Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

The Gift of Giving

Here is a Friday morning question for you:  


Many a bakery gives their leftover baked goods to homeless shelters at the end of the day as an act of charity. Do you agree that this is a good deed? Or would you say that since they would be throwing it in the trash anyway, they might as well give it away? 


The same can be said for clothes ... and many other such in-kind donations.  


Interestingly, the Torah’s perspective is that if you really mean to do a Mitzvah, you should give away the “first” - a small portion – and do so happily. This way you are truly showing that you know where your blessings come from. Then, at the end of the day, you can and should give with abundance.  


However, this begs the question, why?      


Before I answer, let me fill you in about this law. The Torah teaches us about Bikurim, the laws about the “First Fruits.” In Temple times, Jews would bring the first of their fruits to Jerusalem and eat them there as a “gift to G-d," demonstrating that they understood the growth that occurs in the fields is all thanks to G-d.  


Why is it important for us give a "gift" to G-d? Does G-d really need our gifts? 


The question is not really about what G-d needs; it is more about us. Why do we have to show G-d that we appreciate what He does for us? 


By showing our appreciation, we are not only recognizing that all of our blessings come from G-d, we are actually drawing down His blessings into our world, by “sending” them back up.   


Let me explain: G-d provides us with a blessing. When we show G-d that we recognize that blessing, we are "returning" the favor, and hence get a renewed and a greater blessing in return. 


We learn this from the prayer that we say while bringing our first fruits—we mention the miracles that G-d provided to Jacob while in Laban's home, and the miracle of the exodus from Egypt. 


Why these two miracles when there were other times that G-d performed miracles as well? 


These two miracles occurred while there was stability in the life of the Jews, during the 20 years in Aram and the 210 years in Egypt. During both of these times, the peace was challenged and both times the Jews were saved from calamity.  


The Jews brought the Bikurim only after the Jews settled in the land of Israel and it was a peaceful time. At that point they were able to recognize that not only did G-d provide them with a blessing, they wanted to recognize it and capture the blessing by giving back. 


This type of giving back is not with words, but through action! While we are working to earn a living, we take that earning and use it to give thanks to G-d.


That is why it is important to “sandwich” our livelihood with a gift to G-d.


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova. 




Defining our Relationship


Imagine getting into a relationship knowing in advance that you plan to get out of it. Would you call that a commitment to the relationship or just a pledge? Surprisingly, some people might even call that a marriage.

Interestingly, Jewish law prohibits one from getting married if they don’t plan to stay married for life. Yes, there is a way out if it doesn’t work and, in this week’s Torah portion, we read about the laws of divorce, but that cannot be in the plan as the couple starts off under the chupah.

Yet, we may ask the question, why not? Why must we make a commitment for life? Isn’t it enough if we promise to “give it a try?”

After all, G-d Himself did that with the Jewish people when he chose us as his nation. He made a commitment and then kept on second-guessing Himself, asking Moses, “Should I exchange this nation for another one?” Is that the way one talks when they have made a lifelong commitment?

Clearly, G-d did make a lifelong commitment to the Jewish people – as we made to Him – and the evidence is right in front of us. The fact that we, G-d’s children, are still here, preparing for the High Holidays for the 3,300th time tells us something. True, we might have a rocky marriage at times, but the thought of divorce? Never. Not from G-d’s perspective and not from ours. Does G-d ever get upset with us? Clearly. Do we ever get frustrated with G-d? Naturally! Is that to be expected? Obviously—we are human, after all. But that is beside the point. What matters is the underlying commitment that we have to this relationship.

Since this commitment is here as a nation, we have an obligation to be honest with ourselves as individuals, and ask - Are we in this for life or is this just a trial run?

Contemplate this question as you sit this year during the High Holidays services. Consider yourself under the chupah with G-d: Are you trying it out or are you committed for life? Our attitude matters as we ask G-d for a blessed new year. As our appeal goes, so do the blessings in return.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah!





Whose Money Is it After All?

Once I visited my friend Marty Pearlmutter at his store in Dresher, Lester Martin Jewelers, and he showed me an envelope from a jewelry company with an interesting acronym on the envelope: EO”M. Knowing that the owners were from Chabad in New York, he asked if I could make sense of it. Marty was familiar with the letters commonly found on stationery, B”H, which stand for Baruch Hashem (blessed is G-d), but EO”M was new to Marty.



Recognizing the family business, I remembered the famous family history and its associated story.


This family has been in the jewelry business for many decades. Its founder’s name was Binyamin Kletzker. The story goes that one year when he was preparing his books for taxes, he worked through his ledger. When it came time to declare his total profit for the year, instead of filling in a number, he wrote the words “Ein Od Milvado,” meaning there is nothing else other than G-d. The family still keeps the acronym, EO”M on all business-related stationery.


