Friday, May 27, 2011

Preparing to Climb the Mountain

Great pre-Shavuot insights from Hakhel:

Special Note Six: As we move closer to Shavuos, we begin to sense a greater closeness to climbing the mountain itself. During this special period, the Yetzer Hara may be at serious work, actually attempting for us to have a yerida, rather than an aliyah. He has many techniques and trials available to challenge you with at this time: This may go wrong with davening, that may go wrong with learning. This may go wrong at work, that may go wrong at home.... We must especially bolster ourselves, and if there is, in fact, a yerida, we should try to make sure that it instead takes us to a further aliyah. Rather than stumbling, or even despairing from any new, unique or strange pre-Shavuos circumstances or situations--we should use it to propel us higher up the mountain. As Chazal teach, Lefum Tza'ara Agra--according to the necessary effort (such as a steeper mountain) is the fruit born.

In this important regard, Rabbi Eliyahu Schneider, Shlita, provides a great observation. He explains that Pesach and Sukkos may, at least in theory. begin on their own simply by closing your doors at home, driving to a hotel, handing them your credit card, and taking pleasure in the days of Yom Tov. No, preparation, no sweat in advance--and hopefully enjoying Oneg and Simchas Yom Tov with family and/or friends! Shavuos, however, is very different, as its name indicates. There is no Matzah or Seder as there is inherent in Pesach, nor is there a Sukkah to dwell in or a Lulav and Esrog to take, as is part and parcel of Chag HaSukkos. Instead, the essence of the Yom Tov is the ‘Shavuos’--the weeks that precede it--that lead up in preparation to the Yom Tov. Only after, as the Torah refers to it, the Sheva Shabbosos Temimos, can we celebrate Shavuos! There are no particular Mitzvah or Mitzvos associated with this Yom Tov at all, because the preparation for our Kabbalos HaTorah is the essence of the Yom Tov--and the climax is in our hands reaching up and out as we reach the top of the mountain!

We should take the time this Shabbos to reflect upon our preparation and where it will be going over the next 10 days. What will I begin that is new? What is it that I will reinforce? How can I make sure that I will enter Shavuos with the term properly referring to is as Shavuos? Hashem has blessed us with a mind to use. Let us use it for this most sublime and lofty of purposes--which literally fulfills our lives, and even more literally fulfills the world!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mazal tov, it's a girl!

Chaviva Malka Cohen
As some of you may know on Friday night we were privileged to bring our new daughter into the world. Today we named her and as promised here is the story behind the name. We were thinking of girls' names awhile back and since two of my great-grandmothers were named Chaya we thought about that. But my sister already has that name. (We are Sephardi but my husband has a minhag not to name for the living. Go figure.) Even though it would be for the ancestors and not for the sibling he doesn't like to do that either. So we entertained the idea of Chava being an alternative to Chaya but hadn't decided definitively and were still iffy on a middle name as well.

Fast-forward to after the birth. During the day on Shabbat I had some quiet time to reflect and just my siddur and Tehillim to read in the hospital so I opened up Pirkei Avot in the siddur to review/see which ones I remembered in Hebrew. And I came upon 3:18, "Chavivin Yisrael" etc. and it affected me. I was thinking it sounds a bit like a combination of Chava and Aviva (being that we find ourselves in the spring season). But in addition to that it hit me that I really felt beloved. Throughout the birthing process with 2 amazing doulas (my doula and her student) and the post-partum; I just felt like H-shem was watching over me and caring for us in so many ways. The quality of the hospital staff has yet improved further; having the baby on the weekend enabled me to avoid the dynamiting that they are doing nearby during the week; Shabbat itself was relatively quiet and I was able to get a private room. A local organization even sent someone to offer to bring me some extra food to enhance Oneg Shabbat; just as the hospital served their weekday-type kosher lunch and I was missing my usual Shabbat fare.

Even though these all seem like mundane details they all contributed to a wonderful birth experience. I feel like I'm really at a loss to put this into words in the proper way but that's how the name came to us. And yes, it did occur to me that Chaviva can be translated to Aimee (my secular name) but it was not our intention to give the baby my name.

