Monday, November 09, 2009

The Magic Mezuzah

It is said that having a mezuzah on your door will protect your home, just as wearing the talit katan will protect your person. First let me say that I do not doubt either of these statements. What has puzzled me was what was meant by “protection” and how exactly that protection was affected. Was protection to be understood as a metaphor? Meaning to guard your behavior? Seeing the mezuzah or the tzitzit would then merely be a reminder to stay on track and behave properly as a Jew. Thus your life as a Jew would be protected from outside influences. Or perhaps protection is meant literally. The mezuzah functions as an amulet putting some sort of mystic shield around your home.

Now I hold with the literal understanding of protection, but as to how it functioned I did not know. Maybe angelic powers were invoked by the hanging of the mezuzah, maybe the parchment itself emitted protective energy. Then I came across this passage:

Rabbi Abba said, “In so many places the blessed Holy One cares for His children! A person builds a house; the blessed Holy One says to him, ‘Write My name and place it at the entrance. You dwell within your house, and I will sit outside at your entrance to protect you.’
Zohar 2:36A Pritzker Edition, Daniel Matt, p. 161.

Ah, Hashem Himself guards those that fulfill his commandments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flowering of Hadasim

Every year after Sukkot I take the aravot and hadasim and stick them in a pot of dirt and try to root them, generally about half of them survive. The aravot do great here and have grown to about eight feet in height. The hadasim, however, do not do so well, it is probably not warm enough for them, our climate being the exact opposite of dry, warm, and semi-tropical. So they grow an inch or two a year and that is about it. This year the healthiest plant formed blossoms and flowered.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Different Day, Same Old, Same Old

Not being able to concentrate on davening is nothing new, and it is a problem that I am not alone in. In the Talmud Bavli it discusses how long one must maintain their concentration during the Shema, with one commentator suggesting that only for the first word is adequate. That is about where I am most of the time. During the prayer service I find I start to lose my focus somewhere after the word Baruch. I am not talking about not maintaining the proper mystical kavanah for each letter, more on the order of mentally reviewing the day’s chore list. No matter what intentions I start out with, pretty soon I have drifted away. In line with this I recently came across the following passage:

From Likutey Moharan #30:7:
“..all the confusions of the mind and all the disturbances and all the foolishness which we at times experience, are all drawn into our prayers. For all the disturbances, etc., and all the thoughts which a person occasionally thinks, all come to mind precisely at the time of prayer. Precisely then, when he gets up to pray, he hears them all;…
This happens in two manners. One possibility is that they come to be rectified. Because they have seen that the person is praying with proper concentration, they therefore come to be rectified, as this is the time when such correction is possible. For they have in them holy sparks that are in need of rectification. Another possibility is that the person is not fit to pray, and they come to disturb him from his praying.
No matter what the reason, it is precisely then, at the time of prayer, that all a person’s confusions and all his disturbances come and make themselves heard to him.”

Now there is no way I can fool myself into thinking that anything has come by me to be rectified by my deep spiritual intent so that leaves me firmly settled into category number two. “Not fit to pray,” not really the statement that anyone wants to hear. But the elucidation to the passage gives back some hope.

Commentary based on this passage Likutey Moharan vol, IV, Breslov Research Institiute, p.307 :
“Rebbe Nachman taught that when a person sins and then wishes to repent, the Attribute of Judgment denounces him as unfit and puts obstacles in his way. G-d then has to hide Himself, as it were, within the obstacles, thereby holding out a hidden hand to the person to assist him in repenting. In our context, if a person is “not fit” – i.e., he has erred or sinned - Judgment indicts him and creates obstacles which do not let him pray. (Yet, G-d is also hidden within the obstacles to prayer. After all, it is a mitzvah; G-d wants a person to pray to Him even if he is not fit,...”

So all hope is not lost, I can keep hammering away, trying to concentrate, and ask for Hashem’s help, after all, “G-d wants a person to pray to Him even if he is not fit.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Burning Down the House

It seems that the yetzer has decided to mobilize in a full out assault this year. It is doing its best to reinforce all my bad habits, completely distract me, during davening and learning time, with the most inappropriate thoughts and ideas, and generally make my life miserable. It reminds me of a story:

A Rebbe and his followers are walking through a town when they see a man sifting through the ashes of his house. The man is picking through the debris trying to salvage anything he can use to rebuild. The Rebbe exclaims to his followers, “See how holy this man is, he grabs what he can to make a new start, and is not stopped by what has happened to him, he is only looking ahead. The yetzer hara is like this, it will oppose you to the point of burning you down almost completely in an attempt to destroy you. You must cling to the good points that you still have and not be deterred.”

Man. I can smell the smoke and feel the flames.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


"All your downheartedness and depression too is all just another barrier setting itself in your way. It has to be broken. For above all, you must work to break depression, which is more harmful, G-d forbid, than anything else! Gevalt! Do not be afraid, my beloved son! Do not be afraid! G-d really is with you! Remember what our master, teacher and Rebbe, of blessed memory, said, "G-d is great and we know nothing of it at all. Even when it comes to you people and to wherever each one of you has fallen. But there is a phenomenon whereby everything turns into good, for His greatness is unfathomable." You must really believe and know that these words of the Rebbe's are also directed at you, the way you are right now! Even someone thousands and tens of thousands of levels worse, G-d forbid, is also included in these words. And were this worst person to hear these words, he too would inspire himself with eternal life forever, and would not throw his life away."

From: Eternally Yours, Collected Letters of Reb Noson of Breslov, Vol. II, pg. 198.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Waiting for Elul

I am counting down the days until the beginning of Elul. I know that a person can do teshuvah at any time but Elul is like the moving sidewalks in the airport. You can walk all the way out to the departure gate, but if you walk on the moving sidewalk you can just fly through the airport. For me Elul is like that.
Last year I had let things really slip, my observance and learning level dropped way down and then Elul came and jolted me awake. I spent all of this year clawing my way up just trying to get back to my previous level and I still have a ways to go. So, I am looking towards Elul, waiting for that spiritual push to help me on my way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Virtual Sun

After writing the previous post, on reflection, I decided that I was exhibiting a lack of emunah, faith. After all, surely it would be sunny on April 8th, if that was what Hashem intended, and my own efforts in traveling to somewhere the sun was shining would be pointless. This decision was aided by a forecast that showed cloud cover for about 1000 miles in all directions. So I decided to not travel and trust that the sun would be visible here. Also I figured that since the more frequent mitzvah takes precedence, the Pesach Seder should come before the sun blessing, and it was more important to have a proper Seder at home than to have a “take-out” Seder in some hotel.
As you can see from the photo, it was not sunny, not only could the sun not be seen, it was difficult to see the next hill. The hours passed, no clearing, not even lessening of the fog, the children were upset, they had been looking forward to the sun blessing. I was upset; I had been looking forward to the sun blessing. Then I had an idea, if I couldn’t see the sun where I was, and I couldn’t be where the sun was, maybe I could see the sun where the sun was where I was. We called my brother-in-law in Kansas City, was the sun shining there? It was! We connected with Skype, an internet based phone service that allows live conversations with real time images to be transmitted to your computer, he pointed his web cam at the sun and presto, there was the sun, shining in Kansas City and in our office simultaneously.
Now I am not sure that this fit all the halachic requirements, but we could see the sun just as if we were looking at it through a window, it’s just that the other side of the glass was 2000 miles away.