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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Gift of Giving

Here is a Friday morning question for you:  

 

Many a bakery gives their leftover baked goods to homeless shelters at the end of the day as an act of charity. Do you agree that this is a good deed? Or would you say that since they would be throwing it in the trash anyway, they might as well give it away? 

 

The same can be said for clothes ... and many other such in-kind donations.  

 

Interestingly, the Torah’s perspective is that if you really mean to do a Mitzvah, you should give away the “first” - a small portion – and do so happily. This way you are truly showing that you know where your blessings come from. Then, at the end of the day, you can and should give with abundance.  

 

However, this begs the question, why?      

 

Before I answer, let me fill you in about this law. The Torah teaches us about Bikurim, the laws about the “First Fruits.” In Temple times, Jews would bring the first of their fruits to Jerusalem and eat them there as a “gift to G-d," demonstrating that they understood the growth that occurs in the fields is all thanks to G-d.  

  

Why is it important for us give a "gift" to G-d? Does G-d really need our gifts? 

  

The question is not really about what G-d needs; it is more about us. Why do we have to show G-d that we appreciate what He does for us? 

  

By showing our appreciation, we are not only recognizing that all of our blessings come from G-d, we are actually drawing down His blessings into our world, by “sending” them back up.   

  

Let me explain: G-d provides us with a blessing. When we show G-d that we recognize that blessing, we are "returning" the favor, and hence get a renewed and a greater blessing in return. 

  

We learn this from the prayer that we say while bringing our first fruits—we mention the miracles that G-d provided to Jacob while in Laban's home, and the miracle of the exodus from Egypt. 

  

Why these two miracles when there were other times that G-d performed miracles as well? 

  

These two miracles occurred while there was stability in the life of the Jews, during the 20 years in Aram and the 210 years in Egypt. During both of these times, the peace was challenged and both times the Jews were saved from calamity.  

  

The Jews brought the Bikurim only after the Jews settled in the land of Israel and it was a peaceful time. At that point they were able to recognize that not only did G-d provide them with a blessing, they wanted to recognize it and capture the blessing by giving back. 

  

This type of giving back is not with words, but through action! While we are working to earn a living, we take that earning and use it to give thanks to G-d.

 

That is why it is important to “sandwich” our livelihood with a gift to G-d.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova. 

  

 

 

Defining our Relationship

 

Imagine getting into a relationship knowing in advance that you plan to get out of it. Would you call that a commitment to the relationship or just a pledge? Surprisingly, some people might even call that a marriage.

Interestingly, Jewish law prohibits one from getting married if they don’t plan to stay married for life. Yes, there is a way out if it doesn’t work and, in this week’s Torah portion, we read about the laws of divorce, but that cannot be in the plan as the couple starts off under the chupah.

Yet, we may ask the question, why not? Why must we make a commitment for life? Isn’t it enough if we promise to “give it a try?”

After all, G-d Himself did that with the Jewish people when he chose us as his nation. He made a commitment and then kept on second-guessing Himself, asking Moses, “Should I exchange this nation for another one?” Is that the way one talks when they have made a lifelong commitment?

Clearly, G-d did make a lifelong commitment to the Jewish people – as we made to Him – and the evidence is right in front of us. The fact that we, G-d’s children, are still here, preparing for the High Holidays for the 3,300th time tells us something. True, we might have a rocky marriage at times, but the thought of divorce? Never. Not from G-d’s perspective and not from ours. Does G-d ever get upset with us? Clearly. Do we ever get frustrated with G-d? Naturally! Is that to be expected? Obviously—we are human, after all. But that is beside the point. What matters is the underlying commitment that we have to this relationship.

Since this commitment is here as a nation, we have an obligation to be honest with ourselves as individuals, and ask - Are we in this for life or is this just a trial run?

Contemplate this question as you sit this year during the High Holidays services. Consider yourself under the chupah with G-d: Are you trying it out or are you committed for life? Our attitude matters as we ask G-d for a blessed new year. As our appeal goes, so do the blessings in return.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah!

 

 

 

 

Whose Money Is it After All?

