18 September 2018

NEILA – Locked in with G-d

9 Tishrei 5779
Erev Yom haKippurim

By Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher

Jay and the Americans had a hit song in the 60’s called “Let’s Lock the Door.” Jay attended Yeshiva Torat Emet in Boro Park. Was he singing about the NEILA (lock the gate) Prayer on Yom Kippur?

The Hebrew word for the Satan is numerically equivalent (Gematria) to 364. The Midrash explains that during the 364 days of the year, the Satan has the power to prosecute the Jewish People. But on one day, Yom Kippur, he has no authority to prosecute us. Why not?

What would happen on Yom Kippur? The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, at which time he was all alone with G-d. No human being or even an angel was permitted to intrude upon the High Priest’s connection with G-d.

The Lubavicher Rebbe explains that each year this sequence is replayed in our own hearts on Yom Kippur. The essence of the Jewish soul is one with the essence of G-d. This bond is constant, it is not the product of our efforts. Therefore, neither our thoughts, our words, nor our deeds, can sever our connection to G-d.

This connection, explains the Rebbe, exists above time. But within time, this bond with G-d is revealed on Yom Kippur. On this Holy Day, every Jew enters the virtual “Holy of Holies,” and spends time all alone with his Creator.

This is the heart of NEILA, the final and most important prayer recited on Yom Kippur. NEILA means Locked In. This name is generally understood to mean that the Gates of Heaven are being locked and there are only a few moments left when our prayers can enter. According to Kabala, the meaning is that the doors are locked behind us. Each one of us is “locked in”, alone and united with G-d.

At this level of essential connection, there is no real existence outside G-d, and no possibility that the G-dly soul could be affected by sin. The revelation of this level of connection to G-d removes the stains and blemishes that sin causes.

This kind of purification and cleansing on Yom Kippur, is a natural process, for the revelation of our inner bond with G-d renews our connection and re-JEWvinates our connection with Him. This is the meaning of the Talmud in YUMA that the essence of the Yom Kippur Day atones. Because on Yom Kippur, our essential bond with G-d is revealed, and in the process, our spiritual potential is revitalized.

According to the ZOHAR, NEILA is the Yichud of G-d – “THE GROOM” with His bride – the Jewish People!

For those who remember and those who want to know...Let's Lock the Door! G'mar hatimah tovah!

09 September 2018

Yom Kippur – G-d’s Debate with Israel

29 Elul 5778
Erev Rosh haShana 5779

Update: You might want to read this Rosh haShana article first: Don't Forget about the King by Shmuel Sackett...then come right back!

Yom Kippur – G-d’s Debate with Israel
by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher | first published here
links by CDG

The Mishna in Yoma 8 states, "Sins that are between a person and his fellow Jew are NOT atoned for on Yom Kippur." One cannot offend and harm another person and ask for forgiveness from G-d. Forgiveness must be asked and can only come from the person that we hurt, and only he can pardon us.

Thus, on the morning of Yom Kippur we read the amazing words of the prophet, Yeshayahu, (Ch. 58) where he presents a debate that takes place between G-d and Israel. In this chapter, we see how Yom Kippur can lead us to change our evil ways and be just and compassionate to our fellow Jew.

Yeshayahu states that Israel claims before G-d, "Why have we fasted and You (G-d) did not pay attention; we have afflicted our soul, and You (G-d) do not know?" This question is asked after the Yom Kippur fast, when G-d's pardon is not apparent. The people cry out, "Why hasn't the Yom Kippur fast helped to obtain forgiveness?"

G-d's response is clear and unequivocal – "Will such be the fast that I will choose, a day of a person afflicting his soul? Is it to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast that is acceptable to G-d? Do you (human beings) think that I desire you to suffer? Do I get any benefit from the fact that you afflict yourselves?" (Yeshayahu Ch. 58).

G-d is telling us that the Yom Kippur fast is not only an end in itself but the means to reach a further goal. What is this yearned for goal? G-d responds to this question with the surprising answer, "Is this not the fast I will choose? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to bring the poor into your home, when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him and not hide from your fellow Jew."

Here G-d explains the goal that He wants our Yom Kippur fast to achieve. The purpose of the fast is not to suffer or to diet. The purpose is that we should remember the poor, those who do not have proper food, clothing or shelter. This is the true purpose of the Yom Kippur fast. Because when we are hungry and thirsty, we can more readily identify with others who are suffering.

Thus, Yeshayahu promises, "Then you shall call, and G-d shall answer; you shall cry out, and He shall say, 'Here I am'."

