Food For the Soul
Our battles in life
How many battles did you fight today? None, you say? Think again. Did you fight fatigue in order to pry your eyes open this morning? Did you fight the mad traffic jam to navigate to work? Every day, every hour, every minute, we wage countless battles. The Parsha Ki Teitzei begins by telling us about our battles and clues us in on vital knowledge to win them. “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands and you shall capture from them captives.” (Deut 21:10). The Torah doesn’t write, if you go out to war, but rather when. Turbulence and struggle is inevitable. We fight real wars just as we fight moral one. We fight character traits just as we struggle to use our time wisely and develop our talents fully. We battle to protect loved ones. Here are 3 important things to know about your wars.
1. Your battles don’t define you. Just because we are constantly engaged in struggle doesn’t mean that we are defined by them. We win and inevitably we lose. Don’t focus on your losses; you are far more than your conflicts.
2. You are not fighting alone. When your battles become oppressive, when your enemy gains the upper hand, you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Affirm that there is no true existence other than G‑d. This means that nothing contrary to G‑d’s goodness and truth has any real power over you.
3. You can grow from your experience. Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good. You were exposed to your circumstances for a reason. Find a lesson in every situation.
From an article by Chana Weisberg
Do not misplace your compassion
This Shabbat…we will listen to a reading from the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) that tells us to hate. “Remember what Amalek did to you…” we read. “Eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; do not forget!” Amalek was not the only nation to attack us; in the course of our 4,000 year history, there were many others who did the same, and worse. Yet Amalek is singled out as the very essence of evil. There was no rational reason for Amalek’s attack on us, no conceivable gain in doing so. Amalek simply hates goodness and seeks to destroy it wherever it flourishes in G_d’s world. Yes, we are enjoined to love all G_d’s creatures and creations, including the less loveable ones amongst them. But when pure hatred rears its head, it must be destroyed. In the wise words of our sages: “He who is compassionate to the cruel, ends up being cruel to the compassionate.”
From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Mind Over Matter
The upper hand over evil
When we contend with evil, we are “going out to war.” We are “going out” of our true selves, for waging war is unnatural. Our soul’s native environment is the peaceful, infinite Divine consciousness it experienced before it entered the body. Since our souls originate in G‑d’s essence, and evil has no power against G‑d’s essence, we have the upper hand over evil even before the battle has begun. We are “upon” – i.e., above – our enemies. In addition, G‑d only created evil in the first place in order for us to vanquish it. For both these reasons, the Torah goes on to assure us that “G‑d will deliver your enemy into your hands.”
Preparing the world to know G-d
Because the task of refining the world is often compared to a battle, one of the criteria given to identify Mashiach… is that he will “wage the wars of G‑d.” For it is possible that the task of refining the world will require actual conflict, so that Mashiach must “fill the world with justice” by “destroying the power of the wicked and waging the wars of G‑d.” This, however, is merely a stage. Ultimately, Mashiach will “vanquish all the nations surrounding him… and perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together,” thus initiating the era when “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition… [and] the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”
From an article by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Have I got a Story
I recently read a fascinating essay where the author describes an encounter she had with a couple in the streets of Jerusalem. The couple described themselves as “chilonim” (secular). Rather than concur with their self-definition, the author started gently probing, in a bid to help them realize how Jewishly oriented they truly were.
“You live in Israel, don’t you,” she challenged them. “You’re honest, decent, moral people who honor your parents, celebrate a Passover Seder, circumcise your sons and contribute to the betterment of Israeli society. You’re not “secular”; you are fine, upstanding Jews.”
It’s a subtle but important point to make. We all need to improve. We all have failings that hold us back, but that’s not a reason to label ourselves in relation to our Judaism.
However, I wonder, just because someone honors their parents, does that mean they’re following a Jewish way of life? Maybe they attend synagogue once a year out of habit rather than belief. They might be honest in business, but are they acting that way for G‑d, or out of a sense of personal morality? Maybe this couple’s self-definition wasn’t really so inaccurate?
There is a fascinating insight of the Rebbe on the mitzvah of shikchah, which is discussed in the parsha Ki Teitzei. There are certain biblically mandated gifts that we are commanded to give as charity. Ten percent of our income is donated for ma’aser, we leave pe’ah (the corners of our fields) unharvested for paupers, and anything we forget in the field by accident, shikcha, we are commanded to leave behind for those who are less fortunate.
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a bundle behind, you may not go back for it. It must be left for the convert, the orphan and the widow, so that G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in everything you do (Deut. 24:19)
The commentator Rashi wonders: why will G‑d bless you when you didn’t mean to leave the bundle of grain behind in the first place? You were forgetful, but not necessarily generous. He points out that you don’t need to have a perfect intention in order to fulfill a mitzvah. Even if someone drops money that is subsequently found and kept by a poor person, the mitzvah of giving charity has been fulfilled.
The Rebbe questions: How is this a mitzvah? You didn’t mean to give charity. You had no positive intentions. Quite possibly you were even angry or disappointed when you realized your mistake. Where’s the merit in your actions?
The Rebbe points out that it is an axiom of Chassidic belief that, deep down, every Jew truly wants to do the right thing and serve G‑d. So, the person who dropped money actually wished to give tzedakah. Those who respect their parents are moral, ethical beings who, subconsciously perhaps, love serving G‑d. That’s the real you and the real Jew.
You wish to be good. You want to give charity. You’d love to sit and learn Torah all day. You like people, want to keep Shabbat and dream of living a good Jewish life. You just don’t know it (yet).
Whatever good you do—even the inadvertent, unanticipated actions that in retrospect turn out for the best—comes from the soul and, because in your heart of hearts you love G‑d and dedicate yourself to mitzvahs, G‑d will “bless you in everything you do.”
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum