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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Judge And The Sheriff

This past week I was invited to a meeting at the Upper Dublin Police Department to discuss how the police force is doing. One point that came up a few times was that since the force is doing their job, crime is down. While it may appear as if they have little to do, in truth, their apparent boredom is a sign of success—rather than a reason to cut the budget, it is a reason to celebrate their hard work. What is interesting is that you never find judges having such down time. They are always working. Their dockets are always full. This makes me wonder—what if the judge, the adjudicator of the law, and the cop, the enforcer of the law, were one and the same? Would the judge have a better understanding of what is happening “on the street?” Would the police officer work to interpret the law differently, based on their first-hand experience? 

Let me take a step back and explain myself.

In this week’s Torah portion, the verse states, “Judges and sheriffs you must appoint for yourself.” On the surface, these are two different positions—the judge rules and the sheriff enforces the law based on the judge’s ruling. However, when the codifiers of the Torah enumerate the Mitzvot, they list both of these positions as being the job of one person.

Which one is it? One job or two?

The Torah talks to us on two levels simultaneously about “the way it ought to be” as well as “the way it often is.”

From time to time, a society is not at its best. When that occurs, the two positions are going to be separate, because the judge, who is the scholar, the thinker, will not have influence over individuals’ behaviors. Therefore they will need an enforcer who will use the “stick” to enforce the law. Words will not do. Only force.

However, the utopian world that G-d wants to see is when our society is at its best. Yes, then, too, a person can make a mistake, and if this happens, they go to the judge. When the verdict is read they can understand why the judge ruled in that way, and act accordingly. At that point, the judge is the thinker, the decider, and the enforcer.

Let’s take this idea and make it personal. 

We all have two impulses within us that are constantly pulling us in opposite directions. In Kabbalah, they are called the good and evil inclinations. Our minds might tell us one thing while our hearts tells us something very different. What shall we do? 

When we are at a low point in our lives we need both a judge and a sheriff. In our minds the judge will use logic to tell us not to act badly, while the sheriff will threaten us if we do. 

However, when we are in a good place in our lives, we only need one voice using logic, telling us we should not act badly, and we – on our own – will be strong enough to listen and act accordingly. 

Of course, the second way is the utopian way, but it is not easy to achieve. That is why the verse continues: If you want to reach this utopian life and have full control of your destiny, you must put a judge and a sheriff at “every gate.” This means at every entry point in our life.

Now, less than a month before the New Year is a good time to start thinking about our lives. The head of the year encompasses the whole year, every part of the year. Similarly, we cannot say, let me just deal with one part of my personality, such as my hang-ups; we have to look at the whole picture, and strive for a utopian year.

Shabbat shalom and Shana Tova!

 

Are You A Giver?

Today, I would like to pose a question. When you decide to donate to a charitable cause, which is a greater challenge for you: to think how hard it is for you to part with your money, or to think how worthy the cause is? Which thought makes you more uncomfortable?  

The truth is that both thoughts make us uncomfortable. It is difficult to part with our money and it is not much fun to think about others’ troubles, either. That is why we prefer to just think about ourselves.  There is a reason why we are called the “Me” society. It is all about me. Not because we are so selfish; we are not bad people. It is simply too difficult and too taxing to concern ourselves with someone else’s needs—to the point of our personal discomfort and financial pressure.  
 
This reminds of me of the story of the Jewish traveling salesman who comes to a farming community and sees the whole town mourning the loss of Johnny’s barn. Everyone is saying how sad it is that Johnny lost his barn to a fire. This poor Jew pulls $10 out of his pocket and says to one mourner, “I don’t know Johnny, but his story moves me at a cost of $10. How much does his barn loss move you?”  
 
This is the reason why when this week’s Torah portion talks about the mitzvah of tzedaka – giving charity – the Torah uses the double expression Potoach Tiptach, “open shall you open,” and then Ha’obeit Ta’obeit, “give shall you give.” G-d understands our challenge very well. Giving charity is work on our part on two fronts.  
 
A – We have to tell ourselves over and over again, give shall you give. Over and over again, because every time we reach for our wallets, part of us tells ourselves to stop. What are you doing? It’s your money … don’t give it away! So we need the reminder to give—and then the struggle starts all over again.  
 
B – We must also think about the cause: There is a person or an organization that needs our help. But we don’t want to invest the emotional capital that it takes to really care. This is where the Torah teaches us that we must invest ourselves in the process. It is not just about the money; it is about caring. Yes, it might be difficult, but we must try, and when we pull back, we must try again and again and again.  
 
G-d expects us to be real people – to have heart, to have feelings – to be caring individuals who give to people and give for the right reasons.  
This week we bless the month of Elul, when we blow the Shofar to prepare for the New Year. It is not too early to start thinking of what it means to be a giving Jew—and what it means to ask G-d to be a giving G-d.    
 
