Monday, January 31, 2011

Are we afraid of G-d?


A key element of our relationship with G-d is the amplitude of the fear we have of the Creator. By fear, I mean a real sense of fear which seizes us when we think about G-d. The number of levels is infinite and the more we fear Him, the closer to the truth we are.

To summarize in its simplest form the infinite scale of degrees, it is possible to distinguish two main categories of fear of Heaven: the fear of punishment and the fear of G-d Himself.

An outward fear

Fear of punishment is often our primary motivation when we want to break a commandment and that ultimately ... we don't. This can be compared to a car driver who doesn't want to stop at a "Stop" signal, but still immobilized his vehicle by fear of the police.

This fear of punishment is also the reason why we can live in our societies. Even if life is increasingly difficult, violent and dangerous, it would be worse if there were no police and prison.

When we are afraid of ending up in Hell if we do not respect G-d's will, this is in the same category. We follow Hashem's will for fear of being punished rather than true love of the Creator.

That is why this type of fear is not of a very high level: there is a outward fear of G-d. More than G-d Himself, we are afraid of receiving a punishment. Even if it is not always easy to feel that fear, it is good to know that there is another type of fear, whose level is much higher.

A fear filled with love

If we reflect on G-d's greatness, on His generosity and His infinite goodness, we begin to fear one thing: To sadden Him because of our actions. This can be compared to a child who makes sure to do exactly what his mother asked him by fear of making her sad. In this case, the concept of punishment is not relevant: the child knows that he will not be punished if he fails to do what he asked. He knows that he will only have hurt his mother. This is from that idea that he is afraid.

When we think of silly things, we sadden Hashem. The Master of the world created us for one reason: that we should follow His will. When we think rather to follow ours, it causes Him grief. If we avoid to follow our own path so as not to be the cause of His pain, we fear fear Him with love. This fear of Heaven is of an extremely high level and happy is the person who feels it.

To love G-d means to do everything in our power to avoid to cause Him grief. Whatever the punishment, our motivation to follow His will should always be our desire to give Him satisfaction. If you do not often feel this kind of fear, do not be alarmed: you're not alone! We should turn to G-d and ask Him to open our eyes.

"It is full of e-love for you I want to be! This is so hard to achieve this level! I beg you: help me! "

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Harald ben Miriam.  

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Finding our spiritual guide


People seeking spiritual guidance are faced with a difficult question: "What criteria should I consider in finding the right person to help me get closer to G-d?"

We often think that scholarship is the main criterion that should govern our choice. Even if we have to take into account the general level of Holy Knowledge of our prospective guide, we are wrong if we believe that the main criterion.

The mason and the guide

In secular scholarship, not only knowledge is the most important criterion that comes to mind, but most often it is even the only one we have to take in consideration. Let me explain:

If I want a fence wall in my garden, I would certainly entrust the task to a competent worker. Thus, the breadth of knowledge necessary for such construction (the scholarship) would be what I would be looking for among the potential candidates. After choosing the best mason, I wouldn't really mind to know what he makes of his weekends or if he is a perfect husband.

Also, when we undergo a specific training, we want to be taught by competent teachers. It wouldn't come to our mind to ask what are their moral standards in their life. The only thing we would ask them would be to be knowledgeable in their field.

In the spiritual realm, things are not the same. Knowing that wisdom comes from the learning, it is obvious that my prospective guide should have a good knowledge of our Holy Books. However, somebody else more knowledgeable than him wouldn't necessary mean that he would be wiser.

Herein lies the difference between the secular and the spiritual: in the secular world, we do not asked each individual to endorse and put in practice his own teachings. In the spiritual world, one who does not do or really tries to do what he learns is dangerous.

Some people excel at doing the splits: nice speeches and gestures accompanied by a lot of references are always welcome and made a good impression on the listeners. Yet, in their hearts, those persons might be evil. What they want is to make money, to obtain respect and other vanities of this world. How many prayers do we have to say to stay away from those damned.

The readers of A Holy Break send me frequently questions about issues related to marriage, education of the children ... If the readers receive some pleasure when they read A Holy Break, I am delighted. Yet, knowing how to write didn't yet me made wise enough to help other people resolve their problems ... especially when they are difficult.

To answer the original question, finding a spiritual guide is made primarily with the help of prayers. We must ask the Master of the world to open our eyes to find the person who will help us in all truth, sincerity and simplicity. Also, we have to work harder in our study: more Torah means more wisdom and therefore of knowledge necessary to discern who can guide us.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Gilad ben Ahuvah.  

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Good and evil have a grip on the Torah (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 8)

Commentary: One might think that the teaching of the Torah is a collection of absolute truths, clear and limpid, that should be followed to be closer to G-d. In this situation, the good would become clear, while the evil would be obvious and the path we would have to follow would reveal itself to us beyond the smallest doubt and question.

The reality is different and for a simple reason: the Creator wants us to desire and to seek Him to come closer to Him. It is this search for truth which is the main aspect of our Divine Service in this world. This is because mistakes are always possible and that the paths are many - and some with a dead end - that we need the advice of our Sages.

Advice is exactly what the Torah is. An advice is valuable because finding it is not obvious for everyone. In fact, it takes a special person to give us a good advice: mistakes are so numerous and so easy to make! Thus, it is possible to do wrong if one does not study G-d's word. Also, it is possible to be not such a good individual, while following all Hashem's commandments (Ramban). It is our duty to use our free will to seek the truth and nothing else.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Sonia bath Shana.  

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Parasha Mishpatim: Two kinds of Knowledge

Même pas besoin de béquille...Ou presque!

"I (G-d) shall not drive them (the Canaanites) away from you (the Jews) in a single year, lest the Land become desolate and the wildlife of the field multiply against you." (Exodus 23:29)

When we attempt to come closer to Hashem, we must be careful not to do too much at one time. If we ascend too quickly, the counterattacks from the forces of evil will be too much for use to handle and we might be severely hurt.

