Food For the Soul
Where Should I Start Today?
Everyone knows that Rome wasn’t built in a day. There isn’t a building site on earth where the contractor hasn’t explained away his delays by using that well-worn cliché. But did you know that Jerusalem wasn’t built in a day either? Nor was the Holy Land. In the Parsha Mishpatim, the Almighty tells the Jewish people that they will not inherit the land of Canaan immediately. It will be to their benefit that the conquest of the Promised Land be gradual and deliberate. To settle the land successfully would take time and they were cautioned up front to be patient:
I shall not drive them away from you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wildlife of the field multiply against you. Little by little shall I drive them away from you, until you become fruitful and make the land your heritage. (Exodus 23:29-30)
Overnight sensations are often just that. They don’t necessarily last. Slow and steady, step by step, the gradual approach usually enjoys longevity and enduring success.
Every Jew has a share in the Promised Land; not only geographically but spiritually. There is a piece of Jerusalem inside each of us. We all have the capacity for holiness, sanctity and spirituality. But sometimes we may be discouraged from beginning the journey to our own personal promised land. The road seems too long and arduous. Here G-d is giving us wise words of encouragement. Don’t expect overnight miracles. Don’t say, “I have a whole country to conquer! How will I do it?” Rather say, “Where should I start today?” Don’t look at the end of the road; look at the first few steps you need to take right now. Tomorrow you will take a few more steps and the next day a few more, and before long the whole land will be yours.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
The Female Connection with Rosh Chodesh
This Shabbat blesses the upcoming month of Adar 1 (Rosh Chodesh). Although this is observed by both men and women, the women abstain from certain forms of work on this day—for the details, visit Chabad.org. The special connection between women and Rosh Chodesh harks back to the episode of the Golden Calf, when the women declined to surrender their jewelry for use in making the idol. As a reward, they were given Rosh Chodesh as a day which they observe more than the men. The Lubavitcher Rebbe [explains] that all of Judaism is based on this strong faith, and though faith at times can become “fuzzy,” it is the women who, in every situation, remain steadfast in this faith and pass it on to their children. Perhaps this explains the special connection to Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh celebrates the monthly renewal of the moon, after it wanes to the point of disappearance. Thus Rosh Chodesh celebrates the concept of perpetuity—notwithstanding life’s peaks and plunges. And it is the woman who – through her steadfast faith – ensures our nation’s survival; it is she who ensures that no matter how much we wane, we will always be renewed.
From an article by Rabbi Moshe Goldman
Mind Over Matter
Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), was a German-Jewish philosopher who as a young man considered opting out of Judaism completely. But his intellectual bent compelled him to at least do a proper examination of Judaism first. So he went to a synagogue and, as it happened, experienced a spiritual transformation. He went on to become a serious student of Judaism. It’s told that when Rosenzweig was once asked, “Do you put on tefillin?” his answer was not yet. Hopefully, the time will soon come when I will be ready to make tefillin part of my daily observance.” The not yet approach is a good one. There is no one who does it all. We all have room for growth. We should all want to aspire higher. Let us never be discouraged by the length of the journey. Let us begin the first steps and keep moving. It may be slow but as long as there is steady growth we will get there.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
In The Seventh Year He Shall Go Free…
“When you acquire a Jewish bondsman, for six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free…” Mishpatim 21:2.“Six years,” an allusion to the 6000 years of the world’s normative existence, “he shall work”. That is, during this period, in the present time of this existence, there is the opportunity of serving G-d with Torah and mitzvot. By virtue of this service: “In the seventh year,” i.e., in the seventh millenium, “he shall go free…”we shall be released and be free of all the obstacles and hindrances that presently are dominant in the world, and we shall merit the sublime manifestations of the Messianic future.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Not My Job
I cannot claim to have predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union upon my return from a five-week stint in that country in 1987. But neither did I come away with the impression that the system functioned very well. A case in point was an incident that occurred shortly before my arrival in Moscow. A car parked in the yard of the Chabad shul was broken into, and valuable equipment was stolen. When the caretaker/watchman was confronted with this blatant failure to do his job, he shrugged, “My job is to make sure that everything’s okay. When something’s not okay—that’s not my job!”
That incident reminded me of a story which the Lubavitcher Rebbe would often tell about his predecessor and namesake, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866). The wife of Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s youngest son had fallen ill, and the doctors were unanimous in their opinion that there was no hope of recovery. When Rabbi Menachem Mendel was informed of the doctors’ verdict, he noted that the Talmud raises the question, “From where do we know that a physician is allowed to heal?” and answers that this is derived from the verse (Exodus 21:19), “And heal shall he heal.” “But nowhere,” concluded Rabbi Menachem Mendel, “has a physician been given the right or the ability to determine that a human being is incurable.”
The Talmud’s query is a very real question for the believer. If a person is stricken with illness only because G-d has determined that he should be ill, what use is there in summoning the doctor? It’s not only a question of “how do you dare to interfere with G-d’s will?”—it’s also a matter of “how can you think that anything you do will make a difference?” The answer given by the Talmud is that, indeed, the physician is permitted to “interfere” only because G-d allows—nay, commands—the physician to interfere, and the physician’s efforts make a difference only because G-d desires that the physician’s efforts should make a difference.
Which led Rabbi Menachem Mendel to conclude that the physician’s authority and influence are strictly limited to the function that the Torah has given him. Namely, to heal. Anything beyond that is not his job.
While illness and healing provide a dramatic illustration of this principle, chassidic teaching applies it to all areas of life: earning a livelihood, helping the needy, etc. We have the ability, the right and the duty to make a difference because—and only because—G-d has empowered us to make a difference. But this authority has its limits. When we reach these limits—i.e., when we have truly done everything that is within our knowledge and capacity to do—what happens beyond that is beyond our domain.
This is why the concept of “despair” is given no credence in Chassidism. It is generally assumed that there exist two types of people: fatalists and activists. The fatalist maintains that things are the way they are, and that nothing that anyone does really makes a difference. So there is reason neither for exultation nor for despair (though some would say that the fatalist’s state is one of perpetual despair). The activist, on the other hand, believes himself to be the master of his fate, so he exults over his achievements and despairs when things do not go the way he’s planned, believing the latter to be the result of his failure to make happen what he wanted to have happened.
The Jew is neither, and both. He’s a fatalist, in the sense that he believes that whatever transpires is the direct result of G-d’s will that it should transpire. But he’s also an activist: he believes that there is much he can do and must do, and that what he does makes a difference.
So that Russian watchman did have a valid point. To make things right—that’s our job, and the joy and fulfillment we experience in our successes are real and true. But when we reach the limits of what we can do, that’s not failure. It simply means that we have done our job, and now it’s up to G-d to do His.
Rabbi Yanki Tauber