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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Spy

There is a lot of hype surrounding the new show that depicts the life story of one the greatest known Israeli spies, Eli Cohen. There is a lot to say about the remarkable information that he was able to give to Israel while he was in Syria, and many lives were saved by his actions.

 

Judaism teaches us that nothing happens by mistake. The fact that this show was released during the month of Elul, the month leading up to the High Holidays, tells us we should look for a connection between Eli’s story and this time of year.

In this week’s Torah portion, also read in the month of Elul, we find a remarkable connection between the spy story and the parsha about marriage and divorce.

 

One potentially overlooked aspect of the life of a spy is the effect it has on the marriage of a couple. Eli and his wife, Nadia, were married and very much in love. However, when Eli became a spy neither was very present in the other’s life. Yet, while Eli was not physically present, it is obvious that they are both constantly thinking of each other. They eat the same foods, and dream about each other, but are not able to spend time with each other. They seem unaware of this detail in their lives – although it is happening. As far as Nadia is concerned, her husband is not present at all. Her friends tell her that he just doesn’t care, not even coming home to see her newborn child.

 

This spy story is analogous to our “marriage” with G-d. We have a very strong bond with G-d, for sure. Our visits with Him might be sporadic, or at times very regular. There are times when we mimic His ways, even if we don’t really know it. As the Midrashic saying goes, “A Jew is full of Mitzvot like a pomegranate is full of seeds.” However, the question that we could be asking ourselves is what kind of marriage do we want to have with G-d? Is there a reason for us to live the life of a spy who has no choice but to live such a challenging lifestyle? If we were living in Syria today, we too – perhaps – would have to hide our relationship with G-d. But we live in a free country, in a land that not only permits us to live as Jews, but allows us the freedom to practice our religion in public. There is no reason for us to “hide” our feelings for G-d. It is more than OK for us to demonstrate our love in our marriage with G-d openly, and not be ashamed to express it in public. Our friends and neighbors should not be asking us: Why are you a Jew? What does it mean to be a Jew? They should understand and see our commitment and be proud that we have something special!

 

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

Black vs. Blue

All lives matter. The question is not which ones matter more; the question is which color is more powerful. I am not talking about skin color, but the color of the uniform. Is the black robe or the blue uniform more powerful?  Is it the judge who rules from the bench or the police officer who enforces the law more important? 

From one perspective we can say that it is the police officer who enforces the law. Since without police, the judge can say whatever they want from today to tomorrow—it will not change a thing if the law cannot be applied. On the other hand, we need the judge to make the call, to say who is right and who is wrong. Without judges, there is no law and order to begin with.  

However if all the judge is doing is telling us what we should already know on our own, then the officer is surely the more important player here. After all, police make sure that we live in a civil society by implementing the law in our lives. True, we might not know the law, but that is out of ignorance; or we might know the law but we disagree about how to interpret the law.

There is yet another way of viewing judges. They can be teachers. They have the opportunity to delve into the law to see if there is anything unique in a particular case, both in its unique circumstances and to see if people can learn from it. The judge has the opportunity to learn and to teach, and even to come up with new ideas within the framework of the law. By doing so, the judge is not just telling us what the law says; they are informing and forming people. They are teaching us how to lead productive lives, and bringing peace not only in their courtrooms but to society as a whole. That is how they can become true leaders. 

Yes, we need the officers to enforce the law, but for judges to be truly important they need to be influencers.  


Physical Therapy

If you ever had to undergo physical therapy, you know it is not fun. Every stretch, every movement, is painful. Yet, you go through the repetitions, counting one, two, three, up to fifteen. You take a break and you start over again. You go through all that pain. Why not just throw in the towel and say, fuhgettaboutit (like they say in Brooklyn)! I can tell you first-hand about my own experience. I am working through a frozen shoulder right now, and it is mighty painful to do the stretches. However, I know that if I want my situation to improve, I must work through the pain until I improve. 

The same is true with every good thing in life. If you want to learn how to play an instrument, you must practice, and it is not always fun. It’s the same with sports, etc. 
 
How about when it comes to doing acts of kindness? 
 
