Food For the Soul
Ladder to Heaven
In the Parsha Vayetze (Genesis 28:10–32:3) we read of Jacob’s dream and the famous ladder with its feet on the ground and head in the heavens. “And behold the angels of G‑d were ascending and descending on it.”
Let me ask you what they might call in Yiddish, a klotz kashe (simplistic question). Do angels need a ladder? Everyone knows angels have wings, not feet. So, if you have wings, why would you need a ladder? There is a beautiful message here.
In climbing heavenward one does not necessarily need wings. Dispense with the dramatic. Forget about fancy leaps and bounds. There is a ladder, a spiritual route clearly mapped out for us; a route that needs to be traversed step-by-step, one rung at a time. The pathway to Heaven is gradual, methodical and eminently manageable.
Many people are discouraged from even beginning a spiritual journey because they think it needs that huge leap of faith. They cannot see themselves reaching a degree of religious commitment which to them seems otherworldly. And yet, with the gradual step-by-step approach, one finds that the journey can be embarked upon and that the destination aspired to is actually not in outer space.
When my father was in yeshiva, his teacher once asked the following question: “If two people are on a ladder, one at the top and one on the bottom, who is higher?” The class thought it was a pretty dumb question — until the wise teacher explained that they were not really capable of judging who was higher or lower until they first ascertained in which direction each was headed. If the fellow on top was going down, but the guy on the bottom was going up, then conceptually, the one on the bottom was actually higher.
And so my friends, it doesn’t really matter what your starting point is or where you are at on the ladder of religious life. As long as you are moving in the right direction, as long as you are going up, you will, please G‑d, succeed in climbing the heavenly heights. Wishing you a safe and successful journey.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Doing something special for Shabbat
By instruction as well as by personal example, the sages of the Talmud taught to honor and pleasure Shabbat. “It was said of the sage Shammai that all his days he ate for the honor of the Shabbat. How so? For when he found a prime specimen, he would say, ‘This is for Shabbat.’ Then, if he found a better one, he would set aside that one for Shabbat, and eat the first one . . .” (Talmud, Beitzah 16b)
Rava would personally prepare the fish for Shabbat. Rav Chisda chopped vegetables. Rabbah and Rav Yosef chopped wood. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak would be seen running about on Friday, carrying bundles on his shoulders. Many of these were wealthy men who had numerous servants to do their work; yet they insisted on personally toiling in honor of the Shabbat. (Talmud, Shabbat 119a; Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Shabbat)
Mind Over Matter
Can we change our lives?
Can we change our lives? Or are we entirely the products of our environments? An example of someone who expressed a highly independent stance, based on G‑d’s will rather than peer pressure, is Rebecca from last week’s Parsha – Toldot. Rebecca was determined to leave her home and travel far away to become the wife of Isaac. This was not just a youthful urge to travel, a quest for a change of scene. Rebecca came from an environment of idolatry. Everyone around her, including her immediate family and the society in which she lived, believed in idols and worshipped them, often in a horrible way. Nonetheless, Rebecca managed to stand above her situation. As the commentator Rashi points out, despite her surroundings, she managed to arrive at and maintain her own independent view of life: “Although she was the daughter of a wicked man, the sister of a wicked man, and her hometown was a place of wicked people, she did not learn from their misdeeds.”
From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
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.
Tanya 37. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Why I Bought A Home
Probably the smartest thing that my wife and I ever did was to buy our own home. I’m not referring to the rental-versus-ownership debate, or reflecting on property prices and interest rates. Rather, I’m commenting on the effect that living locally has had on our relationship with the local Jews.
When I was appointed rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation in Moorabbin, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and was first getting to know people, my family would commute every Shabbat from where we lived, a short distance away in Caulfield. Friday afternoons would be spent packing kids’ clothing into traveling bags, and chicken soup and cholent into spill-proof containers.
We’d pull in ten minutes before Shabbat, spend a pleasant 25 hours ministering to the natives, and, the moment Shabbat came to an end on Saturday night, we would reverse the process, ready to hightail it back to the eastern suburbs.
We were itinerants with no serious roots. Sure, we would spend time in the area during the week, and honestly strove to give off a veneer of stability, yet we’d made no real commitments to the organization or the people, and could theoretically have pulled the plug whenever we wished.
The moment we signed a mortgage, we demonstrated to all concerned that we were thinking long-term. We were here to stay, and people could begin to invest in us emotionally.
To prove your commitment, you’ve got to act committed. A mentor of mine once told me that whatever we do in life should be done as if that’s what we’ll be doing for the rest of our life. Sure, different opportunities come up, and people do occasionally change jobs, but right now, focus only on the job at hand and do it to the best of your ability.
But is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? Is life a journey or a destination? Is this a process or a product? How can I live my current life to the fullest, while holding out hope that this is nothing but a temporary assignment?
It was this dichotomy that was the subject of a fascinating discussion between our forefather Jacob and his evil father-in-law, Laban.
Jacob and his family are on their way back home to Israel after two decades of working in Haran. Laban gives chase, catches up with the traveling party, and accuses Jacob of disloyalty: “Why did you deceive me? You never stopped longing to return to your father’s house. You robbed me!”
Jacob is having nothing of that. “I worked for you for more than 20 years without rest,” he replied. “Day and night, in the heat and the frost, I was devoted to your employment. I have stolen nothing from you.” I worked for you, but you don’t own me.
And they were both right. Jacob consistently gave more than an honest day’s work for less-than-fair wages. He was totally devoted to his employer’s interests, often at the expense of his own family’s wellbeing. Jacob’s word was his commitment, and he more than lived up to his side of the bargain.
But this dedication to the cause that lay in front of him did not preclude his aspiration towards a higher goal. “Why do you think I come here in the first place?” asks Jacob. “My devotion was not to you, but to G‑d! Even as I toiled away at your tasks, no matter the hours I put in, and irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions, my true focus was to return to my ancestral home.”
Wherever a Jew finds himself in life, whatever the task that lies at hand, he has two symbiotic responsibilities: to give of himself to the best of his abilities, putting down roots and committing himself totally to the cause, while simultaneously praying and longing for the time to come, when the reward for our effort will fall due and we can “return in peace to our father’s home.”
From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum