Sunday, February 27, 2011

Meditation: A Cognitive Perspective

Last semester, I had to write a twenty page research paper on any subject of my choosing, provided that it had something to do with Cognitive psychology. As long as there was enough research on the subject I chose, I could write on any topic.

As meditation is one of my interests, I decided to search for scientific data concerning the effects of meditation, in a physiological, psychological, and neurological sense. While there are preliminary studies being done, unfortunately there isn't really all that much research available. Nonetheless, I was able to find enough to squeeze the paper out, and I hope that more progress will be made in this area of work.

Here's a link to where I've posted my paper to GoogleDocs. Enjoy!

Friday, February 25, 2011

B'nei Machshava Tova: אם תעירו ואם תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ (שיר השירים ...

B'nei Machshava Tova: אם תעירו ואם תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ (שיר השירים ...: "אם תעירו ואם תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ (שיר השירים ב:ז The RaMBaN (in HaEmunah v'haBitachon 19, which can be found in the Kisvei RaMBaN&..."

Bidding Farewell

Rabbi N.Z. Dessler's shloshim (30-day anniversary of death) was two days ago, and I was finally able to figure out a way to upload the eulogies from the Cleveland levaya onto eSnips yesterday. One of the files exceeded the limit, and it was a  real pain to figure out a way to split that mega file into two normal sized files while retaining the quality.
I know that many of the hespeidim are available for download, by I have presented them here for your convenience. They are worth listening to...

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Leadership Material

In last week's parsha (Torah portion), we learned about the sin of the Golden Calf. While Moshe is receiving the Torah from God Himself, the nation below is going through an upheaval as they are led to believe that their leader has left them in the wilderness. Aharon struggles valiantly to avert the crisis, hoping to keep the mob at bay until Moshe can safely return, but one way or another, the idol is fashioned and the Jew begin to worship the Calf with unbridled hedonism.
..."Go, descend - for your people that you brought up from Egypt has become corrupt." (Ex. 32:7)
The many commentaries emphasize the fact that HaShem refers to the people as Moshe's people, specifically. Some explain that the ones who incited the madness were from the Erev Rav - the mixed multitude of non-Jews whom Moshe accepted into the camp during the Exodus of his own volition, without a directive from God. These rabble-rousers fomented the rebellion against God and ultimately led the rest of Israel astray to worship the Calf.

Others contend that the one personally responsible for the image of the Calf was Micha, who took a plate with the Ineffable Name of God etched on it along with the plate used by Moshe to raise the bones of Yosef from the riverbed of the Nile and cast it into the forge of molten gold, causing the Calf to rise up. Micha was one of the babies that the Egyptians took in lieu of finished bricks when the Jewish slaves failed to meet their quota. These babies were shoved into the unfinished holes in the wall as punishment for the Jews' underperformance. When Moshe confronted HaShem with a grievance concerning these babies, He replied that these babies would ultimately be completely evil if they were allowed to live and that this fate served them better. Moshe was allowed to challenge this, at his own risk; he rescued one child, and that child grew up to be Micha (Rashi, Sanhedrin 101b).

Either way, it seems like the "blame" for the sin of the Golden Calf can be traced back to actions that Moshe took. Not only that, but we know that Moshe committed a grievous sin by breaking the Tablets that were etched by the finger of God; who told him to drop them? And yet, not only do we see that Moshe is not punished, ultimately he is rewarded (when Moshe has to carve a new pair of Tablets, God makes a miracle that sapphire is found beneath Moshe's tent. He is instructed to make new Tablets, and whatever is left from the raw material he is allowed to keep, making him a very wealthy man)! What is happening?

The Seforim haKedoshim (the "holy books", a reference to those books that reveal the hidden elements of the Torah) put this parsha in wonderful perspective.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the ultimate leader, the "faithful shepherd" who was willing to risk all for his flock. At the first mention of the turmoil happening below, he immediately positioned himself "between" God and the Jews, advocating on their behalf and using all of his abilities to "placate" God's holy Wrath. He used logic, pathos, and even self-sacrifice by demanding that his name be expunged from the Torah in the event that God exacts punishment on His people.

But the ultimate act was when he descended from on high and broke the Tablets. When he did that, he placed himself among the "sinners" of Israel, showing HaShem that He would have to take retribution from him along with everyone else. He displayed his unyielding commitment to his people, unflinching in the face of Divine punishment, because that is what real leaders do. Through even the most trying of times, they lead their people and guide them, chastising them when needed, and defending them from anyone.

