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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Stand up for yourself!!

Captain Hank (Tzvi) Webb served in Vietnam in the late ‘60s; his courage to stand up for his religious rights resulted in an amazing outcome.

Feeling isolated as one of the only Jewish servicemen in his battalion, Capt Webb began studying more about his Jewish heritage. At one point he approached his commanding officer to request to take off Saturday in exchange for Sunday, so that he could observe Shabbat.

Colonel Pride reflected on his request and responded, “I have a Jewish neighbor back home and every Saturday he mows the lawn. If he can mow the lawn, you can fulfill your responsibilities.” No amount of argument would help; his word was final.

“There’s a higher authority than you, Colonel!” an incensed Capt Webb finally burst out. “The Generals going to hear about this!”

That Saturday, Capt Webb spent the day in the tall grass surrounding the camp, studying the Torah portion of the week. That week he studied the Ten Commandments, including the law of resting on Shabbat. While studying he realized that albeit inadvertently, the higher authority that he had referenced was the same authority that gave the mitzvah of keeping Shabbat – G-d.

He went to sleep that night fully expecting to be court marshaled for disobeying his superiors’ orders.

Early Sunday morning, the radio crackled. “Capt Webb! Capt Webb! Report to the Battalion Headquarters immediately – it’s an emergency!”

He ran out and soon discovered the cause of the emergency: A soldier had holed himself in the Battalion Headquarters with a hand grenade and was threatening to blow up the entire building!

As the highest ranking officer on base at the time, he had to diffuse the situation. Heart pounding, he cautiously made his way into the building, There at the end of the hall he saw a scared looking soldier with a grenade in his hand. Maintaining eye contact, he slowly walked toward the soldier and when within arms distance, he softly requested the grenade. The soldier complied. Capt Webb then led him to the break room and poured him a coffee while reading him his rights.

Capt Webb then went outside and signaled the all's clear. Just then, the Major returned to base. He had been away for the weekend. Capt Webb headed back to his quarters and on the way it dawned on him; how providential it was that he had been the highest ranking officer on base when this emergency broke out. Of course, his spat with his commander was all but forgotten.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Have you ever made a firm decision to act in accordance with your beliefs and morals and seen how despite the odds, it all works out to your favor? I would love to hear your story, please share it with me!

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MySpace

Do you have an area that you can refer to as “My Space”? Not a corner of the World Wide Web where you can post your favorite music and pictures of yourself doing crazy things, but a space in your heart, a space in life. Do you have such a space?

Just like it’s necessary to be on firm ground in order to take a step forward, we must first have “My Space” in order to be able to step out in life.

As children growing up we need an area that gives us the confidence to take on the challenges that we’ll face. And our parents create that space by providing a healthy, nurturing home. Not just a house or a shelter, but a home.

But then, one day, we’re on our own. Now we’re faced with the daunting task of creating such a space in our own lives. So often we create a space defined by our career, and when that changes, we’re lost again. It could be crafted out of many items in our life, but all these are subject to change. We move to new neighborhoods, our children grow up, income changes and health issues are but a fraction of the events that could affect “My Space.”

A truly effective “My Space” has to be timeless, and above change and influence from external factors. There must be a foundation to our lives that doesn’t get affected by the changes around us. Just like the criteria of a literal foundation of a house is not if it is consistent with the style of the houses next door, rather which material is solid and firm and durable, able to withstand changes of climate and firmly support the entire structure.

So too, the Jewish “My Space” must be established on the very solid foundation of Torah and Mitzvot. A foundation which has been put to the test throughout the ages and under all sorts of conditions.

Let’s create “My Space.”

Reconnect

Wife: “You talk in your sleep and it keeps me up at night.”

Husband: “If you’d let me speak by day I wouldn’t have to at night.”

In the office of the principal’s secretary’s at the Yeshiva College High School in Melbourne, Australia was a sign which read, “It’s only human to make a mistake but it takes a computer to completely foul things up.” (I remember this due to the many times I visited the principal’s office, not due to my above average memory…)

In our age of ubiquitous computer technology, email, Facebook, Twitter and whatever comes out tomorrow, we can sometimes forget the need for real human interaction. Even though truthfully electronic communication can be humanized, we tend to hide behind our devices and manage to deflect real connection.

This has lead to many people craving deeper relationships that they’re not getting. When people are not receiving the attention they need and deserve, it can have many adverse affects. Our children are getting involved in unhealthy relationships, families are getting pulled apart and friends are being alienated.

The good news is that this is not a technology problem and it is not beyond our capability to correct. It is a human problem. And as such, it is a mistake that can be rectified. However, as with everything of real value and importance, it takes real time and commitment.

The Talmud refers to the mitzvah to rest on Shabbat as a “gift”; G-d said to Moses, “I have a precious gift in my treasure house called Shabbat.” Now more than ever, we can truly appreciate the value of this gift. It affords us an opportunity to reconnect with the truly important dimensions of our life, first and foremost our family and relationship with G-d.

Like I mentioned, incorporating such a change into your life requires a real commitment. But before you rule it out, challenge yourself: begin by dedicating one Friday night a month to observe Shabbat. Welcome the Shabbat by lighting the Shabbat candles, continue with an in-home family meal and see what happens. You’ll see the difference immediately.

There's Nothing New Under the Sun

Three men were in a NASA conference room to decide how to spend $10 billion.

“I think we should put our men on Mars!” said the first man.

“Ooh, good idea,” said the other two.

“I think we should put our men on Venus!” said the second man.

“Ooh, good idea,” said the other two.

“I think we should put our men on the Sun!”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Easy. We go at night.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “There’s nothing new under the sun,” but did you know that it’s actually a verse in the Torah? In Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) King Solomon writes “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Kohelet/Ecc 1:9)

Why did King Solomon specify that there’s nothing new under the sun? Why did he not write that there’s nothing new under the heavens or that there’s nothing new in the world? Why did he specify the sun?

What is the consciousness of the sun? The sun rises and sets consistently, it rose this morning and we expect it to rise the same way tomorrow. The sun doesn’t change. It represents in our lives the unchanging nature of our habits. There is nothing new under the sun.

Consider the moon on the other hand, it waxes and wanes. It begins as a small sliver and grows until it is complete, it then shrinks and the cycle starts again. The moon represents the unexpected changes, even miracles, in our life. Did you know that the Talmud compares the Jewish people to the moon? Just as the moon has periods of being full and being lacking, so do the Jewish people. Just as the moon receives its light from the sun, so the Jewish people receive their sustenance from G-d directly.

It is significant that the first mitzvah the Jewish people received upon being freed from Egyptian slavery was to establish the Jewish calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle.

This provides a profound insight; in order to be free, we have to let go of our “Sun Consciousness.” We have to concede and realize that although today may have been terrible, it doesn’t have to mean tomorrow will be the same. We can tap into our “Moon Consciousness,” the potential for, and being open to, positive change. (How apropos then that the Hebrew word for month, Chodesh, comes from the same root word as Chadash, new).

So although there is “nothing new under the sun,” we can still expect miracles in our life by properly channeling this powerful “moon potential.”

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