Food For the Soul
Preparing for the Festival
There are many different ways to prepare for the forthcoming festivals. Some are contacting distant family and old friends, buying new clothes, preparing menus for stunning festive meals. On the more individual, personal side, a person may think through what he or she has achieved in spiritual terms during the past year, and what could have been better. This is called the “accounting of the soul.” It is a preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, when G-d reviews His creation and decides the future for every person and each creature.
There is also another form of preparation, linked to the Torah reading, Ki Tavo, which includes a frightening description of the horrors of suffering and exile. There is a similar section in the Torah read shortly before the Shavuot festival, in the early summer.
The Talmud explains that the aim is to get rid of everything negative before the festival. Hence, we make sure that the apparently gloomy sections of the Torah are behind us. Chassidic teachings add a further level of meaning to this: in each case these serious and disturbing sections cleanse us, scouring out everything negative, preparing us for the beautiful experience which is going to come through the festival.
The harsh section we read as we approach Rosh Hashanah is much longer than that before Shavuot. The sages tell us it contains more than twice as many harsh statements. The cleansing and scouring process is more intense, because it is in preparation for a greater and more wonderful revelation of the divine.
In the same way, our exile, since the destruction of the Temple 1900 years ago, has been longer and in many ways more intense than any previous period of exile of our people. We went through the exile in Egypt for 210 years, and the exile in Babylon for 70 years. Our exile is longer because we are in a course of preparation for a far greater level of revelation of the divine than ever happened before, on a global level. We endure a long list of tragic events, like that in our Torah reading, but this will be followed by the coming of Moshiach, bringing lasting peace and goodness to all humanity.
From an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
Try it, you’ll like it
No one can become a perfect Shabbat observer overnight, but here are some great first steps to create a peaceful, meaningful Shabbat atmosphere:
. Light Shabbat candles on Friday night.
. Attend a Shabbat meal at a friend’s house. If you feel ready, host your own. Even if you are not yet ready for a long sit-down feast, have kiddush, wash and break bread.
. Turn off the phone and TV for the 25 hours of Shabbat. (It may sound impossible, but you may just find that you’ll look forward to unplugging one day a week.)
. Attend Shabbat services on either Friday night or Shabbat morning.
Through increasing your Shabbat observance, you’ll create a space to connect with G-d, family and friends. Try it, you’ll like it.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Posner
Mind Over Matter
One Big Family
Once the promised land was settled, every household brought a sample of their first fruits to the Temple every year and thanked G-d for the land. But not until all Jews were safe and settled, each on their own plot of land.
Because that is the way the Jewish nation operates: Like brothers and sisters.
Not one of us can feel thoroughly grateful for their own welfare until everyone else is taken care of.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“This day, G-d, your G-d, commands you to perform the decrees and the statutes…” (Ki Tavo 26:16)
Our sages teach that the words “this day” imply that the Divine commands must always be to you as something new, as if you had been commanded them now, this very day. This applies also to our actions and endeavors to hasten the redemption. They must be innovative. One is not to be content with the mere addition of more deeds from one day to the next. Our activities must be in a mode of “something truly new.” Thus will be fulfilled the prophecy of “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isaiah 66:22), that will be with the coming of Moshiach.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Two Aspects of Thanksgiving
Two people decide to bring their disagreement before the rabbi: The first person presents his case and the rabbi says, “You’re right.” The second person stands and pleads his case before the rabbi. The rabbi listens and then says to the man, “You’re right.” At which point the Rebbetzin interjects by asking, “How can they both be right?” To which the rabbi replies, “You’re also right.”
The sages state regarding the disagreements (machlokot) within the realm of Torah learning, that “both these and those are the words of the living G-d”–we need to view both sides as presenting the words of G-d. Although legally only one opinion may dominate, we still, in a spiritual sense, take into consideration the second opinion. Such a disagreement is found regarding the opening verse of this week’s Torah reading, which deals with the commandment to bring the first of one’s fruits—known as bikkurim–to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
At what point does the nation of Israel become obligated to fulfill this mitzvah? The Torah says, “when you come into the land … and you possess it and settle in it.” The Jerusalem Talmud understands the words “when you possess it and settle in it” as obliging the bringing of first fruits only after the fourteen years of conquest and division of the land of Israel under the guidance of Joshua. The Midrash, however, emphasizes the first part of the verse and holds that the mitzvah takes effect immediately upon entering the land.
The inner meaning of the mitzvah of bikkurim is to give praise and thanks to G-d on behalf of all of the goodness which He has bestowed. In a religious sense, this mitzvah of giving thanks is reflected in the thanksgiving that every Jew gives to G-d on a daily basis. This daily offering of thanks then can be fixed to two different time periods during the day, corresponding to the two opinions about the timing of the mitzvah of bikkurim.
One type of thanksgiving parallels the idea of the first fruits being brought immediately upon the Jews’ entry into the land. In our life, this refers to the very beginning of the day. When a Jew opens his eyes, he or she immediately gives thanks to G-d by reciting the prayer, “I give thanks … that You have returned to me my soul.” It is a burst of thanks based on the simple and pure faith implanted in our hearts.
The second time that we give thanks during the day corresponds to the second opinion—that bikkurim were brought only after the land was settled. This time of thanks comes with our morning prayers. Here, we mediate on G-d’s greatness and the abundance of His kindness. This type of thanks does not blurt itself out, but rather comes as a result of deep thought and intellectual reflection.
The first reflects the depth of one’s faith, but is likely to be a very abstract and amorphous response. The second, steeped in intellect, may lack the spontaneity and power of the first, but truly penetrates the entire personality of the individual. It is the fusion of these two approaches — “both these and those are the words of living G-d” — that creates a sense of wholeness and completeness.From an article by Rabbi Shraga Sherman