Food For the Soul
A Kabbalist’s Guide to Hieroglyphics
Anyone who thinks “Poindexter” is a long name never studied the Torah portion Massei Matot (Numbers 30:2–36:13) with a Kabbalist. A Kabbalist understands the Jews’ zigzagging 42-stop journey across the desert as an allusion to G-d’s mystical 42-letter name, the one G-d uses in creating the world.
This helps overturn the misconception that the Jews were “wandering” through the desert. They were no more wandering through the desert than a spelling bee champion wanders through the alphabet. Rather, each stop was another letter in a divine composition.
Their journey represents the journey through life. The Talmud likens it to a long trip taken by a father and son; together they share life’s pains and joys, its triumphs and defeats.
Likewise, the trip across the desert included triumphs and joys, but also mistakes, pain and doubt—a fairly normal range of experiences. The difference is that every up and down was intimately bound to the divine—shared with their Father in Heaven. There’s a chassidic adage that G-d loves each individual like a king loves his only son. When the son is dirty, the king bends down to offer the son a damp cloth. If the child refuses the cloth, the king lovingly cleans away the schmutz himself. When the schmutz is removed, one sees that life forms a divine hieroglyphic—G-d’s mystical plan for creation. The wise person realizes the need to pursue this hieroglyphic with an archeologist’s determination for discovery.
Rabbi Boruch Cohen
“Nine Days” Begin
This Shabbat – the 1st of Av, “The Three Weeks” mourning period over the destruction of the Holy Temple–which began 13 days earlier on Tammuz 17–enters an intensified stage. During “The Nine Days” from Av 1st to the Ninth of Av, a heightened degree of mourning is observed, including abstention from meat and wine, music, bathing for pleasure, and other joyous and enjoyable activities. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent Halachic authority for details).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.
Mind Over Matter
Each move has a purpose
In her article “Moving” (Chabad.org) Elena Mizrahi wonders whether the Jews in the desert thought to themselves, Oh no, not again. “It’s interesting that the Torah describes how much the people complained about the food and water, but doesn’t mention any complaints about the constant moving,” she writes. “The only thing it says is praise for the nation who camped and traveled by the word of G-d. They didn’t see their moving as a bother, but merely as a means of reaching their goal, the way to get from one spiritual and physical place to another….Each move has a purpose. We’re moving and I don’t want to, but I think back to all the times we’ve moved and I have to say that even when it seemed difficult, it turned out to be for our good. If we hadn’t moved, we wouldn’t have grown, and with this move, I know we’ll grow too.”
One day soon all the good you have done will shine. Through many journeys through many lives, each of us will find and redeem all the divine sparks in our share of the world. Then the darkness that holds such mastery, such cruelty, such irrational evil that it contains no redeeming value—all this will simply vanish like a puff of steam in the midday air. As for that which we salvaged and used for good, it will shine an awesome light never known before. The world will have arrived.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
The Power of Prayer
A fellow was boasting about what a good citizen he was and what a refined, disciplined lifestyle he led. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t cheat on my wife, I am early to bed and early to rise, and I work hard all day and attend religious services faithfully.” Very impressive, right? Then he added, “I’ve been like this for the last five years, but just you wait until they let me out of this place!”
Although prisons were not really part of the Jewish judicial system, there were occasions when individuals would have their freedom of movement curtailed. One such example was the City of Refuge. If a person was guilty of manslaughter (i.e., unintentional murder) the perpetrator would flee to one of the specially designated Cities of Refuge throughout Biblical Israel where he was given safe haven from the wrath of a would-be avenging relative of the victim.
The Torah tells us that his term of exile would end with the death of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The Talmud tells of an interesting practice that developed. The mother of the Kohen Gadol at the time would make a point of bringing gifts of food to those exiled so that they should not pray for the early demise of her son, to which their own freedom was linked.
Now this is very strange. Here is a man who, though not a murderer, is not entirely innocent of any negligence either. The rabbis teach that G-d does not allow misfortune to befall the righteous. If this person caused a loss of life, we can safely assume that he is less than righteous. Opposite him stands the High Priest of Israel, noble, aristocratic and, arguably, the holiest Jew alive. Of the entire nation, he alone had the awesome responsibility and privilege of entering the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple, the “Holy of Holies,” on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Do we really have reason to fear that the prayers of this morally tainted prisoner will have such a negative effect on the revered and exalted High Priest, to the extent that the Kohen Gadol may die? And his poor mother has to go and shlep food parcels to distant cities to soften up the prisoner so he should go easy in his prayers so that her holy son may live? Does this make sense?
But such is the power of prayer—the prayer of any individual, noble or ordinary, righteous or even sinful. Of course, there are no guarantees. Otherwise, I suppose, Shuls around the world would be overflowing daily. But we do believe fervently in the power of prayer. And though, ideally, we pray in Hebrew and with a congregation, the most important ingredient for our prayers to be successful is sincerity. “G-d wants the heart,” we are taught. The language and the setting are secondary to the genuineness of our prayers. Nothing can be more genuine than a tear shed in prayer.
By all means, learn the language of our Siddur, the prayer book. Improve your Hebrew reading so you can follow the services and daven with fluency. But remember, most important of all is our sincerity. May all our prayers be answered.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman