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Rabbi's Corner

Who Am I

They tell the story about the "wise man" from Chelm. He worried that when he went to the public bathhouse where everyone is unclothed he wouldn't know who he was. Without his own personal set of clothing to distinguish him from others, he might suffer an identity crisis. So he devised a plan. He tied a red string around his big toe so that even in the bathhouse he would stand out from everyone else. Sadly, when he was in the shower, the water and soapsuds loosened the red string, and it slipped off his big toe. To make matters worse, the red string floated along to the next cubicle and twirled around the big toe of the fellow under the next shower.

Suddenly, our Chelmer genius discovered that his string was gone. He started panicking. This was a serious identity crisis. Then he saw that the fellow next door was sporting his red string. Whereupon, he ran over to him and shouted, "I know who you are, but who am I?"

Weeks sometimes go by and we might experience ‘spiritual amnesia’. In the course of our busy schedule we seem to forget our family, our history, or our identity. "Who am I? Where do I come from and where am I going?"

Unfortunately, all too often it takes something negative to give us a jolt and remind us. But on this Shabbat, as we now find ourselves just 11 days before the sacred holiday – Pesach, let us celebrate who we are through joy.

Each of us is a child of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. We have a rich heritage and a G‑dly destiny. So let’s act upon it and let us let who we are become revealed in all that we do. Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

Be the First to Contribute…

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 Golden Calf - How Could They?

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.

It is therefore no coincidence that the story of the golden calf is read just a few days after the holiday of Purim. We have just come from the ‘high’ of Purim. Let us hold on to this ‘high’; taking this spark and using it as the starter of our spiritual engine. By turning this inspiration into action; by doing one more mitzvah, we can have a true and meaningful relationship with our loving spouse – G‑d Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom,

Purim - The Recipe for Joy

Tomorrow evening is 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 and even the occasional school shooting.


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 & very Joyous Purim!

Wealth - Use It Wisely

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!" 

In Jewish tradition we do not extol poverty or see poverty as a virtue. And we do not look down at wealth. If fact, possessing financial means is a great blessing and merit. It enables us to do so much good. But – like every blessing – it has its pitfalls. It can be wasted on materialistic pursuits and can stimulate a self-centric existence. 

This then is the primary theme of the portion we will read tomorrow. G‑d tells the Jewish People. “You inherited tremendous wealth from Egypt. Now do something holy with it. Build a home in through which my presence can be revealed throughout the world.” 

And this is the perpetual call to each of us. We each have been endowed with wealth, with gifts, with talents, and with resources. And G‑d calls out to each of us, “Use your recourses to reveal my presence in your life by doing mitzvahs and giving charity. Use every gift you have to better the world around you; making it a more holy and G‑dly place.” 

May we answer this call and very soon bring about the era when “the world will be filled with the Knowledge or G‑d” (Isaiah 11:9) – the coming of Moshiach! 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

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