Parshat KI Tisa: Life and Death

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When the Jewish people came out of Mitzrayim many of them still had a pagen mindset. This mindset comforted them in worshipping death, and a life in the world to come, over truly living in the world which they physically walked.

Many pagan religions, and even some religions today, worship the comfort of death and a life in a world to come over the hear and now.

The worship of the golden calf, that the Jewish people made and worshiped as a replacement for their leader Moshe, and as a symbolic connector to G-d, symbolizes death. With the act of building and worshiping the golden calf,  the calf itself becomes a representation for disconnection and separation from the physical world in which they live and the laws an statutes which they pledged to follow.

Hashem, through his wisdom, transformed the cow from a symbol of death into the life affirming symbol. Through the ritual of the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer (known as the parah adumah), in order to cleanse oneself after coming in contact with death, an animal once used in separation and disconnection to the world around becomes important in daily life, as a representation and reminder of the importance of living.

Hashem, through the Torah, stresses for us the importance of living a G-dly existence here on earth. The main purpose of our existence is not to reach a world to come, but to do G-d’s will here on earth and live a life worthy of Hashem’s praises. Chassidus and kabbalah teaches us that our existence here on earth is of the utmost important, and when we live a life centred on Torah and mitzvoth, and thorough the act of elevating the mundane to the status of holy, we can create a world of holiness. This holiness allows for Hashem to come a dwell amongst us, and how much more life affirming can we get than this?

But if the above mentioned life affirming examples are not enough, the Torah not only symbolically stress the importance of life, it explicitly show us the transcending importance of life over death through the principle of Pikuach Nefesh – saving a life (Vayikra 19:16, parshat Kedoshim “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor”). This principal takes precedence over almost every other Torah commandment and reaffirms the importance of living over dying.

So, even though the worship of the golden calf was a symbol for death, through the commandment of the parah adumah the cow is turned into a symbol of the reaffirmed importance of life. Gut Shabbos.

Meditate on G-d’s Embrace

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Parshat VZot Habracha

And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of G-d, blessed the children of Israel [just] before his death. why “and” this..? Why not just “this” is the..? There is a biblical tradition of fathers blessing their sons just before their death. Some commentators (I think Rashi) say maybe Moshe was trying to be a part of this tradition, in essence connecting himself to this tradition.
And is also a connecting word.

This week please connect (and meditate on) Hashem’s embrace (Hashem hugs you with the walls of the Sukkah) with a blessing of love. G-d’s external love for you.

-Everyone, hot a gut Sukkos, un a gut Shabbos. Zayn freylekhn
– Have a good Sukkos, and a good Shabbos. Be joyous.

Hisbodedus and other forms of Chasidic meditation are practices that I try to do regularly. Just find a quite place to talk to Hashem (Aibishter) as you would a close friend, or deeply think about a concept or idea in Judaism/Chasidus to try and fully understand it.

Recycled Nine Dollar Bicycle

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I would have thought that the world’s cheapest bicycle would have come out of China. Don’t they have the worlds largest population of bicyclist? If not China then another over populated Asian bicycling enthusiastic country? Maybe even a country like Holland might have produced the woulds cheapest bicycle? After all they do have a reputation for loving their peddle power. But no, not Asia and not Holland was were the worlds cheapest bicycle was produced. It was Israel, a place where you hardly see a bicycle. At least when I was there I saw very few.

Produced by Izhar Gafni, an Israeli Kibbutznick,the bike is made almost entirely from recycled cardboard and can withstand wind, rain and sun.  I venture to say that this might be the first truly green transpiration vehicle. It also doesn’t hurt that the bike is very inexpensive. It costs Izhar only nine dollars to produce a single bike.

Read more about the amazing bicycle here:

http://nocamels.com/2012/07/recycled-cardboard-bicycles-for-9/

Parshat Pinchas : Choosing An Appropriate Leader

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27:15/16- Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: “Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…”

27:18- The Lord said to Moses, “Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and you shall lay your hand upon him.

