Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

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. 

Spotting the egotists

How are we to know that when we are doing something noble and kind, that our actions might be perceived by others to be self-serving, done because of our ego, and others believe we are only doing so to boost our own self-worth? More so, how are we to ascertain true motivation in someone else?  

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, we read about Korach, the man who challenged Moses’ and Aaron’s appointment as the leaders of the Jewish people. To glimpse into his confrontation with them, let’s take a step back. Korach’s challenge couldn’t have been just about leadership or even motivated by jealousy. There had to be something much more fundamental going on. 

Korach viewed the world from a very different perspective than Moses, which led him to come to a different result. How did they differ? 

Let’s start with a general premise.

Thought often leads to speech, which in turn leads to action. When it comes to our connection with G-d, this could be interpreted as when learning Torah, thought and speech should lead to the performance of the Mitzvot. However, we don’t want the Mitzvot to be forced upon us—we don’t want to feel obligated to perform a Mitzvah, rather, we want to be inspired to do one. That is why learning the background, the reasons, and their history, is an integral part of the preparation. Only once we have this background information do we come to the practice – the action. 

It is not only important that this inspiration comes from within ourselves, but it is also imperative that we then go from thought to action. What transpired at Mount Sinai was that G-d gave us – for the very first time – the ability to lift ourselves up, to elevate the physical and make us more spiritual. To bridge our action from the speech, and before that, the thought levels. 

Using Hebrew letters to explain this idea, let us look at the letter Hey. It is written with three lines. Two are connected to each other. These two lines represent thought and speech, two of the more spiritual elements, since they are non-tangible. The third line, the free leg, represents action. This independent line is written at the same level as the other one on the bottom, yet it doesn’t reach the same height as the one at the top. This balancing act of constantly reaching higher, trying to connect to a more spiritual counterpart but still not connecting, yet not removing itself from the spiritual, either.  This symmetry of action is what Judaism is all about. And our desire to reach higher. 

Korach missed this lesson on all fronts. His name is made up of three letters, all close to the Hey, but none of them Hey: Kuf, Reish and Chet. Each of these letters is similar, yet somehow different. The Kuf’s third line stands alone but is longer. In the Reish, the third line is missing, but in the Chet, it is connected.  When the Kuf’s leg goes below the line, Korach is signaling that his action, his Mitzvot, can be fulfilled independently of connection to thought, meaning that he doesn’t have to have love for, or be in awe of, G-d. He can just draw G-d down to his level without trying to lift himself higher. The Reish represents the idea that no action is necessary, as if he is saying he can connect to G-d with prayer alone—just in the spiritual realm—so why even bring the physical world into the picture? Then we have the Chet. The Chet’s third line is connected to the other two. This was Korach’s third perspective. He felt that he had already reached the “priesthood” and was already connected, so there was no need to lift himself any higher, as he already made it. 

Seeing Korach from this perspective can help us understand that this is much more than jealousy. When a person is so focused on themselves that they cannot even see what G-d wants from them, all they see is how they are at the center of the universe. 

We can take a lesson on how we should try to balance this third line. How to always see ourselves and our actions in the balance. Not too high and not too low. Always striving to reach higher and knowing that it is we who must make the effort to reach higher.   

Is it all about the Truth?


Truth. It is a celebrated word. An admired principle. In a court room we are asked to take an oath to say nothing but the truth.  Therefore, those who are known to be truthful people are looked up to. However, I would like to propose a question: Is telling the truth always a good thing? Are there times when keeping the truth to yourself is a better option?


Let’s look at this week’s Torah portion of Shlach, where we read about the famous story of the twelve leaders of Israel who go to scout out the Land of Canaan. Ten of them come back with a report that is not so rosy. They said that the people of the land were mighty and strong, that they would overwhelm the Jews if they tried to conquer them. The spies showed the people fruit that was huge, hence instilling fear in the Jewish people. All that they shared was “true.” So why do we look at them negatively? We cannot even say that they tried to silence the other two spies when they began to speak. Calev didn’t refute a word that they said – after all, it was true. All he argued with was their conclusion. The ten spies concluded that they would not be able to conquer the land, while the other two felt that it could be done.


