Printed from ChabadMainline.org

Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

 Email

Parshas Shelach

A little girl goes to see the doctor. She’s got a pea in one nostril, a grape in the other, and a string bean stuck in her ear. She says to the doctor, “I don’t feel good.”

The doctor replies, “The problem is clear to me. You’re not eating right!”
 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, one the reasons cited by the 12 spies for not wanting to enter Israel was the claim that “our young children will be prey.” G-d quelled their fears with an assurance: “And the young children of which you said would become prey, I will bring them in, and they will know the land.”

The spies wished to play on the feelings of fear and pity for the children in an effort to keep the Jews in their spiritual cocoon in the desert. G-d, however, addressed this head-on by saying even the youngest Jewish children would merit to enter and work the land.

Our Sages observe that a baby must be given a large quantity of food when it is fed, as most of it ends up being crumbled. In fact, a baby wastes more than it manages to swallow.

In the spiritual sense, Torah is the “food” of the Jewish soul. It is the “bread” from which it derives its nourishment. This sustenance is given to every Jew - young and old, great and small in knowledge. The adult learns Torah diligently, and the understanding he or she acquires is reflected in practical deed when performing the Torah’s mitzvot in the most beautiful manner possible.

A child, by contrast, crumbles more than he manages to ingest. The child learns and knows, but doesn’t usually invest 100% of his attention or efforts into the studies. As we all know, much of what we learned in youth is soon forgotten, as it has not been properly assimilated.

When the spies declared, “Our young children will be prey,” they were referring to children in the allegorical sense - Jews whose study of Torah is conducted in an imperfect manner. The spies worried that because the Jews would have to work hard to cultivate the land, the amount of time left over for learning Torah would be relatively short, and the study itself would be flawed. In Israel, the Jewish people would become so preoccupied with simple labor that they would be reduced to “children” when it came to Torah knowledge. The spies, in essence, were voicing their concerns about themselves.

Not to worry, G-d assured them. G-d loves Jewish children, both in the literal sense and Jews who have just set out on the path of Torah study. In fact, when Jewish “children” set aside fixed times for learning Torah and observe mitzvot in an especially beautiful manner, their service is even more pleasing to G-d than that of the generation of Jews in the spiritual safe haven of the desert.

Nothing should deter us from engaging in Torah study, not even our background (or lack thereof). Don’t worry about crumbling more Torah than you can ingest, after all, we are only just “children”.

Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 13, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Behaalotcha

 

A nursery school teacher was delivering a station wagon full of kids home one day when a fire truck zoomed past. Sitting in the front seat of the fire truck was a Dalmatian dog.
The children began discussing the dog’s duties.
“They use him to keep crowds back, “said one youngster.
“No,” said another, “he’s just for good luck.”
A third child brought the argument to a close. “They use the dogs,” she said firmly, “to find the fire hydrants.”

This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotcha, begins with G-d’s command to Aaron to light the menorah in the sanctuary. The Torah does not say “When you light the candles” but rather “When you raise the light.” The commentator Rashi explains this unusual choice of words to mean that the one lighting the lamp should hold the flame to the wick until a flame arises of its own accord.

Like our ancestor Aaron, we are also lamplighters. In our everyday lives, in many different spheres, we find ourselves in a position to affect, inspire and help those around us. When presented with such opportunities, it is not sufficient to help someone up just to have him fall down again, requiring further help. Like Aaron in this week’s portion, we are enjoined not just to light a lamp, but even more so to give it enough strength and enough power to remain lit by itself.

Later in the portion, G-d tells Moses, “I will cause some of the spirit that you possess to emanate, and I will grant it to [the 70 elders].” (Num. 11:17)

One might wonder if Moses’ prophesy was diminished by G-d apportioning some of Moses’ divine inspiration to others. This is similar to when one lights a flame from another flame. The original flame does not lose anything. So too with us - when we seek to help and inspire others, without making calculations based on power (a zero-sum game), we actually increase the amount of light rather than depleting it.

The soul is compared to a light. In this area too, we must strive to kindle the lamp “so that a flame arises of its own accord.” In dealing with another person, the objective should be to establish the person as an individual in his own right, independent of us. We should encourage others to hone their talents and abilities so that their lamps independently glow and, in turn, kindle the potential in others.

In the days before electric street lights, many locales had gas lamps. The people whose job it was to go out each evening lighting the street lamps were known as “lamplighters.”

Some of the lamps were in places that were difficult to approach, others had been neglected and were covered over. A conscientious lamp lighter had to make sure to light every lamp in his area.

Similarly when helping out others, we need to find those who may be difficult to approach or hidden from view in order to assist them in any way possible. This is our collective task as this generation’s lamplighters!

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot Vol. 2, lchaimweeekly.org

Parshas Naso

 

A mother went to her son one Shabbos morning, to get out of bed and get ready for Shul.

He replied "I'm not goin"
His mother said "Yes you are goin';, so get out of that bed"
He replied "Give me ONE good reason why I should go."
She replied, "I'll give you THREE good reasons....

1. I'm your mother, and I say you're goin'.
2. You're 40 years old, so old enough to know better.
3. You're the Rabbi, so you need to be there 

This week's Torah portion, Nasso, describes the offerings that the twelve tribal leaders of Israel brought beginning on the day the Tabernacle was consecrated. On each tribe's appointed day, its leader brought a gift. The Torah, normally sparing in its use of words, enumerates every detail of each tribe's offering, even though all the gifts were exactly the same.

The Torah is not a history book, recording events that occurred long ago. Its teachings are relevant to each person in every generation. So what can we learn from the repetition of the exact same offerings twelve times?

Each tribe corresponds to twelve different paths by which a Jew can become closer to G-d. Each followed a unique path in its service of G-d. Each leader dedicated the offerings according to his own manner of spiritual service. Despite the spiritual uniqueness of each offering, they were considered to be communal offerings brought, not on behalf of the individual, but on behalf of all the Jewish people.

This juxtaposition – the uniqueness of the individual and the equality of the collective whole mirrors how the tribal leaders' spiritual intentions were unique yet the actual physical offerings were the same. Unique and common, happening at the same moment.

This is also true of the Jewish people; each Jew is unique and yet all Jews are equal.

There are certain qualities which all Jews share equally. And, there are also other qualities within each Jew which are uniquely personal. However, even the uniquely personal qualities can lead to unity among the Jewish people.

How so? When we realize that we all need each other, and that only by binding ourselves with our fellow Jew can we be complete.

The dedication gifts from the tribal leaders, mentioned above, were offered in a similar manner. Each leader brought his tribe's gift in a unique way on a separate day. However, each of these offerings was imbued with, and accompanied by, the feeling that this offering was also a communal offering-united with all the other leaders and tribes.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Excerpted from "The Wellsprings of Chassidus", lchaimweeekly.org

Parshas Bamidbar

A Scout Master was teaching his boy scouts about survival in the desert.

“What are the three most important things you should bring with you in case you get lost in the desert?” he asked.

Several hands went up, and many important things were suggested such as food, matches, etc. Then one little boy in the back eagerly raised his hand.

“Yes Timmy, what are the three most important things you would bring with you?” asked the Scout Master. Timmy replied: “A compass, a canteen of water, and a deck of cards.”

“Why’s that Timmy?”

“Well,” answered Timmy, “the compass is to find the right direction, the water is to prevent dehydration...”

“And what about the deck of cards?” asked the Scout Master impatiently.

“Well, Sir, as soon as you start playing Solitaire, someone is bound to come up behind you and say, “Put that red nine on top of that black ten.”

 

Location, location, location – the top three commandments of real estate. This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar (lit. “in the desert”), tells us where the Torah was given to the Jewish people, namely in an uninhabited wilderness. The land may be cheap, but what kind of “location” is that?!

A desert is a vast expanse of land to which all people have the same claim. A desert is not considered private property in the same way a house or a tract of habitable land can be bought and owned by individuals.

Likewise, the Torah does not belong to any one Jew; no one has a monopoly on Torah. It is the eternal inheritance and possession of all. Thus each and every Jew is able (and obligated) to study the Torah and apply it to his or her daily life.

The desert is a place of dust, earth and shifting sands. Vegetation cannot grow there and it is devoid of inhabitants. We, too, must strive to be as modest and humble as the dust, as the Torah is incompatible with haughtiness and pride.

In the desert, the most important necessities for sustaining life - water, food and clothes - are absent. There is no rainfall, edible plants or fruit-bearing trees. Obviously, there is no place to buy or make clothing either.

Throughout the 40 years of the Jewish people’s sojourn through the desert these necessities clearly came from the hand of G-d. Manna fell from heaven, a well of water followed them throughout the desert and the Clouds of Glory protected them like clothing, in addition to cleaning the clothes they were wearing.

We learn from this that in essence all of our material blessings and satisfaction of our physical needs come from Above. Our Torah study and observance of its mitzvot are our “job”. Our professions and material pursuits only create the vessels that channel and draw down these blessings that fulfill our needs.

Lastly, the desert is a place of great danger. Wild animals roam about freely, and snakes and scorpions lurk under rocks and in crevices. Yet it was precisely there that G-d chose to reveal His holy Torah. Until Moshiach ushers in the Final Redemption, we are likewise in a dangerous environment – the spiritual desert known as exile.

The “snake,” the evil inclination, is constantly trying to entrap and cause us to sin. So G-d gave us the Torah smack dab in the middle of this treacherous environment teaching us that precisely during exile, engaging in Torah study and performing its commandments creates a place of safety with this place of great danger.

That place of safety becomes a spiritual oasis every Shabbos. So have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Behar-Bechukosai

My young by-the-recipe baker still has been unsuccessful with her chocolate chip cookies. One day, after the cookies had been in the oven a while, I smelled a familiar odor. “They’re burning,” I shouted.

“I know,” she said nonchalantly.

“Aren’t you going to take them out?”

“No. They still have six minutes.”

 

The second of this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, begins with the words “If you will walk in My statutes.” This is like a standing request G-d makes of the Jewish people, G-d is constantly pleading with His children to keep His holy Torah.

His request simultaneously imbues us with the power and the strength to fulfill it. So “Bechukotai” thus also represents G-d’s promise to us that we will do so. We will walk in the Torah’s statutes. We will observe the Torah. Not one Jew will be cut off from the Jewish people!

There are three categories of mitzvot in the Torah: mishpatim (judgments), eidot (testimonies), and chukim (statutes).

Judgments are commandments compelled by human logic, rational laws that society would keep even if the Torah had not commanded us to observe them. Human understanding alone would have led us to realize their necessity.

Testimonies are mitzvot that we would never have arrived at without the Torah. Nonetheless, once G-d commanded us to obey them, we are able to understand their rationale. They are acceptable to the human mind and are comprehended by the intellect.

Statutes, however, are entirely above and beyond our understanding, supra-rational. Mitzvot falling into this category include the red heifer, kashrut and issues of ritual purity.

Although the Torah states, “If you will walk in my statutes,” the intention is that we keep all three types of commandments: judgments, testimonies and statutes. So why then does the Torah specifically only mention “statutes”?

The Torah’s use of the word “bechukotai” contains an important lesson. A Jew does not observe the Torah’s mitzvot because our intellect demands such behavior; rather it is for the sole reason that G-d has commanded us to do so. Yes, our emotions and intellect play a role in our relationship with G-d. However, we demonstrate oneness with the Creator when our observance grows out of kabalat ol (acceptance of the yoke of heaven), not because we understand a mitzvah rationally or not.

