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Rabbi's Corner

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 Wednesday, May 31 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,

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 less then two weeks away from the holiday of Shavuot, the day – 3329 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 a 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 (messiah)!

Let’s do one more mitzvah!

Shabbat Shalom,

Life is too Short to Fool Around

This week's Torah Portion relates directly to the time period we currently are in. One month ago we celebrated the festival of Passover. And in approximately 3 weeks time the festival of Shavuot will be upon us - the holiday that commemorates the day we received the Torah.

This week’s portion teaches us that we are to count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.

Just as the Israelites counted the days after the Exodus in eager anticipation to receive the Torah, so do we count these 49 days annually. This counting is known as the ‘omer’.

But why count time? Time marches on inexorably, whether we take note of it or not. What value is there in counting the days?

The answer is that we count these 49 days to make us conscious of the preciousness of every single day. To make us more sensitive to the value of a day, an hour, a moment. As Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty, once said, "A summer's day and a winter's night is a year."

The saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933) once said the following: Life is like a picture postcard.

Have you ever had the experience of being on vacation and sending a picture postcard home or to a friend? We start writing with a large scrawl and then think of new things to say and before we know it we're at the end of the card and there's no more room. So what do we do? We start writing smaller and then when we're out of space we start winding our words around the edges of the card to get it all in. Before we know it, we're turning the card upside down to squeeze in the last few vital words in our message.

Sound familiar?

Life is not all that much different. We start off young and reckless without a worry in the world and as we get older we realize that life is short. So we start cramming and trying to squeeze in all those important things we never got around to. Sometimes our attempts are quite desperate, even pathetic, as we seek to put some meaning into our lives before it's too late. (Maybe that's what a mid-life crisis is all about.)

So the Torah tells us to count our days – because they are, in fact, numbered. We each have an allotted number of days and years in which to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Hopefully, by counting time we will appreciate it better. So, whatever it is that is important for each of us to get done, please G‑d, we will all get around to it.

Tonight is the 32nd day in the omer counting. We have only 17 days that remain. Let us make them meaningful; days full of purpose and direction; days infused with a sense of G‑d, moral clarity and many mitzvahs.

Shabbat Shalom 

Yesterday is Better than Today

"Do not make for yourselves gods out of cast metal." This is one of that mitzvahs / 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 apply today?

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

What this biblical verse - "Do not make for yourselves gods out of cast metal" - is telling us is 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 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,

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