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Inspiration. It’s as easy as 1-2-3! | Connections 1/12/09

We had such a nice program tonight. The event was sponsored by Elizabeth Liber as she moves to New York to attend Stern College. Thank you for your sponsorship and we will miss you!

Our topic tonight was Inspiration. Much of our discussion was rooted in R’ Akiva Tatz’s distillation of some very profound ideas. The main idea revolves around the numbers one, two and three. Listen to the class to find out just what that means! We learned more about the secrets behind the splitting of the sea, why food spoils, how to make a marriage work and “coping” with the load of our daily lives. There was some really great input from the attendees including some science, geometry and philosophical thoughts.

All in all the class was exciting, the questions were thought provoking and everyone in attendance had a really nice time. It makes the preparation and delivery worth the effort when the attendees are so engaging and positive.

I hope you will join us next Monday night for our next “Connections” we would love to see you there!

You can listen to the entire class below (55 minutes)


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Messilas Yesharim 01/11/09

Today we started the 3rd Chapter of Messilas Yesharim. Ramchal has given us the importance of Zehirus (watchfulness) and has taught us that we need to integrate this idea into our lives. What remains is the definitions of Zehirus. Today we began to uncover just what Zehirus actually is. Ramchal gives us the two main areas of Zehirus. Firstly we need to figure out what is right and what is wrong and then we need to figure if what we are doing is helping or hurting us in doing what is right.

We also discussed my previous blog post which prompted a short discussion on preparing for moral challenges and not just relying on our skill as moral warriors.

Finally we discussed examining your actions to see what is good and what is bad and then examining your good actions to see if they can be refined or improved in any way.

Enjoy the class (25 minutes)


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Seen On A Bus Ad In London: “There’s Probably No God…” and Humanists

I live in Los Angeles where we are famous for our billboards. I grew up near New York City famous for its Madison Avenue and advertising. Normally the danger of these advertisements is the images they supply. The images are designed to be salacious and titillating. Apparently London has another whole set of issues they need to deal with on their bus advertisements.

I have a problem with the tone of the advertisement. “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. There are 2 problems with this. First of all how is it that “you” are qualified to tell me the “probability” of the existence of God? Have you done the research? Have you even read the Bible? Seriously, you are telling me that there is probably no God? I guess I was wondering about that but now that you mention it – you’re right, there’s probably no God. Really? Second of all there is a flaw in the logic here. A logical fallacy that cannot be ignored is evident. The argument assumes that if one believes in God then they are worrying and if there is no God then you have no worries. This is false on both accounts. In fact I would say that if there is a God then you don’t need to worry as God must have some sort of plan using Godly wisdom which we cannot fathom. If there is no God then your worries are real. You are part of a random universe subject to the randomness of time. Now that is something to worry about!

The concept for the ads comes from, ironically enough, a blog post. The blogger is upset that London buses were promoting Biblical scriptures. Not everyone believes in God so she found the ads offensive. This is agree with. Scripture on buses reminds me of one of Pacific Jewish Center community member Milton Simon’s favorite ideas. “I have the truth, and you must obey”. Meaning plastering scripture on the side of a bus tells the non-believer that he is a) a bad person and b) going to hell. I find this offensive as well.

The good news is that a blog post can have a big impact!

The upshot of all this is the surging movement of Humanists. They are behind these ads as well as some others which are not as offensive. The ads which are running on Washington D.C. buses read “Why believe in God? Be good for goodness’ sake”. Interesting concept. The truth is that this would be nice. People actually being good for goodness’ sake. But again another fallacy exists in this ad. Belief in God is not so that we should be “good”. We believe that goodness does exist without God. I gave a lecture about this and you can hear / download it on this blog. God is just there to give us a hand so that we know what good is in a given situation. Sometimes it’s too hard for us to know what “good” is. Yes, most of time we have an intuition as to what it is right and what is good. We need God’s higher wisdom to help us out when we don’t know what to do! It happens. Also, sometimes we want to grow. Sometimes we want to be better than good. How can we work on ourselves to be better? We are given instructions in this regard from God as well. So it is nice for the world to be good for goodness’s sake but we want more that just good. We want a life of growth. And we can have it!

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We Don’t Get No R-E-S-P-E-C-T! How do you feel now?

Ravens use an old motivational ploy: lack of respect – Los Angeles Times.

I was in Yeshiva in Baltimore (I was still in High School actually) when the Ravens moved to Baltimore. They became a favorite team of mine right away and they still are today. They still play second fiddle to my favorite NFL team, the Buffalo Bills.

What strikes me about this article is the idea that multi-million dollar athletes need to use disrespect as motivation. Bill Belichik is famous for using this technique with the New England Patriots. There are 2 things that I notice with the whole “we don’t get no respect” routine.

First of all, is the reason these guys play football for respect? I thought they played for money or fame – I certainly did not think they played for r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Apparently they play for all three of these reasons. Interestingly enough the Rabbis teach us in Ethics of Our Fathers that desire for money, desire for honer (fame) and desire for respect are the 3 things which will take us out of this world. And by out of this world we mean one becomes obsessed with these things to the point that we neglect all other important parts of our lives – like spiritual growth. That’s fine for the Ravens, I guess – but we need to watch out for this in our lives.

The second thing that strikes me how much disrespect hurts. It is so painful that the Ravens as well as many other teams are able to feed off their disrespect and improve their physical and mental games! Pretty powerful how we crave respect and how much disrespect can motivate us. Disrespect always hurts but the pain only increases exponentially when we expect respect and we desire respect. I think this speaks volumes about the danger of craving respect – once we open that Pandora’s Box there’s no telling what we might do…

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Beauty – Is it more than skin deep? | Connections 1/5/09

A wonderful crowd joined together for socializing and Torah study this evening. The atmosphere was wonderful, the questions and comments from the participants were insightful and I had a great time.

Tonight we traversed all across the Torah spectrum. We talked about the Ner Tamid in every shul, the splitting of the sea, therapy and “American Pie” (the song not the movie). We learned about beauty and we enjoyed some incredible connections. That is what it is all about – right? You will find a lot of interesting ideas discussed and bandied about in this class.

How does this all connect? There is only one way for you to find out for yourself!

The entire audio of the class is provided below so that you can listen, enjoy and think about everything that we learned about. If you like what you hear you are more than welcome to join us next Monday night for our next “Connections”.

If you missed it live you can listen on your computer right now by clicking the link below. If you joined us it is also a great way to review. Right click “Download” to save the class on your computer.


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The iPhone / iPod Touch Siddur Misheberach List

The Amazing iPhone Siddur (iTunes link – will open iTunes) has impressed me from day 1. I was in my Camp Regesh office on Tisha B’Av talking to my friend / colleague Mo Kiss. I had just got my iPhone and he tells me about a friend of ours who does web development who had just finished coding a siddur for the iPhone. The application is impressive with the full range of Tefillos for all nuschaos and all the brachos you could ever need. The siddur knows when to add special sections for special days like Rosh Chodesh and the Torah reading for Moday and Thursday is automatically adjusted to the day’s reading. Additional it uses the built in GPS to find the nearest Minyan as well as all the pertinent zmanim such as sunrise, sunset, candle lighting times and havdala times. All these features are great and I purchased the application for these basic features. I use it and recommend it to friends. It is nothing short of ingenious.

What prompted this post is the latest feature the have added. There is now a section for each user to add their own “misheberach” list (prayer for sick people) and it pops into your iPhone siddur at the appropriate spots. This is a great addition on its own but the most beautiful thing that has been added is the fact that this list can be shared with all the other iPhone siddur users. This means that if you allow your list to be public then anyone with the application can also pray for the people on your list and you can pray for anyone on their lists. That is amazing. Now misheberach lists can be shared effortlessly across the world! We can all pray for complete strangers who are sick using their full Jewish name. What a tremendous service and idea this is! That is worth a blog post! I must say that this idea is incredible and I hope it is used across the board. Anyone who has an iPhone or iPod Touch should pay the $10 for the application and use it. Especially the misheberach list feature…

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Messilas Yesharim 01/04/09

We had quite an interesting class today. Ramchal continues his explanation of the importance of Zehirus – watchfulness. The first point we discussed today was the idea that our animalistic instinct inside of us is very clever. One of his mian tricks is to keep us so busy with distractions that we don’t have time to think about our lives. We see this in our own lives all the time. We want to analyze ourselves and try and improve – there is just no time… This is one the many weapons in the arsenal of our evil inclination. It is the same idea George Orwell uses in 1984 to prevent all creative thought crushes the spirit and does not allow for any growth. The second topic discussed today was that we are promised that if we try our best then and only then we are promised the assistance of God. The idea is that if we don’t care enough about ourselves to make changes in our lives then no one – not even God is going to do it for us. The Ramchal ends off by invoking the Talmudic principle that if one does not care to grow then we are not supposed to work on that person Our time is much better spent other ways. This prompted a great discussion.

