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Rabbi's Corner

A Yizkor To Remember

- A Post by Rabbi Sholom Ciment

Clearly a luminary of a spiritual leader on the local level, Chabad of Poway’s Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was forced into the global spotlight this week and has quickly become an icon of international inspiration.

He described coming face to face with sheer evil, the killer who shot dead his dear friend and founding member. “He was wearing sunglasses I couldn’t see his soul.”

 

 

 

Jason Earnst is one of legions of cowards alike him lurking in the darkest corners of the internet. Their sites spew evil and are platforms for hate and destruction. They have proven to be extremely dangerous.

How do we allow such evil to proliferate in this glorious country? What can we do to stop it?

Rabbi Goldstein searched for a soul but could not find one. “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” A soul is G-dly. America’s founding fathers, believers in an A-lmighty Creator, established as the foundation of this nation, the soul. It alone is deserving of the inalienable rights and freedoms endowed to man by G-d.

The Jews in Poway California had gathered to say Yizkor, to remember the souls of their beloved. It was the last day of the holiday when G-d commands; “Seven days you shall eat Matzah.”

The Kabbalists, masters of the inner “secrets” of Torah, highlight the Talmudic missive; “a child is not able to call out “father” until fed wheat.” This is a Divine “code,” they taught, that is embedded in Matzah. 3331 years ago, G-d chose a new people. As our Father, He cared for our every need. While doing so, He also ensured that we ate Matzah. Then, and ever since, this Divine wheat fortifies our child-father relationship with Him.

As we pick through this attack’s exploded pieces, one of the themes that emerge is: Passover Souls vs. Evil Soullessness.

Many have pondered the logic behind Anti-Semitism. The Jewish people contribute more to society, per capita, than any other nation. Every country that hosts the Jews, benefits tremendously. Yet, each generation continues its plans to execute “a final solution,” the extermination of our people.

Despite them, the Jewish people continue to shine as a collective affirmation of light and life. We represent the soul that is inextinguishable. Evil cannot tolerate this. As the Haggadah reads; “Each generation they try to annihilate us, but G-d saves us from their hands.”

Four weeks of planning went into what could have been this 19-year-old honors student unfathomable deadly massacre of children, men and women – in that order. It was only G-d’s open and miraculous intervention, the sudden jamming of his gun, that prevented it.

In 1981, days after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson spoke on cable TV from his headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. The Rebbe asked, how could this great country have produced such senseless evil?

This, he said, is an inevitable consequence of an educational system whose sole objective is the accumulation of knowledge. Gone missing are the fundamental values and morals established by the country’s founding fathers. Instead of freedom of religion, “progress” has dictated and demanded, freedom from religion. The bold words printed on our currency, “In G-d we trust,” are forbidden in our nation’s classrooms.

Yizkor is to remember. Rabbi Goldstein with new permanent scars bandaged on his hands, defiantly waved them in the air and cried out, “we must bring the soul back into our blessed American way of life.” In G-d We Trust, is the vocabulary of our soul.

The bullet that killed one, innocent, pure Jew was meant for each of us, Jew and non-Jew alike. She was a holy sacrifice for every human being with a soul.

Subsequent to The Rebbe’s 1981 address, a campaign to bring a “moment of silence” into every American classroom was launched. A sacred “moment of silence” that connects the child to a greater good, G-d, each and every day. This would be a seed planted in the fertile soil of a child’s mind and imagination. One which will grow roots and bear fruits for life and all of civilization.

Chabad’s custom is to not, formally, end Passover. Indeed, this year it may have just begun. The selfless dedication, heroism and iron-clad faith of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein has displayed to an entire world the soul of G-d’s Matzah. But that is not enough, he cries out. America’s founding fathers envisioned that soul to be their country’s own.

Rabbi Goldstein’s extra-ordinary spirit this past week can be matched in a moment. A “Moment of Silence” by each child, each day, in each classroom in the United States of America.

