Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recognizing the True Greatness of Man

In Parshat Tazria we continue in the theme of laws of purity and impurity. The bulk of the parsha deals specifically with the laws of tzaraat – a skin affliction that was a consequence for various transgressions, including speaking loshon hara (negative speech about others). The remedy for this affliction was not medical treatment, but a spiritual one that required an isolation period followed by sacrificial offerings. This spiritual regimen implemented to heal tzaraat reminds us that although it appears as a physical ailment, it is truly a symbol of an individual’s compromised spiritual state. With this in mind, we must try to understand the purification process that is described in our parsha, so that we too can undergo a spiritual cleansing process in the moments that we, too, misuse our power of speech.

Many commentaries question the significance of the unusual consequence associated with the transgression of loshon hara. As we read through the first of two parshiot devoted almost entirely to the laws of tzaraat, we might wonder why is it that the punishment for speaking ill of someone else is manifest so clearly on one’s skin…after all, we don’t find any such thing in regards to someone who violates Shabbat or eats non-Kosher?

In order to answer this question, we must better understand the nature of the sin. The Torah tells us when God created man: And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul (Breishit 2:7). Targum Onkelos explains that what made man into a living being, what provided man with a soul that elevated man beyond the level of all other life, was koach ve’dibbur – the power of speech.

From this perspective, we understand that when a person abuses the power of speech, he is not only violating one of Gd’s commandments, but he is degrading himself as a human being, essentially lowering himself to an animalistic level. Accordingly, some suggest that the disfiguration of the skin is a reminder that man has abused his human potential, as the ailment marks the individual as almost inhuman or animal-like. In a very poignant way, the physical reality reflects the spiritual state in the aftermath of abusing the power of speech.

This spiritual impact of speaking loshon hara is reflected in the words of the Kli Yakar, who notes the etymology of the word metzorah (one who has tzaraat) as a synthesis of two words: motzi ra (bringing out evil). On the surface level, the terminology reflects the fact that speaking negatively about someone brings out the negative quality about the other person. On a deeper level, however, we learn that loshon hara actually reveals that there is a negative quality inside the speaker. As we know, so often an individual is moved to speak loshon hara as a way to deflect from one’s own shortcomings and flaws by focusing on the faults of others.

The Torah recognizes this aspect of human nature – and so, the consequences for speaking loshon hara are not a mere punishment for the transgressor, but these laws help the individual to deal with the root of the problem. By isolating the individual, he is almost forced to introspect and ultimately to deal with his own shortcomings. When a person is forced to be with himself, he must contemplate what he needs to do to raise himself up rather than find ways to bring others down.

Of course, the fact that the affliction of tzaraat is so clearly and identifiably on one’s body, the transgressor cannot deny that he has sinned. In some way he is flawed and he must to look deeper into himself to accept and identify his flaw in order to ultimately purify himself.

An insight of Rabbi Nissin Alpert provides an even deeper explanation for the metzorah to become so deeply introspective (again, not something that we find as strongly associated with any other mitzvot). He points out that in the introduction to the laws of tzaraat the one who is afflicted is referred to as adam – a term typically associated with a man of greatness and stature. If the transgressor of loshon hara has lowered himself below the spiritual status of mankind, then why is he referred to in this lofty language?

The answer is found in the end of this same verse: he shall be brought to Aaron the kohen, or to one of his sons, the kohanim (Vayikra 13:2). In other words, his greatness is that the metzorah will go to the Kohen in order to identify and hopefully then rectify his sinful ways.

Rabbi Nissin Alpert explains further that the greatness of man is not measured in how many flaws he may have, or how many mistakes he has made. Instead, man’s greatness is determined by his ability to recognize his faults and his willingness to change. Indeed this is the attitude we should have not only towards ourselves, but in the way we view others – and this is perhaps the most important lesson the metzorah must learn during his purification process. The key to overcoming the challenge of loshon hara is not simply learning to control our speech – but to learn not to judge ourselves or others as harshly as we tend to do.

Though we no longer experience tzaraat in its physical sense, surely we still suffer from the same spiritual ailment that it once represented - as we know that the battle against loshon hara is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Let us challenge ourselves not to simply avoid loshon hara, because as we know that Yom Kippur resolution only lasts so long. Let us instead try to change our attitudes and our mindsets so that we are more open to admitting and working through our own shortcomings, while becoming less quick to judge others for theirs.

May we continue to use our special coach of speech for all of the positive things that Hashem intended for us to accomplish when He granted man with this most unique and extraordinary gift of speech.

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

I have been having trouble breaking up paragraphs. So in the meantime get used to long paragraphs.....

Leave It Up To Him

"If you win the rat race - you are still a rat." John Lennon just before being gunned down across the street from the baal hamevakesh: "Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." Yidden!!! Stop trying to control your lives - you see it's not working anyway. Make every second of your life count and leave the rest up to the Masterplanner. When one realizes he is not in charge, a sense of serenity should overtake him. LOVE AND BLESSINGS AND A SHABBOS THAT TASTES MAMESH LIKE OLAM HABA! I sign off from a place that looks strangely like Boca Raton, Florida. Must be dreaming......

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How To Become Great

Maran HaRav Hutner ztz"l used to say: I have known many great men and none of them became great because they learned. They became great because they were completely engrossed in learning. Completely engrossed means "nicht ich halt in de sugya, nor de sugya halt mir" - not that I am holding in the sugya but that the sugya is holding me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

כל דכפין ייתי ויכול

It's been a while:)! So I owe you a mai'seh. Primo Levi was a survivor of Auschwitz. In his book "If this Is Man" he relates that the worst time of all was when the Nazi's left in January 1945 fearing the Russian advance. All prisoners who could walk were taken on brutal death marches. The only people left in the camp were those who were too ill to move. For ten days they were left alone with only scraps of food and fuel. When the broken window was repaired and the stove began to spread its heat, something seemed to relax in everyone, and at that moment Towarowski [a Franco-Pole suffering from Typhus] proposed to the others that they offer a slice of bread to the three of us that had been working. And so it was agreed. Only a day before a similar event would have been inconceivable. The law of the camps was "eat your own bread and if you can, that of your neighbor", and left no room for gratitude. It really meant that the law of the camps was dead. It was the first human gesture that occurred among us. I believe that that moment can be dated as the beginning of the change by which we who had not died slowly changed from prisoners to men again. Freedom means to share. A slave can't share because he never knows what will happen tomorrow. A free person can share because he no longer fears the unknown future. That is why we begin our seder by inviting the poor to join us. [Based on R' Jonathan Sacks' hagada.] LOVE AND BLESSINGS:)!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Purifying our Personal Vessels

In Parshat Shemini we read about the inauguration of the Mishkan and the first offerings brought and sacrificed on the altar. Though a day of much anticipated celebration and national accomplishment, we learn that the day was tainted with the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu after bringing the foreign incense offering onto the mizbeach. Suddenly the tone of the parsha shifts as it concludes with the overview of various laws of kashrut. While at first glance the final portion of this parsha may seem out of place, as always, a greater understanding of the juxtaposition of these topics will reveal deeper layers of meaning to the parsha.

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, suggests that there is a direct connection between the opening of the parsha that deals with the Mishkan and the conclusion that deals with the laws of our dietary restrictions. He suggests that just as there are many rules and regulations regarding what is allowed to enter the holiest site of the Mishkan, so too, there are laws that regulate what is permitted to enter our bodies.

This profound insight reminds us that just as the Mishkan served as a physical structure built primarily for spiritual purposes, our physical bodies are, in essence, our personal vessels that enable us to serve a greater spiritual purpose. With this esteemed perspective of the human body, we can better appreciate the many seemingly arbitrary and perhaps onerous laws dictating what we can and cannot eat.

The importance and implications of guarding what enters the Mishkan is demonstrated in the dramatic account of Nadav and Avihu. While Chazal debate the exact nature of their sin, the basic understanding of the story tells us that their tragic mistake was bringing a foreign sacrifice onto the mizbeach at a time that they were not commanded to do so. In contrast to the countless other offerings brought according to the Divine command, the fact that the sacrifice they brought was against the will of Hashem prevented the offering from being elevated and Divinely accepted. In essence, the fact that the sacrifice was not aligned with Torah law rendering it impure and unfit for the mizbeach, which prevented the altar from fulfilling its elevating, spiritual function.

And so it is with our own bodies, our personal vessels – when we permit a forbidden, “non-kosher” substance into our system the impurity permeates our being and our ability to serve a higher, spiritual function is diminished. This concept is reflected in the words of the Torah:

do not contaminate yourselves through them lest you become contaminated (v'nitmasim) through them (Vaikra 11:43)

As Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky notes, Chazal suggest that the word v'nitmasim can be read (without vowels) as v'nitamtem – meaning closed or concealed. In other words, when we intake food that is deemed unfit by Torah law, we become “spiritually desensitized” – our entire being is contaminated, our vessel in a diminished state of impurity, making it more difficult for us to be open to and successful in our spiritual pursuits.

Indeed this is highlighted even more in the final verses of the parsha that deal with the laws of vessels that may be contaminated by the presence of impure foods:

But any earthenware vessel, into whose interior any of them falls, whatever is inside it shall become unclean (Vayikra 11:33)

In line with the metaphor of the Mishkan to a human body, the Kotzker Rebbe notes on this verse that man himself is an earthen vessel – as the Torah tells us in the creation story: And G-d formed man out of the dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostril a living soul (Breishit 2:7). Like the vessel that is deemed impure because of that which is inside of it, our entire being is greatly affected by that which we feed it.

In the non-Mikdash era, our mouths perhaps more any other part of the body, function more than even as our mode for communication and connection with Hashem. Indeed the Chafetz Chaim writes: Whoever guards his mouth, his mouth becomes like a vessel of the Holy Temple. Our ability to pray, to reach into our spiritual depths and call out from the depths of our souls is only possible when our bodies are untainted from the impurities of foreign, or unfit foods.

In most recent weeks we have much to daven for with the recent events. Often times the pain of feeling that there is so little we can control in the events that are so relevant and impacting for us is overwhelming - but it is at these times that we can turn to prayer as our way to affect a difference in our surrounding world. When we feel injustices, inconsistencies, and impurities in the world abound, sometimes the most we can do is look internally to ensure that we are living and sustaining the most pure life we can.

We must realize also that it is in our power to ensure that our mouths, our vessels for both our personal and national prayers, remain pure - so that our words can be elevated and Divinely accepted. May our tefilot be purified through our own efforts to purify our personal vessels, and may Hashem continue to hear our most pure and sincere prayers.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A thought from my beloved friend R' Daniel Zweigbaum:

There are certain mitzvos that exist, which show Hashem's surreal level of generosity. Mitzvos that most people have the desire to fulfill due to the human nature which Hakadosh Boruch'Hu instilled within them. but Hashem, in His endless love for us, the chosen nation, decided to give us schar for doing them! (i.e. Getting married, respecting ones parents, giving tzedaka...etc). I would like to suggest that perhaps the mitzvah requiring us to be b'simcha on purim goes along the same idea. If we truly internalized the message of the megillah, and believe that Hashem is ALWAYS behind the scenes, then of course on the day of purim we're going to be happy! For if we genuinely realized that everything is caused by Hashem, there is no such thing as bad anymore, only what we perceive to be bad! From this perspective the mitzvah of being b'simcha on Purim is just another example of how badly Hashem wants us to succeed in our goal of developing our connection with Him, and fulfilling His ratzon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Look Back to Look Ahead

In Parshat Tzav we continue to learn the laws and instructions regarding the various korbanot. Though these laws may be easy for us to gloss over in the post-Mishkan era, a deeper understanding of these details can teach us timeless lessons about the ways in which we can and should, still today, relate Hashem to Hashem. An analysis of some of the differences between the various sets of korbanot reminds how to relate to Hashem on all occasions and at all times in our lives.

The Kli Yakar notes that in contrast to the other korbanot in which the kohen was primarily involved in the sacrificial procedure, the korban shlamim (peace offering) allowed for the most personal involvement of the individual bringing the korban. The meaning of this apparent description reflects the fundamental nature of the korban shalem. Unlike the other offerings mentioned in the parsha, an individual was not obligated to bring these korbanot as a means to atone or account for past mistakes; instead he did so completely out of his own volition – to offer thanks to Hashem or to accept a vow upon himself.

The Kli Yakar suggests that when offering a gift in attempt to atone for past deeds that we must rely on the messenger to make the delivery. The individual bringing the peace offering out of his own will, however, has the opportunity to approach Hashem more directly. When we feel a certain level of closeness to Hashem already, we are still able and welcomed to raise ourselves even higher and bring ourselves even closer. Though we often think of the korbanot strictly as means of atonement and reparation for wrongdoings, we are reminded that the korbanot also served to lift up the already elevated individuals among Klal Yisrael.

Based on this the insight, Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler suggests that one lesson of the korban shalem is the importance of relating to, communicating with, and drawing ourselves closer to Hashem at all times in our lives. All too often we find ourselves praying with the greatest passion and sincerity when there is a specific request that we hope Hashem will grant – of course it is admirable in its own right to turn to turn to Hashem at these times. Perhaps even beyond this level we must be able to turn to Hashem with the same degree of fervor and fire when things are good and stable in our lives. It is in these moments of shleimut, of calm and peacefulness that our relationship with Hashem should be pure. It is at these fortunate times in our lives that we have an incredible potential to strengthen our bond with Hashem.

The concept of calling out to Hashem at different times, with different mindsets, attitudes and approaches is reflected in our tefliot today, comprised of shevach (praise) bakasha (requests) and hoda’ah (thanks). The fact that all three aspects are integrated into our prayers reminds us that both in times of need and times of gratitude we must turn to Hashem. The intertwinement of these three elements also reminds us that at most times of our lives, there are certain things we are lacking while there are still many more things we have to be grateful for - the structure of our prayers remind us that we need not be of one mindset over another - but we can and should be at once beseeching Hashem and praising Him for what He has already provided for us. In fact, it is our recognition of Hashem’s past and present kindness gives us the ability to turn to Hashem with the hope and belief that He will hear our prayers. It is when we have this fundamental faith that Hashem is listening to us that we merit that Hashem not only hears, but also answers our prayers.

Just as knowing what Hashem has done for us in the past gives us strength to move forward, so too we should be inspired and invigorated by our own past accomplishments to lift ourselves higher – in our relationship to Hashem and in all endeavors we choose to undertake in our lives. Our parsha beings with the instructions for the kohanim to begin each day by cleaning the ashes from the previous day’s sacrifices:

And he shall lift out the ashes into which the fire has consumed the burnt offering upon the altar, and put them down next to the altar (Vayikra 6:3)

Rav Hirsch suggests that the lesson of this unseemly job of the kohen is to remind us that each day begins by reflecting upon yesterday’s avodah (service) – each new day should be the continuation of yesterday’s progress. We mustn’t be content with how far we have come, but instead use our past achievements and present strengths that we have built and skills we have learned to continue onwards and upwards in the path we are on.

With this lesson gleaned from our parsha we can perhaps better understand why the Torah singles out Amalek as the most evil of all nations. The Torah describes Amalek as asher karcha baderech (literally translated as they met you on your way). Chazal explain the word karcha comes from the root word kar (cold) - it was when the Jewish people were of greatest strength, passion, and vigor that Amalek came to cool them down - by casting doubt into their minds, diminishing their confidence in themselves and in their relationship with Hashem.

The ideology of Amalek persists – not only in the nations around us but also at times within each of us. And so, the battle against Amalek continues as well – we must try to eradicate our own feelings of self-doubt and moments of uncertainty in our relationship with Hashem. We must remember that even in times of contentment and stability in our lives –we must reflect upon the past to see Hashem’s greatness and our own potential for greatness to continue on our derech, our path.

Of course, the juxtaposition of Parshat Amalek and Purim must be noted as well. At the start of the Megila we find the Jews of Shushan were "cooled down" – they were convinced by the surrounding peoples that their Temple was not going to be rebuilt and the delights of feasts and fiestas was far greater than the pleasure of a life of Torah ideals and spiritual pursuits. The world will continue to doubt us and will likely continue to try to cast doubt upon us - the first and foremost way to overcome this battle is to strengthen ourselves - to learn the lesson of this week's parsha, of remembering Amalek, and recounting the story of Purim to be reminded that Hashem is ever-present in our lives and we have endless potential to keep growing in our personal and national endeavors.

Indeed there have been hardships and struggles on personal and national levels throughout our ancient and most recent history as a people. However, amidst the adversity and difficulties, the Jewish people have continued to survive, and even to thrive over the decades. Let us be reminded of our unwavering strength of survival and let us internalize the simcha of Chag Purim to reignite in us the confidence in ourselves, in our persitant past to look ahead to a promising future. May we use all times of sasson and simcha to be strengthened today and to continue to strengthen ourselves each day as we move forward in our life's often windy paths. Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach, Taly

Thursday, March 17, 2011

“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like its heaven on earth.”

Mark Twain

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A follow up on Green Eggs and Ham [from].

The National Education Association is celebrating "Read Across America" by encouraging adults to read to children. Of course, "Green Eggs and Ham" is one of the most popular Dr. Seuss books. And, there's the dilemma -- how can Jewish kids celebrate with green Eggs and…HAM?

So, in honor of (and with apologies to the estate of Dr. Seuss), here's a new ending for the story:

Will you never see?
They are not KOSHER, So let me be!
I will not eat green eggs and ham.
I will not eat them, Sam-I-am

But I'll eat green eggs with a biscuit!
Or I will try them with some brisket.
I'll eat green eggs in a box.
If you serve them with some lox.

And those green eggs are worth a try
Scrambled up in matzo brie!
And in a boat upon the river,
I'll eat green eggs with chopped liver!

So if you're a Jewish Dr. Seuss fan, but troubled by green eggs and ham, let your friends in on the scoop: Green eggs taste best with chicken soup!

מי כעמך ישראל

Sent by my sweet friend R' Shmuel Binyamin ben Tishna Rochel Leah!

Every day of Shiva – Rami Levi ( who owns one of the larger supermarket chains in Israel) comes by the shiva house in Itamar and fills the cupboards and refrigerator himself with food for the family and guests.

Today - one of the relatives expressed their appreciation to him and he said you will get used to my face. I have committed myself that every week I will deliver food and stock your home until the youngest orphan turns 18 years old.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jewish Revenge

In our zemiros we say: Mishoch chasdicha li'yodecha kel kano vi'noikaim - Draw chesed unto those who know You, zealous and vengeful G-d.


Chesed - because you are a vengeful and zealous G-d?

An insight into Jewish revenge.

Revenge is to pay back the evildoers by filling the earth with goodness.

They hate.

We love.

They kill.

We bring new life.

They destroy.

We build.

My answer to Hitler yimach shmo - my children. Five daggers in his heart. He tried to obliterate. but he lost. He is gone and we are here going strong bez"H.

An Arab mercilessly slaughters a beautiful innocent family. A three month old baby. In cold blood. Unimaginable evil.

Are we going to "get them back" and do the same thing?

Yes and No.

We are going to get them back. But not by being beasts. By bringing more goodness and kedusha into the world. By not "spacing" our children [which is generally against halacha] but by building more large, holy Jewish families. By becoming more Jewish and less Goyish. A Jew is a person of morals and purity. If he is not it is because of negative external influences.

We will continue to live in Eretz Yisrael because being killed for who we are never stopped us in the past. We will stop putting our faith in the Army [EVEN THOUGH WE LOVE OUR ARMY AND APPRECIATE ALL THEY DO FOR US INCLUDING PUTTING THEIR LIFE ON THE LINE - AND OFTEN DYING - TO PROTECT US] and smooth talking politicians. We will remember that only the One Above can protect us if He chooses.

May we see no more tragedies and may Hashem give comfort to the Fogel's and to the countless other families who have been victimizied by the personification of evil on earth.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Service of the Heart

This week we begin to read Sefer Vayikra, which opens with the laws associated with the korbanot (sacrificial offerings). Although at first glance the bulk of this parsha seems inapplicable to our lives today, a deeper analysis shows that the lessons are as relevant now as they were then. The second verse of the parsha reads as follows:

ki yakriv mikem korban l’Hashem min habehama min ha’bakar u’min ha’tzon

When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock (Vayikra 1:2)

Many commentators question the significance of the word adam in this verse, as opposed to the more commonly used term ish. Rashi suggests that this word is used intentionally to make an allusion to Adam Harishon - the first individual to have inhabited the earth and the very first to bring a sacrifice to Hashem.

Expanding upon Rashi’s comment, the Kil Yakar suggests that there is a specific aspect of Adam HaRishon that we must emulate when we bring our korbanot. As the first man to make the gesture of a korban to Hashem, we can be certain that Adam was not motivated by jealousy of others or a need for approval, but instead by a sincere and genuine desire to serve Hashem with his offering. The allusion to Adam HaRishon, then, is a reminder that we should be like him in our most pure intention when bringing the korbanot.

The importance of our motives and intentions in determining the value of the sacrifice is seen throughout the parsha:

Ve’nephesh ki takriv korban mincha l’ashem solet hashem
And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour (Vayikra 2:1)

On the above verse, Rashi questions why the Torah uses the unique term, nephesh (soul), to describe an individual who brings the mincha offering. He notes that it is the poor man who is likely to bring this mincha offering of bread in the place of the usual animal sacrifice. And so, the use of the word nephesh tells us that Hashem accepts this most simple offering as if the individual offers his own soul. Indeed we learn here that the more important than the monetary value of the item being sacrificed is the intention of the individual bringing the sacrifice. The most vital ingredient in the sacrificial offering is to have one’s heart directed towards Hashem.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner points out that though the individual is judged solely on his intentions, the value of the sacrifice is not entirely irrelevant, as the object of sacrifice often reflects the intention of the individual who is performing the sacrifice. The Kli Yakar demonstrates this point in noting that Kayin’s offering of the lowly crop was not accepted because it reflected his carelessness in his actions. The lesson of the korban mincha, then, is that an individual is judged not by the comparison of his sacrifice with those around them, but instead he is judged by whether or not he brought a sacrifice that was appropriate for his personal potential and capability. In this way, also, we are like Adam HaRishon in that we are the only person in the world - we are judged according to our own potentials, characters, and backgrounds.

Indeed it is not surprising that simple bread is equally as pleasant to Hashem as the most pricey animal sacrifice – as Hashem does not need our korbanot at all. The purpose of the korbanot, we know, are for our own spiritual nourishment. The Meshech Chochma points out that the mizbeach (the altar), on which sacrifices were brought, was made of stone – a material that is everlasting and does not need nourishment from an external source – signifying that Hashem is eternal and does not need the nourishment, so to speak, of our sacrifices. The point of these sacrifices is for us, to give us the opportunity to get closer to Hashem.

We all know that prayers we say each day were established in place of the sacrifices. Indeed prayer was always a part of Jewish life, but why is it that prayer took the place of the korbanot in the post-sacrificial era of Jewish history? The answer to this question sheds light on the very important role that prayer has in our lives today.

Just as Hashem does not need our korbanot, Hashem does not need our prayers. Just as the korbanot were a means to bring ourselves closer to Hashem, so too prayer is an opportunity for us to communicate and come closer to Hashem. Finally, just as the act of sacrificing an animal is futile if our heart is not directed towards serving Hashem, so too our tefilot are meaningless if our heart is not in the words we are saying. As we know, unlike many other mitzvot we do, we only fulfill the mitzvah of prayer when we have the proper intention to do so.

While actions, of course, play a significant role in our avodat Hashem and in our relationship with Hashem, the power of words cannot be overlooked. Communication and expression of appreciation, beseeching, and even questioning Hashem is the foundation of our relationship with our Creator. As we know from our own personal interactions and relationships, the import of constant communication – be it support, encouragement, or even disagreement – is perhaps the key to healthy and successful relationships of all types.

The power of prayer is that it fosters a most personal connection between man and Hashem. In the moments of potent and deep prayer, an individual may feel that only he and God exist at that particular moment in time. Perhaps this, too, is an aspect that the verse alludes to in referring to Adam HaRishon—when we are in dialogue with Hashem we should know that he is giving us His undivided attention and care—as if we are the only inhabitant of His world. It is with this recognition and acknowledgment that we will be moved to grant Him the same devotion and attention. In this way we can truly use our time of tefila as a time to connect and reconnect with Hashem throughout our otherwise busy days and weeks.

May we continue to always call out to Hashem in times of joy and in moments of challenge - with genuine hope and sincere intention of bring ourselves closer to Him through our heartfelt words. May we show our willingness to make the small 'sacrifice' of time in our day, be it through formal or informal prayer to communicate with Hashem, and may we come to realize that those moments that we dedicate to prayer may actually be the most precious and influential moments in our days - as it is these moments perhaps above all others that bring us closer to Hashem and can ultimately bring down bracha and hatzlacha into our lives.

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some thoughts and inspiration from my beloved friend D.Z.

Growth Within the Secular World

How can we continue to grow religiously, when we are forced to devote a significant amount of our time to secular matters? Whether we are in school or work, most of us are probably in situations that make it difficult to find time in which we can truly devote ourselves to Hakadosh Baruch'Hu. Yes, we may find time to learn and daven, but having to deal with the stresses that go along with working or being a student, can impede our thoughts, and distract us from being solely focused upon Hashem.

One time, the Steipler zatzal was telling over a story about how he escaped persecution. In order to ensure his survival, he had to walk across a huge forest, while barefoot, on snow! In response to the story, one of his talmidim remarked, "wow that must have been the hardest thing you ever had to do," to which the Steipler responded - "no, saying mincha with kavanah is!" We see from this story that even great Rabbanim experience the nisayon of focusing on Hashem when other matters may be on their minds, and if they have to deal with this test, Kal v'chomer we do!

One way, in which we can improve, is by slowly separating ourselves from our distractions. The perfect example of an item that takes away our ability to focus is the cell phone - an object to which (unfortunately) most of us have become slaves. (One may want to think about what the bracha "shelo asani aved," is referring to). Regardless of where we are, or what we are doing, our cell phones come with us. Perhaps if we start by saying that while studying, we'll put our phone on “silent” for just 15 minutes, and then slowly increase that amount of time. With constant progression, we will soon begin to see improvements in our ability to focus. By taking such action with all items that distract us, we will enable ourselves to concentrate for extended periods of time. This is a key to becoming a "masmid." According to Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, a masmid is not just someone who sits down and learns from morning until evening. A masmid is someone who puts sixty minutes into every hour, whether it's learning, or studying! Being a masmid is someone who is able to solely focus upon what they are involved in, and is able to overcome distractions.

IY”H, as we become more efficient in dealing with secular matters, we will continuously find more and more time to devote to Hashem! Which in my humble opinion is the Ikur! Clearly, this is not an easy task, and we must pray to Hashem to give us the strength to overcome such nisyonos, and to constantly assist us on our journey to improve ourselves. May our efforts to grow, find favor in Hakadosh Baruch'Hu's eyes, and may we all reach that madrega of being a masmid! By devoting that additional time we find in our days to Hashem, may we become zoche to bring Moshiach bimhara b'yamenu, and to finally have Hashem's shechina return to Yerushalayim!

Important Message

Message from Shlomo Hamelech [Mishlei 15/31]

אוזן שומעת תוכחת חיים- בקרב חכמים תלין

Be Cool Dude?

Who wrote the previous post?? What a Kano'i!! Couldn't have been me. I'm chilled!! I'm cool!!:)

Well, let's see...

Amalek attacks us on the way. The passuk says "asher karcha ba'derech" - Literally "they COOLED you off on the way". That is Amalek. "Cool". No passion. No excitement. Chazal say that they are "leitzanim" - mockers. Everything is a big joke. Nothing matters.

Us? Every day we say numerous times "Vi'ahavta es Hashem Elokecha bi'chol livavcha u'vichol nafshicha u'vichol miodecha" - Hashem, I love you soooooo much I'll give EVERYTHING for you. My desires, my money, even my life if necessary. HEAT. PASSION!

The opposite of Amalek.

So being "cool" isn't so cool after all.

Love and blessings!

Tzvi Moshe, here. A man on fire:). [Continuing his thought with what we said here - When Hashem told Moshe to command the Jews to give the machatzis ha-shekel in order to save us from Haman it says that he showed him a coin of fire. Why fire? You want to be saved from "cool" Haman - you must do this mitzva with FIRE. [Based on the Kotzker]

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Modern Day Avoda Zara

Avoda Zara is anything a person is bound to even if it is contrary to the will of G-d. Some examples in modern day America.

1] Money. People will do anything for money - even if it is less than honest. Many a parent raises their children that to be successful means to make lotsa money. To be Holy? That is not on the radar screen.

Money is a means - not an end.

2] The body. Exercise. People will go to a gym even if according to Jewish law it is forbidden to be there [i.e. women dressed up as a newborn baby]. For many, exercise is more important than learning and davening.

Good health is a means - not an end. The body eventually ends up being breakfast for the worms so let us not overestimate its importance. Let us also stop drinking soda, eating white sugar, white flour, fried foods, fast foods and junk food. Don't abuse your body for a momentary thrill.

3] Sports. People are constantly going to their blackberry's to check up on the latest scores, spend large amounts of time and money on this goyishe nonsense and will ignore their family to watch the game.

[Reports that ESPN was invented for me may be true but I am trying to do tshuva:).]

4] A college education. Secular education has supplanted Torah as primary. See 1] above. One may go to college [according to those poskim who allow it] but Torah study must always remain the center of one's existence. Why one year in Yeshiva in Israel vs. at least three in college?

A Jew will die for Torah. NOBODY will die for sociology.

5] Looks. Boys - even SOME [not all] Yeshiva boys - are less interested in her values and spiritual strivings and more interested in her external appearance. This writer assures you he is as male as anyone else but is disgusted with this phenomenon. NOBODY remains happy with a woman because she is blond and slim but that is what people are looking for. Too many movies.

Sweetest friends!!! Adar is the month of Tshuva May'avhava. This means that we love Hashem more than all of the world's silliness.


Not we love Hashem "more"!

We love Hashem exclusively.

Love, blessings and a MILLION requests for forgiveness from the many people I surely offended.


In Kelm there was a famous mussar yeshiva. The students were trained not to move a limb unnecessarily. When they walked down the street they wouldn't look from side to side because what's the point? It's thoughtless. When waiting for the train a Kelmer would never look to see if it's coming because that is just a nervous movement with no benefit.

One time some of the students of the great Mashgiach Rov Yerucham Levovitz ztz"l left seder early only to see the Mashgiach on the street walking in their direction. They were terrified. One of the veteran students told them "Just stand on the side next to this wall and he won't see us." Lo and behold it worked. He walked right by them and didn't notice.

This student understood that being a "Kelmer", Rov Yerucham doesn't look to the side while walking down the street.


About Avraham it says "Vayisa Einav Vayar" - He raised his eyes and saw [three men coming]. OF COURSE he had to have raised eyes to see them? Why is the passuk mentioning this??

Avraham thought twice before doing ANYTHING. Even something so simple as looking in a different direction.


If you don't understand this story I refer you to the beautiful five volumes of Rov Dov Katz "Tenuas Hamussar" and let your life be changed forever.

Love and blessings:)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Don't Forget

ובכל יום ויום מרדכי מתהלך לפני חצר בית הנשים לדעת את שלום אסתר - Every day for four years Mordechai walked outside the house of the women with great concern over the fate of Esther. If he hadn't done this there would be no Purim miracle. [Maharal]

We sometimes forget about others who are in dire straits. Mordechai didn't.

Our brother Gilad [ben Aviva] Shalit has been in captivity with wild animals for a walloping 1716 days!! Let us try not to forget him by forgetting about our own problems and focusing on him and how he and his poor parents must feel. A perek of Tehillim or ten are also suggested.

[Based on the words of the Tolna Rebbe Shlita Melave Malka Parshas Pekudei 5771]
The reason there are two senators for each state is so that one can be the designated driver.

Jay Leno

SWEETEST FRIENDS!! "Chayav Inish Libisumei Bi'puriya" Says the Helige Nesivos Shalom - A person has to get drunk on PURIM. Not with wine but with Purim. Purim is soooo gevaldik it is INTOXICATING!

Get ready!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

For The Love Of Torah

Five highlights from the life of the Tzaddik and Gaon Rov Dovid Povarski ztz"l [Rosh Yeshivas Ponovitch]:

He once gave shiur even though he was breathing through an oxygen mask.

He gave shiur in an orchard during the War of Independence as bombs were flying overhead. He didn't seem to notice.

He was once ill so his wife hid his shoes so that he wouldn't go to yeshiva. He went in his slippers.

He heard that the boys were preparing for the Purim festivities and couldn't understand. He heard of preparing for Rosh Hashana, but preparing for Purim??

He said that from the age of thirteen if he ate fruits or dirt it was the same for him. He just didn't care.

If you want to get to know the man read his approximately 25 volume set "Shiurei Rabbeinu Dovid".

זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע!!

Love and blessings!:)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It Starts in the Home

This shabbas we conclude Sefer Shemot - the Book of Redemption. The fact that the Sefer ends with the assembly of the Miskan reminds us that this was the ultimate goal of the exodus from Egypt—not merely to be freed from bondage, but to then be able to establish and maintain a constant relationship with Hashem.

In this final parsha dealing with the Mishkan, we are almost ironically, and quite poignantly reminded that Judaism is not a religion based only in Temple service and public ritual, but it is a religion that is primarily established and maintained in the home. In this way, we are reminded that even in the absence of the Mishkan, we can accomplish the goal of the redemption to feel Hashem into our lives. In the conclusion of the parsha, the Torah tells us:

And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan (Ex. 40:34)

The Mishkan was not the first structure in Jewish history to be described as having the shechina resting upon it. The Midrash Rabbah tells us that so long as Sara Imeinu was alive a cloud miraculously rested upon the tent, indicating the presence of the shechina in this home. The Shem MiShmuel points out that two other miracles were sustained in the tent of Sarah Imeinu that also parallel structures in the Mishkan: the ever-expanding bread that never ran out corresponds with the show-bread found on the table in the heichal of the Mishkan, and the light that wondrously burned from erev Shabbat to erev Shabbat parallels the ner tamid of the Menorah also found in the central part of the Mishkan.

There is a fundamental lesson to be learned from the link between the first established Jewish home and the first established Jewish temple. The three miracles that link the tent of our ancestors to the Mishkan signify continuity—the ever-presence of the cloud, the ever-expanding dough, and the ever-lasting light. The true foundation of Judaism is in this consistency and stability, which can essentially only be established in the home.

It is often hard for us to imagine how to relate to Hashem on a level that is comparable to the Jewish people at the time that they had the medium of the Mishkan to uplift and inspire them on a constant basis. And yet, the fact that the Mishkan was modeled in some way after the home of the avot and imahot reminds us that the ideal is not only to bring down the shechina through public service and offerings, but it can and should be done on a more constant basis in the more private space of our own homes.

The connection between the service of the Mishkan with the avot and imahot is expounded upon in Ramban’s introduction to Sefer Shemot:

The Exile is not completed until the day that they return to their place and to the elevated level of their forefathers…And when they arrived at Mt. Sinai, and made the Mishkan…then they returned to the elevated level of their Forefathers.

The Mishkan served to bring us back to the level of the avot and imahot—to be at such a level that the shechina could dwell among them every moment, every day. While the Mishkan serves to elevate the Jewish people to a level we were once on, it is the home environment that is responsible for the continuity of Jewish faith and practice on both a personal and national level - it is the home in which the pervasiveness of Jewish values into Jewish life in all that we will do and in all places we will go.

The Kotzer Rebbe once said that the only actions we can be certain are for Hashem are those that are done in private. It is such mitzvot done in the privacy of our own space that best bolster our connection and relationship with Hashem--in this way, too, functioning as a foundation and springboard for the ceremonial customs of Judaism. We cannot rely alone on the weekly or yearly customs that bring us together to the modern-day temple-like structures--if we do so we will not grow as much or as high as we can in our spiritual potentials.

The importance of the home in the continuity of Jewish value is highlighted elsewhere in our parsha. One of the main sections of our parsha provides details of the choshen worn by the kohen that held 12 stones, each corresponding to one of the tribes of Israel. Chazal tell us that in addition to each name of the tribe, the choshen bore the names of the Avot as well – their names were spread across the 12 stones.

Rabbi Rosner suggests that the reason that the names of the avot had to be spread across the tribal stones is to show that the avot had an influence on each of the sons. The level of piousness that the sons displayed in their lifetimes, and that they then passed down to their children, must be attributed on some level to the righteousness of the avot who imprinted upon them Jewish values and modeled for them a Jewish lifestyle. It is no coincidence, as Rav Golvicht notes, that the word even (stone), upon which the tribal names were etched, is formed from the words av and ben (father and son). Again, we see that the kedusha of Klal Yisrael begins in the home.

This Shabbat that precedes Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet, in which we celebrate the Holiday of Purim. On this special shabbat, we read Parshat Shekalim that tells of the donations of silver that the Jews offered for the sake of the Mishkan. Rashi tells us that this first set of offerings was used for the adanim, the sockets that served as the foundation for the entire structure of the Mishkan. The foundation must be set before anything else can be established.

As we conclude the chapter of the Mishkan this week let us remember that the true foundation of Judaism comes from the home – where one learns that our value system can and must pervade all realms and all domains of life - from private to public and all that falls in between. Let us remember that the foundation of the Jewish nation as we know it was first established and continues to be maintained by the lessons learned, taught and passed on inside the home that future generations can carry forth to continue to create space for Hashem to dwell amongst us - so that we too can return to the level of our avot and imahot.

Shabbat Shalom, Taly

Torah Must Be Tasty

The Chazon Ish was asked how he overcame his love for food. He answered that if Torah is geshmak enough then food loses its hold over you. He was once asked if he ate breakfast that day and he said that HE DOESN'T REMEMBER[!!]. He explained that if he is served a meal by his wife then he assumes he hadn't yet eaten. Otherwise, he has no way of knowing!!

[Related by Rabbi Shlomo Lorenz from the sefer 'Ohel Moshe' on Purim - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! - Page 195]

זכות הצדיקים יעזור ויגן ויושיע!!
Please daven for Avraham Mordechai ben Yisarah Breindel a young man who just had emergency surgery to remove cancer. Also Rochel Perel bas Chana Raizel who is having surgery today. And Yehuda Ben Tzion ben Naomi [Gottleib] a chronically ill child who really needs a refuah, BI'SOCH SHEAR CHOLEI YISROEL!!

Tizku L'mitzvos!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smelling Good

Chazal say that one of the types of incense used in the beis hamikdash was "chelbina". Chelbina smells BAD but together with the good smelling types of incense the Chelbina also smelled good. In the same way when we have a fast there must be sinners fasting as well and then the fast "smells" good to Hashem.

Haman is the same gematria as chelbinah [95]. Haman alone smells BAD but when mixed with Mordechai he smells good. Mordechai is alluded to in the Torah in the name of the pleasant smelling herb "mor dror" [parshas Tetzave] translated by Unkelus as "mira dachya" [sounds like Mordechai].

Maybe that is why we should drink until we don't know the DIFFERENCE between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai. We must mix them together and it will smell good.

Chelbinah equals Haman.

[I might have seen this idea somewhere but I don't remember.]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Important Calls

Shloime is in a room and the money is FLYING! Literally! All he has to do is catch it. Hundred dollar bills everywhere. WOOOOOW!

His phone rings. He stops to answer and stats chatting. If I were in the room I would scream "SHOTEH!! GRAB THE MONEY NOW AND TALK LATER". This is a time to talk??

A Jew is learning. His phone rings. Every second of learning is PRICELESS. But he answers.

After a hundred and twenty he meets his Maker. What is his reward. Ifffffffff he would have learned properly [say with gemara niggun] he gets the BEST POSSIBLE reward. "But", Hashem says, "your phone is more valuable to you than my Torah. So here is your reward. A phone."

But no one to call.
Jewish and Chinese Parenting here.

The holy Rebbetzin Jungreis here.