Food For the Soul
Progress and Challenge
People live in varied situations. For one, it seems, everything is easy, for another there is one problem after another. Or a particular individual goes through different periods of his or her life. But all too often it is not so simple. A point in the Parsha Va’etchanan helps us think about this subject. Let us see how.
The most remarkable event in history, ever, was the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Seven weeks after the Jewish people had left Egypt, they gathered at the mountain and experienced a revelation of G-d. This event is described in the Book of Exodus. It is also repeated in the portion of Va’etchanan in Deuteronomy, and when the Ten Commandments are read, everyone in the synagogue stands up.
The Parshah tells us: “You have been shown so that you should know that G-d is the ultimate Being, there is nought apart from Him” (Deut. 4:35). Rashi comments on this: When G-d gave the Torah, He opened the seven firmaments for the Jewish people. Just as He tore the upper realms, so He tore the lower realms. They saw that G-d is the ultimate reality.
What does this mean? The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that Rashi uses two different words for this experience: G-d “opened” the spiritual realms, and also G-d “tore” them. These two terms express two modes in our relationship with G-d, and in G-d’s response to us. The first is “opening”. This means a healthy, step by step advance forward. You open a door, go through, and then you open another door. Healthy progress. Correspondingly, in response to our progress, G-d “opens” the spiritual realms for us. Beautiful! Great! But there is also another mode. This is when we face challenges. Difficult problems, which seem to envelop us. Everything is dark. But we are not cowed by this. We gather our courage and tear through. G-d responds to this by “tearing” the veils of existence. In a unique and incredible way, we glimpse intimations of goodness and holiness beyond anything we ever imagined. At that moment we see that all is One. Through facing challenges, eventually we reach deeper and more incredible discoveries. That is the promise of the Torah, applying to every aspect of life.
From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
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.Writes Rabbi Yanki Tauber: “Console, console My people,” we read in this week’s haftorah “I, I am your comforter,” begins a later reading in the series. The prophets are not stuttering, nor are they merely being poetic. According to the Midrash, the repetitious wording means that G-d is saying: “I shall do both. I shall be both father and mother to you.”
Mind Over Matter
Creativity is an exercise in paradox. It is the artist’s expression of self. And yet the artist must remove himself from his art, with discipline and with skill, so that his creation will stand as its own reality, as a creation.
Creation of a universe from nothingness is the absolute paradoxical act. It is the absolute expression of absolute existence, as existence emerges without bounds. And it is the absolute of restraint, as the Creator conceals His presence within the act of sustaining a creation, so that this creation will perceive itself as its own being, and not simply an extension of its Creator.
So that in the very existence of this universe is manifest the ultimate oneness: That light and darkness, being and not-being converge at a point where all is one. So that even when there is a heaven and an earth, there is nothing else but that elusive point we know as G-d.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Pleading With G-d
Our sages note that the numerical equivalent of Va’etchanan is 515, corresponding to the 515 prayers of Moses to enter the Land of Israel. He pleaded persistently in spite of having been told that he would not be permitted to do so. This teaches us that we, too, must persist with continuous pleadings of “Ad Matai-How much longer?” in asking to enter the Land of Israel with the Messianic redemption. As we are the generation of the redemption, our sincere prayers will undoubtedly effect the imminent revelation of Moshiach!
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The Shabbat Man
Some called him Reverend Abrahamson. Others called him Cantor. My father called him Chazzan and bristled at the other names: evidently those other names were too cold and distant to identify our Chazzan. However you would call him, Chazzan Abrahamson was the oldest person I knew, at least he seemed that way, with a small, pure-white moustache and a head of snow-white hair to match.
He was small and walked with slow, deliberate steps. His wife would always walk with him to synagogue, even Friday nights when no other women came for services. She was prim but more quick-footed and I sensed even then that she was somehow protecting him.
He was from Europe, with genteel, old-world manners. Delicate and compact in speech and deed and presumably in thought also, he was unfailingly polite. A yekke, such people were called in the old country. He wore an old-style cantor’s hat, black, silken, rising six inches above the head and crowned with a somber pom-pom which bemused me even then. He draped his tallit gently over his shoulders. He would stand on the platform in front of the Ark when the Torah was being taken out. He led the congregation in the Shema, reciting each word forcefully, precisely, dramatically and finishing off the sacred phrase with a flourish: Echad! Looking back, I can now identify what I noticed then: there was also a controlled emotion.
A number of years ago, I heard that he had been a diamond cutter when he first came to Nashville from the old country, arriving in the Twenties, I believe. He was looking for work and even with a sharp eye for stones and the steady hand of youth he had a hard time landing a job. Finally someone made him an offer. He would work eleven hours a day, six days a week, Sunday off. But I don’t work on Shabbat, the then-young man protested. If you don’t work Shabbat, replied the only person who had offered him a job, then you don’t work Monday. The genteel personality, so reminiscent of Western European finery, so appreciated in the South, looked at his would-be employer: “I will die in the streets of hunger before I work on Shabbat.”
It wasn’t until decades later that he became Chazzan, cantor, of my father’s synagogue. Personality, I guess, is only so deep, beneath that is primordial essence. When you’re not hostage to your personality, the mores around you or anything else, then you can be true to your essence.
The Chazzan passed on nearly twenty-five years ago. Many a Shabbat it is I who now stand before the congregation and the Ark, holding the Torah and leading the Shema. I hope that somehow, with something beyond me, I am conveying something more than the tune. Something the Chazzan conveyed without ever articulating it. That nicety should be a proper setting for the stone but never overpower it. That polish should enhance the metal, but never make you doubt the metal. That underneath it all must burn a fire in the belly and a passion of the spirit that niceties can never smother. That enveloped in a silken personality must be an iron will that in the face of multiplicity, division, even duplicity, the cry will ring clear, precise and dramatic: Hashem Echad! G-d is One.
From an article by Rabbi Shimon Posner