Food For the Soul
Do You Like Standing Out or Fitting In?
Years ago, when I was in school, there was no uniform policy. Any long-sleeved, white blouse with any navy mid-length skirt could be worn. We expressed our individuality through the particular style blouse or skirt that we chose.
In schools that do enforce uniforms, students will often distinguish themselves by colorful hair accessories or bold jewelry.
We all need some way to express our individuality. And yet, when given our autonomy, don’t we want to have what “everyone’s wearing”? Ironically, we sometimes express our individuality by copying “everyone else.” Seemingly, we have two opposing forces tugging at us: our need to stand out as individuals vs. our need for belonging. In fact, too much individuality can often lead to a lack of identity.
In our pursuit of individuality, have we forgotten the goal of community? In this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, the tribes camped in the wilderness, “each man by his division with the flag of their fathers’ house.” Rashi explains: “Every division shall have its own flag staff, with a colored flag hanging on it; the color of one being different from the color of any other.”
Each tribe had its own leader, its own place to camp, its own color and flag, and its own representative stone on the breastplate worn by the High Priest. Each tribe was allotted its portion in Israel that best suited its vocation, as shepherds, vintners, seafaring merchants, scholars, etc.
We all need to feel a sense of belonging to something greater—a people, a community, a way of life. Only when we feel a secure sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves can we really have the freedom to discover our individuality.
But this larger entity must also provide the framework for each of us to strive to become our unique personal best.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
This Shabbat we read from the Parsha Bamidbar, meaning “in the desert” (Numbers 1:1-4:20). In the Sinai Desert, G-d says to conduct a census of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moshes counts men of draftable age (20 to 60 years); the tribe of Levi, which is counted separately and is to serve in the Sanctuary. When the people broke camp, the three Levite clans dismantled and transported the Sanctuary, and reassembled it at the center of the next encampment. They then erected their own tents around it. Before the Sanctuary’s entranceway, to its east, were the tents of Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons. Beyond the Levite circle, the twelve tribes camped in four groups of three tribes each. To the east were Judah, Issachar and Zebulun; to the south, Reuben, Simeon and Gad; to the west, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin; and to the north, Dan, Asher and Naphtali. This formation was kept also while traveling. Each tribe had its own nassi (prince or leader), and its own flag with its tribal color and emblem.
Mind Over Matter
Priorities In Life
Why do we have so many tasks each day? Because we have so many missions to accomplish.
But, as in any case where multiple tasks call, there must be one mission that takes priority over all others.
What is that priority? It must be education. The task of guiding young people to know what is harmful and what is beneficial—for themselves and for the world—and steering them in the right direction.
It is a priority because every moment that a young person does not know why she or he is here is another moment lost from this young person’s life. And there is no way you can return that moment.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Live A Life of Redemption
Our nation has yearned for and awaited the Redemption for nearly 2,000 years now. The anticipation, however, reached a fevered pitch in recent years, following the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory’s, announcement, in the early 1990s, that the Era of Redemption is upon us, and we must only increase in acts of goodness and kindness in order to be worthy to greet our redeemer. The Rebbe pointed to various global phenomena that are clear indicators that the process of redemption has indeed started, and asked that we prepare ourselves for Redemption by beginning to “live with Moshiach,”—living a life that is dominated by the values that will characterize the Messianic Era. One primary way this is accomplished is through studying about the Messianic Era. Studying about it makes it a reality in our lives, and allows us to live a life of redemption even in these last moments before we witness the complete and true redemption.
For more on this topic, visit Chabad.org
Have I Got A Story
Every Jew Counts
Once there was a small town consisting of only a few Jewish families. Between them, they had exactly ten men over the age of bar mitzvah. They were all dedicated people and they made sure that they never missed a minyan. One day, a new Jewish family moved in to town. Great joy and excitement; now they would have eleven men. But a strange thing happened. As soon as they had eleven, they could never manage a minyan!
When we know we are indispensable, we make a point of being there. Otherwise, “count me out.”
This week in the Torah reading of Bamidbar, we read of the census taken of the Jewish people. This portion is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the “season of the giving of the Torah. ” One important and obvious connection is that in the Torah, too, every letter counts. One missing letter invalidates the entire scroll. Likewise, one missing Jew leaves Jewish peoplehood lacking, incomplete.
Nine of the holiest rabbis cannot make a minyan. Enter one little bar-mitzvah boy, and the minyan is complete! When we count Jews, there are no distinctions. We don’t look at religious piety or academic achievement. The rabbi and the rebel, the philanthropist and the pauper — all count for one: no more, no less.
If we count Jews because every Jew counts, then that implies a responsibility on Jewish communal leadership to ensure that no Jew is missing from the kehillah, from the greater community. It implies a responsibility to bring those Jews who are on the periphery of Jewish life inside. To make sure they feel that they belong and are welcome — even if they haven’t paid any membership fees. It also means that the individual Jew has commitments and obligations. If you’re important, don’t get lost. You are needed.
Today, we are losing a lot of Jews to ignorance. But sometimes we also lose them because we didn’t embrace them as we could have. At a time when they were receptive, we didn’t make them feel welcome. Other faiths, ideologies and cults are using “love bombs” to entice Jews to their way of life. Very often they prey on the weak and vulnerable among us. Anyone desperately seeking warmth, love and a sense of belonging will be an easy target for such groups. But there are lots of ordinary, stable people who crave these things too. Don’t we all? If the Jewish community doesn’t provide that warm welcome, we may very well find them going elsewhere.
Some years ago, we had a visiting Rabbi from Canada speaking in our shul. His talk was about the very real threat of “Jews for J.” and so-called “Hebrew-Christians” who preyed on unsuspecting Jews by using Jewish symbols and even so-called “shuls,” or Messianic Synagogues, which are really nothing more than churches in disguise. He described how these individuals make every deceitful effort to confuse ignorant Jews into believing they are going to a Jewish house of worship.
A woman in the audience then asked, “Rabbi, if I am traveling out of town and want to go to shul, how will I know if I am going to a real shul or one of these impostor synagogues?”
The Rabbi laughed and said, “When you go into these places, they bombard you. As soon as they see a new face, a dozen people will come over to welcome you and give you a seat and a book and make you feel at home. But what happens when you go into a real shul? Nobody greets you. Nobody looks at you. And the first person to say a word to you growls at you because you’re sitting in his seat!” A sad, sad joke indeed.
We need to embrace everyone who walks in through our doors. And we need to do more than just wait for people to come to shul and make them feel welcome. We need to go out and find our people wherever they may be. Most certainly, when someone shows a spark of interest — a soul seeking its source — we need to be there; as an organized community, and as individuals.
So next time you notice someone sitting at the back of the shul looking lost, or even just a new face in the crowd, try and spare a smile. You may save a soul. Every Jew really does count. Let’s count them in.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman