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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Parshas Beshalach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

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

Parshas Bo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26, lchaimweekly.com

Parshas Va'eira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

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

Parshas Shemos

The CEO of a big company called an employee at home about a very urgent computer problem. He was greeted with a child’s whispered, “Hello?”

Feeling the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster the boss asked,

“Is your Daddy home?”

“Yes”, whispered Little Johnny. May I talk with him?” the man asked.

To the surprise of the boss, Little Johnny whispered, “No.”

Wanting to talk with an adult, the boss asked, “Is your Mommy there?”

“Yes”, came the answer. “May I talk with her?”

Again Little Johnny whispered, “No.”

“Is there any one there besides you to leave a message?” the boss asked the child.

“Yes”, whispered Little Johnny, “A policeman.”

Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee’s home, the boss asked, “May I speak with the policeman?”

“No, he’s busy”, whispered Little Johnny.

“Busy doing what?” asked the boss.

“Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the Fireman”, came the whispered answer.

Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter through the ear piece on the phone the boss asked, “What is that noise?”

“A hello-copper”, answered the whispering Little Johnny. “The search team just landed the hello-copper!”

Alarmed, concerned and more than just a little frustrated the boss asked, “Why are they there?”

Still whispering, Little Johnny replied along with a muffled giggle, “They’re looking for me!” 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, G-d told Moses of his mission to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt. Moses replied, “Behold, I will come to the Children of Israel and say, “The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you.’ And they will say to me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?”

Why did Moses think that they would ask him this? Surely the Jews were familiar with the “G-d of Abraham”; certainly their forefathers had told them. And why wouldn’t Moses know what to answer?

Our Sages explain that G-d has many Names according to His actions. Each Name symbolizes a different way in which He interacts with creation, for ex. Elokim connotes G-d’s attribute of justice, the Yud-hey-vov-hey connotes His attribute of mercy.

Thus the question “What is His Name?” really asks “In which way will the redemption from Egypt come about?” Will it be through G-d’s attribute of justice or through His attribute of mercy?

But what difference would it make how the redemption happened? Isn’t the main thing that their suffering would end? Besides, isn’t it self-evident that the redemption would be derived from G-d’s attribute of mercy?

In truth, the question “What is His Name” is a very difficult one to answer. The Jewish people wanted to know how it was possible for G-d to have allowed them to suffer so terribly in Egypt. They wanted to know with which “Name” G-d had chosen to act, i.e., how it was possible for the redemption to come only after such a lengthy period of exile.

“What shall I tell them?” Moses asked. Even Moses was perplexed and did not know how to answer.

Replied G-d: “I Will Be What I Will Be.” Rashi explains that this means “I will be with them throughout their travail.” G-d was telling Moses that He accompanies the Jews in exile and suffers together with them, as it were. The Jews are not abandoned in Egypt, G-d forbid, nor would He ignore their pain. Not only would G-d be with them in Egypt, but He would share in their anguish and distress.

G-d said, “This is My Name forever - le’olam.” In this verse, le’olam is spelled without the letter vav, alluding to the word helem - concealment. In exile, G-d’s attribute of mercy is hidden. Surely G-d accompanies the Jewish people into exile, but His attribute of mercy is in a state of concealment, only to be revealed when the time for redemption has arrived.

But knowledge that He is right there next to me, gives us the hope and inspiration to overcome the concealment and live a life of redemption and revelation that the Torah lays out for us. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 26, lchaimweekly.org

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