G-d chose one sacrifice, she will be forever remembered as holy and irreplaceable. The killer had 50 more bullets to shoot and his closest, wide-open targets were the little children. G-d miraculously spared them and us. The message for Rabbi Goldstein was clear. And his heart-wrenching cries must be heeded. We must do all within our power to restore this glorious country’s soul back into its rightful place; the hearts, minds and lives of each of its children and citizens.

G-d deserves it, our nation deserves it, the entire world deserves it, and not a moment too soon.

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, 

P.S. Please join us for the Seder! www.nyhebrew.org/familyseder 

Purim! The Recipe for Joy!

 

Yesterday was Purim – the most joyous holiday of the year. So let us spend a few moments talking about joy and happiness.

Everybody seems to agree that we need it desperately. Most people surveyed in polls about "what is most important in life" will respond: "Happiness." The lack of happiness, it is believed, is at the root of all of society's ills, from substance abuse to domestic violence.

The amount of money, theories and man-hours invested in the pursuit of happiness is staggering. The result? Most of us, it seems, have still not reached the desired goal of Ultimate Happiness after all this! Why is this so?

It appears that we are looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and have no idea how to find deep and authentic happiness.

The strange thing is that all those who are pursuing happiness don't seem to find it, yet those who have found it never bothered to pursue it.

So how then do we become happy? We're caught between a rock and a hard place. We can't go seek happiness because inevitably it will run away from us. But we want/ desire/ need happiness now. What can be done to get it without actively seeking it!

Nothing. In the recipe for happiness, the first and primary ingredient is: Nothingness.

If you're actively pursuing happiness you're indicating that things are no good right now. Obviously, that can be quite depressing. But when you let go of your chase you create the void for happiness to dwell.

This might sound counterintuitive but it’s true. The less we focus on what “I” need and “how I’m” doing, the happier we are. In fact on a really joyous day, when things are going extremely well, we forget about ourselves so much so that we forget to eat – now that’s joy!

While “nothingness” is the first and primary ingredient to joy and happiness, it does not complete the puzzle. Once we’ve created the void; once we are no longer seeking to further our own needs and wants; once we’ve surrendered egocentric lusts – we then need to allow the joy to come through.

What does that mean?

The Torah teaches us that joy is natural and inherent to every person. Just witness the natural happiness and cheerfulness of a young child. Where does this joy emanate from? It comes from his soul and very essence. So why aren’t we always full of joy? Because our bodily functions and cravings mask and hinder the joy of our souls from shining through. We’re too caught up in ourselves to be happy.

But once we’ve removed the hindrances of our needs and wants, we become free to do that which is noble and right. We begin to refocus and invest our energy into those activities that bring true joy, namely, we begin to fulfill our G‑d-given mission on earth, the Torah and it’s mitzvahs

Now what could be more joyous than that!

Shabbat Shalom!

Be First!

Have you ever heard of a synagogue launching a building campaign and then telling it’s membership to stop donating because they have collected too much money? Well in this week’s portion that is exactly what happens.

In order to build the Mishkan – a ‘home’ for G‑d in the desert – Moshe launches the ‘building campaign’. Ultimately, the Jewish People donate so much gold, silver, copper, fabric, etc. that Moshe is forced to make an announcement to stop contributing. (I guess they didn’t have a Goodwill Donation Center in the desert to dump the extras!)

Strangely, the leaders of each of the 12 tribes of Israel didn’t make a very generous contribution. They merely brought a few precious stone, some oil, and spices.

Why? How could these 12 great leaders be so miserly in their contribution to such a holy cause?

Our Sages offer an interesting answer:

The leaders were not trying to be cheap at all. They wanted to wait until the Jewish People donated all they could and, in their largesse, would take responsibility for whatever was missing. So they waited until the end. Ultimately and sadly, they underestimated the philanthropic generosity of the people and they were left with but a few items to contribute.

