Food For the Soul
Much has been said and written about the galut mentality, the subservience felt by generations of Jews living in the Diaspora. As second-class citizens for so many generations in Eastern Europe and in the Arab countries, Jews, allegedly, came to lose their self-esteem. Finally, in our own time, the old ghetto Jew would be replaced with a proud, strong, independent Israeli. Jews would now walk tall.
In the Parsha Eikev, Moses reminds his people never to forget that it was G‑d who took them out of Egypt and who led them through the wilderness into the Promised Land. And he describes the wilderness as “that great and awesome desert.” The wilderness before we reach the Promised Land represents the state of exile. And the problem with this wilderness is that we are impressed with it. In our eyes it is “great.” The big, wide world out there is great, powerful, impressive and all too overwhelming to the Jew.
We forget that the real galut mentality is not confined to those living in an eighteenth-century ghetto. The real exile is the exile within, the exile inside our own heads and hearts. The exile in considering the non-Jewish world to be so great. When we attach so much significance to the outside world, then we are still living in a state of exile and with a galut mindset, no matter where we may be geographically.
Remember that the first step in leaving the exile is to stop being impressed by it. In order to redeem our land and our people, we must first redeem our own souls and our own self-respect. May we never forget where our true strength lies. When we remember who took us out of Egypt and led us through the wilderness, and who is truly the great and awesome Being of Beings, then we will be able to truly walk tall and stand proud forever.
From an article by Rabby Yossy Goldman
Ethics of the Fathers
During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a weekly chapter of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) each Shabbat afternoon; this week we study Chapter Four. Included in this chapter is the wisdom of Ben Zoma, who said “Who is wise? One who learns from every man…Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations…Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot….Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows..”
Mind Over Matter
The primary distinguishing feature which sets the human being apart from all other creatures is the free choice of action which the Creator bestowed upon us.
We can use this Divine gift either for self-destruction and the destruction of everything around us; or we can choose the right way of life, which would elevate ourselves and our environment to the highest possible perfection.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Within each thing we behold, the moshiach dwells, like the embryo waiting to break out of its egg. In the rhythm of a dandelion shivering in the breeze, in the eyes of the children we raise, in the goals we make in life, in the machines we use and the art we create, in the air we breathe and the blood rushing through our veins.
When the world was made, the sages say, the moshiach was the wind hovering over all that would be.
Today, those who know to listen can hear his voice beckoning, “Do not let go of me after all these ages! For the fruit of your labor and the labor of your holy mothers and fathers is about to ripen.”
The listening alone is enough to crack the shell of the egg.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Have I got a Story
No free rides
The age of 2 has notoriously been dubbed “The Terrible Twos” as toddlers begin to assert their independence. As if on cue, my sweet granddaughter has become adamant about doing things “all by herself.” One of her most popular refrains is “Self do it!” Her solution for tasks that she’d prefer to push off, such as bed time, is simply, “Mommy, go away!”
But while one minute she is stridently trying to do things on her own, the next minute she’ll eagerly snuggle up to have a book read to her. She will declare an appreciative “tank you” when I dress her doll after her own frustrating attempt, but will stubbornly refuse to hold my hand while climbing the staircase. The look of victory in her eyes after she reaches the top is priceless.
From about six months of age, the seed for independence is sewn and continues to grow, for some of us fiercely. Independence doesn’t mean that we don’t need others, but rather, that we contribute our fair share, our own efforts, to our relationships and life’s circumstances.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read the second paragraph of the Shema prayer, while last week’s Torah portion contained the verses of its first paragraph. We are obligated to recite the Shema, a central prayer, every morning and evening. It contains fundamental beliefs about loving and serving G‑d, learning and teaching Torah, and practicing mitzvot. Much of the second paragraph, however, seems to repeat the first, with a few important differences.
The second chapter speaks about the reward and punishment we will earn by following the commandments, whereas the first leaves this out entirely. In addition, the first chapter addresses the Jewish people in the second person singular (you), as individuals, while the second chapter speaks to us in the second person plural (you, collectively).
There are two aspects to cultivating our relationship with G‑d, and each is reflective in the respective paragraph of the Shema. The first is G‑d’s gift of connection to us, without which we would never be able to have a relationship with Him. The second is our efforts and struggles, using our finite capabilities—our intellectual and emotional selves—to reach higher and come closer to G‑d.
Reward is only mentioned in the second paragraph because by definition, a reward is something that must be earned by our own merits, not bestowed as a gift. Only once we sweat for something can we really experience the joy of its accomplishment. Moreover, by struggling to improve our moral character, we become fuller beings. In working on any new endeavor, we develop other parts of our personality—resilience, determination, empathy, generosity. We become not singular beings with one gift, but pluralistic, multidimensional beings.
The second chapter of the Shema teaches us that while the fruits of our labors may be less glorious and less brilliant, they are more real. Just ask my 2-year-old granddaughter.
By Chana Weisberg