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This Shabbat Is A Major Holiday

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On Shabbat, December 5th, the 19th of Kislev, Chabad and others in the Chassidic community celebrate the holiday of Yud-Tes Kislev. It is a momentous day that has been celebrated with joy and reverence for over 200 years. It is the most important day on the Chassidic calendar, the “Rosh HaShana of Chassidism.”

Why?

In the fall of 1798, on the day after Sukkot, Russian soldiers arrested Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi on charges of treason. Reb Shneur Zalman was famous as the author of the Tanya and the founder of the Chabad movement, his new approach to the relationship between man and God had inspired thousands, but now he was being held as a political prisoner in The Peter and Paul Fortress, the “Russian Bastille” which would hold the Decembrists and Dostoyevsky, Trotsky and Tito.

Reb Shneur Zalman was interrogated day and night. They demanded to know what his “revolutionary” movement was all about, what Chassidism was, and why he and his followers were sending money to the Ottoman Empire, an enemy of the Czar. Of course, they were misinformed. Chabad was not a political “revolutionary” movement and the money he was supposedly sending to the Ottoman Empire was actually being sent to poor Jews living in Israel who happened to live under Ottoman rule. But in a dark prison fortress in Czarist Russia, the truth could be of little use, especially for a Jew. Execution seemed imminent.

When he was suddenly released by order of Paul I on the 19th of Kislev, a storm of euphoria and relief swept over the Jewish community. They celebrated for days. But for Reb Shneur Zalman and his followers, this was much more than just a close call or a narrow escape, this was divine vindication.

What happens in this world is a reflection of what goes on in heaven. Reb Shneur Zalman’s arrest was a reflection of the uproar in heaven he had caused when he began teaching the secrets of the Torah to the common man. The angels in heaven cried out that these secrets were too holy and precious to be spread on earth. They cried out that Reb Shneur Zalman must be stopped. Reb Shneur Zalman’s release was a reflection of the heavenly court’s verdict that he should be allowed to go on teaching the secrets of the Torah.

Today the 19th of Kislev is celebrated all over the world because it made the availability of these secrets possible for all.

But God doesn’t have secrets like a spy or a politician have secrets. He doesn’t have some dangerous deep dark secrets that he is forced to hide. Most human beings don’t even have those kinds of secrets. If one of those secrets leak out and become widely known, then they are no longer secret, but a true secret will always be secret, even if everyone knows. A true secret means the personal and intimate part of ourselves that are too personal to be exposed, not because it’s embarrassing or damaging in any way, but because it simply doesn’t belong in public. It is secret because we reserve it for our inner life and not for our social life.

There are some things we don’t share simply because the outside world won’t appreciate the beauty of it. That is why it hurts when you tell a friend something personal, and they then share it with others. It is your secret. It’s not just a piece of information, it’s a part of you that must be treated with sensitivity and modesty. Some things don’t belong in the cold, uncaring light.

This kind of secret isn’t defined by how many people know it. The whole world knows what happens when the bride and groom go to their room on their wedding night. But we don’t mention it because it’s still a secret.

But sometimes we must reveal.

As parents, we don’t tell our children how desperately we need them to be good people. We tell them all kinds of reasons why they should be good, but we never tell them how much it means to us. We don’t tell them because we don’t know how they will treat such a revelation of vulnerability. What if they laugh? What if they lose respect for us? But when we have tried every argument and still our children are slipping away, then we open up. When we have tried everything, when we are desperate, then we show our children how vulnerable we are. Then we tell them, with tears in our eyes, how much we need them.

That’s why the secrets of the Torah were not revealed until about 250 years ago. Down through the ages Jews were holy and wise men and women. They understood the Torah’s wisdom, the appreciated holiness and godliness. And so there was no need for God to reveal his own vulnerability, how much he needs us to be good, how desperate he is for us to be his. But as the wise and the holy passed away, and new generations of Jews came who did not appreciate holiness and godliness, who could not see the wisdom of the Torah, then God felt the need to tell us his secrets.

Especially today, most Jews don’t respond to righteousness and spirituality. The only thing left is to tell them the secret: God needs you. Desperately.

That is what we celebrate on the 19th of Kislev.

And then we get Channukah

Is God Confused?

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God created us and told us that there are things he would like us not to do. “Sins.”

But if he doesn’t want sin, then why create humans who sins? God sounds a little confused, he creates sin and then hates it!

God said “let there be light” and there was light. God said “keep Shabbat” and… well we try. Why can’t God just snap sin out of existence if he hates it so much??

The answer is that God created the world because he wants a relationship, and you can’t have a relationship with someone who is controlled by you or anything else. A real relationship is when two free-willed individuals choose each other. Nobody wants to be married to a robot, we marry another human. Maybe the argument could be made that marriage to a robot would be easier than marriage to another person; no fights, no give and take, no pain. But that would defeat the whole point of marriage.

This is why God gave us the power to sin, the power to hurt him. We cannot imagine the pain that we cause God when we sin. But God chooses to continue to feel that pain if it means a relationship with us.

What Is My Purpose In Life?

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We know that God created the world for a reason. We know that God created us for a reason. But why did God created me? There are a billion other people on this planet, but God felt that wasn’t enough, so he created me. Why? What specifically am I needed for?

To figure out what our purpose is, all we have to do is look around and ask “who needs me?”

First we look at our family: “Who needs me?” A wife? A parent? A child? A sibling?

There’s no point in trying to save the world if we aren’t taking care of the people who are closest to us. They, our spouses, children, family, are our main mission.

Then, and only then, we look at our community: “Who needs me?”

Then we widen the circle: “Who needs me in this city?”  “Who needs me in this country?”

Ultimately the question we must ask ourselves is: “What does God need from me?”

What Is The Virtue of Modesty?

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There’s a lot of confusion out there about the rules of modesty, particularly with regards to the Orthodox Jewish community. There is a notion out there that the purpose of modesty rules is to stop men from being tempted to sin by the sight of a woman. This is not the case. Modesty rules can’t stop sin.

Modesty isn’t there prevent something from happening. Modesty is not the means to an end, it is a good thing on it’s own.

Human being have a special ability that even angels do not possess. That superpower is intimacy. We can be intimate because we have parts of ourselves which are intimate. There is a part of ourselves that is just for us. It is vulnerable. It is deep. It is private.

This part of ourselves is extremely delicate and must be handled with the most extreme care.

It is well known that human sexuality and violence are closely related. It is because to enter somebody else’s intimate space is violence. To invade that part of somebody that is private and only for themselves is the ultimate violation.

The only way to enter somebody’s intimate space without being destructive is to do so knowing that it’s not your place. You are entering a place where you have zero rights, you shouldn’t be there. The only reason you are there is because you were invited, but you don’t belong there.

With this attitude we enjoy the greatest pleasure on heaven or earth: the pleasure of being intimate with another person.

But if somebody goes into another’s intimate space with a feeling of familiarity, like they have some right to be there, like they have some ownership of another’s private space, it destroys intimacy.

This is why we have modesty. It is to protect our intimate space. In a world where sexuality is degraded as just another form of pleasure, where sex is considered natural and “no big deal,” we need modesty more than ever.  We need modesty because we are being encouraged to be familiar with each other’s intimacy, and intimacy and familiarity cannot coexist.

It short, modesty rules aren’t about what might happen, they are there because of what might not happen. If we lose intimacy, it is a colossal tragedy.

The Ladder of Parenting

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What does it mean to “raise” a child? We feed our children, we educate them, we teach them how to cross the street, we give them a loving environment, but when do we “raise” them? When do we lift them up?

When a child is young, the only pleasure he or she knows is the pleasure of running, jumping, eating candy, and other sensual activities. Now we must raise them up.

There is a ladder of pleasure. On the lowest rung are the pleasures of touch and feel. On the next rung is the pleasure of another sensual activity but one that appeals to the higher senses: Music, rhythm. On the next level is the pleasure of good character. When you hear a story about a good, heroic deed and it gives you pleasure, you are on this level. The next rung is the pleasure of intelligence, the pleasure of figuring something out or hearing something smart.

To help a child from one rung to the next, to teach a child who’s only love is candy to enjoy a beautiful song, to teach a child to enjoy goodness, and then to teach them to enjoy intelligence, is to raise a child.

Dealing With Guilt And Regret

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When you make a bad choice, God doesn’t abandon you and leave you to your own fate. Even when you make a bad choice, God still has to decide what’s going to happen to you from your bad choice, and how it is going to affect other people. So even when a person makes a bad choice in some way god protects you from your own bad choices. God is still in charge of what happens.

Teshuvah is when you start to sin and stop it. God is no longer angry at you and he will not punish you for this sin, but it’s not like you never sinned. To clean it up you do all these extra things but the forgiveness was already there and that’s why Yom Kippur is not a day of forgiveness. Kippur doesn’t mean forgiveness – kippur means cleansing. You want to erase even the memory of it but you’re already forgiven when you stop sinning, which could have been before Yom Kippur.

God forgives you for violating his commandments even if you complete a sin, and the realization of this forgiveness improves your relationship with God exponentially. Kapparah is the desire to have that beautiful, heightened relationship with God because of God’s forgiveness of your sins. Forgiveness is the beginning of a whole new relationship with God – it’s not the end of a problem. 

Some people cannot forgive themselves even after God has forgiven them, which takes all of the attention away from God. The reason you did something bad in the first place is because you were just thinking about yourself. You can’t be the criminal and the judge, so forgiving yourself makes no sense because no one is asking your opinion about yourself. According to the Chasidic teachings in Tanya, you should be grateful for the discovery about yourself that you had an impulse to sin but didn’t do it. A good person is not someone who never gets into a bad mood – a good person is someone who even when they’re in a bad mood doesn’t do anything bad.

If you commit a sin and then regret the sin you committed, the person committing the sin can’t be the same person as the person who regrets the sin. Real Teshuvah means you separate yourself from the one who did the sin and become a different person who would never do that sin. When you sin you’re sinning against your better judgment, and then you regret the sin because you never wanted to do it. 

