Friday, December 15, 2006

Modern Macabees


I can just imagine the scene at the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Chanukah. Having just defeated the mighty Greek-Syrian army, the Macabees were keen to light the Menorah. To their dismay, they found that all the olive oil had been defiled and wasn't ideal for Menorah-lighting purposes.

While those dedicated souls searched for pure oil, there were probably bystanders who thought they were wasting their time.

"There is no pure oil! Can't you see, any vestige of original oil has been destroyed? You're wasting your time!"

The Macabees taught us that- if you search hard enough, you can find pure oil in the most unlikely places.

Today's Macabees search the alleys of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the backwaters of Iowa and hostels, retirement homes, prisons and college campuses from Honolulu to Hobart, looking for pure oil.

They are Chabad emissaries, who refuse to accept that the pure oil of the Jewish soul can ever be truly tainted. And, so they keep searching.

And they find.

They find wholesome Jewish souls in the most unlikely places; souls that burst alight when touched.

Every Jew can be a Macabee. Perhaps you know someone who feels "they have no pure oil left". Hold out a Jewish light to them- or even to yourself.

If you really believe the pure soul is there, you will see miracles.

Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Borat got it wrong...


Even in Kazakhstan!

Click here to find the public Menorah lightings this year in Kazakhstan.

And for the lightings that Chabad hosts at another 428 cities around the world, click here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What are you afraid of?

I've just read an interesting CNN/Time article about how people worry about things that will never affect them, but ignore what actually threaten their lives.

For example: People worry about Mad Cow disease, while munching on a cholesterol-laden hamburger (cholestrol that kills 700 000 Americans annually).

While in the States 10 days ago, I came across courses for people who are afraid to fly (I thankfully, don't have that problem). "Aviophobia" is highly common, even though many more people die in car accidents than in air disasters.

Which shows that it's human nature to focus on "big" things, and overlook the "small" things that really make a difference to our lives.

I think that may well be one message from last week's Torah portion.

We read that Ya'akov (Jacob) had lived away from home for 20 years. His vengeful brother, Eisav (Esau), still had it in for him at home, so Jacob wasn't rushing back.

Suddenly, after the birth of his 11th son Yosef (Joseph), Ya'akov announces that it's time to head home. Rashi- the famous commentary- explains that with Yosef's birth, Ya'akov felt empowered to confront his belligerent older brother.

Hold on a moment! Ya'akov's older sons included Reuven, named for his powerful spiritual insight; Levi, father of the priestly tribe of kohanim; Yehudah, antecedent of all Jewish kings, inlcuding Moshiach and Gad, Dan & Naftali all mighty warriors. What was special about Yosef that inspired more confidence in Ya'akov than the others?

As we know, Torah is a book of lessons, not history. Yosef's name means "to add". This is the story of how to stand up to Eisav. Be it the anti-Semitic Eisav "out there" or the "internal" personal Eisav voice that obstructs our spiritual progress. The response to either of them is the same.

Unlike the popular notion that you need to wait until you "gain spiritual insight", "are fully dedicated to G-d" or "experience a revelation", all you really need is a small "Yosef".

Eisav is empowered when we are spiritually static. Each small step we take forward is an real victory for Judaism, for Light and for your soul.

One small mitzvah for man is a giant leap for humankind.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

100% pure- nothing less

We all know the Chanukah story.

Or, do we?

Here are some of the misconceptions:
1) There was no oil to be found anywhere in the Temple. The miracle was that they managed to find one small jug- just in time to light the Menorah.

Actually, the place was full of jugs of oil; it's just that not one of them still carried the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High priest), so they were technically impure. The miracle was that they eventually found one jug of pure oil.

Which brings us to the next misconception...

2) It is Halachically unacceptable to use impure oil to light the Menorah in the Temple.

In truth, there is Halachic provision for using impure oil for the Menorah, if there is no pure oil available.

What then- you ask- was the big deal about not finding oil with the special seal?

The Hellenist attack against Judaism focused on our absolute, often irrational commitment to Hashem and His Torah. They couldn't accept that we wouldn't do away with those areas of Judaism that seem to simply make no sense. That's why they attacked the seals on the oil- the sign of spiritual purity, which they claimed was imagined. They expected us to level with them and acknowledge only the logical aspects of Jewish life.

But, a Jew's relationship with Hashem is absolute. It begins at eight-days old, before the rational mind is activated, and sits at the essence of his/her Self until our their breath. A Jews and his religion can never be separated. Jew and G-d share a super-rational bond.

Chanukah illustrates this bond. Even when there is rational basis within Judaism to settle for a compromised connection to G-d, the Jewish soul insists that nothing less than the absolute purest expression of that bond will do.

And, when you commit yourself to G-d unconditionally, miracles occur.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dancing at the Rebbe

It was a powerful week at the International convention of Shluchim (Chabad rabbis). On the Saturday night, we were waiting outside the Rebbe's room, with people from around the world.

The atmosphere was electric and we soon found ourselves in a spontaneous dance.

Click here for the a glimpse of the power: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1849347583934831332&q=rebbe%27s+room

Monday, November 20, 2006

What a privelege!


It's just after midnight here in New York. I should be exhausted (that's what my body's telling me), but the dancing won't stop.

We- 6 members of our shul and myself- have just come back from an amazing dinner or, as they call it here, Gala Banquet. It was the climax of a weekend conference for Chabad representatives from around the world.

It's been a non-stop 4 days and sleep hasn't featured too prominently on the agenda. I heard someone crystalise it quite aptly: "The agenda for the Jewish world was set here this weekend".

Our group had pizza with the Chief rabbi of Russia and Shabbos lunch with the Chabad representatives to The White House, Lithuania and Bangkok. We farbrenged with an 89 year-old veteran chosid Rabbi (Yosef) Wineberg and again, 'till 3am, on Shabbos with a group from Dallas, Texas. We were addressed by the rabbis of Shanghai and the Golan heights.

We visited the Ohel (resting place of the Rebbe), one of the most powerful places on earth, where we had the unique privelege of delivering letters from many friends back home.

All that (and much more) culminated in tonight's dinner. It's a soul-battery recharge that every person should experience at least once.

It is totally energising to sit in a hall of 3500+ men, all focused on the same mission- to bring Jews closer to their roots and pave the way for Moshiach. We heard incredible speakers, saw inspiring video-presentations and danced together with Jews from Guadelope, Vietnam, New Zealand, Vancouver and everything in between.

Still dancing on the inside, I thank Hashem for the privelege to be part of the Rebbe's army.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Special Shiur Subject Survey

BH, the Monday night shiur has now been around for 3 years!

Thank you to all of you who have loyally participated, added insight encouraged the shiur's growth.
Now I'm at the "thinking ahead" stage for next year. So, I figured, you may as well have your say. Here's your chance- take a moment and submit your suggestions for topics (individual or series) for next year.

Who knows? You may well become a significant contributor to what happens from January 2007!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bring our sons back

We had a very moving presentation last night at the weekly shiur from Gadi Goldwasser. Gadi's older brother, Ehud, was kidnapped on the Israel-Lebanon border by Hizbullah terrorists on July 12th.

To date, the family still have no idea of his- or his colleagues'- whereabouts and state of health.

Please take a moment and add your voice, in prayer and in petition, to the call for their unconditional safe return.

Visit www.habanim.org for details and to participate.

May we see the return of all Israel's missing children very soon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

REBUILDING A SHATTERED WORLD

While the story of Noach and the Flood clearly takes centre stage in the Torah reading this week (it’s probably one of the best-known Bible stories), there’s another significant story that we tend to overlook.

The Torah describes how, not long after the devastation of the Flood, people united to rebuild the world. They all gathered in a valley- in what would today be Iraq- and started an ambitious construction project. “Let us build a city, with a tower reaching the Heavens”, they declared.

I suppose, theirs would be a logical response to a post-destruction generation. Build a secure environment where you can be protected and not face the annihilation that others had before. Surely we should applaud their efforts to rebuild the world, to rise from the ashes (or perhaps, in this case, the mud).

Yet, Hashem was not pleased with these people and their project. He “came down” to observe what was happening and immediately intervened. He didn’t destroy the people, mind you, just the project. Where there had been unity and collaboration, Hashem created division. He seprated them into 70 groups, each with its own language and culture. The resulting mayhem brought the building of the Tower of Babel to a grounding halt.

What had they done wrong?

When you re-read the story, you’ll discover that their motivation for building the tower was “to make a name for ourselves”.

They still had fresh memories of a depraved generation; people bad enough that Hashem needed to destroy them. Their own focus should have been on building morality. Instead, they chose to create a legacy for themselves.

The Torah is a lesson book for our lives. Here the message is particularly relevant to us. As a post-Holocaust generation, we feel the urge to make a name for ourselves, to show the world that we are secure in our land and nationhood, so they shouldn’t think they can attack us.

Instead, Torah teaches that our most appropriate response is to create a “city for Hashem”. Rather than invest our efforts in rebuilding material structures, we need to work to build spirituality, morality and ethics. This approach forms the foundation for a successful, stable world.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Can you trust a woman?

We've just read the story of Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the forbidden fruit. G-d chastises Adam for having eaten transgressed His command and Adam replies: "She made me do it!"

For many people, the Torah portrays Eve (and all women) as fickle and gullible and dragging men down with them in their dodgy exploits.

You'd be surprised then to see how G-d instructed Moses to deal with teaching Torah to the people. At Mt. Sinai, G-d tells him to address the women first.

The Zohar, Judaism's fundamental Kabbalistic work, makes a startling observation about this. When G-d gave his first commandment to people, He addressed the man in the story and relied on him to convey the message to the woman.

It didn't work.

While G-d had said don't eat from the tree, Adam felt he needed to tell his wife not to touch the tree. It was to be a disastrous precaution. The snake pushed Eve against the tree saying "You see, you touched it and didn't die; if you eat it's fruit, you won't die either". We all know what happened next.

So, when it came to entrusting humans with His Divine plan for the world, G-d told Moses to instruct the women first.

G-d says: "If the women have the facts, I can rely on them to keep the men on track too".

Failure?

Freshly inspired by the special period of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and Simchas Torah, we read the first portion of the Torah- Bereishis.

Chassidim say that Shabbos Bereishis sets the tone for the New Year. It’s really the first “normal” Shabbos of the year and the opportunity to translate the upliftment of the Yom Tov season into real life.

Which is why it makes sense to read the story of Creation at this time. We are in the process of re-creating our world for another year, full of promise and possibility. The story of G-d’s original Creation should provide a good model for us to emulate.

What does not make sense is why we start the year- and the translation of inspiration into action- by reading a story of dramatic human failure.

Here is the story of the first human, created by G-d’s own hand and imbued with the greatest sense of Divine inspiration. G-d gave this archetypal man a single instruction: “Do whatever you want, just don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge”. Our Sages understand that, after a mere three hours, Shabbos would have entered and the prohibition would have lapsed.

Adam failed.

What message does that give us? Adam was fashioned by Hashem’s own hand. He had an acute awareness of G-d at all times and received just one, short-term instruction straight from the Divine. Yet, knowing the dire consequences of his actions, he still messed up!

We are simple people. We don’t talk to G-d on a regular basis, and certainly don’t have Him talk to us too often. We have a long list of time-consuming and often inconvenient observances to follow. Our negative voice lives comfortably inside and appears far more alluring than Adam’s serpent did. Do we have any chance of not failing?

Why does the Torah begin with such a depressing message?

Nobody’s perfect

We all make mistakes and we hate them. Some of us get depressed over our failures. This might be because we take ourselves too seriously. We expect perfection of ourselves; when we behave less than perfectly, instead of realizing that we have failed, we think we are a failure.

That is precisely what Hashem wants us to know from the outset: He designed humans to fail. We will fail more often than we succeed.

And that’s ok.

Had Hashem wanted a perfect world, He would have stopped creating after He made the angels. Angels and perfection are not the goal of Life, though. He wants humans, He wants our foibles and weaknesses; our failures and mistakes. He loves us for our mess-ups.

More importantly, He’s designed us to achieve real growth out of error. In Torah terms, we call that yeridah tzorech aliyah or descent for the sake of ascent. In simple terms, sometimes you have to go backwards to be able to go forward.

As we get a fresh start on a new year, Torah wants us to know that the only real failure is if you get stuck in failure. The moment you grow from a negative experience, you fulfill the ultimate purpose for which humans were created- to transform adversity and darkness into success and light.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Getting drunk this Simchas Torah? Not!

Hopefully you're ready for the Simchas Torah marathon...

Not the drinking endurance-challenge, though. Yes, I know many people think that "getting shikker" is the mitzvah of the day (every year, I get the post-Yom Tov boasts of which shul had the most "casualties"). And yes, you do need a lechaim or two to get you going, but that's not the focus of Simchas

Simchas Torah is about losing yourself in unmitigated joy, dancing and celebration. You should dance so hard that you lose all sense of who's watching, what they're thinking, what time it is or how tired you may be.

