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Rabbi's Corner

Stand Up And Be Counted!

Once there was a small town consisting of only a few Jewish families. Between them, they had exactly ten men over the age of bar mitzvah. They were all dedicated people and they made sure that they never missed a service. One day, a new Jewish family moved in to town. Great joy and excitement; now they would have eleven men. But a strange thing happened. As soon as they had eleven, they could never manage to get a minyan (the necessary 10 men to form a quorum necessary for prayer)!

When we know we are indispensable, we make a point of being there. Otherwise, "count me out."

This week in the Torah reading of Bamidbar, we read of the census taken of the Jewish people. Interestingly, this portion is always read on the Shabbat before the holiday of Shavuot, the "season of the giving of the Torah." Our sages teach us that this is not by chance. There is an inherent connection between the census we read about this week and the holiday we will celebrate next week:

In the Torah every letter counts. One missing letter invalidates the entire scroll. Likewise, one missing Jew leaves Jewish people hood lacking, incomplete.

When we count Jews, there are no distinctions. We don't look at religious piety or academic achievement. The rabbi and the rebel, the philanthropist and the pauper — all count for one: no more, no less. Each of us is an integral and necessary ‘piece’ of the Jewish People.

In fact our sages teach us that the souls of every single Jew that would ever be born (even those of converts) were present at Mt. Sinai when we received the Torah. If even one Jew was missing, G‑d would not have given us the Torah. You were there!

And this is the message and charge for this Shabbat. – the Shabbat of being counted. No Jew is too small or insignificant to be included in the count and no Jew stands above or has a ‘clear card’ to bypass the count.

As we prepare to receive the Torah next week on Shavuot we must stand up and include ourselves within the Jewish count.

So make sure you have the date down. On Sunday, May 20th we’ll gather together – men, women, and children – and once again listen and absorb as the 10 commandments are read aloud.

You count and you’re needed in order to make it happen!

Shabbat Shalom,

He Really Does Run the World

This week's Torah reading talks of the mitzvah called “shemitah”. After working the land of Israel for six years, G‑d tells us to let the land rest every seventh year. No agricultural work may be performed during this Shemitah (Sabbatical) year.

Then the Torah talks to our human instincts and tells us:

"And if you shall say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year’?”

Don’t worry, says G‑d:

“I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years."

Very few people can financially survive taking an unpaid leave of absence from work for an entire year. We can only imagine what a country would look like of entire segments of its population decided to take a year of vacation; it would take years for the economy to lift itself out of the ensuing shambles. Just think: Strikes by small groups which last for mere days cause billions of dollars of damage to nations' economies.

We neglect to mention this awesome miracle which occurred in the Land of Israel every seventh year! Yet it actually happened. Regularly. Citizens of an agrarian based nation dropped their plows and sickles and "sabbaticaled" every seventh year, and survived and flourished! We speak often of miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, of the ten plagues and Elijah's wonders, but we neglect to mention this awesome miracle which occurred in the Land of Israel every seventh year! For centuries long, every sixth year the crop would be so abundant that it lasted for three years for those who were committed to abstain from work on the seventh.

Perhaps it can be posited that greater than the miracle of the abundant crops is the trust the Jews demonstrated in G‑d.

If society today is any indicator, people have a strong tendency to relegate G‑d to the synagogue. Those who are more pious allow G‑d into their personal lives as well. But fewer indeed are those who welcome Him into their businesses and pocketbooks. "I'll pray to G‑d, I'll study Torah and do His mitzvot, but business is business…" The Biblical law requiring ten percent of earnings to be given to charity and the prohibitions against lending with interest, cheating, deception, and working on Shabbat and holy days are swept under the rug in the interest of making ends meet.

Shmitah teaches us that we are not intrinsically weak; we do have the ability to trust in G‑d. And He, in turn, has the ability to provide for those who do so. G‑d pleads, "Is My hand too short to redeem, or do I have no strength to save? Behold, with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make rivers into a desert." Yes, the same G‑d who split the Red Sea can even provide us and our families with a steady income.

