Our Service Down Here Aimed at the Temple Up There

Walking along a lakeshore one day, you spot a panoramic scene in the water.  There are beautiful trees and mountains, soaring birds, all captured by the clear surface of water.  It is so crystal clear you think that is where the scenery really is.  Suddenly, an evil teenager breaks your reflecting pool by shattering it with rocks hurled in.  The water churns, the mud from the bottom swirls up and obscures the clarity, and all the sights you’ve seen disappear.  Ah, but then look up from the lake surface and you see the actual scene, those trees and mountains, those soaring birds, they all still exist.  Just their reflection is gone.

Was a time when we had a Bais HaMikdash, a Temple here on earth that “reflected” some spiritual beauty of the Heavenly realms.  Our enemies came and destroyed it, and thought they had destroyed us, too.  Ever read of some of the dialogue between the Romans and the Rabbonim?  The Romans boasted of harming our Bais Hamikdash and our rabbis responded there was a Heavenly one they never can touch.  Ever.

We are told “una’shalma parim sifahsaynoo” which means that now we can’t do the service of the Temple, we substitute much of it with prayer.  I want to share with you Rav Schwab’s outline of what prayer is at what place in the Heavenly Temple.  I will do so in cursory manner, but it would be worth your while to read this in the original glory of description of Rav Schwab[g1] .

I have attached a very, very rough sketch to give you a bit of a picture.  Be forewarned – I cannot draw a straight line even while wielding a ruler.  Hence, the art is off, but the idea remains.  If you want to see a “to scale” idea of what the Temple looked like, I would suggest Rabbi Reznick’s book[g2] .

Basically, as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, ZT”L so eloquently wrote, Jewish prayer and practice is meditation of the highest order.  From now on, you can focus on the fact that as you pray you are moving in Heavenly spheres from place to place.

The first area of the Temple is that of the Ezras Nashim – the place where all were allowed.  Here we say introductory prayers, such as Adon Olam, a poem to the Master of the World, the Universality of G-d.

Then come fifteen steps upwards which correspond to the fifteen morning blessings.  We are ascending to a higher spiritual realm, one filled with additional responsibilities that perhaps others don’t have.  Hence, such blessings as “shelo asanee aved” thank You G-d You made me a free person able to take on the additional commandments.

We reach the Chatzer, that outdoor courtyard where folks brought their sacrifices.  Hence, the custom to recite Karbanos at this point in prayer.

More steps now, 12 that rise above a floor level, giving us thirteen levels.  This corresponds to the brief paragraph that outlines how Rabbi Yishmael says Torah is learned.  Torah allows us to gain a higher place in spirituality and there are steps to master it.

We are now going to go into an area called the Oolam which will be where we say Pesukay D’Zimrah.  The door in and the door out are going to be very similar.  We begin with Baruch She’amar and we conclude this section with Yishtabach, and if you look, they have the same theme and many similar wordings.

Now we come into the Holy, the Kodesh, where we have three vessels.  We have the Shulchan, a table with showbreads on it.  Representing this we have the prayer of Yotzer Ohr, where we describe the natural wonders G-d sets that allows us to have sustenance.  We have a Menorah and corresponding to that we say Ahava Rabba – Torah = Ohr, learning and knowledge is a light to us and the world and we talk about the love G-d had in that G-d  gave us a way to tap into spiritual knowledge.  The third vessel here in this area is the Golden Altar used for incense and this is represented by the Shema prayer, where we offer up our whole selves to the service of G-d.

We now approach the most sacred of spots.  We step backwards to gain readiness and…then, my friends, each day, each prayer time, we do what the High Priest was only able to once annually…we step forward three steps into the Holy of Holies.  It is us and G-d, nothing else and no one else.  This is our Shemoneh Esrei, the crux of our prayer.  When we finish, we back up, back out.

Concentrate now, visualize, connect, and do the work in the Holy Temple upstairs by praying down here.


[g1]Rav Schwab on Prayer (This description is found in the Introduction part of the book).

 [g2]The Holy Temple Revisited by Rabbi Leibel Reznick

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Kislev and Chanuka


[Here is the Chanuka story/customs in a wrap-up, quick-telling version.  Enjoy!]

