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Rabbi's Corner

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!

 

Value Time...

 

In loving memory of the 11 Jewish Souls who were painfully taken from our midst in Pittsburgh, PA just this past Shabbat.

The Midrash related the following story: 

Seeing that his students were falling asleep during his lecture, the famed Rabbi Akiva relayed the following teaching: Why did Queen Esther (the Jewish queen of Persia in the Purim story) rule over 127 countries? Because she was a granddaughter of Sarah who lived for 127 years. 

What is the meaning of the teaching and why did Rabbi Akiva choose to relay this teaching as his students were falling asleep? (note: falling asleep during the Rabbi’s sermon is not a new tradition!) 

An answer: Through this observation, Rabbi Akiba gently reprimanded his students for sleeping through the class. If Esther reigned over 127 countries, or provinces, in the large Persian Empire, corresponding to Sarah’s 127 years of life, it follows that for each year of Sarah’s life, Esther was granted kingship over an entire province or country. It follows then, that for each month of her life, she was given the gift of kingship over an entire city (a country contains at least 12 cities.) It follows then, that for each week of her life, she was rewarded with a town (a city has at least four towns). This would mean that for each day of her life she was rewarded with a neighborhood or section of the town. If we break it down even further, we will find that for every second of her life, she was rewarded with an entire block, over which her descendant, Queen Ester, ruled! 

Rabbi Akiva thus sought to impress upon his students the value, potential and significance of every moment of life. Sarah received immense reward for each and every second of her life, because she devoted all her time and energy to living an honest, meaningful and good life. This was the subtle message that Rabbi Akiva, in his pedagogical brilliance, conveyed to his sleepy students. We cannot squander such a valuable resource as a time - not even a minute! Each moment is precious and laden with great potential. 

Imagine there is a bank which credits our account each morning with $86,400.00, carries over no balance from day to day, allows us to keep no cash balance, and every evening cancels whatever part of the amount we failed to use during the day. What would we do? Draw out every cent, of course! 

Well, everyone has such a bank. It's name is time. Every morning, it credits us with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this we have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for us. If we fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is ours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. 

To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed the train. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who just avoided an accident. To realize the value of 1/10 of a second, ask the person who won a silver medal in the Olympics. 

They tell a story of the man who came to the therapist for a very serious problem. “How can I help you?” asks the therapist. Yes, says the patient. Please tell me what time is it? Therapist: Three o'clock. Patient: Oh, no! G‑d help me.  Therapist: What's the matter? Patient: I've been asking the time all day. And everybody gives me a different answer!... 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Giving Means Gaining!

This week we read about the meticulous order of the meal that Abraham offered his guests. First, he gave them cheese and milk, and only afterward did he present them with calf’s meat, (consistent with Jewish dietary laws that deli products may be eaten after dairy products, but not vice versa).

Every detail recorded in the Torah contains a timeless lesson for us all. What then can be learned from Abraham choosing to serve his guests these particular items – milk, cheese and meat – to begin with? The choice of meat is clear, as he wished to serve his visitors a satisfactory meal. But why, from among the many possible appetizers, did Abraham decide to give them milk and cheese as a prelude to meat?

The rule of thumb in our world is that sharing something with somebody else constitutes a loss for the giver. If I have it, and give it to you, I lose it; if you have it, and give it to me, you lose it. If I write a check for charity, my checking account naturally shrinks.

An exception to this rule is the milk the mother feeds her suckling. As long as a mother continues sharing her nourishing liquid with the child, her mammary glands will keep on refilling with more milk. In fact, the quantity of the milk is usually dependent on her sharing it. The more a mother nurses, the greater the flow of her milk her body produces. When she ceases to breast-feed, her inner production of milk ceases.

This is one of the Kabbalistic explanations behind the unique phenomenon of breast-feeding. Through this natural process of infant nourishment, a mother is given the extraordinary opportunity to ingrain within her child’s tender consciousness the truth about sharing. The more you give, the more you will receive, just like the milk that you are now swallowing.

Very often guests – particularly if they are strangers – feel uncomfortable staying in somebody else’s home and eating another person’s food. Abraham, sensitive to the feelings of his guests, addressed this awkwardness by offering them milk at that start of the meal.

This reflected the revolutionary Jewish approach toward giving. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is a life filled with love and caring toward other human beings.

Shabbat Shalom

Go, But Where To.....

When learning to structure a paragraph or essay one is taught that the opening sentence should contain the general theme or message the author wishes to convey. This premise is not limited to writing. Any opening, beginning, or first, sets the tone for what is to follow. Whether it is a first step of a journey, the first bar of a symphony, or the mission statement of a business venturer, every beginning attempts to prepare for the entirety of what is soon to follow.

With this in mind, let us look at this week’s Torah portion, in which the story of the Jewish People ‘opens’. Let us look at the opening sentence of the Jewish People and try to gain insight into the essence and purpose of our nation.

The Torah opens: “And G‑d said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.” Interestingly, G‑d doesn’t give Abraham a destination to be reached or a purpose for leaving. G‑d merely says go away from where you are and follow Me – destination unknown.

