Thursday, September 16, 2010

Koos Koos Tuesday-

Someone I know had reason to be in Dimona recently.
If you don't know what is in Dimona,look it up.

Met at the front guard booth- "Atah Miragel Americai? Are you an American Spy?"

'No. I, ah, I'm not an American spy."

"Are you sure? Cause you look like an American Spy."

'I'm not an American spy. If I was an American spy, I wouldn't know that today is kooskoos day.'

Wide eyes. "That's right! Today is koos koss day! Aich Yadaata-- How did you know?"

Nods towards the complex. 'I've been inside before.'

"OK. You're not a spy, if you were a spy you wouldn't know about koos koos tuesday." Looks at partner. "He knows about koos koos tuesday!"

'I've been here before - a few times. The first time was a short while after I made Aliya and we had lunch (koos koos) and then walked to the makolet and had artikim. Was the first time I had that flavor.'

"Thats right! The Makolet." Turns to partner, "He knows the makolet! First koos koos, then artikim!' Back to guy. "What flavor?"




"Kivi? Petel?"

'no, no'

"Ah! Passiflora~ Passionfruit!"


"Of course! Passiflora, ken ken. Israeli's love passiflora!"

'Yeah... OK, so can I come inside the booth I just need to -'

"No. No coming inside the booth- Sorry, not allowed."

'Ok, I'll work outside. I just need to plug this in-'

'No, sorry, can't use the electricity.'

Later, through the guard booth window- after about an hour of chit chat...

'Hey, so have you had coffee yet today?'

"Ah, no"

The door opens, revealing a small stockpile of loaded automatic weapons, "Come in, come in, have coffee." Smiles- Inside the booth- "Are you from Jerusalem?... you look like you're from Jerusalem..."

'No. Bet Shemesh.'

"Ah, Sheinfeld, You're from Sheinfeld!"


"Nofei Aviv!"

'Ah, no....'

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Support for the Effects of Thought on Reality

My friend sent me this- and hadn't even seen the previous posts- Awesome-


Rav Zvi Leshem

One of the most famous aggadot regarding Rosh Hashana tells of the three books in which everyone is inscribed for the coming year, the righteous, the wicked, and those in the middle, whose inscription is pushed off until Yom Kippur.[1][1] This idea, reflected in our prayers, such as Avinu Malkenu, in which we repeatedly mention this idea of inscription, is a powerful motif in the holiday atmosphere and in our popular imagination.

The Baal Shem Tov[2][2] has a remarkable understanding of this concept; all of the thoughts that come into one's head on Rosh Hashana – they are the inscribing, whether for good or for bad (G-d forbid) and if one has negative thoughts he must sweeten them and do battle with the yetzer hara that purposely sends us these thoughts….

This outstanding chidush, that we essentially determine our fate for the coming year by the nature of our thoughts on Rosh Hashana, is based upon the well known idea[3][3] that Rosh Hashana, as the "head" of the year, sends out spiritual nerve impulses through the coming year, just as the brain controls the rest of the body. Just as a baby's entire genetic makeup is determined at the moment of conception, so too Rosh Hashana, known as harat hayom, the day of the conception of the year[4][4] determines the makeup of the coming year. What the Besht adds to this is that all of this is in our hands; in fact it is in our heads![5][5] This understanding of Rosh Hashana has very far-reaching consequences for our observance on this holy day. The most important thing is to be careful to be in a good and positive state of mind the entire day. We must be even more careful than usual not to allow anything to make us upset or angry, and not to get annoyed about all kinds of little things that may come up at shul or at home. As we have seen, the yetzer hara works overtime on Rosh Hashana to provide us with all kinds of reasons to get annoyed or into a bad mood. Perhaps the chazzan wasn't to our liking or the davening was too fast or too slow. Maybe the food wasn't prepared exactly as I like it, or someone forgot to arrange something at home the way it should be. It was too hot outside or the air conditioner in shul was too cold. My neighbor at shul distracted me by talking or my child had trouble sitting still. Perhaps I am just angry and frustrated about my own inability to progress spiritually as I desire or a little bit resentful towards HaShem about some perceived unfairness.

Are these the thoughts that we want to determine the coming year? Certainly not! We must make a strong effort not to think like this, and if we find these ideas creeping into our heads, to "sweeten" them by trying to find the good in these issues, or by gently distracting ourselves from them to get ourselves back into a positive frame of mind. Of course if we do have negative thoughts we certainly shouldn't get upset about it, that will only compound the problem. We need to do everything in our power to make ourselves happy, to bring joy to our family and friends on this holy day. I heard from the Rebbe of Komarno, Rav Eliezer Zvi Safrin shlit"a, that this is also the reason for the simanim, the special foods we eat at the evening meal. We aren't engaging in a magical ceremony, we are simply eating sweet foods and foods whose names have positive connotations, in order to help strengthen our positive mood![6][6]

As we go into this Rosh Hashana may we merit to internalize this transformative teaching of the holy Baal Shem Tov and to actualize it throughout the two days of Yuntef. We will thus, with HaShem's help, inscribe ourselves in the Book of Life, for a year of happiness, health, livelihood, warm relationships and closeness with HaShem.

Shana Tova u'Metuka!

[1][1] Talmud Bavli, Rosh Hashana 16b. In Chassidut we find that the final judgment is not until Hoshana Raba or even Chanuka!

[2][2] Baal Shem Tov al haTora, Rosh Hashana – Yom Kippur, 45. My Rebbe, HaRav HaGaon David Halivni shlit"a, told me that "we write the check and HaKadosh Baruch Hu signs it". Rav Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern shlit"a brings this idea in the name of the Maggid of Mezeritch in his commentary to Lekutai Moharan 211, p. 4, to explain the Chassidic custom spending Rosh Hashana with one's Rebbe. Being in the presence of a Zaddik will help one to purify his thoughts and to have only positive ones during the holiday.

[3][3] This is discussed by Rebbe Natan of Nemirov in Lekutai Halachot, Orla, 4:18.

[4][4] Rav Zaddok in the name of the Ari. Pri Zaddik, Rosh Hashana 7.

[5][5] This is related to the Besht's overall stress on the importance of machshava, thought, and its ability to redefine and to determine reality, especially in the context of prayer, as expressed in his famous quote; in the place where a person thinks, the entire person is found. For an example, see Baal Shem Tov al haTora, Noach, Amud HaTefila 56, Mekor Maim Chaim 31.

[6][6] The Rebbe even added that the "New Year's Eve" celebrations of the Gentiles, despite their frivolous nature, are based upon the same basic idea; that it is crucial to begin the year in a positive happy mood and that this will have a positive impact upon the entire year.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Of Complaints and Doing Something About It

It is very easy- and gets easier every day- to complain about the things around me. The neighbor that installs his air conditioner above my front door looking ugly, making noise and driping water onto my landing; the drivers that whip around stopped school buses as my kids are trying to cross; the morons that stop in the middle of the road to chat with a friend blocking the entire lane; the degenerates that break the bottles they got drunk from all across the children's park.. you see, its easy.

And I can rage about the schools, the shops, the government, my Aunt the mesurevet get and the insanity of having to beg to be released from a marriage to someone you hate, and more.

It was during one such rant to the one friend I can trust not to judge me or my community and who knows how much I love this country, that I was struck by something. I asked her what the hell we can do to fix all the injustice, inconsideration and general messed-upness of the world when we spend our days full up with kids, work, life, kids, house, life... & becoming depressed at our inability to change anything. It was as I said, "Don't tell me we just have to do our part," that it hit me.

What if-- just what if-- our actualization of something (i.e. justice, kindness) affects the global measure of that something.

Meaning: Lets say that the more that people practice being just- whether in the home, at work, in business, with the kids etc., the more that middah is brought into the world and begins to affect how things happen here.

That would mean that in fact, the things I do even in my own home: returning what I borrowed, judging my kids favorably, giving my husband a break, not criticizing when I can, etc. would have an affect on those things on a global level that derive from the same source. Perhaps, if I increase my consideration for others, those universal scales would tip and rain down some global consideration.

