When I was a little boy in inner-city Washington, DC, we lived in a small apartment on top of my father's grocery store on Independence Avenu SE, twelve blocks from the Capital. We had a really nice African-American mailman who used to deliver the mail to us every day. I don't remember his name, but he had a smile like Louie Armstrong. I loved to greet him and talk to him. He would pinch my then-chubby cheeks and say, "Child, I ain't gonna be totin' mail all my life. Someday, I'm gonna be rich. Maybe I'll buy the White House. Meantime, I keep on dreamin' and I keep on truckin'!"
I'll never forget those words of wisdom. You keep on dreaming and in the meanwhile, you keep on plugging away. Every major accomplishment began with taking the first step to fulfill a dream.
Even though I am cold-turkey on political issues, many of my dear friends in Judea and Samaria, our biblical heartland, have been asking for my reaction to the USA's surprising (sic) backtrack on campaign promises, to the extent that President Trump is even retaining two ex-Obama very left-leaning advisers, while cooking in the White House kitchen a new (not KP) recipe for a two-state solution.
We can't say a word about the American administration when our own political leaders should really be in the furniture business, because all they care about is the chair they sit on. Ideology? Truth? You will find neither in the current blue-and-white regime. Maybe now, our people will finally learn that there's no one to trust but Hashem. We certainly can't trust those who change their opinions as frequently as they change their socks and prefer political expediency to justice and truth. So, my Pesach-eve message to my cherished brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria is that it's time that we all come back to Hashem in complete teshuva, asking His forgiveness for any trust we put in human beings, in Israel or abroad.
The Gemara (tractate Sanhedrin 97b) says that the Nation of Israel (aka the Jewish People) will be redeemed as soon as they make teshuva, in other words, return to Hashem and the ways of His Torah. The Gemara then asks, what happens if the Nation of Israel doesn't make teshuva? Rebbe Yehoshua answers that if Israel doesn't make teshuva, then Hashem places them under the influence of a wicked king whose evil decrees are as severe as Haman's, and then they make teshuva.
We cannot fathom The Almighty's love for us and His infinite mercy. Despite the fact that we haven't made Teshuva from Love, which is what we need to do in order to be redeemed, and despite the fact that our own misdeeds put us under the boot of each generation's wicked kings, Hashem has made an eternal promise to deliver us from their hands. That's the V'hi She'amda prayer that we recite each year in the Haggada.
Let me share with you something additional about Hashem's love for His people: The Heavenly Altar and Throne is known as Upper Jerusalem; it is situated directly above Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is known in the Zohar, Midrash, and Gemara as Lower Jerusalem. Hashem refuses to dwell in Upper Jerusalem until His permanent dwelling on earth - the Holy Temple - will be rebuilt in Lower Jerusalem (see Gemara tractate Taanit 5a, Midrash Tehillim 122, Vilna Gaon's elaboration of Zohar, Safra DeTzniuta, ist Chapter). Many evil world leaders are denying our right to the area of our own Holy Temple. Once again, we have no cause to be angry at them, for as soon as we make real teshuva, they will crumble. But, until we make teshuva, those evil leaders should be forewarned that by disenfranchising Israel from what they call East Jerusalem, they are in effect trying to disenfranchise The Almighty. Cherished brothers and sisters, that won't happen, period.
Hashem has no gratification by forcing us to make teshuva. When we strengthen our emuna and seek Hashem on our own accord, we sanctify His Holy Name. Let's wake up, beloved brothers and sisters. It's either nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles or emuna books and CDs; the choice is ours. Now you can understand why Emuna Outreach is working so hard to spread emuna around the globe - Rav Shalom Arush says that every emuna book or CD neutralizes one ballistic missile. When Moshiach comes, he'll show us all how emuna saved lives; the Gemara says that anyone who saves one life is considered as if he or she saved an entire world.
V'hi She'amda is a Passover song whose words come from the Haggada. It conveys a very timely message for the Jewish people: He who stood by our forefathers stands by us to deliver us from the hands of our enemies in every generation.
One of Jewish music's favorite sons, my dear friend Yonatan Razel, wrote a beautiful melody for this song, which he sings here with the king of Jewish singers, my very special friend Yaacov Shwekey. You'll get shivers up your spine and tears in your eyes listening to them. We're sure you'll enjoy this musical treat as much as we do. Enjoy it and have a wonderful Shabbat, Seder night and Passover holiday!
Oh, joy. The fun. The excitement. The unbelievable horror when you discover something like this hiding between your kid's bed and the wall. I'm disgusted beyond belief. I thought I ran a pretty clean house. Boy was I wrong! Admittedly, I didn't think to move my kids' beds every week, as that's just not done. Right?
How I actually found this mess is what I want to talk about. I was changing one of my kids' bedsheets, when I noticed a cup wedged between the bed and the wall. Assuming it was an empty cup used for water, I quickly grabbed it. As soon as I did, I suddenly screamed as I watched old, gooey, gross, sludgy chocolate milk fly out of the cup and spill all over the side of the bed and down the wall. I was soooooo mad!!!
I started screaming for my kid, who was old enough to know better than to leave half a cup of chocolate milk by his bed. He was also old enough to know that I don't allow food in the bedrooms, either. Yes. My kids are great listeners. So he grudgingly made his way over, not even paying attention to what I was screaming at him. This bed is a bunk bed, and the floor tiles aren't perfectly lined up (shocker,) so the bed gets stuck along one of the tiles when I try to move it back.
But what could I do? I moved the bed over and lo and behold, another shock awaited me. The entire length of the bed was lined with the garbage that you see above. How in the world could this happen??
So here's what I came away with.
First, Pesach cleaning is awesome. While it's not technically necessary to go through all of your stuff and decide what needs to stay and what should go, this is usually done by most people. I think it's great because it gives us a chance to clear out all of the clutter, both physically and spiritually. Clutter actually clogs the spiritual pipes of abundance, so getting rid of junk is a must. And, it should be done more than once a year.
Second, I finally understood the importance of challenges. This particular challenge was to see if I could keep my explosive Iraqi reaction in check and to realize that it was a challenge given to me by Hashem. I'm proud to say I failed with flying colors! But, here's the best part. Challenges are there to bring out our internal junk; to show us who we really are inside. While on the surface I may be perfect, inside I still have a lot of junk to work on. Hashem was showing me that clear as day.
Third, this incident made me realize just how important personal prayer is. Only through personal prayer can we expose what we really need to work on. There is no better way in my opinion. If we don't do personal prayer every day, we run the risk of our pile of garbage getting larger by the second, right under our noses - except we can't see it happening.
Okay, the strangest thing just happened. I had a completely different idea for this post, but that can wait until I tell you what happened. First of all, shavua tov! I hope you all enjoyed a leisurely Shabbat, whatever that means. Now I'll get to my crazy story.
I didn't have any clue as to what I should post, so I decided to look through the pics on my phone to see if anything interesting came up. All in all, I was sitting at my computer for about an hour, going through emails and whatever. So I'm scrolling through my pics and this one of a T-shirt popped up. I took it a couple of weeks ago when I managed to get out of Bet Shemesh and reach civilization, i.e., a big city. I was at the Azrieli mall in Tel Aviv and saw this shirt hanging there, which I found so funny because I'm from Miami Beach, and aside from the fact that it really does look like Paradise, it also looks a lot like Tel Aviv these days, so I don't understand what all the hype is about. Actually, Tel Aviv and Miami are too similar in too many ways, if you get my drift.
Anyhow, as I'm downloading this picture onto my computer, I'm trying to tune out David's guitar playing that's grating at my ears from the living room. He was also playing for the same amount of time that I was on my computer. Then, as this picture is uploading, I hear him suddenly start to sing some lyrics from a song back in the '80's, about Paradise. I couldn't believe my ears!
I called him over, wondering if he had seen my email of the picture to myself, because he also gets my emails on his phone. Talk about nosy! And then I remembered that I didn't put anything in the subject line, so there was no way for him to know what I was sending myself. So in the exact same minute, he's singing about Paradise as I'm downloading it onto my computer!
Is that not totally crazy?
It's funny when these things happen, isn't it? We may think that things like this are random, but they're not. Hashem is always working behind the scenes, pulling the invisible strings in our heads. When you're thinking of someone and they suddenly call you, it's not random. It's Hashem.
Now I totally forgot my original point. Give me a minute.... Oh, yeah. So Paradise is not a place. It's a state of mind.
I know it's hard to believe for those of us that aren't multimillionaires, but you can have everything and be miserable.
If you are truly happy with your life, then you are living in Paradise.
Here's a treat for Shabbat Zchor and Purim: My beloved teacher and spiritual guide Rav Shalom Arush, may Hashem bless him, says that the light of Purim is Hashem's ever-vigilant Divine Providence that is constantly performing miracles that are concealed within seemingly "natural" events. For this, we must be grateful always. Enjoy the following five uplifting minutes and have a wonderful Shabbat and a very joyous Purim!
Mmmm, mmmm! Doesn't that look just delicious? Here's another one of my friend Tena's healthy and delicious creations. It's coconut rice and mixed vegetables. I'm so frustrated that I can't eat it right now. Tena, will you please reconsider moving in with me? I'll even let you put my kids to bed and spend 1-on-5 quality time with them while I'm out enjoying my peace and quiet. At least think about it.
