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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Who gets the credit?

When we talk about new inventions today such as in the field of technology, we can ask, are they truly new inventions or are they updated from information that already exists? In other words, are we just building on the wisdom of previous generations?   
 

Any honest person will admit that many of today’s inventions are revisions of what we already know. We are taking something old, making it better, faster, more usable, and perhaps more importantly, applying it to greater uses. 
 

Which brings us to the question: Who really gets the credit? The original inventor who didn’t do much with their invention, yet it is they who started the process, or the one who finished and applied the idea to reality and now we have something usable? 
 

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Moses taught the Jewish people about the importance of getting a mitzvah “done.” He told them that if they start a job, “finish it!” Moses himself felt bad when he was not able to finish a job that he started, such as bringing Joseph’s coffin into Israel, or even entering Israel himself. 
 

What did Moses do? Should you not start something if you know you cannot finish? No. you start anyway, but the next generation has to know that they have to do everything in their power to complete the job, even if they are just midgets on the shoulders of a giant. 
 

Moses did everything in his power to prepare the Jews to enter the land of Israel, so that they could go in.  
 

It is the same with us today. There are jobs that are in our power to complete, and there are jobs that we can only start. The main thing is that we should not procrastinate—we should get the job done. 
 

Shabbat Shalom,

Going Back to School

This week’s Torah portion Va’etchanan, contains the section of the Shema that says, V’shinantamL’vanecha, meaning you shall teach your children. This phrase carries a double meaning: it can be interpreted that a teacher’s students are like their own children, in addition to the simple meaning of the phrase, that parents must teach their children.   

 

My children don’t enjoy going shopping these days because all they see in the stores are, “Back to school!” signs, while all they want to do is have fun in camp and play some more. However, teachers are not playing around now as they are preparing day in and out, thinking about the coming school year. What is it about teachers that they just don’t take a break—even outside of the classroom? 

 

Teachers have a few options when educating children. They can just stand up in front of their pupils and share information. They can teach only the curriculum. Or they can be very good at making sure that each child knows every single detail. They can sing songs, come up with creative ways for students to memorize information, write skits, and the list goes on. Another approach is when a teacher invests themselves in each and every student, finding a way to each individual’s mind and heart, to make sure that each student knows the information at their level. Sure, the first way can be very engaging, but one or more students may fall to the wayside. In the latter approach, not only do the students learn, they love what they learn, and they understand the information better, some deeper, some not, but each on their individual level. The main thing is that each student is enjoying learning the subject matter. 

 

What distinguishes one teacher from the next? How can a teacher put themselves in the mind frame to care about their students to such a degree that they put their heart and soul into each and every student? Are we asking too much?

 

If you view each child as if they are your very own child, then you are able to do so, since for your own child there is no task too difficult, no child unteachable, no effort too challenging. When we look at every child as an only child, as a gift from G-d, as a prize, then we are willing to jump through any hurdle to make the impossible possible.

 

This is how a teacher becomes not just a teacher, but becomes the student’s parent.

 

A parent too, must not be just a parent, but a teacher as well.

Clearer Than Clear

Many of us prefer to see the world clearly, as if looking into a crystal ball. Is the world good or bad? We have little place for choices, differences of opinion. More than that, we don’t like challenges. We prefer when life goes smoothly. Who wants to have a roller coaster of a life? The ups and downs of the stock market? That is why we prefer to know if something is good or bad (who doesn’t check out the ratings online--we all want to know if this is an acceptable product or not).

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, Moses spoke with disapproval to the tribes of Gad and Reuven about their desire to stay on the plains east of the Jordan River instead of entering Israel. Their reason was that they had many cattle, and the grass was greener on that side. 

 

Was that really their reason? After forty years of waiting to enter Israel, they wanted to stay behind because the grass was greener?

 

Let us dig a little deeper. Why did they have more cattle than the other tribes? Were they better ranchers? One reason given is because they didn’t eat meat and so they didn’t slaughter their animals. They preferred to eat the manna alone during their years in the desert, hence they had a lot more cattle.

 

This leads us to an interesting conclusion. Their reason to stay in the desert—to pasture their cattle—had less to do with their animals and more to do with not going into Israel proper to become farmers. If they entered Israel, they would have to engage in worldly affairs, get involved in commerce, become distracted with the colors of the world, the ups and the downs of the marketplace, such as which commodity is high and which is low. Conversely, if they stayed in the desert, they could be simple shepherds and hang around with their sheep, while dedicating their lives to the service of G-d. 

 

However, Moses wanted to teach them—and us—an important lesson. Life is not about living a perfect crystal-clear life. It is about living with—and through—our challenges. It is about taking all the hurdles, the obstacles, the impediments, and growing through them to become stronger.   

 

We were not created to eat manna from heaven our whole life, but to toil the earth and find bread within it.

 

Embrace the unknown and grow from it; you have it within you.

Why do we Pray?

One of the challenges that prayer presents is the monotony of it. Every time we pray we say the same thing over and over again. The question that we ask ourselves is, how do we keep our prayers fresh and interesting?

 

The truth is that this question is not only about prayer, which is a relationship between us and G-d. The question can be applied to every relationship. How do we keep our five-minute obligatory phone call with a parent, sibling, or child meaningful? If all we ask is “How are you?” and “How was your day?” then we can be asking the same question.  OK, hopefully we are not experiencing this with a close family member, but how about the cashier in the supermarket? Is small talk real or fake?

 

Let us look into an interesting conversation between Moses and G-d that transpires in this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas. Moses turned to G-d and asked Him to appoint Moses’s successor; G-d responded with a command that we Jews should observe the daily offerings.

 

One may ask, what is the connection between appointing a new leader and the daily offerings?

 

Moses wasn’t just concerned about who would take over his position as leader; he was more concerned that the new leader should be a person who will connect the Jews to G-d. In response, G-d says, “I don’t want to be ‘off limits;’ I want to be like a father to his children. I want my children to be ‘calling’ on me every day.” Yes, when we call every day, we might start talking about the weather and our calls might start sounding repetitious and maybe even boring. But that continuous connection means that there is a deep, unwavering bond. This is not some kind of official duty, but a warm and loving relationship, the kind that we feel so comfortable with that we stop thinking before we talk, and the words just flow from our mouths and our hearts.

 

Today, prayer has replaced the daily offerings. Our daily prayers, whether it be the Modeh Ani or the Shema prayer, is our daily call to G-d. If we ever question how meaningful it is, just remember that it is as a child reaching out to their father. Understandably, we want that connection to be a significant one, but at a minimum, we want to ensure the connection is there.

Turning a curse into a blessing

The truth hurts. That is why when you want to curse someone, you look for their weak points.  You find something that they did wrong, and you use that weakness against them.

 

That is the way Balaam acts toward the Jewish people when Balak hires him to curse the Jews in this week’s Torah portion, Balak.

 

You see, Balaam was a sought-after prophet, not of the Jewish persuasion. He was hired by the feared leader of the Moabite people, Balak, with the task of getting rid of the Jewish people. “Not with might, not with war or with spears, but with words. If you curse the Jewish people,” he claimed, “their G-d will have no choice but to fulfill your command.”

 

Balaam looked at the Jewish people’s future and saw that that the Temple would be a place where they would serve G-d. However, he wanted to exploit their weakness. Within their services there were sacrifices, repentance, and atonement. “Aha,” he said to himself. “If there are repentance, atonement, and sacrifices, then there must be a ‘sin’ hiding there as well. Let me curse the Jews for the sins they commit, and they will be doomed.”

 

However, Balaam was not able to curse the Jewish people—he tried from every angle he could, to no avail. Why? Because he saw how the Jews lived amongst themselves as such a respectful community—each family living in their tent without looking over their shoulder to see how the “Cohens next door” were decorating their home. The level of modesty, respect, and admiration that one family had for the next was so great that Balaam, in his attempt to curse the Jews, blessed them instead.

 

Here we can take two lessons from this story. First, it is true that we can find each other’s weaknesses, but we can also find each other’s strengths. If you look for the bad in another person, you will end up cursing them (unless G-d steps in to stop you), but if you look for the good, then you will find ways to bless them. 

 

Another lesson: Dress for success. There is no need to draw undue attention to ourselves so that people will want to look into our homes, or into our lives. There is no need to tempt the Balaks and Balaams of the world.

 

Are we perfect? Highly unlikely, but there is also no need to draw attention to that fact.

True Love

 How can one experience love without cause for another human being?

 

Does it come from understating them well or from just accepting them for who they are? On the one hand, the better you understand a person, the better you get to know them, and the stronger the bond. On the other hand, one can say that the mind becomes a hindrance to the connection that you are trying to create, and if you could just remove all the obstacles and connect soul to soul—no thinking, no emotions, just being there for the other person—you will be truly present. However, you might then ask the question, to whom I am connecting?

 

We experience this dilemma when we try to connect to G-d as well. We want to understand G-d’s commandments, yet there are some that make no sense. How do we connect? Because we understand? Or because He said so?

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we learn about the “red heifer.” The red heifer is the poster-child of a Chuk-–a law that is beyond comprehension. Now, there are quite a few mitzvot in the Torah that are difficult to understand, but within those laws, there are at least details that are reasonable, comprehensible, that we can wrap our minds around. However, when it comes to the red heifer, every detail about it just does not sit well with us. 

 

To illustrate the difference between a mitzvah that makes no sense at all vs. one that makes a little sense: We can engrave a word into a stone, and when we do so, the word and the stone become one. However, what happens if we engrave the word so deeply that we make a hole all the way to the other side? In such a case, the word is not only engraved that it can be filled up again and no longer visible, but it becomes one with the stone forever. It is a much deeper connection.

 

While having a deep understanding of a person gives us a better appreciation of that person, it also limits our appreciation. If we can connect to someone without any inhibitions, “just because,” we are truly free to connect soul to soul. Once we reach that bond, we can layer it up with reason and emotion. Now we can have our cake and eat it, too.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

Overcoming Obstacles

 Twenty-seven years ago, the world media said that the Chabad Lubavitch movement would come to an end. The Chasidim would continue to live, but the movement, the drive to keep opening Chabad Centers around the world, would die down with the passing of its leader, the Rebbe.

 

I was young at the time, and it was hard enough to deal with the Rebbe’s passing, but to hear the press talking about the Rebbe’s dreams coming to an end, was devastating. 

 

Well, if you are reading this post you know how wrong the press was. Moreover, the recent Pew research study shows how Chabad is growing rapidly. 

 

Learning this week’s Torah portion, Korach, makes me wonder, is there a connection between the press and Korach?

 

The story of Korach is that he challenged Aaron’s appointment to the position of High Priest. However, as you look beneath the surface, you learn that there is much more to the story. 

 

Korach was trying to put a wedge between Moses and the Jewish people. He was undermining the authority of Moses by saying, We are a holy nation; you and I are just as holy. Now, as bad as Korach might have been (and he did get punished for his rebellion), we do see that the Kohanim—priests—were given priestly gifts as a result of this challenge, since G-d wanted to make it clear to the Jewish people that Aaron and the priestly families played an important role in Judaism.

 

This idea, that an argument can eventually bring peace and blessings, is repeated often in life and in the Torah itself. Just look at the creation of the world. On the second day, G-d separated the heavens from the earth—this divide, although necessary, was not categorized as a “good” day. Only when this rift made room for the possibility of the blessings that came on the third day (plants and vegetation), did G-d say “and it was good”—two times! 

 

Can it be that all the naysayers were what helped propel Chabad to greater heights? I have no idea. I would give credit to the Rebbe himself who was a wellspring of inspiration—a resource of positive thinking. Always telling not only his followers, but anyone who would listen, that anything is possible so long as you try—and keep trying. If nature is not here to help you, well, then you can change nature … a miracle will happen. Or perhaps, we will need to create our own miracles. It is all in our hands.

 

There are so many lessons to learn from the Rebbe’s life. One particular lesson, and one that relates to the Torah portion of the week, would be that when we are faced with challenges—big or small—never give up hope. Since everything comes from G-d (the challenges included), you have the fortitude to overcome them.

 

Moses and Aaron overcame their challenge from Korach.

 

We, too, can overcome our own challenges in our time.   

Intellectual honesty

There are times when you can see the writing on the walls; the subject matter is so clear that you just stop and wonder: How is it possible that so many smart people make such obvious mistakes?

 

We see this with corporations that don’t make obvious changes that are necessary to be successful. So, too, does it happen in our own personal lives.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shlach, we read the famous episode that explains why the Jews had to wander in the desert for forty years: The mistake of the spies.  

 

What went wrong?

 

Here is the story in short: Moses turned to G-d and said that the Jewish people wanted to scout out the Land of Israel before they entered. G-d said, Send scouts if you please (i.e., do so of your own accord). Moses decided that it would be the appropriate thing to do since that way there would be more “buy-in” from the Jewish people. He chose the best available men of the time, one per tribe, and sent them on their way, hoping that they would come back with a good report.  Deep down, Moses also knew that once you give people the autonomy to think on their own, there is a risk that their personal bias could influence their thinking, and he worried that a bad outcome could ensue. Hence, he prayed that at least his pupil Joshua would not be corrupted by that kind of collective thinking.

 

Moses was right. They came back with a report which recommended that they stay in the desert. They stated that the people living in Israel at the time were too strong and the Jewish people could never conquer them.

 

What went wrong? How could such smart, capable men make such an error? Did they not remember the miracles that G-d performed for them since leaving Egypt? Did they really think that G-d would abandon them? Of course not. They simply didn’t have intellectual honesty. They were biased. They wanted to remain in the desert because life was good – more spiritual – in the desert. So they fabricated reasons why the Jewish people couldn't go into Israel, where life could be a greater challenge. 

 

The lesson that we can take from this story is that the importance of approaching every challenge by first stopping and thinking really hard about what motivates us to draw certain conclusions. Are we biased? Are we being intellectually honest? What is the real truth?

 

At Mount Sinai we called out Na’aseh v’nishma, we will do, and we will hear. Yes, we must act, but we also must understand. However, the process of understanding should not undermine our call to action. 

 

Had the spies had a desire to connect to G-d and to enter the Land of Israel, nothing would have held the spies back.

 

If we have the desire to connect to G-d, nothing can hold us back, either.

Help Fight Anti-Semitism

With anti-Semitism on the rise yet again, we as Jews must take pause and think what it means to us and how should we respond. I don’t claim to have the answer to this age-old question, so let us explore it together.

 

One thing we do know from experience, is that hiding doesn’t work because the anti-Semite will find us and the Jew within us will not allow us to hide. Better let us understand who we are and why it bothers us to begin with.

 

Naturally, we want to be close to G-d. After all, that is what being a Jew is all about. Yet there are times when we may be far away—metaphorically, physically, or spiritually. Sometimes this is by choice, and other times it is because we are simply lost. It can occur because we are not educated or because we feel alienated. Sometimes you feel close, yet so far—for example, you may be sitting in a synagogue and still not understand a word of the prayers (even the English) and wonder to yourself: Do I belong? Yet, you are still there. This inner conflict of wanting to be close yet not necessary feeling close, is very common.

 

Here are three progressive steps that can help us feel more connected.

 

1 – You have to have a desire to come close. If you don’t have the “drive” to start with, then there is nothing to do. Passover, the first holiday that the Jews celebrated as a Jewish nation, commemorates when the Jews ran out of Egypt. This idea of rushing out, yet embracing G-d, still applies to us today. Take the leap.

 

2 – We have to take the initiative to make it happen. No one can force us to have a relationship with G-d. Yes, a teacher can teach, a parent can take a child to school. Ultimately, though, the initiative has to come from within each and every person’s soul. Only you can make it happen.

