Rabbi’s Message

When the Shofar is blown…

When the Shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah, three different types of noises are sounded. The first is a “teki’ah.” This sound is one long continuous burst. The second sound is called a “shevarim.” It consists of three shorter blasts. The third sound is the “teruah.” The teruah is a set of nine short bursts of sound, a staccato blast. The Gemarah in Rosh HaShanah tells us that these later two sounds are meant to sound like crying: “. . . drawing a long sigh. . . uttering short piercing cries.” The Ben Ish Chai writes that these sounds are meant to contrast with the tekiah. The tekiah, he explains, is a sound of triumph and joy, while the shevarim and teruah are sounds of pain and suffering. Because of the opposing feelings they represent, when one blows the shofar, he is not to connect the tekiah with the others, by blowing the sounds with the same breath.

Why do we have both sounds of joy and sounds of sorrow emitted from the Shofar? The Ben Ish Chai explains by means of a story. A man had a ring specially made for him. Upon this ring, he had engraved the words “This, too, will pass.” If he were troubled and in pain, he would look at his ring and remember that the suffering would eventually end. This thought comforted him. During times of happiness and comfort, he would gaze at the ring as well. He would realize that his wealth and good fortune could change for the worst in an instant. Good times are not forever. He would recognize that there was no reason to become conceited and haughty over circumstances which were beyond his control and could turn adverse without any warning. This ring reminded the man that all in his life had to be put in perspective, and that one should live his life neither complacent nor despondent.

The tekiah, the first sound, is a sound of joy and happiness. Immediately after we hear the long exultant blast, we hear the shevarim and teruah. These are both sounds of sadness, pain and suffering. The stark contrast between these sounds is intentional. We are supposed to remember while listening to the shofar that we cannot forget G-d during times of contentment, and we cannot let our egos swell from our achievements. Success can quickly turn into failure. Only with G-d’s help did we prosper, and only with G-d’s help will we continue to do so. However, upon hearing the sorrowful sound of the Shofar, we should not think that in times of suffering G-d has forsaken us. We should not become depressed and despondent. Right after these blasts, we sound a tekiah again, to signify that G-d is there, and in His mercy will help us return to a state of jubilation again.

Miriam and I wish you a happy & healthy sweet new year,

Rabbi Avi Mammon

Elul

Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the in- tention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four
words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people.

In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually-inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.

Slichot

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses asked God to explain His system for relating with the world. God’s answer, known as the “13 Attributes of Mercy,” forms the essence of the “Slichot” prayers. The “13 Attributes” speak of “God’s patience.” The same God Who created us with a clean slate and a world of opportunity gives us another opportunity if we’ve misused the first one.

“Slichot” should be said with a minyan. If this is not possible, then “Slichot” should still be said alone, omitting the parts in Aramaic and the “13 Attributes of Mercy.”

Finally, the most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!

40-Day Period

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moshe desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.

On the first day of Elul, Moshe ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.
Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noach’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mik- veh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and per- formance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon – an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.

Events of the Year 2448

Many of the Jewish holidays are based on the events of one crucial year in Jewish history – 2448, or 1312 BCE.

About 3,300 years ago, in the Jewish year 2448, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt – following the plague of the First Born. The date was the 15th of Nissan, the first Passover celebration. One week later, with the Egyptian troops in full chase, the Red Sea split – and the Jewish people walked through on dry land. This occurred on the seventh and final day of the Passover holiday.

Ten Commandments and Mount Sinai

Fifty days later, on the holiday of Shavuot, God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. At Sinai, the Jews regained the immortal level of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Moshes’ First Ascent

Following the revelation, Moses went up Mount Sinai to learn more details of the Torah directly from God. At the end of 40 days, God handed Moses two tablets of identical shape and size – upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved.

The Golden Calf

On the 16th of Tammuz, when Moses had not yet returned from the mountain, the Jewish people began to panic. They sought a new “leader” and built the Golden Calf. Immediately, the Clouds of Glory – the divine protection of God – departed. The Jews had relinquished their spiritual greatness and become mortal again. On the 17th of Tammuz, Moses came down from the moun- tain, smashed the Tablets, destroyed the Calf, and punished the transgressors.

