Due to the Passover Vacation, the Torah Portion for Parshat Shmini was not posted until the end of last week. We are therefore repeating the opening section here. Enjoy!
GOOD MORNING! Recently I attended a gathering to find practical efforts to help Israel. It was a wonderful program and I hope other communities will follow suit. There were sessions on media watch, developing future leaders, non-Jewish education, economic development, political lobbying. So, what was missing? The Spiritual component -God! Anyone who approaches the situation of the Jewish people through purely socio-economic-political perspective has either never read the Torah and studied Jewish history or has failed to take the lessons to heart.
The reality is that the Jewish nation operates on a level above nature. David Ben-Gurion once said, "A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist." By all natural laws, the Jewish people should have ceased to exist. The sociologist will tell you that for a nation to thrive it must have a common land, a common language and a common history. The Jewish people have been dispersed across the world, divided by language and the common history starts 2,000 years ago and heads backwards.
We are a fraction of a percent of the world's population and probably the record holder for most persecuted and exterminated people throughout history - and we are still here! They killed us because we wouldn't convert and they killed us because we wanted to assimilate. Something is going on far beyond the "natural" course of events.
What does it say in the Torah?
"If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them ... then you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land..." (Leviticus 26:3-6).
The Almighty has a covenant with us. Our tradition tells us that all of our souls were at Mt. Sinai and agreed to the Covenant:
"Not with you alone do I seal this covenant ... but with those who are not here with us today" (Deuteronomy 29:13:14).
We, Jews in later generations, do not have the option to opt out.
Whether we like or don't like the Covenant and the commandments and whether or not we choose to keep the Covenant and observe the commandments, we are obligated to keep them and are responsible for the consequences of our actions. Call it the Laws of Nature. It's reality, just like eating high fat foods and not exercising has reality consequences for one's health. Whether or not a person likes the laws of gravity, if he drops a glass, there are consequences.
The Almighty's consequences are a wake-up call for us as individuals and for us as a people to introspect on our level of belief and observance and to upgrade our lives through a better level of fulfillment of His Torah. The wake up call cuts across all labels, movements, branches, self-definitions - it's for all Jews, for the whole Jewish people!
The Talmud, Sota 37b, clarifies the meaning of every soul being at Mt. Sinai for the giving of the Torah: "Each and every Jew is a guarantor for each other." The Jewish people are intertwined with each other. What one Jew does impacts each and every other Jew on a spiritual level. We cannot say, "What I do doesn't matter." It matters not only to you, but to all of the Jewish people. Envision the proverbially individual who is drilling a hole only under his seat in the boat.
What can we do? Each of us, on whatever level of observance, must strive to do more. In order to do more, we must know more. Read the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Torah to understand our history and our covenant with the Almighty. Read To Be a Jew by Rabbi Haim Donin which gives a clear and comprehensive overview of the Mitzvot and of living a life filled with Torah value. Both books are available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. Knowledge impacts belief which impacts action!
The Almighty loves each and every one of us!
"Only your forefathers did the Almighty cherish to love them, and He chose their offspring after them - you - from among all the peoples this day" (Deuteronomy 10:15).
Whatever our level of belief and observance, He waits patiently like a parent waiting for a wayward child to take a step back towards the right path. Think of what you do in your day and where you can improve. That's where Rabbi Donin's book can be of great help.
The Almighty wants us to not only fulfill his Torah, but to love each other. There is a special protection for the Jewish people when we are united. Idol worship is considered one of the worse transgressions, yet in the Midrash Tanchuma, Tzav #7, Rabbi Elazar HaKapar says, "Great is shalom. Even if the Jewish people were to worship idols, but were unified as one group, judgment wouldn't come upon them." We must do what we can to engender greater love for each other.
Recently, I saw in the "Community Awareness Bulletin" (Volume 11, Number 3 published by Hakhel) a guideline, which I have adapted, for increasing love amongst Jews (and it will work for all people!):
- Did you say hello to at least one person before he said hello to you?
- Did you make someone smile or laugh today? Did you boost someone's spirits?
- Were you truly happy to hear good news about a friend? Even if you wish that the same good news would have happened to you?
- Did you judge someone favorably today? Did you see people positively - or did you sum up their lifestyle, pros and cons, with one glance of the eye?
- Did you speak only positively about others and not listen to others speaking negatively about others?
- Did you visit a sick person? Help the needy in some way? Invite a guest for a meal?
- Did you pray for the welfare of another person and for the Jewish people?
- Did you say the Shema in the morning and evening?
- Did you read a psalm to the merit of the Jewish people?
- Did you deal with people honestly?
There are three areas of spirituality: (A) Between you and the Almighty (trust in God, belief in God) (B) Between you and other people (honesty, kindness, love) (C) Between you and yourself (your attitudes, outlooks, integrity). Focus and let your attitude be "What can I do more?" Before you go to sleep each night go through your day, review your behavior, and resolve what you can do better.
I once went to a macrobiotic nutritionist who told me that he had excellent results in curing certain types of cancer - when people would follow the rigorous guidelines of the diet. "What breaks my heart," he said, "is when the wife of the patient says, 'Who's going to cook the food that way? Not me!'" "She is saying, 'Let him die. I don't want to change my lifestyle and go to all that trouble and inconvenience necessary to save him.'" If we truly love Israel and our fellow Jews, we MUST go to "all that trouble and inconvenience" to save them ... and ourselves!
Mazal tov to Ellen Tilles on winning the Digital Player in the donor's raffle!
I have a fascinating story for you this week from Rabbi Paysach Krohn's Around the Maggid's Table. Before movies, before television, before radio, before vaudeville, we the Jewish people had real entertainment -- with Maggids! A Maggid would often travel from town to town to tell stories that had meaning, were inspiring, moved people to introspect, improve themselves and forge a closer relationship with the Almighty and a recognition that He runs the world. And what better entertainment can there be than getting insight into oneself and improving one's own level of belief, behavior and aspirations?
In our own generation, Rabbi Krohn is a Maggid in his own right. He is a highly sought-after speaker who captivates and motivates his audiences. Rabbi Krohn has also authored a series of Maggid books (available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242) which compile wondrous and beautiful stories. I have abbreviated the story for the sake of space; names have been changed.
In Ashdod lives the Feingold family. The father needed to raise funds to pay for his daughter's wedding and their share of an apartment for the new couple. In Israel there are no blocks of rental apartments; the custom is for the bride and groom's family to provide a modest place for the couple to begin their new life. He traveled around Ashdod, Israel and even to the United States. Friends and neighbors also helped to raise funds.
When the guests arrived at the wedding hall, they were surprised. The wedding was in the largest ballroom. When they entered the ballroom they were shocked - the floral arrangements were stunning, the tableware was elegant and a seven piece band was playing. The meal was a seven-course dinner with huge portions. Photographers were everywhere. People were highly offended! The Feingolds had always portrayed themselves as poor people, and now they were spending not only beyond their means, but enough to pay for three weddings!
The matter was so distasteful that it was all people talked about at the wedding. Of course, no one had the audacity to say anything directly to the Feingolds, but the bride's parents couldn't help but sense a touch of resentment and disfavor in the air. After the wedding the situation worsened as with each passing day eyes were raised and noses were turned up as the comments of jealousy and distrust became more obvious.
Not being able to take the resentment any longer, Mr. Feingold went to speak with the community Rav, Rabbi Elya Weiss, to explain the situation. "When I first came with my wife and daughter to the hall to discuss prices and fix a date, we spoke with the owner's wife. We got into a discussion and suddenly she looked up at me and asked, 'Do you by any chance have any Feingold relatives that lived in Germany?' I was taken aback by the question, because I didn't think anyone knew us from the small town we were from. 'Yes," I told her, 'we do come from Germany.'
"She asked if we knew a Leo Feingold and when I told her he was my father her face paled. Tears welled up in her eyes as she exclaimed, 'I am alive today only because of your father! He hid my family and me and saved us from the Nazis. My whole family owes their lives to your father!' She had always wanted to meet her saviors, but never found them.
"She insisted on making us a beautiful wedding to express her gratitude. We tried to talk her out of it. When we came to the wedding hall that night, we were as shocked as everyone else. I couldn't say anything to anyone because our benefactor has asked that her present remain a secret. When I realized the worsening attitudes of many of our friends, I requested her permission to reveal the truth and now I ask you to let people know the truth."
The next Shabbat after the Torah reading, the rabbi told the whole story to the congregation. People again were surprised - but this time at themselves for speaking disparagingly without all of the facts.
This week is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Tuesday, April 9th). It is also the week that we read the Torah portions dealing with slander and gossip. As I mentioned last week, one of the best ways we can help Israel - and help ourselves - is to love our fellow Jews. One of the best ways to engender love is to judge people favorably and to not gossip. One can get more information from http://www.aish.com/stoplh/default.asp or http://www.chofetzchaimusa.org
TOP TEN TIPS FOR HEALING WITH WORDS
- Bite your tongue before you gossip; your tongue will hurt, but your friends won't.
- Stop yourself from gossiping by changing the subject mid-sentence; only you will notice.
- Never say derogatory things about yourself; people might agree with you.
- Never use humor to put others down; joking around usually comes around.
- Speak sweetly, so if you have to eat your words, they won't taste so bad.
- The gossip game always takes turns; the only way to avoid being "it" is to stop playing.
- Trust makes a friendship; gossip takes it away.
- You are the proud owner of a set of ears; use them at your own discretion.
- To get friends who won't gossip about you, you must be a friend who won't gossip about them.
- Stamp out gossip by voting with your feet; just walk away if someone gossips.
Torah Portion of the Week
The Torah continues with the laws of physical and spiritual purity. These portions focus upon tzora'as, a physical affliction for transgressing the laws of speech - and the purification process. Tzora'as progressively afflicts home, clothes and skin unless one cleans up his speech.
There are two types of speech transgressions:
- Loshon Hora (literally "evil tongue") - making a derogatory or damaging statement about someone even though you are speaking the truth.
- Rechilut (literally "tale bearing") - telling someone the negative things another person said about him or did against him.
(Undoing damage due to speech is likened to trying to gather together all the feathers from a down pillow -- after they are cast to the wind.)
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "And (the one afflicted with tzora'as) shall call out: 'Unclean, Unclean'" (Leviticus 13:45). The afflicted person, as he moves about, calls this out about himself as a warning to others.
The Sheloh HaKodesh, a revered commentary, writes that one can also read the verse in another manner. It could be that the afflicted person is calling out ABOUT other people, "Unclean! Unclean!" That is a person who finds fault with others is really projecting his own faults and imperfections onto others. As the Sages say in the Talmud (tractate of Kiddushin, page 70a), "Those who try to invalidate others do so with their own blemishes."
One means of finding out your own faults is to see what faults you tend to notice in others. When one points a finger at someone, three fingers point back at himself!
CANDLE LIGHTING - April 12:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:58 Hong Kong 6:24 Honolulu 6:32
J'Burg 5:36 London 7:33 Los Angeles 7:04
Melbourne 5:40 Miami 7:25 Moscow 7:10
New York 7:14 Singapore 6:52
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Attitudes are contagious.
Are yours worth catching?
With Appreciation for