Printed from

Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Parshas Tazria Metzora

 When asked for her occupation, a woman charged with a traffic violation said she was a school teacher. The judge rose from the bench. “Madam, I have waited years for a school teacher to appear before this court,” he smiled with delight. “Now sit down at that table and write ‘I will not pass through a red light’ five hundred times.”

The name of a Torah portion is indicative of its contents and theme. The name of the first of this week’s two readings, Tazria, literally means “when [she] conceives”. So it is surprising that the entire portion deals with the affliction of leprosy (a spiritual malady not a dermatological condition) rather than conception and birth. In fact, the Biblical plague of leprosy was the most severe form of spiritual impurity, leading our Sages to declare, “The leper is considered as if dead.”

Tazria, however, is an allusion to the positive, inner purpose of all the afflictions and punishments that are prescribed in the Torah. This comes out of the understanding that G-d is the epitome of goodness and loving-kindness. He doesn’t punish anyone for the sake of being punitive. His sole intention is to refine and purify the person, to remove the “obstruction” that was created by his sins, and to elevate him to a higher level. All of the Torah’s punishments, even the most stringent, are for the ultimate good of the recipient.

This is also the inner intention of the Biblical plague of leprosy (tzara’at), as distinguished from the modern day illness known as Hansen’s Disease. The physical manifestations of tzara’at were miraculous in nature and were visited on an individual for the sin of lashon hara (gossip). “The first symptoms would appear on a person’s house. If he repented, the house would be purified. If he persisted in his wickedness until the house was destroyed, the leather garments in his house would begin to change... If he persisted in his wickedness until they had to be burned, the clothing he wore would be afflicted.” It was only if a person did not return to G-d after all these warnings that any symptoms of tzara’at would appear on his body.

Once this happened, the afflicted person had to temporarily leave the rest of society and dwell in isolation. The purpose of this period of separation and reflection was to transform the former sinner into a new entity, one that was purified and refined.

The name of the Torah portion, Tazria, thus reveals the true objective of all the Biblical plagues: the “birth” of a new being, a purer and holier Jew.

This is also the inner meaning of the Jewish people’s exile. During the exile, we “sow” mitzvot and good deeds that they may “grow” and flourish when Moshiach comes. The reward we will receive in the Messianic era will not be dissociated from our present service. On the contrary, it will be the natural outgrowth of all the “seeds” we are planting now.

Additionally, this should inspire us to be more reflective in general our individual past and present, understanding that all roads should lead to the “birth” of something new in our lives. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Volume 22 of Likutei Sichot,

Parshas Shmini

 A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child's artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I'm drawing G-d.”

The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what G-d looks like.”

Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”  

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Shemini, we read about the dedication of the Sanctuary with G-d’s glory shining for all. The biblical book of Chronicles provides a similar description of the dedication of the Holy Temple built by King Solomon: “And when all the people of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the L-rd upon the house, they bowed with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves and praised the L-rd, saying: For He is good; for His loving kindness endures forever.”

When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem the Jewish people bowed down to G-d in the literal sense, “with their faces to the ground upon the pavement.” But the concept of spiritual prostration or nullification before G-d exists even now in the Divine service of each and every Jew.

In fact, there are three levels of prostration:

The highest level is when a person sees the “fire” and the “glory of the L-rd,” and as a natural consequence, willingly bows down and nullifies himself. The person is so attuned to holiness that he can actually “see” it. His awareness of G-d is so overpowering that it arouses the strong desire to worship Him.

But what happens if a person's soul is not particularly illuminated by G-dly revelation? What if he doesn't see or feel the “glory of the L-rd,” and the underlying G-dliness of creation is hidden by the coarseness of the material world? In this instance, the person must force himself to bow down and be submissive. In other words, he serves G-d out of a sense of coercion, against his natural inclination.

In general, this is the difference between the times of the Holy Temple and the exile. When the Holy Temple was in existence, the Divine Presence was openly revealed. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was performed not only “to be seen” but “to see” the G-dly light that illuminated visibly.

By contrast, during the exile G-dliness is concealed. We cannot see the open miracles that were commonplace when the Temple stood. Accordingly, it is impossible to reach the level of prostration that comes from “seeing,” and a certain measure of coercion is necessary.

There is, however, a third example of prostration, which starts with coercion but leads to a heightened perception of G-dliness. When a Jew forces himself to serve G-d, he gradually gains the ability to feel holiness, even if he couldn't in the very beginning. This will ultimately result in a Divine service that is enthusiastic. For whenever a Jew takes the first step and makes the effort, he will discover that deep inside, he wanted to serve G-d all along. So let’s take that first step, this Shabbos!

