I My name is Israel.
I am old. Very old, and I will die soon.
You know, my name wasn’t always Israel.
When I was born, my mother, Rivkah, named me Yaakov.
I was the second twin to be born, holding on to my brother Esav’s heel.
I was destined to be the first-born, but somehow angels turned us around before we were born and Esav came out first.
Both Esav and I knew it was supposed to be the other way around. We couldn’t understand. Our mother knew also, although she never mentioned it.
To think our father Yitzchak didn’t know would be insanity bordering on blasphemy.
He knew. In a subconscious way, he knew.
He also knew the situation was such because something big was meant to happen. He didn’t know what exactly, but he knew it would shape the future of his people.
Years after our birth, on an uneventful afternoon, my twin brother Esav came home, disheveled, as usual. I was heating up the stew that was always kept on the stove, adding to it every day.
Just like that. On the most unremarkable way, a most meaningful event happened.
A bowl of stew was exchanged for the first-born rights. Esav sold me his first-born rights for a bowl of stew. A life-altering event happening without fanfare.
I knew I couldn’t turn back now, the succession of our spiritual tradition was through me.
Al taster panecha!
Don’t hide your face from me G!d!
Friends, please listen. We all wear a mask in our daily life. Even G!d does! Although, through concealment, G!d brings about the biggest miracles.
So I concealed myself. I put on a mask and costume and pretended to be Esav, my twin brother, inheritor of the first-born blessings. I did this in order to receive the blessing from our father’s soul that were supposed to go to Esav. This was only possible because of Yitzchak’s blindness. The deception was easy since our father knew deep down it was supposed to be this way...
A situation of paradox:
From Isaac’s blindness came forth vision for the future.
From deception, blessing.
From concealment, revelation.
We never know how life brings the deepest lessons.
We never know how life’s situations shape humanity. We never know how a moment, with a simple and random decision can shape history.
My father’s blessing ended up opening my eyes and my ears. Isaac’s blessing opened up in me an awareness of a reality beyond what we see. I could now see beyond our physical reality. I was free to see angels.
I was able to see the ladder linking humanity to the highest realms. I could see the endless flow of angels, constantly coming and going, silently creating miracles for us humans.
I was able to wrestle with my fears and uncertainties. They came in the form of an angel too by the way… I emerged from this struggle stronger than ever and gained a new name: “Israel”, the one who wrestled with G!d and prevailed!
Listen everyone! Shema!
You too are connected to this! You are b’nei Israel! You are Children of Israel, Children of Jacob, my descendants. It is your inheritance! You too have your ladder connecting you to the Source of Life. You too have an endless flow of angels creating miracles –just for you. You too can vanquish your fears and uncertainties!
This is the end of my life. It is now my turn to bless my children, my family.
I, Jacob, who can see angels. I, Israel, who inherited vision, suddenly have no Divine Inspiration. It has been taken from me.
I am filled with fear!
My entire family, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are in front of me, waiting for blessings. But they all look Egyptian. Dress Egyptian. Speak Egyptian.
Is this the end?
Was this all for nothing?
Has my family forgotten about the G-d of Avraham?
“What about G-d, the Master of the Universe!” I yell at them.
And they all respond. In unison.
“Shema Israel, A-donai E-loheinu A-donai echad”.
Listen Israel, listen Jacob, the Lord is our G!d, the Lord is One!
All is good. I breathe a sigh of relief and vision is restored, I recover Divine Inspiration.
I respond “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed”, Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever.
All is good and I bless my family. I’d like you to know that these blessings uttered 3,000 years ago go on to this day. The blessings are alive, in all of you.
1. Time to Think about Receiving
We know the holiday of Chanukah is all about Light and miracles. We also know we should bring Light to the world and transform darkness into Light. In order to do so, we need to be a source of Light ourselves. Let us not forget that the Creator is the primordial source of Light and blessings and we need to have open vessels so that we may receive them. Too often we sabotage ourselves by closing our vessels, ruminating negative thoughts about ourselves or our environment.
It is time to think about receiving. Let’s open up our vessels by ruminating positive thoughts of gratitude.
2. Receiving/Giving flow
Yes, once we receive, we need to give. Heaven wants to shower us with “Shefa” -abundance-. This abundance will always keep coming if we create a flow of giving as we receive.
Let us not forget the law of attraction, like attracts like. When we are a source of Light and blessings, we become a powerful magnet for an abundance of Light and blessings.
3. Eight Days of Chanukah
The number seven represents completion. Hashem rested on the seventh day and so do we by refraining from creating. Seven symbolizes a perfect cycle in nature. What is eight? Eight is beyond nature, beyond everything. Eight is supernatural.
By increasing Light during eight days and forcing ourselves -and G!d- to remember the miraculous nature of Chanukah, we create a slingshot propelling a potential of miracles for the entire year.