May we absorb and internalize this liberating message. If we do our part, He’ll do His! (CLICK HERE for a modern shemitah miracle story)

Shabbat Shalom,

A Cat Can't Fly

One day towards evening when it was getting dark, two friends Yankel and Berel saw something in the distance. Yankel thought that it was a bird while Berel claimed that it was a cat. To resolve their dispute they decided on the following experiment. They would throw a stone at the object. If it flies it must be a bird, but if it remains still, it is indeed a cat.

As soon as the stone made contact with the object it flew away. As Yankel was about to claim victory Berel turned around to him and exclaimed: "you know my dear friend, it is the first time I have seen a cat that flies". 

We are currently in the 'Omer'; a seven-week period of time wherein we count the 49 days leading us towards the festival of Shavuot – the day we received the Torah. Our sages teach that these seven weeks are a time of personal growth; a time to develop, refine and work on our character traits, making them more sensitive and spiritually attuned. And sometimes this requires a paradigm shift. 

We humans tend to get stuck on the ‘cat’ and won’t give it up. Breaking loose of our comfort zone and making a real change is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face. Even if "it flies", we will find a way to still see it as a cat. 

And yet, at the same time we have been endowed with an innate sense and intuitive desire to transcend, and change our current status. Somewhere in the depth of our sub consciousness, we wish we could get out our "cat-view" and see our life as the soaring bird. 

And that is exactly what the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are all about. On Passover G‑d took us out of slavery. But that’s only half of the process. Then it’s up to us to spend the next seven weeks taking the slavery mentality out of ourselves. 

According to the kabbalah, each week we focus on a different character trait. And by the end of the seven weeks of the Omer we’ve completely broken out of our box and left our confining and stubborn perspectives behind us. 

Tonight we’ll count #34. So please join the journey towards number 49 (it’s never too late to hop on board) and together we will merit – as one community – to receive and internalize the Torah with great joy!

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Be Holy!

The section of the Torah we read tomorrow begins with the divine instruction for Jewish People to “Be Holy”.

So I ask you, how should we go about fulfilling this mitzvah? What does “be holy” mean? Does G‑d want us to trek through the Himalayas or meditate daily for hours? 

This short lesson in Biblical Hebrew 101 will perhaps shed some light on this important issue:

The Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is ‘kadosh’. However, a more literal translation of ‘kadosh’ would be ‘separate’. This is because something is holy when it is set aside from the mundane and in a sphere of its own. (Interestingly, this is why, in biblical Hebrew, a prostitute is called a ‘kadesh’. Because the prostitute has set him/herself aside for a specific purpose.) 

Bearing this in mind, we find an entirely new meaning to the mitzvah “Be Holy”. As Jews, G‑d wants us to act in a fashion that separates and elevates us. This means that in every moment of our daily lives – while eating, walking, conversing, or sleeping - we need to ask ourselves “Is this the way a Jew; a representative of Al-mighty G‑d, should behave?” And if the answer is yes – then we’re holy. And when people look at us they can exclaim: “If this is the way a Jewish person behaves, I want to learn more about his G‑d”.

And in fact, this week’s torah portion proceeds to enumerate tens of mitvzahs that ensure that we maintain this beautiful standard of “holiness & separateness”. (Among them: honesty in business, sexual morality, charity, Shabbat, justice for all, click here for more.)  

So as we enter this special Shabbat I encourage you to take a peek at the Torah portion and try adding one extra mitzvah to your repertoire.

Shabbat Shalom,

Am I That Important?

The story is told of a prominent doctor who was known for his generosity but was also prone to blowing his own trumpet. 

One day he was traveling when he saw the local rabbi walking. He stopped to offer the rabbi a ride. As they traveled together, the doctor, as was his wont, began to speak about his achievements. "You know, Rabbi, I get a lot of patients who can't afford to pay but I never turn them away. I treat them exactly the same as my wealthier patients." 

"I also do that," replied the rabbi. 

