Food For the Soul
Every Jew Counts
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.
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.
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.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Shavuot 2022 (a two-day holiday, celebrated from sunset on June 4, 2022 until nightfall on June 6, 2022) coincides with the date that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai more than 3,000 years ago. It comes after 49 days of eager counting, as we prepared ourselves for this special day. It is celebrated by lighting candles, staying up all night to learn Torah, hearing the reading of the Ten Commandments in synagogue, feasting on dairy foods and more.
For information about Shavuot visit Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
Standing Out or Fitting In?
We all need some way to express our individuality, yet too much individuality can often lead to a lack of identity. 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.
Edited from an article by Chana Weisberg
Peace and Unity
The peace and unity which were the preparation and precondition for the Giving of the Torah are also the preparation for the Messianic redemption. The present galut was caused by sinat chinam, gratuitous hatred. Thus we must nullify that cause by ahavat chinam, gratuitous love. There must be gratuitous (unqualified) love for every Jew-even to one who has never done you a favor, even to one you have never met or seen, and even to one who is chinam, devoid of any quality that would warrant feelings of love. This love, this sense of peace and unity, is the channel for all Divine blessings, including the greatest of all: G-d speedily sending us Moshiach to redeem us, thus fulfilling: “In this place (the Land of Israel) which is now desolate… the sheep (the people of Israel) will pass before the one who will count them (Moshiach), says G-d!” (Jeremiah 33:12-13).
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
A Love Letter from G-d
Recently a friend asked me if I would meet with his son, Sam, and help him prepare his Bar Mitzvah speech. I generally don’t teach thirteen-year-olds, but for a friend I made an exception. Well, after about an hour of deep talk, I said, “Sammy, do you have any questions?” He said, “Yeah, just one. Why do I have to obey all these commandments, keep all these rules?” Well, I felt pretty silly. Here I was going off the deep end when he doesn’t even know what his Bar Mitzvah meant.
I asked him, “Sammy, do you like football?”
“I love it! I play it all the time.”
“Do you know the rules?” I continued. “Of course, you can’t play if you don’t know the rules.”
“’Cuz then there would be no game. You couldn’t win or lose. There couldn’t be touch downs, no out of bounds, no violations, no penalties. Without the rules it would just be chaos and no fun.”
“Precisely, and that’s true about the game of life also. Without rules and regulations it would be chaos, no fun, no adventure, no challenge. You couldn’t win or lose. And even though we all know, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose but it’s how you play the game,’ without rules there is no way to evaluate ‘how you play the game.’ The Torah’s commandments are the game rules of life and G-d is the referee.” In the end, Sammy got psyched for his Bar Mitzvah.
On Shavuot we celebrate getting the game rules of life because if there are no game rules, there is no game. And on that day we rejoice because we became players in the game of life. Because if there is no right and wrong, then what difference does it make what I do? If there is nothing to violate, there is nothing to fulfill. I can’t even play a game of basketball without rules, let alone live my life! Without the Torah’s game rules for living, the world is just one big chaos and our choices are meaningless.
The Torah, however, is more than the rules of life. Torah is a living encounter with G-d. The revelation of G-d at Mt. Sinai wasn’t simply an opportunity for the Jewish people to receive G-d’s laws but experience G-d’s love. What happened at Mt. Sinai was a personal, face-to-face encounter with G-d. It wasn’t just about getting the laws that made the day important, it was about feeling the ecstasy of G-d’s intimacy with the Jewish people.
The experience at Mt. Sinai was not only a revelation of G-d’s truth, but more importantly, it was a revelation of G-d’s love.
Torah was and continues to be G-d’s love letter. It is the greatest gift ever because it embodies G-d’s presence. When you learn the Torah you can actually feel G-d’s closeness to you. The Talmud teaches that when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people He said, “I am giving you My soul in writing.”
Imagine one day you receive a love letter. If you’re anything like me, you’ll read the letter over and over again, because you know there’s much more to this letter. The first time you read it you get the simple meaning. But then you read it even more carefully. You notice that she tells you about the weather and then she starts talking about her mother. What’s the connection, you wonder. You then read the letter again and now you see that there are hints in this letter. You pay attention not only to what she says, but also to the way she’s structured her sentences. Then you go over it again because you realize that it’s even deeper than that. You look at how she even forms the very letters. There are secrets in the nuances of the actual shape of her letters. You then start looking for the deeper subtle meanings.
This, in essence, is learning Torah. Through our involvement with the text, we hear G-d’s voice, feel the Divine presence and experience G-d’s love and relive the revelation at Sinai each day of our lives. Therefore, the Torah embodies not only a way of life but also a way to love. The wisdom and commandments of the Torah empower us to love each other and love G-d. Shavuot is a day to celebrate the laws in love and the love in law.
From an article by Rabbi David Aaron