One might think that it would be natural to “Just Do It!” Isn’t it in our nature to want to help someone else out? What kind of question are we even asking? 
 
Yes, the Torah, in this week’s portion, tells us a fascinating verse. When it comes to charity it says, “Open shall you open your hand” and “give shall you give” to the poor person. Why does the Torah use a double expression each time if it is not only obvious but also so easy to do? 
 
Our sages teach us that even doing good acts requires training. Open your hand once, then again, then again, and again and again and again. Don’t get tired of being a giving person. Give shall you give. Never get to the point where you can say I am too tired of being kind. We should train ourselves to be the giving kind. 
 
Thinking we are a giving person and being a giving person is not the same. Being that kind of person means that even when we tire of giving, we still give when we see someone in need. This is the lesson of the Torah portion. 
As we enter the month of Elul leading into the High Holiday season, it is high time to think about what we are doing to prepare for the big day. It is not to early to act. 
 
Shabbat Shalom 

Was It His To Break?

One of the most famous episodes in the Torah is the story of Moses breaking the two tablets. What is interesting about the story is that when Moses retells it to the Jewish people, as he does in this week’s Torah portion, he says, “I took hold of the tablets and cast them out of my hands and shattered them before your eyes” (9:17).

The commentators point out the uniqueness of this verse’s choice of words “I took hold.” Wasn’t Moses already holding the tablets? What does it mean when Moses said that he took hold? From whom did he grab the tablets? 
 
Some commentators hypothesize that Moses grabbed the tablets from G-d who didn’t want him to break them. Others seem to think that the elders wanted to keep them, hoping that Moses wouldn’t be so upset at the Jews for making the golden calf. Yet Moses overpowered them, and took hold of the tablets and shattered them. The common thread between these (and other) ways of thinking is that Moses was adamant that the Jews should not have the tablets. (Eventually they did get a second set.) 
 
The BIG question that must be addressed is: Even if we say that Moses had good reason to break the tablets, did that give him the right to do so? From a purely “legal standpoint,” just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you have the right to do so. 
 
This is similar to what we saw this past week with Israel. There are U.S. Congresswomen who openly defy Israel and are pro-BDS. Nevertheless, the question must be asked, does Israel have the legal right to deny them entry into the Holy Land? In fact, Israel does have a law on their books that states clearly that anyone who is pro-BDS will be denied entry, so they do have legal standing to deny entry. (That is why there is that law.)   
 
On what grounds did Moses break the tablets? Seemingly he “stole” the tablets from the Jewish people! How could he justify that? 
 
The truth is that G-d gave the tablets to Moses; the “Ten Commandments” He gave to the Jewish people. Moses, in his kindness, was planning to share the tablets with the Jewish people. But when he saw the Jewish people behave the way they did, he decided to break the tablets, as they weren’t deserving of them. However, before he did, he took “hold of them” to demonstrate that they were his, and only his. Once everyone knew that they were his, did he break his treasured tablets.
 
This is what a leader is like. Leaders put their personal needs aside and they look out for the needs of the community. When Moses saw that the Jews would be held accountable for their sin, he broke the tablets – which contain the law to not serve an idol – so that he could protect his treasured nation of Israel.  
 
This is a true leader, a person who puts the people first. 

 

Emotional Intelligence

When you first hear the two words “emotional intelligence” together you have to wonder: Don’t they clash? Emotions are feelings, while intelligence is understanding. Feelings are warm and fuzzy, and can get in the way of our brain functioning properly. Thinking and analyzing on the other hand, can be cold and distant, which can get in the way of us having a warm and fuzzy feeling. How then do these two words come together? 


How can we have Intelligence that is emotional, and how can we have emotion that is intelligent? 

One of the most famous prayers, the Shema, which is in this week’s Torah portion, says, “(And) You should love G-d with all your heart.” How do you love G-d with all your heart?  “Love” is an emotion. How can we be commanded to have an emotion? We can be asked to do an action, to “behave as if we love,” but to actually love, that is asking too much.  

This question is asked by many famous commentators. Some respond that it is true, that we cannot be asked to actually have an emotion, just to “act as if we have the emotion.” In modern terms it would be called “behavior therapy.” Do the right thing and with time, the feelings will follow. 

Others argue that the Torah is teaching us that we should have “emotional intelligence.” 
This means that we have to think about our feelings. Why should we love G-d? Who is G-d? What does He do for us? What about this vast world that He has created, and continues to create? The more we contemplate G-d, the more we will come to appreciate Him and eventually come to love Him. If we haven’t reached the level of love, then it is a sign that we have not studied Him enough.  

The field of emotional intelligence is not new. The Torah has been teaching us all along to get in tune with our emotions. To know who we are, how we feel. To understand what our feelings are telling us and to guide those feelings in meaningful ways.  

This is ultimately what emotional intelligence is all about, the merging of the whole. We are not two people, one with a heart and one with a mind, but a whole person, who uses our mind and heart as one, to become a complete person so that we can love and understand. To use our head and heart at the same time. 

9th of Av

This Shabbat is the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple, but we observe this sad day on Sunday so as to honor Shabbat. I would like to share with you a peculiar Midrash, which helps explain the depth of this week’s observance. On the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, an Arab who lived far away from Jerusalem heard a donkey braying, and commented that it must have meant the Holy Temple was destroyed. A few moments later he heard the donkey braying again, and this time he said it meant that the process of their redemption had started.

I am not sharing this story just because of its unusual subject matter, but because it answers a fundamental question: How is it possible for G-d to have destroyed the Temple when Torah law states that you cannot destroy a building, let alone a holy place, for no purpose? You definitely cannot destroy something out of rage, which, seemingly, is what G-d has done.
The Arab’s comments were insightful: He was saying that G-d didn’t destroy for the sake of destroying; he destroyed with the anticipation of rebuilding!
 
The Arab commented that although the Jews could see only a burned Temple at that time, they should have realized that G-d had already planned their comeback. The future redemption had already begun.
 
The same idea applies to us as well today. There are times when we may feel that our “house” is burning and everything that we have built is falling apart, but sometimes the only way out is to let go. What is important is that at the same time that we are letting go, we start rebuilding!
 
This idea is reflected in this week’s Haftarah as well. The main theme of the Haftarah is about the destruction of the Temple, but then it finishes with the statement that by giving Tzedukah, we will be redeemed and brought back to Jerusalem.
 
This teaches us that not only should we never give up hope, we have to take some positive steps as well.

First Responders

First responders are taught to protect their own lives first, and only then go in to help someone. However, if we intend to “save a life,” shouldn’t we immediately run into a burning house just to save a life? You hear it all the time, people saying, “I would do anything to save another person.” Yet, we see that first responders are told not to do that. In order to save someone else, you must know that you are safe first.

The reason for this is that when you put your life in danger, you could become a “walking dead person.” When your life is in danger, you cannot help someone else, and that creates more than one problem.
It is interesting that this logic applies not only to life and death, but this law appears in this week’s Torah portion.
 
This week we read about the laws that define a “City of Refuge.” A City of Refuge was a safe haven for people who inadvertently killed another person. As long as they lived in this city, no one could touch them. If they left the city, however, the victim’s family members might take revenge (i.e., take the law into their own hands). The question arises, what happens if this person’s expertise is needed outside the city limits? Can their rights be protected? Since the whole reason they want to leave the city limits is to “help someone else,” one would think that they should be protected.
 
However, the law states that if they leave, they are not protected.      
 
From here we learn that although it is so important to help another person, we must make sure that we don’t give up our own principles in the process.

Shabbat Shalom

The story of Pinchas reads like a novel, it is hard to believe that this is a “biblical story.”  There is public lewd behavior by Zimri, the head of a tribe, then Pinchas, stops him in middle of the act, by killing him and the Midyanite princess with whom he is cohabitating with. By doing so, he also stops the plague that takes the lives of 24,000 Jews!  Yet, the Jews belittled him with names to the point that they wanted to kill him.  

