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Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation
Weekly Musings February, 2004
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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
indulge 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
of trees.
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 enough to
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
 same".
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.

Growth 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 generate
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
humility and acceptance can the new You develop.
The end results can be truly astounding; allowed to mature and flourish,
supplied 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.
The women 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.
Ladies 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.
Dont 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?
Answer: G-d.
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.
I 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.
The lowly 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.

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