Monday, July 30, 2012

Do you say your blessings?

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Before we eat it is a Mitzvah – a positive good act to make a blessing. As a matter of fact there is a little dialogue that goes on between G-d and the Angels regarding blessings.

There are three blessings that are given by G-d through the priests. The third one is, “May G-d lift (and shine) his countenance to you “. The Talmud tells us that the ministering angels protested this blessing, because the Bible declares that He, “has no favorites." G‑d replies to this contradiction. "How can I help but favor them? I said in the Bible, “You will eat and be sated and (then) you are to thank G‑d for the good earth,” and they give thanks for every small morsel of food."

What is the power in saying blessings for everything we enjoy or experience in this world?

G-d created a world where there is good and bad in everything. That’s what gives us the ability to choose, and earn reward. In food there is the spark of G-dliness and of good nutrition, and then there is the possibility for the food to end up in some negative way in our bodies.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that when we make a blessing over food, we connect the act we are about to engage in, with G-d. We are thanking Him, for the food and the ability to eat and enjoy. Through the blessing, we are connecting with the spark of good and G-dliness that is in the food. This connection makes it much more likely that the food will truly be only for a blessing and not G-d forbid anything else.

When we hear Thunder and see lightning and make a blessing over these very powerful occurrences, we draw to the surface of this experience, the positive reason G-d certainly implanted within these events.

Another thing. There are tons of blessings and good things in our lives that many of us, many times just don’t pay enough attention to them. We are so busy always looking at what we still don’t have, and what we would like, we overlook the good we are blessed with.

When a person trains himself the moment he wakes up, to put his two hands together and say, “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.” He starts off the day, on a beautiful most wonderful positive optimistic outlook.

Right from the first step of the day his outlook is for the blessing, the good and the opportunity in all that comes his way. As he gets out of bed and gets dressed, he begins to realize how lucky he is that he can do so many things that so many others may not be fortunate to do, and this inspires him to make even more blessings.

King David teaches, that a person should say no less than 100 blessings a day. This will help to protect him. At first glance it seems like this is a tit for tat kind of arrangement. G-d so to say says, “You do something for me and I will do something for you!” However this is not the case.

When a person trains himself to see the blessing in everything and he sincerely articulates his gratitude with the proper blessing and acknowledgement, it becomes a natural that he will experience so much more positive in his life if for no other reason that he has trained himself to be connected to the good and G-dliness in everything. G-dliness and goodliness becomes his lot.

When Hagar was in the desert with her son Ishmael and she prayed that G-d should save her son, The Bible says, “and G-d opened her eyes and she saw the well of water.” The answer to all our prayers is really already there. We need only to merit connecting with the good that is already all around us.

Blessing and thanking G-d, recognizing G-d in everything He grants us, is a sure way to receive, the greatest of good.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How (long) to Realize Change

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Old habits have their own trajectory. They have been repeated so many times, the wheels of habit have already paved their own predictable direction and path.

Now, let’s say someone decides they would like to change course and go in a different direction. We all know it’s not easy to lift the heavy wheel of habit out of its comfortable routine, and, move the entire vehicle in a new direction. What’s a proven and successful method to use, and in how much time can we expect some positive results.

The Bible, is the blueprint for all of creation. Therefore, it must and will always, have the answers to all of our questions.

Jeremiah in one of his visions sees a wood stick, a branch that was already severed from its source. It was no more on the tree, and there were no leaves coming out of it. Upon further reflection he concludes that it was originally from an almond tree. Almonds are quick to produce its blossom before any other tree, and are the fastest to ripen, in 21 days.

There are almonds that start out sweet and then become sour, and there are almonds that begin by being bitter and then with time they become sweet. When the bible references almonds, we are talking about the latter type. The almonds that end up being sweet.

In Jeremiah’s vision, he was being informed of the accelerated 21 day process that G-d would punish and address the bitterness and bad behavior of the people of that time. Eventually however, this process of harshness and strictness would cleanse and transform the negative effects of their bad behavior, to sweetness and goodness.

These 21 days, allude to the “three weeks”, when the walls of Jerusalem where breached, and the impending destruction of the Holy Temple, which is followed by the “seven” weeks of consolation.

The message from G-d to Jeremiah was transmitted not only from the fact that it was an “almond” branch, but also from the fact that it was a dead stick. This was not a soft and bendable branch connected to its source with the liberty to be flexible. At this point the people where severing their ties with their source. They were behaving badly. It took a long time even for the prophet Jeremiah to figure out their source, who they really were.

“As I am quick to uproot them, so too I will be quick to rebuild…” The speed and swiftness applied to the negative trait is paralleled in the converse, for the positive end goal.

