Food For the Soul
Swinging from exile to redemption
In Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23) Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt. For thirteen years he suffered slavery, imprisonment and derision, but eventually ended up as the viceroy of all Egypt. From this position he was able to save his family and thousands of others from starvation during the terrible years of famine. This pattern is the key to the concepts of exile and redemption. The divine promise of redemption depicts an exalted state of being and consciousness for all humanity. However, in order to achieve this, there must also be the “down” swing: the bitterness and darkness of exile. Our problem is that, sometimes, many people lose hope. After the Holocaust, there was widespread despair about the future of Judaism, especially as regards to traditional observance and knowledge. Miraculously, there has been a wonderful rejuvenation of Jewish scholarship and traditional life. Jewish knowledge and Jewish observance, in Israel and elsewhere, has moved into a happy, joyful upward swing.
In the life of an individual or of a community, there can be comparable jarring events which threaten to shake the person from his or her seat. Gradually, one comes to terms with the new situation, and makes a step forward. The challenge is to keep sitting firmly on the swing, holding on tight as it goes through what seems like the lowest point, with faith in G_d that soon it will reach the exalted heights.
The Chanukah festival also expresses this pattern. The Jewish people had reached the depths of assimilation to Greek culture and idolatry. This process began as something voluntary among wealthy Jews, and then became enforced by government decree on everyone. The sacred Temple was defiled, and Jewish study and observance were banned. Then, the Maccabees gathered together, defeated the Syrian-Greek troops, and restored the Temple. When they lit the golden menorah, although they had only one day’s supply of oil, miraculously it stayed alight for eight days, nationwide return to Judaism. Thus again the swing soared upwards. Whatever happens, hold on tight!
Adapted from an article by Dr. Tali Loewenthal
Time to reflect
I remember that when I was a student in university, I spent many Shabbat days alone. There was either nowhere to go or nowhere that I wanted to go for a meal. It wasn’t ideal. Shabbat is a beautiful day that is best shared and not passed alone, but at the time I didn’t have many options. I’ll never forget how those moments alone of reflection made me incredibly in tune with myself, my goals, and my direction.
Now as a wife and mother, I bask in the beauty of quality family time that Shabbat gives us, and while I recharge physically from Shabbat to Shabbat it also remains the only time when I can unplug the phones and plug into Elana.
From an article by Elana Mizrahi
Mind Over Matter
Pushing with both hands
When dealing with immoral and destructive thoughts and impulses, “You must push them away with both of your hands” (Tanya, ch. 12). What does this mean? By fighting and arguing with the impulse, you give it validation. In effect, while pushing it away with one hand, you are inviting it to return with your second hand. At times, you can push away a negative thought with one hand only. Pushing an impulse away with two hands means that you simply and silently dismiss it from your brain. Without argument, fanfare or drama, you just make it very clear that it is unwelcome in your life and you must move on to alternative thoughts and actions. You do not validate it in any way, not even by arguing against it. You simply do not attribute any power or significance to it. That is what it is called pushing it away with both hands. Sooner or later, it will cease trying to come back.
From an article by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson
Light the world
It will not do to kindle Chanukah lights on the table on which we eat or work, and then to open the door to allow the light to shine outward as well. The light must be lit “by the door,” that is, one must exert efforts to illuminate the street. This will hasten the fulfillment of the divine prophecy, “Even if darkness covers the earth and a thick cloud the nations, G‑d will shine forth on you” (Isaiah 60:2). And just as in those days “they kindled lights in Your holy courtyard,” we shall merit again to kindle lights in the Sanctuary, in the third and eternal Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) to be established by Moshiach.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Answering the call
A few weeks ago, a friend invited my family for Shabbat dinner. On the table, I noticed a highly unusual item. Alongside the delicious food and beautiful dishes was a live walkie-talkie placed close to the father.
My friend’s husband is a volunteer for Hatzalah, a Jewish volunteer ambulance service that provides emergency pre-hospital care. As a paramedic, he is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing life-saving assistance. The Torah permits (actually, commands) us to break the laws of Shabbat to save lives.
My friend told me that her husband often gets called in the middle of the night, occasionally, a few times a night. Sometimes, just as he is falling into a deep sleep, he’ll need to jump out of bed again. As the only paramedic in the area, he averages two to three calls every Shabbat.
Though her husband has a full-time job and is the father of a busy household of many children, including a toddler, he still finds time and energy for this holy work. My friend (who also works) and her children are incredibly proud of him. The kids speak passionately about his activities even though it means that their father might leave a family celebration, and that each of them has to pitch in more to help. The family understands the precious mitzvah of saving lives, and knows that their encouragement and support enables him to do it.
In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave. While deliberating what to do with him, the brothers decide to throw him into a pit. “The pit was empty; there was no water in it.” (Gen 37:24) If the pit was empty, isn’t it obvious that there was no water in it? The Talmud (Shabbat 22a) learns from this unusual wording that although there was no water in the pit, there were scorpions inside. The Chassidic masters comment on this passage: The mind and heart of man are never empty.
If there is no life-nourishing “water,” there are “snakes and scorpions in it.”
In our lives, we need to be busy with something meaningful. Our minds and hearts are not empty vacuums; they will quickly fill. “Water” refers to Torah and its nourishing teachings. If our minds are occupied with Torah teachings—and our hearts and schedules are jam-packed with good deeds—there won’t be any space for negativity to creep in.
Not all of us need to be like my incredibly selfless friend, on call day and night saving lives. But as I left my neighbor’s home, I realized that despite how busy we all think we are, how much fuller our schedules can actually become. Let’s find something positive that we feel passionate about and let’s work on filling up our days (to the brim!) with meaningful acts.
By Chana Weisberg