Featured Guest – Rabbi Yaakov Zucker – A Message From Key West

http://www.aishhaolam.com/raabi-zucker.html

A year ago around Rosh Hashana time, one of the Key West city commissioners who is a member of my synagogue asked me to deliver the invocation at the city commission meeting which turned out to be on Tzom Gedalia. I don’t fast that well, I usually get a caffeine headache in the afternoon, but I agreed to do it anyway.

It happened to be at the same time when hurricane Matthew was threatening Florida, so I mentioned in my invocation to the city a story I once heard. There was once a scientist who had a private audience with the Lubavitcher rebbe in the 1970s and he told the rebbe that according to his calculations the world will be under water in about ten years, due to “Global warming, rising oceans, SUVS, etc.”

So the rebbe asked him, “if that’s the case, that the world will be under water in ten years, what is your solution to the problem?”

So the scientist answered, “I have a bucket list for the next ten years including partying in Las Vegas, Key West, Thailand and New Orleans.”

So the rebbe answered the scientist and said “you got it all wrong,” and the Rebbe continued and said, “that if the world will be under water in ten years then you have ten years to figure out how to live underwater or above water.״

The message is clear. G-d usually doesn’t send us a challenge (some people call it problems) that we can’t handle (as is mentioned in the Talmud in the tractate of Avodah Zara) and if G-d sends us a curve ball then He also supplied us with the bat to hit the ball. We just have to make sure that we are not scared to pick up the bat and swing, and if we manage to hit the ball it’s a home run.

Unfortunately most people don’t push themselves beyond their natural instincts. If someone is naturally kind he will be known as a yes-man. If someone is naturally strict and assertive he will be known as a no-man. But G-d wants the yes-man to become a little bit of a no-man and the no-man to become a little bit of a yes-man.

Get out of your comfort zone.

In other words He wants you to change your nature to serve Him (G-d).

A known example of this is with our patriarch Abraham who was famous for his hospitality and kindness but when G-d wanted to seal with him the ultimate covenant, some of the angels in heaven protested that Abraham was undeserving of such a great merit and the fact that he was kind and hospitable was because that was his nature, but he didn’t really transform all of his attributes to G-d, so they argued he is only worshiping You in his comfort zone and therefore doesn’t deserve any special reward.

They said, test him to do a strict act for Your sake, that is not part of his nature. Let him sacrifice his own son and let’s see if he’ll do it. And despite that it was totally against Abraham’s nature, he passed the test, whereby he received the full covenant.

Many people had a lot of challenges lately including hurricane evacuations. For the most part these events bring out the best in people. It was heartwarming to receive the many offers of help and volunteers from the whole spectrum of the community, in the aftermath of hurricane Irma which we are still currently dealing with in the Florida Keys.

But I believe that if we challenged ourselves on our own a bit more, then G-d would challenge us a bit less. As it says in the Ethics of our Fathers, Chapter 3, “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly cares are removed from him.”

So challenge yourself this year. Help a friend in need even when there is no hurricane, forgive someone that you are holding a grudge against, go to a Torah class. I guarantee you won’t regret it, and if you take upon yourself some of the above challenging resolutions you will have the merit to challenge G-d and ask him to forgive you and grant you a happy and healthy sweet year.

Rabbi Yaakov Zucker has been the Director at Chabad Jewish Center Of the Florida Keys and Key West since 1995 and serves as the chaplain of the Monroe county Sheriff department.

Featured Rosh Hashana Guest – Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, C.M. – Spiritual Leader – Congregation Machzikei Hadas In Ottawa, Canada – It Is Up To Us, More Than We Think

http://www.aishhaolam.com/rabbi-bulka.html

If we are not in the vicinity of Houston, or Florida, we have it easy. No blown roofs, no submerged homes, no displacement, no lives turned upside down. No worries, at least not hurricane related worries. Unless living in the vicinity of the ravaging fires around Los Angeles. Or British Columbia.

So, no worries,, and therefore a clear path to the Yamim Nora’im, the Awesome Days.

Not so fast. No one wishes upon anyone to live under the doomsday threat, and the upheaval, of the Texans and the Floridians. But it is they who have a more clear path to the Rosh HaShana – Yom Kippur period. With all they have endured, they emerge grateful to be alive, and fully aware that material matters, including having a safe, secure, and comfortable domicile, are secondary to life itself.  

It is they who have inspired us with their courage, their heroism, their camaraderie, their resolve, their gratitude, their unyielding faith. It is they who come into these most meaningful days with a perspective on life that thousands of well meaning speeches and lessons could not create.

What about all of us, the lucky ones who were spared the wrath of Harvey & Irma? What are the lessons for us? Are  they any different this year than other years? Should they be any different?

This is somewhat akin to asking if someone else going through a near death experience should have any affect on us?

It is in a way unfair for our own lives to be even partially governed by what happens to others. There are disasters and traumas happening all the time. If we let everything affect us, how will we be able to live?

Good question. But the answer is clear. How will we be able to live if we let everything affect us? We will be able to live better. That is how.

How does this dynamic actually work? It goes like this. These massive, destructive hurricanes could have perpetrated even greater damage. They could have been even larger than the record breaking (as far as we know since records were being kept) Hurricane Irma, they could have stayed longer, gone in different directions, been even more destructive. It was not merely those in the south who were spared the ravages of the hurricanes who avoided disaster.

We all avoided disaster. The fact that we may have been hundreds of miles away does not change that reality. And it leads to the unavoidable conclusion that we are all survivors of sorts, and  therefore of necessity should be full of gratitude for that.

Yes, it sounds preposterous to think of ourselves in the same way as the Houstonians – as fortunate to be alive. But we are all fortunate to be alive. The Houstonians know it because they were so perilously close to losing everything, including life itself. We were not that close, so we may not feel it. But that does not change the simple reality that we too are fortunate to be alive.

How does that affect the way we enter the Aseret Yemay Teshuva, the ten days of return, or as I like to refer to it, the ten days we focus on getting better? It can, and arguably should, help us enter these days full of gratitude for our good fortune, full of appreciation, and  therefore ready to translate these sentiments into action on all fronts.

Obviously, gratitude for those who continue to face enormous rebuilding challenges but who are alive to do so, means that we do whatever we can to help them – kind words, kind deeds, continuous prayers. Gratitude, contrary to what some may think, is more than a passing sentiment. For gratitude to be genuine, it must translate into meaningful expression.

Consider the following – can someone legitimately claim to be a grateful person and at the same time be mean, insulting, uncaring? Phrasing the question in this manner exposes the glaring nonsense of a claim to gratitude  that is devoid of appreciative behavior. Gratitude, to be real, must be the  prelude to action.

We make an interesting adjustment for the Ten Days of Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, the Ten Day of Getting Better. In the first part of the main prayer, the Shemoneh Esray, we conclude the three-blessing introductory by referring to God as the “Holy Majesty,” instead of the “Holy God.” Majesty, or King, seems to be a demotion in status from  God. Only God is God, but there can be, indeed there are,  many kings, or monarchs. Precisely at the time that we are more sensitive to the sacred, and to Godliness, we make what seems to be a peculiar turn in a questionable direction.

What exactly are we doing by extolling God as THE Melekh? As is clear from the works of Rav Yonasan Eybishitz and Rav Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad, and further developed in Honeycombs (by Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka and Rikki Ash, Ktav Publishing House, 2017, p. 8), to praise God and the Godly attributes, but to ignore the obligation to embrace those very attributes makes a mockery of the praise. The praise of God’s holiness comes with the challenge to emulate God, to embrace a life of holiness.

In carrying this idea through as it applies to the ten days that extol God’s holy Majesty, we are challenged to bring majesty to our lives. But what exactly is majesty? Perhaps more than anything else, majesty means taking the lead, taking the initiative, and not allowing oneself to be governed by circumstance. To hide behind convenient excuses such as “I got busy,” “I forgot,” etc., is anything but majesty. Majesty sets the agenda.

For all of us entering the majesty phase of these ten days, it means that we have the capacity, and therefore the responsibility, to set the agenda, and to keep to it. An agenda of meaningful gratitude, profoundly expressed, is an inspired way to begin the year. It will include gratitude to God, gratitude to parents and grandparents, gratitude to spouse, gratitude to anyone and everyone, institutions included, that have helped us, followed by this simple question – in addition to conveying a genuine thank you, how can I translate this gratitude into an enduring expression

The question is the same for everyone, the answer differs according to our situation, our capacity. Yes, we enter this penitential period with many “asks” to God. But if we come into this period in the fullness of gratitude, and with “asks” that we pose to ourselves, we will provide answers that spread blessing, appreciation, and goodness.

After all, is this not what we all want, and need?

Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa since 1967. In addition to being an accomplished author of more than 30 books and countless articles in the fields of religion, health, and psychology, he is also host of Sunday Night with Rabbi Bulka on CFRA and regular contributor to “Ask the Religion Experts” in the Ottawa Citizen.

