September, 2010 Archives

28
Sep

A Treasure Hunt: An Invitation & Challenge

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth

Where shall I go? Shall I search for my new gadget on EBay or go on a quest in New York City, where you can find almost everything that you can find on the web, but with a greater sense of adventure?

My children, when they were younger, loved going on “adventures” in the City. They hated the schlep, but the promise of a special treat, an abundance of which exist in New York, usually won the day. We would turn the day into a treasure hunt. We would have a contest of who would be the first to find the strange object of our expedition. We found unique boxes that we, actually Debbie, would transform into a Thank You Machine – often called a Tzedaka (Charity) box in the vernacular. An old lamp was soon converted into a Chanukah menorah. A 100-year-old pillowcase became a Tallit bag, and an old tablecloth became a magnificent Challah cover.

The adventure did not end when we found the object of our search. We would stand around and watch with awe as Debbie worked her alchemy and produced her miracles. The thrill over her creativity more than matched the joy of the hunt.

I have been ill for a few weeks and hesitate to go outside. I was desperate for an adventure. EBay was so insulted by the opening of this blog that they would not allow me to use them for my explorations. (Some people!) I decided to go to a place even more fun than New York City: this week’s portion: Bereishit with the stories of creation, the Garden in Eden, the big sin, Cain and Abel, the Cain’s death and the quick downfall of humanity. There are more stories in these few chapters than there are in Manhattan.

My heart was set on a treasure hunt, so that’s what it was: How many of our daily blessings could I find in Bereishit?

Care to join me? (I found 19 so far.)

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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27
Sep

The Phoenix of Our Desires

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth

“But alas, what should I blame except my irrational desire? It lifts me so aloft, and flies so high in the sky that it reaches the sphere of fire which scorches its wings; then unable to bear me up, it drops me from the sky. But this is not the end of my ordeal, for it sprouts wings anew, and is burned again, so there is never any end to my rise and fall.” (Lodovico Ariosto; Orlando Furioso 1532)

Would I have made the same decision, as did Adam and Eve? I keep on telling myself that I would not. I never stood in their shoes. I have the advantage of hindsight. Do I understand their challenge well enough to know what I would do?

“Havei dan et kol Adam l’kaf Z’chut” – Judge each Adam – person – favorably (Avot 1:6) begins with Adam – the primal human being. We must judge him favorably despite the painful consequences of his actions.

Why does Adam deserve a favorable judgment? Perhaps because it is the only way that we can grant ourselves the same generous perspective. We too stumble. We make mistakes. We do not always succeed in resisting temptation. We, as Adam, often find it difficult to accept responsibility for our actions: “The woman that You gave me made me sin!” It’s someone else’s fault.

We believe that we are familiar with this most basic story, and yet there are many unanswered questions: Adam was the first to give life to another. God took Adam’s rib to construct the woman. Eve then replaced Adam as the one who would bring future generations into the world. Why was Eve standing by herself when approached by the snake? Where was Adam? Why was she alone so soon after her creation? How did the snake know about the tree? God instructed Adam about the trees. Adam taught Eve. Who informed the snake? Did he know about the tree before Eve? Did the snake know directly from God, whereas Eve only knew second-hand through Adam? Why did Adam add on the extra commandment to “not touch the tree”? Did Adam know that the fruit Eve handed him was of the Tree of Knowledge? Why did he eat it without her saying a word? Was this an instance of “He doth protest too much”? Was theirs an “irrational desire” as described by Ariosto?

The Sages never accuse the snake of lying. They describe him as speaking Lashon Harah!

There are so many more questions. We must step into Adam and Eve’s shoes before we can judge them.

Here I stand, having risen aloft even from the heights of Yom Kippur on the wings of Succot and Simchat Torah. These are some of the highest moments of the year. Will I withstand my tests any better than did Adam and Eve?

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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27
Sep

The Hyrax and The S’chach: Perceptions Matter

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in What is the Reason?

Can you explain for me, please, how come that its written that ‘HASHAFAN KI MA’ALEI GEIRA’ – ‘And the Hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split – it is unclean to you.’ (Leviticus 11:5) when it’s against nature. So which one is the truth? Life or Torah in this case” E.G.

Thank you for your great and super important question. You are correct in stating that the Hyrax does not chew its cud. The Wikipedia entry for Hyrax says: Unlike the even-toed ungulates and some of the macropods, hyraxes do not chew cud to help extract nutrients from coarse, low-grade leaves and grasses. They do, however, have complex, multi-chambered stomachs that allow symbiotic bacteria to break down tough plant materials, and their overall ability to digest fiber is similar to that of the ungulates. They will show antagonistic behavior, such as making chewing motions, when they feel threatened. This behavior is often times confused with chewing cud. There are reports that the Hyrax can chew regurgitated food, however, this is infrequent and they do not do this for nutrition or as part of their diet.

One of the most important phrases in the article is that “They will show antagonistic behavior, such as making chewing motions, when they feel threatened. This behavior is often times confused with chewing cud.” The Hyrax, as well as the hare or rabbit in the following verse, appears to chew its cud. There are times that appearances matter.

Look up at the roof, the S’chach, of a Succah. There are both shade and light. The roof is incompletely covered with S’chach; there are open spaces through which we can see the stars. It reflects the fluctuations in our relationship with God. There are times we “see” God’s Presence with clarity, and there are times when we experience God as hidden. We can sense God’s protection some of the time, and at others we feel more vulnerable.

Some of the great Jewish thinkers see the open spaces as representations of God’s Light and the shaded areas as indications of God’s being Hidden. Other, equally great thinkers, see the shade as a symbol of Divine Protection and the open spaces as a mark of our vulnerabilities. Different people have different perceptions and they are both considered valid because of this strange verse about the Hyrax:

We do not know God as God truly is. God is Infinite and we are limited. We ‘know’ only that which God makes manifest. We understand only what we can see.

Even what we see is limited by our experiences. It is almost impossible to describe the difference between two colors to someone who was born blind and never saw colors. We fit our ‘knowledge” of God into our experiences and senses, which are limited.

We use appellations to speak of God: Merciful, Compassionate, Judge, Omnipotent, Omnipresent and The Power. We may not pronounce God’s name as spelled. We actually speak of our perceptions.

Both the Written and Oral laws govern our covenant with God. We use the principles of the Oral Law to apply the Mitzvot of the Torah to modern life. We cannot simply email God for His ruling on the laws of Shabbat or Kashrut. We rely on our judgment and perceptions. We would be unable to move forward and apply Halacha as we do to every single aspect of life if we could only deal with absolute truth. We must use the gifts we have, including our perceptions, as long as they are governed by the principles of the Oral Law.

When the Torah describes the Hyrax as it is perceived, not as it physically is, God is teaching us that we may apply His law based on our perceptions, even if we eventually determine that we are made a serious factual error.

You asked, “Which is true?” We know that the Hyrax does not chew its cud. We also know that the Torah says that we perceive that it does, and that the Torah wants us to consider our perceptions in our relationship with God and in the application of His Torah to our lives, even at the risk of being wrong.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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27
Sep

Lessons of the Succah or Why I’m Not A Tzaddik

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth

I slept in the Succah with my grandfather zt”l and was determined to stay up and learn as long as he was awake. After all, how could I possibly become like him if I didn’t study as assiduously?

It actually wasn’t that difficult because I was reading a set of books about the Chofetz Chaim. I was enthralled and when I eventually fell asleep I dreamt of growing up to be the next Chofetz Chaim. I woke up determined to never again speak a word of Lishon Harah – destructive speech. I calmly reported my new mission in life to my father at the festival meal, and he was supportive of the general idea, although he suggested that perhaps I begin with smaller steps. “But then I won’t be the Chofetz Chaim. He started with giant steps!”

“First of all, I’m not sure that is true. Second of all, why do you want to be a Tzaddik like someone else? Be a Tzaddik as you.” OK, he was right, but still, I wanted to tackle the Lishon Harah issue. My sister carefully listened to the conversation and calmly predicted that my life as a Tzaddik would not last the day!

She did whatever she could to provoke me. I refused to respond. “Hey! Maybe this Tzaddik thing is not as hard as they say.” So, although she continues to deny her evil deeds more than forty years later, she kicked me. I cried. Our older sister, a true Tzaddeiket, came running asking, “What happened?” “She kicked me!”

There went my Tzaddik plans. “You spoke Lishon Harah!” she said as she calmly walked away. Not even a day, and there were holes in my armor.

Why am I not a Tzaddik? It’s my sister’s fault.

I believed as a child, as do many people, even adults, that a Tzaddik had to be perfect. But it’s not true. Simply look up at the roof of your Succah and you will see holes throughout the S’chach. The Succah is an imperfect structure and yet it is holy. Even holy people have gaps in their spiritual armor, and they are still holy.

So, why am I not a Tzaddik? Because I continue to struggle to accept the gaps in the S’chach and the giant holes in my armor. Hopefully, this year, the Succah will finally get its message through my head.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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26
Sep

Aravot Smashing

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in What is the Reason?

In Honor of the Holy Breslaver’s Yahrtzeit

Xerxes was furious. His engineers had constructed a bridge across the Hellespont in 480 BC, and an act of God had taken out the bridge. Xerxes blamed both the sea and the hapless engineers:

“As soon as the strait had been bridged, a great storm fell upon it and cut the cables and broke them up. Xerxes commanded that the sea should be punished by lashing, branding, and cursing the water, and that the men who had supervised the bridging of the Hellespont should have their heads cut off.” (Herodotus, Histories 7.35)

I know exactly how Xerxes felt. The traffic lights in Manhattan were designed to turn red just before I reach an intersection, but only when I am in a terrible rush to an important appointment. Whoever programmed those lights would suffer the fate of Xerxes’ engineers, and the traffic signals would suffer the fate of the sea as it suffered Xerxes’ wrath. He may have been a despot, perhaps even insane, but Xerxes would have known how to deal with such aggravation.

If Xerxes could punish the sea, I can castigate the holes in my pockets that scheme to lose the quarters I need to feed a parking meter just ahead of the parking police. You know that person just ahead of you in line at Starbucks taking their time making a simple decision just because you are in a rush? Call in Xerxes! People who call to chat just as you are waiting for an important call; Xerxes for them!

I’m feeling better already. You may laugh, but I have watched people use the Xerxes approach with their Hoshanot – Bundle of Willows struck 7 times on the ground – on Hoshana Rabbah! They do a perfect Xerxes impersonation! At least my Xerxes fantasies are directed against real and dangerous enemies.

What are we doing when we strike our Hoshanot against the ground? The Radbaz (Ta’amei Hamitzvot) prefers that we a) use the same Aravot (Willows?) the entire Festival, and b) that we take the Aravot from our Lulav and add them to three fresh Aravot. The week old Aravot may look shabby in comparison, but they have been empowered by a week of prayers and being used as part of the Mitzvah of the Four Species. They are the strongest of the five willow branches.

A person must first recognize and appreciate the power of the two older Aravot to empower the three fresher branches, before he can effectively use his Hoshanot bundle! We begin by honoring the effect of our prayers and Mitzvot on the week old Aravot. We then use their power to raise the three fresh branches. Once we are aware of those powers, we are ready to confront the things that bring up the wrath of Xerxes: Our self-defeating patterns of behavior.

We do not strike in anger or frustration. Hitting the ground with five willow branches will no more destroy evil than Xerxes lashing, branding and cursing the sea hurt the water. We understand and celebrate that we have spiritual strength and power, and, as the Holy Breslaver taught: “If you have the ability to damage, you have the ability to fix!” (Likkutei Eitzot – Erech Tefillah: 3 Tikkunim of Prayer)

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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26
Sep

Which Way Are They Pointing?

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha

My friend and I were sitting and having a deep conversation. During the long silences, I could hear the ticking of the clock behind me. The volume of the ticking rose and fell every few seconds. I did not need to look behind me to understand that the volume increased as the second hand past the 3 and pointed down, and decreased as it passed the 6 and began to rise. The sound increased with gravity.

We began to discuss the interaction between gravity and sound when I glanced at the calendar above my companion’s seat: Van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree. The branches and leaves are pointing up. The sound may have increased with the fall of the second hand, but the visual image was more powerful for its reach.

A Succah is an interesting combination of ups and downs: We look up at the S’chach and the stars that shine through its open spaces. The Mitzvah is to sit in the Succah. We are down low but our eyes are lifted up.

It’s similar to prayer, where we are instructed to lower our eyes but to lift our hearts. We bow in prayer according to specific instructions, but we then lift our bodies based on precise rules. (See Bowing)

We often speak of God as the One, Who “humbles the haughty to the ground, and lifts the lowly on high.”

Service of God demands both the high and the low, the up and the down. We look up and aspire even while we look down in humility. We look up to the heavens, but we focus on living in the here and now. We point our Lulavim up and celebrate and we point them down and do the same. We actually move beyond directions and space and connect with the Creator, Boundless and Infinite.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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26
Sep

With Open Eyes: Bereishit

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week

Opening a book I hadn’t seen in nine years, I found an inscription from a former student: “Thank you for opening my eyes to see Torah, Mitzvot, life, and myself, as never before. Your student forever, and with eternal thanks. S.”

Less than a year later, as I was dying in a hospital in Germany, he called to tell me that life is too painful to be lived with open eyes. He hasn’t spoken with me since.

Open eyes have allowed me to see painful realities about life and people, but I hope to never close them. Leonardo Da Vinci ‘s cosmology, which he called “Saper vedere,” – knowing how to see – was a blunt instrument that he used to assault the fatuity of his times, but it also empowered him to design plans for tanks, submarines, parachutes, the first revolving stage and much more. His knowing how to see gave us the Mona Lisa, and his study of anatomy.  He suffered for his vision but he never shut his eyes and the world continues to benefit from his knowing how to see.

Our eyes have been open since Elul. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur & Succot were toothpicks holding them open. What will we do now?  Will we keep our eyes wide open even when we will see things we would rather not? Or, will we keep them open to see everything around and about us with a fresh perspective and clarity? Have we fallen right back into ‘regular’ life without a festival every few days? Have we succeeded in leaving our new lenses in our eyes, watching everything with joy & anticipation?

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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26
Sep

Steps – Simchat Torah

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

The Beginning of My Journey to Israel

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi 1141 C.E.

That day when my soul longed for the place of assembly,

Yet a dread of departure seized hold of me,

He, great in counsel, prepared for me ways for setting forth,

And I found His name in my heart a sustainment.

Therefore I bow down to Him at every stage;

And at each step I thank Him.

It was a wedding that I’ll never forget. We gathered in a small room just before the Chupah – Marriage Ceremony. The groom, a few close friends, and two rabbis. We hummed a meditative tune and unconsciously formed a circle. We danced slowly, peaceful, trancelike, silently praying that this couple would find joy and blessing. Each step was precious, higher, and otherworldly.

In middle of the ceremony, people began to step forward and crowd under the canopy, which seemed to expand to embrace all who came. Soon, everyone was gathered together as one, even the photographers and musicians. There was no room to dance, but we each rocked back and forth on our feet according to the beat of the blessings, the Ketubah – Wedding Contract – the rabbi’s speech and the Seven Blessings; so different from the pre-ceremony dance, but equally powerful.

We were all so inspired by the Chupah that we danced as never before during the meal. Three dances. Three dance steps. Each, a unique experience.

We will dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah. Two sets of seven dances. Each dance can have its own step.

Each step can be a journey. For these, are the dances of Torah. Dances that have helped us survive darkness, even thrive. The rhythms of Torah, allowing each to step along his or her special path, according to a beat heard only in the heart of the dancer, small steps and large, fast paced and slow, graceful and clumsy.

When we remember that “at each step I thank Him” we can continue the dance throughout the year, wherever we go.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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22
Sep

A “Holy” Thief

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

Debbie baked all sorts of special treats for Succot, for family, friends and customers. She organized all the beautiful packages on the dining room table and left for a few minutes to answer the phone. When she returned to the dining room, all the pastries were gone. The thief left crumbs all over the table, benches and rug. (Besides being a thief, he was an inconsiderate slob!

Who was to blame?

“Simcha! How could you? I worked so hard and they will kill you with their gluten! Not that you don’t deserve to die for stealing all the pastries and making a pre-Yom Tov mess!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“My pastries. You ate all of them.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“Who else….Ohhhhhh! Pip!”

Lo and behold, there were dog hairs all over the table. Our sweet, obedient dog is a thief! (We already knew that he is a slob.) The shame of it!

I don’t understand him; he will not even attempt to enter the Succah, because he knows that it is a holy place, where dogs do not belong. He is what people call a “Frum” dog. He won’t enter the living room when there are Torah scrolls there. He will not enter the dining room during a Shabbat meal. He insists on eating Challah on Shabbat. All this, and he’s still a thief?

He will not enter the Succah even if there are pastries on the table just waiting to be stolen. He belongs in one of Reb Shlomo zt”l’s stories as a Holy Thief.

There is something powerful about a Succah, something even Pip the Thief can sense.

Can we?

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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22
Sep

The Advantage of Being An Alien

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

Poor Lord Monboddo! The Scottish jurist, natural historian and linguist, was visiting the King’s Bench in London, when the hall began to collapse, fixtures plummeting from the walls and ceiling. Judges and lawyers panicked and ran pell-mell, fleeing for the exits. Lord Monboddo sat very still, watching all the commotion. “I thought it was an annual ceremony,” he replied when asked why he remained so imperturbed, “with which, being an alien, I had nothing to do.”

Our 1963 Succah was attacked by a swarm of bees, and all of us, except my father zt”l ran into the house as quickly as possible. Our guest, ‘a la Lord Monvoddo, enthralled with sitting in a Succah for the first time, didn’t notice the bees, and wondered what his role in the strange ceremony was: Should he run into the house with the crowd, or sit calmly with the Rabbi. My father looked up at him, smiled, and offered him so more food.

I grew up with a Succah, and assumed that walking on the streets with the Four Species was a normal part of life. I didn’t know enough to realize that for most people on the Baltimore streets, our Succot behavior was alien.

There is a part of me that, before Succot, wishes I were an alien to all these wonderful and exciting Mitzvot. I wish that it was not natural for me to move into a Succah, or to wave the Four Species. I wish for the excitement of a newly observant Jew sitting in a Succah for the first time, and waving his first set of Four Species.

Then Succot begins, and the “First Time” excitement is there. I am an alien in the world of the Succah meeting all the strange feelings for the first time. No Succot is like another. I am a different person than a year earlier, and the Succah, Lulav and Etrog  are “First Time” experiences each day of the Festival.

I love that “First Time” feeling; the powerful Succot gift that allows me to experience Z’man Simchateinu as the joy that comes with new experiences and being a “new” me.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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