Food For the Soul
Growing from mistakes
The Jews were liberated from Egypt, and then spent seven weeks of introspective self-betterment to prepare themselves for receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. When they finally gathered at Sinai, they were in an elevated frame of mind, spiritually evolved, and prepared for the most incredible event in all of history: G‑d’s giving of the Torah. It was an incredibly real experience. The Jews perceived the world’s Divine purpose with unparalleled clarity, and genuinely embraced the Divine.
But that’s what makes it so difficult to understand what happened next [in the Parsha Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:35]. A mere forty days after the Great Experience, the Jews collaborated to fashion a Golden Calf, saying, “This is your god, O Israel . . . who brought you up from Egypt.”
After such an interface with the Divine, how could they have transferred their loyalty to an idol? It’s an age-old question, and the Talmud responds by telling us that the Jews were, in fact, above this unseemliness. They shouldn’t have made that mistake.
So what happened?
G‑d set them up. G‑d gave them the “perfect storm,” bringing together a precise collusion of human weakness and incredibly alluring self-interest so that they would make the wrong choice. It was a set-up. But the critical question is: why?
Because they needed to taste failure, and they needed to experience the beauty that comes from turning failure into growth. It was the only way to complete the Sinai experience.
When G‑d gave us the Torah, He was giving us a picture of reality as it is meant to be. To me, the Torah is like the top of a jigsaw puzzle box. It gives you a vision that helps you put life’s objects and experiences—the “puzzle pieces”—in their respective places. We got that at Sinai. But we needed a crucial element to bring real meaning to the picture. The experience of failure. And the experience of choosing to grow from our mistakes. Because Torah is life. And that’s life.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Mendy Herson
Everywhere or somewhere?
A youngster was being given his lesson and he wanted to know, “Where is G‑d?” The answer he received was, “G‑d is everywhere.” “That’s the problem,” said the child, “I want a G‑d who is somewhere!”
Yes, Judaism definitely believes that G‑d is everywhere. But even more important is the somewhere where G‑d is to be found. Faith in general, attending Shul and helping out are all nice, but still somewhat superficial. They are in the Everywhere category. Keeping Shabbat, though, is more in the Somewhere department. It is clearly defined and absolute. It goes beyond the surface-level feel good stuff. As Jews, we require a more precise definition of “religious.” Practicalities not platitudes, action more than attitudes are the order of the day. G‑d must be somewhere, not just everywhere.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Mind Over Matter
Wealth happens on the inside
From an article by Shimona Tzukernik, Chabad.org
Loving our fellow Jews
Moses interceded on behalf of Israel to the utmost, even when the people had sunk to the lowest level. Every one of us can, and must, learn from this. It is not enough to simply work with the “lost and cast-off souls” of our fellow Jews. One must, first of all, judge kindly and speak favorably about them, if for no other reason but the fact that their condition is not of their own making but because they do not know better. This kind of approach will of itself help to correct their faults. We must keep in mind that the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) was destroyed on account of gratuitous hatred. This cause must be undone by means of gratuitous love, by loving every single Jew unconditionally, even when one fails to find any justification for loving him. Undoing the cause undoes the effect, and the third Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt by Moshiach speedily in our days.
Edited from an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Sheryl and her husband Larry were at variance as far as how to handle their young son, Michael. Whenever Michael misbehaved, Larry would explain his misdeed to him and demand an apology. Sheryl, on the other hand, was of the opinion that if Michael’s apology wasn’t genuine and self-initiated, it held no value. “He should apologize only if and when he is ready,” Sheryl asserted. “There is no point in us insisting on it, because that means he feels no true regret for his actions.”
“No, Sheryl,” Larry disagreed. “Michael needs to become accustomed to saying he is sorry, even if we have to prompt him. I believe that, intuitively, he understands that what he has done is wrong; it’s just a matter of training him to verbalize what he essentially feels inside.”
In the Parsha Ki Tisa, G‑d commands Moses to instruct the Jewish people to each donate a half-shekel as an “atonement offering for their souls,” for their participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. The silver was used to make the “foundation sockets” for the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary the Israelites built in the desert).
The Midrash relates that when Moses heard about this offering, “he became flustered and recoiled,” wondering how a mere half-shekel could compensate for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. In response, “G‑d showed Moses a coin of fire that He had taken from under His throne of Glory and said, ‘Such as this, they shall give.’”
Why did this half-shekel commandment so perplex Moses? How did the “coin of fire” which G‑d showed him explain his difficulty? And what can we learn from this commandment in our role as parents, in what kind of “offerings” to expect from our children?
All the other gifts that the Jewish people donated to the Tabernacle were given, as the Torah repeatedly emphasizes, because “their hearts were inspired to give.” Men and women, young and old, from each of the different tribes willingly and enthusiastically contributed as much as they could of the many materials used to make the Tabernacle. By contrast, the half-shekel gift was mandatory, and a uniform amount was demanded from each individual, poor and rich alike.
Moses could not comprehend how an offering that was compulsory could achieve atonement. If the individual donating did not give wholeheartedly, from his own initiative and to the best of his ability, how could it be considered an “offering”? Furthermore, how would this forced donation achieve atonement for the serious sin of the Golden Calf?
To explain this, G‑d showed Moses this coin of fire. G‑d was alluding to the fire of the soul. Every soul originates from beneath G‑d’s very throne of glory, and is driven by a fiery desire to be connected with its Source. Every soul is continually and eternally bound to G‑d, and all of an individual’s positive actions are a direct result of his soul’s motivational tugging. G‑d was demonstrating to Moses that even a Jew who is being compelled to give the half-shekel gift, desires to give it. Though his actions may seem forced, in truth he is connecting to his soul’s fiery, inner quest to unite with G‑d.
As a parent, do you hear yourself wondering if there is any benefit in compelling your child to do what is right, when he’s doing so only because he cannot disobey you? Do you feel that unless he enthusiastically volunteers on his own, his actions are valueless? Do you consider it futile to expressly demand an apology for a wrong that he has committed?
The story of the half-shekel reminds us of the essential goodness of every individual. Life is full of challenges and enticing situations that might cause us to deviate from our authentic inner path. But our deep-seated desire is to connect to our Creator.
Proactively guide your child, to help him act correctly—even if some of those actions might be forced.
Because despite external pressures, parental reminders or rules, the real motivation for your child doing the right thing is his fiery G‑dly soul. Even if he—and you—are not aware of it.
Edited from an article by Chana Weisberg, Chabad.org