132 posts categorized "Jewish holidays"

Trees and Tribulations


Sigh. What a stunning picture. I wish I was there right now. By myself. On a cozy couch. Next to a fireplace. In my log cabin. Can't stop. Typing half sentences. Sorry.

Well, this Shabbat is Tu B'Shvat! It's the new year for the trees, and we celebrate it by eating lots of sugar  dried fruit and/or fresh fruit and nuts. Here is a great article explaining the deeper meaning of this holiday and how we celebrate it with the food. Because we all know that there ain't be no Jewish holiday without some good food. Mmm, mmm

I'd like to share with you a short but profound thought, which I'm ashamed to say occurred to me while I was in the bathroom. Don't you just hate when that happens? I find it so annoying! 

Life knocks us down with tribulations. Sometimes we're cut down so much, we don't think we have the strength to get up and keep going. But do you know what the trees teach us? That even when we're down, when we feel like we can't go on, when we don't show any outward signs of life, we can come back! We will continue to grow, and we'll grow stronger and better than we were before!  

Every gardener knows that in order for a tree to grow strong and healthy, it needs to be pruned. That's how we should look at our tough times in life. Hashem is pruning us; removing the unhealthy and dead parts of us, so we can grow to our maximum potential. Sure, it hurts. No one said it would be painless. 

On that note, I hope you all have a wonderful and peaceful Shabbat! Try not to eat too much sugary dried "fruit," okay? Promise?

Here's a pic of Rav Brody and David and half of Yosef Nechama, our General Director, as they landed in Houston on the Breslev Israel Rav Arush Honeymoon. Sorry guys, but I don't care how hard your day was. If you're not taking care of little kids all day, I don't want to hear it! Just kidding! Sort of. Okay, not really.  




Parashat Ha'Man - Story of the Manna

Today is Tuesday of the week we read the Torah portion of Beshalach. Our sages tell us that reading the episode of the manna today - Parashat Ha'Man, which appears in this week's Torah portion - twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic, is very conducive for one's good income the entire year. Don't miss this special opportunity to bring down more Heaven-sent bread to your doorstep.

If you can't read Hebrew, read Exodus 16:4-36 in your English bible - that's Parashat Ha'Man.

To learn more about Parashat Ha'man and making a pleasurable income, check out Rabbi Shalom Arush's superb article, Pack Mule.

Emuna Fanatics

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It took me 20 minutes of fighting with myself to get out of bed to take this horrible picture. I'm freezing, and my fleece robe is in the dryer. You know, the dryer outside. I know what you Israelis are thinking. At least I have a dryer. You're right - I'll give you that. Anyhow, this blob is a concoction of cocoa and other stuff that I threw together after salivating over my kids' pizza dinner. I know what you guys are thinking. This lady's a health fanatic and she's giving her kids pizza dinner? Can anyone spell hyp-o-cri-sy? Did I spell it right?

In my defense, David is leaving on the big Rav Shalom Arush tour to the States, so we treated the kids to pizza. I'm so NOT looking forward to two weeks of stress  fun with my kids all by myself! I think I'm going to take a before and after selfie so I can compare how many gray hairs I'm going to sprout over the next two weeks. Speaking of gray hair, tonight I saw a woman in her '60's with violet hair! What's up with that? She even had a purple sweater to match! Now I'm wondering why I didn't take a picture of her.

Anyhow, as I was salivating and watching them devour slice after gooey slice while I ate a flax cracker with hummus and avocado salad, I was suddenly overcome with the urge to eat something that resembled something unhealthy. So I made chocolate.

It's a variation of a "healthy" chocolate recipe of coconut oil, date honey, and cocoa powder. Except I used cacao nibs instead of cocoa powder. But the craziest thing was that these nibs wouldn't melt! I have no idea why! Does anyone know why cacao nibs don't melt? Aren't they made from cocoa powder? So I had this mixture boiling in a pan, and I could see that these things weren't melting, so I threw in a half a bar of 100% cocoa that my dear friend and fellow writer Sunny Levi gave me like 8 months ago. Then, I threw in walnuts and craisins. I put it in the fridge for as long as I could keep myself away from it, and when I tasted it, it was dy-no-mite

So I confess. I'm a chocolate fanatic. That's never going to go away. I'm also a diamond fanatic, a shoe fanatic, and a workout clothes fanatic. And a workout fanatic. Okay, I'm also a Walmart fanatic. If you see David on the trip, PLEASE don't tell him how much stuff I ordered from Walmart. He doesn't yet know that he's gonna have to bring back another suitcase. Again!

Did you know that there are also emuna fanatics? These people misunderstand the concept of emuna completely. On one hand, they beg Hashem to fix their problems. But on the other hand, they're not doing anything to fix their problems themselves! People, it's not Hashem's job to clean up your mess! Let's take some responsibility, shall we? Oooh, I can just see some folks getting all angry with me. But don't! Once you read my explanation of Fanatical Emuna, you might actually agree with my point! 

Do you know who else was an emuna fanatic? Yehuda, the son of Yaakov our Forefather. He had such unbelievable courage and determination in the presence of the Egyptian viceroy, who was none other than Yosef, his brother. As the guarantor of Benjamin, his youngest brother, Yehuda knew he would do whatever it took in order to return him safely to his father, Yaakov. This feeling of responsibility is what gave him the courage to do whatever needed to be done. Rav Arush explains that as Our Children's Guarantors, we also have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that they stay on the path of Torah and mitzvot.

Rav Lazer Brody talks about a more sinister type of fanatic this week. Last November, there were a number of devastating wildfires throughout Israel, called the Arbor Intifada. Apparently a group of fanatical Palestinians decided to set half of Israel up in flames, because it seemed like a more efficient way to harm and potentially kill Israelis. What does this wicked act of terror have to do with Tu B'Shvat, the new year for the trees that's coming up this Shabbat? Well if you want the answer you've got to read the article! 

Talk about fanatics... Sunny Levi describes a beautiful and enchanting scene she recently encountered on her hitbodedut walk at sunrise. Seriously? Can she get any more perfect? Oy, and her profound insight on Humility in the Trees is just too much! What's next? Is she going to put a soup kitchen in place of her Martial Arts studio in her house? Cure AIDS? Bring world peace??? 

After reading Dr. Zev Ballen's article, I've come to the conclusion that we're all fanatics. This week, he reveals the secret of transference, and shows us that we all subconsciously relate to others in ways that result from our experiences with our parents. Of course, I'm no psychologist, and there's so much more to be said about Those Who Inhabit our Minds, so you'll need to read the article in order to really get this whole idea of transference. You'll also see how crazy you are, because for some reason, psychotherapists have a talent at bringing out the best in us. 

Even though my dear friend Rebbetzin Yehudit Channen is not a fanatic, at one point in her life she was treated like a crazy person. After a severe allergic caused her face to swell to freakish proportions, she found that people were reluctant to interact with her (that's putting it mildly) - even her own doctors! But one very special woman taught her that true beauty is More Than Skin Deep.  Seriously, is there anything that hasn't happened to Rebbetzin Channen? I've got to ask her. 

David Perlow discusses the serious problem of Teens and Smartphones.  As a rebbe of teenage boys in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he does his best to help them escape the soul-destroying trap of pornography addiction. He points out that many parents are in denial and don't want to believe their kids might have a problem. Nonetheless, he gives terrific advice for all parents who want their children to be saved from such negative influences. This is a must-read for all parents!

OMG. I got such chills reading Chana Coggan's article on Sweet Surrender!  It might be partly because I'm freeeeeeeeezing and too cold to get my robe out of the dryer. But mostly, it's because this is such a profound article, it blew me away! She explains the true meaning of surrendering our will to Hashem's will, and she shows that giving in is not the same thing as giving up. 

Last but not least, please join me in wishing Rav Brody, Rav Arush, and crew a wonderful and successful trip! Don't forget to click on the link at the top to see if they're going to be in a city near you. And please don't forget to tell your friends about it!

Have an awesome, fanatic-free day! And if you try the chocolate blob, let me know how you liked it! Just don't eat it too late at night because that cocoa will keep you wide awake! 


Days of Gratitude

No part of the Torah, including all Jewish festivals and holidays, will ever become discontinued or nullified, for the Torah is eternal. If so, why did our Sages promise that the Chanukah will never be abolished?

You're are cordially invited to join us in the Chut Shel Chesed English-language Kollel to see and hear my Chanuka message to our students there, where I answer the above question and more. Enjoy - Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanuka!

Mattatyahu's Courage

Kever Mattatyahu
Image above: the holy gravesite of Mattatyahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), father and spiritual leader of the Maccabees

Happy Chanuka!

Mattatyahu Cohen HaGadol, whom we remember every time we say the "Al HaNissim" prayer during Chanuka, is buried in a cave in a forest, about a kilometer north of Highway 443 near Mevo Modiin.

Mattatyahu and his sons fought a double war - not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the 95% of the Jewish people who had become assimilated Hellenists. But because of his steadfast, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Hashem, to his emuna, to the Torah and to his homeland, he was able to overcome all obstacles and instill the fire of emuna and total dedication in the hearts of his brave sons and daughter.

Where did he get his strength and courage from?