Once I visited my friend Marty Pearlmutter at his store in Dresher, Lester Martin Jewelers, and he showed me an envelope from a jewelry company with an interesting acronym on the envelope: EO”M. Knowing that the owners were from Chabad in New York, he asked if I could make sense of it. Marty was familiar with the letters commonly found on stationery, B”H, which stand for Baruch Hashem (blessed is G-d), but EO”M was new to Marty.

 

 

Recognizing the family business, I remembered the famous family history and its associated story.

 

This family has been in the jewelry business for many decades. Its founder’s name was Binyamin Kletzker. The story goes that one year when he was preparing his books for taxes, he worked through his ledger. When it came time to declare his total profit for the year, instead of filling in a number, he wrote the words “Ein Od Milvado,” meaning there is nothing else other than G-d. The family still keeps the acronym, EO”M on all business-related stationery.

 

What does it mean when a businessman looks at his business and recognizes that all of it comes from G-d? Doesn’t he deserve some credit for building it up?  If he truly believed that it all belongs to G-d, then shouldn’t he have written this sentence on the first line of his ledger, not on the last?

 

What is the lesson here?

 

Before we answer, let's take a little detour by asking a question that doesn’t appear to relate to the lesson.

 

Can one self-incriminate? On the one hand, if you say something about yourself, it is valued as if 100 witnesses say something about you. On the other hand, what if you self-incriminate? Do you have permission to hurt yourself?

 

The Torah differentiates between self-incrimination that affects your finances vs. your body and soul. For example, we believe you if you say that you owe a person $100, but we don’t believe you if you say that you killed someone.

 

Why is it that, if you are trusted about yourself, you should always be trusted, but if not, not.  Isn’t a truism always true?

 

Of course we always believe you. The question is whether you have the right to hurt yourself with your true testimony.

 

You see, the Torah teaches us that our body and soul are not our own. That is why we don’t have the right to hurt ourselves, even if we go to court and self-incriminate. On the other hand, money that you have earned is yours. Yes, we have to recognize that “all comes from G-d,” but only once we made it our own first. Once it is ours we have the liberty, and the responsibility, to give part of it away for Tzedakah.

 

Now we can appreciate the uniqueness of Binyamin Kletzker. Sure, he was a wise and successful businessman, but at the end of the day, he knew that he had to recognize that “there is nothing else other than G-d.”

 

As we find ourselves just weeks away from the High Holidays, it is worth taking a few moments to think of what this means to us; what does EO”M stand for? How can we incorporate this acronym into our daily lives?

 

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Be Connected In a Connected World

We live in a digitally connected world. Perhaps that is why the word “connected” has lost some of its meaning. Yet, we should take a moment and think about the significance of the word.

Every time I “connect” to the internet, is that really making a connection? What is meaningful about that technicality? True, technically that is what is is happening, but that is not an emotional or a meaningful connection.

Even when we do a favor for someone, or when we do a good deed, a Mitzvah, are we really connecting to G-d? Or are we just coming closer to G-d?

Are we just splitting hairs here or is there a real difference between coming close and connecting?

The Torah says in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, “fulfill the commandments, and connect to me.” This language seems to indicate that G-d is asking for something more than just action. What is it that G-d is looking for?

Some Mitzvot are more appealing to us than others – they make us feel good or are meaningful – so we like to do them. Then there are Mitzvot that make us uncomfortable or are less meaningful to us, so we tend to avoid doing them. G-d is telling us that when we fulfill the Mitzvot that “speak to us” we are coming closer to G-d in the process, but we are not connecting since we are blocking that connection with our ego, as there is a selfish component to our actions. However, when we do a Mitzvah, one that makes us uncomfortable in the process, we are doing so for one reason only – to connect to G-d – then we are not only coming closer, we are becoming one.

We are connected.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Can You Compare?

It is interesting when people compare one thing to another, as how passing a kidney stone is akin to giving birth. I am not able to confirm or deny such a claim because I am not omniscient. However, when the Omniscient Himself makes a statement comparing two seemingly unrelated events to each other, we need to take notice, since G-d does know.

 

 

The Talmud states: The breaking of the Tablets mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, was as difficult to Him as the death of a Tzadik, a righteous person.

 

How can the two be compared to each other? The Ten Commandments were given by G-d to Moses, engraved in stone… This is G-d’s handiwork! Compare this to a righteous person. This individual is a great person, true, but is self-made. It is not as if G-d inserted into them some special powers. They become great because they worked hard on themselves to become that way. Hard work toward self-improvement did it. How can you compare them to the Tablets?

 

Here is where we need to dig a little deeper to gain a better appreciation of the two, to see the comparison.

 

What makes the tablets, “Tablets?” The stone itself or the words engraved upon them?  Seemingly, the stone was just stone until the words were engraved. Yet, the moment the words were etched into the stone they became something very different. They became The Tablets, a totally new entity. They were no longer rock that came from a quarry; they became the holiest stone in the world. When this stone broke, it was a huge tragedy!

 

It’s the same with a human being. A body is flesh and blood, but so is a corpse. What makes a human being special is the soul that gives it life. The uniqueness of each individual is how that soul develops over time. What do we grow up to be? What kind of life do we lead? What contribution do we make to society? Once we grow, we are no longer defined by our flesh and blood; we are defined by the words that are etched into the society that we have created around us, into the people whom we have influenced, and into ourselves, selves that we have made into better and more refined people. We are no longer the same as we were when we were born. We become a blossoming soul. When a righteous person, one who lived their life to the fullest, dies, it is a huge tragedy!

 

Now we can understand the comparison.

 

Now we can also understand why the Jews carried with them the broken set of tablets along with the second set in the Ark of the Covenant at all times—they didn’t represent their sin that caused the break, but rather the “soul” within the Tablets that lasts forever.

 

We, too, can learn from this, to hold onto the souls of our loved ones forever even after they physically depart from this world.

 

Within Our Reach

Have you ever found yourself frustrated when you try to get something done but are held back by circumstances out of your control? 

And what if the same person who tasked you with this request is the one holding you back? What then? 

That was Moses’s dilemma. 

G-d gave a command that could only apply in the Land of Israel. Yet G-d told Moses that he would not enter Israel. How in the world was Moses to fulfil it? This was very frustrating to him!  

From Moses’s actions we can learn a life lesson.

First, however, let’s learn a little Talmudic jargon. Was the command given to Moses a command for him, the person, or a command that the action be done, irrelevant of the person doing it?

The command regards the Cities of Refuge, sanctuaries for people who killed inadvertently. Was the command that cities be set up, or that Moses himself set them up? 

Moses said, “Even if I cannot do so myself because I cannot enter the Land of Israel, it is not an excuse for me to not participate in some form or another, even if it is just as a preparation for Jews of the next generation. I want to do my part.” Moses designated the location of the City of Refuge – even though such a sanctuary did not exist yet – by figuratively sticking a stake in the ground.

The lesson for us is clear. It is easy to make excuses in life saying, “I cannot do this or that for reasons that are beyond my control.” But Moses teaches us that we can lay down the rules; we can put a stake in the ground. We must let our will be known and do something, even if we cannot accomplish our goal until a later date. Do something now, even if it is just a small step.

Shabbat Shalom! 

 

Applied Knowledge

Often, I am asked about the different style of the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, from the other five books of the Torah. All the other books are written in third person, “And G-d spoke to Moses saying,” etc., while the fifth book is in the first person, where Moses speaks to the Jews directly.

Why is it that this book is written differently than the rest? Especially when this style can confuse people into thinking that Moses is writing it on his own! Well, maybe Moses is. After all, doesn’t the Talmud itself say, “Moses wrote it on his own?” This can be very confusing. If the fifth book is so different, then shouldn’t it be part of the Prophets and not part of the Torah, which is considered to be have been written “by G-d?” How do we reconcile these two ideas, that it is the word of G-d yet it is Moses’s?

There are two ways a student learns and then teaches others. As they first learn and consume the information they are just a conduit, taking it all in, and passing it on to the next person. Of course they have an understanding, but they have not internalized that information; it did not become one with them. They didn’t take ownership of it. Over time, however, they can come to a deeper appreciation of the material they have learned. They start to take ownership of it. They have internalized the information. At this point, they are not sharing it in “third person” any longer; it is theirs. Of course, they will always recognize their teacher and will always give credit to that individual; nevertheless, it becomes theirs. 

I am sure you can relate when you catch yourself thinking, “Oh my! I sound like my mother!” The words that you said are your own. However, the message that your mother taught you was incorporated into your being to such an extent that you started thinking and talking exactly like her.

This is the meaning of “G-d spoke through Moses’s mouth.” Moses became so devoted to G-d that when he spoke in first person, it was not because he spoke on his own as in a selfish way, but because he became so selfless that his whole being was about teaching what G-d had taught him.

That is why the fifth book of the Torah is exactly that: a fifth book, part and parcel of G-d’s five books of the Torah. 

 

 

A Murderers Refuge

Whatever your thoughts are on the death penalty, remember that they only apply to one who intentionally killed another. What should the punishment be for one who killed another inadvertently? Purely by accident; no reckless action involved. For example, just the other week, a man was using his lawn mower. He ran over a tool in his yard, the tool went flying and hit his young daughter. In this case, he did not kill her, but she did get a huge cut across her face and needed many stiches. But if she had died – G-d forbid – what should his punishment be? To make it more understandable, let’s say it was a neighbor’s kid. Who would you judge?

 

The Torah, In this week’s portion, gives us the law: Set up cities of refuge where such a person can flee so that they are protected from any family member of the victim who may want to seek revenge! They are to remain in these cities until the High Priest dies.

 

Interesting.  

 

We learn from this the following:

A – Family members can seek revenge only if the person is outside of the city of refuge, and only during the lifetime of the current High Priest.

B – The person is guilty of the crime – even though it was an accident, so long as the High Priest is alive. After his death, the person is forgiven.

C – For some unexplained reason, the High Priest is connected to this person, although he had nothing to do with his action.

 

Lesson:

 

The holiest of society, the High Priest, and the lowest, a killer – even if the crime were inadvertent – are nevertheless intertwined. There is no running away. We have to care for each other. Our lives are intertwined. The love that we need to show to another human being who is going through the process of self-improvement has to be non-judgmental. Help lift the person up every day of their life. Once the High Priest completes his task, and passes away, the person’s process of repentance is complete and now he is a free man and no one can seek revenge against him anymore.

  

 

 

A Lesson From A Bizarre Story

In this week's Torah portion there is a verse of just a few words that not only needs some explanation, it also needs some clarity on why it is located where it is in the Torah. Seemingly, it is out of place. The words read, "Korach's sons did not die."   

If you recall the story of Korach's rebellion, you will remember that a great miracle occurred and the "earth opened up its mouth and swallowed up Korach and all his men." This statement included his sons, his co-conspirators Datan and Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men. Yet, less than forty years later, when the survivors of the years in the desert were counted from the tribe of Reuven, the families of Datan and Aviran were mentioned, in that they were the ones who died in Korach's rebellion. But wait a minute—we take a break before going on the next tribe of Shimon and we read, "Korach's sons did not die."  

Here we have a double question. What does this mean, that they did not die? And, why is this mentioned right here?  

It is too simple an answer to just say that it "flows" with the story to mention it here. There must be more to the story.  

It is true that Korach's sons and Datan and Aviram were with him originally in his plot to overthrow Moses. And while they regretted their actions in their hearts, in actuality, they did nothing about it.  

They were punished by being swallowed up by the earth. But for thirty-nine years they were kept alive miraculously underground! Once the generation passed away and a new generation arose, G-d rewarded them for the regret that they had in their hearts and miraculously brought them back to the surface. Alive.

Not only that, there are many Psalms written by them that are recorded in the Book of Psalms. The famous, great prophet Samuel is their descendant! This is all due to the merit of the repentance that they made – in their hearts! Can you imagine if the repentance would have been out in the open for all to see?  

