Yom Kippur is a special time in Israel; everything is silent and cars don't drive on the roads. It's a time for forgiveness and when we look back at the past year and reflect on how we can be better people in the year to come. It's also a time when we remember the fallen of the Yom Kippur War when Arab armies led by Egypt and Syria interrupted the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar and invaded Israel in 1973. We wish our Jewish friends an easy and meaningful fast from all our team in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Wolpe From Maimonides (1135-1204), the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar: "One must not be cruel by refusing an apology; he should be easily pacified, and provoked with difficulty. When an offender asks his forgiveness, he should forgive wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit. Even if he has caused him much trouble wrongfully, he must not avenge himself, or bear a grudge. This is the way of Israel and their upright hearts." An ideal to aspire to on these ten days of repentance.
Rabbi Wolpe The Kotzker Rebbe taught that God fashioned a great ladder and on this ladder people climb down from heaven to earth. When we reach this world the ladder is drawn up and we are told to get back to heaven. Most give up because there is no ladder. Some leap but quickly become discouraged. Others leap and leap, knowing that if God sees their effort, God will reach down in mercy and lift them up to the presence of the Divine. So what is our task, asked the Kotzker? We must be leaping souls.
The United Nations is being asked to grant the Palestinians the status of a “state,” for at least some purposes. The question arises what kind of a state will it be? In an effort to attract Western support, the Palestinian Authority claims that it will become another “secular democratic state.” Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election, disagrees. It wants Palestine to be a Muslim state governed by Sharia Law.
We know what the Palestinian leadership is saying to the West. Now let’s look at what its saying to its own people, who will, after all, be the ultimate decision makers if Palestine is indeed a democracy.
The draft constitution for the new state of Palestine declares that “Islam is the official religion in Palestine.” It also states that Sharia Law will be “the major source of legislation.” It is ironic that the same Palestinian leadership which supports these concepts for Palestine refuses to acknowledge that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Israel, in contrast to the proposed Palestinian state, does not have an official state religion. Although it is a Jewish state, that description is not a religious one but rather a national one. It accords equal rights to Islam, Christianity and all other religions, as well as to atheists and agnostics. Indeed, a very high proportion of Israelis describe themselves as secular.
The new Palestinian state would prohibit any Jews from being citizens, from owning land or from even living in the Muslim state of Palestine. The Ambassador of the PLO to the United States was asked during an interview whether “any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?” His answer: “Absolutely!” After much criticism, the Ambassador tried to spin his statement, saying that it applied only to Jews “who are amid the occupation.”
Whatever that means, one thing is clear: large numbers of Jews will not be welcome to remain in Islamic Palestine as equal citizens. In contrast, Israel has more than 1 million Arab citizens, most of whom are Muslims. They are equal under the law, except that they need not serve in the Israeli army.
The new Palestine will have the very “law of return” that it demands that Israel should give up. All Palestinians, no matter where they live and regardless of whether they have ever set foot in Palestine, will be welcome to the new state, while a Jew whose family has lived in Hebron for thousands of years will be excluded.
To summarize, the new Palestinian state will be a genuine apartheid state. It will practice religious and ethnic discrimination, it will have one official religion and it will base its laws on the precepts of one religion. Imagine what the status of gays will be under Sharia law!
Palestinian leadership accuses Israel of having roads that are limited only to Jews. This is entirely false: a small number of roads on the West Bank are restricted to Israelis, but they are equally open to Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The entire state of Palestine will have a “no Jews allowed” sign on it.
It is noteworthy that the very people who complain most loudly about Israel’s law of return and about its character as the nation state of the Jewish people, are silent when it comes to the new Palestinian state. Is it that these people expect more of Jews than they do of Muslims? If so, is that not a form of racism?
What would the borders of a Palestinian state look like if the Palestinians got their way without the need to negotiate with Israel? The Palestinians would get, as a starting point, all of the land previously occupied by Jordan prior to the 1967 War, in which Jordan attacked Israel. This return to the status quo that led to the 6 Day War is inconsistent with the intention of Security Council Resolution 242, which contemplated some territorial changes.
The new boundaries of this Palestinian state would include Judaism’s holiest place, the Western Wall. It would also include the access roads to Hebrew University, which Jordan used to close down this great institution of learning founded by the Jews nearly 100 years ago. The new Palestinian state would also incorporate the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, in which Jews have lived for 3000 years, except for those periods of time during which they were expelled by force.
It is contemplated, of course, that Israel would regain these areas as part of a land swap with the Palestinians. But there is no certainty that the Palestinians would agree to a reasonable land swap. Palestinian leaders have already said that they would hold these important and sacred sites hostage to unreasonable demands. For example, the Western Wall covers only a few acres, but the Palestinian leadership has indicated that these acres are among the most valuable in the world, and in order for Israel to regain them, they would have to surrender thousands of acres. The same might be true of the access road to Hebrew University and the Jewish Quarter.
When Jordan controlled these areas, the Jordanian government made them Judenrein—Jews could not pray at the Western Wall, visit the Jewish Quarter, or have access to Hebrew University. There is no reason to believe that a Palestinian state would treat Jews any differently if they were to maintain control over these areas.
An Apartheid, Islamic, Judenrein Palestine on the 1967 borders is a prescription for disaster. That is why a reasonable Palestinian state must be the outcome of negotiations with Israel, and not the result of a thoughtless vote by the United Nations.
The Palestinians and Israeli leaders are now in New York. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to sit down and negotiate, with no preconditions, a realistic peace based on a two-state solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should accept that offer, which will actually get the Palestinians a viable state rather than a cheap paper victory that will raise expectations but lower the prospects for real peace.
After six months of working for the company, it’s time for your evaluation. You walk into the boardroom, where three designer-suit-clad personnel managers are sitting behind a mahogany desk. The one on the left scans your file, looks up at you accusingly, and says, “I see here that you did not report for work at 9 am one time during this entire period.”
The woman in the middle shakes her head and remarks, “This is a Fortune 500 Company. Instead of a jacket and tie, you report for work wearing jeans.”
The man on the right stares at the papers in his hand and says grimly, “Our surveillance cameras show that you spend less than 10% of your working hours at your desk. The rest of the time you’re walking around the building.”
The first evaluator shoots the question: “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“Yes," you reply with confidence, "I was hired as the night watchman.”
Rosh Hashanah is a time of evaluation. But to accurately assess your performance this year, you have to know your job description. Judaism asserts that every soul comes into this world charged with a unique, positive purpose.
According to the great 16th century Kabalistic master known as the Arizal, no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint, as personal as your voiceprint.
Your mission can be interpersonal, such as counseling couples with troubled marriages, or scholarly, such as researching ancient Chinese culture, or an expression of your talent, such as painting landscapes or playing the violin. It can be concrete, such as establishing a home for Alzheimer’s patients, or abstract, such as manifesting in the world the Divine attribute of truth or patience. It can be on a large scale, such as inaugurating the recycling system in your city, or on a small scale, such as caring for your handicapped child with joy. You may have two, or at most, three different missions, which can be consecutive (after finishing one job you start another) or simultaneous. Yet, even if there are 500 marriage counselors in your city, your particular approach and way of helping people is unique. Not one of us can be replaced—ever.
Related Article: 20 Questions for the New Year
Identifying Your Mission
Imagine you are an undercover agent sent into Iran. You’ve had years of training, have two vital contacts in Tehran, and are equipped with the latest hi-tech spy gadgetry. Only one thing is lacking: You have no idea what your mission is.
Many of us go through life like that: We follow the route laid out by society: going to college, finding a job, getting married, raising a family, but with no clear sense of the unique mission entrusted to us. We are pulled in many different directions, feeling compromised in what we do and guilty for what we don’t do. Identifying our mission is, according to Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, the first step in leading a life of vibrancy and joy. “When you intersect with your life’s purpose,” he explains, “you feel excitement.”
Knowing your personal mission is essential preparation for Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah God apportions to each of us life, health, livelihood, and everything else. What is your plan for how you propose to use the life God gives you? The CEO is not going to dole out a million-dollar budget to an employee who doesn’t have a carefully worked out proposal.
We are used to praying for life, health, and livelihood as ends in themselves. In the Divine accounting, however, life, health, and livelihood are simply the tools – the hi-tech spy gadgetry – that will enable you to accomplish your mission.
Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:
Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life? Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money? When answering the first question, eliminate the universal transcendent moments, such as witnessing the beauty of nature or listening to music. Your mission, of course, may have to do with nature or music, but on a much more individual level than the high all people feel when they see the Grand Canyon. Although your mission may require hard work or genuine sacrifice, when you are engaged in your life’s mission you experience, as Rabbi Nivin puts it, “This feels so good that I could do it all day long.”
When I did the first exercise, these are the answers I came up with:
When someone in my Johannesburg audience came up after I spoke and told my son, “Your mother’s words changed my life.” When someone tells me, “Your book changed my life.” When reading the comments to my Aish.com articles, I see, “This was exactly what I needed to read today.” When I see that the reader’s way of thinking or acting is impacted by what I wrote. When someone passing through Israel (often on the way to India) comes to talk to me about Judaism, and two or five or ten years later I find out that they stayed in Jerusalem, starting learning Torah, and are observing the mitzvot. When my children mention that they talked to God about something bothering them and I realize that their relationship with God is strong. The common theme that emerged for me was that my mission is: “To inspire people, through writing and speaking, to move forward in their spiritual/personal development and relationship with God.” That’s what excites and energizes me. That’s why, to my friends’ amazement, when I am lecture touring, I can speak in five different cities in five days, waking up at dawn every day to make an early flight and giving a three-hour workshop twice a day, and, at 63 years old, never feel tired. Knowing my mission is like installing an energy pack in my life.
Barbara Silverstein is a wife, mother, and hospice nurse. When talking to me recently about her “life’s mission,” she shrugged. Although her personal and professional lives are fraught with difficulties, she soldiers on with dedication and integrity. I asked her what she would do if she had loads of money and six hours a day of discretionary time. Barbara thought for a few minutes, then replied with passion: “I would set up a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. In my work with the terminally ill, I’m always facing men or women who are about to lose their spouse and they say to me, ‘I don’t know what I’ll do about the funeral. I don’t have a rabbi.’ They want a spiritual connection with their Jewish roots, but they’re clueless about how to do it.” The more that Barbara talked, the more fervent she became.
“So that’s your mission,” I told her, “to establish a Jewish outreach center for the elderly. That’s real pioneering work. No one else has done it.”
“Are you kidding?” Barbara replied. “Between my family and my work, I don’t have time for anything else.”
Remembering Rabbi Nivin’s advice, I suggested: “Take a half hour twice a week, and sit down with a pen and paper, and just start brainstorming. Write down whatever comes to your mind, what the first steps would be, and what you want it to look like in the end. And ask the Almighty for help in making it happen. He can give you whatever He deems you should have. And then see if the opportunity to take the next step emerges.”
Two weeks later, Barbara phoned me, brimming with excitement. “This has really gotten my imagination going,” she effused. “Everything I’ve learned throughout my life is coming in handy with this plan. I don’t know if it’ll ever amount to anything, but just thinking about it is like an electrical charge in my whole day. My husband and kids ask me why I’m smiling so much.”
The Creator has outfitted you with a unique set of aptitudes, talents, and interests perfectly suited to what you are charged with accomplishing. By following your inclinations and abilities, you may already have found your mission. Sometimes your mission is deposited in your lap, such as the birth of a special needs child. The National Tay-Sachs Association, for example, was founded by the parents of children suffering from Tay-Sachs; the parents’ daunting challenge metamorphosed into their life’s mission.
If your mission is not yet clear to you, take a half hour between now and Rosh Hashanah and reflect on, “What do I really want to do with my life?” Perhaps you work full time developing software for Microsoft, but you’ve always felt a tug to write a book about internet addiction. Perhaps your greatest pleasure is tending your vegetable garden in suburban Detroit, but you’ve always dreamed of living on an agricultural settlement in Israel. Such inner urges may be whisperings from God, the secret message from Headquarters disclosing your true mission.
Guilt, Respect, Validation
Clarity about your mission dissipates guilt for all the worthy endeavors you’re NOT engaged in. Once you realize that you’re in this world to develop a new healing modality for autism, you won’t feel guilty that you’re not volunteering for the local soup kitchen or marching on the U.N. to protest anti-Israel discrimination.
Once I identified my mission, I stopped feeling guilty that I really don’t like to cook for myriads of Shabbat guests. I also understood why I love writing for Aish.com and its spiritually upwardly mobile readers, while I resigned from writing for a women’s magazine that features how to fold napkins and sculpt vegetables.
The concept of each person having an individual life’s mission is a key to respecting other people. Otherwise, you may feel that what’s important to you should be important to everyone. You’re an environmental activist? You may blame your sister for being oblivious to the environment without appreciating that her mission is to fight Holocaust denial. You belong to a group that feeds the homeless? You may find it reprehensible that that other group is apparently heedless to the homeless and spends all their time in pro-Israel activism on campus. Being able to say, “This is my mission and that is theirs,” is the gateway to true tolerance and respect.
Knowing your individual mission validates your life and releases you from the pernicious habit of comparing yourself to others. Jonah Salk’s mark on the world may seem as deep as a crater while your taking care of your handicapped brother may seem like a fingernail impression, but from a spiritual perspective the light you are shining into the world is unique and is exactly the light you came here to radiate.
One more point: Fulfilling your individual life’s mission does not exempt you from your global missions, such as supporting your family or raising your children. Starting an outreach center for the elderly may have to wait until your children are grown. Writing that book on internet addiction may have to be tucked into your few spare hours after your full-time job. Don’t worry. The God who assigned you your mission will make sure you have everything you need—including time now or later—to fulfill it.
So when the shofar sounds this Rosh Hashanah and you stand for your annual evaluation, be prepared to declare, “This is my job, and I’m working on it.”
I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?
One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?
It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”
Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.
As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
By Yossy Goldman
I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?
One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?
It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”
Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life.
As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.
Today, perhaps more than ever before in history, there is a desperate need for an objective, responsible international body capable of peacefully arbitrating conflicts, enforcing human rights and mitigating the more negative forces of globalization.
In theory, the United Nations, as an international body with over 190-member nations, has all the requisite resources needed to perform this crucial function.
Indeed, it could take significant measures to fight violations of human rights in countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Zimbabwe or Sudan. In the field of diplomacy and security the UN could be conducive to formulating peaceful resolutions of conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa.
Unfortunately, instead of being a positive force for tikkun olam, the UN has failed miserably to rise to the many moral challenges faced by humanity in the 21st century.
Two UN-sponsored events taking place at the end of this week in New York City – the Durban III Conference and the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood – provide instructive examples of how the UN has allowed itself to be hijacked by forces inimical to peace and human rights.
Durban III is envisioned as a commemoration of the 10- year anniversary of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa.
Though ostensibly about the promotion of human rights, Durban I (followed in 2009 by Durban II) quickly deteriorated into anti-Israel hate fests. Sessions were characterized by Trotskyist anti-Zionism, Iranian-inspired conspiracy theories and a flood of anti-Semitic slanders.
Protocols of the Elders of Zion were freely handed out together with Islamist, leftist anti-globalist propaganda referring to Israel as a racist, theocratic and apartheid state.
The Durban Conference declaration singled out the Jewish state for censure. Israel was the only UN member specifically mentioned in the context of human-rights abuses (though it did recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace) and criticized “occupation” of Palestinian land.
That declaration will be reaffirmed during Durban III, with the backing of the G-77, a bloc of developing states created after the breakup of colonialism, many of which are Muslim.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly, slanted by the same G-77 bloc, is expected to vote in the near future in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state. As Ben-Gurion University historian Benny Morris has noted, the UN is essentially helping the Palestinians to implement a strategy first adopted by Yasser Arafat in the late 1980s.
After realizing Israel could not be destroyed in war, Arafat set about establishing a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip without making peace with Israel or forfeiting any Palestinian demands, such as the “right of return.”
Unfettered by a peace treaty, this mini-Palestinian state would be free to continue its struggle against Israel. Petitioning the International Criminal Court against alleged Israeli crimes as an “occupier” might be one aspect of the struggle, while launching rockets and missiles on Israeli towns from the West Bank – like the ones fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza or Hezbollah-controlled south- Lebanon – might be another.
Palestinians are already planning to march on security check-points and settlements in the West Bank after the UN General Assembly vote, which could provoke an Israeli response and lead to violence.
But the UN appears unperturbed by Israel’s legitimate security concerns and oblivious to the fact that only a negotiated peace settlement based on mutual concessions and recognition can resolve the conflict.
Instead, the UN seems obsessed with singling out Israel for condemnation.
According to UN Watch in Geneva, the Human Rights Council has adopted, since its founding in 2006, about 70 resolutions condemning specific countries – 40 of which have been against Israel.
In the General Assembly, about 20 anti-Israel resolutions are adopted each year, as opposed to just five or six against other countries.
Its nearly pathological fixation on Israel, coupled with its refusal to acknowledge real crimes against humanity elsewhere, has invalidated the UN as a forum for healing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
More tragically, it has wasted its potential as an international force for good and as a promoter of tikkun olam.
It had been a busy six days, even for the King of the universe. The earth and all its contents—well, that was accomplishment enough. But the galaxies and rules governing their orbit—sun, moon and stars, and that concept of infinite space. He was particularly proud of that. Just imagine! The garden and its two occupants on planet Earth dwelled not in a boxed enclosure, but in nothingness. No beginning, no end, no top, no bottom. It had to be that way, since the universe was the mind of the Creator, and no one should stretch out his hand and touch that boundary. Thus was mystery introduced into the world.
Now, at the end of this sixth day, He would rest. And so, with great satisfaction, He surveyed His handiwork and meditated on all that He had done. It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to be. Several ragged edges were purposely left unfinished. The creature called “man” must have some mission besides mere survival.
