Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

The never-ending voice

Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He foresaw what no other prophet could see. Perhaps he saw his people becoming caught up in the civilization of ancient Greece, in the beauty, culture, philosophy and art of the day. And they might question, is Torah still relevant?

Perhaps he foresaw Jews empowered by the Industrial Revolution, where they might have thought Torah to be somewhat backward. Or, maybe it was during the Russian Revolution that faith and religion were positively primitive. Perhaps Moses saw our own generation with its satellites and space shuttles, television and technology. And he saw young people questioning whether Torah still speaks to them.

And so, [in the Parsha Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11] Moses tells us that the voice that thundered from Sinai was no ordinary voice. The voice that proclaimed the Ten Commandments was a voice that was not only powerful at the time, but one that “did not end.” It still rings out, it still resonates, it still speaks to each of us in every generation and in every part of the world.

Revolutions may come and go but revelation is eternal. The voice of Sinai continues to proclaim eternal truths that never become passé or irrelevant. Honor Your Parents, revere them, look after them in their old age instead of abandoning them to some decrepit old age home. Live moral lives; do not tamper with the sacred fiber of family life, be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Dedicate one day every week and keep that day holy. Turn your back on the rat race and rediscover your humanity and your children. Don’t be guilty of greed, envy, dishonesty or corruption.

Are these ideas and values dated? Are these commandments tired, stale or irrelevant? On the contrary. They speak to us now as perhaps never before. The G-dly voice has lost none of its strength, none of its majesty. The mortal voice of man declines and fades into oblivion. Politicians and spin-doctors come and go, but the heavenly sound reverberates down the ages. Torah is truth and truth is forever. The voice of G-d shall never be stilled.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat of Consolation

The Shabbat after the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Nachamu (“Shabbat of Consolation”) after the opening words of the day’s reading from the prophets (“haftara”). This is the first of the series of readings known as “The Seven of Consolation” read in the seven weeks from the Ninth of Av to Rosh Hashanah.

During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a weekly chapter of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) each Shabbat afternoon; this week we study Chapter Three.

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

In bad times and good

The love of G-d is the basis of our faith; as a feeling of connection to one’s Creator drives one to live up to His religious expectations. This connection must be a constant, both during the blackness of night, when all is dark and turning to G-d for succor comes naturally, and under the bright lights of daytime when the average man feels no need of reassurance. Connecting to G-d during the hard times comes easily, but how many have the intelligence to hop off the gravy train while the good times still roll? Don’t wait for the cold shower of tragedy to shock you into conformity, the [Shema] advises; reconnect to G-d now, during the good times and take pleasure in choosing your path not under duress but because it is the right thing to do.

From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum


Moshiach Thoughts

The drama

We are the matchmakers of Heaven and Earth. All the cosmos came to be because G-d chose to invest His very essence into a great drama: the drama of a lowly world becoming the home of an infinite G-d. A marriage of opposites, the fusion of finite and infinite, light and darkness, heaven and earth. We are the players in that drama, the cosmic matchmakers. With our every action, we have the power to marry our mundane world to the Infinite and Unknowable.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

A psychotherapist’s “Shema” in Auschwitz

Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad… Listen Israel, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is One. (Deut. 6:4)

These words, a highlight of our daily prayers, express powerful pearls of faith. But I didn’t expect to read them in a timeless best-selling classic.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. Shortly after arriving at Auschwitz, Frankl was stripped of his most precious possession—a manuscript that was his life’s work, hidden in his coat pocket. He then had “perhaps his deepest experience in the concentration camps.” “I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own. So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of meaning.

“An answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me…This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber…Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisroel. “How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?”

Why has the Shema Yisroel prayer inspired so many through the most trying times? Aside from its simple assertion of belief, I think there are four key psychological elements:

Relevance: Listen, Israel—Religion cannot start and end with theories; it must address our humanness. The Shema does not begin with a depersonalized statement of faith. It addresses each one of us. Listen, Israel, listen to this message, and make it a part of your being.

Belonging: The Shema is in plural (“our G-d” and not “my G-d”), spoken to a collective group. We gain strength from one another and fortitude from being a part of something greater than ourselves. That sense of community is one of our strongest assets.

Personalization: G-d is our G-d. G-d, who is transcendental and infinite, is also our personal G-d, holding us in times of celebration and despair. G-d is not just an objective ruler, creating and regulating the cosmos. He is “ours,” near us, understanding the deepest part of us, more than we do.

Individuality: As much as we need a sense of belonging and community, we must not negate our individual differences. The Shema ends with the words “G-d is one” (rather than G-d is “singular” or “alone”). One, the first of the numbers, teaches that G-d is present within the diversity of the world. While conformity stunts growth, the “oneness of G-d” should empower us to discover and cultivate the G-dly oneness and uniqueness within each of us.

Chana Weinberg

Food For the Soul

The future is in our hands

Devarim (Deuteronomy), last of the five books of the Torah, is also called Mishneh Torah – “A Repetition of Torah.” In it Moses speaks directly to the Jewish people, recalling the major events and laws that are recorded in the Torah’s other four books. One might wonder why this repetition is necessary. In fact, this repetition was so important that Moses dedicated the last days of his life to it. Clearly, it was necessary to insuring the future of his beloved nation.

We often hear talk about the “Jewish future.” How will we overcome the threat of assimilation and inspire the younger generation to care about their heritage? There are task forces, studies and conferences all focusing on this issue. Inspired by the book of Devarim, I’d like to suggest that the best way to insure a Jewish future is through Jewish education. The first choice is a Jewish day school, which provides young people with all the knowledge and skills they need to live as Jews in the modern world. The second choice is an after-school or Sunday Hebrew school.

Let’s consider the facts: The values of Judaism enrich us; they provide us with a moral center, spiritual depth and purpose. They link us to thousands of years of tradition that reach back to Mount Sinai, when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. It’s hard to think of anything that could be more important.

Perhaps Moses spent his last days on earth repeating lessons he had already taught to underscore the necessity of education. The chain of history is only as strong as the weakest link. We need to ensure that the next generation remains connected to their heritage and understands the depth and richness that Judaism has to offer. Education is the key. The future is in our hands.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi David Eliezrie


Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat of Vision

The Shabbat before the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Chazon (“Shabbat of Vision”) after the opening words of the day’s reading from the prophets (“haftara”), which is the third of the series of readings known as “The Three of Rebuke”. On this Shabbat, say the Chassidic masters, we are granted a vision of the Third Temple; we may not see it with our physical eyes, but our souls see it, and are empowered to break free of our present state of galut (exile and spiritual displacement) and bring about the Redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Fast Begins Saturday Evening
The fast of Tishah B’Av begins this evening (Saturday, July 17) at sunset. Finish eating by sunset. After nightfall say, “Blessed is He who distinguishes between the holy and the mundane.” No Havdalah tonight, but light a candle and recite the fire blessing. Havdalah is recited after the fast (omitting the candle and incense blessings). See Chabad.org for the particular observances of the fast day.


Mind Over Matter

Is “the good life” an easy life?

You can’t move up the ladder by yearning for a life of ease. And so, while our forefathers and mothers didn’t have easy lives, they had profoundly meaningful and spiritual lives—lives that charted our very course and destiny, and whose qualities are embedded in our spiritual DNA. When we don’t confuse the “good life” with an “easy life,” then we can embrace challenges as a means of self-discovery. And when we don’t expect our lives to be simple, then we can tap into our significance. In giving us the Torah, you could say that G-d was the first life coach ever, exhorting us to live our lives by design and not by default.

From an article by Hanna Perlberger


Moshiach Thoughts

“See, I have set the land before you. Come and possess the land G-d swore unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give unto them and to their descendants after them.” (Devarim 1:8)

“Should the people of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations (of Canaan),’ they can respond to them: ‘The whole earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He. He created it and He gave it to whom He saw fit. (The Land of Israel) was given to (the nations) by His Will, and by His Will He took it from them and gave it to us!’ ” (Rashi on Genesis 1:1). When we shall demonstrate this true and absolute faith in G-d, we shall merit immediately the promise “No one will contest this, and there will be no more wars nor the need for any weapons”: “I shall break from the earth the bow, the sword and warfare, and I shall make them lie down securely” (Hosea 2:20).

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet


Have I Got A Story

Refusing to forget

They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple. “When did it happen?” asked the Emperor. “Some 1700 years ago,” was the answer he received. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot its past would be destined to forever have a future. Jews never had history. We have memory. History can become a book, a museum, and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive. And memory guarantees our future.

