39 posts categorized "Jewish history and tradition"

Israel's Victory and the Story of Chanuka - Past and Present

Israel's Victory
How does Israel, throughout the ages, prevail over enemies that are much mightier? The secret is that before they overcome the enemies, they must overcome nature. How do they overcome nature? There's only one way - emuna. In the account of the splitting of the Red Sea, the Torah reveals Israel's template for victory: "On that day, Hashem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt...and they revered Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and in His servant Moses" (Exodus 14:30-31). We learn that true emuna includes the belief in Hashem and in His righteous servants - the true tzaddikim and spiritual leaders of Israel - in every generation.

The belief in the true tzaddik triggered the miracle of Chanuka. How? 

200 years before the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the wicked King Antiochus wanted to solidify his vast Syrian Greek empire by destroying Judaism and turning Israel into a secular nation that conforms to Seleucid (Greek-Syrian) culture and paganism. In doing so, he marched with his vast army upon Jerusalem, defiled the Holy Temple and erected an idol on the altar. He made Torah study, Shabbat observance and circumcision punishable by death, for he knew that without Torah, the Sabbath and circumcision, the Jewish People would disappear, Heaven forbid, within a few decades even without war. But that wasn't all...

Antiochus in his evil cunning knew that in order to subjugate the Jews, you must subjugate their spiritual leader. He therefore sent a task force to the town of Modiin, the home of Mattathias the Kohen (priest), a revered, holy and courageous leader, the tzaddik of the generation. A Hellenist - an assimilated Jew who served as one of Antiochus's administrators - had the Greek-Syrian soldiers erect a portable altar. He then prodded Mattathias to be an example for the populace, to pledge allegiance to Antiochus and his regime, and to sacrifice a pig on the altar. On the spot, Mattathias pulled out a dagger from his priestly cloak and killed the administrator. He and his five sons - Yonatan, Shimon, Judah, Elazar, and Yochanan - routed the task force and sent them packing. Knowing that they would soon return with an entire army, Mattathias cried out, "Whoever is for Hashem, follow me!" (Exodus 32:26), the same battle cry that Moses used when the Levites rallied behind him to kill those who worshiped the Golden Calf.

By virtue of the simple faith that a handful of peasants who believed in Hashem and in Mattathias His servant, armed with nothing more than spears, bows, rocks and their unwavering emuna, they fought under the leadership of Mattathias and his sons, aka the Maccabees, as Mattathias’ sons,  in a dazzling guerrilla campaign against the massive well-armed forces of the Seleucid army. The rest is history. With Hashem's help, the Maccabees prevailed, recaptured and reconsecrated and rededicated ("Chanuka" in Hebrew) the Holy Temple, rekindled the holy Menorah, and dedicated eight days to thanking Hashem. This is the miracle of Chanuka that we celebrate every year.

Don't think that Chanuka was something that happened 2200 years ago, and that's it. It's still happening today, as you'll hear in this week's emuna shiur and EmunaNews broadcast.

Whatever you do, you don't want to miss today's (Wednesday) EmunaNews/Emuna shiur and live broadcast from Jerusalem, entitled "Israel's Victory," which will take place, G-d willing, in the ground-floor main sanctuary of the Chut Shel Chessed Yeshiva on 13 Shmuel Hanavi Street in Jerusalem at 7PM Israel time; the shiur is open to the public - both men and women are invited. You can see today's lesson here - the broadcast, as well as our lessons posted from now on - are Mac and iPod compatible. If you tune in too early to the live broadcast link, you'll be sent to the main page of the Breslev Israel website, so try to tune in on time.  If you are not able to view today's broadcast live, then G-d willing, you'll be able to see the video tape of it later this coming week on Lazer Beams.

Mama Rochel's Yahrtzeit - Tonight and Tomorrow, 11 Cheshvan

Rachel's Tomb
Above: Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as it looked some 130 years ago

Tonight and tomorrow (Monday night Oct. 30 and Tuesday, 31 Oct., 2017) are Mama Rochel's yahrtzeit. In her merit, prayers are answered. Light a candle in her memory, and ask Hashem for whatever you need. Mama Rochel (Yiddish) aka Rachel Imenu (Hebrew) - our matriarch Rachel - always beseeches at the Heavenly Throne in behalf of her offspring, may her sacred memory intercede in our behalf, amen.

Happy Love Day!

Tu B'AvToday is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av - "Tu B'Av" - known affectionately in Israel as "Love Day". The Gemara in Tractate Taanit tells us that this is one of the two very best days in the Hebrew calendar, an opportune time for seeking and finding a soul-mate. Here're the events that happened on this wonderful day:

  1. The 40-year long plague that resulted from the Sin of the Spies terminated.
  2. The tribes of Israel were allowed to intermarry, whereas previously one was required to take a spouse from his/her own tribe.
  3. Pilgrimage from all over the Land of Israel to Jerusalem was renewed, whereas previously, anyone outside Judea couldn't reach the Holy Temple.
  4. This became a festive occasion when all the wood needed for the coming year's sacrifices on the altar in the Holy Temple was completely gathered, despite huge obstacles.
  5. The myriad of Jews who had been killed defending Beitar during Bar Kochba's revolt were finally brought to burial. This was a double miracle, since the bodies - despite their being strewn in the hot sun for an extended period - did not decompose. 
  6. This is the day when Hashem in His infinite love and mercy put me under the chuppa (wedding canopy) with the very best woman on earth - my wonderful wife Yehudit, may Hashem bless her with abundance of spiritual and material riches, including long and happy days, amen.

"Tu B'Av" has always been a propitious and traditional day for matchmaking. Our sages codified an ancient tradition where all Jewish girls – rich and poor, beautiful and homely - go out dressed in borrowed white dresses and dance in the vineyards (see Tractate Taanit 10b). This was our sages' equal-opportunity mentality, to teach young men to look for upright character rather than a girl's makeup and fancy clothes.

No sage in history ever did so much to help every young lass to feel good about herself as the holy Tannaic sage Rebbe Yishmael ben Elisha. He showed each girl how she is special, accenting the intrinsic beauty of each girl. When he died as one of the Ten Martyrs tortured by the Romans, the women of the Land of Israel mourned him bitterly.

My feature article today on the new issue of Breslev Israel web magazine is devoted to "Love Day", with a special tribute to Rebbe Yishmael - don't miss They're All Beautiful.

Also featured this week:

Rabbi Shalom Arush - Separate Scales

Dr. Zev Ballen - The Very Best Treatment

Racheli Reckles - What Suitcase?

Yehudit Channen - Together Forever

David Perlow - Trust the Teacher

Jennifer Woodward - Failing Forward

Lori Steiner - Keep Trying

Blessings for a lovely new week! Please drive safely, especially on vacation. Hashem loves you, and we do too!

Our Fallen Martyrs


Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day. We honor the soldiers who gave their lives defending our country and our People, and the martyrs who died sanctifying Hashem's Name in the numerous terror attacks. Even though this is a politically-based holiday, this is not a politically-based post. 

Whatever you feel about Israel's government, there's nothing wrong with taking a moment to thank Hashem for the soldiers who were brave enough to put their lives on the line so we can go on with our daily nonsense. Let's think about the families of these soldiers and victims of terror and ponder what they're going through for just a moment.

May Hashem comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


The Greatest Kiddush Hashem


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.


Maccabee - What's in a Name?

KB and Gemara
Happy Chanuka!

There are three known sources for name "Maccabee":

  1. Acronym of Hebrew phrase "Mi Kamocha B'elim A'donoi" (Exodus 15:11) - Who is like You among the gods, Hashem?
  2. Acronym of Mattathias's name "Mattatyahu Cohen ben Yochanan".
  3. The ancient Greek word for "mighty" or "hammer". 

In any event, the word "Maccabee" was embroidered on their flags as they went into battle. With that in mind, I choose above option #1 as the most plausible source of the term "Maccabee", although above option #2 could have become their family name. The Maccabees themselves certainly wouldn't have used a Greek term to nickname themselves, so I don't think that above option #3 is likely.

Mattathias the High Priest (Cohen Gadol) and his five sons Yehuda, Shimon, Yonatan, Yochanan and Elazar were all holy men and Torah scholars of the highest order. What's more, they had unshakable emuna. Sure, they were history's greatest fighters, but only their emuna enabled them to withstand such insurmountable odds. Eventually, Yehuda and Elazar were killed in battle, while Shimon, Yonatan and Yochanan were assassinated in politically motivated plots. What is history teaching us? While the might of the Maccabees didn't prevent their untimely deaths, the light of the Maccabees lives on to this day. What do we learn from this?

The kettlebells are great, but they're not enough. You need the Gemara too. May the light of Chanuka illuminate your home, amen!

Vezakeni: Prayer for our Offspring

Zaidie Lazer and Yanky

Zaidie Lazer learning Torah with grandson Yaacov Yosef Brody from Jerusalem (photo from 2008)

One of my biggest joys in life is grandchildren at my Shabbat table...

Whenever Zaidie (grandfather) Lazer Brody gets together with his grandchildren, we sing a moving song that 51uh9RTsdfL._SY450_ comes from a woman's prayer after lighting Sabbath candles. Many young couples also say this prayer on their wedding day:

Vezakeni legadel banim uvnei banim, chachomim u'nevovim ohavei Hashem, yirei Elokim anshei emes zera kadosh b'Hashem deveikim. Um'irim es haolam batorah umaasim tovim uvechol maleches avodas HaBoreh.

"May I merit to raise children and grandchildren who are wise and discerning, who love Hashem and fear G-d, men of truth, holy seed, clinging to Hashem, and who illuminate the world with Torah and good deeds and all the work of serving the Creator."

It's our family custom to sing this lovely melody at the Bar Mitzvas of my grandsons, three generations with three-part harmony.

Baruch Levine composed this melody, and performs it ever so beautifully. Enjoy! May you have nothing but happy occasions in your family, and joy from your offspring, a wonderful Shabbat, amen!