Friday, June 29, 2007

Pray What ?!?

One of the classic questions of faith revolves around prayer. Why pray ? Do we haughtily believe that Hashem would grant us something He withheld - just because we asked for it nicely ? And what about vice a versa ? Would G-d fail to grant us something we deserved because we didn't say pretty please ?
An approach can be found in the creation of man. There was no rain, says the Passuk [Bereishis, 2:5 and Rashi ad loc.] because there was no one to ask for it. Without man's prayer - there is no recognition of Hashem's goodness. Hashem wants to give us everything, but if we don't demonstrate that we will be properly appreciative, then the giving is in vain.
In actuality, we pray for something - and by doing so we redefine ourselves as those who will see G-d's glory in whatever he gives us - thereby making us worthy of receiving - thereby enabling G-d to grant us our desire.

All this is in strict contrast to the wicked prophet, Bilaam. His prayers were not focused on self betterment and deservingness. Quite the opposite, actually - Bilaam looked for ways to point out faults in his opponents - and utilize strict divine judgment to punish them.

Let our teffilos be sincere and our neshamos open to accept the spiritual growth that we can promote - and may we deserve the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days. amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Without Restraint

"This is the law of the Torah; if a man shall die in a tent ..."

This passuk is referring to the chok of impurity - that if there is a source of tumah in a tent ( or any covered enclosure ), the tumah actually envelopes the entire enclosure spreading to it's edges and contaminating anyone who is under that roof.
( This is why it can be problematic for kohanim to enter hospitals, even on floors where there are no deceased patients. )

Chazal, however, interpret this passuk to have another, equally important, meaning. "This is the law of the Torah, it will only be accomplished by one who kills himself for it ... "
While it is clear that chazal are not actually advocating ritual suicide, what are they saying ? That in order for one to really accomplish something in Torah - observance or learning - they must be willing to sacrifice all.
It is only with a no-holds-barred, give-it-all-you've-got attitude that we can truly, properly observe the mitzvos - because only then are we in full recognition of what the mitzvos stand for.
Hashem gave us this life for a goal and purpose - by "putting it all on the line" for the mitzvos we are, in fact, affirming that goal and re declaring that purpose.
If we were to show even the smallest bit of restraint - that we'll give 99% but not a 100% - we are saying that life is ours and we do with it what we please - and now it pleases us to serve G-d. That is not service - that is picking and choosing! In order for us to truly serve we must be willing to go at it without restraint.

( This is, of course, a level to aspire to. If you haven't gotten there yet - keep trying! Initially you'll feel this for maybe a second or two at a time - only the really great tzaddikim maintain this level of conviction on a constant basis ! )

B'Hatzlacha !

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I feel taken care of

One of the birkot hashachar that we say every morning is an expression of thanks and praise that Hashem provides us "with all our needs" ( "sh'asa li kol tzorchi" ). This blessing actually refers to shoes. Hashem provides for us ( or enables us to provide for ourselves ) this measure, which is a great boon in climates that are disagreeable, but is basically an 'extra' when viewed versus, say, lungs.
So why, in a series of blessings that we praise G-d for our actual sight and mobility, do we toss in one about 'creature comforts' ?
Because, in a way, that is even bigger praise. That Hashem looks out for us - not just for what we absolutely need as we travel down life's road - but also what will make the road smoother.

Praise G-d !

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

With a good eye

When the meraglim spoke out about the land of Israel - they were severely punished. One aspect of their heinous crime - which in turn led them to such a harsh punishment - was that they should have taken example from Miriam.
At the end of last week's parsha we see Miriam struck with tzaraas because of a disparaging comment she made about Moshe Rabbeinu.
In both instances one is compelled to wonder - why is lashon hara such a horrible sin ? Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating slander. No one thinks that libelous comments and catty snipes are a proper model for a Torah life - but it seems as though they are actually a fundamentally opposing viewpoint - how ?
We are well aware that we were created in G-d's image. Obviously, that doesn't mean physical image - G-d has no arms or nose hairs. Rather, we were created with the inherent ability to also create. As Rabbi Jeff Greenberg used to put it, we can be 'mini g-ds'. Our ability to create is not just a physical issue - far from it. If it were, then every animal who can reproduce would also be considered 'in G-d's image'. No, our ability to create lies in the world of the non-physical. Specifically, ideas. When we postulate a thesis or just dream up a recipe we are actually creating it, and thus echoing the Creator of all.
And when we speak ill of someone or something, we are misusing our gift in the most heinous way. We are creating negativity and bad feelings were there were none before. I would almost go so far as to say - that we are corrupting G-d's world and using his very image to do so.
When seen that way - lashon hara is certainly an evil like no other - may we be zocheh to guard our speech, preserve our divine image and bring mashiach b'mhaira b'yameinu, amen!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Shooting for the stars, even with a BB gun.

One time when R' Akiva was up a tree ( he was fleeing from those who were over zealously guarding the honor of a sage ) he asked the following question : The pesukim that describe the daily avodah refer to the korban to be brought as a "keves echad", a single sheep. Why, if the word sheep is in the singular, does the Torah need to emphasize that it is one ?
Rav Chanina HaGadol answered Rebbi Akiva that the word "echad" here is actually derived from "meyuchad", or special, and alludes to specialness necessary for a korban to Hashem. It must be the nicest animal in flock. ( R' Akiva's question convinced R' Chanina that he was a budding scholar and therefor wasn't mocking the sages. He was promptly allowed down )
Since the reference to a singular sheep occurs in the daily avodah - we can learn an interesting lesson from this idea.
The sheep must be the nicest in the flock - not the world. For the Yom Kippur avodah, the animals must be world class - and perfectly cultivated for their tasks. For the daily worship, however, it is understood that you can't get the best every time. So this animal must be the best we can find at the moment.
Sometimes when we are davening or saying brachos, we are under constraints that prevent us from concentrating as we should. This idea tells us that Hashem isn't looking for the best teffila / bracha of our lives every time. He's just looking for the best we can do at the moment. If it sometimes seems that we don't have the ammunition to shoot for the stars, it's because we fail to realize that Hashem wants us to try, even with a BB gun.

Let's give it all we've got !