Tag Archives: freedom


Seven days shall you dwell in boothsLeviticus 23:42

… and you shall only be rejoicingDeuteronomy 16:15

Succos is the festival designated as the season of our gladness. Yet the commentaries state that one of the symbolisms of the succah, a temporary hut, is that we dwell in it for seven days to symbolize man’s temporary sojourn on earth for his average life span of seven decades (Psalms 90:10).

Human mortality is a rather sobering thought; it is hardly conducive to rejoicing. Most often we do not think about our mortality, and when circumstances force us to face it, we quickly dismiss it from our minds and go on acting as though we will live forever.

How different Torah values are from secular values! The Torah teaches us that there is an eternal life, a wholly spiritual life, whose bliss is far greater than the human mind can imagine. We are placed on this planet for our ephemeral earthly existence only to give us an opportunity to prepare for the eternal life.

The Torah teaches us to enjoy life, and if it restricts some pleasures, it is because we should enjoy life in a manner that befits a human being. Furthermore, our joy of living should not be diminished by the awareness of our mortality, nor need we deny it. The succah – the symbol of our temporary stay on earth – is beautifully decorated, and we enjoy our festive meals therein. Even our temporary existence can be beautiful and happy, and our faith in the eternal life should enhance that happiness.

Today I shall…

try to enjoy life as befits a spiritual person, knowing that the true life of man is not the fleeting one, but that of eternity.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 15”

Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

-Will Smith, American actor

I probably take myself too seriously. Sometimes my wife tells me that. I know it’s certainly true of me in my “online persona.” I guess that comes from being a professional writer. Writing is what I do, so it’s important to me. It’s pretty much my first, best expression of who I am. Not that I’m perfect at it of course. But I don’t paint, and I don’t play music, and I’m not that good a public speaker, and I don’t dance worth anything, so I’ve got to have one way of expressing myself that’s better than all the others.

For me, that is writing. I’ve said before that writing this blog has a therapeutic aspect to it. It helps for me to pound out my thoughts and feelings, to “wear my heart on my sleeve,” so to speak. I can better describe how I feel and think about God, Jesus, Christianity, Judaism, and lots of other things when I write. Not that everyone will agree with me, but then, not everybody has to agree with me.

In this season of joy, during Sukkot, I need to be reminded about the difference between what’s real and important and what’s more or less beside the point. A lot of what happens online is beside the point. No, it’s not that I don’t take my writing seriously, and it’s not that I don’t take the people who I interact with online seriously, but beyond a certain point, I have to let things go.

Some people steal joy, as if joy were something you have and they don’t. As if joy were something they’ll never have and they can’t stand that you have some. They steal it, even if they can’t use it themselves, just so you can’t use it, either.

No one can do that to you unless you let them. In real life, it’s harder to combat, especially if the person stealing your joy is important to you, especially if it’s someone you love. While I get hurt by people I love sometimes, no one I love steals my joy. I’d probably let them if they wanted to, because I love them, but they don’t do it because they love me and they know that stealing joy is wrong.

Online, there are no end of people who steal joy. They may not think of it in those terms, but that’s the net result of their interaction with others. It’s easier to try to steal someone else’s joy online because you can’t see them and they can’t see you. You are depersonalized. They can’t see that they’re hurting you, and so, if they have no empathy, compassion, or grace, they don’t have to care if they’re hurting you. They can verbally harangue you, insult you, make fun of you, and feel well justified in doing so, because you aren’t even human to them. You’re just an anonymous “thing” that they can attack and defeat. I guess that’s what it takes to make themselves feel better.

You’d think that it would be easy to let go of someone like that online. All you have to do is pull the plug on whatever communication conduit they use to connect to you. Stop visiting their blog. Ignore or delete their comments on your blog or even block their IP address. But it’s not that easy. It’s like slamming the door in someone’s face. Even when they’re hostile, and even when they’re abusive, if you’re a decent human being, it still feels rude to (metaphorically) slam the door in their face.

Most hostile and abusive people are usually victims of some kind. Most bullies and trolls online have a history of being bullied themselves. I guess that’s why I put up with some folks as long as I do. I realize that even when they’re in your face, making demands of you, telling you what to do, that it’s really their defense against how hurt they are inside. They’ve never dealt with their pain and never resolved their conflicts. The only way they know how to live inside their own skin is to project all of their “stuff” onto others.

So I was dumb, and I was foolish. I (mentally) cut someone loose but let them back in because I thought maybe there was hope that, though we’d always disagree, we could disagree with a sense of mutual respect. I was taking a risk, but you have to do that sometimes. Sometimes it’s worth it. This time it wasn’t.

You can’t really hate a victim because in many ways, they just can’t help themselves. In order to feel powerful, they have to be hostile. These sorts of people, especially guys, mistake anger and aggressiveness for power, not realizing that true power isn’t hostile or aggressive at all. True power is love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, graciousness, and tenderness. Some people think the only power is intelligence, education, superiority, winning the argument, devastating twists of irrefutable logic, how well they halalachally perform a mitzvot. That’s the stuff they push in your face to show you that they’re not a victim, that they’re “winning,” that they’re better than you. Then they can feel better about themselves.

But they’ve missed the point. Paul was extremely clear about which gifts are more important. In fact, there’s one gift, one attribute that we can all possess and exercise if we choose to, that trumps all the rest.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

Really. Read that again. What is Paul saying? He’s not saying that “winning” in some Charlie Sheen fashion is the whole point. He’s saying that, even if you’re fabulous in speaking tongues, are an amazing prophet, even if you have faith that literally can move mountains, but you don’t have love, you have nothing.

GardeningLove is like a small, fragile, budding plant you nurture inside of you. If you don’t take care of it, the love will wither, and you will wither along with it. Love takes a lot of special attention but if you don’t care for the love inside of you, you’ll never be able to show it to others, especially those who really need to be loved. It almost seems paradoxical to say that in order to preserve your love, there are some people you have to let go. But those are the people who suck joy directly from your soul, murdering your love, blackening your heart, and damaging, not only you, but everyone around you who needs and depends on you.

Author C. JoyBell C. said, “You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” Sometimes toxic people are the weights that hold us down. And even if it feels like giving up on another human being, it’s better to let go of the weight so that you can rebound and fly, than to keep hanging onto it and letting it; letting that person drag you down into hostility, hopelessness, and despair along with them.

I hope and pray that my “toxic person” finds his way and learns to let go of his own unneeded weights, but he’ll have to learn love, the kind of love Paul was talking about, first. That’s something you can’t teach someone, especially against their will and especially if they equate humility, compassion, forgiveness, and love with being humiliated and being weak.

This is the season of joy. This is the time to rediscover love, love of your fellow person and love of God. To soar up to the source of our flame, we have to unburden ourselves sometimes. In order to fly, you have to break free from the people and things that hold you down.

“Woe to him who does not feel that this life and the next are but one!”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

Mattot-Massei: Free At Last

The Torah portion of Masei informs us of G-d’s directive that 48 cities be given to the Levites as dwellings places. Among these cities were three Cities of Refuge located on the other side of the Jordan River.

In the previous section of Matos, we read how Moshe was extremely displeased when the tribes of Gad and Reuven asked to receive their portion of the land on the other side of the Jordan. His displeasure stemmed from the fact that it was inappropriate to desire a permanent place of residence outside Eretz Yisrael proper. (Bamidbar 31:6-15.)

This being so, why did G-d command that the Levites be given the three Cities of Refuge on the other side of the Jordan? And while it’s true that it was vital that Cities of Refuge be established on both sides of the Jordan, (See Sifri, Bamidbar 35:14; Makkos 9b.) this in itself is not sufficient reason to make these “extra-territorial” cities permanent dwelling places for the Levites.

Yes, we could point out that the verse states: (Bamidbar 35:2.) “Command the Children of Israel that they give the Levites residential cities from their hereditary holdings.” Thus, these cities were not given as an inheritance from G-d, but because of an obligation placed upon the Jewish people to give a portion of their inheritance to the priestly tribe.

But this answer is not entirely satisfactory. Knowing as they did that the main dwelling place of the Jewish people was in Eretz Yisrael proper, why should any Levites want to live on the other side of the Jordan?

In the…Torah portion of Matos, we find that Moshe gave half the tribe of Menashe a portion on the other side of the Jordan. (Bamidbar 32:33.) Our Sages point out (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim.) that they did not ask for this land; Moshe presented it to them on his own.

“Levitical Cities”
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVIII, pp. 213-218
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
from the Chassidic Dimension series
Commentary on Torah Portion MattotMassei

What I’m about to say isn’t going to be terribly popular with some people. Israel is never a very popular topic with some folks, especially those who hold to a particular social and political viewpoint. Of course, basing any opinion of current events upon what is written in the Bible is never acceptable to more “rational” human beings who believe that public opinion always trumps the will of (from their point of view) a non-existent God.

But look at what has been written and where we find it in this week’s double Torah portion. Not only did Moses agree to let the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh settle east of the Jordan, outside the boundaries of Canaan, but it was commanded that three of the Levitical cities would also be outside “the Land.”

But these events occurred in ancient times, so what possible impact could they have on the boundaries and borders of the modern state of Israel in the 21st century, especially if you believe the “original” boundaries were fictional or at best, part of an act fo conquest committed by the Israelites of old?

Maybe nothing. But then again, maybe everything. Continuing with the commentary:

He did so because the first entry of the Jewish people into Israel is connected to their final entry through Moshiach, and Moshe is considered “both the first and the final redeemer.” (See Shmos Rabbah 2:6; Devarim Rabbah conclusion of ch. 9; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 253a; Torah Or, Mishpatim, p. 75b.) This being so, his giving this portion to Menashe served to foreshadow the future redemption, at which time the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael will be broadened to include the other side of the Jordan as well.

We thus see that taking a portion on the other side of the Jordan can be an entirely positive act, since it hinted at the borders of Eretz Yisrael in times to come.

OK, this is midrash and mysticism thrown in with what we read in the Torah, but if it’s true; if all this occurs upon the Messiah’s return, then Israel, a very “problem nation” for much of the world, will be a great deal larger in Messianic days then it is right now (and most of the world would prefer it if Israel were a good deal smaller, even to the point of non-existence and extinction).

If you don’t believe in God, the Messiah, religious Judaism, and (arguably) Christianity, you have nothing to worry about. All this is just smoke and mirrors. Even many religious and secular Jews today argue about what the borders of modern Israel should be like or even if Israel should currently exist.

And yet, the world seems to be fighting extra hard against Israel, more than it fights against any other nation. Why?

The wounded victims of Wednesday’s suicide terrorist attack at a Bulgarian airport have arrived home in Israel, with 32 of the wounded victims touching down in an IAF Hercules military transport aircraft at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Among them was Israeli Nurit Harush, photographed by Reuters as she was pushed in a stretcher by medics after her arrival.

Three others who were critically injured have remained in a hospital in Sofia, but will later be flown to Israel.

-Chana Ya’ar
“Israeli Terror Victims Arrive Home from Bulgaria”
First published 7/19/2012 – 1:12 p.m.

The latest act of terrorism against Israel and against Jews.

This is hardly an isolated incident, but because it was so public and so dramatic, the non-Israeli news agencies have been giving it a great deal of space on their webpages and on their airwaves along with Israeli news sources.

One explanation for why Jews are regularly attacked, injured, and murdered, and why Israel as a nation is somehow blamed for this just because it exists in the world, is the historic enmity between the Arab and Jewish people, or between the Muslim and Jewish people. Popular public opinion cites the “fact” that Israel is an “apartheid state” (in spite of the fact that there are Arab Palestinian MKs in the Israeli Knesset) and is “occupying” lands that are “Palestinian” as the root to the actions of these oppressed “freedom fighters” as the reason for these acts of violence (and many of Israel’s critics refuse to call this “terrorism”). And don’t forget that historically, people all over the world have fought against and even murdered Jews just because they were Jews.

But imagine.

Imagine that God is real and the national redemption of Israel in an absolute physical sense is going to occur. It’s just a matter of time. Imagine you are a Jew and you live in Israel and this is what you believe. And it’s no secret that you believe this. It’s no secret that you know God will accomplish this when Moshiach comes.

If you don’t believe in God or at least, you don’t believe in the God of the Jews, that probably sounds pretty arrogant. Even if you think it’s total fantasy, you might be concerned that the Jewish nation will try to expand its borders to ultimately match what they think they should be according to God. That would eat up all of so-called “Palestine” and a significant chunk of the modern nation of Jordan (which modern Jewish Israel does not claim as far as I know).

If you have enough of a social, political, national, or racial interest in all of this, you might get pretty angry. So angry that you light up the Internet with your rage. And a few folks out there might be a good deal more angry.

Angry enough to blow themselves up and to take as many Jews with them as they can.

Even if you believe in the prophesies in the Jewish Bible, we could still argue all day long about whether or not Israel should pursue national expansion now or wait until the coming of the Messiah. It would be a useless argument because, like so many other debates on the web, it would go exactly nowhere. A lot of people would get worked up and nothing; absolutely nothing would be accomplished.

So where do we go from here? People are dying. I call it “terrorism.” I’m sure you’ll be glad to tell me what you call it.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this act of terror happened during what is called Bein Hametzarim, the three weeks between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast of Tishah B’Av, which commemorates the occurrence of many Jewish tragedies, not the least of which are the destruction of the first and second Temples in Holy Jerusalem.

Parshas Matos is always read during Bein HaMetzarim the three weeks between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast of Tishah BeAv (the Ninth of Av), which are associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash. This recalls the negative qualities of a staff’s firmness, the severed connection to the source of vitality.

On the other hand, this period is also connected with our people’s hopes of Redemption. Indeed, Tishah BeAv, the anniversary of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is described as “the birthday of Mashiach” a day which generates a new impetus for the coming of the Redemption. Herein lies a connection to a staff’s positive quality of firmness, because: a) in the Era of the Redemption, our people will reap the fruit of their determined resolution to carry out G-d’s will despite the challenges of Exile; and b) it is in the Era of the Redemption that G-d’s essence, the ultimate source of strength, will become manifest in our world, His dwelling.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“True Strength”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Mattot

Perhaps even during this time of double mourning, there is a ray of hope.

In every hardship, search for the spark of good and cling to it. The greater the hardship, the more wondrous the good it bears.

If you cannot find that spark, rejoice that wonder beyond your comprehension has befallen you.

Once you have unveiled and liberated the spark of good, it will rise to overcome its guise of darkness. It may perhaps even transform the darkness fully to light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Unveiling the Spark”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I know that there’s a lot of sadness and anger going on and redeeming “hidden sparks” is probably far from most people’s minds at the moment. All they can do is live inside the pain and sorrow and grief. It’s not yet time to start looking for the sparks, gathering them, and sending them back to their source in Heaven.

But the day will come when the sparks will fly free. The day will come when he will come; Messiah, Son of David, and he will liberate his people Israel and place his nation as the head of nations. And his people will be safe. And grief will be only in the past at last…at long last.

…but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:4 (ESV)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

Good Shabbos.



Bo: When We Finally Leave Egypt

The command to confront Pharaoh and negate his influence is given to Moshe, representative of mankind, because the negation of selfishness is a fundamental dimension of man’s service. Man was given the mission of making this world a dwelling for G-d, and this is possible only when selfishness is nullified. Haughty self-interest prevents the Divine Presence from being manifest.

And yet, this nullification of self cannot be accomplished by man alone; it requires G-d’s power. For this reason, Moshe shrank at G-d’s command; he realized that the task was beyond him. That is why G-d instructed him: “Come to Pharaoh,” i.e., come with Me, and not “Go to Pharaoh.” G-d would confront Pharaoh together with Moshe.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Confronting Pharaoh”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 48-49; Vol. XXXI, p. 32-33;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bo, 5733, 5751

The primary function of the mitzvot is to enable man to permeate the world with goodness and holiness.

“Sanctifying Time”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. (Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVI, pp. 59-65.)

And all the Israelites did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. That very day the Lord freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.Exodus 12:50-51 (JPS Tanakh)

As I wrote in last week’s Torah commentary Exodus: Challenge in Exile, one of the ways we can think of the exile of the Israelites in Egypt is as an “exile” into their own humanity and as a result, they were distanced from God. Yet, they could not release themselves from their own slavery without God’s intervention, thus God sent Moses as His agent to free the people, to lead them out of slavery, and to redeem them to Himself.

However, what did the Children of Israel have to surrender in order to be free?

I suppose that’s an odd question, since who wants to be a slave? What possible reason would a slave have for not “surrendering” their slavery in order to be free? What about all of the harmful things that enslave us? Pharaoh is a perfect example of this. After the terrible plagues that God had caused upon the land of Egypt, it was in Pharaoh’s best interest to release his slaves and allow them to leave. Even after the plague of the firstborn, when the Israelites finally looted Egypt and left, Pharaoh “strengthened” himself and sent his army to retrieve the Hebrews. As we see, even in the face of overwhelming adversity from God, Pharaoh found it impossible to surrender his “self” in order to protect his nation and his people. He reaped utter destruction as a result.

