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View Others Through the Lens of Love

When Jacob, our Patriarch, saw his wife-to-be, Rachel, for the first time, he began to cry. His sadness was awakened because he prophesied that she would not be buried next to him. Why would such a spiritually oriented person like Yaacov, be so troubled over not being near his wife after they were no longer alive in this world? The Patriarchs viewed everything in this world through the lens of their "spiritual eye," seeing the essence of every creation. Our Patriarchs love for their wives was not based on the mundane. Rather, the love of our Patriarchs was awakened by the recognition of the great spiritual beauty of their wives. In light of this, Yaacov cried upon realizing that ultimately he would be eternally separated from the radiant holiness of Rachel's soul.

Every person has inner spiritual dimensions that are perceptible to our hearts and souls. Yaacov's love for Rachel was ignited by his awareness of her great spiritual goodness. His love for Rachel spanned to eternity.

Look beyond the surface of your fellow man. Remember that every person shines with a powerful inner light. Strive to see the inner beauty of your loved ones and friends. Love them for their holiness and goodness - their true spiritual essence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

Parshat Toledot

"And Yitzhak sowed in that land, and he found in that year a hundred fold, and Hashem blessed him" (Genesis 26:12). The verse reveals to us that despite the fact that a great famine struck all the inhabitants of the land, nevertheless, Yitzhak miraculously prospered. Amazingly, his land produced such a bountiful harvest that it filled one hundred great storehouses. Therefore, "Hashem blessed him," so that no one would cast a jealous eye upon him. The secret of Yitzhak's phenomenal wealth was that he carefully tithed his produce according to the proper Torah requirements. The Torah guarantees success to all those who separate tithes, “Test me, please in this,” said HaShem, “if I will not open for you windows in heavens and pour countless blessings upon you.”

Hashem rewarded Yitzhak with great wealth and prosperity, in the midst of a famine, because he meticulously tithed his produce, “And the man became great, and he grew constantly greater until he had grown very great” (Genesis 26:13).

Envision Yitzhak sowing his field in the days of famine. As he tends to his field he has in mind to tithe the produce. See his fruitful fields sprout with a phenomenally large harvest. Yitzhak thanks Hashem for blessing his land and faithfully tithes the produce. Yitzhak's wealth, success, and honor continues to multiply until he becomes the most prosperous man in the land. Follow the ways of Yitzchak and enjoy the unbounded blessings of Hashem, and always remember to thank Him for everything.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

Parashat Chaye Sarah

In a beautiful display of loving kindness, Rivka graciously drew water for Eliezer and his camels, when they arrived at the well. As soon as the camels finished drinking, Eliezer gave Rivka the gold jewelry that Avraham sent for Yitzhak's wife to be. Surprisingly, Eliezer gave her the jewelry before verifying her family lineage. What if it turned out that Rivka was not from the patriarchal family? Eliezer knew that Avraham loved kindness so much, that he would invite travelers to his home for a meal, that he didn't even know. What's more, when someone would show kindness to others, Avraham would reward their good deeds with special gifts. In light of this, Eliezer knew that Avraham would agree to give the precious gifts to Rivka as a reward for her amazing kindness, even if she was not from the required lineage to be Yitzchak's wife!

The attribute of loving kindness, in and of itself, is the clear sign of a spiritual worthy person, and is deserving of special gifts. Envision Rivka filling her pitcher with water from the well and graciously serving Eliezer, his attendants, and camels. See her joyously run to the well several times to provide them with an abundance of cool water. Imagine Eliezer so amazed by Rivka's kindness, that he is moved to give her the precious gold jewelry. We can all learn from Eliezer and Rivka to flow with loving kindness, and praise your family and friends for performing acts of kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

Parashat Vayera

We are commanded in the Torah to love Hashem and to fear Hashem. We're commanded to love people and not to be jealous of them. When the Jewish People went out to war they were commanded not to fear the opposing army, even if they would be charging at them with their horses and chariots. There are so many of the Mitzvot that have to do with our emotions that one might ask, how can we be commanded to feel a certain way? Aren't emotions natural? The Pele Yoetz (Rabbi Eliezer Papo, 1785-1828, Rabbi of Silistra, Bulgaria) writes in his discussion on happiness that our brains are so powerful, with the right thought process, we could control all of our emotions. We can decide to be happy or sad, to love or to hate, to be calm or to be anxious, to feel secure or to have fear. It's not an easy task, but it's very rewarding. The Pele Yoetz brings a verse in Mishlei which describes its achievements: טוב ארך אפים מגיבור - someone who's patient is better than a strongman - ומושל ברוחו מלוכד עיר- and someone who rules over his emotions is better than a person who could conquer an entire city single handedly.

