Food For the Soul
Moses gathered the assembly of the Children of Israel — these are the opening words of the Parshah Vayakhel. Rashi tells us that this day of assembly was the day after Yom Kippur. Moses came down from Mount Sinai on Yom Kippur bearing the message of G-d’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. The next day, he gathered the people and commanded them to build the Sanctuary.
Why is it important to know that this was the day after Yom Kippur? Perhaps it is because while on Yom Kippur everyone is holy, the challenge is to be holy after Yom Kippur. It is relatively easy to be holy on the holiest day of the year. The test of faith is to maintain our good behavior in the days and weeks following the awesome, sacred experience. Will we still be inspired or will our enthusiasm have waned straight after Neilah? How many Synagogues are filled to capacity on Yom Kippur and struggle for a minyan the next morning?
Many people get inspired at one time or another. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of men and women go through a phase of dedicated Jewish living only to see them fall back on old habits and lifestyles. And it wasn’t because their commitment faltered, but because they did not implement a sustainable program for that commitment to thrive.
Take Shabbat. A person experiences a real sense of Shabbat for the very first time in his or her life. Then again, and again, until they decide that they really want this for themselves. It’s so serene, so spiritual, and so special. So they commit to keeping Shabbat. They start walking to Shul every Saturday. There’s only one problem. They live three miles from the Shul that inspired them. O.K., it’s not impossible to walk three miles; lots of people do it every day to keep in shape. So, as long as they are still on a spiritual high it works, but the reality is that it is simply not sustainable. If they don’t move closer to their favorite Shul, something will snap.
So this is a call not only to maintain the momentum of our spiritual inspiration but to take practical steps to do so. To succeed in the long term, we must have a pragmatic plan; a realistic, workable, achievable program to see us through to the end. Otherwise, G-d forbid, our fervent feelings of the moment may turn out a flash in the pan.
Let us be inspired enough to make sure our inspiration lasts.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Doing Shabbat Right
One week, a young boy came over with his family and was amazed at seeing the [Shabbat] table set as if it were Thanksgiving. “Do you do this every week?” he asked. “Every week.” “Wow! You guys do Shabbat right!” Doing Shabbat right is not limited to observing the relevant laws one day a week. A peaceful and spiritually uplifting Shabbat depends on a more focused and spiritually balanced workweek. Conversely, when observed properly according to Jewish law, Shabbat redefines the workweek. It’s divine energy permeates every fiber of our being and every moment of our lives, allowing us to live up to our fullest potential. Shabbat is our eternal heritage and G-d’s divine gift to every Jew. I encourage you to tap into this special energy by increasing your commitment to this beautiful mitzvah. Women and girls should light Shabbat candles at the proper time on Friday afternoon. Make a commitment to reciting kiddush on a glass of kosher wine before dinner on Friday night. Take on Shabbat observance one step at a time, and see the blessings of Shabbat envelope your reality.
From an article by Rabbi Levi Greenberg
Mind Over Matter
We might have thought that only a tzaddik who is removed from the enticements and ensnarement of this world has the ability of transforming it into something holy. Or, we might believe that only a baal teshuvah, who intimately knows the negativity of this world can transform its lowliness into loftiness. But the Torah teaches us even the sinner must be included in this endeavor and has what to contribute. Amazingly, G-d’s home on earth is not complete without each of their contributions.
No matter our spiritual standing, no matter our intellectual abilities or our emotional intelligences, we were all handcrafted by our Creator to make our world a home for G-d. And, whether we consider ourselves low or high, righteous or wicked, someone with limited abilities or someone super talented, we are all needed. As unintuitive as it may initially seem, each and every one of us has what to gain from the other!
From an article by Chana Weisberg
The Role of the “Heel”
In the overall stature of Israel’s history, our generation is the very “heel”-the lowest part of the body-while our predecessors are like the brains, heart and other “higher” parts of the body. Our task and mission is likewise the “last” or “heel”-labor to complete and finish all that is still required to bring about the Messianic redemption. Ours may be the “lowest” task, merely tying down the very edges of the curtains, some rather incidental and external details. Nonetheless, it is just this work that completes the whole job, and it is specifically what we do that will fasten the Tabernacle so that it may stand firm.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Just Do It
Back in 1981, when I was attending rabbinical college in Boston, there was a young rabbi — fresh out of seminary — who founded a small congregation in the Boston suburb South Brookline. He would often hang out with us as “one of the guys.” From the day he started up his synagogue, he was quite successful. He developed a strong following and quickly put his name on the map. I often wondered to myself wherein lay the key to his success and popularity. Upon meeting him, one really could not notice anything particularly remarkable about him.
One day, I picked up a newspaper only to find a picture of this young rabbi sitting and chatting with President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, accompanied by a write-up about how he was sharing the message of Chanukah with the president. The story was carried nationally. That was enough for me. I had to find out how this “young shnook” was doing it. I asked him how he managed to accomplish all of these wonderful things. He put it very simply: “It’s because I want to. It’s not about brilliance, eloquence and experience [though those things are certainly useful and important] as much as it is about confidence, persistence and performance. He went on to say: “Look, I decided I had something to say to the president and that I wanted to meet with him, so I went out there and made it happen.”
In the Torah portion of Vayakel, we learn about the various items contributed by the different groups among the Israelites toward the building of the Holy Tabernacle (Mishkan) during the journey in the desert. The Torah tells us that the Nesiyim — the leaders of the tribes — donated the precious gems for the breastplate of the High Priest.
The commentator Rashi takes note of the fact that when using the word “Nesi’im” to describe the leaders’ participation, the Torah deliberately misspells it as “Nesm” as an indication of a flaw and deficiency in the leaders’ manner of participation.
What was the flaw? You see, when the time came for each group to come forward and state what they would give, the leaders volunteered that they would cover whatever was missing after all other donations came in. As it turned out, the outstanding items were the stones and, as such, this was their contribution. Now why is this manner of service — agreeing to underwrite whatever was not already covered — somehow deemed deficient?
The keys to the success of any significant project are capability and motivation. Potential + perseverance = success. Now between the two, which is primary? Our sages teach us, “There is nothing that can stand in the way of one’s genuine will and desire (ratzon).” Simply put, skill without will leaves one an underachiever, whereas drive and perseverance enables one to rise above one’s shortcomings and achieve greatness.
For example, this Torah portion describes the workers who volunteered to build the Tabernacle as “every man whose heart inspired him.” These Israelites had absolutely no experience in this type of unique construction. What then made them qualified to carry it forth? The answer: Their “hearts inspired them.” In other words, they had a desire. They were eager to do it. And by virtue of this desire and eagerness, they became qualified and rose to the occasion. This is what G-d wants to see from us. “Don’t tell Me how talented or untalented you are,” the Almighty says. “Just tell me what you’re ready and willing to do, and let Me worry about the ‘able’ part.” So they ask these Heads of the Tribes: “What will you folks be donating to the Tabernacle?” Essentially, they answer, “Well … whatever. Just give us a call when all is said and done and let us know where you need us to come in. Metals, boards, stones — we’ve got it all.”
That’s very nice — extremely generous. It’s nice to know what you’re capable of. As leaders of the Jewish people, however, these tribe leaders should have demonstrated that when there is a call for action, it is not a time to talk about what you can do, but what you will do. With the excitement of the construction campaign in the air, they should have been the first in line — not the last — to act with initiative, diligence and specificity. Their failure to do so, however well-intended, is seen as a deficiency.
We’re taught that the most essential ingredient is not contemplation or analysis, but action. When we’re presented with an opportunity to do a mitzvah, to become more religiously observant or to get involved in a worthwhile endeavor, let us lighten up a bit on the philosophical introspection and self-examination and “Just do it!” It is not when we become spiritual that we can first decide to act spiritual. Indeed, it is only if we act spiritual that we can become spiritual.
Rabbi Moshe Bryski