Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2-Minute Wordless Video That Impacted Me

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No commentary necessary. Here's the video:

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High Holiday Advisory: How Not to Pray Like a Dog

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On Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, we all gather in synagogues, be they Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, and turn out hearts toward the G-d of Israel to request forgiveness and atonement, life and sustenance.

The Zohar, the foundational work of the Kaballah, says in the 6th Tikun: "Everyone howls in their prayers on Yom Kippur like dogs – ruff ruff! Give us sustenance and forgiveness and atonement and life etc… These people have audacity!"

The Zohar check. Could this be you?
What is the holy Zohar trying to communicate to us? On the one hand, the High Holiday prayer books are filled with supplications for forgiveness and sustenance, yet on the other hand the Zohar is telling us that these very prayers are like the prayer of a dog. Ouch!!!
The famous Jerusalem sage Rabbi Shlomo Fisher delivered a class in the Bet El Yeshiva yesterday in which he explained this passage of the Zohar in a way that has direct ramifications on how we should be praying on the High Holidays.
Rabbi Shlomo Fisher escorted by Bet El students yesterday

When a person is praying for his own longevity, livelihood, and atonement, he is likened to a dog coming before G-d and barking, "Give me, give me." To rectify this, a person must raise his perspective to ask on behalf of all of Israel – himself included. Then his prayers are heard.
But aren't all of the prayers of the High Holidays written in first person plural asking for all of Israel e.g. "Grant us forgiveness, grant us atonement." So, who is the Zohar talking about when it says that people are praying on Yom Kippur like a dog?

Rabbi Fisher explained to the students of the Bet El Yeshiva that it's not enough to pay the lip service of praying on behalf of all of Israel. It's a switch in mindset that starts with raising one's awareness of who the Jewish People are.

The Jewish People are the eternal people. This national trait was best described by Mark Twain in an article in Harpers Magazine in 1899:

"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk…

"The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

"The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Leo Tolstoy said it more succinctly:

 "The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity."
It's not about the individual Jew. Rather, the Jewish People as a whole are eternal by virtue of the fact that they were chosen to be G-d's representatives in this world. G-d is invisible, but we can see His reflection in the annals of the Jewish People.

When we pray for the material and spiritual advance of the Jewish People as a whole, we are, so to speak, "having mercy on G-d (Tikun HaShechina)," and concerning ourselves with strengthening G-d's image as perceived through the welfare of His people.  When the Jewish People prosper, it is a sanctification of G-d. When we sag, it is a desecration of G-d's name.
Coming back to the Rosh HaShana prayers, in order to really pray for all of Israel, one must hurt the pain of the Jewish people and rejoice in our nation's advance.  One must be aware of the poor, the orphans, the victims of anti-Israel aggressions, and every individual Jew's struggle to be more spiritual. We must ask forgiveness for all Jews everywhere and pray for life and blessing for the Jewish nation as a whole. When our supplications for ourselves come as an extension of our concern for the Jewish nation as a whole, then our barking is transformed into effective prayer.

One dog could really care less about another, but we as Jews must first and foremost pray for forgiveness, atonement, life and sustenance for those standing around us and in synagogues everywhere.

For example, instead of asking for increased income for yourself so that you make out a future for your children, give tzedaka, and accomplish other worthy endeavors, think about all the other Jews who have similar needs. Turn to G-d with a prayer like this: "Hashem, on behalf of all Jewish parents everywhere, I turn to you to ask you for increased sustenance to enable us all to raise our families in comfort, to provide a good Jewish and secular education for our children, to provide for our wives and make them the happiest wives in the world, to assist relatives and others in need. Please also strengthen the ecomony of the State of Israel, so that it will prosper in the world. Hashem, all Jews everywhere need livelihood and income, so please pour out an abundance of blessing to us all, and include me, your servant, amongst them with this specific need...."
As we approach the High Holiday prayers, let's learn from the Zohar to raise our perspective and take responsibility for Jews everywhere. As we come to ask G-d for what we want and need, let's broaden our hearts' desire to feel the needs of all Jews, and beseach G-d in our prayers on behalf of the entirety of our wonderful nation.

So yes, we must submit our case before G-d for our own material and spiritual needs, but only after and as an extension of begging for those of the Jewish People.

Shana tova from Bet El.

[See Rabbi Fisher's commentary on this topic in his book Beit Yishai – Drushim L'moedim, Volume I, Siman 16 (page 116)]

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hebrew 101 - "Sandwich Shop"

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To facilitate the inevitable return of the Jews of the Diaspora to their native land, the Land of Israel, I will occasionally post short lessons covering the essentials of getting around in modern Hebrew.

Let's say you're in Israel in the mood for a sandwich. Where would you go? A sandwich shop, right? Well how do you say "sandwich shop" in modern Hebrew?
Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it first right here. The picture below from the Sirkin Junction in Petach Tikva screams out the answer to our sandwich predicament:
A "Sandvichiada" in Petach Tikva

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Sheikh of Bet El

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Yesterday, after meeting with a prominent Rabbi in Brooklyn on matters of Eretz Yisrael, I entered an adjacent pharmacy. Upon leaving the pharmacy, I sensed that my head was bare. A quick rub of the head confirmed my worst sensation: I was walking around bare-headed.

I always wear a kipah (yarmlukah). I identify with it. Without it, I feel as though I am promenading the streets in my underwear.

Retracing my steps, it quickly became clear that my kipah had disappeared. The prominent Rabbi confirmed to me that I had my kipah on my head when speaking with him. So I spent the next 30 minutes looking all over for my kipah. The results: nada (Russian for "nothing ").

I asked 5 people on the street where I can buy a baseball cap or any hat. They all answered, "Nada" or "no, aqui."

What's a Jew to do?
The only immediate solution that I had was to take my tshirt and wrap it around my head like a Shiekh, the Sheikh of Bet El.
The Shiekh of Bet El (Rolls Royce on right, just outside the photo)
Though it looked a bit funny, I remembered that the Mishna Berura commentary says in the first clause of the Code of Jewish Law that even if people laugh at you when you perform the commandments, just keep moving forward, ignore their barbs, and trust in Hashem. And so it was.

My next stop was the nearby offices of prominent Israel activist, philanthropist, and real estate tycoon Rubin Margules. As I parked outside his office, I saw his partner and son-in-law Eli Verschleiser and greeted him. He looked a bit startled at how some Sheikh knew his name, at which point I identified myself, trying to figure out how to explain this one.

Eli welcomed the Sheikh of Bet El into his office, and introduced me to the office staff who all hoped that I might be in pass-out-gold-watch-gift mode. 
Feeling my discomfort in my out-of-season Purim costume, Eli conducted an office-wide search for a suede kipah that he knew was on premises, and sent me on my way, now looking like an American Modern Orthodox businessman.
A Typical Modern Orthodox New York Jew
Eli directed me to a Judaica store where I purchased a big knit yarmulke (not exactly what I am used to wearing, but the closest they had).

Packing the oversized yarn knit kipah, the salesman asked, "Oh, so you're headed to Uman [the site of the tomb of Rebbe Nachman from Breslov] for Rosh HaShana?"
"Not exactly," I answered, "but I am entangled in a tiny identity crisis and this kipah is the answer." I smiled and left the the Sheikh of Bet El behind in Brooklyn along with his modern orthodox counterpart, now heading for Manhattan as the new Rebbe Baruch of Breslov.

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