Moshe's willingness to protect his people even at their lowest state, because of their lowly state, reaffirmed his worthiness to be their leader, and HaShem rewarded him as such.

A REAL angel in the City of Angels (Part II)

As many of you are aware, the Tolna Rebbe came to the United States a few months ago for a visit to Los Angeles, where he worked tirelessly to meet with the community many times. Several of those special events were recorded and made available to the public courtesy of The Hilly Gram, a site dedicated to Jewish events around the greater Los Angeles area.

Several people have had difficulties with their browsers when trying to download those shiurim from the Rebbe, and I have taken the liberty of uploading those audio files to my own eSnips account, for you to download at your leisure. I am also posting them to the blog as a widget for your listening enjoyment...

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm sure the yetzer hora has many attractive wares to offer me. I know that the aveiros must be very, very enjoyable... 
...but really, who has the time?! - Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
The Kotzker is teaching us a very important lesson in his inimitable fashion: If one's service of God is truly pleasurable, he will constantly look for opportunities to engage in Torah, mitzvot, and prayer. Once one is pursuing these positive pleasures, he will become more engrossed in it until he simply has no time to spare for the Evil Inclination...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (1912 - 1976)

Today, the sixth of Adar I, is the yahrtzeit of Rav Eliyahu Kitov (born Avraham Eliyahu Mokotow), the author of numerous informational books about all aspects of Judaism.

Rav Kitov's best known work is his Sefer HaToda'ah, an all-encompassing look at the Jewish year and its significant dates, customs and historical relevance. This massive undertaking involved establishing the biblical precedent of each month and continuing through history into modern times; the concise prose and sheer volume of information condensed into each paragraph is astounding, and each chapter comes with sources. It is my belief that this book should be a staple in any Jewish library. The book has been translated by Feldheim Publishers into an excellent multi-volume set The Book of Our Heritage - either language is worth getting.

A similarly themed book, Ish U'Beito, carefully examines the various mitzvot associated with the personal aspects of Jewish living, specifically those pertaining to family life. Again, Rav Kitov's beautiful style of writing infuses even the "least interesting" information with life and excitement, and this carries over into the translated version (The Jew and His Home) as well - a credit to the author as well as the translator.

He also wrote an extensive work on the Chumash and the midrashic, Talmudic and chassidic commentaries called Sefer HaParshiot, which I have heard is being translated into English.

My personal favorite books of his are the stories he wrote about the legendary Chassidic masters (Chassidim v'Anshei Ma'aseh), some of which has been translated into a two volume set Men of Piety and Deed. The first, In The Lion's Den focuses on the original students of the Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciple the Maggid of Mezrich, while the second volume (appropriately titled Sharp as a Needle) introduced us to the world of Peshischa and Kotzk. It is in these books that Rav Kitov's style flourishes beautifully. His poetic, loving language brings out the depth of each story and transports you into the Maggid's kloyz, as if you had the merit to sit in the shadow of their greatness. He is one of those authors that I envy, and can't get enough of.

Rav Kitov had a tremendous love for the Holy Land. It is said about him that he once received a visitor from the Diaspora who couldn't stop complaining about various things he saw in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Kitov quietly took him outside, grasped his arm and walked four paces together with the man. "One, two, three, four - a mitzvah!" he cried. He took another four paces, and repeated the same phrase, clearly showing the man how one is supposed to view his activities in the Holy Land - every step was infused with the holiness of the Land.

Rav Kitov leaves us with a special legacy, with works that can (and should!) be enjoyed by Jews of all levels of observance and give them a deeper appreciation for their status as the Chosen Nation.

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I can totally identify with this...many, many Sunday afternoons in elementary school played out like this.

I still find myself occasionally "using the Force" when I pass through automatic doors...

Monday, February 7, 2011

The YU Seforim Sale is ON!

I always get excited this time of year in anticipation of the seforim sale held by Yeshiva University, which started yesterday and will continue until Sunday, the 27th of February.

The famed sale is packed with Jews of all stripes, seeking out a sefer that they've been meaning to buy for quite some time, or looking for something new to catch their fancy. The prices are extremely low, and the money is going to a good cause.

For more information and an inventory catalogue, click here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of my grandmother Liba bas Reb Tzvi, of blessed memory. She passed away nearly ten years ago after struggling for well over a decade with an illness that the doctors predicted she would survive through several months. She was an amazing woman, with an indomitable will to survive even the harshest of circumstances. She made it a point to tell others about her experiences in the holocaust, as a testimony and as an education for future generations.

Please have her in mind today during your learning and tefillot, so her neshama can merit an aliyah.