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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

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You Are Not Forsaken

We hear this line often in our liturgy: “G-d has not forsaken the Jewish people.” Clearly this is true, as we are still here. However, we can ask, “Is this true for the Jewish nation and even for individual people?” Perhaps G-d might forsake an individual. After all, if we are running away from G-d, why should he chase us? Why not just give up on us?

When the Jews were in Egypt, many of them gave up on G-d; they assimilated into the Egyptian way of life. They had nothing to hold onto. Being a slave was not an attractive option, so they slipped into the comforts of Egypt.

On the Egyptian front, they were bombarded with plague after plague. Ten in total. Each time a plague would come, it did just that: it arrived.  

Yet by plague number ten, the death of the first born, Moses warned Pharaoh that G-d will “come to Egypt” and save the first-born Jews from the plague, while first-born Egyptians will die. The question is asked, “Why does G-d Himself have to ‘come’ to Egypt?” Every other plague arrived without G-d Himself “coming.” Even though this plague was put into action by the Angel of Death, why is G-d’s presence necessary? In addition, to save the first-born Jewish children, the Jews were given the cue: “Put the blood of the Pascal sacrifice on the doorpost as a sign for the angel to ‘pass over’ your home.” If that is the case, what will G-d be coming to do, anyway?

Tradition tells us that there were Jews hiding in Egyptians homes. Not only did they ignore Moses by not putting blood on their doorposts, they defied G-d! They went and lived within the homes of the Egyptians! They camouflaged themselves so well within Egypt that only G-d Himself could find them. 

This is what Moses was saying to Pharaoh: G-d does not forsake His people. Every single Jew will come out of Egypt!

Are there Jews who are hiding their Judaism? Yes. Do they deserve to be forsaken? No.

This is not just a phrase that we have lived with for so many years. This is true. This has been true then, and this is true today.

 

 

 

Equality

To wear black or not to wear black? When is a compliment appreciated and when is it harassment? Our world is walking on eggshells. How do we recognize people’s individuality, yet celebrate equality? When you address a couple, who do you list first? If you choose the husband before the wife, are you making a statement? If you choose the wife before the husband, are you making a statement? Can’t we just live our lives without tripping over ourselves?

Is this even a new phenomenon? In this week’s Torah portion, we see that G-d himself goes back and forth when addressing Moses (the younger brother but the leader) and Aaron (the older brother but the helper to Moses). Sometimes G-d addresses Moses before Aaron and sometimes Aaron is addressed before Moses. Is this because G-d is walking on “eggshells” and doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings? Is G-d wishy-washy?

There must be a deeper message here. “Equality” doesn’t mean “the same.” Equal in value yet different in talent. Moses and Aaron were each celebrated for who they were, for their individual strengths, albeit not for the same ones. Yet, at the same time they each recognized within themselves that they were not perfect and that they each needed the other to fill in for the weaknesses that they possessed.  What they did focus on was who they were, and not who they weren’t. 

There are times when it is important to emphasize Moses‘s strengths over Aaron’s, and there are times to emphasize Aaron’s talents over Moses’s.  

Our approach to life must be sensitive, yet balanced. There are times when “Moses” comes first and there are times when “Aaron” comes first. 

The main thing is to see the positivity that everyone brings to the world we live in. 

Jacob's Blessings

 

The Torah says something very peculiar about the blessings Jacob bestows upon his children. After Jacob finishes blessing each of his children individually, it says, “He blessed each son with a befitting blessing to them (singular) and he blessed them (plural).” The simple explanation is that after he blessed each one with a blessing individually befitting them, he gave an additional blessing to them as a group.  

The only shortcoming of this explanation is that we don’t know what Jacob actually said. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to probe a little deeper so that we can understand what the verse means 

Here is one beautiful insight: Jacob is teaching his sons an important lesson that applies to us today as well. He is saying that yes, each one of you has a specific talent, a specific way of connecting to G-d, but at the end of the day, you are all one.  

