Friday, January 30, 2009

Bo - Water, blood and the Moon

What is the connection between the first plague's blood, and the blood of the Pesach offering that protected the Jews from the last plague?

Why was the first plague on the water of the Nile as well as the final downfall of the Egyptians via the water of the Yam Suf?

Why was the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh given at this point?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Swallowing pride

Guest post by Daniel

My ga'ava (pride) got the best of me today.

I called my family to wish them mazal tov on their recent simcha. And the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "Why didn't anyone call and tell me! I had to hear the news from a person who heard from someone else over the internet!" So much for wishing "mazal tov."

In parshas Bo, Hashem says to Pharaoh, "Until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me?" (Shemos 10:3)

The Mizrachi and Sifesi Chachamim comment that "humbled" here could have been interpreted as "afflicted before Me" or "subjugate yourself before Me." However, Hashem did not want to afflict nor subjugate Pharaoh. The plagues were intended to humble Pharoah, which is why Rashi uses the word "humbled."

Pharaoh is the epitome of arrogance. Pharoah the arrogant said, "the Nile is mine and I have formed it for myself." (Yechezkel 29:3).

The plagues are sent to humble this creature who represents complete arrogance and pride. Yet what did it take to bring him down, to bring down the arrogance and pride? It took great wonders and miracles - all of the plagues and the splitting of the sea!

With this in mind, it becomes easier (at least for me) to forgive myself, instead of beat myself, for slipping in the daily struggle with my yetzer hara over this matter. Only when I'm at peace with myself do I stand a chance of overcoming my yetzer. And after all, Hashem is forgiving me, so shouldn't I?

Rav Kook zt"l said:

“The man who constantly frets over his own sins and those of the world should constantly forgive himself and the world.

By doing so he will draw forth forgiveness and the light of kindness…and bring joy to G-d and man…And he will earn the blessing reserved for Abraham: “there is no generation without one like Abraham.”
(Erpalei Tohar, 53-4)

In my experience, even just remaining silent in the face of my pride requires great mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice). And it is mesiras nefesh that has always been the source of our People's redemption. May the Redemption come speedily in our days.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama and Moshe's staff

After reading Shirat Devorah's post about the gematria of Obama's name coinciding with the gematria of דצ"ך עד"ש באח"ב, a little bell went off in my head, reminding me of what I saw in my rebbe's book "Machat Shel Yad" (pp. 39-43).

There Rabbi Frankel mentions that the matteh that Moshe used to perform all the miracles in Mitzrayim was inscribed with precisely those letters. He brings down the mishnah in Pirkei Avos that says that this staff was one of the ten things created right before the first Shabbos of Beraishis. It seems this staff goes all the way back to the beginning (ראש).

My gut tells me that Obama will be the rod that Hashem uses to punish the world with, and that he was prepared long ago for the role he is to play in the endgame.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The right accent

Guest post by Daniel.

I recently heard this at a halacha class in the name of Rav Kanievsky:

Because people sometimes put the accent on the wrong part of words, theoretically, a person could go their entire life without every really saying krias Shema, ch'v! (that's the R' Kanievsky part)

What matters in krias Shema and krias HaTorah is if the wrong accent or wrong vowel changes the meaning of the word.

Sometimes the meaning is not changed, in which case interrupting the Torah reader or repeating verses that you recited inaccurately is unnecessary. However, sometimes the simplest mis-accent can change the meaning entirely.

Read the line below out loud or in your head and notice where you put the accents.
V'ahavta et Ado-nai Elo-hecha...v'shinantam l'vanecha, v'dibarta bam...

Now which of the two accent versions below match what you said aloud?
V'ahavtA et Ado-nai Elo-hecha...v'shinantAm l'vanecha, v'dibartA bam...
V'ahAvta et Ado-nai Elo-hecha...v'shinAntam l'vanecha, v'dibArta bam...

If you said the first version (V'ahavtA), you are saying these words correctly. If you said the second version (V'ahAvta) you are saying it incorrectly. This is confirmed by the placement of the cantillation trope on those words.

Does a Little Accent Really Matter?

Yes. The meaning of the whole sentence changes!

V'ahavtA is the command form, "love" - "thou shalt love Hashem"
V'ahAvta is the past tense form, "you loved" - "and you loved Hashem"

The above two versions translated:
V'ahavtA et Ado.nai Elo.hecha...v'shinantAm l'vanecha, v'dibartA bam...

"Love Hashem your G-d...and teach them to your children, and speak of them...

"V'ahAvta et Ado.nai Elo.hecha...v'shinAntam l'vanecha, v'dibArta bam...
"You loved Hashem your G-d...and taught them to your children, and spoke of them..."

Proper Krias Shema
Generally, if you read the Shema with the cantillation trope, you will be forced by the trope to put the accent in the correct part of the word. Even if you don't know what the trope sounds like, you may be able to still use the trope notes as a visual guide for accenting.

You can also just remember that the command form of a verb usually places the accent on the last syllable, whereas the past tense form of a verb places the accent on the second to last syllable.


"hevei zahir bekalah kebechamurah she- ein atah yodea mattan secharan shel mitzvot."
Be as scrupulous about lighter commandments as you are about the most stringent norms for one cannot know the corresponding reward of different commandments.

Va'era - fall of the river god

What is the connection between the makka of blood and the current economic crisis?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rav Shapiro on Moshiach

I thought it appropriate to share something I heard during the Lebanon war. At the time, I spoke to a certain rav I am close with in Jerusalem, who is a student of Rav Moshe Shapiro. Rav Shapiro is a 'ba'al machshava' (codename for a mekubal), who many of us know through his teachings which have been given over in English by his student Rabbi Akiva Tatz. I am always interested in Rav Shapiro's take on things, and so I asked him then what the Rav was saying.

