Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why are you living????

Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat??? Not much of a difference? Think again because the difference is from one extreme to the other.

According to Jewish law, one should avoid eating before his morning prayers. The reason is, so that the first thing, when we get up, we give our attention to G-d. If we first read the paper, watch the news, we have a hearty breakfast, do a couple of errands, and then pray, it is almost like G-d is an afterthought, way down on the list of priorities, and that’s disrespectful.

When Rebbetzin Rivkah (wife of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) was eighteen, she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying, so she woke up even earlier and prayed—so that she could eat breakfast at the time she had been used to waking up beforehand. Understandably, her new schedule, with now reduced sleep time, did not cause her health condition to improve.

When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) learned of his daughter-in-law's behavior, he said to her:

“We must be healthy and strong…… one should bring vitality and liveliness into the performance of his good deeds - mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful."

He concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of praying, than to pray for the sake of eating..."

When we eat for the sake of praying, we have taken a course, animalistic, natural behavior, and elevated it to a sublime spiritual act. Eating, now becomes an element and part of the equation of praying.

When a person prays and can’t wait until he has finished, so he can run to the ball game and have a cold beer or some other recreation to enjoy himself, the reverse of the previous scenario takes place. He has turned on its face, what should be an opportunity to reach the greatest of heights, and dragged it in the reverse direction, towards the mundane and materialistic.

A great Rabbi, on the subject of elevating the day and infusing it with spirituality, urged his community to think words of the Bible during business, to say words from the book of Psalms more often, whenever possible. They give strength to the day, and to what is otherwise a dull day. One of the members was indignant, “Rabbi, how is it possible to mix spirituality and business together,” he asked.

The Rabbi answered, “ If it’s possible to think of business in the synagogue while praying, why shouldn’t it be possible to think of praying while in business?” Clearly the two, don’t have a problem with each other.

Once, two students who where smokers, where talking between themselves. One said, he was very disappointed that his teacher said, praying and smoking doesn’t go together. He felt he needed the smoke. The other student laughed, “ funny you should mention that,” he said, ”Just today, I asked my teacher if I can pray while smoking, and he said, absolutely why not. You see, the two do go together, you just have to know how to ask.”

Our focus in life must be all the time, to elevate all that we do for a higher purpose. Then, we are always going heavenly. We must eat, we must sleep, we need vacations every so often, and when all this is done with the intention to make the world a better place, our lives take on, all the time, a blessed existence.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How, You can become Holy.

This coming weekend May 27, 28, 2012 we celebrate the second of the three major Holidays – Shavuot, “the season when the Torah – (the laws from G-d) were given”, 3324 years ago. These include the famous Ten Commandments, and, all 613 commandments.

Shavuot is the plural of oath, two oaths. This is the holiday that marks our promise, that we would abide by these laws, we would follow its’ directives, and G-d promised, He would never break his covenant with us. This Holiday, we celebrate, we commemorate, we relive, G-d “giving us the law”. That’s because G-d gave it once, and will never give it again. The giving of the Ten Commandments, was a an event that makes its impact forever on an ongoing basis, while we, continue receiving and discovering, more and more of this eternal infinite, G-dly wisdom, hidden in the immortal words of the Bible.

In preparation to receiving the Torah we were commanded to sanctify the day and “wash their clothes”. In order for a person to become a receptacle for G-dly spiritual wisdom, he must separate himself from the mundane world. He must elevate himself from the pursuits of materialism to become holy and sanctified.

Becoming holy doesn't mean necessarily that a person has nothing to do with this world. What it means and where it starts, is by cleaning our clothes. In mysticism it explains that the soul inside of us, the energy that gives our bodies life, communicates by way of garments. Just as a person protects his body, by way of clothes, and communicates through his clothes, the way he thinks, and feels, loud colors or subtle conservative styles, the same is also with the soul.

The soul has garments, and they are, thought, speech, and action. In the same way that you decide when to put on your clothes, and what type of clothes to put on, the same is also with the spiritual clothes of the soul.

Every person makes a choice what thoughts he is thinking, and what words he is using, and what actions he is doing. There is no such thing as I can't control my thoughts, or those words just fell out of my mouth, or, I just couldn’t control myself and had to do it. A person is held responsible, even for the thoughts that he entertains.

As matter of fact, it all starts with the thought garment a person allows inside his head. Theses thoughts become the garment in which we encloth our soul and this affects the quality of our actual lives. If you put your body in a straight jacket, or the clothes is way too big, or the style is loud, all this has an affect on the person. The same is also with the soul.

In order to shape and influence our souls appropriately and correctly, to appreciate and be sensitive to deeper and a higher spiritual awareness, we must be conscientious of how clean are our clothes. If we think thoughts that are negative, impure, and unclean, if we use words that are inappropriate, and pessimistic, if we do things, even for a joke or for fun that are off the mark, this will negatively blemish and damage the soul, making it not befitting, and not open, to receiving “the light.”

When a person sees to it that only upbeat, clean and holy thoughts pass through his head, words that are constructive, positive and clean come out of his mouth, and his actions are those that even G-d would approve of, his soul is then shaped and prepared to be a receptacle to receive communication from the One on High.

This is the power G-d granted when He “descended down to the mountain of Sinai and gave “the Law”. G-d made it possible for the very first time, that the above, spirituality, and the below, the physical world can be connected. We can a live in a physical world and be totally elevated from materialism. This happens, when we make sure our clothes are clean, and the day is sanctified.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Are The Commandments Rational?

One of the commandments in the Bible, is to observe the Sabbatical year as, a “Sabbath unto G-d”. In Israel, every seventh year (the next one is in three years), we must not work our fields, and essentially we must allow anyone access to them. Just as it is with the six days of the week, and the seventh day is Sabbath, elevated from the other six days, a day of holiness, dedicated to G-d, we are not allowed to work, so is the seventh year – a year unto G-d.

This is not to say that a person is free from any G-dly considerations throughout the week. King Solomon the wisest of all men advises us, “In ALL your ways, know G-d.” Everything, a person does, if it is to be imbued with blessings from the creator of the world, there must be some G-dly intent and purpose in doing that act. When we eat, we make a blessing before we put the food in our mouths, and we have in mind to gain strength to serve G-d throughout the day by acting honestly and kindly with people.

A person must pray everyday, study the bible, conduct his business in an honest and ethical manner, and must be careful not to encroach on the territory of other people. He earns money so he can give charity. So, in actual fact a person can, and should be, always connected to a higher purpose.

However, when it comes the seventh day of the week, Sabbath, we are commanded to sanctify the day with holiness and G-dliness even more so than the six days. The same is when it comes the seventh year. The land will rest, a Sabbath unto G-d. The seventh year is a special opportunity, for a person to put less attention and emphasis on the materialistic, and dedicate more attention towards the spiritual.

A person has an obligation to make wherever he lives, a “spiritual land of Israel.” If the actual land of Israel represents a place where G-d is more manifest, a person must make out of his own surroundings, out of his own immediate environment, a higher awareness of spirituality and G-dliness. Although the actual laws of the sabbatical year applies to the land of Israel, in its life lessons, the message is applicable to all people and to all places.

The Bible itself tells us, this is a book communicated and presented by G-d Himself. It’s instructions, its promises; they all come from a higher realm. They don’t always make sense in our small human minds. Some people feel the need to explain the reason for every observance in a rational way, and they attempt to explain, the observance of the Sabbatical is because, after working the ground for six years, the earth can use some rest to replenish its strength.

If this commandment had its basis in logic, then the promise G-d gives, “I will command my blessing for you on the sixth year, and the land will produce for three years…” (The sixth, the seventh and the eights …) is totally nonsensical. If the purpose of the Sabbatical is to allow the ground to rest, why would G-d say that in the sixth year, when the land would be most worn-out and exhausted, so much would be miraculously produced and provided.