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 27,

Shvi'i/Acharon Shel Pesach

A shul had a man in the choir who couldn’t sing.

Several people hinted to him that he could serve in other places, but he continued to come to the choir.

The choir director became desperate and went to the rabbi.

“You’ve got to get that man out of the choir,” he said. “If you don’t, I’m going to resign. The choir members are going to quit too. Please do something.”

So the rabbi went to the man and suggested, “Perhaps you should leave the choir.”

“Why should I get out of the choir?” he asked.

“Well, five or six people have told me you can’t sing.”

“That’s nothing,” the man snorted. “Fifty people have told me that you can’t preach!”

The most well known of the ten songs of redemption is Shirat HaYam, the “Song at the Sea” praising G-d for His miraculous redemption of Israel when He split the Red Sea for them and drowned the pursuing Egyptians in it. The song expresses Israel’s desire that G-d lead them to their homeland and rest His presence among them in the Holy Temple, concluding with a reference to the ultimate redemption. This Friday, the seventh day of Passover, is the anniversary of these events.

Actually, there were two songs. After Moses and the children of Israel sang their song, “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: ‘Sing to G-d, for He is most exalted; horse and rider He cast in the sea...’”

The men sang, and then the women sang and danced with tambourines. The men sang their joy over their deliverance and yearning for a more perfect redemption, but something was lacking. Something that only a woman’s song could complete.

Miriam, the elder sister of Moses and Aaron, presided over the female encore to the Song at the Sea. Her name means “bitterness” because at the time of her birth the people of Israel entered the harshest phase of the Egyptian exile. When her infant brother Moses was placed in a basket at the banks of the Nile, she “stood watch from afar, to see what would become of him”.

It was Miriam, with her deep well of feminine feeling, who truly experienced the bitterness of galut (exile and persecution). And it was Miriam, with her woman’s capacity for endurance, perseverance, and hope, who stood a lonely watch over the tender life in a basket at the edge of the Nile River. Her trust in his mission to bring redemption to her people never faltered. It is she, more than the male patriarchs or leaders of Israel, who feels the depth of our pain.

Miriam and her chorus brought to the Song at the Sea the intensity of feeling and depth of faith unique to womankind. Their experience of the bitterness of galut had been far more intense than that of their men folk, yet their faith had been stronger and more enduring. So their yearning for redemption had been that much more poignant, as was their joy over its realization and their striving towards its greater fulfillment.

Today, as we stand at the threshold of the ultimate redemption, it is once again the woman whose song is the most poignant, whose tambourine is the most hopeful, whose dance is the most joyous. Today, as then, the redemption will be realized in the merit of righteous women. Today, as then, the woman’s yearning for Moshiach – a yearning which runs deeper than that of the man, and inspires and uplifts it – forms the dominant strain in the melody of redemption.

May our collective feminine voice beseech the Heavens for that redemption to come speedily in our days! 

Have a good Shabbos and good Yom Tov!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 





 Abe goes to see his boss and says, “We’re doing some heavy house-cleaning at home tomorrow for Pesach and my wife needs me to help with the attic and the garage, moving and hauling stuff.”

“We’re short-handed, Abe,” the boss replies. “I just can’t give you the day off.”

“Thanks, boss.” says Abe, “I knew I could count on you!” 

Passover is not only the first of the three major Jewish festivals, but the foundation and root of all of them. It is “the season of our freedom,” the time when the Jewish people went out of slavery and became an independent nation.

The Torah describes what happened as follows: “G-d has ventured to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and by wonders... according to all that the L-rd your G-d did for you in Egypt before your eyes.” The key words are “a nation from the midst of another nation,” which express the true uniqueness of the event.

What does it mean that the Jews were “a nation in the midst of another nation”? On the one hand it implies that the Children of Israel were already a“people,” in the sense that they spoke their own language, lived in their own land (Goshen), and were careful to wear distinctive Jewish dress. At the same time, they were subservient and dependent upon the Egyptians.

Our Sages likened this situation to a fetus in its mother’s womb. The fetus is aseparate entity from the mother, with its own head, hands, legs and other limbs. Yet it is not a truly independent being, as it is forced to go wherever the mother goes, derives its sustenance from whatever she eats, etc. In truth, the fetus is completely dependent on the mother.

This accurately describes the Jews’ circumstances in Egypt: While recognizable as a separate people, they were completely dependent on the Egyptians - so much so that it appeared as if they, too, were tainted by the Egyptians’ idolatry.

