Friday, April 30, 2010

The Creator of healings, The Cultivator of deliverances

No event that occurs is by chance. As Rav Moshe Armoni, Shlita, from Jerusalem says, the word, "Mikre" (chance) is the same exact letters as "rak m'Ha-Shem" (only from Ha-Shem). His hand can be clearly seen throughout our daily lives, as events are nurtured and guided by the A-lmighty. It is up to us, though, to refine ourselves, and learn to "read" and discriminate his remarkable works as "The Creator of Healings, the cultivator of Deliverances...." (from the daily morning prayers). Every once in a while, that Hand can be seen remarkably clearly, as He changes the course of nature. Recently, we witnessed His might in closing down air travel to and from Europe. What you probably didn't hear, though, was how that global event saved the life of a young Yeshiva boy from Jerusalem---(my thanks to Norman Feiner for sharing this):

The Great Miracle of the Volcano Shutdown.
A universal crisis, millions of people stranded, billions of dollars lost, and one volcanic eruption in Iceland causes chaos across the European continent. Within all this tumult, one Jew merits a smile of loveliness from the Creator of the World, as if whispering to him - my son, the whole world was not created except for you

The story begins with a young Yeshiva student, an 18 year old Yerushalmi, who came down with a fulminate hepatic failure and was mortally ill.
With little hope of receiving a liver transplant in Israel, Rav Firer sought to send the boy to Brussels, the world center of liver transplants. The only problem however, is that Brussels under no circumstances transplants non-EU patients in order to save the scanty supply of livers for Europeans. Nevertheless, it was decided to send him to Brussels despite the full knowledge of negligible chance of receiving a liver.

The young Yeshiva student had no choice but to include his name
to the long waiting list for a liver transplant. In the meantime, he tried to maintain his learning despite the illness, consciously aware that it will takes weeks, months, and even years till he will be able to be given a new liver. Many patients were on the waiting list, and his name was somewhere on the bottom... And when his turn does finally arrive, it must completely match his blood type and other medical criteria. If it's not a perfect match, he will need to continue waiting ... for a miracle.
However, ' Many thoughts in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of HaShem shall stand. HaShem had a different plan for this young Yeshiva student and HaShem's loyal servants produced avalanches of hot ash, rock and gas on Europe, causing Europe to completely shut down its skies into a no-fly zone. No one can leave and no one can enter; a self-imposed siege in the euro zone skies. It is during this time that a young religious Yerushalmi man in the capital of Belgium is sitting in the yeshiva learning Torah.
During the course of the shut down airspace above Europe, a person dies in the hospital in the capital of Belgium, a person whom agreed to donate his liver to anyone that might need it. Astonishingly, a liver that is perfectly parametric for our young Yeshiva student.

Health authority of Belgium began searching the liver transplant waiting list but unfortunately, not even one patient was able to fly into Belgium for the very needed healthy liver transplant due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland.
As they advanced further on the waiting list, they reached the young Yeshiva student. However it was not offered to the boy due to his lack of citizenship. As the clock closed in on the deadline for time in which the the liver's lifespan for transplanting, the precious healthy liver cannot be wasted and must be swiftly replaced with a diseased liver, no one else was able to arrive in Belgium for the transplant except this young Yerushalmi.

With the clear Divine Intervention, this budding talmid chacham received the liver and is now recovering from surgery.
The enormity of this miracle was even greater after the successful liver transplant. The doctors said that the young yeshiva student's liver was very deteriorated and diseased and it was a matter of days his liver would stop functioning completely. The doctors unanimously believe that if this young man had to continue waiting for the liver transplant, he would have been long dead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A treasure discovered

We discovered a treasure today: My father had given me two pairs of tefillin to get checked-one small pair, and one pair that he said was from his bar mitzva. I had my doubts, as the pair he was using during the shloshim period of mourning was what he had told me earlier was from his bar mitzva, 73 years ago. Anyway, my dear sofer friend, Rabbi Yaakov Safranovitz, told me, that there was good news and bad news: The bad news was that the small pair, which I believe were from a deceased cousin who more than 50 years ago, had left them with my parents when he was in the army and stationed in California, were not kosher, nor were they worth fixing as they were of poor quality. However, the other pair, he said were definitely not from my father--they were at least 150 year old! The quality of the parchment was thick and superb, and the script, which was in the style of the Baal Hatanya, came from Russia, had to have been written by a G-d fearing person, by a very high soul, and was of a very high quality.

I remembered back, that in 1974, when my father had come to NY for my graduation from Yeshiva University, he had brougth with him these tefillin. At the time the batim (cases) were very old and falling apart, and we brought them to a sofer (scribe) in the lower east side, who checked them and placed them in their present batim. For those of you who know anything about safrus, the parchment was so thick, that it would only fit into dakos, not the usual gasos that are used today! So my dad and I put our heads together, and we realized that these must have been the tefillin of my great-grandfather, Yosef Schwartz,a"h, born in 1862, moved to Jerusalem circa 1925, in his last years was a gabbai tzedoka for Kollel Shomrei Hachomos, and who, when he passed away in 1931, was buried among the holy souls on Har Hazeisim (the mount of olives). I have merited to visit his grave twice. It will take about 2 weeks to properly restore these treasures, and G-d willing, my dad will be use them for special occasions for many years to come.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Alchemist And Getting Unstuck in order to find our Treasure

So many of us get stuck in the ruts of our lives: perhaps we feel that we must make ends meet, and therefore, we are compelled to continue on our present path, never stopping to consider our dreams, that is, until it's too late, and we're too old to do anything about it; Perhaps we choose to barricade ourselves in the safety of our comfortable existences, never daring to venture beyond the needs of our physical beings, while our souls long for spiritual nutrition. Yes, there are some adventuresome spirits who actually do seek out their dreams, traveling to far away and distant lands. Yet, with neither map nor compass, invariably they return home empty, unfulfilled and a whole lot poorer. What a tragedy that most of us get old, lose track of the dreams of our youth, and hardly consider why we were brought into this world.

The truth is that the fulfillment of our dreams, and our hidden treasures are really close at hand. The Torah tells us in Devarim 30:14, "For this thing is very near to you." If we would just stop and shake ourselves, wake ourselves up a few times each day, we might consider what our Beloved Father, Friend, and confidant, the A-lmighty, has given us. If we did realize the scores of new opportunities and choices we have each day, we could be much, much closer to our finding our treasure, and by sensitizing ourselves, training ourselves to think differently, and considering just how significant each choice we make is, so much of what is hidden would be revealed to us.

Recently, A dear friend lent me the book, "The Alchemist" written by Paulo Coelho. "The Alchemist" is one young man's search for his treasure and his destiny. It is a story about the challenges of getting unstuck, and in the end, finding one's treasure. What particularly struck me about "The Alchemist" is that it seems to be based on the wonderful Chassidic story retold by Rav Chanoch Henich of Alexander (the founder of the second largest Chassidic group in Poland before World War II) in the name of his rebbe, the great Chasidishe master, Rav Simcha Binim of Peshischa, (who, in turn, was the closest student of The holy Jew of Peshischa, The first Biala Rebbe).

Here is the story: In the city of Cracow, Poland there lived a Jew named Reb Eizek Yekeles. Reb Eizek dreamed repeatedly that he should make the long journey to Prague, and there, near the royal palace, under the bridge, he should dig in the ground where an unbelievable treasure awaited him! At first he ignored the dream, but when it repeated itself, again and again, he told it over to his wife, who encouraged him to fulfill his dream. The next morning without delay Reb Eizek set out by foot for Prague, and headed straight for the bridge near the palace. But to his dismay, he discovered that the area was heavily guarded, day and night, by armed soldiers. How could a little Jew from Cracow sneak in under the watchful and fearful eye of the troops and start digging under the bridge for his treasure? What a disappointing climax to such a fatiguing journey! Now he would have to make the long, exhausting trip home again, empty handed. All day long, he walked up and down the riverbank near the bridge, feeling sorry for himself, and when night fell, he returned to the inn where he was staying, and tossed and turned until daybreak. Yet, he wouldn't give up. Each day, day after day, he would walk up and down the riverbank, trying to figure out how he could dig for his treasure. After a number of days, the captain of the guard became curious about the sad Jew who kept returning day after day, and who seemed to be looking for something. He decided to approach him to ask him what he is doing. Though at first hesitant, R. Eizek poured out his heart and told the captain his whole story. The captain exploded in laughter. "Who on earth believes the kind of nonsense they see in dreams? How can you be so foolish to come all the way to Prague because of a dream? Why I, myself, dreamed the other day that I should travel all the way to Cracow, where I would find some Jew named Reb Eizek Yekeles. If i were to dig under the stove of his house I would find an unbelievable treasure. Now I ask you: do you think it would occur to me to take seriously such a ridiculous dream, and to travel all the way to Cracow? At long last, Reb Eizek understood why he had come all the way to Prague. And without delay, he excitedly rushed home began digging and found the enormous treasure buried under his stove just as the captain had told him. From his newly found fortune he built a magnificent Shul completed in 1644, and though twice it was ransacked, first by Swedish invaders during the war of 1655-1658, and recently by the Nazis, my their name and memory be erased, it was recently restored as a historic monument by the Polish government.