In this commandment we are being once again reminded that the commandments, and its rewards are matters that are beyond logic. That is the true greatness and strength in its observance. The fact that we are not allowed to work one day of the week, or one year in the seven day cycle, is as beyond understanding, as the reward G-d promises those who observe this commandment.

The true success in following the commandments of the Torah-Bible is because it is a way of life presented by G-d Himself. Our commitment to its observance is not to the logic of its practices in our minds. Keeping the commandments, is developing a relationship with G-d who is greater than the limitations of nature.

The Sabbatical teaches, that when we fulfill G-ds will because we are doing it for Him, and not for ourselves, the blessings we are attached to is G-dly, defies logic and nature. The reward, is not only in the world to come, but in this world as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Thursday May 10, 2012 we are cautioned to make good use of this holy day – “Lag B’omer.” In a letter to his followers, Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi writes: "Rejoice on this day…. celebrate by singing praises to G-d from the book of Psalms, and not G-d forbid by lightheaded frivolity."

On the day of Lag B’omer, 1813 years ago, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai author of the seminal book on mysticism known as the Zohar, was preparing to leave this world. He told his son Rabbi Elozar and the students who were gathered around him, "This is an auspicious time. I am now going to reveal holy secrets of the Bible-Torah that I have never yet disclosed, so that I will arrive in the world to come without reason for embarrassment. I see that today is a special and unique day…”

He instructed his student Rabbi Abba to write down what he was about to say, Rabbi Elozar his son to repeat it, and the other students to listen carefully. He then revealed to them the section of the Zohar- book on mysticism, known as Idra Zuta. At that time, the holiness of Rabbi Shimon was so intense that none of the students were able to gaze upon him, and throughout the entire day, a fire surrounded the house, keeping everyone else at a distance.

Rabbi Abba recorded: "While I was in midst of writing, and Rabbi Shimon was in the middle of quoting a verse from the Bible, he stopped at the word 'Chaim' (Life). I waited, wanting to continue, but did not raise my head to see why he had stopped, for I was unable to look at the bright light that he radiated. Suddenly, I heard a voice call out another verse from the Bible that included again, the word 'Chaim' (Life), and then another voice called out another verse. I fell to the ground and wept. When the fire subsided and the light faded away, I saw that the great luminary, Rabbi Shimon, had passed away. He was lying on his right side, with a smile on his face."

Soon afterwards, residents of nearby Tzipori came to take Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to bury him in their village, but the inhabitants of Meron (a city in the northern part of Israel) sent them away. Meanwhile the bed, now outside the house, raised itself in the air, while a fire burned in front of it. A voice rang out, "Come and gather for the celebration of (the life of) Rabbi Shimon!" When they entered the cave in which he would be buried, another voice was heard, coming from within: "This man shakes up the world and all its kingdoms; many adversaries in Heaven are silenced because of his merit; G-d glories in him daily. Fortunate is his portion, both Above and below!"

Rabbi Elozar Azkari who lived approximately 500 years ago, was a clerk in a house of study in Tzfas (a city in Northern Israel), and was regarded as a simple person. No one knew of his Holiness, piety and scholarship. One Lag B’Omer, he traveled to the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, and while there, he met the great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and his students and danced with them. He also danced with an elderly man, dressed in white, who was dancing with an intense joy. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria took hold of the elderly man's hands and danced with him for a while, and then danced with Rabbi Elozar Azkari.

After leaving, the students asked Rabbi Yitzchak, "You must have danced with the elderly man because he is a great person, but why did you dance with the clerk? It is true that he is a G-d fearing person, but is it fitting for you to dance with him?"

Rabbi Yitzchak laughed and said, "If Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai danced with him, isn't it an honor for me to dance with him as well?"

In a later account by Rabbi Asher Zelig Margolies (1941) the pilgrimage to the tomb on Lag B’omer was described in detail: "It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day, the joy and exultation … which takes place in Meron on Lag B'Omer. One can actually see that it is a day of great happiness in the upper worlds and the lower...it is actually a rejoicing like that of the world-to-come. Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of holiness, with the joy of singing holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls near the holy burial sites of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elozar...

Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders, distributing wine and cakes, calling out L’Chaim – to life, and exchanging blessings"

May the merit of this special day, bless all of us and our families, with all that’s good, both physically and spiritually.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Power of Speech

The bible commands us, “Do not curse a deaf person.” If the problem with cursing someone, was strictly, the fact that his feelings are hurt, why would cursing a deaf person be a problem, when he can’t hear the curse?  I got it off my own chest.

King Solomon says in proverbs, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Is this statement true, even if no one hears what I am saying?

The code of Jewish law says, we should always send off a person with the words “go to peace” (Lech L' Shalom) and not with the words, “go in peace.” ( Lech B' Shalom). In Hebrew the difference, is one letter. King David sent off his son Absalom with the words, “go in peace” and his end was bitter, Absalom was killed. Jetro, sent off Moses with the words, “go to peace” and in the end, Moses was greatly elevated in stature.

Why should it make that much of a difference whether we use one letter or another Hebrew letter, when our intent is clearly only good and positive?

The Talmud speaks of, “a covenant made concerning the lips.” What a person vocalizes and enunciates with his mouth, has a remarkable and tremendous, actual impact.  The Talmud discusses, that in one place the verse seems to imply, that king Yehu was a great saint. Yet, in another verse it seems to indicate not so. The Talmud resolves the question in the following way. Because the king Yehu said, he would worship idols even more so than the wicked king Achav, although it was said only as a ruse, to gather the false prophets and punish them, those words that came out of his mouth  affected his standing in the eyes of G-d and put him in a very negative light.

Once in the times of the Baal Shem Tov, there where two fellows who got into a heated argument. One of the fellows said to the other, if he was able to, he would tear him apart like a fish. The Baal Shem Tov became very serious and had all his students sit around the table. Each one, with their hands on the shoulder of the other, and they formed a circle.  As they where instructed to close their eyes, they saw the one fellow actually tear his colleague apart, like a fish.

The Baal Shem Tov turned to his students and told them. “In the world of spirit, everything we say creates an effect. And spiritually, which is the general source for everything that takes place physically, this fellow actually hurt his friend, with the sharp words he emitted.”

When G-d created the human being, the Bible says, “and the person became a living soul.” One of the greatest commentators Onkeles, translates “a living soul” to “a speaking spirit.” The words that we vocalize and generate, represent the highest, deepest level of our G-dly spark within. The ability to express our selves and bring out to the world what is within, is uniquely ours. 

When G-d created the world, He made it with ten statements. G-d wasn’t commanding anyone, when he said, “let there be light etc.” There was no one there to talk to, or carry out His requests. What does it mean when we say G-d spoke? 

G-d who is the source of everything, revealed from within, an aspect of his infinite power in the form of light, animals, trees, birds, etc. and this energy that came forth from G-d internally, out to the open, we call G-ds speech. In the same way that G-ds “speech” brings forth actual creative forces, so too humans, who are created in the form and image of G-d, and carry the spark and soul of G-d within,  have the power with their speech, “death and life is in the power of the tongue”, even, when no one is around. 

When a boy is born, there is a tradition to make a party the first Friday night, and friends come over and wish well to the parents and the newborn. Once, there was a newborn who was having constant problems. The parents went to a great Rabbi for advice. He inquired and discovered, they did not make this first party.
The Rabbi told them, to make the party and when all the friends would come and offer the traditional blessings, everything would get better. 

Be careful with what comes out of your mouth. It’s more powerful than you imagine.