Malka was a name we were throwing around for the last two daughters as well and is after my mother's father as no one has been named for him yet (My son was named for my father's father and my father-in-law's father).

As my husband said, people may or may not like the name someone gives their child but what they may not realize is that that was always that child's name and it is revealed to each person's parents as a form of Ruach HaKodesh (a light form of prophecy) when they name him or her.

Thank you everyone for permitting me to share this story with you and may you all feel beloved as we have.

Full text of Pirkei Avot Chapter 3, Mishnah 18a

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Lead Jews Back

This is from today's Hakhel email. It really touched me that I felt obliged to include it here. It's something I have been thinking about recently and the author expressed the idea very well. We need to internalize in some way the impact of our actions as Kiddush H-shem vs. Chillul H-shem and take pains to avoid the latter. I have personally been a witness to negative impressions that are extremely hard to undo from repeated disrespectful behavior from religious Jews. Fortunately I was also witness to the opposite. We can't realize the impact of just greeting someone pleasantly on the street. I will have to save this story for a future post. It was already posted once on Daily Dose of Kindness.

Special Note Three: We are now only four weeks from the giving of the Torah in 5771. The following is excerpted from the wonderful work Leading Jews Back by Rabbi Sholom Smith, Shlita, based upon the teachings of HaRav Avraham Pam, Z’tl: “What did Rus see in Naomi that impressed her so much? The Midrash (Rus Rabbah 2:5) gives an explanation: Why was she called Naomi? Because her actions were sweet and pleasant. Rus saw in Naomi what a life devoted to Torah and Avodas Hashem can do for a person. She saw her sterling middos, her nobility of spirit, her warmth and caring personality. That was what attracted Rus and motivated her to give up a life of ease and luxury and “return” to Yiddishkeit as a penniless, widowed convert, forced to live off the charity of others. This is the enormous power a person with a pleasant, warm personality and good middos has on other people. He attracts followers like a magnet and can have great influence on their lives. This is a proven method to bring closer to Yiddishkeit those who are estranged from the heritage of their forefathers. While philosophical discussions and proofs of the existence of a Creator are certainly tools in bringing Ba’alei Teshuvah back to their roots, a critical factor is to show how the ways of Torah are pleasant and all its pathways are peace (Mishlei 3:17). This has the drawing power to influence people to a Torah way of life. Derech Eretz precedes Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3). This concept underlines the vital importance of Torah Jews conducting themselves with the utmost courtesy and respect in their interpersonal relationships. They must not forget that wherever they go--whether in the business or professional world, or as neighbors or friends--they represent the Torah. One does not have to be a Rabbi or kiruv professional to influence others. Every Torah Jew presents an image to those around him which, depending on his conduct, will either bring others closer to Yiddishkeit or, c’v, cause estrangement from it. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. This can be seen by the great influence one woman (Naomi) has on another (Rus), which set into motion the chain of events which led to the founding of Malchus Bais Dovid and planted the seeds of Moshiach.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts about the new month, Iyar by Hakhel

Special Note Three: The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim (page 251) writes that our new month of Iyar is tried and tested as a time for refuah, healing, from the ailments and pains that may affect a person. Why is this so? He brings the B’nai Yisaschar, who teaches that most weakness and illness come from foods which do not comport with the person’s nature or composition. The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 4:15) writes likewise. See also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapter 32.

Since the Mon began to fall in this month (on the 16th day of Iyar 2448)--and it was a perfect food from which resulted no sickness, pain or even waste matter (as Dovid HaMelech refers to it in Sefer Tehillim--”lechem abirim”) and even cured those who were ill--Hashem left the curative nature of the month in effect even through today. Accordingly, Iyar is a time of “segulah l’refuah”. In fact, the Ta’amei HaMinhagim notes, the name “Iyar” is an acronym for Ani Hashem Rofecha--I am Hashem, Your Healer.

What can we do to help promote the curative effects of this special time as initiated by the heavenly Mon? Let us reflect upon the following. The Baalei Mussar note that one afflicted with Tzora’as does not ask others directly to pray for him--rather, “VeTameh Tameh Yikra”--he only exclaims that he is “Tameh”, and those who hear him are expected to pray sincerely for him even without his direct request--and notwithstanding that he has sinned to such a great extent that Hashem has actually made him a Metzora. What a great lesson we can learn at this time of year--which is so special for healing, and, moreover, the Omer period, in which our “Bein Odom L’Chavero” is to be seriously improved upon. We should not wait to be asked, or merely be responsive to the request of others, when we hear that someone is not well. Instead, we should “hear the cry” and go out of our way during this auspicious time to daven for those we may not even know, but whom we have heard are in need of a Refuah. An ounce of Tefillah may mean a kilogram of cure.
PRACTICAL SUGGESTION: During this special month, recite a daily special, sincere Kepitel (chapter) of Tehillim for your list of cholim--recognizing that this is a special time for the potency--and importance--of your heartfelt Tefillah!

Additional Note: A reader wrote the following to us: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov writes that the word IYAR is Roshei Taivos of the words ”Oyvai Yoshuvu Yaivoshu Roga,” thus indicating that the month of IYAR is conducive to see a Mapala for the enemies of K’lal Yisroel!” Hakhel Note: When reciting Tachanun during this month we should have especial Kavannah when reciting these words--that they come to immediate reality--with the events of the past week continuing into the present month!

Special Note Four: As we begin this, the Ninth Month of the Year, we continue our program of especially emphasizing one Ani Ma’amin a month--this month with the Ninth Ani Ma’amin--that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will not be another Torah from the Creator. Nothing will be added or subtracted--the Torah will never change. When reciting this Ani Ma’amin, or Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe, or when reciting Birchos Hatorah--recognize the Torah’s greatness--it is here now with you --TO BE AND TO REMAIN AS IT ALWAYS WAS--FOR ALL TIME!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hakhel's Response to Bin Laden Death

Special Note One: A horrific Rasha was eliminated from our midst, and the announcement to the world of this fact was made on 28 Nissan, the date upon which the walls of Yericho fell at the seventh Hakafah of the Bnei Yisroel around the city. Most certainly, a grand lesson to us all is that Hashem takes every deed into account, and rewards and punishes at such time and in such manner as He deems fit. “We are reminded that as a nation there is nothing we can’t do,” is a quote of President Obama when announcing the Rasha’s pegira that flies squarely in the face of not only what we believe--but what we know. It is Hashem and Hashem alone acting and in control from Aleph to Tof. Additionally, Hashem has presented us with a graphic opportunity and display of how All of His Ways are Just, and that no one can hide himself or his deeds on the Day of Judgment. He was responsible for the murder and destruction of the family life of tens of thousands, and has only begun to receive his eternal punishment. We can learn that on our own personal level, LeHavdil, we will have our day on the things we do right, and the things we do wrong. Doesn’t it make a lot of sense to turn the word of Lashon Hara about to be uttered into a conciliatory phrase or even a compliment, a Kavannah-less into a Kavanna-filled prayer, and a minute of Bittul Torah into minute of Talmud Torah. Instead of wasting five minutes on something that you know is really needless, why not make a call to someone who needs Chizuk or think about Teshuva that needs to be done. It is our life--it is precious, it is invaluable, it is everlasting, it is eternal--and it what we make of it!

We asked a close Talmid of HaRav Moshe Wolfson, Shlita, how he felt the great Mashgiach would view these recent events. He responded with a few points:

1. It must be that the Sarim, the Heavenly representatives representing the various Yishmael parties are failing and falling, as a precursor for the Haramas Keren Yisroel;

2. That this is a time U’Viarta HaRa’ah MeKirbecha--a time of ridding the world of each individual’s evil; and

3. Hashem is showing us an Ais Ratzon, and that we should wisely use it with improved Tefillah and increased Torah study. ‘The wise man’s eyes are in his head’, and one should be using his head at this time to enhance his daily Avodas Hashem in a real and tangible way. Every person knows something that he can do in the here and now to improve his daily life.