Nothing gives a person strength like clarification of the truth. A person who knows the truth and who lives according to the truth is as fierce as a lion. He is not willing to live a lie; so, if you take the truth away from him, he'll no longer regard his life as worth living. That's why our ancestors in every generation all the way back to our forefather Abraham were willing to sacrifice their last breath and heartbeat for our faith in Hashem and our Torah.

Mattatyahu and his sons Yehuda, Elazar, Shimon, Yochanan and Yonatan knew the truth. For a servant of Hashem, life is worthless without Torah, emuna, and holiness. The Hellenists fooled themselves while trying to dilute the truth and appease the Syrian Greeks, but the latter wanted to destroy it altogether and to substitute it with a life of pursuing bodily amenities.

Did Hashem send our souls down to this lowly earth just for another piece of steak, another fling with the opposite sex, or another NBA game? Those who waste their lives in the pursuit of material appetites are neither happy nor fulfilled. What's worse, they haven't devoted a single minute to clarifying the truth.

21" biceps won't give you courage. Truth and emuna will.

If the Prime Minister of Israel would clarify the truth, no foreign pressure in the world would sway him a single millimeter. If a teenager would clarify the truth, then he'd say no to the stupid things that his peers are doing. If a woman knew the truth, she wouldn't care if her neighbors called her "nebby" or "yachna" for dressing the way Hashem wants her to dress. If a man would be honest with himself, he'd realize how contemptable it would be to sacrifice one's entire family for a few moments of illicit thrills.

Mattatyahu and his sons were masters at truth clarification. They weren't willing to live for two minutes without the truth. That's where they derived the courage to fight a virtually impossible war. And that's why they won.

While we're basking in the holy light of the Chanuka candles, let's ponder the real meaning of this beautiful festival that commemorates the miracle of the few prevailing over many, the pure prevailing over the impure, and the light prevailing over darkness. Let's remember the dedication and commitment of Mattatyahu and his sons. Let's strengthen ourselves and carry their torch of Torah and truth, no matter what the odds. We can do it. All we need is emuna. Happy Chanuka!

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!

DANGER! Donuts Ahead


I have a big problem. You can clearly see that there's a donut missing next to the one that's hemmorhaging jelly. Couldn't I at least have waited until I got home to eat it? NO WAY! Actually, I have two problems: first, I can't manage to go food shopping less than five times a week. Every day, something runs out. I don't know how it happens, because I buy so much food! I'm beginning to suspect that there's an eating monster in the house as I suspiciously look over my shoulder with one eyebrow raised. Which leads into the second problem: I pass at least two or three bakeries every time I go food shopping. They're everywhere, because Israel doesn't have a Starbucks to put on every corner. One day, G-d willing...

The eating monster follows me around town, and puts me under a hypnotic spell when I pass the bakery. How am I supposed to resist the smell of fresh baked donuts with 10 pounds of powdered sugar on top? So I bought three, because it was more cost-efficient that way. I'm trying to save money, here. I'm thinking about letting my five kids split the other two, but that wouldn't be very fair, would it? So to save myself the aggravation of fighting and screaming, I think I'm going to eat them before the kids get home. I don't have much time, so I'd better act fast.

So Chanukah is here! Yippee! Eight days of a fried food fest. Does anyone know if you can bake latkes (potato cakes)? Let me know. What does Chanukah mean to me? It means eight days of war. The Chashmonaim may have fought the Greeks to the bloody death, but that doesn't mean that my personal war with the donuts is any less life-threatening. 

I have to strengthen myself against those despicable donuts and resist their temptations. Being that it's likely not going to happen, I will use my backup tactic and avoid bakeries at all costs until the following week. That's not really going to happen, either.

As I write this, I'm already sighing in defeat as I see my stomach puffing up like a fluffy, soft, chewy, sweet, doughy, sugary, heavenly donut. AAAARRRGGGGHHH!!!!

The following eight days of donut wars are but a small part of the daily wars that we have every day. That was redundant, no? Every day, we fight a bloody war to the death with our own personal monster, the Evil Inclination. He tries his best to eliminate us by getting us to behave in ways that are, let's just say, not in our best interests.

But we can use this amazing spiritual energy of the next eight days to fight him and win! Chanukah is a time of tremendous spiritual strengthening, and it contains the energy of miracles. By lighting the chanukiah, we can access this energy and put it in our spiritual bank accounts, for when we really need a miracle. 

So as I stuff my face with jelly and non-jelly-filled donuts for the next eight days, or until the bakery stops making them, I have one thing to say to my Evil Inclination: DIE, YOU WICKED MONSTER! If that doesn't work, I'm planning to kill him by stuffing his face with donuts until he gets sick and dies. 

Wishing all of our dear friends a big Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach!

p.s.- Don't forget to scroll down to catch Rav Brody's parsha shiur!