GOOD MORNING! Two weeks ago I had as the Quote of the Week: "It's good to know the law, it's better to know the Judge." I received a thoughtful note informing me that the quote was inappropriate; one of the very wrong things in our society is that people try to get away with things. I figure, if one person wrote, there are many others who might be wondering what's with the rabbi's sense of propriety.
It is the wrong moral message to encourage people to get away with things. It is not a message that I believe in, desire to promulgate, or wish to have others follow. So, what is it doing on my Fax?
Truth is, I was being, as my wife says, "too clever for my own good." I originally saw the quote with a small "J" for "judge." I sadly laughed because unfortunately it represents what often happens in our society. I used the quote with a capital "J" figuring people would understand that it referred to the Almighty and that they would think about the question "What does it mean 'better to know the Almighty than the law'?" It is obvious to me that people use the law, stretch it, bend it to maneuver, to get what they want. Better to keep the Almighty in front of you to examine whether your actions are moral than whether they fit within the strict letter of the law.
Q & A: WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE HEBREW MONTH OF ELUL?
Thursday, August 12, and Friday, August 13, are the two days of Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Elul. This is a very special month in the Jewish year as it is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah (which begins Friday evening, September 10th). Jewish cosmology teaches us that each season of the year has a special spiritual opportunity for success. For instance, Passover is the time to work on freedom and Sukkot is the time to work on joy. Elul is the time to work on personal growth.
Elul, when spelled in Hebrew letters, is the acronym for the words, "I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me" (ani l'dodi v'dodi li -- oftentimes it will be inscribed on the inside of an engagement ring). The month of Elul is a time of heightened spirituality where the Almighty is, as it were, closer and more approachable. It is a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time to do a spiritual audit and to fix up your life.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder and head of Aish HaTorah, illustrates the availability of coming close to the Almighty in Elul with the example of trying to make an appointment with the President of the United States. It is a very difficult task to accomplish -- unless it's an election year. Elul is like an election year. The Almighty is like a loving Father/Mother waiting for us to come home.
To help you prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, I present questions for you to ask yourself and discuss with family and friends. They are an excerpt from a fabulous and indispensable book, The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, written by Aish HaTorah alumnus Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf.
QUESTIONS FOR A MEANINGFUL LIFE
- When do I most feel that my life is meaningful?
- Those who mean the most to me -- have I ever told them how I feel?
- Are there any ideals I would be willing to die for?
- If I could live my life over, would I change anything?
- What would bring me more happiness than anything else in the world?
- What are my three most significant achievements since last Rosh Hashanah?
- What are the three biggest mistakes I've made since last Rosh Hashanah?
- What project or goal, if left undone, will I most regret next Rosh Hashanah?
- If I knew I couldn't fail, what would I undertake to accomplish in life?
- What are my three major goals in life? What am I doing to achieve them? What practical steps can I take in the next two months towards these goals?
- If I could only give my children three pieces of advice, what would they be?
If you find the High Holidays boring, can't follow the prayer service and don't understand it; if the services lack meaning and aren't a spiritual experience, then to have a meaningful experience and to have something meaningful to share with your children and family -- you might want to get a copy of the Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit ... especially if your kids think a "shofar" is someone who drives a limousine. Unless you prepare in advance, then you are relying on a miracle to have any kind of positive experience at all. Available at your Jewish bookstore or call 877-758-3242.
Portion of the Week
This week is a jam-packed portion. It begins with a choice: "I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God...; the curse if you do not ... and you follow other gods."
The portion continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary's face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi.
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah -- an explanation and clarification ( later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) -- comes from verse 12:21 "You will slaughter animals ... according to the manner I (God) have prescribed." Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or -- one might conclude that there are additional teachings clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
The source of the Chosen People concept (14:1-2): "You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation." We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege -- to act morally and to be a "light unto the nations."
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him..." (Deuteronomy 11:22). How does one "cleave to the Almighty?"
The Torah tells us that even someone who observes all of the commandments and has attained the attribute of loving God, must emulate God ("to walk in all His ways") in order to cleave to Him. Emulating God means being compassionate and bestowing kindness on others. ("He is merciful so we should be merciful, He bestows kindness, so we should bestow kindness" -- Rashi). One might think that a person who loves God need only devote himself to prayer and Torah study and by this means he will cleave to God. We see from this verse, however, that an essential ingredient in cleaving to God is caring about our fellow man. (And if we care about our fellow human being, we wouldn't gratuitously speak negatively about him, would we?)