In our daily lives, we are often called upon to get involved in important projects. Whether it’s sponsoring an important community activity, helping to pay for Torah activities, a collection to help a poor or sick family, or it might have nothing to do with money: To make the minyan for someone who has to say kaddish, to prepare food for a family that has just had a baby or, G‑d forbid, an illness. To help organize a program, plan a party for kids and an untold numbers of other opportunities to make a difference in the community.

How many times do we hear, in one form or other: "Let me know who else is involved and I'll see if I can help". Or: "when others step forward, then I’ll jump on the bandwagon." Often times the hesitation is an unwillingness to commit to a project that is not yet well supported.

Many people like to see a project be successful before they commit time and resources. And then there are those who truly want to be able to fill in whatever is lacking at the end.

Whatever the reason, this week’s portion teaches us that there is great value in being the first. Though we might feel more useful at the end, if an opportunity to do a mitzvah arises, step up, get involved, and let others follow your example and do the same.

Shabbat Shalom,

The "High" that Dies

The story of the golden calf is well known to us all. Put in context, this biblical episode reverberates and resonates deeply within our lives today:

For the past twelve months G‑d had been courting his bride, the Jewish people: the ten plagues, splitting the sea, and redeeming them from slavery. Finally, following a year long engagement, the marriage occurs at Mount Sinai. G‑d and the Jewish People become husband and wife. Yet only 40 days after the wedding, before G‑d even has a chance to bring His bride into His majestic home, the land of Israel, the Jewish People turn to another – a golden calf.

How could they? Didn’t they have any sense of loyalty or commitment? After all G‑d had done for them, didn’t they feel some semblance of allegiance?

This story repeats itself, in one form or other, in the daily roller coaster ride of our lives. And the answer lies in the one liner: “Easy come – Easy Go”.

True, G‑d had lovingly reached out to a nation of slaves, imbuing within them a sense of right and wrong, and charging them with the mission of being a “light unto the nations”. Yet this inspiration was super imposed upon the Jewish People. G‑d lifted them to the greatest of heights, but they never actually climbed the stairs on their own. And therefore as soon as G‑d let go, even for a short 40 days, they plummeted into the depths of depravity and idolatry. It was a high that came and went.

Inspiration is like a fleeting shadow, like a spark. Unless we can hold on to it, internalize it, and turn it to action, it disappears as quickly as comes.

So when we get that moment of inspiration that tells us to become more committed to G‑d and Judaism, let’s try to hold on to the ‘high’. Let us take the spark and use it as the starter for our spiritual engine. By turning inspiration into action; by doing one more mitzvah, we will enjoy a true and meaningful relationship with our loving spouse – G‑d Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom,

Assimilation or Isolation

 

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Goldman) 

Today, the walls of the ghetto no longer sequester us from the rest of society. We fraternize and do business with non-Jews on a daily basis and have become fully adjusted to western culture. The contemporary question is: how do we strike a balance between retaining our Jewish identity on the one hand, while at the same time being citizens of the world.

In tomorrow’s Torah portion we read about the pure olive oil used to kindle the menorah in the sanctuary that our ancestors built in the desert The Rebbe once taught that it is oil that holds the secret formula for how we can successfully live proud Jewish lives in a non-Jewish environment.

Oil, you see, is a paradox. On the one hand, it spreads quickly and easily, seeping through and permeating the substances with which it comes in contact.

On the other hand, when mixed with other liquids, oil stubbornly rises to the surface and refuses to be absorbed by anything else.

Like oil, we too, will often find ourselves mixing in a wide variety of circles — social, business, civic, communal or political. At the very same time, though, we need to remember never to lose our own identity and dilute our own Jewish persona.

We often feel a strong pressure, whether real or imagined, to conform to the norms around us. Few among us enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb. The fact is, however, that others respect us more when we respect ourselves. If we are cavalier in our commitment to our own principles, then our associates might worry whether we might not betray them next.

