Friday, October 22, 2021
Throughout thousands of years in several different continents and tumultuous eras, the Jewish people strictly adhered to the Shabbos observance. Shabbos observance is unlike other mitzvahs in its importance and its seriousness to the life of a Jew. An individual that observes the laws of Shabbos is essentially subscribing to a fundamental tenet of Judaism. The basic article of faith is that G-d created this world in six days and rested on the seventh day. I would like to explore the meaning of G-d “resting” on the seventh day. Obviously, it cannot mean G-d was tired and fatigued from a challenging week at work in a way that us mortal beings get tired at the office. So what does it mean that G-d “rested”? Furthermore, why, just because God rested, should we all rest? There are plenty of things that an infinite, eternal, Al-Mighty G-d can do that mortal beings cannot even begin to dream of accomplishing!! Rashi in his commentary on the creation of the world in Berieshes states that after the six days of creation, the world was deficient of Menucha. At the onset of Shabbos, Menucha arrived as well. Menucha is traditionally understood to be rest, but applying the word rest in this context leaves something lacking in understanding. Our Rabbis have taught a profound interpretation into this passage. At the conclusion of the six days, G-d created a perfect physical world and was complete. It contained mountains and valleys, oceans and rivers and lions, tigers and bears! (oh my!) Although the world was complete in the physical realm, it still lacked in one major area. It lacked the spark of G-d’s existence and the intense manifestation of His presence. When Shabbos came, the world experienced an intense spiritual manifestation of His presence like no other time. This idea is expressed in the Kiddush we recite every Friday night in the words of תְּחִלָּה לְמִקְרָאֵי קֹֽדֶשׁ . This is translated as first to the holy gatherings or convocations. That is because this Shabbos experience was like no other in which the manifestation of G-d presence is present in our lives like no other time. For thousands of years, the Jewish People have been at the brink of survival, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is in no small part to its commitment to Shabbos that allowed it to survive to this very day. A few years ago, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa started the Shabbos Project to share the gift of Shabbos with a wider group of our brothers and sisters who are not fortunate to regularly take advantage of regularly this treasure. Over the last few years, the Shabbos Project has exploded in popularity and we are fortunate to host a program in our community this year. The Jacksonville Kollel is hosting a phenomenal program tonight for the community and partnering with our shul tomorrow to bring this three thousand year plus gift to a wider audience of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Greater Jacksonville. There was a ton of effort and energy by many people that was invested in making this Shabbos Project, and on behalf of a grateful community and appreciative Klal Yisroel, I simply nod my head in gratitude. For all those invested in increasing the cause of Godliness in this world through the observance of Torah and Mitzvos-- it doesn’t get much better than this!!! Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, October 8, 2021
As we begin a new cycle of the weekly Torah reading, we are challenged to find any meaning and insights into narratives and stories that we have heard about for years and decades. This week’s Parsha of Noach is an excellent example of that. Any attendee of Hebrew school knows that Noach built an ark to save him, his family, and many animals from the destruction of the flood that G-d had unleashed into the world. Even Hollywood caught on a few years ago, releasing a blockbuster movie, Noah. Despite the rave reviews, it seems that consensus, as with most things the book is better than the movie! What then can we practically glean from the story of Noach building an ark to escape the flood? The Nesivos Shalom offers a fascinating insight into the eternal lesson of building an ark to find an escape from a flood. Figuratively speaking, our generation needs to find a respite from the ongoing bombardment of distractions that keep invading our space at every waking moment of the day. The stress that the season of COVID has added to our daily arena has only exacerbated an already tense reality. That is where I have come to appreciate Shabbos so much even more. Shabbos has been a day of rest for all of time, but arguably, our generation needs the rest of the holy Shabbos in more ways than ever before. Shabbos is a time not just for extra naps and rest but rather a time to be more connected to G-d and our families. It is also a special opportunity to become more in touch with ourselves as we go 25 hours with tweets, updates, and the latest breaking updates. Essentially, the gift of Shabbos is akin to leaving the stormy and treacherous waters that we are confronted with all week and enter an area of respite and reprieve. As we once again review the Parsha and learn about the ancient ark, let us be forever grateful for the eternal ark that we enter Friday evening at sundown. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, October 1, 2021