The astrological sign of Kislev is a bow.  The first rainbow (that Noach saw) was seen in Kislev.    A bow is also an example of how people should teach the next generation.  The archer has to concentrate when fitting the arrow into the bow.  The more he prepares and the more he pulls back the bow, the straighter and further the arrow will fly.  The more parents think beforehand how to raise a child and the more they prepare, the better the children will end up.  The holiday in Kislev, Chanuka comes from the word Chinuch (education).

Kislev can be read to say Kays Loh – the Throne is His.  That was the theme of the Chanuka story – that the few really religious Jews fought to put G-d first in their lives.

Brief history of Chanuka story:

The Greeks (the Yavanim) worshipped body and mind, but refused to believe in the soul.  Everything in their culture was about human power – sculpted bodies, artwork, gyms, and science and literature.  G-d was out of the picture for the Greeks –they were too busy worshiping themselves.  A group of Jews called the Misyavnim fell in love with the Greek way of life.  In the beginning they tried showing other Jews how the two cultures actually complemented each other – that you could have Torah and Greek culture.  Glatt Kosher Gyms.  Colleges with a little of Judaism sprinkled in.  Then, as people became more and more into the movement, Judaism became less and less and Greek influence became felt even more.  For example, first they had gyms that catered to Jews – then they began having plastic surgery to “cover up” the brisim (signs of circumcision) of the guys going to the gym so that no one could tell they were Jewish.

One Kohain family who lived in Yerushalayim worried their children would lose their Judaism being surrounded by these Misyavnim and their ideas.  So this family, whose father was Mattisyahu, moved to a small town called Modi’in where they thought the next generation would be safe from Greek influence.  But the Greeks were out to destroy Judaism so they decreed Jews could keep all Mitzvos except Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Bris Milah.  They also began passing other decrees, such as no girl could get married without sleeping with a Greek general.  Idols were put into the Bais Hamikdosh and in every town square.

The person who started the war:  the daughter of Mattisyahu got up and said, “are you going to let that happen to the Jewish women”.  Mattisyahu and his five sons started an army, and there were just a handful of people on their side, but they took on the Greeks who were then the world power.  They fought long, they fought hard, some of Mattisyahu’s sons got killed.  But eventually they won.  And they then went to Yerushalayim and cleaned up the Bais HaMikdash.  They wanted to light the Menorah but could not find oil that had been kept pure – they only found one small jar enough to last one day.  They needed 8 days to produce more oil.  They lit the Menorah using the jar of oil – and the jar of oil’s light lasted the full 8 days.  That was the Chanukah miracle.

The last day of Chanuka, on the 8th day, is called Zohs Chanuka – THIS is Chanuka.  Why?  The simple explanation is that the reading on that day begins with those words.  But then you have to ask yourself, why is the reading of those words saved for the last day of Chanuka?  Okay, so listen carefully.  Seven is the number that belongs to the physical world.  Seven days of the week.  Seven primary colors.  Seven planets.  Seven notes in music.  Seven continents…  The Greeks said, what you see is what you get – you guys can keep any Mitzva showing connection to this world, to physicality.  However, don’t come and talk to us about spirituality, about souls and things beyond this temporary world.   Eight is beyond this world.  We are told that there will be an 8th note in song, more beautiful than all previous seven notes of song, when Mashiach comes.  In other words, 8 tells us there is something beyond our physical world, something greater than the sum total of our intellect and body – and that greater thing is called Olam Ruchanee – the world of spirituality.  The Maccabim fought for the right to live their lives focused on the Olam Ruchanee.  Therefore, when the Menorah stayed lit for 8 days, it showed what they knew – that with G-d everything goes beyond the physical world.  The 8th day of Chanuka is the actual embodiment of the lesson of Chanuka so we call it ZOHS Chanuka – this is what the Chanuka story is all about.

The name Chanuka is based on several words:  Chanu Kaf-Hay – The armies who fought against the Greeks got to rest on the 25th day of Kislev when the war was over and they had purged the idols from the Temple.  Chanuka from Chanukas – the dedication – they rededicated the Bais HaMikdosh in this month.

Chanukah from the word Chinuch.  Many of the stories of Chanuka is about bringing up children the right or wrong way.  Some stories:

For the good:  Chana and her 7 sons.  By the age of not-yet-3, her youngest son was able to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim (stick to the right thing and die for G-d).

For the bad:  When the Greeks came into the Bais Hamikdash, there was a Jewish woman there from a Kohain family who had intermarried.  She was wearing strappy sandals, and when she passed the Mizbayach [altar], she took them off, slapped the Mizbayach with her sandals and screamed, “Mizbayach, you are just a fox eating the sacrifices of the Jews and giving nothing in return.”  The Greeks thought it hilarious entertainment.  When the Maccabim took back the Bais HaMikdash, one of the first things they did was find out what family this girl came from.  Each Kohain family had cubbies in the Bais HaMikdash, but the cubbies of this girl’s families were then blocked up and they had no personal space in the Bais Hamikdash.  The reasoning was this way – the Maccabim knew that if she went so far off and against her people, she must have heard badmouthing of the rabbis and of the service in the Bais HaMikdash at home.  You want to have good kids, make sure you don’t speak badly about the Mitzvos.

In the olden days, they began teaching kids to read on Chanuka.  The custom of “chanuka gelt” came about because they would ask the children to show how well they were learning on Chanuka and would reward them with money for learning well.  That is why it is also a custom to “tip” teachers of Torah on Chanuka.

Chanuka is hinted at in the Torah She’biksav (written Torah).  Where?  Count 25 words from Braishis and the 25th word is Ohr (when Hashem said there should be light).    Then, when it lists the different places where the Jews camped while traveling in the desert, the 25th place they camped was called Chashmona.

Mitzvos of Chanuka:  adding Hallel to the prayers, adding Al HaNisim in the Amida and in Grace after meals, having good meals, and, most important, lighting the Menorah.

Customs of Chanuka:  playing draidel.  The draidel has four sides and one top piece that spins it.  This is to show us that the four corners of the world (everything that happens) is spun by the One above!

Eating things fried in oil – to remember the miracle that happened with oil.

Eating dairy foods.  There was one Greek general that needed to be killed.  A Jewish woman named Yehudis (daughter of Mattisyahu) packed herself a picnic basket with good foods, dairy ones especially, and went to the Greek army camp.  She was very beautiful and she told the soldiers she had come to meet their general.  He was thrilled and invited her in.  She fed him dairy, and when he became sleepy, she lopped his head off with a sword, put it into her basket, covered it up with her cloth and left the camp.  That was the end of that battle – won by a brilliant woman.

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Some Injustices Are Just Not Forgiven

When I was younger and less jaded, I came across a chapter in Tehillim [Psalms] (Kuf-Tes 109) that bothered me to no end.  In a lament against those who hounded him, King David prays:    “may his days be few…may his sons be orphans…and let there be no one doing favors for his orphans…”  On and on goes the impassioned plea to G-d for annihilation and suffering to those who, for no good cause, harmed Dovid.

Tehillim in hand I wandered off to find my sagacious father to make sense of what I was reading.  “Totty, how could it be?” I asked, “how did Dovid pray for such things, that others should suffer!?”  In my naïve mode I believed religion dictated all must be forgiven, no matter what the circumstances. That let bygones be bygones was a command to us.  I didn’t fully understand my father’s answer to me.  He smiled a very sad smile and said, “You are too young to know that there are certain things people do that can’t be forgiven.”

I’m no longer that naïve.  I’ve consulted with rabbis about certain circumstances and have heard that abused folks have no mandate to forgive their molesters and abusers.  I was the go-between between a former student and teacher, where the student said she would never forgive the teacher for killing her reputation and taking away her opportunity to get into a mainstream high school – -and the Dayan consulted said there was no mandate for the student to have to forgive the teacher.  It was a sad scenario as there was tragedy in the teacher’s life which she felt was due to the grudge held by the student.  In the end, the Dayan and the student discussed it, aired the pain, and the student did come around and offer forgiveness to the teacher, but she did so out of pity.  I have heard a teenager, upon hearing of the tragedy of a former classmate say, “Good.  You have no idea how she made me suffer.”   In general, the rule is that the person who did the harm has to set things right before being entitled to ask for forgiveness, and sometimes the harm cannot be set right.

I have learned the travesties and harm we can inflict upon one another, and know already just how much uncalled-for pain we humans bring into the world.  There are some wrongs that just can’t be righted.  And in the absence of the righting of the wrongs we commit, how can we expect carte blanche forgiveness?

May we never know the travesty of such injustice done to us that forces us to cry out to G-d to make our tormentors suffer.  And may we have the sense to stay far away from words and actions that might just make us the abuser. 


For an interesting read on forgiveness, read here http://lists.aishdas.org/pipermail/avodah-aishdas.org/2009q3/013283.html



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 “Anyone who has shame, will not quickly do wrong.”

 Each one of us has inside of us a little right and wrong monitor.  We are born with it.  Yet, sometimes we dull it,cover it up and completely move past it.  It is like turning off your radar detector…then not knowing when you are being caught speeding.  The first dirty word comes out quite strange from the mouth.  Use it a few more times, and it becomes easy to roll off your tongue.   Soon you don’t even realize you are using it…and sometimes even slip up and use it in front of everyone.

In Paroh’s dream, he saw a group of skinny cows coming and standing still, watching some contented, fat cows.  Upon seeing the intruders, the fat cows became wary, stopping their munching and staring uneasily.  The skinny cows, however, just stood there, not doing anything, so the fat cows went back to grazing.  As soon as the fat cows got used to the skinny ones being there, the skinny cows opened their big mouths and completely swallowed up the fat cows.  Chick-Chock, all gone, faster than you can say “MOO”.

The Yetzer Hara[1] uses the cow tactic, too.  First the thought of doing wrong comes there and stands in our mind for some time, like a guest.  We don’t act upon it.  As a matter of fact, we would be horrified to carry out some thoughts.  We stand in a place watching people do wrong things, thinking we would never do it.  Yet, if we stand there long enough, or if we let a thought be in our mind long enough, the second we aren’t wary, “Gulp” — we’re swallowed by our desires, doing the things we would never, ever, have dreamed of doing.  If you’re embarrassed by a thought or by watching your friends do something wrong, the shame is a warning bell.  Don’t be a fat cow and ignore the warning signs.  Charge at it.  Get the bad thought out of your head.  Get yourself away from a place where Aveiros[2] are beingcommitted.  Get yourself on the attack…or risk being swallowed by temptation.

[1] Evil Inclination

[2] sins

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The Pully Mishap (and not fighting)

 [This account, surprisingly, is true, as told by a lawyer who saw the deposition of the brilliant worker who did this.]

 Figgerin’ a bucket of rocks and cement can be used as ballast

I tied the other end of rope to me and held fast

But too many rocks I put right inside

So upwards I went sailing topwise

Whilst the overfull bucket went zooming down

To crash with a bang upon the ground

Whereby the bucket overturned and out things spilled

So now the bucket was no longer filled

Making my weight at this point be way more

So up went the bucket, and down I slammed into the floor

And when I finally with broken bones came to rest

That bucket plopped down right upon my chest

The moral of this tale I’m sure you’ll agree

is quite obvious for all to see

When picking a fight, make sure you and your opponent are evenly weighted

Or for some cracked ribs you are definitely slated.


My father always told us another Klal (generalization) about tiffs.  He said, if someone starts up with you, lower yourself, even perhaps stoop down.  For your enemy will come to trip over you, if you do so.

But on a real serious note, in a world that is filled with Machlokes, I just saw this amazing insight by Rabbi Elazar (Chulin Daf Pay-Tes).  He teaches about the line that says:  Toleh Aretz Al Be’leemah [translation: G-d hangs the world in space]  that you can actually translate this differently and say the world is suspended [in existence] “Bishvil Mee She’bolaym Es Atzmoh B’Shaas HaMachlokes” for the sake of those who hold back during a fight.”  You know, those who swallow and don’t asnwer back, those amazing folks…their the reason for a world to continue spinning in existence.  Can you swallow your pride and try not to engage in a fight even when provoked?  For the world gets hung just right when that happens.

My father also said another amazing thing –  he said, “it takes only one person to decide to have Shalom, because if one person decides not to fight, no matter what, there is no fight.”

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Puzzle Pieces of Life

This week’s Parsha tells us of the beginning of the exile for our nation, instigated by sibling rivalry, jealousy, sniping and other acts of hatred between brothers.

Whilst telling us the story of how Yosef gets sold into slavery, the Torah does a weird thing.  It stops the story of the sale of Yosef somewhere in the middle and puts on pause the story of what unfolds for Yosef in Egypt.  During that intermission, the Torah “switches channels” so-to-speak and dials up the story of Yehuda’s marriage, his children, their disastrous marriages and Tamar’s brilliance in ensuring righteous generations are set up for Yehuda by her giving birth to twins.   When finished with that whole Yehuda-Tamar shpiel, the Torah then switches back and continues the story of what happened in Mitzrayim to Yosef.

The Midrash explains what is happening.  When something bad occurs we see it unfolding and think it is all tragic.  However, things in life that happen are just puzzle pieces.  If you pick up some random puzzle piece, you might see only black.  However, when you put that puzzle piece where it should be it might be the piece that outlines a bright thing.  In other words, until all puzzle pieces are put together, you cannot see the full picture.  So you see Yosef marching off to Galus [exile].  You see the black piece of the puzzle.  Then the Torah tells us this seemingly unrelated story about Yehuda having children.  Ah, you don’t see  how these puzzle pieces will eventually fit together.  We see the beginning of exile, but there, in those puzzle pieces of Yehuda and Tamar is outlined the beginning of the redemption.  The Messianic age is dependent on offspring of these two great men.  Moshiach ben Yosef will fight our wars and Moshiach ben Dovid from Yehuda will guide us how to live life ideally.

As the Jewish exile begins, the redemption is also already beginning with the birth of Yehuda’s children.  It is, therefore, important, to put that story embedded in the story of Yosef being led down to Egypt.

Any time we face challenges, we must remember it is but puzzle pieces in the bigger picture.  And, even as those puzzle pieces get put into place, we can be sure, G-d is setting up other pieces of the puzzle that makes for a  beautiful end result.

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Picking Our Struggles (or having it thrust upon us)

Vayishev Yaakov – and Yaakov settled.    RASHI quoting the Midrash:  Beekaysh Yaakov Layshayv B’Shalva– Yaakov wanted to live in tranquility.  And, therefore, he got the struggles and problems that follow.

Adam L’amal Yaga’ata” – man was created for struggle.  A soul comes down to this world to struggle and work, to put in effort.  We sometimes have a choice in life – to pick our own struggles, or if we don’t pick the struggles, Hashem gives us the struggle.  No person’s life is without struggle.  What kind of struggles can we pick?  We can pick to work out our middos – we say, okay, I am going to struggle with my character traits.  Changing our nature is a struggle.   Why, you ask, why must we struggle?  For that is what allows us to fix flaws in the world and release purity from the trapped straits they might be found in within our universe.

You know what I’ve found in life.  Not only do you get struggles thrust upon you if you don’t pick your own battles, but you get the same struggle again and again (and sometimes again and again ad nauseum) until you get it right.  Say you have a classmate who, for whatever the reason, has a personality that grates on your nerves…if you don’t work out your ability to act gracious to that individual, chances are you will end up with a boss or coworker with the same issue.  And, if that won’t do the trick, you just might end up with a spouse with that personality…or a child with it.  Basically you will be thrown that annoying scenario many times over until you finally are “metaken” fix-up the flaws within you and the world which your soul has been sent to do.

Three years ago my family went through torturous times of my father being really ill.  Last year we went through the same. Two years TO THE WEEK  – both times his most critical point of health crisis was the week of the Parsha of Yaakov’s struggle with the angel.    My sister says that gives her the goosebumps.  But to me, I think it is somewhat of a clarion call and a comfort.  Not for nothing do we get our struggles.  It is even timed and slotted to reflect the struggles of past history.  Something greater than us little family was going on in our struggle.  Something was being set right as my father fought for his life.

May each struggle that we go through fix the flaws needed to be fixed, so that we can “graduate” to our next, and hopefully more cheerful struggle.  May we have the foresight to “pick” our struggles, rather than have them pick us.


And, if you’ve never heard it yet, here’s Lipa Schmeltzer’s  song about Yaakov’s struggle (and ours, too) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap8Q6rHHjOU

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