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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Making a connection

As the election season heats up, we are starting to hear commentary on the subject matter of how we should or shouldn’t be influenced by the “handshake” between a politician and a child. After all, the reason why they interact publicly with children is so they are viewed as a compassionate and caring leader.  


This got me thinking: What happens if the same politician, during a speech, calls directly to that same child to ask for some water. Chances are that the kid would run to fetch a bottle of water. However, if the politician just said, “I need some water” into the mic without pointing out anyone in particular, what are the chances that it would be the child who would bring the water? I would venture to guess that an aide would do so.


The difference between these two scenarios is that one was a personal request to an individual, while the other was just a statement. 


This brings us to this week’s Torah portion of Tzav. In Hebrew as well as in English, there are a few word choices to select from when stating that one person is speaking to another, including “speak,” “say,” and “request.”  Each meaning can denote a kind way of speaking, a harsher way of communicating, and a nice, yet firm, form of getting one’s message across. 


The Hebrew word “Tzav” connotes the idea that “I want this thing,” as with the politician when talking to the child. The request is clear and directed. Although the child might not understand why they are being singled out, that doesn’t matter; what does matter is that the request is directed toward them. This in and of itself creates a bond between the two people.


The same is true between us and G-d. When He just gives a command to do this or that Mitzvah, we can remove ourselves from the picture and say to ourselves, let someone else do it. Yes, G-d wants all of us to fulfill this Mitzvah, but we can disassociate ourselves from it. However, when there is a personal request, we feel the urgency of the matter, as well as a greater to desire to listen. 


This is why we value tzdakah (giving charity), as G-d made clear to us that giving charity is not only something that He is telling us to do, or even just suggesting, but something that He demands from us. 


Interestingly, another meaning of the word Tzav—which is related to the word Mitzvah—is Tzavta, which means connection.  When we observe a mitzvah, especially one that was requested of us, we truly become connected to G-d.


When does education start?

What does it take to educate a child? There are many theories as to what subjects to teach, when to begin formal education, and the method by which the child should learn.   

The “what, when, and how” answers are crucial to a child’s development.  

Some people overlook the importance of educating children when they are very young, saying “when they get older, they will understand,” however it is worth challenging this assumption. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayak’hel, we learn how the chacham lev (the team of wise-hearted artists) built the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Who are these chacham lev? They are wise people, those who have wisdom and skill, but not just in their manual abilities; they are also emotionally invested in their craft and in building the Tabernacle with all that it needs.  

One of the things that jumps at us is the timing of the construction: When the coverings were made—intrinsic weaving skills were needed to create it—and at the same time, the ropes were woven, as well as the stakes that were needed to anchor the roof cover to the ground so that it didn’t move in the wind.  

In addition, the Temple was built first with the walls and roof and only later did they build the vessels—the altar, menorah, ark, etc. Seemingly, the main use of the Temple was in the vessels. Why the need to build the outside coverings and walls first? After all, it was assembled all at one time.  

Here we have a lesson for us:  

Education starts at a very young age. The educator's job is to instill in a child, not only the subject matter, but even more importantly how to be well anchored so that they don’t “blow in the wind of society” as they get older. The younger the child is when they are taught these skills, the better person they will grow up to be.  

Of course, we all know that the most valuable part of the Temple was not its stakes but the Holy Ark, yet without those stakes the Holy Ark would have no home.  

This is why the Torah tells us that even the stakes had to be made by the chacham lev – by skilled craftsman.

It is the same with education. The teachers of the youngest children must be quality teachers! Parents, who are given the responsibility to educate their children, must invest all their resources to raise their children to be anchored well to what really matters to them – do not wait until “when they get older they will understand.” 

Hide-and-seek

The children’s game of hide-and-seek can teach us many lessons. Amongst them is that we are not looking for anything that is not there, or even lost, as much as trying to reveal something that is already in our presence, but we just need to uncover it from its hiding place. 

Having this attitude in our lives in general can be very helpful. We have so many blessings in our lives, and all we have to do is find and reveal the blessings for ourselves and for those in our lives. 

This is evidenced in this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh. This portion discusses the garments worn by the Kohanim, the priests, and the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The High Priest owned eight garments while the regular priests owned four. These garments were exactly the same for hundreds of years (i.e., same details). However, there was one change that occurred during the Second Temple period: The breastplate, the “crown jewel” of the garments, no longer showed a very important feature called the urim v’thummim. 

Let me explain: The breastplate was made of gold and twelve precious stones, each one containing the name of one of the twelve tribes. The breastplate also had a pocket that contained G-d’s name on a piece of parchment, written by Moses. This was the urim v’thummim. The breastplate was not just beautiful, it also played a very important role for the Jewish leaders. When the leaders would ask a question of importance of the High Priest, the letters on the stones would light up and the High Priest would then decipher the answer. This miracle occurred because G-d’s name was inserted into the pocket. However, during the Second Temple period, G-d’s name was no longer accessible to them, since it had been hidden before the First Temple was destroyed. Therefore, the stones would no longer light up on demand. 

Did the Jews during this period of history feel that they had a lesser-quality breastplate? Perhaps. But on a spiritual level it was not of lesser quality, because then the garments would be incomplete. The difference was that during the First Temple period, G-d was present in a revealed way, while during the Second Temple period, G-d was not revealed although still very present. 

In our lives today, we can ask, Where is G-d? Is He even part of our lives? Does He hear our prayers, etc.? 

The answer is yes, G-d is here, we just need to search a little harder until G-d is felt in a revealed way. 

Let our hostages go

We are all ecstatic to learn the news of the miraculous rescue of the two Israeli hostages, Fernando Marman and Louis Har, who were kidnapped and held by Hamas militants for longer than four months. We read and watched how about forty soldiers put their lives on the line to rescue them. It is interesting to note that Fernando Marman and Louis Har are related. Fernando’s sister, Clara, is married to Louis. What is not well known is the spiritual part of their rescue.

Here is the spiritual story. As part of an ongoing effort by the hostages’ families to raise awareness within Israel, about four weeks ago Clara and her family went to speak at a Chabad synagogue. After they spoke, and during a Q&A session where they discussed the fact that Israel is between a rock and a hard place—no easy solutions at hand—the Rebbetzin spoke. Rebbetzin Lipsker pointed out to Clara and her family that there is action that can be taken: the performing of Mitzvot in honor of their speedy release from captivity. The Rebbetzin recommended that the women light Shabbat candles and the men don Tefillin daily. The Marman and Har families agreed. They even asked for extra pairs of Tefillin for Fernando and Louis.

Not four weeks passed and the miracle that this family waited for, happened.

The connection between the physical and the spiritual is found in this week’s Torah potion, Teruma. Teruma describes the Sanctuary’s (Temple) chambers. When discussing each area of the Temple, we notice that there are different levels of holiness in each, not limited to just its location, but also because of its uses. The Zohar explains that the Temple that we have here in our world is a reflection of the Temple that exists on high, in the spiritual realm. Therefore, we cannot look at the world we live in as if in a vacuum, but rather we need to see the full picture: how the world below and the world above work in unison. The different levels of holiness reflect this symbiotic relationship.

Although we do not have a Temple in Jerusalem today, as in the past, the lesson of how the two worlds work together still applies. This week we witnessed this ourselves.

The takeaway lesson for each of us is to do one more Mitzvah in merit of the hostages, and in some small way play a role in contributing to their release.

 

United as one

 

On October 6, 2023, Israel was divided. On October 7, the whole country united as one.

 

How did that happen?

 

We know the why—Israel was attacked and each and every person was on the same page. But how we maintain this unity is the question.

 

The adage goes that when you ask two Jews a question, you get three opinions. Since each of us thinks differently, we respond differently to our emotions, and perhaps each is also influenced by our surroundings.

 

The Torah encourages us to think for ourselves and get in touch with the way we feel.   

 

This idea of being in touch with who we are and what makes us tick is important as we try to understand what the Torah is teaching us. And as a result, we will have a difference of opinions.  

 

However, we see that when it comes to soldiers in the field, or to observance of the Mitzvot, we follow the Code of Jewish Law. True, the Talmud is known for the debates between the scholarly rabbis, but after going back and forth, it is the majority that rules. Same is with politics and the way the war on Hamas is going. There is no question that in the Knesset there are differences of opinion, but in the end, all come together with a battle plan.  

 

Yet, the question is, what do we do about the minority opinion? Did that opinion converge into the majority rule or was it ignored? If it was ignored, then how did it make that person feel? How can we expect to put that person’s feelings aside?  

 

When searching for the truth, we are not looking for what works for us, but rather for the actual truth. Yes, we look through our own lens, but we are still searching for the truth. If the conclusion is not to our liking, we still have to accept that the truth is different than what we anticipated it to be.  

 

This is what happened at Mount Sinai. In this week’s Torah portion of Yitro, we learn how the Jews stood united as one. They stood together knowing very well that although they each thought differently and they all felt differently, when it came to practicing the commandments and keeping the Torah’s laws, they would all be on the same page.  

 

The same is true about Israel today. The soldiers know what their mission is. Every Israeli knows what has to get done. There is a sense of unity in the air.

 

May we, too, learn to put our differences aside and look for the truth, and bring unity to this world.

 

Shabbat Shalom

Questioning G-d

Not a day goes by without finding out in the news that another IDF soldier was taken from our midst, while defending the Land of Israel and the People of Israel. True, we are so proud of every member of the IDF for their sacrifice by putting their lives on the line while they defend us. Yet, we are pained repeatedly with each loss. Especially as we keep in mind that these deaths are in addition to all those who perished on October 7th, when the war began.  

How do we make sense of all the loss and suffering? How can we handle all the pain? Do we really deserve to be treated this way? Most importantly, where is G-d? Does He not hear our prayers?

Interestingly, we are not the first to ask these exact questions. Moses asked them too!

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, we are introduced to the story of Moses meeting G-d at the burning bush. G-d asked Moses to represent Him to the Jewish people, and to tell them that G-d would redeem them from their exile. Moses looked for some assurances, and not knowing how the Jews would respond to him and his message, asked G-d, “When I speak to the Jewish people, they will want to know who sent me. What should I tell them? What is your name?”

When Moses asked G-d for his name, it was not because he didn’t know His name—of course he did, he just referred to G-d by saying “You are Hashem, the G-d of our forefathers.” So what did he mean when he asked “What is your name, and what should I say to them?”

Moses’s question dug even deeper. He wanted to know, “How were you able to allow the Jewish people to have suffered for so many years? How could you have permitted so many Jews to have died on your watch?”

“Where were you?”  

G-d responded, “I was here all along! I was with them during this exile, and I will be with them in future exiles. By My standing on the sidelines and permitting these atrocities to happen, doesn’t mean that I am not present, nor does it mean that I don’t feel their pain; it means that I have my reasons. The time simply hasn’t come yet for redemption.”  Then G-d told Moses that the time for redemption had arrived.  

This more meaningful approach of G-d’s secret ways is why G-d ultimately didn’t reveal his name to Moses. We cannot understand His “way” and will never be able to wrap our heads around it. Although this was Moses’s question, G-d chose not to answer him. Instead, He helped Moses reach a level of deeper appreciation for the Divine.

Moses is curious to know not only why He didn’t help in the past; he also wanted to know why He is helping now. G-d’s answer addresses both questions.

“You are too caught up in trying to understand My ways. To know the reason why.”

G-d tells Moses, “My thinking is higher than your ability to understand. My reasons are greater than you can ever comprehend. What matters is for you to have faith and trust in Me. To know that I have never forsaken you, and when I see that the time is right, I will do my part.”

Just like Moses, we too want to understand; we want to “pick G-d’s brain” but we need to realize that we will never have a satisfying answer. All we know is that G-d has His reasons, and we will never comprehend them, as they are higher than reason.

We should do our part by asking G-d to deliver a quick and decisive victory to the Jewish people, while we keep in mind that it is ultimately in G-d’s hands.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Hostage negotiations

This week the world watched with trepidation each and every day to see how many of our brethren would be released from captivity—mothers with their babies, children with mothers but not their fathers, older women but not their husbands. We were happy and sad. Elated to see the smiles on the free people’s faces. Yet we felt played by the murderous Hamas. The leaders of Israel are doing the best that they can, and we hope and pray that the rest of the captives will be freed right away. 

Interestingly, the first recorded time that we find a Jew being taking captive is in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach. The story relates how Dinah was taken against her will by Shechem. Jacob negotiated her release. The people of Shechem promised to circumcise themselves, and Jacob agreed to allow Dinah to remain with Shechem. Two of Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi, just thirteen at the time, were not satisfied with this arrangement, as they felt that their father had capitulated, so they took matters into their own hands. They killed the men of the city after they circumcised themselves. Jacob got angry at them for not honoring the agreement.  


Yet, it is from this story that we learn that the age of a Bar Mitzvah is thirteen. One second. If what Shimon and Levi did was wrong, not listening to their father, not honoring an agreement, why is it that it is specifically from this portion that we learn the age, and about the maturity of a Bar Mitzvah boy? 


Let’s take a closer look at the motivation behind the brothers’ actions. Were they intentionally disobeying their father? Or were they trying to save their sister? Or, were they trying to eradicate evil from this world? Reading the story, we see that the impetus that drove them to act was the desire to right what they knew was wrong. Dina had been violated. She was taken hostage against her will and they wanted revenge. No deal should be made under duress. 


But, Jacob wasn’t as sure as his sons. 


How about honoring one’s parents? Well, we can be sure that they knew about that moral code, but since the ten commandments had not been given yet, the power to uphold that ethic was not as powerful in their minds as the desire to make this world a better place. 


Ultimately, this is why we learn the unique quality and age a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah from this story – although on the surface it doesn’t seem to be an appropriate source for it. 


The lesson for us is that it is important to have a strong moral code as a Jew while at the same time honoring the law. But we must always remember what our motivation is. Are we here to make the world a better place? 

Will the real me stand up

There are times in life when we question the existence of G-d. Where is He? If it is true that G-d exists, then how can He allow atrocities to happen? Many people have been asking this question over the last two weeks; Jews in Israel especially are struggling with this question. 

We all know that the Israeli government is made up of human beings and as much as we are surprised by their shortfall of military intelligence, we know that everyone can make mistakes, but G-d? How can He allow such a horrific attack on the Jewish people to happen? 

Recently a video was trending of a survivor, a heroic man who fought off the terrorists. In it he says how difficult it is for him to pray to G-d. “How can I put on tefillin in the morning and pray to G-d,”  he asks, after all that he went through? 

To appreciate the answer that he gave, let us detour to this week’s Torah portion, Noach. At the conclusion of the portion, after we learn about the flood and the destruction of mankind, we see how Noach’s children rebuilt the world. Finally cities start to be formed. There is one group of people that settle in Shinar and they decide to build a city there. A town center, with a huge tower in the middle. The Torah tells us that G-d got angry and destroyed the city. Why did G-d get angry with them? What is wrong with building a city, seemingly a nice idea. The Torah even compliments them on how they all spoke one language, as a sign of unity. What was their big mistake? 

In the Torah’s words: “They wanted to make for themselves a name.” It was about them. They were not there to make society better, to make humankind better. They were selfish people. 

The Torah is teaching us a profound lesson here. Often, human nature gets in the way and we become self-centered. Instead of seeing the big picture, we see the picture through our eyes only. Our emotions get the better of us. This myopia had to be destroyed. 

Back to our hero. 

He was struggling with his tefillin. He wanted to put them on but couldn’t get himself to do so. He picked up a book that contained letters by the Lubavitch Rebbe and he found an inspiring letter. Here is what it said: “Don’t view yourself as yourself, as the person who is struggling, as the person who has all these legitimate questions. View yourself as a Jew. Without any additions. No titles. No name. Just a simple Jew. Pure of any outside thoughts. No hero. No ego. Just you.”

Now, this letter was not written to our hero, the man who just went through hell on earth. I don’t know who the recipient of the letter was. But the message is one and the same as the Torah portion teaches us.  

If and when we are focused on making ourselves a name, by making ourselves the center of attention, we have many questions, and often they cannot be answered. However, if we can remove ourselves from the equation, even a little bit, then we can see that although we have questions, there is more to the world than just us. 

We will never know G-d’s ways. But we do know how we are to respond, and that is by bringing more light into this world. If we are having a difficult time with it, then we have to get out of our own way to allow ourselves to be successful.   


In the beginning.

 

These are certainly unsettling times. The heartbreak and sadness cuts deep and it’s still so difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy in Israel. The worry of the possibility of international retaliatory terrorism acts can feel nothing short of crippling.

Yet, in these frightening times, I am overwhelmed by the incredible Chabad family we are so blessed to be a part of. The standing-room-only crowd at the prayer gathering on Tuesday night, the piles of supplies dropped off in just a few short hours on Wednesday morning, and the crowd of women joining together to pray for Israel as we bake challah together, are just representations of what being part of our local community and the Jewish people means to you. Each and every one of you are mobilized with an incredible sense of urgency to do something - whatever it is - to support our brethren in the Land of Israel.

This week we start from the beginning. But how do we do that? Beginnings are meant to be joyous, happy occasions. Yet, these days, our hearts are filled with so much sorrow and pain. 

However, just like each soldier knows, now is not the time to think about the atrocities that we see and read about, as that will just traumatize us. We must fight the evil with good. The greater the evil, the more light we have to bring into this dark world. 

We start this week at the beginning of the Torah again. Looking at the first letter of the Torah, we would expect a large Aleph, the first letter of the Aleph-Bet. The letter that is equivalent to the number one, representing one G-d, one universe, unity. But no, the letter that the Torah starts with is the second letter, the letter Bet. Why is that so?

There are a few explanations for this. One that is relevant today is that the Aleph teaches us that the first thing that we need to know, even before we start to learn Torah, is that we need to know whose Torah it is that we are learning. 

First comes Aleph, G-d. Judaism is not just an intellectual exercise, a theological idea that is passed down from generation to generation. The Torah is G-d’s knowledge put into a book that we call the Torah. That is why before we read from the Torah, we say this blessing: asher natan lanu et Tora’to. meaning G-d gave us His Torah, His knowledge. Once we have this foundation, we can move on to the second step and learn the Torah itself. Bet.

We cannot, nor should we, try to understand what went on this week in Israel. However, we do need to know that A) There is a G-d in this world and B) We have a responsibility to right the wrong. To bring light where there is darkness. To complete the unfinished work that needs to be done. 

May we see a swift end to the suffering of the Jewish people with the coming of Moshiach now.

Free Choice

The discussion of whether a person can truly have free choice or not is one that nearly everyone has an opinion about.

Since in this week’s Torah portion, Netzavim, Moses told the Jewish people that when they were faced with critical decisions such as life or death, and blessings or curses, they should choose life, it is appropriate to address this issue now. In addition, because it is mere days before the High Holidays, it is especially fitting to enter the Holiday season with a better understanding of our relationship with G-d , specifically regarding our choice to practice any religion, even though we may have been born into it.

What is free choice?

There are companies in the tech industry that give their employees free time to work on any product or project that they choose. Is their choice really free? What happens if they are successful? Does the project belong to them? Or to the company? And if they are not successful, will the company allow them to continue wasting company time? Do they really have free time, or is it the company’s time? How do we define free?

If I choose something because I like it, that is not free choice, since something motivated me to choose it; it may be my nature that guided me in a certain direction or perhaps it was my reasoning. Maybe even a friend or – dare I say it – the media that influenced me. I may think that I chose it out of free will, but did I really?

How do I really know who the real me is, and that it was me who made the real free choice?

If I reach into my essence—no frills, no external pressure, no influence—then I know that I reached my true self and I am truly free.  

My essence is my soul. My soul is part of G-d. If I connect to G-d, I will be free.

Let me use an analogy to explain. A father who wants to gift a piece of property to his child will not only give the land to the child but will also let them know that this is their lot. This land belongs to them. That it was always intended for them. This is not an afterthought, but rather from the moment of purchase, it was placed in a trust for the sole purpose that the child should have this gift at a certain point in life. All the child has to do is to take ownership of it.

However, if the child doesn’t take ownership and it is just forced on them, although they are the technical owner, they don’t fully take possession of it. To make it one’s own, they have to take it freely. Not just because their father wants to give it to them, but because they understand why it is theirs. 

 This is what free choice is all about: The recognition that we are connected to something or someone else, whether our parent, our spouse, or G-d. When we make that connection–-soul to soul—we become a free person. 

 

 

Being grounded. Accomplishing the impossible.

 


There are times when we find ourselves going through life doing great things, but we feel that we are on a treadmill, going and going yet not reaching our destination, not succeeding at what we set out to accomplish. What is it that we are missing? What more can we do to reach our goal?  

 

When looking to the Torah for inspiration, we find a fascinating difference between the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the Temple (Bet HaMikdash). The Tabernacle was not only built to be a temporary structure, it was also intended to be built on flat land. The Temple, on the other hand, was specifically to be built on a mountain (the Temple Mount) so that there would be a need for stairs within the temple itself. 