He told me that Rav Shapiro said that the Geulah process is similar to a birthing process. Just like when the birth is about to take place there are painful contractions, so too there will be painful episodes (such as the Lebanon war) as Moshiach approaches. And just as when a woman is laboring, the contractions become more frequent as the birth is imminent, so too will the difficult situations increase in frequency (ר"ל) as Moshiach is imminent.

I think it is important to add that this can give us a deeper understanding of the Geulah process. A woman who is laboring undergoes pain, but the pain is not because of something destructive, but rather it is pain with a purpose - the child she is about to birth. That knowledge can give her the ability to bear the difficult pain. It does not take away the pain, but it does change her conception of the pain.

When we endure the pain of war here, despite the physical casualties of the loss of life, and despite the emotional difficulty of the loss of esteem, if we remain aware that the pain is constructive, we can bear the pain, and even thank Hashem for it, knowing that this very pain will bring about the greatest joy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ruach Hakodesh today

Does Ruach Hakodesh still exist today? I would like to share a number of quotes from Rav Aryeh Kaplan's book "Handbook of Jewish Thought." I will give the page references, and I highly recommend seeing the book itself for a better understanding, as there are numerous footnotes that will direct you to the sources of the statements.

Pages 86-87:

6:18 The lowest level of inspiration is Divine guidance that is granted to a person without his knowledge. This was the minimal attainment of all the great Biblical and Talmudical leaders, who were guided by God in all their words and deeds. It is thus written, "God's council is with those who fear Him" (Psalms 25:14). Such inspiration also marked the beginning of the careers of the prophets.

6:19 The gift of Divine guidance is granted to those who teach Torah publicly, bringing the people closer to God. It is thus written, "This book of the Torah shall not depart from you... and you shall observe everything written in it, for then you shall... have good success" (Joshua 1:8). Therefore, any Torah leader whose works have been accepted by all Israel is assumed to have been divinely guided.

6:20 This gift is attainable by any person, at any time or place, as long as the person makes himself worthy of it.

On page 87, in note 33, Rav Kaplan writes, "Actually, the Talmud states that Ruach Hakodesh ceased to exist after the death of the last prophets, see below, note 258. This is speaking of the level described in 6:21 or 6:27 [higher levels of Divine inspiration then what we are talking about here - ag]."

On page 206, in regards to the original semicha which went back to Moshe Rabbenu, he writes:

10:33 The greatest Torah scholars of each generation are automatically qualified for ordination. It is thus written, "You shall go to the... judge who shall be in those days" (Deuteronomy 17:9). This indicates that each generation has its own standard.

Pages 241-242:

12:25 In every generation, there are certain rabbis who, because of their great scholarship and piety, are generally accepted as religious leaders and authorities, as it is written, "You must observe all that they decide for you" (Deuteronomy 17:10). Although this commandment relates specifically to the Sanhedrin, it also applies to the religious leaders of each generation.

On page 248, in speaking of the community rav, he states:

12:44 In all such cases, the rabbi must depend on his own judgment. He can be secure in the promise of Divine guidance, as it is written, "Consider what you do, for you judge not for man, but for God, and He is with you in your decision" (2 Chronicles 19:6).

Finally, on page 286, Rav Kaplan finishes the book with the following:

13:84 One of the fundamental unvoiced concepts of Judaism is that God reveals His will to us, not only through prophecy, but in the common destiny of all who seek Him. Therefore, even such seemingly prosaic concepts as legal decisions and customs partake of God's continuous process of revelation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seeing the Light

Guest post by Daniel

I've been learning Mishna Berura yomi. I did not expect to find mystical lessons in halacha. However, I clearly had a misunderstanding for how deep Torah truly is.

With enough halacha, you start to see patterns about the nature of the world. Below is what I have discovered so far about the function of Light.

Uses of flames in halachah:

Coins and Fingernails
HALACHAH: Before (or during, but not after! see note below) the blessing over the Shabbos havdalah flame is said, one must be close enough to the flame to tell the difference between the coin of his land and a foreign coin. Today we say, the difference between his fingernails and the skin around them.

Thus, the definition of benefiting from light is acquiring the ability to distinguish between one thing and another.

The function of Light is to make distinctions.

Now we can dig deeper...

HALACHAH: If a candle is found in the beis midrash or synagogue, it is assumed that it is used for one of two purposes.
A) To honor the Shechinah (G-d's Presence)
B) To allow the Torah scholar to read from his holy books

To honor the Shechinah - light makes the distinction that this is not just any other room; this is a makom kadosh a holy site. You must act accordingly. Light has now instructed a behavior modification!

To allow the Torah scholar to read - light makes the distinction between "Black Fire" and "White Fire." Some say that the black letters are called "Black Fire" and the white space around the letters is called "White Fire." Were it not for the candles light, the whole page would be black; there would be no distinction, and thus no Torah to read from!

Yom Kippur vs. other Yamim tovim - light makes the distinction between Yom Kippur and all other yamim tovim (holidays). Unlike all other yamim tovim when limited use of fire is permitted, on Yom Kippur we don't use fire whatsoever. Therefore Yom Kippur havdalah uniquely requires a flame to point out this distinction.

Shabbos vs. Chol - in this case, light makes a distinction beyond the obvious distinction between Shabbos and Chol (weekday). Unlike the flame of Yom Kippur havdalah, the flame of Shabbos havdalah should preferably be newly lit, not coming from an existing flame. Why? Because the flame of Shabbos havdalah is in remembrance of Adam HaRishon's discovering fire on the first motza'e Shabbos following Creation.