 

3 - G-d rewards us by sharing with us the Torah and his Mitzvot so that we have meaningful ways to connect with Him. G-d will help you.

 

One might think: Nature is nature, but what happens if I was nurtured another way? I don’t have it “in me?” I am not that young any longer. This week’s Torah portion teaches us a unique Mitzvah with regard to Passover.

 

If someone missed the opportunity to participate in the rituals of the Passover lamb, a month later they are still able to do so. You are given a second chance.

 

Here we have a profound lesson: Although someone might have missed the first Passover, because they were far away, metaphorically, physically, spiritually, or simply by accident, there is always another chance to come closer to G-d. All that one has to do is – Just do it.

 

So, do you want to fight anti-Semitism? Wear your Jewish pride publicly. Post on social media a photo of a Mitzvah that you are performing--your Friday night table beautifully set for Shabbat, for example or the Mezuzah on your door, or even a photo of you wearing your Talit and Tefillin.   

 

If the anti-Semite has no shame doing so publicly, we can learn to wear our pride publicly as well!

Why Verbalize Our Regret?

I am no political analyst, nor do I have any contacts in the higher-ups of government in the U.S.A or in Israel. But it doesn’t take much to understand that what is happening in Israel should be grabbing our attention and we should be concerned, not only for our brethren in the Holy Land of Israel, but also about how the world views the Jewish People. After all, Israel and the Jewish People are one.

 

To expect Israel not to defend itself or root out the terrorists that swore to destroy us, is to ignore the concept of Teshuva—repentance—in Judaism.

 

Before you can forgive an individual or a people, they first have to recognize that what they did was wrong.

 

Let’s look at this week’s Torah portion for some insight. The portion talks about the idea that it is not enough to have regret for an action we may have done; we have to verbalize our regret with vidu, confession. To emphasis this point, we can learn from Maimonides, the well-known codifier of Jewish law. He states, when counting the 613 mitzvot, don’t count “repentance” on its own unless it is accompanied by the verbalization of the regret of the sin.

 

Why is verbalization of the confession so important? Aren’t our heartfelt feelings what counts most? Perhaps we can just look at our actions, so why need words at all?

 

Yes, it is true that what truly matters is the feeling of the heart. Not words, as words can be empty.

 

G-d cannot command us to have a "feeling." He can tell us, though, that if we do have a feeling, we should express it openly so that the feeling is known to all. Ultimately it is about the regret that is in the heart, not about the words that are said. Yet, at the same time, it is the words that G-d commands us to say, and the feelings are what He expects us to have.

At the end of the day, we need to know that although Teshuva is an overarching principle in Judaism, it is not enough to just think it—we have to act on it, we have to show the world that we mean it, and then we can start the process of Teshuva by speaking aloud of our regret.

 

As long as the enemies of Israel do not clearly state their recognition that the Jews have a right to live in Israel and have a land of their own, how can we even have a conversation? What kind of regret do they have? All they want is to stop the destruction that Israel is causing them. That is not peace. Peace comes after there is sincere Teshuva. When one realizes their errors, the conversation can continue.

 

What is true in our own life is true on the world stage. What is true in the world, is true in our own little world as well.

Census Taking in Jewish Life

Recently, the Pew Research Center released its report on the Jewish community. The study looked at critical information, from population growth to evolving Jewish interests, as well as the direction in which the Jewish community at large is heading, and so on. These studies are taken across the U.S. every ten years or so. Every ten years or so, many Jewish Federations take a census of their local Jewish population. In Philadelphia, we did so in 2019 and did so ten years earlier and so on. The reason for this is to be understand how to best serve the local Jewish community.

 

It is interesting though, to point out that over a period of more than 1,300 years, while the Jewish people lived together in the desert and later in the land of Israel, it was easy to count the Jews, yet we see that they were counted only nine times.

 

The question that arises in this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, is why did G-d want the Jews to be counted at that point?

