Archive for March, 2015

Renew It!

March 26, 2015

It’s a beautiful time of year, and I want to share some beautiful words with you.  We’ve just entered the spring, and along with the spring (Pesach) cleaning come some real nice things that we do during the first days of the Jewish month of Nissan.  We say the “tree-hugger’s” blessing (bircat ha’ilan), and we recite the Nasi, or “prince” of the day.  The blessing is said over the newly blooming trees that flower this month, and the nasi is recited in honor of the twelve tribes, each of whom played a part in the inauguration of the mobile temple in the desert – the mishkan.  The tree blessing is to “thank God,” who “created a universe lacking nothing, in order to benefit and provide enjoyment to man.”  And during the recitation of the nasi, we mention all the nice materials that the tribes contributed to the building of the Temple.  But, I never understood the connection between these two events; saying the tree-blessing, and reciting the Nasi.  Here it is – they both occur during the spring.  And the word for spring in Hebrew is aviv.  Spelt in Hebrew, it begins with the word Av, meaning “father,” obviously an allusion to the One above, our Father in heaven.  It is then followed by the two letters yud-beit, which carry the gematria or numerical value of twelve.  So, obviously that is an allusion to the twelve tribes.  So, there you have it – the spring season (aviv) connects the One above with the twelve tribes of Israel.  And why the blessing at this time?  Well, a tree is also an av – a “father.”  It symbolizes a tzaddik or righteous person, whose roots of faith reach deep into the earth, and whose branches represent the different paths of serving God, and whose leaves provide shade or protection, and whose fruit provides provide nourishment.  So, the tree is also an av, a “father” to all of us.  In conclusion then, this particular period of springtime is all about making a connection.  We do it through the Av – the One above and also alluding to the tzaddik, and we do it through the twelve tribes, each of whom provide a separate path of spiritual approach to God.  The spring time, and especially Pesach, is the time to renew our connection!

For more on the subject, and especially on how to connect through Jewish prayer and meditation, go to our site at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  And if that’s not enough and you want to delve deeper into Jewish meditation and prayer, try www.jewishspiritualbooks.com  Finally, for a taste of daily Jerusalem spiritual life, check out www.chabadjerusalem.org  And have a happy and kosher Pesach!

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A Choice Day (and a day of choices)

March 17, 2015

It’s that pleasant stage of the year when Purim is behind us and Pesach is in front of us.  Some call it “living in the shadow of Purim.”  We’re not yet under the influence of Pesach, with all its pressures of cleaning and preparation, and a ray of Purim joy still shines.  So, what do we do?  Well, one thing to do is to take clues from the original Hebrews, the Jews who were wandering in the desert before entering Israel.  At this time of the year, after receiving the Torah, they were building.  They were constructing a beautiful traveling sanctuary composed of all of the most expensive and interesting materials that man has in his possession.  Special skins, rare stones, precious metals and unique wood filled the mishkan, or traveling “tabernacle” in the desert, where God communicated with Moses, who then conveyed God’s word to the Jews.  And it was the Jews themselves who contributed the materials.  So, what we can do now, after Purim, is build.  We may not have the physical building of either the mishkan or the Temple, but we do have our own souls, to work on and to “build.”  Etymologically, the word “build” (boneh) is related to the Hebrew word for meditation (hitbonenut).  By meditating on spiritual concepts, we can build a sort of spiritual sanctuary inside of ourselves, where we can dwell every day for a certain amount of time while we meditate.  While we dwell in our own personal building, we work within it, expanding its horizons and getting acquainted with all the nooks and crannies of our own spiritual edifice.  Perhaps that is our task during this period of the year.  And our hope is that by preparing our own “little sanctuary” within, we will hasten the building of the actual physical Temple as soon as possible.

By the way, the physical Temple was also called the Beit Habechira, or the “House of choice,” since it was there that God chose to make His presence revealed and experienced.  Although we no longer have the temple, we do have some choices to make in Israel today.  It is a day of bechirot, of making choices, at the ballot box.  We should pray for the wisdom to choose correctly.  For more on prayers, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly.  And if you want to delve into the topic of Jewish prayer and meditation, have a look at our suite of Jewish spiritual books at www.jewishspiritualbooks.com.  Finally, for a glimpse into everyday Chabad life in Jerusalem, try www.chabadjerusalem.org   Have a great day!

Jerusalem Music Festival

March 11, 2015

Tonite reminded me of one of the reasons I love living in Israel.  This evening, just outside our windows, the Jerusalem music festival began.  During this festival, ethnic bands are scattered throughout the old city, with Jewish bands playing in the Jewish quarter, Armenian bands in the Armenian quarter, and a smattering of middle eastern musical groups at Jaffa Gate and the rest of the old city.  As the visitor walks into the old city, he encounters one band after another like a sort of musical “smorgasbord,” filling the senses with all kinds of sounds.  Of course being a resident of the Jewish quarter, I am most interested in the Jewish bands.  In the Cardo a Jewish rock band was playing, and in the square, a great Jewish jazz band played.  Last year, we were regaled by the Gat brothers, Ehud Banai, Adi Ran, and by Ariel Zilber.  We will see who arrives this year, but it is bound to be fantastic!  A word to the spiritually wise; Jewish people are musical.  It is built into the Torah.  Aside from the letters of the Torah, unwritten musical cantillations are part of the written tradition of the Torah, guiding the reader in the public chanting of the Torah.  Perhaps that is why Jews are so prominent in music, both as instrumentalists and as composers – much moreso than in the visual arts, for example.  When we let go of our logical functions and let our mind wander in the realm of basic emotions, music is the language of choice.  The dynamic of musical notes is a language of its own, accessing the deeper recesses of our mind.  Musical melodies give us a sense of a spiritual journey taking place, arousing various emotions of love, fear and apprehension before resolving them at the end of the song with a soothing conclusion.  Music is a story without words, and it has accompanied the Jews throughout our spiritual journeys.

For this week’s tefila tip on how to pray with deep spiritual meaning, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  And if you’d like to explore Jewish meditation and meditational prayer on a deeper level, then have a look at www.jewishspiritualbooks.com  Finally, for a glimpse of Jewish life in Jerusalem for English speakers, check out www.chabadjerusalem.org  Have a great week and it’s time to start thinking about Pesach!

When it all gets turned around…

March 4, 2015

Do you sense a change in the air?  Can you feel the new winds blowing? Something positive is about to happen and in fact, it’s happening already.  When Purim rolls around, the Jews are on a roll.  It’s felt in the US, in Washington DC and here in Jerusalem as well.  The operative words of the Purim story are, Venahafoch hu – “And it all got turned around.”  Whether in the life of nations or in the life of individuals, a good approach is to take whatever comes your way, accepting it with equanimity, and then when the right moment comes, to turn it around.  That’s the Purim story in a nutshell…for months the Jews “took it” from an anti-semitic minister in the court of the Persian king, and then when they had an opportunity, a righteous Jewish woman “turned it around.”  There’s another angle to this story; the whole time that we are “taking it on the chin” from the powers that be, we do not see the purpose behind the whole story.  We do not detect the Godliness that is present.  Only after we have made the “turn-around” does it become evident that really He was there throughout the events.  Throughout the Purim story in the scroll of Esther, there is no mention of God.  Only at the end, after the turn-around, does it become clear that He was present and guiding the events all along.  Every detail, every  event, and every episode was pregnant with higher purpose, even if we were unaware of it at the time.  That is the human condition.  We find ourselves in circumstances that are beyond our control, with limited awareness, and our goal must be to overcome the limitations and reveal the higher purpose that is behind the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  So, when we sit down this week at our Purim feast, let’s recall the tough details, and then recall how it gets turned around to reveal the reality that He is with us all the time.  That’s how the Jews roll…

If you’d like to know more about how the Jews roll, and especially about how we pray and meditate, have a look at www.jerusalemconnection.org/weekly  To really delve into the subject in depth, check out our suite of books on the subject of Jewish meditative prayer, at www.jewishspritualbooks.com.  And finally, for some information about Chabad in Jerusalem, check out our site at www.chabadjerusalem.org  Have a nice day and a fantastic Purim!