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 !