Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review of Lesson Two (SoulQuest)

Thank you for joining us for our first lesson of Soul Quest: The Journey through Life, Death, and Beyond. Here is a quick recap:

After learning about the unique identity that we call a soul in our previous lesson, this week we looked at its origin and its preparation for its mission. We began by briefly outlining the soul’s formation, correlating each stage to the four worlds, as explained in kabbalistic thought. These stages all coexist like the layers of programming in a computer. We also looked closely at how the soul prepares for “dispatch,” as well as the pledge it takes before it is born.

The human soul is unique in that G-d “blew” it into man. Breath originates deep within a person. Thus, the breathing of the soul into alludes to the fact that the soul originates from deep within the essence of G-d. That is why the human soul thus has the capacity to reveal G-d’s essence in everything. This purpose is primarily accomplished through Torah and mitzvot.

Before a person is born, the soul undergoes “basic training,” learning the entire Torah. Finally, right before birth, the soul take a pledge, connecting the soul to its essence, reminding the soul of its mission, and empowering the soul as it embarks on its journey.

Finally, we touched on the experience of birth and how the soul’s fusion with the body marks a new stage in its development, accompanied by a new set of struggles. The soul and the body will now grow and mature throughout life, especially during life’s milestones.

I look forward to seeing you next week, when we will examine the stage after the soul’s mission in the world has been completed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

JLI's SoulQuest Lesson Two: Before You Were Born

JLI's SoulQuest Lesson Two: Before You Were Born from myJLI.com on Vimeo.

Lesson two; Before you were born...

When did your life begin? Did it start on the day of your birth, when you first entered this noisy, chaotic world, seeking the calm of a human embrace? Or did it start earlier, while you were still in utero, when you came to recognize your mother’s voice and the soothing cadence of her heartbeat? Perhaps it began at the moment of conception, when your embryonic cells began the process of rapid division and differentiation. A case could even be made for a beginning far before your parents even met, when the potential of birthig children still lay dormant within them.

Could it be that instead of looking for the earliest antecedents of life, we should be looking for the moment of its full-flowering? Might we say your life did not begin at birth, but when you took your first step, or spoke your first word? Or that it did not start until you began an adult, independent and fully able to determine your own life-course?

Clearly, physical life is marked by a progressive unfolding of potential and develops over time. The soul too must move from a potential state to the moment of its conception, and must gestate and pass through a number of stages before it fully comes into its own.

We’ll talk about the different kinds of beginnings in Lesson Two of Soul Quest, “Before You Were Born.” Looking forward to seeing you.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Weekly question by Rabbi Moss:

Question of the Week:

I enjoy reading your emails and figured I would send you a question of my own. I'm 35 and still single. I look around and see all my friends married, and I wonder what I am doing wrong. People love to tell me I'm picky and that I am looking for the wrong things when the truth is I really don't think I am. I think I'm a very level headed and rational person, but I've just been meeting the wrong guys which is why I am always the one to end the relationship. Is it possible that my time hasn't come yet, or am I to blame for being picky and not "settling" with a guy until now?


I don't think you are picky, and I don't think you should just settle for any old guy. It could be that your time hasn't come yet. But if you find that you are always the naysayer, maybe it's time to try a different approach. Though I don't know you personally, here is a wild thought you may not have considered before.

Do you really want to get married? Or is it possible that you are actually too comfortable being single?

As ridiculous as it sounds, I have met many people who on the one hand say they want nothing more than to settle down with a life partner, and they are doing all they can to meet their soulmate, but in actual fact they do everything in their power to make sure no relationship gets too serious. These people go into a date just waiting to find that one reason to say no and let it fail.

This may be as a result of hurts from the past. Previous relationships that resulted in disappointment and heartbreak can leave us disillusioned and jaded. Or it may be an unwillingness to part with the comforts of the status quo. Sometimes it seems easier to stay single and alone rather than make the effort necessary to share a life with someone else. Or there may be deeper personality issues. Whatever it is, if you find yourself sabotaging every promising relationship and ending it before it gets serious, you may need to work on yourself to recapture your faith and open your heart again.

This may not be your problem at all. Maybe you keep saying no because you just haven't met the right guy yet. There are many wonderful people out there, just like you, who have simply not yet found their soulmate. Give your search over to G-d. Recognise that you need Him to guide you. Cry to Him. And then be open. If you are ready, he is ready.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Review of Lesson One (SoulQuest)

Thank you for joining us for our first lesson of Soul Quest: The Journey through Life, Death, and Beyond. Here is a quick recap:

We began by discussing that there is a part of ourselves that goes beyond our physical bodies, giving it its unique identity. We call this part a soul.

Next, we tried to clarify what we mean when we talk about a soul, and in particular, what is meant by the human soul. Maimonides describes the soul as the “program” or “design” of living creatures. Souls by definition are metaphysical and non-corporeal in nature. While all things contain a “program” that gives them form, and all living things possess a soul that gives them life, the unique quality of the human soul is the quality of intelligence: its ability to comprehend abstract ideas and to think about G-d. The mystics characterize the essence of the soul somewhat differently, and describe it as a “spark” of G-d.

We then contrasted the creation of animals and humans to gain additional insight about the function of the human soul. Animals were created in a single step, formed from the earth, with their life force intact. Humans, on the other hand, were first molded from the earth, and only later was their soul breathed into them. They represent a melding of both the highest and lowest part of creation. This feature of human design reflects the unique role of the human soul, which is to infuse G-dliness into the physical world, transforming it until it too is an expression of the divine.

Our final section of the lesson was meant to help you experience your soul as an interface between “heaven and earth.” Every time you make a blessing, you have the opportunity to inject the spiritual and G-dly into the everyday. Sipping a glass of water is often an uneventful experience. But when you drink the water for the purpose of serving G-d, and recite a blessing over the water, then this daily mundane event is transformed into something holy.

I look forward to seeing you next week, when we will look more closely at how souls are created and how the soul prepares for birth.

JLI's SoulQuest Lesson One: Meet the Pilot

JLI's SoulQuest Lesson One: Meet the Pilot from myJLI.com on Vimeo.

Letter introducing Lesson One of SoulQuest

Dear JLI Student,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to JLI’s newest course, Soul Quest: The Journey through Life, Death, and Beyond...

The premise of this course is that we are really all on a very long journey, and this lifetime is just one leg of the trip. But travelers always enjoy the trip more with a good guide book and some preparation so they know what to expect and how to make the most of each stop on the itinerary. Beginning Tuesday, November 3rd at the Chabad Torah Centre, I look forward to serving as your tour guide as we talk about milestones such as birth, death, reincarnation, and the afterlife.

In our first class, we will discuss the question, “Who are we really?” What gives us our unique identity? Is it our thoughts? Our feelings? Our unique mix of DNA? Is there an essential core that precedes our time here and continues long after? Is there soul? If so, how can we define it, and what is its purpose?

I look forward to see you at the first class in this intriguing series.

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

SoulQuest and Near Death Experience

Here is a link to a six part documentary on BBC about NDE:


JLI's New Course-Soul Quest

JLI's New Course-Soul Quest from myJLI.com on Vimeo.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Confessions of a Jewish Marine

He wore his yarmulke while in uniform. Kept kosher while stationed in Arab deserts and Korean mountains. He even had a public Menorah displayed on a Marine Base in Hawaii!

Having served in both the first Gulf War and the current Iraq War, Dave Rosner describes what it’s like to be a Jewish Marine. As a political and military commentator, Dave will also share his unique take on the media’s role in politics and the current war on terror. Oh, did we mention he’s also a stand up comic?

Join us for an exquisite Chinese cuisine at the Fort Garry Hotel with guest entertainer Dave Rosner and you will be automatically entered to win a complimentary spa package at Ten Spa, Winnipeg’s finest luxury health spa, valued at $250. Make it a Kosher Night Out!

To RSVP or for more information, please visit www.ChabadWinnipeg.org or give us a call at 414-5624. RSVP by Sunday, August 16.

Monday, August 31 at 7:00pm
Fort Garry Hotel, 222 Broadway Street

Tickets: $54
Youth (under 30): $36

Silver Sponsor: $180
Gold Sponsor: $360

A project of the Chabad Jewish Learning Institute, a division of Lubavitch Centre.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Question of the Week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
Why is Judaism passed down through the mother? I understand in olden times it was easy to know who your mother was and there was no way of proving fatherhood. But these days we have DNA testing, so why can't someone be Jewish even if only their father is Jewish?

Jewishness is not in our DNA. It is in our soul. The reason it is passed through the maternal line is not just because it is easier to identify who your mother is. It is because the soul identity is more directly shaped by the mother than the father.

From a purely physical perspective, a child is more directly connected to their mother. The father's contribution to the production of a child is instantaneous, remote and short-lived. The mother on the other hand gives her very self. The child is conceived inside the mother, develops inside the mother, is sustained and nourished by the mother, and is born from the mother.

This is not to say that a father and child are not intimately attached. Of course they are. But as deep and essential as the bond between father and child may be, the child's actual body was never a part of her father's body. But she was a part of her mother. Every child begins as an extension of their mother's body.

This is a simple fact. It doesn't mean she will be closer to her mother, or more similar to her mother, or follow her mother's ways. We are not discussing the emotional bond between parent and child, but rather the natural physical bond. There is a more direct physical link between mother and child, because a child starts off as a part of her mother.

The body and its workings are a mirror image of the workings of the soul. The physical world is a parallel of the spiritual world. And so, the direct physical link between mother and child is a reflection of a soul link between them. While the father's soul contributes to the identity of the child's soul, it is the mother's soul that actually defines it. If the mother has a Jewish soul, the child does too.

If the mother is not Jewish but the father is, his Jewish soul will not be extended to the child. There may be a spark of Jewishness there, but if it was not gestated in a Jewish mother, the child will have to go through conversion for their Jewishness to be activated.

Other religions are passed down by the father. Jewishness is passed down by the mother, because being Jewish is a spiritual identity, it defines our very being. And our very being we get from our mother, both in body and in soul.

Monday, August 3, 2009

JLI Student BBQ

Come celebrate a year of learning and discovery at our JLI Barbecue for students, families and friends, with live entertainment!

The cost is $4 for a burger and $3 for a hot dog. Salad and drinks are included. RSVP by Tuesday, August 11. To RSVP, send an email to JLI@ChabadWinnipeg.org or give us a call at 414-5624.

On Sunday, August 16
From 5:30pm - 7:30pm
At 901 Shaftesbury Blvd

Friday, July 31, 2009

Soul Quest

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Question of the Week by Rabbi Moss

Rabbi, I appreciate your invitation to join your classes, but I just don't have time in my life for spirituality right now. My week is packed with work, family commitments, fitness and a little socialising and time to relax. I don't see where I can fit in spiritual activities. I don't want to burn out, do I?

There was once a rabbi teaching a classroom full of students. He started his lesson by saying, "My dear students, today is our last class together before you graduate. For this special occasion I am going to do something different. I am going to teach you the secret of a good cholent."

The students were aghast. Cholent, the traditional Shabbos stew, is a classic of Jewish cooking, but hardly a profound subject for a rabbi to teach his students for their final lesson.

The rabbi took out a crockpot and filled it to the brim with potatoes. He then turned to his students and asked, "Tell me, now that I have filled the pot with potatoes - is the pot full?"

"Yes," his students replied, confused by the simplicity of the question, for there was no way to fit in any more potatoes into the pot.

With a smile the rabbi took out a bag of beans and poured it into the pot, and the beans managed to slip between the spaces among the potatoes. "Ok," said the rabbi, "now is the pot full?" Looking into the pot the students agreed that it was indeed full.

Without missing a beat the rabbi took out a bag of barley and poured it into the pot. The small kernels meandered effortlessly between the cracks and crevices among the potatoes and beans.

"Now it's full," said the students.

"Really?" said the rabbi, taking out his collection of spices. He then began shaking generous amounts of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder all over the pot. The students watched dumbfounded as the spices easily settled into what had seemed to be a completely full pot.

The rabbi, obviously enjoying himself, asked again, "Is it full yet?"

Without waiting for the answer, the rabbi produced a jug of water and proceeded to pour its contents into the pot. To the amazement of his students, he was able to empty the entire jug of water into the pot without a drop spilling over the sides.

"Alright, " said the rabbi, a look of satisfaction on his face. "Now it really is full, right?" The students all nodded in agreement. "Are you sure?" prodded the rabbi., "Are you absolutely certain that I can't fit anything more into this pot?" Suddenly unsure of themselves, the students looked at each other nervously and said, "Surely you can't put anything else into there!"

With drama and pathos, the rabbi raised a finger in the air, lowered it slowly and flicked a switch on the side of the pot, turning on the heating element lying beneath. "You see," said the rabbi triumphantly, "I just filled the pot with the most important ingredient of all - warmth. Without it, the pot may as well be empty."

The rabbi paused, and looked deeply into the eyes of his stunned students. "My children," he finally addressed them, "you are about to leave my class and go on to live busy lives. In the big world out there you will no longer have the luxury of studying holy texts all day. In time you will be consumed by the pressures of looking after a family and making a living. But always remember this: your material pursuits are just the potatoes and beans of life. Your spirituality, that is the warmth.

"Until the fire is turned on, the pot is full of disparate ingredients. It is the warmth that unites them all into one single stew.

"If you don't maintain a spiritual connection, through praying every day, studying the holy books, and keeping focused on the true meaning of your lives, then you will end up as a cold cholent - very busy, very full, but completely empty. When you have lost touch with your soul, your family life will suffer, your career will be unfulfilling, you won't even be motivated to exercise.

"But if you keep the fire burning in your soul, if you stick to a daily schedule that nourishes the spirit, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, then those few minutes will bring warmth and inspiration to all your other activities. A spiritual connection imbues your entire life with meaning, keeps you anchored and directed, inspired and motivated. It permeates all you do with a sense of purpose, and makes you succeed."

"You may be wondering," continued the rabbi, "how will you have time for all this? How will you be able to juggle the demands of material life along with your spiritual development? You will find the answer by looking at the cholent. Did you notice that though the pot seemed full of potatoes and beans, barley, spices and water, when I added the warmth it did not overflow? Never think that adding spirituality to your schedule will overburden you. On the contrary, it will bring everything else in your life together, because it will remind you why you do all these other things in the first place - you work in order to be able to live a life of meaning, you get married in order to bring the best out in yourself and your spouse, you have children in order to educate them in the ways of goodness, you keep fit in order to have the strength to fulfil your mission. Spirituality is the warmth that does not take up space, it creates more."

With a loving smile the rabbi concluded his farewell with words of wisdom that I think apply equally to you:

"You should never think that you are so busy that you can't afford to concentrate on your soul. The truth is, you can't afford not to. May G-d bless you, that each and every one of you should always be a warm pot of cholent."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Community Shabbat Dinner

You've heard of it; now try it for yourself!

Join us for a traditional Shabbat experience in an atmosphere of warmth, song, inspiration and discussion. No experience necessary.

Shmooze with young Jewish families and feel the magic glow of Shabbat at Chabad. From fresh challah to piping hot chicken soup, our delicious menu is sure to feel your body and soul! Space is limited so please reserve early.

Our next Community Shabbat Dinner will take place on Friday, August 21 at 7:30pm. In September, our Community Shabbat Dinner will be replaced by a Rosh Hashana Dinner - same time, same place.

Third Friday of every month.
901 Shaftesbury Blvd.
7:30pm - 9:30pm
Couvert: $18
To contact Rabbi Shmuly or Adina call (204) 414-5624 or email JLI@ChabadWinnipeg.org.

Please note: Starting in October we will, G-d willing, begin our Community Shabbat Dinners at 6:30pm.

Scholars in Residance: Winnipeg Summer Yeshiva

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NEW! Chabad tORAH tOTS Jewish Preschool

Recognizing the need for additional Jewish Day Care spaces in Winnipeg South, Chabad tORAH tOTS offers a half day program for children ages 3-4. No membership or prior affiliation is required. Limited spaces are available.

Director: Mrs. Adina Altein

901 Shaftesbury Boulevard

Friday, July 17, 2009

Question of the Week by Rabbi Moss

I would love to come to shule one Shabbos, but I have a problem. Every time I come I feel so out of place, like I am the odd one out. I think people are staring at me because I don't really fit in. It seems like everyone else is a part of it, and I am an outsider. Is it just me or am I sticking out like a sore thumb?

You certainly are the odd one out. Everybody is.

Take any group of people - a family, a community, a classroom, sports team or an office staff - and there is one thing that every single member of the group has in common. They each think they are the odd one out. The one thing that makes us all the same is that we all think we are different.

One person thinks the shape of their nose makes them stick out. Another is sure that they are smarter than everyone, or everyone is smarter than them. One guy thinks he is the only one with problems in their life, another thinks that he is weird and everyone else is normal.

The truth is, all noses stick out. That's how they were made. We are all smarter in some ways and not in others, we all have life problems and we are all a bit weird. These things do not really make us different. So why do we feel so self-conscious? Why do we all feel like outsiders?

Because there really is something about you that truly makes you stand out from the rest.

You are different from everyone else, because every person has a unique soul. The miracle of creation is that we are all the same human, but we are all completely unique people. So indeed you are the odd one out, but so am I, and so is everyone else. You are the exception, but there is no rule.

The fact that you are the odd one out should not cause you to avoid the community. On the contrary, that's why the community needs you. What makes a group powerful is when each individual contributes his or her own distinctive flavour, when each single being gives their own something to the all. You are different to everyone else alive, and everyone else who ever lived. That doesn't just make you the exception. It makes you exceptional.

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tish'a B'Av

Heaven on Earth: Timeless Vessels, Timely Lessons

Both the first and second Holy Temples which stood in Jerusalem were destroyed on Av 9: the First Temple by the Babylonians in the year 3338 from creation (423 BCE), and the second by the Romans in 3829 (69 CE).

The Temples' destruction represents the greatest tragedy in Jewish history, for it marks our descent into Galut--the state of physical exile and spiritual displacement in which we still find ourselves today. Thus the Destruction is mourned as a tragedy that affects our lives today, 2,000 years later, no less than the very generation that experienced it first hand.

Join us on Thursday evening, July 30 from 7:30pm - 8:30pm, at the Chabad Torah Centre, 1825 Grant Avenue for an evening of learning and discovery, as a panel of Rabbi's present fascinating insights about the various vessels used in the Holy Temple. This program is open to both men and woman, and will be followed by Mincha and Maariv services. For more information, please call 414-5624.

This is a joint project between Chabad Lubavitch and Herzilia Adas Yeshurun.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein:

Weekly question by Rabbi Moss:

I just wanted to ask you for some direction regarding fear of G-d. I was brought up with a Christian perception of G-d as an intimidating figure to be scared of. I embraced Judaism as I thought it sees G-d as more loving and forgiving, but I've noticed in Jewish sources references to G-d as being something also to fear. This is conjuring up all the negative feelings toward religion from my childhood. Can you shed some light on fear of G-d?

I think this is a translation issue. The word fear conjures an image of something scary, like a haunted house, or a dark alley, or a parking cop. I understand why you would recoil from a religion that promotes fear. We should not feel about G-d what we feel towards a bogey man.

Indeed there is a concept in Judaism called "Yiras Shamayim", translated as fear of heaven. But fear misses the true meaning of the word. A better word would be respect.

While love must be a primary motivating factor in our life, we also need a healthy dose of respect. The difference between love and respect is that when I love, I am preoccupied with my feelings toward you; when I respect, I am focusing on your presence rather than mine. Love is my desire to approach you. Respect is my deference to your otherness, your right to be who you are.

When you love someone but do not respect them, it ends up being all about you. The other is simply an object of your love, their opinion is not taken seriously, and they are not treated as a real being. Someone who loves their spouse but does not respect them never leaves space for the other to really exist. If you love your parents without respecting them, then you actually don't have parents, just good buddies. A friend whom you don't really respect is no more than a convenient accessory to keep you company when you are in the mood.

Respect means acknowledging someone else as being a valid and important being, to be listened to and honoured. It means looking up to someone and realising that there are things about the other person that we just have to accept, like it or not. Put simply, respect means taking someone else seriously.

So we love G-d, we feel close and intimate with Him, but we also respect that He is G-d, a real being, with expectations and demands. He is our parent whom we love, but He is also a king whom we must obey. It is this awe and respect that prevents us from thinking that G-d is just an extension of our own ego, a being that we can bend and stretch to fit in to our own image of Him.

Respect, not fear. There's no bogey man. Apart from parking cops, there's nothing to be scared of.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Timetable for JLI Semesters 5770

JLI Semesters 5770




Begins the week of
14 Cheshvan/Nov. 1
through the week of
19 Kislev/Dec. 6


The Journey through Life, Death, and Beyond

Rabbi Yisrael Rice

Begins the week of
16 Shevat/Jan. 31
through the week of
21 Adar/Mar. 7

Portraits in Leadership

Six Talmudic Paradigms for Times of Crisis and Change

Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

Begins the week of
11 Iyar/Apr. 25
through the week of
17 Sivan/May 30

Beyond Never Again

How the Holocaust Speaks to Us Today
[Revised edition]

Rabbi Aaron Herm

Course titles are subject to slight modifications.

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weekly question by Rabbi Moss:

This question is from my daughter (aged 7 years).

"Why would a supposedly good, just, loving G-d allow so much suffering in the world?" (I started answering and realised I was not talking on her level. Can you help?)

You are a bright seven year old. There are many things that you can understand, but your baby brother would not understand. For example, does your baby brother ever get a rash? I'm sure he does. So what happens when a baby has a rash? Mum applies cream to ease it. The poor little baby screams as his tender skin is stung by the ointment. But mum keeps going, ignoring the screams. As hard as it is for her to inflict pain on her baby, she does it, because she knows that it is for his good.

Imagine it would be possible to ask the baby how he feels about the situation. He would probably say, "I am being brutally tortured by the very person who is supposed to love me and care for me the most! My own mother has no mercy. She ignores my cries. Why is this happening?"

And there would be no answer anyone could offer. There is no way in the world we could explain to a baby that no, it is not torture, it is healing. Yes it is painful, but it is only being done in order to prevent pain and make you better. A baby simply can't understand anything beyond the pain he is experiencing.

We are all like that baby. In front of G-d, even the wisest and smartest person is like an infant. We look at the world and we see the suffering and we ask why. And no one can give us a satisfying answer. We can't understand, all we can do is cry from the pain. G-d is moved by our cries, it pains Him to see our pain. He understands us. We don't understand Him.

The gap between our minds and G-d's is even wider than the gap between a baby's mind and an adult's. The baby will one day reach adulthood, and he too will come to understand the ways of his parents. But we will never reach G-d. We cannot begin to understand G-d's ways.

But the baby still loves his mum, even though he doesn't understand her actions. So too we need not understand G-d to love Him. Somehow, all the suffering in the world is a healing, and every painful experience is there to teach and to fix. Why does it have to be this way? G-d knows. We don't.

Mum knows what she's doing. So does G-d.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:

What do you say to someone who does not find Judaism to be fulfilling? He says the drudgery of performing religious duties doesn't do it for him. Could it be that some Jews need to find fulfilment elsewhere?


The search for fulfilment is one of the plagues of our generation. Today we seek fulfilment in our careers, await fulfilment in our relationships, and expect fulfilment in our spiritual life. Maybe this is why we are so dissatisfied.

Fulfilment is like your favourite pair of nail clippers. When you look for it, you can't find it. Then, when you are not looking, it appears. When you seek fulfilment, it eludes you. But when you go about the business of life and get on with your job, that's when fulfilment appears.

Fulfilment is the by-product of living a life with meaning. And true meaning can only come from living a life that serves a purpose that is beyond self. It's not about fulfilling yourself. It's about fulfilling your soul's task in this world.

Judaism does not promise to provide a feeling of uninterrupted fulfilment. It does promise to provide clarity of purpose and a well-articulated mission for life. The obligations and duties that Judaism places upon us challenge us to reach beyond self-preoccupation and start to serve our purpose.

If you want to find your nail clippers, stop looking for them, and they'll turn up. If you want to find fulfilment, stop seeking it, and it will come. But only when you forget about fulfilling yourself, and start fulfilling your soul's duty.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of Lesson Six

Thank you for joining us for our sixth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Failure of Leadership

The generation of the flood suffered from a failure of leadership. The leaders who were supposed to serve as role models acted immorally and failed to put an end to corruption by enforcing law and order. Even Noah, described as “righteous,” was unsuccessful at inspiring other to abandon their evil ways.

What leadership qualities might have allowed Noah to have more influence on his generation?The first quality of leadership is an inner strength, the feeling of security and confidence that is a prerequisite to “stepping up to the plate.” The second component, which builds on the first, is a selfless concern for others. Finally, the leader must have a vision worth sharing.

Noah was not able to summon these particular strengths. The text describes Noah as one who “walked with G-d.” He needed G-d’s constant support, for her felt a lack of lack of inner strength. Consequently, he also failed to pray for the generation. Although he did not sin himself, he lacked a broader vision and did little to transform those around him.

Abraham, on the other hand, “walked before G-d.” His solid inner strength enabled him to take charge. Selflessly, he cared for those around him, offering food and respite to tired travelers. He also taught monotheism to the world, envisioning a future free of idol worship.

B. The Ark as a Tool of Transformation

The ark was meant not only as a vehicle of refuge, but also as a means of heightening Noah’s sensibilities. Its shape was square, lacking a front or back that would allow navigation. This indicated that its purpose was to provide protection from the storm, but not to allow leisurely travel or an escape from the flood. The ark included a skylight. This symbolized that Noah was meant to become more receptive to spirituality. The ark was further divided into three levels: human, animal and waste. Noah had to take care of all the levels, signifying the need for him to learn to engage with various dimension of his own life as well as the world around him.

Noah spent twelve months inside the ark, significantly longer than the forty days of rain. This time was meant to transform him and prepare him for reentry into the world. After some time, his refuge began to feel like a prison, and Noah prayed for the time when he would be able to leave. The ark succeeded in teaching Noah that he could not remain unaffected by the fate of his generation.

C. Noah and Abraham: A Comparative Assessment of their Legacies

The Torah describes Noah as “righteous in his generations.” The sages discuss how he might fare in a different time. All agree that had he lived in a generation of good people, their influence would have ensured that he would have been even more righteous. All agree, as well that had he acted in the same way in a more upright generation, his actions would have been totally unacceptable. Yet given the particular challenges of his time, he acted admirably.

Before the flood changed the spiritual fiber of creation, people were either good or bad. Bad people were confined to a downward spiral. Good people were either overwhelmed by their environment (Gan Eden), or they were good because they were born in the shadow of role models. There was little chance that people who had begun to err would be able to reconnect with G-d when left to their own devices.

After the flood, the world was purified and was able to develop its own relationship with G-d. This is mirrored in the legacies of Noah and Abraham. This is the very reason that Abraham excelled as a leader and was able to agitate on others’ behalf. Noah lived at a time where it was possible to reignite the dim sparks of goodness within the sinner. In Noah’s time, however, there was far less potential goodness to retrieve.

Noah was able to survive the flood, but given the constraints of his time, he had no power to transform the generation around him. Abraham, on the other hand, was able to transform calamity into good. As the children of Abraham, each of us has the possibility to likewise deal with the difficult circumstances of our lives by not simply “persevering” in the face of difficulty, but by making those difficulties an opportunity for strength and blessing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Unity Lecture III with Rabbi Lau

Lifetime Opportunity to Hear World Renowned Jewish Thinker and Lecturer

Live broadcast of an address by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau on Sunday, June 14 2009 at the Chabad Torah Centre, 1825 Grant Ave. from 6:30pm - 8:00pm. Join us for an evening of gathering and connection and unite with hundreds of Jewish communities around the world as Rabbi Lau shares a message of healing and hope for our uncertain world. For more information, call 414.5624 or send us an email.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
Rabbi Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrkow, Poland, scion of a well-known European rabbinic family, Rabbi Lau survived the Holocaust, in which his parents and his entire family, with the exception of a brother and half brother, were murdered. At age eight, he was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp by the U.S. army, the youngest surviving prisoner. After the war, he immigrated to Palestine on a ship of orphaned refugee children. His autobiography, "Do not raise your hand against the boy," published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, became a best seller in Israel. Recently, Israel's Cabinet has named him the new chairman of the council of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Rabbi Lau was ordained a rabbi in 1961. He served as chief rabbi in Netanya (1978-1985) and Tel Aviv (1985-1993) and at that time developed his reputation as a popular orator. He was elected as Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in 1993 and served for 10 years until 2003. In 2005 he was, again, elected Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, his current position. Rabbi Lau is the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize, the country's highest civilian honor.

Click here to register.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Six - The Old Man and the Sea

Lesson 6: The old man and the sea

Picture someone whom you view as a mentor. What do you appreciate about this individual? Is it inner character? Or is it the leadership qualities that this person possesses?

Lesson Five of Biblical Reflections profiled the generation before the flood and touched on its fatal flaw. The leaders of the time lacked morality, whereas Noah lacked the quality of leadership itself. Generations later, Abraham distinguished himself not only for moral uprightness, for remarkable ability to influence others.

What characterizes an effective leader? This lesson will examine the stark differences between Noah and Abraham.

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Five - Brave New World

Review of Lesson Five

Thank you for joining us for our fifth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Corruption of Society

Our lesson began with a discussion of the challenge that results from technological sophistication. Advanced societies are prone to arrogance and hubris. However, with appropriate guidance, their advantages can be used to make the world a better place.

The society that preceded the flood, unfortunately, was an example of an advanced society that was exceedingly corrupt, especially in the social realm. They were adept at subverting the justice system, and so there was little hope for remedy. Noah was a lone exception to this sorry state of affairs, and was worthy of surviving the fate of his contemporaries.

B. The Flood

Although G-d could have destroyed the pre-flood society instantaneously, he did so by bringing about 40 days of rain.This was to highlight that in addition to drowning evil, the flood also had a purifying purpose. It served as a womb of sorts, giving birth to a new world.

After the flood, a rainbow adorned the sky, standing as a promise that G-d would never again destroy the world. This is because the flood purified and transformed the very nature of the earth, making an appreciation for G-dliness an integral part of the earth’s independent identity.

The rainbow served as an apt symbol. Rainbows are formed when the sun is able to penetrate clouds and moisture, causing the light to be refracted by the droplets. The sun is a metaphor for G-d, and the clouds for physical creation. Before the flood, the clouds were too thick to allow the sun’s light to penetrate. But when the droplets of moisture in the clouds are able to reflect the light of the sun, it is a sign that the creation has reached a point of refinement that allows an appreciation of the divine to enter.

Next week we will look at how a failure of leadership may have made the flood inevitable. We will examine why the pre-flood world was particularly vulnerable to this lack, and the factors that are critical to effective leadership. I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lesson Five: The Great Flood

I hope you enjoyed the fourth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis, in which we looked at the story of Cain and Abel.

This week, we will focus on a wealthy, technologically sophisticated society that was so evil that it had to be washed away. Our class will explore the connection between such advancement, on one hand, and such social corruption on the other. Why are societies destroyed, and how can they be rehabilitated?

We will also take a moment to consider the rainbow, G-d’s promise that he will never destroy the entire world by flood again. What might has caused G-d to make this promise? What has changed? Is the world any different today than it once was? We will compare and contrast the nature of the world before and after the flood.

We will also consider ways of guarding against the evils that are sometimes bred by material excess, a topic especially relevant to these times.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review of lesson four:

Thank you for joining us for our fourth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. Response to Catastrophe

Cain and Abel coped very differently to the tragedy of the expulsion from Eden. Abel became a shepherd. Since sheep graze most of the day, this left him ample time for spiritual pursuits. Cain, however, turned to farming, a far more arduous pursuit. This made him much more vested in the material world.

B. A Philosophy of Gift-Giving

In time, both brothers brought offerings before G-d. Cain’s was rejected, whereas Abel’s was accepted. The gifts diverged in two ways: Cain was the first to bring his offering. However, Abel’s gift was far more generous.

Cain, the materialist, nonetheless recognized that he needed G-d’s assistance in order to succeed in his pursuits. Thus, he sought to “bribe” G-d through bringing such a gift. Yet he found it too difficult to give up the best of what he had.

Abel, on the other hand, felt a strong desire to connect to G-d, but attributed little value to the physical world. Thus it did not initially occur to him to bring such a gift. However, once he saw Cain offering a physical gift, , Abel decided to do the same, and generously gathered the best of what was his as an offering to G-d.

C. Dealing with Rejection

Cain responded to G-d’s rejection of his sacrifice with anger and despair. G-d addressed both emotions. First, G-d explained that there was no need for him to feel angry or blame Abel for his rejection, for Cain was able to control his own fate through his action. Likewise, there was no need for him to despair of ever finding favor in G-d’s eyes, for it within the power of every individual to control the inclination to evil. G-d told Cain that it was up to him to see G-d’s rejection of his sacrifice as constructive criticism, rather than an act of unfair discrimination.

D. The Fatal Argument

Yet G-d’s warning to Cain went unheeded. Cain picked a fight with his brother, and in a fit of range, killed him.

Cain and Abel were different in nature, but had they found a way to bridge their differences, could have made a perfect team, each completing the other. Abel could have provided the spiritual focus while Cain, skilled at laboring, could have provided the material resources for bringing spirituality into the material world. Unfortunately, they chose separate paths, each wanting to be self-sufficient. However, neither world-view was sustainable alone.

E. Justice is Done

Adam was expelled from Eden to return to “the land from which he was taken.” His mission was to fix the earth’s spiritual imperfections. Cain betrayed this mission by abusing the earth instead of elevating it. Adam caused a gap between man and the natural resources of the world. Cain widened the gap by taking the land and turning it into an ally for his crime. As a consequence, Cain couldn’t retrieve adequate sustenance from the earth. He was forced to spend the rest of his life as in itinerant wanderer, constantly searching for sustenance.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Four - Death in the Family

Lesson four:

During our first three classes, we discussed Adam and Eve, their sin, and their subsequent expulsion from the Eden. We outlined the irrevocable transformation of humanity as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as well as the quest to reclaim innocence.

