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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Physical Therapy

If you ever had to undergo physical therapy, you know it is not fun. Every stretch, every movement, is painful. Yet, you go through the repetitions, counting one, two, three, up to fifteen. You take a break and you start over again. You go through all that pain. Why not just throw in the towel and say, fuhgettaboutit (like they say in Brooklyn)! I can tell you first-hand about my own experience. I am working through a frozen shoulder right now, and it is mighty painful to do the stretches. However, I know that if I want my situation to improve, I must work through the pain until I improve. 

The same is true with every good thing in life. If you want to learn how to play an instrument, you must practice, and it is not always fun. It’s the same with sports, etc. 
 
How about when it comes to doing acts of kindness? 
 
One might think that it would be natural to “Just Do It!” Isn’t it in our nature to want to help someone else out? What kind of question are we even asking? 
 
Yes, the Torah, in this week’s portion, tells us a fascinating verse. When it comes to charity it says, “Open shall you open your hand” and “give shall you give” to the poor person. Why does the Torah use a double expression each time if it is not only obvious but also so easy to do? 
 
Our sages teach us that even doing good acts requires training. Open your hand once, then again, then again, and again and again and again. Don’t get tired of being a giving person. Give shall you give. Never get to the point where you can say I am too tired of being kind. We should train ourselves to be the giving kind. 
 
Thinking we are a giving person and being a giving person is not the same. Being that kind of person means that even when we tire of giving, we still give when we see someone in need. This is the lesson of the Torah portion. 
As we enter the month of Elul leading into the High Holiday season, it is high time to think about what we are doing to prepare for the big day. It is not to early to act. 
 
Shabbat Shalom 

Was It His To Break?

One of the most famous episodes in the Torah is the story of Moses breaking the two tablets. What is interesting about the story is that when Moses retells it to the Jewish people, as he does in this week’s Torah portion, he says, “I took hold of the tablets and cast them out of my hands and shattered them before your eyes” (9:17).

The commentators point out the uniqueness of this verse’s choice of words “I took hold.” Wasn’t Moses already holding the tablets? What does it mean when Moses said that he took hold? From whom did he grab the tablets? 
 
Some commentators hypothesize that Moses grabbed the tablets from G-d who didn’t want him to break them. Others seem to think that the elders wanted to keep them, hoping that Moses wouldn’t be so upset at the Jews for making the golden calf. Yet Moses overpowered them, and took hold of the tablets and shattered them. The common thread between these (and other) ways of thinking is that Moses was adamant that the Jews should not have the tablets. (Eventually they did get a second set.) 
 
The BIG question that must be addressed is: Even if we say that Moses had good reason to break the tablets, did that give him the right to do so? From a purely “legal standpoint,” just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you have the right to do so. 
 
This is similar to what we saw this past week with Israel. There are U.S. Congresswomen who openly defy Israel and are pro-BDS. Nevertheless, the question must be asked, does Israel have the legal right to deny them entry into the Holy Land? In fact, Israel does have a law on their books that states clearly that anyone who is pro-BDS will be denied entry, so they do have legal standing to deny entry. (That is why there is that law.)   
 
On what grounds did Moses break the tablets? Seemingly he “stole” the tablets from the Jewish people! How could he justify that? 
 
The truth is that G-d gave the tablets to Moses; the “Ten Commandments” He gave to the Jewish people. Moses, in his kindness, was planning to share the tablets with the Jewish people. But when he saw the Jewish people behave the way they did, he decided to break the tablets, as they weren’t deserving of them. However, before he did, he took “hold of them” to demonstrate that they were his, and only his. Once everyone knew that they were his, did he break his treasured tablets.
 
This is what a leader is like. Leaders put their personal needs aside and they look out for the needs of the community. When Moses saw that the Jews would be held accountable for their sin, he broke the tablets – which contain the law to not serve an idol – so that he could protect his treasured nation of Israel.  
 
This is a true leader, a person who puts the people first. 

 

Emotional Intelligence

When you first hear the two words “emotional intelligence” together you have to wonder: Don’t they clash? Emotions are feelings, while intelligence is understanding. Feelings are warm and fuzzy, and can get in the way of our brain functioning properly. Thinking and analyzing on the other hand, can be cold and distant, which can get in the way of us having a warm and fuzzy feeling. How then do these two words come together? 


