Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

Try to see the good in others

The Parshah Shoftim  begins with the biblical command for judges to be appointed in every city and town to adjudicate and maintain a just, ordered, civil society. Interestingly, it occurs in the first week of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare in earnest for the Days of Judgment ahead, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are, however, some significant differences between earthly judges of flesh and blood and the heavenly judge. In the earthly court, if after a fair trial a defendant is found guilty, then there’s really not much room for clemency on the part of the judge. The law is the law and must take its course. The accused may shed rivers of tears, but no human judge can be certain if his remorse is genuine. The Supreme Judge, however, does know whether the accused genuinely regrets his actions or is merely putting on an act. Therefore, He alone is able to forgive. That is why in heavenly judgments, teshuvah (repentance) is effective.

A teacher once conducted an experiment. He held up a white plate and showed it to the class. In the center of the plate was a small black spot. He then asked the class to describe what they saw. One student said he saw a black spot. Another said it must be a target for shooting practice. A third suggested that the plate was dirty or damaged. Whereupon the teacher asked, “Doesn’t anyone see a white plate?”

There may have been a small black spot, but essentially it was a white plate. Why do we only see the dirt? Let us learn to find the good in others. Nobody is perfect, not even ourselves. Let’s not be so judgmental and critical. Let’s try to see the good in others.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Experience the energy

The unique quality of Shabbat derives from two types of mitzvot: the mitzvot of sanctification such as candle-lighting and Kiddush; and the equally important mitzvot which require that we refrain from certain activities and work. The prohibitions against “work,” far from being negative or burdensome, are an integral part of the experience of Shabbat as a day when body and soul are in true harmony. Writes Rabbi Pinchas Taylor, “Classifying something as work is not assessed by the amount of sweat that drips from the brow, it is whether this action is a creative change or shows human mastery over nature. Refraining from these acts, in even the most minor manifestations, opens one up to be a conduit to experience the energy of harmony and tranquility which G‑d made available during this day.” For information about observing Shabbat, visit Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

G-d is with you

In Shoftim we read: ”When you go out to war against your enemies and you see a horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for the L‑rd, your G‑d is with you.” 

Rashi explains that it’s a question of perspective. When we look at the forces arrayed against us, we see an impregnable foe, more numerous than us and fully equipped to conquer. Yet, from G‑d’s perspective, there’s nothing there. It’s as statistically insignificant as a single horse. If we stopped looking for problems, we could start working towards the solutions. The host of enemies that we thought were attacking us were really just as insignificant as a single horse and, with G‑d’s help, we will overcome.

Excerpted from an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum


Moshiach Thoughts

The era of “counsellors”

Much of our world is sadly, immersed in darkness and so the need for law enforcement officers is beyond question. However, during the Messianic era, when all the nations of the world will pursue the study of G-d and Torah, “Instead of officers there will be counselors,” wrote Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet. “The task of the counselors is to explain and clarify to litigants the words and decisions of the judge so that they will understand and realize how those decisions are in the peoples’ best interest and for their own benefit. Thus the people themselves will want to follow the court’s judgments. It follows, then, that in the Messianic era there will no longer be a need for officers to enforce the law, for all shall willingly live up to their obligations.”


Have I got a Story

Are you objective?

There was once a king who was very fond of target shooting. He practiced daily and arranged competitions. With time he felt that he had gotten pretty good at the sport, yet he continued trying to improve. One day, as he was traveling through the countryside, the king noticed several target boards near a small peasant hut. Looking closely, he was astonished to see that every one of the many darts on the boards was precisely in the center! This simple peasant was apparently an expert; he had hit a bull’s-eye with every try!

Curious to learn how the man had done it, the king knocked on the door of the hut. The peasant who answered laughed heartily at the the king’s question. “Why, it’s very simple,” he replied naively. “Instead of drawing the target and aiming towards it, I throw the darts, and then draw the circles around them. It works every time . . .”

The Parsha Shoftim includes a prohibition for judges to take bribes. The Torah then explains the reason for this commandment: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “No kidding, that’s the definition of a bribe! What kind of reason is that?”