Therefore, on Yom Kippur we repeat over and over again the 13 Attributes of
G-d's Compassion, "G-d, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger and Abundant in Loving-kindness and Truth…, Forgiving iniquity, rebellion and sin." (Shemot 34).

Why do we keep repeating these verses over and over again on Yom Kippur? When we repeat this declaration again and again, we become convinced that the correct path between us and our fellow Jew is G-d's path of compassion, forgiveness and loving kindness. We turn to G-d in the merit of those very same qualities with which He identifies Himself, and thus we awaken those same traits in ourselves.

As the Talmud in Rosh Hashana states, "Whoever forgives his friend for sinning against him even when he doesn't have to, guarantees similar treatment from G-d on Yom Kippur."

If we make a habit of displaying undeserved grace to others, including those who have committed wrongs against us, then we are guaranteed to earn the same kind of undeserved grace from G-d, MIDAH K'NEGED MIDAH. G-d conducts Himself with us in the same way that we conduct ourselves with our fellow human beings.
 Related: How to Turn a SIN Into a WIN!

More on Yom Kippur: Neila: Locked In with G-d (I'm going to have to link to it once it's actually online. Sorry about that. - CDG)

NOTE: Just before posting, I realized that this is a retitled repost of Yom Kippur's Goal: Compassion for the Needy; only this time, I linked the references and included a video, as I have been doing lately. Shana Tova uMevorah!

04 September 2018

The Last of the 613 – Write G-d’s Love Song

24 Elul 5778

by R' Ephraim Sprecher | Links by CDG

The last of the 613 Mitzvot is, “And now, write for yourselves this song, teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths”…(Devarim 31:19 | עברית).

According to Sanhedrin 21b | עברית this verse teaches that it is a Mitzva for every Jewish Person to write a Sefer Torah for himself. Why is the Torah referred to by the unusual term “song”? There is no other Mitzva in the Torah which is called a song.

The Aruch Hashulchan (עברית) deals with this question. He states, “Any dispute between Tanaim and Amoraim, or between the Poskim, whose genuine aim is to get to the truth of a Halachic issue, represents the words of the Living G-d and has valid Halachic status. Moreover, these Halachic disputes glorify our Holy and Pure Torah, which is called a SONG. The beauty of the SONG being that the voices are all different. This is why the Torah is so delightful. And whoever learns the Talmud will see different beauty in all the voices that are different from one another.” (Introduction to Aruch Hashulchan – Choshen Hamishpat) (specific link not found - CDG).

The Torah is G-d’s LOVE SONG to the Jewish People. The plurality of opinions, disputes, methods, and styles of understanding the Torah is NOT a fault. It is the incredible symphony of these different voices and opinions that combine to form a beautiful harmony that captures the hearts of all who study the Talmud.

This is the uniqueness and beauty of the Oral Torah. Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin, Chapter 4 (sorry, no English translation -CDG) makes an incredible statement. “If the Torah had been given clear, and as a finished product, it would NOT have continued to exist!

The Torah was purposely given in a way that allowed various Halachic conclusion to be drawn from it. This is NOT a fault in the Halachic system. G-d gave us the Torah THIS WAY so that it would continue to exist forever.

Therefore, The term SONG was used in reference to the Mitzva to write a Sefer Torah. The writing of the Sefer Torah symbolizes our powerful desire to sing G-d’s Holy Love Song!
 At the end of this video one of R' Sprecher's students plays and sings an original song in honor of the upcoming Rosh haShana 5779 ה"תשע"ט!

28 August 2018

Tell me again why the Batei haMiqdash were destroyed. I have a thought...

17 Elul 5778

Stones from the Western Wall thrown down by Roman soldiers in 70 CE - Wikipedia
Tell me again: Why were the Batei haMiqdash (Holy Temples) destroyed?

The rabbis tell us that the second one was burned down because of the hatred of one Jew for the next (sinath hinam - a very difficult phrase to translate properly). We all learn this; we are also taught that if we would love our fellow Jews unconditionally that it would solve the problem.

But we must not forget why the first one was destroyed: Idol worship, sesual immorality, and murder, known as the "three cardinal sins." We haven't stopped facing these issues, either. Why, at the beginning of August 2018 Jerusalem saw a "Pride Parade" that would have made the sinners of olden times green with envy - and with an air of righteousness to boot.

At least one person has written about it (I appreciate this so much, you don't know...). Because we're so focused on the fact that the second Temple was built so quickly, compared to our current situation where rebuilding is impossible, we think that the gratuitous hatred is so much worse than the three sins for which the sentence is capital punishment in the Torah!