Thus, our Shabbos havdalah light does not just distinguish between Shabbos and Chol. Rather, it makes the distinction between Mankind's mastery over nature, and the Jew's relinquishing this power for the sake of Shabbos. We are mevater (relinquish) our power over nature for the sake of our marriage with the Creator, which is Shabbos.

In 'light' of all this, what distinctions do you think are made from the following types of Light?

(Mishlei 6:23) "The Mitzvah is a lamp; and Torah, light."
(Mishlei 20:27) "The soul of man is the candle of G-d."
(Ovadiah 1:18) "The house of Ya'akov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw; and they will ignite them and devour them."
Or how about, "a light unto the nations."

May we soon merit the Redemption and all the light that it will bring.

Note on havdalah flame:
Nonetheless, this procedure of examining our nails is classified as a custom and even if one merely enjoyed benefit from the ner without examining one's nails one has fulfilled the obligation (MB 298:9 and see OC 298:4).

However, if he were not close enough to benefit from the light, even if he answers amen to the leader's blessing, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. After havdalah, he should go back to the flame and benefit from it and say his own blessing. He can do this throughout motza'e Shabbos.

It is not preferable for each individual to say the blessings of the flame and of the spices one at a time, as some people mistakenly think, says the Mishna Berura - preference in this case is to increase the number of people fulfilled via the leader's blessing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Worth fighting for

My sister in New York shared the following about a Rav and his son who very recently spent time here in Israel. They came to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, and as part of his trip here, they decided to deliver pizza to the troops fighting in Gaza. As the rabbi and his son were giving the soldiers their pizza, one of the soldiers turned to them and said, "It's people like you that make it worth fighting."

Anavim anavim

Here's a clip of my son Moshe Dov singing at my sister's wedding recently. The song was composed by Yossi Green, and the words are from the Yalkut, which I explained at length in a previous post:
שנו רבותינו בשעה שמלך המשיח בא עומד על גג בית המקדש והוא משמיע להם לישראל ואומר ענוים הגיע זמן גאולתכם ואם אין אתם מאמינים ראו באורי שזרח עליכם.
Our Rabbis taught; When the king Moshiach comes, he stands on the roof of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) and he makes heard to the people of Israel and says, "Humble ones, the time for your redemption has arrived. And if you do not believe, see my light that shines upon you."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shemos - Women and Geulah

In this week's Parsha Podcast, we explore the significance of the major role women played in the redemption of the Jewish people from the Egyptian bondage.

The Moon and the war - part two

As I was reading the article mentioned in the previous post about the moon, I wondered what the significance is to the phenomenon that the tides and waves are caused by the moon's gravity. What could the message behind this be?

I was נתעורר to some interesting thoughts when I saw a piece from the Ben Ish Chai.

He is explaining how the concept of מים - water - has to do with the concept of מודים - admitting. He points out that if you spell out the letters of מים you get the following: מ"ם יו"ד מ"ם. When you take the middle letters, you find the word מודים. We need, of course, to understand what this signifies.

I started thinking about something we say at קידוש לבנה. We say כשם שאני רוקד כנגדך ואיני יכול לנגוע בך כך לא יוכלו כל אויבי לנגוע בי לרעה - just as I am dancing in front of you and I can not touch you (the Moon), so should my enemies be unable to touch me for evil. As we say this, we raise our feet in a little dance, similar to the motion of kedusha.

This also needs explanation. What kind of tefillah is this? Just like I can't touch the moon, my enemies should not be able to touch me? This seems like such a strange thing to say. What's the פשט?

Coming back to the concept of the Moon, it has no light of its own - all its light is from the Sun. It represents Klal Yisrael who reflect the light of Hashem, but it also represents the idea that one can only accomplish when we recognize that we have no power of our own. וזכרת את ה' אלוקיך כי הוא הנותן לך כח לעשות חיל - you should remember Hashem your God, for He is the one who gives you power to be mighty. When we forget where our success stems from, we lose our might. When we realize that we are only reflecting Hashem's light, it indeed shines brightly through us. When we think we produce our own light, Hashem allows us to try to create our own, and we are left with nothing.

When we make that motion, up and down, reaching for the Moon and recognizing that it is beyond our grasp, we inject humility into ourselves. We have learned the lesson of the Moon that only reflects the Sun's light and does not create its own. This humility is what gives us the power against our enemies - the power that is Hashem's - ה' ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון - Hashem will fight for you and you will be quiet! This, I believe, is what we are saying - Just as I am dancing and can not reach you (humility!), so should my enemies be unable to touch me for evil (with Hashem's help).

It struck me that this motion that we do as we reach for the Moon and recognize our inability, is the same motion that waves do. They go up and down, up and down, constantly pulled by the gravity of the moon, constantly reaching up and coming back toward Earth. The motion of the water itself hints to that power of הודאה - of admitting. The waters are pulled to admit by the ultimate representation of admittal - the Moon. This is why the word מים contains the word מודים, because the motion of the worlds waters teaches us the lesson of הודאה.

This could also be why the Torah, which is compared to water, can only be acquired with humility. The Gemara in Nedarim says ממדבר מתנה וממתנה נחליאל - כיון שעושה אדם עצמו כמדבר שהוא הפקר לכל תורה נתנה לו במתנה - when a person makes himself like a wilderness - ownerless to all - the Torah is given to him as a present. The Torah can only be acquired by one who has made himself empty of ego, because the Torah is the ultimate source of Hashem's light, which can only shine through one who has no light of his own.

I heard the following story from a reliable source close to the Gadol about whom this story was told.

It was Friday, the seventh day of the Gaza war, and the ground troops were getting ready to invade Gaza that Friday night. The shamash of the Gadol received a phone call from one of the higher ups in the Israeli army, who asked to receive a bracha for the impending military operation. When the shamash brought this request to the Gadol, he responded that he could not give a bracha for the operation if it would begin that night, as it would involve too much desecration of Shabbos. Not only that, but the operation would not see any סימן ברכה if it began on Shabbos.

The Shamash called back the general and relayed the words of the Gadol. The response was that the army had strong reason to believe that Hamas would begin attacking over Shabbos, and they wanted to begin with a surprise attack. The shamash reiterated the Gadol's words that if they would begin the operation on Shabbos, they would see no סימן ברכה, and added the Gadol's reassurance that nothing would happen over Shabbos.

Indeed, nothing happened over Shabbos, and on Motsaei Shabbos, the shamash received a call from the same general. He said that the army had decided to take the Gadol's advice into account, and had waited until after Shabbos to begin. The Gadol gladly granted the requested bracha, and the operation then began.

The power of this story is that there was a surge of humility that would be with the entire IDF throughout its fight against this enemy whose entire existence is pride. Hashem has shown tremendous miracles at every stage, and continues to do so. Let us hope that the humility will continue, and Hashem will surely continue to shine His light through us, until it bursts forth to the entire world, may it be speedily in our days.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The siren's message

At about one PM today, we here in Ramat Bet Shemesh heard the sound that has become normal for the residents of the south.

My four year old daughter and her nursery class were all guided to crouch under their desks, and were told they would receive a candy. They davened together with their Morah.

My wife was in a taxi, whose driver quickly pulled into a parking area with an overhang.

I was in Shul where they were in middle of davening Mincha.

My son was in cheder, and was later upset because he didn't hear the siren.

Someone else shared with me that his fourteen year old daughter came home especially scared because there are girls in her class who are here from the south - to get away from the sirens - and they were totally petrified when it went off here, and in turn scared all the other girls.

As we nervously tried to figure out if it was a drill or the real thing, I experienced a certain sense of satisfaction. I am finally part of my people's suffering.

After Mincha, I was learning the Parsha and came across another strikingly relevant Rabbenu Bachai. The pesukim at the end of פרק ב speak of how Paroh died, and the Jewish people called out to Hashem from their difficult labor. He says that the time for the קץ had arrived, but it was still necessary for them to call out. Only the prayer of the Jewish people crying out because of difficulty has the power to come in front of Hashem. It was that heartfelt plea, the result of suffering, that started the Geulah process, whose time had come. This is why the subsequent pesukim immediately speak of Moshe's experience with the burning bush - the Geulah process had begun.

Rabbenu Bachai finishes off by saying that just as it was thus in regards to the גאולת מצרים, so it shall be with the final Geulah.

When trying to understand why it must be this way, we need to understand why only this type of tefillah enters before Hashem.

I believe the answer is that in order to get into the area of לפני ולפנים - the inner sanctuary where Hashem's essence is found (so to speak), is only if it comes from the לפני ולפנים - the very essence of the person himself. When do we truly call out from our very depths? Only when the difficulty strikes us at the very depths.

The Jewish people called out to Hashem at this point in Mitzrayim because they saw there was no hope. They saw there was no end in sight and the difficulties were only getting deeper. When a person calls out from that place, it reaches to the highest Place.

When the current situation touches us personally, that's when we will call out, and that is when we will be answered.

The seed of redemption is in the suffering - it is darkest before the dawn.

The Moon and the war

החודש הזה לכם, ראש חדשים - This [lunar] month is for you, first of the months.

These were the words that Hashem said to Moshe, giving the Jewish people its first national mitzvah. Henceforth, the Moon would represent us, having no light of its own, reflecting the light of the Sun. We, the Jewish people, also have no light of our own, we just reflect the light that Hashem shines upon us. The less we try to shine our own light, the more Hashem's light shines.

We find numerous sources linking the Moon to the Jewish people. She is our representative, and we dance with her every month as she begins to wax larger, coming into view. We encourage her with words we ourselves need to hear - soon you will be returned to your former glory. Soon your light will shine as it did on the six days of Creation. Soon the whole world will reflect the Light of Hashem, and we, the Jewish people, will also reflect His light, being returned to our rightful status, a true reflection of His Kingship.

I came across this article which tells of a unique occurrence that has not happened since 1993, and will not happen again until 2016. The full Moon of December (Kislev) and January (Teves) were significantly larger and brighter than usual - "14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser Moons." This was because the Moon was at its closest point in its elliptical orbit as it came into view at the middle of the lunar month. This also had a significant effect, raising the tides about 15 centimeters, as the tides are dependent on the Moon's gravitational pull.

As I was reading this, I was touched by the clear showing of Hashem's love for us. He guided things so that the current war we are facing would come out in this time when the Moon is largest, representing the idea that our spiritual power is greatest. We have merited great miracles in this war on many fronts, and we have merited a sense of Achdus and purpose. We have seen a display of the spiritual in places we would not have expected, and this is 'reflected' in the Moon that accompanies us, testifying to our spiritual power, which is but a reflection of Hashem's Infinite Light.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Great Hilchos Shabbos Video

This is one of the best Torah videos I have seen. Featured on it are Rav Shimon Isaacson and Rav Edo Lavi, both wonderful members of the Ramat Bet Shemesh community.

You can find more great Torah videos like this on

Shavuos and Moshe

The passuk tells us that Moshe was born, and Yocheved hid him for three months. The Gemara says that she gave birth three months before the Egyptians guessed, because she had gotten pregnant three months before she had gotten remarried to Amram, when was before she had received her divorce from him. The Egyptians counted nine months from the remarriage, not realizing she was pregnant from before. Thus she was able to keep him hidden in her home for three months. At that point she had no choice but to put him in the river, where he would be found by Batya.

