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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

A Healthy Society

So here we go again—Israel has called for early elections. Not since 1988 has Israel’s government served its full term! Now that is what we call a functional government (I am being sarcastic, of course. And we thought that the U.S. government had issues!)

I get it. It is not easy to have all parties from the left to the right on the same page all the time. But to have a government fall apart time after time seems to be excessive.  
 
I am not a political pundit. I should know better and just stick to Rabbinics and not try to understand politics, let alone Israeli politics. So I will do just that and share with you an insight from this week’s Torah portion that perhaps can be enlightening for today’s politicians as well as all of us. 
This week we learn about the famous episode when Moses was still known as a prince in Egypt, not yet as the future redeemer of the Jewish people. He was living in the house of Pharaoh when he observed one Jew hitting another Jew. When he rebuked them, they responded to him, saying, “Are you going to kill us as you have killed the Egyptian?” (Prior to this event, Moses had defended a Jew who was being excessively beaten by an Egyptian and killed the Egyptian. Although Moses should have been respected by the Jews, he was still viewed as an outsider.) 
 
When Moses heard this response, Moses said, “Oh my! ‘The incident’ has become known.” The simple meaning of the verse is that the killing had become known and that soon enough even Pharaoh would hear about it. Hence, Moses left Egypt and went to Midyan, married Tzipora, and didn’t return until G-d sent him back to redeem the Jews. 
 
However, the Midrash teaches us a deeper message here. Moses was saying, “Oh my, listen to the way the Jews are talking badly between themselves about other people. This, in and of itself, is a reason for them not to be redeemed! Why are they doing this? Don’t they realize that the only way for the Jews to win over their enemies is if they stand together? The minute they start talking badly about each other – even about me, an outsider - they are tearing apart the fabric of the Jewish people! There is no way they will come out of this mess. They must unite first.” Moses was afraid that G-d would make the exile harsher, as they were undeserving of redemption. 
 
Eventually, G-d appeared to Moses and convinced him that the Jews were finally worthy enough to be taken out of Egypt and brought to the Promised Land, and that Moses would be the leader to do so.  Moses declined the offer, and it took G-d a week (according to tradition) to convince Moses to take on this job. Then, when Moses went to Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, instead of receiving a resounding yes, in return he got not only a resounding no, but even stricter decrees against the Jews. Moses started to think back to the days when he was a prince. “After all these years, do the Jews still not deserve redemption?” He turned to G-d, totally confused. “I thought you said that you will take the Jews out of Egypt. What is this all about?” To this G-d responded, “Yes, the Jews are deserving to be taken out. … This is just part of the process.“ 
 
The lesson we take from this episode is how important it is to be careful about what comes out of our mouths. We might not agree with everything that our friends and family think – especially when it comes to politics –  and that is ok. However, it is a whole different story when one speaks badly about another person. When we talk negative talk, evil talk, we break down our society and nothing good can come from that. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year.

 

A Mother Cares

What is it like to be a mom?

A mother cares about her children. She will go out of her way at any time of the day or night. She will leave the comfort of her bed in the middle of the night to soothe a crying baby; she will run out of the house or place of work because a child is not feeling well at school; she will literally drop anything and everything even when her adult child calls for advice. Because that is just what a mother does. 
 
And, it does not stop there. A mother is there for her children even after death, as we learned in the Torah a few weeks back, when Rachel was buried “on the side of the road” so that her children, throughout the ages, could “stop by” and pray. As the verse says: Rachel cries for her children.
This makes us wonder: In this week’s Torah portion, when Jacob was about to die, he called his son Joseph, Rachel’s son and viceroy of Egypt, and asked him to promise that he would be buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Chevron. Why did Jacob feel the need at the time of this promise to justify to Joseph why he buried his mother on the side of the road and not in Chevron? If he thought that Joseph needed an explanation, why didn’t he explain this years before?
Jacob was teaching his son a very important lesson about the essence of the Jewish mother (not just his own). The role of a Jewish mother is to set the tone of the home, ensure the education that the children will receive, and guide toward the direction in life that they will follow, even as adults. This is the role of the mother. A Jewish mother never rests. That is why Rachel was buried on the side of the road. The “technicalities” of not being able to reach the city of Chevron may have been true, but that was not the underlying reason. The lesson that was derived from the location of her burial was what was most important, and that was what Jacob wanted to impart to Joseph.
Yes, Jacob wanted Joseph to guarantee that he would be brought to Chevron to be buried together with his forefathers, as fathers also contribute to the family dynamic. The fact that he would be buried with his father and grandfather shows the significance of family lineage, but the essence of who you are, what you are made of, your soul, that comes from your mother. 

Laughter is the best medicine. How about crying?

If the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” is true because it releases deep emotions, the same should be true for a good cry. However, in order to have a “meaningful cry” we have to be motivated to do so. This begs the question, what motivates you to cry? Do you cry out of self-pity? Or out of deep concern for another person’s pain and suffering?

Yes, it may be true that crying is good for you—it allows one to relieve themselves from a burden, or at least make it lighter. However, ultimately we have to ask ourselves, what really lies behind our cry?

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, a dramatic story unfolds. It describes the scene of Joseph revealing himself to his younger brother Benjamin, how Joseph could not contain himself any longer, and hugged and kissed Benjamin while Benjamin hugged and kissed Joseph in return. You can just imagine the emotions going on at the time, so we should not be surprised if they were laughing at the time, or even if they cried tears of joy, while they hugged and kissed. The Torah says that they cried.  Not tears of joy. Sad tears. Not for now, says the Midrash, but rather they cried over the sad future that their lives held for them in the generations to come, not even in their lifetimes, but in the future! Eventually, the Midrash explains, the Mishkan that resided in Joseph’s territory in Israel would be destroyed, and the two Holy Temples that stood in the land of Benjamin would also be destroyed. That is the reason why they cried! 

They cried for each other’s losses. They did not cry for themselves.

Why?

The Torah tells us indirectly why, by mentioning that they cried on each other’s necks.

What is the significance of a neck?

The neck is what connects the head to the body. The head is where the soul “resides” and the body is where we live. The neck acts as a conduit to bring our soul into our body.

Our soul is “part of G-d” and therefore never experiences any pain or suffering, only our body does. 

Our neck controls the flow of positive energy from the soul into our body—and it can decide to cut it off.

When Joseph and Benjamin cried, they did not cry on each other’s head. That is because in their “head” the destruction of the Temples was not considered to be bad, and hence, there was no reason to cry.  However, when it came to the neck, there was reason to cry, because that was where the “flow” occurred. Nevertheless, they did not cry for themselves, they cried for each other.

What is the significance of crying for each other versus crying for themselves?

When it comes to our challenges in life, we have to view them as obstacles that we have to overcome.  True, we may not like that, but we should also not focus on it. Our focus, even during our challenges, should be on helping other people. How can I make another person’s life better? When we do so, automatically our life becomes more meaningful, even though we are suffering ourselves. That is why Joseph and Benjamin both cried for each other, although they had reason to cry for themselves.  

 

 

Chanukah Gifts

 

Chanukah is a time to give gelt (that is money, not the chocolate coins) to our children. In more modern times, this tradition turned into giving gifts. This modern concept can cause jealousy between children and their peers. It is important to prepare our children to not be jealous of their friends if the friends receive more gifts than they do, and that if our children receive more, they should not flaunt them in front of their friends, either—especially not in front of those who could misinterpret a gift the wrong way.

Let me explain.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the famine that hit the Middle East, from Egypt to Israel and beyond. Everyone was going down to Egypt to buy food from the young Viceroy to the Pharaoh, whom we know as Joseph. Included in the throngs of people were Jacob and his sons, Joseph’s brothers. The Torah tells us the story of how Joseph gave his family more than enough food to last for a long time. Jacob, however, felt that they should return to Egypt a second time – knowing there were dangers involved. He didn’t want his enemies (the children of Ishmael and Esau) to be jealous—they could potentially assume that the reason Jacob and his family were not returning to Egypt was because they had more than enough food, when in actuality, they really just had enough to last for a while.    

Jacob understood that he could not change the inherent hatred that the descendants of Ishmael and Esau had toward him and his children. However, he did know that he could preempt it by a proper response that not everything has to be advertised.

From this story we learn to be sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. Not only to know how your friends think and feel about you, but even how your enemies think and feel about you. It is important not to make people jealous for no reason, especially when it can be avoided.

In this season of giving, whether it be a gift of money or an item or even an experience, it is important not to compare it to others. Just look at what we have and be happy with what we have in our lives. 

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom

 

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