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Rabbi's Corner

Maintaining a Healthy Balance - Yitro

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Goldman) 

What is Judaism’s definition of a well-balanced individual? One who has a chip on both shoulders!

Tomorrow in synagogue we will read the Ten Commandments (or, the “Ten Suggestions”, as some like to refer to them). As we know, the commandments were engraved on two tablets. The tablet on the right focuses on our responsibilities to G‑d, such as faith and Shabbat, while the other side dealt with our inter-personal duties, e.g. no murder, adultery and thievery.

And the message we need to bear in mind is that both these areas are sacred, both come directly from G‑d and both form the core of Torah law and what being Jewish is all about. We must be well-balanced Jews and we ought not to take the liberty of emphasizing one tablet over the other. A healthy, all-around Jew lives a balanced, wholesome life and is, as the Yiddish expression goes, Gut tzu G-tt un gut tzu leit--good to G‑d and good to people.

If we focus on one side of the tablets to the detriment of the other, we walk around like a hinke’dike, a handicapped Jew with a bad limp. Thus a good Jew is a well-balanced Jew.

This means that it's not good enough to be "religious" on the ritual side of Judaism and free and easy on the side of being a “mentch” (a proper and decent human being). We have to be honest and live with integrity. If we are "religious" towards to G‑d but not fair with people, we become fanatical fundamentalists blowing up people in the name of G‑d! The same G‑d who motivates and inspires us to be G‑dly and adhere to a religious code also expects us to be mentchen.

But neither can we neglect the right side of the tablets. A good Jew cannot simply be a humanitarian. Otherwise, why did G‑d need Jews altogether? It is not enough for a Jew to be a nice guy. Everyone must be nice. All of humankind is expected to behave honestly and honorably. To be good, moral, ethical and decent is the duty of every human being on the planet. A good Jew must be all of that and then some. He or she must be a good person and also fulfill his or her specific Jewish responsibilities, the mitzvahs that are directed to Jews which are uniquely Jewish.

In order that we maintain a healthy balance and don't start limping, we ought to bear in mind that the very same G‑d who said we should be nice also said we should have faith, keep Shabbat, kosher, mikvah and the rest of it.

Thus, as we read the Ten Commandments this week, let us resolve to keep our Jewish balance, not to limp or become "one-armed bandits." Let us be well rounded and permeate every facet of our lives with meaning and purpose. And in this merit we’ll reach and fulfill the purpose of creation and usher in the era that we have long awaited; an era when the Ten Commandments will become the instinctive reality for each and every one of us – the coming of moshiach.

Let’s do a mitzvah today!

Shabbat Shalom,

The Egypt Within Us . . .

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson)

This week's Torah portion is, in a sense, one of the most important sections of the Torah. Parshat Beshalach contains a watershed event in Jewish history - the Exodus from Egypt.

The Hebrew term for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means barriers, representing all the forces that obstruct a person from becoming who he or she really is. Every one of us professes our own inner "Mitzrayim," those voices or powers that hold us down from living a truly meaningful and profound life. It may be anxiety, fear, addiction, arrogance, loneliness, despair, insecurity, laziness, dishonesty or envy. It may stem from negative life experiences, such as a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, health problems, mental challenges, financial defeat, or, heaven forbid, loss of loved ones. These challenges, among many more, can bring about a state of psychological exile, in which we remain stuck in the quagmire of torment, paralysis and hopelessness, never discovering our inner calling and potential.

In contrast, the Biblical story of exodus embodies the human potential to liberate itself from physical, mental and spiritual slavery. It captures our power to transcend the barriers that obstruct the heart's inner glow; our ability to encounter a beacon of freedom beneath the stratums of the psyche; our courage to discover our inner power and dignity.

No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G‑d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.

Shabbat Shalom,

The Kabbalah of a Bar-B-Q

(adapted from Rabbi Y. Jacobson)

This Shabbat we read about the way in which the Jewish People were to prepare their meal eaten on that memorable night on which they discovered liberty - their Exodus from Egypt. They were commanded: “You shall eat the Passover offering on that night, roasted on the fire . . . Do not eat of it roasted in a pot, or cooked, or boiled in water; only roasted on the fire." (Exodus 12:8-9)

It seems uniquely strange that G‑d, creator of heaven and earth, would choose the roast and reject the sauté for the Passover offering. Does G‑d really care if you cook, boil or sauté the Passover offering meat? What message lies behind this peculiar mitzvah?

The basic difference between cooking and roasting is, that while in cooking (or boiling or sautéing) the food is prepared via a combination of both fire (or heat) and water (or other liquids), roasting only employs fire as the means to heat the food.

In Jewish mysticism, fire represents upward striving, yearning, passion, tension and restlessness, while water symbolizes satiation, containment, tranquility, fulfillment and calmness.

What type of life ought one to strive for? Should we yearn for a journey of ceaseless ambition and fervor, or for an existence of tranquility and gratification? 

One would imagine that freedom is achieving that state in which we are cleansed from all the tension, yearning and longing. "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I will show you a happy man."

This mitzvah teaches us quite the opposite. On the very night when Israel embraced the blessing of freedom, it simultaneously learnt that the Passover freedom offering could not be prepared with even one drop of water, only through direct contact with fire. Why?

Freedom is the ability to be truly and fully human. And to be human is to be restless. Created in the image of G‑d, our horizons are forever extending. Our lack of satiation is not reflective of our lowly nature; on the contrary, it reflects our greatness. A human being always senses that there is much more to life, to reality, to truth, and he/she yearn for it.

Let us constantly look to add, never being complacent, and not allowing our lives to remain status quo. That is a true Kabbalistic Bar-B-Q!

Shabbat Shalom,

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