Friday, November 20, 2009

Unfaded Glory

"And Yitzchak loved Esav for he placed game in his mouth and Rivka loves Yaakov"

The passuk hints to us an important lesson - the love that one can feel for physical pleasures - is always in the past tense - it's always fleeting. The feeling of joy that we may experience during a bite of delicious food fades even as we swallow it.

The love that Rivka Imeinu felt for her younger son had nothing to do with physical pleasure. When we experience emotions that are based on our intellectual capacity for recognizing and pursuing goodness - those are feelings that last. That's why they are forever in the present tense.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anna Avda D'Kudhsha Brich Hu

The Aramaic phrase :
אנא עבדא דקודשא בריך הוא
I am a servant of the Holy One, Blessed is He.
Is found in the quote from the Zohar that we say as we take the Torah out of the Aron Kodesh (בריך שמיה)

Why is being a servant so important, so praisworthy - as to place this declaration in the midst of this teffilla ?

The answer appears to us out of the Parasha.

Eliezer's story is repeated twice. Once when Avraham commands him and he undertakes the journey and once when he recounts it to Lavan. In justification for this seeming redundancy chazal offer the following maxim - "יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות יותר מתורתן של בנים" - "The conversations of the servants of the fathers are more beautiful than the teachings of the sons". Why should this be the case ? Because when you are a servant you have no arrogance. You are filed with the knowledge that your entire worthiness, your entire 'claim-to-fame' is the service you offer to your master.

May we all merit to internalize this unassumingness - not because of any inherent unworthiness - quite the opposite, we are incredibly worthy ! - but because we should realize what our worthiness is - the job we were destined for, Avodas Hashem.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Beyond Our Natural Abilities

If the command to sacrifice his son, Yitzchak, was a test for Avraham - why do we refer to it as the akeida (binding) of Yitzchak ?

Additionally, we find that Hashem considers it as if Yitzchak was actually sacrificed instead of his doppelganger ram and the ashes from the sacrifice are forever before His eyes. (See Rashi on Vayikra 26:42)

Along the journey to the mountain Yitzchak asks his father about the absence of an animal to slaughter and deduces from the answer that he is to be the sacrifice. Yitzchak continues on the journey with the same drive and motivation as before - this is an opportunity to fulfill the will of Hashem - and he intends to give it his all. When it comes time to present himself at the altar, Yitzchak has a strange request for his father.
"Tie me down tightly", he pleads, "for I fear that I might involuntarily flinch at the application of the knife and disqualify the slaughter".
With this statement, Yitzchak transcends himself and is forevermore held by Hashem as a pure soul.
Avraham Avinu was tested many times. He passed each one. Even the hardest test - the one where he had to conquer his nature and subdue his merciful inclinations. But Avraham passed these tests himself.
Yitzchak Avinu - he was aware of his physical limitations and took pains to make sure that even if his body should fail the challenge of presenting himself for slaughter, his soul shouldn't. Essentially, Yitzchak made sure to succeed even if he couldn't succeed and pass even if it was beyond him.
"Our Father" Yitzchak is thusly called because his actions are legacy to us all. We can all emulate him, in our own degrees, and - when the going gets too tough in avodas Hashem - persevere. Not through iron will and strength of character ( those are good too ! ) but through our ability to forsee the challenge and take pains to eliminate it entirely. We can, essentially, pass an impassible nisayon.

Yitzchak Avinu said to Hashem – "I don't want my shortcomings to affect my service of you".

Can we say the same ? And what will we do to make it happen ?

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Strings and Straps

When Avraham Avinu flatly refuses any of the spoils of war offered him by the king of Sedom - he states - "I will take not a string nor a shoe strap".
Chazal comment that this action earned Avraham's descendants the string of techeles and the straps of teffilin.
Avraham Avinu was a paragon of Chessed - and as a direct result, we - his children - are tremendously inclined towards kindness ( so much so that a lack in this regard calls one's Jewish roots into question ). However we may along the way need reminders to stave off the ever present human selfishness that screams in our hearts - "what's in it for me?!".
So Hashem gives us two mitzvos that are referred to as signs or memory aides. The strings of techeles ( "... and you shall see them and you shall remember all the mitzvos of Hashem ...") and the straps of teffilin ("... and it will be a sign against your heart ...").

So next time we feel the ever present pull of greed - remember - we're above that - we are the children of Avraham. Besides - both Mitzvos represent ways to bind yourself to Hashem - would you really want some petty materialistic thing to get in the way ?

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, October 02, 2009

In The Shade Of The One Above

The Vilna Gaon discusses the particular appropriateness of the date we celebrate Sukkos by calculating when the Divine Presence ( Shechina ), and with it the Clouds Of Glory ( Annanei HaKavod ), returned to the Israelites after the Sin of the Golden Calf.

The final and complete atonement for the grievous breach was received on Yom Kippur ( thus setting the stage for Yom Kippur to be a day of atonement for all time ). Following that – the Israelites were commanded to build a tabernacle so that they would have a constant reminder of Hashem's presence in their midst ( and would not feel the temptation to create foreign representations of divinity ). The building drive took two days – and on the third day of the drive the Jews were told to stop bringing gold and other materials – there is a sufficient amount. (See Shemos 36:3-7).

So, on the 11th of Tishrei the mishkan project was unveiled. On the 12th and 13th the building drive took place. On the 14th, the Jews were told that no further materials were needed. And on the 15th, the mishkan began to be constructed – thus returning the shechina to Israel.

Therefore, on the 15th of Tishrei we sit in Sukkos in order to recreate the divine presence that was felt in the desert.

May we merit, this year, to truly rest beneath the holy shechina in our sukkos and may we see the coming redemption, speedily and in our days, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Rasha Is(not) As Rasha Does

The prophet Hoshea declares, in this weeks stirring and famous Haftara :

" שובה ישראל עד ד' א-לוקיך כי כשלת בעוונך "

[הושע יד:ב]

"Return, Israel, unto the L-rd you G-d, for you have been stumbled by your sins"

[Hoshea 14:2]

Hoshea is asking, no more and no less than, full and complete teshuva – a return to an intimate relationship with the Creator, without the static and baggage of trangressions. And what mechanism does the Navi offer to reach such a vaunted goal ? The following realization :

You have been stumbled by your sins.

Seemingly simplistic – this concept actually alludes to a deeper idea that can form the backbone for the most meaningful and complete teshuva.

When temptation strikes and defying G-d seems like a viable prospect – there is an underlying cause. A drive and a want to achieve something. Be it a release, or a comfort or even an indulgence. The reason we go through with our illegitimate plans is because it seems the best way to satisfy that drive or want. When we realize that - if it goes against Hashem's wishes – then it must be counterproductive in achieving our goals – we have come a long way.

The Prophet speaks to us – your sins are not bringing you the joy and comfort that you crave – they are only stumbling blocks to true happiness !

When we internalize this message we will be firmly established on the path to teshuva – a path that leads, ultimately, to Hashem Himself.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Are We Men Or Are We Sheep ?


The Mishna in tractate Rosh Hashanna mentions that in the heavenly judgment we pass before G-d "like b'nei maron". The Gemara [Rosh Hashanna 18a] asks what the meaning of this unique phrase is – and answers with three possibilities.

One - sheep. Two – those who pass through a narrow winding staircase. Three – the soldiers of Dovid Hamelech's army.

While explanations two and three refer to people and even sound a mild chord of comprehension, explanation one is particularly perplexing. We may be seen individually – like those climbing a steep and narrow staircase – and we may be judged on our willingness to put our life on the line for the glory of Hashem – like good soldiers should. But why sheep ? A sheep is not responsible for his actions – he doesn't have the capability to choose good over evil.

Because a sheep is the ultimate example of an animal that is led.

We are really sheep. We are constantly being influenced and led in all different directions. If, in fact, we are led – then what remains as a fair criterion of judgment ? We aren't responsible for our actions – since they are the product of those forces that lead us – not our independent thoughts.

But as opposed to sheep – we choose our influences. Yes, we are led – but we choose the lead we wish to follow.

And that is exactly what we are judged on. Not necessarily our end-product actions – but our primary choices. The choice we make before the influence becomes all pervasive – the choice to allow this influence admission into our lives.

May we, and all of klal yisrael, make only proper choices. May we focus ourselves only on influences that will bring us closer to the Ribbonno Shel Olam and His mission for us in this world.

Wishing all a Happy, Sweet, and Torah-full year.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Happiness or Else ...

In the harsh words of rebuke known as the Tochacha there is a famous passuk that traces the source of all of our national woes and tragedies.

" תחת אשר לא עבדת את ד' א-לוקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל"
"Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with happiness and a good heart despite having it all"
[דברים כח:מז]

Literally, the passuk actually says that we will be thusly afflicted - "In exchange for" our lack of divine service.

How can we understand this barter ? If I give you something you can give me something in return - and if I refrain from giving you something - then you will, in exchange, refrain from giving me something. What can the passuk mean ?

Olam Hazeh is not only a smorgasbord of mitzvah opportunities - it's also a gauntlet of nisyonos. Every success is wonderful - but every failure, in parallel, is horrible. When we do not serve Hashem we are actually performing an act - an act of rejection - and the price of that rejection on the divine barter scale is the terrifying curses mentioned in the Tochacha.

May we be zocheh to dedicate our efforts to the proper service of Hashem - and may all of our currency be the positive kind.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Seeing in the Dark

"לדוד ד' אורי וישעי ממי אירא ד' מעוז חיי ממי אפחד"

תהילים כז:א

"A song of David, Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I dread; Hashem is the strength of my life, whom shall I fear."

The Malbim points out that referring to Hashem as a light is best understood as a protection against the unknown. When we are faced with a hidden adversary or challenge – light is the best assistance, enabling us to see that which we need to overcome.

In this phrase, however, is a subtle nuance which gives us a valuable insight. Light doesn't only enable one to see – it also tints the visible field and may obscure some hues while bringing out others in sharp contrast. In short, light doesn’t only show us what there is to see, but also how we see it.

Metaphorically too, ideas or events can be understood totally differently depending on the context, or the light.

By calling Hashem his light, Dovid Hamelech is telling us that any other light will give a false gleam and may produce shadows or angles that aren’t there. Only seeing things by the light of Hashem is sure to result in seeing the world as it really is.

In this month of reconciliation between us and our Father in heaven, let us redouble our efforts to see only the emes in this world of sheker and intense, heartfelt service of the divine is sure to follow.

Hatzlacha !!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

(Service of) G-d Is In The Details

"... והיה עקב תשמעון"
[דברים ז:יב]
"And it will be in exchange for your observance ..."
[Devarim 7:12]

Rashi quotes the well known Medrash that Hashem is not asking for regular observances - rather that we be so meticulous so as to perform even the mitzvos that are normally ignored (or trampled underfoot -as hinted by the double meaning of the word "עקב" which also means heel).

Is Hashem telling us that divine blessing will only be ours if we have a perfect mitzvah score ? What about small or inadvertent mistakes ?

There are two kinds of things that normally get stepped on - items that you didn't notice, and wouldn't have stepped on if you had, and stuff that you saw, but considered it trivial to step on it anyway.

The first type of item is usually stepped on with the toes or the pad of the foot - it takes a concerted effort to step on something with your heel - that is commonly saved for the second category of underfoot garbage - you know it's there - you just don't care because it is nothing significant.

Perhaps the medrash is alluding to this difference as well. If we overlook a mitzvah by accident (thereby stepping on it) we have not necessarily done something awful. True, we overlooked something - but it was unintetional. That would not invalidate my eligibility for the divine bounty. It is only when I mash something down with my heel - when I know that this is a Mitzvah, and for my own reasons (affected by my desires, no doubt) do I choose not to observe it - then I am disqualifying myself from receiving Hashem's blessing.

May we all be zocheh to see all the mitzvah opportunities that abundantly surround us - and further zocheh to observe them and bring the highest divine blessing - the geulah sheleimah, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, July 24, 2009

"... And much Gold..."

Moshe alludes to the fact that the Eigel was worshipped because of the excess of gold that the Jews had from the plunder at the splitting of the sea.

In hard times we could view this as a divine blessing - with an abundance of material wealth we are faced with the challenges of idolatry - because it is 'something to do'. Without it - we are too focused on praying to the true G-d that we have no time for foolish frivolities.

May we be granted all the wealth we need - but no more - lest we be tempted to pursue foreign goals.

The same could be applied to a wealth of time. In the summer months when those who are still in a school setting have extra time - be extra cautious - and watch out for pursuing "golden calf-like" leisure activities just because they are "something to do".

Hatzlacha !!!

Friday, July 03, 2009

We Have The Power !

Just a quick idea - Bilaam, prophet of doom and defilement, is blessed with the power to grant divine favor (beracha) or displaesure (kelalah).

The mouth who composed love sonnets to his donkey and never spent a moment in honest supplication to his Creator - had that power.

Just imagine - what power do we have ?!

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, June 12, 2009

On Spirits and Servants

When Moshe Rabbeinu sends the meraglim out he knows that there is a potential for disaster. Addressing his principal disciple, he prays "may the One above save you from the wicked counsel of the other meraglim" [See Bamidbar 13:16 and Rashi ad loc] Additionaly, Moshe Rabbeinu invokes greater protection for Yehoshua by changing his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua by adding a letter of the divine name (a yud).

There were two spies who did not fall prey to the plot to vilify Eretz Yisrael – Yehoshua and Calev. We know by what merit Yehoshua was saved - the varied methods set up by Moshe Rabbeinu. But we must ask – by what merit did Calev escape ? This question becomes especially poignant when we consider our own trials.

We don't all have the zechus of carrying a letter of Hashem's name with Moshe Rabbeinu's blessing.

The passuk describes Calev's actions with the following telling phrase.

 [במדבר יד:כד]

"ועבדי כלב עקב היתה רוח אחרת עמו וימלא אחרי והביאתיו אל הארץ אשר בא שמה וזרעו יורשנה"

"And my servant Calev, since he was possessed of a different spirit, and he filled himself with following my directions, and I will bring him to the land that he went to and his descendants shall inherit it"

[Bamidbar 14:24]

Following Hashem's directions seems to be a pretty straightforward solution – we are certain to avoid wickedness if we stay on the right path. But what will keep us there ? Two things.

One – being possessed of a different spirit. If we merely do the mitzvos because it's what we do – then what can I do prevent misdeeds when I am struck by a whim or notion to do so ? If, however, we have a strong guiding spirit – then even in the face of social adversity ( like peer pressure, societal/cultural pressure, etc. ) we will be able to do what is right.

So how do we get this guiding spirit ?

Like Calev, we fill ourselves with our mission of following Hashem's instructions. Not halfway, not even ninety percent is enough. We must be one hundred percent filled with our dedication. We usually know what is right – it's just a question of right for whom. What is right for me as a kid may not be right for me as a parent. And what is right for me as a person hanging out with this group may not be right for me hanging out with another group. The ultimate test, however, is what is right for me as an eved Hashem. That's what gave Calev the indomitable spirit that was the equivalent of Moshe Rabbeinu's blessing and even a letter from Hashem's name – the unshakeable self identity of an eved Hashem, a servant of  G-d.

So perceive yourself as an eved Hashem – and when that's what you have looking back out at you from the mirror – fill 'er up !

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Complaining... Badly.

"ויהי העם כמתאוננים רע באזני ד'..."

[במדבר יא:א]

"And there were those in the nation who were complaining badly in the ears of Hashem…"

[Bamidbar 11:1]


One would almost think that there is such a thing as complaining, but not badly. What was the great sin of the complainers ?

They complained of the travails of the journey. They had had three straight days of travelling and that was too much.

There is a saying – "You can answer a question, but you can't pacify a complaint". The entire mentality of a complaint is beyond the realm of logical reasons. That is because the complainer doesn't want an answer – they want to demonstrate their just displeasure.

So we see that a complaint against G-d is a horrible thing – it essentially negates the good that G-d does for us and brands the complainer as a total ingrate. But why does the passuk specify that this was a bad complaint – is there such a thing as a good one?

Yes !

Earlier in the parasha we saw the "complaint" of those who were impure and couldn't bring a korban pesach. They came before Moshe and said "Why should we be left out?" Essentially, they were complaining that there was this statute that forbade them from serving G-d – "It's not fair!"

But this complaint is good – because it doesn't negate our obligations to Hashem, rather, it emphasizes them. And Hashem recognizes this. That's why in response to the pesach complaint – Hashem created a holiday ( Pesach take two ).

So whenever we feel the need to "complain" to Hashem – try to take a step back and analyze the complaint – is it good ?

Hatzlacha !!

He's Got Our Back

The Ribbonno Shel Olam is constntantly taking care of us.

This is never more evident than when He wants to give something. When a man bestows a gift upon another - he is simply concerned that the gift be appropriate and well received. There is no way for a person to follow up and make sure that the gift is acctually having the desired effect of making the recipient's life better. 

Hashem, however, is different. When He grants us the "triple blessing" of the kohanim - Hashem actually, subtely, doubles each bracha.

"יברכך ד' וישמרך" - Hashem will give you blessing, but He will also guard you to ensure that that blessing is not taken from you.
"יאר ד' פניו אליך ויחנך" - Hashem will shine His presence upon you - all your actions will be blessed by a divine seal, but He will also grant you grace so that others do not feel your blessed actions are ill deserved.
"ישא ד' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום"
Hashem will show you favoritism, but He will also grant you peace so that others who are not shown this favoritism are not alienated by it and do not hold it against you.

May we be zocheh to see the doubling of all berachos in our lives - and may we hear these berachos echiing in the halls of the beis hamikdash, bimhaira beyameynu, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Healthy Kabbalas HaTorah

Chazal learn from the pesukim [Shemos 20:15 & Shemos 19:8] that there were no sick or disabled Jews at Har Sinai, rather they were all cured.

Why ?

Was Hashem going to prevent the Jews from ever falling pray to these things in the future ? No. So why not get us used to things as they will be instead of creating an artificial haven ? If we will be responsible for keeping the Torah under these conditions – shouldn't we also receive the Torah under them as well ?


I can't receive the Torah bogged down by illness or cluttered by preconceived notions – I must accept it as a tabula rasa, a clean slate.

If I see the Torah as a band aid to solve my problems, as an all purpose "Dear Abby" -  then when the going is smooth I would feel justified in ignoring it completely (Chas VeShalom !)

I must realize that while the Torah holds solutions to all of life's little problems and has priceless guidance to offer on coping with all of the difficulties that come up – that is not its primary purpose. The Torah is there to teach us what to do and how to serve Hashem, especially when things are going right !

This Shavuos, let's not look for how the Torah can fix our lives – let's plan our lives around the Torah and in this zechus may we merit to see the centrality of the Torah in our tragedy and sickness free lives, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Greatest Trail

To paraphrase a great quote – it's not what the view looks like from the top that counts, but how you climb the trail that really matters.

As anyone remembers from the last time they stirred off the couch or the computer chair to hike a trail or a mountain climb – there is a certain thrill, a proprietary feeling of accomplishment and possession when we finish or reach the top. The view just wouldn’t be the same if we hadn't sweated our way up there.

Why ?

Because a view that is given to you with no effort represents just a minute of your time – "look, here is a minute – isn't it beautiful ?! OK, let's move on …". A view that you have been climbing towards for an hour is that much greater because it encapsulates all that investiture. And for several hours or even days – all the more so.

But, the thrill and nachas of the accomplishment fade. Even the greatest peaks in our toil still gradually move to the background of our consciousness. What makes the longest lasting impression ? The effort itself.

This also distinguishes the 'men from the boys'. The lesser person will push himself solely for the goal – and may often as not find that it does not live up to his demanding expectations. The greater pursuant – he will give it his all, not just because he wants to finish, but also because he sees the effort as a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. The true measure of the person becomes, not the ability to attain the goal, but rather – the affection they feel for the effort. The lesser one will hate every step – seeing it as a cumbersome toll to be grudgingly given. The greater one will cherish the effort itself – understanding that the effort and goal are a package deal.

This is the meaning of Rashi's comment ( from the Medrash ) "If you shall walk in My laws [Vayikra 26:3] – this is referring to toil in Torah study".

When we recognize that the trail to Torah knowledge and observance has the most breathtaking summit – we become true devotees, not only of the peaks – but of the grueling trail all along the way.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Broken Boxes

The service of the lechem hapanim, or show breads, is described in the end of the Parasha [Vayikra 24:5-9]. When describing what the loaves looked like, Rashi tells us [commenting on Shemos 25:29] that they were similar to a box or crate with two of it's sides broken open – resembling a loaf that has two 'faces' that seem to peer in each direction.

Why use an analogy of a broken item to describe the holy loaves of temple sacrifice ? Could we not have figured out a different, more respectful way to refer to them ? And how, exactly, are we to understand the sharp contrast this forms with the mizbeach, whose animal sacrifices had to be perfect and without blemish. Or even the Menorah, whose oil was to be the purest of the pure ?

Rashi, it seems, is emphasizing an important aspect of the lesson we are meant to derive from the lechem hapanim.

The lechem hapanim symbolized the ability to serve Hashem through wealth. As the gemara states [Bava Basra 25b] "One who wishes to become wealthy should focus his prayers on the north" ( because the Shulchan was in the North of the Mishkan).

If it represents monetary wealth, what exactly is the shulchan doing in the mishkan to begin with ? Well, there are many ways to serve G-d, it is easy to serve out of poverty – for if you voluntarily accept poverty in your dedication then you must be doing it for G-d. But we are left in confusion as to the nature of service through wealth – do I just acquire money and pay a lip service ? Do I employ a righteous zeal and attempt to amass great wealth in the name of G-d ?

We can perhaps compare serving Hashem through wealth with serving Hashem by eating, in much the same way that divine service through poverty is akin to fasting. What does 'eating for G-d' mean ? It means that I acknowledge that G-d is the source of all of this bounty (the easy part), and I only indulge for the sole purpose of experiencing His beneficence so that I might praise Him more devotedly (The difficult part).

Now we understand the challenge the Shulchan presents – but our clarity still falls short regarding the analogy of the lechem hapanim to broken boxes.

While service through wealth is difficult, it is by no means impossible ( See Dovid HaMelech or Rav Yehudah HaNassi ). But this service differs in one more important way from other forms of Avodas Hashem. It is fundamentally lacking. While the prayers we say and the Torah we learn, and even the tears we cry, have an eternal quality about them and they will remain forever attached to our immortal souls; the physical wealth we amass, even in a sincere act of divine dedication, will still return to dust as our bodies do after our time on this earth is up.

So, in recognition of the value that their inherent temporariness gives these items that are used in acts of divine service Rashi connotes them as 'broken boxes'.

May we be zocheh to serve Hashem truly, with our wealth as well as our deprivation, but may we never forget the eternal nature of the purely spiritual side to our worship and the temporality of the physical one.

Hatzlacha !

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Divine Service Or Stomach Service ?


 The Torah [Vayikra 17:1-7] teaches us the prohibition of outside slaughter, bringing a sacrifice to Hashem outside of the delineated boundaries of the Mishkan. If someone were to violate this law the Torah ascribes to him an unusual appellation; murderer.

I can understand that one who transgresses a law should be considered guilty or even wicked. But how does a misplaced sacrifice make him a murderer ?! 

If we are to worship G-d, then the operative part of the relationship is our subservience to Him. That's what worship is all about. If we want to serve G-d, but on our own terms, that is unacceptable.

I remember hearing a story ( first hand ) from a Rav who came upon the hired cantor, whom he was hosting for Yom Kippur, drinking a hot cup of coffee in preparation for the 'service'. "It's for the throat," he excused himself sheepishly. Needless to say, the cantor did not lead the congregation that day.

But why a murderer ?

Someone that serves G-d on his own terms is really serving himself. If he will take the life of an animal as part of his worship scheme – what's to stop him from taking the life of a man when he believes that G-d 'calls' for it ?

Chazal also compare embarrassing someone to killing him. When we see our friend doing something inappropriate – how do we tell him ? Is our intention to shame him ? Or do we really seek to help him see and correct his mistake ?

This is contingent on the same question – if it is about me – I may want to "one-up" my friend – if it is about G-d – then my competitive feelings are totally out of place.

Let's take the lesson of the improper slaughterings and apply it, not only to our relationship with our creator – but also with our fellow creations.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Temporary Holiness


Holiness is derived from abstinence. "קדש עצמך במותר לך". When one separates themselves from a given luxury or indulgence – a certain level of holiness is achieved. Yet, we are not a religion of meaningless asceticism. Dedication of a pleasure or an indulgence to a higher goal is even holier than refraining from it completely, as is evidenced by the consumption of intoxicating wine in a procedure known as "Enacting Holiness" – that is, "Kiddush". Colloquially, this can be described by the phrase – "It is harder to eat for G-d, than to fast for G-d".

So, for a week, we refrained from the more pleasing chametz in favor of the less palatable matza. This was, in addition to a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt, an act of holy abstinence. But, we have now returned to eating leavened bread. How are we to relate to our state of temporary holiness ? Was it a brief interlude from 'real life' – designed to shake us out of spiritual stagnation and then return us refreshed into our lives to resume business as usual ?

I say, no.

To view Pesach as a battery recharge would be to deny the lesson of holiness by abstinence. During Pesach we practice this holiness as we willingly forgo the tastier chametz. But in order to achieve the next level in our service of G-d – we must translate that effort into a greater holiness. If the chametz we eat in our post Pesach state is identical to the chametz we ate before, then it is nothing more than chametz she'avar alav haPesach – ( Chametz that was owned by a Jew illegally during Pesach and is therefore prohibited ). But if we manage to generate new eating procedures – whereby we dedicate ourselves and our eating to the service of G-d ( instead of our gut )  - the we have translated the temporary holiness of Pesach into a lasting one of the year 'round.

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Spiritual All-Nighter


 "צו את אהרן ואת בניו לאמר זאת תורת העלה הוא העלה על מוקדה על המזבח כל הלילה עד הבקר ואש המזבח תוקד בו:"

[ויקרא ו:ב]

"Command Aharon and his sons, saying, this is the instruction for the Olah offering, this is the Olah which burns upon it's fire upon the mizbeach – all night, until the morning – and the fire of the mizbeach will be ignited upon it" [Vayikra 6:2]

If the Torah tells us that the fire must be kept burning all night – why remind us that this mes until the morning ? Surely this repetitive phrase is meant to teach us something.

Two ideas come to mind, especially in light of the obvious symbolism of the fire upon the mizbeach to the dedication we have 'burning' in our hearts in our own dedication to the service of Hashem.

First, we must realize that as difficult as it is to devote ourselves to the service of Hashem in the 'nighttime', or spiritual low, these periods always herald a bright tomorrow. There may be a time when we feel Hashem distant from us – but know, that He will be felt all the closer for our 'all-night' vigil, when the 'morning' arrives.

Second, however, is an idea that is more obligating than comforting. It's true that the 'morning' of spiritual closeness with Hashem will follow the period of difficulty we have termed 'night'. But, it is our responsibility to keep the fires of dedication burning – '…until the morning' and not even a moment less. We can't claim that since it became difficult to serve Hashem in a metaphorical night we are absolved of the responsibility – rather, we must redouble our dedication in all things spiritual and be prepared to keep at it – until the morning, until circumstances for divine service become easier.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Looking out for number one



When the haggaddah says that if Hashem had not redeemed us from Pharaoh's clutches then we would surely be enslaved there until today.


What does this mean ?! That in 2009 we would still be there ?


It is referring to what the redemption is all about – freeing ourselves not just from the land of Mitzrayim – but also from the tumah of mitzrayim. We would all still be enslaved to the ideology of Pharaoh in Egypt – namely self worship.


When and how are we guilty of this heinous sin of self worship ? Perhaps more frequently than we know.


What is our number one priority ? Self or Hashem ? Is doing mitzvos contingent on how I feel or what my mood is ?


Since this is such a slippery pit of self aggrandizement – we need constant salvation from it. So every year, no matter how wise, or how knowledgeable we are – we still repeat the story and miracles of the redemption from Egypt – because it is precisely this reminder that will serve as our booster shot – against the terrible infection of self worship.


May it be Hashem's will, that just as we were redeemed from bondage in Nissan – so too may we be redeemed again, and celebrate this Pesach in the hills of Yerushalayim, in the courtyard of the rebuilt temple, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Are clothes more than just frostbite prevention ?

"ועשית בגדי קדש לאהרן אחיך לכבוד ולתפארת"

[שמות כח:ב]

"And you shall make Holy Garments for Aharon, your brother, for honor and splendor"

[Shemos 28:2]

These garments played two contradictory roles in the upcoming days. On shabbos we read how they represented the weighty and honored position of being the chief representative of the Jewish nation in their mission of attaining closeness to G-d in holiness and purity. And on purim we will read how Achashverosh wore them at his banquet of revelry to demonstrate his supremacy over the fallen Jewish nation.

A greater contrast could hardly be imagined.

Aharon, paragon of humility, actually had to be persuaded to wear the holy garments for he was wary of becoming entranced by the glitter and succumbing to the pull of haughtiness. Achashverosh, on the other hand, embraces this agenda heartily and goes on a campaign of self aggrandizement that begins when he copies the legendary throne of Shlomo Hamelech and pinnacles at his impersonation of the kohen gadol.

So do clothes make the man ? Certainly not. Rather, man either fills the shoes he's given to wear – or slides around in them looking all the more ridiculous for his attempts at impersonation.

Let us strive to be worthy carriers of our clothing – to truly embody the ideals of the bnei torah that we appear to be. And in this zchus may we merit to once again, see the Kohein Gadol in his splendor in the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash, Amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Growth and Immutability

R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out that the menorah is the only one of the major vessels that contains no wood. Paradoxically, the menorah is the only vessel to resemble a growing object ( with it's trunk and branches - the menorah resembles a tree ). What can we learn from this ?

Regarding the absence of wood in the menorah, R' Hirsch comments that this is an integral fact in our understanding of the torah ( which is what the menorah's light represents ).  The torah, being Hashem's wisdom, is immutable and unchanging. It doesn't go in or out of style and is not subject to the whimsy of fads and trends. Only once we accept this truth can we move forward in our study of the torah. 

Perhaps this is why the menorah is shaped like a tree. Because once we recognize the unchanging nature of the torah, and devote ourselves to it's study - then we ourselves will embark on a journey of growth.  There is always room for development and evolution - but only with the understanding that the growth is within us - we are the ones advancing and the unchanging torah is the vehicle.

As an analogy - when I view a masterpiece from far away - it seems simple and unimpressive. The closer I look and the more expertise I develop - the more wowed I'll be. The masterpiece has not changed - I have.

May we all merit to continue to be nurtured into our own mighty and stately trees - with our roots drinking firmly from the waters of the unchanging torah.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 20, 2009


"וגר לא תלחץ ואתם ידעתם את נפש הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים"

[ [ספר שמות כג:ט

 "And you shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feelings of a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt"

[Shemos 23:9]

 Do we need a reason or justification to observe Hashem's mitzvos ? Even more so, is it thinkable that we wouldn't e commanded in this mitzvah if we wouldn't have the negative experience of the Egyptian exile in our national past ?!

 This passuk actually comes on the heels of the warning against accepting bribes. The reason that a bribe is assur is that it will alter your perception and render you unable to distinguish wrong from right.

 The mitzvah of consideration of the ger is similar in that it makes a difference what your perception is. One who has never been a ger wouldn't necessarily feel the acute pain of the forbidden oppression. With the proper perspective however, we can feel the appropriate empathy.

 We can also use this idea to help us get through difficult times. Perhaps the reason that Hashem is sending these trials our way is so we can empathize with our fellow man when he is struck with nisayon

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happiness Redefined

"ויחד יתרו על כל הטובה אשר עשה השם לישראל אשר הצילו מיד מצרים"
ספר שמות פרק יח 

"Yisro was gladdened by all of the good that Hashem did for Israel, that He saved them from the hands of Egypt"
[Shemos 18:9]

Why was Yisro so happy that Hashem saved the Jews from the hands of Egypt, per se ? Certainly the operative function was the salvation of the oppressed - from whomever it is that is oppressing them ?! 

With this Yisro teaches us a new meaning of happiness. It isn't just about the redemption of the downtrodden and the new light and hope that is coming to them - it's also about the punishment and destruction that are the deserved lot of those who abuse their power and flout G-d's will. 

Happiness, therefore, is a sort of fulfilment - a righting of wrongs, on both sides of the equation, that sets the world back in a shape where the hand of Hashem is more clearly seen.

May we be zocheh to the ultimate happiness with the final redemption, and see all of Bnei Yisrael's - and therefore Hashem's - enemies punished swiftly and justly, bimhaira beyameinu, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

There's No Place Like Home


 "...אל יצא איש ממקומו ביום השבת" [16:29 שמות]

 "…no man shall leave his place on the Sabbath day" [Shemos 16:29]

 This is the reason the Torah gives for the prohibition of collecting the manna on Shabbos, because we would have to leave the camp, violating the issur of tchum shabbos. Additionally, there was no need to collect, since Hashem had doubled the bounty on Friday.

 The Sefas Emes quotes from the Arizal that the word 'place' is also an allusion to Hashem, who is known as מקומו של עולם. The reason that Hashem is referred to as 'hamakom' is that everything rests on something, usually that which is beneath it, so in some way – the place where you are is what's supporting you. And what supports that ? Hashem. So in His name of 'hamakom', Hashem is the ultimate supporter.

 So it is supremely fitting that regarding Shabbos Hashem is referred to as such and that this parsha deals with the role of man's sustenance. When the Torah tells us that on Shabbos we should not go and collect the manna – it is because on Shabbos we should not leave our place. During the week we must put in our hishtadlus, effort, to receive our daily bread – on Shabbos, though, we need zero effort because we are already basking within the domain of the Sustainer of All, the 'place' upon which we all rest, Hashem.

 Let us use this upcoming Shabbos (and all subsequent ones) to appreciate and fully realize the tremendous gift that is a day spent wholly in the embrace of Hashem, a day when we are exempt from our worldly pursuits. It is a huge privilege, but also an equally august responsibility as shown by the prohibition of leaving the 'makom.' . 

Hatzlacha !!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Miserliness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Yosef is given a very unique beracha –

[בראשית מט:כב]"בן פורת יוסף, בן פורת עלי עין..."

"A son with charm is Yosef, a charming son who catches the eye …"[Bereishis 49:22]

This beracha is not only physical beauty (of which Yosef had in spades) but that he would have charm – or that he would be pleasing in the eyes of his beholder.


How did Yosef merit this ?


The answer is twofold. We may have thought that Yosef is given this because he himself struggles to see the positive in everyone – this would certainly conform to current ideas on charm, in which a charming person is someone who always has a ready compliment or pleasant observation. But this is clearly not the case. Yosef is entrusted with the power of pleasing sight specifically because he has demonstrated an appreciation for the other side, the negative power of sight.


Yosef, at the tender age of six, sees the leering looks that his uncle Esav directs at a beauty like his mother, Rochel, and immediately moves to block him. "That isn't appreciation", he thinks, "that is an appropriation" – it's as if Esav is actually violating that beauty by wanting to possess it. This is a negative application of sight.


The next demonstration of Yosef's sensitivity in this area comes some years later when the wife of Potifar petitions him with her amorous advances. Yosef not only refuses – but realizes that even gazing at her beauty would be a violation of the trust that his master has placed in him.

Only someone who has reached such high levels of sensitivity to the possible destructive powers of sight, and a heroic self control of the same, would be granted freedom from the dominion of these same powers.

And us ? Whether we are descendents of Yosef or not, we can all learn from his example – appreciate the harm that negative sight can bring and aspire to the extraordinary levels of shemiras einayim (guarding of the eyes) that Yosef was able to reach.

Hatzlacha !!