Archive for October, 2008

Christopher Columbus…A Jew? reports that Christopher Columbus, the famous  Spanish explorer who discovered America in 1492, was really and Exiled Jew! Truth be told, if you are interested in researching this topic more, I’d recommend reading the following 2 books:

Photo courtesy of  scilit

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel—A Real Kabbalist

While I am not of Sephardic decent, I have a great amount of respect for their practices and heritage. Indeed, I even enjoy praying at the occasional Sephardic Minyan and listening to the Middle Eastern incantations and melodies. Recently, I was fortunate to meet with and speak to one of the most well respected Sephardic Sages of our time-the great Rabbi Yaakov Hillel. Accordingly, I thought it would be appropriate to enlighten my readership to some of his English and Hebrew books that exude the wisdom of Judaism.

In his first book to ever be translated into English, Faith and Folly: The Occult in Torah Perspective (Tamim Tehiyah) Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, the Dean of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Jerusalem and a authoritative figure on mystical subjects, tackles the issues of superstitions, astrology, palmistry, sorcery, and other esoteric practices. In this 119 page book, Rabbi Hillel guides us clearly and concisely through the practices, telling us what is sanctioned and what is forbidden today.

It is worth noting however, that he strongly does not approve of Practical Kabbalah:

“If a person uses Practical Kabbalah…the evil that adheres to the good will cling to him. His soul which he had hoped to purify, will be sullied with evil (Faith and Folly page 45).”

“No one should use Practical Kabbalah unless he has been informed by Eliyahu Ha-Navi or shown clear signs that God wills it and his soul is suited for it (ibid page 47).”

In fact, the holy Arizal not only forbade teaching this form of Kabbalah to his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, but he also prohibited the use of Practical Kabbalah (Sha’ar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Shemot)

While there is much more that can be discussed on this topic, it is worth surveying the sources that Rabbi Hillel provides us. Quickly, we will all be able to make an educated opinion as to both our study of Torah and spiritual focus.

Additionally, another work of his that has recently been made available to the English speaking public is titled, Roni Akarah: A Guide for the Childless Couple. Whether one is religious or unaffiliated, Jewish or non-Jewish, infertility afflicts thousands of couples every year. To that end, this book is written with wisdom and sensitivity and is a treasure house of knowledge and encouragement for a Jewish husband and wife.

Finally, arguably the most recognized work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is Messillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just).  Nowadays however, some people feel that they can’t relate to the ebb and flow of this work. In light of the above, while many fine translations have been written for this work, the way in which Rabbi Yaakov Hillel presents and explains Luzzatto’s words in Ascending the Path, truly makes it once again relevant for our generation.

Amongst the many books that he has authored in Hebrew, I have most enjoyed the small but powerful Ad HaGal HaZeh. Rabbi Reuven Boshnack provides a nice summary of just some of the points that Rabbi Hillel discusses. Truthfully, what I benefited from the most was not just the Rabbi Hillel’s clear style of conveying esoteric concepts, but it was the organized Table of Contents that helped me navigate the work despite the complicated ideas written in Hebrew. Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that every quote was sourced and annotated to its fullest extent. Indeed, while I enjoyed the fact that the most recent English book from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, spoke to both the layperson and scholar alike, I felt that it was lacking his normal citations that apparently had been lost in translation

All in all, with thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike searching for knowledge of “Kabbalah,” but instead receiving a watered down version of pop-psychology mixed with a tea spoon of traditional Jewish mysticism, I would encourage any seeking soul to learn from the words of Rabbi Yaakov Hillel-A Real Kabbalist!

Part 2: Recycling in The Holy Land

In continuation of the post here, we will now continue to discover various methods of recycling in The Holy Land. To that end, here are two photos of what the plastic bottle recycling bins look like in Jerusalem. Frankly, in my neighborhood I’m pleased to report that there’s an ample supply of these containers that seem to fill up and get emptied several times a month. The orange sign petitions people to recycle their plastic bottles because, “You pass me every day!”

How to Eat Spinach…The Jewish Way

TreeHugger notes that 50% of all food produced in the world ends up going to waste! With that said, I must thank the Almighty for my parents who always took any opportunity to refer to the axiom of baal taschit, (not wasting) and instilled in me a sense of recycling old materials and so on and so forth.

In fact, for all those parents out there, the above mentioned expression was also a great way to ensure I ate all the vegetables on my plate, in that my parents would say, “I know you may not want to finish your spinach, but you’ll make Hashem happy if you eat them because then you will not be performing baal taschit.” Wanting to look good in the eyes of God, I readily complied with their suggestion and polished off my plate of spinach.

How to Meet Your Soul

Psyblog writes about 10 crucial areas of childhood development. Indeed they believe that, “each one is a piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is ourselves, and each one reminds us, through examining just one piece, how aspects of experience we now take for granted were once so complex.”

Guess what?

The same can be said for our soul, our neshama. The soul is highly complex in that it’s effected by our daily lives-beginning since the day we are born!

So how can you develop awareness of your intangible and seemingly invisible soul? How can you meet your Inner Self?

Check out these 2 books:

Part 1: Recycling in The Holy Land

Welcome to the first of a series of posts that will explore how The Land of Israel does its part to “Go Green” and help the environment.

To your right is a picture of a recycling bin that reads:

Dear Citizen,

This container is for all types of paper.

To empty the container call 02-653-5944.

Thank you for your contribution towards improving the environment.

The Sanitation Department of the City of Jerusalem.

What do God and Bill Gates Have in Common?

Bill Gates - Photo by IsyI fondly recall my childhood memories of playing little league baseball or pickup games of basketball. Indeed, I gained life lessons from these activities and the people who served as my coach or manager. In sports, after an athlete has just gotten to the “top of the mountain” and won the Super Bowl or the like, you may find him or her repeating expressions ranging from “I’m Going to Disneyland!” to “We are looking forward to next year, but we have to remember that since we have reached this level we still need to be hungry and be humble.”

I’d like to focus on the later expression for a moment. Judaism espouses that we follow in the actions of God. Accordingly, I believe that if one follows the idiom of needing to “Be Hungry. Be Humble” they will be doing just that-following in the footsteps of the Almighty!

Let’s start with the basics.

One of the Talmudic Sages, by the name of Rabbi Yochanan points out that, “Wherever you find the power of God mentioned in Scripture, you also find his humility mentioned. For instance, Deuteronomy 10:17 teaches that, “God your Lord is the God of the powers and the Lord of Lords.” Immediately following this verse, it says, “He brings justice to the orphan and the widow, and He loves the stranger” (Megillah 13a).

From this Talmudic teaching, we see that God is mighty and powerful-and yet humble and gracious to those in need. I believe that it’s without coincidence that God has chosen someone like Bill Gates to achieve the financial success that he has attained in his life.


He appears to be someone who despite his wealth is convinced to help others through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is my hope and desire, that more philanthropists, follow his lead, and by extension, the lead of God Himself!

Technology and the Message of the Midbar

Several months ago, I authored an article that appeared in Shiur Times Magazine. In a blink of an eye, we will soon celebrate the receiving of the Torah during the holiday, aptly titled, Simchat Torah. As such, being that the article discussed the location that we received the Torah, I encourage you to give this article a read here.

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