Is that how we sometimes destroy ourselves, even in the face of the living God who desires to redeem us? The Children of Israel were redeemed when they left Israel and they were saved from themselves. Pharaoh and Egypt could have been redeemed by just letting Israel go at God’s command. Rabbi Touger’s commentary concludes thus:

Penetrating and nullifying self-orientation makes possible the revelation of a positive dimension. And thus the Zohar refers to the House of Pharaoh as: “the place where all lights are revealed in an unrestrained manner.”

Carrying this concept further, the Exodus from Egypt is connected to the ultimate Redemption. Indeed, had the Jews merited, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately after leaving Egypt.

As it is, the entire period from the Exodus until the final Redemption is referred to as “the days of your exodus from Egypt.” For nullifying the selfishness of Pharaoh and breaking through the limitations of Egypt began and begins for each of us as we relive the Exodus a self-reinforcing dynamic destined to take our nation beyond all natural limitations and lead to the Redemption.

And once redeemed, then what? Remember the true purpose of the mitzvot as I mentioned above:

The primary function of the mitzvot is to enable man to permeate the world with goodness and holiness.

The purpose of our redemption, our freedom, and our status as sons and daughters of the Most High is not to exalt ourselves but to “permeate the world with goodness and holiness.” The Master commanded us not to continually resist the insults of “one who is evil” but to turn the other cheek to him (Matthew 5:39). Jesus didn’t teach us to refuse to go a mile with someone by force, but instead, to go with him for two (Matthew 5:41). Yesterday, I tried to say that there are times we must stand resolute before evil as an iron wall against the storm, but there are also times we must bend and be supple like a reed before the wind.

The prophet Isaiah teaches:

a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. –Isaiah 42:3

Yet for all I’ve just said, we cannot free ourselves from ourselves alone. We must rely on God for that strength and that sense of direction which leads us out of our personal Egypt, across the desert, to the redemption promised to all who serve as disciples of the Messiah. If we refuse, even though we claim his name as Master, and continue on our own egotistical and self-destructive course, we’ll find our freedom is an illusion and discover that we never left Egypt at all.

When the time for redemption came, G-d did not keep them for even the blink of an eye

Rashi’s commentary

In the Passover haggadah we say: “Had G-d not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh.”

After two centuries of exile and subjugation there was little to differentiate the Jewish people from their idol-worshiping masters. So deeply had they sunk into the pagan depravity of Egypt that their redemption came at the very last possible moment, when they were but a hairsbreadth from spiritual annihilation.


Ironically, we don’t always find redemption when we ask or even beg for it. God waits until we are totally lost within our own worlds of self-indulgence and sin and when we’ve forgotten God completely. Then our redemption comes as Moses came for the unwilling children of Israel.

Said the Zeidehof Shpoli to the Almighty: “Master of the Universe! The sages of the Talmud pleaded before You to bring the Moshiach. You chose not to do so. The holy Ari begged You to bring Moshiach – again You were unwilling. We have reached the point where it is left to someone of my ilk to ask for the redeemer. Still You are holding out.

“Mark my words. There will come a generation who will have no interest in You or Your Moshiach. Then You will have no choice but to bring him.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Mark My Words”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Once Upon a Chasid

This week, there have been many discussions on my “morning meditations” and they do not reflect well on we who claim the cause of Christ. As disciples of Jesus, we have lost our way and are like the Children of Israel in their Egyptian slavery. We say we belong to God but we act like we have completely forgotten Him. We stand up and demand our “rights” for this or that under God, and completely forget that the primary message of Jesus was not one of individual rights but rather, our responsibilities to God and to other people. Christ had the “right” to claim Kingship of the world and its people 2,000 years ago, but instead of standing up for his “rights” (and this is how the adversary tempted him), he submitted to the will of the Father, surrendering even to the horrible death on the cross. If he had “stood up for his rights”, humanity would have no hope. Only by Messiah’s humility and submission have we all been reconciled to God and saved by grace and mercy.

The message has been lost. We must take it back.

Good Shabbos.