38 posts categorized "Teshuva"

The Miracles of Hanit

Today is Memorial Day in Israel for our martyred soldiers, of sacred and blessed memory.

Hanit Image at left courtesy of Haaretz.com shows the Israeli Missile boat "Hanit" being tugged into Ashdod port after having been hit by a Hizbulla missile off the Beirut shore on July 14, 2006, during the Second Lebanon War.

17 October, 2006. A young Israeli Naval sergeant boarded the northbound train in Tel Aviv. I was on my way to a present a lecture in the Haifa area and he was returning to his base in the Haifa port. He sat down across from me, looking at me intently while I was learning my Gemara. I looked up at him, smiled, said "Shalom aleichem!"

He sighed deeply, as if relieved, and sheepishly asked, "Can I talk to you, Rav?"

"Of course," I answered, asking him how he knows that I'm a "rav". He said that he heard me eulogize one of his fallen friends during the war. The sailor had a relatively new beard, an almost new knitted kippa on his head, and the beautifully pure innocence in his eyes of a new Ba'al Teshuva. To make a long story short, he was a crewman on board the Israeli Navy ship Hanit (Hebrew for bayonet) when it was hit by a missile of shore in Beirut.

The sailor, who we'll call Moshe, began to relate the dozens of miracles that happened aboard the Hanit the night that it was hit. "It was Friday night. Usually, the crew would eat Friday night dinner in two shifts. But this time, since we were in a war zone, our three religious crewmen went to Lt. Col. A - the skipper - and begged that we all need Hashem's help. The first miracle is that the skipper agreed to leave only 4 sailors on the bridge, and allowed the whole entire crew to pray together; we piled into the chapel, and said a lengthy mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat. I was bored and wanted to eat quickly then catch a few hours sleep, because I had the midnight watch. But, I stayed with the rest of the crew. Then, all of us had a Shabbat meal together - 15 different sailors said Kiddush, each in the custom of his fathers; I'm talking about guys that aren't (weren't) even religious! The meal was drawn out - I had a headache and was dying to sleep. The religious guys started to say the grace after the meal, and BOOOFF! The missile hit, but on the opposite end of the craft. It should have sank the boat, but it hit a crane right above the chopper landing pad. What a miracle! If that's not enough, the helicopter-refueling tank - filled to the gills with chopper fuel - didn't explode despite the fact that the whole end of the boat was burned..."

At least twenty other crewmen aboard the Hanit should have been killed, but they were saved by Shabbat dinner on the other end of the ship. The four on the bridge all lost their lives.

Moshe had beads of sweat on his forehead; tears glistened in his eyes. "The newspapers don't write about the miracles that we all saw. I ran to my bunk on the deck right below the landing pad. It was charcoal; my metal bunk was completely melted down and all my possessions were ashes. If I hadn't been detained in the chapel and in the dining hall for Shabbat meal, I'd have been charcoal too. I haven't stopped thanking Hashem since - I've changed my life..."

Moshe continued with more miracles, including the engine room burnt to a crisp but a pair of tefillin was found unscathed. If that's not enough, amidst the embers of destruction, the sailors found a Book of Psalms - also unscathed - opened to Psalm 124. Read Psalm 124 and your hair will stand up!

The train was nearing my station, so I gave Moshe a blessing and a fatherly embrace, and we parted. The Hanit took a direct hit from a Hizbulla missile, but Moshe has turned the navy's setback into a victory.

*******

Every day, I meet more and more "Moshes". Unlike many of the politicians, the Israeli on the street - especially the soldiers and the reservists - are diamonds looking to be polished, and have started to ask the real questions in life. They're looking for emuna. Were it not for the wars here, they wouldn't have bothered. 

The whole purpose of the wars is to bring us closer to Hashem. Once we get close to Hashem on our own initiative, Hashem won't have to send us wars anymore, amen. I'd much prefer dancing with Moshiach to eulogizing fallen comrades.


V'hi She'amda: The Eternal Promise

There's a major difference between Hashem and political leaders: He keeps His promises whereas they don't. Seder night is proof...

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 politics, whether you look at the right, center or left. With that in mind, maybe now, our people around the globe 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, especially here in Israel, 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!


The First Blemish

Life is a classroom.

I saw a cute 5-year old with curly red payis (sidelocks) in synagogue on the first day of Succoth that was wearing a brand new pair of shoes. When his peckal'e (his little bag of goodies) was depleted, he ran outside to play with the other little tikes. A few minutes later, he ran back in shul, wailing to his daddy; the little guy's spanking new patent leather holiday-and-Shabbat shoes had just received their first nasty scoff. A pat on the head and a piece of toffee calmed him down, and within a minute, he returned to the action outside. By the end of services, the little fellow's new shoes were not only scoffed, but covered with dust and many more blemishes that didn't seem to bother him any more.

There's a profound lesson here: Rav Huna teaches (Talmud, tractate Yoma, 86b) that once a person commits a misdeed for the second time, then it becomes permissible in his or her own mind.

The soul is like a lily-white garment. A misdeed, such as a lie, a dishonest dealing, or an act of adultery blemishes the soul seriously. Human nature is to become extremely ashamed of the first blemish, but once the garment (or soul) is soiled and blemished, then anything goes.

Repeated offenders, such as gossips and those who short-change their employees, have 101 reasons to justify their actions. Repeated misdeeds have a way of desensitizing us, for the cleaner a soul is, the higher its sensitivity.

The soul suffers unfathomable humiliation from each blemish.

A good detergent will clean a garment; Teshuva will clean a soul.

Today is Hoshana Raba; tonight in Israel is Simchat Torah (Shmini Atzeret outside of Israel, and Simchat Torah abroad is on Thursday night and Friday). Now's the time when the judgments and verdicts of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not only finally signed and sealed, but delivered too. In the next 48 hours, one can certainly do Teshuva that's sufficient to sweeten the most severe judgments. The gates of Heaven are wide open right now - this is a wonderful time for the type of joyous teshuva with love that will completely cleanse our souls. Let's not squander these valuable hours. Dancing with all our hearts not only cleans our pores, but it cleans our souls. Have a wonderful Yom Tov!


Tough Opposition on the Field

Spiritual Growth
Dear Rabbi Lazer,

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 Rosh Hashanah, the Yetzer gave me a triple whammy. During Maariv on the first night, 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 the second night. When I should have been crowning the King, 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 devastated and dejected, as if I've been totally defeated. What can I do? Please help me. Thanks so very much, David from California

Dear David,

The Yetzer - the Evil Inclination - wants you to think that you're a loser. The exact opposite is true - this year, 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 a meaning Yom Kippur and a wonderful year, LB


Oops! I Did it Again

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Last night, as I was putting my kids to sleep, I was overcome with the urge to clean out my husband's shelf in our tiny closet. Now I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of the shelf before I cleaned it, because it was a total disaster. Plastic bags were piling up on top of each other, loose change was laying around, and all kinds of wires and G-d knows what were clogging up my shelf. Since my little boyfriend decided he was going to sleep in my bed last night, I did my best to persuade him otherwise by leaving the light on and cleaning the closet without attacking him with kisses. 

Finally, he decided to go sleep in his own bed, and I decided that half of the junk needed to go. So I threw it away. Fast forward a few hours. David came home and wanted to eat dinner. Since Thursdays have turned into my "fast food" night, (OMG!) I showed him the vegan kebabs that I had so expertly warmed up in the oven. He wanted to see the nutrition info on the bag, and I pointed to the garbage can. "How am I supposed to eat it if I don't know how many calories are in it?" he asked. "Why are you so concerned, Mr. Universe?" I told him. "It's not like you're gonna see a difference one way or another!" Ouch. Why do I write this stuff?

So we argued about it for a while, and finally he decided he was going to go through the garbage and look for the bag. I couldn't believe it. As he was making his way down the pile, he noticed a bag of stuff that looked familiar and pulled it out. 

Uh, oh. 

He took it to the counter and opened it up. I tried to ignore what he was doing, but soon enough he called me over. "What is this?! Why do you keep throwing my stuff away???!" He was sooooo mad as he pulled out his brand new eyeglass case and held it up in front of me. "What?" I asked, all innocent-looking. "I never saw that eyeglass case before!" "That's because I just bought it!" Like, oops. "Well, that's what you get for being such a slob!" I snapped at him. And then we enjoyed a nice romantic glass of red wine together.

I thought I would write about this because Pesach is less than a month away, and that means that suddenly everyone goes into hyper-cleaning mode. Since I'm always in hyper-cleaning mode, I felt that I should kick it up a notch and go into hyper-throwing-out mode - you know, in honor of Pesach. 

So what's my point? I've realized that cleaning for Pesach is similar to personal prayer. If you do it all year long, you don't get unexpected surprises popping up in your life , or in your garbage. Wait. That doesn't even make any sense. Isn't every surprise unexpected? I mean, if it was expected, how could it be a surprise? 

Gosh, I'm so profound.

Personal prayer, especially a daily self-assessment, is like Pesach cleaning all year long. There is no way you can remember what you did wrong or right like, nine months after you did it. I can't even remember what I did five minutes ago. So how can you do teshuva for something that you don't remember doing? And if you didn't do teshuva for it, then by default you've created judgments for yourself. It's sad, but true.

