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The weekly share – 20 IYAR

The weekly share – 20 IYAR

Nourriture pour l'âme

Are People Inherently Good or Evil?

Are people born innately good or essentially evil? Do we have a basically good nature that is corrupted by society or a basically bad nature that is kept in check by society? A study conducted by Scientific American tested people’s responses based on two mechanisms: intuition or reflection. “Intuition is automatic and effortless, leading to actions that occur without insight into the reasons behind them. Reflection, on the other hand, is all about conscious thought—identifying possible behaviors, weighing the costs and benefits, and rationally deciding on a course of action.” Based on these responses, the study suggested that people’s first and intuitive impulse was to cooperate; only upon further reflection did they decide to be more selfish. The test concluded that people are instinctively willing to give for the good of the group, even at our own personal expense.

But does this mean that we are naturally cooperative, or that it has become instinctive because cooperation is rewarded by society? Researchers at Yale University experimented on babies, who have the minimum of cultural influence. Basing their study on the fact that babies will reach for things they want or like—and will look longer at things that surprise them—their results suggested that even the youngest humans have an instinct to prefer good over evil, friendly helpful motivations over malicious ones.

But if we’re born good, why do parents have to devote major efforts to raise children to become good adults? Why does every civilization require so many laws and consequences to control human behavior? And why has so much evil been perpetuated by humanity over the centuries?

Bechukotai begins with the verse: If you walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3). The Talmud explains that the word “if” is to be understood as a plea on the part of G d: “If only you would follow My statutes . . . ” But the word chok (“statute” or “decree”) literally means “engraved.” A rabbi once remarked: “Every Jew is a letter in the Torah. But a letter may grow somewhat faded. It is our sacred duty to mend these faded letters and make G d’s Torah whole again.”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch objected: “No, the identity of the Jew cannot be compared to erasable ink on parchment. Every Jew is indeed a letter in G d’s Torah, but a letter engraved in stone. At times, the dust and dirt may accumulate and distort—or even completely conceal—the letter’s true form; but underneath it all, the letter remains whole. We need only sweep away the surface grime, and the letter, in all its perfection and beauty, will come to light.”

D’après un article par Chana Weisberg

Shabbat shalom


This Shabbat we read from the Torah portions Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34). It addresses the laws of the Sabbatical year: every seventh year, all work on the land should cease, and its produce becomes free for the taking for all, man and beast. Seven Sabbatical cycles are followed by a fiftieth year—the Jubilee year, on which work on the land ceases, all indentured servants are set free, and all ancestral estates in the Holy Land that have been sold revert to their original owners. Additional laws governing the sale of lands, and the prohibitions against fraud and usury are also given. G-d promises that if the people of Israel will keep His commandments, they will enjoy material prosperity and dwell securely in their homeland. But He also delivers a harsh “rebuke,” warning of the exile, persecution and other evils that will befall them if they abandon their covenant with Him. Nevertheless, “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away; nor will I ever abhor them, to destroy them and to break My covenant with them; for I am the L‑rd their G‑d.”

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Esprit sur la matière


The nature of a human being is to simply react, to throw back at others the medicine they mete out to you.

This is what Rava, the Babylonian Jewish sage, would advise: Ignore the urge to return bad with bad, hurt with hurt, scorn with scorn—and the heavenly court will ignore your scorning, your hurting, your acts that were less than good.

G‑d shadows man. Go beyond your nature with others and He will do the same with you.

Rabbin Tzvi Freeman

Pensée du Mochiach

“Even when they are in their enemies’ land, I will not abhor them nor spurn them so as to destroy them…” (Bechukotay 26:44). 

Le Zohar (III:115b) interprète : Au temps de la galout (exile) the Jewish People are like a bride living in a street of tanneries. Her Bridegroom would normally never enter a putrid place like that. His great love for His bride, however, makes Him imagine that her dwelling is like a perfumery with the most pleasant smells in the world.

This analogy, however, applies only to the time of the galout. At present we have reached a point of “No more galoutgalut ! » Nous devons nous préparer pour la chupah (auvent de mariage) de la rédemption. Les « vêtements » (conditions et gestes) qui auraient pu suffire à la « rue des tanneries » sont évidemment tout à fait inappropriés pour se rendre à notre mariage avec notre Bien-Aimé...

Rabbin J. Immanuel Schochet

J’ai une histoire

Beyond Rebuke

My cholesterol is sky high, the boss is unhappy with my performance, my wife thinks our marriage is a mess and now the lousy car broke down. For G‑d’s sake, why does everything happen to me? Do I deserve this? Am I really such a terrible person?

Sound familiar? As a rabbi, I have certainly heard this and similar questions asked many times over the years. Implicit in the question is the assumption that any suffering or misfortune that befalls us must be some form of divine retribution; surely, it must be a punishment from G‑d. But if I’m such a good guy why then should I deserve such punishment? And, if on top of that, we also believe that G‑d is good, then this is really too mind-boggling for a mere mortal like me to work out.

So what if I told you that divine punishment is only one of many possible scenarios to explain your predicament? There are a great many possible explanations and interpretations for human suffering. In fact, it might not be a punishment at all. So don’t be in such a hurry to make all these assumptions.

The Torah reading of Bechukotai includes a section known as the Rebuke. It is an ominous warning of the troubles that will befall Israel should we stray from the G‑dly path. The mystics teach that even those frightening punishments are, in reality, hidden blessings that cannot be perceived at face value.

I remember hearing an interesting analogy on this theme from the well-known author Rabbi Dr A.J. Twerski. A mother takes her toddler to the doctor. The doctor prepares to give the child a vaccination by injection. The kid isn’t stupid. He sees trouble coming, so he doesn’t make it easy for the doctor. In fact, mom must hold the child down while the doctor administers the injection, and throughout, the kid is screaming and shouting. Not a minute later the child is suddenly burying his face in mom’s shoulder, desperately seeking solace in his mother’s embrace. And the question is why? Was mom not an accomplice to the crime when she held him down while the doctor attacked him? Why is this child suddenly finding comfort on mom’s shoulder? She is the enemy!

The answer is that every child knows intuitively that his mother loves him and wants only the best for her child. Even if there seems to be a momentary lapse, he knows it will be short-lived. After the fleeting test of faith, the innate and essential bond of love between mother and child is quickly re-established.

And so it is with our Father in Heaven. Sometimes we may feel angry; it seems as if he has joined forces with Satan. Why does He allow all these terrible misfortunes to befall us? And yet, we know that he really and truly does love us. After all is said and done, we are His children. Does the mother in the clinic hate her child? Is she punishing him? G‑d forbid. Does the doctor want to hurt the child? Of course not (unless he is a dentist or a physiotherapist!). So, just as a child is comforted by his mother, so is the Jew comforted by the knowledge and conviction that G‑d loves us.

To us it may remain a mystery but to G‑d there is a cosmic, eternal plan. The child doesn’t understand or appreciate an injection and neither can we fathom the divine “vaccinations” we must put up with from time to time. Nevertheless, we accept in good faith that somehow there is a reason – and even a good reason – behind all our problems. It may not be revealed to us in this world, only in the next. So we do need a fair amount of patience. Personally, I’m prepared to handle living in suspense.

In our moments of misery and days of distress, let us remember that our loving Father in Heaven is surely no less caring than the mother in the doctor’s rooms.

Rabbin Yossy Goldman

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