Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gift for Our Generation

This week will mark a major historic milestone as Israel and Jews around the world celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern Jewish state. For thousands of years, Jews around the world fantasized about the reality that exists today. Our liturgy is replete with the theme to return to Zion and Jerusalem. Every monumental event from the conclusion of the Pesach Seder to the newly married couple standing under the chuppah, the prayer to return to Jerusalem has been etched on the lips of our ancestor for generations. The prophecy in the Book of Zecharia that foretold that “Old men and women shall dwell in the streets of Jerusalem and that the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets”, has turned into reality. For the first time in two thousand years, there is a stronger presence than ever of Torah Study, Observance of Mitzvos and vibrant Jewish life. Not to mention all the modern advances in the area of science, healthcare and security innovations. The list can go on and on.  The Jews that are not fortunate to live in the Land of Israel still have the opportunity to visit with relative ease in contrast to earlier generations. It would be disappointing if the marking of this important date was met with a shrug or just eating a falafel. As with all gifts in life, we must express our thanks to G-d for the great privilege of making Israel a home for the Jewish People in our lifetime.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Mitzvah To Remember

Every year on the Shabbos before Purim we read Parshas Zachor. The Torah commands us never to forget the evils of Amaleik and the atrocities it attempted to inflict upon the Jews as they departed from Egypt. It does seem a bit unusual to be commanded to remember an event. Isn't this event noteworthy in our story as a people that it wouldn't be forgotten, irrespective if there is a mitzvah to remember?
One of the blessings of Jewish life for the last few decades particularly here in the United States has been the relative peace that we have been privileged to enjoy. As with many privileges and blessings in life, there is one glaring downside. That is the feeling of complacency that has crept into our lives. With complacency comes a tendency to forget some of the difficult memories of the past. We have been rudely reminded of that in recent times with the Polish Government outlawing any mention of Polish involvement in the Holocaust. It has been disturbing to watch some of the indifference in reaction to this new law. It is not just the memory of the past that needs to be remembered, but as we say in the Haggadah “in every generation, there is a group that seeks to annihilate us.” The first step in not letting the ugly past repeat itself is by ensuring that our history is not forgotten. Let us be particularly mindful of the mitzvah of Zachor this Shabbos.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Pure Foundation

The first Jewish fundraising campaign is found in this weeks parsha. The Israelites are told to bring forward raw materials for the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. With a Super Walmart or Home Depot that was not around the corner, where did they procure all the materials for the building of the Mishkan? The precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper were part of the spoils that came with them from Egypt. They were quite resourceful in securing all the rest of the materials that included the fine fabrics. There was one notable exception to this. The Atzei Shittim/Acacia Wood came from Israel. Rashi elaborates with the details. A couple of centuries prior to this event when Yaakov was relocating to Egypt from Israel, he made it his business for this wood to be transported to Egypt for the eventual construction of the Mishkan. It seems to be quite a lesson in advanced planning. Why was it necessary for Yaakov to shlep all this wood down to Egypt for an event two hundred years into the future? Were there other materials that were perhaps also worthy of such attention?

The Atzei Shittim/Acacia wood was primarily used for the construction of the beams. The wood functioned quite literally as the foundation of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Yaakov was teaching us a profound lesson. In regards to most things one can be creative and under the appropriate circumstances even compromise on certain things.  However, in regards to the foundation, it must always emanate from a pure source, and one cannot compromise on a foundational issue. The Mishkan was the structure in which the Israelites come to connect as a people to connect with G-d, and that is why our ancestors took great pains to bring the wood from the Holy Land for this purpose.  Our Rabbis have taught that each individual is a Mishkan in the sense that there is a divine spark within everyone. That is our foundation of who we are as people. Let us treat it with the honor and respect a holy foundation deserves.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Who's Contributing The Other Half ?

As we are on the cusp of the month of Adar, we once again read the parsha of Shekalim this Shabbos. This was the directive that G-d communicated to Moshe that Israelites contribute a half shekel for this national campaign. This campaign had a dual purpose. Firstly, the donated silver was ultimately melted and used for the construction of the mishkan/tabernacle. It  was also done for the purpose of the first national census. Instead of counting heads, we were told to contribute a half shekel coin. However many coins were counted was the amount of people that were accounted for in the census.

I have often wondered, why couldn’t everyone just contribute a shekel ? Was there any reason for the frugality here ? After all the proceeds went to the construction of the mishkan/tabernacle  and the more funds collected would just make this fundraising campaign that more successful ?

