lasting perfection of our spirit, we pursue short-lasting and often self-destructive physical and ego satisfaction pleasures.

G-d expects that we’ll make mistakes and He gives us the means to self-correct and erase the negative effects of our mistakes on the day of Yom Kippur. In fact Yom Kippur is considered a joyful day and we eat a festive meal before the day begins and one after the fast ends.

To assist us in our self-correction, G-d instructs us to refrain from physical pleasures like eating, bathing and intimate relations and we focus on the greatness of G-d and put our egos on the shelf for a day.

Eliminating our physical and self-centered pleasures gives us the opportunity to introspect, admit and express regret over our limiting self-destructive actions and negative character traits. When accompanied by sincere intent to improve, G-d assists in removing the effects of our mistakes and allocates the resources we need to become the better people we want to be.

May we be successful in using this awesome day to set ourselves on the path of actualizing the greatness each of us possesses.

The Kingship of the Ten Days of Teshuva

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander zt”l in the Rinas Chaim writes about the issue of Kingship after Rosh Hoshana:

“The similarity of issues, which appear in the prayers of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, pointing to Hashem Yisbarach’s kingship and reign, leads us to a question. Why must we bring up the issue of malchus, Hashem’s kingship, on Yom Kippur as well?

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment, and the whole concept of judgment is a product of His kingship. Hashem Yisbarach, as the supreme monarch, distributes tasks — and the vehicles necessary for the fulfillment of those individual tasks — to each one of His subjects on Rosh Hashanah. Thus, on the first day of the year, HaKadosh Baruch Hu dons the cloak of the supreme Judge and estimates the quality of each person’s fulfillment of his tasks from the previous year. Those individual tasks are part of the general goal of proclaiming Hashem Yisbarach as King over creation, and over each one of us in particular. Hashem Yisbarach then delegates each person’s task for the coming year according to the level of his performance the year before.

However, due to Hashem’s lovingkindness, the judgment does not end on Rosh Hashanah, but lasts during the subsequent Ten Days of Repentance, during which it is still possible to repent and to amend the final verdict. On each of those ten days we en treat HaKadosh Baruch Hu with the supplications of “Inscribe us in the Book of the Living,” and “In the Book of Life… may we be inscribed before You.”

The whole issue of judgment is maintained within the concept of kingship, as we stated before. We are judged according to what extent we have accepted upon ourselves Hashem Yisbarach’s kingdom in all aspects of our lives, and especially in the fulfillment of our individual tasks. Our judgment also hinges upon the extent that we are prepared spiritually for the holy task of proclaiming Him as King in the forthcoming year. That is why we stress kingship in our prayers during those ten days, saying “the holy King,” and “the King of judgment.” All these ten days are days meant for us to proclaim Hashem as King over us — and our judgment flows from this.

The conclusion of the judgment occurs on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur it is assessed and established to what extent we are spiritually ready to recognize the reign of our King, the King of all kings — HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Therefore, on Yom Kippur we mention and we seek the acceptance of Malchus Shmayim, the Heavenly kingdom, just as we do on Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur the spiritual task of the entire ten days of proclaiming Hashem King comes to its peak and culminates with the acceptance of Ol Malchus Shmayim at the end of the Ne’ilah prayer.”

Three Things to Keep in Mind on Rosh Hoshanah

1. G-d is the King and Master of the Universe and we, the Jews, are his primary subjects.

2. Make a greater commitment to recognizing G-d as King as often as possible.

3. Resolve to make G-d consciousness real, with increased focus on Torah, kindness, davening and performing mitzvos.

A K’siva V’Chasima Tova to all and a fruitful Rosh Hoshanah to all.

MP3s: Shabbos Project 2014; Securing a Favorable Judgement; Arba Minim; Malchius; Inspiration

Rabbi Welcher on Grabbing the Inspiration can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Welcher on Malchius And The Tefilos Of Rosh_Hoshana can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa on the Shabbos Project at YIKGH on Sept 28th can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Moshe Schwerd on “Securing a Favorable Judgment with a Checkered Past” can be downloaded here.

Rabbi Yair Sandler on Purchasing the Arba Minim – mp3 here.

On Which Day of Rosh Hashana Will You Be Judged?

Rabbi Noson Weisz has a great article on the judgment of Rosh Hoshanah based on the writings of Rabbi Dessler in his work Michtav Mieliyahu.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana God only considers the cases of the people who are sincerely committed to developing themselves spiritually. It is they who offer Him investment opportunities, because it is they who require the renewal of His Kingdom. After carefully assessing the seriousness and feasibility of the proposals that are submitted, He determines the inputs that each individual whose case is being deliberated requires to actualize his ideas in the coming year, and weaves all these individual requirements into a common tapestry and recreates a world that will correspond exactly with the combined requirements.

The cases of all the people who did not pass muster on the first day are judged on the second. After God maps out the dimensions of His new Kingdom on the first day based on the requirements of those who were judged worthy of investment, on the second day He considers all the lives that need to be renewed to make His new Kingdom function.

Even if we focus only on religious requirements the new world requires a large population. The people for whom the world was recreated on the first day need synagogues in which to pray; this means that you will need a quorum of people to be written in the Book of Life even if there is only a single member who passed muster on the first day. They will need Talmudic academies in which to study; a functioning academy must have a large student body, teachers, administrators, maintenance people etc.; hundreds of people can be written into the Book of Life in the merit of the few students who actually require the academy for their spiritual growth. First day people require Kosher food to eat; thousands of people can be written into the Book of Life to make sure that there is a functioning food industry. If you think about it there are literally millions of functions that must be filled in order to keep the spiritual world functioning.

Please go and read the whole article.

The Homework for Rosh Hoshanah

It’s no coincidence that Rosh Hoshanah and the school year start at the same time. Both have the excitement of starting something new. The excitement of a clean slate. The excitement of potential. However, there is one scenario we want to avoid.

“Did everybody do the homework?”

“What homework? Today’s the first day!”

“The summer homework.”

“We had summer homework? I didn’t know that.”

“Everybody knows about the summer homework.”

“Mine must of went into the Spam folder.”

“I’m sorry. The homework was for your benefit. Everybody knew about it. You’ll have to try to compensate.”

The Avodah of Rosh Hoshanah is davening. According to many, the Shofar itself is a form of Tefillah, which is why we blow it during Mussaf. But most of us reading this know Judaism’s little secret – “Davening with kavanna is difficult”. That’s why we need to do our summer homework. And it’s not too late.

That’s why I tell my kids that they should work on saying the first Brocha of Shomoneh Esrai with kavanna during Elul. That’s the summer homework. There’s no excuses. We know it’s Elul. We know that Rosh Hoshanah has lots of davening. If we don’t prepare a little bit, we can’t blame the Spam folder.

If we do our homework for Rosh Hoshanah, we may only get a B-, but at least we can show the Master Teacher that we’re making a sincere effort.

The Season of the Spiritual Growth Mindset

The secular world has recently “discovered” the growth mindset:

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The growth mindset is fundamental to a Torah Observant Jew. Every BT and FFB will tell you, that where you are headed in terms of growth, is much more important than where you came from.

One advantage we have in Jewish Spiritual Growth is that the calendar orients us towards times with increased opportunities. Shabbos provides more potential than week days. Yom Tovim provide additional growth opportunities. And the Yomin Noraim provide the greatest opportunities. In Judaism the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur is the definitive spiritual growth season.

But as we know, growth takes effort, and Hashem made us a bit lazy, so we are advised to use the entire Elul runway as we approach Rosh Hoshana, the Ten Days of Teshuva, and Yom Kippur.

In the Practical Guide to Teshuva, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes that the process of teshuvah may be successfully achieved if it is performed in a gradual manner. He suggests that we should begin with improving things we are already doing, like tefillah and brachos.

Tomorrow we will provide some practical ways to leverage the enhanced spiritual growth mindset which we have in these days of Elul.

To Feast or to Fast… THAT is the Question!

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

 It (Yom HaKipurim) is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you and a day when you must afflict your souls. You must keep this Sabbath from the ninth of the month until the next night.  

-VaYikra 23:32

Chiya bar Rav of Difti taught: “and …you must afflict your souls…[on the] ninth of the month” Do we begin fasting on the ninth?  [In truth] we don’t fast until the tenth! Here, the Torah is teaching us that all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.

-Yoma 81B

On the tenth day of the seventh month you must afflict your souls and not do any melacha…This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned to purify you. Before Hashem you will be purified of all your sins.

-VaYikra 16:29, 30

There is a lot of conflicting data on the subject of the Torahs attitude towards asceticism.  On the one hand, Shabbos the basis of sanctified time, is identified with pleasure “And call Sabbath pleasure” (Yeshaya 58:13 ) and the entire chapter of Yeshaya 58 takes a rather dim view of fasting unless it is coupled with social justice. On the other hand, the very holiest time, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is a fast day.  The Nazir, who abstains from the fruit of the vine, is called both holy (BeMidbar 6:8) and sinful (Nedarim 10A) as is one who engages in voluntary fasts (Ta’anis 11A). The place of eternal rewards is called “the Garden of Delights”, but the delights there are of a decidedly non-physical variety; “the righteous sit with their heads crowned and bask in the radiance of the Shechina-the Divine indwelling”

In practical terms this quandary is most pronounced on the 9th and 10th days of Tishrei when the day of feasting that precedes the Day of Atonement and self-denial is reckoned as a day of fasting as well.

