Thursday, November 29, 2012

My address to the International Shluchim Conference 2012


This was a daunting undertaking, but the warmth and encouragement from literally everyone made it an amazing experience.

"My relationship with the Rebbe"


Mr. Steven Solarsh, of our Shul, addresses the International Shluchim Conference 2012. Inspiring stuff!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Bring out the best in us


Hurricane Sandy thrashed New York and New Jersey this past week, wreaking havoc and leaving millions without power and hundreds without homes. 

You've obviously seen the images of flooded streets and submerged subway stations, boats parked on people's lawns and hundreds of uprooted trees. But, when you hear the first-hand report of people you know left with just about nothing, it hits home harder. For hundreds of Jewish families, this storm isn't just a topic for dinner discussion; it's the challenge of rebuilding their lives from scratch.

Why? 

Why did G-d choose those people at this time to suffer that particular disaster? Nobody can know.

But, we are meant to give thought to what response such devastation should elicit from us.

The Talmud asks why G-d created a world with have-nots. Why did He make poor people or victims of natural disasters or orphans? Think about it, imagine a world where everyone had what they needed. Imagine a society where every person was self-sufficient. We would have no need for each other. We would be able to comfortably retreat into a bubble of self-interest and never emerge to interact with others. 

We would never learn the art of compromise or the value of giving. Society would collapse on itself if there was no void for people to fill; no cause for them to contribute to. G-d, the Talmud says, created a system where there will always be those who lack so that we can have the chance to contribute.

Hang on, 21st century society actually has become something of an insular place.We don't feel the same craving for human company as our parents did, because we can communicate, get news updates, enjoy entertainment and run our businesses off digital devices. We don't need to talk, because we can text. Personal interaction  just get in the way.

When the power went down in Manhattan this week, someone posted a telling warning on his Facebook page: "Caution! Lack of power and Internet connectivity may force people to have to confront the uncomfortable experience of communicating with other humans face to face." Sarcastic, but frighteningly true.

If there is one thing you have to give the New Yorkers, it's their social agility. Those same brash city-slickers who'll mow you down on the sidewalks on 5th Avenue step up to the plate when their city needs them. They did it following 9/11 or back in the blizzard of '96 (I was there and saw people offering to "shovel your walk" for free) Free busses shuttling people between Brooklyn and Manhattan till the subways come back online or power-sharing (take a look at the hearwarming photo below) are the healthy signs of a society who knows how to band together when its time to give. 



Twenty years ago, the Rebbe addressed what was a then cutting-edge technological event that linked various global locations in a satellite-conference Chanukah event.

Prophetically, the Rebbe spoke then about the way technology could allow you to help someone across the ocean by getting a "bank near his house" to give him your chritable donation. Online banking wasn't even a fantasy yet. One way we can get involved in helping people who have really lost everything is with the click of a mouse at www.sandychabadrelief.com

We could also learn something from the New Yorkers. We don't have to wait for disaster to spur us into action, G-d forbid. G-d sends us opportunities to share and give every single day. In our own community, you could help guarantee a minyan for someone saying kadish or you could volunteer to set up the kiddush or simply greet someone you don't know at Shul. Hashem creates need to allow us the opportunity to fill it.

And, the cycle that He's made goes something like: "If you fill some of the void in someone else's life and you give to My causes, I'll fill some of the void in yoru life in return." 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Making Aliyah?

Imagine packing up your life and moving to a new country after your 70th wedding anniversary? Well, in February of this year Phillip (95) and Dorothy (93) Grossman of Baltimore did just that and became the oldest married couple to make aliyah. Considering that our forefather Avraham was 75 (and Sarah 65) when they packed for the Holy Land, apparently the Grossmans are now the reigning Aliyah champions.
In fairness though, Avraham and Sarah didn't have the Aliyah Department arrange their flight, shipment of personal effects or new apartment in Rechavia. No welcoming committee picked them up upon arrival in Canaan. So, maybe Avraham and Sarah can still claim credit for immense dedication and faith for having uprooted their lives to start over at an age when they should have been retiring.
The truth is, Avraham and Sarah didn't just make aliyah, they made Aliyah. 
Literally, the term means "uplitfment" or "ascent". Moving to Israel is no simple relocation, it is a spiritual upgrade (or at least, it's meant to be). Talmudic geography notes that you travel up to  Israel, regardless of where you're coming from. That's because Israel is loftier (not topographically higher) than any other country. After all, it is called the Holy Land (and not just by Jews). Emigrating to Israel is meant to be about more than landing  a villa in Raanana; it's supposed to be a journey of discovery, growth and increased Jewish dedication.
Aliyah means that you are uplifted by the process.
Now, how did Israel become a Holy Land? What process transformed it from desert to Divine embassy? You can thank Avraham and Sarah for that. They literally made aliyah, not just the upliftment of themselves, but the upliftment of the land too. They dedicated their lives to making an ordinary location into a place of learning, of discovering G-d and of improved personal conduct. Most people at that time were wholly disinterested in Avraham and Sarah's teachings, but in due course this unique couple garnered a huge following (consider how many religions trace their roots to Abrahamic principles). 
We don't read the stories of our forefathers to discover what they did; we read them to learn what we should be doing.
A chossid once approached the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, to ask his blessing to move to Israel. The Tzemach Tzedek responded "mach doh Eretz Yisroel" (make here into Israel). Israel equals holy country. G-d engineered history to ensure that Jews would land up scattered in the other "unholy" countries so that we could impact them and upgrade them to become Israel-esque. We're living in Joburg at the moment so that we can help Joburg make Aliyah.
Avraham and Sarah started their area-upgrade years before G-d told them to up and go to Canaan. In fact, it was in response to their efforts to imbue the world with spirituality that G-d gave them a holy land. By us upgrading the neighbourhoods we live in, we pave the way for G-d to give us the full-scale version of the Holy Land that will only be unveiled when Moshiach comes, please G-d immediately.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stepping out...

After all these festival-disrupted weeks, five consecutive days of work can feel arduously long. It's like we've plummeted faster than Felix Baumgartner from the high of Yom Tov into the humdrum of the rat-race. 

When we'll read the Noah's Ark story on Shabbos, it may well resonate with our own feelings of being flooded with work backlogs or the rush to meet end-of-year deadlines. In a sense, last month felt a little like the secure, protected environment of the Ark- where the tempest around you doesn't really bother you. This week we face the chaos again. 

One intriguing point about the Noah's Ark story is that G-d had to tell Noah and his family to leave the Ark and regain their position in the world once the waters had receded. You would have expected that, after 365 cramped days of living on top of each other and scores of animals, the people would have leaped out into the open air as soon as the safety hatch was opened. 

Yet, nobody moved and G-d Himself had to coax them out. 

When El Al lands in Tel Aviv after hours in the air, the passengers are out of their seats and headed for the door as the wheels touch the tarmac. Yet, the Noah family- who had been at sea (is it called "at sea"?) for a year- did not budge even after the door had been opened. 

Truth is, who could blame them? 

In the Ark they had lived a miraculous experience (How else do you explain feeding elephants for a year? And how else do you account for all the impalas coming off the boat alive, considering the lions were kept just metres away?). 

As soon as they would step out of the Ark, they would have to take on that dreaded thing called work

Life in the Ark was a holiday, but stepping back into the outdoors would mean getting their hands dirty, shouldering responsibility and setting themselves up for disappointments. 

Inside the Ark, everyone felt connected and together. Once back in the "real" world, they could expect to feel alone. 

Human nature seeks the path of least resistance. Human achievement is about facing and overcoming challenges. Impulse says "stay where it's warm and secure and predictable". Human spirit says "step out into the cold and barren outdoors and make it warm and secure". 

Noah and his family may have imagined that they would have felt happy had they stayed in their floating refuge, but G-d knew that they could only feel fulfilled once they ventured out to make a difference. So, He schlepped them back into the realm of responsibility. 

Since then, human nature still pulls us to stay under the covers and look after ourselves. But, all human achievement only begins when we pull those covers back, step our of our comfort zone and do something to give to the world, rather than to wait to discover what the world has to give us.

Stepping out...


After all these festival-disrupted weeks, five consecutive days of work can feel arduously long. It's like we've plummeted faster than Felix Baumgartner from the high of Yom Tov into the humdrum of the rat-race. When we'll read the Noah's Ark story on Shabbos, it may well resonate with our own feelings of being flooded with work backlogs or the rush to meet end-of-year deadlines.
In a sense, last month felt a little like the secure, protected environment of the Ark- where the tempest around you doesn't really bother you. This week we face the chaos again.
One intriguing point about the Noah's Ark story is that G-d had to tell Noah and his family to leave the Ark and regain their position in the world once the waters had receded. You would have expected that, after 365 cramped days of living on top of each other and scores of animals, the people would have leapt out into the open air as soon as the safety hatch was opened. Yet, nobody moved and G-d Himself had to coax them out.
When El Al lands in Tel Aviv after nine hours in the air, the passengers are out of their seats and headed for the door as the wheels touch the tarmac. Yet, the Noah family- who had been at sea (is it called a sea?) for a year- did not budge even after the door had been opened. 
Who could blame them? In the Ark they had lived a miraculous experience (How else do you explain feeding elephants for a year? And how else do you account for all the impalas coming off the boat alive, considering the lions were kept just metres away?). As soon as they would step out of the Ark, they would have to take on that dreaded thing called work. Life in the Ark was a holiday, but stepping back into the outdoors would mean getting their hands dirty, shouldering responsibilty and setting themselves up for disappointments.
Inside the Ark, everyone felt connected and together. Once back in the "real" world, they could expect to feel alone. 
Human nature seeks the path of least resistance. Human achievement is about facing and overcoming challenges. Impulse says "stay where its warm and secure and predictable". Human spirit says "step out into the cold and barren outdoors and make it warm and secure".
Noah and his family may have imagined that they would have felt happy had they stayed in their floating refuge, but G-d knew that they could only feel fulfilled once they ventured out to make a difference. So, He schlepped them back into the realm of responsibility.
Since then, human nature still pulls us to stay under the covers and look after ourselves. But, all human achievement only begins when we pull those covers back, step our of our comfort zone and do something to give to the world, rather than to wait to discover what the world has to give us.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Jewish soul bursts into song on Broadway


R' Yoel a.k.a. Larry happened to play the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson's lively "niggun" as we passed by. 
When I told him that today was R' Levi Yitzchok's yartzeit, he was extremely excited and touched. 
So, we had a spontaneous farbrengen on the sidewalk :)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Make sense?


