Friday, October 22, 2021

The Gift of Shabbos

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

Oasis in the Storm

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

It never gets old

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

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 ...