Thursday, February 28, 2013

Set In Stone

In understanding the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, we are faced with a dilemma. When Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the first Luchos he was applauded by G-d ( See Rashi, Devarim 34:12). But now that Hashem has forgiven the people enough to give them another set of tablets, Moshe Rabbeinu is instructed to hew them himself. If there was such a high degree of divine approval for breaking the luchos why “punish” Moshe Rabbeinu and demand he make restitution?
We would be stumped by this question if we didn’t take a closer look at the wording of the instruction. “פסל לך שני לוחות אבנים” “Carve for yourself two tablets of stone” [Shemos 34:1].
The operative word is “לך”, “for yourself”. The first set of tablets were entirely spiritual in nature. They were hand-carved by G-d Himself and presented as a gift to the Jewish people. But it was a gift that was unearned, and as such its importance and message were callously rejected by them.
When the time comes for the fullness of the penance over the sin that caused the first luchos to be set aside, Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu – if you don’t want these to be betrayed as well, you’d better not consider them a gift. Only by accepting ownership and claiming it through the effort of carving the tablets himself, does Moshe truly acquire the Torah on behalf of mankind. No longer is the Torah simply a divine gift, but it now resides etched in the tablets of man’s toil.
What held true then applies even now. If we see the Torah as some light handed down from above – we may be wowed, but we will also feel entitled to turn away at will. But, if we carve our own tablets – if we struggle and invest in the acquisition of that Torah – then it will be truly ours, never to be betrayed.
Happy Carving!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cloaked In Light

If clothes make the man – What are women made of? Seriously, though, it seems like a lot of the Purim feeling revolves around clothes and costumes.
We dress up on Purim (either to enhance the festive atmosphere or to commemorate the hidden nature of the miracle). Yet, we also find clothes in the meggilah.
When Achashverosh is “in his cups”, he calls for his pipe, his bowl, his fiddlers three AND Vashti to come in – without any clothes! When Haman (ptui !- ed.) is appointed chief minister – this is highlighted by specific jewelry (a type of garment). When Mordechai hears of Haman’s decree he wears sackcloth and ashes. Queen Esther attempts to send Mordechai clothes (he refuses). When Esther goes to see Achashverosh the passuk describes her wardrobe as royalty (“ותלבש אסתר מלכות”). When Haman is forced to publicly proclaim support for Mordechai this is expressed by dressing him up in royal clothes (we even sing this passuk out loud !). And finally, Haman (ptui again !- ed.)  begins to see his downfall – at the hands of his own daughter – it is when he “wears” some unpleasant stuff!
What is it with clothing ?!
The answer can be best understood if we go back to the first place in the Torah where we see clothes. Adam and Chava have just fallen from grace and committed the sin. What does Hashem do for them? He gives them clothes. The passuk tells us:
[בראשית ג:כא] “ויעש ד' א-לוקים לאדם ולאישתו כתנות עור וילבישם
“And Hashem made garments of leather for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them”[Bereshis 3:21]
What do these clothes represent? Well, for one thing, forgiveness. The ability to start over, not to be burdened by the baggage of their mistakes, but to make a fresh start. It’s true that merely covering up your mistakes is not the same as fixing them. But when you cover something – and you keep covering it, over and over again (everybody keeps wearing different clothes !) you are showing that you are constantly making a choice; a choice to regret your mistakes and a choice of what to cover them with.
Perhaps it is for this idea that in the Torah of Rabbi Meir the garments were not of leather “עור”, but rather of light “אור” [Medrash Rabba, Bereshis 20:12]. Because there is no greater light than the light of one who wishes with all of their heart to correct their mistakes. This Purim let us utilize all our potential and sincerely return to Our Father in Heaven. And when we do we will be enveloped by such a powerful light that it will be a beacon to bring Mashiach and the final redemption, speedily and in our days, amen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Horns ?


