Food For the Soul
I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?
One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?
It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”
Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life. As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Preparing for Rosh Hashana
September 12 marks the last Shabbat in the Jewish year 5780. Next week, we begin a New Year – Rosh Hashana – at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1, 5781 (Sept. 18) and ending after nightfall on Tishrei 2, 5781 (Sept. 20). Some synagogues have reopened in a limited fashion. Yet, millions of Jews still patiently bide their time before they will once again mingle with others. Please remember that you are not alone. The website www.chabad.org is filled with inspiration about the High Holidays (including prayers) which you can print out in advance of the Yom Tov. If you are planning to go to shul, check out their Chabad House locator to learn where you can attend services near you. At MADA, instead of holding our usual Holiday dinners we are bringing Holiday meals to those who sign up for them. For information about receiving a meal and for volunteering and donating to this program visit www.madacenter.com
Mind Over Matter
Who is a kosher Jew?
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow writes: “I once met a Jewish couple in an apartment building where I had koshered someone’s kitchen. When I told them that a new Jewish family was about to move into their building they rejoiced. When I mentioned that I had just koshered the new family’s kitchen they said, “Aaah, that kind of Jew.” After a brief pause they recovered and said, “That’s all right, we welcome all kinds to our building.” This is the vital mistake that G_d wants us to avoid when we read the Torah…The laws of kosher are not for the other kind of Jew. They are for you and me and every Jew on the planet… The kosher Jew is not a different kind of Jew. He is your kind. You too are a kosher Jew. Even if you don’t know it yet.”
Preparing for Moshiach
The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed to various global phenomena that are clear indicators that the process of redemption has indeed started, and asked that we prepare ourselves for Redemption by beginning to “live with Moshiach,”—living a life that is dominated by the values that will characterize the Messianic Era. One primary way this is accomplished is through studying about the Messianic Era. Studying about it makes it a reality in our lives, and allows us to live a life of redemption even in these last moments before we witness the complete and true redemption. Chabad.org
Have I got a Story
Where do we look for meaning?
There is a familiar story of a man searching the sidewalk for his keys and looking frantically under the streetlight. When questioned by a passerby as to where he may have lost his keys, the man admits that he lost the keys inside his house. Since the light was so much brighter outside under the streetlight, however, he thought it best to look there.
We read this and think … what a fool, looking for his lost object in obviously the wrong place, just because it is the “easiest” place to look. But at least this fool knows what he lost and where he lost it. Can we say the same? Many of us are not only looking in the wrong place for our lost objects, but we are even not sure what we’re looking for. And yet, we are driven to search on and on. To what end?
According to Freud, the primary drive of man is the pursuit of pleasure. “Not so,” said Nietzsche, “the primary drive of man is the pursuit of power.” Viktor Frankl, the world-famous Viennese psychiatrist who suffered for three years in concentration camps during the Holocaust (and who endured the murder of his entire family and pregnant wife) nevertheless founded “logotherapy,” which is the theory that the primary drive of man is not pleasure or power, but the search for meaning.
So if a human being’s primary drive is the search for meaning, where do we look? If it’s not in the Himalayas, the ashram, the shrink’s couch, the self-help section of the bookstore, the office, the lab, the studio, the field or even the sanctuary, then where?
In the Torah portion Nitzavim, Moses tells us exactly where to look. “It is not in heaven. Nor is it across the sea. Rather, the matter is very near to you—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.” Moses spoke these words to the Jewish people on the last day of his life, knowing that it was the last day of his life. The stakes couldn’t be higher. What is this matter “that is near and dear that we are to perform”? “To love God, to walk in His ways and to observe His commandments.” In a word, to embody the Torah.
Wait … did I just lose you? “Sorry,” you say, “but Torah is not the meaning of my life.” If your view of Torah is that it is a bunch of dry, archaic “do’s” and “don’ts,” commanding strict, automaton-like adherence to meaningless and empty ritual, then I would totally agree with you. I wouldn’t find that meaningful in the slightest. But that’s not my view of the “matter of Torah.”
If your religion doesn’t make you a better person, spouse, parent, friend and lover of your fellow, it’s not the “matter of Torah.” If your religion doesn’t make you compassionate and yearn to alleviate suffering, it’s not the “matter of Torah.” If you are not inspired to love justice and truth, and strive to live humbly with integrity, then it’s simply not the “matter of Torah.”
The “matter of Torah” that Moses tells us to look for is within us, in our hearts. It has to be real, and we have to own it. Otherwise, it may as well be high up in the heavens or across the distant sea; it means nothing as it is too far out of our orbit to be relevant. But let’s be clear. It is we who push Torah away, who say it’s not relevant or accessible. And as long as we keep this lie on our lips, we will keep looking for meaning under that streetlight.
That doesn’t mean we get to decide on our own what Torah is or what it means. It doesn’t mean that we can overlay the Torah with the imprimatur of our emotions or political viewpoints. Many phenomena exist objectively and independent of us. Certain things just “are,” like gravity, which doesn’t need our “buy-in” to be real and to affect us. On the other hand, while Torah also has an independent truth and reality, Torah very much wants our “buy-in.” G‑d wants our partnership.
Condensed from an article by Hanna Perlberger