This week, we will see the effects of this traumatic event on Cain and Abel, the “next generation.” Both grew up in the shadow of expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The “quick-fix” of paradise had been lost, and it would now be a long and arduous road to rebuilding the perfect world.

How would Cain and Abel cope with such a formidable task? They had to begin by learning how to interact with one another and with G-d. Their approaches were incompatible, and their conflict had catastrophic results. By examining their story, can we learn to avoid their mistakes? I’m looking forward to seeing you for our fourth lesson at the Chabad Torah Centre.

Review of lesson three:

Thank you for joining us for our third lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Downfall and Cover-Up

The forbidden fruit opened the eyes of Adam and Eve to the experience of the external and the physical. As a result, they felt ashamed, a consequence of the soul’s discomfort with the body’s potential to pursue its own desires. To alleviate these unpleasant feelings, Adam and Eve wove “aprons” from fig leaves to cover their nakedness.

But clothing can serve other purposes besides merely covering up what we do not want to reveal. Clothing can also serve to adorn and to beautify. Through their instinctive covering of their bodies, Adam and Eve showed sensitivity to their weakness and a desire to rectify their sin. So G-d crafted form them fitted shirts from fine animal skins as a symbol of their restored worthiness.

B. Consequences

Through their error, Adam and Eve set into motion irrevocable changes in the nature of their interaction with the world and with each other. While these changes are often perceived primarily as punishments, they are also the natural consequences of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Adam, for example, was forced to start working the land and foraging. Due to the sin, the world became coarser, for good and evil became mixed and intertwined. Although humans were given the task of elevating the G-dly sparks within creation, the sparks within edible vegetation were now harder to reach and purify. If humans would extract food from the land too easily, they would become arrogant and self-indulgent. Therefore, the land now needed to be tilled and cultivated. The challenges in earning a livelihood and bringing for the earth’s produce would induce feelings of humility, thereby making people more sensitive to G-d and more suited for purging the evil that was introduced through the sin.

Eve’s punishment, difficulty in childbirth, was also a consequence of the world’s transformation. Birth marks the marriage between body and soul. Now that body and soul became less synchronized, birth also became a more strenuous and painful process. The relationship between husband and wife complicated. Man and woman previously functioned in union, but after the sin, they lost their natural balance.

The serpent’s curse consisted of being forced to crawl on its belly and eat dust. Since the serpent had attempted to hijack spirituality for its own purposes, it was condemned to live devoid of the need to turn to G-d.

C. G-d’s Perspective

It is a mistake to surmise that the sin set the world off course. Both good and evil are divine creations, and both are imbued with a deeply rooted divine essence. Evil opposes divine will, but only because G-d wills it to do so. Kabbalah gives the analogy of a king who asks a woman to attempt to seduce his son in order to test the strength of son’s character. Just as the woman’s actions are conducted in the service of the king, Satan does his work in order to fulfill G-d’s plan.

Sin contains a hidden goodness that is normally inaccessible, shackled behind unbreakably hard shells of evil. However, a person who sins and repents is able to release these hidden sparks of goodness, for sometimes the sin is itself the impetus to turn away from evil and come close to G-d.

Eve recognized this hidden benefit of evil, though she grossly underestimated the power of evil to swallow goodness in its wake. Women light Shabbat candles as a means of rectifying Eve’s sin, transforming darkness into light.

Next week, we’ll examine the next generation, Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve. Each coped with the expulsion from Eden quite differently, and they found themselves locked in a gruesome battle. We’ll evaluate the two conflicting worldviews and their underlying lessons.

Underage Underwriters

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can we ever reclaim innocence?

Last week, we discussed how Adam and Eve, created by G-d’s own hand, were able to commit the unthinkable sin. This week, we consider the aftermath of that fateful moment.

Immediately, they were racked with shame and regret. The power of evil was unlocked in the world. It was clear that the act had not had the desired consequences. Yet what was done could never be undone. Or could it?

Can we ever reclaim innocence? In lesson three, Adam and Eve are given the tools to rediscover the Garden of Eden. We, their children, have inherited this quest. The path has been long and arduous, sometimes elusive, but we are assured that one day, we shall return to an Eden that is all we imagined and more.

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I know this sounds petty but I can't stand making lunches for my kids. Every night I am just about to fall into bed exhausted, and just then I remember that I need to make sandwiches. I still do it, but I can't say I do it with love. I guess I feel that much of my life is taken up with mundane things like packing lunchboxes. Must I resign to that fact that my life has boiled down to making tuna sandwiches?

Making tuna sandwiches is far from mundane. It is a holy activity. With every lunchbox you pack you are performing a sacred duty, one that dates back to the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In ancient Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of Jewish spiritual life. It was the home of G-d in which the cohanim, the priests, and their assistants the Levites brought sacrifices, burnt incense and spent their days meditating and singing to G-d.

This priestly tribe lived a life completely dedicated to spirituality. They did not have jobs, did not own property, but rather devoted themselves to studying G-d's laws and singing His praises. They represented the entire Jewish people before G-d, and through their service they brought down divine blessing for the entire world. To do this, they had to be well educated in matters of the spirit and totally focused on their mission.

But they had to eat. You can't study and pray for the world all day on an empty stomach. And so the rest of the Israelite nation would provide the material needs of the priestly tribe. People would bring offerings of food and donations of money to the Temple to support the cohanim. It was a reciprocal relationship. In return for the holy service the cohanim provided, their every need was looked after, and they were free to completely focus on their spiritual tasks without having to worry about paying the bills or doing the shopping. The priests brought G-d's blessing to the people. The people brought them lunch.