It was flawlessly complete. At least, as complete as He intended it to beBut what was that squeak, that dim voice from below? It was the human He had made. It was addressing Him, its Creator. It was asking for His attention.
“Master, Creator, are you up there? Can you hear me?”
“I, who can hear a grasshopper land on a blade of grass, can certainly hear my most favored creation when he calls out for me. Speak,” roared the L‑rd G‑d of creation.
“Beg your pardon, Sir, but You forgot something.” This was before the dialogues with Abraham and Job and the prophets. He was the architect of the universe, and this puny voice out of a structure that He had engineered was accusing him of carelessness. Impudence of the highest degree!
“I know You imbued your creation with hate, because Cain threw a sharp stick at me. I beg of you that when you issue your rules, it would be helpful to include one commanding our offspring to honor us, the nurturing parents. And Sir, You forgot love. May I ask that of You? We humans need love, or we shall treat each other like the animals. You took great care with the mechanism whereby we nourish ourselves. A great job, Sir. And you marvelously designed the tools of procreation so that, like the muskrats and elephants, we could prolong our species. It seems to work splendidly. Already, two rabbits have grown to two hundred, and it works wonderfully with mosquitoes, too. They swarm everywhere and feed off my flesh, but as I surveyed the garden I noticed an unpleasant truth. Some of the creatures who existed on that first day no longer walked upon the garden’s mossy turf. I think I counted more rabbits yesterday. I think the wolves are eating the rabbits.”
The L‑rd listened with divine patience. Later, did He not endure forty years of official complaints from the stiff-necked Children of Israel? He answered with controlled brevity. “Ah, you finally discovered the flaw in creation. Know that it is yours to correct. What exactly do you think is missing?”
“It is difficult to explain, Sir,” said Adam, for he was voicing the complaint that something that should be within us is missing. “A feeling of kindness, of warmth, plainly was lacking in the animals. And humans, too. I know it is missing because I do not have it for the woman—is that the right word?—you made for me. It’s like a warm feeling in the chest.
And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void“It is not necessary—this feeling—for me and the woman to make more of us. I know, wait. I know how to explain it. It is like the feeling you have for us. In a lesser degree, of course, but it would be constructive if we had that glow for our fellow creatures, like the new one that the woman carries in her stomach. Please, Sir, bestow upon us that warmth. I call it love.”
“It must come from you,” boomed the Master of the universe. “Even I have not the power to bestow it upon you. It is the blemish I left for you to cure. I was waiting for you to notice this absence.”
But the L‑rd was proud of His creation and His wisdom. And without hesitation, He bestowed love upon His human creatures. Not too much. It was their responsibility to fill the void. And He imbued a small dose even into the beasts. Some inherited much, some a little.
Consequently, given the effectiveness of the procreation mechanism and the L‑rd’s granting of Adam’s wish, His breed still walks upon the earth. And on Eden’s green fields, the wolves, sometimes, lie down with the rabbits.
Can one plan to be blessed? Obviously, we believe that when we live life as G-d intended us to, we will find or lives blessed in many ways. Even if we do not always see the results tangibly or immediately, we certainly are aware of many blessings that come with the territory of leading a G-dly life. But there is a verse in our Parshah, which promises us blessings we never even dreamed of.
If you will listen to the voice of G-d... and observe the commandments... All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you... (Deuteronomy 28:2)
What does it mean that blessings will overtake you? Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, one of the classic Biblical commentators, suggests that it means you will be blessed even when you made no effort to seek those blessings. It will come out of the blue, an unexpected windfall.
"How do you know that your livelihood's in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps it lies in the opposite direction..." The story is told of the saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that he once saw a young man running down the street. The Chassidic master stopped him and asked, "Where are you running?" The fellow answered, "To make a living, rabbi." To which the Berditchever responded, "So how do you know that your living lies in that direction and you're running after it? Perhaps your livelihood is to be found in the opposite direction, and you're running away from it?"
Do we ever know for sure? How often do the best laid plans of mice and men come to naught? Haven't we all had the experience of trying our hardest to do a deal, and yet with all the planning and strategizing nothing whatsoever materialized? And on the other hand, there may have been times when we put no work into it at all and suddenly from nowhere we landed the deal of the year? The truth is we don't know where the blessing of our livelihood lies.
Our soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down And so it is with spiritual blessings. There are times when we make the effort and remain uninspired and there are times when we become inspired effortlessly. According to the Baal Shem Tov, our unconscious soul may hear something on a higher plane and it filters down to our conscious soul and we are touched, moved or inspired.
We live in an era of much confusion. Many are lost, floundering about in spiritual wildernesses. But many are finding themselves too. There have been many who didn't necessarily go looking for G-d but G-d found them. "How did you get inspired?" "To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. I was minding my own business and I bumped into this Rabbi." Or, "I was sitting next to this fellow on the plane..." If you feel the spirit overtaking you, slow down Or, "I was just a tourist at the Western Wall but something moved me." Everybody has a story. In some stories we went looking for G-d, in others He came looking for us.
So if you feel the spirit overtaking you, don't speed up. Slow down. Let it catch up with you. May the blessings of G-d overtake you and transform your life.
Standing only a few hours before Rosh Hashanah, when we pray to G‑d to demonstrate His mercy to the entire world, please allow me to share with you some reflections about the recent events that have so affected us.
We all look for consolation, and we seek to console. But the sheer enormity of the evil we just experienced is so hideous, so repellent, we’re left with no words.
Of course, we stand behind our military, our intelligence agencies and our elected leaders in their efforts to eradicate this evil.
But we shy away from personally looking this evil straight in the eye; we shrink from taking it on. Timidly, we prod and encourage each other to “return to normal life.”
For how could anyone of us purport to combat something so grotesque and so awesome?
I’d like to propose, though, that we can and need to do just that.
Much has been written about the motivation, the conditioning, the bloodcurdling ruthlessness, the precision of last week’s crimes against humanity.
All accounts and hypotheses point to the same simple truth. The primary motivation, the underlying force behind every action executed by last week’s murderers was: hatred.
Pure, unbridled, blind, indiscriminate Hatred. Hatred of freedom, hatred of democracy, hatred of “infidels,” hatred of Jews, hatred of anything and everything besides the murderers themselves. Wanton, simple hatred.
It is this that we must combat. It is this that we must eradicate.
What is the remedy to wanton hatred? The Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory answered this many times, with clarity and certitude: Wanton love.
Raw, cold-blooded, fanatical, baseless, relentless hatred can be matched and combated only with pure, undiscriminating, uninhibited, unyielding, baseless, unsolicited love and acts of kindness.
But we need not just plain love. We need love that costs us. Love for which we get nothing back.
The barbarians willingly gave up their lives to sow their hatred. We need to be willing to lose sleep, to suffer losses, to be uncomfortable, to sacrifice our pleasures, in order to help another human being—with at least the precision, determination and passion that evil’s compatriots of last week employed to fulfill their mission of hate.
Every one of us can make a difference.
The Rebbe would always quote the Maimonidean adage: Each person should see himself as though the entire world is on a delicate balance, and with one deed, he or she can tip the scales.
Only a few handfuls of terrorists turned our world upside down. Let us not underestimate the power of each of us to turn it upright again.
Every good act, every expression of kindness and love, will be a thousand antibodies to neutralize the viruses put in place by the forces of evil.
In response to darkness, we will fill the earth with light. To defeat evil, we will saturate our globe with good.
And when we do our part, G‑d will surely do His part to protect us and transform our world into the one we all hope and yearn for, one that will be filled with His glory, like the waters fill the ocean.
U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and Defense and Air Attache Colonel Richard Burgess took part in the dedication ceremony for a JNF-sponsored September 11 monument and Living Memorial at the entrance to Jerusalem (in the surrounding forest) on Thursday, November 12, 2009. The event drew a crowd of 150-200 participants, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Most things I hear are either immediately deleted, or backed up in my long-term memory. But some things I’ll hear will germinate in my active memory for days, tumbling around and calling for attention.
It happened on Thursday evening, as I was working through Shabbat cooking. I was listening to a stimulating Torah class while my hands moved through greens and challah dough. Rabbi G. was giving a lecture to shluchot (female Chabad emissaries) about the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision. “We are not in the business of expert outreach,” he began, “we are in the business of passionately loving G‑d. If you love G‑d, you’ll naturally love His children. As passion tends to be infectious, if you’re into Him, the people you love will eventually share your passion.” In this organic process, we are to reach out to our fellow Jews and “share our love” of G‑d with others.
I needed to pinpoint the difference between the two modalities. After all, the end result of both was Jewish outreachThis was a paradigm shift that I needed to process, and it rested anxiously on my cerebral cortex for days. I needed to pinpoint the difference between the two modalities that Rabbi G. had described. After all, the end result of both was Jewish outreach.
Then I learned about a fascinating commandment in Deuteronomy (22::
When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].
Like people, the mitzvot are multi-dimensional and operate on many planes simultaneously. At its primary plane, the obligation to build a rail around a roof teaches the fundamental importance of personal liability and responsibility. On another plane, this same commandment is talking of metaphysical rails and roofs. Let’s hang out in the metaphysical and explore the same commandment again.
“When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof.”
There are houses made of wood and bricks, and houses built of effort and accomplishment. One can “build” up a friend to be a solid edifice of G‑d-centered living, or build a network that develops into an oasis of spirituality. Although these houses have noble engineers, the Torah cautions these “home builders” to make a guardrail for their roof!
Idealist drives can easily become enmeshed with self-promotion. The ego will surreptitiously enter into the psyche, camouflaging itself as the drive to help and inspire others. I may aspire to be an influential mentor or an outreach expert only in order to feel great about myself and get my name out there. So G‑d asks me to be conscious of this tendency, and advises a spiritual home builder to “make a guardrail for your roof”—to keep my ego in check. Strive for altruism.
The question is: who cares? As long as good work is being done, houses are being built, why the scrutiny? If self-promotion will inspire outreach, then perhaps it is a good thing. Addressing this doubt, the Torah writes:
“. . . so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from.”
Ego talk may speak the same words, but those words can’t penetrate heartsThe surest way to touch the life of another person is to talk to him or her from your heart, with tender sincerity. Ego talk may speak the same words, but those words can’t penetrate hearts. When the ego goes unchecked, the house that’s built is tenuous, and the people will fall off. In other words, it’s irresponsible to let your pride go unchecked, because other people are depending on you guidance, and your guidance is potent only when you can let go of your own hidden agenda.
The magic way to inspire others is to communicate from the heart, sharing what is real and meaningful to you. That’s not something that comes from outreach training, but from loving G‑d, trying to draw yourself close to Him, and inviting the people you love to join you in your process.
Based on a talk by the Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 24, p. 137).
God, I need your guidance. I continue to grieve for all the victims of 9/11 even after a decade has passed. My heart is filled with pain, and with anger at the terrorists responsible for the horrible deaths on that day of infamy in which 3,000 innocents perished. But I know that you teach us to forgive those who sin. In the Bible you often tell us that you are a God who is slow to anger, merciful and forgiving. We are supposed to imitate you and adopt Your behavior as guidelines for our own personal conduct.
Does that really mean that no matter how difficult it is, I have to now tell myself to forgive all those who intentionally and with callous premeditation committed these unspeakable crimes? Am I guilty of failing my spiritual obligations if I'm not willing to respond to barbaric acts with love and forgiveness? God, how far does clemency go? In the name of religion, must I today be prepared to pardon even those who committed murder?
Forgiveness is a divine trait. It defines the goodness of God. Without it, human beings probably couldn't survive. Because God forgives, there's still hope for sinners. When we do wrong, God reassures us that He won't abandon us as a result of our transgressions. Divine forgiveness is the quality that most clearly proves God's love for us.
That is why the many passages in the Bible that affirm God's willingness to forgive our sins are so important. They comfort us and they fill us with confidence. We know none of us are perfect. If we would be judged solely on our actions, we would surely fall short. Thank God, the heavenly court isn't that strict. We can rest assured, as the prophet Isaiah told us, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
It makes perfect sense, then, for us to understand that if we expect God to forgive us for our failings, we have to be prepared to forgive others as well. What we need when we're being judged from above certainly deserves to be granted to those we are judging. We are guided by the profound words of Alexander Pope: "To err is human; to forgive, divine."
That all makes it seem like we have no choice in the matter. Forgiveness appears to be our only moral option. But the more we study the Bible, the more we recognize a peculiar paradox. The same God who preaches forgiveness very often doesn't forgive. Instead, He punishes sinners. He holds people responsible. He criticizes, He condemns, and afflicts those who committed crimes. Adam and Eve sinned, and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Cain sinned and was condemned to become a wanderer over the face of the earth. The generation of Noah sinned and a flood destroyed them. The builders of the Tower of Babel sinned and their speech was turned into babble. In one story after another, from the Five Books of Moses through the works of the prophets, we read of retribution, of accountability, of divine punishment, and the withholding of automatic forgiveness.
Isn't this an innate contradiction in the Bible? The same book in which God identifies himself as merciful and forgiving, repeatedly shows us a God of justice who withholds undeserved pardons. There must be something we're missing. There can't be such an obvious contradiction in the Bible. And sure enough, just a little reflection makes clear why there are times when God forgives people for their sins, and why at other times He refuses.
The Price for Forgiveness
Heavenly pardon is predicated on a condition. Before God grants forgiveness, He asks us to acknowledge that we were wrong and renounce the sinful behavior.
God is willing to overlook the sins of the past for the sake of an altered future. He is ready to pardon the most terrible wrongs for the price of remorse, regret and the desire for a new beginning. But the one thing God's forgiveness is unwilling to do is to condone vicious crimes by simply accepting them. An unrepentant sinner mistakes God's mercy for permission to continue his ways. To forgive such a person isn't kindness; its cruelty to all those who'll be hurt by the evil that wasn't stopped before it could do more harm.
Yes, it was the same God who drowned the wicked generation of Noah and who saved the evil people of Ninveh. Those who were destroyed by the Flood were given plenty of warning. They watched Noah build his ark for many years. Noah told them what God planned to do if they didn't repent. But they didn't believe him – even when it started to rain and pour like never before. So of course people who didn't see the need to ask for forgiveness weren't forgiven.
But when Jonah told the residents of the city of Ninveh that they were doomed due to their evil behavior, they took the message to heart and committed themselves to a new way of life. The people who changed were immediately forgiven. God wasn't going to hold their past against them – because it was really a thing of the past.
Don't Forgive Them Unless
Forgiving people who don't personally atone for the sins makes a statement: Repentance isn't really necessary. Can anything be more immoral than encouraging evil by refraining from any condemnation of those who commit it?
The day after the Columbine High School massacre, a group of students announced that they forgave the killers. A short while after the Oklahoma bombing, some people put out a call to forgive Timothy McVeigh. And on September 12th, on several American campuses, colleges groups pleaded for forgiveness for the terrorists responsible for the horrific events of the previous day.
These weren't just misguided gestures of compassion. They were serious sins with potentially tragic consequences. Evil unchallenged is evil condoned. To forgive and forget, as Arthur Schopenhauer so well put it, "means to throw valuable experience out the window." And without the benefit of experience's lessons, we are almost certain to be doomed to repeat them.
The terrorists who piloted the planes into the Twin Towers never asked to be forgiven. They expressed not the slightest remorse as they went to their deaths together with their victims. Those who sent them, those who financed them, and those who applauded their mission never for a moment regretted what happened. Forgiving them is no less than granting license to murder thousands of more innocent people.
To speak of forgiveness as if it were the automatic entitlement of every criminal is to pervert a noble sentiment into a carte blanche for mayhem and chaos. We might as well open the doors of every jail and release all the thieves, rapists and murderers. Our wonderful act of compassion wouldn't take too long to be followed by the cries of the victims of our folly! To forgive those who remain unrepentant is to become an accomplice to future crimes.
What If A Nazi Asked For Forgiveness?
What if a Nazi asked for forgiveness at some later date? What if a brutal murderer realizes the enormity of his crimes and honestly regrets his past deeds? What if the plea for forgiveness is accompanied by sincere remorse? Can the crimes of the past be forgotten? Is a troubled conscience sufficient to secure automatic forgiveness?
This is not just a theoretical question. Something exactly like that happened toward the end of the Holocaust. And the man who had to decide what to do in such a situation, a concentration camp victim who had suffered indescribable mistreatment and torture, wrote a remarkable book about his experience.
Simon Wiesenthal was a prisoner of the Nazis, confined to slave labor in a German hospital. One day he was suddenly pulled away from his work and brought into a room where an SS soldier lay dying. The German officer, Karl, confessed to Wiesenthal that he had committed atrocious crimes. Although raised as a good Catholic and in his youth God-fearing, Karl had allowed himself to become a sadistic accomplice to Nazi ideology. Now that he knew his end was near and he would soon be facing his Maker, Karl was overcome by the enormity of his sins.
More than anything else, Karl knew that he needed atonement. He wanted to die with a clear conscience. So he asked that a Jew be brought to him. And from this Jew, Simon Wiesenthal, the killer asked for absolution.
Wiesenthal has been haunted by this scene his entire life. When it happened, he was in such shock that he didn't know how to respond. His emotions pulled him in different directions. Anger mixed with pity, hatred with compassion, and revulsion with mercy. His conclusion was to leave in utter silence. He didn't grant Karl the forgiveness the German desperately sought.
Years later, Wiesenthal shared the story with a number of prominent intellectuals, theologians and religious leaders. How would they have reacted? he asked them. In the light of religious teachings and ethical ideals, what should have been the proper response? Was there a more suitable reply than silence?
Wiesenthal collected the answers and had them published as a book entitled, The Sunflower. The range of responses offers a fascinating insight into different views on forgiveness. Some, like the British journalist Christopher Hollis, believe that the law of God is the law of love, no matter what the situation. We have an obligation to forgive our fellow human beings even when they have caused us the greatest harm. A remorseful murderer deserved compassion.
And Who Are You To Forgive?
One rabbi offered a different perspective. No one can forgive crimes not committed against him or her personally. What Karl sought could only come from his victims. It is preposterous to think that one solitary Jew can presume to speak for 6 million.
This rabbi had been invited to address a group of prominent business executives. Among them were some of the most important CEOs in the country. His lecture dealt with the Holocaust and its lessons for us. He stressed the importance of memory and the need to continue to bear witness to the crime of genocide.
When he finished, one of the very famous names in American corporate life angrily rebutted the essence of his talk. "I'm tired," he said," of hearing about the Holocaust. You claim that you're speaking in the name of morality. Why can't you demonstrate true morality by learning to forgive and forget?"
To a stunned audience, the rabbi replied by asking them for permission to tell a story about Rabbi Israel Kagan, commonly known as the Chafetz Chaim. In the history of the Jewish people, he explained, there has hardly ever been someone considered as saintly as the Chafetz Chaim. A Polish rabbi and scholar of the late 19th and early 20th century, he was universally revered not just for his piety but more importantly for his extreme concern for the feelings of his fellow man.
Rabbi Kagan was traveling on a train, immersed in a religious book he was studying. Alongside him sat three Jews anxious to while away the time by playing cards. The game required a fourth hand so they asked the unrecognized stranger to join them. Rabbi Kagan politely refused, explaining that he preferred to continue his reading. The frustrated card players refused to take no for an answer. They began to beat the poor Rabbi until they left him bleeding.
Hours later, the train pulled into the station. Hundreds of people swarmed the platform waiting to greet the great sage. Posters bore signs of Welcome to the Chafetz Chaim. As the rabbi, embarrassed by all the adulation, walked off the train with his bruises, the crowd lifted him up and carried him off on their shoulders. Watching with horror were the three Jews who had not long before accosted the simple Jew sitting in their cabin, now revealed as one of the spiritual giants of their generation. Profoundly ashamed and plagued by their guilt, they managed to make their way through the crowd and reached their unwilling card player partner.
With tears, they poured out their feelings of shame and remorse. How could they possibly have assaulted this great Rabbi? They begged for forgiveness. And incredibly enough, the rabbi said no. The man who spent his life preaching love now refused to extend it to people who harmed him and regretted their actions. It seemed incomprehensible. So the three Jews attributed it to a momentary lapse. Perhaps, they thought, it was just too soon for the rabbi to forgive them. He probably needed some time to get over the hurt. They would wait a while and ask again at a more propitious moment.
Several weeks passed and it was now close to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Even the simplest Jews knew that they had to gain forgiveness from their friends if they wanted to be pardoned by God. With trepidation, the wicked three wrangled an appointment and once again were able to speak to the Rabbi. They pleaded their case. Still the Rabbi said no. He would not forgive them.
The rabbi's son was present as this strange scene played itself out. Puzzled by his father's peculiar behavior, he couldn't contain himself. It was so unlike anything he had ever witnessed before. Why did his father suddenly act so cruelly? Why would he persist in tormenting people who only asked for a simple expression of forgiveness?
The son dared to ask. His father explained. "Do you really think I don't want to forgive these poor Jews before the High Holy days? If it were only in my power to do so, don't you know that I would have forgiven them when they stood before me at the railroad station? Of course I, Rabbi Kagan, forgive them for what they did to me. When they learned who I was, they were mortified and filled with shame for what they had done. But the man they beat up was the one they presumed to be a simple, unassuming poor person with no crowd of well-wishers waiting to greet him. He was the victim and only he is the one capable of granting them forgiveness. Let them go find that person. I am incapable of releasing them from their guilt."
Upon completing the story, the rabbi turned to the executive who suggested that it was time for us to move on after the Holocaust and to forgive and forget. "I would be more than happy to do so if I only could. But I was not the one who was sealed in the gas chambers to die a horrible death. I didn't have my child pulled from my breast and shot it in front of my eyes. I was not among the tortured, the beaten, the whipped, and the murdered. It is they and they alone who can offer forgiveness. Go and find those 6 million and ask them if they are prepared to forgive and forget."
A decade after 9/11 there are those who raise the question: Should we forgive those who murdered the thousands of innocents?
Perhaps the most appropriate response is simply this: We are not the ones who have the right to make that decision. Though 10 years have passed, we may not forgive and we dare not forget.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you. Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust. A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew, A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost. The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world. Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. — Edna St. Vincent Millay
If you had an important court date scheduled ― one that would determine your financial future, or even your very life ― you'd be sure to prepare for weeks beforehand.
On Rosh Hashana, each individual is judged on the merit of his deeds. Whether he will live out the year or not. Whether he will have financial success or ruin. Whether he will be healthy or ill. All of these are determined on Rosh Hashana.
Elul ― the month preceding Rosh Hashana ― begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life's goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life ― rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.
The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l'dodi v'dodi lee ― "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people.
In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashana is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually-inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.
Beginning on Saturday night before Rosh Hashana, we recite "Slichot", a special series of prayers that invoke God's mercy. If Rosh Hashana falls at the beginning of the week, then "Slichot" begin on the Saturday night of the previous week. (Sefardim begin saying "Slichot" on Rosh Chodesh Elul.)
After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses asked God to explain His system for relating with the world. God's answer, known as the "13 Attributes of Mercy," forms the essence of the "Slichot" prayers. The "13 Attributes" speak of "God's patience." The same God Who created us with a clean slate and a world of opportunity, gives us another opportunity if we've misused the first one.
"Slichot" should be said with a minyan. If this is not possible, then "Slichot" should still be said alone, omitting the parts in Aramaic and the "13 Attributes of Mercy."
Finally, the most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we'll want to know what we're asking for!
Additions to the Services
Beginning the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, it is the Ashkenazi custom to blow the shofar every morning after prayers, in order to awaken us for the coming Day of Judgement. The shofar's wailing sound inspires us to use the opportunity of Elul to its fullest.
Also beginning in Elul, we say Psalm 27 in the morning and evening services. In this Psalm, King David exclaims: "One thing I ask... is to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life." we focus on the unifying force of God in our lives, and strive to increase our connection to the infinite transcendent dimension.
Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.
On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later ― on the seminal Yom Kippur ― he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.
For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year's holiest day, Yom Kippur.
Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah's Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh ― the ritual purification bath ― contains 40 measures of water.
Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon ― an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.
Events of the Year 2448
Many of the Jewish holidays are based on the events of one crucial year in Jewish history -- 2448, or 1312 BCE.
About 3,300 years ago, in the Jewish year 2448, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt ― following the plague of the First Born. The date was the 15th of Nissan, the first Passover celebration.
One week later, with the Egyptian troops in full chase, the Red Sea split ― and the Jewish people walked through on dry land. This occurred on the seventh and final day of the Passover holiday.
Ten Commandments and Mount Sinai - Fifty days later, on the holiday of Shavuot, God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. At Sinai, the Jews regained the immortal level of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Moses' First Ascent - Following the revelation, Moses went up Mount Sinai to learn more details of the Torah directly from God. At the end of 40 days, God handed Moses two sapphire tablets of identical shape and size ― upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved.
The Golden Calf - On the 16th of Tammuz, when Moses had not yet returned from the mountain, the Jewish people began to panic. They sought a new "leader" and built the Golden Calf. Immediately, the Clouds of Glory ― the divine protection of God ― departed. The Jews had relinquished their spiritual greatness and become mortal again. On the 17th of Tammuz, Moses came down from the mountain, smashed the Tablets, destroyed the Calf, and punished the transgressors.
Moses' Second Ascent - On the 19th of Tammuz, Moses ascended Mount Sinai again to plead for the lives of the Jewish people. He prayed with great intensity, and after 40 days, God agreed to spare the Jewish people in the merit of their forefathers. On the last day of Av, Moses returned to the people. Their lives were spared, but the sin was not yet forgiven.
Moses' Third and Final Ascent - Moses ascended Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul and stayed in the heavenly camp for 40 days (bringing the total number of days spent there to 120). Henceforth, the month of Elul became a special time for drawing close to God. At the end of the 40 days ― on the 10th of Tishrei ― God agreed to mete out the punishment for the Golden Calf over many generations. He then gave Moses a new, second set of Tablets.
Moses came down from the mountain with good news for the people: The reunification was complete, and the relationship restored. Thereafter, the 10th of Tishrei was designated as a day of forgiveness for all future generations: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Rabbeinu Yitchak Abohav writes in "Menoras HaMeor":
Any intelligent person who is scheduled for trial before a mortal king will surely spend sleepless nights and days preparing his case. He will seek the advice of every knowledgeable person he knows who can help him prepare his case. He will go to great lengths to attain a favorable verdict, even if all that is at stake is but a small part of his fortune, and he faces no personal risk.
Should he not do so as well when brought to judgment before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One, when not only he, but his children and his fortune all hang in the balance?
With this in mind, here is some suggested reading for the High Holidays.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Survival Kit (Shimon Apisdorf, Leviathan Press) - The award-winning guide to getting more meaning out of the High Holidays. With humor and sophistication, this book offers invaluable insight to the significance of the holidays and prayers. User-friendly format.
ArtScroll Machzor - The most complete and well organized prayer book on the market today. Includes full English/Hebrew text of all prayers, plus explanations, laws and customs. Features a masterful essay on the essence of the High Holidays. Separate volumes for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The Book of Our Heritage (Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Feldheim 1978) - A thorough review of the Jewish calendar. Includes month-by-month explanations of all the holidays, laws and customs throughout the Jewish year. A classic.
A man was called to the beach to paint a boat. He brought his paint and brushes and began to paint the boat a bright, new red, as he was hired to do. As he painted the boat, he noticed that the paint was seeping through the bottom of the boat. He realized that there was a leak, and he decided to mend it. When the painting was done, he collected his money for the job and went away.
The following day the owner of the boat came to the painter and presented him with a large check. The painter was surprised. "You have already paid me for painting the boat," he said.
"But this is not for the paint job. It is for mending the leak in the boat."
"That was so small a thing that I even did not want to charge you for it. Surely you are not paying me this huge amount for so small a thing?"
"My dear friend, you do not understand. Let me tell you what happened.”
"When I asked you to paint the boat I had forgotten to mention to you about the leak. When the boat was nice and dry, my children took the boat and went fishing. When I found that they had gone out in the boat, I was frantic for I remembered that the boat had a leak! Imagine my relief and happiness when I saw them coming back safe and sound. I examined the boat and saw that you had repaired the leak. Now you see what you have done? You have saved the lives of my children! I haven't enough money to repay you for your 'little' good deed...”
A Piece of String
A wealthy merchant bought a wonderful candelabra for his home. It was a masterpiece, made of pure crystal and studded with precious stones. It cost a real fortune.
Because of the candelabra's massive size, the ceiling in the merchant's dining room could not support its weight. In order to hang this beautiful candelabrum, a hole was bored in the ceiling, through which a rope was run and fastened to a beam in the attic.
Everybody who came to the house admired the wonderful candelabra, and the merchant and his family were very proud of it.
One day a poor boy came begging for old clothes. He was told to go up to the attic, where their old clothes were stored, and to help himself to some. He went up to the attic, and collected a neat bundle of clothes. After packing them into his bag, he searched for a piece of string with which to tie it. He saw a rope wound around a nail and decided to help himself to a piece. So he took out his pocketknife and cut the rope.
Crash! There was a terrific smash, and the next moment the whole family rushed to the attic crying: "You idiot! Look what you have done! You have ruined us!"
The poor boy could not understand what all the excitement was about. He said: "What do you mean, ruined you? All I did was to take a small piece of rope. Surely this did not ruin you?"
"You poor fish," replied the merchant. "Yes, all you did was to take a piece of rope. But it so happened that my precious candelabra hung by it. Now you have broken it beyond repair!"
These two stories, my friends, have one moral: Very often, by doing what seems to us a "small" good deed we never know what wonderful thing we have really done. And conversely, in committing what seems to us a "small" transgression, we are causing a terrible catastrophe. Both good deeds and bad deeds cause a "chain reaction." One good deed brings another good deed in its succession, and one transgression brings another. Each of them, no matter how seemingly small, may create or destroy worlds. Don't you think these two stories are worth remembering?
In three weeks, a sovereign Palestinian state will almost certainly be welcomed into the United Nations – if not by the UN Security Council then as a “non-member state” by the General Assembly. Worldwide celebrations in honor of the new Palestinian state will undoubtedly take place. Unfortunately, this festival will be honoring a superficial development; an illusion of achievement. In reality, recognition of a Palestinian state in the current political climate will not resolve any of the outstanding issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only exacerbate them.
Here is an ominous reminder: the UN will be recognizing a state whose government(s) maintains questionable legitimacy among its own population, is maligned by deep corruption and internal fighting, lacks control over terror cells that undermine all peace efforts, is depressingly mismanaged and is completely dependent on Israeli industry. The world will be voting int Prelude? Central America 'battles' over PA's UN bid / Ronen Medzini Recent regional summit of Latin America, Caribbean nations becomes stage for diplomatic squabble over future Palestinian bid for statehood Full story o existence a welfare state that currently owes much of its sustenance to the donations of the international community and Israeli tax transfers.
The Fatah- Hamas reconciliation agreement has proven to be a failure and never came close to being implemented – and it may never be. Abbas recently rejected the recognition of Israel as the Jewish State. The recent terror attacks and rocket fire emanating from Gaza have shown that terrorist groups other than Hamas hold considerable political and military sway in the Gaza Strip. Israeli security cooperation with Fatah has minimized similar developments in the West Bank, although that certainly didn’t prevent the Itamar massacre or other recent murders. Are these positive signs that point to a nation ready for statehood?
Anyone who endeavors to predict the consequences of the Palestinian bid is imprudent, yet media commentators and politicians are shuffling through the foreseeable scenarios. Large-scale riots, peaceful protests, violent confrontations, and regional war - anything is possible. The Arab Spring’s results (or lack thereof) already showed us that the Middle East is volatile, erratic and largely unpredictable. Yet one thing is clear: The vote will do nothing to further the interests of Israelis or Palestinians, and can only serve as a critically divisive moment within an already less than stellar period of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Although defining “statehood” by standards of international law can be problematic, the four main criteria are (a) permanent population, (b) defined borders, (c) effective government and (d) ability to maintain relations with other states. The PA fails to fulfill at least two, if not three, of these criteria.
Fictitious solution The Palestinians deserve freedom, justice, security and self-determination. However, a Palestinian state should only be established through a comprehensive and viable peace agreement. We need negotiations that offer real solutions to the intractable issues that statehood is meant to alleviate. Contrarily, the current UN bid looks to shirk responsibility for resolving internal and external Israeli-Palestinian issues of significant magnitude, issues that must be resolved before statehood can be bestowed upon a population who, as of now, seems woefully unprepared for it.
Some observers argue that UN recognition will force Israel to finally realize its West Bank presence is unacceptable to the international community. Yet the real consequences of such recognition vary considerably depending on who you ask. Many analysts seem to agree that the current bid will likely have no practical implications. It is reasonable to assume that UN recognition will provoke confrontations between Palestinian nationalists, settlers and Israeli soldiers.
Of course, the threat of further international isolation and boycotts against Israel is also reasonable, but authentic progress won’t - and never has - come from unilateral action or power plays in this conflict, but through mutual agreements and meaningful negotiations.
Many nations around the world understandably want to wash their hands of the Israeli-Arab conflict and rid themselves of a problem that has been a source of immense political tension and violence for more than four decades. However, the current UN bid will not wash away the blood of thousands of Jewish and Palestinian lives that have been lost in this conflict, and the fictitious solution of declared statehood certainly won’t prevent further blood from being spilled. It may in fact encourage it.
The upcoming vote on a Palestinian state in September is an attempted quick fix, an example of the international community dodging responsibility in order to force progress on an intractable conflict. This approach will be a serious mistake. Fortunately for those countries, the implications of such recognition probably won’t result in violence, bombings, shootings or the loss of innocent life in their respective countries like it will here in our region.
Abbas, Erekat and others have claimed that the current UN bid is not meant to isolate Israel. However, unless the UN bid is retracted - which several senior leaders of the PA have recommended – both countries will be isolated: Israel from the international community and Palestine from realizing its true aspirations of sovereignty and self-determination.
The right of return, Jerusalem, recognized borders, freedom of movement, settlements, security and commerce issues will only be resolved through negotiations, not symbolic recognition or empty declarations. As long as both parties are guilty of refusing to return to the negotiating table, it will be to the detriment of all of us who desire to see a peaceful end to this conflict.
Avi Yesawich is an independent journalist and political commentator. He holds degrees from Cornell University and Tel Aviv University, is an IDF combat reservist and co-founder of Israeli Centrism , a social/political blog focusing primarily on Middle Eastern affairs
Clowns are cavorting to the music, children are clamoring for sweets, people are lining up to be frightened or thrilled or amused. Another day in the glorious theme park of life.
Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster?
If you’re a Ferris wheel kind of guy, you want your ups and downs to follow an even cycle. You acknowledge that life is a ride—that there are times to ascend and times to descend, times to move and times to halt, and times to sway gently in the breeze. But you need for it to follow a regular pattern, so that you can reflect on what has been and prepare for what’s to come.
If you opt for the roller coaster, it’s because you know that the real fun comes when you’re caught unawares. When you inch up a long, seemingly endless incline, only to plunge into a bottomless pit; when a slow, graceful somersault follows a twisting hurdle through dark tunnels. When you never know what the ride will throw at you next, and have only your grip on the handlebar and your faith in the designer’s ingenuity to get you through it.
Another day in the theme park of life. Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster?
Did you ever wonder why our calendar has both weeks and months? Why follow two different cycles that never match up?
The week came first. As the Bible tells it, G‑d created the world in seven days—six days of work and a seventh of rest. According to the Kabbalists, everything in creation is modeled upon a structure of seven sefirot (“lights” or “spheres”)—including time itself. The weekly Shabbat, first observed by Adam only hours after his creation, is thus the key to living our lives as “partners with G‑d in creation,” of attuning our own creative powers with those of our Creator.
In other words, the seven-day week is nature’s inner clock—the system by which it was brought into being, and by which it continues to be sustained and maintained by its Creator.
And then, one dark night in Egypt some 2,448 years after the first Shabbat, the month was born.
And G‑d spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: “This new moon shall be for you the head of months, the first of the month of the year for you . . .” (Exodus 12:1–2)
The week is generated by seven sunsets and seven sunrises, a repetitive event by which each day in the cycle is virtually indistinguishable from its fellows; the month, on the other hand, has its progress marked by the moon’s phases, as it grows from crescent to fullness, only to dwindle back to oblivion and await another rebirth. The week was programmed by the Creator into creation; the month, on the other hand, must be created anew each time—according to Torah law, a new month is proclaimed only after the Sanhedrin (supreme court) hears testimony from two witnesses who saw the new moon. Shabbat, which commemorates the creation of the natural order, is a product of the week; the festivals that commemorate the miracles of Jewish history (Passover, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, etc.) are all products of the month.
If the week represents all that is regular and immutable in our world, the month represents the new, the unanticipatable, the miraculous.
Do you take the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster? Imagine that you could ride both simultaneously. If you can imagine that, you know the experience of living with the Jewish calendar.
DR. HADAS MALADA-Matsree, 26, an intern at Soroka Medical Center and the first female Ethiopian-Israeli doctor, is slowly getting used to being seen as a role model.
“At first, I did not feel the need to do anything special as a result of the title, but the more I saw that people cared about it, especially young kids, the more I realized I do have a special role and I can have a positive influence,” she said in a lengthy telephone interview with The Jerusalem Report.
Presently on maternity leave to care for four-month-old baby Tamar, Malada- Matsree’s life is a balancing act involving career, family and a major commitment to community service. For the past two years, she has lectured to students about her own experience of success. She travels throughout the country for the lectures, organized by the Education Ministry. For many young Ethiopian-Israelis, in particular, she has become a symbol of what is possible.
“After I speak, they come up and ask me a lot of questions. Sometimes the questions are really basic, like ‘How do I apply to university?’ But they have no one to ask. I try to support them and help them along,” she says.
Her message to young Israelis is twofold.
First, she tries to show immigrant students that despite the hardships brought on by aliya – and the perception many immigrants kids have of being abandoned – their parents do care about them. Second, she tries to inspire young people to dream big. “I find, generally, they either don’t know how to dream at all, or if they dream, they set their sights very low. I want to show them how to believe in themselves and not give up on their dreams,” she says.
Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Malada- Matsree’s polite manner seems to coexist with a palpable inner strength. Her core of confidence is the likely result of a lifetime of surmounting challenges.
THE FIRST FOUR YEARS OF HER life, a period she no longer remembers, were spent in a rural farming community in Ethiopia. The family sustained itself with agriculture as well as by raising sheep and cattle.
Her mother, married by 12, was busy raising the growing brood, while her father became active in working with Israeli officials to help the Ethiopian Jewish community immigrate to Israel. At one point, he was sent to jail for his activism.
At 4, she immigrated to Israel with her parents and six siblings; four more were born in Israel. On the journey, Malada-Matsree contracted malaria, measles and a third mystery illness that caused all her hair to fall out.
When the family reached Israel, she had to be hospitalized for five months. By the time she was healthy again, she had also found her life’s calling.
“I said to my mother: ‘I want to be like the people in white.’ I meant the doctors and nurses,” she explains. “Since then, it’s been obvious.
It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
She says that her parents, neither of whom finished high school, believed completely in her ability to reach her goal. Although they supported the family through manual labor – cleaning, construction, washing dishes – they were adamant that their children aim for a different life.
They would often use their own financial struggles as a cautionary tale. “They would say to us: ‘Study. Do your schoolwork, or you’ll end up doing the kind of work we have to do.’” Malada-Matsree credits a large part of her success to her parents’ active involvement in her life. Although they had no time to study Hebrew formally, as they had to work to support the large family, they declared that Hebrew was the official language at home, so that they could be fully integrated in their children’s lives. They even attended parentteacher meetings, despite not always understanding everything.
She contrasts her family situation to the situations of other Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
Like her family, they, too, faced the pressures of moving from a rural, agrarian culture to a technologically advanced one. They had to learn basic domestic chores, like using an oven or gas stove, and also had to acquire skills to organize a modern household – opening a bank account, for example. The children, who learn the language and pick up cultural clues more quickly, became the experts at home, while their parents, once revered as decision-makers, were reduced to the role of dependents.
Additionally, most social programs target Ethiopian-Israeli youth, leaving older adults out, further compounding an already tough situation, she says.
“Children sometimes begin to feel that their parents don’t care about them or what they are doing at school,” she adds. She explains that the desire to strive for achievement at school goes together with knowing that someone at home cares and knowing that someone is tracking their academic progress. When that feeling is absent, the children often start to act out, finding the sense of caring and belonging from their peers instead of from their elders.
Malada-Matsree believes she was lucky; she experienced a caring family as well as a supportive community.
Arriving in Israel, the Malada family settled in an absorption center in the southern town of Arad, where they lived until moving to Beersheba, when she was 9. “In both places we lived in diverse communities. In the absorption center, we were together with immigrants from Russia, France, America, and other places.” She points out that a sense of isolation can make it more difficult for Ethiopian-Israeli youth to find their way within Israeli culture. “All they see is other kids going through the same thing, with nothing to do after school hours.”
In contrast, Malada-Matsree’s school years were marked by a growing sense that her dream of being a doctor was achievable. Her favorite subject was science, with bible and literature coming in second. She is quick to note, however, that for her, “literature is a hobby but medicine is a love.”
EVENTUALLY, WITH EXCELLENT test scores, she began studying medicine at Ben-Gurion University as part of a government scholarship program that covers many of her medical studies expenses in exchange for a commitment of five years of service as a doctor in the IDF. Supporting herself financially while studying has been an ongoing challenge. Time spent working has meant less time to study, which in turn initially made it more difficult for her to excel, despite her talents.
A$3,000 a year stipend has made a big difference.
“When I received a stipend from the ENP (Ethiopian National Project, a non-profit funded by the government, global Jewry and the Ethiopian-Israeli community), things became a lot easier. My grades went from 70s and 80s to 90s and 100s, and I was cited for excellence,” she says, adding that the handful of other Ethiopian-Israeli medical students she knows all benefit from the program, supported primarily by the Jewish Federation of Lehigh Valley, as well as other charities.
She is firmly in favor of programs that level the playing field and also says she’s not averse to affirmative action, although she’s not sure if it should be awarded based solely on ethnic background. She points out that a high school student who can’t afford NIS 6,000 to pay for tutoring for the college entrance tests, or a medical student who is unable to take time off from work to study for qualifying exams is at a distinct disadvantage. “The only affirmative action I’m aware of at Ben-Gurion is for Bedouin students. So why not for Ethiopian- Israelis, as well?” she asks.
Yet she earned her own medical education without such benefits. Currently in the last few months of her year-long internship, Malada- Matsree has navigated the system of higher education largely on her own. And she can still remember feeling particularly disturbed when she first entered medical school and realized there were rumors that her ethnicity had helped her win a spot in the class. “One ‘brave’ person even asked me to my face,” she says.
“My first real encounter with racism happened in an academic setting,” she adds with irony.
Although the members of her family have all experienced incidents of racism, it is something she chooses not to dwell on. “If you spend too much time involved in it, it just brings you down,” she says.
The rumors ended as soon as it became clear that she was indeed a gifted student, but her encounter with bigotry had a deep effect on her, ultimately helping to bring her closer to her Ethiopian heritage. When she realized that no matter how Israeli she was, people saw her as different, she decided to learn more about her tradition.
In 2004, she traveled to Ethiopia for a closer look at her roots. Later, as a medical student, she chose to do her pediatric medicine elective in Ethiopia, traveling to Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, in April 2010, to work with Ethiopian children. While there, she also improved her command of Amharic, with a special focus on learning medical terms and understanding more about Ethiopian cultural approaches to medicine and healing.
For example, she explains, when an Ethiopian patient says his stomach hurts, it may mean that he’s experiencing physical pain, but it may also mean that he is feeling worried or distraught. The seemingly lyrical statement “my heart has spilled” actually just means the person is experiencing heartburn.
She points out that making the effort to understand the meaning behind such terminology can help Israeli doctors to bridge a significant cultural divide with their patients. She is now at work on a dictionary of Amharic medical terminology, which she has already begun sharing with some of her peers.
Her Ethiopian heritage also plays a key part in her personal life. Although her husband, architect Yonatan Matsree, is not Ethiopian, the young family keeps the community’s traditions alive at home. “People always say that he’s more Ethiopian than me,” she says, giggling and adding that she and her husband make an effort every year to travel to Jerusalem for the main ceremony of the Sigd, the Ethiopian Jewish holiday that commemorates those who died on their way to Israel. Since many of her siblings live nearby, she remains in close contact with family and community.
And while baby Tamar doesn’t speak yet, when she’s ready, Malada-Matsree has already enlisted her mother to teach her Amharic. “I would do it, but my accent is too Israeli,” she says. She says she is also looking forward to teaching Tamar the Ethiopian children’s stories she grew up on.
Yet she also emphasizes that her heritage as an Ethiopian-Israeli is just one facet of her life.
When not working, she tries to find the time to read, catch a yoga or spinning class, and travel, “preferably in Israel,” she says.
And like the young people she inspires, she too has big dreams. She wants to spend as much time as possible with her family and to eventually take time to practice medicine in the developing world.
She is proud of her own success, but says that she is not alone in being an Ethiopian- Israeli who is contributing to Israeli society. In addition to herself, she knows of at least two other Ethiopian-Israeli doctors and six medical students. On the lecture circuit, she also meets many Ethiopian-Israeli high school students who are choosing challenging coursework and excelling.
“The press is very critical of the Ethiopian aliya. But if you look at how long it takes to become a doctor – 12 years of primary and secondary schooling, four to seven years of medical school, army service – it adds up to 20 years, and that’s as long as we’ve been here.
People need to see the positive accomplishments too. We need to focus on the success stories.” ✡
South Tel Aviv: 8 hurt in terror attack outside nightclub By YAAKOV LAPPIN 08/29/2011 09:11 http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=235802 Police: Nablus resident commandeers cab, rams Border Police road block, gets out, begins stabbing people; police officers among injured.
Talkbacks (113) Eight people were injured in south Tel Aviv early Monday morning, when a terrorist from the West Bank carjacked a taxi and rammed it into a police road block protecting a Tel Aviv nightclub, before going on a stabbing spree.
Police said the terrorist, a 20-year-old Nablus resident, entered a taxi near the beginning of Salameh Street, and hijacked the vehicle, stabbing the driver in the hand. He then drove for approximately a kilometer down Salameh Street towards the Haoman 17 nightclub, which was filled with high school children at an end-of-summer party. At the time of the attack, almost all of the teenagers were inside the club.
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Border Police had set up a precautionary road block ahead of time at the entrance to the club on Abarbanel Street, in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood. The terrorist rammed the road block, and struck a number of civilians and a border policeman.
"He then got out of the car, screamed Allah Akbar [God is Great], and went on a knife attack," a police spokeswoman said.
The suspect was tackled to the ground by Border Police officers and taken into custody. He was taken to the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon after being lightly injured. He was later released and was taken in for questioning under heavy security.
The eight people injured in the attack were all Border Police officers and club security guards. One was seriously injured, two were moderately injured and three were lightly injured. The remaining casualties were released from hospital after receiving medical treatment.
The cabdriver whose taxi was hijacked, Nachman Azi, said that the Palestinian man got in his cab at the start of Salameh Street and asked to be taken to the Central Bus Station, moments later, said Azi “he pulled out a knife and told me to get out of the cab. I grabbed the knife and started to fight him, but it cut my hand very bad and I told him he could take the car.”
Azi, his hand heavily bandaged and his shirt splotched with blood, said that the terrorist let him take some of his personal belongings, and that he believed he only wanted to steal the car.
A police source said that the road block had prevented a far worse outcome.
Israel Radio reported that the attack was coordinated to strike a large youth party being held in the area.
Police Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino said Monday morning that over 1,000 teenagers were inside the club which was targeted. He said Border Police preparations "were extraordinary and prevented a big disaster."
Ben Hartman and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.
My Encounter with Hemingway by Rabbi Benjamin Blech Judaism is a religion of life. http://www.aish.com/print/?contentID=127941528§ion=/sp/so The year was 1956. I had just been ordained and felt I needed a vacation after completing years of rigorous study. Together with two other newly minted rabbis, we decided on a trip that in those days was considered rather exotic. We chose pre-Castro Cuba as our destination - not too far away, not too costly, beautiful and totally different from our New York City environment.
One day as we drove through Havana and its outskirts, our combination taxi driver/guide pointed out a magnificent estate and told us that this was the residence of the writer, Ernest Hemingway. "Stop the car," we told him. "We want to go in." He shook his head and vehemently told us, "No, no, that is impossible. No one can just come in to visit. Only very important people who have an appointment."
With the chutzpah of the young, I insisted that we would be able to get in and approached the guard with these words: "Would you please call Mr. Hemingway and tell him that three rabbis from New York are here to see him."
How could Hemingway not be intrigued? Surely he would wonder what in the world three rabbis wanted to talk to him about. We held our breaths, and the guard himself could not believe it when the message came back from the house that Mr. Hemingway would see us.
We were ushered into Hemingway's presence as he sat with his wife Mary in their spacious den. What followed, we subsequently learnt, was a verbal volley meant to establish whether it was worthwhile for him to spend any time talking to us. He questioned us about our backgrounds, threw some literary allusions at us to see if we would understand their meaning, asked what we thought was the symbolic meaning of some passages in his A Farewell To Arms - and then after about 15 minutes totally changed his demeanor and spoke to us with a great deal of warmth and friendship.
"Rabbis," he said to us, "forgive me for having been brusque with you at first but before continuing I had to make certain it was worth my while to talk to you. To be honest, I've long wanted to engage a rabbi in conversation. I just never had the opportunity. And now suddenly out of the blue you've come to me."
Hemingway then opened up to us in most remarkable manner. He told us he had a great interest in religion for many years which he pursued privately and never discussed or wrote about. He said during one period of his life he set aside time to study many of the major religions in depth. On a few occasions he even attempted to personally follow the rituals of certain faiths for a short time to see if they would "speak to him."
"I'm basically not a spiritual person," he confessed. But he said that after he thought deeply about the different religions he studied, he came to an important conclusion. Fundamentally he realized all religions divide into one of two major categories. There are religions of death and there are religions of life. Religions of death are the ones whose primary emphasis is preparation for an afterlife. This world and its pleasures are renounced in favor of dedicating oneself totally to the world to come. "Obviously," he added, "that isn't for me." What he respects, he continued, are religions like Judaism which stress our obligations to what we are here for now on earth rather than the hereafter.
With his perceptive mind, he summed up the essence of Judaism perhaps better than most Jews themselves can. Judaism is a religion of life. "Choose life," says the Bible. Death of course is recorded but what happens afterwards purposely remains hidden from the reader.
I took the opportunity to compliment Hemingway on his analysis and had the temerity to ask if I might teach him something that would add to his insight. I told him of the biblical law that prohibits the Kohanim, all the members of the Jewish priesthood, from coming into any contact with the dead. If they did so, they would be considered impure. To this day Kohanim cannot enter a funeral chapel with a body inside.
The rabbinic commentators questioned the reason behind this law. The answer that resonates most with scholars is that the Torah wanted to ensure that the priestly class, those assigned to dedicate themselves to the spiritual needs of their people, did not misconstrue their primary function. In all too many religions, the holy men devote themselves almost exclusively to matters revolving around death. Even in our own times, the only connection many people have with a spiritual leader is at a funeral. That is why the Bible forbade the priests from having any contact with the dead - so that they spend their time, their efforts, their concerns and their energy with the living.
Hemingway smiled and thanked me for sharing with him this beautiful idea.
My encounter with Hemingway became all the more poignant when on July 2, 1961 I learned with the world that the man whose hand wrote the books we revere to this day chose to use it to put the barrel of his shotgun into his mouth and commit suicide. Somehow he was never able to find a spiritual source on which to lean in order to give him a reason for living. He had taught the world, in his words, "But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated." And yet, tragically, the biblical ideal to "choose life" that he praised in our meeting could not guide him in the end.
Related Article: Heaven Can Wait
But his insight into the diametrically opposed fundamental difference between religions is today more relevant than ever. Osama bin Ladin is dead but his words aptly describe the contemporary clash between two major spiritual orientations. Fanatical Islam stands opposed to Western civilization. Bin Laden starkly defined the difference between the two: "You Americans worship life; we worship death."
To worship death is to teach children from early youth that their greatest achievement is to die the death of a martyr. To worship life is to teach children that the best way to make their lives meaningful is to live up to their potential so that through their achievements they leave a legacy to help future mankind.
Our biblical heritage directs us to reject the idolization of death. God has entrusted us with too many things to do while we are alive to opt to forsake it.
The Torah was given at a time when the religions of the Hebrews’ neighbors were preoccupied almost entirely with death. The Egypt from the ancient Hebrews fled was a nation which devoted its efforts and much of its wealth to preparations for the afterlife.
Death in Egypt of old was viewed not as an ending but the beginning of a journey to eternity. A process of embalming preserved the corpse by extracting the organs, filling the shell with salt and linen, and wrapping it in bandages and amulets. The next life, ancient Egyptians believed, would be an enhancement of this one. The dead would need to be sustained and amused, so their tombs were filled with food and drink, instructive texts, games, and jewelry. Model figures, called Shabti were also buried with the dead between the Middle Kingdom (3500 - 4000 years ago) and the Ptolemaic Period (2300 years ago). They provided friendship for the deceased, and acted as their laborers. Slaves were put to death and entombed together with their masters so that they might continue to serve them The Egyptians also believed that if the pharaoh's body could be mummified after death the pharaoh would live forever - and that's why they built the pyramids as tombs designed to protect the buried pharaoh's body and his belongings.
It was to the Hebrews of this time that a literally new way of life, rather than a way of death, was presented. The Bible didn't need to teach those who received it that the soul survives after death. Their world was populated by people who excessively devoted their lives to death, at the expense of properly living life. What they needed to hear was how to reverse these priorities.
The Bible spoke solely in terms of terrestrial obligations. Love not death, but your neighbor, as yourself. Free the slave; do not inter him with the wealthy so that he may continue to serve his master in the afterworld. Help the widow; do not just tell her to rejoice because her husband is now in a better place. Be kind to your worker; do not force him to labor with backbreaking effort in order to build pyramids for the greater glory of the deceased.
King Solomon put it well in his book of Proverbs." It [the Torah] is a tree of life unto those who grasp hold of it." (Proverbs 3:18)
Perhaps this can explain the Torah’s omission of details about death and its aftermath. It was a purposeful decision by God to help us focus on our human obligations on earth - so that we may be pleasantly surprised when our time comes to leave it.
This is an excerpt from Rabbi Blech's latest as yet unpublished work, Why We Shouldn't Fear Death.
Don't be judgmental. Unless, of course you happen to be a judge. Then it's your job.
This week's parshah, Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) , lists the Biblical command for judges to be appointed in every city and town to adjudicate and maintain a just, ordered, civil society. Interestingly, it occurs in the first week of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare in earnest for the Days of Judgment ahead, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
There are, however, some significant differences between earthly judges of flesh and blood and the Heavenly Judge. In the earthly court, if, after a fair trial, a defendant is found guilty, then there's really not much room for clemency on the part of the judge. The law is the law and must take its course. The accused may shed rivers of tears, but no human judge can be certain if his remorse is genuine. His feelings of regret are touching but of limited legal consequence. After all, a human judge may only make a decision based on "what the eye can see." The misdeed was seen to have been committed. The remorse, who knows? Perhaps he's a good actor and is only acting contrite. The Supreme Judge, however, does know whether the accused genuinely regrets his actions or is merely putting on an act. Therefore, He alone is able to forgive. That is why in heavenly judgments, teshuvah (repentance) is effective.
The Maharal of Prague gave another reason. Only G‑d is able to judge the whole person. Every one of us has good and bad to some extent. Even those who have sinned may have many other good deeds that outweigh the bad ones. Perhaps even one good deed was of such major significance that it alone could serve as a weighty counterbalance. The point is, only G‑d knows. Only He can judge the individual in the context of his whole life and all his deeds, good and bad.
Our goal is to emulate the Heavenly Court. We should try to look at the totality of the person. You think he is bad, but is he all bad? Does he have no redeeming virtues? Surely, he must have some good in him as well. Look at the whole person.
A teacher once conducted an experiment. He held up a white plate and showed it to the class. In the center of the plate was a small black spot. He then asked the class to describe what they saw. One student said he saw a black spot. Another said it must be a target for shooting practice. A third suggested that the plate was dirty or damaged. Whereupon the teacher asked, "Doesn't anyone see a white plate?"
There may have been a small black spot but, essentially, it was a white plate. Why do we only see the dirt? Let us learn to find the good in others. Nobody is perfect, not even ourselves. Let's not be so judgmental and critical. Let's try to see the good in others.
Rabbi Wolpe Why light Shabbat candles? Judaism teaches us that, rather than action resulting from emotion, our emotion often arises out of our actions. Do good and you will feel the motivation to do more good. Sometimes your heart follows your hands. Light candles each week and holiness will grow in your life through sacred deeds. Spread the light. Shabbat Shalom.
Printed from Chabad.org Life's Passages Both Mother and Father
By Chana Weisberg
My Father in Heaven, My King,
Do You hear me? Little me, all the way down here?
Can You possibly care about what I'm going through?
You seem so distant. So powerful and so removed.
Up there. So far away. So infinitely removed from little me down here.
Do You remember what You are putting me through--the difficulties I face daily, the challenges that seem so insurmountable to me?
Do You care about such small things?
Yet, somehow, my G-d, I feel You do care.
Hold my hand, strengthen me, help me overcome this hurdle.
Comfort me like a parent soothes her child.
Let me feel Your closeness, not Your distance.
Let me be surrounded by the warmth of Your presence, not Your indifferent, infinite Omnipotence.
Wipe away my tears.
Embrace me like a mother.
"See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of G-d…And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of G-d and you stray from the path that I command you today…" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
In this week's parshah, Moses reviews some of the fundamental commandments, including serving G-d, not straying after idolatry and living a life of purity in the Holy Land.
Moses puts these commandments into perspective by explaining that the choice of whether or not to accept the Torah in its totality is nothing less than the choice between blessing and curse, between life and death.
Later in the parshah (Deuteronomy 14:1), Moses declares:
"You are children to the L-rd, your G-d"
How are we like children to G-d? In what way is G-d like a parent to us?
To understand this, we must first understand the behavioral and psychological differences between a mother and father.1
The Talmud relates:
Rebbe said: It is known that a son [affectionately] honors his mother more than his father because she sways him by her tender words…and it is known that a son fears his father more than his mother because he teaches him Torah.
Elsewhere, the Talmud2 states:
The father is duty bound to circumcise his son, to redeem him (if he is a first born), to teach him Torah, to teach him a craft, and some say to teach him how to swim.
The mother, however, is not obligated with these educational duties to her son.3
With these statements, the Talmud is teaching us about the mother and father archetypes.
(It is important to clarify that we are not referring to mothers and fathers or women and men per se, but rather to archetypes. An actual mother may have some "fatherly" characteristics and vice versa, and at different stages of the child's life and development, each parent will necessarily need to adjust their archetypical approach to their child.)
Maternal love involves being affectionate, playing with the child and showering him with love and tenderness. 4
Paternal love is involved in passing on knowledge, teaching him Torah or helping him acquire a skill.
The mother never stops being affectionate and loving to her child, even when the child is an adult. No matter how mature and independent her child grows, in her mind's eye she still cannot forget the fact that this child was once a part of her. She gave her life and blood for this baby, and will therefore always see her child as needing her help and protection.
Both the mother's and the father's relationship are genuine and powerful. Both feel passionate love and indisputable affection for their child.
Yet the mother and father are moving in opposite directions vis-a-vis their child. Father moves away from his child, while mother moves toward him.
Father is preoccupied with disengaging himself from the child by acting as a teacher and a leader, offering opportunities for the child's growth and change. Through his guidance in teaching his child, he is weaning him to live independently and responsibly.
The mother, on the other hand, is not obligated with such educational duties since her instinct is to hold onto her child, to repress his adulthood--the very result that education is meant to foster.
The paternal love helps the child free himself from the parents' authority and move away from him, while the maternal love intensifies her attachment to her child.
The mother's and father's archetypical approaches to expressing their love are rooted in G-d's bilateral relationship with His people.
"You are children to the L-rd, your G-d."
G-d acts as both a mother and a father. He displays both modes of love: protecting and helping, as well as disciplining and teaching. We cry to G-d like a young child trusting in his mother's solacing embrace, while we also revere G-d and serve Him with utmost respect and veneration.
G-d, as our Father, is at an infinite distance from us, charging us with responsibility to display independence. He demands our courage in making the right decisions in our lives. He expects us to combat evil and rebukes our weaknesses or fluctuations. He orders us to overcome temptations, to "hearken the commandments" and choose "blessings" rather than "stray from the path" and choose "curses."
In truth, "evil" and the path of the "curses" is a nonentity. Darkness is just the concealment of light, a state of being veiling the inner truth. Darkness exists only to challenge us to defeat it, to rouse our innermost strengths and convictions. Its purpose is to allow us to conquer it and in this way offers us the ultimate in freedom of choice.
By revealing the light and transforming the negativity into underlying goodness, we are being forced to push ourselves to the limit and cultivate innate, dormant capabilities. We thus mature into spiritually complete individuals.
Yet, at the same time that G-d as our Father decrees Divine law, G-d as our Mother, as the Shechinah, provides Divine help. The Shechinah comes down to be together with her children. Nothing, not even sinfulness and disobedience, can sever the unshakable bond between Mother and child. The more independent and mature the child seems, the more the Mother sees his need for her help, and intensifies her love, cleaving to her child. The Shechinah--"the One who dwells with them in their impurity"5--is always present, ministering to and facilitating for her child.
G-d provides us with freedom of choice and warns us to choose blessing and goodness on our journey towards independence and spiritual growth.
But at the same time, G-d is with us like a mother, helping us wipe away our tears and frustrations, tenderly holding our hand. FOOTNOTES 1. The concepts in this essay are further developed in the essay "Torah and Shechinah" in Family Redeemed by Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (Toras Harav 2000). 2. Kiddushin 29a. 3. Talmud, ibid. 4. The words in the Talmud, meshedalto bidvorim, "she sways him with words," is related to the phrase (Jeremiah 13:19), yeled shaashuim, a child with whom one plays, laughs, dances and sings. 5. Leviticus 16:16.
Rabbi, I appreciate your invitation to join your classes, but I just don’t have time in my life for spirituality right now. My week is packed with work, family commitments, fitness, and a little socializing and time to relax. I don’t see where I can fit in spiritual activities. I don’t want to burn out, do I?
Is the pot full?There was once a rabbi teaching a classroom full of students. He started his lesson by saying, “My dear students, today is our last class together before you graduate. For this special occasion I am going to do something different. I am going to teach you the secret of a good cholent.”
The students were aghast. Cholent, the traditional Shabbat stew, is a classic of Jewish cooking, but hardly a profound subject for a rabbi to teach his students for their final lesson.
The rabbi took out a crockpot and filled it to the brim with potatoes. He then turned to his students and asked, “Tell me, now that I have filled the pot with potatoes—is the pot full?”
“Yes,” his students replied, confused by the simplicity of the question, for there was no way to fit in any more potatoes into the pot.
With a smile, the rabbi took out a bag of beans and poured it into the pot, and the beans managed to slip between the spaces among the potatoes. “Okay,” said the rabbi, “now is the pot full?” Looking into the pot, the students agreed that it was indeed full.
Without missing a beat, the rabbi took out a bag of barley and poured it into the pot. The small kernels meandered effortlessly between the cracks and crevices among the potatoes and beans.
“Now it’s full,” said the students.
“Really?” said the rabbi, taking out his collection of spices. He then began shaking generous amounts of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder all over the pot. The students watched dumbfounded as the spices easily settled into what had seemed to be a completely full pot.
The rabbi, obviously enjoying himself, asked again, “Is it full yet?”
Without waiting for the answer, the rabbi produced a jug of water and proceeded to pour its contents into the pot. To the amazement of his students, he was able to empty the entire jug of water into the pot without a drop spilling over the sides.
“All right,” said the rabbi, a look of satisfaction on his face. “Now it really is full, right?” The students all nodded in agreement. “Are you sure?” prodded the rabbi. “Are you absolutely certain that I can’t fit anything more into this pot?” Suddenly unsure of themselves, the students looked at each other nervously and said, “Surely you can’t put anything else into there!”
With drama and pathos, the rabbi raised a finger in the air, lowered it slowly, and flicked a switch on the side of the pot, turning on the heating element lying beneath. “You see,” said the rabbi triumphantly, “I just filled the pot with the most important ingredient of all—warmth. Without it, the pot may as well be empty.”
The rabbi paused, and looked deeply into the eyes of his stunned students. “My children,” he finally addressed them, “you are about to leave my class and go on to live busy lives. In the big world out there, you will no longer have the luxury of studying holy texts all day. In time you will be consumed by the pressures of looking after a family and making a living. But always remember this: your material pursuits are just the potatoes and beans of life. Your spirituality, that is the warmth.
“Until the fire is turned on, the pot is full of disparate ingredients. It is the warmth that unites them all into one single stew.
It is the warmth that unites them all“If you don’t maintain a spiritual connection, through praying every day, studying the holy books, and keeping focused on the true meaning of your lives, then you will end up as a cold, raw cholent —very busy, very full, but completely empty. When you have lost touch with your soul, your family life will suffer, your career will be unfulfilling, you won’t be motivated even to exercise.
“But if you keep the fire burning in your soul, if you stick to a daily schedule that nourishes the spirit, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, then those few minutes will bring warmth and inspiration to all your other activities. A spiritual connection imbues your entire life with meaning, keeps you anchored and directed, inspired and motivated. It permeates all you do with a sense of purpose, and makes you succeed.
“You may be wondering,” continued the rabbi, “how will you have time for all this. How will you be able to juggle the demands of material life along with your spiritual development? You will find the answer by looking at the cholent. Did you notice that, though the pot seemed full of potatoes, beans, barley, spices and water, when I added the warmth it did not overflow? Never think that adding spirituality to your schedule will overburden you. On the contrary, it will bring everything else in your life together, because it will remind you why you do all these other things in the first place: you work in order to be able to live a life of meaning, you get married in order to bring the best out in yourself and your spouse, you have children in order to educate them in the ways of goodness, you keep fit in order to have the strength to fulfil your mission. Spirituality is the warmth that does not take up space, it creates more.”
With a loving smile, the rabbi concluded his farewell with words of wisdom that I think apply equally to you:
“You should never think that you are so busy that you can’t afford to concentrate on your soul. The truth is, you can’t afford not to. May G‑d bless you that each and every one of you should always be a warm pot of cholent.
Ten Rules for Post Divorce Parenting by Rachel Rose M.Sc. Ensuring your child's success after divorce.
Ever wonder why some children with parents who have divorced fare better than others? Respecting these ten rules of post-divorce parenting can be a powerful contributing factor to your child's success after a divorce. Keeping these rules will not only help the children, it will help you too.
1. Give your child the gift of not having to choose between their parents.
Asking children to cut off from extended family compounds the loss that divorce creates. Allowing children to maintain regular access to both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can contribute to a child's self-esteem, as well as their sense of security and belonging.
When children return from a visit, either with the other parent or with relatives, refrain from asking competitive questions. Everyone has something different to offer and children need all of it. They need the parent with more money, as well as the parent with more love. They need the parent who is better at helping with homework as well as the one that makes the best spaghetti and meatballs.
Asking your children to choose one parent over another, whether overtly or through subtle messages, can create anxiety and guilt. Not knowing who to choose creates anxiety. So does fear of reprisal by the scorned parent. Being "unfaithful" to a parent can create tremendous feelings of guilt. This can lead to hurt and anger in the child for having being asked to make that difficult choice. Some children will disconnect emotionally from both parents as a way of coping with having to make a decision. Everyone loses in that scenario.
Accept that your child benefits from having a relationship with both parents. (This obviously does not apply in cases where there is any risk of danger or abuse to the child. For the sake of this article, it is assumed that if such protection is needed it was obtained in court.) Allow your child to enjoy what each parent has to offer without making them feel guilty. 2. Refrain from speaking poorly of your ex to your children.
It's tempting. Your marriage did not work out as you had hoped. You may be hurt, disappointed and angry. But remember, you're the adult. Children need to respect their parents. It helps them to respect authority in general, and to grow up to be self-respecting. When you are critical of your former spouse you are teaching your child to be critical and judgmental. Even if sarcasm, bitterness and hurtful statements were a trademark of your marriage, lose it in your post-divorce reality.
Even if your spouse bad-mouths you, don't respond, don't retort. It only lowers your child's respect for you. You might feel that if you do not "defend" yourself, your children will think less of you. In reality, it is the on-going fighting that will lead to an erosion of respect for you.
There is another selfish reason to not speak poorly of your former spouse. If someone speaks poorly of someone you love, what do you do? Usually you run to defend them, even if you suspect that they are wrong. When you attack your ex, you are forcing your child to come to your ex's defense, even if it is only in the child's mind.
Negative speech undermines your child's trust in the speaker, as well as the person who is being spoken about. It can even affect their ability to trust adults in general. Be careful not to send your child the message that all members of your former spouse's gender are bad, particularly not to your children of that gender.
Proactively protect your child from having to listen to harmful speech. Commit to respecting the best interests of your children regardless of what your former spouse does. 3. Spare your children the details.
Sharing too much information about how hard your life has become only confuses and burdens children. Giving your child too much information might be a subtle (or not so subtle) way of asking them to help you. Rather than going into the details of how little money is in your account, stick to a simple "we need to be smart about how we spend our money now." As the adult, you will need to find the best way to pay your bills. Even if it means getting a job, taking a loan, or asking someone to help out financially until you can make necessary changes. That is not your child's responsibility.
Remember that all the changes and issues that are troubling you are probably troubling them, too. If you make them feel that you are unable to handle it, they lose their sense of security. They need you to be there for them; don't make them feel that in addition to everything they're going through, they need to be there for the adults in their life.
Make your calls to your lawyer or your friends to vent about your ex at a time and place where your children are not in earshot.
Spare your children the details of the difficulties your divorce has created. They have their own difficulties to deal with. Do all of your venting out of your children's earshot. 4. Don't make your child your messenger.
There are numerous ways for former spouses to communicate. Some people choose to speak on the phone, others send text messages or e-mails to one another. Others might continue to communicate through their attorneys. All of these ways work. Using children as the "mailman" between the two parents does not work.
"Tell your father we have nothing to eat!" "Tell your mother that I also don't!" Such exchanges communicate a strong message of insecurity and vulnerability to a child. It leaves them wondering, "If both of the people who I would turn to for the basics don't have, what will happen to me?" Your role as a parent is to protect your child, not to put him in the middle of two warring factions. Children have a hard time separating the words and facial expressions that are spoken to them, and the fact that they were not meant for them, wspecially if they were meant for someone else who that they love.
Choose a healthy method of communication with your former spouse that keeps your child out of the middle. Hurting your spouse "through" your child is nothing more that hurting your child. 5. Let go of your former spouse.