How can we have Intelligence that is emotional, and how can we have emotion that is intelligent? 

One of the most famous prayers, the Shema, which is in this week’s Torah portion, says, “(And) You should love G-d with all your heart.” How do you love G-d with all your heart?  “Love” is an emotion. How can we be commanded to have an emotion? We can be asked to do an action, to “behave as if we love,” but to actually love, that is asking too much.  

This question is asked by many famous commentators. Some respond that it is true, that we cannot be asked to actually have an emotion, just to “act as if we have the emotion.” In modern terms it would be called “behavior therapy.” Do the right thing and with time, the feelings will follow. 

Others argue that the Torah is teaching us that we should have “emotional intelligence.” 
This means that we have to think about our feelings. Why should we love G-d? Who is G-d? What does He do for us? What about this vast world that He has created, and continues to create? The more we contemplate G-d, the more we will come to appreciate Him and eventually come to love Him. If we haven’t reached the level of love, then it is a sign that we have not studied Him enough.  

The field of emotional intelligence is not new. The Torah has been teaching us all along to get in tune with our emotions. To know who we are, how we feel. To understand what our feelings are telling us and to guide those feelings in meaningful ways.  

This is ultimately what emotional intelligence is all about, the merging of the whole. We are not two people, one with a heart and one with a mind, but a whole person, who uses our mind and heart as one, to become a complete person so that we can love and understand. To use our head and heart at the same time. 

9th of Av

This Shabbat is the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple, but we observe this sad day on Sunday so as to honor Shabbat. I would like to share with you a peculiar Midrash, which helps explain the depth of this week’s observance. On the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, an Arab who lived far away from Jerusalem heard a donkey braying, and commented that it must have meant the Holy Temple was destroyed. A few moments later he heard the donkey braying again, and this time he said it meant that the process of their redemption had started.

I am not sharing this story just because of its unusual subject matter, but because it answers a fundamental question: How is it possible for G-d to have destroyed the Temple when Torah law states that you cannot destroy a building, let alone a holy place, for no purpose? You definitely cannot destroy something out of rage, which, seemingly, is what G-d has done.
The Arab’s comments were insightful: He was saying that G-d didn’t destroy for the sake of destroying; he destroyed with the anticipation of rebuilding!
 
The Arab commented that although the Jews could see only a burned Temple at that time, they should have realized that G-d had already planned their comeback. The future redemption had already begun.
 
The same idea applies to us as well today. There are times when we may feel that our “house” is burning and everything that we have built is falling apart, but sometimes the only way out is to let go. What is important is that at the same time that we are letting go, we start rebuilding!
 
This idea is reflected in this week’s Haftarah as well. The main theme of the Haftarah is about the destruction of the Temple, but then it finishes with the statement that by giving Tzedukah, we will be redeemed and brought back to Jerusalem.
 
This teaches us that not only should we never give up hope, we have to take some positive steps as well.

First Responders

First responders are taught to protect their own lives first, and only then go in to help someone. However, if we intend to “save a life,” shouldn’t we immediately run into a burning house just to save a life? You hear it all the time, people saying, “I would do anything to save another person.” Yet, we see that first responders are told not to do that. In order to save someone else, you must know that you are safe first.

The reason for this is that when you put your life in danger, you could become a “walking dead person.” When your life is in danger, you cannot help someone else, and that creates more than one problem.
It is interesting that this logic applies not only to life and death, but this law appears in this week’s Torah portion.
 
This week we read about the laws that define a “City of Refuge.” A City of Refuge was a safe haven for people who inadvertently killed another person. As long as they lived in this city, no one could touch them. If they left the city, however, the victim’s family members might take revenge (i.e., take the law into their own hands). The question arises, what happens if this person’s expertise is needed outside the city limits? Can their rights be protected? Since the whole reason they want to leave the city limits is to “help someone else,” one would think that they should be protected.
 
However, the law states that if they leave, they are not protected.      
 
From here we learn that although it is so important to help another person, we must make sure that we don’t give up our own principles in the process.
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