73 posts categorized "Hashkafa - Jewish outlook"

Rabbi Lazer's Chanukah Message: Mattatyahu's Courage

Kever Mattatyahu
Image above: the holy gravesite of Mattatyahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), father and spiritual leader of the Maccabees

Happy Chanuka!

Mattatyahu Cohen HaGadol, whom we remember every time we say the "Al HaNissim" prayer during Chanuka, is buried in a cave in a forest, about a kilometer north of Highway 443 near Mevo Modiin, which Hashem enabled me to visit yesterday.

Mattatyahu and his sons fought a double war - not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the 95% of the Jewish people who had become assimilated Hellenists. But because of his steadfast, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Hashem, to his emuna, to the Torah and to his homeland, he was able to overcome all obstacles and instill the fire of emuna and total dedication in the hearts of his brave sons and daughter.

Where did he get his strength and courage from?

Nothing gives a person strength like clarification of the truth. A person who knows the truth and who lives according to the truth is as fierce as a lion. He is not willing to live a lie; so, if you take the truth away from him, he'll no longer regard his life as worth living. That's why our ancestors in every generation all the way back to our forefather Abraham were willing to sacrifice their last breath and heartbeat for our faith in Hashem and our Torah.

Mattatyahu and his sons Yehuda, Elazar, Shimon, Yochanan and Yonatan knew the truth. For a servant of Hashem, life is worthless without Torah, emuna, and holiness. The Hellenists fooled themselves while trying to dilute the truth and appease the Syrian Greeks, but the latter wanted to destroy it altogether and to substitute it with a life of pursuing bodily amenities.

Did Hashem send our souls down to this lowly earth just for another piece of steak, another fling with the opposite sex, or another NBA game? Those who waste their lives in the pursuit of material appetites are neither happy nor fulfilled. What's worse, they haven't devoted a single minute to clarifying the truth.

21" biceps won't give you courage. Truth and emuna will.

If the Prime Minister of Israel would clarify the truth, no foreign pressure in the world would sway him a single millimeter. If a teenager would clarify the truth, then he'd say no to the stupid things that his peers are doing. If a woman knew the truth, she wouldn't care if her neighbors called her "nebby" or "yachna" for dressing the way Hashem wants her to dress. If a man would be honest with himself, he'd realize how contemptible it would be to sacrifice one's entire family for a few moments of illicit thrills.

Mattatyahu and his sons were masters at truth clarification. They weren't willing to live for two minutes without the truth. That's where they derived the courage to fight a virtually impossible war. And that's why they won.

While we're basking in the holy light of the Chanuka candles, let's ponder the real meaning of this beautiful festival that commemorates the miracle of the few prevailing over many, the pure prevailing over the impure, and the light prevailing over darkness. Let's remember the dedication and commitment of Mattatyahu and his sons. Let's strengthen ourselves and carry their torch of Torah and truth, no matter what the odds. We can do it. All we need is emuna. Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat Chanuka!

Pittsburgh, Wild Fires and Hamas Rockets

I didn't want to write about Pittsburgh or the wild fires, but people have been repeatedly requesting. So before I write, I recite this short prayer and ask Hashem to illuminate my eyes to the message He wants to convey to our people wherever they are, in Israel and abroad. I pray that Hashem should guide me to truth, which as Rebbe Nachman teaches, can only be attained through emuna and self-nullification. Hashem, let this post be for Your honor exclusively and for the good of our people, amen!

On Shabbat, Oct. 27, 2018, the angel of death masquerading as arch Jew-hater Robert Bowers entered the Shabbat morning services of the "Tree of Life" synagogue in Pittsburgh and gunned down eleven of our holy brethren, of blessed and sacred memory, all martyrs, including a 97-year-old woman, a husband and wife, and two brothers. Yes, they were conservative Jews but all hand-picked by Hashem to be holy martyrs. Why holy martyrs? Our people, because of a certain blemish they've not yet overcome, need martyrs to atone for them. The angel of death and his accomplices such as the Neo-Nazis and other terrorists simply do the dirty work. Guns fire bullets; the martyrs' deaths according to Kabbalah was death by fire.

At the time of this writing, the fires in California have taken the lives of 48 people that authorities know about; that number is expected to rise as rescue teams make it into areas that they previously had no access to. Over 8000 people have lost their homes, many of them Jews. Many others have been evacuated (remindful of Gush Katif?). They are now in a double exile, or an exile within an exile. This is a double atonement, not only for them but for all of our people. The Gemara says that losing one's assets is tantamount to death. This atonement and cleansing of sin here is again by fire.

