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Heed the Voices

21 Jan

A couple years ago, a friend of mine read the Purim scroll with different voices.  He read it with the voice of Mordecai, with the voice of Haman, with the voice of Esther and the voice of Vashti, among others.  That awakened me to a new fact of life – there are a lot of voices and personalities vying for our attention.  And being humans, we can better understand ourselves and the Torah by tuning into the voice or character vying for our attention at any given time.  Even the simplest person is “inhabited” by many characters.  And since we are a very old nation, there are some wise and venerable voices demanding our collective attention.  So, why ignore them?  Each has a personality, and each expresses himself.  A good psychologist can help decipher which voices occupy our psyche, and a good rabbi can help decipher which spiritual character seeks expression through our soul.  If we remain unaware of “who is talking,” we run the risk of total confusion and chaos.  The same applies to Torah and to tefila.  Knowing whose doing the talking, during prayer and study, is key.  Once we know their perspective and their goals, our avodat Hashem (“spiritual service”) will go much smoother.  It is not necessary to remain reactive during learning and prayers.  We can be proactive, and then the rest falls into place…for more information, check out our latest Tefila tip (#8), at  Or, delve deeper into Jewish meditation and prayer, at  Or just browse what’s happening in Jerusalem, at   Good stuff going on round the clock…

A brief European Detour

13 Jan

We usually send out some weekly words of spirituality, but this week we cannot resist a piece of historical commentary, based on recent events.  Let us ask the following:  Do you think that the huge march in Paris was all about France and Europe suddenly awakening to the Islamic terror in their midst?  Do you really believe that after years of pretending that jihadist attacks on innocent human beings have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with downtrodden Muslim populations in Europe, that all of sudden the French authorities are waking up?  And that now they will name jihadi terrorism for what it is, a hateful Islamic manifestation?  Personally, I don’t think so.  When the French authorities treat the Israeli Prime Minister like a leper and mention “terror against Jews” only out of the sides of their mouths, there has been no transformation here.

To understand what’s really going on, we have to look deeper.  In fact, we need to go back to the beginnings of Jewish life in Europe.  Recently there was an article about how Ashkenazi Jews all come from a small group of 350 Jews who settled in Europe.  In fact, those Jews settled in the Rhine area in what is now Western Germany and Eastern France.  They were there in the time of Charlemagne, before there existed what we now know of as Germany and France.  So, there was never such a thing as Europe without Jews.  The current prime minister of France, Mr. Manuel Valls, stated that, “Without the Jews, there is no France.”  Looking at the big picture, the large historical canvas of European history, we can take Mr. Vall’s statement one step further and confidently declare, “Without the Jews there will be no Europe.”  We wonder if this isn’t the time to make that happen.

And now back to our normal routine.  We would like to direct you to our “Tefila tip #7,” a brief commentary on the Jewish spiritual routine in the morning.  You can find it at   And if that’s not enough for you and you want to learn all about Jewish prayer and meditation, try  And if what interests you is Chabad in Jerusalem, so check out our website, 

Tefila Tips #6

7 Jan

Until now, we have been focused on hoda’ah, or expression of gratitude and acknowledging God’s presence as we arise in the morning.  This week, we will focus on what we do, not just what we say, upon arising in the morning.

So, it turns out that when we sleep at night, and our body goes into deep relaxation, a spirit of tumah, or impurity descends upon us.  Let’s look at that Hebrew word – tumah.  It comes from the word atum, meaning “closed,” or “trapped within.”  And that describes what happens when a person is unable to ascend, spiritually – he is trapped within his own physical body, unable to make a connection with the One above.  That describes our status upon awakening in the morning.  Sleep brings a spiritual price with it, and that is a spirit of tumah, or “spiritual entrapment” that accompanies us when we wake up.  But, not to worry – the sages determined that this impurity leaves the rest of our body and becomes concentrated in our hands when we wake up.  That is because it is our hands – our extremities – that interface with the world.  Therefore, the hands are the place where negative spiritual forces attach themselves.  The hands and feet are the most vulnerable parts of the body, since they come into direct contact with the world.  And that is why the spirit of tumah, or impurity that resided in our body during sleep, comes to be located in our hands when we awaken.

So, here is how we remove the tumah, or spiritual impurity.  We place a covered bowl of water next to our bed and, without getting out of bad, wash our hands every morning when we awaken.  Why water?  Because it is colorless, tasteless and formless, and therefore it represents the highest form of undefinable Godliness – chochma – that comes down to reside with us in this world.  Also because water flows down from a high place to a low place, as does pure spirituality.  And therefore it has the ability to drive away the tumah on our hands.  Even though the best way to do this early morning hand-washing is by our bedside (and so is stated in both the Shulchan Aruch Harav, and also the Mishnah Berura), many people get up and go to the bathroom to wash.  However, the Zohar is strict on this matter, telling us not to walk even four cubits (two meters) without washing, and that is why the best way to wash “negel wasser” is by the bed before arising.

For more on prayer and meditation according to the Jewish tradition, check out our Tefila Tips (tips on Jewish prayer), at  Plus, delve a little deeper with our suite of spiritual books, at And finally, for just a little something on what’s going on in Jerusalem, try

Gratitude on all Levels (Tefila Tip #5)

1 Jan

This week, we continue what we started last week – how to get up in the morning.  We pointed out that our gratitude to God when we arise in the morning, saying Modeh ani (“I am grateful…”) is lefanecha – “to You” – meaning directly to God, to His very essence.  From us to Him.  This is called “General submission” or “General acknowledgment.”  Since our mind and our heart are not yet “in play,” our acknowledgment comes from our basic, essential selves, and also accesses the highest most essential Godliness.

So, what happens when we begin to use specific attributes of our personality during prayers?  At that point we engage in “specific acknowledgment,” or gratitude  based on specific attributes, such as emotions and/or intellect.  For example, when we begin our prayers in the synagogue with the words, Hodu Lashem – “I am grateful to God” – we engage our emotions.  At that point in prayers, we are involved in fear of God, or in the awareness that He watches our each and every move and therefore we must be careful.  A little later in prayer, we become involved in love of God, expressing our appreciation for His ability to create from nothing to something.  At that point we acknowledge Him with our love.  So, after arising in the morning and beginning prayers, we acknowledge God while expressing fear and love of Him.  In Chasidut, this occurs on the soul-level of ruach within nefesh, or perhaps our nefesh ascends to the level of ruach within us.

Finally, during the pinnacle of prayers, we acknowledge God with our intellect.  As we recite Modim anachnu lach (“We are grateful/acknowledge You…”) during Shemonah esreh, while bowing slightly at the waist, we admit that even after all of our investigations, mental gymnastics and meditation, we still do not know who God is.  This is specific acknowledgment on the level of intellect.  It occurs during the highest levels of prayer, as we cleave to God, and it proves that as accomplished as we might be in knowledge, fear and love of God, we are still nothing before Him, and therefore we nullify ourselves to Him.  This “specific acknowledgment” occurs on the soul level of neshama or higher.

Like this? If so, have a look at our suite of spiritual books at   And if you are interested in Chasidut and Jerusalem, try

Tefila tip #4, and Zot Chanukah!

24 Dec

Chanukah in Jerusalem is fantastic!  Huge blue neon Chanukiyot in the public squares, cars with Chanukiyot on their roofs (that’s in all of Israel and also elsewhere), tiny lit up Chanukiyot on the power lines.  And that’s aside from everyone’s personal Chanukiyah in their front doorway or the windows of their home.  Tis truly chag ha’urim, the “festival of lights.”  There’s inner light (hod- majesty) and there is external light (hadar– splendor).  Inner light just is – it’s inside of us and the person who possesses it might not know it, but it emanates from him (or her, of course).  Then there is outer light that you gotta “hook up,” it doesn’t shine automatically, you have to turn it on, but when it does, it lights up the whole public arena.  Then, there’s Chanukah, the “festival of lights.”  That’s when the inner light (hod) shines outside (hadar).  That’s when the powerful inner light that is just is, cause it’s an essential part of us, emanates outside as well.  When that happens, as it does during Chanukah, there’s nothing stopping it.  If you’re wondering how you can tap into some of that inner light, as well as get some tips on prayer (“Tefila tips”),  check out our blog at   If that’s not deep enough for you, then check out our suite of spiritual books on the subject, at  And finally if you just want to see whose lighting up the public arena, so go to  

Chanukah and Tefila!

17 Dec

I get emotional around this time of year, I admit it.  Chanukah was our family holiday, when we got together to kindle the Chanukah lights as a family, or at least whoever was around.  We wouldn’t do much, maybe sing a little and eat some latkas and stuff, but the main thing was the togetherness and warmth.  It also happens to be my birthday (second night of Chanukah).  So, like Pesach and the other festivals, it was a family thing.  Lots of water under the bridge since then, a long time and a huge physical distance, but Chanukah is still all about light and warmth.  It’s in the soul; the Chanukah lights symbolize chochma, or the spiritual wisdom that rises above everyday life.  It’s in space, since the Chanukah lights are placed where they can light up the public arena.  And it’s in time, since Chanukah flows over into the coldest winter days of the year, to warm them up.  Chanukah is also about miracles, that inform us how to connect with something  beyond ourselves.  How?  That’s the subject of this weeks “Tefila tip,” the third in the series.  It’s all about making tefila light up your day.  To see how, go to our blog, at  And if that only stimulates your appetite for more meditation and spirituality, have a look at where you can browse and buy our suite of Jewish spiritual books.  Finally to get in tune with Chanukah in Jerusalem, check out   Chanukah sameach, Happy Chanukah!