One step at a time

The Torah tells us that it is not beneficial for us to destroy our enemies all at once, rather we should do it gradually. It seems more logical to eradicate them all immediately, so that they would not have an opportunity to recuperate, and at some future time, retaliate against its. In the following paragraphs, based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman and his chief disciple, Rav Noson, we will explain why the Torah gives this strange advice.

Two categories of Knowledge

Rabbi Nachman teaches that all knowledge can be placed into two categories. There is knowledge which is spiritually rooted in the land of Israel, and derives its essence from a chamber in heaven known as the Noam HaElyon (the upper pleasantness). A person whose mind is connected to this chamber draws down light that, with minimal effort, helps him in his thought process such that he comes to conclusions which make his life more pleasant and easy.

The Noam HaElyon originates and can primarily be found in the land of Israel, as the verse says: "The portions [chavawlim, lit. ropes. Portions of the land of Israel are measured and demarcated with ropes (Metzudas Zion)] that have fallen to me are in pleasant places (nimim, the plural of the word noam, pleasant); a beautiful inheritance is mine." [This verge associates the land of Israel with the spiritual energies of pleasantness derived from the Noam HaElyon.] (Psalms 16:6)

Although the Noam HaElyon is found in the land of Israel. a worthy person can access these spiritual energies even in the Diaspora.

The second category of knowledge is the mentality of the Diaspora -- outside the land of Israel. Conclusions derived through this mentality come through great toil and effort, often leading to arguments, fights and erroneous or unclear thinking, ultimately making life much more difficult. (2 Lekutey Moharan 71)

To better understand the difference in the effects of these different mindsets, we must look at Adam's situation before and after his sin. Before Adam sinned, his closeness to and clear perception of Hashem (G-d) came with case and was even above that of the angels. He lived a life of ease and total comfont in the bliss of paradise. The spiritual energies derived from the Noam HaElyon enabled Adam to live this way. Adam's sin damaged the Noam HaElyon, causing pain, suffering, and hardships to come to the world.

The Redemptive Land

The place where every member of the holy nation truly belongs is the land of Israel. Therefore, throughout Jewish history, Hashem has orchestrated world events so that the entire holy nation will eventually reach Israel, which is the geographical source of all emanations of holiness in this world. Therefore, Rabbi Nachman said. "My only place is in the land of Israel. Wherever I go, I am only going to the land of Israel." (Chayai Mollaran: 156)

At the time of the final redemption. when the entire world will have been fully rectified, every single Jew will be living in the land of Israel. There are many verses in the Bible that define true redemption as the return of the Jews to their land. One example: "He Who scattered Israel [throughout the Diaspora] will gather him [to the land of Israel], and tend him as a shepherd tends a flock. For Hashem has redeemed Ya'akov and freed him from a stronger power [from cxile]." (Jeremiah 31:9, 10) From this, we see that the spiritual energies of the land of Israel are associated with the forces that bring redemption (next...)

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Francisco ben Nuria.  

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

About deeds, thoughts and sadness

Burnt Umber Beard drawing

Who could seriously think that a simple thought could have more serious consequences than a real deed? Even stranger: who could believe that sadness is more serious than a deed? If we put forward the deeds is that we attach great importance to the physical world and to what our eyes see. On the other hand, what is in our mind or our heart does not seem to relate to others and thus, to have a significant weight. However, our view is truncated and the ramifications of our myopia are charged with meaning.

Between thought and deeds

Admittedly, a deed has an undeniable importance, especially when it involves a third person. Thus, it is ludicrous to try to make our neighbor believe that to have broken his beautiful coffee table style Louis XV is an act without importance! In fact, as long as we would  not reimburse the value of our neighbor's table, repentance would be impossible.

It is precisely for this reason that a thought has usually more serious consequences than a deed. Every individual with common sense knows he must fix the wrong he did to others. However, when we think about - G-d forbid - a certain prohibited or immoral thing, we don't feel that ultimately, we have done something so terrible. Thus, we do not always repent of this evil thought and it may remain a long time in our spiritual "criminal record."

The vision that we lack is the one of the Divine. We attach great importance to look clean and honorable in the eyes of our contemporaries, but we forget to have the same rigor with G-d. Does not the Creator know all our thoughts? A lapse - even in thought - is a sin against the Master of the world and we must do everything for Him to forgive ourselves. Just as we would spare no effort to apologize to our neighbor if we had broken his table, we must strive to repair our faults toward G-d.

Sadness has a similar logic. By being sad, a person loses the energy needed to make the necessary efforts to look for redemption. "I am not worth the trouble," will he say. What a terrible mistake! We must be able to notice the sneaky approach of the evil inclination: it is him who wants to see us weakened, sad and hopeless. It is in this situation that we consider repentance inaccessible and of no real interest.

We see that sadness makes us fall into the clutches of evil. The evil forces want only one thing: to push us away from G-d. When we are sad, we are amorphous and the very idea of effort to repent seems distant.

To sum up: to do a wrongdoing is a serious thing, but more often we think and can repair our fault. On the other hand, we should not make the mistake of believing that thoughts and sadness are inconsequential. Instead, we must do even more attention to stay away from evil thoughts and sincerely regret them when they reach us. As for sadness, we must consider it as a real poison and move away immediately if we feel under attack.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Avi ben Frieda.

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"A perfect tzaddik is one who has expelled and eliminated all the evil he may have had, to the point he is certain that he will no longer commit transgressions." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I 8)

Comment: The Creator created us with two inclinations: a good (the Yetzer Hatov) and a evil (the Yetzer Hara). When we want to take a step towards the Divine (by praying, studying Torah, doing a good deed ...) we listen to our Yetser Hatov. However, when we want to take a step that takes us away from Hashem, G-d forbid, we listen to the Yetzer Hara.

Our job in our life is: 1) to manage this fight and do our utmost to ensure that the Yetzer Hatov wins most often and, 2) to seek the assistance of Heaven to help us cope with the incessant assaults of Yetzer Hara .

What we have just described is common to all human beings, except the perfect tzaddik (tzaddik gamur). Indeed, not content to always defeat the attacks of his Yetzer Hara, the perfect tzaddik got entirely rid of it! It is probably an illusion to think to reach the level of the perfect tzaddik; nevertheless, we should multiply our prayers to come as close as possible to that level and as often as possible.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Dan ben Jana.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:16

Piege a poissons

"The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; their own feet is trapped in the net  which they hid." (Psalms 9:16)

In the previous verse, King David wrote about his will to proclaim the G-d's praises and to rejoice in His help. In this verse, David gives us one type of praise we can make toward the Creator: to see His enemies getting lost by digging their own grave. Although we must surround this attitude with some limitations, it is obvious that the fall of the enemies of the Master of the world - that is to say our enemies - should be for us a source of joy.

Rejoicing ... for a good cause

Each individual was created by Hashem. Thus, we should never wish harm to another person, no matter what he did to us and what we think he really deserves. Knowing that the world is managed by G-d and that injustice doesn't exists is enough to be sure that Divine Justice reaches one day or the other each individual.

Thus, when we are faced with enemies - G-d forbid - our prayers should include two aspects: the first is one in which we ask the intervention of Heaven to save us from the difficulties and dangers. Certainly, we must do whatever possible to save ourselves, but we must also recognize that, ultimately, our salvation comes from Heaven. How boastful is the person who believes that he can depend on his own strength! This first aspect of our prayers is directed to ourselves.

The second aspect is where we direct our attention to those who oppose us. Of course, this opposition does not have to be dramatic every time. A bank employee who responds positively to our request - even though we do not have all the necessary documents to make it - could have become one of our enemies. Our boss who thought to dismiss us and finally decided to keep us within his company would have also become one of our enemies if he had put in practice his original thought.

In all cases, we must pray for the well-being of those who oppose us. This prayer is even more important if by being against us, they transgress the Divine Will. A thief, a criminal, a terrorist ... preclude not only our own person: this is in flagrant opposition to the will of Heaven that these evil people operate.

Yet, even when opposition takes a more acute form, we must ask Hashem to open the eyes of the evil persons to make them end their evil deeds. To wish the salvation of every soul is the true sign of love that we show toward G-d's creatures. To wanting everyone to be judged - after his death - in a favorable way show from our part is an absence of selfishness that reveals an elevated soul.
However, when Divine Justice hit and our enemies have lost their battle fatal, we must give glory to Gd and cry out our joy to be rid of an enemy. In doing so, we must learn lessons from King David who does not forget to specify that these are the people themselves who dug the pit into which they fell. Divine justice can not be wrong and if an individual must suffer the strict ruling celestial aspect is that it deserves.

Being witness to this decision of Heaven and singing Hachem's glory, we declare our emunah (faith) that total justice. In this way, we take one aspect of our lives that could have been entirely negative - the existence of an enemy - to change it into a positive thing: the songs in honor of the Creator.

To be continued ...

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Irina bath Hadassah.  

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Not everyone can oppose evil people." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 8)

Comment: The evil individual (rasha) is not only the one who lives by being away from Hashem and His Torah. Rather, it is the one who, while far away from the Holiness, opposes those who try to come closer to G-d.

In other words, if our neighbor tells us "Shabbos Shalom!" when we head to the synagogue and while he is driving his car, G-d forbid, this does not make him a evil person. However, if he tries to make our synagogue close, if he prevents us from lighting our menorah for Chanukah ... he definitely enters within the category of reshaim.

These are the evil people that Rabbi Nachman warns us to oppose. It may be tempting to want to go and bring the beautiful teachings from G-d, but the wickedness of these people may swallow our well intentioned soul. Therefore, before making a step towards the Other, it is always advisable to seek advice from our Rav.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Ari ben Carol.  

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Secret of Emunas Chachamim (1)

Shimon bar Yochai - Rabbi

(This is the first part of a lesson given by Rabbi Nissan David Kivak, shelita. This article is the fifth in a series of Divrei Torah about the trip on Rabbi Nachman's grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. To read all the articles, click here.)

1. We believe that every practice that Rabbi Nachman instructed us to do has very deep meaning, especially his instruction to be with him for Rosh Hashanah, which he himself said was his “whole thing.” We believe that there is nothing greater than the kibbutz, the gathering to be near him, on Rosh Hashanah. For sure this also contains very deep great secrets, and this is why we travel with such self-sacrifice, and overlook all the obstacles, to be with him for Rosh Hashanah.

2. Fulfilling the Rebbe’s instructions with self-nullification and with faith that hidden in them are the deepest secrets and tremendous rectifications, draws down and refreshes our belief in this for the whole year – that all the Rebbe’s directives are not simple at all, but rather contain very deep secrets. This faith enables us to fulfil all his instructions with great enthusiasm and vitality and enter into the faith that, in truth, everything in this world is full of deep, holy secrets.

3. Everyone needs to arouse and refresh his belief in this every day: that the whole creation, down to its tiniest detail, is full of deep supernal secrets.

4. Since the physical world and sins prevent a person from coming to this faith, the best way to achieve it is by having faith in the Tzaddikim, “Emunas Chachamim”. To believe that all their deeds, words and their every move contained deep meaning and holy secrets. This belief in them rectifies the garments of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, and sweetens the harsh judgments that lay on us.

