Sunday, October 23, 2016
On Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah our job is to find a joy in Hashem and in His Torah that is above nature and above the world as we know it. On these special days we will experience a joy that is higher than our everyday ups and downs and higher than our usual worries and struggles.
In order to experience the ultimate joy that is above this world, we must "meet" Hashem and dance with Him in our hearts. How do we meet Him?
"Atzeres" means "meeting". As holidays go, Shemini Atzeres is on a much higher level than Sukkos. On Shemini Ateres we have "one more" special day with Hashem, after the 7-days of Sukkos that is just for His nation alone. Sukkos is not a holiday just for the Jewish people. We brought sacrifices in the Holy Temple for all of the nations during the seven days of Sukkos. But now, on the 8th day of Shemini Atzeres ("8" being higher than nature; the 7-days of the week; the 7 personality characteristic that we must refine) we connect very intimately with Hashem all by ourselves. The joy of Shemini Atzeres is therefore the joy of connecting to Hashem.
Simchas Torah brings with it another type of supernatural joy and that is the joy of connecting with Hashem's Torah itself.
In Israel we celebrate both holidays in one day. The result of absorbing the joy that will surround us: the joy of connecting to Hashem and the joy of connecting to his Torah, will become so deeply apart of us, that we will be truely happy with ourselves just like WE ARE! - until next year, of course, when we will aspire to reach even more.
Have a wonderful holiday!
Thursday, September 29, 2016
The wife wanted the body cremated; the husband's religious brothers quickly made a proper burial; the wife sued and case went to court, but Rebbe Nachman intervened from above...
Rebbe Nachman made a bold promise that no other tzaddik ever made. He said that for any person who visits his gravesite (even once), gives a penny to charity, and says the ten special chapters of psalms that he selected, he would rescue that person from the fires of hell.
On a scale of one to ten, what level of certainty did I have in the Rebbe's promise?
Admittedly I did not have the same level of certainty in the Rebbe's promise that I had in certain natural phenomena, for instance that the sun will rise and set every day - I believed that with perfect certainty.
It began at 5:30 am on erev Rosh Hashanah. I knew that face. It was my old friend from Monsey, New York - Mendy Wurtzberger. Following the morning prayers, as we walked through the street together, there was a steady stream of people greeting Mendy warmly with utter amazement on their faces.
Feeling a bit lost, I asked Mendy what was going on. He said that something miraculous had happened to him in the last two weeks and that the story had gone viral on the web.
What Mendy proceeded to tell me over a cup of coffee is nothing less than the most amazing modern day Uman story that I've ever heard.There are a number of versions of this story going around; but I heard this one directly from Mendy - so it's the real deal.
Mendy was a successful businessman. He ran a huge plumbing company that had a contract with a Wall street firm. When the firm went belly-up about five years ago so did Mendy's business. It was about that time that someone gave Mendy the idea of spending Rosh Hashanah at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev in the Ukraine.
Prior to coming, Mendy received a phone call from a troubled cousin who said asked if Mendy could meet with a young man from a very religious family who had strayed very far from his Chasidic roots. The young man was married to a woman whose story was similar to his own. Neither of them had had any connection to Torah Judaism for fifteen years.
Good natured Mendy agreed and struck up a friendship with the young man. Since Mendy was heading to Uman in the hope of a blessing from the tzaddik to re-establish his business, he decided to take the young man with him. Reluctant at first, ultimately the young man acquiesced and accompanied Mendy on the arduous journey to Uman.
Mendy told me that the young man did not observe the Shabbos that preceded Rosh Hashanah that year but on Rosh Hashanah itself, he saw him spend the entire first day at the tzaddik's gravesite under his tallis (prayer shawl) pouring his heart out in heart-felt sobbing.
But when they returned to New York, nothing seemed to change for either Mendy or his young friend. Mendy's business situation only worsened, and the young man went back to life as usual apparently unaffected by his brief spiritual awakening.
Eight months later the young man was found in a Florida swimming pool - dead.
There were many more details that I cannot relate here, but this is how the story continued...
With Blessings for a happy healthy new year!
Friday, September 23, 2016
Sunday, September 18, 2016
What’s wrong with competitive sports? Okay, I understand that our Rabbis want us to identify ourselves more with our soul than our body – but the body houses the soul, why not keep it in good working order?
Clearly the problem is not the exercise component of sports (though exercise can be overdone at the expense of developing our spirituality). The main problem is that competitive sports, today, have become a reflection of a sick and competitive society that glorifies “winners” and vilifies “losers” and where the concept of a true victory has been lost.
As someone who was very athletic in my youth, I remember how many good things I learned from participating on sports teams: how sports helped my self-esteem by achieving more than I had achieved before; by learning to accept defeat; by learning to nullify my ego for the greater good of the team. But I also remember how I was taught that winning is everything; that I should have no mercy on my opponent; and that I should be ashamed of myself when I lost.
This summer, Hashem brought all of this into sharper focus for me when I was asked to run a basketball clinic for 30 boys in my neighborhood from very religious homes. They were mostly Israeli boys who knew very little about sports in general and even less about basketball in particular (which is much less popular in Israel than soccer). I’ll admit to you that I did have some hesitation about participating in this venture. Sometime before I moved here, somebody put a sign up inviting people to join a basketball game, and the sign was torn down sparking a whole controversy in town which didn’t end in a good way.
Regardless of the risk of controversy, I really wanted to coach these boys because I welcomed the chance to teach them Torah values in an enjoyable athletic setting. I certainly wasn’t looking to get embroiled in another conflict between the pro-sports and anti-sports factions in my community (where the anti-sports faction was in the majority). Yet, I thought, here I have the opportunity to present these boys with the Torah’s approach to dealing with the challenges of conflict, revenge, competition, victory, defeat, despair – the emotions that sports bring out in people. Since I didn’t think that they were being taught this in yeshiva, I decided to accept the offer.
The first thing that kids need to understand in order to be properly prepared for the competition of sports and life in general, is that the emphasis that the secular world puts on “winning” has very little significance to us. It may feel good for the moment to be the “winner” and to “defeat or destroy” the opponent but this isn’t a healthy outlook according to our Torah perspective. The problem with wanting to win for the sake of winning and trashing your “enemy” (the other team) is that there is nothing permanent about this empty kind of “victory” – sometimes you will be the “victor” and sometimes you’ll be the “vanquished.” And on a deeper level you have done nothing to help unify the world which is our purpose.
In high school, when our team won we were “on top of the world” and when we lost it was understood that there would be no talking on the bus on the way back from the game. It was as though we were sitting shiva (mourning). And for what? A game? We were taught that it was a humiliating disgrace to lose!
What’s a better approach to teach kids? Click here to find out...
Have a wonderful day!
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
There are some people that always seem to get themselves dragged into all kinds of things that have nothing to do with them. They could be dragged into a discussion or an argument that has nothing to do with them. And, if you ask them why they are getting so involved, they may say that they’re just “curious” by nature, or that they just want “to help” others, or that they just feel so passionate about the issue. In some religious circles, people may even justify their intrusiveness due their “commitment” to finding “the truth” - so they get themselves dragged into all types of nasty controversies that also have nothing to do with them.
Then there are other kinds of people who get dragged off into excessive fantasy land and find it difficult to concentrate and pay attention to what’s going on around them. They don’t know when they are having real thoughts of imaginary thoughts. Then there are people who get dragged into speaking too much. I’m talking about the kind of person who literally can’t stop talking no matter how many times people hint to him to give it a rest or tell him outright: “be quiet already!”
Still, there are other people who find themselves being dragged away by their eyes that look at forbidden sights or dragged away by their stomachs to eat what they shouldn’t eat. There are those who are being dragged into doing excessive chesed (acts of kindness) that go beyond their healthy capacity to give; there are people who are being dragged into learning too much or who are learning subjects that are above their capacity to understand. Then there are those who get dragged into excessive exercise and health concerns; those who are being dragged by the internet, by improper desires, by compulsive shopping, gambling, pic-pocketing – you name it! There is an endless list of emotions, behaviors, object and “goals” that can literally drag a person down. Some people simply get dragged down by mimicking their surroundings and doing whatever they see happening in “society” or in others’ around them.
Our Rabbis have been studying the full gamut of human emotions and behaviors for thousands of years. It’s astounding to me, that the more I delve into what our great Rabbis have written about the soul and the human personality, the more I realize why secular ideas can’t help us at all. The secular view is like looking at the outermost branches of a tree and mistaking the branches for the tree itself. Our Rabbis have written about compulsivity, and impulsivity, and difficulties that people can have in paying attention and concentrating – all from their understanding of the inner-most roots of the Jewish soul – only they can teach us how the human being can perfect his thoughts, feelings and actions. Continue here...
I will be giving a live lesson today on "Why we get hurt" and other topics. I hope you'll be able to join me at 5pm Israel time at: www.breslev.co.il
Have a wonderful day!