We must never lose track of our dreams. Ha-Shem is constantly speaking to us, constantly guiding us to find our treasure. We just need to train ourselves to become good listeners, to hear what we really are supposed to hear. It takes hard work and focus. But as our sages tell us, one who seeks to purify himself is helped from Above.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Rendezvous in Space and Time

We, in exile, begin tonight a rare, twice a year, opportunity to commune with The Divine, a rendezvous in space and time. As you may or may not know, Pesach and Sukkos begin and end with holy days, which serve as bookends for the middle days which are called Chol Hamoed, and it is those days that I refer to. We find one other seemingly different circumstance in which the term moed is used: Ohel moed, which was the tabernacle or tent of meeting, in which the Torah tells us the Divine presence rested while the Jews traveled in the wilderness on their way to the Promised land.

Yet, I would contend, that their commonality is incredibly profound. Our sages teach us that a main goal in our short sojourn on this world should be to sanctify time and space, and to dedicate all that we do to elevating all that is given to us. But the essence of Judaism asks us to go one step further: We need to consider that just as the A-lmighty created and manifests His dominion over space, He created and rules over the dimension of time, as well. With this perspective, we can begin to think differently, to consider that both time and space overlap in a very quantum way. As Jews, this manifests in the following ways: first, we are taught that every event which occurs at a given time of year, leave an imprint and affects us, even if it occurred hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The Kabbalah teaches that the "light" from earlier events is accessible and shines during times of meeting, moadim. Second, we need to realize, that just as our actions leave an imprint upon the world, as significantly, our use of time leaves a mark upon the world as well. Third, from a medical perspective, we need to realize that not only does our use of time impact the world, but it impacts our bodies and souls as well!

Which brings me back to Chol Hamoed. Chol Hamoed, (the intermediate days of the Festivals) literally means the mundane or secular of the Divine convocation. The root of the hebrew word chol is chalal, which means a void or a hollow space. We acknowledge a similar void or emptiness when we make havdallah after Shabbos and declare the dramatic contrast between the light of Shabbos and the darkness of the week, with the statement, Baruch Hamavdil bain kodesh lechol (Blessed is the One who distinguishes between that which is holy and that which is mundane). It is, therefore, our task in each coming week, to attempt to fill that void. How do we understand though, the "void" between the two festivals: in our case, one commemorating the open G-dly revelation and deliverance from Egypt, and the other commemorating the splitting of the Red Sea? The holy Zohar give us some direction: It compares Chol Hamoed to the moon, which, although it has no light of its own, mirrors the brilliant rays of the sun. The "void" of Chol Hamoed, therefore, is filled in by the exquisite reflected light of the festivals that surrounds it. Our sages view Chol Hamoed with such reverence, that they tell us, "One who (looks lightly upon and) shames Chol Hamoed is considered like an idol worshiper" and ..."has no share in the World to Come!" Why such strong language? Because our sages needed us to reflect upon the awesome holiness contained within these days, (and not fall prey to the temptation of viewing Chol Hamoed as just intermediate vacation days) which contain powerful reflected light, a light that if we connect to it, will give us a unique opportunity to feel G-dliness, almost like our forefathers in the wilderness! And just as the generation in the wilderness, was protected much like a fetus in its mothers womb, so too, Chol Hamoed can have a wonderful impact on our health and well being, enabling us to feel G-d's presence. And just like Shabbos is a rare opportunity to free ourselves, body and soul from the slavery and idol worship of technology, so too, Chol Hamoed, gives us that opportunity. So if we dress like it's still Pesach, we eat like it's still Pesach, and we refrain from doing activities or work which distract us from the bliss of being in the presence of The King, we take advantage of a most wonderful opportunity. Try it, and see if it works.