The part of you that remains innocent is what your conscience is about. We always think of guilty conscience but what is a human conscience? Even if you never did anything wrong and there’s nothing to feel guilty about, do you still have a conscience? The Torah says yes, that conscience is your sense of purpose and not necessarily your sense of guilt. We must focus on our healthy conscience instead of our guilty conscience, because that is what keeps us doing what we are supposed to. 

Knowing Yourself, Inside and Out

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For most of history, human beings who were thoughtful, responsible, and mature understood that they have free choice. You can be good or you can be bad, you can be beautiful and you can be ugly, you can be idealistic, or you can be low, greedy and selfish. We have good inclination and evil inclination, and we can either be constructive or destructive. For so long, humans lived their lives based on reward and punishment. 

Then, Chassidic Judaism came along and said that’s not really what you should be worried about and that’s not really who you are. There’s something much prettier, much more elegant, and much more worthy of life: that is that you have actually two souls.

One of the souls is Godly, which means it gets excited by Godly pleasure, Godly will, Godly wisdom, Godly emotions, and Godly behavior. With those aspects of your soul excited, you’re a complete person. Then there’s the human soul, but in the human soul it’s all human pleasure, human will, human intelligence, human emotions, and human behavior. My human part is selfish – it’s always about me. The Godly soul is all about a mission, what I am here for and what I am supposed to accomplish. 

You are a being that can choose between being human or being Godly. You should put all your energy into your Godly soul, because if you put all your energy into your human soul you will become a really decent human being without knowing what it’s all for. The only source of knowledge that can answer the question “why am I here”  why was i born is in your Godly soul. That’s because your Godly soul just wants to do whatever is the reason for its existence in this world and whatever mission the soul is supposed to accomplish by being born. You can be practical and successful as a human being, or you can be idealistic and find the truth of why you exist in the first place. Your creator has a reason for you to exist so if you fulfill that reason, you are serving God and becoming Godly yourself.

Who Needs…. Anything?

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What do we need? How badly do we need? How do we get what we need?

These are questions we all ask ourselves, all of them based on the assumption that “we need.”

It seems the younger generation doesn’t understand this. A grandfather tells his grandson to get up for prayers, “you need to get up!” But the same thing keeps happening: the grandson simply says “no i don’t!”

The grandson is correct.

What young people understand is that we don’t “need” anything. How could we? We didn’t even need to be born! We are born against our will, and now we “need” to do things?? God puts us on earth without our consent, and now we “need” to follow his laws? Why? We didn’t ask to be born.

We didn’t ask to be born, but God needs us on this earth. He is the one who “needs,” not us.

Why God Talks

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Torah is full of dialogue. God talks to Avraham, Avraham talks to god, God talks to Moses, God talks to he Jewish people, etc

Why all the talking?

Couldn’t God just let us know what we need to know in one shot?

In the desert, it was common that when a Jew asked Moses a question he didn’t know how to answer, Moses would go ahead and ask God. This happens over and over.

Surely God can find more efficient ways to get his message across. Why no writing on the wall? Why couldn’t God just put the answer in Moses’s head?

What is clear is that God does not need to talk to us. He just loves it.

When we recognize that the Torah is a love story, things start making sense, and questions fall away.

The Torah is full of dialogue, which means God loves talking to us.

Black Lives Matter? All Lives Matter?

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We have become vastly improved because of the lockdown. We have a better world today; you just don’t see it in the news. But everybody knows in their own life that things got better – we matured, we were wiser, and we’re kinder. Now all of that positive improvement is concealed behind the riots and the fear of a repeat of COVID.

Recently many people have gotten caught up in the argument between the idea the “Black lives matter” and “all lives matter”. Either way, focusing on the idea that lives “matter” reduces things so much. We need to get beyond the idea of “mattering” and strive for something more. “Lives matter” makes life negotiable – matters how much? Matters to whom?

Life is sacred. What that means in simple terms is that it doesn’t matter whether life “matters”. You’re not allowed to murder and you’re not allowed to steal – even if life doesn’t “matter” to you still can’t kill, and you can’t kill anybody. That’s morality, and that’s the core of Torah without any mention of race.

Along those lines, the whole structure of the police force needs to be rethought. The police does law enforcement, when they really should do law maintenance. You maintain the laws that people live by, instead of enforcing the laws the people don’t want. A democracy means people get together, write down their values on a charter and elect the government that’s going to maintain their values and a police force that will maintain the laws that they want to have. Instead, we’ve been putting laws on people who didn’t ask for it.  For example, we all believe that speeding on the road is bad, but sometimes we get distracted and do it anyway. The police aren’t there to force you to do what they believe is right, they are there to remind you of your own values! In case you should forget that you don’t believe in speeding, we have traffic patrol.

When we have cooperation, good things can happen. But if we don’t have personal values then you can’t have a police force because that’s just a declaration of war. We need an awakening. We need to simply find the failure of our lifestyle staring us in the eyes. The good news is that the way we’ve been living is such a colossal failure, and we don’t need any more motivation than that to change.