By no small coincidence, when the final campaigning for the runoff of the municipal elections in Israel was taking place, and Jews were slinging the worst type of mud at one another including the worst type of infighting between different camps of Orthodox Jews, Hostilities broke out in Gaza. 470 missiles rained down on the south of Israel, also leading to repeated exile - from homes to bomb shelters. Miraculously, only one person was killed but many suffered loss of homes just like our brethren in Southern Califormia. I repeat - missile fire - once again, the atonement and cleansing of sin here is again by fire, and that's after the recent weeks where thousands of acres in the south of Israel have been burned by wild fires caused by incendiary balloons from Gaza. Once more, the culprit of fire.

Pittsburgh, California, Sderot or Ashkelon - it doesn't matter. We are one people like one body. The schism between American and Israeli Jews is inane. OK, there's an ideological difference between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews - granted. But we're all brothers. The intramural hate destroyed the holy Temple. Our sages call the intramural hate, fire of contention.  This comes from one of King Solomon's sayings (Proverbs 25:24) which says, "It is better to dwell in a roof corner than in a house with with the fire of contention." 

Your dictionary will define contention as discordconflictfrictionstrifedissension, and/or disharmony. Is this not the state of the Jewish People today? My beloved teacher Rav Shalom Arush constantly calls for an end to this. He warns against speaking detrimentally against any other Jew on earth, even those who cause us the worst grief. Do we hear any other voice saying the same thing, or do we only hear the so-called leaders who despise other Jews "for the sake of Hashem". When will they ever learn?

The fire of Pittsburgh, California and the South of Israel all come to atone for the fire of contention and intramural hate.

Guess what:

Almost a thousand years ago, the holy Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid said that an enemy can not touch a hair on a Jewish head until one Jew harms another Jew, even verbally. The holy Chafetz Chaim said the same thing before he left this world, less than nine decades ago. Do you realize what that means?

Any Jew who hates any other Jew - no matter the color, origin, creed or ideology - creates a negative spiritual force that embodies itself in a terrorist, a missile or a wildfire. Anyone who doesn't do immediate teshuva for hating their fellow Jew cannot say, "My hands did not spill the blood of Pittsburgh, give power to Hamas, or fan the fires of California.

For our own future, let's start loving one another. One cannot love a fellow Jew unless he/she first strengthens themselves in emuna, believing that we all have the same Father in Heaven, for the Torah tells us that we are His children. Nothing gives a parent more pleasure when his/her children love each other. May we all follow the path of loving one another and may this be the end of sorry for our people everywhere, amen.

Functional Fitness and Faith

Functional Fitness

If you're carrying a full-load backpack on an uphill trail without huffing and puffing, you're functionally fit. The same goes for carrying two six-packs of 1.5 liter bottles of mineral water home from the grocery store...

Did you ever ask yourself, "Why did the Creator give me a body?" Surprisingly, most people don't know the answer.

Craig has humongous biceps from the hundreds of heavyweight dumbbell curls he does every day. Yet, when his wife asked him to take down a can of tuna from the top shelf in her kitchen pantry, he couldn't do it because his shoulders were too tight. He simply couldn't raise his arms that high, despite his 6'1" frame. Frustrated, his 5'3" wife stood on a kitchen chair and took the can of tuna down herself.

In her own words, Marianne "feels dead" if she misses a day of spin class. She spins for an hour a day, proud of her figure yet she eats whatever she wants because she burns about 700 calories in one session. But, she's so into her peddling as the techno-background music pumps her up, that she slouches over the handlebars, which she grips tightly. Her figure isn't too slightly because she can't stand up straight. What's more, she can only carry her attaché case to work (weighs about 5 pounds, including laptop) in her right hand because she's developed lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in her left arm. So now, in addition to her slouching, she walks with one shoulder higher than the other because she only lifts things with one hand.

Yaacov, in his quest for six-pack abs, does over a thousand crunches a day. Sure, his stomach muscles are like iron but his hip flexors and lumbar spine are so tight that he can't touch his toes without deeply bending his knees. Yaacov looks good on the beach but he sorely lacks inner core strength and like Marianne, his posture is terrible.

Naomi is the women's weightlifting champion of her gym. She can military press and bench press more than women twice her size. Yet, the other day, she bent over to pick up her baby and she pulled her back out.

What's wrong with Craig, Marianne, Yaacov and Naomi? They are into what you might call "cosmetic fitness", working out for the flashy body, the bulging biceps, the six-pack abs, the "Hey, look at me!" legs and the general Miss or Mister America body. Yet, they lack functional fitness. They can't perform basic functions in life. Their workouts are wrong and they oftentimes are detrimental to overall health rather than conducive to it. How?

The muscle/bikini beach crowd focus on isolated muscle groups rather than on multiple muscle groups working together in harmony. In the words of Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with a company called Muscle Activation Techniques who has worked with athletes from the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets, and the Utah Jazz, "Conventional weight training isolates muscle groups, but it doesn't teach the muscle groups you're isolating to work with others".

Hashem gave us a body to house the soul. The Rambam speaks extensively about maintaining the healthy body in order to maintain a healthy soul. What's more, as the Sefer Charedim teaches us, our various limbs and appendages are for the purpose of performing Hashem's commandments, His mitzvoth. Our motivation in exercise, just as our motivation should be in all our other bodily functions, should be to serve Hashem.

When we're healthier, we're quicker and more agile in our daily functions, particularly in performing His mitzvoth. Therefore, we should focus on "functional fitness". Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of hide-and-seek with your children.

You don't have to spend hours in a gym. Fifteen minutes a day of functional fitness exercises are sufficient to keep you feeling great. Although I love such total body kettlebell exercises as deadlifts, goblet squats and kettlebell swings because of all the muscles they involve, you don't need any apparatus. Such bodyweight exercises as pushups, front and side lunges, squats and planks will keep you fit from head-to-toe. Shlepping groceries up three flights of stairs works wonders too...

Then again, functional fitness works great with faith: the only thing that beats an hour of walking is talking to Hashem in personal prayer during that hour of walking. G-d willing, time permitting, I hope to do some functional fitness tutorials in the future. Meanwhile, you're welcome to view these. Never forget also that good dietary habits are twice as important as exercise. Shabbat is for delight, but not for eating into oblivion, especially grossly unhealthy things. All good diets tolerate, even encourage, one cheat-day a week but that doesn't mean alcohol and pastry suicide. Like our working out, our eating and drinking should be for the sake of maintaining a fit body to serve Hashem for 120 happy and healthy years, amen! Blessings for a lovely Shabbat and delightful weekend!

Rabbi Lazer Brody is the editor of the Breslev Israel English-language website and the Mashpia Ruchni (Spiritual Dean) of Breslev Israel. He is also a certified fitness trainer and health coach.

A Fence of Roses

Fence of Roses

The Gemara tells the following story (Ketubot 66b): Rebbe Yochanan ben Zakai was riding on a donkey a short time after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and vanquished Jerusalem. On the outskirts of the city, he saw a young woman gathering grains of undigested barley from amongst the droppings of Arab-owned cattle. As soon as she noticed him, she sprung to her feet, covered her hair and pleaded, "Rebbe, give me something to sustain myself." He asked her who she was. She answered that she was Nakdamon Ben Gurion's daughter, who before the destruction of the Holy Temple, was the richest man in Jerusalem.

Our sages comment on the above episode and say, "How fortunate you are, O Israel! When you do Hashem's will, you are above the angels; no nation can prevail over you. But when you don't do Hashem's  will, you are not only subservient to the most contemptible of nations and even below their cattle, but you are even below the droppings of their cattle."

No, there's not much middle ground for a Jew - it's either good or evil. A tzaddik who maintains a standard of impeccable personal holiness is higher than an angel; he gives off the spiritual fragrance of Gan Eden. But a lowlife who breaches every clause of personal holiness stinks worse than the dung of an animal.

King Solomon in Song of Songs (7:3) describes the Jewish People who fulfill Hashem's will as a "fence of roses". Why a fence of roses? Why the juxtaposition of the beauty and the thorns? What's the praise here?

The Jewish Laws of modesty for women and personal holiness for men seem to many people like thorns in the side. They are! Their purpose is to keep people from toying with the roses, which symbolize the beauty of the Jewish woman. All unauthorized personnel must keep their distance. Anyone who doesn't look at what is not rightfully his by way of holy marital bond will certainly not touch what is not rightfully his. That's the fence of roses. 

