Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Are You an Educator?

 What makes a good educator?


When it comes to education, there are many methods of teaching. While not all parents are equipped with what it takes to be a teacher, we are thrown into the responsibility of educating our youngsters—and are expected to be good at it!


How are we to learn?


In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we are taught that the double expression, Emor v’Emarta, you should “say to the descendants of Aaron and instruct them to say,” teaches us that the elders should teach the youngsters, meaning that parents must teach their children.


How should this be done?


If we take a closer look at the Torah portion, we see seemingly unrelated prohibited and required acts listed, from important Mitzvot to less significant ones. However, the common denominator among them is that every Jew, whether young or old, is obligated to fulfill the Mitzvah.


When a parent, teacher, or for that matter, any adult removes that barrier between themselves and a child and recognizes that they both have the same obligation to serve G-d—that the two of them share the same goal—then the adult doesn’t see themselves as better than the child, only as more educated, and therefore more than willing to share. When the adult does so, they do it with humility and happiness. Hence, it is received gladly as well.


Teaching methods are vital once the teacher has established that there is no hierarchy—respect yes, but at the same time there is a common goal to serve our Creator.

Love Sickness

 One can desire something so badly that the thing they want can make them sick. An often-used example of this is substance abuse. The user loves to “use,” but the more they use, the sicker they get. However, this is true for each and every one of us. For example, with the common cold, if we get a fever and our body becomes very hot, we want to go outside to get some fresh air since we are so hot and sweaty. Yet any medical professional will tell you that the best thing is to sweat it out. The driving force behind our desire to get something cold, is the will to satisfy our needs over what is good for us.


Holding back from harming ourselves is clearly the right thing to do. But how about the desire itself—is that good or bad?


In kabbalistic parlance, these two drives are called Rotzo and Shuv: the desire to act and the control mechanisms that we put into place to decide whether to act or not to act.


In this week’s Torah portion, Moses warns his brother, Aaron, “Don’t do what your children did and enter the Holy of Holies at any time you want, lest you die as they died.”


From Moses’s warning we deduce that Aaron had a desire to walk into the holiest place on this Earth—just as his sons did—knowing full well the consequences of what his action might bring.  He knew that he should never do so, but knowing that you shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean that you don’t have a desire to do so.


This is a powerful lesson that we learn from this conversation. Moses was teaching Aaron: It is not only OK to have this desire, but G-d wants us—all of us—to have spiritual quests. But this doesn’t mean that we can quench that thirst. Only one day during the year it is Yom Kippur—a day of atonement—the rest of the year it is not.  Once a week it is Shabbat—a day of rest—the other days we may work. Each and every day has its’ unique Mitzvah. The fact that we want to connect to G-d in a variety of ways is good, but that doesn’t mean that all of those ways are the right ways. 


The same is true with many relationships. It is good to want to do a favor for a friend, but shouldn’t we first find out if the friend wants that specific favor? Imagine doing something for someone that we think is the kindest act, but they find it to be creepy. Thankfully, G-d gave us a manual called the Torah, so that we know exactly how he wants us to connect to Him. The choice is ours. Having "Love Sickness" for G-d is a good thing.

What’s Your Contribution?

What makes the human tick? Are we just another variation of the evolution of the world or are we really another species? What is it about the endless ability of the human being to innovate?


With one word, Tazriah, the name of this week’s Torah portion, we come to appreciate a deeper meaning of the human being.


In general, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first word, or words, of the Torah portion. This week, the name could have been Eisha (women) or Tazriah (conceives). Why do we use the verb instead of the noun?


If we take a step back and look at the order of the verses going through the last few Torah portions, we see something fascinating. First, the Torah talks about inanimate objects—the gold, silver, and copper that was used to build the Tabernacle. Then it talks about the oil, flour, and spices, all from the world of vegetation. Then it moves on to the world of animals that were sacrificed, once brought into the Temple, and this leads us to the topic of the different laws regarding what is kosher and so on.


Now we are moving closer to the human being.


When it comes to the human being, however, we want to know more. Is it just about what we eat or is it about what we do? What we accomplish in life? How we succeed in our day-to-day activities?


True, not all humans can “conceive,” but the root of the Hebrew word Tazriah comes from the words to sow and plant. Each and every one of us has the ability to accomplish something in this world. We all have a purpose in this world, our unique mission statement. The question is, do we just live in this world, scavenge as an animal does or do we contribute and give back? Do we accomplish our to-do list?


This week, the Torah is telling us to live life as a verb, an actionable life, to get things done in a meaningful way.

Shabbat Shalom

One of the beautiful things about marine life is that it is so tranquil. Looking from land, the sea looks perfect. All we can see on the surface are the waves, and below the surface, we can just imagine how the fish swim around and live in the most natural and harmonious way. Of course, we know that the big fish live off the smaller ones, but that too, is nature


The Hebrew word for nature is teva. Teva also has another meaning: hidden, as in, “hidden in the water,” as we find in the verse, “hidden in the sea.” This teaches us that many secrets are hidden within the laws of nature, and if we just look a little deeper into nature, we can find some fascinating tales.


In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we learn the laws of kosher and non-kosher birds. Birds of prey are non-kosher. Rashi, the famous commentator, used old French (his native language) to translate many of the Hebrew names of these birds, so that we know what they are. When it came to the osprey, Rashi not only told us its name, but explained how it dives into the water and pulls out fish in its mouth.


What kind of lesson can we learn from the fact that Rashi gave us this extra information and not just the name translation?


Rashi’s words teach us that the secret of the sea is that nature is full of miraculous events. Why is it that this specific fish was plucked out of the water by this bird? Why does one large fish eat a specific smaller one? Is it just nature? Or perhaps there is a G-d that makes the world go ’round?


On the surface everything looks so beautiful, but as we look a little deeper, we see that the hand of G-d is just beneath the surface. This is the secret of the sea. This is the lesson that the osprey can teach us.


The same is true in our lives. We may go on with our daily lives and everything looks so natural, but the truth is, the hand of G-d is active in everything we do. We just have to poke our heads out of the water to see it.

Shabbat Shalom.

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