Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

The majority is not always right

In the Parsha Shelach (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41) twelve spies are sent by Moses to the Promised Land. 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 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. G-d decrees that Israel’s entry into the land shall be delayed forty years, during which time that entire generation will die out in the desert.

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 believers in the democratic process, clearly, there will be times when the minority is right. All too often it is the world that is stark raving meshuga, veering drunkenly out of control. It takes substantial strength of character to resist the pull of the drunken majority. May G-d aid us to be men and women of stature, of spirit. May we be inspired with the courage to stand up and be counted, even if it means being that lone voice in the wilderness. Otherwise, we may never get to our destination.

Adapted from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Egyptians Sue Jews

On this day in history (4th Century BCE) Egyptian representatives appeared in the court of Alexander the Great, demanding that the Jews pay restitution for all the Egyptian gold and silver they took along with them during the Exodus. Geviha the son of Pesisa, a simple but wise Jew, requested the sages’ permission to present a defense on behalf of the Jews. Geviha asked the Egyptians for evidence that the Jews absconded with their wealth. “The crime is clearly recorded in your Torah,” the Egyptians gleefully responded. “In that case,” Geviha said, “the Torah also says that 600,000 Jews were unjustly enslaved by the Egyptians for many, many years. So first let us calculate how much you owe us…”

The court granted the Egyptians three days in which to prepare a response. When they were unable to do so they fled on the following day and never returned. In Talmudic times, the day when the Egyptian delegation fled was celebrated as a mini-holiday. (According to some traditions, this event took place on Nissan 24.)

Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Think POSSIBLE!

Instead of working out the best way to approach the Holy Land, the [Twelve] Spies declared that the job could not be achieved. The message they brought back was “mission impossible…” Instead of saying “we will have to face this or that problem” they said: “Give up on the whole project!” This was their error. But it does not have to be ours. Our investigation into the ins and outs and the possibilities of the task ahead of us, based on all the advice of Jewish teaching, does not mean we should end up saying “mission impossible” and withdraw. If we look in a positive way at our task, knowing that G-d is helping us, we will see the optimum way forward.

From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal


Moshiach Thoughts

Learning freedom

Moses first fought the oppressor and only then taught his people to be free. Today, the oppressor hides behind a smile, a luxury, a social norm. Quite often, your worst oppressor is you yourself. That is why today we first need to teach people to be free so that they can recognize their oppression.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

My first Halachic question

I’d been on the job for just a few weeks when one of our members hesitantly approached me after services: “Rabbi,” he began, “may I ask you a question in halachah?”

Yes! I was ready! This was what I’d entered the rabbinate for. This was why I’d spent years attending international yeshivahs and studying for my semichah ordination. Ask me your halachic question, please.

“Rabbi,” he continued, “you know where I live, and you know how I get to shul on Shabbat. For the last few months, whenever I’ve come to shul, I have started to wear tzitzit under my shirt. Wearing them makes me feel good inside. However, this morning, as I was driving to shul, I started to wonder whether I wasn’t acting hypocritically. Should a Shabbat-breaker like me really be wearing such a holy garment as tzitzit? Rabbi, what do you think—should I stop wearing them?”

I’ve got to admit, at first I was a tiny bit disappointed. This was the halachic question I was waiting for? So much for my rosy vision of engaging in an in-depth analysis of some weighty issue of Jewish law. The answer seemed so obvious: of course he shouldn’t take his tzitzit off. Every mitzvah is an independent path to G-dliness, and the neglect of one commandment should not preclude the fulfillment of another.

However, one of the most useful pieces of advice I ever received in life was a favorite saying of my father’s: “Before you answer a question, ask yourself, ‘Why is this person asking you this question at this time?’” Thankfully, before I could blithely shoot off a response, I checked my initial impulse and gave his question the attention and respect it deserved. On reflection, I realized that he wasn’t really asking me “a halachic question”; he could have worked out the halachah easily enough for himself. He was really looking for an opportunity to explore his feelings of unease at his current unstructured approach to Judaism, and looking for reassurance that it was all right to take his own time and follow his own path to observance.

My new congregant and I spent a fair bit of time chatting with each other and trying to understand each other better. I learned far more about his past relationship with Judaism, as well as his current needs and desires, than I would have if I had just answered his question without giving him the time he needed to unburden.

One insight that seemed to give him some comfort was that the reason we wear tzitzit is so that “when you see them, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd, to perform them” (Numbers 15:39). Wearing tzitzit is supposed to remind us of the other mitzvahs. You can even say they’re supposed to make us feel guilty. They’re doing their job!

