I want to start with an apology for not having a new blog in a long time. I am really sorry, but as I’m sure all of you have experienced, sometimes life gets very hectic and we can’t make time for everything. I also want to apologize if you are someone who is waiting to be approved. I’ve mentioned it before, but to be approved you must provide your full mailing address and be located in the United States. I have a lot of applications with just a street but no city or state address….your book would never find you that way! Also, the website has been spammed with hundreds of fake profiles which really slows up the whole process.
But even with all of that, there is so much going on! Kislev, the month of Hanukkah, is here! Hanukkah has something for everyone. For some, it evokes fun times with the family, opening presents, playing dreidel, and eating latkes and donuts. For others, it can evoke deep theological themes, such as fighting against assimilation, and the miraculous survival of the Jewish People against insurmountable odds, only possible with the help of Hashem, Master of the Universe.
While to much of the world, Hanukkah is just seen as “Jewish Christmas”, that is really not the case at all. Hanukkah is the time when we can reflect on the courage and tenacity of the Jewish People. How did those Maccabees find the strength and courage to take on the invincible Greek Empire? Why is it so upsetting to people when Torah observant Jews refuse to abandon their way of life and just blend in to society? These issues were relevant thousands of years ago and are absolutely just as relevant today! May we all continue to grow in wisdom through the eternal Torah, and remain as steadfast as the Maccabees against all of the forces, both internal and external, that threaten to destroy us.
The Month of Shevat
I hope everything is going well! First, a few website reminders. Please include your full address when you sign up – if you leave off the city and state you are from, we cannot approve you, since we have to have a valid US address to mail you a book! We are still besieged by spam accounts, so I apologize to anyone who has been waiting a long time to get approved – I am working on it!
We are now in the Hebrew month of Shevat – and I’ve just learned something so nice about this month! Apparently some say Shevat is related to the Hebrew phrase “Shenishma Besurot Tovot” which means we should all be blessed to share good tidings! Amen, I hope so!
This is also the month that hosts the holiday called Tu B’Shevat (on the 15th of the month of Shevat), also known as the new year for the trees! The Torah also compared mankind to trees, so we can view it as another opportunity for us to grow in Torah and mitzvos. We celebrate by eating fruits (make sure to say the bracha) and if it’s your first time eating that fruit this season, add the bracha shehiyanu.
Some of you may be wondering, isn’t it odd to have a holiday celebrating trees and fruits in the middle of winter? Well, even though it’s still cold in many parts of the world, the trees are readying themselves for spring, even though we can’t see it yet. May we all merit to see our dreams realized, even when things look bleak, never give up hope!
Hope everyone had a great Hannukkah!
Hannukah was just here, we hope you all enjoyed the festive time with family and friends! Unfortunately, we had some trouble with our website, but thanks to Hashem and and a computer expert, we are back online. Just a reminder, we are completely a volunteer run organization, if you would like to continue to receive books please consider donating to help keep the website going.
The meaning if Hanukkah has really been lost, I feel, in our modern culture. Many consider it “Jewish Christmas”!!! But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Greeks wanted the Jews to assimilate – to stop acting different and just get with the program already. The Jews said no way, and were willing to fight against the mightiest military on earth in order to be able to stay faithful to what Hashem wanted. Miraculously they won, and instead of being a footnote in an ancient civilization class, the Jews are still a unique, vibrant people who are loyal to Hashem.
That loyalty is being tested, however by our desire to fit into modern culture. Nowadays many Jews want to fit in and be just like everyone else. This is a tragedy of epic proportions! Judaism is a beautiful, meaningful, and vibrant birthright for all Jews. Don’t be fooled by the false glitter and glam of the modern world. Please take the time to learn about your heritage, explore why millennia of Jews cling to what’s True, rather than what everyone else is doing. May we all merit to see miracles in our own lives, and may the light from the Hannukkah menorah stay with us throughout the year.
Sukkot, Shemini Arzeret, and Simchas Torah
We are in the midst of the holiday if Sukkot, where we go out of our homes and built hut-like structures outside to remember how we lived when G-d took us out of the land of Egypt and saved us while we wandered in the desert for 40 years. When we travelled in the desert we were surrounded on all sides by the “clouds of glory” which protected us from all harm. We remember that even now, when we have all of the amazing conveniences of modern living, that G-d is still our only protector.
At the end of the seven days of Sukkot there are two more holidays. The first is Shemini Atzeret, where most people still eat in the sukkah but don’t use a lulav and esrog. There is increased joy, and we begin to add the prayer for rain in our daily prayers.
This is followed by Simchat Torah, a celebration of finishing the cycle of reading the Torah. We read the last portion from the last book (Deuteronomy) and immediately begin from the first book (Genesis). There is much dancing and merriment, and a really wonderful time is had by all.
I hope we all take the joy from these holidays and carry it with us through the whole year! All the best!
I hope we all merit to have a sweet new year, filled with the blessings of good health, livelihood, wisdom, friendship, and much more! The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana was just celebrated, and we are now in the time period known as the ten days of repentance. This is the time to examine our deeds, ask for forgiveness to those we’ve wronged, give forgiveness to those who’ve wronged us, and resolve to improve ourselves.
Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is quickly approaching. During that solemn day we open our hearts in prayer and beseech Hashem to forgive us and our People, and to bless us in the new year.
