Food For the Soul
It stands out prominently in the Parsha Ki Tavo: fifty-five consecutive verses of nightmarish misery and torture, all destined to befall the Jewish people when they will be exiled from their land because of their sins. Even if G‑d intended to bring all these punishments on His people, what is the purpose in describing them in the Torah in such gruesome detail? Sadly, every one of these dreadful prophecies has come to pass. Indeed, if these verses wouldn’t be part of the Torah, they could be mistaken for a Holocaust memoir written by a concentration camp survivor.
After experiencing such horrors it is only natural to ask, “Where was G‑d?” and, “If there really is a G‑d, how could He allow the inhumanity and cruelty of the Holocaust?” No one questions the source of our blessings, but after enduring excruciating pain, people begin to have doubts. Perhaps this is why all the suffering is so vividly portrayed in the Torah. How can the Holocaust be used to deny G‑d’s existence when G‑d Himself informed us that this event will occur? This is not to say that we can possibly understand the reasons for our nation’s tormented history, but we do know that it is all from G‑d – and therefore ultimately for our good.
Reading this Parsha and seeing how it has actually all come to pass offers us a measure of hope. It strengthens our belief that we will also certainly see the realization of the conclusion of this prophecy (in next week’s Parsha): “The L-rd, your G‑d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you… Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the L-rd, your G‑d, will gather you from there…And the L-rd, your G‑d, will place all these curses upon your enemies and upon your adversaries who pursued you.”
Condensed from an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
Wine before you dine
Shabbat enters with words of wonder poured upon rich wine, to fulfill the verse, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” We call it kiddush, a ritual of words and drink, a magical bridge from the harried weekday to the day of rest. So enchanted we are by the kiddush that we repeat it again in a different form by day. The kiddush serves as the kickoff for the evening and daytime Shabbat meals.
The nighttime kiddush consists of three parts: 1) Three verses from Genesis that recount how G‑d rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. 2) The blessing for wine. 3) A blessing thanking G‑d for giving us the Shabbat.
The daytime kiddush consists of several verses from Exodus, followed by the blessing on wine.
For kiddush “how to”, visit www.chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
Love, according to The Rebbe
A person who loves G‑d, and is open to this love, will eventually come to love what G‑d loves — all His children. And his love will drive him to wish to bring G‑d’s children close to Torah — because that’s what G‑d loves. One who loves the Torah, will eventually internalize the recognition that the Torah’s purpose and raison d’etre is to lovingly bring together G‑d and all His children. And one who truly loves a fellow Jew will inevitably come to love G‑d, since love of one’s fellow is, in essence, the love of G‑d; and he will be driven to bring his fellow Jews close to Torah, which is the expression and actualization of their bond with G‑d.
From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Rochel Holzkenner writes: “The commitment to live life with joy [even during hardship] was given great emphasis during the Chassidic Revolution. And, like any of G‑d’s directives, it oftentimes takes tremendous commitment and self-discipline. In 1988 the Rebbe said that the way to bring about the final global transformation and redemption is to increase in joy, with the intent of bringing the complete redemption. Just by being happy, we have power to break through our personal barriers and the barriers of exile. Simply put—be happy. It will benefit you. It will benefit the world.”
Have I got a Story
Jewish and joyless?
In the middle of Ki Tavo’s terrifying and ominous curses, there is a one-liner that seems to suggest the root cause of our problems. All this calamity will befall you “because you did not serve the L‑rd, your G‑d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.”
The simple meaning of this verse is that we will experience these curses because we did not serve G‑d in the “good times,” when we were enjoying prosperity and abundance. We became smug, complacent, and forgot our Maker and our higher calling—why we were put here in the first place.
Commentaries offer various other interpretations, including the idea that we simply did not serve G‑d b’simchah, with joy. We may have done all the right things, but we did them with a heavy heart. We served G‑d and observed His commandments reluctantly and without any feeling. There was no enthusiasm, no joy. Being Jewish had become a burden. We found our joy and satisfaction in other areas of life, perhaps even in the undesirable and unholy domains.
The story is told of a Jew in Russia of old who was doing some business with the poretz, the local Russian squire. The squire invited the Jew to a business lunch, where he offered him pork chops and non-kosher wine. When the Jew declined to partake, citing the Jewish dietary laws, the squire asked, “What if you were stranded in a desert and had nothing to eat but this? Would you not eat it to save your life?”
“Well, if it was matter of life and death, then I would be permitted to eat it,” replied the Jew. Suddenly the squire jumped up from the table, pulled out a revolver and, pointing it at the Jew, shouted, “Drink the wine or I’ll shoot!” Immediately, the Jew gulped down the wine. The squire burst out laughing and said, “I was only joking.” Whereupon the Jew turned red with anger and glared furiously at the squire. “Why are you so angry?” the squire asked. “Why am I so angry? I’ll tell you why!” the Jew replied. “You couldn’t have forced me to eat the pork chops!” That Jew kept kosher, but was he doing it happily or begrudgingly? While keeping kosher, was he fantasizing about pork chops?
The 19th-century Russian czars tried to Russify young Jewish boys by drafting them into the army for a 25-year stretch. These children, known as cantonists, would be separated from their families, their people and their faith. Despite their extreme suffering, many maintained their allegiance to the G‑d of Israel with total commitment and heroism. Indeed, too many paid with their lives. The story is told of some of these young men who were forcibly conscripted and taken far away from their families. They wrote a letter to one of the leading rabbis of Russia, asking for his advice about what to do about kosher. Should they eat the non-kosher food, or allow themselves to suffer malnutrition and perhaps even starve to death? The wise rabbi answered them as follows. “If, in order to stay alive, you have no choice but to eat treif, then so be it. But, please, I beg of you, don’t suck the marrow bones.”
Where is our enjoyment, our pleasure, our geshmak?
Is there joy in our Judaism, or is it tedious and tired? It is not enough just to do the right thing. G‑d wants our joy, our enthusiasm, our fervor and fire. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to do whatever it takes to find the inspiration we need to energize and invigorate our Jewish lives. Let us serve G‑d. And let us serve Him with joy.
Condensed from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman