GOOD MORNING! I know a person who, as a child, didn't like to make his bed. Every day when he came home from school there would be a note on his pillow from his mother. The note always had the same 3 lines: "Make your bed! You slob. Shame on you!" However, there was variety! Sometimes it read: "You slob! Make your bed. Shame on you!" and other times it would read, "Shame on you! You slob. Make your bed!" Every day he would take the note and put it in the drawer of his nightstand.
When the drawer was filled with notes, he figured enough was enough. However, rather than start making his bed, he devised a strategy -- each morning he would place on his pillow a note: "Mom, I will make my bed later." And it worked! No more notes from his mother. And each night he would return the note to his nightstand to await the next day.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a mother who cares about us enough to persistently try to help us take responsibility and to better ourselves. However, all of us have a God who loves us and who sends us "notes" -- messages to help us improve our lives.
We Jews have always believed that life is meaningful and that everything that happens to us has meaning. This means that if one stubs his toe he should not get angry at the stone he tripped over, but that he should ask himself, "Why did this happen to me?" Perhaps the lesson is just that he should watch where he is going, but he should also think about who he has been kicking around and where he has been walking.
Does this border on superstition? If one thinks that there is no God and that ultimately things happen at random, that life has no intrinsic meaning, then yes, looking for meaning in life's events is hopeful irrationality. However, if one believes that the Almighty created the world, cares about each and every one of us and has an ongoing relationship with every human being, then it makes just plain good sense.
Intuitively, we appreciate that what happens to us in life has meaning. A woman driving 15 mph in a 20 mph zone hits a 7 year old boy. Immediately she asks, "Why did this happen to me?" If she didn't intuitively feel that life has meaning, she wouldn't ask the question. Though this is the right question to ask, we usually ask it with the wrong tonal qualities -- we ask it as an accusation against the Almighty as opposed to a request for insight to learn, correct our ways and to grow.
We learn from the Torah that what we see and what happens to us has personal meaning. The Talmud, Sota 2A, asks the question why the portion of the Nazirite (a person who takes a vow to abstain from wine and grape products) follows the Torah portion of Sotah (an adulterous wife). The Talmud responds that the person might consider becoming a Nazirite after seeing the results of drinking wine which led to adultery. This is a lesson to teach us that what we see has a personal message for us and that we should take it to heart.
We also learn from the Torah that the Almighty has a personal and direct relationship with each of us. The Talmud, Chulin 7B, "A person doesn't hurt his finger unless it is decreed from above." In Psalm 37:23, "The steps of man are directed by the Almighty." We have free will, yet there is an interplay with the will of the Almighty. For instance, the Torah tells us that the Almighty hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not let the Jewish people go in spite of the impact of the plagues. Pharaoh did not want to let us go, but the Almighty's hardening his heart enabled Pharaoh to withstand the pain from the plagues and the cries of his people -- to strengthen Pharaoh's free will. The Almighty leads us in the direction we want to go.
What about those people who think that what happens to them is random? The Rambam, Maimonides, writes in Hilchot Ta'aniot (The Laws of Fasts) 1:3 that "those who say, 'What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence' -- this is a cruel conception..." To think that life is random and without meaning is cruel.
The lesson for us? Ask, "Why me?" -- but ask with a desire to understand and to take the message to heart -- not like the young man who, to this day, still does not make his bed.
Torah Portion of the Week
Va'etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Moshe pleads with God to enter the Holy Land, but is turned down. (Remember, God always answers your prayers -- sometimes with a "yes," sometimes with a "no" ... and sometimes with a "not yet".) Moshe commands the Children of Israel not to add or subtract from the words of the Torah and to keep all of the Commandments. He then reminds them that God has no shape or form and that we should not make or worship idols of any kind.
The cities of Bezer, Ramot and Golan are designated as Cities of Refuge east of the Jordan river. Accidental murderers can escape there to avoid revengeful relatives. They then await there until tried.
The Ten Commandments are repeated to the whole Jewish people. Moshe then expounds the Shema, affirming the unity of God, Whom all should love and transmit His commandments to the next generation. A man should wear Tefillin upon the arm and head. All Jews should put a Mezuzah (the scroll is the essential part) upon each doorpost of their home (except the bathroom).
Moshe then relays the Almighty's command not to intermarry "for they will lead your children away from Me" (Deut. 7:3-4).
* * *
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
The Torah states:
"For which is a great nation that has a God Who is close to it, as is our God in all our calling to Him" (Deut. 4:7).
Should one only call out for the "big things"? To think that prayer to God is only for the "big things" is a big mistake! We must turn to God for help and understanding in everything we do.
The Chazon Ish, a great rabbi, cited the Talmud which relates that Rav Huna had 400 barrels of wine that spoiled. His colleagues told him to do some soul-searching regarding the cause of this loss. Rav Huna asked, "Do you suspect me of having done anything improper?"
The Sages responded, "Do you suspect God of doing something without just cause?" They then told him that he was not giving his sharecropper the agreed upon portion of the crop.
"But, he is a thief!" Rav Huna protested. "He steals from me. I have a right to withhold from him."
"Not so," the Sages said. "Stealing from a thief is still theft" (Talmud Bavli, Berachos 5b).
"Suppose," the Chazon Ish said, "that something like this would occur today. The search for the cause would be whether the temperature in the room was improper or the humidity too high or too low. Few people would search for the cause within themselves, in their ethical behavior. We should know that God regulates everything except for our free will in moral and ethical matters. As with Rav Huna, nothing happens without a cause."
CANDLE LIGHTING - July 19
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Guatemala 6:17 - Hong Kong 6:51 - Honolulu 6:57
J'Burg 5:16 - London 8:49 - Los Angeles 7:45
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New York 8:06 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:36
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Experience is a cruel teacher --
first it gives the exam and then the lesson
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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