Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creative Writing: Poetry

Come and see

Come and hear,
Smell and touch,
Taste and fear,
Love so much.

Come and sing.

Come and heal,
Smile and try,
Dance and feel,
Laugh and cry.

Whatever you do,
Make sure to come.
Uman Uman Rosh Hashana...


In the Morning

In the morning
I wrap myself
With explosives
Close to my heart,
Arms, and head.

I search for
The biggest crowd
Of Jewish men,
Covering my face
With a cloak.

I anxiously wait
To sacrifice
Body and Soul,
Lighting a Fire
For Life, and not death.


Surrounded by Distant Family

Sitting in a gymnasium,
Praying for their release
I could not help but think that
We are all kidnapped children.
(Literally, Tinokot sheNishbe'u)

Yet, we too are not alone.
We are One, and we have each other.
We've been united and must remain so,
For that is the ultimate goal, the only way out,
The source of our redemption.

Return us to You,
And we will return, together.
Bring back your boys.


After a Long Day

I opened up my computer and
A pop-up window appeared.
It had a heart and read in pink:
"Does Skype power your passion?"

They do not know that Mine is
Vast and total.

If only there was a Skype for it,
Something to keep me connected.
If only I could see and still
Listen, talk, and live...

Then perhaps I would not feel
The emptiness.

The crater that remains from the blast
That formed me into a vessel,
Rendering other food tasteless and
The air outside of it impure.

Here, there is no way to fill
The void, I know.

There are but moments of brightness,
The promise of reward, and
The gratification in knowing that
I do not want or need it.

The only true reward is to serve
The One I love.

Everything else is just a
Flashing light on a screen
On which I must click,
and hit "OK."


The Heart of the Matter

When the soul first enters the body,
 It asks: "Why do I need all this opposition?
I already had a place to live,
So why do I have to conquer this one?"

With time, it realizes that to be truly whole
And holy requires both body and soul,
East and West, the Jerusalem above
And the Jerusalem below.


Some points

At some points,
I worried about
Sounding smart.
At some others,
Sounding funny.
Buy these days,
All I care about
Is sounding true,
Like my Self.


From my posts

Some people
May think
I'm crazy.

Of course,
I am.
Isn't everyone
Who is in love?








Week 49 (From the Book): To Bring More Light in Order to Extinguish Darkness Altogether

The snail is saying, "Like the snail that melts away, a stillborn of a mole that does not see the sun." (Psalms 58:9)
Shmuel the Small would say: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G-d see, and it will displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him [to you]" (Proverbs 24:17-18).
Malchut shebeMalchut (kingship within the context of kingship)
 
In week forty-nine, as we approach the middle of the month of Elul, the snail in Perek Shirah declares that the enemies of Hashem will melt and will be like a stillborn that does not see the sun. (Psalm 58:9) The snail seems to be in a position that is even worse than that of the snake and the scorpion; it is literally fading and melting away. This verse is also deeply connected to the month of Elul when through our teshuvah we melt away our inner feelings of darkness and sadness and connect directly to G-d’s light.
The song of the snail comes from a Psalm in which King David refers to the ability to reduce the evil inclination to nothing, as he himself was able to accomplish. This statement is very appropriate for this week, given that it is on day forty-nine (or week 49 in this case) that we complete the Counting of the Omer. With the end of week forty-nine, we conclude the work of self-improvement of the emotional sefirot for this year. After climbing step by step, week after week, we hopefully significantly diminished the evil inclination within us.
As noted above, the number forty-nine represents the number of days of the omercount, as well as the number of years until the Jubilee. Forty-nine is the culmination of the entire omer count, and represents completion, seven times seven.
The lesson from Pirkei Avot for this week is in the words of Shmuel HaKatan (“the Small”), who teaches us not to rejoice when our enemy falls, lest G-d dislike it, and turn away His wrath from him (onto us). (Chapter IV: 19; Proverbs 24:17-18) The teaching of Shmuel is connected to how we ought to behave in the face of the fall of our greatest enemy - our evil inclination. Shmuel HaKatan, was so named because of his great humility. We must seek always to be humble, especially in these days of Elul.
And completing the cycle, this week the sefirot combination results in malchut shebemalchut, which represents completely majestic behavior still connected to this material world. Malchut is also called the “poor” sefirah, in that it has nothing of its own – it simply reflects the emanations of the other sefirot. In that sense, it is very humble, like Shmuel HaKatan.
The lesson for self-improvement derived from the snail is that we must bring the light of the Torah to all those who are currently in spiritual darkness.
 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Week 48 (Book 5): Reviewing the Second Week of Elul - Psalms 142-144; 105:45, 137:1-3; 89:49