It seems so obvious. You got divorced. The marriage is over. Some people who can't live together in love try to continue the relationship through hatred. One or both of you have given up on the marriage. If you feel that you were not given a choice about the divorce, ask yourself one question: "Would you really want to be in a committed relationship with someone who does not appreciate and value you?" The sooner you accept that the relationship is over, the sooner you can let go of the need to suffer. Some people mistakenly believe that if they suffer enough their ex will come back (and save them.) It is a painful fantasy to have to live with. Even if your ex did return, it is not the foundation for a healthy relationship.
Rather than interrogating your children about what your ex is up to, focus on what is going on in your house. If you really want to "get even," let it be by moving on and having a good life in spite of the divorce. When you put your energy into punishing or getting back at your former spouse, you are really only punishing yourself and your children.
Accept your divorce, let go of the need to "get back" at your ex. Focus on rebuilding your own life in a healthy and positive way. 6. Set boundaries and expectations for your children.
Set healthy boundaries for behavior in your home. If you are not sure what they should be under your particular circumstances, seek guidance from a someone who is a competent authority on child-rearing. Don't be afraid that if you set boundaries your children will prefer to be at your ex's house. Some children are quite adept at playing one parent against the other. Don't fall prey to that game. Share your expectations for your children regarding getting up, going to school, homework, chores, curfews, bedtime. Make your expectations clear and reasonable.
The rules for your home may differ from those at your ex's home. That's okay. "That's how your Mom/Dad chooses to do things. Here, we do things differently." If you are comfortable with the rules that you are setting, you increase the chances that your children will be, too. Explain that you are interested in what is good for them, and that you are only doing this because you care.
Strive for balance. On the one hand, you want your children to be responsible and functional. At the same time, you want to encourage your children to continue to enjoy their childhood. If your child seems to be unable to enjoy him or herself, or if you find yourself feeling sorry for your children, speak to a qualified therapist.
Don't be afraid to set boundaries that reflect the values of your home. Encourage your children to enjoy their childhood. 7. Keep the lines of communication to your children open.
Be there to listen. Don't judge or tell your child how to feel. Validate how they are feeling now, while pointing out to them that they may not always feel that way. Time has a way of changing things. Let your child know that you are always there for them. Don't ask questions that will require your child to point a finger at your former spouse. Ask your child if he or she would prefer to talk about those difficulties with an impartial adult, such as a therapist or an adult family friend.
Many times as a marriage is unraveling, children develop the belief that if only they could be "good" then their parents would stay married. For those children, the marriage's failure is confirmation that they just weren't "good" enough. Communicate to your child that the divorce was not his or her fault. Even if your child says that they never thought that it was, it will be reassuring to hear that you don't think so.
Your child might be quiet and may not want to share any feelings. Respect that. If you think that it might be related to a lack of emotional vocabulary, help your child develop one. As you read to your child, ask him or her what he thinks the character is feeling at different points in the book. Inject your own thoughts, "Well, if I were Winnie the Pooh, I would be sad that Tiger didn't invite me to his birthday party." Then talk about the choices available to Winnie the Pooh.
Be there to listen to your children's emotions without judgment. Make sure your child know the divorce was not their fault. 8. Become a Bigger person.
Proactively choose who you want to be after a divorce. Set short term, medium and long term goals for your yourself and for your family. Divorce creates the possibility for a new beginning. Let go of the past, and of blaming or complaining. It is over. Only today is significant. Decide who you want to be, starting today. What will it take for you to get there?
Get your own therapist so that you are not tempted to have your children fill that role. A good therapist can help you to process what has happened in your marriage and afterwards. Divorce is a loss that needs to be mourned. Respect that your loss is different from your child's. Model that it is okay to get help to talk out problems. By dealing with your difficult feelings and getting through them you can become a bigger person from the experience.
Being a bigger person means letting go of competition. The competing game is one where everyone loses. What will be etched in your children's memory for life is not who bought them the most toys, but who had values that they could respect. Care enough about your children to guide them onto the path of success in life. Your children need you – your time, your attention, your understanding and your encouragement. Understand that anything that you do that hurts your child's other parent, will hurt your child. Limit what you are willing to do to acquire their love and allegiance.
Decide who you want to be in your post-divorce reality. Create a map of out how to get there. Let go of competition. Model becoming a bigger person. 9. Create safety.
Regardless of how often you see your children, make your home a place of safety. Your home should be a place where children are respected, cared for, shown love and acceptance and taught responsibility. It does not matter what is going on at your ex's house. In fact, if you feel that there is not enough safety at your ex's house, the safety you create only becomes that much more important.
Be responsible. Be there when you say you are going to be there. Do what you say you are going to do. Apologize when you let your child down. It is better not to commit to something that you will not be able to do, for this erodes trust.
It is the parent's responsibility to make sure that there is food in the house. A child who doesn't have what to eat cannot concentrate in school. Parents have the job of creating a structure for cleanliness and order in the home. A child that can't find their shoes in the mess, will have a hard time getting to school on time. A child with no bedtime routine will struggle through the next day's activities.
Safety means showing your child respect, love and acceptance. Say what you will do, and do what you say. A safe home means providing food, shelter and structure for your child. 10. Teach resilience.
Resilience is one of the most valuable gifts a parent can give a child. Show your child that even when things get hard you and your children can get through the difficulties without falling apart. Teach your child that everything happens for a reason. There is a silver lining to every cloud. Develop your and their ability to access the good in everything that happens. Believe that this experience, like any test, is an opportunity for growth. Show through your example how to use a tough time as a stepping stool, rather than an obstacle. Model patience, flexibility and acceptance for your children. Encourage them to take little steps towards growth.
Help children to build resilience by staying connected to family and friends. Find "big brothers" or "big sisters" to be there for your children. Encourage your children to do things that help them feel accomplished. Encourage them to look for and develop their strengths. Use hopeful language, talk about meaning. When you believe that you can do something, you can. When you believe that you can't, you won't. Speak the language of positivity. Your belief in a brighter future can help you and your children to really have one.
Help your child develop resilience skills to take with them through life. Look for meaning. Speak the language of hope and possibility.
Blessings and curses. Stirring stuff from the Bible this week as Moses again cautions his congregation. The great prophet reminds them that living a life of goodness will bring them blessings while ignoring the Divine call must inexorably lead to a cursed existence.
Moses prefaces his admonition with the Hebrew word Re'eh, "See." See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. But why "see"? What is there to see? Did he show them anything at all? The Torah does not use flowery language just because it has a nice ring to it and sounds poetic. What was there to behold? Why Re'eh?
One answer is that how we look will, in itself, determine whether our lives will be blessed or cursed. How do we look at others, at ourselves? Our perspective, how we behold and see things, will result in our own lives being blessed or, G-d forbid, the opposite.
The saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once chanced upon a strong, young man who was brazenly eating on Yom Kippur. The Rabbi suggested that perhaps he was feeling ill. The fellow insisted he was in the best of health. Perhaps he had forgotten that today was the holy day of fasting? "Who doesn't know that today is Yom Kippur?" responded the young man. Perhaps he was never taught that Jews do not eat on this day? "Every child knows that Yom Kippur is a fast day, Rabbi!" Whereupon Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his eyes heavenward and said, "Master of the Universe, see how wonderful Your people are! Here is a Jew who, despite everything, refuses to tell a lie!" The Berditchever was always able to look at others with a compassionate, understanding and benevolent eye.
How do we view the good fortune enjoyed by others? Are we happy for them, or do we look at them with begrudging envy? How do we look at ourselves and our own shortcomings? Are we objectively truthful or subjectively slanted? "He is a stingy, rotten good for nothing. Me? I am just careful about how I spend my money." "She is a bore of bores, anti-social. Me? I just happen to enjoy staying at home." "He is as stubborn as an ox! Me? I am a determined person."
Clearly, the manner in which we look at our world and those around us will have a major impact on the way life will treat us. Quite justifiably, Moses says, "See." For how we see things in life will undoubtedly affect life's outcomes.
The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), once told how when he was a young child he asked his father: "Why does a person have two eyes?" "The right eye," his father replied, "is to be used lovingly, when looking at a fellow Jew; the left eye is to be used discerningly, when looking at sweets or other objects that are not that important in the grand scheme of things."
(When I was in yeshivah, the same building also housed a synagogue where we would often interact with the adult men who would come to the daily minyan. One particular gentleman, may he rest in peace, always seemed to us rather cantankerous, what you might call a grumpy old man. I cannot remember whether he was actually a bit cross-eyed or not, but we referred to him as "left-eyed Sam" because he always seemed to be looking at us students with that proverbial left eye.)
The Parshah that is entitled Re'eh, "See," is a perennial reminder to all of us that even our vision can bring virtue or vice. Let us look at the world correctly and invite the blessings of G-d into our lives.
I think I get the point, but what of the meaning of someone acting as described out of a sense of duty, not feeling?
Marc: A brief answer to you question
Judaism values action more than thoughts and believes that action leads to thoughts. If you want to be charitable give to charity and you feel more charitable. I have certainly found this true in my own life and any psychology I have studied
Also I am going to be much happier if my husband treats me well all the time even if sometimes he is just being dutiful. He will probably feel more loving to me than he if treats me badly and we will both be happier.
I believe marriage/love is a commitment beyond fluctuating feelings of desire, attraction, and loving feelings.
If you are speaking of sibling and parents. I would try to increase positive interactions and then feelings of love would follow.
Happily married couples are committed to the goal of giving each other pleasure. You must stay focused on the ultimate goal -- which is to give each other pleasure and not cause pain. It sounds simple enough, but can be very hard in practice.
For just one day, try to maintain a consciousness with everything you do, by asking yourself, "Is what I'm about to do or say going to cause my spouse pain or pleasure?"
To monitor how you're doing, each of you should make two lists: One for all the things your spouse does to cause you pain, and another which identifies what you would like your spouse to do to give you pleasure. Swap lists, and now you know exactly what to do and what not to do. No more mind reading!
HABIT #2 - CREATE MUTUALLY SATISFYING LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP RITUALS
Rituals are habits that build and strengthen a relationship. One couple had the following "greeting ritual" at night when the husband came home:
He would first greet the dog and hug the kids. Then he would go into his bedroom, change his clothes, and watch the news, followed by a visit to the bathroom. Finally he would wander into the kitchen and mutter something to his wife, for example, "Let’s eat fast so we can get to the PTA meeting!"
One might say that such a ritual was not exactly increasing their love for each other.
So after watching how their dog greeted them every time they came home, this couple decided to come up with a new ritual. Elated dogs jump all over their masters and lick them. So they decided to greet each other like dogs. They started jumping up and down and hugging each other. They really got into it. They had fun and the kids got a kick out it, too.
Our actions affect the way we feel. How are your greeting and good-bye rituals?
Here are some rituals you and your spouse should consider working on:
* Daily e-mailing each other with a compliment.
* Daily phone call. (especially important for husbands to do)
* Anniversaries deserve special attention. Plan to do something both of you really enjoy, rather than feeling stuck two days before your anniversary arrives and then running out to get some flowers.
* Before you turn in for the night, try saying two compliments to each other. This means coming up with something new each night!
* It is essential to have a "date night" at least every other week.
HABIT #3 - CREATE A SAFE PLACE TO DISCUSS ISSUES OPENLY AND HONESTLY
Abusive relationships are ones in which you are afraid to express feelings and opinions. Happily married couples create a sense of safety that allows each person to feel comfortable expressing his/her feelings, problems, and dissatisfactions. This sense of safety is the foundation upon which a couple negotiates things that are bothering them.
It's common for each person to come into a relationship with certain expectations about how things will be. But without the ability to communicate and negotiate, these issues become sources for power struggles that almost always damage the relationship.
HABIT #4 - USE GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS TO RESOLVE HOT ISSUES
The technique that every couple must learn is called the "listener-speaker technique." The problem with the way most couples argue is that they try to find solutions before fully giving each other the chance to say what they need to say. The speaker-listener technique ensures that before you can engage in solution talk, each person feels they have been fully heard.
Here's how it works: One person holds an object in their hand which symbolizes that he or she has the floor. While one person has the floor, the other person can only listen by repeating back or paraphrasing what the other person said. The listener can stop the speaker if s/he is saying too much for the listener to repeat back.
When couples use this technique, it automatically ensures that each person will be able to say everything s/he needs to say without interruption, rebuttals, criticism or attack. Only after each person has been fully "heard," do you then proceed to problem solving.
HABIT #5 - CONSTANTLY TURN TOWARD EACH OTHER, RATHER THAN AWAY
When you pass your spouse sitting at her desk doing some work, do you stop and rub her shoulders, give her a kiss on the cheek, and whisper something nice in her ear -- or do you just walk on by? This is the meaning of "turning toward" as opposed to "turning away."
Marriage research shows that happily married couples do a lot of turning toward each other whenever they get the chance. They look for ways to be physically and emotionally close to each other. Turning toward each other means making each other your number one priority.
Another important aspect of turning toward each other is doing things together that you both enjoy. Taking walks together, drinking coffee together after dinner, learning Torah together, and listening to music together, are all examples of how couples turn toward each other.
A powerful way to turn toward each other is to show the ultimate respect -- by standing when your spouse enters the room. Sounds old-fashioned? It is. But it's a powerful way to turn toward your spouse, make him/her feel very special.
Couples who "turn away" from each other don't develop closeness. It's a basic principle stated in the Talmud, "A good deed begets another good deed. A bad deed begets another bad deed."
HABIT #6 - INFUSE YOUR LIVES WITH SHARED MEANING
I often ask singles the following question: "After you're married, what do you plan to do for the next 40 years?" And I usually follow-up by saying, "And besides having fun, what else will you do with each other?"
Human beings need meaning like we need water. Happily married couples enrich their relationship by sharing meaningful experiences with each other. The ultimate in meaning is to share a common philosophy of life and life purpose. This is why couples who observe Shabbat together, and learn Torah together, have great sources of meaning built into their lives.
Some other specific ways of infusing your relationship with meaning are visiting the sick together, making a shiva call together, or preparing a meal together for a mother who just gave birth.
When couples share truly meaningful experiences, they bond on a deeper level.
These six habits may seem small, but when practiced intentionally and consistently, they will form the backbone of a deeply fulfilling marriage.
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My Husband and the Suitcase by Melissa Groman, LCSW After 18 years of marriage, shouldn't my husband do a little mind reading?
These are the moments that marriages are made of, the millions of small decisions that we make that shape us as we go through the regular, everyday stuff of life. Such was the case of the suitcase in my living room.
My oldest daughter is about to leave for a year abroad in Israel and my mother gifted us three pieces of luggage, two of which were selected to make the journey to the Holy Land. The third would stay behind and reside in our attic until needed. The two chosen suitcases were moved to my daughter’s bedroom, and the one remaining stood tall and lonely in the middle of our living room.
In my house operates what I lovingly refer to as “the law of infinity.” This means that if something is left in the middle of a room, or on the steps, or in a hallway, it will stay there for infinity unless I personally pick it up (or direct someone to do so). Over the years, in deep and abiding gratitude (seriously) for my happy crew, I bend and lift and collect and arrange and sometimes ask my husband or one of my kids to move the sock, put the Lego in the basket, or the stroller back on the porch. I happily accept this as a privilege of motherhood.
But somehow, the suitcase was needling me. After all, it’s bigger than a sock. My husband was part of the conversation that concluded that this poor suitcase would not have the merit of traveling to Israel (its only crime being that it was eight pounds heavier than the others). So he knew it needed to be taken upstairs. For a few days, it sat in the middle of the living room. Then I moved it to the side, and that’s when the trouble started. It began with my lower self asking me why my husband has not taken it upstairs yet (my lower self did not ask it that nicely). My higher self said, “Oh just take it upstairs yourself. Stop being so silly.” To which some middle part of me said, “Oh leave it, he’ll do it when he gets home.”
That was Wednesday, and by Friday I was arguing with myself again. “But you teach this stuff,” said my higher self. “You know men don’t read minds. Just ask him to do it.” To which my lower self said, “Ha, after 18 years of marriage, he should do a little mind reading.” Higher self: “He is busy working and learning and helping with the kids. He cleans up every Friday night after the meal. He mows the lawn; he balances the check book; he gets up with the baby in the middle of the night.” Lower self: “So what, they are his kids too. You work; you cook.”
Quickly my selves had begun debating the merits of my husband, and thrown us into a competition for meritorious contributions to the household. I could see it going downhill fast.
Lower self: “If he loved you, he would know you needed the suitcase moved.”
Higher self: “Oh please, if you loved him, you would not bother with this nonsense.”
Friday afternoon, just before he came home from work, I moved the suitcase to the bottom of the staircase, where it would clearly block anyone and everyone from using the stairs. Lower self, one. Higher self, zero.
Friday night, the suitcase had been leaned heavily over on its side (not by me) where everyone could (and did) step around it without too much effort.
Comes Shabbos morning. The house is quiet; it’s me and the suitcase. Lunch guests are coming soon.
Lower self: “Can you believe it?”
Higher self: “Please, enough already just take it upstairs yourself.”
Lower self: “Move it to his bed. He’ll probably just sleep on it for six months without even noticing it’s there.”
Higher self: “If you asked him to move it, you know he would. He always does. Then you say thank you, and you get good karma.”
Lower self: “Forget karma, I’ll bet it stays there for another three months.”
Turns out that higher self won in the end. When he came home from shul I asked if he would please take the suitcase upstairs. “Sure,” was the answer I got. And he did. Of course lower self was not to be silenced completely. When he came back down I asked him (nicely), “How come you didn’t take it up sooner?”
“I didn’t notice it.”
Lower self wanted me to retort that he should have noticed. That he should notice me more, appreciate me more, pay me more attention. My lower self can be quite adept at carrying things a bit too far.
Behind him, my eye catches the bright yellow of Calla Lilies (my favorite flowers) that my husband brought home for Shabbos. They are winking at me from the dining room table.
I look back towards the stairs and smile, as much to myself as to husband and say, “Thank you, honey.”
When we are truly engaged in giving and receiving love, we don’t ponder such philosophical questions. It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually is. For example, nobody sits down to a full meal and asks, “What is a pastrami sandwich?”
It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually isSo, if we’re even asking the question, “What is love?” it probably means that we don’t feel completely loved, or that someone doesn’t feel completely loved by us.
But since we’re asking, let’s try to answer the question.
“Am I Loved?” Vs. “Do I Love?” The two scenarios that usually cause us to contemplate “What is love?” give meaning to the question. Either we wonder, “Am I loved?” or we ask, “Do I love?”
It is easier to first address the “What is love?” question in terms of the love we feel coming toward us. If we understand how to recognize when we are being loved, we can also learn to recognize our love for another.
When we are loved, we tend to feel it intuitively in our guts. But how does it work? Is there an extrasensory perception in the heart that is able to read the feelings in another person’s heart?
In fact, it’s really not that ethereal or supernatural. On the contrary, it’s pretty practical and down-to-earth. Our hearts take cues from our senses. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch or smell teaches us about our universe. We don’t need to contemplate or ask questions. Our sensory organs report to our brains, and our brains interpret the data and send the report to our hearts. So, if we see a loving smile, hear loving words, or feel a loving touch, the brain processes this information and concludes, “Hey, we are being loved right now!”
In short, when we are loved, there is tangible proof. It’s not an abstract thought or feeling, it’s concrete and evidenced. As King Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs (27:19), “As water reflects a man’s face back to him, so is the heart of one man to another.” This means, when you are treated with love, your heart feels that love.
Love is an Action Now we can address the second part of the “What is love” quandary—how to know if we love someone else?
The answer is straightforward. When we behave lovingly towards someone, it means we love that person.
When we ask a question like “What is love?” we assume that we’re trying to define an abstract concept similar to “What is freedom?” or “What is good fortune?” But truthfully, love is not a concept. It’s an action.
To ask, “What is love?” is like asking, “What is running?” or “What is swimming?” If you’ve ever seen someone run or swim, you know exactly what running and swimming entail.
In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an actionThe Hebrew word for love, ahavah, reveals this true definition of love, for the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which means “to give.” In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an action. If you love your beloved, then you must show it. By the same token, if you are loved, that will show, too. You will recognize it by the way you are treated.
G‑d Teaches Us How to Love G‑d commands us (Deut. 6:5), “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d.” This precept leads us to voice the age-old question, “How can we be commanded to feel a feeling?” Either you feel it or you don’t, right?
An answer offered by our tradition explains that we are not being ordered to feel a feeling in the abstract sense. Rather, the command is for us to behave lovingly. In this light, “And you shall love,” actually means, “You shall perform acts of love.”
This is the true test: action, deeds, performance.
Feelings can be deceptive. Sometimes, what we perceive as love may in fact be another emotion. But actions cannot be mistaken. So, rather than ask, “What is love?” we must ask, “Do I perform acts of love for my beloved?” and “Does my beloved perform acts of love for me?”
European-Based US Marines Visit Israel for Training with IDF Posted on August 14, 2011 Last week, a company of US Marines conquered a module city in Israel’s Negev desert, the final act in a month-long tactical training session with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) infantry instructors. At the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center, the US Marines were instructed to conquer the module city in a methodically selective and surgical manner while minimizing harm to uninvolved civilians.
US Marines Visit Israel for Training with IDF. Photo: Cpl. Florit Shoihet, IDF Spokesperson Unit
The US Marines left their European base and flew to Israel for a joint US-Israeli infantry exercise, receiving training in urban warfare, reconnaissance, and more. In addition to the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center, the US Marines also visited other IDF facilities. Platoon Sergeant Robert Hattenbach comments on training with Israeli soldiers: The [Israeli] instructors…took the time to explain to us what’s been going on in Israel and we realized that Israeli people are just like us.
US Marines Visit Israel for Training with IDF. Photo: Cpl. Florit Shoihet, IDF Spokesperson Unit
The IDF Engineer Corps built the module city with a city center, hospital, grand mosque, local shops, paved roads and hundreds of structures, including doorways. Constructed to simulate an urban battle environment, the force-on-force training facility provides Israeli soldiers and visiting armed forces with realistic training that is needed to prepare soldiers for potential urban scenarios. In the last couple of years, a record number of US troops participated in a series of joint military exercises in Israel, an important component in the close strategic cooperation between the Israeli and US militaries.
IS.REAL is a docu-reality web series which follows the lives of 4 young Israelis. The project was initiated by students from the Tel Aviv University. The "Is.Real"series will cover the lives of four young Israelis from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds. Through documenting their daily lives, their exposure will provide a fresh new insight into the "real Israel" that isn't shown in news stories.
There are two types of people: the idealists and the realists. The idealistic folks dream of a world with social justice, body-soul synchrony, environmental conservation, and of living with higher consciousness. The realistic people invest in practical and obtainable goals like financial security, time management and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Personally, I resonate with both the idealist and the realist. I think we're probably all a composite of both, albeit a little more of one side than the other.
To be a true idealist you cannot consider the resistance that you may encounter while implementing your dreams. Pure idealism follows the dictates of truth alone, and doesn't bend to environmental or social constraints.
Pure idealism follows the dictates of truth alone, and doesn't bend to environmental or social constraintsOn the other hand, without realistic thinking my dreams would stay in the world of fantasy, never tested, never validated in the real world, and never helping anyone.
In 1940, when the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was on the boat from war-torn Europe to America, he called over one of his aides, Rabbi Hodakov, and instructed him to take out pen and paper; the Rebbe would dictate, and he would write. The Rebbe then proceeded to outline his plan for creating a flourishing Judaism in America. He described how he would create three institutions upon his arrival in the new country – a publishing house, and an educational arm: one for children, another for adults – and he outlined the details of each institution.
After dictating his plans, the Rebbe said, "You would perhaps think that I would wait until getting to America to begin formulating my plans. Then, I could evaluate the needs of the American community and plan accordingly. No! Then I would be influenced by what I see, and my vision for America would be tainted. I want a European (uncompromised) Judaism, not an American (compromised) Judaism!"
Our life's work is to integrate our highest ideals into the most practical framework of life, say the kabbalists. And this merge requires integrity and lots of creative work.
What will the world be like in the Messianic Era? The kabbalists characterize it very simply: the fusion of the loftiest ideals for humanity with a pragmatic lifestyle; a fully expressed soul that lives comfortably in a physical body. That's what they call redemptive living.
G‑d didn't allow Moses to enter the Land of Israel. He begged and pleaded with G‑d to forgive him and allow him entrance. G‑d had forgiven the Jewish people when Moses pleaded on their behalf, but when it came to Moses' own mistake, G‑d did not budge.
G‑d didn't want him in Israel, sin or no sin. The sin seemed like a convenient pretext; bottom line, Moses wasn't going.
Which is hard to swallow in light of the fact that Moses never wanted the job of leader in the first place, and yet was an incredibly dedicated leader for over 40 years. And now, when the journey was about to culminate and the nation would finally settle in a land of their own, Moses was excluded.
Moses' power was such that if he had led the Jews into Israel, things would have been simpleThe Talmud compares Moses to the light of the sun and Joshua to the light of the moon.1 Think about the sun's intensity. When it shines its rays, everything is entirely illuminated. The moon is more subtle. The sky stays black when it shines; the night retains its dark intrigue.
Moses' power was such that if he had led the Jews into Israel, things would have been simple. They would have conquered the land without great challenge. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple its holiness would have been so intense that it could have never been destroyed.
Which sounds great!
But G‑d didn't want it to be that simple. Yes Moses was dynamic, and could outshine darkness, but then the Jews would be passive and let Moses do the work for them. In order to take ownership of the land, they'd have to be active participants.
Joshua was a perfect candidate. He was a strong a leader, but not strong enough to banish darkness entirely. Together they would work to resolve the many challenges that confronted them and ultimately to settle the land.
The people had a vision—to settle in the Promised Land. Practically, this vision was very hard to implement. Other people were living in the land. It would be hard for them to self-govern, to get along. Moses' leadership would have ironed out these problems. But G‑d didn't want them to miss out on the healthy process of planting seeds of vision into the rough soil of reality. And that they'd have to do without Moses.
The Ten Commandments in Exodus are about G‑d; when they're repeated, they're about the impression they made belowAs if to emphasize how sacred is the fusion of vision with real life living, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy Moses repeats the Ten Commandments. In his rendition, however, the experience at Sinai seems so different. In the initial account, in the Book of Exodus, the Torah describes Sinai as filled with smoke while G‑d descended upon it in a fire. The whole nation trembled. Thunder and lightening preceded G‑d's words. After hearing G‑d speak to them directly, the people begged Moses that he should transmit G‑d's words, because every time He uttered a word, it knocked them out.
Yet here in the second rendition, Moses barely makes mention of all the fanfare. What he does describe is the impression that the experience at Sinai had on the nation. "You were shown to know that G‑d is your G‑d... On the earth G‑d showed His great fire and His words you heard... Face to face G‑d spoke to you."
The Ten Commandments in Exodus are all about G‑d; when they are repeated in Deuteronomy, they're about the impression they made here below. Together they create the charge to thread the lofty idealism of Torah into the reality of life.
This successful fusion is what the sages call the "Torah of Moshiach."2 FOOTNOTES 1.
Bava Batra 75a. According to Rashi (on Numbers 27:20, based on the Sifri), this statement has a literal basis. Upon descending Mount Sinai, Moses' face shone with rays of light (see Exodus 34:29). Years later, when Moses officially designated Joshua as his successor, he granted him "from his glory" (Numbers, ibid.)—but not all his glory. This means that though Joshua's countenance also shone, it paled in comparison to Moses' light as the moon pales in comparison to the sun. 2.
Based on the Rebbe's talk delivered on Shabbat Parshat Va'etchanan 5751 (1991).
Q. The S&P downgraded America’s credit rating, the country remains engaged in two wars, millions are unemployed and approval ratings for Congress are at historic lows. It was against this backdrop that Texas Governor Rick Perry held The Response, a prayer event in which he prayed for the economy, among other areas of ”darkness” in America. In a critique of the revival, Frank Bruni wrote in his New York Times column that when it comes to fixing out country’s problems, “faith and prayer just won’t cut it. In fact, they’ll get in the way.” Is Bruni right? A. Time to ring in the jokes. You know, like the guy who prays to win the lottery until God finally says “It would help to buy a ticket!” Or the man in the flood who, as the water level rises, is so confident in his faith that he ignores the rescuers in the boat and the helicopter, proclaiming “God will save me!” When the flood overtakes him and he drowns he finds himself in heaven. Crestfallen, he says to God, “Why didn’t you rescue me? I trusted you.” “What do you want?” answers God, “I sent you a boat and helicopter!” These jokes make fun of people who believe that prayer is all one needs. There is an old Yiddish saying, “Love is good. Love with noodles is better.” Prayer is good. Prayer with action is better. To say it will “get in the way” misunderstands prayer and misunderstands those who pray. People do not pray as a substitute for action, but as a supplement to action. The greatest philosopher of Judaism, Maimonides, was a physician. He did not advise his patients to pray alone. Indeed he specifically inveighed against the practice of using the Torah as a magical talisman to cure illness. People think, wrote Maimonides, that the words of the Torah are a healing of the body, but they are not; they are a healing of the spirit. Pray, but also go to the doctor. Surely we can all agree that the spirit of this country cries out for healing. We need it very badly and for people to pray together is a powerful statement of spiritual solidarity. There was one element of the rally that troubled me; it ought not to be specifically Christian rally. As a Jew, I wish to be included in any prayer that the government sponsors. But to maintain that prayer, which is the mobilization of the human spirit toward God, is a hindrance to solving our national ills is fatuous. There is a lot of work to do. Let us pray we have the courage and wisdom to do it. Buy the ticket and send the boat. DAVID WOLPE | AUG 10, 2011 10:01 AM
I had the dream again. I’m running child clutched to my chest holding in arms and legs to avoid the bullets that may come. Hoping this body is thick enough to protect him one last time.
Footfalls of the soldiers so much faster than mine are close now. I see the fence. Run faster kicking dust and bone fragments at the soldiers now just out of reach.
They reach my shoulder wrench me back sideways. But the fence is right there! I throw him with the summoned strength of my lost generation. Hoist his bottom, just over as the soldiers bear down. His terrified, screaming face thankfully on the other side is the last thing I see
I called my grandmother this weekend. She sounded tired, cried recently. She and Zeide were watching a documentary on Auschwitz. She tells me again that she would give everything she owns for just one picture of her mother.
I grew up dreaming about my Prince Charming, besotted with the idea of “love” as I understood it. I knew my grandmother had been married by the age of nineteen to a man who absolutely adored her, and their love was a lasting one.
On Sundays, my grandfather used to take my grandmother and me out for ice cream. The two of them would share a cone and smile at each other. I remember the way he looked at her and the way she returned his gaze. To him, she was clearly the most beautiful woman alive, and I could tell by his expression that he felt lucky to be married to her. As they passed the ice cream cone back and forth, I knew my grandmother felt cherished and protected by my grandfather. Even after so many years of marriage, their love seemed fresh and new.
From watching my grandparents interact, love seemed easyFrom watching my grandparents interact, love seemed easy. I developed the conviction that love was easily attainable, and I became consumed with the idea of romance. I read romantic novels, watched romantic movies and dreamed romantic dreams. One thing was certain: if love was involved, I was hooked.
But as I grew up, I began to see problems in the world of love. I watched people compromising themselves for romances that were obviously temporary. I saw momentary pleasure taking the place of true intimacy. I met children and adults who had been thoroughly hurt by their parents’ bad marriages. I watched couples separate after years of dating because they knew they could never marry each other, and that left me perplexed because I had always assumed that marriage was the goal of dating. I found it ironic that in a world obsessed with analyzing and discussing others’ relationships, it has become tough to find good relationship role models.
And I wondered: is the romance of my grandparents’ generation already an ancient phenomenon? Does my generation, witnessing skyrocketing divorce rates and illicit affairs plastered across the media, even believe that true love is possible? Do we realize what we are missing?
A Divine Relationship The Jewish nation is likened to a bride. We found “Mr. Right” in G‑d, but through our actions we grew apart from Him. Consequently, we lost the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, our strongest connection to Him. We have become used to life without a Temple, and to us it seems normal, but it is not. We are missing out on a deep, soulful relationship with G‑d, and that is something to cry about.
In fact, we have a designated day to grieve over this loss: Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the month of Av. Perhaps, if we take a closer look at this day of fasting and commemoration, we’ll better understand how to fix and maintain the important relationships in our lives.
Night of Sadness After the Jewish people escaped from Egypt, we needed a homeland. G‑d promised us the land of Israel, and we began to journey through the desert in the direction of the Holy Land. But before we were to enter the land, the people approached Moses and requested he send ahead a group of men to scout out the layout of the land and its inhabitants, so that they could strategize how to conquer this new and foreign country.
Moses agreed, and assigned spiritual leaders from each of the twelve tribes to act as spies. When they returned, the entire nation assembled to hear their reports. Ten of the leaders publicly pointed out why the Jewish people would not be successful in acquiring the Land. Their words planted seeds of doubt in the minds of the Jewish people, and some began to wonder if they might have done better to remain in slavery in Egypt. That night the Jewish people cried, afraid of the land and afraid of its inhabitants.
We have become used to life without a TempleThis night of sadness took place on the ninth of Av, a day which has become synonymous with tragedy and mourning. The sin of the spies is considered the source of all the other tragedies which would occur on Tisha B’Av in later years.
Lack of Trust
The reason the sin of the spies was considered so grave was because the Jewish people lost faith in G‑d so quickly, when they had just been privy to open revelations of G‑dliness. He performed miracle after miracle: He bombarded the evil Egyptians with plagues, split the Red Sea, and revealed Himself at Mount Sinai. But still, we lost faith in Him.
The cornerstone of any relationship is trust. Without trust in G‑d, we ultimately permanently damaged our relationship with Him.
Physicality Versus Spirituality The deeper reason the Jews in the desert cried upon hearing the spies’ report was a desire to remain close to G‑d. Life was good in the desert. Miracles happened on a daily basis. The Jewish people knew that entering Israel would involve returning to reality, toiling on the land instead of receiving manna from Heaven, thus having less time to spend studying the Torah.
But what we failed to understand is that entering the Land would enable us to live in the ultimate reality. G‑d wants us to live in this physical world and use its very physicality for spiritual purposes. Our mission in the world is to infuse our surroundings with spirituality and G‑dliness. The spiritual vortex of the world is Israel, Jerusalem in particular, and specifically the Holy Temple. The ultimate relationship connects the physical and spiritual worlds, enhancing each of them. Unfortunately, the Jews in the desert didn’t realize that entering the Land of Israel would have accomplished that, creating a better reality than they had in the desert.
I once asked a rabbi why the Western Wall is so important to the Jewish people. Shouldn’t our holiest site be Mount Sinai? After all, Mount Sinai is the mountain where G‑d spoke to Moses and gave him the Torah. It is there that each and every Jew heard firsthand the voice of the Almighty. Yet this mountain is not considered the holiest place for a Jew. That title is reserved for the place where the Holy Temple stood.
The mission of a Jewish person is to take physical matter and make it holyThe mission of a Jewish person is to take physical matter and make it holy. In the desert and at Mount Sinai, G‑d spoke to us, and that was incredible! But we were like infants being fed by our mother; we were not yet partners with the Almighty. The Temple site is so holy because there we built a home for G‑d out of our own blood, sweat and raw materials. It is the place where we worked together with the Almighty to bring His presence down to earth, thus infusing the physical matter with holiness. Holiness with G‑d is a more mature relationship than we had at Mount Sinai. It is a love affair. It takes two to make it work.