The lesson that we can all take from this story is about the power of regret and the power of forgiveness. Korach's sons regretted their actions. Although they didn’t fully express themselves publicly, G-d, nevertheless, viewed it as such, and He totally forgave them (yes, they had to wait it out, but eventually the time came for them to get their reward). We, too, can learn from this—to regret our mistakes and to forgive others for theirs.  

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Anti-Semites

There are many hypotheses as to what causes people to voice their anti-Semitic feelings. One well-known theory is that so long as the Jews keep under the radar no one will bother them, but once they start raising their heads and becoming too successful, they have to be put in their place.

We see this to be somewhat true in this week’s Torah portion, Balak.

Balak, the king of Moab, became afraid of the Jews when he saw that they were becoming too successful at war, and he wanted to silence them. He was afraid to fight them by conventual means so he approached Balaam, a prophet, to curse the Jews. Balaam, who knew that G-d would not give him the power to curse the Jews, attempted to do so anyway. 

Why did Balaam want to curse the Jews instead of explaining to Balak why he could not do so?  

Let me ask you a question: Who is the bigger anti-Semite, Balak or Balaam?

On the one hand, Balak’s anti-Semitism could be explained. He was afraid that the Jews would become too strong. He hated them enough to not allow them to pass through his land; after all, “what will all my neighbors say” was a very scary thought for him. He was too scared to fight since he knew he would lose. So he ran to the prophet for spiritual help. 

On the other hand we have Balaam. His anti-Semitism was so strong that it made no sense at all. He hated the people of Israel just because he hated the people of Israel. It made no difference whether G-d would allow him to curse the people or not. All he knew was that there were Jews in this world and that he had to do whatever he could to rid the world of them. If not with might, then with words.

As much as we might not have liked Balak, who actively searched for a way to rid himself of the Jews, his anti-Semitism was somewhat tempered compared to Balaam’s, who did not look to kill the Jews, but once he was approached, did not leave a stone unturned. Interestingly, that is why once he tried to curse the Jews, he was only able to bless them! Not only that, it was from his mouth that prophesies about the coming of Moshiach is hinted at in the Torah!

From this account we learn that we have nothing to fear from even the worst anti-Semites, because it is from their mouths that G-d turns their curses into the greatest blessings for the Jews.  

 

Diverging Paths

 

There are times in life when we are not sure which path to take. Do we take the beaten path, the well-worn, well-tested path? Or do we go on our own, trying something new, something bold?

As I’m sure you are aware, there is a “kite war” being waged against Israel now from Gaza. This is a very low-tech war, yet causing devastating results. Over 6,000 acres of land and its trees and wildlife have been destroyed. The method of Hamas is new; they are not using the same old methods of launching missiles and rockets. What is the motivating force that makes them come up with new ideas?

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about Amalek, the sworn enemy of the Jews, who comes to attack the Jews yet again. The verse says that he heard that the Jews were traveling Derech Haetarim, the “way of the spies.” And so the Amalekites attacked.

This begs the question, Why is the fact that the Jews were traveling the “way of the spies” a reason to go to war? Their direction cannot just be a trivial fact, since the language in the verse makes it clear that their direction was the impetus for the attack.

“The way of the spies” was a route that had already been traveled, an easy path. Amalek saw a weakness within the Jews – an unwillingness to work hard, to push the limits – and hence, did not fear the Jews any longer and was not afraid to attack. 

Another translation of the Hebrew words Derech Haetarim is the “way of the Ark,” meaning that the Ark traveled with the Jews and paved the way for them. While Amalek and his warriors knew that G-d was with the Jews, and did not see any weakness in the Jews, nevertheless their hatred toward the Jews was so great that they were willing to put their lives on the line, and attacked with full force.

Here we see that when there is so much hatred, one finds new methods of attack—they were willing to put their lives on the line. They became irrational just to hurt their enemy.

The lesson for us must be to turn this on its head.

When we want to do good, how should we go about it? Do we take the easy route or that radical path?