The “umbilical cord” was severed when the Jews were commanded to slaughter and eat the Pascal lamb, an animal that the Egyptians worshipped. The courage and self-sacrifice it took to do this was the first step in the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt and its mentality.

This contains an eternal lesson: A person may think that he is free and independent because he has his own thoughts and desires. Upon reflection, however, he may discover that he is connected by an invisible “umbilical cord” to his surroundings and that in reality, he is a slave to whatever non-Jewish mores and conventions happen to be in vogue. Worse still is that he thinks that this slavery is the true meaning of “freedom.”

The holiday of Passover endows us with the strength to break out of that “head lock” and attain true freedom. The first step is to “slaughter” any “idols” that might be worshipped even subconsciously, and rid oneself of dependency on “what the world thinks.” We no longer have to have the mindset of being “in the midst of another nation” for we are servants of G-d and no one else!

Have a good Shabbos and a Happy Passover!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman 

Adapted from the Rebbe’s Hagada, 5751 edition

Parshas Tzav

 The rabbi, arriving in a small town to be guest speaker at a local shul, wanted to mail a letter to his family back home. He stopped a young boy on a bike and asked where the post office was. The boy gave him directions. The rabbithanked him.

“If you come to shul this evening,” the rabbi said, “I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”

“I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

The Torah uses three different words to describe the commandments G-d entrusted Moses with transmitting to the Jewish people: dibrot (speak)amirot (say) and tzivuyim (command).

All three categories of mitzvot are G-d’s commandments, but the concept of mitzvah is more strongly emphasized in those that are expressed as tzivuyim, given their obvious etymological connection. The Hebrew word mitzvah has two meanings:

1) commandment, from the root word tzav, meaning a command or order; and

2) tzavta, meaning together.

In truth, the Torah’s mitzvot are both G-d’s commands to the Jewish people, and the means by which Jews effect a bond with Him.

In principle, whenever a word in the Torah has two definitions, both meanings are always interrelated. The word mitzvah is no exception to the rule.

The potential for a finite person to connect themselves to an infinite G-d exists only by virtue of His having commanded us to conduct our lives in certain manner. When Jews accept the yoke of heaven and observe G-d’s mitzvot, they form a connection with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and are united with Him.

The first Chabad Rebbe, known as the Alter Rebbe, said that a Jew must “live with the times,” meaning, to live with the Torah portion that is read each week. It isn’t enough to study it. One must internalize its message and apply it to his daily life.

Every Torah portion contains a specific lesson for our daily conduct. From week to week our lives change in accordance with the corresponding Torah reading.

This week we are studying the Torah portion of Tzav. The name of the portion teaches that throughout our lives we are obligated to observe G-d’s commandments. For by doing mitzvot we not only fulfill G-d’s command but merit to be close with Him, effecting a deep and eternal bond that lasts forever.

mitzvah is a concrete moment in time that allows one to connect with that which transcends time.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman 

Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,

Parshas Vayikra

A man had just totaled his car in a horrific accident. Miraculously, he managed to pry himself from the wreckage without a scratch and was combing his disheveled hair when the state trooper arrived.

“My G-d!” the trooper gasped. “Your car looks like an accordion that was stomped on by an elephant. Are you OK?”

“Yes, officer, I’m just fine” he chirped.

“Well, how in the world did this happen?” the officer asked as he surveyed the wrecked car.

“Officer, it was the strangest thing! I was driving along this road when from out of nowhere this TREE pops up in front of me. So I swerved to the right, and there was another tree! I swerved to the left and there was ANOTHER tree! I swerved to the right and there was another tree! I swerved to the left and there was ....”

The officer cut him off, “There isn’t a tree on this road for 30 miles. That's your air freshener!”

We learn in the Torah portion of Vayikra, a korban chatat (sin offering) must be brought for a sin which is committed unintentionally. A korban asham taluy (trespass offering for doubtful guilt) is brought if the person is not sure that he has committed a sin.

For example: A person was presented with two portions of meat that look alike. After eating one of them he learns that only one portion was kosher, the other was treife, and he is not sure which one he ate. In this instance he is required to bring an asham taluy(a doubtful guilt offering) for there is no way to determine if a sin was committed.

Interestingly, the doubtful guilt offering is a more expensive offering than a standard sin offering. To explain why:

The purpose of an offering is to arouse a Jew to return to G-d in repentance. If a person is sure that he has sinned, he feels a genuine regret and repents completely. If, however, there is doubt in his mind (as the possibility exists that no sin was really committed), it is much more difficult for him to experience regret and return to G-d with a whole heart. Accordingly, the offering he must bring is more costly than the one he would be required to offer if his sin were a known fact.