Psalms

Chapter 142

1. A maskil1 by David, when he was in the cave, a prayer. 2. With my voice I will cry out to the Lord; with my voice I will call to the Lord in supplication. 3. I will pour out my plea before Him; I will declare my distress in His presence. 4. When my spirit is faint within me, You know my path. In the way in which I walk, they have hidden a snare for me. 5. Look to my right and see, there is none that will know me; every escape is lost to me. No man cares for my soul. 6. I cried out to You, O Lord; I said, "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” 7. Listen to my song of prayer, for I have been brought very low. Deliver me from my pursuers, for they are too mighty for me. 8. Release my soul from confinement, so that it may acknowledge Your Name. Because of me, the righteous will crown [You] when You will deal graciously with me.

Chapter 143

1. A psalm by David. O Lord, hear my prayer, lend Your ear to my supplications. With Your faithfulness answer me, and with Your righteousness. 2. Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for no living being would be vindicated before You. 3. For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has set me down in dark places, like those who are eternally dead. 4. Then my spirit became faint within me; my heart was dismayed within me. 5. I remembered the days of old; I meditated on all Your deeds; I spoke of Your handiwork. 6. I spread out my hands to You; like a languishing land my soul yearns after You, Selah. 7. Answer me soon, O Lord, my spirit is spent; hide not Your face from me, lest I become like those who descend into the pit. 8. Let me hear Your kindness in the morning, for have I trusted in You. Let me know the way in which I should walk, for to You I have lifted my soul. 9. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord. I have concealed [my troubles from all, save] You. 10. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my G-d. Let Your good spirit lead me in an even path. 11. For the sake of Your Name, O Lord, give me life; in Your righteousness, take my soul out of distress. 12. And in Your kindness, cut off my enemies and obliterate all those who oppress my soul, for I am Your servant.

Chapter 144

1. By David. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, Who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war. 2. My source of kindness and my fortress, my high tower and my rescuer, my shield, in Whom I take refuge; it is He Who makes my people submit to me. 3. O Lord, what is man that You have recognized him; the son of a mortal, that You are mindful of him? 4. Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. 5. O Lord, incline Your heavens and descend; touch the mountains and they will become vapor. 6. Flash one bolt of lightning and You will scatter them; send out Your arrows and You will confound them. 7. Stretch forth Your hands from on high, rescue me and deliver me out of many waters, from the hand of strangers, 8. whose mouth speaks deceit and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. 9. G-d, I will sing a new song to You, I will play to You upon a harp of ten strings. 10. He who gives victory to kings, He will rescue David, His servant, from the evil sword. 11. Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of strangers, whose mouth speaks deceit and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. 12. For our sons are like plants, brought up to manliness in their youth; our daughters are like cornerstones, fashioned after the fashion of a palace. 13. Our storehouses are full, overflowing with all manner of food; our sheep increase by the thousands, growing by the tens of thousands in our open fields. 14. Our leaders bear the heaviest burden; there is none who break through, nor is there bad report, nor outcry in our streets. 15. Happy is the nation for whom this is so. Happy is that nation whose G-d is the Lord.


Tikkun HaKlali

Chapter 105

45. In order that they keep His statutes and observe His laws. Hallelujah.

Chapter 137

1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, we also wept when we remembered Zion.
2. On willows in its midst we hung our harps.
3. For there our captors asked us for words of song and our tormentors [asked of us] mirth, "Sing for us of the song of Zion."


Psalm 89


49. Who is a man who will live and not see death, who will rescue his soul from the grasp of the grave forever?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Week 48 (Book 4b): Heber and To Be Connected


SONG OF SONGS: 10. I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers, then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace.
70 SOULS THAT DESCENDED TO EGYPT: Heber and Naftali
TALMUD SHEVUOTH: Daf 48 – New Moon
BOOK OF JEREMIAH: Chapter 48

