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Rabbi's Blog

Rabbi's Blog

After Harvey

The destruction that so many people in our community have suffered this week boggles the mind. Our hearts go out to each and every person affected by the storm. 

While the recovery is expected to be long and challenging, I am confident that Houston will come back stronger and even better than before. Most of all, the caring and generous spirit that we have seen will no doubt to leave a positive impact that will be remembered and serve as a source of pride and inspiration for many years to come.

Hurricane Harvey

Click here for our LATEST POST ON THE STORM.

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(Posted Friday, Aug 25):

With the forecast for tomorrow morning in our immediate area being wet, but not too bad, we will, G-d willing and conditions permitting, be meeting for Services followed by light Kiddush refreshments.

While no one can be certain how things will turn out in the Galveston Bay Area, it seems most likely that there will be people in need of assistance once Harvey passes through.

We will be participating along with other organizations, in coordinating volunteers to provide assistance where possible. If you or anyone you know is need of help, please contact us at relief@jbayarea.org. 

May Hashem watch over all of us and keep everyone safe from any harm.

Remember to light Shabbat Candles (at around 7:32 pm) before sunset tonight and help usher in extra blessing and light into our little world.

Shabbat Shalom! 

The secret of Simchat Torah...

Simchat Torah is a special time. We dance, we sing, we celebrate the greatest gift of all... our holy and precious Torah! G-d's infinite wisdom.

Joy breaks through all barriers! It uplifts and unites us when we celebrate together as one people. Simchat Torah is a celebration not about our accomplishments in studying the Torah, rather it is about the essence of the Torah and our essence as a people - a bond which has kept our people united, courageous and strong despite all diversities we have faced throughout the ages.

Join us as we celebrate our heritage, our love and joy for the Torah and for our people Israel. Let us celebrate our greatest commonality:

We are one people, with one G-d, one Torah, one heart! 

- Credits: Naftoli S.

Nice, France

Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the horrific terror attack in Nice, and we offer our heartfelt prayers for the complete and speedy recovery of those who were injured.

It has been frustrating to observe the unequal attitude to terror that is exhibited by many around the world. This type of vehicular terror attack was being done in Israel throughout this year and mostly the world has remained indifferent to it, or when noticing it would often be in criticism of the Israeli security forces response. It is clear that we, as a society, must unite with one voice and without bias in pursuit of a common effort to cut this evil off at its root.

May we speedily see our long prayed for time of Geulah - redemption, when violence and evil will no longer reign, with arrival of the era of ultimate goodness for all mankind.

Knowing what comes first

Why does the Torah begin with the letter Beit -- the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to start it with an Alef -- the first letter of the alphabet?

This is to teach us, says the Talmud (Bava Metzia 85b), that when we sit down to study Torah we must be aware that there is something that needs to comes first. And what is it? Reciting the blessing over studying Torah. 

But why is that so important?

Because when we study Torah we're not merely engaging in an intellectual pursuit, rather, what we are doing first and foremost is learning how to connect to G-d.

By reciting the blessing over the Torah, we are putting our pursuit into its proper context by making ourselves aware of G-d, the Giver of the Torah. Only then can our learning and understanding of the Torah truly begin.

- Adapted from Lightpoints

PS The "Blessing of the Torah" is included in the Morning Blessings that are recited prior to the daily Shacharit morning service. 

It's a special year...

What a blessing it has been to be able to inaugurate the use of our new center right at the start of this new year of 5776.

This year happens to be the first year of the seven-year Shmitah cycle, known as the year of "Hakhel" (Gathering). Back in the Temple times, all of Israel, men, women and children, would gather at the Temple in the year of Hakhel on the holiday of Sukkot, to hear a special Torah reading led by the King, to be re-inspired with a renewed vigor and dedication in their service of G-d, and to share their inspiration with others.

How appropriate it is that our new center, the Chabad Bay Area - Center for Jewish Life and Learning, has gotten off to its great start, right at Rosh Hashana, at the beginning of the Year of Hakhel -  the Year of Gathering!

And what a beautiful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it was, with delicious meals, inspiring services and a wonderful, warm camaraderie.

We invite you to join us for our upcoming exciting programming, starting with our special, one-of-a-kind Simchat Torah Celebration!

A peak into your subconscious mind

"When you reap your harvest and forget a bundle in the field, you shall not go back to take it; leave it for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow...". (Deut. 24:19)

From here we see, says the Talmud, that if you accidentally drop a coin and a poor person finds it, you still receive merit for helping the poor.

Wow, let's think about this: You didn't want to lose the coin, you may even be aggrieved by the loss, yet it is still considered to be your good deed?

Your deep subconscious desire is really to do only good, explains the Rebbe,it is merely that sometimes your conscious thought is not aware of it. Your dropping of the coin could have actually been your soul's way of doing an act of goodness and bypassing your conscious thought. That is why this 'accident' is to your merit and it brings you blessing.

Let's get in sync with our subconscious!

Wake up!

It is customary to sound the shofar during the month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

Maimonides says that the Shofar can be seen as a "wake up call" - as if it is calling out and saying:

“Sleepers, be roused, from your sleep! Slumberers, wake from your slumber! Search your deeds and return in teshuvah...” (Maimonides, Laws of Teshuva 3:4)

The path to teshuva, repentance, is a two-step process. The first step is to arouse and wake from our sleep or slumber, and the second, to search our deeds.

While we are sleeping we normally have no conscious desire to disturb our sweet sleep and awaken. The same is true when we might be in a spiritual slumber - we may become complacent with life and uninterested in disturbing our peaceful obliviousness. Therefore, says Maimonides, the first step toward teshuvah must be to wake from our slumber so that we can become aware and make an assessment of our spiritual condition. Only then will we be in position to begin to earnestly work towards return.

- Adapted from Lightpoints

Why Kosher?

 In this week's Torah portion Moses reviews the laws of Kosher. Which animals are permitted to be eaten and which aren't.

Ramban, one of the great Jewish scholars from the middle ages, says that although the commandments are first and foremost an expression of G-d's Will, which by its very concept would be beyond human comprehension, yet, there are benefits in the Mitzvot that our rational human minds can also appreciate.

"We are what we eat," goes the popular saying. Now, this is not only true physically, but spiritually as well. Since the non-kosher animals have more aggressive natures and are usually carnivorous, when we eat them, says the Ramban, we are absorbing some of their physical and spiritual energy, and thus something of their traits.

Thus, avoiding eating non-kosher, is not only about fulfilling G-d's Will, but also a means to help us ensure that our spiritual antenna, our natural sensitivity to holiness and spiritual things, remains uncluttered and in optimum condition. 

Taking a second look at number one

This week's Torah portion includes the verses of the Shema, the most important prayer in all of Judaism.

In it we declare that "...Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." 

The simple meaning of this declaration is that there is only one G-d. But the deeper meaning is that G-d is the one and only true existence, and that there can be no existence 'outside' of G-d.

The Hebrew word for One, "Echad," consists of three letters: Alef, Chet, Dalet. Alef has the numerical value of 1, representing the Creator, Chet has the numerical value of 8, representing the 1 earth and 7 heavens, and Dalet has the numerical value of 4, representing the 4 directions (north, south, east and west). So the word Echad itself contains a hint to this fundamental concept: that there is One Creator (Alef) who is the only sovereign on earth and in the heavens (Chet), and in all four directions (Dalet).

The birth of Moshiach

While Tisha B'av is normally thought of as a very sad day, the Talmud comments that "On Tisha B'av the redeemer of Israel (the Moshiach) was born."

What exactly does it mean?

Well, certainly when Moshiach comes we will clearly understand what the Talmud meant by that statement. But even prior to that time it conveys a comforting message:

Just when you think you are in the deepest darkness and at the height of despair, know that precisely there a silver lining lies, because this difficult time will give birth to a much better one, an era that will far eclipse the goodness of anything known before.

May we see it speedily in our days. 

A Soul's Journey

In this week's Torah portion Moses recounts the 42 journeys that the Israelites made in the desert.

The Baal Shem Tov, the famous Chassidic master, taught that these journeys are not to be regarded as merely a matter of history, but rather they map the story of our own lives. Our soul is sent down to earth with the intention for us to achieve personal spiritual progress, to grow and accomplish in a series of journeys, starting with going out of the boundaries of Egypt until arriving into the Promised Land.

Selfless Leadership

In this week's Torah portion, Moses is told to prepare for his own passing.

If you can request something of G-d at a time like this, what would it be?

Well, here's what Moses says to G-d:

"Let G‑d, the G‑d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of G‑d will not be like sheep without a shepherd." (Numbers 27:16-17)

What an expression of Moses' dedicated and selfless leadership: That even at such a pivotal moment in his life, what's on his mind? The welfare of his people. 

- Based on Rashi's commentary 

The secret of the Jews

In this week's Torah portion, the gentile prophet Bilaam is hired to curse the Jews, but is compelled by G-d to bless them instead.

One of his statements were: "How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel!"  (Recited in our daily morning prayers: "Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael").

Bilaam, standing on a mountain overlooking the Jewish encampment, was struck by the modesty in the way the camp was set up. He observed how the Israelites had taken pains to ensure that -- out of a concern for privacy -- neighbors' tent openings never faced one another.  

Since the days of our early ancestors, the Jewish people have always held dear the value of modesty. Bilaam noticed this and saw it as one of the secrets of Jewish strength and success both materially and spiritually. Modesty and discreetness helps in the formation of strong and healthy family units, which in turn, create the bedrock for a robust and enduring nation.

Snake on a stick

In this Torah portion, after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people “speak against G d and Moses,” they were attacked by venomous snakes. When they repented, G-d instructed Moses to place a copper serpent upon a pole, and all who would gaze upon it would be healed. 

(Incidentally, this is a possible source for the snake on a stick medical symbol). 

How does gazing at a snake bring healing?

Rashi asks this question and explains “When Israel looked heavenward [toward the raised copper serpent] and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven, they would be healed.” 

-Adapted from Daily Lightpoints and Chabad.org

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