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19 posts from February 2013

Take that First Step

A group of friends once made a trip together. On the way to their destination, they saw someone standing with a backpack on a desert crossroads. Seven days later, on their way home, they encountered the same person with the backpack standing on the same desert crossroads in the hot sun. The group of friends asked the backpacker, "Why are you standing here?"

"I want to go to Jerusalem," responded the backpacker. "I'm waiting for a ride."

"How long have you been waiting?" they asked.

"More than a week," he answered.

They laughed. "Jerusalem's only a two-day walk from here. If you'd have started walking, you could have been there and back four times already!"

Many of us want to change, yet we expect it to happen automatically, with no effort on our part. Life doesn't work that way. An old Hebrew expression says, "Even a journey of a thousand kilometers begins with a first step."

Don't be afraid - go ahead and take that first step up your personal mountain. Step by step, you'll get to the top.

Painless Self-Healing: Part 2, Refa'enu

Our daily liturgy contains a special prayer for health and healing that we say three times a day in the Shmona Esrei prayer. This particular blessing is named after its initial word Refa'enu, which means "heal us". The following is a translation of the blessing:

Heal us, Hashem, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our glory, and send a complete cure for all of our ills, [here you can insert all your private health requests, both for yourself and for others] for You are our Lord King faithful and merciful physician. Blessed are you, Hashem, physician of His people Israel's afflicted.

Rav Eliezer Burland shlit'a laughs cynically when he sees people racing through their prayers to go stand in line in some clinic or outpatient center waiting to see a doctor who is neither faithful, merciful, nor capable of curing. Rav Burland says, "If you spend two minutes saying 'Refa'enu' with intent and composure, then you'll save hours standing in line in Kupat Holim (public clinics - LB) and in doctor's offices."

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that a person's main efforts in overcoming an affliction should focus on prayer. Refa'enu is not only a blessing for the sick; it's a blessing for the healthy that want to stay that way. The next time you pray, say Refa'enu slowly, word by word, with composure and concerted intent.

Don't ever forget that the keys of life and death are in Hashem's hands only. Since Hashem is the physician of all flesh and Hashem cures sicknesses, one is much better advised to turn to Hashem rather than turning to anyone else. Do so while you're still healthy... 

But even if you're not well, remember that prayer achieves anything. Refa'enu in itself is enough to keep us healthy. If we really had emuna, we'd turn to Hashem and to Hashem only in earnest prayer, saying each word deliberately and with deep intent. Isn't your health worth an extra 2 minutes of prayer three times a day?

Some people ask why we close the above blessing with, "Blessed are you, Hashem, physician of His people Israel's afflicted." Is Hashem only the physician of Israel's afflicted? What about the other nations? Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a answered this probing question and explained that since Israel relies on prayer and emuna, then Hashem personally cures them in a supernatural manner, for if Israel relies on the supernatural (prayer and emuna), Hashem gives them back measure for measure and cures them miraculously beyond the limits of nature. But, as the other nations (and many Jews, unfortunately) rely on natural means with little or no belief in the supernatural powers of prayer and emuna, Hashem lets them fall into the hands of the doctors and "natural" cures.

By virtue of prayer and emuna, Hashem becomes one's personal physician. Isn't that worth reinforcing our emuna and our praying? You bet it is!

Sharon from LA asks: Granted that Hashem is the physician of all flesh, but why does he make people sick?

Great question! You'll find the answer in Chapter Three of "The Garden of Emuna".

Painless Self-Healing: Part 1, Asher Yatzar

Before I left Israel on the current speaking tour, I delivered a pep-talk to a group of police officers. When I arrived at the headquarters building, my host - an extremely cordial veteran detective with literally no religious background - greeted me and asked me if I needed anything before I begin my talk. I asked him to show me where the bathroom was.

After the bathroom, I washed my hands three times consecutively with a cup and said slowly with intent the "Asher Yatzar" blessing that one says after visiting the toilet. My host looked at me wide-eyed, as if I'd suddenly sprouted peacock feathers. "Rabbi," he gasped, "you guys even make a blessing after relieving yourselves?"

I smiled and nodded in the affirmative, and asked the detective if he'd ever had constipation or diarrhea. He grimaced and said yes, telling me a story of how his whole platoon in the army once contracted salmonella food poisoning during a training maneuver rendering him utterly out of capacity for a week with his intestines totally askew.

"What would you have given to have normal bowel movements back then, instead of the Intifada in your guts?" I asked.

"A million bucks!" the detective answered.

"You're right," I responded. "I don't have a million bucks, so I bless Hashem and thank Him every time my personal plumbing does its job!"


Our sages teach us that by saying Asher Yatzar blessing after visiting the toilet, one is assured of good health. Earlier today, Rav Shalom Arush shlit'a explained to me why: We praise Hashem at the end of the blessing and call Him, "The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously." Everytime we relieve ourselves, Hashem does a myriad of miracles in maintaining the body's health, casting away dangerous bacteria, microorganisms, and dead body cells in the bodily waste. Even more wondrous is that this heavy maintenance is done in a way that's extremely gratifying to the body.

Taking a few moments to say Asher Yatzar after visiting the toilet is liable to save you hours in down-time, sick-time, doctor visits, and even hospital visits. You'll also save a mint on medical expenses. Better than anything, you'll obtain what no health insurance plan can offer - a guarantee of good health.

As a service to Beams readers that don't yet say the Asher Yatzar blessing on a regular basis, here is the text in English translation and in English transliteration. There's no time to start like the present.

Asher Yatzar

Blessed are You, HaShem, Our God, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Baruch atah Adonoi, Elohainu, melech ha'olam, Asher yatzar et ha'adam b'chochmah, u'vara vo n'kavim n'kavim, chalulim chalulim, galui v'yadua lifnai chisei chvodecha, she'im yipatei'ach echad maihem o yisataim echad maihem, ee efshar l'hitkayeim v'la'amod l'fanecha afilu sha'ah achat. Baruch atah Adonoi, rofeh chol basar u'mafli la'asot.

May Hashem grant you and yours wonderful health always, amen.

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

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?