It is all here – just click. (30 minutes)


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Dov Dalin in Gaza

Normally I don’t like to tread the dangerous waters of politics. That is why you find no commentary on the current skirmish in Gaza. However I feel it necessary to mention that our thoughts and prayers are with Dov Dalin – Dov Chaim ben Masha Chana. Dov is the son of community members Gary and Marsha Dalin. He is a reserve in the Israel Defense Force and serves as a sniper in the paratroopers. He is currently being deployed to Gaza. We pray for his safe return and the success of his mission.

A war is on the news and in the papers – we don’t necessarily feel it. When we know someone fighting in the war – we feel it. Right now – I feel it.

Bracha V’Hatzlacha Dov!

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Truth or Consequences – Drasha Vayigash

Thank you to community member Milton Simon for editing these Shabbos speeches given at the Pacific Jewish Center from my notes into these essays.

Today we are going to talk about truth. We will also discuss the opposite of truth. What is the opposite of truth? Something is true when it is in accordance with the facts and reality. The opposite of truth is when something is not in accordance with the facts and reality. Let us keep these definitions in mind as we progress.

As we jump back into the Parsha story we head to end of the Parsha. We have just experienced the most dramatic and moving section of all of Torah and perhaps in all of history. Yosef has revealed himself to his brothers. Yosef forgives his brothers. Yosef tells his brothers it was all part of a master plan and it is water under the bridge. The brothers are then invited to join Yosef and his family in Egypt to avoid the famine (and bring the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Jewish people would be slaves in Egypt.)

We can imagine the good spirits the brothers were in as they returned to their father in Israel. When they left him last they were on the verge of tragedy. One brother was in jail, the entire family was threatened and all this was aside from the gnawing guilt the brothers most certainly felt every day of their lives, imagining their lying to their father caused him massive suffering. They saw their father wither away and lose his spark due to their actions and lies. Now the brothers have their chance at redemption. They see that it was all part of a plan! They are forgiven! Yosef wants them to move to Egypt! We can only imagine their elation as they journeyed back to Yaakov their father.

The psukim tell us what happened when the brothers reached Yaakov. This should be another climactic scene. If we could imagine a movie about when the brothers tell Yaakov the news, the music would swell while the camera goes in real close to capture Yaakov’s unbridled joy. As Yaakov would hear the news the room would brighten, years of sadness would melt off Yaakov’s face as he would stand up from his seat and the scene would slowly fade to black. Well let’s see how it really happened. In fact, Yaakov didn’t believe them!!

What? Yaakov did not believe his sons. Did he think they playing a practical joke on him? Couldn’t he see their genuine joy? How are we to understand this?

Let us continue in the Chumash. Amazingly we see that eventually Yaakov believed that Yosef was alive. What convinced him? How did the truth become evident?

R’ Schwab mentions the saying in Avos of R’ Shimon. “The punishment of the liar is that even when he tells the truth no one listens to him” and we see from the brothers of Yosef that when they lied to their father by telling him that Yosef was dead they were not believed when they tried to tell their father that Yosef was alive.

At this point the Shevatim understood that by covering their misdeeds they would NEVER succeed, even with the truth. Therefore they realized their only option is to now tell Yaakov the entire story. They decided to tell their father all about their jealousy and plots to kill Yosef. The eventual sale of Yosef was discussed and they asked for forgiveness from Yaakov. That is what is meant by they told Yaakov ALL about Yosef – es Kol divrei Yosef. The full truth was finally revealed. At that point Yaakov was able to believe his sons and see the truth.

The truth is not only that the words are true. Truth is consistent with all the facts and reality. Truth does not exist in a vacuum – it is part of a greater whole. It must fit in with the song of the universe and be in perfect harmony with all the other parts. Yaakov was on too great a spiritual level to be a piece of the truth. He needed all of it to complete the circle of truth of reality.

The Talmud teaches us that Emes – truth stand on its own. And sheker – the opposite of truth always falls. We can visualize this by looking at the letters that form the word Emes and the letters that form the word Sheker. Emes is Aleph, Mem, Taf. These are the first, last and middle letters of the Aleph Beis. Truth is from start to finish with a solid middle. This is consistent with what we are saying that truth is part of a greater whole of reality and not independent. Perhaps even more interesting is the formation of each letter. The Aleph has two legs to stand on, the mem has a base on its bottom and the taf has a base as well as two legs. If we would stand these letters up they would not fall. Let’s look at Sheker. Shin, kuf and reish. Those letters all have but one leg and when stood up will topple. Further these letters are “out of alphabetical order” and are all right next to each other in the aleph beis. This indicates that sheker can work for a time because it is kept close and private but once the sheker gets out it cannot stand on its own.

Our Torah world is predicated on Emes. The Torah is emes and stands on its own. We don’t need to make excuses for Torah and it stands the test of time.

The lesson of Yaakov in this week’s parsha is that sheker is hard to undo – we can’t just press control z and magically the sheker disappears. Sheker can stand for a little while but eventually it gets toppled. This is why we need to be so careful to always begin with the absolute emes. It can be very difficult to undo sheker as we saw with Yaakov.

What was are witnessing in the world right now as Israel rains attacks upon its enemies is frightening. When the world is so immersed in sheker the truth is very hard to find. But the truth stands on its own and will eventually be seen. We need to do our part as advocates for Israel and prevent lies from spreading. I say this not because I am concerned with international opinion and political clout – rather I say this because when Jews look bad it reflects upon GD and it is very important to me to help prevent further Chillul Hashem. We can do our part as advocates for Israel.

But why are these lies so easy to spread? Shouldn’t the truth be obvious?

The last point I want to make is that while we do 100% back our brothers and sisters in Israel we also recognize there is a flaw in their reality. The official line of the Government of Israel is not that Hashem put the land of Israel in our hands, they say WE DID IT OURSELVES. Is it any wonder the world disbelieves our stories about the war, or anything? The world KNOWS the truth, and disbelieves us when we hold sheker. Amazing!

Is our leadership in the land of Israel taking all of reality into the equation? Do they recognize the role that GD plays in their lives? So long as they do not have the complete truth, with all its realities and all its beauty – the world will not see that the truth is with us. As we saw with Yaakov – only the whole truth is recognized as the truth. The only time a truth is recognizable to all and stands on it own is when the truth is consistent and the truth is in sync with the realities of the universe. When the truth is part of the harmony of the world then everyone will see it. When our leadership in the land of Israel embraces the spiritual component to the land of Israel the tremendous amount of Torah that spouts from the land of Israel, when the message of truth is consistent with all the facts and realities – that GD gave us this land – he should have a say as to how we use it, when that message is clear – the truth will be unequivocal and unchallenged.

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Kobe and Zehirus

Kobe Bryant’s Work Ethic

It is undisputed that Kobe Bryant possesses superior basketball talent to every human being on the planet. That is not enough to be the best basketball player on the planet. There is a discipline aspect that Kobe excells in beyond his inborn talents. Kobe is the first in the gym and the last guy to leave. He puts in more hours in the weight room than anyone else. This article illustrates a third way Kobe excels off the court. Kobe studies film. Kobe studies more film than anyone. This reminds me of Ray Lewis as well. Ray Lewis has all the talent necessary to be the best middle linebacker in the world. Where he gains an even greater edge is film study. Kobe says he learns tendencies and habits of his opponents by studying every move of theirs.

What are these athletes doing studying so much film? They have the talent to succeed on their natural abilities, yet they put so much extra work into their game. Why?

The answer is what we just studied in Messilas Yesharim. In order to succeed in our moral challenges we need to prepare. We need to see our adversary’s (our animalistic urge) tendencies and get to know him. We need to plan ways to avoid challenges and strategize ways of defeating our adversary before the challenge comes to us. It is not enough to be skillful in our moral battles. We need to be prepared as well. This is the secret of the most successful athletes like Kobe and Ray Lewis and it is the secret the Ramchal teaches us in his chapters on Zehirus. The first step to winning the moral war within ourselves is to prepare. It sounds so simple but most of us don;t even think about how we can make those preparations. We continue the explanation of Zehirus this coming Sunday…

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The Year in Review

Is this what happened to you this year?

Did you basically go through the seasons with no change other than the weather. Did it end where it started…

This beautiful video could never be the year in review for a growing person. By the end of the year you should not recognize yourself. Well, maybe you should still be recognizable but nevertheless the growing person cannot be time-lapsed. The action is all on the inside. But can we see it? Does the change have an external effect? Interestingly the Torah teaches us that the inside is reflected on the outside. The word for face in Hebrew is Panim (pey, nun, yud, mem) and the word for inside is P’nim (same letters with different vowels) and this teaches us that the inside is reflected on the outside. Unfortunately most of the time we are so distracted by superficial beauty (let’s call it glitz) that we don’t even get the chance to see real internal beauty visible on the outside. But there are lots of exceptions – you’ll see them on the faces of great Tzadikkim (righteous men and women). This is going to be the topic of our next Connections schedled for this coming Monday Night at 8:00 PM (1/5/09). Beauty – is it really more than skin deep…?

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