Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Covenant

There is a lot of talk about the latest announcement in Israel that there will be more housing built in Judea and Samaria. This is newsworthy because new construction hasn't happened in a few years on such a large scale. But in truth, the same big news has been going on for the last seventy to a hundred years in particular, and in general, for the last two thousand years. How is it that the Jews have been building and rebuilding in the Holy Land of Israel long after we have been exiled?

Is it only because G-d has promised to Abraham - in this week’s Torah portion - that the Land of Israel will be an inheritance to us, his children, that we have come back over and over again?

What is interesting is that G-d promises Abraham that he will give Israel to him as an inheritance—but then he adds that he must circumcise himself. The Midrash teaches us that these verses, although juxtaposed, are connected. When we continue to circumcise our children, even while in exile, we guarantee that our connection to the Land of Israel will never be severed.

You see, the covenant that G-d makes with Abraham – that Israel will be an inheritance to the Jewish people – is a promise that has nothing to do with the actions of the inheritor; it happens automatically. However, in order for there to be a deeper connection between giver and receiver, the receiver must earn it. In order to bring this about, G-d tells us that if we circumcise our young, we will not only inherit the Land of Israel, we will earn the right to inherit it as well.

That is why it is so significant for us to be living in a time when Israel is so strong, and why it is also important for us to make Israel an important part of our lives. 

If you would like to visit Israel with me in March so that you can see for yourself how Israel is a “light unto the nations,” please let me know and I will be happy to share with you more information.

Shabbat Shalom




Cruising Through Life

Welcome to a new beginning! Although this is the second Shabbat after the holidays, it is really the first full “normal week,” hence a new beginning. The Torah itself calls the world after the flood a “new world.”

In the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah relates how G-d told Noah that he and his family would be saved because of the merit of his righteousness. Although the rest of mankind would be punished for their wickedness and annihilated in a terrible flood, Noah and his family would be kept alive in the ark that Noah would build. When the rains came, he and his family entered the ark, along with a pair of all existing non-kosher animals and seven pairs of each of the kosher animals.

Noah's stay in the ark was far from a pleasure cruise. For an entire year he played the role of zookeeper, feeding and taking care of the animals' needs, with no appreciation from his charges. On one occasion, when Noah delayed bringing food to one of the lions, the beast took a swipe at him and wounded his leg. Is this a befitting reward for a person whom G-d told was righteous?

No person exists for himself; we were created to make a change in the world. The World to Come is described as a place where souls bask in the Divine light, but that is not the ideal mode of existence for a Jew. A person must work until he reaches that state. Our task in this world is to create a dwelling place for G-d, transforming every element of creation and revealing its G-dly spark. As mortals living in a materialistic world, we have the ability to work, to elevate the mundane aspects of our daily lives, and to reveal its purpose in creation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Why Celebrate?

What is Simchat Torah all about? This is a question I am asked frequently. The answer is an emotional one for me. While growing up, it was always such a happy and joyous occasion—the Lubavitch Rebbe would encourage singing and dancing, making sure that even the littlest children would participate, and the energy in the synagogue was just electric. It is really hard to describe, let alone explain. Yet, as an adult, I ask myself: what moved the Rebbe so much to instill in us, little children, such a love for this holiday? What is it about Simchat Torah that Chabad celebrates like no one else?

I will attempt to give an intellectual twist by explaining the last few words of the Torah itself, and perhaps this will give us an appreciation for the holiday.

The Torah ends with a “eulogy” of sorts for Moses, telling us how great a man he was when he “shattered the Tablets in front of all the Jews.” Why is this stated as the greatest act of Moses? Couldn’t his eulogy be about one of the miracles that he performed on behalf of the Jews? Or maybe something more positive?

When Moses broke the Tablets, he was making two statements simultaneously. He was protecting the Jews from G-d’s wrath, and he was protecting the Torah from the Jews’ abuse. The Jews had proven by their actions that they were not deserving of the Torah; yet at the same time, Moses wanted the Jews to repent so that they could have the Torah—they just weren’t ready for it yet. By breaking the Tablets, he was giving them time to come back and be ready.

Simchat Torah is that time in between the shattered Tablets and the renewed Tablets. It is a time when we dance with the Torah closed. It is a time when the question “is the Torah greater or are the Jews greater” doesn’t matter. At this point, the Torah and the Jews dance together. Tomorrow morning, we will open the Torah and read (in the morning we conclude the Torah reading and start anew). By night we just dance away with the Torah scroll tightly rolled closed, with its mantel on, its crown on its “head,” in full “royal garb.” This is the time when all Jews are equal, and the Torah and the Jew are equal. G-d, Jew, and the Torah are all wrapped in one. Dancing the night away.

This is why Simchat Torah is so special. It is a celebration that all Jews can relate to. It is not about who knows more or less, who does more or who does less. It is about being a Jew. It is about our relationship with G-d. It is about our essence.

Happy Simchat Torah!

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