"We don't go out on Friday night!" 

Did you grow up in a non-observant home with that kind of inflexible rule, or are you the unbending parent who enforces it? South African Jews may not all be super-frum, but we pride ourselves on being traditional. 
 
We Jews take pride in our intellectual prowess, boasting about our unusually high IQs and disproportionate numbers of Nobel laureates. Yet, Jews cling to traditions that they can't seem to rationalize. A modern secular Jew will often fast on Yom Kippur and will definitely give his son a bris.
 
In Hebrew, the word for laws (or traditions) that have no rational basis is "chukim". The word chokek (which stems from the same Hebrew root) means to engrave. Davka those things that we cling to without understanding are the ones that etch our Judaism into our hearts. 
 
The human mind is a great asset, with the capacity to explore deep and abstract ideas. But, what you know in theory doesn't guarantee how you will behave in practice. History is full of stories of wise people who have made patently foolish errors. Judaism has survived through the greatest challenges of history not because of information, but because of dedication.
 
Torah knowledge is critical to keeping yourself and your children Jewish, but so is sticking to your traditional guns. The opener of this week's Torah portion (which discusses the inexplicable commandment of the "Parah Adumah", red heifer) is "Such is the chok (irrational law) of the Torah". 

Hashem is telling us that what keeps Torah alive is specifically when we do those Jewish things that ostensibly make no sense, but link us back to centuries of tradition.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Our mission"

Address to International Shluchim Conference, Lay Leadership Conference, NY 2011

Friday, May 18, 2012

There's isn't enough space (or is there?)


This week was a cracker for our community. After much hype and anticipation, the 5th Dimension course kicked off with a blast on Wednesday evening. Over 250 people arrived and the atmosphere was electric! (You can still join us for the next three Wednesdays- it's a great course!)
 
Thank G-d, we now have the space to comfortably accommodate large crowds, but I hadn't banked on the long snaking lines on either stairwell as people waited to register and pay on their way in (tip: register and pay online). 
 
By a stroke of Divine Providence, the 5th Dimension course launched on the 5th night of the 5th week of the Omer (I hadn't realised that till the night of the event). It also fell in the week when we study the 5th chapter of Pirkei Avos (the Ethics of the Fathers).
 
Chapter five lists various significant numbers in Judaism (not the number 5, mind you...) and lists some interesting facts about Jewish life, like the ten constant miracles that happened in the Beis Hamikdash.
 
One of those miracles was something we needed at Wednesday night's registration: Space-expansion. When people stood in the Temple, they were crammed together like Chassidim in 770. Yet, when it was time to bow on Yom Kippur, everyone had enough space to prostrate himself. Somehow, the area expanded on demand.
 
This miracle reminds me of the story of the Chossid who came to the third Lubavitcher Rebbe to complain that he felt the other chassidim would step all over him when he walked into Shul. The Rebbe responded that if he would stop trying to fill the whole Shul, nobody would step on him.
 
When the people stood up straight in the Temple, when they held themselves with importance, they could barely all squeeze together. When they flexed their spines, bent over and became humble, there was plenty of room for all.
 
Yesterday, we had to take one of our children to Home Affairs to apply for a passport. We've typically used the Home Affairs office in Edenvale, where you share your frustrations over bureaucratic inefficiency with other northern-suburbs grumblers as you wait on line. It is never pleasant. This time, we went to the Wynberg office, where most of those waiting were blue-collar, lower income people. Not a complaint. Everyone was friendly and patient. People who live humbly seem to live less stressed.
 
Ironically, the key to feeling better about ourselves and our circumstances is to feel ourselves less.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Not in my lifetime!


So often, when I discuss the prospect of Moshiach with people they tell me "Not in my lifetime!" I don't really blame them, considering how unspiritual our world appears these days. Ironically, a world with a confused moral compass is no obstacle to Moshiach. 

Whatever picture you have of Moshiach in your mind, I doubt it's of a man ravaged by skin disease.

Yet, the Talmud indicates he will be a "tzara'as" sufferer. Tzara'as is a Biblical/spiritual disease- often mistranslated as "leprosy"- that manifested as an unusual skin rash that could only infect very spiritual people (hence, no tzara'as today). You got it if you lapsed in your connection to G-d. 
 
