Food For the Soul
Profit from a Non-Jewish Prophet
Many believe that the concept of a Messianic Redeemer is a modern-day invention, or worse, a Non-Jewish/Christian innovation. [In the Parshah Balak] we read about the prophecy of Bilaam the Midianite who, frustrated in his desire to curse the Jews, ends up blessing them. His final prophecy is of our eventual redemption. I don’t get it. We’ve got no Jews, no rabbis, no home grown talent, that we need a Bilaam to introduce such a fundamental concept?
The late Rabbi Chaim Gutnick once told me about a couple who came to him for marriage counseling. Among other advice he suggested they commit to some specifically Jewish practices, for example Shabbat meals. Frustrated by his reactionary, old-fashioned viewpoint, they dumped him and sought professional help.
A few weeks later he was at home, and answered the door to the same couple, this time carrying a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers as a peace offering. Their explanation for their change in attitude: Their highly paid, thoroughly ‘modern’ therapist had recommended that they bring some romance and caring back into the marriage. Once a week, turn off the TV, disconnect the phone and make a commitment to sit down together for a quiet, candle-lit dinner. Hearing this identical advice from “a professional,” they reconsidered their previous attitude and were willing to accept that there may well be some value in Judaism after all.
Unfortunately, for many Jews to accept a moral standard and belief they need the world’s approval. If a rabbi talks about the negative effect of television and the Internet, people say he is outdated, but were a lecturer on values to say the same, then people take it more seriously. If even the Bilaams can be persuaded that this world is due for a change; that life has greater possibilities than the mess we struggle with daily; isn’t it time that we too got on the Goodness & Kindness bandwagon and, by changing ourselves, bought about change?
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
“Three Weeks” Begin
The 17th of Tamuz (July 16) marks the beginning of The Three Weeks period of mourning which culminates on the 9th of Av, commemorating the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people.
Weddings and other joyful events are not held during this period; like mourners, we do not cut our hair, and various pleasurable activities are limited or proscribed. Consult the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) or a qualified rabbi regarding specific proscriptions.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe urged that the Three Weeks should be a time of increased giving of charity and Torah study in keeping with the verse (Isaiah 1:27), “Zion shall be redeemed by law, and her returnees by charity”, particularly the study of those portions of Torah that deal with the laws and the deeper significance of the Holy Temple.
Mind Over Matter
We can view our world as an accursed place of pain and corruption, or we can see beyond the veneer to view these evil episodes as merely futile attempts to cut us off from G-d’s vision.
When you feel cut off from your potential, try to focus on your inner redemptive qualities. Transform your negative, accursed self-talk and become your greatest advocate to bring more goodness into your life and the world at large.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Every Jew is able to bring about the actual manifestation of Moshiach. One is able to do so by means of Torah and mitzvot. For Torah and mitzvot effect a purification and refinement of the physical world. Impurity is reduced and nullified, to the point of “I shall remove the spirit of impurity from the earth” (Zechariah 13:2). This will be achieved with the coming of Moshiach who shall reveal goodness and holiness in the world, culminating in “The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Of Donkeys and Discernment
In one of the most fascinating stories in the Torah, the prophet Balaam tries get G-d to acquiesce to his desire to curse the Jewish people, thereby causing them some harm that would weaken or destroy them. Balak, the king of Moab, had offered him great reward if he would weaken the people of Israel so they could be driven away from the region. Balaam engages in a series of dialogues with G-d, in which G-d makes it clear that He doesn’t want Israel cursed. Balaam, however, thinks he can still “sell” G-d on the idea.
Then, Balaam’s donkey moves from being a mere conveyance to an eloquent spokescreature for animal rights. Three times she sees an angel blocking the way. Each time she moves aside—angering Balaam, who did not see the angel. Each time, Balaam hits the poor donkey. Finally, in the Torah’s words, G-d opened the mouth of the she-donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?”
Balaam said to the she-donkey, “For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The she-donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your she-donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?” He said, “No.” G-d opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of G-d standing in the road, with a sword drawn in his hand. He bowed and prostrated himself on his face. The angel of G-d said to him, “Why have you beaten your she-donkey these three times? Behold, I have came out to thwart you . . .”
The biblical commentator Rashi points out the donkey seeing the angel is not at all remarkable: “The she-donkey saw, but [Balaam] did not see, for G-d permitted a beast to perceive more than a man. Since [man] possesses intelligence, he would become insane if he saw the threatening angel.”
This idea expressed by Rashi is an embodiment of the key lesson of the entire Balaam episode. The question is often asked: why did G-d originally argue with Balaam, telling him that He disapproved of the trip, only to let him go and try to curse Israel, and eventually foiling his plot? Why didn’t He just stop Balaam in his tracks? The Talmud (Makkot 10b) answers this question:
One is allowed to follow the road he wishes to pursue, as it is written, “G-d said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them,’” and then it is written, “If the men came to call you, rise up and go with them.” The essence of humanity is free will. Free will is the “image of G-d” in which Adam and Eve were created.
The Source of All has defined absolute moral and conceptual principles. Living a life that expresses these principles is the definition of goodness. At every juncture, however, we are completely free to reject such a mode of life. This freedom gives substance and meaning to our choice when we “choose life.”
On rare occasions we are given a glimpse of the truth (such as at Sinai), just so that we know what it is that we seek. But freedom of choice can truly exist only in an environment of natural ignorance that demands discernment and intelligence to overcome. We must live in a world where neither Creator nor creation is obvious. We are then given the ability to use our powers of intelligent analysis and discernment to recognize that this magnificent mural has an Artist, and that our being painted into this mural means that our presence is of fundamental necessity for the entire enterprise of creation to be whole.
If we saw the process of creation and the presence of the G-dly in everything, if we saw the flow of energy from the Infinite Source into everything, bringing it into being at every moment, we would have no free choice in choosing the good; it would be obvious. We are given discernment and intelligence to autonomously pierce the veil of ignorance cast over humanity, if we so choose. To do so, this veil must remain locked in place until we open it by using the keys we are given. Often people say, “If G-d would appear to me, and tell me to, I would live a life according to the Torah.” That is a fine way of life—for a donkey. Besides, as events demonstrated, even after Balaam got to see things from the donkey’s perspective, it did not help him; he kept following the “way he wished to be led.” G-d has given us something far, far superior to “Donkeyvision”: the challenge of liberty and the gift of discernment.
From an article by Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe