Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Help fight this war

In the daf yomi today (בבא קמא דף ג) the Gemara brings the passuk in Yeshaya (21:12):

אמר שומר אתא בוקר וגם לילה אם תבעיון בעיו שבו אתיו - The watchman said that the morning has come, and also night, if you would ask, then come again.

Rashi on the passuk is powerful. He says that the 'watchman' is reference to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Says Hashem, the morning will come, that is, the day when He will shine upon us; and the night as well, that is, the time that is prepared for Esav at the End of time. If you will ask to quicken the end, you can, by way of teshuva.

It seems clear that Teshuva is the essential component of Moshiach being revealed early. My gut tells me that if we are to merit Moshiach this year, it will be an early appearance. If that is so, Rashi tells us it can only be attained by doing Teshuva.

We keep hearing teshuva, over and over again. Daniel mentioned to me a while ago that teshuva is a common theme throughout the Geulah blogosphere, but we never seem to hear exactly what it means.

I would like to put forth a simple and straightfoward answer to the question.

Teshuva means to return. It means to return to Hashem. It means to return to your highest point, to what you know inside the deepest depth of your heart.

We know that success in the war that is going on here in Eretz Yisrael is not dependant on the might of the IDF nor the IAF. It is dependant completely upon our connection and relationship to Hashem. Nach is replete with stories of success and failure in the wars of the Jewish people. Recent history also tells the same tale. When we depend on Hashem, he takes care of us. When our connection is broken, we fail רחמנא לצלן.

We can run through Dreaming of Moshiach, Shirat Devorah, Mystical Paths, Lazer Beams, I Heart Noahides, Dani18, and a plethora of other Moshiach related blogs scanning for whatever buzzes our brain and gets us a little excited. But if all it does is give us a buzz and doesn't move us off of our computer chair into the Beis medrash for at least a few extra minutes a day to learn some Torah and connect to Hashem, then WE HAVE MISSED THE POINT!!!

The only way we can win the war is by returning to Hashem and reconnecting to Him. That is what Teshuva is about. It doesn't mean that you have to turn around and become a different person overnight. That is ridiculous and unrealistic. But we can take on to learn a few more minutes a day. If you need a place to find a five minute dvar torah, try out It doesn't have to be my site - my point is not to plug my site - there are tons of great Torah sites ( is a great one of note).

Commit to five minutes of Torah before you open up your internet browser. That is concrete Teshuva. That is how we can win this war and perhaps bring Moshiach early.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting the message

I just heard the following story from my rav.

A wealthy man came to a certain gadol last week. He told the gadol that he had recently lost thirty million dollars. The wealthy man asked for a bracha for his parnasah.

Asked the gadol, "Do you have bread on your table?"

"Yes, baruch Hashem, we can still feed our family," the man replied with a smile.

"Well, there are avrechim who have trouble putting food on their tables," said the gadol seriously. "I'm not sure who I should have pity for, you or them."

The wealthy man immediately wrote a very substantial check for tzedakah (as my rav told it, for two million dollars!).

To me, the amazing thing about this story is the willingness of the wealthy man to accept the gadol's rebuke! I have no doubt that the merit of that alone will stand him in good stead in shamayim.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Watch your pride

The leaders of Israel make a decision to enter into Gaza, and surprise Hamas with a devastating attack. The operation has begun and there is certainly promise in what is being done.

Yet, we see events unfolding with a superficial eye. We believe that what we see on the surface is what is really happening. When our leaders make decisions or surrender to inaction, we are fooled into believing that it is their own choices that are deciding our future.

When the results seem to be positive, we quickly get caught up in patting ourselves on the back. When things turn a different course, we look immediately for someone to take the blame.

This is all a result of a fundamental mistake. We forget that לב מלכים ביד השם - the hearts of kings (or leaders) are in the hand of Hashem. This means that although on the surface it would seem that there are certain people making decisions, starting wars and showing bravado, all that is really here is a drama that is being written by Hashem Himself. We sit in the audience and watch the actors on stage, believing that it is real and they are spontaneously thinking of their lines. The truth is that each one of them was chosen for their role because they would play their part well. But the script was written by Hashem. What they do and what they choose is not guided by their own intellects. It is guided by the greatest Intellect.

We need to have this perception when we read the news if we want to understand what is really going on. The moment we give in to the pride - yes it is pride to believe that our superficial perception of reality is all that there is - we make a tremendous mistake. When things are going well, the mistake makes us lose sight of Hashem's helping hand. When things are not going as well, the error leads us to despair.

When we trust in Hashem and know that all is from Him, and all is for our ultimate benefit, we can have true appreciation for His good in the good times, and hope for the best, even when times seem bleak. As Dovid Hamelech put it, להגיד בבוקר חסדיך ואמונתך בלילות - To say your praises in the morning [when there is light and all is well], and Your faithfulness in the night [when all seems dark and bleak].

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Miketz - Facing adversity

Why did Yosef feel like he had to make sure the dreams were fulfilled?

Why did the brothers have to go through this ordeal?

Why did we need to be oppressed in the Chanukah story and then receive a miraculous salvation?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast, entitled, "Facing adversity."

By the way, you can subscribe to this podcast by going onto itunes and going into the Judaism section of the podcasts, or you can use the following url:

Missing the point

I heard the following story in the name of R' Shimshon Pincus z'l.

Rabbi Boruch Adler* was asked to give a shiur to a mixed group of people, comprised of both scholars and unlettered individuals. He was forewarned that he should make sure to explain and translate words or concepts that might be foreign to anyone. Throughout his derasha he made every effort to explain each and every word, at times expounding on concepts that to him were fundamental. He made no assumptions, however, and explained everything to the best of his ability.

After his speech was completed, one of those who attended came up to Rav Adler with a broad smile on his face. As they began to speak it became evident that he was one of the less learned of the group.

