Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Remedy for Amalek

I have to admit that I've had a bit of a battle with Amalek lately. I've been doubting. Reading the news regarding what is happening in Israel, watching my rights being taken away as an American citizen, reading the recent parshas and wondering when Jews will connect to the Torah's energy and bring about redemption . . . it's left me sighing and even cussing a time or two. And worst of all it's left me asking, "What's the point of even trying?"

I don't allow my self to stay in that mode for too long. But its been hard to shake. Maybe it has something to do with the energy of Kislev, as we wait for the light to break through the darkness. A darkness that seems suffocating at times. Yet, no matter how dark things may seem, Hashem expects us to keep believing and to keep hoping. And the only way to keep belief and hope alive is to focus on Him rather than on circumstances.

Not only have I been guilty of doubting, but I have not been praying often enough. Doubt. Lack of prayer. The two certainly go hand in hand. My mother is a very spiritual and disciplined person. She has always reminded me that prayer is THE most important thing that we can do. When we pray we build up our emuna (faith) in G-d. We set the balance right again in our hearts and minds of Who is in control of everything. I was reminded of this truth when I read a newsletter from Sam Peak of Biblical Faith. In it he shared the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush from his book called The Garden of Yearning. In it Rabbi Arush reminds us of emuna and prayer. The following is from his book:

"We know that emuna is the world's most precious commodity, and that the entire purpose of Torah, mitsvot, and creation is to bring a person to emuna. We should know that the main principle of emuna is our belief that everything is for the best. Any emuna that lacks the faith that everything is for the best is incomplete and is accompanied by fantasies and disappointment. Emuna is synonymous with happiness and with prayer. In addition, when we believe that everything is for the best, we believe that there is no power in the world other than Hashem. One who believes that there is nothing other than Hashem is spared from a long list of negative emotions such as anger, revenge and frustration."

Rabbi Nachman also reminds us of the importance of prayer and emuna:
"Every person must say: The whole world was created for me. If the world was created for me, it is therefore my constant obligation to examine and consider what is needed to repair the world and provide everyone's needs, and to pray for them."

"The world regards emuna as something minor, but I consider emuna as being of the greatest importance."

"When you have emuna, every day is filled with good. When things go well, it is certainly good. But even if things go wrong and you suffer, this is also good. For you trust that G-d will have mercy and will eventually send good. Everything must be good, because everything comes from G-d."

"One should have faith in G-d, not in the means in which something comes about. The Holy One, blessed be He, is the Cause of all causes, and there is absolutely no need for any one particular means. Even while resorting to a given means to try to bring something about, we must believe only in G-d, and not put our faith in the means."

As political situations escalate and as spiritual darkness seems to dominate the world, I can either focus on circumstances or focus on Hashem. Prayer is the discipline that brings about proper focus and it is the root of emuna. And it is a privilege that I too often brush aside. I get to talk to and petition the King of the Universe! That alone should overshadow everything. Along with knowing His answer, though often beyond my understanding, is always right and good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What American Jews Can Learn From Elephant

Before the 2004 tsunami people in Thailand heard wails and saw the strange sight of panic stricken elephants. The agitated elephants broke free from their chains, ignored the commands of their owners and ran for higher ground. The elephants’ flight happened minutes before the tsunami hit. This same behavior was observed in many other types of animals briefly before the tsunami crashed on shore.

Alan Rabinowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, says animals can sense impending danger by detecting subtle or abrupt shifts in the environment. "Earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water while storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere," he said. "Some animals have acute senses that allow them to determine something coming towards them long before humans might know that something is there."

What Mr. Rabinowitz is basically describing is a sixth sense. American Jews, what has happened to your sixth sense? Why aren’t you going to higher ground? Why are you not returning to Israel?

In his Yom Kippur message entitled, “Come Home!” Rabbi Nachman Kahana said, “Often it is difficult, if not almost impossible, to face the truth, but in our attempts to soften the sting, we often pervert the absolute truth.” American Jews, it’s time to face the absolute truth. America is not your home, no matter how at home you might feel here. Deep in your heart, and high in a realm of your conscious that is connected to Hashem, you know this truth. It shouts at you everyday, “Come Home!” The problem is though, you're not listening.

We just witnessed the 72-year anniversary of Kristallnacht. Brian Levin wrote an article in the Huffington Post entitled, “On Kristallnacht Anniversary, Critical Lessons Remain Unheeded.” Mr. Levin opened his article describing the horrid scenes and statistics of the infamous night of destruction of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews’ lives, businesses, and synagogues. The “angle” he chose for the remainder of the article led him to point out, of all things, the intolerence Muslims are facing, while unheeding the most critical lesson of all, that the only safe place for Jews, ironically, with all that it is facing, is Israel.

“How lucky we, particularly religious minorities like Jews and Muslims, and non-believers as well, are to live in the United States in 2010,” Levin said, “where different faiths or none can be practiced without the violence and threat that still blights other parts of the world. To be sure, religious hatred and intolerance does exist in the United States, and as someone who studies extremism across the board, I can conveniently spotlight incendiary demagogues from each of the Abrahamic faiths to demonstrate that intolerance is primarily a human trait, rather than a religious one. Neither our laws, our President, or religious minorities themselves will allow those pogroms of the past to occur here in the immediate future. Responsible leaders such as Presidents Obama and Bush, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Retired Justice John Paul Stevens have rightfully spoken out against religious intolerance, and Islamophobia in particular.”

This is wrong and inappropriate on many levels, but I’ll focus on Mr. Levin feeling lucky to be an American. The absolute truth is that Mr. Levine is not lucky to live in the United States. No matter how welcomed and comfortable he, along with other Jews feel here, the United States is part of the galut. The only home for a Jew, according to Hashem, is Israel. If a Jew’s address does not have Israel at the end of it, he is literally living in a dream world. A dream world, that history has shown over and over again, will more likely than not turn into a nightmare.

How many Jews throughout history living and prospering in varies countries felt Mr. Levin’s same false security? Putting hope in any country's laws, leaders, or religious minorities to prevent “those pogroms of the past to occur here in the immediate future” is utter foolishness.

Am I an alarmist, or am I simply looking at both ancient and recent history? History has relentlessly proven that too often no matter how long a Jewish community is welcomed in a country, eventually the host country turns on the Jews leading to devastating consequences. Modernism and “refined” cultures were no match for anti-Semitism in Europe. Are Jews willing to bet their lives that America’s modernism and refined culture will always guarantee their safety?

Jews, more than any other peoples, should have a spiritual sixth sense. And they do. Unfortunately, for so many American Jews in the galut, their sixth sense is suppressed by materialism and secularism. Hence, they are not heeding the warning from Hashem to flee to higher ground, to drop everything and go home to Israel.

Persian Jew, Spanish Jew, Russian Jew, Austrian Jew, German Jew, Czech Jew, and yes, even American Jew are labels that no longer need or should exist. Israeli Jew. That is the only label suitable for a Jew today.

I, along with others, who care about American Jews, need to quit sugar-coating the truth in an attempt soften it. If any American Jew is listening, my heart is shouting a message that isn't politically correct and it doesn't sound nice, but it is coated in concern and truth. “Leave my country! You don’t belong here. Go back to G-d's gift to you, the land of Israel.” Deep down inside you know I’m right. Because deep down inside your heart is shouting the same thing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's That Fragrance You're Wearing?

Temple consciousness met me in my kitchen yesterday. I was earning my “Best Mom in the World" badge as I made my kids’ favorite after school snack, cinnamon rolls.

Any time I use vanilla in a recipe, I have to take an extra sniff. “Umm,” I thought as I inhaled, “That is the best smell in the world.” That’s when Temple consciousness decided to jump in the conversation. “No, it’s not. It’s not even close. The best smell in the world is the incense offering at the Temple.”

I’m squeezing these thoughts in during the last days of Cheshvan. The sense connected to Cheshvan is the sense of smell. As most of you know, the sense of smell is the most spiritual of all senses. The Hebrew word for "smell" (רֵיחַ) is related to the word for "spirit" (רוּחַ). Out of the five senses, the sense of smell is the only sense that didn't participate, and thereby was not blemished in the primordial sin in the Garden of Eden. You probably know too, that the sense of smell is related to Moshiach. "And he shall smell with the awe of God" - "he shall judge by smell" (rather than by sight or hearing, Isaiah 11:3; Sanhedrin 93b).

I don’t pretend or presume to know why Hashem instated the incense offering, much less anything else related to the Temple. But yesterday in my kitchen, Temple consciousness made me start wondering about the incense offering. The sense of smell is strongly connected to memory. So via the incense offering, what is Hashem beckoning us to remember?

Perhaps all the Divine Service of the Temple is a visual and “hands-on” reminder of where our mind is supposed to be; connected to Hashem. A tzadik is one who has connected to the “upper limits” of consciousness. He has negated self-focus by transcending his ego and has reached the “simple,” profound knowing that the only true existence is G-d’s existence. The tzadik knows with every ounce of his being that G-d is One; that nothing exists besides The One. In essence, the tzadik reminds us how silly it is for us to be concerned about our ego, when in reality, it doesn’t even exist. It will be at the Temple, unlike any other place on earth, that G-d’s Oneness will be revealed to all. Translation on our level: Leave your ego at the Temple door.

The Moshiach will have dealt with his ego, to say the least. He will be so connected to Hashem, that his consciousness will be at the highest level. Everything the Moshiach does will stem from knowing that Hashem is One. He will not rely on his own sight or hearing to judge man. To me, the fact that his judgments will be based on his sense of smell is describing that he has arrived back to his pristine existence; completely in Hashem’s Oneness.

“Okay, really, you got all of this from smelling vanilla?” you might be asking. But that’s what Temple consciousness does. It invades. It reminds us to elevate every moment in the world. Yet, at the same time it reminds us that every moment is so incomplete because the Temple is missing.

Long ago in Israel there was a great tumult in the streets after a shofar blast was heard from the top of a high mountain. People wondered if it was the long-awaited Shofar of Moshiach. People went to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok to ask if he thought Moshiach had come. The tzadik opened his window and said, "No, he hasn't come; I can't smell the fragrance of Moshiach." Chassidim at the time asked one another, "Why did Reb Menachem Mendel have to open the window?" And they answered, "Because his room was always infused with the fragrance of Moshiach."

May we long to smell the fragrance of Moshiach, the fragrance of the incense offering. And may that longing spur us to the action of rebuilding the Temple.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Children of Yaacov Deserve Better

Israel keeps disrupting my life. I have things to do today, a long list. I’m a mom, a school board member, an artist, etc. There are other things I need to do. But my plans changed. Israel has been doing that to me a lot lately; changing my plans.

Instead of getting things done this morning, I’ve spent the morning crying. Why? First, I heard two teachings on parsha Toldot, one by Rabbi Chaim Richman, the other by Yishai Fleisher. Toldot tells of the birth of Esav and Yaacov, Edom and Israel. As I listened to the teachings, I got a persistent funny feeling in my gut.

Edom. Israel. The sages teach that both cannot be great at the same time. History teaches this also. Only one of them can dominate. The weight of the continual dominance of Edom hit me in the gut and led to tears of frustration. Isn’t it long past time for Edom to fall? Haven’t the Jews had to endure enough hardship under Edom?

The thing is, though, I live in the middle of Edom. I live in the middle of America. So perhaps a few of my tears were selfish ones. What’s going to happen to my family and to me when Edom finally does fall?

Wait just a minute you may be saying, what do you mean by saying America is Edom? I won't go into details here about the Edom/Rome/America connection. For brevity's sake, I'll just say that any power, any country that is against Israel falls into the age-old category of Edom.

Sadly, in many ways, America has stood against Israel for years. I was reminded of one example of America being against Israel this morning. Which led to more tears. Go ahead call me a crybaby. But if what is happening in Israel doesn’t drive you to tears occasionally, then, quite frankly, you aren’t paying attention to what really matters.

A friend who lives in Israel posted this on Facebook this morning: I traveled to Sderot yesterday morning to see the world's largest children's play center, all enclosed by reinforced concrete. 500 kids can safely enjoy an afternoon in a modern rec center, while missles are shot at them . . . what's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture? Besides the obvious, what’s wrong is that America keeps insisting that Israel capitulate to people who have shot over 7000 rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot. Jewish children in Sderot can literally no longer safely play outdoors in their own country. America doesn’t just sit idly by and let this happen. American enables this.

Did America insist that the people shooting these rockets leave the area? Did America make sure bulldozers were sent to destroy the homes of those shooting the rockets? No, America insisted that over 8,000 Jewish people dismantle and leave their community to make way for more Arabs to live on Jewish land. Oh, and America just knew that this goodwill gesture by the citizens of Gush Katif would bring a screeching halt to the rocket attacks.

Like I said, I live in the heartland of America. It was such a beautiful morning here that I opened the door to let the fresh air in. Living only a few blocks away from my child’s school, I could hear the sounds of the children on the playground during recess.

Yes, you see the irony. The children of America are running around in the fresh air, with not a worry to encumber them. The furthest thing from their mind is hearing a siren and having only 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter before a rocket hits.

This is why the funny feeling in my gut persists. This is why the tears flow. My children run under a blue sky. The children of Sderot run in the “Blue Box.” Doesn’t America know that the karma it keeps depositing in its account will demand a day of reckoning? Does it not know that being a conduit for the ruthless power of Esav will bring its own demise? Yet, that reality is not the worst thing that hits my gut. The worst thing is that Israel keeps bowing down to the demands of Edom. Yaacov perpetually bows to Esav.

Israel, the birthright is yours. If you open the pages of Torah you will find it there. There, along with your destiny. If and when you get serious about serving the G-d of Yaacov, instead of the god of Esav, the whole world will literally change. A power-shift so radical, so life-altering is within your reach. Open the Torah and grab it. When you do you will hear the sounds of Zechariah 8:5, “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.” May my children and I merit surviving the fall of Edom and hear that sound with you.