We can take the path that was traveled before, do things that make sense, and take actions that were tested before, the safe and sound method. Or we can try to go beyond our comfort zones and do something that might make us a little uncomfortable; perhaps it might even demand of us to put our ego aside and be humbled a bit. Do a mitzvah that we might even consider a bit radical, simply because we haven’t done it before. That is what we would call “walking in the path of the Ark.”

Shabbat Shalom,      

 

Do You Like Confrontation?

 

No one likes confrontation. We don’t like to be confronted and, if I dare say, even those who confront. Such behavior might not be their “normal” modus operandi, but they may feel that they have been pushed into this type of act.

Not to justify such behavior, but let’s keep this in mind as a backdrop to Korach’s claim to Moses in this week’s Torah portion. Korach approached Moses and demanded to know, “Why is Aaron the High Priest? Are we not all a nation of priests?” What motivated Korach to suddenly confront Moses on this issue? This was not the first day that Aaron was the High Priest, so why then? What changed?

The lesson that the Jewish people learned after the episode of the spies was that “action is what counts.” The doing of the actual Mitzvah supersedes all else. It is not enough to sit and study, to meditate on the meaning of a mitzvah, if we are not going to fulfill the mitzvah itself. We must do it.

This is why Korach confronts Moses. If Judaism is all about “thought,” I can agree that Aaron is a holy man, a prophet, a peacemaker and a leader. However, if Judaism is all about “action,” why is one person’s act different than another’s? Shouldn’t we all be equal?

What Korach was missing was that of course it is the action that counts, but action cannot be void of intention. It must be intentional, and we need leaders to teach us how that should be done.

This idea, the importance of the thought process, is emphasized in a unique way, one that is specific to the Levi (Korach’s) tribe in their gift to the Kohen (Aaron’s family), mentioned later in the Torah portion. The Torah tells us that even if the Levi “thinks” of the gift, it becomes designated as the Kohen’s, without even saying so explicitly. This is very unique. Generally, we need an “action” at a minimum, to verbalize one’s intentions. Yet here we see that just thinking is enough to transform one’s grain from the Levi’s possession to the Kohen’s. 

The lesson for all of us is that we have the power to use our thoughts for good. Yes, it is our action that counts, but we are not limited to only our actions. Our thoughts too not only can, but do, have an impact on the world around us, to the extent that it can transform simple food into a gift to G-d.

This Shabbat is the twenty-fourth Yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe had dedicated his life to teaching others how to change the world, how each one of us can make this world a better place. We all possess within ourselves the ability to make a difference in this world. When we “act Jewish” and “think Jewish,” we start to make a difference not only in our own life, but in the lives of those around us as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Intentions That Matter

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we have the famous story of Moses sending twelve scouts to check out the Land of Israel and report back on the lay of the land of Israel. In his instructions to them, he asks them to bring back some samples of the “fruit of the land,” so that the Jews can see that it is a “blessed land.”

As the story goes on to tell us; ten of the spies turn out to be bad and try to convince the Jews to stay in the desert. While two of them, Joshua and Calev, try to persuade them to go on to the promised land. Reading in to the details, however we see that the “bad ten” actually “listen” to Moses and bring back the fruit of the land, while the “good guys” Joshua and Calev disobey the order and come back empty handed, without the fruit. Why didn’t they listen to Moses?

In Talmudic parlance we can argue that the command was not on each one of them to do themselves, as much as the job should get done, and since others were carrying the fruits they were exempt. However, after deeper analysis we most conclude that there is a reason why they did not want to participate in carrying the fruit.

In Judaism we often say that it is the action that counts. Yet the thought and speech that go into the action also matters. Actually, it matters a lot. To the point, that if we have the action with no intention, no thought, we are missing the point (though we still get credit for the action.) On the other hand, if we have the deepest concentration, meditate for hours, talk about our intentions but we don’t get to the action then we did nothing. Zero.

The mistake of the ten spies was that they thought that you can serve G-d with good intentions only. You can meditate on G-d’s greatness, you can serve him in a “desert” in a world void of action. Once we can make that mistake, Joshua and Calev were afraid that people can go to the opposite extreme and conclude that action itself is enough and we don’t need to think, “just carry the fruits as Moses commanded” that is why they specifically did not do so to demonstrate that intention is very important, knowing that the other ten spies had bad intentions.

