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Food For the Soul

The Cloud

What is the connection between the Jews travelling forward and the establishment of the Tabernacle in the desert? This information would seem to be more appropriate later in the book of Numbers when it describes in great detail the various travels of the people of Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Secondly, the verse implies that the Jews’ march toward the Land of Israel is specifically connected to the Divine Presence, leaving their camp in the desert. Only when “the cloud lifted” do “the Israelites set out.” Why is this so?

Chasidic thought answers both of these questions. It understands the Tabernacle to be a paradigm for all of the world. What dynamic is at play behind the timing of the Jewish people’s journeys? One answer is that there is no great spiritual accomplishment in fulfilling the Divine Will at a time when G-d’s Presence is revealed and manifest. The ultimate goal of existence is to rise up and connect to holiness, even when it is hidden and concealed from us. The Midrash tells us that G‑d desired a “dwelling place for Himself in the lower worlds.” But relative to G‑d, is there truly an upper or lower world? His realm is infinite.

We can now understand that when G‑d’s cloud was found among the Jewish people and His Presence was revealed, then the material world ceased to be “lowly.” It is only when the cloud of G‑d raises itself higher and higher, and His Divine Light is no longer revealed, can we begin the spiritual fulfilling of G‑d’s design. And the Tabernacle bestows upon the Jewish people the strength and faculties to bring holiness into the world, the ultimate purpose of Creation.

This is an extremely relevant message for us all at this time in Jewish history. There is a darkness that rests on the world, necessitating our best efforts, even more than before, to engage in the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvot. We must understand that our ultimate goal and purpose is to illuminate that darkness with the light of the Torah. Just as the disappearance of the Divine cloud from the Tabernacle became the sign to proceed forward, so, too, should today’s conflicts encourage and arouse us to dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of G‑d’s mission, which is to journey past this era and into the Messianic era of the complete and full redemption.

From an article by Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai and Hachodesh

This week we finish the reading of the book of Exodus (Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai – Exodus 35:1-40:38). According to Rabbi Shraga Sherman it is “also known in the commentaries as the Book of Redemption because of its description of the people of Israel leaving Egypt. This second book of the Torah concludes by describing the establishment and dedication of the Tabernacle [Mishkan] and, most importantly, the revelation of G‑d’s Divine Presence within it.”

In addition, this Shabbat, we read “Hachodesh” (Exodus 12:1-20), which recounts G-d’s historic communication to Moses in Egypt on the 1st of Nissan (2 weeks before the Exodus) regarding the Jewish calendar, the month of Nissan and the Passover offering.

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Mind Over Matter

Diversity and Strength

The Lubavitcher Rebbe: When you find someone different from you, seek that which you are lacking. There are no weak people, no people who are a burden on society. Certainly, no worthless people. There are only many different kinds of people, each with their own unique contribution. And that is good. Because endless diversity is a sign of a deep, underlying unity. And unity is strength.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

A Place of Holiness Even in the Desert

The sanctuary was built in the desert, and it traveled with the Jewish people in all their journeys through the wilderness. This emphasizes the important principle that it is possible to establish a place of holiness even in a desert. Thus, even in a wasteland and wilderness, Jews have the ability to build a mishkan, a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among them in general, and within every individual in particular. Just as there is a physical desert, so too there is a spiritual desert which is governed by the most harmful ideas, by desolation and emptiness in matters of Torah and mitzvot. The latter may exist even in a land that is, physically speaking, a blooming garden. The Torah thus teaches us that when we find ourselves in such a spiritual wasteland, we can-and must-establish a sanctuary. Moreover, we can-and must-carry it forward, following in the “footsteps” of the Divine Presence, as it were, until we reach the Divinely blessed Holy Land, i.e., the true and complete redemption by Moshiach! 

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

The Inside-Out House

Shortly after the Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Horodok (1730? -1788) arrived in the Holy Land, it happened that a man climbed the Mount of Olives and sounded a shofar (ram’s horn). A rumour quickly spread that the shofar’s call heralded the arrival of Moshiach. When word of this reached Rabbi Mendel, he threw the windows wide open and sniffed the air. He then sadly closed the windows and remarked, “I don’t smell Moshiach.” 

In retelling this story, Chassidim have often asked: why did Rabbi Mendel need to open the window to sniff the air outside to know if Moshiach had arrived? Why couldn’t he smell the air in his own room? Rabbi Mendel—they would explain—was sniffing the air to determine if the hallmark of the messianic era, the revealed manifestation of the Divine, was present. He, therefore, sniffed the outside air, for within his room, the Divine was already present!

This story sheds light on an exchange, recorded in the Talmud, between Moses and Betzalel, Moses’ chief architect for the building of the Tabernacle. Moses summoned Betzalel and relayed G‑d’s instructions for building the Tabernacle. First, he laid out the measurements of the sacred vessels that would inhabit the Tabernacle, and then the dimensions of the Tabernacle itself. Betzalel, the prototype architect, objected to the order. “As a rule,” he argued, “a person first builds a residence and then makes its furniture.” Moses conceded the point and exclaimed, “Indeed, you stood in G-d’s  shadow and understood his intention.” 

What is the underlying principle of the different perspectives on the Tabernacle expressed by Moses and Betzalel? The purpose of the tabernacle, and the temple that followed it, was to establish a domain for G‑d within the physical space of our world. 

When G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai, his presence was overwhelming, and the people could not withstand the sheer intensity of the experience. They were physically thrown back from the mountain and G‑d dispatched angels to lead them back. Their souls expired from the spiritual intensity, and G‑d nursed them back to life.

After the Sinai experience, it was clear that the people could not be exposed to a direct revelation of G‑d’s presence. G‑d instructed them to build a special chamber instead, where his unrestricted presence would be manifest. Only the worthy, such as the high priest, would access this sacred chamber; but its aura would affect those outside. The environment outside the chamber was yet incapable of supporting a direct revelation of divinity. However, with effort and commitment, revelation could, over time, be made possible. According to our prophets, this will be accomplished in the messianic era when there will be a direct revelation of G‑dliness throughout the world. 

The work that makes this possible is diligent study of Torah and the practice of its commandments. This regular diet of divinity gradually purifies our worldly environment and lifts the universal veil. We are closing in on the utopia of direct revelation that will be manifest in the messianic era. When G‑d first instructed that the tabernacle be constructed, he envisioned this utopia. He anticipated a day when the divinity within the sacred chamber would expand to envelop the entire nation and when the human eye would see G‑d and not be overwhelmed by the experience. 

Moses, a G‑dly man, envisioned this utopia as well. Gazing out upon the world, he ignored its imperfections and saw only its divine potential. His mandate was to expose the “outside” world gradually to the divine presence on the “inside,” and he wished to accelerate the process. By building the Holy Ark before the walls that would enclose it, he hoped to offer to the “outside” a glimpse of its own capacity and thereby activate its potential. Betzalel, the architect, was a realist with the patience of a man accustomed to long-term goals. The environment on the outside was not prepared to host the Divine presence just yet. It would require centuries of gentle coaxing, committed coaching and tireless training.

Moses was the visionary; Betzalel the realist. Moses’ vision inspired confidence in the project; Betzalel’s realism made it possible. We pray for the day that Moses’ vision becomes Betzalel’s reality.

From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Food For the Soul

Get Ready for Purim!

The jolly holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar (late winter/early spring). Purim 2023 begins on Monday night, March 6 and continues through Tuesday, March 7, extending through Wednesday in Jerusalem. It commemorates the Divinely orchestrated salvation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian empire from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.” Literally “lots” in ancient Persian, Purim was thus named since Haman had thrown lots to determine when he would carry out his diabolical scheme, as recorded in the Megillah (book of Esther). 

