Thursday, July 9, 2015

To pray or not to pray?

This is an article that I have been wanting to write for a very long time now. This article is inspired by a portion (why pray?) of a book called, “Living a Joyous Life” by Rav David Aaron. He has a great gift of explaining things that are quite complex in a way that simple people, like me, can understand them. I would really recommend reading this book to anyone living (or wanting to live) a Jewish life. A good friend of mine and a mentor has also been a great inspiration to this article too.

There is no question that if we want a relationship with HASHEM, then we need to communicate with Him. But the understanding of prayer in Christianity is far different than that of what it is in Judaism. Even the English word “pray” comes from the Latin word “precari” which means, “to beg” which is what many people think about prayer. Because of this western concept of prayer, there has been many confusions regarding the topic, even in the Jewish culture.

The Jewish “L’hitpallel” has nothing to do with begging HASHEM to change His mind. L’hitpallel is a reflexive verb, and it means to do something to yourself, not to HASHEM. When you are praying, your question should not be, is HASHEM listening to my prayers?” Rather, you should ask yourself, “am I listening to my prayers?” Does what I hear impact me? Have I changed? (Living a Joyous Life pg 114)

Basically, we do not demand that HASHEM move from where He is to come to where we are. Rather, we need to pick ourselves up and move to where HASHEM is, to be in line with His instructions.

Just like a radio works, there are many different radio stations with different frequencies. All the different frequencies are there floating around by the radio, but what station plays is the one who’s frequency the radio is tuned into. If you are in tune with HASHEM, then that is what you are going to “hear” so to speak. But if you tuned into a different frequency, then you are going to “hear” something else. L’hitpallel is how we tune into HASHEM.

We do not demand from HASHEM, just as a radio cannot demand what the radio station must play, but rather tunes into the radio station so that it can broadcast what is already being played. What station are you tuning into?

The Jewish faith is a faith of actions based on the Torah. It is not a passive faith of just believing something to be true, but rather it is actively living in truth, DOING what is right.

So to come back to the title of this article, “to pray or not to pray,” or correctly translated, “to beg or not to beg,” we should not beg. Rather, we should search within ourselves and change whatever needs to be changed so that we can be in line with the Will of HASHEM. May we all actively seek to be perfectly in tune with the frequency of HASHEM.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Tongue - Weapon or Healer?


How great is the obligation on us to use our tongues, not only to avoid slander, insult, and abuse, but to influence positively and encourage those around us. And in truth, this obligation is perhaps more than any other type of chesed – kindness – that we could do, because the easier and more available something is, the greater will be the punishment if we ignore it.

Our tongues are ready for action at any moment and we are surrounded by people thirsty for a boost. It’s a wonder we’re not doing this all the time. There is one question that makes this a particularly hard mission: what if you have nothing to compliment? Now, this is hopefully not too much of an issue, as everyone should be able to find something to compliment in another person. Failing that, however, Chazal tell us that at a wedding, you can tell the groom good things about his bride, even if they aren’t true. They also say that at a funeral, you can exaggerate the praises of the deceased during the eulogies. Now this seems peculiar.

The deceased is in the world of truth; he knows you’re lying! Nevertheless, his soul experiences happiness through the words, despite the embellishments. Giving someone encouragement doesn’t always mean strictly telling the truth. We steer as far away from lies as possible, but when the words are meant to build someone, we are allowed to say things that deviate from the strict lines of truth. An overcooked meal can be “delicious” when your wife’s feelings are at stake. A messy scribble can be “amazing” if your child worked hard to draw it. This habitual encouragement that we should be giving is not just a “nice thing” to do. This is an obligation that the Torah describes as “walking in Hashem’s ways”. (This I do not agree with as we are not to lie at all. It is one of the Ten Commandments, NOT to give a false report)

King David writes in more than one place in Psalms (146, 147) that Hashem encourages the humble and the widowed, and we say these verses every day in our morning prayers. We aren’t just becoming decent people, or even popular people through this work, but we are becoming G-dly. Every single aspect of this world which provides enjoyment and happiness, be it a beautiful child or even a sweet apple, are all examples of how Hashem is constantly encouraging us so that we can serve Him with happiness and confidence. Our tongue is the vehicle for this, and a few words at the right time can be the healing tree of life that blossoms and blooms without limits.

In Pirkei Avos, we are told, “Who is honourable? One who honours others.” This is not limited to honouring those who deserve honour, but honouring everyone. For the basic fact that they are created in the image of G-d, and have potential for tremendous greatness, that alone is a cause for honour. And in reward for this outlook, Hashem honours us.

Rav Saadiyah Gaon even explains that the whole reason why we experience the feelings of honour and arrogance are so that we can have a mild example of the great feeling of satiation and self-worth in the world to come. Obviously, we have to avoid the pitfalls that such emotions can have, but to offer them to your fellow so that he can experience an element of life that is reminiscent of the world to come, that is a truly valuable gift.

To train ourselves to do this is hard work, but the opportunities are endless. A pat on the back, an honest “thank you”, and a well-timed compliment will all mould us into G-dly people. It will be hard, and sometimes even unnatural, to go beyond ourselves and give to other people, but they need it, and so do we.

As with all of our obligations between our fellow, the primary realm is at home. Husband, wife, parents, children and siblings, they are the first address when it comes to chesed, and they are the ladder to greatness. The closeness will test us, but this is the boot-camp in working on our middos. From there, we can spread out to a neighbour in shul, a colleague at work, and a complete stranger, just because!

If we set a goal to provide words of encouragement to people three times a day, with the intention of internalising and habituating ourselves in this type of behaviour, we will be feeding people from a tree of life and providing the needy with the most valuable commodity: self-worth. But, above all, we will be following in our Master’s footsteps. JL

Based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Avigdor
Miller zt”l.
(Article from Jewish Life Magazine Jan 2015 edition pg22)

(This statement in brackets is not in the article, but rather, they are my words)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Purim – Recognizing Miracles

We are now in the moon of Adar (the 12th moon) where our joy is increased. But we are living in the galut (dispersion, exile) among the very anti-Semitic goy who try and make life for us Jews very difficult. Here in South Africa, our government is instituting a boycott of any Israeli products, persecuting us Jews and having many marches against us because they claim that we live according to an apartheid regime and that we are villains and evil. But is that really true?

But do we live by apartheid? And if so what kind of apartheid are we talking about?  If we are evil then how is this evil defined?  And then, would such opinions not depend on others point of view?  Looking at a torah life as the only way of life and survival may indeed seem stupid or evil from the outside. The Torah makes it very clear that Yisra’el is a kadosh nation. The question is, what does it mean to be kadosh?

Kadosh simply means, “separate” or, “set apart.” The Christian bible translates this Hebrew word, “kadosh” as “holy.” HASHEM made it very clear that we are not allowed to be like the other nations. Are we not to follow the commands and precepts found in the Torah, no matter where we are? To do this, we must separate ourselves in a torah life and culture, not so? Anti-Apartheid (Anti-Kadosh) literally means, “forced conversion,” which is a very wicked act. It is exactly what happened during the Spanish Inquisition where many Jews we killed. Anti-Kadosh, in this sense, is Anti-Semitic.

Now I need to make it very clear that the kadosh'ness' of the Jews is in no way the same as that of the other apartheid regimes, like what happened in South Africa. Us Jews do not hate or mistreat people from other nations or cultures. In fact, Although we are one of the smallest nations in the world, we are the second largest financial, humanitarian aid contributor among all nations. We have a deep love for people and live to be a light to the world bringing morality and righteousness, no matter where we may be.

Unfortunately, because we have not stayed kadosh, and most times, not been able to do so, there is a great amount of Jews that have assimilated into other cultures and religions. This has always been viewed as a great crisis among religious Jews. We have seen throughout history that Jews have been forced to assimilate and convert to other cultures and religions or face the penalty of being kicked out of the community, country or even killed. This is still happening at this moment all around the world to some degree or another, whether it be terrorist attacks, pressure from the governments, boycotts or simple hate speech against us.

So how are we to increase our joy? We could even be justified in being angry at the injustice and clear violation of our human and religious rights that our own governments show us. But no, we are not angry at all. In fact, we rejoice and really do increase our joy. But how is this even possible? There is one simple word that explains how it is possible, “Emuna.”

Through all this tribulation that we are going through, it is fitting that Purim is being celebrated now. Purim is the remembrance and celebration of the great miracles and protection that the Almighty grants us, His nation, Yisra’el. We read the story Esther on this day, which has so many lessons for us.

The story of Esther is about how we were exiled and were living under the Persian King. One of the King’s generals, Hamman, was an evil man and convinced the King to make a decree that all the Jews must be killed because they live by a different set of laws and separate themselves from the people among whom they live (the Persians). So the Jews were to be destroyed because they were living in apartheid.
But HASHEM had His hand over the situation at every single moment. HASHEM caused this to happen, even though it seemed bad. And As Jews we so many times feel that HASHEM has departed from us, and in worldly terms we may even have every right to moan about being persecuted. But this is not what we do. Such events caused us to fast and repent and turn to HASHEM for their salvation. Everything happened as it should have and at the right moments too. In the end, the evil Hamman and his sons were hanged on the very gallows that Hamman built for the hanging of the righteous Jew called Mordechai. At the end we Jews were not only saved then, we also gained all the respect of the King, something we did not have before.

Emuna teaches that there is only One being that is in control of everything and that everything that happens is from Him. And that everything that He does is for the good, even if it may seem bad.

The Name of the Almighty does not appear even once in the entire book of Esther. In fact it is the only book in the entire Tanakh that does not contain the Name at all. This teaches us, among other things too, that even though it seems that HASHEM has hidden Himself from us, that He is still actually in control and watching over us.

The ultimate goal in life is “tikkun” (soul correction) and everything that happens to us happens for the sake of tikkun, because HASHEM loves us.

That is why us Jews can be happy and Joyful at all times, no matter what our circumstances are at any time. We know that everything is for the good.

May we all continue to do teshuva (repentance) and grow closer to HASHEM, by the study and obedience to His Torah so that we may continue to joyfully say: BARUCH HASHEM no matter what our circumstance. To be kadosh (set-apart) is to be satisfied with being different, as we prefer to be what HASHEM wants us to be, no matter where we are or what the circumstances.
Purim Same'ach