This, I am sure, sounds very hokey to some of you. But, the older I get, the more I realize that God placed universal laws, truths and rules into Creation and gave humans the means to affect our world. Here I spoke about the power of thought and prayer and its affect on our world. Now, I am becoming more convinced that God, being a good God, would not have placed us in a world where we could only watch in horror the things going on with no chance at affecting change.

It cannot be that we sit and wait for a better future from our four walls and despair of making any difference. It is too depressing, too nonsensical- too UnJewish. We are told that the world was created for us, for us to care for and guard. It only makes sense that we were given that ability.

Would that we knew it...

We are taught that Mitzva Gorem Mitzva A mitzva causes a mitzva. I was always taught that the phrase means that doing a mitzva brings an opportunity for another one and the next becomes even easier to do- of course the inverse is true as well, sinning the second time is much easier than the intial fall...

What if the concept goes deeper? What if as stated earlier- the DOING causes the next opportunity to do by virtue of the door- gateway- energy channel- however you want to see it- being widened?

Would this change the way you behaved? The way you approach life and love and people? Would this make it easier to do the 'right' things? Harder to do the wrong?

Would it give you incentive to do right by allowing you to feel that you are changing the make-up of global middot? That eventually our actions COULD in fact collectively cause a huge positive shift, a near eutopian existence? What if the effect was exponential? What if a few positive changes at the same time made huge leaps in global charity, kindness and compassion? What if it could reduce bigotry, injustice and cruelty?

I spoke with someone else about this after my friend and I went back to the demands of the day. This someone (a he)was not convinced. He said that in the end, its up to God and we can only do our part without the expectation of changing anything. I threw the nearest object at his head.

Then, I said, "NO" that is exactly the wrong way to look at it. Thinking that you cannot change anything and that your actions don't matter outside of your own circles is what causes apathy, judgement,depression and disillusion.

So. Now I must act out the changes I want to see in the world. NOT because being nice to my neighbor will cause Achmadoodeehead to be nice to Israel- I am not a miracle worker people. But because I hope that my acts of justice, kindness, consideration, etc will add to the global tea cup of these traits and the drops that that spill over and into our world down here.

Better than sitting and waiting for a miracle... Shanna Tova to all of us!

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Positive Thought, Tefilla & Dan Brown

I recently read the book The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

In it, he discusses a theme that is prevalent throughout Judaism and history at large, but that most people pass by without proper consideration and understanding (myself included).

He writes of modern science's findings that human thought has quantifiable effect on matter. To the mind that considers itself 'enlightened' or 'modern'- this is laughable. The idea that we can- through thought or speech- affect the world around us is difficult to contemplate for those educated in the 20th century.

Still, it is interesting that it is so hard for us to believe in our own abilities given that history is replete with stories of people affecting nature. We tend to think of them as miracles or outright falsehoods. Why is it beyond us to imagine that we were created with an ability to affect the world we were given? Weren’t we charged with being stewards? How can we fulfill this role without powers to do so?

Judaism is full of references to words being agents of creation and change- both through prayer and through speech. I never understood why God tells Moshe- Enough! And forces him to stop asking to be let into the Holy Land. I was taught that it was because if Moshe had asked one more time, God would have to allow him to enter. And I’m thinking- wha?? Scuze me? God is God and God can do whatever God wants- that’s what it means to be God! Who could force God to let Moshe in if God says no?

Who indeed? It could only be God’s own rules.

The rules created as an intrinsic part of the universe at the moment of conception.

What if, within the laws created into this universe, there was a certain prescribed amount of praying where that prayer HAD to be answered positively? What if enough concentration and thought on something inevitably caused that outcome? I’m thinking this is the case- otherwise why force him to stop?

Leah- Leah cried day and night- constantly- that she not be forced to marry the evil Esau. We are all taught that Leah teaches us the power of prayer and we listen and nod and say how amazing she was that she altered her future and we agree that we aren’t ‘on her level’ and we move on.

BUT what if the amazing thing about her wasn’t intrinsic? What if what was amazing was that she RECOGNIZED the laws of nature (made by God) for what they were and grasped on to them and committed herself to using them to change her destiny??