"Rabbi," the man said, "I just want you to know that I truly appreciated how you made such a great effort to explain all of those lofty concepts."

Rabbi Adler nodded and smiled.

The man continued and said, "I believe that I really understood the ideas you were conveying in your speech, and I benefitted each time you translated the words from Hebrew in to English. There was just one word that you said a few times which you didn't translate."

"What was that," asked Rav Adler, looking slightly worried.

The man replied, "I didn't know what you meant when you kept saying 'Hakadosh Baruch Hu.'"

If Hakadosh Baruch Hu - God - is missing from the shiur, you've missed the whole point!

We can wake up every day, learn the daf yomi, put on our tallis and tefillin to daven, run to do chesed, be careful about saying Lashon Hara, and make sure to say Amen to the berachos that our friends say out loud. But if the essential ingredient is missing - if we are lacking the connection to Hashem - we've missed the boat!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yehoshua and the Sun

I just came across a Da'as Zekenim on the passuk speaking of Yosef's second dream. He brings a Medrash, which I found both as he brought it and also in a slightly different version. Presented here is a composite of the two Midrashim.

The passuk says in Yehoshua 10:12, "שמש בגבעון דום" - the Sun stood still in Givon.

Yehoshua commanded the Sun to stand still. The Sun responded and said, "Is it right for on older one to stand before a younger one? I was created on the fourth day of Creation. Man was created on the sixth!"

Yehoshua responded and said, "A young master can ask an old slave to do his bidding. You are my grandfather Yosef's slave, as the verse says, 'Behold the Sun and the Moon... were bowing down to me.'"

This Medrash is somewhat perplexing at first glance. Firstly, it was only a dream - the Sun did not actually bow down to Yosef. Secondly, the Sun clearly represented Yakov Avinu, as everyone involved in the story seemed to understand, hence we would think that the dream should not be taken literally.

It is clear from this Medrash that the dream had deeper implications, as we mentioned in a previous post. We see that the dream implied that the Sun and Moon and Stars literally bowed to Yosef.

This was what Yehoshua was saying - just as you bowed to Yosef, you must bow to me too, as I possess the power of Yosef, as Moshiach ben Yosef.

It is also significant that both the Sun and the Moon stood still. In regards to the stars, this story clearly occurred during the day, so the stars were not visible. Nevertheless, they also stood still for the observers on the other side of the world. Thus, all the characters in Yosef's dream showed their subservience to Yehoshua, Yosef's great-grandson. May we merit to soon see them show their subservience to Moshiach ben Yosef again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who is Moshiach ben Yosef?

I would like to give a little idea of who exactly is Moshiach ben Yosef, and I would also like to weave in some strands of the dvar Torah that I said in my Parsha Podcast on Vayeshev.

Firstly, let us understand why we need two different Moshiachs.

The Moshiach we've all heard of is Moshiach ben Dovid, who we mention in our tefilos.

The lesser known is Moshiach ben Yosef. His job is the physical aspects of Klal Yisrael. He brings the Jewish people back to Eretz Yisrael (kibutz galuyos). He takes part in rebuilding the land of Israel. He builds the physical structure of the Beis Hamikdash. He is also privy to the secrets of the Torah (חכמת הנסתר). His job is to destroy Esav (see Rashi on Genesis 30:25). His power is the rectification of יסוד - the אות ברית קודש. He has full dominion over his physical desires - he rises above them and merits miracles. His power is also the power of Emunah/Bitachon - absolute trust in Hashem which also corresponds to יסוד. This also merits miracles, as per my earlier post "Bringing Miracles of Redemption."

The role of Moshiach ben Dovid on the other hand, is to bring the Shechina into the physical structures that Moshiach ben Yosef builds. Moshiach ben Dovid brings the Shechina into the Beis Hamikdash, into the Land of Israel, into the Jewish people. He is the מלך - which means that he reveals מלכות which is equal to שכינה.

This is why we say first ולירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב - To Jerusalem your city return with mercy, before we even mention Moshiach ben Dovid. We say ובנה אותה בקרוב בימינו בנין עולם - rebuild it soon in our days an eternal building - this is reference to Moshiach ben Dovid. Then we say וכסא דוד עבדך מהרה לתוכה תכין - and the seat of David your servant quickly prepare in its midst. Here we see that it is a two step process, starting with the job of Moshiach ben Yosef and culminating with the job of Moshiach ben Dovid.

According to the Gemara in Succah, Moshiach ben Yosef is destined to die. The Gr'a holds that this is לאו דוקא, and says that in fact, the length of the gallus has already atoned for whatever would have necessitated his death. His שיטה is עוד יוסף חי - Moshiach ben Yosef will yet live.

Another interesting point which I have seen in more than one place is that besides for there being a single human being named Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, there is a force within the Jewish people that corresponds to their role. This is actually similar to how you may have specialized cells in your body that perform a certain specific function, say the cells in your eyes. Nevertheless, every single cell in your body contains the same DNA, with that very information that makes those eye cells specialized. The only difference is that the other cells, say in your hand, do not express and bring out that specialized nature to its full expression. Nevertheless, that power exists everywhere within a person.

Thus, every Jew can donate to Moshiach ben Yosef's role, for there is a small piece of Moshiach ben Yosef in every Jew. In fact, people who work for Nefesh B'nefesh, as an example, are actually fulfilling one of the roles of Moshiach ben Yosef - kibbutz galuyos. When we bring spirituality into our lives or the lives of others, we are activating the Moshiach ben Dovid in each of us. This brings us a step closer to Geulah and effectively lightens the load of each of the Moshiachs.

Returning to Yosef, we see that his job was to take care of the physical welfare of the Jewish people. This was expressed in his dream with the stalks of produce, and later in his role of providing for Egypt and more specifically the seventy souls that descended to Egypt with Yakov. His role as the knower of the secrets of the Torah is also mentioned in numerous sources, and is hinted to by his name צפנת פענח - the revealer of secrets. It is also hinted to in the reference בן זקנים - the gematria of the bold is 207 which is the same as the word רז - secret (בעל הטורים).

Yosef was the master of תיקון הברית as he displayed in his difficult encounter with the wife of Potifar. He was also the quintessential בעל אמונה. He had the ultimate faith in Hashem and throughout the story of his trials stood steadfast in his faith in Hashem, never questioning, only constantly moving forward and staying strong. He himself constantly reassures his brothers that he bears them no ill will, but rather from the onset it was the will of Hashem that Yosef be sent to Mitzrayim.

Yehoshua bin Nun was from the tribe of Efraim (son of Yosef) and he fulfilled the role of Moshiach ben Yosef in his time - conquering the land of Israel and dividing it amongst the Jewish people.

Very interestingly, according to the site, the current year (5769) corresponds to the first year of Yehoshua's conquest. Exactly what this means and how this will play itself out remains to be seen. (For more on that, please see his post Geulat Mitzraim to Yemot HaMoshiach)

Last point I would like to make is the pshat I said in my parsha podcast about Yosef's second dream. It is clear from the psukim that the second dream was a different dream (חלום אחר) as opposed to Paroh's dream which the Torah says ויחלום שנית - he dreamed a second time. Whereas Paroh had a repetition implying the dream would soon materialize, Yosef's second dream was a totally different dream with a totally different message.

The key to the message of the second dream is that the sun, moon and stars were bowing down to Yosef. The almost silly sounding question is, what do stars look like when they bow down?

The answer is that the prophets tell us that before Moshiach comes, the sun, the moon and the stars go out (יואל ד:ט"ו). They are extinguished, and then we are told that we no longer will be provided with light from the sun, but rather Hashem Himself will be our light. The message underlying this concept is that whereas until Moshiach Hashem directed the world through the מזלות - the constellations and the heavenly bodies, when Moshiach comes, Hashem Himself will be the One Who directly is involved in the world, with no more intermediaries. This is why the sun, moon and stars go out, to signify that they are no longer the conduits, but rather Hashem will now be leading us directly.

The concept of bowing - השתחוויה - is that one shows that he totally nullifies himself in the face of the one he is bowing to. This is what was happening in Yosef's dream. He saw of vision of the ultimate future when the sun, moon and stars would 'bow,' as it were, to Yosef's emunah. This emunah would bring about the days of Moshiach where Hashem himself would deal directly with the world. This emunah - which by definition taps into the concept that Hashem is directly involved in our lives - was what Yosef represented, and to this they bowed - showed their lack of existence - and were extinguished. The eleven stars represent the fact that all of the Jewish people will bow to Moshiach ben Yosef - that is, we will learn from him the power of Emunah and absolute trust in Hashem that will bring about Hashem's full display of His direct involvement in our lives.

May we merit that day soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Idols of the Land of Wealth

Something I mentioned in the post Moshiach ben Yosef II was:

I think that the most potent message of the story is that Rebbe Nachman teaches that the most desperate place a person can be is in the Land of Wealth. This place is a land that worships wealth and literally calls the wealthiest people there gods.

Interestingly, Paul Krugman writes the following in his op-ed article in the NY Times:

Think of the way almost everyone important missed the warning signs of an impending crisis. How was that possible? How, for example, could Alan Greenspan have declared, just a few years ago, that “the financial system as a whole has become more resilient” — thanks to derivatives, no less? The answer, I believe, is that there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing. (Italics mine - ag)


Help your brother

Guest post by Daniel

A few nights ago I had the privilege to hear the following story from Rav Shemtov. Rav Shemtov is a paragon of Ahavas Yisrael. At our table sat a young man who is beginning to wrap tefillin. Rav Shemtov grasped the young baal teshuva's hand, kissed it, and beamed at the young man "This hand will put on tefillin every day!"

Rav Shemtov learned this mida from his father, whom I will simply call "Shemtov" since I don't know his first name. The following is one of many stories from his life.

Shemtov was living in Russia at a time when Jews were being drafted into the army. It was either army or prison. His father took a rope and manually broke his own toe so that he would be "unfit" for the Russian army and would be able to stay with his family.

As Shemtov was walking down the street he saw a Russian police officer escorting his friend, a fellow Jew, off to prison. What could he do? Fight the cop? He would be clobbered, not to mention taken to prison.

Out of nowhere Shemtov jumped at the Russian officer and began hugging him and kissing him, like a long lost friend. At the same time, Shemtov kicked his friend repeatedly until the friend got the idea and ran for his life.

After Shemtov's friend escaped, he pulled back from the Russian officer. "Hey there old friend!" exclaimed Shemtov. The officer was dazed, "Do I know you?" "Sure you do! Last time we met was in Moscow, don't you remember! Come on pal!" The officer didn't buy it. "I know what you just did, you sneaky Jew. That guy was going to prison, but you, you're in for the worst."

Shemtov looked the officer in the eyes and said, "Now you don't want to do that. What's going to happen? You'll take me into your headquarters, sit me in front of your superior officer and tell him how this puny little Jew outsmarted you so that you failed your mission? You'll look like a complete idiot."

Shemtov pulled out some cash from his pocket, put it in the officers hand and said, "Better you take this money and go enjoy it for yourself." The officer took the cash and left Shemtov alive.

When Rav Shemtov finished telling us the story he said, "This was my father. He lived the lesson that when another Jew is in need, you don't think about yourself."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shalosh Seudos and Gog Umagog

Guest post by Daniel

Shulchan Aruch 291:1
Din Shalosh Seudos

A person should be very cautious to fulfill [the mitzvah of eating] the Third Meal [on Shabbos].

Mishnah Berurah
As is brought in the gemara: A person is obligated to eat three meals on Shabbos, and this is in parallel to the verse that says אכלהו היום כי היום שבת לה' היום לא תמצאהו בשדה "And Moshe said 'Eat that [manna] today; for today is the Shabbat unto Hashem; today you shall not find it [the manna] in the field.'" And three times "today" is written in this verse. Our Sages said: 'Any Jew who upholds the Three Meals on Shabbos will be saved from Three Calamities - from birthpangs of Mashiach, from judgments of Gehinom, and from the War of Gog and Magog.'

Additionally, the Mishnah Berurah says that we are even obligated to help support poor people to the extent that they have the Third Meal on Shabbos (and not just enough for one meal and night and one meal at day).

The Mechaber writes that
"A wise person will not fill his stomach in the Morning Meal, so that there will be room for the Third Meal."

How to Fullfill Third Meal:
The Third Meal can be fulfilled with a drop more than a kabeitza of bread. (Less than a kabeitza is considered a snack and not a meal). Other opinions hold that baked goods in the amount needed to say mezonos is acceptable. If there is no mezonos, then fish and or meat is acceptable. If there is no fish or meat, then fruits are acceptable. But really one should eat bread, with lechem mishnah if possible.

If there is only one lechem mishnah, one person can say hamotzi with the lechem mishnah and have in mind everyone else, if everyone else also has in mind that he is saying hamotzi with the lechem mishnah for them.

The Yetzer Hara's last stand

A friend of mine recently shared with me a very beautiful idea which I found to be insightful.

He told me that he heard from his rebbe that in the times before Moshiach, as the Yetzer Hara's power is waning and he is nearing his defeat, he makes his final stand. His behavior is similar to a star going supernova that lets off the light of ten suns as it is about to die.

Where does the Satan place all his final energy? Into the place that is most important, and most vulnerable - Shalom Bayis. He tries to create marital discord. Jewish life, in all of its aspects is completely dependent on this most central pillar. It is here that the evil one strikes in his last ditch effort.

Once we become aware of this, we can recognize that if our spouse does something that would provoke us, it isn't really our spouse - it's the Yetzer Hara! He is trying to fight his final battle in the place we are most sensitive. Notice again that the yetzer's primary tool is pride. We can fight pride with humility.

Recognize that the provocation is not really coming from the spouse. It is coming from the evil inclination. Respond with humility. A quiet voice calms anger. We know in ourselves that we respond with humility when others act towards us with humility. Use the tool of the Yetzer Tov.

This tool can be used in all of our interactions with others.

Commit for thirty days to always respond with humility to others, especially one's spouse, no matter what the provocation. See the difference it makes in your life.

Make humility part of your personal creed.

It will reveal the light of Hashem and bring Moshiach.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moshiach ben Yosef II

I think this is the year of Moshiach ben Yosef.

In Rebbe Nachman's story "The Master of Prayer," there are two main characters. The first is the Master of Prayer (בעל תפילה), who represents מלכות - that is Moshiach ben Dovid. The second is the Mighty Warrior, who corresponds to יסוד - which is Moshiach ben Yosef.

I just thought of a clear parallel between the story of Yosef and the Master of Prayer story. In the story, the Master of Prayer is in the land of wealth and hears about a mighty warrior, and wonders if it is the Mighty Warrior that he knew from long ago. This is similar to the storyline where Yehuda (who was the forebear of Moshiach ben Dovid) did not know that he was in fact talking to Yosef (the forebear of Moshiach ben Yosef) until Yosef later revealed himself. This revelation brings about a reunification of the family.

In the story, it is clear that the Mighty Warrior (מב"י) reveals himself much before the Master of Prayer (מב"ד) actually goes and gathers all the other characters of the story, leading to the final rectification. Moshiach ben Yosef is the first to appear on the scene, similar to how Yosef himself comes down a number of years before Yehuda.

I think that the most potent message of the story is that Rebbe Nachman teaches that the most desperate place a person can be is in the Land of Wealth. This place is a land that worships wealth and literally calls the wealthiest people there gods. The story states that there is almost no way for someone trapped in the desire for wealth to escape. Many words can be said, but they will fall on deaf ears, as happens when the Master of Prayer tries to convince them of their error. Eerily, the story states that the only way to release people from their mistake in regards to worshiping wealth is via the path of war.

I highly recommend getting a copy of Breslov Research Institute's "Rabbi Nachman's Stories" translated and annotated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

Vayeshev - Moshiach ben Yosef

Why did Yosef have two dreams?

Why does the Torah call the second dream a חלום אחר - a different dream, whereas by Paroh it says he dreamt the dream a second time?

What do stars look like when they bow down? Why should we care?

Why is the story of Yehudah and Tamar sliced into the story of Yosef?

Why is Yosef called to task for asking the Sar Hamashkim to remember him?

What is the character of Moshiach ben Yosef?

How is it reflected in Yosef himself?

Why is Yosef the one who will ultimately destroy Esav before Moshiach?

DON'T MISS this weeks Parsha Pocast!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hashem will not forsake us

Ki Lo Yitosh was composed by Elli Kranzler and sung by Mordechai Ben David on his album Hineni. The words are כי לא יטוש ה' עמו ונחלתו לא יעזוב. השם הושיעה המלך יעננו ביום קראנו - Hashem will not push away His nation, and He will not leave His inheritance. Hashem the Savior and King will answer us on the day we call. The power of these words is the promise God gave His people, the Jewish people, to forever protect them in the face of all danger.

Pride Kills

Twenty five people were killed yesterday in a road accident here in Israel. The news reports that the two drivers were 'racing' right before the fatal nightmare. The driver had a record of driving incidents.

This tragedy holds a profound lesson for us.

On occasion I have a simcha that I will sing in Jerusalem and it will require renting a car to bring my keyboard and other equipment. A few times I have called to reserve a car too late, and ended up taking a taxi to and from the job.