Most of us find it easier to sit in shul for hours while fasting, than to experience the reckless abandon of true simcha. It certainly looks more spiritually valuable to sit and pray than it does to spin around in circles.

Wanna know the truth? That's exactly the point.

Powerful spiritual experiences don't make sense. Souls don't make sense. When your soul talks, your mind goes quiet.

Simchas Torah is one of the unique times of year when the deepest point of our souls comes to life. It overrides our rational voice and gives us access to absolute joy- even if our mind insists that we cannot be happy.

People who overdo the drinking don't stand a chance of achieving this deeply spiritual experience- they're simply knocked out of commission.

What we should do is take the Simchas Torah challenge: To let go of who we imagine ourselves to be and what we feel is wrong in our lives, and to be happy.

When we're joyous for no particular reason, other than that Hashem commands us to be, He smiles down at us and says "Now, I will give you reason to be joyous throughout the coming year".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What you (don't) need to be happy

Happy Sukkos!

Have you ever wondered about it? It really doesn't seem to make sense.

For 7 days, we effectively move out of home and take up residence in a makeshift booth. During the day, it's swelteringly hot and at night chilly-to-cold or rainy. In the northern hemisphere, it's freezing.

So here's what seems to make no sense: The Yom Tov that's celebrated by scooping palm bits from your drink and swatting flies/bees/mozzies, while balancing on a rock-hard plastic chair that's teetering on an uneven floor- is called the festival of our rejoicing.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to reserve this title for Pesach, when you recline on a plump cushion and have someone else pour your drink?

How can the Torah expect us to leave our creature comforts and still be happy? Not just happy- the Torah says this is the festival when we must be happy 24/7 for 7 days (Ach Sameach in the original Hebrew).

Well actually, that's the point.

We have been convinced by TV talk-shows, glossy magazines, therapists and retailers that "if we have _____", we will be happy. It's a fundamentally wrong attitude.

Torah wants us to realize- and to experience first hand for one week a year- that you don't need anything to be really happy. In fact, you could be totally happy in a rickety home, exposed to the elements- secure in the knowledge that Hashem is looking after you and looking out for you.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Shana Tovah 5767

As we stand on the threshold of the New Year, may Hashem grant us all a year filled with blessing beyond our greatest expectations!

May it be a year of only good news, good health, peace of mind and enough money to keep us satisfied and not enough to make us crazy : )

May this be the year when Hashem unveils His ultimate purpose for the world- the coming of Moshiach!

Friday, September 15, 2006

How to know if you are ready for Rosh Hashanah

I’ve spent the last few days asking people: “Are you ready for Rosh Hashanah?” The answers have been varied and interesting.

One woman told me that she still had to attend to plenty of catering. Another person said that preparing for Yom Tov was his wife’s department. One or two people exclaimed “Oops, I forgot to tell you to book me a seat!” A particularly honest person admitted that, if it would be Pesach next week, he would be just as ill-prepared as he is for Rosh Hashanah.

Inviting guests, ordering food, organising shul seats and sending Shana Tovah cards are all integral parts of the preparation for this special time.

Even more important, is the internal preparation that we should do to ensure that we will maximise the opportunity Hashem offers us on the days that formulate the coming year.

So, how do you tell if you are spiritually ready for Rosh Hashanah?

Obviously, some extra davening, another shiur and some unplanned mitzvahs all help. But, how do you know if you’ve done enough? How can you tell if Hashem will look at you in a good light when He allocates the blessings for the New Year?

Our sages sum it up succinctly in “Pirkei Avos”: “One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to G-d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to G-d.”

It’s that simple. If people like you, Hashem likes you. All the meditation, prayer and study that you do really becomes meaningful when it translates into treating people well.

As the Baal Shem Tov used to say: “Love of a fellow is the first gate leading into the palace of G-d.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Don't forget to get new clothes for Yom Tov!

There are only 13 shopping days left ‘till Rosh Hashanah!

That’s big news for us Jews, who all feel obliged to get new outfits in honour of the Rosh Hashanah. After all, we all want to step into the New Year in style.

If you’d like to know the truth, our annual fashion binge has a unique spiritual source. Jewish law considers it a mitzvah to buy new clothing for Yom Tov (good news for the ladies).

A little deeper than that: Jewish mysticism explains how your soul needs clothes. Just as you need to be dressed to go out and interact within society, your soul needs clothes to interface with the world.

In his magnum opus, Tanya, the Alter Rebbe (first Rebbe of Chabad) writes that the “garments” of the soul are thought, speech and action. Without these facilities, your soul is captive in an unresponsive human suit. Thinking, speaking and doing are the tools that a soul uses to affect the world.

Each Rosh Hashanah offers you an opportunity to become a new person. Not in the glib, clich├ęd sense, but in real terms. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to confront your personal weaknesses and internal struggles- and to beat them.

The first step in that direction is to get new clothes. You need to consider how you can upgrade the way you think, refine the way you talk and do a little more good. When you kit your soul out properly out, it feels refreshed and energized. Then you are ready to move forward in leaps and bounds.

Oh- and by the way, there’s a great sale on soul fashion at Chabad at the moment…

Wishing you a good Yom Tov and a blessed year!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Upgrade your security

One thing about living in Johannesburg, is that we all know about security. High walls, electric fences and armed response have all become part of “normal” Joburg life.

What’s interesting is that, centuries ago, ancient Jewish towns had similar security systems in place. Even more interesting is that these safety measures were mandatory. “Shoftim ve’Shotrim”, the Torah instructs us to place judges and policeman at all “your” gates, meaning those of every Jewish city.

On closer inspection, though, it turns out that regular security is the easy part. “Your gates” also refers to the entry points to a human being- your eyes, ears and mouth.

It’s relatively easy to identify who shouldn’t enter your property- and to keep them out. It’s a real challenge to decide what doesn’t belong in your head- and even more challenging to keep it out.

This is why it’s no accident that we read this parsha just as the month of Elul begins. Elul is a time for a little more spiritual caution than usual. Rosh Hashana is just around the corner and it’s time to get into gear.

For the next 30 days, we should be vigilant about the sort of things we let ourselves see (not every TV show carries the Beth Din stamp), hear (avoid “did-you-hear” stories) and eat (30 days dedication to kashrut can’t hurt).

I sincerely believe that when we enter Rosh Hashanah more spiritually secure than usual, Hashem will gladly bless us with personal security for the coming year.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dating- a dangerous game?

The advisory on dating should read: "WARNING- DATING MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP".

Nowadays, we spend longer than ever "getting to know each other" before settling into a long-term commitment (a.k.a. the M-word). Our liberal thinking encourages us to be open in and about our relationships. We have access to a wealth of articles, books, websites and TV shows that deal with relationships.

Yet, we see a particularly poor success rate. Break-ups are the norm and divorce rates have skyrocketed.

You know what they say, "If it isn't working- try something else".

Luckily, as Jews, we have access to methods that have stood the test of time. We are fortunate to have guidance on how to build a meaningful relationship, without much of the hurt and confusion that accompanies the conventional dating process.

Imagine you had some money and wanted to find someone with business experience to partner with on a new venture. Would you choose a partner suggested by your great-aunt (Boy, do I have a business partner for you...) and see if it develops into anything serious?

Would you ask a fellow to come over and fix your PC because you “spotted him at a bar after a few drinks and “he looked really nerdy”?

Many people think more carefully before signing a cell-phone rental contract than they do before investing time and emotion in a potential life's partner.

Why? People have a strong impulse to seek a partner. Evolutionists will tell you that it’s survival instinct. Judaism says otherwise.

Have you ever wondered why G-d first created Adam and then made Eve from his “rib”? Surely, the All-powerful could have just created a human couple, as He made male and female versions of every other living species.

G-d wanted us to realize that without a partner, we’re missing an intrinsic part of who we are. This creates the urgency within humans to find our “missing” part. Subconsciously, we feel anxious to find this “missing part” and we might jump at every “suggestion”, “phone number” or “good looking person” we encounter.

Choosing your life's partner is probably the biggest decision you'll ever make. It’s serious business, and a casual approach is counter-productive. You need to devise a dating-strategy and minimise your personal investment until you know that this is something worth pursuing.

So, here are a few pointers for a spiritual dating strategy:

1) Get serious. Appreciate how important this process is, and treat it with the proper respect. You'll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy life; don't compromise long-term happiness with "fun".

2) Research. Discreetly, find out some objective information about the prospective guy/girl. Do they share similar ideologies with you? What's their family like? What do their friends say about them? Are they ready to settle down?

3) Use your head. Feelings can be really tricky. People often tell me how they feel that everything is "right" about their partner, but they don't have "strong feelings". You may have had an expectation of what you would feel when you found the right person. Now, you're worried, because you're not feeling that way. Don't panic. Use your head and assess: Are the values and character traits that I'm looking for there? Is there a good reason I should not pursue this relationship?
Then make an objective, thought-through decision.

4) Look for guidance. Often, the problem is that your head is just as muddled as your heart. Find someone you respect and can trust, who knows you well and who has more experience than you do. Use that person as a sounding board to see if your fears/ expectations/ excitement are justified.
An objective opinion is very reassuring when you are caught up in the blur of emotion.

5) Connect to your soul. If you're working on discovering your soul mate, make sure that your soul is in gear. Judaism believes that marriage reunites two parts of a single soul. The more in touch you are with your soul, the easier it will be to detect your other half. Spiritual dating includes being extra focused on prayer, torah study and doing mitzvos during the dating period.

Of course, you can never "go it alone" anyway. An additional bit of Torah, prayer or mitzvah observance gets Hashem on your side. Then dating becomes advantageous to your relationship.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Is your relationship "looking up"?

Yesterday was "Tu B'Av", a day long associated in Jewish tradition with matchmaking and marriage.

The Mishna describes how the day was celebrated in days of olde:

On this day, the maidens of Jerusalem would go out, dance in the vineyards and look for suitors.

They would say: "Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for
yourself...."

What would the beautiful ones among them say? "Look for beauty, for a woman is for beauty."

What would those of prestigious lineage say? "Look for family, for a woman is for children."

What would the ugly ones say? "Make your acquisition for the sake of Heaven, as long as you decorate us with jewels"


Besides story-telling, the Talmud wants to teach what the primary ingredients for a successful marriage are.

1) "Raise your eyes", the dancing maidens call out. Your first step to building a successful relationship is to "lift your eyes"- to change perspective. People tend to be attracted to physical appearance, money or self-serving interests in a relationship. So, the wise girls of Jerusalem remind us, "Lift your eyes" and look for lasting and meaningful values and traits in your partner.
2) The beautiful girls suggest that "a woman is for beauty". Judaism doesn't buy into the glossy magazine or Hollywood version of beauty. Not to say that looks are unimportant, but they're not the make-it-or-break-it of relationships.

True beauty, according to Jewish mysticism, is spiritual beauty. Someone who is a mentsch, a good person who exudes kindness and good traits, is called beautiful. Physical beauty may fade, spiritual beauty will mature.

For the single looking to marry, the first thing to look for is "beauty"- is the person a mentsch?

For the married couple, to test if your marriage is headed in the right direction, ask yourselves "Are we making each other more beautiful- more mentsch-like?". A good marriage breeds personal development in both parties.

3) Family. Unquestionably, Judaism places a premium on family and children. We all want the best for our children, in fact, we'd like them to be even better than we are. I often encounter couples who are not very religious but want their children to have a religious education.

Children need a family environment that supports the theoretical messages that their parents and (parents' choice of) teachers preach. Even before the children arrive on the scene, a couple needs to ensure that the family that they envisage and the values that they aspire towards, are already being developed.

4) The "ugly". Every marriage has its ugly moments- stress, arguments, challenges. The real test of a marriage depends on how successfully a couple deals with its "ugly" moments.

Here the Talmud tells us, "Marry for the sake of heaven". Sound like a tall order? Almost like "close your eyes and accept what comes your way"?

Actually, it's the most solid marriage advice anyone could ask for.

When the going gets tough and a couple gets caught up in the cycle of accusation, guilt and blame, they need to remember to "marry for the sake of heaven".

Simply put: When you feel the urge to "have the last word" or "just put the record straight", remember that this is not about "me" vs. "you", it's about "our" marriage, which is larger than both of us. It's not a matter of being "right", it's a matter of keeping the marriage alive and growing.

Instead of basing your retort on what you "have to say", stop for a moment and consider "is this next move/remark/retort going to be good for our marriage". If it isn't, keep quiet.

When you and your partner master this skill, you are well on your way to happiness.

And to master this skill, you need to raise your eyes.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What goes down must come up

It's that time of the year here in the Southern Hemisphere when we start looking for the first signs of spring. Johannesburg winters are relatively mild, but we prefer the "Sunny South Africa" experience.

Sure enough, the first buds and blossoms appeared a few days ago and the temperatures began to rise. "Spring's here", we all thought, "and, thankfully, it wasn't even such a cold winter".

Then, out of the blue, the mercury dropped suddenly and we were hit with a freezing Tisha B'Av (admittedly, making the fast a little easier...).

It was icy and bitter and thoughts of Spring were placed on hold- not dissolved, just postponed. In a country that's warm for some 300 days a year we know that "when the mercury goes down, it must come up".

Quite apt for this time of the year.

Tisha B'Av marks the lowest point on the Jewish calendar, the day when we commemorate all the terrible things that have affected our nation over time. It's the Jewish national "down in the dumps" day.

But we don't get stuck there. Just a few days after Tisha B'Av, we celebrate Tu B'Av, a day the Talmud designates as one of the two happiest days on the Jewish calendar.

This is the "Yeridah tzorech aliyah" principle, or "whatever goes down must come up". Judaism believes that every fall prepares us for a greater rise. Every failure is the fertilizing of new achievement; every difficult time, the making of a new miracle.

It's more poignant this year, with Israel fighting for its life during this period of national mourning. Some people may have read that as bad news (G-d forbid) - "Tisha B'Av" 2006. Please G-d, we hope it's really just a short-term downer that will be the catalyst for a surge of good, peace and security in our Holy Land and its surrounds.

What an amazing people we are

Here's a really nice article that someone sent me the other day. Kiryat Shmona is one of the towns in Israel hardest hit by Katyusha rockets.

Kiryat Shmona's 'finest hour'
By DAN IZENBERG

"One day," said Motti Avraham, owner of the Mor Minimarket near the southern entrance to the city, "two elderly men walked into my store. I could tell they were from Jerusalem by their accents. One of them asked me if I sold on credit. I said I did. Then he asked me whether some of my clients were poor. I said they were.
"He told me to take out my list of people who owed and mark those who were poor. After I did that, he turned to the other man and said, 'Take it out.' The other man took out a wad of crisp NIS 200 bills. He then began to give me NIS 300 for each of the people I had ticked off and told me to deduct the money from their debt.
"I asked them who they were. They replied, 'What difference does that make?' Then I asked them to at least give me their phone numbers so that their beneficiaries could thank them. They replied that the greatest mitzvah is when the donor does not know whom he has given to."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The truth about Israel

Just come across an interesting site with a spiritual take on Israel, based on classical Jewish sources and primarily the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

visit http://www.thetruthaboutisrael.org/

Friday, July 28, 2006

Weapons of Mass Construction

It can get a little frustrating watching and hearing the goings on in Israel (Lebanon) and feeling so far and unable to assist.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything that a Jew hears or sees should teach them a life lesson.

For the last 10 years, Israelis have lived under threat of suicide bombers. In the last year, the focus of terrorism has shifted to Kassam and Katyusha rockets. Suicide bombers have to actually infiltrate an area to cause damage, while rockets can be fired from many kilometers away.

And that just might be the lesson for us. To fight fire with "fire".

Perhaps Hashem wants us to realise we don't have to be physically present in Israel to help Israel. We may live thousands of kilometers away, but we can still "fire" spiritual rockets to Israel.

Every physical occurrence reflects a spiritual reality. Safety and peace in Israel can be achieved through our spiritual intervention.

In 1967, just days before the Six Day War, the Rebbe encouraged men everywhere to put on tefillin. The Talmud says that when we wear tefillin, our enemies detect that Hashem is with us and they become afraid of us.

During other Israel- Arab conflicts, the Rebbe urged people to have kosher mezuzos on all their doors and to get as many people as possible to do the same. Mezuzos bring protection to all Jews- even those who haven't yet put them up.

And he stressed the value of charity. It doesn't matter how much you give, as long as you give. As you give your Tzedokah have in mind that Hashem should protect the Israeli soldiers and citizens and guide the Israeli leadership to make the appropriate decisions.

Send your "rocket" off ASAP and, please G-d, we will see miracles in Israel very soon!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Monday night shiur back!




With all the jitters in Israel reverberating around the rest of the Jewish world, we need to get our focus right.

How to respond? What to do?

The Monday night shiur this week will PG look at a spiritual angle on the crisis in the Holy Land.

See you there, 8 p.m. at Chabad House.