We all need to work on our Emunah – Belief in G-d, and that is to internalize its principles until they become our very essence, until the belief is so strong that it penetrates our hearts and it becomes our natural reaction. It is available and attainable by everyone. Constant review of the same principles, over and over, from different angles will turn us into those people that we're meant to be.

May Hashem bless us all to work on and channel our emotions the way Hashem intended is best for our overall success.

Parashat Lech Lecha

“Look at the heavens and count the stars, are you able to count them? So too, will be the numbers of your descendants"(Genesis 15:5). Hashem promised Avraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the infinite stars. Why did HaShem compare the Jewish people to the stars, as opposed to other countless things, such as the grains of sand? A verse in Tehilim states, "Hashem counts the number of stars, and calls each one by name." Just as Hashem recognizes the unique quality of each and every star, so too, Hashem recognizes the unique radiance of each and every Jewish soul.

Since we stars are precious to Hashem, how much more so are we, Hashem's beloved people, infinitely precious in His eyes.

Envision the billions of endless stars. Reflect on the wonders of Hashem lovingly calling each star by name. Rest assured that the love and devotion that Hashem has for each one of us is incomparably greater than His love for the stars. Hear Hashem lovingly call you by name, and reveal to you the Light of the Shechinah.

Parashat Noach

In this week's Parasha, we read the story of Noach and the Mabul. After the Mabul, Hashem places a rainbow in the clouds of the sky. Why is it that Hashem chose the rainbow to be a symbol that Hashem will never destroy the world again? What was the message behind it?

Our Sages explain, we have to look at what a rainbow is; a light that has fought its way through the clouds, and the refraction of light causes a beautiful spectrum of colors. This was a bit of mussar to Noach. G-d was saying, "Noach, you never davened for the people of your generation. Even when they sank to the deepest depths of impurity, you never davened for them. If you are going to say, "Ribono Shel Olam, I had nothing to work with, they were low lives, there was nothing there", I would respond. G-d says, certainly there are people with a lot of darkness inside of them, but you need to be able to see the light that fights through the cracks. You need to be able to believe in people. Now, I am rebuilding the world. You should know, the world will not be perfect and there will be darkness. But search for the light in each individual, and you will find it.

That is incumbent upon each of us. We need to be able to look at our fellow brothers and sisters, and see the beauty inside each and every one. Because we do that and are able to see that beauty, G-d sees that beauty as well. Because of that, the world will continue to exist, grow and thrive.

Mashiv Haruach U'moreed Hageshem - Who blows the wind and brings down the rain

Mashiv Haruach U'moreed Hageshem - Who blows the wind and brings down the rain.

The Mishna teaches us that we mention the Strength of Rain (the words מוריד הגשם) in the blesssing of the Resurrection of the Dead (אתה גיבור). Why is it called the Strength of Rain? And what is the connection between rain and the resurrection of the dead?

The Vilna Gaon explains, that rain is different than other natural processes. Other processes are hidden within nature, but the source of rainfall is obviously run by a different course. As we see, there is no way to scientifically predict it over any length of time. It is clearly from Hashem. The name אלקים represents the Natural order Hashem uses to run the world, but rain clearly demonstrates His גבורה - strength (incidentally, הטבע, as the Vilna Gaon calls it, has the same numerical value as אלקים). The resurrection of the dead is also clearly beyond the Natural order and will demonstrate His strength as well.

The Brisker Rav, added that since rain doesn't have a Natural source, it is necessary to pray for rain to fall. That's why in Parashat Bereshit, even after the initial creation of the world, the Torah tells us that it didn't rain yet because there was no one to pray for rain. Rainfall isn't built in to the regular system of creation. Similarly, we find that the Talmud teaches all about the special system of prayers necessary to bring rain when there is a threat of drought, something we don't find by other calamities. This is because rain only comes from the merit of our prayers. That's also why we need special prayer on Shemini Atzeret for rain, because our prayers are what brings rain.

Every time it rains, we can see Hashem responding to the prayers of the Jewish people around the world.

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There is a fellow who owns a jewelry store in Israel. One day a nine year old girl walked into the store and said, “I am here to buy a bracelet.” She looked through the glass cases and pointed to a bracelet that was $3,000. The man behind the counter asked her, “You want to buy that bracelet?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Wow, you have very good taste. Who do you want to buy it for?”

“For my older sister.”

“Oh that is so nice!” the storekeeper replied. “Why do you want to buy your older sister this bracelet?”

“Because I don’t have a mother or father,” the little girl said, “and my older sister takes care of us. So we want to buy her a present, and I’m willing to pay for it.” She pulled out of her pocket a whole bunch of coins that totaled just under eight shekels, a little less than two dollars.

The fellow says, “Wow! That’s exactly what the bracelet costs!” While wrapping up the bracelet he said to the girl, “You write a card to your sister while I wrap the bracelet.” He finished wrapping the bracelet, wiped away his tears, and handed the little girl the bracelet.

A few hours later the older sister entered the store. “I’m terribly embarrassed,” she said. “My sister should not have come here. She shouldn’t have taken it without paying.” “What are you talking about?” the storekeeper asked.

“What do you mean? This bracelet costs thousands of dollars. My little sister doesn’t have thousands of dollars – she doesn’t even have ten dollars! Obviously, she didn’t pay for it.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” the storekeeper replied. “She paid me in full. She paid seven shekel, eighty agurot, and a broken heart. I want to tell you something. I am a widower. I lost my wife a number of years ago. People come into my store every single day. They come in and buy expensive pieces of jewelry, and all these people can afford it.

When your sister walked in, for the first time in so very long since my wife had died, I once again felt what love means.”

He gave her the bracelet and wished her well.

During the High Holy Days, we come to the Almighty and we want to buy something very expensive. We want to buy life. But we cannot afford it. We don’t have enough money to pay for it. We don’t have the merits.

So we come to the Almighty and we empty out our pockets, giving him whatever merits we have plus promises for the future. I’ll pick up the phone and call someone who is lonely, I will learn an extra five minutes of Torah, I will be kind and I will be scrupulous about not speaking lashon hara (gossip) for one hour a day.

The Almighty says, “You don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve felt what love means.” He sees how much we love Him and how much we yearn to improve, and He says, “You know what? You have touched my heart. Here it is, paid in full.”

With this mindset, for sure we will be inscribed for a sweet year.

To be Right? Or to be Happy?

Hashem created a beautiful world for us to enjoy. He tells us in this weeks Parasha “ושמחת בכל הטוב" - to be happy with all the good. Yet, we find so many people who are unhappy.

What advice can we give them to enjoy their lives more?

Another question to ponder; are people naturally happy, but outside causes disturb their happiness? Or are people naturally unhappy, and they need external factors to bring them joy?

Our Sages teach us, we can find the answer by observing little children. Kids are naturally happy go-lucky. They cry and wail only if something externally negative happens to upset them, - however, without those exterior factors, they are genuinely happy.

If so, our innate nature is to be happy. What changes when we get older? Why are so many people today "unnaturally" distressed and miserable?

Do you want to be right? Or to be happy?

That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.

There's a famous saying; A lie, you are not ALLOWED to say. The truth, you don't HAVE to say.

Not everything that’s true, needs to be said! Truth has to used discretionally.

Truth does not, G-d forbid, have to be compromised or distorted, but one has to have the ability to be perceptive and selective of how he disseminates the truth.

There's a way to tell the truth, so that it is digestible, and acceptable, instead of putting it out there bluntly, and destroy your objective and relationship.

A person has choice, - he can either consistently remain steadfast in his propositions and principles, and continuously fight for the truth, - or he can choose to overlook the truth and use it only at his discretion, when appropriate, and decide to rather be happy.

That's essentially the difference between children and adults.

Why do we see children fighting with each other, and within a few minutes, they're the best of friends again?

On the other hand, we see adults have a small discrepancy, and they’ll be mortal enemies for life?

The answer is simple, adults choose to be RIGHT over being happy, and children choose to be HAPPY over being right.

The children's ego's aren't so inflated yet, they aren't so self absorbed yet, and don't have this imaginary image to protect.

In contrast, adults need to fight for their territory, not to jeopardize their, so called, honor and pride.

People rationalize, how can I not defend the truth?

Why should the righteous suffer?

I will not compromise!

This is all done in the name of defending the truth. But in actuality, they are destroying themselves and living a life of misery.

The Torah tells us; "ושמחת בכל הטוב" It’s really a wonderful joyous world, choose to be happy with all the good. There’s so much to be grateful for.

Whether your glass is half-full or half-empty, always remember there are some that don’t even have one. Being RIGHT comes with dire consequences.

Let THEM be RIGHT and wallow in misery, - YOU choose to be HAPPY!

Teshuva: The Greatest Kindness

The Chayeh Adam writes that because of Hashem's great love for us, He gave us the ability to make Teshuva, to repent for our past and start again anew. Especially now, during this month of Elul, our Teshuva is readily accepted. Hashem desires us to make Teshuva. Why? Because He has so much blessing that He wants to give us, but our sins are blocking it from coming. Sometimes Hashem will withhold something from a person that he wants very badly, just because it'll cause that person to recognize that he needs to repent for a wrongdoing. During the time the person is being deprived of what he wants, he may begin to feel that Hashem is being unfair to him, but in truth, Hashem is doing for him the greatest kindness possible. There is nothing worse than to leave this world after 120 years with an eternal spiritual blemish, so Hashem gives us many, many opportunities to get us to recognize our faults and correct them.

Hashem only wants our wellbeing. He knows how valuable Teshuva is for us, and now, during these days, we can all repent and become forgiven very easily for what we have done.

 

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

Chodesh Elul has the power to transform a Klalah (curse) into a Beracha (blessing). What is Beracha? Before Hashem wrote the Torah, all of the letters came and begged, “Please start the Torah with me.”

Hashem said, “I want to start the Torah with the letter Beit (the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet), which is the first letter of the word Beracha. Because if I start the world with blessing, it will survive.”

If something starts right, it will be a success.

But what happens if it didn’t, Chas v’Shalom?

The Sfat Emet says, preceding the letter Beit is Alef. That’s the first letter of the word anochi (me), the word we find in the opening of Parshat Re’eh. That’s the first letter of the Ten Commandmets. So even if you look back at the end of a year and you see that it didn’t seem to be a blessing, you’ve had challenges, difficulties, losses and very painful moments, remember that before the Beit comes the Alef. Simply put, Hashem’s Will comes before the Beracha. It is all up to Him. What is left for you to do? To beg. To plead, to ask and pray for the new upcoming year.

What should you ask for? Ask for the Beit, the Beracha, an abundance of blessing, and for the Alef for Hashem’s Presence in your life. It brings you to another realm, one that no one and nothing in the world can take away from you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

The Power and Importance of Month of Elul

Elul is the month of repentance. With the end of the year fast approaching, the time to make a personal accounting has arrived. It is time to cast off all those bad habits we have become accustomed to over the course of the year and to make a new start.

On Rosh Hashana, Hashem sits on His Throne of Justice and considers all of the actions, words, and thoughts of the entire year.

According to this, He dispenses life to the entire human race, and determines what sort of year it will be - a year of blessing, or, heaven forbid, the opposite. All of the prayers and acts of repentance performed in month of Elul are intended to serve as a sort of preventative measure - a "medicine before the illness." For, so long as a Divine judgement has not yet been decreed, one still has the ability to nullify it very easily; yet, after the decree has been established, it is much more difficult to annul.

Therefore, the entire month of Elul, because it precedes the judgement of Rosh Hashana, is set aside for the purpose of improvement in Torah and faith, prayer and charity. Such preparation allows us to come before Hashem for judgement in a state of purity and cleanliness. This results in His blessing us and the entire world with a good New Year.

That these days are capable of bringing Divine forgiveness and pardon is also evidenced by the atonement granted the Jewish people after the Sin of the Golden Calf. For forty days after this transgression Moses and the Jews were rejected by Hashem and their prayers went unanswered, yet, when the first of Elul arrived, Hashem’s compassion poured forth and forty days of pardon began. This lasted until Yom Kippur, when Hashem said to Moshe: "I forgive according to your request."

Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch writes that from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur it is customary to recite Selichot (penitential prayers) and Tachanunim (supplications), and this, in fact, is our custom as Sephardic Jews.

As women, we all know how busy our days are, with our children and grandchildren, and according to the Halacha we are exempt from Selichot. But I invite you to come once this month to the Selichot services to get inspired by our traditional melodies and meaningful supplications.

Chodesh Tov!

Rabbanit Sarah Laredo

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Wed, December 12 2018 4 Tevet 5779