Today we no longer have the Holy Temple, and so we do not have the service of the cohanim to bring us blessing. But we have a substitute - our precious children. They are our holy priests, innocent and pure souls who go to school every day, say their prayers and study the Torah without a worry in the world. When children sing their songs and learn the Hebrew letters, their voices reach the highest heavens, just as the service of the cohanim in the Temple used to do in the days of old. And when G-d hears their voices, so pure and sweet, He showers us with blessings and love.

But if children are the priests serving G-d, parents are the supporters providing their needs. When you make tuna sandwiches, you are ensuring that your little cohen will have the sustenance he needs to do his work. When you stretch yourself to pay the school fees and ensure your child has an authentic Jewish education, you are donating toward the upkeep of the Temple, the safe and pure sanctuary in which your child's soul can thrive. And when you give up on luxuries and personal ambitions to be able to support your child's education, you have brought a true sacrifice on G-d's altar.

So next time you mash the mayonnaise into the tuna and wrap up the sandwiches for your holy little priests, remember that you are fulfilling a sacred task, providing their needs so they can learn carefree. As much as you are giving them, they are giving you back far more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Three: Paradise Lost (...and Found)

Review of lesson two:

Thank you for joining us for our second lesson of Biblical Reflection. Here’s a quick review of the lesson:

A. The Human Psyche Before the Sin
Before the sin, Adam and Eve were totally engaged in their activities. They were described as naked, but it didn’t feel shame. For Adam and Eve, intimate relations were part of the natural order, void of selfish desires. The experience was similar to eating for the sole purpose of nutrition. The psychological precursor that allows for the development of evil is a sense of awareness of feelings, emotions, and physical sensations- that we have termed as knowledge.

B. The World of Evil Before the Sin
Kabbalah compares evil to a peel. The peel of a fruit provides a vital service, protecting the fruit from insects and environmental hazards. However, when the fruit is ready to be eaten, the peel must be removed and discarded, for it no longer serves any purpose.
The serpent was the embodiment of evil. Originally its mission was to serve and assist the spiritual dimension of creation, just as a peel exists solely for the fruit. The serpent, however, sought to establish its own independence, an existence separate from its intended mission – thereby hijacking spirituality and exploiting it for its own purposes. The serpent was able to take advantage of a vulnerable aspect of creation – the dual nature of humans who are a synthesis of spiritual and physical – which made humans particularly susceptible to serving as a host to evil.

C. The Seduction of Eve
The seduction began when the serpent asked Eve if G-d had really forbade eating from the trees in the garden. In this non-aggressive way, the serpent attempted to highlight a seeming lack in logic – prohibiting the use of a part of creation. All creation is good and has a purpose; prohibiting its use prevents its purpose from being fulfilled.

Eve affirmed the prohibition regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but added the prohibition of touching its fruits as well. Such an addition represents Eve’s rationalization of G-d’s command, assuming that it was more than a warning to prevent evil – simply a cautionary measure. At this point, Eve had injected her own reasoning into G-d’s command, and the foundation was laid for the sin.

On a deep level, Eve also perceived an immense spiritual possibility for getting to know evil and resisting its allure. She felt it would both deepen her appreciation of good and make her stronger. When Eve passed near the tree, the serpent pushed her – and she touched the fruit. When she nevertheless remained alive, the serpent was also able to convince her that eating would not necessarily harm her.

D. Why Eve?
Both Adam and Eve embodied a divine consciousness and sought to reveal the inherent spirituality in creation. A key difference between them, however, was that Adam was created through fusing two separate identities, the physical and the spiritual. Eve’s being, on the other hand, was spiritually integrated from the moment of her creation.

Adam thus sensed the physical and spiritual as conflicting realms, and he felt a need to conquer and alter it. But Eve saw no such contradiction and thus did not feel an innate urge to change the world. She sought not to transform, but to develop, bringing the world’s inner perfection to the fore.

Next week, we’ll examine the irrevocable changes in Adam and Eve and within the world as a result of the sin – and we’ll discover the incredible power of repentance.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Do Jews Believe in Hell? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
Do Jews believe in Hell? I am not planning any trips or anything, but was wondering because I have heard mixed reports about this.....

We do believe in a type of hell. But not the one found in cartoons and joke books. Hell is not a punishment. It is in fact a great kindness that we are sent to hell.

The prophets and mystics of Judaism described a spiritual place called Gehennom. This is usually translated as Hell, but a better translation would be the Supernal Washing Machine. Because that's exactly how it works. Our soul is cleansed in Gehennom in the same way as our clothes are cleansed in a washing machine.

We don't put our socks in the washing machine to punish them. We put them through what seems like a rough and painful procedure, only to make them clean and wearable again. The intense heat of the water loosens the dirt, and the force of being swirled around shakes it off completely. Far from hurting your socks, you are doing them a favour by putting them through this process.

But put yourself in your socks' shoes. If you would be thrown into boiling hot water and flung around for half an hour, you too would start to feel that someone doesn't like you. If only the socks would know that this is all for their good. Only after going through a washing cycle can the socks be worn again.

So too with the soul. Every act we do in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our soul. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul. And every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed. If at the end of our life we leave this world without fixing the wrongs we have done, our soul is unable to reach its place of rest on high. We must go through a cycle of deep cleansing, our soul is flung around at intense spiritual heat, to rid it of any dirty residue it may have gathered and prepare it for entry into heaven.

This is no punishment. It may be painful, but it is for our good. Our soul can only shine once the stains have been fully removed.

Of course this whole process can be avoided. If we truly regret the wrong we have done, make amends with the people whom we have hurt, we can leave this world with clean socks.
That's why our sages said, "Repent one day before you die." And what should you do if you don't know which day that will be? Repent today.