When Yad Vashem was established in 1953 the Remembrance Authority’s mission included a program of honoring the Chasidey Umos Haolam -- the Righteous Among the Nations. As worldwide Jewry memorialized the victims and struggled with the enormity of the loss and the impact of the total abandonment and betrayal Europe’s Jews the Yad Vashem program was established in order to remember those individuals who put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to as they rescued Jews.
In 1965 Yad Vashem honored a Polish woman, Irena Sendler, who worked with a unique Polish underground group which specialized in helping Jews escape the Nazi dragnet. After the Yad VaShem ceremony however, Sendler returned to Poland and her story was almost lost to history although, according to records, she saved more than twice as many Jewish lives as the renowned Oskar Schindler of "Schindler's List" fame.
In 1999, by chance, a group of Kansas City studentscame across Sendler's story. They were fascinated by the sheer volume of lives that she had managed to save and, in the following years, they embarked on a research project that turned into the "Life in a Jar" project -- an acclaimed book, website and performance.
Irena Sendler was a young social worker when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. She was one of the first Zagota -- an underground group which specialized in assisting Jews -- members. Through the first two years of the war she helped forge documents and locate hiding places for hundreds of Jews who were fleeing the Nazis.
In 1941 Sendler secured false documents which identified her as a nurse and enabled her to enter the Warsaw Ghetto in order to bring food and medicines into the ghetto. Once she saw the situation in the ghetto Sendler quickly realized that the Nazis intended to murder the Jews who had been crowded into the ghetto walls. She felt that the best chance to save lives lay in removing as many children from the ghetto as possible, and she began to do so, picking up orphans from the street and spiriting them out by sedating them and carrying them in toolboxes, luggage, bags and even under carts filled with garbage.
Sendler also approached families in the ghetto and begged them to allow them to remove their children. This was traumatic, not only for the parents, who had to decide where their children's best chance of survival lay, but for Sendler herself. "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler told interviewers as she described the heartwrenching scenes that she endured, day after day, as she took children from their parents. "Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn't give me the child. Their first question was, 'What guarantee is there that the child will live?' I said, 'None. I don't even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today."
As perilous as smuggling the children out of the ghetto was -- under tram seats, via a secret passage through the Old Courthouse that stood on the edge of the ghetto and even through the sewer pipes that ran under the city -- the second part of the rescue operation was just as difficult. Sendler and other Zagota members had to forge documents for the children and find hiding places for them. Many children were placed in orphanages or in convents while others hid with sympathetic Polish families.
Sendler carefully recorded the names of the children on tissue paper which she secured in glass jars and buried in her neighbor's garden. She wanted to be sure that, after the war, if possible, the children could be reunited with their families or, if that proved to be impossible, at least with their Jewish community.
In October 1943 Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured. Zagota members secured her release by bribing a guard at the Pawiak prison and Sendler lived out the rest of the war in hiding.
In addition to her 1965 Yad Vashem commemoration Sendler was honored by the Life in a Jar project that the Kansas City students created. The project run by the Lowell Milken Centre pays tribute to Irena Sendler as it educates people throughout the world about what it means to stand up for justice.
A mysterious event in this week’s Torah portion reveals a phenomenon new to modern psychology—that we must listen to our body’s voice, which carries messages, memories and potent power.
One of the strangest episodes in history takes place in this week’s Torah portion. The gentile prophet Balaam is commissioned by Moabite King Balak to curse the Jewish people. Balak felt threatened by the Jews. He wanted to defeat them in battle and drive them away.
Initially G-d does not allow Balaam to go. But after Balak’s emissaries beseech him G-d permits him to go, saying “But only do exactly as I instruct you.”
Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his female donkey and went on his way. G-d plants His angel in the road to oppose him.
When the donkey saw G-d’s angel standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, the donkey went aside from the road into the field. Balaam beat the donkey to get it back on the road. G-d’s angel then stood in a narrow path through the vineyard, where there was a fence on either side.
When the donkey saw G-d’s angel, it edged over to the side, crushing Balaam’s foot against the wall. [Balaam] beat it even more. G-d’s angel continued ahead, and he stood in a narrow place, where there was no room to turn right or left. When the donkey saw G-d’s angel, it lay down [refusing to budge] for Balaam. Balaam lost his temper and beat the donkey with a stick.
G-d then opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?” “You have embarrassed me [or: been playing games with me],” shouted Balaam at the donkey. “If I had a sword in my hand just now, I would have killed you!”
The donkey replied to Balaam, “Am I not your [faithful] donkey, upon which you have been riding from back when until this day. Have I ever been unmindful to you?” “No,” replied Balaam. G-d then opened Balaam’s eyes and he perceived the angel standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. [Balaam] kneeled and prostrated himself on his face.
G-d’s angel said to him, “Why did you beat your donkey these three times? I have come out to oppose you, because your errand is obnoxious to me. When the donkey saw me, it turned aside these three times. If it had not turned aside before me, as it did now, I would have killed you and spared [the donkey].”
Balaam said to G-d’s angel: “I have sinned! I did not know that you were standing on the road before me. If you consider it wrong [for me to go], I will return home.” G-d’s angel said to Balaam, “Go with the men. But do not say anything other than the exact words that I declare to you.
The narrative continues with G-d compelling Balaam to bless the Jews instead of cursing them, to the chagrin of Balak and his cronies.
This story with the talking donkey is puzzling from beginning to end. If G-d didn’t want Balaam to go to Balak, why didn’t he just stop him from going? If for whatever reason G-d wanted to block his way with an angel, why did he hide the fact from Balaam and allowed the donkey to see the angel – after all Balaam not the donkey was the prophet?!
A Torah axiom states that G-d does not perform miracles in vain. Why then was this miracle of miracles necessary, to have the donkey see the angel, resist moving on, until the donkey ends up speaking?! This miracle would have been totally unnecessary if Balaam had seen the angel himself. Why the need to open the donkey’s mouth?!
The plot thickens: the Mishne states [in the Ethics of our Fathers] that the “donkey’s mouth” was one of the ten unique things created at dusk on the sixth day of creation! In other words, G-d planted this episode from the beginning of time by creating the “donkey’s mouth” for the day when the donkey would speak to Balaam!
Why is the “donkey’s mouth” so significant?
Torah speaks in the language of man. Beneath the literal meaning in the Torah narrative lay layers upon layers of deeper dimensions. Within the “body” of the story lies it’s soul – profound spiritual and psychological insights that illuminate the nature of our psyches and provide direction how to deal with the challenges of life. Every character in Torah, every episode of its narrative, parallels a facet of our personalities.
The story of Balaam and his donkey is the story of our own lives, with a multitude of lessons.
The Hebrew word for donkey is “chamor.” [A female donkey (jennet) is called “osson.” “Pered” is the Hebrew name for a mule (or a hinny), a hybrid borne of a horse and a donkey. But the general name for donkey, male or female, is “chamor”].
The Baal Shem Tov explains that “chamor” also means matter. In Exodus the verse states: “When you see the donkey of your enemy being overburdened by its burdens, don’t ignore it. It’s incumbent upon you to help relieve its burden.” Interprets the Baal Shem Tov: You observe “chamor” – your physical body and the coarse materialism of life – and you see that it is your enemy, opposing all things spiritual, and feeling overburdened by the sublime responsibilities of the soul. You may then consider ignoring the body so that it does not distract you from fulfilling your calling. You may even want to punish your body through asceticism and self-affliction.
Says the Torah: No! You are responsible to support, refine and elevate the “chamor,” even if it is ostensibly your enemy.
Balaam the prophet represents the paradox of a spiritual man locked in a decadent lifestyle. Each of us has two dimensions: A sacred side and a profane one. A person may be deeply spiritual, yet also profoundly corrupt. Indeed, the Talmud says “the greater the person, the greater his evil inclination.”
An extraordinarily gifted person always has equally powerful unique challenges. Left without discipline these gifts can be abused. And when they are, it is very difficult to get through to the person. Because the smarter he is, the better are his excuses and his ability to cover his tracks. He can mask his subjectivity with brilliant smokescreens.
At it’s extreme, you have Balaam: A prophet willing and delighted to use his Divine power to curse an entire nation.
Spiritual corruption or distortion is worse than other forms of corruption, because it uses a very positive force for negative ends. In other instances of corruption, you can always hope that a person’s conscience and spirit can be aroused. But once the spirit has been corrupted, and the soul has been taken hostage by destructive forces, what recourse is left?
The same holds true for any abuse perpetrated by a person who is supposed to love you: A parent, a sibling, a spouse. With strangers we have our guard up. If a stranger is abusive, s/he cannot hurt you that much because you don’t necessarily expect much from a stranger. But abuse coming from a loved one hurts us in the deepest place: the place of love. A parent, for instance, is supposed to love you, and as a child you are vulnerable before your parent. Thus, when the parent is abusive, it touches the very core of our beings: our souls. The worst abuse is the one that scars our most vulnerable places. Nothing is worse then love itself – and the source of love – being (ab)used in a cruel way.
So what is the antidote to this epitome of distortion? If the gifted person, or the one who is supposed to be providing love, has become corrupt to the point that he cannot even listen, how then do you get through to him?
The dilemma is also from the perspective of the abusee (the survivor): Once someone has been hurt in a deep part of his spirit, he doesn’t allow anyone in. So how can he be reached?
Yet, G-d in His infinite wisdom precedes the cure before the illness. Even when the soul may be unable to hear the message, the body has its own voice that speaks to us.
In modern psychology there is a phenomenon, which we shall call “psychological hypothermia.” When a child suffers severe abuse from a loved one (especially if its ongoing), the child will go “out of body” to separate himself from the experience. One of the reasons for this is presumably because the child cannot tolerate the possibility of a loved one hurting him. He therefore disassociates from the experience, as if it didn’t happen to him.
Hypothermia is “a decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired.” When a child, for instance, falls into ice-cold water, and his temperature drops to dangerous levels, the child will go into a state of shock, which shuts down the primary life functions to the point that the child may appear dead, in order to preserve the bare minimum energy for the vital organs. In other words, in order to survive the conscious faculties have to temporarily stop functioning.
The same is true psychologically. For survival purpose, sometimes we have to detach from an experience, to the point that we may be unaware of it in our conscious minds.
Yet – and this is the big yet – even as our conscious spirits may be unaware of the experience, our bodies remember them. Every experience in our lives is etched into the memory of our bodies. That is why we talk about experiencing “knots” and “tightness” in our bodies. Psychological feelings do not remain in the mental domain; they seep into the body, causing all sorts of physical reactions (“knots in the stomach” is one mild example). Anxiety oozes toxins into your body. Strong traumatic experiences tie up your body in knots.
In severe cases, the personality shift that happens at the time of abuse remains long after the experience. A child may grow into an adult that has actually shifted his personality, and is living, in some ways, like another person, often having “out of body” experiences. So severe was the initial abuse.
But, even when the soul, for whatever reason, is unable to consciously acknowledge an experience, the body has stored it away, for the day when it will be safe to emerge.
And therein lies the true power of therapy and growth: To help an individual find safety and security, so that he or she can then work on “untying the knots,” and allowing himself to access the soul that he had to hide away so long ago.
By no means is this a simple process. It can even be torturous at times. Yet, in a strange way this phenomenon is a testimony to one of the greatest resiliencies of the human being: G-d allows a child to survive even the worst experiences, and then gives him the strength to reconnect with himself when the times is right and the situation safe.
Even when the soul is not conscious of the memory, because the abuse came from a soul connection – a loving person – the body is endowed with a wisdom that does remember. And it holds the secret till the day when the soul will be able to hear the message.
This is the inside story of Balaam and his donkey. G-d could not get through to Balaam on a fundamental level. He saw that Balaam was intent on going to Balak and helping him implement his malevolent plan. But even when the soul cannot be reached, the body can. So it is the “chamor” – the body – that sees the “angel,” and it is the body that cries out to the person prodding him to open his eyes.
What is most fascinating about this concept is that usually we associate awareness with the soul. Yet, Jewish mysticism teaches that the body too was created by G-d. It therefore contains unique Divine energy of its own. Indeed, the body carries enormous power stemming from the Essence of G-d, which in some ways is superior even to the energy of the soul!
But often when our bodies speak to us, beckoning us to act, we may ignore the voice. Or worse: We may “beat” the body, as Balaam beat his donkey, because it is becoming a nuisance and distracting us from our misguided plans.
So, we have many voices available to us. In healthy situations, and in many instances, it is the voice of our souls that we should be heeding. Yet, at times our bodies carry important messages for us.
Miami, FL – May 30, 2013 – Brazilian authors Rabbi Daniel Kahane and
Ann Helen Wainer have recently launched a new book, which promises to
change the way scholars and laymen understand the Jewish calendar as
well as the structure of central Jewish texts.
The book shows how the 52-day period spanning from Passover to Shavuot
(Pentecost) is in fact a microcosm of the 52 weeks of the year.
Additionally, it demonstrates how 52 rabbis and 52 animals listed in
the sacred works Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) and Perek
Shirah (“Chapter of Song”) parallel the year’s weeks as well. Finally,
the book explores the kabbalistic meaning behind the numbers and
divine attributes (sefirot) related to each day from Passover to
Shavuot known as the Counting of the Omer.
“The book’s use as a weapon against sadness should also not be
underestimated,” exclaims Ann Helen Wainer, “its uplifting ideas and
its connectedness to the song and harmony of nature, as well as the
wisdom and foresight of our ancestors, is a true gift.”
The book was originally launched in Portuguese, after the authors
received a grant from the Safra Philanthropic Institute in Brazil. An
expanded eBook English version is available on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes
& Noble, as well as ModernJewishHome.com. More information and
ongoing classes are also available on Blogger, YouTube, Facebook, and
The “Kabbalah of Time” eBook consistently listed as Amazon’s #1 “Hot
New Release in Kabbalah,” and now, after a month of its release, was
back among the Top #10 Best Sellers in its category.