Isn’t this true today? There are so many different kinds of Jews and we each try to find our way to serve G-d. However, as we search and we say to ourselves that this way fits me well, we have to understand and respect other Jews for their ways as well, since all of our paths reach the same G-d.  

Our differences are only superficialdeep down, we all are one. That is Jacob’s ultimate blessing.  

Three Levels In Harnessing Our Faith

 

The Torah tells us that seventy members of Jacob’s household entered Egypt, yet the Torah itself counts the names with a total of just sixty-nine.

There are different opinions on how we reach a total of seventy. One is to simply say that the Torah rounded up the number, as we have seen done throughout the Torah. There are three other possibilities: We can count either G-d, Jacob, or Yocheved, who was born as they entered Egypt.

Generally speaking, the explanations are not mutually exclusive, but in this case, it cannot be all three, because then the number would be seventy-two! So how do we reconcile these opposing opinions?

In this case we must find a deeper understanding of what is going on here.

In order for the Jews to leave Egypt down the road, they have to have strong faith in G-d. However the question is how the faith will be provided to them. Here is where we have three approaches.

1 - G-d. G-d provides us with faith. But the way G-d does this for us is in a very external way, to the extent that we don’t feel G-d providing it to us. If we did, then we would not have faith per se, but knowledge. G-d enters into the exile with us so that we are able to tap into our faith and stand strong in the face of such a difficult time. (This is on the level of Aggadah.)

2 - Jacob. Jacob also provides us with faith. He brings along the commitment to G-d that he inherited from his parents and grandparents. This kind of faith is real and tangible to the Jewish people. This reason is more esoteric yet practical. (It is hard to include G-d as one of the seventy since G-d is not felt on a physical level, and Yocheved never left Israel, so she could not be the inspiration or the bedrock of our faith to return to Israel.)

3 - Yocheved. Yocheved may not be connected so strongly to Israel, but she is the only survivor of that era that experienced the hardship of the exile. Yocheved was a woman who had a very deep-rooted faith in G-d. We read in the Torah in numerous portions how women have a deep natural belief in G-d, and here Yocheved was able to bring this faith to the Jewish people. We see that Yocheved ends up mothering Moshe, the eventual leader and redeemer of the Jewish people. That is why we count her as the seventieth. This reason is more befitting for the literal explanation of the verses, since it clearly says the children of Jacob equal seventy (which means not including Jacob).

We can now understand that the three opinions are not mutually exclusive, but are rather three levels in harnessing our faith.

L'chayim To Life!

At joyous occasions we wish each other l’chayim - to life! To health and to wealth!

Are these just words that we utter or is there a deeper meaning to these good wishes?

Let’s analyze Jacob’s life, covered in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, which will help shed some light on this theme.

Health: After all the trials, obstacles, and physical battles that Jacob had to deal with between his Uncle Lavan and his brother, Esau, he has healed from his illness. This taught him a valuable lesson in life that although there are times when we may be ill, those times, too, can be part of the growth process. 

Wealth: From the story it seems that Jacob felt obliged to give gifts to his brother. However, Jacob understood that in the big picture of life, gift giving was not an obligation. If he was meant to give money to his brother, then it had to be part of G-d’s plan. If that were the case, then why should he be upset? It was never intended to be his in the first place. The process of forced giving was nothing more than a wake-up call, just as the injury was a reminder to feel healthy and grow from the pain.    

Faith: The reference to “To Life!” is to one’s spiritual life, to a strong faith in G-d. Jacob was a “holy person;” after all, we refer to him as one of the three fathers of the Jewish people. Yet he was not a person who sat in synagogue the whole day and prayed and studied Torah. He worked hard for a living – he even became very wealthy. He was engaged in the “real world.”  This is because Jacob understood that to have strong faith in G-d is accomplished specifically by engaging in the world, not by secluding yourself from the world. He took the teachings of the Torah and incorporated them into his engagement in his worldly affairs, so the Torah and the world became one.

We, too, can learn from Jacob in our dealings with the world around us. We should view our challenges as opportunities for growth, and utilize every opportunity to infuse the world with holiness.

L’chayim to spiritual life, to good health, and to an abundance of wealth! 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

When It’s Too Good To Be True

It is fascinating that at the end of Isaac’s life, he wanted to bless his son Esau instead of Jacob.

One would expect that he would want to bless Jacob, the obedient son. Jacob always followed orders and would be the one to carry on his father’s legacy, along with the principals he stood for. Not Esau, however, who was known to be a wild man, a man with no conscience, let alone a commitment to G-d! Yes, it is true that Esau was a good son in the sense that he would bring his father food, but he was not the son that a dying man would want to bless or to carry on his legacy. So why is it that Isaac looked to bless Esau instead of Jacob?

The Midrash tells us why: Because Esau asked his father a question … and it’s the impetus of this question that caused Isaac to want to bless him.

What did he ask? “How do you tithe salt and straw?”

Now, everyone knows that you do not have to tithe salt or straw; the laws of tithing only apply to things of substance. So isn’t this question a mockery of his father’s devotion to doing what is right, by boasting, “I can be holier than thou?”

Clearly there is a deeper point here that Esau is trying to make. Esau was saying that salt might not have any value on its own, but if you add it to food, the whole dish is enhanced. In essence what he is saying is that one should look beyond just the salt to seek its true potential.

This point did not pass by Isaac unnoticed. Isaac saw the potential in Esau, and wanted to bestow upon him a blessing so that he could achieve his potential. However, Rebekah understood that as great a power the blessing might have, it would not transform him into a better son, since Esau would misuse the blessing (too much salt can ruin the food). Therefore, Rebekah arranged it so that the blessing would go to Jacob instead.

The lesson that we can take from this is that we shouldn’t judge “salt” for what it is, but for what it could be. At the same time, we shouldn’t be blinded by the risk of having too much of something – even if it could enhance our life – if it is something (like salt) that intrinsically can be damaging.  

Does Our Life Influence Us?

“And Abraham came with days.” This statement is more than just a biblical way of saying that Abraham reached old age; if it were just a poetic way to tell us that he became a senior citizen, then the Torah would not have repeated itself a second time—especially thirty-six years after the first time!

The commentators point out that the first mention was before Abraham fathered a child, and when he became a father, he felt young again. The Torah teaches us that he then aged a second time.

However, on a deeper level, we must say that the Torah teaches us a meaningful lesson here.

People sometimes go through life – let it be when they are young or when they get old, and even in their prime years of life – without paying attention to what is going around them. Or worse yet, some do not allow the events in their lives to influence them. For them, they, and the world that they live in, have nothing to do with each other. They exist in the same universe, but that is about it. Neither one has an effect on the other. When we are children, it may be difficult for us to grasp how events in our lives could shape us, but when we are old, already set in our ways, and in our prime years of life, that is when our understanding of the relationship would most naturally occur.

Yet, G-d expects a “living” person to take every experience in our life and “live” with it.  There is no such thing as getting old. There is no such thing as being set in our ways—a living being is always growing, always learning, and always open to new experiences.

So when the Torah says that Abraham came with days, it is telling us that he learned from every experience in his life. Each one influenced him, shaped him, made him into who he became. Thirty-six years later, he was not the same person! He had changed again. We are not talking about a young man here. This is a one-hundred-thirty-six-year-old man! This is an age when we might expect him to be set in his ways, too old to teach an old man some new tricks. The Torah teaches us, no! Abraham never rested! He was always ready to learn from every experience in his life, always looking to learn how to serve G-d by asking, “How can I be a better Jew? Today I might have been good, but how can I be better tomorrow?” This is why the verse repeats itself the second time.

The same applies to his beloved wife, Sarah. The Torah says that she died at the age of “one-hundred years and twenty years and seven years.” Why the repetition of years three times? Because the Torah teaches us that she didn’t age—just like Abraham, she, too, lived every day to its fullest. 

We, too, should live every day of our lives looking for how we can learn from our experiences to serve G-d in more meaningful ways. We, too, should never say that we are too old to learn something new. We have to be open to learn from life’s experiences and to listen to G-d’s messages: to allow the weekly Torah portion to have an effect on our lives.

Questioning Your Self-Value

The binding of Isaac is one of the most famous stories in the Torah. There is a lot of drama in the story, from G-d’s request to Abraham to sacrifice his son, to the speed with which Abraham ran to blindly follow G-d’s order without asking any questions, to Isaac’s willingness to go along, and so on. 

Today, I would like to jump to the end of the story, when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, and he hears an angel of G-d call out to him and say, “Stop!”

In the exchange that follows, we read something very unusual. G-d reveals to Abraham that this is a test, and the reason for the test. G-d essentially tells Abraham that He wanted to see if Abraham was willing to put everything on the line for Him, and, G-d says, “Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man!”

Why does G-d let Abraham in on his reasoning? It is not common for G-d to fill us in on his thinking as to why he tests us. Why is this time different, and what can we learn from it?

Abraham wondered to himself, “Does the fact that I was told to stop mean that I am a bad Jew? Is there a reason why I was told to stop? Have I failed you, G-d, in some way or another? Perhaps,” he thought, ”I am not a good person.” This self-destructive thought bothered G-d, who knew this type of thinking could destroy a person, and G-d did not want that to happen. It bothered G-d that Abraham had passed the test of his life, had put everything on the line just for G-d, yet, Abraham was not sure of himself. To lift Abraham’s spirits, He informed Abraham that not sacrificing his son had nothing to do with him; it was never the plan to actually kill Isaac. This was just a test, and Abraham passed it with flying colors.

In our lives, we, too, have to know to not look back and question every action. There are times when we do our best, and looking back and questioning our actions is not going to get us anywhere. Yes, we must ask, “Are we G-d-fearing?” And if we can answer with a resolute yes!, then we move forward, and we should know that this, too, is a test from G-d.

The point of a test is so that we can come out of the challenge as a stronger person, as a stronger Jew.

 

The Covenant

There is a lot of talk about the latest announcement in Israel that there will be more housing built in Judea and Samaria. This is newsworthy because new construction hasn't happened in a few years on such a large scale. But in truth, the same big news has been going on for the last seventy to a hundred years in particular, and in general, for the last two thousand years. How is it that the Jews have been building and rebuilding in the Holy Land of Israel long after we have been exiled?

Is it only because G-d has promised to Abraham - in this week’s Torah portion - that the Land of Israel will be an inheritance to us, his children, that we have come back over and over again?

What is interesting is that G-d promises Abraham that he will give Israel to him as an inheritance—but then he adds that he must circumcise himself. The Midrash teaches us that these verses, although juxtaposed, are connected. When we continue to circumcise our children, even while in exile, we guarantee that our connection to the Land of Israel will never be severed.

You see, the covenant that G-d makes with Abraham – that Israel will be an inheritance to the Jewish people – is a promise that has nothing to do with the actions of the inheritor; it happens automatically. However, in order for there to be a deeper connection between giver and receiver, the receiver must earn it. In order to bring this about, G-d tells us that if we circumcise our young, we will not only inherit the Land of Israel, we will earn the right to inherit it as well.

That is why it is so significant for us to be living in a time when Israel is so strong, and why it is also important for us to make Israel an important part of our lives. 

If you would like to visit Israel with me in March so that you can see for yourself how Israel is a “light unto the nations,” please let me know and I will be happy to share with you more information.

