You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2007.

When Hamas won the Palestinian election, I studied the op-ed, opinion and editorial pages of Haaretz, the left-wing, intellectual newspaper. Among those of my world, here in Tekoa and Yerushalayim, few, if any read Haaretz. I do and not because it reflects my tastes and opinions and affirms my belief. I need to to be as connected to modern Israel as well as to the Holy Land, and extend beyond the comfrortable and familiar American/Shlomo/Yishuv religious world.

Who are the Israelis, who are my brothers and sisters who live in Kfar Sava and Ofakim, in Haifa and the kibbutzim, in the Galil and in the Negev? What do they think, feel and believe? What information is coming to them and how is it expressed? What are their assumptions and presumptions and what is the societal conditioning that shaped their views and conceptual framework? I also want to know and understand those whose entire outlook and frame of reference is apparently, so opposite mine.

Haaretz gives me much of this. I’ve learned things about Israel that are critical pieces to my own puzzle of ‘figuring it out’ without which, I would be almost impoverished. Reading it over the years has not neccessarily changed or altered my beliefs, but it has surely educated and challenged my thinking.

One of the op-ed articles was written by Read the rest of this entry »


A brief digression: For three of the years I lived in Nachlaot, I lived across the way from a Moroccan kabbalist yeshiva. The Rav was one of the top students of the Baba Sali. The Baba Sali was one of the last of a long line of great and true kabbalists. When the weather was warm, they brought their chairs out into the street and he led the class in the learning of the primary book of kabbala, the Holy Zohar. It was not any kind of learning I had experienced.

Indeed, I have always shied away from learning the Zohar. I knew of no one who could teach me the secret keys to unlocking its true infinte depths and I recognize that I am not on the level to be an adept. So it was very strange and I had a kind of an ignorant awe and trepidation before this very different kind of holy man who was nearing the end of his life. Hard of hearing, his speaking was even more difficult for me understand. He was not someone to simply converse with.

Of all the souls associated with the yeshiva was one who projected a humble, amused sweetness. While young, probably in his early 30’s, I saw from the way others interacted with him that he was a particularly regarded rabbi. Over the years, whenever I would pass him, I was bow slightly and offer greetings with ‘Kavod HaRav’ – honored rabbi. He always smiled sweetly and gave me his blessing. I was never under any illusions of being in any way near his level, despite being some twenty years his senior and some slight man of Torah within my community. He was infinitely more refined.

Walking through the square in Uman, I came upon him and offered my greetings. He received me with great love and joy. I told him how I hoped to somehow arrange a journey for Sunday to Brelsov, and Medzheboz. He said that this was also his plan and that he would take care of everything. I just had to meet him at 9:00AM in the square.

Filled with energy and feeling light, I bounced to the mikve and minyan, early in the morning. We hooked up, found two young men in their 20’s and found ourselves in cab and on our way.

Arriving in Kiev Thursday night and not having ventured yet beyond the Breslov enclave in Uman, I had yet not seen or experienced anything of the Ukraine. Even now, just contemplating the drive alone, brings awesome trepidation.

The focus of the trip to Breslov was to visit the grave of Rebbe Natan, the top student of Rebbe Nachman and transcriber of his teachings, as well as author of the most high precious Breslov books, Lekutei Tefillot (collection of prayers he composed based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings) and Lekutei Halachot (commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the compendium of Jewish law, again, based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings). The ultimate goal was Medzheboz, the shtell and grave of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement 250 years ago. The Baal Shem is, not coincindentaly, the great-grandfather of Rebbe Nachman.

This was one of the most momentous days of my life. I could not have anticipated the throughts and emotions that would be stirred in me. The ride alone was filled with an unrelenting explosion of awesome, humbling realizations.

The Ukraine holds a critical but difficult and contradictory place in Jewish history. On the one hand, it was a place where the greatest of light shown forth from and to the Jewish People from the great masters. It is also a place that held unrelenting terror of the worst pogroms and persecution we have known. Whether from Ukrainian Cossacks as in the Chelminietzky massacres or Russian persecution at the hand of the Tsar’s or Church or Soviet Union or even the wiping out of whole communties by the Nazi’s during their occupation, all within an crushing poverty that knew no rest, the Ukraine is watered with the blood and tears of millions of Jews.

Monday, was one of those days. For the longest time, I couldn’t do anything; couldn’t daven or tidy up, or… And then everything opened up. I davened like I hadn’t in far too long. Everything was open and with every word, I saw what I had never seen with such clarity and sublime power. And by the afternoon, I couldn’t stop writing. And so I wrote six pages continuing my Uman report. I broke them up into three parts and posted them seperately.

Also, I was in such a whirlwind writing that when I had a chance to run to a friends to access the net and post it, I hadn’t reviewed it and therefore do a basic editing job. I am now (Friday 1:20pm, Israel time) going to fine tune it.
I am in the process.

There is new Uman Part Four, edited and posted. Part Three is edited.

And here I want to honor my father. No better teacher and explainer of history could one have. On the drive to Medzebozh, we were quite animated. The Rabbi answered question of Torah, we sang holy Breslov and Shlomo songs, I told stories Shlomo told or stories about him and we shared perceptions of what we were witnessing. But for the most part I remained in awe-inspired, quiet contemplation staring out the window as the miles rolled past. While Shlomo provided the much of the warmth, color and imagery attached to this place, my father gave me a profound knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the totality as well details of all that this place was. Without it, this journey would have been far less on every level. And it allowed me to fill in the blanks that were missing in the education and understanding of the other riders as to the significance to what we were seeing and experiencing.

In truth, I have no words to descibe how my father expanded my mind, from the youngest of age. Any capacity to think in vivid, multi-dimentional and kleidescopic way, I owe to him. WHatever vaculties and abilities I came into the world with, he honed and refined. He challenged me to think. It is my salvation.

I will forever be in his debt for this gift. And I hope to honor and justify it by the way I live and through the passing on of its teachings and lessons. Thank you, Abba. Thank you.

As we approached Breslov, I began to feel a stirring and when I got out of the car, my legs were shaking. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m finding it hard to gather all the thoughts and memories in a way they can be shared coherently and with measning. I was truly overwhelmed. Averaging 120 kilometers an hour, our driver covered the trip to Medzheboz on 3 hours, not including the hour-long stop in Breslov, on the way. The trip is a journey back through time in more ways than one. The unending gray expanse of the Ukrainian steppes is as breathtaking as it is bleak. The only signs of modernity are the gas stations and inexplicably they are ultra-futuristic. The highways of America would be envious. They are an absurd counterpoint to the naked stands of beets, onions, cabbage and potatoes, staffed by heavy set and bundled old Ukrainian babushkas. The contrast is mind numbing. Read the rest of this entry »

The feast was a real gift. Three of my original students with two of their five year olds, two of my Uman flatmates, two aquaintainces, and another two came together. There was plenty if food, great singing and the most high sharing of Torah. I had a great feeling of arrival. I came to Uman to pray for the things that were still missing in my life and for the things I still needed to fix. So mixed with the humility was the blessing of having a glimpse of merit and accomplishements.

From all this, I received a great affirmation of all my struggles and efforts. Within it all was a further confirmation of the path I was on and a profound strengthening of my spirit. It provided much of the encourangement I needed to continue perservering.

By now, the Tzion of Rebbe Nachman had literaly become my touchstone. Coming or going to any place, changing venue – apartment, mikve, coffee and tea room, services – I first paid homage to Rebbe Nachman. It’s kind of crazy, but it felt so much like home and that connecting with the Tzion was acknowledging a guide who was my friend. The feeling that there was no judgement of any lack or failings or fallings, coming from Rebbe Nachman, was palpable.

If we are truly working to refine our souls and make as one our strivings and demanding standards, then it is only natural to feel shamed and/or embarrassed when standing before one we look up to. How much are those feelings enhanced in the presence of a Rebbe and even more so, HaShem. When we find ourselves standing before an authentic master and we feel affirmed as if standing within a force field of unconditional love and acceptance, guilt melts away and a quiet optimism chrystalizes. And don’t we perform better when feeling healthy emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as well as when physically, well?

