Friday, February 6 2004
This Shabbos is Rosh Hashana. Not the New Year for humans, that's sometime
in September, but Tu BiShvat, the New Year
for Trees. We celebrate by eating
fruit, especially fruits significant to Israel; Those mystically inclined
in a festive 'Seder'; And, in modern day Israel, the day has assumed
the status of a kind of Arbor day and is commemorated
by widespread planting
Whoohee! Party time dude! I have a better question: Who cares?
There is a story
in the Talmud of an old guy observed planting fig trees.
His reply upon being asked if he really expected to live long
consume the fruits of his labour demonstrates his understanding of true
priorities. "I was born into a world
flourishing with ready pleasures. My
ancestors planted for me and I work now so my children should enjoy the
act of planting is an act of faith. To bury a fertile seed and then walk
away, with no way of tracking progress for months
or years to come, demands
equanimity of spirit and deep-rooted trust in G-d. So many variables can
influence the eventual
outcome and we have so few means of control, that any
future yield can truthfully be described as miraculous.
is best accomplished in private. Underground, away from the bright
lights and crass demands for instant results, one can
develop and mature in
a stable and enduring manner.
What's more, just as a seed must first rot before it can begin to
new beginnings, a person intent on self-growth and character evolution must
be ready to undergo revolutionary
change, to the point that the old You, the
ego and self-awareness is completely effaced. Only in an atmosphere of
and acceptance can the new You develop.
The end results can be truly astounding; allowed to mature and flourish,
with Torah-rich nourishment and pruned of the dead-wood, one seed
yields returns many hundredfold; the new persona sprouts
fertile and proud,
a source of nourishment for all and a resource and sustenance for
generations to come.
Friday, February 13 2004
If my tone is unusually frazzled and my style abnormally rushed, blame it on my wife; She has
abandoned me. While she is gadding around the world introducing our youngest child, Mendel, to her extended family shes left
me to care for our two older children.
Actually familial devotions are not her only reason for travel; she is concurrently
attending the annual International Conference of Chabad Shluchos. Thousands of ladies headmistresses, religious affairs directors
and youth leaders, have gathered in NY to compare notes and plot strategies in their common task of spreading Judaism.
There is an old story of a young scholar whose wife had schemed, sweet-talked and wheeler-dealed
for him to be offered the vacant position of town Rabbi. Once ensconced in the job he began to put on airs and lay down the
law for her. Listen here, she finally let him know, you might think that because youre the Rabbi, Im the Rebbetzin. The rest
of the town knows however, that its because Im the Rebbetzin that you are the Rabbi.
In my case, as Im sure my congregants
will attest, this story is 100% true. Leah (though I warn you, she hates being called Rebbetzin) is the backbone of the Shul
and the driving force for most of our successful functions. Mostly however, among Chabad husband-and-wife teams scattered
around the world, their Shlichus is a joint project and the successes (and occasional hard times) are shared.
We read tomorrow how Hashem directs Moshe to publicise the new doctrine, the Torah, which he
is privileging his people with; Thus speak to the women and (only thereafter) tell the men.
received the same Torah, Judaism is equally incumbent on them as any man. They got it first, after all. The only difference
was the mode of transmission, reflecting the different spiritual temperaments of the two genders.
are of naturally higher spiritual sensitivity, faith comes easier and they are more naturally attuned to recognise the inherent
truths of G-d and Judaism. (I cant begin to count the number of couples I have met where, of the two, it is the wife who is
far more interested and committed than her lagging-behind spouse). Even the very essence of Yiddishkeit, the ability to transmit
the gift to future generations, is exclusive to matrilineal descent.
It was only after Hashem had been assured that the
ladies had been taught and had accepted the essential principles of our faith could Moshe begin to lecture the men in the
minutiae of day to day Torah life.
Our sages have pointed out that our first national redemption, the salvation from Egypt, was
brought about in the merit of the contemporary righteous Jewish ladies; we all, men and women and kids, are ready, waiting
and guaranteed to soon be hearing new Torah teachings and instructions, only this time taught by Moshiach.