The Fast of Esther (Taanit Esther) is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held on the day before Purim. It commemorates the fasting of our ancestors in response to the dramatic chain of events that occurred during their exile in the Persian empire. These events are recorded in the Megillah. In Montreal, the Fast of Esther begins 5:08 a.m. and ends 6:18 p.m. on March 6, 2023 (13 Adar, 5783) 

Visit to learn the story, observance and meaning of the Purim holiday

Shabbat Shalom

Tetzaveh and Zachor

This Shabbat, we read from the Parshah Tetzaveh (meaning Command), found in Exodus 27:20.  G‑d tells Moses to receive from the children of Israel pure olive oil to feed the “everlasting flame” of the menorah, which Aaron is to kindle each day, “from evening till morning.” The priestly garments are described, along with G‑d’s detailed instructions for the seven-day initiation of Aaron and his four sons into the priesthood and for the making of the golden altar on which the ketoret (incense) was burned.

This being the Shabbat before Purim, on which we celebrate the foiling of Haman the Amalekite’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, the weekly Parshah is supplemented with the Zachor reading (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) in which we are commanded to remember the evil of Amalek and to eradicate it from the face of the earth. Parshat Zachor is the second of four special readings added during or immediately before the month of Adar.

Mind Over Matter

Joy Breaks Barriers

There are many kinds of barriers: Barriers between people.
Barriers that prevent you from doing good things.
Barriers of your own mind and your own hesitations.
Barriers from within and barriers from without.
There are barriers that exist simply because you are a limited being.

Joy breaks down all barriers.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

Purim and Yom Kippur 

Mystical texts note the analogy between the terms Purim and “Yom Kippurim.” Moreover, they state that the holiest day of the year is called “Yom Ki-purim,” which could be translated as “A Day like Purim.” This suggests that Purim has an advantage over Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a fast day on which we must afflict ourselves by refraining from basic human needs. Purim, on the other hand, is celebrated with festive eating, drinking and merriment. Purim thus celebrates man’s involvement with the physical reality of G‑d’s creation. 

The use of material substances in context of man’s service of-and relationship with-G‑d, imbues these substances with spirituality. It sublimates them to their Divinely intended purpose. This, indeed, is the ultimate purpose of creation: to manifest its Divine origin by converting this world into a fitting abode for G‑dliness. This is man’s mission for which he was created, and especially in the time of the galut, the time of our dispersion throughout the world. The achievement of this goal is the ultimate bliss of the Messianic era.  

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Amalek and the Amalekites

Eliphaz, son of Esau (the patriarch Jacob’s brother and sworn enemy), and his concubine Timna had a child named Amalek. Amalek grew up in Esau’s household, imbibing Esau’s pathological hatred of Jacob’s descendants along the way. His offspring became the nation of Amalek, and they lived to the south of the Land of Israel, in what is now known as the Negev Desert.

After the Jewish people crossed the Red Sea, they encamped in Rephidim, a barren location in the Sinai Desert. The people thirsted for water, and G‑d provided a miraculous well of water to accompany them on their journeys. While the Jews were still at Rephidim the nation of Amalek launched a vicious surprise attack on them—though the Jews had no designs on Amalekite territory and were not even headed in that direction. Moses commanded his disciple Joshua to take an elite troop of soldiers into battle the next day. Moses himself ascended a nearby mountain to pray for G-d’s salvation. The Jews defeated Amalek in battle, killing their strongest warriors while allowing the others to return home. 

Following the battle, G‑d commanded Moses to record the story of Amalek’s treacherous attack for posterity and to enjoin Moses’ future successor, Joshua, to remember the attack as well. G‑d promised to completely wipe out the memory of Amalek from the earth, and to wage an eternal war with Amalek in every generation. G‑d swore that His name and throne would not be complete until Amalek was destroyed. Forty years later, as the Jews stood poised to enter the Land of Israel, Moses reminded the Jews of the command to combat Amalek.