It was on one such evening that I met Eli. He is a driver who startled me with his simple smooth attitude about everything. Nothing would perturb him, and he told me that the right question to ask is never, 'Why did you go that way,' but rather, 'Why don't we go that way.' Questions about the past, he told me, are not constructive. Questions about the future are.

There was another bit of wisdom that he said that I would like to focus on. He told me that if he was the minister of transportation, he would remove all of the horns from the cars. Why is that? He said that the horn makes a person feel invincible. So what if you're coming? HONK HONK! I'm here! The horn causes more traffic accidents then it prevents.

The depth behind this statement is that when a person is full of himself at every point as he is driving, there will be no respect on the road. Whaddaya mean? I'm drivin' here! Watch out! When the attitude is pride, destruction is close by one's side.

Another taxi driver (who Eli sent me to) was Yehuda, who told me that at a certain point he realized the pointlessness of getting upset at others' foolishness on the road. When he came to that realization, he had an encounter on the road where he cut someone off, and the other person was enraged. Yehuda was in turn cut off by the guy, and the car slowed down in front of him until they both came to a stop.

A big burly guy got out of the car and came over with a look of death in his eyes and curses on his lips. Instead of getting upset, Yehuda turned to the guy and said to him, "You are right. I deserve whatever you have in mind for me. Give me your best shot."

The big guy didn't know what to do with Yehuda's statement. He grunted something under his breath, got back into his car, slammed the door and drove off.

Pride kills. Humility saves lives.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thinking ahead

This story starts off rather normal. But a discerning ear will hear greatness here.

Last night, the wife of an old friend of mine called. Her in-laws will be in town and staying in my area and she heard that I may be out for Shabbos Chanukah for a simcha.

I confirmed that I would be in Jerusalem for that Shabbos, and my apartment would be available. It would be great to have them stay in my home.

Then she somewhat abashedly asked where I light Chanukah candles.

Not comprehending at first, I stumbled and said, "In the bedroom, in the window that faces the street."

It dawned on me that her husband (or perhaps she?) had thought ahead. Not only did they need an apartment for Shabbos, but they would need a proper place to light Chanukah candles!

I told her that my apartment is a second floor apartment and the window is not so visible from all angles. As far as 'pirsumei nisa' goes, they might be able to find a better suited apartment.

I realized that many times we make plans for the future that may or may not include the most important factor of our lives. Our avodas Hashem.

It's not such a big deal to think about our davening schedule when making our flight plan. It does limit our options, but wouldn't we limit them for something 'really' important like a big executive multi-million dollar business meeting? Tefillah is our chance to have that meeting with Hashem. Its power is enhanced manifold by joining with a minyan. Perhaps it could merit a second thought.

The plans that we make and the details that we notice can display where our true devotion lies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Giving beats everything

I recently heard a from a friend of mine that Rav Shach had said that right before Moshiach comes, the only ones who will be giving tzedakah will be the bnei Torah, and they will receive all the reward of the world as no one else is giving.

As a continuation of the post "Give it or lose it," the Chofetz Chaim asks an important question. Why is it necessary for Hashem to decree how much we will make and also how much we lose? Why can't we just have the numbers cancel and make less?

The Chofetz Chaim brings the Zohar that explains that when a person goes to sleep at night, his soul comes up to heaven and they present it with a list of things he has done that day. The soul must sign on the dotted line. If there are sins that he has done that day, then the forces of evil try to overtake him. But Hashem redeems him, and instead allows the soul to return to the world, instead to receive some kind of financial loss in place of being destroyed by the evil forces.

Now a person can actually take that loss and instead give Tzedakah with the money. What this accomplishes is that instead of the money being lost by his refrigerator breaking down, he is able to redeem the money and gain eternal reward! Not only that, but the Torah promises that when we give to the poor, not only don't we lose the money, but Hashem pays us back double!

Thus when a person gives tzedakah he is redeeming himself from spiritual suffering, earning eternal reward, and he doesn't lose a single penny he has given!

Based on this idea from Rav Shach, when a person does this during a time when no one else is giving, he not only gets the reward from his action, but he is נוטל שכר כולם - takes all the reward that would have been for all the others who could have given but did not.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Open your heart

This song was composed by Rav Shmuel Brazil, and the words are attributed to Sefer Charedim. The words are בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו ולמשכן מזבח אשים לקרני הודו ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי היחידה - In my heart, I will build a sanctuary to praise His glory, and in the santuary I will place an altar for the shine of His honor. And for an eternal lamp I will take the fire of the binding of Isaac, and for a sacrifice I will bring my unique animal soul. Herein we find the key to true spirituality - creating a place within ourselves for God to reside in this world, as it were.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winning the game

We affect every person we meet. We can have a positive impact on others, sometimes so great that it will affect their lives. This is certainly true of the children Hashem has given into our care. There is power in that, but as Peter Parker learned early on, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

The positive affect one can have on another, and specifically one's child, was brought home to me last night as I put my five and a half year old son to sleep.

After saying Shema and going through our nightly thankyou's to Hashem, I was talking to him, and I told him that I am very proud of him. I just had this general feeling from the day that made me say that, it was nothing in particular. He gave me a look that I couldn't read, and I wondered to myself if I had perhaps said something that was wrong. So I asked him if he liked it when I said I was proud of him.

He answered, "It feels like I won the game."

It made me realize how essential my role is as a parent. My child's self esteem and personal value is currently being built. We don't realize how powerful the simple words "I am proud of you" are. But they can make or break our child's confidence in his ability to 'win the game' of life.

This idea struck me even deeper as I realized that this doesn't just hold true for our children but rather for every person we encounter. We can walk away from literally every interaction with a human being, leaving them with a feeling that they can win the game. We also have the free choice do the opposite if we raise the banner of our own pride too high.

Here again, when we act with humility our world is no longer limited to our small selfish reality, but it is expanded and continues to expand ever outward, lifting those around us along with the entire world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Give it or lose it

In my Daily Dvar, today's reading in Ahavas Chesed brought a very poignant Gemara in Bava Basra (10a).

There it says that just like one's income is determined on Rosh Hashana, similarly the expenditures (or losses) one will encounter are determined on Rosh Hashana. If the person merits, they can be 'lost' by being given to the poor. If not, the money will be taken forcibly.

Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai had a dream where he saw that his sister's children were to lose seven hundred dinars (an ancient currency) that year. Without telling them about the dream, he convinced them to give him a total of six hundred and eighty three dinars over the year. He wasn't successful in getting the last seventeen from them.

It came Erev Yom Kippur, and the Caesar sent his henchman to grab money from them. On that day they took seventeen dinars. Rabban Yochanan reassured them that they need not worry that more would be taken. When his nephews asked how he knew that no more would be taken, he told them about his dream.

They proceeded to ask him why he hadn't told them of the dream, so they could have given the full amount to charity instead of losing it to the Caesar! To this he responded and told them that he wanted them to be able to have the reward of giving the charity altruistically, without an ulterior motive.

For a deeper understanding of this, please listen there to episode 200.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Esav's tentacles

The tentacles of Esav's superficial view of the world are found throughout Western society. It has seeped into our hearts and our minds to the point where we automatically question what our Torah says is truly the nature of reality. We identify more naturally with the words of the scientist then with the words of our Chazal. If Stephen Hawking or Brian Greene says it, well how does that work out with Beraishis?

This flaw is a product of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) who always works with the concept of egoism.

If I experience reality in a certain way, it must be that way! If I don't see the spiritual side of the world, then the words of tradition are fanciful at best (חס ושלום).

This egocentric approach to life is absolutely evident in the approach of the scientist, who evaluates only what he sees, and disregards the wisdom of the ancients with a quick shrug. The experience of thousands of years and the wisdom culled through that time is worthless to the modern scientific mind that thinks it holds the ultimate vision of reality.

The foolishness of this prideful outlook was once brought home to me quite starkly.

Ninth grade biology taught us of 'vestigial' structures. These are the supposed byproducts of a body produced by evolution. They serve no function in our bodies, and thus must be a throwback to a previous stage where they did perhaps serve some purpose. The quintessential example of this is the appendix, appropriately named for it is 'appended' as it were and is pointless.

I remember an assignment where we had to think of five vestigial structures, similar to the appendix. I remember having difficulty with this. Maybe a pinky toe, or my belly button?

The ridiculousness of it was that basically what they wanted was an exercise in pride. Hmmmm, let's think of something that I have no idea what it does in the body. Since I don't know what it does, it must be pointless. Eureka! Vestigial structure!

This story was brought to a close years later as I sat in a doctor's waiting room next to my pregnant wife, and picked up some scientific magazine. Towards the front was a column reserved for new information that was coming out of scientific research. The column was about the appendix. Apparently (if I recall correctly) some scientist had found that it has a significant function in children's digestion. That function fades as the child matures and grows to adulthood. Seems appropriate for a name change on that organ.

The Western world would have us believe that we are here for no purpose. Well, I can't quickly discern that purpose, so it must not be there. Doesn't really make too much sense to me.

But we do that all that time.

I don't understand why I should tie my right shoe first and then the left.

I've never seen an angel, it must not exist.

Ruach Hakodesh? Come on now, this is the twenty first century!

We may not understand the deeper parts of reality, what is going on in the spiritual world, and what the deeper purpose of the mitzvos are. Does our pride lead us to therefore assume it is indeed pointless, or that these levels of reality don't exist?

The more we invest ourselves in humility, the larger the world becomes.

The more we invest in our pride, the smaller the world becomes.

We can choose a vast reality - the reality of Hashem's world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bringing Miracles of Redemption

I was deeply moved recently as I read a beautiful piece in the sefer Nefesh Hachaim at the end of the first gate, chapter nine, and the accompanying commentary of Rav Bentzion Epstien (Feldheim hebrew edition of Nefesh Hachaim pp. 98-101).

Rav Chaim Volozhin explains the deep idea that Hashem set up the world in such a way that all that He wishes to give to the world is completely dependant on our actions. Hashem acts precisely corresponding to how we act.

With this premise Reb Chaim explains why Hashem told Moshe specifically not to pray when the Jews stood next to the sea of reeds. Rather Hashem told him to speak to the people and have them move into the sea. With this display of absolute trust, they would merit an 'awakening from above' that would bring about the miracle of the splitting of the sea.

In explanation of this, Rav Epstein brings down the Gr"a (who was R' Chaim's rebbe) who says that prayer would not help them at this juncture because in order for the miracle to occur, there had to be a breakthrough to the highest spiritual dimension. This dimension is one that is not dependant on actions from below but is a dimension of complete mercy, irrespective of one deserving that mercy. The prayers that they would offer would have no effect in that dimension, and thus they were to hold off on prayer at that time.

Rav Epstein goes on to explain (based on Rashi) that when the Jews stood next to the sea, they were actually being judged at that time whether they would be saved or drowned. The angel of Egypt claimed that both the Jews and the Egyptians served idolatry. If they had been judged with strict justice, they could not have made it. Prayer would not get them past that level.

So how would they be able to access the dimension above judgment, the dimension of absolute mercy?

Moshe was directed to leave any and all types of hishtadlus (concrete efforts) and to instead have the people do something which showed their absolute faith in Hashem's miracles. Acting in a manner which was למעלה מן הטבע - above nature - would ensure that Hashem would behave with them in a way that was above nature. When they showed their willingness to jump into the sea, a place impossible to sustain life, which was completely unnatural, and listen to Hashem's command, that action was reflected in Hashem's supernatural response, which was to split the sea.