A dedicated grass-roots volunteer, he is renowned for his tireless commitment to the Ottawa community through service on charitable and civic boards and regular participation in charity events. He has received numerous awards including the prestigious Gilbert Greenberg Distinguished Service Award for his exemplary service to the Jewish Community of Ottawa and was the inaugural recipient of Scouts Canada’s National Salute Award. He was cited by Canadian Blood Services for more than 300 blood donations and is actively involved in the promotion of organ donation programs. Rabbi Bulka serves as Honorary Chaplain of the Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, is the chair of the Trillium Gift of Life Network (responsible for organ and tissue donation in Ontario), and chairs the Hospice Ottawa West campaign.

He received his Semikhah (Rabbinic ordination) from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Rabbinical Seminary, New York, in 1965 and his Ph.D. (concentrating on the Logotherapy of Viktor Frankl) from the University of Ottawa in 1971. He received an honourary Doctor of Laws from Carleton University in 2006 for his community and humanitarian service, and was awarded the “Key to the City” in February, 2010. In June 2013, Rabbi Bulka was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

 

Featured Guest – Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm – Founder And Leader Of Chabad Oregon – The Three Weeks And Miracles

The Three Weeks, The Miracle of the Jewish People

It is a miracle that the Jewish people are here.  The three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av mark the time of the destruction of both our holy temples, the killing of many Jewish people, and the exile of the remaining Jewish people.

 “Atem Ham’at Mikol Hoamim.” We have been the smallest of all the nations, yet the Jewish people are here today, and many more powerful nations are not here anymore.

“It is a miracle.”

There are three types of miracles:

1) During the miracle itself, the thing remains in its original state.  As it says in Medrash Rabbah (Exodus 9, 10), during the first plague when we were slaves in Egypt, G-d turned the water into blood for the Egyptians, yet it remained in its original state as water for the Jews.

2) During the miracle, the thing changes from its original, natural state.  So when G-d split the Sea of Reeds with winds from the east, the sea changed its form and became a wall of water, like a wall of stone.  If G-d had stopped the eastern wind for a moment, the water would have returned to its natural, flowing state.  And as soon as the Jewish people went through the Sea of Reeds, it returned back into flowing water.  

3) The third kind of miracle affects and changes the nature of the thing; a supernatural miracle.  The Torah tells us that through G-d’s miracle, Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand was turned into leprosy and became white as snow and remained that way.  It was through another miracle that  G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu to put his hand into his pocket, and it was returned to its previous, natural state.   

We just came from the third of Tamuz. The Seder Olam Rabbah (Chapter 11) tells us that a great miracle happened on the third day of Tamuz, which fits into the third category above, a supernatural type of miracle, the miracle with Yehoshua, “Shemesh B’Givon Dom.”  The sun stopped moving and continued to shine until Yehoshua won the battle of Givon.

This was one of the greatest miracles that ever happened.  It happened so that Yehoshua could win the war and conquer the enemy. This miracle was so great and above nature that the pasuk says such a great miracle never happened before or after it.

Though G-d could have circumvented orchestrating such a supernatural miracle, by letting the sun set and giving the power of sight to the Jews at night to fight the war, as it says by Mitzraim, by the plague of darkness, “Ulchol B’nai Yisrael Hoya Ohr,”   “For all the Jewish people, there was light,” G-d chose to work above nature.  

Only 90 years ago in Communist Russia, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, was in prison.  He was put on death row for teaching and spreading Torah and mitzvot.  It was also on the third day of Tamuz that he was let out and given a lighter sentence, and only later was he set free.  A miracle.

We also find a supernatural miracle in the Torah in the story of Korach and his supporters.  When Korach accused Moshe Rabbeinu of selecting Aaron to become the Kohaine Gadol, G-d instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to select a staff from each tribe, place the name of the tribe on the staff, and write the name of the person from the tribe to be the Kohaine Gadol.  Then Hashem would select the staff, and it would grow buds, bloom, and blossom into almonds overnight, indicating Hashem’s choice for the Kohaine Gadol.

Wouldn’t it have been enough to prove G-d’s point if He had just selected Aaron’s staff to blossom with almonds?  Why was it necessary for the staff to sprout buds and to blossom and bear almonds?  A supernatural miracle.

The Gemorah (Yoma 52b) tells us that Aaron’s staff – with its buds, blossoms, and almonds – is hidden for all time.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, teaches us a lesson from this for all time.

 The Talmud (Nidah 31a) says, “Ein Baal Hanes Makir B’Nisoi.”  A person does not recognize miracles that surround him.  This is not just something we learn from the Talmud.  Rather, if we think about it, we see this in each person’s life.  Not everyone merits to witness a miracle – to see life in a revealed way.  However, we are surrounded by miracles.  Sometimes a Jew comes to the conclusion that he does not merit to see a miracle. However, he can see miracles – G-d works with a Jew, not only according to nature but above nature, through miracles.  

As the Rebbe Maharash says, a Jew’s parnassa, his sustenance, is like manna from heaven, which the Jews received in the desert.  A miracle.  Those who strive to witness miracles will not tire; they will succeed.  

The Torah teaches us that even miracles are done in a natural manner.  And in this world of nature, we exist by miracles.

May we merit to see very soon the great miracle of the Moshiach’s arrival in our world of nature.  

Amen.  

Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm is Director of Chabad of Oregon.

Featured Guest – Rabbi Bodenheim – Sefirat Haomer

The matzos are eaten, the chametz is back. Pesach is now “back on the shelf” until next year. Our current focus is the Pesach sequel:  Sefiras Haomer.  It’s a time of counting up to the giving of the Torah on Shavuos AND it’s a time of mourning as well.  No haircuts, no shaving, no music, no weddings.  How do we connect these two very different themes so it all makes sense?

The first glimpse of an answer comes at the end of Pesach, with the Krias Yam Suf – the splitting of the Red Sea. Chazal tell us that this event was even more spectacular than the 10 plagues.  It was a moment of true, sublime prophecy and connection with our Creator.

When the Bnei Yisroel were at Yam Suf, they said “Zeh Keili Vanveihu” (Beshalach 15:2) “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.”   Here are just a few ways we can understand “V’anveihu.” Rashi says it means “I will speak of Hashem’s beauty and praise.”  Targum Onkolos says it means “I will build a Beis Hamikdash for Hashem.”  The Gemara in Shabbos 133 defines it as “I will beautify myself in front of Hashem by performing mitzvos in a most beautiful way.”  The Gemara Shabbos 133 further says it’s a hybrid of two words “Ani” and “Vhu” – I and he. I will act like Hashem- just like Hashem is compassionate, kind and benevolent, so too I will act.  Rav Gedalia Schorr zt”l explains these are four different paths to accomplish one common goal.

The Bnei Yisroel experienced an amazing prophecy at the Yam Suf.  To keep it forever, they responded “V’anveihu”- I will refine my speech, thoughts, and actions.  In what way? My speech is refined by praising Hashem; my thoughts by becoming compassionate, patient and tolerant; and my actions by performing mitzvos in the most beautiful fashion possible. By doing all these things the Jews were creating a place for the Shechina to rest – the foundation of the Beis Hamikdash.

According to Rav Wolbe zt”l once we connected to the Creator of the universe, we were changed dramatically. Our standard of conduct received a huge positive boost.

Those changes happened back then.  What is likely to happen when we resolve to change today?  Typically, in contemplating Teshuva, the first areas we think of changing are those Bein Adom LaMakom (between oneself and Hashem).  Maybe we’ll say brachos with more concentration; perhaps, we’ll come on time to shul, learn more and be more diligent.  The big question here is: why don’t we also think of improving ourselves in areas Bein Adam L’chaveiro (between oneself and one’s fellow man)?

Rav Wolbe zt”l explains that our ego often gets in the way.  When we daven or learn better, we feel we are holier.  Such is not the case when we are considering helping others – especially if we think there is no one watching.  Our egos tell us that by giving to others, we are giving up something of ourselves. At the splitting of the sea, on the other hand, we accepted upon ourselves not just improvement in our relationship between man and G-d, but also improvement between man and man; improving the way we treat and relate to others.  We resolved to work on our compassion, kindness, patience and tolerance.

 

This might be a new understanding of the puzzling Gemara which says the reason why the students of Rabbi Akiva died was because they did not accord honor to each other, resulting in the Omer period as a time of mourning.  A little harsh, don’t you think??  After all, the Torah does not say that failing to honor one another is deserving of death? The answer is that the students of Rabbi Akiva were the crème de la crème!  They were to be the successors of the transmission of the Torah.    However, when they failed to honor each other, with their egos getting in the way, that made them unworthy of the holy task they were assigned, causing them to pay the ultimate price.

 

We have just experienced a tremendous closeness to Hashem, starting with Seder night and growing throughout Pesach.  This has helped us reach a new and lofty level – a benchmark for the start of Sefiras Haomer. Certainly, we need to work on our relationship between us and Hashem by improving our davening and learning.  But we must focus as well (and perhaps even more) on Bein Adam L’Chaveiro.   Our ego may be whispering to us to look the other way, but focusing on helping our neighbors, families, friends, chavrusas, etc. will result in conquering our egos and venturing forward towards true growth and closeness to Hashem.