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July 2020

The Few Against the Many

Here's today's emuna news: the preoccupation with Coronavirus has taken the focus away from Israel's northern border, where an acute threat of hundreds of thousands of Hizbolla and Iranian missiles are aimed at us right now. Moses saw all this in this week's Torah portion. Today's podcast is ideal to say over at your Shabbat table - enjoy it and have a wonderful Shabbat!


An End to Exile; The First Step to Redemption

132. Take the First Step

A group of friends once made a trip together. On the way to their destination, they saw someone standing with a backpack on a desert crossroads. Seven days later, on their way home, they encountered the same person with the backpack standing on the same desert crossroads in the hot sun. The group of friends asked the backpacker, "Why are you standing here?"

"I want to go to Jerusalem," responded the backpacker. "I'm waiting for a ride."

"How long have you been waiting?" they asked.

"More than a week," he answered.

They laughed. "Jerusalem's only a two-day walk from here. If you'd have started walking, you could have been there and back four times already!"

Many of us want to change, yet we expect it to happen automatically, with no effort on our part. Life doesn't work that way. An old Hebrew expression says, "Even a journey of a thousand kilometers begins with a first step."

The Yerushalmi Gemara in tractate Yoma 5a says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. People think that the Gemara is a little too severe here; let's see...

The Babylonian Gemara in tractate Yoma 9b says that the generation of the Second Temple was learned in Torah and exacting in mitzva observance. The Gemara even tells us that they engaged in charitable deeds. Despite all that, the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hate.

The first Diaspora, the period that lasted for seventy years between the destruction of the First Holy Temple and the rebuilding of the Second Holy Temple, was an atonement for the three terrible sins that led to the destruction of the First Holy Temple - idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery. According to the Gemara in tractate Sanhedrin 74a, these are the three worst sins in the Torah, which a person must give up his own life rather than violate. Yet, the generation of the First Temple was punished for 70 years only? In the Second Temple, there was none of those three. On the contrary, people were super observant and learned too. Yet, they've been in Diaspora for almost 2000 years, with Inquisitions, pogroms, Holocausts and pandemics on the way. Is that fair? Where's the proportionality? We're still part of that prolonged exile and Diaspora! We must ask ourselves, why is the punishment and subsequent exile of the Second Temple already thirty times worse than the first. And it's not over yet!

The generation of the Second Temple they hated each other. Sure, they fed the poor, built luxurious mikvas and study halls and educated the orphans, but they were jealous of each other and they spoke slander day and night. Comes along the Gemara in tractate Arachin 15b and tells us that lashon hara is just as bad as idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery put together. Even worse, the Yerushalmi in Tractate Pe'ah says that those who speak evil are punished in this world and the next, and their punishment is no less severe that the punishment for the three nasty sins that one should die rather than violate.

It's therefore easy to understand while we're still in Diaspora - our generation is still full of lashon hara and sinas chinam, slander and intramural hate. We can now realize what the Gemara means when it says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. Hashem won't rebuild the Temple another time and then let it be destroyed again because the core sin is still there. So we have to get rid of the core sin!

A person called me this week, very upset. He told me that his boss is so cruel to him that he's constantly nervous and he's lost his joy in life. I asked him why he doesn't sit down and discuss the ill treatment with the boss. He said it won't help, because the boss treats all the workers like that. I then asked why he doesn't seek the advice of a local rabbi who might be able to influence the boss. He told me that no one will believe him, because his boss gives millions of dollars to charity. The organizations think he's an angel. That's the type of thing that went on in the Second Temple - people would fund yeshiva and kollelim but they'd murder their employees or their competitors.

Anyone you ask will say that they await Moshiach and the Geula, with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, once and for all. Yet, we have to ask ourselves: have we taken the first step to bring Moshiach? Have we done the very first thing to reduce the lashon hara or the sinas chinam in the world? How many groups within Judaism carry a flag of hate? For one group, it's a mitzva to hate Zionist Jews. For another group, it's a mitzva to hate non-Zionist Jews. A third group hates people who wear a different style kippa than they do and a fourth group hates all Jews who wear kippas while a fifth group hates all Jews who don't wear kippas. All these groups don't call it hate - they call it ideology. How can the Chassidim get along with the Litvaks if they can't get along with each other? I could go on and on, but this is distasteful.

It's a lot easier to sit on the floor and lament with tearful eyes about the destruction of our Temple and the calamities that have befallen our people than it is to commit to refrain from saying anything derogatory about a fellow human. This Tisha B'av, I am deciding to take the first step. I'm not going to wait for anyone else but you're more than welcome to join me. I ask Hashem to help me avoid saying or writing anything uncomplimentary about a fellow human, much less a fellow Jew. I ask Hashem that not a single syllable of slander or evil speech should appear in my blog or podcast, or anything else I say or write. Hashem, I don't want to perpetuate the exile and Diaspora. I do want Moshiach, redemption, the ingathering of the exiles and our rebuilt Holy Temple. Help me take this first step, Hashem, and help all my wonderful brothers and sisters who are joining me. Show us Your mercy and Your miraculous salvation, and bring us all home to our rebuilt Holy Temple and the glory of Your Holy Presence in Zion, speedily and in our days, amen!

Hear the above lesson on mp3, which you are welcome to download, courtesy of Emuna Beams:


7 Steps to Preventing a Panic Attack

If the emotional atmosphere of the constant COVID-19 threat is not enough to trigger panic, then the addition of the week of Tisha B'av makes it all the more acute. Today's post is therefore a practical and effective guide for warding off panic attacks.

To prevent a panic attack, it's important to remember how and why it's happening. King David, the greatest psychotherapist who ever lived, understood the human soul better than anyone else. He said, "Happy is the person whose strength is in You" (Psalm 84:6). In other words, the moment a person realizes that he or she cannot handle a situation on their own, and they turn to the Almighty for strength, then they immediately neutralize panic and negativity. Understand that panic comes from the evil inclination, to disarm and disable a person so that he or she cannot serve Hashem. Our sages in the Gemara teach that no one has the power to overcome the evil inclination on their own. We all in varying degrees are susceptible to panic, but we overcome it as soon as we completely place all our trust in Hashem and throw all our problems into His lap. In the same vein, Rabbi Chaim of Volozyn osb"m said that the spiritual ploy of overcoming any fear or anxiety is simple to remember and repeat ein od milvado,  "There is nothing or no one but You, Hashem!"

Therefore:

Step One of preventing a panic attack is to remember Hashem,

Step Two is to repeat "ein od milvado,  There is nothing or no one but You, Hashem," seven times.

Step Three is to ask the Almighty for help - call his Name out load, be vocal, even yell or scream if that helps you.

Step Four is to get the endorphins (feel-good hormones) flowing. How? Try one of these options: 

    a. Do as many pushups as you can;

    b. Run around the block or jog in place for two minutes;

    c. Do ten squats.

Step Five is to take ten deep breaths, inhaling as deep as you can and exhaling as slow as you can.

Step Six is to sniff the aroma of lavender oil, which is known for being soothing and stress-relieving. It can help your body relax. If you don't have lavender oil, these natural aromas are also effective: jasmine, rosemary, cinnamon or peppermint. 

Step Seven is to call a time out, sit or walk in a quiet place, and speak to Hashem and once again, ask for His help and guidance; He'll be glad to give it to you.

Panic and the above 7 steps are mutually exclusive. But, as preparing for war, we must practice maneuvers. Don't wait for a panic attack to implement the above steps - you can do them anytime and they'll make you feel both calmer and more energized. Since panic leads to depression and depression depletes energy, the above 7 steps are a great reboot.

Once we never forget Hashem and we always remember "ein od milvado,  There is nothing or no one but You, Hashem," we safeguard ourselves against any and all sorts of panic, fear and anxiety. Try it - it works and has been tested under the most extreme of challenges. Every blessing, LB

Here is the above lesson in an mp3 - download it compliments of "Emuna Beams" and listen to it over and over:


Bar Kamtza and COVID-19

What possibly does COVID-19 have to do with Kamtza and Bar Kamtza? The key to the puzzle is Shalva Zalfreund, of blessed memory, a kindergarten teacher in Petah Tikva, passed away from coronavirus this past Friday, July 17, 2020. Shalva was an amazing teacher who educated several generations of Petah Tikva's children. Before she died, she wrote a letter to the parents of the children in her kindergarten. If you take a close look, the letter should be required reading for all of us, especially during the Three Weeks, a time when we're supposed to feel the lack and loss of our Holy Temple. Here is the letter and its mindboggling message to all of us.