Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leaders Don't Fail Me Now

The last mishnah in Massechet Taanit lists five events that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz and five that occurred on Tisha B'Av. It states that the חטא עגל took place on the 17th of Tammuz, and the חטא מרגלים took place on Tisha B'Av.

Normally I would have thought that the חטא עגל was a more serious failure of B'nei Israel than the חטא מרגלים. Even a rabid Chassidic Zionist like myself would admit that Avodah Zarah is a greater aveirah than refusing to make aliyah. What exactly were Chazal thinking when they declared that the חטא מרגלים could be compared the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash?

Maybe it was the role of the leaders in both of these events that was the major factor. In the חטא עגל Aharon HaKohen failed spectacularly as the leader of the Jewish people and was unable to prevent them from committing Avodah Zarah. However, Aharon may not have been the best charismatic leader to stand before an unruly mob and stop them from committing a heinous aveirah. And thus eventually, he was pardoned for his failed attempt as a leader of the Jewish people.

The חטא מרגלים is a different story. Each of the twelve tribes sent one of their best leaders to scout out Eretz Israel. Ten of them came back and blatantly lied to B'nei Israel about what they found. These leaders directly went against HaShem's wish and caused the untimely destruction of an entire generation of B'nei Israel. I cannot imagine a greater crisis of leadership - all ten leaders failed their constituency when they needed them the most. This mass failure of leadership is why the חטא מרגלים was compared to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and was considered to be a greater aveirah than the חטא עגל.

Not only do I hope that this is our last Tisha B'Av and that the Mashiach will come ASAP. I also hope that we can learn from the mistake of the חטא מרגלים and we will be blessed with excellent leaders.

Tzom Kal.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Train in Vain (aka - To Daven or Not to Daven)

The great minyan trainI had yet another great experience on the Messilat Yesharim Train minyan. The train goes from Yerushalayim, to Beit Shemesh, to Ramla and Lod, and finally to Tel Aviv. The Shacharit minyan starts at Beit Shemesh. The minyan takes place in the last car on the train and sometimes when we get on the car there are "not-yet davening Yerushalmis" sitting in the minyan train car. The apparent policy of the minyan is to live and let live. We don't bother them and we hope that they won't bother us. Usually, these few individuals decide to leave the car and find another seat. Since there are plenty of available seats, I don't feel too bad that they have to move.

However, this week I came on the train and found twelve rowdy teenagers sitting in the minyan car! All of the minyanites exchanged nervous glances and wondered how this situation was going to resolve itself. What made the situation more difficult was that the teenagers were sitting in the middle of the car and forced the minyan to take place around them. Now you don't have to be a High School teacher to know that trying to move a bunch of teenagers is more dangerous than shakin' a stick in a rattlesnake nest. Nevertheless, we all put on our tallit and tefillin and began to daven.

And then a miracle happened. I don't want to be overdramatic (or over-Chassidic) but I would call twelve teenagers who are sitting in the middle of an impromptu Shacharit minyan on a train and manage to whisper for 30 minutes - a flat out miracle worthy of saying Hallel. Now saying Hallel is wonderful and uplifting, but this story gets better. Two of these pintele yids heard their neshamot crying out to do a mitzvah and responded. It was as if the Ba'al Shem Tov himself came onto the train and inspired two of these teenage boys to lay tefillin and daven Shacharit. The Tikkun Olam in the train was overwhelming. As we exited the train to go to work, the Messilat Yesharim regulars had a spark in their eyes. They looked at each other and confirmed that they had been part of something special.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Halakhot of Everyday Objects

Jackie Robinson holding a kli/baseball batThis week's Parshah, מטות-מסעי, contains the source for the halakhot of kosher dishes.
31:21 Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers returning from the campaign: This is the rule that God commanded Moses:
31:22 As far as the gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead are concerned,
31:23 whatever was used over fire must be brought over fire and purged, and [then] purified with the sprinkling water. However, that which was not used over fire need only be immersed in a mikvah.

The pesukim describe that all of the metal that was captured from the Midianites must be kashered before it can be used by B'nei Israel. How is the metal kashered? The famous halakhik dictum states: כבלעו, כך פלטו. Loosely translated as, "What goes in, has gotta come out." If the non-kosher taste was absorbed via heat, then it will come out of the metal via heat.
One of the lesser known elements of these halakhot is that they only apply to an object which has been halakhically designated as a kli.

I hear a timid voice calling to me from the hinterlands of the Internet, "Oh great Kabbalah u'Maddah person, what exactly is a kli?" Wow, I am so glad that you asked that question. Quite simply, a kli is a physical object (usually a finished product) that is used by a person. The key litmus test to know whether or not any given object is a kli is: can the object become טמא? If it can become טמא then it is a kli. For example, based on the pesukim from Chapter 31 in this weeks Parshah (from Sefer BaMidbar) a sword is a kli, because it can become טמא.