The Torah tells us who Pinchas was:  Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the high priest, we learn that the Jewish people – all the Jewish people, not just the tribe of Shimon, of which ZImri was its leader – were mocking him for killing Zimri saying: You killed him because you are a cruel person.  and this cruelty you inherited from your mother’s father, Jethro!  You see, Jethro was an idol worshiper, and he was a cruel one at that.  He used to feed the cattle extra feed befohe would slaughter them so that they would be, not only better tasting animals and easier to kill, but worse, by feeding them in advance, they wouldn’t think that they are being slaughtered just after they were given such a good meal. That is cruelty par-excellence.  
 
The Jewish people were saying that Pinchas and his maternal grandfather were one and the same: Cruel people.  
 
G-d, on the other hand had a different perspective. Aaron, Pinchas’s paternal grandfather was a man of peace, a man who pursued peace. It is his DNA that Pinchas inherited. 
 
Peace loving people have a tendency to share their love all the time. It’s a felling and a personality trait that one can pass onto their children naturally. So, it anyway makes more sense to say that Pinchas inherited Aaron’s traits. Pincahs wasn’t cruel. He was kind.  He killed Zimri because he was acting wrongly. G-d rwards Pinchas, not just for his act, but to show the Jews that Pinchas was a just and kind man.
 
We can learn a very powerful message from this story:  Many times, we accuse someone of doing something for the wrong reasons. When it is not true (although it may seem so).  Even if it is a “little bit” true, nu, let the person work it out and come around the right reasons.  However, for now we should allow the person to just do their thing (as long as they are not hurting anyone – or themselves).  We don’t always know what makes someone tick.  What gets their blood flowing. What makes them behave the way they are.  
 
What matters is that we do the things we do to serve G-d. 

Learn Something From Everyone

Is there a person who you cannot stand so much that even mentioning their name makes you cringe? How about a building that evokes a feeling so harsh that you cannot even look at it? Do you feel guilty about those feelings? Perhaps you are onto something, and there’s a reason for those feelings.

 
What is interesting is that there is a law in the Torah that states one should not use an “idol” or an “idol-worshipper” as a reference or even as a landmark, lest someone think that your innocent reference to it can be interpreted as support. So, if this thing or person is so repugnant to you – for good reason – then there might be good reason not to mention it by name.
 
This makes us wonder, why is it that in our Torah portion when we have these shady characters of Balak and Billam, who try to curse the Jewish people, that not only does the Torah talk about them, the Torah portion of the week is even called by the name Balak! Shouldn’t we avoid him at any cost? Why is Balak the center of our story?
 
When G-d uses his name, we are confident that G-d is mentioning it, not in support of him, but to call him out. To let us know how not tobehave. What not to serve. Think about the campaign “don’t use drugs.” True, that slogan includes the word “drugs” but if that is all that you took from the slogan, then you missed its message. Clearly the message is: “Don’t use!”  
 
It’s the same with Balak. Because the Torah refers to him as an evil man, we will not think of following him; just the opposite, we will know how not to behave.

At times, it is just as important to teach ourselves and those around us how not to behave, as it is important to teach us how we should behave!
 
This week the Torah teaches us that we have to learn from everyone: From some we learn how to live our lives like them, and from others we learn how to live not like them.

 

Accepting Reality As-Is

In the world of business, it is well known that in order to have a cohesive workforce, it is important that everyone understands the fundamentals of the business’ mission statement. Not only what the company sells and does, but also why this company is a place where they should want to work. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it is imperative that company leadership creates an environment where everyone wants to “buy in,” and do so with enthusiasm. If a company cannot capture this fire within its staff, then the rate of employee retention goes down. People will come to work unhappy, or become less productive. That is why you see company after company invest in innovative ways to keep employees happy, engaged, and productive, lest they jump ship. 


This is a very rational approach to running a business. However, the moment a company falls on hard times and the perks start to disappear, frequently, so does the talent. Yet, how about the owners? Do they run for cover, or do they stick it out?  

You know the answer; they are here to stay and work through the difficult times.  Why is it that the owners must stay with the sinking ship? 

The answer is that the relationship an owner or founder has with his or her business is much deeper than just a rational relationship with the company where they work; They have a “super-rational” connection, a deep connection on a higher and deeper level. While on most days they run their company making rational decisions, something inside them allows them to accept the reality “as is.”

Every company owner wishes that their employees would endure the difficult times with the same commitment as they have, and not jump ship when things get tough. The owner is willing to stay committed, yet, we don’t see that happen as much with employees. Can this change? 

Let’s change the analogy from business and think about our Judaism for a moment. Yes, Judaism has much meaning, inspiring music, and customs. Judaism brings joy and fulfillment into our lives. On many days, we wake up in the morning and we declare proudly that we are Jews! However, what happens when we have a downer of a day? When we question G-d? Should we just throw in the towel and say good-bye to G-d? How do we maintain our connection to G-d in times of doubt? 

This is where this week’s Torah portion comes in to answer our questions.    

In Judaism we find that there are three categories of Mitzvot: Chukim/Super -Rational laws, Eidut/Testimonials, and Mishpatim/Common-Sense laws. 

Why the need for Chukim/Super-Rational laws? 

Super-Rational laws give us that opportunity to connect to G-d on a soul-to-soul level. This doesn’t limit us to just rational thinking. Going back to the business analogy, think of the difference between the owner and the worker when it comes to the company going through a rough time. At that point, the deeper the connection and the LESS rational thinking involved, the healthier the person. Not because they are not thinking rationally, but because they are being SUPER rational. There is a deep, a very deep, connection, that cannot be explained with words, to the point that it doesn’t need an explanation. Perhaps we can even say that an explanation will trivialize the relationship.   

This is the gift that G-d gave us: the ability to connect to Him, not as an employee, but as an owner. To claim ownership of our Judaism. To own our Judaism, we sometimes just have to accept it “as is.” 

Knowing this, we can, and should, hold onto G-d even during hard times. 

How Would You Act?

Here is the dilemma: You are asked to do something as part of a group but some members of the group corrupt the mission. If you go along with the group, it could be perceived that you agree with them so you don’t want to participate. Conversely, if you call it quits, then you are definitely not doing the requested job. Should you go along, knowing – in your heart - that you are doing the right thing, or should you not go along, since it could be perceived that you are doing the wrong thing?

 
We could pose the question another way: what is more important, the action or the intention? If all you had to do was get the “action” done: Then even though the action is performed by others, albeit in a corrupt way, and you don’t have anything to do with it (since its “intention” is corrupted), you are staying far away. However, if it is all about the “intention:” then is it possible for you to “think” good intentions, even while the wrong “action” is being perpetrated?
 
This was exactly the dilemma of Joshua and Calev when they went as spies to investigate the Land of Israel. Moses had asked them to “bring back fruit from the promised land.” Yet, when they saw that other spies where planning to come back and misuse the fruit (as a prop) to enter Israel, they didn’t want to have anything to do with that plan. However, if Moses asked them to bring back the fruit, shouldn’t they have listened? This was their dilemma. Should they have listened or not? We know that they didn’t bring anything back. But why?
 
In general, it is the action that counts so long as we have good intentions. However, in this specific case, when the spies’ emphasis was on teaching the Jews that we can serve G-d by thought and speech and putting less emphasis on action, Joshua and Calev wanted to emphasize the importance of action--to the point that it is all about the action, going so far as to defy Moses’s request to bring back the fruit, simply to teach the Jewish people the lesson that serving G-d comes from our actions. 
 
Yes, we need good intentions, but good intentions, without anchoring them in good actions, is not going to work. 
 
 
 
 
 

Mazel Tov!

Over the past few weeks we have celebrated many a graduation, from kindergarten to elementary school and from high school to college. In addition to the age difference between those graduating, there is a huge difference between graduating from college and graduating from lower level school. Going to college is optional, so when a young adult finishes their schooling, it is something to celebrate.  However, one must ask (purely from an intellectual perspective): What is the big deal of finishing kindergarten, 8th grade, or 12th grade? Doesn’t that happen on its own, automatically? What else was that kid going to do–drop out?

This question is deeper than you may think. It is actually addressed in this week’s Torah portion, which discusses the Menorah. The instruction to craft the Menorah is the same as all other components of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. G-d gives very detailed instructions as to exactly how He wants every item to look. However, when it comes to the Menorah, Moses is confounded about how to actually make it, since there is one detail that G-d throws in there that makes it improbable to do: that “it should be made from one piece of gold.” Now, we all know that a Menorah has six branches and a middle candle (the Shamash) in addition to the legs. Creating all the intrinsic details (flowers, cups, balls, etc.) is a challenge in its own right for a talented goldsmith to form. How in the world can someone make it out of one piece of gold? 
 
G-d tells Moses: No problem; throw the gold into the fire, and I will form it for you. Moses does as he is told and out comes a Menorah. 
 
Yet, until Aaron kindles the Menorah, the Menorah is not considered complete! One may ask, why?  What is Aaron contributing? The heavy lifting was done by G-d himself. Just adding some oil and a wick? Anyone can do that. Or to put it another way, it would “happen anyway.” What else happens with a Menorah once it is completed if not to be kindled? Why the big “celebration” once it was lit, a celebration so great that we are told it was Aaron’s act that brought G-d’s presence into the Tabernacle?  
 
From here we see that nothing “just happens;” even G-d’s act is related to our own. G-d didn’t just throw some gold into a fire, Moses did. G-d formed the gold that Moses threw in the fire. And Aaron kindled the Menorah. It was a partnership, Moses, Aaron, and G-d. 
 
It is the same with graduation. It may be true that a little child graduating from preschool is not the same as a young adult graduating from college, when you compare the “free choice” involved in the process. However, if you think about the great effort the child put into learning, the participation of the teachers and parents into the child’s intellectual growth, and the effort that the little kid put into themselves to turn into a little “mensch,” it is no small feat. The little kid also deserves a graduation.  Each level of success deserves a party according to its achievement—preschool, 8th grade, 12th grade, college, etc.   
 
Mazel Tov to all graduates!   

A Private Conversation

When do you take a public conversation private? On the one hand, if you want people to trust you, shouldn’t the conversation continue in the presence of others? Perhaps not. Sometimes, the right thing to do is to make the conversation private because there is more to gain in private.  

I am thinking about a topic that is discussed in this week’s Torah portion. The Torah tells us that when G-d wanted to talk to Moses, He would appear at the tent of meeting and His voice would be heard by Moses only – even Aaron could not hear His voice, if he were present. The commentators point out that this was in fact a miracle.  
 
The question that jumps right out at us is: Why the need for the miracle? Wouldn’t it have been better if “the voice of G-d” could have continued for all to hear? OK, maybe not for everyone to hear, as that might have been too much to handle, but at least for Aaron and the seventy elders. After all, wouldn’t that have helped support that all of the Torah came from G-d and that Moses didn’t “make it up?” The truth is that after the revelation at Sinai the Jews trusted Moses, so they were not concerned … but many years later, we Jews can be skeptical about the authorship of the Torah; after all, if G-d’s voice would have been heard by more people, wouldn’t it be more convincing? 
 
Let’s take a moment and think about what happened at Sinai. Did G-d’s voice stop there, or did it continue on and on, ad infinitum? In reality, it had to have been stopped—since G-d is infinite, so his voice has to be infinite, so it has to be limited to time and space. Hence, even at Mount Sinai, there was a miracle to “limit” the voice of G-d so that the voice could be heard.  
In essence, nothing new happened at the tent of meeting. The only thing that changed was who was able to hear the voice, but not that it was limited.  
So why didn’t G-d want anyone to hear His voice other than Moses? 
 
You may ask, if we all “hear” G-d's voice, would we have free choice to listen or not? No way!  Of course we would listen! We would have no free choice. G-d however, wants us to have free choice. This is one of the cardinal principles in Judaism. Nothing gets in the way of free choice, to the point that G-d would rather us question whether or not He spoke to Moses, showing us that we have free choice, than convince us that he did speak to Moses, and then we don’t have free choice. 
 
This principle has to come down to the simplest levels as well. We are curious people. We like to know what others are talking about, but is it good for us to know? Not always, because then we wouldn’t have free choice on how to act. 
 
