Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Do you need spirituality?

There are times in our daily lives when we know what to do, yet we find ourselves holding back from doing what we must. Why is that? Where is that force coming from? More importantly, how can we overcome that feeling of resistance? 

What is interesting is that the Torah recognizes this human weakness. In this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, we are told of the laws of helping other people in their time of need. The Torah says that when you see the donkey of your enemy with its load falling off, you should help them, and if you don't want to, you should still help. 

This verse teaches us that such a response – not wanting to help – is not unheard of, but it's not a license to not respond. 

By taking stock of who we are as people – how our souls are doing, how our spiritual lives are doing – we will be able to see ourselves in a different light, a positive light, with a "can-do" attitude. 

However, by looking closer at the construct of the verse, noticing "and" instead of "even," the verse can be read to mean that there are times when our reasons for not wanting to help can be legitimate. 

How do we know when we are making excuses for not doing what we should, and when we are making the right decisions? This can only be determined if we tap into our souls. When we examine our spiritual wellbeing, we can be honest with ourselves and do the right thing. 

Most times we should assist others—and then there are times when we can refrain from assisting. 





Two ways to bring people together

You’re probably familiar with the famous joke that wherever there are two Jews, there are at least three opinions. This is not only true, it is good. After all, this is what makes human beings unique—the ability to think for ourselves and to feel for ourselves.

This is also why it is so difficult for a group of people to agree on anything. Even if they do agree with a general idea, they don’t all feel equally as strongly about it, and that is why some of the people in the group are motivated to act, while others are not.   

We see this same concept in the Torah—when the Torah talks about the Jewish people, we are referred to in the plural. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, when the Jewish people are standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Torah uses the singular “and (they, as one) dwell(ed) there,” to teach us that when the Jews were ready to receive the Torah, they were united as one, excluding all other times when the Jews gathered, where they are referred to in the plural.

Seemingly, it is the power of the Giving of the Torah that united them!

However, on closer examination we find that when the Egyptians chased the Jews into the sea, they are also referred to in the singular! What united them at the sea? 

Perhaps we can propose that it is the Egyptians’ shared mission to destroy the Jewish people that united them.

By this theory, we mean that there are two ways to unite a nation—out of love and out of hate. One is to build and one is to destroy. The choice is ours as to what should unite us. When we come together for a good cause such as wanting to learn what G-d wants from us, we build a unity that lasts. However, if what unites us is just a common enemy, or a desire to destroy, this unity will eventually fade away.

So you may ask yourself, shouldn’t the Jews always be referred to in the singular, when a positive thing brings them together?

G-d wants us to think for ourselves and feel for ourselves, so when we are thinking and debating the reasoning behind the law, or when we are dealing with our emotional commitment, then we are individuals. However, when it comes to practice, to observance, to the core of the Torah itself, we are all united as one. 

To look at it another way: Our unity is real, but we come to this unity through many different channels.   The Egyptians’ unity, on the other hand, was not real—it was just common hate that brought them together. The lesson for us is that we have a choice. What brings us together? Our common love or our common fear? The choice is ours.

This week’s Torah portion teaches us that G-d gave us a gift—a gift of the Torah, a gift of unity.

Let’s treasure it. 

Move ON!


If lighting Shabbat candles is such an important Mitzvah, why do the candles have to be lit at a designated time? Why not light them when you come home from work or sit down for your Friday night Shabbat dinner? Even asking this question shows enthusiasm and a focused commitment to this Mitzvah, so why is the time of performing the Mitzvah so important?

The answer is, as you know, that time is important. We see that time is important when it comes to everything in life. For example, when a baby (finally) falls asleep, you know that is not a good time to give the baby a kiss. Yet, many still struggle with the concept of time when it comes to performing a Mitzvah. Why would G-d, who is not limited by time and space, care when we light the candles?

By looking at an interesting episode in this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we can deduce a better understanding.

The story goes that after the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds, all the Egyptians’ jewels washed up on the shore and the Jews ran to collect the booty. Moses admonished them, saying, “We don’t have time for this! We must get on our way to receive the Torah!” Now, the Jews knew that they were already on their way. They had been counting down the days. This makes us wonder: How were they able to allow themselves to become distracted by some riches, especially when they had just received so much gold and silver from the Egyptians before they left?

We can presume that in their minds, they were fulfilling G-d’s command. It was not the riches that they cared about, but rather following the Mitzvah “to leave Egypt with riches.”

However, what they didn’t realize is that every Mitzvah has a time and place. When the time is past, we must move onto the next Mitzvah.

We eat matzah on Passover. If we hold our Seders a week or so after Passover, we miss the proper time to perform the Mitzvah. Friday night, as the sun is about to set, is the time for lighting Shabbat candles. If we light the candles an hour late, we again miss the proper time to perform that Mitzvah. It’s time to move onto the next Mitzvah. 

This is true in every aspect of our lives: We must know the time and place for everything. Every Mitzvah has its time and place.

This is what the Jews learned from Moses on the shores of the Sea of Reeds: As much as we may want to do one Mitzvah, if its time is past we should invest the same enthusiasm into performing the next Mitzvah, because that is the commitment that G-d is looking for, not whether we like this Mitzvah or not.

In our lives we face tasks that we enjoy and those that we don’t. What matters is not only that we complete all our tasks, but that we invest the same amount of energy into every task—those that we don’t love as well as those that we do love.  

This week, let’s be enthusiastic about all of our tasks and complete every Mitzvah with all of our energy. 

Edited by

Sanctify What?


If you were G-d and you wanted to build a relationship with the Jewish people, what would be your first commandment?

G-d’s first commandment to the Jewish people as a nation, not to individuals, is given when the Jews are preparing to leave Egypt. As is told in this week’s Torah portion, Bo, G-d told the Jewish people that they should sanctify the new moon, and through the act of sanctification, will have Rosh Chodesh—the new month.

Of all the fundamental Mitzvot in the Torah, G-d chose THIS Mitzvah to welcome us? Shouldn’t it have been something more befitting, such as, “Know that I am your G-d,” “Believe in Me” or “Fear Me?” Why choose Rosh Chodesh?

From here we glean a fascinating idea: G-d is not trying to dictate to us; rather, G-d is giving us the opportunity to transform the world around us into good.

But first we must come to understand the roles that “time” and “space” play in our lives. Time comes before space. If we don’t have time, then we cannot measure space (e.g., how long it takes to go from Point A to Point B). Therefore, we must recognize the role that time plays in our lives. Once we come to respect it, we can elevate it and move onto the next step—to engage in the “space” around us, and elevate it.

That is why the first commandment that we are given is to sanctify the new moon. To do so properly, we must know the cycle of the moon, which means that the whole month has to be taken into account; hence, every day is elevated in the process.  

Once we have elevated time, we can move onto the world around us and elevate the space in our lives.

And once we understand who we are and where we are, we can work on ourselves and transform our own little worlds into G-dly worlds.

May this be an elevated week!

 Edited by

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