Friday, April 30, 2010

What is Lag laOmer?

16th of Iyar, 5770 (31 days of Omer. 4 weeks, 3 days)

33 of Omer

Lag BaOmer (for Sephardic Jews is more accurate to say: “Lag laOmer”) means the 33rd day of the count of the Omer. The restrictions of mourning are lifted on this day and weddings, parties, etc are permitted from this day on.

This year it will fall this coming Saturday night/Sunday. During the time of Rabbi Akiba (approx. 150 of the Common Era) 24,000 of his students died from a divine-sent plague during these days of the Omer. The Talmud says that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. The 33rd day of the Omer this plague ended. Another interpretation is that the students fell as they participated in Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Romans (Rabbi Akiba was known for his support of bar Kokhba’s revolt).

Some of rabbi Akiva students survived, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who became one of greatest teacher of Torah in his generation and who is mostly known for authored the Sefer haZohar, “The book of splendor” the main book of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on the 33rd day of the Omer. Lag laOmer is known among Sepharadic Jews as the Hillulah (wedding) De Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Very briefly: During his lifetime –which included 12 years of isolation- Rabbi Shimon achieved the highest possible level of human attachment to God. The rabbis of the Kabbala called this level metaphorically “engagement” (Irusin) which is when a Jew is totally, passionately and exclusively dedicated to God. If during his lifetime, the Rabbis of the Kabbalah explain, one has achieved this superior level, then his departed soul will be “married” (I insist: metaphorically), in other words, intimately connected to the Ziv haShekhina (the Almighty’s Splendorous Presence).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

LASHON HARA: Irreparable damage

Today is the 15th of Iyar (30 days of Omer. 4 weeks. 2 days)

One of the reasons our rabbis warn us so much against talking negatively about other people is because of the irreparable nature of this sin. Unlike stealing, for example, when hurting someone’s name or reputation, there is no possible reparation…

A famous Chasidic story illustrates the extent of the damage that Lashon HaRa can do: A man went about gossiping and telling malicious stories without restraint. Later, when he realized how much his tales had hurt people he felt remorse. He went to the Rabbi seeking repentance, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The Rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers into the wind.” The man thought this was a bizarre request, but it was simple enough, and so he did it. When he returned to inform the rabbi that the task was done, the Rabbi said, “Now, go and collect all the feathers and return them to the pillow.” Again, the man went to do as the rabbi had asked, but found that the feathers had blown far and wide, and he was unable to retrieve even a handful. He returned to the rabbi, ashamed to admit he was not able to gather the feathers, certain that he should never have released the feathers in the first place. Knowingly, the rabbi rebuked him, saying, “Your words are like the feathers: once they leave your mouth, you know not where they will go, and you can never retrieve them back again. It is always wiser to guard your tongue and keep your words to yourself.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Today is the 14th of Iyar, 5770 (29 days of Omer. 4 weeks, 1 day)

Thirty days after Pesach we commemorate Pesach Sheni or The Second Pesach. Pesach Sheni is not a formal holiday. No resting from melakha (work, etc) or Kiddush , etc is commanded today.
Pesach Sheni is mentioned in the Torah in Bamidbar 9:1-14 when Moshe announced that the Korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice, a lamb) may only be offered by people who are ritually pure. Men came to Moses, complaining that some people, who came into contact with a dead body, were ritually unclean. God then indicated Moshe that anyone who was unable to offer the Korban Pesach on its due time, the 14th of Nisan, due to defilement or inability to journey to the place of sacrifice in time, would perform the sacrifice on the 14th of Iyar, a full month later.
In modern times, there is no practical observance of Pesach Sheni because baravonotenu haRabbim, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem we are unable to perform the Pesach sacrifice anyway.
In our community, and in most communities, we remember Pesach Sheni by 1. Eating Matza, which symbolizes the Korban Pesach, some time during the day saying mezonot not hamotzi for it. There is no minimum requirement of Matza to eat and we can also eat regularly Chametz. 2. Saying yehi shem instead of the regular viduy (or confession, is a prayer which is suspended on joyous occasions) from Mincha of the previous day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today is the 13th of Iyar, 5770. (28 days of Omer. 4 weeks)

“Our god” and the “God of our parents”. These two words encapsulate the idea of spiritual progress. We know of God Almighty in two ways: by what our parents have taught us, we know of His miracles, His protection and love for Am Israel. Thanks to our parents we don’t have to undergo the whole process of Abraham Abinu’s discovery of God. Even if your parents were not fully religious, if they transmit to you your Jewish identity you owe them your very basic idea of the God of Israel.
But that is not enough. We should also embark in our ‘personal’ discovery of God adding to our parent’s inherited knowledge. For us, people of the 21th century this journey is fascinating. Because God’s presence is becoming more evident than ever.
The incredible sophistication of space or the world of atoms are all 20th century's new testimonies of a Divine Designer. The more we understand how DNA functions, the more we realize that there is no chance. In this sense, we know today more about God than our parents did.
One example: just 150 years ago -before Pasteur- our parents lived in a world which believed in spontaneous generation of life, that life appears just like that from matter (btw, this is how Darwin justified the origin of life in our planet!). In the 1980’s Fred Hoyle said sentenced that” the likelihood of the formation of life from inanimate matter is one in 1040,000 (10 with 40,000 zeros after it)… which is a mathematical impossible. Of all disciplines, secular science -in some cases involuntarily -is endowing us with knowledge of Mi sheAmar veHaya haOlam, the Creator of our universe.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ribbit, lending money with interest to a non Jew

Today is the 12th of Yiar, 5770 (27 days of Omer. 3 weeks, 6 days)

Originally, the Biblical Mitzva of refraining from lending/borrowing with interest (“Ribbit”) applied to Jews alone. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a money lender; charge him no interest" (Exodus 22:25).
One would be allowed to lend and borrow from a non-Jew with interest. However, our rabbis in the Talmud strictly forbade lending to non-Jews with interest. Borrowing with interest from a non-Jew was not forbidden.This prohibition means to prevent Jews from engaging in the money lending business with non-Jews in order to seek profit. The nature of this business implied that we constantly run after the non-Jewish borrowers. For obvious reasons, this was not desirable. Of course, we would not be running after non-Jews in order to borrow money with interest, when we can get it interest-free from our Jewish brethren. Also, by having to treat Jews and non-Jews alike in terms of not charging interest, it is likely that Jews will give preference to their Jewish brothers in need.

Historically, we learned the hard way the dangers of becoming professional lenders to our non-Jewish neighbors. Unfortunately, some Jews fell into the trap and did lend money to non-Jews with interest—especially in Christian countries where the local ecclesiastical authorities allowed Jews to lend money (some say: "Jews" were used as a smokescreen for usury). In those instances when we were attacked by anti-Semitic mobs, our former clients to whom we lent money with interest would be the first ones to join the massacre and get rid of us. After all, if we—the lenders—would die, the debt, and the interest, would die with us. The foresight of our sages should now become apparent.

Note: the laws of “Ribbit” are very complex, especially in today’s corporate world of sophisticated financial and legal structures. Ours is a basic overview of the Halakha as found in Maimonides’s Mishne Tora and in Shulchan ‘Arukh. Please consult your rabbi with any practical questions (Halakha leMa’ase).