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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Parshas Tetzave

 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 mighty 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 among 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 G-d and the 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 draw our outer egocentric selves close 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

Parshas Teruma

 For two solid hours, the lady sitting next to a man on an airplane had told him about her grandchildren. She had even produced a plastic-foldout photo album of all nine of the children. She finally realized that she had dominated the entire conversation on her grandchildren. Oh, I’ve done all the talking, and I m so sorry. I know you certainly have something to say. Please, tell me… what do you think of my grandchildren?

The Torah portion of Terumah contains the commandment “And you shall make two cherubim of gold.” The cherubim were formed as part of the Holy Ark’s lid.

What did the cherubim look like? Our Sages offer several opinions. Rashi describes the cherubim as “having the face of a baby.” Nachmanides maintains they had the form of “the chariot [of G-d] that was seen [in a prophetic vision] by Ezekiel.”

Rashi based his explanation on a Talmudic passage that depicts the cherubim as looking like a boy and a girl facing each other, symbolic of G-d's love for the Jewish people. When G-d spoke to Moses, the Divine voice issued from between the two cherubim, as it states, “And I will speak with you from above the Ark cover, from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony.” This was the place of the most intense revelation of the Divine Presence.

In general, Rashi's commentary explains the Torah's “literal” meaning, whereas Nachmanides' interpretations are more mystical and esoteric. Nachmanides thus describes the cherubim  according to their deeper, spiritual significance, i.e., as resembling the “chariot” seen by the Prophet Ezekiel, while Rashi gives us the simple facts, i.e., that the cherubim  had the face of a baby.

Although Rashi's interpretation is literal, it best expresses the depth of the mystical connection between the Jew and G-d. Our Sages say that the idea of creating the Jewish people occurred to G-d before He thought of creating the Torah, as it were. Mystically it means that G-d’s love for the Jews transcends and is “higher” than the Torah. G-d loves the Jewish people with the kind of love a parent feels for his child, which is independent of the child's conduct or actions.

This is reflected in the fact that physically, the cherubim were placed on top of the Ark of Testimony, which contained the Ten Commandments. For the inner bond between the Jewish people and G-d, which is derived from their essence, is above even the Torah itself.

This also helps explain why the innermost level of a Jew's bond with G-d remains unaffected even if he sins and transgresses the Torah's commandments, G-d forbid (as opposed to the more external aspects of their relationship, which sustain damage). It is from this soulful bond that atonement is achieved for the Jewish people, as alluded to in the word for the ark’s lid itself - kaporet – which is related to kapara - atonement.

Shabbos gives us an opportunity to experience that central core connection, which is true atonement, or rather at-one-ment. Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Volume 26 of Likutei Sichot, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Mishpatim

 Two friends are standing in line at a bank when armed robbers burst in. While a few of the robbers take the money from the tellers, the others line the customers up against a wall and proceed to take their wallets, jewelry, and any other valuables they may have.

While this is all taking place, one friend presses something into the other’s hand. Without looking down, the second friend whispers, “What is that?”

“It’s the $100 I owe you,” replies the first friend.

One of the commandments contained in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is lending money to a poor person. It is considered a mitzvah and the highest form of Tzedakah as you are helping someone stand on their own two feet.

Our Sages understand that G-d performs all of the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people to observe. After all, we are following “HIS statutes and HIS judgments”.  Thus, G-d too observes the mitzvah of “lending money to the poor,” as it were. We can understand its spiritual implications by first examining the practicality of what is involved in the transaction of a loan.

A loan consists of one person giving money to another, even though the lender is not obligated to do so. The money is a type of gift in that the borrower does not give anything in exchange. Nonetheless, the person on the receiving end of the transaction is obliged to eventually repay the giver.

G-d “loans” and endows us with strengths and abilities that allow us to succeed in our daily lives. These gifts are not measured, nor does G-d grant them only to the deserving, just as monetary loans are not made solely to those in dire need. And yet, they are still “loans” and must therefore be repaid. But how do we repay our debt? By utilizing our energy and competency to fulfill G-d’s desire that this material realm be hospitable to the Creator. As we observe His statutes and judgments, i.e. Torah and mitzvot, we are transforming the physical dimension into a vessel for pure G-dliness.

The second half of the above commandment reads “You shall not be a creditor to him, nor shall you lay upon him interest.” It is forbidden for a lender to pressure the borrower into repaying his loan or cause him distress. If the loan has not yet been repaid it is obvious that the borrower does not have the money to do so. In fact, the lender may not even silently show himself to the borrower that he not be made to feel any embarrassment or shame.

G-d also observes the prohibition against being a creditor. G-d could easily demand payment by punishing His children and inflicting pain and suffering, but He does not – for it is forbidden for a creditor to cause sorrow to those who are in his debt. Instead, G-d acts toward the Jewish people with kindness and mercy, granting them all manner of revealed and open goodness.

Sometimes it is challenging for us to see it, but bottom line, we all prefer doing business with the Bank of G-d – the customer service is outstanding! Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Yisro

 Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how G-d sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.”

“Now, Joey is that really what your teacher taught you?” His mother asked.

“Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read: “And Yitro heard...everything that G-d had done for Moses and His people Israel...and Yitro came...to Moses into the wilderness.”

What did Yitro hear that caused him to leave his land and join the Jewish people? Rashi explains, he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war against Amalek.

At first glance, this is surprising. For sure Yitro was aware of all the miracles that took place as part of the Exodus from Egypt which were before the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Why then was it not until the sea was split and the battle fought against Amalek that he decided to go to Moses? Those amazing 10 miracle plagues had a tremendous magnetism. 

Another question. According to the principle that “one must always ascend in matters of holiness,” one would expect the Jewish people to have reached a more elevated spiritual state by the time the Torah was given. The physical and spiritual vulnerability that the war against Amalek seems to represent, points to a spiritual decline from the splitting of the sea.

When the Sea split, G-d’s Divine light illuminated all planes of existence, effecting a bond between the higher spheres and the mundane physical world. All the nations heard of the great miracle and the G-dly revelation struck awe in their hearts. Nevertheless, even after the splitting of the sea, Amalek was not afraid to confront the Jews. Why? Because the revelation of holiness that occurred had still not penetrate the very lowest levels of the physical. Those dimensions require very deep penetration and integration to bring purification. These lowest levels became refined only after the hand to hand physical and spiritual battle with Amalek, when the Jews were victorious.

Thus the battle against Amalek was the final step and cleansing in the Jewish people’s preparation for receiving the Torah. For it was by means of this war that the entire world was transformed into an appropriate vessel to contain the Torah.

This also explains why these two events convinced Yitro to join the Jewish people. It was only after both stages (splitting the sea and the war with Amalek) had occurred that the world was completely ready to accept the Torah.

Each day we say: “Blessed are You... Who gives the Torah” - in the present tense. Every day we receive the Torah anew. Just as our ancestors prepared themselves to accept the Torah at Sinai, so too must we prepare ourselves and our world.

We do this by living with the adage “Know Him in all your ways.” A Jew’s connection to G-d must be constant, not just during prayer or Torah study. First comes the “splitting of the Sea” - our involvement in spiritual matters, only after which can we wage “war against Amalek” and see to imbue our mundane affairs with meaning and purpose.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 11, lchaimweekly.org

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