Just a suggestion: we need to go one more step: It may not be a question of choosing which reasons are worse, but of combining them both. How do we know we're done dealing with the first set of sins? We still face them all the time, not always knowing what we are looking at, due to the changing "mores" around us. How many of us have understood that homosesuality comes under "sesual immorality"? So, I don't think the "three cardinal sins" are off the table just now.

The question really is: How can we act so that we nullify both sets of reasons simultaneously? Can we love every Jew AND acknowledge how the three cardinal sins relate to the need for teshuva on the part of Jewish violators, and their acceptance as human beings, at the same time so that the People as a whole is guilty on neither of these counts?

We all seem to be on one side or the other and we cannot address one half of the equation without addressing the other. I visualize them as a see-saw:

Sinath hinam-------------|-------------murder, idolatry and immorality

I believe this is an important question because the answer may lead us in a major way to the welcoming of Go'el Zedek Yisrael.

Here's an interesting article concerning the root of homosesuality (Hidabroot in English!).

Comments are welcome below. None of us can do this by ourselves!

Thank you in advance.

20 August 2018

T’SHUVA – Going BACK to the Future!

9 Elul 5778

by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher
with very light editing and links by CDG | originally published here

There was a cute movie in 1985 with the Jewish actor Michael J. Fox called “Back to the Future”. This is exactly what the T’shuva process is all about. Through T’shuva we can reset the clock by actually changing our sinful past.

The Rambam states that T’shuva consists of a 4 step process where we have the awesome opportunity to erase our sins and wipe away the evil resulting from our past transgressions. This is done through the following procedure.

1)   Cease and desist from our sinful behavior.
2)   Feel deep regret, shame, and remorse over our particular sin.
3)   A verbal confession to G-d describing our sin.
4)   Honestly and truthfully resolve never to commit that particular sin again.

This T’shuva process has the incredible power to totally erase our sin and restore the sinner to his spiritual level prior to the sin. In fact the Talmud in Yoma 86[b] states that if one does T’shuva only because of his love of G-d and not for any ulterior motive then that sin actually and wondrously becomes a Mitzva!

The Talmud Pesachim 54[a] makes an astonishing statement that T’shuva’s creation pre-dates the creation of the universe! The ability to go back in time and rectify one’s sinful past is so outer worldly that its creation preceded the natural order of the universe’s design.

The Holy Ari gives us a Kabalistic understanding of this unusual Talmudic statement. He states the reason the Torah begins with the word “Bereshit” (in the beginning) is because G-d’s first creation was a beginning, the onset of time.

Once G-d created time, there was no way to rewind the clock. This would remove the ability to do T’shuva, by going back to the past to reverse past events.

Thus, Kabbala teaches that G-d had to create T’shuva BEFORE creating time, in order to enable us to go above and beyond the laws of nature and turn back the clock to rectify our pasts sins.

This is the wonderful gift of T’shuva that G-d gives us during these days of Elul. Let us appreciate this wondrous gift to go back in time and to start all over again with a clean slate!

Elul's Mandate: Keep Hope Alive!

05 August 2018

How Teshuva Re-JEW-vinates us...and more on the month of Elul

the light of 25 Menahem Av 5778

...and more teachings on the upcoming month of Elul by R' Ephraim Sprecher
originally posted here. UPDATE: See below for permanent links to the additional articles on Elul!

Wikipedia: Repentance in Judaism

According to my Great-Great-Grandfather, Bnei Yisocher, the month before ELUL is called AV, because AV is the acronym for ELUL BA, which means, ready or not, ELUL is coming! Therefore, in this month of AV we already must begin to focus on the Teshuvah Process. So here goes.

The Zohar explains that the word TESHUVA is a compound of the words, TASHUV HEI, "returning the HEI". The HEI that the Zohar is referring to is the HEI of G-d's Name, YUD – KEI – VAV – KEI, known as the SHEM HAVAYA, which has two letters HEI.

The Zohar infers from the two HEIs of G-d's Name that the process of TESHUVA, "of returning the HEI", actually has two levels. There is the higher level of TESHUVA, called "TESHUVA ILAA", which is the process of returning the first HEI of G-d's Name. Then there is the lower level of TESHUVA, called "TESHUVA TATAA", which is the process of returning the second HEI of G-d's Name.

What's in a Name? A Name serves as a means for someone to relate to others. A name is how one presents himself to others. The two HEIs in G-d's Name represent two different ways in which G-d relates to our physical world.

The second HEI of G-d's Name represents G-d as He lowers and extends Himself to be King of the Universe. This HEI follows the letter VAV, a letter that is a straight line, symbolizing the drawing down of G-d's light from its lofty source into our physical world.

On this level G-d is our King, and He desires a loving relationship with us. G-d expects us to build on this relationship by fulfilling His Will, which is done through studying Torah and doing Mitzvot.

When we are lacking in our Torah and Mitzvot observance, we are rebelling against G-d's Kingship. The Baal Hatanya explains that TESHUVA TATAA is the return of the second HEI of G-d's Name, by recommitting to G-d's Kingship by being meticulous in our observance of His Torah. In view of the Baal Hatanya's explanation, it should be remembered that over the course of the year, our commitment to Torah and Mitzvot sometimes weakens, and we find ourselves rebelling against G-d.

The first HEI of G-d's Name represents a level of the Shechinah that is transcendent, spiritually higher than us and of all the physical creation. This HEI of G-d's Name follows the letter YUD – a letter that is just a point and unlike the VAV in G-d's Name does not extend all the way down. This symbolizes G-d as He is for Himself, unaffected by the created world.

There is an amazing verse in the Torah that tells us something incredible about the Jewish People. The verse says, "KI CHELEK HASHEM AMO", "For G-d is a portion of His people" (Devarim 32:9). This means that the source of the Jewish Soul according to the Baal HaTanya is at the ACTUAL level of G-d Himself, removed from the rest of creation. TESHUVA ILAA is returning the upper HEI of G-d's Name, meaning returning our soul to its Source.

How do we reconnect with the G-dly Source of our souls? When we study Torah and perform Mitzvot for the sake of fulfilling G-d's Will, then we are reconnecting to our Source.

This is how we return the higher HEI to the Name of G-d – becoming reunited
with G-d. When we connect to G-d on this level, we have plugged our souls back into their Source, and we have re-JEW-venated ourselves to achieve TESHUVA TATAA by accepting G-d as our personal King.

May we all have the ability to achieve a true, loving, and eternal relationship with G-d!

 Six Rememberances: Why Include Miriam's Shame?
What about Miriam do we actually remember? It isn't what you think.

More on Elul:
To Know HIM is to Love HIM | It's NOW or Never!

02 August 2018

We Protest!

21 Menahem Av 5778


We, the undersigned Jewish bloggers, hereby protest – in the strongest terms possible – the parading and glorification of an “alternative lifestyle”, one that is classified in the Holy Torah as an abomination, especially through the streets of the holy city of Jerusalem. 

The Torah demands that we live by a certain code of sexual morality, and as such, we are forbidden from certain relationships that a moral society cannot tolerate.  These include incest, adultery, bestiality, and homosexuality.  All these are considered grave sins in Judaism and incur the punishment of Karet, or excision from the Jewish people.  An act performed with witnesses during the time of the Sanhedrin would incur an even worse consequence – namely, capital punishment. 

And this is only on an individual level.  When the sin is committed on a societal level, it is much worse.  The Torah and our sages record how these acts were catalysts for both the Great Flood during Noah’s lifetime and the destruction of the Five Cities of the Plain.

As such, we consider any attempt to glorify acts that the Torah vehemently forbids by parading any such lifestyle through the streets with horror and utter disdain.  Such parades in New York and San Francisco would be bad enough, but through the streets of the Holy Land of Israel is a thousand-fold worse.  The Torah specifically warns us not to act in sexually abominable ways lest we be vomited out of the land.  One can only imagine how it is viewed in Heaven when people brazenly display to G-d how abominable one can be.  And if the Land of Israel cannot tolerate such acts of utter gall, all the more so in the holy city of Jerusalem, a city that is overwhelmingly religious. 

We in no way wish to minimize the struggles in temptation some may have in this area and view with positivity those who have such inclinations and bravely overcome them.  But those are not the people irreverently parading through the streets with rainbow flags, who show utter contempt for the Holy Torah and all we hold dear.

We therefore vehemently protest the “Pride” Parade in Jerusalem and everywhere else in the world where they may occur.  We hope and pray that those who take part in such parades do a complete Teshuva for their actions, and may we see a rebuilt Jerusalem, speedily in our days, Amen.

(in alphabetical order)

CDG from Hava HaAharona

Cosmic X from Cosmic X in Jerusalem

Dassie from Myrtle Rising

Devash from Tomer Devorah

Dov Bar Leib from End of Days

Goldie ZP from Geula613

Rabbi Lazer Brody from Lazer Beams

Yaak from Yeranen Yaakov

Yechezkel Hirshman from Achas L'Maala V'Sheva L'Matta

Many thanks to all the bloggers who joined us later: Jerusalem CatsYehudi Yerushalmi, Orna Nitzevet, Emunaroma, y muchas gracias a Realidad Tora.

If I missed you, please leave a comment below and I'll add you up here. We are seriously raising consciousness (as the Left used to say) of the real issues, folks!