Guest post by Reb Eliyahu Neyman
The story goes something like this - a religious man got into a taxi cab in Israel and some time into the ride the driver of the cab told the man (his passenger) that he has a friend who also become "religious". Interesting... the passenger thought, and he proceeded to ask the taxi driver what was it that inspired his friend to take on the path of Torah?
The taxi driver then shared the amazing story of how him and his friend where on a camping trip in the wilderness and one night they awoke to the feeling of sheer terror. A huge snake had managed to slither into their quarters and had wrapped itself around the taxi driver's friend's neck! Panic struck and realizing the victim was about to suffocate to death (G-d forbid) the secular young men remembered that before a Jew dies he should say the Shema Yisrael prayer one last time, so in a frantic mode the friend did just that and said the Shema Yisrael almost sure of his impending death in seconds.
After he finished the quick prayer with what was probably a whisper everyone around was witness to a most amazing sight: the snake loosened it's hold and uncoiled from his neck before slithering away entirely!
After that event, the taxi cab driver proceeded to relate, his friend became "religious".
Impressed, inspired and bewildered the passenger of the cab couldn't help but ask one more question - Why aren't you religious then?
The cab driver responded in a short, matter-of-fact and explanatory-tone -- the snake wrapped itself around his friend's neck, not his!
Sadly, how many of us can relate in some way, shape or form to the above true story? No explanation is necessary..
We have now begun the month of Elul and have less than 30 days before Rosh Hashana (The New Year & Jewish Judgement Day).
Rabbi Lazer Brody gave a very insightful Emuna lesson last week based on Torah and current events. I want to share just a few points he presented in his talk live from Yerushalayim. I will try to relate it as best I can with a few quick notes, and a few additions. Please forgive me in advance for any unintentional misrepresentation.
Last week's Parsha was Re'Eh - Hebrew meaning "Look" "See!" The prophet tells us during Shabbos Chazon a few weeks ago that problems arise because we don't open our eyes and look at what Hashem is doing! Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches us that we as Jews have to look at the wisdom in Creation and understand that what is happening in the world are really messages from Hashem. A person could be learning Torah all day long but if he/she doesn't relate it to the world at large they are truly disconnected and missing the main point of G-d's active involvement in the world He created and runs, a core principle of our Torah.
Almost two weeks ago the Gaza rocket blitz began in Israel following a deadly and brutal terrorist sabotage and massacre in Eilat. The following week a near magnitude 6 earthquake shook much of the Eastern US. The unprecedentant quake was felt from Atlanta Georgia to Toronto Canada. The two most astonishing impacts were seen right away - damage to the United States National Cathedral in Washington DC that took the form of the top spires (crosses) being knocked off, and a big crack developed in the Washington monument at the Capitol. Speaking of which, both the Capitol and the Pentagon were urgently evacuated as staff feared another attack was in progress (earthquakes just don't happen like that in those parts). With a proverbial snap of the fingers Hashem showed how He can empty out the most powerful nation's capital and pentagon in mere seconds and we don't even have to wait for the next elections!
Note - this quake hit on the exact day (Tuesday) that we read the Torah portion of the day dealing with how to deal with the "false prophet" and a city of idol worship. You connect the dots.
Days later as talk of the quake was still fresh Hurricane Irene paid the Eastern seaboard a tropical visit. Some 65 million people were in the crosshairs of the storm and this week plenty of people are STILL without power around New York.
The Gemara points out that Hashem brings tremors to the world to straighten out crooked hearts. Rebbe Nachman explains that one with a straight heart is happy and the Pittsburgher Rebbe illustrates that a person with a straight heart is on a higher level than a tzaddik! Remember, happiness is synonymous with holiness. Don't be fooled by "religious" looking people who chronically walk around with a frown and constantly look down on others. Where happiness is lacking, holiness is as well. Besides, anyone can wear a costume and it's easier to grow out a beard than to change a negative character trait. But Hashem wants the heart and He's not fooled by outward appearance.
Hashem then sometimes has to intervene and straighten out our hearts if we don't do it ourselves.
A religious community in Israel hired a contractor to build a new shul. Well, the contractor decided to cut a few corners and save some time and money in a not-so-honest way. In effect, instead of the traditional method of making a solid concrete foundation on top of sand and only then topping it off with a tile floor he went ahead and quietly put the tile onto the sand. When the religious community found out although too late to do anything about it, they became angry and quite upset at the contractor. They didn't realize that according to the first principle of Emuna it was Hashem and NOT the contractor who decided their shul was going to be built like that.
This latest rocket barrage that affected Israel demonstrated the big picture quite well...one of the warheads fired from Gaza went through the roof of that shul during morning prayers, pierced the paper thin tile floor of the synagogue, hit the sand underneath and DID NOT EXPLODE! Had their been a layer of concrete, which would normally be the case in an 'honest job' that shell would have most likely detonated and G-d forbid what would have been. Nobody was hurt that day in that synagogue.
Rabbi Shalom Arush Shlita says that if the UN recognizes a Palestinian State this month, then it looks like we're headed toward an almost certain war situation, G-d forbid.
It's no longer business as usual, the world is changing fast. Hashem wants to bring Moshiach and change the world into a place of true peace and spirituality. But for that to happen we have to work on becoming proper vessels for that light and that new reality.
It is said that the miracles of the Final Redemption will make the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt look like Sesame Street in comparison. Apparently we are going to need those miracles with the way things have been stacking up in the world.
It is now the second day of Elul, we are less than 30 days from Rosh Hashana and this last month of the year is perhaps the most conducive time on the Jewish calendar for Teshuva. This word Teshuva, sometimes referred to by "repentance" actually means to "Return", to "come home". Our task is to bring our hearts back to Hashem. Hashem is our Loving Father and He is waiting for us. He wants to give us the satisfaction of initiating the relationship with Him.
A core spiritual principle is when we arouse ourselves here below the spiritual cause and effect initiates an arousal of Heavenly mercy from Above onto the Jewish people.
So what's it mean to wake up? We have to ask ourselves: Do I have the same prejudices as I did last year? Do I love every Jew?
Our free choice in life really boils down to one point: Desire - Ratzon (Hebrew)
We must ask ourselves - Do we desire to do Hashem's will? Do we desire to get closer to Hashem?
Do I really love You?
Do I really want to eat kosher?
Do I really want to keep the Shabbat?
Hashem wants our heart, Hashem wants our Desire.
Let's do our part to work on our Desire and do all we can to make Hashem's Desire a reality - a world of peace, harmony and love. A world guided by the light of Divine inspiration where humanity is busy with doing the Will of its Maker and busy learning about Hashem.
G-d created all of the spiritual worlds and yet he Desired to have a dwelling place right here, in the lowest of all worlds - our physical world. It's our job to do our part. We know He will do the rest!
Chodesh Tov and may you and your family be inscribed for a Holy, Happy & Healthy New Year!