31 March 2009

The Living Torah Museun

A Place to take the Children 
Chol HaMoed Pesach

To Schedule a Tour this Pesach
 call or e-mail:
1601 41st street. Brooklyn, NY 11218
Phone: 718.686.8174

For questions about a particular exhibit/item(s) 
or how it relates to specific portion(s) of the Torah:

Talmudic Take on the Sun

"...And God said, 
'let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens, to separate between the day and between the night, and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years.' "

Our Rabbis taught: "He who sees the sun at its turning point, the moon in its power, the planets in their orbits and the signs of the zodiac in their orderly progress, should say:
Blessed be He who has wrought the work of creation. And when -- Abaye said: Every twenty-eight years when the cycle begins again and the Nisan equinox falls in Saturn on the evening of Tuesday, going into Wednesday."  TALMUD BAVLI, BRACHOS  59b

The Shulch Aruch Orach Chaim 229:2 codifies, “If one sees the sun at the beginning of its cycle, which happens at intervals of twenty-eight years, [pic: at the point of sunrise]
when the tekufah is at the beginning of the night of the fourth day, then, when he sees the sun of the fourth day in the morning he should say, ‘Baruch…oseh ma’aseih vereishit’.”

Rebbe Shmuel said "I am as familiar with the paths of heaven as with the streets of Nehardea." TALMUD BAVLI, BRACHOS 58b.

Rebbe Shmuel was the greatest Astronomer, and he decided on the 365 days, 6 hours as the Sun's yearly cycle ... "The duration of a season of the year is no longer than 91 days and 7 and one-half hours, and the beginning of one season is removed from that of the other by no more than one half of a planetary hour." TALMUD BAVLI, ERUVIN 56a.  
Are there other opinions?

"Before Adam's chet (sin), the planets moved extremely rapidly ... on the 4th day of Creation was the Nissan (spring) equinox ... and the 6th day after the chet was the Tishrei (Autumn) equinox" 
... therefore, 6 days was 6 months . . . 
which brings other theories to mind.

From this we see the machloket between Rebbi Eliezer (In Tishrei the world was created) and Rebbi Joshua (In Nissan the world was created). Talmud Bavli, Rosh HaShana 10b. 
Why do they differ?

If we divide 5769 by 28, we arrive at 5768. 
Why do we Bless the Sun in 5769?

Illumination of the above Part I on the Sun and much more can be viewed in an interesting video by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson at his online
Yeshiva. A fascinating journey into a once-in-a-28-year-experience, exploring the scientific, halachik, spiritual and psychological dimensions.

Sunday, April 5, 11 Nissan at 8:30 pm
An Evening of Song and Inspiration

Monday, April 6, 12 Nissan at 8:00 pm 
Part II of the Talmudic Discussion and the 
spiritual and psychological dimensions.

30 March 2009

Reb Akiva, Reb Nati, and Rabbi Lazer Brody Shlit"a With a Pesach Appeal


"We're just two guys (no organization overhead, no office costs, no salaries, no costs) trying to do what we can. . . In Israel charity is a personal affair and our collective responsibility. Every single dollar / shekel / euro given will go directly to those in need (minus the credit card processing fee, -3%). We are not taking one penny or agara (G-d forbid)!"

"t's easy to justify not helping. It's easy to say others will take care of it. But Rabbi Nati and I refuse to sit by when WE can do something. We refuse to watch our neighbors here in Israel crying and begging, and wondering if they'll have food on their table for Passover. Of course, we can't do it alone. Only with YOUR help can we make a difference."



*Remember, when you give to the needy children of Hashem, the chessed comes back to you when you least expect it.

Send Some Chickens to a Pesach Seder!

Yad Eliezer is proud to participate in the Feinstein Foundation anti-hunger campaign. Every dollar you donate this month will be increased by the Feinstein Foundation.

THIS PESACH YOU CAN INVITE SOME CHICKENS TO THE SEDER OF A NEEDY FAMILY. You can make a seder for an entire family for $36, or for 10 families for $360. 
Give NOW!

Orit Yarden is a single mother of five living in Ashdod, Israel. On her meager income as a seamstress, Orit supports her children, who range in age from 4 to 16, including one whose disability confines him to a wheelchair, and a second whose severe asthma requires regular medication that her mother can ill afford. Somehow Orit manages to stretch the little they have to ensure that her family does not starve, and they rely on Yad Eliezer's monthly food box of pantry staples and other forms of support to provide their basic needs.

But as Passover approaches, Orit's children know not to expect any surprises - their Seder "repast" will consist of the same potatoes and watered-down soup they have for dinner most every night of the year.

29 March 2009

And there was morning..and there was evening, One Day

Dreaming of Moshiach brings us very pertinent information:

Birchat Hachama is a critical time of judgment for Am Israel. Before leaving America, my husband merited to see the Tzaddik Nistar once more. He told my husband in order to sweeten the judgment on this very critical day, one should observe 
תענית דיבור (fast of silence) till after Birchat Hachama

This means from Dawn until after benching the Sun 
(which can be right after the early davening, about NYEST 6:28 am)

* * * * *
Some additional information about our Sun:
The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system. It contains more than 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System (Jupiter contains most of the rest).

It is often said that the Sun is an "ordinary" star. That's true in the sense that there are many others similar to it. But there are many more smaller stars than larger ones; the Sun is in the top 10% by mass. The median size of stars in our galaxy is probably less than half the mass of the Sun.

The Sun is, at present, about 70% hydrogen and 28% helium by mass everything else ("metals") amounts to less than 2%. This changes slowly over time as the Sun converts hydrogen to helium in its core.

The outer layers of the Sun exhibit differential rotation: at the equator the surface rotates once every 25.4 days; near the poles it's as much as 36 days. This odd behavior is due to the fact that the Sun is not a solid body like the Earth. Similar effects are seen in the gas planets. The differential rotation extends considerably down into the interior of the Sun but the core of the Sun rotates as a solid body.

Conditions at the Sun's core (approximately the inner 25% of its radius) are extreme. The temperature is 15.6 million Kelvin and the pressure is 250 billion atmospheres. At the center of the core the Sun's density is more than 150 times that of water.

The Sun's power (about 386 billion billion megaWatts) is produced by nuclear fusion reactions. Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons (=3.86e33 ergs) of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light. For the last 20% of the way to the surface the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation.

photosphere, is at a temperature of about 5800 K. Sunspots are "cool" regions, only 3800 K (they look dark only by comparison with the surrounding regions). Sunspots can be very large, as much as 50,000 km in diameter. Sunspots are caused by complicated and not very well understood interactions with the Sun's magnetic field.

A small region known as the chromosphere lies above the photosphere.

The highly rarefied region above the chromosphere, called the corona, extends millions of kilometers into space but is visible only during a total solar eclipse (left). Temperatures in the corona are over 1,000,000 K.

It just happens that the Moon and the Sun appear the same size in the sky as viewed from the Earth. And since the Moon orbits the Earth in approximately the same plane as the Earth's orbit around the Sun sometimes the Moon comes directly between the Earth and the Sun. This is called a solar eclipse; if the alignment is slighly imperfect then the Moon covers only part of the Sun's disk and the event is called a partial eclipse. When it lines up perfectly the entire solar disk is blocked and it is called a total eclipse of the Sun. Partial eclipses are visible over a wide area of the Earth but the region from which a total eclipse is visible, called the path of totality, is very narrow, just a few kilometers (though it is usually thousands of kilometers long). Eclipses of the Sun happen once or twice a year. If you stay home, you're likely to see a partial eclipse several times per decade. But since the path of totality is so small it is very unlikely that it will cross you home. So people often travel half way around the world just to see a total solar eclipse. To stand in the shadow of the Moon is an awesome experience. For a few precious minutes it gets dark in the middle of the day. The stars come out. The animals and birds think it's time to sleep. And you can see the solar corona. It is well worth a major journey.

In addition to heat and light, the Sun also emits a low density stream of charged particles (mostly electrons and protons) known as the solar wind which propagates throughout the solar system at about 450 km/sec. The solar wind and the much higher energy particles ejected by solar flares can have dramatic effects on the Earth ranging from power line surges to radio interference to the beautiful aurora borealis.

And there was evening: 
Sunset over Netanya

And there was morning [one day]:
Sunrise over the Kotel

Giant Internet worm

Giant Internet worm set to change tactics 
April 1...SAN FRANCISCO - The fast-moving Conficker computer worm, a scourge of the Internet that has infected at least 3 million PCs, is set to spring to life in a new way on Wednesday — April Fools' Day.
That's when many of the poisoned machines will get more aggressive about "phoning home" to the worm's creators over the Internet. When that happens, the bad guys behind the worm will be able to trigger the program to send spam, spread more infections, clog networks with traffic, or try and bring down Web sites.
Technically, this could cause havoc, from massive network outages to the creation of a cyberweapon of mass destruction that attacks government computers. But researchers who have been tracking Conficker say the date will probably come and go quietly. More wiggley news here.

27 March 2009

Bitachon - Trust in God

[IsraelNationalNews Israel Scenes]

Some Definitions
Part Four

Societies rise and fall on definitions. How many major conflicts have occurred because of a misunderstanding, because of two people’s, or peoples’, different take on the same idea?

Indeed, just about all of mankind pursues a fulfilling life. Who doesn’t truly want to be happy in life? And, yet so much tension exists in the world today, and has all through history. So many wars have been fought, and so much brutality has man inflicted upon fellow man, all because each nation’s understanding of just what happiness and fulfillment are varies so dramatically.