The command to destroy Amalek cannot be fulfilled today since the identity of Amalek has been lost over the millennia. However, the command to “remember Amalek” still holds true in the spiritual realms. Chassidic philosophy explains that Amalek represents the pinnacle of evil, the ability to “know G‑d and intentionally rebel.” Most evil can be combated by arguments of reason; not so Amalek. He cynically scoffs at every reason to do good, sowing doubt and confusion.

Irrational doubt neutralizes the most convincing arguments or inspiring experiences. Amalek is the constant doubter, brazenly rushing to any sign of passion for holiness and cooling things down.

The only response to Amalek is to be supra-rationally good, calling forth the essential connection to G‑d that is hidden in the essence of our souls, and rooted in the essence of G‑d. This connection is above logic or feelings, and Amalek cannot oppose it—and so loses his brazen power, allowing the individual to grow and develop. When we do good despite our self-doubts or feelings of hypocrisy, we shatter the very citadel of evil, completing G‑d’s name and revealing His rulership to all.

On Purim the Jews were saved from the evil designs of the wicked Haman, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag—a perfect time to celebrate the destruction of Amalek.

From an article by Rabbi Boruch Altein

Food For the Soul

Giving or Getting?

Our Parshah Terumah deals with the first fundraising campaign in history. Moses initiated it in order to build the Sanctuary in the wilderness as well as to acquire all the materials needed for the special utensils required for the sacred services. This is, therefore, a good time to talk about the art of giving.

The truth is that in giving, we actually receive more than we give. And not only a slice of heaven in far-away paradise but even in the here and now. Certainly, in our relationships, our generosity is often reciprocated, and we find the other party responding in kind. But it goes beyond giving in order to get back. The very fact that we have done good, that which is right and noble, gives us a sense of satisfaction. “The takers of the world may eat better. But the givers of the world sleep better.”

This explains the unusual expression in our G‑d’s words to Moses in our Parshah: v’yikchu li terumah–” and they shall take for me a contribution.” Why take? Surely, give would be the more correct term. But because in giving, we are also receiving, the word take is also appropriate. For the same reason, we find that the Hebrew expression for “acts of loving kindness” (“gemilut chassadim“) is always in the plural form. Because every time someone performs a single act of kindness, at least two people benefit—the receiver and also the giver.

I shall never forget the look on a young woman’s face when I gave her the good news that I had managed to locate her wayward, absentee husband and convinced him to sign on the dotted line to give her the long-awaited Get that would finally free her to get on with her life. She was so radiant, absolutely beaming with joy. Whatever efforts I had made on her behalf were well worth it just to see her feel freedom.

So whenever you think you’re a big deal because you did something for a good cause, remember; you are receiving much more than you are giving. Let us all be givers and be blessed for it.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Shabbat Shalom

Second temple completed (349 BCE)

Friday, February 24, 2023, marks the joyous dedication of the second Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) on the site of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  It was celebrated on the 3rd of Adar of the year 3412 from creation (349 BCE), after four years of work.

The First Temple, built by King Solomon in 833 BCE, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 423 BCE. At that time, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied: “Thus says the L-rd: After seventy years for Babylon will I visit you… and return you to this place.” In 371, the Persian emperor Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple, but the construction was halted the next year when the Samarians persuaded Cyrus to withdraw permission. Achashverosh II (of Purim fame) upheld the moratorium. Only in 353 — exactly 70 years after the destruction — did the building of the Temple resume under Darius II.

Mind Over Matter


Just who are the oppressors of which you are a victim? People? Institutions? The Laws of Nature? They are but tools in the hand of their Master. Or are you the victim of your own Creator? The Designer of this cosmos does not contrive schemes to undermine His own creations. He knows us as He knows Himself; He sees His world from our eyes; He is our life and our essence. When He makes demands of us, He meets us on our own ground, not according to His unlimited power, but finely measured to the capacity He has hidden within us. There are times when you compare the burden on your shoulders to the strengths you know you have, and it seems impossible. But He knows better the hidden powers of your soul. And He has faith in them. For He is there within them.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

“The offering that you shall take from them shall consist of … cedar-wood…” (Terumah 25:3-5) 

