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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Pesach

 A British Jew is waiting in line to be knighted by the Queen. He is to kneel in front of her and recite a sentence in Latin when she taps him on the shoulders with her sword. However, when his turn comes, he panics in the excitement of the moment and forgets the Latin. Then, thinking fast, he recites the only other sentence he knows in a foreign language, which he remembers from the Passover Seder:

“Ma nishtana ha layla ha zeh mi kol ha laylot.”

Puzzled, Her Majesty turns to her advisor and whispers, "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"

Passover is called the “Time of Our Liberation.” This term expresses not only the theme of the holiday, but contains a lesson to apply in our lives throughout the year, in any time and in any place.

On Passover the Jewish people were freed from more than physical subjugation and slavery. It contains an energy of deliverance for the individual from all limitations and constraints.

G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt for the purpose of giving us His Torah on Mount Sinai, thus enabling us to observe all its commandments. This was the sole reason for the Exodus.

A Jew attains true spiritual freedom when one syncs their life with the principles, values and practices of the Torah. But what is spiritual enslavement today?

A Jew is “enslaved” when being subordinated to the non-Jewish world, when one is ashamed to be different. When a Jew allows him/herself to be swayed by the conventional “wisdom,” it is a sign of an inner spiritual servitude. By contrast, when a Jew refuses to be influenced by the environment and persists in observing mitzvot, the Jew is free. We truly do “answer to a Higher Authority”.

The concept of servitude exists on an inner level as well, when we are held prisoner by our habits and inclinations. Enslavement to one's baser instincts is also a form of subjugation. True liberation is attained when a Jew overcomes their evil inclination and is master of all his actions. When we can choose to be more than just natural, we can be G-dly.

It is a mitzvah to recall the Exodus from Egypt every day. When we celebrate Passover properly, its influence extends throughout the year. In such a manner are we liberated from all our inner and outer limitations and we are free to carry out our G-dly mission.

Have a Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman 

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 22 – L’chaim Weekly

Parshas Metzora

 

A guy arrives in front of the Heavenly court waiting for his “next step”. The court checks the “book” several times and says, “We can’t see that you did a lot of good in your life, but you never did anything bad either. Tell us one REALLY good deed that you did in your life and you’re in.”

 The man says, “There was this little old lady who was surrounded by a dozen hoodlums when I came out of the drugstore. They had taken her purse and were shoving her, taunting and abusing her. I got so mad I threw my bags down, fought my way through the crowd and got her purse back. I helped her to her feet. Then I went up to the biggest, meanest biker and told him how despicable, cowardly and mean he was. And then I spit in his face.”

 “Wow”, says the court, “That's impressive. When did this happen?”

 “Oh, about ten minutes ago,” replied the man.

 

This week we read the portion Metzora that deals with the various types of illness known as tzaraat (similar to but not the same as leprosy) and the ritual purification procedure one had to undergo after suffering that affliction.

In general a state of ritual impurity grew out of a physical condition. In this case, as a result of a spiritual blemish, there was a manifestation on the physical person. This hints that tzaraat signifies something deeper than just a skin condition or disorder.

Surprisingly, Moshiach, the Messiah, is referred to as a leper. The Talmud calls him a “leper,” for “he suffers our burdens, and our maladies are his.” As the leader of the people, he is affected by their imperfections.

Interestingly, Moshiach is only considered a “leper” during exile, before the ultimate Redemption. Although Moshiach exists in every generation, he is not yet in a revealed state. Even though his essence is whole and unchanged, the world has not yet refined itself for such a Divine disclosure. Thus he bears the burdenous concealment of exile together with world.

But what is the nature of the tzaraat that Moshiach is suffering? It is a disease affecting only the “skin of his flesh” and not the internal organs or even the flesh itself. Leprosy therefore symbolizes a state in which a person’s inner being remains unaffected, despite the manifestation of disease on only the most outer extremities.

The leper represents a person whose inner self has already been purified and refined. All that remains is for the outermost shell, the husk, to be cleansed. In Moshiach’s case, this outer layer consists of the Jewish people’s collective “areas for growth”, the subtleties of our relationship with G-d.

This is the condition we find ourselves today, on the threshold of the Messianic era. On the one hand, it appears as if we are afflicted with many plagues, be they psychological, spiritual, financial, political, etc. But our tradition gives us the insight that in truth those afflictions are only external. The inner essence of the Jewish people has been refined and cleansed by the long years of exile, trial and challenge.

This is tremendously encouraging. All of the goodness and holiness over the past 3000 years are stockpiled in our favor with compound interest. The difficulties and tribulations of the present are in reality only on the surface. As we set out to correct those predicaments, our acts of refinement and G-dliness can be essentially and eternally impactful, tipping the scales to ultimate positivity.

The laws of purification delineated in this week’s portion parallel the world’s process of rectification, making it ready for Moshiach’s revelation. Step by step, mitzvah by mitzvah, soul by soul, we collectively await the day of no more suffering when G-d will bring the final Redemption, speedily in our day.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

 

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

Parshas Tazria

 

Two five year old boys are talking. One asks to the other, “Were you circumcised?”

The other answered, “Yes.”

Says the second boy, “How old were you when it happened?”

“My mom said that I was eight days old.”

“Did it hurt?”

“You bet it hurt, I couldn't walk for a year!”

In the beginning of the Torah portion of Tazria we find the commandment “and on the eighth day shall the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised.” Even though hundreds of years before this, Abraham and his offspring were instructed to circumcise themselves, the command itself stems from this week's Torah portion, and not because of our forefather Abraham.

That was a command to an individual and revealed by G-d through prophecy. The mitzvah of brit mila in this week's portion is counted as one of the 613 commandments of the Torah which were given to the entire Jewish People at Mount Sinai, to which every single Jew was witness.

Chasidic Thought explains that a Jewish boy’s G-dly soul enters his physical body upon performance of the brit. (For a Jewish girl that process of body/soul integration begins at birth and is considered be part of the brit, covenant.) Before the brit, the joining of the

G-dly soul and the corporeal body was incomplete. Brit mila affects a linking and union between the two.

In a practical sense, the circumcision is a sign of the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People. This bond is so great it finds expression in the very physical flesh of a Jew, testimony to the depth of the relationship and commitment.

Brit mila is unique in the sense that it is a perpetual mitzvah. The Talmud relates that once while King David was visiting a bathhouse, he suddenly grew despondent, concerned that he was also “unclothed without mitzvot” before his Creator. The king normally wore tefillin on his arm and head and a small Torah scroll on his other arm during his waking hours – however, not in a bathhouse. But after he reminded himself of the sign of brit mila engraved in his flesh he was reassured that he was not without merit for even one moment.

An additional aspect of brit mila over other commandments is that it fully involves the physical body. Other mitzvot, even if they necessitate the use of various limbs of the body to carry them out, are primarily concerned with matters pertaining to the soul. The mitzvah of mila is so great that it effects a change even in the physical realm, testimony to the sacred bond between G-d and the Jewish people.

This explanation also sheds light on why a baby is circumcised before he can even comprehend the significance of the act. This covenantal bond transcends intellectual comprehension, the mind can not grasp it. In this respect, infant and adult are equal. The circumcision is therefore performed on the earliest possible date, the eighth day of life.

Knowledge of this deep connection should inspire us to intensify our Jewish identity both qualitatively and quantitatively. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman


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

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