5. When Hashem created the world, He contracted and concealed His light in garments within garments, to enable the creation to withstand it. These garments and layers, however, also created the possibility to mistake the external appearance and experience as being all there is, and to forget about the inner, deeper dimension. This is the source of all sin:  we focus on the external cover and get enticed by the pull of desire that it exudes. We forget that there’s a deeper dimension to it, that Hashem’s light is concealed within it. This is the source of all harsh judgments. 

Man’s task, the purpose for which he was created, is to discover Hashem within those garments and reveal Who created everything - to see through to the Torah and inner meaning cloaked within the world and to understand to the best of his abilities the secrets behind the external coverings. If a person is not capable of comprehending this, then through his connection to the Tzaddik and his belief that all that the Tzaddik does is based on deep supernal secrets, all judgments on him are sweetened and he can come himself to fully believe in the secrets hidden in everything. He knows that even if he does not comprehend them, the Tzaddik does.

6. Man was created on Rosh Hashanah and his primary task was to believe in and comprehend the secrets inherent in everything in the world. This day was therefore set aside as a day of judgment - to arouse him to remember his task of uncovering this deeper dimension, and to do teshuva for having forgotten to do so. On this day we have to do teshuva and coronate Hashem with our belief that His glory can be found in everything in this world. Then all the harsh judgments are sweetened when we blow the Shofar.

7. The best way to come to complete teshuvah is by internalising this knowledge that everything is full of secrets and hidden meaning. Such awareness makes a person be careful with his every action, to ensure that it is in accordance with Hashem’s will, because he recognises how his every action has such deep meaning and significance. This awareness also gives him the power to change himself completely.

8. This awareness enables a person to sanctify his everyday actions, by imbuing them with holiness and purity, with awareness of Hashem, and to be less enticed by the physical appetites, since he knows that even his everyday activities contain deep meaning and holy sparks that need to be elevated. This awareness also helps a person merit fulfilling the most holy services, such as getting up at midnight, Tikkun Chatzos and praying with great devotion, since he remembers how these services are so full of awesome spiritual meaning and secrets.

Rabbi Nissan David Kivak, shelita

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Elanit bath Elise.  

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"There is no death without sin, nor suffering without transgression." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 8)

Comment: It is an axiom in Judaism: every deed is rewarded or punished according to its nature. In its absence, the whole concept of Divine Justice would disappear. It is our faith in Hashem and His ability to apply a flawless justice that allows us to want to go closer to him.

Beyond this fundamental principle, it is extremely difficult to go beyond. In fact, we can not deduce anything from the death or the sufferings of a individual in relation to his deeds during his life. This is the responsibility of Heaven and very stupid is the person who tries to play the soothsayers.

What our eyes see is only a microscopic part of the truth and Divine Justice is a concept too  elevated for us to appreciate its the true value. Rather, it is on our emunah (faith)  that we must rely to go ahead.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Yehuda ben Esther.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"The lack of we feel is because of our sins." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 8)

Comment: The Jewish soul is made from a Holiness that the human mind can not comprehend. Her life is given to her by Heaven and every step we take to go closer to G-d gives her more energy.

Conversely, if we reverse and go against Hashem's will, G-d forbid, we automatically diminish the vitality of our soul. If we listen carefully to her, we will then feel a lack in ourselves.

This is the lack which is referred by Rabbi Nachman. It is possible to ignore it if we give the vanities of this world the importance they do not have. However, if we really seek the path of truth, we can perceive this "small thing" that always leaves us dissatisfied, even after we made something which we liked, but at the expense of the G-d's will.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Yoel ben Miriam.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:15

Israel 2007-06-08 IMG_1428

"...That I may tell all Your praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion; I will rejoice in your salvation." (Psalm 9:15)

In the previous verse, King David reminded us a truth too often forgotten: it is in G-d that our salvation is found and it is toward Him that we must turn if we want to get out of the clutches of pain, suffering ... In this verse, David proclaims his ultimate goal: to be saved from darkness to be able to praise the Creator. In other words, it was not to satisfy his own satisfaction that King David sought the help of the Creator, but to better praise Him!

Think first about G-d

We all pray: some rarely and others several times a day. In most cases, the intensity of our prayers is strongly related to the intensity of our problems. Certainly, we can desire one thing (tangible or not) and pray to get it. If that desire is not against to the Divine Will, we justify our existence in this world by asking G-d to help us.

However, the person whose stomach is empty and who asks a few slices of bread to the Creator has all the probabilities to put his heart in a more profound way in his prayers than somebody else. The Master of the world Himself acknowledges that the prayers of the poor do not have the same value as the others. It is this idea that King David formulate in the Psalms (69:34): "The Lord hears the poor." Of course, we should not infer that G-d only listens to the prayers of the poor; rather, this tells us that in most cases, the answer to our prayers depends on their intensity and if we really put our heart into it.

Beyond the strength we give to our prayers, our intent is also important. Thus, a person may pray to be able to buy a house. In this, there is nothing wrong and Hashem makes us often feel a special need to give us more reason to pray to Him. Certainly, a request for a material good is probably not as high as asking for more wisdom, understanding to come closer to the Creator, Heaven's help to improve one trait in particular ...

Nevertheless, each request has its value and the celestial spheres take every thing in consideration to evaluate it. An important aspect of our requests is the place we give for gratitude for G-d after we received a positive answer. If we say a simple "thank you", this is not so bad; some do not even think of saying it. However, if we take this opportunity to increase the sincere praise towards the Master of the world ... what pleasure we give Him! In the end, we can even ask ourselves what was more pleasurable: the answer to our prayer or the praise we say.

That's the main reason why we ask Hashem to take us out of our trials and our difficulties in life: to be able to sing His glory and to make words coming out of our heart; those are the most beautiful words we can say. Those words are beautiful because they are made of love and true gratitude. In fact, we were created for that reason only: to praise the Creator, in a sincere way and as often as possible.

Next time we will send a request to Heaven, let us not forget its main reason: to allow us to love even more the Master of the world, to bring us closer to Him and to declare aloud our desire to be included in Him. If this should be done by receiving a favorable answer to our requests, we shouldn't complain; nevertheless, we should try not to give undue importance to this answer.

To be continued ...

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Hanna bath Andy.  

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"The sigh and groan of the Israelite are precious." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 8)

Comment: The proud person is one who does not see his imperfections. If sinning leads us away from Hashem, not to realize that we sin can push us away even more from the Creator. Accordingly, it is essential to be aware of our alienation from the Divine Truth.

When we realize our remoteness from perfection and sigh and moan of pain, we send a very strong message to G-d: that where we confess our inability to improve ourselves without Heaven's help.

This moment is precious to the Creator. In fact, the only reason we live is to reveal the Glory of Hashem. It is by declaring our total dependence vis-à-vis the Master of the world and asking Him that He brings us closer that we acquire a priceless value in His eyes.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Maya bath Hadassah.  

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Advice on Wine Refrigerators (1)

10-Eurocave 318

With an ever increasing level of sophistication about wine, many people are becoming justifiably concerned about how to best store and age their wines. In countries like England, storage is no problem whatever, for most homes have either a basement or a closet that is cool, dark and quiet enough that they can easily double as wine cellar. In many parts of the world, however, where interior temperatures often reach thirty degrees Celsius, storing wines is considerably more difficult.

It goes without saying that very few of us have either the physical space or the cash required to set aside a room that will be specially insulated and equipped to maintain the correct levels of temperature and humidity. The good news is that an increasing number of high quality refrigerated wine storage cabinets are becoming available. Although some of these are outrageously expensive, others are quite reasonably priced.

An interesting alternative

The concept of such cabinets, which many think of as miniature wine-cellars, is brilliant, but it is not new. The very first commercially manufactured cabinets appeared in England and the United States in the mid 1930s. The earliest models, all of which were custom made, were so expensive that they could be afforded only by the rich or the powerful. Multi-millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt, for example, had five, one for his New York City town house, one for his winter home on Jeckyll Island, South Carolina, one for his summer home on Martha's Vineyard, and two for his yacht (one for the dining room and one for his private cabin).

Winston Churchill limited his purchases to two such cabinets, only one of which held wine, however, for he used the other to store his cigars.

Fortunately, wine storage cabinets are no longer as dear as they once were. Far less expensive than building a wine cellar, easy to maintain, and often physically attractive, they offer excellent solutions to two broad categories of consumers: wine lovers who want to build a collection of wines but have neither the room, the available cash or the desire to convert a room into a formal wine cellar; and restaurateurs and hoteliers, for use either as storage or as display cabinets to encourage the sale of the wines listed on their wine menus.

Regardless of whether purchased for at-home or commercial use, all well made wine cabinets should meet certain basic requirements. It is critical, for example, that all such cabinets be quiet, odor free and as close to vibration free as possible. They must be also well enough insulated that in case of a power failure that they will maintain their temperature for a prolonged period of time.

There are certain standards to be sought in all such cabinets. First of all, from the aesthetic point of view, one has to decide whether the wines will be “on display” in a hall or even in the living room. Although cabinets destined primarily for storage and not display can have doors with a solid face of stainless steel or wood, those meant for display can have glass panels, so that the contents are readily visible.

Because temperature control is crucial to wine storage, potential buyers should be certain that regardless of what materials the doors are made of, that they are as well insulated as the other walls of the cabinet. Among other things, that means that glass fronted doors should be thermally constructed, that is to say, two layers of glass with a layer of inert gas hermetically sealed between them.

If glass is the choice, those concerned with long term storage should also ensure that the glass be tinted, the darker the better, because bright light is as much an enemy of wine as high temperatures.

To continued...

To read others articles by Daniel Rogov, click here;

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This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Chaim ben Corinne.  

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Parasha Yithro: Climbing mountains

Diablo Spring #1 - Lafayette, California

"G-d descended upon Mount Sinai to the top of the mountain; G-d summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses ascended." (Exodus 19:20)

In this week's parsha, Hashem (G-d), witnessed by all of Israel, fulfilled the purpose of creation by giving the Torah

Moshe (Moses) ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah and bring it back to the Jews in order to teach them the word of the living G-d. Why was it necessary for Moshe to climb a mountain to receive the Torah? Couldn't the Torah have been given by some other means? 

The fact that all of Israel watched Moshe climb up Mount Sinai on his way to receive the Torah and the fact that this was recorded in the Torah for all future generations to read, teaches us that coming close to Hashem and attaining true Torah values have something to do with climbing mountains. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman and his chief disciple Rav Noson, let us together, climb some mountains of our own in exploring this topic.

Close your eyes and taste the Hereafter

Rabbi Nachman taught that a person should always focus his attention on man's ultimate destination, the hereafter. In so doing, we draw the spiritual energies of complete goodness and bliss of the hereafter to ourselves, helping us diminish the suffering and pain of this world. This is because our thoughts are the mechanism through which spiritual energies are emitted and accessed. 

Rabbi Nachman says that drawing forth the spiritual energies of the hereafter is best accomplished with the eyes closed. The mind constantly draws to it spiritual energies from both this world and the upper worlds. When one closes his eyes, he blocks from his mind the energies of this world, which are filled with pain and sorrow. Then, the mind absorbs only the spiritual energies from the upper worlds, which resonate with joy and bliss and initiate healing of all of one's afflictions. 