Moshes’ Second Ascent

On the 19th of Tammuz, Moshe ascended Mount Sinai again to plead for the lives of the Jewish people. He prayed with great intensity, and after 40 days, God agreed to spare the Jew- ish people in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moses returned to the people. Their lives were spared, but the sin was not yet forgiven.

Moshes’ Third and Final Ascent

Moses ascended Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for 40 days (bringing the total number of days spent there to 120). Henceforth, the month of Elul became a special time for drawing close to God.
At the end of the 40 days – on the 10th of Tishrei – God agreed to mete out the punishment for the Golden Calf over many generations. He then gave Moses a new, second set of Tablets.

Moses came down from the mountain with good news for the people: The reunification was complete, and the relationship restored. Thereafter, the 10th of Tishrei was designated as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Three Weeks

The “Three Weeks” between the 17th of Tammuz and the Tisha B’Av, this year July 11th– Aug. 1st, have historically been days of misfortune and calamity for the Jewish people. During this time, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, amongst other tragedies.

These days are referred to as the period “within the straits” (bein hametzarim), in ac- cordance with the verse: “All her oppressors have overtaken her within the straits” (Lamentations 1:3).

During this time, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. We minimize joy and celebration. The expressions of mourning take on greater intensity as we approach the day of Tisha B’Av.

On Shabbat during the Three Weeks, the Haftorahs are taken from chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah dealing with the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. Agonizing over these events is meant to help us conquer those spiritual deficiencies which brought about these tragic events. Through the process of “teshuva” – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy. In fact, the Talmud says that after the future redemption of Israel and the re- building of the Temple, these days will be rededicated as days of rejoicing and festivity.

The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B’Av. As he passed a synagogue he heard the sounds of mourning and crying. “What’s this all about?” Napoleon asked. An aide explained that the Jews were mourning the loss of their Temple. “When did this happen?” Napoleon asked. The aide replied, “About 1700 years ago.” Napoleon said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will merit seeing it rebuilt!”

The beginning of the 3-week period of mourning is the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the fall of Jerusalem, prior to the destruction of the Holy Temple. On the 17th of Tammuz, no eating or drinking is permitted from the break of dawn until night fall.

Five great catastrophes occurred in Jewish history on the 17th of Tammuz:

1. Moshe broke the tablets at Mount Sinai – in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
2. The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusa- lem.
3. Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.

“And G-d said ‘Let Us make man in Our image.’ ” (Bereshet 1:26)

What does the Torah mean when it says that G-d created man “in His image”? When G-d created man, He gave him two powers: the power of giving and the power of taking. The power to give is the elevated quality that imitates G-d, for G-d is the ultimate Giver. There is nothing you can give Him in return since He already owns everything. Man is created specifically to imitate G-d by being a giver.

The desire to take is the antithesis of G-d’s purpose in creating man. Further- more, taking is not about amassing a vast fortune, or a fleet of Porsches; it’s not a matter of “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In truth, the desire to take has nothing to do with toys, trophies or physical objects at all.

The desire to take is the dark side of the power to give. It is the anti-world of giving, its negative doppelganger. The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of its desire. It’s amazing how quickly the sheen wears off a pristine new computer, or a new car. For once the object becomes our possession it ceases to interest us, the desire is gone, and we focus on something else.

Why?

The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of our desire because the desire to take is really the desire to enlarge ourselves, to make ourselves more, to take up more real estate in reality – to exist more. And that desire is insatiable.

All physical desires have their limits – there’s just so much you can consume, but the desire to be more, the dark side of giving, is insatiable.

Parshat Korach begins with the following sentence, “And Korach (the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kohat, the son of Levi) together with Datan and Aviram (the sons of Eliav) and On ben Pelet (sons of Reuven), took.” There is no object in this sentence. It just says that “Korach …took…” without revealing what or whom he took. What, then, is the object of the sentence?

What did Korach take?

Korach “took” the entire sad episode that followed: his rebellion and demise are the object of the first sentence of the weekly portion. Korach was the quin- tessential taker. What he wanted was more, more and more. Korach wanted to devour the world.
Our objective needs to be giving. We have to make our focus in life to be a giver rather then a taker and by doing so we express our Godly image.

Shavuot

This Month we celebrate Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. The Torah, as the blueprint of the world, is the ultimate expression of what reality is. Therefore, the way in which the Torah was given must also express a truth about the nature of reality.

The Torah was not given to the Jewish People as a group of individuals. Its giving re- quired them to be a klal, a united entity, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

When the Jewish People stood at Sinai they were “like one man with one heart” (Rashi). Interestingly, Rashi uses almost exactly the same phrase to describe Pharaoh and the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Sea: “With one heart like one man.” A subtle reversal of the order. The Jewish People are “like one man with one heart.” The Egyptians “with one heart like one man.” What is the significance of this reversing of the word order?

The heart represents the raw matter of existence. The raw material which waits for an imprint, a form to define it. The heart is the medium. The nature of emotion is to be molded, to be channeled. Not to lead.

The form of something is its spiritual component. Its purpose. The form is the message.

A spoon, for example. A spoon consists of two parts. Its matter is the metal. Its form is its purpose: To scoop and stir. That’s why it has a scoop at one end and a long han- dle. Its form expresses its purpose. The function of a thing is its spiritual dimension, its spiritual identity in the world.

The nature of physical things is to be passive. The nature of spiritual things is to be active. The shape of the spoon dominates the metal and defines it, not the reverse. That is the correct order of the world. Form shaping matter. The message shaping the medium.

The word for “man” in Hebrew is ish. Ish comes from the word aish meaning “fire.” Fire symbolizes spirituality. It is the nature of fire to rise upwards; it is the nature of spirituality to aspire upwards. The nature of fire is to dominate; the nature of spiritu- ality is to rule: A small nation imbued with a spiritual ideal can overcome a large na- tion which is apathetic and decadent. This has been the lesson of history. Someone with a spiritual motivation will ultimately rule over someone with a physical motiva- tion because the physical desires inertia, to be passive, to take it easy.

When intellect dominates the emotions, when the message dominates the medium, then we have the very picture of how the Torah was given. “Like one man with one heart.” The man – the intellect, the spiritual component leading the heart – the raw material, the medium.

However, when the heart dominates the mind, the medium becomes the message. This is the literal antithesis of the way the Torah was given.

As we accept the Torah this Shavuot, let us commit to becoming more spiritual and intellectual. Let us commit to having our message define who we our and our hearts will become the medium.

Passover Rabbi's MessageWhat is the point of Eliyahu’s Cup, what exactly is its function?

Pesach is the time of Redemption and the Rabbis describe Elijah as being the Angel of Redemption. We believe that in the same way that we were redeemed from Egypt, so too will we be redeemed from our present lengthy exile. Tradition teaches that it is Elijah who will announce the coming of the Mashiach, and the cup is prepared as a sign of our desire that he should come as speedily as he can to do so. Our Sages tell of a certain Rabbi in Talmudic times who met Elijah and asked him when the Mashiach would come. Elijah told him that he would come immediately. When he didn’t materialize the Rabbi was very upset and the next time he met Elijah he berated him for not having been accurate in his assessment. Elijah, after hearing him out, explained to him that he had meant every word. But, ultimately, it was entirely up to us whether the Mashiach comes or not. If we truly want him to come he will come without delay. And if we are not too enthusiastic about the idea, well, Elijah will have to wait until we change our minds.

So what can we do to change the state of affairs? There is an anecdote that might help us attain a better perspective. Once the famed Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, sent one of his followers to open the door after filling Elijahs Cup on Seder night. However the man was frozen to the spot and couldn’t do it. When he was asked why, he said that he was scared stiff as he was absolutely certain that Elijah the Prophet must be waiting outside the door of such a pious and august person as the Rebbe, just waiting to be invited in.

Answered Rabbi Menachem Mendel, You’re wrong! Elijah the Prophet enters through the heart, not the door!

And it is in exactly the same way that we can allow Elijah to appear and proclaim to everyone that the Mashiach is on his way. This Seder night, as we all fill up our cups for Elijah the Prophet lets fill them right up to the very top. Lets turn Elijahs Cup into the symbol of all our hopes and aspirations for the future brimming over with optimism that this year we can make all the difference. Like the Rebbe from Kotzk let us open our hearts to allow Elijah to enter into our lives.

And, who knows? Perhaps if we do so there wont be any need to pour the wine back into the bottle this Pesach after the Seder.

And Next Year in Jerusalem will become a reality rather than just a song.

Miriam and I wish you a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach.

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat – the fifteenth of the month of Shevat – is called the New Year of the Trees because most of the vegetation in the land of Israel begins to bud at this time of year. There are many laws regarding agriculture that are affected by this date. Regarding the young trees, the Torah forbids consumption of the fruit for the first three years, and permits full use of the produce anywhere from the fourth year on. The date that determines the “age” of any tree in Israel is Tu B’Shevat. Additionally, Jews are required to separate Terumot and Maasrot, portions of the produce of the fields, on annual basis. The cutoff date for the
“fiscal” agricultural year is Tu B’Shevat. In order to commemorate the day and to highlight our thanks to G-d for giving us the Land of Milk and Honey, we indulge in consumption of many different
types of fruits.

There are several lessons one should keep in mind on this day. Firstly, the Torah says, “For the man is the tree of the fields”. The sages teach as a tree must be protected from harsh weather and from harmful insects, so too, a person must protect himself from the negative influences of society – that bombard a person on a daily basis.

Secondly, one should assess the manner in which one recites berachot – blessings. One is required to say a blessing before partaking of the pleasures of this world. How often do we mumble the words, not concentrating on the meaning and rushing through the “formula” required permitting the pleasure to the in-
dividual. As we consider the beautiful fruits and say the appropriate blessings, one should evaluate one’s blessings and resolve to improve their effectiveness.

Thirdly, one should remember that if a tree has strong roots then it could support many wide branches. However, if a tree has many branches and weak roots then even a light wind can blow the tree over. A person’s roots are one’s dedication to the study of Torah. We must dedicate a set time to the daily study of Torah to shore up the knowledge of all aspects of our Torah. By strengthening our roots each of us will enable our people to survive the hurricane winds of exile and merit the coming of the Mashiach speedily and in our days.

What is Chanukah?

What is Chanukah? The sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev the days of Chanukah are eight …(Talmud Shabbat)
Men of Understanding…Days of Eight… (Lyrics to Maoz Tzur)

The Sfas Emes points out that saying “the days of Chanukah are eight “instead of “eight days” means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. One tells us of the number, the mere quantity of the days while the other tells us about the quality of  these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are “days of eight”. What does that mean and what does that mean to us?

The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to substitute and supplant Jewish life. They offered intellectual rigor, spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish Nation was allured to this system which was at first friendly and only later proved to be a deadly affair. While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe, their vision of reality was by definition limited to the lens of the human eye.

That the world was a seven-day production and that we operate within that framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life was by definition within the reach of “seven”.

The word for eight in Hebrew – “Shemonah” – when shuffled as an anagram spells out the word “Neshamah” – the Soul – and also “Mishnah” – the building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left with the “Shemen” – Oil, the center of the Chanukah miracle and the reason of the celebration. The Hebrew word for nature is “Teva”. “Teva” has two connotations that may help us gain an insight into the nature of nature. “Teva” implies drowning or sinking, because we are sunken into and swallowed up by this physical world. “Teva” also is related to the word “matbeah” – coin – referring to a coin that has an image impressed upon it. Similarly the natural world impresses; so much so that our senses are so stimulated that any inkling of anything beyond is naturally overwhelmed.

The Hebrew word for “The Natural World”, HaTeva, has the same numerical value for the Holy Name – Elokim. Meaning that our definition of nature is actually repeated miracles. If something happens predictably we call it natural. When it happens  once, we call it a miracle. We are alerted, jolted to a super state of awareness, a higher consciousness of reality.

Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses the sphere of seven enriching days and extending it. When penetrated it anoints even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.

During the Eight days of Chanukah we should know that each day represents something much bigger than just another day of the holiday. It represents the supernatural quality of each and every day and our ability to transcend nature to the supernatural.

Happy Chanukah!!!

Elul

Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vavlamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people. In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spirituallyinspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.

The most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.

On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.

Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon – an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.