Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Big Shabbat


This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Passover, is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Big Shabbat. Why is this such an important Shabbat? Clearly it relates to Passover.

Here is the story.

Four days before the Jews were to leave Egypt, G-d commanded them to take a lamb and hold it in their homes. The day before they left they slaughtered it, ate it with their families, and took its blood and marked their doorposts so the Angel of Death would know to "pass over" the Jewish peoples’ homes and not kill their first-born sons.

To commemorate this day, we call the Shabbat before Passover, Shabbat HaGadol. In essence, this is the beginning of the exodus from Egypt. However, we can ask the question, why is this turning point so important that it deserves a special mention (and observance) even if in name only?

Holding lambs in their homes had a double effect on the Jews and on the Egyptians. For the Egyptians, they were witnessing their "god" being held to be slaughtered. To them, this was perhaps worse than all other plagues. For the Jews, they were risking their lives to fulfill G-d's will. "What will the Egyptians say when they hear our reason?" The Jews were putting their lives on the line. This was the first time that they were really facing this kind of challenge, yet they were willing to do what was asked of them.

For this reason, this is a Big Shabbat. That is also why there is a custom to read the first part of the Haggadah on Shabbat afternoon.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover .


A Pleasing Aroma

One of greatest pleasures in life is when you ask someone to do something for you and they do it. This stands true if this person is your spouse, child, friend, or employee.

The question is, what degree of pleasure do you derive from performing this act? 

Seemingly, the more the person being asked to do a requested act appreciates the outcome of what they are doing, the less it is being done for the requester, and the more it is being done for themselves. True the result is the same, and the benefit should be appreciated. But let’s be honest—what degree of pleasure do you draw from an act that is being done for you, if the person is actually enjoying doing it?

Or to phrase the question a little differently, do you get more satisfaction if a favor is being done 100% for you, or if only 10% is for you but 90% is really for the person who is doing it?

Is it only the narcissist who wants 100% pleasure? Or, perhaps, is it also a way to test someone's commitment to another?

This is another way of understanding the difficult question as to why G-d commanded the Jewish people to bring animal sacrifices to the Temple, as discussed in this week’s Torah portion.  If the people would have consumed the animal meat, we might have an easier time understanding the laws. However, most of the offerings had the majority of the animal burned on the altar! For what? The Torah tells us why: “For a pleasing aroma to G-d.” Really? G-d likes the smell? There must be something deeper going on here.

This “pleasing aroma” is a term for when we do something that we take zero pleasure in doing for ourselves, but nevertheless do it for one reason and one reason only: because G-d asked us to do it. We are showing G-d that we are listening to Him and we are acting because He asked us to. We are letting Him know that our relationship with Him is not 10% / 90% or some other equation, but that we are 100% committed to Him and we will do anything that is asked from us, whether it makes sense to us or not. This is what is a “pleasing aroma” to G-d.

“Sacrifices” in Hebrew is Karban, which literally means, “to come close.” The idea is to come close to G-d, to put our egos aside and do what G-d wants, even if we don't understand why.

As we near Passover, a time when families get together, it is important to keep in mind that we have to put other people's needs before our own. It is a time when G-d asks a lot from us (no bread for the duration of the holiday of Pesach, e.g.). It is a time to put G-d’s requests before our own needs. Give it a try. Do something for another before yourself. Give it 100% and you will see that you, too, will benefit.


The Power of Fire


Melacha: Action verb--the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim. The Dictionary

This week’s Torah portion is a follow-up to the last few weeks’ instructions on how to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. This portion tells us that the Jews actually did build it. However, by way of introduction, it reminds us of the sanctity of Shabbat. This is to teach us that as much as it is important and holy to build a “house for G-d,” it is even more important to keep Shabbat holy. 

In addition, we learn from this language that whatever is considered actionable work in building the Tabernacle is considered actionable work when it comes to Shabbat--and is forbidden to do on Shabbat. In total this numbers thirty-nine. Amongst them is creating fire.

However, based on the definition of the word “action” (the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim), what is being gained by burning something? That is destruction, so shouldn’t that be permitted? Maimonides and other codifiers pointed out that kindling a fire is only prohibited if you intend to accomplish something with the fire, even if it is just for the ashes.

In our personal lives this means that every action we do has an effect. We might not realize that even the smallest action has an effect. It might be as small as just creating ashes, but an effect it has, nevertheless. Even a minute action still counts significantly toward the building of the “Temple” of G-d in our own life.

Now imagine when we have in mind to make a real impact … how we can change the world for good!

Shabbat Shalom

Like This, They Shall Give

There is a fascinating Midrash that allows us to listen in on a conversation between Moses and G-d.

G-d tells Moses that he should take a headcount of the Jews. He cannot do this directly, since we don’t count people, but by having each person donate a half-shekel, he can count the half-shekels; additionally, the half-shekels will be atonement for their souls. When Moses hears this he turns to G-d and asks, “How will a half-shekel act as an atonement?” G-d responds by showing Moses a fiery coin and says, “Like this, they should give.”

Why was Moses so perturbed? We all know that giving charity is good for the soul, so why doesn’t this make sense to Moses? In addition, since when do all of Judaism’s Mitzvot have to be logical? Can’t G-d just make things happen?

Let’s take a moment and try to think like Moses. A coin is made from the lowest and most physical element of this world. Coins are made out of material that is found deep down beneath the earth. Moses wondered, ”How is it that such a lowly coin can have such a great spiritual impact on our souls?”

G-d shows him a coin of fire. When there is a fire in the heart of the donor, even a lowly coin can be transformed into a holy coin. The coin itself can transform the giver into a holy, fiery human being.  All we need to do is to give it with good intention.

This was difficult for Moses to understand—before G-d explained it to him. Yes, he knew that when we do something holy with an ordinary item we can elevate it to a higher place, but for it to be an atonement for our souls—that is a little bit of a stretch. And that is why G-d showed him a fiery coin. Within every single thing in this world, even something as small and insignificant as a coin, one can find the “fire” inside. And when we find that “fire,” we are transformed.

The trick for us is to not be afraid to light that spark. We can access it all the time by doing acts of loving kindness. One Mitzvah at a time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Shaya Deitsch


PS … These Shekalim eventually went toward the upkeep of the Temple and were collected once a year in the month of Adar. Since the Temple was destroyed – more than 2,000 years ago – a custom was instituted to donate a half-shekel on the eve of Purim.

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