In short, the way they were able to access that supernatural dimension of absolute mercy was by showing their absolute trust and faith in Hashem. That opened them to the sublime level where mercy is shown irrespective to one's level of deservedness.

Unbelievably, Rav Epstein brings numerous sources for the idea that one can merit salvation from Hashem even if one is evil, just by stepping back and placing one's complete trust in Hashem! To prove this point he brings the passuk in Tehillim (107:17) that says, "Fools will be pained from the path of their iniquity, they that eat from their despicable desires will reach the gates of death. They will call out to Hashem from their difficulty and He will save them from their desperation." We are clearly talking about a great רשע (evil person) here, and nevertheless, when he calls out to Hashem, he is immediately saved!

Finally he quotes the famous meditation of Rav Chaim Volozhin (Nefesh Hachaim third gate, chapter twelve) where one focuses completely on the fact that Hashem is God, and there is no other but Him. If one constantly focuses on this idea, no evil power in the world can affect him. This goes hand in hand with the previous idea that when one trusts completely in Hashem, he can rise above the level of strict judgment and access the dimension of pure mercy.

The reason this whole concept hit home for me was because we find that exactly the level that was needed to be accessed there at the splitting of sea is the same dimension we need to access for the miracles of Geulah. Thus, if we want to access this level, we need to learn from Hashem's directive to Moshe. We need to show our complete trust in Hashem, and also be ready to act in ways past our natural comfort level. By doing so, we will merit the supernatural miracles of Geulah, and they will bring down this unbelievable level of pure mercy.

I think it is so important to stress that this type of mercy is one that is shown whether we as a people are meritorious or not from any other perspective. Our collective emunah raises us above our level - even if we are similar in many ways to the culture around us, we can rise above it by displaying our supernatural trust in Hashem.

To me, if one looks at the type of sacrifice and trust that is necessary to live here in Eretz Yisrael, there is no greater show of a readiness to live by the ideals of emunah and bitachon. There are so many reasons not to be here, but those who make the sacrifice are opening the Jewish people up to the highest revelation of Hashem's mercy and the ultimate miracles of redemption.

The truth is that this type of emunah can be activated wherever one is. The greater the show of faith in Hashem, the greater the effect will be to bring about miracles.

This is why the final tikkun before Moshiach is working on emunah and bitachon. The more we attach ourselves to this middah, the more we will be able to merit the unconditional mercy accompanying the miracles of Moshiach, not just for ourselves, but even for those who may be less deserving than we are. May we all merit to see the day soon. Amen!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Joy of Unity

This song testifies to the great joy that unity brings. The words are הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד - how good and how nice is it when brothers sit together. When we look for the good in our friends and neighbors by judging others favorably we can find great joy in unity.

This is the next song in my new series called "A song and a thought."


Why did Yakov 'happen' to have an experience with angels just as he was running away from Esav, and again just as he was about to encounter him again?

Why did Yakov prepare so greatly for his meeting with Esav, splitting his camp up out of fear that Esav would kill part of it, but then bring out his whole family to greet him?

What is the significance of Yakov's ladder and Yakov's meeting with the angel of Esav?

What can we learn from these events?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

How Fortunate Are We

Guest post by Daniel

How Fortunate Are We, How Wonderful is Our Portion, and How Beautiful is Our Heritage

Today, the traffic-jammed street is full
Of people and not cars.

The only wheels moving
Are strollers pushed by young couples
And scooters chased by little brothers.

The many passersby have made a coup
Against traffic lights
That signal no one.

Walls of apartments on either side
Their windows open to buzzing summer air.
In flies a bee, a breeze, and blossoming jasmine.
Out flows laughter, silence, and song
From families still dining
On the dessert that is family.

One day a week,
This street transforms
Into a blessing that lacks
Impatient horns.
One day a week.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What in the world is going on?!

I try not to read the news. I try to avoid the news websites and the magazines and papers that bring the news into my home. The news dazzles and confuses. We can always find some tragedy to hold up and either cry from or encourage ourselves with, saying that surely Moshiach is on his way.

But reading the news is like putting on dark glasses that block one's view of reality.

Part of the problem is that no matter what we read we are completely missing the point.

A while ago, I read the headline that said Olmert is giving 250 prisoners to Abbas as a good-will gesture.

My blood began to boil. Is he nuts? On PA television, Abbas is spurring on his people to more and more hatred of the Jews living next door, and we need to show him good will?

As the juices start running in my head I catch myself. I let out a laugh! This makes no sense!

The joke is that the thought is so ludicrous it is clearly Hashem peeking out from behind the scenes.

Hashem you say? In Olmert's idiocy? Come now, you must be kidding. Olmert is just a fool who somehow made it into a position of power by a fluke. Soon we will be rid of him and all will be well. But to say that Hashem is behind his lunacy?

But get this, folks. If you want to find Hashem, you actually have to look for the joke. Find the point that makes absolutely no sense. That is where He is found. How do I explain that?

Things start to make sense when we internalize the fact that Hashem Himself is pulling all the strings. He is placing all of the chess pieces in their positions in order to bring about the final checkmate. He is putting the ideas in the heads of the leaders of each country, orchestrating events so that a beautiful concerto will soon be heard. As the orchestra gets in tune and is about to start playing, the room sounds like a rather awful cacophony. One would be hard pressed to believe that a symphony is about to be heard.

Then the conductor lifts his wand and the whole room is silent, and the music begins.

One could think that the music has only just begun, but in truth, the music was written before and each musician received the musical notes specially prepared for the part he was to play. The conductor also invested much time and effort placing each instrument in its proper place. The wind instruments in their place, the strings in theirs, the brass in theirs, and the percussive instruments in theirs. The concert actually began long before the conductor raised his wand.