When they're positing on what Moshiach's name might be, the Talmudic sages suggest "the leper of the yeshivah" as an option. Who'd have thought that to be a complimentary title to include in the list with "redeemer" or "comforter"?

The plot thickens. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi enjoyed regular study sessions with the prophet Elijah (just think of it as a very advanced Skype session). One day, he asked Elijah when we could expect Moshiach (Elijah's job is to announce Moshiach) and the prophet responded that he should ask Moshiach in person. 

Well, that must have surprised the venerable sage and he asked Elijah where he could expect to find Moshiach. After all, most people imagine he's waiting in Heaven to be dispatched down to save Earth.

Actually, Elijah directs Rabbi Yehoshua to the gates of Rome, where he can expect to find the Moshiach sitting among the lepers- or, more accurately, among those suffering from the spiritual "tzara'as" affliction.

Again, Moshiach is described as suffering from tzara'as. You would think that the man tasked with bringing the world to perfection would be pretty perfect himself, not someone battling with his own defects.
 
Or perhaps there's much more to the tzara'as story.

Chabad spiritual teachings reveal a whole different perspective on tzara'as. It is a skin disease that mirrors a skin-deep spiritual issue. In fact, the Torah says it afflicts the "skin of the flesh" an uncharacteristic tautology that's there to show you just how superficial the disease is. A rash can be horribly unsightly and extremely irritating, but it is hardly ever life-threatening. An eczema sufferer may well have a robust heart and perfect liver. 
 
Which may offer us a clue as to why Moshiach suffers from a (spiritually-initiated) skin condition.
 
G-d put us and the Torah into the world to partner in refining and redefining it. We are here to create a healthy spiritual environment within which peace, morality and yearning for higher purpose will flourish. 

History is mostly a timeline of killing and plundering, which indicates that the world is not naturally aligned with its Divine purpose. For most of history, people distrusted each other, the majority remained (or were deliberately kept) uneducated, second-class and disenfranchised. Our world was unhealthy.
 
Today, Russians and Americans work together on the International Space Station, world economies are largely interconnected and people link across language and cultural barriers to protect the environment or human rights and to promote peace. Technology has become a central nervous system that links all humanity. The world's internal organs are healthier than ever.
 
But, on the surface, our world still looks ugly. Life is too expensive, the wrong people are in power, the bad guys get away with their crimes and the average citizen entertains himself by ogling at others' pain or shame. Respect for authority, morals and elders is "last season" and so success is often defined as sacrificing family for fortune. The filthy underbelly of society is consistently coughed up on city billboards, the Internet and in the sanctuaries of politics and religion. 
 
Watch the news (actually, I believe "don't watch the news") and you'll be convinced that Moshiach coming into this environment is a pipe-dream. Right?
 
Don't be fooled: Moshiach is a tzara'as sufferer. He has an ailment that looks terrible, but is really quite superficial. By describing Moshiach as a metzorah, the Talmud hints to the world being a tzara'as-place just before he gets here. It will look horrible just before he comes, but it will be a world that has put its fundamental principles (like collaborative governance and economies or fighting poverty, illness and discrimination) in place.
 
Don't write our world off because of how bad it looks; it's actually a textbook pre-Moshiach environment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Just the day to have no minyan...

It's never the right day not to have a minyan, but today seemed to fit the theme just perfectly. 


Thank G-d, we usually get the required ten men (and more) in the mornings, especially on special days like Rosh Chodesh. But, today we didn't crack it. Ok, admittedly we had good reason: One fellow's wife just gave birth (mazal tov!), two were out of town (one business, one pleasure) and one of regulars got to bed too late to manage our unearthly reveille. Still, having only half the team show up on a gloomy, wet morning left the other half wondering why they had been suckered into getting out of bed for Shul.


In mid-musaf it struck me that our minyan-less minyan spoke to the essence of the date today: Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Yesterday was the last day of the month of Nissan, renowned for the Exodus miracle and Pesach celebration and themed with the idea that "G-d steps in and makes it all happen for you".


Nissan/nissim/miracles/Divine intervention- it's all great stuff. It's bottled inspiration, available for consumption whether you're ready for it or not. 


Today was the launch of Iyar- month of no major festivals, just the daily business of making sure you remember to count the Omer. Nissan's inspiration is uplifting, but Iyar's personal investment is the stuff that real personal growth is made of. 


If you had expected the wave of Divinely-driven euphoria to launch you out of bed this morning, you would have been a day behind the times. He's handed the wheel to us from this month, so whatever spiritual experiences we have now will be thanks to our own efforts.


I hope another nine guys can motivate themselves into Shul tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Shabbos + Pesach = ?



Shabbos + Pesach = Double the spiritual energy!

Shabbos and Pesach coincide this year, but they are really quite different, even opposites. Shabbos is the day G-d rested; Pesach is the day we escaped helter-skelter from Egypt. Shabbos is a day to eat, rest and enjoy; Pesach is a time for matzah, marror and a "long read to freedom" before the meal is served. The two events make an unlikely pair, but if G-d put them together, they must carry a good lesson for us.

