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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

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Parshas Re'eh

The clerk walks into the boss’s office and says, “The auditors have just left, sir.” “Have they finished checking the books?” asks the boss. “Very thoroughly,” is the reply. “Well, what did they say”, says the boss. “They want 15% to keep quiet.”

 


This week’s Torah portion, Re’ei, is always read around the beginning of the Hebrew month Elul, the 30 days of prep for the High Holidays.

Re’ei begins with the verse, “Behold, I am giving before you today the blessing...” Each word in this verse emphasizes that the blessing, and the revelation of G-dliness that accompanies it, comes from Above.

Behold: Seeing implies the establishment of a deep and powerful connection, as our Sages state, “hearing does not resemble seeing.” An eyewitness can not act as a judge as once someone sees a misdeed committed, he will never be able to conceive of a redeeming virtue for a defendant. In contrast, when a person is told about an event, he or she is allowed to serve as a judge and indeed, all trials depend on listening to such testimony.

The rationale: with hearing you approach a concept step by step, gathering all the particulars - an ascent upward. In contrast, when seeing, you are brought into direct contact with an event as a totality all at once. Only afterwards do we process and focus attention on the particulars. This reflects the approach of revelation from Above.

I-”Anochi”: This refers to G-d’s essence in a most uplifted and magnified manner. The Hebrew word “anochi” is used rather than the more common “ani” as it communicates a greater sense of pride and magnitude than “ani.”

Am giving: It is clearly G-d giving us a gift from Above.

Before you - “lifneichem”:  In Hebrew this relates to the word “p’nimiyut”- inner dimension. In other words, the approach of revelation from Above goes from the outside to our insides, an uplifting process of elevating what is here below to Above. In contrast to when we begin by focusing on our own personal inner being and then proceed to the external dimensions.

Today (emphasis on “day): This reflects the concepts of light and revelation, for the day is the time of light. In this case the revelation of G-d’s light, which enjoys a dimension of eternality, does not take into consideration the nature of the recipient.

Blessing: Blessing refers to the Divine influence and beneficence from Above.

In counter distinction from ALL the above, the activity of the month of Elul is totally different. In Elul our spiritual workout focuses on elevating ourselves through our own initiative and not through a “gift from Above.” So where then is the connection between our Torah portion and the fact that we read it at a time connected to the month of Elul?

Elul is the time we take stock of the entire year that has passed which requires a dual approach. We must put tremendous effort into elevating ourselves and our surroundings through our own initiative as well as making ourselves a worthy receptacle for G-d’s inspiration and blessings from Above. The cosmic combination of the beginning of Elul and this week’s Torah portion, Re’ei, gives us the spiritual strength and fortitude to do the work that leads us to being inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet new year! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org


Parshas Ekev

A Jewish man and a Chinese man were conversing. The Jewish man commented upon what a wise people the Chinese are.

“Yes,” replied the Chinese man, “Our culture is over 4,000 years old. But, you Jews are a very wise people, too.”

The Jewish man replied, “Yes, our culture is over 5,000 years old.”

The Chinese man was incredulous, “That's impossible, he replied. Where did your people eat for a thousand years?”


In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses looks back upon the Jewish people's 40 years in the desert and mentions twice the manna they ate. Both times, Moses seems to imply that eating the manna was somehow distressing: “And He afflicted you and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna”; “[He] fed you in the wilderness with manna...that He might afflict you.”

In fact, the Children of Israel complained bitterly over having to eat it. “But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.” “Our soul loathes this light bread.”

At first glance their complaint is surprising, as the Torah describes the manna as being delicious - “and its taste was like wafers made with honey.” Our Sages comment further that the G-dly manna was unique in that the person eating it experienced whatever flavor he wished. Furthermore, the manna was completely digested, having no waste. How then could such a wonderful food be perceived as “torment”?

However, the Talmud explains that it was precisely these qualities that left the Jews with a sense of hunger. It was hard to get used to this “bread from the heavens” that had no waste and could taste like anything in the world. The Jews wanted regular bread, “bread from the earth.” They longed for food that looked like what it was.

But the truth is that the Jews' resentment was motivated by the Evil Inclination. At first, the Evil Inclination draws a person into small sins, slowly working its way to more serious ones. So it was with the Children of Israel: They started by complaining about the manna, then progressed to “crying among their families,” implying transgressions in the area of family life.

The dynamics of the Evil Inclination never change, and even today, the Evil Inclination still chafes against “bread from the heavens.” Symbolically, “bread from the heavens” stands for Torah and G-dly wisdom, while “bread from the earth” is secular, worldly knowledge. The Evil Inclination tries to make the Jew dissatisfied with his “bread from the heavens,” and attempts to convince him that a steady diet of Torah will leave him hungry. “The Torah is endless,” it whispers in his ear. “You can never learn it all; the more you'll learn, the more you'll see how infinite it is. Why not turn your mind to worldly matters? At least you'll get a feeling of fullness and satisfaction.”

On an even finer level, the Evil Inclination tries to dissuade a Jew from studying Chasidut, the innermost part of Torah, which is also likened to “bread from the heavens.” “Bread from the earth,” the revealed part of Torah, is enough, it claims.

But the truth is the opposite. Because the Jew's essence is spiritual, he can never be satiated by worldly matters. Only Torah, and the innermost part of it, can make the soul feel full, for it is through Torah that the Jew connects to the Infinite. Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4, lchaimweekly.org

 


Parshat Va'etchanan

 A Sunday school class had been carefully drilled for the coming of a very important rabbinic visitor.

Chaim practiced to say “God,” in response to the question, “Who made you.”

Yakov was to pipe up with “Out of the dust of the earth,” in response to the second question “With what did He make you?”

The great day of the review arrived, and as planed the guest rabbi asked the class, “Who made you?”

After a silence of a few seconds, the question was repeated, “Who made you?”

“Please, Sir,” spoke up a freckle faced youngster in the front, “the little boy G-d made is home with the measles.”


In this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, Moses addresses G-d in prayer, opening with “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand...” With these words, Moses establishes that it wasn’t until his generation that G-d began to reveal His greatness in the world.

The Zohar asks how this can be possible. Many years before, it points out, there was a great tzadik (righteous person) named Jacob, who was one of the three Jewish Patriarchs. In fact, Jacob is called “the chosen” of the Forefathers, and he merited to see many G-dly miracles. So how could G-d have first begun to show His greatness only in Moses’ time?


The Zohar answers its own question: “That which Moses had, was had by no other human being.” How do we understand this and what is its lesson?

In Jacob’s time the Jewish people was very small in number, far fewer than the several million who existed in Moses’ generation. From the “seventy souls” that went down to Egypt at the beginning of the exile, by the time of the Exodus they had already multiplied to 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60, plus the millions of women, children and men in other age groups, .

It was not until Moses’ generation, when the Jewish people had become “great” also in number AND stood together in unity and oneness, that the true “greatness” of G-d was manifested.

This contains a practical lesson for the Divine service of every Jew. Every individual, regardless of age, must do everything he or she can to strengthen Jewish unity and make the Jewish people more cohesive. Every person must strive to increase their love for their fellow Jew, connecting to as many Jews as possible.

This is one of the reasons we preface our daily prayers with the words “I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’” Before we ask G-d to fulfill a personal request, we identify and connect ourselves to the totality of the Jewish people.

Indeed, it is then that the “greatness” of the Jew is expressed. A single Jew is not alone, nor is a single Jewish family or Jewish community. Every Jew is connected to every other Jew, and to all Jews throughout the generations.

As the Zohar explains, the process of showing G-d’s “greatness,” initiated by G-d in the generation of Moses, will reach its culmination with the coming of Moshiach, who will redeem not only the Jewish people but also the entire world. At that time we will experience wonders and miracles far greater than those witnessed during the Exodus, and indeed, incomparable to anything experienced in history.

As we find and appreciate the greatness in each other, G-d’s greatness becomes more revealed. Yes, each individual can make a colossal difference! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 7 Menachem Av 5740, lchaimweekly.org


Parshas Devarim

A baby mosquito came back from his first flying.

His dad asked, “How do you feel?”

He replied, “It was great. Everybody was clapping for me!”

 

“See, I have set the land before you,” Moses relates in this week's Torah portion, Devarim. “Come and possess the land G-d swore unto your fathers.”

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator whose explanation on the text expresses its most literal meaning, explains that the Jewish people did not have to wage war in order to take possession of the land of Israel. Had they not sent the spies, they would not have needed any weapons.

“There is no one to contest the matter,” Rashi comments. Since G-d Himself promised the land to the Jews, no one in the whole world could have prevented this from happening.

Historically, however, we see that instead of a miraculous entry into the land, the Jewish people did indeed engage in battle with their enemies. Their lack of faith and insistence that Moses send spies to bring back a report, spoiled their opportunity to enter the land unopposed, and made it necessary for them to follow a natural procedure instead of a miraculous one. In other words, it was their own negative attitude and conduct which forced them to wage wars in order to assert their Divine right to the land.

This contains a moral for our own times and present condition:

The Torah tells us that the Final Redemption with Moshiach will be very much like our first redemption from Egypt, but will be accompanied by even more wonders and miracles. It follows that if the entry and settlement of the land of Israel was supposed to be accomplished in a supernatural manner the first time, how much more so will it be miraculous in our own times, with the Messianic Redemption!

Again, just as before, the entire matter depends on us. We must show absolute faith in G-d and His promise that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We must not be afraid to inform the nations of the world - unequivocally - that the land of Israel is our eternal legacy. Our Divine right to the Land of Israel is not cause for apologetics.

When we will demonstrate this true and absolute faith in G-d, we will immediately merit that “no one will contest this, and there will be no more wars nor the need for any weapons.”

May we enter into Shabbos with this strength of optimism and faith so our Divine rights to both our material and spiritual Eretz Yisroel remain uncontested from without and within. Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Devarim 5747, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Matot-Massei

A husband asks his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?'

Wife, “I wash the floor.”

Husband, “How does that help?''

Wife, ''I use your toothbrush.”

 

This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei which tells when the Jewish people returned from the war against Midian with their spoils. Moses commanded them to purify themselves from their ritual uncleanliness caused by contact with the dead through the ritual of being sprinkled with water containing ashes of the red heifer. Afterwards, Elazar the High Priest enumerated the various laws of how to render the Midianites' non-kosher vessels kosher.

Why was did Elazar teach these laws instead of Moses? Rashi explains, “Since Moses came under the influence of anger, he came under the influence of mistaken judgment, and the laws of cleansing (koshering) vessels which had belonged to heathens were concealed from him.” As related a few verses previously, Moses had become angry when he saw the Midianite women the Jews brought back with them, so soon after the devastating destruction that came in the wake of immorality with these women.

Moses did not render “mistaken judgment” in that he stated the laws incorrectly. His failure to teach these laws stemmed from a different kind of “mistake”.

Moses had assumed that the ashes of the red heifer could render the non-kosher vessels kosher. If a few drops of these potent “waters of sprinkling” could remove the greatest impurity of them all, contact with the dead, surely it had the power to kasher utensils.

That is why Elazar prefaced his words with the declaration, “This is the statute of the Torah.” The fact that the ashes of the red heifer can remove ritual impurity is a statute, a super-rational law that only applies to that specific type of ritual uncleanliness, but it cannot address the forbidden foods that were absorbed into them. For even after a vessel's impurity has been removed by the “water of sprinkling,” the non-kosher food tastes must be physically purged.

Removing uncleanliness and making something kosher are two separate things: To remove spiritual uncleanliness, a few drops of water are sufficient. But to render a vessel kosher, a more fundamental, practical type of purging is necessary, according to the particular manner in which the utensil was used.

Symbolically, purity is an “encompassing” G-dly influence that surrounds a person from without. For that reason, it is relatively simple to purify oneself: immersion in a mikvah, or being sprinkled with the “water of sprinkling.” By contrast, the process of making something kosher implies an inner and essential cleansing to remove embedded evil.

Moses, who viewed the Jewish people from his perspective “on high,” believed that external purification would automatically purify the “inside” as well. Elazar, by contrast, saw the Jewish people on their real level. As a kohen he saw they were on a level that required elevation and understood that externals weren't enough. That level of spiritual kashering had to come from within.

So too with us today, we can not suffice with a superficial or shallow connection to our Judaism, and hope it will make us more G-dly people. We need to do the work, and purge from the inside out, that is how we achieve true purification and becomes a proper “vessel” for holiness.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 8, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Pinchas

 

A rabbi was retiring and saying farewell to his congregation at the shul doors for the last time. He shook the hand of an elderly man as he walked out. He said “Your successor won't be as good as you.” “Nonsense”, said the rabbi, in a flattered tone. “No, really”, said the old man, “I've been here under five different rabbis, and each new one has been worse than the last.”

 

In the Torah, the laws of Shabbat and Holidays are enumerated in two different Torah portions, this week’s of Pinchas and an earlier one of Emor.

At the end of Emor the Torah states, “And Moses declared (vayedabeir) the festivals of G-d to the Children of Israel.”

At the end of this week's Torah reading, Pinchas, the Torah states, “And Moses said (vayomeir) to the Children of Israel according to all that G-d had commanded.”

What is the difference between “declaring” and “speaking,” and what are we to learn from this distinction?