What does it mean when a businessman looks at his business and recognizes that all of it comes from G-d? Doesn’t he deserve some credit for building it up?  If he truly believed that it all belongs to G-d, then shouldn’t he have written this sentence on the first line of his ledger, not on the last?


What is the lesson here?


Before we answer, let's take a little detour by asking a question that doesn’t appear to relate to the lesson.


Can one self-incriminate? On the one hand, if you say something about yourself, it is valued as if 100 witnesses say something about you. On the other hand, what if you self-incriminate? Do you have permission to hurt yourself?


The Torah differentiates between self-incrimination that affects your finances vs. your body and soul. For example, we believe you if you say that you owe a person $100, but we don’t believe you if you say that you killed someone.


Why is it that, if you are trusted about yourself, you should always be trusted, but if not, not.  Isn’t a truism always true?


Of course we always believe you. The question is whether you have the right to hurt yourself with your true testimony.


You see, the Torah teaches us that our body and soul are not our own. That is why we don’t have the right to hurt ourselves, even if we go to court and self-incriminate. On the other hand, money that you have earned is yours. Yes, we have to recognize that “all comes from G-d,” but only once we made it our own first. Once it is ours we have the liberty, and the responsibility, to give part of it away for Tzedakah.


Now we can appreciate the uniqueness of Binyamin Kletzker. Sure, he was a wise and successful businessman, but at the end of the day, he knew that he had to recognize that “there is nothing else other than G-d.”


As we find ourselves just weeks away from the High Holidays, it is worth taking a few moments to think of what this means to us; what does EO”M stand for? How can we incorporate this acronym into our daily lives?


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!










How To Be Connected In a Connected World

We live in a digitally connected world. Perhaps that is why the word “connected” has lost some of its meaning. Yet, we should take a moment and think about the significance of the word.

Every time I “connect” to the internet, is that really making a connection? What is meaningful about that technicality? True, technically that is what is is happening, but that is not an emotional or a meaningful connection.

Even when we do a favor for someone, or when we do a good deed, a Mitzvah, are we really connecting to G-d? Or are we just coming closer to G-d?

Are we just splitting hairs here or is there a real difference between coming close and connecting?

The Torah says in this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, “fulfill the commandments, and connect to me.” This language seems to indicate that G-d is asking for something more than just action. What is it that G-d is looking for?

Some Mitzvot are more appealing to us than others – they make us feel good or are meaningful – so we like to do them. Then there are Mitzvot that make us uncomfortable or are less meaningful to us, so we tend to avoid doing them. G-d is telling us that when we fulfill the Mitzvot that “speak to us” we are coming closer to G-d in the process, but we are not connecting since we are blocking that connection with our ego, as there is a selfish component to our actions. However, when we do a Mitzvah, one that makes us uncomfortable in the process, we are doing so for one reason only – to connect to G-d – then we are not only coming closer, we are becoming one.

We are connected.

Shabbat Shalom



Can You Compare?

It is interesting when people compare one thing to another, as how passing a kidney stone is akin to giving birth. I am not able to confirm or deny such a claim because I am not omniscient. However, when the Omniscient Himself makes a statement comparing two seemingly unrelated events to each other, we need to take notice, since G-d does know.



The Talmud states: The breaking of the Tablets mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, was as difficult to Him as the death of a Tzadik, a righteous person.


How can the two be compared to each other? The Ten Commandments were given by G-d to Moses, engraved in stone… This is G-d’s handiwork! Compare this to a righteous person. This individual is a great person, true, but is self-made. It is not as if G-d inserted into them some special powers. They become great because they worked hard on themselves to become that way. Hard work toward self-improvement did it. How can you compare them to the Tablets?


Here is where we need to dig a little deeper to gain a better appreciation of the two, to see the comparison.


What makes the tablets, “Tablets?” The stone itself or the words engraved upon them?  Seemingly, the stone was just stone until the words were engraved. Yet, the moment the words were etched into the stone they became something very different. They became The Tablets, a totally new entity. They were no longer rock that came from a quarry; they became the holiest stone in the world. When this stone broke, it was a huge tragedy!


It’s the same with a human being. A body is flesh and blood, but so is a corpse. What makes a human being special is the soul that gives it life. The uniqueness of each individual is how that soul develops over time. What do we grow up to be? What kind of life do we lead? What contribution do we make to society? Once we grow, we are no longer defined by our flesh and blood; we are defined by the words that are etched into the society that we have created around us, into the people whom we have influenced, and into ourselves, selves that we have made into better and more refined people. We are no longer the same as we were when we were born. We become a blossoming soul. When a righteous person, one who lived their life to the fullest, dies, it is a huge tragedy!


Now we can understand the comparison.


Now we can also understand why the Jews carried with them the broken set of tablets along with the second set in the Ark of the Covenant at all times—they didn’t represent their sin that caused the break, but rather the “soul” within the Tablets that lasts forever.


We, too, can learn from this, to hold onto the souls of our loved ones forever even after they physically depart from this world.


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