Food For the Soul
Singing despite the blues
In the Parsha Vayetze, Jacob traveled to Charan. Charan was a rough place. Like Vegas but with more slot machines, like New York, but with more aggression, like Washington D.C. but with more corruption.
To make matters worse, Jacob lived in his uncle’s house. His uncle made a crime boss look like a saint. Get the picture? Yet the Midrash says that Jacob sang certain psalms (120-134) throughout the 20 years he lived there.
Does that make sense? Jacob was in a precarious position, in an unfriendly and disgusting city, and he walks around as if he is starring in a Broadway musical?
Jacob was in a difficult moment in his life. He, himself would have been the first to admit it, but he refused to get depressed or lose hope. He recognized that G-d’s hand had guided him there. He knew he was in Charan for a purpose and upon completion of that goal, he would return home.
Therefore, even during the challenging moments in Charan he remained joyous, for he knew he was where he needed to be, doing what had to be done—and he was right. Twenty years later he left Charan with his entire family and quite a bit of gelt. Retroactively, he proved that all of his singing was justified.
The world right now is a tough place to be. Anyone who can’t see the problems should cut down on their meds. You don’t have to be a bleeding heart to recognize the issues in yourselves, your towns, and society at large.
That having been said, we can and should follow Jacob’s example. Jacob didn’t roll up on his psychologist’s leather couch to discuss his issues. He didn’t create some random blog to muse and ramble about his problems. He recognized his purpose in Charan and worked towards actualizing his goals—and he did so with joy.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Simcha Levenberg
The Shabbat Queen and Bride
On Friday night, as the sun sets, it is customary to sing a collection of Psalms followed by the mystical poem of Lecha Dodi, in which we serenade the descending sweetness of Shabbat, whom we address as both a beautiful bride and beloved queen. This concept goes all the way back to the Talmud, where we read that Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in festive garments on Shabbat eve and say, “Come, and we will go out to greet Shabbat the queen.” Another sage, Rabbi Yannai, would don his festive garment on Shabbat eve and say, “Enter, O bride. Enter, O bride.”
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Posner
Mind Over Matter
In the Talmud, the rabbis note that from the day G-d created the world, no one bothered to praised Him until Leah, when she gave birth to her fourth son, naming him Yehuda, from the word, hoda’ah, which means, “to thank.” Since names convey spiritual essence, the Jewish people (Yehudim) should realize that gratitude comprises their core component of being. Furthermore, the very existence and makeup of the Twelve Tribes came about through the altruism of two sisters, each motivated by empathy and wanting to ease the suffering of the other. In Vayeitze, we also read the story of Jacob’s ladder, reaching from earth to heaven. Let us build our own ladders: one side comprising “gratitude” and the other “empathy.” Let the rungs between them be the steps of compassion, connection and kindness.
From an article by Hanna Perlberger
As impossible as it sounds, as absurd as it may seem: The mandate of darkness is to become light; the mandate of a busy, messy world is to find oneness. We have proof: for the greater the darkness becomes and the greater the confusion of life, the deeper our souls reach inward to discover their own essence-core. How could it be that darkness leads us to find a deeper light? That confusion leads us to find a deeper truth? Only because the very act of existence was set from its beginning to know its own Author. As it says, “In the beginning . . . G-d said, ‘It shall become light!’”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
The Need to Nosh
I sat waiting in the doctor’s office with my children. I watched them as they became totally engrossed in the toy trucks and games that were sprawled all over the waiting room. Suddenly, my son got up and started to walk towards the doctor’s offices. “Mommy, Mommy?” He had forgotten that I was right there, sitting behind him on the couch. “I’m right here, Avraham, I’m right here,” I reassured him. He flashed me a stunning smile, and we both laughed.
Our Patriarch, Jacob, was forced to flee from his father’s home to avoid the wrath of his brother Esau. He was scared and alone. Jacob lay down to sleep and had a dream. There was a ladder with angels going up and angels going down. Suddenly, G-d appeared in his dream and reassured him, “Jacob, I am here. I am with you wherever you go.”
My baby, she’s a nosher (snacker). At any time of the day, whether she’s hungry or whether she’s full, she will waddle over to me for a nosh. If I’m sitting, she pulls herself up on my lap and tugs at my shirt. If I’m standing, she tugs at my skirt. I know what she wants; she wants me to nurse her, she wants me to kiss her and comfort her. Sometimes, this snack only lasts a minute. It’s like her way of “checking in” to make sure that I’m still there and that I love her.
I have to tell you, I’m also a nosher—a prayer nosher and a blessing nosher—and I can’t tell you how much this keeps my sanity and enables me to get up the next morning to face a new day. I go through my routine, day after day, and sometimes I feel like a robot as I check off the activities on my list. “Make breakfast, feed kids, get everyone dressed, pack lunches, get everyone out the door, put baby down to nap, sit down to work, make lunch, iron shirts … ” Like a pile of laundry, the list never ends. Then something happens to upset my perfect schedule, something outside of the neat list that I keep handy. A child gets a cold, I have a disagreement with a neighbor, a problem at work, a fight with a friend. I’m sitting in traffic, absolutely stuck, and I look up; it’s nosh time.
“Um, excuse me, G-d are you there? Can You help me out here?” I grab an apple and say a blessing on it before I take a bite. I nosh and I nosh, I check in and you know what? I feel better. I might be hungry, I might be full. The snack isn’t about eating; it’s about knowing that I’m not alone and that I’m being watched over.
Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely, G-d is in this place and I did not know! (Genesis 28:16) It was almost as though Jacob realized that he could connect to G-d at any place and at any time, that G-d is truly everywhere. Jews have a precious gift, the inherent ability to “nosh” at any time. Why do you think religious people say so many blessings? Why do you think Jews have so many commandments? Before eating and drinking, after eating and drinking, lighting Shabbat candles, lighting the menorah . . . the list goes on. Because it gives us a way to connect to G-d to remember that He is here.