Mitzvahs are addictive; if you do some, you’ll be tempted to do more. Obviously, it’s unwise and unhelpful to do too much too fast, but the natural temptation is to do more. What my friend was mistaking for unease at hypocrisy was really his conscience urging him to take the next step on his journey to Judaism, and stop driving to shul. You don’t stop wearing tzitzit because they’re doing what they’re supposed to; rather, you ready yourself to take the next step that you’re supposed to.

There is no shame in doing a mitzvah, and no reason to desist just because you’re not yet fully ready to take on another. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Every step is just another stage towards “performing all the commandments of the L-rd” and readying oneself to listen to G-d’s message when He calls.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Food For the Soul

 Manna from heaven

A month after their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites’ food ran out, and on Sunday, the 15th day of the month of Iyar, they turned to Moses and Aaron for food. That night, a flock of poultry miraculously arrived, and the next morning, a special edible substance fell from the sky, which received the name “manna”. The manna was adapted to the taste of each individual; to the adult it tasted like the food of the adult, while it tasted like breastmilk for a baby. By wishing, one could taste in the manna anything desired, whether beef, fruit or grain. 

Interestingly, the Israelites later complained to Moses that they missed zucchini, watermelon, leeks, onions and garlic. If the manna could taste like anything in the world, why did they miss those vegetables? The Talmud explains that since these vegetables could be harmful to lactating women, the manna didn’t taste like them. Another explanation is that while it could taste like those foods, it wouldn’t take on their texture, as it did with other foods. In the Parsha Behaalotecha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) the people complain that they are sick of eating the manna and want meat. G-d promises to send them meat and the next day large swarms of quail come over the camp, and the Jews have more than enough meat to eat.

Every day, enough manna would fall for each person to have an omer (approximately 43 oz.), which was enough to feel satiated for one day. One was not allowed to save the manna from one day to the next—leftovers had to be discarded outside the tent, otherwise they would become wormy and inedible. This taught a great lesson in faith – even to the ever-complaining Israelites! Not having any reserves, they had to have full faith in G-d that He would provide their needs each day.

Adapted from articles in Chabad.org


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 2

This Shabbat afternoon we study Ethics of the Fathers (Avot), Chapter 2. Among the profound thoughts are some famous words by Hillel: “Do not separate yourself from the community. Do not believe in yourself until the day you die. Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place. Do not say something that is not readily understood in the belief that it will ultimately be understood [or: Do not say something that ought not to be heard even in the strictest confidence, for ultimately it will be heard]. And do not say ‘When I free myself of my concerns, I will study,’ for perhaps you will never free yourself.”


Mind Over Matter

Forget pessimism

Pessimism comes with a thousand arguments. Maybe you don’t deserve to be saved from the mess you’ve gotten into. Maybe you deserve punishment, G-d forbid. Maybe the only way to save your soul is through a dark tunnel.

That’s not called trust. Trust means you have not a shade of doubt that He will deliver—no matter who you are and what you’ve been up to—and it will all be good, every step along the way.

As for your mess-ups, He knows you regret them all, and He is a kind and loving G-d.

And so, He delivers.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Moshiach Thoughts

Hidden manna

Our sages tell us that “when King Solomon built the Holy Temple, knowing that it was destined to be destroyed, he built a place in which to hide the Ark, at the end of hidden, deep, winding passageways.” Ultimately, 22 years before the destruction of the First Temple, King Josiah hid the jug of manna together with the Ark in that special hidden passage. According to tradition, it is still hidden there, waiting to be rediscovered with the advent of Moshiach. The Midrash relates that this last bit of manna reminds us that just as in the desert, when the Jews were occupied solely with learning Torah, G-d sustained them with the manna, so too, in the Messanic era, we will be sustained with food from heaven as we focus exclusively on delving into the Torah. May this be speedily in our days! 

From an article by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin


Have I Got A Story

Pain or privilege?

Okay, I admit it. I’m not sure how I would have behaved if I were in the position of the Jews back in the wilderness. We always criticize their lack of faith in G-d and the rough time they gave Moses. Even as G-d was providing them with the most incredible miracles — bread from heaven and water from rocks — they were busy moaning and groaning throughout. But would I have acted differently? Who knows? You think it was easy to live in a desert, even with all the miracles in the Bible?

I suppose a lot depends on a person’s attitude and perspective in life.

Recently, I heard a powerful insight in the name of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the outstanding authorities in Jewish law of our time (he passed away in 1986). He was speaking of the generation of Jewish immigrants to the United States who spawned what became known as the “lost generation.” Why was it that the children of parents who were religious, or at least traditional, moved so far away from the Judaism of their parental homes? Rabbi Moshe argued that it could be summed up in one simple question of attitude. Did those parents convey to their children that Judaism was a burden or a boon, a pleasure or a pain?

Was the constant refrain these children heard at home, Oy, it’s hard to be a Jew! or Ahh, it is good to be a Jew! Was being Jewish in those early days in America something to sigh about, or something to celebrate and sing about? Whether children grew up hearing that Judaism was a pain or a privilege would determine whether they embraced it happily or escaped from it at the first opportunity. According to Rabbi Moshe, on that hinged the success or failure of an entire generation.

Indeed, we know of many Jews who survived the Holocaust and because of their horrific experiences perceived being Jewish as a death sentence, G-d forbid. There were those who sought to run as far away as possible from Europe. Many found their way to Australia and became “closet Jews.” Some never even told their children that they were Jewish.

It was for this reason that the late Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Immanuel Jacobowitz argued that while Holocaust education was important, there was a danger in over-emphasizing the Holocaust in Jewish Day Schools. We want our children to see that Judaism is a blessing, not a curse. Our Jewishness should not be dark and depressing, but bright and joyous.

I remember having a discussion with a group of businessmen some years ago where we were trying to put together a slide show to promote one of our local institutions. We were looking for a particularly powerful scene. One prominent doctor suggested that, for him, the single most powerful scene in Jewish life was the Rabbi walking into the house of mourning carrying his bag of prayer books. To him, that may have been powerful, but for me — as a rabbi — I’d never heard anything as depressing. What am I, the Angel of Death?

The Jews in the wilderness had their own issues. We should try and learn from their mistakes and be more faithful and trusting in the leadership of the Moses of our own time. But beyond that, let us not whine and whimper about the challenges of Jewish life. Let us convey to our children that Judaism is a joy and a privilege. Then, please G-d, they will embrace it for generations to come.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Food For the Soul

“Mansplaining”

I learned a new word recently: “mansplaining.” Wikipedia defines it as: “a portmanteau of the words man and explaining; to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”

Though a fairly new word, perhaps the Torah portion Naso (Numbers 7:84-7:89) admonishes us against this behavior.

The Sota is a woman whose husband suspects (and has limited evidence of) her infidelity. The couple comes to the Temple where a kohen fills an earthen vessel with Temple water and bitter earth, and dissolves in it the letters of G-d’s name. When she drinks the bitter waters, the unfaithful wife dies; the faithful one is exonerated and blessed.

The Chassidic masters explain this episode metaphorically as a struggle between spirituality and physicality, between the soul and the body, and between the masculine and feminine perspectives.

The soul, represented by the husband, cannot fathom the value of the body, represented by the feminine. The soul views physicality as something detracting from his Divine service and does not appreciate her needs or perspectives.

But while the body’s temptations often hold the soul back, that’s only one side. The soul could not accomplish its mission—or perform any mitzvah, for that matter—without its body. G-d chose to give the Torah to human beings—souls cloaked in physical bodies—and not angels. The Torah commands us about earthly matters and how to live in our physical world. In fact, in the feminine era of Moshiach, we will understand the body’s true value, and the soul will actually “be nourished by the body.”

That is why in the Sota episode, after the struggle between the soul and the body, the name of G-d is dissolved specifically in an earthen vessel, validating the significant role played by feminine earthiness and physicality. So, perhaps the lesson for us is not to have a one-dimensional worldview that disparages or disregards people or perspectives that differ from our own. Let’s stop mansplaining, womansplaining or peoplesplaining, and start seeing the inherent worth in all of G-d’s creations. 

From an article by Chana Weisberg


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 1

It is the custom of many communities (and such is the Chabad custom) to continue the weekly study of a chapter Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”), one chapter each Shabbat afternoon, through the summer, until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana (the first six-week cycle is completed on the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot). This Shabbat, being the first Shabbat after Shavuot, we study Chapter One. 

Among the profound thoughts in this chapter is the famous saying from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

From Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Focus on the positive

When a morbidly obese friend who was my age suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, the shock made me recommit to my diet, and I lost some weight. Less than six months later, I gained it back. While there are exceptions to the rule, when motivation to change stems merely from wanting to avoid a bad outcome, rather than obtaining a good result, the change is usually temporary. 

What does serve the process of long-term change is flipping the goal into something positive, like feeling confident, strong and healthy, and to be able to resume former activities and physical hobbies. In the long run, being pulled towards the good serves better than running from the bad. This idea is taught by the Chassidic master, the Maggid of Mezeritch, who explained the Psalm “stay away from evil and do good” to truly mean “stay away from evil by doing good.” The two are connected. When we do something positive, we are naturally removed from the negative.

From an article by Hanna Perlberger


Moshiach Thoughts

Cosmic marriage

From the moment that they were sundered apart, the earth has craved to reunite with heaven: physical with spiritual, body with soul, the life that breathes within us with the transcendental that lies beyond life, beyond being. And yet more so does the Infinite Light yearn to find itself within that world, that pulse of life, within finite, earthly existence. There, more than any spiritual world, is the place of G-d’s delight. Towards this ultimate union all of history flows, all living things crave, all human activities are subliminally directed. When it will finally occur, it will be the quintessence of every marriage that has ever occurred. May it be soon in our times, sooner than we can imagine.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Have I Got A Story

Who is man?

Let’s start with two stories. In both, one creature attempts to act like another, but fails. In the first, it’s an animal who is trying to be human; in the second it’s a human trying to be an animal. Here’s the first story: Once, during a discussion, Maimonides, personal physician to Sultan Saladin, argued that only human beings can change their character, while animals could not. One of the sultan’s anti-Semitic advisors, seeing an opportunity to humiliate the Jewish physician, proposed a wager, claiming he could transform a cat into a waiter, thus teaching it to behave contrary to its nature. The advisor was a skilled animal trainer and he trained the cat to walk on two legs, in a costume, carrying a tray. But when Maimonides opened a box containing a mouse – and the mouse ran out – the cat immediately dropped the tray, went down on all fours and began chasing the mouse all over the place!

The second story, as told by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: There was once a prince who went mad and insisted he was a rooster. He sat under the table naked, clucking and eating his food off the floor. The king had tried everything to cure him, but nothing worked, and he was in despair. A wise man who had heard about the king’s predicament arrived at the palace and said he could cure the prince. So, the wise man took off his clothes and sat under the table, pretending to be a chicken too. Sitting there under the table, he began to get to know the Rooster Prince.

Then one day, the man called for a pair of pants and began putting them on. The Rooster Prince objected, saying, “What do you mean, wearing those pants? You’re a rooster, and roosters can’t wear pants!”

“Who says a rooster can’t wear pants?” the man replied. “Why shouldn’t I be warm and comfortable, too? Why should only humans have all the good things?” The Rooster Prince thought for a while. The man had a point. The floor under the table was very cold and uncomfortable.  So he asked for pants, too, and put them on.

The next day, the man asked for a warm shirt, and began to put it on. Again the Rooster Prince objected: “How can you do that? Roosters don’t wear shirts!”

“Who says?” the man replied. “Why should I have to shiver in the cold just because I’m a rooster?” Again the Rooster Prince thought it over, and realized that he was cold, too—so he put on a shirt. And so it went with socks, shoes, a belt, a hat . . . Soon the Rooster Prince was talking normally, eating with a knife and fork from a plate, sitting properly at the table; in short, he was acting human once more.

Who is man? An age-old question if there ever was one. The Bible states that “G-d created man in His image.” G-d is inherently good, and so is the being He created called man. As for the question of how man comes to sin if indeed he is so G-dly, the Talmud answers profoundly: “A person does not commit a transgression unless a spirit of folly enters him.”  

Unlike [those] who believe that man is at best a trainable cat who can act human so long as the mice are away, the Talmud suggests that man is in essence a beautiful being, who, because of a “spirit of folly,” can sometimes confuse himself with a squalid rooster. Thus, in Jewish thought, it is badness, not goodness, which is alien to man, a foreign product smuggled in from the outside.

In our third story, a professor complained to the Lubavitcher Rebbe about the nature of people. “From my encounters, I have noticed that people can seem nice and charming at the outset. They may express concern for you and even openly admit that they love you! But if one digs just a little deeper than the outer surface—some require more digging than others—at their core everyone is exactly the same: selfish, arrogant and egotistic. Why is this the nature of mankind?”  The Rebbe responded with a parable: “When one walks on the street, things often look so elegant and appealing: tall flowery trees, fancy houses, paved roads and expensive cars. But if one takes a hoe and begins digging beneath the surface, he discovers dirt and mud, nothing like the beautiful but ‘deceptive’ world aboveground. But if he weren’t to give up,” the Rebbe concluded, “and would continue digging deeper, he would eventually encounter precious minerals and diamonds.”

Even if we at times succumb to our animal inclination, we can always be humanized again, since like the prince beneath the table, and like diamonds coated in dirt, our essence never changes. 

Adapted from an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson

Food For the Soul

Shavuot

Shavuot 2021 (a two-day holiday, celebrated from sunset on May 16 until nightfall on May 18) coincides with the date that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago.  It is celebrated by lighting candles, staying up all night to learn Torah, hearing the reading of the Ten Commandments in synagogue, feasting on dairy foods and more. 

This year again, many of us will be celebrating ourselves, as our own living spaces have become our places of worship. Visit Chabad.org for ideas and inspiration about how to celebrate Shavuot at home.

The role of children is significant on Shavuot. When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d refused to give it to them until they could find worthy guarantors to assure the observance of its laws. After G-d heard (and refused) various suggestions, he accepted the final suggestion that children be the guarantors.

Why did G-d prefer the Torah study of the child whose mind is constantly distracted? Rabbi Naftali Silberbert suggests this is because, unlike the adult “the child has an acute curiosity, but he doesn’t doubt that which he is taught; he is aware that his wisdom and knowledge is limited and therefore accepts what his parent or teacher says. He asks questions because he wants to understand more, not because he is skeptical of the information he has heard.”

However, children aren’t the only guarantors of the Torah, Rabbi Silberberg adds. “The adult who dedicates himself to the Torah in a childish manner, he too can take credit for ensuring the continuity of the Torah.”


Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter Six

In preparation for the festival of Shavuot, we study one of the six chapters of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) on the afternoon of each of the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot; this Shabbat being the Shabbat before Shavuot, we study Chapter Six. 

Among the passages in this chapter are the words of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya, who said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundant measure, as it is written (Isaiah 42:21): ‘The L-rd desired, for the sake of his [Israel’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious.’” (Makkot 23b).


Mind Over Matter

Interface

On the outside, Torah speaks the language of humankind. On the inside, it is depth without end. 

Torah is the interface between the Infinite and creation. On the outside, it speaks the language of humankind. 

On the inside, it is depth without end. Grasp either end and you have nothing. Grasp both and you have G-d Himself.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


Moshiach Thoughts

Moshiach’s ultimate function

Of the Messianic era it is said that “the one preoccupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d.” All knowledge of G-d derives from the Torah. Moshiach’s ultimate function, therefore, will be to “teach the entire people and instruct them in the way of G-d, and all nations will come to hear him.” He will reveal new insights, novel understandings of the presently hidden, unknown and esoteric teachings of the infinite Torah, allowing people “to attain knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human capacity.” In order to make it possible for the world to partake in these new revelations, the Messianic era will thus be a time of peace and harmony, with “neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife.”

From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet


Have I Got A Story

Sounds of Sinai

It’s been said that if you talk to G-d, you’re a religious person; if G-d talks to you, you’re crazy. I guess that means I’m crazy. G-d talks to me—not as frequently as He should, but fairly often.

I might be arguing with my wife—that same tired argument that we’ve had a hundred times already—when something inside me says, “Hey, just a minute. Maybe look at it her way, for a change?”

Who said that, me? I don’t talk that way to myself!

Or I might be walking along a sunny street, thinking my usual thoughts—the balance in my bank account, or what to have for lunch—when I’m struck with a deep sadness, a sudden yearning for something higher, something more meaningful. Who said that, me? I don’t say things like that—not since I was twenty years old, anyway.

Our Sages tell us that “every day a Heavenly voice issues forth from Mount Sinai” calling for a return to the truth of truths. Asked Chassidism’s founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov: What is the purpose of this voice, if no one hears it?

But we all hear it, answered the Baal Shem Tov. Every time that we are struck with an unexpected thought that pushes us in the right direction—unexpected because it is totally out of character for us, and a complete departure from our present frame of mind—that means that our inner ear has picked up an echo of the Divine voice calling from Mount Sinai.

Whether or not you make it a habit to talk to G-d, you should listen to Him talk to you. It’ll be the sanest moment of your day.

Rabbi Yanki Tauber

The Midrash tells us that G-d’s voice serenaded the Israelites from all four directions, as well as from above and below. 

Before delivering your message, ask yourself: “Am I broadcasting this message from all directions? Or is there some part of me that is signaling a different message altogether? If that is the case, have a conversation with yourself before attempting to convince another. If you have not internalized the message, there’s little chance that you will find the other person receptive.

From an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberber

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