4. About Miracles…
Which miracles do we wish to manifest? Do we want selfish miracles in order to fulfill our egos or do we have in mind the greater good? Are our prayers exclusively self-serving or are they directed around us?
5. Visualizations. Earth
A good visualization is to see ourselves transported above earth. We can see our world from the perspective of outer space, a beautiful planet moving in a perfect choreography with the sun and the moon, creating days and seasons. Let us be in awe of this perfection. From our vantage viewpoint, it is also good to send blessings and love to our home planet, reflecting on what we can contribute to preserve it.
6. Visualizations. Israel
From where we are, we can now zoom in and look at the State of Israel. We can let our heart overflow with gratitude for this small but totally awesome Holy piece of Land. Holiness and blessings radiate from there. From this vantage viewpoint, it is good to let our gratitude send blessings to this Land and reflect on our yearning to breathe its air and our desire to protect it.
7. Visualizations. Home
We may now move west, zooming in our home State, then coming even closer to see our town from above. The land is a creation of G!d and we are one with the soil, the sand and water. Our thoughts of gratitude for the beauty of our home town and our blessings directed towards it are reflected right back at us, filling our souls with delight. Let us reflect on how we can contribute to preserve its beauty.
8. Visualizations. Shul
We may now zoom in our community, our synagogue, our connection to the Divine, the Source of our Inspiration. We may visualize a flow of energy coming from the Universe towards the Holy Land and being directed right into our House of Study and Worship, filling it with the most intense spiritual Light. In this visualization, it is good to remember to be open to receive -and give- Light and blessings. It is good to remember to be a source of miracles in this world because only by being so will we -ourselves- live on the level of miracles.
May you receive an abundance of blessings and witness revealed miracles.
Mass shootings bringing death, suffering. Also disbelief, anger, helplessness, fear, despair, all terribly negative emotions.
I won’t tell you anything new by saying negative emotions are not healthy. If maintained, we know these emotions will create some type of dis-ease, psychological or physical. Whichever the dis-ease, it will be highly contagious because negative emotions affect everyone around.
This is how negativity - or evil - gains strength. Can we turn this around?
Mysticism teaches that every word, every action creates an entity. Not a physical one, but a spiritual one. This is how powerful we all are, because each of these entities -spiritual beings- has an effect in our physical world. They are pure energy. We can’t see them, but they strongly influence the world we live in.
It is easy to understand that some words or actions will create beings of Light, while others will unfortunately create beings of darkness.
Our emotions have the same power. Negative emotions, such as the anger and the words of anger that are said or written after a mass shooting, create beings of darkness and have the terrible effect of giving strength to the evil that already exists in the world.
Are we stuck in a spiraling vicious circle? Actually not at all.
When the world seems the darkest, there is in fact a window of opportunity. If you find yourself in a dark cave, a small match, a tiny flame has the potential to illuminate the entire place. Likewise, in a time of darkness, a small act of kindness has the potential to illuminate the entire Universe. If you decide to embark on a personal “random-act-of lovingkindness” campaign, YOU have the potential to bring about a new paradigm. You have the power to counteract the darkness that is being brought. Don’t ever underestimate what you can do, it is a super-power. Your positive emotions, words and actions will bring the energy that the world needs for peace.
Six months ago, I had the privilege to be part of a group of three rabbis for the conversion of 114 people in Managua, Nicaragua. Most of these people can trace their Jewish ancestry since the Inquisition in Spain.
In 1492, on Tisha b’Av, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed that all Jews in Spain had to either leave Spain (leaving their assets behind), convert to Christianity, or die. Many Jews opted to convert, but in fact practiced Judaism in secret, which prompted the Inquisition. If a convert family was found guilty of Judaizing, they were condemned to be burned at the stake. Of course many families came to America to escape the Inquisition not knowing that it would follow. As a result, even in the New World, these families kept their Judaism secret. This is the reason they are called “Crypto-Jews”, or B’nai Anusim in Hebrew.
After 500 years, most of the descendants are not aware of their Jewish ancestry, but lately, many have been curious and have decided to “return” to Judaism through a conversion process. Moshe Henriquez, the leader of a synagogue in Managua who converted six months ago, is a Crypto-Jew and his ancestor is called Moses Cohen Henriques, a Jewish pirate!
Moses Cohen Henriques started life as a secret Jew living under the Inquisition in his native Portugal. One of the most prominent merchants in Lisbon, he was discovered to be a practicing Jew in 1605 and publicly tortured, along with 150 other hidden Jews. This experience apparently led Cohen to decide to work against Spain and Portugal, the hosts of the brutal Inquisition.
After escaping to Amsterdam, Cohen seemingly became a secret agent for the Dutch navy, and made his way to the New World, settling in Jamaica, which was then a haven for Jews. He worked on behalf of the Netherlands to attack Spanish ships and frustrate Spain’s colonial designs in the New World.