One with a discerning ear can indeed hear the music long before. Such a person sees the careful placement and planning, yet hears the cacophony directly preceding the symphony and is struck with the utter humor of the situation. Others will notice the irony only in retrospect. Still others will miss the fact that there ever was an irony to begin with.

We can choose the group we wish to be a part of.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Generation of Moshiach

My wife recently bought me the second volume of the wonderful book Machat Shel Yad by my rebbe Rav Yitzchok Frankel. The first book came out about a year ago on Braishis, and even though I got it toward the end of the parshios in Braishis, I read the whole thing from cover to cover. It was difficult to put down.

Perusing excitedly through the new book on Shemos, I found myself in Parshas Tetzaveh where Rav Frankel speaks about the phenomenon of Moshe's complete absence from that parsha. He speaks of Moshe's humility, which is a reflection of Hashem's. He spends a page speaking of Hashem's humility and as I read it I was incredibly moved.

Here I quote (from page 246):
The fact that the infinite Being should lower Himself to take interest in those tiny dots on Earth called human beings is an amazing concept, so much so that many of the ancient philosophers could not comprehend it nor would they believe such a thing to be true. This disbelief in Hashem's tremendous humility has continued even into modern times where we find great intellects such as Albert Einstein unable to comprehend how the Creator of the universe could be concerned with the little details of a human being's life.

Contrary to their way of looking at things, this trait of Hakadosh Boruch Hu actually reveals His true greatness and power. How so? It is not so impressive when a strong man picks up a heavy object. It is not so amazing when a lofty person acts aloof. But if Someone who is immeasurably great is capable of involvement with something immeasurably small, this is a true proof of His greatness. To borrow a metaphor from Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus זצ"ל, let's imagine the renowned giant Og Melech Habashan. For him to lift a great boulder is no big deal. But can he squeeze himself into a matchbox? Hashem can do even this, so to speak. He concerns Himself with the little details of a little Jew's life. This type of humility is a truly staggering level of greatness.

We see this trait of Hashem most clearly and decisively in the month of Adar. The miracle of Purim took place ata time when K'lal Yisrael were not deserving of miracles as in previous generations. It comes as no surprise to hear of miracles occurring in the days of Dovid Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech. In those days, the Shechinah was revealed in all its glory in the Bais Hamikdash. But after the Babylonian exile, under Persian rule, did the battered and lowly remnant of a people expect to see miracles such as this?

Yet, Hashem brought Himself to relate even to their low level. In this way, it was even a greater miracle than the ones that took place in the times of Israel's greatness. In spite of the iron barrier that was erected between us and Hashem when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, Hashem saw our plight nonetheless. As it says in Shir Hashirim 2:9, "He observes through the openings; He peeks through the cracks." Hashem's hashgacha did not leave us.

I was deeply touched by these words, and could only think that despite the fact that Klal Yisrael has never been in a worse spiritual state then we are now, nevertheless the greatest redemption will come from this state. Hashem will soon show His infinite greatness by displaying His incredible humility, caring for His people even in their most lowly state. What greater sign of Geulah can one find? What greater consolation can there be?

This is also a concept that is echoed in the fact that when Hashem redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt, He was manifest through His name אקיה אשר אקיה. This name corresponds to the concept of כתר - Keser. This represents the greatest mercy of Hashem, the mercy that is beyond the intellect and beyond understanding. We as a people had sunken to the lowest levels in Egypt, and logically were not deserving of the miracles and redemption that Hashem had in store. We were not worthy to be separated and singled out when the plagues occurred only to the Egyptians. Despite the logic, Hashem manifested with Keser, which was above logic and brought about the Exodus from Egypt.

Similarly, when the final redemption is to occur, there is a notion that Hashem again will manifest with the name אקיה אשר אקיה and the middah of Keser - transcending logic and raising His people from their lowly defiled state to rise above all to truly be a light unto the nations, במהרה בימינו אמן.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do not fear at all

Many things in life can make us fearful. Whether it is the fate of our livelihood, the fate of our children, the fate of our people in Israel, or the fate of the world. When our faith is placed solely in Hashem, we need not fear.

Rebbe Nachman says "כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאד והעיקר לא לפחד כלל" - the whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear at all. When we know Hashem is taking care of us and protecting us we can truly place our trust completely in Him and face our challenges with confidence.

Click here to hear my rendition of the classic song, composed by Rabbi Baruch Chait.

Those who talk...

A while ago I had a conversation with a certain well-known rav, who is a talmid of the mekubal Rav Moshe Shapiro. I mentioned to him a few things that strongly implied that Moshiach may be on the very near horizon, and I was curious what Rav Shapiro was saying on this matter.

He told me that Rav Shapiro had said something very profound:

Those who talk don't know, and those who know don't talk.


The issue that we address in this week's parsha podcast is where Leah was at in the whole con game that Lavan had in store for Yaakov's marriage to Rochel.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The end of the psak

People have asked if I have found anything further.

I have received a number of emails from people who either asked themselves or sent a letter to him and his response was the same, "שקר וכזב" - absolutely false.

You can see a similar story here.

One final thing is that people were very quick to send the first part of the story. I would greatly appreciate if all those who gave links to this site or pasted the story into an email (or received the original for that matter) would please do the same for the second half of the story.

I would also appreciate if any comments are added for what ever reason, that it be kept in mind that my intention was not to mislead anyone. I honestly believed the story was accurate, or I would not have written it. It would have been much easier for me to leave the story and let people think what they would, rather than write a follow up displaying my error.

Thank you in advance.

you'll find the post here:

Monday, December 1, 2008


Are you looking for a little pick me up? Rebbe Nachman says that it is a great mitzvah to always be joyous. Here's a little song that might help.

It's part of a new podcast series I am working on, which you should be able to find on itunes already (in the section on Judaism) and I hope to have up on my website soon bezras Hashem.