The Quorum Quandary – To pray with a minyan or alone?

11 Dec

This week’s Tefila Tip is about a practical issue –whether or not to pray with a minyan (prayer quorum of ten men).  Put in mundane terms, the question is, “do I join them or do I go it alone?”  Of course, it’s easier to stay at home and pray by ourself, but there are some good reasons for going to synagogue and praying together with friends.  Part of it is ahavat Yisrael – the general principle of love for a fellow Jew.  Since we are all brothers and sisters, so to speak, the more that we express our “togetherness,” the more we can do for each other.  But, there’s more to it than that, there are some spiritual reason as well.  If you’re interested, read all about it, at   It’s a fascinating topic!

And if that’s not enough and you want more, try our suite of spiritual books at    Some people just prefer to know what’s going with Chabad in Jerusalem – in that case, check us out at

New Series – Tefila Tips!

3 Dec

Shalom, Y’all!
We are beginning a new series of weekly emails, based upon techniques of meditation and prayer in the Jewish tradition. I believe that prayer is the “last frontier,” and that it is the area in which many of us are underdeveloped. We know that we have to fulfill 613 commandments. And we know that we have to learn some Torah every day. But, we tend to take prayer for granted, and discharge our duty as quickly and mindlessly as possible. Sometimes, this is because we don’t have time or because we have other priorities. But often, it is simply because well-meaning people do not know how to pray with intention. So, the purpose of this new series will be to refer to our website,, where we will post a different part of the prayer service every week, and analyze it according to the inner dimensions of Torah: kaballah and chasidut. We will also suggest a way of incorporating the new meaning into our prayers. In this way, we hope to promote mindful prayer and bring the ultimate redemption that much closer!
So, click on to get this week’s tip on tefila. If you’re looking for something more in depth, then try our suite of books on Jewish prayer and meditation at Finally, for news on Chabad in Jerusalem, go to

Of Wives and Wells

24 Nov

Last week and this week, several friends announced their engagements.  Funny thing is that these two weeks, we also find ourselves dealing with marriages in the Torah portions.  Last week, Isaac’s wife was found by a well, and this week, his son Jacob also finds his wife by a well.  What’s going on with the wives and the wells?  Why didn’t the forefathers find a wife by a mikveh or a spring or some other body of water?  But the thing is digging a well is like digging inside.  You want to get rid of all the dirt, all the stuff that doesn’t belong there, until you reveal the spiritual source inside.  Once you have gotten rid of all the dirt and the obstacles, the water flows spontaneously, automatically.  It’s a combination of man’s effort and God’s input, and that is where the water (wisdom) is found.  The same is true of the spouse.  We have to do the work, but it’s mostly about ridding ourselves of blockages and obstacles.  And then the spouse is “found.”  Blessings to all those who have dug and all those who continue digging.  For more depth on the subject, check out   If you want to know more about prayer and Jewish mysticism, check out, and if you just want to know what’s going on with Chabad in Jerusalem, check out  Have a great week and a great new month of Kislev!

Shana tova u’metuka! (Sweet new year!)

23 Sep

It’s hard to believe, but true – the year is coming to an end and a new year about to enter.  All the energy of 5774 dissipates, and with the blast of the shofar, a whole new vitality enters the universe.  Here’s what a famous rabbi, R’ Nosson Nata Shapira (author of Megaleh Amukot, sixteenth century Poland) says.  “The nation that hears the shofar will go from one spiritual high to the next.  When coronating a new king, the Jews used to announce, Yechi hamelech – “The King lives!”  (from Melachim 1:1).  Mortal kings below exist in parallel and corresponding to God’s reign above, so when we coronate God as our King on Rosh Hashana, and mention Him in our prayers (“the holy King,” as well as “the King of judgment”), we also blow on the shofar and announce that God is our King.  That’s why it says (Psalms 81), “because it is a law for the Jews, and a judgment for the God of Jacob” – just as it is a law for the Jews, it is an injunction regarding the God of Israel.  We wish to inform the world that His reign is honest and real, which is why we say, “Happy is the nation…”  It is the shofar blast that informs the world that we follow His dictates, and that His is the real and true reign and government…”

So, there you have it folks…if you want to know more, go to and look it up.  And if you want to delve more into Jewish prayer and meditation, try  Want to know more in general?  Check out and