Monday, September 29, 2008

Turnabout IS fair play !

So why do we blow 100 blasts ? To confuse the Satan. [see Gemara Rosh HaShanna 16b]

How exactly do we confuse the master of confusion himself ? After all, we don't intend to sin - usually. It's just that the satan manages to sufficiently befuddle our mind. He weaves promises of success, redemption or salvation that seem more real to us at the time of the sin than the real promises that Hashem has given us if we do his commandments - that's why we sinned in the first place ! So how do we turn the tables on him ?

By charging down the door of the courtroom.

When we have done wrong, the last thing we are anxious to do is get called on it. We are guilty - why suffer through the ignonimity of being reprimanded. It's not like a court case where I believe I can win - in those I'll be eager to get there - to see justice done ( my justice, of course ). But here, I am guilty - so, no hurry, I know what's coming - a reprimand that will usually leave me speechless. I have no defense.

It is specifically this head-hanging, shamefaced posture that the Satan ( who is also G-d's DA and chief prosecuter ) loves to exploit. He'll grandstand and proclaim your guilt, and what's worse, your attempts at evasion of justice. But if we charge down the courtroom door - if we summon the crowds and bang the gavel ourselves ( the blowing of the shofar resembles both ) the Satan is left without his great speech. And Hashem is able to listen to the angel for the defense and judge us favorably.

May we all merit a favorable judgment and have a year filled with only blessing and sweetness in our service of G-D, Amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New and Improved Or The Same Great Taste You Remember ?

In life, we sometimes want it all. New, improved, exciting – not like all that old worn out stuff. Or maybe we are tired of gimmicks and promises. We want reliability, the same classic quality that you can depend on. Perhaps we really want them both ?

When Moshe tells the Jewish people that they are "Nitzavim" standing rigidly and unbendingly before G-d – what does he hint at ? How is this supposed to be a positive reassurance ? Isn't it a negative thing to be stagnant ? Why would I want to know that I am standing in the same place that I was before – shouldn't I always be moving onwards and upwards ?

The answer is no.

We really need both. To be mobile and fluid, and to be rock-solid. The reliability of staid and ancient – right alongside the flexibility and refreshed spirits of the new and original.
When we feel like things in this communications driven world may be spinning too fast and we have no anchor – realize that we are still Nitzavim, still standing in the same place we always are, in the presence of – and in covenant with – Hashem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Big Picture

ספר דברים פרק כו : טו
השקיפה ממעון קדשך מן השמים וברך את עמך את ישראל ואת האדמה אשר נתתה לנו כאשר נשבעת לאבתינו ארץ זבת חלב ודבש:

רבינו בחיי על דברים פרק כו: טו
וכן דרשו רז"ל אמר ר' חנינא בר פפא בוא וראה כמה גדול כחן של מתנות עניים, שכל השקיפה שבתורה לרעה וכאן לברכה:

In the final capstone of the formula we say when we declare our Maaser obligations all paid up, we implore Hashem to gaze down from the heavens and send blessing to us and our land. Chazal point out that the term "hashkifa" or gaze is never found in the torah in a positive framework, other than now. The fact that we now ask Hashem to gaze down upon us shows us the positive power of tzedaka ( because we have just gotten finished declaring that we have given all of our maaser – to poor people who deserved it ).

Why does Hashem's 'gaze' indicate divine displeasure or punishment, and how exactly does tzedaka change that ?

When we refer to gazing down – we are talking about the 'big picture', the overview – a kind of analysis of how a society is doing, in a general sense. This is the term used by the Torah when it describes the condemnation of Sodom [see Bereshis 19:28]. This is also the term used to describe Hashem's gaze onto the Egyptian war camp before He kills them all in the Yam Suf [see Shemos 14:24]. In both these cases, any individual acts were overlooked in favor of the ‘big picture,’ the general state of affairs. The people of Sodom were killed because they collectively promoted a society of selfishness and cruelty – not because of the actions of each one (even though their individual actions were indeed cruel and selfish). The same holds true for the Egyptians – we even see that they the individuals had differing levels of culpability and that's why they died at different rates in the waters [see Shemos 15:5 and Rashi ad loc.] – but the common denominator was their participation in the oppressive society – and that was sufficient to condemn them all to death.

So how does tzedaka change this ? Well, in this pasuk we are referring to a very specific type of tzedaka – tzedaka on a societal scale. This isn't something I do when I feel like it – nor is it something that some do and others don't – this is a society-wide phenomenon, to make sure that those less fortunate are taken care of. Here it is specifically the wide view, the overall analysis which shows us how great this mitzva is. My apple tree may only have yielded three bushels – which translates into only a handful of apples for the needy – but if we 'gaze' down at the whole community and see that the needy can get a few apples from me and some wheat from my neighbor and some vegetables from the guy down the block …. Well, that really is powerful.

And how does that change our life ? Two ways.

One: don't discount your own small mitzvos. Don't believe that your little chassadim or your two moments of Torah ( like the amount of time you spent reading this dvar Torah ) are not very significant – au contraire ! They are actually the pinpricks of color that combine to form a beautiful canvas !

Two: learn to appreciate the small acts of kindness that others do – try to see them in a ‘mitzvah overview gaze’ and not a gaze of negativity.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, September 12, 2008

For Whom The Gavel Pounds

The Torah enjoins us to make timely payment to any day laborer we may seek to employ [see Devarim 24:15]. If we do not, says Hashem, then the laborer in question will call out to Me and I will address the issue personally – and you will be in the wrong. We know that Hashem's courtroom does not need an initial complaint to be filed in order to mete out justice – why does the passuk stress the 'calling out' of laborer ?

Rashi, quoting the Sifri, tells us that whether or not there is a cry of helplessness, Hashem will punish the wrongdoer. If there is a cry, however, He will be quicker to punish.

This still leaves us in a quandary ! The laborer's cry is still a factor in deciding Hashem's justice – isn't He objective and fair ?

Perhaps we may say that there is an objective factor in all this. When you withhold money from it's rightful owner – you are in violation of a monetary law. If you cause your fellow man any pain, however, you are in violation of the principles of compassion – which we are obligated to keep with no less stringency than the principles of monetary ownership.

So if the laborer cries out – we have hurt him to a greater degree than if he does not. It is only just and fitting that Hashem should seek to redress this issue sooner – for it isn't just about money – rather it is also about the well being of one of His children – and that takes the highest priority.

In these days of personal improvement and introspection we are constantly on the lookout for an 'edge' – what will give us the ability to really do teshuva ? Perhaps we need to increase our awareness of our fellow man – not just a consideration for his possessions but also for how his feelings are affected by our actions.

Hatzlacha !!