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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Would you sell your dog?

Would you sell your dog in order to save money?

Let me spell out the hypothetical: Your dog becomes dangerous, biting people and damaging goods. The law in Judaism is that if an animal gores three times – after the owner has been warned each time to watch the animal, yet it became uncontrollable – the owner must pay full damages. Yet the first two times, the owner only pays half the damages.
However, if a person sells their animal so that now it is in a new owner’s hands, the law reverts back to a “natural” statute and the animal is not considered dangerous any longer.
 
In essence, you are not selling your dog to save a few dollars, but to save your dog from having the “title” of a “wild dog,” at the expense of losing ownership. Sometimes, out of love for your animal, it is worth giving up ownership so that you can protect the animal’s dignity.
If the dignity of an animal can be reversed, how much more so can the animal within each of us be reversed!
 
It is explained in Chasidic philosophy that each and every one of us has two souls, a G-dly soul and an animal soul. At times our animal soul can get “out of hand” and must be given away. In practical terms this means that we can transform our “animal soul” into a more G-dly soul by pressing the “reset” button.
 
Perhaps we cannot just “give away” our soul … but we can put in the effort to better ourselves and to utilize our time and energy on good things, even holy things, especially when our animal soul comes knocking.
 
Shabbat Shalom.

The Most Famous Father-in-Law

There are times when it is easier to be a Jew and there are times when it is more difficult to be a Jew.  That is why when one decides to join the Jewish nation, on their own volition, we ask the question: 

Why? 
When times are good for the Jews, when Jews are successful and popular in the world, it is easy to understand why someone might choose to become part of the Jewish people. However, at such times as when Jews were slaves, are persecuted, or are downtrodden, why would someone want to become part of our nation then? 
 
True, we have the Torah, the wisdom of G-d, insight into so many worldly matters, a G-dly perspective on things, and so on, which is all fine and dandy. Don’t get me wrong, I find Judaism very meaningful in good times and bad. Yet for people to choose it on their own is a whole other story. Something must motivate them to do so, and when things are tough, there is good reason not to put themselves in such a situation, to get ridiculed by their friends and family, etc. So why would they choose to follow G-d?
This is the question that bothers us in this week’s Torah portion.  
Moses’s father-in-law, Yitro, is a well-known idol-worshiper. Yet he drops everything – his prestige, his place of honor among his community and friends – to join the Jewish people, a nation of recently freed slaves. Why? Because he heard about a few miracles that G-d performed for the Jewish people? 
 
There must be more to the story.
 
It was not just the miracles that impressed Yitro – yes, they were impressive – but as just mentioned, there is still good reason to stay far away from the Jewish people. What impressed Yitro was the underlying message that the miracles revealed! 
 
Yitro noticed that G-d was empowering the Jewish people to make a difference. We have the ability to uncover the truth, to transform the world and elevate it to a higher and more holy place, to a level that it cannot reach on its own. How can we figure it out? By searching for the truth, we will find the answers.  G-d started the process by splitting the sea, once the sea opened up, we could find the hidden treasures—all that we had to do was to look to discover what was there. Once the secret riches were revealed to us, even after the sea returned to its natural order, we would still have the power and ability to uncover the secrets of the universe. This was appealing to Yitro. It was the same with the war that they fought against Amalek, when Yitro saw the way that they won: He noticed that it wasn’t the power of the soldiers or the ammunition that they carried, but the inner desire to win. 
This transformative ability that exists within each and every one of us is what Yitro saw: For Jews possess the ability to lift themselves up above the foray of politics, of distractions, of the nuances of life, and have the ability to change themselves and to change the world. This is what ultimately makes Judaism attractive to the first convert to Judaism and to every one of us. 

Manna from Heaven!

 The Jews who ran out of Egypt barely had time to make some dough and definitely didn’t have time for it to rise; hence, we have Matzah. But as time went on, they got hungry so G-d provided them with Manna from heaven. Every day they were supplied with one day’s worth of provisions.

 

However, something interesting happened on Friday. They were given a double portion and told that on the next day, Shabbat, they would not receive any Manna from heaven, as Shabbat is a day of rest, “a holy day.”
We don’t have to be scholars to know that the Ten Commandments, which includes the law, “Thou shall keep the Shabbat holy,” was not given for another six weeks, which was seven weeks after the exodus. So why withhold the Manna from the Jews now?
 
It is understandable if things changed after the giving of the law at Sinai, since then we were commanded to rest on the seventh day, but why rest before there was a law requiring the Jews to rest?
 
Therefore, we must say that the idea of resting on Shabbat – law or no law - was an integral part of the Manna.
 
The whole purpose of the Manna was to make life easier for the Jews. They could have traveled to the cities and towns close by to purchase supplies and make food. However, G-d wanted them to have a spiritual experience while in the desert, to not have any distractions from the outside world, so that they could focus on what really mattered. Shabbat is a time of rest, a time to rejuvenate our lives. True, the commandment was not given yet, but G-d had a plan, and he wanted the Jews to put on their training wheels, to get in the zone and start dedicating the seventh day of the week solely to G-d. Not even to go outside and collect Manna.
 
Observing Shabbat is a humbling experience, as is eating Manna. That is why G-d wanted them to keep Shabbat even before the commandment was given.
 
Please click here to see Adam Neuman, co-founder of WeWork, talk about what Shabbat means to him. 
 

Make It Real

When it came to the Ten Plagues, one would have expected the plagues to have been just that, plagues that caused damage to the Egyptians. After all, they were the ones being punished for treating the Jews so harshly.

 
Which makes us wonder about the plague of darkness.
 
A-     How bad could it have been? Every night it gets dark, so it was dark for three straight cycles of 24 hours. It was bad, but it was not destructive.
B-     Why does the Torah have to point out that it did not affect the Jews? Why should we think that it would?
 
Therefore, we must come to the conclusion that there is a deeper message here. 
 
On the surface, it might not have been so “painful” for the Egyptians. However, the Torah is telling us that the Jews were able to see, not only in their homes – that is obvious – but also in the homes of the Egyptians. They didn’t take anything at the time; they just looked and inquired of the Egyptians to know what kind of valuables they had so that when they would leave Egypt in a few days’ time, they could come back and ask for “payment” for all their years of slavery. For the Egyptians to sit there in the darkness and have the Jews snoop around was very painful.
 
This in and of itself begs the question, if the Jews already walked into the homes of the Egyptians, why didn’t they just ask the Egyptians for their payment on the spot? Just taking it would be stealing, so they would have to ask. Why come back at a later date?
 
From here we learn a fascinating lesson that applies to us today.
 
G-d wants us to do a Mitzvah through natural means.
 
If the Jews had taken their payment through a miraculous act, such as during the plague of darkness, then they would be fulfilling G-d’s prophecy to Abraham, that the Jews will leave with “great wealth” not through natural means, which in return would not last. However, when we do G-d’s will naturally, it also lasts. 
 
This is why see throughout Jewish history stories over and over again that although G-d could have performed a miracle, He doesn’t and instead He gives us the opportunity to do the right thing in a natural way. 
 
This way, it is real. 
 
 

How to Influence People

There are many books written about the tricks of the trade of how to influence people. On the surface, it sounds so fake, selfish, and self-serving, like all you want out of the relationship is something for yourself. You want the other person do to what you want. 


But is that really the meaning of “influence?” 

Many people ask this question about this week’s Torah portion, which talks about the story of the ten plagues, and G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart, making him stubborn and not allowing the Jews to leave Egypt. Was Moses trying to “influence” Pharaoh to let the Jewish people leave Egypt? At the same time, G-d was heartening his heart? What kind of game was going on over there? 

True influence doesn’t come when it is forced on someone, when you make someone do something because you are more powerful than they are, or because you are paying them to do something. 

For example, when you tell an employee, a loved one, or even your attorney to do something for you, if the person doesn’t believe that it is the right thing to do, even if they do it, they are doing it half-heartedly—unless they are convinced, because you influenced them, that that is the right approach. That is why you want to learn how to influence. This is not because you are selfish, because if it were just for selfish reasons you could get them to do it anyway, but because you want the act to be meaningful, and to be done with a full heart.  

The same is true with Pharaoh. G-d could have forced him to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. He could also have just taken the Jews out of Egypt against Pharaoh’s will. Yet, that was not the plan. G-d wanted Pharaoh to want to let the Jews out of Egypt. This way the evilness of Pharaoh would be broken down and not come back to hunt down the Jews. This is a transformation! It is not an easy path, but a path worth taking. 

This is why there is so much advice on how to influence people and to make a change in their lives. Not because you can force them to do what you want. But because you don’t want to force anyone into doing anything. You want them to do things willingly. And happily.
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