At first glance, it seems illogical that a person should be held accountable for an involuntary, unintentional action. Nonetheless, he is obligated to bring an offering, as his soul needs to undergo refinement.

The very fact that a person has come to sin - even unintentionally, without forethought - is proof that his spiritual standing is not what it should be. Those things a person does “accidentally,” without plan and without intention, are indicative of his essential nature. The actions we perform automatically, without thinking, reflect our true leanings and tendencies. They indicate those areas toward which we are most inclined.

tzadik (righteous person) naturally performs actions that are good and holy. If, G-d forbid, a person commits a sin, even by “chance”, it shows that the negative side still wields some degree of influence and control. Thus a person is required to bring an offering for any sin he commits, even those that are committed without his volition.

The deeper we dig, the more we uncover. Our negative character is not something to ignore. G-d gives each of us the strength, ability and opportunity for correction, redirection and transformation. It can be a costly offering, but the cost of ignoring it is much greater. 

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman 

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, Vol. 3,

Parshas Vayakhel - Pekudei

According to only legend, during the heat of the space race in the 1960's, NASA decided it needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. 

The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

For the past few weeks we have been reading Torah portions dealing with the building of the Tabernacle. This week, in Vayakhel, we read about its actual construction.

Before the Tabernacle was built, Moses assembled all of the Children of Israel and commanded them to keep the Sabbath. “Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh you shall have a holy day. A Sabbath of rest to G-d.”

The Talmud explains that the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle teach us that the types of work done in the construction and maintenance of the Tabernacle define what work we must avoid in order to keep the Sabbath. These are the 39 categories of prohibited labor on Shabbat.

Nothing in the Torah is coincidental. The fact that the Torah chooses the building of the Tabernacle to teach us which labors are prohibited on Shabbat shows that there is a connection between these two subjects. There is even a deeper dimension. Every one of the 39 types of labor is the prototype of the labors we perform during the six days of the week. Being that everything in the physical world reflects its spiritual source, all our physical labor is tantamount to the building of the Tabernacle. All the work which we perform has the potential to be elevated and turned into holiness. In fact every task we perform during our daily routine can bring holiness into the world, the same function which the original Tabernacle served.

The Torah states: “Six days shall you work.” Not only must man toil to earn his daily bread, but it is through one's physical labor that he molds and shapes the world into a “sanctuary” for G-d.

How do we elevate our daily, mundane tasks? All of our activities, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed with the proper thoughts in mind. When we eat, drink, sleep and go about our business according to Torah law, we are cognizant of our Creator and transform our lives into sanctuaries to G-d.

Since our physical reality reflects the spiritual one, everyone one of our actions has potential for increased goodness and G-dliness. In the Tabernacle it was revealed, whereas the physical world is still in a state of potential. Our task is to actualize that potential through our thoughts, words and deeds shaping the personal divine sanctuary that emits G-d’s light to the world.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,

Parshas Ki Sisa


Teacher: Yankel and Chaim! Why are you late for school, today?!

Yankel: I lost a gold dollar coin and was searching for it.

Teacher: Chaim, what’s your story?!

Chaim: I was not able to move because I was hiding that coin under my foot.

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, contains the commandment to give the half-shekel: "This shall they give ...a half-shekel offering to G-d." On this verse the Jerusalem Talmud comments: "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, removed a coin of fire from under the Throne of Glory and showed it to Moses, saying, 'This shall they give.' "

Moses had no difficulty understanding what was meant by a half-shekel; what he did not understand was how this offering could atone for the souls of the Jewish people. When G-d showed him the coin of fire, the concept was explained.

What lesson does the "coin of fire" contain for us in our own service of G-d?

A coin has the same fixed value for everyone. By contrast, different objects are worth more or less to different individuals. To one person the value of a particular object will be great, and he will be willing to pay a large sum of money to possess it. Another person, who does not desire it as much, will consider it to be of lesser value. But a coin is not open to disagreement. Its value is always the same.

A coin, matbei'a in Hebrew, comes from the root meaning nature, teva. It is symbolic of kabalat ol (the acceptance of the yoke of heaven), which is the same for everyone, independent of emotions or intellectual capacities. True, people differ greatly from one another, but the basic acceptance of the concept that G-d's will must be fulfilled is the same for all, just like a coin whose value is fixed and never changes.

Fire is characterized by a perpetual upward movement. The nature of flame is to rise up; it yearns to ascend ever higher. Not only does fire never move downward, it never stays still.

Fire is symbolic of movement and activity, of yearning and progression. A Jew's G-dly service is likened to fire, for he is always striving to ascend higher and draw closer to G-d. However, each person's spiritual service is dependent on his individual ability. The level of his service is determined by his particular powers of comprehension and emotional capacities. In this respect, all people are different. Each "fire" is different, unlike the coin whose value is always the same.

The half-shekel, the "coin of fire," represents a unification of these two concepts.

Human nature is such that when a person acts according to the dictates of his own emotions he is filled with vitality and enthusiasm - fire. When he acts out of a sense of obligation, this excitement is absent. His actions are deliberate and calculated, but they are not enthusiastic.

The Jew's service is to combine the "coin" with the "fire," to accept the yoke of heaven with fervor and enthusiasm. Such service has the power to atone for sin. This is within each of ours reach! Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1,

Parshas Tetzave

 While at sail a captain of a steamship hears a distress call. “Captain, Captain. You must alter your course by 10 degrees; you are in danger of collision.” To which the captain replies, “I am a mighty steamship sound and sturdy. I say to you, if my path endangers you, you should alter your course, I will not!” The voice once again cries out, “Captain, Captain. You must take heed and change your course by twenty degrees; you are in danger of collision.” The crusty old captain replies, “I am at sail and will not change. I am a mighty and fierce steam ship.” The voice replies, “Yes you are a steamship, but I am a lighthouse.”

In this week's portion, Tetzave, the Torah states: “Aaron shall burn incense each morning when he cleans the [Menorah’s] lamps. And he shall burn incense in the evening when he kindles the lamps.” What purpose did the burning of incense serve and what can apply in our daily lives?

It is important to note that the command to build the incense altar and bring its offering, are the final elements in the construction of the Sanctuary mentioned in the Torah. In fact, the Divine Presence did not rest in the Sanctuary until the incense offering was brought. It seems everything was a lead-up to this offering.

What is the reason for this uniqueness? Our Sages explain that the sacrifices offered on the outer altar in the courtyard of the Sanctuary relate to a Jew's body, while the incense offering brought on the inner altar relates to a Jew's soul.

This concept is reflected in the Hebrew names used to describe these different offerings. The Hebrew word for “sacrifice” is korban, which has it root in the word “karov,” meaning “close.” In contrast, the Hebrew for “incense” offering, ketoret, relates to the root ketar, Aramaic for “bond.” By bringing a sacrifice, a Jew draws close to G-d. Yet through the incense offering a higher level is attained – the Jew and G-d become fused in total unity.

It is only after the Torah describes the preparations and vessels necessary for the Sanctuary that it mentions the incense offering. The former’s purpose creates a space for the Divine Presence to dwell among and within the Jewish people. Then we can come to the next stage, the incense offering, which allows for a bond of oneness to be established. First G-d and the Jewish people draw close, then they progress to become one.

This theme of oneness is also reflected in the dimensions of the incense altar, which measured one cubit by one cubit. Likewise, when the incense offering was brought, the priest making the offering was alone with G-d. No one else was allowed to assist.

These concepts must be paralleled in our daily service of G-d. Every day, a person arises as “a new creation”, allowing us to constantly renew our inner bond with G-d. The effects of this bond, however, should not remain only on the inside. As stated above, the incense offering was brought in connection with the cleaning and the kindling of the Menorah – which is all about emanating light to the outside. This teaches us that our bond of oneness with G-d must be extended even into our “outside” worldly affairs, causing them to be carried out not only in the spirit of “for the sake of Heaven”, but in order to “Know Him in all your ways.”

We see a curious pattern: outer alter, inner alter, menorah. So to in life: we draw our outer egocentric selves close to G-d, an inner soulful bond of oneness develops, it then goes out to enlighten and illuminate our outsides, infusing meaning to our mundane. Wow, “sweet ride”! Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman 

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,

Parshas Teruma

 For two solid hours, the lady sitting next to a man on an airplane had told him about her grandchildren. She had even produced a plastic-foldout photo album of all nine of the children. She finally realized that she had dominated the entire conversation on her grandchildren. Oh, I’ve done all the talking, and I m so sorry. I know you certainly have something to say. Please, tell me… what do you think of my grandchildren?

The Torah portion of Terumah contains the commandment “And you shall make two cherubim of gold.” The cherubim were formed as part of the Holy Ark’s lid.

What did the cherubim look like? Our Sages offer several opinions. Rashi describes the cherubim as “having the face of a baby.” Nachmanides maintains they had the form of “the chariot [of G-d] that was seen [in a prophetic vision] by Ezekiel.”

