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Rabbi's Corner

Giving Means Gaining!

This week we read about the meticulous order of the meal that Abraham offered his guests. First, he gave them cheese and milk, and only afterward did he present them with calf’s meat, (consistent with Jewish dietary laws that deli products may be eaten after dairy products, but not vice versa).

Every detail recorded in the Torah contains a timeless lesson for us all. What then can be learned from Abraham choosing to serve his guests these particular items – milk, cheese and meat – to begin with? The choice of meat is clear, as he wished to serve his visitors a satisfactory meal. But why, from among the many possible appetizers, did Abraham decide to give them milk and cheese as a prelude to meat?

The rule of thumb in our world is that sharing something with somebody else constitutes a loss for the giver. If I have it, and give it to you, I lose it; if you have it, and give it to me, you lose it. If I write a check for charity, my checking account naturally shrinks.

An exception to this rule is the milk the mother feeds her suckling. As long as a mother continues sharing her nourishing liquid with the child, her mammary glands will keep on refilling with more milk. In fact, the quantity of the milk is usually dependent on her sharing it. The more a mother nurses, the greater the flow of her milk her body produces. When she ceases to breast-feed, her inner production of milk ceases.

This is one of the Kabbalistic explanations behind the unique phenomenon of breast-feeding. Through this natural process of infant nourishment, a mother is given the extraordinary opportunity to ingrain within her child’s tender consciousness the truth about sharing. The more you give, the more you will receive, just like the milk that you are now swallowing.

Very often guests – particularly if they are strangers – feel uncomfortable staying in somebody else’s home and eating another person’s food. Abraham, sensitive to the feelings of his guests, addressed this awkwardness by offering them milk at that start of the meal.

This reflected the revolutionary Jewish approach toward giving. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is a life filled with love and caring toward other human beings.

Shabbat Shalom

Go, But Where To.....

When learning to structure a paragraph or essay one is taught that the opening sentence should contain the general theme or message the author wishes to convey. This premise is not limited to writing. Any opening, beginning, or first, sets the tone for what is to follow. Whether it is a first step of a journey, the first bar of a symphony, or the mission statement of a business venturer, every beginning attempts to prepare for the entirety of what is soon to follow.

With this in mind, let us look at this week’s Torah portion, in which the story of the Jewish People ‘opens’. Let us look at the opening sentence of the Jewish People and try to gain insight into the essence and purpose of our nation.

The Torah opens: “And G‑d said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.” Interestingly, G‑d doesn’t give Abraham a destination to be reached or a purpose for leaving. G‑d merely says go away from where you are and follow Me – destination unknown.

Thus begins the story of the first Jew. And herein lies the eternal “mission statement” for the Jewish People: “Go! – The Sky is the Limit”

As Jews, we are never to be satisfied with our status quo and never to be content with yesterday’s accomplishments. We have been empowered by G‑d (and therefore carry the responsibility) to journey on an infinite mission of goodness. Our “Jewish conscience” never allows us to settle into a comfort zone. We seem to have this constant unexplainable drive and urge to pursue, to progress, and to refine life – be it our own, our family’s,  or the lives of our community and those around us.

May G‑d give each and everyone of us the ability to fulfill our G‑d given missions. By each of us adding one more act of goodness and kindness, we can – and surely will - bring the world to a state of perfection with the coming of Moshaich!

Shabbat Shalom,

Surviving the Hurricanes

Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, often times, we feel as if life is one extended hurricane. We are constantly battling the waves which the sea of life sends our way. As soon as one wave washes ashore, the second one is not far behind threatening to capsize over us unless we skillfully navigate our way over its raging crest. In truth, the daily financial pressures and business worries which life presents us are dubbed by King Solomon as the “mighty waters” which threaten to drown us spiritually and emotionally.

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the Flood which washed away all of civilization. Only Noah and his family survived the Flood by entering the Ark which protected them from the pelting rain. Our eternal Torah isn’t merely telling us a fascinating tale; if we look a bit deeper, at the story behind the story, we can also unravel the secret behind surviving all floods—even the ones which the meteorologists don’t forecast; the ominous floods of life.

G‑d commanded Noah to enter an Ark. The holy Baal Shem Tov points out that the Hebrew word for “Ark,” תיבה, also means “word.” We all can survive the floods which wish to engulf our lives through engrossing ourselves in the holy “words” of Torah and prayer. The person who wakes up in the morning and devotes his first hours or minutes to earnest prayer and some short words of Torah before running off to work, effectively insulates himself against life’s storms.

The sacred words of Torah and prayer have a waterproofing effect, encapsulating the person in an impenetrable bubble which can endure even the harshest winds. Starting the day with prayer and Torah serves as our daily reminder that G‑d is in control, and though we must strive to earn a livelihood, we must never let ourselves become overly perturbed by business pressures—because ultimately everything is from G‑d; and G‑d is always good.

If we can meet life’s storms while in the safe sanctuary of the “Ark” we will find that the stormy waters seemingly so destructive, are actually purifying waters. G‑d purified the world through the flood (which lasted forty days, similar to a mikvah which must contain forty sa’ah of water), and He purifies us by sending challenges and tribulations in our direction. If we are properly prepared for these storms, they express our highest and most noble qualities, thereby elevating us to spiritual heights we could never attain without the help of these hurricanes.

Shabbat Shalom

Let There Be Light

The holidays have past and now we’re off to a fresh new start with renewed strength and vigor!

On this Shabbat we will, once again, begin reading the Torah anew. And each year, as we start a new cycle of Torah reading, we reach deeper and deeper into the infinite wisdom that G‑d has woven into the Torah.

What are the first words G‑d utters in the Torah? What are G‑d’s opening lines in the bible?

“And G‑d said: Let there be light”.

This seems rather strange, because nothing existed yet that could benefit from the light. There were no trees that needed rays of light to grow and no animals or people who use the light to see. So why were G‑d’s first words, “let there be light”?

Before answering this question let me share a kabbalistic thought with you:

The Kabbalah teaches us the following insightful rule of life: “The final act is the first thought”. Simply put, this means that when embarking on any project or business venture, the very first thing we need to think about it what we want our final product to look like. Or, as any business coach will tell you, “you need to first have a mission statement”.

If we do not first lay down the ultimate goal and purpose of the task at hand, the project will likely deteriorate into a random and fruitless proposition. This is the meaning of the Kabbalistic statement “The final act is the first thought”.

This concept was demonstrated most profoundly by G‑d when He created the universe. Before creating the various components of the universe, G‑d first laid down his mission statement for creation: “Let there be light”.

This is the underlying goal and theme that governs all of existence and it is this declaration that acts as the portal and opening of the Torah. G‑d wanted it to be unmistakably clear at the very beginning; with the very first creation – light, that He has created a world in order for light to radiate.

Light represents clarity, warmth, brightness and holiness. Darkness represents confusion, emptiness and negativity. The purpose of existence is to transform darkness into light, turn challenge into opportunity and bring holiness into that which is unholy.

How to we accomplish this awesome task? How to we transform the world into a G‑dly edifice? We do mitzvahs. Yes, each time we light a Shabbat candle, lend a helping hand to someone in need, put on tefillin, or make a blessing over kosher food, we add light and bring the world closer to its final G‑dly state.

So as we set forth to journey through this new year of 5779, let us make the mission statement clear from the outset: We are created to bring light and G‑dliness to the world!

Let’s do a mitzvah today! “Let there be light.”

Shabbat Shalom,

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