Every day we have an opportunity to spend a few minutes in self-introspection, so we can clearly see what we need to work on. If we don't try to improve ourselves, our negative character traits could end up in the garbage, right next to my husband's eyeglass case. And wouldn't that be a shame?

On that note, have a happy, healthy, and restful Shabbat!

~Racheli


Rotten Ramens

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I bet you're probably wondering what in the world that is. If you're not, I worry for you. Well, as you can plainly see, it's a fork. A fork with dried up old ramen noodles on it. Now, you're probably wondering where I found this creation. Well, that's a no-brainer. It was on the floor in the back row of my junkmobile. My kids found it today as we came back from our disastrous outing at IKEA. Why is IKEA spelled in ALL CAPS? 

As I pulled up to our driveway, the kids were already halfway out of the car, hysterically laughing from their discovery. Here's a better view.

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OMG WHAT IS THAT?? I'm horrified. To find that moldy mess in my car?? Actually, I'm not really that surprised because my car really is a disaster. I just can't keep up with the kids bringing all kinds of food and snacks in the car, and of course none of them bother to take their snacks and wrappers out of the car. And my short-term memory is also horrendous, so I forget that there is a garbage dump in the backseat. And, I'm just so busy that I don't even have five minutes to waste going through the car. It's funny because I'm always cleaning up my house; but the car? Maybe twice a year. Maybe.

Here's one more angle, because I couldn't stop taking pictures of it because it was so disgusting.

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Now this is interesting. I bet you're wondering if I put that fork there so I could hold up the noodles without having to touch them. Absolutely. NOT! Whichever one of my kids ate this left the fork in the cup of noodles, and over the last several months (?!) they dried up in that position. Un-believable. 

Aside from feeling compelled to post this because it's so gross, I actually gained a little insight from these rotten ramens. I realized that our souls are also vulnerable to mold overgrowth of the spiritual sort. All of our bad deeds probably look this frightful on our souls. Oy, what if it looks even worse? 

Well, the good news is that Hashem gave us an easy way to keep our souls clean. It's called cheshbon nefesh, or daily accounting. Every day, we're advised to go over all of our deeds, both good and not-so-good. Then, we're supposed to make teshuva (repent) for them. If we've hurt someone else, we need to ask forgiveness from them.

This way, our souls are cleaned off, and we don't risk getting toxic mold buildup and harsh judgments as a result. The judgments literally do the dirty work for us, cleaning us up because we didn't do it first through our daily teshuva.

So, don't delay! Keep your souls sparkling and fresh with your daily spiritual cleanup! Doesn't that sound like a toothpast commercial?

And just so we don't end on a sour note, here's something sweet I made tonight!

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It's a hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick and some apple slices in it. And, oh yeah, it's got a splash of bourbon in it, because I've had a rough day. But really, the bourbon gives this drink an awesome kick. If you want the recipe, send me a comment and I'll happily give it to you.

Wishing you all a Chodesh Tov, Chanukah Sameach, and a big Shabbat Shalom!

~Racheli


Mrs. Fix-it

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I've decided that I earned the prestigious title of "Mrs. Fix-it." As you can plainly see, I'm quite the handy woman. Yesterday my car was supposed to go through its annual test, but the guy that was supposed to pick it up called me while I was outside re-attaching my rear tail light cover. In the end, he didn't come by, and I'll have to wait until when did he say he was supposed to come again? Goodness, gracious.

My dad is gonna be so proud of me when he sees how nicely I fixed up the light. It's so funny, but in Israel, I suspect that most people won't burst out in laughter when they see me driving around with my light taped up. In the States, it's like a major God forbid. Something embarrassing like that could ruin a potential shidduch (match) for my kids one day, double God forbid.  

As you can see in top picture, below the light is the dent that happened when I backed up into the tree on the sidewalk a few weeks ago. Oops, did I just write "I"? I meant my husband. Anyhow, since then, I've been driving around with the plastic tail light cover laying on the floor in between the two front seats. I'm so happy I didn't throw it away!

Hopefully, my seamless taping job will get my car a passing grade, so I can actually drive it around legally. Over here, we can't renew our car registrations until we pass "The Test." I'll keep praying that my "test" goes OK...

Until then, allow me to share what I realized: teshuva can fix everything! And believe me, it does a much better job than my tape hackjob. Teshuva not only fixes things good as new, it can even make them better than before! Reish Lakish says that teshuva from love can turn your transgressions into your merits. Now I'm all for that! At this rate, I have so many potential merits, I might end up sitting next to Sarah Imenu in Heaven one day. 

Every day, you can fix what you did wrong. Talk to Hashem and tell Him that you want to grow closer to Him, but your annoying transgressions are holding you back. He may gladly oblige and wipe your slate clean just because He sees that you really mean it! Now that's what I call love!

Have a great day!

-Racheli