This difference of opinion is, seemingly, a matter of opinion. No one was arguing if the Canaanites were strong, the question was just whether the Jews should be afraid of them or not. Therefore, if it was just a matter of opinion, why did we look at the ten spies as evil people? What did they do that was so bad? Why is telling the truth so bad?


Telling the truth and peddling the truth is not the same thing.


Telling the truth means that in the right setting, when it is important for the truth to be known, the truth is told.


Peddling the truth means using the truth for your own benefit. You use the truth to further your own agenda. Of course, what you are saying is technically accurate. But the question is why are you saying it? Is it to make a point? Is it to hurt someone else with the truth? Or perhaps we may simply be careless with the truth that we know.


If the spies were truly concerned about the truth, then they should have brought their findings to Moses, as he was the one who sent them. However, they did not do that. They brought their report directly to the Jewish people. The spies were not interested in the truth, they were interested in the result; that the Jewish people should remain in the desert. 


The callousness and lack of sensitivity that they showed but should have known, especially after just seeing Miriam, Moses’s sister, pay the price for a similar mistake, is what made their error more difficult to swallow.


The lesson for us is clear. When we speak, even if it is truth, we must be sensitive as to what is motivating us. We should be empathetic about the people who we are talking about – even if it is true. However, the fact that what we are saying is true doesn’t give us a right to peddle that information around.


Peddling can be hurtful and damaging.


Shabbat Shalom,





Paying it forward


The idea to “pay it forward” is a nice concept—in theory. However, when it comes to practice, we often rethink this principle, and we start to question: How long do we have to pay it forward? Did we truly benefit that much? Perhaps we can only pay forward a little bit and the rest can be paid up at a later date. The excuses start to pile up.


In this week’s Torah portion, Be’ha’alotecha, we learn about an interesting story. Miriam, Moses’s sister, comes down with a rash called T’zaraat. She got this rash because she talked behind Moses’s back to their brother, Aaron. As a result of this rash, she was to remain outside of the “camp” for a period of seven days when the rash would go away. (Clearly, this was a spiritual punishment for a spiritual sin.) What happened was fascinating. Although the Jews were about to travel, they waited the full seven days to do so, until Miriam was ready to travel.


Why did all the Jews wait for Miriam?


Because G-d, Moses, and the Jewish people gave thanks to Miriam for the time that she waited for Moses.


When did Miriam wait for Moses?


When Moses was an infant and was placed in a basket in the Nile River, Miriam waited to see what would happen to the baby. When she saw that Pharaoh’s daughter took him, and then needed a wet nurse for him, she ran to help.  


It is this action that merited all the Jewish people waiting for her, this time for seven days, to show their gratitude.


The lesson for us is profound. Not only should time not decrease our appreciation, time should increase it.


Miriam waited a few minutes while all the Jewish people eventually waited a few days. It is not the amount of time, nor the number of people, but the lesson that matters. We should be looking for reasons to help others, not for excuses to back out.


Shabbat Shalom,

Same, yet different


It is interesting to observe a musician playing an instrument, especially when they are part of a large orchestra. You can hear many musicians playing the same instruments, the same chords, and seemingly producing the same sounds. Yet, if each one played on their own, they would produce their own unique sound. If you don’t have an ear sensitive enough to tell differences, you can surely see differences when it comes to sports. In almost all sports, individual players know the rules regarding, for example, how to hit a ball, still they don’t all hit it the same way; each puts on their own unique spin.  


This is true about everything in life.   


Recently an article detailed an advancement in technology. Your credit card can be charged simply by the unique way you swipe your phone over the credit card reader, since we each have a unique way of moving our hands. It’s not only pitchers and musicians who create unique methods of hand movement; each person has their unique way of moving their hands. 


In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we read about the offerings of the tribe leaders at the inauguration of the altar in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). What is interesting to note is that all twelve leaders brought the exact same gifts as an offering, but the similarities don’t stop there. The Torah repeats verbatim each and every one of the gifts repeatedly, twelve times, as if it is news to us!  


Why can’t the Torah just tell us the order in which the tribe leaders brought the offerings and on which day? Why the need for repetition?  


Rashi, the famous biblical commentator, gives a detailed explanation of each offering based on the Midrash. Yet as he does this, he teaches us a subtle message. Rashi doesn’t share this insight on day one; he does so only on day two.  




Rashi calls out both the uniqueness and the sameness of each leader. True, they brought the same gifts, but within the reasons themselves, each one found what matters to them, what resonated to them specifically. Their fingerprints were on their offerings.  


This is a lesson for us in our lives as well. We do many things as others do them, but it is important to do so in our own unique way.  


Shabbat Shalom  

Who is a leader?

A leader should be a representative of the people, and because they are, they have responsibilities to those they represent. Some leaders simply have innate leadership skills and it’s just a matter of time until they are given the opportunity to lead. 

We find leaders in many fields from politics to business. From the family to the classroom, in each circumstance we see that leaders fall into different categories: Leaders who want to lead and know how to; leaders who don’t know what they are doing but are happy to be in a position of power; and reluctant leaders who would rather not do the job and therefore are bad at it, but could do a better job if they tried and often, they are not there for the right reasons; resistant leaders, the ones who have the innate qualities of a leader but don’t like the honor that comes with it, that is why they would never run for public office, etc., and many other categories of leaders in between.    

What is interesting is if you look around, you will find that there are many people who should be in a leadership position but are not for a variety of reasons. One reason may be because they are shy or more of an introvert, or they simply were not given the chance, however if someone were just to push them into the position, they would shine. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, we see how the Jews, while in the desert, had one leader, Moses. However, after the Mishkan was completed, Moses appointed twelve additional leaders, one for each tribe. What process did Moses use to choose these leaders? The Torah does not mention any kind of voting system, so we must presume that they were appointed. Did Moses choose them because they had connections to him? Did they lobby him for the job? What were the criteria that he used to appoint them?

The Torah uses an expression, Keruie HaEdah (they were summoned by the congregation) when it came to their appointment. From this we can deduce that Moses chose these leaders for their popularity. Not “popular” like current famous people that young people follow, but popular because every person felt that these individuals represented them. They were liked by everyone. These twelve leaders encompassed this important trait of being a leader, making sure that everyone who followed them felt that their best interests were being kept in mind. 

Too often, a leader who decides that they want to lead from the front, which is the way to go, forgets about the people who they are leading, and this creates a rift between them and their following, feeling those others are just followers. A true leader leads from the front but always has their eye on their followers.   

The leaders that Moses handpicked were not just leaders but they were leaders everyone wanted – even without an election.

We should aspire to be such a leader.

Lessons From King Charles’ Coronation

More than ten million Americans watched the coronation of the United Kingdom’s new monarch. What lessons can we take away from the royal family and from Kingship in general? True, today a “king” does not hold the same power as in bygone days, nevertheless, it is worth it to reflect on what power a king still has, and the relationship between a king and his subjects.

One of the interesting dichotomies of the interaction between the king and his subjects is that on the one hand, when a king gives an edict to his kingdom, the people want to understand why they should do what the king directs them to do. The better they understand the reason behind the demand, the more enthusiastically they will comply. Interestingly enough, the more logically the idea resonates with the populace, the less they comply to connect to the king, but more so because it simply makes sense to them. That is why a king might make a ruling that could be challenging for the public to comply, in order to see how committed they are to him, and to see if they are willing to go out of their comfort zones and do so “just because” the king ordered them to act accordingly.

However, a noble and kind king would not burden their subjects with crazy and unreasonable requests just to test them. That would be mean. That is why the king appreciates it when people start to search for his reasoning. After all, the king is a smart person, and beneath an unreasonable request lies a very reasonable explanation; it just takes more work on the people’s behalf to uncover the way he thinks. The reason why this can be a challenge is because aristocrats and the general public don’t generally think the same way. It takes effort to think differently.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, we learn about these two categories of laws—those that are easily understood, and those that are beyond our comprehension. The reason for these two categories is so that we have a balance between connecting to G-d on the logical, intellectual level, and connecting on the emotional side. When we do something for another person, or for the king, or for G-d without understanding, the bond that is created at the time is beyond our understanding. It is much more

secure because it is not dependent on anything.