Rebbe Nachman is the master of understanding the inevitable forces which come to play in our lives as stumbling blocks. He understands that we internalize Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve got about 10 minutes before Shabbat, so…

It’s Shabbat Ya’era and you shall see oir you will see or you should see and the New Moon of Shvat. Shvat is when everything looks dead; nothing apparently growing. But in our tradition we celebrate. that in Shvat, new life is already happening. It’s the New Year for trees. By now, you should ‘see’ the connection: You should see what’s not apparent to the naked eye. When the nights are longest and inspiration is in short supply, the Creator is letting us know, hold out, there’s new birth already happening.

If it’s true for trees, it’s true for us. The Book of Yetzira says that the secret of this month is “L’Eetoh” – taking it in whole. When we eat, we have to chew things down into small digestable, pieces. We can’t take it in whole. But the whole journey of creation already exists within the seed. It just needs to emerge, grow, evolve, grow some more, etc. The same for us. This is the month where the potential newness of our lives come into the world and if we’ve ‘seen the Light of Chanukah” and if we’re working on seeing with deeper eyes, deeper vision, we can see our own new life potential and begin to nurture and cultivate it.

This Shabbat, the power and strength to aquire deeper eyes and vision is particularly auspicious and potent. I bless you and me and all of us that next Shabbat, we will be able to contemplate all the new in us revealed and see our lives in expanded, more profound and far deeper ways.

Shabbat Shalom and Choedesh Tov!

A good brother has done some magic. All you have to do is type in and you’ll come to my blog. Also, if you simply want to be advised of new postings, just do a google alert and you’ll get it.

My dear brother, Rav Raz Hartman told me the other day, that he loved what I had so far written, but he’s waiting to read what I have to say about Rebbe Nachman. I told him, “all good things in all good time.” I first will continue to report and after that, get into the spiritual implications and gleanings from the trip.

Friday had a certain strange quality to it. There was no place I was required to be, no expectations from anyone, no one looking over my shoulder. While each person is fully involved in their own ‘trip’, serious and focused, there was none of the coldness, none of the avoidance of catching another’s eye or being caught. Most of the time, one finds people doing serious internal work, especially of a religious nature, to be so pre and self occupied, that they remain oblivious to the ‘other.’ Even more, they don’t want to be taken out of their game and flow by the slightest distraction. Again, this was not the case in Uman. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been nearly a week since my last post. Things have caught up with me. From the Wednesday before going to Uman until Sunday night, I wsn’t home. Whatever the particulars of what seemed to hold me back, I just couldn’t overcome them to return home. Allowing myself the escape of the particulars, I avoided confronting that which was underlying and that I had a vague sense of. And that which I was avoiding. Once home it became clear.

Reb Shlomo says the following: “Why does Sukkos come so soon after Yom Kippur. Because on Yom Kippur, I’m hanging out with all my mistakes and failures. Afterwards, I don’t want to go to the same home where I made all those mistakes. SO HaShem gives me this little house, where I sit filed with joy.”

After the renewal of Uman and Medzibozh, I didn’t want to return to that place that I lived all that darkness (neccessary as it may have been, the blessings that it surely has been). I feared that as soon as I returned home, the hitchadsut – the renewal, would dissapate. And then the challenge of the real work, the reall follow-up from Uman, would begin.

I know myself well. I was right. Coming home to the quietude and silence and solitude of my humble home in the high mountain desert of Tekoa, 45 minutes south of Jerusalem, I feel into the patterns of before. And I sensed the stirrings of potential despair. Even though my class this past Tuesday night was awesome – the best! – yesterday, Wednesday, lay flat.

And therein lies the ultimate benefit of going to Uman: Rebbe Nachman – HASHEM! – won’t let me stay stuck. I received enough, that today was truly a new day. I awoke with renewed vigor, focus and determination. I made serious headway in getting my house in order, cleaning, organizing, etc. It leaves the potential for me to begn next week with my home in a dignified state and therefore with much better feeling and where-with-all to do good work.

Just not falling into patterns of stuckness alone, and even more, knowing that despite my tendencies, something has organically changed, gives me great trust in the present and future. Now I can be creative again and focus and write. Now back to Uman, Part Two.