Where Did We Go Wrong? The Jews in the desert were being noncommittal. They had the ultimate romance with G‑d, who granted them constant miracles. We had found our perfect match, and yet we were scared to move on to the next stage of the relationship. Our greatest flaw was that we did not want to grow. We wanted the overwhelming passion of new love, and were afraid to move into an unknown future.
The romantic stage of a relationship is indeed wonderful, but it doesn’t last, because romance is not true love. True love is based in reality. It is when we share the mundane experiences of life with our partner that we learn to truly love. Our shared moments and growth are our most intimate, and our partnership makes the world a better place.
A good relationship is not about lust, attraction or “me.” A strong relationship is borne when both partners focus on giving, and exploring what’s special about “us.” The ultimate partnership is between two people who can “build” with each other. G‑d, too, wants to partner with us in building. The Temple can stand only as long as we keep building it through nurturing our relationship to the divine.
Relationship breakups are tough. Whenever a relationship dissolves in books or movies, the woman ends up sitting on a couch and eating ice cream to “get over” her partner. But, we observe Tisha B’Av because we can never “get over” the relationship we have lost with G‑d. This relationship is not disposable. It is irreplaceable.
And yet, we cry. We cry because we know He wants a relationship with us, but we messed up. We cry because the home that we built with G‑d is destroyed, and we want to build it with Him again. We cry because, even 2,000 years after our falling out, we still crave His love and yearn to be as in love with Him as He is with us.
Rectifying the Divine Relationship We have the chance to be the couple who emanates loveMost importantly, we don’t cry because we feel hopeless. We cry to change ourselves. We cry because through tears we hope to grow. This world was created for us to connect with G‑d, and we must cultivate our inner longing to unite with Him. Our relationships with each other are a taste of this divine relationship. With that in mind, how could we not direct every effort into developing and cultivating them? How can we settle for anything less?
Sometimes it can be difficult for us to relate to the loss of a Temple we never knew and a relationship with G‑d we never experienced. We don’t even know anyone who has known it!
But if we recognize the loss of the Temple as the loss of our greatest relationship, perhaps we can relate a bit more deeply. We’ve missed 2,000 years of anniversaries.
We have the chance to be the couple who emanates love. The pair whom people stop to ask: “What’s your secret?” We have the chance to be the light unto the nations—but we can’t do it without partnering with the ultimate source of the light.
Joe and Gertrude were bickering loudly as they drove down I-95 in their ’82 Cadillac. “Look at us now,” shouted Gertrude, clutching the passenger door. “I sit on one end of the seat and you on the other.” She sighed with nostalgia. “Remember when we’d drive as newlyweds—we’d sit closer together.”
“Gertrude, my dear,” her husband interjected, “I’ve been sitting in the same spot for the past thirty years—right in front of the steering wheel. You’re the one who’s shifted over . . .”
Don’t all dynamic relationships have their ups and downs? I’d think it would be no different in our relationship with G‑d. There are moments of love and gratitude, and moments of anger and frustration.
One such painful drama that Moses rehashed was the negative report about the land of Israel given by ten of the spies who scouted the land thirty-eight years earlier. Frightened that they’d be unable to conquer the land, they discouraged the people from even trying. Pandemonium spread. The thought of an impossible, even suicidal battle against the strong Canaanite nations was petrifying.
Moses vividly paints the atmosphere of fear and paranoia:
You spoke slanderously in your tents. You said, “G‑d took us out of the land of Egypt because He hates us! [He wishes] to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites and destroy us!” (Deuteronomy 1:27)
What a radical thing to say: “G‑d took us out of Egypt because He hates us”! Yet, when the story of the spies played out in real time (in the Book of Numbers), the Torah doesn’t mention this radical accusation.
Here’s how the Israelites’ reaction is described in Numbers (14:2):
All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert.”
Although pretty despondent, there’s no mention of G‑d hating them.
So, come Deuteronomy, and Moses is not just repeating the story, he’s adding a new element to the crisis.
Notice that Moses qualifies his words: “You spoke slanderously in your tents.” They didn’t make this ridiculous, slanderous claim publicly; they didn’t dare. It was only after everyone had gone back to their tents that they furtively whispered and complained that G‑d hated them.
There were two types of slander. The claims that they made publicly were based on a reality—the odds would be against them if they battled for Israel. But in private they spoke a slander that was patently untrue. G‑d didn’t hate them, He loved them, and He’d shown His love for them countless times.
In order to mask your resentment towards Him, you projected the hatred onto HimWhy does Moses feel the need to disclose their furtive remarks? According to the biblical commentator Rashi, Moses was telling them the following: “He [G‑d] loved you, but you hated Him, as in the common saying: ‘What is in your heart about your beloved, is in his heart about you.’”
It was really you who were disappointed and angry at G‑d, Moses explains. But in order to mask your resentment towards Him, you projected the hatred onto Him. You whispered that G‑d hates you, that He’s out to get you.
But does not the very aphorism that Rashi cites—“What is in your heart about your beloved, is in his heart about you”—contradict the present context? The Jews here “hated” G‑d, while G‑d maintained His love towards them. By all accounts, their hearts were far from reflecting one another!
But here’s how the Jews mirrored G‑d’s heart: “How unfair,” they lamented. “G‑d hates us, even though we love Him.” The crisis over the spies’ negative report wreaked havoc. On the surface of their consciousness the Jews felt that G‑d had rejected them, hated them. Lying under the surface was intense resentment towards G‑d for promising them a land that seemed impossible to conquer.
In fact, the opposite was true: G‑d loved them despite their resentment towards Him. Here’s where Rashi’s rule plays out precisely. “What is in your heart about your beloved is in his heart about you.”
Moses is making a powerful point. G‑d loves you even if you’re angry, resentful, or even hateful towards Him. And if you have a hard time believing this possible, remember your own experience: You, who thought that G‑d hated you even though you loved Him, know what it’s like to love unconditionally.
Moses wanted to bring this dynamic to their attention. G‑d’s love is unconditional. This knowledge is not only heart-warming, it’s also healing.
How often does this play out in our lives. Life is disappointing or frightening, and we immediately point the finger at G‑d: You hate me, even though I have nothing against You!
Moses brings a little objective self-awareness to the table.
Flip around your perspective and you’ll be able to empathize with G‑d’s experienceFlip around your perspective and you’ll be able to empathize with G‑d’s experience. He has nothing against you; in fact He loves you, despite the fact that you currently hate Him.
When we’re able to realize that G‑d loves us, despite the disappointments in our life, and despite our palpable bitterness towards Him, then the anger begins to melt away in the face of warmth and care. The circumstances may remain painful, but the anger begins to dissipate.
If we can experience this classic epiphany—that G‑d loves us, even as we wallow in pain and resentment—we will have no choice but to love Him back.1
FOOTNOTES 1. Based on the Rebbe’s teachings, recorded in Likkutei Sichot, vol. 34, pp. 17ff.
Baseless hatred stems from hating others for what we fear may be true about ourselves.
Getting from the house to school in the morning – or rather the two schools that my youngest sons attend – always takes a while. Shmuel, like a seven-year-old version of the English poet, William Wordsworth, stops to marvel at the wonders of nature; while Pinhas, five, comports himself like a young Isaac Newton, pausing to consider how things work. Today, a garbage pick-up fired both of their imaginations. Shmuel seemed to be readying a sonnet; Pinhas an engineering diagram. Yes, getting to school takes a long time.
Between the flights of sublimity and the mechanical inquiries, I pursue another topic, “How to Cross the Street.” First, an undergraduate course in semiotics: “What do the thick white lines on the pavement mean?” “What does the blue and white illuminated image of the pedestrian represent?” “Yes, this is the place to cross the street!”
So we stand and dutifully wait. One car zooms by; and then another. A young father, with an mp3 player – probably listening to a lecture – his five-year-old daughter in tow, crosses down the block, away from the pedestrian crossing. I see Pinhas wondering: What exactly is abba trying to pass off on us? “You don’t have to cross here,” he finally affirms, another car whizzing by: “Look at them.” He points to his father and daughter still in sight and already at the grocery store across the street, poised to buy a white roll and chocolate milk. Shmuel and Pinhas
I preempt the request I know is coming. “No, you can’t have lakhmania and choco, Mommy packed you a lunch.” And: “Just because other people do the wrong thing does not mean that it’s right.” Finally, a car stops, the driver waving us across benevolently. I nod in gratitude – in Israel, traffic regulations are often viewed as suggestions – “Thank you for abiding by the law.”
Pinhas is first to school today. Shmuel, sometimes shy, is reticent to accompany us, so he waits outside the school gates. A group of boys, pushing their heads through the metal bars, starts to tease him, even as I stand by: “You guys have a problem?” I ask, mimicking what boys typically say when taunting Shmuel, who has Down Syndrome. When I come back, Shmuel is still standing there. He looks confused, a departure from his wondrous happy, friendly self: one of the boys is standing with his tongue hanging out with a mocking stare.
When I return home, my wife asks: “What do you expect?” This was one of the schools that would not take Shmuel; why should we expect more from children than their teachers? Or, a principal who had told us – he has a niece with Down Syndrome, so he assured us, “I know” – that “mainstreaming is not good for special children.” Besides, he added, “it would give the school a bad name.”
The Torah enjoins, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in the same chapter of Leviticus, “You shall love the stranger.” Love the one with whom you identify, as well as the one who seems different from you. Rashi, the eleventh-century commentator who guides generations through difficult passages, writes that the Torah assumes one may come to hate the stranger because he has a “defect.” His deficiency, whatever it may be, arouses a desire to afflict him, or at least distance him.
But the verse continues: “You yourself were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” You see him as different, but he is just like you. The stranger’s so-called defect, Rashi writes, is your own. That characteristic which we are unable to acknowledge – too painful or unpleasant – we externalize in a hatred for others. We were once slaves in Egypt, “strangers in a strange land,” immersed in idolatry. So, we look at the stranger and project upon him that which we fear might be most true about ourselves. But we fear it – this is the Torah’s insight – because it is true. We instinctively hate the other for reminding us of the “defect” which is our own.
The answer to the question opening Hamlet – “Who’s there?” – is never simply answered. We have a natural propensity, the Torah tells us, to be in denial about our selves, but also to project onto others the perceived shortcomings from which we most want to escape. We hate the thing which – in a way we cannot yet face – helps to define who we are. Jewish prayer and ritual, as a corrective to those inclinations, refer to the God who took the Jewish people out of Egypt, not the God Who created the heavens and the earth, emphasizing: “Remember who you are, remember from where you came.” Your past – and you – are also exceptional. The verse concludes: “I am your God” – Rashi explains, both your God and the stranger’s. You are not only united in your history; you and the stranger, who you want to distance from the camp, have the same God. So be open-minded to the stranger within.
In the end, we may have more in common with children of difference, like Shmuel, than we are willing to admit. The school principal’s protests about mainstreaming may reveal as much about his own personal insecurities – one is not always efficient, brilliant, and scholarly – as about purported concerns for the “name” of the school. The proximity of children with Down Syndrome, or exceptional children of any kind, make us uneasy about the ways in which we may also be merely ordinary, less than competent, imperfect. How else to explain a school – or a community – that wants to project an image of perfection in order to maintain its good name?
But that image is a communal fantasy, not the Torah’s ideal. Keeping special children out of the “mainstream” may be, in many cases, the right thing. But sometimes, it is as much about parents – or uncles – who nurture images of themselves helping them to forget what they do not want to know. As far as myself, I have a lot to learn from the indefatigably questioning and studious Pinhas, but probably even more from my more bashful Shmuel, who takes in the world in awe, and who laughs and dances with unselfconscious glee and abandonment. The stranger we try to flee almost always has an uncannily familiar face. But becoming more tolerant to that which is more singular in ourselves – acknowledging the stranger within – makes it easier to be tolerant of the exceptional in others.
Back on the morning trek to school, walking in the direction of Shmuel’s school now, we encounter the bouncy-gait of the nine-year-old Yehuda: “Good morning Shmuel!” Shortly after, a smiling boy on a bicycle, and an exuberant “Shalom Shmuel!” “He is my friend,” Shmuel boasts loudly. And then the gawky eleven-year-old from down the block, who keeps a rooster in our building courtyard, volunteers, “Can I walk with Shmuel to heder?” We are grateful to the school principal who declared, “It’s a big mitzvah” to accept Shmuel into the school. But the children in Shmuel’s school, like his brothers and sisters, perhaps benefit most in learning to take for granted – instead of taking exceptional at – including Shmuel in their play. For from a very early age, children notice the exceptions we make, and turn them into second nature, whether crossing the street in the wrong place or making a new friend, even though he may be a bit different.
Excerpted from Open Minded Torah by William Kolbrener. . In Open Minded Torah, William Kolbrener offers a voice advocating renewed Jewish commitment and openness for the twenty-first century. In essays as likely to turn to baseball, the NASDAQ and Denzel Washington as to Shakespeare, quantum physics and psychoanalysis, Kolbrener provides powerful—and often surprising—insights into how open mindedness allows for authentic Jewish engagement.
It took forty-two stages for the Jews to get from Egypt to Israel, over a period of forty years. Each stage of the journey was determined exclusively by divine decree—the cloud which hovered over the Jewish camp began to move on when they were required to relocate. The entire camp then packed up their belongings and moved on, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was stationary, they were stationary, and when the cloud moved again, they followed the cloud. This is what happened through forty-two stops and starts to get to Israel.
The Torah states, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt . . .” (Numbers 33:1). The question is asked why the verse states, “These are the journeys,” in the plural. They weren’t going out of Egypt on all of the 42 journeys. Surely after the first stage of the journey, after they had arrived in Rameses, they were no longer leaving Egypt but Rameses, and so on? After the first stage of the journey, weren’t the other 41 stages going to Israel, but not from Egypt? The simple answer is that until a person arrives at the ultimate goal, Israel (in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one), he is always in the process of leaving Egypt.
However, the verse has an even deeper meaning—it refers to the journeys through life of every individual. Moreover, every person’s life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of the Jews from Egypt to Israel. In other words, it is possible to identify each person’s journey through life with the 42 stages of the journey described in the Torah.
The word “Egypt” in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, can also be derived from the word meaning “constricted” or “limiting place.” In Hebrew, a meitzar is a strait. It comes from the word tzar, “narrow.”
Every person, in his or her life, has situations which the Torah describes as a limitation and constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this constricted area, a person has to exert energy. And when he manages to escape the constriction, it is as if he has left that place and gone to a place that is a wide-open place. When you’re finished with that problem, you breathe a sigh of relief: “I’ve gotten out of that tight spot.”
The verse therefore means that the life of the Jew, which begins at his birth, is a succession of tight spots followed by relief and expansion. It means that at every given time in our life, in every given stage in our life, we are given certain obstacles and certain tests. These are the tight spots. Of course, these situations are not meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. On the contrary, through overcoming these difficulties, we become strengthened and our awareness of G‑d is expanded.
This can be compared to an army. When you go for basic training, they make you run ten miles, they make you carry packs, they make you go through difficult situations. Why? Because only after you have undergone the difficulties they put you through do you become a good soldier. If you had never done that, you wouldn’t even have known you were capable of doing it. When you undergo difficulties, you build up your strength. Just as this is true of physical situations, it is true also in spiritual situations.
In this context, “Egypt” doesn’t mean a geographical land, a country called Egypt; rather, it refers to the stages of constriction and development that we all go through on our journey to spiritual perfection—signified by the Land of Israel.
This is life. What may be difficult at the age of five is a joke at the age of ten, and what’s difficult at the age of ten is a joke at the age of twenty. A person who just got married is struggling with the first year of marriage and getting used to marriage. That’s a big struggle. But when people are married for twenty-five years and are marrying off their children, there’s a whole different set of difficulties and problems. Then there are the problems that come with older age and being grandparents. Every stage in life has its own qualities. G‑d is constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to deal with them and grow through them. Then we go to another stage, and then we come to a third stage and a fourth stage. This is a succession of constrictions.
When does it end? It ends at the end of a person’s life. In other words, the beginning is Egypt—the birth; coming into Israel at the end of the 42nd journey is when a person completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the World to Come. Until then, a person’s life is a series of journeys, each one being a strait in comparison to the one after it, and the tests change and get more difficult as you pass through them. This is on an individual basis.
This also happens every single day. There are, of course, different levels. The nation goes on its journeys, the individual on his. On any given day, the person goes through these journeys from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night.
This condition of being on a continual journey can have two possible reactions. One reaction is that the person can become very arrogant and say, “Look how far I’ve come. I remember, years ago, I was on this level and now I’ve really struggled and worked hard, and now I’m on a much higher level.” To the arrogant person, the Torah says, “Don’t be so arrogant. You may have gone through 22 journeys. That’s fantastic, but you still have another 20 to go. As long as you are alive, you can never become complacent about the number of journeys you’ve traveled.”
Then there’s a person who can get depressed. He’s saying, “My goodness, this is terrible. I’m on such a low level. How can I ever get to the level of this other person? Look at her. She’s so much higher than me, and what’s the point of even starting?” For that person there is also a word of encouragement. Depending on who you are and on how you’re relating, the Torah has a reaction for each situation. The reaction to that person is: Do not despair, because G‑d never intended that a person go from Egypt to Israel in one move. The Torah told us from the very beginning that it’s going to take 42 small journeys. No one should ever get depressed, because as long as you’re involved in the journeying, as long as you didn’t give up and stop running, you’re still in the race. G‑d is the One who can read everybody’s heart. He is the One who gives points. You cannot ever compare yourself to anybody else, because you don’t know where the other person started from and what their handicaps are. The important thing is to know that you have to keep going. Just keep going from one journey to the next, and let G‑d do the grading.
To a person who says despairingly, “Look how far I have to go,” the Torah says, “Do not give up. After all, look how far you’ve come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don’t take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop.”
Eventually, all of us will get to the Land of Israel. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. May it be speedily in our days!