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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Giving From Yourself

A few weeks ago Ben-Gurion University announced that they had received a $400,000,000 gift from the estate of Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus of San Diego, California. Lottie Marcus died this past December at age 99; Howard died in 2014 at age 104.

This got me thinking. I wondered, why didn’t they make this contribution while they were alive? If they had donated only half of it earlier, they would have received so much honor and prestige. There would have been lots of fanfare surrounding their gift.

This is not just a question about what the Marcuses did. This is a question that many people should be asking themselves.

To understand this enigma better, let’s analyze the difference between a gift and an inheritance.

When someone gives a gift, although not technically payment for anything specific, the gift is nevertheless given for a reason; it could be because the recipient deserves it, or because the giver wants to give it. Within this giving there can also be two levels: You can give based on how deserving one is, or you can give “beyond” what is called for. And then there is a benevolent kind of giving: the giver gets no personal gain whatsoever because they do not see the benefit of their gift. This happens when one leaves an inheritance.

When someone wants to leave a gift and truly be selfless in the process, they leave an inheritance. This is why the Marcuses should be applauded.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, G-d gives us both a gift and an inheritance. First, G-d gives us the gift of the Holy Land of Israel and directs us as to how it will be settled by the different tribes. It is to be split up between the tribes based on the needs of their tribe such as tribe size. G-d also gives “beyond” what is called for: This is done by lottery, so that there is no “reason” involved, such as where in Israel their portion will be located. And G-d then gives us an inheritance—land ownership will be passed from one generation to the next. This is the highest level of giving. G-d wants us to own the Land of Israel on all three levels.

We can do the same in our own lives.  We should give while we can and as often as we can, sometimes based on our means and sometimes “beyond” our means. But we also have to strive to give “beyond reason”—without any personal gain whatsoever.

Let’s strive to reach “beyond” ourselves. 

When in Despair, Don't Give Up

We are taught that life is like a bank account—you can only take out what you have put in. This is true for ourselves (we cannot expect success if we don’t work hard), as well as our relationships, such as with a spouse, child, co-worker, etc. If you want to receive something, you have to first make a deposit.

Yet, at times we may feel that we have exhausted all of our options and we have no more assets to draw upon. When that happens, despair can settle in. We wonder, what now? What good can I do to be able to overcome my challenge? Why should G-d be good to me?

The Torah teaches us that we can draw upon the merit of our ancestors. We come from good stock and although our personal bank accounts might be empty, we have inherited from G-d an account that is linked to ours, and therefore an account from which we can still draw. 

If we cannot stand on our own merit, at least we have the virtue of our heritage.

We learn this idea from this week’s Torah portion, Balak. In the fascinating story of Billam – who tries to curse the Jews and fails – the parshah says that Billam “woke up early in the morning to fasten the saddle to his donkey.” Where did he learn this? From Abraham. The Torah tells us that Abraham did the same on the morning that he took Isaac to his binding.

Rashi, in his commentary on this verse, says that Billam failed because Abraham already upped him on this by doing it first. But this is not a competition to determine who can think of a better way to show G-d that we are sincere in what we are trying to accomplish. Rather, this is about the merit of Abraham protecting the Jews.

Billam wanted to curse the Jews so badly, he thought of every technique to persuade G-d to be on his side. What he didn’t realize was that he could have tried from today to tomorrow, but even if the Jews were deserving of a curse because of their own behavior, at the end of the day they had Abraham (and the rest of our ancestors) to protect them. This is as true for us today as ever before.

We can question our own good deeds and whether or not we are deserving of G-d’s blessings. But we have to always keep in mind that even if we are not deserving, we are still linked to our past.  We are another link in a very long chain of the Jewish people.

Be proud and be strong!    

How to Forgive in Three Steps

Sometimes in our dealings with people we unintentionally hurt someone, and at times we ourselves are offended. If this occurs, it is easy to forgive since we know there was no ill intent. However, what happens when someone intentionally upsets us? Not only are we hurt, but we ask ourselves, does the person deserve a punishment? Let’s be honest—a part of us wants the person to get punished even though it will not fix our hurt feeling. This feeling comes from the innate desire to get revenge.  Since most of us are uncomfortable admitting to this feeling, we say that we forgive, yet still hope that the person is punished. This is not a healthy feeling, nor is it what the Torah expects from us.

Here is a fascinating three-step approach to forgiveness.

The first step is to forgive so that the person is not punished. Actual punishment and the suffering of another person should not be on our account, even if the other person is not ready to ask for our forgiveness, let alone if we are still holding a grudge. The first thing we have to do is to let go. Allow life to go on without anyone hurting.

The second step is to forgive so that the sinner can go through the process of repentance. If we are not willing to forgive, then the person cannot really repent either, since we are holding them back. Even if they don’t know this, it will be a hindrance to them. This does not mean that we dropped the innate need for revenge; rather it means that we are not projecting our feelings on the other person.

The final step is to forgive for our own benefit. It is not healthy for one to harbor negative feelings against someone else even if there is no harmful outcome. This is not about the other person, but about us. That is why this step is the hardest of all. It is not about punishment or about our relationship with the other person; it is about our own selves. How do we view ourselves? Are we self-absorbed or can we make room for another person in our lives?

This final step we learn from Moses in this week’s Torah portion, Chukat. After the Jews complain – yet again – a plague breaks out. Moses prays to G-d to end the plague on behalf of the people, even though he has every reason not to. The reasons not to, come from his feelings of disgust about the Jews. He could have said they deserve it, and he would have been right. But that is not what he said. He forgave them and asked G-d to do the same.

We should learn from Moses.

True Love

Have you ever been so annoyed at someone that you just want to get that person out of your life? How about if that person didn’t just annoy you, but they actually tried to destroy you? Imagine if that person is someone that you gave a job to, and now is trying to steal it away from you … wouldn’t you just want to use any tool at your disposal to get rid of that person? If you are still angry but not outraged, then imagine that the person is a family member or someone that you not only gave a job to, you actually saved the person’s life from certain death? Now imagine that G-d himself tells you that you are right, and that He will step in and get rid of this person. Wouldn’t you thank G-d for helping you after the act is committed? Finally you can go back to your peaceful life.

Yet, when we read the age-old story in this week’s Torah portion, Korach, where Moses’s nephew, two others (his foes Datan and Aviram, who owe their lives to Moses), as well as 250 more men, challenge Moses’s position of leadership and want to steal it away from him, G-d steps in to help Moses by telling him, “I will open up the earth and swallow them alive!” You would expect Moses to be relieved, yet on his way to fulfill G-d’s mission, he makes a detour to the home of Datan and Aviram, to see if perhaps he can persuade them, at the last minute, to change their ways.  

From this story we can learn the lesson of loving your fellow as you love yourself. Moses was not at all judgmental of the people who tried to destroy him, and instead reached out to them to see if he could be of any help. 

To truly love someone is not to judge them, but to help them.

This is something that the Rebbe, whose 22nd Yahrzeit is observed this Shabbat, lived by. The Rebbe’s unconditional love to every Jew and his non-judgmental attitude toward everyone he met, was his trademark. The Rebbe didn’t stop there. He wanted every single one of us to act as he did. This is not a trait that is reserved only for a “leader;” it is a personality trait that each and every one of us should cultivate and nourish.

This weekend, in honor of the Rebbe, let’s work on being non-judgmental.

 

What you say is not as important as how it is heard.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, we are introduced to a fascinating turn of events. The Jews are about to enter the land of Canaan. They decide to send twelve spies to check out the land first. Moses agrees, and when the spies come back with a negative report, the Jews don’t want to continue. So G-d decides to kill off the Jews. Who can blame Him? … Yet, Moses defends the Jews.

Moses’s defense is a defense of distraction. “Don’t question the actual decision;” better bring in some other reasons to stop the harsh verdict. That is why Moses asks G-d, “What will the Egyptians say, that you took them out of Egypt and you couldn’t bring them into Israel, so you slaughtered them instead?”

What is most interesting is that the Jews do end up dying in the desert, albeit over the next 38 years. This means that Moses was not successful in his defense; all he accomplished was a slow implementation of the ruling. If that is the case, wouldn’t you say then, that Moses was actually trying to defend G-d?

If you agree, then we have to ask the obvious: Does G-d care what the Egyptians think?

The short answer is yes.

Let me explain.

The whole point of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was so that the Jew, as a human being, could elevate him or herself to a higher spiritual state of being. We no longer would be equal to the animal, which can only be elevated to a higher spiritual level with “outside” help, such as through eating it after one recites a blessing first.

Since receiving the Torah, human beings have the ability to elevate themselves to a higher calling.

Moses argued that if G-d killed all the Jews for failing to realize this higher calling, then the Egyptians would say that the Jews would never be able to elevate themselves, as the only way for them to rise higher is by G-d saving them—or killing them.

So G-d doesn’t care what others think. He cares about His message – what others will think it is telling us – and G-d does care about is how His message is interpreted.

What you say is not as important as how it is heard.

If we tell someone that we are proud to be Jews, but we don’t do anything to show this person that we care, they may hear our words, but they see something else, and therefore they don’t even hear what we are truly saying.

Think about this.  

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