Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Who gets the credit?

When we talk about new inventions today such as in the field of technology, we can ask, are they truly new inventions or are they updated from information that already exists? In other words, are we just building on the wisdom of previous generations?   

Any honest person will admit that many of today’s inventions are revisions of what we already know. We are taking something old, making it better, faster, more usable, and perhaps more importantly, applying it to greater uses. 

Which brings us to the question: Who really gets the credit? The original inventor who didn’t do much with their invention, yet it is they who started the process, or the one who finished and applied the idea to reality and now we have something usable? 

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Moses taught the Jewish people about the importance of getting a mitzvah “done.” He told them that if they start a job, “finish it!” Moses himself felt bad when he was not able to finish a job that he started, such as bringing Joseph’s coffin into Israel, or even entering Israel himself. 

What did Moses do? Should you not start something if you know you cannot finish? No. you start anyway, but the next generation has to know that they have to do everything in their power to complete the job, even if they are just midgets on the shoulders of a giant. 

Moses did everything in his power to prepare the Jews to enter the land of Israel, so that they could go in.  

It is the same with us today. There are jobs that are in our power to complete, and there are jobs that we can only start. The main thing is that we should not procrastinate—we should get the job done. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Going Back to School

This week’s Torah portion Va’etchanan, contains the section of the Shema that says, V’shinantamL’vanecha, meaning you shall teach your children. This phrase carries a double meaning: it can be interpreted that a teacher’s students are like their own children, in addition to the simple meaning of the phrase, that parents must teach their children.   


My children don’t enjoy going shopping these days because all they see in the stores are, “Back to school!” signs, while all they want to do is have fun in camp and play some more. However, teachers are not playing around now as they are preparing day in and out, thinking about the coming school year. What is it about teachers that they just don’t take a break—even outside of the classroom? 


Teachers have a few options when educating children. They can just stand up in front of their pupils and share information. They can teach only the curriculum. Or they can be very good at making sure that each child knows every single detail. They can sing songs, come up with creative ways for students to memorize information, write skits, and the list goes on. Another approach is when a teacher invests themselves in each and every student, finding a way to each individual’s mind and heart, to make sure that each student knows the information at their level. Sure, the first way can be very engaging, but one or more students may fall to the wayside. In the latter approach, not only do the students learn, they love what they learn, and they understand the information better, some deeper, some not, but each on their individual level. The main thing is that each student is enjoying learning the subject matter. 


What distinguishes one teacher from the next? How can a teacher put themselves in the mind frame to care about their students to such a degree that they put their heart and soul into each and every student? Are we asking too much?


If you view each child as if they are your very own child, then you are able to do so, since for your own child there is no task too difficult, no child unteachable, no effort too challenging. When we look at every child as an only child, as a gift from G-d, as a prize, then we are willing to jump through any hurdle to make the impossible possible.


This is how a teacher becomes not just a teacher, but becomes the student’s parent.


A parent too, must not be just a parent, but a teacher as well.

Clearer Than Clear

Many of us prefer to see the world clearly, as if looking into a crystal ball. Is the world good or bad? We have little place for choices, differences of opinion. More than that, we don’t like challenges. We prefer when life goes smoothly. Who wants to have a roller coaster of a life? The ups and downs of the stock market? That is why we prefer to know if something is good or bad (who doesn’t check out the ratings online--we all want to know if this is an acceptable product or not).


In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, Moses spoke with disapproval to the tribes of Gad and Reuven about their desire to stay on the plains east of the Jordan River instead of entering Israel. Their reason was that they had many cattle, and the grass was greener on that side. 


Was that really their reason? After forty years of waiting to enter Israel, they wanted to stay behind because the grass was greener?


Let us dig a little deeper. Why did they have more cattle than the other tribes? Were they better ranchers? One reason given is because they didn’t eat meat and so they didn’t slaughter their animals. They preferred to eat the manna alone during their years in the desert, hence they had a lot more cattle.


This leads us to an interesting conclusion. Their reason to stay in the desert—to pasture their cattle—had less to do with their animals and more to do with not going into Israel proper to become farmers. If they entered Israel, they would have to engage in worldly affairs, get involved in commerce, become distracted with the colors of the world, the ups and the downs of the marketplace, such as which commodity is high and which is low. Conversely, if they stayed in the desert, they could be simple shepherds and hang around with their sheep, while dedicating their lives to the service of G-d. 


However, Moses wanted to teach them—and us—an important lesson. Life is not about living a perfect crystal-clear life. It is about living with—and through—our challenges. It is about taking all the hurdles, the obstacles, the impediments, and growing through them to become stronger.   


We were not created to eat manna from heaven our whole life, but to toil the earth and find bread within it.


Embrace the unknown and grow from it; you have it within you.

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