Shabbat Shalom

 


 

 

Cruising Through Life

Welcome to a new beginning! Although this is the second Shabbat after the holidays, it is really the first full “normal week,” hence a new beginning. The Torah itself calls the world after the flood a “new world.”

In the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah relates how G-d told Noah that he and his family would be saved because of the merit of his righteousness. Although the rest of mankind would be punished for their wickedness and annihilated in a terrible flood, Noah and his family would be kept alive in the ark that Noah would build. When the rains came, he and his family entered the ark, along with a pair of all existing non-kosher animals and seven pairs of each of the kosher animals.

Noah's stay in the ark was far from a pleasure cruise. For an entire year he played the role of zookeeper, feeding and taking care of the animals' needs, with no appreciation from his charges. On one occasion, when Noah delayed bringing food to one of the lions, the beast took a swipe at him and wounded his leg. Is this a befitting reward for a person whom G-d told was righteous?

No person exists for himself; we were created to make a change in the world. The World to Come is described as a place where souls bask in the Divine light, but that is not the ideal mode of existence for a Jew. A person must work until he reaches that state. Our task in this world is to create a dwelling place for G-d, transforming every element of creation and revealing its G-dly spark. As mortals living in a materialistic world, we have the ability to work, to elevate the mundane aspects of our daily lives, and to reveal its purpose in creation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Why Celebrate?

What is Simchat Torah all about? This is a question I am asked frequently. The answer is an emotional one for me. While growing up, it was always such a happy and joyous occasion—the Lubavitch Rebbe would encourage singing and dancing, making sure that even the littlest children would participate, and the energy in the synagogue was just electric. It is really hard to describe, let alone explain. Yet, as an adult, I ask myself: what moved the Rebbe so much to instill in us, little children, such a love for this holiday? What is it about Simchat Torah that Chabad celebrates like no one else?

I will attempt to give an intellectual twist by explaining the last few words of the Torah itself, and perhaps this will give us an appreciation for the holiday.

The Torah ends with a “eulogy” of sorts for Moses, telling us how great a man he was when he “shattered the Tablets in front of all the Jews.” Why is this stated as the greatest act of Moses? Couldn’t his eulogy be about one of the miracles that he performed on behalf of the Jews? Or maybe something more positive?

When Moses broke the Tablets, he was making two statements simultaneously. He was protecting the Jews from G-d’s wrath, and he was protecting the Torah from the Jews’ abuse. The Jews had proven by their actions that they were not deserving of the Torah; yet at the same time, Moses wanted the Jews to repent so that they could have the Torah—they just weren’t ready for it yet. By breaking the Tablets, he was giving them time to come back and be ready.

Simchat Torah is that time in between the shattered Tablets and the renewed Tablets. It is a time when we dance with the Torah closed. It is a time when the question “is the Torah greater or are the Jews greater” doesn’t matter. At this point, the Torah and the Jews dance together. Tomorrow morning, we will open the Torah and read (in the morning we conclude the Torah reading and start anew). By night we just dance away with the Torah scroll tightly rolled closed, with its mantel on, its crown on its “head,” in full “royal garb.” This is the time when all Jews are equal, and the Torah and the Jew are equal. G-d, Jew, and the Torah are all wrapped in one. Dancing the night away.

This is why Simchat Torah is so special. It is a celebration that all Jews can relate to. It is not about who knows more or less, who does more or who does less. It is about being a Jew. It is about our relationship with G-d. It is about our essence.

Happy Simchat Torah!

A Fork In the Road

A traveler once came to a fork in the road, and, not knowing which way to go, turned to a child and asked for directions. The child asked, “Do you want the short but longer way, or the long but shorter way?” The traveler responded, “Give me the short but longer way.” The child said, “Then go straight down this path and you will come to the city in just a few minutes.” A few minutes passed and he indeed did come to the city, but there was a huge wall surrounding the city and he could not enter. He went back up the path, found the little child, and asked, “Why did you send me down this path? I cannot even enter the city.” The child responded “Aha! You said you wanted the short but longer path, and that is the short but longer path! The long but shorter path follows the long and winding road up and down the hill. It might take you a long time to get to the entrance of the city, but once you arrive, the gates are wide open.”

My friends, isn’t this the story of our lives? We are always looking for the shortcut, yet when we take it, we find that it was not so short; we end up taking the longer route after all. Instead of trying to take the short way, we end up taking the long way. We should take the long way first, because in the end, it is the shorter way anyway.

This is what the verse in today’s Torah portion means when it says that the Torah is not to be found in the “heavens;” it is down here on the “earth.” It is accessible to us. Of course the first time we pick up “The Book” to learn we may feel overwhelmed, but the more we study the more we come to know the meaning. Just like exercise, the first time you try to run up a hill it is very tiring. You may feel out of shape, but then you train, and with time come to recognize that as the verse states, “this thing is very near to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it.” 

The High Holiday season is upon us and for many this means that we have to get our “souls” into shape. It has been a while since we sat in shul and exercised our brain, let alone our bodies, to sit so long and pray. I admit this takes practice and it may be difficult, but if we expect to take a shortcut, we will come out unhappy. We will not feel successful.

If we want this holiday season to be memorable, we should endeavor to do some heavy lifting—we should put in some effort to walk up a little hill: try to do a little more than we have done in the past; remain in the service for a little longer than we did the year before; read an article or two about the holiday so that it should be more meaningful. Do something to make this holiday special—even if the road is long.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tova U’metukah!

 

Do You Like To Help?

People have an innate desire to do good. That is why when we hear about the devastation hurricanes cause, that is not enough for us just to satisfy our curiosity; what is more important to us is to learn how we can help. What can we do to alleviate the pain and suffering of those affected by the destruction?

Yet, even this innate desire of expression needs direction, not only in practical ways of applying our good will, but in a broader outlook in life.

This broader outlook in life can be gleaned from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo. The Torah tells us that we should “walk in G-d’s ways.” But if G-d is infinite and we are finite, how can we “walk in His ways?”

Although we cannot be G-d, we can try to emulate G-d’s ways as best as we can. We must know in which direction we are going, even if we are not going to be perfect. Our goal should not be perfection; our mission should be to make every effort to be better than the day before. As we move toward being a better person—not the best person per se, just a better person—this is walking in G-d’s way.

We may not be able to do a G-dly act and reverse the course of a hurricane, but we can act G-dly in the way we express ourselves, and reach out to those who were affected in its aftermath. 

This broad outlook in life can and should be applied in all matters in our lives, great and small. When we view all of our experiences through the lens of “how can I do more,” we are acting G-dly, even if it’s not to perfection.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova    

The Judge And The Sheriff

This past week I was invited to a meeting at the Upper Dublin Police Department to discuss how the police force is doing. One point that came up a few times was that since the force is doing their job, crime is down. While it may appear as if they have little to do, in truth, their apparent boredom is a sign of success—rather than a reason to cut the budget, it is a reason to celebrate their hard work. What is interesting is that you never find judges having such down time. They are always working. Their dockets are always full. This makes me wonder—what if the judge, the adjudicator of the law, and the cop, the enforcer of the law, were one and the same? Would the judge have a better understanding of what is happening “on the street?” Would the police officer work to interpret the law differently, based on their first-hand experience? 

Let me take a step back and explain myself.

In this week’s Torah portion, the verse states, “Judges and sheriffs you must appoint for yourself.” On the surface, these are two different positions—the judge rules and the sheriff enforces the law based on the judge’s ruling. However, when the codifiers of the Torah enumerate the Mitzvot, they list both of these positions as being the job of one person.

Which one is it? One job or two?

The Torah talks to us on two levels simultaneously about “the way it ought to be” as well as “the way it often is.”

From time to time, a society is not at its best. When that occurs, the two positions are going to be separate, because the judge, who is the scholar, the thinker, will not have influence over individuals’ behaviors. Therefore they will need an enforcer who will use the “stick” to enforce the law. Words will not do. Only force.

However, the utopian world that G-d wants to see is when our society is at its best. Yes, then, too, a person can make a mistake, and if this happens, they go to the judge. When the verdict is read they can understand why the judge ruled in that way, and act accordingly. At that point, the judge is the thinker, the decider, and the enforcer.

Let’s take this idea and make it personal. 

We all have two impulses within us that are constantly pulling us in opposite directions. In Kabbalah, they are called the good and evil inclinations. Our minds might tell us one thing while our hearts tells us something very different. What shall we do? 

When we are at a low point in our lives we need both a judge and a sheriff. In our minds the judge will use logic to tell us not to act badly, while the sheriff will threaten us if we do. 

However, when we are in a good place in our lives, we only need one voice using logic, telling us we should not act badly, and we – on our own – will be strong enough to listen and act accordingly. 

Of course, the second way is the utopian way, but it is not easy to achieve. That is why the verse continues: If you want to reach this utopian life and have full control of your destiny, you must put a judge and a sheriff at “every gate.” This means at every entry point in our life.

Now, less than a month before the New Year is a good time to start thinking about our lives. The head of the year encompasses the whole year, every part of the year. Similarly, we cannot say, let me just deal with one part of my personality, such as my hang-ups; we have to look at the whole picture, and strive for a utopian year.

Shabbat shalom and Shana Tova!

 

Are You A Giver?

Today, I would like to pose a question. When you decide to donate to a charitable cause, which is a greater challenge for you: to think how hard it is for you to part with your money, or to think how worthy the cause is? Which thought makes you more uncomfortable?  

The truth is that both thoughts make us uncomfortable. It is difficult to part with our money and it is not much fun to think about others’ troubles, either. That is why we prefer to just think about ourselves.  There is a reason why we are called the “Me” society. It is all about me. Not because we are so selfish; we are not bad people. It is simply too difficult and too taxing to concern ourselves with someone else’s needs—to the point of our personal discomfort and financial pressure.  
 
This reminds of me of the story of the Jewish traveling salesman who comes to a farming community and sees the whole town mourning the loss of Johnny’s barn. Everyone is saying how sad it is that Johnny lost his barn to a fire. This poor Jew pulls $10 out of his pocket and says to one mourner, “I don’t know Johnny, but his story moves me at a cost of $10. How much does his barn loss move you?”  
 
This is the reason why when this week’s Torah portion talks about the mitzvah of tzedaka – giving charity – the Torah uses the double expression Potoach Tiptach, “open shall you open,” and then Ha’obeit Ta’obeit, “give shall you give.” G-d understands our challenge very well. Giving charity is work on our part on two fronts.  
 
A – We have to tell ourselves over and over again, give shall you give. Over and over again, because every time we reach for our wallets, part of us tells ourselves to stop. What are you doing? It’s your money … don’t give it away! So we need the reminder to give—and then the struggle starts all over again.  
 
B – We must also think about the cause: There is a person or an organization that needs our help. But we don’t want to invest the emotional capital that it takes to really care. This is where the Torah teaches us that we must invest ourselves in the process. It is not just about the money; it is about caring. Yes, it might be difficult, but we must try, and when we pull back, we must try again and again and again.  
 
G-d expects us to be real people – to have heart, to have feelings – to be caring individuals who give to people and give for the right reasons.  
This week we bless the month of Elul, when we blow the Shofar to prepare for the New Year. It is not too early to start thinking of what it means to be a giving Jew—and what it means to ask G-d to be a giving G-d.    
 
When we can show G-d that we feel and care for others, we too, can ask G-d that He shall care and feel for us. And may He bless us that all of our needs be blessed, and may He give us and give us and give us over and over again.  
Shabbat Shalom,  
 
Rabbi Shaya Deitsch 
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