This is followed quickly by the holiday if Sukkot (which I will G-D willing expand on in another post), but because of these back to back holidays I would like to ask all of you for forgiveness in the delays in sending out books or approving your membership. As a housekeeping measure, I do want to remind everyone that their full address (including city and state) must be on your application, otherwise it is automatically rejected (since we don’t approve people outside the continental US we must see a valid US address).
May we all have a beautiful and sweet new year, May we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of life and all good things!
The Three Weeks
We are currently in the “Three Weeks”, the period of time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, a period of mourning that the Jewish people still observe every year. This time period has been a sad one for our People. It started back in Biblical times, when instead of having faith that Hashem was leading his people into a good land, the people got nervous and insisted spies be sent out to check out the land ahead of time. Those spies came back with terrifying reports, and the people who had been taken out of Egyptian slavery with signs and wonders and miracles, those people cried and cried. The world works according to “middah keneged middah”, that our consequences reflect our actions, so since we cried on that day, we cry throughout history on that day. Both the first and second temples were destroyed on that day, as well as the Jews being expelled from Spain, and the start of World War I, and many other horrible occurrences.
We spend three weeks in mourning, but on the First of Av, the mourning intensifies. Not only do we refrain from listening to music, holding joyous occasions such as weddings, we also don’t eat meat, don’t wear freshly laundered clothes, and don’t swim or bathe for pleasure. But beyond these outward signs of mourning, it is ourselves we must strive to change. Remind ourselves to be kinder, more loving people. Take it upon ourselves to more carefully observe any of our 613 holy commandments. For example, take it upon yourself to be extra careful not to gossip or cause pain with your words. Or, give charity to someone in need instead of hurrying past. May the merit of our mitzvos and our yearning for the Temple lead to our Ultimate Redemption, speedily in our time.
Summer is Here!
Hi Everyone, I hope you had a great Independence Day Weekend. Summer is in full swing, and hopefully you all are enjoying the change in seasons. I’d like to share a quick Torah thought. Many times in life we are faced with change, either of our own choosing, or thrust upon us. In Hebrew there is a phrase “Kol HaHatchalot Kashot”, translating to “All beginnings are hard”. It’s just a fundamental truth. But when we think about it, that can be reassuring. You can feel validated that yes, what you are going through is hard. But take heart! This won’t last forever! Things, with the help of Hashem, will get better, especially if you stay positive.
Summer is a time when even Great Rabbis would sometimes take their volumes of the Talmud and learn outside to appreciate the beautiful world we have been given. Take time to appreciate the beauty all around you, and for anyone going through hard times, may happier times come your way soon! All the best!
Counting the Omer
I hope you all had a fantastic Passover! Starting the second night of Passover, we began “counting the Omer”. We count 7 weeks from Passover until we reach Shavous (also called Shavout), the time when the Jewish People received the Torah on Mt Sinai.
There are several reasons for this counting. We are excited about getting the Torah, and every day we are reminded to grow spiritually in order to be ready to receive the Torah and follow its commands.
This time is also a somber period, because Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 student die during this time, attributed to them not showing each other proper respect. In light of this, Jews keep 3 signs of mourning until the 33rd day of the Omer (no weddings are held, no listening to music with instruments, and no haircuts). We all try very hard to treat each other with love and respect during this period, and hopefully that extra sensitivity will stay with us and grow all year long.
The 33rd day is known as Lag B’Omer, a fun day, and in Israel hundreds of thousands flock to the grave of renowned Kabbalist Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who revealed the secrets of the Zohar. Bonfires are lit and there is singing and dancing to celebrate this Sage and the spiritual secrets he revealed.
Happy counting everyone!
Hi Everyone, we are in the Jewish month of Nissan, with just about 2 weeks until Passover. For many of us Passover Preperations are in full swing, with all of the planning of a serious war on chometz. Chometz is the Hebrew word for leaven, and during Passover we remove all chometz from our homes. For many of us we do a deep cleaning of our homes at the same time in honor of the upcoming holiday. However we must keep in mind that dirt is not chometz, and our family is not the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrificial offering). Spring cleaning is lovely, but Passover is a time to be happy, not overwhelmed and exhausted.
This month has a special energy, it is, after all it is the time when the Jewish people were miraculously rescued from Egyptian bondage and made into a Nation. Let’s use this energy not only for cleaning our homes, but also for getting rid of the “chometz” in our personalities. The negative character trait of arrogance is especially connected to chometz, since they both “puff things up” so to speak. While we vacuum and wash and scrub our homes, let’s remember to try to scrub away our negative traits so we can serve Hashem truthfully, modestly, and joyfully. Happy cleaning Everyone!
The Purim Dichotomy
Purim is this week (yay!) and I want to speak a little more about what Purim is, and what it is not. Even though children dress up and get treats, this is not Jewish Halloween. And even though a lot of adults are drinking, it is not Jewish St Pattys day.
Purim is a time to celebrate and thank God through joy. It involves elevating the physical into the spiritual. In contrast, Yom Kippur is about bringing otherworldly spirituality into our daily life. You’ll notice that Purim and Yom Kippur sound similar. Our sages say this is not an accident, that these holidays which are observed in diametrically opposed ways, both bring increased spirituality into our lives. May we see an increase in blessing for ourselves and the whole world!