Mrs. Wainer is a prolific author, having published several works
regarding Judaism and Jewish History, as well as Brazilian Law and
History. Her titles include: Jewish and Brazilian Connections to New
York, India, and Ecology; Family Portrait; A Jewish Perspective on
Ecology; Civil Liability of the Developer; and Brazilian Environmental
Legislation. Ann Helen earned a master’s degree in corporate law in
Brazil, and an MA in religious studies at Florida International
Rabbi Daniel Kahane is a graduate from Georgetown Law School and
Princeton University, where he received the religion departmental
award in Jewish studies, as well as a Certificate in the subject. He
also attended Yeshiva University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Besides from working full-time as an attorney, Rabbi Kahane teaches
weekly classes at Chabad of Aventura, FL.
Charity and kindness are of the most important aspects of Jewish tradition. The Talmud teaches that compassion and acts of goodness are the trademarks of the Jewish soul. Charity brings blessing, hastens the final redemption and is compared to all of the Mitzvot put together.
There are various forms of giving. We can assist someone in need with something tangible like money or gifts. Another form of kindness, of equal importance, is time. Spending time guiding, advising, motivating, or just being a listening ear are all legitimate ways to fulfill this important Mitzvah.
But there is another form of giving that is possibly even more powerful and important. It takes very little effort and yet does not receive the attention and importance it deserves. This is simply saying something small to someone in a way that makes them feel valued and respected. This can be achieved by saying a kind or uplifting word to someone feeling down or as simple as a warm "hello" greeting to a friend or even a stranger.
The Talmud teaches that he who gives a coin to a poor person receives three types of blessings. However, if he says a soothing word and makes him feel better, he is given eleven blessings. It also teaches that greeting someone properly brings the blessing of longevity.
Giving someone time or money fulfills an external need. They provide important support but don't address the inner essence of the individual. A kind word or a warm greeting respects their human dignity and inner soul. Every human being is created in the image of G-d and possesses a soul of Divine origin. Respecting and uplifting that person is recognition of his/her Divine imprint.
We might not all have a lot of time or financial resources to help others in big ways. But we can all take a few seconds to say something positive to someone else or to greet the neighbor, garbage collector or the mailman with a smile. These small acts of real kindness deepen relationships, and inject a positive energy and a flow of blessing into all of existence.
"You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people" [Kedoshim 19:18]
There are times, said the Chofetz Chaim, that a man grows angry with a friend who did not do him a particular favor. Such feelings are completely unjustified.
To what can this be compared? To a man who was walking down the street, looking for his friend. As he passed people in the street, he would ask them "Have you seen my friend perhaps?"
"Try looking for him in the town square," he was told. "There are many people gathered there; maybe your friend will be among them."
He went to the town square, searched for his friend, yet he did not find him.
Would it even ocur to him to feel anger toward those individuals who directed him to the town square? Of course not! He realizes that he must simply continue his search.
The same thing applies to the prohibitions of taking revenge and bearing a grudge, said the Chofetz Chaim. We are forbidden to feel anger towards a friend who did not do us a favor. What reason can there be to be angry with him? Hashem obviously did not designate him as the one who would bestow this particular kindness upon us. We must simply turn to someone else, and place our request with him; perhaps he is the one who will be able to assist us.
If a person accustoms himself to constantly thinking in this manner, he will never bear a grudge or feel the need to take revenge.
The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim writes that our new month of Iyar is tried and tested as a time for refuah, healing, from the ailments and pains that may affect a person. Why is this so? He brings the B’nai Yisaschar, who teaches that most weakness and illness come from foods which do not comport with the person’s nature or composition. Read full article at: Days of Mashiach
There are a couple of ways to assist in your own healing, and that is by saying the Unique Healing Prayer [but you have to do it properly and say every chapter relating to your [Hebrew] name, instructions are at the site].... and the other thing to do is to change your eating habits for the following reason:
"The reason a person's health returns through taking medicines is that his soul sees that he is able to control himself and to act contrary to his physical desires and habits. Perhaps he is accustomed to eating bread and other foods, but now he curbs his desires and submits to a medical regime, taking bitter medicines for the sake of his health. His soul sees that he has the power to control his impulses in order to achieve a certain goal, and she therefore comes back to him in the hope that he will curb his desires for the sake of the true purpose - which is to carry out the will of the Creator" (Likutey Moharan I, 268). Read a lot more at Redemption of the Soul
Do we recite a Blessing on Medication? Rabbi Eliezer Posner says:
If the medicine has a good taste, such as flavored chewable pills, recite the Shehakol blessing. [Seder Birchat Hanehnin 7:8] Flavorless medicine, such as pills that you swallow, do not require a blessing—but we do say a prayer that the medicine should take effect:
"May it be Your will that this medicine shall bring healing."
No blessing is recited on water that you drink to swallow down the pill. If you are swallowing it down with a beverage other than water, then you do recite the appropriate blessing on that beverage. [Tip: recite the blessing, take a sip, swallow the pill and then drink it down with the rest of the beverage.]
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"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."