Rabbi Yoel ben Shmuel Sirkis (1561-1640), aka the "Bach", named after his landmark commentary on the Arba Turim, was one of the greatest rabbis and scholars of all time. He was also my 11th generation great grandfather on my mother's side, which makes me a distant cousin of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, who was a great-grandson of the Bach.
In the following memorable clip, here's Rabbi Shlomo telling a classic story about the Bach, which I enjoy telling to my guests and grandchildren in our Succa. It's really moving, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Moadim L'Simcha and Shabbat Shalom!
I'm writing this to you for two reasons: first, you don't know me and I feel really embarassed talking about this to a rabbi that knows me; and second, since you too are a Baal Teshuva, I'm hoping you can understand a fellow BT that was born in the spiritual gutters far away from Torah. I became observant about five years ago, when I finished my masters degree. As a university student and a popular dude at that, I guess you can say that I did about everything and enjoyed it too. I won't go into the reasons that I made teshuva, but I became very disgusted with my lusty lifestyle. I began to learn Torah and was drawn especially to the teachings of the Zohar. I did an about face and made serious efforts in developing my personal holiness. With daily mikva, daily teshuva, and total immersion Torah, I became a new person. Two years ago, I was introduced to a young lady who after three dates became my fiance. We are blissfully married, in no small thanks to The Garden of Peace, which I live by.
So what's my problem? I thought I had deleted my naughty x-rated past from my brain. On Yom Kippur, the Yetzer gave me a triple whammy. During Kol Nidre, a really raunchy image flashed before my eyes which I won't describe, but it was something from the lowest part of my past. The same thing happened during Mussaf, and the same thing happened again in Neila. During the three highest points in the Yom Kippur prayers, I was watching myself in x-rated movies from my own past, the exact opposite of holiness. Why did Hashem shtup me with these terrible thoughts? What could I possibly have done wrong to be pushed away like this? I had such aspirations of clinging to Hashem with real devotion in this year's prayers, and I blew it. I feel devistated and dejected, as if I've been totally defeated. What can I do? Please help me. Thanks so very much, David from California
The Yetzer - the Evil Inclination - wants you to think that you're a loser. The exact opposite is true - this Yom Kippur, you have attained a lofty and admirable soul correction. You're the winner, my man; here's how:
Back in your university days, you thoroughly enjoyed doing the lewd things that so embarassingly popped into your head during this past Yom Kippur. Yet now, the forbidden acts that you once enjoyed are now a source of shame. Your shame during Yom Kippur is not only a sign of humility and holiness, but a soul correction for the past. Having done teshuva out of love (hear our CD on the subject), your past transgressions now become valuable merits to your credit. What's more, when you did those wrong things, you didn't know they were wrong. You can be proud of yourself, for Hashem is proud of the unbelievable growth that you've made in five short years. Don't ever forget that spiritual growth and serving Hashem are like football - you can't gain an inch without facing tough opposition; that's why the rewards are so great. Keep plugging away, slowly but surely, for you'll be a big winner. Remember also that as a BT, you're now playing in a championship league. Be happy, David - you're doing great. With blessings for joyous Chol Hamoed and a wonderful year, LB
Israel, 22:50 - The holiday atmosphere here was rudely interrupted with the Red Alert sirens chasing everyone to the bomb shelters. The Iron Dome missile defense system battery stationed near here thwarted the two missile attacks. We were taken by surprise for in recent weeks, things have been calm in the south of Israel. If anything, there's tension in the north with Russia now openly operating in Syria, helping Assad and his allies Iran and Hizbulla, a situation that could easily turn into a confrontation with Israel.
Right now, I'm reassuming my battle station - right here in the Brody succa. Moadim l'simcha - happy holiday!
Image above: Lazer's neighborhood in one of the Chassidic sections of Ashdod on the morning before Succoth
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev has some very special things to say about Succoth and its related mitzvoth, for on Succoth, a person merits Divine abundance of all kinds. For example, by way of the mitzvah of the Succah, a person merits a pure heart, which enables him to outpour his speech to Hashem, to the extent where he merits new utterings that are on a level of a spirit of holiness. Read more here, in Rebbe Nachman on Succoth, in this week's festive issue of Breslev Israel web magazine.
Rav Shalom Arush writes that since the "Clouds of Glory", the Divine Presence envelops a person's Succa, sitting in the Succa is most conducive for prayer, especially personal prayer. Read all about it in A House of Prayer.
No Succoth table is complete with a story for the family and guests. Here's a good one from Babylon (pre-Iraq) that took place some 150 years ago: Baghdad was suffering from a terrible drought. The Sultan told the Jews that if they didn't bring rain in three days, it would mean exile or death. Here's the story, about The Tomato Vendor of Baghdad.
Succoth is a manufacturer’s required exit from the comfort zone that teaches us to focus on the spiritual and eternal, and not on the material and finite. The Annual Telegram will explain.
This week, we learn the final Torah portion of the year, V'Zot Habracha. If a person borrows $100 from a friend, then he must repay him exactly $100, not a cent more or a cent less. In other words, a material favor such as a loan must be repaid in the exact amount to the person who did that favor for us. In contrast, a spiritual favor is different, for it cannot be estimated in monetary value; therefore, one can never know if he is returning the favor adequately. So what do you do? See the answer in Pass it On.
Here's something special for your Shabbat table: in the clip below, Cantor Ushi Blumenberg and I are on the banks of the Bugg River in Breslev, Ukraine, where Rebbe Natan composed his famous Oz VeHadar niggun. Here's the story behind it and here's the niggun. Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful New Year!
Baruch Hashem, we're now preparing for Succoth, which starts this coming Sunday night, Sept. 27, 2015. Rebbe Nachman's yahrtzeit comes out on the 18th of Tishrei during Chol Hamoed. With this in mind, here is one of my favorite melodies from this past year, which I was humming the whole time I was by Rebbe Nachman's holy gravesite in Uman this past Rosh Hashana. It's called, "Rebbe, Rebbe".
A Breslever custom is to say a hitkashrut prayer before every mitvza, where we bind ourselves to all the true tzaddikim and particularly our own rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, osb"m.
Yehudah Green turned the hitkashrut prayer into a beautifully stirring melody named "Rebbe, Rebbe." Here, Chassidic singer Duddy Knopfler with the Meshorerim Choir sing a moving rendition, which I'm sure you'll enjoy as much as I do. Below are the lyrics in Yiddish transliteration, in Yiddish and in English translation. Enjoy and have a wonderful New Year!
Rebbe, rebbe, mir villen zich mikasher zein Tzu dir
Hinneni mikkasher nafshi, ruchi venishmasi lenishmas adoni mori urabi
Im shaar hatzadikim veha'avos hakdoshim ve'im shaar hatzidkanios vehaimahos hakedoshos