The doctor figured that perhaps the rabbi was referring to the spiritual counsel he gave his spiritual "patients." "Also," he continued, "a lot of times patients need expensive drugs. If they can't afford it, I provide them for free." 

"I also do that," rejoined the rabbi. 

Maybe he means that sometimes he gives people material help also, the doctor thought. "Sometimes people need days of post-operative care. I give it to them voluntarily, even though I have so little time." 

"I also do that." 

So it went, the doctor continuing to lavish praise on himself while the rabbi answered each time, "I also do that." 

Eventually the doctor couldn't take it anymore and he asked the rabbi: "Rabbi, I don't understand. You're not a doctor, how can you do all these things?" 

"No, all I meant was I also do that - I also only talk and think about myself and my own good qualities!" 

This Shabbat we stand at the beginning of a new month on the Jewish calendar; a month that we dedicate to refining and elevating ourselves; a time period when we seek to reach a higher plane and a more G‑dly state of being. 

And it is our natural disposition towards self-absorption that is, perhaps, the greatest hindrance and impediment to our becoming better and more G‑dly people. 

When we are infatuated with ourselves it becomes very difficult to see the plight of another. When we think in terms of self, transcendence becomes impossible. Only once we break out of our ‘egg-shell’ do we begin to see we the grand mission and purpose of creation. 

And somewhere in this master plan, G‑d wanted us (yes, little me) to have an integral role and special part in the symphony of creation. In an ironic way, only once we let go of our selfishness can we realize how important we really are. When we think about what G‑d expects of us; when we understand the responsibility of generations that we carry on our shoulders; and when we realize the confidence that G‑d has in our ability to carry through our mission – we begin to understand just how important we are. 

As a wise man once remarked: “Your birth is G‑d’s way of telling you that He needs you.” 

So when we get up tomorrow morning, instead of thinking ‘how am I doing’ why don’t we try thinking about ‘what I can do’? Instead of asking ourselves ‘what I need’, let us train ourselves to ask “what am I needed for”. And in so doing, we will be free 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Who Cares What We Eat?

As Jews, G‑d has put us on a special diet. It might not lower our cholesterol or contain fewer calories, but it certainly nourishes our soul. It is this week that we will read the section of the Torah detailing the intricate laws that govern the kosher diet of a Jew.

Judaism sees our nourishment, not only as a means of survival, but as an inherent part of our service of G‑d. If carried out properly, every time we eat something we are actually becoming better and holier – we come closer to G‑d.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, who lived roughly 200 years ago, was known as a righteous and saintly man. One day another famous Rabbi was visiting with Rabbi Elimelech and asked the following question:

"Tell me, Rabbi Elimelech, we both are scholars, well versed in the Jewish law. Yet you have reached a level of saintliness and holiness far beyond me. Explain to me, please, what is the difference between us? What is it that you possess that I don't?"

Rabbi Elimelech pointed to the bowl of fruit, set before them on the table. "When you want to eat an apple, do you make a blessing to G‑d?"

"Certainly I do!" the visiting Rabbi answered.

"Ah, that's the difference. You see, when I want to make a blessing to G‑d, I eat an apple. When you want to eat an apple you first make a blessing. That is the difference."

Eating was the medium through which Rabbi Elimelech connected to the infinite.

Let us therefore use every meal as an impetus and springboard to grow in our journey on earth – to become better, more G‑dly human beings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Just a Little Push

We’re just 7 days away from the “big night”. Next week at this time, millions of Jews across the globe will re-experience and internalize the Divine revelation of the Exodus. The minutes and moments of the seder are magical and potent. They carry in them blessings; the magnitude of which we cannot fathom. 

Sounds a little overwhelming? Will my evening truly be transformative and other-worldly? How can “little me” – a Jew who is not really that observant or Jewishly educated – expect to be internalize the grandeur and holiness of the evening? 

The Talmudic story might give us the answer: 

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa once saw a huge stone which he wished to donate to the Temple. The stone was too big for him to move by himself and he could not afford to hire laborers to help him move it. Suddenly he had a vision. “Push the stone with your little finger”, he heard G‑d call to him. And so Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa pushed the stone. Miraculously he watched as angels helped him move the stone to the Temple. 

What is the lesson of this story? Whenever a task or process seems overwhelming or too big it is worthwhile to remember the following: All G‑d asks is that we push with our little finger. We have the ability to tap into the infinite, we just have to "open the door" and do our best. 

And when we do, we will find ourselves succeeding beyond our wildest dreams. With the help from Above, we are able to accomplish far more than we ever could by ourselves. However, we have to make that first move, even if it is only a little push, to tap into the infinite, to bring down the Divine blessings into our everyday lives. 

And so, as we set forth on this week leading to Passover and we attempt to prepare ourselves to internalize the magic of the evening, let’s give a push with our finger and take the first step. True, we might not be able to learn, appreciate, or understand the depth, meaning, and richness of every facet of the seder. But if we spend just a little bit of time this week allowing the message of the holiday to sink in; if we do our little part - G‑d will do the rest and bestow upon us, at the seder, His infinite blessings just as He did ”in those days and this time”.

I encourage you to do some independent study: www.nyhebrew.org/passover

You’ll find stories and insights, videos and audio classes, and much more. 

May the words we uttered at the conclusion of last year’s seder come true and we be “this year in Jerusalem”! 

Gillie and our children join me is wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Every Crumb... Matters...

With Passover just two weeks away, preparations are in full swing!  I'm thinking about when to schedule the annual Passover car cleaning, including uninstalling the car seats and cleaning them. We always find plenty of crumbs and other treasures under and inside the seats.

At times I ask myself, why am I doing this?  Does every crumb really matter? But I know that when we're done, we'll enjoy the special feeling of a spotless car and the knowledge that our hard work paid off.  

On a spiritual level, Passover is a time of inner freedom and spiritual growth. Even the smallest crumb can be an obstacle to growth and needs to be removed. The work is hard and at times tedious, but the result a “cleaner” me, ready to climb to new heights.

How are your Passover preparations going?

Shabbat Shalom,

P.S. Click here to read all about Passover.

The Infinite Value of a Single Deed . . .

As we conclude the book of Exodus, we read of Moses presenting a detailed account of the donations contributed for the construction of the Temple. Down to the very last piece of silver and copper that came into his hands, not a single coin remained unaccounted for.

There is a simple but very moving message here. In the biblical perspective, there is no contribution in life that is not worthy of being accounted for. Every deed counts; every word, each gesture must be reckoned with. No contribution is too small to be counted and valued.

For Moses the single silver or copper coin contributed by the poor man, the tiny bracelet or earring contributed by an individual woman, must be counted with equal sincerity and passion. Why? Because in Judaism there is no such thing as a small, insignificant act. Every moment contains the promise of eternity; every deed changes the world.

Moses understood the infinite value of a single deed of grace - of one mitzvah. 

There was once a poor Scottish farmer whose name was Fleming. One day, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby marsh. He dropped his tools and ran to the swamp. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life." "No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family shack. "Is that your son?" the nobleman asked. "Yes," the farmer replied proudly.

"I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of." And that he did. Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated with honors from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London. In 1928 he discovered that certain bacteria cannot grow in certain vegetable molds and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Look what can come from one single deed.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Does G-D Need A Home?

“Build Me a home so that I may dwell among them (i.e. the Jewish People).” This is a quote from the opening section of the Torah portion we will read this week.

Now the question is, was G‑d really homeless? Wasn't He already dwelling with the people? Why, it was just the other week that we read of the revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments where G‑d came down from heaven to earth. So why suddenly the need for a sanctuary for Him?

The answer is that there is a fundamental difference between Sinai and the Sanctuary. At Sinai a revelation was thrust upon us from above. G‑d initiated and activated that encounter. In this experience the Jewish people were somewhat passive. All the thunder and lightning, physically and spiritually, came at them from On High. 

The Sanctuary, however, had to be built by the people themselves. They had to take the initiative. From the fundraising campaign to collecting the raw materials, down to the nuts and bolts of construction - the sanctuary was a man made edifice.

At Sinai the heavens opened for the greatest sound-and-light show on earth leaving a nation mesmerized and awe-inspired. But they themselves were passive recipients of this unique, never-to-be-repeated gift from above.

To build a sanctuary, however, took a whole building campaign. Men and women, young and old, everybody rolled up their sleeves. It took weeks, months of hard labor, and meaningful contributions by every individual, planning and programming, designing and then actually building a holy house for G‑d. We made it happen. And thereby, it was the people who brought G‑d down to earth.

And this is a lesson we can take from this week’s portion. True revelation is rare. While there certainly are those special moments when we witness the unmistakable presence of G‑d in our lives, we cannot wait for lightning to strike. If we seek true inner peace and wish to truly fulfill our mission for existence we need to build our personal sanctuaries for G‑d in order to embrace Him and bring Him into our homes and families.

The Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked by his teacher, "Where is G‑d?" He answered, "Wherever you let Him in."

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Refining Life Itself...

Just one week ago, we read the story of the dramatic revelation of G‑d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It was a spiritual trip so powerful that every Jew literally had an out-of-body experience. The ultimate "wow!"

This week's follow-up, Mishpatim, is one of the longest Torah portions, containing an exhaustive list of over 50 separate mitzvot. Included are laws regarding murder, theft, property damage, etc.

The juxtaposition of these two Torah Portions is striking: After the spiritual high on Mount Sinai, why would G‑d "bring us down" (so to speak) with all the details and intricacies of our mundane daily life?! It's like being all heated up and then thrown into a cold shower.

Yet in truth, these portions are merely two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of Sinai is gratifying, but it doesn't solve one problem of the world in which we live. Spirituality is not achieved by meditating alone on a mountaintop or by learning in an out-of-the-way monastery. Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates.

Jews don’t retreat from life, we elevate it. Tonight, we will raise the cup of wine and use it - not to get drunk - but to make Kiddush and sanctify the Sabbath day; sanctifying time iteslf. Spirituality, says Judaism, is to be found in the kitchen, the office, and yes, even in the bedroom.

And through the combined efforts of the entire Jewish people resting upon centuries of mitzvoth, we will, no doubt, very soon merit to witness the accomplishment of our refining and elevating acts with the coming of the righteous moshiach – a truly spiritual world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Maintaining a Healthy Balance

 

What is Judaism’s definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!

Tomorrow in synagogue we will read the Ten Commandments (or, the “Ten Suggestions”, as some like to refer to them). As we know, the commandments were engraved on two tablets. The tablet on the right focuses on our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbat, while the other side dealt with our inter-personal duties, e.g. no murder, adultery and thievery.

And the message we need to bear in mind is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews and we ought not to take the liberty of emphasizing one tablet over the other. A healthy, all-around Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, Gut tzu G-tt un gut tzu leit--good to G‑d and good to people.

If we focus on one side of the tablets to the detriment of the other, we walk around like a hinke’dike, a handicapped Jew with a bad limp. Thus a good Jew is a well-balanced Jew.

This means that it's not good enough to be "religious" on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the side of being a “mentch” (a proper and decent human being). We have to be honest and live with integrity. If we are "religious" towards to G‑d but not fair with people, we become fanatical fundamentalists blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be mentchen.

But neither can we neglect the right side of the tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill his or her specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvahs that are directed to Jews which are uniquely Jewish.

In order that we maintain a healthy balance and don't start limping, we ought to bear in mind that the very same G‑d who said we should be nice also said we should have faith, keep Shabbat, kosher, mikvah and the rest of it.

Thus, as we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to limp or become "one-armed bandits." Let us be well rounded and permeate every facet of our lives with meaning and purpose. And in this merit we’ll reach and fulfill the purpose of creation and usher in the era that we have long awaited; an era when the Ten Commandments will become the instinctive reality for each and every one of us – the coming of moshiach.

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Self Realization or Transformation?

