Appologies

My sincere apologies to my readers this week.

I did hear an idea today and wrote it up, only to discover that it pertained to Parshas Nasso, to be read in 7 weeks time!

Look out for next week’s post. Hopefully I’ll be organised enough to have it before Friday (yeah, right!)

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom.

Parshas Shemini: The power of responsibility

Our mistakes are OUR responsibility!

“The price of greatness is responsibility” is one of Winston Churchill’s many famous quotes.

And unsurprisingly, there is a precedent for this in the Torah.

The priests were on the last day of the 8-day inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Now their service in the Mishkan begins in earnest. Hashem instructed Aharon to bring the first sacrifice; a sin offering made up of a calf, an Eigel. Rashi comments that this is to atone for the sin of the golden calf.

The question is that this has already been achieved. The Torah tells us in Parshat Tetzaveh how Hashem commanded the Jewish people to offer up ‘one bull and two rams, unblemished’ (Shemos/Exodus 29:1). Rashi over there tells us that that sacrifice was also an atonement for the incident with the golden calf. Why did Aharon have to atone a second time?

 Rabbi Yehoshuah Leib Diskin answers that it is a lesson in responsibility. Aharon certainly had good intentions when he instructed the people to take their wives’ jewellery and create the golden calf. He knew that resisting was futile, as they would have killed him and built the calf anyway. His idea was that this would stall the process, as the wives would surely resist their husbands. In that time, Moshe would be back and the Jews’ perceived need for a replacement would disappear. He certainly didn’t imagine that the people would be so riled up by the troublemakers that they would have the gold in a few hours!

Nevertheless, good intentions notwithstanding, Aharon had played a part in the people’s spiritual downfall. And he, as their second in command, was required to take full ownership of his role in the wrongdoing.

In my humble opinion, this is what separates men from boys.

I’ve yet to hear of a great person who got to where he or she was without making mistakes. Nor have I heard of any great people who achieved their greatness by blaming other people for their failures. If anyone knows of such people, please introduce me to them!

We all fall. It’s part of the process. But the idea is to learn from our mistakes. To take ownership of them.

 

Pesach/Passover: What is freedom anyway?

Ask anyone what the theme of tonight’s Passover seder is. You can bet that the answer will be one word: freedom. The Jews were oppressed by the Egyptians for two hundred years, G-D came along, destroyed Egypt with ten plagues, split the sea for us, washed out the entire Egyptian army. Then we were free from Egypt’s tyrannous stranglehold and could now do whatever we wanted.

Well all that was certainly true. Apart from the last part. We couldn’t just ‘do whatever we wanted’. “For you are slaves to Me” said Hashem. You are under my jurisdiction now. You still have to answer to Someone. And that Someone is infinitely more powerful than your previous master!

So is ‘freedom’ really the right word to describe the Jews’ status upon leaving Egypt? Sounds more like they just found a kinder more patient Boss!

I believe the answer is that Judaism defines freedom differently.

In general western thinking, we’ve come to believe that retirement is an ideal. No more stress, no heavy workloads or deadlines to reach. More time to just relax, play golf and take it easy.

Another example of our ‘progressive’ mindset is the way we all work to earn our first million, or ten million, thinking that the ability to earn enough to give our families the best that the world has to offer.

If you’re one of the (shrinking group of) people who still believe in those worldviews, you’d be shocked by these studies:

The Institute of Economic Affairs found that the chances of depression shoot up by 40% after retirement.

A survey in the BMC Medicine Journal showed depression rates in 18 countries. The lowest rating came from… China, one of the poorest countries on the list. First place was taken by France. And the goold ol’ US of A? They came second (If the UK were included, us Brits would have beaten ’em hands down!)

Physical pleasure is great. But it doesn’t last. Certainly not beyond the grave!

In Judaism, freedom is the ability to strive for the type of things that we take with us to the Next World. Those are the things that really stay with us forever.

Physical entities are important. Retirement and wealth can be wonderful tools. But that’s just it: they’re tools, means to achieving Spiritual accomplishments that remain with us for eternity. It’s when our physical means become ends in themselves that we begin to limit ourselves.

It’s a paradox. Laws like observing Shabbat and Kashrut, restricting ourselves physically, are in actual fact liberating. Because they are what takes us to a lifetime which is limitless in The Next World.

True freedom is a choice we make every day. We get to decide whether to expand our Horizons or limit ourselves.

Wishing all a happy and meaningful Passover!

Parshas Tzav/Pesach: Gratitude training

If you’re astute enough, you’ll notice that each festival is usually hinted to in the parashah read the Shabbos before it.

Tzav discusses the laws of the various offerings brought by the Kohanim in the tabernacle (and later, the Holy Temple).

One of them is Korban Todah, a thanksgiving sacrifice. This offering is brought after safely travelling over an ocean, taking a dangerous land journey, recovering from an illness or being released from captivity (today this obligation is fulfilled by making the ‘hagomel’ blessing. Please consult your local orthodox rabbi for details of the laws regarding this blessing).

As a form of the Peace Offering, part of it is eaten afterwards by the one bringing it.

But here’s the strange part:

Unlike a peace offering, which is offered up and eaten over two days, a Todah must be offered up and consumed within 24 hours. And it must be eaten along with forty loaves of bread!

Why the short time span? And why so much bread?

The answer is that this was designed to maximise the opportunity to thank Hashem for saving him. The time constraints will force him to look for others to share the meal with. When the offerer asks his friends for help, he will have to explain to them why he is bringing the sacrifice. That way, he will be able to spread the word of his personal miracle and increase the praise of G-D.

If there is one theme that runs through the Passover Seder- which is next Friday night and next Sunday night (outside Israel)- it is the theme of gratitude to G-D. We are told to spend as much time as possible recounting the story of our Exodus. The Torah itself instructs us to run it with our children, in a way which encourages them to ask questions. The law is that one should read the traditional four questions to himself if he has no wife or children present.

Have you ever wondered why G-D even needs human beings to praise Him? He’s the Ultimate Being, for Heaven’s sake (excuse the pun)! He has no ego, no emotional need for any recognition!

The answer is that it’s not Hashem who needs this praise. He’s got plenty of Angels to do that!

It’s us who needs it.

We need to strengthen our sense of gratitude. We need to become people who automatically feel thankful for every small thing we have. That’s how we come to be deserving of blessing. The more we appreciate His kindness to us, the more Hashem showers on us.

And it’s not just G-D we need to thank. Even the bus driver or the Tesco delivery man, people who are getting paid to serve us, are opportunities to strengthen our gratitude muscles.

Jews are called ‘Yehudim’, people who give ‘hoda’ah’, gratitude. Let’s learn to live up to our name and become the people Hashem intended us to be.

(Special thanks to Rabbi Binyomin Denderovicz for the thought on the Parshah, and motivational speaker Charlie Harary for the additional inspiration!)

 

Vayikrah: Moshe – the giant who kept growing

 

“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

Those were the words of one of the brightest people of the 21st century, Albert Einstein.

And like all inspirational quotes from famous people, there’s a source in the Torah for it.

ויקרא אל משה- And G-D ‘called’ Moshe (Vayikrah Ch. 1 V.1)

To answer the question, you probably have; no, that small alef at the end of the first word (‘Vayikrah’ was no technical glitch. It is written in the Torah that way by request of Moshe himself.

The Kli Yakar explains: In his immense humility, Moshe initially requested that the alef be omitted, so that the word read ‘vayakar’- and G-D ‘happened upon’ Moshe. Almost as if G-D had encountered him by accident, as if He had met Moshe in the supermarket (so to speak). Such was his humility that he didn’t feel worthy of G-D coming out to meet him. G-D, however, insisted on including the alef. Moshe acquiesced, on the condition that the letter is shrunk.

Rav Shach notes that the Torah actually praises Moshe openly for his humility elsewhere, calling him ‘the humblest of all men’. In his understanding, Moshe wasn’t just acting in the way he was accustomed to, but he was actively increasing his humility. This was a new level of humbleness, even for the man who stood head over shoulders above the whole world in this area.

Think about it. Moshe was 80 when he lead the Jews out of Egypt. He was an old man by now. And to have reached the level of humility that he had attained had taken him 8 decades.

And yet, he still felt that he could do better.

When a person has got to a certain point, there’s often a danger of complacency. We’re happy where we are and don’t feel the need to carry on growing.

And that’s where we often fall down. Because if we’re not constantly pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we’re not remaining stagnant, but probably falling.

Because when it comes to personal growth, the sky’s the limit.

(Sefer Talelei Orot)

Vayakhel: Holy Mirrors

One of the vessels in the tabernacle was the kiyor- the basin that the priests used to wash their hands and feet before doing their service.

You might be surprised to learn that it was made from the mirrors donated by the women. Understandably, Moshe was quite hesitant to accept gifts with such mundane origins for the house of G-D.

But G-D insisted that Moshe accept it. In fact, The Ibn Ezra says that he was not allowed to leave out a single mirror that was donated. All of them were used to create a giant sink.

Because those mirrors were special. Rashi tells us that the wives used them to adorn themselves so that their worn-out husbands would be attracted to them. And as such, the Jewish nation lived on.

Here’s one lesson that I took out of it.

We tend to paint things black and white. We teach our children that some things are good for us and some things are bad for us. But perhaps this isn’t always the case. Technology has its place. Money has its place. Music, art, literature, food…they all have two sides to the coin.

And it’s not just physical objects. Character traits go on the same principle. There are times when it’s not appropriate to be kind. Sometimes laziness can be utilised for good things.

It’s not so much about changing ‘bad’ character traits or getting rid of ‘bad’ devices. It’s simply about ensuring that we use what we have for the right purposes. of course, if unharnessed, these things can turn against you and bring you down. But if they’re seen and used primarily as a means to a spiritual end, they can bring you to places you never thought you could reach.