Thus, for the brief time that an individual closes his eyes, he feels relief from his suffering, because he is somewhat connected to the bliss of the hereafter. However, when one reopens his eyes, he is greeted by an even stronger assault by the forces of evil, because they resent his attempt to outmaneuver them, to escape their grip in the realm of depression and suffering. This can be compared to two men fighting. 

When one sees that the other man is about to win, he fights even harder. [Note: The forces of evil are associated with and nourished by the spiritual energies of sadness and are repelled by the energies of joy associated with the hereafter.] Rabbi Nachman says that the most effective means by which the forces of evil can be overcome is joyful Torah study, because Torah study connects our minds to the energies of the hereafter, the realm of joy. (Lekutey MoHaran 1:65)

The sleeping soul ascends

During sleep, only a small fraction of the soul remains in the body, just enough to sustain it, while the majority ascends to the upper worlds. This is why when we sleep we are unconscious, almost lifeless. Through sleep, the soul becomes refreshed and revitalized. It ascends to the upper worlds where it basks in the spiritual energies of the hereafter. 

The holy Ari says that this is alluded to in the verse, "No [open human] eye had ever seen it [paradise--the reward of the world to come (Talmud: Berachot 34a), implying that people who close their eyes can see or experience the hereafter through their soul]." (Isaiah 64:3) When we sleep, our eyes are closed, "non-seeing," which the verse associates with the hereafter. 

The implication is that when we sleep, our souls ascend to the hereafter, where we temporarily escape the spiritual energies of harshness associated with the pain, suffering, and confusions of this world.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Erwin ben Luna.  

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"Prayer is good for memory." (Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan I, 7)

Comments: Prayer is emunah (faith). An individual prays because he knows that the Master of the world can answer in a way favorable to his queries. In contrast, one who does not pray is that who denies Hashem's existence.

So, to pray - i.e. to have emunah - means to bind ourselves to Hashem and to break away from this world. The intensity of attachment to the Divine depends on the spiritual level of each person, which is also the case for our detachment from this world.

When the spiritual attachment is strong, the concept of time loses its meaning. In the celestial spheres, there is no yesterday, today or tomorrow. Accordingly, our memory separates itself from its main enemy known to all: time.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Avraham ben Julia.  

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tu B'Shevat: finding back our roots

panier de fruits maison

The story is that of a foreign Head of state that the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received with full honors in Jerusalem. During a visit to the city of Tel Aviv, the two men were walking on the most beautiful avenue in the city. That avenue had been cleaned with great attention, flowers had been planted ... everything had been all set to show the most beautiful face of the Jewish state.

Everything, except that the Head of state will interrupt his walk a few moments to lean against a tree of the aisle. The heat was so intense that the poor man needed to breathe somewhat. These trees had one thing in common with the flowers that smelled in the air: they too had been planted only a few days before. The workers didn't have enough time to do correctly their job and they just put those trees on the ground by covering their exposed roots. Leaning against one of them, the politician was quickly over ... and the tree fell!

To return to our roots

Today, Thursday, January 20, 2011, we celebrate the festival of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year's trees. Even if it is not an official holiday, the custom on this day is to eat fruits. If possible, we should eat fruits for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, grapes, olives and honey dates. You can also add as much fruits as you wish (the dried fruits are allowed) and the goal is to reach the number of fifteen different kinds of fruits.

It is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19) that "man is a tree." Like trees, we must have deep roots to endure the storms of life and its myriad of challenges. Yet, all indications are that more often we are cut off from our roots; hence, it should not surprise us if we have so much difficulties to live with joy and happiness which are two things that should never leave us.

No tree can live long without water. In the book Isaiah (55:1), the Torah is compared to water. The equation is not difficult: each person must drink from the Torah and to the extent where we are compared to fruit trees, we know that the greater the amount of water (Torah), the greater fruit trees (our soul) are beautiful. This is the way to reconnect with our roots: to open our Holy Books, to study and to follow the advice of the Torah and our Sages.

It is exactly with this idea that the King David opened his Psalms (1:2-3): "Happy is the man (...) whose delight is in the Torah of the Lord (...), he will be like a tree planted by rivers of water that  brings  forth its fruit in its season." The Jewish soul is thirsty for Torah and it is in the Holy Sources that we have to pour out her thirst: the words of our Sages, since Moshe Rabbeinu, until those of our generation.

If until now our way has been winding and we went more than once on land where the water was missing, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov told us: even if our branches have leaves that withered, fruits which rotted or other kinds of defects, each person retains his status as a Holy Tree. It is enough to want to return to the Source to restore its outlook to the Holy tree.

May the festival of Tu B'Shevat be a new year full of meaning for each tree that is to say, for every soul. May we decide to move away from turbid sources and sewage water. We might still  be far from wanting to feed ourselves all the time from a pure and limpid water; nevertheless, it is with the heart filled with joy that we must declare to Hashem our new resolution to come closer to Him.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Robert ben Rivkah.

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Quote of the day

La citation du jour

"The person who accepts the advice of tzaddikim has the truth engraved inside him." (Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan I, 7)

Comment: There is a significant difference between simply reading the teachings of our Sages and to want to make them a part of our lives. In the first case, the exercise is intellectual and can eventually lead to us to move in the right direction.

In the second case, it is our ardent desire to make ours the teachings of our sages that allows us to etch in ourselves their Holy Words. Thus, these advice will never leave us and we will try whenever possible to put them into practice.

In contrast, the person who seeks truth alone has major risks to go on the wrong ways. It takes great intelligence to understand, analyze and apply very elevated teachings. Not to want to listen to the advice of tzaddikim is the best recipe for ending up in a deadlock.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Naomi bat Ruth.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 9:14


"Be gracious to me, Lord; see my misery because of my enemies; You who lift me up from the gates of death ... "(Psalm 9:14)

King David's enemies were numerous and filled his life with incessant struggles, terrible wars and extreme sufferings. It is precisely their existence which allowed David to take the opportunity to praise with even greater force G-d's glory. This is a great lesson for us all who have a tendancy to complain about the difficulties in this world and cry foul.