Cohen teamed up with one of the most feared pirates of the time, Sir Henry Morgan, with the tacit backing of both the Dutch and British governments. In 1628, along with Dutch folk hero Admiral Piet Pieterszoon Hein, Cohen captured a Spanish treasure fleet off the coast of Cuba. It was the largest theft in the history of the Spanish fleet.
Cohen gave up piracy in old age when Sir Henry Morgan became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, and pardoned his longtime friend. The two lived out their days in Jamaica, their pirate ways behind them for good.
Not everyone in Managua has such colorful ancestry, but their story is still fascinating. Igor Tiffer is a successful horse breeder and trainer. His grandfather escaped from Germany at the beginning of the war and settled in Managua. He eventually married an Indian woman, but kept Jewish traditions alive. Now, Igor, the grandson who is married with two beautiful girls wanted to bring Judaism back in his family. Six months ago, he, his wife and daughters underwent conversion and they are now a passionate Jewish family. His last name, Tiffer, come from Kabbalistic term “Tiferet”, meaning “harmony”.
This past Chanukah, I was invited to return to Managua as two couples were getting married. One of the couples was previously married but wished to have a Jewish wedding with a Ketubah following their conversion. The evening was magical as they looked at each other’s eyes while getting married –again.
The second wedding was a young couple. They had fallen in love as they were studying for their conversion. I was close to them during the conversion process, we had many lively and interesting conversations. The Jewish community that emerged from the conversions six months ago all came for this wedding. A room full of new Jews, who knew how to pray Mincha perfectly well, and who danced for hours to Jewish music, singing along because they know all the songs by heart. I went there to perform weddings and to teach, but they are the ones who can teach the world about inspiration, passion and love of Judaism.
One of the first Hebrew words taught to youngsters is "Hineni." The teacher calls a name and children respond, "Hineni!", Here I am. And they are proud to know how to say, "Here I am" in the language of our people.
Not long after, we learn that proclaiming "Hineni" is one of the most revered statements in the Torah - not only because we read it on Rosh Hashanah, but because it is one of the most profound expressions of faith in our entire heritage. G‑d calls upon Abraham and he responds, "Hineni. Here I am."
Later in life, we begin to fully grasp the implications of saying - and acting upon - the statement "Here I am." "Hineni" conveys our very presence as a Jew. It says to G‑d that Jewish precepts burn within us, that we yearn to lead a life of righteousness, that we will not just answer His call, but that we will seek our own ways to repair the world and improve the lot of others.
Recently I went to Nicaragua and with two other rabbis, we converted 114 people. Many of them were Crypto-Jews, descendants of the forced converts in Spain in 1492. With great yearning, they wanted to reclaim their Judaism. Most of them had been waiting for years for that moment to happen. Their tears, hugs and infinite gratitude demonstrated how sincere their conversion was.
They came to us. They said “Hineni”, “Here I am”, with burning desire, with passion and with ardent love of Judaism. The High Holy Days this year will be their first one as “official Jews” and they want to do everything right. They study, pray, get together and form a beautiful Jewish community.
“Hineni”, here they are without much experience but connecting to their Judaism like few Jews do. “Hineni”, they say, “I have been waiting all my life to daven Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a Jew!”
Their Hineni resonates in my soul as I ask myself “Am I truly here?”
On Rosh Hashanah, we are given the gift of connecting to the powerful energy of creation, giving us unlimited potential.
This year, Yom Kippur falls on a Shabbat, a true Shabbat Shabbaton. Also, 5778, the Jewish year, is spelled תשע''ח in Hebrew. The letter “shin” can correspond to the word “shana” (year), the letter “ayin” to the word “Etz” (tree) and the letter “chet” to the word “chayim” (life). These words make the phrase: “Year of the Tree of Life.”
This year of double holiness on Yom Kippur, if we sincerely say “Hineni”, “Here I am”, double possibility of cleansing is given to us. With a sincere “Hineni”, we are given double possibility of clinging to the Tree of Life for unlimited blessings this year!
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for year of blessings of health, happiness, success and endless possibilities.
I came across a beautiful teaching that I would like to share with you. I hope that in its simplicity and depth you will be touched and inspired!
When the wind comes and the rainbow blows away.
What do we do.
Is there hope.
Hope for the future.
Future, we must understand
We make it. It is fabricated.
Future fluctuates from moment to moment
And we control it with our mind.
And actions. And thoughts. And words.
The most glorious future is truly at hand
When we put our mind to it.
But it is truly like a wonderful secret.
All we need to know is faith. Trust.
Do not let a negative thought dictate your future
Because this is exactly what happens.
Trust each moment.
Savor each moment.
Live each moment.
Because each moment is so very precious.