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Rabbi's Corner

A Historic Journey

Abraham’s journey related in this week’s Torah portion changed the world forever. Had Abraham not embarked on his odyssey to the “land that I will show you,” we would not have a “promised land,” we would not have a Jewish people, we would not have Sinai, we would not have Judaism, (or Christianity & Islam), we would not have the principles stated in the Ten Commandments, which define the basic human rights that have become the bedrock of our modern democracies.

Imagine: A lonely journey by a single man (accompanied by a small group of people) taken 3747 years ago changed the entire course of history!

What was it about this journey that carried such potency? What can we learn from Abraham about our own journeys today? How can we ensure that our expeditions leave an indelible positive mark on our children & on generations to come?

Our Sages teach us that Abraham’s journey was far more than a geographical excursion. It was a transition from the comfort zones of self-absorption to the greatest heights of transcendence; a journey from the mortal to the immortal.

Abraham lived in a world absorbed with deep self-interest (sound familiar?) – a pagan world that was consumed with its own way of doing things. Nothing new – the way of all flesh, the natural inclination of man is to serve oneself. Abraham pioneered a new path. Resisting all pressures – rejecting all the influences of his life, his family, culture and community – Abraham searched for something true and eternal, something that transcends the subjective whims of man and transient forces of nature. A lone man pitted against an entire world, Abraham discovered the only true certainty in life: The absolute commitment to his Divine calling, to the mission for which he had been uniquely chosen.

Abraham was the first to take the journey. But not the last. G‑d’s call resounds through history as it beckons to each one of us – Abraham’s descendants and members of this Chosen People: Will we live a life driven by self-interests, or will we remain committed to our Divine calling.

May we continue in our forefather’s footsteps by committing to one more mitzvah this week. And in so doing we’ll conclude the journey that Abraham began by ushering in Moshiach right now!

Shabbat Shalom,

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,

 

 

 

 

 

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