To thank: in good times ... and others

Our life is filled with glitter that are thrown into our eyes, no matter where we put them. Television, movies, novels, fashion clothing, travel agencies ... are all factors that make us live better and - simultaneously - to forget to live a real life! Thus, it is not only the number of legs or feet on which we walk that we share with the ostrich: we also have a natural tendency to live by immersing our heads in the sand.

To tell the truth, this situation is not very difficult to explain or understand. On one side are all individuals and businesses who have good reason to sell their products. Our era is one of trade and profits and very naive is the person who thinks to be the lucky beneficiary of a disinterested attention on the part of the many economic agents that surround us. Rather, everyone tries to increase his profit margin ... even if it must be done at our expense. Are there still people who doubt this?

On the other hand, we have another enemy that lives in us: the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination). It delights in our natural spiritual laziness. In fact, Hashem created the Yetzer Hara to judge us on our efforts to fight it. Thus, the less we fight - and live instead by ignoring the existence of our personal enemy - the more we come closer of the evil forces.

Considered in this aspect, the hours we spend watching television, our passion to want to know every detail of the lives of stars, reading light novels whose sole purpose is to make us dream ... are not only activities that make us losing valuable time, but they may also become the favorite tools with which we bury ourselves, G-d forbid.

Here is the energetic awakening offered by David: this is the Creator who saves us from a certain death and it is through Him that we will have access to eternal life. Of course, each individual must make sure he has for himself some hours of physical and mental rest that his life requires. Without them, few people could pursue the usual routine of their daily lives! However, we must not make the mistake of opening wide the door to these moments and let them occupy the major part of our lives. If we did, we would leave the path the Master of the world wants us to follow.

The misery we face is not to live our lives, but the one wanted by all the persons and companies who want our money. Our enemies are not only those who want to kill us physically, but they are also those who wish to push us away from spiritual life. It is with an extreme energy that we need to appeal to G-d and ask Him to come to our aid to avoid a shipwreck that we would not be to our honor.

If we multiply our prayers and our requests, we will push away our natural enemies which will grow weary of our flowing energy. At the same time, we will move away from a death foretold and awaited by so many actors! Ultimately, that's eternal life which will unfold before us. Does not this deserve a little less time spent in front of our television?

To be continued ...

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Galit ben Sarah.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

What we think about others

Cuba Gallery: Green eye / reflection / portrait

Our Sages recommend us to give the benefit of the doubt to the people around us and - more often - to judge positively what otherwise could be considered negative. Yet, the reality seems quite different.

The true love

There are many occasions where we tend to find a negative aspect in the attitude of others. A word misunderstood, a gesture misinterpreted ... and our conclusion is made: the intention of the other was not pure, an ulterior motive not so respectable hides his apparent good manners...

In doing so, we commit many errors and mistakes. First of all, it is almost always useless for us to want to have a clear idea of the doings of everyone. What  should we need to know everything? Most often this would not help us in any way, except to satisfy our curiosity. Also, we do not know all the circumstances of every event and most often, what we suspect to be wrong will appear to be - ultimately - in the perfect order of things.

The mistakes we make are paired with more fouls. The most important one is to transgress the commandment to judge our fellows in a positive way. This is possible even in cases where what has been done is not necessarily positive. The reason is that each person has a specific way to serve G-d and what is wrong for an individual may be honorable to another one.

Each person is at a specific and unique level. Only G-d knows for sure at what level each individual is and therefore, only Him can apply the Divine Justice with precision on everyone. For us, it can happen that we think about ourselves of being at a higher level than where we actually rea. On the other hand, we may think to be at a lower level than what we really are. In all cases, only the Creator knows with certainty the reward - or punishment - which is up to each of us.

That is why we must judge others favorably. Except where we have particular interest to be picky - as in the case where we want to establish a business relationship with a specific person - we  must think that what we saw or heard can be interpreted in a positive way.

This attitude corresponds to the concept of loving one's neighbor. There is no point of being forced to love the person who handed us a big check: usually, the task will not be too difficult! However, when we have every reason to think negatively about a person, the Master of the world tells us to think otherwise.

The different areas where it is difficult to apply this principle are numerous. An argument seems imminent between two individuals? If one is Sephardic and the other is Ashkenazi, a red light should go on immediately to mind: do not judge the situation based on the origins of those individuals.

Another sensitive issue: politics. Some are for one  political party, while others are for another. The most important to know is whether each side has the support of competent rabbinic authorities. If this is the case, both sides are right!

Halakha (Jewish law) should also be dealt with the utmost precaution: a Rav allows one thing while another Rav prohibits it ...

The list of examples is long and traps around every corner and every conversation. It depends on us to love our neighbor and actually find - especially when it constantly and is difficult - a positive aspect to every creature G-d made. If we succeed in this, we will bring the construction of the third Temple in Jerusalem a little closer to us. What a miracle!

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Jonathan ben Rahel.

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Quote of the day

Puit de lumiere

"When there is more faith in the world, Messiah will come." (Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan I, 7)

Comment: The Messiah, the World to Come are concepts that seem far from us and our smallness. In fact, it is extremely difficult to fully believe that everyone - including ourselves - has the power to bring the final redemption.

Yet, it is a foundation of the Jewish belief: every Jewish soul does have the power to bring the day when Moshiach (Messiah) will come to liberate us from the constraints and encumbrances of this world.

Considered in a simple way, this power that lies in our hands is easier to understand than we generally believe. Every deed made in the name of Heaven and which follows the Divine Will brings the coming of Moshiach. Thus, a simple blessing pronounced over a glass of water, a prayer said with concentration, a good deed for our neighbors ... are all gestures and actions in the right direction.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Elan ben Emmanuelle.  