 

The famous commentator Rashi points out that G-d counted the people of the Jewish nation because they are precious to Him, but even for something precious, you only count at pertinent times. Since the Jewish people were about to start serving in the Temple, G-d wanted to count them at that auspicious moment.

 

However, the question begs to be asked, hadn’t G-d just counted the Jews a little while earlier?  Why the need to do so again?

 

From here we learn that we are not only counted when it is necessary to gather that information, but we are counted out of love. Yet even love is not a good enough reason for us to be counted every day; only on special occasions is it essential to do so.

 

You might appreciate knowing that the underlying accomplishment of us being counted is not just about G-d’s love to us, but about G-d empowering us. Every time we are counted, G-d is revealing our hidden talents and ability to accomplish great things. When G-d says yes, you count, you make a difference, you do not blend into the crowd—each and every one of us is an individual who matters, He is telling us that we can change this world for the better. 

 

That is why it is not necessary to count us every single day, but it is important to count us at integral junctures of our life. At the times when we must be reminded of our self-worth, G-d doesn’t despair, and He lets us know how important we all are.

Unplug for a Year

By now you must have heard of the campaign to unplug for a weekend here or there because too much technology is not good for you. This idea is based on a precept in the Torah, that six days you shall work and on the seventh, you shall rest. 

 

How about unplugging for a full year?

 

Practically speaking that is impossible for us to do, but how about closing our business for a year? Just taking a sabbatical year off of work. Now we might not be farmers, but if you do some research, you will learn that the Earth needs to rest, and therefore it is imperative for farmers to give the land some time off from growing crops, a year at a time. In fact, just like many non-Jewish stores that remain open seven days a week—where employers rotate their employees so that everyone gets a day or two off—so too, do farmers rotate growing crops in their fields and let different sections rest different years at a time.

 

Yet, the Torah tells us in this week’s Torah portion, Behar, that the Jewish farmer in the Land of Israel must let their whole land lay fallow for a full year—and that means no income whatsoever. Total shut down.

 

This begs the question: Why the whole field, “all of your fields,” for the full year? The Torah does not leave us with this question and tells us that every seventh year is a “Shabbat to G-d,” meaning it is to be a year dedicated to G-d. This is not just about fields needing to “rest,” but about the person—the business owner—dedicating that entire year to G-d. Just as we dedicate the seventh day of each week to G-d, so too do we dedicate each seventh year to G-d as well.

 

Let’s peel back another layer to understand why we observe every seventh day for G-d. Isn’t once a month enough? Why so often? G-d only created the world once, so why do we have to remind ourselves week after week that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh?

 

The Torah gives us another reason why we rest on the seventh day: To remind us that we are free from bondage. Once we were slaves in Egypt, but today we are free. To use more modern terminology: The whole week we are slaves to our job, and on the seventh day we unplug and dedicate the day to G-d, to our family, to ourselves. In short, we reconnect to what really matters in our life. To become free again, we unshackle ourselves, we unplug.

 

Imagine if you could take a sabbatical from work and reconnect to your soul, to your essence, once every seven years. Not because it is better for business, but because it is better for you. Think about this for a moment. I know it might not be practical for everyone, nor is this applicable to us all, but the lesson definitely is.

 

We can all find the time, whether it be a few hours, a Shabbat or even on a planned vacation, to actually reconnect to G-d, to find that day that we dedicate to bring G-d into our lives.

 

Are You an Educator?

 What makes a good educator?

 

When it comes to education, there are many methods of teaching. While not all parents are equipped with what it takes to be a teacher, we are thrown into the responsibility of educating our youngsters—and are expected to be good at it!

 

How are we to learn?

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we are taught that the double expression, Emor v’Emarta, you should “say to the descendants of Aaron and instruct them to say,” teaches us that the elders should teach the youngsters, meaning that parents must teach their children.

 

How should this be done?

 

If we take a closer look at the Torah portion, we see seemingly unrelated prohibited and required acts listed, from important Mitzvot to less significant ones. However, the common denominator among them is that every Jew, whether young or old, is obligated to fulfill the Mitzvah.

 

When a parent, teacher, or for that matter, any adult removes that barrier between themselves and a child and recognizes that they both have the same obligation to serve G-d—that the two of them share the same goal—then the adult doesn’t see themselves as better than the child, only as more educated, and therefore more than willing to share. When the adult does so, they do it with humility and happiness. Hence, it is received gladly as well.

 

Teaching methods are vital once the teacher has established that there is no hierarchy—respect yes, but at the same time there is a common goal to serve our Creator.

Love Sickness

 One can desire something so badly that the thing they want can make them sick. An often-used example of this is substance abuse. The user loves to “use,” but the more they use, the sicker they get. However, this is true for each and every one of us. For example, with the common cold, if we get a fever and our body becomes very hot, we want to go outside to get some fresh air since we are so hot and sweaty. Yet any medical professional will tell you that the best thing is to sweat it out. The driving force behind our desire to get something cold, is the will to satisfy our needs over what is good for us.

 

Holding back from harming ourselves is clearly the right thing to do. But how about the desire itself—is that good or bad?

 

In kabbalistic parlance, these two drives are called Rotzo and Shuv: the desire to act and the control mechanisms that we put into place to decide whether to act or not to act.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses warns his brother, Aaron, “Don’t do what your children did and enter the Holy of Holies at any time you want, lest you die as they died.”

 

From Moses’s warning we deduce that Aaron had a desire to walk into the holiest place on this Earth—just as his sons did—knowing full well the consequences of what his action might bring.  He knew that he should never do so, but knowing that you shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean that you don’t have a desire to do so.

 

This is a powerful lesson that we learn from this conversation. Moses was teaching Aaron: It is not only OK to have this desire, but G-d wants us—all of us—to have spiritual quests. But this doesn’t mean that we can quench that thirst. Only one day during the year it is Yom Kippur—a day of atonement—the rest of the year it is not.  Once a week it is Shabbat—a day of rest—the other days we may work. Each and every day has its’ unique Mitzvah. The fact that we want to connect to G-d in a variety of ways is good, but that doesn’t mean that all of those ways are the right ways. 

 

The same is true with many relationships. It is good to want to do a favor for a friend, but shouldn’t we first find out if the friend wants that specific favor? Imagine doing something for someone that we think is the kindest act, but they find it to be creepy. Thankfully, G-d gave us a manual called the Torah, so that we know exactly how he wants us to connect to Him. The choice is ours. Having "Love Sickness" for G-d is a good thing.

What’s Your Contribution?

What makes the human tick? Are we just another variation of the evolution of the world or are we really another species? What is it about the endless ability of the human being to innovate?

 

With one word, Tazriah, the name of this week’s Torah portion, we come to appreciate a deeper meaning of the human being.

 

In general, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first word, or words, of the Torah portion. This week, the name could have been Eisha (women) or Tazriah (conceives). Why do we use the verb instead of the noun?

 

If we take a step back and look at the order of the verses going through the last few Torah portions, we see something fascinating. First, the Torah talks about inanimate objects—the gold, silver, and copper that was used to build the Tabernacle. Then it talks about the oil, flour, and spices, all from the world of vegetation. Then it moves on to the world of animals that were sacrificed, once brought into the Temple, and this leads us to the topic of the different laws regarding what is kosher and so on.

 

Now we are moving closer to the human being.

 

When it comes to the human being, however, we want to know more. Is it just about what we eat or is it about what we do? What we accomplish in life? How we succeed in our day-to-day activities?

 

True, not all humans can “conceive,” but the root of the Hebrew word Tazriah comes from the words to sow and plant. Each and every one of us has the ability to accomplish something in this world. We all have a purpose in this world, our unique mission statement. The question is, do we just live in this world, scavenge as an animal does or do we contribute and give back? Do we accomplish our to-do list?

 

This week, the Torah is telling us to live life as a verb, an actionable life, to get things done in a meaningful way.

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