It was specifically through a stiff inflexible stick, G-d was conveying His message of change.

In a person, logical rational thinking takes time to finally, get it. With reason, there is always room to be influenced and change ones mind. When a person locks himself in a commitment, a firm resolution closed to reconsideration, that under no circumstances will things change, this is compared to a firm unbendable rigid stick.

We have here a clear message.

When a person feels he is severed and disengaged from his purpose and things have got to change. He feels like that dead stick, in Jeremiahs vision. It’s not all lost, and dead. If and when he applies the uncompromising commitment of a firm resolution for 21 days, that’s how much time it takes for the bitter almond to turn sweet. This has the potential to turn his life around from the bitterness of the present and the past, to the sweetness of the future.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What’s my mission?

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Somehow, everyone has their own place, in the grand picture of the universe. No two people are alike. Our sages tell us, “In the same way there are no two faces alike, there are no two people who think alike.” Everyone is unique, and every one, serves an exclusive purpose, in the grand scheme of things.

For someone to be fulfilled, they must sooner or later figure out how
they fit in, as one, with the rest of the picture. No one can or should
ever, treat his life like a free radical. If a person lives a selfish
life, revolving only around themselves, if that is their end goal, they
will end up a problem for themselves and anyone around them. Just like
a free-radical atom.

How can a person figure out, or get some kind of idea, of their unique
twist, that connects them with their own purpose? With the unique
mission and purpose, G-d had in mind, when giving them the great gift
of life.

When the Land of Israel was distributed to the 12 tribes, the
commandment was that it should be divided, “to the larger tribes, a
greater portion should be given, and to the smaller tribes a smaller
portion should be given.” Sounds sensible. However, the Bible also
tells us, “ ONLY, by lots, the land should be divided.”

The Talmud describes the miraculous nature of these lots, and the
messages that where received through the breastplate of the high
priest, that directed them, which tribe, to give what piece of land.
Totally, above rational thinking. A complete surrender to G-d, higher
than nature!

We know, the reason why the people of Israel where commanded to dole
out the land in this supra-rational way, is because spiritually, each
person in his own life, wherever he or she may be , is allocated a
portion of the universe, to work and cultivate spirituality, in a
similar fashion.

The foundation to life and to serving G-d is always obedience. G-d,
also endowed us with a mind, and we are commanded to use it, in our
service of G-d. How do the two go hand in hand.

The Talmud describes certain sages who felt drawn by their character
and or circumstances to the practice of certain commandments, more than
others. They felt a certain powerful personal attachment and
connection, a certain enjoyment in doing certain commands over other

This attraction and allure, the Talmud explains, is implanted by G-d in
a way that supersedes any explanation. Spiritually, it is through this
particular practice, which a person feels drawn to, that their entire
connection to G-d is manifested. Like a child, who through one
particular extraordinary deed, realizes his entire bond with his

Sometimes, a person may notice, every time they have a good intention
to do something positive or make an effort to perform this one
particular observance, they encounter the most difficulty and hardships
to carry it out. This, is a sign from heaven. Taking control over this
issue is so critically important, to this person, therefore he is
finding it most difficult to carry it out.

It is only, because the prize is so great at the end, that the effort
and price to pay, to reach this goal is so difficult. Even if the
person can not see, or understand outwardly, the connection. These
hardships, are the greatest proof, that this is what would mean most
for this person, if and when this deed is achieved.

When a person applies himself in joy, to the task, even though he
doesn’t understand why, but only because of his faith, that this is
certainly from G-d “for my good”, his eyes will become focused to see
the connection, and eventually he will come to see and understand, how
this commitment was exactly what was necessary, for his happiness in
his life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How do we get there

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There is a well known saying in the name of Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak. “We must benefit and take advantage of every moment in these days. There will come a time (when the Messiah – ultimate redemption will arrive) when, we will pull our hair out, in frustration, that more wasn’t done to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to us in these days (of exile). But then, it will be too late.”

We are now in a time when we are faced with multiple challenges from so many different angles. Difficulties in health, relationships, finances, politics etc. this is a time we call “darkness”, because life for many is not clear at all. Things are confusing, unclear and outright deceptive. Truth, is concealed and hidden away.

A person must always keep in mind, life is a journey and the universe is on a course set by G-d at the time of creation, to reach a perfect destination. Every moment is a step closer to this era of perfection and goodness. Although we find ourselves presently, lost and in the dark, we must always be looking out for the light at the end of the tunnel. Every spark of light, brings that era one moment sooner.

