Jewish Thought

Fruit of the Soul

In this special lesson for the month of Shvat, we learn about the four types of fruit that our sages speak about. They are:

1) Fruit of the field and tree - vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds

2) Fruit of the womb - our children

3) Fruit of our labors - the result of our career, trade, professional and job efforts

4) Fruit of the soul - one's emuna, prayer and Torah.

All the above four types have one very significant common denominator...


The Self-Healing Prayer

I was lecturing at an IAF base, and my host - the assistant base commander - showed me where the bathroom was. When I came out, I washed my hands three times consecutively with a cup and said slowly and with intent the Asher Yatzar blessing that one says after visiting the toilet. My host looked at me wide-eyed, as if I'd suddenly sprouted peacock feathers. "Rabbi," he gasped, "you guys even make a blessing after relieving yourselves?"

We sure do! It's the best and cheapest health insurance policy anywhere. Hear this:

Asher Yatzar

Blessed are You, HaShem, Our God, King of the universe, Who created the human with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities, exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are You, HaShem, The physician of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Baruch atah Adonoi, Elohainu, melech ha'olam, Asher yatzar et ha'adam b'chochmah, u'vara vo n'kavim n'kavim, chalulim chalulim, galui v'yadua lifnai chisei chvodecha, she'im yipatei'ach echad maihem o yisataim echad maihem, ee efshar l'hitkayeim v'la'amod l'fanecha afilu sha'ah achat. Baruch atah Adonoi, rofeh chol basar u'mafli la'asot.

The Practical Halachas of Visiting the Toilet

No, this is not a joke. Proper deportment in the bathroom is an integral part of holiness. Besides, Jewish Law covers every single aspect of daily life.

As a service to our readers, here are the laws concerning visiting the toilet in a nutshell, based on Chapter Four of The Abridged Code of Jewish Law (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch):

  1. One must relieve oneself as soon as one feels the need, without delay.
  2. One must be modest in the toilet, and not relieve oneself in front of other people unless there is a partition.
  3. One must be careful not to overly strain, for it could create problems in the colon.
  4. One must not think about Torah or Torah-related subjects in the toilet; instead, think about mundane matters such as business or commerce.
  5. One must cleanse oneself thoroughly after visiting the toilet, for it is forbidden to pray if one’s body isn’t completely clean of excrement traces.
  6. Every time after visiting the toilet, even after urinating one drop, one must wash one’s hands thoroughly and then say the “Asher Yatzar” blessing.

May Hashem grant you and yours wonderful health always, amen.


Higher than Angels

Some people look at themselves in a negative light and think that they're unworthy of serving the Almighty, maybe because they've been in such low places and done such kinky things that they think Hashem doesn't want anything to do with them at all. Or, maybe they were born into an observant family and at some point fell off the path, and they think that the Almighty is angry at them; they fear that their Father in Heaven will reject them. Both groups are utterly wrong, as Rabbi Lazer explains in today's podcast with one of his original parables. You'll love this:

Click here for your free mp3 download of this podcast; you are entitled to listen to it on your own device and to pass it on to others as well, courtesy of "Emuna Beams."


The Right Way to Pray

Despite all the righteous men in our history, we learn the proper and best way to pray from Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel. Hannah's type of prayer overrides nature - that's how powerful it is. We all can tap into the same source of abundance. 

Click here for your free mp4 download of this podcast; you are entitled to listen to it on your own device and to pass it on to others as well, courtesy of "Emuna Beams."


Chanukah Message from the Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a

Emuna Beams is privileged to host the Melitzer Rebbe shlit'a, one of the Jewish world's most highly regarded scholars and the epitome of upright character and holiness, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov and son-after-son of the holy and legendary Rebbe Michel'e of Zlatchov. The Melitzer offers some encouraging thoughts for spiritual strengthening, especially during Chanukah. Enjoy, and have a lovely Shabbat Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh!

Click here for your free mp4 download of this podcast; you are entitled to listen to it on your own device and to pass it on to others as well, courtesy of "Emuna Beams."


Deep Roots

Shavua Tov! Today's Emuna Beam comes from the ancient Sycamore grove in the dunes of the northern Negev Desert south of Ashdod. What's the secret of these trees and their ability to thrive in such an arid climate with winds and shifting sands? These trees are an amazing living parable about the Jewish People, as we see here:

Click here for your free mp4 download of this podcast; you are entitled to listen to it on your own device and to pass it on to others as well, courtesy of "Emuna Beams."


The Sweetest Fruit

King Solomon talks about what's sweet in two different places, but he seems to contradict himself. In Proverbs 9:17, he says that stolen waters are sweet.

Yet, he turns around in Ecclesiastes 5:11, and says that the sleep of an honest laborer is sweet.

So if you want to taste sweetness in your life, what do you do? Do you steal or do you perform honest labor?

First of all, let me assure you that King Solomon, the wisest of all men who ever walked the earth, didn't at all contradict himself. We simply must take a closer look at each of his sayings to see that they complement one another rather than contradicting each other. How?

The Gemara in Bava Kama 119a tells us that stealing a mere penny from someone is tantamount to murder. Therefore, the sweetness of stolen goods that King Solomon was talking about is really chocolate-covered poison, because anyone who steals is going to get the book thrown at him, not only in the next world but eventually in this world too.

Guess what else our sages categorize as stealing: they say that partaking of anything in this world without making a blessing is just like stealing from the Almighty. Many people don't like hearing this – they protest and say, "Hey what are you talking about? I didn't steal that food – I paid for it at the supermarket." OK, maybe you're not stealing from the supermarket, but it's still stealing from the Almighty. The supermarket didn't send the rain clouds that watered the wheat field that enabled the wheat to grow that eventually became the flour or the loaf of bread that you bought at the supermarket. Maybe you paid the bakery but you didn't pay the Almighty.

The same goes for medicine and medical care. Sure, you paid the doctor, the pharmacist or the medical insurance, but they don't make your heart, lungs and eyes function properly – the Almighty does that and He deserves our thanks.

With this in mind, we can understand what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, that the sleep of an honest laborer is sweet.

You see, the blessings we make come under the category of prayer. Our sages say that prayer is "labor of the heart." So, when you pray for whatever you receive in life, the object of your prayer is the sweetest thing on earth. We therefore arrive at an amazing conclusion which should be an absolute obligation in our daily lives: whatever we pray for becomes the sweetest fruit on earth, yet if we receive something we didn't pray for, it simply won't have a blessing and its apparent sweetness will soon turn bitter. Take for example the guy that wins the Irish lottery: before he had the $20 million, he had a good night's sleep. But once he won the lottery, his doorbell doesn't stop ringing with long lost relatives and friends – our lottery winner has no more peace and quiet. Why? He didn't pray for what he got.

Don't take anything in life for granted. Pray for all your needs and in the meanwhile, thank Hashem for everything you have.

Before anything you do, pray. Say a short prayer before you get in the car so that you'll arrive safely at your destination. Pray for a minute or two before you make your sales pitch to the prospective buyer. Pray when you put the Shabbat dinner in the oven, that it should come out tasting wonderful. When it does, and when you make that fat commission, you'll know that it was Hashem helping you – that is ever so sweet, like a ripe watermelon on a hot August day.

The wonderful thing about the sweetness of prayer is that it neither spikes your blood sugar nor is it fattening. Prayer is the sweetest fruit on earth. You know why? When you pray for something, you won't become smug or arrogant when you get it. Oftentimes, if Hashem knows that we'll become arrogant if He gives us what we want, He simply won't give it. But, the more you pray and the more you depend on God for what you need, the more readily you'll see your prayers answered, and that is ever so sweet. Try, cherished brothers and sisters, you'll love it. G-d bless always!

If you prefer listening to reading, hear the broadcast of "The Sweetest Fruit":


Real Smugglers, Fake Funeral: A Chassidic Tale for Yom Kippur

Fake Funeral
Chassidic stories are known to be healthy for the soul. Let me share one with you that I heard from the Melitzer Rebbe of Ashdod, may Hashem bless him:

Back in 18th Century Eastern Europe, smuggling was a popular but very risky way for a Jew to make a living. The Jews were only allowed to live in a certain area known as the "Pale of Settlement", were not allowed to own land and were limited to certain trades. The fact that the Czar levied tremendous taxes on liquor and tobacco made the smuggling business from Poland to Russia all the more lucrative. Yet, woe to the person who got caught, for the Russian customs police who manned the international border with Poland were more than motivated to get their burly hands on violators, especially when the outlaw was a Jew...

