Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Neo Batman Potter

Neo Batman Potter

This morning
I woke up 
Ancient words 

And washing
What's left of
The scar in
My forehead.

A blue pill 
Cape and belt 
Were strapped in

Arm and head 
Tefillin, for Robin 
And for red
I'm still waiting.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week 12 (From the Book): Revealing Warmth to Those that Are Cold and Indifferent

The raven is saying, "Who prepares food for the raven, when his young ones cry out to G-d?" (Job 38:41)

Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.

He would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it. If you have learned much Torah, you will be greatly rewarded, and your employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward of your labors. And know, that the reward of the righteous is in the World to Come.

Hod shebeGevurah (glory and gratefulness within the context of discipline and judgment)

During the twelfth week, it is the turn of the raven to exclaim with great humility that it is G-d that provides prey when its young roam in search of food. (Job 38:41) This is the week of Yud Tes Kislev, known as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism, the day in which the Alter Rebbe was released from prison and the yahrzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch.

After being falsely accused of treason by the enemies of Chassidism, to the point of being threatened with the death penalty, the Alter Rebbe, through the help of G-d, emerged victorious. The release of the Alter Rebbe on Yud Tes Kislev directly led to a new phase in the history of Chabad philosophy. The Alter Rebbe saw it as not only a vindication of his work in earthly courts, but in the Heavenly Court as well. The Alter Rebbe became much more open and expansive in his teachings. 

The redoubled efforts to spread the Alter Rebbe’s teachings, celebrated this week, brought Chassidism’s warmth and love for Judaism into the coldest and most indifferent part of the Jew: the intellect. Geographically, the capital of "intellectual Judaism” was in Vilna, Lithuania, where the Alter Rebbe was sent as an emissary.

Chassidism has the power to uplift even the animals that are the most distant from Hashem. The raven was literally kicked out of Noah's Ark for not obeying its rule of celibacy.[1] The raven is also known for its cruelty and indifference to its offspring. However, even the raven can redeem itself. When Elijah the Prophet fled from the King Ahab and his evil wife, G-d determined that precisely the raven, which does not even provide for its own young, should bring food to Elijah.[2]

At the time Elijah ran away, he was overcome by despair and complained to G-d about the rebellious state of the Jewish people. G-d sought to teach Elijah that, like the raven, we all have the potential for warmth and good; it just needs to be revealed.

Interestingly, the very word for raven in Hebrew, orev, reveals that potential. Orev is related to the word arev, which, as explained in Week 3, means “responsible for the other,” as well as “sweet” and “mixed together” as in the saying, Kol Israel Arevim Zeh LaZeh, which means that “all of Israel is responsible for (sweet to and mixed together with) one another.” This saying also encompasses practically the entire basis of Chassidism and the Torah: to love your fellow as yourself.

The number twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite our differences, and setbacks, we all are mixed together and responsible for one another and sweet to one another. Upon his deathbed, Jacob was very concerned about the differences among the different tribes. The Talmud teaches that his twelve sons responded to his concern by calling out in unison: “Listen O Israel (a reference to Jacob), Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”[3]

The number twelve is also closely associated with Elijah the Prophet himself, “a man whose eyes have seen twelve generations." Bear in Hebrew, dov, has the gematria of twelve. The Tanach teaches us that before Eliyahu rose to Heaven, Elisha asked Elijah to bequeath to him twice Elijah’s own power.[4] Shortly thereafter, Elisha purified the waters of a city, and was insulted by a group of youths. When Elisha responded to their insult, two bears immediately appeared and killed them.[5]

Elijah is most likely the biblical figure most associated with the revelation of the hidden and mystical secrets of the Torah. Elijah’s own teacher, Achiah HaShiloni was also the teacher of the Ba’al Shem Tov. It is therefore quite appropriate that he should be connected to the week of Yud Tes Kislev, given that the Alter Rebbe, who was freed on Yud Tes Kislev, taught the kabbalistic secrets revealed by the Ba’al Shem Tov.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us that "the day is short, the work is plenty, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the owner insists [urges]." (II: 15) There is also a strong connection between the New Year of Chassidism and the teaching of Rabbi Tarfon. Chassidism came to light up a fire in order to awaken those who were depressed and spiritually asleep. It was like an alarm clock, a spiritual wake-up call: time is short, now is the time to serve G-d![6]

The number twelve is also linked to time: there are twelve months in the year, twelve halachic hours during the day, and twelve halachic hours during the night. In the Jewish calendar, a daytime halachic hour (shaah zmanit) is defined as 1/12 of the time it takes from sunrise to sunset. A nighttime shaah zmanit is 1/12 of the time between sunset and sunrise. The exact amount of time of each of these hours varies throughout the year. When the days are long, as in the summer, a daytime halachic hour is equivalent to more than sixty minutes. In the winter, when days are shorter, the daytime hour amounts to less than sixty minutes.

In this week, the sefirah combination results in hod shebegevurah. This week, we are inspired by the Alter Rebbe, who after facing the gevurah of incarceration, reveals even more the hidden secrets of the Torah through the teachings of the Chabad Chassidism. The sefirah of hod is connected with the inner dimensions of the Torah, the Kabbalah, just as Lag Ba’Omer, which is hod shebehod. Lag Ba’Omer is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who wrote down the seminal kabbalistic work, the Zohar.

A lesson for this week is that even the raven and its offspring recognize G-d’s kingship and the importance of requesting one’s sustenance directly from G-d.[7] We inspire ourselves in the song of the raven, who knows that it is never alone - G-d is always by its side.

[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Noach
[2] 1 Kings 17:2-7
[3] Talmud, Pesachim 56a
[4] 2 Kings 2:9
[5] 2 Kings 2:23-25
[6] Hayom Yom, 17th  of Av, 79a
[7] Psalm 147:9

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Week 11 (from the Book): Fighting Evil and Heresy, Yet Knowing How to Forgive

The stork is saying, "Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, for her time has arrived, for her sins have been pardoned, for she has taken double from G-d's hand for all her sins." (Isaiah 40:2)

Rabbi Elazar would say: Be diligent in the study of Torah. Know what to answer a heretic. And know before whom you toil, and who is your employer who will repay you the reward of your labors.

Netzach shebeGevurah (victory and endurance within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the eleventh week, in Perek Shirah, the stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem, repeating G-d’s words that the time of punishment has ended, and that the city will be rescued from iniquity: the city has received a double punishment for its sins. (Isaiah 40:.2) This week marks the Chassidic holiday of Yud Kislev, when the second Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Mitteler Rebbe, was released from imprisonment. He had been briefly arrested on purely fabricated charges of seeking a rebellion against the government, which were strikingly similar to the accusations made against his father (discussed in Week 12). The life of the Mitteler Rebbe was a great example of purity, righteousness, and wonders - the prevailing characteristics of this month.

The verse of the stork is the continuation of the verses of the bat, and is also closely connected with Chanukah and the month of Kislev. The stork sings to the heart of Jerusalem. However, we must first ask ourselves, what is the heart of Jerusalem? As noted in week thirty-two, Jerusalem itself is called a heart. The heart of Jerusalem is most likely none other than the Temple itself, the Beit haMikdash. It was on Chanukah that the Temple in Jerusalem was liberated, cleansed of impurity, and rededicated to the service of G-d. The word Chanukah itself means "dedication."

The number eleven is also associated with kelipah, impurity, which consists of eleven attributes, known also as sefirot or crowns. In the Temple, that incense (ketoret), which consisted of eleven ingredients, was used in order to cleanse the people of Israel of their sins. Additionally, the incense functioned as a powerful remedy in the face of death, the greatest source of all impurity. The Torah states that Aaron “placed the ketoret [in the pan] and atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted.”[1]

Like the numbers five and eight, eleven is also connected to the idea of being above the natural order, this time represented by the number ten. The power to purify and cleanse from spiritual impurity, and even to prevent certain death, is certainly such an above-nature quality.

One of the basic teachings behind the ketoret is that among the required spices used was the chelbena, which had a very foul odor. However, when it was mixed with the other ten elements, the ketoret’s aroma was sublime. The same can be said about us: even though individually we may not all be perfect, as a group, we atone for one another, and have a “good smell.”

