Monday, March 31, 2014

"Miss Israel" & the Rebbe

Beauty pageant queen of Israel in 1991, Miri Goldfarb, asks the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe then suggests how a woman can truly be praiseworthy, quoting King Solomon (Proverbs 31:30).

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Self-Nullification

The one concept Chassidus teaches that intrigued me most, which I had to struggle with most, back when I was turning religious, was the concept of "self-nullification" (ביטול).

Basically that means you must nullify your personal considerations in favor of what G-d would want you to do instead; That you prevent your ego, your pride, or your professed wisdom from interference with G-d's wishes. You first need to override your selfish desires before you can absorb properly the dictates of Hashem.

We can illustrated this concept as follows. If you have a glass that contains a small amount of dirty water, and you want a drink of water, you would first need to empty out the dirty water before you pour clean water into the glass, otherwise all the water becomes dirty.

Similarly, in order to appreciate and eventually understand the benefits of keeping G-d's commandments, you must first empty yourself of your own presumptions and professed wisdom, which will only interfere with the divine knowledge you wish to finally acquire.

Just as the seed placed into the earth cannot develop and blossom into the tree it is meant to become unless - at first - it undergoes a decomposition! The planted seed must first start to rot before it can grow into a big, beautiful fruit tree!

Similarly, the Jew who won't set aside his ego cannot ever get a good perspective of chassidus or divinity and all that these entail. To learn Torah and chassidus with commitment, or to become observant, cannot be accomplished without first negating all prior presumptions you had regarding the subject. On the other hand, if you allow the psychological space required for this study, then you're suited to dive in.

Another way to regard "self-nullification" is "a descent for the sake of an even greater ascent" (ירידה לצורך עלייה). It's analogous to an Olympic high-jumper who wants to achieve a high jump; He must first take a few steps backward, so he can launch forward and achieve greater heights.

(Like in organic chemistry, where you need first arouse a higher, more volatile, energy state, the transition state, in order for an exothermic reaction to settle at a more stable energy state.)

Is this concept not inherent in the saga of the Jewish people's existence? Which people knows better than Jews that they first require the deep descent into the Diaspora (exile) before their ultimate elevation to be acquired in the Era of Final Redemption (soon to be revealed)?

Only with humility can a Jew become righteous and sagacious.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hippo Compassion

The wonders of Hashem

See how a hippopotamus saved a small antelope from certain death. After being bitten by a huge crocodile, the antelope is seen being dragged slowly under water.

The antelope is exhausted. Lucky for him, in his moment of need, hippopotami came to his rescue, the largest of which stomps the crocodile, chasing it away. This nice big hippo then nudges the antelope out of harm's way. The others protect the periphery from intrusion.

(2 min.)
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Monday, March 10, 2014

What "Converted" this Reform Rabbi?

A successful commercial once had as its main line, "Try it, you'll like it!"

This is the precise formula by which to understand Judaism. This formula launched, and therefore characterizes, the Jewish nation. The Jews, emancipated from Egyptian diaspora in 2448, became a nation by defining their existence based on this principle. When asked whether they could commit to G-d's demands, Jews exclaimed (Ex.24:7),
"We will do and we will understand!" "נעשה ונשמע"
The Jews determined steadfastly, first of all, to accept G-d's Torah blindly! They will unquestioningly take it upon themselves to do as it prescribes. Then, and only then, will they also seek to understand. This conditional statement demonstrated their full trust in G-d.

One might argue that the discovery of a hidden benefit can first be investigated before committing oneself to certain conduct. Maybe one can first try to understand Torah, and then, based on a new understanding, commit to it.

Not with Judaism! The life of an observant Jew cannot be appreciated or understood WITHOUT relevant activities to serve as pre-requisites. Behavioral "input" of Mitzvot offers the mind a new dimension by which to appreciate and comprehend Jewish tradition. The key is doing first, and then grasping its value. Not the other way around. There are some things that you can never like unless you first try them!

Need proof of this Jewish phenomenon? Look about you and see how orthodoxy and "ultra" orthodoxy thrives among Jews. What these Jews believe in outsiders may well consider patently absurd - like Jews wearing strings on a 4-cornered cloth, praying with boxes on their arm and forehead, fasting 24 hours twice a year, believing a Messiah will "redeem" them, always covering their heads with caps, eliminating all form of work one day a week, considering some foods or combination of foods forbidden, and many other "weird" behaviors and beliefs.

Yet, many such "lunatics" abound. Even among people who are generally considered by the world to be rather smart!

How could such absurdity prevail when it makes more common sense to throw off all shackles, to abandon what appears to be ancient practices and blend in with "modern" society!

The answer is simple. Torah truth can be appreciated only when actualized in practice!

This reform rabbi's story is a case in point (LINK). Hear him explain his "conversion" to orthodoxy and you will note he cannot really pinpoint what actually changed him or what had been missing in earlier years. I'm pretty certain he himself hasn't yet discovered that what really changed him was his "Let me try it" attitude. And then, of course, after he tried it, he liked it, in characteristic, authentic Jewish fashion.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Truth about the Present Jewish Disaster

The following article appeared in an early edition of a magazine (June 1941, p.142) published by the Previous Rebbe during 1941-1945 entitled 
‪‬הקריאה והקדושה


THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PRESENT JEWISH DISASTER

The truth must finally be told, openly and without fear, however unpleasant the task!

The leaders of American Jewry, of all groups, are themselves astray, and they are leading their followers astray by uttering false prophecies!

Since last Tishrei, eight months ago, we have been rousing American Jewry to become aware that we are living in the last days before the Redemption. In various ways, earnestly and temperately, we have summoned our fellow Jews to return to our 13 holy Credos, indicating that we are near the end of the diaspora, that we are living through the era of pre-messianic travail, and that certain steps are necessary in order that the Jews in America should be saved from the same catastrophic fate as has overtaken the millions of Jews in Europe.

Every rabbi whose address we could obtain has received this monthly journal regardless of whether he paid for it. Thousands of Jews who attend at synagogues have received free copies. Our cry has been: We Jews are not like all the nations! We have special troubles, and our own special hope! We have our own Prophets of yore to guide us, and no need of the new, modern type who contradict themselves anew each day.

We have shown that it is impossible to say with the mouth "I believe that all the words of the Prophets are true" while at the same resting all Jewish hope on the scale of the coming world-peace, ignoring our Prophets and their promises concerning the coming of the Messiah.

We have advised American Jews to do their duty as loyal citizens, but not to forget the first Credo, that G-d rules the world, that He is the cause of all the events through which the final redemption of the Jewish people is being prepared. We have shown that no matter what the outcome of the present war, the Jewish Messiah is about to arrive - he is already standing within reach of us!

All this is published, black on white, in the eight issues of this journal. It is undeniable. But our spiritual leaders of all kinds have ignored our call. They have preached only the hope of the victory of the democracies, exactly as the non-Jewish world does, having no other hope. As a result, the American Jewish masses, from the frankly irreligious to the pious habitués of the synagogues, think of Jewish deliverance as depending solely on the defeat of Hitler. They have heard not a word from the Jewish spiritual leaders concerning the good news that the Messiah is about to appear. What they have heard, in fact, completely deprecates the genuinely Jewish hope of the coming of the Messiah, concerning which we have been writing!

Unhappily, the universal enemy refuses to do us the kindness to be defeated. He spreads the shadow of death over more countries and more millions of Jews. He lurks ready now even to destroy, Heaven forfend, the Jewish settlement in Palestine. Yet even now, great as the danger is that Britain may be defeated and America also attacked, our spiritual leaders cautiously avoid building our Jewish hope on the coming of the Messiah and the final deliverance!

At the recent convention of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis it was at last conceded that all hope of salvation through the course of world events was extinguished. A call was issued to fast, and recite Psalms, and pray to G-d that He should nullify the evil edicts, save Palestine, and speedily send the righteous Redeemer. But this call, as old as the diaspora, neither proclaims anything new nor can it accomplish any good in the bare state of its issuance; on the contrary, it may effect an injury to our cause!

American Jews, fed daily on a diet of wordly prospects, ignorant of the real cause of the world catastrophe, seeing only that the Jewish people is drowning in its own blood while G-d does not come to their aid, have lost all faith in G-d, in our Prophets, in the rabbis, and in the measures they propose to invoke: Divine help by penitence and prayer. The rabbis speak the same words as the world press, which is so abysmally ignorant that it has thus far been unable to foresee a single truth in the developments of the war. Why, then, should the Jews fast and pray at the call of the same rabbis who are blundering along without knowing the correct explanation of the Jewish disaster?

Without a proclamation by the rabbis that we are living on the eve of the era of redemption their call had to remain a voice crying in the wilderness. And that is what happened. American Jewry did not fast on the appointed day, they did not crowd the synagogues, they did not recite special Psalms. It was done in each synagogue only by the half-score elderly habitués who constitute the steady minyan, and who recite Psalms every day anyhow!

Soon there may be more bad news of the course of the war, and the same Jews who ignored the call of the rabbis will use it to deprecate the whole affair. They will not say that instead of fasting on the appointed day they ate trefah food as usual, and that far from reciting special Psalms they did not even once recite the Shema, nor donned tfillin, nor even thought of the daily prayers. They will say: "There you have the rabbis with their impractical measures -- they made a fast, with a day of Psalm-saying, and it has as much effect as cupping a corpse!"

When it came to answering the rabbinic call, nobody had even heard about it; but when it comes to casting up blame, hardly anybody will fail to remember it!

Imagine what might have happened if the several hundred rabbis at their convention had issued a manifesto announcing the approach of the final deliverance and proclaiming that the present Jewish sufferings are pre-messianic travail. How the various classes of Jews might have been roused! How they would have discussed it in homes, shops, offices! How it would have been publicized by the entire press so that every person would know about it!

The synagogue would have been crowded. Thousands of Jews, even the non-observant, would have fasted and joined in the recitation of Psalms. The call would have been appropriate -- and likewise the Divine response.

The rabbis in convention did not issue the announcement of the impending redemption because they do not know as yet that we are on the verge of this great event! Otherwise they would surely have proclaimed it! Did they not publicly weep because of the universal travail? If they saw in all this suffering the pre-messianic travail they would surely have revealed to the despairing Jewish masses this only consolation!

Therefore the Jewish masses say: "G-d is high up in heaven; the promised deliverance is far off; so we must look for salvation from other sources." Meanwhile they send the Torah back to Sinai ....

On the same day as it carried the rabbinic call to fast and recite Psalms the press published the news that 31 Jews recently were converted to Catholicism in New York. We know from other sources that thousands of Jews have gone over to Christian Science. For the Christian missionaries know how to use the present situation to build up the advent of their own Messiah. It remains for Jewish children to learn from them the "answer" to the question why the Jews are suffering so much. The pious Christian answer is that it is due to failure to accept the Christian Messiah who is about to appear!

Our Jewish spiritual leaders are preoccupied with partisan politics. Each one is busy building his castles on the exile-soil which, meanwhile, is being dug away from underneath their very feet! Our spiritual leaders are practical men who cannot be bothered with the "dream" of deliverance through the coming of the Messiah.

Jewish young people are forced to seek and find a messiah among the Christians, for in their own homes they never hear their parents speak a word about Messiah! Jewish parents must seek and find a Messiah in the newspapers; and they see one in Churchill and other non-Jewish statesmen, for they hear a word about it from the rabbis!

We know now, unhappily, that as late as at the beginning of the month of Iyar, 5701, a convention of hundreds of rabbis was afraid to mention to American Jewry our eight-months-old announcement that we Jews are nearing the final redemption!

We also know now, unhappily, that the American rabbinate, ignoring our call to prepare for the swiftly oncoming redemption, give consent-by-silence to the belief of the Jewish masses that our salvation depends on non-Jewish savior a -- a false, misleading, and dangerous assumption. It is contrary to all that out Prophets and Sages taught. Only fraudulent messianic movements are forbidden -- but not belief in imminent redemption, which we maintain because it is the purest truth. We say it daily in our prayers: "And even though the Messiah delays to come, we expect his arrival every day!" Unfortunately American Jews have no room in their hearts for this Credo because their spiritual leaders tell them about salvation and relief through other means than the Jewish Messiah. Their spiritual leaders preach new credos to them: "I believe in Churchill; I believe in democracy; and I believe in the coming of the world-peace!"

According to the spiritual leaders of American Jewry we are nowhere near the final redemption, for they themselves do not mention the subject to the people, and our call has remained ignored as a dream which holds no interest for such practical leaders as they are!

According to our proclamation we are indeed near to the final redemption; and according to our warning it is rather the practicality of all the practical people which is the product of vain dreams and ineptitude!

According to our call and warning much more is now necessary than to pray to G-d to nullify the evil decrees and send us the righteous redeemer. It is time, indeed, for sincere penitence, for a new and earnest, voluntary and joyous, acceptance of the Torah. For the Messiah is coming soon, even though he is not expected. But the thunders and lightnings preceding his arrival, necessary in order to cause American Jewry to say again "We will do and heed," are a much more dangerous affair than our spiritual leaders imagine. To pray to G-d to recall the evil edicts is now insufficient. These are not ordinary evils intended to punish sinners; they are to force them to repent! The pre-messianic travails can be avoided only through a new, speedy, voluntary re-acceptance of the Torah, together with a new and speedy return to the sacred old Credos!

We have assumed and we accept the full responsibility for our pronouncement. In a very brief time, G-d willing, American Jewry will be convinced that only our call and warning are true and timely. But it may be too late for many who still let themselves be misled by false prophecies!

We announce and we warn that the time is very short, and that the single greatest Jewish trouble is the complete indifference of American Jewry to the true hope of deliverance, and it's total unpreparedness for the swiftly approaching final redemption which out generation is destined to experience!

The truth about the Jewish disaster is that which our Prophets and Sages told us in advance: the pre-messianic travail at the approach of the final redemption!

If the American Jews will refuse to rouse themselves bedtimes from their lethargy, refuse to recognize the truth, and persist in consoling themselves with the patent nostrums of false prophecies of salvation through the coming world-peace, we can only regret the great price they will have to pay for being revived from their torpor by violence. To those, however, who wish to have their eyes open, and who do not wish to have their hearts shut fast against the truth, we bring the good and joyous news that the present world darkness is the ninth plague; but one more after this -- the plague of the first-born -- and then the bright final redemption will come. All these dark powers which now seek to seize the world's birthright and to rule over all mankind by brute force will be wiped off G-d's world; the Jewish people will then by means of great miracles and wonders be freed from its exile status; and the prophecy will be fulfilled: "He will annihilate death forever; and Almighty G-d will wipe the tears off all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; thus hath G-d spoken!" (Isaiah 25:8)

No new disasters should now dismay Jewish hearts! No new upsurge of anti-Semitic waves and evil decrees should cause the Jewish people to despair! Let Jews from now on greet each other with the joyous greeting, "To the nearing redemption!" No matter how bad things may become at the last hour, let every Jewish man and woman remember that the Jewish people is not breathing its last but that the world is in labor giving birth to twins: A new Jewish nation and a new Jewish land!

Concerning our times the Prophet tells us: "A tumult comes out of every city, it sounds from every temple; it is the sound of G-d, avenging Himself upon His enemies: With a fore-pain for the woman in childbirth, with an earlier onset of pains to her that is about to give birth to a male child. But who has heard such a thing, who has ever seen such as these, that a whole land should be racked in one day? that a whole nation should be born at one time? -- This will be heard after Zion shall have labored and brought forth her children!" (Isaiah 66:6-8)

The Redeemer of Zion and Jerusalem, the Almighty, is about to come and deliver His land and cause the rebirth of His people. The labor-pains have begun, but they shall not endure for long!

This and no other is the truth about the present Jewish disaster!

To the nearing redemption!

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