Friday, July 4, 2003
Harsh or Kind
When He made the world, He made two ways to repair each thing: With harshness or with compassion. With a slap or with a
caress. With darkness or with light.
And He looked at the light and saw that it was good. Darkness and harsh words may be necessary. But He never called them
Even if you could correct another person with harsh words, the One Above receives no pleasure from it. When He sees his
creatures heal one another with caring and with kindness, that is when He shines His smile upon us.
From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; rendered by Tzvi Freeman
Friday, July 11
Many believe that the concept of a Messianic Redeemer is a modern-day invention, or worse a Non-Jewish/Christian innovation.
Saturday, in Shul, well read about the prophecy of Bilaam the Midianite who, frustrated in his desire to curse the Jews,
ends up blessing them. His final prophecy is of our eventual redemption.
I dont get it, weve got no Jews, no Rabbis, no home grown talent, that we need a Bilaam to introduce such a fundamental
Rabbi Chaim Gutnick once told me about a couple who came to him for marriage counseling. Among other advice he suggested
they commit to some specifically Jewish practices, for example Shabbat meals. Frustrated by his reactionary, old-fashioned
viewpoint they dumped him and sought professional help.
A few weeks later he was at home, and answered the door to the couple carrying a bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers
as a peace offering. Their explanation for their change in attitude: Their (highly-paid, thoroughly modern) therapist had
recommended that they bring some romance and caring back into the marriage. "Once a week, turn off the TV, disconnect the
phone and make a commitment to sit down together for a quiet, candle-lit dinner".
Unfortunately for many Jews to accept a moral standard and belief they need the worlds approval. If a rabbi talks about
the negative effect of television and the Internet people say he is outdated, but when a lecturer on values would say the
same then people take it more seriously.
If even the Bilaams of this world can be persuaded that this world is due for a change, that life has greater possibilities
than the mess we struggle with daily, isnt it time that we too got on the "goodness & Kindness" bandwagon and by changing
ourselves, bought about change?
Friday, July 18
Starting today (Thursday 17th Tammuz) the next three weeks, till Tisha Bav (7th August) are devoted
to mourning many of the tragedies that have befallen us throughout our history. To G-ds shame there has been no shortage of
entries in our national Chamber of Horrors, but looming large over all, even overshadowing the Holocaust in terms of percentage
of Jews killed, and effect on our national psyche would have to be the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh and our subsequent
I remember (vaguely) a story of a Chossid who, as the rest of the town celebrated Succos, kept a lonely vigil by the sickbed
of his daughter. The Doctors offered no hope for her recovery. Craving a miracle, he traveled to his Rebbe, only to be fobbed
off by with a pious platitude and vague well-wishes.
Distraught, he crawled out of the Rebbes chambers to the Shul next door, and sat and grieved for hours.
Nightfall, his misery was disturbed by all the Chassidim flocking to Shul for the Simchat Torah dancing. To them, the sorry
looking fellow on the backbenches was just another guy needing some mashke and good cheer and so, despite his protestations
he was bodily carried off and forced into the dancing throng.
At first half-hearted but gradually entering a trance-like fervor, he sang and danced until morning. In a stunning display
of mind over worry he managed to sustain his festive cheer till Motzei Yom Tov.
He was shocked to be summonsed to the Rebbes room: "You should know, that as of Erev Yom Tov, your daughter had no earthly
chance of recovery. Your Yom Tov joy generated a miracle for her. Go home, shes going to be all right".
Theres an old Chassidic saying "Depression is not a sin; but what depression does, no sin can do." The flip side would
surely be (to coin a proverb) "Since happiness subdues depression, being happy can rebuild that which sin destroyed"
By celebrating our Yiddishkeit. By refusing to be shattered by the tragedies, but constantly searching for the goodness
and G-dness, surely Hashem will accept that hes tested us enough already and bring us home
Friday, July 25
One of the quickest ways, if you want to start a fight (and after all, who doesnt?), is to state an opinion in public.
Worst movie, bravest footballer, most egregious political swindle, you name it & youll always find someone ready to argue
With that introduction I take no responsibility for the consequences for my assertion that by far the funniest books ever
written (in English) are "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series.
In the first of five books in the trilogy (sic) we are introduced to the concept that the answer to Life, the Universe
and Everything is 42.
The answer is easy, its The Question they spend so long ascertaining.
In the end we discover The Question; "How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down?"
The Author, Douglas Adams, must have been a Bible Scholar. Ill go even further, a student of Chassidic explanations to
the Torah. (Stop me before I deify him). This week we read in the Torah about the forty-two Massaotjourneys, that the
Jews undertook in their peregrinations through the desert. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidus, equated these journeys
to the various stages of life. Over a lifetime of experience, we each undertake 42 journeys, forty-two self- transformations,
before (hopefully) ending up in our promised land.
To stand still is to stagnate. Life has to be a constant voyage of discovery. Resting is for year 121+.
The Torah doesnt describe 42 arrivals, 42 outcomes. Thats significant but not as important as the way we travel.
Every tumble is a precursor for a boost. Been bumped? Next flight expect an upgrade.
Even when one finds oneself going nowhere fast on a dead-end road, its just one more passage on our tour through life,
a preparatory stage for the splendid adventure just coming around the corner when she comes.
Thursday, July 31
Ever reiterate something, in a tautological manner, by repeating the same thing, twice?
Tautologies in Judaism are common. I heard once that two of the most tautological are 1)"Good Yom Tov" (as Yom
Tov means good day) and 2) Opinionated Jew.
Obviously the person who originated this quote was not Jewish, and I beg the indulgence of any of my subscribers who may
This week we begin the fifth (and final) book of the Torah, Devorim. The colloquial name for the volume, Mishna
Torah, is a reflection of the fact that is mostly repetition of the previous 4 parts.
They are about to enter Israel. Moshe is being left behind to die in the desert, and he devotes his last weeks to recapping
the truths discovered over the last 40 years.
Obviously there is some new material taught and a number of passages clarified, but can it really be that 20% of the all-time
best seller and the greatest tale ever told is just filler?
A small town Jew, plagued by an infected foot obtains a referral to the famous Podiatrist of Warsaw. Doc walks in and is
confronted by a grime-encrusted leg in a filthy sock. "You fool, why dont you wash your foot?"
"You know Doctor, the physician in our town recommended the same thing, but I waited to hear the advice of a specialist."
We received the Torah through the agency of the all time greatest Specialist, Moshe. He was the medium through which the
Words of G-d were filtered. The first four books of the Torah were by direct transmission, Hashem Speaking through Moshe.
Devorim is Moshes words. The concepts are G-ds but the terminology is Moshes.
Mishna Torah is being delivered to the crossover generation preparing to leave the desert and enter Israel. Going from
the intellectualism of the desert (with all expenses paid and manna laid on) to the tedium of farming life.
This is true purposeful existence. Holding down a job, punching a time clock and supporting our Politicians in style. Hashem
wants us to get our hands dirty cultivating daily life. Not for us a sham nirvana sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop smelling
the roses and contemplating our (hopefully, fluff free) navels.
Moshe, by redacting the Torah, was accessing the Torah to his and all future eras. Once viewed through the prism of human
thought, Torah has been made available to every Jew, under all conditions, for all times.