If they carried the fruit, along with the others, than they would be showing that it didn’t matter what you thought as long as you acted according to the law. By not carrying with the others, they demonstrated that it is of outmost importance to have the right intention, yet at the same time it is the action that really counts.

 

When It Appears to be Monotonous

What drives a person to make a difference in life? Autonomous actions or monotonous actions? Seemingly, when we feel that we are not really making a difference in what we are doing, where there is no real feeling being invested, we have no drive to accomplish much.

That is why going back some years, about 3,330 years, to the dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert, Aaron, the High Priest, was feeling down when the all the Tribe leaders brought their offerings and there was nothing monumental left for him to do. After all, Aaron was going to be the High Priest and what was his contribution to dedicate the Tabernacle?

G-d called out to him and said, “Don’t feel down; you will kindle the Menorah!” On the surface, this statement is of little comfort. The Tribe leaders brought the animals, but they didn’t actually slaughter them. That was Aaron’s job. So why didn’t G-d just say, “Yes, they brought the animals, but you will ‘slaughter’ them!” Why is kindling the Menorah of more significance than slaughtering the animals? In addition, the slaughtering of the animals is an objective action on Aaron’s part. He can do it right or do it wrong. When it comes to the kindling the Menorah, he can do nothing wrong, it was considered a “miraculous” act!

The Menorah itself was built by a miracle: Moses took a piece of gold, placed it in a fire, and out came a molded Menorah out of the one piece of gold. The flames themselves always miraculously faced in the same direction, regardless from where the priest lit the flames. Aaron knew this, and looked at this act as a monotonous, meaningless action.

Yet, this is specifically where G-d tells him he will find solace.

The moment Aaron was willing to do his part solely because G-d asked him to do so is the moment when he truly connected to G-d. This is when his “flame” ascended on high and connected to the One Above.

So to answer the question that we started off with: when do we make a difference in the world? When we do what is asked of us, not only when it feels good, but when it brings light into the world. When we do that properly, the flame becomes a miraculous light and it illuminates the world around us.

Riding on a White Horse

Many people have a fantasy to want to save the day by riding in on a white horse. This is not so unusual, especially for leaders to want to behave this way, and that is why it is not surprising when the leaders of the Jewish people behaved like this back in the days when the Jews were in the desert.

A little background is necessary: When Moses started the campaign to build the Holy Tabernacle in the desert, the leaders of the twelve tribes said to the members of their tribes, “You bring what you can and we will make up the difference in the end.” However, what happened in the end was a whole different story. The Jews were very enthusiastic about making their donations and perhaps for the first and last time in the history of a Temple’s building campaign, the fundraiser, Moses, had to say, “Enough!” As a result, the leaders had no need to donate. Not to be left out, an idea came to them—that they could still donate the animals and wagons that were needed for transport. After all, the Tabernacle was a temporary dwelling that would need to be transported during their travels in the desert.

Good idea, right?

Well, then why was it that they were so cheap on what they actually donated, every two leaders giving one wagon! That’s generous? Is that making up for their lost opportunity? They could have been a little more generous and donated with an open hand and donated a few extra wagons!  

Something is not clicking here.

Therefore, we must say that they are actually teaching us the lesson that they themselves learned from experience: Yes, it is important to donate, but it is also important to donate only what is needed (didn’t Moses say “enough?”).

You see, there are two ways of looking at a wagon that will carry your goods. One way is that it is here to make life easier; after all, goods are too heavy to carry. Or, we can say I am happy to carry the goods, but by having the wagon, it allows me to carry the goods more efficiently. Let the weight be on the wagon while the animals pull it so that I can make sure that the goods don’t fall.  This perspective is not so much on being easier, but rather on being more productive.

The leaders wanted to help the Levites be more productive, not to be lazy by having an easier time. That is why they only donated what was needed to get the job done.   

 

 

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