GOOD MORNING! The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "Why wasn't I informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"
If we know our history and understand it, then we can put our life in perspective. We can understand ourselves, our people, our goals, our values. We will know the direction of our lives, what we want to accomplish with our lives and what we are willing to bear in order to fulfill our destiny. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well, "If you have a 'why' to live for, you can bear with any 'how'."
We are now entering the Three Weeks, the time between the 17th of Tammuz (Thursday, July 9) and the 9th of Av (starting Wednesday night, July 29th). This is a period when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people. Why do we mourn the loss of the Temple after so many years? What did and does it mean to us?
The Temple was a central focal point of the Jewish people. Three times a year - Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot - the Jews living in the Land of Israel came to worship and celebrate at the Temple. It offered us the ultimate opportunity to come close to the Almighty, to elevate ourselves spiritually. It represented the purpose of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel - to be a holy people united with the Almighty in our own land ... a Jewish state. That is what we seek to regain and that is why we mourn and remember the loss of what we once had.
What can one read to gain knowledge, get perspective, to understand who the Jewish people are and what we are about? Certainly, reading the Five Books of Moses is the place to start. I recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition. Nineteen Letters by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch will give a tremendous understanding of the Jewish purpose. Nine Questions and Why the Jews? by Praeger and Telushkin address central issues of the Jewish people. And then there is Judaism in a Nutshell: God by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf for people who are long on curiosity, but short on time. For more history and understanding of the holidays, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov. All are available from your local Jewish book store, judaicaenterprises.com or by calling toll-free 877- 758-3242.
In Jewish cosmology, the Three Weeks are considered to be such an inauspicious time period that one is not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (July 22), one is even advised to push off court cases until after the 10th of Av (after July 31). We refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self- reflection and improvement.
On the 17th of Tammuz, five calamitous events occurred in our history: (1) Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf. (2) The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep. (3) The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple. (4) Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah. (5) An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.
The 17th of Tammuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance - to break the body's dominance over a person's spiritual side. One should engage in self- examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.
It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein was a student of Jewish history. He named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) - you guessed it, Tammuz 17! (Want the source? Two Minutes Over Baghdad by Amos Perlmutter.) I also highly recommend ShabbatShalomAudio.com and aish.com/h/. There are many excellent articles and insights on our website.
For more on "The Three Weeks" go to ShabbatShalomAudio.com!
Torah Portion of the Week
In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen - by Divine decree.
The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor.
Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings - daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And the Almighty spoke to Moshe saying: Pinchas the son of Eliezer, the son of Aharon the priest has turned away my anger from the Children of Israel in that he was zealous for My sake among them, so that I did not consume the Children of Israel in My jealousy" (Numbers 24:10-11).
Why does the Torah add the words "among them" which are seemingly extra?
The great commentator Alshich explains that the seemingly extra words "among them" are to focus us on the fact that Pinchas's zealous action was not very popular among the people; there were those who were ready to kill him for his zealousness! Nevertheless, Pinchas was ready to sacrifice everything to do the will of the Almighty. He took action even though many people disapproved of what he did.
There are many instances in life in which the correct thing to do is not always the most popular. For example, if a group of people are speaking loshon hora (gossip) against others, they usually do not appreciate someone's telling them to stop talking negatively. However, a person whose focus is on doing the will of the Almighty will not be deterred even if others will insult him for his behavior.
* * *
PIRKEI AVOT 1:13
"If I am not for myself, who is for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when? "
CANDLE LIGHTING - July 10
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J'Burg 5:12 - London 8:57 - Los Angeles 7:49
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New York 8:11 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:42
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Life is either
a daring adventure or nothing.
-- Helen Keller
With Special Thanks to
David & Marilyn Zinn
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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