Rabbenu Bachai points out that Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar. If we count three months later, we land on the sixth of Sivan, which is Shavuos. He says that the day would be a day of distress and salvation for Moshe. It was a day of distress because his life was in jeopardy as he was placed in the river, and a day of salvation, for on it he would receive the Torah.

Perhaps this hints to the possibility that Shavuos has the potential to be a significant day in the Geulah process.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Leadership qualities

I'm currently reading an amazing book by Stephen Covey, entitled "The Eighth Habit." I have found this book, as well as his bestselling "Seven Habits" book to be very insightful and relevant. I am amazed at how much of what he writes is actually based on very lofty concepts taught in sifrei machshava, but the truth is that the sfarim hakedoshim speak of the root of reality, and Covey's books להבדיל speak accurately of the reality we see, which is a reflection of that root.

I'd like to share a short quote, which speaks of leadership, but applies to each and every one of us. We are all leaders, whether we are aware or not. Some of us are leaders in our families, some of us in the classroom, some at work, and some in the Shul. We are all leaders because every move we make is seen by others, and every interaction we have with another has the ability to empower another human being, or to disempower them ח"ו.

That being the case, we need to understand what true leadership is, and if we listen carefully, we will see it applies to each and every one of us. If we look carefully, we will also see that it something that is completely dependent on our level of pride/humility.

Covey says has the following question and answer (on page 122):

Q: How would you define leadership?

A: Again, leadership is communicating people's worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves. Notice the words worth and potential. People must feel an intrinsic sense of worth - that is, that they have intrinsic value - totally apart from being compared to others, and that they are worthy of unconditional love, regardless of behavior or performance. Then when you communicate their potential and create opportunities to develop and use it, you are building on a solid foundation. To communicate people's potential and to give them a sense of extrinsic worth is a flawed foundation, and their potential will never be optimized.

Try to give that paragraph another read, and think about how our lives would be different if others would treat us this way. Then realize how we can affect others by living in consonance with this ideal.

Kindergarten Dreams

Our sages tell us that since we no loner have Nevi'im, prophecy was given to fools and children.

Towards the beginning of the current Gaza war, my four year old daughter woke in the morning and told us her dream.

She said that in her dream, the bad men were trying to take away the children from gan (nursery), but all the children were home.

I think that this was a very good dream. May Hashem continue to protect His children, and all of our children. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nefesh Hachaim

I have now begun a new book in my Daily Kabbalah Lesson.

Episode 101 starts Nefesh Hachaim. This book contains fundamental and core issues that will change the way you think about your relationship with Hashem and Torah.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Feeling their pain

I heard a few interesting stories and thoughts over Shabbos.

The one that I got the most from was told by the Rav of my shul.

This past week, a couple in Jerusalem came to him with the following scenario. The husband had decided to get his wife something special for her birthday recently. He chose a food that he knew she liked very much. When he brought it to her, she responded with great appreciation for his thoughtfulness, but she declined to eat it. When asked why, she explained that she had accepted upon herself that as long as the Jews in the south of Israel are suffering with constant missile bombardment, she would not eat any treats or delicacies, except on Shabbos. She could not enjoy these things as long as her brethren were in pain. Being that this treat could not be saved, she would not be able to eat it.

When we think about how we can relate to the difficulty of our brothers and sisters who have been driven out of their homes, we find it hard to really connect. This woman was able to find something tangible to do that would allow her to share in the pain of those who are suffering, to make it her own. Perhaps we can do the same.

My rav also said that when we show 'solidarity' for our fellow Jews who are suffering here in Eretz Yisroel, it is completely different from any other nation showing solidarity for their suffering brethren. The way we show solidarity is by davening and saying Tehillim and strengthening our Mitzvah observance, Torah study and dedication to our relationship with Hashem. When we do this, not only do we show that we have our brothers' suffering in mind, but we actually give them spiritual strength - the strength they need to overcome the obstacles they face.

When you daven for a soldier in Israel, you are literally helping that soldier defeat his enemy, and come out unharmed.

My rav also explained that when Yakov spoke of his gift of Shechem to Yosef, he referred to it as the place he acquired with his "sword and bow." Onkelos explains that the "sword" is the prayer, and the "bow" is the request. My rav explained that the sword is something that once one's enemy is close, one does not require a tremendous amount of skill to attack and destroy him. The bow requires precision, but one who aims properly can take out his enemy from a great distance.

The same thing is true of our tefillos. The tefilla that we say every day is like a sword that does not require the same tremendous effort to have an effect. That effect, however, may not be as far reaching. When we invest extra effort and kavana in a special tefilla for our brethren who are suffering, this is like the bow and arrow that when properly aimed can have a long range effect.

Let us all try to take this to heart and invest our efforts in feeling for our brothers and sisters who are in pain. A little extra tefilla with kavana and a little extra sensitivity can go a long way to helping us here in Eretz Yisroel, no matter where you may be.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Yosef and the wealth of redemption

My wife recently read the book "Let My Nation Descend" by Yosef Deutsch, which details the account of the sale of Yosef, culminating with the young nation of Israel journeying to Egypt. She shared a remarkable part of the story with me that I thought was both interesting and thought provoking.

On page 214, he brings down that during the years of famine, Yosef amassed an unbelievable amount of wealth from all of the different nations that came to him for food. According to Rav Aryeh Kaplan's assessment in his translation of the Yalkut Me'am Loez, in present day value, it would surpass the value of billions of dollars.

What did Yosef do with the money?

R' Deutsch brings down that half of the money was stored in the secure royal treasury. The second half was subdivided into three parts which were stored in different secret places. Hashem's promise to Avraham would be fulfilled with this wealth - the Jews would leave Egypt with fabulous riches.

Interestingly, he says that the three caches of money came from three different sources - Egyptian idol worshippers, criminals, and those who observed the Noachide commandments (lehavdil). When the Jews would leave Egypt many years later, Korach found one of the three sets of treasure, and that wealth was lost when Korach was swallowed by the ground after his rebellion. The second treasure would later be found by Antoninus of Rome, and the third treasure is reserved for the tzadikim in the times of Moshiach.

What is most remarkable to me in this whole description is that Yosef himself was the one who collected all of the money that the Jews left Egypt with at Yetzias Mitrayim, as well as the money that would be given to the righteous after the final Geulah. There is clearly something more to this than a cute side note to history.

It seems to me be'H, that here is another example of the role of Moshiach ben Yosef, and most interestingly, it is being performed by Yosef himself. One of the roles of Moshiach ben Yosef is that he is in charge of the physical welfare of the Jewish people, and he is also involved in the final rectification of wealth (see again Rebbe Nachman's story "The Master of Prayer").

What does this mean? I believe it is as follows.

To understand, we need to ask another question. Why is it important for the Jewish people to leave Egypt with tremendous wealth? Also, why is it important for the righteous to have this great wealth in the times of Moshiach?

I think the answer starts with the Rambam at the end of hilchos Melachim. There he says that the prophets and sages did not desire the days of Moshiach so that we would rule over the world and no longer be beholden to the other nations. Rather, it was so we could spend our time completely involved in the study of Torah, with no other worries or distractions.

What is the number one distraction from learning Torah (besides for the internet)? It is when a person lacks for his livelihood. When all a person's physical needs are taken care of, then he can completely focus on his service of Hashem and his Torah learning.

Similar to the times of Moshiach when our sole occupation will be learning Torah, when the Jews left Mitzrayim, they were headed toward forty years of Torah learning - nonstop! This would only be possible if they would have no worries in regards to their livelihood. Of course they would experience the miracle of the Mon falling, but that was something that they didn't 'have in the bag.' The fact that their 'safety deposit box' was full was what perhaps could give them the reassurance that there was nothing to worry about. All their needs were guaranteed by the wealth they Providentially left Mitzrayim with. This allowed them the peace of mind to focus all their efforts on their learning for the ensuing forty years.

It is no coincidence that this wealth was collected by Yosef, and set aside by him as well, for the Jewish people's redemption from Egypt, as well as the Jewish people's ultimate redemption. His job was to provide for the physical welfare of his people, so they could focus their undivided efforts on spiritual pursuits.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Seeds of Redemption

Guest post by Daniel

Rabbi Lazer Brody pointed out that when a seed is planted it undergoes a process before becoming a plant.

The klipah (outer shell) rots and eventually dissolves, while the core essence of the seed sprouts new birth and one day breaches the soil skyward.

As regards the sprouting of Redemption...

I don't need to point out the rotting of the shell within Israeli society - I believe the rotten parts are clear. See the results of the Winograd Commission and numerous investigations of politicians. But I will point you to two articles of green stems breaching the soil, climbimg skyward. But first...

The Redemption of the Jewish people (and thus the entire world) is a transformative process. No one knows how much of that process will be slow transformation, and how much will happen in the climactic final moments of the End of Days.

Below are two examples of slow transformation of the Jewish people as geulah (redemption) spouts.

Mitzvah #12
To learn Torah and to teach it (Deut. 6:7)

Secular Israeli parents are sending their children to Charedi (Orthodox) schools


Mitzvah #607
Appoint a priest to speak with the soldiers during the war (Deut. 20:2)

10,000 MP3s with recorded sermons of encouragement by the chief rabbis of Israel were prepared this week for distribution to combat soldiers (and more, see article)

Vayechi - Revealing Redemption

Why did Yakov need to know the time of geulah to begin with if he would subsequently lose that information?

Why can't we say Boruch Shem (after Shema) out loud?

What is the lesson of Rebbe Akiva and his candle, rooster and donkey that were lost?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast, based on a shiur of Rav Goldstein of Sharei Yosher in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fill in the blanks

Guest post by Daniel

A teacher I had in yeshiva once said to me that "nothing the Jews do right according to Torah can be used against them by the enemies of Israel."

i.e. That which klal Yisroel fails to do properly can be used against them by the enemies of Israel.

This is reflected in the Kinnos liturgy from Tisha b'Av:
"We have been made into slaves
Because we did not follow the commandment to release slaves on time.

We pay with our very lives for our bread
Because we skipped over the hands of the poor amongst us.

The women of Zion do they torture
Because the wife of our fellow we have defiled and adultered."

What can we learn, as a klal, from Hamas' war tactics?
Fill in the blanks.
In Gaza,
Our soldiers are being drawn into booby-trapped homes,
Because we...

Our soldiers are being lured into booby-trapped schools,
Because we...

Our soldiers are being chased by suicide bombers,
Because we...

Our civilians are being bombarded with rockets ("words" are likened to "arrows"),
Because we...

Our soldiers are threatened with kidnapping,
Because we...

They use underground tunnels carved out of Eretz HaKodesh (the Holy Land),
Because we...

Fill in the blanks.
I mean, we need to really fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Myrtle tree in the desert

I received this sweet email recently about my recent podcast on Chanukah.

Dear Mr. Goldwag,
Your Channukah podcast was quite touching for me personally. As a United States Peace Corps Volunteer working in Peru, I often feel isolated from the Jewish community. There are no synagogues for me to go to, and I keep my Jewish identity from the community I work with. While I am very isolated, 6.5 hours over dirt roads, from anything remotely citylike, your podcast is for me, a weekly sermon. While I am in the desert, figurely speaking, you are for me a Myrtle tree that I enjoy. Thank you for your podcast every week, as without it, I would lack entirely for Jewish commentary that wasn't included in my Tanach.
Matthew ¨Mateo¨ Rosen

Miracles in Ashdod

My wife attends a weekly shiur in chinuch from a certain Rebbetzin Fried (name changed). Rebbetzin Fried has a son who lives in Ashdod. Her son went to ask Rav Kanievsky if it was wise to remain in Ashdod, and Rav Kanievsky said that it is NOT a danger to remain there.