On the other hand, King Solomon tells us, “greater light (comes) from the darkness.” There is so much to learn when in the darkness, that is overlooked when a person is only in the light. Difficulties are always, great learning experiences. Another thing, the light after the darkness, is more greatly appreciated after we fought our way through the darkness. Even further, the light that is generated as a result of the energy expended working through the challenge, is a qualitatively deeper and richer light.

Challenges are only presented to strengthen a person, bring the best out of them and turn them into more than they where before the challenge. If that is so, and there is intrinsic value in difficulties, why is it that one of the very first questions a soul is asked when it comes before G-d for its final judgment is, “did you wait anxiously, and did you yearn, for the ultimate redemption?” The light at the end of the tunnel?

There is a delicate balance that is necessary. If a person doesn’t have a goal and destination in mind, chances are he will not reach this target. Chances are he might never do, what is necessary to reach his destination. Although it’s true, that enjoying ones work is a tremendous quality, the ultimate intention is not the work, but the reward it generates. These days in particular, overcoming all kinds of moral tests and sticking to ones principles, requires a tremendous amount of self sacrifice. It is this dedication to what’s right, that establishes a bond with G-d that is tremendously deep and intense, that we will realize completely, in the times of the final redemption, when the truth of all matters are revealed.

In a relationship, only when one of the partners has paid a huge price has he so clearly demonstrated his commitment to the other partner and a mighty strong bond is developed. When a person makes mistakes and falls, he learns from his mistakes what to avoid next time, and is smarter as a result. When he is on the ground, he can gain a perspective he would never see while standing. Much is gained from hardships.

However dealing with the darkness and inner temptations must be understood as only a means to an end. We must never enjoy the darkness, and the fall, so much, that we don’t care to get up and out, into the light.

In the times of redemption, when the present day challenges come to an end, and a new chapter opens up for the universe, then, the ultimate truth will be revealed. To that we must yearn. Nevertheless we must keep in mind. It is only, when we learn to make the best of now, we can enjoy the best of then.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Your Thinking - G-dly or Rational.

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Once Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber was walking with his son, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak in the city of Rostov Russia, and he was teaching him a very deep concept in mysticism. The son was so deep in thought, he kept on walking, even while his father stopped for a moment. Only after being called by his name, he became aware and walked back to where his father was standing.

The father then told his son. “The difference between a human – rational mind and a G-dly mind is that, a regular human mind, starts first by applying itself, and then concludes and comes to the realization that it is not humanly possible to understand everything and then turns to faith. While a G-dly mind begins with faith, and then, to personally connect, this leads to understanding.”

This story took place in front of a building, which later on, became the headquarters for the feared GPU. Years later, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchok was incarcerated for teaching Judaism and was sentenced to death. In the course of his interrogation in this building, he told his interrogators what he heard from his father at that place, years earlier.

Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchok now understood, why his father, told him those words of strength, at precisely this spot. Let’s explain.

Both the G-dly, and rational approach, includes both faith and normal rational thinking. In the former, faith leads to the rational and personal connection, and in the latter, rational thinking leads to faith. So how different is really one approach versus the other?

The use of a rational mind, fits into the category and classification of the “created.” Things we use in this world. While the G-dly mind approach, where faith is the starting point, this is a connection to a force higher than the created, and is therefore in the category of “creator.” This is the ultimate, expected of each person, “and you are connected to G-d your G-d – you are all alive eternally.”

When a person approaches matters, whatever it may be in his life, and his first approach is logical, and only afterwards when he recognizes the limitations of his mind he turns to another faculty inside, we call faith. Since the foundation and first step is his own mind, and this is what gives birth to his faith, his faith will be limited to the logic, which gives birth to this faith.

In addition, since logic can always be argued, the moment anyone comes up with an argument to his logic, out goes the faith. Since the faith is an outgrowth of his logic, it will always be limited and dependant on the parameters and strength of his logic.

However, when our first approach to life, or to whatever challenge we are facing, is an unwavering faith in G-d who made the world and all the circumstances I am facing. I know in a convincing fashion, beyond rational thinking, that He certainly has a good and positive purpose for everything He does, and gave me the strength to withstand whatever. This faith is purely unlimited. To begin with, it supersedes logic and rational thinking. The thinking that comes afterwards, is then infused with this faith and is incomparably stronger than the first way.

This is why Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchok repeated this concept to his interrogators. He wanted them to know, they where dealing with someone who is infused in his logic by a supra-rational faith. Just like it is impossible to imprison G-d and spirituality, G-d is bigger than any force here in this world, so too, sentencing him would not accomplish their goal of stopping the spread of Judaism in Russia at that time.