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Rabbi's Corner

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!

Wishing you and your family a Shabbat Shalom and an early Shana Tovah! Please join us for our children's service on Monday and Tuesday.

(adapted from Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson) 

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!

Wishing you and your family a Shabbat Shalom,

(adapted from Rabbi A. Moss) 

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