Even amidst the ruins, we refused to forget. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. As they led the Jews into captivity, the Jews sat down and wept. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept remembering Zion.” What did we cry for? Our lost wealth, homes and businesses? No. We cried for Zion and Jerusalem. “If I forget thee ‘O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. If I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy, then let my tongue cleave to its palate.” We were not weeping for ourselves or our lost liberties but for the heavenly city and the Holy Temple. Amidst the bondage, we aspired to rebuild; amidst the ruins we dreamt of returning.

And because we refused to forget Jerusalem, we did return. Because we refused to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities the world over, while our victors have been vanquished by time. Today there are no more Babylonians and the people who now live in Rome are not the Romans who destroyed the Second Temple. Those nations became history while we, inspired by memory, emerged revitalized and regenerated and forever it will be true that Am Yisrael Chai — the people of Israel lives!

I remember hearing a story of a Torah scholar and his nephew who were in the Holocaust. In the concentration camp, they studied the Talmud together. They were learning the tractate Moed Katan, a part of the Talmud that, ironically, discusses the laws of mourning. And when the time came that the uncle saw himself staring death in the face, he said to his nephew, “Promise me that if you survive you will finish studying this book of Moed Katan.” Amidst the misery, desolation and tragedy, what thought preoccupied his mind? That the Talmud should still be studied. This was his last wish on earth. Was it madness, or is it the very secret of our survival?

Only if we refuse to forget, only if we observe Tisha B’av, can we hope to rebuild one day. Indeed, the Talmud assures us, “Whosoever mourns for Jerusalem, will merit to witness her rejoicing.” If we are to make it back to Zion, if our people are to harbor the hope of being restored and revived, then we dare not forget. We need to observe our National Day of Mourning. Forego the movies and the restaurants. Sit down on a low seat to mourn with your people; and perhaps even more importantly, to remember. And, please G-d, He will restore those glorious days and rebuild His own everlasting house. May it be speedily in our day.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Food For the Soul

A Kabbalist’s Guide to Hieroglyphics

Anyone who thinks “Poindexter” is a long name never studied the Torah portion Massei Matot (Numbers 30:2–36:13) with a Kabbalist. A Kabbalist understands the Jews’ zigzagging 42-stop journey across the desert as an allusion to G-d’s mystical 42-letter name, the one G-d uses in creating the world.

This helps overturn the misconception that the Jews were “wandering” through the desert. They were no more wandering through the desert than a spelling bee champion wanders through the alphabet. Rather, each stop was another letter in a divine composition.

Their journey represents the journey through life. The Talmud likens it to a long trip taken by a father and son; together they share life’s pains and joys, its triumphs and defeats.

Likewise, the trip across the desert included triumphs and joys, but also mistakes, pain and doubt—a fairly normal range of experiences. The difference is that every up and down was intimately bound to the divine—shared with their Father in Heaven. There’s a chassidic adage that G-d loves each individual like a king loves his only son. When the son is dirty, the king bends down to offer the son a damp cloth. If the child refuses the cloth, the king lovingly cleans away the schmutz himself. When the schmutz is removed, one sees that life forms a divine hieroglyphic—G-d’s mystical plan for creation. The wise person realizes the need to pursue this hieroglyphic with an archeologist’s determination for discovery.

Rabbi Boruch Cohen


Shabbat Shalom

“Nine Days” Begin

This Shabbat – the 1st of Av, “The Three Weeks” mourning period over the destruction of the Holy Temple–which began 13 days earlier on Tammuz 17–enters an intensified stage. During “The Nine Days” from Av 1st to the Ninth of Av, a heightened degree of mourning is observed, including abstention from meat and wine, music, bathing for pleasure, and other joyous and enjoyable activities. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent Halachic authority for details).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Each move has a purpose

In her article “Moving” (Chabad.org) Elena Mizrahi wonders whether the Jews in the desert thought to themselves, Oh no, not again. “It’s interesting that the Torah describes how much the people complained about the food and water, but doesn’t mention any complaints about the constant moving,” she writes. “The only thing it says is praise for the nation who camped and traveled by the word of G-d. They didn’t see their moving as a bother, but merely as a means of reaching their goal, the way to get from one spiritual and physical place to another….Each move has a purpose. We’re moving and I don’t want to, but I think back to all the times we’ve moved and I have to say that even when it seemed difficult, it turned out to be for our good. If we hadn’t moved, we wouldn’t have grown, and with this move, I know we’ll grow too.”


Moshiach Thoughts

Shine

One day soon all the good you have done will shine. Through many journeys through many lives, each of us will find and redeem all the divine sparks in our share of the world. Then the darkness that holds such mastery, such cruelty, such irrational evil that it contains no redeeming value—all this will simply vanish like a puff of steam in the midday air. As for that which we salvaged and used for good, it will shine an awesome light never known before. The world will have arrived.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

The Power of Prayer

A fellow was boasting about what a good citizen he was and what a refined, disciplined lifestyle he led. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t cheat on my wife, I am early to bed and early to rise, and I work hard all day and attend religious services faithfully.” Very impressive, right? Then he added, “I’ve been like this for the last five years, but just you wait until they let me out of this place!”

Although prisons were not really part of the Jewish judicial system, there were occasions when individuals would have their freedom of movement curtailed. One such example was the City of Refuge. If a person was guilty of manslaughter (i.e., unintentional murder) the perpetrator would flee to one of the specially designated Cities of Refuge throughout Biblical Israel where he was given safe haven from the wrath of a would-be avenging relative of the victim.

The Torah tells us that his term of exile would end with the death of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Talmud tells of an interesting practice that developed. The mother of the Kohen Gadol at the time would make a point of bringing gifts of food to those exiled so that they should not pray for the early demise of her son, to which their own freedom was linked.

Now this is very strange. Here is a man who, though not a murderer, is not entirely innocent of any negligence either. The rabbis teach that G-d does not allow misfortune to befall the righteous. If this person caused a loss of life, we can safely assume that he is less than righteous. Opposite him stands the High Priest of Israel, noble, aristocratic and, arguably, the holiest Jew alive. Of the entire nation, he alone had the awesome responsibility and privilege of entering the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple, the “Holy of Holies,” on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Do we really have reason to fear that the prayers of this morally tainted prisoner will have such a negative effect on the revered and exalted High Priest, to the extent that the Kohen Gadol may die? And his poor mother has to go and shlep food parcels to distant cities to soften up the prisoner so he should go easy in his prayers so that her holy son may live? Does this make sense?

But such is the power of prayer—the prayer of any individual, noble or ordinary, righteous or even sinful. Of course, there are no guarantees. Otherwise, I suppose, Shuls around the world would be overflowing daily. But we do believe fervently in the power of prayer. And though, ideally, we pray in Hebrew and with a congregation, the most important ingredient for our prayers to be successful is sincerity. “G-d wants the heart,” we are taught. The language and the setting are secondary to the genuineness of our prayers. Nothing can be more genuine than a tear shed in prayer.

By all means, learn the language of our Siddur, the prayer book. Improve your Hebrew reading so you can follow the services and daven with fluency. But remember, most important of all is our sincerity. May all our prayers be answered.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Food For the Soul

Not everything is okay

Once upon a time, in the days of Moses and the Jews in the Wilderness, the Moabite women were seducing young Jewish men. The Almighty was angered and sent a plague upon His people. Jews were dying left, right and center. To compound matters, Zimri, a Prince from the Tribe of Shimon was himself consorting with a Midianite Princess named Kozbi and flaunting their illicit relationship in the face of Moses.

Now I have serious reservations [about using] Pinchas as a role model for How to Win Friends and Influence People. And I’m definitely not suggesting that we root out all sinners by putting a spear through them. What was appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate today. The way to stop the internal hemorrhaging of our people through assimilation and intermarriage is obviously not the way of Pinchas.

What, then, is the message of Pinchas for our time? That sometimes, even today in our super-sensitive, tolerant society, we do need to take a stand. That there will be issues which demand that we put our foot down, that we insist, that we say “No!” It might be different issues for different people. For some it may be Jerusalem, for others Yom Kippur, and for still others it might be insisting that their daughter’s boyfriend cannot sleep over. Somewhere, surely, there has got to be a bottom line.

Generally, diplomacy and positive encouragement work much better than fighting. We are not trying to train Jewish holy fundamentalists to go around killing infidels. But inevitably there will be occasions when even pacifists like us will need to adopt the zero-tolerance Pinchas approach. Occasions when we will be required to stand up and be counted. When we, too, will have to say, “I’m sorry. I cannot accept this kind of behavior. This is wrong. Stop!” Even in our OK Generation, not everything is OK.

Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Bless New Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month of Av (also called “Menachem Av”), which falls on Shabbat of next week. Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Purifying the physical world

We need to be cautious in our divine tasks. If we focus exclusively on our spiritual needs—prayer and Torah study—at the expense of our physical, the benefit may not last long. One gains eternity only by combining what concerns the soul with that which is “outside” the spiritual, thereby purifying the physical world to make it hospitable to the divine.

From an article by Shraga Sherman


Moshiach Thoughts

The tipping point

Right now you are sitting on the tipping point of all that ever was. The size of the deed is not what matters. It is only a catalyst. One small deed could be enough to ignite a process to change the entire world. One small opening is all that’s needed, and the rest will heal itself. Whatever you do, do it with the conviction that this is the one last fine adjustment, the tipping point for the entire world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

Big and small choices

A husband was once asked for the secret behind his happy marriage. “It’s simple,” he replied. “We divide responsibilities. We decided long ago that my wife makes all the small, routine decisions, and I make the major decisions. She decides what house we buy, where we go on vacation, whether the kids go to private schools, if I should change my job, and so on.”

And what are the big decisions? “Oh, I make the big, fundamental decisions. I decide if the United States should declare war on China, if Congress should appropriate money for a manned expedition to Mars, and so on.”

Life is a series of choices and decisions. The decisions, however, are relatively simple in comparison to their implementation. The majority of us “choose” to live healthy lifestyles; improve our parenting, spousal and interpersonal skills; increase our knowledge; advance our careers; etc. Carrying through with these choices is the challenge. The trick is to concentrate on one, two or three of these choices. But that just leads to another choice. Which of these choices should we focus on?

Let us look to the Torah, and specifically the description of the methods by which the Land of Israel was to be divided amongst the tribes, for insight on this matter. “To a large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance” (Numbers 26:54). The division of the land was logical: each tribe was allotted land according to its size. Furthermore, the land wasn’t divided merely based on acreage. Rather, the land was evaluated for quality and potential crop yield, ensuring that each tribe received a fair portion.

Nevertheless, the final say belonged to the lottery. After the land was divided into twelve portions, each portion earmarked for a particular tribe with the population which corresponded to its size, a lottery was made to determine which tribe would receive which portion. Miraculously, the lottery confirmed the division which was previously agreed upon.

Why the need for this two-track process? If the division was meant to be logical, then why the need for a lottery? And if it was to be left in G-d’s hands—the lottery—why the need for the investment of time and energy in gathering numbers, logistics and evaluations?

Perhaps the lesson G-d was teaching the Israelites before they entered the land, before they became involved in the art of making a living and the many decisions which this entails, was that even those decisions which seem to be in our hands are also ultimately determined by lottery, orchestrated by G-d’s hand.

The Talmud tells us that forty days before a child is conceived, an angel approaches G-d and inquires whether the child will be wise or dim, muscular or frail, wealthy or poor, and whom he or she will marry. He does not, however, inquire whether the child will be righteous or wicked—because “all is in the hands of Heaven besides for [an individual’s] fear of Heaven.”

We may think that we determine our spouse, our field of work, our city of residence, etc. In fact, though, these questions have all been answered before we were even conceived. Yes, G-d expects us to make wise decisions, but ultimately these wise decisions are manipulated and guided by G-d, who orchestrates the circumstances to ensure that we follow the path which He planned for us.

Yet we rightfully pride ourselves in being creatures that possess freedom of choice. But this choice is relegated to the arena of right and wrong, ethics and morals. We do have the ability to choose whether to pray with concentration, give charity, be kind to our fellows and keep kosher. And ultimately, our choices in these areas will be our lasting legacy—because in reality they are our only real and un-influenced choices.

So, on which choices will we focus? The “big” ones, over which we have no control, or the “small” ones, which are entirely in our hands? As is it turns out, it is the small choices which impact the world.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg