Rosh Hashanah & the Art of Wanting

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RoshHashArtWant230x150-ENThree years ago a new self-help fad swept the world. Offering nothing less than everything from unimaginable wealth to happiness and finding one’s soul mate, the people behind the fad claimed they had discovered a very old “secret” that had been carefully guarded and handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, across many cultures. Presenting this secret to the masses for the first time, they called their film documentary and accompanying book, “The Secret.”

And they made a mint.

After one gets past the glitter, the underlying core of the “secret” is a powerful idea expressed in the Talmud that has special relevance to Rosh Hashana.

The operative dynamic behind “the secret” is a concept called the “Law of Attraction”:

Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. It’s what you’re thinking.You become what you think about most, but you also attract what you think about most….

Long ago, the rabbis of the Talmud said: “The way a person wishes to go is the way he will be led” (Makkos 10b). If a person really wants to do something — for good or bad — all the elements of the world surrounding him will help him go in that direction. The universe will conspire to help him achieve his burning desire.

What we truly want is where we are going to be led.

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Elul – Zman! Back from China!

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I have just returned from an amazing 10-day tour China. In a future issue, I plan to go into greater depth about the experience, but I want to share a thought I had there that is relevant to the month of Elul.

There are so many impressions, but perhaps the most prominent for me was the way that the Chinese venerated their emperor. The evidence of this reverence permeates China’s ancient relics. For instance, the massive Tiananmen Square (100,000 visitors a day; over half a million total capacity) was originally nothing more than a plaza leading into the enormous Forbidden City, the place where the emperor and his family lived (and which was so named because it was forbidden to commoners). Together, it took us two hours just to walk through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All this for one man!

This is but a single example. Chinese veneration of the emperor is so deeply embedded in their culture that even decades after the last emperor was deposed, in 1911, Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, was worshiped like an emperor despite the fact that he uprooted everything imperial China stood for economically, politically, religiously and socially. The one thing that survived into Mao’s China was the absolute power of and veneration for the leader. Consequently, Tiananmen Square even today is dominated by huge pictures of Mao — despite the fact that he caused the deaths of 40–70 million Chinese!

The Chinese veneration of Mao is an artifact of a culture that for well over 2,000 year saw the power of its leader as absolute.

Witnessing this and other examples how the Chinese tend to revere the highest – even most corrupt – human authority, it struck me that perhaps China looks the way that the world would look if Avraham Avinu had never defied Nimrod; and if Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah had never defied Nevuchadnezzar; if there had never been any Jews, people willing to sacrifice their lives for the idea that man is not God.

Ultimately, this Chinese veneration for their leaders reminded me of the teaching by Chazal that there is a mitzvah to go see a visiting king and his entourage, because as honored as he is, the honor shown him is only a pale echo the honor that will accompany Mashiach when he arrives.

Elul is the time of the year we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the day we are mamlich HaKodesh Baruch Hu, the day we coronate Hashem as king. It is a time when we clean up our acts and prepare the throne of our hearts for His entrance. It is a time for us to reinforce the awareness that no matter where we are, He is there. His is a true kingship, and it is our task to acknowledge that verbally and viscerally.

May these words imbue this Elul with special meaning as we prepare to receive the King of Kings into our lives.

 

Off to China!

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Great Wall of ChinaTHE GREAT JEWISH TOUR OF CHINA
Summer 2013

I’m off to China from July 21 through August 1.

Flyer for China trip

My Mother-in-Law’s Passing

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The Last Witness

With a Heavy Heart…

I write this introduction with a heavy heart… since as we prepare to go to print this month, Menachem Av, my mother-in-law has just passed away.

She was a Holocaust survivor, as some of you may know from my book The Hidden Hand – The Holocaust and from lectures I have delivered as part of my work for Torah Umesorah’s Holocaust education branch, Zechor Yemos Olam.

In many ways, her story is no different than numerous other Jewish men and women who went through the worst imaginable times but emerged as beacons of faith, immersing their energies into rebuilding their lives and establishing new generations. On the other hand, how many people can say that their Bubby caused the deaths of 1,000 SS soldiers at the height of the war in an effort to save her life and the lives of the righteous non-Jewish family that had hidden her?

I hope to publish an article about her incredible story, and perhaps even a book, but the thing that stands out most about her is that she always said with a full heart, “Nothing bad ever happened to me.” This from a woman who as a teenager watched each member of her family killed one by one, a little girl alone against the Nazis and an insane world bent on killing her. Yet, she not only said regularly, “Nothing bad ever happened to me,” but lived it — expressed as an unshakable positive attitude toward everything in life and her total involvement in chessed for others (family and otherwise), even winning an award from the governor of New York for her community work.

I cannot understand or approach my mother-in-law’s emunah peshuta, her simple faith. I cannot comprehend how she came out of her experiences intact physically, mentally and spiritually. Yet, she did.

Of course, she was not the only one. There were many, including Yudel Weinstein whose dramatic story is told in this month’s issue; how he survived 17 hellish days in the Treblinka death camp. Treblinka – the place that began murdering Jews en masse on Tisha B’Av 1942. Treblinka – the death factory no larger than two football fields where 875,000 or more Jewish men, women and children perished. Treblinka – where only a handful of eyewitnesses survived to tell about it.

Some people find Holocaust stories depressing. I find them just the opposite. If one approaches the Holocaust correctly, it is not just another subject. It is the most powerful vehicle to inspire us with the greatest Torah ideals such as ahavas Yisrael; to be more kind and do more chessed; to give us an appreciation of the power of Torah to provide hope in the darkest of circumstances; to impart belief in the eternity of the Jewish people; and, ultimately, to value what it means to be alive.

May the memory of my mother-in-law and the lives of all who went through the Holocaust continue to be a blessing and an inspiration.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

Speaking engagement on Tisha B’av

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I will be speaking on Tisha B’Av, iyh, at a Hakhel event.

See attachment for details: Hakhel – Tisha B’Av 5773

Topic

The Hidden Hand: Lessons and Teachings From the Holocaust

Including A New Audio-Visual Presentation

Time: 5:45PM

LOCATION: KOLLEL BNEI TORAH
1323 East 32nd Street (Between M & Kings Highway)

Zman – Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants

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Cover Zman-41Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants

“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

Those words were not uttered by a pacifist, but by a legendary World War II general, a man who commanded 1.3 million men, the largest body of American soldiers ever to serve under a US field commander. They are the words of General Omar Bradley.

Bradley’s warning echoes through time and reverberates throughout this month’s cover story, where we interview a grandson of Harry Truman – who authorized the dropping of the atom bomb — and the grandson of a Jewish air force lieutenant who flew on both atom bomb missions. The larger purpose here is not to question Truman’s decision, which was made under unique, arguably once-in-history circumstances. Rather it is to give context to current events that haunt us today.

As rogue states with unstable leaders guided by fanatical ideologies brandish their nuclear arsenal or are very close to coming into possession of them, r’l; as terrorist groups vie to get – or get more — weapons of mass destruction; as terrorist attacks strike closer to home, we feel increasingly concerned and helpless. Even if we turn back a threat from one quarter there always seems to be another madman waiting in the wings.

The world appears to be edging closer to the very last navuah in Tanach: “Hinei anochi sholeach lachem… Behold, I will send you Eliyahu HaNavi before the coming of the great and fearsome day of Hashem… lest I come and smite the Earth with utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:23-24)

Can we do anything about it? The last words of Tanach indicate that we can: “And he [Eliyahu] shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler suggests that the deeper meaning here is that there will be a gilui Eliyahu – a “revelation of Eliyahu” – that will precede the “great and fearsome day of Hashem.” Gilui Eliyahu refers to a deeper and more profound level of Torah knowledge. The proliferation of Torah will counter the proliferation of WMDs.

How apropos, then, that we go to print with this story just before Shavous, the day commemorating the giving of the Torah, emphasizing generations returning to Torah. Sadly, far too many Jews do not see the connection between proliferation of Torah and the proliferation of peace. If only we had the opportunity to tell them that it is not just a Jewish perspective, but also the perspective of men who knew the meaning and horrors of war, men like General Omar Bradley, who said at the same speech quoted above, “We have too many men of science, too few men of G-d.”

In the post-atomic world, the urgency for every Jew to discover and fulfill his portion of Torah is more pressing than ever.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

New Zman – Iyar

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Swept Out To Sea

The devastating tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 left more than 15,000 people dead. Those who barely escaped spoke of the miracles that saved them. This is arguably the most amazing survival story of all — the harrowing account of one man who was swept out to sea by the monstrous waves and spent days stranded on the roof of his home, floating miles away from land. Yet, he somehow lived to tell about it.

You Have a Twin!

Scientific research has established that identical twins are not only similar in outward appearance but also in their habits, talents, IQs and personalities. The most amazing aspects of these similarities become apparent in the case of twins separated at birth. Even though they never met and were raised under completely different circumstances, they still share astonishing similarities. Sometimes, the similarities defy explanation — for instance, separated twins who give their children the same names…. The scientific and paranormal converge in this fascinating topic.

Houdini

No chain, cell, safe or chest could keep him under lock. Thousands and thousands of spectators around the world thronged to his fantastic performances, watching openmouthed as he freed himself from every sort of confinement and restraint. Houdini did not possess any superhuman skills. He was simply a master at pulling off tricks that others could not fathom. Learn more about this extraordinary Jewish magician who became a legend in his own time.

Gold & Greed

When they heard there were “rivers of gold,” they came from far and wide. A pristine frozen wilderness was transformed. More than 100,000 prospectors – appropriately called “stampeders” — swarmed the Alaskan and Canadian hinterlands. Chaotic shanty towns of muddy streets sprang up to accommodate the ever-renewing supply of gullible outsiders hoping to strike it rich. It was the perfect setup for one of the cleverest and shadiest swindlers – a man so slippery that he was known as “Soapy.” Would they ever catch him?

He Fought The System For The Sake Of Shabbos… And Won!

Those living in America for more than 40 years undoubtedly recall the infamous “blue laws” that forbade opening one’s business on Sundays. For most Americans this law was merely an inconvenience, but for Shabbos-observant Jews it posed an impossible choice: work on Shabbos or face severe financial consequences. Zman is proud to present an in-depth discussion of this significant piece of American history. The story is accompanied by an exclusive interview with Chaim Reich of Boro Park, the man who led the fight to enable Shabbos observance in America.

Kashrus vs. United States

Government officials and federal prosecutors conspired with the unions to bring down a large kosher slaughterhouse. The owners were arrested and charged with violating laws that had never before been enforced. A biased judge cooperated with the prosecutors by convicting the Orthodox Jewish owners and delivering a harsh verdict. Sound familiar? This story actually took place nearly 80 years ago, long before the case of Sholom Rubashkin. Read how the US government tried to destroy kashrus in America, but with Hashem’s help the accused emerged victorious.