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Rabbi's Corner

Rabbi's Corner

To Be A Survivor

The story of Noah and the flood is well known to all of us. Each and every year we read this portion of the Torah. And each and every year we unearth new meaning in this narrative.

Noah was saved from the deluge of destruction that engulfed his world and his greatest contribution is that he set out to rebuild that world. We don't read about him sitting down and crying or wringing his hands in despair, although I'm sure he had his moments. The critical thing the Torah records is that after Noah emerged from his floating bunker he began the task of rebuilding a shattered world from scratch. He got busy and picked up the pieces and, slowly but surely, society was regenerated.

Only one generation ago a great flood swept over our world: The Nazi plan was for a Final Solution. Every Jew on earth was earmarked for destruction and the Nazis were already planning their Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race. Not one Jew was meant to survive. So even those of us born after the war are also survivors. Even a Jewish child born this morning is a survivor because according to Hitler's plan, which tragically nearly succeeded, he or she was not meant to live.

This means that each of us, like Noah, has a moral duty to rebuild the Jewish world. 25 years ago, if you walked into a synagogue for a weekday morning service, every other man at the morning minyan (prayer quorum) bore a holy number on his arm. They were concentration camp inmates and the Germans tattooed those numbers onto their arms.

Sadly, today, the ranks of those individuals have been greatly diminished. Every time one of them would roll up his shirt sleeve to put on tefillin, the number was revealed. They seemed to hardly notice it, as if it was nothing special, but in truth they were heroes. Not only for surviving the hells of Auschwitz or Dachau but for keeping their faith intact, for still coming to shul, praying to G‑d, wearing His tefillin.

These individuals, like Noach, were able to live Jewish lives again, to marry or remarry, to bring children into this world, to carry on life, and to perpetuate our Jewish heritage. And thank G‑d our world is, to a large degree, being rebuilt. But it is now our turn. We share that same responsibility because we are all survivors. Every one of us needs to participate. We are all Noahs and the burden of responsibility rests on our shoulders.

Let us rebuild the Jewish world, brick by brick, by doing one more mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

The Magic of the Etrog

Tonight, as the sun sets, the joyous holiday of sukkot will be upon us.

One of the Mitzvot we perform on each of the seven days of sukkot (except for Shabbat) is unifying "the 4 types". This means we tie a palm branch together with willow & myrtle branches. Then we take these three and bring them together with a beautiful citrus fruit known as an etrog.

This special mitzvah contains deep meaning and significance. Here’s one short thought to take with you:

Though the etrog looks and even smells like a lemon, it contains a unique dimension.

The Torah describes an etrog as a species that "lives on the tree through all of the seasons." Some fruits are seasonal and can only grow at certain times. The etrog is a fruit that not only tolerates the various seasons, but actually continues to develop and becomes larger with each one. (We pick them early, but they actually grow to the size of a watermelon).

And it is the etrog which helps us continue the journey from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We have just reflected on the past year, hopefully made some changes and are filled with inspiration for a new and great year of growth and blessing.

But in our fresh and inspired state we are also aware that the coming year will bring a variety of circumstances. Just as the year will have four seasons, so too our experiences will vary. We will have ups and downs, easier moments and some (hopefully very few) challenging moments. We will wake up some mornings filled with enthusiasm and others struggling to find motivation.

But, like the etrog, we will not merely survive these challenges; we will grow from the diversity of experience. We will learn to use every situation as an opportunity to grow and improve. When we lack motivation we will use the moment to discover a deeper inner strength. Difficult people will allow us to learn better and more creative strategies for healthy relationships. Every circumstance will bring greater meaning and beauty to the New Year. We will grow and develop, not despite the different seasons but because of them.

And so, as we are about to begin this holiday, I would like to encourage you to partake in this mitzvah any time during the seven days of sukkot to perform the mitzvah of unifying "the 4 types".

May you have a Chag Same’ach – a most joyous and meaningful sukkot,

 

 

 

 

 

The Day After Yom Kippur

One of the most misplaced Torah readings of the year seems to be the section we read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. In this portion G‑d enumerates a long list of sexual activities from which a human being should abstain, including intimate relations with one's parent or sibling, bestiality, homosexuality, adultery, incest, etc.

And the question is strikingly dramatic: You are standing in synagogue during the holiest day of the year. You haven't enjoyed a morsel of food or a drink for close to twenty-four hours. This is the day on which we are compared to angels and the one time during the year in which we attempt to transcend our bodies and become, for 24 hours, all soul. And what must your ears pay heed to during these most spiritually charged moments of the year? Not to cheat on your wife, not to violate your mother, and not to be intimate with your cow!

The answer to this question may be discovered in the very name of the Torah portion: "Acharei," which means "after." In Judaism, the name of each Torah portion embodies the soul and the inner message of the entire portion. What then, is the meaning of “after? And how does this relate to Yom Kippur?

Yet it is here where we come to observe one of the most meaningful lessons in the Jewish approach to morality and spirituality. You may be flying high in heaven; your heart may be melting away in celestial ecstasy; your soul may be ablaze with a sacred fire and your heart may be swelling with inspiration. Yet you must remember that in one day from now or in one month from now as circumstances alter, you may find yourself in the muck, tempted toward profane and immoral behavior. Thus, at this critical moment of an inner spiritual explosion, you must stock up the resolve and commitment to retain your integrity during your lowliest moments that may lay ahead.

The Torah is teaching us that no matter how sublime you may feel at a particular moment in your life, you must remember the moment "after," the brute and beastly temptations that might emerge at a later point, under different circumstances. Never believe that what you have now will be yours forever. The tremendous holiness of Yom Kippur is only real if it will effect the "after" (as the name of the Torah portion), if it will leave its mark on the days and months that follow that may bring with them abominable urges and cravings that you could have not dreamt of during your high moments.

So as we solidify our New Year’s resolutions and prepare for Yom Kippur, let us take the message of “after” and perpetuate and internalize the holiness of the High Holidays throughout the rest of the year.

Apples & Honey

We all know that ‘apples dipped in honey’ are proudly displayed on the Rosh Hashanah menu. Symbolically, these sweet foods are eaten to demonstrate our wishes for ourselves, our families, and community - that we be blessed with a sweet new year.

But there is a deeper dimension to the apple & honey dish:

There is a difference between the sweetness of an apple and the sweetness of honey. An apple is a sweet fruit which grows on a tree. There is nothing surprising about that - many fruits are sweet. But honey comes from a bee - an insect that is not only inedible, it actually stings. Nevertheless the honey that it produces is sweet. In fact, honey is sweeter than an apple!

Similarly, there are two types of sweetness in our lives: we have times of family celebration, successes in our careers, personal triumphs and harmonious relationships. These are sweet times like the apple is sweet. But then there is a different type of sweetness; a sweetness that comes from times of challenge. When things don't go the way that we would like them to, when tragedy strikes, when our job is in jeopardy, when we fail to reach the goals had aspired for, when our relationships are being strained and tested, when we feel alone.

At the time when we are facing these challenges, they seem bitter and insurmountable, like the sting of a bee. But if we are strong and withstand the difficult times, and overcome the obstacles to our own happiness, we reveal layers of our personality that we would never have tapped into if we weren't challenged. Something deeper is brought out when we are tested.

Tension in a relationship is painful, but there ' s nothing better than reconciling after that tension. Losing a job is degrading, but how often it is that we find bigger and better things to move on to. Loneliness can eat us up, but it can open us to higher levels of self-knowledge too. We have all experienced events in our lives that at the time were painful, but in retrospect we say, "Thank G‑d for the tough times - imagine where I would be without them!"

So we eat apples & honey on Rosh Hashana. We bless each other that in the year to come the apples should bring sweetness. And if, for some reason, we get ‘stung’ - may the bite reveal a more powerful sweetness from within us!

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Free Choice – Who Needs It?

This week the Torah establishes one of the fundamental principles of Judaism – Free Choice: “See, I have set forth before you today life and goodness, and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)

Often we wish that life were just a bit simpler. We wonder why our lives all filled with lack of clarity, tension, and duality. Couldn’t G‑d have designed a less complicated and more coherent path through life without the constant struggle of choosing between right and wrong?

The following story might shed some light and insight:

A teenager once visited The Rebbe, Rabbi Schneersohn, expressing anguish that his life contained much struggle and disappointment. "Why can't it just be simple and easy?" the boy asked sorrowfully.

"Because human beings are not angels," the Rebbe replied. "Angels are flawless, always on target. Human beings, on the other hand, are fragmented and dualistic, vacillating between extremes and shaken by conflicts. Because of man's multi-dimensional and dichotomized personality, he must struggle throughout his entire life in order to come to terms with his soul.”

The teenager continued to probe the heart of the master. "But why did God create us in such a complicated fashion?" he asked. "Would God not have enjoyed us far more if we were like the angels?"

Apparently, this teenager had a knack for drawing. He loved art and made it his hobby. As a good educator, the Rebbe responded to the pain of the young adult by drawing on a reference from the student's own world.

"Let me ask you a question about the difference between a photograph and a painting," The Rebbe began his response. "A photo captures any given scene far more accurately than a painting can ever hope to. Yet while a photo will cost you a few dollars, the inaccurate painting of the identical scene may sometimes sell for millions of dollars. Why?" 

The boy explained to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that most photographs were inanimate and lifeless items, capturing the technical properties of a particular scene, yet lacking a soul. A painting, on the other hand, in which a scene is relegated to canvas via the mind and soul of the artist, contains the depth of human emotion and creativity, and the subtleties of human imagination. That is what gives a painting its value.

"Very well said," came the Rebbe's reply. "Here you have the answer to your question as well. Angels are photos; human beings are pieces of art," the Rebbe said with a smile.

Angels are flawless and faultless creatures, perfect shots of the spiritual realities. Yet it is precisely the fluctuating drama of human existence, our ability to choose between right and wrong, and the human void searching for meaning and truth -- that can turn our life into a piece of art.

Only in the inner chambers of the human heart can God discover genuine, awe-inspiring artwork. It is the goodness and spirituality that emerge from human doubt and struggle that bestow upon humanity a dignity and splendor that the highest of angels can never attain.

When we overcome a challenge and make the right choice we create a priceless masterpiece – let’s do a Mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

Gmailcom

Someone once sent the following email to a Rabbi:

Why does the Jewish religion seem to obsess over insignificant details? I was at the Seder this week and the Rabbi was stressing the importance of having a specific exact measurement of Matzah.

I mean, who cares how much matza I eat, or which spoon I used for milk and which for meat? It seems to me that this misses the bigger picture by focusing on minutiae. Is this nitpicking what Jews call spirituality?

(I actually already sent you this question over a week ago and didn't receive a reply. Could it be that you have finally been asked a question that you can't answer?!)

Here was the Rabbi’s answer:

I never claimed to have all the answers. There are many questions that are beyond me. But it happens to be that I did answer your question, and you did get the answer. I sent a reply immediately. The fact that you didn't receive it is itself the answer to your question.

You see, I sent you a reply, but I wrote your email address leaving out the "dot" before the "com". I figured that you should still receive the email, because after all, it is only one little dot missing. I mean come on, it's not as if I wrote the wrong name or something drastic like that! Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "gmailcom" and "gmail.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

No, it's not ridiculous. Because the dot is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the web. All I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G‑d's inbox.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the dot, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

May you be inscribed and sealed in the ‘book of life’ for a joyous, healthy, and prosperous sweet new year

Wishing you and your entire family a Shabbat Shalom!

A Special Shabbat

This week we will mark the ‘yahrtzeit’ (anniversary of the passing) of the Rebbe which will be observed this Tuesday.  It is a day when I, and tens of thousands from around the world, gather together to celebrate the Rebbe’s life and recommit ourselves to fulfilling his vision.

Allow me a share a story of the Rebbe; a story that will move us to grow and better ourselves:

A group of high-school students once came to see the Rebbe. The students had each prepared various questions, which they posed to the Rebbe in the course of the audience.

Toward the end of the meeting, after the Rebbe had answered their queries on various issues, one student asked:

"I have heard it said that the Rebbe has the power to work miracles. Is this true? Do you perform supernatural feats?"

The Rebbe replied: "The ability to work miracles is not confined to a select group of individuals, but is within reach of each and every one of us. We each possess a soul that is a spark of G‑dliness. So we each have the power to transcend the limitations imposed upon us by our physical natures, no matter how formidable they may seem.

"To demonstrate this to you," said the Rebbe, "I will now perform a miracle."

Smiling at the startled young faces around his desk, the Rebbe continued: "Each and every individual in this room will now resolve to improve himself in one specific area. You will each choose an improvement that you recognize as necessary but until now have perceived as being beyond your power to achieve. Nevertheless, you will succeed, proving to yourselves that the soul indeed has the power to overcome the natural 'reality' ..."

The Rebbe believed in us and empowered us to better ourselves and the world around us. As we approach the day of his passing let us go beyond our limitations and make a difference.

Let’s do a Mitzvah Today!

Shabbat Shalom,

Spiritual Global Warming...

There is a beautiful story of the famous Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement some 300 years ago. He was once walking with his students on a cold, wintery day when his students noticed that in the snow beside them, an image of an idol had been engraved.

Our master”, the students began, “you have taught us that everything we encounter in life is to be alesson. If G‑d caused us to notice this site, there must certainly be a message here for us. What can we possibly learn from this site?”

The Baal Shem Tov responded: “There is nothing more pure than water. It is the basis of all life and existence. Nonetheless, even this most pristine substance - when it becomes cold - can be tainted and can be used to express a message that is antithetical to the source of all life – G‑d.

This week’s Torah portion opens with the description of the way Aaron would light the fire on the menorah in the temple. Kindling these flames in the Temple is meant to act as a wake up call for the Jewish People to ignite their internal flames - the passion and fire or our Jewish souls.

The secret to maintaining our purity as Jews lies in the way we preserve our warmth, energy, and enthusiasm about being Jewish. Feelings of apathy, cynicism, or coldness are fertile breeding grounds for sin and assimilation.

So on this Shabbat, when we read about this spiritual global warming, let us add more fuel to our Jewish passion and drive. In this way, we can continue to grow and flourish – both on a micro and macrocosmic scale - adding new life and energy to the world.

Let’s do a mitzvah today! Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom! 

Don't be Stupid

Say the word "sin" and you'll evoke different things in the minds of different people.

To the fire-and-brimstone types, the word smells of shame and scorched flesh. To the hedonist it sounds like fun. Some think it's a wholly Christian concept, while others ascribe it to the ancient Hebrews. To the sages of the Talmud, sin is, above all, an act of stupidity.

"A person does not sin," they wrote, "unless a spirit of silliness has entered into him."

Why stupidity and silliness, you ask? Perhaps the following anecdote will explain.

A colleague of mine used to write manuals for various household items. One day the consumer department forwarded him the following letter:

"Sir," the letter began. "I have in hand a booklet you wrote which came in the box with my new video camera. I must say that I am outraged by your presumptuousness and audacity. This is my camera, for which I paid my own hard-earned money. It has lots of buttons, switches and indicator lights -- and these are all my buttons, switches and indicator lights. How dare you instruct me on what to do with them! I shall press each of my buttons and flip each of my switches as I please. As for the indicator lights, I, not you, shall decide for myself what they indicate; indeed, if I so choose, I shall ignore them altogether. Yours truly … a very stupid customer."

The sages of the Talmud didn't see much difference between that customer and your standard sinner.

The Torah is the instruction manual (authored by our manufacturer!) that shows each of us how we can most efficiently use our skills, our health, and our allotted time on this earth to lead the most productive and fulfilling life possible.

When we act contrary to his Creator's instructions we may be doing something bad, evil, selfish, destructive, enjoyable, defiant, or cowardly. But above all, we are doing something profoundly stupid.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom! 

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 Wednesday, May 31 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,

One Step at a Time

The Kotzker Rebbe, a great Chasidic leader once said:

"When I was young I thought I could change the world. However as I got older, I realized that would be too difficult, so I decided to change my city. After some time I changed my mind and became committed to affecting my neighborhood, and then decided just to change my family. Now however I have decided just to change myself."

This statement is perplexing. The Rebbe was a leader with a wide circle of influence and broad responsibility. How could he just give up and indulge in the luxury of working only on himself at the exclusion of others?

The answer is simple but powerful. The Kotzker Rebbe did not abdicate his responsibility for one moment. However, he did eventually come to the conclusion that the best and most effective way to affect others is by changing himself. Becoming an example of morality, spiritual growth and good conduct, inspires and enthuses others to follow.

If we grow and improve, our families and neighborhoods will become different. Don't underestimate your own power - if you change yourself you can even change the world.

We now stand less then two weeks away from the holiday of Shavuot, the day – 3329 years ago – when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai and became a nation. It was at that moment - when we accepted G‑d’s precious gift, the Torah.- that we assumed the responsibility to be a “light unto the nations”.

That task can, at times, seem daunting. How can we, a nation less that 1% of the world’s population, possibly create change? The answer is simple:

We begin with ourselves. Each great journey begins with a single step Each and every time we perform a mitzvah, each time we study a word of Torah, each time a pray, we are refining a small facet of our existence. And in so doing, we magically create a cosmic change in our universe.

So I wish you a joyous preparation for the awesome day of Shavuot. With G‑d’s help, we will merit to celebrate this day together with the coming of the righteous moshiach (messiah)!

Let’s do one more mitzvah!

Shabbat Shalom,

Life is too Short to Fool Around

This week's Torah Portion relates directly to the time period we currently are in. One month ago we celebrated the festival of Passover. And in approximately 3 weeks time the festival of Shavuot will be upon us - the holiday that commemorates the day we received the Torah.

This week’s portion teaches us that we are to count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.

Just as the Israelites counted the days after the Exodus in eager anticipation to receive the Torah, so do we count these 49 days annually. This counting is known as the ‘omer’.

But why count time? Time marches on inexorably, whether we take note of it or not. What value is there in counting the days?

The answer is that we count these 49 days to make us conscious of the preciousness of every single day. To make us more sensitive to the value of a day, an hour, a moment. As Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty, once said, "A summer's day and a winter's night is a year."

The saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933) once said the following: Life is like a picture postcard.

Have you ever had the experience of being on vacation and sending a picture postcard home or to a friend? We start writing with a large scrawl and then think of new things to say and before we know it we're at the end of the card and there's no more room. So what do we do? We start writing smaller and then when we're out of space we start winding our words around the edges of the card to get it all in. Before we know it, we're turning the card upside down to squeeze in the last few vital words in our message.

Sound familiar?

Life is not all that much different. We start off young and reckless without a worry in the world and as we get older we realize that life is short. So we start cramming and trying to squeeze in all those important things we never got around to. Sometimes our attempts are quite desperate, even pathetic, as we seek to put some meaning into our lives before it's too late. (Maybe that's what a mid-life crisis is all about.)

So the Torah tells us to count our days – because they are, in fact, numbered. We each have an allotted number of days and years in which to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Hopefully, by counting time we will appreciate it better. So, whatever it is that is important for each of us to get done, please G‑d, we will all get around to it.

Tonight is the 32nd day in the omer counting. We have only 17 days that remain. Let us make them meaningful; days full of purpose and direction; days infused with a sense of G‑d, moral clarity and many mitzvahs.

Shabbat Shalom 

Yesterday is Better than Today

"Do not make for yourselves gods out of cast metal." This is one of that mitzvahs / divine instructions that we learn about in this week's portion.

When reading this, one comes to an obvious question: How could an intelligent person believe that a piece of metal is god? We could perhaps appreciate how ancient pagan societies attributed divine qualities to powerful, transcendent forces of nature, like the Zodiac signs, the sun, the moon, various galaxies, the wind, etc. But why would a thoughtful human being believe god could be fashioned out of cast metal? And most importantly, how does this commandment apply today?

There is a beautiful interpretation of these words, which is profoundly relevant to the human psyche in all times:

What this biblical verse - "Do not make for yourselves gods out of cast metal" - is telling us is not to construct a god of a lifestyle that has become like "cast metal," cast and solidified in a fixed mold.

A natural human tendency is to worship that which we have become comfortable with. We worship our habits, patterns, attitudes, routines and inclinations simply because we have accustomed ourselves to them and they are part of our lives. People love that which does not surprise them; we want to enjoy a god that suits our philosophical and emotional paradigms and comfort zones. We tend to embrace the fixed, unchangeable and permanent molten god.

Comes the Torah and says: Do not turn your consolidated mold into your god. Do not turn your habits, natural patterns of thought, fears or addictions into a deity. Life is about spiritual growth. Never say, "This is the way I am; this is the way I do things, I cannot change." Rather, we must muster the courage to challenge every instinct, temptation and habit. Let our life not become enslaved to a particular pattern just because it has been that way for many years or decades.

Everyday, when we wake up, we have an obligation to ask ourselves: "How is today going to be better than yesterday? What am I going to today that will make me closer to G‑d - the real G‑d? What new mitzvah am I going to do or which mitzvah am I going to do better?"

May we all live such a life and grow from strength to strength in our closeness to G‑d!

Shabbat Shalom,

My Birthday Reflections

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 talents and 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. 

This week I also celebrated my birthday, yes with the cake and all. But a birthday according to the kabbalah is something more then just the cake and good wishes. It's a day of reflection. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said "Your birthday is g‑d’s way of telling you that the world could not exist without you” It's my job and your job to make this world a dwelling place for g-d almighty. 

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, 

Boosting Our Self Esteem

How do we develop confidence when we don't have it? How do we overcome fear, nerves and anxieties? Well, without going into major psychological dissertations (which I'm not qualified to do in the first place), let's see if we can find some insight in this week's Torah reading.

Everything was set for the inauguration of the sacred service in the Sanctuary. The week-long preparations had been completed. Now it was Aaron's turn to approach the altar and begin the service. But Aaron was reluctant. He still felt a sense of shame for his part in creating the Golden Calf. So Moshe calls out to Aaron: "Approach the altar and perform the services." (Leviticus 9:7). Aaron did so and completed all the required tasks correctly.

But what exactly did Moshe say to Aaron to assuage his fears? All he said was "Come and do your thing." He never actually dealt with his issues. How did he address his concerns, his feelings of inadequacy?

Perhaps, Moshe was saying: Come and do, and all your fears will be stilled. You lack confidence? Start performing the services and you will see that it fits you like a glove. You were born to be a High Priest and that's where you belong.

While conventional wisdom tells our children’s self confidence will be boosted by compliments, attention, and goodies, Judaism teaches us that a feeling of self worth can only come from DOING the right thing and making a difference

Moses was telling Aaron that if he would begin performing his chosen role, the rest would follow. As they say in Yiddish, Apetit kumt mit'n essen. Even if you're not hungry, if you start eating, your appetite will follow. I suppose that's why the first course in a meal is called an "appetizer." (Trust Jews when it comes to food.)

Dr. Moses was dispensing sound psychological advice. The surest way of developing confidence is to begin doing that which you fear.

Perhaps this applies to us in our Jewish lives as well. I know many people who are reluctant to get involved and intimidated by Judaism only because they are not confident enough about synagogue protocol or their Hebrew literacy.

So on this Shabbat, as we’re going to read Moshe’s sound advice, let’s try taking it to heart. We will find that the most gratifying part of our lives would never have been ours if we didn’t – JUST DO IT!

"Come and do" said Moshe to his humble and hesitant brother. Aaron came and did and the rest is history.

Shabbat Shalom,

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