Food For the Soul
Not everything is okay
Once upon a time, in the days of Moses and the Jews in the Wilderness, the Moabite women were seducing young Jewish men. The Almighty was angered and sent a plague upon His people. Jews were dying left, right and center. To compound matters, Zimri, a Prince from the Tribe of Shimon was himself consorting with a Midianite Princess named Kozbi and flaunting their illicit relationship in the face of Moses.
Now I have serious reservations [about using] Pinchas as a role model for How to Win Friends and Influence People. And I’m definitely not suggesting that we root out all sinners by putting a spear through them. What was appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate today. The way to stop the internal hemorrhaging of our people through assimilation and intermarriage is obviously not the way of Pinchas.
What, then, is the message of Pinchas for our time? That sometimes, even today in our super-sensitive, tolerant society, we do need to take a stand. That there will be issues which demand that we put our foot down, that we insist, that we say “No!” It might be different issues for different people. For some it may be Jerusalem, for others Yom Kippur, and for still others it might be insisting that their daughter’s boyfriend cannot sleep over. Somewhere, surely, there has got to be a bottom line.
Generally, diplomacy and positive encouragement work much better than fighting. We are not trying to train Jewish holy fundamentalists to go around killing infidels. But inevitably there will be occasions when even pacifists like us will need to adopt the zero-tolerance Pinchas approach. Occasions when we will be required to stand up and be counted. When we, too, will have to say, “I’m sorry. I cannot accept this kind of behavior. This is wrong. Stop!” Even in our OK Generation, not everything is OK.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Bless New Month
This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month of Av (also called “Menachem Av”), which falls on Shabbat of next week. Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.
Mind Over Matter
Purifying the physical world
We need to be cautious in our divine tasks. If we focus exclusively on our spiritual needs—prayer and Torah study—at the expense of our physical, the benefit may not last long. One gains eternity only by combining what concerns the soul with that which is “outside” the spiritual, thereby purifying the physical world to make it hospitable to the divine.
From an article by Shraga Sherman
The tipping point
Right now you are sitting on the tipping point of all that ever was. The size of the deed is not what matters. It is only a catalyst. One small deed could be enough to ignite a process to change the entire world. One small opening is all that’s needed, and the rest will heal itself. Whatever you do, do it with the conviction that this is the one last fine adjustment, the tipping point for the entire world.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Big and small choices
A husband was once asked for the secret behind his happy marriage. “It’s simple,” he replied. “We divide responsibilities. We decided long ago that my wife makes all the small, routine decisions, and I make the major decisions. She decides what house we buy, where we go on vacation, whether the kids go to private schools, if I should change my job, and so on.”
And what are the big decisions? “Oh, I make the big, fundamental decisions. I decide if the United States should declare war on China, if Congress should appropriate money for a manned expedition to Mars, and so on.”
Life is a series of choices and decisions. The decisions, however, are relatively simple in comparison to their implementation. The majority of us “choose” to live healthy lifestyles; improve our parenting, spousal and interpersonal skills; increase our knowledge; advance our careers; etc. Carrying through with these choices is the challenge. The trick is to concentrate on one, two or three of these choices. But that just leads to another choice. Which of these choices should we focus on?
Let us look to the Torah, and specifically the description of the methods by which the Land of Israel was to be divided amongst the tribes, for insight on this matter. “To a large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance” (Numbers 26:54). The division of the land was logical: each tribe was allotted land according to its size. Furthermore, the land wasn’t divided merely based on acreage. Rather, the land was evaluated for quality and potential crop yield, ensuring that each tribe received a fair portion.
Nevertheless, the final say belonged to the lottery. After the land was divided into twelve portions, each portion earmarked for a particular tribe with the population which corresponded to its size, a lottery was made to determine which tribe would receive which portion. Miraculously, the lottery confirmed the division which was previously agreed upon.
Why the need for this two-track process? If the division was meant to be logical, then why the need for a lottery? And if it was to be left in G-d’s hands—the lottery—why the need for the investment of time and energy in gathering numbers, logistics and evaluations?
Perhaps the lesson G-d was teaching the Israelites before they entered the land, before they became involved in the art of making a living and the many decisions which this entails, was that even those decisions which seem to be in our hands are also ultimately determined by lottery, orchestrated by G-d’s hand.
The Talmud tells us that forty days before a child is conceived, an angel approaches G-d and inquires whether the child will be wise or dim, muscular or frail, wealthy or poor, and whom he or she will marry. He does not, however, inquire whether the child will be righteous or wicked—because “all is in the hands of Heaven besides for [an individual’s] fear of Heaven.”
We may think that we determine our spouse, our field of work, our city of residence, etc. In fact, though, these questions have all been answered before we were even conceived. Yes, G-d expects us to make wise decisions, but ultimately these wise decisions are manipulated and guided by G-d, who orchestrates the circumstances to ensure that we follow the path which He planned for us.
Yet we rightfully pride ourselves in being creatures that possess freedom of choice. But this choice is relegated to the arena of right and wrong, ethics and morals. We do have the ability to choose whether to pray with concentration, give charity, be kind to our fellows and keep kosher. And ultimately, our choices in these areas will be our lasting legacy—because in reality they are our only real and un-influenced choices.
So, on which choices will we focus? The “big” ones, over which we have no control, or the “small” ones, which are entirely in our hands? As is it turns out, it is the small choices which impact the world.
Rabbi Naftali Silberberg