March 19, 2016

Jerusalem Half Marathon 2016: Staying Connected

Posted in Family, running, spirit tagged , , , , , at 8:56 pm by degyes

Jerusalem Half Marathon 2016 - start.jpgWhen I compare how little enthusiasm I had during the weeks leading up to this year’s race, with the pure, unmitigated, and open-hearted joy I experienced during the actual run, I’m only reminded of how important it is to consciously and actively work to perform the heavy lifting needed to move beyond energy draining karmas (read: ambivalent moods) and, as the famous athletic shoe company instructs, just do it.

I found myself deeply moved by the masses of Am Yisrael–and our dear friends and supporters, many of whom came at no small expense, to participate–running in this year’s event. I was moved to tears several times seeing how many participants were running in memory of victims of war and terror, as well as those participating to raise awareness and funds for those whose lives have been impacted by war, illness, poverty, and various misfortune.

I was also quite overjoyed seeing my lovely and wonderful wife, Ilana Sobel, *** four different times (!!) *** during the course of the race!! Thank you, sweetheart, for tracking my route and turning out to cheer me on … and for the great photo of me chugging away at km 11.

Jerusalem Half Marathon 2016 - at km 11.jpg
As you may recall from my post following last year’s race, I really connect with my Dad’s memory during the Jerusalem run, especially when things happen that can’t be explained in any rational framework. Last night, a very dear overseas friend with whom I hadn’t been in touch in some months, contacted me asking what impressed me as a deeply mystical question, one that’s quite out of my league … but right up Dad’s ally. That I was able to provide an answer by scanning him a page of Dad’s Kabbalah Notebook left me with an immensely connected feeling, which augmented quite powerfully during the last 4 km today, when my physical energy is rather drained, and I’m running more on resources of the Spirit.

Jerusalem Half Marathon 2016 - finish.jpgThank you all, dear ones near and far, for reading my post. And biggest thank you to the Ultimate Timeless Experience and Eternal Companion for bringing about the Conditions of Life on Earth for this moment to happen.


ברוך אתה יהוה, אלוהינו מלך העולם, שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה.


October 11, 2015

Dvar Torah – Beresheet – Tzvi and Ne’eman’s Bar Mitzvah

Posted in Commentary, Family, Torah tagged , , , , , , , at 11:05 pm by degyes

Ma’aseh Beresheet

בראשית was your Grandfather Yitz’s favorite parsha. He taught that בריאת העולם, the Creation of the World, was the greatest act of Love that God ever performed … and continues to perform. What a wonderful thing that you both got to read Grandpa Yitz’s favorite parsha, and that you did it so beautifully.

We also know that the Creation of the World wasn’t only an act of Love, it was also a tremendous act of Will … of רצון, and that the Creation of Humans, which happened shortly after, was no less an act of Love and Will.

However, as Ne’eman pointed out in his D’var Torah, it didn’t take long before the Humans that God created weren’t exactly acting in sync with God’s Will, as their behavior both inside and outside Gan Eden would demonstrate.

Eating from the עץ הדעת was just the beginning. By the end of the parsha, sadly, Man has become consumed by evil … and God is preparing to destroy the world. And as Tzvi just discussed in his D’var Torah, society had collapsed and the moral structure of the world had fallen apart.

What can we learn from this story? The world’s very first story?

We have to wait a few months … or maybe a few thousand years … or perhaps a few billion years, to transition from בריאת העולם to מתן תורה, when we receive a set of commandments that we can apply toward Guiding Human Life on Earth.

But we’re still left with the question: How do we bring our own Will into alignment with God’s?

We have lots of great teachings — and teachers. Yet we live in a time when it’s not always entirely clear to us what we ought to be doing with ourselves, our time, our attention, and even our thoughts.

When do we go out and seek answers from our Sources? And when do we focus our attention inward and seek answers from within?

When do we look for guidance in the law, and when do we look into our own hearts?

Tzvi and Ne’eman, I think you’re both developing a toolbox to help you wrestle with these questions. I’d even say you’ve both been working on gathering those tools for a while already.

We hear a lot these days about the importance of making good choices. The news is filled every day with stories about people who made poor choices.

Yet how do we know whether the choices we’re making are the right ones?

In trying to answer this question, I wrote down a few ideas that I thought of today to help guide you.

  • Choose good mentors.
  • Choose friends and companions not for their popularity and status, but for their honesty, integrity, and decency; because they can help you become better people.
  • Strive to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s popular.
  • Be kind to Planet Earth … and to its people.
  • Remember that people are never perfect. None of us will ever be. Be patient with people.
  • And then, have patience, and even more patience.
  • Remember that the easy answers are often not the right ones. Take time to really think!
  • Most importantly … Keep adding to this list!

I love you boys. I’m happy for your accomplishments. And I’ll admit … I’m proud of you.

Thank you Ilana for making the impossible a reality.

Thank you Mom for your wisdom and love.

Thank you dear friends for your kind support, and for making our simcha so special.

May we all merit experiencing מעשה בראשית … constant creation and renewal … in every moment of our lives.

Mazal tov!

May 23, 2010

Nachshon’s Bar Mitzvah: Dvar Torah

Posted in spirit tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:16 pm by degyes

ומתוכה דמות ארבע חיות וזה מראיהן: דמות אדם להנה. וארבע פנים לאחד וארבע כנפיים לאחת להם.

(יחזקאל 1:5-6)

And from within the cloud and flashing fire, were the figures of four creatures. And this was their appearance. They had the figures of human beings. However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings …


The haphtarah you read the other day contains part of Yehezkel’s vision (חזון יחזקאל). It speaks of the חיות – the living angelic creatures – supporting the מרכבה, the chariot, one of the most mysterious aspects of Jewish mysticism.

There is much speculation in Biblical commentary – פרשנות – about the chariot’s significance. For example, בראשית רבה teaches that while the גלגלים, אופנים, and חיות הקודש represent the heavenly chariot, the Avot represent the merkavah on Earth.

Though the text states that the חיות had four faces, תרגום יונתן indicates that it was really four faces in each direction, meaning each creature had 16 faces, for a total of 64 faces. So what could this possibly mean to us?

While the ultimate meaning of the chariot and its description might be beyond our understanding, I can’t help but think that the many faces of the חיות have a special meaning for you today.

On the one hand, there are different ways to approach God and relate to the mitzvoth; and it’s important to appreciate and respect the different personalities, temperaments, and intellects that make up a Jewish community. While we’re all so different, we’re all made in God’s image. There’s an essential Godliness in all of us. While sometimes we can see it clearly, other times we have to look deeper – in others and in ourselves. Learning how to do this is the work of a lifetime. So if you find it difficult, don’t worry.

On the other hand, we all share a common foundation, as Yehezkel’s vision teaches Divine justice, urging us to avoid idolatry and immorality – the kinds of things that can undermine not only the Jewish community – but human society as a whole.

Beyond relating to these concepts as abstract ideas, Yehezkel offers practical guidance in encouraging the return to Torah as the basis for Jewish life, keeping the covenant with God both in the ethical and ritual senses.

Nachshon, we’ve raised you in environments where we believed you would have the opportunity to become immersed in the Jewish tradition, in an atmosphere of open-mindedness where questioning is encouraged, and where appreciation is given to the idea that Godliness expresses itself in different ways in different people.

Having said that, I’d like to share with you the insight that while it’s natural – and often good – to seek inspiration in the modern world – there is what to learn from those living in a more closed world – we try to respect their choices and do our best to appreciate the treasure that they struggle to protect.

A famous rabbi in America —whose name is Shmuley1 — says that the “truly great man is not one who slays dragons, but who battles his inner demons, who struggles with himself to improve his character.” This reminds me of what we studied in Pirke Avot where it says “אֵיזֶהוּ גִּבּוֹר? – הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ”. Who is a hero? One who controls his impulses. To relate this to your Haphtarah, Yehezkel’s vision describes holiness as the ability to free ourselves from our baser instincts.

This brings us to the central theme of becoming Bar Mitzvah, which is, reaching the age of individual responsibility.

It’s very easy at a moment like this to think that being popular, liked, and loved is the most important thing in life. But as you reach the age of Jewish responsibility, remember that no great person ever lived who wasn’t prepared to be unpopular, disliked, and even hated.

That’s because, as Rabbi Shmuley says, holiness means placing justice and decency above popularity and fitting in.

Do the right thing, even if it costs you friendship, status, and material wealth.

Remember that it’s better to walk alone with God, than to be popular.

Do your best to treat people with kindness and respect, even when those people are full of criticism. That’s because you’ll often learn much more from your critics and detractors than from those who like you.

Having said all that, Nachshon, you have a lot to be proud of this evening. You’ve come a long way in life, and in your preparation for this day. We’re proud of you, and we love you.

So as you start on the path to Jewish adulthood – as you become a man – always strive to listen to your inner voice – the voice that reminds you to be the best Nachshon you can be.

(1) Boteach, Shmuley. “For my son, on his bar mitzva.” Jerusalem Post Online Edition, May 17, 2006.