She then told the following story.

A few days ago, the warning siren malfunctioned and did not give people a chance to get to their bomb shelters. The missile fell and no one was hurt. It later became apparent that the place the missile had fallen was on a major bomb shelter where many people who work together normally gather. If the siren had worked properly, there would have been great casualties!

Clearly Hashem is protecting us. Keep up your tefilos wherever you are. This is our greatest protection.

Monday, January 5, 2009

10 Teves and the Gaza war

Guest post by Daniel

I heard the following over Shabbos:

This Tuesday we will be fasting the Fast of the Tenth of Teves, known as Asarah B'teves. Although this is considered a "minor" fast, it has a unique quality that we all must know about as our young men brave their way into the hornet's nest of Gaza and as rockets continue to fall on the homes of klal Yisroel.

Unlike any other non-de'oraisa fast, the fast of Asarah B'teves is done even if it falls out on Shabbos. There is only one other non-de'oraisa fast that we permit to be done on Shabbos, and that is a ta'anis chalom (fast over a traumatic dream).

The Chasam Sofer explains why Asarah B'teves and a ta'anis chalom are in the same category.

When we fast on other days of the year, such as on the 9th of Av, we are fasting over a tragedy that occurred. On the 9th of Av, we fast because the Temple was destroyed. Something tragic happened in the past, and we mourn that tragedy.

However, what happened on the Tenth of Teves? On that day, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. Thirty months later, he conquered Jerusalem on the 9th of Av. Thus, Asarah B'teves is the beginning of the churban (destruction) process, but not the churban itself.

Since every generation in which the Beis HaMikdash is not rebuilt is considered as if it were destroyed in that very generation, the fast of Asarah B'teves is also the beginning of the churban process in our generation.

So why can we fast on Shabbos if Asarah B'teves falls on Shabbos?

A ta'anis chalom is permitted to be done on Shabbos because the dreamer was graciously informed, via dream, that terrible heavenly decrees are currently being weighed upon him and/or his family. Thus, there is no time to spare, even for Shabbos, since his judgment is being weighed in the beis din shel ma'ala at this very moment. He therefore is docheh (lays aside) both his mitzvah of oneg Shabbos and his isur of fasting on Shabbos, in an attempt to remove the evil decree pressing upon him from on High.

This Tuesday begins the churban process in our generation, once again. Our fate as a nation is being weighed. The war is being played out in Gaza, but it is being directed from on High. The thoughts, speech, and deeds of every single one of klal Yisrael is being taken into account. There is no time to spare!

Please take this into your fast. Please do what must be done in your life, and in your community, especially as regards judging fellow Jews with mercy. Your family members are "fellow Jews" too!

May we be judged to be tzadikim, and not resha'im, and thus see a complete and speedy redemption of our people.

Ramchal on Geulah - Part two

The Ramchal continues:

Before the world can reach the state where the righteous receive their eternal reward, however, all life must cease and return to the dust, for at least a moment, before the revival of the dead. Then those that are fitting will rise.

When the revival of the dead occurs, both the righteous and the evil will be brought back to life. There are evil people who will not yet have received their due punishment, and they will be brought back to life and punished as befits them.

After the revival, there will be the great day of judgment, and Hashem will judge everyone, deciding who will live eternally and who will be lost to oblivion. Those who are part of the latter group will receive their due punishment and in the end will be erased completely from existence. Those who are destined to remain will be placed on the level that they deserve according to the Divine judgment.

Coming back to the days of Moshiach, there will be a great selection process for the nations of the world who exist at that time. Those that the Divine judgment will determine are fitting for destruction will die by the sword and through other punishments. Those that are fitting to remain will be saved. They will recognize the Truth and abandon their false gods. They will make themselves subservient to the children of Israel, and it will be their honor to serve the Jewish people, as they will realize that through this service they will be able to receive what they can from the Holiness and Light of Hashem.

The whole world will be drawn after service of the Creator, and there will be no idolatrous practices at all in the world. This is what the navi referred to when he said (Tzephaniah 3:9), "Then I will turn over the nations to one clear language," as well as the verse (Zechariah 14:9), "On that day Hashem will be One and His name will be one."

After all those that deserve it are prepared for eternity, each one on his level, the world will return to a state of chaos and desolation (תהו ובהו). This means that it will lose its current form, and water will return to water as it was at the beginning of Creation. In any event, the righteous ones who are prepared for eternity will be sustained by Hashem during that time like angels, without a need for this world. Nevertheless, they will still not attain the true Good that befits them until after the world has remained in this desolate state for the time that Hashem's wisdom decrees. Then the world will be renewed in a different form, appropriate for what is necessary for eternity, and the righteous will return and exist forever, enjoying the true Good, each one according to his level.

Here ends what Ramchal says in his mamar ha'ikarim. It's important to mention that elsewhere the Ramchal clearly states that this righteous group of tzadikim that exist forever contains most of the Jewish people. Only very few individuals are considered so evil that they are completely erased (the Gemara in Rosh Hashana gives the list on daf 17A). This is the idea כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא - all of the people of Israel have a portion in the next world. Some people will have to undergo greater levels of cleansing of their soul to purge the evil they have done, and some less. Ultimately, once they are purified they are included in this group of righteous individuals who exist forever, basking in Hashem's Light.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ramchal on Geulah - Part one

In the back of Feldheim's version of Derech Hashem, the Ramchal's "mamar ha'ikarim" is brought. There he has a piece on Geulah which I am reading now in my Daily Kabbalah Lesson. I thought it would be nice to write it up and put it up on the blog, so here it is.