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reading Tehilim (Psalms) 7:13


"For He avenges the blood [shed], He remembers it; He does not forget the cry of the humble." (Psalm 9:13)

Our memory is not infallible and time erases many memories. So wanted the Creator, and this is for our good. In fact, even if after a tragedy - God forbid - life seems impossible to endure, time allows us to gather our moral forces and with the months and years which go by, our will and desire to live come back little by little. This is a form of forgetfulness ... to save us from an otherwise impossible situation.

An infallible memory

This form of human imperfection is not applicable to Hashem. The perfection of Divine Justice is an essential foundation of Judaism and of our emunah (faith). It is because we are convinced of the infallibility of the Master of the world and of His righteousness that we know for sure that injustice is not of this world.

However, this doesn't mean that it was given to the human mind to grasp the many aspects of heavenly justice. If that were the case, man would be at the level of the Creator! This is obviously not feasible since the world was created by G-d for us to serve Him. This humbleness on our part must never be forgotten and many sufferings happen to individuals who wish to ignore it.

Knowing that Hashem never forgets one thing and that every misdeed will be punished at the opportune time is an infinite source of comfort when we are dealing with events which seem unjust and unfair. To tell all the murders, persecutions and other vile acts which the Jewish people has suffered throughout its history is impossible. Yet, all have one thing in common: the barbaric people who have committed them will pay their shares.

If it is said that "Jewish blood is cheap" is that our vision is limited. In fact, the Master of the World puts to test our emunah by not always revealing His anger. Thus, a person without emunah may believe that justice is not of this world and the Jewish people undergoes unacceptable sufferings without our accusers to be punished. Such a vision does not correspond to the truth and it is only our remoteness from the Divine that brings us closer from it. In contrast, the individual who come closer to G-d by studying, praying, doing more mistwoth  ... acquires an opposite belief.

It is with a complete confidence toward Heaven that we must live every moment of our lives. If we obviously have to take all the necessary precautions so as not to expose ourselves to the malevolence of others, if we also have to undertake everything possible to rectify a wrong that we were the victim - G-d forbid - we should never forget that ultimately, the key to Divine Justice is in the hands of Hashem.

In this verse, King David adds an important qualification: "the cry of the humble." This teaches us that it is our duty to turn to the Creator when we face trials in our lives. Instead of grumbling and railing against the all world and cry foul, it's filled with love for the Master of the world that we must ask Him to come to our aid and to do justice.

To be continued ...

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Jacob ben Maya.

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Quote of the day

miracles of nature..

"Some individuals hide all the miracles." (Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan I, 7)

Comment: Most of us are so removed from the absolute truth that we are convinced that miracles are of another age and another time ... if they never existed! Yet, their existence is a cornerstone of emunah (faith).

One indicator is a good sign to find out where we are according to the importance we attach to the concept of miracles: the use we make of certain words. Thus, a person who uses the words "random", "luck", "coincidence" has a good chance of not seeing miracles throughout his life.

In contrast, a person who regularly thank Hashem for the many benefits he receives from Heaven, for the privilege of leading the life he leads, for the great and small things of everyday life ... makes certainly the most of the miracles in this world.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Anna bath Edith.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Chauvinism and Wine Tasting

Wine tasting

There are two popular wine-related beliefs making the rounds these days, both of which deserve to be put to rest because they are nothing more than pure and unadulterated nonsense. The first of these would have us believe that men are better qualified to taste wine than women and the second that some wines are more appropriate for men and others for women.

And the winner is...

At least since the 1950’s, it has been well demonstrated that the ability to taste wines (or for that matter any other food or beverage) is determined almost entirely by the number of taste buds on the tongues and the density of scent receptors in the nostrils.

Thirty years passed with no major research into the question of taste but starting in the mid 1990’s, largely because major food producers were interested in determining to whom to direct their advertising campaigns, interest in the subject revived in Europe and North America several major research studies were undertaken. At Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Grenoble biologists came up with two sets of findings.

The first, that had been more or less known by people in the food and wine industry for a hundred or more years, was that people fall into three broad categories – non-tasters, normal tasters and super-tasters, that is to say, people with limited ability, normal ability and extra-ordinary ability to discern the flavors and aromas in foods and beverages.

What amazed the researchers (who were mostly males) and the wine-tasting public (especially the male chauvinists among that group) was the second finding – that nearly 80 percent of super-tasters are women and not men. Simply stated, women have a genetic proclivity towards having a greater number of taste buds and a greater concentration of scent receptors and that makes them better qualified than the majority of men to taste wines. It is thus far more than mere coincidence that those women who write about food and wine rank very high indeed among the most highly respected people who write about such things in order to make their living.

As to wines that are “appropriate” for women, all I can do is chuckle quietly. It is true that some wines are described as “masculine” and others as “feminine” but even a quick glance at that terminology shows that the descriptors used are taken from misguided beliefs and stereotypes about what men and women are supposed to be like. Wines that are said to be masculine, for example, are described in terms of being aggressive, muscular, deep, flinty, strong, forward, coarse and even vulgar, and those said to be feminine are soft, gentle, subtle, sensual, caressing, warm and even “sexy”.

On one hand these terms (except perhaps the last) can honestly be used when describing wines. On the other hand, however, stating that men tend to favor wines described as masculine and women those that are feminine is an obvious error. Many recent market analyses in France and the United States have shown that women and men have precisely the same partiality to deep, young and aggressive wines than they do to soft, subtle and caressing white wines.

To read others articles by Daniel Rogov, click here;

To go to Rogov's Wine Forum, click here;

To read others articles about Wines from Israel, click here.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Chana ben Chaya.

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