Friday, May 25, 2007

Smile !

Along with all the substantial brachos that Hashem has the kohanim bless bnei yisrael with, is one that doesn't seem like such a significant bracha.
The bracha goes "May Hashem light his countenance towards you and grant you grace". Rashi, in defining 'light his countenance' explains - will show you a smiling face.
We all know that it is pleasant to see a smile and unpleasant to see a frown - is this really on par, though, with Hashem's protection or the promise of peace ?
If we really knew the power of a smile - we wouldn't doubt this. Maybe that's what Hashem is blessing us with - the knowledge of the true power of a smile.

Go ahead, load both barrels - ready, aim ... smile ! And unleash a whole world of joy and happiness into someone's day.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Special delivery !

We know that Shavuos is the holiday of receiving the Torah and that we don't just commemorate it - we actually relive it. If we are going to relive it we need some basic facts straightened out.

Well, if the Torah is being given to us - stand to reason that we have to able to receive it. If someone hands me a heavy package - I have to be able to lift it from them. If someone has several gallons of water for me - I can only accept it if I have a tank or a kiddy pool to store it all. With that in mind, think about this - where did Bnei Yisrael find a vessel big/worthy enough to store the Torah once they received it ?

The answer, says the Alei Shur, is found in the approach of the Jews to Har Sinai. When they camped around the mountain - they are described as having a tremendous sense of unity and purpose - " כאיש אחד בלב אחד " - "... like one man with one heart ... ". The combined hearts of roughly 2 million people unified for one cause - to accept Hashem as king and hear His message - THAT is a vessel big and worthy enough to accept the Torah into.

So on Shavuos night, while you learn, remember : When you daven you are talking to G-d, when you learn - He is talking to you! And if you approach the learning with the same earnest desire to hear His message that Jews worldwide will be demonstrating - you will, iy"h, merit to join the huge, conglomerated, Jewish heart, and successfully relive the receiving of the Torah.

Good Luck !

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So, why don't we start the Torah as soon as we get it ?

In other words, why do we start and end the Torah on Simchas Torah - when we actually received it on Shavuos ? Wouldn't that be a more appropriate time ?

I was asked this question by a very chashuve Jew.

The Gemara in Megilla ( 31b) states : "Ezra established for all of Israel that they should read the warnings in sefer Vayikra before Shavuos and the warnings in sefer Devarim before Rosh Hashanna. Why ? So that the year and it's misfortunes should exit together."
In other words, the cycle of Torah readings reflects the time of year that we find ourselves in. This cycle was generated in order to get the most meaningful associations and lessons from the parshiyos.
One question still remains, however, since when is Shavuos the same as Rosh Hashanna ?!
The gemara answers that on Shavuos we are judged regarding tree fruits - so it's like Rosh Hashanna which is also a day of judgment.
Another answer that occured to me was that Shavuos and Rosh Hashanna really do share a common purpose - they both commemorate the creation of the world.
You see, when the Torah recounts the days of creation it mentions the sixth day as the "yom HAshishi" ("THE Sixth day" - these are also the words we start kiddush with.) The gemara [Shabbos 88a] states that this refers, not to the sixth day of creation, but is in fact alluding to the sixth of Sivan, Shavuos.
The world was created on condition that the Jews give it purpose - which they did by receiving the Torah. So, Shavuos is a commemoration of creation ( or at least the reason for it ) and Rosh Hashanna is the day of creation - and since they both represent renewals we aim to finish up those scary parshiyos of tochacha before hand - so we can start on a positive note.

Let's gear up for a day of renewal in our service of Hashem and devotion to His Torah - more importantly - realize the whole world is counting on you !
- Hatzlacha !

Friday, May 11, 2007

More On Prerequisites

So we said that learning Torah is a prerequisite for personal growth ( as opposed to being synonymous with it ) - but are all prerequisites created equal ?

The Torah points out that tumah is transferred onto a fruit or vegetable that grew from the ground only after it is picked and only after it has been splashed with one of the seven liquids. But the prerequisite of splashing is mentioned in the reflexive ( ..."and if water was placed on it"...) to teach us that even if the owner of the fruit / vegetable didn't want the prerequisite fulfilled - it still is.
It therefor, logically, follows that if the Torah had to make special mention of the fact that this prerequisite is fulfilled even without the owner's intentions - other prerequisites ( like the one we were discussing ) must be done with intention to fulfill the prerequisite - or else they are insufficient !
In other words, one cannot become a tzaddik just by learning, it is merely a prerequisite. And learning doesn't even fulfill the prerequisite of 'tziddkus' unless you actually intend for it to do so.

Hatzlacha !

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What Can the Torah Do For Me ?

The mishna in Avos [6:1] points out that one who learns Torah is treated to all sorts of beneficial side effects. In addition, the mishna says that learning torah acts as a prerequisite for being a tzaddik. "ומכשרתו להיות צדיק"
Why doesn't learning Torah grant one immeddiate 'tzidkus' ? Why does it only serve as a prerequisite ?
Even if one learns and absorbs the learning - it still takes a specific, concerted effort to see results. If you learn Torah and feel that the learning is enough, that personality development is not for you - you may, chas veshalom, end up like R' Akiva's students - steeped in Torah but unable to relate properly to their fellow man.
Sefiras HaOmer is a time uniquely suited for this particular avodah...
Let's do it !

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hey, what about us ?!?!

Pesach sheni is upon us !!

The Torah introduces this holiday in a strange fashion - by quoting those who made a claim / complaint to Moshe Rabbeinu in a positive light ! There were certain Jews who could not bring the korban pesach due to their impure status - and why were they impure ? They were part of the chevra kadisha and had to deal with their deceased brothers.
Their claim was essentially as follows : What should we have done ? We accept that those who are tameh due to their own lashon hara (tzaraas) should be excluded from the korban pesach. But we were dealing with a mitzva, the proper burial of a fellow Jew ?! Why should we miss out on this crucial mitzva ?!
We find that whenever Bnei Yisrael had a claim / complaint to make they were either reprimanded and granted their request ( such as the request for water ) or reprimanded and not granted their request, sometimes both ( the request for meat yielded the slav - but also yielded a plague that killed the offenders ). There are two complaints, however, that Hashem greeted with a smile. The first is the claim of those who wished to bring a korban pesach despite missing out due to tumah. The second, is the claim of the daughters of Tzelafchad - that they wished to have land in Eretz Yisrael.
Let's learn their lesson - when we have to kvetch - let's not kvetch to Hashem "why didn't you give me that" or "how can I live without this". Rather, "Hashem I really want to serve you better - help me !"
Happy Kvetching !