Every once in a while I go out for lunch meetings in a kosher restaurant. There I sometimes find one Jewish business person at a table with many non-Jewish partners, clients, bosses, or would-be clients. They are all eating in this kosher restaurant because of this one Jew and they are quite happy to accommodate individual needs and sensitivities (especially since kosher dining is quite good!).

Many times our apprehensions about stating our religious requirements are often exaggerated and unfounded. Provided we do it honestly, respectfully and consistently, our adherence to a code of values impresses our associates and inspires them with greater confidence in our trustworthiness.

Compromising our values and principles is a sure way to lose the respect we crave from the world around us. Dignity, pride and self-respect earn us the esteem and admiration of those around us, whether Jews or non-Jews. It is a time-tested and well-proven method.

If we are able to reach the balance of "perfect oil"; if we are able to involve ourselves within our society as proud Jews – then we will have become a true Or La’goyim – a light unto the nations.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Wealth is a Good Thing - Terumah

This week’s portion opens with G‑d’s  directive to Moshe that the Jewish People donate gold, silver, and many other valuable items to the "building campaign" – ie: to build a home in which G‑d’s presence would dwell among Israel.

In this spirit, allow me to share a few words about money and wealth: 

The story is told of a poor man who, despite his own poverty, would always invite strangers to come into his home and eat a home-cooked meal. His generosity was all the more special due to his own circumstances.

In the merit of these acts of kindness, he was blessed with riches and soon found himself in a large mansion. Now, a change started to occur. Slowly, the poor were no longer welcome in his home. First it was a hint, then a suggestion, finally he would not even let then into his new home lest they spoil the hand-woven white carpets. He was dismissive of their pleas for help, suggesting to them that they should work harder.

As news of his mean behavior spread, he soon found himself shunned by his former friends and colleagues. In despair, he called upon a wise old rabbi.

As they were talking in the mansion, the rabbi pointed to a huge mirror situated on the wall facing the street, feigning ignorance. "What a strange window! All I see is myself! Where are all the people on the street?"

The man laughed. "Rabbi, it is not a window it is a mirror." "But I don't understand", said the rabbi, "it is made of glass, like a window." "If it were only glass you would be able to see the other people. But this is a mirror. It has a layer of silver added to it. Now you only see yourself."

"Aha!" said the wise rabbi. "Now I see the problem. When you add the silver, all you see is yourself!"

So is wealth something negative? Not at all. As Jews, we do not frown upon wealth, prosperity, or material success. In fact, the great Rabbi Yehuda (135-188CE) who recorded our entire tradition, paid special respect and accorded honor to the wealthy among Israel .

Why did Rabbi Yehuda do this? Because of a golden rule in Jewish teaching: G‑d gives each of us the precise tools, talents, and abilities necessary for us to fulfill our mission in life. If someone has been blessed with wealth and success, that is a sign from heaven that this individual is endowed with the strength to utilize this wealth to fulfill an extraordinary mission.

In the 1950s, the Rebbe visited Gan Israel summer camp (now the largest chain of Jewish summer camps) where he saw a notice in the office saying, "Money is the root of all evil." The Rebbe commented that the sign was incorrect. Money can – and should – produce tremendous good. It all depends on the person using it.

Each of us has wealth in one form or other. Let us remember that we’ve been given these gifts to use and build a "home for G‑d"; to ensure that the mitzvahs we do are "first class": not just a simple mezuzah - beautiful scrolls, not just a simple candlestick - but a beautiful silver pair. Our material wealth is just a tool; a tool to make our family life and community life one that is infused and permeated with a higher sense of meaning and purpose.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dealing With Negative Emotions

 

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson)
Here’s an interesting sentence from this week’s Torah portion: “If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its burden, and you might refrain from helping him - you shall surely help him.” (Exodus 23:5)

Let us analyze this sentence for a moment. Why does the Torah see it important to discuss the possible thought that you may not wish to help your enemy? Why doesn’t the Torah state the law succinctly: “If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its burden, you shall surely help him!”?

