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Rabbi's Corner

Behar: 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 two weeks away from the holiday of Shavuot, the day – 3328 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 we 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!

Let’s do one more mitzvah!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Mendy Shanowitz

Emor: Who cares about the "dot"!

Who can believe that there are only two weeks left to Hebrew School this year!? It's a time for me to reflect on the past year and to think about the future, ensuring that our students enter the summer break with a love for Judaism.

One of our students asked me a question which led me to do some research which brought me to this letter which gave much insight to the subject at hand:

Rabbi Moss from Australia received the following question via email:

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 Matzah 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 "yahoocom" and ""? 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!

Friends, Have a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Mendy Shanowitz

Kedoshim: Yesterday is Better than Today

 "Do not make for yourselves gods out of cast metal" This is one of the Mitzvot/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 have relevance today?

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

This biblical verse is telling us "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 do 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,

Rabbi Mendy Shanowitz

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