When we can show G-d that we feel and care for others, we too, can ask G-d that He shall care and feel for us. And may He bless us that all of our needs be blessed, and may He give us and give us and give us over and over again.  
Shabbat Shalom,  
 
Rabbi Shaya Deitsch 

When A Leader Causes Chaos

When chaos reigns, a strong leader is needed to pull things together. What you definitely don’t need is a leader to be the cause of chaos. No, I am not giving political commentary on current events in North Korea—I will leave that up to those who decide what news is “fit to print.” I am talking about the events detailed in this week’s Torah portion, where Moses recounts the story of the Golden Calf, and when he came down from Mount Sinai and broke the tablets.

When I pause and think about the story I have to wonder—did Moses cause more chaos by breaking the tablets, or did he stop the nonsense by breaking the tablets?

Posing the question differently, what would have happened if Moses had not broken the tablets, and instead held onto them for himself, telling the Jews, if you want the idol, fine, keep it. I will keep the tablets and the Torah for myself and for those who want to follow it. This would have been less dramatic, that is for sure, but would it also have been less chaotic?  What was the point of breaking them?

Was Moses trying to bring the Jews to order, or to bring chaos?

The answer lies in one word, “Va’et’pos.” This idiom translates to I “took hold” of the two tablets, cast them out of my two hands, and shattered them before your eyes.

What is meant by Moses “took hold” of the two tablets when he was already holding them?

There are different legal explanations to help understand this term, however, today I would like to share with you a practical lesson that we can learn from this word.

Moses was saying that of course, he could just take the tablets home with him. He could easily have said you don’t deserve them; you broke the covenant. The Torah was given to you and you said you don’t want it. By doing so, it might have been quiet that day, but with time people would have recognized their mistakes and regretted their actions, and at that point it would have been too late for them to come back into the fold. 

Instead, Moses said, no, he would take hold of the tablets. He would make them his, so that the Jews would not be responsible for their actions. He would then break them so that even if G-d argued and said that the Jews were responsible, he would say that the “contract” was shattered so that the Jews would be off the hook. Yes, at that moment the Jews screamed and shouted, “Why did you break the tablets? They were G-d’s handiwork.” Yes, there was chaos, but it was temporary chaos. Peace and tranquility would come. Soon, they would see their mistakes, they would come to see the error of their ways and come to appreciate what G-d has offered them.

Moses was right. It didn’t take long. The Jews repented, G-d forgave the Jews, and soon after they were given a second set of tablets forever. And both sets, the new and the shattered, are stored together in the Ark of the Covenant as a reminder that even if we err, we can return.

This is what a leader is all about. It was not a short-sighted solution that he was looking for. It was not the polls that would make him happy. It was the welfare of the people that he was after. Moses had one concern, and one concern only: What is best for the Jewish people? They might have made a mistake.  A huge mistake … an unforgivable mistake … but he was not there to judge. He was there to defend. He held onto the tablets not so that they should be his to keep for himself, but they should be his so that the Jews should not suffer, because they are also theirs. By being only his, he was able to protect them. That was his goal.

Did it cause a little chaos? Maybe. Was it worth it? You bet.  

The Role of A Teacher

Back-to-school signs are starting to go up, and teachers are preparing for the coming year. The world of education is coming to life. This makes us stop and reflect on the responsibilities of teachers—do they ever rest? Here at Chabad I see our teachers preparing for next year – and this is just for preschool – so it’s hard to imagine what teachers are doing for the older grades. 

This week’s Torah portion talks about “cities of refuge.” The purpose of these cities was for people to find sanctuary if they had inadvertently killed someone, and as a result, were wanted by the family of the deceased. The Torah teaches us that not only was the killer able to run away and be protected, their comforts of life were to be brought to them, including family and belongings. What is interesting is that the Talmud says that even a person’s teacher could be required to go along.

Talk about teachers not getting a break!

So why should teachers be required to go along?

If one is a prized student, we might argue that the student is doing well, and a special bond has developed with a specific teacher, so it is worth our effort to keep this teacher and this student together. But in our example, clearly this student was not internalizing the teacher’s lessons, as we have seen, because they killed someone. Even mistakes start off with irresponsible behavior! Why should the teacher invest time and energy into such a “weak” student?

This is the point that the Torah is making. We are not meant to look out only for the “strong” students, the goody-goodies. We are here to inspire the seekers. To inspire students to seek. To nourish the souls of the young. The good and the not-so-good. The great and those who are not yet great. Every child and every adult deserves to have a teacher, a mentor who will help lead them in the right direction. Even the person who ends up in a city of refuge deserves a chance to learn from their mistakes and correct their ways, and get a second chance at having a meaningful and productive life.

 

 

 

 

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