Perhaps the most famous of the vessels of the holy Mishkan was the mizbeach or altar upon which the sacrifices were offered. This altar was made in a very unique shape with four protrusions or battlements that adorned each of the four corners. These four were known as “karnayim” or horns.
The Medrash Tanchumah (quoted by the Shem MiShmuel) remarks that these karnayim served to atone for a nation which was ennobled by being charged with the elevation of four pillars; the pillar of Torah, pillar of Israel, pillar of kehunah and the pillar of royalty.  
The Shem MiShmuel then asks why should these karnayim be part of the mizbeach per se? What connection is there to this atonement and the acts of sacrifice?
When a Jew approaches the altar and offers an animal, he is obligated to see this animal as his proxy. The act of bringing a sin offering is tremendously powerful in hammering home the realization of just how far he has sunk and just how low the sin has brought him. The danger inherent in this realization is that it could bring him to depression and lowliness.
It is for this purpose, says the Shem MiShmuel, that the mizbeach was the possessor of the karnayim. So, that precisely when a Jew is feeling down and worthless, he should see these four shining beacons and be filled with self worth and purpose. Despite his earlier mistakes (not to down play them, of course) A Jew who sees the karnayim is infused with the realization that he has not been rejected by G-d for his sins, but rather embraced by G-d for his repentance. Embraced, and once again charged (or recharged) with the eternal mission of the Jewish people to shine these four beacons upon all of humanity.
We no longer have the mizbeach and we no longer bring the offerings (may they be renewed speedily in our days) but we still face this difficulty with every step of sincere penance that we offer to G-d. Instead of being derailed by feelings of depression and worthlessness we should feel energized and proud to be, once again, charged with the loftiest of all assignments – to be the harbingers of divinity in this world.
Hatzlacha !

Friday, February 08, 2013

This Religion Is Going To The Dogs

"ואנשי קדש תהיון לי ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו, לכלב תשליכון אותו" [שמות כב:ל]
“And you shall be a people of holiness, a carcass of the field you shall not eat, but rather throw it to the dogs” [Shemos 22:30]

Rashi comments that this instruction to grant meat that was not schechted properly to the dogs is an eternal gesture of gratitude to “man’s best friend”. During the exodus from Egypt the dogs were under strict divine instructions not to bark out at the leaving Jews. To thank the obedient dogs – Hashem commanded that they be given first priority in discarded meat.
Before we begin to examine this idea – let us remember – the dogs that we give the meat to are not the same dogs who refrained from ruining the atmosphere at the Israelites triumphant exit. So this overture is, in reality, completely symbolic.
More interesting, however, is the way the passuk introduces the idea. In order to be a people of holiness, we must have special restrictions that separate us from the world at large. But, just as necessary to generating that holiness is the idea that while we may be set apart by our laws – we can and must bridge the gap with our demeanor. Holiness may equal separate-ness – but it does not equal aloofness. And to really underscore the point – we even don’t hold ourselves aloof from the animals! Rather, we insist on being completely aware of even the smallest of kindnesses that they perform for us. And what’s more – we take that awareness and translate it into action. That’s true holiness.
This Shabbos – let us make an extra effort to notice all the goodness that surrounds us and even try to express our gratitude for these little things.
Hatzlacha !!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Done ?

"ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך" [שמות כ:ט]
"Six days shall you toil and perform all your work" [Shemos 20:9]

Chazal teach us that  the phraseology of this passuk is meant to teach us a lesson in serenity. For six days we do our work and when it comes to Shabbos – we consider all our work as having been completed.
The question arises, however, how do we do this when we are obviously not done with our work? Can a contractor look at a building site and consider it complete? How does a hodgepodge of paperwork and thirty unread messages appear complete to businessman?
The answer lies in our perspective. Imagine a basketball player shooting hoops furiously after the buzzer has sounded. We would consider him a fool! The point of the game is to score the baskets within the allotted time – not after it. Once the game is up – there is no longer any reason to shoot the ball. The same applies to someone who has a hand up to shade their eyes from the sun – once the sun has set, there is no need for them to continue to raise their hand.
The six day week was given to us for toil. To work, expend effort and accomplish. Shabbos was given to us as a day of rest. The clock is not ticking and the meter is not running. On shabbos our work is complete because there is nothing we can do about it! We finished our part, there is no more to do.
This is also hinted at in the next passuk. "On the seventh day it is a shabbos for Hashem, your G-d, you shall not peform any work …" On shabbos – Hashem takes care of everything. There is no need for us to worry, since He is picking up the tab.
This shabbos, let us focus on this feeling of serenity – this recognition that we have done all that we could (even when we didn't finish) and truly perceive this day as one where all our work has been completed.
Hatzlacha !!