In Joseph’s dream, eleven stars (eleven sheaves of wheat in the other dream) bowed down to him, each representing one of his brothers. When Joseph told the brothers about the dream, they were outraged. The idea of his brothers bowing to him appeared to be heretical and presumptuous. However, this was not heretical on Joseph’s part – he simply saw things more deeply. Joseph’s dreams represented the concept of self-nullification before the tzadik (in this case, Yosef HaTzadik) both in spiritual matters (stars) as well as material ones (wheat). Through this nullification, the tzadik is able to properly bind and blend and bring out the best in all eleven elements, very much like the ketoret.

The Pirkei Avot lesson for this week is taught by Rabbi Elazar, who states that one must be diligent in Torah study and know how to answer an epicurean (or heretic, apikores in Hebrew). This lesson is directly related to Kislev and the festival of Chanukah, because it is in these days that we celebrate our success in combating aspects of Greek philosophy that run counter to Jewish values. Epicureanism in particular, with its focus on worldly pleasures, is most likely the kind of Greek philosophy that is most antithetical to the Torah, and one that had particular appeal during the time when Chanukah took place.

Rabbi Elazar also advises: “Know before Whom you toil, and Who is the Master of your work that will pay your wages.” The emphasis again is on our direct connection with G-d, and His involvement in our struggles, a concept the Greeks simply could not fathom or accept.

For Rabbi Elazar, in order follow the righteous path, it is very important to have a “good heart,” and avoid a “bad heart” at all costs (this is reminiscent of the song of the stork, which is also about the heart). Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai states that within the words of Rabbi Elazar are contained the words of all other disciples.

Rabbi Matis Weinberg points out that the difference between the Hebrew word Tzion (Zion, Jerusalem) and Yavan (Greece) is just a single letter, the tzadik.[2]The difference between Judaism and Greek philosophy is the tzadik: the need to act justly before G-d, with a good heart, as well as the ability to be bound to G-d and to the righteous individuals of every generation. (It is no coincidence that the Midrash states that the Greeks demanded that a heretical statement be written specifically “on the horn of an ox,” a reference to Yosef HaTzadik).

This week, the combination of sefirot results in netzach shebegevurah. Therefore, we should be inspire ourselves in the Mitteler Rebbe, a great tzadik, and be disciplined and determined in our pursuit of Torah and mitzvot. The first chapter in the Code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, teaches that the main place of gevurah is in the heart, where we can defeat (lenatzeach) our internal enemy, the yetzer harah, the evil inclination.

As to a lesson in self-improvement, we should follow the example of the stork. We must learn how to humbly ask for forgiveness, and also to truly forgive. After all, we are only alive due G-d’s daily forgiveness.

[1] Numbers 17:13

[2] Matis Weinberg, Patterns in Time Volume 8: Chanukah, Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1992, page 78.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fourth Set of 22 Days: Zayin & Chet, the Waters & the Seas

This Wednesday, the 6th of Kislev, begins the fourth set of 22 days of the Jewish calendar, which parallel the letters Zayin and Chet, as well as the Waters and the Seas in Perek Shirah.

Just as we saw with Gimmel and Dalet and then with Heh and Vav, the letters Zayin and Chet are also complementary. Zayin represents Creation, the physical struggles connected to it as well as the spirituality within it, such as the ShabatZayin means weapon, and Zan means to provide (materially). There is a deep connection between making a living and going to battle. The word for Lechem (bread/sustenance) is also found in the word Milchama (war). 
(See Rabbi Michael Munk's, "Wisdom of the Hebrew Letters")

Chet, on the other hand, represents tremendous power and inner qualities that are above nature. Chet stands for Cheit (sin), but also the ability to overcome sin and live (Chaim). (Munk) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, in the opening pages of Likutei Moharan, explains that Cheit is Chiut (vitality), which is also the inner wisdom (Chochmah) and thinking (Sechel).