Friday, February 20 2004
Murderers and thieves are punished: Logical.
Your ox bites mine- you pay: Logical.
mistreat widows, orphans or converts: Logical.
Dont boil a kid in its mothers milk:????
Tomorrows Torah reading is called Mishpotim, which literally means laws but refers specifically
to the logical, self-evident systems that all societies in all eras have accepted and protected.
To establish systems of
justice, to pass laws governing torts and damages and regulations designed to protect societies vulnerable is a no-brainer
that surely needs no justification and scarcely seems necessary for inclusion in the Torah at all.
I remember learning that natural impulse would suggest that one should keep the seemingly irrational
laws of the Bible, the web of detail which Hashem has imposed on us without explanations, with the same degree of dedication
as one commits to keeping the Mitzvos which one rationally comprehends. In truth, however, when one examines the
rationale for keeping Judaism in the first place- because by following His orders one becomes closer to Hashem, it becomes
apparent that one should keep the Mishpotim, the understandable Mitzvos, with the same degree of self-sacrifice and
sense of surrender to G-d as one exhibits when following Hashems unexplained desires.
Perhaps this is why the very last of a long string of otherwise sane and more or less self-evident
laws is the wholly inexplicable decree against mixing milk and meat; Even the rational actions we undertake, acting with honesty,
humanity and compassion are undertaken with a higher purpose than mere logic. Whatever we do, wherever we go, our actions
and directions speak of our unbreakable acceptance of a higher reason and express our connection and dedication to Hashems
purpose and desire.
Friday, 27 Fabruary 2004
Gold! Gold! Gold!
I sound like a mad announcer at the Olympics dont I? Truly to the Gold medallist
goes the glory. The book deal and the cereal endorsements are his by virtue of his virtue. Silver and bronze sure beat not
placing at all, but given the choice between, say, coming home with a bunch of exclusively Gold medals hanging round your
neck vs. ending the games with samples of each, who wouldnt take the first option?
Tomorrow we read how
the Jews were commanded to donate the raw materials to help build the Mishkan the portable Temple that accompanied
them on their desert perambulations.
There was sufficient interest and excitement in the new building project (tax-deductible?)
to permit them to design the most luxurious of buildings, replete with the most costly and deluxe fittings. They had looted
sufficient quantities of gold on their exit from Egypt (see my musings - 29 January) to allow them to proceed with
the construction without having to debase Hashems home with any baser metal than glorious gold. However they were commanded
to bring offering of variegated metals; Gold AND Silver AND Copper.
dont get it, logically, when building a dwelling place for G-d why not use the best and only the best?
I would like to think that it was precisely because the Mishkan was to become the temporal
home for G-d was it necessary to utilise all manner of materials in its construction. People too fall into different categories
and sub-classes; there are the silver among us, those who were born to greatness, never having been tempted, never fallen.
Quicksilver in inclination and sucking on their silver-spoon since birth. Others are gold: By their exertions and efforts
they manage to overcome all challenges and breast the tape secure in their achievements and accomplishments.
copper represents us poor sinners. Occasionally well-intentioned but dragged down by the weaknesses of the flesh. Sons of
toil buried beneath tons of soil. How tempting to flee the field, to concede in despair and leave the building of G-ds sanctuary
to the spiritually successful gold and silver.
Hashem goes the trifecta. Not sufficient are the efforts of the righteous;
G-d demands all his creatures join in His building campaign. The lowest denominator is an integral and indispensable cog in
the construction effort of the Temple and, by extension, bringing G-d into the world and justifying all creation.
When recruiting for the Shule I sometimes encounter the same resistance. Many are worried
that Im not religious enough to fit in, or that I dont want to seem hypocritical and, since Im not ready to go all-the-way,
I cant even start the trip .
Judaism dont see it that way. Hashem doesnt agree. It took all metals to build the Temple
and it takes all of us to build a Shule. All that is demanded from anyone is an open mind, the commitment to show up and the
resolve to contribute to the building of the community.