Food For the Soul
Is There Anything Wrong With Arguing?
We are a nation who argues. A lot. From ancient history, when Abraham and Moses argued with the divine, to the present, where the bricks and cement of synagogues and Jewish social halls vibrate from the sound of verbal battle on the widest spectrum of subjects, from how-cold-is-it-really-outside-including-the-windchill to the solution to world hunger.
But then we hear the cries for peace: “Why must we argue?” “All problems arise from disagreement!” “If we would all agree to agree, life would be so simple and harmonious.” Tell me about it.
Where did this notion that we must think alike originate from? Where in Torah or in common sense is there any hint to the notion that we must all think alike? Yes, there are fundamental premises that are not up for debate. One may not kill. We must believe in one G-d. Adultery is forbidden, Hamas is a terror organization, and Holocaust denial is the work of the Satan and cannot be college campus debate material. On these we all agree. (We better!) But for almost everything else, from the role of government to the difference between a manager and a leader, and the plethora of other issues that keep our pundits, journalists and talk-show hosts’ mouths and pockets loaded—these are part of a healthy society.
This week we read the story of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. In the Parsha Yitro (Exodus 19:1) we read that after arriving at Sinai, “there Israel camped opposite the mountain.” Says Rashi: “At all their other encampments, the verse says vayachanu [‘and they camped,’ in the plural]; here it says vayichan [‘and he camped,’ in the singular]. For all other encampments were in argument and conflict, whereas here they camped as one man, with one heart.” Notice that Rashi uses the expression “one heart.” No mention of “one brain.” There is no evidence that for the sake of peace the Jews let go of their opinions!
True, debate must remain in the realm of objective discussion, where we argue about the message, not the messenger. While we may dispute ideas and disagree with the other’s opinion, we must always have respect for our opponent as a human being, as a Jew. But within the framework of fair debate—we are lifetime members.
From an article by Rabbi Levi Avtzon
The Dual Nature of Shabbat
In Exodus the reason for Shabbat is the fact that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Deuteronomy Shabbat commemorates Egyptian slavery. In the first, “G-d blessed the seventh day and hallowed it”; in the second, “G-d commanded you to make the Shabbat day.” Shabbat is more than a breathing spell. Only a Shabbat can give us the tranquillity necessary to reassess our strivings, to perceive a goal different from the means toward it, so that we will work and live for a worthwhile purpose. Shabbat is the climax of the week, not just a preparation for next week’s work. Is there a better day for quiet unhurried worship, for study or simply browsing in Torah? Is there a better way to bring Jewishness and human warmth into our homes than through a traditional Shabbat? There is sanctity inherent in Shabbat, for “G-d hallowed it.” But the perfection of Shabbat depends on us, it seems, because we were “commanded to make the Shabbat.”
From an article by Rabbi Zalman Posner
Mind Over Matter
No One Has It All
In some ways the 10th commandment – Thou Shall Not Covet – is the most difficult commandment of all. That’s because envy doesn’t take into account the whole picture: That no one has it all! Rabbi Yossy Goldman wrote: “As the Yiddish proverb goes, everybody has his own pekkel. We each carry a backpack through life, a parcel of problems, our own little bundle of tzoris (troubles). When we are young, we think that difficulties are for other people. When we get older we realize that no one is immune. Nobody has it all. So, if you find yourself coveting your fellow’s whatever, stop for a minute to consider whether you really want all that is your fellow’s. When we actually see with our own eyes what the other fellow’s life is all about behind closed doors, what’s really inside his backpack, we will feel grateful for our own lot in life and happily choose our very own pekkel, with all its inherent problems.”
The purpose of the exodus from Egypt was for the Jewish people to receive the Torah at Sinai, as it is written: “When you will have brought the people out from Egypt, you shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Shemot 3:12). Of the exodus itself it is said that it occurred in the merit of the pious women of that generation. Thus, when it came to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the women were given precedence. The Messianic redemption, too, will come about in the merit of the righteous women of Israel, as stated in the Midrash: “All generations are redeemed by virtue of the pious women of their generation” (Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth: 606). Thus the women will once again be first to receive the wondrous teachings to be heard from Moshiach.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Be Like Jethro
Mr. Smith, a wealthy real estate magnate and casino mogul, vacations in Cancun. Hitting the beach, he notices an incredibly skilled local fisherman. With lightning speed, he catches one fish after another. Mr. Smith saunters over to the fisherman. “Tell me, what do you do?” “I sit here and fish, of course.” “And then what?” “Well, when I have enough for my family, I go home, cook dinner, sit around a campfire with family and friends, sing folks songs, drink some homemade tequila, and go to bed.” “Listen,” Mr. Smith tells him, “with your fishing skills, you could sell all that extra fish and pretty soon, you could buy a fishing boat and catch even more fish!” “And then what?” asks the fisherman. “Why, you could hire more fishermen, train them, and eventually buy a whole fleet of boats!” “And then what?” “You kidding me? You could open an entire corporation and sell fish across the world, making hundreds of millions of dollars!” Mr. Smith exclaims excitedly. “And then?” asks the fisherman, still unconvinced. “With that kind of money, you could retire to a sandy island, eat good food, sit around a campfire with family and friends, sing songs all night, drink to your heart’s content, and sleep like a baby!” With a wry smile, the fisherman responds, “I’m already doing that right now.”
It’s an amusing tale that highlights the futility of “chasing success”. It raises a disturbing question: what, then, are we supposed to hope for? “Success” often turns out to be a mountaintop at which people arrive—and then they’re downright miserable. You know why? Because at the end of the day, we’re stuck in our own skin, we’re limited to the borders of our own success. Is there really nothing greater and more exciting on tap? Jethro [in the Parsha Yitro], knew the answer. In the opening verses we read, “Jethro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel His people that G-d had taken Israel out of Egypt … [and] Jethro … came to Moses, to the desert where he was encamped, to the mountain of G-d.”
Who was Jethro? In addition to being Moses’ father-in-law, he was a high-ranking pagan official and priest. He had tried it all. And now, in his advanced age, he threw it all away and joined up with a band of former Israelite slaves in the desert on their march to the Promised Land. Quite a character!
I want to point you to Rashi, who asks, “What news did he hear that [compelled] him to come?” This is an odd question. After all, the verse explicitly states what Jethro heard—“All that G-d had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that G-d had taken Israel out of Egypt.” Why, then, is Rashi asking a question the verse clearly answers?
Look again at Rashi’s words. He doesn’t simply ask, “What did Jethro hear?” rather, “What news did he hear that [compelled] him to come?” These extra words are critical. After all, he could have stayed home and gone to the local Jewish court and converted there. Why did he need to make the long and arduous journey into the desert to actually change his life?
Jethro didn’t just convert. He actually came to join the Jews—in a desert of all places. In his search for the ultimate truth, he abandoned his cushy position at home and joined fate with a band of slaves wandering in a desert. Jethro understood something profound about life in general, and about Judaism in particular. He understood that to join the Jewish people and receive the gift of the Torah requires a proper understanding of what the Torah is. It’s not just a nice book you can read and use to guide your life. It’s not just a moral code, a way of leading an “inspired life.” It’s much more. It’s the ticket to stepping beyond your puny humanity and crossing the bridge into the divine. To connect with G-d.
And you can’t do that from the comfort of your couch. You gotta make bold moves to challenge your own finiteness. Jethro’s bold move teaches us to move, radically so. To reach out of your comfort zone and do something crazy that will lift you out of the prison of your own skin.
Keep Shabbat next week like a crazy person. Just do it. Lift yourself by your own coattails and go off the grid for an entire 25 hours—like a true Jewish maverick. Or, learn how to read Hebrew. Do it now. Just go online and take a course. You get the idea. Do one little crazy thing. Leave your comfortable position like Jethro, and take a step out into the desert where things are uncertain and you don’t have your footing. Take one step, for heaven’s sake. And then—Heaven will pick you up.
From an article by Rabbi Aharon Loschak