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14 posts from April 2012

Counting the Omer


" By virtue of the Omer that I counted today…may I be purified and sanctified with the sanctity from above, and may this cause an influence of great abundance in all the worlds."(Seder Sfirat HaOmer, terminating prayer).

At the conclusion of each night's counting of the Omer, we ask Hashem that we be purified and sanctified. We also say that our purification and sanctification triggers an influence of tremendous abundance in all the worlds – both material and spiritual.

Before attempting to comprehend the above principles, we have to realize that the people of Israel at Pesach are a nation of newly redeemed slaves. Not only were we newly redeemed slaves at the time of our exodus from Egypt, but every year at Pesach as well. Pesach is the furthest time of the year from the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when all of Israel makes teshuva out of the awe of Hashem. As the long winter months transpire, we drop our guard and fall slaves to our bodily urges and appetites.

At Pesach time, we complete a process of physically cleaning our domains from chometz, or leavened agents, and begin a spiritual process of cleaning our hearts as a preparation for freedom. Teshuva is the cleansing of the heart from all evil.

True freedom, which includes the liberty from social pressure and bodily urges, comes only from Torah. Therefore, even though we break off the chains of bondage at Pesach, we're not really free until we receive the Torah 50 days later on Shavuot. During the interim 49 days, we count the Omer as a process of preparing ourselves to receive the Torah. Rebbe Nathan of Breslev says that each of the 49 days corrects a character attribute that corresponds to the 48 ways of attaining Torah (see tractate Avos, 6:6 for the entire list), while the 49th day serves as a correction to our prayers.

Rebbe Natan writes (Abridged Likutei Moharan 63:2) that the 49 days of the Omer also correspond to the 49 gates of Tshuva. By reciting Tehillim (Psalms) every day, one can open each gate of Tshuva. Therefore, concludes Rebbe Natan, saying Tehillim during each day of the Omer is extremely important.

Rebbe Natan's principle of Tehillim and Tshuva explains how the purification of our souls during the days of the Omer invokes abundance in all the worlds, as we shall see – with Hashem's grace – in the following parable:

Continue reading "Counting the Omer" »

Spiritual Cause and Effect

I'm privileged to bear the name of the holy Mishnaic sage (Tanna, in Aramaic) Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaakov. His gravesite is 2 kilometers east of the Hananya crossroads, about 10 kilometers south of Meron.

Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaakov was nicknamed kav veNaki (Gemara tractate Eruvin 62b, Yevamot 49b, and other places), which literally means "grain with no chaff". The connotation is that he didn't say much, but almost everything he did say was codified into law. One of Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaakov's most well known sayings appears in the Mishna, tractate Avot, chapter 4, mishna 11. He says, "One who performs a mitzva earns a defense counsel, and one who transgresses earns a prosecutor; teshuva and good deeds are a shield against calamity."

The defense counsel that Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaakov was talking about is a defending angel, and the prosecutor is a dark-side force of evil. This mishna is the key to spiritual cause and effect, a notion that permeates all of Torah.

In light of Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaakov's teachings, we can say our enemies are born from our own misdeeds. This is the key to understanding what's going on in the world. The ATFAT law is at work here: every breach in personal holiness - especially here in our beloved homeland - brings with a breach in national security. 

We all must stand strong against the spiritual defilement of the Land of Israel if we expect to maintain true sovereignty on this tiny strip of holy real estate that the entire world is trying to take away from us. Debauchery is our worst enemy; the Hamas and Hizbulla were only created from our lack of holiness. You know what that means? Lack of modesty and lewdness ultimately manifest themselves as Kassam and Katyusha rockets. 

Personal holiness and modesty are the best defense against all of our enemies. We strengthen our holiness by guarding our speech, guarding our eyes, dressing more modestly, avoiding lewd sites and literature, and by strengthening our emuna. Emuna and prayer are our two strongest weapons. Let's pick them up right now. The more we fight for an Eretz Yisrael of kedusha (holiness), the faster the forces of impurity within our midst will crumble. Don't think for a minute that if you're outside the physical borders of Israel, you're exempt from doing your part.

For the defense of our Holy Land, let us become more holy. Holiness is our deed to this cherished piece of real estate that Hashem has entrusted to our safekeeping.

Lazer ben Yaacov 470


Aliya: Like Cleaning for Pesach

My cherished and esteemed friend Doctor Arie Keehn, who is also a key partner in spreading emuna, send us a wonderful thought:  He was walking home from synagogue at the termination of Passover with his friend, Jay Wolf. Jay had mentioned that this was the time of year that they hung up a sign in his house that says: "Dust is not Chamentz and the Husband is not the Korban Pesach" (Pascal lamb). Arie asked if he could explain why people were not stressed to put away their Pesach dishes etc. in one night, but are overwhelmed for at least one month prior to the holiday.

Jay then related the message he gives to our brothers outside of The Holy Land. He likens Aliya to cleaning for Pesach. Everyone stresses out for that month prior to the holiday, but even though we are tired, at the end we get to celebrate the holiday of our freedom. Even more so with Aliya. Aliya is stressful during the preparation process, but in the end, we get to celebrate our freedom in our homeland. Every year we prepare for Pesach, but you only need to make aliyah once.

PS - The best preparation in the world for Aliya is reinforcing your emuna. Time to come home...

Life's Thorns

This time of the year is magnificent in Ashdod - the air smells like perfume and everything is blossoming. The citrus flowers make the atmosphere smell like Gan Eden here. Even the weeds and the thorns are in bloom.

Why did Hashem make the thorns so beautiful? Pictured below is thistle flowering in a meadow east of Ashdod - it's purple color, argaman in Hebrew - is one of the main colors used in the Holy Temple. Yet intrinsically, the thorns are beautiful, like all of Hashem's creations. They symbolize our challenges and "prickly" times in life. These are our growth opportunities, not the easy-street jolly hours. Life's thorns - like everything else Hashem does - are for our ultimate benefit. More than anything, they bring us closer to Hashem.

Thistle 471