The often irresistible lure of this-worldly pleasures is, arguably, the major contributing factor to sin and its concomitant impurities. As such, there is a compelling logic to how abstaining from of this-worldly pleasures would help us attain the contrary outcome of decontamination.  As the Pesukim (VaYikra 16:29, 30) state: “afflict your souls …to purify you! “  However, as Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains, HaShem desires to sublimate everything (in his parlance to “sweeten” everything). Eating and drinking are the general categories under which all the temporal desires and delights fall.  HaShem wants all of these to be sanctified as well.  Holy self-gratification may sound like an oxymoron. But since our only will is to fulfill His will and “we cast that which weighs us down upon Him” He then “sustains us” with spiritual nourishment. (Tehilim 55:23). When we eat on Erev Yom Kippur in order to fulfill HaShems Mitzvah, eating becomes a catalyst for purity identical to the mortifications of Yom Kippur itself.

The Mohn-Manna Bread provides an intriguing precedent for this counterintuitive concept. The Torah states that the Mohn was like a “honey doughnut” (Shemos 16:31). Per Chaza”l diners tasted every flavor that they could imagine emanating from the Mohn (Yoma 75A). Moreover, the clouds that showered down the Mohn sprinkled pearls and jewels as well (ibid). The impression one gets is that the Mohn delighted all the senses. Yet the Torah describes the Mohn experience as one of mortification and affliction (Devarim 8:2, 3). Cognizant of the one-day-only supply of Mohn we can well imagine the anxious longing with which the Jews in the wilderness anticipated its daily arrival. The take away lesson for all generations of Jews from this Hedonistic-Ascetic hodgepodge is that we should yearn for HaShems salvation and be totally reliant on Him for both the eating and the abstention from eating. The feasting and the fasting are both only done to fulfill His will.

The verse: “Before Hashem you will purified of all your sins” implicitly alludes to Erev Yom Kippur. “Before HaShem” meaning feasting on the day before HaShem’s great and awesome day, Yom Kippur, will purify and decontaminate of your souls just as the fasting on Yom Kippur itself does.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen,  taught that whenever a Jew consumes food as a Mitzvah the food contains the flavor of Mohn which is the bread of the ministering angels and, as such, it is the flavor of other-worldly pleasure, the taste  of the radiance of the Shechina.  The topic of Mohn appears in the chapter entitled Yom HaKipurim in tractate Yoma because Mohn consumption is exactly like fasting on Yom Kippur the point of both activities being to experience spiritual gratification by absconding from the temporal pleasures of the physical world. When the Gemara says “all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth“  it is not because eating on the 9th  is like fasting but rather because fasting on the 10th is a different kind of eating, a spiritual angelic ingestion.  On Yom Kippur we dress, stand, go barefoot and wear white like angels.  We fast and are at peace with one another like angels. On Erev Yom Kippur we eat like the nullivore angels dining on “the grain of heaven and the bread of the mighty” (Tehilim78: 24, 25).

 Adapted from Toras Emes Erev Yom Kippur 5625-1865 A.C.E. (page 57)

and Machshevos Chorutz 12 (page 95)

Rebbetzin Heller on Approaching the Viduy on Yom Kippur

Adapted from a recent newsletter article by Rebbetzin Heller

Keep in mind that Hashem accepts you with all of your faults and broken pieces, you needn’t act as if they don’t exist.

Review the viduy before Yom Kippur in the machzor.
Don’t fall into any of the usual traps when you read the list of potential sins that you may have done:
1. What a great list. It’s even alphabetical. How interesting. I think I did everything.
2. I am doomed. I think I’ll go out for pizza. This is too heavy.
3. My life is a mess. It can’t be fixed. No one who had a childhood like mine will ever be clean on the inside.
4. This is extreme. I’m basically a good person. What’s all this breast-beating good for?
5. I hate myself.

Instead, come to grips with the reality of imperfection. If you’re human, you’re imperfect. You have the chance now to open yourself up to greater and higher movement towards being the person you want to be. Every breath you take is a gift from the One who wants to (and can!) understand you totally. Read the list with the same sort of feeling you would have if you were discussing a heartbreaking issue with your therapist. You want to change, that’s why you’re there.

There is one critical difference. Your therapist can only help you hear yourself. Hashem can help you discover a self that you may never have encountered (or may have thought was lost). If you open yourself even a little bit, He will open His Heart to you beyond your greatest hope.

Don’t be Bailed Out. Be Vindicated!

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

G-d’s angel called to him from heaven and said “Avraham, Avraham’!  Do not put forth your hand towards the youth (i.e. do not harm him) for now I know that you fear G-d as you have not withheld your only son from Me.   

-Bereshis 22:11,12

And today, recall with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring. Blessed are you Hashem who recollects the covenant.

-Conclusion of the Zichronos blessing- Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah the Torah reading is the Akeda– The binding of Yitzchok. The Meforshim explain that this in order to evoke the merit stockpiled by the Patriarchs at this seminal event in Jewish History. The legacy of this merit will help us, their offspring, be more likely to be adjudicated favorably on this Holy Day of Judgment. Per the Talmud and Rav Saadiya Gaon the Akeda is among the reasons underpinning the Mitzvah of Shofar and, in particular, the use of a ram’s horn to fulfill the Mitzvah as Avaraham ultimately sacrificed a ram in a burnt-offering as a surrogate for Yitzchok.

Conventional wisdom maintains that of the two patriarchs involved it was Avraham who played the pivotal role in earning the incalculable merit of the Akeda by withstanding daunting, superhuman challenges to his faith in a kind Creator, his life’s work in disseminating a theology predicated on that faith, his defining characteristic of Chesed-lovingkindness in general and, in particular, his unprecedented and peerless love for Yitzchok.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe takes a decidedly different approach maintaining that while Yitzchok may have been relatively passive his was the predominant role in shaping the everlasting impact of the Akeda.

HaShem is omniscient and exists above and beyond time.  As such when His spokesbeing the angel stayed Avrahams slaughtering knife at the last moment categorically admonishing him “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem was doing far more than providing the individual person Yitzchok with a stay of execution and a new lease on life. He was giving his Divine seal of approval on the life of Yitzchok AND on the lives of all the souls that would issue from Yitzchok.  The life and lifework of each and every Jew, each and every human being who can be described as the offspring of Yitzchok, received HaShems imprimatur when the Divine voice reverberated through the angel and decreed “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” . When HaShem issued this decree the Divine Mind was perfectly and infallibly aware of all the future generations about whom He’d assured Avraham “It is (only) through Yitzchok that you will gain posterity”(Bereshis21:12). The conception, birth and ongoing existence of every single Jew who was ever born or who will ever be born, down to the last generation, are thus firmly rooted in the Divine will.

Consider, says the Radzyner, the enormity of what this implies. Sin, ruin, hazards and stumbling blocks are inconsistent with the Divine will. So with the words “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem affirmed that no sin, ruin, hazards or stumbling blocks can stem from any Jew. Otherwise a strong claim of injustice, K’vyachol, could be lodged against HaShem. After all, Avraham had already given Yitzchok up.  Yitzchok  had been elevated as a sacrifice. He was no longer of this world.  He was as good as dead.  Yet HaShem, in effect, resurrected a corpse that had not yet fathered children. Had it been possible for any sin etc. to result from this future offspring why would an omniscient transcendent G-d have reinstated Yitzchoks existence?

Accordingly the concept of invoking the merit of the Akeda is about much more than a wayward child who’s run afoul of the law drawing on the deep pockets of his mega-rich and politically well-connected father to bail him out for the umpteenth time. The merit of the Akeda inheres in it demonstrating, against all apparent evidence to the contrary, that the wayward child never ran afoul of the law in the first place.  Thundering across time and space the Akeda admonishes one and all “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth”! It is the quintessence of exoneration through merciful justice that overturns the sentence of nonexistence and validates the life of all of Yitzchok’s offspring on this Holy Day of Judgment.

The Rosh Hashanah liturgy (or any other) that superficially asks HaShem to remember, recall or recollect is troubling. For the transcendent Creator memory cannot possibly mean the cognitive bridge connecting the no-longer-existent with the present as it does for His temporal creatures. Instead concludes the Radzyner, “recalling with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring” means that through the Akeda it is within the grasp and recollection of every Jew to gaze into the depths of his heart and the inner recesses of his memory to behold how he is rooted in, and bound up with, the Divine Will.

Adapted from Sod Yesharim Rosh HaShanah Chapter 77 (page 84)

The Ramchal and How the Shofar Draws Down Mercy

The Elucidated Derech Hashem is an amazing work in which Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman brings down many footnotes from the other works of the Ramchal to explain the concepts in Derech Hashem.

In regards to the mercy invoked when the Shofar is blown, Rabbi Naiman explains, based on Derech Hashem and other works of the Ramchal:

1) The Shofar invokes the merit of the Forefathers, specifically the Akeida (Zichronos)

2) The Shofar strengthens the forces of good over evil as it did at Sinai when the Jewish people reached the state of Adam before the sin (Shofaros)

3) With the proper intent on our part, the Shofar evokes Hashem’s guidance of the world through His Sovereignty and Oneness, instead of through our short-falling deeds (Malchuyos)