Now it starts to get interesting, because a plain piece of wood (like a two by four) is not a kli because it is not a finished product. But if I take this piece of wood, put it in a lathe, and 30 minutes later I have a baseball bat - which is a kli. One more example, a tree branch lying on the ground is not a kli. But if I take the tree branch and use it as a walking stick - behold I am holding a kli! (Note - the halakhot of kelim are quite complicated and you should consult your LOR for any הלכה למעשה questions, which are mainly related to טבילת כלים . Certainly you could (and should) ask your LCR the same questions, but I don't want to further complicate your lives.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Technical Writing and Kabbalah

CAT-5 WireNow that I am back on the Kabbalah and Chassidut band wagon (at least for a little bit), I want to share an idea regarding my two careers: Rabbinics and Technical Writing. I am going to boldly go where no human has gone before. I have already done the Google search and behold - this is the first piece on the ENTIRE Internet that attempts to combine Technical Writing and Kabbalah. Folks, do not try this at home - I am a highly trained professional.

The picture that you see before you is a humble CAT-5 cable. It contains 8 individual wires which are twisted together and then covered to form one fairly thick cable. In layman's terms a CAT-5 cable is capable of transmitting speeds up to 100 Megabits per second. There are other types of cables that are slower than a CAT-5 cable, and some that are faster. In more scientific terms used by us Technical Writers, a CAT-5 wire transmits data "in the blink of an eye." A CAT-4 cable is a little slower (has smaller bandwidth) and can only transmit data "in three blinks of an eye." CAT-6 cable can transmit data even faster, "in the wink of an eye." And then there are fiber optic cables which are so fast that they use, "pre-wink data transfer protocol." (PWDTP for short) I apologize for all of that technical mumbo-jumbo, but it is an necessary part of the trade. The bottom line is, almost all of you probably use CAT-5 cable to connect to the Internet so that you can receive spam and watch YouTube at blindingly fast speeds.

Kabbalistically speaking, each of us has a connection to HaShem and it transmits the impact of our mitzvot and aveirot to the higher worlds. You can think of this connection as a network cable. If your connection with HaShem is a CAT-5 cable, then that defines how much you are able to affect the higher worlds. The greater the bandwidth of your connection with HaShem, the greater impact that you can have on these worlds. To carry this metaphor farther than it should be carried, let's pretend that you have a connection to HaShem that is comparable to a CAT-4 cable. Every time you do a mitzvah or an aveirah, that CAT-4 cable transmits that mitzvah or aveirah to the higher worlds. Your impact on the higher worlds is limited by the bandwidth of your connection with HaShem. Thus, if you do teshuvah and improve yourself, you can create a stronger connection to HaShem and "upgrade" to a CAT-5 cable. According to this משל, the Tzaddikim in this world would have a fiber optic connection to HaShem. Not only does would this connection give them a special relationship with HaShem, but according to the stories, it would even allow them to affect miraculous changes in this world.

One final word about fiber optic Jews - according to Chassidut and Kabbalah, doing mitzvot and learning Torah are not enough to "upgrade" your connection to HaShem. Torah and mitzvot are the "data" that are transmitted across your connection. Only by learning Kabbalah and Chassidut can you learn how to "upgrade" your connection with HaShem.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Chassidic Story

Some of you may have noticed that I have moved away from the mission of this blog: to propogate and educate the world in Kabbalah and Chassidut (with a modern twist). Well - I'm back. I will doff my Biblical trappings of the past few weeks and don a shtreiml and bekeshe. (Is there actually a correct spelling in English for bekeshe? Maybe it is a kind of onomatopoeia. The sound that is produced as you stroke your hand down a black silky coat - b'kesh.)

I have started attending a shiur given by my LCR - Local Chassidishe Rebbe, and I am going to attempt to share a story that he told us. Yet another Shameless Zionist Plug - other than Monsey Ir HaKodesh, I am not sure how many LCR's there are in America. Naturally here in Israel, they make themselves available to a spiritually needy public.

Like any good Chassidic story, the emphasis is the ambience and not the veracity of the details. Pull up a bowl of cholent and feast your eyes on a classic piece of Jewish lore.

It is said of Reb Simchah Bunam of Peshisca, that he was always the last person to enter a tisch or simchah. The reason for this is connected to Reb Simchah Bunam's cheshbon haNefesh - he was constantly striving to acheive the middah of aneivut (humility). He would stand outside the Shteibl or Beit Midrash and look at every Jew that was sitting inside. Reb Simchah would determine how is this Jew a better mentsch than me? In what way am I a worse Jew than that person? Only after he had compared himself to every Jew that was inside, then Reb Simchah Bunim himself would enter.

One leil Shabbat Reb Simchah Bunim stood outside his Shteibl and reviewed the crowd who had come to the tisch. He saw one Jew who had committed a terrible aveirah during the past week. Reb Simchah Bunim asked himself, "How can I possibly be lower than that Jew?" He stood swaying from side to side for over half an hour, trying to imagine some way that he could be lower than this particular Jew sitting inside. Finally, his face lit up as he found the solution to his problem. He told himself, "If I had committed that aveirah (chas v'sholom), I would never have showed up to my Rebbe's Tisch that same week!" And then R. Simchah Bunim went into the tisch with a spirit of aneivut.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Andy Statman - Mystical Music

I am getting ready for Shabbat and listening to one of my favorite musicians, Andy Statman. I suddenly realized that some of my faithful readers and followers may be ignorant of this musical genius. Here is a YouTube video showing his musical brilliance. I highly recommend Between Heaven and Earth, it is the most creative Klezmer-Jazz fusion album I have ever heard.

Shabbat Shalom.