Upon reflection, the half shekel contribution does teach us a great lesson. It reflects the notion that although each and every individual is valuable and significant we are only part of something that is much greater than the sum of all of our parts. Klal Yisroel is not just a collection of individuals. Rather, we are a nation in which each tribe uniquely contributes in a way which cannot be duplicated. Everyone has a special purpose and mission. Unfortunately, we tend to hear how one individual or group disparages another and claims the other contributions are unworthy. Yet, as we know the Kohanim, Levites and Israelites all contributed into weaving the larger tapestry of Klal Yisroel. This fundamental lesson manifests itself precisely with the contribution of the half shekel. Let’s remember there are other Jews that contribute a half shekel in their own unique way.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Most Important Top Ten List

For some reason, the term “ Top 10” has become a defining way to communicate the most valuable moments. From Top Ten plays of the Super Bowl to Top Ten sports bloopers of all time, we frequently evaluate important events that way. In fact, the first “Top Ten” is recorded in this week's parsha of curse with the Ten Commandments. This is arguably the most important event in the history of mankind. This is the moment when G-d communicates His message of what it means to be a chosen people for a unique and chosen mission. This was not just delivered to one individual, prophet or rabbi. Rather this was a national experience that every man, woman and child heard on that fateful day at Mount Sinai. It all started with the deafening words “  I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt”. Many have wondered about the latter part of the verse which references the Exodus of Egypt. After all, is that isolated incident, the greatest accomplishment that G-d could come up with ? What about something more universal as “I am the Lord your G-d who created heaven and earth” ?

Upon taking a closer look at the verse there is a very profound lesson for us to internalize. G-d is telling us that He took us out of Egypt, but to be more precise He is saying that in the singular tense; I took YOU out of Egypt. Translation: I took you out of your difficult situation and state of confinement. This was not only the ancient Egypt that we were emancipated from but rather during every difficult personal situation, He is there for us. Essentially, we are being told, “ I am you personal G-d who wants a personal relationship with you”. This cannot be overemphasized about the importance in our faith. To paraphrase the sage Hillel, This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary which you must go and  study.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Second Chance

Just when you might have thought we were done with Jewish holidays for a while, Pesach Sheini, or the Second Passover, comes along.   Before your blood pressure goes through the roof and you have heart palpitations with the thought of cleaning your kitchen thoroughly for a couple of days followed by a marathon Seder lasting into the early dawn hours, please take a deep breath. This is a largely symbolic day that we actually celebrated this week.  Historically, in ancient times of the Temple in Jerusalem, anyone who would be unable to participate in the Passover offering due to either being a great distance away or in a state of ritual impurity was able to have a makeup date one month later. Hence the holiday, Pesach Sheini.
Yet, before we dismiss this day as a relic of the past which has no practical relevance, it may be worth it to internalize the greater message of this day.  It seems to be a minor Jewish holiday with a major universal message. Many times we do not experience success in our initial attempts toward important endeavors. It is frustrating to invest time, energy and financial resources into something we hold dear, only to see it fail. It does not just fail the first time; in many instances, there are multiple failures. With each subsequent failure, we get more discouraged and lose hope of ever succeeding. Yet, we can never give up. There is always another day that brings new opportunities and plateaus that one can conquer.
If you were not successful the first time, please remember the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini.  Some of the greatest accomplishments or achievements the world has ever seen were not successful the first time around. Even the first set of tablets that Moses received at Sinai were smashed almost immediately. So, if you are lying on the mat feeling down after another setback, just dust yourself off and try again.
Happy Pesach Sheini.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Moving Forward

In the aftermath of a divisive and brutal election season, everyone and their cousin is offering a post mortem as to why election turned out this way. I am not here to offer my political analysis as to why the election had this outcome. I will leave that to the political pundits that are located across the country from newsrooms to the banter at daily minyan. There is a certain element that I would like to address that has many of us left with scar tissue from the 2016 election. Over the course of the long and heated campaign there were many relationships that took a hit due to the passionate exchanges of views. From spouses, siblings, coworkers and even fellow congregants at shul, there were many instances of tempers flaring and displaying outright disdain for someone else’s views.  I have heard of some people that are dreading or even avoiding the upcoming Thanksgiving dinners with family members that voted for the “wrong person”. So how do we pick up the pieces now that the election is finally behind us ? ( I thought I was nauseous when I was driving and heard on the radio something about the 2018 mid term elections)

There is this phrase that we find many times in the Torah including the weekly  portions that we read at this time of year. After various significant and compelling events that are recorded in the Torah, prior to moving on to a new  subject, we are taught, “It was after these things”. This is teaching is an important lesson about how to move on from important event that are good or otherwise. It is important to catch our breath and reflect on how could move on more stable footing with one another. It is important to remember that we have far more in common with our friends and family than the political disagreements that divide us. Yet, frequently we emphasize and highlight the differences between us. It is still possible for someone to be a kind, intelligent and good hearted  individual despite having voted for the the candidate that you didn’t favor. So let us take a step back and view how integral our relationships with our families and friends are and not allow this election to hijack it. Moreover, I would add, that for the people that are celebrating and feeling jubilant, there still will be daily stresses and challenges in our lives. The notion that a new occupant to the oval office will solve all of our struggles in life is somewhat wishful thinking. On the other hand for those folks that are despondent and full of despair, please remember that the United States and its Constitution have been around for a while and tested many times and it still is a strong and proud republic. So to all those that were thinking of sitting shiva, please keep in mind,the sky is not falling.
So the next time we break bread or raise a glass with someone that we have disagreed during this election season, let us take a deep breath and enjoy each other's company. Life is just too important to choose otherwise.

Gift for Our Generation

This week will mark a major historic milestone as Israel and Jews around the world celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the m...