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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Even the smallest infraction

When you go shopping to buy something, let’s say a piece of furniture, and you see that it has a small scratch, you might decide not to buy it. But if you do buy it, probably the little imperfection doesn’t bother you that much. However, if you buy it and the furniture gets further scratched at home, chances are that you will be very disappointed. Why is it that the imperfection had less significance in the store than it does when it is at home? 

The reason is because while the object was in the store, you were looking at something that was not yours. You had the option to choose it or not. However, once it becomes yours, it has been chosen—you and the object are one. Therefore, every imperfection is a reflection on you. 

Now we can understand an interesting law connected to our weekly Torah portion. It says that metal should not touch the stone that is used for the altar. The Talmud and the code of Jewish law say that there is a difference if the stone was chipped before the stone became part of the altar, or if it was chipped after the altar had been built. 

If the stone was chipped before, then it only becomes unusable if the chip is of a “measurable” size. But if the altar was already built, then even the smallest damage rendered it unusable and therefore it must be replaced. 

The reason is as follows: Before the stone became part of the altar, the stone hadn’t been chosen yet and therefore a small infraction was not a big deal. If, however, it became part of the altar, then it was “chosen” and perfection was required. 

This teaches us a profound lesson relating to Rosh Hashana: When we see an imperfection in another person we should be accepting and forgiving. But when we see an imperfection in ourselves, even if it is the smallest imperfection, we should work on changing ourselves to the better.

The Spy

There is a lot of hype surrounding the new show that depicts the life story of one the greatest known Israeli spies, Eli Cohen. There is a lot to say about the remarkable information that he was able to give to Israel while he was in Syria, and many lives were saved by his actions.

 

Judaism teaches us that nothing happens by mistake. The fact that this show was released during the month of Elul, the month leading up to the High Holidays, tells us we should look for a connection between Eli’s story and this time of year.

In this week’s Torah portion, also read in the month of Elul, we find a remarkable connection between the spy story and the parsha about marriage and divorce.

 

One potentially overlooked aspect of the life of a spy is the effect it has on the marriage of a couple. Eli and his wife, Nadia, were married and very much in love. However, when Eli became a spy neither was very present in the other’s life. Yet, while Eli was not physically present, it is obvious that they are both constantly thinking of each other. They eat the same foods, and dream about each other, but are not able to spend time with each other. They seem unaware of this detail in their lives – although it is happening. As far as Nadia is concerned, her husband is not present at all. Her friends tell her that he just doesn’t care, not even coming home to see her newborn child.

 

This spy story is analogous to our “marriage” with G-d. We have a very strong bond with G-d, for sure. Our visits with Him might be sporadic, or at times very regular. There are times when we mimic His ways, even if we don’t really know it. As the Midrashic saying goes, “A Jew is full of Mitzvot like a pomegranate is full of seeds.” However, the question that we could be asking ourselves is what kind of marriage do we want to have with G-d? Is there a reason for us to live the life of a spy who has no choice but to live such a challenging lifestyle? If we were living in Syria today, we too – perhaps – would have to hide our relationship with G-d. But we live in a free country, in a land that not only permits us to live as Jews, but allows us the freedom to practice our religion in public. There is no reason for us to “hide” our feelings for G-d. It is more than OK for us to demonstrate our love in our marriage with G-d openly, and not be ashamed to express it in public. Our friends and neighbors should not be asking us: Why are you a Jew? What does it mean to be a Jew? They should understand and see our commitment and be proud that we have something special!

 

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!

Black vs. Blue

All lives matter. The question is not which ones matter more; the question is which color is more powerful. I am not talking about skin color, but the color of the uniform. Is the black robe or the blue uniform more powerful?  Is it the judge who rules from the bench or the police officer who enforces the law more important? 

From one perspective we can say that it is the police officer who enforces the law. Since without police, the judge can say whatever they want from today to tomorrow—it will not change a thing if the law cannot be applied. On the other hand, we need the judge to make the call, to say who is right and who is wrong. Without judges, there is no law and order to begin with.  

However if all the judge is doing is telling us what we should already know on our own, then the officer is surely the more important player here. After all, police make sure that we live in a civil society by implementing the law in our lives. True, we might not know the law, but that is out of ignorance; or we might know the law but we disagree about how to interpret the law.

There is yet another way of viewing judges. They can be teachers. They have the opportunity to delve into the law to see if there is anything unique in a particular case, both in its unique circumstances and to see if people can learn from it. The judge has the opportunity to learn and to teach, and even to come up with new ideas within the framework of the law. By doing so, the judge is not just telling us what the law says; they are informing and forming people. They are teaching us how to lead productive lives, and bringing peace not only in their courtrooms but to society as a whole. That is how they can become true leaders. 

Yes, we need the officers to enforce the law, but for judges to be truly important they need to be influencers.  


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