The answer is both simple and profound. The Bible is making a point of acknowledging the instinct to refrain from helping one’s enemy’s donkey as legitimate and human. It is perfectly normal to feel that you care not to assist the person you loathe, even if his animal is suffering.

Yet notwithstanding this natural emotion, the Torah is calling on us to challenge our instinct and assist our enemy’s donkey regardless. This perfectly human instinct need not dictate our actions.

There are two significant lessons here, pertinent particularly for generation; an age dedicated to the dissecting of one’s emotional persona.

1) The fact that our emotions are not always in sync with our ideals and values does not reduce us to moral failures. The fact that we don’t want to do the right thing doesn’t make us bad people. To be human is go through inner struggle and turmoil.

2) On the other hand, the Bible is informing us that not every emotion is holy. When somebody’s animal is suffering you must extend your hand, notwithstanding your negative emotions toward the owner of the donkey

One of the problems unique to our age is that for many of us emotions have become the sole barometers that determine right from wrong. We have turned our emotions into deities, worshiping them as though they embodied absolute, timeless truth, a new god. Hence, to suggest to somebody that they might overlook an emotion, subdue a feeling, disregard a mood is thud a form of idolatry. Our emotions have become gods and we must obey them at all costs, even if this may be detrimental for our relationships, our marriages, our children, and our long term visions

In the Biblical ethos, there is a critical distinction that must be made between acknowledging your emotions vs. allowing them to dictate your behavior.

So the next time you come to a fork in the road where you must choose between “what I want to do” and “what the right thing to do is”, remember: 1) It’s only human nature to want to do that which is most convenient and that which requires the least amount of effort. 2) Acting as a Jew means transcending and overcoming those mortal emotions and doing the right thing.

May we take the strength from this week’s Torah portion to challenge our instincts and rise above them. Though the struggle is a difficult one, the liberation we experience once our shackles of selflessness are lifted is tremendous.

Let’s do one more mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom 

 

Maintaining a Healthy Balance - Yitro

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Goldman) 

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!

Shabbat Shalom,

The Egypt Within Us . . .

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson)

This week's Torah portion is, in a sense, one of the most important sections of the Torah. Parshat Beshalach contains 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,

The Kabbalah of a Bar-B-Q

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Jacobson)

This Shabbat we read about the way in which the Jewish People were to prepare their meal eaten on that memorable night on which they discovered liberty - their Exodus from Egypt. They were commanded: “You shall eat the Passover offering on that night, roasted on the fire . . . Do not eat of it roasted in a pot, or cooked, or boiled in water; only roasted on the fire." (Exodus 12:8-9)

It seems uniquely strange that G‑d, creator of heaven and earth, would choose the roast and reject the sauté for the Passover offering. Does G‑d really care if you cook, boil or sauté the Passover offering meat? What message lies behind this peculiar mitzvah?

The basic difference between cooking and roasting is, that while in cooking (or boiling or sautéing) the food is prepared via a combination of both fire (or heat) and water (or other liquids), roasting only employs fire as the means to heat the food.

In Jewish mysticism, fire represents upward striving, yearning, passion, tension and restlessness, while water symbolizes satiation, containment, tranquility, fulfillment and calmness.

What type of life ought one to strive for? Should we yearn for a journey of ceaseless ambition and fervor, or for an existence of tranquility and gratification? 

One would imagine that freedom is achieving that state in which we are cleansed from all the tension, yearning and longing. "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I will show you a happy man."

This mitzvah teaches us quite the opposite. On the very night when Israel embraced the blessing of freedom, it simultaneously learnt that the Passover freedom offering could not be prepared with even one drop of water, only through direct contact with fire. Why?