It is not so different when it comes to the implementation of ideas as well. Very often, we are unable to integrate certain important concepts into our lives because we don’t fully understand them, though we think that we do. Hence, the more important an idea is, the more crucial it is to make sure that we understand it as accurately as possible, because even a nuance of incorrect thinking can render the idea ineffective.

For example, there is the idea of emunah, or faith. The Hebrew word itself indicates that faith cannot be blind; indeed, the term “blind faith” is, in fact, an oxymoron. This is because the word emunah is related to the word “uman,” which is Hebrew for “craftsman,” for someone who is a professional at his trade. Indeed, an uman is someone who has been tried and tested in his area of expertise, with consistently positive results. Even what we call “emunah peshuta,” simple faith, is not blind. Rather, it too is based upon past experience, but perhaps not to the extent that others might base their faith in God. Jews with emunah peshuta may not fully understand how God works, but, for such Jews, the fact that God has saved the Jewish people so many times in the past, even when we have been unworthy of being saved, especially miraculously, is enough for them to have faith in God every single time.

Thus, the Torah itself states that blind faith is not a Jewish thing, when it says:

You were shown to know that God is God; 
there is nothing but Him.
(Devarim 4:35)

Notice how God doesn’t simply say, “You have to believe in Me”? Rather, He says to the Jewish people, “How can you not believe in Me, after all that I have shown you? How can you not have faith in Me, after all I have done for you? When it comes to taking care of My people,” God tells His children, “I am an uman—an expert—tried and tested, and therefore, worthy of your emunah!”

There is something very instructive in this statement, a crucial first step for developing a sturdy bitachon in God. It teaches us that, if you want to appreciate how much God can help you in the future, you have to first develop an appreciation of how much God has helped you in the past. This is more than knowing that He has. This is knowing the specific occasions that He has, and how much.

In other words, start a notebook, and call it, “Heavenly Help.” Order is not as important as quantity, so start with the most obvious and easiest to remember examples of how God has come through for you in the past. You should probably carry the notebook with you everywhere you go, or something to jot down a note or two to be transferred to the main notebook later, because once you start thinking about past miracles, they seem to come back to mind at a furious rate. Number them, and add to the list every day. Be as elaborate as you can, recording as many details as is practical, especially about how you thought you were finished, only to have the situation turn out well at the last second. For the really big redemptions, put a big asterisk in the column for easy reference in the future.

Don’t be lazy and don’t be ungrateful. Every word you write down will earn you reward in the World-to-Come, because it reveals God in history, and shows your appreciation for what God has down for you. However, the most important part of this aspect of emunah is that it leads to bitachon. For, just as love of God is something that must be developed by appreciating the world God has created, likewise must bitachon be developed by increasing one’s emunah, that is, one’s appreciate of what God has done for one in the past.

In other words, emunah is belief in God for what He has done in the past, and bitachon is the projection of that belief into the future. It is the logical extension of emunah that says, “If God has saved me in the past, and who says I deserved it then, then why won’t He save me in the future? What says a miracle can’t happen for me again?” Nothing. Just my own insecurity, my own self-doubt, my own fear of failure. And, this is nothing new, but something that goes back all the way to our beginning as a nation, as the Leshem explains:

Moshe Rabbeinu knew that at that time it was dependent upon their strengthening themselves in trust in God, and for this the verse faults them: “Because you did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation” (Tehillim 78:22), and it adds:

“Nevertheless, they sinned further 
and had no faith in His wonders” 
(Tehillim 78:32)

However, this was not due to an evil heart, God forbid, but because they did not find themselves worthy of this … Therefore, when they came to the desert and found themselves constantly tempted by the Sitra Achra and his trickery they did not encourage themselves to trust in God so that He could deal with them beyond measure and with constant miracles; they felt unworthy of this. Therefore, instead, they constantly complained, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt?” since they saw that they could not maintain the proper faith in God because of the yetzer hara that kept overcoming them and renewing itself each day. (Sha’arei Leshem, p.114)

In other words, when it says that the Jewish people in the desert did not believe in God or His miracles, which would be hard to fathom after all they had witnessed and experienced, it really means that they did not believe that He would continue to perform such miracles for people like them on such a low spiritual level. It had been too new for them, and too hard to accept, that God is so generous with His miracles that He will do them even for people unworthy of them, even though God Himself declared:

“I will make all My goodness pass before you, 
and I will reveal My Divine Name 
in your presence. 
I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.
I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 
(Shemos 33:19)

That is, as the Talmud explains, even if it doesn’t make sense to us (Brochos 7a). After all, how many people, as far as we can see, are really worthy of miracles? Not too many, perhaps. However, the stories of personal miracles abound, not because people simply got lucky, but because God deliberately performed the miracles for them, because He wanted to.

Hence, it is a mistake to look at the Jews of Moshe Rabbeinu’s time simply as complainers. They were good people, like we try to be. Unfortunately, they were under-confident, as we also tend to be. Therefore, they felt unworthy of receiving great miracles to survive, and believed that they were on their own, somewhat. That worried them, and where there is worry, there is kvetching.

Were their worries well-founded? Well, they certainly became self-fulfilled prophecies, for, by not relying on God, for not having the proper bitachon, they lost the right to the very miracles they dreamed of having performed for them. It was a vicious cycle that they had created on their own, and one which only they could break, by simply saying, “Has God performed great miracles and saved us in the past? Let’s confidently assume that He will again in the future.” It’s the one-two punch, emunah and bitachon. Taking stock of past miracles to believe in future ones. It’s the perfect combination, and the only safe way to navigate through Jewish history.

© 5769/2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston & THIRTYSIX.ORG: essays, books, cds, interactive presentations, and ideas that will change the way you look at history — and yourself.

A lot of people, seeing the events of today, are talking about the "End-of-Days." However, they've done that every time history takes a major downturn. How do we know that today is unique, and really the End-of-Days?  

The End of Days Part IV video

25 March 2009

Pesach Perspicaciousness

A Little of Mental Exercise to Help with Pesach Preparations

Rejuvenate Your Brain

A Pesach Primer

Please click on the  link for a fascinating trip to the Land of Tzfardea.
[the link is to the main page, when you get there, 
please click on the One Shot Froggie for some delightful scenes which appear after a few seconds' ads-worth waiting]

They told me 'croak' to get a gastric bypass 'croak' whatever that is . . .

23 March 2009

That's No Way to Treat a Friend . . .

Israel's chief of staff comes home early 
after doors close in Washington

Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi cut short his visit to Washington after getting an extraordinarily cool reception from the new U.S. administration... because he was 'dissed'. He came to discuss Israeli intelligence on Iran's nuclear reactor and to discuss ways to stop Iran from possibly triggering a third world war. Instead, the U.S. president had to be a guest on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. No one had time to meet with our chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to set a plan of action on how to deal with Iran and it's nuclear threat, not just against Israel, but against America as well.  This demonstrates the same behavior toward the British Govt. So now, both Israel and Britain are now persona non-grata. A statement to WorldTribune by the Israel Defense Forces spokesman attempted to downplay the snubs. But diplomatic sources said Ashkenazi failed to obtain access to any Cabinet member, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and was also unable meet his counterpart, Admiral. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

22 March 2009

Springtime is just moments away

The Jewish Month of Nissan

Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, is the month of love. The Biblical name for the month, Aviv, is phonetically related to the Hebrew word for "love," ahavah.

In Nissan, nature reawakens and expresses anew its love for its Creator. Similarly, in this month the Jewish soul renews its love for its Redeemer, who delivers it from Egypt, i.e., the restrictions and limitations of nature. The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzraim, is phonetically related to the word for "restriction," meitzar.

Recalling the exodus from Egypt, G-d tells His people: "I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, when you went after Me in the desert, in land not sown." On the central holiday of this month, Pesach (Passover), we read the Song of Songs, the love song between the Divine groom, G-d, and His beloved bride, the Jewish People. "How beautiful and how pleasant you are, O love of delights!"

The three pilgrim festivals--Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot--correspond to our three forefathers--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. G-d calls Abraham "My beloved one." Abraham was the first to lovingly spread Divine consciousness in the world.

The first day of creation was Sunday. On the Sunday of every week, the creation of the world is renewed, and all creation receives a new, higher life-force than it had ever before possessed.

The spiritual essence of the month begins to shine on its first day, called in Hebrew Rosh Chodesh. The most important Rosh Chodesh Nissan was that of the second year after the exodus, when the Tabernacle (Mishkan)--the complex which housed the revelation of G-d on earth--was erected and began to function. This Rosh Chodesh occurred on a Sunday.

We are taught in the ancient Kabbalistic text Sefer Yetzirah that every season, month, and day of the week was created with a specific letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Spring was created with the letter alef (א ) the month of Nissan was created with the letter hei (ה ) and Sunday was created with the letter beit (ב ) Thus, in the month of Nissan, the predominant letters are those which spell "love" (אהבה).

The experience of love is one of light shining to one from another; love is a two-way relationship. "As the reflection of one's face in water, so is the reflection of one's heart in another's." When G-d redeemed us from Egypt, He "exposed" Himself to us by revealing Himself, and we "exposed" ourselves to Him by following Him blindly into the desert. This is the meaning of the verse from the Song of Songs: "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine."

* * * * *
The Month of Redemption

Our sages say: "In Nissan our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt, and in Nissan we will be redeemed." The name of the month, Nissan, is cognate to the word, Nissim, "miracles." The two letters, nun, at the beginning and end of Nissan, allude, according to our sages, to "miracles of miracles" (nisai nissim).

In the Torah, the month of Nissan is referred to as "the month of spring." From the verse, "Guard the month of spring and make Pesach for G-d your G-d," our sages learn of the mitzvah to make a leap year when necessary, to ensure that the holiday of Pesach will always fall in the season of spring. The word for "leap year," ibur, also means "pregnancy"--a state of being from which a new reality is born.

Spring is the time of the rebirth of nature, of renewed growth and actualization of latent potential. This is intimated in the very first mitzvah that the Children of Israel were commanded, before leaving Egypt: "This month is for you the head of months; it is for you the first of the months of the year." The root of the word for "month," chodesh, is identical to the root of the word "new," chadash. Thus, "this month," the month of Nissan, is the source of all "renewal" that will appear throughout the year. In the above cited verse the root "new" appears three times--a triple renewal ("A triply winded thread is not easily severed").

* * * * *
The greatest miracle of the month of Nissan--the month of redemption--is that in Nissan nature itself experiences true renewal. The prophet says: "Just as in the days of your going out of Egypt, I will show you wonders." From this we learn that the miracles of the future redemption will be "wonders" as compared to the miracles of the exodus from Egypt. Chassidut explains that the miracles of the exodus from Egypt were so powerfully "supernatural" that they "broke" the natural order of the world. In the future redemption, however, the miracles will unite with nature and will illuminate the world through nature. Now, the myriad of miracles "enclothed" in nature are concealed by the cloak of nature. In the future, nature will become a transparent pane through which the brilliant, Divine light of the miracle of true renewal of all reality will shine. Of the future it is said: "Night (nature) as day (miracles) will shine."

©Rav Ginsburgh at

20 March 2009

Shabbat Shalom!


Bitachon - Trust in God

[IsraelNationalNews Israel Scenes]

Way of Life
Part Three

We tend to limit God, and ourselves. We tend to expect specific results from specific actions. For example, if I show up to teach a class, students should show up to listen. If I go fundraising for a worthy cause, people should open their doors, and their hearts, and give generously. When we do anything meaningful, especially something that we know God wants us to do, we expect our efforts to meet with success, and we become disappointed when they don’t, especially when they could have.

However, that is not necessarily the way it works for a Jew. There is not necessarily the same cause-and-effect relationship between what we do and what we get, as exists for the rest of the nations of the world.1 This is because, even though we may require a particular physical result from what we do, still, our main goal is not the physical success, but the doing of avodas Hashem, that is, the service of God.

This is what we Jews are all about: avodas Hashem. We are here to serve God, and nothing else. Now, though that may sound like a statement that only righteous people can celebrate, it is not true, because serving God is not the same as serving a flesh-and-blood ruler, even if he is benevolent. Serving God, when done correctly, can often resemble serving ourselves. Take Shabbos, for example. Even though there are things that we must do on Shabbos, and things that we cannot do on Shabbos, when observed properly, Shabbos is one of the most Divine human experiences. This is one of the main reasons why it is the most effective outreach tools, because it is a wonderful experience, packed with meaning and tremendous pleasure. 

True, there are some mitzvos we’d rather not do, and require additional incentive to perform properly. But, that is only because we are out of touch with our souls, for all the mitzvos really are just to help us get more in touch with our inner being, so that we can enhance our lives, and do that which earns us more reward in the World-to-Come—all for our benefit. So, ultimately, the service of God is really self-service. Hence, whenever we do something, be it join a minyan or go to work, prepare for Shabbos or prepare for a vacation, we are supposed to do it as part of our service of God. To onlookers, such extremes may appear very different from one another, but that is just in appearance. It’s all supposed to be avodas Hashem, that is, serving some ultimate Godly purpose. In other words, a Jew does not earn a living by going to work. We serve God by what we do at any given moment in time, and then God gives us whatever it is that we need to further do His will, which happens to include surviving, and even enjoying life.

Obviously, this is a longer discussion unto itself, and I have written about it extensively in other works. However, for now, the upshot of this idea is that, whatever we set out to do does not have to achieve the intended result to be called a success. Success, by Torah standards, is doing the best you can, to do the best you can, when performing some kind of meaningful task. God expects no more, and the true remuneration for an action in this world comes in the next one, in World-to-Come:

According to the effort is the reward. (Pirkei Avos 5:26).

Hence, in Judaism, “A” really is for effort. The beautiful thing about this truth is that there is no imperative to see physical results of our physical labors to be a success. The fact that we tried to do a good thing is success enough in God’s eyes, and sometimes, even just the desire to try and do the right thing is enough, such as when physical circumstances prevent our being able to carry out our plans. God just wants to know that we are on the same page as He is in life.

Part of the reason why many people have difficulty with bitachon is because of the way they define success and failure. In Eisav’s world, success means accomplishing what you set out to do—you went to make money, you have to make money—and failure is not accomplishing that goal. It’s that black-and-white because, for Eisav, there is only this world, and its value is only in terms of the physical pleasure it can provide.  However, once the physical result is detached from the physical effort, that is, they are no longer interdependent, then it becomes easier to see how God is helping us out the entire way through. We give God more options, so to speak, to reward us for our bitachon, as I learned one day, many years back.

Though I prefer not to share personal stories in public, I will share this one because it really makes the point. I first moved back to Eretz Yisroel in 1993, just after I had published a new book called, “If Only I Were Wealthy.” I was working in the Old City in Jerusalem at the time, and one day had to make my way to the printers in Givat Shaul to arrange the printing of the next book in the series, “If Only I Understood Why,” a book about suffering. Since taking a bus would have taken too long (it was already 4:30 pm), it meant catching a taxi down by the entrance to the Kosel, usually a pretty easy thing to do. However, for some reason, the Kosel was particularly busy that day, and there was competition for taxis, which didn’t seem to be coming so quickly either. As I surveyed the situation, I noticed a well-groomed, middle-aged, secular man standing next to me, also trying to flag down a cab. I wasn’t sure who had gotten there first, and became concerned about taking a taxi before him, even though I was in a rush, lest it be a Chillul Hashem. 

The next taxi to pass by happened to be a van, and the man and I looked at each other, seemingly thinking the same thing at the same time. 

“Do you want to share the taxi?” I asked him.
“Where are you going?” he asked me.
“To Givat Shaul,” I answered.
“Great,” he said. “Why don’t you drop me off at the King David Hotel
on the way?”
“Sure,” I said, just grateful to be on my way.

He sat up front, while I sat in the middle section of the van. It is a short distance to the King David Hotel from the Kosel, and as we drove, I couldn’t help but think, being outreach-oriented, that God had thrown us together for some cosmic reason. But, what could I say in 5 minutes that could impact his life, and yet, not turn him off instead? I wasn’t sure, so I just struck up a casual conversation and waited to see where it went. After the niceties, he asked me what I do. So, I told him that I was a writer, and he told me that he too is in publishing. He asked me what I write about, and realizing that the conversation was progressing in the right direction, I told him that I actually had a copy of my latest book with me. (I always carried one in my briefcase, just in case an opportunity to sell a book suddenly presented itself, like that one.)

“Would you like to see it?” I asked innocently, and he sounded genuine in his desire to take a look. He was amused by the title and the cover, which is a professional illustration of a man being showered by real U.S. dollar bills (photographed in different falling positions, and then inserted into the illustration). I explained what the book was about, thinking to myself, This is why God put us together: so I can sell a book and he can read about the Jewish idea of wealth!

After all, judging by the way he was dressed, it did not seem to me that $8.95 would set him back that much. However, he just kept looking at the book, as the King David Hotel came into view, not offering at all to buy the book. That made me think differently, and moments before we were to part ways, probably forever, I felt the futility of the situation. Nothing would have come of our chance encounter, which couldn’t have been by chance at all, and I was somewhat distressed, even flustered. 

Then it occurred to me: give him the book for free. For free? an inner voice questioned, as we pulled into the circular driveway of the hotel. To a man who could probably buy 100 of them at full price and not think twice? A slight inner struggle ensued, but the good voice won out, and I blurted out:

“Why don’t you take the book with you …”
“Thank you,” he said, as he reached for the door. “I will make a point of
reading it tonight.”

He had sounded very sincere, and I would not be surprised if he actually read the book that night. Besides, I told myself, even if he is just being polite, you never know who will pick up the book from him, and eventually do teshuvah because of it. God works like that. On the other hand, that other voice kicked in again, not only did I not sell a book, but I have one less book to sell. If I keep doing that, how will I make a living?

Then it hit me. Did I write the book to make money, or to positively affect people? Was making a parnassah my main reason for writing, or was it just a by-product of doing my avodas Hashem? If the latter, I told myself, then who says I have to sell a book to make living? Perhaps there will be times that I will, and perhaps there will be times that I won’t, and it was at that time that I made a deal with God, so-to-speak. I told him:

“Well, who ever said that I have to get paid for what I do, as if that is the way I must earn my parnassah. I write books to affect Jews, first, and earn money, second. Sometimes, this will mean selling them for the full price, and sometimes it will mean selling them at a discounted price, or even giving them away for free. It will always depend upon the kiruv opportunity.

Hey, but that’s okay, because that’s my avodas Hashem. “So, I’ll tell you what,” I told God in my mind, “if I stay focused on my end of the job, I’m going to trust that You’ll stay focused on Your end of the job, and take care of my parnassah—one way or another.” If that sounds chutzpadik, it’s not what I meant to be. I am well aware of the fact that God owes me absolutely nothing, and that I owe Him absolutely everything. Rather, it’s what I believe God wants us to think, and say, because it is actually the way He deals with us. I had just happened to come to the realization that day, in that taxi, with that man, kind of on-the-job instruction. In fact, in the end, I had merely been talking to myself.

Indeed, since that time, some 16 years ago, that is the way my life has gone. Sometimes my parnassah has come from obvious sources, sometimes it has come from mid-air, or so it has seemed to my wife and I. Sometimes, the money has come in advance, and sometimes, God has taken me down to the wire, at which point all had seemed lost, only to help me out just in the nick of time. During that course of time, I have never become rich for longer than about 15 minutes, but I haven’t stayed broke for very long either. More and more, it has become as it was for the Jewish people in the desert, with respect to the munn that they ate for 40 years: the salvation seems to be just in time, and just enough to get by.

As you can imagine, such a way of life leaves plenty of room for worrying. However, when I have worried, when I have capitulated to this innate yetzer hara that seems to say that worrying is the first step towards solving a problem, usually all I ever accomplished was to end up with egg on my face, once my personal salvation finally came.

On the other hand, when I hung in there until the very end, and didn’t let worry overtake me, instead telling myself, “It will be okay,” I won twice. My situation turned around, and I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had stayed with God until the end. Rather than rub my face with concern, I rubbed my hands together and said with confidence, “Gee, I wonder how God plans to save the day this time!”

So often, so very often, Heaven has answered that question positively, and quite quickly as well.

1/ When Ya’akov and Eisav met, and Eisav offered to share this world with Ya’akov, on the
condition that they share the World-to-Come, Ya’akov refused, effectively handing over this
world to Eisav and his descendants.

© 5769/2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston &

18 March 2009

Bitachon - Trust in God

[IsraelNationalNews Israel Scenes]

Gam Zu l’Tovah
Part Two

Gum zu l’tovah—this too is for the good—are words that were immortalized by the great rabbi of the same name, because he lived and died by this phrase (Ta’anis 21a). No matter what happened to him, including the final grueling moments of his life, Nachum Ish Gum Zu, the great rebi of Rebi Akiva, saw everything that happened to him in a positive light.

Rebi Akiva phrased it differently: All that God does He does for the good (Brochos 60b). Inherent in both statements, seemingly, is the acceptance that bad things do in fact happen to good people, but for a good reason, known only to God. Such an idea is so fundamental to a Jew’s belief that we are taught that we should accustom ourselves to say this on a daily basis (Tur, O.C. 230:5).

However, this statement seems to be contrary to the one made previously by the Midrash, that anyone who trusts in God will be surrounded by kindness. In a world of kindness, do we need statements such as, “All is for the good”? Who ever questions life or God when good things happen to them?

After further thought, maybe they don’t contradict each other, but rather, they speak about different moments in the bitachon process. In other words, Gum zu l’tovah can refer to those moments until the kindness comes for having trusted in God. It says,
  • “Don’t panic! Wait until the end of the story, to see how things will turn out. It’s not over until it’s over. Success doesn’t always come the moment we think we need it, but sometimes, it takes a while before the miracle kicks in. Stay with God until the very end.”
The second statement, that of the Midrash, says, “If you don’t panic, and trust in God, then the end result will be good in the end, a good that you will enjoy. On the other hand, if you panic and do not trust in God, then you will bring about the very failure that you fear.”

And, lest a person ask about Nachum Ish Gamzu, and Rebi Akiva, who died horrible deaths, though they trusted in God completely, it says:

  • Do not wonder regarding holy people of earlier times who suffered terribly and did not make use of the trait of bitachon, as a result of which they would have certainly been saved. They made use of a different trait:  loving acceptance of suffering, as Rebi Akiva said, “All of my life I was bothered … when will I get the chance to fulfill …” (Brochos 61b),1 and as Rebi Eliezer said, “Come my brothers and dear ones” (Bava Metzia 84b).2 For those who did not want to trouble their Creator, they instead responded with mesiros Nefesh—self sacrifice—specifically giving themselves over to The Holy One, Blessed is He, to do with them whatever He willed.3 As Rebi Yehuda ben Babba said, “Behold, I am before them  like a stone that has no one to turn it over” (Sanhedrin 14a).4 There is a very deep matter here. For, sometimes, it is His will, May His Name Be Blessed, to bring about a specific decree as a function of Kavshei d’Rachmana,5 the hidden thoughts of God. As a result, He may remove free-will and put fear in their hearts until it is impossible to strengthen their trait of bitachon, in order to fulfill the decree, Rachmana Litzlan,6 as HaGaon Rav Ya’akov from Lisa wrote in the name of the Ramban in his commentary on Megillas Esther, on the verse, “Mordechai would not bend or bow” (Esther 3:2); see there. However, in truth, nothing stands in the way of bitachon, and with regard to this it says: “But the righteous are as confident as a young lion” (Mishlei 28:1). (Sha’arei Leshem, p.115)
In other words, these great rabbis knew how to use trust in God to save themselves from harm, but chose not to, for reasons cited above. The miracle promised by the Midrash would have, and did on many previous occasions, happened for them. Their deaths teach us about self-sacrifice, not about how trust in God does not guarantee positive results, because it would have, had they chosen to use it to save themselves.

