GOOD MORNING! In about two weeks is Shavuous, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. In addition to the usual festive meals at night and during the day, there is a custom to stay up all night studying the Torah. It's exciting, exhilarating, exhausting. What is the Torah that causes such devotion and appreciation?
What is the meaning of life? To answer the question, ask yourself, "What am I willing to die for?" Once you know what you are willing to die for, then live for it! For thousands of years our forbearers were willing to die as a Jew rather than convert. Were they mindless religious fanatics -- or did they know something about what was important in life? What did they know about being Jewish, the Torah and the covenant with the Almighty?
The word "Torah" means "instructions" and "Toras Chaim" means "instructions for life." The Almighty not only entered into a covenant with the Jewish people to protect us and ensure our survival, He also gave us instructions on how to best use our time on this planet to perfect ourselves ethically and spiritually as well as create the ultimate relationship with the Almighty. That's the Torah that we so excitedly dance with on Simchas Torah and so enjoyably study on a daily basis whenever possible.
There are Jews who look upon Judaism as their distant heritage to which they have little connection; there are other Jews who look at it as part of their identity, like being a Democrat or a Republican. There are gastronomical Jews, cardiac Jews (in my heart I'm a Jew), humanitarian Jews, philanthropic Jews, drop off Jews (drop the kids off at Sunday school and go for a bagel or play golf), two-time a year Jews (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur synagogue attendees). However, the original and ultimate goal of a Jew is to be a Torah Jew -- a Jew living the values and dictates of the Torah in every aspect of his life.
The Talmud teaches that after a person dies he is asked a series of questions in the next world including: Were you honest in business? Did you set aside time to learn Torah each day? Did you engage in having children? It is an integrated life based on Torah values. The Torah covers ethics, business, interpersonal relations, philosophy, psychology, spirituality -- every aspect of life.
The first halacha (law) in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish law) is "Place the Almighty in front of you always" -- view life in a manner that you are always asking yourself, "What does the Almighty want me to do or respond in this situation?" For that one needs to learn Torah. You can't do what you don't know.
When one speaks of learning Torah, what does it mean? The word "Torah" has two usages. One is to the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch). The second usage refers to the totality of Torah literature -- Mishna and Talmud( 0ral teachings), Midrash (allegorical teachings), Halacha (law), Mussar (ethics).
The Chumash is called the Written Law because it was dictated by the Almighty to Moses who wrote it down letter for letter, word for word. It is terse and exact -- each word and letter is significant. It is meant to be read with a focused and questioning mind. The Sages divided it into 54 parashos (sections) with the whole Torah being completed each year from beginning to end. The Torah is read in synagogue on Monday, Thursday, Holidays and Shabbat. In addition, we are instructed in the Code of Jewish law to review the weekly Torah portion twice each week and once to read the translation.
It is amazing. The same book that is studied by first graders is being studied by our greatest and oldest scholars. There is tremendous depth and wisdom in its words. Our Sages tell us that there are 70 levels of understanding to the Chumash.
Along with the Written Law the Almighty gave the Oral Law -- the explanation for the words of the Chumash. It was given orally to ensure the accuracy of transmission. A father or teacher would make sure that his son or student correctly understood the meaning of the verse. This worked well until the Jewish people were almost destroyed 2,000 years ago. Then Rebbie Yehuda HaNasi compiled the Mishnah, the Oral Teachings. He organized 63 tractates in the Six Orders of Mishnah: 1. Zeraim (Seeds) -- agricultural laws and prayers 2. Moed (Festival) -- Jewish holidays and Sabbath 3. Nashim (Women) -- marriage and divorce 4. Nezikin (Damages) -- civil and criminal law 5. Kodashim (Holy Things) -- sacrificial rites, the Temple, dietary laws 6. Tohorot (Purities) -- laws of purity and impurity.
There is so much more to share of the depth and breadth of Torah wisdom... in the future!
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Torah Portion of the Week
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 G-d 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 G-d 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 G-d 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. G-d 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 Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah portion Bechukosai begins with,
"If you shall walk in My statutes and observe My commandments and do them ..." (Leviticus 26:3).
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, former Rosh Hayeshiva of Telz, commented: "Our Rabbis teach us: 'If you shall walk in My statutes' refers to 'laboring in the Torah.' This concept of toiling in Torah is inherent in the study of Torah. 'Laboring in the Torah' means the complete engrossment of the student in Torah to the exclusion of all else. It signifies the ability to find in Torah study all the joy and pleasure which one could wish for. It means finding in Torah the joys and benefits 'of bread and meat, of wine and oil, of fields and vineyards, of milk and honey, of precious stones and pearls.' "
"Laboring in the Torah" does not mean life impoverished by complete removal from human joys and pleasures, but rather the sublime contentment of the most intimate contact with the Source of all joy and pleasure.
CANDLE LIGHTING - May 15
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Even if you're on the right track,
you'll get run over if you just sit there
-- Will Rogers
In Loving Memory of
Avraham ben Natan
Sarah Bailah bas Avraham
by Nathan Zemel
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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