Pesach came first, Shabbos next. 
 
Only after we left Egypt did Hashem instruct us in the once-a-week rest-day. There you have Judaism summarised: Pesach + Shabbos = the whole Jewish experience.

Pesach is the time to let go of the negative, silence the naysayer within and break free of our real or imagined glass ceilings. Pesach is the time to leap from bad habits and unhealthy perceptions; the time to tell yourself you don't have to be a slave to the personality you are embarrassed by.

Shabbos is the time to enjoy, to connect. Shabbos only really happens after you have slipped out of the prison of your fears and failings. Then you have the luxury of being able to pause, breathe and link in to the Source. 

That's Judaism in a nutshell: You can always break free of whatever holds your soul back, and then you can revel in the spiritual beauty of  touching your inner truth.
 
When Pesach kicks off on a Shabbos, G-d is telling us that we can tackle our tough stuff through a relaxed and comfortable process, unlike the angst and stress of the original hasty departure from Egypt. 
 
Sounds like a plan :)

PESACH OVERVIEW


Pesach is chock-full of laws and customs, so here's a simple guide to the most important things that you need to know:

PRE-PESACH:

HAVE YOU SOLD YET?
Remember to sell your chametz ASAP. You can sell yours online here.

KITCHEN-KASHER
You'll need to clean and "kasher" your kitchen and utensils to be usable on Pesach (some appliances and utensils can't be kashered). Click here for a guide to what can and can't be kashered for Pesach and how to go about it.

SEEK...
Thursday night is time for some good ol' hide 'n seek- with bread. 
Have someone hide 10 pieces of bread (good idea to wrap them to avoid scattering crumbs) around the house (also a good idea to jot down where each piece is, in case you forget). 
1) Grab a feather, wooden spoon, paper bag and candle and set out to find the 10 pieces (and any other chametz you might have missed). 
2) Start with the blessing: "Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam asher kid'shonu bemitzvotav vetzivanu ull biur chametz".
3) Collect all 10 pieces (and other loose chametz) and put it all aside for burning on Friday morning.
4) After the search and when burning chametz, say the "nullification" of chametz (basically: "Any chametz I've missed worthless to me").

... AND DESTROY
On Friday morning incinerate the ten pieces and other chametz you don't plan to keep. You also may not eat chametz from mid-morning on Friday (Chabad.org can give you the correct times for your location).

NO BREAKFAST?
Firstborn boys (or the dads of boys under 13) should fast on the day before Pesach (Friday). That's to remind us that G-d spared our children when he killed the Egyptian firstborns. 
You can dodge the fast by coming to Shul in the morning to hear a "siyum" (conclusion of a tractate of Talmud), which is a reason to celebrate (and eat).

PESACH PROPER:

SPECIAL SERVICE
We add "Hallel" (thanksgiving prayers to G-d) to the regular service on the first two nights of Pesach.

SEDER SETUP
On first night, have everything ready to go before you head off to Shul. That way, you can get down to business ASAP when you come home.
On second night, you may only start preparing for the Seder after Shabbos ends (so take it easy on Shabbos afternoon).

SEDER PLATE

Place 3 Matzos on top of each other and the Seder plate above them, "bone" on the top right, egg on the top left, "maror" in the centre, "charoset" on bottom right, "karpas" on bottom left and "chazaeret" at the bottom (centre). (Pic courtesy of www.chabad.org)
 

Bone = roasted chicken neck with most of the meat removed.
Egg = hard-boiled or roasted.
Maror and chazeret = romaine lettuce and fresh horseradish.
Charoset = ground nuts, apples/ pears & wine (pasty, not wet).
Karpas = slice of raw onion/ parsley/ boiled potato.

SEDER 15 STEP PROGRAMME

Kadesh (a.k.a. Kiddush) 
Each person says their own brocha for the wine, even if they don't say Kiddush. This is the first of the four cups. The person saying kiddush needs to include the Shabbos and Pesach sections.
[Each of the 4 cups = full cup, in one shot, leaning to left. Minimum cup size is 90ml.]

Urchatz
Wash your hands (three times on the right, three on the left).
Say no Brocha.

Karpas
Dip the onion/potato/parsley into the salt water.
Say Baruch... Borei Pri Ha'Adama and eat a little- just a little.

Yachatz
Break the middle Matza in two.
Put the larger piece away for the Afikoman.
Leave the smaller piece between the other Matzos.

Magid
Pour cup #2 and read the story of Pesach (Discuss its contemporary relevance).

Rochtzo
Wash your hands (three times on the right, three on the left).
Say the normal Brocha for washing hands.

Motzi
Say the Brocha for Matzah (same as for bread), while holding 2½ Matzos in both hands.

Matzah
Say the special Brocha for Matzah (Boruch... al achilat Matzah), while holding only the top 1½ Matzos in both hands.
Lean to the left and eat about 1½ Matzos (minimum 3/4 of a Matzah) from the top & middle Matzos.
Try to finish this Matzah in 4 minutes.