Rashi based his explanation on a Talmudic passage that depicts the cherubim as looking like a boy and a girl facing each other, symbolic of G-d's love for the Jewish people. When G-d spoke to Moses, the Divine voice issued from between the two cherubim, as it states, “And I will speak with you from above the Ark cover, from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony.” This was the place of the most intense revelation of the Divine Presence.

In general, Rashi's commentary explains the Torah's “literal” meaning, whereas Nachmanides' interpretations are more mystical and esoteric. Nachmanides thus describes the cherubim  according to their deeper, spiritual significance, i.e., as resembling the “chariot” seen by the Prophet Ezekiel, while Rashi gives us the simple facts, i.e., that the cherubim  had the face of a baby.

Although Rashi's interpretation is literal, it best expresses the depth of the mystical connection between the Jew and G-d. Our Sages say that the idea of creating the Jewish people occurred to G-d before He thought of creating the Torah, as it were. Mystically it means that G-d’s love for the Jews transcends and is “higher” than the Torah. G-d loves the Jewish people with the kind of love a parent feels for his child, which is independent of the child's conduct or actions.

This is reflected in the fact that physically, the cherubim were placed on top of the Ark of Testimony, which contained the Ten Commandments. For the inner bond between the Jewish people and G-d, which is derived from their essence, is above even the Torah itself.

This also helps explain why the innermost level of a Jew's bond with G-d remains unaffected even if he sins and transgresses the Torah's commandments, G-d forbid (as opposed to the more external aspects of their relationship, which sustain damage). It is from this soulful bond that atonement is achieved for the Jewish people, as alluded to in the word for the ark’s lid itself - kaporet – which is related to kapara - atonement.

Shabbos gives us an opportunity to experience that central core connection, which is true atonement, or rather at-one-ment. Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Volume 26 of Likutei Sichot,

Parshas Mishpatim

 Two friends are standing in line at a bank when armed robbers burst in. While a few of the robbers take the money from the tellers, the others line the customers up against a wall and proceed to take their wallets, jewelry, and any other valuables they may have.

While this is all taking place, one friend presses something into the other’s hand. Without looking down, the second friend whispers, “What is that?”

“It’s the $100 I owe you,” replies the first friend.

One of the commandments contained in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is lending money to a poor person. It is considered a mitzvah and the highest form of Tzedakah as you are helping someone stand on their own two feet.

Our Sages understand that G-d performs all of the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people to observe. After all, we are following “HIS statutes and HIS judgments”.  Thus, G-d too observes the mitzvah of “lending money to the poor,” as it were. We can understand its spiritual implications by first examining the practicality of what is involved in the transaction of a loan.

A loan consists of one person giving money to another, even though the lender is not obligated to do so. The money is a type of gift in that the borrower does not give anything in exchange. Nonetheless, the person on the receiving end of the transaction is obliged to eventually repay the giver.

G-d “loans” and endows us with strengths and abilities that allow us to succeed in our daily lives. These gifts are not measured, nor does G-d grant them only to the deserving, just as monetary loans are not made solely to those in dire need. And yet, they are still “loans” and must therefore be repaid. But how do we repay our debt? By utilizing our energy and competency to fulfill G-d’s desire that this material realm be hospitable to the Creator. As we observe His statutes and judgments, i.e. Torah and mitzvot, we are transforming the physical dimension into a vessel for pure G-dliness.

The second half of the above commandment reads “You shall not be a creditor to him, nor shall you lay upon him interest.” It is forbidden for a lender to pressure the borrower into repaying his loan or cause him distress. If the loan has not yet been repaid it is obvious that the borrower does not have the money to do so. In fact, the lender may not even silently show himself to the borrower that he not be made to feel any embarrassment or shame.

G-d also observes the prohibition against being a creditor. G-d could easily demand payment by punishing His children and inflicting pain and suffering, but He does not – for it is forbidden for a creditor to cause sorrow to those who are in his debt. Instead, G-d acts toward the Jewish people with kindness and mercy, granting them all manner of revealed and open goodness.

Sometimes it is challenging for us to see it, but bottom line, we all prefer doing business with the Bank of G-d – the customer service is outstanding! Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1,

Parshas Yisro

 Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how G-d sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.”

“Now, Joey is that really what your teacher taught you?” His mother asked.

“Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read: “And Yitro heard...everything that G-d had done for Moses and His people Israel...and Yitro Moses into the wilderness.”