The crown of humanity is the Jewish people, who are destined to experience the ultimate attachment and closeness to Hashem. To achieve this, they are to be crowned in holiness, and the Shechina will reside upon them, thus completing them, until they merit the true Good.

It's important to understand that although each person will receive his due reward for all of the positive actions he has done as an individual, everyone must first wait until the world reaches its completion, which does not occur until the chosen nation first is in its proper order, completed with all its crowns and attached to the Shechina. Only then does the world reach its state of completion and each individual receives the reward he has earned through his actions.

This is something that until this day has not been completed, because as soon as Man was created, he sinned. When our forefathers began, and their sons continued in their ways to become the chosen nation, this idea was still not completed, and there were a number of setbacks that prevented this completion from taking place. This is still something that needs to occur, where the Jewish nation will be completed and the whole world will in turn reach its completion, so the righteous can receive their eternal enjoyment, each according to his deeds.

In His great wisdom, Hashem set six thousand years for Man to work at reaching his perfection, after which the world would be transformed to a state where the eternal reward would be able to be given. Before the six thousand years are up, the Chosen Nation needs to stand up and reach its completed state to prepare to move into the state it will enter for all eternity. This is something that was promised to occur in any event.

The means to reach this end will be someone from the progeny of Dovid, who will be chosen by Hashem for this purpose, and Hashem will help him and give him success. He will be called the king Moshiach. In his times, and through him, the Jewish people will be rectified greatly, followed by the entire creation as well.

Good will be apparent from every direction, and evil will be completely removed, both in the spiritual and physical dimensions. Man's 'heart of stone' will be replaced with a 'heart of flesh.' This means that man will naturally be inclined to do good, in such a way that he will not be drawn at all after the physical. Instead, Man will only be drawn to serve Hashem and to the Torah, and this desire will be strengthened within him. Serenity and wealth will also increase, and there will be no damages nor losses at all, as the navi promises (Yeshaya 11:9), "There will be no evil nor destruction on all My holy mountain."

There will be no foolishness in the world, rather all the hearts will be filled with wisdom, and Divine Inspiration will be poured out upon all flesh, in such a way that all will easily merit it as the navi says (Yoel 3:1), "I will pour My spirit on all flesh." There will be great joy from all the good, and all will be attached to the Creator, serving Him completely. This way, they will rise higher and higher, until they reach the appropriate level, to be able to pass into the state of eternity that will exist when the world is renewed.

To be continued...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Thoughts under fire

This past Wednesday, I was on a bus on my way to Jerusalem for a Sheva Brachos. The bus driver had the radio on and the radio announcer was giving updates on how many missiles had fallen that day. They proceeded to interview a number of people and it was clear that there was a lot of fear.

As I was listening, I couldn't help thinking to myself that the media is aiding the Palestinians in creating a panic in the general public. When seen through the eyes of the Torah's teachings on Emunah and Bitachon, this fear, while not unfounded, is not necessary. If we trust in Hashem and know that all He does is for our best, and that He is looking out for us, we have nothing to fear.

Perhaps I do not have the right to say this, as I am living in Ramat Bet Shemesh, where there are no missiles falling, b'ezras Hashem. But my relative who lives in Sderot does. He has told me on numerous occasions that he is not afraid of the rockets. He has tremendous trust in Hashem and knows that each missile has an address. He told me that when the sirens go off there in the middle of the night, others run to their bomb shelters, but he rolls over and pulls the covers over his head.

Tonight, after I had put my son to sleep, he called out and said that he was scared. I came back to his room and he told me that he heard at a neighbor's house something about missiles that made him fearful. I told him that we can trust Hashem, who is constantly taking care of us - providing for our food and all of our needs every day - that He will continue to do so. We have special protection because we are involved in learning Torah and are committed to loving Hashem and doing His mitzvos.

I also told told him something remarkable I heard on Rabbi Chanoch Teller's tape series called "The Righteous Live On." He has a whole lecture about the Mir Yeshiva's story of survival during World War II, and how they escaped to Shanghai. During the war, Shanghai was being bombed, and unbelievably, the natives there knew that if you wanted protection, you should gravitate to the Mir bochurim, as nothing would ever happen to them!

I told my son that we too have that protection, and we have nothing to fear. אמן, כן יהי רצון

Friday, January 2, 2009

There's Hashgacha everywhere

Guest post by Daniel

The low number of Jewish casulaties from Hamas rocket fire is a great kindness to klal Yisrael. It is important to recognize such great kindness from Hashem. It is also important to recognize kindness on a personal level.

Here is a kindness that was done for me:

With my tight budget at the moment, I went to a local Judaica store a little weary of making purchases. However, I said to myself, "It's for mitzvah purposes - Hashem will help somehow." With that in mind, I purchased my oil, wicks, menorah, and a very-needed new pair of tzitzis.

The total for my mitzvah items was $34 and some change.

Three days later I received an unexpected "Chanukah" check in the mail from my grandmother for $35. Less than a dollar different from the amount I spent on mitzvah purchases at the Judaica store.

Lest you wave this away as chance, saying, "Oh, well anyone is bound to get some money from a relative this time of year," there is more: the check was dated for 3 days prior, the exact day I made my mitzvah purchases.


What was Yehuda's power?

How was he able to guarantee Binyomin?

How did he have the fortitude to stand up to Yosef?

What link to Dovid is found in his very name?

How can we harness Yehuda's power ourselves in light of the current matzav in Israel?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.