Freedom is the ability to be truly and fully human. And to be human is to be restless. Created in the image of G‑d, our horizons are forever extending. Our lack of satiation is not reflective of our lowly nature; on the contrary, it reflects our greatness. A human being always senses that there is much more to life, to reality, to truth, and he/she yearn for it.

Let us constantly look to add, never being complacent, and not allowing our lives to remain status quo. That is a true Kabbalistic Bar-B-Q!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jewish Education: The Key to our Survival

(adapted from Rabbi N. Silberberg)  

The Torah tells us that before Jacob agreed to travel with his entire family to Egypt, he sent his son Judah ahead to establish a yeshivah - a Torah academy - in Goshen (the Egyptian territory where Jacob and his sons would settle). Knowing that his descendants would face challenging times in Egypt, Jacob realized that only a proper Jewish education would give them a strong Jewish identity, enable them to withstand all difficulties and persecutions, and insulate them against the threat of assimilation.

From the Jewish standpoint, education is not so much the imparting of data and information as much as instilling within our youth integrity, kindness, and Jewish values. Information alone – even the holy teachings of the Torah – would not have preserved the Jews throughout the difficult years of Egyptian slavery. It was the code of conduct and ethics that were taught in the academy that truly distinguished them from their immoral and cruel taskmasters.

Unfortunately, many of today's "institutes of education" do not yet understand this message. While they impart to their students much important and necessary information, the underlying principle of moral relativism that is espoused throws in doubt all the vital ethics that we strive to implant within our children. Nothing is more destructive than the trendy notion that right and wrong are inherently subjective.

This fact of life increases the importance of providing our children a rock-solid and concrete set of Jewish values. This education begins at home but is given crucial reinforcement by sending our children to Jewish schools that teach the same values – schools that would make Patriarch Jacob proud.

The very first value we wish to teach our children is the importance of a fierce pride in their beautiful and unique heritage. We are different and unique. We are privileged to be G‑d's "ambassadors of light" to a dark and difficult world, a privilege that countless of our grandparents died to protect. And despite all the hardships, pogroms and persecution that we have endured, we are thankful that we are the Chosen People.

Shabbat Shalom,

Let's Stock Up...

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Jacobson)

In this week’s Torah reading, we witness Joseph, a slave in prison, being appointed by Pharaoh as viceroy of Egypt. How does Joseph accomplish such a wondrous feat? By offering Pharaoh the following life-saving advice:  “let them gather in all the food during the years of plenty . . . the food will be held in safe-keeping for the land for the seven years of famine”.

The wisdom of Joseph carries with it an eternal message. Indeed, the stories of the Torah describe not only physical events that took place at a certain point in history, but also detail spiritual and timeless tales occurring continuously within the human heart.

All of us experience cycles of plenty and cycles of famine in our lives. There are times when things are going very well: We are healthy, successful and comfortable.   Often during such times we fail to invest the time and energy to cultivate meaningful relationships with family and friends or to create a sincere bond with G‑d. We feel self-sufficient and don't need anybody in our lives.

Yet when a time of famine arrives, when a serious crisis erupts (heaven forbid) we suddenly feel the need to reach out beyond ourselves and connect with our loved ones and with G‑d.

But we don't know how. When we do not nurture our relationships and our spirituality during our ‘years of plenty’, we lack the tools we so desperately need to survive the crisis.

This is the essence of Joseph's wisdom: We must never detach the years of plenty from the years of famine. When we experience plenty, we should not let it blind our vision and desensitize us from what is truly important in life.

We are now in a ‘week of plenty’: Chanukah - a bit of quality time to spend with our families, friends, and G‑d. Let’s utilize these precious moments, let’s invest, and let’s devote ourselves to what’s really important. In this way we’ll be fully stocked!

Shabbat Shalom & A Happy Chanukah,

What Does Israel Mean?

One of the most frightening scenes plays out before us in this week’s Torah portion. Our forefather Jacob had to flee from the wrath of his brother Esau who sought to kill him. Jacob ran away and kept his distance for 22 years. Now, having married and fathered children, Jacob returns back home to face his brother in this week’s portion.