The Torah portion of Emor deals primarily with the prohibition against labor on Shabbat and holidays, and enumerates the particular mitzvot that are associated with each of them, such as matzah on Pesach, the sukkah, lulav and esrog, etc. The Torah portion of Pinchas, by contrast, deals primarily with the various sacrifices that are offered on Shabbat and festivals.

The commandments contained in Emor are thus mitzvot that we can perform at all times, regardless of whether or not the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) is standing. Refraining from work on Shabbat and observing the particular mitzvot of each holiday is something that is done by the Jewish people even in exile.

The bringing of sacrifices, however, is dependent on the existence of the Beit Hamikdash. In exile we can only study the Torah verses that refer to them, and recite them in our prayers. When a Jew studies the laws of sacrifices, G-d considers it as if he has actually brought that particular offering. Our thoughts and words can create a holy reality.

When speaking of the obligations and prohibitions that apply in any era, the Torah uses the relatively harsh word “vayedabeir” - declare; when speaking of the sacrifices we can only bring in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, the Torah uses the softer and more gentle term, “vayomeir” – said. In doing so, G-d is entreating and inviting our involvement with the study and recitation in prayer of these laws, even when they are not applicable in the physical sense. He is telling us that our study and prayerful conversation of these themes, creates closeness to G-d similar to what the actual sacrifice accomplished.

May it be G-d's will that in the merit using our thoughts and words to create this spiritual truth, we will very soon be able to actualize this into a tangible experience of holiness and Divinity in the Third Beit Hamikdash, speedily in our days. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 18, lchaimweekly.org

 


 

Parshas Balak

At a men’s club meeting a very wealthy man rose to tell the rest of those present about his tremendous faith in G-d.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of G-d in my life. I remember that turning point in my faith. I had just earned my first dollar and I went to shul that night. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to G-d’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to tzedaka. I believe that G-d blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”

He finished and there was an awed silence at his testimony as he moved toward his seat. As he sat down a little old man sitting in the same pew leaned over and said to him: “I dare you to do it again.”


This week’s Torah reading, Balak, focuses on the blessings given the Jewish people by the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam. The king of Moab, Balak, feared that the Jews would attack him and his people on their way to Israel, and so he hired Bilaam to curse the Jews.

Although Bilaam sought to do Balak’s bidding, whenever he prepared to deliver curses, G-d put blessings in his mouth and he was forced to utter them. So powerful were his blessings that they are recorded in the Torah for eternity and some are part of our prayers.

When Bilaam saw that G-d would not allow him to curse the people, he sought to harm them in another way. “Their G-d,” he told Balak, “hates immorality. Have your women seduce their men.”

Balak did that and as a result, a plague beset the Jewish people, killing thousands.

Our Sages ask, “Why did G-d bestow spiritual insight and gift of prophecy upon a wicked man like Bilaam?”

They explain that in the future, the non-Jewish nations will complain to G-d, telling him that the Jews were granted prophets and therefore they were able to advance spiritually.

G-d will answer that it was not the gift of prophecy alone which caused the Jews to advance. For He also granted the gentiles a prophet, Bilaam, and what did he do? Instead, of helping the people advance spiritually, he encouraged immorality.

Implied within the narrative is an important lesson for all time. Spiritual insight cannot be seen as separate from a person’s conduct. The concept of a knowing wizard, aware of spiritual reality and yet living a depraved existence, runs contrary to Judaism’s fundamental thrust.

Judaism sees spiritual awareness as a tool to enhance and intensify one’s day-to- day experience, not merely a lofty spiritual plateau. Whatever spiritual insight and experience one has must be applied in deeper and more meaningful conduct. Spirituality is not a high to be enjoyed, and then ignored. Instead, it must be incorporated in the way we build our relationships, establish our families, and forge our role in society at large.

The lesson is two-fold:

Those seeking spiritual experience must realize that this should lead to a deeper commitment to moral life at home and at work.

Those who work to promote family values and moral truth should focus on the spiritual component of these values and truths and understand that such awareness can enhance and intensify the power of their message both for themselves and for their students.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, 
lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Chukat

 

A woman bought a pet parrot that insulted her all the time. One day she got fed up with the parrot and as it was insulting her and picked it up, continuing with the insults and it pecked at her arm as she carried it. She opened the freezer door and threw him in and closed the door. From inside, the parrot was still going on for about 5 seconds and then it was suddenly quiet.
She thought, "Oh no, I killed it!" She opened the door and the parrot just looked at her. She picked it up. Then the parrot said:
"I’m very sorry. I apologize for my bad behavior and promise you there will be no more of that. From now on, I will be a respectful, obedient parrot"
"Well OK" she said."Apology accepted". The parrot said "Thank you". Then it said, "Can I ask you something?" She said, "Yes, What?"
And the parrot looked at the freezer and asked, "What did the chicken do?"