Nachumk'e sat down at his old wooden table in his dilapidated cabin in the Polish shtetyl (village) of Kratzenshtok, not far from the Russian border. His brother-in-law, who lived on the Russian side, told him that he could triple his money by selling Polish shnops (booze) to the Russians. The only tiny "technical detail" was how to get it across the border. Nachumk'e thought of his four daughters, the oldest of whom was rapidly reaching marital age. "Where do I get the money to marry off one, much less four?", thought Nachumk'e, on the verge of despair.

Suddenly, a light bulb flashed in his head. What a great idea...

Nachumk'e summoned his trusted best friend Berch'e and told him the idea. Berch'e was enthused beyond words, for he too was suffering from major income problems with no relief in sight. They bought the cheapest coffin they could find, a plain pine box, and filled it to the brim with with bottles of the best Polish whiskey, which would bring a handsome sum on the Russian side of the border. And, to muffle the sound of the battles rattling, they packed as much choice Polish tobacco as they could. The coffin, once its contents were sold to the ready and waiting black marketeers on the Russian side, would bring a handsome sum.

Nachumk'e and Berch'e hired "extras" to serve as mourners and pallbearers. Although these extras didn't know exactly what their employers were doing, they didn't care. For an easy day's work, a few hours of crossing the border and coming home, they were paid three times more than what they normally made by chopping wood and carrying pales of water from the river to the village.

The "procession" arrived at the Russian border. A burly customs police sergeant, a Russian with knee-high spit-shined boots and a handlebar mustache, approached the Jews. "Open the coffin," he barked. Nachumk'e gulped but bounced back quickly and said, "Sir, every nation honors its dead. Shall we violate the dignity of the deceased by disturbing its rest and opening the coffin?" The Russian waved the procession through.

On the Russian side, the smugglers breathed a deep sigh of relief. Yet, with the joy of the stack of rubles that was soon in their hands, they forgot all about the moment of peril, when they could feel their pulse in their throats.

After the first taste of smuggling success, Nachumk'e and Berch'e started performing weekly funerals. But, the more that they and the Russian border guards grew accustomed to one another, the less cautious the Jewish smugglers became.

One day, a high ranking customs officer from St. Petersburg decided to visit several border stations on the Polish border. He ascended the lookout tower and observed from above all the happenings below. Just then, Nachumk'e and company arrived at the border with a casket and their usual entourage. Just as the sergeant was about to wave them through, the officer descended like an eagle on the funeral entourage. "Open the casket," he barked, "this very second."

Nachumk'e, a little too over-confidant by this time, protested, "Sir, what about the dignity of the dead?"

The Russian drew his saber from its sheath and growled, "Jew, unless you wish to join the ranks of the deceased, open the coffin right now!"

Opening the coffin, Berch'e sobbed deep heart-rending sobs. Nachumk'e wailed. The other Jews joined in the crying...

The bottles of golden Polish whiskey glittered in the sunlight. Packets and packets of tobacco released their pungent scent.

The Russian officer, from his perch in the lookout tower, had never seen such a casual funeral in his life. No one was crying and a few were even smiling. That's what made them so suspicious. The officer said to Nachumk'e and Berch'e, "Aha, now you are crying. You will continue to do so in a Siberian prison. Idiots, if you would have cried a few minutes ago, then you could have been laughing now. But now, it's too late!

* * *

The above parable is a well-known Chassidic-Yiddish folk tale that we tell before Yom Kippur. During the year, people suffer all types of pain and tribulations. But if they would have cried on Yom Kippur, sincerely asking the Almighty for to forgive them for all their misdeeds, then they'd be laughing now. The Gemara teaches that there are no tribulations without prior transgressions, but teshuva (penitence) atones for transgressions and therefore wards off suffering.

Have an easy fast and a most meaningful Yom Kippur! G-d willing, we'll be back right after Yom Kippur. Every blessing for the best year of your life, LB


Rosh Hashanah and Political Correctness

Zachariah's Tomb
Flattery in Judaism doesn't mean that you tell your wife that she's gorgeous when she really is rather plain looking. Flattery in Judaism means telling a wicked person what a nice guy he is. In that vein, flattery is a serious lie. The Gemara in tractate Sota therefore says that flatterers are one of the four groups that cannot receive the Divine Presence. In contemporary jargon, the term for such flattery is "political correctness." Insofar as political correctness fits the Halachic definition of flattery, we can conclude that the politically correct are shunned from the Divine Presence. That means that they forfeit inestimable spiritual abundance and blessings as well as round-the-clock Divine protection.

The above statement sounds stiff, doesn't it? Let's see an example of the devastation that political correctness causes us (For the whole story, see Kings II 12:17-18; Chronicles II 24:15-22; Gittin 57b):

Zachariah the Prophet lived during the time of the First Temple around 9th Century BCE. King Joash reigned in Judea at the time. King Joash, who was raised by his uncle, Zachariah's father the righteous High Priest Jehoyada, at first ruled in accordance with Torah – in truth, justice and in emuna. But, when Jehoyada died at the ripe old age of 130, Joash came under the influence of self-seeking nobles, idolatrous priests and false prophets who encouraged the king to cast aside the ways of Torah for luxury and licentiousness.

Seeing the terrible pit of immorality and idolatry that Joash had fallen into, Hashem sent Jehoyada's son the holy prophet Zachariah to chastise him and influence him to mend his ways. In the Holy Temple, Zachariah admonished both the populace and the ruling mafia for their evil ways and heinous breach of Hashem's Torah. This was in complete contrast to the false prophets who controlled public opinion at the time (much like today's media), telling the populace that everything was fine. It wasn't, as the destruction of the Holy Temple proved several years later.

At any rate, Zechariah's message didn't get many "likes" in the King's Palace, among the bureaucracy or among the general populace. At the nod of King Joash, Zechariah's first cousin who owed his life to Zechariah's father, Zechariah was stoned to death in the premises of the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur that turned out on a Shabbat that year! This was the most despicable deed imaginable, performed on the holiest imaginable day in the holiest imaginable place on earth.

When the Babylonian (ancient Iraq) Army seized Jerusalem and captured the Temple Mount, General Nebuzadran entered the inner chamber of the Holy Temple where the altar is and found the blood of Zachariah boiling on the floor. He asked the priests what that blood was and they told him that it was the remnant of the previous day's sacrifices. He didn't believe them, so he slaughtered a goat to see if the two types of blood were comparable. They were not. Nebuzadran then threatened the priests that he'd rake their flesh if they didn't tell him the truth…

The priests answered, "What can we tell you, sir! There was a prophet among us who rebuked us about matters pertaining to Heavenly service. We ganged up against him and killed him. Alas, for years now his blood has not come to rest."

The General said, "I shall be the one to appease his blood." Nebuzadran then butchered all the members of the Great Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) and the Lesser Sanhedrin, but Zechariah's blood still boiled. He then slaughtered thousands of young priests and young people from priestly families. The blood still boiled. The blood flowed from the Temple Mount down the Kidron Valley like a river. Nebuzadran then spoke to Zachariah's blood and said, "Zachariah, Zachariah! I have destroyed the best of them. Do you want me to kill them all?" The blood immediately came to rest.

When Nebuzadran saw this awesome miracle, he said to himself, "If they, who only killed a single person, were punished in such a way, what will become of me?"

On the spot he fled, giving up his entire lofty station in life and all his property, and became a righteous convert.

***

Don't think that the above episode was a lone one. When King Zedekiah and his false prophets turned to an alliance with Egypt in order to defeat the Babylonians, Jeremiah warned that instead, they should turn to Hashem. He warned that the Temple would be imminently destroyed if the people and the government continue in their evil ways. Politically, this wasn't at all popular. Jeremiah was beaten and thrown into a dungeon (see Jeremiah, ch. 37-38). He paid the price of his political incorrectness, but King Zedekiah and the populace paid a bigger price: Zedekiah's eyes were gouged out (ibid., 52) and the Holy Temple was completely destroyed.

***

Let's do some soul-searching this Rosh Hashanah: has anything changed? Are we any different than Zachariah's generation? Are we too afraid to speak up for truth and justice? Does anyone dare today to be politically incorrect and blow the whistle on public-sanctioned exhibitions of things that the Torah calls abominations? Does anyone dare lift a voice against politically-powerful people who are proven serial child molesters? Does anyone protest the unethical business practices that go on in the workplace?

Iran, Hezbolla and Hamas don't scare me in the least. The lie of political correctness should terrify all of us, for its outcome has been devastating throughout our history. As a New Year's resolution for 5780, we should commit to seek the truth, heed our true spiritual leaders and come back to Hashem. I pray that Hashem will always give us the boldness to buck social convention and immorality and the courage to cling to the truth of His Torah, no matter what the odds or how politically incorrect it may be. My heartfelt blessings for a signature in the Book of Life for a wonderful New Year, 5780, amen!