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Seasonal Insights

 

 

CHANUKAH

THE EIGHT NIGHTS OF CHANUKAH

The Beis Yosef asks a very famous question and below are a couple of his answers. 

He asks why is Chanukah eight days long?  If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?  

The Beis Yosef answers:  Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained.  They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.

Another answer by the Beis Yosef is: On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

SIMCHAT TORAH

Celebrating Simchat Torah

by Mrs Lori Palatnik

The Jewish journey never ends 

Click here to watch the video

 

SUKKOT

Sukkot and the Secret of Happiness

On Sukkot, we discover that happiness
is never about having; it is about being.

by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Click the image below to read more

 

 

YOM KIPPUR

The day of Yom Kippur seems to have two contradictory natures to it. On the one hand there are five "afflictions" prescribed on Yom Kippur (no eating or drinking, no washing one’s body, no anointing one’s body [perfume or deodorant], no wearing leather shoes and no marital relations), but on the other hand the gemoro (Talmud) calls it one of the two happiest days in the year, and some Rishonim (early commentaries) learn that there is a mitzvah (commandment) of simchas ha’chag (enjoyment) even on Yom Kippur.

How can one balance simcha (enjoyment) and affliction? 

The idea seems to be that both the simcha and the affliction stem from the same point here. The simcha of Yom Kippur is due to the fact that it is the day when we cleanse ourselves of sin, as well as the fact that this is the day we received the second luchos (set of tablets). Likewise, the five afflictions are aimed at removing ourselves from the contaminating distractions of the physical world (distractions which take us away from our real selves) and allow us to focus on the spiritual nature of the day - thus facilitating our Teshuva (repentance). 

 

So, the simcha and the affliction are not contradictory at all - on the contrary, they stem from the same point; atonement and purity

 

ROSH HASHONA

SIMANIM (SYMBOLIC FOODS)

On Rosh Hashanah (New year) we start the meal with various simanim and their accompanying brachos (blessings) and texts. For example, we eat a pomegranate and ask that our merits should be as numerous as pomegranate seeds, and we eat apply with honey so that we should have a sweet new year, etc. 

 What is the idea of these simanim - are they just games or examples of clever play on words? 

 Rabbi Neventzal explained that the main idea of these simanim are to inspire us to repent. When we look at the apple and honey and ask for a sweet new year, we are reminded that we need to mend our ways to merit such sweetness. And so it goes for all the simanim - they are mental reminders and motivators for us to repent. 

 The Shem Mishmuel offers a different approach, arguing that each thing we eat on Rosh Hashanah has certain effects in the spiritual realms. It is these spiritual effects that we are tapping into when we eat these select foods on the Day of Judgment.

 

 

 

TISHA B'AV

 

Napoleon and the Purpose of Mourning
on Tisha B’Av

Why do Tisha B’Av and Passover always occur on the same day of the week?
by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen from Aish

Click here to watch this inspirational video

 

SHEVUOS

The Mishna Berura quotes the Zohar which teaches that the pious would remain awake on Shavuos night and engage in Torah study. In addition to the great reward of the study itself, this custom provides some degree of rectification for the sleep that overtook the Jewish people on the night preceding the giving of the Torah.

Not only does staying up all night present us with a physical challenge, it also provides us with many halachic ones as well. Many of the brochos (blessings) that we recite in the morning after awakening from a night’s sleep are thrown into question when we have not slept the entire night. For example, immediately upon wakening every morning, we wash our hands and recite the brocho (blessing) of “al netilat yadayim”. The main reason for this is that our hands have inadvertently become unclean while we sleep. Because our hands do not normally become unclean while we are awake and learning, the question arises as to whether or not we are obligated to wash our hands in the morning with a brocho.

As a solution to this dilemma, the Poskim (commentaries) suggest that one make sure to use the bathroom before the morning hand washing to ensure that his hands are ritually unclean before he washes, thereby validating washing with a brocho. 

Another question which arises on Shavuos concerns making a brocho on one’s tzitzis (four cornered garment with fringes). The Mishna Berura writes that one who sleeps in his tzitzis all night should not make a new brocho in the morning. Therefore, men and boys who normally wear a talis during Shacharis (morning prayers) should recite the brocho on the talis and by doing so exempt the tzitzis as well. One who does not wear a talis during davening (prayers) should listen to the brocho of one who does thereby fulfilling the blessing through his friend’s recitation. 

Although most of the morning brochos can be recited regardless of whether one slept the previous night or not, there are two brochos which cannot be recited as they allude directly to the activity of having awoken from a sleep. Thus, the brocho of “elokei neshama” and “hama’avir shainah” cannot be said since they praise Hashem (G-d) for having restored one’s soul after sleep. In this case, the Poskim advise those who stay awake all night to listen to these brochos recited by one who has slept. It is therefore important for the gabbai (sexton) of the minyan (quorum) to appoint one who has slept to lead the congregation in the morning brochos. 

 

 

PESACH

Matzah: Running Out of Time

Click here to watch this great video from AISH

by Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht

 

PURIM

Stepping Up To Purim

Purim and your unique role in life.

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH THIS INSPIRATIONAL PURIM VIDEO

 

Sandcastles: A Sukkot Parable

A story about a boy on the beach, a man in his office, and facing the inevitable.
by Rabbi Menachem Lehrfield

Click here to watch the video

Sukkos

The basic understanding of the verse (Vaikra 23:42,43) as explained by Talmud in Succah (11b) is that we are commanded to commemorate that we lived in “Succos” in the desert referring to Annanei Hakavod (the Clouds of Glory that protected us in the desert) so too now we live in Succos nowadays.
 
The holiday really should be in the Hebrew month of Nissan, Pesach (Passover) time, which is when the Clouds first appeared, upon the beginning of our journey in the desert, so why are we celebrating it on the 15th of (the Hebrew month of) Tishrei six months later?
 
The Vilna Gaon (Rabbni of Vilna) explains that we celebrate Succos in the month of Tishrei not because of the commemoration of the Ananei Hakavod themselves but rather their return on the 15th of Tishrei. Where did they go? Well, it all started when the Jews panicked, because they thought that Moshe (Moses) died since he appeared to be taking a bit longer to get the luchos (tablets) when he went up to Har (Mount)  Sinai for 40 days after receiving the Torah. Consumed by panic, people decided to build the golden calf. Now, of course, that was a miscalculation on their part and their failure to maintain commitment to the relationship with Hashem(G-d). Therefore, Hashem withdrew his presence from the Jewish people including the Ananei Hakavod. 
 
At the beginning of the (Hebrew) month of Elul, Moshe went back up onto the mountain and after 40 days (which falls on Yom Kippur) he obtained forgiveness for the whole nation from Hashem and brought down the new set of luchos. Right then, he was commanded to build the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). Five days later, all the materials were donated by the Jewish nation and on the 15th the building of the Mishkan began. At the commencement of the building the Ananei Hakavod returned reflecting the return of Hashem’s presence among the Jewish nation.

 

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur: The Three Levels of Forgiveness
How to truly forgive someone who has hurt you.
by Eitiel Goldwicht

Click here to watch this inspirational video.
 

Rosh Hashana - The Power of Shema

 

An old but amazing story that reiterates The power of Shema Yisroel ....

Soldiers had gone into a mosque in gaza searching for tunnels and weapons,etc.

A door opened and a female bomber walked into the room ready to explode herself near the soldiers. One of the soldiers realized that their end was near and screamed "Shema Yisrael" .

Those two words made the female bomber tremble and was not able to carry out her plan. The army was able to stop her and dismantle the bomb.

They took her for questioning and discovered that she is Jewish, she married an arab and was taken to gaza and beaten. She has two children and they are suffering terribly. She told the army where her children were and told them about where more terror tunnels are and who sent her to bomb soldiers and other information.

The army got her and her children to a safe place in Israel and took her to get help from "Yad L'achim".

Tisha B'Av

Fill the Void: A Tisha B'Av Message

What is the meaning of the 9th of Av today?
by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen

Click here to watch the video

 

 

Shevuos
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero

The Megilla (scroll) of Ruth is read on Shavuos.  Ruth, a Moavite, was the daughter-in-law of Na'omi. Na'omi's husband Elimelech and her two sons Machlon and Kilyon died when the family was living outside of the land of Israel.

After the death of her husband and children, Na'omi decided to return to her homeland. Ruth insisted on going with her mother-in-law. The two returned to Israel as paupers. Ruth went out to the fields, hoping to collect the part of the harvest which by Jewish Law goes to the poor. Ruth went to the field of Boaz, who was a relative of Elimelech, Ruth's deceased father-in-law, and one of the most respected men of his generation.  Boaz, upon finding out that Ruth was collecting in his field, made sure that Ruth collected all that she needed to bring home in order for her and Na'omi to live.

When Boaz met Ruth, he explained to her why he was dealing with her in such a kindly fashion (2:11). He said "It has been told to me all that you have done for your mother-in-law ... and that you left your mother and father and your birthplace and you went to a nation that you did not know." The Targum explains that Boaz was also telling Ruth through prophecy that she would merit having the kingship of Israel descend from her on account of these two deeds. The Targum states that Boaz mentioned the deeds in this specific order: First, that she supported her mother-in-law; Second, that she left her idols and parents and converted to a nation she did not know.

From the words of the Targum and the order in which these deeds were listed, there seems to be an implication that the first act, the support of Na'omi, is at least equally responsible for Ruth meriting her great reward.

A question that arises upon reading this is how Boaz could equate these two actions.  One action was an incredible act of self-sacrifice.  Ruth, our Sages tell us, was the daughter of the king of Moav. Ruth, after the death of her husband, did not return to the comfort of the palace life in which she was raised.  Instead, she decided to convert and become part of the Jewish nation!  Ruth went from being a princess in a royal court to becoming a pauper, destitute, and dependent upon charity for her very sustenance. The other action of Ruth was an ordinary kindness.  It was a daughter-in-law helping her elderly mother-in-law.  What was so special about this everyday act that because of it, Ruth would merit to be the mother of Jewish royalty, and even more outstanding, that the act was placed on the same plane as Ruth's extraordinary self-sacrifice in her decision to convert?

The answer is that Boaz is teaching us that even the smallest and seemingly most mundane act, if done with the proper intentions, can be elevated to an act of great self-sacrifice. Ruth, by performing the act of kindness with a pure heart and with every fiber of her being in a desire to do the will of Hashem, raised her small act of kindness above everyone else's similar acts of kindness. Because of this act of kindness, she merited having the monarchy of Israel descend from her.

When approaching Shavuos, the day we celebrate the acceptance of the Torah, many of us have lofty goals, ideals, and aspirations which we greatly desire to fulfil.  Boaz should remind us that we need to remember the potential greatness in everyday, ordinary acts.  When these acts are done properly, we can merit great reward.

 

 

Pesach

‘Vayosha Hashem bayom Hahu’ – Hashem (G-d) saved them on that day, when the Bnei Yisrael (Israelites) saw the faces of the dead Egytptians. In fact, the Midrash (Sages) explains that each Jew saw the (dead) face of the specific Egyptian that tried to attack him. The Ohr Hachaim explains that it was only on ‘that day’ (rather than the day that they were released from Egypt) that the Jews were saved by Hashem, since they now had emotional freedom (in addition to physical freedom). Until they saw the dead face of the Egyptian that tried to kill them, the Jews were emotionally scarred and haunted, still in fear that they might come back. Thus only when the Jews saw the dead faces of those Egyptians were they truly saved.

 

Why We Eat Matzah on Passover
The connection between humility, faith and the holiday of freedom.
by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen

Click here to watch the video at Aish.com

Chanukah

Sesame Street:
Hanukkah With Veronica Monica
Click the image below to watch the video

 

Click this image to watch the video

Chanukah

Click the image below to go to the Aish website and learn some fascinating facts

Happy Chanukah to you all

Rosh HaShana

As we are on the lead up to Rosh Hashana it is an opportune time for teshuva (repentance)
There's a story of a man who rushes onto the 11:00 train just before the doors close. He looks worn out, dejected and disheartened. He stands holding onto the bar as the train starts to leave the station.
 
An older man with an empty seat next to him says to him “hey it’s a long journey take a seat” The man hurriedly replies “NO”.  Anyway some time into the long journey he decides he’s getting tired so he sits down next to the older man.  The older man through the course of the journey tries to make conversation noticing that the young man was down and looked uneasy.  The younger man wasn’t in the mood for talking.  Until eventually the man tried again to make conversation and asked why he was so troubled and looked so worried .

The young man suddenly opened up and starting telling the older man his life story.  He was a troubled child who didn’t get on with his parents though it was mainly his fault.  He was failing at school and always in trouble.  His parents asked him to do one thing and he would purposely do the opposite.  Fortunately he was good at something, he was good with his hands and when he was 16 he managed to invent a product and patented it and made millions by the time he was 21.  He moved out of his parent’s house – something he had always dreamed of doing – and found a mansion on the other side of the city.  He married a beautiful woman and had a couple of amazing kids.  A few years down the line he got a phone call about a business venture; he would have to invest most of his fortune to enable a tenfold profit.  He did so and soon realised that the phone call was false and the company ran off with his fortune.

Soon his wife found out and couldn’t stay with him and took the children with!  He had nowhere to run no one to turn to and he had no money.  He thought he would have to ask his parents for help, for it was the only help he would get!

After years of not speaking to them he couldn’t just suddenly turn up at the door, even calling them would be difficult so he thought he’d write them a letter.

In the letter he said he would be on this train on this day it arrives at 14:30.  At the end of the platform there is a tree.  If you forgive me you will tie a white handkerchief around the tree.  If I see the white handkerchief I will get off the train and I will know you have forgiven me.  If there is no white handkerchief I know you have not forgiven me and will carry on my way!

The old man was very sympathetic and assured him that everything would be ok and he is sure that the white handkerchief would be tied around the tree.

As the journey was coming to its end the young man was becoming very nervy and anxious.  He told the older man he was too scared to look.  As the station platform drew nearer he felt very tense and the old man asked if he would like him to look out for the tree.  The young man agreed and shut his eyes.  The platform approached even closer, 400 yards 200 yards 50 yards by now the man could see that the whole tree was covered; every branch had its own white handkerchief.  The old man said “They have forgiven you.  The young man smiled and delighted he got off the train after thanking the man and hugged both his parents who were there waiting for him to disembark the train!
The parents in this story were always going to forgive the man just like G-d is always ready to forgive us.  At this time of year we are on a journey and we have waiting for us a Father in Heaven who is happy and more than willing to welcome us back.  He wants nothing more than for us to cling to Him and come back to him.

May we all return to G-d with complete Teshuva (repentance)!

 

Tisha B'Av

Making Tisha B’Av Relevant
How do we mourn what we do not know?

Click the image below to read this 
inspirational article by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff.

The Three Weeks

Overview and laws of the period leading up to Tisha B'Av

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
 

Click the image below to
read the informative article at the Aish website

The Three Weeks

Shevuos

Shavuot: The Secret of Inspiration by Charlie Harary
Why did God wait 49 days before giving the Torah?      

Click here to watch the inspirational video

 

Pesach

Click here to listen to the Maccabeats version of Dayenu - brilliant

Pesach

Yes, it is amazing that G-d took us out of Egypt. But if you think about it- He is the one that put us there in the first place! So why did we have to go through it all and what are we celebrating?

Picture an apple seed dropped to the ground and left below the surface to disintegrate. Imagine if it could talk, it might say, “What happened to me? I used to be part of something beautiful, and now I am in this low place. I am falling apart and things seem hopeless.”

Yet only from that dark place when the seed disintegrates, can it begin to grow into something even more beautiful and powerful than it could ever have dreamed of- to be its own tree with hundreds of apples.

Our experience in Egypt was parallel. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger quotes the Zohar that G-d said had the Jewish nation not been planted in the cold, dark difficulties of Egypt, they wouldn’t have been able to become the His people. The effort and pain of the challenging exile in Egypt brought them to turn to G-d and to develop a relationship with Him. Then they were able to become a nation of 600,000 people who, only 50 days after leaving Egypt, could stand and receive the Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai.

 

Purim

Click the image below to read this Purim story

 

Click here to read this Purim story

Click the image below to watch PURIM come ALIVE!  

Learn all about Purim in less than five minutes ... With thanks to Aish
 

Click here to watch the video

 

Tu B'Shvat

In this week’s Sedra (Torah portion), the Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) are in Mara. Unable to drink the ‘bitter’ water. Hashem (G-d) instructs Moshe (Moses) to put a piece of tree (a branch) into the water. After doing so, the water becomes sweet, and the Bnei Yisrael are able to drink the water.
 
Amazingly, this bitter branch turns the bitter water into sweet water.

Essentially, this is one of the many miracles in the creation of fruit.

The end of the brocho (blessing) we say before eating fruit from trees is ‘boreh pri ha’etz’ ‘the One who creates the fruit of the tree’. We don’t just thank Hashem for creating fruit, we also recognise the miracle of creating the fruit, something sweet, from the eitz, the tree, which has a bitter taste.
This is similarly true with ‘boreh pri ha’adamah’ ‘the One who creates the fruit of the tree’, where we are also recognising Hashem creating something so sweet from something so bitter, the earth.

 

 

Chanukah

Fighting darkness with light

Click here to watch inspirational video from Aish

 

Simchat Torah

If the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Torah, why was Simchat Torah -- immediately following Sukkot -- chosen as the day to end and begin the annual Torah reading cycle?
Furthermore, why do we have two holidays for the Torah -- Shavuot and Simchat Torah? They are also celebrated so differently. On Shavuot, we stay up all night learning Torah. And on Simchat Torah, we dance.

The need for these two holidays has been explained in a parable that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Once a king issued a proclamation. Any one of his subjects was welcome to try for the hand of his daughter. On one condition: The potential suitor was not allowed to meet or see his daughter before the marriage.

The proclamation caused quite a stir. Soon the local inns were buzzing with speculation and rumors. "I hear she is a real shrew," said one. "I heard she is a deaf-mute," said another. "I know for a fact that she is a total imbecile," intoned a third. Round and round the rumors flew. Finally, a simple wholehearted Jew spoke up. "I am willing to marry her. How bad can she be? After all, she is the king's daughter and we all know how great our king is."

Word quickly spread and the suitor was led to the palace. As it turned out, he was the only one who volunteered. The king accepted the match and the wedding date was set.

After the lavish wedding, the groom escorted his bride to their new home. She removed her heavy veil, and he was astounded at her beauty. Remembering the rumors of her reputed faults, the groom decided to thoroughly test her. He engaged her in conversation, tested her in character and refinement and found himself pleasantly surprised. In every way, she excelled beyond his greatest hopes and dreams. Overjoyed, he held a lavish party to celebrate his good fortune.

PARABLE EXPLAINED

The King in the parable is God. When He wanted to give the Torah, He offered it to each nation in turn. All the nations refused, each one claiming some fault in the Torah they would not be able to live with. When God offered it to the Jews, they said 'Naaseh VeNishma' -- "we will do, and then we will understand" (Exodus 24:7). The Jewish people accepted the Torah without having seen it, as they were grateful for all God had done for them.
Though the Jewish people fully accepted the Torah, they feared a loss. They assumed that the numerous obligations in the Torah would deprive them of their pleasures and freedom. Similarly, the groom in the parable married the king's daughter fearing he would be disappointed in other areas. But as the Jews learned the Torah and applied it's teaching to their lives, they were pleasantly surprised. Not only did they not have to give up anything, they found the Torah maximized their pleasure in every way.

Therefore at the conclusion of reading the Torah, when we have again delved into its teachings for a full year, we make a party on Simchat Torah.

On Shavuot, we stay up and learn all night to show our readiness and anticipation to receive the Torah. Because it is an intellectual appreciation, we stay up all night learning Torah. On Simchat Torah, however, we dance -- expressing the emotional joy of the body. We are showing that even our bodies have gained tremendously by keeping the Torah.

Ask anyone who has increased their Torah observance and they will tell you the same. At first, each feared, according to his or her nature, that some aspect of the Torah would be restrictive. Be it keeping Shabbat, kosher, family purity or laws of proper speech, each encountered an area that tested their resolve. However, they kept the Torah knowing it was the most meaningful thing to do. And as they grew in their Judaism, they found their lives enhanced in every way.

It is with this renewed appreciation that we approach Simchat Torah. We are filled with gratitude and awe for the great gift that God has bestowed on us with love.

 

Getting ready for Sukkos in Williamsberg

Getting ready for Sukkos

 

Yom Kippur 2014

It's not too late to make a change.
Just one small change turns you into a different person.
And that could be the difference between life and death.
It's not too late.
There's still time.
Don't waste the opportunity.

Click here to watch the video - Yom HaDin

 

Rosh Hashana 2014
Do not be as a horse or a mule ...

 

While passing through a marketplace, Rabbi Kehot of Veritch, a disciple of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, overheard a conversation between two horse dealers.

"I was thinking,'' said one to the other. "What does the psalmist mean when he says, 'Do not be as a horse, or a mule, without understanding, their mouths stopped with bit and bridle'?

Well, when you put a bit in a horse's mouth, he thinks that you are giving him something to practice his chewing on. Don't be like a horse, King David is saying. When your Heavenly Master sends something your way, understand that it is more than something to chew on...''

 

Rosh Hashona - 2014

What will happen to you next year?
A powerful insight for the upcoming Rosh Hashanah
Click here to watch the video

 

Shevuos - 2014

Why did G-d wait 49 days before giving the Torah?

Click the image below to watch the video

 

Click this image to watch the video

 

Pesach - 2014

'Vehi Sheamda'

Chief Rabbi from South Africa's inspirational Message (2012)
featuring Yaakov Shwekey

The miraculous sweep of Jewish destiny
from the Exodus to nuclear Iran --
and what it means today.

Click the image below to watch the video - Get ready to be inspired!

Click this image to watch this amazing and inspiration video

 

 

Purim

Click the image below to listen to Ari Lesser's  entertaining Purim Poetry Slam.

 

Click here to listen to Ari Lesser's Purim Poetry Slam!

 

 

Chanuka

Click the image below
to listen to the Chief Rabbi's Chanuka message
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - click this image to listen to his Chanuka message for 2013

 

Sukkos

We have special brochos (blessings) for so many mitzvos(commandments), why not for building a sukkah? The Classic Commentaries bring a multitude of answers to this question.

The Imrei Shaul tells us that the brocho (blessing) is actually hinted at in the very mitzvah itself. For when one builds a "complete" sukkah, it is composed of four walls (d'fanos - singular dofan) with s'chach (material used as a roof for a sukkah) on top. If one adds up the numerical value (gematriya) of the Hebrew word dofen (singular for wall), multiply it by four, and then add the gematriya of the word s'chach, one comes up with the same gematriya as the words "Baruch Atah Hashem" [ a total of 660]. The brocho is hidden in the very sukkah itself!

 

 

Yom Kippur

The day of Yom Kippur seems to have two contradictory natures to it. On the one hand there are five "afflictions" prescribed on Yom Kippur (no eating or drinking, no washing one’s body, no anointing one’s body [perfume or deodorant], no wearing leather shoes and no marital relations), but on the other hand the gemoro (Talmud) calls it one of the two happiest days in the year, and some Rishonim (early commentaries) learn that there is a mitzvah (commandment) of simchas ha’chag (enjoyment) even on Yom Kippur.

How can one balance simcha (enjoyment) and affliction? 

The idea seems to be that both the simcha and the affliction stem from the same point here. The simcha of Yom Kippur is due to the fact that it is the day when we cleanse ourselves of sin, as well as the fact that this is the day we received the second luchos (set of tablets). Likewise, the five afflictions are aimed at removing ourselves from the contaminating distractions of the physical world (distractions which take us away from our real selves) and allow us to focus on the spiritual nature of the day - thus facilitating our Teshuva (repentance). 

 

So, the simcha and the affliction are not contradictory at all - on the contrary, they stem from the same point; atonement and purity

Rosh Hashona - What am I living for?

Ask yourself, what am I living for?

To live greatly, there is one question that we absolutely must ask: What am I living for? After all, how can I live if I don’t know what I’m living for? Most people avoid this question. We get busy with being busy in order not to think about where our lives are ultimately headed. It’s a profound question and one that requires courage and great personal integrity to ask it.

On Rosh Hashanah God asks us to look in the mirror and judge ourselves. This is a tremendous and awesome challenge. The Almighty is giving us life and we don’t know what to do with it. Life is too precious to waste. Rosh Hashanah is the time to clarify what we’re living for.

Furthermore, how can I live the “good life,” if I don’t have my own definition of what “good’ means? There are many things that people call good such as, love, creativity, power, kindness, knowledge, thinking, health, peace, relationship with God, wealth, etc. On Rosh Hashanah explore this question: Of all the possibilities of what people deem good, what is the greatest good? When we know what the greatest good is than we can truly live the “good life.” Why settle for second best when we can have the best?

 

Tisha B'Av

 Chazal (the Sages) relate that when the Romans were killing the great holy 10 martyrs, the angels shouted at HaShem (G-d) 'is this what the reward for [their study of] Torah is!' and HaShem responded that 'if the angels are quiet, fine, but if you continue then I will destroy the world.'  

It appears that HaShem had no response; were the angels right? Rabbi Pinkus explains that HaShem was saying here that the world deserves destruction, and the way to save it is to have a time of tragedy which will serve as a means for the jews to cry tears to HaShem in each generation for these holy martyrs. Thus, HaShem was telling the angels that 'if you continue with your claims and want to get your way and stop these murders, then the world will end up being detroyed; only if you are silent and let this go then it is through this tragedy that future generations will cry out to Me and allow the world to continue.'   

This is THE idea of tragedy/sadness; it is so that a Jew who seems like he is completely in the dark and despite that, cries out and forges a kesher (connection) with HaShem - to hang on and show commitment; this is only an opportunity in tragedy and tests. Like we say in our prayers: 'V'emunascha baleilos' - true emunah (faith & trust) is forged when one can hold on to HaShem in the dark.

 

Pesach ... What's the point?

Yes, it is amazing that G-d took us out of Egypt. But if you think about it- He is the one that put us there in the first place! So why did we have to go through it all and what are we celebrating?
 
Picture an apple seed dropped to the ground and left below the surface to disintegrate. Imagine if it could talk, it might say, “What happened to me? I used to be part of something beautiful, and now I am in this low place. I am falling apart and things seem hopeless.”
Yet only from that dark place when the seed disintegrates, can it begin to grow into something even more beautiful and powerful than it could ever have dreamed of- to be its own tree with hundreds of apples.
Our experience in Egypt was parallel. Rav Moshe Weinberger quotes the Zohar that Hashem said had the Jewish nation not been planted in the cold, dark difficulties of Mitzrayim, they wouldn’t have been able to become the His people. The effort and pain of the challenging exile in Egypt brought them to turn to G-d and to develop a relationship with Him. Then they were able to become a nation of 600,000 people who, only 50 days after leaving Egypt, could stand and receive the Torah from Hashem on Har Sinai.

Revealing the Hidden

Click here to watch inspirational Aish video - Revealing the Hidden

 

Adar

Adar is here!  The fun begins! Click the image below to see Aish's Animated Purim Video

Adar is here!  The fun begins! Click this image to see Aish's Animated Purim Video

Sukkot - And The Secret of Happiness

Click the image below to read the interesting article by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller

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Dry Bones - New Year Seasonal Insights!

Dry Bones

 

Rosh Hashona - Life is a gift

On Chanukah the menorah burned for eight days; on Passover the Jews left Egypt. What happened on Rosh Hashanah?

The Talmud relates that Man was created on the first of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah). This being the case, Rosh Hashanah is a birthday of sorts for the human race.

In the Torah, the account of the creation of the first human beings states that Man was created, "in the image of G-d." Jewish tradition understands "the image of G-d" to mean that human beings possess free will. Our actions are not predetermined by any Divine, psychological or sociological forces; rather, we are free to choose and are thus responsible for the consequences of our actions. On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate our humanity by exercising our free will.

Life is a gift. You appeared. You had nothing to do with it whatsoever. You had nothing to do with the colour of your eyes, the colour of your hair, the colour of your skin, or how tall you were going to be. You stand with this gift of yourself. What are you going to do with it? G-d gave you self, gave you life, and gave you the world to live in. What are you going to do with that gift?

The ABCs of Ellul by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

A link to this article at Aish.com is at the bottom of this article

The last month of the Jewish calendar is actually the most important – serving as preparation for the High Holidays.

If you had an important court date scheduled ― one that would determine your financial future, or even your very life ― you'd be sure to prepare for weeks beforehand.
 
On Rosh Hashana, each individual is judged on the merit of his deeds. Whether he will live out the year or not. Whether he will have financial success or ruin. Whether he will be healthy or ill. All of these are determined on Rosh Hashana.
 
Elul - the month preceding Rosh Hashana - begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life's goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life - rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.
 
The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l'dodi v'dodi lee ― "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people.
 
In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashana is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually-inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.
 
Slichot
 
Beginning on Saturday night before Rosh Hashana, we recite "Slichot", a special series of prayers that invoke God's mercy. If Rosh Hashana falls at the beginning of the week, then "Slichot" begin on the Saturday night of the previous week. (Sefardim begin saying "Slichot" on Rosh Chodesh Elul.)
 
After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses asked God to explain His system for relating with the world. God's answer, known as the "13 Attributes of Mercy," forms the essence of the "Slichot" prayers. The "13 Attributes" speak of "God's patience." The same God Who created us with a clean slate and a world of opportunity, gives us another opportunity if we've misused the first one.
 
"Slichot" should be said with a minyan. If this is not possible, then "Slichot" should still be said alone, omitting the parts in Aramaic and the "13 Attributes of Mercy."
 
Finally, the most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we'll want to know what we're asking for!
 
Additions to the Services
 
Beginning the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, it is the Ashkenazi custom to blow the shofar every morning after prayers, in order to awaken us for the coming Day of Judgement. The shofar's wailing sound inspires us to use the opportunity of Elul to its fullest.
 
Also beginning in Elul, we say Psalm 27 in the morning and evening services. In this Psalm, King David exclaims: "One thing I ask... is to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life." we focus on the unifying force of God in our lives, and strive to increase our connection to the infinite transcendent dimension.
 
40-Day Period
 
Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.
 
On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later ― on the seminal Yom Kippur ― he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.
 
For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year's holiest day, Yom Kippur.
 
Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah's Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh ― the ritual purification bath ― contains 40 measures of water.
 
Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon ― an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.
 
Events of the Year 2448
 
Many of the Jewish holidays are based on the events of one crucial year in Jewish history -- 2448, or 1312 BCE.
 
About 3,300 years ago, in the Jewish year 2448, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt ― following the plague of the First Born. The date was the 15th of Nissan, the first Passover celebration.
 
One week later, with the Egyptian troops in full chase, the Red Sea split ― and the Jewish people walked through on dry land. This occurred on the seventh and final day of the Passover holiday.
 
Ten Commandments and Mount Sinai - Fifty days later, on the holiday of Shavuot, God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. At Sinai, the Jews regained the immortal level of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
 
Moses' First Ascent - Following the revelation, Moses went up Mount Sinai to learn more details of the Torah directly from God. At the end of 40 days, God handed Moses two sapphire tablets of identical shape and size ― upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved.
 
The Golden Calf - On the 16th of Tammuz, when Moses had not yet returned from the mountain, the Jewish people began to panic. They sought a new "leader" and built the Golden Calf. Immediately, the Clouds of Glory ― the divine protection of God ― departed. The Jews had relinquished their spiritual greatness and become mortal again. On the 17th of Tammuz, Moses came down from the mountain, smashed the Tablets, destroyed the Calf, and punished the transgressors.
 
Moses' Second Ascent - On the 19th of Tammuz, Moses ascended Mount Sinai again to plead for the lives of the Jewish people. He prayed with great intensity, and after 40 days, God agreed to spare the Jewish people in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moses returned to the people. Their lives were spared, but the sin was not yet forgiven.
 
Moses' Third and Final Ascent - Moses ascended Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for 40 days (bringing the total number of days spent there to 120). Henceforth, the month of Elul became a special time for drawing close to God. At the end of the 40 days ― on the 10th of Tishrei ― God agreed to mete out the punishment for the Golden Calf over many generations. He then gave Moses a new, second set of Tablets.
 
Moses came down from the mountain with good news for the people: The reunification was complete, and the relationship restored. Thereafter, the 10th of Tishrei was designated as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Midrashic Sources: Exodus Rabba 32:7, 51:8; Tanchuma - Ki Tisa 35
 

Click here to read the article on line at the Aish website

 

A thought for Tisha B'Av

We have lived in galus (exile) for so long that we can’t even imagine what true spiritual wholeness is. In Yiddish there is an expression "A verm vos lebt in chrain meint az dos leben iz zees - a worm that lives in horseradish thinks his life is sweet.”

If all we recognise is the daily treadmill of a life lived so far from our roots, then grieving over our lost glory is difficult indeed.  Hashem (G-d) so wants us to be drawn closer to Him, yet we have allowed ourselves to become comfortable in our detachment.

In truth, this is unfortunately quite understandable.  Just as that worm knows no better, we too have become lulled into insensitivity. After all, we have no tangible point of reference to the glory that was once ours. We have never met or even known someone else who met someone who witnessed those long-gone times. In trying to survive we have accepted that living in horseradish is the norm.

True, we do have strikingly vivid depictions of those past times. Our liturgy is full of scintillating glimpses, and we articulate our longing at every turn of our lives. The question is how much we really internalize these images and prayers. Do we truly await the rebuilding of our holy Temple? Or is it just a metaphor for the yearning of an unsettled and burdened soul? 

The way for us to begin to approach the enormity of our losses is by first turning to look within our own selves. If we start to realize how far we have slid and what this has done to our worldview, then just maybe we can begin to comprehend the enormity of our devastation.

The period of the Three Weeks is an auspicious time for such thoughts. It is an opportunity to energise our souls and transform that muffled quaint uneasiness that lies within every Jewish heart into a raging storm of relentless desire.

Foremost, we must know that there was a time when Yidden (Jews) knew the truth unequivocally and basked in a sun that shone clearly. Every one of our ancestors strove to reach the pathways that led to Yerushalayim - Jerusalem, and once there, they participated  in the joyousness that was the avoda - service -  in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple). In those sweet times, every Yid (Jew) felt tangibly part of a holy flock that was watched over by the most faithful of all shepherds, Hashem (G-d).

But the human being is a fickle creature, and insipidly the egoism set in, leading our forefathers astray. If one builds parallel roads, they will follow each other forever. However, if one road diverges just a little, with each passing mile the two roads draw further apart.
This widespread divergence is our sorry state today.  We must first accept the reality of our situation and then seek out that loving Shepherd once again.
 

 The Nine Days - A Chronology of Destruction

With Rosh Chodesh Av, the more intense period of mourning for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, known as The Nine Days, begins.  Click the image below to read informative article.

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Shevuos

by Rabbi Yehudah Prero

The Megilla (scroll) of Ruth is read on Shavuos.  Ruth, a Moavite, was the daughter-in-law of Na'omi. Na'omi's husband Elimelech and her two sons Machlon and Kilyon died when the family was living outside of the land of Israel.

After the death of her husband and children, Na'omi decided to return to her homeland. Ruth insisted on going with her mother-in-law. The two returned to Israel as paupers. Ruth went out to the fields, hoping to collect the part of the harvest which by Jewish Law goes to the poor. Ruth went to the field of Boaz, who was a relative of Elimelech, Ruth's deceased father-in-law, and one of the most respected men of his generation.  Boaz, upon finding out that Ruth was collecting in his field, made sure that Ruth collected all that she needed to bring home in order for her and Na'omi to live.

When Boaz met Ruth, he explained to her why he was dealing with her in such a kindly fashion (2:11). He said "It has been told to me all that you have done for your mother-in-law ... and that you left your mother and father and your birthplace and you went to a nation that you did not know." The Targum explains that Boaz was also telling Ruth through prophecy that she would merit having the kingship of Israel descend from her on account of these two deeds. The Targum states that Boaz mentioned the deeds in this specific order: First, that she supported her mother-in-law; Second, that she left her idols and parents and converted to a nation she did not know.

From the words of the Targum and the order in which these deeds were listed, there seems to be an implication that the first act, the support of Na'omi, is at least equally responsible for Ruth meriting her great reward.

A question that arises upon reading this is how Boaz could equate these two actions.  One action was an incredible act of self-sacrifice.  Ruth, our Sages tell us, was the daughter of the king of Moav. Ruth, after the death of her husband, did not return to the comfort of the palace life in which she was raised.  Instead, she decided to convert and become part of the Jewish nation!  Ruth went from being a princess in a royal court to becoming a pauper, destitute, and dependent upon charity for her very sustenance. The other action of Ruth was an ordinary kindness.  It was a daughter-in-law helping her elderly mother-in-law.  What was so special about this everyday act that because of it, Ruth would merit to be the mother of Jewish royalty, and even more outstanding, that the act was placed on the same plane as Ruth's extraordinary self-sacrifice in her decision to convert?

The answer is that Boaz is teaching us that even the smallest and seemingly most mundane act, if done with the proper intentions, can be elevated to an act of great self-sacrifice. Ruth, by performing the act of kindness with a pure heart and with every fiber of her being in a desire to do the will of Hashem, raised her small act of kindness above everyone else's similar acts of kindness. Because of this act of kindness, she merited having the monarchy of Israel descend from her.

When approaching Shavuos, the day we celebrate the acceptance of the Torah, many of us have lofty goals, ideals, and aspirations which we greatly desire to fulfil.  Boaz should remind us that we need to remember the potential greatness in everyday, ordinary acts.  When these acts are done properly, we can merit great reward.

 

Lag B'Omer - 33rd Day of the Omer

Click the image below to watch an interesting video
about Lag B'Omer in Meron at Kever Rashbi

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Bitter Herbs, Not Bitter People

The countdown to Pesach has officially begun, complete with its angst, anxiety, stress and exhaustion. Tragically, many people associate Pesach with backbreaking work, exorbitant expenses, endless preparation, and bread deprivation. It is not unusual to hear moans, groans and krechts coming from both men and women when mentioning the upcoming holiday. Most describe themselves as rolling into Pesach “like a shmatta (rag),” unable to enjoy the festive atmosphere, meaningful Sedarim, or even quality time with friends and family.

But this is not the way the Torah or our Rabbis intended it. I would argue that the bulk of the stress, aches and pains that result from Pesach preparation are self-induced and utterly unnecessary. True, there is a high cost of matzah, wine and kosher-for-Pesach groceries that cannot be avoided and are challenging particularly during these difficult economic times. However, the labor intensive house preparations and extensive and arguably overcomplicated menus and recipes can all be avoided.

For some reason, Pesach has gotten away from us with the purely-voluntary but now-becoming-mandated standards, while what should be the primary goals becoming almost entirely neglected and dismissed. Undoubtedly, Halacha demands that we seek and destroy all chametz in our possession. Definitions of “chametz,” “seek,” and “in our possession” are all very clear and require a preparation of a home that should take only a few hours total. Areas and places where chametz is never brought don’t need to be cleaned or checked. Areas, places and appliances that will not be accessed or used need not be cleaned or checked; they simply need to be put away and sealed. And any food that is not categorized as edible (a dog would not eat it) is not considered chametz.

At some point in recent Jewish history, Pesach preparation was substituted with spring cleaning. If one is moving a refrigerator, oven, or any other heavy appliance, they are spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach. If one is climbing on a ladder to clean a ceiling fan, taking a toothpick to a toaster or food processor, scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, emptying and wiping all dressers, closets, linen pantries, crawl spaces, or shaking out books that haven’t been opened in years, they are spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach. Halacha demands that we go room to room confirming there is no chametz that is larger than 30 grams and edible. This, in my opinion, can be accomplished in a few hours at most in the majority of homes.

This substitution of spring cleaning instead of Pesach preparation has come at a great cost and I fear will hurt our community deeply in the future. Rather than entering Pesach excited, enthusiastic, and energized to spend time with family and share divrei Torah at our Sedarim, we are becoming increasingly resentful, negative and toxic about being observant. Rather than happy people eating bitter herbs to celebrate freedom, we are becoming bitter people exchanging our freedom for unnecessary burdens in anticipation of Pesach.

Pesach, more than any other holiday or time of year, is designed to communicate our values, priorities and lifestyles to the next generation. Pesach, and the days leading up to it, should leave our children with sights, smells, flavors, traditions, and experiences they will draw from and seek to emulate in their own homes, for the rest of their lives.