What more can we learn that we have not known already? Who does not know that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit? Or that Cain and Abel had the first sibling rivalry in history? Or that Noah had to build an ark to protect himself from a catastrophic flood that would destroy civilization? These are fair questions as we once again begin the Torah reading cycle anew with Sefer Bereishis. How many times do we have to hear the same Parsha and pretend not to get bored? At least with the rest of the Torah, there are the various laws and Mitzvahs recorded, which is essential to review. However, Bereishis/ Genesis is devoted primarily to the Jewish People's story and how it came into being with our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. How many times do we have to hear the same stories? No less a formidable Biblical Commentator than Rashi poses the following question. I would like to paraphrase his answer with a story that occurred in London just over a hundred years ago. Chaim Weizmann (who later became the first president of modern Israel) met with Lord Balfour in England and lobbied for the British Government to recognize a Jewish Homeland. He was met with much resistance. It is well known that the British attempted to offer Uganda to the Jews as an alternative relocation site. Weizmann dismissed this offer and insisted there was no alternative to the Jewish Homeland but Eretz Yisroel. Balfour upbraided Weizmann for rejecting the Uganda offer. Weizmann responded, "Mr. Balfour, suppose I were to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" But, Dr. Weizmann, "we already have London," replied the British Lord. "That is true, but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh," concluded Dr. Weizmann. Balfour was moved to tears and later wrote that the road followed by a great and suffering nation had been illuminated for him". Rashi writes that it is essential for us to constantly review the Book of Berieshes/Genesis, as the nations of the world will accuse the Jews of improperly occupying the Land. If there is one cause that seems to unite different religions, faiths, and varied political stripes, it is that Israel is a nation of colonialists and occupiers. The United Nations General Assembly in 2020 had a total of 17 resolutions against the Jewish state versus six resolutions singling out any other country. The ongoing demonization has had a corrosive effect on the Jewish community as there are now multiple progressive Jewish organizations that openly challenge Israel's natural right to its ancient homeland. For this reason, Rashi teaches us we must review the story of our people and our Land on an annual basis. It never gets old. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, September 3, 2021
The final Shabbos of the Jewish Calendar boasts one feature that does not change from year to year. We always read the Parsha of Nitzavim. What is it about this Parsha of a mere forty verses that make it required reading for the final Shabbos of every year? There are various fundamental themes in Judaism that include Free Will and Teshuva that are recorded in Nitzavim. I will highlight one central theme of the Parsha, which is necessary to internalize before bringing in the New Year. These words feature an unusual characteristic marking above the written words in the Torah. It has several dots above these words. Indeed, if you look into a Sefer Torah, you will see these dots above the words וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד־עוֹלָם. This is translated as the “revealed are to our children and us forever.” This is a continuation of the beginning of the verse “ the hidden belongs to Hashem our G-d.” The deeper meaning here is that the private action of Man is under the purview of the Al-Mighty, for better or worse. However, what Man does in public is the responsibility of the Jewish Nation. The Rabbis have interpreted this to mean that we are responsible for one another. In Hebrew, this dictum is famous as כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. The literal translation is that we are the guarantors of one another. The role of a guarantor carries great responsibility. It reflects a legal commitment for the borrower who committed a liability. The Chofetz Chaim writes that if a guarantor sees the borrower act in a financially irresponsible maaner, he will be worried as ultimately he assumes responsibility. Similarly, the Chofetz Chaim wrote that if we see the majority of Jews estranged from Torah Judaism, then we bear the responsibility for that. It is unfortunate for us to shrug our shoulders when hearing about the deteriorating numbers of Jews engaged in Judaism. It’s incumbent for every one of us to be the best ambassadors that we can be for G-d and Torah Judaism. The notion of being responsible and a guarantor has brought out the best in Jews over the years. We most recently witnessed it with the collapse of the Surfside towers. Immediately after the tragedy, a group of Israeli soldiers boarded a plane to travel to the other side of the world to assist in a most daunting challenge. That is being a guarantor to the highest degree. As we read the final Parsha of the year, it is a timely reminder that ultimately we are all in this together. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, August 20, 2021
As we prepare for the upcoming New Year, various practices and adjustments are made in our morning and evening liturgy during this month of Elul. At the conclusion of services, we recite Chapter 27 of Tehilim/Psalms, known as L'David. The highlight of the prayer is King David declares his deepest desire is to "dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of his life and visit in His sanctuary." His lifelong ambition is to be in the House of G-d for all the days of his life. Why does he request merely to be a visitor? This request would qualify him as a long-term resident!!! The thrill of a tourist visiting a world-class destination is unmatched in its excitement and elation. I recall my trip a few years ago to Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta, Canada. It was probably the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Judging the reactions of my fellow tourists at the time, I think they shared similar thoughts. People were speechless when they first arrived at the lake as there were no words to describe the natural beauty they encountered adequately. As with most tourist areas, a guy was selling cold beverages and ice cream at the lake. The individual seemed to be quite stressed from his everyday work experiences not unlike most people who have had that stress at their job. But-- this was the most tranquil and idyllic location! How can the environment not have a calming effect on him? The obvious answer is that because this vendor had seen this place so frequently, he became so desensitized to the location. That is the reality of human nature; no matter how wonderful something is, we begin to lose appreciation when we experience this regularly or frequently. That is what King David was referring to in Chapter 27. He wanted to be in the House of G-d every day of his life, but he never wanted to lose a tourist's feeling when visiting an awesome sight. This is a timeless message for us and especially acute in the month of Elul. We may have become so familiar with the rituals and practices of Judaism that we may no longer appreciate its beauty and meaning. Therefore, let us be in the House of G-d both literally and figuratively and feel as if it's our first time. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, August 13, 2021