Maimonides emphasized that although we perform the Mitzvot that are beyond reason and are difficult to understand and are meant as a test to see if we are willing to do Mitzvot just for G-d without any ulterior motive, G-d wants us to go even further. Now, once we reached this deep connection of no return, G-d says, try to understand me. This may be easier said than done as G-d’s way of thinking is very different than ours, but our search for meaning and understanding should not stop our quest. We, as human beings, as people who want to connect, should not be satisfied by just saying: Sure, “we will do and we will listen.” We should push ourselves to continue to feed our thirst to connect to G-d with every fiber of our being. At the same time, we have to remember that while we want to understand, we may never fully understand everything—after all, G-d is out of our reach.

Let’s connect. Let’s learn.

When Patience is a Virtue

 We live in a culture where when we want something, we want it now. And if it is something that we need, we feel entitled to have it even faster. Of course, we understand there are times when we have to be patient; after all, if the time is not ripe, we must wait. 

We can all understand that work is work, and that if we want to take a vacation, for example, we have to wait until the designated day arrives. What can be confusing to us is if the day finally arrives and suddenly all of our plans are put on hold, what happens then? 
How about when we create a plan to accomplish something. Let’s say you have a business plan, you have the funding, the staff, the location, and so on. Everything is ready to launch and then something happens, and you must put everything on hold. What happens during that holding time?      
A fascinating subject, a woman’s purity, is discussed in this week’s Torah portion. The Torah teaches us that when a woman menstruates, she becomes ritually impure. After, she counts seven days of cleanliness then immerses in a Mikvah. Similarly, when a woman gives birth to a boy, she is impure for seven days, then after, she counts thirty-three days, then seven clean days. The numbers double for a baby girl. After the last clean day, she then goes to the Mikvah and brings an offering. These days, the ritual has been simplified. 
The question is, what is her status during these middle days? As the Yiddish saying goes, nisht ahier nisht a hin – neither here nor there. She is not impure, nor pure. As the Torah verse continues, since she is not yet pure (although is she is not impure), she should not touch any holy food, etc. 
If you ever wondered if the Torah can be confusing, here it is. 
The Torah is actually teaching us a profound lesson here. 
The new mother is transitioned from the impure to the pure, but she is not there yet. It takes time. True she may no longer be considered impure, but it takes time to make the transition. Patience is what is needed. To hold back the desire to move forward and take the next step is what is required at this point in time. 
Yes, we all want to make a change in this world, and many of us want to do it now. But there are times when we need patience; timing is essential. Not always is rushing in to do something a virtue. 
Sometimes the answer is yes, but not now. 


Shabbat Shalom!

There are things in life that mystify us, yet we just let them go. Then there are times when we cannot sit idle when things get under our skin and bug us. We must find a solution to what bothers us. Even when we find an answer, the initial question can still bother us, since the solution may not comfort us enough to forget the issue entirely.


In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, where we are introduced to the idea of animal offerings in Temple times, I am asked repeatedly about this enigmatic mitzvah. How can it be that Jews placed an animal on the altar? How can we relate to this old-fashioned way of life? When we pay special attention to the idea that we pray every day for the rebuilding of the third Temple—when this practice will come back into our daily lives—this behavior becomes even more puzzling.  


We can shed some light on this practice if we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Not only of animal sacrifices, but of the whole idea of bringing an offering to G-d, the items that were brought as an offering, and why someone would bring an offering in the first place.


If you really want to simplify the whole idea, you can say that G-d is telling us that if you want to eat meat, you can do so only if you take certain steps first. These steps are meant to make us sensitive to the life of the animal that we are taking. In the old days, you didn’t just go into the grocery store and buy a nicely packaged piece of meat. Rather, after you bought a live animal, you brought it to the Temple, and you prayed over the animal, asking G-d to take the animal instead of the person, thereby asking for forgiveness from G-d.


One may think that this sounds like apologetic Judaism, as if we were trying to justify barbaric behavior. Therefore it is important to continue to widen our lens and look at other items that were brought as accessories[R1]  together with the animal. One would bring flour and oil. These two items represent our basic needs in life (the ingredients for bread). What is interesting is that one can also bring only flour or only oil as a gift offering as well, and not as an accessory[AS2]  but as the offering itself. This tells us that it is the gift that matters.


To take this idea even further: On the altar there was a fire, a constant flame, the Ner Tamid, the eternal flame that never ceased to burn. The fuel for this fire was wood. One was able to offer wood as an offering on the altar, not as fuel for the fire, but to be brought as an offering! The wood burned the wood. [R3] 


Now this is of utmost interest: To say that people donated wood to the altar makes sense, as it was an essential item for the Temple to run smoothly. However, how can wood be called an offering? It is one thing to call the accessories[AS4]  to the animal an offering, but to call the wood an offering is taking it too far. Unless we understand the deeper meaning of an “offering.”


The Torah teaches us that a person is like a tree in a field. Just as a tree has roots and bears fruit, so too a person has roots and bears fruit, our children. Just as a tree needs watering, so too, a person needs to be educated, etc.


When a person brought wood as an offering to G-d, they were essentially saying, “I am bringing myself as an offering, I want to become closer to G-d.” Of course, G-d didn’t want us to put ourselves on the altar, so we put the wood in our place.


The whole idea of bringing an offering was for the person to become closer to G-d. On the most basic level, we look at ourselves as a tree—we have roots and we have potential. Are we bearing any fruit? Are we G-d-focused or self-indulgent? Laying the wood on the altar is key to recognizing our mission in this world, that the purpose of our mirroring a tree is to provide shade and nourishment for others, not just for ourselves.


The next stage is bringing the flour and oil. These are essential food items. As much as we want to be selfish and keep them for ourselves, we recognize the need to share.


The highest level of connecting to G-d is when we are ready to lay bare our animalistic self on the altar. Before we are ready to cut into the juicy piece of meat, we say, one second: let me do this right. Let me give part of it to the priest, let me make a contribution, let me do some soul searching. Let this joy in life not be so self-centered but let me be a little more spiritual.


You see, G-d doesn’t tell us that we cannot enjoy life, He tells us how we can.




Acting out of Anger

Anger is a negative emotion, yet many of us get angry. The question is, what triggers our anger. Is our anger justified? Is the person or thing worth it for us to even get angry at, or are we wasting our energy? Why get angry at a delayed plane if we cannot control the outcome? We can perhaps be frustrated, we can even become aggravated at our need to change plans, but how is getting angry going to change any of it? There is no one to blame.

This is what Moses tells G-d in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, in defense of the Jewish people after they made the Golden Calf. As Jews who received the Ten Commandments from G-d just forty days earlier, Moses had a right to be angry and disappointed in the Jewish people. He broke the tablets and felt that the Jews might not deserve the tablets. Yet, when he turned to G-d in the Jews’ defense, he said: Why are you, the Omniscient, forgiving G-d even paying attention to what mortal human beings are making? You are insulted that they took some gold and made an idol? Really, you know that it was a mistake. Grow up! You are the infinite G-d and they are finite human beings. Why are you getting angry?!

If G-d would have kept His cool, and approached this situation purely from an intellectual perspective, Moses would have had to use a second argument to defend the Jewish people—after all, what they did was incomprehensible. And he would have argued that the Torah was given in the singular, to him, Moses, only, and therefore, there was a miscommunication. Moses was, after all, the epitome of the Jewish lawyer. The great defender of the Jewish people.

But why did G-d get angry?

G-d did not defend his anger but walked away from it. G-d backed down and gave the Jews a second set of Tablets – better than the first. The Jews did get punished for their sin; after all, what is wrong is wrong, but the punishment came in small doses.

The lesson for all of us is profound. How often in the heat of one’s anger, one cannot see themself calming down enough to be able to take a deep breath and just say “it is unbecoming” of me to be so angry. Just back down and be kind.

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