Having miraculously crossed the Sea of Reeds into which the evil oppressors of the Jewish People were drowned, the Jewish People were faced with a new challenge. Bitter Water. What to do? A beating sun in the middle of the Sinai Dessert, nowhere to turn, the only water to be found is bitter and undrinkable.

G‑d tells Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water that will transform its taste. And so it was, “. . . he threw it into the water and the water became sweetened”. (Exodus 15:25)

What magical wood was this? Our Sages differ on this matter. The Midrash explains that this was oleander – one of the most bitter, and to certain animals, even poisonous plants. Yet according to the Zohar, the kabalistic work of ‘light’, this was a branch from the Tree of Life.

Here’s the question: Since this entire episode was miraculous in nature, for one piece of wood could not possibly transform the taste of millions of gallons of water (the amount necessary to satiate an entire nation), why the need to discuss the type of wood. What significance is there to this mysterious wood? And what can this teach us?

Each of us at one point or other has had to face ‘bitter waters’; the forces of evil, both from within as well and from without, that attempt to veer us off track It is here that G‑d, in His infinite wisdom, provides the secret to transforming and sweetening the bitterness and evil. Throw in a piece of wood.

According to the Midrash this means self realization: Make the bitter water “realize” how bad it is to be bitter, so that of its own accord, they become sweet. Show the evil how bad it is, so that it no longer wishes to be evil. Throw in a some oleander.

Yet the Zohar and Jewish Mysticism take a different approach – transformation:  One branch of life; one ray of light; one kind word, have the capability to transform a bitter flavor into a sweet one. Revealing a much greater good makes evil pale away.

“One candle can dispel an entire room of darkness.” – Let’s do a Mitzvah today and transform the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

The Egypt Within Us...

This week's Torah portion is, in a sense, one of the most important sections of the Torah. We begin discussing a watershed event in Jewish history - the Exodus from Egypt.

The Hebrew term for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means barriers, representing all the forces that obstruct a person from becoming who he or she really is. Every one of us professes our own inner "Mitzrayim," those voices or powers that hold us down from living a truly meaningful and profound life. It may be anxiety, fear, addiction, arrogance, loneliness, despair, insecurity, laziness, dishonesty or envy. It may stem from negative life experiences, such as a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, health problems, mental challenges, financial defeat, or, heaven forbid, loss of loved ones. These challenges, among many more, can bring about a state of psychological exile, in which we remain stuck in the quagmire of torment, paralysis and hopelessness, never discovering our inner calling and potential.

In contrast, the Biblical story of exodus embodies the human potential to liberate itself from physical, mental and spiritual slavery. It captures our power to transcend the barriers that obstruct the heart's inner glow; our ability to encounter a beacon of freedom beneath the stratums of the psyche; our courage to discover our inner power and dignity.

No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G‑d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.

Shabbat Shalom,

True Freedom . . .

The constant recurring refrain echoed repeatedly throughout this week’s Torah portion is G‑d’s message to the Egyptian monarch, Pharaoh, ”Let My people go”.

Many of us have heard this line before. But for some reason we stop a bit too short and don’t make it to the punch line of the message: “Let My people go that they may serve Me”. G‑d is sending us a powerful message: “Being free means serving Me”.

But how? G‑d’s laws seem so restricting: do this, don’t do this – that doesn’t sound like freedom?

It would depend, then, on our definition of ‘freedom’. If being free means the removal of all constraints on our development and self-expression; the ability to follow our every whim and fancy. Then a Jew serving G‑d can hardly be considered a free man.

Judaism defines freedom very differently. Acting as we please without rules or limits, Judaism tells us, is the epitome of enslavement. For in so doing, our urges, drives and addictions have enslaved us.

True freedom is the ability to express who we really are; to transcend and be free of our craves and urges. The Torah is the instruction manual to freedom. Even its seemingly restrictive laws are only there to allow us to tap in to our inner self. Because sometimes it is only through restrictions that our true self can come out.

We all mirror G‑d and were created in his image – that is who we truly are. Let’s do a mitzvah today and be truly free!

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