As schools around the world go back into session, it is once again time to appreciate the tireless efforts of all the educators that pour their sweat and blood into the infrastructure that not only teaches our children but provides them a platform to succeed in the future. The teachers make great sacrifices to educate the children thus giving them the tools to succeed in the future. The dedication of the teachers and educators is evident all the time but especially during COVID. There have been many protocols that teachers have had to adopt to ensure a safe environment for teaching and learning despite the pandemic. The pandemic has triggered all sorts of emotions from every sector and our educators have been in the front line in receiving all sorts of feedback that has not always been positive. It is for this reason and more that it is important for all of us to be so appreciative of all the efforts that teachers and administrators make during this fragile era. I think we should be mindful of this regardless of whether we have children in a particular school or even have children that are still of school age. It’s important to acknowledge all of the efforts of our teachers and administrator. The impact that a teacher or mentor can sometimes surpass the lifetime and generation of the individual. One such impactful figure whose influence is felt all over the world in many Orthodox Jewish schools today has been Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel (1849-1927) in a small town in Lithuania called Slabodka. He was also known by his Yiddish nickname as the Alter (elder) of Slabodka. He was a modest unassuming man that arguably had one of the most profound influences in the Jewish world during the last century. Many of his students went on to start their own educational institutions in the U.S.A., Europe and Israel. These students in turn went on to have many more students that became great leaders and opened even more schools and yeshivas to further influence our generation today. What was the secret sauce of the Alter that allowed his influence to flourish all over the world nearly a century after his passing? The foundation of the Alter’s educational philosophy was the Greatness of Man. He emphasized to his students that Man has unlimited potential as we were created in the image of G-d. This message was very empowering and refreshing for his students. They felt they were freed from the shackles of mediocrity and went on to achieve outstanding results. When a student feels that he or she can make an unparalleled contribution, this motivates the student to conquer plateaus that were previously thought unimaginable. The Alter lived the motto of good leaders create followers but great leaders create leaders. As I so look forward to watching the children making their way back into their classrooms and feel so indebted to their teacher for inculcating them with this empowering philosophy, I also muse about the sage from a small village in Lithuania who created this movement. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
Friday, August 6, 2021
It is this time of year that holds promise for every beleaguered fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The perennial suffering that local football fans have endured for so many years seems to be in jeopardy with a complete overhaul and not to mention the prize of the number one draft pick. The comprehensive analysis of the Jags season is something beyond the scope of this space, and quite frankly, I feel unqualified to have an informed opinion on the subject. The angle that I want to highlight is the amount of time in training camp and the pre-season it takes to prepare for the regular season adequately. There are at least six weeks of intensive training that includes rigorous workouts and drills. The rationale for this lengthy preparation is evident as it would seem absurd to show up on the day of the start of the season and expect to succeed. It is only with proper planning and preparation that one can anticipate a season with success. This notion of proper planning should resonate with us as we welcome the month of Elul this Shabbos. Elul has been traditionally known as the time to prepare for the Jewish Calendar's most holy and auspicious days. The start of Elul is a reality check that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are around the corner. These awesome days are traditionally a call to get closer to G-d and his Divine Word. It is also essential to get in touch with our inner selves to have a healthy relationship with G-d. One can get there with appropriate reflection and introspection. This process is not like your favorite dish being prepared in the instant pot. This program of reflection and introspection needs a month, which is why we are blessed to have Elul. It may appear fanciful to show up on the day of Rosh Hashanah and dip the apple in honey and wish your friend a good year. As we know from every area of life that success on the field or corporate office doesn't just happen. It takes serious and careful planning to have an outcome that is rewarded with excellence. As the sage in Pirkei Avos taught, "the day is short, and the work is great." The opportunity of Elul lies in front of us, and the clock is ticking. This year more than ever, when we feel the gravity of Rosh Hashanah approaching, let us not squander the gift of Elul. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
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