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 !!