Why did Moshe Rabbenu specifically ask for a person/man to be the leader of Klal Yisrael. Why not ask for an angel, or even a Tzadik on the level of an Angel?  And why, if the parshat is called Pinchas, was Joshua chosen as Moshe Rabbenue’s successor to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel?

Clearly, the answer is to be found in the qualities of leadership needed at that time and the differences in character of Pinchas on the one hand and Joshua on the other.

G-d knows, and so do the truly righteous, that leadership cannot be defined by extreme and solitary behaviour. The extremist ordinarily appeals to, and willingly followed, by only one segment of the population. The rest of the group complies because of threats, fear or general apathy. This is not true leadership. The true leader for the Jewish people has to lead all, not just a chosen few, because he has personal credibility beyond toughness. At the other extreme, indifferent popularity trades on apathy does not serve the group in the most productive fashion. A leader’s character must personify active, sincere care of and contribution to community. They must proclaim a personal lifestyle that sets an example for all, they must also show the ability to be forward thinking and know, or at least prepare for, what lies ahead. Moshe knew this in his pursuit of a leader for all of Klal Yisrael. This is why he asked for a human being and not an angel, or a leader just for the “religious elite”. Also true Jewish leaders know that one must create an environment where one, even the Rosha (wicked person that denies Torah), can thrive and grow to live a G-d focused life.

Pinchas’s actions as a leader were too extreme. Moreover, some commentaries say he was a “lone-wolf” unsuited to moulding a diverse group into a united nation. Pinchas virtuously and zealously avenges the honour of G-d with good intentions, but also reveals an abstract, isolationist style that is really only effective in a vacuum and, if even if outside that narrow confine, only for short periods of time. A extremist style usually appeals only to extreme segments in a community and can be a cause of communal fractioning. Hashem, while acknowledging the good intentions of Pinchas, does not see him suitable a leader to help the Jewish people forge ahead in a new land at a new time with very different circumstances to what they had been accustomed to.

Joshua, on the other hand, who had trained under Moshe, was not only a capable military commander, but was also a learned religious leader and teacher. Having military leadership skills, not only religious leadership abilities, shows us that he had good understanding of what the Jewish nation would need in order to face the near future as the nation moving into being settled state. In the desert, a strong spiritual leader had been needed to assist G-d as he provide for his people. Now the Jewish people would have to take greater responsibility for their military, lifestyle and economic survival, engaging in active partnership with G-d. Joshua’s leadership style as a teacher and a military commander of the Jewish people in a land amongst many other nations would provide the necessary leadership that would enable survival in a new environment amongst many varying nations, many hostile, in a land that needed to be tended for the necessities of spiritual and economic prosperity.

Today, true Jewish leaders know that while we must make every effort to create a holy place to dwell in, for both G-d and mankind, we must also remain connected to the place where one lives, as well as the wider world around us and know how to live and survive amongst many different nations, peoples and modernity (diverse society and influences). As Jew’s we must not isolate ourselves or shut ourselves off, from, the wider world and the things that G-d has bestowed upon us. This idea is especially important for our leaders and Tzadikim who must also remain connected to where they live and the wider world around them. As teacher of Hashem’s values one cannot properly lead and inspire followers unless they live and breathe in not only the Judaic world, but the wider world as well, as almost all Jews have to do on a daily basis.

As a note: after Joshuas death, there was no appointed leader for the Jewish people and the nation began to sin shortly after his death.

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speaks at annual Chabad emissary (shluchim) conference. He talks about being inspired to be a leader by the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. He also speaks about getting wise counsel from the Rebbe on a number of occasions.  This video is a must see.

Connecting to G-d

There are 613 commandments or laws (mitzvahs) that are mandated in the Torah. But said another way, there are 613 ways to connect to G-d.

Every Mitzvah performed by a Jewish person is a real opportunity to connect to G-d. To interact with the Aibishter (all mighty) on a personal level.  I challenge you to make every mitzvah count, and to put a little bit of yourself in every mitzvah you perform.