Jacob soon discovers that his brother is still and as bitter and as vicious as he was 22 years earlier. In fact, Esau is approaching Jacob with 400 armed men ready to attack. What is to become of Jacob? He is greatly outnumbered and far weaker that his brother’s battalion.

Then, on the night just prior to the confrontation Jacob is attacked – not by Esau himself – but by the spiritual Esau, Esau’s angel. The two wrestle and struggle all night long and, though Jacob is severely injured with a dislocated hip, Jacob miraculously prevails.

And it is at this juncture – at the crack of dawn - that Jacob’s opponent is forced to admit defeat. And he does so by changing Jacob’s name to “ Israel ”. Why “ Israel ”? Because, says the angel, it is a contraction of the Hebrew words “you struggled … and you prevailed”.

Friends, the lesson for us today is potent and powerful. The struggle of Jacob and Esau is a perpetual and eternal one. It is the struggle between good and evil. On a macrocosmic scale it is the struggle between Israel and her enemies. And on a microcosmic scale it is our inner struggle between our animalistic & hedonistic lusts and our G‑dly and holy soul.

To be a member of the Nation of “ Israel ” doesn’t mean that we’re going to going to have an easy ride in life. It means we’re going to struggle and experience hostility. It means we’ll be at war with our external and internal foes. It even means that at times we’ll sustain injuries and experience setbacks.

But it also means that when the crack of dawn finally arrives we will have prevailed. For ultimately goodness and holiness will outshine, subdue, and eradicate, even the ugliest of evils.

May we very soon experience this with the coming of the righteous Moshiach (redemption)!

My wife Gillie and our children join me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Chanukah Eight Nights?

 

Chanukah is eight days long because the oil which would naturally have fueled the menorah for only one day miraculously lasted for eight. Everyone knows this since their days in Hebrew School. But let us analyze this for a moment. Does this make sense? If there was sufficient oil to burn for one day, then the miracle lasted only seven days. Why celebrate the first day if nothing miraculous occurred then?

An interesting episode recounted in the Talmud (Taanit 25a) will "illuminate" the matter:

The Mishnaic sage Rabbi Chanina was a renowned miracle worker. Shortly after sunset one Friday evening, he noticed his daughter sobbing. Upon asking her the reason for her distress, she explained that she had mistakenly lit the Shabbat candles with vinegar instead of oil. Rabbi Chanina comforted his daughter: "Do not be troubled, my dear. The One who commanded oil to burn will command vinegar to burn..." Needless to say, the candles did not go out. In fact, they burned until the following night, when the havdallah candle was kindled from their flames!

This story is so striking and unique because Rabbi Chanina didn't respond by saying, "Wanna see something amazing? Watch this miracle!" Rather, in the eyes of this holy sage, vinegar burning was no more spectacular than oil burning. The only difference between the two was how frequently they occur.

If the definition of "miracle" is G‑dly intervention, then every event is miraculous — for everything that occurs is a direct result of G‑d's command. "The Guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps," but His watchful eye can and usually does express itself in natural means. Nature is merely the curtain which conceals the grand Puppeteer from our sight.

Nevertheless, we treasure miracles, and holidays are instituted to commemorate the more consequential ones. We cherish those precious moments in history when G‑d chose supernatural means to come to our rescue, when the curtain was ripped away, leaving the puppeteer exposed. Rabbi Chanina had the ability to see through the curtain every day, but we don't. To us, vinegar burning is a remarkable sight to behold.

Once the curtain has been temporarily lifted, the recognition that there is a puppeteer doesn't fade even after the curtain is restored. After witnessing vinegar burning, we realize that oil's ability to burn is also a result of G‑d's command.

The seven miraculous days when the menorah remained lit brings us to understand that the first day was no less "miraculous." Let’s celebrate and appreciate all the miracles of life!

 

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