Friday, October 26, 2012

Go West, Young Man ...


The first of Avraham Avinu's ten tests is the iconic "לך לך". He is instructed by G-d to leave all that is familiar and venture out into the unknown, with only Hashem's word for a guide and provider.
While we may consider this trial to be a culmination of Avraham's ( and G-d's ) utter and total rejection of the immoral society in which he lived, we may glimpse a deeper facet and gain immeasurably for doing so. There is a very important distinction made by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch regarding Avraham's trial. Avraham is never told to leave, he is told to go.
There is a subtle difference between going ("הליכה") and leaving ("יציאה"). The operative function of 'leaving' is to escape, to run or to bail out. One who is leaving ("יוצא") is barely concerned with his destination – just that it is better that his current situation. 'Going', on the other hand, is primarily concerned with a goal. One who is going ("הולך") is travelling to a particular place because there is a value and reason to arrive in that location.
Avraham Avinu must leave his current surroundings to continue his upward trek towards the spiritual achievements that he will leave as a legacy. Nonetheless, his move is primarily one of 'going'.
Rav Hirsch also quotes the medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 18:21) that the phrase of "לך לך" is one of the harbingers of the final redemption. Because from the moment that Avraham, our forefather, accepted upon himself this mission, he set the stage for us to continue travelling down the path of the righteous, until we reach the final destination, the redemption.
And so, wherever we find ourselves, we should always notice – are we leaving or going ? And what is our destination ?
Hatzlacha !! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Window Into (or out of) Our Souls


The Passuk teaches us that Noach needed to make a window ("צהר") in the ark [see Bereishis 6:16 and Rashi]. Later on, the Torah discusses that during the period of judgment of the flood the heavenly spheres did not come out [see Bereishes  8:22 and Rashi].

What would Noach need a window for if the sun and moon did not come out at all ?

To look out. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with figuring out what someone or something can do for me – that we forget to think about what we can do for them. Noach may have been righteous enough to be saved from the flood, but he had many lessons in self betterment still to learn. One of the ways in which Hashem instructed him was that window.

In life, we should always make sure that we are not inured to the plight of others. In our own little protective arks – with which we navigate life's waters – we should always have a window that will enable us to look out and see what our fellow may need.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Lazy Days Of Succos


During the holiday of Succos, one of the highlights of the special service in the Beis HaMikdash was the water libation ("ניסוך המים"). This was actually a double libation since there was also a pitcher of wine poured as well. A Kohein would ascend the ramp leading up to the great altar and pour the two pitchers into two specially made apertures in the rim of the mizbeach.

The Shem MiShmuel comments that this dual service can be viewed through the lens of atonement and purification. We bring the wine, which has the ability to quicken our pulses and get us hot under the collar, to atone for sins that were performed with zealousness. We bring the water, symbolically the cooling agent, to atone for transgressions that resulted from an apathetic or an overly cool disposition.

Perhaps this is also why this twin service is the highlight of the succos festival. Succos is the only holiday when we can actually perform mitzvos passively. By doing "nothing" in our succah we are actually doing "something" - living in it ! This passive mitzvah performance is actually praised in the gemara with the following exceptional praise : "Rabbi Eliezer states, I praise the lazy folks during the festival [because they just stay at home in their succos and thusly accord the dwelling place greater attention and regard]." [gemara succah 27b]

And this "lazy", yet all encompassing, observance serves as an atonement for all our shortcomings in the area of apathy. Yet, it is precisely the drawing of the water for this service that was accompanied by such a fervent and enthusiastic festival that the gemara states that whoever has not seen the "simchas beis hashoeva" has not seen happiness being put into practice.

May it be the will of our creator that we excel in both the passive (lazy) and the active (wine-driven) service and that these serve as both an atonement for previous shortcomings on these areas and an inspiration for the winter ahead.

Haztlacha !!