Food For the Soul
Staying on Track
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitze, begins with the words: “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L-rd your G-d shall deliver them into your hands.”
Every day, we face a battlefield trying to realize our hopes, goals and dreams, while various forces within our lives work to defeat us. Every day, we struggle to prioritize our commitments, deciding which things can be put aside and which cannot.
In every battle, the way to achieve victory is to gain the higher ground, to go “on (or over) our enemies.” We cannot become stooped in the minutia of daily life; we need to rise above it, while keeping an eye on our ultimate goals. Most importantly, we need to remember that it is G-d who will lead us to victory and help us access our talents to succeed.
Later in the parshah, we are commanded: “When You build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof.”
Building a house can mean working on any endeavor, goal or mission that we set out to achieve. In order to succeed and avoid being dragged into life’s many distractions, we must remain sufficiently aloof from them. We accomplish this by building a guard rail to keep us on track. By setting appropriate boundaries, we can focus on what’s important so that we don’t fall away from our agendas.
Not all of us are suited to build large and successful businesses. But, more importantly, all of us can—and should—make it our business to build our spiritual selves into the people we wish to become. The New Year is right around the corner. Perhaps now would be a good time to make a list of our three or four spiritual goals for this coming year. And with G-d’s help, we will succeed.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Psalms, Tefillin and Mezuzot
Specific Elul customs include the daily sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) as a call to repentance. The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur (on Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms). Consult a qualified rabbi to learn which Psalms to recite each day or visit Chabad.org.
Elul is also the time to have one’s tefillin and mezuzot checked by an accredited scribe to ensure that they are in good condition and fit for use.
Mind Over Matter
Who are your enemies?
Confusion. Depression. Mindless obsessions. And other wild beasts.
Where do they live? Inside you.
Why are you fighting them? Not to destroy them, but to tame them, to harness their energies and transform them into trustworthy domesticated creatures. How will you engage them? From above.
Because you must know that you are not them. You are not your confusion. You are not your depression. As madly as those wild beasts may drive you, they are not you.
You, at your very core, stand beyond them, in another realm altogether.
Believe in your own true self. From there you will be able to pull those beasts upward.
From an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Restoring the Beit Hamikdash
At the end of the Messianic battle, the people of Israel will find restored all the precious spoils that fell into the hands of the nations of the world during the time of the galut, and which the latter have kept all these years. This means essentially the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple of Jerusalem). The nations pursued the Jewish people throughout the times, and their primary objective has always been the dwelling-place of our spiritual center, the Beit Hamikdash. They did indeed achieve their goal, in fact twice, by the destruction of both the first Beit Hamikdash and the second Beit Hamikdash. For as long as the third Beit Hamikdash (to be restored by Moshiach) is not yet rebuilt, the Beit Hamikdash remains in their hands! When Moshiach will succeed with his battles, we shall regain the enemy’s capture by the restoration of the Beit Hamikdash.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
I read an essay where the author describes an encounter she had with a couple in the streets of Jerusalem. The couple described themselves as “chilonim” (secular). Rather than concur with their self-definition, the author started gently probing, in a bid to help them realize how Jewishly oriented they truly were. “You live in Israel, don’t you,” she challenged them. “You’re honest, decent, moral people who honor your parents, celebrate a Passover Seder, circumcise your sons and contribute to the betterment of Israeli society. You’re not “secular”; you are fine, upstanding Jews.”
It’s a subtle but important point to make. We all need to improve. We all have failings that hold us back, but that’s not a reason to label ourselves in relation to our Judaism. However, I wonder, just because someone honors their parents, does that mean they’re following a Jewish way of life? Maybe they attend synagogue once a year out of habit rather than belief. They might be honest in business, but are they acting that way for G-d, or out of a sense of personal morality? Maybe this couple’s self-definition wasn’t really so inaccurate?
There is a fascinating insight of the Rebbe on the mitzvah of shikchah, which is discussed in this week’s parshah. There are certain biblically mandated gifts that we are commanded to give as charity. Ten percent of our income is donated for ma’aser, we leave pe’ah (the corners of our fields) unharvested for paupers, and anything we forget in the field by accident, shikcha, we are commanded to leave behind for those who are less fortunate. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a bundle behind, you may not go back for it. It must be left for the convert, the orphan and the widow, so that G-d your L-rd will bless you in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 24:19)
The commentator Rashi wonders: why will G-d bless you when you didn’t mean to leave the bundle of grain behind in the first place? You were forgetful, but not necessarily generous. He points out that you don’t need to have a perfect intention in order to fulfill a mitzvah. Even if someone drops money that is subsequently found and kept by a poor person, the mitzvah of giving charity has been fulfilled. The Rebbe questions: How is this a mitzvah? You didn’t mean to give charity. You had no positive intentions. Quite possibly you were even angry or disappointed when you realized your mistake. Where’s the merit in your actions?
The Rebbe points out that it is an axiom of Chassidic belief that, deep down, every Jew truly wants to do the right thing and serve G-d. So, the person who dropped money actually wished to give tzedakah. Those who respect their parents are moral, ethical beings who, subconsciously perhaps, love serving G-d. That’s the real you and the real Jew.
You wish to be good. You want to give charity. You’d love to sit and learn Torah all day. You like people, want to keep Shabbat and dream of living a good Jewish life. You just don’t know it (yet). Whatever good you do—even the inadvertent, unanticipated actions that in retrospect turn out for the best—comes from the soul and, because in your heart of hearts you love G-d and dedicate yourself to mitzvahs, G-d will “bless you in everything you do.”
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum