Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trust Brings Miracles

In this week's parsha, Behar, we learn about the mitzvah of Shmita, the sabbatical year. "Six years you should sow your fields..., and gather its produce. And in the seventh year, the land must be given complete rest, a sabbatical for Hashem, you may not sow your fields..."

This is one of the most difficult mitzvahs, because if all of Israel refrains from sowing their fields, what will we eat?

In answer to this question, Hashem says, "I will command my blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield (enough) produce for three years." For the end of the sixth year, the whole seventh, and until after the harvest of the eighth year.

Still we find, that this mitzvah is so difficult, that during the First Temple era, seventy Sabbatical years were not kept properly. Because of this, after the destruction of the first Temple, we were in exile for seventy years. It is obvious that this mitzvah is super important to Hashem, and that keeping this mitzvah is key to bringing Moshiach.

By taking a look at what is at the core of this mitzvah, everything becomes clear. What is at the essence of this mitzvah?

We all have a relationship with Hashem. For some of us it is weak, for others it is stronger, and yet for some, it is one of rejection. Many of us run the gamut, a roller coaster ride relationship with Hashem.

What Hashem wants most from us, is that we trust in Him. And this is, what is at the core of this mitzvah.

Trust is stronger than belief, and we are tested regularly by Hashem to see if we put our trust in Him.

Yet it is hard to trust, in any person or even ourselves for that matter. How often do we watch ourselves fail at what we set out to do? How often are our hopes dashed, only to find ourselves hurt and broken? We have trust issues.

When it comes to Hashem, we need to take a different approach. Because in Him we truly can trust, and the more we get to know Him, the stronger our trust in Him becomes. You come to realize that He is the only one you can actually trust in.

Hashem is the one that takes care of us. This becomes clear in the sixth year of the Sabbatical, when one would think the field has been drained of its nutrients, due to five years of sowing and reaping. When the sixth comes, there is nothing left for the field to give. It is our trust in Hashem alone, that make our fields yield three times their normal production.

The same is true for Jewish fathers and especially Jewish mothers. As you give, and give, and give, until there is nothing left to give. It is your relationship with Hashem, your trust alone, that gives you the strength you never would have imagined you had.

I have experienced this first hand. Now, it is already three years, since I have been diagnosed with ALS. For me, though it has been difficult, it has not been draining, because I really can't do much. But watching my wife Dina, do everything, double, maybe triple her normal work load. And on top of that all, the emotional drain and the hurt and suffering of not having a regular husband to come home to. I have no idea how she does it. Then she finds the strength to smile and give inspirational talks. When there is no gas left and you can still do so much, there is a miracle happening. And this miracle is because of your trust in Hashem.

It is my hope that through our building our trust relationship with Hashem, we will merit the coming of Moshiach very soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Raising Spirits

This week's parsha is called Emor, which means "say." The names of the parshas hold a special significance and a lesson for life. The Midrash on the words "Emor el haKohanim, Say to the Kohanim," says "the sayings of Hashem are pure sayings." Emor is a command to say something pure, emulating Hashem. While we are generally taught, not to speak about others, here the Torah wants us to say something positive about another.

What does Hashem want us to say?

Our words have power.

When we speak negatively about someone, we affect the person negatively. This is why loshon hara, evil speech, is so bad, because it damages three people, the speaker, the listener, and especially the one being spoken about.

In the same way, speaking positively about someone, will affect the person positively.

But how can I speak positive of a person who breaks the rules? He went to yeshiva just like me, he should know better.

There are two answers, both found in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of our Fathers.

The first is, "Don't judge your friend, until you are in his situation." In this approach, when you see your friend failing in a certain area, you should consider that his circumstance is what caused him to fall short. If he would have been in more favorable circumstances, he would not have failed in this area.

The problem with this approach is, that although you have found a way to answer away your friends failings, he is still a failure in your eyes. This, obviously, cannot be what the name of our parsha, means for us to say.

The second is, "Judge every person favorably." In this approach, you focus on the positive. You recognize, that every person is given challenges, according to the greatness of his Neshama. The greater the neshama, the greater the challenges and the greater the ability to overcome these challenges. In this way of thinking, you see the positive in your friend. Although there seems to be a negative, you choose not to focus on that. Eventually, if you practice this approach long enough, you will cease to see the negative and you will only see the greatness in others.

Now this is worthwhile saying. Imagine how this boost of true praise, will affect the person being spoken about. This kind of praise, can be the thing that strengthens him, to overcome his challenge. This is the kind of "saying," the name of our parsha is asking us to do.

Since I was young, I would always try to find ways to lift others spirits. Of course, I have said hurtful things too, which I regret. But over the years, I have trained myself to see good things in people, and compliment them.

Everybody has good and when you expose that good, you raise the spirit of that person. And there is nothing better than lifting the spirit of another person.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


In this week's parsha, Kedoshim, we find the mitzvah of making and keeping honest measuring tools, whether they are for measuring weight, dry measure, or liquid, they need to be accurate. It is forbidden to make or have in your possession inaccurate measuring tools, even if you have no intention to use them.

While with many mitzvas, Hashem signs off with "I Am Hashem," or "I Am Hashem your God." After this mitzvah, Hashem signs off with, "I Am Hashem your God who took you out of Egypt."