In essence, ALL MITZVOT are included in the word “bechukotai” – statutes as the soul that truly drives their performance, our “walking in My statutes.”, is the viscerally deep connection we all have with G-d.  Thus “If you will walk…” is not only G-d’s plea to us His children, and not only instructing us the proper manner of observance, but at the same time, “bechukotai” is G-d’s promise that we will succeed!

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted Likutei Sichot, Vol.1, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Emor

 A farmer purchased an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields were grown over with weeds, the farmhouse was falling apart, and the fences were broken down.  During his first day of work, the Rabbi stops by to bless the man’s work, saying, “May you and G-d work together to make this the farm of your dreams!”   A few months later, the Rabbi stops by again to call on the farmer.  Lo and behold, it’s a completely different place.  The farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there is plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows.  “Amazing!” the Rabbi says. “Look what G-d and you have accomplished together!”  “Yes, Rabbi,” says the farmer, “but remember what the farm was like when G-d was working it alone!”

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, refers to two types of mincha (flour) offerings that were brought in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem: the omer offering, which was brought on Passover, and the “two breads” of Shavuot.

The omer offering officially allowed the new harvest to be eaten. Before the omer was brought, it was forbidden to eat from the new crop of grain. Even afterwards it was forbidden to bring offerings of new grain until after the “two breads” was offered on Shavuot.

There was, however, a difference between the two prohibitions. If an offering of new grain was brought before the omer, it was invalid. Yet if it was brought after the omer but before the “two breads,” it was considered kosher “after the fact,” even though it was originally prohibited.

There are many legal reasons for this distinction, but it can also be explained in terms of the inner spiritual dynamics of these two offerings. The omer offering consisted of barley, which the Talmudic Sages deemed “foodstuff for animals.” The “two breads” consisted of wheat, “the foodstuff of man.”

The various material offerings in the Holy Temple are symbolic of our in soul offering up to G-d. In general Chassidic Thought does NOT characterize our inner struggle in terms of good vs. evil, but rather animal soul (human/natural) vs. G-dly soul. The omer symbolizes the offering/ refining of the “animalistic” part of us, the “animal soul”, that which animates us and makes us human. The “two breads” is symbolic of the elevation of the component that makes us “man,” namely the “G-dly soul.”

This helps explain why it was forbidden to eat from the new grain before the omer was brought. Before a person has worked on and refined his animal soul, he cannot even think about refining the world around him. Not only will he not have a positive effect, but he is liable to deteriorate even further. The first step is to subjugate oneself to G-d before turning outward.

After the animal soul has been refined a person can then proceed to the second step, i.e., the elevation of his G-dly soul. The offering of new grain was technically prohibited until Shavuot.

This also helps explain why one prohibition was absolute whereas the other was not. Subjugating the animal soul is a basic requirement in the service of G-d. Only once a person has refined his lowest inclinations, can he attempt to achieve higher spiritual levels. So even if a person “jumped the gun” and brought an offering of new grain before Shavuot, it was still valid “after the fact,” as he already possessed the minimum level of sanctity.

We all are capable of making that first step, that first offering our inner barley, our animal soul by refocusing from our self-centered vantage point to a more responsive one that includes others, and primarily G-d. Have a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 32, lchiamweekly.org

Acharei-Kedoshim

The farmer’s son was returning from the market with the crate of chicken’s his father had entrusted to him, when all of a sudden the box fell and broke open. Chickens scurried off in different directions, but the determined boy walked all over the neighborhood scooping up the wayward birds and returning them to the repaired crate. Hoping he had found them all, the boy reluctantly returned home, expecting the worst.

“Pa, the chickens got loose,” the boy confessed sadly, “but I managed to find all twelve of them.”

“Well, you did real good, son,” the farmer beamed. “You left with seven.”

As we read in the second of this week’s two Torah portions, Kedoshim, the fruit of a tree’s first three years may not be eaten. During the tree’s fourth year its fruit is permissible when brought to Jerusalem and eaten in a state of ritual purity – applicable when the Holy Temple stood. Only in the fifth year can you partake of the tree’s fruits eating them anywhere you wish.

As a reward for observing these mitzvot, G-d promises that the fifth year’s yield will be quantitatively greater, receiving G-d’s blessing of bounty, as the Torah states: “And in the fifth year shall you eat of its fruit, that it may increase to you its produce.”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, explains that spiritually the fifth year’s fruits are superior to the first four years’, not only quantitatively but qualitatively. He points out the fifth year fruits are the “best” thus far, yet it is those that can be consumed anywhere – not Jerusalem – and in any state of ritual purity – even if impure.

Chassidic Thought expounds upon the purpose of transforming our material world into a suitable dwelling place for G-d in these lower realms.

A “dwelling place” is a permanent residence. “The lower realms” includes even the lowest and most mundane elements of existence. G-d wants us to be aware of Him at all times, not just when we pray and study Torah. Even our most seemingly insignificant ordinary actions must be permeated with this consciousness. Everything depends on G-d’s beneficence so we express our thanks for every aspect of our physical existence.

For this reason it is precisely the fifth year’s fruits, the very finest, that are eaten in any place and in any spiritual condition. For the sanctity of G-d’s presence is meant to be brought to every single person and to every place on earth – bar none!

Years ago whenever the Baal Shem Tov traveled and met a Jew, he would ask about his health, livelihood and other humdrum aspects of life. Inevitably, the Jew would respond: “Thank G-d!” “Everything will be fine with G-d’s help.” These responses demonstrated that a Jew never forgets about G-d, even when the subject is business, health or other commonplace routine matters.

The Baal Shem Tov deliberately asked about these concerns rather than spiritual matters to accustom people to the idea that everything depends on G-d’s blessing, not just things that are obviously “religious.”

When a Jew maintains an awareness of G-d, everywhere and in all circumstances, and connects G-dliness to that experience, s/he transforms the world into a suitable “dwelling place” for G-d. So “thank G-d”, let’s go prepare for Shabbos!

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 7, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Tazria Metzorah

A person very preoccupied with their “beautiful skin” reads that bathing in milk makes your skin beautiful. The next morning they leave a note for the milkman – “Leave me 115 quarts of milk”. The milkman reads this and thinks he better double check the amount. He rings the bell and here is this person with a great complexion. He asks about the milk order and is told “Yes, it is good to bathe in milk.” The milkman asks, “Does it need to be pasteurized?” The person answers, “Oh no, just past my neck would be fine.”

 

Both of this week's two Torah portions, Tazria and Metzora, detail the special laws which governed the skin plague of leprosy, an affliction whose root cause was spiritual and bears no resemblance to the modern disease of the same name.

It is therefore, surprising that the Talmud refers to Moshiach as Chivra - Aramaic for Leper - implying his suffrage of this spiritually caused affliction. How can Moshiach, a king who stands head and shoulders above all other Jews by virtue of his spiritual perfection, be referred to as a leper?

We must therefore, conclude that the term “leper” contains a deeper significance, one which will shed light on its inner meaning.

Leprosy is an external disease that affects only the outermost skin of the sufferer. The internal organs remain healthy and unaffected, as does the flesh itself. Symbolically this represents the last, superficial, outermost aspects of the world that need rectification for Moshiach to usher in the era of Redemption.

Exile is characterized by G-d's seeming withdrawal from the affairs of the world. Redemption is the era in which G-dliness is open and apparent. Despite our thousands of years of exile, we maintained our connections to Torah and mitzvot, progressively illuminating the darkness of exile by strengthening the forces of good over evil.

Throughout the centuries of Jews living in every corner of the globe and imbuing the four corners of the earth with holiness and G-dliness, the Jewish people have succeeded in healing the world of its internal sickness, the seeming absence of G-d from the physical world. By the Talmud calling Moshiach a “leper”, it means we stand at the very end of the exile, on the threshold of the Messianic Era. All that prevents his imminent arrival is a tiny and external blemish, an affliction of “leprosy on the skin of the flesh.”

The final touches on the world's preparation for Moshiach have been entrusted to our generation, the generation which will be worthy of witnessing this revelation.

Up until that time, however, Moshiach is said to be “leprous.” For Moshiach himself suffers the pain of the end of exile -- “the affliction of leprosy” -- as he waits with longing and impatience for the moment the world will be fully prepared with its final touch which in turn leads to the redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world.

Let’s make [spiritual] skin care a top priority! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

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, lchaimweekly.org 

Seventh Day of 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 amongst 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 are two a male version and a female version of the song. 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, danced, and tambourined. 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 the infant 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’s 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 Yom Tov and good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, www.Chabad.org

 

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 rabbi thanked 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.

A 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, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Vayikra

A very “shallow” person had just totaled their car in a horrific accident. Miraculously, they managed to pry themselves from the wreckage without a scratch and was combing their 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” the person 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 served to the right and there was another tree! I swerved to the left and there was ....”

The officer said, cutting the person off, “There isn’t a tree on this road for 30 miles. That was your air freshener swinging back and forth!”

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 may not make sense that a person should not be held accountable for an involuntary, unintentional action. Nonetheless, we see that there is an 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.

A 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 much greater. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

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

Parshas Vayakhel - Pekudai

“Frank Smith,” announced the judge, “for breaking into a house in the middle of the night, I sentence you to two years in prison.”
“But your honor,” pleaded Smith, “last time I was in court you sentenced me to a year in jail for breaking into a house in the day! If not in the middle of the night, and not in the middle of the day, just when am I supposed to earn my living?”
 

For the past few weeks we have been reading those Torah portions dealing with the commandments and preparations necessary for the building of the Tabernacle. This week, Vayakhel, we read about its actual erection.

Before the Tabernacle was built, Moses called together 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 which types of work we must avoid in order to keep the Sabbath. The 39 categories of labor prohibited on Shabbat (and all the other activities) are derived from the 39 types of labor connected with the Tabernacle.

There is a deeper dimension between Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle. Every one of the 39 categories of labor is the prototype of the “labors” we perform during the six days of the week. Following the principle that everything in the physical world reflects its spiritual source, all our physical labors are tantamount to the building of a Tabernacle. Namely, all the work which we perform in the material dimension has the potential to be elevated and turned into holiness, a mini-Sanctuary of sorts.

The Tabernacle is not only the source for the work in our lives, it also represents the raison d’etre  as our lives as Jews. Every task we perform during our daily routine can be utilized to bring holiness into the world, the same function which the original Tabernacle served.

The Torah states: "Six days shall you work." Our Sages explain that this is a positive commandment, not merely the granting of permission. We are compelled to toil to earn our daily bread. In fact the weekday prayers and Torah readings are shorter than those read on Shabbat and holidays, to enable us to go out into the world to perform our daily tasks. It is through one's physical labor that we mold and shape the world into a "sanctuary" for G-d.

How do we elevate our daily, mundane tasks? "In all your ways shall you know Him," explains Proverbs. All of our activities, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed with the proper thoughts in mind, connecting it all to a goodly and G-dly purpose. 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.

The basic difference between the Tabernacle and our own physical world is that the Tabernacle was an actual manifestation of G-dliness, whereas the physical world is still in a state of potential. Man's task is to transform that potential into actual realization, by living according to the dictum, "In all your ways shall you know Him." Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org. 

Parshas Ki Tisa

 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 ...an 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, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Tetzaveh

 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 might 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 amongst 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 the G-d and 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 closen our outer egocentric selves 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, lchaimweekly.org

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