 

Why the need for a staircase?  

 

The Temple was not just a building for people to come to, but a place to connect to G-d. Each person who came into the Temple was to think about the holiness of where they were, the effect that the presence of G-d had on them, and the desire that they had to connect with Him. As these ideas percolated in their minds and they became ready to move higher, they would physically and spiritually go up a few steps to a higher level.  

 

This is why the ground where the Temple stood, the Temple Mount, is still holy today. This experience was not designed to last for only a fleeing moment, but was intended to be internalized by the Jewish people. However, one may ask: Why is it that the last “level,” the entryway into the Holy of Holies, was flat, and one did not need to go up any more steps?  

 

Our sages explain that when we go up steps, level by level, when we are going one step at a time, but then there is a “leap” that must be taken, it is such a great leap that it is greater than any number of steps.  To be able to take that huge leap, one has to be truly ready to do so. No amount of steps can prepare someone for it.  

 

This is a lesson for our own lives,  As we spin our own wheels of life forward, we work hard to move ahead, yet there are times when we must walk up those steps – we have to leave our comfort zones, and when we do, we have the benefit of becoming more grounded, more connected to ourselves, not less.  As we do so, we gain the courage to be able to take the leap forward and are able to accomplish even greater things in life that we originally thought to be impossible.  

 

Shabbat Shalom. 

 

The power of the mezuzah

 One way to identify as a Jewish home is to affix a mezuzah on our front doorpost. What is it about a mezuzah that makes so many Jews affix one to their doorposts? Although in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, it is written that by observing this Mitzvah our lives will be lengthened, there must be more to it.

On the outside of the mezuzah—on the back side of the parchment—there are three letters, Shin, Daled, and Yud. On some fancy cases these letters may be obscured. These letters stand for: Shin: Shomer, Daled: Daltot, and Yud: Yisroel. This roughly translates to “The guardian of Israel’s doors.” The mezuzah is our security system. 

 

Not only do we want to protect our front door, but also every door in our home. It’s interesting that historically, people would carry a mezuzah with them for protection when they traveled as well, although it is not a mitzvah to do so. Today, there are people who like to have one in their car, following this same tradition.

This is a fascinating idea. Of course, we must protect our homes by any means possible, yet not forgetting that the Torah teaches us that we need two means of protection, the physical and the spiritual. We lock our doors (the physical), and we affix a mezuzah (the spiritual). Just as we would not use a faulty lock even if it looks fancy, so too, should we make sure to have a good quality mezuzah on our doors. It is not just about what it looks like, but the mechanism that is inside that makes it work properly, i.e., the klaf, the parchment, has to be kosher. Similarly, when it comes to our health, we also take this dual approach. We look for the best doctors (the physical), not just the nicest office, and at the same time, we pray (the spiritual).

We take the physical and the spiritual approaches and together, we are well protected. 

P.S. If you need assistance in making sure that you have a kosher mezuzah, feel free to reach out to me, and I will be happy to help.

 

An emotional connection

Love is a positive emotion, a feeling of closeness and warmth, even of happiness. The sensation of awe on the other hand, stirs within us a very unusual feeling, a feeling of reverence and admiration, perhaps even fear. Yet, in Judaism we are commanded to have these opposing feelings simultaneously applied to G-d at all times.  

In this week’s Torah portion Va’etchanan, we read the famous portion of the Sh’ma which discusses the Mitzvah to love G-d and be in awe of G-d. How do we develop these feelings? And can we be commanded to have a feeling in the first place? It is one thing to be told to do something, but to feel something, to have an emotion? Each and every human being is unique in their own way. How can we be told to love G-d, and to have an opposing feeling at the same time?

The commentators agree that this is a true statement and by turning it into a question shows that we are missing the point. G-d wants us to come to the point where we have these emotions by our own volition, as we cannot be told how to feel. However, G-d is guiding us toward the idea that if we want to feel a certain way, we shouldn’t expect it to just come, we have to do something to generate that feeling. 

How does one produce a positive feeling toward G-d? Just being hopeful that it will come is not enough. We must act, by meditating on what G-d means to us.

If we spend time thinking about G-d, we can create an intellectual connection that can, and will, lead to an emotional bond.

Our intellectual mind will lead us to be in awe, while our emotions will draw us closer until we fall in love with G-d.

This takes time and effort, but by being persistent, we are able to develop these feelings toward the Almighty G-d.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Share the blame

When a person sins, does that decision come from within, or could external circumstances have caused the person to sin? Blaming the decision on one’s surroundings seems like a copout. Shouldn’t a person take responsibility for their actions? No matter where they are, the Talmud tells us that “a person is always responsible” for their own behavior, even while asleep. If that is the case, how can we even entertain the idea of blaming a sin on something else, and not taking responsibility?

We see in this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, when Moses recounted the stops that the Jews made on their way to the Promised Land, instead of calling the locations by their names, he gave them nicknames. For example, he called the place where the Jews sinned by building the Golden Calf, “Too-much gold.”

Moses, in his lifelong pursuit of finding merit in the Jewish people, looked to blame their wrongful behavior on an external reality: They simply had way too much gold on their hands. If they would not have had the gold, then the temptation to make an idol would simply not have been there.

This is not enough justification for the Jews’ sin; they must know that what they did was wrong. What was their motivation, what caused them to make such a dramatic collective mistake? They could not blame it on the abundance of gold. But Moses could, and did.

The lesson for us is clear. When looking at our own faults, we should not try to justify and gloss over them, but rather regret them and repair our ways. However, when we look at others’ behaviors, we should look at every possible scenario to see if perhaps there is some legitimate reason why they have erred. Even if the reason is a bit far-fetched, it’s better to find a way for us to look at them favorably, than to look negatively at them. See someone who errs from a positive perspective; perhaps there is “something” that caused them to make this mistake.

Disciplined or fluid

Disciplined people don’t need excessive controls in place to make sure that they are productive. However, if you are a less disciplined person, keeping a tight schedule can be very helpful to stay focused and goal oriented.  


Let’s take work for example. Most of us are not so disciplined as to keep to our to-do list perfectly, which is why there is a huge industry instructing us how to do so best. The point is that creating an external control system can be helpful to us. 


The question for us is, What kind of person do we want to be? A person who is disciplined and doesn’t need external controls, or a person who is more fluid, and uses external oversight so that everything gets done on time? 


This topic is addressed in this week’s Torah portion, Matos, which discusses the idea of taking an oath for the purpose of self-improvement, and how to annul the oath once the mission has been accomplished. 


The larger issue that needs to be addressed is, why would someone want to take an oath, or make a binding resolution, to do (or not to do) something that is permitted to them? What is the motivating factor? 


The Torah is referring to an oath taken by a person who wants to become closer to G-d. Within this category there are three consecutive levels. You must achieve one to move to the next.


1 - The person who wants to make a strong commitment to reconnect makes a resolution to do something good.  


One example might be about a worker who has a hard time getting to work on time, so they make a resolution to arrive five minutes early. Although on the surface this looks great, every day they show up five minutes early, but in truth it is a sign of weakness, i.e., it is clear that this person has a tendency to come late. The ideal goal would be to train themselves to come on time, and then the need to come early, or at least to have this “oath/resolution" hanging over their head, be removed. 


On a spiritual level this means to say that we are putting on training wheels with the intention of taking them off. In essence, the oath is meant to be temporary. 


2 – You have trained yourself to become more productive – you come to work on time. Now it is time to conquer other areas in your life by improving them. However, now that you have learned how to do so, this time around you are able to accomplish those without a promise, because you have trained yourself to self-motivate. 


Spiritually speaking, the goal of the initial oath was not to tie you down, but to inspire you to journey on a positive path. Now that you are on that trajectory you are doing well. But there is still the need to be extra cautious. 


3 – Once you have created an environment of success, a culture of discipline, and a spirit of entrepreneurship in your attitude toward life, you can be more fluid. Of course you still follow the rules, but you don’t have to be so rigid. Happiness and contentment kick in. 


Our sages teach, “It is enough what the Torah forbids, there is no need to add to that list.” Once we reach the level where we know who we are, we are disciplined enough to know our strengths and weaknesses, the external pressures that we had placed on ourselves to reach higher are no longer necessary, as we are already there.  


As we master the skill of balancing our lives in a disciplined fashion, let’s enjoy the fluidity that it provides for us. 

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