What is the connection, between honest weights and measures, and the exodus from Egypt? Why is it a sin to merely own them, even if you have no intention to use them?

The simple answer brought by Rashi, that it is for this reason, that Hashem took us out of Egypt, to be a paragon of honesty in business dealings. Also, just like Hashem could discern in Egypt, who is a first born and who is not, so can He discern if someone falsifies his weights, to be dishonest in business.

But there is a deeper reason. This is the way of the evil inclination, he doesn't tell you to steal or rob another. You would never go for that. First he says, "what is so bad to own these false weights, your not even going to use them." Then he goes a step further. "What is the big deal using them, they are just a drop off. It is not a big deal." And step by step he drags you down until he's made a thief out of you.

Owning false weights and measures are the first steps. It is the beginning of dishonesty, though no action was done with them, they represent ill intent and bad choices, which is the prelude to dishonesty.

This is where Egypt comes in. Though Hashem decreed that the Jewish people would suffer by the hands of the Egyptians, each individual Egyptian had the freedom to choose not to. It was their ill intent and bad choices that brought them to oppress the Jewish people. The Jewish people would have been oppressed with out their involvement, because it was Hashem's decree. It was their evil intention and bad choices that got them involved and ultimately punished, etc.

It all begins with ill intent and bad choices. For example, choosing bad friends, purchasing inappropriate clothing, etc.

Hashem is saying, I took you out of Egypt, the place of ill intentions and bad choices. I want you to be better than them. I want you to be a beacon of goodness and honesty. That is why I took you out of Egypt. And honesty is the starting point for all the mitzvahs, and what defines us as Hashem's people.

To dispel dishonesty, first we need to dispel ill intent and bad choices. Get rid of self acquired bad influences, and temptations. You will find it freeing, like a weight being removed from your shoulders. And finally, being honest in business and with your acquaintances, is the way you influence them to want to be more like you, and to follow in Hashem's ways.

One more thing, by connecting honesty with the exodus from Egypt Hashem gives us a clear indication, that honesty is a prerequisite to bringing the future redemption. May it come soon.
Dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Moshe Muller, a good friend, who passed away this week. May his family be consoled. To help the Muller family

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Living For Hashem, Living For Our Families

In this week's parsha, Acharei, we read "And you should guard My statutes and My laws, that the person will do them, 'vachai bahem,' 'and live by them,' I Am Hashem."

The Maggid of Mezrich explains, that the words, vachai bahem, can be translated, and put life into them. We have to bring life into the mitzvahs.

How does one bring life into the mitzvahs? What can we learn from this for our relationships?

Our approach to doing mitzvas take on several different forms.

First you have the one whose mitzvahs and life have no connection. To him, there is a separation between holy and mundane. He prays with fervor in shul, but when he does business, eats, etc., holiness and refinement are not visible.

Then there is the one whose life and mitzvas are connected, he does mitzvahs with all their bells and whistles. But he does them with the hope, that by doing them, he will get what he needs from Hashem. His drive to do mitzvahs, is the physical pay out. In this case it is his mitzvahs bringing life into his needs.

Then there is the one, whose every physical need and act is so that he can do mitzvahs. He eats, he exercises, he works, and rests, just to be able to carry out Hashem's will. This is bringing life into the mitzvahs. Your whole life is for Hashem.

This is the meaning of the saying of the Tzemach Tzedek, explaining the Maggid of Mezrich's words, to his daughter-in-law, "In order to bring life into the mitzvahs, you need to have strength and be joyous... better eat in order to daven, than to daven in order to eat."

Most of us fall into all these categories, at one time or another. The goal should be, to make Hashem the focus, to bring life into the mitzvahs. You will find that you will become more refined. You will eat differently, act differently, etc., your every step will become  filled with purpose and meaning. Of course, this doesn't happen in a day, it is a life's journey. One step at a time, you have the power to reach higher, and the more you do it, the more meaningful your life will become, the closer you will feel to Hashem.

It is always difficult to balance between family and work, family and personal interests. When work and recreation are an escape from the family, you will find resentment and anger towards your work and recreation. But when your wife and children know that they are most important to you, because you treat them that way. And your work and recreation is so that you can be a better father and husband, to provide for them and be healthy. Then they will have no resentment to your work and recreation. Just the opposite, they will take pride and joy in what a great and loving father and husband you are.

Again, don't expect to become super-dad or super-husband in a day, every step in the right direction, will bring you closer. This is true for mothers and wives as well.

The key is to make Hashem most important to your family and your family most important to you. If your family is suffering, because of your relationship with Hashem, then you are doing something wrong, and you should look for a way to correct the problem, even if it means changing yourself, and your religious expression.

I remember when I was in the hospital and the question came up about doing a tracheotomy. I was asked if I wanted to do it or perhaps not and pass on to the next world. It was my choice legally and halachicly. I was tormented by the question, because, on one hand, I had suffered so much, on the other hand I love my family. It was heart wrenching, when I thought of my wife Dina and our children, how much they would suffer if I was gone. Then I thought, what would Hashem want  me to do? I thought what would be best for my family? The answer seemed clear and I went through with it. It hasn't been easy, not for me, not for Dina and not for the family. But we are all happier because of it, it was the right decision.

May we all be blessed with meaning in our lives, closeness to Hashem, and closeness to our families.