Food For the Soul
In democracies as well as in Jewish Law, majority rules. A beit din (court of Torah law) must always consist of an odd number of judges, so that there should always be a majority opinion. But the fact is, sometimes the majority gets it wrong. The story in the Parsha Shelach, of the twelve spies sent by Moses to the Promised Land, is a case in point.
Only two of the dozen, Joshua and Caleb, remained faithful to their leader, to the purpose of their mission and to G-d’s assurance that it was a good land. The other ten spies went awry. The spies were sent on a reconnaissance mission to determine how best to approach the coming conquest of the land of Canaan. Instead of doing what they were sent to do—to suggest the best way forward—ten of the twelve spies brought back a negative report that was designed to intimidate the people and discourage them from entering a ferocious “land that devours its inhabitants,” and which signed off with the categorical conclusion that “we cannot ascend.”
The people responded accordingly. They cried out to Moses, lamenting their very departure from Egypt. So G-d decreed that this generation was not worthy of His precious Promised Land. Furthermore, this day of weeping, on which they cried for no good reason, would become a day of tears for generations. Indeed, our sages explain, this occurred on the Ninth of Av, the day that would become a day of mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temples and many other national calamities throughout history.
Now, the question I’d like to pose here is: why did the people not follow the two good spies, Joshua and Caleb, instead of the others? The obvious answer: they were outvoted and outnumbered. Ten vs. two—no contest. Majority rules.
Tragically, though, they backed the losers. And the result was an extended vacation in the wilderness for them, and a tragedy for all of us to this day. So, although we may be staunch democrats and believers in the democratic process, clearly, there will be times when the minority is right.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Why light at least two candles on Shabbat?
Actually, you can fulfill the mitzvah of Shabbat candle-lighting with even one candle. That said, the custom is to light multiple candles. The basic reason why we light two candles for Shabbat is that they correspond to the two forms of the mitzvah of Shabbat: positive commandments and negative prohibitions associated with sanctifying Shabbat. Our sages tell us that the reason we light the Shabbat candles is to bring peace and tranquility into the home. According to some, this is one of the reasons for two candles—to represent husband and wife. Some explain that the reason for lighting at least two candles is based on the Talmudic teaching that on Shabbat we receive an additional soul, which imbues us with an extra sense of holiness and spirituality throughout the day. The additional candle corresponds to the second soul. While the widespread custom is to light at least two candles for Shabbat, many have the custom to light more.
From an article by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin
Mind Over Matter
Stop seeking perfection and start fixing the world.
You have to begin with the knowledge that there is nothing perfect in this world.
Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it.
It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found
and sew them together to create beauty.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Refine the Physical World
Mundane entanglements, involvement with worldly matters, may be tiresome, difficult and distasteful for one who aspires to spiritual heights. They are, however, an integral part of the Divine plan, and as Chassidism explains: “The ultimate intent of the descent and exile is to prepare for an immense ascent when, in the days of Moshiach, the light of G-d will radiate in a manifest way!”
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
A story: Rabbi Hirsh Altein suffered tremendous back pains, and after unsuccessfully trying many medications and treatments all the specialists he visited advised him that surgery was the only way to rid himself of the problem. When the Rebbe was asked for advice, he implied that surgery was unnecessary; there must be a cream on the market which could solve the problem! But the doctors continued to insist that they know of no alternative to surgery. As a last resort, Rabbi Altein visited Dr. Avrohom Seligson (the Rebbe’s personal doctor, and a devoted chassid). Dr. Seligson, who was not a back specialist, checked Rabbi Altein and prescribed an ointment for his back. Sure enough, until his passing more than twenty years later, Rabbi Altein never had a recurrence of his back pains.
When Dr. Seligson was asked how he knew to prescribe the particular cream, when all the specialists thought that surgery was the only option, he responded: “The results of the check-up indicated that he needed surgery—but the Rebbe said that this wasn’t the case. I realized that the Rebbe merely wanted a ‘vessel’ through which a miracle could be manifest, so I prescribed the simplest and cheapest cream available on the market!”
The spies’ reconnaissance mission to Canaan was intended to gather intelligence information about the enemy. They were told to scout the lay of the land, as well as its natural and man-made fortifications. They were to report on the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, and the natural resources they could rely on during times of battle. This information would be used by the Israelite military brass to formulate an appropriate combat strategy for the impending battle to conquer the Holy Land.
The spies – all of whom were upright and pious people with unquestionable integrity – faithfully went about their task, but what they saw made their stomachs churn: the Canaanites were a powerful nation, gargantuan people with awesome strength. No fewer than 31 kings had royal palaces defended by military contingents on the Canaan mainland. There was no way, the spies concluded, for the Israelites to achieve a natural victory against the formidable Canaanite foe. “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we,” they declared! Yet this honest conclusion had disastrous results. G-d was highly displeased with their report and the reaction it engendered, and it caused the premature demise of the entire generation which left Egypt.
Where did the spies go wrong? The Rebbe explains that the spies erred in assuming that they had to reach a conclusion. They were told to go to Canaan and bring back dry facts: the nature of the land and its population etc. They were not asked to render a decision regarding the feasibility of conquering the land. G-d had promised the Jews a military victory against the Canaanites, and therefore that was not a debatable issue. The question wasn’t if it could be done, but rather how it would be done.
The same is true with our personal lives. We all are “sent on a mission” to this world, to illuminate our surroundings with the radiance of Torah and mitzvot. Often the opposition seems to be too formidable; the obstacles to implementing G-d’s appear to be insurmountable. When these thoughts enter our minds we must remember that if G-d charged us with the mission it certainly can be carried out. Our job is only to figure out how to do it.
From an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg