Friday, May 21, 2010

For Whom The Crown Shines

The Torah teaches us about a certain type of Jew. A Jew who desires to rise to a greater level of holiness and so he refrains from some of the indulgences of the average man. This is the Nazir.

While the term Nazir is used to refer to his abstinence from wine [see Bamidbar 6:3] strictly speaking, the title is derived from the word for a crown ("Nezer").

An interesting attribute of a crown is that it is seen by all as a sign of majesty. But it is not seen at all by the wearer. All who see the crown marvel at it's beauty. Only the one wearing it feels it's weight.

This is the point of the Nazir. His avodas Hashem is extremely public. He must avoid any product that came in contact with wine and he may not attend any funerals ( even his own parents !) He may not shave or take a haircut and so he is certainly visible to all as someone who is taking extreme pains to promote his holiness.

This type of divine service carries with it a danger. The danger of the crown. It is the weight of the crown that keeps the wearer from losing his head. A certain sense of grounding and stability are necessary to embody what the crown represents. The same is true of the Nazir.

A nazir must not enter into his Nazirite contract with a flippant heart or a desire for public displays of piousness. This is why Hashem reminds him of this by referring to his status as a "crowned one".

And what of us ? We no longer accept upon ourselves the nazirite contract. But the message of the contract is still imminently applicable. Yes, our actions are visible to the outside world and our pious practices do shine. But we must feel their weight and responsibility in order to shoulder them properly.

So, for whom does the crown shine ? It shines for thee.

Hatzlacha !!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Receiving Is ... Getting ?

Why do we call the acquisition of Torah "accepting" it (קבלת התורה) ?

I can think of half a dozen terms that would better describe the process by which we attempt to have Torah be a part of our lives. There's the quintessential learning part (תלמוד), without which we would still be ignorant and unlettered. There is also the unceasing, never ending toil by which we must continue to strive for Torah (עמלות והתמדה). We have another facet of our efforts that are not directly connected to the understanding of Torah but more to our own toil at assimilating it into our lives (עבודה).

All in all, there is much about our efforts in Torah that has specific descriptions – and all of them indicate a strong, if not superhuman, dedication to achieving this noble goal.

Accepting it seems to mean just sitting there and Hashem will drop the Torah into your lap. It's a little bit contradictory !

The answer is that there is more than one level of acquisition of Torah and more than one way to approach it. Torah is not gotten without hard work. Ever. What we need to understand is that even after all of our efforts – we still should be unworthy of receiving the Torah. After all, the blueprint for the universe and Hashem's own wisdom has got to be pretty precious. The Medrash teaches us that Torah is sometimes revealed as black fire on white fire – who can say that they have "earned" the right to have that ?!

That's where "accepting" comes in. You see, even after all we do and the countless hours of pushing ourselves to understand and learn we would still not get it, if not for that fact that Hashem, in His kindness, grants it to us as a gift.

So this Shavuous let us concentrate, not only on receiving this incredible Torah that's waiting for us – but on doing all the preliminary work and being worthy to receive.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Our Counting

"וספרת לך שבע שבתות שנים ..." [ויקרא כה:י]

"And you shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years …"[Vayikra 25:10]

Why am I counting "for myself" ? The Kli Yakar offers a fantastic perspective.

Because the Yovel year that comes every 50 years is really for my benefit. Not just for my spiritual benefit – but even for my material benefit.

How so ?

Imagine someone who is very occupied with gathering fruits or something else of a fragile nature. In order to maximize his efforts he doesn’t bother to store the fruits properly – he can't justify the time spent away from his gathering duties. What happens ? He loses what he collected to spoilage and other factors.

Or perhaps someone who is so frantic to make as many cash deals as possible that he can't be bothered to go to the bank and deposit his money – eventually he will lose his cash because carrying it around with him isn't the safest place for it.

In both cases, had the person kept their mind on the final goal (of preservation of wealth) he would have been spared the tragic effects of too much short term effort without long term planning.

We get so caught up in the ins and outs of everyday life that we may forget – "you can't take it with you".

The Yovel year is a built in reminder. And this reminder is for our benefit.