Thursday, July 30, 2015

Break Out

In this week's Parsha, Vaeschanan, we read how Hashem took for Himself "a nation from within a nation". The Jewish people from within the Egyptians. Moshe is expressing how this only happened for us. Never has one nation been taken out from within another, aside for the Jewish people from Egypt.

Why is this detail important for us to know?  What lesson can we take from here for our personal lives?

Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which is from the word maytzar, constraint or limitations. When Hashem took us out of Egypt, He removed us from all constraints, physical, psychological and spiritual. When we cleave to Hashem and His Torah we are open and free. The only constraints we have are the ones we accept upon ourselves.

In every situation we have the ability to be free. Even in this dark exile, where the world seems against us. Even in our personal lives, as each of us has difficulties, suffering, and pain.

It is our choices that express our free nature, not our predicaments. In every situation we find a way to free our essence, our Jewishness.

Today this seems harder than ever, as there is great temptation to be like "them" (non-Jews). But we have been there before, and if you try, Hashem will surely help you free yourself from your Egypt.

On a more subtle level, those who's Jewish observance is because he wants to be like "them" (other Jews), needs to ask if they are proper role models. Are they stuck in a religious Egypt? Does their fervor turn them to dislike those who don't share their convictions? This is not a free person, he also needs to free himself from his false religious notions. For his way is also not "Jewish".

On a deeper level. Each of us have the ability to free ourselves from our current levels and reach higher plateaus. Yesterday's freedom is today's Egypt. If you are not growing you are not free. If you could ask yourself: How can I improve myself? How can I get closer to Hashem? Then you are free.

Finally, realize, that to get closer to Hashem, you need to love his children, and see them as "us", not "them", including those you deem less observant or more observant. 

Loving each other is the key to our redemption, it is how we break the chains of this exile. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult, nevertheless, we will overcome this as well. May it happen soon.

Dedicated to Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, who despite his physical constraints, remains free and an example to all of us. May he be taken out of his Egypt immediately. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Happy or Sad? It is all Perspective

This week's Parsha, Devarim is always read the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av. For Haftora we read Chazon Yishayahu, the vision of Isaia, giving this Shabbos the name Shabbos Chazon. This year Shabbos Chazon falls on Tisha B'Av and the fast is pushed to Sunday.

When this occurs we celebrate Shabbos even more joyfully than a regular Shabbos.

Isn't it Tisha B'Av, our saddest day? Why the extra joy?

Both the parsha and Haftora seem to rebuke the Jewish people. Both contain the dreaded word "Eicha" which brings to mind Meggilas Eicha, the book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B'Av. Wherein our prophet Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem.

Moshe, Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu represent different stages of Jewish nationhood.

Moshe, just before entering The land of Israel, warns the Jewish nation not to forget the great purpose they were chosen for and our connection with Hashem whose Torah is our guide. Yishayahu, during the First Temple Era, chastises the Jewish people for being superficial. Yirmiyahu, after the destruction of the First Temple, laments how low we have fallen.

Each ends with words of hope and promise and in each case we came bouncing back strengthened and greater than before.

Sometimes, in order to build, you first need to demolish. It is a necessary loss to achieve something greater. When you focus on the past, the destruction is devastating. However, when you you focus on the future, that which seemed awful becomes positive.

Knowing that soon Moshiach will come and our Temple rebuilt more beautiful than ever. Seeing how the Jewish people will have achieved unimagined levels of greatness and holiness, due to our prolonged suffering in this exile.

Even more than all that, we will finally achieve our ultimate purpose, making this world a dwelling for Hashem. This is why He created existence and this is why He created us, to accomplish Hashem's goal. What could be greater than that?

So is Tisha B'Av happy or Sad? It was sad but soon it will be happy. This year we get a taste of our future, a taste of Moshiach as the fast gets pushed off. The happy essence of the day is revealed, therefore we celebrate Shabbos with more joy than usual.

Sometimes I wonder, what could we be achieving in this exile? We live under threat, the whole world is against our existence.

Perhaps that is the answer. I have been suffering from ALS for over two years now. Not able to move or talk, I exist. But when visitors come, I fill with joy, and when they leave they too seem full of joy.

Perhaps in these last moments of exile, it is our Jewish presence that makes the difference. So express your Jewishness a little more. Find ways to add to your Mitzvahs and do them with joy, knowing that you are changing the world for good.

May this year's Tisha B'Av fast be pushed off for good.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Great Women Teach Us

This week's Parsha, Mattos Maasei, ends with the Daughters of Tzelafchad, keeping the words of Hashem, marrying into their father's tribe, Menashe.

The Torah here mentions them by name for the third time, an honor which is bestowed on very few. Not only that, Hashem chooses to close the book of Bamidbar, Numbers, with them. This clearly indicates that there is something about them that is central to the book of Bamidbar.

Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milka and Noa.

What are we meant to learn from these great women? How does it highlight the central theme of the book of Bamidbar?

The first thing to know about the daughter's of Tzelafchad is that they were selfless. In the case they brought before the Jewish people, they did not ask for any personal gain but rather that the Torah law be fulfilled, that their father have a portion of the holy land named for him.

They were holy, righteous learned and wise, they were patient and waited until the fortieth year in the desert to make their case. They never took there eye off the goal, to get their father, his rightful part in the holy land.

The book of Bamidbar is all about making our way to the Holy Land. Which for us means not simply living in Israel but living there under Torah rule, with the coming of Moshiach.

How do we accomplish this? First, by being learned and having the wisdom to understand our purpose. To be patient and do the necessary steps to bring it about. Keeping our focus on our purpose and finally, to stand before Hashem, now in the last moments of this exile and demand that justice be served, that He send Moshiach. Not for our personal gain but because it is what Hashem wants and what the Jewish people rightfully earned.

Hashem, being proud of the daughters of Tzelafchad, mentions them three times. If we act like them he will surely be proud and send Moshiach. The time has come.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Strength Through Dark Times

In this week's parsha, Pinchas, we read about the regular sacrifices brought on the Temple altar. There were daily, Shabbat, new month and festival offerings.

Every day two yearling lambs were brought as "constant burnt offerings. The first you should do in the morning, and the second you should do in the afternoon".

What is the significance of bringing one in the "morning" and one in the "afternoon"? What lessons could we take from this constant burnt offering, for our relationship with Hashem, and for our personal relationships?

The Hebrew word for sacrifice is "korban" which comes from the word karov, close. The idea here it to bring yourself closer, strengthen your connection with Hashem.

This must be "constant". Hashem wants us to work on developing our relationship with Him every day.

How do you get closer to Hashem? By being a "burnt offering". Burnt offerings were unique, whereas other sacrifices, only parts were burnt on the altar, the burnt offering was entirely consumed. Hashem wants us to give our total self to him. To be open and vulnerable and to allow our entire self to be consumed, becoming one with Hashem.

"Morning" is symbolic of the good times, when the light of Hashem shines bright. At these times things are easy, there are no obstacles to overcome. "Afternoon" is the hard times, when the sun is going down, obstacles make Hashem seem distant. Even in these dark times of exile we need to come closer. The darker it is, the greater the effort we need to give to connect. The bond we forge in these dark times, is beyond anything we could have created in times of light.

Ultimately the light will return but because of the closeness we have developed, the light will be greater than anything we could have imagined.

Same is true for personal relationships. To get closer you must be "constant", you must work on your relationship every day. Give your entire self to your other, allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. This is easy when things are fine. However, it is the persistence and effort in times of difficulty that will take your relationship to a whole new level. Deeper, stronger and more wonderful than anything you could have imagined.

Struggling with ALS has been a tremendous strain on my family, especially on my wife. Nevertheless, it has brought us closer as a family and as a couple. And for that I am thankful.

Dedicated to my wife Dina, whose strength, kindness and love has been the glue that holds our family together, a true aishes chayil.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Modesty and Fidelity

In this week's parsha, we have the famous verse, "Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisrael", "How good are your tents Jacob, your dwellings Israel". 

The wicked Balam wanted to curse the Jewish people but when he saw their modesty and fidelity he could only bless them. What did he see? He saw their tents set up in a way as to give each one privacy. There was no direct line of sight from one tent into another. He saw that they were organized according to their tribes, which was possible because of marital fidelity. 

This is followed by the prophecy of Moshiach's coming. 

What lesson can we take from here? How does it connect to Moshiach? 

Many are unaware that the laws of modesty apply to both men and women. It covers modesty in speech, dress, action and thought. 

We also have laws of appropriate behavior between men and women. 

It is these laws that has been our protection and makes us special and holy. 

We find these laws difficult because they go against nature. 

It is natural for a man to have inappropriate thoughts. Which can bring to immodest speech and actions. 

While men love dress codes and uniforms it goes against the grain and is totally unnatural to women. To women, their dress is an expression of how they feel inside. If the dress code is not how they feel, it feels like a lie. 

To this we have a two step plan. First, laws to set boundaries and safeguards. Second, to work on our inside so it resembles the Jewish spirit.  

Don't think that this means that you have to be a prude or that you need to dress in shmattes. Rather, to become beautiful and dignified within and allow that to be expressed in thought, speech, action and dress. 

A Jewish man is meant to be a light of decency and a living example to the world around him. 

A Jewish woman is meant to be a bas melech, a princess, beautiful and dignified. Her presence effecting her surroundings. 

When we act with modesty and fidelity we are in a position to change the world around us. We become as Hashem's ambassadors to make His presence known, accepted and welcome to all. It is the foundation upon which our Torah and Mitzvahs stand. It protects from our worst enemies because we are protected when we are Hashem's ambassadors. Finally, it is the basis and starting point of our positive effect on the world that will bring Moshiach.