“But that is exactly the point!” a skeptic may object. “Perhaps, because they were righteous they sacrificed themselves instead. However, it was precisely because they were righteous that bitachon could have worked for them, had they chosen to rely upon it! What about the rest of us less righteous people? We have sins to atone for, and surely that mitigates the guarantee of a miracle in a tight spot, even if we trust in God completely?”

It is a good question, one from throughout the ages. However, the answer is even better:

  • The Ramban says something similar: This is why it says, “Trust in God and do good” (Tehillim 37:3), and it does not say “Do good and trust in God.”7 Rather, [from this we learn that] trust in God does not depend upon good deeds at all, but rather one should trust in God whether he is righteous or evil. It concludes, however, with “do good” because if you do not [do teshuvah from past sins] then they will exact payment from you nevertheless. The Holy One, Blessed is He, is very patient, and will find the time to take payment from you8 (Sefer Emunah v’Bitachon, Ch. 1). (Sha’arei Leshem, p. 114)
Hence, in conclusion, bitachon brings about positive results, even miraculous ones, without fail, at least during periods of history when there is no Divine decree. Gam zu l’tovah merely means, wait for them to happen. Pass the test. Don’t throw in the towel early and forfeit the right to the miracles that bitachon promises will occur, as many people do while saying, “I trusted in God, but He let me down. All is for the good … I suppose.”

Indeed, Gam zu l’tovah means something quite different from the way most people understand it. It doesn’t mean, “Oh well, I had hoped for a better result, but in the end, I didn’t get it. However, as a faithful Jew, I accept that God knows best. This must be the better way, ultimately, and as a loyal Jew, I’ll accept this and not complain.”

However, based upon what has been said, and if you pay closer attention to what Nachum Ish Gamzu was saying, it is clear that Gum zu l’tovah does not only mean, “this too is for the good.” Rather, it is really saying, “this too is Divine Providence,” an event, or series of events, that have been orchestrated by Heaven for a purpose, one that we are expected to figure out.” It does not mean, Nachum Ish Gamzu and Rebi Akiva taught, that God intends to sabotage our salvation. It just means that the route to success may lie on the other side of a test first, that test being in the area of trust in God itself, to see if we will intellectually and emotionally jump ship during stormy winds, before God actually saves us.

However, though this is easy to say, it is far harder to remember while living in the midst of an emotional tempest. How easy it is to forget that God runs the world when life not only seems random, but evil even prospers. This is why bitachon is not something that can be turned on and off as suits the moment, but rather, it must be a person’s full time attitude towards life.

1 He was referring to the verse from the Shema that says one must serve God even with his life, which Rebi Akiva understood to mean dying to sanctify the Name of God, which is precisely how he died.
2 In spite of the fact that he was terribly sick and experiencing tremendous pain, he continued on with his teaching and learning as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
3 In other words, they knew full well that they should trust in God and that doing so would trigger the necessary miracle to survive. However, the preferred not to make God turn the world upside down for them, even just a little bit, and instead followed their path of Hashgochah Pratis with love for God.
4 Rebi Yehuda ben Babba ordained five rabbis at a time that the Romans had forbidden it, and for which the punishment was death. Just after concluding the ordination the Romans arrived and after sending off his students, Rebi Yehuda held his ground like an immovable rock while the Romans murdered him with arrow after arrow. His statement reflected his loving acceptance of the fate that was fast approaching him, and his lack of willingness to invoke a miracle to be saved from it.
5 A term denoting Divine Providence for which we have no logical explanation (Brochos 10a). Sometimes, as a late and extreme measure in order to correct history in ways that man failed to do, Heavenly decrees are executed without interference. The Holocaust would fit into that category, and at such times, bitachon may be less effective as a source of salvation than it is during non-decree times.
6 In other words, had the tzaddik been left to his own devices, he would have had the necessary bitachon to change the situation around and bring about the necessary miracle for salvation. However, for a reason that may be known only to God, history demands that salvation not result at that moment, and therefore the tzaddik does not have the chance to respond with bitachon.
7 One would think that the benefits of trust in God would be only for those whose slate is clean. “Do good,” that is, be free of sin so that you can “trust in God” and be saved from your crisis.
8 In other words, even though trust in God is enough to warrant a miracle regardless of one’s spiritual level, it does not erase past sins for which a person is always responsible and for which he must either repent or suffer punishment.

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© 5769/2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston &

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