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukas, we learn that when the Jewish people sinned by repeatedly complaining about Moses and Aaron, G-d punished them by sending "fiery serpents." Moses, who was the epitome of selflessness, prayed on the Jews’ behalf, whereupon G-d instructed him to "Make a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole. And everyone who is bitten, when he sees it shall live." Moses followed G-d’s instructions, and fashioned a serpent of copper. "It came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked upon the serpent of copper, he lived."

Our Sages explain that it was not the copper serpent that had the power to revive or kill; rather, "When the Israelites looked upward, and subjected their hearts to their Father in heaven, they were healed; if not, they perished." The purpose of the copper serpent was to arouse the Jews to repentance; once they repented, they were healed.

Chasidic teachings provide an even deeper dimension: A person who had been bitten by a "fiery serpent" was already "dead" by virtue of having already been injected with a poisonous substance. In other words, the "serpent of copper" had to effect what was essentially a "resurrection".

However, the power to resurrect the dead could not come from the same level of G-dliness that sustains "regular" life, as the person who was bitten had already lost that particular source of vitality. His "resurrection" had to be derived from an infinitely higher level, described in Chasidic philosophy as "the aspect of abundant mercies of the Divine Essence of Infinite Light, which is higher than the Source of life."

Thus in order for the bitten person to be healed, he had to rise above the "regular" level of G-dliness that sustains life and access G-d Himself, to Whom "life and death are equal." The bitten person’s repentance had to be so profound that it could transform death into life.

In fact, the "serpent of copper" expressed this concept of resurrection. The snake itself is symbolic of death, as it was through the serpent that death was introduced into the world in the Garden of Eden. In this instance, however, the "serpent of copper" had the opposite effect, saving people from death rather than killing them.

On the level of the soul, this "resurrection" is the service of turning darkness into light, transforming the Evil Inclination itself into goodness and holiness. By subjugating his heart to G-d, a Jew can turn even deliberate sins into merits, thereby rendering himself a proper vessel for G-d’s infinite blessings.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichos, vol 13, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Korach

Next Tuesday, June 27th , marks 23 years since the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. We’ve posted lots of information here to help you learn more about the Rebbe’s devotion to G-d, discover how deeply he cared for each human being, and to glean insight into his teachings.

One of his lessons from this week’s Torah portion, Korach, is how the kohanim (priests) were to be given only the finest of all the offerings that were brought by the Jewish people. These contributions consisted of all kinds of commodities and were of the highest quality. Likewise, every Jew must dedicate the better part of himself to his Divine service.

Maimonides writes: “The law, as it pertains to everything that is for the sake of G-d, is that it must come from the finest and the best. For example, when one is feeding a hungry person, he should be served the tastiest and sweetest food on one’s table. When one clothes a poor man, he should be given the nicest garment. When one builds a house of prayer, the edifice should be more beautiful than one’s private abode, as it states, ‘All the best to the L-rd.’”

Of all the commodities a person possesses -- - food, clothing and shelter -- - the finest and best must be dedicated to matters of holiness. There is, however, another commodity to be dedicated to G-d, and that is time.

Time is extremely precious. It is therefore fitting that in addition to one’s material blessings, a person dedicates the very best portion of the day to G-d.

The morning, the beginning of one’s day, is the optimal time of the 24-hour period. In the morning, a person’s mind is at ease. He is not yet concerned or perturbed by problems that may plague him later. Thus the morning is the most appropriate time of day to dedicate oneself to holy matters.

One way to do this is to thank G-d immediately upon arising by declaring Modeh Ani, thanking Him for having restored our souls. Another way is to reserve the first few hours of the day for prayer and Torah study. The morning, the best time of all, is to be utilized for praying and learning Torah. Just as the contributions that were made to the priests were of the highest quality, so too must the very best of whatever we possess be reserved for our service of G-d.

The Rebbe would frequently insist that even the loftiest of thoughts must be translated into actual deed. So in connection with this yahrtzeit, let us join together in learning something additional, reciting an additional prayer, and giving some extra charity. We can apply some of the Rebbe’s care and selfless dedication to our own interaction with family, friends and total strangers. There can be no more fitting tribute to the Rebbe than millions of good deeds, mitzvot, performed on his day.

May G-d help us that in the merit of our collective acts of goodness we quickly greet our righteous Moshiach, at which time we will be reunited with our beloved Rebbe and all our loved ones. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Based on the writings of the Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org

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

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