In today’s world of social media, it is hard for us to fathom, but that doesn’t change the reality that in order to have free choice, it is better not to be influenced by outside forces – if they are too overwhelming. 
 
Learn, yes. Be inspired, of course! However, to have G-d reveal himself to us is a bit too much. 

 

Building Momentum

Back in the day when the Jews were in the desert, they were getting ready to receive the Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai. They had no idea exactly what to expect. So, Moses prepared them by daily ascending the mountain, asking G-d for instructions and guiding the Jews in their preparations. However, on the day before the giving of the Torah, Moses did not climb up; instead he busied himself by setting up an altar made of twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  So one must ask the question: Since Mount Sinai was not that tall, couldn’t he find some time in the day to climb the mountain and see if there were any new instructions for the Jewish people? Why stay at the bottom of the mountain? 

Perhaps there is a hidden message here.  
 
Moses was teaching the Jewish people a lesson; he was taking concrete steps for us to learn what it means to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. What transpired at Sinai is that from that moment on, we, the people who are down here in this physical world, the ones who cannot just “climb the mountain,” can make a difference by our physical actions. Moses demonstrated this by building an altar out of stones, taking an animal (representing our physical pleasures) and bringing it as an offering (showing that we are willing to let it go) to illustrate that we can elevate this world to a higher, spiritual, plane. If he had gone up the mountain on that final day, then this message would have been lost. The people would have thought that the only way to get close to G-d is to leave this world behind. Moses wanted to be with the Jews, so that they could internalize this lesson. 
We too must know that it is in our hands to change this world, specifically from where we stand!  
 
It is in this spirit that we decided that for this year’s Tikun Leil Shavuot – late night learning – for Shavuot eve, on Saturday night, June 8, at 10:00 p.m., we will have community members talk about several “unsung heroes of the Torah,” people who have transformed their world, and made it a better place. See below for more information. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot! 

Cash Prize

It always fascinates me that Nobel Prize winners are awarded cash prizes along with the title “Nobel Prize Winner.” One would think that such intellectual people, those who have their “heads in the clouds” or are “altruistic people,” are more concerned with the good of humanity than with monetary prizes, so why demean their accomplishments with something so mundane as money?  To some extent it undermines the message of their success. We try to say how much they contributed to society by putting their needs to the side and doing good for the public, and then we go and reward them for it. How? By giving them something that they themselves shunned?! 

 

This would not be a question if their pursuit were money to begin with. But generally speaking, the more “spiritual” the object that we run after, the less meaningful a monetary reward will mean to us. Yet, it seems that we are always rewarded with gifts and fame. Why is that so? 
 
This question becomes even more perplexing when we look at this week’s Torah portion, where G-d tells us that He will reward us for doing Mitzvot not with some spiritual benefit but with physical pleasure! So it is not just us, corporeal beings, that live this life of contradiction, but it is seemingly G-d who feeds this same addiction to worldly pleasures. 
  
Therefore, we must presume that there is a deeper meaning here. 
 
Money and worldly pleasures are not bad when used for the right purpose. Actually, they can and should be elevated to become holy. More to the point, if we don’t recognize the advantage of bringing holiness and Mitzvot into the realm of money and the mundane, then we are missing the point of Tikun Olam, changing and repairing this world.  
 
In order to truly make a difference in this world, we have to be able to relate to the lowest elements of this world, even to the things that attempt to “pull us down” (not literally pull us down). 
 
That is why G-d rewards us with physical things for doing Mitzvot, and that is why, even when we do a Mitzvah for altruistic reasons, we still appreciate when we are rewarded with a “cash prize”—not because we want the cash, but because with the cash we can go on to do more Mitzvot, and keep on making this world a better place. 
 
The same is true with the Nobel Prize winner. The cash prize is not the point—it is the honor of the prize. The cash that accompanies the title is a tangible expression of the unique contribution this individual has given to society. 
 
We all contribute to society in our own ways, and we all do our little – or big – Mitzvot. May Hashem reward us in very tangible ways and may we succeed in Tikun Olam, repairing this world and making this world a “home for G-d.” 

 

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