Friday, June 28, 2013

A Meditation for Shabbos

Art by Brooke Sendele
Sabbath Harmony 
We live out our lives in two realms. There is our inner world — our ideals and moral principles, our aspirations and spiritual goals. And there is our outer world — our actions in the 'real' world, our struggles to eke out a living and tend to our physical needs in a challenging and competitive world. The greater the dissonance between our inner and outer lives, between our elevated ideals and our day-to-day actions, the further we will have strayed from our Divine image and true inner self. 
Shabbat, however, provides an opportunity to attain a degree of harmony between our inner and outer lives. 
The holiness and tranquility of Shabbat help enrich our inner lives. Shabbat is a state that is very different from our workday lives, which have been complicated and even compromised by life's myriad calculations and moral struggles. "God made man straight, but they sought many intrigues" (Ecc. 7:29). 
The Sabbath, with its elevated holiness, comes to restore the purity of inner life that was suppressed and eroded by the corrupting influences of day-to-day life, influences that often contradict our true values and goals. But the power of Sabbath peace is even greater. Not only does Shabbat restore our inner world, but it reaches out to our outer world. The spiritual rest of Shabbat enables our outer life to be in harmony with our inner life, bestowing it a spirit of peace and holiness, joy and grace.
Adapted from the writings of Rav Kook in Olat Rayah and Ein Ayah, by Reb Chanan Morrison

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


This is huge.

In his commentary to the second verse in this week's Parsha, the Netziv writes that Moshe was specifically directed to inform Pinchas of his reward personally. Citing his son-in-law, the Netziv presents us with a parable about a general who is very close to losing a battle, to the point where he has virtually given up.

Along comes a lowly foot soldier who bravely leads the charge and succeeds in turning the battle around, bringing the army to victory when the general could not.

The king needs to reward this soldier for his initiative; he also needs to punish the general for his hesitation. By instructing the general himself to present the honors to the foot soldier, the king is able to accomplish both.

This is what is happening in the Parsha: Moshe is the general, Pinchas is the soldier. Because Pinchas picked up the slack when Moshe and the Elders were at a loss, he deserved the bris shalom; Moshe in turn needed to be dealt with accordingly for his inability to uphold the law for that fleeting moment.

When I saw this it knocked my socks off!

The 3 Weeks: Love and Hate

Mamash a gevalt...

There's a quick niggun at the 3-minute mark that goes until the 5-minute mark, if you want to skip for the 3 Weeks.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rolling with the resistance

When people want to become truly religious and serve God, they seem to be overwhelmed with confusion and frustrations. They find great barriers in their path and cannot decide what to do. The more they want to serve God, the more difficulty they encounter. 
All the enthusiasm that such people have when trying to do good is very precious, even if their goal is not achieved. All their effort is counted like a sacrifice, in the category of "For Your sake, we are killed each day, we are counted like sheep for slaughter." (Psalms 44:23) The Tikkunei Zohar states that this verse speaks of both prayer and sacrifice. 
When a person wants to pray, he encounters many distractions. But still, he gives himself over entirely to the task, exerting every effort to pray properly. Even if his prayer is not perfect, his very effort is like bringing a sacrifice, in the category of [the above verse]. The same is true for everything else in religion. You may wish to perfect yourself, but find yourself unable to do so completely. Still, the effort and suffering involved in the frustrated attempt are not in vain... 
Therefore, always do your part, making every effort to serve God to the best of your ability. Whatever task lies in your hand do it with all your might (Kohelet 9:10). Keep it up, even when all your efforts seem to be frustrated and all your attempts in vain. Do everything in your ability, and God will do what is good in His eyes (I Shmuel 3:18) - Sichot HaRan, 12*
What chizuk! Just as I was setting out on an endeavor to bolster certain elements of avodah that needed a boost, I encountered the above passage while waiting during minyan.

Caution: some coarse language which has been poorly *bleeped* out.

* English translation adapted from Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (B.R.I.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Finding One's place

Once, when the Seer of Lublin was a young child, his father saw him running off to the forest.

"Yaakov Yitzchak" his father called out, "why are you going into the woods?" Stopping, the future Seer turned to his father. "I'm going into the forest to meditate and talk to God," he replied.

"My son," the young Seer's father said, "Why do you need to go into the wildreness? Don't you know that God is everywhere?"

"I know that God is everywhere, father," the boy replied, "but I am not!"

This is such an incredibly profound lesson. It's not enough that we recognize  God's presence, which encompasses and permeates everything; we have to have the ability to "meet" Him there - to see God in everything. This is the lesson of the Seer's quip: דרשו ה׳ בהימצאו

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


A truly pertinent piece, in light of the recent events in the Holy Land.

For what it's worth, can anyone dispute the value of an army of God fearing Jews standing shoulder to shoulder, with the words of tehillim on their lips, prepared to defend their brethren? Without minimizing the current efforts and sacrifices of the IDF's many soldiers, I know who I would rather have...

Knowing who to talk to...


Gimmel Tammuz

Today is the 19th yahrzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. Under his watch, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has grown into a global force to be reckoned with, with Chabad houses and "shluchim" an ubiquitous presence wherever one finds himself.

The Rebbe was equally known for his encyclopedic knowledge as well as his ruach haKodesh; however, it was his concern for every Jew no matter who or where, that surpasses everything else for this writer.

A wonderful story I heard:

There was a holocaust survivor who emigrated to the United States after the War. With no mate, no money, and no prospects, this Jew was advised to go see the Lubavitcher Rebbe who had only recently succeeded his late father-in-law, the previous Rebbe. The Rebbe told him about a fledgling community in South America that needed infrastructure like Jewish day schools. "Go there," the Rebbe told him, "build up a school. You'll find parnassah as well as a wife."

Heeding the Rebbe's suggestion, the man moved to this small town and established the day school. He presided over a quickly flourishing community for many years. He remarried, and had several children.

Many years later, a non religious woman from the community approached him, begging him for his help. Athough they were not religious, they had tried to remain traditional, but now their only daughter had fallen for a non Jewish boy and they were engaged to be married shortly. Could the rabbi please talk to her and convince her not to go through with the marriage? The rabbi wasn't sure what he could do, but he agreed to try.

He met with the young lady one day, and that had a long conversation, but at the end, she was still committed to her beau. "We're in love, and I'm marrying him in a month," she said decisively.

But her mother couldn't bear accepting that. "Please, rabbi...! You must help me!" she implored. The rabbi tried a second time to reach out to the young bride, but this time her resistance was even more forceful. "Enough of this!" she retorted. "You don't know me, don't try to meddle in my affairs. I do not want to hear from you again."

Defeated, the rabbi returned to the mother with his negative report, and yet she insisted that he must do something, anything to help her daughter. At a loss, the rabbi decided to try calling the United States to contact the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His advice had been so helpful so long ago - if anyone had an eitzah it would be the Rebbe.

After explaining to the Rebbe's assistant the nature of his call, the assistant placed him on hold. Returning a few moments later, the assistant responded: "The Rebbe says that you are to tell the girl that there is a Jew in Brooklyn, New York that cannot sleep because she is going to marry a gentile boy."

Unsure that he heard correctly, the rabbi asked for clarification. "You heard correctly," the assistant replied, "the Rebbe cannot sleep because she is marrying a non Jew. Go tell her this." With that, the assistant hung up.

The rabbi sat next to the phone, trying to figure out what to do. She had already told him that she didn't want to hear from him anymore! And how was he going to tell her the Rebbe's message, anyway? She would just think he's crazy...

As he was sitting there, the phone rang; it was the Rebbe's assistant calling back, with a message from the Rebbe. "When the Rebbe tells you to do something, there is no time to waste. Now go tell her!"

The rabbi called the girl up. Apologizing, he begged her to meet with him just one more time, and after that, he would never bother her again. He only had one thing to tell her; it was too important to say over the phone. Could they meet just one more time? Reluctantly she agreed and they arranged to meet in a few days' time at a cafe; she was no longer willing to come to his office.

When he went to meet her, her posture and attitude had completely changed. Impatient, she snapped at him. "Well, what's so important that you had to tell me in person?" She stood there with her arms folded, waiting. Taking a deep breath, the rabbi looked at her and said: "There is a Jew in Brooklyn who can't sleep because you're going to marry out of the faith."

The girl looked at him strangely. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.

"Have you ever heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?" he asked. "No," she replied, "you're the only rabbi I know. Who's this Rebbe?"

The rabbi always carried picture of the Rebbe in his wallet, and at this point, he fished it out and showed it to her. Staring at the picture, she took it with trembling hands. "This... this is the Rebbe?" she asked. He nodded. She began crying. "When you first told me the message, I knew something was happening that I couldn't understand. But when you showed me this picture...For the past few nights, I've been having the same dream. This face," she held up the photo.

"This person keeps asking me why I won't let him sleep!"

She broke off the engagement with her fiancee and began looking into Judaism. She became of ba'alat Teshuva, married and has children, and they all live in Eretz Yisrael today.

The rabbi in the story included this story in an article in a Jewish newspaper shortly after the Rebbe's death, when certain people were trying to discredit the Rebbe and call his stature into question.

Z'chuso yagein aleinu!