Israel's Task

Rav Kook-Jlem

Let's see how well you know our great leaders, of blessed memory. Who said the following quote?

The unique strength of the Jewish people is not for self-centered nationalism, for military conquests and national aggrandizement. The eternal nature of Israel must be understood within the context of their special mission, to promulgate God's Name in the world.

Here's a hint - the same tzaddik also said this quote:

I did reveal the fundamental failure of the Zionists’ entire enterprise, namely the fact that they do not place at the top of their list of priorities the sanctity of God and His great Name, which is the power that enables Israel to survive.

1. Rebbe Yoel of Satmer

2. The Lubavitcher Rebbe

3. Rav Avraham Yitchak HaCohen Kook

4. The Chazon Ish

5. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld

Not a single one of my national religious friends got the above quiz right. Most answered #1, #4, or #5...

If you answered #3, you're right. Rubbing your eyes? So many things have been done and said in Rav Kook's name. But Rav Kook, like all our other spiritual luminaries, saw our task first and foremost as "light unto the nations." What's more, in light of the above, I don't think that Rav Kook zatza"l would have agreed to the Nationality Law, which, "aims to codify Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people" - the Torah already does that! Then again, do you think for a moment that Rav Kook would have tolerated pride parades in Jerusalem or female instructors in IDF combat units? No and no! Back to the textbooks, brothers and sisters.

After I wrote the above post, Hashem reminded me that today is the third of Elul, the yahrtzeit of Rav Kook, marking his passing 83 years ago. Please light a candle for HaRav Avraham Yitzchak ben Shlomo Zalman HaCohen. Rav Kook's love for Eretz Yisroel and for every single Jew knew no bounds. May his saintly and blessed memory intercede in our behalf, amen! 

Battle for Air Supremacy: IAF F-16s vs. Hamas Kites

Wheat Field Israel Fire Gaza
It's so absurd, so surreal, so astonishing and so pitiful that it makes you laugh; that is, unless you're a Jewish Israeli, for if you are, you've gotta cry...

The world's most daring, most highly-sophisticated and most combat-proven Air Force - Israel's - cannot guarantee the security of our skies, as the fresh new fires in the south of Israel attest. The Air Force can't stop the incendiary kites that Hamas teenagers are setting free in the breezes blowing off the Mediterranean. The David's Sling and Iron Dome missile defense systems - the best in the world - are powerless against the Hamas kiddie kites, as thousands of burn acres of fields and forests, painstaking grown in the Western Negev desert, bear witness to (above image).

Elections are coming soon in Israel. The Government knows that it better return security to the south, or they'll lose a chunk of votes to the opposition. So where the IDF has failed, they've been grovelling behind the scenes asking the Egyptians to mediate a deal which is complete capitulation to Hamas. The Hamas kids have succeeded where terrorist rocket barrages have not.

Neither the Government nor the IDF gets the message. Nobody in the religious parties bothered to explain it to them. Sitting in the upholstered seats that are ever so comfortable, they continue to drink coffee around the Government's mahogany table and didn't say a world about the defilement of Jerusalem or Hashem's Torah that we protested last week. The Government of Israel thinks that its Nationality Law makes it kosher, but that's no more kosher than a kosher-style hot dog that they sell in Mets' Stadium. Hashem sends the incendiary kites and balloons as a wake-up call for the Government to realize that it's surreal, supernatural and absurd for the IDF and IAF to be rendered so ineffective by terrorist kiddies. So what do they do? The Government et al try to circumvent Hashem and cave in to Hamas. That won't work. It never did and never will.

This coming Shabbat is the beginning of the teshuva-month of Elul. It's time for national teshuva. Government capitulation to terror as a means of trying to circumvent Hashem, as so painfully proven by the disastrous Disengagement of 2005, is always a mistake. May Hashem help and torpedo the surrender to evil, from within and from without.

What do we learn from this? Hedonism, self-interest and self-indulgence are incompatible with self-assessment. And it doesn't matter whether the hedonist has a kippa on his head or not; the only difference between the religious hedonist and the secular one is whether or not there's a kosher certificate on the wall of the fancy resort where they're spending the weekend. Meanwhile, the firefighters in the south of Israel are spending their weekends fighting fires in fields and trying to save what's left to save in southern Israel's fields, forests and farms.

"My people don't open their eyes" (Isaiah 1:3). We need emuna more than ever.