Wouldn’t that mean a very different thing to all of us who read the story and feel that we can’t emulate her because we aren’t ‘on her level’? Wouldn’t it mean that we can do the same thing? Rules are rules. Whether you are Moshe or Leah or Shosh

It certainly is an epiphany to me.

In Hebrew, the word for 'word' is the same as the word for 'thing' and the Hebrew names for things reflect their inherent characteristics. They aren’t random letters thrown together.

God created the universe with words- Everything came into being through speech- God said- 'Let there be light.' And there was light.

We are created in God’s image- what does that mean? We know God does not have two legs and eyes- God loves, gives and creates. However, while God creates from nothing, we create from something- using our God given minds to ponder how things can be better, we improve, we invent. We wanted to fly- we fly. We wanted to connect instantaneously with others across the globe- we tweet.

Speech as Power

There are many references to the power of speech throughout Judaism- the power of the tongue for both good and evil.

Abracadabra is pretty much a morphed phrase from Hebrew/Aramaic- the language of the Talmud- Abayra K'Dabayra- meaning “I will create as I speak”

There is significant emphasis on prayer and speech throughout Judaism- on both the words and on the intent ('kavana' which means both to concentrate and to direct) we imbue into them.

Clearly, an almighty, omnipotent being has, by definition, no needs. So why do we pray? Many answers are given, including that the prayers are for our benefit- and they are. But what if its more than that? What if the world, the collective consciousness, the energies we all share- whatever your choice of label- is positively affected and shares that positive effect with all it touches and influences?

If we each believed that our thoughts and actions had real effect on the world- would we work harder to be positive? To speak less negatively? To judge less harshly?

If we knew that we had the ability to affect our world, would we take advantage of it, put it to good use? Would we spend our free moments thinking of positive changes we'd like to see- less suffering, peace and calmness, an end to violence- instead of pointless TV, idle chatter and wasted hours at the computer?

Instead of griping as we wait in line (or on hold!) what if we whispered a prayer or directed good thoughts towards a friend in need?

In the Torah, there are Mitzvot having to do with loving one another- not hating in one's heart- of judging favorably- and I always found these very internal mitzvot hard to grasp. How and why did it matter if I hated in my heart if I didn't act on it? One could say that it isn't really possible to hate in your heart and not have it affect your actions- and this may well be true, but the Torah already prohibits acting on it, why prohibit the thought- especially as thoughts are instantaneous, how is it fair to prohibit something reflexive?

Aren’t we creatures of thought? Souls with bodies?

Well, what if thought isn’t reflexive? What if hatred in our hearts is outlawed because the thoughts themselves have ramifications -negative affects on ourselves and the world at large? What if emotions/thoughts can be trained, directed- ruled by us and not the opposite. Is that what we are meant to learn from the prohibition? That it is a choice to hate? To think poorly of someone- even one who has harmed us?

I admit to hating Hitler/Nazis/Rapists etc- … what should I do about it? Maybe the hatred needs to be channeled into positive action- not passive negativity- maybe I need to write, teach, ‘spread the love ’- Dunno exactly, but I welcome suggestions.

Brown references something I saw- and was fascinated by- years ago. There is a Japanese scientist who runs experiments with water. He basically exposes water from various sources to positive and negative thoughts, words and varying types of sound. He then freezes and takes a picture of the H20 molecules after this exposure. His findings are fascinating. Those water molecules exposed to calm, positive thoughts become symmetric and beautiful. Those exposed to negative, angry aggressive- thoughts or sounds are asymmetric, and sick looking.

So here’s the thing- We are 80% water ourselves. The Earth is ¾ water- the sky is made of water- God first created with water- the waters above and below were separated before anything was created on this planet- it’s the basis for all life… you see where I’m going with this?

Jews have been making blessings over everything we ingest- even water- for thousands of years. Blessings of gratitude to the One who provides it- coincidence? I think not...


It is our duty to use these abilities for good and positive effects on the world. To direct our energies and thoughts to beheficial outcomes.

