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9 posts from September 2011

No Double Jeopardy

On Rosh Hashana, all of creation passes before Hashem, the supreme and sole Monarch of the Universe, who personally sits in judgment in the awesome trial that determines our fate for the coming year.

The Talmud also teaches that a Heavenly court judges the world in general and each person in particular, every single day. All court decisions must receive the final approval of The Almighty, who is much more merciful and compassionate than the court is. Frequently, G-d delays the implementation of an unfavorable decision against a person, to give that person an opportunity for self-evaluation.

When a person mends his or her ways, G-d cancels the verdict altogether. Double jeopardy is illegal in the Heavenly court. Therefore, when a person admits guilt after self-evaluation, he or she has in effect conducted his or her own mental courtroom. The heavenly court is no longer allowed to try the case. If the court has already tried the person, but has not yet activated the sentence, then the sentence is nullified.

If a person makes no change in the behavior that led to a guilty verdict, then the spiritual sentencing manifests itself in some type of affliction in this world. The resulting suffering from a person's own deeds is therefore self-induced.

Don't wait until until the fateful trial of Rosh Hashana - judge yourself before the Heavenly court judges you! The minute a person begins to evaluate him/herself, G-d sends an urgent message that forbids the Heavenly court from passing judgment on the self-evaluator. Again, The Almighty prohibits double jeopardy. When a person judges him/herself truthfully, the Heavenly court is not allowed to touch the case.

Once a person decides to improve in some way, two things happen: One, The Almighty grants the person's decision the validity of a Heavenly court decision. Two, all punishment is cancelled. As soon as a person decides to improve - even if the decision hasn't been fully implemented - G-d no longer needs to use punitive stimuli to stimulate that person's improvement. Also, The Almighty takes keen interest in a person's self-evaluation, and always listens when a person judges him/herself.

During the month of Elul, even the last day before Rosh Hashana, Hashem is very lenient and forgiving. The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed and saintly memory used to say that in Elul, Hashem resembles a king who visits his subjects in their villages; out in the field, anyone can approach the King. But, in Tishrei - from Rosh Hashana until the end of the judgment days on Shmini Atzeres, Hashem resembles a King on His throne; it's not so simple to visit the King in His palace when He sits on His throne. Also, on Rosh Hashana, Hashem judges all of creation, and the trial is much more serious.

Don't wait for the fateful trial on Rosh Hashana. Now's the time to judge yourself, taking stock of the things you want to avoid doing in the future and identifying those areas in your observance of Hashem's commandments where you'd like to improve. You'll be doing yourself the favor of your life.

In an earthly court with human judges, when an accused person pleads guilty, he or she gets the book thrown at them. In the Heavenly court, the opposite is true - when one confesses and pleads guilty, yet sincerely asks for forgiveness, one is not only pardoned, but granted a joyous and sweet New Year!


Don't Ignore the Dent

11 Sep., 2011

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I enjoy your teachings, especially the effect that The Trail to Tranquility has had on my husband, who is much calmer and nicer since he read your book. So, this is the first time I am writing to you for personal help.

Lately, I've been accident prone. I have a one year-old Toyota, and lately I seem to be making little mistakes all the time - parking the car in the rain and dark, and bumping the rear of the car into a pole; rushing while driving my children to music lessons, and the tire hit the curb and the tire cover popped off; pulling out into traffic, and I lightly grazed a fence and now have a streak on the side of the car.

None of these incidents involved harming myself, anyone else, or anyone else's car (thank G-d!), they are purely incidents of damage that I have done - completely inadvertently, but clearly, something is going on! I was actually distressed by how nice  my husband has been - I thought he should yell at me and tell me to be more careful, slow down, why aren't you taking better care of our car?  But he has been downright kind!

I've prayed for help in understanding what these small, but clearly repetitive, mistakes mean, but I haven't received any answers. In your opinion, what should I do?

In general, B"H, I am modern Orthodox, 38 years old, married happily for 15 years to a better-than-ever husband, we have 4 beautiful daughters, and we are blessed with an adequate income. I am grateful for all of these blessings, and in general, I am a happy person. This is the one area I need help with. With appreciation for your advice and help, Ricki, Midwest USA

* * * * *

B"H, 12 Sep., 2011

Dear Ricki,

These are personal Elul-type wake-up calls from Hashem to catch your attention. The dents in the car (blemishes in the machine's outer appearance) indicate that you have things to fix in your outer appearance. Without knowing you personally, I'd say that the repeated mishaps are probably a call to improve your modesty in dress and head covering. Blessings always, LB

* * * * *

23 Sep., 2011

Dear Rabbi Brody,

I want to thank you for your note from September 12th. You had no way of knowing this, but I hadn't been covering my hair at all. After I received your note, it all fell into place: I decided it was time to buy some head-coverings.

The next day when I drove home from work with my head covered for the first time, I had a co-worker with me. As soon as I entered the highway, she said, "Slow down! The speed limit on this road it 50, not 60, and you might get a ticket." I felt Hashem's love and protection being channelled through my friend, and I immediately relaxed and drove more slowly. Thank G-d, I haven't had any incidents with the car since.

So thank you very much for your advice. It helped me a great deal. Most sincerely, Ricki


Praying with Intent

Dear Rabbi Lazer,

What can one do to maintain intent while praying? It is not mundane matters that enter my mind, but all the troubling thoughts of what the many threats that face us at the moment. I try to concentrate on with the prayer book, but at the same time, I hear my mind asking all these other questions of Hashem for help with all my personal challenges and with Israel's challenges in general. I also have this trauma because our apartment was badly damaged during one of the rocket attacks from Gaza. I struggle to stay focused on the words before me, yet cry because all these other emotions are running through me at the same time. What do I do? Thanks for your availability and your help, with best wishes for the New year 5772, Tanya from Beersheva

Dear Tanya,

I know it sounds like my personal mantra, but the only solution is emuna. The more we strengthen our emuna, the more we realize that we are standing before Hashem and that He is personally listening to everything we say. The more we feel that we are standing before Hashem and that He is personally listening to everything we say, the better our intent during prayer. We should always remember that Hashem does everything for the very best, whether or not we understand how or why. This will take the worry off your mind. Don't forget that emuna needs constant reinforcement - that's what we tell ourselves here in Ashdod, too. Emuna is our major test in the generation of Moshiach. Blessings for a Ktiva V'chatima Tova and a Happy New Year, LB


They're Ready

Today was another gift from Hashem and a very moving day - I had the privilege of visiting and spending time with one of the IDF's best units on the Gaza border. We spoke about celebrating Rosh Hashana while being on maximum alert. We also had a lengthy question-and-answer session that was really inspiring. For example:

Sergeant R: Rabbi, the guys expect me to be the Chazan on Rosh Hashana. Halacha says that the chazan must be a tzaddik. How can I be Chazan when I'm far from being a tzaddik?

LB: The fact that you think you're unworthy, R, shows that you really are humble and very worthy. Besides, you put your life on the line 24/7 down here for the Jewish people; what other Chazan in the world can say that?

Corporal T: Rabbi, will Hashem really hear our prayers? We have to rush through them because down here, we must be prepared to be mounted and combat ready in a few short minutes. Also, we have to pray in shifts to switch off our buddies in their duty stations; it's not like praying at home...

LB: T, there's no angel in the sky who'd dare interfere with an infantryman's prayers ascending from the Gaza border. You guys are pure dedication. If I weren't going to Uman, I'd be proud and privileged to pray with you right here.

***

After my visit, I met with the platoon and company commanders who told me that this particular platoon's morale, performance and unity are the best in their brigade. That's what emuna does for soldiers. By the way, this particular platoon has 15 Baalei Teshuvas now - no wonder their motivation and morale are so high, they fully believe in what they're doing.

These guys are ready. We need to spread more emuna among the IDF's fighting men, and that's exactly what we're trying to do.

Here are a few wonderful shots from David Bader's superb camera:

1. LB checking out combat readiness

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2. Questions and answers

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3. Choose your weapon

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4. A blessing for Rosh Hashana

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We all owe the courageous young man of the IDF a ton of gratitude - the least we can do is to pray for their safety and well-being. May Hashem protect them always, amen.


The Tug of War

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Above image Copyright 2011, Thinkstockphotos.com

If you're on a tug-of-war team, you can't be thinking if the other guy is pulling or not. You have to bear down and put 100% of your strength and concentration into your own pulling, otherwise you'll lose. As soon as we direct our thoughts on others, we lose focus on what we ourselves are doing.

85% of the people who have been emailing me in the last six days have completely missed Rav Shalom's message. They've sunken into fear or depression, fretting what will be, what the government will do, what the IDF will do, and so forth. Rav Shalom's message of the imminent harsh decree was not a doomsday prophecy; it was a call to mobilize, for us to dig our heels deeper into the holy ground of prayer, Torah, teshuva and mitzvoth - particularly loving our fellow man - to mitigate the harsh judgment.

In the rope-type tug of war, there's no time to contemplate how strong your adversary is. You simply must concentrate on pulling harder than he does. If you let up for a moment, you fly forward on your face. That's not what we want.

I've been out in the field looking at myself through a fine-tooth comb, and there's plenty room for improvement. All Hashem wants from us is that we try our best to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. He simply wants us to pull our share of the rope and to correct what we're able to correct. What the UN, the Turkish Navy, or the Israeli Government does is not under my control, so I neither bother with it nor fret about it. If I did, I wouldn't be doing what I'm supposed to.

Mobilize, yes; incapacitating fear and depression, by no means! Let's each of us start pulling. Talk to Hashem while doing some serious self-assessment, and you'll know exactly what you need to work on in the 2 short weeks remaining until Rosh Hashana. And yes, I believe we'll be the winners when the smoke clears.