GOOD MORNING! An elderly rabbi was walking down the street in New York. A gust of wind blew off his big black hat and it went cascading down the street. There was no way he could chase after it. A young man seeing the situation, ran after the hat and returned it to the rabbi. With great appreciation, the rabbi profusely thanked the young man, gave him $20 and a blessing. The young man was ecstatic -- $20 and a blessing from a rabbi! He immediately heads for Belmont Race Track.
There in the first race is a horse named "Green Beret" with 20 to 1 odds. He figures it's a shoo-in and puts the $20 to win. Sure enough, it comes in first! In the second race he sees "Amazing Derby" at 30 to 1 and places the $400 to win... and it wins! He then lets the $12,000 ride on a horse in third race ... and loses everything.
He returns home and his mother sees that he is forlorn. She asks him what happened. He tells her the whole story. She thinks for a minute and asks, "What horse did you bet on in the third race?" He tells her, "Chateau -- it's French for hat." "Chateau? Chateau is French for a castle; Chapeau is French for a hat! No wonder you lost. By the way, what horse won?" The young replied, "Some Japanese horse name Yarmulka."
And for those who don't know, a yarmulka is a scull cap that Jews wear (also Cardinals and the Pope...). There are obvious lessons we can learn from this joke: 1) doing an act of kindness is the right thing, often appreciated and has its own reward and 2) that education is important for success in life. However, what lesson can we learn about blessings?
There are different types of blessings: blessings before and after eating food and blessings before performing a mitzvah (i.e., before putting on tefillin or sitting in a Sukkah). And, there is a blessing from a righteous person for success, long life, health.
What is a blessing? A blessing is a means of connecting with the Almighty. In its essence, it is a prayer, a request, a recognition of the Almighty's role in our life. Every person has his own relationship with the Almighty -- and the strength of that relationship depends on how much one is involved in that relationship. If one has a best friend who he hasn't spoken with or seen in 40 years, how strong is that relationship?
Perhaps that's why people go to religious leaders or holy people for a blessing. There is an intuitive understanding that they are closer to God because they think about God and talk with God on a regular basis. Therefore, they are more likely to get "God's ear" to hear their prayers. They are a conduit for connecting the Almighty's flow of blessing to us.
There is truth in this. I am sure that the love, concern and prayers of the righteous are helpful. However, we are missing the point. The Almighty is sending us a message. He wants a relationship with us. He is trying to get our attention. We should see sickness as a health opportunity for a relationship with the Almighty. It is up to us. The Almighty is there ... we need to talk to God.
So often people say, "I don't want to bother God with the small stuff so I don't pray". If it's about a relationship, there is no small stuff! God is infinite. That means there is nothing He lacks; there is nothing that we can do for Him. Our prayers don't change God, they change us. They focus us on the Source of our blessings and our health -- and that internalization makes it good for God to shower His blessing upon us.
What can we do? Try talking with God. All beginnings are hard. It will perhaps feel strange. I suggest that you don't do it in public. A good venue is a walk in the park. Ask the Almighty for help, for wisdom, for understanding. Ask God for help with the small stuff, like finding a parking space... and be sure to thank Him for the goodness He has given you.
For thousands of years, Jews have prayed three times a day. Perhaps one of the benefits is that it keeps the line of communication open; we are used to pouring out our hearts, making requests and expressing our thanks. You might want to acquire an Artscroll Siddur (Prayer Book) and tap into the 2,000 year old wisdom on communicating with the Almighty.
Torah Portion of the Week
The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called "sacrifices" or "offerings." According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a "sacrifice" implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An "offering" implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.
Ramban, one of the essential commentaries on Torah, explains that through the vicarious experience of what happened to the animal korbanot, the transgressor realized the seriousness of his transgression. This aided him in the process of teshuva -- correcting his erring ways.
This week's portion includes the details of various types of korbanot: burnt offering, flour offering (proof that one does not need to offer "blood" to gain atonement), the first grain offering, peace offering, unintentional sin offering (private and communal), guilt (for an intentional sin) offerings -- varied upon one's ability to pay, and an offering for personal use of something designated or belonging to the Tabernacle or the Temple.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah gives instructions for offering various types of flour offerings prepared in different manners:
"And if you bring near a flour offering baked in the oven ... and if your offering is a flour offering baked in a pan ... and if your offering is a flour offering baked in a pot..." (Leviticus 2:4,5,7).
What is the deeper meaning behind each of these different offerings?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains: The Mincha, flour offering, expresses our appreciation to the Almighty for our happiness in life. Minchat solet, the fine flour offering, has many forms of preparations to focus us on appreciating from the basic necessities of life to the wonderful "extras" with which we have been blessed.
The offerings are baked in an oven, a pan and a pot corresponding to bread, cake and specially prepared dishes. Bread (ma'afeh tanur) is ordinary food, a necessity for happy daily life. Cake (machavat) signifies the extra enjoyment, the historically unusual condition of luxury. The specially prepared dish (marcheset) is for a special occasion, the temporary, passing moment of a unique joy.
Our lesson: focus and appreciate each and every thing in our lives as a gift from the Almighty, Who loves us and cares for us!
CANDLE LIGHTING - March 15
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can,
by all the ways you can, in all the places you can,
all the times you can, to all the people you can,
as long as you can.
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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