If you want this recipe, email me at email@example.com and I'll send it to you!
What does this picture have to do with the title of this post? Well, nothing, really. I didn't want to put a picture of a guy on a moving walkway, and I'm hungry, so I thought I could at least enjoy looking at yummy food if I can't eat it right now. But now I realized that I actually made things worse for myself. Great, my stomach is grumbling.
So let's talk about this title. What does it mean to move forward in life? It means that you're evolving in your personality and abilities. For example: I was realizing lately that I have greatly improved my Zumba skills, to the point where I'm not tripping over myself and bumping into other people. Okay, so I'm not really bad at all, but I have seen a great improvement. My sister calls me the JLo of Beit Shemesh. I kinda like that!
As it happens, I love to lift weights as well. I've gotten to be friendly with many of the women in the gym, but I've noticed over the past 8 months that many of them stay at the same level they were on when I joined. In 8 months, I've increased the amount of weights I'm lifting several times. It's very motivating to see myself getting stronger.
But I wonder why some of the others stay at the same level of weights. I actually told one woman that she could clearly lift heavier weights, but she refused to even try, saying it was too hard.
Unfortunately, this is how many of us behave in life. Hashem is trying to push us to the next level, but how many times do we refuse to budge because we think it will be too hard? Fear of the unknown and fear of failure can be completely incapacitating, and can cause us to freeze in our forward progression in life.
That's why emuna is so key. When we learn to trust Hashem, to believe that we can handle the situations He's trying to put us in for our own personal growth, this is when we are able to move forward.
What about when things aren't clear? When we're not sure if the direction we're being pushed in is actually what Hashem wants for us? The only way to know is to talk to Hashem about it. Tell Him you're confused and you need clarity, so you can make the right decision.
We all have so much untapped potential hiding inside of us; things that we can do that we never imagined were possible. Do you not know what your hidden talents are? Do you want to develop the talents that you're already aware of? Then ask Hashem for help!
I really believe that everyone has a certain gift that Hashem gave them. Whether it's art, music, helping others, cooking, being empathetic, etc., each one of you has a special and brilliant diamond inside that's just waiting to sparkle. Your potential is so much greater than what you're aware of. You just have to ask Hashem to help you reveal it.
Isn't this picture incredible? It's the Helix Nebula, one of the closest nebulae to Earth at a mere 700 light years away. After trying to understand what a nebula is, I couldn't get past the whole expanding ionized gas from a dead star thing, so I gave up. If you're a curious and brainy type, or just plain curious, you can read about it here.
I don't know about you, but pictures like these just put me in a state of awe. As in, "Awe my God, is that fo' real??" Seriously. Stuff like this should boggle your mind. Looking at the world around you should boggle your mind. Just looking at your own body should boggle your mind. Life is incredible. Hashem is incredible. How does He sustain every single thing in Creation at every moment?
Isn't that thought enough to hike your awe-factor through the roof?
A few weeks ago, I was talking with Rav Brody and he mentioned a common question that people ask him: "Why did Hashem put me here?" To which he answers, "So you can learn emuna."
So I was thinking about this, and aside from the next obvious question, which is , "Why do I need to learn emuna?" I also tried to clarify exactly what aspect of emuna he was referring to. Here's what I came up with.
Historically, Jews have performed the greatest kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem's name) by dying as martyrs. Until the Enlightenment, Jews generally didn't have a problem with emuna. They accepted Hashem's will for better and for worse.
But with the Enlightenment came tremendous skepticism and doubt as to not only the Creator's will, but the existence of a Creator at all. Now, Jews faced a new enemy: temptation from the outside world coupled with the illusion that God doesn't exist; or if He does, He's not directly involved in our lives.
This is anti-Torah and anti-emuna thinking. Today, we've come to correct this mistaken idea that everything is random, and to believe with all of our hearts that Hashem is here, He knows what He's doing, and He's doing it all for our best. That's what it means to learn emuna.
But there's more. You see, it's not enough to have emuna. We also need to know why we need emuna. The answer to this question can be found in two words: Thank You. If you can go through a difficult time and say "Thank You" to Hashem with all of your heart, even though you don't understand why things have to be this way, then you know you have emuna. Nothing brings you closer to God than really knowing in your heart that He loves you and wants the best for you.
"Thank You" is the aspect of emuna that helps us create a close relationship with God. Without emuna and especially "Thank You," He's just a far-off Creator that we may intellectually believe in, but not feel a connection to.
I promise you that saying "Thank You" is the greatest kiddush Hashem there is. And one day, you will see how precious those two words were, both to you and to Hashem.
Wishing you an awe-full week! Terrible play on words. So sorry.