Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

Our battles in life

How many battles did you fight today? None, you say? Think again. Did you fight fatigue in order to pry your eyes open this morning? Did you fight the mad traffic jam to navigate to work? Every day, every hour, every minute, we wage countless battles. The Parsha Ki Teitzei begins by telling us about our battles and clues us in on vital knowledge to win them. “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands and you shall capture from them captives.”  (Deut 21:10). The Torah doesn’t write, if you go out to war, but rather when. Turbulence and struggle is inevitable. We fight real wars just as we fight moral one. We fight character traits just as we struggle to use our time wisely and develop our talents fully. We battle to protect loved ones. Here are 3 important things to know about your wars.

1. Your battles don’t define you.  Just because we are constantly engaged in struggle doesn’t mean that we are defined by them. We win and inevitably we lose. Don’t focus on your losses; you are far more than your conflicts.

2. You are not fighting alone. When your battles become oppressive, when your enemy gains the upper hand, you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Affirm that there is no true existence other than G‑d. This means that nothing contrary to G‑d’s goodness and truth has any real power over you.

3. You can grow from your experience. Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good. You were exposed to your circumstances for a reason. Find a lesson in every situation.

From an article by Chana Weisberg


Shabbat Shalom

Do not misplace your compassion

This Shabbat…we will listen to a reading from the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) that tells us to hate. “Remember what Amalek did to you…” we read. “Eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; do not forget!” Amalek was not the only nation to attack us; in the course of our 4,000 year history, there were many others who did the same, and worse. Yet Amalek is singled out as the very essence of evil. There was no rational reason for Amalek’s attack on us, no conceivable gain in doing so. Amalek simply hates goodness and seeks to destroy it wherever it flourishes in G_d’s world. Yes, we are enjoined to love all G_d’s creatures and creations, including the less loveable ones amongst them. But when pure hatred rears its head, it must be destroyed. In the wise words of our sages: “He who is compassionate to the cruel, ends up being cruel to the compassionate.”

From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber


Mind Over Matter

The upper hand over evil

When we contend with evil, we are “going out to war.” We are “going out” of our true selves, for waging war is unnatural. Our soul’s native environment is the peaceful, infinite Divine consciousness it experienced before it entered the body. Since our souls originate in G‑d’s essence, and evil has no power against G‑d’s essence, we have the upper hand over evil even before the battle has begun. We are “upon” – i.e., above – our enemies. In addition, G‑d only created evil in the first place in order for us to vanquish it. For both these reasons, the Torah goes on to assure us that “G‑d will deliver your enemy into your hands.”

TheRebbe.org


Moshiach Thoughts

Preparing the world to know G-d

Because the task of refining the world is often compared to a battle, one of the criteria given to identify Mashiach… is that he will “wage the wars of G‑d.” For it is possible that the task of refining the world will require actual conflict, so that Mashiach must “fill the world with justice” by “destroying the power of the wicked and waging the wars of G‑d.” This, however, is merely a stage. Ultimately, Mashiach will “vanquish all the nations surrounding him… and perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together,” thus initiating the era when “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition… [and] the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

From an article by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger


Have I got a Story

Beyond labels

I recently read a fascinating essay where the author describes an encounter she had with a couple in the streets of Jerusalem. The couple described themselves as “chilonim” (secular). Rather than concur with their self-definition, the author started gently probing, in a bid to help them realize how Jewishly oriented they truly were.

“You live in Israel, don’t you,” she challenged them. “You’re honest, decent, moral people who honor your parents, celebrate a Passover Seder, circumcise your sons and contribute to the betterment of Israeli society. You’re not “secular”; you are fine, upstanding Jews.”

It’s a subtle but important point to make. We all need to improve. We all have failings that hold us back, but that’s not a reason to label ourselves in relation to our Judaism.

However, I wonder, just because someone honors their parents, does that mean they’re following a Jewish way of life? Maybe they attend synagogue once a year out of habit rather than belief. They might be honest in business, but are they acting that way for G‑d, or out of a sense of personal morality? Maybe this couple’s self-definition wasn’t really so inaccurate?

There is a fascinating insight of the Rebbe on the mitzvah of shikchah, which is discussed in the parsha Ki Teitzei. There are certain biblically mandated gifts that we are commanded to give as charity. Ten percent of our income is donated for ma’aser, we leave pe’ah (the corners of our fields) unharvested for paupers, and anything we forget in the field by accident, shikcha, we are commanded to leave behind for those who are less fortunate.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a bundle behind, you may not go back for it. It must be left for the convert, the orphan and the widow, so that G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in everything you do (Deut. 24:19)

The commentator Rashi wonders: why will G‑d bless you when you didn’t mean to leave the bundle of grain behind in the first place? You were forgetful, but not necessarily generous. He points out that you don’t need to have a perfect intention in order to fulfill a mitzvah. Even if someone drops money that is subsequently found and kept by a poor person, the mitzvah of giving charity has been fulfilled.

The Rebbe questions: How is this a mitzvah? You didn’t mean to give charity. You had no positive intentions. Quite possibly you were even angry or disappointed when you realized your mistake. Where’s the merit in your actions?

The Rebbe points out that it is an axiom of Chassidic belief that, deep down, every Jew truly wants to do the right thing and serve G‑d. So, the person who dropped money actually wished to give tzedakah. Those who respect  their parents are moral, ethical beings who, subconsciously perhaps, love serving G‑d. That’s the real you and the real Jew.

You wish to be good. You want to give charity. You’d love to sit and learn Torah all day. You like people, want to keep Shabbat and dream of living a good Jewish life. You just don’t know it (yet).

Whatever good you do—even the inadvertent, unanticipated actions that in retrospect turn out for the best—comes from the soul and, because in your heart of hearts you love G‑d and dedicate yourself to mitzvahsG‑d will “bless you in everything you do.”

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

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

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