I am not saying don’t get angry (hello, kettle, its me pot)- I’m saying get angry at the right things. Injustice. Evil. Suffering. And think about fixing it. Think about changing it and making it better. Don’t give up because you aren’t in a position to do something- You can do something now right where you are this very second!

We all can.

We don’t need a large gathering (though wouldn’t that be nice) we all just need to be aware and conscious of our influence and the potential of our thoughts and directed prayers.

Just try it- a little a day. See how it goes and what it influences. I know what I’ll be asking for. I may not be Leah, but I can learn from her not to accept what others see as inevitable. Not to give up.

Monday, December 21, 2009


They say that at the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea, the sun can be enjoyed without any of its harmful effects- the distance being too great for the harmful rays to travel. So you get the warmth, the joy and the caresses without having to lather up, cover up or take care.

I don't know if this is actually true, but it made me think as I looked out at the barren desert landscape, beauifully harsh and devoid of tree or grass and the ever evaporating sea. I wonder if in order not to be hurt we have to be distanced, empty and barren. If being protected also means being removed, somber and desolate.

The sea is gorgeous. All greens and blues- it looks deep and full and refreshing. But get closer, touch it. It is oily, hot and sharp.

It exploits the slightest weakness.

To be fair, the waters are also healing and theraputic- but even then almost exlusively at the surface level. They smooth skin and soothe joint pain.

But, internalize the bitter waters and they cause a great deal of lingering pain.

Too much exposure leads to burning.

Does this mean anything? I dont know- I wonder if in Moshiach's time the landscape around the sea will bloom and green and if likewise we'll be able to leave ourselves exposed to love without the fear of getting burned.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I love Chanukka/Living your truth

Its not the sufganiyot (donuts), or the latkes , nor is it the presents (thank God that is not prevelant here).

Its the holiday that is embued with the power of fighting for what you believe in. How many people get to do that? How many people get to make their life about something that means everything to them? Be it family, justice, peace, truth, freedom, civil rights- something that defines who you are?

Chanukka is full of heros. Everyday people who fought for truth and justice and right and freedom.

Beginning with the bride who stood before her assembeled guests and tore the front of her dress open. She raged against her horrified brothers. 'Why should this bother you when in a few hours you will be giving me over to the Greek general?'
The Greeks practiced Prima Nachta- every bride was raped on her wedding night by the Greek overloard. Her rage at the general passivity instigated the rebellion that we all know as Chanukka.

Her father would later raise a flag and call out- "mi laHashem Ali' . All those who are for our one true God- join me.

Her brothers then lead the battle that beat the greeks, but before all that- there were many more heros.

All the mothers who gave their sons a brit and then jumped from the walls of Jerusalem committing suicide rather than letting the greeks kill them. All those who kept Shabbat, lighting candles and making kiddush. All those who learned Torah despite the death sentence.

Channah & her seven sons who each refused to bow to an idol and were killed for their refusal. They encouraged one another, gave each other the strength to hold strong and defy those forces looking to break them.

I know many will not agree with me. But I care more for the opinions of those throughout the centuries who refused to compromise who they were for what others wanted them to be.

In Spain, christians thought of the most vile tortures to force Jews to renounce their faith. All a Jew had to do was to claim to believe in their teachings and he/she would be spared the suffering of severed limbs, ripped out guts, flayed skin and eventual death.

But then, what would they be? Empty, constantly in hiding, in fear and terror and in tremendous agony as body and soul wrestled with the choice they made to go against what they are.

Thousands died rather than betray themselves, their people and their God- their Truth. Its an incredible testiment to the strength of our people.

Hitler learned from it- He didn't bother trying to change the Jew. He knew only death would remove their truth and all that it brought to the world.

Yehudit, a young widow, convinced the men of her beleagered and starving town to let her out into the surrounding enemy camp. After claiming to want to give the Greek general Holifornus information to capture the town in exchange for mercy, she was allowed free reign in the army's camp. After a few days of gaining trust, she dined with the general feeding him cheese and wine- taking her lead from Yael who had done the same to the general Sisera hundreds of years before.

When he had passed out, she brought his own sword down upon his neck. Returning to her city with hishead, she rallied the Jews and they won in a surprise attack against the leaderless army.

She put her life at risk to save her people. How many of us will ever get the opportunity to do something like that?

Those that serve in the Israeli army do this every day. Mothers and fathers send their children off to defend this country- knowing full well the risk. Gilad Shalit still sits in the hands of barbarians. Jonathan Pollard sits in isloation 27 years! after giving Israel information that Should have been shared with them by the US according to agreements. An offense usually given 2 to 3 years- He was given a life sentence!!

I think that this is the bottom line, that is what I love best about living here. Just being here means I am doing something I believe in. I am living what I know to be true and what I know is right. At the core, that is why we could not stay in the US even though our family and friends, who are so very wonderful and whom we miss painfully, are there.

Living what you know to be true and right cannot be substituted by anything. Nothing can take its place, nothing can fill its void. It is what keeps us going and feeling like we have the right to go on. My kids know it, even at the age they are. Kids see truth when they aren't blinded by GameBoys and PSPs and all the shiny things that lead most around like zombies.

I do not tell them these things- really I don't. And of course, they love stuff as do we all and that's fine and normal. However, they have perspective.

No thing feels as good, as fulfilling, as right as living your truth.

Course, I didn't say its easy, its not meant to be. But it is worth it and much easier than trying to justify to yourself and your kids saying one thing and living another.

I know I kind of got off Chanukka, but not really, because it is all about what you believe and what you fight for.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Because the Goat Has The Bell

Over Sukkos, we ate at the home of some very close friends and from their porch enjoyed a majestic view of the opposing hills. Over said hills a Beduin sherpard walked far ahead of his flocks of sheep who grazed serenly, enjoying the weather and walking slowly but steadily onward.
I asked "How do the sheep know where to go?"

A flock of goats ahead of the sheep was pointed out. The one in the lead walked with the sheperd. "They follow the goats."

Me: "Why do they follow the goats?"

"Because the goat has the bell."

For the next month, that became the tag line for anything we didn't understand occured. We used it to answer all inquires for which there was no better reason.

4 weeks later, I had a discussion with a friend about people and their tendencies to do what others do, or tell them is the right thing to do, or what somone claims someone else did/does do the exclusion of any independant thought.

It didn't hit me until a few days later- Its 'because the goat has the bell'. There's no damn good reason that people do half of the crap they do. But here is the thing.

Do they know that they are following the sheep who are following the goats following the bell? Its all good and well for a sheep. It needs to follow the bell because the bell is on the lead goat which is beside the sheperd who sustains them. It is the sheep's bell, its his job to follow it. But what if the cows started to follow the sheep? And the dogs and cats and llamas and orangutangs- there would be a lot of animals doing the wrong things and a lot of things not getting done- at best.

At worst it would lead to conflict, confusion and a lack of progression. Yet, this is exactly what is going on in the human population.

The bell rings and people follow. Exceedingly few question who/what they are following and even fewer get out of line.

Whether it is CNN, Obama, the latest book/craze/fad, their religious leader, the cool kids in high school or Madison Avenue- they just follow.

And they don't look around as they are lead. At the things they pass by, at the options and opportunities ignored- at the alternatives, the forks in the road, the consequences- at those left behind and and those trampled on. They don't look at the covered signs, the turn offs concealed and the side roads unpaved.

Why don't people want to think for themselves? To evaluate and make the call? To gather their own information, make an informed decision? To admit that they don't know?

At the very least- acknowledge the goat and the bell being followed. Acknowledge the blinders, so nicely fitted in the latest style.

And accord others the right to follow their own goat albeit different from yours, or even better- none at all.

It is the lack of doing so that leads to such things as conflict, religious intolerance, human rights abuses, the brain drain, fat stupid kids, the Goldstone Report, ignorant smart people, rich idiots and all the rest of man's ills.

Go ahead, ask the sheep next to you why s/he does what s/he does. They may be hard pressed to answer. Ask yourself- you may be surprised at your own goats.