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 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.
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
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.