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16 posts from February 2013

Above the stars

Our forefather Abraham was an expert astrologist; he gazed up at the stars, and saw that he would never be a father.

Hashem told Abraham that his reading was accurate, but that he must put the astrology aside. By virtue of Abraham's clinging to Hashem, he raised himself to a status where he was above the stars - the zodiacs no longer had an influence on him, and he became a father to great nations.

Astrology is a true discipline, but those who cling to Hashem in faith and in loving obedience to the Torah's commandments are surely above the stars.

Nature, teaches The Ramcha'l in chapter 7 of Derech Hashem, is certainly influenced by the stars, for that is the way of Hashem's creation. But, Hashem gives us the opportunity to transcend nature, and to live above the stars' influence. Therefore, anyone can change fate or a stroke of bad luck by making Teshuva and clinging to Hashem. As such, the Gemara declares (tractate Shabbos 156b), Ayn mazal leYisroel, in other words, the stars have no influence over Israel, the loyal ones who cling to Hashem.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev adds that for those who live above the stars' influence, miracles are natural. Just ask Esther and Mordechai... Happy Adar!

Sombrerogalaxy The Sombrero Galaxy, courtesy of utahskies.org


Controlling all of Creation

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Likutei Moharan I: 34), that every individual has the potential of being a "righteous governor". Certainly, each of us has the potential of being righteous, a "tzaddik", for the prophet said, "And your people are all tzaddikim!" (Isaiah 60:21). A tzaddik has the special ability to govern over all of creation.

Reb Natan of Breslev explains (Likutei Halachot, Yora Dea, Mila 4:16), that "Creation continues to exist and function by virtue of Israel's service to Hashem, and their blessings and praise of Him, blessed is He." In simple terms, every creation fulfills its purpose in the universe thanks to the prayers and songs of Israel, thanking and praising Hashem. For example, when Israel blesses Hashem for creating the sun, moon, and stars, they glitter and illuminate! As such, the Israel that controls nature is virtually above the level of nature; nature cannot control Israel.

Rabbi Alexander Ziskind of saintly and blessed memory writes explicitely (Yesod VeShoresh HaAvoda, Gate 3, Section 5) that Israel governs over creation and that creation must comply with Israel's directives. In his elaboration of Psalm 148, he notes that a person in this lowly physical world has the power of commanding all the creations – both in the upper worlds and in the lower worlds – to praise Hashem; they are required to obey, as a fundamental law embedded in the very fiber of creation. Anyone who realizes that his or her prayers, Psalms, and songs of praise have the power to dictate orders to all of creation will surely acquire a burning desire to sing constant songs of thanks and praise to Hashem; these songs of thanks and praise are a scepter in a person's hands that enables him or her to rule over nature.

Do you know what that means? With songs of thanks and praise, together with emuna, one can order bacteria and viruses to leave the body, and they must adhere!Ovenbird_singing_a

All of creation sings to Hashem. Why don't you join in?


Wings of a Dove

People ask me where I get the stamina to hold up under such a gruelling tour schedule, for each road trip is usually 17-21 days with multiple daily engagements and often more than 18,000 miles of traveling. The answer is, I get my energy - and everything else I have - from Hashem. But what keeps me going is my daily hour of personal prayer. I'd like to share with you this pictorial diary of the places where I was privileged to do personal prayer during one of our USA speaking tours two years ago. Yes, you can speak to Hashem in the USA too (only from Israel, it's a local call). The background music is from the Madregot, two fantastic Israeli singers, who sing Ever Cayona, "Wings of a Dove". Have a great Shabbat!


Meir the cabby's story

Meirs_taxi I'm Meir. I drive a taxi in Ashdod. This is a picture of my rig to the left. Hey don't get me wrong, I'm not religious or anything, and I'm certainly not a Haredi. I enjoy a good soccer match (especially Betar Yerushalayim) on Shabbat. Some people think hackers are dumb, but not us Israelis. I can speak 4 languages - Hebrew, French, Arabic, and English. Rav Lazer said I could write whatever I want, and that he'd only correct spelling mistakes, so he can't sell me down the river.

The truth is, that before I met Rav Lazer, I used to work like a dog for 7 seven days a week. In case you're wondering about moving here, life ain't easy with 4 kids and a wife that likes to serve meat or chicken every day and to get her hair done once a week.

Once, I drove Rav Lazer to a lecture of his in Ashkelon. Even though he's a Haredi, we hit it off great. He didn't nag me about religion, just took an interest about my family and me. I told him I was in debt up to the nose. He asked me if I worked on Shabbat. I said yes. He said let the rig rest on Shabbat, have a nice meal with the family, and take a walk on the beach with the wife and kids, and he promises I'll get out of debt. I said, "Rabbi, with all due respect, you're nuts. How can I work less hours, and forfeit Saturday doubletime tariffs, and make more money? Where the heck did you learn math?"

He only smiled. He said that I'll save the money on tires and repairs. I didn't believe him.

The following Saturday, I got a great fare from a French tourist who wanted to go from Ashdod to Tzfat via the Kinneret. Fat city! The fare was 1850 shekels round trip and the madamoiselle gave me a 250-shekel tip and payed for lunch. I laughed all the way home with 2100 shekels in my pocket...until Sunday morning.

The next morning, a cop pulled me over and claimed that I crossed a solid white line: 4 points and 600 shekels down the drain. The points on my license hurt more than the dough. An hour later, I passed a construction site and got two flat tires from nails on the road. The tires were shot, another 900 shekels. Then, I had engine trouble. Diesel engines use cheap fuel, but their maintenance is more expensive. Another 800 shekels. I made a lousy 200 shekels that day, but lost 6 hours and 2300 shekels, all the money I made the day before and the few fares that I made before the day was up.

At 7 pm, exhausted, I got a call from guess who - Rav Lazer. He wanted me to take him to one of the moshavim in the area for another of his gigs. To make a long story short, I put 2 and 2 together and figured that you can't fight city hall, especially when Hashem is the mayor.

Hey, that was 18 months ago. I'm not gonna tell you I'm religious or anything, but I don't work on Shabbat anymore. I've repaid 80% of my debts, and my home life is a zillion times better. So do yourself a favor - don't work on Shabbat. Take it from me, Meir the cabby from Ashdod.

Rav Lazer gave me one more piece of advice - buy gas from a station that closes on Shabbat. I do; here's proof:

Gas_station Ashdod gas station, near the port: The neon sign says, "Open 24 hours, station observes the Sabbath".

This is really cool being on the web like this. I guess if I ever retire, I'll start a blog. You can't imagine how many juicy stories Israeli cabbies can tell. And I mean juicy...

When you come to Ashdod, look me up. L'hitraot from your friend Meir the cabby from Ashdod. Hey, how do you like my English?


Serving the Same G-d

The Baal Shem Tov worked so hard for Jewish unity, so that every Jew should love every other Jew. Although mixing in between a feud between two great tzaddikim is like standing between two Mack trucks about to collide head-on – dangerous, to say the least – it’s still painful when they fail to get along with one another.

The Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a told me the following beautiful story, passed down from father to son from his great great grandfather Rebbe Meir'l of Promiszlan; Keep it in mind before allowing yourself the "luxury" of feuding with a fellow Jew:

Rebbe Meir'l of Promiszlan and Rebbe Yitzchok of Strettin were engaged in a long, drawn-out feud. Knowing that dissension serves no purpose, Rebbe Meir'l approached Rebbe Yitzchok and attempted to make peace. The latter only turned his face to the wall. "Please, Strettinner Rebbe, allow me to tell you a tale," said Rebbe Meir'l, and told him the following story:

During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, a Marrano* suspected of secretly being Jewish became deathly ill. The Inquisitors called the local priest, and told him to go see if the dying man would make last confession, proving that he's a Catholic, or else otherwise be burned at the stake as a Jew. The Priest and the Henchman entered the sick man's room, and the sick man turned his face to the wall, refusing to reject his true faith in Hashem during his last minutes on earth.

