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Rabbi's Corner

My Birthday Reflections

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 talents and 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. 

This week I also celebrated my birthday, yes with the cake and all. But a birthday according to the kabbalah is something more then just the cake and good wishes. It's a day of reflection. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once said "Your birthday is g‑d’s way of telling you that the world could not exist without you” It's my job and your job to make this world a dwelling place for g-d almighty. 

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, 

Boosting Our Self Esteem

How do we develop confidence when we don't have it? How do we overcome fear, nerves and anxieties? Well, without going into major psychological dissertations (which I'm not qualified to do in the first place), let's see if we can find some insight in this week's Torah reading.

Everything was set for the inauguration of the sacred service in the Sanctuary. The week-long preparations had been completed. Now it was Aaron's turn to approach the altar and begin the service. But Aaron was reluctant. He still felt a sense of shame for his part in creating the Golden Calf. So Moshe calls out to Aaron: "Approach the altar and perform the services." (Leviticus 9:7). Aaron did so and completed all the required tasks correctly.

But what exactly did Moshe say to Aaron to assuage his fears? All he said was "Come and do your thing." He never actually dealt with his issues. How did he address his concerns, his feelings of inadequacy?

Perhaps, Moshe was saying: Come and do, and all your fears will be stilled. You lack confidence? Start performing the services and you will see that it fits you like a glove. You were born to be a High Priest and that's where you belong.

While conventional wisdom tells our children’s self confidence will be boosted by compliments, attention, and goodies, Judaism teaches us that a feeling of self worth can only come from DOING the right thing and making a difference

Moses was telling Aaron that if he would begin performing his chosen role, the rest would follow. As they say in Yiddish, Apetit kumt mit'n essen. Even if you're not hungry, if you start eating, your appetite will follow. I suppose that's why the first course in a meal is called an "appetizer." (Trust Jews when it comes to food.)

Dr. Moses was dispensing sound psychological advice. The surest way of developing confidence is to begin doing that which you fear.

Perhaps this applies to us in our Jewish lives as well. I know many people who are reluctant to get involved and intimidated by Judaism only because they are not confident enough about synagogue protocol or their Hebrew literacy.

So on this Shabbat, as we’re going to read Moshe’s sound advice, let’s try taking it to heart. We will find that the most gratifying part of our lives would never have been ours if we didn’t – JUST DO IT!

"Come and do" said Moshe to his humble and hesitant brother. Aaron came and did and the rest is history.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jewish Continuity

On the Seder night, as we sit down together with our children to eat our matzah and joyously celebrate our Exodus from slavery in Egypt, we will be faithfully replicating the traditions and practices performed by our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents - going back thousands of years. 

Today a cry reverberates throughout the Jewish world: “Continuity!” How best to transmit our heritage to the next generation? How can we ensure that our grandchildren will celebrate their Passover with the same fervor and excitement? Allow me to share with you a thought I recently read by Rabbi Dov Greenberg, director of Chabad at Stanford University:

“It is said that inherited wealth lasts for three generations. The same applies to inherited Judaism. Today's young Jews are by and large of the fourth generation. In the fourth generation, Jewish identity is either renewed, or it vanishes.

On Passover we read of "Four Children" at the Seder table. These, one may suggest, represent four successive generations. The wise son symbolizes the immigrant generation who received a good Jewish education and still lived Jewishly. The rebellious son is the second generation, who lacking a meaningful Jewish education, abandoned Jewish identity for social integration. The "simple" child is the third generation, confused by the mixed messages of religious grandparents and nonreligious parents. The child who cannot even ask the question is the fourth generation, who no longer has a memory or context of Jewish life. 

Today's youth are the fourth generation. They do not take for granted that they will marry another Jew or establish a Jewish home, or will raise Jewish children. Nothing can be taken for granted in the fourth generation, especially in an open society with its huge marketplace of competing ideologies. The fourth generation will choose to be Jewish for one reason only: knowing the sacred history of our people, sensing the richness of Jewish life, understanding the profundity of Judaism.”

Let us therefore utilize these precious moments of our Seder to truly immerse ourselves and our families in the rich Passover spirit (leaving idle talk and ‘catching up on the latest’ for a different evening). In so doing we can truly pass the holy baton of Judaism to the next runner in this historical marathon - our next generation.

Wishing you and your entire family a joyous and meaningful Passover,

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