Rashi quotes the Midrash: Our patriarch Jacob prophetically foresaw that the Jewish people would need to build a sanctuary in the wilderness. Thus he brought cedars with him to Egypt and planted them there. He commanded his sons to take these with them when they leave Egypt. By planting cedars in Egypt, Jacob did not simply show foresight to provide an eventual need for the Jewish people. With his action he also encouraged his descendants of the later generations. It strengthened them with an ability to contend with the darkness of galut (exile). It strengthened the hope and courage of Israel at all times. For even in the very thick of the galut we have in our midst the “cedars” that our forefather Jacob planted in every generation. 

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Stop and Notice the Red Camilla

The red flowers outside my window are more than just a scene; they are my dream. Ask my sisters, and they will tell you that all I want is my physical space filled with natural light in a beautiful organic setting. I noticed them first on Shabbat, even though they are to my right and left each time I enter and exit my house all week long. It took Shabbat to get me to notice them.

Shabbat is the day when we disconnect from the bigger world to reconnect with our inner world. With family. With community. With G‑d and the Torah. Shabbat is so effective for me that my undistracted brain begins to coalesce in imaginative ideas and beautiful prose. On Shabbat, I am aware of what is going on around me more internally. I feel the vibrations of each family member packed into the kitchen, lounging in the living room and gathered in the dining room.

I see the flowers. The window frames’ red Camellias. They are directly in my vision across from my favorite position on the couch. I never quite noticed them this way. I sit with their beauty. I let everyone around me know I am bathing in their crimson glow. But once Shabbat leaves, everything captured and processed leaves me in seconds, like a vacuum, as I am sucked back into the weekday chaos. When I manage a moment of awareness, I try to recall the time born of restfulness. I seldom can. I didn’t want to forget this scene outside my window, but I did until it was almost too late. The flowers are slowly falling off, one by one.

It’s not just on Shabbat; G-d wants to be present in our surroundings at all times. At the beginning of the Torah portion of Terumah, G‑d says: “Make for Me a mikdash, a holy space, and I will dwell within you.”

Within me? Isn’t the Tabernacle a physical space we build? Should G‑d not dwell within it? It is both. When we build a tabernacle or holy space for G‑d, He dwells there, but at the same time, I am asked to invite G‑d to live inside of me.

The last many months have underscored how important personal space is. Clean, organized, quiet, and aesthetically pleasing are all things I need to feel comfortable.

What makes G‑d feel at home? How do I make sure He feels comfortable dwelling within me? I start by noticing the beauty He provides. Once a week is not enough, though. It must happen on a daily basis.

And so, I slow down. I take in the scenes of my life and don’t take any of them for granted. I recognize that everything that happens to me is by Divine design. I integrate my feelings of accomplishment with knowing He is guiding my steps. I merge my anxieties with awe of G‑d’s meticulous watching over me. I elevate the mundane parts of my life in service of the Torah and mitzvot. G‑d dwells within me.

I want flowers. He wants a spiritual garden. I am placated. My dwelling is serene. He deserves no less.

Dena Schusterman

Food For the Soul

Not Yet

In this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, the Almighty tells the Jewish people that they will not inherit the land of Canaan immediately. It will be to their benefit that the conquest of the Promised Land be gradual and deliberate. To settle the land successfully would take time and they were cautioned up front to be patient

Every Jew has a share in the Promised Land; not only geographically but spiritually. There is a piece of Jerusalem inside each of us. We all have the capacity for holiness, sanctity and spirituality. But sometimes we may be discouraged from beginning the journey to our own personal promised land. The road seems too long and arduous. Here G‑d is giving us wise words of encouragement. Don’t expect overnight miracles. Don’t say, “I have a whole country to conquer! How will I do it?” Rather say, “Where should I start today?” Don’t look at the end of the road; look at the first few steps you need to take right now. 

If you asked an optimistic entrepreneur, just starting on his first business venture, “Are you a millionaire?” he wouldn’t say, “No.” Most probably he’d say, “Not yet, I’m working on it!” It should be the same in our Jewish journeys. 

The not yet approach is a good one. There is no one who does it all. We all have room for growth. So if someone asks, “do you put on tefillin,” or “do you keep kosher,” or “do you observe Shabbat,” and you don’t, please don’t say no. Say not yet.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Shabbat Shalom

The Melaveh Malkah

On Saturday night we sit down to a special meal called a melaveh malkah, meaning “Escort of the Queen”—the queen being the day of Shabbat, whom we greeted as she entered on Friday night. Optimally, we would serve a full meal…setting the table once again with a fine tablecloth and candles, enhancing the occasion with songs and stories. Many continue wearing Shabbat finery on Saturday night. 

Shabbat is more than a day of rest; it is a foretaste of the messianic era. As the day departs, we hope and yearn for the real thing—Elijah’s announcement of the arrival of Moshiach, the righteous scion of the House of David. According to tradition, there is a small and utterly indestructible bone in the body called the luz, sitting at the base of our skull, where the knot of the tefillin rests. It is from this bone that G‑d will reconstruct the entire body when the time arrives for the Resurrection of the Dead. The luz is nourished from the melaveh malkah alone. Feed it while you can.

Mind Over Matter

Intelligence Liberated

Blind faith is intellect’s most deadly foe. Intellect that would surrender to faith has forfeited its very nature.

True faith is intellect’s most vital partner. To travel beyond its boundaries, intellect must find a vision that transcends itself.

That is the meaning of true faith: A perspective that surpasses the field of intellect’s vision, a sense that there is something not only unknown, but unknowable; something before which all our knowledge is an infinitesimal point of nothingness.

And so, the mind that fears faith will choose a truth with which it is most comfortable, while the mind that has found a partner in faith will choose truth that is absolute.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

“When you acquire a Jewish bondsman, for six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free…” (Mishpatim 21:2) 

“Six years,” an allusion to the 6000 years of the world’s normative existence, “he shall work”.

That is, during this period, in the present time of this existence, there is the opportunity of serving G‑d with Torah and . By virtue of this service: “In the seventh year,” i.e., in the seventh millenium, “he shall go free…”-we shall be released and be free of all the obstacles and hindrances that presently are dominant in the world, and we shall merit the sublime manifestations of the Messianic future.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

The Laws and The Reincarnations

The Maggid of Mezritch once asked the Baal Shem Tov to explain the Zohar passage referring to the opening verse of parashat Mishpatim: “These are the laws,” refers to “the mystery of reincarnation.” The Maggid wondered: What connection is there between the straightforward meaning relating to the monetary and other financial issues discussed subsequently, the laws of torts, and the alleged mystical one of multiple incarnations of souls? In reply the Baal Shem Tov sent him to a forest and told him to seek out a certain tree next to a spring, and to remain there until evening.

When the Maggid arrived at his destination he saw there an armed man with a horse. The man was tired and had stopped to rest, eat and drink. When he moved on he left his wallet behind. After a while, another man came, found the wallet and took it with him.

Shortly thereafter, a third man arrived. He was obviously poor and exhausted. He sat down under the tree, ate some bread, drank from the well and lay down to sleep. However, just then the armored rider returned and demanded his wallet from the poor traveler. The latter knew nothing of the wallet, but the rider, not believing him, proceeded to beat him mercilessly before moving on.

As the sun set Rabbi Dov Ber returned home and told the Baal Shem Tov what he had seen. The master now explained: The rider, in his previous incarnation, owed the second man a sum of money equal to that in the wallet but refused to pay him. The creditor then charged him before their local rabbi—none other than the third man in his previous incarnation. But the rabbi failed to investigate the claim as thoroughly as he should have done and dismissed the charge.

That is why in their present reincarnation, the Baal Shem Tov concluded, the first man wound up ‘paying’ his debt to the second one and the third, rabbi-judge, received the punishment he deserved. Now, he added, the connection between G-d’s justice and reincarnation should be clear.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles