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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 Sunday, May 20th 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,

He Really Does Run the World

This week's Torah reading talks of the mitzvah called “shemitah”. After working the land of Israel for six years, G‑d tells us to let the land rest every seventh year. No agricultural work may be performed during this Shemitah (Sabbatical) year.

Then the Torah talks to our human instincts and tells us:

"And if you shall say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year’?”

Don’t worry, says G‑d:

“I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years."

Very few people can financially survive taking an unpaid leave of absence from work for an entire year. We can only imagine what a country would look like of entire segments of its population decided to take a year of vacation; it would take years for the economy to lift itself out of the ensuing shambles. Just think: Strikes by small groups which last for mere days cause billions of dollars of damage to nations' economies.

We neglect to mention this awesome miracle which occurred in the Land of Israel every seventh year! Yet it actually happened. Regularly. Citizens of an agrarian based nation dropped their plows and sickles and "sabbaticaled" every seventh year, and survived and flourished! We speak often of miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, of the ten plagues and Elijah's wonders, but we neglect to mention this awesome miracle which occurred in the Land of Israel every seventh year! For centuries long, every sixth year the crop would be so abundant that it lasted for three years for those who were committed to abstain from work on the seventh.

Perhaps it can be posited that greater than the miracle of the abundant crops is the trust the Jews demonstrated in G‑d.

If society today is any indicator, people have a strong tendency to relegate G‑d to the synagogue. Those who are more pious allow G‑d into their personal lives as well. But fewer indeed are those who welcome Him into their businesses and pocketbooks. "I'll pray to G‑d, I'll study Torah and do His mitzvot, but business is business…" The Biblical law requiring ten percent of earnings to be given to charity and the prohibitions against lending with interest, cheating, deception, and working on Shabbat and holy days are swept under the rug in the interest of making ends meet.

Shmitah teaches us that we are not intrinsically weak; we do have the ability to trust in G‑d. And He, in turn, has the ability to provide for those who do so. G‑d pleads, "Is My hand too short to redeem, or do I have no strength to save? Behold, with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make rivers into a desert." Yes, the same G‑d who split the Red Sea can even provide us and our families with a steady income.

May we absorb and internalize this liberating message. If we do our part, He’ll do His! (CLICK HERE for a modern shemitah miracle story)

Shabbat Shalom,

A Cat Can't Fly

One day towards evening when it was getting dark, two friends Yankel and Berel saw something in the distance. Yankel thought that it was a bird while Berel claimed that it was a cat. To resolve their dispute they decided on the following experiment. They would throw a stone at the object. If it flies it must be a bird, but if it remains still, it is indeed a cat.

As soon as the stone made contact with the object it flew away. As Yankel was about to claim victory Berel turned around to him and exclaimed: "you know my dear friend, it is the first time I have seen a cat that flies". 

We are currently in the 'Omer'; a seven-week period of time wherein we count the 49 days leading us towards the festival of Shavuot – the day we received the Torah. Our sages teach that these seven weeks are a time of personal growth; a time to develop, refine and work on our character traits, making them more sensitive and spiritually attuned. And sometimes this requires a paradigm shift. 

We humans tend to get stuck on the ‘cat’ and won’t give it up. Breaking loose of our comfort zone and making a real change is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face. Even if "it flies", we will find a way to still see it as a cat. 

And yet, at the same time we have been endowed with an innate sense and intuitive desire to transcend, and change our current status. Somewhere in the depth of our sub consciousness, we wish we could get out our "cat-view" and see our life as the soaring bird. 

And that is exactly what the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are all about. On Passover G‑d took us out of slavery. But that’s only half of the process. Then it’s up to us to spend the next seven weeks taking the slavery mentality out of ourselves. 

According to the kabbalah, each week we focus on a different character trait. And by the end of the seven weeks of the Omer we’ve completely broken out of our box and left our confining and stubborn perspectives behind us. 

Tonight we’ll count #34. So please join the journey towards number 49 (it’s never too late to hop on board) and together we will merit – as one community – to receive and internalize the Torah with great joy!

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

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