Friday, September 29, 2006

On burnings and slaughterings

In the Yom Kippur davening, we keep mentioning the zechus of the akeida. We petition Hashem to remember the mesirus nefesh displayed during this monumental trial - and in its merit grant us a chance at life and serving Him better etc. etc. But why is the akeida known as Avraham's nisayon ? And what pivotal role does it play in our convictions to become better Jews ?

When we ponder the meaning of such phrases as 'the ultimate sacrifice', we can't help but assume that there is nothing more heroic than giving up our life for something. Yet, there does seem to be an action that is even more fundamental in it's devotion than dying for something.

It's living for it.

While deciding to die for a cause or an ideal is a tough decision - it's a decision that you can make only once. Living for something - that's a decision that gets replayed over and over and over and over. It takes much more conviction and strength of character to live for something, reaffirming that initial decision a million times over. So, while for Yitzchak Avinu, the willing participation in the akeida was a show of dedication, for Avraham Avinu it was a show of mesirus nefesh a hundred times greater. That's why we ask Hashem to recall the great zechus of the akeida. It represents a truly awesome level of dedication to Hashem. It is also the reason that we seek to employ this merit in our process of teshuva - because Hashem doesn't want us to perish in retribution for our sins ( even if this would cleanse us of them ! ). Rather, Hashem would prefer that we repent from our wayward actions and live. A life of service to Hashem - a life that reaffirms and reenforces that intitial decision to return to Him every moment of every day thereafter.

Secondly, in the prayers there is a strong current of yearning for the return of the avodas beis hamikdash. What about the animal sacrifices that were brought are we trying to recall fondly ? The blood ? The guts ? If our perspective of the holy korbanos is limited to the animals which took part - we are sorely shortsighted. True, animals were slaughtered in a ritual fashion and parts were sprinkled on the mizbeach.

The most fundamental part, however, was the fire that consumed them.

If we look at the pesukim that describe the avodah the most striking refrences are to the consuming fire. We know that the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash was replaced by our davening, but did we realize that the core of the process is still the same ?! Just like a fire - once it gets going will continue to grow and roar of its own volition - so too our prayers just need one little injection of sincere enthusiasm and 'fire' from us - and then Hashem will grant us the divine assistance neccesary for a meaningful davening.

Our tefillos have the power of the Aish Tamid, the power of the ever burning flame that graced G-od's own temple!

May it be His will that all of klal yisrael's tefilos be accepted by the Merciful One Above on this our day of greatest closeness to Him, and that we should merit to be sealed in the books of goodness, repentenance and sincere service of Him, always. Amen.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Go(d) team !!

"We won ! We won !!" Those shouts could be heard echoing all through downtown, especially the bar district. The hometown team had just won the championship and there was a general ecstasy surrounding the entire city. Everyone felt a part of it. They were proud of their team - they were proud of themselves.

"What a load of simpletons !", The cynic sneered contemptuously.
"They are walking around lording their victory over 'lesser mortals' - they didn't even do anything ! Did that lady over there score the winning point ? No. Did that fat man make the defensive play that saved the victory ? Hardly. They are just fooling themselves into believing they had a part in it and relieving the tedium of their lives with sports as their chosen opiate."

"Not so", said the wise man, "While the fans were not on the field - it was their encouragement, if not devotion, that gave the players the impetus to succeed. Any player will tell you he does better with a hundred thousand fans cheering him on than in training. Have you ever heard of any records being broken on the practice field ? Their effort is linked to the fans."

Kal vachomer when we speak of cheering on - or supporting - or coronating Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

A cynic would claim that G-d's kingdom lacks nothing that a mere mortal can give Him. Yet, on Rosh HaShanna we do just that - pledge to Hashem the one thing He doesn't already have - our hearts.

On this holy day - we proclaim to Hashem - "Not only are you the G-d - you are also my G-d - and I am your loyal servant."

Kesiva Vechasima Tova L'Kol Am Yisrael !

R' Druyan

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reason is the spice of life

While learning the halachos of a meat and milk mixture ( forbidden !! ) I came across an inspirational idea. The sefer I was learning from introduced an explanation of the reasoning for a particular ruling by the Rashba ( Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderet - a fourteenth century scholar ) - with the words "Taam haRashba" ( Lit. the Rashba's reasoning ). Since we were dealing with the absorbed flavors of the milk into the meat and vice versa - we thought the pun was wonderful !

Then another idea became apparent - the reason that "reason" and "flavor" are the same word (Taam) is because they really do fulfill the same function. If you want your food to be more interesting ( not more nutritious ) you flavor it - and if you want your religion to mean more to you - look for the reason behind the practices you keep.

Happy Spicing !!

'till next time,
R' Druyan

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Be Happy .......... Worry !

Rabbeinu Yonah in his classic work, Shaarei Teshuva, quotes a statement of the sages - "Man is destined to work - joyous is one whose work is in Torah."

The sentiment expressed is as follows : Life is all about work. Effort, toil, perseverance. Mankind must DO something. One who is fortunate, however, will make his portion of toil in the sweet fields of Torah.

In another mashal - chazal say - the one who toils in mundane matters is considered like a tanner, whose person stinks from the chemicals used on the hides. In contrast, a person whose toil is in Torah is like a perfume salesman whose person is pleasing to the nose...

So we see that we're doomed to work. But we get to choose what our work is.

In this life, we are going to worry about something. We are going to strive and make efforts and try to succeed. At some points these thoughts and drives might even define who we are.

Wouldn't it be better if what I worry about, what consumes me is a desire to perfect my tefilah - or my ability to truly empathize with the recipient of my gemillus chasadim - instead of how much money I will make or how good I will look in this outfit ?

To live a better life, work for something that makes you smell good. And play your 'worry' cards on serving God.

'till next time,

R' Druyan

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Is Tzaraas Only Skin Deep ?

The torah says "Guard yourself from the affliction of tzaraas..." and then juxtaposes ( fancy term for putting next to each other ) "Remember what Hashem did to Miriam..."

The simple meaning - Miriam got tzaraas - make sure you don't get it too !
However, Rashi tells us that 'guarding yourself from tzaraas' means making sure not to accidentally peel off any skin sore which may be tzaraas ( eeeeeewwww ). Doesn't sound like much of an accident to me -

'hmm I wonder what this is ? Oh ! Uh, uh, I guess I'll just flick it off and no one will know'

Yet, when we think we can offer a superficial answer to tzaraas - like just flicking it off - comes the Torah to remind us that we can't.
You see, Miriam got tzaraas because she spoke ill of Moshe Rabbeinu ( She said he was acting a little too remote - even for a prophet). But, she really didn't mean to - she thought what she was saying was true - she didn't investigate further to realize that her prophecy and her brother Moshe's prophecy were totally different. Her actions weren't just wrong they were superficial.

Let's remember that every time we feel like someone did something wrong and it would be a 'mitzva' to publicize and not let them 'get away with it'. Are we thinking or acting superficially ? Could there be another side to the story ?

- till next time,

R' Druyan