Food For the Soul
Between Passover and Shavuot
The period between Passover and Shavuot, the festivals of liberation and the giving of the Torah, is marked by the Counting of the Omer. In a sense the festival of Shavuot is a fulfillment, a climax, of Passover. In terms of the Jewish people, the significance is obvious — Israel was not a nation by virtue of freedom alone but by virtue of the Torah. What does this mean to the individual?
Torah gives life a purpose, a pattern that gives significance to the commonplace. The mitzvot impart spiritual importance even to the ordinaries of living; they make the Jew conscious always of his interested Creator. At no time is the Jew ever “free”; there is always a standard by which every action is judged. He has no privileged sanctuary as a refuge from responsibility. During work and meals and worship and recreation equally, the pattern of Torah makes these activities avenues to G-d.
Freedom for the Jew is release from oppression but not from self-control. Passover permits man to develop freely, with no interference by anyone with his religious activities. This freedom became real only when it was given direction, when the Torah showed man what man can become. Passover and Shavuot are complementary festivals, deliberately connected by the Counting of the Omer to stress their inseparability. Together they teach us that achievement in this world is not abandon but adult discharge of productive obligations.
By Rabbi Zalman Posner
Blessings, harmony and balance
All week long, in our struggle to gain spirituality, we operate in a masculine mode of conquest and assault. We are in a constant state of conflict, choosing between those elements of our world that we are to embrace and develop and those that must be rejected and overpowered. But every Shabbat, we enter afresh into a spiraling cycle of harmony, serenity, and peace. On Shabbat, we refrain from the selection and suppression process altogether, as we enter into a feminine mode within ourselves and within creation, a state of harmony, peacefulness, restfulness, and receptivity. For this reason, Shabbat is referred to in the feminine, as in Shabbat hamalkah, “the Shabbat queen,” or kallah, “bride.” On Shabbat, we can finally absorb the blessing of our previous week’s toil, as well as invigorate ourselves to continue on the new journey of the oncoming week. We give meaning to the past while we renew our energies for the coming workweek. With the many demands of modern life, we need the holy day of the Shabbat more than ever, to bring blessings, harmony, and balance into our lives.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Mind Over Matter
Can you wait?
The delicacies of the world were given to us to enjoy. But self-control and discipline remind us that there is more to life than just eating delicious fruit. Creating boundaries around our indulgences helps create a focus and consciousness that there is a bigger picture. Enjoying life’s blessings is just a small part of an existence also filled with meaning, values and a higher purpose. Greed, lack of control, the need for instant gratification and hedonism are destructive, and create empty lives and purposeless existence.
From an article by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
As far as I am concerned, the greatest destruction and the greatest exile began seventy years ago. Because, until then, if a Jewish person was looking for a teacher and a guide to find his or her path to G-d, or just looking for some spirituality in life, there were tzaddikim just around the corner, and everyone knew that was so. But when the communities of Europe were suddenly and brutally destroyed, along with all but a handful of the great tzaddikim, that is when the greatest darkness began. That is when this bizarre detour began, that if a Jewish soul wants to find meaning, she goes to drink from the wells of others.
True, she will never be satisfied from those wells, since they are not her own. But a soul that lived for 3,300 years basking in spirituality simply cannot bear the dry, parched land. And, unfathomable as it may be, that had purpose as well. But now has come the time for us to all return home.
By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
On being a kohen
You may not have heard the story of the fellow who visits his rabbi and begs him to make him a kohen. He just has to belong to the priestly tribe and he’s prepared to pay the rabbi any amount of money for the honor. The rabbi patiently explains that neither he nor anyone else can make the man a kohen. It is simply not in the province of the rabbinate to do these things. The fellow is desperate. He offers the rabbi a huge donation if he would only grant him this one favor. The rabbi is exasperated but intrigued and asks the man why it is so important to him that he be made a kohen. The guy answers: “Rabbi, my father was a kohen, my grandfather was a kohen, I just have to become a kohen!” The truth is that as funny as a born kohen wanting to buy his way into his own family may sound, being a kohen is no joke.
In my own experience, I have been involved in a number of human tragedies which emanated from Jewish ignorance about the role of a kohen and the regulations which pertain to members of the priestly tribe. While cemetery conduct and protocol for a male kohen is a very important mitzvah, failure to comply with these regulations is between him and G-d. It does not affect anyone else, at least not in any earthly, tangible form. However, when it comes to marriage choices there is always someone else involved and, subsequently, very much affected.
Some tragedies are unavoidable. Illness is not something any sane person consciously chooses. But the most frustrating tragedy of all is one that was avoidable. And when ignorance of our traditions leads to human pain and anguish, then familiarizing ourselves with those traditions could go a long way towards preventing tragedy from happening in the first place.
Picture the scene. A young man announces his engagement and arrives at the synagogue to book his wedding. The rabbi discovers that he is a kohen and his fiancé is a divorcee, convert, someone previously married out of the faith, or perhaps the daughter of a non-Jewish father. Very sensitively, he advises the young couple that there may be a halachic impediment to their union being solemnized “in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel.” The parsha Emor gives us the basic laws governing whom a kohen may and may not marry. If he is indeed a genuine kohen and she does, in fact, belong to one of the above-mentioned categories, we have a problem.
Now my question is, why in the two or three years of their relationship did this issue never surface? The answer is ignorance. Nobody ever told them that there was a problem. Who gets the blame? Why, the rabbi, of course. He is accused of being a religious fundamentalist, intolerant, uncaring, rigid and inflexible. Well, let me assure you that my colleagues and I love to be welcoming and accommodating at all times. There are, however, situations when Jewish law and tradition, which to us is sacred and inviolate, may well appear to be standing in the way of human happiness. And we are not empowered to change the law to suit the occasion. Personally, I say the responsibility to educate our young people about this particular issue lies with their parents. Especially a father who is a kohen and has passed down that lineage to his son has a moral obligation to advise his son of what it means to be a kohen. True, there are privileges, like being the first to be called to the Torah, but there are also responsibilities, like choosing marriage partners very carefully.
These types of pain and misery are absolutely avoidable if we educate our children. Well before they become romantically involved, parents should inform their kids to be discerning in whom they date. In the same way as no intermarriage ever happened without prior inter-dating, no kohen would suffer disappointment over an unsanctioned marriage if he only dated girls he would be able to marry. He shouldn’t be hearing about it for the first time when he approaches the rabbi with a wedding date.
Marriage today is a tenuous institution. It is an enormous challenge to remain on the right side of the statistics. If the Torah tells us that a particular union is not kosher, rather than resenting the interference we should consider it as if the Almighty Himself came down and whispered a word of loving advice in our ears: “Trust me; this one is not right for you.” Sometimes we think the Torah is standing in the way of our happiness when the reverse is true. In the long run, it may well be protecting both parties from making a serious mistake with life-long ramifications.
The priesthood is as old as the Jewish people. To be a kohen is something no money can buy. Suffice it to say, it is a very special blessing. Let’s make sure that our children never consider that blessing a curse.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman-