Friday, February 23, 2024

The Power to Illuminate

A central feature in synagogues at the most prominent place in front of the Aron Kodesh (holy Ark) around the world is the Ner Tamid. The Ner Tamid, translated as an Eternal Light, first appears in this week's parsha. The Torah begins with the directive for there to be a Ner Tamid in the Mishkan, which was a lamp that was fueled with extra virgin olive oil. The lamp was burning 24/7/365, with there never being a time that the light was not burning. This practice was continued for several centuries in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem and synagogues worldwide for thousands of years. One can fairly ask why keeping a Ner Tamid/Eternal Light at the most prominent place in our house of worship was so important. It is also worth noting that the quality of the olive oil required for the Ner Tamid had to be of the utmost purity. In today's terms, we would classify it as not just any olive oil but extra virgin olive oil of the highest caliber. The Jewish People have been compared to זַ֤יִת רַעֲנָן֙ יְפֵ֣ה פְרִי־תֹ֔אַר קָרָ֥א ה שְׁמֵ֑ךְ. This verse from Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) is translated as "G-d called you a verdant olive tree, fair with choice fruit." While it is intended to be complimentary, there is some deeper meaning here. The Nesivis Shalom explains that not only is the liquid of the olive not visible to the person looking at it from the outside, but there is an element to the olive oil that makes it superior. Olive oil, in addition to being tasty in salads, has another important feature: its power to illuminate. Not unlike the liquid embedded in olives, the Jewish People are called upon to illuminate the world. It's important to note that olives can only extract the liquid that will illuminate when they are under pressure or squeezed. Similarly, the Jewish People continue to be under stress and pressure, and that is precisely when we can rise to the occasion and illuminate the world. The last few months have presented Israel and Jews around the world with challenges it has not experienced in decades. We have been squeezed and under pressure in uncomfortable and even painful situations. It is important to remember that we are compared to the olives that are pressed and even crushed, but that results in olive oil extracted that illuminates the world. The next time you enter a shul, it might be worth it to pause and look at the Ner Tamid and reflect on our mission to illuminate the world. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, February 9, 2024

Night followed by Day

Baskin-Robbins was founded in 1945 in Glendale, California by Burton Baskin and Irvine Robbins, ice cream enthusiasts and brothers-in-law, whose passion inspired what is now the world's largest chain of ice cream specialty shops. Baskin Robbins became synonymous with the number 31. The company initially had 31 flavors designed so everyone can have a different flavor every day of the month. What originally started with 31 flavors has grown to over 1400 flavors. A customer at Baskin Robbins will choose between chocolate cherry bark or pink bubblegum flavored ice cream. I mention this trivial data point to contrast this with more serious elements in life. As a faith community, we need to understand that faith is unlike going to the ice cream store. There are situations of pain, tragedy, and suffering that cannot be easily explained. While we remain steadfast in our belief in G-d, our faith is tested these days when Israel and the Jewish People are facing challenges we thought were behind us. We wonder about the suffering of the righteous and the ability for cruelty to become widespread. Israel finds itself in a seemingly impossible situation. If it fights to completely destroy the terrorists, the hostages will be in danger. If it agrees to have the hostages released in a brokered deal, it will likely mean surrendering to terrorists who will undoubtedly attempt to unleash future massacres against Israel. All this is just on the southern front in Gaza. There is an inevitable fatigue that sets in as Israel is even told by its "best friends" that it must accept impossible terms to be on a path to normalization and acceptance in the region. I am writing this not from a geopolitical perspective but from a perspective of faith when everything appears so unfair. To paraphrase the judge and prophet Gideon from the Book of Judges, we say to God at certain moments, "Where is your awesomeness." Based on the order of creation, the Rabbis teach us that night was created before light. As the Torah teaches us, וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר. This is translated as "And it was evening, and then it was morning." In a literal sense, it means that G-d created night and then day. For that reason, Shabbos begins in the evening and then continues to the following day, as night was created before day. On a deeper level, Rabbi Zadok of Lublin taught us that we must experience the bitterness of night before enjoying the radiant light. It would be easier to have light always and never experience the bitter night. This is a time to remember that faith is not like going to an ice cream store, and there are periods of pain and suffering that our people continue to endure in the middle of this long night. As a people of faith, we continue pray and believe that after an extended period of night, we will finally experience the radiant light. As the month of Adar begins, we are once again reminded of the Purim story whose Jews of that generation shared much light; as the Megilla states, לַיְּהוּדִ֕ים הָֽיְתָ֥ה אוֹרָ֖ה. (The Jews experienced the light.) As people of faith, we are regularly reminded that we are not in any ice cream store. 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 ...