Thus begins the story of the first Jew. And herein lies the eternal “mission statement” for the Jewish People: “Go! – The Sky is the Limit”

As Jews, we are never to be satisfied with our status quo and never to be content with yesterday’s accomplishments. We have been empowered by G‑d (and therefore carry the responsibility) to journey on an infinite mission of goodness. Our “Jewish conscience” never allows us to settle into a comfort zone. We seem to have this constant unexplainable drive and urge to pursue, to progress, and to refine life – be it our own, our family’s,  or the lives of our community and those around us.

May G‑d give each and everyone of us the ability to fulfill our G‑d given missions. By each of us adding one more act of goodness and kindness, we can – and surely will - bring the world to a state of perfection with the coming of Moshaich!

Shabbat Shalom,

Surviving the Hurricanes

Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, often times, we feel as if life is one extended hurricane. We are constantly battling the waves which the sea of life sends our way. As soon as one wave washes ashore, the second one is not far behind threatening to capsize over us unless we skillfully navigate our way over its raging crest. In truth, the daily financial pressures and business worries which life presents us are dubbed by King Solomon as the “mighty waters” which threaten to drown us spiritually and emotionally.

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the Flood which washed away all of civilization. Only Noah and his family survived the Flood by entering the Ark which protected them from the pelting rain. Our eternal Torah isn’t merely telling us a fascinating tale; if we look a bit deeper, at the story behind the story, we can also unravel the secret behind surviving all floods—even the ones which the meteorologists don’t forecast; the ominous floods of life.

G‑d commanded Noah to enter an Ark. The holy Baal Shem Tov points out that the Hebrew word for “Ark,” תיבה, also means “word.” We all can survive the floods which wish to engulf our lives through engrossing ourselves in the holy “words” of Torah and prayer. The person who wakes up in the morning and devotes his first hours or minutes to earnest prayer and some short words of Torah before running off to work, effectively insulates himself against life’s storms.

The sacred words of Torah and prayer have a waterproofing effect, encapsulating the person in an impenetrable bubble which can endure even the harshest winds. Starting the day with prayer and Torah serves as our daily reminder that G‑d is in control, and though we must strive to earn a livelihood, we must never let ourselves become overly perturbed by business pressures—because ultimately everything is from G‑d; and G‑d is always good.

If we can meet life’s storms while in the safe sanctuary of the “Ark” we will find that the stormy waters seemingly so destructive, are actually purifying waters. G‑d purified the world through the flood (which lasted forty days, similar to a mikvah which must contain forty sa’ah of water), and He purifies us by sending challenges and tribulations in our direction. If we are properly prepared for these storms, they express our highest and most noble qualities, thereby elevating us to spiritual heights we could never attain without the help of these hurricanes.

Shabbat Shalom

Let There Be Light

The holidays have past and now we’re off to a fresh new start with renewed strength and vigor!

On this Shabbat we will, once again, begin reading the Torah anew. And each year, as we start a new cycle of Torah reading, we reach deeper and deeper into the infinite wisdom that G‑d has woven into the Torah.

What are the first words G‑d utters in the Torah? What are G‑d’s opening lines in the bible?

“And G‑d said: Let there be light”.

This seems rather strange, because nothing existed yet that could benefit from the light. There were no trees that needed rays of light to grow and no animals or people who use the light to see. So why were G‑d’s first words, “let there be light”?

Before answering this question let me share a kabbalistic thought with you:

The Kabbalah teaches us the following insightful rule of life: “The final act is the first thought”. Simply put, this means that when embarking on any project or business venture, the very first thing we need to think about it what we want our final product to look like. Or, as any business coach will tell you, “you need to first have a mission statement”.

If we do not first lay down the ultimate goal and purpose of the task at hand, the project will likely deteriorate into a random and fruitless proposition. This is the meaning of the Kabbalistic statement “The final act is the first thought”.

This concept was demonstrated most profoundly by G‑d when He created the universe. Before creating the various components of the universe, G‑d first laid down his mission statement for creation: “Let there be light”.

This is the underlying goal and theme that governs all of existence and it is this declaration that acts as the portal and opening of the Torah. G‑d wanted it to be unmistakably clear at the very beginning; with the very first creation – light, that He has created a world in order for light to radiate.

Light represents clarity, warmth, brightness and holiness. Darkness represents confusion, emptiness and negativity. The purpose of existence is to transform darkness into light, turn challenge into opportunity and bring holiness into that which is unholy.

How to we accomplish this awesome task? How to we transform the world into a G‑dly edifice? We do mitzvahs. Yes, each time we light a Shabbat candle, lend a helping hand to someone in need, put on tefillin, or make a blessing over kosher food, we add light and bring the world closer to its final G‑dly state.

So as we set forth to journey through this new year of 5779, let us make the mission statement clear from the outset: We are created to bring light and G‑dliness to the world!

Let’s do a mitzvah today! “Let there be light.”

Shabbat Shalom,

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.

 

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,

 

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