Friday, July 9, 2010

Remembering the destruction of the Temple

Today is the 27th of Tamuz, 5770

Immediately after the Temple was destroyed the rabbis of the time established a number of traditions that should be kept year round to remember that our Temple is still in ruins.
For instance, the Rabbis established that (I'm quoting from Meam Loez) "If one sees any of the cities of Yehuda that were destroyed, even if it is rebuilt now and Jews live there, he should say "Your holy cities have become desolated…One should weep with a bitter heart and say Psalm of Asaf (79). Then he should say the blessing Barukh ata …. dayan haemet and tear his clothing as in mourning."

Contemporary rabbis discussed the application of this last tradition--tearing one's clothes. Should we still tear our clothes in mourning when we see the ruins of the Bet haMikdash and the Western Wall-- or, because today we have our state and we govern ourselves this tradition should not be mandatory anymore?

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says that one should tear his garments when seeing the Kotel. Personally, I used to follow this tradition. If I did not see the Kotel for 30 days, I would do Keri'a upon seeing it. Lately, though, I found a way –also suggested by Rabbi Obadia-- to avoid the Machloket by visiting the Kotel first on Shabbat or Rosh Chodesh. The holiness/happiness of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh overrides the custom of mourning.

May we all see Yerushalaim and our Holy Temple rebuild in our days!

Shabbat Shalom from the old City of Yerushalaim!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE MONTH OF AV. Remembering the destruction of the Temple.

Today is the 26th of Tamuz, 5770

The upcoming month of Av is considered a time of mourning, because of the events that took place on this month. Especially the destruction of the first Bet haMikdash (586 BCE) and of the second Bet haMikdash (69 ACE), the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, both of them occurred on the same day, the ninth of Av.

The destruction of our Temple did not consist only on the dismantling of a building. It indeed meant 1. Our exile from the Holy land of Israel, where our connection with God was naturally established. 2. Being now at the mercy of the gentiles and especially, 3. A bitter reminder of 'our transgressions', the reason God Almighty allowed His House to be destroyed.

Even thought we concentrate our mourning on the 9th of Av and a few days before that, our rabbis mentioned a few traditions that should be kept year round to remember that our Temple is still in ruins.

The most known of these customs is that the groom breaks a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony and says: Im eshkakhech Yerushalaim … "If I ever forget you Yerushalaim, may my right hand wither"… If I won't remember Yerushalaim in the happiest moment of my life…

The rabbis also mentioned the custom that the groom places ashes in his head, in the place where he usually wears his Tefillin.

A different angle of the reminders of Jerusalem, the city of David.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Today is the 25th of Tamuz, 5770

According to Maimonides the first specific step one needs to take when he or she searches the 'Palace' (see previous HOTD) is to focus the mind when reciting the Shema Israel (the whole text!) and the Amida (idem). The individual is instructed at those times, to empty his thoughts from everything extraneous. Maimonides asserts that before proceeding to the following steps one must train in this fashion for several years.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevy said in his book 'The Kuzari' that similar to our body, our soul needs to nurture itself 3 times a day. Tefila is the food for the soul. In this aspect, the only difference between our soul and our body is that, when denied of nutrition, our starving stomach would cry for food while our starving soul will just shrink and become weaker. The soul is not as loud as the body. Food for the body is a matter of basic instinctive survival. The soul, however, because of its 'divine nature' doesn't die as the body. From one side, this represents a great advantage because the soul might always be 'ignited' back. That 's what we call 'teshuba' or 'repentance' in the basic sense of regaining consciousness of the existence of our soul. From the other side, a soul might remain for a lifetime completely neglected and ignored and it wont cry for help....


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Torah thoughts from Yerushalaim: THE PALACE.

Today is the 24th of Tamuz, 5770

These days I'm reading More Nebukhim, 'Maimonides Guide of Perplexed'. In the third section of the book, chapter 51, Maimonides talks about the way of 'knowing' (in the sense of connecting to…) God and he gives the following example: the King (God) resides in an inner chamber of the Palace.  Some people, the prophets, are inside the palace wandering in the hallways, looking for the King. Some people know of the Palace and are searching the paths that lead to it. Others also know of the Palace, but they are confused and keep looking in the wrong/opposite direction, ironically, the more they search for it, the further away they get from the Palace. And finally, most people, who have no clue of a Palace or they just don't care about it…     

The 'prophets' are not crystal ball readers but those few individuals who, first of all, have gain perfection in their character: They are 'rich' because regardless of how much they posses, they manage to 'need' very little and they are fully content having the minimum necessary to live. They are 'wise' or completely 'humble' because they are constantly learning from others and they never consider they know enough. And finally they are 'strong' because they have control on what they eat, on what they say, on what they see and on what they think. 

As you can see, the way to the Palace or 'the Jewish spiritual journey' requires first of all, a good dose of self-discipline and character refinement.

The blessing of 'milk and honey':

Monday, July 5, 2010

The desired effect of praying

23rd of Tamuz, 5770

When we pray with Kavana, focusing our mind exclusively on God, our Tefila leaves a long lasting effect in our personalities, enough to impact our deeds, thoughts and values. When we mentally strive to maintain God at the center we regain consciousness of our place on the periphery of reality.

Still, we try to change and improve what we can change and improve, but at one point we learn to 'accept' (not 'give up', but accept. Notice the difference!) that some things are beyond our reach and beyond our power to modify. 'Emuna' faith is usually understood in the sense of 'hope', but to me the proper understanding of Emuna is 'acceptance'.

This state of the mind, acceptance, is also known as 'anava' humbleness. It consists on recognizing the existence of a higher power which control what we don't. When we reach this state, many small things that use to make us angry becomes less important… we try to make the best of it, of what we can't change, and we let go easier …

If prayers don't bring my mind to a higher level of 'Emuna' and 'humbleness', then probably I have not prayed with enough Kavana. I might just have articulated some Hebrew 'sounds'….