Its simple. Actually, it is real simple.  A simple as, maybe, changing the location where performing a mitzvah or adding in your own words or actions.  The addition of a bit of your own flair helps you to connect to G-d in a personal way.  I am aware that when performing mitzvahs it is way easier to add your own personal touch then with other mitzvahs. We all know of mitzvahs that take a little extra thought and creativity in order to personalize, but making a mitzvah your own helps to keep it fresh and exciting, not just a rote activity.

This is me davening Shacharit on Cypress Mountain. Time to get away from usual Shul and home prayers and daven in nature, one of the wonders and creations of Hashem.

Last Sunday, Chabad of Richmond went on a community hike to Eagles Bluff on Cypress Mountain where Shacharit took take place followed by a bit of nosh, consisting of beagles, fruit and a wee bit of Schnapps, and then a Chassidic meditation class on living in divine space.

For me the purpose the hike was not only a chance to interact with community members outside of Shul, but an opportunity to get in touch with mind, body and soul, hiking for the body, davening and meditation mind and soul.  But more importantly it was an opportunity to connect to Hashem, G-d,  in a unique place and in a unique way. While I was davening at Eagles Bluff, I was putting my unique twist on morning prayers by being in a unique place and using my surrounding to connect to Hashem in a new way. Being out in nature, with some of the people I care most about in my community, absolutely gave me a different perspective and unique meaning to the prayer book words. I found myself pausing a bit longer on certain words to think about its meaning and how it applies to Hashem and the environment I was in. Also, at times, I was inserting some of my own words that made absolute sense at that particular time and place.

Even though It was windy and cold on top of the mountain, I felt warm. While davening my tallis kept blowing with the movements of the wind, but I kept absolutely still. At other times, when the wind died down, I found the freedom to move about and enjoy the natural environment I was in.

The time spent on the mountain last Sunday gave me a unique perspective to my connection to Hashem.  For the first time ever in my life, while davening, I felt the presences of G-d in all directions, north, south, east, west, up and down. Maybe it was that there was no fixed walls of home or Shul to limit G-d’s presence. Maybe it was that the ever present winds brought the divine presence to me in all directions. Most likely it was just the euphoria of davening with great people in a great place. But what was true and constant is that I did put a bit of myself into my davening which enabled me to connect to Hashem in a whole new way.

Our Connection To Where We Live

Amazing Sunset Myspace Layout 2.0

My commentary on a Parshat Pinchas commentary by a Rebbe and Tzaddik

What jumped out to me in the the following commentary (click at end of this post to read original commentary) on Parshat Pinchas by the Tzidkas Yosef of Pittsburgh ZT”L,  is another example of how we must always stay connected to this earth and where we live.

While we must make every effort to create a holy place to dwell in, for both G-d and mankind, we must also remain connected to the place where one lives, as well as the wider world around us. Don’t isolate yourself from, or shut yourself off to, the wider world and the things that G-d has bestowed upon us. This idea is especially important for our leaders and Tzaddikm who must also remain connected to where they live and the wider world around them. This is so they can properly lead and inspire their followers that have to live and breath in not only the Judaic world, but the wider world as well.

This is just what came to my mind when reading commentary on parshat Pinchas by The Tzidkas Yosef , Rabbi Yosef Leifer of Pittsburgh. Maybe it is my strong Chabad influence, so I look at everything with a “Chabad” eye, but I see many similarities between Chabad philosophy and Pittsburgh Chassidic philosophy.  Pittsburgh Chassidic Movement

If you feel my commentary is a little off, please comment below.
Enjoy the following commentary by the Tzidkas Yosef . Click Here

As a note, I went to a Farbrengen tonight and the idea of staying connected to where one lives and shlichus came up more than a few times by the Rebbe of Chabad (in a video from the 80’s). What an inspiring night, with wise and insightful comments and insights from my Rabbi and mentor.