Misplaced Pride

Lost Ship
One of the proudest Jews I ever met was Menachem Begin, our Prime Minister from 1977 to 1983. Life was different in Israel then. I would frequently and freely visit friends in Gaza City, Jazi and Ibrahim, whose family owned an ice-cream factory. My Druze friend Suleiman from Daliat el Carmel and I would often go hiking together. My bosom buddy was Naif from the Arab village of Tira, east of Kfar Saba. In my reserve unit, a very close comrade and one of the best medics in our unit was Ronnie, who was gay; nobody made a big deal about it and he didn't flaunt it. As long as you did your duty the best way possible, nobody cared. Ronnie, by the way, got along great with our battalion rabbi, Captain Yoni from Bnei Brak, who was all love and brotherhood without trying to push any agenda on anyone. He was there if you needed him.

How different things have become. Menachem Begin was a proud Jew but his pride was not at the expense of any minorities. In fact, because he didn't feel like a 2nd-rate human, and because of his lack of a Jewish-inferiority complex, Begin was courageous enough to engineer a peace treaty with Egypt that has lasted to and through this day. Menachem Begin was the one who uplifted Sephardi Jews from their second-rate status under the elitist secular Ashkenazi left.

In biblical Hebrew, an "uplifted heart" means arrogance, the negative type of pride. The Torah warns, "Lest your heart be uplifted, and you forget Hashem" (Deuteronomy 8:14). In other words, as soon as a person is arrogant in any way, he or she forgets Hashem. As such the Gemara says in the Name of Hashem (Tractate Arachin 16b), "The person with the uplifted heart and I cannot dwell in the same universe." Wherever there's arrogance, Hashem is not there...

Is all pride arrogance? Of course, not. When the Tanach describes King Yehoshafat, who strengthened himself in emuna, scorned the ways of his errant father King Asa and returned to the ways of his fifth-generation great grandfather King David, it says, "And he uplifted his heart in the ways of Hashem" (Chronicles II, 17:6). In Judaism, "kosher pride" is the pride we have in observing Hashem's commandments. All other pride, as the Gemara and Midrash say, is like stealing the King's robe, for all pride belongs to Hashem.

Now we can understand how without the values of Torah, the Government of Israel and its institutions have become a lost ship with lost pride. How so? Rather than taking pride in serving Hashem, the government is taking pride in going against Hashem. The IDF has lost its mind and lost its way, as subservient to the government. Why are religious combat soldiers, whose emuna is their strongest weapon, forced to listen to transgender lectures? Then, the IDF wonders why it's losing deterrence, and that incendiary balloons are now reaching Beer Sheva. They don't get it. IDF values have so eroded that service personnel have been freely uploading top secrets to social media. In my day, our post cards were censored. Where's internal security in the IDF? The same place that modesty is - out the window. In this day of warped values and mixed gender units that the Torah also warns against (see Deuteronomy 23:15), there's no discipline and no loyalty. The Divine Presence cannot be in such a place; I say this with extreme pain - it's my country and it's the army I gave almost three decades of service to...

Last week, we had a gala Sefer Torah inauguration parade through the streets of our neighborhood (See post below). No one would dream of flaunting our lifestyle by having the parade down at Ashdod's bikini beach. 

So a person chooses a gay or transgender lifestyle, that's his or her business, just like it is if he eats BLT sandwiches. Do what you want behind closed doors. Ultimately, whether people want to believe it or not, we are all totally accountable for everything we do. But why flaunt a lifestyle that the Torah calls an abomination through the streets of Jerusalem? Why must our children be exposed to this public debauchery debacle? No wonder it's called the Pride Parade, because it is only possible because the organizers and the government that allows it have forgotten Hashem.

Another sad indication of the government's spiritual amnesia is the needless Nationality Law. We don't don't need the Government's definition of the Land of Israel - the Torah does that already, and we don't need the Government's help. The silly law has angered and alienated minorities and gives the secular courts the power to define and overrule Torah. Once again, this is case of sorely misplaced pride that both threatens to further uproot Torah and destroy relations with our Druze and Arab citizens.

In case I haven't made myself crystal clear, I vehemently protest the Pride Parade planned for this coming Thursday in our holy city of Jerusalem. And, I vehemently protest any erosion of minority rights in Israel.

Without the Torah, which keeps our country anchored an on course, the government becomes shipwrecked, not washed up on an island, but in the middle of an arid wilderness. Please Hashem, we need Moshiach now!