Week 48 in the Jewish calendar is the second week of Elul. The zodiac sign for this month is virgo. The verse of Shir HaShirim for this week continues to speak of the Jewish people as a young virgin/bride. She promises to stand strong against any who try to seduce her, and because of this she finds peace with her Husband.
Of the seventy souls of the Jewish people that descended to Egypt, the forty-eighth mentioned is Heber. Heber means friend, connection – perhaps a reference to the strong bond we have with G-d during this month, which stands for “Ani LeDodi veDodi Li,” “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me.” Heber is also the name of the husband of another incredibly important Biblical female figure: Yael.
This week is also connected with Naftali. Of all the children of Jacob, it is only Naftali that is associated with a female animal because the prophetess Deborah comes from this tribe (Rashi). Naftali is described by Jacob as an Ayalah Shluchah (a swift gazelle, similar to the name Yael, which means “mountain goat”). Naftali also comes from the word for “sweetness,” also associated with the Divine closeness we experience during this month.
Daf Mem Cheit (Folio 48) of Shvuot discusses contradicting testimonies about the new moon and about whether money was given. It also discusses swearing of orphans, comparing it to that of a woman that swears in order to receive the rest of her ketubah that was already partially paid. Finally, the daf discusses overturning a final ruling and swearing about uncertain claims. Again, the theme Teshuvah and renewal (“New Moon,” overturning final rulings) is quite prevalent, as well as the female theme connected to Elul.
Chapter 48 of the Book of Jeremiah contains a similar theme to the above. The chapter speaks of the downfall of Moab. As mentioned last week, each gentile nation is associated with a specific impurity. (Likutei Moharan Torah Kuf Alef, Lesson 101)

 

Sixteenth Set of 22 Days: Tzadik Sofit, Other Sheaves and Vegetables of the Field (the Priestly Family of Immer)


Thursday, the 2nd of Elul, began the sixteenth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallels the end-letter Tzadik (Tzadik Sofit), as well as the "Other Sheaves" and the Vegetables of the Field in Perek Shirah. This 22-day period runs through the 23rd of Elul.

As mentioned previously, Tzadik means righteous. The shape of the regular Tzadik is bent, while that of the end-letter Tzadik is straight and goes further down than the resting place of other letters. Elul is the month of Teshuvah, and the Tzadik Sofit represents the Ba'al Teshuvah.  Someone who went down below to then climb back up. When Mashiach comes, even Tzadikim will do Teshuvah. Moshe is the quintessential Tzadik. The Tzadik Sofit, the "end Tzadik, is a reference to Mashiach. Mashiach will elevate even the lowest of realms.

The Tzadi Sofit is also found in the word for land, Eretz, which our sages teach are a reference to the World to Come, Olam HaBah.

"Kol yisrael yesh lahem chelek b'olam haba, sh'nemar, "v'amech kulam tzadikim, l'olam yirshu ha'aretz; netzer matai, ma'aseh yadai l'hitpaer." (transl: "Every member of Israel has a portion in the world-to-come, as it states (in Isaiah 60:21), "Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, so that I may be glorified.").

 Any Jew - even one whose sins have caused him to forfeit his share in the World to Come - can regain his loss if he repents. Through repentance, any Jew can attain the rank of Tzadik and be worthy of a share in Eretz, the World to Come (Rambam, Hil. Teshuvah 3:14). (Rabbi Munk, p. 193)

The Tzadik's connection to land goes further. Land is constant, humble, ready to receive rain. The same is true for the righteous, as well as for all of us who engage in Teshuvah during the month of Elul.  

A similar theme can be found regarding the elements in Perek Shirah:

The Other Sheaves are saying, "The meadows are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with grain; they shout for joy, they also sing" (Psalms 65:14)

The Vegetables of the Field are saying, "You water its furrows abundantly; You settle its ridges; you make it soft with showers; You bless its growth" (Psalms 65:11)

Both songs are from the same Psalm. Their central theme is visualizing ourselves in the way we are meant to be: Tzadikim, like a land clothed with flock and grain,  singing and shouting with joy. It also about making ourselves ready to receive water (a reference to Torah), making furrows and ridges, making ourselves soft with rain, and growing.

 The Temple guard for these 22 days is connected to the priestly family of Immer. This name is connected to the verb Le'emor, "to speak." As opposed to Lehagid and Ledaber, Le'emor implies a softer kind of speech.


Continuing the theme of the previous 22 days, this is month in which we go out to the field to speak to Hashem in personal prayer. It is also a month in which "the King is in the field," and is available to us in a softer manner than on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 

The Desert in Words: Justice as a Communal Obligation and the Torah Portion of Shoftim

The Torah portion of Shoftim begins with a discussion of the appointment of judges. Below are a few of Rashi's comments on this subject:

18. You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment. 

Judges and law-enforcement officials: Heb. שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים. שֹׁפְטִים are judges who decide the verdict, and שֹׁטְרִים are those who chastise the people in compliance with their order, (who strike and bind [not found in early editions]) with rods and straps, until he [the guilty party] accepts the judge’s verdict.

and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment: Appoint judges who are expert and righteous so that they will judge justly. — [from Sifrei]
 
19. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words. 
You shall not pervert justice: [This is to be understood] according to its apparent meaning.  

you shall not show favoritism: Even during the statement of pleas [by the litigants]. This is an admonition addressed to the judge, that he should not be lenient with one litigant and harsh with the other, [e.g., ordering] one to stand [while allowing] the other to sit, because as soon as one notices that the judge is showing more respect toward his opponent, he cannot plead his case any longer [because he thinks that it will be of no use].

20. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you. 

Justice, justice shall you pursue: Seek out a good court. (Sifrei; San. 32b) 

that you may live, and you possess [the land]: The appointment of fitting judges is sufficient merit to keep Israel alive and settled in their land. — [from Sifrei]

 It's very interesting to note that Rashi establishes obligations not only on those in the government in charge of appointing judges, not only on the judges themselves, but also on the law-enforcement officers as well as on the guilty parties. Last but not least, is the obligation of every litigant in seeking out a good court.

The pursuit of justice is truly a communal mitzvah, applicable to every single person and to the nation as a whole. It therefore comes as no surprise that the reward for appointing fitting judges is also a national one: "sufficient merit to keep Israel alive and settled in their land."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Week 48 (Book 4a): To Honor the Righteous


STORY OF CHANNAH: 20. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and he would say, "May the Lord grant you seed from this woman," because of the request which he had requested of the Lord, and they would go to his place.           
PIRKEI AVOT QUALITIES BECOMING TO THE RIGHTEOUS: Honor
SONG OF SONGS: Chapter 4
TZADIKKIM: Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, 3rd of Elul) and Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (4th Lelover Rebbe, leader of Chassidic community in Jerusalem, 5th of Elul)

Week 48 is the second week of Elul. The verse from the story of Channah speaks of how Eli would bless Elkanah and Chanah with more children. The end of the verse states that “they (Elkanah and Chanah) would go to his (Eli’s) place.” This addition at first appears somewhat unnecessary. Yet, it serves to emphasize the extent to which Elkanah and Chanah would go in order to honor Eli, the Kohen Gadol and judge of the generation. Perhaps it was particular because of the honor shown to Eli that he was able to grant such a powerful blessing. Rashi comments that the inverse order found in Eli’s verses is also in order to emphasize Chanah’s righteousness:
because of the request which he had requested: for himself a son. And Eli would say to him, “May the Lord grant seed, etc.” May it be the Divine Will that all the children which you will have, will be from this righteous woman. This is (therefore) an inverted sentence.
This week’s Pirkei Avot quality that is “becoming to the righteous and becoming to the world” is honor. As noted above, honoring the righteous can serve as a direct link to G-d’s blessings. To honor the righteous is ultimately to honor G-d Himself.
Chapter 4 of the Song of Songs is completely about Hashem honoring the Jewish people. Every verse is one of praise for their attributes, their righteousness: “7. You are all fair, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you.”
This week contains the yahrzeits of two very prominent Jewish leaders in modern day Israel: Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, 3rd of Elul) and Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (4th Lelover Rebbe, leader of Chassidic community in Jerusalem, 5th of Elul)
From Orot:
Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (5625/1865-5695/1935), served as the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Erets Israel. He was born in Grieva, a suburb of Dvinsk, Latvia, to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hakohen Kook and Perel Zlata Felman. The elder Kook’s intellectual roots were in the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, founded by the eminent disciple of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin. Abraham Isaac’s maternal grandfather Raphael, on the other hand, was a hasid of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, author of Responsa Tsemah Tsedek. At an early age, Abraham Isaac imbibed both of these influences, which would later germinate in his thought, producing a unique fusion of the mitnagdic and hasidic traditions. Abraham Isaac studied in his youth with the rabbi of neighboring Dvinsk, Rabbi Reuven Halevi, author of Responsa Degel haRe’uveni. Later, he studied in Lutchin and Smorgon. The young genius was engaged to the daughter of one of the great rabbis of the generation, Rabbi Elijah David Rabinowitz-Te’omim of Ponevezh.
During the year preceding his marriage, Abraham Isaac studied in Volozhin, where he developed an intimate relationship with the rosh yeshivah or dean, Rabbi Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin.
After serving as rabbi in the small town of Zoimel and later in the city of Boisk (Bauska), Latvia, in 1904 Rabbi Kook accepted the invitation of the port city of Jaffa, Erets Israel, to serve as its rabbi. In Erets Israel, Rabbi Kook, who was himself an interesting mixture of the old and the new, exerted a profound influence on both the Old and New Yishuv, as they were referred to in those days. His brilliance in all aspects of Torah attracted the finest minds among Jerusalem’s young pietists: Zevi Pesah Frank, Jacob Moses Harlap, Israel Porath, and others, who would become the leaders of the next generation. By the same token, Rav Kook had a unique gift for reaching out to the modern elements in Erets-Israeli society who were alienated from Jewish tradition. Thus, Rav Kook cemented relations with the halutsim, the pioneers in the outlying settlements. Especially in the new settlement of Rehovot was Rav Kook able to count many friends. His deep philosophical thoughts, as well as the poetic expression he gave to them, could not fail to impress the avant-garde writers of the day. Samuel Joseph Agnon, Joseph Brenner, et al supped at Rav Kook’s shalosh se’udot (third meal of the Sabbath). Rav Kook served as rabbi of Jaffa for a decade.
In 1914 Rav Kook traveled to Europe to attend the conference of Agudat Israel, a newly formed Orthodox movement, in order to impress upon the delegates the importance of Orthodox participation in the settlement of Erets Israel. Due to the outbreak of World War One the conference was cancelled, and Rav Kook found himself stranded on the European continent, unable to sail home. He spent the war years, first as a private citizen in St. Gallen, Switzerland in the home of an admirer Mr. Abraham Kimhi, and later in London as rabbi of the prestigious East End synagogue Mahzikei Hadat, founded by East European immigrants.
At war’s end Rav Kook returned to Erets Israel, becoming the Ashkenazic Rabbi of Jerusalem, and eventually Chief Rabbi of Erets Israel. It was during this final phase of his career that Rav Kook emerged as a world leader of Jewry. In 1924 he spent the better part of a year in the United States as part of a three-man rabbinic delegation sent to raise funds for the destitute yeshivot of Eastern Europe. About that time, Rav Kook established a yeshivah of his own in Jerusalem, known ever since as Merkaz Harav. The institutions Rav Kook established, namely the chief rabbinate and Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, continue to this day. Rav Kook’s teaching was preserved both orally by his disciples, and in the abundant writings he penned, some of which have yet to see the light of print. Rav Kook returned his soul to his Maker on 3 Ellul, 5695/1935, the exact day on which he had entered Jerusalem sixteen years earlier.
From Ascent.org:
Rabbi David Zvi Shlomo Biederman (1844-5 Elul 1918) was one of the most respected rabbinical figures in old Jerusalem through World War I, and the leader of its Chassidic community. He was the official head of Kollel Warsaw, and in 1883 succeeded his father as Lelover Rebbe.
This week also contains the yahrzeits of Rabbi Chanoch Henoch Dov of Alesk (1st of Elul), Rabbi Eliezer Hager (the Damesek Eliezer of Vizhnitz, 2nd of Elul), Rabbi Moshe Aharon Pinto (5th of Elul), Rabbi Yomtov Lippman Heller (the Tosfot Yomtov, 6th of Elul), Rabbi Zalman Leib (Yekutiel Yehudah) Teitelbaum (the Sigheter Rav, author of Yetiv Lev, 6th of Elul), Chacham Eliyahu Chaim (son of Chacham Moshe and father of Chacham Yosef Chaim, the Ben Ish Chai, 7th of Elul).

 
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Rabbi Daniel Kahane and Ann Helen Wainer have recently launched a new book, which promises to change the way scholars and laymen understand the Jewish calendar as well as the structure of central Jewish texts. 

The book shows how the 52-day period spanning from Passover to Shavuot (Pentecost) is in fact a microcosm of the 52 weeks of the year. Additionally, it demonstrates how 52 rabbis and 52 animals listed in the sacred works Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) and Perek Shirah (“Chapter of Song”) parallel the year’s weeks as well. Finally, the book explores the kabbalistic meaning behind the numbers and divine attributes (sefirot) related to each day from Passover to Shavuot known as the Counting of the Omer.

The Counting of the Omer has always been one of the key tools used by the Jewish People as a basis for spiritual development. The book expands its use to the entire year and shows amazing and eerie connections between how the weeks of the year and the days of the Omer parallel each other. “The basis for the entire book is one simple idea,” Rabbi Kahane says, “Just as the culmination of the Counting of the OmerLag Ba’Omer, falls on the 33rd day of the Omer, so too the week of Lag Ba’Omer falls on the 33rd week of the year. 

“The book’s use as a weapon against sadness should also not be underestimated,” exclaims Ann Helen Wainer, “its uplifting ideas and its connectedness to the song and harmony of nature, as well as the wisdom and foresight of our ancestors, is a true gift.”
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