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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Parshas Behar

 A shopkeeper was dismayed when a brand new business much like his own opened up next door and erected a huge sign which read “BEST DEALS”.

He was horrified when another competitor opened up on his right, and announced its arrival with an even larger sign, reading “LOWEST PRICES”.

The shopkeeper panicked, until he got an idea. He put the biggest sign of all over his own shop. It read “MAIN ENTRANCE”.

This week’s Torah portion, Behar, means literally “on the mountain.” The Midrash relates that when G-d wanted to reveal His holy Torah to the Jewish people, all the mountains in the world vied before Him for the privilege. Each boasted of its unique superiority and beauty. Mount Sinai, a small and unassuming mountain, refused to boast and it was upon her that G-d chose to give the Torah.

The mountains’ impressive height, prime location or other physical characteristics were not taken into consideration. In fact their boasting had the opposite effect. The Torah could only be given in a place where side issues were irrelevant. The venue could not be in competition with the main “attraction” because the Torah is pure and was revealed for its own sake, not to be clouded by some ulterior motive.

The giving of the Torah on humble Mount Sinai contains a lesson for all of us in how we are supposed to connect to the Divine. Personal considerations and motivations, no matter how valid or convincing, are not the real reason we perform mitzvot. Rather, a Jew fulfills the Torah’s commandments solely because the purity of our soul connects with the purity of the Commander and His command.

Yes, we will be more than amply compensated and yield handsome dividends after 120 years for our fulfillment of the mitzvot. But the true reason a Jew obeys G-d’s will is only because of His pure, absolute, unadulterated essence has asked us to. Some may observe the commandments to merit Gan Eden, a “good seat” in the World to Come, but this too is only a secondary issue. Observing mitzvot brings delight to the spirit, refines character and purifies the soul, but the desire to obtain these personal benefits is not the Jew’s genuine motivation.

We emulate the example of Mount Sinai, the only proper “vessel” for containing the Torah. Our motivation and intent in heeding G-d’s word must ultimately be free from thoughts of personal gain or advantage. For the true reason we serve G-d and obey His mitzvot is solely for the sake of serving Him.

In fact, had G-d commanded us to perform actions which would not be rewarded, we would carry out His will with the same joy, enthusiasm and vitality with which we observe the Torah commandments, solely because He wants us to!

May that authentic soul core of our being shine forth in every one of our mitzvot. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

 Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 1, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Emor

 

A man had been driving all night and by morning was still far from his destination. He parked somewhere quiet to get an hour or two of sleep. As luck would have it, the quiet place was one of the city's major jogging routes. No sooner had he settled back to snooze there was a jogger knocking on his car window.

“Excuse me, sir,” the jogger said, “do you have the time?” The man looked at the car clock and answered, “8:15”. The jogger said thanks and left. The man settled back again, and was just dozing off when another jogger knocked on the window.


“Excuse me, sir, do you have the time?” He answered, “8:25!” The jogger said thanks and left.


It was only a matter of time before he would be disturbed again. To avoid the problem, he put a sign in his window, “I do not know the time!” Once again he settled back to sleep. He was just dozing off when there was another knock.


“Sir, sir? It's 8:45!”

This week's Torah portion, Emor, contains the command pertaining to Shabbos: “Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest... you shall do no manner of work.”

Take a look at your average calendar and you'll notice that the first day is Sunday, a day of rest in many countries. The week, therefore, begins with a day of rest.

Sunday, in the Jewish calendar, is a work-day. Saturday, Shabbat, was appointed the day of rest. From the Jewish perspective the week actually begins with work. Only after six days of work will the seventh day be the Sabbath. The precedence of labor before rest indicates that our purpose is not to while away time idly, but rather to work for the betterment of ourselves and our community, in both material and spiritual matters.

It might seem strange that in the verse above is states “shall work be done” – in a passive form. But, actually, it indicates that Judaism advocates a “passive” or slightly aloof attitude toward work. Not in an arrogant or haughty way, G-d forbid, but rather a person's entire interest and enthusiasm shouldn't only be centered around business activities.

Today, many of us have become so totally submerged in our business lives that we have no time for anything or anyone, least of all ourselves. We're “on the job” not only at work but also at home, at leisure. We think, sleep, even pray business. Has the smart phone really made a smarter, or does it just “smart” every time it rings?

To caution against this complete preoccupation we have the Divine order, “Six days shall work be done.” It is a positive commandment, stating the essential nature of labor, yet transmitting an important clause: Don't become totally preoccupied with work. Keep slightly detached so that during leisure hours one will be able to give attention to personal and family needs, both material and spiritual.

 Let’s make it a really restful Shabbos focusing on what is essential!

 Rabbi Shraga Sherman

From Thought for the Week (Detroit), adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Parshas Kedoshim

 Near the end of a particularly trying round of golf, during which the golfer had hit numerous fat shots*, he said in frustration to his caddy, “I’d move heaven and earth to break a hundred on this course.”

“Try heaven,” said the caddy. “You’ve already moved most of the Earth.”

* FYI: When the club strikes the ground prior to striking ball, it produces a fat shot.

This week we read the Torah portion Kedoshim which contains the commandment “Sanctify yourselves and be holy.” We are already half way into the 3rd book of the Torah (out of 5) which all along has been telling us how to sanctify ourselves and be holy, so what exactly does this command mean?

It is telling us to not only be holy within the parameters of Torah law by heeding both positive and negative mitzvot, but we must also sanctify ourselves in those areas which the Torah has deemed “permissible” – not necessarily obligatory. Examples of this are eating, drinking, sleeping, conducting business affairs, etc.

You might think that because these areas are not specifically spelled out in the Torah, this commandment is less important than others which are explained in great detail. But it is precisely this personal sanctification which has the power to bring the Final Redemption closer to reality.

Although learning Torah and performing mitzvot sometimes dovetails with our natural disposition, at times it requires subjugation of our personal desires to G-d’s will. Of course this in no way ensures that our inner nature will be purified and refined. But when a person of their own accord and volition, consistently behaves in the same dignified and respectful manner, no matter what the endeavor, it demonstrates that the Torah’s holiness has penetrated their inner being and that they are totally committed to G-d.

This imbues one’s entire life with G-dliness, not only those areas directly involved with religious observance, but the routine prosaic aspects as well. When we strive to sanctify ourselves at all times, however mundane the activity, we reveal the G-dliness within all of creation and show that no aspect of life is too insignificant to be used in the service of G-d.

This commandment imbues meaning, purpose and spirituality into the non-commandment part of our lives. This is a precursor to the Final Redemption and the cosmic changes that will occur when Moshiach comes as the revelation of G-dliness in the world will then become very apparent. G-d will no longer be an issue of faith but one of knowledge and understanding.

When Moshiach comes we will realize that G-d is indeed everywhere, in every detail and that truly “there is nothing besides Him.” So our sanctifying even the most mundane aspects of our lives, therefore, not only prepares us for the imminent Redemption, but serves to bring Moshiach even closer.

So go make your commonplace non-Mitzvah acts as holy as they can be! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

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

Parshas Acharei

 Seeker: Oh wise and all knowing one, take me to the realm of perfect peace.

Master: If I take you to that realm, it will no longer be peaceful.

This week's Torah reading, Acharei, speaks about Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. On that day, they “purify themselves before G-d.” Conversely, the conclusion of the Torah reading warns: “Do not reveal the nakedness of your father; do not reveal the nakedness of your mother... Do not perform any of these abominations.” Not exactly matters we would think relate to the holy day of Yom Kippur. Why then are the two subjects included in the same reading?

The resolution of this question is alluded to by the name of the Torah reading: Acharei, which means “after,” and its first verse: “And G-d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon when they had come close to G-d and died.”

Yom Kippur is a time when every Jew “comes close to G-d.” That experience, however, must not be self-contained. Instead, we must focus on what happens afterwards. The way we come close to G-d must be connected to the days and weeks that follow.

The deepest yearnings of our souls and the loftiest heights of our religious experience must be connected to the realities of our material existence. Spirituality is not an added dimension, separate from our everyday experience, but a medium through which we elevate our ordinary lives. By fusing our material and spiritual realities, we refine the world, infuse it with holiness, and transform it into a dwelling for G-d's presence.

This is why we read the passages concerning forbidden sexual relations in the Torah reading which describes the sacrificial worship of Yom Kippur - and indeed, we read about these forbidden relationships during the afternoon services on Yom Kippur itself.

We each have moments when our hearts are turn upward and we feel more in touch with our souls and with G-d, like on Yom Kippur, a day on which we are removed from all worldly concerns. Even then, our eyes must be focused downward. The spiritual power of these special moments and days should be used to recharge our everyday service of G-d and motivate us to act according to G-d's desires even within the context of situations where we might be tempted to follow another set of mores.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Keeping in Touch, vol. 1

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