The Water and the Seas have a similar kind of relationship. Water is the source of life in the physical world. We ourselves are made of mostly water. Yet water also represents the Torah, and is deeply connected to all things spiritual. The Waters sing: "The sound of His voice places the multitude of waters in the heavens and He raises the vapors from the end of the earth." (Jeremiah 51:16) Water is connected to both heaven and earth; the material as well as the spiritual.

The Seas represent tremendous awe-inspiring might, deep below the surface, yet reflecting also G-d's tremendous heights. The Seas say: "More than the voices of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, Hashem is mighty on high." (Psalms 93:4)  The Seas also represent inner wisdom, waiting to be revealed, like in the splitting of the Sea of Reeds in our redemption from Egypt. (See Rabbi Slifkin's, "Nature's Song") 

The 22 days of this cycle all fall within KislevKislev represents the month of the physical and spiritual struggle against the Greeks. It is also a month very much connected with supernatural redemption (ie. the 8 days of Chanukah) as well as deep supernatural kabbalistic wisdom (represented by the olive oil and the light of the Menorah) and secrets, such as those revealed beginning on the 19th of Kislev - the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidut and the date of the personal redemption of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Week 10 (From the Book): To Trust in G-d’s Mercy

The bat is saying, "Comfort My people, comfort them, says your Lord." (Isaiah 1:40)

Rabbi Shimon would say: Be meticulous with the reading of the Shemah and with prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayers routine, but [an entreaty of] mercy and a supplication before the Almighty, as is stated ``For He is benevolent and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and relenting of the evil decree'' (Joel 2:13). And do not be wicked in your own eyes.

Tiferet shebeGevurah (balance and beauty within the context of discipline and judgment)

On the tenth week, the bat reiterates G-d’s words, asking that His people be comforted. (Isaiah 40:1) In this week, we fully enter into the month of Kislev, which is represented by the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin is known for its ability to preserve Jewish values for future generations and for its great capacity for self-sacrifice.[1] The bat has the ability to see in the dark, an important trait in this month of long and cold nights. Yet it is also on this month, during Chanukah, that we feel that G-d does indeed comfort us. On Chanukah, the Jews defeat the spiritual darkness of the Greeks, and the light of the Temple is restored.

The number ten represents a complete unit, an intensification of the concept of unity reflected in the number one. Ten represents the Ten Commandments, the ten sefirot, as well as the ten Divine expressions.[2] In Pirkei Avot, ten is also associated with ​​mercy. G-d waited ten generations from Adam to Noah before punishing humanity. The generations after Noah also sinned, and G-d also mercifully waited ten generations from Noah to Abraham, who then began the process of returning humanity back to the belief in One G-d.[3]

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Shimon states: "Be careful with the reading of the Shemah and with prayer. When you pray, do not act as if this were routine, but rather a plea for mercy and supplication before G-d… Do not be evil in your own eyes." The Shemah is the greatest expression of monotheism and of the acceptance by the Jewish people of G-d as One, and as the King of the Universe. Similarly, the prayer shows our intimacy with our Creator. These concepts are exactly what the Greeks wanted to destroy. They had a problem with the people’s monotheism. They even accepted the concept of a Cosmos - cold and indifferent to human behavior - but not of a G-d that was a Merciful Father and King.

For Rabbi Shimon, in order to follow a righteous path, it is very important to see what lies ahead, and to avoid not paying back loans. He states that one who borrows from his friend is as if he borrows from G-d. To be able to see what is about to happen (literally, “seeing what is being born”) is one of the Talmudic definitions of being truly wise, and achieving Chochmah. The Greeks were known for their wisdom. However, wisdom it and of itself, is not sufficient. Wisdom must be tied to the ethics of monotheism and to a firm relationship with a Merciful G-d. Not paying back loans, for example, is not only unethical, it is a rejection of the great mercy someone had towards us, an ultimate reflection of G-d’s mercy. Giving interest-free loans to our neighbors is a Divine commandment from the Torah.

The sefirah combination for this week is tiferet shebegevurah: beauty and balance within strength and discipline. As explained above, tiferet also is known as rachamim, mercy. While we are more distanced from Tishrei, we still remember the beauty of our Torah, we ask Hashem for mercy, in order for us to maintain our strong our dedication to the spiritual resolutions we had made on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

An important teaching of self-improvement to be drawn from the words of the bat is to always pray for mercy, and to remember to support our fellow, especially the needy and the oppressed.