Good point. But, actually, the Torah is not trying to explain what’s wrong with paying off a judge; it’s obvious that corrupting fair judgment is immoral. Rather, the Torah seeks to clarify a fact. Often, people say, “I can be objective in this case, despite my connection to it.” Recognizing the difficulty of proper judgment when personal concerns are involved, we may nonetheless convince ourselves that we are immune to bribery, intellectually and emotionally capable of separating fact from feeling.

Yet the Torah cautions us that the danger of bribery is not merely a possibility, nor even a probability. It is an automatic effect. Bribery –monetary or otherwise –skews one’s perception, literally “blinding” him to reality. No one is immune.

We are all judges, all of the time. There are important decisions to be made constantly, and these require clear thinking and examination of facts. But often, we may be swayed by bribes –personal concerns, interests and feelings. We may have the best of intentions, yet the possibility of a purely objective decision is technically out of our reach, “for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”

For this reason, it is crucial that every one of us have a mentor, an objective individual upon whom we rely to help us make decisions. Before signing on the dotted line, run it by someone out of the picture. It’s a sort of reality check, a way to make sure that we are aiming towards the target, rather than adjusting the goal to suit us.

By Rabbi Mendy Wolf.

Food For the Soul

We are what we eat

The Parsha Re’eh mentions the kosher dietary laws.

We are all familiar with the phrase “You are what you eat. Ubiquitous as it may be, it is not so far from the truth. According to Kabbalah, everything which we consume not only becomes part of us physically, but also spiritually.

If we take a look at the kosher animals, for example, deer, sheep and cows, we find that they are naturally timid, modest, non-predatory, quiet animals. The birds which are kosher are those which are not birds of prey. We see that at the simplest level the characteristics of kosher animals are those that we would seek to emulate — peaceful, modest, non-predatory, “civilized” creatures.

The Torah teaches us the signs to look for on a kosher animal; namely, that it should chew the cud and that it should have cloven hooves. What do we learn from the idea of chewing the cud? That we do not say immediately what we think, that we do not always act on impulse. We “chew things over,” we consider carefully before acting. What about cloven hooves? A cloven hoof has a split in it — the hoof is connecting the animal with the ground but at the same time, there is a distinction, a separation. This mirrors our approach to the physical world. We have to be involved in mundane, material affairs — but we also maintain a conscious separation, a realization that there is something more beyond the physical world, a higher dimension, a spiritual dimension.

So much of Jewish life revolves around food. The Torah gives us ways to elevate this otherwise routine aspect of our lives, to infuse it with holiness, and to learn from it.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg


Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Mevarchim

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 Elul, which falls on Thursday and Friday 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

The Mirror Effect

If you see the faults of another person and they don’t leave you alone, look inside. We are all mirrors for one other. This is G‑d’s great kindness to us, for without this mirror-effect how would we ever be able to determine what needs repair?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Moshiach Thoughts

G-d will reveal Himself

In these difficult times there is no shortage of apocalyptic predictions on social media and in popular fiction. But, writes Rabbi Aron Moss, “the Jewish view of the end of days differs greatly from other apocalyptic visions. It will not need to be violent, and there will be no need for more wars. Even the punishment of the wicked can happen by peaceful means…When the Messiah comes, G‑d will reveal Himself, His light will shine unblocked, the veil will be lifted, and we will see that it was His hand guiding the world all along. Nothing was random, nothing was a mistake, and everything was part of His ultimate plan.”


Have I got a Story

The game of life

A rabbi once placed an order with the town tailor for a new pair of trousers. Time schlepped; the tailor missed deadline after promised deadline. Finally, months after the delivery due date, the pants were ready.

True, they were a great fit, but the rabbi, piqued by the delay, decided to gently point out his displeasure. “Explain something please. G‑d took just six days to create the world, and you’ve taken nearly six months just on one pair of pants?” [Said the tailor] “Achh, how can you compare, just look at what a mess G‑d made… and look at this gorgeous pair of pants!”

To be Jewish is to complain about G‑d and to be secretly convinced that, given the chance, you could have done a better job.

Here’s my question on G‑d. In [the Parsha Re’eh], we start off with the immortal choice:, “Behold I place before you today the blessing and the curse,” i.e., good vs. evil, life vs. death. My Question: Don’t give me the choice; don’t create evil. You relax, let us relax and we’re all happy.

The great Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, had a parallel complaint: “G‑d, it’s not fair. For a Jew to be confronted by evil, all he has to do is walk down Main Street and he’ll discover temptations by the wagonload, decked out in all their attractive permutations. Try to scare him onto the straight and narrow, and you have to direct him to some musty old book which details harrowing descriptions of the punishments of Hell. I promise you, G‑d, if you shoved the sights and sounds of Gehenna in plain view, and buried earthly temptations in some dusty old tome, nobody would ever be enticed to sin. It’s all Your fault!”

A few years ago, some of those bright sparks we employ to sit in the Education Department and issue amusing directives came out with a beauty: from now on no scores were to be kept when umpiring kids’ sports. Losing, competing and all those other nasty vices went against the latest political correctness manifesto.

I remember arguing at the time that if they were serious about the initiative they should abandon the goal posts (encourages short-term, selfish-oriented behavior), and, to develop it to it’s logical conclusion, put all the kids on the one team. The only problem was that the kids didn’t buy it.

Sports, by definition, are competitive. Without a method of keeping score, with no winner or loser, the exercise becomes pointless. It’s the same with life.

G‑d could have created all the angels he wanted, behaving in an exemplary fashion and scoring perfect 10’s every time. Instead he made us. We strive; we try. We win some. We lose some. When we get it right, we get advanced up the board a few spaces. Get it wrong and you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the slide, looking for a ladder to climb back up again.

The rewards of life are predicated on our defeating evil. For us to change, to grow, we need an opponent to wrestle with and ultimately defeat.

In the great game called life, evil represents the pawns coming at you. Vanquish them, reach the end of the board, and you’ll be crowned a Queen.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Food For the Soul

Walk tall

Much has been said and written about the galut mentality, the subservience felt by generations of Jews living in the Diaspora. As second-class citizens for so many generations in Eastern Europe and in the Arab countries, Jews, allegedly, came to lose their self-esteem. Finally, in our own time, the old ghetto Jew would be replaced with a proud, strong, independent Israeli. Jews would now walk tall.

In the Parsha Eikev, Moses reminds his people never to forget that it was G‑d who took them out of Egypt and who led them through the wilderness into the Promised Land. And he describes the wilderness as “that great and awesome desert.” The wilderness before we reach the Promised Land represents the state of exile. And the problem with this wilderness is that we are impressed with it. In our eyes it is “great.” The big, wide world out there is great, powerful, impressive and all too overwhelming to the Jew.

We forget that the real galut mentality is not confined to those living in an eighteenth-century ghetto. The real exile is the exile within, the exile inside our own heads and hearts. The exile in considering the non-Jewish world to be so great. When we attach so much significance to the outside world, then we are still living in a state of exile and with a galut mindset, no matter where we may be geographically.

Remember that the first step in leaving the exile is to stop being impressed by it. In order to redeem our land and our people, we must first redeem our own souls and our own self-respect. May we never forget where our true strength lies. When we remember who took us out of Egypt and led us through the wilderness, and who is truly the great and awesome Being of Beings, then we will be able to truly walk tall and stand proud forever.

From an article by Rabby Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of the Fathers

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 Four. Included in this chapter is the wisdom of Ben Zoma, who said “Who is wise? One who learns from every man…Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations…Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot….Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows..”

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Free choice

The primary distinguishing feature which sets the human being apart from all other creatures is the free choice of action which the Creator bestowed upon us.

We can use this Divine gift either for self-destruction and the destruction of everything around us; or we can choose the right way of life, which would elevate ourselves and our environment to the highest possible perfection.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe


Moshiach Thoughts

Listen…

Within each thing we behold, the moshiach dwells, like the embryo waiting to break out of its egg. In the rhythm of a dandelion shivering in the breeze, in the eyes of the children we raise, in the goals we make in life, in the machines we use and the art we create, in the air we breathe and the blood rushing through our veins.

When the world was made, the sages say, the moshiach was the wind hovering over all that would be.

Today, those who know to listen can hear his voice beckoning, “Do not let go of me after all these ages! For the fruit of your labor and the labor of your holy mothers and fathers is about to ripen.”

The listening alone is enough to crack the shell of the egg.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe


Have I got a Story

No free rides

The age of 2 has notoriously been dubbed “The Terrible Twos” as toddlers begin to assert their independence. As if on cue, my sweet granddaughter has become adamant about doing things “all by herself.” One of her most popular refrains is “Self do it!” Her solution for tasks that she’d prefer to push off, such as bed time, is simply, “Mommy, go away!”

But while one minute she is stridently trying to do things on her own, the next minute she’ll eagerly snuggle up to have a book read to her. She will declare an appreciative “tank you” when I dress her doll after her own frustrating attempt, but will stubbornly refuse to hold my hand while climbing the staircase. The look of victory in her eyes after she reaches the top is priceless.

From about six months of age, the seed for independence is sewn and continues to grow, for some of us fiercely. Independence doesn’t mean that we don’t need others, but rather, that we contribute our fair share, our own efforts, to our relationships and life’s circumstances.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the second paragraph of the Shema prayer, while last week’s Torah portion contained the verses of its first paragraph. We are obligated to recite the Shema, a central prayer, every morning and evening. It contains fundamental beliefs about loving and serving G‑d, learning and teaching Torah, and practicing mitzvot. Much of the second paragraph, however, seems to repeat the first, with a few important differences.

The second chapter speaks about the reward and punishment we will earn by following the commandments, whereas the first leaves this out entirely. In addition, the first chapter addresses the Jewish people in the second person singular (you), as individuals, while the second chapter speaks to us in the second person plural (you, collectively).

There are two aspects to cultivating our relationship with G‑d, and each is reflective in the respective paragraph of the Shema. The first is G‑d’s gift of connection to us, without which we would never be able to have a relationship with Him. The second is our efforts and struggles, using our finite capabilities—our intellectual and emotional selves—to reach higher and come closer to G‑d.

Reward is only mentioned in the second paragraph because by definition, a reward is something that must be earned by our own merits, not bestowed as a gift. Only once we sweat for something can we really experience the joy of its accomplishment. Moreover, by struggling to improve our moral character, we become fuller beings. In working on any new endeavor, we develop other parts of our personality—resilience, determination, empathy, generosity. We become not singular beings with one gift, but pluralistic, multidimensional beings.

The second chapter of the Shema teaches us that while the fruits of our labors may be less glorious and less brilliant, they are more real. Just ask my 2-year-old granddaughter.

By Chana Weisberg

Food For the Soul

The constant connection

Unfortunately, for many people, only when faced with hardships or tragedy do they examine their existence. At times of maximum vulnerability, people tend to gravitate to the sanctuary of their faith, hoping to ride out the hard times under Judaism’s shelter. This time of crisis becomes the impetus for a rapprochement with their G‑d.

We read in the Parsha Va’etchanan the first paragraph of the Shema, the basis credo of Jewish belief: “Hear O Israel, the L-rd, Our G‑d, the L-rd is one.” The verses continue to describe our love for G‑d and some of the basic commandments. Twice a day, “night and morning,” we are instructed to reaffirm that commitment. This obligation is fulfilled by the recitation of the Shema.

I would like to posit an alternative explanation for this verse. 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 verse 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


Shabbat Shalom

“Comfort My people”

The haftorah following the Torah reading on Shabbat usually reflects a topic in the Torah reading. The centerpiece of the reading, Va’etchanan,is the Ten Commandments. Yet the haftorah is from Isaiah, and it is about comfort. “Comfort My people, comfort them . . .” says G‑d to the prophets. After destruction comes rebirth and rebuilding. After the destruction of the first Temple came the building of the second. After the destruction of the second Temple will come the advent of the Messiah and the building of the third Temple. The sense of comfort after the darkness of destruction is so strong that in fact this is only the first of a series of seven haftarot, week by week, all with the theme of the promise of redemption.

From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal


Mind Over Matter

How to become free

In every situation, we have the ability to be free. Even in this dark exile, where the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, where we each have difficulties, suffering and pain. It is our choices that express our free nature –not our predicaments. In every situation, we find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness. Today, this seems harder than ever, as there is great temptation to be like our non-Jewish neighbors. But we have been there before, and if you try, Hashem will surely help you free yourself from your Egypt. On a deeper level: Each of us has the ability to free ourselves from our current level and reach higher plateaus. Ask yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to G_d? Then you become free.

From an article by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz


Moshiach Thoughts

Love His children

Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz writes, “…realize that to get closer to G‑d, you need to love his children, including those you deem less observant or more observant than yourself. Loving each other is the key to our redemption; it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult. Nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.”


Have I got a Story

Kindness, positivity and gratitude

When I was a little girl, I used to love hearing my grandmother retell a Yiddish folktale about a miserable couple living in their cramped quarters with their many children. They went to seek rabbinical advice and were surprised to hear that to solve the issue they need to bring a goat inside the house. The family was confused, but did as they were told by the sage. With this addition, they became even more miserable. The family returned to clarify what to do and astonishingly were advised to bring a sheep into the house. This went on until they had an entire barn inside the house. Finally, the house had become utterly unlivable and they went to beg the rabbi for help, and only then did the rabbi tell them to let all the animals out of the house. The couple did so and was ecstatic to be living in their now-spacious-feeling dwelling with just the family. Clearly, they were back to the beginning, but with a new perspective.

My grandmother taught me about life by sharing meaningful stories such as this one. Life can always get worse, yet we have an opportunity to transcend our limitations and look at the bright side of things, regardless of circumstances.

Some might say that the death of a 95-year-old woman should not be shattering. Yet a lifetime of wisdom could not prepare me for the loss of my grandmother, Zelda bas David, who passed away on May 6, 2020. Her vibrant spirit transcends her actual years on this earth. How can a heart so full of goodness and resilience just simply stop beating?​​ My grandmother’s life taught me that as a container is defined by its contents, life is identified by how one spends precious hours, days, years and decades.

Zelda was born a lifetime ago in July of 1924 in the former Soviet Union. The world was recuperating from the Great War before confronting the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Her mother died in childbirth when Zelda was just 3 years old. Zelda and her two sisters were raised by her loving father, who worked around the clock to feed his three little motherless daughters.

My grandmother was the kindest person I have ever known. Perhaps people who lived through wars, starvation and poverty had a special passion for giving to others. Zelda often repeated the story about a little boy sitting on the stoop in the neighborhood. It was the early 1930s; these were the years of Stalin’s oppression and unbearable hunger. The boy was covered in lice, begging for food. Zelda’s heart was racing as she ran inside the house yelling, “Papa, I want to give my day’s ration of bread to the poor child outside.” Her own hunger couldn’t stop her, as she snatched a piece of bread and ran into the street. The boy grabbed the bread with both hands, stuffing it into his mouth. Zelda often thought about that boy, remembering how hungry and weak he was.

Later in life, Zelda became a doctor, saving countless lives. She married and had two daughters. Then, at 34, she became a widow when her husband died in a horrific drowning accident. A year after, her youngest daughter, who was 8, year fell off a slide and suffered a traumatic brain injury, becoming handicapped for life. A motherless widow with a sick child, she continued to march on through her personal obstacle course. Zelda spent 12 years of her life in and out of hospitals, doing everything possible to save her daughter’s life. Despite the unimaginable struggles, her spirit remained unbroken.

During these complicated and uncertain times, before I fall asleep I imagine my grandmother reminding me to learn to narrate my life with positivity and gratitude. I hear her voice reassuring me that “all the memories and experiences that have been accumulated along the way can be rechanneled into a vehicle of light and kindness.”

Just as Zelda dressed up her challenging life into a colorful rainbow of joy and gratitude, I hope and pray that all of us will emerge victorious from this challenging period, embracing kindness and empathy.  

Condensed from an article by Sofya Sara Esther Tamarkin

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