Bedikat chametz, the search for leavened bread, complete with its hide-and-seek nature, should be fun, exciting and adventurous. Instead, for many, it has become a chore that we unburden ourselves from as quickly as possible. Burning chametz, rolling matzah balls by hand, chopping charoses, grinding marror, setting the regal seder table, reenacting the Pesach story at our seders, welcoming visiting family, are among the activities that can be carried out with joy, enthusiasm, nostalgia and meaning.  Depleting ourselves of energy and joy by engaging in spring cleaning instead of Pesach preparation is not only depriving us of the simchah, joy, we are capable of feeling, but it is indelibly impressing on our children negative memories and associations that will likely haunt them.

As we enter the final countdown to Pesach this year, I beg you to ask yourself the question: Which sounds will ring in your children’s ears in the future when they think back to Pesach in their home? Will it be moans, groans, bitterness and complaints? Or will they remember the joyous sounds of an energized family eagerly preparing for a meaningful yom tov, an enjoyable holiday?

The answer is up to us. Let’s all decide to make Pesach the greatest and most memorable experience of our year.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 650 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2010 he was recognized as one of South Florida’s Most Influential Jewish Leaders. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah.

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The Miracles of Nissan

Click the image below to hear Rabbi Sholom Dovber Lipskar's Message.
The Power of Miracles in the Month of Miracles.

Click here to watch video - The Miracles of Nissan - Rabbi Shalom Lipskar

 

The Marriage Broker / Getting drunk on Purim

There is a parable that explains the mitzvah (rule) of getting drunk on Purim in the following way:

A time-honored institution in many Jewish communities is the shadchan, or marriage broker. The shadchan is more than a "dating service";  he/she is a middleman who accompanies the deal from its inception all the way to its conclusion.  He/she meets with the respective families, notes their desires, demands and expectations, and presents them with a proposal.  He/she then presides over the negotiations, convincing each side to make the concessions required so that the deal can be closed. 

Then the boy meets the girl, and the shadchan’s work begins in earnest.  The boy wanted someone more beautiful, the girl wanted someone with better prospects.  The shadchan explains, cajoles, clarifies and exaggerates; he/she gives long speeches on love and what is important in life. He/she succeeds in arranging a second meeting and then a third.  More meetings follow, and the engagement is formalized.  In the critical months between the engagement and the wedding, the shadchan advises, encourages, assuages doubts and heads off crises.

Then comes the wedding.  The bride and groom stand under the canopy, and the shadchan is the proudest man/woman in attendance.  At this point, the shadchan is discreetly taken aside and told: "Thank you very much for what you did.  Without you, this union could never have been achieved. Now take your commission and get out of our lives.  We don’t want to see you ever again."

In the cosmic marriage between G-d and Israel, the intellect is the shadchan.  Without it, the relationship could not have been realized.  But there comes a point at which the shadchan ’s brokering is no longer needed, for something much deeper and truer has taken over.  At this point, the shadchan’s continued presence is undesirable, indeed intolerable.

Purim is a wedding at which the shadchan has been shown the door, a feast celebrating the quintessential bond between G-d and Israel.  There are "drunks" at this feast who have achieved a state of cognitive oblivion; but in no other way do they resemble the stereotypical drunk.

You will not see them hurling fists, insults or obscenities at each other, or slobbering over their domestic troubles. You will see outpourings of love to G-d and to man. You will see pure, unbridled joy.

You will see people who are disciplined and aware: not with a discipline imposed by the watchdog of reason, not with an awareness brokered by the mind, but with a discipline and awareness which derive from the uninhibited expression of the spark of divine truth that is the essence of the human soul.

TENTH OF TEVES

By Rabbi Yehudah Prero - www.torah.org 

The Talmud (Yoma 9b) discusses the causes for the destruction of the two Temples. “Why was the first Beis HaMikdosh (Temple) destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed (during that time): idolatry, immorality, bloodshed.”  The Gemora (Talmud) continues “But why was the second Beis HaMikdosh destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, observance of mitzvos, and the practice of charity?  Because baseless hatred was prevalent at that time.”

The Netziv (Meromai Sadeh Yoma 9) notes that, historically, some of the problems that were prevalent during the time of the first Beis HaMikdosh existed during the time of the second Bais HaMikdosh as well. Specifically, we see both in Talmud (Avoda Zara 8b) and in the writings of Josephus that murder was rampant during the time of the second Beis HaMikdosh. That being the case, why is “baseless hatred” cited as the reason for the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdosh, if murder, the cause of the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdosh, was a problem then as well?

In the times of the second Beis HaMikdosh, the “murderers” of the time did not feel that what they were doing was wrong. They did not consider their murderous actions as transgressions. Rather, they viewed them as appropriate, and even a “mitzvah!” And why was that the case? When these people saw their brethren committing various transgressions, they said to themselves “These people are Sadducees; these people are apostates who deny the validity of the Torah and the supremacy of G-d. These people are rebellious and must die, as they legally deserve such!” 
Were these “righteous” murderers correct? 
No.

In truth, when these people saw their brethren committing various transgressions, the only thought that should have occurred to them was that the sinners were just that: sinners.   They were people whose desires led them to sin.  Their act of sinning contained no overt philosophical statement, nor was it an act of outright rebellion. What caused this grave error in judgment? Baseless hatred.  If true love had existed amongst the nation of Israel, if the fellowship we are supposed to feel with our brethren had existed, these murders would never have happened.  There would be no way that anyone would unjustly rationalize the death sentence of another.  Because baseless hatred was prevalent, people justified murder.  Baseless hatred, therefore, as the root cause of the murder, is appropriately singled out in the Talmud as the cause for the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdosh.

The time of the second Beis HaMikdosh was a time that the Talmud describes as one when people were occupied with Torah, mitzvos, and acts of kindness. Yet, there was still baseless hatred. There was a dedication to performing mitzvos and studying Torah.  There were acts of kindness being performed.  But there was an extremely serious and pervasive problem that negated everything else: baseless hatred.  Baseless hatred not only existed in a community where people were dedicated to Torah, mitzvos and kindness; it caused people to kill others – wrongly - in the name of Torah.  Clearly, baseless hatred is dangerous. 

To this day, we have no Beis HaMikdosh as a result of the destruction that occurred because of baseless hatred.

We fast on the Tenth of Teves because it marks the beginning of our sorrows - the first event in a chain which resulted in the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the exile of the nation of Israel.  As the Netziv mentioned, the sinful actions that “caused” the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdosh existed in the time of the second Beis HaMikdosh as well.  However, in the time of the second Beis HaMikdosh, the sinners did not believe that they were sinners.  The Rambam (Maimonidies) writes in the fifth chapter of Hilchos Ta'aniyos (The laws of Fasts) that we fast on days that calamities occurred to us "because it can serve to arouse our hearts and to open ourselves to the paths of repentance.  It serves as a reminder of our wicked conduct and that of our ancestors which resembles our present conduct, and therefore brought these calamities upon them and upon us.”

The sorrows that started with the Tenth of Teves have not yet ended. The words of the Netziv should not be lost upon us.

 THE EIGHT NIGHTS OF CHANUKAH

The Beis Yosef asks a very famous question and below are a couple of his answers. 

He asks why is Chanukah eight days long?  If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?  

The Beis Yosef answers:  Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained.  They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.

Another answer by the Beis Yosef is: On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

CLIMBING THE LADDER

Is life really fair?   by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

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Is life really fair?  Click hear to read article 

 Kol Nidrei 

The Meaning of Kol Nidrei

The extraordinary history and lesson of this moving prayer

by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

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Infusing our lives with integrity

Honest to G-d Program: Infusing our Lives with Integrity, Rabbi Cary Friedman

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Teshuva

As we are on the lead up to Rosh Hashana it is an opportune time for teshuva (repentance)
There's a story of a man who rushes onto the 11:00 train just before the doors close. He looks worn out, dejected and disheartened. He stands holding onto the bar as the train starts to leave the station.
 
An older man with an empty seat next to him says to him “hey it’s a long journey take a seat” The man hurriedly replies “NO”.  Anyway some time into the long journey he decides he’s getting tired so he sits down next to the older man.  The older man through the course of the journey tries to make conversation noticing that the young man was down and looked uneasy.  The younger man wasn’t in the mood for talking.  Until eventually the man tried again to make conversation and asked why he was so troubled and looked so worried .

The young man suddenly opened up and starting telling the older man his life story.  He was a troubled child who didn’t get on with his parents though it was mainly his fault.  He was failing at school and always in trouble.  His parents asked him to do one thing and he would purposely do the opposite.  Fortunately he was good at something, he was good with his hands and when he was 16 he managed to invent a product and patented it and made millions by the time he was 21.  He moved out of his parent’s house – something he had always dreamed of doing – and found a mansion on the other side of the city.  He married a beautiful woman and had a couple of amazing kids.  A few years down the line he got a phone call about a business venture; he would have to invest most of his fortune to enable a tenfold profit.  He did so and soon realised that the phone call was false and the company ran off with his fortune.

Soon his wife found out and couldn’t stay with him and took the children with!  He had nowhere to run no one to turn to and he had no money.  He thought he would have to ask his parents for help, for it was the only help he would get!

After years of not speaking to them he couldn’t just suddenly turn up at the door, even calling them would be difficult so he thought he’d write them a letter.

In the letter he said he would be on this train on this day it arrives at 14:30.  At the end of the platform there is a tree.  If you forgive me you will tie a white handkerchief around the tree.  If I see the white handkerchief I will get off the train and I will know you have forgiven me.  If there is no white handkerchief I know you have not forgiven me and will carry on my way!

The old man was very sympathetic and assured him that everything would be ok and he is sure that the white handkerchief would be tied around the tree.

As the journey was coming to its end the young man was becoming very nervy and anxious.  He told the older man he was too scared to look.  As the station platform drew nearer he felt very tense and the old man asked if he would like him to look out for the tree.  The young man agreed and shut his eyes.  The platform approached even closer, 400 yards 200 yards 50 yards by now the man could see that the whole tree was covered; every branch had its own white handkerchief.  The old man said “They have forgiven you.  The young man smiled and delighted he got off the train after thanking the man and hugged both his parents who were there waiting for him to disembark the train!

The parents in this story were always going to forgive the man just like G-d is always ready to forgive us.  At this time of year we are on a journey and we have waiting for us a Father in Heaven who is happy and more than willing to welcome us back.  He wants nothing more than for us to cling to Him and come back to him.

May we all return to G-d with complete Teshuva (repentance)!
 

Three weeks

The Talmud (Baba Metzia 58b) tells us that when Rav Dimi arrived in Babylon from the land of Israel, Abaye asked him:  "About what are they careful in the West - what Mitzva (positive trait) do they especially adhere to?  The response was "they take extra special care not to embarrass others in public".  Why was it that they were specifically cautious in Israel regarding this and surely this prohibition also applies to Chutz La’aretz (everywhere outside Israel) too?  Our Sages teach us of a critical story that occurred in the time leading up to the destruction of the Temple.

The nation had fallen to a low spiritual state characterized by baseless hatred.  The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza was the pivotal event that ignited Emperor Nero's rage and caused the destruction of the Holy Temple: A Jew who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza made a feast.  He told his servant to invite Kamtza, but by mistake the servant invited Bar Kamtza.  Bar Kamtza took this as a gesture of forgiveness and put on his finest clothes and attended the feast.  But when the host noticed Bar Kamtza, he demanded that Bar kamtza leave.
Bar Kamtza was embarrassed.  "Since I am here," he requested, "let me stay.  I will pay for whatever I eat and drink." But the host refused his offer.
"Then allow me to pay half the cost of the whole feast," begged Bar Kamtza.
"No!"
"Then I am willing to pay the full cost of the feast, but do not embarrass me any more..."  The host had Bar Kamtza dragged from the feast and thrown into the streets. 
Bar Kamtza stood up, brushed the dust from his clothing and said to himself:   "Since the rabbis were present at the feast and did not stop the hosts actions, this shows they agreed with him.  I'll slander them to the Emperor!"  Bar Kamtza went to Emperor Nero and told him that the Jews were planning a rebellion against him.   "How do I know that to be true?" Nero asked. 
 "Send an offering to the Temple and see if it will be accepted," Bar Kamtza said.
Nero sent a choice calf with Bar Kamtza, along with a delegation of Romans. During the journey, Bar Kamtza secretly made a blemish on the animal, disqualifying the animal as a sacrifice, and the animal was therefore not accepted.

The delegation returned to Rome and told the emperor that his offering had been refused. Emperor Nero was furious, and the ramifications of his fury brought about one of the darkest chapters in our history.
Rabbi Elazar said, "Come and see how great is the punishment for causing embarrassment — for G d assisted Bar Kamtza [i.e., He allowed Bar Kamtza's plot to succeed because of the embarrassment caused him] and He destroyed His house and burned His Tabernacle." (Gittin 57a).

Our Sages tell us that the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) was destroyed due to the way the host publicly embarrassed Bar Kamtza.  This not only brought about the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, but also the repercussions of our two thousand year exile from our land and subsequent persecution  -  all due to one man publicly embarrassing his fellow Jew.  Even though Bar Kamtza's reaction - informing the authorities - is a clear indication that he was not among the righteous of the generation, there was no justification for the way he was treated.  Hashem (G-d) punished the Jewish people for the lack of respect accorded Bar Kamtza and it was through this man who was an object of derision that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed and the Jewish nation went into exile.  These two people, the host for having publicly embarrassed Bar Kamtza, and Bar Kamtza himself for the Lashon Hara (slander) he had spoken, were together responsible for this massive destruction.  One's mouth is not "hefker - ownerless property", it must be used cautiously.

This is the reason why when Rav Dimi arrived in Bovel (Babylon) he stated that the people in Eretz Yisrael (Israel) were careful not to embarrass others.  It was because they were actually witnesses to the great catastrophe that can result from publicly embarrassing a fellow Jew.
At this time of the year when we are reminded about and in fact mourning the loss of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), let us all work on our own personal characters and try to better ourselves in the area of baseless hatred and needless slander.  

May we merit the re-building of the Temple and the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah) soon.

The 17th of Tammuz

The seventeenth of Tammuz is a public fast in remembrance of five tragic events which happened on that day. They are:
1. The tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments were broken by Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the Jews worshipping a golden calf.
 
2. The daily offering was discontinued in the first Beis HaMikdosh (Temple) because Jerusalem was under siege and it was impossible to obtain the animals needed.
 
3. The wall around the city of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) was breached by the enemy in the times of the second Beis HaMikdosh.
 
4. Apostomos burnt the Torah.
 
5. An idol was placed in the Beis HaMikdosh.[3] 
A fast is not just a commemoration or remembrance of a particular event; it is primarily a means whereby the tragic event is eliminated.  Evil befalls Jews only because they have sinned. A fast serves as an inspiration and reminder for repentance, to come closer to G-d. In the words of the prophet read on fast days: "Seek the L-rd while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." A Jew can repent on any day of the year. But on a fast, when G-d "may be found" and "is near" to all Jews, and we are reminded of the evil which caused the troubles, it is much easier.
Repentance causes past transgressions to be forgiven.  When the cause of the troubles that befall Jews is thus removed, the elimination of the troubles automatically follows. It is therefore important to study the events which the fast commemorates and, in understanding them and their spiritual equivalents, we can learn in which areas to concentrate our efforts of repentance and service to G-d.
The first tragedy to happen on the seventeenth of Tammuz was the breaking of the tablets.  Forty days had passed from the time the Ten Commandments were said at Mt. Sinai until Moshe broke the tablets. In those forty days the Jews studied the Ten Commandments they had heard, and presumably wrote them down. Thus, not only had they already been given parts of the Torah, but they had heard the Ten Commandments and written them down. If they already possessed the Commandments, why was the breaking of the two tablets so tragic an event that because of it a public fast was instituted?
The tablets were not given to inform the Jews of the Ten Commandments as they had already studied them for Forty days. They served another purpose, one which was uniquely instrumental in laying the fundamental relationship between Jews and Judaism.
The Ten Commandments were engraved in the tablets; and there is a major difference between engraved letters and letters which are written with ink on paper. In the latter, the letters, the ink, are not part of the paper. They remain separate, and even after they have been written they can be removed. Letters which are engraved in stone, however, are part of the stone. The letters cannot be removed without mutilating the stone.
It was this which differentiated the Ten Commandments of the tablets from the Ten Commandments which the Jews themselves wrote down, and it was this which molded the way Jews would relate to them. The Commandments would be engraved in a Jew's soul, a part of him. 

 such as Mesilat Yesharim or thoughts such as those presented by Ramban, Vayikra 19:2 come to mind. Spiritual growth is generally connected with a separation from the physical world.

OMER: MOVEMENT TOWARDS SINAI
By Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

Vayikra 23:15,16 states that you should count 49 days from the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot. The Zohar Chadash1 states: "When the Children of Israel were in Egypt, they became defiled by all manner of impurity until they sank to the forty-ninth degree of spiritual uncleanliness.  When we count the forty-nine days of the Omer from the second night of the festival, it reminds us that each day marks a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step towards spiritual purity."

The Omer is a time that marks spiritual growth.  When we think about the nature of spiritual growth, works such as Mesilat Yesharim or thoughts such as those presented by Ramban, Vayikra 19:2 come to mind.  Spiritual growth is generally connected with a separation from the physical world. It is marked with a removal or control of desire and a goal of a contemplative life.  While these ideas clearly find expression within the literature of Torah, there are other concepts presented within the literature that change this simple understanding of spiritual growth.  One such idea is found in connection to the Omer.

Vayikra 23:17 states that on the holiday of Shavuot, we are commanded to bring the lechem panim, a meal offering consisting of two loaves of leavened bread.  Meal offerings are usually matzah; in fact it is generally forbidden to bring chametz, leaven, on the alter.  This bringing of chametz on Shavuot stands out.  Many commentators approach this issue by comparing the concepts connected to chametz with the concepts connected to matzah.  Matzah is generally perceived to be a more spiritual food; the absence of leaven is compared to an absence of the yetzer hara, the "evil" inclination.   Chametz, as such, is considered to be a more materialistic food.  Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Vayikra 7:11 ties chametz to both a sense of greater material well-being and of independence.  It is no wonder that sacrifices should come from matzah thereby reflecting a commitment to God and a removal of materialism.  Yet, on the holiday that marks the giving of the Torah, we bring chametz?

The Omer counting further intensifies the question.  The bringing of chametz on Shavuot is not just seen in relation to other sacrifices but is also seen in connection to Pesach.   On Pesach we eat matzah.  This is understood to represent our commitment to God and spiritual growth as we mark the creation of our nation.  Then on Shavuot, we bring chametz.  We move from matzah to chametz. The general understanding of spiritual growth would be more readily portrayed as a movement from chametz to matzah. The forty-nine days of the Omer, however, counts a movement, a process of spiritual growth from matzah to chametz.

A perusal of the Mesilat Yesharim would indicate that it presents the generally understood process of spiritual growth.  That is until its last chapter.  In Midat HaKedusha, Ramchal presents a new level that incorporates the physical; he declares that one achieves holiness when one relates to the physical world with purity. Separation from the world is not the goal. The human being is to be involved in the world.  This is indicated by the connection of the harvest to the festivals.  There is purpose in developing this world.  This is especially evident on Shavuot when we bring the first fruits, celebrate our labours and G-d’s bounty.   A person not involved in this world could not celebrate Shavuot to its fullest.  A person not involved in this world is lacking in the ability to relate to Hashem for this person is not able to appreciate the benefits and pleasures of existence and thereby not able to thank G-d properly.  The Stoic also cannot truly learn from his existence for such a person is not correctly concerned about potential pitfalls of life that we ask G-d to protect us from. Only someone who can feel, who desires, can understand the lessons of life and relate to G-d to the fullest. But a correct understanding of materialism and the world is not easy to achieve. First one must separate, achieve the lesson of matzah. Only then can one reach for the higher level symbolized by the chametz of Shavuot.  While Mesilat Yesharim devotes the vast majority of its pages to the first process of spiritual growth - the movement from materialism - and only little to the level of kedusha which incorporates the physical in a holy manner, one must still recognize that this latter process also demands effort and time.

We thus have two processes of spiritual growth. One is the initial one - the movement from chametz to matzah. That is embodied not only in Pesach but in our preparation for Pesach.  We have to remove ourselves from the dominion of our drives and passions. We cannot let material drives overcome us and direct us.  But once we achieve this level, we must understand that there is another process that is also necessary.  That is embodied in the Omer, the movement from Pesach to Shavuot, from matzah to chametz.  We must learn to use the physical parts of our being to achieve unity of self and life.  This also demands work and intensity over time.  The count of the Omer is a time period to think about who we are, how we relate to God.  It is a time period to contemplate not only our connection to Torah but what we must undertake within ourselves to ensure that this connection achieves its maximum potential. But this contemplation must be undertaken with the recognition that the goal of Torah is not a removal from the world but an involvement in the world. We must separate in order to see and understand the objective but the objective is still human beings connected to physical existence creating a prime model of life in this world. The Omer period, the count of 49 days, offers us the opportunity to contemplate our role in the world. The spiritual growth of the Omer culminates with the acceptance of the Blueprint of Life by the Jewish People. We must spend this time to learn how to read the Blueprint.

 

A Parent's Prayer

Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan (Thursday 2nd June)  is a special day for parents to say the Tefilloh of the SHELAH HAKODOSH for their children.
 
All parents are urged to say this prayer - this is a permitted download from ARTSCROLL MESORAH

This document can be printed if you wish but if so, should be kept or treated as SHEMOS. 

Click here to download the prayer

 

Yom Yerushalayim

Jerusalem United - Celebrating the re-unification of Israel's eternal capital.

Click the image below to view video

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Jerusalem of Gold - Yerushalayim shel Zehav sung by Sam Glaser

 

Chol HaMoed Pesach

Pesach- What’s the point?

Yes, it is amazing that G-d took us out of Egypt. But if you think about it- He is the one that put us there in the first place! So why did we have to go through it all and what are we celebrating?

Picture an apple seed dropped to the ground and left below the surface to disintegrate. Imagine, if it could talk it might say, "What happened to me? I used to be part of something beautiful and now I am in this low place. I am falling apart and things seem hopeless."

Yet only from that dark place when the seed disintegrates, can it begin to grow into something even more beautiful and powerful than it could ever have dreamed of- to be its own tree with hundreds of apples.
Our experience in Egypt was parallel. It says in the Zohar that G-d said, had the Jewish nation not been planted in the cold, dark difficulties of Egypt, they wouldn’t have been able to become the His people. The effort and pain of the challenging exile in Egypt brought them to turn to G-d and to develop a relationship with Him. Then they were able to become a nation of 600,000 people who, only 50 days after leaving Egypt, could stand and receive the Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai.

PESACH

Reliving the Pesach Experience 

 
Pesach (Passover) is the classic example of a festival in which we eat, drink, and live the ideas that it represents.  We modify our home environment by removing all leavened products, we change our diet to eat matzah and avoid all leavened products. We refrain from working, and we transform a festive meal into a high-impact, super-charged educational experience – the Pesach Seder.
 
Why do we go to such lengths?  Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent some time thinking about the Exodus and the lessons it teaches?  The following source answers this question.
 
Quoting from Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #16 – A person is shaped and influenced by his actions. Therefore, Pesach involves many actions to ensure that the miracles of the Exodus and its lessons are imprinted permanently into our consciousness.
 
If is fitting for us to do symbolic actions [e.g. eating matzah, having a Pesach Seder and telling the story of the Exodus] that remind us of the tremendous spiritual heights we reached at the Exodus. Through these actions and symbols the experience of the Exodus is imprinted permanently into our consciousness.
 
You might ask:  Why did G-d need to command all these actions and mitzvot [e.g. eating matzah, ridding oneself of chametz, telling the story of the Exodus] just to remember the miracle of the Exodus?  Wouldn’t it be enough just to think about it once a year to ensure that it is not forgotten “from the mouths of our children”  [Devarim 31:21]? …
 
To answer, it is important to understand that a person is affected and shaped by his actions [more than by his thoughts alone].   A person’s thoughts and feelings follow after his actions, either for good or for bad …
 
For example, if a complete degenerate … will inspire himself and exert himself to study Torah and perform mitzvot – even for the wrong reasons, such as honour and prestige – he will still begin to change in a positive direction.  His self-destructive tendencies (yetzer hara) will be weakened since he will be influenced by his positive actions.
 
And on the other hand, if a completely righteous and upstanding person, who exerts himself in Torah and mitzvot, will occupy himself with negativity and impurity all day long (for example, if someone forced him to do it), at some point he will turn into a degenerate.   For even the strongest person is affected by his actions …
 
With this principle in mind – that a person is shaped by his actions – we understand the need for the many mitzvot regarding remembering the Exodus and its miracles, for they are a central feature of the entire Torah.
 

 

PURIM - 14th Adar

Mordechai: Scholar, Statesman or Both?
 
By Mendy Herson - Taken from chabad.org

Purim celebrates Jewry's rescue from annihilation in 4th century BCE. Persia. Jewish history portrays Mordechai, one of Purim's main protagonists, as an extraordinary man. Scholar-par-excellence and Jewish leader, Mordechai emerged from Purim's intricate story of palace intrigue events as a political powerhouse; he had actually become viceroy to the king.

Mordechai comes across as a true 'renaissance man', respected and adored by his people. But the Talmud reveals a little-known fact: Mordechai's public acclaim wasn't exactly unanimous.

Our attention is first drawn to the Megillah's (Scroll of Esther's) conclusion: "Mordechai…was a great man among the Jews, and was loved by most of his brethren…" It sounds like some of 'his brethren' (albeit a minority) had a problem with him.

The Talmud also notes a second curiosity: Mordechai is mentioned among the Jewish leaders who returned to Israel (from Babylonia/Persia) to build the Second Jewish Commonwealth. When the book of Ezra enumerates that list of leaders, Mordechai appears as the fifth name; the Book of Nechemiah's later listing has Mordechai as number six. There seems to have been a ‘demotion’.  What was going on?

The Talmud teaches that some in the rabbinate disapproved of Mordechai's new public persona.  Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish Supreme Court of seventy-one sages. He was a man totally immersed in Torah.

Now he had become a political figure, a position which doesn't allow for the single-minded Torah-focus he'd enjoyed.

It's a fact that community involvement distracts from one's internal spiritual pursuits.

A community leader has to worry about the people's welfare, at every level. It's a burden that simply doesn't allow for total preoccupation with Torah.

So, some of Mordechai's Sanhedrin-colleagues disagreed with his 'new' lifestyle.  Although he was as observant as ever, they felt that he had sacrificed his total-immersion Torah study for the sake of political leadership. For some Torah-Jews, this was a mistake. In that sense, Mordechai took a step down in the religious world when he became a political leader.

But Mordechai, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, took a different position. Why?

The Midrash (Tanna D'bei Eliyahu Rabba ch. 11) teaches that the "It would behoove the Sanhedrin's Sages … to lift their robes … and circulate amongst the cities teaching the Jews …"

This isn't a simple statement. The Sanhedrin was a very rare group of people.  They were spiritual and intellectual giants, and they were supposed to convene on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - a Holy place that lent the Sanhedrin special clout and spiritual strength. For example, it was only when they gathered there that the group could decide capital cases.

Yet the Midrash says that it would behoove these religious titans to leave the Temple Mount, lowering themselves as it were, in order to teach the nation.
In other words, the Sanhedrin's rabbis weren't to obsess on their own spiritual achievements. They most definitely had the obligation to study, pray and climb to greater heights; but they also had the responsibility to lead, even if that impacted their personal spiritual pursuits.

Mordechai made a choice.  He could've chosen to closet himself in a yeshiva and devote his every breath to Torah study. He undoubtedly wanted to do just that.  But Mordechai didn't think about what he wanted; he thought about what G-d wanted from him. He saw the need for a leader, and he took the lead.

This is true leadership. Genuine leaders aren’t people who yearn to ‘be in charge’, to be ‘the boss’; that smacks of megalomania.

Real leaders are people who would prefer to focus on self-mastery than on the mastery of others. They would prefer the peace of mind and privacy that a non-leadership role would afford. But they see a communal need, and feel a responsibility to step into the breach.
 

TU B'SHVAT - 15th SHVAT

 
Very little is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) with regard to the observance of Tu B’Shvat, the day popularly known as the New Year for Trees.
 
The Mogen Avraham (1633-1683) mentions that we have the custom to increase our consumption of various types of fruits on Tu B’Shvat. As Tu B’Shvat marks the start of year for many agriculturally related Mitzvos (commandments), it follows that our observance of the day would incorporate some partaking of fruit, as some sort of physical manifestation of recollection.  However, as we know, customs have an underlying rhyme and reason.  The custom that the Mogen Avraham mentions may leave us wondering what exactly is accomplished by eating many different sorts of fruits.  What are we trying to achieve when fulfilling this custom?
 
On Tu B’Shvat, we obviously think of trees and fruit. We probably eat fruit on a relatively regular basis.  But do we really appreciate what we have?  Do we really appreciate G-d’s provision of sustenance?  Do we appreciate the ramifications of whether a tree yields an abundance of fruit or not?  Do we appreciate the opportunities trees provide to us in the form of Mitzvos?  Probably not that often.
 
By partaking of many different fruits on the New Year for Trees, we can greater appreciate what exactly Hashem has given to us. We can give ourselves the reminder that we need to properly focus ourselves on the New Year for Trees.  By enjoying many different fruits, we can allow ourselves to value the great gift that Hashem (G-d) has given us in the form of trees and fruit: a source of both physical and spiritual sustenance.

 Beautiful Fruit Carvings for Tu'Bshvat

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHANUKAH

Taken from a Sicho By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

Some people think we just celebrate the victory of the Jews over the Greeks as if we were stronger and better soldiers. Some old Chanukah songs that I remember as a kid only praise the might of Yehudah HaMacabi (Judah the Macabi) and his soldiers yet forget that Hashem gave them the power to be victorious. In fact the name Macabi is the four Hebrew letters Mem, Chof, Beis and Yud which stand for Mi Comocha Bo’ailim Hashem - Who is like You among the heavenly powers, G-d. This is the banner that Yehudah HaMacabi would carry with him to make sure that he knew Who was orchestrating the war.
Also it wasn't just a victory of one nation over another. Rather it was a victory of one ideology over another. Torah values of spirituality over the Greek culture of being submerged in physical pleasures. As we say in the "Al Hanisim" prayer of Chanukah, "....when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will...."

So, when we light the Menorah and remember the significance of the victory, we should try to do things that will help us "remember His Torah and not to stray from the statutes of His Will."
How contradictory it is that whilst we watch the flickering Chanukah candles, we run after the Greek culture of watching the box or going to the movies. Even if we can't completely get rid of this problem we should at least minimize it especially while the Chanukah lights are burning. We should spend that time learning or gazing at the lights and thinking about the Divine Intervention.
There is also a "custom" of gambling the night away with cards or a dreidel (a spinning top).  This is a spin off (pardon the pun) of the dreidel that was used during the era of the Chanukah victory.  If we would understand the origin of the dreidel in the Chanukah era, we would realize that this too is totally the opposite of the spirit of Chanukah.

The Greeks made an evil decree that the Jews shouldn't learn Torah under the penalty of death. The Jews risked their lives and attended their yeshivos as usual. However they brought along little tops to spin, and they posted watchmen outside. When the watchmen saw a Greek officer approaching they warned the children who immediately started playing with their tops. This gave the Greeks the impression that they weren't learning rather playing.   How anti-Chanukah this is to use the very scheme they used to learn Torah at the risk of their lives, and we use it for totally the opposite, to waste time. (Using the Dreidel game as an excuse for quality family time is great!) 

It was once pointed out to me that the name of the Israeli Olympic games is called the "Maccabean Games".  Of course the origin of the Olympic Games is the Greeks. Again, the very name Maccabi which is the symbol of the arch enemy of the Greek customs is used to describe one of the very customs that the Maccabeans fought valiantly against. Again we see how people don't realize the significance of Chanukah.

Let us use these days of Chanukah to symbolise the true Chanukah spirit in the way that it is meant to be celebrated.

CHANUKAH

Chanukah is an eight day holiday which begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. It marks the miraculous victory of the Jews, led by the Maccabees, against Greek persecution and religious oppression.

In addition to being victorious in war, another miracle occurred: When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple, they found only one flask of oil with which to light the Menorah the candelabra in the Temple). This small flask lasted for eight days instead of the usual one day.
In order to commemorate this miracle, we light a Menorah for the eight days of Chanukah.
This year (5771 / 2010-2011) Chanukah begins at nightfall of Wednesday December 1st, 2010, and ends by nightfall on December 9th, 2010. On the evening before each one of the days, the corresponding number of Chanukah candles are lit, one candle for the first night, 2 candles for the 2nd night etc.

8 DAYS OF CHANUKAH
 
The Beis Yosef asks a very famous questions and below are a couple of his answers,
He asks why is Chanukah eight days long? If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil lasting for was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that we celebrate Chanukah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight day celebration that we have?
 
The Beis Yosef answers: Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They therefore divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted an entire day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.

Another answer by the Beis Yosef is: On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for an entire day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.
 

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM NOAH'S ARK

One: Don't miss the boat.
Two: Remember that we are all in the same boat.
Three: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
Four: Stay fit. When you're 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big.
Five: Don't listen to critics, just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Six: Build your future on high ground.
Seven: For safety's sake travel in pairs.
Eight: Speed isn't everything. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Nine: When you're stressed, float awhile.
Ten: Remember the Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals.
Eleven: No matter the storm, when you are with G-d there's always a rainbow waiting.

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SUKKOS

The Brocho (Blessing) for building a Sukkah 

We have special brochos (Blessings) for so many mitzvos (Commandments), why not for building a sukkah?
 
The Classic Commentaries bring a multitude of answers to this question. The Gemorra (Talmud) in tractate Menachos (42), and the Tur Orach Chayim bring some of these answers. 
The Imrei Shaul adds his own insight to this question. He tells us that the brocho is actually hinted at in the very mitzvah (commandement) itself. For when one builds a "complete" sukkah, it is composed of four walls (d'fanos) with s'chach (foliage as a roof) on top. If one adds up the numerical value (gematriya) of the word dofen (singular for wall), multiply it by four for the four walls, and then add the gematriya of the word s'chach, one comes up with the same gematriya as the words "Boruch Atoh Hashem - Blessed are You Hashem" [ a total of 660]. The brocho is hidden in the very sukkah itself! 
 

The extraordinary Mitzvos of Succos 

1.     Whilst most Mitzvos (Commandments)  are performed with specific parts of the body - e.g. tefillin (Phylacteries) with the hand and head - the mitzvah of Sukkah is done with the entire body, where your whole body sits in the Sukkah.
2.     Whilst most Mitzvos are carried out for a limited period of time only, a person can remain in the Sukkah for virtually the entire holiday, and the longer you stay in the Sukkah, the greater the Mitzvah.
3.  The routine activities of eating, sleeping etc. are not generally Mitzvos, but during Succos, if these activities are done in the Sukkah, they acquire the status of Mitzvos.
 

ECHOES OF A SHOFAR

Please click the link below to see an incredible and inspirational video about blowing the Shofar at the Kotel during the British mandate
Echoes of a Shofar

 YOM KIPPUR

The day of Yom Kippur seems to have two contradictory natures to it. On the one hand there are five "afflictions" prescribed on Yom Kippur (no eating or drinking, no washing one’s body, no anointing one’s body [perfume or deodorant], no wearing leather shoes and no marital relations), but on the other hand the gemoro (Talmud) calls it one of the two happiest days in the year, and some Rishonim (early commentaries) learn that there is a mitzvah (commandment) of simchas ha’chag (enjoyment) even on Yom Kippur.

 How can one balance simcha (enjoyment) and affliction? 

The idea seems to be that both the simcha and the affliction stem from the same point here. The simcha of Yom Kippur is due to the fact that it is the day when we cleanse ourselves of sin, as well as the fact that this is the day we received the second luchos (set of tablets). Likewise, the five afflictions are aimed at removing ourselves from the contaminating distractions of the physical world (distractions which take us away from our real selves) and allow us to focus on the spiritual nature of the day - thus facilitating our Teshuva (repentance). 

So, the simcha and the affliction are not contradictory at all - on the contrary, they stem from the same point; atonement and purity

 

 SIMANIM (SYMBOLIC FOODS)

On Rosh Hashanah (New year) we start the meal with various simanim and their accompanying brachos (blessings) and texts. For example, we eat a pomegranate and ask that our merits should be as numerous as pomegranate seeds, and we eat apply with honey so that we should have a sweet new year, etc. 

 What is the idea of these simanim - are they just games or examples of clever play on words? 

 Rabbi Neventzal explained that the main idea of these simanim are to inspire us to repent. When we look at the apple and honey and ask for a sweet new year, we are reminded that we need to mend our ways to merit such sweetness. And so it goes for all the simanim - they are mental reminders and motivators for us to repent. 

 The Shem Mishmuel offers a different approach, arguing that each thing we eat on Rosh Hashanah has certain effects in the spiritual realms. It is these spiritual effects that we are tapping into when we eat these select foods on the Day of Judgment.

 

ARE WE GOOD OR BAD?

Are we good or bad? I guess the smart answer is “both”.

Seeing only your good points makes you haughty while seeing only your bad points leaves you vulnerable to depression. Seeing them alternately puts you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Being aware of both simultaneously creates a healthy balance. You can neither become too high due to you considering your faults nor too low as you know your goodness.

THOUGHT FOR ELUL

There is an ancient custom that when writing a letter in the month of Elul, we should include a phrase or sentence which conveys a timely message.  Several alternatives are suggested for the appropriate text for this, derived from Tanach (the Bible).  Perhaps this is the origin of Rosh Hashanah cards. 

It is an interesting custom, but why choose to convey this message at this time of year out of all our many special days rich with meaning, particularly through the written word?

Perhaps the answer lies in the historical origins of Elul, when Moshe (Moses) ascends Mount Sinai to receive the second Luchos (tablets) - a time of reconciliation and restoration - the visible evidence of Hashem’s (G-d’s) compassionate forgiveness was that Moshe was instructed to write the second Luchos, this command being referred to several times in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) which we read much of in Elul.

To remind our friends and ourselves of this powerful symbol of our opportunity to reconcile with Hashem and rebuild, we use the written word to convey the essence of Elul.

With thanks to Rabbi Benjamin Simmonds LLB(hons) PGCE(adult education)
Assistant Rabbi Stenecourt

  

TISHA B'AV

This Album memorializes the arrival of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in May of 1944.  It is the only one of its kind, and it is solely due to this album that we have a visual history of what occurred in the Auschwitz-Birchenau death camp.   

The album was discovered after the war by an Auschwitz survivor, Lily Jacob, who donated it to Yad Vashem in 1980.  Now, with the aid of the Internet, it can be viewed by millions of people, anywhere in the world.

Please pass this around, to help assure that people will continue to bear witness to this evil legacy.

Click here to view the Auschwitz Album

 

 

THE NINE DAYS

Kosherpages Image

KEYS 

It is said that at the time of the “Churban/destruction of the Temple”, as the Beis Hamikdosh (Temple) burned, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and many other fellow Kohanim (priests) stood on the roof and threw the keys of the Beis Hamikdosh up to Heaven in an act of contrition and profound despair, expressing the idea that "we have not fulfilled our duty as custodians".  (It is further said that a hand came out of Heaven and took the keys back). 

What may be the significance of these Keys?

In Mishnah Tamid 1.1 (which deals with the daily procedures in the Beis Hamikdosh) we learn that, each night, the Elders of the Kohanim went to sleep holding the keys of the Beis Hamikdosh.

Perhaps we could suggest the following:  When we unlock a door to a building, we usually have a clear focus and sense of purpose.  We unlock our house to go in when we return from work, we want to go in and have a purposeful relaxing evening. We unlock a car to begin our journey.  A Shul is opened each morning so that our daily "Avodas Hashem" (service to G-d) - our focused, pre-arranged encounter with G-d can begin.

"The Keys" represent this idea.  Perhaps at the time of The Churban, the act of throwing the keys back was the despair of the Kohanim actualised, we have failed in our mission, the Service of the Beis Hamikdosh was not focused, it grew to be no more than a ritual, with the real purpose of closeness to G-d being diluted to insignificance.  Let us reflect on this and use the nine days as an opportunity to refocus and realign our own "Avodas Hashem".

With thanks to Rabbi Benjamin Simmonds LLB(hons) PGCE(adult education)
Assistant Rabbi Stenecourt

 

 

 PRACTICAL HALOCHO FOR THE 9 DAYS AND TISHA B'AV

Please click here for an article on "Practical Halocho for the 9 days and Tisha B'Av"

Thanks go to Torah.org and Project Genesis for permission to use this material.

 

 

 

 

 

THE EIGHT NIGHTS OF CHANUKAH

 

The Nine Days - A Chronology of Destruction

With Rosh Chodesh Av, the more intense period of mourning for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, known as The Nine Days, begins.

Click the image below to read informative article. 

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