The Inquisitors said, "Ahah, he's a secret Jew!" The priest said no, he's embarrassed to confess in front of others. Everyone must leave the room!

Only the dying man and the Priest remained in the room. The priest, a Marranno himself, whispered in the man's ear, "You can say Shma Yisrael now, and express your belief in Hashem before you die. You no longer need to turn your back on me, because we both serve the same G-d." With his dying breath, the Marrano utterred, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one!"

"So you see, Strettinner Rebbe," said Rebbe Meir'l, "You no longer have to turn your back on me, because we serve the same G-d!" The feud ended on the spot.

*Marranos - the Spanish Jews who posed as Catholics on the outside, and secretly continued to practice their Judaism behind closed doors


Negotiating in Faith

Maybe you know people who enjoy flaunting Tibetan phrases, rolling their eyeballs, and burning lots of myrrh-scented candles and incense. Maybe you know other people who walk around quoting scripture, and then look down at you, saying, "Where were you at services last week?" Neither of these types has anything to do with genuine spirituality...

Here's a fool-proof method to find out if a person is spiritual or not: Conduct a business transaction with that person, and if he or she deals with fairness and integrity, you can bet that they're bona-fide spiritually-oriented people.

When a person's soul leaves the body at the termination of the physical life on this earth, the first question the Heavenly Court asks is, "Did you negotiate in good faith?", in other words, did you do business fairly (Talmud, tractate Shabbos, pg. 31). It's fine if a person listens to sitar music or quotes Kabbala after having dealt unfairly with his/her fellow human, forget about spirituality.

What does "negotiate in good faith" mean? Faith is emuna, and with emuna, one believes that his income comes from Hashem. Therefore, he won't break the slightest of Hashem's commandments in making a living. That's negotiating in faith.


The vestibule and the ballroom

The following is an allegory based on a story told by our renowned beloved sage, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, better known as the "Chofetz Chaim", of blessed memory:

A wealthy dignitary purchased a lavish six-million dollar penthouse in the posh Georgetown section of Washington, DC, for the purpose of entertaining his commercial and political associates. He had all the walls torn down, and then ordered an interior-design architect to plan the spacious 3000 square-foot apartment from scratch.

"This penthouse is for the sole purpose of entertainment," he told the architect, "so all I need is a vestibule for receiving no fewer than 150 guests and a ballroom for dining and dancing."

"Superb," said the the architect, "let's begin with the vestibule. What elements would you like?"

"I want my guests to be overwhelmed when they enter; there should be two rows of Italian marble statues, and a fountain in the middle. Both walls should be lined with no fewer than ten paintings on each side, preferably a French expressionist genre; I also want the finest Turkish-wool carpets, and in addition, I'd like..."

"Excuse me, sir," interjected the architect. Such a vestibule with room for the paintings, the statues, and the fountain will require at least 2000 square feet. You'll only be left with a ballroom of 1000 square feet; barely 70 people can dine in such a space. As far as room for an orchestra and dancing, forget it..."

"Then what do I do?" asked the perplexed dignitary.

"My suggestion," answered the architect, "is that you forego the fountain and the statues, and that we plan a limited, tasteful vestibule with a few paintings on the wall and a small reception bar. Let's confine the vestibule to about 500 square feet; as it is, people won't spend much time there. Everyone is interested in entering the ballroom, where the real action is. So, if we plan a 2500 square-foot ballroom, your 150 guests can dine and dance comfortably."

**********

The moral: This world is like a vestibule, and the next world is like a ballroom. Each of us has his or her allotment of "square feet", in other words, the days and resources of our lives. If we waste them on a fancy vestibule - a place where we only spend 70, 80, or 90 years, then we'll have nothing left for our "ballroom", our world to come, where we shall spend an eternity. Since this life is a mere corridor for the next life, then we'd be wise to invest as much of our resources as possible in spirituality - whose dividends are eternal - and as little as possible in material amenities, which are here today and gone tomorrow.