What did Yitro hear that caused him to leave his land and join the Jewish people? Rashi explains, he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek.

At first glance, this is surprising. For sure Yitro was aware of all the miracles that took place as part of the Exodus from Egypt which were before the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Why then was it not until the sea was split and the battle fought against Amalek that he decided to go to Moses? Those amazing 10 miracle plagues had a tremendous magnetism. 

Another question. According to the principle that “one must always ascend in matters of holiness,” one would expect the Jewish people to have reached a more elevated spiritual state by the time the Torah was given. The physical and spiritual vulnerability that the war against Amalek seems to represent, points to a spiritual decline from the splitting of the sea.

When the Sea split, G-d’s Divine light illuminated all planes of existence, effecting a bond between the higher spheres and the mundane physical world. All the nations heard of the great miracle and the G-dly revelation struck awe in their hearts. Nevertheless, even after the splitting of the sea, Amalek was not afraid to confront the Jews. Why? Because the revelation of holiness that occurred had still not penetrate the very lowest levels of the physical. Those dimensions require very deep penetration and integration to bring purification. These lowest levels became refined only after the hand to hand physical and spiritual battle with Amalek, when the Jews were victorious.

Thus the battle against Amalek was the final step and cleansing in the Jewish people’s preparation for receiving the Torah. For it was by means of this war that the entire world was transformed into an appropriate vessel to contain the Torah.

This also explains why these two events convinced Yitro to join the Jewish people. It was only after both stages (splitting the sea and the war with Amalek) had occurred that the world was completely ready to accept the Torah.

Each day we say: “Blessed are You... Who gives the Torah” - in the present tense. Every day we receive the Torah anew. Just as our ancestors prepared themselves to accept the Torah at Sinai, so too must we prepare ourselves and our world.

We do this by living with the adage “Know Him in all your ways.” A Jew’s connection to G-d must be constant, not just during prayer or Torah study. First comes the “splitting of the Sea” - our involvement in spiritual matters, only after which can we wage “war against Amalek” and see to imbue our mundane affairs with meaning and purpose.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 11,

Parshas Beshalach

Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is a triumph of enthusiasm.     --- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

For every sale you miss because you're too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you're not enthusiastic enough.     --- Zig Ziglar

If you're not fired with enthusiasm you will be fired with enthusiasm.     --- Anonymous

This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, speaks about the perpetual battle the Jewish people are commanded to wage against our spiritual arch-enemy Amalek. Commentators explain that ultimately the war against Amalek will only end when Moshiach (Messiah) comes and ushers in the Messianic age.

Nowadays we do not know the physical identity of Amalek – although unfortunately, there are a list of enemies in every generation that seem to fit the bill. Only Moshiach will be able to correctly distinguish between who is, and who is not, one of his descendants. So at present we are unable to fulfill this mitzvah in the literal sense. Nonetheless, the commandment to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" is still incumbent on us today, albeit in the spiritual sense.

"Amalek," in terms of our divine service of G-d, is symbolic of coldness and apathy for all that is holy. Of Amalek it is said, "He cooled you off" - i.e., the physical nation of Amalek dampened Israel's eagerness and enthusiasm for the Torah they were about to receive at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt. Similarly, the spiritual Amalek lurks in the recesses of our hearts.

G-dliness and holiness are warm and filled with life and vitality; apathy and indifference are cool and unresponsive.

"All right," the spiritual Amalek whispers in our ears, "you want to observe the Torah's commandments? Fine! Every Jew should do so. But why be all excited about it? It's not as if you're doing something new, something you've never done before. Every day you learn Torah, every day you recite your prayers. What's the big deal?" In this way (as well as in many other subtle ones) Amalek attempts to cool off the Jew's innate ardor and natural affinity for holiness. His aim is to blind us to the true reality: that a Jew's performance of a mitzvah is the single most significant act that can ever be accomplished in this world, one which affects his entire being and the entire cosmos forever and ever!

The crafty Amalek is ever vigilant and resourceful when it comes to tricking a Jew into adopting a ho-hum attitude towards sanctity and G-dliness.

How are we to fight this incursion of coldness? By responding with warmth and emotion, consciously resisting Amalek's attempt to cloud our eyes to the truth. Allow yourself to enjoy a mitzvah experience, be enthusiastic about your Judaism even if your peers are not, its not “corny”…its reality. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Cherish it.

We can continue our battle against spiritual apathy and lethargy this Friday night with a wonderful cup of wine, delicious Challahs, maybe some chicken soup – all enthusiastically shared with friends and family. Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2,

Parshas Bo

 A young child asked someone what time it was, and they told him it was 4:45. The child, with a puzzled look on his face replied, “You know, it’s the weirdest thing, I have been asking that question all day, and each time I get a different answer.”

This week's Torah portion, Bo, contains the very first commandment that was given to the Jews as a people - the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, the new moon or lit. “head of the month”. The beginning of a Hebrew month was determined by witnesses who testified to the appearance of the new moon, and then sanctified by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court.

The fact that this was the very first mitzvah the Jews were given demonstrates its primary importance in Judaism. In general, the main effect the Torah's mitzvot have on the physical world is to imbue it with G-dliness. When a mitzvah is performed with a physical object, it itself becomes holy, and the material plane of existence is sanctified.

The mitzvah of the new moon is unique in that instead of physical objects, it relates to the dimension of time. Through this mitzvah, a “regular” day is transformed into Rosh Chodesh, a day with special sanctity. Time itself is elevated and made holy.

In this respect, the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon has an advantage over all other mitzvot as their ability to bring sanctity into the world is limited. For example, an object directly used to perform a mitzvah becomes “a utensil of holiness” as the physical world is elevated when a Jew uses it for the “sake of heaven.” In this case, these “things” are only considered “tools,” as preparation for the performance of an actual mitzvah.

However, the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh is more far-reaching. When the Jewish court establishes a certain day as Rosh Chodesh, the effect is felt throughout the month, and indeed, throughout the entire year.

Another advantage to affecting the dimension of time is that time is generally thought of as something over which we have no control. Time cannot be made longer or shorter. It cannot be hurried up or slowed down. Nonetheless, G-d gives the Jew the ability to sanctify time and transform it into “Jewish time,” time that is thoroughly imbued with holiness.

“Conquering” time in this way hastens the time when the entire world and all of its infinite aspects will be suffused with holiness. When Moshiach comes and gathers in the exiles of Israel, the Sanhedrin will be reestablished in Jerusalem, and the laws of Rosh Chodesh will again be in effect.

In the meantime, it is our privilege to create more of the good old “Jewish” time. Let’s start with a Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26,

Parshas Va'eira

There were two snakes talking. The 1st one said 'Sidney, are we the type of snakes who wrap ourselves around our prey and squeeze and crush until they're dead? Or are we the type of snake who ambush our prey and bite them and they are poisoned?'. Then the second Snake says “Why do you ask?” The 1st one replies: “I just bit my lip!” 

This week's Torah portion, Va'eira, narrates the encounter between Moses and Aaron, and Pharaoh, King of Egypt. G-d stipulated that if Pharaoh were to ask him to demonstrate a “wonder,” Aaron was to throw down his staff, and it would be miraculously transformed into a serpent. And so it came to pass.

Yet, after Aaron performed this feat, Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians did the same, “but Aaron's staff swallowed their staffs.”

Why was this “extra” miracle necessary -- the swallowing up of all the other staffs -- and what is its special significance, considering that G-d didn't mention it to Moses beforehand?

All of the miracles and plagues were not merely to punish Egypt, but to break through their opposition to G-d. Fundamental to their belief system was that G-d has no practical influence and involvement in the world. After creating the physical universe, G-d “stepped back” and gave the job of managing it over to the forces of nature, the Egyptians maintained.

Each one of the ten plagues was designed to refute a particular aspect of this mistaken belief, including this miracle of Aaron's staff swallowing up the staffs of the magicians.

Aaron stood for the forces of sanctity. His staff of the G-dly power that is inherent in holiness. The serpent is symbolic of Egypt. Aaron thereby demonstrated to Pharaoh that the very existence of the serpent itself -- i.e., Egypt -- was dependent upon G-d.

What was Pharaoh's answer? He immediately called for his magicians to duplicate the feat, “proving” to Aaron that Egypt had powers of its own and had no need for the G-d of the Jews. Yet when Aaron's staff swallowed up the others, all saw that the might and power of Egypt was only an illusion, without independent existence.

With this miracle, G-d showed Pharaoh and his wise men that His sovereignty over creation extended even to them, forming the first chink in the Egyptian ideological armor. The ten plagues that followed corresponded to the ten levels of impurity – systematically invalidated one by one.

Furthermore, an important lesson in our service of G-d may be derived from this story, most notably the importance of emulating Aaron, who “loved peace and pursued peace, loved mankind and drew them closer to Torah.”

Even when necessity dictates that we deal in a strict manner with others, we must always make sure that we employ “the staff of Aaron” -- and are guided solely by the highest principles of love for our fellow Jew.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 26,

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.