Thursday, March 29, 2007

A word on gratitude

The Torah makes sure to admonish the Kohanim with the strongly worded "Tzav" regarding the procedure of the korban olah. Rashi points out that this is necessary because of the nature of people - when they stand to lose monetarily - they are likely to need extra encouragement to do the job well.
Now this is the korban olah - it all gets burnt and no meat goes to either the kohen or the bringer of the sacrifice. So what monetary loss are we referring to ? If the kohen has become accustomed to receiving korbanos from people - he is in danger of taking them for granted. And if he were to take them for granted - he may view them as his right. And when someone decided to bring a korban olah instead of a korban shelamim ( from which the kohen does get a portion ) a kohen with an inflated sense of entitlement might feel that the fellow has no right to deprive him, the kohen, of his due meat - just because he would rather bring an olah, I mean really ?!?
This sense of entitlement - that I am automatically deserving of everything - is a very dangerous trait. If I am entitled - why should I thank the one that gave it to me ? If I am entitled to the outcome of his sacrifice - shouldn't I have the right to dictate it's terms ? And so on ...
We see that above and beyond regular loss is perceived loss. Not what you're losing but what you think you're losing. This is such a common pitfall that Hashem chose to admonish the kohanim specifically regarding this situation.
Is there anything that we take for granted ? Isn't it time we show a bit more gratitude ?
Consider this your admonition.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Good the Bad and the Simple

( Sorry about the title - I couldn't resist )

I saw a fantastic shtickle from the Sefas Emes as explained by my esteemed colleague and good friend, Rabbi Reuven Boshnack.

The Sefas Emes begins his thought by pointing out that our sons ( Banayich ) are also viewed as our builders ( Bonayich ) - which in and of itself is a fantastic thought - that the greatest achievements that we can aspire to involve building future generations by our example and our legacy. And so, the four sons are in fact, four approaches to build ourselves as better servants of the King.

To the wise son in all of us the Sefas Emes points out that we should exhort ourselves to remember that for all the logical reasons in the world and all the wisdom that lies behind the mitzva observances - what is paramount in our service of Hashem is devotion - the kind of devotion that leads us to want the sweet taste of the mitzva of afikoman in our mouths long after we discharged the technical obligation. In a play on words, the Sefas Emes says that the 'taam' hamitzva ( or 'taste' of the mitzva ) is more important than the 'taam' hamitzva ( reason for the mitzva ).

To the wicked son who questions the point of the fanatical attention to detail, who casts doubt as to why Hashem, King of the entire universe, would possibly care if we found every last crumb that was stuffed into the outlets and behind the refrigerator - we say "Because of this Hashem took us out of Egypt". Our neurotic attention to detail does not mark us as those who have deteriorated in their service of G-d into worrying about trivialities ( as the rasha claims ) quite the contrary, it is exactly this nitpickiness which is our most valuable service to G-d. This is what we are able to do for Him - to finely concentrate on every little detail - and it was with this in mind that He took us out of Egypt - to serve Him - the way we know how, with attention / devotion / obsession with the details.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eliyahu HaNavi, drink up !

I was asked by a very chashuve student why we only wake up and mention Eliyahu Hanavi at the end of the seder when we pour 'his' cup.
I saw two answers that I wanted to share with you.
Eliyahu's cup is a misnomer, points out Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Zatzal, ( as quoted in the Roshei Yeshiva Haggadda ) because the cup is not for him at all. We know that the four cups are drunk, in part, to correspond to the four statements of redemption ( Leshonos HaGeula ). They are : VeHotzeiti, VeHitzalti, VeGaalti, VeLakachti ( In various pesukim, Hashem says "And I will ... Free, Save, Redeem and Take you out of Egyption bondage ). The gemara in Pesachim maintains that there is a fifth pasuk that is perhaps also a statement of redemption : 'VeHeveiti' - and I will Bring you to the Land of Israel. In order to resolve this conflict we pour the fifth cup ( in case it is a lashon geulah ) but, we don't drink it ( in case it is not a lashon geulah ).
Like many cases in the gemara - we state that we await Eliyahu Hanavi to come and resolve the difficulty - that's why it became known as Eliyahu's Cup.

Friday, March 16, 2007

When G-d Says Jump - We Say "How High ?"

And Moshe caused the people to congregate.

Rashi points out this difference between the gathering of the people to hear Hashem's word and the people gathering themselves.

But what does this semantic difference teach us ?

After the third period of 40 days in shamayim, where he was praying and fasting for the return of the close loving relationship between Hashem and His people, Moshe returns and all he has to tell the people is "I have some Torah to teach you !" and the people come flocking.

You can tell alot about a person by what gets them truly excited and animated. In fact, this was readily apparent in the sin of the golden calf. The people said they wanted a spiritual intermediary, but - in reality - all they wanted was to have a lavish banquet dedicated to immorality. We see here, however, that the time Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish people spent doing teshuva for the cheit ha'eigel paid off. Not only were the people ready to accept the word of G-d - they were also quick to gather to hear it.

And what about us ? What gets our eyes shining and voice raised just a bit too loud ? And what does that say about us ?

Friday, March 09, 2007

How much can you grab ?

When I was a bochur in Yeshiva, my Rebbe - Rav Yechiel Bloom, Shlita - used to give us chizzuk when the beis medrash was a little empty - so that we should not become disheartened by the lack of fellows. He said that min haShamayim it is decreed how much torah will be learnt in a particular beis medrash - but not by whom - so when we were fewer in number we could, in fact, get a bigger slice of the pie, i.e. - 'grab' more learning.
As I sit here in Cracow, about to experience shabbos in the city where pure Toras Chaim flowed from the Rema, the Tosfos Yom Tov, the Bach and practically countless others - I wonder - just how much can I 'grab'?

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Powerful Hidden Love

The entire story of Purim is one big mystery. The miracle is understated and behind the scenes. For the story to be so subtle is understandable - the whole point of the miracle was that it should be hidden from the casual observer. But why should the biblical narrative emphasize this? Surely we could have a more explicit story that would point out the divinely inspired turning points in the great saga that is the Purim Tale?

If we were to do that, however, we would lose the real message of purim. The idea is not simply to look for the hidden hand of Gd and respond in a loud and raucous praise. That's only scratching the surface. Rather, just like Hashem demonstrates his love for us through these subtle behind-the-scenes ways - we should also harbor in our own actions and feelings a powerful hidden love for the Ribbono Shel Olam - it doesn't need to come out in huge garish displays of fervor - it just needs to be there. That's why the heroine of the story was called Esther or 'hidden one'. It was her hidden reserve of devotion to the One Above that gave her the ability to sacrifice all for her people.
May we be zocheh to a purim filled with deep and abiding devotion to the One Above. Amen.