Friday, May 30, 2008

What Banner Do We March Under ?

In the desert, the Jewish people marched in a very specific formation. Their layout was actually a recreation of the places the tribes ( the sons of Yaakov Avinu themselves ) took around Yaakov Avinu's casket as they carried it to burial.

The pride and splendor of marching in their own, divinely ordained places was said to be so magnificent that the feeling of 'rightness' and belonging was forever assimilated into our national conciousness. So much so, that when the nations of the world offer us places of prominence we refuse them - because their pedestals can never compare with our own places [see Shir HaShirim 7:1 and Rashi ad loc.].

The Ramban, in his iggeres, cautions us to pursue humility - because the "hearts of men" - their admiration - is a currency that can't buy very much in terms of what is truly worthwhile.

With all this in mind we should always ask ourselves - are we pursuing our true goals ? Do we really value the camping of the shevatim over the praises of the world ?

And if we marched under our own banner - what would the insignia be ?

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Study The Good Book - But Why ?

If you shall walk in my "chukim" … [Vayikra 26:3]

Rashi points out that the remainder of the passuk seems all inclusive of any condition that Hashem may place upon us – we must keep the mitzvos and actively fulfill them. What then, could Hashem's first condition of proper Jewish living be ? Toiling in torah study.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh asks a few questions on this position :
1. Isn't Torah Study one of the aforementioned mitzvos ?
2. And if you assume that Torah Study serves as a prerequisite to fulfillment of the mitzvos – why label it a chok (law that is unfathomable by logical reason) ? Isn't it, as a prerequisite, anything but unfathomable by logic ?

Yes, torah study as a prerequisite to mitzvah observance is logical – but that's not the kind of study the passuk is referring to. When Hashem instructs us to toil in understanding of His holy words – it is a missive that goes above and beyond mere comprehension. What we are really enjoined to do is to undertake a level of dedication that defies all logic – a dedication that is a matter of simple a-logical devotion, and when we do that we will be truly worthy of the blessings that Hashem promises to shower upon us.

May we all be zocheh to achieve at least a slice of this – amen !

Hatzlacha !

Friday, May 16, 2008

When In Rome ...

Why does our parasha, which discusses shmitta and yovel, end off with an admonition against idolatry ?
Rashi explains that the relevance is to the immediately previous topic, slavery. You may think that if you suffer the ignonimity to be sold into an idolatrous household, you would at least be permitted to act in accordance with that household and worship idols. Not so, says the Torah, you must maintain your own, higher standards wherever you are.

While this is a wonderful idea to keep in our back pocket - and from which we can draw inspiration regularly - there may be a deeper thought beneath the surface.

Rashi also explains [Vayikra 26:1] how this slave got into this situation to begin with. He began by allowing his desire to get the better of him regarding the issur of trafficking in shmitta produce. He will then spiral downwards, says Rashi, until he must sell himself into slavery to cover his debts - and if he will still not repent, he will even be further sold into the hands of non Jews.

So to summ up - he was greedy and is now under the jurisdiction of idolaters who have principles that counter his own.

To this person Hashem makes special mention of the prohibition of idolatry. But Hashem also makes special mention of our special position in the hierarchy of society. We are "personal slaves of the Almighty". I believe this is intended as a chizzuk inspiration to the downtrodden sinner. He may have been guilty of financial impropriety. He may have followed his desires instead of his conscience until he found himself in this sorry state. But the spark that can always pull a Jew out of the quagmire of his own failings is the knowledge that Hashem still considers him good enough to be His servant.

As the Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh points out - when Hashem declares bnei yisrael's bondage He refers to it as an inborn trait. We are born into it - and no matter how badly we stumble and muck around - we're still it. And Hashem just wanted to remind us of this - especially when we fall into hard times.

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Are We Men Or Are We Oxen ?

"If an ox or a sheep or a goat shall be born, it shall be for seven days with it's mother and from the eighth day on it would be pleasing as a korban to be burnt before Hashem" [Vayikra 22:27]

The Kli Yakar points out that immediately upon birth the animal is known by the appelation of it's species - ox, sheep etc'... This is because the animal is as developed as it's going to be. Animals are defined by their species - a newborn ox is still an ox. As it grows it will get bigger and fatter - not different.

Not so a man. When we are born we are known merely as a "zachar" or a "nekeiva" - male or female ( see Vayikra ch. 12 ). It is only when we reach majority and are deserving of the title are we refered to as man.

It is only when our actions speak for who we are that we may be known by that most noble ( or most despicable ) of appelations : Man.

Let us act with this in mind. That with every action we are further developing, not only our self identity, but our self definition as well.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, May 02, 2008

Facing The Music

When a man is to be punished by G-d for unpardonable acts, such as idolatry, the passuk describes the process as being subject to the "face of G-d" ( see Vayikra 20: 5-6)

While Rashi understands the meaning of this phrase to be that Hashem will 'avail' Himself of the opportunity to mete out justice - since the word for face "פני" is similar to the word for being available "פנאי" - we can also understand it on it's basic pshat level.

When we commit a sin we are causing a spiritual deformity in ourselves. We were created to be a kedusha generator and any malfunction on our part detracts from our intended functioning. Now, just like with any breakage - sometimes the thing will still work when put through the regular paces. But if we were to try to operate the machine at it's maximum - the breakage would be obvious and malfunction would occur.

This is what happens when we are brought "face to face" with Hashem. Our own actions cause us to be unable to stand in the august presence of Hashem - and it is presicely this exposure that brings about our punishment.

Let us endeavor to keep our own kedusha generators in ship shape - so that when we come face to face with the presence of kedusha - instead of a punishment it will materialize as a beracha - "ברכנו אבינו באור פניך". Amen.

Hatzlacha !!