[1] Ryzman, pp. 64, 232.
[2] Pirkei Avot, 5:1.
[3] Pirkei Avot, 5:2-6

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


At what 
You think 
Is a 
Low Point 

In what 
You think 
Is a 
Bad day 

Take a 
Deep breath 
Say a 
Thank you 

And watch 
How it 
Beautifully unfolds.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Week 9 (from the Book): Fighting Darkness with Light

The stormy petrel is saying, "Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the straight-hearted." (Psalms 97:11)

Rabbi Yossi would say: The property of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own. Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance to you. And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.

Gevurah shebeGevurah (discipline and judgment within the context of discipline and judgment)

In the ninth week of Perek Shirah, the stormy petrel announces that, “Light is sown for the tzadik (righteous) and joy for the upright of heart.” (Psalm 97:11) In some years, this week falls entirely in the month of Cheshvan, while in other years it already includes the first day of Kislev, the month of Chanukah. Even in years when Rosh Chodesh Kislev does not take place this week, there is another date in it closely linked to the Maccabees: the 23rd day of Cheshvan. In the era of the Talmud, this date was quite celebrated, as it marked the removal of the stones of the Temple’s altar that had been rendered impure by the Greeks. The stormy petrel’s verse, which mentions light, seed, and protection for the righteous, is very connected to the Maccabees and to the events that took place during Chanukah, which is called the “Festival of Lights.” Miraculously, G-d made it so that ​​the Maccabees, righteous warriors of the seed of Aaron, defeated Greece, the greatest empire of the time.

The number nine is associated with the nine months of pregnancy. It is also connected to truth. If one adds the digits in the gematria of the Hebrew word for truth, emet, the total is nine. The total of the sum of the digits (also known as gematria ketanah) in all of G-d’s names is also nine, because G-d’s “seal” is truth.[1] Nine is also three times three, a “double chazakah,” as explained in week three.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yossi states: "The money of your neighbor should be precious to you as if it were your own. Ready yourself for the study of Torah¸ as it does not come to you as an inheritance, and may all your actions be for the sake of Heaven." (II:12)

This teaching in Pirkei Avot is deeply connected with the month of Kislev and to the struggle of the Maccabees. While the Greeks admired the Torah as a philosophy, with highly practical concepts (like the idea of ​​respecting other people's money), they tried to break our link to the Torah, as well as our personal connection with G-d. The Midrash tells us that "darkness symbolizes Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel to, 'Write on the horn of an ox that you have no inheritance in the G-d of Israel.'”[2]

It is also worth noting that Rabbi Yossi was himself a kohen, just like the Maccabees. Also like the Maccabees, Rabbi Yossi is called a “chassid” – extremely pious, going beyond the letter of the law to do the will of G-d.

For Rabbi Yossi, in order to follow a righteous path, it is very important to have a “good neighbor,” and avoid a “bad neighbor” at all costs. Here, a good neighbor, Shachen Tov, may be a reference to the Shechinah, which dwells among the Jewish people and in the Temple. A bad neighbor, is likely a reference to the Greeks, which tried so hard to make us assimilate and to take us away from our roots.

The combination of sefirot for this week is gevurah shebegevurah. Note that for those that are part of the Lubavitch Chassidic movement, Rosh Chodesh Kislev’s connection with gevurah shebegevurah is quite clear. The first is an openly positive one: with great strength and courage, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, miraculously survived a heart attack, and returned to his home on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. On the other hand, with much sorrow, it is on Rosh Chodesh Kislev that we commemorate the day that the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries of Mumbai, India, were killed.

The stormy petrel tells us that one of the most important steps in achieving happiness is to be a good, honest and fair person. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that one should always take note and focus of such good qualities and actions in others and in oneself. Even if these good points are small, imperfect and incomplete, they are nonetheless a cause for great joy.[3]

[1] From the writings of the Rebbe’s father, Rav Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.
[2] Genesis Rabba 2:4
[3] Likutei Moharan I:282


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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 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.”