GOOD MORNING! What is the greatest pleasure in your life? Love of your spouse? Love of your kids? How about Love of God? Could there be a greater pleasure than that? Would you believe that we are commanded to have this pleasure? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions" (Deut. 6:5). It must be possible. God doesn't command us to do the impossible!
Loving God is also one of the Six Constant Commandments -- commandments that are upon us at all times and in all places! (The other 5 Constant Mitzvot : 1) Know there is a God 2) Don't believe in any other god 3) Know that He is One 4) Fear God 5) Don't follow after your desires. (for more information, go to: aish.com and search on "6 Constant Mitzvot").
First, the definitions: What is "Love" -- the pleasure one has in focusing on the good in something or someone. As Maimonides writes: "A person can only love according to the degree he knows the object of his love. If he knows a little, he can love a little. And if he knows a lot, he can love a lot." (Laws of Teshuva 10:6) A parent may have a drug-using, lazy dropout and still love him. If you ask the parent why s/he loves him, s/he will tell you, "Because he has a good heart, he's a good kid." What about the drugs, laziness, dropping out of school? The parent replies, "He was in with a bad group, I should have helped him more" -- or some other reason to not focus on the negative. One can only love by focusing on the positive.
What is "God"? The Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor. The One who made the whole universe and everything in it, keeps it going and Who has a relationship with everyone and everything in it.
What is Love of God? It is the pleasure in focusing on the good that He has given us in our lives and in the world.
We all have difficulties and challenges in our lives. As hard as they may be, a person who believes in a loving God understands that they are meaningful and beneficial, though the challenge may seem insurmountable, God never gives us a challenge that we cannot handle.
For example, pain is something we all wish to avoid. However, the pain reflex helps preserve us from great harm. Imagine if you didn't feel pain and only found that your hand was resting on a hot burner when someone pointed out the flames. Pain can also be a wake up call to look into our deeds so that we will correct them as well as serve as an atonement for past mistakes.
Difficulties in life should be looked upon as meaningful. We should ask ourselves "Why me?" -- but not with an accusatory tone. The Torah teaches that the Almighty loves each and every creation and has an individual relationship with each of us. He wants only for our good. He only gives us what is good for us.
Perhaps the most important lesson we owe our children is to teach them that the Almighty loves them -- just as they need to know that their parents love them. A child may eventually get over the feeling or the fact that a parent doesn't love him. However, if one is taught that God is against him and hates him, it creates a very bitter life.
I often hug my children and ask, "Who loves you?" They learn early to respond, "Mommy and Daddy." And then I ask and "Who loves you most of all?" And they learn early to respond "HaShem" (a commonly used Hebrew name for God). And sometimes they just respond, "Mommy, Daddy and HaShem loves me the most."
There are two ways to love God. The first is to look at His Creation -- the beauty and the intricacy of everything from the micro to the macro. Maimonides writes: "What is the path to love (and awe) of God? When one ponders God's great and wonderful acts of creation, and sees in them a genius that has no comparison, then automatically a person will love, praise, glorify -- and deeply desire to know the greatness of God." (Foundations of Torah 2:2)
Second, read His words -- The Torah. When people say they love an author, it is because they read his book and were moved by the book. To know God and to Love God, it certainly helps to read His Book. Torah study is the way to discover the path of meaning. The Torah is called Torat Chaim -- literally the book of "Instructions for Living" -- is God's communication to the world. It is the ultimate repository for wisdom on how to succeed at marriage, parenting, community building, and fixing the world. (I highly recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Torah available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.)
The mitzvah to love God is to be constantly preoccupied with the pursuit of closeness to God. God is always there. If one does not feel the closeness of God, it is not God Who moved. It is up to us to choose to deepen the relationship. For as the Kotzker Rebbe once said: "Where is God? Wherever you let Him in."
Torah Portion of the Week
Noah, Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
The story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, "Why are you building a boat on a hill?" Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways (according to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask "How long can you tread water?"). We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people's curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.
The generation does not do Teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. They leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do Teshuva -- to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.
Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and then occurs the mysterious incident in the tent after which Noah curses his grandson Canaan. The Torah portion concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel and then a genealogy from Noah's son, Shem, to Abram (Abraham).
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"Noah walked with the Almighty" (Genesis 6:9).
What lesson about life is the Torah teaching us through this verse? What does it mean that Noah "walked" with the Almighty?
Rabbi Obadia Sforno, a classic commentator, explains that Noah walked in the Almighty's ways, which means to do good to others. How? The people acted corruptly and Noah tried to teach them how to improve their actions.
There are different levels in helping others. We find in the Rambam (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Gifts to the Poor 10:7-14) that there are eight levels of giving tzedakah (the Hebrew word used for charity; there is no word in Hebrew for charity. Tzedakah means "justice, righteousness.") The highest level is to help a person earn a living on his own. Why is this the highest level? When one helps a person become self-sufficient, he is helping him not just once, but for the rest of his life. Similarly, when you help someone become a better person you are not just helping him for the moment; you are helping him accomplish more his entire life.
Not only will he do many more good deeds, but there will be a positive influence on his children and grandchildren. The more elevated a person is, the more he will share his high ideals with his family. You are helping this person's future generations! Strive to do the ultimate -- help others to become better people. (Maybe even send them the Shabbat Shalom Fax ... email their name, fax number or email address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make sure they get it).
CANDLE LIGHTING - October 5
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
A different world cannot be built by indifferent people
-- Peter Marshall
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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