GOOD MORNING! Shavuous, begins Tuesday evening, May 14th. It celebrates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Before receiving the Torah, the Jewish people encamped "as one person with one heart" (Rashi, Exodus 19:2). To engender this unity we must love each other. How do we go about it?
This week I share with you a beautiful story from Voices in the Silence by S.Z. Sonnenfeld (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). The book is the story of a Jewish family that strove to fulfill the commandments of the Torah despite the terror reigned against religion by the Communists after taking over Russia. The Communists forbade having guests sleep over in your home. Visitors to a town were required to register with the police where they were staying. The family took in a widow and her 2 daughters for one night -- which stretched out to one year. And they weren't easy guests with whom to share their one room apartment .
The daughter writes that she asked her father, "How is it possible to keep the Torah's command, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Isn't that against basic human nature? And if it is, then why does the Torah command it? Not one of the Torah's mitzvahs (commandments) asks us to live in opposition to natural law; that's not the Torah's way."
Her father replied, "The way to learn love is to give to others. A newborn baby knows only how to take. That is why his mother loves him more than he loves her. She gives and gives to him all the time, while he only takes from her. The one who gives loves the taker far more than the taker loves the giver.
"A mother gives her baby so much that to her he seems to become a part of herself, for whatever he has, comes from her. So, if you want to love your neighbor as yourself give him so much that you feel he has become a part of you, and then you cannot help but love him any more than you can refuse to love your own self." The daughter then goes on to tell how she took his lesson to heart:
"I was longing for a certain kind of leather belt that was popular. I knew that I must not ask my parents to buy it for me, but like any girl of eleven I dreamed of this 'luxury.' So, for two months straight I put aside the daily kopeck that mama gave me to buy a pretzel during school recess. At last I bought the dream belt.
"I put it on, and it fit perfectly. Of course, I ran to Mama right away to show it off. Mama complimented me on my good taste in choosing a belt that would go with any dress, and for making such an independent effort to get it. Just then, one of the Wollach girls heaved a great sigh and said, 'How beautiful!' Then, as if she couldn't help herself, she murmured the rest of what she was thinking: "How happy I would be if I had a belt like that..."
"I thought it over just for a moment or two. Then my mind was made up. I took off the belt and gave it to the girl who so longed or it. Mama looked at me in amazement. She knew how I had dreamed of that belt and how many pretzels I had given up in order to get it.
"Mama," I explained later, "now that I have used this belt for such a special mitzvah, making an orphan girl happy, all the days that I went hungry without my afternoon snack have become part of the mitzvah. What a profit I made on one little belt! I wouldn't sell this wonderful mitzvah even for ten thousand rubles."
If you want to love another human being you can give to him; if you want another human being to love you, ask for his help. If he will help and give to you, it will engender love for you.
Love is the pleasure one has in focusing on the good in another person. A mother will love her child though he is failing in school, in trouble with the police and doesn't make his bed because she will focus on "he's a good boy, he has a good heart." As to the faults, she'll explain them away. "He's in with a bad crowd, I should have gotten him tutors, I should have disciplined him more." If you want to love someone, make a list of his or her qualities, adding one new quality each day for a month. Then prioritize the qualities. If you focus on the good, you cannot help but to have some feelings of love for him or her.
Torah Portion of the Week
Behar-Bechukosai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)
Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.
These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then do not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating every 7th year one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy).
Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.
The second portion for this week, Bechukosai, begins with the multitude of blessings you will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. (Truly worth reading!) It also contains the Tochachah, words of admonition, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each. Understand that God does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get our attention so that we will introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. God does not wish to destroy us or annul His covenant with us. He wants us to know that there are consequences for our every action; He also wants to get our attention so that we do not stray so far away that we assimilate and disappear as a nation. I highly recommend reading Lev. 26:14-45 and Deut. 28.
* * *
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"If your brother grows poor and his means fail him when he is with you, then you shall uphold him" (Leviticus 25:35).
The Rambam, Moshe Maimonides, writes that this verse refers to the highest level of charity which is giving someone a present or loan, taking him as a partner, or finding him work, before he needs to ask for charity (from his book, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Matnos Aniyim 10:7).
In the Sifre, a commentary, this situation is compared to a heavy load on a donkey. While the load is still on the donkey, one person can easily support it. Once it falls, however, even five people have difficulty lifting it. Very often a small loan can save a person's business, but if the business fails completely, the person will need a large amount of money to start anew.
Some basic laws of this commandment from Ahavas Chesed: 1) If someone is out of work, it is a truly great mitzvah to find him a job. If you are unable to employ him yourself, you should speak to other employers on his behalf. 2) If someone needs to borrow money to start a business, it is a big act of kindness to allow him to pay back in small amounts. If you insist that he should pay back in one lump sum, he might be back to where he started. 3) If someone's means of a livelihood has been terminated and you give him a present to enable him to begin a new business, it is a fulfillment of this commandment. For example, someone's store burned down and he needs money to start anew, or a woman whose husband has died needs money to start her own business. The Midrash states that aiding people in such circumstances will merit a person long life.
CANDLE LIGHTING - May 3
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Guatemala 6:01 - Hong Kong 6:23 - Honolulu 6:31
J'Burg 5:15 - London 8:08 - Los Angeles 7:20
Melbourne 5:13 - Mexico City 7:41 - Miami 7:35
New York 7:35 - Singapore 6:48 - Toronto 8:03
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
The best portion of a good man's life
is his little, nameless, unremembered acts
of kindness and of love
-- William Wordsworth
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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