Friday, October 19, 2007


This week a question, a story, and a question.

Question for your table: What does the word “mitzvah” mean to you?

I was always bothered by the translation “commandment”. It sounds so un-subtle, and I have this preconception that a great spiritual tradition should be sublime.

Then I encountered the Chassidic idea that the etymology of “mitzvah” points towards a different translation: a “connection”. More precisely, a mitzvah is an opportunity to create a certain connection between this world and the higher world. When a person does or performs a mitzvah, they create such a connection. If a person fails to perform a potential mitzvah, then there is a waste of one potential connection. The true meaning of “tikkun olam” is to create such a connection between various parts of this world, little by little, until the entire world is connected to the higher world.

More precisely, the connections are already there, but our performing of mitzvah-actions reveals the connections.

Each one of us has a mission to uncover a certain number and type of connections. Those who do not fulfill their mission are – tradition says – often reincarnated to have another chance, not only for themselves but for the world which needs that tikkun.

Now the story... In the 16th Century a blazing light shown for two years in the city of Tsfat (Safed) in the personage of Kabbalist R. Yitzchok Luria. He was a Teacher’s Teacher, or even a Teacher’s Teacher’s Teacher. Our understanding of the Kabbalah today is largely due to his influence. There is a legend that he died young because he was revealing too much too soon to the world.

Once, R. Luria attended a bris after which the baby died. The parents and many others were obviously and understandably beside themselves with grief. But R. Luria challenged the mother: Why do you grieve? You were zochah to bring the soul of the holy R. Cordovero into the world. You see, when he was born the first time, he was a sick baby and therefore could not have his bris on the eigth day. His entire life he rued the lack of that mitzvah. You have enabled him to complete his tikkun.

Question: How can a person today figure out what mitzvahs they should be doing to complete their own tikkun?

Shabbat Shalom.

Speaking schedule – save the dates:
October 21 – Codes Seminar, Baltimore
November 13 – San Francisco
November 14 – Los Angeles
November 17 – Washington, DC. and Baltimore
December 5 – Los Angeles (Hannuka party)

(For details, send an email)

Einstein quote of the week:
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
- Albert Einstein

Yiddish of the week:

tikkun – repair
tikkun olam – rapairing the World

Yiddish review – how many do you remember?
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal — (MAH-z'l) luck or fortune, as in, "It was good mazal that...."
beshert — (b'shairt) - meant to be, as in "It was beshert that..."
mine eltern — my parents
mine lair-er — my teacher
hamantashen — Haman-pockets
zeigezunt — all the best (said upon parting)
kesher — connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. — I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. — ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. — ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. — ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes — The Four Questions
Oy vey! — Good grief!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanus — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — How wonderful (sarcastic)
Azoy gait es! — That's how it goes!
Shabbos — Cessation; stopping; day of cessation; weekly Sabbatical experience.
("Gut Shabbos" — "Enjoy your weekly sabbatical experience")
neshoma — Soul
meshugass — insanity
meshuganeh — insane
kyna hara — no evil eye
shvitz - sweat
shanda – shame
L’chayim! - Cheers!
Pinteleh Yid - the Jewish feeling in the heart of every Jew
Zreezus – zeal
m’kohm – place (pl. mkohmas)
mamalashen – mother tongue
kvetch – complaint
kvell – burst with pride
bashert – meant to be, pre-destined, as in, “He’s my bashert” or “It was bashert that...”
hishtadlus – effort, due diligence; as in, “Do your hishtadlus and let Hashem worry about it.”
Yiddishe kopf – Jewish knowledge and perspective (lit., Jewish head)
Gut yahr! – Happy New Year!
Gut yontiv – Happy Holiday (chag sameach)
yarmulke – skull cap

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