Maror
Say the special Brocha for Maror (Boruch... al achilat maror).
Eat about three medium-sized Romaine lettuce leaves with some raw horseradish.
Dip the Maror into Charoset.
Don't lean.

Koraich
Eat 1/2 of the bottom Matzah with about three romaine lettuce leaves and horseradish.
Dip the Maror into Charoses. Shake off the Charoset.
Lean to your left while eating.

Shulchan Orech
Eat some of the boiled egg, dipped in salt water.
You made it! Now you can eat the meal (or can you? After all that Matzah...)
This is also a great time to discuss the Pesach story and its modern message in detail. 

Tzafun
Bring the afikomen out of its hiding place and enjoy another 1½ Matzos (minimum ¾ of a Matzah).
Lean to your left.

Beirach
Pour cup #3 of wine as well as Elijah's cup.
Sing the benching (grace after meals).
After benching, drink the third cup, pour the fourth cup and open the door for Elijah.

Hallel
Praise G-d for all his miracles.
Drink the fourth cup.

Nirtzah
G-d has accepted our Pesach Seder. 
Next year in Jerusalem!

DEW FOR A BROCHA
On first day Pesach, we say a special prayer for dew. 

DAYS THAT COUNT
From 2nd night Pesach, start counting the Omer, 49 days of prep for Shavuot and the Giving of the Torah. The seven weeks of Omer-counting are a time for introspection and personal development.

Chag sameach!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Global march on Jerusalem



The "Global March on Jerusalem" is officially underway. The prospect of hundreds of thousands of "peaceful" protesters massing on  Israel's borders, backed by international sympathies and dizzying media coverage is frankly frightening.
 
What boggles the mind is how many ostensibly intelligent people have been swept up in the hysteria around the "Judaization" of Jerusalem and the rhetoric of the Middle Easts' only democracy being an "Apartheid State". Yet, academics, politicians, journalists and even some Jews seem to subscribe to the ongoing and escalating fictions leveled against the millennia-old epicenter of Judaism.
 
Next Friday evening, as we sit at our Seders, we will read how "in every generation, they have risen against us to destroy us". Well, that hasn't changed. We'll also read how each time "The Holy One Blessed Be He saved us from their hands". That won't change either, which is the good news.
 
Meanwhile, as the drama unfolds (and tomorrow could prove to be a very challenging day for the Israeli government- something akin to the Arab Spring), we need to know how to think and respond as Jews.
 
Jerusalem is the keystone of our nation. We pray three times a day facing Jerusalem and ask G-d multiple times daily for Jerusalem's restoration. To us, the ultimate purpose of Creation is to return to our Temple in Jerusalem.
 
Jewish mysticism teaches that everything exists in time, space and within the human. As Yom Kippur is the year's holiest day, Jerusalem is the world's holiest location. Within us we each have both a Jerusalem and a Yom Kippur. Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in Hebrew, refers to a perfect, wholesome relationship with Hashem. Our personal Jerusalem is the part of our soul that is completely dedicated to G-d and absolutely proud of its Jewish identity.
 
Throughout history, nations have challenged our hold on Jerusalem and we have lost is multiple times. Likewise, we have each faced challenges against our own fundamental Jewish connection and identity. 
 
Only this time, the challenge to Jerusalem is not by those who wish to conquer it as much as by those who wish to claim it was never ours to begin with. This spiritual battle is not for us to fail as Jews, but to lose our sense of what it is to be Jewish. 
 
Recently, young Jewish people seem to have lost the typical South African sense of Jewish tradition. More young people are questioning why they should fast on Yom Kippur or avoid eating bread on Pesach. Way more are inter-dating and intermarrying. Jerusalem, the holy epicenter of Judaism, is being challenged in an unprecedented fashion.
 
Now is a critical time for us to stand proud as Jews. Now is a the key time to decide for ourselves and convey to our children that Jerusalem is eternally Jewish and non-negotiable; that no matter how unpopular a position it may be, Jewish pride and Jewish values are what define us- and these can not be compromised. Ever.
 
May G-d help us to stand proudly Jewish, may He protect Israel from its overt and covert enemies and may we all join the Global March to Jerusalem with Moshiach now!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Toulouse- how to respond?


It's been a tough week, or is that a tough month? Joburg Jewry has had a spate of tragic stories and the Toulouse massacre has rattled the whole Jewish world. As "Why?!" reverberates through everyone's mind and a strong sense of vulnerability sets in, we can't expect answers. But we do need to formulate a response.

This week, a teacher and three children were mowed down by a terrorist. 
 
You wonder how anyone can be so inhuman as to target a school and cold-bloodedly plot to murder little children. You wonder about the depraved depths of a man who could stare into the frightened eyes of children as he shot them, while filming his murders. You wonder what ideology kills compassion and fuels blood-lust- and you wonder how many more assailants it has let loose on the world's streets. You wonder what you can do to feel strong at this vulnerable time- strong enough to make a difference.
 
In 1956, a teacher and five students were mowed down by terrorists who burst into their classroom in the fledgling town of Kfar Chabad in Israel. Chabad Israel was stunned, the Jewish world wounded. As the townspeople mourned and questioned the wisdom of growing their exposed little settlement, a telegram arrived from the Rebbe in New York. All it said was "Through continued building, consolation will come".
 
No, we won't get answers- at least not before Moshiach comes. But the Jewish response to seeing young lives ripped away is to build. 
 
Jews are at war with death. We always have been. Our Torah is called the "Torah of life" and the "Tree of life". Our religion glorifies life and prioritizes life beyond every other facet of Jewishness. Death is an aberration, a toxic spill from the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, a chronic disease that must be fought and overcome. Judaism's ultimate world is a place of eternal life and the reversal of death through resurrection. Each time death or its agents triumph, we recommit ourselves to move forward to the era when death dies. 

This week, terror and disease have struck hard at our confidence, Jewish commitment and optimism. Tough as it feels, the right response is greater confidence, more Jewish commitment and sustained optimism. Now is a time to wear your Judaism proudly in public, to come to shul more, to add a shiur to your schedule or to help someone in need. Please G-d, we hope to very soon see the day when death vanishes forever.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

HEY, IT'S PURIM. ARE YOU READY?


Purim is that overly-joyous, fun-filled holiday of masquerades, food and more food and gifts to friends and the poor. Here's your overview of what to do:


ESTHER'S FAST
Esther was the heroine of the story- the Jewish gal who landed up in the lion's den and pulled off a massive rescue of the Jews from Haman's clutches. Although the fast is named for her, it's not the same fast she fasted. When the Jews battled Haman's cronies, they fasted (the Jewish custom was to fast when at war). We commemorate their fast with not food/ drink from dawn to dark on Wednesday. 


DID YOU HEAR?
Even if your Purim knowledge is up to scratch, you need to hear the whole story read live, in the original Hebrew on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Hopefully the fellow reading it at your Shul doesn't drag it out, but even the ADD crowd can make a noise here and there when Haman's name is mentioned (he's the villain, so we want to blot out his memory).


FOOD PACKS
Purim is a holiday of joy. For Jews holiday and joy must include food :) Pack at least two ready-to-eat snacks and deliver them on Thursday to a friend (more friends = more food packs). Who knows? Maybe you'll get a snack-pack back in return. (Traditionally, men give to men & women to women).


MORE THAN CHARITY
You should give charity every day. On Purim day, you are meant to give gifts to at least two Jewish poor people (or the organisations that care for them). On Purim, you should not turn anybody away empty-handed. (Remember, G-d treats us as we treat others, so try asking Him for things you need on Purim).


SPECIAL PRAYERS
To commemorate the miracles of Purim (overnight turnaround of a madman in the Middle East threatening the lives of all Jews to a national holiday- that may sound familiar, so let's hope for a Purim 2012), we add the "Al Hanissim" segment to the Amidah prayers and the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals).


HAVE A PARTY!
Thursday is the day to party with your family and friends. Set the table as if it was Yom Tov, have bread and drink a few lechaims. You should get the meal underway before sunset on Thursday, but can keep going all night long.


WHILE YOU'RE AT IT
One of the big mitzvos of Purim is to put on Tefillin. If you don't get to do it daily, make a point of donning yours on Thursday morning.


Have a wonderful, joyous Purim! 

Friday, March 02, 2012

Learn everything- in just one year!


I know you're busy. Who isn't? 
 
You have days when you don't have the time to eat lunch, right? You're probably not looking to take on new projects, especially big ones- like getting to know everything about Judaism in just one year. After all, studying Judaism is supposed to be a life-long endeavour with no shortcuts. You would probably quicker open a Nigerian lottery email than a  "learn the whole Torah in a year" proposition.
 
Well, it can be done. In fact, it has been done by tens of thousands of people annually thirty times now. That's right, there are people in the Jewish world who have gone through the whole Torah 30 times in the last 28 years. 
 
You probably imagine that I'm talking about big scholars who dedicate hours a day to study. Sure, some are. But many are ordinary professionals or business people with as much on their plate as you and I. None of them would claim to now be a leading Torah authority, but they have a solid general knowledge about every area of Jewish law. 
 
How did they do it? A step at a time.
 
In 1984, the Rebbe launched a maverick Torah-study programme that would revolutionize the Jewish world in two ways: 1) This project would allow anyone to become familiar with every aspect of Jewish life. 2) It would unite the whole Jewish world by having thousands of people globally study the same information each day. 
 
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam or Maimonides) was the first Torah scholar to collate all of Jewish law into an indexed encyclopedia of Judaism. Unlike the Code of Jewish Law, he included laws that are not practiced today when we have no Temple or king in Jerusalem. 
 
Back in '84, the Rebbe split the fourteen volumes of Rambam into daily sections. Whoever would follow the programme (studying three chapters a day) would complete all fourteen volumes (the most comprehensive, yet concise work on Jewish law) within just under a year. His or her general Jewish knowledge would have grown exponentially. 
 
You may not feel ready to study three chapters a day, but the Rebbe also included an option of studying a single chapter or even just a handful of mitzvos from the Rambam's "Book of Mitzvos" each day. Now, the "Book of Mitzvos" option really does not take very long. It requires five minutes or less of commitment each day. What it does for you is it gives you an overview of everything Judaism is about. 
 
Just imagine: Five minutes of reading a day and you no longer feel ignorant when the rabbi discusses shemittah oryibum, and you know what to respond to your work-colleague who asks if Jews are allowed to charge interest or own statues or neuter their pets. 
 
The Rebbe's vision for fighting Jewish ignorance is about to launch it's 31st cycle tomorrow. Why not take part? You could get the info emailed to you daily or you could read it online. If you prefer the look and feel of a book, subscribe to the weekly Chayenu magazine that carries the daily Rambam and other interesting Jewish information. However you do it, take a step to educate yourself further this year. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Soul-budget


Pravin Gordhan's budget speech on Wednesday got me thinking that it could be useful for us to do a soul-budget occasionally. For one thing, I would hope that our soul-budget would not start with an admission that we are in a recessionary period... 

Budgeting would include balancing our urge to launch new projects with the necessity of maintaining our existing spiritual infrastructure. We would need to decide how much time, energy and priority to allocate to our own and our family's education and development, spiritual health, policing against ethereal enemies and growing our soul's economy.

A bitter contention here in SA is that, exceptional as the budget may be, many ministries squander the monies allocated to them. Doesn't your blood boil when you hear of dysfunctional departments, headed by ministers who splurge on caviar, international holidays and flashy cars? Watching your tax money hard at waste may well infuriate you. 

Almost as enraging are those ministers whose ineptitude has them investing millions in dead-end projects, while their mainstay programmes putrefy in the background. "Inexperience" is an excuse you would definitely not accept from someone who has taken on mantle of public office (and public funds).

Now, try plug that into your soul-budget exercise. G-d allocates our budget of time, resources and energy on a daily basis. He packs us full of wherewithal and then watches to see if we use it well. Each day is a gift of potential creativity and productivity that you should utilise to the maximum. Realistically, though, there are many days when we push the snooze button, while away hours over coffee or meander through the Internet instead of getting on with what G-d put us here to achieve. We blow the budget on fun and pleasure, instead of meaning and purpose. 

Or maybe we just don't know how G-d wants us to spend our budget. We entertain novel ideas, take on exciting projects and throw ourselves into nouveau spiritual lifestyles. In our minds, we are soaring through heaven; in reality we are missing our purpose.

Pointing out all that’s wrong with government departments that we cannot change is considerably less valuable than examining our own Divinely-presented budget. Maybe budget time is time to think about what investment G-d has made in us and how important it is for us to determine our unique personal purpose- and then live up to it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are you rich?

A friend and member of our community shared a personal anecdote with us at Shul the other day. It's a simple story with a great lesson. 

As is the case in most of Johannesburg, we have a number of beggars positioned on the intersections around our neighbourhood. One fellow is an eccentric character who has been around for as long as we've lived here. He regularly changes his outfits, likes to sport sunglasses, earphones (not that they're plugged into anything) and quirky cardboard signs, and he makes a point of getting the kids in the passing cars to smile. 

The other night, my friend stopped at a nearby petrol station and headed in to the Quick Shop to buy a drink. As he stepped up to pay, our eccentric beggar-friend approached him for a donation. Apologizing, my friend mentioned that he couldn't help the fellow and didn't even think he had enough cash to pay for his own drink. Sure enough, he was short. 

"How much do you need?" asked the homeless man. 

"Two rand," my friend admitted.

Without hesitating, the older man drew out his bag of coins- a day's worth of panhandling- and happily handed over two Rand!

By Divine design, we read the portion of the half-Shekel this past Shabbos. It's the moment where G-d baffles Moses by instructing him to have each member of the nation contribute half a shekel towards the maintenance of the Sanctuary. With those simple donations, the Jews were supposed to atone for the horrible sin of the Golden Calf. Moses grapples with the notion that a token contribution can make amends for such a momentous mistake. 

Well, here's one possible angle on the story: The Golden Calf was an investment that everyone believed was worth sinking cash into, because they anticipated it would offer solid returns (a replacement oracle for Moses, who they thought would not return). 

Still today, people happily throw millions at business or even philanthropic opportunities if they can forecast decent payback value. But, when stocks crash and fortunes halve, most people downscale and hang on to what they have as they become charity-averse. Someone who had been a billionaire and has lost a few hundred million is quite likely to feel poor and to consolidate and tighten the purse-strings.

Yet, here is a fellow who lives hand to mouth and was able to part with a few bucks to help someone clearly better off than he is.

As long as you can still give, you are wealthy. When you cannot share your money, regardless of how much of it you may still have, you have become poor. 

Perhaps that was G-d's message in the half-shekel- a reminder that big bucks to float a golden project don't indicate wealth, but giving away- even just a small contribution- does.