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 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 of our faith. To paraphrase the sage Hillel, This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary which you must go and study.

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...